Otto's Coffee Shop
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Wednesday, July 07, 2004
The next best thing to being there

Last night, after an excruciatingly long day, I arrived home from work to find a package from my good friend Bruce Sato. Knowing my misery at missing Rush this summer on their 30th anniversary tour, Bruce made me a copy of the bootleg from the first date of their tour. In my opinion, there's few better ways to pick yourself up after a long day than listening to one of the greatest live bands in the world. A quick listen through proved that while Rush's recent studio efforts may not be to my particular tastes, they're still as good as ever live.

I think I've mentioned before that Rush was pretty much the first band that I was ever really "into." In early high school, I was kind of on the periphery of a group of guys who were all percussionists in the school band. As percussionists, these fellows naturally gravitated towards bands with extremely strong technical drummers, with Rush's Neal Peart at the forefront of the drummers they admired. Through hanging out with these guys, I spent many a Sunday afternoon watching "A Show of Hands" on laser disc, and making in-jokes based on riffs from YYZ (that's the very definition of geeky, isn't it?).

It was with these guys that J. and I braved a November blizzard to drive to Topeka to see Rush's Presto tour date, at one point abandoning one of the three cars we were in on the side of the highway in order to get to the show (this after one guy spent half an hour hanging out his window brushing the show off the windshield so the driver could see). I think I only saw Rush two other times, on the Roll the Bones and Counterparts tours, but their shows were always fantastic (J. - do you remember if I saw them on the Test for Echo tour, or did we see them twice on the Counterparts tour? I thought I'd seen them more than three times, but I may be wrong.)

Rush was one of the first bands that I went out and made an effort to buy all of their CDs (the others were probably They Might be Giants and U2). I actually bought and read music magazines with interviews with Geddy, Alex and Neal, and it was largely due to the influence of Rush that J. and I decided that we wanted to be in a band (unless I'm mistaken, J. picked up the bass and maybe even grew his hair out in emulation of Geddy Lee).

Since I've been listening to Rush today, I thought I'd list my top five Rush studio albums in honor of their 30th anniversary and the tour that I won't be seeing. I'm excluding the live ones, because those are my favorites by a long shot, and I don't just want to list their five live CDs here:

1. Hold Your Fire - Far and away, my favorite disc of theirs. I can't say what it is exactly, but there's something about this one that just catches me, start to finish. Even when I'm in one of my periods where I rarely listen to Rush, I still bring this one out to listen to every once in a while.

2. A Farewell to Kings - A "mellower" album that I see as the end of their hard rock years, sees them picking up acoustic guitars for the title track, "Cinderella Man" and concert staple "Closer to the Heart." The sci-fi inspired Cygnus X-1 is still my favorite of all of their "epic" songs, but it's "Xanadu" that kicks my ass every time.

3. Presto - The first album of theirs I bought, and maybe their last "great" album in my opinion (though that may be Roll the Bones). Show Don't Tell, Scars and Anagram are still favorites, even though I haven't listened to this one in years.

4. Grace Under Pressure - Another very sci-fi influenced album, which I ironically never had on CD (until Bruce included it as a "bonus" with the live discs he sent). This was the only Rush album I ever had on tape, and it lived in the tape player in my car for years without ever being ejected. Favorites include "Red Sector A" and "Distant Early Warning."

5. 2112 - Their first concept album, blends the hard rock of their earlier records with the sci-fi themes and musical complexity that they later became known for. To me, this is the turning point album for Rush, the one that really set them apart from the crowd. And it's really kickin' once it gets going.

I realize that it takes a particular type of person to be a fan of Rush, or even really to listen them with any regularity (Rush is one of those bands, though, that doesn't tend to inspire the casual fan, the one who only owns Moving Pictures for Tom Sawyer and Permanent Waves for The Spirit of Radio. Rush fans tend to be fairly rabid, and also sadly somewhat white trashy overall). Geddy's voice can be particularly grating to some, and I've known at least one person who was put off by the extremely technical nature of the music and the sci-fi inspired lyrics. There's also the fact that the 2112 album cover features - gasp - a pentagram, which pretty much ensured that Rush was mentioned, or at least the album was pictured, on any Christian programming decrying the Satanic nature of rock and roll music.

If you don't like Rush, that's okay, I won't force you to listen to them, just do me the same favor when you go on and on about Limp Bizkit, Blink-182 or Travis Tritt.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004
Musings on Free Comic Book Day 2004

I was going to save this for later in the week, but seeing as I'm starting to get links from the comics-weblog-update-a-tron, I figure I better put up some comics content or I'll lose the small readership I have. For the record, this means that I'll probably skip a day as far as new content later this week:

Last year, I made FCBD a bit of an "event," with Mrs. Coffee Shop even agreeing to tag along to see what the hubub was about. We hit up five stores in the Dallas area and I think we ended up with all of the Silver and Gold sponsor books (except Archie, which I've never had much time for, and the gaming/gamers books which I'm just not the audience for). When we got home, we sat around for an hour or two exchanging books until we'd each read all of them. While I thought most of them were in the "okay" to "good" range, the wife only liked the ones that had stories by James Kolchaka in them (were there one or two last year?) and the Disney/Carl Barks' Uncle Scrooge book, which she's still mad at me for picking up ("you should leave those books for the kids!").

This year, as a result of the fact that my sister-in-law was in town and a general malaise at the offerings and the crowds from last year, the missus opted out of FCBD in favor of "real" shopping at a mall, so it was just me, driving around Dallas. Also, rather than going first thing in the morning (around 11 for comic shops), I didn't even leave the house til 2:00 or so, choosing to spend the morning playing with my nephew and hoping to avoid the crowds. Oh, and my AC conked out on me after the first store, so I was a little crabby, but determined to have a good time.

The first shop I hit up, Lone Star Comics' Plano store, had a table full of almost every gold and silver sponsor's offerings, three or four employees and (I think) 4 customers other than me (two young adult women and a man with his small son). One of the employees who clearly saw my eyes bugging out at all the FREE COMICS!, informed me that it was Free Comic Book Day, and I could choose one book for free, two if I had a library card. Sadly, I had no library card with me ("even an expired or out of state one?" the employee helpfully offered), so I chose my one comic, AdHouse books' offering, with strips by Joel Priddy and Scott Morse, and left without really looking for anything else.

Next up was Atomic Age, Keith's Comics' Carrollton store, where I was enthusiastically greeted by the single employee and informed that I could take one free comic from their box of FCBD offerings, and everything else that had been in the store for more than 30 days was 25% off. I chose DC's Teen Titans Go (though I thought I had picked up Dark Horse's Star Wars: Cone Wars book, until I checked later), and proceeded to peruse the rest of their inventory. Although nothing jumped out at me, they had a pretty good selection of the big four, as well as kind of a "best of" selection of alt-comix (mainly Humanoids, Fantagraphics, Drawn & Quarterly, and anything by Alan Moore, who had his own section). The clerk was very helpful, continually stopping the sometimes-heated discussion he had been in with a couple customers who had been there before me to make sure there was nothing he could help me find, or perhaps recommend to me. I like the store enough that I didn't want to leave empty-handed, so I ended up buying two Young Justice back issues (I'm slowly working on getting that series, as I generally like PAD, and that's one book of his I never read) and Metron Press' Testament graphic novel, which I had been curious about for a while now (for the record, Mrs. Coffee Shop took that one off my hands to read almost as soon as she saw it. She made it about halfway through, saying it was "interesting" with "great art" before putting it down for the night. That was two days ago, and she has since started another book, so I doubt she picks it up again to finish it.)

Lone Star Comics' North Dallas (Preston Road) store was next as I zig-zagged my way south, and that was the only store where I really felt a "party" type atmosphere. The store was pretty crowded, though there were very few kids around. There were both girls and guys in the shop, at least a few of whom had apparently never been in a comic shop, if conversations I eavesdropped upon were any indication. I overheard a teenage boy (with either his girlfriend or his sister) going through the graphic novel section pointing out which ones he wanted for his mother to write down, presumably for birthday or Christmas shopping. They also had an artist signing toward the front of the store: one who I feel like I had seen before at Wizard World or SDCC, but I didn't see a name tag, just some issues of The Avengers during The Crossing storyline (I think) on the table in front of him. Needless to say, he seemed very friendly as he tried to tell the throng of people chatting with him that it was time for him to go eat lunch, so I didn't want to bother him by trying to figure out who he was.

Oddly enough for Lone Star, which normally overwhelms me with helpful employees asking if they can help me find anything, I think only one employee approached me prior to when I checked out, but after I had been there for ten minutes or so, to "make sure I picked up my free comics." Maybe I look less like a shoplifter with my new short hairdo than I did with the shaggier locks I had last year, or maybe it was just the crowds. As at the other Lone Star, I had trouble finding much to buy that interested me, but I found two of the Nancy Collins/Scot Eaton Swamp Thing issues that I didn't have and a few YJ issues to buy in exchange for the four free comics I picked up (Oni's Barry Ween book, which I somehow didn't realize was a reprint of a book I already own, Marvel's Spider-man book, Alternative Comics' Sampler and Beckett's Ballad of Sleeping Beauty).

Next, I hit up Titan Comics, the Dallas area's superlative shop for back issues and out of print collections/graphic novels. Last year, they had Scott Kurtz and Michael Lark signing, and I had brought along my Gotham Central and Terminal City trades in the hopes of spotting Lark again this year, but no luck. They did have some local small press creators signing, including a few folks from Beckett, but I was hot and probably grouchy and I didn't want to wait in the (admittedly short) line to meet them. Titan had the feel of a store that had just had a huge sale, which was winding down. There were still easily 15 customers in the store, and more than enough employees to handle them, but it felt like the throng had thrung, and now the store was in recovery mode. From eavesdropping, it sounded like they been quite busy, and the employees were pretty worn out and frazzled. I believe one of them asked me if they could help me find anything, but as he looked pretty fried, I told him I was just browsing so he could go back to recovery mode.

As with any of my infrequent trips to Titan, I came out with a pretty decent haul: Defenders 100, 104 and 105 (completing my run of the series from 80 through the end); Hellblazer 10 (the last issue needed to complete my full run); X-Men: Books of Askani (a mid-90s X-book with Gene Ha art that I had somehow missed during my days of x-completism); Jerry Ordway's Power of Shazam graphic novel; Jay Hacker's Xeric-award winning collection of stories, Headstatic, which I had seen advertised in Previews, but hated to order sight unseen (it looks really good, by the way); and I think a few other random back issues. In exchange, I picked up three more FCBD books; Gemstone's Disney book (for my nephew, I swear!), Image's sampler (which I picked up for the Invincible story alone - I tried to read the others and the Savage Dragon story was the only one I could finish, and I can't say I liked it particularly), and Top Shelf Tales (more James Kolchaka).

I had planned on hitting up Zeus, and maybe Keith's other store and Space Madness in Plano, but by the time I left Titan, I was tired of comic shopping (say it ain't so!), hot (you try driving with no AC in July Texas heat), and ready for dinner, so I just headed home, more or less satisfied with my FCBD celebration.

Aside from the Image book, the only other book I read was Beckett's Ballad of Sleeping Beauty, which my wife also read (it was the only one that interested her based on the cover). I thought it was an okay story, with decent art and excellent production values, but Mrs. Coffee Shop really liked this one. Admittedly, she has a thing for Fairy Tales being retold in different settings, or looked at from alternate points of view, but she has never told me that I had to get the next issue of a comic before this one. So, as long as Beckett doesn't introduce gratuitous T&A into this story, it sounds like they have our money. I'll be reading the others over the next few days, and maybe I'll do some short reviews, so stay tuned.

Some people (namely me) never learn

That last entry, along with most of what I'm planning to put up this week, was written over the weekend. I may have time to do a little editing, but that may be how I get around the "how to find time for blogging with no Internet connection." That said, I can't resist putting up one more moving story today about how some people never learn.

About a week before we moved, Mrs. Coffee Shop and I took stock of everything we had, and estimated (rightly so) that we might need to ship a few things. We ended up boxing up five boxes of books to ship book rate, along with two light, but large boxes of winter clothes, all of which we shipped off to her parents' house, about two hours from Dallas. Since I was working, the missus decided that she would take the boxes to the post office herself, but as they were heavy, she got a dolly to use in bringing the heavy boxes down to her car. From my office, I could hear her struggling with getting the first box onto the dolly and getting the dolly downstairs. All told, it took her almost twenty minutes just to bring the first box down.

Being a gentleman, I couldn't stand to hear her struggling, so I hopped up from my desk to help. I hoisted the next box on my shoulder with a minimum of effort, walked down stairs and deposited it in the back of her car. I proceeded to do the same thing with the next three book boxes and the two clothes boxes. We agreed that she should ask for help at the post office to unload them, as I couldn't very well go with her and off she went.

She came home shortly and I didn't think much of it. The next day, however, when I woke up, my back was kiling me. It was so bad that I almost couldn't get out of bed, but I made it to my desk and put a heating pad on it. I think I managed to go almost an hour before I started whining to the missus. She looked at me for a minute and then pointed out in her best "I don't feel one bit sorry for you" voice that my back probably hurt from hoisting those boxes of books around the day before. I didn't think that could possibly be it, until she told me that when the post office weighed them, they each came in at between 65-70 pounds (70 being the limit for book rate). I guess maybe I should have used the dolly, but I'd know better on the other end, right?

Fast forward to this past Sunday morning: my sister-in-law, who had spent Saturday night with us, is about to leave when she remembers that she had been given the five boxes of books by her parents to deliver to us. I dutifully head out to the car, pick up each box onto my shoulders, and schlep them in to our de facto library (the guest bedroom), sans dolly yet again.

Yesterday morning, I woke up and my back was killing me. Again, I started whining, and again all I got was a head shake and an "I told you so" in lieu of the sympathy I so justly deserved. (Today, by the way, it hurts worse than yesterday, which is what prompted this post). When am I going to learn?

Guess who's back?

Phew, was it ever nice to be back at work last week! I never thought I'd say that, but the whole moving/unpacking experience took a lot out of me physically, so it was a nice break to have to sit at a desk all day, regardless of how busy I was. Physically, my back and my knees are still recovering (the knee hurts because of the "lift with your legs" advice, the back hurts because the knee started hurting, so I started lifting with my back!), but we're settling in nicely.

Highlights of the move: realizing just how many damn comic books (and regular books) I have; the by-now mandatory flat tire on the U-haul trailer three hours outside Milwaukee; rain, rain and more rain, both in Milwaukee and Texas, resulting in arguments about what could and could not be unloaded in the rain ("You can't unload comic books in the rain; some of them aren't even bagged!" one of us argued); realizing I can live for almost ten days without Internet access.

As I believe I've mentioned before, the missus and I are now first-time homeowners, and we've been having fun with that process. As a result, expect a new feature here at the shop: True Tales of a First-Time Homeowner, in which I regale you with stories both good and bad about life owning a home. If you've never owned a home, I hope I don't scare you off; if you currently own a home, or have in the past, feel free to share your own stories or to laugh at me in the comments. Hopefully, this will be kind of fun.

The most exasperating part was waiting to take possession of the house. We were initially supposed to close on Monday, June 28, but at the request of the then-current homeowners, the date was changed at close to the last minute to Friday the 25th (this is important). So, we changed the date of our U-haul reservation, my parents (who were helping us on the packing end) changed the dates of their trip, and we made it to Texas on the evening of the 24th.

Bright and early on the 25th, we went down to the Title company (me in shorts, sandals, and having not shaved for a week because I couldn't figure out where I had packed my pants, closed-toed shoes or razor), to sign our names something like eight hundred million times on papers that we didn't have the time (or wherewithal, honestly) to read. The only thing left was for the mortgage company to actually transfer the funds and then we could get our key. The current schedule was for the now-previous owners to be out of the house by 4:00 pm, they were paying professional cleaners to come in and clean till 5:30 -6:00, then we could start moving in. No problem, right?

Having a few hours to kill, my wife decided it would be a good idea to go furniture shopping. Not really knowing what that entailed, I agreed. Five hours and something like four trips up and down between Legacy and Frankfurt, Central and the Tollway (extra special details for those who know Dallas), stopping at Every. Bloody. Furniture. Store. We. Saw, later, we started to get worried (and I started to fall asleep in every recliner we looked at). It was 4:00, the title company closes for the weekend at 5, why hadn't we heard anything about the key yet? Had something gone wrong? We made a few phone calls, and it turned out that the mortgage company had wire-transferred the funding to the wrong account, so they were frantically trying to cancel the transfer and wire the money back to the right account. Idiots. I was mad, the wife was worried.

The good news was, at 4:45 we got a call that the money had gone through; the house was ours! Luckily, we were sitting in the car in the parking lot of the mortgage company at that time, so we were able to get there to pick up the key before closing. By the time we got to the house, it was about 5:45, so we thought we'd take a quick peek before going to get the trailer and rounding up the wife's family, who had graciously agreed to help us move in (suckers).

Instead of an empty house that we could open up and I could deftly carry my wife over the threshold of, what did we see? An empty rent-a-truck (the really big kind) out front and two guys struggling to lift a hide-a-bed sofa over the fence in order to get it out of the house. What had gone wrong? What happened to out by 4, cleaners out by 6? Our hopes of spending the night in our house were dashed.

We made a few calls (again) and found out that the previous-owners (now our tenants, right?) had believed that the funding wouldn't go through, so they were planning on staying in the house over the weekend, and only decided to move out when the funding went through at the last minute. Although we had no one to ask, we wondered what had happened to their house, the one that they were closing on on the 25th, the reason that they had practically begged us to move the closing date up?! Had it fallen through as well? Needless to say, our realtor managed to convince their realtor that, as our tenants now, they needed to pay us "rent" for the one night, equivalent to one night at a hotel. Unfortunately, the hotel they chose for us (somehow we had to stay in this specific hotel, or the deal was off) didn't allow pets, so we ended up spending another night with the friends who we had stayed with the night before, and putting my in-laws up at the hotel.

"Luckily" the delay gave us a free night to spend going back to a few of the furniture stores (all of which were running "special" sales) so that we could settle on and purchase new living room and dining room sets (this was my first sign as to how much money moving into a house twice the size of our last apartment was going to cost). We drove back by the house just before midnight and people were still inside, toiling away, but at least the truck was gone.

Miraculously, by the next morning at 9:00 when we next drove by, the house appeared to be empty and, better yet, mostly clean. And so it was that almost 24 hours after closing, I got to carry my lovely wife over the threshold and into our new home.

The beginning . . .

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