Monday, December 29, 2008

2008 Recap - Motion Pictures

Theater Viewing

The Dark Knight (IMAX)

Very Good
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Role Models
Burn After Reading
Tropic Thunder

Iron Man
Hamlet 2
Pineapple Express
Quantum of Solace


Home Theater Viewing
in reverse chronological order, with a few brief comments sprinkled about:

The Lady Vanishes
Step Brothers
The Foot Fist Way
It's a Wonderful Life
American Movie
[attempted and abandoned]
Once Upon a Time in the West
[for a western this long, there should have been more murder]
Glengarry Glen Ross
You Can Count on Me
The Sting
Snow Angels
Annie Hall
[attempted and abandoned]
25th Hour
The Apartment
Some Like It Hot
An Affair to Remember
Charlie Bartlett
The Bank Job
In Bruges
[War movie without war. Best Picture? More like Boring Picture.]
The Hammer
Dr. Strangelove
[Wasn't expecting such a funny movie - it delivers the laffs]
Super High Me
Murder on the Orient Express
Shadow of a Doubt
Lars and the Real Girl
Gone Baby Gone
[Great until the improbable final few scenes]
High Noon
All About Eve
The Savages
Double Indemnity
Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story
[this is not as good as everyone remembers]
Kurt Cobain: About a Son
Michael Clayton
The Darjeeling Limited
To Catch a Thief
How Green Was My Valley
[Best Picture snoozer. Coal miners? Who gives a shit?]
The Third Man
[Really superb. Highly recommended.]
The TV Set
Old Joy
[Fell asleep 10 minutes before the end. Didn't bother to rewind, because fuuuuck that's a boring movie.]
The King of Kong
3:10 to Yuma
Eastern Promises
The Ten
[Please watch this movie so we can quote it. Together.]
The Lookout
You Can't Take It With You
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
It Happened One Night

Sunday, December 21, 2008

2008 Recap - Music - Lyrics

I sought the assistance of Alipete for the '08 lyric recap, because she spent her year paying attention to modern wordsmithery while I passed the time replaying old Soundgarden tunes. Her choices and commentary will be shown in pink.

You will note that rap and most other popular music is not found in our recap. The Village Voice has a funny feature on terrible lyrics that can make up for the shortcomings of Alipete and myself. Feel free to share anything we've missed in the comments.

Worst Lyrics

Jack Johnson - "If I Had Eyes"

If I had eyes in the back of my head
I would have told you that you look good as I walked away

I heard this song on the radio one day on the way to work. Although 2008 had barely begun, I knew this would be the worst opening line I'd hear all year. Jack, you don't need eyes in the back of your head to determine if someone looks good. Your regular, front-facing eyes will do just fine, as your neck allows your head to swivel, identify, and evaluate your target. Technically, you don't need eyes on either side of your head to tell someone (I'm guessing a girl? That likes to surf? And just, like, chill?) they look good. Your mouth, lips, tongue, vocal cords -- all that good stuff -- are used to make the word sounds.

Vampire Weekend, "Oxford Comma"

Why would you lie about how much coal you have?
Why would you lie about something dumb like that?
Why would you lie about anything at all?
First the window, then it's to the wall
Lil' Jon, he always tells the truth
Disclaimer: I like Vampire Weekend. I think their album is fun and catchy, if slightly overrated. But this? A Lil' Jon reference? This is impossible to defend. It’d be better if these lines were taken out of context, but they're not. "Oxford Comma," like many Vampire Weekend songs, sounds like disjointed Mad Libs. I don't even know what to say.

Best Adjective

The Tallest Man on Earth, "Where Do My Bluebird Fly?"

With all this fever in my mind,
I could aim for your kerosene eyes

This guy, Kristian Matsson, is the latest to be named The Next Dylan. Sometimes the title is bestowed laughably inappropriately (I'm looking at you, Oberst) but this time it seems pretty on target.

Worst Adjective

Vampire Weekend - "Bryn"

Eyes like a seagull
no Kansas-born beetle
would ever come close to that free
Beetles elsewhere? They might as well be in prison. Only Kansas-born beetles can freely roam.

Best Overall Verse
Okkervil River, "Calling and Not Calling My Ex"

Here, on another quiet night,
I will wait until another indistinguishable day arrives outside,
where the light's even and bright,
where my life's sweet as it's (slightly disappointingly) just gliding softly by.
When it comes to lyrics (at least this year), I think everyone is vying for second place behind Will Sheff. This is probably my favorite song of 2008, lyrically speaking. The entire song is pretty stellar, but this excerpt I thought was especially lovely.

Gary Louris - "Omaha Nights"

All the days are numbered
Are they slipping through my fingers?
Am I singing melodies all meant for other singers?
Occupying spaces that were clearly meant for others?
Am I growing old in the arms of the wrong lover?
Am I ready to put a gun in my mouth? Almost. It's that wistful, Gary. Well done.

Land of Talk, "Got a Call"

Darkness dares to the dial tone
As I sing myself to sleep
The most beauty I've seen
Lives in a dream
Where we laugh and want to live for the little things
Once you get past the mumbling of Land of Talk, you will discover some other amazing lines, like: "You can't keep down the girl who loves music." I don't know whether that's true, but I can appreciate the sentiment.

Best Rhyming Couplet

Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks - "Cold Son"

Who is it that said the world is my oyster
I feel like a nympho stuck in a cloister

Soul Asylum Funeral/Urinal Memorial Award: Best Half-Rhyming Couplet

Aimee Mann - "Phoenix"

Got out of Phoenix
just in time
A box of Kleenex
for the ride

Best Repetition

Okkervil River "Singer Songwriter"

You've got taste, you've got taste,
What a waste that that's all that you have

It's one of my favorite lines of the year.

It's all in your hand, it's all in your hand,
Like a gun, like a globe, like a grand.

This song is such a treasure trove of lyrical brilliance, it's hard to pin down what I love most about it. I hope those repetitive couplets do it justice.

Worst Metaphor or Simile

Jenny Lewis - "Trying My Best to Love You"

Our love is sweeter than strings
Our love is thicker than angel wings

Sorry, Ms. Lewis. You are adorable, but you can't compare a metaphysical attribute of an emotion to a physical attribute of a nonexistent (or unmeasurable) being.

Best Metaphor
Cloud Cult "Journey of the Featherless"

And my fingers, they are blisters
And my eyes, they are bullet holes

Liz Phair - "Ant in Alaska"

I'm just an ant in Alaska to you.

Fleet Foxes, "He Doesn't Know Why"

Memory is a fickle siren song

Best Simile

Death Cab for Cutie - "Long Division"

They carried on like long division

The Hold Steady, "Constructive Summer"

Me and my friends are like
the drums on "Lust for Life"

Most Puzzling Simile

Death Cab for Cutie - "Cath"

She holds a smile like someone would hold a crying child
I appreciate the thought, Mr. Gibbard. I want to know how she's holding the smile, and I also like your twist on the verb "hold". I fault your execution. She holds a smile like SOMEONE would hold a crying child. Who? Whom? If a bachelor like myself is holding the crying child, she's smiling in a particular way, and if a mother of five is holding HER OWN crying child, that smile looks completely different. Why is the child crying? If baby hit his bottom and made a boo boo, I'd hold him much differently than if he were crying because of, say, dehydration sparked by cholera.

Best Use of a Non-Word

Bon Iver, "Blindsided"

I'm not really like this... I'm probably plightless

Worst Couplet

Coldplay - "42"

Those who are dead are not dead
They're just livin' in my head

Best Alliteration

The Submarines, "1940"

But curious shapes shift in the dark,
They vanish with the sunrise spark

Okkervil River, "Pop Lie"

Sweetly sung and succinctly stated

Vampire Weekend, "Oxford Comma"

All your diction dripping with disdain

Best Assonance

Okkervil River - "Lost Coastlines"

Is that marionette
real enough yet
to step off of that set

Best Imagery

Fleet Foxes, "White Winter Hymnal"

And, Michael, you would fall
and turn the white snow red as strawberries
in the summertime.

I first thought he was singing "And what's so red as strawberries in the summertime?" As someone who loves strawberries, especially in the summertime, I thought that was delightful. Turns out it's not.
Bon Iver, "Skinny Love"

Staring at the sink of blood and crushed veneer
Gruesome! There's a blood theme here, which is not intentional and completely uncharacteristic.

Most Obscure Rhyme

Vampire Weekend - “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa”

As a young girl
Louis Vuitton
With your mother
on a sandy lawn

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

2008 Recap - Music - Albums

Last year's music recap covered a bit of everything. This time around, I'm splitting the categories. Today, I'm only reviewing albums.

It should be noted, preferably by a notary public, that I did not buy many albums this year. I made an effort to shift the money normally spent on CDs toward buying my best gal all the Sonic corndogs she could want. Really, though, I still spent money, but a lot of the budget went into new and used CDs released years ago. No one wants to discuss the $1.99 copy of Soundgarden's "Superunknown" I picked up this summer (except Jeff), so here are the 2008 albums I purchased or heard completely, or heard almost completely**

Death Cab for Cutie – “Narrow Stairs”

When your first radio single (“I Will Possess Your Heart”) sounds better as an instrumental, you know you’re in trouble. The album was flat, lacking the expertly crafted phrases I expect from Ben Gibbard. Similes like “They carried on like long division” were too rare, replaced by on-the-nose clichés about caged birds, thin ice, and a particularly gruesome song titled “Your New Twin Sized Bed”. Worth hearing: Long Division, Cath, Bixby Canyon Bridge

Jenny Lewis – “Acid Tongue”

Jenny made my favorite CD of 2006, but not of 2008. It’s passable when rollicking, and – with the exception of the pretty title track – clumsy when the tempo is slowed. Worth hearing: Acid Tongue, The Next Messiah

Coldplay – “Viva la Vida (or blah blah blah)”
Coldplay – “Prospekt’s March” (EP)

I tried to get into “Viva la Vida” many times with little success, and didn’t enjoy it much until I bought the EP. (Wondering why I’d buy the EP if I didn’t like the LP? It was $.99 via Amazon’s mp3 store, and I can’t pass up a bargain. In ’08, I SHOPPED until I DROPPED.) The EP gives lyrics to the LP’s instrumental opener, adds Jay-Z to “Lost!”, remixes “Lovers in Japan”, and somehow makes you appreciate its mother. Worth hearing: Violet Hill, Lovers in Japan, Viva la Vida

Paul Westerberg – “49:00”

This received a positive review by the Onion’s AV Club, a trusted source, and sold for $.49 via Amazon. I overpaid. It’s a bunch of unrealized songs merged together into one track. Call me a reactionary, but I like my albums to be broken up into units, and each unit to contain both a beginning and an end. Worth hearing? No.

Mates of State – “Re-Arrange Us”

Breaking precedent, MoS exchanged their signature organ for a piano. The effect was minimal; they were very good with the original instrumentation, and they are still very good. Worth hearing? Yes. From top to bottom, this was my favorite album of ’08.

Tilly and the Wall – “O”

Thirty-two minutes long, my only real problem with it is the two-and-a-half minutes (and title) of "Poor Man's Ice Cream". This album had a punk flavor, and it fit them well, but I prefer the less aggressive tones of their previous releases. Worth hearing: Chandelier Lake, Cacophony, Dust Me Off

**Vampire Weekend – s/t

Vampire Weekend made a fun pop record. The songs -- the majority, anyway -- are good. When I read about how their African-infused music is the Next Big Thing, I frown. Sure, when Paul Simon did it, it was mostly good. And it was mostly good when The Police dabbled with reggae. But there were A LOT of clunkers mixed in with that success, so let's not start essing each other's dee's just yet. Worth hearing: Campus, Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa, A-Punk

**Fleet Foxes – s/t

"Baroque Pop". That's the phrase they use to describe themselves, which doubles as the phrase they use to scare away potential fans. Aside from "White Winter Hymnal" (which I do not recommend due to a particularly irritating day or two when I could not eject its repetitive structure from my brain), I don't hear the baroque influence -- AND I TOOK MUSIC LISTENING IN COLLEGE, SO I WOULD KNOW. I hear folk rock; it's pretty, and it's pretty good. Worth hearing: He Doesn't Know Why, Blue Ridge Mountains, Tiger Mountain Peasant Song

**Bon Iver – “For Emma, Forever Ago”

I will pay $5 American to the first journalist/blogger than can write about this album without using the words "Wisconsin", "Cabin", or "Woods". It's like when you read an article about The Shins and they can't bring up the "Garden State" connection quick enough. You know how Hollywood (or whoever) claims it's much harder to make someone cry than to make them laugh? I assume this album's placement on year-end best-of lists is partially due to that bias. As I said in my 2008 soundtrack post, I like the music quite a bit and I am less receptive to his voice. Worth hearing: Skinny Love, For Emma

Okkervil River – “The Stand-Ins”

It's getting harder and harder for me to find straightforward rock bands, bands without extraneous members or superfluous woodwind instruments, bands with DRUMS and GUITARS that sound best when LOUD. And aren't NICKELBACK. Foo Fighters was one of those bands. Spoon is one of these bands. Okkervil River is another. This is my second-favorite album of the year. Worth hearing: Calling and Not Calling My Ex, Singer Songwriter, Bruce Wayne Campbell Interviewed on the Roof of the Chelsea Hotel, 1979, Lost Coastlines

Monday, December 15, 2008

Stella's Birthday

I know a couple of you asshole readers already saw this at the live show, but for those of us mortals who didn't...

For the record, the hilarious 1980s prop calendar had the following notes written on it: Wine Cooler Night, Party, REM, The Cure!!, Synth Pop, Finals, Ronald Reagan, and one illegible item written in red ink.

A live Stella DVD and The State DVD will be available next year. When that State DVD drops, I'm going to take the day off to consume it. Literally!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

2008 Soundtrack

EXCITING UPDATE 12/15: Thanks to an old pal and new technologies, I have acquired Blitzen Trapper's impossible-to-buy studio version of "Silver Moon", which will now replace "Stolen Shoes" on the playlist. If you'd still like to hear "Stolen Shoes", get it for free at Daytrotter.

[NOTE: Readers expecting or desiring a copy should specify their preferred format -- an audio CD or CD of mp3 files -- in by leaving a comment below.]

I’ve been compiling an annual 80-minute compendium of songs for the last few years. In past years, I’ve followed strict criteria for inclusion on the playlist. I’ve simplified things this year, because the rules were interfering with my musical decisions. For example, the main rule used to be "Each song must evoke a snapshot of my year". Bearing that in mind, I was overly conscious of the impact of which CD I grabbed for a road trip, because if something interesting happened on the journey, that artist would likely end up in the end-of-the-year playlist. That insanity was sucking the fun out of this annual project, hence the revised 2008 Soundtrack Rules:

1.> The compilation should represent songs I first discovered during 2008, songs in heavy rotation during 2008, or songs I associate with a 2008 event.

2.> I must enjoy each song.

3.> More than one song per artist is discouraged.

4.> All songs must fit on a standard 80-minute CD.

5.> Songs should be placed in a pleasant sequence.

See? Simple. The soundtrack to my year is as follows:

The Zombies – “Care of Cell 44”

I loved Elliott Smith’s live cover of the song, despite the lackluster audio quality, and was similarly wowed by the original. You’d expect nothing less from the band that introduced the world to sparkling lyrics like, “What’s your name? Who’s your daddy? Is he rich like me?” I’ll be searching for more of their greatest hits in 2009.

Glen Hansard & Markéta Irglová – “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” (Bob Dylan cover)

I really liked this Dylan cover the first time I heard it, enough so that I contemplated purchasing the “I’m Not There” soundtrack. I saw it had two Mason Jennings tracks and promptly dismissed it. Weeks later, watching the Oscars, it finally clicked that Glen Hansard was the guy from The Frames, who I’d never listened to, and “Once”, which I hadn’t seen.

Neutral Milk Hotel – “Holland, 1945”

When “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” was released, I was still happy with mainstream music. That’s why I didn’t hear “Holland, 1945” until ten years later, when I read this blog post:
Last week, Stephanie went to see The Colbert Report live. What follows is an instant-message re-enactment of our real-life conversation after the show:

Me: How was Colbert?
Me: What?? (Beatlemania screaming face, actual screaming, etc)

Here are the facts as we know them. Between segments, the Neutral Milk Hotel song "Holland 1945" came on (as, apparently, it often does) and Stephanie began absentmindedly lip-synching along to it. A few seconds into the song, she realized Stephen was pointing at her and singing along. According to witnesses, Stephen and Stephanie continued to sing along to the song while making eye contact for over a minute until their reverie was interrupted by the end of the commercial break. During this time, Stephen:

- Appeared to know all of the words to the song.

- Moved his head to look around a producer when his eye contact with Stephanie was briefly blocked.

- Acknowledged his and Stephanie's mutual understanding of the sad nature of the song, which is about Anne Frank, by making a "sad face" and tracing the motion of an invisible tear down his cheek. Stephanie, in kind, mimicked this motion back to Stephen.

In Stephanie's words: "I can die now."

Maybe I should be accustomed to the internet by now, but coming to love this song in such a roundabout way feels strangely but certainly rewarding.

The Dodos – “Fools”

Gavin gets credit for this suggestion. I’d downloaded the song, but didn’t pay too much attention until he underscored it. It’s taken me all year to finally attempt to decipher the lyrics, because I always get wrapped up in the beat.

Bon Iver – “For Emma”

I see Bon Iver’s album is ranked in many year-end best-of lists, but I’m not as excited by what I’ve heard. His music and production are beautiful – “For Emma”’s horns are expertly mixed with its acoustic guitar – but his falsetto is less appealing. I looked up the lyrics to this song a few days ago and read words that I’d have never guessed. And at 3:40, this isn’t a short song, but it feels like it fades out too soon.

Okkervil River – “Lost Coastlines”

This is my favorite song of 2008 -- nice rhymes and good assonance (“Is that marionette / real enough yet / to step off of that set”), a driving beat, duetting unorthodox vocal melodies, and more la las than you can shake a stick at.

Sebadoh – “Soul and Fire”

This song represents my mindset toward music in 2008. Instead of trying to find the new artists I liked, I sought “new to me” music, looking back for classics, like that famous novel you’ve never read. I owned and loved one 1997 Sebadoh album, so I dug deeper. The same approach was taken with the Pixies, Sleater-Kinney, The Jayhawks, The Lemonheads, and Yo La Tengo.

The Ting Tings – “Great DJ”

I’d seen things written about The Ting Tings, and I saw the photos that accompanied that text, and figured I had them pegged. One morning as I drove to work, a local radio station played a song that sounded like an Americanized version of The Prototypes. “This must be The Ting Tings,” I thought. I had them pegged.

The Jayhawks – “Bottomless Cup”

I used Love Garden’s used CD sale and the need to break a Christmas $50 as excuses to splurge on The Jayhawks’ back catalog. I bought “Tomorrow the Green Grass” and “Sound of Lies” during that first sale, and “Hollywood Town Hall” and “Smile” at a subsequent event. I already owned two great live albums, but it’s hard to settle for live recordings when the studio versions are so lush. The word “lush” makes me sound like a homosexual. Maybe you are all homosexuals, too.

Vampire Weekend – “A-Punk”

2008 was the year I started to fall asleep during “Saturday Night Live” rather than afterward, and I’d usually wake up when the musical guest was on stage, such as Vampire Weekend’s string-quartet-accented performance of “A-Punk”. I stand by my January assessment of how to enjoy the band:
1. Completely ignore their name.

2. Assume they all went to Columbia on well-deserved scholarships.

3. Pretend they live somewhere less hip than Brooklyn. (I suggest Sacramento, CA or Harrisburg, PA.)

4. Convince yourself you didn't first hear of them through a music blog, but instead from an off-the-cuff, onstage comment made by Bono during the 1992 Zoo TV tour.

5. Imagine all of their material is actually cover versions of never-before-released Paul Simon songs.

Mates of State – “Help Help”

“Re-Arrange Us” was the only 2008 CD purchase that fully satisfied me; granted, though, I didn’t pay for much music these past 12 months. It put me in good spirits while on the road, particularly when my destination was the airport.

Yo La Tengo – “You Can Have It All”

Another internet-inspired acquisition, this song was #73 on an “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” writer’s list of favorite songs:
Yo La Tengo makes some of the prettiest music there is, music that makes you want to crawl inside it and float around for a while. This is their prettiest, and certainly on a short list for prettiest songs of all time. That Bom-ba-bom-BA-ba-bom-bom loop in the background will burrow its way into your head. Seriously, like sititng on a cloud, this song.

This is on my "Romantic Fucking" iTunes playlist. Works every time.

Coldplay – “Viva la Vida”

I like to include at least one song you could have heard on mainstream radio in my yearly soundtracks. With time, I upgraded the new Coldplay album from “terribly boring” to “meh”. Still, “Violet Hill” and “Viva la Vida” are hard to hate, especially when you’re listening to the latter on the way home from the late “Role Models” viewing and you change all references of “king” to “Kim”.

Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks – “Baltimore”

I heard “Elmo Delmo”, “Cold Son”, “Real Emotional Trash”, and “Baltimore” off of his new album. They all have good moments, and they all outlast their welcome. Still, the world could use more guitar work like this. Bring back the solos, please.

Pixies – “Here Comes Your Man”

I burned a discful of free Pixies songs prior to departing for the Elk River. The first listen came on the return drive through southeast Kansas, and I came away unimpressed. “I don’t see what the big deal is,” I said to Floyd. I discovered my error a few days later, when I listened at a much higher volume. Everything was excellent. I bought a greatest hits compilation. “Here Comes Your Man” was my favorite song to perform, singing in the car or participating in some Playstation 3 Rock Band.

Fleet Foxes – “Mykonos”

I was unsure where to stand on Fleet Foxes after hearing several offerings. Then I found myself in a used bookstore when “Sun Giant” started to play, and I thought, “Yeah, that’s about right.” “Sun Giant” is a song you’d want to hear while spending a quiet Sunday hour in a quaint bookstore. “Blue Ridge Mountains” helped me relax on the flight to New York City, where I saw their impressively harmonious live show. They’re good. Still, with lyrics like “I was waiting down at the ancient gate”, they often leave me cold.

Throw Me the Statue – “Lolita”

I don’t have anything to say about this except that it’s catchy, and that’s why it ended up in a commercial for Rhapsody or something.

Blitzen Trapper – “Stolen Shoes” (live @ Daytrotter)

Before Muxtape became a blocked site at work (and before the site was shut down for questionable treatment of copyrights), I played The Muxtape Game. I’d try to guess if I would like a playlist based on the composer’s username. The correlation between awful handles and terrible music was fairly strong. Carrie Brownstein, former Sleater-Kinneyist and current NPR blogger, created a Muxtape with a killer one-two punch: The Band’s “Up on Cripple Creek” followed by Blitzen Trapper’s “Silver Moon”. Sadly, that BT song can only be found on an EP distributed during their previous tour, or streaming at their MySpace page or NPR. Since I’m not allowed to purchase that song, SINCE THE LABEL APPARENTLY DOESN’T WANT MY MONEY, I’m left with “Stolen Shoes”, free from

Immaculate Machine – “Dear Confessor”

They were technically a 2007 discovery – the female lead is also a member of The New Pornographers, who breezed through town last fall – but were in my listening rotation through early 2008. Immaculate Machine is a three-piece that sounds like a band assembled by plucky movie characters to win the climactic talent show.

Liz Phair – “Ant in Alaska”

A B-side from the remastered “Exile in Guyville”, with lyrics that are technically nonsensical and immature... but they are expressed so perfectly that it sounds like Shakespeare... if Shakespeare was a chick with relationship issues. Some people could never love this song, its imprecise strumming, its off-key notes, but I listen to it and wish I was a rejected 16 year-old spending a lonely night in my bedroom.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Small Ball

I'm still progressing in a EA Sports' NCAA Football 2006 dynasty, as Coach Chester Reboulet. The year is 2047, and the Idaho Vandals just won the MPC Computers Bowl!

More interestingly, I discovered a glitch in the game I hadn't seen in my previous 41 seasons of play. The left guard on my offensive line is listed at 0'8", but he plays like he's a full foot tall.

I tried putting him at tight end, but passes sailed over his head. I handed off to him in some short yardage situations, even though the ball dwarfed him, but he couldn't bust through the line, or sneak underneath it.

Laugh all you want, but that little bastard made first team all-WAC. Seriously.

Thursday, December 04, 2008


I peeked at Anastasia's blog the other night and read the entries, which are (almost?) exclusively funny and/or embarrassing anecdotes. I thought about my little website here, and wondered why it's been so long since I've written my own true yet funny story. Was I in a happenstance drought?

Well friends, the very next day something amazing happened. I drove east on 9th street in unusually dense traffic; after some lane shuffling, a vanity license plate was revealed: JKLIVIN.

Indecipherable to many fortunate souls, I knew its true meaning. A few years back, for reasons unknown, I watched Oprah interview Matthew McConaughey. Matthew related a tale about insomnia. He couldn't get to sleep in his master bedroom, so he decided to go into one of his mansions many other bedrooms and give sleep a shot there. Oprah reacted as if he were transcendental. Sleeping in a different room! She'd never thought of that!

She was similarly impressed by his mantra, "JKL", "Just Keep Livin'", because she's retarded, and didn't know it was simply a line given to McConaughey's character Wooderson in 1993's "Dazed and Confused":
"Let me tell you this, the older you do get, the more rules they're gonna try to get you to follow. You gotta just keep livin' man, L-I-V-I-N."
Mr. McC parlayed the success of the film and his rockin' upper bod into riches, and used those riches to start a "lifestyle" website, which we commoners refer to as a "clothing" store. If you have some time (you're on the internet reading a blog -- you've got the time), you should check out their wares. There's a visor ("j.k. livin visors are for those who need a little shade on their face but want a little sun on their hairline. It's camo colored for the troops."), a thermal onesie ("'Cause it's never too soon for kids to start livin."), and even places to share what J.K. Livin' means to you:
The beauty of j.k. livin is that it’s more than just a saying or a slogan. It’s a way of being…a positive outlook on life that extends across all cultures…it has no boundaries. Each individual, no matter where you’re coming from or where you’re going, has an opportunity to own the j.k. livin mantra.
-Leslie Gialamas
or stories of how you swapped J.K. Livin' gear:

Australian outback 2007 - Swapped an aboriginal my jkl t-shirt for taking the time to tell me a story about his ancestry.
-Matthew McConaughey
So it turns out that funny things do still happen to me, because I saw the JKLIVIN tag on the car driven by a chick delivering Domino's pizza. Just keep livin', baby! For the troops! Keep up that positive outlook, citizen, and pretty soon you'll find yourself in the Australian outback, swapping sweat shop products for history lessons. Or maybe just delivering slightly better pizza at Papa John's Pizza Hut Little Caesar's literally any other pizza chain.

(P.S. folks - you could have been aware of back in October if you regularly checked my Shared Items site. Bookmark it.)

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The Contest Is Over

I know I said the contest would run until Friday, but it won't. It's over. Shawn won, because his relative asked if he wanted a helping of dark meat because he supported Obama. That's the only offensive or ignorant comment I heard about. Good job, everybody. Wait, no, it was not a good job. It was a job that no one applied for. For which no one applied. And now that goddamn "I tried to do handstands for you" song is playing over the iPod Nano commercial. Fuck it all.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Relative Remarks


The Thanksgiving holiday brings with it my fledgling, second annual contest. I'm altering the competition this season, so please reacquaint yourself:


Document the most offensive or ignorant comment spoken by a relative during your holiday interactions.


The categories are wide open. While "Offensive" is generally meant to describe racist comments, it is open to interpretation, and may skew based on your politics. "Ignorant" is also purposefully ambiguous.

If your uncle calls the president-elect the N-word, the comment unequivocally qualifies as "Offensive".

If your uncle calls the president-elect a muslim, the comment is "Ignorant", but may qualify for "Offensive" bonus points.

If your mom asks "what's a 'Mad Men'?", the comment is unequivocally "Ignorant".


1.> The comment(s) must originate from a relative or family friend old enough to know better.

2.> Baiting your relatives is encouraged. Tornado Slide recommends breaching the topic of universal health care.

3.> To participate, please post the qualifying comment(s) in the comment section below, or email the comment to me. Please include a brief background (my grandfather fought in WWII, my family is from Oklahoma, etc.)

4.> Submissions will be accepted through Friday, December 5.

5.> Awards will be given for both the "Offensive" and "Ignorant" category.

6.> I am the boss.


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

This Vampire Love Story Lacks Credibility

I tried to read "The Hobbit" in the fifth grade, but abandoned it. I've never seen "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy. My only Harry Potter exposure has been brief, despite strong interest from friends and more than friends.

Despite this indifference to fantasy, I try to keep abreast of characters and plotlines. (Except for "Lost", because fuck "Lost". Who gives a shit. I hope J.J. Abrams gets eaten by Cloverfield or gets bitten by a Cloverfield parasite and Cloversplodes.) While this kind of dubious knowledge doesn't exactly make you the cocktail party's charming renaissance man, it is required information for those who want to get the Voldemort jokes in "The Office" and Ian McKellen's "Extras" cameo.

In that spirit of quasi-self-improvement, I decided to spoil the "Twilight" series for myself today, reading the Wikipedia plot summaries of the four books.

I couldn't help myself! The movie trailer is so absurd, I had to try and see why this book-turned-film has so captivated our struggling nation's female citizens.

Twilight Trailer in HD

I hoped Wikipedia could answer the following questions:

*Why were those high schoolers wearing old-timey baseball jerseys in the woods?

*Why would an attractive girl be attracted to a boy whose "skin is pale white and ice cold coolcooled." (At 59 seconds into the trailer, you can hear those words, and she definitely doesn't quite say "cold" or "cool".)

*Why is it so hard for this other vampire guy to kill a teenage girl? Willowy sixteen year-olds don't really strike me as the Most Dangerous Game, you know?

*When a vampire is really old, but he looks 17, why does he enroll in high school? "I'm a hundred years old, but I really wanted to brush up on my knowledge of rudimentary algebra and American civics, plus maybe try to score some sweet 'tang." And how does he enroll? What feeder school did he come from? Did he just claim to be home schooled? And why aren't kids constantly beating his ass for looking like an emo douchebag?

Wikipedia didn't explain these plot holes, but the plot summaries were absurdly entertaining. When vampire goings-on are described in an objective, matter-of-fact manner, it's comedy gold. I've pasted the Wikipedia summaries below, and highlighted my favorite knee-slapping (not literally) moments...

Oh, and SPOILER ALERT. But if you don't want this series spoiled, you're a female high school freshman and you shouldn't be reading Tornado Slide in the first place.


Isabella "Bella" Swan moves from sunny Phoenix, Arizona, to rainy Forks, Washington, to live with her father, Charlie. She chooses to do this so that her mother, Renée, can travel with her new husband, Phil Dwyer, who is a minor league baseball player. In Phoenix she was a bit of an outcast, so it surprises her that she attracts much attention at her new school, and is quickly befriended by several students. Much to her dismay, several boys in the school compete for shy Bella's attention.

When Bella sits next to Edward Cullen in class on her first day of school, Edward seems utterly repulsed by her. He even attempts to change his schedule to avoid her, leaving Bella completely puzzled about his attitude towards her. After tricking a family friend, Jacob Black, into telling her the local tribal legends, Bella concludes that Edward and his family are vampires. Although she was inexplicably attracted to him even when she thought Edward drank human blood, she is much relieved to learn that the Cullens choose to abstain from drinking human blood, and drink animal blood instead. Over time, Edward and Bella fall in love.

The seemingly perfect state of their relationship is thrown into chaos when another vampire coven sweeps into Forks, and James, a tracker vampire, decides that he wants to hunt Bella for sport. The Cullens plan to distract the tracker by splitting up Bella and Edward, and Bella is sent to hide in a hotel in Phoenix. Bella then gets a phone call from James in which he says that he has her mother, and Bella must give herself up to James at her old dance studio, to save her. She does so, and while at the dance studio, James attacks her. Edward, along with the rest of the Cullen family, rescue Bella before James can kill her. Once they realize that James has bitten Bella's hand, Edward sucks the venom out of her system before it can spread and change her into a vampire. Upon returning to Forks, Bella and Edward attend their prom and Bella expresses her desire to become a vampire, which Edward refuses to let happen.


Isabella "Bella" Swan is thrown an eighteenth birthday party by Edward Cullen, the vampire she loves, and his vampire family. While unwrapping a gift, she receives a paper cut. Jasper, although attempting a non-human diet, is overwhelmed by the scent of blood and tries to attack Bella. In an attempt to keep Bella safe from the world of vampires, Edward leaves the town of Forks. Bella becomes depressed and seeks comfort with Jacob Black, an old family friend who eases her pain over losing Edward.

Bella and Jacob begin spending a lot of time together, and Bella soon discovers that the rush of adrenaline present when she places herself in dangerous situations stimulates a hallucination of Edward's voice. Bella begins seeking out dangerous behavior, such as motorcycle riding, to keep Edward's voice with her. Meanwhile, Jacob finds out that he is a werewolf. Initially, he tries to keep this secret from Bella, but he eventually reveals as much as he can without betraying his pack. After Bella attempts cliff-diving, she gets caught in a riptide and is rescued by Jacob.

At the same time, Alice Cullen, Edward's vampire sister who has visions of the future, has a vision of Bella jumping off the cliff. Presuming Bella is dead, Alice rushes to Forks to check on Charlie, Bella's father, while Edward calls Bella's home. Jacob answers and informs Edward that Charlie is "at the funeral", referring to that of a man in town who had a heart attack, but Edward draws the conclusion that he means Bella's funeral. Desperate after Bella's supposed death, Edward flees to Italy to see the Volturi, peace-keeping vampires who would be able to kill Edward, granting him leave of a world without Bella.

Bella and Alice rush to Italy to stop Edward, and save him before it is too late. Before they leave Italy, the Volturi tell them that Bella, a human who knows of the existence of vampires, must either be killed or changed into a vampire herself. After they return to Forks, Edward explains to Bella that he only left in order to protect her, and she forgives him. The book ends with the Cullens voting in favor of Bella being changed into a vampire, much to Edward's dismay.


The story begins with the revelation that Seattle is being plagued by a string of unsolved murders, which Edward suspects are being caused by a newborn vampire that is unable to control its thirst. Edward and Bella fill out college applications, while Bella explains to Edward her desire to see Jacob, her werewolf friend, again. Meanwhile, Alice Cullen has a vision that Victoria, a vampire who is hunting Bella, is back in town. Although Edward fears for her safety, Bella insists that Jacob and the rest of the werewolf pack would never harm her, and he eventually allows her to visit Jacob once in a while.

A few days later, Bella expresses her desire to have Edward make love to her before turning her into a vampire. Edward initially refuses, explaining to Bella that he could very easily kill her. Eventually, upon realizing how much it means to Bella, he agrees to try in the future as long as they are married first. Despite having an aversion to marriage, Bella realizes that spending eternity with Edward is more important to her than anything else and accepts his proposal.

Bella and the Cullens realize that the murders in Seattle are being committed by Victoria and an "army" of newborn vampires. The Cullen family joins forces with the werewolf pack in order to combat this threat. As everyone else prepares for battle, Edward and Bella camp up in the mountains, where they are later joined by Jacob and Seth Clearwater, a young member of the werewolf pack, to wait out the fight.

In the morning, Jacob overhears Edward and Bella discussing their engagement and becomes very upset. He threatens to join the fight and get himself killed because Bella doesn't love him. To stop him, Bella kisses Jacob and realizes that she loves him, too. After Victoria and her army are successfully destroyed, Bella explains to Jacob that while she loves him, her love for Edward is greater and she cannot live without him. Jacob, angry at Bella's decision to become a vampire, runs away in his wolf form to escape the pain he feels.


Breaking Dawn is split into three separate "books", or parts. The first part details Bella's marriage and honeymoon with Edward, which they spend on a private island off the coast of Brazil. Edward grants Bella's wish and makes love to her. Soon after, Bella finds a box of unused tampons and realizes that she is pregnant. After contacting Carlisle, who confirms her belief, she and Edward plan to return home. Edward, concerned for her wellbeing, urges her to get an abortion. However, Bella wants to keep the child and decides to contact Rosalie for support, knowing that Rosalie has always wanted children.

The second part of the novel is written from Jacob Black's point of view, and lasts throughout Bella's pregnancy and childbirth. The pack of werewolves, not knowing what danger the unborn child may pose, make plans to destroy it, even though they must kill Bella to do so. Jacob, however, disagrees and revolts, leaving the pack and creating his own with Seth and Leah Clearwater. Bella soon gives birth, approximately a month after becoming pregnant. The birth breaks many of her bones and she loses massive amounts of blood, and in order to save her life, Edward changes her into a vampire. Jacob, who was present for the birth, immediately finds his soul mate in Bella's newborn daughter, Renesmee.

The final section of Breaking Dawn shifts back to Bella's perspective, who has been changed into a vampire and is enjoying her new life. However, the vampire Irina misidentifies Renesmee as an "immortal child", a child who has been turned into a vampire before it is old enough to be responsible for its actions. The creation and protection of "immortal children" was previously outlawed by the Volturi. After Irina presents her allegation to the Volturi, they plan to destroy Renesmee. In an attempt to save her, the Cullens gather vampires from around the world to stand as witnesses and prove to the Volturi that Renesmee is not an immortal child. Upon confronting the gathered Cullen allies and witnesses, the Volturi discover that they have been misinformed and immediately execute Irina for her mistake. However, they remain undecided on whether Renesmee should be viewed as a threat to the secret existence of vampires. At that time, Alice and Jasper, who had left prior to the confrontation, return with Nahuel, a 150-year-old vampire-human crossbreed like Renesmee. He demonstrates that the crossbreeds pose no threat and the Volturi leave, knowing that they no longer have just reason to destroy Renesmee. Bella, Edward, and Renesmee return to their home, free to live their lives in peace.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Punctuation Names For Girls


PROS: Urban. Progressive.

CONS: Other kids would call her "Hymen".

Em Dash

PROS: "Em" is like "Emma", which is currently popular.

CONS: Other kids would call her "Mrs. Dash", if that condiment still exists, and if kids are exposed to those advertisements.

En Dash

PROS: None.

CONS: Everything. The very concept is absurd.


PROS: Sexy. Sounds European, or possibly African. (Senegal, probably.)

CONS: Long. Sounds like "A Pa's Trophy".


PROS: Classic.

CONS: It's a boy's name.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The South American Experience: Valparaiso, Chile

[NOTE: Prior episodes covered Montevideo, Buenos Aires, and Iguazu Falls.]


Puerto Iguazu, Argentina

We woke up.

We ate the breakfast buffet in the large hotel dining room.

We packed.

We took a taxi to the small airport.

We waited.

We flew to Buenos Aires.

We hired a car to transfer us to the international airport across town.

I fell asleep for 30 seconds.

We passed through security and customs, and were back in the terminal where we first arrived on the continent, where we had waited for our flight to Uruguay.

We killed time.

I paid $8 for a salami sandwich. "It's good, but it's not $8 good," I told Matt. Its quality was well beneath the salami sandwich we purchased within Iguazu National Park. And my can of Pepsi cost $2.

We finally boarded the flight to Santiago. Three babies took turns screaming during the flight, defeating any small chance I had of napping while en route. In four separate attempts, an English-speaking man across the isle begged the Spanish-speaking gentlemen in front of him not to lean his seat all the way back. The leaner shrugged, seemingly sympathetic yet stubborn. I had a leaner in front of me, but didn't complain. Because, you know, I'd flown on a goddamn plane before, and knew that such annoyances came with the territory.

We landed, and managed to be first in line at customs. Customs said we needed to pay the entry tax, which was handled in a different line.

The entry tax was $131. "It's good for the life of your passport," the agent informed me, which did little to reassure me of my new passport stamp's value.

Back at customs, now at the end of the line, the customs agent stamped my passport. Rather than turning to one of the many empty pages, the woman chose place the Chile stamp on the same page as my recently acquired Uruguay stamp -- overlapping its logo, in fact.

We hired official airport transportation, another car, for the hour's drive west to Valparaiso. Before stepping into the vehicle, Matt and I decided to grab some Chilean Pesos from the airport ATMs. Without knowing the exchange rate, I decided to rely on the ATM's default amounts for withdrawl. The maximum default amount was 90,000 pesos. I pushed the button. Glancing at the reciept, I saw that my account was at approximately 3,400 -- much lower than it should have been. How much money did I just withdraw? What the hell is the exchange rate here? What kind of ATM suggests you remove thousands of dollars with one push of a button? What happened to my checking account? Was my identity stolen in Uruguay or Argentina? Fuck!

Utilizing text messages to Googlers back in the states, Matt determined that we were not carrying gigantic sums of money. The exchange rate was around 450 pesos to every one dollar, meaning that the missing amount of my checking account balance was not located in my pocket. Where is my money? Did some Uruguayan streetrat hack my account? Fuck!

The scene from the car was Californian: mountains and vineyards through a haze. The land was rural, with only a few groups of houses within view of the highway. "Houses" may be a stretch, as most were tiny, with tin roofs. Most of the billboards advertised processed meat, but I also saw one for rebar. No shit, rebar. Steel bars with which to reinforce concrete. Rebar. As if to say, "Hey, poor Chilean grape-picker! Why not upgrade from that shack to a large, reinforced concrete dwelling?" Or, "Hey, trucker! Yeah, you! The one headed for the coast! You know what you're missing? Rebar. Think about it."

Within the city limits, our driver rolled down his window at a stoplight and spoke with one of the many pedestrians, getting directions to our hotel, the Robinson Crusoe Inn. A few blocks later, we had left the flat streets of the coast. Ferrari avenue rose before us like a mountain. The drive pushed ahead in low gear, inclined near 45 degrees, and stopped in an s-curve to again ask for directions. Reoriented, he thanked the passerby and released the clutch. The tires squealed as he pressed the gas, coaxing the car up the remainder of the incline, now even steeper than before. No dice. He backed up to gain momentum.

I should have mentioned this before: the street was lined with interconnected buildings, wide enough for only two-way traffic. It was anyone's guess if it was a one-way or two-way street. Also, the corners were blind. Is there any way to convey that the corners were extremely blind? Like, blind from birth? The point I'm trying to make is, even without the steep incline that made it feel like the car was ready to tumble backward hood-over-trunk, Ferrari avenue felt dangerous.

Ferrari avenue the next morning, looking less dangerous but just as steep.

The tires caught, and the car successfully passed through the s-curve. We turned right, then right again, went a few yards downhill, and stopped. We'd arrived at the inn, situated near the top of a hill on another narrow street.

The inside of the inn was a contrast to the city we'd driven through. The lobby was full of furniture and wall hangings, like an upscale Applebee's.

Photo via Tripadvisor.

Each room was named in the spirit of the inn's namesake novel -- we were placed in "Selkirk's Courtyard", on the ground floor. The window was large, but almost completely, tastefully blocked off. Just how bad was this neighborhood?

The maid asked if we'd like to see the terrace. The three of us climbed the wooden stairs to the top floor. (I think it was the 2nd floor, but it was more like a 3rd story, given the high ceilings and open plan.) The terrace was one wide, split-level room with windows on all sides. Outside, it was dusk, and the low, brightly painted buildings covered every inch of the hills that rose above the ocean. It was like San Fransisco, built with tin, compressed around one small bay. I exhaled the nerves I'd accumulated on the drive to the inn. Despite the terror of the drive, the city's questionable character, and my missing checking account balance, I started to relax.

Matt and I quickly unpacked and went back to the living-room-like lobby, where we met the inn's owner, George. Born in Santiago and raised in Phoenix, he started his life in Valpariaso several years back, after "falling in love with the city." He asked his maid to make sure Cafe Turri was open late on Sundays (it was), and recommended we dine there. He handed us a map, explained how to ring the bell by the front door to be let in after business hours, and gave a final word of advice to Matt. "Watch your backpack," he said. Matt latched the clip that connected the pack's shoulder straps.

We walked down the dimly lit street, wondering how much we'd curse its incline on the journey back. After 100 yards, the street became a steep staircase. Fifty steps later, the stairway became a landing. Another stairway led to the left, and one continued straight ahead. Matt stopped just before reaching the landing.

"There's like 5 cats down there and it's freaking me out."

The landing, sans cats. Found via Flickr.

We eventually reached sea level. Never truly understanding the directions George gave us for Cafe Turri, we abandoned hope of finding it. Walking through a plaza bordered by small cafes, Matt led us to a small place called Cinzano. Matt had the balls to order a sandwich containing green beans, and that gamble paid off big. My pork sandwich was far inferior. Pictures of maritime disasters hung on the walls. Electrical wiring hung exposed, as if some recent disaster forced a sloppy renovation.

When we failed on our first attempt to navigate back to the inn, I executed my first and only freakout of the vacation. I was tired from the day of traveling, I was missing a significant amount of my liquid assests, and I was confused in a strange new city of questionable repute. I felt that Matt wasn't displaying an adequate level of concern for the situation. He felt that being lost for 5 minutes was not an emergency. Indeed, we were back on track after our successful second try, and I calmed as we hiked back to our room.

I think it took another 24 or 36 hours to figure out my checking account problem -- hours during which I constantly considered asking George to let me use his office computer to access online banking.

"Check your ATM reciept to see if the balance is in dollars or Chilean pesos," Matt suggested.

I looked. I didn't have 3,400 dollars in the account, I had 3,400,000 pesos. I relaxed.

Valparaiso, Chile

I woke to a the sound of percussion from outside. I later learned the source -- a truck selling canisters of natural gas. It was a two man job. The driver drove slowly through the neighborhood, and his partner stood in the truck's bed, banging the canisters like drums. The ice cream truck method.

Breakfast was cooked by George in the kitchen, and served to the few groups of guests upstairs in the terrace. We enjoyed our eggs and grapefruit while looking out toward the port, toward the tin roof next door, where a cat explored.

"This city is like a cat's wet dream," Matt said. "Do you think there are cats here that have never walked on the ground?" (And later, "Jesus Christ, I'm 30 years old and I'm saying shit like 'a cat's wet dream'? What the hell is wrong with me?")

George suggested we head to Pablo Neruda's former home, now a museum. We walked a few steps out of the inn, where a neighbor's dog startled us by charging its fence. Matt and I continued to move up the hill. The city was far less menacing than the day before, but no less disorganized. The sloppy wiring at Bar Cinzano was merely a microcosm of the area's philosophy on electrical cables.

We found Pablo Neruda's house, and tried unsuccessfully to slide in with a touring group. The guide stopped us, explaining we needed to buy tickets. Of course, Matt and I hold a strict "don't pay for anything that involves poetry" philosophy, so we split and enjoyed the free architecture view.

Navigating toward sea level, we saw the Heroes monument, a tribute to some sailors that died in the Battle of Iquique, which you'll remember was a small but significant conflict in the 1879's War of the Pacific. Passing the port and its small shops, Matt and I utlized one of Valpo's signature turn-of-the-century funiculars to reach the naval museum.

Since it was light outside and I wasn't terrified, finding Cafe Turri was a far simpler task than it was the night before. We dined outside, overlooking the port, again, because that's how you dine in Valparaiso. Dining any other way is just silly. Matt had swordfish, and I had sea bass. Chilean sea bass in Chile -- just another feather in the hat of my long tradition that started with Boston cream pie in Boston.

It was late afternoon, so tradition called for us to return to our rented room to shower and watch reruns of "Gilmore Girls" and "The O.C.". I should have mentioned that our room -- excuse me, "Selkirk's Courtyard" -- featured only one bed. Matt was uncomfortable with the idea of sleeping beside me in that bed, so he spent the previous night in his sleeping bag on the floor. I suppose that would make our room seem pretty not gay. But if you stepped in after the maids cleaned it on Tuesday, the room would seem pretty not not gay.

I believe our late lunch allowed us to skip dinner that night and head straight to Bar La Playa, which Matt's Lonely Planet guidebook touted for its cheap beer and long bar. We navigated the long, steep stairway down to the landing. There were many fewer cats compared to the previous night, but one stood out. Matt noticed a ragged black cat that appeared to be a body double for Special Agent Jack Bauer, the "junkyard cat" featured in my favorite episode of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia", "Bums: Making a Mess All Over the City".

The bar was located in the financial district of the city, a locale that would have terrified me 24 hours earlier. The city charmed me since then, however, so I was in good spirits as we made our way down a dark street fit for a Jack the Ripper film. A low entrance opened into a standard pub, with wooden furnishings and a long bar. Posters of Hollywood icons spotted the walls, lending the place an inviting charm, with the exception of the poster of a "Pretty Woman" era Julia Roberts, which stuck out like a Julia Roberts on wall of attractive Hollywood icons. Also charmingly standard: a small TV showing a South American soccer match (tied zero-zero? Weird!) and an English-speaking douchebag with a shaved head hitting on an English-speaking woman way out of his league.

Not only was the guidebook was right for once about the long bar, it also nailed its prediction of cheap beer. I recall calculating a $.30 peso per liter rate on the way home, with a margin of error at +/- "kind of drunk". (We drank 3 or 4 liters of Escudo and paid 3300 pesos, about $7. I think.)

The city was quiet as we stumbled home, save for two young gentlemen pissing along one wall of the long, steep stairway that led back to the inn. Valparaiso was kind of awesome.

The stairway in daylight, as seen from the cat landing. Photo found via Tripadvisor.

Valparaiso, Chile

I woke in my soft bed, and Matt in his hobo nest on the floor. Matt especially enjoyed the final egg breakfast George prepared for us, but I remained partial to the previous day's omelette.

We were excited for another day of exploring the city's hidden passageways and absurd stairways. As we walked a few steps out of the inn, the neighbor dog charged its fence, barking, and startled the shit out of us. Again. The city was full of stray dogs and cats -- most were lazy or undernourished enough to spend their days lying around, but we were adjacent to the lone awake, mean animal in Valpo. That dog was the worst.

Later that afternoon - note a dog under every bench shadow.

Deciding to walk away from the hills, toward the flat area of town, was a bad move. Sure, that area of the map was littered with the word "plaza", but Plaza Italia and Plaza O'Higgins were generally lousy, consisting of standard statues. Many were garnished with graffiti (a South American standard, but Valparaiso's art scene took graffiti to new heights. The kids seemed to love it, and I'll admit it was the first place I'd ever visited where the graffiti seemed to add to the ambiance rather than detract from it.), and some bore the evidence of the town's substantial pigeon population. Chile's congress was modern and forgettable, and the university buildings we similarly uninspiring. On the plus side, Matt and I were able to buy bus tickets for the next day's trip to Santiago, and I saved approximately $.10 by slipping in an out of a park's pay toilet undetected.

Walking all the way back to the port rather than attempting to board the light rail, we looked through the tiny port shops for souvenirs. When Matt found a nice looking T-shirt, I followed suit to buy my own. The saleswoman pointed to the shirts' tags, which indicated they were made in Chile, several times. Why she thought that Chilean craftsmanship was a selling point, I can't guess. Maybe she assumed her peoples' great work on the loom was the stuff of legends back in the states, but I didn't know and didn't care about the brand. I picked up a shirt and an adoreable stone penguin carved from lapis luzuli.

I realized our pledge to explore the city's hills was ambitious as we climbed to the cemetery, which stood atop one large plateau. A sign banned pictures, and though no one was around save for two gentlemen performing much-needed renovations, I heeded the request, photographing no sepulturas, only vistas.

The morning's hike had generated a powerful hunger, so we trekked back down to the plaza that held Bar Cinzano. Regretting our missed opportunity to eat at a German restaurant near our hotel in Buenos Aires, we chose to dine at a place called Hamburg. Matt and I agreed to share a liter of beer with our lunch; however, the dark German beer we ordered was on tap, not served by the bottle. That, plus the language barrier, resulted in one gigantic mug of beer for each of us. My sausages were bad and hot-dog-like. The beer was good. Too good.

Despite Matt's appearance, this photo was taken prior to downing our beers.

Any hope of continuing our assault on the city's slopes were drowned by those dark, heavy, delicious liters of beer. Instead, it was back to the inn for rest, a shower, and Harrison Ford vehicle "Random Hearts". It was a bad movie with a worse title, but it met our veiwing requirement: English with Spanish subtitles.

The night was again spent at Bar La Playa, where we drank more Escudo while sitting at the long wooden bar. It was much more crowded than the previous evening, because there was a special event. We spoke with the event organizer, a short, pleasant, bilingual man who had spent several years in California, where he "fell in love with a Mexican girl". Our converstaion was cut short, as he had to head to the microphone across the room to MC poetry night. The verse was not the night's highlight. That's not a knock against the amateurs in the room, obviously, because I couldn't say what any of the works were about (though I did detect that rhyming wasn't requisite). The ghost of Emily Dickinson could have freestyled and it wouldn't have been the highlight, because nothing could beat casually turning on my stool, glancing around the room, only to whir back to Matt in a restrained shout: "Holy shit there's a fucking cat in here!".

Valparaiso's day belongs to the canines, Valparaiso's night belongs to the felines, and awesome belongs to Valparaiso.


*Be prepared to walk a lot of steps.

*Don't be intimidated by the city's appearance, stray animals, or dangerous cab rides.

*Get a good map that shows stairways and funicular elevators.

*Budget 2 or 3 days here, concentrating on wandering the hilly neighborhoods.

*The Robinson Crusoe Inn is a bit pricey, but safe and cozy.

The inn. Photo via Tripadvisor.

Red State

Matt works with very conservative people of varying ignorance in a conservative city in a strongly Republican state. I texted Matt this morning to gauge the post-election situation:

DN: What's the mood at [redacted]?

MATT: Pretty grim. Or funny. Depends on how you look at it.

(Five hours later...)

MATT: Let me put it to you this way. The assassination jokes are getting old and they were not that funny to begin with.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Halloween Weekend Roundup

UPDATE 11/5: I did it! My paper bag did it!


* * *

Halloween. I dressed up. I was a ghost.

The costume limited my vision, but from what I gathered, there weren't a lot of good costumes about town this year. It was like the election sucked out everyone's imagination and replaced it with a brain that thinks Sarah Palin costumes are actually worthwhile.

The next day, I watched old alma mater get bitchslapped by our in-state rivals. I unleashed the paper bag I designed the evening prior.

Now, this was not a Halloween costume. Once All Saints Day rolls around, dress up time is over. But the time for serious social action is not. It's always time to speak your mind, even if the fans around you treat you like an animal, calling, "Hey, Baghead! Turn around!" so they can take a photo they'll never look at again with their shitphone's 1.2 megapixel camera. But whatever. Statement made. And it was easier to see out of than the ghost getup.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Mount Rushsmore

Everyone knows that my favorite text on a movie prop is the footnote on Max Fischer's "Heaven and Hell" invitation that reads "Casual dress, refreshments, etc." But what are my five favorite "Rushmore" quotes?

“Now, for some of you it doesn't matter. You were born rich, and you're going to stay rich. But here's my advice to the rest of you: take dead aim on the rich boys. Get them in the crosshairs. And take them down.”
--Herman Blume

Get some rootbeers for anybody who wants one. I don't want one. OK. Next scene. Frank, you enter stage right with a bag of cocaine.
--Max at “Serpico” rehearsal

You're supposed to say, "Forget about it, Sanchez - the old man likes his cannoli --"
--Max, upset with a student who forgot a line in “Serpico”

These are glorious. Let me put them in some water.
--Mrs. Guggenheim, after Max presents a pitiful bouquet of flowers

Make sure these don't get wet.
--Max, casually handing dynamite over to Dirk

Thursday, October 23, 2008

My Life In Song: Nirvana - Nevermind

This is part three of a very slowly continuing series.

Certain songs remind us or certain memories. These are my associated memories for Nirvana's seminal "Nevermind" album. I obtained "Nevermind" through the ubiquitous but technically illegal process of "dubbing" -- cassette to cassette copying -- my brother's purchased copy.

1.> Smells Like Teen Spirit

My home didn't have cable TV, so I don't associate this song with a grunge pep rally. I think of sharing the back seat of my mom's car with fellow seventh-grader and best friend Chris. We were on the way to the Odyssey of the Mind tournament. Chris quoted the a short phrase from the song, "a mosquito", while making creepy hand gestures. He said nothing of the lyric that followed, "my libido", because we had no idea what that meant. (See: Odyssey of the Mind tournament, the weekend activity we became involved in through our school's gifted program.)

2.> In Bloom

Eighth grade. The school bus that took us home from a road basketball game was equipped with a tape deck, an unheard of upgrade over the standard AM/FM radio. After wasting this accessory for the majority of the trip, I was allowed to insert a cassette. Maybe "In Bloom" sticks out because it was the only song we heard before the ride ended, and maybe not, but I do know this: that was the first bus ride on which newly officially recognized couple Jarod E (8th grade) and Angie M (7th grade) sat next to each other.

This song's opening lines became the basis for a joke of my friend Jeff S, which went something like:
"Hey, Jeff! How's it going?"
"Ah, not to good, I had to sell the kids for food again..."
Jeff was in the seventh grade.

3.> Come As You Are

I don't associate this song with any youth event. The only thing it envokes is the billboard outside of Aberdeen, Washington, the home of Kurt Cobain, that encourages visitors to "Come As You Are". Which is lame? Neat? I don't even know anymore.

4. Breed

The 1992 Elite Eight pitted Christian Laettner's Duke Blue Devils against Jamal "Monster Mash" Mashburn's Kentucky Wildcats. Sitting on my grandparents' living room couch, I had "Breed" in my head as I rooted for the upset in what would become the greatest NCAA tournament game ever played. I thought my brain was misremembering the lyrics, and later found I was correct in humming "We can plant a house / we can build a tree" rather than the more logical, less whimsical alternative. Duke won in overtime, thanks to an improbable shot from incredible pussy Laettener, who finished the game perfect from the field as well as the free throw line. Two years later, Cobain killed himself. Coincidence? Or another damning clue that the Seattle police refuse to investigate?

5.> Lithium

I owned a live CD with a killer version of "Lithium", but it was stolen when my house got broken into. Fifteen years later, I could probably find it online. I'm going to look into that.

6.> Polly

Before we drove to compete in Odyssey of the Mind, we had to build our setpiece, a mousetrap-like contraption wherein one event triggered the next. The final phase of construction took place at Keith's house, because his dad had an large, unattached workshed. Despite our parental supervision, JJ had us listening to "Polly wants a cracker / I think I should get off her first". JJ was also responsible for playing Guns N' Roses profanity-laden "Get in the Ring" during a separate after-school project for the gifted program. Smart, athletic, rebellious -- needless to say, JJ was a hit with the ladies.

7.> Territorial Pissings


8.> Drain You

As I've mentioned...
I listened to [Nevermind], particularly Drain You, over and over again on the ride home from a field trip - the first and only field trip we ever took out of the state, to a cave and a salt flat in Oklahoma; I was in the seventh grade, and I was wearing sunglasses. The tinted lenses allowed me to stare at the girl I had a crush on with zero repercussions -- she would look at me a few times, but I just kept looking straight ahead at her, confident that my hideous yet effective sunglasses would shield my obsession.

9.> Lounge Act


10.> Stay Away

Pay attention, because this sums up everything you need to know about my relationship with "Nevermind". In environments that prevented me from listening to a personal cassette player -- such as time spent mowing lawns -- I passed the time by playing "Nevermind" in my head, nonstop, front to back. I have a tangible (not literally, of course, but in the parlance of our times) memory of mowing the eastern side of my driveway, just south of the large pine tree, "listening" to the introductory drumbeat of "Stay Away". Related: circling the maple tree in the middle of the yard with Metallica's "Unforgiven" in my head.

11.> On a Plain

Not much. "Love myself better than you" probably seemed a more impressive lyric to me as a teenager than today, and that's even before I saw it as a sexual reference.

12.> Something in the Way

One school night in 1993 or 1994, there was a fundraiser in the auditorium that amounted to an open mike night -- sparsely attended by the group of seniors that developed it and those seniors' younger siblings that tagged along. One male student sang The Lemonheads' "Being Around" solo, unable to find Dan V., his would-be duet partner. Shawn happened to be there, too, with his acoustic guitar that he was learning to play, and we decided it would be a good idea to perform "Something in the Way" -- a perfect choice for budding performers, as it was easy to strum and easy to sing. We rehearsed briefly in the commons before taking the stage, and made it through a verse before my brother walked toward the stage and said, "We're leaving". He wasn't kidding. I hopped off the stage and followed him to the car. I assume the song stopped behind me, or maybe Shawn (and Keith? He may have been up there, too) finished it. Either way, dick move by my bro, who pulled the same stunt at the big, free Collective Soul concert that year. (Making me leave early, not pulling me off stage. Collective Soul and I were close, but not that close.)

Thus ends Nirvana week on Tornado Slide.