Nov 12 2009

sleepy in seattle

I’m in Seattle.  It’s the first time I have been here.  I like it so far, but I’m getting very tired.  I’ve had a lot going on over the past week and it’s all starting to catch up to me.  I’m going to go to sleep now.  I’m glad I flew across the country to go to bed really early in a city I have never visited before.  That was smart planning.  More later.

Oct 5 2009

neighborhood #3 (power out)

My senior year of college, I took a semester-long vacation here in Alexandria, Virginia.  I was ostensibly in an exchange program with the urban campus of Virginia Tech's marine biology school, but I was only taking twelve credits and all I had to do was pass.  More important things (by which I mean anything but school) were on my mind.  As you might expect, by mid-September I was out of money and needed to get a job.

One of my friends had recently found work at the coffee house across the street, and I thought that would be a good way to earn some walking around money while eliminating the sizable line item in my budget for caffeinated beverages.  (Employees, at the time, got free coffee whenever they wanted.)  I stopped by when Tine was working, and officially inquired about a job.  Per management's instructions, I was given a paper plate and a pen.  The thinking was that if I couldn't figure out on my own what to write, they didn't want me working there.  At the top of the plate, I wrote "Hotrod!"  They told me later that's the only reason they hired me.

My first training shift was during a weekday morning rush.  It didn't take me very long to master the subtleties of steaming milk for a cappuccino versus steaming milk for a latte.  I was also able to steam the milk without losing track of the time on my espresso shots.  And, obviously, I already knew how to pour drip coffee.  After a couple hours, Misha – the owner – asked me to pull him a shot of espresso.  When he asked me for a second, I knew I was doing okay.  I went back the next day for a few more hectic hours, after which I was scheduled for my first solo shift the following Saturday afternoon.  Aside from the specifics of the drinks, the only thing they told me during my orientation was that my shift officially started fifteen minutes prior to the hour and that they wouldn't tolerate tardiness.  They'd fired people for being late for work only once.  That Friday, the guys from Cal Poly threw a party.  Dedicated to achieving the noble goals I'd set for myself that semester, I attended their party and became spectacularly intoxicated.  I stumbled home in the wee hours of the morning and fell unconsciously into bed.

The next day, I awoke with a start.  I looked to the clock next to my bed and the numbers were blinking.  At some point during the night, the power had gone out.  The time had reset to midnight and the alarm was off.  I needed to be at work for my first real shift – the first shift for
which I would be paid – by quarter to two in the afternoon.  I leapt out of bed and ran across the room to collect my watch from the top of the dresser.  At a glance, I could see the hands formed a right angle.  Shit!  It was three o'clock!  I was over an hour late!  I really needed this job, mainly because it was the easiest and most convenient one I could find that paid decent money.  Getting fired would be a huge pain in my ass.  I quickly changed clothes and ran across the street.  As I approached the door, I could see Misha behind the counter at the espresso machine.  Shit!  They got the fucking owner to cover my shift because I was late!  I was SO fired.

I burst through the door and exclaimed: "THE POWER WENT OUT IN MY BUILDING!"  Misha slowly turned to me with a blank stare.  "NO!  REALLY!  THE POWER WENT OUT IN MY BUILDING!"  After a beat, Misha asked, tactfully, "What the hell are you talking about?"  I explained.  "My power went out – sometime during the night.  My alarm never went off."  Misha replied simply: "So?"  "That's why I'm late," I pleaded.  "It wasn't my fault."  Once again, Misha leveled his steely gaze upon me, and after what seemed an eternity asked: "Hotrod, what time do you think it is?"  I looked back down at my watch.  The hands formed a right angle.  It was nine o'clock in the morning.
None of this has anything to do with anything.  I've just never told this story here and didn't have anything I wanted to say about the Stiff Little Fingers.

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Aug 7 2009

i wasn't expecting chocolate

I've been in a bit of a funk lately.  You can probably tell.  I post significantly more when I'm feeling good – except when I post about feeling bad.  All of which is to say that this post is long overdue, and I'm sorry.

Last week, I met a Voxer I didn't already know in real life.  That may not seem like a big deal, but actually it's the first time ever that I have met a real person from the vast anonymity of the internet.  Homebody was working last week at her company's home office, which just so happens to be a few blocks from mine.  (Coincidentally, her home office is in a building I know quite well.  My architect friend Joey Jo-Jo Junior Shabadoo worked extensively on it a little over ten years ago.  He's quite proud of that one.)  She came out to meet Daby, Emma, and me at the awesome Destroyer show on Tuesday and then we met up again for an afternoon beverage on Thursday.  I wish I'd had more time.  Even though she insulted me, my first encounter with an internet stranger was far less painful than I expected.  Despite all my bluster, I get nervous meeting new people.  A lifetime of bad first impressions will do that to a guy.

Anyway, a week later I was in my office's workroom putting together this paper on sea cucumbers I've been working on when I saw a small package in my mailbox.  Now, I don't get a ton of mail at work as it is and I certainly wasn't expecting any packages.  But as soon as I picked it up I knew what it was.  I carried it back to my desk and asked – before I even opened it – my co-worker if she wanted any chocolate.

And so, again, it seems I owe Homebody an apology.  My intent was never to guilt her into sending me candy.  I was just making a joke.  I swear.  It is delicious, though, and much appreciated.  And so I'm sorry, HB, and thank you.  You're the furthest thing I can imagine from a shrew, and I definitely owe you one.  There, I said it.

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Apr 3 2009

always something there to remind me

I'm sure I have mentioned this once or twice before, but I mark time by my music collection.  I have freakish recall for the circumstances under which I acquired most of the music I own, and I tend to commemorate life's events – both major and minor – with the purchase of new tunes.  For example: to celebrate moving to Virginia after college, I went CD shopping.  I bought Wilco's AM and Pavement's Wowee Zowee.  I even remember that the cashier rang up the Wilco disc first, officially making it the first record I bought as a Virginia resident.  Basically, I am like the guy in Midnight Run who wants to celebrate everything that happens by going to get donuts, only instead of donuts I buy music.  And also I am not buying music as an excuse to get out of the office to snitch to the mob on my bail bondsman employer.  And also I sometimes celebrate by buying donuts too.

I was poking around this morning for something to listen to on the way to work that I hadn't heard in a long time.  I saw a CD by a band called Hum that I maybe only listened to twice (This was a recommendation from Schmitt via the mighty Roy when I was looking for bands that sounded like the Grifters.  They don't, by the way.)  I wanted one more, just in case Hum wasn't doing it for me, so I thumbed through a few non-descript jewel cases just to the left of the empty slot on my shelf.  That's when I stumbled upon a disc called Heads Are Gonna Roll by the Hippos.

I literally have no idea how this record came into my possession – nor why.  I don't remember ever hearing a song on the radio.  I certainly have never seen the Hippos in concert.  What's more, I can't imagine under what circumstances I might have acquired it.  Was it when I needed something new to listen to on the way to Toronto for a college reunion?  Possibly.  Could it have been part of the haul when I finally got a job in marine biology after schlepping coffee for two years?  Perhaps.  Is it one of the CD's that christened my new apartment when I moved into the place on Cameron Street?  Could be.  Did I buy it in a heady daze after seeing Twister at the Uptown Theater?  I don't know!  The only thing I know for certain (based on the jewel case and nonexistent cover art) is that I acquired this disc prior to November of 2000.

Maybe the strangest thing of all is that I was completely unsurprised to find this mystery record.  My reaction – at least at first – was basically "Oh yeah, I have a Hippos CD."  Which is….  well, it's an odd feeling.  I just think owning a Hippos CD is the kind of thing one would remember.  I listened all the way to work, and then on the way home again this evening.  The songs are simultaneously both new and familiar.  The music itself is vaguely shitty ska-influenced pop-punk, which leads me to believe that Dabysan might somehow be involved.  But that doesn't fit with the only thing I know for sure, since Daby and I have been friends for only the past four or five years.  Anyway, the best song – and this will shock you about a record I forgot I owned by a band I forgot existed – is a cover.

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Dec 15 2008

we built this city

I read somewhere recently that the DC area was – because of big government – immune to the recession we’ve got going on.  At the risk of seeming crass, I’d like to counter with this fact: that’s a load of fucking horseshit.  My pal Joey Jo-Jo Junior Shabadoo recently sent me the link to this article in the Washington Post.  In short, it describes how virtually every major construction project in the area is on hold, and how those communities who were depending on expanded tax bases and developers’ proffers are now left empty-handed.  Joey Jo-Jo has a somewhat differing opinion on the local impact of the economic downturn.  He worked on five of the eight now-stalled projects mentioned in the article and is wondering how long things will be this bad.

But enough of the doom and gloom.  In more awesome news: I’m doing great!  The marine biology business is booming and thanks to Vanna’s “Yoga Is Easy Challenge,” I’m now a certified yoga instructor.  It won’t be long before I’m able to quit my bullshit desk job.  I’ll never be a nine-to-fiver again!  Yay!

Oct 25 2008

at this moment

I once fell in love under circumstances that are a total cliché.  If I told you the story, you’d probably think I was making it up (or more likely that I was stealing it from the third season of Family Ties), that’s how clichéd it is.  It’s such a cliché that stuff like this never actually happens in real life.  Or so it would seem.

Back in my senior year of college, six of my classmates and I participated in an exchange program with a branch campus of Virginia Tech located in Alexandria.  The idea was that marine biology students at rural schools could come to study in an urban environment for a year.  Or in our case, a semester.  We secured housing in a renovated church that was owned by the university, and the apartments were a bit unusual in that there were three students to a unit.  Coop and I were paired up with a guy named Damon from Florida who later assaulted me.  (That’s a story for another time.)  Coop’s girlfriend Molly and her friend Tine were paired with a Tech student from Blacksburg.  (The other three Ohioans – Wes, Nick, and Kray – aren’t relevant to this story either.)

One day very early in the semester, I dropped in on Molly and Tine.  Their roommate – Jessica, who I had not yet met – answered the door.  She was wearing demin overalls over a gray t-shirt in a willfully un-hip manner and her curly brown hair was either pulled up into a crude bun or wildly out of control.  I inquired after Molly and Tine and she told me that they weren’t home, which surprised me because – though I don’t remember now exactly for what reason I went to their apartment – I know I expected them to be there.  I thanked Jessica for her time and walked away.  Only later did I learn that I’d made an impression.

The word that Molly and Tine used was “rude.”  We were eating dinner and they had just informed me of Jessica’s reaction to our brief encounter.  “Your friend is rude,” they said she said.  Apparently, I’d been quite surprised by my friends’ absence and asked where they might be.  I (may have) said in response to being told they weren’t around: “Are you sure?”  At which point, Jessica (may have) turned into the apartment and called for my friends, to no avail.  I will deny for the rest of my life that that exchange actually happened, but I know at least one person who thinks it did and she reported as much to Molly and Tine.  Also, my never officially introducing myself was, let’s just say…. not well received.

That was the moment I decided that Jessica was a total bitch and that the less I had to interact with her the better.  And what was the deal with the overalls and the hair in a loose bun (or wildly out of control)?  She obviously wanted people to think she was some sort of artist (or something equally pretentious).  To hell with her.  And that attitude carried me through the next week, until the seating assignments in the lab were finally posted.  I was placed at a desk right next to…. yep, you guessed it.  Again over dinner, I was lamenting my bad luck.  Tine joked, “You’ll probably end up dating!”  I replied, “That’s not very fucking funny.  Besides, that shit only happens on television.”

School started and I promptly began occupying myself trying to impress a different girl from Virginia Tech whose name I now don’t remember.  (She was a Dave Matthews fan and this was right before they broke nationally, in the fall of 1994.  This fact isn’t relevant either, but it explains a couple DMB CD’s that still sit on my shelf.)  The fall passed mostly uneventfully, if not overly cordially, between Jessica and me.  She moved out of Molly and Tine’s apartment, so I saw less of her.  But we both got jobs working at Misha’s (then kôf’ i hous’) so I saw more of her again.  Then just about this time of the year – late Rocktober – the ice thawed.  She had become friends with a kôf’ i hous’ regular named Stacy and I had become friends with a kôf’ i hous’ regular named Dennis.  And Dennis and Stacy were friends.  At the annual Halloween party thrown by school – and with the aid of our mutual friends in Stacy and Dennis (to say nothing of a keg of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale) – we finally struck up a real conversation and somehow hit it off.

I remember spending most of the next month and a half with her more or less inseparably, but I know that’s an exaggeration.  We did hang out an awful lot, though.  We even – in another scene straight out of a sitcom – prepared a Thanksgiving dinner for ten or twelve of our friends, with all the comic mishaps and small triumphs one would expect.  And yes, we went on a few dates, but there was always the unfortunate knowledge that time was short.  I was going back to Ohio in December to finish school where I’d spent most of it.

I made the right choice.  As fondly as I remember that autumn and reflect on what might have been, I know I would still regret spending my final semester of college away from Ohio.  If this particular chapter of my life were a movie rather than a situation comedy, I would have come back to Virginia, and she would still have been here and we would have lived happily ever after until the credits ended.  As it happened, I just moved back.  That worked out pretty well, too.

By now you’re probably wondering (if you’ve bothered to read this far) what any of this has to do with Rocktober.  Well, Jessica introduced me to some pretty cool music.  And though Liz Phair doesn’t always remind me of this story, this story does always remind me of Liz Phair.

Oct 17 2008

left of the dial

The first time I heard The Moon and Antarctica it pissed me off.  This was back in the halycon days of the summer '04, when the country was only mostly in the shitter and Modest Mouse owned the radio waves.  I'd exhausted Good News For People Who Like Bad News and floated on to their back catalog.  Within the first few seconds of the second track, I realized I'd heard the song before.  And that I'd heard it on a *shudder* car commercial.  Probably a Volkswagon commercial, too – meant to appeal to those uppity yuppies with that snooty German engineering.

Okay, actually it was Nissan, but it still annoyed me that what I thought was new music (to me, at least) had already been brought to my attention through an advertisement.  It's not at all unlike the reaction many people have to one of their long-favorite bands selling its songs to advertising agencies.  And while I can see the point those people are trying to make, I've come around on the issue and disagree that it's problematic.

The thing is – as much as I'd like to believe otherwise, most of the the music to which I listen – to which everybody listens – is made by career musicians.  These are people who decided at some point that they wanted to play guitar and write songs for a living, and made choices along the way to support their dream.  I decided at some point that I wanted to be a marine biologist and made choices along the way to support that dream.  If somebody told me, now that I've made it, that I shouldn't earn any money – that I should be a marine biologist only because a few thousand teenagers liked some of the studies I'd done and to that accept a little cash would compromise the integrity of those studies….  Well, I'd probably punch that person in the mouth.  And then I'd take the check.  And if an advertising executive approached me and said that he'd like to have Morgan Freeman or Gene Hackman or somebody read some of my report on the migratory habits of freshwater eels over some footage of cars driving….  Well, I'd take that check too.

So maybe I'm a cynic.  That's fair.  But these situations sometimes work out well for the fans too.  Case in point:  The Replacements were a (justifiably) critically lauded and (tragically) commercially unsuccessful band throughout the 1980's.  After a few (patchy) early records, they hit their stride with their third album Let It Be and soon moved on to a major label.  At their peak – Tim and Pleased To Meet Me – they were unparalleled; they wrote airtight pop/rock masterpieces not heard since Big Star imploded almost two decades prior.  But audiences never tuned in and the 'Mats disbanded in 1991 to little fanfare.  Three years later, some television producers shopping a show for the new fall schedule offered to buy a little-known Replacements song for the opening credits.  The show became a surprise hit.  The song enjoyed some success on the pop charts before it quickly wore out its welcome.  And the band grew wealthy beyond its wildest dreams.  Just a few months ago, Paul Westerberg – the creative force behind the Replacements' best work – offered a brand new record for sale for just forty-nine cents.  Would Paul have continued to make music after the Replacements disbanded?  Almost certainly.  Would he have been able to afford – basically – to give that music away without the money he made from the hit TV show?  Probably not.  You can scoff at Jennifer Aniston's haircut and those handclaps to your heart's content, but they all but bought the second half of Paul Westerberg's career.

In all seriousness, though….  I – we – tease Jodi a lot around these parts for her Replacements fandom.  It's probably not fair, but it's….  Well, it's what I – what we – do.  I might feel differently about it if I thought she wanted it any other way.  Truth be told, I like the Replacements quite a bit; I have for years.  I pretend otherwise because petty bickering generally makes for pretty good blog fodder.  But today I am willing to drop the charade.  You see, Jodi has a second interview today for a job that she really seems to want.  So if posting one of her favorite songs helps in some way to send good juju to the flyovers, I'm more than happy to oblige.  I'll be there for you, Jodi.  Knock 'em dead.

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Sep 12 2008

hello, i’m johnny cash

I was asked recently what I might do for a living if I wasn’t a marine biologist, which is a tough question for me to answer.  I never considered doing anything else.  Even as a kid, I never wanted to be an astronaut or a fireman.  I watched the fish swim around in their little tank – sometimes let them loose in the pool – and dreamt of a day when I could watch the fish swim all the time.  So even though I sometimes hate being a marine biologist, there’s nothing else I think I would want to do more.

Unless I could be Johnny Cash.  If I wasn’t a marine biologist, I’d want to be Johnny Cash.

He’s been gone five years today.  It seems like just yesterday.  Where does the time go?

May 6 2008

postponing: the vault

Today is not a significant day.  But then, neither was yesterday – and yet thick-necked fraternity brothers and vacuous sorority sisters everywhere commemorated the non-occasion with three dollar mojitos and unplanned pregnancies.  So perhaps the great unwashed might also one day remember this uneventful day.  With a massive marketing campaign and a vague (at best) understanding of the flimsy history involved – all supported by the entire weight of a legalized drug industry, natch – we here at think there just might be an outside chance they will.  Step three: profit.

Today marks the one week anniversary of the first day we might have posted our inaugural installment of our intended new weekly feature “the vault.” And today marks the first deadline we set for ourselves pertaining to said feature that we have missed.  We anticipate that it will be the first of many, which is why after considerable deliberation our editorial staff has decided to delay the debut of this much-anticipated column.  Astute readers no doubt will have noted a more sporadic than usual posting schedule here at over the past six weeks or so.  After careful study of our second quarter projections, we expect this trend to continue into the summer.  Things are just way too hectic down at the lab, what with a high-profile study of the University of Maryland’s indigenous turtle population occupying most of our time.  The last thing we want is to begin a regular feature for which our massive readership awaits weekly with bated breath and then not be able to follow through.  So look for “the vault” to resume – or to begin, rather – in July.

Make no mistake – this delay has nothing to do with the record we selected to review in our initial installment.  It sucks.  Really, really bad.  We can’t wait to write the review, actually.  We just don’t have the time.

Oct 30 2007

l.a. rock city

We had intended to discuss today what – besides hairspray and spandex – distinguishes 1980’s glam metal from other hard rock of the same time period and why Van Halen and Def Leppard aren’t hair bands but why Guns N’ Roses is and why Klosterman is wrong to consider them all on equal footing.  It was gonna be really good; you’d have enjoyed it.  But real-life got in the way of Vox-life, so yinz’ll have to make do without our usual clever insight and snappy wit.  Instead we’re just going to cut to the chase and present the greatest hair metal song of all time.