Thursday, April 22, 2010

leap before you hit the bottom

I have the pleasure of working for one of the oldest institutions in Union Square, and I say that with absolutely zero eye roll or forced, insincere sentiment!

Family-owned Paragon Sports has been in operation since 1908, which happens to be the last year my precious Cubbies took home hardware. The building itself was probably erected long before that date, though a half-dozen Google searches yielded no further information on the subject.

Within minutes of my hiring, an unshaven fellow in the basement informed me that the store's “New York City Historical Landmark" designation (at least, I think those were the words he used) renders the owners impotent in all matters of renovation, even though the crumbling infrastructure demands attention. In other words, they have to leave the building as is, no matter what. Is this true? I have no idea! Let’s just assume Person X knew what he was talking about. Best not to worry my pretty head. I believe everything I’m told.

Two weeks ago, pinned between a wobbling dolly and two outrageously heavy golf club displays, I risked it all on the engineering marvel that is our freight elevator. The car lurched and stalled and groaned in unnatural ways only thirty or so times between Floor 3 and Floor 1, but no matter! Just a common malfunction, I’m sure. Someone upstairs probably took care of it. I pity all the stiff suits on Madison who ride clean, modern, polished elevators with little to no fear of death or serious bodily injury! This is the Big, Bad City, man! Toughen up or get the hell out! While we haltingly banged our way down to Floor 1, I envisioned an undesirable scenario and set to ruminating. If we plummet to the basement, I decided, I’ll leap right before the point of impact. Just might save my life. Ah, New York living. It’s grueling! Lol!

And then there’s the sagging, malnourished stairs that lead to the warehouse. My God, but aren’t they a work of art? Every time I ascend those balsa planks, their violent, downward slope to the left brings a chuckle to my eye and a tear to my mouth, and throws off my equilibrium. I’m safe, I tell myself, lips not aquiver. I’m safe, I’m safe. I’m safe. Seeing as Paragon is a legitimate business that cares deeply for their employees, I’m certain the building’s safety inspectors investigate the stairwells on a weekly basis to ensure our well-being. No need for worry!

I really can’t stress enough just how proud I am to work in such an impressive, historic monument to capitalism. And retail. My coworker on the first floor tells me that Andrew Johnson shopped here, once. I’m gonna blindly put aside everything I know about the space-time continuum, open my mouth all the way, and go, “whoooa.”

When the ceiling drips, as tends to happen during heavy rains, the maintenance workers do exactly as you’d expect and staple crude, plastic tarps around the leaks. One must marvel at their ingenuity. Why offer a permanent solution when Band-Aids will do just fine? Twice a week some dude with a vacuum gets up on a ladder and sucks out the brown and purple water. Situation diffused!

I’ve had a nosebleed for four days and everything around me smells like paint, even when I’m not in tennis department, which is receiving a second coat as I type this. Today my urine came out blue. Probably just a chemical imbalance, or something. I’m sure I’ll get over it.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

tonight's top ten list

My iTunes library boasts a mere 2,813 songs. Another 8,000+ tracks rest peaceably on an external hard drive, which--barring some unforseen circumstance--will not be fraternizing with my current playlist anytime soon. Due to severe memory restrictions on this laptop, I allow only DJ-worthy (a.k.a. upbeat rock) songs onto iTunes. Sorry, John Lennon’s Solo Catalogue.

Care to hear which 10 are the most played? I’ll now list them in order, with a brief explanation (excuse?) for their appearance on this exclusive register. Please keep in mind that just over a year ago I accidentally deleted my iTunes library, thus erasing all facts and figures from the “play count” category. That unfortunate mishap will certainly skew the numbers. Many former darlings are nowhere to be found, though back in their heyday they garnered more listens than the current crop. (Since accepting the DJ gig, I've sought out music I wouldn't otherwise entertain.) Also note that I suffer from undiagnosed ADHD, a condition which renders some longer faves--David Bowie’s “Station To Station,” for example, or Sigur Ros’ “Flugufrelsarinn”--ineligible, because a song must be played through in its entirety to count as a full “play.” I often listen to music only until it satisfies my immediate urges, then move swiftly and purposefully (purposelessly?) to the next selection, sometimes cutting three or four minutes early when another track’s bright, ostentatious plumage catches my eye.

Anyway, here’s the rundown:

1) Gang of Four--“To Hell With Poverty” (42 plays) Classic post-punk. What a song title! Although Gang Of Four certainly propagated the punk ethoses of irreverence, vicissitude, and maniacal energy, their unhinged jubilation set them apart from many acts that preceded them. I played this snot anthem at numerous DJ gigs before noting that none of the clowns at the bar care for/about Gang of Four. Whatever. I’ll keep ‘em to myself. Your loss, brah.

2) Blur--“There’s No Other Way” (38 plays) Catchy as hell, and uppity enough in the BPM department to sustain interest. Less obvious than Blur’s safe “Song 2” (speaking as a DJ), this track proves far superior, qualitatively speaking. Everything about the song--hooks, chord changes, vocal delivery, guitar work, pacing--is flawless, and if I could understand what the hell Damon Albarn was saying, I’m sure I’d also find the lyrics satisfying, enlightening, emotionally cathartic, and grammatically correct. Since debuting this one back in early summer ’09, more than a few people have approached the booth after the song concluded to inquire about the artist and/or track name. Maybe I’m doing something right? (See vid below.)

3) Empire Of The Sun--“Walking On A Dream” (38 plays) Thanks to Kate Maxwell for introducing me. When “Indie” and “Dance” join forces in a cotton candy way I usually get pissed off (see: MGMT, Passion Pit), but Empire Of The Sun craft a pretty solid pop song. Check out “We Are The People” from Walking On A Dream, the band's 2009 album of the same name.

4) Kings Of Leon--“Sex On Fire” (33 plays) I’m not proud of this one, but sometimes the frothy, barking masses demand mediocrity, and it’s my duty to provide. I’m hard-pressed to name another band this taupe that's gained comparable levels of mainstream success. Maybe Coldplay? Yeah, Coldplay. Ok, that wasn’t so hard after all. (For the record, I like a few Coldplay songs. They’re boring, yes, but sometimes quite pleasant and easy on the ear.)

5) The Rapture--“House Of Jealous Lovers” (29 plays) Don’t get me started. How perfect is this song? To go further: How perfect is this BAND? They’ve been on near-constant rotation for more than a few months.

6) De La Soul--“Say No Go” (27 plays) “Say No Go” borrows quite heavily from Hall and Oates’ “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do),” which lends this song--er, to be accurate, I suppose I’m addressing the band--even more cred than I was originally willing to grant it. The Bird and The Bee recently recorded a Hall and Oates tribute album which was reviewed by one of the NYC weeklies or biweeklies I read (L Magazine? Village Voice?), and now I’m cranky because I can’t find the article, which suggested that it’s actually ok to praise Hall and Oates without winking because refined listeners no longer write them off as an ironically regarded novelty act, and have rightly concluded--at long last, and after years of snubbing--that H&O are legitimate pop craftsmen who deserve serious consideration. This has nothing to do with De La Soul, of course, but everything to do with justice.

7) Electric Light Orchestra--“Surrender” (27 plays) Righteous song from the 70s that changed absolutely nothing (come to think of it, it never even appeared on an E.L.O. studio record) and will soon be forgotten, which is a shame, really, because for my money it’s one of the most listenable songs to emerge from that decade. I have no idea what it’s about, nor do I care. It’s just pop perfection. Period. Give it a listen:

8) Beck--“E-Pro” (26 plays) Eh, whatever. It’s loud enough, fast enough, and hip enough (Beck’s cool…right?) to appease the Happy Hour crowd. Ergo, 26 plays.

9) The Roots--“The Seed 2.0” (26 plays) “The Seed 2.0” incorporates--quite well--every hip genre of the last forty years, which is why it makes my end-of-decade list for Best Tracks of the 2000s. No question.

10) The Libertines--“Vertigo” (24 plays) Haha. How did this one sneak on the list? I'm kidding, of course, because here we have another near-perfect pop song. It's easy to chuckle at Pete Doherty and his persistent drug problems on those rare instances we Americans encounter OK! magazine, but the man is a musician first and a pale-faced junkie second, as evidenced by the first two Libertines records. "Vertigo" has 24 plays because sensible human beings will always respond to non-pretentious rock and roll, especially if the edges are frayed and somewhat asymmetrical. The people have spoken.

Monday, February 1, 2010

shame on you, mike lupica

Every weekday, with few exceptions, I purchase a copy of the New York Daily News from the corner store for $.50. Seeing as I rarely plan out anything beyond the turning of the hour, you might say this seemingly innocuous newsstand stop marks my last white-knuckled tie to routine.

New Yorkers who choose to read a physical, tangible newspaper on their morning commute are not without options. Off the top of my head, there’s The Wall Street Journal ($2.00) and The New York Times ($2.00) for those who want “real news,” and The New York Post ($.50), the Daily News ($.50), amNew York (free) or Metro (free) for those who prefer their news watered-down, sensationalized and/or easily digestible.

I endorse the News. Though this tabloid lacks intelligent, comprehensive, properly grammatorial coverage, it makes up for those pesky shortcomings by providing conveyors full of hot, gossipy sump, intelligence-insulting pseudo facts, and poorly-notated graphs of dubious legitimacy that serve to complicate issues that weren’t even issues until the News ran out of story ideas. When not engaged in a verbal pissing match with the Post to determine who is the greatest $.50er in town, the News gleefully stamps tales of human folly on front and back page, thus suckering suckers like me out of my quarters, because who among us doesn’t love a good scandal?

Perhaps my favorite News articles are those penned by Mike Lupica (right), a dastardly man who holds the singular distinction of being the worst columnist to ever boast a byline. Lupica, a “writer”/commentator who addresses both politics and sports, struggles mightily with the basics of the English language and pontificates from his Pulpit Of Authority on all matters, though he doesn’t appear to know the first thing about basic political stratagems or even the infield fly rule.

To illustrate Lupica’s ineptitute, I’ll now post a sampling of sentences pulled from his political column in today’s News:

“Young was on ‘20/20’ with Bob Woodruff the other night, telling us all about it, telling about how he protected a liar like Edwards with lies of his own, and now wants us to pin a medal on him because he’s got a new house that needs financing.”

“Sometimes politics seems to be a parade of guys like this, an endless parade of lightweights and phonies and horny, aging adolescents, to the point where you imagine the whole thing with floats, like it’s the Macy’s parade on Thanksgiving.”

“What Edwards did to his wife, who he is, that will never be funny.”

Each of the above examples--especially the last, in which he errs three times in a fourteen word sentence--demonstrate Lupica’s irresponsibility in all matters commatic. Those little curlicued devices are not your personal plaything, dude, and they don’t give you license to lazily mash unrelated or semi-related thoughts into a directionless mega sentence. The English language doesn’t work that way.

Cut the bullshit. Man up. Take pride in your column, and quit relying on airy, weightless repetition (“…telling us all about it, telling about how…”) to fill white space.

Perhaps it’s time to stop stating the obvious. Your “columns” reveal nothing new. Simply regurgitating existing news stories does not a column make. YOUR purpose at the paper is to take those news stories (which have already been--duh--reported) and COMMENT on them. Drawing comparison between a string of recent political scandals and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (?) accomplishes nothing, and frankly makes your work appear all the more sophomoric.

You’re probably all wondering why I read the News if I’m clearly dissatisfied with the quality of its content. Fair inquiry. In response, I’ll say only this: At 9 in the morning, I value light entertainment over heavy news. Given my predilections, News>Times. Though the News won't offer any insight into, say, U.S. relations with Japan, I'm sure to find a few half-baked celebrity quotes to get me through breakfast.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

gee ma, i'm a disc jockey!

So I’m bustin’ to tell you all about my most recent DJ gig, seeing as it was a rather comedic affair. Let’s set the scene:

Off The Wagon is a cleverly--if not predictably--named sports/college bar on MacDougal Street in New York’s Greenwich Village, mere paces from the monolithic CafĂ© Wha? (which once provided stage for Hendrix, Dylan, and Richard Pryor, among others) and the Minetta Tavern, an old Kerouac haunt that’s now nearly impossible to get into. Lots of history in this corner of town, which sort of makes Off The Wagon all the more ironic, seeing as no one in that crowd will be rewriting the history books anytime soon.*

*Unless, of course, beer pong becomes an Olympic sport. Some of these dudes are pretty good.

My DJ booth--a 4x4 foot caged enclosure--was located on the second level of the bar, back in a dimly-lit corner in which I finally, thankfully arrived after three or four minutes of body dodging. The key (which was attached to two dozen other keys on a gatekeeper’s ring) didn’t work in the outer lock, meaning I had to contort my hand and shove on through the narrow prison bars to manipulate the tumbler from the inside. No matter. I made it in all right.

So there I am. There it is. Lots of switches and lights, and a bunch of cable boxes at arm’s reach, since part of the job calls for constant monitoring of the bar's 14 television screens. When a game ends, I must immediately locate another from the guide and change the channel before management gets on my case.

Ok. It’s my first time at this particular bar, and I’ve been tossed into the pond for the sink/swim test. Is Mike a witch? Time will tell.

The Giants game is already up and running on 10 of the 14 teles. I’ve been instructed to play music during commercial breaks and cut back to game sound when on-field action resumes. To achieve these awkward aural switches, I twiddle two modern-looking dials on my left, both of which reside in an outlet just above shoulder level. When commercials commence, I turn the volume knobs counterclockwise (so as to kill all sound from the television) and queue the next song on my playlist. Once sounds cuts out completely, I adjust the output to “iPod DJ” (this is done by pressing the knob IN and maneuvering to a different lighted setting) and gradually up the volume until I reach the proper level of obnoxiousness. Ninety seconds of each song play before I’m back on the field, chillaxin’ in the huddle with an HD Eli. Have you ever seen the pores on the face of a professional quarterback?

More knob-twisting. All the drunkards, of course, could care less what’s on the big screen. Most of them have been blacked out since 7, and how can you blame them? Bukowski, in his most nihilistic moments, described Western civilization as a “bucket of shit,” thus sorta justifying his penchant for self-abuse and misanthropy since, like, what's the point of clean living? The man may have been an asshole, but he’s an asshole who was on to something. A "bucket of shit" doesn't require--nor deserve--doe-eyed clarity. Bring on the happy drink. That's where places like Off The Wagon come in.

Now, one of the benefits of being a DJ at said establishment is I get to drink for free. Pretty sweet, right? Every 45 minutes or so (and I’ve been doing this for nearly every shift since I began in March ’09), I make my way to the bar for a pint. But--But!--it’s a process, especially when there’s a game to deal with and a bunch of whistle-happy referees prolongating (a word? likely not) already-bloated games into four hour affairs. On a typical night, I’ll create an artful playlist on my iTunes and let ‘er rip, thus allowing me to wander from the booth without consequence. Game nights, though, I’m required to be the man at the dial, lest the drunkards miss a moment of irrelevant commentary from the old blowhards pontificating from the press booth.

Anyway, anyway. So I’ve told you about the key. Doesn’t work on the outer lock, which is a certain inconvencience; this logistical hiccup makes my beer runs more perilous. Dire situation, no? Nah. Just means I have to be agile with the key and nimble on the dial. Ninety seconds is usually enough time to dash from the booth and collect my beer, though my process demands precision. (What if I dropped the key while reaching through the gate? Horrors! For some reason I just flashed back to that scene in Titanic. You know, the one where Leo gropes around underwater for that key to unlock the door and save Kate. Remember that?)

Fine. So I’ve figured out how to nab freebie beers without consequence. Want to hear the first two song requests I received on this particular eve? Here they are, presented in convenient list format:

1) Jay-Z and Alicia Keys -- “Empire State Of Mind”
2) Journey -- “Don’t Stop Believin'”

Jesus, I thought. Unreal. Is society this predictable? Do stereotypes really hold so true? To the Jay-Z disciple, I offered an “are you sure?” look, but of course he (sadly) was, and since I’m just a lowly pawn in this frat-bar chess game, I granted his request with something not unlike hatred. The Journey request frightened and dismayed me. Why do people like this song? Would anyone be kind enough to explain? There’s a comment option at the base of this blog. Please let me know. I’m begging you. Do people really want to hear this shit, or is there some contract you have to sign when achieving bro status that demands blind worship of this mediocre song?

Yeah, asshole. I’ll play your asshole track…but I’ll pity you all the while.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

passivity in pop music

I’ve found that most mainstream pop/rock songs are fairly “active.” Rare is the radio track where the singer bemoans the state of the world without offering up a remedy; more often than not, the performer adopts a stance. Take Rage Against The Machine (pic at left), a band who blasts the policies of the U.S. Government at every turn. They encourage activism and political protest. Frank Zappa’s albums are riddled with social commentary (listen to “Trouble Every Day” off 1966’s Freak Out!), but he’s no armchair critic. Rather, he encourages youngsters to “drop out of school before your mind rots from our mediocre educational system.” (Zappa, like Morrissey and Roger Waters, loathed formal education.) Many of Zappa’s quotables can be taken as tongue-in-cheek, but there's no denying his dogged attempts to disrupt the status quo and de-stupify America. In 1967 the Beatles suggested a more organic, hippyistic solution to the world’s problems, maintaining that “All You Need Is Love.”

Now, I realize I’m oversimplifying things here. Not every artist has a game plan, nor--for that matter--are most artists tackling weighty, macro issues in the first place. Localized topics (love and relationships, innocuous storytelling) are more likely targets for the stock songwriter you’ll find on the FM dial, and these songs, by their very nature, don’t demand action. They exist as (sometimes-) pleasant vignettes, which is fine.

All that said, finding radio-friendly songs utterly devoid of hope isn’t as easy as one might expect. Think about it: Many casual music listeners latch onto pop because they find it empowering. Action is power, and the more rah rah mantras a writer can shove into his three-chord song, the better the chance that a listening public will eat it up. (Consider: “Living On A Prayer,” “Born In The U.S.A.,” “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party!).”) Passivity in society is not only looked down upon but scorned, which is why I imagine we don’t hear more songs like the two I’m about to expose. Let’s unveil the sloths!

Last week at Paragon, I was subjected to John Mayer’s “Waiting On The World To Change,” a beige, inconsequential number that means absolutely nothing. Gee, I thought, it’s odd to hear a song where the singer has openly admitted defeat without entertaining any possibilities for resuscitation. He acknowledges that the world kind of sucks, but it’s clear he has no intention of doing anything about it.

Do I blame him? Hell no! I agree that the world kind of sucks sometimes, but I don’t have any grand plans for cataclysmically shaking things up and patching the leaks. Not my department.

Ten Years After’s “I’d Love To Change The World” was released in 1971 on their A Space In Time record. The song title is optimistic enough, but a quick peek at the lyric sheet suffixes that thought train with, “…But I don’t know what to do/So I’m leaving it up to you.”

Never mind that John Mayer is a joke, and Ten Years After is kind of cool. These songs are carbon copies of each other. Only one other song struck me during the writing of this blog, and that’s “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself,” a White Stripes cut from 2003’s Elephant (vid below), which is a variation on the same theme.

What biggees have I overlooked? (Don't cite any of the original punk bands, because I think that's a whole 'nother blog entirely.)

Friday, July 17, 2009

geev that meyn his mahny

Of the 6,494 who plopped down 10K to participate in 2009's WSOP (World Series Of Poker) Main Event, only nine remain. Phil Ivey is still in the mix.

I've been following this guy since college. Many consider Ivey the greatest player in the game today, which ain't loose talk when you consider both his sterling tournament resume and his performance in high-stakes cash games. (I tend to agree with that "greatest player" assessment, though Canada's Daniel Negreanu is a verrrry close second in my book.) Ivey's a Rembrandt at the card table, but has never won the Main Event. He placed 10th in 2003.

[For some reason, the tournament directors pushed back the final stage of this year's Main Event to November 9th, so we'll have to wait 'til then to see how it all plays out. Of the nine finalists, Ivey is third-to-last in chips.]

It's harder and harder these days for a professional player to make it to the WSOP final table, seeing as the # of entrants has spiked dramatically since the fall of 2003 (<--link), when ESPN introduced Hold 'em Poker to the public en masse. In '03, 839 people--mostly poker pros--signed up for the tourney. By 2006 that number had ballooned tenfold, to 8,773.

Anyway, without further ado, let's cut to an Ivey clip. Check out this bluff:

Go get 'em, Phil.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

high praise

In this week’s Village Voice, Mike Powell reviewed Wilco’s Wilco (The Album) and made me laugh so hard I damn near soiled myself. You, sir, are an entertaining read.

Here’s a few excerpts from the review:

“Wilco” is a five-letter word for the quiet slaughter of all that is elemental, passionate, and reverentially stupid about rock ‘n’ roll.

Their peak party moments sound like a good time as described by someone who hasn’t actually had one.

Wilco: The Band That Rocks, Within Reason.

I also didn’t understand what critics and friends meant when they would say things like, “Wilco are the American Radiohead.” Wilco are not the American Radiohead. Wilco are maybe six weary Jackson Brownes. Or what sandblasted jeans would say if they could talk*. Listening to Wilco is like finding a rainbow between gray and tan.

*great sentence.

My sentiments exactly. I’ve spent four or five years scratching my head over Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002), wondering how oh why that record achieved a perfect 10.0 rating from Pitchfork and countless “Album of the Year” honors.

That’s not to say it’s a shitty record. “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart” and the immaculately produced “Jesus, Etc.” are both brilliant, brilliant tracks, and the other nine--though quite boring--won’t harm you. No true gaggers to speak of. But I fail to understand why critic after breathless critic tripped over their own laces penning adulatory, idolatrous reviews that oughta be reserved for the Radioheads and, say, Will Oldhams of the music world…

…which set me to thinking about other grossly overpraised records. Here’s a short list of recent titles:

1) Portishead’s Third (2008)

2) Peter Bjorn and John’s Writer’s Block (2006)

3) MGMT’s Oracular Spectacular (digital release: 2007; physical release: 2008)

4) TV on the Radio’s Dear Science (2008)

Monday, June 29, 2009

beatle lust

[Author's Note: Can't believe I missed a week. Been a busy man, and my Wi-Fi went out for six days. Anyway...I'm back.]

Eight of the nine customers who participated in last week's "Name Five Beatles Songs" pop quiz failed miserably. I'm concerned. Only one dude managed all five, but not before trying to pass off Abbey Road as a song, not an album. After me and my Paragon coworkers granted him a mulligan (in Golf Speak, mulligans are unpenalized 'do-overs' after poor shots), he pulled on through.

All this Beatle talk got me thinking. How many can I name?

For many, many years, the Beatles were my band. My father spun their LPs when I was 2 or 3 years old (fave songs at the time: "When I'm Sixty-Four," "Come Together," and "A Taste Of Honey"), so you can say I've grown up with them. In college I took a dream vacation to Liverpool (<--link here) and spent four days exploring sacred Beatle grounds. Along the way I read eight or ten biographies on the band, met Pete Best (drummer before Ringo) at Chicago's Beatlefest, attended a Paul McCartney concert at London's Earl's Court Theatre, and spent hours upon hours in small music shops poring over their records. I've at one time or another owned every U.S. Beatles release and have given each of them dozens, if not hundreds, of spins, so 100 songs didn't seem entirely out of the question.

Tally at one hour: 102. Not bad, I thought, but there's got to be a few dozen I'm leaving out. Later, while on the subway, I realized I'd neglected Magical Mystery Tour entirely, an unconscionable omission. Nine tracks brought the number to 111. Then I apprehended a few stragglers from Help and Please Please Me, and some singles ("Rain," "Day Tripper") that never appeared on a studio album. I kept at it, nose to grindstone.

Shortly after dinner, surrender.


Of course I went back to check myself, anxious to see what'd been forgotten. Turns out a few BIGGIES were overlooked. Here's the short list:

"Can't Buy Me Love"
"Eight Days A Week"
"Happiness Is A Warm Gun"
"While My Guitar Gently Weeps"
"The Long And Winding Road"
"Hello Goodbye"


I'd remembered "Wild Honey Pie," a one minute throwaway from The Beatles, but not "Happiness Is A Warm Gun," which is often cited as one of the strongest numbers on that record. When thinking of how best to size up my exclusion of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," I realized it'd be equivalent to compiling a list of the 50 states and leaving out only, say, Colorado. Sorry, George.

I didn't limit myself to Beatle originals (on their first two albums, many of the songs were covers), but chose not to exploit the live BBC Sessions, which probably would have yielded twenty more. After some deliberation, I decided both Past Masters records were fair game.

Isn't it amazing how well our brains receive music? Even if you're not a musical person (or even a casual fan), I'll bet you can sing or hum along to tunes you haven't heard in fifteen years. Think about that! Most of us probably can't remember the plot of a movie we saw six months ago, but we'll respond to a Sesame Street ditty that captivated us at 6. (Remember that kick-ass song about numbers by the Pointer Sisters? 1 2 3 4 5...6 7 8 9 10...11 12? I rediscovered it a few weeks ago after twenty years and recognized every note, every vocal inflection. The vid--which is a must see--has been attached at the base of this post.) We've all owned LPs/cassettes/CDs at one time or another. Think back to what you were listening to during your formative, adolescent years; chances are, many of those melodies will remain with you until late adulthood.

'Bout a month ago a friend lent me Daniel J. Levitin's This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession, a book which I'd highly recommend to any and all music nuts. Sometimes it's a bit overbearing, since it's so technical, but Levitin does an admirable job trying to explain the goings-on in our craniums as we listen. Humans store sound in impressive ways.

Anyone feel like quizzing themselves? How many songs from your favorite band can you name? Let's see what you got.

Also, if anyone out there can beat my Beatle total, your next beer is on me.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

give me aged gouda or give me death

I’ve got a serious cheese problem.

This afternoon, after an impulsive, wholly unnecessary food purchase (two heavily Parmesanned slices and a bottle of ginger ale) at Kingston Pizza, I headed down to the grocery and reached for a hand basket. Then I got lost in the aisles.

Some items taunted me more than others. A few multi-colored packages with recognizable names (they were very pretty, and positioned at eye-level) badmouthed their generic opponents and muttered something about standards of quality, but I dismissed their propagandistic ways. In all things sport (and food), I pull for the underdog.

The cereals were particularly aggressive. I told them to shut up. They hissed and hissed. Things became confused, like. What to buy?

After a few tense minutes I re-emerged at the front of the store and didn’t know what else to do, so I got in the checkout line. My hand basket wasn’t empty any more. Now there were some random items in it. (Shopping lists are for pussies.) I stood there in line and looked down at the basket to see what made the cut, since your guess is as good as mine.

Here’s what I discovered:

1) One half gallon of milk

2) One box of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese

3) One brick of sharp cheddar cheese

I’m not making this up. Those were the items. Jesus, I thought, what the hell is wrong with me? I go from a pizza lunch to--this? My poor body.

“Ma’am,” I yelled, motioning to the cashier, “what sorta scam are you running here? Where’s the veggies? All you sell are dairy products! You should be ashamed of yourselves! How’s a guy to scare up a square meal in this town? I have half a mind to…”

“Right over there, sir,” she replied. “Behind you. Next to the fruits.”

“Ahhh hell,” I said.

As I type this, I'm drinking from a glass of milk. God help me.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


This is my 64th entry. [An aside: Whenever I see that number, I immediately think of McCartney’s “When I’m Sixty-Four."] The first was posted on July 29, 2008.

I’ve been at this thing for almost a year.

Because I’m a very slow writer, this blog has been as laborious as it’s been rewarding. In many instances, I commence an entry on Monday, only to wrap it on a Wednesday. That’s why I post only once a week. The words never come out just right the first time through, so I revise, revise, revise to avoid offering up a sloppy, incomplete entry. Even now, I find myself correcting posts from four, five months ago. In all things blog, I’m a neurotic perfectionist.

When you factor in the time I spend scouring Flickr for appropriate images, or even the endless minutes tweaking the HTML code (bolding words, italicizing others, spacing out the paragraphs correctly, embedding links/videos, etc.), my blog becomes a part-time job in itself.

I don’t get paid for this. My blog offers zero return, monetarily speaking, and I’d guess that less than forty people read each entry. Why, then, do I dedicate so many of my hours to this thing?

Well, there’s a few reasons:

1) My ego's a paunchy glutton, so I thrive on feedback. When readers take the time to message me, their words make the whole process worthwhile. (Now I just have to get better about responding to their responses. Sorry, people. I’ll try to step up my game.)

2) Like most humans, I want to be thought of as an intelligent person. Since I rarely feel as if I say anything worthwhile in everyday conversation, I’ve turned to the page to express myself more eloquently. See, my brain works slowly. There’s a lotta information crammed up there, but oftentimes it takes me minutes, hours, days to retrieve it. Improvisation ain’t my bag.

3) I enjoy the struggle. Writing, as mentioned above, does not come easily to me. Though I pride myself on the finished product, I’m not blessed with the writing powers of, say, a Lester Bangs [Bangs, a prolific music critic who I previously cited in this entry, would take assloads of amphetamine and churn out six, eight pages of copy in mere minutes. Then, striking the final key, he’d rip the paper from the typer and place it--without a hint of hesitation--on his editor’s desk. Bangs’ coworkers observed this process many times over and marvelled at his speed, since the manuscripts were unfailingly brilliant and required little, if any, revision].

Writing humbles me on a daily basis, but I’m rather proud of the voice I’ve developed. Every step of the process--my choice of topic, the hours spent over a Word document, transferral to the blog page, image selection--is deeply satisfying, and I feel as an architect must when of his own designs becomes a physical, fully-realized structure.

4) Up until recently, I've been a bit of a transient. Since graduation in ’04, I’ve worked for 50+ companies, lived in four different towns/cities, and fallen in and out with countless groups of friends and acquaintances. In keeping a blog, I provide myself the illusion of stability, since I’m posting at semi-regular intervals. These entries neutralize the madness that is New York City and afford me welcome respite from all these urban volatilities. In other words, my blog is a constant in an otherwise inconsistent life.

The next bullet point is the biggee.

5) I write because someday I’m going to die. It’d be a shame to check out and leave nothing behind. Sure, I’d exist in the memories of any remaining friends and family (a thought which provides some small measure of solace), but--frankly--I’m more interested in marking my existence in a permanent, calcified way. (I understand that a blog ain’t tangible, but it will be accessible long after my physical body expires…which, in this digital age, is the next best thing.)

If you think these moribund thoughts don’t frighten me, you’re crazy. Consider: I’m admitting that I write not to convey information and/or provide a fresh take on a given topic, though these are two qualities I'd assume to be pre-reqs for any real writer! On the contrary, I’ve suggested that I’m writing solely for myself, so that I might gain the favor of others by showcasing my talents. Aren’t artists supposed to be above all this? Don’t writers write because they’d burst if they didn’t let it all out? Don’t writers write for noble, worldly reasons, so as to contribute to the betterment of society?

Well, I’d like to think I’m not alone in my solipsism. Surely I’m not the first would-be writer to struggle with this. Perhaps that’s why many writers become nihilistic, self-destructive alcoholics. It’d make sense, wouldn’t it? We’re taught from a young age to be selfless and altruistic. When our actions so flagrantly contradict these teachings (especially when these actions are intimately tied to our core work), what emotion assumes a domineering position in our psyche? One word: Guilt.

That’s not to say all writers are selfish bastards, nor is that to say I’m a selfish bastard. There’s a lot of grey in there. I realize that, in attempting this entry, I’ve painted myself into a corner. To say I don’t care about ideas and information is a gross oversimplification. I do care, just not as much as I feel I ought to. On Sunday, I said these words to a friend: “Sometimes, in order to complete a blog entry, I adopt enthusiasms that are not my own.” I quickly explained myself, saying, “It’s not that I’m lying. It’s not that at all. I believe what I write, but sometimes I seem more invested in a certain topic than I actually am.”

An example might be the Kid Rock entry. Yes, I hate that effing song. Yes, it makes me irrationally angry. But do I care that it’s out there, that it exists? Not really. In order to write a plump, full blog with just the right dosage of embittered snarkery, though, I had to adopt a voice. So I did. And I ran with it. That’s what I mean by “enthusiasms that are not my own.” I wrote that bit for purposes of entertainment and ego-stroking, not because "All Summer Long" was ruining my life. In the grand spectrum, that stupid song doesn't mean anything, and hardly warranted even ten minutes of my time.

I’d assume many of the great writers and thinkers (Nietzsche (pic at right), Joyce, Orwell, just to name a few) cared much about social justice and the order of things, which suggests that I may be more self-centered than most. I’ve created this entry with the full realization that I’m not speaking for writers as a whole.

Why do artists create?

Writers/bloggers/painters/musicians, what drives you? Please contribute…I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


Big ups to Lucas Cometto (of Muppets and Puppets, L.L.C.) for his fine lawyerly work! Rachelle removed the bio. Happy day.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


[Author's Note: I'm including pics that are in no way tied to the written content of this entry, since I can't think of an appropriate visual theme. Just for the heck of it, I've posted photographs of Bauhaus (the goth band, not the German art school).]

As some of you may know, I’ve been writing artist bios on the side for extra money. (Artist bios are typically posted under the “ABOUT ME” section on a musician’s MySpace page and sent out--with a hard copy of their latest album--to promoters/music mag editors/radio stations.)

If someone requests my services, I in turn ask them for relevant background information (hometown, musical training, influences, core aesthetic, etc.) and song samples, and then set to work creating a personalized bio.

My rates are negotiable. Ideally, I should be collecting $100 for a page-long bio, but that hasn’t happened yet. When I write for friends, for example, I hesitate to charge the full amount. In other instances, I’m writing for musicians who either don’t have much money (in which case we meet in the middle), or would rather not pay at all, thank you very much. Rachelle* falls into the latter category.

*So as to avoid a potential ass-beating, I've changed her name.

Rachelle, a young singer/songwriter who specializes in oversexualized dance music, is based out of the Bronx. She found me on Craigslist. (I'd attached multiple writing samples--including this blog’s URL--to a short bio of my own, marketing myself as a freelancer.) Rachelle was my first nibble.

Her agent, Deb (name also changed), was the one who actually contacted me. We discussed length (three or four paragraphs) and payment ($80). Later that day, she forwarded along Rachelle's outdated MySpace page and a few phrases she wanted included in the final product.

I completed Draft #1 a few days later. Deb received it, raved about it, asked me to correct two or three minor points. Later that day, I revised and re-sent.

Then I didn’t hear from her for awhile. Hmm. I’m calling, I’m e-mailing, I’m leaving polite messages. Nothing.

Late March, after a number of days, I finally get her on the phone. Deb, says I, what the eff? (Ok, I didn’t say that.) She: "Mike, it's a fantastic bio! Very professional. I want to make sure you get your does April 6th sound?" "Uhhhh," says I, "why so late? That’s ten days away!" "Well," says she, "I don’t get paid ‘til the 5th." (This, readers, is when I realized I’d been thoroughly suckered.) She: "Anyway, what was the price we agreed on? $60?" Me: "No, $80. Eighty dollars." She: "Can I give you $60?"

Now the ol’ blood pressure is spiking, but I intend to get SOMETHING outta the deal, so I warily agree. Fine, Deb, $60, sure, whatever. The sixth, you say? I’ll come and pick it up that afternoon. She: "Ok."

You know the story from here. Sixth rolls around. I call. Nothing. Send off an e-mail. Nothing. Every other day, I leave a voicemail. (This goes on for two full weeks.) Finally, I reach my breaking point and drop this in her inbox:

DEB. I'm going to get the $ from you, one way or another. If I have to, I'll come to Rachelle's next NY show to collect. Please show me some respect and return my messages.

Looking back, I could've been a bit wiser in my choice of words. It actually shames me that I stooped to that. Live and learn, I guess.

Two days later, I somehow get her on the phone. Now it’s war. She cites the above e-mail and accuses me of threatening her. Me: “Listen, Deb, you’ve failed to respond to any of my messages, which would lead any sane person to believe that you’re not intending to pay me. I understand the wording could've been a bit softer in that e-mail. For that, I apologize. The sentiment, though, was pretty spot-on. I intend to receive payment. Because you dropped off the face of the Earth, you left me no choice but to show up at a gig or something and approach you face-to-face. If I want to collect, what other choice do I have?”

She freaks: “We don’t want your damn bio! We ain't using it! I ain’t paying you no $60 for no bio! Hold on, my husband wants to talk to you.” So she puts him on. We speak for five minutes. Nice guy. At the end of the convo, he even calls me ‘buddy,’ which kind of surprises me.

After giving me a stern talking-to about how to treat a woman (I again apologize for the e-mail), he assures me the bio won't be used. Fine, I say. Not a problem. Situation diffused. I hang up the phone.

Well, two days ago (and 2+ weeks after my convo with the hubby) I go to Rachelle’s fresh, revamped web page, and my bio--shore nuff--is displayed front and center. If you want to see the link, please e-mail/message me. I'd rather not post it in my blog.

Another phone call. I ask her what the eff. Deb begins to shout. Me: "Listen, Deb, either take it down or cough up the dough. I'm not a sucker." She hangs up on me, mid-sentence.

So I sent this e-mail:

Hi Deb--

The last thing I want is a fight. Please hear me out:

If you want to use the bio for Rachelle's homepage, you're welcome to it. All I ask, then, is $60, which is the rate that we agreed on. If you remove the bio from her page, there's no issue, and you don't owe me a dime. Pretty simple.

Why haven't you responded to my messages? I know you're reading these e-mails. If the bio is not removed from her page by this Friday (6/5), I'll be contacting my lawyer. Please show some courtesy to someone who provided you a service.

I'm not a bad guy, Deb...I just don't like being taken advantage of. How would you like to be stiffed out of payment? I'm not writing these things for my health.

Thanks for your time. I'll be checking her page throughout the week to see if she's taken it down.


I don't have a lawyer.

The money's now of secondary concern; this is about something else entirely. When you get right down to it, I'm seeking recognition for my work. Call it justice. (Ayn Rand would be proud of me for fighting the good fight, though she'd probably scold me for not foreseeing this whole debacle.)

The war rages on...

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

how to eat like a prisoner

The employee lunch break policy at Paragon is as follows:

A) If working less than 6 hours, you are NOT (not!) entitled to a break. No sir! Should one politely approach a floor manager, however, odds are on the fat side of the scale that he’ll (she’ll? Let’s don't be sexist…) find someone to cover your department for 15 minutes, which is more than enough time to retrieve a tissue from your pants pocket, blow your nose, and return tissue to pocket. The ambitious might even dare a sip of water from the fountain (located in right rear of store, one hundred and twelve paces from the golf department).

B) If working 6-8 hours, you are awarded a 30 minute break. Well, most of the time. In truth, break length varies depending on whether you’re scheduled as a full- or part-time employee. The managers mentioned something about this at the last morning meeting, but I wasn’t really listening all too good. Seeing as I’m part-time and whatnot, perhaps I’m only allotted 15 minutes (is this conceivable/humane?!), even during a 7 hour shift. Maybe I've been at it all wrong, taking these mastodonian breaks. But I'm a renegade, baby. The drummer in my head plays half-hour sets. So it goes.

C) If working over 8 hours, you are entitled to a full hour. Not sure how the whole full- vs. part-time thing plays into this. Perhaps the managers oughta put these directives into writing?

Chris Rock:

“You know how you can tell you got a real bad job? (Pause.) When you get that half-hour lunch break. By the time you put on your jacket, walk around the corner, go to the sandwich spot, order a sandwich, wait for them to make it, then get in another line to pay for it, TWENTY EIGHT MINUTES have passed! Now you’re rushing back to work, you’re eating your sandwich, you’re spilling beer down your shirt, and when you get in your boss has the nerve to say, ‘Hey man, you’re eight minutes late.’ ‘Fuck you!’”

I know the half-hour break all too well; it’s been part of my routine for more than a few months. But I’ve got a system (which, admittedly, looks and sounds a lot like the scenario Chris described above). Let's break it down:

1) One, first: Decide on a restaurant. My options, of course, are limited to those eateries--Chipotle, GoodBurger, Chop't (salad joint), Dogmatic (gourmet sausage place)--within a two-block radius. Should I, like a reckless fool, choose to venture deeper into the East Village, I perform a routine check of the ol' laces to assure their tautness, so as to avoid a mid-jog wardrobe malfunction.

2) Remove nametag (required flair) and Save 15% Of The Difference button (more flair, and please don't ask), put in left pants pocket. Fold morning daily to crossword page. Place pen in right pants pocket, tip down, so as to make for a faster, more efficient de-holstering when I turn my attentions to the crossword.

3) Proceed to punch clock. Wait until digital time thingy turns from one minute to the next before swiping out, so as to maximize my 30 mins.

4) Swipe.

5) Haul ass up the stairs (time clock is located in the lower level, twenty seconds from the front door), bowling over/elbowing slow-moving tourists.

6) Jaywalk across street, traffic be damned.

7) Order salad/chicken sandwich/burger/taco/turkey club, breathlessly.

8) Pay, frantically.

9) Wait.

10) Wait a bit more.

11) Receive salad/chicken sandwich/burger/taco/turkey club, jog to nearest available table.

12) Eat/graze. (No time to chew, or for proper utensils.)

13) Complete two items in crossword puzzle. (Clues: Giants slugger (answer: Ott) and fencing weapon (answer: epee).)

14) Check time on cell phone. (Twenty-three minutes have passed.)

15) Dab lips with napkin.

16) Deposit contents of tray into garbage can.

17) Jaywalk.

18) Bust into front door of store with elbow. Half-run/half-walk to stairs, half-run/half-walk down stairs, turn corner, elbow through another door, remove time card from wallet (hands shaking all the while), slide time card through machine. Report to golf department.

19) Affix flair. Sell stuff.

Done. Easy!

Monday, May 18, 2009

music, r.i.p.

Kid Rock’s “All Summer Long” (U.S. release date: April 25, 2008) is the worst song of all time.

You’ve all heard it, even if you haven’t. I’ll attach it here, ‘case you’re feeling particularly masochistic:

What Kid basically does is weld together (is that redundant?) two snoozers, Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London” and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s omnipresent “Sweet Home Alabama,” passing off the end result as an original creation. Both riffs are shamelessly plagiarized, but not in a cool, schizophrenic, Beastie Boys/Girl Talk sorta way (sampled briefly, and for a singular desired effect); rather, Kid milks these tunes ‘til the udders chap and crack, offering up nothing from his own teat.

Having stolen his backing music, Kid half-talks/half-sings for a few minutes about women, beer, and youthful debauchery, pausing only for gutless guitar solos and keyboard plunkeries that are exact facsimiles (again…redundant?) of every solo ever.

The resulting mashup represents The Death Of All That Is Well And Good, musically speaking.

Though Kid is the foulest, most odiferous dingleberry (slang. a small clot of dung, as clinging to the hindquarters of an animal) in this great tragedy, a few others deserve mention:

1) Mike E. Clark.

Clark, who co-produced the track, was the wanker who suggested “Werewolves” and “Alabama”--two of the most stale, overplayed songs on classic rock radio--as viable mash options. Wikipedia, Mike Elwood’s one-stop research destination (sue me), tells me Clark’s also produced nine studio albums for the Insane Clown Posse, which is kinda hilarious. Recession casualty Blender (whose print edition is, as of April 2009, defunct) once rated Insane Clown Posse the Worst Band Of All Time. Now, it’d be easy for me to take a shot at Clark for producing the WBOAT, but that’d be lazy, reprehensible blogging on my end, seeing as I’ve never really listened to the Insane Clown Posse. Therefore, I won't hold that against him. Mike E. Clark--ICP or no ICP--is still a jerk, though, for contributing to “All Summer Long” and encouraging such destructive, irresponsible mashupping.

2) The Listening Public.

“All Summer Long” went #1 in a number of countries, which just goes to show that people will listen to A-N-Y-T-H-I-N-G. Seriously, Public, are you really this easy to please? Have you no standards? If this is “good,” what’s “bad?” Where’s the line? Do you not have one? And don’t FOR A SECOND tell me you “like everything,” because you do not. That ain’t human. When we stop discriminating between shite art and real art, the world begins to die, one brain cell at a time.

3) Kid Rock’s High School English Teachers.

Try these lyrics on for size: “And we were trying different things/We were smoking funny things.” Is it legal to rhyme ‘things’ with ‘things?’ Or how ‘bout this: “She was seventeen/And she was more than in-between.” Understand? Me neither.

4) Anthony DeCurtis.

DeCurtis, a contributing editor at Rolling Stone magazine, wrote a review. Here’s his incisive analysis of this seminal, genre-defining track:

(Kid) Rock shows his wistful side, too. "All Summer Long" takes its inspiration from "Night Moves," by Bob Seger (Kid's Michigan idol), mashing up the piano lick from "Werewolves of London" with bits of "Sweet Home Alabama" for a story of sexual awakening. It's stirring stuff.

Stirring stuff? I challenge you, Mr. DeCurtis, to identify even one (1) element of this song that is aurally or intellectually “stirring” on ANY level. Call it listenable, call it harmless, call it light, call it a “feel-good summer track” (ack), but do NOT call it "stirring." Shame on you.

Sorry for being so curmudgeony and embittered, but I’m forced to listen to this damn song every day at Paragon. Perhaps, given this new bit of information, you might forgive me? Paragon’s all about the Top 40. All the time. I hear Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” literally once an hour. Seeing as I’ve been on the clock for 240 hours since my hiring…

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


I’ve kissed Judd Nelson, that dude from The Breakfast Club. (Pic at right).

Not directly, mind you. But I’ve kissed a girl (and I liked it!) who once made out with country singer Keith Urban at a party. Keith dated superfox Niki Taylor intermittently from 2002-2004, and is now married to Nicole Kidman, a well-known actress and albino.

Kidman’s other bedpost notches include Lenny Kravitz, Robbie Williams, and possibly Adrien Brody (to be fair, the latter was an unsubstantiated rumor). Her most cavernous, conspicuous notch, of course, is the sometimes affable, sometimes maniacal Tom Cruise, whom (did I use "whom" correctly?) she married in 1990. They divorced in 2001.

British pop star Robbie Williams once dated model/actress Rachel Hunter (pictured).

Hunter married irrelevant cheeseball and housewife panty-dropper Rod Stewart in 1990. They separated in 1999. She’s also bedded Bruce Willis, Kevin Costner, some dude named Michael Weatherly (I’ve lazily copped all this info from Wikipedia, ‘case you haven’t noticed), Oasis’ Liam Gallagher, and perennial bad boy Tommy Lee.

Tommy Lee slept with half of America while touring behind Crue in the 80s. He also married Heather Locklear in 1986. (Divorce: 1993). Two years later, he married Pamela Anderson. They called it quits in 1998.

Anderson has been married three times. Tommy Lee was the first, followed by scrum maggot Kid Rock and a guy named Rick Solomon. (You may remember him from the Paris Hilton sex tape.)

Solomon had a thing with Paris, as mentioned, but also with 90210’s Shannon Doherty. They married in 2002 and divorced one year later.

Shannon Doherty was also engaged to Judd Nelson, but the wedding never took place.

Syllogistically, I've had my tongue in Judd Nelson's mouth. Must admit, I'm rather surprised Kevin Bacon's name didn't pop up.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

cut your hair, hippie

I tumbled out, naked and triumphant, on December 6, 1982, shortly after my father and mother were pulled over by a police officer for exceeding the posted speed limit on a four lane highway. They received no penalty, though, because my mother was about to lose nearly ten pounds (me) in just under an hour.

Sometimes the law doesn’t mean anything at all. Sometimes the urgency of the moment demands a breach of legal contract. The world is not cut-and-dry.

In this particular case, my parents couldn’t afford to color inside the lines. The situation forebade it. See, I was sick of placentas and whatnot. I wanted out. I’d been kicking and hollering. My dad did the right thing; he pressed the gas pedal all the way to the mat, ignoring the numbers on the signs. He pretended they weren’t even there, or that they said 85 instead of 55. All the while my mom breathed, very carefully.

Anyway, they (cops, pigs, 5-0, po-po) pulled him over for violating the Law, which is written down in books and on those black and white signs all down the highway. When the officer approached the driver’s side window, prepared to tell my father that he’d screwed up, my dad pointed at my mom’s belly. That was enough. The officer ran back to his vehicle, flipped on his emergency lights, and escorted them to the delivery room. That was twenty-six years ago. Just now (10:48 Eastern Standard time on May 4, 2009), I phoned my mother in LaGrange Park, IL to ask if I was born with hair. “A little,” she said, “but not much. You looked like E.T.”

My hair was blonde, once. I know from the pictures, which are pressed into faux leather albums and shelved according to year in the nether bowels of our dining room Lladro cabinet. Up until the age of four or five, my hair was blonde. I guess I mentioned that already in the first sentence of this paragraph.

Then shit got weird. My forehead began to expand and broaden, but the rest of my face didn’t catch up. On a proportional human being, eyes are located halfway between the crown of the head and the tip of the chin. Go to a mirror. See for yourself.

I'm the exception. For many, many years, my eyes were where most people’s cheeks are. In the words of Matt Dillon’s character in There’s Something About Mary, I “had a forehead like a drive-in movie theater.”

To compound matters, my hair began to grow straight up, rather than falling across my forehead like a normal person’s. A fearsome cowlick developed in the mess of hair above my right eyebrow. Nothing--not spittle, not gel, not a tightened baseball cap--tamed it. That two-inch wide patch fought gravity at every turn. As you might imagine, I looked ridiculous. Cute, yes, but ridiculous nonetheless. Suddenly, inexplicably, I found myself cursed with an eight-inch forehead and indecisive hair that assumed the shape of a sine wave.

Then fifth grade came around. I grew into my forehead, finally. To mark the occasion, I buzzed off most of my hair and rocked one of those squarish, militaristic, Mickey Mantle crewcuts that went out of style sometime in ’62 or ’63.

By this point, my hair had darkened into a deep brown, as it is today. Not sure what precipitated that cosmetic change (diet? lack of sun exposure?), but it was probably for the best. Blonde hair doesn’t suit me.

The man who cut my hair back in Illinois was from not from this country. He was from another country. Poland, maybe, or perhaps Italy. I’m pretty sure his name was Carmen. He was a barber, not a stylist, and he was pretty old. Nice guy, very cheery. When he spoke (which was rare), I didn’t understand a damn word, even though those words were English. His accent proved inpenetrable, so I just stopped trying after awhile.

Carmen’s barber shoppe was a barber shoppe, all right; it even had one of those cylindrical candy canes rotating outside, like in the movies. After Carmen finished the trim, he’d use a vacuum on my neck to suck up any rogue hairs that hadn’t made the floor, and then he’d reward me with a palmful of free Bazooka Joe bubble gums (the $.05 ones that come with a wax comic) at the register. Eight dollars for a buzz. Carmen rung up the sale on a machine that may have been around before the first World War.

Oh yes, before I forget:

After Carmen vacuumed my neck and removed the cape, he’d reach for a small stick of product that looked and smelled a lot like roll-on deoderant and gel the front of my hair, effectively pushing it straight up and freezing it into place. Now the whole front of my squared head was a short, angular cowlick, which meant that I was doomed to girlfriendlessness for another few months.

I maintained that hairstyle for all of the fifth grade.
Also, sixth.
And seventh grade.
Eighth grade, too.
And all of high school.
And the first year of college.

Then, sophomore year, something happened to me. I decided the Mickey Mantle cut was no longer suiting my needs. Since arriving to college, I’d (re-)discovered Floyd, Zeppelin, Sabbath and all the other classic rock delinquents, so it seemed natural that I rockify my style a bit and adopt the look. The summer before my sophomore year, I stopped cutting my hair and expanded my wardrobe. Shelving my rugby shirts and button-downs, I invested in band t-shirts and jeans that eventually bore holes in the knees.

The mop got impressively shaggy. Within a few months, my ears were no longer visible, and the hair in front of my eyes, when stretched, reached all the way to my mouth. It began to curl, too. Have you seen Almost Famous? I looked just like the kid journalist.

Reaction was mixed. My parents hated it, naturally, but some of my friends really dug it. Girls began paying more attention me. I felt more attitudinal. Long hair presents some obvious problems, though. Here’s a few:

1) For every twenty days, one or two are legitimate “Good Hair Days.” The rest are a blinded punch in the dark. Maybe I’ll connect; maybe I won’t.

2) My hair, because it’s so thick (barbers have told me that it’s some of the thickest they’ve ever cut) and strawlike, does not respond well to humidity. On warm, sticky days, my hair gets LARGE.

3) Every time I wash my hair, it looks downright crappy for 48 hours afterwards. I used to combat this problem by going a week or more between washings, but that brought on a whole other slew of problems.

4) Sometimes people get married. Married people tend to like clean-cut people at their weddings.

5) Employers tend to like clean-cut people at their businesses.

6) Four out of five people on the street assume I’m a stoner.

7) I can’t fall out of bed and roll into public. Not with eight-inch hair.

8) I’m forced to wear a stocking cap immediately after showering, so that my hair will dry in the appropriate manner.

With few exceptions, I’ve maintained this shaggy look for seven or eight years. It’s my trademark. My calling card.

If you’re wondering why I just wrote an entire post about hair, I’ll tell you why:

Two days ago, I got my hair cut.

It used to look like this:

Now, it looks like this:

Notice that in Picture #2, the mullet's been isolated and conquered. Here I am, ladies. Come and get it.