Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Tiger Woods & Some Other Stuff

Obviously, Tiger and his Value-Pack of Mistresses are the biggest sports story of 2009, if not one of the biggest stories, period. A friend and I argued about this over lunch yesterday, half-chewed fries falling out of my mouth as I insisted that Tiger's wood had to be the biggest deal, because it quickly moved from the sports page to the front page, lingering there long enough for everyone -- even those who couldn't name another golfer if Phil Mickelson was gnawing on their left leg -- to understand what's happening, whether they wanted to or not.

Even the most elderly of my elderly neighbors, the one who stopped caring about pop culture shortly after Patsy Cline died, had heard enough to suggest that Tiger should've "kept it in his trousers", shaking her head as she pressed the elevator button with the tip of her cane.

This week for NBC Sports - Out of Bounds, I recapped the purported whereabouts of Tiger Woods' nether regions year in sporting events, because that's what writers do in that week-long time trough between unwrapping Christmas gifts and crumpling the last page of the calendar.

I sincerely hope that article was the last time I have to write the phrase "Alleged Mistress" in 2009. I mean, other than when I'm ordering my new business cards because "Alleged Mistress" is only slightly less embarrassing than "Full-Time Blogger".

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Preheat Oven to 375

It shouldn't come as a surprise that as this year circles the drain, I'm left with the smallest bank account balance I've had in a solid decade. I haven't seen those kinds of numbers since my most reliable babysitting client erased me from their speed dial, after an unfortunate incident involving food poisoning and a trip to Prime Care. Whatever, like I'd know you weren't supposed to make sushi out of chicken.

Anyway, as I impatiently shifted my weight from one scuffed Chuck to the other in the Harris Teeter checkout line last week, the cover of one of the women's magazines caught my eye. It had a cake that was more attractive than my prom pictures and a garish overstyled font that eagerly encouraged me to bake my own Christmas gifts this year. "What a great idea!" I thought to myself, as I dropped a can of Manwich sauce. "Because what says I care more than giving someone a plate of misshapen cookies and the enduring gift of diarrhea?"

I added the magazine to my stack of trans-fats and since then, I've been experimenting with holiday cooking in all of its forms, from baking to roasting to standing over the sink shoveling forkfuls of soggy tiramisu into my mouth.

No, this has not gone well.

I'm not sure that deciding to experiment in the kitchen was a better idea than having a sudden urge to explore body modification, since my last attempts at seasonal treats ended with a shrieking smoke alarm and tear-streaked cheeks as I pried the oven open and scraped yet another charred corpse off a cookie sheet. As the ash-encrusted pan clattered against the others in the trash bag, I more than considered using some of the sharper kitchen utensils to fork my own tongue or maybe to carve myself a forehead trench.

Last weekend, when our seven inch Snowpocalypse kept me confined to the square footage behind my front door, I decided to make a Gingerbread Cake with Blueberry Sauce, because I actually had the ingredients on hand and it required neither a mixer, a Cuisinart or any of the other appliances I won't own until I piece together a wedding registry, also known as Never.

The instructions and I were getting along fine until my eyes hit the imperative sentence "Fold in the blueberries." That was a verb tense that sent me toward my computer on the opposite side of the counter, pecking out the letters G-o-o-g-l-e as crumbs lodged themselves between the home keys and I streaked the track pad with molasses. After learning that "fold" was the chef-tastic way of saying "Dump everything into the bowl", that's what I did, dropping two cups of frozen berries into the almost edible-looking batter.

After stirring the just-fruited mixture, I realized that maybe the good people at Cooking Light left out a step, like the one that encouraged you to rinse the blueberries or Windex them or something before all this folding went down. It took maybe two swirls with a whisk before the batter turned from an appetizing golden brown to a sickly green, a hue I've only seen in nature one other time, right after the dog ate an entire box of Lucky Charms.

"Brown shade come back," I sang, wrecking Player's one hit. "Any kind of fool could see...there was something wrong with the fucking berries." I thought--hoped--that maybe baking it would make the gingerbread look like, you know, GINGERBREAD instead of a clove-scented sinus infection. I shoved the whole mess into the preheated oven, pacing back and forth in front of the counter like an anxious fiftysomething waiting for the results of their colonoscopy.

As the timer started blinking zeros, I crammed my hand into an oven mitt, slowly opened the door and...it still looked like something that belonged in a Biohazard bin. Even though it smelled amazing--like a Glade Plug-In you could eat--it still wasn't serve-able to anyone with eyes. I turned the cake out on to my best approximation of a wire rack--my tennis racquet (WHICH I RE-STRUNG BEFORE USING IT IN THE KITCHEN BECAUSE WHAT KIND OF SAVAGE DO YOU THINK I AM?) carefully balanced on David Foster Wallace hardcovers--and as it cooled, I started eating it myself in huge chunks. For the next five minutes, I was the first half of a Lifetime movie, before the inevitable purging-at-school sequence and awkward family intervention.

After the unfortunate realization that sometimes I sweat when I eat, I stopped decorating my molars with cake and carefully wrapped it in foil. I hate wasting food, so there had to be someone I could gift it to.

Someone I hate.

Someone who may have fired me because of that ONE time that their kids caught salmonella or had their stomachs pumped or something silly like that.
__________

BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE! Additional kitchen failures are coming, part of a recurring series I like to call "Maybe I Should've Just Bought A Stack of Burger King Gift Certificates Instead, Rather Than Trying to Make Everyone Sick On My Own."

Friday, December 18, 2009

Grasp Handles for Heart Rate

"I'm just back from the grocery store and as I unloaded my Teddy Grahams and EZ Cheez and other assorted artificial flavors, I realized that by the time these hot dogs expire, it will be a brand new year. We're down to the last handfuls of Oh Nine and I'm both dreading and anticipating the opportunity to crack into 2010. On one hand, I'm looking forward to using my new Kurt Warner Fumble-A-Day Calendar. On the other, January means an endless parade of people bringing their New Years Resolutions into the gym, a solid month of watching helplessly as they awkwardly straddle the elliptical machines or snag the only yoga mat that doesn't smell like a dead raccoon.

I can't fault these people for trying to better themselves, especially when it comes to making healthy choices and positive lifestyle changes. In fact, I went through the same thing several Januarys ago when I came to the sad realization that I got winded trying to unclog the nozzle on my spray butter. Since then, I've worn out more than one YMCA membership card and continue to work out more often than I do anything other than quietly weep about my wasted potential."

--This week for NBC Sports - Out of Bounds, I covered some basic gym etiquette, geared at anyone who may be beginning a new routine as a New Year's resolution. It's also aimed at a handful of people who currently share the YMCA with me, especially the guy who last laundered his workout gear during the Carter administration and the woman who insists on baptizing herself with Designer Imposters perfume before plodding along on the treadmill.



Wednesday, December 16, 2009

First Class Mail

So I posted my Christmas card here the other day and rarely has anything I've done generated the amount of emails that this unsettling Photoshop sent into my inbox. Half of you were curious if it was my real card and I assure you that it is, that my cousins--who I haven't seen since my days of spiral perms and Hammer pants --will be slipping that very picture out of an oversized green envelope. They'll either think that I'm delightful and that we should probably add each other to our respective Friends & Family Plans or it will just ensure that I'm never invited to their weddings. Or into their homes.

The other half of the emails were concerned that--since he didn't make the card--I was over my longstanding Hugh Laurie obsession, having discarded him like a decomposing carton of Thai takeout. I assure you that I'm still just as unhinged when it comes to Mr. Laurie but I wanted to slap a celebrity on my card that everyone would recognize, so they understood that it was obviously a joke and that they wouldn't mistakenly assume I'd developed a relationship with anyone other than the late Colonel Sanders and his new line of low-calorie, even lower taste chicken-and-potato plates.

Speaking of things that leave me doubled over with abdominal pain, this is the first year I've managed to address a card to my longest-tenured former boyfriend without smearing the ink with tears of bitterness or mouth froth of anger. Someone much smarter than me--which means anyone from Oprah to Uncle Jesse Katsopolis--said that as a general rule, it would take half the length of your relationship to fully recover from the end of said relationship. That means after three years of removing his name from the Emergency Contact form at my various doctors' offices, I should be totally over him. And I am, I finally, finally, FINALLY am. I didn't feel any pain or longing or...anything as I wrote his name on the envelope. This is also the first holiday season that I haven't asked Santa to bring his new girlfriend an anal fissure.

Look at me, growing up.

Monday, December 14, 2009

File Under: Greetings, Season's

Oh hey, just hanging out by a stock photo of a Christmas tree with an unlicensed image of George Clooney. You know. Like I do.

While I waited for information on a couple of projects I'm working on, I spent a tremendous amount of time with my nose pressed against my MacBook, rearranging the pixels beneath my chin and trying to give myself a skin tone that wasn't the color of cottage cheese while designing this, my Christmas card for Oh Nine.

It's actually been a busy couple of days here, stacked with actual work and--surprisingly--a very cool local project that has a price tag affixed to it. Most times when I say I'm busy, that just means that I'm spending the afternoon trying to make all of my arm hairs face the same direction...but not today. Obviously, I've been slowly adjusting to my [brief] return to Real Work like a diver coming up from the deepest trenches of the ocean, although an ocean littered with unwashed bowls of Boo Berry, a light dusting of dog hair and endless online distractions.

"Like what?" you might ask.

"Like this copy of Bridget Jones' Diary I just had to seek out and download yesterday," I'd say. "No, I have no idea why I suddenly needed to administer a massive dose of floppy haired Englishmen and poorly rendered British accents. But I did."

Here's where you'll just shake your head and make that disappointed sound most people make when they either look at my resume or see me naked. Bridget Jones and I spent yesterday afternoon on the elliptical machine together and, as Renee Zellweger turned her impossibly shriveled eyes in my direction, I realized that if I saw anyone else watching this particular R-rated ovary-party, I would without a doubt make fun of them. And then I would blog about it.

Anyway, I thought I would tear myself away from doing legitimate, grown-up sounding Google searches (as opposed to my daily check for animals dressed as people) to paste my tastefully lit Photoshopped fantasies on the internet. If I had endless amounts of money--enough to backstroke through a vault of gold coins like Scrooge McDuck or Oprah--I would mail a copy to each of you. Until then, right click, save as, and know that I've given you the gift that keeps on giving: the gift of procrastination.

You're welcome. Happy holidays.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

One Mississippi, Two Mississippi

Despite having fewer on-field scenes than Air Bud: Golden Receiver, The Blind Side still works for hardcore sports fans; football serves as the motivating factor for almost every decision [Michael] Oher and his adoptive family make. Also, College Gameday junkies will have the chance to lean across the armrest to point out that Tommy Tuberville doesn't coach at Auburn anymore and that yes, Lou Holtz really does talk like that.

Both the book and the movie open with the last snap of former Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann's career, which proved to be the sound of his leg splintering beneath Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor. The footage from that game--shown from multiple angles--is still the second-most disturbing clip of 1985, right behind Cocoon's scene of a shirtless Wilford Brimley. A clipped voiceover explains how this play changed football and--here's some foreshadowing for you--put a premium on left tackles, the players who protected the quarterback's blind side.

--From my article about The Blind Side, written today for NBC Sports- Out of Bounds.

Click here for the rest of it, including the unlikely pairing of the words "Sandra Bullock" and "football" in the same sentence, which is kind of like linking "Matthew McConaughey" and "fully-clothed".

Four Fun Facts That Didn't Make the Review:

1) Lawrence Taylor actually makes a brief cameo near the end of the flick, as a bandanna-wearing miscreant in the Hurt Village apartment where Michael waits for his mother.

2) If this movie is to be believed, every high school in Tennessee apparently has a contract with Under Armour.

3) If Sandra Bullock is to be believed, if Michael Oher's speed had ever dropped below 50 MPH, he would've exploded.

4) If the filmmakers are to be believed, there is no better way to establish the Whiteness of a family than by having Uncle Kracker playing softly through the speakers of their SUV as they idle in the parking lot of an upscale restaurant.


Tuesday, December 08, 2009

It Keeps You Running

Thirty-five dollars.

Last Friday, I paid thirty-five dollars for a Hanes Beefy T in a sleeve-draggingly huge men's size, one screenprinted with an anthropomorphized running reindeer whose back was arched in a way that suggested either rapid motion or a recent spinal injury. I was staring at the drawing, trying to understand how something without hands could lace a pair of sneakers when the smiley face on the other side of the table tapped his pen to get my attention.

"So that's Julie, is it?" he asked, inking the wrong vowels onto my race number.

"Jelisa, actually."

I knew what was coming. He didn't disappoint.

"All right, Jelisa Actually," he said with a wink. "How old are we, Jelisa Actually?"

He winked and asked my age within a two second span. Add a plate full of beets and a reference to sleeping with my ex and he'd be a denim-clad version of everything I hate.

"We would be thirty." I grabbed a handful of safety pins from a small cardboard box beside a stack of race entry forms, wondering how many I could ingest before he finished ballpointing a three and a zero beside my name.

"All righty then," he said, dropping the number into a plastic bag along with four pins and the excess yards of fabric that comprised my t-shirt. "That's gonna be thirty five big ones."

I pulled a wadded personal check out of my back pocket and took the pen from him before he could dot the i in my name with a heart. With that thirty five and 00/100 I passed across the table, I was officially registered for a 5K, my first race since my Achilles tendon broke up with me during April's Boston Marathon.

"You'd better have a good run, Jelisa Actually."

"And you'd better not cash that check for another week or so."
__________

When my alarm started bleating in the darkness of half-past fuck you on Saturday morning, it was a crisp thirty-five degrees and the local radar was blanketed with sickly splotches of green, like Linda Blair had just spewed all over Super Doppler 12.

As I stood at the window watching puddles collect on the sidewalks, I wondered what would happen if I bailed, if I threw my shoes back in the closet and dropped my head back onto the dent in the pillow.

But I didn't.

I'd like to say I was motivated by a Chariots of Fire-ish montage that flickered through my prefrontal cortex but it was really just seeing the Krispy Kreme logo on the back of the t-shirt. The thought of a post-race pair of original glazed donuts was enough to make me zip up my Gore-Tex and wriggle into a pair of spandex pants that were so tourniquet-tight that everyone on the race course would know that I was ovulating.
__________

I loitered inside the gym until the final announcement for the 5K runners to get their asses outside. The Star Spangled Banner was almost over before I made it to the start line, but that still left plenty of time for freezing cold water to collect in the thin soles of my racing flats, turning each sock into a Build Your Own Blister Playset.

"How bad can this be?" I asked myself between the words Ready! and Set!, which is the same attitude I take to every race, all buffet restaurants, and most Nicolas Cage movies. I popped my knuckles and mashed the play button on my iPod, giving my angriest Danzig-fueled snarl to the competitors stacked on my right, a group of third graders all wearing floppy felt elf hats.

With a GO! and one muffled shot from the starter's pistol, we were off. I spent the first verse of "Mother" weaving through the clump of people who insisted on starting at the front of the pack. Hey, here's a tip: if you're wearing cargo shorts and a rain-soaked Coors Light sweatshirt, you probably don't need to line up beside the regional cross-country champion.

The 5K [3.1 mile] course was essentially an out-and-back, with each steep hill matched eHarmony-style with a complementary downhill. About halfway up the first incline, it became obvious that my finish time was going to be almost as disappointing as my personal life. My first mile was a glacial 7:14, but I explained to my brain that we lost a lot of time trying to sidestep both people and puddles. Mile Two was a wretched 7:25, a more terrible sequel than anything this side of Three Men and a Little Lady.

Despite a final 1.1 miles that had two major downhills, the total damage was a dismal 22:50, more than two minutes--TWO MINUTES!!--slower than my typical 5K finish. The only crumb in the Plus category--if I'm even forced to recognize the Plus category--is that now at least I know how far I've fallen and how far I've got to go to get back in shape. This is probably how Lindsay Lohan feels when she sees clips from Herbie: Fully Loaded.

As I stomped and brooded my way through the finish area, a teenage volunteer in a yellow poncho handed me a finisher's ribbon decorated with that same cheerfully deformed cartoon reindeer. I crammed it into my pocket with my earbuds and car keys and trudged toward the parking lot. It was barely 9 a.m.

When I got home, I stripped out of my gear and tossed the entire Fail-scented mess into the washing machine, which was a great idea until the hot water ran out mid-shower, well before I finished crafting the perfect shampoo horn. After toweling off, brooding, slipping into the sexiest of sweatpants (the ones without ice cream stains on the thighs, obviously) and brooding again, the washer shrieked to announce that it was finished.

How delighted I was to discover that everything--including that $35 t-shirt--was stained with angry streaks of red, like Hester Prynne had exploded in my Maytag. After digging through a wet clump of synthetic fabrics, I realized that my finisher's ribbon--still buried in my jacket pocket--hadn't survived the spin cycle.

"The hits keep on coming," I thought to myself, pouring another cup of detergent into the machine. "But at least I beat the kids in the elf hats."

Well. Most of them, anyway.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Ohhhh Dream Weaver

Somewhere between my regularly scheduled three a.m. pee break and the light dusting of Hall & Oates that the clock radio sprinkled into my ears ["Private Eyes" clap "They're watching you" clap clap], I shot a midget in the foot. I had no idea where or how I got the gun--or why I decided to go all Harry Callahan on his Topsiders--but I vividly remember watching him sprawl backwards onto a buffet table, landing squarely in a pile of uncooked, recently deveined shrimp.

I've never studied the subconscious. I'm sure I highlighted entire paragraphs of Freud-tastic facts in my freshman year Intro to Psych class, but those memories were all immediately corroded by my overlapping Intro to Off-Brand Vodka independent study. Either way, I believe that this particular sleep-matinee was my brain's way of reminding me not to eat Tylenol P.M. for dinner. Again.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Resting Heart Rate

Three Things:

1) This photograph was taken ten minutes ago, but it actually could've been snapped at any time in the past eight hours. I was so unproductive today that Ferdinand Marcos called to tell me I was being a lazy bitch.

2) Yes, sometimes I spoon with my dog. For the majority of this year, my Facebook relationship status has been Single (save for a brief time when I clicked It's Complicated after eating an entire Pizza Hut P'Zone) so I often worry that I'm incapable of interacting with anything that doesn't require monthly heartworm treatment.

3) I need one of you to hand me the remote control.


Friday, December 04, 2009

I'm Still Standing

Let's just ignore that I dug into Elton John's back catalog [not a euphemism] for a post title and instead talk about how November sped by and all I have to show for it are a pair of cranberry seeds permanently wedged between my molars and a Visa bill that made an audible thud when I dropped it on the counter.1

Last week--Thanksgiving week--was another blur of Mapquest-ed directions and Exxon midgrade. On Wednesday, after baptizing myself with a steaming cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee, I made the 150 mile drive to my parents' house in West "Don't Make Us Conjure the Mothman" Virginia. After pausing to examine the mocha-scented stain on my shirt that gave Elvis Costello an unfortunate-looking birthmark, I quickly swapped my luggage out of my car and into my dad's truck so we could head toward my sister's brand new place on the outskirts of Cleveland.

The four of us--me, my adorable parents and their hateful little terrier--spent the next seven hours idling in traffic and offering a one-feathered hand turkey out the window to other drivers. Whoever said that getting there was half the fun obviously hasn't crept through countless two-buck toll booths on I-77 while holding an unpleasant animal who delighted in placing its terrible corpse-scented mouth as close to your own mouth as possible.

Confidential to My Parents: I know you adore that creature but for real, could you please pressure-wash its face before Christmas?

After we stumbled out onto my sister's driveway, leaving a trail of bottled spices and mismatched socks, everything improved by a brazillion percent. The rest of the holiday couldn't have been better and we all agreed that it may have been the best one on record, save for that time my grandmother sat on my cell phone and we spent the afternoon snickering at the muffled sounds of "Jack and Diane" leaking out of her nether-regions.

Anyway, between driving to Ohio and Delta-ing to Seattle, it seems like I spent the past thirty days unpacking and re-packing and wondering if I ever wear anything that isn't one hundred percent cotton. That's my way of saying that although it was double-stuffed with plans for my future and the kinds of memories that linger long after the turkey has been digested, it wasn't the most bloggable, possibly because I managed to get through an entire page of my Jonas Brothers calendar without fucking something up.

I'm not sure how I feel about this. Obviously, I'll do my best to stumble through December, leaving a trail of disaster and chaos and broken serving dishes. After all, it's good for this website.

Speaking of which, since I missed NaBloPoMo2 because I was busily doing NegYoBloBecYoBusWatFliReAnEatAniCraMo3 instead, I'm committed to stapling something to the internet for the majority of December; from now through Christmas, I'll be writing a post per day. Also, on my Tumblr, I'm sharing one non-shitty holiday song every afternoon, a project that began with R.E.M.'s cover of Slade's "Merry Xmas Everybody". You're so very welcome.

Finally, I've had the privilege of contributing to Out of Bounds, a recently-launched NBC Sports blog. My latest piece is about Tiger Woods and his "transgressions", which I can only assume is a euphemism for "banging random chicks."

OK, see you guys again tomorrow. I'll be the one who smells like decaf coffee and regular strength calamity.

1 Oddly enough, this is how pretty much every month ends.

2 National Blog Post Month, an annual occurrence where people who suffer from chronic motivation write a blog post every day for an entire month. So yeah, it's not just a clever name.

3 Neglect Your Blog Because You're Busy Watching Flipper Reruns and Eating Animal Crackers Month. That's trademarked, of course.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Bottle of Red, Bottle of White

Believe it or not, last night a friend invited me into his home for dinner, despite knowing that the conversation would be peppered with Psychedelic Furs lyrics and that I'd no doubt find some way to soil the furnishings. As I was debating which t-shirt to wear, I somehow shook loose some Emily Post-style etiquette from the deeper recesses of my brain and realized I should probably take something to thank him for his hospitality.

I called him an hour or so before I'd be apologizing for staining the tablecloth to ask what would best accompany the meal. "Just bring whatever you'd want to me to bring to your place," he told me, shouting over the sound of pots and silverware being dropped into the sink.

"Oh, awesome! So either a remote controlled dinosaur or Hugh Laurie, lightly drizzled with maple syrup," I said.

If it were possible to actually hear someone regretting your friendship, that was the sound that filled the space between my last sentence and the dial tone.

Instead of wondering whether he'd dig a mechanized T-Rex or a smaller but more maneuverable ankylosaurus, I stopped into the Fresh Market for a bottle of wine. I know nothing about wine, since the kinds I tend to purchase have a handle on top of the box so you can more easily lift it onto the sofa beside you or snuggle with it during particularly intense SVU episodes. I quickly scanned the dark, wooden shelves, ignoring anything with a domesticated animal on the label or with the kind of ornate curling fonts you see in funeral programs.

Several varieties were highlighted with clip art and neatly typed index cards, like an alcoholic elementary schooler's science fair project. They were also all on sale. As soon as I read the phrase "great with grilled seafood"--what I'd soon be furiously aiming at my open gob--I grabbed the neck of Some Kind of White with a San-Serif Typeface and carried it to the cashier.

There was only one lane open, staffed by a girl with a green apron who stifled a yawn as she traced the outline of one of the oversized dragonflies tattooed on her forearm. It was an interesting choice of ink, since her limbs looked less artsy or attractive and more like my windshield after a late-summer road trip.

I plunked the bottle on the conveyor belt and she lazily dragged it across the scanner before dropping it into a narrow paper bag. "I'm gonna need to see your ID," she said.

"Rad," I said, because I talk like that guy you hated in eighth grade. "You've just made my day." I pried my license out of my wallet and held it over the register.

"Oh, I know you're old enough. It's for the computer" she said, pecking my birth digits into the keyboard. "Because it can't see you."

"Um. Right." I was reeling, my pride immediately deflating, no doubt settling into the deep creases in my forehead or the trenches etched beside my eyes. "Hey can you hang on for one second?"

She shrugged.

"Be right back," I said, the untucked tail of my shirt flapping behind me. "I'm just going to grab another bottle. Or two."
__________

I'm finally back from my week of Seattle, of damp overcoats and Top Pot donuts. Although I didn't come home with a Career or a commitment to business-casual dress codes, I did have some reasonably swell news on the job front. I'm going to keep it quiet for now, lest all my good fortune get spooked, bolting into the underbrush where it will immediately be killed, skinned and eaten by a hunting party.

Anyway. It was well worth the trip, despite the shrieking infants on both cross-country flights, the ones whose endless, ossicle-shattering screeches kept me from truly enjoying the SkyMall catalog. More details about the trip--and my move--will follow, of course, and many thanks go out to the fine people of King County who were willing to talk with me, forward my resume or watch me try to eat enough brisket to fill a two-bedroom condominium.

Finally, if a restaurant names an entree after Elvis Presley, it's not a menu item you should order, taunt, or make eye contact with. Any food that pays tribute to a man whose heart exploded during an a particularly intense Poop Session will break you. And--perhaps fittingly--it will also break the plumbing fixtures of your $60-per-night hotel.

Confidential to the Belltown Inn: I'm so sorry.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Gather Up Your Jackets, Move It To the Exits

There used to be a band called Semisonic--I say used to be because I'm reasonably sure all the members have long since started selling real estate or detachable gutters and doing things that don't require guitars. Their big, inescapable hit was called "Closing Time" and during my freshman year of college, it was the anthem that soundtracked countless second-semester drunkfests. (Confidential to My Mother: By "Drunkfests" I mean "Endless nights spent in the library studying, taking notes, and making good use of your tuition dollars." Obviously).

That song was always leaking out of the speakers at our favorite off-campus dinner joint, a Mexican place with cheap-ass enchiladas and a tacky hand-painted mural done by an artist that clearly didn't understand perspective drawing or homoeroticism. The ambiance was limited to a row of sombreros hanging over several of the tables--so you could park yourself in either the Stereotype or Non-Stereotype section--and overhead lights were dimmer than the waitstaff, who would accept any fresh-from-Kinko's fake ID even though you were clearly not thirty-seven, nor were you a black man.

At the end of the evening, the waiters would be lazily upending the wooden chairs onto the tables as we'd hold up our oversized margaritas and shout along with the chorus, "You don't have to go home/But you can't stay here." Then we'd shuffle off to the parking lot, hoping to make it back to campus before the floorboards of the DD's Ford Taurus were carpeted with thirty-six ounces of crushed ice and off-brand tequila.

It's a solid decade later and I'm still ordering Special #11--a quesadilla, an enchilada, and swift, unyielding diarrhea--at least once a month. The place is still popular with Wake Forest freshmen and I'll eye them jealously from my side of the vinyl booth, hating their popped collars and cell phone cameras and collagen.

A few weeks ago I was there for dinner, blotting the grease off a basket of tortilla chips and drinking for entirely different reasons when--as if David E. Kelley designed my life--that same Semisonic song trickled out of the speakers. And I decided they were right: I don't have to go home but I can't stay here.

So, readers who wonder where the hell all this cilantro-garnished exposition is going, I can't stay here. I'm planning a move across the country. It's not where you think--I won't be double-parking a UHaul in Los Angeles, nor burrowing into Hugh Laurie's laundry hamper--and it's sooner than you expect. I'd like to think I'll be unpacking my Elvis Costello t-shirts and reassembling my bookshelves before the end of the year, but realistically, it'll probably be January.

Where am I heading? Seattle. Yes, Seattle, with its indie rock and Starbucks oversaturation and perpetually wet socks. There are a number of reasons that it's [hopefully] the place for me, but none of them are entertaining and lots of them make me sound almost responsible, so we'll skip over that. Instead, let's talk about why I'm leaving. I've lived in North Carolina for a decade, counting college, and I have little to show for it other than a liberal arts degree and a few dents in my heart.

BUT my pair of years as a freelance writer have gone better than I could’ve ever expected, with the kinds of experiences that haven’t paid well but have definitely paid off--if that makes sense at all--and the highlights on my resume haven’t been from this region (or even this country) so I’m not losing anything but a ZIP code and a shitty neighbor fond of pre-dawn piano concerts by skipping out.

I've also grown increasingly tired of living in a town small enough that I'm constantly reminded of what I used to do or where I used to work or who I used to date until he decided it would be cool to leave me for a withered creature who looks like a Slim Jim with hair. I'm beyond ready to turn my attention to what I can do, what I will be, and what's waiting around the next turn, rather than continually adjusting my life's rearview mirror.

Or "Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end" as Semisonic sang. If you hear that sentiment when you're stabbing an undercooked bite of Grade-Z beef, it could make you think it's a sign you should re-evaluate your life. Or it could make you think of one Beginning shitting out another, smaller Beginning.

Either way, I'm packing my Gore-Tex and Scotchguarding my shoes and flying into the Sea-Tac airport on Saturday, staying for a week to apartment shop and meet with a handful of insanely helpful contacts and also to shove my resume in the face of the unsuspecting. If you're a media outlet in the greater Seattle area, prepare to be cold-called. Also, if anyone's willing to give a hand with this job search, I'd dig it like no other. Any advice, tips and tricks are all appreciated and will be met with a sloppy kiss to each of your foreheads.

Enjoy that basket of nachos, Seattle. I'll be staring at you from the far side of the non-smoking section soon enough.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Like a Good Neighbor

My apartment building used to have so much promise. I remember when the realtor cheerfully pointed out the hardwood floors and the large windows before spending an inordinate amount of time on the stainless steel kitchen fixtures, as if I'd previously lived in a place without working faucets. Her hard sell on the running water worked, though. I signed a contract and for a while everything was as delightful as it looked in the brochure.

Then other people started living here.

After two years, the turnover rate is higher than at even the most dismal fast food establishments and I'd bet that Sonic's Senior Frito Crusher has been making Chili Cheese Wraps longer than anyone has been on my floor. Most of the original owners have long since U-Hauled out of here, renting their units to other people who have, in turn, rented them out to someone else, with each generation getting crankier, dirtier and more willing to somehow triple-park their Tinkerbell-stickered Mini Coopers.

Or even to own a Tinkerbell-stickered Mini Cooper.

The current property managers are the second in a series of increasingly unconcerned, unhelpful companies who only materialize on the premises if there are free gelato samples in the coffee shop downstairs. A pair of Saturdays ago, someone spent the early morning hours prying my gas cap off and helping themselves to all the Exxon in my tank. The property dudes shrugged it off, telling me it was "probably just my friends pulling a prank", which is the crappiest explanation ever since 1) I don't even have friends and 2) if I did, they wouldn't be the kind who'd autograph the side of my car with a series of deep scratches.

And then there are the elevator rides, which are more terrifying than anything this side of a carnival in a strip mall parking lot. You haven't experienced misery until you've descended top to bottom with either the fiftysomething woman whose face is frozen in a permascowl and always smells like Band-Aids or the elderly medical experiment who will corner you to tell you all about his latest exploratory surgery. Yesterday, I awkwardly balanced two bags of groceries while he breathlessly explained the benefits of no longer having a functioning asshole.

After unpacking my Fruit Rollups and Bagel Bites and debating whether to soak my short-term memory with bleach, it was time to drag Pigpen around the block. As I held his leash and mashed the DOWN button, I braced myself for whatever reeking, recently-stitched creature could be on the other side.

Instead, it was...a guy. He was fortysomething with an expensive haircut and the kind of sharply chiseled features you see either advertising cologne or tempting a very married Judith Light in a number of Lifetime movies. I dragged The Pig onto the elevator and pressed the already-illuminated LOBBY circle because I'm increasingly nervous around attractive men. Or any men, really.

"R.E.M., huh?", he asked, jerking his chin--covered with carefully-cultivated stubble, natch--toward the image of Michael Stipe wrapped around my ribcage.

"Yeah, R.E.M." I said, because I'm good with words.

"Are they still alive?"

"Yes, all four of them are still kicking. Although original drummer Bill Berry left in 1997 and has been replaced by Bill Rieflin." A pause. "He used to play for Ministry."

"Right, only Bills can drum for them, got it."

"Well, they did have Barrett Martin for a minute and then Joey Waronker but yeah, it's mainly Bills."

The doors graciously opened before I could bury myself beneath a deeper pile of Dork. "Hey, do you live beside the stairwell?" he asked, thumbing one of the toggles on his overcoat.

I nodded.

"Can I tell you something? I apologize if it sounds a bit forward."

I nodded again--ever the master of social interaction--hoping it would be complimentary. That from a distance, I didn't look like a complete disaster. That my new clearance-rack shower gel did, indeed, make me smell like pears. That I would make an excellent first wife.

"Well, it's just that you, um..."

I waited, holding Pigpen's leash with one hand and adjusting my Bruins hat with the other, hoping that my ears protruded in the sexiest possible way.

"You...uh...you really play some shitty music."

And with that he walked out into the parking garage, a cold blast of air coming in to take his place. I stood at the window watching him, my breath fogging the glass as I waited to see which car he climbed into. You know, just in case someone would need to park uncomfortably close to his driver's side door.
__________

P.S. It's totally unrelated to my unfortunate mailing address, but my review of Nick Lowe's all-acoustic, all-amazing concert has been posted at BitchBuzz. It's an article I'm reasonably pleased with, especially since it prompted a discussion with my mother about Lady Gaga's genitals.

Monday, October 19, 2009

It'll Be A Pop Publication, Tougher Than Tough

So that just happened.1 After a decade-plus of marveling at his songwriting, blasting Jesus of Cool loud enough to alienate my neighbors at six different addresses and wearing a Labour of Lust t-shirt that has--so far--outlasted all of my relationships, I finally FINALLY had the chance to see Nick Lowe in concert.2

He and his Gibson J-45 captivated the sold-out crowd packed into the tiny Barns at Wolf Trap in Vienna, Virginia and it was the best seventy-five minutes I've ever spent without removing any clothing. He played twenty-one songs, each one featuring a lyric or a sentiment that will linger in your head--or your heart--long after he's moved on to the next. I'll do a full review for BitchBuzz, dumping at least a thousand words onto the internet and, even then, it'll feel like I've left something out.

For both those of you who dig this kind of thing, the set list was:

People Change
Ragin' Eyes
What's Shakin' On The Hill?
Long-Limbed Girl
Lately I've Let Things Slide
Has She Got a Friend?
All Men Are Liars
Heart
When I Write the Book
I Read A Lot3
Cruel to Be Kind4
The Kind of Man I've Become
I Live On a Battlefield
I Trained Her to Love Me
Rome Wasn't Built in a Day
Without Love
I Knew The Bride (When She Used to Rock and Roll)
(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding

Encore:
Soulful Wind
Seven Nights to Rock
The Beast in Me

With the exception of three tracks, Nick's entire set can be found on Quiet Please, his recently-released two-disc greatest hits bonanza. I could go on about how it's an excellent way to hear the evolution of his sound, from spiky new-waver to soul-soaked crooner, but I'll just assume that you'll check it out for yourself. Then we can talk about it over appetizers at The Cheesecake Factory.

Anyway, I'm not sure I moved until the house lights came up after the encore and--for someone who can barely finish a package of Saltines without getting distracted--that speaks to the power of Mister Lowe and his acoustic guitar. Seriously, I've had sexual experiences that didn't keep my attention that long. Just ask my neighbors.

1 Yes, that is a poorly-cropped shot of my Stiff Records "So It Goes"/"Heart of the City" 45 that Mr. Lowe was kind enough to drag a Sharpie across after the concert. I may or may not still be clutching it.

2 This year, I've been lucky enough to see all three of my favorite Englishmen, with Nick neatly inked into that lineup along with Robyn Hitchcock and Elvis Costello. Now that I've crossed this concert off my To-Do list, I fully expect to die in my sleep.

3 This song is as-yet unrecorded and he introduced it by saying "When you hear the statement 'I'd like to play a new song for you', does your heart sink?" When he's the one asking the question, no way. My tiny heart floats like a fourth grader's neglected goldfish.

Some of his best songs have a timeless quality, like you could've dropped a needle and played them pretty much any time between 1955 and yesterday. "I Read A Lot" is one of those, a song channeling the late Arthur Alexander with its simple arrangement that gives the words the chance to hit you right in the chest and none of you are still reading this, are you?

4 If you've heard of Nick Lowe before I gushed all over the internet about him, it's because of this song. It's been spun by mainstream radio and soundtracking your meals at chain restaurants since the late seventies...and I'm not being critical. It's a great song. When I told a friend of mine I was coming to this show, she asked what he sang and I namedropped this one. "Holy shit!" she said, "10 Things I Hate About You!"

I thought she was going to start cataloging my flaws, before realizing she meant the soundtrack to that flick, when Letters to Cleo covered it. There's just no reason that Nick Lowe should have to be explained using Julia Stiles movies. There's no reason anything should be described that way, even other Julia Stiles movies.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Carded

My face was bloated and misshapen, like the slowly melting head of a late-March snowman. My smile--crooked and off-center even on my most presentable days--was punctuated by soda-stained teeth dropping haphazardly out of my gums.

And my eyes.

My eyes. One of them had burrowed into my face, the other bulged in a way that made me look like a puppy mill Pug.

Basically, I looked like ass. And I would continue to do so for the next eight years.

"That'll be thirty-two dollars," he said, dropping my new driver's license through a slot in the plexiglass. "Make the check out to the North Carolina 'Partment of Motor Vehicles."

I resisted the urge to ask how to spell 'partment'. Sometimes, I make decent decisions, quietly adding the "D" and "e" he'd apparently packed away with his collagen and summer clothes.

My old license had expired on my birthday--four solid months ago--but because I'm made entirely of Irresponsible, I didn't realize it until the Door Guy stopped me on my way into a concert downtown. "We're not supposed to take an outdated ID" he said. "But you're here all the time."

It was true. The only reason I ever mash the Cash Back button at the grocery store is so I can deposit it directly into this club's cash register. Also I'm pretty sure the only reason he continues to card me is because he knows it makes my day to think that I'm not too old to wear leggings as pants."I'm not sure I can do this next time though," he said, stamping my hand with a black star.

I thanked him, filing my license in my wallet beside the other worthless pieces of plastic, with my over-maxed Visas--plural--and unpaid car insurance card. Either I was going to have to fork over my passport the next time I ordered an Absolut-soaked bad decision or make a trip to the seventh circle of hell--The DMV--a place outweighed in Awful only by the customer service line at Walmart and my last relationship.

A friend of mine suggested that I ignore the office in my home county in favor of the slowly rusting outpost in the county that rubs suggestively against my own, one better known for its commitment to trucks without mufflers and some of the state's more recent cases of rickets. It took a solid thirty minutes to get there, the cruise control set exactly on the speed limit lest the day take a turn for the O.Henry, getting me busted for speeding and an old license on the way to score a new one.

I reached the last line on my Mapquested directions and pulled into a parking lot with only one other car. This was a good sign. A bell jingled against the metal door as I stepped into the office. It was empty, save for one woman lazily thumbing through a faded copy of a magazine with a turkey on the cover.

"C'mon back," said a man who'd probably been filed under H-for-Hot at sometime during the late seventeenth century. I briefly thought I recognized him from the state seal. He directed me toward a vinyl chair in front of his desk, pausing to adjust his blue-on-blue uniform before taking a seat on the other side.

We were the only people in the back half of the office. He put on a pair of oversized eyeglasses that could double as a welding mask, picked an invisible thread off the M in his DMV patch, and asked for my old license. It had been issued in mid-2002, the picture commemorating my brief flirtation with mock turtlenecks and glitter eyeshadow. I looked like either an over-eager kindergarten teacher or an off-duty hooker, and I cringed every time I passed it through my open window to whichever officer had just tagged me for doing 74 in a 55. Again.

After reading the twelve-letter clump on the eye test, he asked me to look at four different shapes through the viewfinder. "Tell me what each of those are," he said, his accent thick enough to bread, fry, and serve with white gravy.

"A red octagon, a yellow rectangle, yellow circle, and yellow triangle."

"Well, that's a first," he said, tapping his pen against the side of the desk.

"What? Nobody else knows what they are?"

"Nope. Nobody else ever jus' give me the shapes. You're s'posed to tell me what the signs are."

"Oh." I was less embarrassed than I was delighted that I'd done something no one had done before, even if it was stupid. "A stop sign. Um...like, a traffic median, maybe, like the one in the mall parking lot? Or a Children Playing sign like in that one subdivision, the one where all of the houses look like vinyl-sided Monopoly piece--"

"And the next?" he interrupted.

"Uh, that one's a railroad thing where you're supposed to stop. You know, I had a great uncle who was hit by a train."

He blinked, almost audibly. "Continue."

"Well, apparently he got lost on the way home an--"

"With th' signs. Continue with the signs."

"Oh. Maybe a falling rock zone? Or, like, Bridge May Ice Before Road?"

He said nothing, carefully laying the pen beneath the word October on his desk calendar. He took a deep breath, staring at his hands. When he looked up, he focused on the place where my boobs would be--assuming I'd ever grown a set.

"Is that a catfish? A catfish wearing a top hat?"

I glanced down at my shirt. It was, in fact, a catfish wearing a top hat, because it was screenprinted with the cover of Captain Beefheart's 1969 album Trout Mask Replica. Yes, that's exactly how I wanted to be immortalized for the next eight years.

"Yes sir, it is."

"Well, it sure does make your eyes sparkle. And you don't have to call me sir, but I sure do 'preciate it. Now come have a seat for your picture...Bright Eyes."

I never thought that manners--and a fondness for borderline-unlistenable albums--would serve a purpose but apparently they do. Also, an anthropomorphized fish somehow makes me more attractive? This I found disturbing on a number of levels, but made a mental note to turn one of those singing bass from Spencer Gifts into an oversized pendant.

Bright Eyes or not, my picture made me look like the Elephant Man. It would be another five minutes before I knew that though, five minutes while I waited in the lobby with the woman who was still wrapped up in her turkey magazine. I was about to take a seat when I noticed one rogue strand of someone's hair weave coiled menacingly on the plastic chair beside me. I decided to stand.

"That'll be thirty-two dollars," the man said, knocking on the plexiglass to get my attention. And that's where we came into the story.

On the way home, I stopped at the grocery store to pick up dinner, another sodium-drenched single-serving reminder that I live alone. The end of the aisle advertised a sale on Mike's Hard Lemonade, which I like because it combines my love of both sour beverages and breath that could melt plastic.

The cashier slowly dragged everything over the scanner, stopping briefly with the six pack.

"I'm gonna need to see some ID," she said, grabbing the Mike's before it could finish riding toward the plastic bags.

"Yes ma'am," I said, smoothing the wrinkles in my Beefheart tee. "I've got my driver's license right here."

Monday, October 12, 2009

Now Boarding at Gate 23

Everything Grizzly Bear lead singer Ed Droste said was followed by a squealed “That’s so awesome!!” from the American Apparel-wrapped girls beside me, making me feel like I was standing in the middle of several thousand smiley emoticons.
“That’s so awesome!”

“OMG! So awesome!"

Colon. Parenthesis. Stab myself.

Grizzly Bear’s harmonies were as gorgeous as anticipated, although sometimes an over-amped bass overpowered their delicate vocals. A shimmering version of “Two Weeks” followed, with Daniel Rossen on keyboards and bassist Chris Taylor cooing into the microphone like Gizmo the Mogwai. “THAT’S SO AWESOME,” American Apparel said, her head on the verge of exploding as she made a note to update her Facebook status when she got home.
--ACL Festival, Day 2 [via BitchBuzz]
“She’s, like, 97,” a kid in a backwards Texas Longhorns hat said when Kate Pierson and her radioactive-looking orange hair took the stage with new-wave pioneers The B-52’s. He was only off by 36 years but Pierson--the oldest of the Georgia foursome--was the most well-preserved especially compared to a paler-than-usual Fred Schneider, who looked like he may have just eaten a bad plate of--ahem--rock lobster.

The somewhat-listless crowd was unmoved by their newer material and didn’t stir until they played back-to-back karaoke favorites “Roam” and “Love Shack”, with Schneider barking out his trademark over-enunciated spoken parts. Twenty years after those songs were released, I’ve started to worry that the Love Shack--what with its rusted tin roof and faded sign--has probably been torn down and replaced with a Starbucks.

--ACL Festival, Day 3 [via BitchBuzz]

__________
I'm not sure how it took me a solid week to catch up from a five day trip, but it did. It also takes me half an hour to cook Minute Rice. ZING! Anyway, I’m back from Austin and--seven days later--no longer have the lingering scent of breakfast burrito or hotel shampoo.

The ACL festival was a totally different experience compared to Bonnaroo, which I covered for Bitchbuzz in June. Not only was Austin slicker and dotted with more corporate sponsors, it had an entirely different demographic, which managed to skew both older and younger. Older, because some mid-afternoon crowds looked like orthodontists on their day off, endless rows of recently-exfoliated fortysomethings raising their Lone Star tallboys and kicking off one Topsider at a time.

The youngest ACL-ers were asleep in the strollers I sidestepped on the way to buy another pair of fish tacos. I'm horrible at estimating the ages of both children and pop stars but at Friday night's Them Crooked Vultures show, a woman held a child who was still in the Plastic Underwear years, which put him somewhere between 3 and Cher. Well played, Responsible Parent. It's never too early to introduce your children to hearing loss.
__________

This time last Monday, I was heading to the airport in my rented white Toyota, the one that I would've described as my RAD-4 if I'd actually spoken with anyone who wasn't checking to see how many $4 KitKats I'd swiped from the minibar. I did briefly exchange pleasantries with the hotel's front desk staff who were no doubt delighted to see me wandering through the lobby on Sunday night both barefoot and wearing a trashbag as pants.

After having to discard my ruined flat shoes on Saturday, I went to Walmart and scored a pair of $7 sneakers from the kids department. Did they fit? No. Did I care? Absolutely not, since I was pretty sure that we were only going to spend seven or eight hours together. The festival grounds on Sunday were so epically disgusting that my new Starter kicks were abandoned beneath the RAD-4's rear tires in the ACL parking lot. After that, I scurried behind a dumpster to swap my mud-caked denim for the finest in Hefty Cinchsak couture.

Keep in mind that I grew up in The American South. Shoeless, naked beneath a trash bag... if somebody queued up the dance mix of "Cotton-Eyed Joe", it would've been every Homecoming dance I ever attended.

Anyway, my plastic bottoms and bare feet were an attempt to preserve the integrity of the RAD-4, even though the passenger side was already littered with a beat-up baseball cap, three empty Whataburger bags, and countless crushed soda cans. It probably looked a lot like Michael Moore’s living room.
__________

My flights back were chock with delays, all weather-related. When I finally boarded the plane to Atlanta, I was wedged between a woman who turned Delta #1672 into her personal slumber party and a flight attendant who spent an inordinate amount of time rearranging his fuschia pocket square.

Despite being one of Delta's Li'l Platinum Milers (or whatever), I'd never had a seat beside the airline staff before. I was disturbed to learn that on their seats, they get an over-the-shoulder harness that straps them in like they're about to jump Snake River Canyon. Meanwhile, all that keeps me from certain death is an adjustable strip of nylon and a non-functional ashtray.

Anyway, Miss Window Seat to my left immediately unpacked her oversized carry-on tote to remove a smaller bag decorated with cartoon characters, something that would’ve been cute if she’d been seven, with a missing front tooth and a light dusting of freckles across her nose. Since she was damn near fifty with a hairstyle last seen on the late Jerry Garcia, it made her look either creepy or mentally deficient. Or both.

She wedged both bags under the seat in front of her--earning a head nod from Delta’s own Evel Knievel strapped in beside me--wrapped a velveteen neck pillow around her head, popped in some ear plugs, and wriggled into a garish fleece pullover that looked like it was made from dead Fraggles. Next, she kicked off her Keds and changed into a pair of rainbow striped socks with non-skid bottoms, just in case we'd be asked to stop the plane with Flintstone-style foot brakes.

Finally, she pulled a sleep mask over her eyes, turned at a 45 degree angle to the window and STRETCHED HER LEGS OUT UNDER MY SEAT, her goddamn nonskid socks napping on my own carry-on bag, the one with my iPod, this month's MOJO magazine, and all the other distractions that keep me from making a list of the ways I can die during air travel.

We were halfway across the country before I stopped hating her and probably somewhere above Alabama when I decided to kick her.

She didn't move.

I kicked again.

She snorted.

And three times a lady.

She pulled one corner of her mask up and glared at me. I shrugged.

She deposited her feet under her own chair, curled herself into a ball like a recently-salted slug.

I was finally--FINALLY--able to grab my iPod as the flight attendant adjusted his harness and pretended not to notice.
__________

I had a four hour layover in Atlanta, which turned into five thanks to another delay which turned into me eating a giant bag of animal crackers and purchasing a paperback book I never intend to read.

At the gate, the endless loop of CNN kept shuffling out the same story about an elderly woman being mauled by raccoons and--after thirty minutes and three reruns of the story--I wondered if I could summon any kind of bloodthirsty woodland creatures to Terminal B.

To my right was a sixtysomething woman with a waxy complexion and a t-shirt that said “My Period Is More Like An Exclamation Point”.

No.

Her Period Is a Question Mark. Three, actually: 1) Where does one acquire such a Klassy Garment" (says the girl who wore a garbage bag not twelve hours earlier) ; 2) Even if you do own that 50 cotton/50 poly gem, why would you wear it in public? And 3) Why does she still have a period? It seems like her Baby Factory should’ve bricked its windows and boarded its doors by now.

No, that's not the first time I've thought about a stranger's uterus. Thank you for asking.

She was eating an oversized cinnamon bun--as if there are any other kinds--loudly sucking the glaze off of each of her swollen fingers before wiping her hand on one leg of her nylon pants and returning to the Laci Peterson paperback she was reading. Chomp. Suck. Wipe. Chomp. Suck. Wipe.

I don't have many marketable skills, but one of them has to be the ability to actively hate someone without exchanging more than a sidelong glance. I'll be adding that to my resume, sandwiching it between "Doesn't Bite Unless Provoked" and "Proficient in Microsoft Office".

Color me more than relieved when she boarded the next flight to arrive, heading toward Omaha and--with any luck--a pack of Cinnabon-craving raccoons.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Hand Stamps and Wristbands

Another Austin morning and another day of live music is coming as soon as I extract myself from this embroidered hotel robe and make my way back to Zilker Park. The first two days of the Austin City Limits festival have been excellent. My eardrums remain intact, although I broiled both shoulders in the sun on Friday and last night I held a memorial service for a pair of rain-soaked, mud-caked flat shoes, whose reeking faux-suede bodies were interred in the trash can beside the minibar.

It rained for a solid nine hours yesterday and after dropping $5 on an ineffective poncho, I spent my afternoon wrapped in a thin layer of plastic, much like my grandmother's sofa. That didn't stop me from digging sets from The Decemberists, Grizzly Bear, Flogging Molly and a fragile-looking Levon Helm, the former drummer for The Band, the least Google-able musical group of all time. My full Saturday recap will be posted shortly at BitchBuzz (as soon as I, um, start writing it) but you can clicky here to read all about Day One.

I've been concert-ing pretty much nonstop since my Chucks hit the terminal at Austin-Bergstrom International. On Thursday night, I had a cow skull stamped on my hand at the Continental Club where I caught The Baseball Project/Steve Wynn IV/Minus 5 for the second time in six days (Clicky: Full recap of their Cat's Cradle gig). The place was packed and they absolutely rocked for both sets and an encore that featured an appearance by Bill Rieflin on a pair of songs (More on him in a paragraph or two).

I stood behind a hulking dude in a t-shirt who shouted along with every lyric and yelled "DREAM FUCKING SYNDICATE"--a reference to Wynn's former band--after several of their songs. During the intermission, he wandered over, sweat streaming from his shaved head, and said "You know the words too!"

"Yeah, I dig these guys," I said, because I really do talk like that.

"FUCKIN' A!" he shouted. "HEAD BUTT ME! DO IT! LET'S HEAD BUTT!"

Since I barely have enough brain function to remember to wear pants if I leave the house, we high fived instead. And, of course, I thought "I CAN TOTALLY WRITE ABOUT THIS" as he headed toward the bar.
__________
During "Medicine Show", I looked to my left and realized I was standing beside Bill Rieflin, the former drummer for Ministry and current kit-master for R.E.M. and Robyn Hitchcock. And then I looked at him again. And again, in rapid succession until he noticed. Because I make terrible decisions, I grabbed his arm and said "YOU MAY BE MY FAVORITE DRUMMER EVER!" I wasn't shouting because of the music--it was actually a break between songs--I was shouting because I'm insane.

He looked, um, surprised and said thanks. I was telling him how many miles I'd run while listening to Ministry when a woman tapped his shoulder and asked if he'd care to watch her purse while she went to the bathroom.

To his credit, he did.

When she came back, drying her hands with the front of her skirt, he disappeared, probably terrified that one of us would've licked his face (Me) or asked him to feed her dogs (Her). Five minutes later, he popped up onstage beside asskicking drummer Linda Pitmon during a cover of The Sonics' "Strychnine".
__________

I hit my word count on my BitchBuzz ACL review before I could mention seeing Robyn Hitchcock & the Venus 3 (Rieflin, Scott McCaughey and Peter Buck) on Friday night. Anyone who's read this site or exchanged more than three sentences with me knows how much I dig his music--and his delightfully skewed worldview. I also more-than-appreciate the fact that he graciously agreed to an interview this summer, which was pretty much the highlight of my...ever.

Anyway, despite some early technical issues, he gave a good show and was extra-animated, dropping between-song monologues about tofu burgers and tsunamis. Believe it or not, he actually played a track I hadn't heard live--"Brenda's Iron Sledge"--in any of the FOUR OTHER CONCERTS I've attended this year.
__________
Time to un-robe and shower, even though the lighting in this bathroom makes me consider having my clothing permanently stapled on.

More updates to come... today's concert calendar includes White Lies, Dirty Projectors, Arctic Monkeys and several other adjective/noun combinations.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Mantle This! Mantle That! It Makes Me Sick!

I used to collect baseball cards as a kid, tearing into countless Topps wax packs and shoving the broken shards of flavorless bubblegum into my mouth before shuffling through all seventeen cardboard players. I always hoped to unwrap a Wade Boggs or a Bo Jackson but always got, like, a Billy Jo Robidoux instead. Nothing teaches you to manage your expectations like the Milwaukee Brewers.

The cards--way before they came emblazoned with holograms or with strips of the players' skin embedded on the back and HEY KID! GET OFF MY LAWN!--had baseball trivia listed below the stat columns, tidbits about how Dave Henderson was a high school All-American or that Roger Clemens would eventually become an overfed Yankee douchecake. I tried to memorize all of those throwaway facts, from who hit the first major league triple (Levi Meyerle) to Ty Cobb's lifetime batting average (.367) to the number of guys who've ever wanted to make out with me after hearing this (0.00).

My commitment to anything with 108 double stitches explains why I immediately fell for the songs of The Baseball Project. This supergroup-ish side project--composed of Steve Wynn (Dream Syndicate), Peter Buck (R.E.M.), Scott McCaughey (The Minus 5, Young Fresh Fellows) and Linda Pitmon--is like the Traveling Wilburys if they could've explained the infield fly rule.

Wynn and McCaughey have written some incredible songs about The Artist Formerly Known As America's Favorite Pastime, without the cloying scent of Cracker Jack or the first hint of camp. Their ’08 release Vol. 1: Frozen Ropes and Dying Quails features thirteen engaging tracks about players both famous (Mark McGuire, Fernando Valenzuela) and forgotten (Harvey Haddix, Ed Delahanty), with lyrical turns of phrase that'll buckle your knees like a well-thrown changeup.

I had the chance to catch 'em on Saturday night at the Cat's Cradle in Carrboro, an excellent venue for fans of both rock music and alliteration. After braving the Seattle-style weather--which was a thousand percent more authentic than the Seattle-style coffee they sling at the airport--I swapped my freshly ATM-ed cash for a ticket and made it into the club just before they kicked into "Ted Fucking Williams".

"We'd like to start with the opening band," McCaughey quipped. "The first band is the same as the last." The night was sold as the Steve Wynn IV, the Minus 5, and the Baseball Project, an overlapping triple bill that may as well have been called the Turducken of Awesome.1

The turducken's first sixteen-song set was well-worth my eighty mile drive, with Wynn and McCaughey trading lead vocals depending on whose back catalog they were blasting through. "Here's a fantastic song," McCaughey said, launching into a new track from the Young Fresh Fellows, his other other band "Just like all the rest of 'em we're playing, they've all been fantastic." 2 Particularly high on the Fantastic Scale was the Minus 5's "Out There On The Maroon", which drops the greatest opening line of all time--”I had six White Russians tonight/And two of them were people”--over a Roy Orbison-style guitar riff.

They closed the set with a driving version of Wynn's "Amphetamine,” powered by Linda Pitmon's asskicking percussion. After watching her for three hours, I no longer want to grow up to be Tina Fey, unless Tina Fey is also a raging rock drummer. I was blown away well before her Keith Moon-style bombast put the exclamation point at the end of an incredible set.

“We’re gonna get liquored up, sell some CDs, and chat with our friends” McCaughey said before the intermission. "Because that's the way we roll."

Due to my long drive, I rolled by throwing back Diet Cokes like a champ but eventually made my way toward the merch table to say hello. Of course, by ‘say hello’ I mean ‘spew entire paragraphs about where and when I purchased each of their individual albums.’ It’s hard to balance between enthusiastic and unhinged, as best illustrated by the dude outside my building who excitedly points out that my iPod is going to give me "head cancer.”

Steve Wynn, Peter Buck, and Scott McCaughey (wearing his hat, Mister Fuzzy)

The second set featured some new Baseball Project songs, including a pair about the polar opposites of the post-season, Reggie Jackson and Bill Buckner. “The Straw That Stirs The Drink” was sung from Jackson's typically, ahem, self-assured point of view ("There were stars/And then there's what I am") with a call-and-response chorus. Meanwhile "Buckner's Bolero" was a brilliantly detailed seven minute examination of baseball's most famous fielding error. It sympathetically examined the other factors behind Boston's '86 World Series collapse ("If one play killed the Sox/Could you please tell me which?") and noted the otherwise overlooked aspects of Buckner's double decade career.

"It's sort of Homeric, isn't it?" McCaughey asked. Yeah, it is. It's also the kind of thing I needed to hear as a traumatized seven year old Sawx fan who'd just watched the fuckin' thing on TV.

This writeup could end here if not for for the encore. Holy shit, the encore. Standing in the small but attentive Saturday night audience was Peter Holsapple, a hell of a guitar player who's perhaps best known for his work with jangle masters The dB's.3 He was pulled onstage for a trio of covers--including a rollicking version of "The Ballad of John & Yoko"--as I tried to peel my jaw off the PBR-coated floor. 4

Mister Buck & Mister Holsapple

It was quite possibly the best concert I've seen all year, a bold statement considering how many OVER 21 stamps I’ve scrubbed off my skin. It was so good, in fact, that I'm going back for a second helping tonight in Austin, Texas.5

Maybe I’ll even bring a package of baseball cards.

1 Trying to explain their current, previous, and interwoven musical connections--from R.E.M. to Robyn Hitchcock's Venus 3--is harder than untangling an Appalachian family's DNA, but that doesn't mean that I won't try. I'm super fun at parties.

2 With the addition of the 'Fellows track and Wynn's "Trial Separation Blues", recorded by his former band Gutterball, everyone's musical past had been represented, save for R.E.M...despite the dude behind who repeatedly requested “Talk About The Passion”, like Rain Man with a Michael Stipe fetish. “Murmur, yeah. Definitely Murmur." Also: Insert your own "I'm an excellent Driver 8" joke here.

3 Holsapple also records with Chris Stamey--another former dB--and I can't recommend their recent release Here and Now enough. Go, check it out. G'wan now. Git!

4 In addition to the Beatles, they did the Flamin' Groovies "Teenage Head" and "Sometimes Good Guys Don't Wear White" by the Standells, a band whose "Dirty Water" has become an unofficial anthem for the Boston Red Sox. See, it all comes back to baseball.

5 That's right, starting tomorrow I'm covering the Austin City Limits festival for London's BitchBuzz.com. That means tonight I'll be in town and shouting along during their show at the Continental Club. No, that's not creepy at all, thanks for asking.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Working Nights

I've got a nightmare problem. The problem, obviously, is that I have them, and spend a portion of almost every night being dragged through the sketchier neighborhoods of my subconscious. I'll inevitably drift off, earbuds lodged firmly in both sides of my skull, listening to At My Age and hoping that my brain will send me to make out with a variety of Englishmen or raise fruit bats or wear pants made of ham or any other totally normal dream plots. Instead, my third grade teacher whose face is made of broken glass and dangling eyeballs holds me down and feeds me a bowl of salsa seasoned with my own teeth.

Good times.

The other night, I woke up at 3:17 a.m. to the smell of smoke and singed hair. I yanked the 'phones out of my ears and assumed that my gothtastic neighbor--an over-eyelinered college student majoring in Sighing Loudly with a minor in Leggings--had done her best Sylvia Plath impression, broiling herself beneath the faux-granite countertops.

"There's no way she'll get her deposit back," I said to myself, sleepily rolling out of bed and hoping that the firemen would be too busy with the human pot pie across the hall to notice my dinosaur footie pajamas.

On my way toward the door, I stepped on one of Pigpen's bones that he'd somehow chewed into a rawhide shiv. Pulling a shard of animal byproduct out of my foot was painful enough to wake me up completely. The building wasn't burning and my neighbor hadn't gotten Plath-tered; I'd just been fooled by the nastiness inside my own brain. Again.

I turned to Pig's bed in the corner, expecting to see him sound asleep on his back, weiner pointing skyward like a DirecTV dish. He wasn't there. I pulled back the sheets on my own bed, assuming he'd burrowed under the covers when I headed for the door. No Pig.

Now I'm concerned. And confused. Confuserned. "Oh shit," I said out loud. "He's stuck!" Just last week, he'd chased his tennis ball under the bed and lodged himself between the baseboard and a box of outdated sweaters, forcing me to shove the mattress onto the floor so I could lift the bed frame and drag him out by his back legs. I flipped the light on and pressed my face against the carpet.

No dog.

I raced to the other side, moved a stack of music magazines and pulled out a half-eaten carrot.

Nothing.

I sleep with the bedroom door closed because even after ten seasons of Law & Order: SVU, I'm still convinced that even the rapey-est of intruders will be deterred by two inches of artificial wood. There's no way out of the room, saved for the always-locked sliding glass onto the balconOH GOD THAT'S HOW THEY'LL GET IN WHERE CAN I BUY APPROXIMATELY FIFTY THREE CINDERBLOCKS? HURRY BEFORE THEY GET HERE--ahem--the balcony.

I looked in the bathroom, lifting a pile of festering gym clothes with the gnawed stump of the carrot.

No Pigpen.

Now I'm seriously entertaining the idea that at some point during the three hours I'd been asleep, I managed to eat him, I'd devoured the entire dog. I stared at my bedheaded reflection in the mirror wondering how many calories are in a two-year old Boxer when a muffled thump came from the closet.

Warily I approached the door, pushing it open with my pajama-ed foot and smacking Pigpen in his smashed little muzzle.

He looks pissed, like I've interrupted. I turn on the light and see that I have. He's dragged a number of shoes--all sneakers, all mismatched--into the center of the floor and topped them with the jacket from The Artist Formerly Known As My Interview Suit (now rechristened as my Funeral Costume) along with a handful of unfortunately patterned tank tops and my bathrobe. Basically it looks like he blew up Punky Brewster.

He circles the pile and takes a seat on a shoe, looking absolutely delighted with his handiwork. I'm confused more than anything, wondering how he managed to get these things off their hangers in the dark and wondering if he has retractable thumbs I'd just never noticed before.

I dragged him out of the closet and closed the door tightly behind us, hoping we'd get through the rest of the night without any additional redecorating.

Fast forward to the next night when a similar scenario occurred. I'd just been tracing the outline of a friend's face with my tongue when his wife shoved me off the inflatable iceberg and into the path of an oncoming clipper ship. I woke about the time my head struck the side of the boat. Again, I looked toward Pig's bed...and he's gone. I trudged toward the closet and there he was, sitting on a totally different stack of my shit.

The closet is conveniently located to the right side of the toilet so, in case I'm ever sans Charmin, I can always reach a t-shirt from a company that's long since fired me. Last night, I woke up when Pig tried to wriggle through the semi-closed bathroom door on his way to his night job.

So I'm asking you guys...WHAT THE HELL?! He's not being destructive. He's not chewing the armpits out of my shirts or clipping his toenails into the coat pockets. As far as I can tell, he's making a nest or a shrine or perhaps a sacrificial altar where he'll eventually kill me for buying store-brand Snausages. Either way, has anyone else's animal ever done this?

And while we're at it, can someone tell me why I've started smelling my dreams? Because fruit bats are way less fragrant than their names lead you to believe.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

By Request

Here's my eagerly anticipated Maid of Honor outfit. No, my actual dress won't be blaze orange, not unless the reception program has been restructured to include deer hunting. I just hope that the other members of the bridal party will be able to find an Elvis Costello tee and brown leather ankle boots because those accessories are obviously what bring this ensemble together.1

I'd been in the store less than two minutes when a nametagged David's Bridal associates--one wearing several pounds of eyeshadow--tapped a logo pen against her clipboard, cocked her head to the right and said "I'm guessin' you ain't the bride."

Wow, what gave it away? The fact that I strolled in still licking bits of my Long John Silvers' combo meal off my forearms? That I have no idea what my dress size is but quickly volunteered that I wore a medium t-shirt? The tumbleweeds rolling out of my vagina?

"Nope. I'm the Maid of Honor."

"Really?" she said. "OK, we can get start--um, you've got something on your face."

I flicked my tongue toward my cheek, ever the lady. "Tartar sauce."

She sighed. "This is just my second weekend here. We may need my manager for this."

1 One of my friends said that I looked like a Hooters waitress from the 1940s.
__________

I'd been dreading the trip to D-Bridal since last fall when my sister used a handful of Anytime Minutes for a shrieking, weeping phone call that sounded a lot like "SQQQUUUUEEEEAAL! I'M ENGAGED! SQUUUUEEEEEEAAL! OK BYE!" Of course I'm delighted for her but I wish her wedding had the same dress code as Burger King. The nicer Burger Kings, obviously, the ones that have playgrounds and dumpsters with lids.

The search for formalwear is a difficult one for me because of my comically oversized back. Yes. My back. My workouts include an abundance of pullups, which means I cast the sexy silhouette of a king cobra. Or Michael Phelps, minus the Marfan syndrome. It's a bit of a problem because shoving myself in a size large for my lats means that I have enough excess room in the bust to successfully shoplift a number of appliances.

It's not a scenario that the staff deals with very often although Eyeshadow did tell me that my actual dress, when it arrives, could be altered to accommodate my cape-like back and Craisin-like boobs. She may have phrased it more politely.

I was given a stack of unfortunately-hued items and quarantined in a dressing room until I emerged wearing something that I could actually zip, like a denim-clad larva that becomes a dry-clean only butterfly who will find a way to stain her dress several months before the actual ceremony. It took several false starts, a lot of creative profanity, and several twirls in front of the most unflattering mirror on earth, but I won. My Maid of Honor Costume is now on order and I have the receipt to prove it JUST IN CASE THE BRIDE OR THE MOTHER OF THE BRIDE (AKA MY OWN MOTHER) REQUIRES DOCUMENTATION.

Now it's just up to the bridesmaids to find matching boots.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Packed

I'm just about ready to take it to the streets, Pointer Sisters-style, and head home for the weekend.1 As soon as I lug my suitcase to my car and drop Pigpen off at his luxury accommodations2 it'll be time to weave in and out of traffic as I try to reach the neon orange peanut butter cracker I just fumbled onto the floorboard.

Obviously, I'm taking the essentials with me. From left to right, we've got:

--The latest issue of Mojo magazine, a British import I dig enough to justify the $9 cover price, even though I didn't pay nine bones for the last pair of pants I bought. Read that sentence again.

--Some Vonnegut, even though Kurt will immediately be swapped for whatever Britney-infested tabloid I can impulse-buy at the grocery store, along with a bag of teriyaki-flavored beef jerky and a package of tiny razors so I can carve my bikini area into elaborate topiary.

--DVDs of The Prisoner and Black Books. I will watch neither of these because my sister and I will spend all of our time watching endless episodes of Law & Order: SVU. She's recovering from shoulder surgery and just yesterday spent a pharmaceutically-enhanced afternoon watching NINE HOURS of SVU, which means she's officially an NYPD officer. And also terrified to leave the house.

--McDonalds' coupons. FREE McGRIDDLES, GUYS! I've never been more excited to get a piece of mail lovingly addressed to "Resident".

-- A pair of Robyn Hitchcock box sets. This needs no explanation, not even to help you understand why I need damn near a day's worth of music for a two hour drive.

--Two screenprinted garments that put Peter Buck's face dangerously close to my boob. JUST LIKE THAT DREAM I HAD.

1 I have been instructed to stop at David's Bridal to order a Maid of Honor dress for my sister's wedding to Dr. Fiance. Apparently this garment is going to be painstakingly woven from unicorn pelts or decorated with the eyelids of endangered species because that's the only reason it needs to be purchased seven months before the wedding.

2 Pig doesn't get to make the trip across state lines because my parents' Nasty Little Dog doesn't take kindly to strangers. If she did, perhaps she would have a more charming nickname.

Monday, August 31, 2009

146.59 Miles

On Friday, I'll be packing my three favorite R.E.M. t-shirts and tearing up I-77 toward my hometown to visit my wonderful parents and their nasty little dog. Not only will I get to sleep under the watchful eye of the Springsteen poster I tacked up one seventh grade summer and eat things that weren't dumped out of dented cans, I'll also get to see my sister, Runtie, for the first time in forever.

Until last August, we just lived four or five Cracker Barrels away from each other and hung out at least once a month, gorging ourselves on pepperoni-encrusted mistakes and watching direct-to-DVD horror movies, only peeling ourselves off the sofa long enough to get another Diet Coke or shoot fireworks off my balcony. Then--almost exactly a year ago--she moved to the midwest and now going to see her requires boarding and deplaning more than one regional jet or spending half a day on various unspectacular interstates. Either way, it's a supersized bowl of Suck.

Runtie and I couldn't be more different but we also couldn't be closer. We share a love for animals dressed as humans, Oreo Cakesters and Christopher Meloni's one facial expression, but that's where the similarities end. She is a nurse who is engaged to a doctor. My romantic prospects are limited to my building's recently-paroled maintenance man who told me that I could be a real catch if I grew some tits.1

Runtie and Dr. Fiancé recently bought a house and will be closing on it later this week. Yesterday I purchased two boxes of Food Lion brand fish sticks. She graduated from nursing school with honors and has held a steady job ever since. I'm a semi-employed blogger whose recent accomplishments are limited to illegally downloading the first season of Family Ties and being able to recall Roger Clemens' 1986 ERA in conversation.2

Runtie is Gallant. I am Goofus.

We're both descending on the only real home address we've ever had to celebrate our mother's birthday. Runtie will no doubt present her with a thoughtful, quite possibly handcrafted gift that reflects what an unbelievable mom she has been, one that appropriately thanks her for subletting her uterus to the two of us for a combined 18 months. I'll be giving her either a framed copy of my latest dental X-rays or a somewhat unevenly wrapped box of Sour Patch Kids, although I will take the time to remove the shitty flavors.3

The last time our entire family got together, Bea Arthur died.4 As the same three clips from Maude aired on the evening news, Runtie and I stood in the kitchen passing a bowl of brownie batter across the counter to each other, scooping out oversized spoonfuls and shoving them into our faces.

Runtie was retelling a story from the previous week, something about making crucial adjustments to a patient's medications. "And then I had to consult with a phlebotomist," she said, "To ensure that the levels would be acceptable."

"Uh, yeah, I have no idea what that is," I told her, licking a glob of chocolate off my forearm. "But there are probably terms from my job that you wouldn't understand."

"Really?" she asked. "Like what?"

"Like sweatpants. And poverty."

Four more days. Sha la la la.

1 I also had a brief makeout sesh with a picture of Hugh Laurie I cut out of Parade magazine.
2 2.46.
3 Orange and yellow, obviously.
4 I'm pretty sure the two events are unrelated but I'd appreciate if one of you would keep an eye on Rue McClanahan until Sunday evening.
__________
Oh! Here's a thing! I recently had the opportunity to chat with singer Justin Townes Earle, the 27 year old son of Nashville legend Steve Earle. Our conversation was wide ranging, covering everything from his somewhat unexpected influences to his [excellent] new album to what makes a good drug dealer.

Part 1 and Part 2 of the interview have been posted at my other hangout, BitchBuzz, a site that you should probably be reading, like, all the time.

Photo Credit: Joshua Black Wilkins