Starting today you can register your home, business or cellphone number with the National Do-Not-Call Registry. Either click the link (there's a major amount of traffic as I write this, so you might want to wait a day or two) or call 888-382-1222. This will allow you to automatically opt-out of ALL commercial telemarketing calls (with the exception of non-profits, political organizations or groups to which you give explicit permission to call you), with fines of up to $11,000 for violations. And believe it or not, this is actually a policy adopted by our friends at The Federal Communications Commission. Hm, evidentally, they DO get things right around there once in awhile.
The irony is of course that this now means whatever handful of mega-corporations eventually emerge from the imminent FCC-sanctioned "Media Consolidation Wars" WON'T be able to call you to offer that nifty combination phone/cable/DSL/newspaper/radio service package they'll no doubt be rolling out in the near future.
But, at least we can all eat dinner in peace again!
The Annex Theatre fundraiser Friday night, aptly entitled "Sabotage - The Annex Dating Game" was a rousing success, at least I'm assuming it was so, as I've only heard vague rumors so far as to the final amount brought in (roughly $2300 according to my sources), which is really not bad considering that most of the people there were struggling theatre-types who as a general rule don't have a lot in the way of disposable income.
The premise of the "game" was quite simple: individuals vyed for "dates" with noted local alterna-celebs (i.e. the kind of folks you most likely won't see interviewed on "Entertainment Tonight"). The rules for accomplishing this on the other hand achieved a complexity of Machiavellian proportions. Even now after having actually won one of the aforementioned dates, I'm not entirely certain how it was accomplished, although aparently it involved bacon, a stubborn bra-clasp and cheap bourbon. (And, I suspect the credit card receipt in my pocket may have had as much to do with my eventual success as anything else).
Special kudos to Ida & Molly for putting the whole thing together, to The Stranger Food Editor, Min Liao who will no-doubt be creating a gastronomical extravaganza for our mutual consumption, and most particularly to JDS for providing taxi service.
On Wednesday the Washington State Legislature passed a bill that would give The Boeing Co. $3,000,000,000 (as in "billion") worth of tax incentives over the next ten years if they elect to manufacture the new 7E7 "Dreamcruiser" here. According to estimates floated in the local press, this new line would employ "up to 1,000 assembly workers". Let's do the math, shall we? 3,000,000,000 divided by 1,000 equals $3,000,000 (as in "million") per job over ten years or $300,000 per job per year. Any bets that Boeing isn't going to be paying more than about $60,000 per year for each of those jobs? Even if you throw in some extra for benefits, worker's comp, etc., the net effect is that "The Big B" stands to reap a positive cash-flow (via reduced taxes) of roughly $2 billion dollars - give or take a few hundred million -- over ten years just for not leaving the state, and for keeping 1,000 jobs in an area with one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation (currently 7.3% - which doesn't count people who've run out of UI benefits and/or have simply given up seeking employment altogether. Add those folks in and estimates could go as high as 11.8%), and where Boeing has already cut more than 20,000 local jobs representing approximately 10% of the total number of layoffs in Washington since December 2001, while continuing to do so at a rate of about 800 per month.
So, all of this sort of begs the question: is a $3 B giveaway to a single corporation worth the price of keeping a paltry 1,000 machinists jobs when that same amount of money could go a long way toward helping out 240,000 other currently un- or underemployed workers, not to mention what it might do for the state's current $2.4 B budget deficit?
(And do we even need to mention the fact that a lot of those aerospace sector jobs won't be coming back anytime soon, at least not if the current thrashing Boeing is taking at the hands of Euorpean rival Airbus at The Paris Air Show is any indication.)
And as if this weren't bad enough, the business lobby elected to ride the coat-tails of Boeing's arm-twisting to railroad their own agenda through Olympia, which among other things will greatly restrict UI eligibility and benefits for seasonal workers such as farm laborers, construction workers, and yes even actors. So, while people continue to lose jobs in this state at an alarming rate, the pro-business lobby is intent on dismantling the safety nets that might make the difference in keeping a lot of these people from ending up out on the streets. Whatever happened to the idea that when times are tough, people pull together to help each other out?
At the King County Labor Council meeting Wednesday evening, there was a lot of rancor from union reps whose members will now lose those precious UI benefits, and a lot of the anger was directed at SPEEA and IAMAW delegates representing the two largest Boeing employee unions. While people recognize that they were essentially put between the proverbial Scylla and Charybdis in terms of having to choose between saving the jobs of their own members versus saving the benefits of others, still there's a rift being wedged in the labor community by this situation, which no doubt has the business lobbyists in Olympia chortling with glee. And that's something we can't allow to happen. If the game they want to play is "divide and conquer" then we in labor have to be able to set aside our differences in the short-term and maintain our long-term solidarity. As the SPEEA delegate so succinctly put it, "we have to make sure we're still around tomorrow to fight to regain what we've lost today."
Our only hope now is that Governor Gary Locke either comes down with a case of double-Carpal Tunnel Syndrome right before signing, or that his conscience causes him to run a line through some of these provisions. And I guess that will depend in large part on whether he thinks he's got a chance at winning a third term. I can tell one thing though, if he doesn't exercise his line-item veto power, it means he's already given up on another four years in Olympia, because Labor is going to come down very, VERY hard on him if that happens.
So, it's been another slow day at work, and I've been spending the time building and mixing sound cues for the piece I'm directing for Nine Holes next month. I used to love doing this sort of thing back when I was a wee college lad, when all you needed to be a Sound Designer was a copy of the The BBC Sound Effects Library (old-school vinyl version in those days), access to a reel-to-reel deck, and a $10 Radio Shake tape splicer. None of this new-fangled computerized stuff like they've got today; heck, quadrophonic stereo was about as "high tech" as we got.
Today of course, everything is digital and the preferred recording formats are either CD or minidisk. And the editing software out there can turn just about anybody into an expert. I used a really nifty piece of demo-ware called CoolEdit 2000, which among other things provides the ability to layer sounds on top of each other to achieve an almost unlimited multi-tracking capability. There's one cue I'm especially proud of where I've laid down at least six different tracks to get the final effect. For simplicity's sake I did the cues in mono, since the playback system we'll be using isn't all that sophisticated, and I don't need anything extra fancy in terms of separation or quality. Still, I can't wait to hear what they sound like in the bigger space!
In the old Chinook trading dialect this was the name for the body of water that today we call Lake Union, and which just happens to be my backyard.
One nice thing about living on a lake is that whenever there is something going on here, you have instant access. No trolling for parking spaces on the 4th Of July, no being left on the sidelines during tall ships visits, no having to haul the kayak to some body of water, it's all right there.
With the warmer spring weather, the main event that goes on here is The Duck Dodge, a weekly "beer can regatta" -- that is with minimal rules -- race that can involve 70 or more separate vessels of every size, ranging from little laser sailboards up to 40 ft. racing yachts. It's a traditional part of the Seattle boating scene that's been around for nearly 30 years, and a must-do if you enjoy sailing, racing or you're just needing an excuse to get out on the water.
This year I've been volunteering on the Committee Boat, which is where the "officials" assign boats to the various race categories, determine the course, and set the start/finish line. It's a great way to get to know people who sail locally (particularly if one is interested in crewing on a boat or finding crew for your own), as well as providing an excuse to get involved in a big social event in the middle of the week. It's sort of the waterborne equivalent of a weekend block party, except that it happens on a Tuesday, and again it's right in my own backyard, so it's not like I have to travel anywhere to take advantage of it. If you've never seen a Duck Dodge from the water, you really have to experience it just once; scores of boats covering the lake with a carpet of sails spread in the sunshine. Even if boating isn't your bag, it's still a pretty amazing sight.
Due to a previous engagement, I was late getting back in time to board the Committee Boat last night, however, that represents only a slight inconvenience to the determined Duck Dodger. Grabbing some Nachos & beer on my way down CapHill (tonight's dinner theme being Mexican), I simply dumped everything in my inflatable dinghy, shoved off and motored out to the middle of the lake. Takes about ten minutes at a moderately slow speed, mainly due to taking extra precautions because, well because there are a whole bunch of really big boats racing up and down the lake, and I'm not one of them.
Last night's Committee Boat was a 40 foot ketch (a two masted ship with the aftmast or "mizzen" slightly shorter than the main mast and set afore of the rudder post) built in the early '20's and still in remarkably good condition. Lot's of folks on-board, chowing down on burritos and all having a general good time. They'd pretty well cleaned out the provisions by the time I arrived, so my extra contribution was descended upon like Biblical locusts on a field of grain, and quickly reduced to a few paltry crumbs.
The best part about the whole deal is that at the end of the races a number of the larger vessels will "raft up" to the Committee Boat, and commence what is essentially a big party. Imagine 15 or more large sailboats (and maybe a big power cruiser thrown in for variety's sake), floating side-by-side with more than 100 people sidling back-and-forth between them, chatting, drinking, dancing, and who knows what all, and you've got a pretty good image of what it's like. Every other week is a "theme night", so the general atmosphere of festivity can also be punctuated by what is essentially a big old watery costume party (last week for example was "Pirate Night"). Like I said, pretty unique -- even for Seattle!
About 10:00 the party began to bust up, and so it was back into the little rubber dinghy for the trip home. In the lingering twilight, the lake took on a very quiet tone; there was a soft sort of white-noise buzz from the freeway that actually helped drown out the sound of the other boat motors. The entire lake was dotted with little pinpoints of white, red and green, like fireflys in their Christmas finery, coming from the running lights of many, boats heading for their home docks. Next week weather permitting, it'll look just the same, except there will be a lot of people dressed as dead celebrities on-board.
And this one of the reasons I love living where I do, because you just will not see this sort of thing in your backyard!
My Dad, his wife, my stepbrother and his wife dropped by last Wednesday for a little tour of the city. I haven't seen my pop in about 4 years, since the last time I visited him in Lake Tahoe, and this is the first time in nearly 50 years that he's even been to Seattle. We don't get to see each other nearly as much as we'd both like, so even though this was a short visit, we decided to play tourist and do a whirlwind sight-seeing excursion through town.
First stop, naturally was my boat, since I'm located a mere stones' throw from Seattle Center. Despite the record-setting heat-wave of the previous week, the day was settling into a sunny-yet-comfortable pattern, and we started off by heading for the #1 tourist destination -- The Space Needle.
I don't think I've been "up the needle" more than a couple of times in the nearly 20 years I've lived here, so I figured it would be a bit of a treat for me as well. However, before we made it a across the street and past The EMP, we were waylayed by -- THE DUCK.
You know THE DUCK. You've seen THE DUCK. THE DUCK is a large white WW-II vintage amphibious troop transport that has been converted to civilian use as a somewhat obnoxious tourist vehicle, shuttling out-of-towners around to loud '70's novelty tunes ("Rubber Ducky" and "Disco Duck" are featured prominently), while they harrass the locals with duck-bill shaped "quackers". Yeah, THAT Duck.
It is here that I must reveal a guilty, shameful secret. One that may cause me loss of social standing and even perhaps banishment to some backwater on the Kitsap Penninsula; I actually enjoyed riding The Duck. The driver was sassy, funny and just perky enough to keep everyone's energy up (even through interminable waits for 100 car long freight trains, or detours around Seattle Fire Dept. detours) while avoiding lapsing into diabetes inducing schmaltz. She was fairly knowledgeable about the city, and despite some obvious plugs for local restaurants, hotels and watering holes, actually made the tour fun for even the most jaded & cynical hometowner. Of course the best part is the last third of the tour, when The Duck converts from land vehicle to watercraft, plunging into North Lake Union for a brief paddle around Gas Works Park & vicinity.
After leaving The Duck, we managed to cross over into Seattle Center land, scrupulously avoiding EMP, and ascended to the Observation Deck of The Needle. As I said, it's been a while, and once I stepped out onto the open-air platform, I quickly remembered why it's been so long; there's nothing quite so disconcerting as feeling a sudden, accute sense of vertigo at an altitude of 600 feet. Turns out it's not just a function of the height. The deck is actually slightly slanted, in order to allow water to drain off without leaving puddles. (Thanks to Basil for that tidbit of trivia!) Somebody actually had to think of that before they built the thing, which is why you should always listen to architects. Unfortunately, it was still just hazy enough to prevent seeing any of the local mountain ranges, however, I CAN see my office from up there!
Next "stop" was of course a quick monorail trip down to Westlake and from there to The Pike Place Market. Now, this is a place I visit with some regularity, as I still think it's one of the best places in the City to buy produce, cheese, dairy, etc. Then it was back to the monorail, and we finished the day with a light dinner at The Harborside, which naturally put me right back home again.
All in all, not a bad day to play tourist, and of course the pleasure of the company made it all the more worthwhile. Just wish we could have had more time to spend together, as it's always way too long between visits, but we take what we can get and enjoy what we have.
I've spent the past three days at Red Alert stress levels due to a major sales conference I single-handedly put together at work for my entire division. Three days of racing around trying to keep everything running smoothly, putting out the inevitable little brush fires that erupt during these things, and generally driving myself crazy so that 50 other people can relax. For the previous week I averaged about 5 hours of not very restful sleep per night, in part due to last week's heatwave, but also because of a series of recurring variations on the familiar "Test Anxiety" dream; the one where you find yourself sitting in a cramped elementary school desk in your underwear about to take a test for which you not only haven't studied, but in a class you don't even remember signing up for. I literally had two or three of them a night, all centered around some catastrophe related to the sales meeting that I was unable to rectify, and in at least instance, the events I dreamt about actually came true!
As far as everyone else was concerned of course, the whole thing went swimmingly, except for perhaps that half hour on Wednesday morning when my company's Human Resources Director stood around sweating because the presentation materials I had brought over to the hotel the night before had gone AWOL. The eventually turned up (10 minutes prior to the start of the meeting -- not quite as dramatic as Bruce Willis or Pierce Brosnan defusing the bomb 2 seconds before the LED timer drops to "0", but close enough for my line of work), but I had known since the previous evening that they had disappeared, and so of course that was another of the many factors that led to sleeplessness, anxiety, upper back pain and a general feeling of "why am I doing this?"
Still, there were a few perks. The best part of the entire episode (aside from taking a break in the middle to go play tourist with my father -- more on that later), was probably sitting on the foredeck of the Argosy cruiser, alone, sipping a Glenlivet/rocks and just enjoying not having to check up on any details, not having to see to anyone's needs and not having to basically do ANYTHING for a whole 15 minutes. It wasn't nearly enough to compensate for the other 72+ hours of stress, but I do know how to enjoy whatever limited amount of downtime I can muster.
And now, it's over and things can get back to normal. And I did gain a valuable insight from the experience: If this is what being a full-time cruise director is like, they have my sympathies.
Not surprisingly, "Hairspray" dominated last nights' 57th Annual Tony Awards, Broadway's yearly opportunity to show the other arts media that it's just as capable as boring TV audiences as they are. Actually, with the exception of the very odd tapping of Hugh "Wolverine" Jackman to host (What, Billy Crystal was busy? Heck even Letterman would have been a better choice), it was all-in-all a fairly entertaining, if not altogether surprising telecast. There were even some genuinely moving performances, particularly Bernadette Peter's stunningly poignant rendition of "Rose's Turn" from "Gypsy" and Brian Stokes Mitchell's dynamic "The Impossible Dream" from "Man Of La Mancha". And even though I'm not really a "musical theatre type", I still think the finale from "Hairspray", "You Can't Stop The Beat" is one of the most fun, most infectious and frankly most rocking musical anthems ever written for the theatre. I'm not big on dancing, but even I can't help wiggling my toes whenever I hear it! Also nods to the group from "Def Poetry Jam", which won for Best Special Theatrical Event. It was unique (for mainstream Broadway fare at least), engaging and topical.
The Tony's have always been the redheaded stepchild of the major awards shows, for the simple reason that being 100% NYC based, the odds are always better than average that most people haven't even heard of a majority of the shows in the running (not to mention the fact that in the past few years, a goodly number have closed long before the American Theatre Wing, the organization the runs the Tony's gets around to announcing their nominations). You basically have to be in the profession, a total theatre geek or possibly gay to either know or care about most of the nominees. Still, for those of us in the theatre, it's our one night to sit around the tube and wallow in pools of self-congratulation.
"Hairspray"'s domination of this year's awards does have a bit of a personal resonance for me since the show was tried out here in Seattle at The 5th Avenue, where I actually held down a staff position about 10 years ago. Since they have a minority producing interest in the show, it means that at least a small chunk of the statuette belongs to them, and thus it represents probably the closest I'll ever get in my career to having one of the little things myself. Call it, "award-by-distant-association"; closer than six-degrees to be sure, but still an awful long way from standing on the stage of Radio City in-person.
Still, I've got my acceptance speech ready, just in case.
Today is my paternal grandfather's 91st birthday, not bad considering that the women-folk in my family tend to outlive the men by a considerable margin. Still, it gives the rest of the Comtes something to aspire to, particularly since Grandpa has never been in the best of health, nor what one could call a terribly active person. He's always been a somewhat reclusive figure in our family (or at least in my perception of it), due to the fact that he's never struck me as the most sociable person, in direct contrast to my Grandmother Justine, whose Irish-Catholic heritage endowed her with a personality and joie-d'-vivre that puts people half her age to shame.
In the past 20 years or so, Grandpa has been on a long, gradual downhill slide, beginning with hip replacement surgury, which while giving him a temporary renewal of vigor, eventually created a circumstance (after his second set of replacements) whereby his joints were no longer able to handle the strain and he became semi-bed-ridden. As I recall Grandpa was always more comfortable in bed with a book than in a chair surrounded by lots of people, but that could be an entirely erroneous observation, seeing as it comes through the perspective of remembrances from 30 years or more ago. In any event, my contact with both my grandparents has been regretably sporadic in my adulthood, even though Portland isn't that far away. There does seem to be a tendency in the Comtes to scatter to the four winds once we leave the nest, so I guess even he wouldn't have been all that surprised by my not visiting more often. Still, I wish I could spend more time with both them and that whole side of my family -- they weren't perfect, but they were generally cohesive and at least my father's immediate family seems to have retained some semblance of close contact. And let's face facts here: at 91 he's lived a long life, and there just aren't that many more years left in him (although, I certainly WISH him many more -- but they have to be good ones).
I wish I knew more about the family history, but the inevitability of world events pretty much wiped out all trace of our lineage pre-WW I. My grandfather was always of the opinion that we were descended from legitimate royalty (the scuttlebutt was that we earned the name -- the French title for Count or Baron -- as a result of a peerage endowed to one of our ancestors by Napoleon I), but it could just have easily been derived from the region of France -- Franche-Comte -- that borders Alsace, Germany and Switzerland where our family lived for many generations, although supposedly, my great, great grandfather Henri came from Ypres in flemmish Belgium, which those of you up on your early 20th Century history will recall was a site of several major battles. Hence the city itself was practically obliterated, along with any trace of extant records that might have existed there. So, there's no documentation to prove anything one way or the other, and all we have left are the stories handed down to my grandfather. They're good stories, and for all I know they could very well be true, but my nature forces me to give them the measure of skepticism that all such unevidenced proclamations deserve. It would be nice to believe that somewhere down the road we Comtes held some position of stature in the world -- even if only briefly -- but, regardless of whether our origins are aristocratic or plebian, it doesn't diminish the fact that those of us on this side of the Comte Family at least share a great deal of pride in the name.
So, Happy Birthday Grandpa. May the day treat you well!