Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Fact #1: My reflexes are slow

So, apparently, while I was away on business, I totally missed being tagged of doing the "eight random facts about me" meme. I think I'm about the last blogger alive to actually get this, but since I haven't done it, and since I just tagged my tagger with something else, I'll go ahead and do it. I shan't tag anyone else on this, though. Unless Southern Boy wants to do it a third time.

1) For most of my childhood and high school years, my career of choice was to be a veterinarian. In fact, I was a member of the local veterinary explorer group. I lost interest when I realized how repetitive the job would be. You see one cat hysterectomy, you've seen them all.

2) I once owned an embarrassingly large collection of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action figures. The April O'Neill was the hardest to find. Someone also gave me ninja turtle pencils for my birthday once, but I was too ashamed to use them in class.

3) My mother's house has two freezers, and one is used almost solely for Bluebell Ice Cream. Seriously. To this day, she keeps about a dozen gallons of the stuff in there so they can have their flavor of choice on the designated "ice cream night" (Sunday).

4) Growing up in the Philadelphia area, my father and his family would often take summer trips to nearby Ocean City, N.J. One summer, he played on the beach with a lovely young girl who grew up to be none other than Grace Kelly. OK, those last two were really more about my parents than me, but still...

5) Being the only boy after four older sisters, I was assumed to be a girl until the day I was born, and my name was supposed to have been either Laura or Amanda. My boy name should have been David, but my sister was dating a David at the time who wasn't well liked, so that was out. I was on this earth for quite awhile before I officially had a name!

6) My church growing up was not one of those ones that were afraid of Halloween. In fact, we did a haunted house every year. They let me play Norman Bates' mother.

7) Despite gay tendencies from even the youngest age, I did have quite the crush on Lisa Bonet back in the day.

8) I once voted in a Republican primary. In 2004. That's where the local races are decided in Brazoria County, so if you want to have any say-so in local politics, that was the only way to do it. I refused to let them stamp my voter registration, however, and I left all the national posts -- including president, of course -- blank.

Monday, July 30, 2007

(insert lame variation of Descartes quote here)

So my vast knowledge of the career of Edie McClurg as well as my ability to pick out guest stars from "The Golden Girls" (actually, Edie McClurg was one of those, too, come to think of it), I seem to have snagged a Thinking Blogger Award from my dear southern neighbor. This, however, means I need to single out five others who are equally deserving. In no particular order, they would be:

Kevin Barnett: My fellow Brazoria County cum New Yorker. Not only does he have the best pulse on the local film and music scene, but he also has the design cred to back it up.

Theatre Snobbery At Its Finest: Cameron can boil down any show into a succinct few sentences of perfect praise or evisceration. Even when my reaction to the show was different, I can never disagree with his larger points.

Human Nature: One of the few people who actually knows how to make a purely personal blog entertaining to read. I think it's the superior health care system.

Rusty's Balcony: Another fellow Texan, and a fellow fan of the long-form posts. And I actually read them from beginning to end! That says a lot, coming from an ADD type like me. Ooh, someone's shouting outside my window...

David Benzion of The Lone Star Times: Considering we are usually on the opposite side of the political aisle, it says something that I keep reading. And under Benzion's guidance, the discussions generally avoid falling into that nasty trap that prevent me from reading the comment sections of most major political blogs. Take a look at how swiftly he put the kibbosh a discussion of Marvin Zindler's death from becoming a tacky questioning of whether Marvin's gathering a camera crew to check on the kitchen in heaven or hell.

Well, that's five. There are several others I'd love to pick, but I either assumed they've already won one or they lost a coin toss.

Lainie Kazan's muumuu of choice today, by the way?

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Rats, roaches to run rampant over Houston restaurants

I'm back! Quite a lovely trip, but I'm not quite ready to put that post together yet.

So, instead, I'll just send fond wishes out to the family of Marvin Zindler.

He's not a familiar face to those who have never lived in the Houston area, but musical theatre buffs might know him better as the inspiration for Melvin P. Thorpe in "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas."

When I attended the University of Houston, I always enjoyed watching the Texas newcomers see Zindler for the first time. Their response was usually, "Is this guy for real?" Yes, indeed, Marvin was always Marvin. Only he could turn the fungus that grows on poorly tended icemakers into a catchphrase and eventual funk song. Truly. Watch this.

I actually had the opportunity to meet Zindler briefly not too many years ago. It was in my first days of working as a reporter for The Facts in Brazoria County, and I was assigned to do the "Seen and Heard" piece (basically, a short story with a bunch of posed shots of all the local muckity-mucks who attended) on a fundraiser -- a roast of longtime KTRK anchor Dave Ward -- for the local women's center. Zindler, along with former Houston Oilers coach and Blue Ribbon bacon and sausage hawker Bum Phillips, were among the roasters. I'd link to the story, but thank goodness, it's long gone from the publicly accessible Facts archives.

We actually chatted only a few minutes, so I won't pretend to have any inside knowledge of what a wonderful man I'm sure he was. But he did at least have enough of a sense of humor to auction off one of his wigs and a pair of blue glasses as part of the fundraiser. If I remember correctly, they fetched about $25.

At any rate, I knew it was grim when I heard about Zindler's pancreatic cancer a few weeks ago. Coincidentally, that same disease claimed another Houston icon -- furniture entrepreneur Robert "At your fingers" Finger -- not too long ago. Perhaps they're now somewhere enjoying a good game of golf. Or tennis. Or whatever makes them happy.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Time for a break!

I'm off to Boston tomorrow for a few days on business, followed by a few days of R&R in Vermont and possibly Montreal. I might be checking in occasionally, but no promises!

Meanwhile, to give this post a little substance, I stole a page from Rusty's Balcony and created a Simpsonized version of myself.

Rather than make it myself, I used the tool where the avatar is generated from a face photo you submit. Granted, the tool is VERY fickle. I won't say how many photos and tries it took me to get it to work. But, other than a quick adjustment to the hair color and style, not too bad! Although I think it makes me look like one of those environmental activists who convinced Lisa to live in a tree, I do own that shirt.

I also visited the Kwik-E-Mart replica near Times Square not too long ago. No photos, as it felt too touristy, but I'm certainly going back to buy some Buzz Cola sometime! Not to actually drink, mind you. There's ebaying to be done.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Thank you, "Thank you, church of Oprah"

I, unfortunately, have one of the most un-Googleable names around. It might not be John Smith, but my first name is the fourth most common name in the United States, and my last name is the 37th most common in the United States. Hell, my father's brother even named his son Michael, so I wasn't even the first Michael Baker in this generation of my family.

In fact, a quick Google search shows that I am:
1) An engineering firm
2) A sculpture studio
3) A National Scrabble Association member
4) A liability insurance claims investigation agency
5) An energy firm
6) An astronaut
7) A bike maker (how original)
8) An economics professor

And so on.

Except -- I just found out that, thanks largely to a link from Pam's House Blend and a few other helpful blogging bigwigs, at least one post of mine manages to come in as twelfth in a Google search of my name. And I'm actually fourth in the search for "lunar gemini" now.

So now, my goal is clear. I must become the most popular Michael Baker on the Internet. Or at least more so than the Scrabble dude.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Darn it, I thought Don Rickles would be insulting Pat Boone

I'm probably the last to report in from the great New York blogger weenie roast this weekend, hosted by the fabulous Curly McDimple. Despite my penchant for getting completely lost in outer boroughs, I managed fine thanks to the southern contingent as my entourage: Eric, his boyfriend Brett and Roy, who braved a crack-of-dawn flight and the M60 bus from LaGuardia to get here from Austin. Between Brett, Roy and me, we had the three Texas triangle cities covered. I guess that other state (the one next to Texas that kind of looks like a foot and you have to drive through all those crazy East Texas I-10 cities to get to) was represented, too. And even though I didn't eat one weenie -- plenty of hummus, dip and veggie burgers, though -- it was still a blast.

So, like, I guess I'm supposed to post some pictures or something.

Here's Roy and another guy named Roy. I wasn't taking notes, but I do recall that Roy on the Right has a blog but doesn't post often and has great taste in shorts and watches. Roy on the Left, meanwhile, knows the right ice cream to get, and we determined that he might have judged me in a forensics competition when I was in high school. Which was NOT that long ago, I'll have you know. Oh, and they were being quiet, so all signs were being obeyed.

Here's Eric and Brett talking to, um, a guy in an indigo shirt who, uh, blogs at guyinanindigoshirt.blogspot.com. OK, so my lack of notes renders my captions rather useless.

Hey! Remember that wine tasting thing I went to with Amy Sedaris, and I'd forgotten to put an image card in the camera? As it turns out, the photo was there all along, as I found it when I was getting my camera ready for the weenie roast.

I even snagged a photo of our pictorially elusive host!

Fine. I'll admit it. I pulled out my camera a few minutes before we were leaving and took some half-assed, badly framed shots. But it was still fun, nonetheless. And, as a bonus, we got to watch during our post-party dessert some brain-baked chick start a fight with the ice cream server over $2.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

A hate crime on my home turf

Quite a disturbing story. It's pretty clear that the confessed killer here is bat-shit crazy in comparing himself with an Old Testament prophet. Yet, it's also clear that he has been influenced by anti-gay religious rhetoric. I'm not expecting to hear much from the folk who usually spew that venom, because in most non-Phelpsian cases, they're silent when their position is indefensible (at least until Elizabeth Vargas sends down a camera crew in order to find a way to blame the victim). Texas, amazingly enough, does have a hate crimes law that covers sexual orientation -- albeit unfortunately referred to as "sexual preference" in the law -- so here's hoping this scum has seen his last sunrise. I think the statute of limitations from my personal coverage of the office has expired, so I might add that Brazoria County does have a fantastic district attorney who will do all she can to see that happens.

There's not much else to say except for thoughts and prayers to Mr. Cummings' family.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Mike Huckabee almost gets it

So, presidential candidate Mike Huckabee (R-Quixotic) responded to Michael Moore's latest film "Sicko" with the retort, "Well, he's fat." OK, he said a little more than that. Quoth he, per The Associated Press:

"Frankly, Michael Moore is an example of why the health care system costs so much in this country. He clearly is one of the reasons that we have a very expensive system. I know that from my own personal experience," said Huckabee, who lost more than 110 pounds and became an avid runner after he was diagnosed with diabetes.

Well, yes, actually, that's not a bad point, Mikey, despite the childishness of the premise that, in order to retain a higher ground, is preventing me from making any Arkansas jokes. And he goes on:

"Anything we could do to help steer people to healthier habits comes back to us many times over and that's a real focus that needs to happen," Huckabee said. "Right now, insurance companies will pay $100,000 or more for a quadruple bypass but wouldn't pay a couple hundred dollars for a person to have nutrition counseling and maybe to work with an exercise physiologist to determine how to get those extra pounds off. ... It's a lot better to spend some more money on the prevention side than it is on the intervention side."

Again, a good point. I'm lucky enough, in fact, to have insurance that covers my yearly check-ups in full. But guess what? Do you think all those uninsured people have the money to spend those hundreds of dollars for nutritional counseling for their whole family? Do you think they even can afford regular doctor visits so that their first medical treatment is a severe problem in the emergency room, when the enormous bill gets shifted over to the taxpayers anyway?

Perhaps it's time for the government to take that last bit of advice, eh?

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

It only sounded too good to be true

It was with with great trepidation that I attended the first preview of New York City Center's production of "Gypsy" on Monday. Not only was one of my favorite musical theatre actresses starring on one of my favorite musicals, but said actress had already performed the role to near-unanimous raves in Chicago last year. There was no way, I thought, this show could live up to the impossible expectations I set for it.

Well, it did. And it surpassed them.

Patti LuPone's Mama Rose is a terrifying tornado of ego, determination and fury, and just like one of those windstorms, instinct might tell an observer it's time to hide under a chair, but one can't help and watch the raw destructiveness at its finest. Witness the well-known Act 1 closer "Everything's Coming Up Roses," which could easily be diluted thanks to innumerable versions by everyone from Ethel Merman to That Middle-Aged Lady Who Gets Cast In Every Production At Your Local Community Theatre. Well, as LuPone ferociously circles the stage spitting out the song, this doesn't feel like yet another actress staking her claim on a warhorse. Just watch Louise (Laura Benanti) and Herbie (Boyd Gaines) cower in fear during the number as if they were at a mausoleum facing a fireball-shooting Phantom of the Opera. And it doesn't feel like an overreaction. And you know that moment is still to come.

LuPone could have been backed up by the children's choir on the touring company of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" and this show would be worth seeing, but fortunately, the supporting cast assembled here is top-of-the-class. Count me among those who thought Benanti was miscast, but unrecognizably awkward in a wig that makes her look like a young Imogene Coca (did such a being ever exist?), her inevitable transformation from gawky to swan is stunning. Leigh Ann Larkin brings a new vision to Baby June, making her far less squeaky and grating and more just plain agitated. It works. The scene-stealing strippers--Alison Fraser, Nancy Opel and Marilyn Caskey--also don't disappoint, particularly Caskey as the brain-fried Electra, who brings the house down with an inaudible, deadpan whisper. Someone save this woman from eight shows a week as Madame Giry! My only casting quibble is that Tony Yazbeck is really too good of a dancer as featured newsboy Tulsa, although to be fair, his number and scene were always my least favorite in the show, anyway.

Sets are scarce, and pacing is awkward at times -- and for pity's sake, this was a first preview -- but none of that matters. When that moment, "Rose's Turn," arrived, the woman next to me whispered, "Fasten your seat belts." Good advice. But an equally thrilling moment comes afterward, in the close of the show that has almost always felt rather anti-climactic to me. Leave it to LuPone to find a way -- oh, and I guess the show's creator and this production's director, Arthur Laurents, deserves some credit -- to top the ultimate 11 o'clock number.

Look at my past reviews. I often praise but rarely gush. Don't miss this show.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Tempered temper

As anyone who knows me will attest, I'm not a patient person. At all. Yet, even though I'm usually fuming if I have to wait longer for the A train than the time it takes for three songs to play on my iPod, I'm unusually serene whenever I fly.

Witness Friday, when my flight was about three hours late taking off thanks to severe weather in Houston. Sure, my initial reaction was one of disgust -- just ask my ex, who had the misfortune of being on the phone with me as I saw the delay get posted on the board -- but it only took me a few minutes to cool down. I just enjoyed chatting with my fellow passengers, including one crazy, drunk woman who told me at least five times about her having to rush over to LaGuardia after her flight from JFK had been canceled.

Perhaps it's because -- thanks partially to my work -- I know that most delays are far out of the airlines' control. Or perhaps it's because I just love to travel, even if it's just for a few days to the place where I spent the first 20-some-odd years of my life. And perhaps my attitude would have been different if I, like some of my fellow passengers, had a connecting flight to catch. At any rate, a three-hour delay doesn't even crack the Top 5 of my worst flights ever. Those would be, in no particular order:

1) A horrifically overcrowded charter flight from Istanbul to JFK. It was one of those double-decker planes that takes about an hour and a half to just board. I was in the center of a row of about seven people for the flight that ended up lasting more than 13 hours, thanks to an unscheduled stop in Bangor, Maine, because we were running low on fuel. I barely missed what was supposed to have been an easy connection at JFK. Although I usually wouldn't have complained about spending the night in New York, when you've been out of the country for three weeks, you're just ready to get home.

2) A terrifying flight from Houston to Boston. About 20 minutes after getting the announcement that we'd be landing shortly, I looked out the window and noticed we were suddenly over Cape Cod. The captain then announced that we were circling because they weren't able to get the flaps on the wings up, but he was going to go ahead and try to land anyway. When we did land, the plane was going so fast I didn't think it would ever stop, and the firetrucks waiting for us didn't make me feel any better.

3) A Christmas Eve flight from Philadelphia to Houston via Atlanta. Actually, the flight itself wasn't bad. It was a little late, but that was to be expected, considering it was late at night on Christmas Eve. I even sat next to Santa Claus on one of the legs. What made it bad was the six inches of snow that the Texas coast was getting upon my arrival. Not only do Texans not know how to drive in the snow, but their roads are not prepared for that sort of weather, either. The 80-mile drive from the airport to my parents' house took six hours. I got in about 6 a.m. Christmas morning.

4) Yet another flight from Philadelphia to Houston. This time, we had to make an emergency landing in Lake Charles, La., because of a fuel problem. See, that's why I usually drove THROUGH Lake Charles.

5) A flight from Anchorage to Seattle when I was a kid. It was the roughest flight I've ever been on and the closest I've ever come to being airsick.

The best flight? That would be my return from Copenhagen a few years ago. As we were waiting in line to get our seat assignments, a particularly pushy couple behind us in line kept edging their suitcases to the front. When it was our turn to get to an agent, they darted in front of us. As it turned out, they nabbed the last available seats in coach, so we and everyone behind us in line got bumped up to first class. Aha! I think I just remembered the source of my patient attitude toward air travel.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Milking one more post out of that trip

So, a fellow blogger told me that, as this blog is mostly personal in nature, I need to put in more photos of myself. Well, OK, I always feel kind of like I'm doing Vacation Slides 2.0 when I do that, Iceland trip not withstanding, but to give it a try, here's some shots from that Fire Island trip. Thanks to my fellow chorines for the photos!

Here I am arriving on the dock. I couldn't find my iron.

We sang really pretty. I'm wearing pink, if you can't tell.

Fall Out Boy was our opening act. Those rumors about Pete are true.

Somehow, someone got a photo of me at an open bar party without a drink in my hand.

So, they caught me eating, instead. And wind is kind to your hair for only so long. Notice the sunglasses I was wearing in the first photo and had hanging from my pocket in the previous photo are now gone. They're on the beach somewhere, so if you find them, give me a ring. Or maybe not, because now I can see they made me look like Lisa Loeb.

So, there you go. OK, one of those captions is somewhat deceptive. I knew where my iron was all along, I just didn't feel like ironing a T-shirt I was going to be wearing for less than half a day.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Where's Amy Fisher when you need her?

I couldn't help but start eavesdropping when I heard the words "fag" and "homo" being casually tossed around as mock insults. As it turned out, that would be some of the least offensive conversation I'd be hearing.

Poor planning left me next to rather repulsive, raucous group of teenagers on the Long Island Railroad on Sunday. The epithets earned a few glares from me, but they didn't notice. Believe me, these four didn't notice anything outside of their immediate little bubble. Not there, not anywhere else.

The conversation quickly indicated these four kids were of the privileged class: talk of yachts, talk of an errant cook, talk of houses in Rome. For the 90 endless minutes on the train, they yammered about the money they had, and even worse, the money they knew they were going to earn once they entered business school.

One was eagerly awaiting Fidel Castro's death so he could gobble up land in Cuba and build a slew of hotels. Another was insistent that he would NEVER work in a job that required him to be in a cubicle. No, he would only have an office, moving directly from school to upper management. No sitting through meetings. He'd be the one running the meetings. The chubby girl in the group continued to spit out the fag and homo accusations. They were going to meet some group of people who had apparently berated Mr. Castro Death Watch to no end the last time they were together, calling him a faggot because of the plaid shirt he wore. Classy. Fortunately, that gathering was nowhere near Penn Station when the train ride mercifully ended.

It was those insufferable MTV Sweet 16 breeds in the flesh. Their concept of business sounded about as mature as a five-year-old dreaming of being an astronaut or a star shortshop when he grows up.

Remember in the film "Run Lola Run," when she'd pass a bystander on the street, and immediately split-second flashes of the rest of that person's life would pop on the screen? I've never wanted that superpower more than that moment. I wanted to watch these kids graduate from business school -- if they ever did -- and see the harsh reality of the corporate world slap them across the face. After all, they couldn't be THAT wealthy if they were riding a passenger train with the rest of us rabble.

As it turned out, I had to write my own ending. Mr. Castro and Ms. Homo-Hater were already a bit chubby, so no doubt their weight problems would be exacerbated as they entered their 20s. Ms. Homo-Hater ended up in Staten Island with a minimum wage husband and six children. Donald Trump beat Mr. Castro to the punch on his Cuba development deal, so he was left developing a block in Wildwood, New Jersey where 10th place finishers from American Idol and a Loverboy cover band are regular performers.

The Girl with the Errant Cook dropped out of college following an unwanted pregnancy stemming from an unfortunate frat house incident. She works the counter at a Duane Reade in East New York after her family cast her out. The fey Mr. No Cubicle, meanwhile, got his dream job and dream wedding. Unfortunately, he now pays a hefty portion of his salary to said wife, who caught him in bed with one of his "poker buddies" and is now blackmailing him.

This never used to happen on New Jersey Transit.

Monday, July 02, 2007

A last-minute redemption

June, for me, was a rather wretched month this year for a bevy of reasons. It almost made up for itself with its grand finale this past weekend, however. So pardon me for gushing for a moment.

First, Nancy Wilson. What an absolutely extraordinary concert! The guest performers alone -- including Regina Carter, who can make a violin sing as beautifully as any voice; pianist Herbie Hancock and the exquisite Dianne Reeves -- would have been a great night on their own. Wilson, meanwhile, is on that same Barbara Cook regime that makes a voice as effective at 70 as it was at 20. To hear her perform live "Day In, Day Out," the devastating "Guess Who I Saw Today?" and "How Long Has This Been Going On?" (which she's never recorded, unfortunately) is something I'll truly never forget. I also got to celebrate, albeit quite briefly, the birthday of a dear friend to boot.

Next, Fire Island. With the New York City Gay Men's Chorus, one of the drawbacks to performing in large concert halls is you can rarely see the faces of your audience as you perform. Well, thanks to a construction schedule snafu, we ended up performing in a firehouse rather than a concert hall, so it was certainly up close and personal! The audience, however, couldn't have been more appreciative. Just watching one big Billy Strayhorn fan in the back sing along with every song, including beating us to the last note on "Lush Life," made it worth the long trek out there. Plus, the weather was absolutely gorgeous for a weekend at the beach.

Sunday wasn't really part of June, but it was certainly lovely in its own right, too. So, you're forgiven, June. I guess I'll allow you to come back next year.