Toast Alert
October 18, 2021 4:01 PM | Posted in: ,

I hate to disappoint you if you came here looking for tips regarding scorched bread, but while I am an acknowledged -- yet exceedingly humble -- expert on the subject, I'm actually here to warn you about the app named Toast

You may have encountered Toast at a restaurant that has adopted it as its point-of-sale management tool. It apparently does a lot of different tasks for the restaurant, but the one I'm writing about is the ability to allow patrons to pay their tabs via phone using Apple Pay or another mobile wallet app. I'm a big fan of this capability, primarily because I'm impatient and the check settlement process at many (most?) restaurants is inefficient and time-consuming.

My typical experience with this process goes something like this. The server brings the ticket to your table and then immediately goes to take the orders for a party of fourteen non-English-speaking tourists who require an explanation via Google Translate of every item on the menu. Thirty minutes later, the server comes back to pick up your payment, and if you're paying by cash, you will inevitably need change because you only have two twenties for a $21 tab. That takes another thirty minutes because the server remembers that their car needs a new inspection sticker and what better time to go get it than right now. 

Photo - The bill for our brunchGiven that usual state of affairs, I was pleasantly surprised on Saturday when Debbie and I stopped by Hill & Vine* in Fredericksburg for brunch and found that the restaurant accepted Apple Pay via the Toast platform. Our printed check had a QR code that took us to a digital version that could be paid via whatever credit or debit cards I had loaded in my iPhone's wallet app. (The option to pay via debit card is especially nice since there's no physical card to be handed over to someone. I don't mind doing that with a credit card, but I never use a debit card if someone else has to touch it.)

I scanned the QR code -- and inadvertently took a photo of it, shown at right. As it turns out, I'm glad I did, as it helps me illustrate the ensuing chain of events.

The QR code let me open the aforementioned digital version where I could choose my payment method, which in this case was a debit card via Apple Pay. It also allowed me to add a tip for the server, and I selected the 20% option and hit the "pay now" button.

I immediately received a confirmation from Apple Pay, followed quickly by a confirmation email from Toast. But I noticed something strange about both confirmations, shown side-by-side below. See if you can spot the puzzling aspect.

Photo - Apple Pay receiptPhoto - Emailed payment confirmation from Toast
The Apple Pay confirmation is on the left; the Toast confirmation is on the right. They both have the same total, and that equals the total on the bill. That's good, right? Well...

Alert Gazette reader that you are, you've no doubt instantly noticed the same thing I did: there's no tip.

I flagged down the server and asked if she was able to confirm exactly what payment was entered into the restaurant's system, because the last thing I ever want to do is stiff the help. She punched around on the keypad of her little magic ordering device and pulled up the internal receipt and showed it to me. Nope; no tip appeared. I was sure I had selected one, but the evidence indicated otherwise.

I apologized, pulled a $20 from my wallet, and asked her for $10 in change. It took long enough for that to happen that I would have been just as well off to pay cash to begin with, but we were finally able to leave the restaurant with a clear conscience. All was well.

That is, until I looked at our checking account balance this morning and saw what actually hit the account via our debit card.

Screen capture - bank statement

How about that? My original 20% tip magically appeared on the actual hit to our checking account. Thanks to the obscure machinations of the Toast app -- or, possibly, the inability of the server to access the final payment screen on her magic tablet -- said server ended up with a generous 40%+ gratuity (my initial 20% on the card plus the apologetic sawbuck). 

This is a long and boring cautionary tale for those who seek to remove time from the transaction cost of a restaurant meal. I have a hard time believing that the Toast app is really that inept, but the documentation seems to indicate otherwise. 
This issue with Toast is a different animal than with normal credit card processing. When you leave a tip via a credit card, there are actually two steps to the transaction. The cost of the meal was automatically charged to your account at the time the tab was rung up. The tip, however, is manually added by the restaurant after the fact. That's why the before-tip total often shows up in your bank account as pending charge, and the final tab+tip amount later appears as the final total. The Toast process, OTOH, appears to include the tip in its final computation of the total charge -- IOW, we're actually "ringing up" the total charge on the app -- which is why the absence of the tip on the confirmation is puzzling. Here endeth the lesson on credit/debit card tips.
The moral of the story has nothing to do with my leaving a relatively exorbitant tip; $10 extra dollars is not remotely life-changing in this situation. But as an increasing number of restaurants move toward "pay at the table" mobile options, it seems that one has to have an increased sense of skepticism about whether those options really work as one would expect.

I have, by the way, left some feedback on Toast's app to document what took place, and gave the developers permission to contact me if they'd like further details. We'll see whether that happens.

*Hill & Vine is, for those of you who are familiar with Fredericksburg, Texas, the restaurant that was constructed and opened this year on the site of the much beloved Peach Tree Restaurant and Gift Shop. As much as we enjoyed our Peach Tree experiences, stretching back decades, I have to admit that H&V is a more-than-worthy replacement for that venue. If it's not already, it will become yet another must-visit location on the Hill Country scene.

Solving a Catholic Mystery Statue
October 15, 2021 12:10 PM | Posted in:

We were recently in Fort Stockton and while we were there, we visited one of our favorite stores, Bella Terrazas. Bella Terrazas is owned and managed by Amy Terrazas, a special family friend, and the store is filled from floor to ceiling with an amazing variety of decor, almost all of which was hecho en México. We can spend an hour or more just browsing through the store's inventory (and visiting with Amy)...and it's rare that time isn't all we spend there, IYKWIM.

One section of the store is dedicated to Roman Catholic icons and symbols, which are exotic and sometimes puzzling to our Southern Baptist eyes. But we saw something on this visit that raised our puzzlement to previous uncharted heights:

Photo - Shrink-wrapped statue of St Jude

I confess that my first thought after seeing this five-feet-tall, shrink-wrapped statue was "why does Jesus have a bloody stake coming out of His head?" (And I mean no disrespect whatsoever to adherents to the Catholic faith.)

It didn't occur to me to ask Amy for an explanation; after all, she's not a tour guide and we certainly weren't the target purchasing audience. So I waited until we got home to try to find an explanation for what this statue represented.

My extensive research -- literally minutes of googling -- was initially frustrating. Search terms like "statue of Jesus with a candle on His head" (I had decided that surely that wasn't a stake) led nowhere. I decided to cast a wider net, and eventually searching for images of "Mexican saint candles" took me to what seemed like some promising leads. I had to wade through prayer candles dedicated to Keanu Reeves (?!) and other "celebrities" but I finally scrolled down to a tiny image of Saint Jude with what appeared to be a light on top of his head.

So, I googled "Mexican St Jude statues" and found that this is a common portrayal of Jude the Apostle. I eventually landed on this website dedicated to him, and it answered all of my questions, and more, about the symbology of the statue pictured above.

The "candle" is actually a flame and it represents the descending of the Holy Spirit on the apostles at Pentecost (see the biblical reference: Acts 2:3-4). The medallion held by the statue  is embossed with the likeness of Jesus, and its significance is explained on the website linked in the preceding paragraph. Even the green color of the statue's robe is symbolic, as it represents hope and renewal (and of course even many of us Protestants know Jude as the patron saint of lost causes, and even if we're not, we know the good work being done by St. Jude Children's Hospital).

I don't care to get into any kind of theological discussions surrounding the veneration of saints, mainly because I'm not qualified (although that's rarely stopped me before). But I'm afflicted with a natural curiosity about things like this, and enjoy learning more about the world around me. I suspect I share this trait with some of you, and I hope this meandering trail led you to some new observations of your own.
Alert Gazette readers will recall this post from way back in February, when I extolled the virtues of early morning runs on the golf course cart paths that snake hither and yon through our fair city.

As those of us who are prone to pessimism and/or fatalism say, all good things must come to an end. A couple of months ago, these signs started sprouting like weeds at most of the entrances to cart paths from their intersections with streets.

Photo - Sign on golf course prohibiting use of cart paths by anyone but golfers
Not sure why this song came to mind...


At first I was a bit outraged, but over time my emotions tempered to a sort of sympathetic melancholy. I understand the issue that the Resort is trying to address. We've seen families playing touch football and frisbee in the fairways, and kids playing in the bunkers. We've dodged the results of owners who didn't clean up after their dogs. We've even witnessed at least one runner who seem to feel that the middle of the fairway was her private track. Abuse by a few people have created this situation that unfortunately affects all of us who previously enjoyed the scenery from the cart paths before golfers appeared on the courses. (The first golfers don't show up on the back nines where we are until at least 9:00 a.m.)

No one I've talked to likes these restrictions, and some of those folks ignore them (we see them on the paths as we run on the street). But context is important. Horseshoe Bay is a resort city; if the Resort isn't healthy, the city will suffer in some fashion. For example, there are no restaurants within the city limits that aren't owned and managed by Horseshoe Bay Resort. The money that flows into city coffers via the occupancy tax is a significant contributor to maintaining the infrastructure and services all residents enjoy. 

And, of course, the main draw to the Resort is golf. If the Resort feels that draconian measures are needed to protect its investment and accompanying revenue streams, it has every right to implement them.

This change has caused my wife and I to resume running exclusively on city streets. We did that for years before discovering the cart paths, so it's not a huge deal. There is a downside due to safety considerations; just this morning, I almost had to jump a curb to avoid an oncoming distracted driver. This is somewhat ironic since one of the justifications for the new policy was to increase safety on the golf courses; it was never obvious to me just whose safety was being jeopardized by our dawn runs.

Horseshoe Bay remains a beautiful and relatively tranquil place to walk and run, even if the cart paths are now off limits. And there will be a couple of months each year when it will be possible to get in a good run before 7:30 a.m. without stumbling around in the dark. In the end, this is what we call a First World Problem, and not even a significant one at that.
...because Foto Friday was already spoken for. Plus, I'm a procrastinator.

Here are some pictures I took.

Photo - Green tree frog on mandevilla leaf in bright sunlight
Where's a pair of Wayfarers when you need them?

The green tree frogs have been numerous lately (or perhaps there's just one and he/she is someone ubiquitous). But it's a bit rare to see one in the bright sunlight like this. It soon retreated into the shade of this mandevilla.

Photo - Spider molt - unknown species
What's going on here?!

For a couple of days this week I was watching yet another arachnid activity outside one of our windows. This one had me puzzled. It appeared to be two spiders. Was there a meal taking place, or was it a bit of spidery hanky-panky? I had no idea, but this scene persisted for almost two days.

The next day, this was the only thing left:

Photo - Spider molt - unknown species
No wonder it took the spider two days to wriggle out of this.

It's the same scene; I just used a macro lens to get up close and personal. I was now even more confused, as this spider was moribund to the max. So I turned to my go-to resource for insect identification: the Antman's Hill® Facebook group. The experts there quickly explained why my spider wasn't skittering about. This is actually a molt...the shed "skin," if you will, of the spider shown in the previous photo. Pretty amazing, huh? (Those experts never did, however, identify the spider for me. I guess they figured that anyone who couldn't tell a spider corpse from a live one was probably hopeless. And, of course, they were right.)

Photo - Anole resting vertically on a metal gate
Move along, folks...nothing to see here.

Some people have fence lizards, others have tree lizards. Some even have brush lizards, which presumably are afraid of heights. We, however, have gate lizards. (OK, it's really just an anole whose camouflage isn't as effective as it thinks.)

Photo - tree fungus with a tiny T-rex photoshopped in its shade

Tree fungi pop up in the weirdest places sometimes, but they provide a valuable service to tiny creatures needing respite from the Texas summer sun.

This final image is going to require some explaining.

Photo collage - nighttime trail camera photos of various wildlife in our back yard

This is sort of a collage of critters that visited our back deck over the course of two evenings. Most of them require no identification (but I will provide one anyway), but there are some things worth noting. 

  1. A pair of foxes
  2. A trash panda, aka raccoon
  3. A fast-moving armadillo
  4. Skunk #1 - white back and tail
  5. Skunk #2 - standard black and white back
  6. Skunk #3 - black back and tail
  7. Ring-tailed cat (Bassariscus astutus) aka ringtail, a member of the raccoon family
  8. Not is the same small fox shown in #1?
I'm always surprised at the variety of coloration in skunks. Besides the ones pictured above, we've seen on that's almost completely white.

The ringtail was a terrific surprise. They are presumably fairly common, but also very shy and elusive, and this is only the second one we've photographed in four years of living here. As you can see, the animal's tail-to-body ratio is ridiculous.

And with respect to #8, the more I watch the video (all of these photos are screen shots of frames from videos), the more I think this is the same juvenile fox that appears in the first photo. It's a cute little rascal.

There's never a dull moment when it comes to wildlife around Casa Fire Ant.
¡Hola, amigos¡ ¿Qué pasa? Hoy es el día nacional de guacamole, y es la hora a celebrar. (It's also Mexico's Independence Day. Coincidence? I think not.)

We've got a lot of territory to cover, so let's lean into it (as "they" say in H.R.).

I'm sure most of you are itching to know what's going on with the garden spider I introduced a week or so ago. As you may recall, said spider wasn't exactly batting a thousand when it came to closing the deal on a meal, so to speak. But I suppose it was getting by...until a couple of days ago, when I noticed that it and pretty much all evidence of its web were no longer haunting gracing our garage window. So, unless it packed its bags and moved somewhere the property values are more reasonable, I have to assume that it discovered the hard way that there's always someone bigger and meaner than you. [Cue Bad Bad Leroy Brown mood music]

Of course, I have no idea what that bigger someone was, but I have my suspicions.

T-rex staring down our garden spider

On a sorta semi pseudo-related note, as long as we're updating some local wildlife reports, our Texas spiny lizard is still hanging out in the garage, eating bugs and spiders -- don't think? Nah...surely not... -- and pooping everywhere, and while it may be my imagination, I think it's getting accustomed to my presence. At least it's not diving under the treadmill the instant I come into the garage.

If that's the case, it may be because I finally wised up and set out a paper plate which I fill with water almost every morning. I'm not that wise in the ways of lizards but I figured that it wouldn't hurt to put out some water just in case it wasn't getting sufficiently hydrated from food sources. I did wonder, though, if my efforts were being recognized by the target of my largesse. 

That question was put to rest a couple of days ago when I watched the lizard creep slowly from under the treadmill and make its way to the edge of the paper plate where it proceeded to drink some that morning's refreshment. 

As is my wont, I determined to capture some photographic evidence of this phenomenon, so I set up a GoPro camera aimed at the dish, and configured to take a photo every 30 seconds. Each morning, I would refill the plate with water, and turn on the camera, letting it do its thing for a couple of hours. I would then return and scroll through the images on the camera (is it obvious that I'm retired?), looking for the affirmation that I hadn't imagined what I thought I saw. And for several days, it did appear that it had been an illusion, a cruel joke foisted on me by an uncaring Mother Nature and/or a decaying brain.

But this morning's efforts erased all doubt. I finally caught the little guy/gal in the act, and here's the proof:

Animated GIF: Texas spiny lizard drinking water
You can lead a lizard to water, and sometimes it will drink.

Let's talk about music for a minute, shall we? First, here are the last ten songs that iTunes shuffled onto my phone this morning:

  • Kikuchiyo to Mohshimasu -- Pink Martini (thanks, Sam!)
  • Too Much Stuff -- Delbert McClinton
  • All the Pretty Colors -- Sturgill Simpson
  • Never Kill Another Man -- The Steve Miller Band
  • Eleanor Rigby -- Joshua Bell & Frankie Moreno
  • I'll Fly Away -- Gary Chapman & Wynonna [not Ryder]
  • Paranoid -- Black Sabbath (how did that get on there?!)
  • Dance Electric -- Pointer Sisters (how did that get on there?!)
  • Same Kind of Crazy -- Delbert McClinton (hmm...I sense a trend)
  • Love is Gonna Gotcha -- Lucy Woodward
Pretty interesting, huh? And, guess what they all have in common, other than being comprised of 1s and 0s which are magically converted into sound waves? Uh...well...nothing, actually. So, never mind.

I have, within the past two days, purchased two new albums, which I now recommend for your consideration. The first is alluded to in the list above...the album name is Hang On Little Tomato by Pink Martini, and the songs on this 2004 album are almost as eclectic as the list of music I provided above. The group consists of a dozen musicians, and they've performed songs in 25 different languages (not all at the same time...I'm guessing) in a wide variety of styles. My pal Sam played the title track of the album for me on Monday, and it features a wonderfully accessible clarinet solo, and I'm a sucker for clarinet solos that make me foolishly think that, yes, I could do that. (Reality inevitably harshes my mellow.) I immediately downloaded the entire album.

Then, yesterday, I purchased Sturgill Simpson's new album, The Ballad of Dood and Juanita, released last month. I've previously confessed to being a Sturgill fan, and this album generally reinforces my fandom. It's mostly bluegrass/Americana/throwback country in genre, with one great exception -- a Latin-style number called Juanita and featuring Willie Nelson on guitar. [Some have expressed  astonishment/disappointment that Willie doesn't sing on the track, but his unique guitar phrasing is unmistakeable.] The album is short -- less than 30 minutes of music -- and designed to be listened to straight through, even if most of the tracks stand up well by themselves. 

If it sounds like I'm damning the album with faint praise, it's only because there's not a lot of meat on the bones. Three of the ten tracks are a minute or less in length, and one song is sort of a remixed epilogue of the introduction. OTOH, Simpson is a skilled storyteller and if you approach the album with that in mind, you'll be rewarded for your time.

We might as well wrap this up with more music. Here's one of the songs I think I'd like to have played at my funeral.

I changed my mind (not about the funeral song, but about how to end this post). Here's a tree frog resting on a poinsettia leaf. Sorta makes you look forward to Christmas, huh? [There's more where this came from over on my Instagram page. Hint, hint.]

Photo - Gree tree frog resting on a poinsettia leaf

OK, now we're finished. Go eat some guac.

In League with the Stones
September 12, 2021 7:14 AM | Posted in:

Note: This is the last in a series of posts from The Lost Gazette Chronicles, focusing on those that fall into the "Faith" category. I wrote this one in July of 2008, back when I was still semi-coherent.

I'm early in the book of Job in my 2008 "Read Through the Bible" curriculum, and I noticed a phrase yesterday morning that has hitherto escaped my consciousness. In the fifth chapter, Job's friend Eliphaz is continuing his monologue intended to provide some comfort -- or at least some explanation -- for the sorry state in which Job finds himself, having lost everything but his life (and his wife). 

 Eliphaz isn't really a very good counselor; he and his two compatriots would have been better off doing what they did for the first seven days of their visit with Job: just sitting with him in silence. Sometimes we try too hard to fill the void, when all we really need to do is be there. Anyway, Eliphaz is talking about the privileges that accrue to those whom God favors with His discipline (a oft-repeated Biblical doctrine, by the way, but not one that necessarily provides immediate comfort to those in pain). Here's how the New American Standard Version phrases verses 17-23:
Behold, how happy is the man whom God reproves,
So do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.
For He inflicts pain, and gives relief;
He wounds, and His hands also heal.
From six troubles He will deliver you,
Even in seven evil will not touch you.
In famine He will redeem you from death,
And in war from the power of the sword.
You will be hidden from the scourge of the tongue,
And you will not be afraid of violence when it comes.
You will laugh at violence and famine,
And you will not be afraid of wild beasts.
For you will be in league with the stones of the field,
And the beasts of the field will be at peace with you.
I love that turn of phrase, in league with the stones of the field. It speaks to a reconciliation with the most fundamental aspects of God's creation, and not just a passive one, either. I don't mean to get New Agey or Zen-sounding, but communing with rocks conjures up precisely that kind of image. On the other hand, I'm probably giving rocks too little credit. After all, Jesus spoke of stones crying out, and while He was probably being metaphorical, far be it from me to suggest that the Creator and Sovereign Ruler of the Universe couldn't imbue limestone with lyrics or agate with articulation. 

What Eliphaz was probably getting at, though, is that when you're right with God, everything else pretty much falls into place as well. Here's how the Contemporary English translation puts verse 23: ...and your rocky fields will become friendly. What's interesting is that he doesn't suggest that God removes those rocks -- those bumps in the road that at best are uncomfortable and at worst throw us completely off track -- but that we learn how to deal with them. We can't always control our circumstances, but we can determine our attitude toward them.

In league with the stones. That sounds like a great place to be, doesn't it? 
All I have to say about the title of this post is...Roget let me down yet again.

For the past couple of months I've been observing a female yellow garden spider (Argiope aurantia; a type of orb weaver) just outside one of our garage windows. During that time, it's grown from a half-inch "wingspan" juvenile into a three inch Stuff Of Nightmares, dining on a variety of hapless insects that become ensnared in its two feet wide circular web, which is anchored at the corners by some tall shrubs on the bottom, and the eave of our house at the top.

I check on it daily, mainly to reassure myself that if it's still there, it's not in our house. Did I mention my arachnid aversion? I confess a somewhat morbid fascination with its behavior, as I comfortably (in a physical sense; emotionally, it's a different story) view it from the opposite side of the glass.

But last week, I saw something that made me drop my guard and rush outside to get a closer look. The spider was busily spinning something around with those Tim Burtonesque legs, and I immediately recognized it as Lady Shelob's next Meal Simple. The apparently imminent entrée was vaguely beetle-shaped, and as I looked closer, I realized to my horror that it was still alive and [literally] kicking.

So, of course, I had to video it...and you'll never believe what happened next! (No, really!)

So much for the spider being the ultimate predator.

Of course, I had to chase some rabbits after viewing these spectacles. Here are some things you might not know about spiders and their webs:

  • Spiders can vary the thickness and stickiness of the silk they produce depending on its intended use. For example, the silk that the beetles were wrapped in is called "aciniform" while the outer rim and spokes of the web is comprised of silk called "ampullate" (and ampullate can have different compositions depending on whether it's meant to be temporary during construction of the web, or permanent).

  • Aciniform silk is much tougher than other types, making the beetles' escapes that much more impressive.

  • The Darwin's bark spider's silk is the toughest biologic material ever discovered; it's ten times tougher on a weight-adjusted basis than Kevlar. ("Toughness" is a combination of a material's strength and ductility -- which, as we all know, is the measure of how much a material can be distorted [or stretched, in the case of spider silk] without breaking.) This explains why Kim Kardashian's bras are made exclusively of spider silk.

  • OK, I made that last sentence up.

  • Spider silk is rich in vitamin K, which can aid in blood clotting, so the next time you, say, cut off a finger with your chain saw, just look for a spider web. (Not really. I mean, it might work, but there are probably other, more medically effective measures, starting with not cutting off any appendages.)
I'm not a musical historian, but I play one on this blog, and I think the Golden Age of Swing in American music ran from the late 1930s through the end of World War II. A host of incredible musicians wrote and recorded songs that still capture ears and imagination almost a century later.

I'd be hard-pressed to come up with a favorite tune from that era, but I'm pretty sure Sing, Sing, Sing would be in the running. This post is a tribute to that musical gem.

Louis Prima wrote and recorded Sing, Sing, Sing (With A Swing) (hereafter referred to as S3 to save my typing fingers) in 1936. The record was a 78 rpm and ran just a tad longer than four minutes, which was pushing the limit on that medium. Here's Prima's recording, via YouTube: 

I don't know if the original version was a huge hit for Prima, but the song's popularity shifted into high gear when Benny Goodman got hold of it the following year. A fellow named Jimmy Mundy -- a saxophonist who was associated with jazz luminaries such as Count Basie and Lionel Hampton -- created an arrangement for Goodman that extended the tune to almost nine minutes, taking up both sides of a 12-inch 78 rpm platter.

Here's a video of Benny Goodman's orchestra's performance of S3 in the 1937 movie Hollywood Hotel.

I watch this clip and as an exceedingly average clarinetist whose improvisational skills are about as developed as my self-levitation skills, I can't think of a better experience than being one of the sax players sitting behind Goodman during his solo (starting at around the one minute mark). What a gig! 

Now, in 1938 Goodman's orchestra took the stage in Carnegie Hall and the resulting performance of S3 became a part of music lore. This 13-minute version also featured Gene Krupa on drums and Harry James on trumpet. The piano solo was performed by Jess Stacy, who improvised the riff on the spot, not having been given the spotlight for this tune prior to this concert.

Sidenote: That's Gene Krupa on drums. For you kidwinks who never heard of him, Krupa was likely the first drummer to combine flair and skill and get a showcase in a commercially successful band. He and another somewhat skillful (ha!) drummer named Buddy Rich used to do the dueling drummer thing, much to the delight of audiences. Here's an excerpt from a 1956 interview of both men. It's fascinating reading, especially the part where Rich takes on the so-called "cool music" of the day, and the way he felt it excluded musicians of his ilk:
I have a definite and very set opinions about the so-called modern school of music and drummers. Whereas in the days when it was necessary to swing a band, where a drummer had to be a powerhouse, today more or less the "cool school" has taken over, and I don't believe there's such a thing as a "cool drummer." You either swing a band or don't swing a band and that's what's lacking today. There aren't any guys who get back there and play with any kind of guts. And I like a heavyweight. I'm not a flyweight. I like-in my fighting, I like heavyweights and in my music I like emotionally good, strong heavyweight type of jazz. And it's just lacking today.

And speaking of their drum battles, here's another YouTube clip of one that was broadcast on the Sammy Davis, Jr. Show in 1966. The tune will be recognizable, I think:

Now, where were we? Oh, yeah...S3. Now, while these old recordings are wonderful (and it's truly a blessing that these performances have not been lost), there's really no substitute to hearing this song performed live by a skilled group of musicians. There aren't a lot of venues in our area where you can experience this, but one of them is just 90 miles down the road from where I live, in San Antonio to be exact. 

In the Pearl District, just north of downtown and adjacent to the northern end of the famous River Walk, there's a nightclub/restaurant called Jazz Texas. It features live music every night; during the week the music may range in genre, but on the weekends it's primarily jazz, courtesy of Brent (Doc) Watkins and his orchestra. You can visit Doc's website to see his complete bio, but for our purposes it's sufficient to say that he's one of the most gifted pianists and music arrangers you'll ever encounter, and he surrounds himself with equally gifted musicians. 

In March, 2020 -- just before COVID brought the world to its knees -- Debbie and I spent a weekend in San Antonio, and we spent Saturday night dining at Jazz Texas and enjoying the music. It's a relatively small venue, and while we were seated toward the back of the room, we were still only a few yards away from the band. Suddenly, the signature sound of the drum solo that kicks off a certain song began, and I fired up the iPhone. Here's the result:

I wish I could identify all the individual musicians featured in that video, but I can tell you that the drummer is Brandon Guerra and the incredible clarinetist is Bill King.

(Incidentally, I have strong opinions about people who go to a jazz club and then ignore the music, but I won't share them here.)

If you made it all the way through this screed, thanks for your patience and attention. I suspect that we share an affinity for good music, regardless of genre...but this big band stuff is the bee's knees!

Aging, But Ageless
August 29, 2021 7:13 AM | Posted in:

Note: I'm continuing to re-create posts from The Lost Gazette Chronicles, focusing on those that fall into the "Faith" category. This one requires a bit more explanation, because it refers to some things that some of you may not be familiar with, such as one of my previous professions. Also, please don't try to do the math regarding my current age, as I wrote this in May, 2007, and I wouldn't want you to hurt your brain.

Next month, God willing, I'll achieve a certain age-related milestone, one that's traditionally used in our society to signify what might politely be called "the beginning of the downhill slide." From a practical perspective, the only immediate impact I anticipate is the savings of a buck-and-a-quarter at the movies, which is nothing to sneeze at, by the way. 

Still, when I contemplate 55, the overriding reaction is, "I'm not old enough to be that old!" I surely don't feel that old. In fact, I don't feel any different than I did at other "milestone" ages, dating back just about as far as I can remember. 

A few Sundays back, our Bible study was in the first chapter of 2 Peter, which includes a passage (verses 12-15) where Peter tells his readers about the importance of remembering his teachings after he was gone:
So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.
The teacher paused and said something to the effect that Peter's comment about "living in the tent of this body" was a reminder that we're not purely--or even primarily--physical beings. She then threw out this tantalizing tidbit. "I think that's why we never really view ourselves as being as old as others think we are, or as old as our ages tell us we are." What she was saying is that in our minds and spirits, we're, well, ageless, because that's the part of us that will survive for eternity, long after this body has broken down and returned to dust. Our spirit recognizes this eternal truth, and while we may at times be able to subvert it with emotion and thought, that truth doesn't change. 

Thus it's a gift from God to us, to see ourselves as an ageless being, regardless of what we see in the mirror, and regardless of what our inevitably decaying bodies try to tell us. 

So, youngsters, the next time some old guy--say, an aging web designer (who might still be able to kick your rear on a bike, but that's neither here nor there)--throws out that seemingly lame declaration that he's not as old as he is, keep in mind that it's the truth. And it applies to you, too. 

God's Bubble
August 22, 2021 8:27 PM | Posted in:

Note: I'm continuing to post selected articles from The Lost Gazette Chronicles, focusing on those that fall into the "Faith" category (why? because I need the reminders). This one originally showed up in January, 2007.

O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD. You hem me in behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. [Psalm 139:1-5 (NIV)]
I think I've mentioned before that when I was a kid, one of my favorite pastimes was to convert a big appliance box into a tank. You could knock out the ends, get inside, and roll the cardboard "machine" through vacant lots with great abandon, completely protected from the various stickery flora and fauna that inhabited those environs. Of course, you couldn't see where you were going, but you could have fun getting there. 

Those memories came to mind this morning in Sunday School as we dwelt on Psalm 139 as a part of our annual "Sanctity of Life Day" emphasis. Psalm 139 is often chosen for this occasion because it's one of the best reminders of how special each of us is to our Creator, and given that He values life so highly, perhaps we also should take it a little less lightly. 

Anyway, as I pondered verse 5 -- I like the New American Standard translation even better: You have enclosed me behind and before... -- it occurred to me that God's provision is kind of like that cardboard tank...only more so. His protection is absolute, completely enveloping, more like a bubble that is impervious to the worst the world can send our way. 

Sure, we still get hurt, but that's not the point. The important thing to remember is that we're "treasures in earthen vessels," and God will not lose us; we cannot be destroyed by this world, thanks to His bubble of love and grace.