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Friday, February 29, 2008

Banning Simcha

My wife was watching Fiddler on the Roof last night when I got home, and I watched a bit with her over dinner.

I'm pretty sure these Great Men who have been Talibanning Jewish Music concerts would never watch Fiddler, simply because there are women singing. And I think it's a great shame. Because they could learn a thing or two from the good people of Anatevka, who seemed to remember that Jews can live through the worst of times and still manage to sing and dance and serve their Creator with simcha, joy.

It's too bad our so-called leaders are so much more eager to emulate the former leaders of Afghanistan than Tevyeh the Milkman.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Air Guitar

What is it that they say? You get what you pay for? Sometimes, you don’t get even that much. Such was the result of my brief flirtation with wireless musicianship.

There are those who believe that putting “wireless” in front of everything makes it cooler and more useful. You know, like, “wireless” telephones and “wireless” internet and “wireless” coffee. These are the same people who told us that if you put “i” in front of a word it will be hipper and old people won’t be able to use it, like the “i”phone, or that putting “e” in front of word makes it modern, like “e”mail and “e”vacuum cleaner.

“I” would definitely be one of those people. And so it is with this attitude that I drove my “e”car down to the “wireless” music store and bought my first wireless instrument system. To be fair to the salesman, he first attempted to sell me a much more expensive system that probably actually worked. I gave him my “i”expression (hip and savvy and not in any way over 40) and demanded something cheaper.

He countered with the Nady DKW 8 GT DKW 8 HT Guitar and Microphone Wireless Package, which I had seen on the “wireless” internet. This came with a wireless instrument transmitter that you hook onto your belt and a receiver, and included a free wireless hand-held microphone and receiver. It even included a battery! All for about 80 bucks. To quote Eddie Murphy, “Waat a bahgin!”

My first clue came when I tried it out in my “bass”ment, and noticed a pretty profound drop in volume even a foot away from the receiver. But, I figured, I could compensate by raising the volume. Not ideal (I had hoped to be able to match the corded (non-“wireless”…wired?) volume for the purpose of sound mixing, but whatever.

I decided to try them out at my next gig, a Sheva Brachos. I thought the wireless mic would be perfect for it, as it could be passed around between the people saying the blessings.

Once the band was set up, we did some warm-up songs, mostly slow dinner music. The transmitter worked fine. My band mates watched in amazement, maybe a little envy, as I suddenly walked away from the group, moved out to the middle of the room, turned to face them and appraise the sound mix. They were even more bewildered when, instead of returning to the bandstand, I moved to the back of the room, approached the dessert table, and sliced a big piece of chocolate cake, put it on a plate, moseyed over to a table in front of the band and began to eat it with my right hand, all the time continuing to play the song with my left hand on the fret board. Fretting and fressing*, as it were.

(As an aside, there are really two problems with eating chocolate cake and playing bass simultaneously: First, you get crumbs on the bass. And second, it’s very easy to end up with frosting in your beard. Embarrassing, to say the least.)

Anyway, I found the newfound freedom to be very refreshing. For example, typically when someone comes up to make a speech, I am trapped up there with him because of the cable. This time, I slowly edged myself off to the side and then slipped out of the room with my bass still on me.

The speakers were happy to have the wireless mic—at first. By about the third or fourth speaker (hey, this was a Jewish event) it started cutting out frequently, and by the time The Rabbi got the mic it was practically useless. This despite a change of battery (both new). They went back to using a wired mic. I never even got to try it for singing with a full band.

Nevertheless, I did enjoy being able to pluck a few notes on the bass out in the hallway, to the amusement of all the other low-lifes who skipped out on The Rabbi’s speech and to the dismay of The Rabbi, who was still trying to speak as my bass amp spewed forth random blurts of D-flat behind him.

Finally, it was time for the big dance set. I moved into position next to the guitar player, the better to see the charts, but prepared to make a quick dash out to the center circle, to be adored by the dancing celebrants, who would no doubt be delighted to see the guy with the big guitar in their midst.

The sax player called the first tune, gave a quick count, and then—


My bass made a few crackling sounds, then quit. The band took off like a bunch of horses at the starting gate, and I was left behind playing air guitar. The thing was totally dead. I got maybe 20 minutes out of it on a fresh battery.

I made a quick switcheroo and was back to wirefull bass for the remainder of the gig.

Back to the store with this one.

*© 2008 Ralphie

Monday, February 25, 2008

Screening Calls

Ring, ring....

The PT: (breathing)

Fudge: Hello? Is anyone there?

The PT: Um, hello? Don't you hear me breathing?

Fudge: Oh man...The PT, it's--

The PT: I know who it is! You think I don't know what you sound like?

Fudge: Um--

The PT: Can I put you on speakerphone?

Fudge: What the--

The PT: This phone is KILLING my shoulder. I'm putting you on speakerphone.

Fudge: Well actually, I wanted to talk to Mommy, is she around?

The PT: What? I can't hear you. I'm putting you on speakerphone.

Fudge: No, The PT, don't--

The PT: (click).

Ring, ring.

The PT: Hello?

Fudge: Hi, The PT, can I talk to Mommy?

The PT: Not anymore. She just left the room, and I am doing kriah. Wanna listen? Cha....cha...er....chaer...

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Radio Unit

I’m strongly considering getting a wireless transmitter unit for my bass. Not because I want to jump off the drum kit (hey, I can do that now), but because there are times when I need to get a feel for how the band sounds out in the audience and I can’t do that when I’m tethered by a 20 foot cable to my amp.

Frequently, I’m the sound man for the band, which means I adjust the volumes and individual levels, and I normally can’t listen to the bass when I do that, so I add it in later and hope for the best (and watch the old ladies cover their ears).

Even when I’m not doing sound, I find myself the target of volume offense accusations:

“We’re too loud because of YOU!!”

“Wuat? I can barely hear my bass!”

“No, man, you can’t tell when you’re right in front of it. You need to hear it from OUT THERE (points to back of room, not outer space)!!”

Plus I guess it would be, y’know, cool to get out into the crowd every once and while during a gig.

So if you are a bass player and you have any experience or suggestions for particular units, pipe in.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Indian Name v2.0

First take a look at this post.

Recall that I could not pronounce the name I received.

Now experience, through the marvels of technology, and the kindness of Wickwire, Xw’dob’obz’buddahlth.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Ask PT

Today we will inaugurate a new feature at Psycho Toddler called Ask PT. You ask the questions, and I will attempt to answer them. Just email me through my profile.

I'll start us off with the first one:

Dear PT,

Do you think it is a good idea to snap pictures of funny license plates with your cell phone while you are driving in bumper to bumper traffic in bad weather?

Your friend,


Look Tizzy, since you are very obviously not me, I will favor you with a reply. NO. I think it is a VERY bad idea to surreptitiously attempt to photograph other drivers on the road, especially when you are the one behind the wheel.

I could think of a lot of reasons, many of them having to do with the dangers of fiddling with gadgets while you are trying to control a 1.5 ton vehicle in close proximity to other similar or larger sized vehicles.

But the main reason is that you never know when the person you are filming suddenly decides to follow you to your destination and demand to know why you are filming him.

But thanks for the picture!

Friday, February 08, 2008

New York Travelogue

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

Apparently, my ploy to use Fudge as our family’s Bad Travel Karma Magnet is working, since my flight with Moe to La Guardia went without a hitch. We took off on time, landed on time, and even got our luggage. And we had a magnificent view of Manhattan as we circled around from the north for a southern runway approach. We waited approximately 30 seconds on the curb before the Enterprise Shuttle (I believe it was the Galileo 7) picked us up, and we even got our car upgraded to a Chrysler 300.


There Goes the Neighborhood

The first thing I noticed as I pulled up to my mother’s house was the monstrosity being erected next door. I guess I’m not very observant, but my mother tells me that for the 20 or so years that I lived with her in that house, and then for another 20 after I left, she had the same neighbor. I’m not sure how it is that I never realized it was the same person all those years, other than maybe it having something to do with the fact that I can recall only a handful of conversations with her. I have a few snippets here and there. I remember her son and how he had a Pontiac Bonneville. I remember the ambulance coming when her husband died. I remember a new car suddenly appearing in her driveway when, presumably, she remarried. I remember going over there one day when I was a teenager, when she wasn’t feeling well. I remember suddenly seeing her son again on the porch, after 30 years, when she was dying of pancreatic cancer, and of having my 2nd or third conversation with him, the first as an adult.

And since then, she has passed on, the house has been sold, and has gone the way of most of the houses which get sold in my mother’s neighborhood. It was torn down, to be replaced by some gargantuan edifice extending to the sidewalk, obliterating the lawn. Call me old-fashioned, but I always thought that a house that goes up in a neighborhood should look at least a little like the surrounding houses, so that it looks like it belongs there. Fudge would remind me later on that, looking around the block, it’s not so out-of-place anymore.

What really bothers my mom is that the workers show up every morning at 6:30 and start making a racket. She was very happy when I pulled my 300 up in front of her house.

“Good! Now those jerks won’t be able to park there!”

Suburban Legends

After some reheated Benjy’s Pizza, we had an appointment to visit Boba.

From left to right: My mother, Moe, Fudge, Cousin Meyer, Cousin Rosie, and Boba, in Boba’s parlor, where she greets visiting dignitaries and Internet celebrities. Note that in my family we follow the convention of pre-pending the title to the relative’s name, e.g. Uncle Fester or Cousin It. This does not apply to Boba, however, because that is not her real name. She acquired that name from me, as apparently, much like Adam, all creatures in our family were paraded before me as a child to name (see Moish), and I was unable to pronounce “Aunt Paula” and so anointed her “Boba,” and it stuck.

We take that in our family as Urban Legend, or maybe Suburban Legend, much like the famed story of “Moishe's Fish Has Feathers,” or the one about how I use to call soda “clumsy” because whenever Cousin Yossi poured soda, he spilled it, causing Boba to yell “CLUMSY!!” Or the story of how apparently I borrowed money from my sister when I was twelve and never paid it back.

“Your sister was like a bank!” Boba exclaimed. “She ALWAYS had money. You,” a dismissive flip of the wrist towards me, “gornisht!”

“Yes, that’s true,” said my mother. “You were always borrowing money from her. And then when she went to collect, you asked for an I.O.U., and she didn’t have one, because you wouldn’t give it to her, so you never paid her.”

“I have no memory of this.”

“Markie! You are losing your mind!”

The Restaurant

Mom: How do you like that! You (gesturing at my sister and brother-in-law) finally get a night away from your kids, and what happens? They sit you at a table next to a bunch of screaming children!

Fudge (mortified): It’s OK, grandma, they really aren’t making much noise.

Mom: (yelling over the shrieking baby) Ha! If your aunt and uncle wanted to eat with a bunch of vilde chayos they could have stayed home!

Sister: Thanks.

Me: I don’t really care. As long as they’re someone else’s kids, they can make noise. It only bothers me when it’s my own kids.

Mom: Your kids! Your kids would never make noise!


Me: Well, not everyone can get a baby sitter. I don’t mind. It’s heimish.

Moe: Heimish, eh? I have to remember to use that word more.

Mom: (to my sister) So, you remember when your brother used to borrow money from you?

Sister: No.

Brother-in-Law: What?

Me: Mommy seems to be under the impression that I borrowed money from your wife.

BIL: When?

Me: Like around 1978. Do you remember this?

Sister: No.

BIL: How much money?

Mom: I don’t know. Five dollars.

Sister: I don’t remember this.

Me: Neither do I.

BIL: Five dollars! In 1978! Did you ever pay it back?

Me: How should I know? I don’t even remember borrowing it.

Mom: He never paid her back. He told her “the Torah says you should be happy with your lot.”

Fudge and Moe: WUAT??

Me: That doesn’t sound like something I’d say…

BIL: Five dollars in 1978? Do you know how much that would be worth today??

Mom: I don’t know. Probably ten dollars.

On the Lasting Impression I left at YU

Monday we drove up to Washington Heights for Moe's interview. During the 5 hours he was doing his thing, I was studiously attempting not to be a helicopter parent. So basically I had...nothing...to do...for several hours. A situation I rarely find myself in these days.

Fortunately, I was able to call on my old college buddy and former roommate to rescue me by doing what we did 20 years ago. Hang around campus making fun of people discussing politics and philosophy.

Here you see us enjoying a meal, or at least maybe waiting for a meal to enjoy, at the place that is not Chopsie's Pizza. After that we went to the library to steal some internet time, and I had my second encounter with the security guard.

The first one was when she eyed me suspiciously as I went through the metal detector. I quickly volunteered that I was a visitor, but an alumnus as well. The latter impressed her not in the least, as she firmly requested some form of photo ID, then begrudgingly allowed me access to the inner sanctum of the backwards building.

This second time, she saw my friend, and said, "You were a student here." We were both taken aback. "I recognize you. You can pass." And just like Brave Sir Lancelot in The Holy Grail, he was waived off to the other side.

It was then I came to realize what little lasting impression my seven years at the uptown campus had left. My ego severely deflated, I spent the rest of the afternoon noticing how unnoticed I was. It seemed that there was no one there who recognized me.


"Excuse me! Hey! Excuse me!"

"Yes?" I replied, as my ex-roommate and I searched for the remains of Heshie's and tried to figure out how Grandma's had morphed from Cookies to Pizza, or even how it was possible for there to be so many Pizza shops on one block.

"I think I recognize you!"

"YOU DO!!!"

"Yes! You're the Psychotoddler!"

Er, thanks for totally freaking out my friend, Brad. I guess I should be happy for what little notoriety I can get.

On the Best Freakin' Chinese Food I've Had Since The Last Time I Ate at Estihana

It was totally worth the 30 minutes I spent circling the block looking for parking.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Snow Day

Well, this is the BIG ONE. The one they'll be talking about for years. "Remember the blizzard of '08?" "Yeah, we got two feet of snow!"

I had to take the day off. I couldn't get to work. Here are some sequential pictures:

11:30 am:

12:30 pm:

6:30 pm:

7:30 pm:

Now you see it:

Now you don't!

I felt pretty bad staying home. It's like I was playing hooky. Well, it didn't matter. The clinic closed anyway and virtually every other business in town shut down too. The kids were home. There were innumerable accidents and at least one fatality by tractor trailer on the highway not far from where I work.

I actually got some stuff done today, aside from shoveling and making hamburgers for dinner. I bought a new bass preamp/direct box/pedal at the suggestion of an excellent Chicago Bass Player and I can't believe how much better I sound/perform with it. I played for 3 hours today, mostly going over Aaron Razel's material for an upcoming show on 2/17.

That is, assuming I'm not buried alive here.