Saturday, September 23, 2006

A cautionary traveler's tale.

Every December, I go to the Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic in Chicago. It is an incredible event where you get to see the best concerts, workshops, and seminars that you could ever hope for. You also get to buy stuff from all types of cool exhibits and hang out with all your old friends that have been scattered across the band world. In short, it's band geek heaven.

It is also an interesting case study in how the Chicago tourist industry handles a few thousand musicians who slam the city for three days in the middle of winter. At the 2004 Midwest Clinic, I shared a hotel room with my good friend and colleague, Terdell Mealing. Terdell, being infinitely more responsible than I, booked the room in August. In December, we arrived at said hotel ready to check in and head back to see some concerts. There was just one problem: Our room didn't exist.

The booking in August existed. Our names on the reservation existed. The charge on Terdell's credit card existed. Our room, however, did not. It was explained to us that the hotel was overbooked and there was not a two bed room available. This gave us two options: Sleep in one bed or get a single with a roll away. Despite Terdell's animal magnatism, my faithfulness to Karen and the fact that I am not gay helped compel us to go with the roll away. We were also given some gift certificates at a restaraunt.

Upon arriving at our new room, we made some startling and disturbing discoveries. The single was actually not a regular room. I'm not sure what it was, but the best way to describe it would be a larger version of the snack and laundry area of a motel. The rollaway looked about as invited and comfortable as a cart at Sam's Club. The gift certificates were for a restaurant inside the hotel.

Terdell and I went back downstairs to explain our dissatisfaction. We were told that there was nothing that the hotel could do.

"The least you could do is give us a discount or put us up somewhere else," Terdell calmly responded.

"I'm sorry, we can't do that," the lady behind the desk replied.

"So let me get this straight," I said, seething. "You were able to charge his card in August, but you are not able to give us any sort of refund now even though there is no room."

"Correct," she replied. "It's because you put it on a credit card."

Oh. Well that explains it. I guess when drug dealers carry large amounts of money around in briefcases, it's as much for the hassle free service as it is the untracability.

Terdell insisted (politely) that they would have to do better. The receptionist left the desk and came back with about the most insulting offer I have ever seen. It was a coupon for the PRIVILEDGE of upgrading to EXECUTIVE class. This included a free bath robe (which I guess Terdell and I could share) and the option of paying $10.99 for internet access. But the best part: It would only be redeemable on our NEXT visit.

"Ma'me, at this point there is not going to be a next time," I replied to the offer. By this point, Marie Elliott, who was also staying at the hotel (and apparently keeps large amounts of cash on hand or got lucky) got to witness a moment I had dreamed of for years. I finally got to paraphrase my favorite Seinfeld line ever in a usable context.

"You see, here's the problem," I began. "When Terdell paid with his card in August, he made a reservation. Now a reservation implies that something will be there, in this case being a room, when we arrive. I mean, anyone can just taaaaake a reservation." (and yes, I did the whole pulling reservation out of the air motion) "It's keeping the reservation. That's the important part. That's what we're missing here."

It was awesome, but I wasn't done...and I went in for the kill.

"Furthermore, we paid for something that we are not getting."

"But sir," she replied "you are getting a room. We are providing you with what you paid for."

"No," Terdell replied in his soft yet firm tone. "We paid for a double, and you are giving us a single with a roll away."

After a pregnant pause and another trip to the back, the receptionist came back and said "Okay, we have a room."


Yep. There was one there. This doesn't change the fact that the hotel had overbooked. They just hadn't filled up yet and were hoping that we would be the poor saps to help make up the difference. 

If you ever get in this situation, don't back down. They either need to give you the moon or give you what you paid for. Unless you're at a fast food place. They can spit in your food. I guess they could have spit in our hotel room, but I was too busy sleeping in my own full sized bed to notice.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Another 'Amazing' Nick Story

So sometimes when I really want to write but I can't think of anything to write about, I'm going to pull from my stash of incredibly dumb actions that I have had throughout my childhood (and some adulthood). If you don't know me or haven't kept in touch in a while, then you're in for a treat. If you do know me...well, you may (probably) have heard it, but I tend to write better than I verbalize, so enjoy again! 

I know that Rachel is going to be ticked at me for not writing the story she asked about (I am working on it though), but I think this will be worth it. 

An old favorite of mine is when I was on a band trip to Florida during my junior year of high school. We were marching in the Citrus Bowl Parade and taking in the sites in Orlando. One of our stops was to the Kennedy Space Center. 

Now as often happens, something shiny caught my eye while I was there and I became transfixed...then I wandered off by myself. I don't even remember what it was, but I do remember being completely oblivious to the fact that I had wandered away from the group...or that it was time to board the bus...or that everyone had started filing out. As I stood looking at whatever had caught my attention, I heard the voice of a chaperone call out, "POPE HIGH SCHOOL! THE BUS IS LEAVING NOW!!!"


I snapped out of my ADD induced hypnosis and tore down the stairs and toward the door. Now I wasn't a track star or anything, but I could move pretty quick. I hit the lower level and began building up a huge head of steam as I raced for the door, which was about 40 yards away. Then suddenly, my progress just stopped.

Now when I say "stopped," I don't mean that I stumbled or pulled up suddenly. I mean that I literally just stone cold stopped. It was an awful feeling.

"Why am I not moving anymore?" was the first thought to pop into my head. I also didn't understand why there was a searing pain streteching across the front part of my face. Or why my nose felt as though it had been pushed into the roof of my mouth. Then out of the corner of my eye, I caught a reflection of the skin on my face. A reflection? But that means...

Yep. I had run full speed into a glass wall. 

Let me tell you, what is ten times worse than the physical pain is the mental bewilderment that you feel when your body just stops moving when it was at one point going at a rapid pace. 

Luckily, NO ONE from my high school band actually saw this incident. This story is great to tell, but to have people I know witness it would probably have caused me horrible emotional damage. Almost as much damage as the time one of our dogs, Chloe, almost caused me to have a major concussion. But that story will have to wait for another time...

 Please feel free to leave a comment below. If you'd like to sing my praises or tell me how terrible I am more personally, I can also be found on Twitter.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

If I dried the dishes, nations would tremble

As I looked at the sink filled with dishes, I wondered what horror awaited me when I opened our dishwasher. The sink was pilled high with knives, forks, plates, and glasses. There were even a few pots and pans in there. It was disgusting.

With great trepidation, I opened our dishwasher, prepared to see things that would make me question all that was good and holy. Instead I saw...barely anything. Except a knive with lots of peanut butter and jelly on it and one of those McDonalds disposable extra large cups that we sometimes keep using permanently.

"Joe," I called to my best friend and roomate, "there are no dishes in the dishwasher, but the sink is full of them."

"I know man, I'm sorry," he repiled. "It's something my dad did and I think I inherited it. I'll try to make sure from now on..."

"No, it's okay Joe. I do the same thing..."

And it's true. Seriously guys, why do we just put dishes in the sink or on the counter instead of in the dishwasher. Lord knows my mom tried to train me to do this. Of all the many daily lessons of cleanliness and decency that she tried to instill in me from a young age, the sound of her voice saying "Nicholas! Dishes in the dishwasher!" rings through my ears like a hawk screaming as it dives towards a fleeing chipmunk. 

Now I think I've ended up being a fairly tidy person compared to many of my mid 20's counterparts, but this task of putting dirty dishes where they are supposed to go still eludes me.

And when I do put my dishes in the dishwasher, I feel as though I have completed some sort of heroic trial and risen to a place of prominence within the fabric of our society. There was even a Klondike Bar commercial that made fun of this symptom in males. It's almost as though it is hard wired into my being to not want to complete this simple task.

So over the past few days I have tried to make an extra effort to put my dishes in the dishwasher right after I use them and not let them collect in the sink. In this new daily taks I feel as though I am being flogged by the whip that is life. I'm definitely not lazy--I'll stay at school till midnight to get work done, put in time at the gym, and hang up my clothes. But this dishes in the dishwasher thing is just a bizarre mantrait that I suppose I will need to lear to shake. 

Nick Catalano says that he has no idea what I am talking about with this, but Nick probably lacks a lot of main traits, some of which I won't mention here out of respect and sympathy. But how many of you are with me on this one? I would love to type longer, but I think I might get something to drink out of the fridge...which invariably means using a glass...which invariably means that tonight, I will look evil dead in the eye...and set it to heavy with auto dry.

Tuesday, September 5, 2006

Facebook: Google ain't got crap on us...if you're obsessive.

When I got home tonight and logged  onto my friendly facebook profile, I was bombarded with information; more than I would have dug up on my own. Some of this infomation was even about me! The most shocking of these was that Sabrina Sallas and I just became friends a couple of hours ago. This was quite embarrassing as I have been treating Sabrina as though she were my friend for quite a while. I guess Brazillian women, especially ones married to Jeff Scott, are extremely indulgent.

Meg commented on an old photo I had and Emily totally burned me on a wall post. This is information that I would have found out on my own, but now was out there for the world to see. I can also tell by Emma Teal's activity that she may not be ignoring my immature barbs on her photo albums or wall, but in fact, may actually be busy with a real life. She hasn't done anything on facebook in days!! THE NERVE!!

As I logged into my own personal profile, my every last step on facebook for the last couple of days was listed. I wasn't nearly as offended by this as some folks, but I was definitely taken aback. Laura Chavoya even went so far as to describe facebook founder Mark Zuckerburg (in her first facebook note post) as "whack," a true death blow to any male aspiring to social acceptability.

But you know what? Contrary to all of our initial reactions and subsequent repulsion, none of us are as above this as we think. Seriously. Look at everyone talking about it, making groups about it, and writing notes that never have before. Maybe ol' Mark knew what to do to spark some renewed interest and keep things fresh. 

And NO ONE on here can tell me that they don't have friends on their AIM list that they haven't talked to in years, but still check their away messages when they're bored. NO ONE! This just takes it to a whole new level I suppose. Personally, I think it's quite a bit of overkill and/or most of the information is redundant. But as long as I control the information flow that people get about me, I'm okay. The day facebook posts on the front page that "Nick Nafpliotis took a massive dump at 11:10 PM," I'm outta here. Oh, and that last part was totally a hypothetical example. It didn't happen. But the serving of baked cheetos I just ate may make it a reality soon. How's that for some real time updating?

Stop...Hammer Time!

You know what makes me feel old? 

The fact that kids I have taught in middle school are now going to college to be teachers or are already in the teaching the profession.  It also makes me very proud, excited...and a bit scared.  Not because I don't have faith in them, but because there are some things that will never be taught in a college classroom, yet they have to deal with every day.  

It doesn't have much to do with music, but it needs to be addressed: No matter what you do, there will always be some things that you just cannot teach a kid.

Now don't get me wrong. If a kid wants to learn something and is willing to work, 
than normally anything is possible. Heck, if a kid DOESN'T have any desire to learn, you could be the one to inspire that. 

But this all applies to subject matter. There are social behavoirs that we will invariably try to change, but will never succeed in doing so. 

So for all you current new teachers, music education majors, or those of you considering going into the teaching field, here are a few of these unbreakable norms:

1.) For the gentlemen: Axe Body Spray will not make girls like you. 

Seems simple, but for some reason Axe's (admittedly very good) advertising is working...to our detriment. 

You see, the boys not only think that it will make girls like them, but the more they put on, the more girls they will get. Subsequently, I have been attacked by clouds of the stuff lingering in the hallways of my middle school after a gym class. It feels like someone turning you upside down and pouring a bottle of cologne into your nose. This will sting and blind you for at least the next 20 minutes.

2.) For the ladies: Smelling like a Jolly Rancher is not desirable. 

When I worked at Lafayette High School with David Jaggie, I would often have to walk by the colorguard to get to the band office as they were leaving to go out onto the field. This was at the height of the fruit scented body wash/shampoo/body spray revolution. 

As I walked by them, it felt as though a multitiude of fruits that should NEVER be put together (no matter what Snapple says) had been placed in a net, twirled around, and hurled into my face. (Either that or a weird combination of a mango and a pineapple was choking my senses). 

3.) For both: Only gross people make out in the halls.

Seriously, have you ever noticed this? 

I'm not talking about the ones who give each other a quick kiss goodbye or staring lovingly at each other. I'm talking some PG-13 nastiness right there in school as you're walking by. 

It's just disgusting and it's usually done by disgusting people.  Do you think we want to see that? Break it up, tell them to go to class, and then go vomit in the bathroom before the bell rings.

4.) For everyone, a quote you will probably say at some point: "I can't believe that they actually like that (song/type of music/movie/clothing style)! It's horrible!!! WHAT IS THIS WORLD COMING TO??"

Calm down, take a deep breath...and realize that you at one point listned to Backstreet Boys, or NSYnc, or Britney Spears, or Five, or O-Town (oh yes, I went there!), or any number of musical acts that your elders recoiled at. 

But I am not without accountability. When I was much younger, I was silently very upset when New Kids on the Block went out of style. 

I also continued to tight roll my jeans until about a year after it was tolerable to do so. 

When I hear an MC Hammer song, I STILL have the inclination to dig out the old parachute pants (yes, I owned TWO pairs), and throw down my white boy groove to the dance from the video for "U Can't Touch This"...which to the untrained eye looks like someone convulsing from a seizure and trying to step on ants at the same time. 

When I hear the Macarena occasionally on the radio or on a VH1 "Look At How Stupid Everyone Was This Year" special, it's almost as if the synapses in my brain involuntarily fire to make me do that stupid dance...and I can't stop it.

You see, when we start to get out of the little kid phase and into the scary adolescent phase, there are two things that the old folks never took into account and us semi-old folks (I'm not ready to be full fledged yet) still don't. 

First off, we're still searching for an identity and will grasp onto anything new and shiny that attracts us...which leads to the second truth: They haven't heard that much yet. 

Their musical palette is still unrefined. So while I may have heard rap songs about money and drugs for the last 15 years and I'm just over it, it's very new, shocking, and fresh to them. 

We also tend to let nostalgia cloud our judgement. I thought that Batman Forever was great as a kid. Now...not so much. But the memories from that time in my life will invariably halt my productivity or leisure time if I pass it on TBS for the 40th time. 

So go forth, young teachers, and teach music with all the passion and energy that you have within you. But as far as the social behavoirs like the ones I named above, just hum the melody to "I Want It That Way" and take a deep breath...it'll be okay.

Friday, September 1, 2006

Musings on a Friday Evening


So after a rough week, tonight was enjoyable. My friend Nick (no, not imaginary, we have the same name) and I decided that there were some definite gems to pull out of this evening's antics, so here you go:

1.) Holding your girlfriend's purse upside down makes you look more manly. Despite ridicule from Nick, Devin, Lori Carroll (Erynn Carroll's mom), and many others, I still hold this to be true. 

If your girlfriend asks you to hold onto her purse, make sure it is zipped up and hold it upside down like a football with your feet shoulderwidth apart. It says "I am a man who is holding a purse, but I am so manly that I don't even know the proper way to do so." 

Well, at least my band booster president agreed with me. One of the Wando parents who heard my argument said I felt this way because I was insecure in my manhood. I reminded her that I spent the entire second quarter of the football game dancing with pom poms. Touche!

2.) Tupac is still alive. After a round table discussion between Nick, Devin, and myself, we've pretty much decided that it's true. He keeps releasing new music and putting out videos, his mom is supposedly sending large amounts of money to a private account in Puerto Rico (unconfirmed conjecture, but whatever), his songs are just a little too timely, etc. 

And seriously, a celebrity gets killed after a Tyson fight in Vegas and no one sees it?

3.) For the second time in as many weeks, Samantha Moyer's mom has told me about her daughter switching to mellophone in the USC marching band this year. This is akin to someone telling me that a middle eastern country that hates us now posesses a doomsday device.

4.) Godiva chocolate is the stealth stomach bomber. I have been tricked by this before, but I never seem to learn my lesson. After the game I went to Barnes and Noble for desert with Karen and ordered a piece of Godiva double chocolate cheesecake. What they brought me looked like a small sliver of turd with a pretty swirl on top. 

Boy was I wrong.

I could barely finish the thing. With every bite it felt as though the chocolate was coating my entire insides, slowing down all necessary motor functions throughout my body. That was almost an hour ago and the effects are getting worse.

Well, that's all for now. I bet I will remember something later, but I'm in early for the night. It's been a long week, but it's good to be done with August and to have a long weekend to recover and reload. Bring on the fall!!