Monthly Archives: November 2009

has to be an invisible sun

11/10/09

Speaking of fast food, Chip brings up a good one: what was your most menial, low-pay, low-esteem job ever?

Mine? At 16, I was considered unfit for the main room of a depressing shithole of a confusingly-busy restaurant in Norfolk, VA, and was relegated to being the only dishwasher in an infested kitchen, with plates stacked three feet over my head. I scalded my hands nightly, and fought nausea over what people were leaving on their plates for me to scrape.

I was, however, introduced to Tidewater’s seedy underworld – all I had to do was not snitch when the other guys in the kitchen would grab the carbon copy of the credit card receipt (remember those?) invariably left on the dirty plate by unwise customers. Those numbers would buy the guys the occasional illicit stereo, which was then sold for pot money, leading to my introduction to marijuana.

After that, it was on to High’s Ice Cream where I worked with Josie and Hamp and a few others who comment here, which was AWESOME. Stay away from the Black Walnut, though.

How about y’all?

caution • stop • filling is hot • stop

11/9/09

Y’see, my wife spent part of her upbringing on the moors of Scotland, and when she was in the States, she was at boarding school, which left her with a disturbing deficiency in one crucial area: the woman has absolutely no idea about American fast food joints.

Occasionally, she’ll be on the road by herself, and I’ll get a call on the cell phone: she is starving and just passed one of those blue freeway signs that advertise the next exit’s food options, and has no idea what to do. So I’m making this entry for her, a little Clip’n’Save™ piece she can cut out and tape to the dashboard just in case I’m not there to stop her from ordering a Whopper© at Wendy’s®.

I’m going to give each fast food restaurant a rating (out of 100) that incorporates all the major factors: the selection, the rendered animal-fat by-products, and whether or not it makes you want to barf. I’m leaving out regional choices (i.e., don’t you DARE go to Jack in the Box if there’s a Carl’s Jr. nearby), and restaurants where you have to get out of your car (sorry, pancakes at Cracker Barrel, although you are really yummy).

89 – McDonald’s

As much as it pains me to say it, McDonald’s is still the gold standard of fast food on America’s highways, although it should be noted that the category itself implies a staggeringly low bar. It’s still horrible stuff, but very consistent, and the bathrooms are your best bet. Fries have not changed since your childhood (nor, I suspect, the vat of oil each franchise uses) and remember, the Filet o’ Fish is still on the menu. Props for continuing the Shamrock Shake tradition, and you can actually get a salad or grilled chicken (very rare on the road).

82 – Quizno’s

A hidden gem, and not so common, these grilled sandwich places remind customers that Subway tastes like wet toilet paper. They have soups, and while they may lack for a fryer, their sandwiches occasionally veer into Awesome.

79 – Taco Bell

They have certainly tried every mathematical permutation of tortillas, beans, cheese, chicken and beef – but you can’t deny their basic commitment to mediocrity. With enough Medium™ sauce, pretty much everything remains vaguely interesting, even if the aftermath – especially in a closed car – can be somewhat Vesuvial.

73 – Wendy’s

There was a day when I would have put Wendy’s atop this list – their burgers were sensational and the fries were McDonald’s perfected. You can still get a baked potato or chili if you don’t want to get fat. But the quality control of this place has plummeted since owner Dave Thomas wriggled free of his mortal coil. Serves him right for shooting those kids at Kent State, huh?*

71 – Chick-fil-A

I know I’m supposed to love this place, having come of age in the South and all, but that “Chick-fil-A” experience everyone always talks about? It happens only every five times you go. The rest of the time, it’s a sad, small dry circle of undefined chicken on a large bun, with a tiny pickle added the way some folks add a veranda to their motor home. Plus, they’re no friend to women, gays and progressives.

70 – Subway

Subway only gets this high up the list because you can actually eat on the road in a “healthy” manner – assuming you get the turkey on wheat bread, or something similarly uninspiring. Despite some clever new bread offerings and a plethora of condiments, it has always amazed me that Subway manages to make roast beef and lettuce taste exactly the same.

65 – KFC

65 – Pizza Hut

Both KFC and Pizza Hut are just fine when you sit down and eat at the restaurant – I mean, “just fine” as in “still total crap, but pleasurable in its own way” – and KFC especially knows what it’s doing with the different “recipe” techniques. But translated to the road? HORRORSHOW. Fried chicken somehow manages to deconstruct at a cellular level once handed to you through a car window, and don’t even get me started on those burnt hockey puck disaster ovals masquerading as “to go” Pizza Hut pizzas.

61 – Burger King

If you absolutely have to have a burger, and you haven’t seen a McDonald’s in an hour – which means you’re driving on Mars’ tiny moon Phobos in a lunar rover – you could stop at Burger King, but it better be an emergency. Maybe it’s a druthers issue, but I find the flame-broil technique makes their hamburgers taste like coins.

57 – Del Taco

Oh god. If you thought the post-mortem hours following Taco Bell were rough, you really ought to experience Del Taco.

51 – Hardee’s

I have been starving, and not stopped at Hardee’s. I have been hoarse with thirst, and not stopped at Hardee’s. I have been close to bladder bursting, and not stopped at Hardee’s.

47 – Arby’s

Alas, poor Arby’s: so bad that Slate had to write about it. With disturbingly-uniform beef product shaved off what could only be the tongue of a galactic space monster, not even Horsey Sauce could make this experience less bleak. Arby’s is the antithesis of capitalism: don’t change with the marketplace, do one thing, and do it disastrously. I was going to score it 46, but to be that demoralizing takes a little chutzpah.

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*probably didn’t happen. I said PROBABLY.

that’s 3.75 for the hirtenkäse, 5 bucks for the chhurpi

11/8/09

A few days ago, the NYTimes ran a good article about the Park Slope Food Co-op, going into personal detail about how hard it is to keep yourself out of the peculiar shame spiral that accompanies the place. The year before we started doing this LA thing, we worked our regular shifts at the PSFC, and I gotta tell you: if the NYTimes article is true, and there has been a fresh explosion of new members, I don’t see how any more humans can possibly fit inside the store.

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Tessa at the Park Slope Food Co-op, January 2004

When we were there in 2004, it was plagued by two things: first, the checkout line routinely snaked through two aisles, making it impossible to shop. Secondly, it was so overstaffed during your work shifts that you had to invent new cheese to wrap, or just walk around pretending to wipe random surfaces.

God forbid if you got assigned to the upstairs office: every bit of information was kept in a Byzantine maze of written papers and folders, and nobody wanted to tell you what you needed to do, nor how to do it – they just wanted it done. Whatever “it” was. I got so frustrated that when I heard an old lady had fallen off a milk crate, I volunteered to spend the evening in the emergency room instead.

Now… I fully realize a lot of this is my fault. My brand of ADD is toxic to taskless busywork, and despite seeing hundreds of people each shift, I never made any sort of acquaintances, most likely because that sort of thing felt incredibly inorganic (at a store that served only organic produce, he notes, with self-satisfied irony).

Surely there has to be a better way to foster a sense of community, since the Food Co-op, while inexpensively providing some of the best products on the planet, always had a sense of dread lording over it… when is my next shift? What will I have to cancel to do it? What if I owe eight back-hours and never make it up?

There are all sorts of points to be made with this, but I’ll stick with one: why is it so hard to make decent friends past a certain age? In the past, powered by road trips, the desire for sex, entry-level jobs and a sense of mutual discovery, making long-lasting organic friendships was as effortless as breathing. You simply traveled to Austin and made a friend. You worked with a girl from PEI, fell in love with her sister, spent the night at their communal house in Charlottetown and became fast friends with this other guy who made breakfast.

There are many obstacles once you hit your thirties: if you’re a breeder, then you’ve got kids, which means you’re probably too fucking tired. You may also suffer from the paralyzing notion that “you’ve got enough friends already”. But more often than not, I think it comes down to this: you simply can’t find folks you’d describe as your “tribe”. They’re not funny, or you can’t really deal with their spouses, or they just don’t get it like your old friends do.

My feeling is that it can even bring on a sort of “second shy childhood”, where you sort of forget everything you learned about being social, about being confident and gregarious, and retreat back to where you were in middle school when you might have believed everyone else was speaking a social language you haven’t learned. Old feelings and old habits from two decades ago resurface.

Or hell, you’re still a superstar and everything’s great. That’s the question: where are you with the concept of “making friends” – and is it still valuable?

hie them forth when church bells ring

11/5/09

It is right around now when it becomes unbearable. When the seasons change in the rest of the country, and Los Angeles merely creeps into the high 60s – without any trees shedding red and purple leaves, and no chill wind to remind you of solstices ahead – I start to get homesick in a way that can only be measured in familiarity to unrequited love.

It is right now, every year, that I wonder what I’m doing, what we’re doing, the answerless “what’s it all about” questions that must occur to astronauts who have been in the space station too long. You can make all the long-term plans you want, but stiffening your resolve can take a lot of energy, the kind of energy you’d rather be spending baking orange rolls with your family.

This is not my home, it doesn’t feel like my home, and yet I spend nine months of the year here. I guess it would have been wise to accept it as semi-permanent back when I was still just happy to be in the game, because now I don’t feel like I belong anywhere. My New York friends, the ones I spent 20 years making, have drifted in their orbits, like constellations that no longer look familiar after eons of time travel.

The rest of my friends – and much of my family – are spread out, scattershot across a map of the world, and all of them have their own fish to fry. We leave, we come back, we will leave, we will come back.

I don’t think I believed them when they said everyone grows older. Perhaps I thought there would be a way out of it, a secret hatch my friends and I would install, making sure we never succumbed to the ennui of distance and the fatigue of time. Maybe I thought there would always be a voice, not just mine, who would always answer the question “is that all there is?” with “are you kidding?”

la, la, la, la, linoleum

11/4/09

Sesame Street premiered 40 years ago today in 1969, and as legend has it, my mom heard about the new program and propped me up in front of our tiny black-and-white TV to see the very first one. Thanks to the genius of YouTube – as well as my well-oiled archivist machinery – this is a picture of me watching Sesame Street later that year in San Jose, California:

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…and the exact picture I’m watching on that television is right at :11 in this clip:

There are very few cultural elements as basic to my structure as Sesame Street – add Peanuts cartoons, the original “Willy Wonka” movie and the mid-period Beatles albums my brother bought me, and you’ve got my basic belief structure. I mean, can you believe this was the way we learned numbers?

From “Sesame Street” came so many amazing ideas: Ernie counting fire engines in bed just to annoy Bert; Bert rushing home in time to hear the Pigeon Report; Oscar the Grouch with hilarious throwaway lines that only made sense fifteen years later; the Mah Nà Mah Nà muppets, clear through Kermit the Frog singing “Rainbow Connection” in a swamp.

I know old fartbags like me can bemoan the more current version of Sesame Street, with motherfrickin’ Elmo and the like, but the show has morphed with the times, and has never been shy about changing formats when research showed kids learning better another way. Besides, we always keep three or four on the Tivo for Lucy’s weekends, and… they still got it, whatever it is. Lucy adores it, and she’s picky. Besides, they occasionally show The Mysterious Nose Snatcher, and that’s good enough for me (as are cookies that start with “c”).

Jim Henson was a genius. A toast to him and Frank Oz!

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summer ’07

millard fillmore proud

11/3/09

Tonight is the kind of night that would have been largely ignored fifteen or so years ago, but the advent of 24-hour news has made it into an off-year election extravaganza with “mandates on Obama’s presidency” and “the unlikely resurgence of the Republican Party”. None of those things are actually true, but when the Media has a storyline, you’ve got thousands of jobs dependent on that storyline, not to mention indignant bloggers (comme moi, naturellement) who positively MUST have an opinion or else their genitalia fall off.

Definitely a bad night for progressives, if you’re keeping score. As predicted, the Republican won the Virginia Governor’s race, but the dangerously-fat douchebag Republican won the New Jersey race as well (and New Jersey, despite its reputation, ought to know better). Neither of those races worry me particularly – despite eye-rolling claims like they “shifted the political terrain against President Barack Obama only a year after his historic election”. People elect governors from either party for all kinds of weird reasons. I mean, California elected Arnold Schwarzenpfeffer, for chrissake.

No, the most disgraceful event of the evening happened in Maine, where voters overturned a law granting same-sex partners the ability to marry. There is a special place in hell reserved for people who vilify another group of people strictly for political gain… and there is another special place in hell for closeted gay men who vilify other gay men to assuage their roiling inner conflict.

Both of these are the dominion of the Republicans, most of whom deserve to be strapped to a wall, their eyelids forced open Clockwork Orange-style, while two naked guys in leather torture masks fist each other over a Bible, WHILE I MARRY THEM IN THE NAME OF THE UNIVERSAL LIFE CHURCH OF MODESTO, CALIFORNIA.

According to Maine’s official Election Site, fully 74% of the money raised to demonize homosexuals came from out of state – all the right-wing crazies, the Texas evangelical wingnutters, the Mormons, everybody. Yes, Mainers alone carry the shame of voting the way they did, but when you’ve got outright fuckin’ LIES being funded by snot-eaters living thousands of miles away (“my kids will be taught to be a homo at school!”), why can’t the forces of tolerance SAY something about it? Here… I’ll make an ad in 45 seconds:

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I swear, if they’d done this in California 18 months ago, a bunch of my friends would still be married.

In better news, the district just above ours in upstate New York – NY-23 – told the teabaggers, Sarah Palin, Tim Pawlenty, and the rest of the ghastly fringe elements of the Republican Party to show some manners and get the hell out of Plattsburgh. If this region can go for the Democrat – despite (in some cases) 160 years of Republican rule, an economy in the shitter and wall-to-wall coverage of Obama haters – I’m feeling okay about the national picture.

Still, the other gubernatorial losses speak volumes when broken into stats: Republicans voted and Democrats stayed home. Perhaps if our party stopped being such bipartisan-minded ninnies, perhaps if they NUKED EVERY REPUBLICAN LIE the MILLISECOND IT WAS SAID, and randomly kicked conservatives in the NUTZ every once in a while, the base would be fired up enough to vote, rather than wallow in vague despondency because the national dialogue is so putrescent.

WAKE UP, YOU FADING FLOWERS! KEY SOMEONE’S CAR! GET JOE WILSON DRUNK AND SHAVE HIS EYEBROWS! SUPERGLUE LIEBERMAN’S DROOPY ASSCHEEKS TO THE TERLET! GET MAD!

you did NOT just give me raisins

11/1/09

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Another excellent Halloween at the Blake-Williams household, and no, I shan’t bore you again with my endless treatises on how Halloween-haters muck up the universe – instead, I will continue to settle into my position of CoolDad™ – making the imperceptible transition into CreepyDad® – holiday by holiday.

While these costumes weren’t anywhere near as labor-intensive as last year’s butterflies, we had to do a little pre-emptive psychological trickery. As you parents with girls might have experienced, once they choose their favorite color, you are ruled mercilessly by that color for years on end. Lucy’s favorite is purple and also pink, and everything else is a distant also-ran.

Old-timers on the blog might remember when I was trying to fight my way out of the color-gender stuff forced on us by baby clothes makers, the wrapping paper industry, and even the paint conglomerates. I chafe at baby boy stuff always being blue, and baby girl stuff always being pink, and I set forth to make sure my little fighter was not going to be pre-programmed by the Man:

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one month old, May ’05

Of course, once I said that, Salem remarked “dude, you can keep doing that, and then you’ll see her in something pink and frilly and your heart will explode with cuteness and that’ll be it” and of course he turned out to be right:

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Aberlour, October ’06

All well and good, but again, Tessa and I were chafing under the tyranny of purple and pink. We were also chafing under the tyranny of The Princess, whereby 3, 4, and 5-year-old girls convince each other that the only job worthy of them is Eventual Royalty. Lucy hadn’t brought it up before, but earlier in October, she casually mentioned she wanted to be a “fairy princess” for Halloween.

I quickly came up with a response: fairy princesses don’t have any powers. So she said, okay, she’ll be a pink fairy, or maybe a purple fairy. Trying to steer her away from that line of thinking, I said, “well, you could be a pink or purple fairy. But you know who is the most powerful fairy of all?”

“Who?” she asked, breathlessly.

“A woodland fairy. A fairy that wears nothing but green.”

She turned that over in her head a while, and then agreed: a woodland fairy she would be. Of course, her resolve wavered, which meant that Tessa and I had to evolve a color-coded fairy hierarchy:

– a pink fairy could only make things disappear (and not reappear)

– a purple fairy could only do card tricks

– a yellow fairy could only make things float in the air for a few seconds

– an orange fairy could only fix cars

… and so on. But a green Woodland Fairy had control of the weather, most animals, vegetation, people’s thoughts and chocolate. Lucy seemed pretty happy with that, and spent most of Halloween blocking my spells. Tessa was demoted to Fairy, Orange Class which meant, in Lucy’s words, if anything happened to the car “we’d be okay”.

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The last few years, we’ve gone as a unified theme, so I had to be something druidical and magic. I settled on a White Wizard, and started growing my beard about three weeks ago, which SUCKED. I haven’t grown an actual beard since I was 26, and it was terrible then too. I did it so I wouldn’t have to wear one of those gross, uncomfortable fake beards – preferring instead to be itchy and miserable for almost a month, because I’m occasionally a moron.

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One thing this Halloween taught me: always walk around with a glowing staff. It was just a closet dowel rod painted white, with battery-powered LED Christmas lights wrapped around it – at the top I put some ragged pieces of cloth like the Medieval mummer plays we did in England when I was a kid. But the power of that staff? I’ll say this – I’m going to bring that fucker to all my meetings in Hollywood.

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on the Venice “walk streets”