Archive for the ‘Thanksgiving’ category

SwanShadow Gives Thanks 14: As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly

November 23, 2017

Each year, since this humble (in the classic sense of “low to the ground”) blog began in 2004, I’ve paused on Thanksgiving Day to take stock of the many things in my life and in the world about me for which I’m grateful. If I took the honest measure of my blessings, I’d be typing nonstop between Thanksgivings, and I’d never get much life lived. (Plus, these posts would get even more unbearably lengthy than they already are.)

So I hit upon the idea of choosing just 26 items, sorted alphabetically, to represent by means of metonymy the countless people and things for which I am grateful.

It’s been an interesting year. The Pirate Queen began a new job, which she enjoys, and where she is appreciated and fulfilled. I landed one of my most daunting voiceover projects this summer, survived a hectic busy season with my largest client, and checked a box off my career bucket list by booking a gig for one of the most recognizable companies on the planet. We traveled a bit, as we are wont to do.

The Daughter hit a pair of milestones: she, like the Pirate Queen, began a new job — one that she’s been chasing hard for a few years — and she and her beloved (formerly The Boyfriend, now The Fiance) got engaged. They’ll be married next May, prompting yet another nomenclatural change. The Daughter is  thrilled to begin these new chapters in her life, and I am thrilled — with a father’s wistful trepidation — for her. She wishes her mother was here to share her joy. I wish that too. But as the old saying goes, if wishes were horses, beggars would ride. So walk on, we shall.

2017 will be forever remembered in the North Bay as the Year of the Firestorm. If you live hereabouts, you know — and perhaps lived through — the devastating wildfires that destroyed thousands of structures across Sonoma and Napa counties. The Daughter and her Grandma were evacuated from their home for a week. Many longtime friends and acquaintances don’t have homes to which to return. The city of Santa Rosa and the other hard-hit communities will rebuild, but the lives that were lost will never be restored, and the precious possessions of thousands of people will never truly be replaced. I can’t put into words the sadness I feel for those I know — and so many others I don’t know — whose lives were irrevocably altered, even as I also can’t express my relief that my precious Daughter’s life was spared.

Walk on, we shall, indeed.

But enough preamble. Here’s the fourteenth installment of my annual Thanksgiving list. Next year, should we all live to see it, I’ll have to add a whole new table in the Word document where I keep track of each year’s offerings. (The chart is seven columns wide, and this will fill out the second chart.) For now, here’s what I’m grateful for… among so much else.

Almond butter. The Pirate Queen brought a jar home the other day from Trader Joe’s. In a world awhirl with chaos, the simple pleasure of an almond butter and blackberry jelly sandwich is an amazing comfort.

Blue Öyster Cult. This year on LearnedLeague (the world’s toughest online trivia league, and why haven’t you asked me for a referral yet?), I was privileged to write a quiz about a band whose music I’ve grokked since my high school days. (Yes, we had music then, you young punk. With electric guitars and everything.) I’ve still got a fever, and the only prescription is more cowbell.

Cabo San Lucas. Neither the Pirate Queen nor I had ever been to Cabo before our weeklong vacation there in February. We enjoyed our stay immensely. It’s not Hawaii — this was the first year in the last five that we didn’t visit my childhood home — but it’s lovely nonetheless. We’ll return, no doubt.

Draymond Green. He may be the third or fourth best player on the Warriors. He might also be the most irreplaceable. No one plays defense at a more intense level than Money 23. The Daughter has a picture of herself with him from a photo op before he rose to NBA All-Stardom.

Electricity. Thank you, Ben Franklin. (I’m still annoyed about that $100 bill question from Millionaire, though. Just so you know.)

Firefighters and First Responders. They couldn’t save every home and storefront in the North Bay, but they worked tirelessly and valiantly to save as many as they could, and to rescue and help as many people as possible. The community will never forget their efforts and dedication.

Gal Gadot. As a lifelong fan of Diana of Themyscira, I wasn’t fully convinced when the little-known Israeli actress landed the role. I’m convinced now. I’m glad Gal is our Wonder Woman. Change our minds, and change the world.

Hamilton. We had the opportunity to see the smash hit musical in San Francisco this summer. We did not throw away our shot. Few popular entertainments live up to their hype, but Lin-Manuel Miranda’s masterpiece gets as close as you’d imagine.

Ice hockey. I know, I know. I’m the guy who refers to hockey as “soccer on ice with sticks.” But thanks to the largesse of a good friend who’s a San Jose Sharks season ticketholder, we saw our first in-person game last season. It really is a heck of a sport to watch in person, in ways that don’t translate well on television. I’m a believer.

Jetways. I’m old enough to remember… okay, slow down; not the Wright brothers — but the days when you actually had to walk out onto the tarmac and climb a mobile staircase in order to board a plane at many airports. Give me the stretchable hallway any day.

Kilimanjaro. She rises like Olympus above the Serengeti.

Linseed oil. Also called flaxseed oil, it’s the stuff that keeps the insides of my cast iron skillets silky smooth and nonstick. Liquid gold, it is.

Monet and Munch. We toured a pair of spectacular art exhibitions this year: Claude Monet: The Early Years at the Legion of Honor, and Edvard Munch: Between the Clock and the Bed at SFMOMA. In general, I’m not especially partial to Expressionist art, but seeing the work of these two great masters up close was powerfully impactful. I’m already looking forward to the next Monet exhibition here in two years.

NextDraft. Every day, I check in with several news sites and aggregators to keeptrack of what’s going on in this crazy world. Dave Pell’s NextDraft stands as one of the best curated aggregators I’ve come across. Dave skillfully mixes links to the day’s hard news with items that are merely fascinating. Always topical, always informative.

‘Oumuamua. “Strange visitor from another world” used to just mean Superman. Now, it’s the first object officially identified by astronomers as having traveled into our solar system from interstellar space. A cigar-shaped asteroid estimated at around 500 feet in length, its Hawaiian name means “scout” or “messenger.”

Patek Philippe. I narrated the first-ever full-scale North American exhibition by the world-renowned Swiss watchmaker this summer. In the process, I learned a ton about the craftspeople who design and build these incredible (and incredibly expensive) timepieces that can not only tell time, but in some instances play symphonies, display lunar cycles, and calculate dates hundreds of years into the future — all using mechanical, analog functionality. No microchip, no battery, just precision clockworks.

Quesadillas. Because hot, melty, delicious cheese.

Red Special, the one-of a kind guitar built by Brian May in his garage when he was a teenager, and which has lent its unique tone to Queen albums and concerts for more than four decades. I recently saw Brian wield his legendary axe in person for the first time in 35 years, and both guitar and guitarist amaze me still as much today as they did back then. If Brian and the Red Special had never given the world anything besides “Fat Bottomed Girls,” it would have been gift enough.

My Steel Will 1505, a.k.a. the Gekko, has featured as my everyday carry pocket knife for most of the past year. Solid, sturdy, and wicked sharp, with its maroon Micarta handle scales and black D2 steel blade, it’s both a workhorse and a creature of quiet beauty.

Thumbtack. The online service offers access to all kinds of local professionals, from electricians to mobile disc jockeys to personal trainers. Plus, they keep the Pirate Queen gainfully employed, for which we are enormously thankful.

“Unwritten”
Feel the rain on your skin.
No one else can feel it for you —
Only you can let it in.
No one else, no one else
Can speak the words on your lips.
Drench yourself in words unspoken;
Live your life with arms wide open;
Today is where your book begins —
The rest is still unwritten.

Vision. Last night, I stood on a BART train next to a blind man accompanied by his golden retriever guide dog. Even with my acute myopia and astigmatism — easily remedied by contact lenses — I am blessed that, unlike that unfortunate gentleman, I can open my eyes and see the world. Today, I’m not taking that for granted.

Women — and I have some wonderful ones in my life: the Pirate Queen, The Daughter, her Grandma, and more treasured friends and colleagues than I can list, along with the memory of KJ and the three decades we shared together. Our culture is currently awash with a tsunami of women finally feeling emboldened to speak out against the abuse, harassment, and disrespect they’ve experienced, and I applaud and support them. Be heard, sisters. Your voices matter.

XTC. Quirky, edgy, and impossible to categorize, Andy Partridge, Colin Moulding, and company formed one of the most underrated bands in the history of pop music. “Generals and Majors,” “Senses Working Overtime,” “The Mayor of Simpleton,” and the controversial “Dear God” — even if you didn’t understand all of the ideas (or didn’t agree with them), you had to admire the style.

Yeast — fueling bakeries and breweries for thousands of years. Except during Passover.

Zapper — that’s what I call my racket-shaped electric wand that strikes fear into the hearts of flying pests that dare disturb the sanctity of my abode. I’m perfectly content to let buzzing bugs buzz outdoors in their own environment, as long as they don’t attack me. But if you come into my airspace, critter, I’ve got some voltage waiting for you.

And as always, friend reader, I’m grateful for you, and the time you take to peruse my rambling prose. May you and yours find much for which to be appreciative on this Thanksgiving Day.

 

 

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SwanShadow Gives Thanks: Triskaidekaphobia Edition

November 24, 2016

Welcome to the thirteenth installment in my annual outpouring of gratitude. Each Thanksgiving since 2004, I’ve devoted this space to a reflection on some of the many people, places, and things that have graced my life. Because counting my blessings can become an infinite task once I get started, I’ve developed the device of choosing 26 representative items — one for each letter of the English alphabet — to stand as testament to the overwhelming abundance that I can only begin to address.

Without further ceremony, here are the things I’m thankful for on Thanksgiving 2016.

Antenna International. If you’ve ever toured a museum or other public attraction and used the audio guide, you’ve heard the work of this fine company, which specializes in the production of said audio guides. I recently had the privilege of narrating Antenna’s audio guide to Vikings: Beyond the Legend, an exhibition currently on display at the Cincinnati Museum Center. If you’re in southwest Ohio or the vicinity, go check it out.

Beef Jerky Store. A highlight of my annual trip to Las Vegas is a pilgrimage to this downtown establishment adjacent to the Fremont Street Experience, where I load up my suitcase with tasty snacks. When I was a keiki (that’s “child” to your mainlanders) in Hawaii, we called a place like this a crack seed store — “crack seed” being the Hawaiian term for various kinds of dried fruits, nuts, and other dehydrated edibles. Visiting the Beef Jerky Store takes me back to those long-ago childhood days.

Comixology. This year, I officially transitioned my comic book reading from paper to digital. Comixology is the app for that. (It’s been an adjustment, but I’m resolute.)

DubNation. What a year we’ve had as Golden State Warriors fans! Our team set an NBA record for success with an unprecedented 73-9 record; missed repeating as world champions by an eyelash; then in the offseason added Kevin Durant, one of the greatest players in the game, to a roster that already featured three superstars in two-time MVP Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green. After decades of wallowing in mediocrity and worse, it’s a grand time to be a citizen of DubNation.

Evernote. I don’t know where I’d be without this app. Certainly dinners at our house would be far less interesting, because Evernote is where all of my recipes reside.

Family. As always, I’m grateful more than anything for those who love me most — the Pirate Queen, The Daughter, Grandma, Studio Assistant Tazz, and KJ, whose memory lives forever in heart and spirit. My extended ohana also includes numerous friends and connections, both nearby and far away.

Graboids. That’s our household nickname for reach tools. They come in handy for picking up dog toys and other items that middle-aged backs and knees hate bending for.

Hillary Clinton. The election didn’t go her way, but I’m still proud that she earned my vote.

Inkwell Awards. Founded by longtime comic book inker Bob Almond, the Inkwells annually acknowledge some of the most important — but least heralded — artists in the field.

Juice. Because who doesn’t love juice? Make mine cranberry.

Kamala Harris. California’s attorney general will make an outstanding impact as our new junior Senator. I was honored to voice several of Ms. Harris’s campaign ads this season. I don’t think she got elected because of my work, but I’m not saying I didn’t help a little. Maybe.

Luke Cage. Just when you think that Marvel Studios and Netflix couldn’t possibly outdo themselves after the stellar Jessica Jones, they follow up with a series that takes street-level superheroics up yet another notch. Terrific performances by Mahershala Ali, Simone Missick, Alfre Woodard, Rosario Dawson, and Mike Colter as the titular Power Man made this a must-binge.

Mcusta. Two of the most attractive specimens in my folding knife collection come from this Seki City, Japan bladeworks. I could admire my Mcusta Katana and Tactility all day long. Some days, I do.

NewPark 12. The glorious IMAX theater in our new local multiplex even enthused the Pirate Queen — generally not a fan of the cinema experience — about going out to the movies. It’s the first time I ever sat in a theater seat that I wanted to take home to my living room after the film ended.

OtterBox. I dropped and shattered my iPhone this summer. (Thanks, AT&T, for the speedy and relatively hassle-free replacement.) The sturdy case on my new device will, one hopes, prevent future mishaps of a similar nature.

President Barack Obama. Thank you, Mr. President, for eight years of honorable service. I truly believe that history will be far more kind to your legacy than the obstructionist Congress of your second term has been.

Quatermass and the Pit. One of my all-time favorite weird sci-fi classics. You’ve probably seen it here in the U.S. under the title Five Million Years to Earth. Basically, we’re all the descendants of giant grasshoppers from Mars.

Ray’s Crab Shack. A local spot serving up mass quantities of delicious seafood. Don your plastic bib, glove up, and get your crustacean on.

Steely Dan. Any major dude with half a heart surely will tell you, my friend, that Walter Becker and Donald Fagen got me through college, and many melancholy hours since. There are 66 songs on the Dan’s seven classic-period albums (beginning with Can’t Buy a Thrill and concluding with Gaucho), and not a single one of them sucks. I don’t know any other musical act about whom I can make that statement. 1977’s Aja ranks as one of the finest albums in the history of recorded music.

Treebeard. In my studio-office stands a gnarled walking stick that I acquired at a Renaissance Faire many, many years ago. It’s outfitted with a wrapped leather hand grip and bears the carved face of a bewhiskered wizard at its head. I call it Treebeard. I believe there may be magic in it.

Universal Studios Hollywood. I spent a week there early this year, as an alternate contestant for a TV quiz show that ended up not requiring my services. But I got to stay in a nice hotel, tour a theme park, preview the then-unopened-to-the-public Harry Potter attraction, see a couple of movies, hang out for two days in the soundstage where The Voice is taped, and make several cool new friends — all at a TV production company’s expense. You could have a worse vacation.

Van Jones. The CNN commentator kept it real in the midst of insanity on Election Night 2016. Thanks for eloquently saying what many of us were thinking, Mr. Jones.

Waimea Canyon. As has been frequently noted in this space, I spent a goodly chunk of my childhood in Hawaii. Until this spring, however, I’d never visited the island of Kauai. If you’ve never stood on the edge of “the Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” you owe it to yourself to get there at least once before you die. (Going after you die probably won’t have the same effect.)

Xenozoic. Mark Schultz’s sumptuous adventure comic — best known to non-aficionados as the source material for the fondly remembered animated series Cadillacs and Dinosaurs — remains a classic of the medium. The collected omnibus volume is the closest book to my desk on my office-studio bookshelf.

Yoda. “Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try.” Live by these words, should you.

Zuckerberg. Thanks for keeping the Pirate Queen gainfully employed for the past year, Mark.

I am eternally grateful to you, friend reader, for your ongoing support of these random ramblings. May your life overflow with reasons to give thanks.

SwanShadow Gives Thanks: Now 100% Punkin Chunkin Free!

November 26, 2015

Here’s something I’m not thankful for this Thanksgiving: Punkin Chunkin, a staple of my Turkey Day TV viewing, was canceled for the second consecutive year. Some silly folderol about liability or some such foolishness cost the annual event, which involves people hurling pumpkins incredible distances using homemade machines straight out of the Rube Goldberg instruction manual, its venue, and organizers haven’t been able to locate another suitable site.

The bottom line is that some lawyers are making a pot of money arguing, and I’m denied my Punkin Chunkin.

Anyway… I still have plenty else to be grateful for on this Thanksgiving Day 2015. Therefore, as has been my tradition in this space since 2004, I’ve made an alphabetical list sampling 26 of the thousands of people, places, and things that make my life worth living.

This Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for:

Adele. The British songstress released her first new album in four years this past week, and it’s as lovely and haunting and emotionally riveting as anything she’s done before.

Bruce Lee. My boyhood hero would be celebrating his 75th birthday tomorrow, had he not been taken from us far too soon way back in 1973. Lee was the only movie star whose poster hung on my bedroom wall amid the Star Trek glossies, comic book cutouts, and Runaways album covers throughout my teenage years. Enter the Dragon remains the one film to which I can turn off the sound and voice every line of dialogue. (At least, I used to be able to do that. I haven’t tested myself in a few years.) Rest in peace, Little Dragon.

Clients. Here’s a shout-out to the folks who buy the skills and pay the bills. I’ve worked with and for some really cool people this past year. I hope they — and many others — will continue to hire me. Please.

Dumbarton Bridge. The least famous, and by far the least sexy, of the San Francisco Bay’s crossings, it’s about to become critically important to us because we’re moving within a stone’s throw of its eastern anchorage. The Pirate Queen starts a new job on December 1, and her daily commute will span the Dumbarton. Although, when she’s on it, it will immediately transform into the Smartbarton.

Education. I’m a firm believer that when you stop learning, your brain dies. And you start voting for Donald Trump.

Ferrett Steinmetz. The Ferrett, as he likes to be known, was one of the first bloggers I followed on a regular basis. This year, I got to meet him in person, as he toured the country promoting his first science fiction novel, Flex. Its sequel, The Flux, came out last month.

Grilled lobster tails. If I were writing the menu for my last meal on Earth, I’d start with a few of these, served with Cajun spiced garlic butter. You know you want some.

Houses. For the second year in a row, the Pirate Queen and I find ourselves (for the moment, at least) with two — one we’re moving out of, and another we’re moving into. The new one closed escrow on the Pirate Queen’s birthday. I’m grateful every day to have a roof over my head when so many people have none.

Idina Menzel. Because someone who knows how to say her name correctly should be thankful for the former Mrs. Taye Diggs. We’re seeing her in person Saturday evening in the road company of If/Then. It would probably be too much to ask for her to just throw in a random chorus of “Defying Gravity,” just because I love that song, and her voice on it.

Jessica Jones. I just finished the final episode of Marvel’s latest Netflix series yesterday. As good as I’d hoped the show would be, it exceeded my expectations by a Hell’s Kitchen block. Krysten Ritter, who’d never really impressed me in anything before, absolutely crushes the role of the downbeat ex-superheroine-turned-private-eye. And her chemistry with Mike Colter as the unbreakable Luke Cage flat-out sizzles. I’m already salivating in anticipation of the Cage series.

KM, for being the greatest Daughter any dad could wish for, and to the memory of her mom, KJ, for all of the shared history.

Lucille, the legendary axe of pioneering blues guitarist B.B. King, lost her master this past May. The thrill indeed is gone.

Masterpiece, the PBS vehicle by which Downton Abbey comes to us Yanks. Downton‘s final season premieres here in the States in January. I’m sure going to miss the Crawley clan.

NBA Championship, won this year for the first time in 40 seasons by my beloved Golden State Warriors. Given that they’ve begun the sequel season on a 16-0 run thus far, I have high hopes that the Dubs might bring a second Larry O’Brien Trophy home to the Bay. To Steph, Klay, Draymond, Bogues, Barnes, Iggy, Mo Buckets, Shawn, Festus, and the rest of the dudes in blue (slate on Saturdays): Thanks for all the thrills. You make DubNation proud.

Oysters. Because delicious.

Panama hats. I have a nice one from Goorin Brothers for sunny East Bay days.

Quizzing. Whether it’s my nightly session of LearnedLeague, or my annual trip to Las Vegas for the Trivia Championships of North America (that’s TCONA to you), or teaming up with a couple of buds at the Project READ Trivia Bee (a hard-fought second place this fall, behind the team we narrowly bested to win last year), quizzing is my jam.

Rush. As Geddy Lee once wailed in his inimitable helium-on-steroids voice: If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.

Slippers. Or sleepahs, as we say in Hawaii. Without something on my feet, I might fall down. Nobody wants to see that.

Tsunami Brainz. Did I mention that my improv troupe had a name, at long last? We do, and Tsunami Brainz is it. We’re gearing up for our first show, possibly in January.

Us — the Pirate Queen, the Studio Assistant, and me. I am thankful every day for our little family. I feel the love in the room.

VocalBooth. My gorgeous new-to-me workspace is a Diamond Series Platinum Edition. I’m still getting used to its finer points and tweaking the acoustics, but it’s an amazing place to play.

Waikiki. The Pirate Queen and I spent a week in March in my childhood home, and enjoyed a fantastic time touring, beaching, dining, shopping, and just relaxing. I often forget how much I miss Hawaii until I’m there.

Xi, the Greek letter for which there is no direct equivalent in our Latin alphabet. Not to be confused with the letter chi, which corresponds to our X.

Yukon Outfitters. I own several of their Tactical series carry bags. They make excellent stuff to put your stuff in.

Zillow. When you need to find a new house quickly — as we just experienced such a need — it’s the place to look. I found our new place in a single search session.

As always, friend reader, I am also thankful for you. May you and those you love enjoy a thoughtful and festive Thanksgiving. And stay home tomorrow, for pity’s sake.

SwanShadow Gives Thanks: Live From the East Bay

November 27, 2014

Well, it’s that time again: the day we Americans celebrate turkey, football, and sharing a friendly repast with indigenous people as a prelude to overrunning their entire continent. (Okay, maybe we don’t really celebrate that last part. Still happened, though.)

Here at SSTOL, it’s become an annual tradition to reflect for a moment on some of the many people and things for which we have been made grateful over the past year. Because counting one’s blessings can be an overwhelming task without some parameters, in 2004 I developed the device of an alphabetical Thanksgiving — one item per letter.

So, without further ado, here’s my 11th holiday sampling of what’s best in life. (Aside, of course, from crushing your enemies, seeing them driven before you, and hearing the lamentation of their women. That goes without saying.) On Thanksgiving 2014, I’m thankful for…

Apogee MiC. This handy-dandy gizmo served beautifully as my travel microphone on several out-of-town trips this year, including a week in Hawaii that proved to be one of my busiest audition weeks ever. Plug it into my iPad, open my Twisted Wave recording software, and I’m good to go. A sturdy pillow fort helps too.

Battle of the Decades. Even though I lost the Fan Favorite vote to participate in Jeopardy’s 30-year retrospective tournament, I had a blast watching 45 of the show’s greatest champions — including many old friends and more recent acquaintances — return to the stage. It doesn’t always happen this way, but the three best players of all time (Brad Rutter, Ken Jennings, and Roger Craig) emerged in the finals. I’m pleased to say that I’ve gotten to know all three gentlemen over the years, and each is as good a guy as you’d want your heroes to be.

Comets. Dude, we landed a probe on one this year. How awesome is that?

DVR. Sometimes, multiple TV programs you want to watch come on at the same time, or at times when you can’t be parked in front of the flat screen to view them as broadcast. I know, I know, it’s a First World problem. But it sure is nice to have a solution that works.

Elton John. We saw the Man with the Million Dollar Piano live in concert this summer. His voice isn’t quite the instrument it once was, and he’s toned down the outrageous showmanship of his Captain Fantastic days. Still, Sir Elton is one of the legends of modern music, and he still puts on one heck of a performance.

Frontier — my current League within LearnedLeague. When I look at some of the big-time quiz mavens who inhabit Rundle A Frontier, I’m humbled and honored to play among such estimable company.

Gail Simone, one of my favorite current comics writers. I don’t find as much to interest me in today’s comics as in decades past, but when I pick up a book with Gail’s byline on it, I know that I’m in for an entertaining read. She’s also one of my favorite folks to follow on Twitter.

Hilton Hhonors. Here’s an example of quality customer service. I signed up for the Hilton hotel chain’s loyalty program a while back. I don’t travel all that often, but I make at least a couple of trips each year, and I frequently stay in a Hilton-associated hotel. At my request, the Hilton Hhonors folks went back and credited me for points earned for stays I made before I signed up for the program. They could have said, “Sorry, no,” and been perfectly well within their rules. Their positive consideration, however, makes it much more likely that the next time I travel, I’ll bunk in at a Hilton property.

Improvisation. Always looking for ways to up my acting game, I took an introductory improv class at American Conservatory Theater this year. It helped, I think.

Jellied cranberry sauce. Because it just isn’t cranberry sauce unless it comes out in the shape of the can.

Ka’anapali Beach. Our base of operations for our vacation junket to Maui. From here, we drove up to the summit of Haleakala on Super Bowl Sunday, cruised the Hana Highway, saw some spectacular sunsets and scenery, and dined in fine style.

The Ladies in my life — specifically, the Pirate Queen and The Daughter. My existence would be far less beautiful without them.

Madison Bumgarner. The lefthander from Hickory, North Carolina threw the Giants over his shoulder and carried them almost single-handedly to their third championship in five years. He pitched a shutout against the Pirates in a one-game wild card playoff to start the team on its postseason road. He threw 7-2/3 scoreless innings at the Cardinals in Game 1 of the NLCS, in the process setting a major league record for consecutive shutout postseason road innings. Then, in the World Series, MadBum pitched in three of the seven games, winning Games 1 and 5 and pitching five scoreless innings of relief in Game 7. Many baseball watchers, myself included, rank Bumgarner’s achievement as the most outstanding postseason by any pitcher in major league history.

The Neon Boneyard in Las Vegas. For someone who loves Vegas glitz and history as I do, a nighttime tour of the place where old signage goes to die is like a pilgrimage to Nirvana. (Not the one with Kurt Cobain.)

OpenTable. All restaurant reservations, all the time.

Project READ Trivia Bee. For the 25th annual contesting of this popular charity event, I teamed up with two of the smartest people I know for an evening of Q&A. To our utter surprise, we came away with the championship trophy, against some extremely tough competition.

Quadratini. The Pirate Queen loves these little wafer cookies. I gave her a bag for her birthday. When the Pirate Queen is happy, I’m happy.

The Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. Here in the Bay Area, where we have no shortage of spectacular spans, the utilitarian Richmond-San Rafael often gets overlooked. The fact that the R-SR launches from our most famously crime-ridden communities and terminates alongside the state penitentiary housing California’s Death Row inmates probably doesn’t help. But that isn’t the bridge’s fault. It didn’t ask to be built there.

The Splash Brothers. Sharpshooting Steph Curry and Klay Thompson have the Golden State Warriors off to their best NBA season start in… well… ever. After two decades of mediocrity, it’s exciting to see the Dubs maturing into one of the Association’s premier franchises. You can thank the Human Torch and Kavalier Klay for most of that excitement.

Tazz, my Studio Assistant, who joined our little household in March. He’s half Chihuahua, half rat terrier, and all Tasmanian devil. Hence the name.

USB. Whether it’s my recording gear, my printer, my scanner, or my backup drive, I’m grateful every day for those tiny rectangular ports that allow my computer to interface with the peripheral equipment I need to get stuff done.

Va de Vi, a nifty dining spot where we celebrated the Pirate Queen’s birthday earlier this week. To borrow a line from a former governor, we’ll be back.

Walnut Creek, our new home. As most of you know, we moved this summer, across the Bay from San Francisco to Walnut Creek. There’s yin and yang to life in relative suburbia, but all in all, it’s growing on us. We hosted Thanksgiving dinner today at the Kasbah — as we’ve named our new house — and had to admit the advantages of more living space. It’s not The City, but it is The Creek.

X-rays. I’ve become acutely aware of the importance of imaging in the maintenance of sound dental health. Of course, I’m now radioactive.

YapStone. Meet the YapStones. They’re the modern payments family.

ZippGo. To facilitate our move, we rented reusable plastic totes from a company called ZippGo. They delivered the totes to our previous residence, we filled them with our worldly possessions, the movers loaded them onto a truck and unloaded them at the new abode, we unpacked our material goods, and the ZippGo truck hauled the totes away again. No boxes to acquire or dispose of, no cardboard waste, no muss or fuss. I’m a believer.

As always, friend reader, I’m thankful for YOU. I appreciate your stopping by here periodically to read whatever it is I’m babbling about. I hope you find your visits here entertaining, and perhaps occasionally even thought-provoking. May you and yours experience gratitude for the blessings in your life, and value those special people and things all the more.

Happy Thanksgiving.

 

SwanShadow Gives Thanks: 10th Anniversary Edition

November 28, 2013

If you do something ten years in a row, it’s definitely a thing.

Every Thanksgiving beginning in 2004, I’ve paused here in my little corner of the World Wide Wackiness to express my appreciation for 26 people, places, and/or things, one for each letter of the English alphabet. Truth to tell, there are so many people, places, and/or things sharing my universe for which I am grateful, that if I seriously attempted to make an exhaustive list, I’d be typing from now until next Thanksgiving, by which time my fingers would long since have snapped off. Therefore, this has become my yearly exercise in gratitude, with its arbitrary format allowing me both room to range and boundaries at which to stop.

The list you’re about to read marks my 10th annual Thanksgiving post. (You are going to read it, aren’t you? You might as well; you’re here already.) Much has changed in my life during the decade since I composed the first one. No doubt, much more will change if I’m privileged to write others in Novembers yet to come. If I’m granted those opportunities, I promise to be as grateful — for everyone and everything listed, and for so much more — as I am on this Thanksgiving Day.

On this particular Festival of Turkey, I am thankful for…

Auditions. I have a weird job. The overwhelming majority of my working life is spent performing for free, in hope that someone will pay me money instead. Most workdays, I spend hours standing or seated (I switch it up a lot) in front of a microphone, auditioning for voiceover projects. Once in a while, I book one. As much I live for those latter moments, I also can’t help but appreciate how cool it is that for a few hours every day, it’s my task to just play.

Bay Bridge. We got a new one this year, finally — nearly a quarter-century after the original was horrifically damaged in the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989, and three years after the not-yet-in-existence suspension span became the logo of the Golden State Warriors. The upgraded Bay Bridge will probably always play second fiddle to its more famous younger cousin around the corner, but it’s a beauty — and a treat to drive — nonetheless.

Crustaceans. Tasty giant insectoids that live underwater. I’m fond of all the edible species — lobsters, crabs, shrimp, langostines, crawfish, you name it. During our spring vacation in Australia,  the Pirate Queen and I dined on yet another variety that neither of us had ever tried: Moreton Bay bugs, prehistoric-looking creatures that resemble lobsters whose claws were snapped off, then were run over by a truck. Like their relatives worldwide, they sure were delicious.

Down Under. Speaking of Australia, we spent three incredible weeks touring the Island Continent and its next-door neighbor, the North Island of New Zealand. We saw a play at the Sydney Opera House, marveled at the mysterious sandstone monolith known as Uluru, explored a tropical rain forest north of Cairns, watched tiny penguins scurry ashore on St. Philip Island, enjoyed the view from two of the tallest towers in the Southern Hemisphere, and saw where the hobbits live. A spectacular adventure, and one that I should write much more about.

Enter the Dragon. The only motion picture to which I ever memorized every single line of dialogue. Throughout my teenage years, a poster depicting Bruce Lee in the film’s climactic fight scene graced my bedroom wall. In 2013, we lost Jim Kelly, who costarred alongside Lee as the irrepressible Williams. When Han, the villain of the piece, insists that Williams must prepare for defeat as well as victory, Williams replies with consummate cool, “I don’t waste my time with it. When it comes, I won’t even notice. I’ll be too busy looking good.”

Fountains of Wayne. When I need a quick pick-me-up, I throw on a tune by this power pop quartet from the Big Apple. Songs like “Denise,” “Maureen,” “Hey Julie” (my personal favorite), and the ubiquitous “Stacy’s Mom” never fail to put a grin on my face and some extra pizzazz in my step. The band’s name, incidentally, was cribbed from a garden ornaments store in Wayne, New Jersey.

Grandma. Not my Grandma, but The Daughter’s. With boundless patience and good humor, she shares her home with KM and her hyperactive canine companion Maddie. She graciously lets me drop in for visits, keeps me posted on goings-on in The Daughter’s life, and even hems a pair of pants for me on occasion. She’s not my mom, but after many years of dutiful service as my mother-in-law (she was my late first wife’s mother), she might as well be.

Heroes and heroines. Regular visitors here know that I own an extensive collection of original comic book superhero art. I started reading comics at age five, and from that time forward, the costumed characters who starred within those colorful pages became my fantasy friends. If you ask me why I love superheroes and superheroines, I can rattle off a litany of reasons. But the one that trumps all the others is this: It just feels good to be reminded that there are heroes in the world. The real ones don’t usually wear costumes. You know who you are.

iPad. It’s the device that serves up my VO scripts, delivers the news, keeps me in touch with friends and colleagues, and provides the occasional stress-alleviating game of virtual pinball. Thanks, Steve Jobs, wherever you are.

Jupiter Jones. The leader of the Three Investigators proved to my boyhood self that a smart chubby kid could be a hero. He proved it to Alfred Hitchcock, too. You could look it up.

KM, referred to more often here as The Daughter. The brightest, funniest, most thoughtful offspring any father could ever ask. I continue to be shocked and awed by the young woman she’s become. It’s unfathomable to me that she’ll be 25 next year. That’s the same number of years that I spent married to her mother KJ, who lost her battle with breast cancer in 2010, but left an indelible legacy in the daughter she birthed, raised, and continues to inspire.

LearnedLeague. It’s described by its creator and Commissioner, the honorable Thorsten A. Integrity, as “a creed, an ideal, a Weltanschauung.” I call it the universe’s greatest online trivia league, where some of the finest quizzers on Earth —  from Jeopardy! champions and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire winners to The Beast and The Governess from both the American and original UK versions of The Chase — assemble to do daily battle. An experience of knowledge warfare both adrenaline-pumping and humbling. Lately, more the latter.

Monterey Bay Aquarium. Endlessly fascinating and dazzlingly educational, it’s one of my favorite spaces to wander. Filled to bursting with phenomenal displays of ocean life, it’s as though Aquaman invited you to hang out at his house for the day.

Navigation apps. How did the directionally challenged among us get around before GPS? Maybe we didn’t. Some of us might still be out there, lost in the boondocks without a clue how to get home.

Oracle Arena, or as we like to call it during the NBA season, Warriors Ground. The oldest active arena in the Association is also the loudest, wildest, and — thanks to a long-overdue ownership change, leading to an influx of top-flight talent over the past couple of years — most exciting home court in basketball. With Splash Brothers Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson bombing away from downtown Oakland, All-Star David Lee maintaining a seemingly nonstop streak of double-doubles, center Andrew Bogut finally healthy to anchor the middle, and key acquisition Andre Iguodala completing the puzzle, the boys in blue and gold come ready to rock the house.

PayPal, for making it quick and easy to do business online, and for keeping the Pirate Queen gainfully employed.

Speaking of whom… all hail the Queen of Pirates, who shivers my timbers without ever threatening to make me walk the plank. (I think she’s thought about it, though.) We are at once the classic Odd Couple and a perfect match. It would be impossible to envision the second chapter of my adult life without her.

Renaissance Faire. Seriously, who doesn’t love spending a day surrounded by merry folk in Elizabethan drag, spouting in pseudo-Shakespearean patois like the mighty Thor? (Which raises the age-old question: Why did a supposed Norse quasi-demigod talk as though he’d wandered in from a road company of Hamlet? Discuss.) I totally get into the RenFaire atmosphere — it’s among the best venues for people-watching to be found anywhere. Park me on a hay bale while blackguards and wenches regale me with sea chanteys and bawdy songs, and I’m as giddy as Puck on a midsummer’s night.

Solvang. Remember: Copenhagen is Danish. Solvang is Dane-ish.

Tropicana Las Vegas. After burial in the bowels of the cavernous MGM Grand, followed by drowning in the screaming miasma of Circus Circus, TCONA — that’s the Trivia Championships of North America, for the uninitiated — finally found a fitting home in its third year, at the Tropicana. Laid-back, comfortable, user-friendly, and conveniently located, the Trop provided the best experience yet for our annual Continental Congress of quiz nuts. I was thrilled to hear earlier this month that we’ll be back there again next summer.

Uluru. The emotional highlight of our Australian expedition, nothing prepared me for the power and majesty of what Westerners formerly dubbed Ayers Rock. Scientists describe it as an inselberg — Uluru is to the Australian Outback what an iceberg is to the Arctic Ocean, albeit on a far more imposing scale. As immense as the rock we can see is, there’s a good 80% more of it under the desert surface. It’s as though God were holding this ginormous stone at the creation of the world, set it down in the center of Australia while He busied Himself with other creative tasks, then left it there. You should go see it. But be warned — billions (and I do mean billions) of obnoxious flies share the site.

Vermeer, Johannes. The legendary painter’s masterwork, Girl with a Pearl Earring — sometimes referred to as “the Dutch Mona Lisa” — made a tour stop in our fair city this summer. I’ve seen the image dozens of times, but standing before the actual canvas in all its luminous wonder shook me to my shoes. I literally had tears welling in my eyes as I looked upon this sublime beauty. A true representation of the power of art.

The Walking Dead. Both the TV series that the Pirate Queen and I have grown to love, and the video game series that keeps many of my talented voice acting friends employed. I haven’t scored a role yet. But I’ll keep trying.

Xhosa. How can you not love a language that sounds like humankind communicating with dolphins?

Yams… because it’s Thanksgiving, and they’re yummy.

Zite, the news aggregation app that puts all the cool stuff right at my fingertips. What’s great about Zite is that you can give it feedback on every article it offers — I like this or I don’t like that — and it adjusts future filtering based on your input. You can also set specific subject categories, from ocean-broad (“Politics”) to pinpoint-narrow (“Hunter Pence”), and the app will make sure you get a bounty of content on that topic. There are plenty of apps that function similarly, but I’ve yet to find one that does the job as efficiently and as effectively as Zite.

And as always, friend reader, I’m thankful for you, who take the time to stop in here from time to time and peruse my drivel. I don’t use that word “friend” lightly. I appreciate your kind attention, and hope that my words continue to prove worthy.

May you and the people you love have much to be grateful for on this Thanksgiving Day… and may we all be here for the next one.

SwanShadow Gives Thanks: Part 9 — Defying the Mayans

November 22, 2012

Every Thanksgiving Day since 2004, I’ve posted in this space a 26-point alphabetical sampling of people, places, and things for which I’m grateful. I consider myself to have been truly blessed in life, despite having endured many of the dark times that inevitably arise when one lives as long as I have. I’ve been touched by so many great human beings and wonderful experiences that it’s impossible to list them all when I express my annual thanks. So, nine years ago, I hit on this structured overview method. I’ve returned to it each Turkey Day since.

This year has been a unique one. I got married for the second time, to the incredible force of nature I refer to in these posts as the Pirate Queen. We did some traveling, shared many fun times, and went about the business of being newlyweds, with all of the changes, reconfigurations, and negotiations that newlywedness entails. Quite a few of my appreciations this year derive from our freshly married life and our newly shared home in San Francisco, the world’s most spectacular city.

And on we go.

On this Thanksgiving Day 2012, I’m grateful for…

Acting and actors. It took me the better part of a half-century to figure out what I want to be if and when I grow up. Since embarking on a career as a voice actor, I’ve developed a deep appreciation for the craft of acting, and for the people who do it skillfully. (Which is pretty much every voice actor I’ve worked with to this point. But I’m getting better.) I’m fortunate here in the Bay Area to be part of a thriving community of voice acting professionals. My actor friends and colleagues amaze me continually with their talents, with their determination to succeed in a difficult field, and most of all, with their giving, encouraging spirits. You wouldn’t suppose that folks who compete daily with each other for paying work would be so supportive of, and generous toward, those against whom they compete, but I see it happen all the time. Not all creative people are good people — no more than all of the people in any category are good people — but most of the actors with whom I study and work are genuine and decent.

The Big Island of Hawaii, where the Pirate Queen and I spent a blissful chunk of our honeymoon. (And yes, I’ll get around to posting about that portion of the trip.) From the eerie moon-like desolation of the Kona Coast, to the lush tropical beauty of the island’s eastern shores, to the awe-inspiring power of Kilauea, the Big Island is a source of endless fascination. With luck, I’ll manage to get back more quickly than the 20-plus years than separated each of my first three visits.

My Clipper Card, my little plastic passport to public transportation. For the benefit of the foreigners in the room — that is to say, those of you not from the Bay Area — San Francisco is served by two separate transit systems. BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) is the sleek electric railway that connects San Francisco with the East Bay, and with its own airport to the south. (They’re working on an extension that will run all the way to San Jose.) MUNI is The City’s own conglomeration of buses, cable cars, trolleys, and an integrated streetcar-subway network known as MUNI Metro. The Clipper Card, introduced just a couple of years ago, enables passengers to utilize both systems with a single payment mechanism. With parking in The City at a legendary dearth, we use BART and the Metro as often as possible to get from our neighborhood to downtown.

Dim sum, exquisite bites of savory or sweet ambrosia. We’re going for some with visiting friends this very weekend.

I loves me some European paintings. A long-ago course in college first opened my eyes to the works of the classical masters. This year, we had several amazing opportunities to view some of my favorites up close and personal. In February, we saw the exhibition “Masters of Venice” at the DeYoung Museum. Among the attractions in this show were several creations by my favorite Renaissance artist, Titian, including “Danae” and “Mars, Venus, and Cupid.” In September, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection offered some of the most memorable moments of our junket to New York City. I stood for several minutes in slack-jawed bedazzlement at an original poster by Alphonse Mucha, the Czech genius who pioneered the Art Nouveau style. As the old saying goes, I might not know much about art, but I know what I like.

Festus Ezeli, the Nigerian center out of Vanderbilt chosen by the Golden State Warriors with the 30th pick in the 2012 NBA Draft. The kid plays hard, and gives a great interview. More than that, just saying his name makes me smile. Go ahead — try it.

Gray squirrels (specifically the Western gray squirrel, Sciurus griseus). Several of them visit our back yard on a daily basis. I get a kick out of watching them cavort and forage and play hide-and-seek with the neighborhood cats. It’s funny — after living for many years in a suburb surrounded by semi-rural agricultural land, I figured that I’d never see a wild animal again once I moved into the big city. I see more squirrel action outside our kitchen window in a week than I saw in three decades in Sonoma County.

My favorite Horsewoman, also known as my beloved Daughter. I could fill volumes with tales of how bright and witty and talented The Daughter is, but for this particular line item, I’ll confine myself to her equestrian hobby. After 10 years of riding, she fulfilled her dream this summer by acquiring her own horse — a tall, handsome, four-year-old chestnut Thoroughbred she named Gryffin. A half-brother to 2011 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom, Gryffin didn’t enjoy his sibling’s career at the track, but he’s made The Daughter deliriously joyful as her stable companion. Having endured so much tragedy over the past few years, including the passings of her mother, her grandfather, and our family dog, she deserved something special. I’m delighted for her that Gryffin came along.

Itoya Profolios, in which I store my comic art collection. They’re archival-safe, elegantly simple in design, and the perfect vehicle for original art on paper. One of my greatest thrills is sitting down with an Itoya on the table before me, and marvel at some of the treasures I’ve managed to pick up over the years.

Johnny Foley’s Irish House, home of the most entertaining dueling pianists you’ll ever come across. The Pirate Queen and I dropped into Foley’s on our fourth date, and we’ve made frequent weekend pilgrimages ever since. She even had her bachelorette party there. Stop by on a night when Nathan, Jason, or Lee are tickling the ivories and belting out requests. The rest of the crew is talented as well, but those three guys consistently put on the best show.

KJ. Life goes on, but I never forget. I would not be the person I am today without her nearly 30 years of influence on my life.

Lady Liberty. I didn’t expect to be as impressed or moved as I was by seeing the Statue of Liberty in person during our New York City trip — even despite the drenching downpour that struck during our visit. It was powerful to be reminded what a privilege it is to be an American citizen… and to be reminded that almost all of us are the descendants of immigrants, whether willing or unwilling. We get a bit stuffy sometimes about “those people” crossing our borders in search of a better life for themselves and their families. Unless you’re 100% Indigenous North American, “your people” came from someplace else, too. Let’s not forget that the Statue of Liberty lifts her lamp beside the golden door as a sign of welcome, not to slam the door shut.

Mount Davidson, the tallest of San Francisco’s 47 named hills. We live about a third of the way up.

Nineteenth Avenue, the busiest north-south thoroughfare on the western side of The City. For my final two years of college, I commuted along it several days each week to and from San Francisco State University. These days, it’s the path I travel when I head toward the Golden Gate Bridge to visit The Daughter, or other points northward. Man, there’s a lot of traffic on that street some days. But without it, it would be tough to get out of town in that direction.

Orange October. For the second time in three years, my San Francisco Giants won the World Series championship. This season, the Giants battled back from potential elimination six times during the Division and League Championship Series, on their way to a sweep of the Detroit Tigers in the main event. (Ironically, I was a Tigers fan as a youngster, before switching allegiance to the Giants when my family moved to the Bay Area in the mid-1970s.) Behind stellar play by World Series MVP Pablo “Kung Fu Panda” Sandoval, National League MVP Buster Posey, and a fortuitous late-season acquisition, second baseman Marco Scutaro, and with lights-out pitching by the best collection of arms in baseball, the Giants took a determined step toward establishing themselves as the Team of the Decade.

The Porthole Palace, as I nicknamed the Pirate Queen’s house the first time I came to pick her up for a date. Little did I know I’d live here someday. It’s quirky and cozy, and it’s home.

Quentin Tarantino. Because someone ought to be thankful for the director of Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, and Kill Bill. Someone other than QT himself, that is.

My Rode NT1A, the microphone that is my constant companion during my work day as a voice actor. It always makes me sound good. The performance is up to me. I took it on the road with me when we went to New York, and recorded an actual job on it in our hotel room. (My second microphone, which I also love, is a Studio Projects C1. But that doesn’t start with R.)

Subaru — specifically, the green Forester I inherited from KJ. It’s a sturdy, solid, dependable car. I was unaware until very recently that Subaru has a reputation as the unofficial vehicle of the lesbian community. (Seriously. It’s a thing.) I’m totally cool with that. I’d make a terrific lesbian. I like women, and I drive a Subaru.

The Trivia Championships of North America, which we’ll call TCONA to save me typing. Held in Las Vegas each summer, it’s a merry assemblage of trivia-obsessed folks from all over the continent. This year, I came home with a gold and a silver medal in team competition. More importantly, I spent a rollicking weekend at Circus Circus renewing old Jeopardy! acquaintances and making several new friends. Next year, TCONA will invade the Tropicana. You’ve been warned.

Union Square, the heart of San Francisco. Every now and again, it’s cool to just stand in the middle of all the commotion and watch the tourists hustle past. Wander through the ginormous Macy’s. Stroll into Neiman Marcus and pretend you can afford the stuff they sell there. Have a plate of silver dollar pancakes at Sears Fine Foods. Bask in the glow of the big Christmas tree if it’s the season. Wonder how so many panhandlers convened in one location. Drink in the atmosphere that is Baghdad by the Bay.

Video games, my favorite projects as a voice actor. (Okay, let’s be honest — my favorite project is any one that pays.) Among the characters I got to play in games this year were a Pied Piper, a snake monster, a Russian jeweler, a beatnik priest, a street thug, and a mysterious narrator. Yes, I love my job.

Our wedding, during which the Pirate Queen became my wife. (That’s a double W, if you’re keeping score.) On a beautiful, breezy Saturday afternoon in May, we exchanged vows in front of about 50 friends and family members outside the Argonaut Hotel on Fisherman’s Wharf. The Pirate Queen was a radiant vision in white, as lovely a bride as any man could hope for. The Daughter stood in as my Best Person, and carried out her assigned duties with aplomb. The accomplished a cappella quartet PDQ sang two soaring numbers. I managed not to drop the ring or trip over my own feet. It was the perfect start to our new life together.

XD. I don’t know exactly what Extreme Digital Cinema is, but they have it (and huge signs boasting about it) at the Cinemark cineplex where we occasionally catch a flick. I think it’s something like IMAX, only all digital. Aren’t you glad someone invented that?

Yirgacheffe, a delicious coffee from Ethiopia. As you probably know if you’ve been a regular here over the years, I love a good cup of coffee. I’m especially partial to the brightly tangy, citrusy varietals grown in East Africa, of which Yirgacheffe is one. A mug or two, and I’m ready to face the day.

Zaftig women. Rubens, Titian, and Botticelli knew what they were doing when they selected those voluptuous models for their masterpieces. I salute my female friends who refuse to succumb to the cultural propaganda that a woman can’t be attractive if she wears a dress size in double digits. Ladies, be boldly unafraid to rock the beauty in yourselves, curves and all. The legendary philosopher Sir Mix-A-Lot said it best: “To the beanpole dames in the magazines: You ain’t it, Miss Thing.” Word.

And of course, I’m thankful for you, friend reader. I’m sorry I’ve been AWOL these past several months — I’ll try to post more consistently in the coming year. (Yes, there will be a coming year. Those Mayans just ran out of tablets to write their calendar on.) I still have plenty to say… some of which may actually be worth your perusal.

I hope you and those you love have a magnificent Thanksgiving. Take a moment to count your own blessings, and let the people for whom you’re grateful know that you appreciate them. Now go have some turkey, already.

SwanShadow Gives Thanks: Eight Is Never Enough

November 24, 2011

Welcome to the eighth (count ’em, eight!) edition of my annual A-to-Z Thanksgiving post. After the darkness and loss that characterized much of 2010 — as most of the regulars here know, my wife KJ lost her decade-long battle with breast cancer in July of that year — 2011 has been another year of sweeping change. A brighter one in several ways, but again with more than its share of tragedy and challenge.

We lost my father-in-law, who had been in ill health for many years, in February. Shortly thereafter, we bid our last goodbyes to my dutiful personal assistant Abby. Add in a new life partnership, a career redirection, a new residence for the first time in nearly 20 years… well, you get the idea.

Enough recap, already. Let’s get on with the gratitude. On this fourth Thursday in November, I’m thankful for…

Audacity, the free audio recording and editing tool I use every day. One of these days, I’ll invest in some pricey software that does everything Audacity does, only for hundreds of dollars more. Yeah… in your dreams. Remember Uncle Swan’s motto: If it’s free, it’s for me.

Bravo, because who doesn’t love Top Chef? And Millionaire Matchmaker? And yes, even Project Runway? Okay, sure, they put on all that dreadful Real Housewives crap. That’s what the channel button on your remote is for. Know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em.

The City by the Bay — always my favorite city, once my alma mater, now my home. I’ve enjoyed a love affair with San Francisco for the better part of four decades, but I would never have envisioned living here. Where little cable cars climb halfway to the stars. Where Mark Twain spent his coldest winter one summer. Home of the 2010 World Series Champion Giants; the Team of the ’80s, the 49ers; and naked dudes wandering the streets of the Castro. Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair.

The Daughter, whom I love more than life itself. Smart, funny, perceptive, and the world’s greatest horsewoman. You should have a daughter so awesome. But you can’t. She’s the only one.

Eggs Benedict. How can you go wrong with eggs, pork, and hollandaise? Don’t believe the people at Denny’s when they tell you they can do it with melted Velveeta. They lie.

Facebook, which keeps me in constant touch with my voice actor colleagues, my chorus buddies, people I knew in high school, and friends, comrades, and associates of every stripe. If that brat Zuckerberg hadn’t stolen this gem from the Winklevii, Facebook would be the exclusive province of snooty preppies in cardigans and Top-Siders, and you and I would never know what the other is eating for breakfast.

Goorin Brothers, makers of stylish hats. I’m wearing my black Cash Canyon right now.

Hope, because if you don’t have that, you have nothing. Keep it alive, as Jesse used to say, back when people actually cared what Jesse said.

iTunes — without it, we’d still be stockpiling eight-tracks. Isn’t it wicked cool that I can punch up Meat Loaf, or the House Jacks, or Sir Mix-A-Lot, or Journey, anytime I want, with just a keystroke or two? Why, yes, it is.

Jim Harbaugh, the man who turned Alex “Sow’s Ear” Smith into a rayon purse overnight, thereby restoring the 49ers not merely to respectability, but to darn near invincibility. If you’d told me in August that the Niners would be 9-1 going into Thanksgiving, I’d have laughed in your face, and recommended a good therapist.

KJ… gone home, but never forgotten.

The Legion of Super-Heroes, or as we used to call them in my comics-reading youth, the Legion of Stupid Heroes. Where else could characters like Bouncing Boy and Matter-Eater Lad find stardom? It’s no surprise that many of the Legion’s best adventures sprang from the typewriter (go on, look it up… I’ll wait) of a brash kid named Jim Shooter, who began writing Legion stories when he was a mere stripling of 13. Nevertheless, the Legion always had the cutest girls in comics. Imra Ardeen… call me.

Maddie the German shorthaired pointer mix, who replaced our dear departed corgi Abby at The Daughter’s side, if not entirely in her heart. Maddie is in many ways the anti-Abby — long-legged, frenetic, and eager for affection to the point of clinginess, in contrast to her squat, chill, laissez-faire predecessor — but no less a character. I’m glad The Daughter found a new friend.

The house of the Naked Fish-Tailed Lady, home of hot, caffeinated, life-sustaining squeezings of the noble bean. Get yourself an eggnog latte this holiday season. You know you want one.

My fellow comic art collector Damon Owens, with whom I’ve shared countless e-mail conversations about comics, art, and life over these many years. Damon’s theme galleries — The Brotherhood, an all-star team of black superheroes; Dead Universes Project, featuring heroes from publishers who’ve vanished into the ether; and Cage Matches, recalling the greatest adventures of Luke Cage, Power Man — are the envy of every other commission collector, yours truly included. Beyond that, Damon’s just a really cool guy. You rock, amigo.

The Pirate Queen, who restored light to a world that had become horrifyingly bleak. All it took was a visit to Starbucks and a midnight at the asylum. Thank you for making me First Mate, Captain. I love you… and happy birthday.

Quotations. Gifted wordsmith though I am, I can’t be expected to pump out all the pithy sayings all by my lonesome. “Because remember, no matter where you go… there you are.” Buckaroo Banzai said that. See what I mean?

Rocketfish, my new favorite sushi joint. Have a Rocketfish Roll, brother. They’re fresh.

Stars, The Agency, simply the best talent agents in the whole wide world. Thanks for believing in me, Nate and Kristin. One of these first days, I’m going to make you guys a fortune. Not that you need it, or anything.

Trader Joe’s. Okay, so it’s owned by this mysterious, creepy, reclusive German family who probably have Anne Frank locked up in their attic or something. But I get a giddy thrill every time their Fearless Flyer lands in my mailbox. How TJ’s crams so much exotic yet tasty stuff into one little grocery store is beyond me. Must be the Hawaiian shirts.

The United States of America. Yes, we’ve had our problems. Yes, we have more than our share of lunatics, lowlifes, miscreants, and Tea Partiers… but then, I repeat myself. Still, we’re the place everyone else wants to be. The big dog on the block. The coolest kid in class. The land of milk, honey, Barack Obama, and Filet-O-Fish. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. And I have, so I’d know.

Virgin America. We flew to Vegas with these folks in July, and I have to give them credit, they make flying about as much fun as an airline can in these post-9/11 times. Nice to see a company doing a serious business not taking itself entirely too seriously. Besides, you have to admire the chutzpah in the name alone. I’m not sure what they call it the second time you fly, though.

West Portal, our little neighborhood downtown. Feel like Mexican tonight? Check out El Toreador. Indian? Try Roti. Peruvian? Fresca will hook you up. Breakfast? There’s a branch of Squat and Gobble on the corner. Want to catch a movie? The CineArts at the Empire shows the latest blockbusters. Need hardware? Legal pharmaceuticals? A glass of fine wine? A crab melt? An ATM? It’s all here for you, in the space of three short blocks. And of course, there’s a Starbucks. Where isn’t there a Starbucks?

Xfinity from Comcast. A bazillion cable TV channels, lightning-fast Internet access, even land-line telephone service if you’re all old school like that.

Yin and yang. Because there are two sides to everything. Male and female. Light and dark. Bitter and sweet. Ebony and ivory, together in perfect harmony. Just like life.

Zazzle. You can create T-shirts, mugs, and every conceivable other kind of novelty item and sell them to people. Or buy the stuff other people came up with. I picked up a nifty pair of Bettie Page mugs there just recently.

Did I mention that I’m thankful for you, friend reader? I am. I’m glad you’re here, and I’m glad you’re you. Have a happy, thoughtful, and reflective Thanksgiving.