Sunday, August 30, 2015

Who needs this August?

What a screwy August this is.

This month, which is about to expire, has five Saturdays, five Sundays and five Mondays in it.

The Chinese actually have a name for it — Silver Pockets Full.

It's supposed to be such a rare collection of days (a month of Sundays?) that the odds of that reoccurring are said to be once in every 823 years.

Wow, I gullibly thought to myself. Once in 823 years. I'm lucky to be alive to see this. Incredible. It'll be almost a 1,000 years before anyone sees this again.

Wrong. It's misinformation. A myth. Just look ahead to this coming October, which has five Thursdays, five Fridays and five Saturdays in it. Suddenly, it's not such a big deal. In fact, a quick Internet search tells me that the first three weekdays of any 31-day month are repeated five times within that month.

So, once in 823 years? It's more like once in 823 hours. Sheesh. I suspect my pockets are full of something else, and it's not silver.

But that's not all.

The other day my wife came home from work telling me she heard there was going to be a double moon that night.

"Now that's impossible," I thought, less gullibly this time.

"Unless," I said to myself, more gullibly again, "there's some weird atmospheric condition that I don't know about that somehow causes the moon to reflect itself in the evening sky."

I bet that happens once every 823 years.

Anyway, another quick look on the Internet told me the double moon hoax has been floating around social media for about as long as there's been social media.

The whole premise of the double moon thing took root back in 2003 — before Facebook —when the planet Mars actually came within 35 million miles of Earth. I vaguely remember that. You could almost feel the breeze as Mars whistled by. At the time, it was the closest approach to Earth by Mars in 60,000 years and, consequently, Mars appeared six times bigger and 85 times brighter to our eyes than it normally does.

Six times bigger than normal would take Mars from the size of a pinhead to perhaps the size of a small nailhead to our earthbound vision, but no matter. We were in for a treat.


Really, can you imagine what would happen if Mars suddenly showed up one night the size of our moon? The gravitational violence alone would no doubt turn us all into asteroids.

I don't know. Maybe it's the heat. But I'm ready to get out of August and into a more stable month, like October. And Halloween.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Review: The Blue Eyed Bettys

I'm a little bit beside myself.

Kim and I went to see The Blue Eyed Bettys perform a private concert at Winfield Farm in rural Pfafftown Sunday evening. The Bettys are a harmony driven Americana trio, based in New York City, that features Ben Mackel on vocals and guitar, Daniel Emond on vocals and banjo, and Sarah Hund on vocals and fiddle. They all have blue eyes. Another thing they have in common is that none of them are named Betty.

Kim and I had heard them before, for the first time, about a year ago, when they opened for Underhill Rose, another well-polished Americana trio, at the Lee Street Theater in Salisbury. Usually, I'm ambivalent about opening acts. I want them to play their three songs, bow politely, and then get the hell off the stage because I paid good money to listen to the other guys.

But we were dumbfounded by what we heard from The Bettys that night. Tight harmonies. Crisp musicianship. Theater-like stage presence. Holy cow. Who are these people?

When they came to Foothills Brewing in Winston-Salem a few months after that, we jumped at the chance to hear them again. Foothills isn't the best listening room around, but The Bettys clearly overcame that obstacle with another stunning performance. And this time, we got a little chat time with them between sets. I can tell you now, they are really nice people.

Then came this past Sunday. I don't know if it was the chirping crickets, the late summer heat, the half-moon in the cloudy sky, the camaraderie of the 200 or so who showed up to sit under crab apple trees, or what. But everything came together perfectly. The Bettys were brilliant and they evidently enjoyed themselves, sharing a joy that seeped unabated from the homemade stage and into the audience.

Now here's why I'm beside myself:

All three musicians were initially stage actors. Ben graduated with a degree in theater from Catawba College, where he first learned to play guitar (he later became a resident actor at the Barter Theatre in Abingdon, VA, for eight years); Daniel graduated from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts with a BFA in acting and where he learned to play five-string banjo; and Sarah graduated from St. Louis University, summa cum laude, with a degree in theater and music. She has a résumé of theater credits longer than her fiddle bow.

All three have powerful voices. Daniel describes himself as a "Bari/tenor", and Ben has similar range as well. Then there's Sarah: she can be a throaty Janis Joplin on one tune and an operatic Celine Dion on another. More amazingly, theirs are voices that blend naturally, like a delicious vocal tiramisu.

More astounding, they've only been together since December of 2013. Less than two years. When they don't spend time performing as Bettys, they're acting in theater productions. So right now, being a Betty isn't even a fulltime gig. It's perhaps more like an ongoing experiment. A work in progress.

G'wan. Get out of town.

Serendipity strikes without warning. They met by chance as cast members of a stage production ("Poems, Prayers and Promises"), and left as a nifty little three-piece band. Wow.

 "We were all in a play together at the Florida Studio Theatre in Sarasota," said Sarah in response to my email questions for her. "We spent a lot of time hanging out together after our performances, and eventually we started jamming and making music together (in about March of 2014).

"We tried out our songs at a few open mic nights in Sarasota, and we were very encouraged by the response," added Sarah, who first picked up a violin when she was 10. "When our play closed, we decided to try to play some gigs as The Bettys on our way back to New York, and it eventually turned into a tour of sorts. It went so well, that we decided to tour again. And now we just can't stop!"

Soooo, when do they rehearse? Those terrific harmonies, after all, aren't an accident.

"These days, we fit practice in when we can — oftentimes in the car on a long drive," wrote Sarah. "If we have a few days in the same city, we'll set up rehearsal time to write or learn new songs. When we were starting out, we spent a lot of time together making music.

"I suppose that is when our sound really came together. It's tough for us sometimes, because our acting jobs take us to so many different places, so we are not in the same city as often as we would like."

And that's another thing: although they do great covers (Sarah's soulful vocals on "Landslide" are heartrending), they also write their own stuff (credited collectively as The Blue Eyed Bettys). "Free" is perhaps as truthful — and as humorous — as a tune can be about life on the road with your bandmates. Indeed, much of their original work will make you smile with their sometimes mischievous — and clever — lyrics.

So just where are The Bettys headed? Are the members actors, or are they musical performers?

"I'd say that acting is more of a profession than an interest for us," said Sarah. "This past year, we've taken advantage of the short periods that all three of us are between acting jobs by writing, playing shows, and touring together.

"Make your own work, as they say!

"It would be difficult to choose between acting and music because they are both such a huge part of me," said Sarah. "But if The Bettys did start to make it big, I suppose I could put aside acting for a while. For the time being, we are doing our best to balance The Bettys with our acting careers."

If you ever get an opportunity to see The Blue Eyed Bettys, don't let it pass. Otherwise you might be beside yourself with regret, knowing that they're more fun than a phalanx of fiddles or a barrel of banjos.

(The Blue Eyed Bettys recently released their first EP — financed through Kickstarter and self-titled, featuring seven original tracks — that is available on iTunes, Amazon and Spotify.)

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Wehrle luck

There's a standing joke between several of my sports writing colleagues and myself that whenever I appear somewhere to cover a game, it's time for them to run for their lives.

They don't want anything to do with Wehrle luck.

Wha...? What's that?

It's when I'm at a game, and for no reason at all, it goes into overtime. Or extra innings. Or it goes into extra innings, and then it rains. Or it's raining and lightning before the game even begins, causing a two-hour delay before the game is finally postponed.

It's the kind of luck that extends your time in the stadium or arena longer than it normally should. For people working on a deadline, it's very frustrating.

You get the idea. Wehrle luck. It feels like it's happened more often than the odds might suggest — especially the games that go into overtime — that "Wehrle luck" is now a proper (or maybe an improper) noun among my colleagues.

Every now and then I wonder why this dark cloud should follow me around.

Then I got an email from my brother, Scott, who is kind of the family genealogist. Scott has done a wonderful job tracing our Civil War ancestors, pointing out to me there were more connective bloodlines in that conflict than I ever imagined.

Then he sent this email a few days ago after he investigated a few leads in (Huh? I worked 30 years at a newspaper. How come I never heard of before?). Scott started off relating the familiar tale of our great grandfather, William, who was electrocuted and died while working for Pennsylvania Power and Light. That's family lore. Also, logically, maybe that's where Wehrle (bad) luck began.

But nooooo.

William's father, Francis (or Franz) died at the age of 53 when, according to Scott's email, he fell from a trolley pole in 1893. This is precisely why I don't mess with anything that requires the use of electricity.

On top of that, Franz' brother, Frank was hit by a train somewhere in Clinton County, PA. Hit by a train? Yikes. That's some pretty bad Wehrle luck right there. Kind of makes me wonder what happened. Was he trying to race his buckboard over the railroad crossing — and just mistimed it? I have no clue.

But it goes on.

Franz was rather prolific before his death, spawning sons Francis Joseph (who was a justice of the peace and a choirmaster), William (who was electrocuted), John, Edward, Frank (named for his train-racing uncle, I guess), Charles and Emil.

Scott points out that Emil and Francis Joseph both died in their 40s because of tuberculosis.

Emil was already a marked man. When he was a teenager, he lost his right leg when he jumped off a trolley to avoid paying the fare — and was run over by another oncoming trolley.

If this wasn't so sad, it would be funny. A Max Sennett comedy, maybe. I'm still trying to figure out why these boys keep getting run over by trains and trolleys. Maybe the smart gene hadn't found its way into the lineage just yet. Maybe we're still waiting.

Anyway, John, Edward and Charles, it turns out, lived long lives, although Charles was a "troublemaker" and worked at a bar in the hotel his mother owned.

I guess I shouldn't feel too bad about my own brand of Wehrle luck, given some of the things my forebears have gone through. What's a few extra innings anyway compared to jumping in front of a trolley?

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Happy ending...finally

When we finally sold our 1966 Wimbledon White convertible Mustang back in February, and collected our check, we pretty much thought that was the end of the story (see here).

Kim and I were excited because we found out the car was bought by a person in Maidstone, Kent, England. Cool.

Happy ending, right?

Not even close.

About a week or two later, Ellen Kelly, the office manager from Streetside Classics in Charlotte (where we had taken the car for consignment) called to give me a heads up.

"There's a bit of a problem with the VIN (vehicle identification number) on the title," she said. "There's nothing you have to worry about. I'm trying to straighten out the paperwork with the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles), and it's possible they might accidentally send the correction to your house instead of to us.

"I'm calling just in case it comes to you, could you please forward it to us?"

Sure, no problem. She went on to tell me there was some kind of typo in the VIN on the title. Meanwhile, the car had been relocated to the port for shipping, but because of the paperwork snafu, it was back in Charlotte. Otherwise, Streetside Classics would have to pay for storage.


Anyway, I thanked her for keeping us informed, and thought that was the end of it.

Until she called again, a couple weeks later.

"I'm emailing you a document to sign that gives us power of attorney to represent you," said Ellen. "It's a big hassle. We're still trying to get this straightened out."

Holy smokes. All I could think about was that poor buyer in England who'd already paid for his classic 1966 Mustang more than a month previously and had yet to see his car.

I also got curious about the VIN on the title. Kim, fortunately enough, had taken a picture of the VIN plate on the Mustang. We compared it to the one on the title, and sure enough, there it was: in the middle of the long row of numbers and letters, the correct VIN had three ones — 111 —consecutively listed. The title, meanwhile, only had two of those number ones listed.

Yikes. You mean we had the Mustang for more than 20 years with an incorrect VIN on the title? Thank you, DMV.

I thought that was the end of it, that Ellen had finally taken care of everything.

Until I called her a few days ago.

"Ellen," I said. "I can't stand it anymore. Does this story have a happy ending?"

"It does," she assured me, telling me that the car had been shipped to England in April, a couple of months after it had been purchased. The buyer had been completely understanding about everything. Not sure I would have been.

But calling Ellen gave me a sense of relief, knowing that everything was where it should be: the car was correctly retitled and the new owner was delighted, happily driving his classic Mustang with the top down and on the wrong side of the road.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Water logged

Kim had just finished taking her shower Monday morning. It was about 6:30 a.m. or so.

"Bruce," she said, coming down the stairs, "there's something wrong with our water pressure. There's hardly any water coming out of the shower. Do you think we have a leak?"

For crying out loud, I thought to myself. What am I supposed to do about it?

"Let me check under the house," I said. Checking under the house is one of my favorite things to do, of course. Cobwebs. Dirt. Maybe a snake or two. Who knows? But I got my trusty combination radio/siren/lantern and peeked through the crawl space door.

Nothing. Dry as a bone.

"I don't think it's us," I told her as I came back into the house, dusting myself off. "I'll call the plumber at 8 o'clock."

Calling the plumber is the smartest thing I do whenever we have a water issue. The last thing you want to see is me with a wrench in my hand around a leaky faucet.

I went back to playing on the computer as Kim got ready for work. Then, around 10 minutes to eight, just moments away from dialing the plumber, I checked Facebook and saw this picture:

This is pretty dramatic, isn't it?
Holy smokes, I thought. Lake Thom-A-Lex had just relocated itself in that guy's front yard. You could almost go fishing in his hedges.

Don't guess I need a plumber after all. That was close.

"Kim," I said as she headed out the door. "It's not just us. I think this might be a city problem."

Turned out it was a city problem, big time. The broken main on Hillside Drive apparently nearly emptied the three massive water towers in town. Somewhere around 8,000 customers were affected.

This is the kind of broken water line you might expect to see in Philadelphia or New York. Uh-oh.

But the city's utility people jumped on that thing right away. Amazingly, by mid-afternoon, the main was repaired. When I got home from work later in the day, I tentatively turned on the tap and found we had decent water pressure. In fact, the water was surprisingly clear.

The city did issue advisories to boil the water before drinking it, or else use bottled water. We used bottled water to brush our teeth, although I clearly remember when I was a kid drinking out of ponds and creeks with the crayfish and salamanders. But I also used to dance behind DDT trucks, rode bicycles without a helmet and zoomed down metal sliding boards with a sheet of wax paper under my fanny to make the ride ever faster.

OSHA be damned. It's a wonder I'm still here.

Anyway, the inconvenience continued for another day or so since the water still had to be tested and approved. But we were back in the flow, so to speak, by Wednesday. That's a pretty nice job for a small town, I think.

And think of the stories we can tell about the great geysers of water that ripped through Lexington back in 2015.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Hot stuff

For some reason, I've always had it in my mind that August is generally the hottest month of the year.


Because coming into today, we've already had something close to 40 days in the 90s this year. Basically, we've already had a month of 90s. And it's only August 2.

The air is constantly running in our house, even though the thermostat is hanging by its fingernails on a barely comfortable 75. Consequently, I feel like I'm moving in slow motion, trying to conserve my cool. I guess we all are.

All of which makes me curious about the joggers that painfully trot past my house each day. Jogging is a great way to initiate and maintain weight loss, but I can't see where jogging in the relentless 90-degree heat resembles anything healthy.

But I guess you get acclimated to it.

I used to play golf in weather like this. And I walked the course, too, carrying 30 pounds of clubs, balls, insect repellent, water and scorecards in my bag. At the time, I thought I was doing myself some good. Now, from the view of my air conditioned house, I see how nuts that was.

I'd come home exhausted and drained, and would feel that way for days. Then I'd go play another round of golf.

I'm older and wiser now. I don't jog. I don't play golf when the temperature could reflect the number on my scorecard.

One way I've found to beat the heat is to satisfy my ice cream habit. Yeah, I know. Ice cream likely clogs my arteries and plays havoc with my lactose intolerance, but when it's 90 degrees outside, all that becomes a moot (toot?) point.

It's even too hot to write intelligently. I started this blog post at 7 a.m. today, and look where I am.

Here's the best bet: See you next week.