December 19, 2013

I’m gonna let the heat of my top 30 holiday songs kind of fester a little bit before I head back into music.

Given that were less than a week away from Christmas, here’s a video that’s bound to bring great tidings and good holiday cheer. Enjoy!

This isn’t a Christmas song but I’m pleased to find Charlotte Church’s Cold California on the Internet after I don’t know how long. There’s something incredibly funky about this song; once it got into my head the first time I heard it a couple of years ago it never left. I love it all – the vocals, the layered guitars, and that crazy buzzing synthesizer that enters in the second verse. Call me dopey but I just love it.

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December 18, 2013

Ed. note: It occurred to me this morning while I was half-asleep that there is no version of “White Christmas (for all you left-wing loons and Obamabots out there, the most racist Charistmas song of all time, but I digress) on my list at all. And yet, isn’t “White Christmas” the ultimate Christmas song? Like, ever? The ultimate version, I suppose, is Bing’s version (his corny whistling notwithstanding), but even Frank, The Beach Boys, and Darlene Love all do great jobs on it as well. I mean, with a tune that good isn’t it hard to wreck it? So it’s not on my list, perhaps should be, but it’s too late now, anyways. Nat King Cole knew that (Ok, there’s another one that didn’t make the list – better luck next year, Nat!)

That disclaimer aside, cats and chicks, ladies and gentlemen, dudes and dudettes, may I present The Great White Shank’s top 10 Christmas tunes of all time.

10. The Most Wonderful Time Of the Year – Andy Williams. Because y’all know in your heart of hearts that it’s not really Christmas without Andy. May he rest in peace.

9. Child Of Winter – The Beach Boys. A 1974 cut that never really saw the light of day. It’s a great little rockin’ tune with Mike Love on the lead and Brian Wilson doing the little dopey narration towards the end. Listen for the Moog synthesizer throughout as it becomes a little more prominent towards the end. A very cool cut.

8. The Christmas Waltz – Frank Sinatra. The whole Frank Christmas CD is as good as it gets. Not a bad track to be found. Christmas popular music as it should be – too bad our culture doesn’t know what taste, class, and appreciation means anymore. Makes me want to raise a martini glass to Christmasses past.

7. All I Want For Christmas – Mariah Carey. You can not tell me Mariah wasn’t inspired by Phil Spector’s A Christmas Gift To You in this rollicking piece of holiday cheer. The song’s intro tells you that – all that’s missing are the tenor and alto saxes. The piano and driving bass, and the postively stratospheric note she hits towards the end does it for me. Heard it the first time on some Christmas station and didn’t know who did it, but I fell in love with it immediately. The background vocals could be a little more interesting; imagine what this would sound like if they were done by The Beach Boys? In my mind, it gets better (and higher ranked!) every year.

6. Happy Xmas (War Is Over) – Plastic Ono Band. Sure, John and Yoko sing this classic tune from 1971, but this is really Phil Spector‘s production from start to finish. Multiple acoustic guitars (played by Badfinger), sleigh bells, percussion, and those incredible shimmering strings (as only Phil could do). It’s Spector at the top of his form. The accompanying “official” video is disturbing, just as Lennon wanted it. What it tells me is that nothing has changed since this video was made more than twenty years ago, has it? Very sad.

5. Oh Holy Night – Mariah Carey. OK, I understand the big moment is when she hits that Memorex-shattering “divine” note the second time around (for those keeping score it’s a E5 sustained with vibrato to a F#5!) – that’s what the congregation is begging for – but I just love the way she presents the song. You see in her eyes and body movements a little “aw, shucks” humility that is quite charming, especially given the kind of aural onslaught she’s about to unleash. She looks great and sounds great, and the setting is awesome (it looks just like the Methodist church I used to attend back in Lowell, Mass.). Almost no one can match Mariah Carey’s version of this song. It’s totally mesmerizing.

4. In Praise Of Christmas – Loreena McKennitt. From her wonderful To Drive The Dark Winter Away. Not a bad track on the entire CD, it’s an absolute must have for everyone’s Christmas music collection. McKennitt’s lyrics are lovely and yearning – when I hear it all I want to do is be sitting with friends and loved ones drinking a hot mulled cider.

3. “O Holy Night” – Ricky Lee Jones. Consider this the anti-Mariah version. Backed by The Chieftains on their Bells Of Dublin release. I know what you’re thinking – Rickie Lee Jones??? – but listen – she does a great job. Nothing fancy, stunning in a folksy way. Love the way she pronounces the word “hear”. I think she captures the true spirit of the song.

2. “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” – The Ronettes. OK, I know what you’re thinking – there goes The Great White Shank again, off on another Ronettes / Phil Spector tangent. For the sake of brevity all I’ll say is this: it really doesn’t get a whole lot better than this – and I’m not talkin’ Christmas music, I’m talking classic pop music in general. The way Ronnie Spector slurs her s’s in “seen”, “kissing”, and “Santa” just makes my heart melt.

1. Blue Christmas. You know who does it. The absolute freakin’ best pop Christmas song ever recorded, hands down. Sparse piano, guitar, stand-up bass, the Jordanaires, all backing the King. How on God’s green earth do you improve on that? You don’t. Two minutes and nine seconds of perfection.

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December 17, 2013

Ed. Note: Yesterday we started with numbers 30-21, and the pressure is already starting to build and the second doubts start creeping in. Will that insipid Bing Crosby/David Bowie duet make the list, as my brother Dave hopes? No. Will Mariah Carey make the list, as my lovely wife Tracey asked? Yes. Should Brenda Lee’s Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree have made the cut? I dunno. And what about Burl Ives? Possibly and no, since Burl positively ripped off Bobby Helms). But it is what it is, and I’m sticking to it.

Here, then, are #s 20-11, and if you don’t like them, well there’s always 2014, right?

20. White Is The Winter Night – Enya. Just a pretty and joyful seasonal song from one of my favorite artists. The mileage she gets out of echoed, clipped synth strings never ceases to amaze me. The lyrics are positively delightful: “Green is in the mistletoe and red is in the holly, silver in the stars above that shine on everybody. Gold is in the candlelight and crimson in the embers, white is in the winter night that everyone remembers.” So simple even a caveman could sing it.

19. Merry Christmas, Darling – Carpenters. OK, I know – believe me, I know, but think about it – how many truly unique Christmas tunes can you name that have become somewhat of a pop standard over the past few decades? The Beach Boys’ Little Saint Nick, for sure, but not too many others, right? There aren’t too many Carpenters songs I like, but on this one Karen’s voice is its typical soothing best and tolerable, and the background vocals are pretty. A sweet confection perfect for the season.

18. Christmas Time Is Here – Shawn Colvin. Happy lyrics backed by a sad, bluesy melody. I love the fact that Colvin doesn’t try to do any more with this “Charlie Brown Christmas” tune than needed. It’s jazzy and sad at the same time, mimicing, I think, the way most people think of the holidays. The song demonstrates the mix of anticipation and melancholy that comes with the season: you want to be excited, but there’s a sadness in knowing the wonder you experienced as a child and the joy you felt as families got together by the Christmas tree can never be experienced the same way again. It sends some people to drink and despair – for me, it just means putting a Carpenters song in my Top 20.

17. Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) – Darlene Love. From Phil Spector’s A Christmas Gift For You the sonic awesomeness of this tune grabs you right from the start: shimmering strings, bass, piano, and sleigh bells are but a hint of what is coming. Love’s voice is earnest and pleading throughout, and the tension built during her pleas at the very end is released only by Don Randi’s (or is it Leon Russell’s?) arpeggios and Hal Blaine’s drums. A truly unique and inspired performance.

16. Morning Christmas – Dennis Wilson. Haunting and moody – like the artist himself. This is a dense production with piano and lots of buzzing synthesizer; the tag at the end is breathtaking in its beauty. No pop artist before or after created music like the drummer for the Beach Boys did. Brings tears to my eyes every time I hear it. Probably should be in my top 10, but that’s OK. Just a riveting and incredible performance.

15. I’ll Be Home For Christmas – Jimmy Buffett. I dunno, I just like this version. I’m sure plenty of others have done a better version, but with a glass of Pinot Grigio under happy glowing pineapple lights on the back patio beside a shimmering blue aluminum Christmas tree on a chilly December night? It works for me – as it should.

14. Once In Royal David’s City. One of my all-time favorite Christmas carols. Done right, it never fails to send chills down my spine and tears to my eyes. Makes me glad to have been born, raised, and bred as an Anglo-Catholic, as I always will be. Want to know what Midnight Mass ought to sound like? It’s this. Guaranteed my Mom and my Auntie Marge will love this. Enjoy!

13. Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow – Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass. I absolutely love the cleanness of the arrangement, the guitar (with a lovely echo) and trombone are featured here. The whole album is a must for our house every Christmas with its quiet joy and not a little touch of whimsy.

12. Little St. Nick – The Beach Boys. A pop classic by Brian Wilson. Amazing to hear an alternate version recorded at the very same session that ended up becoming “Drive In”. Talk about your interchangeable lyrics!

11. Please Come Home For Christmas – Eagles. The song is great, but what really made this song for me was seeing the wicked cool 45 RPM sleeve for this song. Swimming pool. Cocktails. Sunglasses. Phony Christmas tree. How could I have known that in just a couple of decades I’d be living the same kind of existence?

(Next: My top 10)

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December 16, 2013

OK, fellow Goodboys Nation travelers, it’s time for The Great White Shank’s Top 30 Christmas Hits List, created because my original and intended top 20 simply couldn’t fit everything I wanted to include the first time around. Before I start, a few brief comments:

* As with any list like this it’s purely subject and a matter of taste (or lack thereof).
* My apologies in advance for YouTube selections that feature an advertisement. I don’t like ’em either, but everyone has to make a buck somehow.

So without further adieu, here we go:

30. It Came Upon A Midnight Clear – Tammy Wynette. A Christmas tune from one of my all-time favorite artists. Compared to interpretations by other artists this version might seem a little tame, but there was little Tammy Wynette couldn’t sing and sing well, and her voice does this traditional tune justice.

29. Feliz Navidad – Jose Feliciano. How can anyone not like this song? Incurably happy, festive, and cheerful. Makes me want to head for the closest Mexican restaurant for a margarita and some enchiladas.

28. I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day – Bert Kaempfert. I love this rendition from a truly great and under-appreciated Christmas album. Like so many of the tunes on my list, it brings back fond memories of Christmases of my youth. Even back then I can remember being enchanted by that funky plucked bass throughout.

27. Deck The Halls – Mannheim Steamroller. It’s not overstating the fact that Mannheim Steamroller changed the way Christmas music was brought to the masses with all sorts of fun and quirky modern arrangements. Their first three Christmas CDs are still a must for anyone’s Christmas party background, and I can speak from experience that our wildly-successful “Your Christmas shopping better be done by now!” December 23rd Christmas parties back in our old Dracut, Mass. condo wouldn’t have been nearly as cool without Mannheim Steamroller in the CD mix.

26. Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas – Frank Sinatra. The Chairman of the Board’s Christmas album is just one of those “gotta haves” if you want to celebrate the season properly. There’s really not a bad cut on it, and I guarantee you’ll be hearing more from Frank further down in my list.

25. In The Bleak Mid-Winter – Shawn Colvin. She’s become one of my favorite artists, her voice enchants me so in its quiet and pretty strength. Her rendition of this tune is the kind of lullaby you could play for a child on Christmas Eve.

24. Parade Of The Wooden Soldiers – The Crystals. From Phil Spector’s legendary A Christmas Gift For You album, a simply stunning track featuring Phil’s “Wall Of Sound” in full over-the-top mode. I especially love the strings that positively shimmer throughout.

23. Ding Dong, Ding Dong – George Harrison. I know, it’s not exactly a Christmas tune, but it’s definitely a holiday tune, and one I use every December 31st to ring out the year here at Goodboys Nation weblog. A happy tune that’s perfect for the season.

22. Snow – Loreena McKennitt. I like the version from her To Drive The Cold Winter Away over the remake she did on a Mid-Winter’s Night Dream album. Though either is good – when you’ve got such good material like this to work with, you can’t go wrong.

21. The Seasons – Loreena McKennitt. Also from To Drive The Cold Winter Away, this is not exactly a Christmas song, but its melancholy look at the seasons of the year while one is looking at a Christmas tree and remembering times and people long past strikes the right sense of sadness as another year is chalked up to antiquity. The lyrics alone are worth the listen:

Come all you lads and lasses, I’d have you give attention
To these few lines I’m about to write here
‘Tis of the four seasons of the year that I shall mention
The beauty of all things doth appear
And now you are young and all in your prosperity
Come cheer up your hearts and revive like the spring
Join off in pairs like the birds in February
That St. Valentine’s Day it forth do bring

Then cometh Spring, which all the land doth nourish
The fields are beginning to be decked with green
The trees put forth their buds and the blossoms they do flourish
And the tender blades of corn on the earth are seen
Don’t you see the little lambs by the dams a-playing?
The cuckoo is singing in the shady grove
The flowers they are springing, the maids they go a-Maying
In love all hearts seem now to move.

Next cometh Autumn with the sun so hot and piercing
The sportsman goes forth with his dog and his gun
To fetch down the woodcock, the partridge and the pheasant
For health and for profit as well as for fun
Behold, with loaded apple trees the farmer is befriended
They will full up his casks that have long laid dry
All nature seems to weary now, her task is nearly ended
And more of the seasons will come by and by.

When night comes on with song and tale we pass the wintry hours
By keeping up a cheerful heart we hope for better days
We tend the cattle, sow the seed, give work unto the ploughers
With patience wait till winter yields before the sun’s fair rays
And so the world goes round and round, and every time and season
With pleasure and with profit crowns the passage of the year
And so with every time of life, to him who acts with reason
The beauty of all things doth appear.

Doesn’t get a whole lot more lyrical than that, does it? Perfect for “the rolling of the year”.

Tomorrow, #s 20 – 11

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December 15, 2013

Lots of snow around back home, but here it’s just your average Arizona December afternoon:

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December 13, 2013

…wasn’t that a familiar quote from the late Art Linkletter?

It’s a Tuesday afternoon a couple of weeks ago at the Superstition Springs driving range and it’s unusually crowded. My swing guru Alex Black has a putting clinic going on and most of the stalls are filled with folks of all ages whacking balls, the air filled with the sound of balls being hit one after another, countless white orbs taking all kinds of crazy trajectories. A large flock of geese is really taking their chances with their own circular moves as they try and figure out the best landing approach to the lake that hugs the ninth fairway just beyond the mounds and clubhouse to our right.

Fortunately, my favorite stall (the farthest on the left, just adjacent to Alex’s teaching area) is vacant, so I set up shop there. That day, I was trying to solve a mystery and work out the kinks of my tee game – kinks that had slowly started creeping in during Saturday of Goodboys weekend and progressively got worse during the rounds I played with my bro down in Georgia in August and my Goodboys mates to close out their own golf season back in October. Sure, every now and then I could really catch it, but increasingly I was spraying the tee shots all over the place and worse, losing balls (and strokes) left and right – literally! Just as Jesus did his best work teaching and problem-solving in the temple; I was there to do the same thing that day at Superstition Springs.

It isn’t working. I’m all over the place and getting quietly frustrated at just how big all my misses are. Were I back in New England I’m losing balls in the woods; if I’m playing at Superstition Springs or Trilogy at Power Ranch, I’m bouncing balls off of people’s houses. So I take a break to just take in the beautiful afternoon and watch others down the line hit.

The kid next to me is a dead ringer for a young Rickie Fowler. He’s got the look down – the flat-billed Puma cap kind of askew, the little bit of facial hair, and the handsome looks with a swing to match. Were I a sophmore or junior coed, he’s the dude I’m going to put my best flirt forward on. Like most kids out here his age, he’s got a big athletic swing, and he hits it a mile effortlessly. But what really gets my attention is that he’s got that club twirl all the pro golfers use down jake whenever he knows he’s hit it flush. (Ed. note: I don’t think any of the Goodboys do the club twirl, not even the good players like Killer or The Funny Guy.) I find it fascinating, not only because I’ll never hit the ball good enough to warrant doing the twirl move, but even if I were to try it, I wouldn’t know how to do it like this young Rickie impersonator does, with a cocky mot du jour on it.

He takes a pause to clean his driver and I compliment him on his swing. “Great club twirl”, I add, “you don’t see that too much out here. And I really like that high fade you hit, it’s something I’m trying to work in consistently with my woods.”

“It’s easy”, he says, as if I had just asked him for directions to the local Taco Bell. “I just try and take the club back very straight and bring the club through by clearing my hips out early and finishing up high. Anyone can do it. Here, go ahead and I’ll watch you.”

I take a couple of awkward practice swings and realize right off the bat that I had fallen into the habit of taking the club back too much inside, then bringing it through using the same trajectory and finishing up too low, a little beneath my right shoulder. The other thing I realized was, by taking the club back straighter and clearing my hips earlier in the downswing, I could create more lag and power as I released my wrists and finished higher, now above my right shoulder. Rickie gives me an approving look and I step up to the ball with my 3-wood.

“No driver?”, he asks, as if the idea of using anything else off a tee was akin to kissing your sister.

“Let’s not get stupid”, I reply. I set up a little right and take the swing just as I had practiced.

“Crack!” The ball takes a big, high flight, with a little fade at the end, the ball dropping out of the sky as if it had been dropped from the bomb bay of a B-52 bomber.

“See, anyone can do it”, says Rickie with a shy grin. “You can play that all day. You aim a little to right of center and just fade it in.”

Like they say, light dawns over Marblehead. Or is it, “Kids say the darndest things”. Whatever. All I know is I’ve just fallen in love with this little tiny swing change that has made such a big difference. Talk about your immediate gratification! Over the remaining balls in my bucket it takes a little time to get used to this move – I top a few, even hit a few hooks and banana slices as my body fights the new change. Another phrase comes to mind: “familiarity breeds contempt”. Now I have to train my mind and body to eschew what I had been doing for the past few months and embrace and commit completely to this new move.

A few days later, I take this new move out to Kokopelli Golf Club and make a mess out of the first four holes. Perhaps in earlier times, I’d panic and ditch the new swing for the more unpredictable, yet familiar swing to simply get around the course with my manhood intact. My playing partner, a seven handicap, even asks me if I’d like some advice – something I firmly but politely decline. Starting on five, however, the swing finally kicks in, and not only only does this lovely high fade start becoming more consistent, I’m using my driver – of all clubs – on even the narrowest of holes and still get the job done. I end up hitting six of the last ten fairways and just miss hitting two others – something I haven’t done, like, almost ever.

This little swing change has done wonders for my confidence. Since that round, I’ve hit the range twice more just to see if it’s all still there, as if it were some kind of a dream. While I suppose I could tee the ball lower to squeeze out a few extra yards there’s something beautiful about this new way the ball jumps off my woods and settles so softly with that right-to-left fade that I just love-love-love. And seeing broken and bent wooden tees littered around the hitting area tells me I’m now generating some serious power through the ball. Best of all, unlike most other swing changes I’ve implemented – whether through Goodboys friends or even Alex – this one has (at least for now) stayed with me and held up the longest.

It’s not like I’ll be joining the PGA Tour any time soon, but if I can gain confidence and consistency off the tee it will allow me to turn my attention to other parts of my game that have been holding me back: most especially, my course management and my short game around and on the greens. For a while there I had started losing a little of the ground I had made up with all the lessons and the rounds played up to and including Goodboys; now I’m back to making progress, and it will be interesting to see how – and if – it translates into lower scores when I play my last two rounds of 2013 in the next few weeks.

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December 11, 2013

Ed. note: Might my folks and friends be subject to their first snowstorm this coming weekend? Who knows. But with all the Christmas lights and music around and the days growing so short, thoughts go back to earlier, more sentimental times. It’s probably one of my favorite things I have written since I started this weblog, so it’s definitely worth a repeat, albeit a little different. I hope y’all enjoy it. — The Great White Shank

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He sat in his chair on the patio twirling the drink in his hand ever so slightly, the ice cube tinkling cheerfully against the sides of his scotch glass. If it weren’t for the pool vacuum chattering its way in and around the swimming pool, there’d be nothing but the stillness of the day to share his time and his thoughts with. Another Arizona afternoon was slipping away to dusk, and the pineapple-themed patio lights above him were starting to do their thing, bathing him with their warm, happy glow. On another day, another time, he’d simply immerse himself in the present and enjoy the serenity of the moment, but on this day his thoughts were very far away – in New England – and his mind was on snow.

Not the light dustings so typical of the Novembers and Decembers of his past, the early winter by-products of so many “Alberta clippers” (what a wonderful phrase!) that would sugar-coat driveways, parking lots, and yards, enabling newly-hung Christmas lights to better shine their happy holiday cheer. No, on this day his thoughts were of the first big snow of the season; sometimes coming in late December, but more often than not waiting until after the New Year – the kind of snow that told you Winter had begun in earnest, and that a dreaded annual ritual with Old Man Winter had begun anew.

He was thinking of the kind of snow that changed habits and routines, altered perceptions, and forced one to concede to whatever whims and ways Mother Nature had in mind. The kind of snowstorms that brought with them winter-storm warnings, days of breathless anticipation and preparation, breathless media coverage, and, finally, the obligatory school and business closings. Afterwards, the storm’s work complete and the once-bare (or nearly bare) ground suddenly and dramatically transformed into a sea of frozen white, there would come the long spells of frigid days and crystal clear, below-zero nights, with more snow and more cold in the days and weeks to come. From that time forward, until the late-March and early April fogs and rains, there’d be an extra 20 minutes, perhaps more, added to one’s errands and commuting time. And no more firm-footed, straight shots from his parking lot down the hill to the front door, either, there were shoveled, sanded, and iced-over again sidewalks to navigate carefully over – at least until the “January thaw” (another wonderful phrase) or the first stirrings of Spring itself.

In his mind, he could see the snow falling heavily and purposefully, remembering how he’d anticipate needing to feed the birds of the season, the snowfall forcing them out of their safe wooded places to visit his deck and feeder, the cardinals, sparrows, juncos, and nuthatches. He recalled like it was yesterday how, just before retiring to bed, he’d give the deck one final shovel in his T-shirt and slippers, then load up the feeder and sprinkle the sunflower and thistle seed around. He knew the deep-eyed juncos would be first, arriving silently at the very first hint of daylight, followed shortly thereafter by the “chick!” of the cardinals and the “zee! zee! zee!” of the tufted titmouse. As it got lighter, the blue jays would be after the unsalted peanuts he’d sprinkled on top of the feeder seed, followed by the sparrows coming in waves, making a mess of the whole damned place but providing the mourning doves who would follow with an easy to gobble smorgasboard.

More than anything, he remembered the sheer sense of wonder he would always feel, stepping outside for the first time the morning after a heavy snowfall, at the sights and sounds that would greet him. The clouds low and gray, the snow still spitting, the sound of dead oak leaves rustling in the trees, the muffled crunching of cars fighting their way up or cautiously making their way down the treacherous hill outside their front door, the plows working the streets nearby, the snow-blowers hard at work in the apartment complex across the street. And the rituals involved! First, shoveling out an area you could begin to work with, then brushing off the yews on each side of the front door, then clearing a path on the front sidewalk to the street, then finally the long, slow trudge up the hill to the parking lot so you could start working on the cars.

He remembered how the first scrapes of shovel against bare sidewalk would summon Rascal the cat to the couch by the front window. For, while every snowfall brought with it the mundane tasks of shoveling and scraping, for Rascal this sound meant play time, the game of sitting atop the couch, waiting patiently for the first of a succession of snowballs to be tossed her way so she could bat at them against the window. It was a game she relished and never tired of. A tear came to his eyes; how long had she been gone now? Could it really have been that long ago?

Which brought to his mind one storm in particular: the power had gone out early, and since their heat was electric, that meant getting out the oil lamps and candles, and the sleeping bags out to create a “warm room” for humans, felines, and parakeets alike. What a different world it was then! First the condo, then the parakeets, then the cats – all once a central part of his existence, gradually replaced through a succession of years, moves, apartments, rabbits, illnesses, deaths, and the purchase of a house thousands of miles away. And it occurred to him at that moment how precious it all seemed now, and how important it was that these times, places, and lore remain safe and secure in his memory, so that he never forget where – or what – he came from.

A slight breeze came up, and the tinkling of wind chimes stirred him back to the present. He took a sip from his Johnny Walker Red, noticed the ice had melted, welcomed the familiar burn down the throat. He shook his head and let out a long sigh, giving the ghosts and memories time to recede back
into what subconscious they had come from. Things were good then, as they are now. That’s the gift of time, he thought: the tendency to remember the best of times at the expense of the not-so-good. And there he sat quietly, in his chair on the patio under the pineapple lights, in the fading dusk of another Arizona afternoon. The pool vacuum might still be still chattering away in the growing darkness, the palm tree branches growing dark against the sky, the mourning doves flying off to their nightly safe haven.

Still, his mind was on snow. This kind of snow:

White are the far-off plains, and white
The fading forests grow;
The wind dies out along the height
And denser still the snow,
A gathering weight on roof and tree
Falls down scarce audibly.

The road before me smooths and fills
Apace, and all about
The fences dwindle, and the hills
Are blotted slowly out;
The naked trees loom spectrally
Into the dim white sky.

The meadows and far-sheeted streams
Lie still without a sound;
Like some soft minister of dreams
The snow-fall hoods me round;
In wood and water, earth and air,
A silence everywhere.

Save when at lonely intervals
Some farmer’s sleigh, urged on,
With rustling runner and sharp bells,
Swings by me and is gone;
Or from the empty waste I hear
A sound remote and clear;

The barking of a dog, or call
To cattle, sharply pealed,
Borne, echoing from some wayside stall
Or barnyard far afield;

Then all is silent and the snow falls
Settling soft and slow
The evening deepens and the grey
Folds closer earth and sky
The world seems shrouded, far away.

Its noises sleep, and I as secret as
Yon buried stream plod dumbly on and dream
…And dream.

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December 10, 2013

OK, I’ll admit it. I’m now fully assimilated into the “Pleasant Valley Sunday” existence that is life in a quiet, unassuming, and altogether nondescript sub-division in the East Valley of the Valley of the Sun. I’ve given myself up as Picard did to the Borg in the name of holiday house fashion and neighborhood bonding. How, you ask? Because I finally broke down and put Christmas lights on the house exterior.

For years I had resisted the urge to join my fellow neighbors in their festive holiday season exterior decorating, content with our usual tradition of candles in the window and the occasional string of lights on one of the plants by the front entrance. And every year, with each and every passing of the Christmas season, the houses on our street became more and more dazzling. Some of the houses were plain gaudy, others only slightly more restrained and (shall I venture to say) more tasteful in their design, but you couldn’t help but noticing the empty spot on the right-hand side of the street. Our side. As you turned the corner onto W. Hearne Way you’d first see Rex #1 with his house lit up in all kinds of small colorful lights, then the German couple with the teenagers with their house done in white lights around the frame, then Rex #2 with his typically gaudy display of blown-up gift boxes and a huffing, puffing train on lit-up tracks surrounding his yard. Then, after our house, our neighbor Keith’s house with a nice-enough combination of aquamarine string of blue lights with funky white and blue droplets hanging off his garage front for good effect.

After that, there’s the house at the end of the street that has never once had lights on it. But hey, what do you expect from renters? 🙂 As you turn counter-clockwise in the cul-de-sac, there’s Terry’s house. He too has never had lights on it, but then again, you can’t see his house at all unless you go all the way to the end and make the turn. Heading back up the street, there’s Mohammed, but he’s a Muslim so you wouldn’t expect any lights there. John then has some happy frilly lights hanging off his house’s frame, then the lady next to him who is also renting and has never put up lights – shame on her! – then, finally, the final two houses on the opposite side that I call “Vegas South” with light displays fitting the finest casinos on Las Vegas Boulevard.

So as you can see, I subconsciously felt the pressure of being that lone dark spot between Rex #2 and Keith. Even though we annually fought the brave fight with our humble little window candles, you never really saw them from the street unless you looked carefully. Simply put, we were not getting the job done. On a street with everything from Cadillacs to Lexuses, we had transportation for sure, but it was in the equivalent of the Ford Tempo, the Dodge Dart.

So this year I decided that was all going to change. It happened last Thursday in the early AM when I woke up from a sound sleep deciding that this was going to be the year. We were finally going to join the club, keep up with the Joneses, play the good neighbor, and immerse ourselves into the W. Hearne Way Christmas culture. On Saturday I went to the local Lowe’s, found me some old-fashioned lights with old-fashioned white-green-red-blue-orange old-fashioned bulbs (no LEDs, no Vegas-style fashions, no huffing, puffing blow-up Santas or Charlie Browns) and hung two strings around the wood frame of the garage with a minimum of effort and time. And I think it looks OK. Not great, but good enough, certainly.

Our house will hardly be the talk of the neighborhood, but now at least it looks like we belong. We have been officially assimilated. Let the holidays begin!

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 02:44 | Comments Off on Assimilated
December 9, 2013

This is how the story is supposed to go: Tiger Woods leading by a few strokes going into the final round of (you name it) tournament. A couple-two-three folks make a valiant charge to keep it interesting, but in the end Tiger makes some clutch shots and somewhere along the way sinks a killer putt to break their hearts and put the tournament away.

At least that’s how it used to be.

What a finish it was at Tiger’s World Challenge event at Sherwood Country Club yesterday. Rather than me give you the play-by play, I’ll let Shane Bacon of Yahoo! Golf’s Devil Ball Blog give it to you short and sweet (my boldings):

Tiger Woods missing a short putt to lose a tournament? It happened. Zach Johnson hitting an 8-iron from the middle of the fairway to a very accessible pin location only to shank it in the hazard on the final hole of regulation? Yep, that also was part of the bizarre finish in chilly California.

Woods had a four-shot lead over Johnson with eight holes to go on Sunday at his own event, and just when it looked like it was over Johnson birdied the 11th, 12th, 16th and 17th, and then came to the last tied with Woods, and had the advantage after finding the fairway as Woods missed well left.

Tiger had to hit a heroic second shot after missing the fairway to even get the ball on the green, but short-sided himself in the bunker and it was Johnson’s tournament to win.

Johnson, a man known to be deadly with a wedge, had knocked down the last two flags to set up Tiger-catching birdies, and with a green light flag like the 18th on Sunday at Sherwood, it seemed that a birdie was much more likely than a bogey. Johnson [then] shanked his 8-iron into a hazard that basically doesn’t come into play for professionals, and it looked like one of the biggest chokes ever in this event before he hit his fourth shot from the drop zone. The ball spun back in the hole for the par, Tiger could only smirk, and then had to get up and down from a really tough position just to make a playoff.

It was there that we were reminded that this Tiger is not the man who once never seemed to miss a shot or a putt when it mattered. Woods’ approach shot weakly drifted right into that same bunker, a really poor golf swing considering the man and the moment, and after another great shot from the bunker, his par putt went begging and it was Johnson’s title to keep.

That’s right. What’s truly amazing is that after making such a poor shot, Johnson just killed it to a few feet before it rolled into the hole. What’s even more amazing is that, with the whole tournament on the line, Tiger makes yet another crappy approach shot and then plays a little too much break and misses a three-foot putt – the kind of putt any Goodboys would make nine times out of ten.**

** That is, of course, unless the putt is to win the Goodboys Invitational. As the saying goes, if you’ve got a tap-in to win the Goodboys Invitational the only question in you mind is whether to use putter or pull out your driver and give it a whack.

But seriously, folks, one has to wonder exactly what the state of Tiger’s game, not to mention his psyche, is as he rolls into a very important 2014 year, with majors all being played at courses Tiger has won at in the past. Just about everyone – me included – is saying that Tiger needs to take at least one of the major events next year if he hopes to break Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors. He hasn’t won a major since 2008, is four back, and not only is he not getting any younger, but he’s lost that sense of invincibility and intimidation that made the greatest golfers on the planet shrink like violets before his charges.

Tiger giving up a four-stroke lead with eight holes to play? Tiger not once, but twice, poorly executing approach shots on 18? Tiger missing a three-foot putt to close the door on another victory? The mind boggles at the thought.

Lots of folks are speculating that Tiger is putting too much pressure on himself during major weekends – he’s relaxed and playing well on Thursdays and Fridays, but come Saturday he doesn’t necessarily trust his swing enough and makes poor decisions that ultimately cost him. That might be true, but Tiger’s World Challenge event is no major, and to see Tiger throw it all away so carelessly has to be cause for concern in his camp. It’s become all too clear he’s become yet another very talented mortal out there on the professional golf circuit, and if you think top golfers like Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson, Rory McIlroy, and Phil Mickelson are in the least bit intimidated by Tiger anymore you’re fooling yourself. And if you think any number of young up-and-comers don’t go to sleep dreaming of getting their own chance to take down Tiger if and when the opportunity presents itself, your doubly fooling yourself. They may respect Tiger for who he is and what he has done for the world of professional golf, but no one fears him anymore.

And because of that, Tiger’s goal of five more majors has been made that much tougher.

Filed in: Golf & Sports by The Great White Shank at 21:53 | Comments (2)
December 7, 2013

We didn’t make it quite to freezing the last two nights but there’s quite the December chill in the air around here. Nothing like compared to what’s happening in the British Isles and Northern Europe. Be sure to click on the embedded video showing two planes aborting landings in Birmingham, England due to the strong wids and be thankful you weren’t a passenger on one of those flights!!

You want a feel-good story about what America is all about? Here it is.

Snowflakes are such cool things.

When you hear a minimum-wage worker spout ignorance like this, is it any wonder that restaurants are looking at high-tech solutions like this?

This is why I love Dustin Pedroia and why so many of Red Sox fans do.

…But I’ll say this: sure, it’s their money and they can do with it as they please, but the Mariners paying 31-year old Robinson Cano $240 mil on a 10-year contract is beyond absurd. For two reasons: 1) he’s a good player, no doubt, but Safeco Field is not a hitters park, and 2) he’s already 31 years old, playing a very athletic position. I know the Mariners wanted to make a big splash – and they have – but Cano in and of himself isn’t going to take them to the Promised Land.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 00:28 | Comments Off on Weekending

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