Monthly Archives: October 2009

he’s gotta have his dip-tet, honey

10/29/09

Tessa turned me on to a great cover story on WIRED this month all about the “epidemic of fear” some parents have about vaccines, and needless to say, it is totally one-sided and totally awesome. I’m particularly glad that the piece’s author, Amy Wallace, takes Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey to the woodshed for their hopelessly ignorant – and dangerous – assertions about vaccines and autism.

I know I’ve yammered about this before (and recently) but this has the potential to become a very big deal if the anti-vax movement grows any stronger. Your kids and, well, you are going to find some scary shit coming down the pike as America loses its herd immunity, and suddenly breathing inside an airplane will conjure measles and rotaviruses. The H1N1 flu – while deadly to pregnant women and kids under two – will probably not be the pandemic they write books about, but everyone’s “no thanks” reaction to the vaccine speaks ill of the next big mutation.

You can bet your sweet ass that I’m getting the swine flu vaccine if I can – so would Tessa, and my daughter. I’d get TWO of them if I thought it’d work better. In fact, if they made a Swine Flu Extra Grande Latté with Weakened Tetanus Coconut Flakes, I’d get that motherfucker too.

There’s a delicious quote from Carl Sagan in the article that puts the anti-vax hysteria into human terms: “A great many of these belief systems address real human needs that are not being met by our society.” In other words, our current American lives leave us with a helplessness, or a lack of community, that is filled by the belief of the irrational.

Interestingly, that idea has helped me understand more about the teabaggers, the birthers, the town-hall crazies and the odd enclaves of American wingnutters that strike us progressives as irredeemably stupid. It may not be so much about the topic itself (abortion, taxes, Obama etc.) and more about the subconscious joy you get by being part of something bigger. Certainly I felt it in Washington D.C. when we went to the inauguration. I imagine it must feel good to some people to make a sign saying “OBAMA IS A FASHIST AND I BROT MY GUN” and commiserate with their idealogues, even if it makes me want to ralph.

I guess it’s fine for parents not to vaccinate their kids, as long as they keep them locked in their houses, and away from schools, markets, airplanes, my family, playgrounds and restaurants. After all, there’s seven times more mercury in a tuna sandwich than a vaccine, and I’d hate for their kids to accidentally eat one. Oh yeah, even though there are barely any vaccines left that have mercury. Oh, and even though six separate independent studies showed that mercury had nothing to do with autism.

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dallas dhu is nowhere near dallas tx

10/28/09

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Hey! I got my first “Fare” piece in November’s issue of SAVEUR Magazine, something that has ended up being quite a lovely surprise, here at the end of a very long season of writing in a completely different field. To read my article, either pick up a copy of the gorgeous magazine itself, or read a version here.

It’s an idea I’ve had for a while, and in fact, some of you were present for its inception: a taste test of different single-malt scotches from distilleries that no longer exist. There’s something awesome about “spirits from a ghost distillery” that turned me on, and in fact, there are collectors that specialize in scotch from silent stills.

Until the holidays, when (with the help of Steven Garrity) I plan to launch my Scotchtastic blog, I’ll put a few things here about whisky from ghost distilleries you should try if you ever have the chance:

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Port Ellen – Hard to go wrong with this peaty, intense Islay malt, but the “official releases” – particularly the 27-year-old from 1978 – is a smoky, explosive treat.

 

 

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Rosebank – Like many “lowland” whiskies, you have to be careful. It can be either a subtle, heathery masterpiece, or a spirity, grassy bore. Old Malt Cask’s bottling of a 22-year-old from 1980 is a high-wire act of sugary perfection.

 

 

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Convalmore – This dark-hued Speysider can put some Macallans to shame. Try the Rare Malts 24-year-old; the nose, swear to God, is Starburst candy (particularly strawberry), but on the palate you’ve got wood esters, dark teas and even a hint of mint. It almost feels carbonated. Stunning.

 

 

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Brora – Perhaps the most-mourned distillery, the 30-year-old official bottling is probably the best whisky in the world outside an auction. The nose, the palate, the finish… wafting peat, complicated sugars, a play with rising and falling action. Four seasons in one dram, and not to be missed.

Oh, and thanks Dana!

a humble spork, but ’tis mine own

10/27/09

Just flew in from Texas with the ladies after ten days around the country, and the Lulubeans fell asleep in my arms while we were talking on my bed around 5pm. If any of you know Lucy (and many of you do), you know this is about as common as an Amur Leopard sighting. That is one girl who does not like to miss anything, and she speaks for us all: we’re certainly fascinated, but exhausted.

Thus here’s the CODE WORD question… what is your absolute favorite food in the world, and what food makes you want to barf?

hey you with the face

10/26/09

This story – if indeed you can call it that – came out a few days ago: apparently a study showed that Cellphone Users are Too Distracted to Notice a Clown on a Unicycle. If I may quote…

“According to a study involving a unicycle, a clown, and 150 college students, cellphone users were half as likely as others to notice a red-nosed, unicycle rider.

Ira Hyman, Jr., a researcher at Western Washington University sent a student unicycling around campus wearing a clown costume and then asked people who’d walked past if they’d ‘noticed anything unusual.’ The cellphone users were less than half as likely to have noticed, but Hyman speculates that it may not be the technology itself which distracts them, but instead the concentration required to maintain a conversation over that particular medium.”

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Here’s what I think the study gets all wrong: most people fucking HATE CLOWNS [except Bozoette Mary, who’s awesome – ed.] Even kids are scared shitless of clowns (unless they make balloon animals, and then they’re merely means to an end). I would say that cell phone users, like most humans, sensed a bad clown in their peripheral vision and instinctively turned away, sublimated, or blotted out the experience entirely.

It’s not even that clowns are scary, they just make unreasonable demands on your time, and they’re not funny. I know there’s a very sophisticated clown school in New York, and the tradition winds back through Commedia dell’arte to ancient times, but when most people see a motherfucker in a clown costume on a unicycle, their first thought is EVASIVE ACTION.

I will do almost anything to avoid interaction with a clown. Lucy, Tessa and I sat in the first row of the Cirque de Soleil KOOZÅ show because I didn’t think it would have actual clowns. Indeed it did, and one of them made me stand up in front of four thousand people so he could make fun of my hair. At least my hair’s REAL, asshole!

I know this cell phone article is supposed to make some larger point about how much mental processing power a cell phone takes, thus extrapolating to dangerous driving, but they shouldn’t have used a clown. I think I speak for all of us when I say they should have used BOOBIES.

i didn’t realize you wrote such bloody awful poetry

10/25/09

Okay, today on Writers Monday on the blog, I’d like to point out one of my biggest pet peeves; I call it “Our Hero’s Boring Hurdle.” In essence, it’s when a television (or movie) character has an arbitrary, predictable or annoying problem that keeps him or her from doing what we came to see them do.

When you step back from storytelling, it’s been oft defined as this: you get your guy up into a tree, you throw things at him when he’s in the tree, and then you get him out of the tree. Basic stuff, our hero’s journey from Point A to Point B and how they (and others) change during the voyage.

Problem is, television is like Scheherazade – you have to tell a fantastic story with a cliffhanger every time or else the king kills you. In skilled hands, or rather in a multitude of skilled hands, this is possible for a number of seasons – but even the best shows occasionally get complacent (or exhausted) and simply offer up a challenge to your hero that is merely an annoyance to be endured rather than a twist that enlightens.

Again, I’m going to reference my beloved “Glee”, since it’s a show that has enough surprises and reversals to know better. The character of Will Schuester’s wife, the one who is currently faking her pregnancy, is almost unbearable. If you care about the romance between Will and the guidance counselor Emma, then the wife is – at best – a screeching harpy who needs to be jettisoned. She’s merely a hurdle masquerading as plot.

In fact, during the pilot, I moaned “how long are we going to have to put up with this woman?” Anyone who watches the show knows it’s just a matter of time before the pregnancy canard is exposed, and she has no other redeeming qualities, so why are they waiting so long to send her away?

The answer is obvious: you need to keep the romantic leads apart as long as possible, but there are far more interesting ways to keep star-crossed lovers from ever achieving full satisfaction. “Lost” is not perfect, but they’ve done a pretty good job keeping Jack, Kate, Sawyer and Juliette tantalizingly close – but always a fingertip too far – from real happiness.

Look at the shows commonly thought to be brilliant – your “Sopranos”, your “Mad Men”, “The Wire”… hell, even go with the first season of “Prison Break”. Notice how their characters are presented with challenges that manage to say something bigger about who they are, and what the theme of the show is about. A monstrous enemy morphs into the last person you’d ever thought would save your life. What starts as a throwaway plot point becomes the key to the season.

I want my challenges to be delicious. I want to slay the monster with advice my last enemy gave me. I never want to wait for someone to disappear so the real show can start. As they say in Sweden, don’t bore us, get to the chorus!

i also see with sonar sound

10/22/09

I’ve been away from the girls for about five days now, which means I can only keep up with them over iChat or the phone. Apparently while they were in the car today, Lucy said to Tessa, “I really like Santa Claus. But he only comes at night. He’s nocturnal. Like Daddo.”

Yes, my daughter is already talkin’ shite about my sleep habits, but “nocturnal”? Man, I love my little pumpkin pie spice.

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Since we can’t do our usual cultural kvetching in person, Tessa calls me with her random observations and mini-rants. I’ll try to transcribe our call from yesterday:

Tessa: “Hey, so can I make three cultural criticisms? Some things have just really pissed me off.”

Me: “Sure. You kidding? Absolutely!”

“Okay, so I got stuck behind this other car, and it had a bumper sticker that read ‘It’s Okay To Say Merry Christmas’.”

“Oh yeah. One of THOSE people.”

“Like they’re so bent out of shape because GOD FORBID they have to take anyone else’s beliefs into consideration.”

“Not to mention it’s a totally invented phenomenon. It’s just right-wing bullshit, the whole ‘War on Christmas’ thing.”

“I mean, sure, it’s okay to say Merry Christmas. It’s also okay to not be a prick about it. We live in a place with lots of different cultures, can they just DEAL with it?”

“No, they can’t. And they’re gonna tell you about it.”

“Okay, the next thing: what’s up with the CEO of Coca-Cola going after Michelle Obama because she wants to promote healthy food?”

“The leader of Coke?”

“This guy says that the President and the First Lady are telling people what to drink and that it’s like the Soviet Union. Is he SERIOUS? Does he really think the Obama’s organic garden is posing a serious threat to CORPORATE EARNINGS?”

“Well, also, isn’t a third of America obese? Don’t we pay for that with our taxes?”

“Yes, of course. It boggles my mind how threatened these guys are.”

“Coke is pretty yummy, though.”

“And here’s the third of my mini rants: I’m talking to one of the other mothers at playgroup, and she’s saying how OF COURSE she’s not going to get the flu vaccine, and that she’s treated everything with Echinacea, and besides, the swine flu isn’t that bad.”

“Oh fer chrissake.”

“And I told her, well, it’s killing pregnant mothers and small children at a much higher rate than they thought – and she says ‘no way’ like it’s the first time she’s heard it. I mean, why do you have an opinion about something if you haven’t done any research?”

“Was this in Santa Monica?”

“Yes, a totally leftist, crunchy mom who just automatically believes that all vaccines are bad, but Echinacea will cure everything-“

“That’s the problem with any kind of knee-jerkism – sometimes it’s just as bad with liberals as conservatives. It’s totally anti-intellectual.”

“I mean, does she go around thinking the government is totally out to get them with their EVIL VACCINES all the time? I don’t know, sometimes in conversation, you just have to swallow it.”

“I’ve got something for you to swallow.”

“I can’t BELIEVE you just said that. You’re disgusting. Goodbye.”

this is where the strings come in

10/21/09

Since my travels interfered with Writer Mondays on the blog, I’m going to do it today, except this time I’m really going to pull my pants down and put up a demo of a song I wrote a few weeks ago. This is hardly ever done, for the same reasons mentioned in last Monday’s blog about “Glee”: you might think you want to hear a demo, but the inherent lack of expensive production makes every demo a complete piece of shit.

That said, GarageBand has made things a tiny bit easier, what with the drum loops and various effects, and let’s be honest – nobody could possibly make more fun of me than me. Well, except for Lindsay, Salem, Jon and my brother Sean, and they can all fuck off. (← insert really cute “Hang in There” emoticon here)

I’ve found that a serviceable Garageband demo works a hell of a lot better in a band setting than just shouting out chord changes, especially since my songs are always a little bit complicated. Usually, I’ll let something ferment in my head for a few weeks, then make a demo, then bring it to the band and let them break it down and build it up again.

It all works great except for the vocals – not only am I writing from a female point of view now (since our lead is female), but the vocal line itself has to be in her range. I’m an okay tenor, but Lauren sings most of her stuff right at my “break” (the notes on the dividing line between a regular singing voice and a falsetto), and so my demos often sound like I’m trying to strangle a small woodland creature.

Remember, demos exist only so the band knows what chords are next, and therefore must remain oddly boring. Also, I’m not a guitarist. I just fake it.

With that in mind, here it is:

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Planning road trips, buying cars

I learned to knit, I’m closing bars

It’s true

Tell me something else I can do

I can’t remember to forget about you

Check my messages again

Count the hours 7, 8, 9, 10

Eleven

It’s just a matter of time

You’ll be back and I’ll be in heaven

Hell no, hell no

Gotta leave it alone, ’cause it’s written in stone

They made a pact, now there’s no looking back

To the time when you’d roam, sleeping in on the phone

It came to pass by the sound of crushed glass

Gotta leave it alone, ’cause it’s written in stone

Taking Russian, taking Greek

Meditating on the beach

I guess

Every day keep getting dressed

Tonight’s the night you’re gonna say yes

No way, no way

And when you told me that you couldn’t fall in love

I took that to mean you need a little shove

Painting pictures, watching birds

Filling diaries with words

It’s true…

***

This song came from a band edict of the spring, when everyone agreed we should do more dance-ish songs. For weeks, I’d had “I Wish” by Stevie Wonder in my head, particularly that fantastic beginning riff, and started crazypantsing on the bass one night. Of course, since I’m me, what came out sounded way more like Steely Dan, but there are worse crimes.

I wanted the vocal line to sound like this completely random song from The Stranglers’ 1983 album “Feline”, called Paradise, and of course, it doesn’t really sound like that either. It’s a good thing it’s hard to copy the feeling of other songs, or else you’d end your quest for the grail early.

The verse is about those days you had when you were so seriously in “love”, so smitten by the romantic ideal of another person you needed to invent things to do with your day so you wouldn’t obsess over it. I borrowed a lot of stuff I actually do now (birdwatching, meditation) which is pretty ironic, given how unfathomably boring that would have seemed to me at 23.

The chorus tries to shake that dynamic a little by realizing the object of your desire is married, and he/she is never, ever going to leave the marriage. They might talk a good game, they may make nominal plans, but when push comes to shove, they will never act on it. It’s vaguely based on an experience I had 12 years ago, although the “crushed glass” of the Jewish ceremony is something I threw in there because I liked how it sounded.

We played this song live last Thursday night at the Joint in LA – and what was the verdict? Well, it’s really fucking hard. In the chorus, the immensely talented Lauren has to sing well below her usual range, even for the high harmony, and do “rave triplets” on the piano at the same time. I have to do a pulsating bass thing that is also contrapuntal to my vocal line. Andrew has to follow me for all the weird drum fills. And Jim rocks out on the guitar without any problem.

So for next week’s show, I’m writing a higher chorus vocal line for Lauren and trying to slow us down into a groove. It’s a high-wire act – it’s a song that dies if we’re tentative, but when we all hit our notes and the beat is solid underneath, it’s one of our tunes that separates us from the hordes of Mongols wielding axes.

there’s what’s right and there’s what’s right

10/18/09

Okay, okay, okay okay, okay, OKAY! After hundreds of emails and gnashing of teeth and beseeching of gods both mono and polytheistic, I give in. You’ll finally get what you have been asking for: MY OPINION OF THE JON AND KATE GOSSELIN SITUATION.

I am oddly well-suited for this task, not just because the Gosselins in all their glory were very much like my Mormon cousins, packed to the attic insulation with kids in nondescript McMansions. No, the weird thing is this: I accidentally watched a shitload of episodes in the years long before all this craziness hit the fan. For season one, I was doing work on the farm for a month, and caught at least three marathons while I was re-finishing the floors. It served so well as background noise that I used it in LA for similar purposes over the next two years.

What’s bizarre is that I don’t even like the show, I only liked watching Jon Gosselin try in vain to hide his barely-contained hatred for his wife – whose haircut I found so violently putrescent that it gave me nightmares. I remember doing Google searches in 2007 for “Kate Gosselin” and “worst haircut ever” and wondering why I was the only person alive who was so emotionally affected by it.

All this to say, here’s my take: Jon Gosselin is somebody who would be fine if it weren’t for this show. Not fine, mind you – he would still have subconsciously loathed Kate, but lacking any serious alternative (combined with genuine love for his kids), he would have muddled on. However, he was ultra-primed to be completely game-changed by fame.

When the windows of American fame, a modicum of power, and the possibility of money are all opened to you, it takes a very special person to remain unaffected by it, and Jon was not that person. He was shown a glimpse of an alternate life, where he could still have some dominion over his children, and also be with a variety of women who actually worshipped him (or the idea of him). No judgment from any of ’em. When that door is opened, many men would rather claw their own faces off with the business end of a weed tiller than go back to their old life.

Plus, Jon is, at heart, kind of a slack ass, fairly crippled emotionally, and not very happy. In essence, the exact wrong match for Kate. And here’s the thing about Kate: being the mother, she gets all the props on god’s green earth for having borne twins and then sextuplets. She goes through organizational quandaries that Jon could only dream of, and she keeps the trains running on time. She is also petulant, whiny, judgmental, and constantly after emotional affirmation that Jon was never going to provide.

In some ways, this makes them the average Generation X marriage writ large: over-functioning wife trying to bark some sense into a motivationally-defunct yet charming husband. I feel like I see it over and over in our culture and by watching other relationships, and not just because I’m obviously projecting.

It might have something to do with our biology – for men, it’s excessively easy to stay 28 years old, well into your late 40s. Video games, endlessly recycled nostalgia, internet jobs, telecommuting and awesome skate shoes ensure your self-curated vitality. But for women, the fertility clock starts getting uncomfortably screwy at 35 no matter what. In Hollywood meeting-speak, they have a “hard out” by 43 no matter what shoes they’re wearing.

And it was the very question of fertility that led to the fall, rise and fall of Jon & Kate, when they both might have fell victim to Oscar Wilde’s admonition that “when the Gods wish to punish us, they answer our prayers”. Or better yet, Nathan Arizona: “you just gotta keep tryin’ and hope medical science catches up with you, like Florence and me. It caught up with a vengeance.”

It’s too bad most of us only learn how to be functioning, decent people just as we start getting too old to effortlessly reproduce. But I’ll take it over the alternative: having a million kids when we were too young to stay sane when the bright lights shone.

boy with impaired vision sails above 10K

10/15/09

Today in Crazy News!

1. Boy in Balloon Actually in Attic! – After snooping around online about this particular family, I kind of feel for them… especially the dad, who is a quixotic nut of my own variety. In other words, perfect fodder for those who think the whole thing was a publicity stunt. My verdict? Sometimes a total dork is just a total dork.

2. The Dow is Back Over 10,000 Again! – Yes, I know it can still come crashing down in a big heap, but do I still get credit for my email to Tessa on March 7 saying I “felt bullish” and it was time to buy buy buy?

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Or did my momma not pay enough attention to me?

3. LASIK might have screwed you up! Now, this one I absolutely must take issue with. I know lots of people with LASIK, and while my observations are purely anecdotal and unscientific, they all love it. As for me, it might be the best thing I did in the entire 1990s (a pretty low bar, but still…)

Yes, I had dry eyes for some time, and occasionally I still need to buy Refresh™ Tears Brand Eye Drops. And there are halos around some lights at night, especially while driving. But those have largely abated, and you know what I’m left with? 20/15 vision for the last decade, after a lifetime of looking for my glasses and loathing contact lenses to the migraine point. I can read aspirin instructions held by people in their rooms next door.

If you’re thinking of LASIK, sure, do the research, but MAN has it been awesome.

That’s my dispatch on today’s events, and yours?