Tuesday, August 3, 2010

My Sauce

Every so often, when something happens to jog my memory, I take time to think back and remember everything I can about grandparents. My cooking caused it to happen this time. I have done this probably once a year every year since this one night during my junior year of college when I decided to try and find if there were any military records of either one of my grandfathers on the Internet. I failed to find anything, but ended up sitting at my desk crying as I recalled various memories from my childhood involving my grandparents.

At the time, only one of them had passed away. My Grandpa Tomko, who I am sad to say I have the least memories of, died when I was in third grade from cancer. It was difficult to remember things about him, but I will always remember him driving me to his house on Friday’s after school. The bus would drop me off at my house and there he would be, waiting in his car to take me to his house until one of my parents was finished with work. We played a game each trip. The goal was to reach his house without hitting any red lights along the way, nearly an impossible task. We probably never accomplished it, but he would cheat and slowly creep up to the stop line until the light turned green. This way we could say we never hit a red light. It was stupid. It was perfect. It is my most vivid memory of him. I wish I had more.

This weekend, as I was preparing my homemade spaghetti sauce, my mind naturally wondered to memories of my Grandma Alongi. It is her recipe that was passed down to my mom and then on to me. I laugh because we all follow the same recipe, yet when the finished dished is served on the table they all taste slightly different, none of us fully duplicating the same flavors that the other one created. My Grandma made the best meatballs. My mom had the best sauce. I’m just trying to keep up. My grandmother never got to taste my version of her sauce. I think she would have liked it.

She passed away during my senior year of college. She had suffered with Alzheimer’s for many, many years, then a stroke. When she finally went, it was truly the best thing for her… She was the one who taught me poker. I couldn’t have been more than five years old when she sat me down and explained how a flush beat a straight and a full house beat a flush. I don’t think many five year olds knew how to play poker, but I did. I like thinking I was the youngest poker player. It makes me smile. Other five year olds were playing Uno or Old Maid. I was playing five-card draw poker, one-eyed jacks wild….

I remember my grandmother pre-Alzheimer’s and post-Alzheimer’s. It’s sad but she was two different people. The only good that came from the disease was that she finally quit smoking and that was because she couldn’t remember that she smoked. I used to steal her cigarettes and hide them from her in an attempt to get her to stop smoking. I never realized that she had more packs at home or that should could go to the store and buy more. Na├»ve kid. She was great. She hated board games but would always play them with my sister and me. She loved solitaire and word searches. We had to do hundreds of them together. She would let me add the vinegar to the salad every lunch. I would push the limits each time trying to pour as much on as I could. She never got mad. It was just the ritual of making lunch. I think she liked it as much as I did. She didn’t have a license. She carried a purse that was huge and filled with an endless supply of bubblegum. She loved jigsaw puzzles, cats, her grandchildren, a shot of what I think was whiskey before bed, cards, tending to her tomato plants, taking walks and slot machines. She could do without TGIF’s TV lineup that aired on ABC, specifically the show Family Matters, board games and….

That’s probably it. She could tolerate most things…. I think my fondest memory of her though, which is actually on video, is of her rebounding my missed dunk attempts on my Fisher Price basketball hoop during my 4th birthday party… It was a great birthday…

Oh she also blessed us with her Texas Sheet Cake. It is the greatest cake. I can’t make it. My mom can’t make it. My sister though, I think she got the gene, because she is the only one that can come close to duplicating that dessert.

I have two grandparents still living. My Grandma Tomko turned 81 years old today. I called her to wish a happy birthday and ended up on the topic of her old rotary phone and how her phone down her basement is still a rotary. I can still see the old phone that hung on her kitchen wall that instead of pressing buttons you spun a dial. So much has changed. She tells me how her first job was working telephone switchboards, “In the 50’s, Michael!” she exclaims. Now I’m calling her on a cell phone that can access the Internet. She doesn’t have the Internet. She only recently got cable for her television, finally abandoning her antenna. It all makes me laugh. We used to turn her living room into a bowling alley. She set up the plastic pins and Leslie and me would bowl. She let us beat her in Connect 4, and taught us the card game Phase 10. She’s still an exceptional cook. I don’t call enough.

I spoke to my other living grandparent tonight too. My Grandpa Alongi was sleeping. I let the phone ring roughly thirty times. He finally answered. He doesn’t have the best hearing so I have to speak loud over the phone. He sounded glad to hear from me. I need to call him more too. He is a retired carpenter. I can still smell the sawdust that used to permeate his garage on a hot summer day. He was great with his hands. We built a birdhouse together one afternoon. I painted it white and red. He made me my very own Plinko Board out of wood and nails. He had a woodshop down his basement and tons of other contraptions. He loved garage sales and auctions. We took his blue station wagon on every trip to the Jersey Shore. I miss those trips, as uncomfortable as they were in that car. I will never forget them. He still re-grips golf clubs for his friends. He could sleep through a Tornado. He lived, until recently, without an air conditioner in his house. He loves golf and the casinos.

I think I wrote this tonight because I don’t want to forget more. I want to have some of these memories on file, a reference to a few moments of their lives. I wish I could remember more. I am thankful for each of them.

Peace and much Love to you

Sunday, June 13, 2010

They're back....Kanye, Eminem & N.E.R.D.

1. Mr. West is back. That's all you need to say.

2. Eminem's new album leaked. It's crazy. It ranks up there with his best albums (The Marshall Mathers LP and The Eminem Show).... Song with Lil' Wayne, "No Love" is sick.... So is every other song on the album.

3. N.E.R.D. is back with Nelly Furtado.... the song is.... dare I say it, Hot N Fun.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Decisions, decisions...

In six weeks, Lebron James will make a decision that will define who he is as a person.

It will not only altar the balance of power in the NBA for the next 12 years, its will also finally let the us, the people who care about basketball, purchase jersey’s, buy season tickets and spend hours pouring over box scores, know exactly what makes one of the most dynamic athletes in the history of the NBA tick.

His decision will come down to one simple question.

What does he value most?

Loyalty, winning or money.

If it is loyalty, the obvious choice for James is to remain in Cleveland, a place where he grew up and a city that needs James more than James needs the city.

If it is winning, the obvious choice is Chicago, a city with a great basketball tradition and a team with talent already in place for James to try and win a championship next season.

If it is money, the obvious choice/choices is New York/New Jersey (Brooklyn), a city where he can go and make more money and be marketed as the savior of basketball if he can succeed in turning one of the struggling franchises around.

For the next six weeks, these are the choices that the reigning MVP will have to weigh. Most likely he will wait. He will take his time. He said following the Cavaliers quarterfinal loss to the Boston Celtics that he and his team would evaluate all options before making the best decision.

So what will he choose?

Will it be loyalty? He loves his home. He has always said that his heart is in Cleveland, and as long as James stays on the Cavs, they will be considered one of the top four teams in the NBA. His presence alone does that. So while Cleveland is not the sexist city to play for, it is his home, he has friends, family and an entire city of strangers that will be holding their breath for the next six weeks hoping and praying that the local boy stays close to his roots.

If he stays, he will, probably at some point in his career win a championship. He is too great of a player to go his entire career without hoisting the championship trophy. Can he win next year though if he stays in Cleveland? Probably not. The Cavs won’t have the cap space to add another big time player to pair with James. And if this season taught LeBron anything it’s that one player can’t win a title.

But it is home. And the Cavs can offer him the most money. And he can go about trying to do the previously unimaginable by bringing a championship banner to the Gund…errr, I mean Quicken Loans Arena.

Is it winning? Does winning really, truly drive LeBron James? He has said he wants to win championships, but as we all know what athletes say and what athletes actually do is two completely different things. If winning is what drives him and if he wants to win right away the top choice for James is the Chicago Bulls. He would already have the pieces in place to contend next season with the Orlando Magic for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.

Derrick Rose would play the Scottie Pippen role, Joakim Noah would play Dennis Rodman, Luol Deng would play Toni Kukoc and Kirk Hinrich would play the role of Steve Kerr. James would be the lead, doing his best Michael Jordan impersonation in the house that MJ built. He would have his all-star sidekick in Rose, his hard-working big man in Noah and a cast of talented role players that could get James’s his first championship, while bringing Chicago basketball back to prominence.

Is it money? If it is, the choice is New York, whether it’s the Nets or the Knicks. If James wants to become a global figure bigger than any athlete ever his choice will be New York. It is Nike’s, Gatorade’s and the entire city of New York’s dream to have the No. 1 athlete in the No. 1 city in the world.

Both teams though would be projects. He probably wouldn’t be able to win a championship next season as either a Knick or a Net, but that is not to say he wouldn’t capture a ring in a few years. The Nets seem to have more flexibility with cap and draft picks than the Knicks as well as a new billionaire owner, but the Knicks are well the Knicks, and David Stern would love to have the game’s top player in the leagues top market. And if he can win in New York, maybe he will finally be able to earn the nickname that he gave to himself but has yet to prove is warranted. Winning a title inside Madison Square Garden would certainly do that.

So we wait, six weeks for the sports top player to make his decision.

We will all be witness.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Pumping out my speakers

1. Kanye West featuring Mos Def - Good Night

A bonus track from Graduation. Mos Def's singing is the best part.

2. Ne-Yo Featuring Kanye West - Because of You (remix)

Not new at all, but I remembered how much i liked it. Ye's verse is crazy.

3. Lupe Fiasco - I'm Beaming

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Favorite Albums of the Decade...

Honorable mentions:

Reflection Eternal -Talib Kweli (2000): Talib Kweli is one of Hip-hops most poetic rappers. His influences can be seen today with mainstream stars Lupe Fiasco and Kanye West. The song Africa Dreams takes listeners on a musical journey beginning with tribal drums and ending with DJ scratches on a turntable.

The Marshall Mathers LP - Eminem (2000): This is Em’s opus. It is a disturbing and grotesque album. But the way Eminem delivers line after line makes it one of the best lyrical albums of the decade. Very few artists can write the way he does and tell a story.

Hybrid Theory -Linkin Park (2000): I had never listened to any CD more when Linkin Park came out with their debut album. The group successfully combined rap and metal into an album that allowed them to have cred with both genres of music.

In Search of… - N.E.R.D. (2001): The album is like a free flowing river, becoming calm at times and then rough and treacherous. N.E.R.D, which stands for No One Ever Really Dies, keeps listeners on their toes the entire album, switching tempos and musical construction mid song, producing a sound that is truly unique.

The Beautiful Struggle - Talib Kweli (2004): His beats are more mainstream this time around, but the messages he raps about are as powerful as ever. In “Going Hard” he spits,‘Parents never there, they're busy building homes they can't afford to buy, Cars they can't afford to drive, Working jobs that don't support their life, You busy screaming gangsta, gangsta all that talk is trife.’

The College Dropout - Kanye West (2004): His first album is a classic, bringing the soul sample to the forefront of hip-hop. The song “Family Business” is my favorite on the album. West changes keys on his final verse rapping, “I woke up early this mornin' with a new state of mind, A creative way to rhyme without usin' knives and guns, Keep your nose out the sky, keep your heart to God, And keep your face to the risin' sun’.

The Cool - Lupe Fiasco (2007): To fully appreciate everything in a Lupe Fiasco album it must be listened to many, many times, because the Chicago MC slips in so many metaphors that you need to go back again and again to fully grasp his abilities. For example on the song “The Coolest” he raps ‘please forgive Michael Young History’, but just listening to the song it sounds like ‘please forgive my cool young history’.

3. The Blueprint – Jay-Z (2001): In my mind this is his best album, even better than Reasonable Doubt. “H-to the Izzo” was my anthem during sophomore year of high school. I remember listening to it before soccer games. Kanye West produces the majority of the album lending the soul sample to Jay-Z’s rhymes. “Heart of the City” and “All I Need” are standouts. And his storytelling ability is on full display on the track ‘Song Cry” – ‘I can’t see them coming down my eye, so I got to make this song cry’.

2. Late Registration – Kanye West (2005): West didn’t suffer a sophomore slump with his second album. Late Registration is a more polished album with better lyrics and production. He sticks with the soul-sampling technique of The College Dropout but adds more string instruments, horns and pianos to give the album a more epic feel. The song “Roses” has a simple beat, but may be the albums most powerful song. On “Diamonds from Sierra Leone” Mr. West samples Shirley Bassey “Diamonds are Forever” as he discusses the issue of blood diamonds, ‘Good Morning, this ain't Vietnam still, People lose hands, legs, arms for real, Little was known of Sierra Leone, And how it connect to the diamonds we own’.

1. Food & Liquor – Lupe Fiasco (2006): I have never listened to an album more than Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor. Whether it was playing in my ears as I fell asleep or coming back from the bar at State College, this album was always playing through my iPod. The intro on the album sums up exactly what you can expect to hear. You will hear the good, that’s the food. And the bad, that’s the liquor, from the mind of Mr. Fiasco. “Kick Push” is the story of a skater just looking to find a place to ride. The “Intrumental” is about a person who believes everything the TV tells him. “Daydreamin’” sarcastically mocks every other hip-hop artists rap videos, poking fun at how easily it is to predict what will be in the video to get it played on MTV. ‘And where's the champagne? We need champagne, Now look as hard as you can with this blunt in your hand, And now hold up your chain slow motion through the flames, Now cue the smoke machines and the simulated rain’. On Sunshine he drops my favorite verse of the entire album,‘Never met her before, But I think I like her like a metaphor’. On “The Cool” he tells a story of Michael Young History digging himself out of his grave after the gangster lifestyle ended his life early. Every track is well crafted and honest; “Hurt me Soul” opens with Fiasco stating he used to hate hip-hop. The production, done almost entirely by Soundtrakk, who is able to match Lupe’s rapping style perfectly with the beats. It is the most honest, compelling and intelligent album of the decade. Each song is layered with lyrics that will make you think and laugh, and deserves multiple listens. Listening to a Lupe Fiasco song is like watching an episode of Arrested Development. You constantly hear new metaphors with each additional listen.