Daddy-Daughter Date, Done Differently

I wondered if taking Makena to a fundraiser was going to be an acceptable way to spend our monthly Daddy-Daughter Date Night last Saturday. If it had been any other fundraiser, it might not have gone over so well. But because this was a fundraiser put on by Burners, it was a night my daughter will never forget. 

Our destination for the evening

Read On

Boy Meets Merchant

I’ve been a Natalie Merchant fan since the mid-80’s, back in her 10,000 Maniacs days. I’ve seen her perform dozens of times, and have collected nearly every recording she has ever released. My former wife used to assume I had a “thing” for the artist, but that was never true. I simply am drawn to her music, the thought-provoking lyrics and of course, that unforgettable voice.

The Historic Yost Theater in downtown Santa Ana

I’ve played her songs all the time, so it’s not surprising my kids have come to appreciate her too. My son, though, has become such a fan that he at times has played her music to the point where even I have asked him to play something else. He, much like me, has fallen under the spell cast by her one-of-a-kind voice.

A few days ago I learned she was playing in Santa Ana on May 9th, and instantly bought tickets. I didn’t tell Hayden, I left it as a surprise. I took both kids to see her in San Diego two years ago, and he has wanted to see her again ever since. This was going to be nice surprise.

I had no idea how surprising the night would be. Read On

Culture Wars

I recently had a few opportunities to expose my children to some life-enriching experiences that are outside their normal routine – one music-oriented, one athletic-oriented, and one service-oriented. Every parent wishes their kids to be well-rounded individuals and give them periodic glimpses of life’s rich and varied opportunities for new awareness, and so in the past week, there were three events that allowed me to share the awareness with my kids.

 If only they had any interest in them whatsoever.

 LIFE-ENRICHING EXPERIENCE NUMBER ONE:  MUSIC

 The first event was a “Class Act” concert presented by their elementary school. It featured a brass quintet performing various musical selections on the stage of a local middle school auditorium. These concerts are held every year and feature the professional musician in residence who is working with the school that year as the students focus on a particular composer. This year it was a trombone player from the Orange County Pacific Symphony Orchestra, and the composer they studied was Beethoven. I questioned whether Beethoven would sound very good as performed by a brass quintet, but it was a free show, and it was also a chance for my children to listen to music outside of their normal playlists.

 Shortly after the performance began, I remembered why I swore last year I would never bring them to another one of these “Class Act” performances. My kids aren’t the most patient specimens as it is, but put them in a scenario where they have to (a) be quiet, (b) be still, and (c) be respectful, and I might as well be asking them to hold their breath for an hour straight – they just can’t do it.

 The trouble began before the show even started.

 “I can’t see,” Makena complained. The seats directly in front of us were full of adults – tall adults with large heads. After shuffling seats three times between the three of us, we ended up where we started and she repeated, “Dad, I still can’t see.”

 “Fine, you can sit on my lap when the performance starts. Now be quiet, the Principal is talking.” I whispered, aware that these metal folding chairs were placed practically on top of each other, and thus strange parents were barely inches away from us on either side, subject to every sound we made.

 “I want to go sit over there,” she pointed to the aisle, where kids were encouraged to sit on the floor so the limited chairs could go to the adults.

 “Go ahead then,” I replied, still trying to whisper quietly. It’s hard to whisper quietly when you’re annoyed and trying to hide it from gossipy parents on all sides. The Principal was on stage talking about what a fantastic evening of music we had ahead of us. I doubted it was going to be fantastic enough to be worth the headache I was getting.

 “I don’t wanna go unless Hayden goes,” she replied. This clearly wasn’t my problem, and I tried not to make it my problem, but I wasn’t liking how it was turning out. I turned to Hayden in hopes he would be feeling generous, but he cut me off before I could ask the question.

 “I’m not movin’”, he said, apparently channeling Rosa Parks.

 “Well I don’t wanna go alone,” she whined. “Dad, you come.”

 “Honey, I don’t want to sit on the floor,” I replied, realizing I probably sounded whiny myself. My head was pounding and I was losing my patience, and had pretty much kissed the “fantastic evening of music” goodbye.

 “Well I can’t SEE!” she declared in a not-even-trying-to-whisper way. The man in front of her turned and looked at us, guiltily, as if to say “Look, I’d leave if I could. I don’t wanna be here any more than you do”.

 “Sssshhhh!” I hissed. The Principal was instructing the children on the rules of proper concert behavior and my daughter was systematically breaking every one of them. My intended Evening of Culture was turning into just another battle of wills with my seven-year-old hell-raiser and my eleven-year-old surly- teenager-in-waiting.

 “But Dad,” she whispered, “I can’t see!”

 “Fine – sit on my lap when the concert begins!” I said. Then I remembered that last year we had the same arrangement — and by the end of that night my legs were so achy I could barely walk out of there under my own power. I wished I had kept my mouth shut.

 As soon as the show began, she climbed in my lap and I spent the next hour listening to various comments of the “I’m so bored!” variety, accompanied by heavy sighs, rolling eyes, and aching thighs.

 As God is my witness, we will not be attending “Class Act” next year.

 LIFE-ENRICHING EXPERIENCE NUMBER TWO:  SPORTS

 Two nights later, I won four tickets and a parking pass to the Angel’s home opener in Anaheim. To have won anything was a thrill for me, since the only thing I’ve ever won in my life was in a radio call-in contest back in the 80’s: I won four tickets to see Warrant, a band I didn’t even like. (I still don’t know why I called in to the radio station –  bored at work, as I recall. The tickets went to waste; I couldn’t even give them away.) Anyway, flash forward twenty years and here I am, the recipient of tickets to an Angel game, which happily coincided with my kids’ first night of Spring Break. I thought, “Well, THIS will be a fun experience for them – who doesn’t love a ball game on a warm spring night?”

 The first flaw in my thinking was the whole ‘warm spring night’ business. It rained earlier in the day, and the afternoon was dry but chilly. It was not going to be a short-sleeved event. Still, not a problem, I thought – we’ll just bundle up.

 I announced the news to my kids. The reaction I got was, shall we say, mixed.

 “The Angel game? WOO-HOO!” Hayden cried, overjoyed, when I called him to tell him the news. “Awesome! I’m so excited!” I was surprised by his reaction, because he is not a sports enthusiast (neither is his Dad) and really doesn’t care to watch sporting events. His sister tends to be more into ball games, and has demonstrated remarkable hand-eye coordination and an athletic ability that is quite impressive. So the fact that Hayden was excited was great; I expected him to express disinterest and a “Do we have to go” type attitude. Happily, I was wrong.

 It was Makena who expressed that attitude.

 “Oh great. Baseball.” she said dully when her brother handed her the phone. “I don’t wanna go,”

 I smacked my forehead as my chin fell open. Unexpected, this was.

 “Whaddya mean you don’t wanna go? It’s an ANGEL game!” I said, incredulously.

 “Yeah, but I don’t like baseball” she replied casually. This, from a girl who, two weeks earlier, begged me for a baseball bat and a softball, and who demonstrated an ability to hit about nine out of every ten pitches later that day at the park. She’s a total natural. I found myself getting very annoyed and frustrated – this was supposed to be a good thing! A fun thing! And I was gonna make them have good fun, dammit!

 “We’ll talk about it when I get home” I said, checking my temper and forcing my voice to sound calmer than I felt. I felt a few hairs on my head go gray at the effort.

 “Okay,” she said, “but I’m not going.”

 I sighed and hung up, repeating the mantra “It’s not okay to hit a child; it’s not okay to hit a child, it’s not okay to hit a child…” Sometimes that mantra is the only thing standing between me and a Child Services intervention.

 I got home and centered myself before I walked in to the house, not wanting to be Angry Dad on the Friday night outset of Spring Break. I walked in the house and found Hayden in his pajamas. At 5:30 on a Friday. I took a deep breath and counted backward from ten.

 “Hey buddy, shouldn’t you be dressed?” I asked, wearing a smile that felt very forced.

 “I am dressed” he replied, not taking his eyes off the issue of Entertainment Weekly he held in his hands.

 “It’s going to be cold tonight, you need to dress warmer than that,” I said reasonably.

 He yanked down the waistband of his pajama bottoms and said, “Hey, I’ve got long underwear on under these!”

 “Go put on some pants,” I said, choosing not to debate his wardrobe. “Where’s Makena?”

 “Upstairs,” he replied. “I don’t have any pants.”

 “Yes you do”, I said.

 “No I don’t”, he responded. “I looked.”

 “If you looked,” I said, trying to keep my voice level, “you would have seen several pairs of jeans that I just put in your bottom drawer yesterday.”

 “Aww, jeans? I don’t wanna wear jeans, it’s Spring Break!” He gave me the look that I have recently discovered means “c’mon, Dad, be cool.”

 I had no idea why jeans appeared to be the enemy of Spring Break, but ignored it. “Just put some pants on. Makena!” I called up the stairs. “Come down here.”

 Angry footsteps thundered down the steps. She came downstairs sporting a pouting look of misery, as though I were taking her to the dentist – in a prison.

 “I. Don’t. Wanna. Go.” She folded her arms and sat on the couch.

 We went back and forth for a bit, me trying to get her to agree to come willingly so I didn’t have to make it An Order, and her responding in ever-increasing levels of distress. I came to realize that something was wrong. She was upset about something else, and the way she was dealing with it was to rain on the baseball game.

 At this point, she was lying on the couch, crying very deeply. I sat down on the floor next to her and put my hand on her heart. I breathed out the frustration and tension I’d been holding and cleared my head, remembering that this wailing tempest who was the object of my frustration at the moment was also my precious little girl who I loved unconditionally, and that clarity added a level of tenderness to my fingers as I brushed the hair out of her eyes and away from her forehead.

 “Did something happen at school today?” I asked her, gently.

 “Uh-h-huh,” she replied through the tears. She told me that she hugged a kid at school that she thought was someone else, and when she did, the kid pulled away from her and, I guess, freaked out. She said that her teacher made her apologize to the other student in front of everyone. Her face was red as she told me the story, the tears were soaking her face as she sobbed, “It was just a hug and – and — I was just so EMBARRASSED!” Then she sobbed into the couch cushion.

 Having just written a post on the embarrassment suffered in elementary school, I could completely empathize with her. “I understand,” I told her. And then I took the opportunity to share with her one of my many embarrassing stories from school, which not only took her away from her own unhappy tale, but also, eventually, made her smile.

 The smiling was a good sign. I decided to press further. “I’ll tell you what: we will go to the game tonight, and I’ll make you a bet: If the Angel’s pitcher scratches his butt ten times or more during the game, I’ll buy you guys ice cream afterward.”

 This received a giggle from my girl. “Okay,” she said.

 I can always count on one universal truth: butts are funny.

 We got to the game, and the evening changed. Makena was very interested in the rules of the sport, and I apparently impressed her with my knowledge. I explained what the various figures on the scoreboard meant, and what a double-play was, and why the crowd booed so often.

 Hayden’s attention was occupied all over the place. “Dad, where’s the popcorn guy?” Then, a minute later, “Ooo, a beach ball! Over here! Over here!” He would cheer when everyone else cheered, but I suspect he wasn’t actually watching the game as much as he watched everything else.

 Eventually, he reported “Dad – we got a butt scratch. That’s one.”

 Makena jumped in. “He did! He did! Dad, I saw it, the pitcher scratched his butt!”

 The woman in front of us turned to look at us, amused. I’ll say it again: butts are funny.

 Two innings later:  “This is fun – I want to LIVE here!” Makena said, all smiles and joy.

 “See?” I replied. “I told you you’d like it. Trust your Dad. I wouldn’t steer you wrong.” I flagged down the popcorn vendor.

 “Dad – butt scratch, there’s three!” she yelled excitedly.

 “Wait, I thought that was two?” I said.

“No, you missed one,” she said, testing to see if I’d buy it. I did.

 The popcorn was delivered down the aisle, followed by cotton candy a short time later. Makena fed me chunks of cotton candy while asking what an inning was.

 “This is the best night ever!” she declared, her face sparkling with pink sugar.

 “I think you’re right,” I replied, kissing her sticky cheek.

 “Dad – nut scratch. Does that count?” Hayden asked. “That should count.”

 The night got very cold and we huddled together under a blanket. We stayed until the end, watching the Angels lose by one run. When it was over, the kids lamented that we didn’t get to ten butt scratches. I said I’d buy them ice cream anyway, since they behaved so well at the game. Fresh delight broke out on their faces.

 As we made our way up the stadium steps to the exit, Makena took my hand and turned to me and asked, “Do you know any other sports, Dad?”

 “Sure,” I said, being mostly truthful. I mean, she didn’t ask how WELL I knew them, right? “I know lots of them.” 

 Kids are so easy to impress.

 LIFE-ENRICHING EXPERIENCE NUMBER THREE:  SERVICE

 I belong to a men’s group that has a requirement to perform an act of community service once a month. It can be anything, but it has to be for service outside of our organization, and it has to be for a specified amount of time.

 This month, I decided that I would include my kids in the act of service, to expose them to the need for volunteerism and the good feeling one gets from being of service to others, for fun and for free.

 The Surfrider Foundation was holding a beach clean-up event in Long Beach the other day, and I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to let the kids volunteer for service. In the spirit of teaching them to be non-conformists, however, I opted to not join the herd of folks cleaning in Long Beach, but instead, held our own “Indie-Cleanup” with just the three of us in Seal Beach. Service is great, but let’s try and retain our individuality if we can, shall we?

 The kids were less than pleased when I broke the news to them. Groans of “aaawwwwwwwww” were followed by, “Do we HAVE to? It’s Spring Break!”

 I was getting real tired of the “it’s Spring Break” excuse.

 We stopped at the donut shop on the way. I figured that donuts make everything better, so they would likely add a dose of sugar-laden goodness to the morning’s effort. The day was sunny and beautiful, though not terribly warm. We wore sweatshirts to brace against the chill in the air.

 Seal Beach was fairly empty when we got there, and the parking lot was full of vacant spaces. I pulled into one and got out of the car to feed some cash into the parking meter. The kids remained seated in the car.

 “Let’s go guys,” I said, pulling the trash bags and rubber gloves out of the back of the car.

 “How long do we have to do this?” one of them asked, sounding tired and put-out already. Apparently the donuts didn’t help much.

 “One hour,” I replied, and pulled out my cell phone. “That’s all. Just one hour. When the alarm on my phone goes off, it will be quitting time.” The alarm on the phone has helped us often when setting time limits on events – the kids take it as law. No one disputes the cell phone alarm.

 So I set it for an hour and ten minutes. Just cause I knew they’d loaf a bit.

 We put on our rubber gloves and opened up the trash bags, and set out across the sand. I told them that anything natural – leaves, sticks, shells – can stay on the ground. Everything else should go in the bags.

 I was invigorated by the sea air and the sense of doing good for the community, and I was a trash-collecting machine. My bag soon filled up with an astonishing array of refuse. I couldn’t walk more than a few steps without seeing something else that needed to be picked up. I saved the bigger stuff for the kids to get, to give them a sense of progress. Still, there was no shortage of large items – there was just so much trash there.

 Hayden got into the spirit, keeping pace with me and enthusiastically picking up items and tossing them in his bag. Makena lagged behind us, examining shells and picking up the occasional trash piece. Her heart really wasn’t in it.

 “Dad, how long has it been? Can you check your phone?” she asked.

 I checked my phone. “It’s been ten minutes, Mak. C’mon, let’s get busy.”

 Heavy sigh back at me. But she went on collecting.

 While there seemed to be no limit on the kinds of items found lying on the sand, the perennial favorites were in large supply: fast food condiment packets, plastic drinking straws, random scraps of candy wrappers and chip bags, screw-on plastic bottle caps – I alone found dozens of each of these items. Among the singular items found were one sock, one flip-flop sandal, one pair of women’s sunglasses, one plastic ball, and one used condom. Stay classy, Seal Beach.

 But the most common item, by far, was the cigarette butt. I alone picked up hundreds of them. I couldn’t walk more than five steps before encountering another. They were everywhere. I even found one spot where some jackhole who chose to smoke cigarettes using those plastic cigarette filters had left six of the plastic filters lying on the sand. This especially irked me, for some reason. The person went to all the trouble of using plastic filters, and yet couldn’t take the extra step of packing them out when they left. I tried to not wish a lip infection upon this person, but couldn’t help it – it sort of slipped out.

 “Kids, this is another reason why smoking is a really, really bad idea,” I said, holding a handful of cigarette butts in my gloved hand. “Not only is it terrible for your health, but they end up as trash and wind up all over the ground. Look at all of these.”

 I waited for them to contemplate man’s insensitivity to the environment, expecting them to tear up like the Native American looking over the landfill in that old 70’s commercial.

 Instead:  “Dad, can you check your phone? How much longer?” 

 I glared at them from behind my sunglasses for a moment, not-saying the things that immediately popped into my head. After a few seconds, I pulled out my phone.

 “Thirty minutes. We’re halfway done” I said.

 Another groan. Again I fought the urge to respond. I debated whether to mention how many kids in the country would absolutely LOVE to be at the beach on a beautiful Saturday morning picking up trash, because many of them live thousands of miles from the nearest ocean – many of them have never even SEEN an ocean in person – and here they were taking it for granted. But I didn’t say it. It’s just not something in their awareness  yet, and these landlocked children I was thinking of would carry no significance for them. I was dealing with a seven and eleven year old. I had to reduce my expectations of them.

 Eventually, the alarm on my phone began to sound, and I held it up to them so they could hear it. Cries of “Yay!” went up, and they dropped their bags and stripped off their rubber gloves. I’d gotten a little over an hour of community service out of them, and so we sat down on the sand where we ended up and talked for a while, laughed and joked and sang songs and talked about school. We stayed another half hour there, in that little huddle, lying on the sand and letting the sun warm us. I felt good at having this experience with them.

 “Now, doesn’t it feel good to have spent the morning being of service to the community?” I asked. And then, realizing I was just feeding them a response I expected, I re-phrased my question. “How do you guys feel now, after doing this service?”

 Hayden:  “I’m tired.”

 Makena: “My feet hurt.”

 I sighed. The replies were honest. I settled for that.

And Nothing But the Truth

Some random truths about me:

I think life is sweet, but it is significantly sweeter on Saturday mornings.

I have freckles all over my body and they help disguise the fact that my skin’s color approximates the underside of a carp.

Without music, my sense of joy would go from grape to raisin in less than 5 days, and from raisin to moldy speck of goo in less than 20.

Beautiful women simultaneously delight and terrify me.

I can press my palms to the floor without bending my knees.

I have a tendency to love my children more than myself.

While fixing my bike yesterday, I inadvertently sunburned the “coin slot” above the crack of my ass.

I would have no trouble consuming 10,000 calories a day, and the only thing preventing me from doing so is the knowledge that I would end up as one of those shut-ins who cannot get out of bed and has to wash himself with a rag on a stick.

At my most wrathful, the only thing that prevented me from committing murder is the awareness that I’m not smart enough to get away with it.

Clowns are fucking creepy, period. No that’s not an opinion.

I am not afraid to hug men in public.

I just wrote then deleted something and posted this sentence instead.

I like to watch.

I am a Lover, a Warrior, a Magician, a King.

I will skydive before I die. I hope the interval between the two events is years instead of seconds.

I can use automatic sprinklers to help explain my connection to God.

All my troubles stem from a sense of grandiose inferiority.

I will like you until you give me reason not to.

Nobody Asked, But…

What would I say about “art” if someone asked me what I wanted to say about it?   

The concept of artistic expression is something that has spoken to me for as long as I can remember, and yet I never recognized myself as an “artist” until I was well into my third decade on earth. Looking back, I can see how it has been my artistic nature that has brought me comfort and chaos all through my life. 

There is something about seeing / hearing / reading something that did not exist until some man or woman had an idea, and set about putting that idea in motion, to bring it into reality by sheer force of will. While any form of artistic expression speaks to me, I have a special respect for painters and sculptors. Being a visually-oriented person, I find myself marveling in awe over a work that was previously a blank canvas, a plain piece of rock, a simple lump of clay, before the artist took action and transformed it to his vision. 

Similarly, I have always been soothed by music – savage beast that I am. My earliest memories of spirituality were moments involving music, in any form. I noticed that God spoke to me through music, delivering messages I was meant to hear at a given time. Nature has a way of doing this too, but music was where I first noticed it. I feel musically inclined but without the training to develop a real talent for creating it. I would create a melody at a piano, beauty in simplicity without much structure or depth, and the joy would rise from the ivory through my fingertips and up through my heart to the top of my head. I teach myself to play acoustic guitar, and while I am even less fluid in my fingering on a guitar than I am on a piano, the result is the same: joy in my heart that approaches ecstasy at the sound of a note or a chord ringing out clear and true. 

I am puzzled by the critic – a person who has made it their purpose to judge the creative output of a man or a woman who took nothing and made something simply because they had a desire to do so. I understand that everyone is entitled to their opinion; I do not want that opinion thrown at me in the form of a judgment. To me, it feels like someone looking upon a garden of flowers and claiming they are not bright enough, or colorful enough, or fragrant enough to suit him. They are flowers! Their merit is in their existence! Why is that not enough? Why cut them down when they might bring joy to someone else? 

And are not flowers God’s art? Certainly I do not intend to infer that the average artist might match God’s perfection, but I do submit that God might look upon an amateur in the act of painting a picture—creating in earnest, and with love for the place of spirit in which the painting develops—and God would display God’s equivalent of a human smile. 

The Gift that has been bestowed on me is an eye and an ear for the written word. I failed to recognize writing as an art form in my youth. If I could do it, it was easy to take for granted, and if I could do it, it must not be of value, for my writing would never be valuable – this is what my young self was led to believe, through the casual comment of a man who told me about writing, “You’ll never make any money doing that.” And so I carried that lesson through to adulthood – abandoning my Divine purpose from a fear of perpetuating the poverty in which I was reared. The true artists were the sculptors, the painters, the musicians. How blind I was to the path that I might have led. 

And yet, who am I to say that the path I took was not meant to show me what I was meant to learn about art along the way? Perhaps I was not meant to become scholarly about art, its appreciation and form and technique and history and marketable value. Perhaps I was simply meant to enjoy what I enjoy, do what feels true in accordance with what God gave me, and leave the discussion, dissection, and discourse to others. 

What moves me, what speaks to me, what inspires me – these things are mine in any form, gifts from the Universe.

That is what I would say if someone asked me about my thoughts on art.

Just Another Day (after)

I admit that I had pre-conceived opinions of the idea of a “Tribute Band”. I judged them as musicians who could not make a name for themselves on their own merit and thus rode the coattails of a well-known artist in order to gain some small amount of celebrity without having to find a “real job”. Herbert Spencer correctly labeled contempt prior to investigation as a principle that would keep a man in “everlasting ignorance”. I now see my old ideas on the subject were completely flawed.

Last night I had the opportunity to attend a concert featuring an Oingo Boingo tribute band called Dead Man’s Party. I went with two guys I’ve known since high school, Lee and Larry, whom I had only seen once in the last 20 years. When I got to the theater and saw them, I was amazed at how quickly we fell into the old familiar rhythms of humor, wisecracks, and good-natured jabs at each others’ expense. I asked myself several times why I had not seen these men in so long, for I felt so glad to be with them, it was good for the soul.

We made many jokes about the opening act, featuring a lead singer who could not have been more than 12 years old and the courage to belt out a few AC/DC tunes. When his voice changes, he might have a future – an original song they performed that this young kid wrote showed promise.

The next act was a Misfits tribute band, and I was horrified to hear myself saying “all these songs sound the same” – but they did. We laughed heartily at the bass player’s intro count – “ONETWOTHREEFOUR!” – to every song, and were forced to watch the lead guitarist -sporting a black leather vest- shred on the guitar in a manner that caused his gut to vibrate like a coin-operated bed in a cheap motel. When they announced, “This is our last song”, we shared a collective cheer.

When the headlining act came out, Lee – who has seen Dead Man’s Party on multiple occasions and who organized the evening’s get together – shot out to the pit to express his inner rock fan. I was immediately impressed by the bands tight sound, and how incredibly alike they sounded to the actual band. The lead singer had all of Danny Elfman’s good-natured-yet-creepily-psychotic expressions and mannerisms – and also a hell of a voice. He absolutely sold me from the first song.

Sitting at our table on the outer ring of the theater, the band launched into “Private Life” and I couldn’t take it anymore — I had to get up and dance. So I told Larry I was going out there and I hit the pit. Seconds later, Larry was right behind me.

Getting to the center of the pit, I found Lee and tapped him on the shoulder as I joined in the singing and the fist pumping. Lee turned and saw me and the look of joy on his face was worth the traffic I sat in to get to the show – he embraced me in a big, joyful hug and we joined in the singing, with Larry taking up position on the other side. The three of us bounced, jumped, shook, slammed, singed, screamed and laughed through song after song.

This will sound trite and cliche, but I was transported back to the days (or nights) of my youth, attending Boingo shows at Irvine Meadows and doing all the bouncing, jumping, singing to the same songs. The effect was surreal — it wasn’t Boingo, but it was a Boingo show. The band nailed every nuance of every song, and played selections from the catalog that went further back than even I remembered. The band were clearly having a great time themselves, and the atmosphere of fun spilled over the edge of the stage and enveloped the audience of thirty- and forty-somethings who were all there for the same reasons we were: to hear music that we grew up with, that harkened back to a time when life was a party and the biggest concern we had was whether we would get seats on the terrace or end up on the lawn.

The band played over 2 1/2 hours and played nearly every song I could think of. The party atmosphere increased as the night went on and the strangers in the audience became friends as they stepped on each others feet and apologized, only to be met with an “It’s okay dude!” and a pat on the back. I was jumping like a coked-up gazelle during my favorite songs and more than once bumped into someone I didn’t know. Never was it met with anything other than a good-natured smile and a wave of dismissal to say “don’t worry about it.”

I don’t know where the energy came from. I am twice as old as I was when I would attend the Boingo Halloween shows, and recently the concerts I’ve attended have had the mellow, relaxed vibe of John Mayer or David Gray or Natalie Merchant – even the U2 show I went to at the Rose Bowl last year –where I stood the entire show and danced occasionally — couldn’t match the frenzy of wild abandon I reached as the band launched into “Grey Matter”. I was sweating buckets and knew that I’d be paying a price for all the leaping and bouncing and slamming I was doing, but I didn’t care: at that moment, I wasn’t a fortyish single dad getting a rare night out with adults; I was a free and vital young man who was living life like it was 1989, and I lost track of any care or concern I had.

After the show ended and we were in the Denny’s next door, I couldn’t stop laughing. I felt high, though I was stone cold sober. I was giddy, and couldn’t stop laughing. I felt like I had just been through a transformation of some kind, and in a way I had been: I’d been transported back to my youth, where I partied for a few hours, and then transported back to the present where the effects still lingered. The smile is still on my face as I write this nearly 24 hours later.

A tribute band wields magical powers. I imagine those powers are proportional to how much an audience member loves their music, or what kind of memories that person associates with the original band. For me, Dead Man’s Party hypnotized me into thinking I was 21 again and enjoying a kick-ass New Wave show, and they did it all while singing and playing instruments. That’s no easy task – I’d say that’s a “real job”.

By the way, I am so not 21 anymore. I am paying the price today with sore legs, no voice, and impromptu napping. Magic spells seldom last long.