Customer Service?

In advance… I AM NOT THE HERO IN THIS STORY. There isn’t one. This is just a bunch of stuff that happened.

This last week, I had to go to the DMV. Throughout my life, I’ve had very few problems with the DMV. I’m usually very good at it. I’m the guy the DMV worker never thinks about again because NOTHING HAPPENED. I’m not usually the bad story the clerk tells at lunch while they’re training the new person.

That said…

In 2021, I was a SMALL problem for my local branch, because I renewed my plates online. (For non-MO residents, every 2 years, we have to hand the DMV a bunch of nonsense paperwork and pay them $60 for a sticker to put on our license plates that PROVES we…paid $60…) After a couple of weeks went by, I hadn’t received my stickers in the mail, and I called the DMV at the state capitol. They told me I could take my receipt to my local branch, and they’d give me the stickers with no problem. So, I went in…and my local branch wanted me to pay ANOTHER $60. I argued. For 15 minutes. Until they gave me a FORM to fill out for the capitol to reimburse me for the double-payment I was being forced to make by my local terrorist-branch of the DMV (which, incidentally, is now CLOSED). The reimbursement came 4 months later after several follow-up calls. …but before that, it had always been simple… Until now.

In mid-2021, I got a new car. That story is documented elsewhere… My old car had started to require so many repairs that getting a NEW one made more sense than keeping the old one. So I went to a Kia dealership and they swindled me into buying an used Chevy Equinox, despite my saying, “I’m NOT buying today, I’m just seeing what I can afford…” (I saw every shitty dealer-trick the guy pulled. I knew he was pulling them. But I liked and NEEDED the car…for my sins…)

Long story short…this car has been one of the biggest mistakes I’ve ever made and having it for the 1.5 years I’ve had it has been about the same as just repairing the old one every few months… But that’s tangential to the DMV story…

It’s 2023. My plates were up for renewal again at the end of January. The lemon of a car I’d bought was in the shop in the middle of the month, when I normally would’ve renewed to be ahead of the curve…so I really only had the opportunity to obtain the (passed) emissions test and go to the DMV on 1/28. Much later than I was comfortable with…but unavoidable…

The DMV branch I have been going to for 20+ years, as I said above, had CLOSED. I didn’t know this until I was up against the clock…there’s still a “for lease” sign on the door. I’m pretty sure no one wants to lease it because they don’t know enough priests to exorcise the hell-mouth residue out of the walls…but I digress (as usual).

With the usual branch closed, I had to find a new one. The one that came recommended to me was closed for the day by the time I got there. So, I went to a third location in the same day and found it open…but miserable. It was one large room with stains on the floor and wall of an undisclosed nature. The posters on the walls were decades old. The lights flickered… But it was a DMV. And I was #35 in line…while they were serving #22. (SPOILER ALERT: This DMV location turns out to be the BEST part of the story and will be the branch I use from now on.)

After a LONG wait in a room with too many people with too few masks in a COVID world, my number was called. They asked for my paperwork. I provided all of it. I had EVERYTHING… I was ready. I ALWAYS am… Except… My insurance company had failed to report to the state that my policy had been renewed. And that was a problem. I needed documentation I didn’t have, because Liberty Mutual no longer sends it and expects you to just HAVE their app ready to go in any given situation…and they don’t do their diligence in reporting their customers’ policy updates to the state. In short, I couldn’t renew that day…the clerk was nice about it and explained what they needed to see–which I did not have–in a way that made it clear it was MY issue, but did not make me feel like I could’ve done anything differently coming in… They were so nice, I even thanked them and apologized for wasting their time… This was a defeating moment, but after all that followed, I’d describe it as pleasant.

Come Monday, I had sorted out what I needed from Liberty Mutual (but as of now, I have not yet chosen my next auto insurance company to replace Liberty Mutual, who is dead to me). I was ready to go. Again.

But…

I got to the place I’d hoped to go the previous Saturday. The nicer DMV. The one with good lighting, good chairs, and clean walls and floors. The state-run one… The professionals… And I was SECOND in line. They called me up and I handed over my paperwork. My insurance was in line and I was ready to pay………

And the clerk told me that the name on my property tax (which was CONFIRMED to be paid in full, regardless of the name) did not match the name on my vehicle title. (The wall-stained DMV did not mention any of this…I don’t think it was an issue to them.)

Now…there are reasons for that. I won’t go into them here because this is already too long and it’s also not your business…but suffice to say, anyone with a brain in their head would understand what happened, renew the plates, and tell me what to fix for next time. But this DMV clerk was not in a kind mood.

I was surprised. I was confused. I asked, calmly but pleadingly, “What do I need to do? What happens now?” Because they hadn’t offered that information, up to this point.

Among the things the soulless husk behind the desk said to me were, “I don’t know what idiot gave you plates in the first place.” And “if you’d paid attention to the notice we sent, you’d be prepared.” (I had EVERY document listed on the notice, btw.) And “What you have here doesn’t matter.” And “There’s nothing you can do.”

They were abusive. They were unhelpful. They were mean. They were wrong.

Customer service matters and if you’re BAD at it, you bring some things onto yourself. In my job, when I deal with a customer who is maybe unfamiliar with the process or even SCREAMING about wrongs others have perpetrated upon them before they got to me, I smile and try to help them feel like we’re in it together. (And I’ve been doing that for 13 YEARS.) If there’s a problem, THEY don’t have a problem, WE do… I don’t make them feel stupid. I don’t make them feel like they’re an irritant. I try to help move them toward a solution and see light at the end of the tunnel, even if the tunnel is long and costly. So often, it’s not what you say, but how you say it. Unlike the person at the considerably shabbier DMV, the clerk at the “nice” DMV said it as rudely, condescendingly, insultingly, and self-righteously as possible.

And I reacted.

I did not yell. I did not swear. But I told the truth. (This may be a slight paraphrase, but it’s pretty close.)

“Maybe the person who gave me my plates did it because they could tell everything was in order and they didn’t care about minor details. Or maybe they’re not so small and worthless that they need to wave around what little power they have over complete strangers who are just trying to do what’s right. Or maybe they had a good life where they don’t go home every day and have to slowly drink, drug, or eat themselves into an early grave–and by the way, you look great, no one would ever guess… Now, since you’re not going to help me, why don’t you give me back my papers and I’ll go where a professional can help me and never come back here again…and you……will still…be……here.”

They didn’t look at me. They didn’t say another word. Their lips were shut tight. They put my papers in my folder and handed it to me. I walked away. I’m pretty sure they cried when I was out of earshot.

I’m not the hero. That was wrong. I was wrong. It felt AMAZING. But I was wrong.

The next day, I was at the Recorder of Deeds office for a significant amount of time with my dad (again, long story, but he was needed and helpful). We had few actual problems beyond the standard bureaucracy, and we got everything in order. I returned to the DMV with the stains on the walls and floors, where they had been nice to me the previous weekend. I was there for about 10-15 minutes before I had my stickers in-hand. It worked out. NEVER assume the “ugly” place is the worse one. (I used to know that.)

I’m still not the hero.

I feel awful.

I was wronged. Multiple times. And in response I degraded and made an office clerk who was stuck in their shitty job cry. I was wronged. But I was wrong. The DMV sucks, but I made it suck more this week.

My license plate situation is taken care of. It’s over. I have no further business there.

I am going to go back there early on Monday morning. And I am going to have an armful of store-sealed donuts and a Starbucks gift card for each window (I believe there were five–credit to one of my coworkers for this part of the idea). And I am going to say, “I was here on Monday of last week and had a problem. The person assisting me was unable to help and I responded rudely. I would like to apologize and give you all these donuts and Starbucks gift cards to enjoy today.”

It won’t fix it. But it’s something. We’re all humans. We’re all fucked up. We should all be forgiven, and we should all forgive. Even when the system is broken and the face of it is a jerk.

Ask me if I did it and how it went, please.

And renew your plates before the last day of the month. You never know what problem beyond your control is going to come up.

————

Today’s Listening:
Gord Downie: “Secret Path” and “Away is Mine”
Nick Cave: “Ghosteen”

My Top 10 of 2022

I haven’t written on this blog near enough this year. I guess I’ve had enough going on that I’ve been processing in real-time that I haven’t needed to write about it. I’ll try to correct that and write about stuff whether it’s processed or not in 2023. But in the meantime, how could I possibly miss posting my Top Ten of 2022? The Top Ten has been a centerpiece of this blog since I’ve been writing it. I’d be letting us all down if that didn’t continue. So…here it is!

I did a podcast episode that goes into deeper detail (especially on the “mostly honorable mentions”) and I’d encourage you to check that out, too…but here’s the short version.

10. Marc With A C – Thanatophobia
Marc With A C is a great guy who writes great songs. Post-Punk? Acouta-Punk? I don’t know what you call it. He’s got a Punk Rock sensibility with great, fun lyrics, and a lo-fi production…but calling him “Punk” is too simple. On “Thanatophobia” (which is the abnormally high fear of death), he presents a more serious side, but the songs are still fun and gripping. And if you buy it in physical format, you get a DVD with it that you’re supposed to watch at the same time you’re listening to the album. I love that he’s doing cool stuff like that to reward those of us who buy the physical product. It’s a great album from a great guy. What’s not to love?

9. American Aquarium – Chicamacomico
I’m new to American Aquarium. They’ve been right on my periphery for years, but I never dived in…and the one time I tried, I watched a YouTube video, saw the incomprehensibly attractive BJ Barham and thought “that beautiful man ain’t gonna speak to me” and closed the window. Sometimes looks are deceiving. And sometimes stupid prejudice pops up where you least expect it–I’m working on it. Through the encouragement of an acquaintance, I gave them a new chance this year, when I saw this album sitting in the rack at a record store…and hoo-boy was I wrong, wrong, WRONG. This is an AMAZING alt-country masterpiece that has been in welcomed heavy rotation since it came into my life. And it should probably be in yours, too.

8. Dropkick Murphys – This Machine Still Kill Fascists
Who knew? Who knew that DKM would be down a man (hope everything’s okay, Al Barr), they’d unplug their guitars, they’d dig through the Woody Guthrie Archive, and they’d produce quite possibly their best album? Who could’ve guessed that? (Other than, apparently, the band themselves?) Now…okay…maybe “Sing Loud, Sing Proud” might have a SLIGHT edge as far as their best album…but it is SLIGHT. This album is solid gold. Good, passionate, Boston-Irish punk…but on acoustic guitars. And with Woody Guthrie’s lyrics (and at one point also his VOICE). It’s not straight-up covers, because these were mostly lyrics that were previously unused…so it’s eligible for this list… But…like… Woody “This Machine Kills Fascists” Guthrie died in 1967. And these lyrics seem like they were written yesterday. That’s both amazing, and also incredibly sad…but it produced some of DKM’s finest work. You owe it to yourself to hear this one.

7. Sloan – Steady
Sloan is Canada’s foremost power-pop band. Which is misleading. They’re really just Canada’s foremost great straightforward Rock band (particularly now that The Tragically Hip isn’t doing stuff). They write really great, really deeply infectious earworms, but also dig deeper and get serious with some good, chunky riffs, and deep personal introspection, while still being able to turn on a dime to give you some light FM gold. With four songwriters, all of whom sing and play multiple instruments (just like the Beatles!), they have a lot to offer to keep you riveted. (And as a side note, they’ve done some of the most fun live shows I’ve been to in the last 10 years.) All of that is on display on “Steady.” Lots of fun. Lots of lightheartedness. Lots of energy. But also some reflection, a lot of depth, and a lot to think about…all while tapping the shit out of your toes. Buy it.

6. Julian Lennon – Jude
Yes. John Lennon’s son. Moving on… “Jude” is an album that is clearly rooted in 70s pop-rock, but those are just the roots. It blossoms out from there to feel completely modern (right down to the drum loops) and relevant. In a year where everybody was still talking about the Get Back documentary and snapping up the Revolver box set, the original “Jude” released an album that grapples with the name, but also firmly plants his foot as Julian. It blew me away on the first listen and keeps doing so every time I pop it back in the player.

5. Wilco – Cruel Country
If you like alt-country and you live anywhere near St. Louis, you’ve seen Wilco in concert at least once and you likely have at least one of their albums, but you’re not sure when or how you got it. Or, like me, you’ve got EVERYTHING, even specifically tracking down and paying too much for used copies of the stuff you didn’t particularly like. Ahem… All that notwithstanding, “Cruel Country” came as a breath of fresh air, to me. It’s two CDs (so probably like 32 vinyl records and it costs $700 because it’s on that bullshit 180 gram nonsense). A double album is always a gamble… Most of the time it results in an album where you end up feeling like there’s a really solid single disc, with a whole lot of filler (White Album–you know I’m right). But sometimes…just once in a while, you get a double-album where the two albums both feel unique. The second album feels just as vital, or even MORE vital than the first, and you don’t feel like anything is repetitive or superfluous, or removeable…and you even think maybe the second disk is BETTER than the first! That’s “Cruel Country.”

4. Pixies – Doggerel
Okay. Look. Every Pixies album since the band reformed has been a Frank Black solo album that features (most of ) the members of the Pixies. We all know that. It doesn’t make them BAD albums. But it’s just what they are. This one is too. But fortunately, I adore Frank Black solo albums. “Doggerel” is a GREAT album. It’s probably the album I’ve returned to the most this year. And “The Lord Has Come Back Today” has probably been stuck in my head since the first time I heard it. This album gets under your skin in the best way. Like a…uhh…vaccine, I guess. Yeah. I think that tracks…

DISCLAIMER: Albums 1-3 are very diverse, and I would be absolutely happy to have ANY of them at #1. They are in this order almost arbitrarily. Feel free to slide them around.

3. Eddie Vedder – Earthling
It’s better than the last Pearl Jam album. Maybe better than the last TWO Pearl Jam albums. What more do you need to know? Eddie Vedder out Pearl Jammed himself. It’s almost a shame that this one is going to fly under the radar for all but the most ardent of fans… But hey…you can have a beautiful diamond in your wedding ring and no one knows it… Doesn’t that make the diamond mean all-the-more to you, because it’s YOURS? Or…y’know…a metaphor that works for you…? Point is, this is a fucking GREAT rock album. Eddie worked with a bunch of his friends. Some of them are very famous. Some will never work on any other album you’ll ever hear. And it’s clear he had a BLAST doing it. I hope he can carry the energy, fun, and heart of this album into the next PJ session…because this one deserves to be a Pearl Jam album…but it’s a solo album instead.

2. Taylor Swift – Midnights
What can I say? It’s amazing. It’s a warm blanket you wrap yourself in when you’re feeling a little fucked up, but you still want to have a good time. I’m a latter day Swiftie, who isn’t comfortable even calling himself that because there is a LOT I’ve missed… I got in so late that I wouldn’t be mad if people thought I was a poser… But this album. This fucking album. It’s in my soul. Despite that weird “sexy baby” line…

1. Coheed & Cambria – Vaxis II: A Window of the Waking Mind
There was no question in my mind when I started writing this list that this album would be in the top 5. No question it belonged in the top 3. It was the first one I wrote down…and therefore was the one to beat. Eddie Vedder and Taylor Swift came close. But this album has been a CONSTANT in my rotation since it came out. It’s hands-down my favorite Coheed record, and it was almost DESTINED to be the top of this list. It’s heavy, dark, and chugging…but it has moments of proggy, balldy beauty, as well. It’s Coheed’s finest work so far and makes me very excited to hear whatever the hell they come up with next! It’s my #1. And I don’t doubt it for a second…even if I’d also be comfortable with Taylor or Vedder being in this spot.

It’s a good group.

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(Mostly) Honorable Mentions:

I’m almost legendary for spending more time on the runners-up than on the list itself… And this year I do feel the need to explain why a few didn’t make the top 10…but I also don’t want to spend too much time on it… So. Look. Here’s an alphabetical list of what I didn’t include. I’ll expand on some of it, because I feel I owe a few records some explanation. But here’s the stuff that didn’t quite make it. Some just BARELY. Some not even close. I’ll keep it brief. (In alphabetical order.)

  • And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead – XI: Bleed Here Now – Good but too long.
  • Elvis Costello – The Boy Called If – This was a heart-breaker. It really SHOULD be in my top ten. That it isn’t is a compliment to everything that did make it. This is EXACTLY what I want from Elvis Costello at this point in his career. It’s a great record, and I was hoping to sing it’s praises as one of the top ten…but instead I’ve got to say it’s one of the best of the year…but just BARELY missed my top ten.
  • Drive-By Truckers – Welcome 2 Club XIII – This is the first DBT record since I’ve been a fan that hasn’t hit my top ten. Even “Go Go Boots” made the top ten. And I’d go back and change that if I could… But this just isn’t a top ten record. Don’t get me wrong… I like it. It’s FINE. But it’s only FINE. I’m aware that they wrote/recorded it in just a couple weeks…I think if they’d had a couple weeks to a month more it’d be an absolute banger. I saw them in concert after the release and the songs they did from it were much better live…so I think they just needed more time to work some shit out. But they didn’t have it. And it shows. I’ll listen to it for YEARS to come…but it didn’t make the top ten.
  • Flogging Molly – Anthem – Again…it’s just FINE. A perfectly FINE Flogging Molly record. But the last one grabbed me. This one just kinda hung out with me without particularly trying to lean in for the hug. Y’know?
  • Guided By Voices – Crystal Nuns Cathedral / Tremblers and Goggles by Rank – I’ll be honest…I’m burnt out on GBV. They’re released too much music in too short a time. Since 2017 and Uncle Bob’s 100th record, they have released 13 albums of NEW material (more than 2 per year). And I have ALL OF THEM. That’s too fucking many. None of them make any fucking sense. The lyrics are meaningless. The album titles doubly so. The music manages to not be redundant…but as impressive as that is…how great would the album be if they just took ONE FUCKING YEAR OFF? But… Bob seems to think GBV is the ONLY band. And it’s hurting them. At least with me. So…no…sorry, Bob…I can’t possibly absorb these albums well enough to have them make the list. Stop it. Slow the fuck down. Release ONE album in 2023 (or preferably 2024) and make my list. But until then, I’m fucking exhausted. On a grade scale, these albums get a C or a D. Not because of their content, but because I can’t make myself do anything more than skim them after 13 fucking albums since I started giving a shit. (It’s weird to be this grumpy about something you’re actively enjoying collecting.)
  • Lamb of God – Omens – Probably would’ve been on the list if I’d made a Top 15. GREAT album. Driving, angry, and loud, growly heavy metal. It’s great. And my cats HATE it. Awesome record that I can only listen to in my car.
  • Demi Lovato – Holy Fvck – It’s no-doubt the bravest album I’ve heard all year. It’s deep, personal, dark, and moving. And that’s the problem. It’s so deep, personal, and VULGAR that it’s borderline inaccessible. In that way it is both an A+ album and an absolute F. I get it…but I don’t get it. I want to like it…but there’s nothing for me to grab onto because I’ve never been to rehab. It’s absolutely the most bold, personal, and real album you’re going to hear this year…but you might not want to listen to it a second time. (And that’s where I find myself.)
  • Metric – Formentera – Another heartbreaker. This is a great album. It’s a little long in places…but I think that’s on purpose. I like Metric a lot. This is a great Metric album…but it fell just BARELY short of the top ten.
  • Eytan Mirsky – Lord, Have Mirsky – Honestly, it’s not on the list because I kinda know him and that felt like nepotism. 🙂 But it’s a fun album with tongue firmly in-cheek and some really catchy hooks. Check it out. You won’t be disappointed.
  • Mountain Goats – Bleed Out – It’s a Mountain Goats album. You know what you’re geting. Great folk-rock with a dark side. I love it. It just BARELY missed out.
  • Off! – Free LSD – Really good album. IMO it skews too heavily into psychedelia and loses the punk edge that brought them to the dance a little too frequently…but on the other hand, it’s called “Free LSD” so that shouldn’t bother me. But it does. So it’s an honorable mention instead of a top ten.
  • Amanda Shires – Take It Like a Man – This is a good album. Amanda Shires writes GREAT songs. But…I fell in love with her as a folky artist…and a lot of this album is yacht rock. I LIKE yacht rock…but it’s not what I want to hear from her. That said, it missing the top ten is on ME, not her. It’s a very good album for what it is…I just expected something else. (I might return to this in a couple months and wish like hell I hadn’t said any of this FWIW.)
  • Tegan & Sara – Crybaby – I love T&S…but this one just feels like it’s trying too hard. The profanities used in the lyrics and song titles feel more like teenagers trying to shock their teachers than they do 42 year old women organically speaking how they speak. And that hurt my enjoyment of the album. Still, there are a couple songs that are standouts. And that’s enough for me.
  • Neil Young – Toast – This album belongs in my top ten…of 2001…when it was recorded… I love Neil Young. That’s no secret. I WANTED this album to be in the top ten…but it was recorded in 2001. It just wasn’t released until now. What do you do with that? It’s 21 years old. But we’ haven’t heard it yet. So…is it new? Is it old? … … … … Ultimately, I was so confused by if I COULD include it that I decided not to…but know that if I COULD, it’d be in the top five.

…And that’s it! That’s the top ten and the honorable mentions. I enjoyed writing this and I hope you enjoyed reading it. 2023 promises to have some really cool releases, too…and I’m looking forward to collecting as many of them as I can!

I’m going to try to write more in 2023. Even if I only write once a month, it’ll be a massive improvement…but I hope you all had a great 2022, and since I’m unlikely to write before then, I hope you have a happy new year! Thanks for reading. I hope you get some ideas of stuff you should listen to from this post. Or if not, I hope you at least had some fun!

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Current Listening:
Me…I’ve got an album that’s supposed to come out in less than 4 weeks!

New Album Coming in January…Probably…

I’ve announced on my social media that I’m working on a new solo album. I should probably write a bit about it here.

The album will be called “Third Act Problems.” That’s a theatre term. The third act of a play is typically the last one, and it is a frequent criticism that a play might be okay but have “third act problems,” meaning the ending feels weaker than the rest of it. So me using that term is kind of a joke, you see… DO YOU SEE?

I’m in my 40s. There’s no “and THEN I finally made it!” happening in my music career at this point. I’m in the third act of my music career. Hell, I might be in the fourth or fifth! And that’s fine. I’m good with it. I’m still going to be playing if I live to be 100, but y’know…this isn’t going to be my 9-5 at this point, is all. The irony of the title is that this is probably the happiest year of my adult life. My cats have a lot to do with that. They kinda changed everything. The further irony is that these are probably some of the pound-for-pound best songs I’ve written so far. So…not a lot of problems in this act…but still… (It’s also a reference to one of the lyrics on the album, but I’ll probably talk about that more when it comes out.)

The recording process of this album HAS been filled with problems though. It was an uphill climb. This being a Derek Brink album, there’s a lot of loss discussed on it. Though I’d like to think I did it differently and with a little less gloom, this time. But still…leading up to this one, there was the death of a close family friend, and several family members along the way. That’s all talked about on the album, because it HAD to be… But there are also love songs. Two songs about the cats. Some sorta religious stuff. It’s all over the place, that way… There’s a lot of joy on this album. More than usual. The writing came easier than the performing.

I struggled with playing some of the guitar lines on the album. That always happens. But what was more frustrating was how much I struggled with the vocals–even having to go back and change the keys on a couple songs. After I had COVID in January of 2022, my throat just hasn’t been the same. It’s weaker than it was before I got sick. I get raspy EASILY. And my pitch drifts more than it used to. COVID messed up my voice really badly. So singing some of the best songs I’ve ever written wasn’t easy. It was very frustrating. Even depressing to hear the playback and realize I was OFF on so much of it…or to be in the middle of trying and know I wasn’t going to make it to the bridge.

As far as lingering COVID symptoms go, I realize that’s on the “lucky” side. But a singer losing control of their voice is like anyone else losing control of their thumbs. What the fuck are you supposed to do now that your thumbs are THERE, but they don’t do what you ask them to, unless you ask over and over again and try REALLY hard to force them?

Now THAT is a problem…but we press on…

I’ve also had some unexpected difficulties in mixing/mastering it all. Those issues are for the most part too hard to explain to anybody who hasn’t done it…but the short version is that my usual bag of tricks hasn’t been working, so I’m trying NEW tricks, which is scary when you’ve been doing it this long. But I’m getting encouraging results from the new stuff. I think it’s going to be a pretty pleasing-sounding master in the end. It’s just taking me longer to get there than usual. But the mix is going to be good. You’ll hear more bass guitar than usual, I think.

I haven’t specified what day I’m going to release it yet. I’ve just kept saying “in January.” But now that it’s almost Christmas, that seems SO CLOSE. But I’ll do it…it might be as late as January 31, but I’ll do it. Even if the physical format gets delayed a little.

Until then, a pre-release track has been made available at THIS LINK. It’s a song called “Repass (for Jon)” that was inspired by sitting at the Celebration of Life for my friend Jon, who passed away just after Christmas last year. He offered a quote that I have printed and hanging up at different places where I’ll see it. “Find things to laugh about. Spend time with family and friends. Don’t let someone ruin your day. Treat people the way you want to be treated. How you react to things that happen in life is much more important than the things that happen. Practice random acts of kindness. Pay for someone’s meal at a restaurant drive-thru. Remember that you’re not always right and they’re not always wrong; people say things from their own perspective.” 

Most of the lyrics to “Repass” come from that. The “scratching off the numbers” line comes from a tradition between Jon and my dad to give each other Lotto scratchers instead of prayer cards when someone dies. It’s a good song. The version presently uploaded is not the final mix, so if you want to compare and contrast once the rest of the album goes live, download it now, I guess.

I’m still working, even as I type this. There are more mixes to do. I need to add some background vocals here and there (though there won’t be a ton this time). I have to do a retake of the lead vocal on at least one song–because my post-COVID voice drifted off key…

Why the hell am I writing this instead of doing all that?

Anyway…here’s what the front cover is going to look like. I drew it myself, and I think you can tell.

More as it happens, of course.

————

Current Listening:

I’m just trying to finish up my top ten list for the year, man…

Happy Birthday Jonco and McGuire!

My boys are one year old today! (For those who aren’t regular followers, in advance, my boys are cats.) I’ve only had them since March, but their birthday on all of the paperwork I received is October 26. My little guys are officially considered grownups today!

So, as promised back in April…here’s a post of how it happened…

In a lot of ways it goes back to 2020, isolating at home, like so many of us didn’t. Like the rest of we who did, I thought, “maybe I should get a pet.” At the time I was thinking about a dog. But “maybe I should get a pet” was quickly followed by “once society restarts, I won’t be able to be fair to a dog.” And I kind of put it out of my mind.

In the meantime, two seemingly unrelated things happened that led me down a path that ended where we are now… The first thing was I reconnected with a friend from high school who fosters cats. The second was that I joined TikTok.

Let’s deal with the second thing first.

TikTok is basically an app where people exclusively look at videos of adorable animals and do stupid dances from the 1990s incorrectly. As is my understanding, anyway. But everyone is on it. And I felt like I was missing out. So, I downloaded the app and signed up. To date, I have still not posted anything on it, though I follow a handful of people. But I started watching a bunch of different adorable cat videos. And I started following a couple of people who foster kittens–most notably Mary from Miss Dixie’s Kitten Rescue (@fortheloveofkittenrescue), who gave me a LOT of insight into what to expect both from the cats and the adoption agency. My daily life had multiple cute kittens in it, some of whose stories I was getting VERY attached to.

I’d always considered myself a dog-person, but I’ve also liked several cats a lot. And I’ve had a relatively friendly relationship with them. Times when I’ve stayed over at somebody’s house, I’ve woken up with cats I didn’t even know they had cuddled up to me. Cats seem to sorta like me. And I began to realize how much I understand them. Cats are independent. They have just as much love in their hearts as dogs, but they express it on their own schedule, not just because you arrived. (Although when I come home from a day at the office, my boys DO make it clear they’re glad to see me!) They don’t necessarily NEED you…but they often WANT you… People think they’re “aloof” (or “assholes”), but the truth is they just love differently. And I get it… And TikTok reminded me of just how CUTE they are! (And who doesn’t love getting purrs? …but I may be getting ahead of myself.)

I started FIVE sentences in the last paragraph with the word “and.” Don’t let anyone tell you what you can’t do.

So anyway, TikTok was a surprisingly big factor. But reconnecting with Kim was bigger.

Kim and I were friends in high school. I always thought Kim was cool. She’s smart, funny, and just seems absolutely comfortable being herself. We didn’t hang out a LOT at the time, but I always liked talking to her in Choir or Music Theory or whatever. This was the 90s, and I think she was the first person I knew who ALSO watched South Park, at the time. When we graduated, we lost touch–that happened with a lot of people I liked at the time. I sorta woke up the morning after graduation and realized, “Oh crap…I’ll never see so-and-so again!” Kim was one of those people.

And then, after a non-single-digit number of years, along came social media…and at the tail end of 2020 (based on the “memories” that have been popping up for me lately) Kim and I became Facebook friends, which made me happy. (She’s still cool and smart and funny and seems absolutely comfortable being herself. No idea of her current thoughts on South Park. Hasn’t come up.) Kim started sharing statuses about cats she fosters, and I was having a lot of fun watching her little buddies stopping by on their way to their forever homes…

And from mostly those chance things…one day I realized I wanted a cat.

I posted something about it on Facebook, and Kim basically said, “Hey, if you’re serious…” And she kinda kept me in mind as new fosters came in. But–even though I WAS serious–I also wasn’t ready. The house was not in a good condition to safely care for cats. It probably could’ve managed a dog…dogs don’t climb or wiggle into tight spaces to find danger-stuff…but my basement alone was (and is) full of little spaces where a kitty could easily get trapped. At bare minimum, I needed to put a door on it. But I also wanted to clean out the “spare room” which was full of piled up decades of junk of the “someday I’ll do something with this” nature. And that was a months-long process in itself. So when I started “seriously” talking to Kim about what I thought would be “a cat,” what I really meant was “maybe in 2022, if I get motivated enough…” (Side note: “A cat: became TWO CATS because it’s nice for everybody to have a friend…and also that’s the policy of Tenth Life, where I adopted them from, as it is with many fosters–no single-pet homes. It makes sense, especially with cats.)

But I couldn’t put the thought out of my mind, like I had with a dog in 2020. Partly because Kim and TikTok kept putting cats in my face…but also because the heart wants what it wants. So, I was doing some cleaning. And I was trying to find a handyman to put a door on my basement–the latter proved impossible for reasons I will never understand. (I ended up doing it myself with some help from a neighbor. It wasn’t hard.)

Then came Christmas. More specifically Christmas Eve…and Kim posted this picture…

I mean…come on…

I was at my family’s Christmas gathering. My brother and eldest niece heard me audibly say, “Aww!” and I showed them the picture. They both also said, “Aww!” (and Tessa is not a cat person)…

But I was still, by my estimation, 3-5 months away from being “ready.” There was SO MUCH to do…

And Kim kept posting pictures…and we kept talking…and I was in love with the little guys (then called Hermey and Bumble–Christmas names!) before I even met them. So in the new year, I went into overdrive. I was cleaning and throwing things out and buying needed supplies, and learning how to put doors on basements…etc etc etc…

And on Feb 19, Kim invited me over to her place to meet the boys. As soon as I walked into the room McGuire (then Hermey) looked at me and immediately hid. Jonco followed soon after. They’re Omicron babies. They only know a handful of people. They’re a little fraidy.

Per Kim’s directions, I sat on the floor and waited them out. Kim and I made small talk. Soon Hermey appeared and started playing with my shoelaces (I was wearing my black Chuck Taylors)…and Bumble followed…and the rest of the night was spent chatting with Kim, playing with the boys, and falling head-over-heels. Bumble would be renamed Jonco, after my friend Jon who’d passed away at the very end of the previous year. Hermey would be renamed McGuire, after my uncle Dan (who will still be with us for years to come). Before that, they were briefly going to be Paul McCatney and Sir Catrick Stewart.

Nevertheless…

If I was in overdrive before, I went to ludicrous speed after that night. Furniture was moved/disposed of, rooms were painted, doors were hung, supplies were bought, interviews with Tenth Life were held… I was COMMITTED. I printed out a picture Kim had sent me and pinned it to the wall, right by the door, so any time I thought, “I’m done for tonight,” I’d have to see it…and then I’d do MORE. I don’t think I’ve physically worked that hard or slept that little since I was a teenager.

This was the one. Again. Come on! Who wouldn’t work their ass off for those tiny faces?

Then, on March 4th, 2021, Kim texted me to tell me to come pick up my cats!!! It was about 9 p.m. I raced over, Kim got them in their carriers, I hugged her and thanked her profusely, and the boys came home! It was a half-hour drive. They weren’t happy…they were scared…but they were always going to be… I played some music by The Tragically Hip once we got on the highway, and they settled down a little.

When I got them home, they refused to leave their crates until I was out of the room. And then they IMMEDIATELY hid inside the armchair that’s in the room. They both put in an appearance to eat some food, but they largely were unsure what to think. I expected that. I was still emotional in the “PLEASE LOVE ME!!!” way…but I expected that. I left my over-shirt in there with them overnight so they could use it as a blanket and get used to my scent. I think it helped.

This was the next morning. My overshirt is in the foreground. They’d already stopped running and hiding. The shirt worked! 🙂

Of course, their first few weeks here gave me many worries and resulted in several half-panicked texts to Kim for advice–and she was GREAT through all of that. (She also gave them an AMAZING start, getting them fully box-trained, getting them comfortable with being pet just about anywhere, and making sure they were already happy before they got to me. She’s good at what she does.)

The most upsetting thing that happened in the very early days was McGuire getting stuck on the inside of my couch–multiple times. It was one of those reclining couches. He’d get in there, then get lost and not know how to get out and howl his head off for help. One time, when I was rescuing him, I hurt my hand so badly I thought it was broken…but it was just bruised and swollen. And that was the day I went shopping for a new couch. Which has since arrived. And no one’s been inside of it at all.

This was some of the damage. Three swollen fingers–just LOOK at my index finger! Bruises everywhere. The couch was gone not just because it was a problem for my boys…but also I was kinda mad at it after this!

But growing pains happen. I learned a lot about them, they learned a lot about me, and most of all, I think I learned a lot about MYSELF. They’ve given me a purpose beyond my own agenda to think about every day. They’ve given me something to look forward to coming home to when I have to go out. It’s going to sound absurd to a lot of you…but they changed my life. They made it better.

And today they’re 1! I’m going to do some fun stuff with them, but mostly it’s going to be a lot of snuggles and extra pets…and extra treats…stuff like that. It’ll be nice. (It’ll also be marked by several deliveries of major items for my bathroom remodel–but that should really be a different post!)

The last nearly 8 months have been FULL of firsts. And there are a bunch more to come. But I’m also already hitting some “lasts” that I didn’t know I wasn’t emotionally prepared for… I’ve been feeding them the same foods every day since they came home. I’m about to transition them to adult food, since they’re 1 now. So I bought a bag of the adult kibble and some cans of the adult wet-food… But the best way to introduce the new kibble is to mix it with their old kibble…so I also needed some more kitten kibble… And as I picked up that bag, I realized it was the LAST bag of kitten kibble I’m going to buy. I got weirdly sentimental about it. I don’t know WHAT I’m going to be like tomorrow morning when I open up the last can of “Ocean Whitefish Feast” for them…that was the very first food I ever gave them. And tomorrow is the last can!

Sunrise. Sunset. Etc.

It’ll be fine. 🙂

Look…here’s the thing… I don’t really think “everything happens for a reason” or anything like that. It’s philosophically, spiritually, and humanly more comforting for me to think that there’s absolutely no reason for most stuff. Or at least not GOOD reasons… But…

I hate social media trends…but I found TikTok. I hadn’t talked to Kim in x-amount of years, and we happened to get reacquainted. And she happened to foster cats. There happened to be a window where it made good financial sense for me to renovate a room in the house. I had just gotten through one of the worst years of my life (2019) and wanted to pour myself into making someone else happy. I decided I wanted a pet right before reconnecting with someone whose business is giving pets homes… A lot of stuff had to line up. And it did. Every time one of these guys lays down on me and starts purring (that’s right, it is NOW time for the purring), I just can’t believe any part of it was by accident.

So…

Happy birthday, Jonco.
Happy birthday, McGuire.

You’re the best. I will love you for every last single moment of forever. You are home. And for maybe the first time in 42 years, so am I. I love you, I love you, I love you. My good boys. My sweet boys. My little lion. My little panther. My little Glutton Kitties.

I’m mostly adding this photo so WordPress will use something other than my banged up hand as the preview…stupid app…

Sorry folks. This is who I am now. I hope you love it. Because I certainly do.

————

Current Listening: The new Taylor Swift. The new Sloan. And a shitload of The Who.

“No, I LOVE The Who the Way Some People Love Jesus.”

Before we get into it… I know I haven’t written since April. And I know I promised my “next post” would be all about how I adopted my cats, Jonco and McGuire. Rest assured, they’re both happy, healthy, and THE BEST. But we’ll do that another time. A lot of stuff has happened. A lot of it would’ve been great to write about. I’m writing about The Who.

It will come as no surprise to anyone reading this that The Who is my favorite band, and has been since I was 9 years old. (I’m now 42.) I’ve based a LOT of my life–more than anybody should–on the things Pete Townshend has said and written. They’re my North Star. I steer by them.

In 2005, I was a Senior in college. Bible college, to be specific. (Whoops.) The tradition at that particular school was for graduating Seniors to host a “Senior Chapel” for the resident students. Basically, the graduate of the day took over the school’s daily (indoctrinating) Chapel service and made it their own. I had my day come, and I used it to talk about how important it was to really SEE the people you’re ministering to. You have to see them, but you also have to see beyond them to the heart inside… That was basically the message. I stand by it–whether you’re looking to brainwash somebody or not, it’s important to see them for who they ARE and CAN BE, rather than whatever you think of them…

Before the service started, I played a PowerPoint slideshow of stuff from my life and whatnot, set to the tune of The Who’s “The Real Me” off the “Quadrophenia” album–my favorite album of all time. One of the phrases the song ends with is “Can you see the real me, preacher?” It fit.

After the service (I did well, by the way), a professor and friend walked up to me and he said, “So you like The Who, huh?” And I replied, “No. I LOVE The Who the way some people love Jesus.” It’s my stock answer. It’s also the truth.

It’s a wonder I only lasted a couple years in ministry, huh?

Since August 11, 1989, The Who has been my favorite band. That was the first time I saw them perform live at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, with my dad and brother. I have told the story a lot. I’m sure I’ve told it here before… I was 9. I looked down at the stage, saw Pete Townshend jumping around, swinging his arm in the “windmill” motion, and thought, “I want to be THAT guy…” and got serious about learning how to play and write music… And so on…

I’ve seen The Who a number of times since, of course. And I’ve collected the records. And the bootlegs. And the solo albums. And the t-shirts. And posters. And so on… In fact, I really only own a Stratocaster because Pete currently plays them…

They were in town again on the 14th. And they were great, as usual.

This show was different on a number of levels. Apart from a road-trip to Chicago with my brother and a couple friends, this was the first Who show I’ve attended (in St. Louis) without my dad there–though Dave was present, of course. Dad recently had a fall and injured his back (and elsewhere). In many ways he was lucky. He hit his head, but it was superficial. He’s got lingering pain issues from it…but compared to the alternative, he got off light–as did we all…but the fall meant he wasn’t physically able to attend the show.

That, friends, was a bummer. I’d have moved Heaven and Hell to get Dad there. But pain is pain and he had plenty of it. So that was a bitter pill…

But, it meant Dad’s ticket was available, and my friend Bruce didn’t have a lot to do that night…so he came along. Bruce is a good friend and somehow, he’d never seen The Who. (Basically, before their first split-up, it just hadn’t come up for him…then when they reunited, he had kids and a budget…) I was glad to give someone who really SHOULD have seen them by now the opportunity to do so. Bruce spoke of how much it meant to him very clearly. I know the feeling.

The band was accompanied by an Orchestra, principally made up of people from St. Louis, mostly from the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, but with some others, as well. One of the people with them was Mary Sweetin, who in the 1990s taught Orchestra at my high school. I saw her on the screens more than once and pointed her out to Dave and Bruce, as I was able. It was a very fun experience for me to see her up there! The orchestral parts were wonderful. So were the parts where the orchestra went on break and The Who simply performed in their present state–one of my favorite things in the world.

They opened with the “Tommy” suite. It was great–although “See Me, Feel Me” should just-plain close every show… Then they did some random stuff…then a Quadrophenia suite to close, followed by “Baba…” Great set with several fun things… I’d never heard them do “Another Tricky Day” before that. And I don’t think I’d heard them do “The Naked Eye” either…and they did “The Seeker” and “You Better You Bet,” both of which hadn’t really been in the set, prior. I’d have liked a couple more from their 2019 album, since they didn’t tour that here…and ANYTHING from “Endless Wire…” but all-told when you get a strong 2+ hour set of great songs, who can complain?

The highlight of the night for me, emotionally, was when they played “The Rock” from “Quadrophenia.” It’s an instrumental piece. They played footage on the screen of major world events throughout the last 50-60 years, all the way up to COVID, Biden winning the election, and the death of the Queen. All that footage, to the tune of a very emotional piece of music…it GOT me, man…

But that’s not to say that the vocals didn’t get me a few times, too…

Roger Daltrey is almost 80 and he’s still screaming like he’s 30. His “YEEEEEEEEEEEEEAH!” in “Won’t Get Fooled Again” was bone-shaking. He had a scream in “Love Reign O’er Me” that was pretty earth-shaking, too. And…I mean…just everything… I don’t know how he’s still doing it. I’m doing some recording right now, and just having sung less post-pandemic I’m finding my voice struggling…but Roger? He’s CRUSHING IT every night.

And Pete…

Pete was in a good mood. It was weird. He was smiling, laughing, joking… And HEALTHY. The last two times I’d seen him in St. Louis, he’d been getting over a cold and was raspy and fatigued. This time he was in high spirits. It was fun to see him like that…

And he was down there, jumping around, doing windmills, shouting, pretending to be an airplane… He’s almost 80, too…

I STILL want to be THAT guy.

Was this my favorite Who show? Nah. I think my favorite was either the 1997 “Quadrophenia” tour or the 2016 tour, when we all thought it was really the LAST one.

…but it was a DAMN good Who show. And I needed it. And it’s now the 19th, and I’m still thinking about it.

I’m glad my friend Bruce was there–I can’t express how fun it was to see them through his eyes. I’m glad my brother was there–we see them through roughly the same eyes. I’m glad I was there–any chance to take the sojourn to see Pope Pete… I’m glad Mrs. Sweetin was there–it’s always amazing to see where people from your past ended up, and she ended up with my DREAM gig… I’m sad that my dad wasn’t there…they better come back soon.

The Who is the only band that ever mattered.

It was great to see them again.

Maybe NEXT time, we’ll talk about the cats?