Archive for the ‘Thanksgiving’ category

SwanShadow Gives Thanks, Volume 17: Global Pandemic Edition

November 27, 2020

Who knew, right?

Anyone who says that they accurately predicted at last Thanksgiving the worldwide horror the calendar would call 2020 CE is peddling a falsehood. None of us saw this coming. Many understood that a global pandemic like the one that swept the planet exactly a century ago could happen at some time, but no one knew that 2020 would be our COVID-19 annus horribilus.

Too much sickness. Too much death. Too much sheltering in place. And way too much conflict over what to do or not do about it. (Seriously, people: Put a mask on. Don’t crowd up. Stay home as much as possible. It sucks. But sickness and death suck more.)

In times like these, though, it’s even more vital to focus on the people and things we are grateful for — and, in fact, to be grateful in general. It’s easy to let so much darkness obscure what light there is, but when we don’t appreciate the light, however small it seems, darkness wins.

Therefore, as is our long-standing (17 years and counting!) tradition in this tiny corner of the Internet, we present our annual outpouring of thanks on this Thanksgiving weekend. Given that I always have far too much in my life to be grateful for, each year I choose 26 items — one for each letter of the alphabet — to stand in for everyone and everything for which I’m offering thanks this year. It keeps the list to a manageable size, and makes certain that the list actually gets done.

I found it tempting, in the face of all that 2020 has thrown at us, to modify the tone or style of this year’s post. I decided that would defeat its purpose. So, even though there will be some direct allusions to the dreadful realities we’ve dealt with this year, much of the list is as it always is: Random, slightly tongue-in-cheek at times, and with an understanding that the seemingly insignificant items on the list underscore a broader perspective that embraces gratitude as an attitude, for the monumental blessings in life as well as for the minuscule.

With that said, at Thanksgiving time in 2020, I’m thankful for:

Aging rockers. Three of my all-time favorite bands seized the year to deliver brand-new studio albums that compare favorably with the best work from their classic periods: Kansas (The Absence of Presence); Blue Öyster Cult (The Symbol Remains); and most recently, AC/DC (Power Up; or, if you want to get strictly typographical about it, PWR/UP). For BÖC, it was their first album in 19 years; for Kansas, their second with current lead vocalist Ronnie Platt (the previous Platt-era effort, 2016’s The Prelude Implicit, is also quite good); for AC/DC, their first since the passing of co-founder Malcolm Young, and a reunion with members Brian Johnson, Cliff Williams, and Phil Rudd, all of whom had departed for various reasons in recent years. To hear these bands, who all began their recording careers in the 1970s (albeit with markedly different lineups), once again producing outstanding music makes my heart sing, and offers me hope in my own down-slope years that greatness remains possible.

Biden/Harris. I don’t typically do politics in public fora, but I can’t express how thrilled I am that the nightmare of Agent Orange is nearly ended, and that actual human beings will be in charge of the country again. I am particularly ecstatic for all of the barriers that Kamala Harris (on whose Senate campaign I was privileged to voice a few ads) will break when she takes office as Vice President.

Chadwick Boseman. 2020 robbed us all of far too much, including the life of this brilliantly talented actor whose charisma lit up the screen like few others. To think that he gave us not only the personification of T’Challa, the Black Panther, in four Marvel Cinematic Universe films, but also stellar performances in Marshall, 21 Bridges, Da 5 Bloods, and the upcoming Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom without the world — or even most of his colleagues — knowing that he was dying of cancer is nothing short of incredible. Rest in power, King.

Dr. Fauci. A national hero, trying to help Americans wrestle with a terrifying unknown while the Clown-In-Chief keeps tying his arms behind his back and spitting in his face. And he never quit.

Español. One of the projects I’ve used in an attempt to maintain sanity during lockdown has been developing my facility in Spanish using the Duolingo app. At this writing, I’ve managed 177 consecutive days of lessons. I’m not fooling myself into thinking I’ll ever be functionally bilingual, but I’ve pretty much resurrected (and likely exceeded) my two years of high school Spanish, and feel certain that I could ask directions to a bus stop or buy a green suitcase in a Spanish-speaking country if the situation arose.

Frontline workers. I can’t say enough how deeply I appreciate the efforts of everyone who’s kept our society running in the face of the pandemic, and especially those whose work presents them with constant exposure risk. That includes the doctors, nurses, and other healthcare staff caring for the infected (more about them later), but also mail carriers, delivery drivers, restaurant cooks and servers, retail clerks, and everyone else for whom showing up and facing the outbreak every day means the rest of us get the things we need to carry on. Thank you all, and God bless you.

Great British Bake-Off. Or Great British Baking Show, as Netflix calls it here in the States to avoid legal action by the Pillsbury people. It’s a joy to tune in each week to watch Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith put a gaggle of flour-dusted Britons through their paces. I still miss former hosts Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins — and more recently, the delightfully droll Sandi Toksvig — but the thematic elements remain the same, and the contestants always seem pleasant and just thrilled to take part. (At this typing, I haven’t yet watched this season’s finale. Don’t spoil it for me.)

Hawkgirl. A fantastic representation of Shiera Hall (or Shayera Hol, if you prefer it in Thanagarian) by Sideshow Collectibles entered my statue collection this year. My rules for adding a new statue: 1. The character has to already be represented multiple times in my art collection. 2. I have to love the piece the first time I see it. (If I don’t love it immediately, it’s not worth buying.) 3. I have to have room in my office/studio for it. Shiera, despite her considerable wingspan, made the cut.

Inspiron. The Pirate Queen recently allowed me to replace my old, agonizingly slow, keyboard-challenged (the O key kept popping off, and the space occasionally has a mind of its own) studio laptop computer with a new desktop model, accompanied by a gorgeous 27″ monitor. I now hunch and squint far less.

Jim Edgar. I am blessed to name as friends a startling array of wonderful people — possibly including you, if you’re reading this. My buddy Jim stands out for his unfailingly kind, generous, and helpful spirit. Jim has made himself a valued and trusted resource within the voiceover industry through his technical expertise, in addition to his phenomenal talents as an actor. I am constantly impressed with the manner in which Jim goes out of his way to advise, inform, and assist his colleagues (who are often potential competitors as well — it’s a tough business) by openly sharing his insights and experience, and his efforts to build a more harmonious community within the profession. I know numerous fellow actors who inspire me to want to be a better actor. Jim inspires me, whenever I observe or interact with him, to want to be a better person. And I’m not alone in that.

Kids, and Kisses. The K’s represent the people who, beyond all else, make my life worth carrying on. The Kids — The Daughter and The Son-In-Law — uplift my heart every day, just by living their lives and being quality people. I couldn’t ask for better. And, here’s the big news: The Kids are expecting their own kid — the first GrandKid — in the coming year. (It’s rumored to be a boy.) They’re also shopping for their first house. “Kisses” represents the Pirate Queen, who always signs her notes to me in that fashion. She uplifts my heart every day, too.

LionSteel. If you asked me at this very moment, “What’s in your pocket?” the answer would be a blue titanium slipjoint knife from LionSteel in Maniago, Italy. There’s another LionSteel slipjoint on my desk, with olivewood scales. They make some really nice knives in Italy.

Medical personnel. We all owe our gratitude to the medical experts who daily labor in the midst of a worldwide health crisis. This includes not only the physicians, nurses, technicians, caregivers, and others who provide direct treatment to those afflicted by COVID-19, but also all those folks behind the scenes in testing labs, and in research facilities working toward safe and effective vaccines against the disease, and better treatments for dealing with it. Pray that their labors prove fruitful.

Nova lox. I don’t know who the person was who first had the idea to smoke a salmon, but that person deserved a hearty handshake. Probably not from the salmon, though.

Online quiz leagues. If there could be said to be an actual upside from the pandemic, it has been the development of a number of online quiz leagues, at first intended as a stopgap in the absence of in-person pub quizzing, but now taking on a life and purpose of their own. I currently participate in two: Quizzing World Cup, based in the UK and comprising teams and players around the globe, and Online Quiz League USA, an offshoot of the original British OQL with material keyed to a North American audience.

Pentatonix. There is no more expressive musical instrument than the human voice, and not many folks demonstrate that more profoundly than the five members of America’s favorite a cappella quintet. When I feel an anxiety attack coming on, one of my most effective therapies is a Pentatonix playlist in my Sennheiser headphones.

Queen’s Gambit. If you haven’t yet binged this charming Netflix limited series starring Anya Taylor-Joy as a brilliant but troubled young chess wizard in the 1960s, do yourself a favor and check it out. I know what you’re thinking: A TV series about chess has to be about as interesting as watching paint dry. Just remember these wise words of the late Roger Ebert: It’s not what the show is about that matters, but how it is about it.

Rocketbook. What seemed at first like a cool novelty item has become an indispensable part of my daily routine. Rocketbook makes an ever-growing variety of products designed around a common theme: Reusable notes. Instead of an endless stack of paper notepads or Post-Its generating scattered castoffs everywhere (if only you’d seen my desk…), Rocketbook notebooks offer a system of reusable pages that can be written on, scanned and stored (if you’re so inclined), then wiped clean and reused again and again. My favorite Rocketbook model is the Flip, which is designed like a steno pad. I keep one next to me at all times for scribbling down quick ideas, or for recording lists of facts I want to reinforce for quizzing. The equally handy Fusion contains templates for calendar and schedule planning. Writing on the Rocketbook’s plastic pages with erasable ink (the system requires Frixion pens and markers, made by Pilot and readily available everywhere) takes a little getting used to, but I’ve found it worth the effort.

Safeway. In these times when spending time indoors in a crowded store presents a considerable health risk, we’ve come to rely on the online order and pickup service provided by the supermarket giant. It took a bit of trial and error to get the system down smoothly, but now after several months, the store we use does a pretty decent job of filling our orders in a timely fashion. It’s made grocery shopping about as safe as it can be during a pandemic, and reasonably efficient.

Trebek. The last 32 years of my life have been indelibly transformed by my experiences on Jeopardy! My two favorite Alex Trebek memories: 1. Alex confused my name with that of another contestant when I won my quarterfinal match in the 1988 Tournament of Champions. It was nice to see that our unflappable host was fallible and human after all. 2. When I won the 1998 Battle of the Bay Area Brains, Alex went out of his way to spend a few minutes at the afterparty chatting with The Daughter, who was nine years old and had never met a celebrity in person. She still treasures the T-shirt Alex signed for her. Rest in peace, Uncle Alex.

Unemployment benefits. Like millions of Americans, the Pirate Queen was — thankfully, very briefly — out of work for a portion of 2020. She had never before in her working life collected unemployment. Having those benefits did not mean the difference between sustenance and survival for us, but they alleviated the burden of worry for the Pirate Queen as she pursued other options. We are acutely aware that many of our fellow citizens are not so fortunate to have the assets we have. It was an important reminder not to take our means for granted — and to have greater compassion for those who are struggling. And here’s another thing: In a society as wealthy as ours, no one should be in danger of going without food or healthcare or losing their home due to circumstances beyond their control, and no one should have to worry that their unemployment checks will stop coming because the government can’t get its collective act together. We have to do better, America.

Vibranium. I hear there’s a mountain of it in Wakanda. but don’t tell anyone I told you.

Wheat Thins. Delicious with any topping, or with none. Do I even need to explain? I didn’t think so.

Xoloitzcuintli. Pronounce it “show-low-eats-QUEENT-lee,” or simply call it a “Show-Low” for short, as most people who own one do. It’s a (mostly) hairless breed of dog, originally from Mexico. Studio Assistant Tazz looks a little bit like a Show-Low, albeit with a full coat of hair. Then again, he’s 50% Chihuahua, so there might be some common ancestry there somewhere.

YouTubers. Keeping me entertained throughout the long days and nights of COVID sequestering has been a smorgasbord of videos on YouTube, both from content creators (including Pete Pardo, host of Sea of Tranquility and Comic Book Geezers, and Dr. Kat Marchant of Reading the Past, among many others I could name) and from those who post content that would otherwise be unavailable. In the latter category, I’m especially grateful for those who diligently upload daily episodes of quiz shows from the UK and Australia. Viewing and playing along with those programs was critical in my preparation for my online quiz leagues, and for… other things that I can add to my Thanksgiving list next year.

Zoom. The video conferencing service has been a genuine boon in keeping us all connected to the people — whether family and friends, or work collaborators — from whom we are physically distanced by the present distress. It’s not the same as being together, but it’s decidedly better than not seeing others at all.

As always, friend reader, I’m thankful for you, and for your continued visits to this blog. I sincerely hope that you and those you love stay safe and well during this crisis, and that we all have a return to some semblance of normal life — whatever that means — to be grateful for at this time next year.

SwanShadow Gives Thanks, Volume 16: End of the Decade Edition

November 28, 2019

As they say in the biz, better late than never.

It was never going to be “never,” but a variety of circumstances complicated my posting the annual Thanksgiving list in time for the holiday this year. But, for those of you who’ve been waiting with bated breath — or baited breath, if you had sushi for lunch — here we are, a few days past due but none the worse for wear.

For the benefit of any new readers: Every Thanksgiving since the inception of this little slice of the Internet way back in 20[mumble], I’ve devoted a post to expressing my gratitude for the many things and people who make my life worth living. Since my blessings far outstrip the stamina of my typing fingers, I developed the idea of an A to Z list, choosing one item for each letter of the alphabet. It’s a form of metonymy: the part stands for the whole. Or, in this instance, the 26 listed items stand for everything else for which I’m thankful this year.

As I now do separately from the list, I give thanks first and foremost for the people closest to me: for my wife, referred to herein as the Pirate Queen for reasons I’ll not bore you with here; for The Daughter, referred to herein as The Daughter for reasons that I would hope would be obvious; for The Son-In-Law and the four-legged Studio Assistant and The Daughter’s Grandma; and for the memory of KJ, my late first wife, taken from the planet far before her time. (Breast cancer screening: Do it.) I love you, each and every.

All that having been offered, here’s the 16th edition of my Thanksgiving list — the last such list of the 2010s.

This year, I pause to give gratitude for:

Audient iD14. After years of faithful service from my venerable USB audio interface, I decided to upgrade to this sturdy, compact little box. I love its clean sound and simple functionality. Most of all, I love its capacity for a second microphone input, which I’ve never been able to implement previously, and which doubles my studio recording capacity without muss or fuss.

Brazilian steakhouses. Who doesn’t love sitting at a table while one server after another slices off hunks of delicious grilled meat for one’s dining pleasure? (Well, I suppose you vegetarians, but you know that we carnivores are going to eat you anyway when the zombie apocalypse happens.) The Pirate Queen has promised to fete me at a nearby example on my upcoming birthday. And yes, I know that it’s called a churrascaria. But I have something else at “C,” which is…

The Casbah, my affectionate name for our old and now new-again home. We first moved into The Casbah back in the summer of 2014, only to leave it behind a year and a half later when we relocated to shorten the Pirate Queen’s commute. As happens in life, circumstances changed, and the Pirate Queen’s current employment made a return to The Casbah (which had become a rental property during the three years prior) more advantageous. With our tenants having moved on, we undertook an extensive renovation of the old homestead, and returned at the beginning of the summer, almost exactly five years after we moved in the first time. It’s nice to be home.

Duck buns. A local izakaya called Sasa serves them — duck confit with hoisin sauce on steamed bao. Think of those mediocre pork buns you get from your favorite Chinese takeout joint, amped up to the nth degree. The Pirate Queen describes them as “little pillows of heaven.” She’s not wrong.

Endgame — that’s Avengers: Endgame if you want to get all formal about it — the final chapter in the first decade of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. (Okay, technically Spider-Man: Far From Home was the final chapter, but that felt much more like a throwaway epilogue after Endgame.) This one had everything you’d want in the conclusion of a saga: shocking surprises, heroic quests, love lost and found again, tragic sacrifices. And, best of all, every hero in the MCU to date teaming up for the battle to end(game) all battles. The superhero-loving kid in me squeed. Martin Scorsese may not think it’s cinema, but it’s plenty cinematic enough for me.

FM (No Static At All) by Steely Dan. Back when I rode the airwaves, I frequently started my morning DJ shift with this number. Even now, when it comes on the radio, I can improvise an opening over the instrumental intro and hit the station ID a split-second before Donald Fagen’s vocal kicks in at 26 seconds. Incidentally, I’m working on a project in which I’m ranking all 64 of the songs on Steely Dan’s classic-period albums (Can’t Buy a Thrill through Gaucho, plus the two non-album tracks released during that time frame). I predict this one will land in my top 10.

Greta Thunberg. Powerful proof that one small voice can change the world.

Hope. In dark times like these, we need to find and cling to it more tightly than ever. If we give up hope, we give up, period.

Idris Elba. He could make a dramatic reading of the LL Bean catalog sound compelling. He makes some peculiar choices in projects at times — he appears to be one of those actors who just can’t say “No” to anything (I mean, Hobbs & Shaw? really?) — but whatever he’s in, it’s going to be worth watching when he (or even just his voice) is on screen. James Bond? Sure. Why not? I’d pay money to see that.

Jimmy G. I’m still not fully on the Garoppolo train, but results don’t lie. A 49ers team I thought would be sub-.500 this season is 10-2 at this writing. The guy’s doing something right.

The King Kam, because I’m not typing “the Courtyard by Marriott King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel” more than once. (Even there, I copied and pasted.) We spent a lovely few days at this fine downtown Kailua-Kona establishment on the Big Island of Hawaii in the spring. It’s centrally located, with a small, relatively secluded sandy beach (a rarity on the Big Island). The dining options are meh — except for the onsite location of Ululani’s Shave Ice, which is killer — but there’s plenty of excellent food within walking distance. Worth checking out if you’re staying in Kona.

Library science. The Daughter is currently studying for her master’s degree in this field, and she is thoroughly enjoying the process, hard work though it is. She has a passion for both learning and helping others, so I believe it’s a perfect fit for her.

Museum putty. When we created the new gallery space for comic art in our back hallway, I finally found the solution for keeping pieces from slipping within their frames. How did I ever collect art without this stuff?

Nissan Altima. The Pirate Queen finally replaced her aging Toyota coupe this fall, with a shiny new red metal machine. I’m glad that she has a trustworthy car that she enjoys driving.

Ocean Avenue Veterinary Hospital, taking good care of Studio Assistant Tazz since he joined our merry band. The doctors and technicians at OAVH have always been accommodating with our little guy, who suffers from stranger anxiety and is a challenging patient to handle. No matter how much fuss he makes, he’s always greeted with smiles on his next visit.

Paschall, Eric. The brightest light in a dull and dismal Golden State Warriors season. The Paschanimal, as TV commentator Kelenna Azubuike dubbed him, plays with a high-revving motor and surprising skill for a second-round draft pick. It’s early days yet, but he looks like a keeper.

Quarter-scale statues. When I acquired my Taarna from Sideshow Collectibles, I never thought I’d ever want another. But… even a Taarakian avenger needs friends. And thus over the past year, Diana, Kara, and Elektra showed up. I have to admit, they add presence to my studio. But I suspect they talk about me when I leave the room.

Repeat clients. A couple of years ago, I was privileged to voice the audio tour when world-renowned watchmakers Patek Philippe held their Grand Exhibition in New York. I was equally privileged that they hired me again to voice this year’s Grand Exhibition in Singapore — at least, the English-language version. It’s always life-affirming when people regard your work highly enough to ask you back.

Scene study. I made the conscious choice this year to focus more of my ongoing training on pure acting, as opposed to voiceover-specific workshops. I’ve had some encouraging feedback in my recent scene study classes, and I feel as though I’ve taken some major steps forward as an actor. Hopefully, that will translate into booking more work in the coming year. But even if it doesn’t, the growth is good for me. Old dog, new tricks.

Trivia Nationals. For each of the previous seven years, I’ve journeyed to Las Vegas in the blistering heat of summer for a weekend of trivia mayhem. This year, the previous event gave way to the new Trivia Nationals, which brought together quizzers from all over North America for a fun-filled, action-packed gala. I’ve already booked my ticket for next year’s gathering. Maybe I’ll see you there (hint hint, nudge nudge).

University Challenge. Speaking of quizzing, one of the highlights of my week is watching the latest installment of University Challenge, the venerable British quiz show that pits foursomes from various UK colleges against one another in a grand tournament of knowledge. This season, a young friend of mine is playing on one of the competing squads, and another is hoping to land on a team for next year’s run. And, as brilliant as the contestants are, it makes this old Jeopardy! champ feel just a bit perkier when he pulls out a fact that the kids don’t know.

Vistaprint. My favorite resource for everything from business cards to the custom-designed “No Soliciting” sign on The Casbah’s front gate. The Vistaprint folks never disappoint with the quality of their printing or materials, or with their budget-friendly pricing.

Windows. Part of the renovation at The Casbah involved replacing all of the original windows with new double-paned models that do an outstanding job of keeping out both the elements and outside noise (within limits, of course — there’s no cure for the landscaper’s leaf blower) and letting in the view. I get to sit at my desk daily and watch the birds and squirrels go about the business of foraging in the trees in our front courtyard. It’s good to be reminded there’s a world beyond the walls.

X-23. She’s the clone daughter of Wolverine, who inherited her dad’s retractable claws and healing factor. Not a bad gig if you can get it.

Yellow Productions is actually a YouTuber named Chris Raney, who presents travel videos he describes as “fun, informative, and entertaining.” Most of the time, his videos are just that. Part of what makes Chris’s videos enjoyable viewing is that they are clearly not the work of a “professional travel writer,” but just a nerdy guy who loves to travel the world and share helpful tips about the places he goes. Chris can be infuriating if you know the subject better than he does — his Hawaii videos drive me insane, because he consistently mispronounces Hawaiian place names, and gets details about local culture wrong — but he always maintains a cheerful approach and gives worthwhile information more often than not. His videos about Southern California (he’s a San Diego resident), Las Vegas, and East Asia (his wife, referred to as “OC Girl,” is of Asian heritage, and they travel to Asia more frequently than to other overseas locales) are particularly useful.

Zatarain’s. I cook from scratch most of the time, but I’m not above using prepackaged help in the kitchen now and again. Zatarain’s rice mixes, especially their red beans and rice and jambalaya varieties, produce tasty side dishes in far less time than it would take me to create them from ground zero. Throw in some sliced sausage, leftover turkey, or shrimp, and you’ve got a decent meal.

And finally — I say this every year, but it’s still and always true — I’m thankful for you, friend reader. May you and those you care for enjoy health and happiness in the 2020s.

SwanShadow Gives Thanks, Volume 15: Crystal Turkey Edition

November 22, 2018

As unlikely as it seems, this post marks the 15th anniversary of my yearly Thanksgiving Day blog entry. Given that crystal is the traditional gift for a 15th anniversary, I will attempt herein to be as transparent, sparkling, and multifaceted as possible.

Those of you (and you know who you are) who’ve kept up with these posts over the years know that I have many, many people and things in my life for which I am thankful. I don’t take that responsibility of gratitude lightly. I earnestly, honestly appreciate how blessed my life is.

When I roll over the side of the bed every morning, even when that effort comes accompanied by the creaks and crackles of advancing age, I am grateful that I have two feet to stand on, and legs that support the standing. I know there are millions of people in the world who can’t get out of bed and would give anything to do so. And, as I go about my day, I am thankful that I have a comfortable home, clean clothes, abundant food and water, work I enjoy, the entertainment of a companion animal, and the love of a life partner. I know there are millions of people who have few, or none, of these, and would sacrifice anything they do have to possess that which they do not. I am not better, or more deserving, than they. I am merely more fortunate. Again, I don’t take that for granted.

And especially when I find myself living in a state where entire communities have been consumed by disastrous wildfires over the past year-plus, robbing people of every material possession and a lifetime of treasured memories…

I take none of this for granted.

Because I have far more things to be thankful for than I can enumerate, on Thanksgiving Day it’s been my custom these past 15 years to focus my gratitude on a list of just 26 items, one for each letter of the alphabet. Some items on the list are trivial (indeed, some are literally that). Others are profound. All stand in the place of many, many others that I simply haven’t time in one day to name. It’s just my way of acknowledging how deeply moved in soul and spirit I am when I pause to consider how rich my life is, even in those countless moments when I feel poorly within.

With all that said, on Thanksgiving Day 2018, here are the things for which I’m giving thanks.

Air. In our part of the world, it’s easy to forget about air — we have it fresh and without limit… until an event like the fire that destroyed Paradise, California clouds the atmosphere with toxic fumes and ash for days on end, even for those of us living a couple hundred miles from the event. After breathing soot for two weeks, today’s clean air (courtesy of our first rains in months) gives us NorCal residents something extra special to celebrate.

Bob Almond. My comic art collection began in earnest almost simultaneously with these annual posts, 15 years ago. During that time, one artist’s work has come to be represented in my galleries far more frequently than any other — more than 50 times, at last count. It might be easy to miss that, however, because Bob Almond toils as an inker, an embellisher of other artists’ pencil drawings. Bob’s unique ability to meld his ink lines with a broad variety of styles — always enhancing, never imposing or interfering — gives me the confidence to keep putting projects in his capable hands, knowing that the art will always return to me better than when it left. And, as founder of the Inkwell Awards, Bob labors tirelessly to gain recognition and appreciation for other practitioners of his craft — artists whose work often goes unnoticed, but is indispensable to the art form we call comics.

Confetti. I play quite a few online trivia games (although fewer all the time, it seems, as some of the upstarts have gone or are going out of the picture). I have the most fun playing the Facebook-based Confetti every weeknight. Confetti’s distinction is that it allows one to play in concert with one’s Facebook friends, seeing their responses to each question in real time and benefiting from their collective wisdom. Assuming, of course, that one has smart friends. I just happen to be lucky that way.

Doctor Who. Until this season, I haven’t been a regular viewer of Doctor Who, the venerable BBC science fiction series, since the days of the Fourth Doctor, played by Tom Baker in the 1970s. When the show was revived several years back, I sampled an episode or two of each new incarnation of the Doctor, but was never drawn back into steady attendance. Then came the Thirteenth Doctor, played with charm and spunk (and a goofy-to-American-ears Yorkshire accent) by Jodie Whittaker, the first female actor to be cast as the Time Lord. In the Doctor’s own phrase, “Brilliant!”

Egg foo young. Yes, I know, it’s not real Chinese cuisine. But sometimes, I just gotta have it. It’s probably the gravy.

Freddie Mercury. I have yet to see Bohemian Rhapsody, the recent biopic starring Rami Malek as the legendary front man of Queen. Part of my reluctance is the reviews. The greater part, though, is my fear that nothing could compare with the reality of Freddie, perhaps the most uniquely talented performer in rock history, and one whose music and memory means so much to me.

Garlic. Can’t cook without it. Okay, maybe breakfast. But not after that.

Hawaiian Airlines. Truly the friendliest airline in the skies. You’d be friendly too if every one of your round trips ended in Hawaii. At the Pirate Queen’s insistence, I got a new credit card this year that earns Hawaiian Airlines flying miles. Maybe one of these years I’ll earn enough miles to just stay.

Infinity War. Every time I think the Marvel Cinematic Universe has gone about as far as it can go, Kevin Feige and company find a whole new way to turn things up past 11. Coming in hot on the heels of Black Panther — quite possibly, the greatest superhero film ever made, and one that could have dominated this Thanksgiving list had I not decided not to be quite so obvious — Avengers: Infinity War raised the stakes and broke our hearts by taking our Panther (and several other Marvel headliners, including Spider-Man and Doctor Strange) away. The sequel can’t get here fast enough. (Also, Black Panther 2.)

Journalists. I’ve never practiced the trade — the closest I came was my years as an online film reviewer — but I trained at university as a journalist. I value the talent and commitment of those who tell the true stories within our world, and deliver the news even when those in power would undermine and even physically thwart them. Now more than ever, we need legitimate journalism, and we all need to support those outlets and individuals determined to publish the truth.

Kansas. This summer, the Pirate Queen and I spent a weekend in Central California centered around a concert by the classic rock band Kansas. This was the fourth time I’ve seen Kansas live — the first was on my 19th birthday, at the Cow Palace — but the first time in more than 20 years. I still love the music. Kansas is the only significant American band to focus largely on progressive rock for the majority of its career (yeah, I know, Styx — but they were only prog-ish, and at that, only sometimes). Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Maybe not… but who cares? All we are is dust in the wind.

Lutron. One of the many things I love about our little abode here at Pirates Cove is the auto-dimming LED light fixtures, manufactured by a company named Lutron about whom I know nothing. Great lights, though.

Marriage. In the words of a certain Impressive Clergyman, “Mawwiage is what bwings us togevvah today.” In May, The Daughter entered into vows with The Son-In-Law. It was a beautiful day, and they still seem totally happy together six months later. I’m glad she found someone special to share her heart and her life with (and he does indeed seem like a great guy). I’m glad that the Pirate Queen and I found each other, too. Ain’t love grand?

Notability. An essential tool in my everyday working life — I import all of my scripts into it, where I can annotate and mark them up as I will. I also use it for note-taking in workshops and sessions, and for general brainstorming. If you can use a high-quality document markup / notation tool with a wealth of functionality, I highly recommend Notability. (Not a paid endorsement. Just a satisfied customer.)

Outrigger Reef Waikiki. We stayed here on this year’s trip to Oahu, and it immediately became our new favorite hotel on the island. Centrally located on Waikiki Beach, the Outrigger Reef offered a ton of features that we liked: unmatched location, warm hospitality that personifies aloha, first-rate beach access, a reliable breakfast venue, super-convenient layout that minimizes walking (something that can’t be said of many large resort hotels), great pool, live music nightly, and a Starbucks. I almost hate to mention it here, because now you people will fill it up the next time we want to stay there.

Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. The Legion of Honor Museum in San Francisco has presented a couple of exhibitions in recent years featuring the works of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, an association of 19th-century British artists and writers. This year’s show afforded the opportunity to see a number of stunning paintings by the Brotherhood’s leading lights: Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Holman Hunt, and John Everett Millais. I’m always impressed by art that keeps me thinking about it for days after I’ve seen it. The Pre-Raphaelites and their acolytes accomplish that.

Quizmasters. Having written a few quizzes for LearnedLeague and elsewhere, and played thousands more, I’m acutely aware of how difficult it is to compose top-shelf trivia questions and answers. I’m in awe of people — including LearnedLeague Commissioner Thorsten A. Integrity and newly inducted Trivia Hall of Fame member Paul Paquet — who manage to do it consistently over long periods of time.

Radio. As some of you know, I was a radio disc jockey in a previous life. Thanks in part to the SiriusXM subscription that came with our new Subaru Forester, I’ve been listening to more radio of late. It’s a format that I hope never goes away.

Stan Lee. Some idolized Marvel Comics writer/editor/publisher “Stan the Man” and gave him perhaps more credit than he deserved. Others in their zeal to counteract Stan’s penchant for self-aggrandizement were perhaps too quick to denigrate his contributions. All I know is this: Stan Lee co-created (we can disagree as to what percentage) several of the most iconic characters and stories of my lifetime, including some that had a tremendous impact on my youth and beyond. I can’t say this about many people whom I never met, but I would be a dramatically different person today were it not for Stan Lee. Rest in peace, and excelsior.

Taarna. I don’t like to talk myself up, but for some years, I was among the primary resources online for information about the 1981 animated science fiction anthology film Heavy Metal. I compiled and maintained the Squidoo lens spotlighting the movie, contributed significantly to its Wikipedia entry, and wrote material about the film for several (mostly now defunct) websites. My art collection reflects my obsession, with its gallery of commissioned artworks featuring Taarna, the lead character in Heavy Metal’s concluding segment and star of its iconic poster. When Sideshow Collectibles announced early this year that they were releasing a statue of Taarna, I knew I had to own one, even though I’m not a statue collector. The Taarakian defender now upholds The Pact from a shelf in my office/studio.

Ukulele. I decided a while back that I wanted to learn to play the ukulele. This decision did not come without trepidation — I took years of guitar lessons as a youngster and never got very good at playing the guitar. (Which is a charitable way of saying that I totally sucked at playing the guitar.) I’ll probably never be very good at playing the ukulele either. But even my clumsy fretting and strumming brings me joy. That’s something, yes?

Victoria Coren Mitchell. One of the world’s best female poker players, and the presenter of one of my favorite quiz shows, Only Connect. Is there anything she can’t do?

Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room. I fell in love with the Tiki Room on my first visit to Disneyland, way back in 19[mumble][mumble]. When I visited with the Pirate Queen in February of this year, I found my love unabated. It’s cheesy yet classic, dated yet timeless, silly yet charming. The performances by the lead voice actors (Wally Boag, Thurl Ravenscroft, Fulton Burley, and Ernie Newton) remain engaging, despite their broad (some might say stereotypical, and some might not be wrong) accents. There’s always at least one Audio-Animatronic character that doesn’t function quite perfectly. And yet, the moment the Tiki Room show concludes, I want to queue up again for another round. It’s one of my favorite childhood memories. Also, Dole Whip.

Xenon. It’s the noble gas used most frequently in film projection lamps. When you go to the movie theater and look at the brightly lit screen, you’re seeing xenon at work.

Yacht Rock. It’s not just a musical genre — it’s a way of life. The smooth, studio-crafted, jazz-inflected sounds of such late-’70s/early-’80s acts as Steely Dan, Toto, Kenny Loggins, Christopher Cross, Al Jarreau, and the Michael McDonald-era Doobie Brothers are my jam. (One of my jams, anyway.) Please don’t confuse true Yacht Rock with that stuff that gets played on the SiriusXM channel of the same name — most of it’s Nyacht Rock. (Hint: Jimmy Buffett is Nyacht Yacht Rock.) For the real deal, check out the pioneering 2005 web video series Yacht Rock, and Beyond Yacht Rock, the subsequent podcast hosted by connoisseurs JD Ryznar, Dave Lyons, Hunter Stair, and “Hollywood” Steve Huey.

Ziploc bags. I don’t know who invented them, or how that individual came up with the technology. But how did we ever live without them? The ones with the slider sealing mechanism? Pure engineering genius.

And as always, friend reader, I’m grateful for you. Thanks for stopping by on yet another Thanksgiving. I hope you’ve found much to be thankful for today. If you have, share some with someone who has a little less.

Peace.

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.

 

 

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.