Friday, March 30, 2012

Section XX, Row 37, Seat 19 -- C'mon Down!!

So the record-setting Mega Millions jackpot is up to a whopping 640 million dollars. That is enough to finally coax 3 bucks out of my wallet and pitch in to our company's lottery pool. I don't know why we wait until jackpots get to ridiculous amounts before we do this. It's not like splitting $50 million 20 ways would be a bad thing, but let me tell you about the time I got everybody to hate me...

It was a number of years ago. I was working at another company and Wisconsin's MegaBucks jackpot reached an outrageous level. The company was large and many pitched in about 5 bucks. We obtained hundreds of numbers. I'll admit, the day I saw a stack of paper with all of our numbers printed on them I thought, "Wow, we're gonna win this thing! We may have to divide it 237 ways, but with this many numbers, we're going to win!"

But then my mathematical side took over. I looked at the odds of winning the jackpot with a single ticket (I'm not going to get in the actual math here), and they were something like 1 in 119,874,496. I then looked at how many numbers we owned. Maybe about a thousand. I then figured out our true odds of winning with all of these numbers. It came out to be 1 in the-capacity-of-major-college-football-stadium.

With my associates all making plans for how they would soon spend their newly rewarded wealth, I cruelly explained their odds, "Hey, if you were sitting in the Rose Bowl at a sold-out football game, how confident would you be that your seat number would be called in prize drawing?"

"Uh. Not very confident."

"Well that's the same odds we have of winning with all of these pages of numbers!"

Nobody ever liked it when I put it in those terms. It was a real bubble burster.

And that is why I rarely play the lottery. Putting those numbers into a more visionary example makes the odds of winning seem even more implausible.

That also probably explains why that group never asked me to be in their lottery pool again.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Who The Hell Was That Guy?

Sometimes I surprise myself.

It just happens.

I was invited to Florida to give a presentation to a group of executives and managers of a significant company. I tried to live right the day before I presented: I ran 5.5 miles, showered, ate a salad and washed it down with Miller Lite (me ... light beer!),  ironed my clothing and went to bed early.

For one hour I slept.

One stinking hour.

I woke due a room air conditioner that sounded like a 1952 Harley-Davidson panhead engine when it started. All kinds of rattles and rumbles emanated from this beige-colored cold-air blaster box in the corner of my dingy room.

Once I was awake, I could not fall back asleep. I was up from 12:20 a.m. until 3:20 a.m. My alarm was set for 5:15. I tried to read, surf the 'net, read again, look at my presentation, read again ... finally I dozed off. Not for long. A little less than 2 hours and the hotel's alarm clock made the most inharmonious cackling buzz. I wanted to hit it with a sledgehammer. But I couldn't. I set it early 'cause I needed to rise early.

I wanted to be ready.

I made it to the place where I was presenting a half an hour early. I waited, nervously. I finally got into the conference room where I set up my laptop and distributed my literature. The usual pre-meeting pleasantries were exchanged.

And then ... it happened.

What happened?

I became someone else. Well, not really someone else, but someone I don't see every day. There is something that happens to me in these situations where I move into a heightened awareness. My full vocabulary comes to the tip of my tongue. Engineering and my love of language intermingle in a way that seldom comes to my surface. Usually it's one or the other ... not mixed!

For one and half hours I explained the benefits and features of my company's products and services. It came out smoothly and after 1 hour and 25 minutes, I was nudged, "Mr. Collins, you have 5 minutes left."

I concluded with a closing statement and a sincere thank you. Exit pleasantries were exchanged and the next thing you know I was back in my rental car. What the hell just happened? How did one and a half hours go by in what seems like 10 minutes? I went to another place. Another level. It just happens.

I love it when this happens.

It's fun.

(Written in a coffee shop/deli 20 minutes away from where I gave this morning's presentation.)

Friday, March 23, 2012

My 77 Words Worth

Tony Van Hart writes 77 Words. Today he was on WUWM's Lake Effect Flash Fiction Friday Program. It was neat to hear his voice on the radio, but more importantly, I enjoyed hearing my friend's passion for the art of writing.

He is good at it.

Me, well, not so much.

I struggle with punctuation and make a manglement of words.

Like manglement. I just made that up.

I guess that's why he is a professional.


Thursday, March 22, 2012

Play It Again, Sam. I Dare Ya!

Maybe I'm strange, maybe I'm old, and probably I'm a combination of both, but when I hear a song I like, I buy the album that includes the song. Millennials think nothing of buying a single. It's easy: just log onto Amazon or iTunes and download it. It's instant too, but I can't bring myself to buy a single song. I must to support the artist and buy the whole, goshdarn album.

Even worse, once I own the album, I need to listen to it sequentially. Starting with song one, I'll listen to the songs in order until the album is over or I run out of time. I will hear my favorite song only as many times as I listen to the album.

This is true most of the time. About the only time it isn't true is when I am trying to learn a song on guitar. In that case, I'll play the song repeatedly as I try to learn the lyrics and chord sequence.

A college roommate of mine suffered from the exact opposite affliction. When he heard a song he liked, he played it over and over.

Sometimes I'd hear the opening chords of the song following the oft-repeated song and think, "Finally. He's finally going to play the next song! Yes!!" only to be duped as he rolled his waterbed embedded butt over  to press the repeat button again.

This drove me nuts.

Do you know what song he would play ad nauseam? Guns and Roses "Patience" from their G N' R Lies album. You remember this song, don't you? It's the one where Axl Rose's whine is particularly annoying, but he whistles respectably to make up for it. The best part of the song for me was Slash's acoustic guitar solo. When hearing this song through paper-thin apartment walls for the 19th time, Slash's solo was the part to which I would most look forward.

"Patience" is 4 seconds short of 6 minutes long. I found myself longing to hear the next song: the Izzy Stradlin penned "She Used to Love Me" -- a song that I prefer by to "Patience" by a 2-to-1 margin.

One night I had enough. It was going on 2:30 in the morning and roomie hit the "Patience" repeat button for the 12th time.  I lost it. I kicked the wall and yelled "Dammit!! Let the next song play! You're driving me nuts over here!!" He relented and I finally got to hear "She Used to Love Me." Somewhere within the song's 3 minute and 13 second length, I fell asleep.

Fast forward 18 years and finally there's a song that I find repeat worthy. I'll be driving to and from work and catch myself instinctively pressing the repeat button as soon as the song is over. I haven't listened to it as many times as my old roomie listened to Axl's ballad, but I've replayed it as many as 4 times. Definitely a record for me!

The song?

The Tallest Man on Earth's "King of Spain."

This 2010 song has fretwork, lyrics, melody, and a right-hand rhythm that I find particularly appealing. Much of the Tallest Man on Earth's work is similar, and good, but nothing has hooked me like "King of Spain."

It may also have to do with the fact that I love Spain. I have visited twice: the Andalusia region about 10 years ago and Barcelona recently. In Barcelona, the line "Still I am not from Barcelona!" would bounce around in my head, but my favorite single line in the song is "And I'll provoke the bulls with words." I love that line and I love that thought! Provoking a bull with words. Great stuff. (Complete lyrics below.)

The studio version of "King of Spain" can be heard if you click here, but I  prefer the live version below from "Later with Jools Holland." Maybe you won't listen to this song repeatedly as I have, but if you give it a listen and like it, my job here is done. Enjoy!

Lyrics to King of Spain:

I never knew I was a lover,
Just cause I steal the things you hide,
Just cause I focus while we're dancing,
Just cause I offered you a ride.

Still I am not from Barcelona,
I am not even from Madrid.
I am a native of the North Pole
And that can mess up any kid.

Well if you could reinvent my name,
well if you could redirect my day,
I wanna be the King of Spain.

And I will settle in Pamplona
And I'll provoke the bulls with words
And then I'll send a man to meet them all
But he's fake, so I have heard.

And all the senoritas sighing,
Will be the fountain of my lies.
But while we're floating in siestas
You search for bottles and for knives.

Well if you could reinvent my name,
Well if you could redirect my day,
I wanna be the King of Spain.

And I wear my boots of Spanish leather
Oh while I'm tightening my crown.
I'll disappear in some flamenco
Perhaps I'll reach the other side.

Why are you stamping my illusion?
Just cause I stole some eagle's wings
Because you named me as your lover
Well, I thought I could be anything.

Well if you could reinvent my name,
well if you could redirect my day,
I wanna be the King of Spain.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Raggle Taggle! (Uh, Do You Know Any Zeppelin?)

Raggle Taggle at Brochach -- St. Patty's 2012
Since June 19, 2009, I have been loosely associated with a ragtag group of musicians that get together on Tuesday nights at Milwaukee's Brocach Irish Pub. It has been fun. It has introduced me to lots of interesting and remarkably talented people. It has helped me overcome my fear of the stage (some might wish that fear to return!). And it's given me motivation to further learn music, guitar, and singinga passion of mine since I was old enough to strum a 6-string.

Our Tuesday night session is called "Raggle Taggle," which, until I wrote this, it has never occurred to me that that's probably the full-length version of the word "ragtag." (Duh. Right?!)

Saturday was the third time that I've had the pleasure of playing with this motley crew at Brocach's St. Patrick's Day celebration. At the pub on Tuesday nights, we play in a circleone person will lead a song and others will play along, figuring out the song's key and chord structure on the fly. St. Patty's at Brocach was similar, albeit linear instead of circular (left-to-right and back again), but we managed ...  and sometimes we actually sounded good! (You can see our "line"-up in the picturewith my giant heed on the far right.)

With a bodhrán, fiddle, banjo, ukulele, and acoustic guitars, you might imagine that we sound a wee bit o' Irish. For the most part, we doand if not Celtic, we at least lean towards the rocky side of folk music (a la Old 97s, Neil Young, Dylan, Springsteen, Mike Collins, etc.). Mark Meaney (Raggle Taggle's founder) and I know a considerable number of Irish pub songs, and our violin (or filddle? I never know!) player extraordinaire (Lori Adams) knows at least 500 jigs, reels, airs, and hornpipes by memory. If we all played all the songs we know, we could probably play for days.

Despite the library of songs we can play, a spirited St. Patty's Day reveler repeatedly asked if I knew any Led Zeppelin. "Aww. C'mon man. You gotta know some Zeppelin!" Well I do, but they're all just riffs and runs actuallyI don't do any Zeppelin songs from beginning to end. I couldn't do Led Zeppelin justice if I tried!

After incessant nagging about Zeppelin, he said, "Well if you don't know Zeppelin, you gotta know some Bad Company!"

No. No sir, I don't know any Bad Company. I've always appreciated the classic rock vocal stylings of Paul Rodgers, and I am sorry to disappoint you, but I do not know any Bad Company.

"Aww, dude. You guys are soooo good! How can you not know any Zeppelin or Bad Company?!"

Well, friend, I can assure you that if Jimmy Page and Robert Plant or Simon Kirke and Paul Rodgers wrote any jigs, reels, airs, or hornpipes, our fiddle player would know them, but at the moment, we are fresh out of 70s classic rock.

"How 'bout Otis Redding? You've got to know some Otis Redding!!"

And he was kind of right. With the help of an Internet-connected iPad, we were able to stumble our way through an impromptu version of Redding's classic "(Sitting On) The Dock of the Bay." Mind you, Mr. Inebriated demanded to be our lead vocalist for this fine Rock 'n' Soul performance. We (I) let him, although I suspect it cost me my turn to sing "Black Velvet Band" or "Seven Drunken Nights."

I guess that's what makes this all so much funjust winging it and seeing what happens. Some fly; some flop, but playing on the edge is what make it exciting.

And when I play, I recognize when a song is rambling, too long, and needs to be ended abruptly. I will apply that knowledge to this post.

Thanks for reading. Bye! ;)

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Don't Take It for Granted (RIP, Greg)

As I write this, I am coming off (I hope!) of four or five of the sickliest days of my life. In the past, if I fell ill, I would miss a day or maybe a day and a half of work. Last week I missed two and a half days and had it it not been for a Wednesday afternoon scheduled conference call, it would have been three. And Friday--a day that I came in--I was being entirely too optimistic that I had recovered. In truth, had my first day of illness been the way I felt on Friday, I would have stayed home that day too.

While I was ill, I thought, "Geez, when I am healthy I should be singing and smiling all the time. How glorious it would be if only I could be well!"

Funny that when we are healthy, our thoughts and desires often turn to other material wishes and desires. When what we should really be doing is reveling in the marvel that is our body, mind, and good health. When I am back to 100%, don't be surprised if I run up up to you on the street and yell, "Holy smokes! Would you look at me! I can talk, walk, eat, and see without any pain or suffering! I'm a friggin' marvel of nature, I am!"

We do take it all for granted, don't we? Maybe the flu is just God's way of reminding us that we could have it a lot worse.

Me and Greg at The Bomb Shelter
And if I needed any more reminders, I received a chilling one last evening -- a friend and the proprietor of the incomparable Milwaukee bar The Bomb Shelter died of a heart attack at 46. I did not know Greg Landig suffered from a weak heart, but I am told that he was aware of his condition. Maybe that's one of the reasons he chose to pursue the idea of opening a bar specializing in breweriana and the enjoyment of Milwaukee's favorite beverage. (I was at The Bomb Shelter just a little over a week ago. At that time, the bottled beer types topped 300!) He was just pursuing a dream while he had the chance.

If this post accomplishes anything, hopefully you, as a living, breathing sound human being will take a few moments to appreciate the gift that is your good health. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, think, and love.

You are fortunate. Very fortunate.

And if you are the suds-loving type, get yourself a fine craft brew and celebrate your healthy taste buds as you raise your glass to Greg. He would have wanted you to.

RIP, Greg. You will be missed.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Dad. A Short Memorial.

Wayne M. Collins
If you knew my father, Wayne Milton Collins, you know what a unique individual he was. Quite indescribable actually -- so those of us that knew him seldom try to explain his nature. It's impossible.

But there are a few, small things that we can say about him. For instance, he like to play guitar and he liked to solder things.

He liked to solder lots of things.

Usually on the kitchen counter or kitchen table.

It drove my mom nuts.

When my dad died in September 2002, he was destitute. He had nothing but a carton of cigarettes and the clothes on his back, but before his final day, I had a chance to raid his meager lot of possessions. I took a few tools, a blood pressure tester, and a gun.

It would be interesting to see what Dad would think of today's world and technology. I am quite certain he would be amused and impressed by the iPad, but I also believe he'd think he could one-up Jobs' wonderpad and would probably make his own from a 19" color Sylvania, an Etch-a-Sketch, some wire, solder and electrical tape. "Why spend the money, Mike? I'll make you one just as good at one-tenth the price!" he'd say. And I bet it would work too, it would just be a little embarrassing hauling it into my local Starbucks.

Today's Project with Dad's Wire Snips

Today, I found myself assembling a wire harness to install a car stereo in our SUV. I got out the required tools: wire snips, solder, soldering iron, wet sponge, electrical tape, and, of course, a kitchen counter. As I stood there squinting to study and hold the soldering iron tip to the freshly stripped wires, I could see out of my center of focus a tool that I had at the ready: Dad's wire snips. Yellow-handled, they still bore the stains of his always black-epoxy covered finger tips. The memory flashback was intense. I could see him standing there doing the exact same thing. The only difference between the way I was standing at the counter and he'd stand at the counter was that he would have a cigarette dangling from his lips (he never did not have a cigarette dangling from his lips and that's what ultimately did him in too). Next to Dad's thumb, I think these snips were his most used digit.

Later this year will be the 10th anniversary of my father's passing. I'm sure if he were around today he'd be proud of his daughters and over the moon about his grandchildren. I am sure they would have tickled him pink. And sadly, they'll never get to see what an interesting fellow he was. I guess that's where I come in -- it'll be up to me pass on his good qualities, sense of humor and love of a good tune. These are things I remember and cherish the most.

Maybe I'll even teach them how to solder.

And Dad, if you're able to read this, remember, there's two things you are never supposed to discuss in heaven: politics and religion. Now stop it! ;)

Friday, March 2, 2012

A Cool Thing Happened While Eating a Sandwich

I headed to Jimmy John's today for a #5 (it's always a #5 for me -- a Vito!). Holding my sandwich in one hand and my phone in the other, I see Gibson Guitar posts this question on facebook: "What is your #1 favorite album of all time ____________? (No cheating! Pick just one!)" I think about it for a moment -- there sure are a lot of good ones! -- but there's only one solid, consistent answer for me: U2's 1987 classic The Joshua Tree.

It could be the circumstances how this album came into my hands (overnighted to me from my girlfriend (now wife) from San Francisco, where it was available 2 days before it was available in Minneapolis) or that I went wildly crazy for U2's prior release, The Unforgettable Fire.

I was all about U2 at that time.

I saw them perform at the St. Paul Civic Center for that tour and I still recall it as the best concert I've ever been to. (Never before have I seen an audience as transfixed on a performance as that one!) I also figured out every song on my acoustic guitar. From beginning to end, I could strum or pluck along with The Edge. What a fun way to burn time in college!

So as I respond to Gibson's facebook question -- T.h.e. J.o.s.h.u.a. T.r.e.e. -- the moment I hit facebook's "Comment" button, the opening notes of The Edge's jangly, echoey guitar on U2's Where The Streets Have No Name filled the air at Jimmy John's.

It was, as if, by magic.


Now watch this ...