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SOUNDTRACK: MAJOR HIT-Robert De Niro at the Tony Awards Remix (2018).

Who is Major Hit?  No idea.

Is this remix very good?  Not really.  It’s only a minute or so.

Is it hilarious?  Yes.

Is it satisfying?  Hell Yes.

Will you listen to it more than once?  Probably not.

But will you feel a little bit better about your taxes after hearing this?  Well, probably not.

Actually, it might make you feel a little better.  And you probably find yourself quoting De Niro, too.

 

[READ: April 4, 2019] The Awakening of My Interest in Advanced Tax

Madras Press publishes limited-edition short stories and novella-length booklets and distributes the proceeds to a growing list of non-profit organizations chosen by our authors. For this particular book, proceeds to benefit Proceeds to benefit Granada House.

Originally appearing at the heart of The Pale King, David Foster Wallace’s posthumous semi-novel, this extended monologue brilliantly rambles its way around the circumstances that brought its narrator out of his ‘wastoid’ childhood and into maturity at the IRS. Along the way, he falls under the spell of a fake Jesuit, considers the true meaning of a soap opera station break, and narrowly escapes a gruesome death on the subway.

This is the final Madras Press book that I had left to read.  Since I has already read The Pale King, I was in no hurry to read this one.  But now it’s nice to say that I’ve finished all of the Madras Press books.  And that I could post this just in time for the massive Republican tax scam in which thanks to trump and his evil puppet mcconnell, my tax return dropped over $3,000.  Bastards.   May they all rot in prison.  And then hell.

Interestingly, back when I read this during Pale Summer (2014), this entire section was one week’s reading.  So my post from that week is still relevant.    It is posted almost in its entirety below:

This book is an excerpt from The Pale King.  In the book, it is almost 100 pages of one person’s testimony.  Without the novel for context, this excerpt stands on its own just fine.  It is basically an unnamed person’s introduction.  This narrator is so detail oriented that everything gets the same amount of importance–snowfall, the way to score drugs, the effects of drugs, Christian roommates, his father’s death, his mother’s lesibianism, oh and taxation.

So much of it is “irrelevant,” that I hate to get bogged down in details.  So this is a basic outline of ideas until the more “important” pieces of information surface.

For the most part, this is all inside one man’s head as he talks about his life in college, after college, and into the Service.  Mostly this is simply a wonderful character study, full of neuroses and problems that many people face at some point (to one degree or another).  The interviewee states that “A good bit of it I don’t remember… from what I understand, I’m supposed to explain how I arrived at this career.”

Initially he was something of a nihilist, whose response to everything was “whatever.”  A common name for this kind of nihilist at the time was wastoid.  He drifted in and out of several colleges over the years, taking abstract psychology classes.  He says that his drifting was typical of family dramas in the 1970s–son is feckless, mother sticks up for son, father squeezes sons shoes, etc. They lived in Chicago, his father was a cost systems supervisor for the City of Chicago. Continue Reading »

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SOUNDTRACK: COURTNEY MARIE ANDREWS-Tiny Desk Concert #838 (April 3, 2019).

There is nothing worse than liking an artist and then having another artist with a similar name come along at the same time.

When I first heard of Courtney Marie Andrews, Courtney Barnett was just releasing her latest album.  And so every time I heard the name Courtney, I tuned in to see what Barnett was up to.  When it was followed by Marie Andrews, I was always disappointed.  Especially since I didn’t find this Courtney all that interesting.

Courtney Marie Andrews is part of that incessant tide of country musicians trying to crossover.   Okay technically she’s Americana, but certainly on the country side of Americana.

On the plus side, Courtney has a really powerful voice which is a pretty impressive thing indeed.   But I don’t really care for these three songs all that much.

“May Your Kindness Remain” opens with just keys (Alassane Gregoire Diarra) and her singing.   Even with little accompaniment, her voice is powerful and string.  And the lyrics are interesting:

“And if your money runs out
And your good looks fade
May your kindness remain
Oh, may your kindness remain”

The drums are brushed (William Mapp) and for the most part the song is pretty quiet.  Courtney herself is playing some simple chords and notes.  But as the song (and her voice) build toward the final chorus, she hits a big fuzzy guitar chord which really wakes up the song.

“Rough Around the Edges” opens with piano and bass (Ole Kirkeng) and vocals.  It’s a delicate song that definitely leans more country.

“This House” is dedicated to the best dog who ever lived (it would churlish to mock that the golden retriever is named Tucker–I’m sure it had a red bandanna too).  So yes, dead Tucker is buried near This House and he gets a mention in the lyrics. It’s that kind of song.

[READ: April 3, 2019] “Lulu”

This is a story of twins in China.  The narrator was born first “indignant and squalling,” while Lulu came next –perfectly quiet.  Lulu was precocious, and their parents showed their fondness for that.   She was always reading and easily got honors.  While the narrator… didn’t.  He rebelled against her brilliance by playing lots of video games.

Their parents were workers–their mother in a warehouse, father as a government employee.  They believed in the system and stood fast by it.

When it was time, Lulu scored high enough on exams to earn a place at university.  Their parents were thrilled.  The narrator also went to college, but with far less fanfare.  He says he didn’t really miss her then (he wasn’t old enough to realize it).  Plus Lulu was a huge user of social media.  He was able to find her “anonymous” account pretty easily since he knew so much about her and that’s how he kept tabs on her.

She came to visit when her school was in town for a debate and they had dinner.  They talked mostly about him.  Lulu thought video games were a waste of time but he said “it’s a profession now, you know… you can win big prize money.”

By the end of the night he finally asked Lulu about herself.  She said she was pregnant but would be getting an abortion. The father, Zhangwei, was a good man and they would be staying together: “He’s very noble.” Continue Reading »

SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-Memorial Stadium, St John’s, NL (December 03 1996).

This is the 17th night of the 24 date Canadian Tour opening for The Tragically Hip on their Trouble At The Henhouse Tour. First 4 songs missing.

Even with the first four songs missing, this tidy little 30 minute set is quite enjoyable.

It opens with “Four Little Songs.”  Dave says that Don Kerr on the durms, he invented this beat (a simple snare/bass 4/4).  Then Dave messes up the 4-3-2-1 intro!   But they start over and rip it out.  When it comes to Tim’s part, he says, “Song two if you’re keeping score.  Tim changes the lyrics a bit from

This lady’s shaped like the Tour de France.
A thousand wheels besieged the city of romance.

to

This lady’s shaped like the Tour de France.
A thousand wheels besieged her underpahnts

And after the jaunty “you cant go wrong/you can’t go wrong”, Dave shouts “UNLESS” before Don’s “Huge creatures plowing the streets tonight, right, right. / The mighty puffin sets the sky alight.”

I learned a fascinating thing during this show.  In Canada, the corn dog is called a “Pogo!”  “While you’re picking yourself up a pogo or a root beer you may want to check out the CD with lovely cover art by Martin Tielli as always.”

Up next is “Sweet Rich Beautiful Mine” in which Martin jhits some amazing high notes by the end.  It jumps to “Feed Yourself.”  The end rocks with some great feedbacking.  Tim comments: Way to go Dave.”  Dave replies “Way to go Tim” as they start “Bad Time To Be Poor” which is “for all the green sprouts.”  They thank the Tragically Hip for bringing them to Saint Johns twice.

Then they end the set with “A Mid Winter Night’s Dream.”  It sounds great–Martin’s vocals and guitars, everything is great.  The high notes at the end are wonderful.  And even though at the end, he sings the opening lyric, he catches himself and sings the proper ending.  Great stuff.

[READ: April 2, 2019] Delilah Dirk and the Pillars of Hercules

Boy do I love Delilah Dirk.

These stories are wonderful–fun, fantastical, exciting, witty and historically inaccurate (mostly).

I have totally embraced Cliff’s drawing style.  He has wonderfully subtle, expressions and his command of faces is amazing.  I absolutely love his amusing “action” words when one of the characters does something: “Skid,” “Grab,” “Hoist,” “Scramble.”

But like with the first two books, it’s the story that is really wonderful.

This book opens in 1812.  Delilah Dirk and her companion Erdemoglu Selim are in Turkey waiting to help a ship in Adalia’s harbor.  They are trying to protect the ship from the local tyrant Küçuk.  We see Delilah mingling at Küçuk’s party (and her expressions of distaste are wonderful).

Things do not go as planned, but the end result is the same–success for Delilah and humiliation for the tyrant.  Of course, it’s the not-going-as-planned that makes all the fun. Continue Reading »

SOUNDTRACK: ANDREA CRUZ-Tiny Desk Concert #836 (March 27, 2019).

I was really surprised by the music that Andrea Cruz played, especially when I learned she is from Puerto Rico.  It felt very folk-music, in the way she strummed and the trombone (Jomar Santana) was used more as a solo instrument rather than a dance-accompaniment.  That’s certainly reductive, and yet the blurb backs me up:

It’s important to note that the instrumentation of the band that traveled with her (keyboard, two percussionists and trombone) hardly fits what you’d expect music from the island to sound like these days. But Cruz is part of a movement in Puerto Rico that emphasizes largely acoustic instruments and a folk-based approach to interpreting life before and after the hurricane of 2017. It’s a bold creative statement in a land of reggaeton and salsa.

I was very pleased to see that Cruz’s live performance is very much like the stripped-down sound on her album and the handful of singles she’s released. In fact, I would say her music is a perfect soundtrack to a growing, back-to-nature movement in Puerto Rico that encourages local farming and a careful stewardship of the environment.

Cruz sings three songs, all from her first album, 2017’s Tejido de Laurel.

“No Toquemos Tierra,” opens with a lone trombone and Cruz’ guitar.  I love the delicate keyboard accents from Antony Granados. It looks funny that there are two of them playing the tiny percussion kit, but that changes later.  The way Cruz plays her guitar here I almost expected her to bust out into something like Laura Marling a few times.  The coda at the end is really pretty, too.

The emotion of the lyrics of the first song, “No Toquemos Tierra,” is evident in her angelic voice as she makes a declaration of love for the earth as a metaphor for a lover. The beauty of the song is in her poetic lyrics set to a melody that defies language.

“Santas Flores” is a prayer to the flowers.  I love in the middle that everything drops away except for the percussion and her voice.  I’m very curious how that trombone is so quiet.

“Canción de Amargura” begins with a martial beat from Francisco Marrero but when Ángel Rafael Rivera plays the cuatro venezolano, the mood lightens.  Despite the fact that this is an intense song

there was no mistaking the intense feeling behind her song about femicide on the island in the song, “Canción de Amargura.”

Their voices raised in harmony at the end are really powerful and the way her own voice just soars in the last few seconds is really lovely.

“Contigo” is listed as a fourth song but she doesn’t play it, I don’t think.

[READ: March 31, 2019] “The Match”

This is an excerpt from Whitehead’s not-yet-released book The Nickel Boys, which is set around 1964.

This part is about a boxing match at The Nickel Academy, a reform school for boys.  The main competitor is a black boy named Griff.   He is a miserable bully most of the time and the other boys really hate him.  But if he has the chance to defeat a white boy, they are all for him.

The “colored boys” had held the boxing title for fifteen years.  “Old hands on the staff still remembered the last white champion [Terry (Doc) Burns] and talked him up.”

Griff arrived at Nickel just after the last champ turned eighteen and was released back in to the free world.  Griff pulverized his opponents.  At the end of the school year, they would pit the dorm’s best fighters against each other and then in the finale, the best black fighter fought “whatever chump the white guys put up.”

Obviously, racism is inherent in this system.  Indeed, Trevor Nickel who opened the Academy was a member of the Klan.  During one of the brief asides, Turner, brought Elwood to the two trees in the back.  There were rings embedded in the trees, part of the trunk now: “Human bones would break before it came loose.”  This was where the black boys who disobeyed were brought.  The official word was that they escaped, obviously they did not. Continue Reading »

SOUNDTRACK: ALEJANDRO ESCOVEDO-Tiny Desk Concert #834 (March 20, 2019).

I feel like I’ve been hearing Alejandro Escovedo’s name for years, and yet I know very little about him.

I assumed he was a kind of folkie guy.  So I was pretty surprised by the loud sound he brought to the Tiny Desk.  And even more surprised to read

The musician, who once opened for the Sex Pistols … seemed to appreciate the difference between being pelted with spit and debris by punk rock fans and being showered with loving appreciation in the NPR Music office.

Escovedo came  in a leather jacket and a large band.  And even though I thought they were loud, apparently they intended to be louder.  They even started the show with “one for the money, two for the show, three to get ready and four Go Alejandro!”

Escovedo and his backing band known as Don Antonio set up behind the Tiny Desk, their first sounds were blistering loud. That’s when we broke the news: We wouldn’t amplify Alejandro’s voice. We got a slightly sullen look from the band; but despite the toned-down volume, they were all still amped up.

A little research into Escovedo, though shows that he has, indeed, played folkie/alt-country music.  But that his sound has evolved over the years.

Escovedo pulled the three-song set from The Crossing, the most recent chapter in his ongoing odyssey and a typically hard-rocking, literate saga about two teenagers looking for their American Dream of rock and roll and beat poetry.

“Teenage Luggage” opens kind of quiet with one guitar and quiet drums, but soon enough a sax and keyboards are added, then comes some bass and the second saxophone and the roaring lead guitar.  As Escovedo sing/speaks his story.  Then comes the catchy chorus:

You think you know me, you’ll never know me you’re just a bigot with a bad guitar.

By the end, everyone is rocking out with mini solos from Perinelli on saxophone and a raucous guitar solo from Gramentieri

The close quarters of the Tiny Desk allows for a kind of backstage insight into the musical and visual interplay between Escovedo and the veteran Italian band Don Antonio [Antonio Gramentieri: vocals, guitar; Denis Valentini: bass; Matteo Monti: drums; Nicola Peruch: keyboard; Gianni Perinelli: tenor sax; Franz Valtieri: baritone sax]. Lead guitarist Antonio Gramentieri is the perfect foil for Escovedo, who adds a heavy dose of edginess to the sound with his power strumming.

“Something Blue” is slow with a dominant organ sound (reminiscent of Bob Dylan).  It sounds like an old-school rock song and his delivery sounds more than a little like Warren Zevon.

He says that “Sonica USA” goes out to Don since Wayne Kramer from the MC5 played on this.  It has a great raw rock feel with Escovedo’s punky vocals and the chanted chorus of “Sonica USA.”  The soloing section is great with the two saxophones playing on top of Gramentier’s wailing solo.

It’s a really fun garage rocking set.

[READ: Summer 2018] The Long War

I found the first book in this series rather compelling–almost surprisingly so given that it’s not a fast-paced book and, to be honest, not a lot happens.

But it was really well written and the things that do happen are compelling and fascinating.  And I couldn’t wait to read more.

In the first book:

A man creates an invention (The Stepper) which allows one to step into a parallel world that is next to ours.  There are a possibly infinite numbers of parallel worlds in each direction (East or West).  The worlds that are closer to ours are almost identical to our Earth (known as Datum Earth).  The further you go, the greater the differences.  But none of them have experienced humanity before Step Day (aside from earlier hominids).

The main character is Joshua Valienté.  Joshua is a natural “Stepper.”  He doesn’t need the device to Step from one word to the next, nor does he feel the nausea and other side effects that most people feel as they travel.  Most of the book follows his exploits.

The Black corporate has a ship with an entity known as Lobsang who claims that he was a human reincarnated as artificial intelligence.  Joshua is sure that Lobsang is a computer, but Lobsang’s human skills are uncanny.  This ship has managed to Step as an entity, meaning everything in the ship can go with them.  Normally you can only bring what you can carry (aside from metal).

The novel more or less is an exploratory one with Joshua and Lobsang Stepping through millions of Earths.  Not a lot happens, but the novel never grows boring.  The interactions between Joshua and Lobsang are often funny.  And the writers have infused the Earths that they stop in with just enough differences to make each stop strangely compelling (this must be Baxter’s hard science leanings).

At the end of the book, the anti-steppers attempt a massive, deadly protest.

Continue Reading »

SOUNDTRACK: GRUFF RHYS–American Interior (2013).

Gruff Rhys was (is?) the singer and composer in Super Furry Animals, a fantastic indie-pop band from Wales.   After several years with SFA and several solo albums, Gruff decided to do something a little different.  Actually, everything he does is a little different, as this quote from The Guardian explains:

“The touring musician can feel like the puppet of consumer forces,” he writes, bemoaning the way that “cities have now been renamed ‘markets’ and entire countries downgraded to ‘territories'”. So, over the last five or so years, he has come up with the idea of “investigative touring”: combining the standard one-show-a‑night ritual with creative fieldwork. In 2009, he went to Patagonia to trace the roots of a disgraced relative called Dafydd Jones, and the Welsh diaspora in South America more generally, and played a series of solo concerts, as well as making a film titled Separado!. Now, Rhys has reprised the same approach to tell another story, and poured the results into four creations: an album, another film, an ambitious app, and this book – all titled American Interior, and based on the brief life of John Evans: another far-flung relative of the singer, who left Wales to travel to North America in the early 1790s.

So yes, there’s a film and a book and this CD.  This album is a delightful blend of acoustic and electronic pop and folk.  Rhys’ voice is wonderfully subdued and with his Welsh accent coming in from time to time, it makes everything he sings somehow feel warm and safe (even when it’s not).   Rhys creates songs that sound like they came from the 1970s (but better), but he also explores all kinds of sonic textures–folk songs, rocking songs, dancing song, even songs in Welsh.

“American Exterior” is a 30 second intro with 8-bit sounds and the repeated “American Interior” until the piano and drum-based (from Kliph Scurlock) “American Interior” begins.  It’s a catchy song with the repeated (and harmonized) titular refrain after each line and it’s a great introduction to the vibe of the record.  It’s followed by the super catchy stomping “100 Unread Messages” which just rocks along with a great chorus.  You can see Gruff “composing” the lyrics to this in the book.

“The Whether (Or Not)” introduces some electronic elements to this song.  It’s basically a great pop song with splashes of keys and some cool stabs of acoustic guitar.  “The Last Conquistador” and “The Lost Tribes” are gentler synthy songs, as many of these are.  “Liberty (Is Where We’ll Be)” returns to the acoustic sound with some really beautiful piano.

“Allweddellau Allweddol” (English translation: Key Keyboards) is the only all-Welsh song on the record and it romps and stomps and is as much fun as that title suggests it would be.  There’s even a children’s choir singing on it (maybe?).

“The Swamp” is a simple electronics and drumming pattern which leaps right into “Iolo” one of the most fun songs on the record.  It’s a nod to the Welsh poet who inspired but backed out of Evans’ expedition at the last-minute but also a rollicking good time with the chanted “yoloyoloyoloyolo” and great tribal drums from Kliph.

The end of the album slows things down with “Walk Into the Wilderness” a slow aching ballad and the final two animal-related songs.  “Year of the Dog” is kind of a mellow opus when it is joined by the instrumental coda “Tiger’s Tale.”  Both songs feature goregous pedal steel guitar from Maggie Bjorklund.

Gruff Rhys is an amazing songwriter.  He could write the history of an obscure Welshman and still get great catchy songs out of it.  And that’s exactly what he’s done here.

[READ: December 2018] American Interior

How to explain this book?

I’ll start by saying that I loved it.  I was delighted by Rhys’ experiences and, by the end, I was genuinely disappointed to read that Evans’ trip didn’t pan out (even though I knew it didn’t).  The only compliant I have about the book is that I wish he had given a pronunciation guide for all of the welsh words in there, because I can’t even imagine how you say things like Ieuan Ab Ifan or Gwredog Uchaf or Dafydd Ddu Eryri (which is helpfully translated as Black David of Snowdonia, but not given a pronunciation guide).  But what about the contents?

The subtitle gives a pretty good explanation but barely covers the half of it.

Here’s a summary from The Guardian to whet one’s appetite for Rhys himself and for what he’s on about here:

[John] Evans was a farmhand and weaver from Waunfawr on the edge of Snowdonia, who was in pursuit of something fantastical: a supposed tribe of Welsh-speaking Native Americans said to live at the top of the Missouri river, who were reckoned to owe their existence to the mythical Prince Madog, a native of Gwynedd who folklore claimed had successfully sailed to the New World in 1170. In 1580, this story was hyped up by Elizabeth I’s court mathematician and occultist John Dee (born of Welsh parents), in an attempt to contest the Spanish claim to American territory. Two centuries later, with the opening of new frontiers, talk of a tribe called the Madogwys and “forts deemed to be of Welsh origin” began to swirl anew around Wales and North America, and became tangled up in the revolutionary fervour of the time, along with a radical Welsh spirit partly founded in nonconformist Christianity.

All this was moulded into a proposal made by a self-styled druid named Iolo Morganwg (“a genius”, but “also a fraud of the highest order”, says Rhys), who “called for the Americans, in the light of Madog’s legacy, to present the Welsh with their own tract of land in the new country of the free, so that the Welsh could leave their condemned royalist homeland”. Morganwg stayed put in Cowbridge, near Cardiff (the site of his “radical grocery” shop is now occupied by a branch of Costa Coffee), but Evans was inspired by his visions, and eventually set sail.

Rhys goes on a “journey of verification”, following Evans’s route from Baltimore, through such cities as Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, and then up the Missouri river to the ancestral home of the Mandan tribe of Native Americans, who had been rumoured to be the Welsh-speakers of myth, and among whom Evans lived, in territory argued over by the British and Spanish. Along the way, he does solo performances built around music and a PowerPoint-assisted talk about Evans’s story, keeps appointments with historians, and also tries to glimpse the America that Evans found through the cracks in a landscape of diners, what some people call “campgrounds”, and Native American reservations.

The Guardian’s review also talks about why the book works: Continue Reading »

SOUNDTRACKRHEOSTATICS-Corel Centre, Ottawa, ON (November 29, 1996).

This is the 15th night of the 24 date Canadian Tour opening for The Tragically Hip on their Trouble At The Henhouse Tour.  The site has recently added a DAT version of the show in conjunction with the existing fan-recorded version.

It opens in a very amusing way.  I imagine that Dave and Martin are lying on the stage, because Dave asks, “Martin can you sleep?”
Martin: “No, I can’t sleep.  I’ve smoked about three cigarettes.”
Dave “I had this weird dream we were playing in a giant arena named after a software company, opening for Ringo’s All Stars.  It felt really weird.”
Tim starts playing the bass.
Daev: “Might as well just get up.”
Martin: “That’s either a nightmare or a fantastic dream.”
Then they loop saying “Let’s see what Tim and Don are up to.”

Dave breaks character and says, “The comedy is free tonight.”  Which leads to a rocking “Fat” followed by a nice surprise of “Aliens.”  Martin sings, “they came down in 1996.”

Then comes a grooving “Dope Fiends.”  I love that in these 1996 shows the middle part is a cool jam.  It makes the loud ending even more powerful.  And as the song fades it segues nicely into “Digital Beach.”  They start “Claire” before Martin is done and Martin sings a few more “beautiful things” before they start “Claire” properly.

Dave says that they are the Rheostatics from Etobicoke.  They’ve been around for 17 years and it’s a privilege to share the stage with The Hip and uh… we like you.  We have a new record out called The Blue Hysteria.  Sixteen songs, one of them is secret, so really only 15 and this next song is from that.”

Dave keeps talking about the record–it’s in quad sound while someone starts playing “Bad Time to Be Poor.”

Dave thanks the Green Sprouts who are here tonight–we have an address on the back of our CD and if you write us, we will write you back.  We promise.

Dave asks, Is anybody here form Italy tonight (massive cheers).
Martin: Oh my god, it must be empty over there.
This next song (a rocking “Motorino”)  is about being over there and wanting to be home.  It’s a great version that segues into a terrific “Feed Yourself.”  Boy I hope the next time I See them, they play “Feed Yourself.”

[READ: February 2019] Lawn Boy

Yup, I grabbed this book because of the Phish song/album.

Nope, it has nothing to do with the band at all.

Yup, I still enjoyed it quite a lot.

This is the story of Mike Muñoz.  He is basically stuck.  He absolutely loves landscaping–it is his passion.  He wants to sculpt topiary and be a recognized artist.  But he is stuck doing menial landscaping jobs–ones that often involves picking up dog poo more than beautifying plants.

Mike’s father abandoned him a long time ago, when Mike was 11.  When Mike was five, he took Mike to Disneyland.  Disneyland turned out to be an abandoned building site.  He told Mike “I guess they moved.”

There have been many stepfathers since then, but now his mom is pretty much done with all that. She works double shifts as a waitress in a bar (Mike tries to not go there).  Mike lives at home with her and his mentally handicapped brother.  He basically hasn’t matured past a child and has an impulse control and gets upset very easily.   He is also bigger than Mike–by a lot–so even though Mike does a good job watching him, its not easy. Continue Reading »