Thursday, January 26, 2006

it will be quiet up here for a bit

We are leaving tonight for Phuket. Not getting back until an hour or two before SB kickoff -- pray to the travel Gods for me and have a great week.

Happy chinese New year.

Jacob school CNY pictures

Eli Pictures from School Chinese New Years celebration

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These kids were co cute. that is eli and claire Moy, his "love" on the bottom.

Yesterday Mr. Li brought some Chinese New year’s gifts for us, including a hanging fish decoration and a string of light up lanterns. He also gave me a pound of coffee beans, in a red package. Everything has to be red.

I took the decoration and hung it up on an available hanger. Mr. Li came out of the kitchen to inspect it and was not satisfied with the placement. He took ti down and walked round looking for a place to hang it. I saw what he was doing and took down a painting in the middle of the living room. He was happy. I put it there, then he came over and adjusted it.

The kids have been really fired up about all of this and Jacob then got busy making his own decorations. The picture here is him standing next to his creation. We were all trying to figure out how to hang the lanterns, with tape. Jacob went to his Darda race track and came back with these brackets. He gave them to Mr. Li, who used them, along with the pathetic Chinese tape to hang the lanterns. Mr. Li was impressed with Jacob’s ingenuity. He pointed at him and his head and said “hen hao hen hao” (very good).

After Ding ayi left, she realized she would not see Mr. Li again before the New years and she ran back in to wish him a happy new year, clasping her hands together under her chin and nodding and bowing.

Today was the school CNY celebration, with the kids dressed in traditional Chinese clothes. It was incredibly cute. I will post pictures next.

Dixie is doing fine

So many people have written, called, emailed, asking about my dad. Thanks for asking. He is doing fine, handling chemo far better than most seem to. He just took a week off his regime because he wanted to be strong for two gigs, including one at the School for the Blind. So he is up to his usual shenanigans. I think the gigs make him feel extra spry too because he is 15-20 years younger than almost everyone in the band.

Special thanks to Special K for the photo.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

About that long train ride...

We have offered to buy Yoo yong a plane tcket after reading this.

BEIJING, China (Reuters) -- Migrant workers in south China are wearing adult diapers on packed trains heading home for the Lunar New Year holiday because they have no access to a toilet, state media said on Tuesday.

About 120 million peasants from China's vast rural areas swarm the cities for work and all try to make it home for the holiday, filling all standing room on trains and making access to the toilet impossible during trips often lasting 24 hours or more.

"During the peak travel period last year, some passengers even became deranged on their journeys because of the conditions and jumped out of the carriages," the China Daily said.

The Lunar New Year, which this year starts on January 29, is the biggest holiday in the Chinese-speaking world and family reunions prompt arguably the biggest movement of humanity on Earth.

Many supermarkets in southern Foshan had reported a 50 percent increase in sales of adult diapers for the train trips, the China Daily said in what some local commentators called the "shame of the nation". It did not mention other cities.

Domestic media said railways in China had transported 3.8 million people alone on Monday, an all-time high.

Here We go!

Thank you to my sister Laura Paul Kessler for sending me this link to the updated "here we Go" video. Even I am somewhat ashamed to say I got chills watching this. It's so pathetic and wonderful all at once, though the gratuitous shot of Carson Palmer's knee snapping is a little much.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Gongxi Facai -- Happy New Year

Chinese New year is getting under way now. The official new year is next week. I’m not sure which day, but it basically goes on to some extent all of this week and next. Next week virtually everything shuts down-- restaurants, grocery stores, schools, banks. Traditionally, people go hui jia (home to their village, town, whatever). You are supposed to give your employees an extra month’s salary in a red envelope, so we have been gathering up as much cash as possible. Before we leave for Phuket Thursday night, we need to dispense an awful lot of yuan.

There are just hundreds of millions of people on the move throughout the country. It’s pretty wild. You go out on to the main streets and see people with big suitcases waiting at bus stops and walking up and down the roads. I’m sure many people come to Beijing for the holiday but many more leave because so many people have migrated here. My Chinese teacher told me this morning that there are four-billion people on trains over the next two weeks, since so many people take multiple journeys. I don’t believe that but it gives you a sense of the mass migration going on.

Ding Ayi and Mr. Li are from Beijing so they are not traveling but both said they will be “very busy.” I’m not quite sure what they do, but I guess they have a lot of family around, big dinners, etc. Yoo Ying is from Anhui and she and her daughter are heading down there. Eric R. described Anhui as being “exactly like West Virginia – a really poor backward place for no good reason, close to much more wealthy areas.” It is just West of Shanghai and many, probably most, of the ayis, are from there. Yoo Ying said today that she could not get an express ticket and the trip will take about 20 hours and she probably will not have a seat for most of that. Her husband is staying here. She asked for two instead of one week off so we said sure. It is the only trip home for most people, certainly including her. We will survive with one ayi for a week.

I spoke to her for a while much more in depth than usual than Wang Loashi (my Chinese teacher) as a translator. She said she wasn’t going to go home this year but needs to because her daughter needs to take an exam, which as far as I can understand is what she needs to do to finish high school and go to college. Because she is registered as a citizen of a Anhui not Beijing, she must take it there. That’s why she wants the extra week off; she of course can’t take the exam during the holiday week.

Ding arrived Monday morning with four big red Chinese good luck characters: one for us, one for Mr. Li one for yoo Ying and one for herself. She said it was bad luck not to have one in your home for the New Year. I thought that was sweet. It is now hanging on the door to the playroom so the kids should be covered.

The traditional New Years greeting is “gongxi facai,” which roughly translated means, “congratulations on getting rich.” I think that sheds a lot of light on the true nature of society and the depth of socialist feelings.

Chinese New Year is unmistakable around here. There are red lanterns hanging everywhere. The compound looks quite beautiful. I have tried to capture that in pictures but so far failed. Christmas was just over the top tacky. This decorating really looks quite nice. There are also fireworks stands popping up all over the place near here. And, boy, do they like their fireworks. They started going off regularly last week and there are more and more every day.

Nothing is set off in the compound as far as I can tell, but there is a road right outside the back entrance that divides us from Qang Fa, a mostly Chinese compound. Just past that is the little village I wrote about. That street seems to be some sort of fireworks central. You hear explosions all day but they start going off in earnest around 9:30 pm and continue for a few hours. I can sit here at my desk looking out the window to my left with a great view. These are real fireworks, not just big firecrackers. Big things that shoot in the air and explode in beautiful colors.

Someone told me that on New Year’s Eve the show on that street is as a good as a 4th of July celebration in most cities and I believe it. And remember this is just people buying and setting off fireworks, not any kind of official display. It has been pretty intense and getting more so every night. It is one reason that a lot of people like to get out of here next week… well that and the fact that there is no school or ayis, many others are gone so playdates are hard and most stores are closed to boot.

The Bus

I came across this storythis story on the Detroit News sports page, which I check regularly to keep up with the Pistons and their amazing runs. It is really odd to me that the camera never found the Bus’ folks until these Playoffs considering how cute they are and that they have supposedly never missed a game. Given his status as a hero in both Detroit and Pittsburgh, Bettis may well be my own personal perfect sports hero. Has anyone stopped to consider that the Bus’ name is JEROME? That’s just funny.

I wish I were funny enough...

To make this up.

Fur lined knickers banned

Fur-lined underwear has been banned in Uzbekistan after authorities deemed it too sexy.

Sales of the furry slips have rocketed in temperatures that have hit the region of below minus 20C.

But the government has now banned the lingerie saying they want to protect citizens from "unbridled fantasies" caused by wearing the soft fabric.

Textile company Collapse, which has been making fur undies for both men and women, have protested the decision from the capital Tashkent, reported online newspaper Ferghana.

Monday, January 23, 2006

The whole story

This is one of my favorite pictures from the Steelers Nation section of the Post Gazette website. It is a youth football team from Georgia, coached by Pittsburgher Army guys on a base. I submitted my Beijing group shot there about an hour ago. Some classic stuff there.

As planned, I put the kids to bed last night, kissed Becky good night and jumped in a cab down to Eric Rosenblum’s apartment, which is at South Chaoyang Park, around the corner from the Goose and Duck Pub. I packed only the essentials in my backpack – change of underwear and socks, toothbrush, contact case and solution and my Bradshaw jersey, which I got in Hoboken way back when. It was a leftover, not a throwback.

I got there close to 11, chatted a bit and we both turned in. He said he’d get me up by 3:45 after we decided that actual kickoff would be 4:06. I awoke and sat bolt upright in bed at exactly 3:30 am. My Steelers internal alarm clock was primed. At exactly 3:45, Eric appeared. I threw my contacts back in – sorry, eyeballs-- pulled my Bradshaw jersey on and out we went. No time to tape our ankles or put on eye black.

We walked into the Goose and Duck at 4:05 as the teams were lining up. We quickly found George Shader, the Squirrel Hill native who posted this ad on That’s that got this whole thing rolling:

Steelers Fans Converge
Ok all you Steelers Fans.. It's time to converge on the Goose and Duck and support the Steelers..
Time: 4:00 am
Date: Monday, Jan, 23rd
Place: The Goose and Duck (Chao Yang Gong Yuan Xi Men)
Let's see if we can gather the faithful together to witness Denver's demise.

We settled into the bar next to him and met Terence Chang, a Chinese American from Albany, NY area who is a longtime Steelers fan. There were about 8-10 Broncos fans there as well. The guy right next to us was nice, cool, good football fan so we were all civil.

A few random Chinese guys and gals were behind us playing pool and drinking heavily, oblivious to the game. We ordered up some coffee and sat down to watch a serious ass beating. You all know what happened, so I’ll just give you some color.

Going in and out of commercial breaks, ESPN International in their infinite wisdom shows “great Wimbeldon moments.” We saw Kurren-Lewis, Lendl-Becker, and some fruity looking doubles guys. After two coffees, Eric and I ordered our first TsingTaos when the Steelers went up 17-3. It was 5:15 am. We almost fell off our stools trying to high five and hug each other a few minutes later when Ike Taylor picked off Plummer and began hammering the final nails into the Broncos coffin.

At halftime, ESPN international showed us, what else?, soccer highlights. No time to revel. Eric played a game of pool with a Broncos fan. I chatted.

The second half got under way and shortly after the Broncos scored to make it 24-10, a Chinese guy pulling a suitcase walked in, approached us and said, very politely, “May I join you? I live in Pittsburgh.”

We made room and pulled up a stool for Mr. Ping An, a native of Xi’an China who lives on Bartlett Street, a block down from Beth Shalom. He is on his way home to see his brother and parents for Chinese New Years and, after being stuck in Tokyo for 30 hours, took a cab straight from the airport to the G-D. That impressed me. He has lived in Pittsburgh for two years and loves it and already considers himself a citizen of Steelers nation. We all thought it was funny that the three Sq. Hill guys live in Beijing and the Chinese guy lives in Squirrel Hill.

When the game ended, we did the requisite hugs and high fives and also bought a round for the bar, including all the mopey Broncos fans, who were bumming they woke up at 3:30 for this. Only one or two took us up on the offer. ESPN immediately went to another great Wimbeldon moment, involving Tracy Austin and Billie Jean King. I don’t think the programmers over there understand the whole football/testosterone thing. This constant tennis on grass stuff every break really brings you down. Someone mentioned that at least Tracy Austin had nice legs and the lone female in the bar, a bummin’ Broncos fan, pointed out that she was about 16 and called us perverts.

Eric invited us all over to his place for pizza so we headed out into the just-brightening morning. As soon as we walked outside, Ping pulled a spanking new Steelers cap out of his pocket and put it on. We had a good time recapping the game and talking Pittsburgh and china. Alas, we will not be able to reassemble for the Super Bowl. Eric, lucky him, will be in Jerusalem for Passover, watching the game in the bosom of the Burgh. He only had to pay $1,000 to rebook all his tickets to stay another day. Small price to pay.

We are leaving for Phuket on Thursday night and coming back on an overnight flight that lands about an hour before kickoff. Keep your fingers crossed for no travel problems. I was en route from Boca and a Mom and Pop visit 10 years ago for the last big game, made it back for the second half.

Now that I've had a few hours to digest it all and read every word I could find online, I am exhausted but elated. I still can't really verbalize why I care so damn much, but I honestly teaedr up reading about Bettis' speech to the team Saturday night and also about the celebrating in the streets of Pittsburgh. I loved the stuff about the police on the South Side high fiving everyone as they kept order. This little vignette from the streets of the Southside really touched me for some reason:

Joyce Morel and Josie Rottolo, both waitresses at Tom's Diner, grabbed pots and wooden ladles as they began their slow jog to the center of the crowd on Carson Street while banging their pots with wide smiles on their faces.

"We are on a mission," said Ms. Morel.

"A mission to the Super Bowl," responded Ms. Rottolo.

I'm not sure why that struck me, but it may be because I have vivid memories of having parades down Guarino Rd. with all the kids marching and banging pots and pans with wooden spoons. We did that to celebrate the Pirates' 1971 World series. Is it a Pittsburgh thing? Commonplace everywhere ? I don't know.

And I also don’t know just what it is about Pittsburgh that inspires such loyalty from the Diaspora but I know that it’s real and I know that the Steelers are the vessel for virtually everyone who loves Pittsburgh to express their feelings. Maybe the city is just so manly that it collectively can not express emotions except through sports, just like our gender. I just reading Esquire that watching a football game with your father is the equivalent of three hugs and five I love yous. Just think of the city of Pittsburgh as your father and you’ll understand.

Mighty Steelers Nation alive and well in Beijing

We are five strong. The few, the proud, the brave... the Steelers Nation of Beijing.

Made it to the Goose and Duck in time for the 4:06 am kick off. Three guys from Squirrel Hill, one guy from upstate New York who loves the Steelers and a late-arriving, right-from-the-airport-pulling-a-suitcase fifth soldier. That would be Mr. Ping An, who is from Xi'An China but lives on Bartlett St. En route home for Chinese New Year, he stopped at the Goose and Duck to see the game, politely asking "May I join you? I live in Pittsburgh." Welcome aboard Ping. A great, great time had at a great, great victory.. full story to come.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Talmudic Steelers conversation, only for the lunatics

Note: this will only appeal to a limited audience. You know who you are.

Old friend Steve Galpern wrote the following from Denver, addressed to many of us in the diaspora.. It prompted lenghthy dialogues, which I present you in a highly edited form, believe it or not.

I was just interviewed by Channel 4 in Pittsburgh, while I was walking outside of ESPN Zone in Downtown Denver, about the upcoming Steelers-Broncos/Broncos Steelers Game (film at 6 p.m. tonight). I realize that most of you will consider this a traitorous act, worse than leaking information about a patriotic campaign to spy on Americans without warrants in order to prove that freedom isn't free or giving the Soviets the secret of the atomic bomb (just call me Julius), but I admitted, finally without shame, on local television in the Tri-State area no-less, that I am ambivalent about this Sunday’s game. There, I said it.

In my defense, before you put out a Pittsburgh Fatwa on me, the black and gold helicopters arrive at my door and throw a giant Terrible Towel over my house, I’ve lived here almost 17 years, more consecutive years than I lived in the Pittsburgh. As I have pointed out many times before, when my grandparents left Bolshevik Russia, they were not expected to root for their ‘home team” during the Berlin airlift or the Cuban missile crisis. Who should Archie root for if Eli places Peyton?

And except for Pittsburgh Todd, all of you have left your birthplaces and decided to live in other parts of the world. Is this undying loyalty to a home team that you have left a guilt reflect ? Have you decided to leave the old country but don’t want to admit it? You make the call.

Now, I would never root against the Pirates. Baseball is sacrosanct. And I couldn’t defile Roberto Clemente’s legacy. But I might be willing to toy with Mean Joe, Franco’s and Roy Gerilla’s.


Michael Drescher replied, from Israel I believe:
Steve --
You are a member of the Pittsburgh Diaspora. Nothing can change this. You can try and assimilate but all you will lose is your dignity. They may smile in your face, that high altitude, hypoxic glassy stare they have, those Denverites (Denverians? Denverlings? nobody knows). But they will never fully accept you. Therefore you must accept yourself.

Go Steelers!!


And I chirped in:

Remember that Galps rooted for ther COWBOYS in the SB while actually living in Pittsburgh. He is close to but not at all perfect.

Got to go.. black and gold helicpter arriving any minute so I can fly
around the world to throw a burlap sack over that redhead and whisk him off for a good beatdown. Meet at Big Jim's at noon tomorrow and bring the biggest, meanest hunkie you know.

-Beijing Fats

Then Steve came back with this:

From reports from the Galpern homestead in the old country, I was on the 6 o'clock news last night, but my 10 seconds of fame was "spun" by the biased local media. Apparently, either the reporter or anchor followed my comments about divided loyalties by proclaiming that even people in Denver were rooting for the Steelers. I plan on reporting this twisting of the facts to the O'Reilly Factor and Rupert Murdoch. On the flip side, the Rocky Mountain News included a nasty anti-Pittsburgh column this morning, so maybe it's even.

To paraphrase Pittsburgher Andy Worhol (who also left the city and reportedly rooted for the Giants while he lived in New York), I have 14:50 minutes left to be famous.

In response to everyone's comments, no one exactly provided Solomonic advice to help me solve my problem. Answers ranged from "pick one" to "you're dead to me," both sentiments that I understand, but I am still unsure what to do on Sunday, even as I anticipate the arrival of the helicopters. I do admit that once I rooted against the Steelers in the Super Bowl. This incident continues to be one of the biggest regrets of my life. Like Ted Kennedy and George W., I chalk it up to youthful indiscretion. For once in my life, I rebelled. I never smoked pot (I was so square that no one ever thought to even offer me any), never committed an act of vandalism, never even rode in a car without a seatbelt, but somehow my original sin continues to be remembered. Needless to say, I never rebelled again.

So how do the Pirates' chances look this year.

And I responded:


Your rebellion was far deeper. the rest of us smoked pot, rode without seatbelts, lied to our parents, and maybe even broke some rolling trock bottles against wightman school, thereby making none of it all that rebellious. You, on the other hand, cried when jackie smith dropped the ball in the end zone. True rebellion.

My true solomonic advice is meditate pregame, drink some chamomile tea, and enter the game in a blissed zone of neutrality. then follow your heart. it will take you to the right place. and feel free to lie to all of us on Monday morning.

But we were not done yet, for Rabbi David Osachy weighed in from the Deep south.

I'm a little late to the conversation, presently recovering from sinus surgery. While they were knifing around my insides last week I asked the surgeon to cut out the Pittsburgh from this rapidly aging boy once and for all. He said he couldn't. It was just too big a part of me.

Like most of y'all (that's Southern for yinz, by the way), I have now lived the majority of my life away from my native shtetl of Squirrel Hill. Unlike a certain Mrs. Wolynn, my own mother once let me ride the 61c all the way across the Monongahela (Scary! Avert you eyes, Todd) and I've never looked back since. Having prematurely "retired" to a comfortable Florida exile, I have finally become all those wonderful, "normal" things I longed to be but never was as a child: middle-class, middle-American and -- alas -- now middle-aged as well.

Yet as I traveled the world over these many years, a curious thing happened: I found rabid Steelers fans in every corner of it. Throngs of people, speaking a gaggle of tongues, who couldn't give you directions from Forbes and Murray to the Manor Theater or produce an adequate translation for the phrase, "Quit jaggin' arahnd wit' dat Jumbo," can tell you nonetheless how many sacks Mean Joe Greene had in 1979 or who was the Jewish tight end back in The Day. The Steelers continue to symbolize something important to the world, something about toughness, teamwork, perservering through years of hardship and adversity to find victory on the other side.

Of course, these good folks didn't grow up in the same neighborhood of "Czarist Russia" that our friend Steve did. Yes, I remember it well -- the Cossacks, the child conscription into the Imperial Army, the veritable weeks of suffering dry and thickly sliced corned beef between the closure of Weinstein's and the re-opening of Polonsky's. Oh, the oppression of life in Squirrel Hill in the olden days! I can see why Steve has become so ambivalent.

And so it is sad to hear that we have lost you, Steve Galpern, for you were once one of our own. You asked for a Solomonic solution to your dilemma. This rabbi hasn't a clue as to what Jeff Solomon would advise. But, as for me, I say: Go, for legions line up to take your place. Farewell to you, my red-headed friend! May you find the right combination of therapy, booze, pills, Jesus and riding in seatbelt-less cars to ease you into your new life as a Broncos fan.

But remember this, too: Our holy tradition teaches, "The gates of repentance are always open." Let's all get ready to welcome Steve back into the Steelers fold after the Broncos get creamed on Sunday.


(Disclaimer: The above message should be taken as an example of why you should never to write to old friends while under the influence of heavy pain medication. :-} )

And I closed it down by saying, in awe:

Rabbi Osachy,

You are the same brilliant lunatic who once unfolded a term paper from his back pocket to hand it in to Dr. apple, an act for which you
gained my undying, eternal respect. thank you for brightening my day in Beijing.

More Steelers news

Please behold this incredible picture of Eva, Talia and Maya Rosen. Now if these beautiful girls can be transformed into black and gold fanatics in a few short years, please imagine my 11-year-old psyche in 1977 as the Steelers began their Super Bowl years. Then you will undestand why I am crashing on Eric Rosenblum's crash Sunday night so I can get up at 3:45 and walk to the Goose and Duck with him in my Terry Bradshaw jersey.

Well that and the fct thtat my editor loved the Steelers column and wants me to go with it win or lose -- lose and the heartbreak goes up on Monday. Win and it goes up on the regular slot thursday before the SB.

Big Art understands:

You're on to something there. Sort of a "clinging to our traditions whilst in an unto foreign land". Reminds me a certain pub in the village where I once met some rowdy Wales and Scotland soccer fans. Expats to be sure. Drunk as skunks, singing their national anthem (do you even know all the words of SSB?) at the top of their lungs. Pride and Nationalism. Gotta Love It. "Here we go...(hmmm,hmmm,hmmmmmm), Here we go (hmmm,hmmm,hmmmmmm), Here we go (hmmm,hmmm,hmmmmmm), Pittsburgh's goin' to the Super Bowl". You can take the boy out of the city, drop him in Ann Arbor for some "lost years"; send him to Florida to ripen up a bit; to the Big Apple to roughen his edges; back to Ann Arbor to domesticate him some; drop him in Maplewood,NJ for some family time; and then roll him into Peking, I mean Beijing...but you can't take the city out of the boy. Grab me an IC would ya', I'm feeling parched!

Friday, January 20, 2006

My third column is up today

If you have a subscription use it. If you don't... let me know.

Wilson Pickett, R.I.P.

One of my favorite singers, "Wicked" Wilson Pickett died yesterday. He sang “Mustang Sally,” “In the Midnight Hour” and many more. It’s also worth digging up a copy of him singing lead on the Falcons’ 1962 “I found A Love,” his first sort-of hit.

I pasted in an AP obit below, but wanted to share one story.

Pickett recorded a scorching version of “Hey Jude” in 1969 featuring Duane Allman as a session guitarist. They just kill it, man, and if you haven’t heard it, you need to check it out. It is on the Duane Allman Anthology and several Pickett's Best Of's and it is downloadable at ITunes. In fact, I just downloaded it because I needed to hear it again after hearing about Wilson’s death and thinking about it and it remains devastating.

Eric Clapton once told me (I only interviewed him once, so that sounds a little pretentious, but still…) that he heard “Hey Jude” on his car radio and pulled over to listen to the guitar player. “I drove home and called Atlantic Records immediately,” he recalled. “I had to know who that was playing guitar and I had to know NOW.”

And that was the inquiry that led Clapton to go see the Allman Brothers Band in Miami Beach while in the studio with Derek and the Dominos and invite them to hang out at the studio and do dope together and jam. And Eric and Duane became “soul brothers immediately,” he told me. And soon they were recording Layla, one of the all-time rock classics, which was completely jumpstarted and made what it was by Duane.

And it all began with Wilson Pickett’s “Hey Jude.” You dig?

So here’s the great story: it was Duane’s idea to do the song, which was current at the time. Pickett had never heard it. The album was being produced by Jerry Wexler, the fast-talking street tough New York Jew behind most of Atlantic’s greatest moments. It was engineered by the late, great Tom Dowd, who told me this story.

Duane turned to Wilson said, “Hey, man, I know what tune we should do – ‘Hey Jude.’”

And Pickett goes, ‘Nah, man. Wexler ain’t gonna let us cut nothing called ‘Hey Jew.’”

R.I.P. Wilson and thanks for the memories.

Associated Press story:

Wilson Pickett, the soul pioneer best known for the fiery hits "Mustang Sally" and "In The Midnight Hour," died of a heart attack Thursday, according to his management company. He was 64.

Chris Tuthill of the management company Talent Source said Pickett had been suffering from health problems for the past year.

"He did his part. It was a great ride, a great trip, I loved him and I'm sure he was well-loved, and I just hope that he's given his props," Michael Wilson Pickett, the fourth of the singer's six children, told WRC-TV in Washington after his death.

A member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Pickett - known as the "Wicked Pickett" - became a star with his soulful hits in the 1960s.

"In the Midnight Hour" made the top 25 on the Billboard pop charts in 1965 and "Mustang Sally" did the same the following year.

Pickett was defined by his raspy voice and passionate delivery. But the Alabama-born picket got his start singing gospel music in church. After moving to Detroit as a teen, he joined the group the Falcons, which scored the hit "I Found a Love" with Pickett on lead vocals in 1962.

He went solo a year later, and would soon find his greatest success. In 1965, he linked with legendary soul producer Jerry Wexler at the equally legendary soul label Stax Records in Memphis, and recorded one of his greatest hits, "In the Midnight Hour," for Atlantic Records. A string of hits followed, including "634-5789," "Funky Broadway" and "Mustang Sally." His sensuous soul was in sharp contrast to the genteel soul songs of his Detroit counterparts at Motown Records.

His Atlantic Records work included a 1969 hit cover of the Beatles' "Hey Jude," with young session man Duane Allman on guitar.

He was elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991, though his last years were marred by ill health and heavy drinking.

You get to vote again -- Steelers Nation column?

Ok, Read this and tell me what you think.. should I get my ass out of bed and get down to this bar at 4 am Monday morning to watch the game with this lunatic to see what happens and whether or not I can get a good end to this column? Or should I watch it somewhat more sanely in my den and find something else to write about?

I’m a diehard Steelers fan. It wasn’t really a choice. I grew up in Pittsburgh in the 70s when rooting for the Steelers was as natural and assumed as walking, breathing, or eating. From September to December and hopefully beyond, you didn’t ask someone what they were doing on Sunday but where, as in “Where you watchin’ the game?”

It’s not all that different today in the Burgh. On a recent holiday visit to my folks, I took my kids to the Carnegie Science center the Monday morning after the Steelers had clinched a playoff spot with a 35-21 victory over the Lions. We felt underdressed as one of the few families in the joint not without a single member wearing something black and gold.

This kind of devotion is way more than surface deep and it doesn’t vanish or even diminish much when you leave town. The Pittsburgh diaspora is a rich one, with outposts of Steelers fanatics dotted all around the globe. There are Steelers bars all over the country and indeed the world. A running list is kept here of such places is maintained on the Pittsburgh Post Gazette website.

If you take a look at, you will see bars in Al Hillah, Iraq, Qepos, Costa Rica, Belfast, Northern Ireland and even Hong Kong. But not, alas, Beijing. A quick Google of “Steelers Beijing” turned up the following classified ad on the That’s Beijing website:

Steelers Fans Converge
Ok all you Steelers Fans.. It's time to converge on the Goose and Duck and support the Steelers..
Time: 4:00 am
Date: Monday, Jan, 23rd
Place: The Goose and Duck (Chao Yang Gong Yuan Xi Men)
Let's see if we can gather the faithful together to witness Denver's demise.

I emailed the poster and cyber-met George Shader, who grew up in my neighborhood before moving to Phoenix in 10th grade. He told me he posted the ad because he was disgusted at being overwhelmed by Patriots fans a year ago in the AFC Championship Game and thought it was time for the Steelers nation to flex its muscles.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Thanks for the feedback

...those who have offered it. To be clear, if I decide to use this for a column, it would be about half as long and not so much about the people I know.

Dixie writes,
Now that you know promoters and a really bad band can do it,how about Dixiedoc and The Pittsburgh Dixieland All Stars? Now that would make a column! Love, Dixie

I've got you covered on a band and a gig at CD jazz Cafe as soon s you get here. No worries. I may have to book myself a gig... "American troubador Fat Al sings all the songs you know and love."

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Important: Cast Your Vote

Let me know if you think the Backstreet Boys story in a greatly edited form, maybe cut in half and with some facts and quotes from the concert guys added in would make a good column. cast your vote soon.

Backstreet Boys Report

I wouldn’t cross the street to see the Backstreet Boys back home. Yet there I was the other night crossing from one end of Beijing to the other, probably passing by about 8 million people in route to see the past-their-prime boy band perform at the Capital Gymnasium, which is on the Western edge of town, right by the zoo.

Why would I do such a thing? First off, I was curious to see a Chinese concert. I hadn’t been to any such large event and I really wanted to see what it was like. On the plane over here, I met susan Brazer, who works for the concert promoter here, an outfit named emma entertainment which seems to have been beaten the big boys to the punch and served them their lunch, including ticketmaster and Clear Channel. I thought I might meet the founder and president Jonathan Krane there. Very curious about that as well.

On the plane, susan told us that stones were playing shanghai on April 8 and more or less invited us. We have to go to that. As Danny the wolverine said, more or less, ”It will be landmark. someone can say ‘I saw the Stones at Altamont’ and you can go, ‘Whatever. I saw them in Shanghai.” Yes. I need to be there, even if my wife makes me pay for tickets, which I may or may not be allergic to actually doing, after 20 years of comps. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. So I wanted to solidify our relationship with these people for a whole bunch of reasons. Not least that I also think their business is a really good story for me to write about sooner or later.

Then the capper was a when I spoke to this dude Alan DeZon and he said he would be there. Alan is an old time concert promo guy from the states, booked the legendary Capitol Theatre in Passaic for years, working with everyone from Henny Youngman and Rodney Dangerfield to the stones, Who, Dead, Allmans, etc. We were introduced by our mutual friend Bert Holman, Allman Brothers Band manager. We spoke a few times when I first arrived and I really liked him. He was heading back to the States for three weeks and we made plans to get together upon his return. Except he never returned. Clear Channel pulled up stakes here and packed it in, at least in concert promotion, at least for now.

Anyhow, Alan is back for a few weeks, exploring some other options and it turns out he is friends with the Backstreet Boys’ road manager and was heading out there. Don’t be surprised. The music biz is a bunch of old pros. It’s like the Klan leader and the Black Panther chit chatting in the Maury Povich green room. Everyone’s got a job to do and they do it.

I hired Mr Lui, our favorite black-car driver to take me over there because it’s a haul and I didn’t want to runt he risk of getting lost. So, of course, he went the wrong direction and took me to a nearby compound Called Capital Paradise instead of Capital Gymnasium. I realized something was off and was trying to explain when at that very moment, I got a phone call from my friend Colin Pine, Yao Ming’s former translator. He was supposed to meet me at the show and was calling to say he couldn’t make it. I didn’t really care and his timing was perfect. I handed the phone over to Mr. Lui, who talked for a while, then turned around and said, “sorry, sorry, sorry.”

He asked me what time the music started, I told him 7:30 and he said, ‘Maybe, maybe. Sorry, sorry.” It was about 6:40. He took off like a bat out of hell. I told him to slow down, it was okay. The last half of the trip was a long crawl through traffic. I called Alan DZ who was in the venue and told him I was on my way but a little late. I asked what it was like in there. “It’s a an arena. You’re a pro, right? You’ll find me.”

I wondered if there would be scalpers or what the scene would be like, questions quickly answered. Just as Mr. Lui said, “we here,” a big, hulking street tough looking dude approached waving around a few fanned tickets. He had the familiar, unmistakable look of a scalper. Mr. Lui asked if he should wait, I said, sure, be back in two hours.. that’s worth an extra 100 kuai (12 bucks) for sure. I got out and was immediately bumrushed by scalpers. I learned later that night that they are called ticket bulls and apparently they sell for below face value (though very curous, I don’t know what they cost the other night because my comps had 0.00 on them.) How do so many tickets exist for, apparently, every major event? Part of the cost of doing business here is providing upward of 1,000 tickets to party members and such. Needless to say, they don’t all attend and many of the tickets end up being sold by the bulls.

I pushed my way through all the ticket bulls as well the people hawking everything from posters and T shirts to blinoculars, glow sticks and various other light up objects. Actually, I stopped and bought two pairs of ‘nocs for Jacob and eli. They were only 10 kuai each. The lady turned down my offer of my extra ticket for both of them, which gives you some idea of their value. I pushed through a large crowd of people, entered a gate which was clearly meant for ticket owners only to enter though no one checked and walked unimpeded towards the steps up to the gym. A guy clearly looking for a ticket came by, thrust 10 kuai in my hands and took my ticket, which I would have given him. Last thing I wanted was to be seen selling a free ticket.

I went up the steps and through the front door, passing through a metal detector and past a bunch of security guards as well as college-student-looking ushers. (Peking U is right around the bend,.) Outside, beyond the gate it was alike a circus. Inside the hallway it was like a high school play. You had the 50s era instituional hallway with the worn linoleum and tired paint, and bored looking vendors selling popcorn, hot dogs and Coke as well as binoculars and other doo dads.

I called Alan DZ and Susan answered his phone and said, “I’m with your buddy. Come find us. Go to the floor and stay right.” Uh Ok. I walked into the arena and was greeted not by ushers but by uniformed police. In fact, I think they were soldiers. I flashed a ticket and hung a right, walking across the top of the lower section to he edge of occupied seats (the back of the arena, behind the stage, was empty.) a large digital clock in the back of the arena directly in the sight line of the stage counted down the minutes they were on stage, maybe to make sure they got their guaranteed 90-minutes of entertainment.

I was standing in a straight line up from the edge of the stage. It took me a minute to realize that it was the Backstreet Boys on stage. It felt so low energy and talent show-y. This wasn’t really a reflection of the band, who w re professional and proficient, with a solid five-piece backing band composed solely of young black men. It was just the whole vibe of the place. The crowd was so well behaved. Everyone was seated, many waving glow sticks as they swayed to the music. The floor was really wild. It had maybe 25 percent as many seats as it would at home. The back half was empty and there huge aisles down the middle and around the side. But the real trip was the front, where a good 40-50 feet of empty gym floor extended out from the stage to the first row of seats. About halfway down that distance there was a red rope running all the way across and squaring off around the stages, giving a solid 25-foot cushion around the stage no matter what else happened. Ushers and police were at each corner of each of the four or six seating sections. Really weird scene.

I took this all in for a bit, then started walking around checking out the crowd and searching for a way to get to the floor. I didn’t see any. The entrance seemed to be a large doorway at the very back. But how do I get there? I walk back tot the hallway and circled as far to the back as I could go, then entered. The more I walked around out there, the more apparent it became that I was in a 50s Red Chinese gym. Anyhow, I went back in but was still in the seated area. I scooted through rows, angling to the right.

I was now just a few feet off the floor, but still behind a railing. I saw that it wasn’t going to open up so I walked up and just hopped over the railing. An usher (not uniformed cop or soldier, thank god) came up a nd said something. I jabbered meaninglessly and waved my phone around, hoping to indicate I was an important person trying to reach someone on the phone. He was a little puzzled and just sort of did nothing. I actually tried to call Alan, no luck, then just held the phone there for a moment and he lost interest in me and went back to his seat in front of me. I circled around the back, cut through the center aisle and headed right over to the little backstage area, which was actually front stage, walking right by the guy who was supposed to be checking passes.

As soon as I walked in Susan and her fur coat saw me and ran over to say hi. She introduced me to a few people, then I set off in search of Alan. I found him in a back hallway and we sat down on some road crates and began chatting. He explained a lot to me about the concert business in china, which was really interesting and I will go into at length somewhere down the road, hopefully in a more, ahem, professional setting. Jonathan krane came over and sat down and someone fetched a couple of Tsingtaos from somewhere and we had a nice chat. Again, I hope to speak to him soon or a story for someone, so I’ll save the details for then.

After a while, we walked back out to actually check out the band for a while. They are really bad. I mean, they’re very good at what they do, but what they do is really bad. I mean, I know it’s not the right thing to say in the Brokeback Mountain era, but they’re just so gay. Even when they were at their peak six years ago or whatever, I couldn’t quite get their teeny bop idol ness. I mean, they had facial hair and looked sort of creepy and… old. They were no Leif Garrets. And now, there can be no doubt that these are the backstreet men. I kept thinking of Krusty the Clown sitting in his dressing room smoking a cigarette and unhooking his girdle. I should say that Susan said she went out to Peking Duck House with them the night before and they were all really nice. And friendly and down to earth. So give them that.

Be that as it may, it was pretty painful when they came out for their encore and id some sort of pseudo rap thing, evengoing into the old “Put Your Arms in the air and wave them like you just don’t care” schtick. That was exciting when I saw Kurtis Blow do it at the Stanley theatre in 1983, but now it only plays in Asia. Which is why the BB’s career is DOA in the States but they are out here humping it through Shanghai, Singapore, Bangkok…

When they came out for that encore, a huge group of people in the second floor section suddenly got up out of their seat and ran forward to the red rope. I don’t know what prompted it. Did the ushers or cops say they could? Did one person go and everyone follow? Is it common practice in china that you can run closer for the last song? No one else moved that I noticed.

Concert over, people filed out in a nice, orderly manner. Back on the street, it was pandemonium again outside the gate, with many aggressive vendors selling T shirts and posters. I called Mr Lui and found him quickly. The ride home only took about 25 minutes in the traffic less night.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

My head hurts

Ow. My head hurts. I just finished my first Chinese lesson in a month or so. It was depressing how much I forgot but actually kind of encouraging how much I remembered (which is anything at all). It was only my second class solo, since Tom, my old partner in crime, left. The first one was unbearably depressing, thinking about why he wasn’t here. This time wasn’t as bad on that front as I have processed it all a bit more now. But it was still sad. And much harder! We do two-hour lessons. It didn’t seem that long with tom. The three of us had fun.

But solo.. .man, that’s a long time. By the end, I was forgetting things I knew five minutes prior and felt like crying or screaming, or throwing something breakable against the wall.

Becky was still here when Wang laoshi arrived and she came over to say hi and chatted a bit in Chinese. I am proud of her. She’s really moving along and I predict that she will be speaking passable survival Chinese in the next couple of months. I’m not so sure about myself, though I did make sure to learn how to say, “I would like meat pancakes and fried noodles please.” Of course, if I really remember that I won’t have anything to write about up here and in my columns, but I’ll figure something out.

Lost in space

I wrote a great post about the Backstreet Boys concert last night but Jacob ran up here after school, eager to get on cartoon and somehow managed to close down everything I was working on, losing that and some other stuff. Ugh. I will try to pull it back together tonight or tomorrow as it could well be column 4. But I am really frustrated.

I will say this, it involved comparing the Backstreet Boys to Krusty the clown.

The Dead at the Playboy Mansion

Check out this video, which I saw courtesy of Norm Bradford. Pretty classic Hefner/Garcia footage, probably circa 1969. The guys in the band are dressed like cartoon hippies from Dragnet. Thanks Norm!

If the link isn't working, cut and paste this if you're interested.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Here We Go

I missed the game but I am still allowed to revel.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Eli and Jackson sitting in a tree...

It was really wonderful how we all reconnected with ease to so many people on our trip.

It was very nice to watch the kids have so much fun with: Gabie, Nathaniel, Sam and Eli G, Jackson, the Meras, Jack and Ben Goldberg, all the Profacis, all the Kessler, Paul and Langwald cousins, Jun, Luke and the rest.

Unfortunately, we barely took our camera out on our trip. Fortunately, Rick and Jocelyne took this wonderful picture of Jackson and Eli saying good bye. Everyone should have a friend like this.

Hug your kids

Another tragic tale of a young parent lost too soon is here.

This guy was friend of Judy and Steve Burns in Ann Arbor and Judy sent me the link. It moved me, so I thought I'd share it with you all. All I can say is hug your loved ones and appreciate every day to the best of your ability.

On a brighter note, I spoke to Tom today and things are looking at least somewhat up for Kathy. She is out of the hospital and they were able to move from Seattle to Portland, where her parents and three sisters are. They are at her folks' house, surrounded and supported by family, kids swept away with cousins.

She is up and about and feeling better, though still weak and battling a lung infection. On Tuesday she is having some scans which will reveal how successful the radiation treatments were. Like dixie, she is an active person struggling with all the sitting around necessitated, but that has to be a good sign. Tom sounds good and is feeling a lot more optimistic so I am going to do the same.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Jet lag continues

Day two… Anna woke up at 2:30 this morning, which means we got an extra hour or two of sleep, I guess. She came in bed and we put on Caillou on the portable DVD player. How did people survive without those things? Jacob joined her by 3 and Eli by 3:30. They all watched Dvds for a while. Becky went up and slept in Anna’s bed.

By 4 or 4:30, Eli and Jacob were fighting over the computer. By 5, I was on y third cup of coffee and was back working on the castle. By 5:30 Jacob had completed a giant Darda car track, using the couch as a launching pad, which brought back great memories of me and bro David making elaborate Hot Wheels tracks in the basement of 5450 Guarino Rd, using the piano bench as a starting ramp.

By 6 or 6:30, I had woken Rebecca up and handed over the reigns so I should get back in bed and rest if not sleep for an hour. By 8, Jacob was out the door to school and Eli was flopping all over the floor screaming that he wouldn’t go to school. He eventually said that he was trying to be late because he hated doing workbooks, which is how they start their day. You hav to love the lack of guile.

He went totally boneless and refused to go to school, so I carried him over my shoulder and buckled him into the car and drove to school, only the second time I’ve driven. I just didn’t see any way to get him there on a bike. I arrived to find several of his classmates in similar straits. Rough week here, with a schoolful of jet lagged kids. And after three weeks, we have a week off for Chinese New years.

Meanwhile, the sky was eerie this morning as all this went down. It was grey and gloomy, almost purple and perpetual dawn-like. And with the thick haze of coal-fired pollution hanging in the air, the word that came to mind was purple haze. It was really quite eerie. I came home to change and headed back out to the gym to find it snowing. We eventually got maybe an inch of snow and when I picked the kids up, everyone was thrilled.. lots of snowball fights going on, kids sliding everywhere, laughing, crying out.

Both boys went to friends’ houses for playdates, which are perfect for keeping them up a while. Anna, meanwhile, somehow didn’t nap, though she generally does every day. We should have given ding explicit instructions but it didn’t seem necessary. She conked out at 5 pm. We tried to wake her around 6:30 to no avail. It is now 7:48 and I figure I have five hours before she wakes up so I need to head up.

Jacob fell asleep on the coach at about 7 and eli had a nice dinner with us, ate a ton, talked, laughed, was in great spirits, then fell asleep right in his chair. I carried both of them up to bed.

Meanwhile, Becky is very busy at work and the Dow Jones general counsel arrived here tonight with a Deputy Managing Editor. They are here to do a seminar with the office tomorrow. So we’ll be running them around a bit this weekend. Must sleep, must sleep…

Before I go crash – third straight night in bed before 8:30 – one more funny thing. I am going to see the Backstreet Boys Monday night. We met a woman on the plane over who works for a promoter here. You can really do some great sourcing just on these plane rides, since they are filled with people coming over to do all kinds of business. She also invited us to se the stones in Shanghai in April. I just thought that the Backstreet Boys in Beijing was too good to pass up. May even be a column in there.

Good night.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Getting back in the groove

I used to think that jet lag was bullshit. I always believe din getting on a plane, setting my watch to the time in the destination city and that was that. I had no patience for people (my mom, Becky…) saying, “It’s midnight in New Jersey!” But that was before I was up at 3:30 am sipping coffee and trying to put together a million piece Play Mobile castle with three kids crawling all over me. Brutal, man. Just brutal.

Jacob woke up at 12:30 this morning -- as in a half hour after midnight -- and never really went back to sleep. He has been at school since 8:30 and I am picking him up in 45 minutes. It will be interesting to see what kind of shape he is in. I am trying to figure out how to keep him up until at least 7 pm.

He came into our bed at 12:30 and flip flopped around for about an hour until I threw in the towel and realized he wasn’t going back to sleep. I set him up on a computer, then put a Dvd in. Eventually I heard Eli out in the hall talking to him. I stayed in bed, half asleep for a while longer, then I eventually heard Anna out there aa well. I dragged myself out and Jacob was alone. I asked him where Anna was.

“Upstairs, “ he said, not taking his eyes off the computer screen, where he was slaying aliens. “eli’s taking care of her.”

I nodded and got back in bed. Then I realized how insane that was and dragged myself upstairs. They were playing happily. Eli was pleased to see me and asked me to start putting together the castle, which we bought at Randall’s in Pittsburgh. For some reason, I started to do so, before realizing that it was not yet 4 in the damn morning and if I was up, I better get some coffee STAT. Thank God for those six pounds of Peets I brought back. I brewed up a pot of Guatemala and dug in for the duration. I let Becky sleep through all of this because I figured that I could always nap mid-afternoon (though I didn’t) while she would have to slog right into the muck (which she did).

No problem getting everyon e off to school, though Eli did make some half-hearted “I don’t want to go” fussing. But we all got out to our bikes – which were covered after three inactive weeks in a disgusting film of grime, despite being undercover in a carport and made our way off to school.

I’ll be honest. The flight was, at times, brutal. There is no other way to describe the feeling of having anna and eli awake whil emost of the plane snoozes and out of sound options to entertain them, only to realize that you are seven hours in, with almost as much time left until touchdown. At one point, I felt like I might unscrew eli’s head from his body. Not a good feeling. Somehow or another, he finally fell asleep for most of the last four hours. Anna miraculously, unbelievably, only slept an hour at the very beginning and then was up, like a bright-eyed bushy tailed Energizer bunny. She finally started playing with Lemuel, a three-year-old chinese boy on his way with his mother and baby sister from Raleigh, NC to Szechuan for Chinese New year’s. They occupied each other for a couple of hours, with my assistance. I walked them all over the plane and played some games with them. His mother was eternally grateful.

We made it here finally and breezed through customs, then gathered up our prodigious luggage collection. Each of our bags had a baby on our trip. We left with four or five bags and returned with nine. We probably had more possessions on that flight than an average Chinese family owns. A lot of Chanukah presents, as well as various and sundrie purchases, from a coffee maker to a new comforter for Jacob. We won’t be back for six or seven months so it seemed prudent to stock up.

Mr. Dou was there, and he took Becky, Eli and Anna and maybe a third of our bags, while Jacob and I took the rest and got a cab. We got a tough-as-nails looking female cabbie who looked over our overflowing cart and demanded 200 quai. (Meter would be about 40-50). I negotiated her down to 100, we filled the trunk and back seat, with Jacob squeezing in there, aside the leaning tower of luggage. I got in the front seat, figuring this was all a good reintroduction to life in China. She drove like a bat out of hell, passing on the right shoulder on the expressway, bobbing and weaving.

Everything looked grayer and dustier, but pretty good. I have to say it felt pretty good to be on that crazy assed Jing Shun Lu road that runs outside our compound. Everyone was happy to be back home, and no one complained or cried, or spoke about anyone or anything or anyplace they had visited in a longing way, despite having had a great time. That’s all good.

Now we just have to get through these next few days, stay up to a relatively reasonable hour, get some sleep and get back on our feet. I got through today pretty well with the help of Peets coffee and some Allman Brothers Fillmore East and Albert King Fillmore West cranking through my headphones. Sometimes I forget the power of music. Then I remember…

Monday, January 09, 2006

Getting ready to head back

Well, we are completely exhausted but feeling good as we prepare to head back to Beijing in the morning.

We had a great trip, saw a lot of friends and families, had some good meetings, did a bunch of work, etc. It's not exactly relaxing and I'm not sure I would use the word vacation, but it was a very good visit. Beckly just said, "Oh, I have to call my mtoiher back." It's almost 11 pm and we just got Anna and Eli to sleep. That "Oh sh-t, I have to call x back" has been a bit of a constant feeling the last few weeks. So, Steve and Leah I'm sorry I didn't call you back. I was too tired, it was too late -- and Becky had to call her mother back.

I actually have more time to talk on the phone from Beijing anyhow.

I am excited to get back, really. Almost as soon as we landed here it felt like we never left. That was a really nice feeling and I'm glad that Maplewood looked so sweet -- you never know when you quit looking at something familiar how it will appear upon further review -- but it was a little disjointing. After all these months of building normalcy and feeling at home so far away, it seemed distant, impossible, a dream. I think it will be good for all of us to get back and resettle into life.. at least until it's time to go to thailand in a few weeks for Chinese New year.