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