Monday, December 8, 2008

Space and Time

It's hard to believe, but I've lived in New York City for a year now, and it's been one of the quickest of my life. As if time hasn't moved fast enough in my mid-to-late 20s, the New York lifestyle, with its faster pace and general busyness, has only accelerated the passing of the days, weeks, and months.

A year ago I was in a completely different place. It's weird to think that if I hadn't made an effort to change my life, I could very well be in the same place that I was in Nashville. Instead, I'm in the midst of different people and possibilities on a completely different path and future. And even though I'm not someone who constantly needs change, my strong desire for just that was the impetus behind it all.

But change often comes at the expense of time, order, and convenience, and that's been the case before beginning work at both of my jobs. In May 2002, I was one of the few to secure a position before graduating college (much to the envy of my peers in a declining job market). The downside was that I had no downtime at home before moving to Tennessee. One week week after graduating college, I was in a very different place at a pivotal point in my life.

When I accepted the job in New York in November 2007, it was more of the same. In a matter of weeks I had to put in my two-week's notice, find a place to live, say goodbye to my friends, and get ready to move—and all before the holidays. I'll always remember that period as the "whirlwind of my life"—so much happened in such little time.

When I think of "whirlwind," I'm reminded by the weekend of October 27-28 in particular. Over that Halloween weekend, I drove the five hours to Ohio Friday night, went to my friend's dress-rehearsal dinner, attended his wedding Saturday evening, drove two hours to Ohio University that same night and partied with my siblings till 7 in the morning, woke up Sunday afternoon and drove the seven hours back to Nashville, prepped for my interview, got two hours of sleep, almost missed my flight to New York that Monday morning, had a lengthy interview, got a beer with my brother, flew back to Nashville, and went in to work on Tuesday. It just goes to show what all you can squeeze into a few days when you really have to.

The day I accepted my new job was one of the best of my life. I like to think about the special call I received that Thursday evening at work because of the liberating and exhilarating emotions attached to it. One journey was coming to a close, but another was about to begin. And it was because of what I did to make it happen.

It's encouraging to know that in this life, there are some things that are in our hands.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Ten Years Gone

Last Friday I attended to my 10-year high school reunion. I'm still kind of surprised I went considering my feelings against going when occasionally thinking about it over the past decade. It's not like I had a bad high school experience or that I dislike the people I went to school with. But in the age of cellphones and Facebook, anyone I've wanted to keep in touch with is just a few clicks away. Also, a reunion always struck me as a night of awkward moments; in particular, what do you say to the people you recognize but never spoke a word to over four years? Anything? Would that make it better or worse?

On the whole, the experience didn't strike me as an ideal situation for a self-professed introvert. But a few weeks before the reunion, I realized the consensus among my friends was to go; it was officially the thing to do in Centerville the Friday night after Thanksgiving. Knowing that I wouldn't be braving it alone helped. Also, about five beers beforehand.

Seeing everyone at the reunion was great, and things felt fairly comfortable. Most people looked about the same. Some looked better, some worse.

Really, though, the night was an exercise in mingling and playing catch-up with as many people who you recognized (and cared to acknowledge). It was strange seeing most people there with their spouses (including CHS mergers) and hearing about their kids. Sure, that's what most people do in their 20s, but it was weird for me to put myself in their shoes at this point of my life, because I'm nowhere near that. Even as a late bloomer, I couldn't help but wonder: Will that be me in five, 10, or 20 years? An even stranger thought.

But if I had to attend just one high school reunion, I'm glad it was this one. On the heels of college, the five-year is too soon; the 15- or 20-year too far down the road to be relevant. No, the 10-year reunion is the right time to reconvene before time begins to leave more of its marks, and life really starts to get in the way. At least for some of us.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Paradise Lost

Monday night marked the end of an unrelenting year-long quest for me: I ate at a Chinese buffet in New York City. Well, technically it was in Queens, because no actual buffets exist in Manhattan. Even so, most everyone I've asked since I moved here has sworn that they've seen one, but of course can never quite recall where it is. I've learned that the odds of seeing a Chinese buffet in the city are just above those of spotting the Abominable Snowman.

Anyone who knows me knows that I'm a lover of food, but particularly Chinese buffets. As a quantity-over-quality guy, I can't help but not get excited about the vast array and endless amount of Chinese food you can get for under 10 bucks. So what if it's not P.F. Changs? The sheer selection alone is something to celebrate.

Having been away for a year, merely standing inside the Chinese buffet was exhilarating. "Is this heaven?" I half-joked to myself upon surveying the glorious smorgasbord of a scene. After such a long wait, it sure seemed like it.

But once the initial excitement wore off after my third or fourth plate, I looked around objectively and finally began to understand why many people aren't fans of Chinese buffets. You can take issue with the number of overcooked, dried out, overly greasy, and high-sodium dishes that were put out two hours earlier. Or the damp funk of the bathrooms and the old stains on the worn-down carpet. Not to mention the semi-permanent odor that clings to your clothing and still reeks of buffet until the next morning. I dunno—I might argue that that's a good thing.

But those universal qualities aside, the New Grand Buffet had a few of its own funnies. For one, the numerous signs around the facility. Most warned parents to rein in their kids ("Please no letting children running", "For your children's safety, please accompany with them while taking food"). But there was one near the sink in the bathroom that read "Wash hands at own risk." I found that funny for some reason. Well, maybe I shouldn't wash my hands.

And then there were the employees. Upon putting water on the table, my waiter, apparently sensing that I was in it for the long haul, prompted me for a big tip later. If that wasn't enough, he made sure to shamelessly remind me every other visit to the table. "Here you go, my friend. You leave me good tip?" Question: What about me made him think that I would lowball him—or worse—dine and ditch? I'm not sure I'll ever know.

Besides stuffing my stomach silly and shutting the place down past 10 p.m., the highlight of the night came when the four waiters gathered to sing "Happy Birthday" to a lone Asian man enjoying his crab legs. A cheesy, exuberant rendition of the song started playing on the speakers, and I glanced to my left to see how they were doing. None were singing, just awkwardly standing in front of the stranger, half-heartedly clapping, and impatiently waiting for the extended song to finish its third chorus. One woman was looking aside with a painful "please let it be over" look, while another continually struggled to sync up her hands with the clap-clap-clap meter of the song.

But none of it really mattered, because the birthday man was happy. The best part, though? Three more people all shared the same birthday that night.

Chinese buffets: sad and beautiful all at the same time.

My fortune: "You will be free of the heavy burdens you have been carrying."

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A New Hope

This morning I woke up, not sure if what I witnessed last night actually happened. It's the same sort of feeling you get when you wake up the day after your favorite sports team wins the championship, and you're not sure if it was all just a dream. Only, in the grand scheme of things, Barack Obama's victory last night is more important than any football or hockey game that I can remember.

It's not because I'm a huge Obama supporter, because Ron Paul was my guy. But after eight long years and two "elections" that have left me feeling powerless and defeated, Obama's victory has renewed my hope for this nation.

It's not to say he'll be a savior, or even close to perfect, because he won't be. But for the first time in a long time, I feel that America has a chance. And in our troubled times, that's something to be optimistic about.

For some reason, I hadn't given much thought to the implications of Obama winning, mostly because I didn't want to get my hopes up. But once he clinched it, the obvious realization set in: A black man will be President of the United States. A simple but astonishing thought. And now I can say that a minority is the leader of my country—much less the free world. I've never been more proud.

Watching Obama stand alone, triumphantly, at his acceptance speech is one of the greatest things I've ever seen. And when I heard the horns honking outside and saw the tears of joy on TV, I couldn't help but be moved to tears myself. Because after all that African Americans have endured in our nation's history, they're empowered like never before, and another part of Martin Luther King's dream has come true.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Jo(k)e Pa

On Saturday night ABC bookended their broadcast of the Penn State-Ohio State game with an eye-rolling tribute to coaching legend Joe Paterno. I didn't find it particularly off-putting because Ohio State lost the game. I found it distasteful because I'm sick of everyone giving credit to Joe Pa for his team's resurgence as a national power (they're currently 9-0 and ranked No. 2 in the country).

It should be clear to anyone who's watched Paterno pace the sidelines in the past few years that he's little more than a figurehead. Without a headset, or offering any specific football criticism, or not joining his team in the locker room during halftime Saturday night, it's obvious that anyone but Joe Pa has been running the show.

But never mind the men behind the curtain, or the fact that Paterno's recent sideline incidents (particularly his 2006 bout with the runs) have relegated him as little more than a sideshow act, much to the amusement of ABC and ESPN. Because none of this is to say that the beloved Joe Pa is a bad coach. He's a legend, and his statistics speak for themselves:
  • The most victories by a Division I coach: 381 wins, 125 losses, and 3 ties
  • The most bowl wins and undefeated seasons than any other coach in history
Yet what I find the most interesting about it all is looking into the mind of the man himself. Because like Florida State's Bobby Bowden, Paterno will never leave his home. His record 43 seasons at one school have not only cemented his legacy at this institution, but institutionalized him in the process. There's only one way that Paterno will ever leave Happy Valley.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Return

Last weekend I visited Nashville for the first time since moving away almost a year ago. Even though I spent more than five years there, it almost feels like a past life when comparing it to the much shorter time I've spent in New York.

It's strange when returning to your old stomping grounds. Whether it's your hometown or college campus, there's always a surreal sense of familiarity and nostalgia. Since I hadn't really been away from Music City for that long, it seemed like I'd never left. And by the end of the weekend, I felt like I still lived there. Especially when I realized that I know my way around much better than where I currently reside.

But as great as it was to be back and see my friends, it wasn't long before I was reminded of why I left in the first place. For all the wonderful experiences I had there, and for the special place that Nashville holds in my heart, there was that lingering feeling of not completely fitting in; a reaffirmation that the city couldn't offer what I needed in the next phase of my life.

Even so, it all made me more frustrated with the natural bonds that time and space imposes on us. I kept thinking about the movie Jumper, and how incredible it would be to teleport anywhere in the world in a heartbeat. Because even though it's much easier to stay in touch these days, leaving people behind is one of the hardest things. Life goes on, but it's never the same.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

One for the Ages

Last Saturday I saw Ray LaMontagne in concert for the second time. Onstage, LaMontagne is a shy folk artist. But judging by the audience, you'd think we were at a Kid Rock concert. What I mean is: Women love him.

When I saw LaMontagne the first time in Nashville a few years ago, I was really surprised by the audience's reception. Given the softer nature of his music, I naturally assumed that we'd be a part of a quiet and respectful crowd. Just the opposite, though. Throughout the concert, and particularly between songs, there was no shortage of cheers and "I love you's" from the slightly inebriated concertgoers. Even the guys couldn't help but reaching out to Ray with various requests and absurdities. I also think people felt inclined to compensate for LaMontagne's lack of audience interaction.

It was no different on Saturday night at Radio City Music Hall—except, of course, my expectation. The first time I was a bit off-put by the crassness of it; this time I just sat back and smiled. All part of the experience.

But it got me thinking again—what exactly is it about a reticent, soft-spoken, Jesus-looking figure like LaMontagne that drives women crazy? At first I thought it was simply the fact that he's super romantic in his writing and impassioned in his singing. But as a few of my female friends explained, it goes beyond that.

It's not just that Ray pours out his soul onstage. It's that it's all coming from a real place. Real life, real people, real heartbreak. Ray is real.

While his raspy baritone sounds great on CD, hearing LaMontagne live is a different experience. Similar to what I experienced with Sigur Rós, it was the second time this year that I felt privileged to hear the sound of a true artist with my own ears. With his smoky, often rapturous delivery, LaMontagne has a treasure of a singing voice that's from another time and place.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Number Se7en

File this one under Stupid Things That Don't Matter But Bother Me Anyway.

At work I've noticed that many people write the number seven the European way, with the horizontal slash through it. I find this really irritating. I understand that there's a practical purpose for writing a 7 that way, which is to differentiate between an old-school 1 numeral. But since very few people in America write a 1 the way a typewriter does, I find the European 7 to be completely unnecessary (and dare I say, unpatriotic?). At the same time, I recognize that it's also completely harmless, and I know this is a ridiculous thing to be writing about. But I feel compelled nonetheless.

I think what bothers me is the feeling that most people are writing the European 7 to be trendy, although they've most certainly had no level of conscious thought about it like I have. But, if that's truly the way you were taught to write a 7, maybe I can forgive you.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

In Tressel I Don't Trust

After seeing Ohio State get crushed 35-3 by USC last night in what was billed as "The Game of the Year," suspicions of mine have been affirmed. While head coach Jim Tressel is clearly one of the most accomplished and respected coaches in all of college football, it's fully obvious to me now that his coaching is largely to blame for most of Ohio State's losses in big games since 2003.

Of course, this is not to say that it's entirely Tressel's fault. It's not. In every game Buckeye players have made mistakes that have also affected the outcome. This is also not to say that Tressel has made all bad decisions. He hasn't. I'm fully aware that he's one of the most winningest coaches for a reason.

What I am saying is that Tressel and offensive coordinator Jim Bollman's often unoriginal, predictable, and poor playcalling has put the Buckeyes in more of a position to lose these games, and they have. Some major examples:

2005 Texas, 25-22
2005 Penn State, 17-10
2007 Florida, 41-14
2008 LSU, 38-24
2008 USC, 35-3

The weak playcalling and lack of execution have been especially apparent in the last three games in which the Buckeyes have been embarrassed on a national stage. These collapses have led many to think that Ohio State doesn't have the athletic ability to compete with college football powers, but that's not true. Every year Ohio State is known for its prized high school recruits and top talent that it sends to the NFL. So it's not a question of speed, toughness, or athletic ability. Ohio State is better off than most teams.

For all of the respect he gets, though, Tressel has been outcoached in all of the aforementioned losses. It doesn't really matter how good OSU's players are if their coach is putting them in difficult situations to be successful. In other words, the scores for the lopsided losses of late are not representative of Ohio State's ability to win these games. In many of them, Ohio State has had just as many weapons as their opponents, but the coaches simply didn't utilize them the best way.

Tressel has always relied on a conservative coaching philosophy known as Tresselball, in which field position, clock control, and turnover margin are key. It's won him a lot of games, so it's not all bad. But it's become clear to me that this old-fashioned, close-to-the-sweater-vest style isn't as effective as it once was. The game has changed in the past few years, especially with the proliferation of the spread offense and creative playcalling from younger coaches like Florida's Urban Meyer, Michigan's Rich Rodriguez, and Boise State's Chris Petersen. When you watch their dynamic formations and inventive plays that work, it's not hard to see that Ohio State is behind the times.

But newer schemes aside, I'm continually baffled that Tressel chooses not to mix things up with basic plays that have been around for ages. So in the wake of the USC debacle Saturday night, I have some questions:
  1. Where are all the roll-outs, pitches, sweeps, reverses, off-tackle runs, and misdirection plays?
  2. When you're down by three touchdowns and in serious need of a score, where are your trick plays??
  3. Why are you using versatile freshman QB Terrelle Pryor in the same predictable manner, especially in a first-and-goal situation with USC showing heavy blitz?
  4. Where's the gamesmanship? You had a chance to give your team a much-needed spark and surprise the Coliseum's 93,607 spectators by inserting your best running back (Beanie Wells) into the lineup after you said he would not play.
When you see Tressel and Bollman continue to use ineffective, two-dimensional playcalling, I can't help but wonder if they're trying their best to win, and if they're content with just collecting field goals. In the end, OSU fans are subjected to needless frustration as the Buckeyes scratch and claw their way for every yard and first down. It shouldn't be that hard. And when you watch other teams play in these big games, it usually isn't. I'll tell you right now that until Tressel and Bollman make their offense dynamic, Ohio State will not win (much less compete in) another big game.

When Tressel came on board in 2001, he quickly restored honor to the program, made due on his promise to beat Michigan, and went on to win a national championship by the end of his second season. His ascension as Ohio State's savior ("In Tressel we trust") naturally bought him a lot of goodwill and room for forgiveness. Most people will laud Tressel as Ohio State continues to dominate the Big Ten, but I've lost my faith in the man, and Buckeye fans shouldn't issue any more pardons. Especially when Tressel never really takes responsibility for these losses. In every post-game press conference, he assumes the same calm, ho-hum demeanor, and praises the other team to take the focus off his own. Where's the honesty? Where's the emotion? It's this general lack of intensity that rubs off on the play of his own team.

"At halftime nobody was saying anything," offensive tackle Alex Boone said after the embarrassing loss to the Trojans. "I mean what the hell? We're Ohio State. We should be screaming and swearing everything you can think of, and guys were hanging their heads. You don't know what to say to them. You start screaming, and they just put their heads down even more."

(Alex, your team's behavior mirrors your coach's.)

I've always carried a lot of pride as a Buckeye fan, but now I feel that both the team and the fans have been cheated in the past few years. And for that, I feel torn. Torn between supporting a team that I love and a coach who's only held them back from the glory they deserve.
  • FOX Sports' Mark Kriegel tends to agree with me:

    Jim Tressel seems determined to play 20th-century football well into the 21st century... What happened Saturday night at the Coliseum, in front of 93,607 witnesses, was more of the same. Actually, with 19 returning starters, it occurs that a dreadful form of consistency might actually be Ohio State's problem. The Buckeyes are consistent to the point of predictability.

    That's the problem with Ohio State... It's that Tressel's team surprises nobody. Despite the presence of a potentially game-changing player in freshman Terrelle Pryor, the Buckeyes play antiquated, unimaginative football. They play as if they have nothing to prove.

    The score was then 21-3. And though the game already resembled the previous two BCS championships, Tressel remained resolutely unwilling to gamble. On his team's first possession—with a third and goal from the 18—he didn't even take a shot at the end zone. Instead, he had his quarterback hand the ball off.

  • Columnist Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports had this to say about Tressel at USC's post-game press conference:

    Here was the sweater vest, who keeps calling for the same old failed game plan even when he's far from the comforts of the cornfields of the Midwest. He's an example of coaching insanity—expecting the same bad plays to produce different results. Here was Jim Tressel, and all he could do was smile and shrug... The Buckeyes keep getting their ass kicked when they dare to venture out of Big Ten/MAC land, and Tressel doesn't look or sound the least bit concerned.

    Outrage? Frustration? Embarrassment? How about apologies to the Buckeye fans who no doubt feel plenty of all three? Or maybe one for poor quarterback Todd Boeckman, who thanks to a most uninspired offensive game plan had USC defenders taking turns teeing up to try to rupture his spleen?

    "They did everything we saw on film," said USC linebacker Rey Maualuga. "Nothing changed."

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

August and Everything After

I suppose that once you've lived long enough, you see certain patterns and come to realize certain things.

By now I've realized that September is my favorite month of the year. It's just that perfect time when the weather is great, college football season starts, and there's excitement in the air.

September is also that month that marks the gradual transition between the tail end of summer and the beginning of fall. In a way, it's sort of a last hurrah before we get into the deep end of the calendar, and we're wondering where another year went as we head into the holidays.

But more than anything to me, September represents "the before time"—an-on-the brink period that is often as exciting as whatever follows; a moment where you can celebrate the fact that life is good, but it's about to get better.

Yep, September is about the halcyon days. September is about life.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Celebrity Sighting #5

Since I've been in New York, I've always wondered if there are any celebrities who actually use the subway. Obviously most can afford to take taxis or private cars around the city, but I've been a little surprised to never have spotted someone on the subway. But Friday morning on my way to work, I confirmed my first public-transportation celebrity sighting.

Before I got off the C train at Spring Street, I looked to my right and spotted a familiar face sitting by herself in the back corner of the train, clutching some sort of canister. Just as with Kevin Allison, I instantly recognized the person, but wanted to make sure.

When the train stopped, I exited at the door nearest her and got visual confirmation: Saturday Night Live's Rachel Dratch. Yes, Debbie Downer herself. She returned my glance, looking just as droll and strange as ever.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Celebrity Sighting #4

Tonight I worked out at a New York Sports Club gym that was closer to my chiropractor's office. The location turned out to be perfect.

While stretching before my workout, I noticed a red-haired man on the leg press in front of me. The first time I looked at him, I instantly knew who it was in my mind. But because he's not the most recognizable actor in the world, I debated whether to approach him. You see, I was in a similar situation last year at the YMCA in Nashville, and I was wrong.

I got on a leg machine and tried to ignore my dilemma for a minute. Pushing it away, I figured I could just ask him later during our respective workouts if my curiosity wouldn't stop nagging me. But then the rare social opportunist in me seized the moment.

"Is your name Kevin?" I asked, walking up to him.

"Uh, yeah it is," he replied, his body at a slightly awkward 45° angle on the inclined leg press.

"Are you Kevin Allison?"

"Yeah, I am."

My face lit up, I introduced myself, shook his hand, told him I was also from Ohio, and let him know how big a fan I am of The State, MTV's sketch-comedy series from the mid-'90s. The short-lived cult show is fondly remembered by many, but mostly now mentioned in boy-who-cried-wolf conversations concerning the release date of the long-promised box set (which has been finished but unavailable for unknown reasons). It's the Chinese Democracy of DVD releases.

Kevin gave me some scoop about The State reuniting in September to film a special for Comedy Central. I then concluded our brief chat with "Yeah, we're big fans. We quote it all the time." I think that made him proud.

Not too long after, I realized that I should have asked him specifics about the perennially delayed DVDs. What kind of red tape was left to cut through? Was it because of licensing issues with all the music they used in the episodes?

I guess I'll never know. Because when I looked around for him, he was already gone.

"Another stupid fan, another gym I need to find."

Me, too, Kevin. Me, too.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Good Knight and Farewell

Superhero screenwriters take note: The Dark Knight is everything a comic-book movie should be: smart, thrilling, complex, introspective, and dynamic; an action-packed, thinking man's superhero movie.

While Batman Begins is an origin story that follows the internal transformation Bruce Wayne undergoes in becoming Batman, The Dark Knight is more about the world reacting to Batman, which in turn pushes the Dark Knight through an ongoing character arc. "You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain."

It's a film that merits multiple viewings to scrutinize its many layers, plot points, action sequences, and performances. With an all-star array of actors, including rock-solid supporting roles that we've come to expect from Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, and Morgan Freeman, there's a lot to appreciate here.

But in the wake of his untimely death, Heath Ledger steals the show from them all. Whereas Jack Nicholson's Joker was just crazy, Ledger's take is psychotic, disturbed, and unpredictable. His captivating onscreen presence will leave your eyes glued and mouth agape as you hang on to his every twisted word. And as rumored, Ledger's final full performance is not only unforgettable, but Oscar-worthy.

I'm not normally a fan of crowd noise in movie theaters, but there was a lot to cheer about Friday night. And much like the outbursts you'd hear from a pack of Yankees fans, the sold-out crowd actually enhanced the already entertaining experience by excitedly applauding at the surprises, the "bat"-ass stunts, and Mr. Ledger.

And they should have. Because The Dark Knight not only delivered, but it distanced itself from every other comic-book movie in existence.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Long, Long Way from Home

Last month my brother and I went to Europe for the first time. I've always been fascinated by other countries and cultures, so it was a long-overdue trip across the Atlantic. It wasn't technically my first international experience since I first visited Canada in 2005, but it was certainly the most culturally diverse and eye-opening.

The trip was put together by my brother's former Jersey roommate who now lives in Switzerland. So we flew into Zürich and made our way through southern Italy (Lake Como, Cinque Terre) and France (Nice, Monaco, Antibes, Cannes) over the course of a week.

Cool things we did: partying all day with the Swiss for the inaugural game of Euro Cup 2008, drinking wine on the beach of Monterroso, kayaking on the Mediterranean, hiking along the Cinque Terre coast from Manaro to Vernazza, hitting up the Monte-Carlo Casino, and partying with random Canadian and Australian hostel-goers.

What follows are various takeaways from the trip...
  • Language is everything. Never before have I felt so stupid, illiterate, and verbally handicapped when trying to communicate with people. This was especially true in Zürich, where the primary language was Swiss German. Over the course of the trip, though, I was amazed at how well most everyone not only spoke and understood English well, but how they were all at least tri-lingual. And it was a marvel to watch the flight attendants on Swiss Air switch between English, French, and German so seamlessly and effortlessly while attending to different passengers.

    I decided that the most beautiful-sounding language is definitely Italian when spoken by an Italian woman. German still sounds harsh, ugly, and barbaric to me, though.

  • Europe is cooler. There's just a more laid-back, carefree vibe everywhere you go. From being more open about drugs or sexuality, it makes you wonder how censored America came to be, and why we continue to uphold those restrictions. In Europe, no one seems to care, and everything is fine.

  • Soccer is still overrated. I still don't understand why Europe is so obsessed with this sport. While I appreciate its strategy and skill, I just don't see the draw. With such few scoring opportunities or genuine moments of excitement, it's a game that serves up long rounds of extended foreplay without the climax. Still, I'm amazed at how ingrained it is in the cultural fabric.
Before going on this trip, I felt like finally visiting foreign countries and lands would be a life-changing experience. I can tell you that being halfway across the world really puts things in perspective. When you're looking out over the Mediterranean during sunset, you can't help but look at your life and think about where you want to be. As much as I love the United States, I kept wondering over the course of the week if Europe was ever a place I could live (the shorter work week and minimum 25 vacation days are hard to ignore). Then I wondered what my life would be like if I simply grew up in a country like Italy or France. What would I be doing then? All big what-ifs.

While the trip allowed me to escape the bubble of city life, I found it more surreal than life-changing. Even with the seven-hour flight and six-hour jet lag, the voyage itself seemed "easy"; just spend some time in a plane and there you are, plopped in another country in another part of the world. Especially in this global Internet age, I came to realize that the world is more connected and accessible than my 28-year delay would suggest. We may be separated by different time zones, but we all live under the same sun.

While I enjoyed my vacation, I was happy to come home. Between the larger-portion meals and just the general feeling of being back in the loop, it was exciting to return to New York City, and brought back feelings of first arriving here. Even with a little jet-lag the day after we got back, I headed into the subway on my way to work, energized by the fact that I was back to a city—and a life—that I love.

Facebook pictures from the trip:
Europe, Part 1
Europe, Part 2
Europe, Part 3

Saturday, June 28, 2008

They're Still Alive

After seeing The Verve in concert a few months ago, I blogged: "the mark of a truly accomplished band is one whose shows are varied and unpredictable; you don’t know what they're going to play when or how, or even if you’re going to be able to hear all of your favorite songs."

When I wrote this, I was thinking of one band in particular.

Pearl Jam.

As a a longstanding favorite of mine, Pearl Jam is one of the few bands where you never know what you're gonna get in concert—deep album cuts, cult B-sides, hit singles, and rare covers. For the past 18 years, they've been one of the more memorable touring bands. So I've found it funny in recent years to hear people say "Pearl Jam? They're still around?"

Somewhere after the band's heyday in the first half of the 90s, the general populace seemed to forget about the group as they rebelled against their own success and the trappings of stardom—hence, their second album, Vs.

Around this time there seemed to be a series of watershed moments that made it easy for the casual fan to lose interest in the Seattle quintet, from swearing off the making of more music videos, experimenting with different sounds, battling the Ticketmaster monster, or just taking themselves too seriously. For any of these reasons, the masses dismissed Pearl Jam and moved on.

Even the media still refers to Pearl Jam as a grunge band, disregarding the fact that they were grunge for only their landmark debut, Ten. But anyone who's followed the band over the course of their eight studio albums knows that Pearl Jam plays in the spirit of classic rock. They always have.

I say all this because at a sold-out Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night, it was clear that Pearl Jam is still a force. It didn't take much to feel the vibrations from the legions of fans shaking MSG's concrete floors, or simply looking at the 20,000 faithful belting out the lyrics to "Alive" and "Elderly Woman", arms raised in a V.

With an eclectic set list that consisted of 30 songs and three rounds of encores, Pearl Jam's road-warrior work ethic was impressive, especially in their middle age as a band. The level of energy they exhibited was not only remarkable, but contagious. So much so that without a venue curfew of 11:30, I got the feeling that they'd keep playing until 2 in the morning, with not a single person heading for the exit.

Are they still around? The truth is, they never left.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

This Is Music

I've never been high before, but last night watching Sigur Rós at the Manhattan Center Grand Ballroom, I sort of wished I was on something.

For the unaware, Sigur Rós is an "Icelandic post-rock band with melodic, classical, and minimalist elements. The band is known for its ethereal sound and lead singer Jónsi Birgisson’s falsetto voice." (Many thanks to Wikipedia.)

My brothers and I managed to bribe our way into the show after scalping what turned out to be fake tickets. We were an hour late, but what we experienced was pretty much worth the steep price of admission.

When we were ushered into the venue, it didn't take long to realize that we were in for something completely different. We walked in mid-song to an audience captivated by a six-piece orchestra on center stage, dressed as angels and blowing their brass.

The group (with a nine-member entourage) played some songs that I knew and others that I didn't. But in the mere hour that I was there, there were enough "holy shit" moments where I knew I was experiencing the most powerful, beautiful music that I'd ever heard.

One of those moments came during the second song we saw, in which the band just completely stopped playing and froze for 30 of the longest pin-drop seconds I've felt in concert. Then the lead singer suddenly resuscitated and the song resumed.

Sigur Rós sound celestial on CD. But in concert, the sweeping, dramatic crescendos that they built bordered on an out-of-body experience. So much so that the riveting catharsis in the last song ("Popplagið") made for the most monumental, explosive grand finale I'd ever heard.

It was a night where music was in its most moving, glorious art form. A night where the music transcended hearing and listening to become pure feeling. The energy on your skin, the vibrations in your heart. The power; the beauty.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Indy's Best Adventure

With the return of Indiana Jones to the big screen, there's been a lot of talk about everyone's favorite Indy flick. I've been surprised to learn that the first film, Raiders of the Lost Ark, is almost unanimously accepted as the best movie by critics and fans alike. I guess I'm surprised by this because I've seen Raiders the least, and the subsequent movies (The Temple of Doom and The Last Crusade) the most. In fact, I watched Raiders in its entirety for the first time just a few weeks ago. Can't tell you why I never got around to seeing the first half of the movie until now.

I realize that my viewing balance is way off here, but I'm still going to make the case that The Last Crusade is the best film in the now-quadrilogy (casting aside the less acclaimed but highly enjoyable Temple of Doom and the lukewarm Kingdom of the Crystal Skull for the moment).

I think the biggest reason that people are naturally fond of Raiders is because of the inherent advantage it has in being the first film. It's original, which is why the first movie in any series is almost always better than its sequels (Terminator 2: Judgment Day and The Godfather, Part II being exceptions). I agree that Raiders is a great film; it's classic. But The Last Crusade is epic.

With the unique opening flashback of Indy's first adventure, the more frequent globetrotting, the diverse entourage of supporting characters (including Sean Connery's memorable role), and even John Williams' classic score, The Last Crusade is on another level.

But these many layers aside, what elevates this film above the rest is the stronger spiritual weight and intriguing mythology that encompasses Indy's quest for the Holy Grail. There's more of a personal connection as we journey with Indy through the multitude of dangers and trials that he must survive in order to recover the Grail. The stakes are higher and the triumphs are bigger.

There's no topping the Cup of Christ.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Outside the Apple

One thing I'm learning about New York is that the city doesn't necessarily represent the state. This was especially apparent to me last weekend when we went go-carting up in Mount Kisco. It was the first time I've actually gotten out of the city and into upstate New York. And what did I find? A taste of home—small towns, state highways, refreshing greenery, and nice suburban neighborhoods. I was pleasantly surprised until I saw the cost of gas: $4.54 a gallon. Suddenly I don't miss my Malibu much.

And although I've yet to see them, people go to beaches here just like they would in Florida. I'm still a bit skeptical, but supposedly they're alright.

Anyway, here's a glimpse of the go-carting experience:

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Celebrity Sighting #3

Yesterday afternoon I was en route to New York's legendary Ziegfeld Theatre to see Iron Man when I encountered yet another celebrity: James Gandolfini. Yes: TONY — EFFING — SOPRANO.

We crossed paths walking on West 56th Street. Our eyes locked as he approached on my right, and I once again had that sudden celebrity realization. Gandolfini recognized it and gave me that "Don't do it, kid" kind of glare, and that was that. Then I turned around and saw him walk up the stairs to Benihana.

Gandolfini was wearing the same untucked, buttoned-down shirt that Tony Soprano would. In fact, I actually had to remind myself that it was really James Gandolfini and not Tony Soprano. Just goes to show how much of a career-defining role it was for him. Sort of like how you'll never be able to separate Mark Hamill from Luke Skywalker.

Monday, May 5, 2008

The Verve Live

Last week I saw The Verve in concert at Madison Square Garden. It was my first concert here in New York, and the first one I've been to since I saw Tesla in Nashville almost a year ago. It was a good show, but not a great show. I'll get to that in a second, though.

To the general populace, The Verve is one of those bands that will always be remembered by their popular single "Bitter Sweet Symphony", but I know them by the more remarkable album from which that song hails: 1997's Urban Hymns. Lush, layered, poetic, and beautiful, it's one of those landmark album-oriented rock records that always takes me to my happy place.

After the band broke up in 1999, Urban Hymns ultimately represented none other than a bittersweet swan song for a band whose career ended prematurely. With The Verve quitting while they were ahead, Urban Hymns went on to leave a much more lasting impression, but there was a lingering sense of disappointment from a group that seemed to have much more in the tank.

Jump to 2008, where The Verve has regrouped for a new album and tour, much to my pleasant surprise. Given the circumstances and my love for Urban Hymns alone, I looked forward to seeing them live.

Like I said, it was a good show, but the band's lack of depth kept it from being a great show. Early in the concert, frontman Richard Ashcroft told the crowd that it was hard to pick the set list because the band could easily play for three hours. I didn't really buy it, though, because beside the fact that The Verve’s three albums don't last three hours, their first two albums aren't near the level that Urban Hymns is on. And through their 12-song set, this limitation was evident.

It was a case of a good band sprinkling in enough cuts from a greater album to hold the interest level of the crowd for two hours. And the problem with being known for one huge hit like "Bitter Sweet Symphony"? Its placement in the set list is predictable, because you can't play a signature song like that too early. Call it "economy of encore."

I don't regret going to the show because it was a good opportunity to see the newly reformed group in person. But it made me realize that the mark of a truly accomplished band is one whose shows are varied and unpredictable; you don’t know what they're going to play when or how, or even if you’re going to be able to hear all of your favorite songs. And really, all it takes is two or three great albums.

We'll see if The Verve can get there one day.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

For the Love of the Game

Living in New York City has its share of inconveniences, one of which is playing hockey. To give you an idea, I'll compare the process I have here in New York to the one I had in Nashville.

Half an hour before a game, I packed my equipment, loaded it in my car, and drove five minutes to the rink. I then suited up and left my things in the locker room. After the game, I loaded my equipment in my car, drove home, and aired everything out on my porch. Total time elapsed: 2½ hours.

New York
  1. An hour and a half before my game, I take a train from my office to Penn Station.

  2. From there I walk 15 minutes to a Manhattan Mini Storage facility where I keep all of my equipment.

  3. I go to the 10th floor and unlock my locker, whose locks are above my head and almost out of reach.

  4. I locate a rolling safety ladder and push it near my locker.

  5. I open the locker, move the safety ladder into place, pack my bag, and unload all my gear.

  6. With leg pads slung over shoulder and sticks in hand, I drag my hockey bag eight blocks south to the ice rink at Chelsea Piers, which takes about 10 minutes.*

  7. After putting my equipment on, I put all of my belongings in my bag and drag it out into the arena, since the public locker rooms are not locked. Other players opt for more security by carrying their bags onto the bench—a sight previously unseen.

  8. After the game, I drag my 50 pounds of equipment back to a locker room and get undressed.

  9. Tired and sore after the game, I cart all of my equipment back to the storage facility, often facing no choice but to brave the elements.*

  10. With my hands full, I manage to prop up my hockey bag so I can retrieve the access card for the storage facility.

  11. After swiping the card at three different card readers, I make it back to my locker.

  12. I unlock my locker and use the safety ladder to load my equipment back in.

  13. I lock the locker and leave the facility.

  14. I take a cab back home, but on occasion have opted to walk across town to the 6 train.
Total time elapsed: 4½-5 hours.

*Now, I could make this all easier on myself if I chose to take a cab to and from the games. But an eight-block, 10-minute walk with my equipment in tow is just short enough where I don't want to pay for the short commute, but just long enough to not look forward to.

What's worse about all this is that I often play twice a week on back-to-back nights. Meaning, after I complete this process late Thursday night, I rinse, wash, and repeat on Friday night. It's a rough life.

So why do I do it? That's what I asked myself after the first few games I played here. Why go through all this hassle? And then I quickly realized why: because I love the game. Simple, but true. Despite the time commitment, social sacrifices and lengths I go to just to get on the ice, I love the game enough to put up with all of the inconveniences that come with playing in New York City.

Maybe love *is* all you need.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Picking on PA

So in reviewing hundreds of resumes every week, I've come to realize that Pennsylvania has the worst city names of any state. Now I know that every state has its fair share of strange city names, but Pennsylvania's just strike me a little more bizarre than the rest. See for yourself:

• Altoona
• Bryn Mawr
• Coudersport
• Dillsburg
• Harrisburg
• Intercourse
• King of Prussia
• Oil City
• Orwigsburg
• Perryopolis
• Punxsutawney
• Rankin
• Scranton
• Shoemakersville
• Swarthmore
• Virginville
• West Conshohocken
• Wormleysburg
• Zelienople

Somehow I doubt that people from Virginville and Intercourse are friendly with each other.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Making Myself at Home

So it's time for me to talk about my shoes.

Since I've been in the working world, I've been notorious for not wearing my shoes at my desk or around my immediate work area when I briefly leave my desk. My co-workers seem to think this is odd. Maybe it is. But I ask: Is it really so weird, or wrong?

I understand that outside of home and in public, it's normal for people to keep their shoes on. But hear me out for a second.

Shoes are primarily designed for walking, so when I'm sitting at my desk almost all day, is it really so odd to remove my shoes? Are your feet really more comfortable with them on? And yes, I know it looks unprofessional, but who can really see your feet under your desk?

There's also this myth that my feet will stink without my shoes on. But it's for precisely this reason that they won't stink, since my feet won't get sweaty from wearing shoes for 10 hours straight. Food for thought.

At my old job, walking around without my shoes caused some problems. Enough so that they had to institute a departmental shoe policy. At my new job, it hasn't become an issue yet. I take that as a positive.

Maybe before long I'll have started an office shoe-abandoning revolution. Just trying to put the "casual" back in business casual.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Celebrity Sighting #2

After seeing Tim Robbins within days of moving to New York City, I was a little surprised that I hadn't seen another celebrity sooner. But they always seem to cross my path when I least expect it.

Last night my brother and I were getting a drink at Great Jones to kick off the St. Patty's Day celebration. We were sitting at the bar when a bearded Josh Hartnett walked up and surveyed the scene. As with Tim Robbins, there was that brief moment where our eyes met, I got that instant jolt of realization, and he knew that I knew.

And just like my other celebrity run-ins, I immediately thought of something I could say because I always feel compelled to connect with these people in some small but meaningful way. I know it's not the cool thing to do, but most of the stuff I do is uncool anyway. But, I bet Josh would have thought "Hey, Pearl Harbor sucked" was real uncool, so it's probably better that I kept my mouth shut.

Josh was apparently scouting the small, packed restaurant for seats. After coming up empty, he walked out but later returned with a group of his friends.

My brother and I thought it would be funny though if we gave up our seats at the bar for Josh and whatever bombshell actress he's dating now. Josh would be grateful and we would say "anytime, Josh" in an overly friendly manner.

Then we'd stand a few feet behind him the rest of the night, staring and eavesdropping while feigning real conversation. Josh would soon be onto us, though, and his mounting frustration would eventually snowball into some kind of dramatic confrontation or altercation.

Yep, the movies always beat real life.

Note: I did not take the picture above.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Lost and Gone Forever

One of the worst feelings you can have is losing something. I'm not talking about someone close to you or The One Who Got Away. I'm talking about material goods—items both practical and sentimental. Specifically, my NYC winter hat.

I bought my hat when I first visited New York City in 2002. I was a tourist in search of a souvenir, and I happened to need a winter hat. I thought it was a good purchase because it wasn't your typical "I ♥ NY" memento. It did say "NEW YORK CITY", but it was a warm, good-looking hat, and I could say I got it from New York.

At first the hat served as more of a souvenir, collecting dust in my closet for a good year or two. Then at some point, I rediscovered it and decided that I might as well keep it in my winter coat and wear the thing. Yes, it was a plug for New York City, but what the hell. It's not like I lived there.

Given the warmer weather in Nashville, I didn't have to use the hat often. But since I've been living here for the past three months, I've got a lot of use out of it. At first I was a little self-conscious about wearing a New York City hat in New York City because I hadn't yet learned that nobody cares about what anyone wears, because you see it all. But my brother didn't think it was fashionable, so he tipped off my mom that I could use a new winter hat for Christmas. Santa brought one, but it turned out to be too small and too thin, leaving my head cold with it on. So I quickly reverted to Ol' Faithful.

Wearing the hat here seemed a little odd at first, but the more I wore it, the more I embraced it. It was part of my daily wardrobe, and it added character. Here, anyone on the street who actually thought about me wearing a NYC hat assumed that I was a tourist—but they were wrong! You know how I like to keep people guessing.

Last week, I lost my hat. I took it off in a taxi and somehow left it behind when I exited the cab, even after I did a quick check to make sure I wasn't missing anything. But somehow its dark-blue hue eluded me in the darkness of 3Y10's backseat. It wasn't until I left for work the next morning that I realized the tragic loss.

Just like anything that you lose or misplace, there's that initial pang of panic that turns to instant regret the second you realize what you had is now gone. OH MY GOD, WHERE DID IT GO?? HOW COULD I HAVE LOST THAT?! IT WAS JUST HERE!

Over the next few days I made several calls to see if someone from the taxi company had recovered my hat, but there was no such luck. Someone recovered it, but I'll never know who. And they'll never know what it meant to me.

I've since bought another winter hat: a plain black one from a street vendor. It gets the job done, but it'll never be my NYC hat. I considered buying another one, but I knew it wouldn't be right. With me living here now, buying a replica would violate the whole spirit of the thing, especially since its significance was rendered when I coincidentally moved here. It can't be replaced.


I've noticed that some things seem to get lost even when you consciously try not to lose them. Take my birth certificate card for example. Before I moved from Nashville, I separated it from my wallet for better safekeeping. So of course when I needed to find it the other day, it had completely vanished. So much for safekeeping.

Losing these things reminds me of how someone futilely tries to change the future in a sci-fi film. No matter how hard you try to prevent something from getting lost, it's inevitably going to get misplaced one way or another. Even so, it doesn't make me want to turn back time any less to grab my hat from that cab.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


So here’s the situation... On November 7th I gave my 60-day notice to vacate my apartment in Nashville, making my official move-out date January 7th, 2008. However, I moved out of the apartment early on December 3rd and returned the keys to the office. Even though I was physically absent from the apartment after December 3rd, I was legally bound to pay the rent through January 7th, which included extra month-to-month charges outside the expiration of my lease (effective December 1st). I was present for only two of those 37 days, but paid over $1,100 in rent. And I accepted that.

What I've had trouble accepting is the pending charge on my account that I was notified of last month. The balance is $18.11 for a water and sewer charge incurred between Dec. 2, 2007 and Jan. 7, 2008. I was surprised that I'd even been assessed this charge since it covered the 35 days that I didn't and couldn't use the sink or toilet from 887 miles away. Never minding the fact that water charges at The Landings are evenly split amongst each tenant, I called the office to express my objection about the bill. However, after leaving a message, no one returned my call as requested.

The past few weeks went by without incident, and with each passing day I felt more and more that they’d understood my position and cut me a break. So much so that last week, I filed the notice away; a sweet little victory of mine. Here I was, a consumer finally standing up for my rights. Score one for the home team.

Then the other day I received a final notice in the mail about my remaining balance of $18.11, including The Landings' right to take action with a collection agency should I not pay by March 7th.

I understand that by law, The Landings is entitled to this money and technically justified for collecting it because those charges were incurred on my account before I officially moved out. But let's go beyond a black-and-white frame of mind for a minute, and let's look at this situation on principle, because this is not about me being a cheapskate (which I am), or looking for a loophole (which I'm not).

After five-and-a-half years of giving The Landings my business and being a good neighbor, after all 67 months of never being late on a rent payment, and after being physically present for 5% of the time period in which I was charged, THIS IS HOW THEY SAY THANKS? Yes, it's only $18 bucks...but isn't that the point?? Over the years I spent thousands of dollars on rent, and they can’t waive an $18 fee that I was barely there to incur?

All that being said, I’m not exactly sure how to proceed. Here are my options:

a. Pay the bill
b. Don’t pay the bill, or
c. Pay only what I really owe

The good thing is that I can't really go wrong with any of these. But since I have to pick, I think I’ll go with Option C. That would strike a good middle ground between paying and not paying, and it would be the most just outcome of the three. I pay what I rightfully owe and The Landings gets something out of it in return. Everybody wins.

All I need to do is write a check for $0.98 and put it in the mail. Good. I'm glad that's settled.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Worst Album Title of the Year

I know we're only six weeks into 2008, but it's going to be hard to find an album title that's worse than this one. It Is Time For A Love Revolution? Seriously??

It's not like Kravitz hasn't been on this ground before. His first album title, 1989's Let Love Rule, was similar in its amorous declaration but nowhere near this level of frank, hippie uncoolness.

Not the best way to make a comeback, Lenny.

Related: The Worst Song Title of All Time

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

No Tip for You

I hate it when really nice bars have a bathroom attendant. (Do they even have one in the women's restroom??) The thing I can't get over is this: Why should I feel inclined to tip the guy for helping wash my hands? Why should I have to pay to use the restroom? I shouldn't.

But these guys—who won't let you escape without a squirt of soap, a paper towel, and an occasional mint—make you feel bad about not compensating them in some small dollar amount for their services. And it really bothers me.

The irony is this: Instead of making me feel comfortable during my visit to the bathroom, I feel uneasily obligated and slightly guilty for exiting the bathroom without dropping a tip. Yes, I respect the guy for spending his Saturday night in a men's bathroom dealing with increasingly drunk patrons and the likes of cheapskates like me. And I'll even admit that a bathroom attendant and his assortment of amenities contributes to the overall ambiance of the washroom—it's nice.

But unlike other things I may have purchased from the restaurant that night, I didn't choose for him to be there when I entered the bathroom. So there's just no way I can justify spending money in the bathroom for something so everyday as washing my hands.

Nothing personal, dude.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Going Up

Elevators are strange, awkward places.

This is something I've always known but have never been reminded of on a daily basis like I am now. You see, I work in a building that has eight floors and one small, 4x4 elevator for over 400 people. There is a staircase, but for us 8th-floor dwellers, the elevator—as cramped as it gets—is usually the better option.

Since riding in a tiny elevator on a regular basis, I've become familiar with the different postures people assume in uncomfortable reaction to the sometimes severe invasion of their personal space. Not that I can blame them, but it makes for some interesting behavioral observations (especially since there's no elevator music). So, below are the different types of elevator riders that I've witnessed (and I'm sure there are others).

The Number Watcher
Most common. Given the pin-drop silence that the elevator seems to command as soon as its doors close, the only thing Number Watchers can focus on is the number representing the current floor, which can never change fast enough.

The Shoegazer
Very common. When in said uncomfortable situation, it's natural to instantly look down to the ground, which can't make eye contact back.

The Staring Off Into Spacer
Common. Does not want others to perceive him/her as an anxious Number Watcher, nor as the shy Shoegazer. Prefers instead to appear cold and detached, but remains just as uncomfortable on the inside.

The Small Talker
Relatively common. Involuntarily uses a defense mechanism to nervously initiate and perpetuate worthless conversation between uninterested parties. With everyone in earshot, the Small Talker's nervousness only increases the tension for everyone else—Shoegazers shoot up quick glances to see what floor they're on; the composure of normally cool-headed Staring Off Into Spacers is shaken.

The False Gadget Guy/Girl
Not as common. Quickly resorts to toying with closest handheld device. Uselessly navigates cellphone menus or mindlessly scrolls Blackberry wheel to take their minds off the awkwardness of the current situation.

The Oblivious Talker
Rare. Fearless. Carries on pre-elevator conversation as if he/she never entered an overcrowded elevator to begin with. Has total disregard for environmental and situational context. Takes the edge off for everyone. Steps off elevator just as he/she entered it.

Awkward elevator situations aside, there is one thing I like when I'm in an undersized elevator doing a sort of group hug with strangers. Outside in the real world, you can have all the money, power, and status you want. But in the elevator, you and your wall-squished face are no better than anyone else's. You're just another schmo like the rest of us.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Fade to Black

Last night after work I walked over to 421 Broome St., site of Heath Ledger's tragic passing. I haven't seen Heath in many of his movies, nor have I ever understood why so many girls have gone gaga over him. But with his shocking death in the general SoHo neighborhood where I work, I just felt like it was something I should do.

When I got there it was what you'd expect: police and news vans with a decent crowd of reporters and people milling about. I'm not really sure what I was hoping to see. More than anything, I think I just wanted to say I was there since it was only a 10-minute walk, and at that point Ledger was already a headline across the globe.

Yesterday afternoon when a stunned co-worker uttered "Heath Ledger died," the words didn't sound right or real. And as the day went on, it was still hard for me to accept. Heath Ledger is THE JOKER in the new Batman movie. He CAN'T be dead. I continued to wrestle over it in my mind as I tried to focus on my work. And then Metallica's "Fade To Black" started playing on my iPod.

Life it seems to fade away...

Ledger was the star of the first Batman trailer released just a month ago. So much so that it prompted my brother to rhetorically ask, "Is this a Joker movie?"

"It's the most fun I've had with a character and probably will ever have," Ledger told MTV last November. "It was an exhausting process. At the end of the day I couldn't move. I couldn't talk. I was absolutely wrecked."

Based on reports of his physical and mental state in his final days, playing the Joker in The Dark Knight apparently took its toll. Ledger may have gotten so deep in the role that he never found his way out of the dark.

"Last week, I probably slept an average of two hours a night," Ledger told The New York Times in November. "I couldn't stop thinking. My body was exhausted, and my mind was still going."

Like the majority of people, I was surprised as anybody a few years ago when they cast Ledger as the Joker in the next Batman film. I just didn't see it. But the more I thought about it, I had a feeling that the right choice had been made. And although we won't know for sure until July, Ledger has apparently turned in an extraordinary performance. And as a swan song, it will be a haunting, unforgettable one.

Saturday, January 19, 2008


"Life—it's about timing. Timing is everything."
—Nathaniel Fisher, Sr. • Six Feet Under

Now that the dust has settled from the whirlwind that's been my life for the past two months, I've been thinking a lot about timing. It's one of those things that a lot of times is never right. But when it is, it's amazing to think about and look back upon.

First is the timing with my job. As much as I loved Nashville, I'd been wanting to make a change in my life before 2008 hit. The beginning of a new year is always a reflective time for me, and come 2008, I just didn't want to be in the same place doing the same thing I'd been doing for the past five-plus years. I was single, unattached, and about to turn 28. I'm not a big carpe diem kind of guy, but I knew I had to seize the moment while I still could. For whatever reason, I just had this sense—this calling—that it was time to do something different with my life and embark on a new adventure. Initially I was open to going wherever life led me, but sometime in mid-2007, I had this feeling that New York would be the place for me. The job opportunities, the lifestyle, and the people I knew there. For me, New York had the best future to offer.

2007 was winding down, but I managed to interview for a job toward the end of October. I then accepted it on November 1st, knowing that the 16th would be my last day at work and November 26th would be the start date at my new company. About a week after accepting the job, and with the search for NYC living quarters underway, I got a call from my brother on a Saturday morning. His girlfriend had just moved out of the apartment and he was in need of a roommate. Just one week.

Quickly realizing that the opportunity was too special to pass up, the living situation became a no-brainer. Chris needed a dependable roommate fast, and I needed an affordable place to live even faster. The fact that we've always been close (and understand each other like no one outside our family) made it even sweeter. I officially filled the vacancy on November 25th, a day before starting my job. Living with Chris in our newly converted bachelor pad in New York City has been one of the best things that's happened to me, and hopefully him.

Good timing manifested itself in smaller ways, too. Five days after I accepted the job, my dad came to Nashville for a work conference. He emptied one of our vans and drove it down so that he could load it up with my non-essential items. He would later come back to repeat the process during my final move-out, but the initial van-ful was crucial. The trip to Nashville had been on his calendar; my plans to move to New York had not.

Then there was my cat Buddy. My co-worker Lisa had always wanted him, but planned on getting a cat of her own in early 2008. Lucky for her, she got what she wanted just in time. And with me leaving town, my hockey team needed a goalie to fill my spot. Fortunately, my friend Jeff, who I'd just started hanging out with, was the perfect candidate. He'd been looking to get back on the ice but never had much of an opportunity. With these sacrifices, the timing had nothing to do with me, other than the fact that I was able to make it right for others.

Of course, there were times when it seemed like nothing would ever change. But in hindsight, I can't imagine things working out better any other way. Sure, I ended up staying in Nashville a little longer than what I originally wanted, but 2007 was one of the best years of my life because I was in Nashville and was able to spend it with the people I love there. And for that, there are no regrets.

Amazingly, though, everything went according to plan (and not just my own). As the ball began to drop on New Year's Eve, I stood there at a loft party in Brooklyn, surveying the sea of festive partygoers. I smiled, realizing that I was bringing in a new year in a new place—just as I'd wanted, and almost as if I'd willed it. I guess in the end, you just have to be patient.

Yep. Timing is everything.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

My Hero

Finally, someone who understands my love for Chinese buffets:

The M.L. Guide to Beating the All-You-Can-Eat Chinese Food Buffet

A synopsis:

If there is one thing I could be considered an expert on, it’s Chinese buffets. I am a huge fan of the all-you-can-eat Chinese food buffet (emphasis on the HUGE). The concept of all-you-can-eat is brilliant on its own, but once you throw in one of my all-time favorite foods (Chinese), you’ve got one of the greatest inventions of all time.

I really love Chinese Buffets. And it is not just the fact that you get to stuff your face (something I enjoy doing very much). It’s also the no-waiting (you start eating right after you sit down), the variety (it’s the spice of life!) and of course, the competition. That’s right: the competition. You vs. the Buffet. The price is really just a dare—a sign that says “All U Can Eat for $14.50″ might as well just say "I dare you to eat more than $14.50 worth of food. Signed, The Buffet."

Basically, your goal from the moment you walk into the buffet should be: win the game. And the game is to eat so much food that the restaurant loses money. You want to eat so much that when they see you come back the next time, they get scared. You want them to worry that if you eat at their buffet too often, they might have to close it down. But before you can learn how to beat your enemy, you must KNOW your enemy. So here are some tips for beating the all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet.
  1. Sit as close to the buffet as possible.
  2. Never order a soda.
  3. Your first plate should be a feeler plate.
  4. Seafood is a make-or-break item; both a blessing and a curse.
  5. Beware of the “American” food.
  6. When you think you’ve eaten as much as you can handle, eat the crab.
  7. Don’t waste your time on the desserts.
  8. And finally, DON’T EAT THE BREAD!

Monday, January 14, 2008

#1 Crush

There’s a girl at work who I’ve barely spoken to but feel like I know all her best qualities just by observing her throughout the day in our open-office environment. I don’t know what it is about this girl, but every time I watch her, she just carries this amazing energy, and I wonder if I’m the only one who picks up on it.

She moves in this carefree, self-assured-but-not-overly-confident kind of way, all while keeping a sweet and pleasant face to the world. It’s her constant casual spirit that I love because nothing can faze her. She’s pretty but not too pretty, and doesn't worry about getting dolled up because she knows she’s naturally beautiful.

I feel like this is a girl I could fall in love with—if she and her damn boyfriend would ever break up.

Well, maybe office romances aren’t such a great idea anyway.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

What Lies Beneath

So I just finished watching the HBO series Six Feet Under on DVD. For the unaware, this show does not feature a grown-up version of The Breakfast Club’s Anthony Michael Hall, as I mistakenly thought for years. (That’s The Dead Zone.) Instead, it follows the personal and professional lives of the Fisher family in their business as funeral directors in Southern California.

It was this not-so-uplifting premise that heretofore prevented me from taking interest in watching the series. After all, I’ve never been to a funeral (knock on wood), and the mere thought of a show based around a funeral home was downright depressing. But on the confidence of strong recommendations from family and coworkers (many of whom surprised me by saying it was their favorite show), I decided it was time to check it out.

The first episode was the only one I found especially hard to watch because of the mental adjustment I had to make. Around that time I’d enjoyed eating dinner each night to an episode of The Sopranos. As I started to repeat the routine with the first episode of Six Feet Under, I quickly lost my appetite and realized that I’d underestimated the shifting subject matter. Not only did the show unblinkingly and unforgivingly depict people’s deaths in natural and not-so-natural ways, but one of its main focuses was also on homosexual struggles. These major themes made me feel uncomfortable at first, but the show was compelling enough to keep watching.

After a few episodes I adjusted to the nature and content of the show, and it wasn’t long before I was hooked. The characters alive and dead; the keen editing; the dark humor; and the courage to tackle sobering subjects of which many know but few actually face. On the surface, Six Feet Under was dark and deep, but the show wasn’t just about death and dying. In fact, it had everything to do with life and love, family and friends—even if they were far from perfect.

Death? No. In its own unconventional way, Six Feet Under was a celebration of life.

As a buddy warned me, Six Feet Under has several sad and affective moments that at times brought my manhood into question. But in all these moments, nothing compared to what I experienced toward the end of the fifth and final season. With the death of a major character, I felt myself not only sobbing at the unexpected loss, but grieving with the rest of the Fisher family. And with the conclusion of the series looming like a specter, I was also in bereavement for the passing of the show itself, mourning over the loss of characters who’d unknowingly become so real to me.

The show’s tagline states, “Every day above ground is a good one.” And with this thought, the biggest thing I learned from watching Six Feet Under was that in my 27 years of being alive, I’ve never fully appreciated life—mostly because I’ve never had to face its counterpart. And without daily reminders and brushes with danger, it’s easy to forget about the fleeting nature of life, the omnipresence of death, and how everything can change in a second. Even when life is bad, it’s still life...

Nathaniel (deceased): You aren’t even grateful, are you?
David: Grateful? For the worst fucking experience of my life?
Nathaniel: You hang onto your pain like it means something, like it’s worth something. Well let me tell ya, it’s not worth shit. Let it go. Infinite possibilities and all he can do is whine.
David: Well what am I supposed to do?
Nathaniel: What do you think? You can do anything, you lucky bastard—you’re alive! What’s a little pain compared to that?
David: It can’t be that simple.
Nathaniel: What if it is?

Cleverly conceived and artfully executed, Six Feet Under is serial television at its finest. But beyond its entertainment value, the series leaves behind a legacy for anyone who watches it. The next time I drive by a funeral home or eventually lose someone close to me, it will be impossible not to recall Six Feet Under. Even in death, I can’t help but think that Six Feet Under has prepared me for life.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Best Songs of 2007

Was 2007 the fastest year ever for everyone else? I don’t know what it was, but this year flew by quicker than any other I can remember. And unlike most years, I was conscious of it the whole time it was happening. Geeze, is it June already? November? Damn. 2008? Man, there goes the decade.

I may just be getting older and snobbier, but with the perpetuating proliferation of emo groups and brood bands, I maintain that the quality of rock music being put out these days just keeps getting worse. (I think Tom Petty would agree with me.) It's evident in the number of albums I've bought over the past seven years. Let's examine:

• 2001: 16 albums bought
• 2002: 49
• 2003: 32
• 2004: 7
• 2005: 17
• 2006: 13
• 2007: 2

That's right, I purchased just two albums this year: Rush's Snakes & Arrows and Sigur Rós's Huerf/Heim, which, as a double-disc EP with only five new songs, barely qualifies. But I bought it, and Rush needs some company anyway.

So given the dearth of albums I liked in 2007, I thought I'd go a different route, and for the first time rank my favorite songs of the year. So, without further ado....

Top 10 Songs of 2007

  1. “Keep The Car Running” — The Arcade Fire
    Opens with an elegant buildup of strings and drums, and never lets up.

  2. "Life Is Beautiful" — Sixx: A.M. (Nikki Sixx)
    Quite simply has one of the most ferociously ass-kicking guitar riffs I've ever heard.

  3. "Bouncing Off Clouds" — Tori Amos
    Could be the hippest, most bobbing-beat song from the Redhead Piano Princess.

  4. "Underground Dream" — Son Volt
    A pretty ballad that shines small but brilliant rays of hope.

  5. "The Last Fight" — Velvet Revolver
    A throwback to Scott Weiland's Stone Temple Pilots days, and the only really good thing to come out of the second Velvet Revolver album.

  6. "Your Illusion" — Hanson
    Yes, Hanson is still around, and they're really on my list. Shut up.

  7. "Anniversary" — Suzanne Vega
    Vega returns with a quiet but pensive track for mandatory end-of-the-day unwinding.

  8. "Pour Le Monde" — Crowded House
    A more serious ballad that uses the French phrase "Pour le monde, pas pour la guerre," which translates to "For the world, not for the war," and allows me a rare opportunity to apply five years of French.

  9. "Good Morning After All" — Collective Soul
    Another year, another pick-me-up ballad from Atlanta's alterna-pop rockers. And another opportunity to plug my review of their Home album.

  10. "Dreamworld" — Rilo Kiley
    An ignorance-is-bliss tale that combines melodic grooves and Ivy-like harmonization