Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Walmart. Trenton, NJ. 8:40 pm

Going to Walmart is most often like going to another dimension. The harsh fluorescent light and indefatigable search for the cheap make it feel like commodity porn. The many languages in use make it feel like America. In the best sense.

Got there within 20 minutes of closing, rushed to grab my few items (bike rack for me [29.88!], fire engine shaped electric toothbrush for Graham [$4.96 with batteries!]). Got right into line.

In front of me was a guy with a tattoo of a naked, big-titted Wonder Woman (could tell by tiara) on the inside of his forearm. The express line took forever. Aniela, at the cash register, couldn't for life of her figure out how to hand enter photos. Literally 10 minutes ringing up one thing. Everybody was getting angry and stood with their eyes trained on their feet or otherwise away from her, attempting to maintain stoic cool. But we were all there for the same reason: to shop as cheaply as possible, and we were getting what we paid for: bad service, drawn from the bottom of the labor pool.

And what's more, I had never seen a store where one could order McDonalds at the store register and pick up one's order on the way out. I passed.

Breakfast of Champions

In line in front of me at CVS on Saturday (buying Gatorade after being depleted of the 30-mile ride), a college girl with reddish alternative hair reached into the convenient and transparent mini-fridge to the right of the register and pulled out a four-pack of Red Bull ($7.89 for 4, a significant price break from $1.99 a pop). "Breakfast of champions," she said to the male she had in tow, "Red Bull and Fruit Loops." Then she looked over her shoulder at me, the square guy (I was actually dressed in my better shorts and a summer party shirt, the better to perhaps dazzle the Merrill Lynch dad to whose house I was going to pick up Natalie from a play date). As I was saying, she looked at the square guy to see if he would flinch at her radical, trangressive morning repast.

And, in truth, in my dehydrated state, I was a little disgusted. Even now, having just had a refreshing and delightful beverage, Red Bull and Fruit Loops doesn't sound like breakfast. But I remember pulling shit like that myself often, trying to impress people in public places with how cool and smart I was. It did me a world of good.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Fireflies

Sitting on the porch this evening reading the paper of record, I noticed that the fireflies were out in force. Though it was forty-five minutes after bed time, I tiptoed upstairs to see if Natalie, perchance, might be up with the near-solstice dusk. Even though she had refused to snuggle with me, a disturbing trend.

Was she up? You know she was, so I took her by the hand out to the back porch and we sat down and checked out all of the many many fireflies flitting around out in the back yard, over by Mary's flowers, and the great many who flew around across the fence in the bulldozed "contested zone," the big lot waiting for McMansions to be built, temporary home to backhoes and bulldozers (much to Graham's delight). And yes, you Manhattanite, California, and desert readers, the fireflies twinkled eat-your-hearts-out fine in the muggy aftermath of a summer storm.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Tour de Cure recap

So, like I said I would, I biked 30 miles in the hot hot New Jersey sun on Sunday, all in an effort to raise money for a diabetes cure. Ostensibly. Actually, like 21% of funds raised go to cure-oriented research, while greater than 50% go to public health initiatives. Not a problem, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and so on.

So you would think that the public health component would be at the forefront of this event. Fact is, I've never seen so much white flour and sugar dispensed at an athletic event. At the rest stops, where the ride literature had explicitly stated that there would be PowerAde, there was water, juice, and Fuze, a diet juice drink. And protein bars and bananas too. But no sports drinks, in 90 degree weather! And then at the last rest stop they had run out of water and volunteers were standing around, like: "Maybe we should go buy some more." You couldn't have bought an electrolyte at those rest stops. Some of the slower riders reportedly pulled in shakily depleted and had to drink Fuze. yick.

At the staging area, a yoinky, pasty DJ played bad music, while our host and sponsor Bristol Myers Squibb touted its mission "enhance and extend" human life, eerily echoing Microsoft's stated 2000-era goal to "embrace and extend" the internet. I guess that's what BMS was doing when it stuffed it's sales channels with billions in product back in 2001. Thanks!

The brochure touted a "healthy lunch". This translated into a dinky little ham and cheese wrap from Applebees bundled with some cheap chips. Would you hang your brand on that?

But it was a fine ride through some of the best scenery NJ has to offer. Good exercise. Great cause. Poorly done.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Bad Education

For its first half, this Almodovar film felt a little precious, a little too geared towards those in grad school, those wishing they were still in grad school, and those pretending they were still in grad school. All the internal intertextuality, the multiple intersecting layers of narrative, yatta yatta yatta. And, of course, this being Almodovar, the cute boys and hot action. I was kind of wishing we had sent the DVD back unwatched and gotten disc 3 of 24, season 1. More on the 24 phenomenon.

But Spain's perennial poet of the kinky and worse pulls it together in the second half of Bad Education, gives the tale a reason to be twisted, and gets closer to Hitchcock than most do these days. And in the end, for all the drag queen hookers, drugs, anal sex, bulging crotch shots, violent deaths, corrupt, perverted priests, and other Almodovar trappings, this movie is held together by the theme of lost love, of two young boys who love each other and are torn apart, but never forget. Which lends the allegorical setting of 1977 more poignance. This is perhaps Almodovar's Raisin in the Sun. What happens to a dream deferred?

Who the hell made The Usual Suspects and what are they up to now, anyway? I know I can look this up on the so-called internet. And I will, too.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Food hounds argue about meatballs

Last night at around 10, Mary accused me of having had more of the organic turkey meatballs than she had, which is absurd. At the early round of dinner with kids, we were each apportioned three. Mary had, indeed, put one off to the side and not eaten it together with her pasta, but afterwards, when she must have plucked it from the pan with the zucchini and ensnarfed in a certain number of rather pleasant bites. So when each of us had a pre-bedtime snack of a touch more pasta with meatball, she basically maintained that I served the meatballs cut up to disguise having taken more, momentarily forgetting about her earlier one. But I would never cheat her of her food like that.

Once, a few years ago, I ran out to Ace on Saturday morning to pick up some sort of hardward, I was listening to NPR and I heard a young woman tell about her family -- none of them slim -- and how they would eye each other suspiciously and territorially at the dinner table as each angled for the choicest morsels. She signed off Curtis Sittenfeld, and I'm thinking "Sittenfeld, Sittenfeld... I know that name." I get back the house and Mary's telling me about the thing she had just heard on NPR by the sister of her student Jo Sittenfeld. And we were both looking at each other like, "that's our house... and get your eyes off my sandwich."

And now Curtis is the author of the hot best-seller Prep, much to the consternation of certain Princeton-area novellists. And we'll never have her over for dinner, though we've got a Jo's portrait of her on our wall.

Team lunch

Kinda depressing when a team comes into a restaurant filled with other teams. Everybody sitting around in khakis making chitchat, trying not to speak of the matter at hand (shared work), but limited in the number of topics that can be touched otherwise
(i.e. kids, sports, vacation, home improvement, current events [generalities]
but not
politics, religion, sex, money [particulars]).

Everyone's there for the same reasons. Lunch food and retreat. The oasis in the middle of the often-depressing days of doing things you're not in control of. But the expectations placed on lunch can be burdensome. It doesn't really solves problems, it only defers them, and not even for very long or very effectively.

But it's still better than a sandwich at your desk. Most of the time.

Not to be confused with business lunch, when meeting with someone outside of your realm. That's fun, often even ascetic (one shouldn't be too concerned with food here).

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

One last chance to give me your money

Time's running out to sponsor me for the American Diabetes Association's Tour de Cure in Princeton this June 26, where I will be joining my colleagues Cyrus, Webb, and Gerry to ride 30 hilly miles in Princeton's arduous outback to raise money for diabetes research. I know it's not really much of a distance, but it's the thought that counts.

It's already a team effort. Webb cleaned up my bike real good, Cyrus lent me a bike rack. I've been riding.

There's still time to SPONSOR ME and help raise needed money for research. Suggested contribution is $20, though you may go crazy or sane as you wish.

Note how the South and North are vying for dominance among my supporters. Who will win?

Current sponsors Team
Me South-North
My mom South
Joshua Stein South
John Fox South
George Berridge Jr. North
Robert Crabill South
Niklaus "Boyzu" Steiner South
Hilary Jewett North

Verbal Commitments:
Felice Marantz and David Kamien North

Expense aversion asymmetry

It's a typical middle-class trait is to be willing to expend extraordinary amounts of energy and concentration on reducing costs, but not a commensurate amount of engergy on growing revenue-producing capacity. Drive to Costco, buy big lots, etc, without really calculating the costs (fuel, time, inventory management) associated with realizing these. People who bill at $60 an hour do work at home for which they could pay $20, because subbing it out seems haughty.

This is partly because spending is thought of as waste, and therefore to be controlled, while there's somethiing vaguely distasteful if not downright immoral (getting home late, neglecting kids) about working too hard to make money.

People will talk endlessly about how much money they save, it's a competitive sport, particularly amongst the ladies. But discussing how much you earn is greatly deprecated, it's just not done.

What it all adds up to is a lot of false economies: people work so hard at saving money that they don't learn to earn more, and net net it's counterproductive. And yeah, there's a moral component to it: reducing costs is aligned with environmental preservation, while making money correlates to consumption, which is destructive. But that's stupid. If you earn more, you can spend more on purchasing the same items at more expensive and more convenient stores. Or on more expensive items. The difference is that you develop earnings capacity rather than savings capacity.

I'm sure the behavioral economists have attacked this asymmetry, I just haven't read it. Shit, this is obvious to everyone.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Camp time

School's out, and now it's camp time, which, as we now have learned, is just another way to outsource child care. On the one hand.

On the other, looking down over Hamilton Street at the Y, I see bunches of campgoers clustered in the shade of the trees around the basketball court. It's a nice day, mild and breezy, they're having some kind of water-related fun. I assume there's some sense of wonder left to camp, even if there are no farm animals or their droppings or nice natural place to swim, the kind of stuff we took for granted back in the day.

And Natalie's off to kindergarten orientation this week. If they don't keep her out because of her now-abated encounter with Fifth's disease, or "Slapped-face syndrome," (no, I didn't) which Mary so adeptly diagnosed. They had better not. It be too sad to miss orientation. I'm excited already.

Tonight, more Mary Poppins.

Monday, June 20, 2005

IHOP, Boston Post Road

A mile or so from Mary's family's home, right on the Post Road, there is an International House of Pancakes. There it has sat for at least the 10 years I've been around, surely longer, with its bright blue roof, beckoning to passers-by with sirens of buttermilk, but never has a member of the Berridge household entered into it.

The little IHOP by the road has always intrigued me and on Sunday, Father's Day, Natalie and I put an end to this neglect. IHOP. Long the only restaurant that absolved its customers of the "eggs or pancakes" decision by just bringing you both. The first breakfast place I ever saw accepting credit cards (that would be ca. 1986, Newton, MA). Provider of silver dollar pancakes to little kids. Home of multiple flavors of syrup. A national, no, an international institution.

Sunday was no different. We got there at 8:30 or so, not too long before a line started forming. First impression upon sitting down in the booth, was that IHOP had engaged some consultants to use the space most efficiently, as the booth was mighty vertical and thrust me perilously close to the table. Sadly, they could not do chocolate chip silver dollars, but Natalie did not get worked up.

Looking around, I might never have guessed I was in fancy-pants Larchmont, NY. No, no, this was America. Hispanic families, black couples, a pair of young Indians and so on. There was an older black couple dressed for church, she in a red jacket and black blouse, he in a killer bright red pinstripe suit and a red bowler. I kid you not. It was beautiful. There was a cute little almost-one-year-old boy a hispanic family with an outrageously full reddish hed of hair, like an Afro, no, like Krusty the Klown. So much hair. And, yeah, there were some Larchmonty people too. IHOP was kickin. Service reflected the volume.

And then this WASP couple comes in, he in a canary Polo golf shirt, she in a shawl or some such. The hostess tried to seat them, but they wouldn't sit there because it was "disgusting," so they took another booth. Then, after not being served for maybe two minutes and muttering to each other excitedly, they got antsy and the guy stood up in the tight aisle and tried to make eye contact with a waitron, to demand service. The Indian guy sitting next to him smirked bemusedly as he forked his omelet, enjoying the difficulties of Mr. White Guy. In truth, it was fun. Hell, Natalie had been patient, why couldn't Mercedes man?

Friday, June 17, 2005

Some kind of snoozefest

To judge from the way the critics treated it, the Metallicumentary Some Kind of Monster was gonna be a groundbreaking film: all these hard-assed metal guys getting soft and vulnerable and revealing their innermost feelings. Well, if that's as deep as they get, that's pretty pathetic.

James Hetfield, in particularly, shows himself to be an object lesson in ossification, demonstrating that if Heavy Metal exists to voice desires and "thoughts" of teen boys, keeping at it into your 30s means that you have to continue on thinking and feeling at a teenager's level.

OK. It must be said that some of the other the guys in band were trying to make therapy work, that it did take some courage to let the band be filmed over such a long period of time, and that the therapist really did have some nice, cabled cotton sweaters, particularly the shocking canary yellow one.

And the Fan Appreciation Day scene where the woman in black leather wins the right to be the bass player for a day was totally, totally awesome.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Glamour mag's "shocking" Sex survey

What other people are doing in bed! Shocking!

Not.

"We usually do three positions: missionary, her on top, doggie style." Oh my God!!!!
"We like to get really sweaty and let it all hang loose." Wow!!!!
"I suck her toes." Excitement.

That was as wild as it got. I was expecting descriptive statistics. 22% like anal. 14% love thy neighbors%. 12% have oral sex in moving cars, etc. That's a survey in my book.

Thank God I didn't throw down ducats.

Novel fodder

A few weeks ago I was in my mom's boyfriend David Ontjes's house down in North Carolina, looking around. Like so many of our parent's houses, it's palpably waiting for kids to come home. It doesn't make sense to take care of that much house for one person, but it's so hard to let go of the past when it's so much of you. Pictures of people (Jason, Ethan, Sarah) I knew from high school, but not that well. Interesting to project backwards from present. And it's the same deal wherever I go, looking at houses of now grandparents, from Pittsburgh to Westchester to the Piedmont. If mom and David marry, they will likely kick loose of more of this retrospective orientation. Perhaps this is a benefit, if not an advantage, of recoupling in advanced years, rather than staying married.

And it made me realize not just that I want to write a novel eventually, but that the novel should be classical in form, organized around weddings, births, deaths, characters. Continue in the tradition of Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy (if you haven't read it, read it!).

So I'm going to try to concentrate on characters and dialog here on the blog, which have always been my favorite posts. Of course, that means I have to get away from my desk and all my fancy pants Ivy League colleagues.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Rabies in Moscow

The Moscow Times last week reported on a rabies outbreak in the capital. OK, only three people have died, which isn't many for a country with precipitous and alarming mortality trends. Rumors that Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov had been bitten by a rapid cat at his dacha have not been confirmed. The government has also denied allegations that rabid animals were introduced into the jail cell of fallen Yukos magnate Mikhail Khodorkovskii while he watched the Russian Wheel of Fortune, though Amnesty International has registered a protest, particularly since the Championship round was on that week.

I wouldn't be all that surprised if, shades of the freakily scary 28 Days Later, a vaccine- and treatment-resistent form of rabies were to arise out of Russia, just like the super duper TB that's been coming out of Russia's jails. After all, estimates of the number of stray dogs in Moscow range up to 30,000. Here's what Pravda wrote in an article last October entitled "Mutant Stray Dogs Attack Muscovites":

Stray dogs killed a 54-year-old woman in January. They were dragging the woman's body along the vacant ground near the garbage-pressing station for a long while, tearing the body to pieces. Dogs usually choose solitary areas and passers-by for their attacks. As a rule, one dog, a so-called scout, approaches the victim at first, and then the whole pack attacks a person.

Veterinaries say that stray dogs in big cities have become much smarter animals. Big cities turn abandoned dogs into brutal, well-organized fighters. Only smartest and strongest animals can survive in a metropolitan city

But that's Pravda, a paper who has never seemed all that interested in journalistic integrity.

Natalie's up. Must make breakfast.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Of names and teeth

Discussing names with my rather commonly named colleague Steve Thomas, we stopped by the ever useful Social Security Administration Baby Names site. There we found that, as he suspected, Stephen in all of its canonical spellings has declined in popularity in recent years. And rightly so.

Natalie, on the other hand, continues to skyrocket, having reached #19 in 2004, up from #34 when ours was born lo those five years ago. And it was #5 in California last year, which I might consider to be a good thing if I were in marketing. It just goes to show you, you think you're being all smooth and distinctive and here comes the horde right behind you, sipping on Fruitalattes and dipping their wasabe infused french fries in free range olive oil. God how I hate that stuff.

And so, five years or so after birthing our Natalie goes to the dentist who tells us that her chipped front tooth is from grinding. Grinding. At the age of five. What's up with that? Am I so stressed out by the many charms of my wondrous career that I should be transferring stress to her so that she be grinds her teeth so? And now she doesn't want to snuggle half the time at nights after I read her and Graham books, and when she does, she doesn't even bother to lay on top of my back to stop me from getting up, and then demand that I tell her a magic phrase of her own concoction before she'll release me. And today is the last day of pre-school. These are indeed uncertain times...

Monday, June 13, 2005

Birthday Party #5

Natalie had birthday party number 5 yesterday, and while it was not as full-blooded an affair as numbers 1 and, say, 2, much fun was nonetheless had by all. Highpoints and "key learnings":

  • Graham's first cupcake -- Graham, with his milk and egg allergies, doesn't have much food fun. He is, in fact, pretty much shy of new foods. However, somehow the chocolate cupcake with pink sprinkles called out to him and he just knew it had to be right, and he ate it down with no delay, his first big sugar delivery ever. And he deemed it good.
  • All credit to Mary for her foresight in making the cupcakes and, indeed, the party, dairy and egg free. Where usually we're watching Graham like lactose-intolerant hawks, if occasionally insufficiently so, yesterday we had no need to worry.
  • Don't overengineer. Although birthday parties at this age -- when more parents do the drop-off maneuver -- become exercises in potlatch childcare (you watch my kid today, and I'll watch yours a few months hence), you don't really need to schedule that intensely. 2 hours is not much time. Especially with a sprinkler.
  • City boys add spice -- We were graced with the presence of the honorable Joseph R. Wolin of Manhattan, along with the dashing young Conrad Ventur. The party was measurably funner. Usually you see many of the same people on the birthday party circuit, with the inevitable plusses and minusses.
  • Natalie is now 5.
    Pink and purple are still her favorite colors.
    She has not yet mastered the art of blowing out candles.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Bloody Passion guy

Plumped down in front of the telly last night to the charms of Mel Gibson's The Patriot. One thing we can say about Gibson is that his tastes don't waver much. Blood, gore, and righteousness. A TNT "New Classic," which isn't surprising in these years of Bush the Younger.

Beth worked on a movie with Gibson once and said that he was essentially generally obsessed with violence and maiming, that he was outraged that the studios had not let him film one particularly gruesome scene in Braveheart in which somebody's abdomen was split open and spilled out down onto the camera pointed up from below. I'm sure that, back in the day, he was a fan of Warhol's Frankenstein, home to scenes like that and such classic lines as: "One cannot know death until one has fucked life in the Gallbladder," uttered by our hero as he is doing, guess what? She also said Old Mad Max was really short and ugly with a big head.

Hence The Passion. Who better to bloody up than the savior himself. All that exposed skin is like a canvas for a blood artist.

Back to The Patriot, anyway. Rarely does one see a plot more loaded towards melodramatic
righteousness. The Brits kill two of his boys! They burn down a church full of his friends, including his boy's fresh little wife! So yeah, I sorta figured he'd want to kill that Redcoat baddie. But I don't want to spoil the ending for you....

The cinematography is good.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

It's hot and muggy...

and I really don't feel like blogging today. Am cast today in the role of corporate whipping boy, supposed to be pushing a one of my client's partners into getting on board with our project. But the partner lacks motivation and staff to do so. What are we gonna do, move the book of business? Much much easier said than done.

So I've gotta be Mr. Corporate manipulator guy, simultaneously polite and firm, direct and twisted, with a remote party that really could care not much less. It's really not a role that comes naturally. Perhaps because I've so little taste for power, I'm not all that good at faking it.

I've similarly not mastered the role of disciplined parent. If Natalie pushes my buttons. I pretty reflexively either threaten to take something away from her and/or snap or yell. Not really the ideal thing to do, I know, but somehow I' m less good with the setting policy and stand by it thing. I guess I'll have to work on that more when she starts moving towards real trouble.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Junky chick on Franklin St

Whenever I'm in Chapel Hill I try to take a walk through town to see what's up: who's still in business, who's not, how it all smells. So Mary and I set out last weekend to take it all in, parking at the "old" public library, now the I'm-sure-hugely-successful Chapel Hill Museum which features a big smiling picture of, you guessed it, James Taylor! Whenever I see his smiling face... that's when I reach for my...

No but seriously. We trudged on passed the planetarium and all the flowers, passed Art Chansky's old bar which he sold to Woody Durham (yes kids, video did kill the radio star), passed any number of other nondescript student-oriented eateries and drinkeries, including He's Not Here, the bar which has historically supported my father.

And then we arrived at the more adult portion of Chapel Hill, the slope leading up from the old Hardee's (now Panera?) to the Carrboro border. Home of the Bookshop, the Cave, and restaurants where you can actually take a date, or your spouse, depending on life stage.

And in front of one such restaurant, now Panang, formerly Pyewacket, stood a young lady in a tank top and shorts. She seemed fit, which belied the tatoos all over her arms. And then she started scratching herself and jumping about, which corroborated the tattoos. And then she took off her shorts, which Mary later ID'd as underwear. And there she was, standing on the street with nothing but a tank top on, with her natural blonde pubic hair blowing in the wind. And she walked up and down the sidewalk, not particularly animated, not visibly trying to create a scandal, just naked from the waist down, enjoying some heroin. People came in and out of the restaurant, we called the cops, Mary was just shocked. By the time we came back around the block and looked down the street at her from Rosemary, she had some jeans on. The curtain had fallen on that little act.

We don't get much of that in Princeton.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

A big day

Today is a huge day around our house. Natalie turns 5. Our marriage turns 8. And my sister gets to mark her own birthday by having passed through round 3 of chemo. Though she's still a fighting past the life-giving poisons coursing through her body.

It being hot, I decided to get a haircut, forgetting momentarily just how expensive the barbershop in the middle of Princeton is. After reading for a while about Pamela Anderson and her relationship to her nipples, I found myself seated in the chair of Aliya Verlasevic, who asked me where I was from before I could ask him. Turned out, he was from Bosnia, as I guessed, but his family now lived in Zagreb, Croatia. He termed himself a refugee, and after riffing on that subject for a while he told me about his haircutting experience: "As a boy, I almost cut Tito's hair," he tells me, "one day I just pick up scissors and start cutting. I cut Helmut Kohl's hair, here I cut the governor's, one time I cut Indira Gandhi's. For twenty-one years I been cutting hair." My hairs sense the presence of greatness, and are now shorter.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Construction boon

One of the little appreciated benefits of the real estate and construction boom of recent years is the abundance of porta potties available when you go out to walk, run or otherwise move about in suburban areas. This can be important for those of us who both do that and have feisty bladders.

But I have to be realistic about this. After all, as we all know, the boom in housing (and, therefore, the porta potty presence) is very interest-rate sensitive and, at present, we're at an unprecedented moment along the yield curve, with China and other emerging markets buying huge amounts of long-denominated US sovereign debt, making money and housing cheap for us. So what happens when China and South Korea start snapping up Euros, mortgage rates shoot up, the ARM-leveraged vacation home speculators get flushed out, and the bubbles bursts? Then where will I pee? Perhaps vacant, undeveloped lots will be left to reforest themselves, giving those in need desperately needed cover.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Tycoon (or Oligarch)

This 2002 Russian film starring Vladimir Mashkov could have been a great deal worse. Based loosely on the career of Boris Berezovsky, our oligarch has all the right stuff: with his PhD and piercing blue eyes, he bags the truly fine babes, thinks up schemes to defraud everybody and make big money, and drinks and roars. And he himself never orders anybody killed, which would not be comme il faut. The film, which takes its form from Citizen Kane, preserves some nice ambiguity to the end.

Oh sure, there's plenty of good old look at the crazy irrational Russians stuff. Like the time he sinks a boat for no reason at all. But, after all, that's how Russians are. Right?

In other news, lets all give a Russophile shout out to Uncle Kevin for providing me with this fine video tidbit from the German band Dzhingis Khan, a fine reminder to anyone who ever considered Europe more cultured than America that that opinion was never formed on the basis of pop music.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Cultural Awareness Day

Another of the tapes I found at Mom's said Anarchy in the PM on it, but in the documentary enthusiasm of those relatively early days of home recording I taped over it with the dulcet sounds of my band, the Unity Rockers, practicing in the rec room. That's right, the Unity Rockers, the only 13-piece all-white (no black people were listening to reggae at the high school then) reggae band in history. I hope.

And hearing us clunk through "Police and Thieves" brought back another fine memory. It was our senior year in high school, and as such we Unity Rockers were filled with a desire to spread culture throughout the school system, so we hied ourselves off to Phillips Junior High School and convinced the principle, the esteemed Herb Allred, that he should let us perform for his kids for a "Cultural Awareness Day" where we would teach them about reggae culture. Though we wouldn't say "jah" or "Rastafari" because we knew it was ridiculous for white suburban kids to be playin that.

So the big day came. To fit the whole school in we had to do two shows, one before lunch, one after. I think we lectured them a little about reggae, talked to them about 3-drop drumming or whatever you call it. But basically we knew little. And we played. I'm sure we were awesome.

One thing's for sure. Kids snuck out of class to see the second show. We were the big thing, for once! And who was the man, who got the girls screaming? Niklaus boyzu Steiner, that's who. Wearing a gaucho hat, marking the beat with his magic tambourine, toasting in Swiss-German like so few have since, he captivated the younguns fully. For a day, we were all stars, but Nick was the man.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Confusion in her eyes that says it all

At mom's house this weekend I spotted an old box on my shelf. "What's in there?" I thought. Tapes. Old tapes. Tapes as old as the one of the Cars' first two albums circa 1979.
And also some mysteriously labelled ones that once belonged to one of my mom's businesses but were repurposed when I got a stereo. With titles like "Bad Hits" and "Bad Hits II," surely they were worth a listen.

Mom's car stereo showed that they were tapes of Anarchy in the PM, WXYC's early punk and New Wave show. Seminal stuff. Old scratchy tapes with tunes from the likes of Rocky Erikson, Richard Lloyd, Iggy Pop, and so on. On Saturday nights I used to put on my big clunky headphones, sit in by big Swedish rust-colored chair and tape the show. It changed my life. This weekend I came upon one of the most life-changing moments of all: hearing Joy Division for the first time "She's Lost Control." Was it before Ian Curtis killed himself? I don't know, though I like to think so, but I had never heard anything like it, the funereal Moog, the impossibly low-tuned base, the mad depth of Curtis's range, singing about some girl on ludes or smack. It was at once raw and intensely crafted.

When, a year or so later, I spent the summer near Manchester and loitered with youth by the chip shops and in video parlors, hearing them talk about the impossibility of dreaming of a job. Then we raced one day from a field trip to the city because of hundreds of bobbies swarming the malls, shutting it down to prep for a race riot. Pre-Volcker, pre-Thatcher, this was the time of Joy Division.

And then, a year later, in Honolulu, I read that mourning had run its course and the remaining band members had reformed as New Order, and their first EP release turned out to be a classic: "Oh you've got green eyes, oh you've got grey eyes, oh you've got blue eyes." And then those ever softening New Orderites remixed it in the 90s and made it safe to be made into a soundtrack for the Gap. Thanks. I'd give several teeth for a clean copy of the original.