Dragon, Slain

24 May 2012

Well friends… I finally got on a plane and returned to Europe.  The first time since Jared and I went to Ireland all those years ago.  Fitting then that he’s the reason I returned: he got hitched!  I spent a couple weeks across the pond, first to visit him in London and see his life out there, and then to Italy for the wedding and festivities.  Verizon kinda fucked me with some bad information that led to me finding out just before leaving that my phone actually would not work in Europe.  That stressed me out at first, and I considered a loaner or a pay-as-you-go, but in the end I lived without it perfectly fine.  Grabbed some free WiFi when I could, and lived without phone the rest of the time.  Two weeks was a long time to be gone, and I missed home and people here.  But of course it was amazing too.

Part I – Smoke Lingers ‘Round Your Fingers
After a difficult airport goodbye, needless to say I was not looking forward to a 10-hour plane trip.  British Airways was great though.  Individual screens and on-demand movies made the flight a lot better than it could have been.  I finally got to see “The Boat That Rocked,” which seemed appropriate for a trip to London.  I was able to sleep, but only a little.  I didn’t leave my chair once in the 10 hours.  It was 11am local time when I landed, and Jared was kind enough to meet me at the airport.  We went to take the train into downtown, but just as we boarded, they announced that there was a fatality on the tracks… which I understand is a common occurrence there (suicides).  Jared is experienced enough in travel now to know that this means trains can be stopped for hours, and cabs are about to be in high demand.  We caught a cab right away and left.  Along the long ride, I learned about cabs in London.  It’s nothing like it is in the States.  For one, you have a city of 12 million people to memorize if you’re a driver.  And they do memorize it.  It takes three years of training, and they call it “The Knowledge.”  These guys are serious experts.  And it’s not a profession popular with immigrants.  Literally every taxi driver I saw during my stay in London — and there were many — was an older U.K. native.  They apparently have the reputation for being nationalistic and way into football (read: soccer).  For instance, when Jared gets in a cab, they ask what hotel he’s going to, and when he explains that he lives in London, they immediately ask “when you going home?”  All part of the charm I guess.  Also, all the cabs are the same model of car, specifically designed to be cabs.  And as such, they are very well laid out for their purpose.  I was thoroughly impressed with the efficiency of the whole system.  Not to mention that these guys are masters at maneuvering through insanely tight holes in insane traffic.  We’re talking regularly operating with a couple inches of room to spare, and at high speed.  At least the pedestrians don’t have an automatic right of way… which was amazing to see.  Pedestrians didn’t get angry or indignant when a cab sped around a corner in front of them, because they knew it was their bad.  So unlike California!

It turns out there was someone holed up in a flat not far from Jared’s place, threatening to set off a bomb or something.  The streets were blocked off and the traffic horrendous.  We got out of the cab and decided to walk the last half mile or so.  Of course it started to rain, and so that walk carrying luggage was not ideal.  Logistics were proving to be hit or miss, but eventually we got to his flat right downtown, where he graciously let me stay to save on hotels.  After freshening up there (I felt and smelled not so great after the long and humid flight), we set out to sightsee.  We were able to go on foot due to his proximity to central London.  We had some Indian food at what is apparently the oldest such restaurant in the city.  As luck would have it, next to us was a table of retired cabbies, all having lunch and sounding like Michael Caine.  At one point a wife called and was greeted with “I told you not to call me now, I’m with my mates!”  That’s how you do it, son.

Anyhow, we walked through Covent Garden and out to Trafalgar Square, Big Ben, and The Houses Of Parliament.  Then along Whitehall to Scotland Yard, and on to Westminster Abbey, St. James’s Park, and Green Park.  The parks impressed me with the bravery of their squirrels and pigeons, who will happily take food right from your hand, as well as the beauty of some of the exotic birds there.  My favorite was the “coot,” which is unlike any other waterfowl I’ve seen… almost dinosaur-like!  By the way, did you know it’s a big deal if you touch one of the Queen’s geese (which apparently live there)?  Hearing this reminded me of my continuing confusion over the royal family’s role in England.  They’re not really in control, but they’re not normal citizens either.  For instance, you can touch Jared’s geese all you want and no one cares.  (For some clarification, check out this excellent video on the U.K. vs. England vs. Great Britain, which seems to summarize a very complex system pretty well.)  In any event, we finished up at Buckingham Palace, mused about if the guards would shoot us if we stormed the gates, stopped for iced tea, and headed home through Piccadilly Circus.  By the time all this walking was done, it was becoming increasingly clear that I might die here.  Not only do the cars have the right of way (as I mentioned), but I was constantly looking the wrong way when stepping into the street (damn left side driving countries)!  But I’m here, so I guess I survived.  So that was Day 1.

Day 2 – In their infinite mercy, Jared and his wife let me sleep late.  We headed to Primrose Hill where they had an appointment to see a few flats for sale.  Still rainy.  The neighborhood seemed like the Noe Valley of London.  We walked through a canal there, which would be sketchy in the States but seemed safe enough here.  Saw a busker playing Bob Marley.  Saw the Pirate Castle, which looked cool from the outside, but we didn’t go in.  Jared’s wife split to run errands, and he and I went on to Camden, which I guess is like their Haight.  Music and tattoo shops everywhere.  Edgier people.  Went to The Elephant’s Head pub on Christina’s recommendation, expecting it to be a rockabilly bar of sorts.  There was a great jukebox that included a Link Wray album, but the afternoon crowd was decidedly “normal.”  After a valiant effort at some London Pride and a bag of U.K.-specific flavored Kettle Brand “crisps,” we moved on.  We checked out the Stables Market, which is like Hellboy II‘s “troll market” in almost every way.  A crowded, open air food market of all sorts, along with shops selling all manner of art and bootleg t-shirts.  On the way home, we’d intended to hit the Natural History Museum, but it was just closing.  That evening, we went to an 80’s themed American diner called “The Breakfast Club” and had great food.  There’s a refrigerator door there that’s actually the portal to a scenester speakeasy called “The Mayor Of Scaredy Cat Town,” but they would not let us in.  Clearly, I’m not American or hip enough.  Instead, we had a drink down the street at Ten Bells, owned by a friend of a friend.  Turns out, this is the place where Jack The Ripper used to select and stalk his victims.  Creepy!

Day 3 – Still sleeping till 1pm, which works out to about 12 hours a night.  The three of us went to high tea at The Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon at Fortnum & Mason.  It was my first-ever English tea, served with milk and sugar (a.k.a. “white tea”) and it was delicious.  I was hooked and ordered it many other places before leaving London.  If I recall, the meal included a cheese pie, along with a course of scones, and then two towers of amazing tea cakes.  By the time we were done, none of us could indulge in the final course from their “cake carriage.”  It was the most enjoyable meal of the trip!  Fortnum’s was neat in general.  Like a very upscale department store with shades of Brookestone.  Their beautiful blue color (which is essentially Tiffany Blue, though I don’t know how the copyright works there) is everywhere there, and it’s lovely.  Afterwards, Jared and I met up with a friendly MBA classmate of his from Spain, and we all saw The Avengers 3D, released a week earlier than in the U.S. for some reason.  Also renamed “Avengers: Assemble” there I guess to avoid confusion with their old television show.  More white tea afterwards, saw Jared’s office building, traded the Spaniard for the wife, and headed to Soho to find a late dinner.  The only thing open was Moroccan, which suited me just fine.  A long walk home saw us pass perhaps England’s only Baskin Robbins, which was sadly closed at that late hour.  Then another night of trying to make my body fall asleep.

Day 4 – Jared and I set out for the Thames, passing St. Paul’s Cathedral and crossing the Millennium Bridge to the Tate Modern.  We didn’t go in though, instead taking the opportunity to walk along the south bank.  We headed towards The Shard (still under construction), crossing again towards the Gherkin, then on to the Tower Of London.  We considered going in (and I’d love to next time), but there was so much to see and not enough time.  We continued on to cross Tower Bridge (which I was sure was “London Bridge,” but I was mistaken) , viewing more of the south bank, the HMS Belfast, and the distant skyline of Canary Wharf, where apparently there are a lot of American companies, and I must admit it looks a lot like Chicago.  That night, I read in a Starbucks and drank white tea while the happy couple completed their final pre-wedding dance lesson.  Afterwards, I had vegetarian bangers and mash with them at The Troubadour.

Day 5 – It was a travel day, and I’ll be damned if I wasn’t up at a decent hour!  We had breakfast at a Greek cafe, packed up, and took a very long and stressful cab to London Gatwick, due to traffic which nearly made us late for our flight.  But lucky for us, our boy’s extensive business travel and airline status meant that we were rushed through security, and when I say rushed, I mean we were shown to a private screening room, empty but for the standard X-ray and staff to operate it.  No one else in there.  No line.  It was a whole security line (in its own large room) just to the three of us.  Needless to say, we no longer had to worry about delays.  His status helped both of them get automatic upgrades to first class, and they would have upgraded me too just for being with him (not even on the same reservation), but first class was too full.  It was pretty neat to see how he rolls.  When it comes to travel, he is fucking elite.  It was off to Naples…

Part II – Americano
After a short and pleasant flight, we landed in Naples.  I was immediately faced with the stereotype of disorganized and somewhat rude Italy (at least by American standards).  From the moment the plane landed, the people all seemed boorish, pushing ahead, not waiting what I would consider their turn.  We deboarded the plane to get on a bus, which drove us all of about 100 feet to the other side of the building, where we were let out to go to border control.  It was comical.  Then people were climbing over each other to be first to get their bag.  For example, picture the conveyor belt that disperses checked luggage.  Imagine it is 50 feet long.  The first 25 feet of it was ridiculously crowded, and the last 25 feet empty.  We were near the back of the crowd, and rather than wait just 10 feet down the line to have open and sole access to get their bag, people would climb over us and push people out of the way to get their bag immediately.  I don’t know if I’ve described that clearly, but I was too shocked to even laugh.  It was so needless.

We had a driver to take us to our destination of Positano, and he was predictably crazy and aggressive when driving, as was everyone else.  The hour-long journey included a winding, white knuckle drive that makes Highway 1 look like I-5.  I was just about to reach my limit of car sickness when we finally arrived at the hotel.  I was so pleased with my room though.  Charming and plenty big enough for what I needed, it had tile floors and a drinking fountain next to the toilet.  It had a curtain-less shower that let me look out the window to the ocean while bathing.  That window view was incredible in ways I can hope to describe.  It looked directly out onto the beach and town.  I tried to take pictures and video, but there’s just no way to capture it in words… waking up each morning and coming home each night, and throwing open that big double window, breathing in that ocean air, and looking out over the peaceful Mediterranean Sea.  It was a postcard come to life.

Day 6 – The next morning, I joined the two of them at the breakfast the hotel offered.  I went on to do this a few more times over the next week… lots of good pastries, fruits, etc.  Jared showed me around town (what little of it there is).  Positano really is beautiful.  It seems there are a million passageways and staircases winding through the shops and restaurants.  So many ways to get where you’re going… or to get lost.  I had delicious granita (and later in the trip, mixed with iced tea).  I was tricked into sipping Jared’s disgusting Campari,  and again he suckered me into trying limoncello on an empty stomach.  It tastes something like kerosene and lemon, and without any food in your system, you can feel it searing its way down through your guts.  I tried a lot of limoncello over the course of the trip but never really got used to it.  Later in the evening, I explored the town and beach a bit more on my own.  I saw many of the town’s infamous stray cats, along with a lone pair of ducks, and an occasional dog.  I saw some of the little grocery stores selling produce like huge heirloom tomatoes and and the area’s famous gargantuan lemons — they were the size of cantaloupes.  That’s not an exaggeration.  It may not surprise you to learn that in addition to the art galleries and women’s clothing and jewelry stores, Positano’s other big export is all manner of lemon-related souvenirs.  Anyway, I finished out the night with dinner alone: a plate of gnocchi at Buca Di Bacco.

Day 7 – These first few days were pretty tame.  Relaxing and eating, you know.  Read a lot.  Took naps in the middle of the day, which I generally never do.  I took showers just for the ambiance and relaxation.  Sat in my window ledge and admired the view.  This particular day, I had a giant plate of caprese for lunch down at Covo Dei Saraceni which was so massive that I couldn’t even look at caprese the rest of the trip.  Picked up some Euros from the ATM, though virtually all of my valuables and important documents stayed locked in the room safe for the trip.  Picked up some Italian cookies and water for the room.  In the evening, we had our first massive dinner, this time on the lower level of Buca Di Bacco.  I experienced my first quattro formaggi pizza of the trip.  Got to meet up with Jared’s just-arrived parents as well as get to know some of his many brilliant and interesting international friends.  People from every corner of the globe doing big things with their lives.  Mostly I talked to a South African newlywed living in Singapore.  Oh, and Jared casually dropped a request that I be his best man… at the wedding happening in about 36 hours.

Day 8 – The next day basically consisted of two big meals.  First was the rehearsal brunch, of which I was now a part given my best man status.  It was a gut-busting several-course meal outdoors at the Michelin-starred Hotel Palazzo Murat.  Then for dinner that night, anyone in town for the wedding descended on Chez Black (noted for celebrity clientele like Denzel Washington).  It was another plate of gnocchi sorrentino, which is the only way they seem to prepare it in Positano.  It’s basically a sauce of tomato and mozzarella.  Now, I’m not complaining, because gnocchi in Italy is still gnocchi in Italy.  I’m just saying by the end of the trip, it started to taste like Chef Boyardee.  Of course throughout this time, there was more cookie buying and no small amount of hastily scribbling an emergency best man speech on hotel stationery.  By the way, that’s my room pictured below in white…

Day 9 – Wedding day.  Jared and his bride had spent the night apart, and so in the morning we were just killing time together.  In the early afternoon, I got dressed up in my suit and headed down to the cathedral with him.  The ceremony was beautiful.  Hard to go wrong in a place like that.  Got to pelt them with rice and flower petals.  Some confused tourists sat in the church to watch the ceremony and stood outside taking pictures of us taking pictures.  I don’t know how they thought that was appropriate, but such are the perils of wedding in Positano I guess.  We retired to Covo for pre-reception cocktails.  I got a chance to talk with a few more of Jared’s friends from Brussels and Genoa.  Super cool guys who may join Jared and the Spaniard for a tip to SF for a triathlon.  I had a sip of 20 year old cognac that the bride’s family had brought.  The reception included many delicious courses of dinner and dessert, as well as some entertaining Armenian customs and folk dancing, also courtesy of the bride’s family.  I delivered my speech, which was well-received (in that about two dozen folks who had ignored me thus far made a point to come and introduce themselves).  I danced my ass off, demonstrating that I have the moves like Jagger.  After the reception, the heartiest among us continued on to the town’s only nightclub, which was steadily filling up with crazy vacationing Eurotrash.  I chatted with a few more of Jared’s friends including one with great music taste, another telling me about real life in Moscow, and another from Australia who’d sailed part of the way to Italy… essentially solo.  Thanks to the DJ, I again demonstrated how I still have the moves like Jagger, and about the time I heard a dance remix of The Doobie Brothers’ “Long Train Runnin’,” I realized my one White Russian had done me in!  I started to feel dizzy and decided it was time to get back up the hill to my hotel.  Luckily, I ran into some buzzed wedding friends staying at the same place, and we all jovially walked together.

Jared has some great friends out there.  In another life, I could see myself in that circle.  All these guys I mentioned, these successful and handsome international playboys with charming accents… if we get them out to SF for that triathlon or Bay To Breakers next year… ladies, watch out.  That reminds me, outside of our wedding party, that night at the club was the only time on the whole trip where there was anything close to a concentration of good-looking people.  True, most of it was the European equivalent of the Jersey Shore, but I get the appeal of being young and converging on the only nightclub in town while on a remote vacation, trying to hook up.  Good for them.  Did I mention it was lonely on this trip?  Positano is for lovers.  Just ask the giant neon Durex vending machine in the middle of town.  I’m not kidding.

My last word on the wedding: damn, I look good in a suit.  Sometimes I forget, and cameras don’t ever do it justice.  I ought to wear them more often.

Day 10 – The next day was a huge catered goodbye brunch at Murat.  So much good food, and they just kept bringing it and bringing it!  People started to say their goodbyes, while others planned to stay an extra few days.  A big group of us took a day trip to Pompeii by bus, which was brutal and tested the limits of my car sickness.  But Pompeii itself was incredible.  The amazing craftsmanship and technology there, not to mention the good shape it’s still in.  My favorite was the polished white stones they put in their streets to reflect moonlight!  Beautiful marble everywhere.  They repaired after earthquakes.  Used concrete.  Had structures in the streets to control and divert traffic.  Saw a few of the dogs that live on the grounds and sleep all day.  I loved the bath house with a tiny mosaic floor and marble basins so preserved as to look almost new.  The size of the neighborhoods too… it really is a whole preserved city which used to hold thousands of people.  Alleyways, storefronts.  The old barracks and the odeon.  And then of course there was the famous brothel, with its preserved “menu” paintings inside, showing the services available there.  Among them was a man with two peckers (which Jared and I later referred to constantly as “due pini”).  And then there was the brothel street sign in the form of a phallus fresco on right on the side of the building.  (It may not surprise you that I purchased a bronze statuette of a disembodied phallus with wings at the souvenir stand.)  Pompeii was my kinda town.  I wonder what their rents are like.  To think that after 260 years of constant excavation, they’re still only 75% of the way done.  The mind reels.  That night was a challenger for best meal of the trip.  Il Capitano served me a bowl of mini zucchini medallions with basil and stir-fried in so much vinegar, they almost tasted like salt and vinegar chips.  Yum!  And also… weird!  It also didn’t hurt that their quattro formaggi pizza included a very strong smoked cheese.  Again, we were eating outdoors, admiring the nearly full moon reflecting from a clear sky onto the calm Mediterranean.  That huge reflection of the moon makes you feel like you’re in a painting.  It’s every night out there, but here in SF, it’s almost unheardof.  When is it ever clear out on Ocean Beach?  The serenity was only broken up by a fireworks from a private party down the coast.  Jared’s brother-in-law suggested it might have been a neighboring town’s annual “Bite This, Positano!” fireworks display.

Day 11 – Somewhere around this time, I had seen enough blue suede loafers that I felt confident in making the call that it is some kind of fashion phenomenon in Europe.  Mark my words, it’s a trend, and I’ll bet it comes to the States before long.  Anyway, it was time for us to take a day trip to Capri.  I survived the boat ride and the white knuckle driving along shear cliffs.  In addition to the fancy designer stores and coral jewelers, there were small shops selling homemade limoncello (read: moonshine).  We visited the breathtaking Villa San Michele, built by Axel Munthe on the ruins of Tiberius’ own villa.  Munthe was an interesting guy, building priceless archealogical artifacts into the walls and furniture of his house.  We saw a perfume factory, but ran out of time before we could see the Blue Grotto or do more than snap a few distant photos of the Faraglioni.  An average meal back at Caffe Positano finished off the night.

Day 12 – Our last full day in Positano.  I joined the happy couple’s respective families at their shared villa for brunch.  By this time, my knees were destroyed from all the walking up and down hills and stairs all over this vertical town.  We took a last minute boat ride to Amalfi, and there we saw the massive cathedral,  full of tombs and relics.  Had some great gelato.  Had a look at a nice and lewd public drinking fountain.  Discovered the shoe art of Inna Panasenko, and finished off with a quiet dinner at Covo with just the families.

Day 13 – Going home.  We shared a couple of vans to Naples, said rushed goodbyes, and took our separate flights.  I was fortunate enough to share a flight with Jared’s family though.  A layover in Frankfurt gave me the chance to compare Germans to Italians, if only for an hour or so.  In that time, I got the impression that the Germans are way more organized and polite.  That airport was humming along like a machine, and everyone I dealt with at the airport was super nice.  I stocked up on a couple of pretzels and a danish, and hit the last leg home.  Nearly 12 hours for that last leg, and so I invested $120 in moving to an exit row, which I ended up having to myself.  So worth it for a flight that long.  I will definitely do that in the future.  Had room to stretch out, was right near the bathrooms, and had a screen to watch movies on demand.  Which I did.  Like four of them, including Chronicle, The Immortals, Anchorman (tip o’ the hat to my previous Ireland trip, and the rest of Sherlock Holmes 2.  I didn’t sleep much, but I survived it just fine.  And nothing like getting home after a trip like that, and getting back to the loved ones you missed.

Well fuckity duckity (or fuckity doo dah, as Jared would say)… I feel like I should have some big philosophical wrap-up here, but I really don’t.  I have effectively gained back all the ground I lost to anxiety years ago in that I have proven to myself that I can handle those logistics.  It was my last dragon to slay, the last thing I was telling myself I was too scared to do, and now it’s done.  It was amazing to get to spend so much time with Jared again of course.  It was lots of fun, and I’ll remember it always, but there were no big revelations for myself or my life plans the way I had hoped.  I learned that Jaffa Cakes are delicious, and that London is expensive.  Ridiculously and wastefully so.  I’m serious.  For real.  I learned that t-shirts and jeans are not all-purpose wear in Europe the way they are in California — and that I need to pack some nicer clothes next time.  I learned that the high school game where you make a circle with your hand below your waist and trick someone into looking at it so you can punch them in the shoulder twice… it’s still fun.  I learned that Nicole loves lamb.  And thanks to the bride’s family, I learned more Russian than Italian.

  • previet = hello
  • paca = goodbye
  • pajalsta = please
  • spasibo = thank you
  • da = yes
  • nyet = no
  • fsyo = it’s done
  • golka = kiss (at least in context?)
  • zot kinees = shut up = susminna (in Armenian)

I can’t thank enough Jared’s family for treating me like one of their own.  It really kept me together on the trip.  And of course I can never thank Jared and his wife enough for their extreme generosity and thoughtfulness in making this trip possible for me… and honestly as easy as it could possibly be.  They watched out for me and had everything to do with making this vacation as amazing and memorable as it was.  I couldn’t have hoped for a better first foray back into international travel after a long hiatus.  I love you guys!  Come out to California again so I can at least begin to return the favor!  And hopefully I won’t let so much time go by before I’m out there again.

“The wild, cruel beast is not behind the bars of the cage.  He is in front of it.”
— Axel Munthe

Soul Purpose

22 May 2012

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to life lately.  Asking myself if I’m really making the most of my time on earth, or if I’m mindlessly going with the flow because it’s easy or because I assume I have no other choice.  I was reading the April 2012 issue of Guitar Player magazine a while back — bear with me — and the editor (Michael Molenda) offered up a gem, just the latest great quote encouraging us to be present and mindful and take the time to sit down and savor life’s great moments.  As he put it, “‘Live every day as if it were your last’ often gets rewritten as ‘Make sure every day is crammed with meaningless, self-important crap that allows you to feel busier and more valuable than the person next to you.’”  And that pretty much sums up how I’ve been feeling about a lot of the things that I spend my time and energy on.  I have this increasing sense that it’s time for some big changes.  Some once-every-ten-years kinda changes.  That could mean a pretty big shake up.  Maui might be one part of it, and just think of all the consequences that might have.

Before I get too deep, how about some more lighthearted updates?  I’ve seen some great shows lately.  Most astonishing was The Darkness at The Fillmore.  That show was jaw-dropping.  The ease with which Justin Hawkins seemed to set the stage on fire with his soaring falsetto, acrobatics, and guitar mastery… I mean it was stunning.  I saw him drop a plectrum, kick it back up sideways hacky sack style, catch it, and start his solo, all while looking not at all surprised it worked.  It is a contender for the best live show I’ve ever seen.  Other highlights include Devo (looking very old but not caring… oh, and also sounding amazing), The Buzzcocks, Pulp (another fantastic show), and a one-time reuniting of our old friends Dead Souls.  After dragging my feet about it, I finally broke down today and got tickets for Morrissey in Stockton this weekend.  Happy birthday, you old diva.  You get my money again.

My own music has been good, too.  The Rumble Strippers have had a few successful shows and seem to be climbing the ladder a bit.  Our name is getting out there.  We’re working on new songs.  We recorded four songs in an actual studio (which was new to me), including one I wrote.  It’s all very promising.  And then TCB has an incredible new singer (Michael) who is possibly the best I’ve ever heard outside of Mozzer himself when it comes to those songs.  He’s got the moves, the voice, and is a terribly nice person to boot.  We’ve got a ton of shows coming up this summer, including trips to Portland, Seattle, and SoCal, and even a date opening for The Polecats.  Not to mention the great shows last weekend at Slim’s and The Catalyst!  Slim’s had some epic moments like walking on to “Imperfect List,” playing the “Subway Train” intro to “Everyday Is Like Sunday” as well as having David’s help on keys.  He also joined us for “Jack The Ripper,” and Nick took on an acoustic guitar for “King Leer” and “Seasick, Yet Still Docked.”  We closed with “Now My Heart Is Full,” which Michael ingeniously medley’ed with “I Won’t Share You” and then bowed and walked off while we continued playing.  It was perfect.  But come to think of it, the last couple months were brutal in terms of shows.  I think at one point I had six or seven straight weekends of shows, alternating between TCB and The Rumble Strippers.  But I guess that’s a Cadillac worry, as they say.

I had a minor surgery which was new for me as well.  No stitches, but dealing with caring for it led me to have my first panic attack in ages.  It happened at the hospital.  Good times.  But at the end of the ordeal, I was left with a better sense of my own resilience and confidence in what I can deal with, and that’s the ultimate antidote for anxiety.  Let’s see, what else?  Had a fun time at the pinball museum in Alameda thanks to Eden’s surprise party for Margaret.  Damn, there was a ton of stuff in past months I never got around to mentioning, including my brief attempts at ice skating and Bikram yoga, as well as ongoing vocal lessons.  Then there were two big trips.  One was Europe (yes, Europe!), but more on that next time.  The other was Viva Las Vegas, which after all these years I finally attended, along with my expert C-Po.  I’d intended to write about it last month, but preparing for Europe kept me swamped.  I’ll do my best to recall it now…

I’d been waiting to go to Viva since around 2004, but the right situation just never presented itself.  C-Po calls it “rockabilly summer camp.”  And specifically for vintage-lovin’ girls, it’s the “Fashion Olympics.”  Both descriptions are totally accurate, it turns out.  We spent most of the time within the Orleans Hotel, as that’s where all the events were anyway.  We perused the many, many booths of clothes, jewelry, pomades (where I picked up some Layrite swag), stickers, etc.  There was a vegan custom shoe maker from the U.K. that I plan to work with in the future.  We gambled and won and then broke even.  (Penny slots, dude.  It’s the only way to go.)  We didn’t stick around for the whole of Elvira’s show, but we caught most of one of Charles Phoenix’s hilariously-narrated slideshows.  We took advantage of several free dance lessons, and though I’ve forgotten many of the steps already, I was a damn decent jiver and bopper for a few days there.  We skipped the car show due to time constraints, and limited our time at the pool party to a quick walk around it just to get the feel.  We took a walk through a fancy mall full of only the highest-end designers’ storefronts.  We saw tons of friends and spent a good amount of time with the drummer from Quarter Mile Combo.  I heard there were something like 8,500 paid attendees this year.  Then there was that damn wristband, pretty and detailed as it was… I did not appreciate having to keep it on 24 hours a day for four days.  The “rockabilly summer camp” vibe was really all about all these scene people under one roof, staying in the same hotel as if it were a giant dorm or a sleepover party.  And of course everything is open 24 hours a day.  Everyone getting all dressed up to be seen each night.  It was fun, I can’t deny.  And as for that “Fashion Olympics” aspect, I don’t doubt it now.  There were countless unique and wonderful outfits.  Obviously I don’t know what I’m looking at, but C-Po  and her friends all know and recognize who’s bringing it and who’s a poseur.  I actually held my own, poseur-wise.  You know, part of me was staying away from VLV just to avoid being anonymous in a sea of people who look just like me, and that’s valid.  But if I’m being honest with myself, I suppose there was also the fear that I would feel like an imposter among people who are rockabillier than thou.  But there was none of that.  If anything, I saw more neophytes than veterans, and I felt totally confident and comfortable in my own skin there.  It probably helps that I’m old now.  In fact, from what I saw, there were lots of badly dressed people, and I looked comparatively great.  It was interesting to see all the different directions the neophytes and the veterans alike have taken a relatively small amount of cultural reference and tried to make it look flattering and authentic.  What I saw ran the gamut from cherry print everything, to just a flower in the hair, to totally immaculate vintage from head to toe.  I saw full-on cat suits, incredible dresses, and even overalls.  For the record, I lost track of how many compliments C-Po got on her outfits, from friends and strangers alike.  It was an embarrassing amount though, so apparently she really brought it.  In terms of this scenester posturing that we’re all guilty of, my favorite moment was in an elevator when a wannabe queen bee — who didn’t know who she was talking to — responded to a casual compliment from C-Po with, “Yeah I don’t know if you know this, but my purse is like super rare.  It’s worth like $1300.”

Over the course of the weekend, the dining was hit or miss.  Right there in the Orleans, there’s a T.G.I. Friday’s, which disappointed us twice.  However, there was a decent Denny’s-esque diner and great Asian place there too.  The in-house food court had a Subway and Baskin Robbins, neither of which I took advantage of, but I got the obligatory veggie burger at the Fuddruckers there.  Their facade was decorated with jukebox record streamers, a cardboard cut-out of James Dean, and a cringe-worthy banner that read, “Fuddruckers loves rock-a-billy’s.  Welcome back!!”  There are so many things wrong with that, I don’t even know where to start.  We ventured away from the Orleans twice, and it resulted in the best and worst meals of the trip.  I’m fairly certain that food poisoning from Garduño’s is what led us to have to stay in sick one night.  But then brunch at the Mon Ami Gabi bistro at the Paris was one of the best meals I’ve had all year!  Warm brie with black pepper, honey, hazelnuts, and croutons?  Crisscut fries with blue cheese dip?  Some kind of amazing salad that I can’t remember now?  Yes, ma’am.  I even did my share of drinking over the weekend, mainly to collect the commemorative mugs, including a boot, a skull, and a bowling pin.  I vaguely remember some delicious Sailor Jerry punch.

Music was the main attraction for me, of course.  I got to see most everything I intended to.  Seeing Duane Eddy and The Ventures in person was definitely something I’m glad to say I did.  The “legends” show featuring older stars on the verge of senility was interesting.  J.D. McPherson was alright.  Saw our friend Irving play in The 454’s.  I forget who else now.  The highlight was The Polecats, who were just full of energy and sounded great.  Awesome to see Boz cutting loose and really playing!  We even got to meet him and Tim Polecat after the show!  Now with all that went on during the weekend, it’s just impossible to see it all.  The bands that — in hindsight — I wish I’d seen include:  Si Cranstoun (who is apparently Jackie Wilson-esque and amazing), Voola & The Jayhawks (which are all but a Screamin’ Jay Hawkins tribute), Jinx Jones (whom Paul has seen locally and has raved about), and Blind Rage & Violence (a Link Wray tribute).  There were tons of other bands too that might have been nice.  C-Po knew many of them, but I did not.  Seeing the massive list of events for VLV meant seeing a lot of rockabilly band names alongside each other.  And that led to some observations, and ultimately to us creating this:

So that was Viva.  I’ll definitely be doing it again next year.  Which I guess brings us back to the bigger “life” stuff…  I didn’t do a “New Year’s” blog this year the way I’ve done in the past, but that’s not because I haven’t been reflecting.  As I mentioned, I’m considering some big changes.  And I mean big.  Virtually no sacred cow is safe.  This public forum isn’t really the place for me to get into it, but I’m pondering things.  They’re not quite formed into specific resolutions, but instead loosely arranged into areas of my life that are due for an overhaul.  A while back at work, it was suggested that each of us take a shot at creating a personal “mission statement” to succinctly sum up what we’re all about.  At first, I thought it was kind of a silly exercise, but I admit that when I sat down and really gave it some thought, the end result was pretty valuable.  This is what I settled on.  My “mission” is:

To search for meaning and understanding, strive for absolute integrity, actively recognize and experience as much joy as possible in every moment of my limited time on earth, and do what I can to protect the right of all living things to do the same.

I wrestled with the precise phrasing of that statement, considering alternatives for nearly every word, and making sure the connotation and message was exactly what I meant to say.  Now that was written sometime back in 2011, and though I didn’t intend it, it really fits well as a kind of framework for me to work with as I do some life overhauling to get more aligned with my real goals.

  • So to search for meaning and understanding makes me think of Spirit Rock, the Buddhist retreat.  I’ve been thinking about doing a week out there for almost a year now, and I just know it would be helpful, but I may have to put it off (depending on my vacation time situation what with Europe burning up two weeks).  Spirituality is something that I had a real awakening with while I dealt with anxiety a few years ago, and I know that there would be a tremendous benefit to pursuing it further.  I really have to make this happen.
  • Then to strive for absolute integrity, that comes naturally to me.  It may not surprise you to hear that “Responsibility” was my #1 strength according to StrengthsFinder.  It isn’t always a good thing though, as I hold myself to an unrealistic standard sometimes.  That’s where the word “strive” comes in.   That’s to remind myself that I should shoot for perfection but remember that I am human too.  Another big thing for me here is to continue to get comfortable with anger — allowing myself to experience it, express it, and let it go, rather than tamp it down like I’ve done for years.  My progress and small victories there have been kind of amazing.  To see how fast you can let something go after you express it.  It’s still so foreign to me as I’m used to holding it in until it hardens into resentment.  There are many great quotes on that subject.  Anyhow, I feel like I’m still making slow progress in this area.
  • And then to actively recognize and experience as much joy as possible in every moment of my limited time on earth, that’s a loaded one.  A lot of key words there.  “Actively” because it takes attention and effort to see (or “recognize”) the value in everything you experience.  You can’t control everything that happens to you, but you can control how you view it.  Easier said than done, but that is the ultimate power to have in your own life.  That’s the ultimate goal.  Originally, instead of “recognize,” I was playing with variations of “pursue.”  I’m at least putting some of this into action this year by travelling.  Already VLV and Europe are behind me.  With my remaining vacation time, I still would like to try to pull off Cuba later this year, maybe combined with a Florida manatee stopover.  New Orleans is off the table for a number of reasons, but I’ll see it and the G.I. Joe convention eventually, even if they’re not at the same place in the future.  I’d like to make time to relax and rest and ponder and redistribute my time based on true enjoyment rather than just trying to use it to efficiently complete and endless list of tasks.  I want to feed ducks more.  I want to finally get an Ocean Beach bonfire going with friends, and throw more events like that to expand the circle of friends.  I want to finish my massive house clean and purge of all non-essential material things.  I want to purge non-essential commitments and usages of my free time.  I want to do something for a living that excites my passions and feels real.  I want to live somewhere (Maui?) that helps me “be here now” rather than silently prods me to work on a to do list.  That “be here now,” that idea of mindfulness is the really the key.  Pursuing happiness through vacations and simplifying my schedule, it’s certainly a valuable use of my time, but it’s too limiting as an overall goal.  It’s not enough just to try to improve what happens to you, because you can’t really control everything that happens to you.  Vacations are nice, but no amount of vacations or material things is going to guarantee your happiness.   The happiness comes from your mindset.  It’s easy to be happy on vacation with your friends, but that’s not where you spend the majority of your life.  It’s more important to find how to be happy the rest of the time.
  • And finally, to do what I can to protect the right of all living things to do the same.  For this one, I struggle.  I need to find something meaningful to do here, and if it doesn’t come in the form of a new career in that field, it might at least be some volunteer time.  Ideally though, I would do for a living something that leverages my talents towards a noble cause that matters to me and to the world and makes a real difference, rather than just the accumulation of wealth.

So those are the big plans, somewhat mapped to more actionable items.  It’s so easy to get overwhelmed by day-to-day life and commitments while your big plans… your important plans… your life plans… all stay on the back burner.  In some ways, that’s the biggest obstacle.  Some of these goals have been on my mind for months with no progress or answers yet, but hell if I’m not trying.

The quote of the week is just a question for you to ponder:

“If your life had its own board of directors, who’d be on it?”

I’ll get the car, you get the night off.

20 February 2012

Every once in a while, I find myself wondering about my next car.  Do I need a new car?  No.  I love my car, and there is every indication that it will last me another 150,000 miles.  But if not now, then someday… I will need a new car.  And it’s not a small decision.  I can’t tell you how much thought went into the one I have now.  Like any red-blooded American male, I’ve had desires for various “dream cars” over the years.  These include:

  1. 1987 Buick Grand National “GNX”
    This was probably my longest-running dream car.  The Grand National was a special edition of the Buick Regal for a few years in the mid 80’s (the exact same years The Smiths were together, as it happens).  A luxury car’s body, but with high performance.  Only came in black.  Darth Vader in car form.  The final year, 1987, saw a further upgrade to the already menacing Grand National package.  There were just 547 of these “GNX” models, upgraded by McLaren.  It was the fastest production car in the U.S. that year.  Faster than the Corvette!  0-60 mph in 4.7 seconds.  And all while looking scary as hell.  When it finally came time for me to buy my first “real” car after getting my first “real” job, the GNX — rare as it was — was still in my price range.  But by that time, I’d grown up a bit.  And the not-so-modern interior wasn’t wowing me anymore.  I ultimately passed on the chance to own one.  I’m not really sure I regret it either, but damn they’re fun to look at!

  2. 1971 Plymouth Barracuda
    As I got more into the subject, I eventually discovered the golden era of American muscle cars.  There are many in this category to admire, and in the Mopar family specifically.  They had the performance but also the style.  The Roadrunner, the Super Bee, the Charger and Challenger.  Plus who else was releasing cars in stock colors like hot pink?  I eventually got my heart set on a lime green ‘Cuda, but for the same reasons I mentioned with the GNX, it just never happened.

  3. 1957 Ford Ranchero
    As much as I love old cars, I am also very lazy.  The idea of owning a beautiful and iconic vehicle is trumped by the impracticality of maintaining it in modern urban life.  As a second car, maybe.  And then I also don’t know much about doing it myself, so then what — hire someone to maintain it?  That wouldn’t be very greaser of me.  In the realm of what you might call “classic” cars, the Ranchero has always seemed like the most “me.”  Don’t get me wrong, there are countless cars of all makes and models in that era that I would die to own.  But the Ranchero is the one that speaks to me most.  It’s got unusual lines and trim.  It fits the time, but it’s definitely unique even among those classics.  So I’ll go ahead and take one in two-tone turquoise and white.  Please and thank you!

  4. Monster Truck (unspecified)
    When I was in high school, I badly wanted a monster truck, and almost got one a couple of times.  I would have been happy with an older Chevy Stepside pickup, or a Scout.  Or even a lift kit on my Chrysler New Yorker would have done me just fine.  As long as it had big, ridiculous swamper tires.  It’s probably a good thing I never followed through with that.  Hell, those tires alone are like $200+ a piece.  And imagine if you had a blowout on the freeway while up on those things.  Not to mention whatever it might say about me psychologically to drive something like that.

  5. Big Rig (unspecified)
    Then for a while in college, I thought about how funny it would be to drive a big old diesel big rig to school every day, but with nothing in tow.  It would be hilarious to me to be known as the guy who drove that totally impractical vehicle everywhere.  But not so hilarious that I’d ever actually do it.

  6. 1959 Cadillac Hearse
    As an adult, the totally impractical car I’ve often considered has been a classic Hearse.  I just like the idea of pulling up to gigs in one, and pulling all my gear from the back of it.  It’s not like I’m the first person to think this is cool or anything… there are whole car clubs dedicated to the Hearse.  And in fact it is from those clubs that I’ve learned just how impractical it really is.  My current care is huge and hard to park at about 18′.  Hearses tend to be more like 23′, and require a commercial drivers license to operate.  And because of their increased size, a lot of the parts like brakes, etc. are commercial grade… and are rare and expensive.  And then there’s the obvious issue of how many corpses have been through that car.  I understand a premium is charged for Hearses that have had very little… uh, professional usage.  I don’t know if I’d want to drive one that had ever been used that way!  And that tells me I’m probably not the kind of person who should be driving one.

  7. 1998 – 2002 Lincoln Town Car
    My final dream car was a black Town Car within a very specific range of years.  In my mind I’d pictured a plush, blood red interior (which they do not come with).  Something that evoked some kind of Victorian carriage… and maybe Dracula.  It was this car, minus that red interior, that I eventually came to own.  So hey, I’ve had at least one of my dream cars.  And the most practical one at that.

I truly cannot say enough nice things about my Town Car.  There are lots of cool rides out there, but my personality is so wrapped up in the big black Town Car.  It says so much about me.  I don’t know if I’m ready to let that go.  Being both ominous as well as totally anonymous in a city filled with identical black limos.  A certain authority and mystery that comes with this particular model and color.  I’m ignored by cops.  Practically invisible.  Thieves must assume its an off-duty livery vehicle and unlikely to contain anything of value, so it has never been broken into.  Of course, it also means I’m constantly being flagged down by drunks wanting a ride 2am, a problem unique to my car.  But because of that livery tie-in, I am fortunate to have found a repair shop that specializes in Town Cars only, catering to the areas many, many limo drivers.  A whole (huge) shop dedicated to my model.  What other car can say that?

Come to think of it though, all of that is stuff I hadn’t anticipated.  It was all bonus.  So why did I actually choose this car?  When I finally had a “real” job and could afford a real car, I looked very seriously at what was on the market, but it was clear this was the only choice for me in terms of new cars offered in those days.  It was the first car that was really nice when I got it, so I was motivated to keep it nice.  Nearly 10 years now.  Top quality window tinting.  Upgraded stereo.  Kept it clean and well-maintained.  I will miss it someday when it’s gone.  I guess if I’m being honest, I was a bit enamored with the black Town Car as the quintessential hitman / mafia / g-man vehicle.  The kind of car you don’t want to see coming.  The kind of car where you might be asked to get in the back… the way back (i.e. the trunk).  And the Town Car has what you might call a “three-body trunk.”  You know how trunks these days have a little pull tag to release the latch in case you get stuck inside?  I used to joke that the first modification I made to the car was to snip that right off.  Because if you find yourself in my trunk, you’re there for a reason.  (Have you ever looked at the icon on those pull tags?  It pretty much says it all.)  But most of all, I can’t describe the feeling of getting behind the wheel of my car, especially after a plane trip where I’ve spent a week in a rental… like floating on a soft couch rather than riding in a simple car.  It’s unlike anything else I’ve been in.  Those of you who’ve ridden with me can attest.  The buttery smooth power steering that requires almost no effort, you could just blow on it to move it.  Turning it feels like you’re navigating a ocean liner.  I grew up on hand-me-down beat up luxury cars, and when it came time to pick one of my own, what was I gonna do?  I chose luxury over performance and have never regretted it.  A vision of terror and salvation all at once… a shining and steaming machine, a slick black carriage emerging from the silent gray abyss of a cold and foggy San Francisco night.  How could I ever give that up?

On August 29th of last year, the final Town Car rolled off the assembly line, discontinued after all these years.  This despite it winning the hilarious and bizarre Rental Car Olympics (where we learned that it may be the fastest car made… when it comes to driving in reverse).  I just can’t see myself ever getting rid of mine.  Maybe I’ll keep it forever as a hobby, to restore someday even after I have another car to replace it as my main vehicle?

OK, so how about a more realistic list of cars I’d consider when Town Car is some day laid to rest?  Modern cars have some really cool stuff, you know.  Luxury cars often get cutting edge features first, but these days my Town Car’s bells and whistles are standard on nearly everything on the market.  I want some new stuff.  I was in a friend’s car recently and it had a camera on the rear so you could see if you were about to run into anything while backing up… plus it overlaid dotted lines to show where your reverse path will take you based on the current orientation of the steering wheel.  So you could see the exact angle you needed to back out of a tight spot.  How cool is that?  So let us consider:

  1. Chevy HHR Panel
    Now I fully realize that virtually no one gets what I see in these things, but I am really drawn to these little guys.  The panel version only, though.  It’s little and practical, plus it looks like a cross between a delivery truck and a PT Cruiser.  And they’re cheap too!  Only problem is they were discontinued after 2011.  Well hell, I guess they’ll be even cheaper used!

  2. Dodge Challenger
    The modern Challengers are amazing looking beasts.  With Mopar’s history of innovative and retro cars like the PT Cruiser and the Prowler, leave it to them to reintroduce a 70’s muscle car that actually still looks like a 70’s muscle car.  I applaud what they’ve done with this, and the only reason I could see not to snatch one up right away is the fact that I’d never be able to transport my guitar equipment in it for shows!  Otherwise, I’d be all over this thing.

  3. Electric Car (unspecified)
    The idea is that these are the cars of the future, and my next auto purchase ought to be ready for what’s next.  I like what Tesla is doing, but all other electrics and hybrids are kinda boring.  If they made an electric Town Car, we wouldn’t be having this conversation, because I’d already own one.  Or even more ideally, I’d love to convert a classic (how about that ’57 Ranchero?) to an electric, with modern suspension, brakes, etc.?  I know that can be done (doesn’t Neil Young do it?), but it’s probably prohibitively expensive at the moment.  But someday…

  4. Smart Car / Mini Cooper
    On the same wavelength as an electric car would be something tiny and infinitely parkable in San Francisco.  Enter the Smart Car and/or Mini Cooper.  Ultra practical and — at least in the Cooper’s case — potentially even cool lookin’.  But again, where would put my guitar gear?  If I’m gonna go this small, I might as well get that motorcycle I was talking about.

  5. Ford Mustang
    Now hold on just a moment.  Let me preface by saying that in general I find Mustangs very uncomfortable to drive.  The complete opposite of a smooth Town Car.  However, given their current 70’s styling, all the cool internal lighting features and color changing stuff they can do, and most importantly the fact that they are the perfect convertible Maui car for when I move there eventually, I can see myself in one.  On the island though.

And remember too that I can always make any of these cars my own by adding some of those special touches.  Now when I was much younger, I dreamt about “cool” stuff like adding neon lights under my car, an obnoxiously loud subwoofer, or those kits to make flames shoot out of your exhaust pipe(s).  I’d like to say I’ve grown out of that stuff, but really my tastes have just changed some.  I still like obnoxious things.  I’d like to install black lights in the car’s cabin just ‘cos I think they’re sexy.  I’d love to set up a CB radio to talk to truckers while on road trips but that is also connected to a hidden PA so I can scream at jaywalkers.  I used to want to install a big rig truck horn just because I thought it would be funny and unexpected.  Nowadays, people install train horns, and even cruise ship horns.  Go look on YouTube and see.  I know there are a lot of reasons why that is a very bad idea.  But I still want to do it.  I mean imagine unleashing that on one of those urban brazen jaywalkers that look you in the eye challengingly even as they fuck you out of your right of way.  Makes me giddy to think of it.  I wouldn’t mind a crosshair hood ornament for pedestrians.  I remember when I was more into funk, I wanted to cover my car with mirrors like a giant disco ball, where all you’d see is blinding light as I rolled down the street, but I don’t guess that would be legal.  I heard the Loco Gringos had a Cadillac Hearse with — among many other decorations — a tequila bottle mohawk.  If I were a bigger drinker, I could go for that.  I also used to think it would be cool to have a replica of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel airbrushed on my car’s own ceiling, maybe so that the hands of Michelangelo’s God and Adam touched at the dome light.  Yeah, I was a weird kid.

A small digression… Prior to the Town Car, I used to drive a burgundy 1990 Chrysler Le Baron convertible.  The Mopar family isn’t exactly known for reliability.  My previous cars (an inherited Fifth Avenue, then a turbo-charged New Yorker) were both Chryslers and did not last long.  But good old Le Baron managed exactly 155,432 miles before I parked him for good.  I chose to donate him to PETA through a third party car donation program.  That was when the troubles began.  The donation company came with a tow truck, but decided first to try to start Le Baron.  He would not start.  Then they took a full jump box to charge him to get him to start… but the moment they touched it to Le Baron, it was immediately drained and rendered useless, something the tow truck driver had never seen.  They eventually got it onto the truck.  I later heard that they managed to lose the pink slip, which I had 100% for sure given them.  Could be coincidence, but I prefer to think that these events were examples of Le Baron’s curse.  The final proof?  Well, I took my plates off Le Baron, for use on my next car.  They were then registered to that new car.  Years later, I found out from the city of San Francisco that there was a recent parking ticket attributed to my licence plate number, in a neighborhood I never go to.  In researching the ticket, it was attributed to a burgundy two-door sedan.  So to recap… I donate a burgundy two-door sedan in the East Bay, physically removing and re-registering the plates to a black four-door.  Years later in SF, I am informed I received a ticket on a date and place I was not at, attributed to my same (and still current) license plate number, matching my old car’s description.  Could the DMV mistakenly have re-issued my plate number to my old (and I guess refurbished?) Le Baron such that there are two cars on the road with the same plates?  And that they’d get (and not pay) a parking ticket in the city I just so happen to have moved to?  It all seems impossible.  I maintain it was… the ghost of Le Baron!!!

Incidentally, I feel like I could and should write some memories of my first three cars, which are flooding back to me even as I type this.  Perhaps that’ll come in the future.  At that time, you’ll read about how we used to pick up roadside junk or even race the unsuspecting using passing gear.  The massive disco mirror ball I had hanging from the rear view.  Or how the New Yorker could talk (his voice was immortalized in the song “Malfunction“).  Or how Le Baron’s passenger door fell off, while its ragged rag top admitted more spiders than you would believe… which I had strategies to address (e.g. a tee-ball bat, a spray bottle of “Spider-B-Gone,” etc.), and only once nearly crashed the car when startled by an eight-legged hellion.  Ah, but another time.

The completely unrelated quote of the week comes from the archives… sometime last year, I think.

Friend: “Ryan Reynolds was just named People’s ‘Sexiest Man Alive’ this year. What do you think my chances are of being next year’s sexiest man alive?”
Me: “I dunno dude. You’d have to kill, like, a lot of people.”

Aloha, Motherfuckers!

5 January 2012

I just wanted to put down some notes about my exciting New Year’s trip to Maui.  Getting up at 5am sucks, but arriving in Maui around 3pm local time does not.  After some initial stress of finding our way around town to the essentials like water shoes (yes I shopped at the Maui Walmart, but I didn’t feel good about it), we made our way around the island toward the hotel.  Memories of my previous trip there (must have been around 2000?) started to come back to me.  Slowly letting it sink in, the magnitude of the difference in scenery and climate there.  Like being on another planet.

We stayed at the amazing Sheraton Maui resort, noted for having one of the nicest beaches on the island.  Travelocity hooked us up, because a room there can run upwards of $800/night, and we didn’t pay near that much.  The grounds there are breathtaking.  Check out their site for pictures, but if I ever win the lottery, I would want to move in there permanently.  (Turns out it’s actually very close to the Hyatt I’d stayed at when I was in Maui before.)  The air smells sweet, I’m not kidding.  It smells perfumed everywhere you go.  Then big, open, manicured grassy areas all over.  A pool that snaked through the landscape along with a hot tub.  We checked in, put on shorts, and headed out to one of the outdoor bars to eat.  Not 30 seconds after sitting down to dinner that first night, the older Australian couple next to us noticed my Smiths shirt and started talking to me about them — surely a good omen for the new year.  There was live music and hula all the time.  Took a walk on the beach at night, where even in December it barely dipped below 70°.

I can’t get over the freedom of a vacation like this.  I probably haven’t had it since that last Maui trip.  The freedom to just roll out of bed, put on nothing but board shorts — I mean no shirt, no shoes — and walk through the resort on your way to pick up a piña colada (which you carelessly charge to the room) and head to the beach.  No need for heating or AC.  Indoors and out, day and night, you are comfortable in shorts and nothing else.  I felt like I spent the whole week in my underwear, but that’s what everyone does there.  There’s no shame.  And that feeling is the highlight of the whole trip.  I can’t overstate that.  The freedom of no schedule and no climate restrictions.  (Side note: I wore sunblock religiously and as a result got almost no color at all!)  Some of the noteworthy activities include:  We went ziplining from tree to tree in a forest canopy.  I swam so much in the ocean… which is warm and so clear.  Totally unlike the ocean in the Bay Area where it’s murky and prohibitively cold.  The ocean in Maui is like being in a bathtub.  It’s that comfortable.  You can be in it all day, just swimming and rolling in the waves.  It makes you feel human again… and animal, all at the same time.  I climbed up Black Rock there off the coast and cliff dove.  We saw whales jumping and spouting just off shore.  We rented snorkeling equipment for a couple hours.  I didn’t know it then, but all the time I was swimming and cliff diving near Black Rock… I was surrounded by colorful tropical fish.  Armed with the snorkel gear, we got to see what was going on beneath the surface.  Thousands of beautiful butterfly fish, trumpet fish, etc. swimming around people’s feet while they don’t even know it.  Darting around the coral at the base of Black Rock.  It was stunning.  We didn’t see any turtles, but we did later see crabs along the rocks in another part of town.

The food was so-so, mostly in that it wasn’t very vegetarian-friendly.  I ended up eating a lot of junk food and fried food, but I survived.  Front Street was great for shopping and some food.  It’s more or less their Pier 39 equivalent.  I had some handmade chocolate with kava… which numbed my tongue.  We had a fancier dinner at Roy’s, where I had grilled tofu steaks.  We had more “local” food at Aloha Mixed Plate.  We rang in 2012 at the Sheraton’s New Year’s Eve party, which included a nice buffet, dancing with awkward white people toward the countdown, and an opportunity to wear a Hawaiian shirt.  At first I felt a little strange as many others were dressed kinda ritzy for NYE.  But soon I realized that I was just the rock and roll one at the party, and I got into that mindset.  It’s an expensive resort, and these people don’t know who I am.  For all they know, I’m a real rock star.  At least that’s the irreverent mindset I adopted, and I think I pulled it off.  Our last night there, we did the obligatory luau which included an open bar, a whole roast pig (which was kinda depressing), and a full on music and dance performance.  Again, the Sheraton is reputed to have one of the best luaus on the island.  Other than NYE and the luau, the resort’s food was overpriced and not great.  I was happy when we got to venture out.  One last note… at almost every restaurant we ate at, the seating was open air or at least facing wide open windows.  There weren’t many bugs, but there were plenty of birds flying into these places and hopping around the floor.  I rediscovered my love of feeding birds and exercised it at nearly every meal.  As with the geckos that came out at night around the resort, and the flowers everywhere you go, I just loved how much nature and open air is a part of everything you do there.  It makes my life back home feel sterile and isolated and artificial by comparison.

The only real downside was the sense that in general, the locals hated us.  I mean, I kinda get it.  In S.F., we’re annoyed by tourists.  And though I don’t know the history, I can only assume there’s some less-than-pleasant past crimes of the white man against the native people.  I noticed were some very aggressive and almost combative driving by locals against us both as other drivers and as pedestrians.  (Though when I let one particular car in front of me, he very casually flashed a “hang loose” gesture at us, which was so charming!)  At one point, we got a very chilly reception by a couple of locals carving tikis.  Was it just because I was a tourist?  Or white?  Or with a girl who looks like she could be Hawaiian?  Maybe I read into it too much, but there was a definite sense of “we’ll take your money because we need to, but in all other respects, go to hell.”  I’d heard that Maui was the most fiercely independent of the islands, historically speaking.  I wonder if there is an active anti-statehood movement there?  In any event, if you know me, you know that I was overly polite and careful not to be in anyone’s way or make a mess.  So unless I’m oblivious to something horrible I was doing, I’m pretty sure I was looked down upon for no good reason.  Mahalo, bitch.

It turns out this is peak season for Hawaii, and so the limited rental cars on Maui are hard to come by.  All the agencies jack up their rates significantly, and a six day rental from one of the last places with cars left cost me over $1100!  The good news is that it for a small upcharge I was able to snag a convertible Mustang.  The salesguy pressed hard for it, but he wasn’t wrong.  Driving around the island with the top down was well worth the extra ~$100.  For the view and the weather.  And these new Mustangs let you change the color of all the dashboard backlighting and trim lights.  A silly feature that is so up my alley.  But tonight, when I got behind the wheel of my own Town Car — it’s been in the shop since getting hit by a drunk driver after the last TCB show — I was again reminded, as I have been so many times before, just how much I love my car.  It’s so smooth.  It was made for me.

On the way back, we were in desperate need of food before the flight.  The only “real” food around was a bar and grill… it turned out to be called “Sammy’s.”  And can you guess why?  It’s apparently Sammy Hagar’s own restaurant, and it is every bit as full of self-aggrandizing bullshit as you might imagine.  We’re talking walls covered with his platinum records.  An autographed guitar.  Chickenfoot merch left and right.  Picture upon cringe-worthy picture of him posing with various celebrities.  Even the bamboo decorations in his signature red.  A menu full of recipes he allegedly picked up from his travels and his celebrity friends.  A plaque at the front door explaining what a model citizen and philanthropist he is.  All of the marketing, none of the artistic integrity, and all done with the delicate touch of a sledgehammer.  But what should I expect from a man who has a band named after his own brand of tequila?  Good Lord.

But back to the real story here.  I’m seriously looking into moving to Maui.  The practical side of me is weighing how much of a lifestyle change that would represent, as well as how wise it is to make a decision like that based on a week at a resort, when “real” life there would not be like vacationing at a resort.  And what would I do for work?  The tech market doesn’t seem to be booming there.  And I don’t know if I’m cut out for the tourism/service industry.  Maybe a government job?  Am I too old to be a cop?  I think it fits my personality, and I’ve considered looking into that as a way to do something impactful for a living irrespective of my new Maui plans.  Or maybe Maui needs therapists and I could pursue that as a career?  Though, who needs a shrink when you live in paradise?  Everyone we talked to — and there were dozens — said that moving to Maui was the best thing they’d even done and they love it there.  Be they bartender or concierge.  From Fresno or Portland.  The love it there.  Rents are cheaper than San Francisco.  But then… there’s no scene there at all.  Nowhere to go dance to new wave.  Nowhere to go to listen to (or play) rockabilly or Smiths music live.  I’d have to join a reggae band if I wanted to gig anywhere out there.  Or maybe I could start a weekly new wave club night?  OK, maybe unrealistic… but the wheels are definitely turning, folks.  You’d all come visit me, right?

“All men should strive to learn before they die, what they are running from, and to, and why.”
— James Thurber

I’ll be your Santa Claus…

7 December 2011

Another year has gone by, and it’s nearly Christmas time again.  I know I always say it, but it continues to be true… and it bears repeating: the years come faster and faster every time.  There’s no denying that my blogging pace has slowed down considerably.  In fact this is only the 10th — and likely final — entry of the year.  And only the third since May!  I’ve settled in to where I only post when I’ve got something to say, or really to document.  And my annual Christmas list falls into that category I think. 

But since I’m here, I might as well throw in a quick rundown of current events.  Let’s see… Morrissey was set to play in Oakland last week, but he cancelled literally just hours before the show.  I was crushed, as was virtually everyone I know, but life goes on.  Brian Setzer is coming to Santa Cruz later this month, and it’ll be a great opportunity to go to a concert with dad, which we almost never do together.  Plus Jared is coming to town, so I’ll get to catch up with him!  What else… I already posted about Vegas last time, but another fun trip is on the horizon: Maui for New Year’s!  More on that as it becomes clear.  I’m looking forward to having some great vacations in 2012.  I am too lazy and maybe too risk averse to plan real vacations, or at least I have been for years.  I want this year to be different, and so in addition to my recent and upcoming trip, I’m looking at Cuba, Europe, Vegas again to finally make it out for VLV, and then even a meditative Buddhist retreat!  Other things under consideration or the G.I. Joe Convention in New Orleans in June, and a visit to swim with the manatees in Florida when they return in the Fall.  Doesn’t even sound like me, right?  What can I say?  Time to get busy living.

One more thing… Trader Joe’s has just started offering Speculoos Cookie Butter, which is like peanut butter except for it tastes like liquid gingerbread cookie dough.  I ate a whole can in a couple of days.  I expect it to be a part of my routine for the foreseeable future.

It being the holiday season and all, this is usually the time I am creating a yuletide mix CD as a gift for my close friends.  I have ideas for this year’s stockpiled, but realistically I just don’t know if there’s going to be time to make it happen.  I hate to say that, because it really is fun to put them together, but I may have to take a break this year.  As a matter of fact, I don’t know if I’m up for any Christmas shopping.  I’m swamped as it is, and we’re already just a few short weeks away from the big day.  So unless and until otherwise notified, let’s plan on no gifts this year.  Besides, you know how much I hate shopping out of obligation.  If anything, let’s continue promoting Scroogenomics (summarized here), specifically the idea of giving donation gift cards of a specified amount where the recipient gets to choose the charity the funds go to.  That way, we’re both meeting our gift exchange obligations, and instead of either of us getting junk we don’t need or want, that money goes to a worthy cause.  Perfection, I say.

But I do like my things, and I did pretty well with my list last year.  My folks blessed me with a Dirt Devil.  Kelly’s folks got me a mouse rug.  I bought myself the Monkey Island set (which I have not had time to play even once all year!), and then just recently Jared pulled off the gift of gifts by nabbing me the Nile Rodgers sheet music that I had been hunting for years!  I’ve been documenting a “gimme” list for a few years now (2007, 2008, 20092010), but this year was a real struggle to come up with even 10 items.  I guess maybe that’s a good thing?  Plus half the stuff on here is kinda silly anyway.  Maybe I finally have enough stuff, or maybe I’m actually getting less attached to material possessions?  Or maybe I’m just too lazy to even think of stuff for people to buy me.  How American is that?  OK, so Santa, friends, loved ones, admirers… I command you to shower me with the following:

  1. Lords Of Death Sunglasses
    If you’ve seen “Big Trouble In Little China” (and if not, why not?), you know about the amazing white slanty sunglasses worn briefly by a member of the “Lords Of Death” street gang in the kidnapping scene.  Reminiscent of the iconic 1965 André Courrèges Eskimo shades.  Anyway, those Lords Of Death glasses… this year, I decided I must have them.  Well, it turns out that they were only made in the 80’s and are all but impossible to find.  The obvious place to look would be the best merch site dedicated to an obscure movie ever: The Wing Kong Exchange.  I’ve purchased the Jack Burton tank top, and I love it.  But they have little to offer when it comes to the glasses.  It’s not their fault though.  There just isn’t much information out there.  They ultimately direct you to what is far and away the closest thing available, being iJaak Eyewear’s handmade Eskimo glasses.  I traded some emails with the artist who makes them, and he was super nice and accommodating, but in the end for the high cost, the result just isn’t quite close enough to the real deal.  They do have an excellent blog with some good information and pictures on the originals though.  If you see these pop up on eBay or anywhere else, let me know!
  2. Johnny Marr’s Signature Fender Jaguar
    I’m leaving this one on here from last year because there was a delay.  I’m told it will finally hit the market in January 2012.  I have to say, from what I’ve seen, it amounts to a stripped-down plain old white Jaguar.  And I can’t believe I’m saying this, but unless I find out there’s something really special and amazing about it, I may have to pass.  It’s not that I don’t want to support Johnny, because honestly who supports him more than I?  But I have too many guitars as it is, and even the considerable weight of Johnny’s signature may not be enough on its own to justify a purchase of that magnitude.  Time will tell.
  3. White Ghost Cactus
    This summer, I had the pleasure of seeing the “Wicked Plants” exhibit at the Conservatory Of Flowers at Golden Gate Park.  There were a lot of what you’d expect — Venus Flytraps and the like — as well as some unusual suspects.  One that caught my eye was a rare variation called euphorbia lactea variegata or the “white ghost” cactus.  It’s basically a low-maintenance plant that grows up to six feet tall, is a striking alabaster white, and is mildly poisonous to the touch.  Seems like the perfect conversation piece / Bond villain-esque pet for me to keep on my patio.  And you can even buy them on Amazon.  What’s not to love?
  4. Vegan Pewter Dr. Martens (which don’t exists)
    It was only a few months ago that I bought my first pair or genuine Dr. Martens, and it was only because they’d finally reintroduced their vegan line.  You are probably aware that I won’t buy leather for ethical reasons, and while I’m comfortable with that decision at the moment, it does come with a cost.  There are many fashion statements that I would love to make, but cannot because suitable cruelty-free options do not yet exist.  Consider the fantastic pewter finish that I would love to strut in, not to mention the dozens of others.  I tell you, if the vegan option were there for more than just two colors (as is the case now), I would own more pairs of these shoes than I would like to admit.  White, powder blue, red velvet… the list goes on.  All call out to me, but I have yet to hear an argument that will allow me to buy these and still sleep at night, sadly. 
  5. ████ ████████
    So I’ve had a nice ████████ ███████ for a while, though I haven’t done much with it yet.  I’m thinking I ought to at least ████ ██ and get some ████████ before adding another ███████ to my life.  So hopefully that will happen soon, and I’ll be more certain that I really want this and am ready for it.  (Please excuse the redaction; I had to sanitize this for the public.  But me and Santa both know what we’re talking about here.)
  6. Multi-System Flatscreen T.V. / DVD Combo
    As with smart phones, which I’d successfully resisted until this last summer, I’m thinking it’s time I finally join the free world and get a modern television.  You see, I don’t watch it that much, and I don’t really play video games on it, so I’ve been happy with the same old CRT for years now.  How many years?  Well, it’s the one Jared left with me when he moved six years ago, and who knows how old it was before that?  It’s tiny, but I really don’t mind.  Seeing how cheap the technology has become and how nice some of my friends’ big flatscreens are, I’m starting to get the itch.  Because I upgrade my technology so very rarely, I guess I ought to get something big enough to last me a while.  Get it all done at once, you know.  I suppose it ought to support HD, since things seem to be going that way.  And I guess the new DVD player ought to support Blu-ray, since things seem to be going that way.  The only hitch for me is that I want a “multi-system” DVD player that will play all region codes and a “multi-system” T.V. that will display both NTSC and PAL formats.  Just so that I can watch my few import DVDs on something other than a computer.  You’d think with all the digital technology these days, those concerns would be a thing of the past, but they’re not.  They do make multi-system flatscreens, though they’re not super common in the U.S., and for the same price, you can get a much bigger “regular” flatscreen.  So to get one that’s both multi-system and also big… well let’s hope Santa’s loaded.
  7. Buddhist Alarm Clock
    I’m keeping this one on from last year too.  I’m still waking up every morning to the sounds of the local 80’s R&B station.  I need to get more sleep, I know, but I also think waking up more peacefully wouldn’t hurt either in terms of reducing stress.  So again, I find myself wanting to explore either the gentle bell to gradually wake me, or the synthetic sounds of harbor noises and the like.  Anyone have experience wth these?
  8. Puppet Master T-Shirt
    It seems like every year, there’s some hard-to-find shirt on my list, and I have struck out with all of them so far.  This year’s entry is an awesome design that was once offered by some company called “Lucky Threadz” which is now apparently known as “Loiter?”  All I know is that every official site I could find for them (and there was more than one which is a bad sign) was down/deactivated/abandoned (which is another bad sign).  I have very little hope I’ll ever get one of these in a men’s XL, but if your Googlin’ skills surpass mine, please do me the great honor of finding me this shirt!
  9. Triumph Rocket III
    At a Reverend Horton Heat show a couple years back, I saw a motorcycle parked out front with a custom paint job designating it as “The Baron.”  I don’t know enough about them to know what kind it was, but the dim photo I was able to snap with my old phone helped my friend Sean determine that it was likely a Triumph Rocket III or something from the Boss Hoss family.  What struck me about it was that it didn’t look like a normal bike.  It looked like it had a small car engine in it, rather than the usual motorcycle guts.  Take a look at that Rocket III, and you’ll see what I mean.  I’m not 100% convinced what I saw that night was a Rocket III, but it will do.  Sean advises me that this is too much bike for most men, and certainly for a novice like myself.  But since when do I listen to reason?  Vroom vroom!
  10. Red & White Striped Paper Straws
    On a recent trip to the delicious Straw restaurant, I was amused by the kitschy retro straws they provided with their drinks.  They were of that barber pole style, and strangely (to me, at least) they were made of paper.  Turns out, these are not hard to find.  Amazon sells a box of 144 Kikkerland Biodegradable Paper Straws (red and white striped) for under $7.  I haven’t picked any up yet, but I’m dying to.  Then I want to lay out by the pool and drink from a can of Diet Coke using one of the straws… hmmm, I feel I’ve said too much.  I don’t know why, but I still get excited by the prospect of getting things for the home like you see in restaurants.  For instance, I recently got rocks glasses at BevMo, along with an ice tray that makes perfectly geometric cubes of ice (as close as you can get to that super clear restaurant / bar ice without buying a heinously expensive professional ice machine — trust me).  Seeing the perfect ice in the perfect little glass has actually caused me to start drinking more alcohol at home.  For reasons like this, the glassware at BevMo and Cost Plus rocks my socks.  Somehow I think this is all tied to OCD, but I digress.

Aside from all that ridiculosity, there are always the essentials:  I can always use some Eternity for men (that’s my scent, yo).  And then a new year means a new wall calendar for work.  For 2011, the theme was manatees.  For 2012?  You tell me.

In all seriousness, obligated gift exchanges are recipes for disaster and anxiety.  I don’t know what you want, and you’re not going to buy me a motorcycle.  Let’s avoid the stress, and for Christmas let’s just catch up over a meal instead.  Your treat, of course.

Viva Lost Wages

21 November 2011

I just had to share some deets about the best vacation I’ve had in a while.  So I was invited on a spontaneous trip to Vegas this last weekend.  I love doing that kinda stuff, but I’m not the type to plan it.  So when an extrovert comes along and says “let’s go,” generally I go!  And despite my initial hesitation, I’m always happy I did.

We flew out of SFO on Virgin America.  I’d never flown this airline, and my was I impressed.  The primary lesson of the weekend: ask about upgrades.  We asked during check-in if there were any upgrades available, and just for asking (read: no charge!), they put us in whatever class is right below first.  That meant early boarding, more leg room, unlimited free drinks, and free movies and services on the LCD screens that adorn the back of every seat.  The inside of the plane looked more like a nightclub than a vehicle.  I got to watch X-Men: First Class while stretching out my legs and drinking free drinks.  I normally fly SWA because it’s cheap and easy, but this was a whole new world.  For any flight longer than an hour or two, I’m going Virgin from now on if it’s at all feasible.  The only downside of the flight was some severe turbulence, but hey I’m still here, aren’t I?

We stayed at The Wynn.  Did I mention upgrades?  We asked about upgrades while checking in and scored a relatively cheap (but not free) upgrade that turned our regular room into a Wynn Tower “Parlor Suite.”  This is a $650/night 1,200 sq. ft. space overlooking the pool and golf course that is far and away the nicest hotel room I’ve ever stayed in.  Nearly every surface covered in mirrors.  A giant living room, a gianter bedroom, and the most giantest bathroom you can imagine.  It seriously had three separate vanities, a big shower with a bench in it, a separate bathtub, a toilet, and a deep walk-in closet.  And it was nearly all marble.  Whatever I’ve said in the past about money can’t buy happiness, forget it, because money can rent that suite, and that suite equals happiness.

I hadn’t been to Vegas in several years (2007?), and I forget the opulence of that place.  It really is magnificent.  The whole city is lit up like a theme park, and it even feels that way when you’re walking around at night.  Like Disneyland or Great America, but on a civic scale.  Every surface in every room, hallway, casino floor, restaurant, elevator, and driveway is carefully designed down to the last detail.  There are no plain ceilings, only meticulously carves filigree with carefully placed lighting.  Every bathroom is clean.  The customer service is excellent everywhere.  And it makes sense, because they want you feeling comfortable and safe and important so that you stay longer and keep gambling your money away.  And there are people in the casino ALL day and night.  It never looks empty, not even in the wee hours.  It’s like there’s no night or day there.

The first night, we checked in and then went straight over to see The Blue Man Group.  Not my idea, and after a day of work, a flight, and a couple drinks, yes I admit I dozed a little.  But it was definitely worth seeing once.  Their backup band wore fluorescent paint under black lights… very “In Between Days.”  This was in The Venetian, and afterwards we stayed a while to gamble.  It was there that I first noticed the music plying throughout the casino was all new wave.  I was hearing Erasure, Pet Shop Boys, etc.  I later noticed this back at The Wynn and elsewhere too.  After giving it some thought, I figure what must be going on is that the generation that grew up in the 80’s are all old enough and have enough money to make up a large part of the tourist demographic there.  As the next generation ages, I’m sure we’ll start hearing… I dunno, Taylor Swift in there.  And even now, rest assured Vegas is still overflowing with douchey meatheads and hoochie women dressing ridiculously and being their version of “classy.”

The rest of the weekend, we all stayed up gambling and drinking and eating and dancing… till 5am both nights.  I gambled more than I have in the past, but didn’t lose my shirt.  I was careful.  The slots were good to me, and usually kept me playing for an hour or so anytime I fed in a $20.  Of course eventually, da gamblin’ mosheen takes it all.  Though on the giant Wheel Of Fortune machine (with real giant working wheel!), while playing in tandem we did get the highest value on the bonus (“boners”) wheel on a max bet, which paid a few hundred dollars — basically the best thing you can get on that machine short of the progressive grand prize, if it even had one?  Other machines included Tarzan, variations of fishing themes, and several movie slots… Star Trek, Batman / Dark Knight, Ghost Busters, and many others.  I tried a table game once (roulette) and it took $70 from me in only a few minutes.  I gave up on it very quickly.

Eating was another story.  We’d heard of The Wynn’s buffet restaurant called… well, “The Buffet.”  It was pricey, but worth it.  There’s a line out the door, but we learned that our “red card” room key also granted us special access all over the hotel, including being allowed to cut to the front of the line basically anywhere!  We went for brunch Saturday morning.  I’d never seen anything like it.  This buffet was simply huge.  We’re talking Asian, Mexican, Italian, Indian, Mediterranean, pizza, succotash, and a sweet pea truffle oil and Parmesan risotto that was incredible.  But I haven’t even mentioned the actual brunch part yet.  If anyone has ever thought of eating it for breakfast, they have it at The Buffet.  Pancakes, waffles, eggs, bacon, sausage, yogurt, granola, gourmet cheeses, bagels, a salad bar, fruit of all kinds (grapefruit with brown sugar and mint!).  That’s just what I can remember now.  There were hundreds of dishes.  Still hungry?  Then head to the dessert section where it’s still all-you-can-eat… red velvet cupcakes, warm brownies, candied apples, tiramisu, rice crispy treats, bread pudding, key lime shots, cream puffs, ice cream, a made-to-order crepe station, and tons more I’m forgetting.  Even vegan cookies (which reminds me that vegan and vegetarian options were pointed out everywhere we ate… they really go the extra mile to serve)!  And then of course we went back Sunday morning for brunch again.  And when we couldn’t eat anymore, we relaxed outside in the Parasol Lounge by the Lake Of Dreams and watched the fountain.

Needless to say, I wanted to live in that suite and eat that brunch every day forever.  But all good things must come to an end.  The flight home had no upgrades available, so in-flight movies were a whopping $8!  I went without.  And as always, it’s a great moment to step off the plane when you’re back in the Bay Area and get that first breath of sweet air.  Though I would have liked to have spent another few weeks there to see everything we missed, I guess you need some “normal” life to keep perspective on just how amazing your vacation spot really is.  It makes the pampering all the more memorable.  And remember kids, ask for upgrades!  And it doesn’t hurt if you’re super cute and bat your eyelashes too.

“If you could beat the house, there wouldn’t be a house.”
— Maybelle Carter

Wax Nostalgic

28 September 2011

If it isn’t already, wouldn’t that title be just a dynamite name for a record store?  Yet more wasted genius.

By the way, did you know that you can just like… buy a “dictaphone?”  Then you could record whatever you want to wax blanks.  I’m sincerely surprised that hasn’t taken off among the hipster crowd.

I’m not so young that I missed vinyl completely, but it was on its way out by the time I hit my teens.  The first music I ever bought for myself was a 45rpm of Run-D.M.C. doing “Walk This Way.”  They were my first favorite band.  True story.  I may have had a few other records near that same time, but most of my vinyl memories are tied up with periodically examining the cover art in my parents’ collection.  Specifically, I remember the ridiculous pictures in “The Who Sell Out,” the interactive folding art of The Mamas & The Papas reversed “The Papas & The Mamas,” and the mystery of the Thunderball soundtrack.  And of course Tom T. Hall’s “Songs Of Fox Hollow.”  Sneaky Snake, anyone?

That actually reminds me that I did have some records when I was real little, too.  Mostly Disney books with accompanying records (including the very politically incorrect “Brer Rabbit And The Tar Baby“).  I also have a vague memory of some record that came on the back of a cereal box.  The record itself was blue and square!  When you listened to it, it was just some spooky guy telling a story with some sound effects.  “On an old dark road, there was a old dark house, and inside the old dark house was an old dark…” and so on, until eventually there’s a chest and inside the chest… “there was… a… THING!!!”  And as he screamed that, my childhood buddy Jonah and I would run screaming out of the room!  I’d die to track that down and hear it again, but even my considerable web-searching abilities have always come up short.  And it’s highly unlikely that record is still among those that my parents kept with theirs.  But a girl can dream.

Wow, this is not at all what I intended to write about tonight.  My project of cleaning out my old storage unit, started way back in the summer of 2010, has been more or less done for some time now.  I plan on writing some kind of wrap up to that in the future, telling what all I found as well as what I discovered about myself, etc.  But for right now, I’m going through one of the last straggler boxes and feeling the need to share my findings.  In the early 1990’s, as I was suffering through middle school, cassette singles were all the rage.  I don’t have to tell you.  You were there.  But for me, that was a very discrete period of just a couple years before I had money of my own and started buying CDs.  So to see my cassette single collection (which I found in storage and am about to lay bare for you) is to have a very candid view into my somewhat embarrassing music taste in those days.  Here it is, complete (as far as I know)and unedited, the music I bought in the early 90’s:

  1. 2 Pac – I Get Around
  2. A Tribe Called Quest – Award Tour
  3. AC/DC – Money Talks
  4. Ace Of Base – All That She Wants
  5. Ace Of Base – The Sign
  6. All-4-One – So Much In Love
  7. Beck – Loser
  8. Black Sheep – The Choice Is Yours
  9. Body Count – The Winner Loses
  10. C&C Music Factory – Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)
  11. Crash Test Dummies – Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm
  12. Sheryl Crow – All I Wanna Do
  13. Cypress Hill – Insane In The Brain
  14. Das EFX – They Want EFX
  15. Digable Planets – Rebirth Of Slick (Cool Like Dat)
  16. Dr. Dre – Let Me Ride
  17. Dr. Dre – Nuthin’ But A “G” Thang
  18. DRS – Gangsta Lean
  19. Duice – Dazzey Duks
  20. En Vogue – Free Your Mind
  21. Enya – Book Of Days
  22. Faith No More – Epic
  23. Funkdoobiest – Bow Wow Wow
  24. Gin Blossoms – Hey Jealousy
  25. Green Jellö – Three Little Pigs
  26. House Of Pain – Jump Around
  27. Whitney Houston – I Will Always Love You
  28. Ice-T – Gotta Lotta Love
  29. Ice Cube – Check Yo Self
  30. Ice Cube – It Was A Good Day
  31. Ice Cube – You Know How We Do It
  32. Janet Jackson – Again
  33. Masta Ace Incorporated – Born To Roll
  34. MC Nas-D & DJ Freaky Fred – Gold Diggin’ Girls
  35. MC Serch – Here It Comes
  36. Meatloaf – I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)
  37. Megadeth – Symphony Of Destruction
  38. Morrissey – The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get*
  39. Naughty By Nature – Everything’s Gonna Be Alright
  40. Naughty By Nature – Hip Hop Hooray
  41. Naughty By Nature – O.P.P.
  42. Nivana – Lithium
  43. Paperboy – Ditty
  44. Positive K – I Got A Man
  45. The Proclaimers – I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)
  46. Red Hot Chili Peppers – Soul To Squeeze
  47. Red Hot Chili Peppers – Under The Bridge
  48. Shai – Together Forever
  49. Sir Mix-a-Lot – Baby Got Back
  50. Snow – Informer
  51. Spin Doctors – Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong
  52. Tag Team – Whoomp! There It Is
  53. Tony Toni Tone – If I Had No Loot
  54. Ugly Kid Joe – Everything About You
  55. Warren G. & Nate Dogg – Regulate
  56. Wreckx-N-Effect – Rump Shaker

* This was in fact my first exposure to anything Morrissey or Smiths, and it remains my favorite Moz solo song.  I have a distinct memory of seeing this video and being conflicted about it.  Being so afraid of how much it moved me that I almost needed to deny it even to myself.  I had this single and listened to it a lot.  But I never told my friends I had it or liked it.  It wasn’t until after high school when I heard The Smiths and fell in love with them that I made the connection back to 1994.

And for completeness’ sake, here are the full albums I had (some of which I must have lifted from my parents and/or sister):

  1. AC/DC – Back In Black
  2. AC/DC – Let There Be Rock
  3. AC/DC – Who Made Who
  4. Beastie Boys – License To Ill
  5. Body Count – Cop Killer
  6. Eazy-E – Eazy-Duz-It
  7. Janet Jackson – Rhythm Nation
  8. Jimi Hendrix – Are You Experienced?
  9. LL Cool J – Mama Said Knock You Out
  10. Mystic Music Presents: Instrumental Magic (See, I’ve always been way into instrumentals!)
  11. N.W.A. – Straight Outta Compton
  12. Public Enemy – Apocalypse 91… The Enemy Strikes Black
  13. Public Enemy – Greatest Misses
  14. Run-D.M.C. – Run-D.M.C.
  15. Run-D.M.C. – King Of Rock
  16. Run-D.M.C. – Raising Hell
  17. Run-D.M.C. – Tougher Than Leather
  18. Tom Tom Club – Boom Boom Chi Boom Boom
  19. Urban Dance Squad – Mental Floss For The Globe
  20. The Who – Tommy
  21. Some 70’s funk compilation with Gap Band and the like.
  22. Various mixtapes, mostly from my sister, including Garth Brooks, Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin, The Scorpions, Sir Mix-a-Lot, Too Short, and ZZ Top.

Funny to see all this stuff again.  And now that it’s all documented and catalogued, I can get rid of it.  (Well, except the Morrissey one.)  Now the question is: what on earth to do with it?  Does anyone even take donated cassette singles anymore?  Or is this all destined for landfill?

You got some ‘splaining to do, Lucy.

18 May 2011

Well friends… I see that it’s been about two months since my last post.  You might be wondering what gives. I could tell you that I’ve been super busy with work and two bands and shows happening and more coming.  And all the while, my house is a mess and has needed to be cleaned for weeks.  And that’s all true.  But you’d think I could have found some time to sit for an hour and write this in a span of two whole months.  And yet, I didn’t.  Have I lost my zest for blogging?  It could very well be.  Whatever it was that used to drive me to want to document my current events and be clever… somehow it’s not driving me anymore.  I could have filled a dozen blogs with all that’s happened lately.  Instead, you’ll get the short, short version.  And I will have forgotten some things by now.  I feel like I should be sad that this thing might be winding down.  Maybe temporarily, maybe forever.  But it’s just not sustainable.  Should I expect to have time to blog every week the rest of my life?  And if I don’t, will my memories fade away because I didn’t record them?  And will my progeny someday read this and be disappointed that the blog starts to fall apart here?  I don’t know.  But I guess I ought to just go with my instincts, and right now my instincts are telling me to hit the high points but not spend too much time on it.  Let’s see how that approach works out for us…

So last time, I mentioned that I was about to embark on digitizing my music collection.  Well I’m off and running, and it’s going even better than I hoped.  Sure, it’s taking a lot of time and will probably take several more months.  And sure, this pursuit has put a halt on my MySpace archiving project.  But it’s what I’m motivated to do at the moment, so I’m going with it.  Apparently the legality/morality of keeping a digital copy and selling the original is up for debate, so with that in mind, of course I’m only selling the things I’m not keeping a digital copy of. And I keep an eye out on Amazon to see what’s out of print and going for a high price, and I’m keeping that stuff for now. But hypothetically if everything else were to go to Amoeba, an estimated 30% of my collection I’ve gone through so far would have hypothetically netted about $750 in store credit!  Using what credit I actually have gotten, I’ve picked up (often used) CDs and artists I’d been waiting on.  My OCD about CD collecting often kept me from buying collections that were not definitive on their own, but with my new digital approach, I have no problem what collection(s) the songs came from, as for all my purposes, they all live in the same digital bucket.  And having it all digital and organized and at my fingertips is bringing me way more in touch with my collection.  I’m listening to stuff I forgot I had.  This whole thing is a win/win… win/win/win/win…

Despite my busy schedule lately, I have managed to squeeze in some time with friends.  Back to the Haight with Shel like the good old days.  There’s a Dr. Marten’s store there now that sells all manner of Docs… gold, white, powder blue.  If they were something non-leather, I’d be broke from all the shoes I’d have bought there.  Even caught some movies (Insidious scared the piss out of me for days!).  And I’ve managed to hit a few Smiths nights, a Haight Street Hop, and Booze, Broads, & Hotrods.  That’s actually not a bad list.  Now mellow out, watch this, and realize the we’re really all just clinging to a speck of dust floating through the cosmos…

Lake Tahoe Milky Way Night Time Lapse from Justin Majeczky on Vimeo.

I’ve been to a couple of great shows lately.  OMD with a bunch of good friends, and then Paul Simon at The Fillmore with mom.  The latter was a pretty special show as you might imagine.  I got the tix at face value the day they went on sale (thanks to Sus), but they were fetching upwards of $500 each on Craig’s List.  It was nice to be able to go to a show with mom.  Reminded me of doing that when I was little.  I think my first concert ever was Don Henley with her on the “End Of The Innocence” tour.  Coming up soon is Bootsy Collins at The Fillmore, and Reverend Horton Heat at The Independent.  2011 has been good for shows so far.

And it hasn’t been bad for TCB lately either.  There was a wild night playing that Smiths night at Milk Bar in San Francisco.  Though it’s a smaller place and the rain was pouring, we got a nice big crowd of die-hards who helped make the night one of our best in recent memory.  Some good greenroom stories, too.  Sacramento was fun as usual, and our Petaluma debut was interesting.  That night, I heard about how Tenacious D once opened for Super Diamond, and a young Jack Black was all over the band talking about his Neil Diamond obsession.  Not long after, Saving Silverman came out, which prominently features a fictional Neil Diamond tribute band.  Gee, I wonder where that idea came from…  Then this last weekend was a Modesto debut (the highlight of which had to be the DJ starting a song through the PA during one of our songs; not between songs, and not our first or last song… but right in the middle of a song right in the middle of our set).  Then it was Fresnope, and though the show was rocking, the next day brought me a double whammy of 1) Claim Jumper being closed permanently and 2) my car getting hit by a U-Haul just before leaving town.  But hell, I’m alive, aren’t I?  Guess things aren’t that bad.

Speaking of music, a random bitch I’ve had on my mind lately.  Anyone know what’s up with the trend of musicians naming themselves with numbers?  I don’t know who the first one to do it was, but that was probably clever at the time.  But everyone who came after… I mean, how lame is that?  After the first guy, it totally loses its cleverness and instead looks like an unoriginal gimmick.   John 5, Adam 12, Nick 13.  At least come up with a clever one like “Claude 9.”  You’re welcome.

The quote of the week comes from Virgil, as we watched Davy Jones on Pirates Of The Caribbean in a Fresno hotel last weekend:

“As an Asian, I want to eat his face.”

Home Taping Is Killing Music

15 March 2011

This week’s all about music.  And a little about pasta.

My Strippers
So as I mentioned before, after more years if frustration than I care to remember, I finally have an original project off the ground.  My new rockabilly band The Rumble Strippers has now played two shows!  The debut was at Grant & Green in North Beach.  I’d never been there, but it was an ideal place for a first show.  A small room, low pressure, but still nice.  The DIY sound situation was refreshing too.  (We’re not in Kansas anymore!)  We got a lot of great feedback, and I immediately felt the difference.  There seem to be different standards (and of course expectations) for an original band versus a tribute band.  I loved the feeling that there were no wrong answers.  TCB is like a math class, where there are right and wrong answers.  Every note of every song is predetermined, and there is a correct way to play it.  Crowds won’t like it if you deviate too much.  But this new band is more like a creative writing class.  Sure there’s a craft to it, but there’s also a lot of leeway in terms of content.  With covers, we can take any artistic license we want, and with originals… well whatever note I play is the right note.  

This last weekend we played our second show at El Rio, this time to a much bigger crowd.  Again it went over well, and my own private victory was that for the first time ever, a song I wrote was performed in public!  It’s called “Let’s Drink Alone Together” and damned if people weren’t dancing to it.  A new experience for me to be sure, and one I’ve spent many years considering.  So all in all, this thing is shaping up to be pretty exciting.  It’s not exactly Madison Square Garden, but it’s fun to be in and play to a different crowd.  They’re more forgiving and encouraging than I’m used to.  But that must partially be ‘cos they don’t know what to expect.  It’s interesting to not be 100% confident my every note is knocking socks off… which is how I usually feel (courtesy of Mr. Marr, of course).

My Smiths
Of course TCB is still doing its thing.  We’ve had a lot of shows lately, but it’s been mostly “all killer, no filler” shows where we more or less have to play the hits.  But it got us into Bimbo’s 365 again and hopefully got us on a few new radars.  It’s all been smooth sailing of course, minus a rare capo flub on “Stop Me” causing us to have to restart the song.  (Whoa, double intro… what does it mean?)  Needless to say I’m looking forward to the upcoming shows where we can play some of the deeper cuts.  This Saturday is the new “Queen Is Dead” Smiths night in the Haight, where we’ll be playing a set.  Then April and May will see some new places and some familiar ones.  Might even get “Golden Lights” in there somewhere.  And then there’s Moz’s birthday to look forward to…

Their Smiths
Last night I went out to Du Nord to see rival tribute “The Smiths Indeed” from the U.K.  I’m sure they’re very nice guys, but let’s just say they’re not much of a threat to what we do.  Their fake Morrissey is far and away the best I’ve ever seen in terms of dress and dance and charisma.  If you want someone who does the whole impersonator thing, you’ll do no better than this guy.  But as for the rest of the band… well, no contest.  I understand they play several dates a week every week and have for years.  It was not evident.  The surprise of the night came when I snuck over to the Castro Safeway to stock up on Ovaltine ($20 worth; my local Safeway has stopped carrying it during their construction!).  In line right in front of me at midnight?  Danny Glover.

Speaking of celebrities, did I ever tell you how much I wish I were Mick Ronson sometimes?

What else is going on?  Eh, all boring stuff.  I ventured into cooking.  Whipped up some whole wheat penne and added pine nuts, crushed garlic, sun dried tomatoes, capers, olive oil, basil, and feta.  Wasn’t as good as it sounds, but it’s a start.  Also, it’s been freezing in SF the past couple months.  I guess they call that “winter,” but it’s seemed especially uncomfortable.  I installed my first set of  flannel sheets since I was a teenager living at home.  What a difference!  If that’s not right bitches, I don’t know what is.

I’m about to embark on a serious undertaking.  Inspired by Shel, I am taking small steps toward digitizing my music collection to FLAC in an effort to 1) save space, 2) save money, 3) go green, and 4) become more efficient.  A lossless digital song file is 99.9% of the value I get out of buying a CD.  Why waste all the plastic which will just take up space and degrade over time anyway?  And hell, the time when CDs have any value at all is rapidly running out.  If I don’t move them soon, they’ll be landfill.  A couple of redundant external hard drives and I could have my whole music collection in a space the size of a paperback novel.  I’m on the fence, but I’m seeing a lot more pros than cons.  The major con is the time and effort to convert it all, but maybe a little at a time over the next year or so?

I realize a lot of what’s in here tonight is Facebook rehash.  What can I say?  Facebook feels fleeting.  Statuses come and go.  Disappear forever.  This feels more permanent.  Even though no one reads it anymore.

And in closing, Sleeve Face is some clever shit.

Shall we play a game?

20 February 2011

It seems like these days video games are a more socially acceptable entertainment choice than ever before, even for adults.  Now of course growing up when and where I did, I played a ton of games in arcades and eventually Nintendo, Sega, PC, etc.  Make no mistake, I was way into it when I was little.  But I can’t remember the last time I had a bunch of free hours to kill playing a Playstation.  I mean, my days and nights are jam packed with other commitments, and I thought that was pretty normal for adults.  Who are all these people with tons of time to play?  How do they ever find the time?

I saw in recent months that Red Dead Redemption has been released.  It’s the highly-anticipated follow up to the last game that I really got hooked on back around 2004: Red Dead Revolver.  In honor of this new sequel that I don’t have the time to buy and play, I thought I’d run down some of the notable games that hooked me over the years.  I will confess though that with this new PC, I did carve out a couple hours to install and play Hitman: Blood Money, which came out in 2006.  With this new hardware, I was able to run the game with all the graphics options maxed out, and it ran without a hitch.  I only had time to play a couple levels, but wow… I really missed out back then.  My old machine would barely run this thing.  With this suped up 2011 PC, the visuals were stunning!  And again, this is a game from five years ago.  It makes me wonder in the last half decade how much more incredible games have gotten… and I’m not sure I want to find out.

I’m about to geek out on video games as I never have and never will again.  If there were a way to block girls from ever reading this post, I would invoke it.  I’ll do my best not to just list every game I ever played, meaning I’ll attempt to focus on just the ones that really impacted me in terms of my creative development and even just the time and financial investment.  Before I proceed, big ups to San Jose’s “Aladdin’s Castle,” Pleasanton’s “Game Station,” and the many pizza parlors, movie theaters, bowling alleys, and 7-11s that I frequented in my youth.  In those days, my friends and I kept close track of what arcade games were where.  These days, I just watch a YouTube video of the walkthrough of an entire game and I’m just as happy.  And finally, check out the KLOV for details on pretty much any game ever made.

Scroll down for the simple top 10 list (top 1010?), but for those of you who care to come along for the whole journey, here’s a brief-ish history.

In The Beginning…
My earliest video game memory is of the Atari 400.  It had a keyboard built in so as to allow some primitive form of word processing, and there was even something music-related with a cassette tape peripheral.  The salesman had told my dad that it was “the last computer [he’d] ever need.”  Not quite, I guess.  But these were the earliest of games.  We were rocking the classics like Pac-Man, Centipede, Joust, Frogger, Space Invaders, Pole Position, Donkey Kong, Dig Dug, and Missile Command.  I also recall Jungle Hunt, a billiards game called Rack ’em Up, some mission-to-Mars something or other, and some kind of fifteen puzzle game I can no longer remember.  Oh, and of course Krazy Shoot-Out!  This was the game where my dad famously pranked the family by recording himself playing very well on the new VCR (also a marvel at the time), then had me pretend to be playing while his recording played.  “OMG, everyone look how good Benji is playing!”  OK, I’m pretty sure he didn’t say “OMG,” but the rest happened.

Then came the original Nintendo.  The classics here were Duck Hunt and of course the Super Mario Bros. series, which I was never way into… though I do remember a certain anticipation of part three tied in with that Fred Savage movie “The Wizard.”  Other memorable titles include Pro Wrestling, , Excitebike, SNK Baseball Stars, Super Dodge Ball, Ice Hockey, Legendary Wings (which I was playing when the 1989 earthquake hit), and my friend Olin’s mainstay The Guardian Legend.  In those days, I’d rent a lot of Nintendo games from the local video store.  More than I could possibly remember… though as I sit here typing, the titles are coming back to me.  Must… resist… urge… to… list them all.  Without question though, the best Nintendo game of all time is a dead heat between Contra (U, U, D, D, L, R, L, R, B, A, START anyone?) and Tecmo Bowl (as well as later, Tecmo Super Bowl).

Somewhere in the mid-eighties, we got our first “real” home computer of the Amiga variety.  I don’t guess I know how you’d classify it in modern computing terms, but I suppose Amiga had their own OS.  The peripherals were what you know and love.  A monitor, a keyboard, a mouse, a floppy drive.  It had a real word processor, some basic midi, a program that would “speak” whatever you typed, and Deluxe Paint (think ancient Photoshop).  As far as games went, there were some notables.  Marble Madness comes to mind.  Battle Chess of course!  Temple Of Apshai, Barbarian(whoa!), Roadwar 2000, Arctic Fox, Bomb Jack (which I have a vague recollection of winning at school?), some flight simulator, and one of the first text/graphic adventures games — which I was too young to win, but would recognize and admonish you for entering cuss words.  And around this time in school we were playing the famous Oregon Trail and Odell Lake on Apples.

My So-Called Life
In my teen years, I got into the Sega family.  Those systems came and went so fast, they kinda blur together for me.  I know for sure it was the Genesis that had the original Sonic The Hedgehog, as well as a ton of amazing sports games that happen to hit me right in those early nineties years when I was actually into sports (such as R.B.I. ’93, and the many EA series like Madden FootballNHL Hockey, and several basketball games based on Lakers vs. Celtics… gotta love those signature dunks!).  At some point, the Sega CD came out, followed by the Saturn, and eventually the Dreamcast.  I had all of them, and I can’t recall for certain which games were on which systems as it all bleeds together in hazy memories of my dusty bedroom at the family home in the East Bay.  But one of the favorites that strikes me first is the second Eternal Champions, full of time travelling historical figures, fighting and killing each other using elements of the backdrop.  My sister and I found rare common ground with our love of The Horde, featuring Kirk Cameron!  Then the peerless zombie shooter House Of The Dead, which I fondly recall having two controllers for and starting up players 1 and 2 and going John Woo style.  (P.S. Just so you know, 1:06 is how you handle a zombie.  Owned.)  I remember Jared and I used to play this amazing basketball game (NBA 2k1) where you could create your own players.  Of course mine was a 7’6″ white guy with an afro, star-shaped sunglasses, short shorts, and knee-high socks.  He could dunk without hardly jumping.  Jared’s guy was more true to life height, but he’d sink half court threes all the time.  Which brings me to a couple of killers: the Virtua Fighter series and the Soulcalibur series.  Those series both spanned into the PS3 world, and spoiler alert: they’re both in my top 10, so more on them below.

During this time, I should mention I had my stint working at Blockbuster, and so I had many, many late nights after closing playing Twisted Metal at Donnie’s house, and later GoldenEye in the manager’s office with The Horsemen.

So then I finally broke down and got the PlayStation 2 everyone was raving about.  It didn’t disappoint.  In addition to introducing me formally to the Tekken series, it brought another pair of my top 10s into my life: Gladius and Red Dead Revolver.  There was also a cool WWF game that let me build my own wrestler and furnish him, of course, with the camel clutch… which I believe at the time I dubbed “the Ugly Clutch.”

Keeping It PC
After the Amiga days, my family got into Windows 3.1, and then when I started buying my own computers, it was Windows 98, then XP, and now Windows 7.  People bitch about Microsoft (“where quality is job 1.1” ha ha!), but I’ve generally been happy with their products.  I don’t want to get sidetracked with this, but besides my short love affair with HyperCard on the school-owned Macs in middle school, I’ve never cared for Apples, much less owned one.  To me, they’re computers that assume the user is completely non-technical and shouldn’t be allowed to tweak anything.  And if that suits you, then great, but it comes across like Fisher-Price to me.  I digress.  My point was that PC games deserve their own category, though chronologically speaking, it spans from around 1990 to present day.  The first PC game I remember being enamoured with was the first (and later second) of the Monkey Island series.  Similar to this (and created by the same company, LucasArts) was the excellent Indiana Jones And The Fate Of Atlantis.  All of these LucasArts adventure games were done with such class and quality, you just can’t find a fault with them.  Every little detail is perfect.  (Incidentally, LucasArts was also responsible for PS2’s Gladius, mentioned above and below.)  Sierra made their share of great adventure games of this style too, and while they weren’t quite as polished, they were still a lot of fun.  There was the famously sleazy Leisure Suit Larry series, as well as Police Quest and the masterful King’s Quest VI.

There was SimCity, which later spawned The Sims — being a ridiculous game in which you dress and design virtual people and houses and then tell them when to eat and poop.  Jessica and I shared an obsession with it in 2002, even mimicking their language, and I believe my Sim Benjamin cheated on her Sim Jessica with Sim Morrissey.  For a few years, I got into first-person shooters like Doom and Hexen, then later had my one and only foray into online gaming with Half-Life and Counter-Strike.  Later came the Hitman series, which was way up my alley.  I confess I did play the geeky Vampire Masquerade game for a while, which I maintain was awesome.  There were some crazy driving games like Carmageddon, where you would race, demolition derby, and annihilate pedestrians all at once.  Or Interstate ’76, a hilarious and cinematic take on doing battle… in muscle cars… in the desert… in 1976.  (Someone posted all the cutscenes back-to-back here: parts one, two, and three.)

Insert Witty “Arcade Fire” Pun — Which I Am Too Tired To Think Of
Also deserving of its own category, all video game obsession in the eighties and nineties started with whatever was new at the local arcade.  In fact some of the titles already mentioned first landed on my radar in the arcade.  And some of the ones I’m about to talk about I also had in some form at home.  And hell, these days an enterprising PC user can find “free” emulators like MAME to get hundreds of old arcade games working on your computer.  But I don’t even know where to start here.  I mean, there were so many I played over they years.  Maybe I’ll group them by theme?

Side-scrolling fighting games — also known as “beat ’em ups” — were the real bread and butter of my young arcade-going life.  Double Dragon was probably the earliest as well as the gold standard.  Other great titles like Crime Fighters and Final Fight followed this format, as did several lesser ones like Bad Dudes and Two Crude (though it was fun to throw cars and beat up a soda machine for more energy).  Once you start throwing swords and magical powers into the equation, you get Altered Beast (rise from your grave!) and Strider.  There was that Indiana Jones game too that covered all the coolest parts of the Temple Of Doom movie.  Awesome ninja games like Shinobi and Ninja Gaiden (which spawned a Nintendo game I forgot to mention earlier; its intro sequence still haunts me to this day).  TMNT had a well made arcade game similar in style to The Simpsons.  Another fave was the Splatterhouse series which essentially let you take on the role of Jason from Friday The 13th.  Then the barbarian movie trend of the eighties no doubt influenced the creation of games like Gauntlet (wizard needs food badly… wizard is about to die… you are it!), Gauntlet Legends, and the Golden Axe series (of which The Revenge Of Death Adder was the crown jewel).  When it came to side-scrolling shooters, there were dozens more.  Most etched into my memory are Rolling Thunder, NARC, Sunset Riders, and ESWAT.

Arcade driving and racing games weren’t usually my thing, but there were a few notable exceptions.  I think the earliest one I liked was the classic Spy Hunter, famously featuring the Peter Gunn theme.  I remember Super Off Road a little, and have a similarly vague memory of racing my sister on Toobin’.  Later in life I found love for them though, while peeling out in a ’56 Chevy in Cruis’n World and going nuts in Crazy Taxi.  I could even appreciate the amout of environmental controller feedback in the choppy waters of Hydro Thunder.

I was only really into sports for a few years in the early nineties, and frankly it took the form of video games and baseball cards more than it did actually playing the sports.  But in those days, besides the sports games on home consoles I already mentioned, I was all about NBA Jam.  The cartoonish format and ridiculous dunks emphasized everything I liked about the sport.  Prior to that, I enjoyed the medieval football brawl of Pigskin and the skateboarding classic 720° (skate or die!).  The best wrestling games ever (WWF Superstars and WWF WrestleFest) were found in arcades in those days, helping to feed my insane childhood wrestling fandom.  And then of course the blockbuster Punch-Out (which had a long life on Nintendo as well).

My final days in the arcade were centered around one-on-one type fighting games.  There are a couple of “kings” of this genre back in the golden age.  The first was Street Fighter II which really did seem to revolutionize gaming and spawn dozens (if not hundreds) of imitators.  It wasn’t the first game to use that format, but it was the slickest and most sophisticated by leaps and bounds.  The same company (Capcom) produced another of my favorite series (just barely missing my top 10) called “Darkstalkers.”  It was basically the SFII format, but with better art and animation, more in-depth backdrops and characters, and of course… they were all monsters (vampires, werewolves, mummies, etc.).  This was one of several games Jared and I were very competitive with each other on.  Along these same lines were the later Marvel vs. Capcom games, which brought a ton of Marvel Comics characters into the world of 2D fighting, against various characters in the Capcom universe.  Just before SFII hit the scene in 1991, it was actually Pit-Fighter that first caught my eye.  It used digitized pictures, and while it was a little clunky, it gave rise to the second “king” of early fighting games: Mortal Kombat.  The first and second games in that series were hugely influential and controversial, if you recall (FINISH HIM!).  The SNK/Neo-Geo company got in the mix throughout the nineties.  They were mostly known for their several SFII also-rans like the Fatal Fury series, but they hit a high point there with the King Of Fighters series, bringing together characters from many games in the SNK universe.  Their ultimate achievement in my eyes though is far and away the Samurai Showdown series, which is on my top 10 below.  Their attempts to capture that magic again with the Last Blade series were also admirable.  There were many, many other similar fighting games over the years that held my fancy for a few weeks.  Some silly, some pretty good.  But far too many to research or mention.  The whole decade was dominated by these games.

A few final and meaningful standards that don’t fit in anywhere else… Paperboy (where yes, you were actually a paperboy) was hard as hell to control, and it had an infectious theme song.  Another vocational was the ancient table top game Tapper, which serves me often as a metaphor when I’m describing my life.  Rampage put you in the shoes of Godzilla, King Kong, or a giant wolf… and then let you tear apart city after city.  And finally, one of the most recognizable early arcade hits: the controllable cartoon known as Dragon’s Lair.

The Top 10
And after all that, I just know I’m forgetting dozens of great games.  I’ll probably be coming back to update this posting for weeks as I randomly remember more.  It’s so hard to even settle on 10, because at one time, I had a minor obsession with each of the games described above.  Way more than 10 of them.  I thought about them a lot.  I daydreamed about them.  I coveted codes for them, and watched gaming magazines to find out about new discoveries and sequels and strategy guides for them.  A lot of my young time and thought spent, now just reduced to a hyperlink somewhere in the last several paragraphs.  I can still remember the magic of seeing a new game in the local arcade, pushing the envelope of graphical capabilities, and watching the demo reel over and over.  And begging mom and dad for quarters.  *sigh*  So here they are in rough chronological order… the games I miss, my favorites of all time:

  1. Monkey Island
    I think I first saw The Secret Of Monkey Island as a playable demo at a Circuit City or something.  Later I found my friend Jonah had it, and I played it a while at his house.  One day I got a copy for myself, as well as Monkey Island 2 .It’s not like I wasn’t ever captivated by a game before this one, but this is the first one that I can remember felt magical even beyond just the novelty aspect which I think drove me on those early arcade games.  I discussed the magic a little on #10 on my last Christmas list, and I did end up getting them for myself.  But I have yet to actually install and play them because who has the time?
  2. Street Fighter II
    As I mentioned, SFII revolutionized gaming, and I definitely drank the Kool-Aid for that one.  I learned all teh moves for all the characters, learned their backgrounds, competed in the local arcades and convenience stores.  I’d have to say that it’s actually Street Fighter III and its variations that were my favorite, particularly with the much smoother graphics and weirder characters.  (Dudley would easily make my list of favorite game characters of all time.)  Though maybe that’s all revisionist history, as I was never really obsessed with the third one the way I was with the second.
  3. Mortal Kombat
    Kind of simultaneously with SFII, I began my obsession with Mortal Kombat and Mortal Kombat II.  I was so into every character, every move, every secret in the game.  I lived and breathed it for a while.  I played with G.I. Joes as though they were characters from the game.  I played it until I was somewhat competitive.  The later games in the series looked neat enough, and maybe it was just my age, but after part II, my interest waned considerably.
  4. Samurai Showdown
    As I was getting into martial arts in real life in the mid nineties, my interest in the associated weaponry expanded.  It was right about this time that I discovered the first in the Samurai Showdown series.  When the Samurai Showdown II came out, it was phenomenal.  I was all about it, and got to be relatively competitive with it.  The later games in the series were not common in local arcades, but over the years I’ve discovered that they are “available” via emulators.  The graphics improved each time, and I guess now they’re up to part VI.  I need to get on that.
  5. Virtua Fighter 3
    When the first Virtua Fighter arrived, it was ugly.  But it was something new: a completely 3-D game.  I played it a little, but it wasn’t until Virtua Fighter 2 came out that I went nuts with it.  Aside from poring over every move and graphic, I got good at this game.  Really good.  I would posit that playing as “Kage” on Virtua Fighter 2 was the best I’ve ever been at any video game.  VF3 made another leap in graphics and interactive backdrops and was probably my favorite of the series, and though I was great at it too, I never dominated to quite the extent I did on part 2.  There have been several more sequels in this series, but I have failed to follow them.
  6. Half-Life / Counter-Strike
    OK, I’m cheating by putting Half-Life and Counter-Strike together here, but they’re closely related.  I first discovered Half-Life in my interning days around 1999 I think.  Some of the guys I worked with were way into it, and they got me hooked too.  We’d play competitively long nights in the lab there.  I learned to camp.  I learned about snarks.  We downloaded skins like Party Bear, which you had to wear as punishment for various things.  We madecustom tags to spray all over the maps.  We spliced Tommy Boy quotes (“Bees!  Bees!  Bees in the car!  Bees everywhere!  God, they’re huge and they’re sting crazy!  They’re ripping my flesh off!  Run away, your firearms are useless against them!”) into the game to play whenever you got hit with the hivehand.  We replaced the remote bomb skin with the healthpack skin.  (“Hey, how come I can’t pick up this healthpack!?”  BOOM!).  Yeah, it was a fun little cult we had going for a while there.  Later, Counter-Strike came along which I played more from home.  Jared got in on it, too.  We had a lame little clan.  I never was great, but I was decent.  My best score ever was 64 and 11, just before we went to Ireland.  Yes, I wrote it down and have been waiting for an excuse to document it somewhere so I don’t have to keep track of it anymore.  Yes, I was a secret nerd.
  7. Hitman
    The Hitman series… what can I say.  Sneak around, trying to off people in exotic ways and places?  Like consulting, but with a silenced pistol.  Me gusta.  I can’t pick just one.  I love them all.
  8. Soulcalibur
    Soulcalibur was another 3-D fighting game series, like Virtua Fighter but with swords.  The first two or three of them I played with Jared, Dad, and a few other friends, and I think that next to Kage on Virtua Fighter, my Cervantes on Soulcaliburs I, II, and III is my most formidable showing on a game, competitively speaking.  I could whup some monkey ass with those two swords.  This fact made its way into inside jokes like “going Sosa-vantes” when swinging my Wiffle ball bats around, or “going Lipton-vantes” when threatening to teabag someone.  And my Astaroth wasn’t bad either.  The games were not as sophisticated as Virtua Fighter, but they were definitely epic.
  9. Gladius
    Another fine showing by LucasArts, Gladius was an amazing and tragically overlooked gladiator-themed tactical RPG.  It being from LucasArts, every little detail was attended to.  The artwork, the characters, the gameplay… nothing lacked depth.  It almost touched the level of Monkey Island in terms of immersion, and that’s saying something.  At the very least, it remains the best gladiator game ever produced, and I don’t dare plug it in anymore lest I lose another several weeks of my life.  It swallowed up my dad for a while too.
  10. Red Dead Revolver
    Now we come full circle.  The last game that got a hold of me was one I ran across by accident.  It wasn’t hyped too much, and it was long after I paid any attention to gaming magazines or websites.  I don’t remember exactly how I heard about Red Dead Revolver, but it might be on my top 5 ever.  Or even top 3.  It’s made by the same guys that brought you Grand Theft Auto (which I’ve never played), but it is instead a spaghetti western.  And boy did they do it right.  The plot and characters, the backgrounds and weapons, all perfect recreations of spaghetti flicks.  The music was breathtaking, culled from real soundtracks (and I am somewhat ashamed to admit that I tracked down every one of those hard-to-find Italian soundtracks and built my spaghetti music collection on it; I am less ashamed to admit it had a hand in me trying to start a spaghetti wester band a few years ago).  Even the screen flickers and blurs like an old film.  It feels like you’re in a movie!  I regret that I don’t have the time to jump into the new sequel and all of its expansion packs.  If it were 10 years ago, I’d be all over it.

After looking at everything I just wrote… holy shit, I played a lot of video games in my life.  And these are just the ones I played often!  God knows how many more there’d be if I were just trying to name everything I could remember.  What possessed me to even write all this out?  Pointless reminiscing about silly things.  It’s a sickness, what can I tell you?  Perhaps I should have spent this time playing Hitman instead of blogging…

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