Missed connections – years apart

Missed ConnectionsIn the past few days, I’ve had a couple of missed connections return into my life after many years.

The first was a guy I talked about in a post on this blog, and in my brief life as a podcaster. We met at a bar and hit it off great. We were going to get together for a date, but one roadblock came up after another, and we never did go out. We did remain friends though, and he ended up in a relationship.

A couple of days ago, I found that old podcast file and listened to it again. First, I thought how glad I was that I didn’t continue as a podcaster— It really wasn’t my forte. But second, I got to wondering about this guy and what was up with him.

The next day… the VERY next day… he signed up for an audition with the chorus.

Now is the universe telling me something? I don’t know. But I’m interested to see what happens here.

The second missed connection was a guy I met on gay.com many years ago. He lived in Chicago and then moved to Hawaii for a while. I found him recently on a, ahem, gay-related site, and we chatted and texted back and forth for most of the day. We might be getting together soon.

What’s with all these years-apart missed connections coming back into my life? I’m intrigued by this latest universal intervention. We shall see how it all plays out.

Re-Launch: The Horror of the Pinewood Derby

Originally posted August 30, 2005

“Hey Rick,” my co-worker asked me as we I was stirring my coffee this morning in the break room. “Were you in the Cub Scouts as a kid?”

“Yeah,” I replied, throwing away my stirrer and popping in a slice of toast. “I spent some time as a Cub Scout, years ago.”

“Did you ever do the Pinewood Derby?”

I shuddered. Memories flew back into my brain that I’d tried to shut out for years. I took a swig of the acid-based coffee in my hand and composed myself. This was no time for a display of cowardice. I could handle it.

“Oh yeah. I remember it well,” I replied. “And thank you so very much for bringing up a horrible chapter of my childhood.”

I tried to feign a sense of disdain for the subject in front of my co-worker, but I couldn’t escape the reality that the subject did evoke a moment of terror in my heart, just as it had over 25 years ago.

“Oh I’m sorry,” he said, pouring himself a cup of coffee, only to find that I had drained the last few drops from the pot. I didn’t mean to do it, but that’s just how his luck was running. Serves him right for bringing up that wretched subject anyway.

“I didn’t mean to bring up a sore subject,” he continued, not seeming to care that I probably didn’t want to talk about it, “But I have a friend that somehow got his hands on a Pinewood Derby racetrack, and I was thinking it would be fun to have a Pinewood Derby race, you know, like we did when we were kids.”

“Really,” I replied. “Well don’t get that track anywhere near me, or I’ll be likely to burn it,” I said.

The Pinewood Derby, in case you are not familiar with the term, is this insipid contest that Boy Scouts hold where each boy is given a block of wood and is expected to build a car out of it. I assume the wood was pine, but whether it was elm, birch, maple or cherry, I didn’t care then, and I still don’t care today. Unless of course it was lining the floors in my home. And even then I might not care that much.

So we all set out to build our dream cars. I forget if we were given wheels for the cars or not, but apparently we had to design our cars so that it would go down this stupid track faster than anyone else’s. And apparently there were a bunch of tricks that one could employ to ensure that one’s car ran faster, but I had no idea what those tricks were, and surely nobody was ever going to tell me, so that I could then, in turn, tell my Dad, and have him build me that fastest, meanest Pinewood Derby car ever. Oh no. I wasn’t that fortunate at all.

The thing that makes me wonder about these races anyway is, do they really think these 7, 8, and 9-year old kids are going to build these cars themselves? Do they really think their parents are going to let them use the saws, planes, sanders, and other big, manly power tools necessary to accomplish such a feat as building a small car out of a chunk of a 2×4? Of course not. So who do these kids turn to in order to accomplish this feat?

Dad.

Now I love my dad. I did then, and I do now. My dad could do a lot of things. He built our garage, three fences, and various other boxes, storage units, and shelving units for our home. He could make repairs fairly well, and get things running again as well as the next dad. He was handy. And that was good. And we loved him no matter what he could or couldn’t do.

But this tortuous event not only proved to me how inept I was at designing the fastest, meanest Pinewood car in all of Cub Scout Troop 507, but it also proved how inept my dad was at doing it as well. He never had to do any sort of Pinewood Derby racing when he was a kid. They didn’t have such means of torture back then. Lucky bastard.

Of course, lucky as he was, my father also had a son that wanted to win if he could, even though he knew that the other kids would probably have a much better chance than he did, no matter how hard he tried.

So Dad and I set out to make my Pinewood Derby car. It was all my Dad’s design. And for what it was, it was sleek and sexy. He painted it black with a glossy paint and put numbers on the sides. By all normal standards, it was a damn nice little car.

But getting it to move was another story. It just didn’t have much “go” to it. We greased the wheels as best we could, but it just didn’t seem to move.

I think we just figured that maybe this is how these cars are supposed to run, so we just let it be. That’s the Aiello way– let it be.

I knew we were doomed right from the start on the night of the Pinewood Derby when we walked into the school gymnasium. Other kids were showing off their cars. They were hot. They were flashy. They were sexy. And they were fast.

When the kids saw my car, they laughed. It was primitive in comparison to the souped-up contraptions they had. Their cars looked like they had bought them at a department store. My car looked like something fashioned out of mud after a rainy day.

In my defense, I did the only thing I could think of to deal with the embarrassment. I cried. And when I would cry, the kids would only tease me more. And when the kids would tease me, I would lose my temper. And when I lost my temper, my dad would get angry with me. You see where this is going, don’t you?

So they set up the cars to race. My pithy little hunk of junk against the fast and the furious. The cap gun blew, and they were off.

It would be too easy, too cliche’, and too uplifting to say that I won the race. It would also be a lie. Because I didn’t win the race… I lost. I lost badly. My little car just moseyed down the ramp while the others actually raced. I don’t think my car even got to the finish line. It probably stopped mid-way down, they just pulled it off the track. I was humiliated.

So I did the one thing I could do to defend myself against my feelings of humiliation. I blamed my father.

In a fit of rage, I cried, yelled and screamed at him. In front of everyone.

And my father– himself humiliated– took me by the arm and led me out of the gymnasium where the event was being held. And he let me have it, but good.

At the time, I despised him for doing it, but in hindsight, I probably deserved it. What kind of example was I setting by throwing a fit in front of parents, friends and family? A horrible one. I was being a brat, and I deserved to be treated like a brat.

To this day, the Pinewood Derby debacle (also known as the “Blue & Gold Banquet” Fight, which is the name of the event where the Pinewood Derby took place) is a sore subject between my father and me. It represented a very low point in our relationship, and neither one of us is proud of how we handled it.

But it is a moment in time. One that try not to think about, except for when some smart-alecky co-worker decides to bring it up and dredge all these painful memories from out of my past.

I forgive him that, though. He doesn’t know the pain I went through. All at the expense of a little chunk of wood.

But through that pain came a few life-long lessons. And an interesting story to tell.

My 25

Those of us who have been blogging for a few years or more (Yipe- it’s almost been 5 years for me!) have done memes like this before.  Back in “the day,” everyone did “100 Things About Me” lists.  I still have mine, and still update it every so often– in fact, I just updated it a few days ago.

But over on Facebook, the latest craze– aside from wearing Aretha’s Hat— is to do a list of 25 as-yet-unknown facts about oneself.  I’ve been tagged a few times to do this list, but haven’t done mine yet.

So here it is.

Oh… and if you’ve been tagged (this is specifically for Facebook users), that means I’d like to know more about you.  But you’re certainly not obliged to do anything.

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1. When I was a kid, I was skinny as a rail, with knobby knees. That all changed in 7th grade.

2. I used to tap dance, and won a few trophies doing so.

3. Even though I’m 38 years old, I have very little gray hair, and no, I don’t dye my hair.  It’s a hereditary thing.

4. In 5th grade, I cut my own bangs — poorly — and blamed it on the barber.  I told people he made a mistake because a firetruck went by just as he was cutting them.  Yeah, I thought I was clever.

5. I taught myself almost everything I know about desktop publishing and graphic design, and have managed to make a decent career of it.

6. I’ve always enjoyed singing.  I have tapes of my mom and I singing Carpenters songs from when I was 3 years old.

7. I started reading at the age of 3.  My parents tried to get me into the “gifted” program, but my math skills were not good enough.  They still aren’t.

8. I have a well-tuned internal compass.  I know which way is North at all times.

9. I like nice things, but I don’t need to have the big labels to make me happy.

10. I refuse to spend more than $20 on a pair of sunglasses.  I’ll only lose or break them anyway.

11. I started shaving when I was 14.  My beard grows so fast, by the end of the day you wouldn’t know I’d shaved that day.

12. I’ve only been in one relationship in my lifetime, and that was 8 years ago.

13. I come from a small family.  I have one sister, one 1st cousin, and I have one aunt and one uncle– a priest– by blood relation.  My mom was an only child.

14. My mom still lives in the house we lived in when I was born.

15. I enjoy sports – baseball and football are my favorites.  I’m a Cubs fan and a Packers fan.  So there.

16. I used to play basketball, football and baseball as a kid.  Of the three, I was only marginally good at basketball and baseball.  I was awful at football.

17. I took swimming lessons for about 5 years when I was little.  I was pretty good at the time.

18. I took organ lessons.  We had an old Sears organ that used to be my Grandma’s, so we took lessons to play it.  I would like to play piano someday.

19. I used to have a cabaret gig at Gentry in Chicago from 2000-2001.  That ended when I got my current job.  Gentry is now closed.

20. The longest job I ever held was at Six Flags Great America.  While I did different things while I was there, and I was seasonal for many of the years I was there; I worked there for 12 years.

21. My first job was at a gift shop/tobacco store in Kenosha, where I grew up.  I was 15 years old.

22. My first car was a burgundy Renault Encore.

23. I had a Big Wheel, a bike with training wheels, and roller skates as a kid.  My childhood was pretty normal.

24. My first dog’s name was Peanut.

25. I’d love to be a dad someday.

Definitive Holiday Songs

Each Holiday season, we are inundated with new releases by semi-new or washed-up artists trying to capitalize on the Holiday music phenomenon. And each year, many of these recordings either fade into the woodwork of bland reproductions of the same tired carols. But sometimes a shining star emerges and, while the entire album may not be full of hits, there is one beautifully performed number that stands out. Over time, this performance can emerge as what I like to call the “Definitive” version of that song.

Here, then, is my current list of Definitive Holiday Songs – the versions that, unlike no other, are the ones that make the song a true Holiday classic. Of course, this list is purely objective; so I encourage you to share your own personal list of Definitive Holiday Songs.

Here we go, in no particular order (links go to iTunes, unless otherwise noted):

1. The Christmas Song – Nat (King) Cole: The ultimate. Nothing can or will top this version, though many have tried. Cole’s soothing, silky baritone, coupled with the cascading strings and cool jazz band make this a holiday classic that can never be topped. One listen, and you know – it’s Christmastime.

2. O Holy Night – Johnny Mathis: As religious-themed carols go, this one is particularly majestic. Mathis’ soaring tenor, against Percy Faith’s stellar orchestra, define the beauty of this carol, yet they do it without being overly treacly or sappy. I’ve loved this version since I was a kid, and it still gives me goose bumps even today.

3. Jingle Bells – Ray Conniff and the Singers: It’s pretty simple sing-along fare, but I have yet to find a more complete version (4 verses!) of this song, and something about the arrangement just perfectly conveys the joy of jingling along in a sleigh when the snow is on the ground. Not that I’ve ever done that before, of course…

4. Silent Night – Mannheim Steamroller: The Steamroller has gotten a little rusty over the years, but this, from the first of their Christmas offerings, is probably the most moving and stunning versions of the carol I’ve ever heard.

5. God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen/We Three Kings-  Barenaked Ladies and Sarah MacLachlan: This bouncy, free-spirited mashup came out a couple years ago and was the big hit of the season– and there’s a good reason why. It’s melodic and catchy, and still defines for me what the songs represent. Plus the joining of BNL and MacLachlan is perfect. I wish they’d do more together.

6. Merry Christmas Darling- Carpenters: The story goes that Karen and Richard Carpenter were students of Frank Pooler in the 1960s, and he gave the lyrics to “Merry Christmas, Darling,” which he had written in the 1940s, to Richard in hopes he could write a melody that suited them. The result is a beautiful Christmas classic that has long stood the test of time and will stand for many years to come. Karen’s vocals are stunning here. Frankly, anything that can help secure the legacy of the Carpenters is a gem in my eyes.

7. Step Into Christmas- Elton John: In the mid-70s, Elton John could do no wrong… so why wouldn’t he write a Christmas song? While some parts of the songs are a tad outdated (“Hop aboard my turntable,” for instance), the song still sounds fresh and fun even today.

8. Sweet Little Jesus Boy- Mahalia Jackson: Reverent and stirring, this spiritual carol is at once sparse and yet full of joy and wonder. Ms. Jackson’s voice is rich and booming; powerful, yet soothing. The chorus behind her is a little saccharine, but Mahalia makes up for it with her power.

9. Star of Wonder- The Roches: Relatively unknown, I first heard this song when I sang it with the Windy City Slickers a few years ago. The harmonies are stunning and thrilling- reminiscent of Imogen Heap- and the melody is beautiful. This SHOULD be a Christmas classic.

10. The Little Drummer Boy- Harry Simeone Chorale: The original and best, and no matter how many times this song is covered, none will ever touch this version.

11. Sleigh Ride – Arthur Fiedler & The Boston Pops: Originally written as an instrumental by Leroy Anderson in 1948; the Boston Pops version is, and will always be, the definitive version of this song. The lyrics, written two years later in 1950, suit the song well, but I prefer to hear it without the lyrics. I get a better image of the song’s meaning that way.

12. Little St. Nick – The Beach Boys: Who would have guessed that The Beach Boys- the surfin’ guys from California- would have created such a Christmas classic? It’s one of those songs that just can’t be done by anyone else without sounding like a really bad idea.

13. Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree- Brenda Lee: This song was probably controversial and even banned when it first came out, but today it’s as much a classic as “Silent Night” or “Jingle Bells.” Which reminds me, this one is often paired with….

14. Jingle Bell Rock- Bobby Helms: Although more “Rockabilly” than “Rock,” this has become a massive classic, and has been covered by countless artists over the years, including Hall and Oates, who had a minor hit with the song in the 80’s. But nothing compares to the original.

15. Mele Kalikimaka- Bing Crosby: A Hawaiian Christmas song? Of course! I’ve always enjoyed this sweet tune, and of course, nobody sings it like Bing (with the Andrews Sisters!)

16. White Christmas- Bing Crosby: The Voice of Christmas himself still owns the title to the definitive version of “White Christmas.” Nobody else can deliver those lines with such power.

17. The Twelve Days of Christmas- John Denver with The Muppets: The first time Miss Piggy sings, “Five… Goooolden… Riiings… Badum Bum Bum…” you know you’ve got a classic on your hands. This song is dreadfully boring without the voices of Jim Henson, Frank Oz and the rest of the Muppet Crew holding it up and making it FUN again!!!

18. Christmas Time Is Here- Vince Guaraldi: A Charlie Brown Christmas and its soundtrack have become such a staple of Christmas music, it’s hard to imagine there was a time before it ever existed. Guaraldi’s jazzy, quiet arrangements and his incredible piano work are heard throughout the special and this album, and make this one of the all-time greats of Christmastime.

19. Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! – Doris Day: America’s sweetheart sounds particularly sexy and sultry here… a tinkling piano and a jazzy arrangement make this holiday standard about more than just snow – it’s about romance and cuddling up with someone special. Now to find that someone special…

20. Santa Baby- Eartha Kitt: When it comes to sultry and sexy, nobody does it like Eartha Kitt… and nobody does Santa Baby like Ms. Kitt, either. The song was written for her and it shows. Growl!

And just for good measure…

21. Little Jack Frost- Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus (featuring a solo by Rick Aiello): (Amazon only) This holiday swing classic, first recorded by Frankie Carle in the 1940s, is done by CGMC with a vocal arrangement by Patrick Sinozich and a solo by some guy who writes in his blog every once in a while.  🙂

So that’s my list. There are others which could easily have made it, but I’m interested to hear what you have to say. Enjoy the music and have a Happy Holiday! 🙂

Holiday Hiatius!

Hi… just checking in. I’ve been pretty busy lately with chorus and work. The chorus show, “Revolt of the Elves,” is gearing up quickly and it looking to be a really fun show. And work of course is keeping me busy, which is good – employment is GOOD! 😀

Since this is Thanksgiving week, I’m pretty much going to take the week off. So while I’m away, I’m leaving you with a funny video that has captured my heart in the last few days.

I love YouTube for many reasons, but one of the best things about it are the clips from old game shows and other TV shows long gone. I found this great clip from the old game show “The Joker’s Wild” that had me laughing for 15 minutes solid a couple days ago.

Sophie was a former postal worker from Los Angeles, and she was a contestant on the “The Joker’s Wild” the early ’70s. Sophie made quite an impression. She may not have known many (or any) of the answers (except one!), but she answered everything with CONVICTION and she did exactly what she set out to do … have fun!

I don’t know whatever happened to Sophie, but you’ve just gotta love her wonderful positive energy.

Oh, and if you don’t have much time, you HAVE to wait until she answers the question about dinosaurs. You’ll never laugh so hard!!!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!