Monday, August 31, 2020

"Let's go to The Roxy"

I may not remember the first place I ate a lot of my favorite foods, but I remember a lot of early favorites. Pizza? The ones I remember are Pizza Caboose in Hillsboro, OR and Rocky Rococo's in La Crosse, WI. I have no clue at all when or where I tried my first cheeseburger, but it was probably McDonald's or a chain in the northwest called Burgerville USA. I do, however, recall my first chicken wing (other than as part of a KFC bucket). It was this place:

That's The Roxy, an old dive bar in Olean, NY.

The other day I was scrolling through a Facebook group I had found dedicated to old photos and memories of one of my hometowns, Olean, NY. It's fascinating to look at the town's history, even if I haven't lived there in almost twenty years. Olean is a city in New York State's "Southern Tier", although it really isn't much of a city anymore, as decades of population drain have taken their toll. While I grew up as a child in the town of Allegany, a smaller town just west of Olean, I eventually lived and worked in Olean when The Wife and I got married, and Olean was my home from 1997 to the end of 2000.

By the time my family and I moved to the Olean area in 1981, the region's decline had begun, though maybe at that time it wasn't quite obvious yet. Olean still had several factories and lots of shops and even its own shopping mall, though it was on the smallish side. There were three supermarkets and a well-regarded university, and there were a lot of bars. Lots of bars. I remember that a lot of those bars were not "possessively" named, meaning, a bunch weren't named as a person's name in the possessive. There was a place called Sullivan's, and another dive bar called Buzzy's, but mostly the bars in Olean as I recall were "The Something". The Burton. The Village Inn. The Other Place. The Royal Ednor (not to be confused with The Royal). The Edgewood. The Birdcage. And, The Roxy.

As I scrolled through that Facebook group, suddenly I stopped dead because I saw that photo. The Roxy.

When I say that I ate my first chicken wing at The Roxy, it was my first chicken wing in the "split-wing" way, with the wings cut at the joints and the wing tips discarded, so what you end up with are a little drumstick and a "flat" (which is basically the forearm of the wing). I knew none of this wing-prep lore when we were preparing to move from Oregon to Western New York in 1981; all I knew was that my father said cryptic things about how we'd be eating chicken wings soon. My father actually lived in Olean on his own for one full semester in spring 1981, while my mother, sister, and I finished out the school year in Hillsboro, OR. So by the time we came along, my father already knew Olean pretty well, and he'd found this bar where I'd have my first chicken wings.

Now, I don't really know how or why that first wing experience ended up happening at The Roxy. It didn't make a whole lot of sense, really; we lived in Allegany, west of Olean, where The Roxy was on Olean's East side. Now, in 1981, wings weren't quite as ubiquitous as they are now, but still, lots of places had decent wings. Why that bar, all the way on Olean's east side? No idea, then or now. But that place was pretty cool, and in all honesty, I do kind of miss it.

The Roxy had two rooms: a dining room to the right when you went in, and the bar on the left. It was a blue-collar type of joint, which makes sense since it was right across the street from one of the local factories (a tile factory, if I remember right). Sometimes we'd sit in the dining area, other times in the bar, and I think they had other food there--maybe they even had a menu!--but for me, The Roxy was all about the wings.

And yet...I would soon discover, when I tried wings at other places, that what The Roxy served weren't actual "Buffalo" wings at all.

There are a great many ways to prepare chicken wings, but only one way to prepare Buffalo wings: They are fried unbreaded and then tossed in a sauce that is made of hot sauce and melted butter. To serve them, you dump them into a bowl or bucket or basket lined with wax paper. The Roxy's wings were breaded, though, and they came with the sauce on the side, not smothered on the wings themselves. And they were arranged nicely on a plate, like wheel spokes, around the little paper ramekin that had the sauce in it. You dipped the wings in the sauce to taste as you went. I want to say that a regular order of wings had fifteen in it, but I might be misremembering on that point.

When I discovered actual Buffalo wings later that same summer, I actually didn't like them as much as The Roxy's. At some point we stopped going out all that far for wings; maybe the place changed ownership or even closed. The bartender was a crusty old woman with a three-packs-a-day voice who had a wicked sense of humor, as I recall. Good times!

I looked at Google Earth the other day to see if the building still existed. I knew that it stopped being The Roxy at some point in the 1980s, and as of the last time the Google Mobile rolled through there, at least the building itself was still standing. It's a Hibernian Lodge now, though. I have no idea what the Hibernians are or what their thing is.

If anyone affiliated with The Roxy ever reads this, thanks for the wings! Oh, and for the pinball machine that gave out free games like candy. That was fun, too.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Something's afoot, aye!

 Apparently they made a movie about Sherlock Holmes's younger sister Enola, featuring Mille Bobbie Brown in the title role. The movie drops on Netflix just a few days before my birthday.

If it's good, this might be one of 2020's stopped-clock moments (even a stopped clock is right twice a day)!

Tone Poem Tuesday

 I had a piece picked out for this week, but it's a pretty complex work that I want to hear a couple more times before I actually feature it, so this week I'll take an "easy" route. This is a short track called "Anthem" by composer Michael Abels, featured in the score he wrote for the Jordan Peele film Us. I haven't seen any of Peele's movies yet (and yes, I know this is a big gap in my media consumption), but I like what I've heard of Abels's music (previously featured in this space).

Here is "Anthem". It's atmospherically creepy, and reminiscent of Jerry Goldsmith's "Ave Satani" from The Omen.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Testing the new gizmo!

I'm writing this on my new tablet, because my backordered keyboard folio finally came in. Huzzah! Now to begin my plan for World Domination...or, on a smaller scale, using this tablet as a content-creation device (blog posts, essays, maybe short fiction here and there). In terms of long form writing, I will almost certainly be a laptop guy until they literally stop making laptops, but I hope this little keyboard and tablet will yield dividends as well.

However...I am just now discovering that the Blogger app for Android devices doesn't reorient to landscape format when the tablet is rotated, so as I type this post, the words are appearing vertically on my screen. I have a pretty good ability to get used to change, but even this might--just might!--be a bridge too far. We'll see.

Anyway, Excelsior!

The Moment

 Obviously there is zero chance that I will vote for anybody other than Joe Biden this November (or October, really--early voting, here I come!), but I do want to highlight this segment of his acceptance speech last night. How strange a time it is, that we have to celebrate the very notion of electing a President of the United States who can feel genuine human emotions.

Let's go, Joe. I'm ready.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Something for Thursday

 It's funny about "one-hit wonders": sometimes the hit is a genuinely enduring song, but other times the hit somehow endures despite being a very clear time-capsule piece that could only have come at a certain point in time. "Come On Eileen" by Dexys Midnight Runners is clearly an 80s song, but there's nothing about it other than its general sound that ties it to the 80s. But is there any other time than 1974 when "Kung Fu Fighting" by Carl Douglas could have come out? I very much doubt it.

Here's "Kung Fu Fighting". Such a catchy tune that you couldn't begin to get past the culturally-aware producers of today!

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

On Car Repair and Duct Tape

 It's always struck me as strange that a lot of folks will, when they learn that my day job involves fixing stuff, make some remark about how I must use a lot of duct tape. I also get a particular Internet meme shared with me: It's a guide to fixes of all kinds, consisting of two questions:

1. Does it GO and it's supposed to stay put? (Answer: Use duct tape!)

2. Does it STAY PUT and it needs to go? (Answer: Use WD-40!)

Now, I do use WD-40 and other penetrating greases on occasion, but I have to admit: I hate using duct tape for general repairs, and I generally refuse to use it at work for any purpose other than taping thick rugs down over spots where our tile floor breaks. As a means of fastening things together, I personally feel that if I resort to duct tape, I've failed as a professional. Yeah, it's one of those weird "honor" things. We've all got an honor thing about something, and duct tape is one of mine. (Another? Papermate and Bic pens. Yuck!)

But there is one repair for which I used duct tape without regret. It was a repair--you know what, let's put quotes on that, because even I can't call this a genuine repair--there's one "repair" I made using duct tape. One time my car door wasn't closing all the way. It would feel closed, but it wouldn't be registering as closed. The "Door Ajar" warning light would come on, and even more annoyingly, the dome light would come on as well. I find the dome light enormously distracting when I'm driving in darkness, so this was a frustration. This went on for a few days until I realized what the problem was. It was related to...the seatbelt.

There's this weird thing that tends to happen to me in cars: the seat belt doesn't retract all the way, like it's supposed to. This happens to me a lot. I don't know if it's something about the shape of my body or something, if the belt twists in such a way when I use it that it doesn't snap all the way back, or if it's a thing that happens to everybody. But once in a while, the seat belt will stop retracting and just kind of hang loose. More often than not, then, the belt hangs into the damned door frame, so when I go to shut the door I close it on the seat belt itself, sometimes catching the entire buckle between the door and the frame. This in turn results in the door not closing properly, but latching enough that I have to unlock the door to fix things.

So: I turn the car off, unlatch the seatbelt and flick it to my left, from where its spring-loaded mechanism is supposed to retract it. Then I pay no attention as I grab whatever I need and get out of the car. Most times I shut the door and go about things normally...but once in a while, I hear an obnoxious metallic CRUNCH sound and notice that the door is not closed. The damned seatbelt has caught in the door frame again! I swear a few times, take care of business by opening the door and untwisting the belt so it can do its thing correctly, and then close the door again.


One time, the buckle managed to get in between the door and the frame at the exact spot where the door's shape is supposed to depress the door switch that tells the car that the door ain't open. And of course the damned buckle dented the door at that exact spot. It's a tiny dent, so tiny you can't even see it unless you're poring over the door itself trying to figure out why the door-close switch isn't working. The switch itself is working just fine, see! With the car turned on and the door open, you can press it with your finger and make the car think the door is shut!

Yup. That tiny dent, barely a fingernail's thickness in depth? That was sufficient to make the door not click the switch. I couldn't see any feasible way of repairing the door to make the switch work myself, and I sure as hell wasn't taking the car to the shop for this dumb repair, which I could see resulting in a whole new door. Screw that.

So...enter the duct tape.

A disposable wipe cloth, folded up and taped to the door at that spot? That worked wonders.

Stupid duct tape.

Damnable Duct Tape!

I hope this doesn't come up too much when I'm sitting around the fires in the halls of Repair Valhalla.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Tone Poem Tuesday

 While doing a bit of research for this post, I learned something that is actually a correction of something I've believed for years. Remember in the 70s when the ragtime piece "The Entertainer" was all the rage, because of its use in the popular movie The Sting? I don't know why, but for pretty much all the time I've been aware of that piece's existence, I thought that it was an original piece of ragtime music written by Marvin Hamlisch as a pastiche of the kind of thing that Scott Joplin wrote back in the late 1800s.

Well, as the kids say these days, "I was today years old" when I learned that no, what's heard in The Sting is an arrangement composed by Hamlisch, and Mr. Joplin actually did write "The Entertainer" in 1902. Joplin (1868-1917) himself was known as "the King of Ragtime", and ragtime music comprises almost all of his compositional output. He was trying to move beyond his ragtime reputation in his later years, but syphilis and dementia cut his voice short.

I know virtually nothing about ragtime, to be honest. My main impression of it is likely the same as many people: it's mainly kept alive not through active performance but by being the kind of music used by piano teachers to help young students develop rhythm skills. "Here's a piece that's fun to play!" is the likely selling point when a teacher is helping a kid choose the next thing they work on, and...well, in a lot of cases, ragtime actually is fun to play, especially if you've been spending months struggling with the chaste classicism of, say, a sonatina by Muzio Clementi.

Obviously, though, ragtime--a musical form that springs from Black culture and artistry--deserves better than to be reduced to a common teaching tool for young piano students, especially when the music's cultural context is virtually never discussed. "This is a piece by Scott Joplin, who wrote more than a hundred of these!" is about all you learn. At least, that's about all I learned when it came time to try my hand at a ragtime piece. Which one was it? Almost certainly "The Maple Leaf Rag", of course. Joplin wrote over a hundred rags, didn't he? And yet, every year at piano recital time, someone played "Maple Leaf Rag" and no other.

I don't mean to sound irritated at my piano teacher or at piano teachers nationwide, who can't always be true to the music at the same time they're trying to get little Billy interested in actually practicing for once. They can't teach the basics and try to keep some kid motivated enough to put in their half-hour a day of boring Czerny exercises while also doing anything more than the bare minimum in terms of music appreciation, but...well, anyway. Ragtime, an adaptation of the popular march form of the day coupled with the syncopated rhythms of African music, would help pave the way for the rise of jazz, so its place in music history is secure. But ragtime shouldn't be seen as merely a popular form for just a few decades that's important for blazing a trail for the extremely important work that came afterward. Ragtime is a musical moment that somehow captures a certain air of sadness at the same time that it's doing its "bouncy happy" thing, and while maybe it has its limitations, it should still be seen as more than just a thing to be viewed through a sepia veil.

Here is not "The Entertainer", or "The Maple Leaf Rag". This is "Solace: A Mexican Serenade", in which Joplin takes a slower tempo and incorporates tango rhythms into his normal ragtime language.

Joplin eventually wrote a ballet and two operas to go along with his ragtime work. As with many composers, I wonder what he might have accomplished if not for his illnesses and early death. The idea of Scott Joplin writing at the same time as George Gershwin is enticing, to say the least.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Memories of Maliboo

 My mother's cat, a beautiful red Persian named "Maliboo", died today at the fine age of 17. He had a fantastic life, truly winning the Cat Lottery. Oddly, Maliboo hated me until several years ago when he had no choice but to warm up to me while Mom took a 17-day trip to Wales. After that, he was fine with me.

Farewell, Maliboo. You were a good cat.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Vice President Harris

 I like the sound of that.

Let's go, Joe!

Tone Poem Tuesday

 William Grant Still is not new to this series, but the goal is to highlight music as well as composers, and to just hear one work by a composer and then move on forever seems...well, weird, doesn't it? So let's get back to Still, one of the most notable Black composers in the repertoire. Still (1895-1978) had a lush, Romantic style that nevertheless displays a lot of influences, among them the Negro spirituals of his ancestors.

This piece is a string quartet (although I have discovered that it can also be performed by a quartet of clarinets or saxiphones), called the Lyric Quartette. In this work, which in my ears summons up hints of Copland and Debussy, Still depicts three of his friends in descriptive terms: the first movement is "The Sentimental One", the second is "The Quiet One", and the concluding third movement is "The Jovial One". All those descriptors do apply to the music, which is introspective and at times meditative. This is a beautiful work. Enjoy!

Here is the Lyric Quartette by William Grant Still.

An Addendum... yesterday's post about my new tablet!

Given that I want to use that device primarily as a secondary writing device for longer-form work, I will not be keeping any social networking apps on it at all, with the exceptions of the photo-based Instagram and Flickr. This seems to me a healthier way of going about things, moving forward.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Tablet Fun!

So one thing I've been saving money for is a new tablet. My old one is pushing five years old (and may be over that already, as I'm not entirely sure when I bought it in 2015), so it's getting up there. Battery life isn't awesome anymore and apps don't always update, and in fact eventually a lot of apps become unwinnable. I've been squirreling away money so I could buy the new tablet outright, and now it's mine! In fact, I am writing this very post on the new tablet.

It's a Samsung Galaxy Tab A, in the 10-in size. This is the biggest tablet I've owned yet, which makes sense for reading comics and since I want to use this tablet as a secondary writing device. Of course, that particular bit of functionality will have to wait until the keyboard folio I also ordered comes; apparently it was backordered, which is a shame. (It was also included free, so I can't whine too much yet.) My plan is to use the tablet for writing in Google Docs, for things like blog posts and reviews for The Geekiverse, and maybe even short-form fiction if the whim allows. Google Docs doesn't handle very large files very well, and since brevity does not seem to be a thing I do as a novelist, that work will remain on the laptop and Scrivener. 

Aside from that, who knows? I just have a nifty new gadget!

And the camera is decent on this tablet, too. Here is a selfie I took last night with this very device. Not bad, I must say.

And oh yeah, those are also new overalls...but more on those in another post. Cheerio, mates!

Friday, August 07, 2020

Notes of an Overall Collector: Washington Dee Cee

There are a number of favorite subjects of mine that I haven't used this blog to geek out about in a long time, so let's go ahead and do some of that right now, OK? Time to talk about bib overalls!

Dee Cee overalls (for use in a blog post)

I think it's long past time to admit that my acquisition of overalls has come to a point where there's really only one way to describe it without making myself seem like a weirdo (or, maybe at least a little less of a weirdo), and that's to assert that I am a collector of overalls. That doesn't seem weird at all, right? When you're an avowed collector of a thing, owning lots of it and being willing to go to odd lengths to procure it aren't nearly as weird as if you're just some goof who owns a whole lot of a particular thing.

Well, that's what I'm telling myself, anyway.

Which brings me to one recent acquisition for my overalls collection: a pair of Hickory-striped overalls by the Washington Dee Cee company. I haven't been able to find much information out there about the Dee Cee company, but they were based in Nashville and they made a lot of denim Western-wear and workwear back in the day.

What makes their overalls distinctive is the styling of the large pocket on the bib. Instead of a dual-compartment pocket with two snap enclosures, which tends to be the norm (see Dickies or, my eternal favorite, Lee overalls for examples), the pocket is mainly one large enclosure with a snap in the middle over which a narrow flap fastens. It's a neat look that's a nice change from the usual style. Washington Dee Cee overalls were notably modeled by actress Michelle Meyrink in the wonderful 80s nerd-comedy Real Genius...

Dee Cee overalls (for use in a blog post)

Dee Cee overalls (for use in a blog post)

Dee Cee overalls (for use in a blog post)

...and by Mr. T on The A-Team!

Dee Cee overalls (for use in a blog post)

I've kept an eye out on eBay and other places for a pair of Dee Cee overalls, but usually they were either not in my size, or not in my price range. I did occasionally see this interesting variation, though--and never in my price range. It seems that the Washington Dee Cee people made versions of their overalls but to be branded for another great Tennessee institution:

Dee Cee overalls (for use in a blog post)

Dee Cee overalls (for use in a blog post)

Well, anyway, luck finally turned my way and I got my hands on a pair of Hickory-striped Washington Dee Cee overalls! I've really taken a keen liking to Hickory stripes over the years (commonly thought of as "engineer stripes", because they're commonly seen on railroad worker clothing). Here are my new ones!

Dee Cee overalls (for use in a blog post)

Dee Cee overalls (for use in a blog post)

Dee Cee overalls (for use in a blog post)

Some neat bib details here: While the Hickory-stripe pattern is always vertical on overalls, the Washington Dee Cee ones break with this in one place: the flap enclosure on the bib pocket. That makes for a neat visual contrast. At the far left of the bib pocket (the wearer's left, on the right as you look at them), there is a pencil-slot, and though it can't really be seen here, there is the traditional pocket-watch pocket that tucks into the seam just above the center tag. (For years I didn't know that this is what the "button hole" present on most pairs of "traditional" overalls, somewhere across the top of the bib, is for: the fob of a watch chain. It's one of those details that has held on for tradition's sake, even though most people who wear overalls aren't also carrying pocket watches.)

Dee Cee overalls (for use in a blog post)

Close-up of the center snap. Back in the day, manufacturers engraved their names on the snaps and buckles.

Dee Cee overalls (for use in a blog post)

Center tag. I love tags on overalls. Some people cut them off their overalls! I don't understand that. But, whatever. [shrugs]

Dee Cee overalls (for use in a blog post)

I like them a lot, even if they are just ever so slightly too small, but they're definitely wearable and I like the way they look. So, huzzah!

Dee Cee overalls (for use in a blog post)

More new arrivals to the collection to come!

Thursday, August 06, 2020

Something for Thursday (Farewell, Leon Fleischer)

Pianist Leon Fleischer has died, at the age of 92.

Fleischer was one of the greatest American musicians of the twentieth century (and a chunk of the 21st!), and his story is one of consummate musicianship along with triumph to overcome and live with disability. Fleischer was already a pianist and teacher of great renown by 1964, when a neurological condition made playing with his right hand impossible. Fleischer didn't lose a step, though: because one-armed pianists are hardly unheard of, there is a substantial amount of repertoire for them, including today's feature piece.

Maurice Ravel, the great French Impressionist composer, was commissioned by an Austrian pianist named Paul Wittgenstein to write a concerto for him. Wittgenstein had lost his right arm in World War I, however, so Ravel wrote his Concerto in D for Left Hand. It's an amazing, bravura work, with such impressive piano writing that it is never obvious that only one hand is playing.

Wittgenstein appears to have been a rather prickly individual; he clashed with Ravel about the Concerto, revising it himself before playing it, to Ravel's displeasure. Later he commissioned another Concerto for Left Hand from composer Paul Hindemith, but Wittgenstein decided he didn't like the piece, so he refused to play it--but he also owned the rights to it, so he never let anyone else play it, either...until long after his death, when Hindemith's score was found in Wittgenstein's papers. The work was finally premiered in 2004, more than 40 years after Hindemith's death. The pianist who premiered it?

Leon Fleischer.

In the 2000s, even though he had a long career of left-hand piano playing, conducting, and teaching, Fleischer began undergoing experimental treatments in hopes of regaining control of his right hand. These treatments proved somewhat successful, enough for him to resume two-handed piano performance. In 2007 Fleischer was a Kennedy Center Honoree, inducted by President George W. Bush.

Here is Leon Fleischer performing Ravel's Concerto for Left Hand in D Major.

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

The Doggos, practicing for the Synchronized Pouting at the 2021 Olympics

Look at these two. I can't remember what yummy thing I had in my possession--I think it was bacon, on BLT night, but I may be wrong--but wow, they wanted it.

Practicing their Synchronized Pouting for Tokyo 2021. #Cane #dogsofinstagram #greyhound #greyhoundsofinstagram #Carla #pitbullsofinstagram #pitbullmix #pittie #staffordshirebullterrier #staffiesofinstagram

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

Tone Poem Tuesday

There are two possibilities with regard to this amazing piece of music, which I've just heard for the first time ever the day before yesterday: Either this amazing work has been studiously ignored for decades since its composition, when it should be heard every year around Passover time, much as The Ten Commandments is screened each year; or, it is heard every year around that time, and White Musical America is just that good at ignoring the amazing work of Black composers.

Sadly, I can see it breaking either way.

Robert Nathaniel Dett was a Black composer, native to Canada but who eventually spent most of his life and career in America after his family moved there when he was eleven. Dett was born in 1882 in Niagara Falls, Ontario, and would die in 1943 at the age of sixty, from a heart attack while touring with the USO as a choral director. In between he wrote a good amount of music, apparently making heavy use of Black folk songs and spirituals in a typically Romantic style.

Dett's oratorio The Ordering of Moses was premiered by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in 1937. That performance was to be broadcast live by NBC, but the broadcast was cut short due to "technical difficulties" that apparently left many wondering if the issue had been technical at all, or due to large volume of complaints lodged with NBC for broadcasting a Black man's music. That doesn't matter now, because we can hear Dett's amazing work now.

Here is The Ordering of Moses by Robert Nathaniel Dett.

(The entire work isn't available in one video, so the above is an embedded playlist. As this doesn't always work well for me, here's the link to hear the work directly on YouTube.)

Monday, August 03, 2020

Happy Birthday, Martin Sheen!

Today is Martin Sheen's birthday! He turns 80 years old, which I can hardly believe. In his honor, I'd like to note just one scene from his amazing life of work. This is from The West Wing's Season Two opener, called "In the Shadow of Two Gunmen". The previous season had ended with an assassination attempt on President Bartlet (Sheen), and as the finale ended we didn't know who had been shot or even killed.

When Season Two began with this two-part episode, we learned that President Bartlet and his Deputy Chief of Staff, Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford), had both been shot. Bartlet's injuries weren't life-threatening, but Josh's were critical, and the episode unfolds as doctors work to save Josh and the White House and the nation react to the attack. Meanwhile, in flashbacks, we learn how the cast came together in a quixotic campaign to elect a long-shot candidate President.

Throughout all of the flashbacks, much is made of Bartlet's prickly nature, the fact that he's not especially nice to those in his inner circle, and that he simply isn't ready to be President. Aaron Sorkin's script even has a description: "There's something about Bartlet that seems smaller somehow." I don't know how Sheen managed to suggest "being somehow smaller", but at the end of the episode comes this scene.

It's one of the flashbacks. On the very night that Governor Josiah Bartlet wins the Illinois primary, thus becoming the almost-certain Democratic nominee, Josh receives the phone call that his father has suddenly died of cancer. As the campaign celebrates and gets ready for the trip to California, Josh instead has to go to the airport to fly home for his father's funeral. He's sitting at the gate when he notices Secret Service agents forming a perimeter around him...and then there's Bartlet, the last person he expected to see.

In this scene Bartlet finally shows some warmth to the people who have given up other careers to try and elect this guy, and it really is quite a wonderful scene between Sheen and Whitford. But the real amazing thing comes at the end of the scene, when Josh is heading off to catch his flight. Leo McGarry (John Spencer), Bartlet's oldest friend and campaign manager and eventual White House Chief of Staff, comes up from behind and asks Bartlet if Josh will be OK; Bartlet replies, "He's gonna be fine," and then...Bartlet turns around to face Leo.

And in that simple act of turning around and straightening up just a bit, we see that indeed Bartlet had been "somehow smaller", but now...he's not. He turns to face Leo, and he straightens just a bit, and he says: "Leo, I'm ready." I love when actors can create a completely different tone in their characters just by altering their posture in the tiniest bit.

Here is the scene, and Happy Birthday, Martin Sheen!

Wise Words from Samira Ahmed

Author Samira Ahmed, writer of the amazing YA novel Love, Hate, and Other Filters as well as others, recently appeared on one of my favorite podcasts, 88 Cups of Tea. Her main takeaway that she pushed hard was the need for creative people to "say yes to themselves", because we live in a world that puts up an awful lot of roadblocks in front of creatives. We don't need to add to the roadblocks ourselves; self-obstruction is not healthy. It was a wonderful conversation (this podcast is always full of them), but there was one particular quote from Ms. Ahmed that knocked my breath away. Seriously, I almost had to pull my car over, so amazed was I to hear this.

She specifically referred to the habit a lot of writers have of describing their first drafts in extremely non-complimentary terms. There's even a quote that gets shared on the online writing communities a lot that goes along the lines of, "The first draft of everything is crap!" I've  been pushing back on this notion for a long time (here's an old essay of mine about it, over on, but to hear a published professional author echo my thoughts was unimaginably refreshing. And Ms. Ahmed frames the problem in a way that I had never considered. Here is what she said:

SAMIRA AHMED: One piece of that kindness to myself--and I say that this is just for me, but I hope maybe it can speak to just one of the other storytellers out there--which is, I am gentle with the language that I use about my writing. So what that means is, I never say to myself that my first draft is 'trash'. This is something for me; maybe this is OK with everybody else, your mileage may vary, but for me, when I was little one of those racist experiences that I had was a grown-ass man telling me, a kid, that I was 'trash that America needed to take out.' Words can be weapons, and I'm not going to use weaponized language against myself. So I don't say that my first draft is 'trash.' I don't say it's 'garbage'. I say it needs improvement. I say it needs work. I say I could make it better...but I don't say that it's trash.

I could not possibly agree more. Be kind to your own work, folks. It's yours, after all!

(I featured the Samira Ahmed quote in a new post over on, just in case you're wondering how writing is progressing of late!)