Wednesday, April 29, 2009

And ..... I'm Off!

It's almost midnight and I'm not done prepping and packing and - How the f**k do I get this big ass hat on the plane???? - but either way, come morning, I'm boarding a plane for Louisville to attend the 135th Kentucky Derby.

It's supposed to rain like hell but I don't care. Just seeing this American spectacle up close is going to be a treat. I'll be posting 3x on BlogHer starting on Sunday, May 2 - just as soon as I return from touring the Maker's Mark distillery - but also posting a barnload of photos on my Flickr stream.

I'll try to Twitter as much as I can though I'm having some awful technology challenges right now. Basically, I need a full tech makeover that is out of my grasp until I get a job. I might as well be using smoke signals and carrier pigeons. Wah.

I also had to enlist the help of Erin Saboe of Go-Go Chapeaux here in Denver. She's a Derby veteran and a pro milliner. This time of year, she's like H&R Block in mid-April - super busy. Yet she still took a lot of time with me to solve The Hat Problem.

Again, I don't have a ton of cash to spend on a fancy Derby lid but she and I worked through every possible option out there that would work with both my dresses - one a springy green and the other a hot pink-almost-purple. I don't know how many times she began a sentence with, "How about if we ..." but it was highly appreciated.

In the end, I had my mother FedEx me an old bridesmaid hat that was being used as living room decoration. It came to me dusty, somewhat misshapen with some erroneous wayward brim decor. Together, we cooked up a plan and poof! The hat I wore to watch Kim marry Tony had gotten a timely makeover.

Looking forward to stepping into the unknown, being highly over-stimulated and simultaneously inebriated.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Bea Arthur & Rock Hudson - Reunited

I've read all the great tributes to Bea Arthur, who passed away last Saturday at age 86. But I came across this on GoFugYourself and have decided I quite like the idea of Rock and Bea sipping cocktails in the afterlife and singing about pot, coke and heroin.

What I loved about Bea was how she always took people's assumptions of "a woman of a certain age" and turned that image on its head. As Maude, she played the first major television character to get an abortion - at age 47 - several months before it became legal in the U.S.

Bea Arthur was Golden. If you don't believe me, check out her portrayal of Carrie Bradshaw in this parody of "Sex in the City" - priceless.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Boulder Loses a Gem

While hanging out in Boulder over the weekend, I was saddened to learn that one of my favorite Boulder characters is moving on. Meet William, a beautiful and joyful man who has been a fixture on Boulder's Pearl Street Mall for the last four years. His upright piano, a fat book of song lyrics and a tireless love of music have brightened many a day.

Evidently, William is leaving town in a few weeks and headed to Tibet, where he will study Buddhism. He'll be leaving behind an entire community of fans who constantly approach him with hugs and kisses and stay to sing along. While I am happy for this opportunity in his life, I am selfishly hoping the monks help him realize that he'd already found his true destiny behind a piano under a Boulder sky and he should go back to reclaim it.

I asked him how long he'd be gone. "I have no idea," he said. "For the first time in my life, I don't have any plans beyond this study. I could be gone 10 years."

"But can't you study Buddhism here?" I asked hopefully, knowing full well that it was a lame effort. It's like asking an aspiring actor to skip thoughts of New York to remain in Lisbon, Ohio.

The first time I saw William do his thing, it was a weekend at dusk. There he was, banging away, surrounded by drunken hippies, all singing with great fervor to Billy Joel's "The Piano Man." I heard them long before I saw them and thought it was the most genuine thing I'd ever seen in a city center.

When I saw him again, he was being adored by a throng of children, who were eagerly singing along to "Jingle Bells." On my third William encounter, he had just begun singing "Imagine" and no one had yet joined him. I immediately jumped in and soon, others did too. So lovely. William enables wonderful moments like that whenever he appears.

Evidently, William came to Boulder when Hurricane Katrina destroyed his New Orleans home. From a post on his blog: "Boulder was so very kind to me, I arrived with a exhausted car, two suitcases and didn’t know a soul. That changed quickly, so many people offered me help and a year later I was back on my feet with a successful teaching business and playing piano for families, kids and boulders masses on it’s Pearl Street Mall."

Last Sunday, I joined several other folks to sing, "Country Roads" by Colorado's unofficial state songbird, John Denver. As we all belted out our best notes, I watched shoppers walking by and singing (or at least mouthing) the words, in spite of their shy smiles. They couldn't help themselves.

Godspeed, William! I'm going to keep tabs on you!

(Trying to update Curious Hobo whenever I post here.)

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Revisiting Horse World

Last Sunday, I'd gone up to the old barn to visit my horse friends - bringing bags of carrots, of course. I was knee deep in mud and covered in horse slobber by the time I left - it was heavenly. For a number of reasons (mostly financial), I've not been riding for several months and sorely miss these amazing animals.

So, when Beanie called to let me know she'd purchased her newest equine student, I had to come meet him. Named Larry the Cable Guy, this 4-year-old grey roan has some learning to do. During my visit, he managed to step on my foot (I've got a lovely green bruise now) and snap Beanie's biggest rope. Mind you, she was grabbing his tongue, checking for the presence of 'wolf teeth', which he did not care for.

While she lunged him in the round pen, I visited with two old friends - Bob (human) and Ben (horse). I used to ride Ben all the time and he taught me so much. He is famous for his mid-air 180-degree turns when alarmed. You'd be trotting along, facing west, and a scary real estate sign would come into view and twirl! Just like that, you were suddenly facing east.

Ben's owner, Bob, is the nicest fellow around. He knew I was missing all the action and asked me if I wanted to ride Ben. I was a bit nervous - it'd been nearly six months - but I couldn't pass up the offer.

So funny, I was timid at first, just trotting Ben around the ring when something passed between us. He was clearly anxious to go faster - something Bob does not like to do with him. (Ben is known as a 'hot Arab' meaning he freaks out and takes off for no apparent reason.)

Still, I got the sense that Ben was saying, "C'mon, Heather! What's with this pansy shit??? It's me! Ben! LET'S DO THIS!" I finally agreed and we took off, cantering all over the place. He grunted as he flew, always a sign that Ben was having a good time. I just giggled and said over and over again: "GOOD BOY!"

So nice to be back in the saddle.

(Curious Hobo has been updated.)

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Down to Zero

I've been doing horrible things to my psyche lately, waking up feeling like a big fat ZERO.

Taking stock of my life, I have very little to show for my 43 years on Earth. I've no job, no relationship, no house, no property, no pet and no children. I do have a lot of friends, four plants and some terrific memories but it's convenient to discount such treasures when one is too busy beating up oneself.

One on hand, it's nice to be free and folks often tell my how envious they are of my (apparent) care-free state. The grass is always greener, for sure, and some times you might even find there's no grass at all - that's it's just astro-turf.

See? I did it again.

I wouldn't feel so weird about my life if it weren't so starkly different than most everyone else's. Makes it hard to connect. Certainly, my peers are doing what they are supposed to be doing - fixing up the yard, raising kids, being responsible adults.

I used to joke that if I put my laptop and my digital SLR camera in my truck, it would represent my entire net worth. I've since learned that my Mac is so outdated that it has become nothing more than an iTunes holder. (And not much of that even since the disc drive is broken.)

On top of all this, I found out today that my mother is pondering a big medical procedure (but Mama Iva is FINE, don't worry), which just brings the whole "Colorado v. California" living situation back to the forefront. Honestly? I'd prefer that everyone I love in California move here instead - and bring all the moisture and incredible produce with them, leaving behind the smog, crowds and jacked-up real estate prices.

This is my dream.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Columbine: 10 Years Later

When the horrible events of April 20, 1999 unfolded at Columbine High School, news of the killing rampage spread quickly. When it reached me, I was working Macromedia's reception desk in San Francisco, alongside my pal, Laura. Flash forward a decade and, oddly enough, Laura and I both live here in Colorado.

While there were school shootings before Columbine and no shortage of similar incidents that followed, there is something about the Columbine massacre that has lodged itself deep in our national psyche. It has been analyzed, discussed, debated and written about more than any other school shooting. Even Michael Moore couldn't leave it alone.

Like so many tragedies on the news, the terrible events of that day were horrific, sure, but they also seemed far away. Like how the rest of country must have felt during the 1989 earthquake in San Francisco or the LA Riots - mostly unbelievable because it had happened elsewhere.

When I moved to Colorado, I was reminded that 'Columbine' is a flower - the state flower, actually. It is intricate and beautiful and you see them everywhere in the mountains. I now live two blocks down from Columbine Street and less than 11 miles from Columbine High School. I started meeting people who lived in Littleton, who knew students there, who knew someone who knew someone who was affected by the tragedy. Suddenly, the events of 4/0/99 seemed a lot more real - a lot more local.

Now, every time I drive through Littleton, I am taken in by its quaint charm. I also wonder about the folks who live there now - what they must have endured when evil disrupted their town, when the media trucks pulled in, when the lawsuits were filed, when fingers were pointed. Good God, I can't imagine it.

So today, I took advantage of my joblessness and attended the 10-year memorial service at Clement Park in Littleton. Seeing the families, the survivors (they reject the term, "victim"), the alumni, the Columbine staff and its dedicated principal, the current students and the community - made it so vivid; this was not live-streaming CNN, this was real life. I am in awe of their grace and strength. Instead of letting the tragedy rip them apart, they've allowed it to make them a tighter community.

I think it's incredibly cool that so many Columbine alumni have returned to teach there. So many point to the unceasing dedication of the school's beloved principal, Frank DeAngelis - at right.

I don't know the man but I could see he was a bit of an emotional wreck today. I could also see that he receiving a steady stream of love and support from students, staff and community. He has vowed to stay on as principal through 2012, to make sure that every child that was in the school district when the tragedy occurred, has graduated: "I feel I owe it to the community. The tragedy occurred on my watch."

Watching him today, I was reminded Sully, and our newest hero, Capt. Richard Phillips. All of these men take their jobs seriously in that quiet, dedicated way that you never hear about until something goes terribly awry. Tough times sure bring out the best in some men, that's for sure.

I took quite a few photos, all of which can be viewed here.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Night with Leonard Cohen

My Bay Area visit was soul-feeding in every way and - though I badly needed to connect with friends and family - it was built entirely around seeing Leonard Cohen at the glorious Paramount Theatre.

When the tour was announced, I (rightly) assumed that I could not afford the three-digit ticket prices. (This was even before my lay-off.) I even discussed the matter with my money sage, Gins, who asked: "So, let's compare this to taking a music class at Swallow Hill. It's about the same price. Is it worth it?"

It's a worthwhile question: Leonard Cohen is not only the finest poet and songwriter in modern times (in my humble opinion), he is also a master of Life. All those years of writing and religious study - not to mention giving up his heart time and time again - have turned him into something of a holy man who exudes love and humility in every direction.

Let's put it this way, if the Dalai Lama had a hipster brother, it would most certainly be Leonard. (Cohen was ordained as a Rinzai Zen Buddhist monk and took the Dharma name Jikan, meaning 'silence', living in a monastery for five years.) Dude is SERIOUS.

The fact that the majority of the population has never heard of him, only intensifies my love. I have never heard the "golden voice" on the radio and he is nowhere to be found at the MTV Awards; he has never dated Drew Barrymore although it is highly possible.

At the tender age of 74, Leonard is an international elder statesman of sorts. This French-Canadian Jew has influenced countless writers, musicians and ordinary folks like me, who never get enough of all the sex, pain and humor in his songs. His Wikipedia entry states:

"Over one thousand renditions of Cohen's songs have been recorded. He has been inducted into both the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame and is also a Companion of the Order of Canada, the nation's highest civilian honour. While giving the speech at his induction into the American Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on March 10, 2008, Lou Reed described Cohen as in the 'highest and most influential echelon of songwriters.'"

So, I'm pondering all this and realize that, "By God, watching Leonard perform is worth many, many, many music lessons and I should reconsider my frugality here." Soon after, I received a frantic phone call from, James, who let me know he was working his famous "ticket mojo" and could get us 7th row if I made up my mind in the next 60 seconds.

And it was DONE.

The performance on Tuesday evening was worth every hard-earned dime. I was shocked to discover that I knew almost all the words to nearly every song he played. (I made a concerted effort to not actually sing, since no one was there to hear me.) I was happy to see Leonard is quite nimble for his age. He began most songs down on one knee (more humility) and did a happy jig as he exited the stage for intermission and several encores.

For nerds like me who care about such things, here is the set list:

Dance Me To The End of Love
The Future
Ain't No Cure for Love
Bird on the Wire
Everybody Knows
In My Secret Life
Who By Fire
Chelsea Hotel
Waiting for the Miracle

Set break

Tower of Song
The Gypsy Wife
The Partisan Play
Boogie Street
I'm Your Man
A Thousand Kisses Deep - done in spoken word, no music - UNBELIEVABLE.
Take This Waltz

Encore #1:
So Long, Marianne
First We Take Manhattan

Encore #2:
Famous Blue Raincoat
If It Be Your Will

Encore #3:
Closing Time

Encore #4:
I Tried to Leave You
Wither Thou Goest

With his impossibly talented 9-piece band, including three lovely lady singers (including his writing partner, Shannon Robinson), Leonard sang each song as if he were premiering them. In return, the audience reacted as if the songs were new to us - laughing in all the right places, nodding and clapping in full connection. The last time I felt that much united love for a performer was when the legendary Nina Simone entered Davies Hall - the same thundering applause and hoots of joy and welcome. 'Twas a phenomenal feeling to be a part of it all.

James and I had met up pre-show with with his friend, Jameel, and his lovely sister, Camille - who had never been to the Paramount, Oakland's famed gem. It's the kind of place that makes you want to wear chiffon and drink champagne - which is exactly what I did. We showed Camille around the art deco masterpiece, built in 1931, and her jaw dropped time and time again. A nearby usher watched us and joked, "Oh, are you on the 'ooooh-aaaaaah!' tour?" (The Paramount Theatre was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1977 and you MUST make every effort to visit in your lifetime.)

I also managed to sneak some video footage of LC during "Marianne" - it's a bit shaky as I was trying to be stealthy and avoid the fuzz:

Here's another of the Paramount audience giving the love:

All in all, a night to remember.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Circling Back

Though I'm technically unemployed, I've been working on a project that has kept me busy these last few days. (Tuesday I was at my desk at 5:30 a.m.) My phone still rings with project-related inquiries but today is really the first real day I've felt the quiet stillness of unemployment; the timing couldn't be better.

It's giving me a chance to do some laundry, run some errands and pack for tomorrow's trip to San Francisco, a magical place that still defines a huge part of me. My last visit was six months ago, a work-related trip, and it didn't go very well. Emotionally, I was kind of a mess and it ended with me having a meltdown in the Denver Airport parking garage. I'm sure somebody somewhere got a full view on a security camera but otherwise, I was totally alone. I kept hearing a line from the classic, "Planes, Trains & Automobiles": "You're going the wrong way!" So true.

After unpacking, I resolved to dig deeper into myself, into my Colorado life, my spiritual life and get the fuck over myself; I'm proud to report that something is working. Not sure if it is the church-going, the running, the singing or some new friendships but I feel about 8 gazillion times better. Much less agonizing over ridiculous expectations in my head. Lord, what a waste of time.

Anyhoo, I'm really looking forward to this trip to the Bay Area - a trip planned on my own dime, with my own agenda, and with no involvement of a multi-national corporation. It's about time.

(Update on Curious Hobo.)

Saturday, April 04, 2009

A Crack in the Comfort Zone

As I sit here, listening to Leonard Cohen's "Ten New Songs", I watch the fierce wind toss around the American flag and bird feeder on my porch. I see snow flurries struggling to exist and ponder all the changes in my new life.

As previously mentioned, I am no longer gainfully employed. After nearly nine years, I'm out on my own again. Can't say it was a big surprise. After all, this is the same entity that has been paying for my Wall Street Journal subscription - a sober publication that delivers dark business news to my doorstep every morning. Lay-offs are happening state-wide, country-wide, worldwide ... it was only a matter of time.

I'm happy to report that the break-up was amicable. My former employer gave me every perk an exiting employee can have, plus a little more. While there, I learned to maneuver the murky waterways of Corporate America - a valuable skill. Sure, there were occasional asshole idiots along the way but, as is my policy in business and life, I ignored them.

Instead, I aligned myself with the nerdy ones - the freakishly smart folks who had interesting lives beyond the office door - the ones who made me laugh and taught me things. These co-workers, media types and clients are my people and I am very, VERY good at finding them no matter where life takes me. Ask anyone. (Above photo was taken 2004-ish in my posh San Francisco office, also known as "The Media Maven Haven.")

Mostly, I realized that every skill I needed to do my job well came from these sources: waitressing, dating, travel and excessive news consumption. Okay, maybe I got some insight in college but it was mostly the real-life stuff that proved useful. I learned that no matter how high up on the executive scale a person may be, there's always room for insecurity. Furthermore, the higher you climb up that ladder, the more you have to work and the fun markedly decreases. Oh yeah, the politics get stickier up there too. Hence, my lack of ambition to attain true Big Wig-edness.

Ironically, I've never been busier since they cut me loose. Between doing contract work on a solar project and preparing for a trip to San Francisco, I'm also gearing up to cover the Kentucky Derby for my other gig at BlogHer. After that, I've got another personal trip to SoCal, which will include CCW XI. Come June, I'll finally have time to look for a job and I've got a list of targets in mind; they'll never know what hit 'em.


This also means I'll have more time to regularly update my other blog, Curious Hobo.

(Top photo: I took this Easter weekend last year inside one of the coke ovens in Redstone, CO.)