When It’s Time to “Lego” of Your Stuff

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An Imperial AT-ST walker. I call her “Legsy.”

As I mentioned in a recent postMike and I are relocating to New York City later this year. This will be a huge transition in any number of ways, but surely among the most jarring will be the dramatic loss of space that awaits us. We fully expect that after trading in our sprawling, 1,800 square-foot Seattle palace, we’ll be squeezing into a cozy little shoebox somewhere in the five boroughs. It won’t be easy, but we’re resigned to the realities of NYC apartment-living, and we’ll adjust.

In preparation for the big move, we have begun the preliminary purging of stuff, sifting through drawers, cupboards, shelves, and closets for anything unwanted and easily discarded. The prospect of lugging all of our crap cross-country has motivated us to do as much slimming down as possible. And of course, if we hope to actually fit into the new place, this downsizing will be essential. But in spite of having already sold or donated dozens of books and DVDs, piles of clothes and shoes, and numerous other household sundries, we still feel nowhere closer to our goal-weight in stuff. We’re beginning to accept the reality that to achieve this goal, when the time comes, some tough decisions will have to be made. 

Which brings me to the subject of this post: My Legos. 

Among my most geeky, but treasured possessions is a modest collection of Lego Star Wars ships. You’ve already met Legs, but allow me to introduce you to the rest of fleet:

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The TIE interceptor.
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“Slave I” (Boba Fett’s ride).
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The B-wing starfighter (docked).
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B-wing in “flight.”
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And the rest!

Sweet collection, right?

Anyway, the first time Mike visited my old bachelor pad, this nifty array – on proud display in the living room – was among the first things he noticed (along with a badass pair of working lightsabers). I’m sure it was a curious surprise, but if he was at all troubled by a grown man showing off his collection of Legos to a first-time visitor, he didn’t let on. He would later confess that although this gave him an “interesting” first impression, he was reassured by all the photos of family and friends also on display. “Oh, I get it. He’s not some weird, closed-off sociopath with a toy fetish. He’s just a dork.” (I prefer “Dork Vader,” actually.)

When Mike and I moved in together, it was decided that the Legos had to go. It wasn’t that Mike had any particular aversion to displaying toy spaceships in our living room (the decision was mutual, he assured me). It was just a question of space. The new apartment wasn’t that big, and with the merging of all our stuff, there wouldn’t be anywhere to put the Legos. So, solemnly, I disassembled the fleet, collected its pieces in a drawer, and placed them in the closet for their indefinite exile. 

We’ve since moved into our current, much bigger place, but it’s taken me quite a while to find the motivation to reassemble the ships. It’s a time-consuming and surprisingly painstaking process. I mean really, there must be thousands of pieces involved:

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“Ages 8 and up” my foot.

But I was spurred into action when, after the decision to move was made, I realized that I probably wouldn’t be able to keep my Legos. We’ll have no room to display them in our new place – that’s a given. But storage space, too, will likely be a precious commodity for us. True, the sets don’t take up that much space, and their weight, in terms of an apartment’s worth of cargo, is negligible. But when your decisions on what to keep and what to discard are measured down to the individual coffee mug, every little item counts. So I’ve decided it’s time to let them go. Sure, it was a tough call, but this was really only a trial-run for the bigger, tougher ones that lie ahead. I’m just trying to teach my self how to “Lego” of my things. 

So why, if I’m not going to keep my Lego fleet, did I take the time to rebuild it? Well, for one thing, it was easily the funnest way to organize a drawer overflowing with all those tiny, unsorted Lego pieces. I mean, if I’m giving them away (and I’m just sayin’, I know a few kids who are gonna be psyched), it’s probably best to have them arranged into their respective sets, no? But also, I just wanted to give the fleet one last “hurrah” before we part ways. This was a chance for me to take ’em out on a critical final mission: Allowing me to indulge in some nostalgic, Star Wars-geeky playtime. And now that I’ve had my fun, and taken plenty of pictures, this silly little blog-tribute is my way of saying goodbye.

It’s been easy for us to become attached to our stuff. But in the end, it’s only stuff. And next to our dear friends and beloved city, leaving our possessions behind will be the easy part. But by re-building these Lego sets, I’ve been able to build on the countless memories that I will bring with me to New York. The Legos will forever reside among my Seattle-memory touchstones, and whenever I think of them, I’ll be thinking back on my time here. And with this reassurance in mind (and now that I’ve gone and gotten all sappy about Legos), I see that it’s time, and I’m ready to let them go. 

But I’m keeping the lightsabers:

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Ben Folds Live

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I never saw the Beatles in concert. It’s a stunning oversight, I know. But tickets were always hard to come by, what with the Fab Four permanently disbanding a decade before my birth and all. Now the only way I’ll ever get to hear the Beatles playing Beatles songs is by listening to their albums. Granted, the fact that Abbey Road and Sgt. Pepper are always just the click of a “play” button away is no small consolation. But somewhere in the world there’s a sixty-year-old version of me who can actually tell people, “I once saw John, Paul, George, and Ringo do their thing live.” How can I not envy that person?

That’s one of the great privileges of experiencing live music. Even the best recordings, however polished or pristine, are only artifacts – preserved evidence of moments past. But a live performance is the moment. It’s an event that closes the distance between music makers and music lovers, turning once-remote listeners into first-hand witnesses. It’s a real-life experience where memories are recorded as much by the senses as by any camera or microphone. And it’s a chance to say, long after your favorite performer has taken their final bow, “I was there.”

One artist keenly attuned to the magic of these live-music moments is an ivory-tickling idol of mine named Ben Folds.

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I first saw Ben Folds Five play in the spring of 2000, during their last tour before splitting up later that year. They were easily my favorite band back then, and I still consider Mr. Folds one of the finest pop-musicians out there. Needless to say, it was a huge thrill to see them play. And though I managed to catch another four of his solo shows over the next decade, it was always a special privilege to be able to say I saw Ben Folds back in his “Five” days. I felt like I’d witnessed a bit of 90s pop-music history, because, that’s right, I was there.

Likewise, Ben Folds Five played an important role in Dan-history, coming along at an especially pivotal moment in my life. I bought my first BF5 CD in early 1998, during my senior year in high school. I was your typical shy, awkward teenager full of adolescent angst and confusion. But I was also growing into a more open, more aware individual that year. It was a crucial period of self-discovery and personal awakening. Yup, that was the year I realized I was a gay guy. And this sweet new CD, Whatever And Ever Amen, was its non-stop soundtrack.

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Of course, Ben Folds Five weren’t the reason I came out as gay. But my instant affinity for the group reflected a new facet of my emerging identity. They were the first band I’d discovered entirely on my own, signaling a newly independent and daring shift in my musical tastes. Where my prior preferences had been relatively tame (that’s tame, with a “t”, friends), BF5 were loud, smart-alecky, and did just enough cussing to make me feel like a total badass when I listened to them. Their catchy, piano-driven “punk rock for sissies” was an exciting new sound for the newer, edgier (but forever geeky) me.

Ben Folds Five split up soon after that, but twelve years later, the trio has reunited for a new album and tour. So when they made a stop in Seattle earlier this month, I got to relive the thrill of seeing them play live.

Their set, though featuring a bit of the new stuff, consisted mostly of songs from their late-90s heyday. It was a great show, with a nice blend of nostalgia and in-the-moment musical bliss. Indeed, even though I found myself drifting happily back to 1998 for much of the night, Mr. Folds has an uncanny knack for keeping his audience present for the here-and-now moments that make live performances so magical.

There’s nothing new about a good ol’ fashioned audience sing-along. But where some performers might simply encourage this kind of participation, Ben Folds relies on it. Take, for example, the BF5 classic “Army” – a song largely defined by its robust horn section. Instead of cutting this brass-heavy number from the three-man band’s set-list, Folds simply enlists the eager voices in his audience to fill the void. At the key moment, Maestro Ben gives his cue, and a thousand-person chorus erupts with a boisterous and surprisingly spot-on counterpoint of “bah-dap-baahs,” delivering the most rousing moment of the entire show.

This clever audience-as-horns bit goes back at least as far as Folds’s 2002 solo tour, and it has since become a staple of his live shows. But apart from the expected delights of a given concert, it’s the more spontaneous moments that really make each show unique and interesting. At this last BF5 show, it was things like the band’s impromptu, tongue-in-cheek rendition of “Reunited.” Or the amusing moment when Folds blanked on his lyrics mid-song and had to slowly backtrack to the preceding verse (rather than bullshitting his way through, as he confessed to often doing). And past surprises for me have included a fun cover of this 80s classic, a sweet onstage cameo by Moby, and a killer duet with one-time tourmate Rufus Wainwright.

But if there’s any one thing that draws me to a Ben Folds concert, it’s the piano. Folds may be a fine singer, and an exceptional songwriter, but the man is a freaking brilliant pop-pianist. As a quasi-passable player myself, I feel like I have a little extra appreciation (and no small amount of envy) for his ridiculous piano chops. When I see him play live, I find myself mesmerized by his dancing fingers, watching them bounce from graceful arpeggios to layered glissandos to full-bodied, key-smashing chords. I stand completely in awe of the man’s formidable talent, entranced by each deftly pounded keystroke. And I only snap out of it when Folds cuts out with his signature post-game sign-off: hurling the piano stool clear across the stage and nailing the baby grand squarely in its 88-tooth grin. It’s a final flash of rowdy, carefree showmanship – a piano man’s answer to the guitar-smashing rockers of yore – and it effing rules.

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A sweet commemorative Frisbee I scored back in ’08

I’ve now seen Ben Folds in concert a total of six times, and counting. Maybe that’ll impress a few folks thirty years from now, but I’m not holding my breath that BF5 will be remembered as my generation’s Beatles. Nevertheless, for an artist safely regarded as one of my personal favorites, I’ve checked the “I was there” box, and then some. (I was even in the audience for the version of “Philosophy” that appears on the Ben Folds Live album. Check it out!) But bragging rights aside, the reason I do my best to catch Ben Folds whenever he’s in town is that he consistently rewards me with fantastic performances. I’ll always have his albums to listen to, and his songbooks live perpetually by my piano’s side. And as long as he’s the guy who puts on a terrific show, I’ll be the guy looking to score tickets. Because each live performance is a unique experience for which there is no substitute, and the memories of having beenthere are priceless.

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Presidents of the Land

Dear friends, I would like to wish you all a very happy President’s Day! Allow me to share with you my holiday salute to all the oath-swearing, veto-wielding, armed-forces-commanding players of the Executive Branch gang, including:

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“Money”
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“Stretch”
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“Wheels”
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“Long-Form”

As you might already know, I’m a big ol’ U.S. presidents buff (and have been since 5th grade when I memorized all of the presidents’ names, you know, for fun). So how does a guy like me celebrate this most exciting of holidays? By not going to work, for one thing. (Thank the Maker for bank holidays.) Also, by posting a list of random but totally interesting facts about U.S. presidents. Nothing too heavy here. Just a few of my favorite bits of presidential trivia. It’s geeky holiday fun for the whole family. So read, learn, and above all, enjoy!

Did you know that:

George Washington wore dentures made of hippopotamus tusk.

John Adams died on the 50th anniversary of American independence: July 4th, 1826. His reported last words were, “Thomas Jefferson Survives.” But he was incorrect, as Jefferson died on the exact same day, several hours earlier.

Thomas Jefferson ordered a list of his major accomplishments to be inscribed on his tombstone. This inscription omits the fact that he had been president for eight years.

James Madison was the shortest U.S. president, at 5 feet 4 inches tall.

James Monroe was the last president of the Founding Fathers Generation, and in 1830 he became the third (and, to date, the last) president to die on the Fourth of July.

John Quincy Adams was known for routinely skinny dipping in the Potomac River.

Andrew Jackson is said to have exchanged pistol-fire in anywhere from a dozen to over 100 duels throughout his life. The future president famously killed expert marksman Charles Dickinson in their 1806 “interview.”

Martin Van Buren was the first president born a U.S. citizen (his predecessors were all born British subjects), and was the only president for whom English was a second language (Dutch being his first).   

William Henry Harrison had the shortest presidency, dying from pneumonia 32 days after he was sworn in.

John Tyler was elected to the Confederate Congress during the Civil War. He died in 1862, in open rebellion against the nation over which he had once presided.

Zachary Taylor was the father-in-law of Confederate president Jefferson Davis.

James Buchanan was the only president to have never married.

Abraham Lincoln created the U.S. Secret Service – to combat rampant counterfeiting – on the day of his assassination in 1865. The agency assumed presidential-protection duty in 1902 in response to the assassination of William McKinley.

Ulysses S. Grant, heroic Union general of the Civil War, couldn’t stand the sight of blood.

James A. Garfield was ambidextrous, and could write simultaneously in Greek with one hand and Latin with the other.

Grover Cleveland had part of his upper jaw surgically removed early in his second term. For the purpose of secrecy, the operation took place aboard a friend’s private yacht as it sailed off of the coast of Long Island.

Theodore Roosevelt, while campaigning for a third presidential term in 1912, delivered a 90-minute speech only moments after taking a would-be assassin’s bullet in the chest.

William Howard Taft became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court after leaving the presidency. As such, he was the only president to administer the oath of office to subsequent presidents (Coolidge and Hoover).

Woodrow Wilson was the only president to hold a Ph.D. (in political science, from Johns Hopkins University).

Calvin Coolidge was the only president born on Independence Day (1872).

Herbert Hoover, a native of Iowa, was the first person born west of the Mississippi River to become president.

Franklin D. Roosevelt married his fifth-cousin, Eleanor, who opted to keep her maiden name: Roosevelt. At their wedding, Eleanor was given away by her uncle, then-president Theodore Roosevelt.

Harry Truman was the last president to have never attended college.

Dwight D. Eisenhower had never voted prior to running for president in 1952.

John F. Kennedy was the youngest person to be elected president, winning the office at age 43. (Teddy Roosevelt became president at 42, but only by succeeding his assassinated predecessor, William McKinley.)

Lyndon B. Johnson had a wife, two daughters, and a dog, all with the initials LBJ (Lady Bird, Luci Baines, Lynda Bird, and Little Beagle Johnson).

Richard Nixon was the only president to be succeeded by an appointed (rather than elected) vice president – Gerald Ford.

Gerald Ford was the longest-lived president, dying at the age of 93 years and 165 days. (Reagan was a close second, living only 45 fewer days).

Ronald Reagan was the only president to have been divorced. He split from his first wife, Jane Wyman, in 1948, and married Nancy Davis in 1952. 

George H.W. Bush, at age 19, was the youngest Naval aviator of World War II. 

Bill Clinton was the first president to have his inaugural ceremony broadcast live on the Internet.  

Barack Obama holds the record for both first and second most popular votes ever received by a presidential candidate. (69.5 million in 2008 and 65.9 million in 2012). 

Did you also know that …

James is the most common first name among the presidents (6). John comes in second (5), and William is third (4). 

Virginia is the most popular state for presidential births (8), with Ohio coming in a close second (7). Massachusetts and New York are tied for third (4 each). 

There have been 47 vice presidents, but only 14 of them have advanced to the presidency. 

The vice presidency was originally awarded not to a president’s running mate, but to the second-place winner in the Electoral College. It was only after the 1804 ratification of the 12th Amendment, which allowed the electors to cast separate votes for president and vice president, that candidates for each office began teaming up on tandem partisan tickets.

Abigail Adams holds the unique distinction of being both the first Second Lady and the second First Lady.

Hillary Clinton, as Secretary of State, became the only First Lady to enter the presidential line of succession (4th in line, to be exact).  

Robert Todd Lincoln, in addition to having attended his father’s deathbed, was an eyewitness to the shooting of James Garfield, and was a presidential guest at the event where William McKinley was gunned down. His uncanny association with this string of untimely presidential deaths led Lincoln to refuse all invitations to appear publicly with subsequent presidents. The one exception he made was an appearance with Warren G. Harding at the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial in 1922. Harding suffered a fatal heart attack the following year. 

Three presidents have tied the knot during their presidencies, Grover Cleveland being the only one to wed at the White House (and also the only one to have a child born inside the executive mansion). 

The private-market value of the White House is estimated to be roughly $295 million.

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Presidents of the land, I salute you!

I’m Baaaaack!

Greetings, friends! Just wanted to let you all know that, after another lengthy hiatus, I’m back to blogging. Excitement, she wrote!

A lot’s been going on since I last posted. For instance, there was this one night in November where same same-sex marriage was legalized in THREE MORE STATES (including my home state of Washington). That brings the total to nine, plus D.C., and counting. **High fives!** Also that night, we re-elected this guy.* So yeah, wins all around.

And perhaps most notably for Mike and me, there’s been our big decision big decision to move to New York City later this year (more on that later).

Oh yeah, also while I was away, this happened:

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And a 3.98 GPA to boot. Not too shabs.

Anyway, I have a lot more to share, and a four-day weekend just begging to be filled with blog time, so stay tuned, folks. We’re gonna have some fun.

It’s great to be back!

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*Significant for a number of reasons, of course, but the presidents-nerd in me would be remiss if he didn’t point out that this is the first time in almost 200 years that three consecutive presidents have been elected to more than one term. History rules.