Photographs and Memory

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For a person with minimal photography skills, I take a lot of pictures. Most will fall into the “so what?” category, filled with poorly framed generic shots of trees, clouds, people, the occasional animal, and shorelines that could be anywhere along the Central Coast of California. They will have little meaning to anyone other than myself. But still I snap away, not for any great artistic reason, nor as gathered testimony to a historical event of a searing moment. I do it to trigger my memory, tomorrow, next year, or whenever. I recently came across a series of pictures I took a few weeks before my wife and I began our transition from east coast to west.

Day Tripping

Over the years, we made day trips up the road to the Kent Falls area, a short drive from home. The Morrison Gallery was a favorite place to spend an hour or two, wandering the spacious, serene, and thoughtful spaces that homed fine art, contemporary painting, and sculpture. On this particular visit The Gallery featured playfully sculptured ravens hanging out on different pieces of discarded items, including old cans. For some reason, these pieces resonated with us. As we moved about the space, other, much larger sculptures, including life-sized pair of mountain lions and, outside in the garden, massive elephants drew us in . Many of the pieces, by artist Peter Woytuk, had been part of an installation around Manhattan.

I snapped away with my trusty cell, not holding out much hope that I would capture anything worthy of wall space in this, or any, art gallery. I remember the day, the feel of the wood floor under my feet, the room’s scent, and the colors and shapes of the art. I can retrace the route around the main hall, the small alcoves and rooms off to the side, and the never-failing streams of natural light shining in service of the artist’s vision. And I remember turning to speak with my wife and stopping, stilled by her beauty, equal to any display. She paid me no mind, her focus instead on the literature accompanying the exhibit.


Art and Craft

As weak as I am with a camera, I am equally good at being captured by the work of three artists who possess the eye, the soul, and the skills that force my heart to open and transport me to a place I may have never been, but through the grace of the artist, can easily imagine. I may not have stood where they stood or followed whatever spiritual beam led them to the perfect picture, but their art moves me personally.

I have sought and received permission to share a few examples of their work, and note the images here belong to them. As with all creatives, what appears in final form begins much differently. Art meets craft, imagination meets technique, and time, time, time is spent making what we get to see. Please enjoy the art, and respect the artists.

Nigel Paul

Nigel Paul represents a natural blend of Art and Craft. Nigel has an impressive history as a concert audio engineer, working with a roster of top-tier progressive rock musicians who compose and perform complex technical pieces, with virtuosos filling each position within the group. The audio engineer’s job is to translate the complexities into a clear output that delivers the breadth and depth of the artist’s composition and performance. Doing it well requires incredible technical skill, next-level focus, and a creative, musical mind that translates it all into the performance the audience hears.  

Nigel’s photography reflects all of those characteristics. The detail he captures in his wildlife pictures is stunning. The feathered breast of the burrowing owl, the life in the eyes of the weasel, the complete intensity in the bobcat’s posture and glare – they are life. Imagine the time and patience it takes to find the spots where these animals live, then the stealth and skill needed to stop, wait, and carefully bring the camera to bear on creatures that are not likely to stand still for too long.

When I look at his collection, currently featured as part of San Luis Obispo County’s Cambria Public Library, I see the beauty and mystery of life in this part of California. His backgrounds and colors are reflective of the environment. I can smell the sage, hear the rustle of the dried grass, and in the distance, the faint roll of waves rushing around the shore.

In addition to his wildlife photos, Nigel is passionate about classic and unusual automobiles, as seen in the picture below. Please visit Nigel Paul Photography and enjoy his galleries.

Click the images below for a larger view. Images ©Nigel Paul


Debbie Gracy

When I need a New England fix, I look to Debbie Gracy’s photographs to fill my heart with beautiful, classic, and unique images. From her home base in Hollis, New Hampshire, Debbie sets out across the northeast’s back roads and byways, capturing uniquely American landscapes that bring me back home.

I have been blessed to know Debbie and her amazing family for twenty years and have been an eager observer of her development as an artist. I proudly feature four of her pieces in my home, including a pair of winter scenes, heavy wooden gates half buried in snow, either opened or closed. They are the first images I see as I enter the front door. Down a short flight of stairs hang two more of her photographs; happy sunflowers against a brilliant blue sky.

Through her images, I feel the chill of Autumn and the scents of Spring. The grass, the trees, and the vast skies look, feel and smell completely different from California. Debbie seems to stand a step or two aside, giving her work a barely-noticeable offset perspective. Her work radiates wonder, happiness, curiosity, and always beauty. Which also describes Debbie’s artistic soul.

Treat yourself to the vast landscape of Debbie’s photographs at the  Debbie Gracy Collection

Click Images below for a larger view ©Debbie Gracy


Maureen Calderwood Wiltsee

I have known Maureen since I was zero. My sister has a passion for photography, building a cache of images that feature brilliant seascapes and coastal hideaways from her beloved vacation retreat on Cape Cod. I love the way she captures the light that blankets the scenes below. Always a line of color and a sense of connection to the sea.

Maureen has been a fixture among the community of photographers and visual artists that live in the Northern New Jersey/New York corridor, displaying and winning awards for her striking images. Every year, brothers and sisters would drive to a small New Jersey town to see her work standing tall amidst an impressive gallery of visual artists.

“The Peacock” featured below hangs in my home, cased in a classic white frame that keeps the focus on the subject. It causes people to stop and wonder at the depth and detail captured by the lens, an extension of the eye and artist heart of the photographer.

Click images below for a larger view. ©Maureen Calderwood Wiltsee

The Peacock

Thank you to Nigel, Debbie, and Maureen for allowing me to feature your beautiful pictures. And thanks to all the others who capture moments and memories, whether by luck, determination, or good fortune. The world is a beautiful place indeed.

Raising The Rates

Cambria’s difficult and upsetting process of raising utilities rates has run its course, ending with an unsuccessful Proposition 218 protest. The new rate structure goes into effect with the July 2022 billing cycle.

Increasing rates for the utility services require the Cambria Community Services District to follow concrete legal steps in the preparation, presentation, discussion, and approval of increases. It falls to the ratepayers to accept or reject the increases approved by the Board of Directors.

A Simple View

Over the past years, critical infrastructure, maintenance, and plant upgrades have been a challenge, with sufficient funding levels always difficult to obtain. Previous rate increases have allowed the water and wastewater operations to keep running, though each addition came with the caveat that it will not be enough to do all that needs doing.

The District contracted an outside firm, Bartle Wells Associates, to conduct a rate study. They looked at current and projected costs, defined by the District, and at the revenue available to support those needs. The rates need to meet operating expenses and cover the costs to finance more extensive infrastructure programs, particularly in the Wastewater Treatment enterprise.

Committee Work

The Resources and Infrastructure Committee did much of the heavy lifting. They worked with District staff and Project teams from PGE to drill deeply into the details, identify projects, build cost models, design and propose project approaches, and reprioritize tasks to develop a solid set of projects and the numbers that went along with them.

The Finance Committee kept pace, adding additional expert eyes to the process.

These citizen-staffed committees, formed after many rounds of public demand for more community involvement in the governing process, provided review and input on issues and opportunities within their respective charters. Each committee’s range of experience and expertise added richness to the inputs and outcomes. Their work provided additional opportunities for residents and ratepayers to have insight and input into the decision-making process.

District Finance Leader Pam Duffield was central to all the activity. Her rational voice and deep knowledge kept everyone on track and, most importantly, reading from the same financial fact sheets.

The output from these teams was foundational in providing Bartle Wells with the information needed to construct accurate and fair rate hike proposals.

The Recommendation

Bartle Wells proposed three years of increases for the Water and Wastewater funds. A third category – inflationary adjustments – would allow further increases under the Proposition 218 rules. These increases would be available in years four and five.

Proposed Water Rate IncreasesProposed Sewer Rate IncreasesProposed Inflationary Pass-Through Rate Adjustments (Years 4 & 5)
 6% effective 7/1/20227.5% effective 7/1/2022TBD* effective 7/1/2025 
 6% effective 7/1/20237.5% effective 7/1/2023TBD* effective 7/1/2026
6% effective 7/1/20247.5% effective 7/1/2024
Proposed Rate Increases

Protest

Ratepayers have the right to submit a protest against any proposed increases. A total of 50% plus one protest is needed to defeat the increases. The number of ratepayers or property owners responsible for paying the utility bill determines the actual numbers.

There were 479 valid protests. The spirited campaign fell far short of the required number.

On May 24, Board Secretary Leah Reedall responded to my initial Public Records Request and followed up, as promised, with this additional detail on June 2. 

In response to your May 24, 2022, request for a breakout count of protests by enterprise category, along with the number needed for the Proposition 218 protest to be successful, the following is the informal count:

  EnterpriseProtest CountRequired Count
Water4791975
Sewer4681923
Inflationary Adjustments4731923

This tally is not a tabulated, validated count of protests, but rather an informal count made by me and, for accountability, a department manager.” Leah Reedall, June 2, 2022.

Percentage of the required number for successful protests:

  • Water – 24.35%
  • Wastewater – 24.33%
  • Inflationary Adjustments – 24.59%

Extrapolating that to the total number of eligible protesters tells a bigger story.

  • Water – 12.13%
  • Wastewater – 13.42%
  • Inflationary Adjustments – 12.30%

So, nearly 88% of ratepayers did not protest the hikes.

Whether seen as a victory or a loss, my sense is there were a few very critical reasons ratepayers overwhelmingly allowed for the rates to go forward.

Good Communication

The process took place openly across multiple meetings, with the information and discussion available for all interested parties to review and challenge. The articulated need for the rate hike was supported by data and vetted over months by the District staff, Board, and standing committees.

The CCSD Board, under the leadership of President Donn Howell, did an excellent job of presenting the facts around the need for the increases. Multiple articles from Board members/Committee Chairs were published in the online community news publication (www.cambriaca.org) and clearly and succinctly addressed every aspect of the increases. This series provided additional information to help the public understand the District’s perspective on why rate increases are needed. (I reached out to the Editor/Publisher of cambriaca.org for data collected on the articles, but they cannot currently track to that level.. “To your question:  unfortunately, we cannot separate local/community “hits” from all other out-of-town hits.  This is a particular problem now that we are using the Newspack platform that distributes the cambriaca globally.” John Rohrbaugh, May 28, 2022)

The CCSD website was well-stocked with information on the Proposition 218 process, and data shows that a relatively small number of visitors took advantage of that resource. Stats provided by District Analyst Haley Dodson on June 3, 2022, reflect that:

Warts and All

All of the committees and Board’s work took place in full public view. For as much of the public that chose to participate. It was all out there, warts and all. Mistakes were made, identified, and rectified. Intense public scrutiny and involvement were vital in ensuring issues were adequately addressed.

Transparency

There is a long-held, oft-repeated belief that the CCSD is not “Transparent.” I find this puzzling. My personal experience is that the access to meetings, staff, leadership, and Board members is reasonable, even exemplary. The District website is information-rich, and the openness of staff and Board members to engage with the public is very good.

Board Leadership – Great Staff Work – Rigorous Committee Work – Aggressive Community Outreach – Vigorous Community Involvement

Expectations

My expectations are, I believe, reasonable. I do not expect every action, engagement, issue, or discussion to be fed directly into my inbox. Nor do I wish every legal or personnel issue to be disclosed before resolution. As a citizen, it is my responsibility to determine the level of effort I need to exert to feel comfortable with my level of participation.

It would be wonderful to have every issue broken down to the simplest explanation and tailored to my personal preference, no matter how complex or fluid. That is an unrealistic expectation.

It would be lovely if our community would take a few beats, breathe deeply, and examine our approach to dealing with the people – yes, people – who we elect, hire and depend on to keep this challenging District running in these extraordinary times. Perhaps we might substitute a bit of kindness for hostility. Gee whiz, maybe this big defeat might mean many more people see things in a different light. Would it hurt to listen and maybe adjust? It isn’t the passion, the faith, or the cause that is in question. It is how we fight. To Each, His Dulcinea, I say.

The Great Gadfly

There is joy in watching Beautiful Cambrians in action. Technology allows us all to view, read, and comment on everything local from politics to parades, clean-ups and tear-downs, wind, waves and water. Always water.

While I enjoy the immediacy our modern technology offers, I miss the nascent days of emerging cable television, and the delight that is local Community Access. Yes, that self-produced, low-quality programming that features ordinary folks with passion and particular points of view.

Party on, Wayne! Party on, Garth!

Glendora

Many cable companies across the United States devote airtime and technical facilities to community members who want to share themselves with anyone with a television and basic cable. Every week you can tune in and watch in amazement colorful characters who hold some, uh, unusual philosophies. Sure, there are notorious staples like Glendora, a behatted grandma-type whose fascinating life and career have spanned decades. But the fun ones were so predictably unpredictable that they became must-see TV.

Locals

Before moving to Beautiful Cambria, I lived in Danbury, Connecticut. My cable provider at the time, Comcast, provided an in-house production studio where citizen journalists and community activists could learn how to produce their shows. In addition to local government happenings, the operation featured a dizzying amount – close to forty hours a week – of locally created and produced programming on Public Access channel Twenty-Three. These weekly broadcasts were a perfect place to blend politics and prevarications, hobbies, and peeves, all under the banner of free speech. Well, mainly free. After all, there needs to be some modicum of decency even among the fringe.

Those Guys

There were earnest folks interested in sharing their knowledge of everything from Dolly Madison to doily making. They often made me go, “Aww, how sweet is that!” 

Channel Twenty-Three also hosted a cast of unsavory characters who were, to put it delicately, misogynist racist anti-immigrant anti-government anti-religion anti-civil discourse idiots. It was simultaneously appalling and hilarious as these knuckleheads spun their conspiracies and winked “you know what I’m talking about” plans to clean up this country. Want to know the “real” meaning of The Constitution? – Big T. was the guy, a mini Alex Jones before InfoWars. Sovereign Citizens loved John McGowan and Bones, though sadly, McGowan’s campaign for Mayor didn’t quite go as he hoped. Nor did his Sovereign Citizen defense during his trial and conviction for rape. Kevin Gallagher was Q-ish before it became a brand, sharing odd theories and interviews with odder guests, with the occasional musical performance by a local musician or group. More than once, one or the other of these shows would be disciplined and taken off the air for a few weeks while the furious host would do battle with the powers that be at the station. They too were fun to watch! The outrage! The indignation! The pinball logic! And finally, resolution. Until the next time… A quick peek at Danbury’s current broadcast lineup shows that some of these hosts are still on the air, merrily rocking and roiling along.

(Comcast’s Community Media Studios still offers these opportunities to intrepid citizens looking for an outlet. Here in Beautiful Cambria, Coast Union High School, under the guidance of Dan Hartzell, offers students even greater access to the technologies and education to take their talents far beyond the local airwaves.)

The Legend

For me, there is only one personality who stands atop the Gadfly Hall of Fame. The late, great Clay Tiffany and his masterpiece of Public Access Television, “Dirge For The Charlatans.”

Clay Tiffany’s unusual appearance and voice were the epitome of a smirk, underscored by his signature catchphrase “all right?” Standing tall, his blazing red afro, permanently scowling face, and wardrobe that always looked culled from the rack labeled “1950’s muckraking reporter” at the local community theater wardrobe closet. He was awesome.

Tiffany was relentless. His diatribes were part Perry Mason and part Perry White. A pugnacious fearlessness led him into constant verbal, legal, and, sadly, violent physical confrontations with elected officials and public servants throughout the small village of Briarcliff Manor in Westchester County, New York.

Recklessly Tough

Clay never let anyone intimidate him, sometimes to his detriment. Mayor, commissioner, judge, clerk, and police departments all exchanged shots with him. Even then-Westchester County District Attorney (and current FOX spectacle) Jeanine Pirro heard from him, loudly, publicly, and obnoxiously. Some of those shots were nearly deadly.

Briarcliff police officer Nick Tartaglione was often the target of Clay’s accusations of corruption, civil rights violations, violence and intimidation; pretty much anything a novelist or screenwriter might throw into the mix to create a character of “bad cop.” Nick did not like that and allegedly assaulted Tiffany several times, once beating him nearly to death. This attack triggered an FBI investigation, a major lawsuit with a significant settlement in Clay’s favor, and Tartaglione’s dismissal from the police force. (A dismissal that was later reversed, with Tartaglione being reinstated and receiving back pay.)

Tartaglione went on to bigger and worse headlines, including this one:

4 bodies found at home of ex-Briarcliff Manor cop Nick Tartaglione

And more recently,

Epstein told lawyers that cellmate Nicholas Tartaglione’ roughed him up’  

Yes, that Epstein.

Gone

Clay Tiffany passed away in March of 2015. Concerned neighbors notified police when they hadn’t seen him for a few weeks. He had no known family. His vast archive of videotapes of “Dirge For The Charlatans” remains unavailable. However, an effort is underway to convert them to digital and produce a documentary on the life of the most fantastic citizen journalist/Community Gadfly few people ever saw. I hope to see it completed and shared.

Buried Treasure, All Right?

To quote veteran Westchester journalist Phil Reisman in his piece “Dirge for a gadfly.”

“Tiffany told the truth as he saw it. Even crazy people can be right sometimes, but Tiffany’s problem was that it all got lost in the paranoid noise.”

Peace Out

I often think of Clay Tiffany while following the local cast of unique citizens here in Beautiful Cambria and mentally overlay his trademark smirk and incredulous “All right?” he would add for emphasis. 

Long live all the Gadflies, All Right? 

Sensible Shoes

A shoe, estimated to be 1,500 years old, was discovered in an alpine mountain pass in Norway. Scientists and researchers are quite intrigued by the find, as it resembles sandals worn by people in much warmer parts of the Roman Empire. Not a very practical choice for the icy, snowy conditions found in the Nordic region. As the saying I just made up goes – “pack for where you are going, not where you are.”

I have never owned a pair of sandals. From my adolescent years of the late 1960s through my rebellious and lost teens of the 1970s, there were plenty of sandal-wearers amid the hippies, beach bums, and summer-loving summer-of-love free spirits. My toes were always safely enclosed in a sneaker, a school shoe, or an occasional pair of Li’l Abners or Frye boots. I will admit to a brief Earth Shoe walk on the wild side. 

Would sandals have been more comfortable on the blistering sands of Rockaway or the green fields of Van Cortlandt Park? Probably. But no, I stood on un-bared feet and covered soles. 

As I traveled the world, my standard never diminished. I stood firm at the crossroads of cultures and religions, most of which featured sandal-clad icons. On the beaches of Crete – covered feet. From the exotic streets of Istanbul to the mythical swirl of clouds that covered the remote mountains of central Turkey, to the brutal heat and dryness of Riyadh –gold toe socks and leather soles. Along the streets of Malta’s “Silent City “of Mdina through the towns dotting the Sicilian seaside, my trusty scarpas kept the deep Mediterranean sun safely away from my arches. I waltzed through beautiful Vienna in my pedestrian lace-ups, my bride more daring in open-toed shoes or sensible slip-ons. I covered my soles in Seoul, wore my socks in Sydney, and maybe Spanish leather in Barcelona.

Churches, museums, and houses of worship feature statues and iconography of the pious and adored, clad in sandals. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph – sandal, sandal, sandal. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – sandals. Peter and Paul – sandals. Mary too. The Greeks, Israelites, Macedonians, Romans, Carthaginians – not a loafer among them. I am no historian, but it makes me wonder; would Achillies have lived a longer life if he had gone with a sturdy combat boot? Could Moses and his crew have gone farther sooner if they had a good walking shoe to keep the pesky sand and scorpions away from their toes? Maybe. 

 I am no anti-sandalite. What people wear on their feet is not my business. I choose for me, and only me. Will I give an opinion when my wife shops for shoes? Of course, it is my duty as her partner. I know her preferences, ailments, and the weighed factors of fit, style, comfort, color, and upcoming event. I’ve scanned the displays and have, on occasion, retrieved a nice pair of sandals for her to try. However, when we move to the other side of the shoe store, it is all about laces and loafers. 

I’m not a fan of shorts either. Nope, too many sunburns have broken me of the need to bare my legs. Ah, the curse of being a fair-skinned, hopelessly sun-sensitive descendant of the Emerald Isle and neighboring Scottish highlands – where kilts were sorta-shorts and kind-of-sandals were de rigor back in auld lang syne. Cover me up. A lovely lightweight pair of khakis or a sturdy pair of jeans is all I need for those casual days and nights—paired with an unassuming Rockport or Clark’s loafers or even a subtle sneaker if I’m feeling a bit sporty.

And socks, always socks. But that’s another story.

Soul Searching

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On a cool, windy, and sunny Thursday afternoon, my wife and I attended a Catholic funeral Mass for Father Mark Stetz, a beloved local priest who passed on, leaving a grieving flock and family to say goodbye. We went not as Catholics obeying tradition but in respect and appreciation for Father Mark’s good heart and his values-driven life of service.


The church filled beyond its three-hundred seat capacity. Sixty-eight priests and bishops and a convent of nuns occupied a good portion of the pews. A dark-suited bouncer patrolled the entrance lest an un-anointed muckety-muck try to sneak a seat inside the crowded building. Though the Gospels tell us “the least shall be first,” the VIP section and reserved seating said something different.


The sidewalks leading up to the main entrance bloomed with rows of white folding chairs filled with friends and parish faithful saying farewell to the good Father. Suits and ties mixed with jeans and work shirts. English and Spanish voices blended in song and prayer, and the church musicians, minus my favorite mandolin player, filled the spaces with joy, sorrow, and a message of hope.


As an escaped Catholic, I engaged in the service from an emotional distance. My mind drifted from the present to past Catholic funerals, some held in my old Bronx parish of Saint Nicholas of Tolentine, others across the tri-state region of New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey. Some were for my family members, from grandparents, parents, aunts, and uncles, to my beloved younger sister Anne Marie, whose death at thirty-two had a significant impact on changing my life. Her funeral, held just a few short months after my mother’s, was the toughest to accept. It was made more stressful by the Catholic Church’s refusal to allow a dedicated funeral Mass because it was Good Friday. Yet we, the family, found our way through the grief and loss and did our Catholic duty, sore asses on hard wooden pews, silently incensed as the censer swung and click-click-clicked against the long metal chains filling the air with a smoky aroma which always says death.


I remember other sadly joyful funerals for departed friends from the world of music and theater, held in churches filled with friends and family blessed with talents they shared, through tears and smiles, in song and recitation. The loss was there, but the dread was absent. There is nothing like sitting in an unassuming church filled with a few hundred actors and singers whose voices rise in a final farewell, serving the universe with their best, most meaningful, loving goodbye.


An odd sense often fills my head when listening to more traditional music played at some Catholic funerals. Maybe it’s the minor chords, the slow tempos, or the loss of clarity as the organist applies too much pipe and pedal. Perhaps it’s the subtle aggression some church pianists bring to the keyboard, or the battle for primacy between soprano and tenor during a dramatic rendering of a mournful hymn. Maybe I just cannot stay in the moment, but I often think these songs would kill in a heavy metal motif. A thudding bass, two low tuned guitars chunking out mid-scooped rhythms, a wild-haired skinny guy wailing away like the lead singer from a 1980s hair band would undoubtedly change the vibe. Or would it? I have shared this observation with a few fellow mourners, who quickly rescinded their proffered Sign of Peace. Not big metal fans, I guess – though if you look at paintings of Jesus and the Apostles, you might see a resemblance to the lineup of ’80s rock bands on one of those Rockapalooza Booze Cruises popular in some circles.


But back to Father Mark. His funeral was a celebration of his life. A long-time friend and fellow priest related the most telling story, illuminating who Mark was. At his ordination, Mark asked if there could be a washing of the feet. This request, to me, is the pure distillation of the message of Christ. Humility, service, caring, and community. Not glory, not adoration, not the fear of damnation. The expression of love for all, no matter the station.


Regardless of how we worship or what traditions we follow, good people find ways to do good deeds. Whether done loudly or quietly, it doesn’t matter. We can only go where our humanity leads us, and if that is a search for a higher power or a nobler cause, it’s all good.

“Currents” from Original Son

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I write about music a lot and often look at it through the lens of how it impacts me emotionally. So, I will write about the album “Currents” from LA band Original Son through the same lens. (Note—guitarist/singer/songwriter Johnny Calderwood is my original son.) It will be interesting to see where this exercise takes me. It may be a jumble of parents, friends, musicians, creative souls, and flawed humans. I guess we will see.

The album “Currents” shows Original Son’s roots in punk and builds out from there. In my mind, the band and the record are just good old-fashioned kickass rock and roll with a heart and a conscience.

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The ten songs are full of emotion, from deep anger to natural optimism. Rhythmic shifts and musical intensity slam against subversively upbeat choruses, creating a fast-moving thrill ride. The connectivity between music, lyrics, and performance has the flow of good storytelling. The arrangements drop surprising little hooks, with background vocals, percussion, snatches of piano, and some tasty Hammond organ adding to the sonic picture. Producer Tim Hutton keeps it all flowing, never stealing focus from the guitar-bass-drums vibe that is the core of Original Son.

The musicians – singer/guitarist Johnny Calderwood, bassist Justin Chester, and drummer Jeff Robinson, sound like a band– an honest compliment to them. Each player has a knack for dropping lines and phrases that make me go, “Woah, I didn’t see that coming, or just DAMN!!!” Younger, hipper reviewers have compared their playing to more contemporary musicians. I hear flashes of the players I have listened to over the years. In Justin, I hear John Entwistle as much as modern players like Flea and Mike Dirnt. Drummer Robinson reminds me of Mighty Max Weinberg, not so much in tone but in intense, rock-solid time and taste. (I asked John, “how hard does he hit?” to which he replied, “As hard as he needs to.” A compliment I know musicians who play in bands will understand and appreciate.)

 As a guitarist, Johnny is an intense, dynamic rhythm player with a thick tone that fills out the mid-range with solid time and controlled aggression that lays down a bed for his crazy-good vocals. His solos, mostly short and to the point, dispense with gimmicks and make statements appropriate to the song. He shows a surprising range of stylistic influences, and nods to everyone from Mike Ness to Neil Young. I’ve had a love-hate relationship with his lead tones, but I have realized over time that his sound is his sound. His note choices and poignant phrasing in his short solo during “The Avenues” stopped me cold and had me hitting rewind. Moments may go unnoticed during casual listening, but these little glimpses beneath the bold and brash add dimension to my understanding of the artists.

The opening track, “Castles,” made me sit up and think, what do we have here? A dark, almost menacing eighth-note bassline joins with gritty power chords dragging a tail of feedback and crashing cymbals. A forceful voice asks, “This is the end/ Are we running out/of solid ground/did you learn to shout?” And then – BAM!!! Full-on punk-flavored power trio rock spitting social commentary on our fractured and divisive society and the actors who orchestrate the hate. “We’re all locked out /of the rooms of the castles/ of your masters. / In a world /built on deception/ you did not question/you are the weapon.” The song moves through a few subtle yet distinct styles, at one point causing me to flash to Deep Purple’s “Highway Star.”

Then comes “Parasite,” the first single released from the album. Brighter, bouncier, a bit cleaner sounding, giving the impression that it was a happy piece. Until I read the lyrics. This song’s moral and political core targets those who choose to attack rather than build. “You got your merry men/they keep their torches raised/so we can identify them/ You are a parasite/an American Parasite.”

“Well’s Run Dry” beats me up with the fury of the lyric, the ragged emotion of hurt, and the undeniable glimpse of acceptance and guarded reconciliation in the chorus, “we don’t want to talk about it.” And then comes the breakdown courtesy of a volcanic performance by hardcore legend Lou Koller of Sick of It All. “You cannot fake this/you cannot break this/we turned our rage to hope and changed the whole perspective.” The beligerent heys are a reminder that “we don’t want to talk about it.” “We” may not want to, but there it is.

Aha – “Currents.” A minute-long respite to collect myself. Guitar and vocal. Snatches of piano, a bit of keyboard, and one minute of philosophy-driven questions and observations about the world we find ourselves grinding through. The vocal is outstanding, almost beautiful—a strange word to use, given the delivery’s ragged edges and gritted teeth. There is courage in letting the lyric and vocal stand in the clear. And then it is over. I need to rethink the use of the word respite.

My absolute favorite in this collection of favorites is “The Avenues.” The song is a big basket of little hooks and moves like a ride on a gently rolling road of lyrics and melody. It is part rage, part despair, and part guilt. The story is inspired by what he sees in his adopted city of Los Angeles; the homeless, the underserved, the everyman and woman being driven farther and farther into hopeless situations while the ones with the means remake the city into walls of privilege. Johnny reflects on his journey in parallel to the changing communities he knew and shared. “We all found shelter here/and then it disappeared/between the lights and the glamour we made our way and survived. /Did we lose ourselves/in those dim-lit rooms/did the city slip away while we broke all the rules?” Then the relentlessly melodic chorus of “We’re just waiting for the fallout, baby. We’re just waiting for the walls to come tumbling down. Did they build it up/just to push us out? Recycle everything and turn this town upside down….” The band marches resolutely through the deceptively simple, repetitive chord progressions, allowing the lyrics to tell the story. A signature guitar phrase runs through the song, including the beginning of the solo, which adds a short eight bars of melody that breaks my heart every time I hear it. The final chant at the end says it all – “They’re gonna fuck it up. They’re gonna fuck it up” over a swirl of layered vocals repeating “down, down.”

“The Turnaround” is a reimagined take on an earlier recording, moving away from the more pop sound of the original into a gritty, almost punk-funk reading. Like “Currents,” the intro is low-key and a bit tense, then the band tears into an aggressive rock-funk slam that is invigorating and soulfully nasty. Power move here.

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“Fire Away” is a therapy session in two and a half minutes. “I might be broken beyond repair ’cause the pieces are too jagged to fix.” The background vocals on the ending are almost dirge-like ooh – oohs. The message is mixed, but the almost rockabilly feel shakes things all around, so the listener has the urge to sway and shout FIRE AWAY!

“Flesh and Bone” and “Shelter” are raw and rollicking. On these tracks, the rhythm section rules. Drummer Robinson kicks off Flesh and Bone with a Mick Fleetwood-like drum intro, switches to a pounding, unclenched hi-hat, then hits the gas with a punishing beat that calls the rest of the players to the table. Bassist Chester lets loose with some dynamic solo lines that make this old bass player grin like a schoolboy. He also pops out in Shelter, shoving every inch of air out of the low end and into the atmosphere. Another tear of minor-ish guitar runs crashes into a pounded piano, ending in a glorious wash of tones, tunes, and atmosphere. I hear things in my headphones that I’m not sure are there – yes, it is that ear-opener.

The last song, “Hymn For The Underground,” is a punk-rock pep talk for everyman, capturing the essence of accountability and self-destiny. “You’re not replaceable/ they can’t walk on water/we are the ones who make the gears turn…you are glorious.” Be good to yourself, find and celebrate your value, and “stand up for what you love.”

To my ear, The Turnaround,  Avenues, and Hymn For The Underground call out for social awareness and activism from the masses.

Well’s Run Dry, Flesh and Bone, and Shelter share the more intimate and painful truths of trying to find some peace in a life filled with great highs and lows. Alienation and anger singe the edges, but a bit of jaded optimism is threaded throughout the pain. The one word that comes to mind is “accountability.”

I love this record for a whole lot of reasons. One of the best ones? It makes me want to sing, dance, pound the table and yell words not suited to a man of my age. And I will, and you just might too.

Album Credits

Words and Music by John Calderwood Arrangements by Original Son

Guitar & Vocals – Johnny Calderwood

Bass & Vocals – Justin Chester

Drums – Jeff Robinson

Additional Vocals on Well’s Run Dry – Lou Koller

B3 Hammond – Howard Laravae Piano – Tim Hutton Percussion – Chris Reynolds

Recorded at Canyon Hut Studios

Produced by Tim Hutton Engineered and Mixed by Chris Reynolds Mastered by Hans DeKline

Available on Sell The Heart Records

https://selltheheartrecords.bandcamp.com/album/currents

And on all the Streaming Services

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is ostshirt.jpg



A Father, A Son, and a Record Review

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I write about music a lot and often look at it through the lens of how it impacts me emotionally. So, I will write about the album “Currents” through the same lens. It will be interesting to see where this exercise takes me. It may be a jumble of parents, friends, musicians, creative souls, and flawed humans. I guess we will see.

 My son John is a musician, a songwriter, and a rock and roll poet-philosopher.

He is part troublemaker, part peacemaker. He is a bundle of love, hope, despair, optimism, and pragmatic fatalism, at times impossible and always completely loved. The perfect combination to make a great rock and roll record, which, in my opinion, he has done with his band Original Son.

The album “Currents” shows Original Son’s roots in punk and builds out from there. In my mind, the band and the record are just good old-fashioned kickass rock and roll with a heart and a conscience.

The ten songs are full of emotion, from deep anger to natural optimism. Rhythmic shifts and musical intensity slam against subversively upbeat choruses, creating a fast-moving thrill ride. The connectivity between music, lyrics, and performance has the flow of good storytelling. The arrangements drop surprising little hooks, with background vocals, percussion, snatches of piano, and some tasty Hammond organ adding to the sonic picture. Producer Tim Hutton keeps it all flowing, never stealing focus from the guitar-bass-drums vibe that is the core of Original Son.

The musicians – singer/guitarist Johnny Calderwood, bassist Justin Chester, and drummer Jeff Robinson, sound like a band– an honest compliment to them. Each player has a knack for dropping lines and phrases that make me go, “Woah, I didn’t see that coming, or just DAMN!!!” Younger, hipper reviewers have compared their playing to more contemporary musicians. I hear flashes of the players I have listened to over the years. In Justin, I hear John Entwistle as much as modern players like Flea and Mike Dirnt. Drummer Robinson reminds me of Mighty Max Weinberg, not so much in tone but in intense, rock-solid time and taste. (I asked John, “how hard does he hit?” to which he replied, “As hard as he needs to.” A compliment I know musicians who play in bands will understand and appreciate.)

 As a guitarist, Johnny is an intense, dynamic rhythm player with a thick tone that fills out the mid-range with solid time and controlled aggression that lays down a bed for his crazy-good vocals. His solos, mostly short and to the point, dispense with gimmicks and make statements appropriate to the song. He shows a surprising range of stylistic influences, and nods to everyone from Mike Ness to Neil Young. I’ve had a love-hate relationship with his lead tones, but I have realized over time that his sound is his sound. His note choices and poignant phrasing in his short solo during “The Avenues” stopped me cold and had me hitting rewind. Moments may go unnoticed during casual listening, but these little glimpses beneath the bold and brash add dimension to my understanding of the artists.

The opening track, “Castles,” made me sit up and think, what do we have here? A dark, almost menacing eighth-note bassline joins with gritty power chords dragging a tail of feedback and crashing cymbals. A forceful voice asks, “Is this is the end/ Are we running out/of solid ground/did you learn to shout?” And then – BAM!!! Full-on punk-flavored power trio rock spitting social commentary on our fractured and divisive society and the actors who orchestrate the hate. “We’re all locked out /of the rooms of the castles/ of your masters. / In a world /built on deception/ you did not question/you are the weapon.” The song moves through a few subtle yet distinct styles, at one point causing me to flash to Deep Purple’s “Highway Star.”

Then comes “Parasite,” the first single released from the album. Brighter, bouncier, a bit cleaner sounding, giving the impression that it was a happy piece. Until I read the lyrics. This song’s moral and political core targets those who choose to attack rather than build. “You got your merry men/they keep their torches raised/so we can identify them/ You are a parasite/an American Parasite.”

“Well’s Run Dry” beats me up with the fury of the lyric, the ragged emotion of hurt, and the undeniable glimpse of acceptance and guarded reconciliation in the chorus, “we don’t want to talk about it.”. And then comes the breakdown courtesy of a volcanic performance by hardcore legend Lou Koller of Sick of It All. “You cannot fake this/you cannot break this/we turned our rage to hope and changed the whole perspective.” Then comes the heys and reminder that “we don’t want to talk about it.” “We” may not want to, but there it is.

Aha – “Currents.” A minute-long respite to collect myself. Guitar and vocal. Snatches of piano, a bit of keyboard, and one minute of philosophy-driven questions and observations about the world we find ourselves grinding through. The vocal is outstanding, almost beautiful—a strange word to use, given the delivery’s ragged edges and gritted teeth. There is courage in letting the lyric and vocal stand in the clear. And then it is over. I need to rethink the use of the word respite.

My absolute favorite in this collection of favorites is “The Avenues.” The song is a big basket of little hooks and moves like a ride on a gently rolling road of lyrics and melody. It is part rage, part despair, and part guilt. The story is inspired by what he sees in his adopted city of Los Angeles; the homeless, the underserved, the everyman and woman being driven farther and farther into hopeless situations while the ones with the means remake the city into walls of privilege. Johnny reflects on his journey in parallel to the changing communities he knew and shared. “We all found shelter here/and then it disappeared/between the lights and the glamour we made our way and survived. /Did we lose ourselves/in those dim-lit rooms/did the city slip away while we broke all the rules?” Then the relentlessly melodic chorus of “We’re just waiting for the fallout, baby. We’re just waiting for the walls to come tumbling down. Did they build it up/just to push us out? Recycle everything and turn this town upside down….” The band marches resolutely through the deceptively simple, repetitive chord progressions, allowing the lyrics to tell the story. A signature guitar phrase runs through the song, including the beginning of the solo, which adds a short eight bars of melody that breaks my heart every time I hear it. The final chant at the end says it all – “They’re gonna fuck it up. They’re gonna fuck it up” over a swirl of layered vocals repeating “down, down.”

“The Turnaround” is a reimagined take on an earlier recording, moving away from the more pop sound of the original into a gritty, almost punk-funk reading. Like “Currents,” the intro is low-key and a bit tense, then the band tears into an aggressive rock-funk slam that is invigorating and soulfully nasty. Power move here.

“Fire Away” is a therapy session in two and a half minutes. “I might be broken beyond repair ’cause the pieces are too jagged to fix.” The background vocals on the ending are almost dirge-like ooh – oohs. The message is mixed, but the almost rockabilly feel shakes things all around, so the listener has the urge to sway and shout FIRE AWAY!

“Flesh and Bone” and “Shelter” are raw and rollicking. On these tracks, the rhythm section rules. Drummer Robinson kicks off Flesh and Bone with a Mick Fleetwood-like drum intro, switches to a pounding, unclenched hi-hat, then hits the gas with a punishing beat that calls the rest of the players to the table. Bassist Chester lets loose with some dynamic solo lines that make this old bass player grin like a schoolboy. He also pops out in Shelter, shoving every inch of air out of the low end and into the atmosphere. Another tear of minor-ish guitar runs crashes into a pounded piano, ending in a glorious wash of tones, tunes, and atmosphere. I hear things in my headphones that I’m not sure are there – yes, it is that ear-opener.

The last song, “Hymn For The Underground,” is a punk-rock pep talk for everyman, capturing the essence of accountability and self-destiny. “You’re not replaceable/ they can’t walk on water/we are the ones who make the gears turn…you are glorious.” Be good to yourself, find and celebrate your value, and “stand up for what you love.”

To my ear, The Turnaround,  Avenues, and Hymn For The Underground call out for social awareness and activism from the masses.

Well’s Run Dry, Flesh and Bone, and Shelter share the more intimate and painful truths of trying to find some peace in a life filled with great highs and lows. Alienation and anger singe the edges, but a bit of jaded optimism is threaded throughout the pain. The one word that comes to mind is “accountability.”

I love this record for a whole lot of reasons. One of the best ones? It makes me want to sing, dance, pound the table and yell words not suited to a man of my age. And I will, and you just might too.

Album Credits

Words and Music by John Calderwood Arrangements by Original Son

Guitar & Vocals – Johnny Calderwood

Bass & Vocals – Justin Chester

Drums – Jeff Robinson

Additional Vocals on Well’s Run Dry – Lou Koller

B3 Hammond – Howard Laravae Piano – Tim Hutton Percussion – Chris Reynolds

Recorded at Canyon Hut Studios

Produced by Tim Hutton Engineered and Mixed by Chris Reynolds Mastered by Hans DeKline

Available on Sell The Heart Records

https://selltheheartrecords.bandcamp.com/album/currents

And on all the Streaming Services

The Couple

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The couple walks along the bluff trail, warmed by the sun, cooled by the barely-there marine layer. Tides are changing, from low on the northbound leg to rising on the way back.

The paths are busy, with a mix of couples and small groups accompanied by dogs of all nationalities. Today’s strollers are older, closer to the end than the beginning of the trip through the universe. Still, none lack vigor. How could anyone surrounded by such beauty be anything but optimistic?

A rugged inlet carved by the relentless Pacific falls away from the bluff. A local artist captures it in brushstrokes and tints, a painting she wants on her wall. He sees the vision but fears the meaning.

The couple has enjoyed many chapters in their life together. Now, living in paradise, they see the world one beat at a time. Even paradise has some rough spots, but these bumps are just bumps.

Their transition from flesh and bone to ash and air will happen someday; no sense wondering when or where. She, a practical and organized person, has a plan for that time. She will scatter to the wind, the sea, and the earth from this bluff, floating uncaptured by the artist’s brush. The soundtrack of her goodbye sits cataloged amidst the list of to-dos for whoever remains to send her off. Should he be left with the task, he will falter and crumble.

For him, his resting place won’t matter. In the past, he would choose a lookout deep in the mountains of a favorite retreat, where they walked and wondered how much beauty could fit into shared memory. But now, the bother is too much, and the memory is full enough. The music has played, the words spoken, and nothing more needs to be done. His attachment is not to a place but a spirit. If left to send him on, she, a practical and organized person, will think of the others sharing the moment.

But these are not for today. The raging searing beauty of the ocean kissing the graceful peace of the green grass under blue sky calls for reflection of what is before them right now. Everything else, well, is everything else, set aside for another day.

The Bass

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An ad from a well-known music shop in New York popped onto my Facebook feed, and the image of a Fender Precision bass from the 1970s stopped my heart for a beat. Certainly not one of the highly desirable “vintage” basses for sure, but an excellent instrument.

I read the product description and felt my pulse quicken with each line.

“Here’s a really nice Fender P-Bass from 1974 in a natural finish. It has had a refret with new electronics, including a replaced DiMarzio pickup. The pickguard, bridge are replaced. Comes with a nice non-original case. A great price for any player looking for a nice vintage P-Bass with a nice neck and feel!”

So why the heart attack?

I had a 1970s P bass, just like this one. I installed a DiMarzio pickup and replaced the original bridge with a brass Badass. The original pickguard was white, and the replacement one, as noted in the description, is black. The kicker, though, was the featured picture and the description of the neck. I stared at the picture and dug out a photo of me with my P bass. 

I know, just like I know my children, my family, my now aged face. Guitar players know. Violinists know. We know our special instruments as well as we know our art.

Accidental Treasure 

In the late 1970s I had a gig in Jupiter, Florida, home to the legendary Burt Reynolds Dinner Theater. I carelessly leaned my a beautiful cherry Gibson EB-3 against my amp and gasped in disbelief as it fell over, hit the hard tile floor, and split the headstock and part of the neck—a disaster for a musician who was dependent on his instrument for his living.

That Gibson had played a whole lot of sets in a whole lot of places, including a USO tour of Germany, Greece, and Turkey. And then it was gone. 

I found a music store down the road in Stuart. I was hoping to find another EB-3 but instead landed a beautiful Fender Precision. Gibsons and Fenders are different beasts, with distinctly different sounds and feel. This Fender, though, had something special.

It had a beautifully figured natural finish body, a maple fretboard, and a tapered neck profile more like a Jazz bass than a Precision. It fit my hands like it was custom carved. It toured the country, took a horrific trip to Greenland, and later served me well when I returned to New York for the next chapter of my musical career.

Loss

A few years passed. After a long day of rehearsal and recording, I parked on 56th street near 5th Avenue for a few minutes while I ran into a local club that hosted songwriters’ workshops. When I came out, I immediately saw the smashed window. I knew my bass was gone.

It began to rain. It rained all the way home, the long drive up the Taconic Parkway made more brutal by the wind-driven water stinging my face with each gust, the plastic garbage bag taped to the broken window rendered ineffective as it tore and flapped. The loss of my instrument, made worse by the mocking weather.

Over the following days, I visited the music stores and pawn shops around midtown Manhattan, particularly the legendary strip on West 48th street. I hoped that the thief would try to sell the bass to one of these shops, and I would recover my instrument. No luck.

Moving On

Life went on. I got a new bass, a beauty, from Leo Fender’s new company, G&L. I still have that instrument. It is worn, beaten up, poorly refinished, and mostly unplayed now. It is a worthy axe, but my aging hands struggle with the wider neck, and my old body struggles under its heft. I have tried to find a bass with the same magic neck of the purloined Precision over the years, with no luck. Every state and country I have been lucky enough to visit has included a stop at the local music shop: part white whale hunt, part habit.

Coda

As I sort through the impact of this sudden appearance, I realize that it is not just about the bass; it is all the memories that surround it. A bandmate who went with me to the music store became my true and forever soulmate. That story has its share of love and loss and so much music. More than any bass could produce. 

I could repurchase the bass, but that seems somehow wrong. It would perhaps have me playing again, but more likely, it would have me remembering things better left behind.

My only real wish is that wherever it goes next, it will pull some joy from the hands and heart of the person playing that oh-so-perfect neck.

A MAD DESCENT INTO SLOWNESS

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Time flies, maturity takes the bus.

There are a lot of older people around here. According to my driver’s license, I am one of them. The arrival of forty-six hundred pieces of mail informing me of my Medicare eligibility confirms what I have denied to myself. Sixty-five. That magic number is here, and there ain’t nothing I can do about it.

I do old guy stuff now. My current obsession is making sure to set the coffee pot for the morning. This routine task is familiar to those with automatic coffee makers and is essential for a few reasons.

First, there is nothing better than getting out of bed and having a fresh pot of coffee ready to kick off the day.

Second, there is little more annoying than the sound of beans being ground early in the morning. It may have been Einstein who discovered the theory that the earlier the hour, the louder the grinder. Please don’t quote me on that. It could have been my wife who said that. See – more old guy stuff – making up facts and blaming the spouse.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, setting the coffee pot. A perfectly normal routine. Except now I find myself doing it in the late afternoon. Like, twelve hours ahead of time. Who does that? Old guys, or more specifically, this old guy. Who sometimes forgets to hit the timer button. Which is fine. It gives me more time to try and remember if I took my fiber and vitamins. I am not ready to add Ginko Biloba to my routine, but I’m thinking about it.

I have an old guy approach to my wardrobe now. There are “around the house” pants,  “around town” pants, and “going someplace nice” pants. And shirts? Tattered collars and cuffs are fine with me, and nobody sees them, so what’s the big deal? When I am out and about town, I zip my sweatshirt up. Blue shirts aren’t cheap, so I wear them until the League of Decency intervenes. Uh oh, another old guy reference.

Those commercials about people turning into their parents? I side with the turners. I am the guy who seeks out the manager at Albertsons to tell him what a great job Angela in produce does. I have said, out loud, “I am not paying that much for a box of instant oatmeal!” Yes, I eat oatmeal, and yes, I use instant because who knows how much time I have left? I am an old guy!

I watch Blue Bloods on Friday nights at 10 PM and try to figure out what they are having for Sunday dinner. I understand all of Anthony Abademarco’s double negatives because I grew up in New York. I looked at the cops with a bit of distrust back in the old days, and now I root for Jamie and Eddie to get through a shift safely.

And who knew The Big Bang Theory was so funny? I love the cleverness of the humor, though I find Howard to be annoying. And I admire how much Penny has grown over the years. Ok, I occasionally admire her other attributes; I am old, not dead.

I watch Saturday Night Live, and, as an old guy bonus, it comes on at 8:30 PM here in California. I understand that not every sketch or musical guest will be great. When I get nostalgic, I’ll find old episodes from my younger days and wait for the magic I remembered from those years. And realize that Saturday Night Live has always been hit – or – miss, even with the legends that came before today’s cast and writers. I still get a bit of a thrill when a musical guest that I don’t know blows me away. Thanks, Halsey!

I fight back against time, mostly with music. My ears are frequently ringing after a few hours of serious headphone time. The right ear goes first, an artifact of standing next to drummers back when I could play a whole gig without Aleve and Icy Hot. The thought of strapping on a bass guitar for four hours makes me want to lie on the couch and find episodes of Blue Bloods. But I can sit and listen to rock, punk, R&B until the headphones need recharging. I don’t get upset when I hear an f-bomb in my son’s songs. I think, “great use of the word to make a point.”  I expect to do this until the end, which could be anytime. Until then I’ll try not to exclaim, “What the hell happened to Joe Namath!!!” when he appears on TV to sell me something old-guy-related.

4 PM. Time to set the coffee pot.