Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Normalcy of Lunacy

I've experienced many a misadventure with this friend. But the one yesterday will surely be among the most memorable, given the heights of its idiocy and hilarity.

A couple of months ago, this friend from Texas asked whether I was up for a road trip to Toronto for his cousin's wedding. It was going to cost several hundred dollars more to fly directly into Toronto than to come up to NYC and drive, so he figured he'd come up, hang out a bit and take a road trip.

I probably should've thought things through before answering, but I'm always up for a road trip, so I told him I was in. After all, it was about 10 years ago that the two of us rather spontaneously drove from Houston to L.A. and came away with a bundle of silly memories.

Problems quickly arose as I started to ask questions over the next few weeks. First, I asked whether I was invited to the wedding. Thought I was merely confirming the obvious. What the hell was I supposed to do on my own in Toronto, right? I heard quite a bit of hemming and hawing, so I asked whether he was invited. As it turned out, he wasn't sure, because he didn't really know the cousin getting married very well. He was going mostly because other cousins of his from Hong Kong and London were going.

So he confirmed that he was invited, but I was not. What's more, he found out that his cousin who was going to ride back with us wanted to leave on Monday instead of Sunday. Which meant what? That I'd have to take a day off work to ride in a car for 17 hours to attend a wedding that ... well, I couldn't attend.

This is all making more and more sense, right? Just you wait.

On top of the building absurdity of it all, I learned that MGMT -- perhaps my favorite band of the summer -- was playing a free show at McCarren Park Pool on Sunday afternoon. I immediately got to thinking that it was perhaps time to beg off. (Many of my friends thought I should've reached that point as soon as the idea of a two-day road trip to Toronto was raised.)

Alas, I couldn't back out. I had told him that I'd go, so I'd go. And that was that.

Well, not quite. I figured I'd only have to accompany him on the way up to fulfill my obligation; he had a cousin to keep him company on the way back. So my plan was to get a one-way rental in Buffalo and drive back Saturday night.

We headed out bright and early Saturday morning. Probably the earliest I'd gotten up on a Saturday in months. At that hour during the weekend, the city seems rather peaceful. But also rather strange. Grand Central felt like a city of tourists. And when we drove away from the car rental place, I saw what looked to be a bum picking up a pair of slacks off the ground. Strange.

The first part of the drive went smoothly enough. We made good time passing through Jersey and Pennsylvania before looping back into New York. We listened to some good tunes on the iPod. We reminisced about other stupid ideas we've come up with over the years. At some point, he thanked me for coming along, and I told
him that I'd be annoyed if it weren't for the fact that this doesn't even register in the top 5 of the dumbest things I've seen him do. Soon enough, we were already almost at Buffalo.

We pulled into a rest stop so that he could change into his suit. I stayed outside to fill up the tank. Moments later, he came running back, consternation on face and full (well, sort of) garment bag in hand.

"I can't find my pants," he said, as he searched the car inside out. He was sure that he'd packed them, but the pants were nowhere to be found. Because the garment bag lacked a bottom enclosure, he started to contemplate the likelihood that he dropped them along the way to the car rental place.

And just then, I remembered the sight of the bum picking up slacks off the ground. Didn't have the heart to mention it at that moment, because he was pretty pissed. We'd come all this way, and now he'd either have to skip out on the wedding or show up looking like a dope. (Well, that second possibility was probably going to be the case regardless of the pants situation.)

I tried to calm him down and told him that we should just find a mall so that he could buy a pair of pants to make do. After he got the expletives out of his system, we went on the hunt for a Banana Republic. Along the way, he told me that he sent a text message to his cousin that said something like: "Big problem. Dropped pants. Call me." Seemed an ill-advised message to me. Now, he ran the risk of not only being the dopey cousin, but also the pervy one. But whatever. There were more pressing concerns at hand.

We tracked down a Banana Republic, and he tracked down some pants. All was (as) normal (as could be) again. He then dropped me off at the car rental center at the airport before continuing on his way to Toronto.

I checked in at Budget and was told that my name would be called when my car was ready. I surveyed the scene and noticed a large number of others waiting. And they all looked pretty annoyed. Apparently, Budget had run out of cars, and none of the other companies had any available, either. Right away, I could sense that my crazy day was not likely to end soon.

An hour went by, and I was still waiting to hear my name. I figured I might as well check the airline websites on my BlackBerry to see how much I'd have to shell out to fly home instead. Lo and behold, JetBlue had a ticket for an astonishingly low $170, and the flight would get me into the city before 11:00 p.m. I was probably going to spend about $130 for the car and gas, so it was a no-brainer. Turned out to be a blessing that Budget is such a crap company. And off I went on an unexpectedly abbreviated trip to home sweet home.

So basically, I left my apartment at 9:00 a.m. and traveled 800 miles by plane, train and automobile (but without pants) before getting home at midnight. I wasted a Saturday and blew off $170 to keep my word. But, you know, crazy as it may sound, I had fun. And it all worked out in the end, as it always does. He saw his cousins in Toronto, and I saw MGMT in Brooklyn! (Woohoo!)

Still, you can bet I'll be saving this rather large chip to cash in on a rainy day. [Oh ... if you read this, pantless wonder, think real hard about that time when you wouldn't bother driving down to Houston while I was in town to see my folks. Think real hard. And what about that time when you left me stranded at the airport in Philly during a blizzard because your "girlfriend" wouldn't "let" you drive back to pick me up? Yup. This is one hefty-sized chip I'll be cashing in some day.]

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Swooshed into Nostalgia

So this is another recent favorite: Cut Copy. I'd known about them for a long while, but I didn't fully discover them until I heard them a few weeks ago at anotheroom -- my favorite neighborhood bar (except on those occasions when its charm is co-opted by the marauders from uptown). Can always count on them to have an admirable playlist put together.

I heard "Feel the Love" and just had to harass the bartender for the name of the band. Quite surprised to find out that it was Cut Copy. I'd imagined them to be less melodic and more frenetic.

The synth swooshes and the "ooh oohs" made me want to go home and watch Pretty in Pink. And maybe even break out dancing to Philip Oakley and Giorgio Moroder's "Together in Electric Dreams." Ah ... I can almost imagine myself at HYCAC again. (You'd have to be a pretty ancient Asian from Houston to get that reference. The good ol' days ... mixing it up with gangster wannabes til the wee hours and eating at Champps afterwards, sitting next to bullet holes in the windows. Until we graduated to Tan Tan and sat next to the thugs responsible for the bullet holes. Where has the time gone?)

Sunday, July 20, 2008

A Strangely Delicious Brew

Before Lykke Li, my musical addiction centered on MGMT. And that was, what ... a week ago? I can be rather fickle sometimes.

You know, I didn't much care for Oracular Spectacular when I first got it. I really only bought the album for "Time to Pretend." Slapped that on my current playlist and ignored the other tracks.

Then I heard "Kids" playing while I ate dinner at Belcourt. (Fantastic restaurant, by the way. Why hasn't steak with bone marrow sauce caught on at more places?) There's something strangely transformative about hearing music that you only kinda like playing in an environment where you don't expect to hear it. After the dinner, I gave the album another listen, and it started to grow on me.

My guess is that, for most people, Oracular Spectacular will sound quite strange upon the first listen. It did for me. But that's likely because MGMT has created such a unique sound. It's at once dancy and psychedelic, serene and bombastic. Sometimes, they sound like a hippie-ish band from the 60's. Other times, they sound like the Bee Gees on the soundtrack for the 21st century remake of Saturday Night Fever. Still other times, they sound like a band that couldn't decide whether to play electropop or indie rock and decided to do both. Seems like a recipe for a really disgusting oracular stew. And, on first listen, it is. But it becomes addictively tasty after you get over the weirdness.

They're playing a free show at McCarren Park Pool on Sunday with The Ting Tings. And I'm probably going to miss it because I let a friend sucker me into a road trip to Toronto for the weekend. (He needs to be there for a wedding, but he doesn't want to pay for airfare. So he convinces me to go to keep him company. Then he tells me that I'm not invited to the wedding. And he tries to make it all better by noting that one of his rather cute cousins from Australia will be riding back with us. 17 hours roundtrip? She'd better be a supermodel. Cheap bastard.)

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Scandinavian Spunk

My musical addiction of the moment is Lykke Li. She's Swedish. (Naturally!)

I heard "Little Bit" a couple of months ago and picked up her EP right away. It only has four songs, and all are good. But I wanted more right away. Quite bummed to learn that her debut album, Youth Novels, wouldn't be released in the States until August 19. But I managed to snag an import copy last week. (Woohoo!)

Fantastic album. Not a single clunker in the mix. One of those rare albums I can listen to from beginning to end.
Bjorn (of Peter Bjorn and John) Yttling's production surely has much to do with that. As do Lykke's very cute inflections -- like "awl" instead of "all." So, the album's been on non-stop rotation on my iPod.

She's reminiscent of Kate Bush one moment and Kylie Minogue the next, but derivative of neither at any moment. Haunting, spoken-word verses scattered among bouncy, it's-hard-to-stay-still numbers. All grown up here, not a care in the world there. (She's all of 22.)

The buzz surrounding Lykke online seems to have reached a fevered pitch. But my suspicion is that she won't catch on stateside. I say that with the histories of folks like Kate Nash and The Ting Tings in mind. Both attained rapid success in Europe, became the focus of many a blog post in the U.S. as a result, and then made the slightest of splashes when their albums finally arrived on U.S. shores. I'll try my best to withhold any value judgments, but I think it's fair to say that there's a discernable difference between the European aesthetic and that of Americans. (After all, the Swedes came up with H&M. And the Americans came up with Abercrombie & Fitch. I'll let you draw your own conclusions.)

Oh man! While putting this together, I found a clip for an acoustic, in-studio performance of "I'm Good, I'm Gone."

There are a couple of members of Shout Out Louds playing with her! (And the blonde with the crazy hair is apparently Robyn -- the rare Swedish export in whom I have no interest.)

Yup. I think I can officially bestow the title of "Coolest People in the World" upon the Swedes. (Random tidbit, but any society progressive enough to give moms and dads a year off from work after the birth of a child deserves recognition. As does any society that takes in many times more Iraqi refugees than the U.S. Shouldn't the country responsible for the invasion take on a bigger burden? Ah, but I digress ...)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Don't let mom know.

So here's the last of the Texas entries. Flew into Dallas and headed straight to a bar from the airport. Seemed the only logical destination after yet another annoying flight (even if I did get bumped up to first class).

From Dallas and Houston, Fourth of July
That's us sitting outside on a decently balmy night -- if 80 degrees can be balmy -- at The Old Monk. Drove down to Houston the next morning. Got in just in time for the barbecue at my oldest sister's place. Had fajitas for lunch the next day and took the kids to a Chuck E. Cheese type of place. Wanted to take them to Hermann Park for a little paddle boating, but one of my sisters poo pooed all over that idea. She felt it was too dangerous ... yet she let her kids run around with sparklers and firecrackers the day before. Go figure. Hung out with high school buddies Saturday night. Ate lunch at Pappadeaux on Sunday to get my cajun fix.

From Dallas and Houston, Fourth of July

And then it was back up to Dallas for the culinary highlight of the trip: dinner at Babe's.

Oh, man. That's gotta be the archetype of chicken fried steaks. See that creamed corn at the top of the plate? The butter-to-corn ratio is at very balanced 3 to 1.

Have you ever played that silly game in which you're asked to imagine yourself on a deserted island with access to only one dish? The point is to decide which dish you'd want to eat over and over again. Well, for a long while, my choice has been mom's beef noodle soup. But I may have to re-think that selection. (Good thing mom can't read English. And don't you go translating, neither.)

[Another reason to like Babe's: When I was there back in November, one of the waitresses told me that she liked my shirt. I happened to be wearing my British Sea Power t-shirt. Who knew that a waitress who performs the Hokey Pokey with her colleagues would be a BSP fan? Then again, I'm not sure whether she liked the "British Sea Power" or the butterfly images portion of the shirt. Oh well ... she liked the shirt. That's good enough for me.]

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Are we actually out of purgatory?

Holy crap! I finally paid my first visit to the new Whole Foods that opened up down the street, and life may never be the same again. You have to understand that I live in that desolate corner of Manhattan known as northern Battery Park City (otherwise referred to as TriBeCa by the pretentious among my neighbors). Until last week, the most exciting food-shopping destination in the neighborhood was the Duane Reade. (BTW -- Absolutely random piece of information. Did you know that Duane Reade gets its name from the fact that its first store was situated on Broadway between Duane and Reade Streets? Now your life may never be the same again, either, right?)

I walked in, and I was overwhelmed. An actual supermarket in the neighborhood? Huh? Fresh meats? Four different brands of milk? And two whole display cases of beer? I picked up a six pack ... and I ain't even close to being out of beer!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Do you enjoy crushing hopes and dreams?

Another entertaining moment from the Fourth of July weekend came courtesy of Harry Potter. My friend spotted a copy of the last Harry while wandering about in my oldest sister's kitchen. He started asking questions about the book, and my sister laughed because she was amused that he managed to spot it. On this occasion, her boyfriend was the one reading the book, and he had camouflaged the cover with a blank sheet of paper because he's of the view that people make certain unflattering judgments about grown men who read Harry Potter. (This, of course, made my friend defensive, because he's a grown man who reads Harry Potter.)

The exchange prompted me to recount a story about the dangers of talking about Harry in public. I told them about my gaff at a restaurant the Monday after the last Harry was released. I was at lunch with yet another grown man who's a fan of the child wizard. I knew that he'd been out on Fire Island the weekend of the release and hadn't had much time to read, so I asked how far along he'd gotten.

"Already finished it," he said, to my amazement.

I'm not much of a fan of wizardry, so I had no qualms asking him what happens.

"So ... does Harry die or what?" I asked, with all the nonchalance I could muster.

After re-confirming that he wasn't going to ruin the fun for me, he proceeded to tell me how the tale ends. And as he did so, I heard a anguished squeal from the table next to us.

"No, no! Please stop!" howled the poor woman, with her face aghast. (Remember that scene from The Excorcist? "Make it stop! Make it stop!")

Yeah. We seriously traumatized her. My food somehow tasted less appetizing afterwards.

So, you'd figure that I would've learned my lesson. But while recounting this story in my sister's kitchen, I didn't edit out my lunch companion's response. After my sister and my friend laughed heartily at my moment of public shame, it dawned on my sister that I'd just done it again.

"Oh no! He hasn't finished!" she exclaimed, leaving me wallowing in guilt once more.

Her boyfriend looked wholly dejected. But then he smiled and assured us that he had already finished reading. I don't know if he was telling the truth, but I'm of the view that it's impolite to question the honesty of grown men who read Harry Potter.

Yeah, I can be a bit slow sometimes. But, hey ... I've finally learned. If you know whether Harry lives, you didn't find out by reading this entry.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

You're a bad, bad man.

Yet another trip home to Texas this past weekend. Quite a few fun memories, starting with this one, courtesy of my precocious 9-year-old niece.

I'm at my oldest sister's house for a family barbecue. The whole gang is there -- rowdy niece, nephews and all. Talk starts up about a rabbit that's been hanging around in the backward. The little ones overhear and run out looking for the hoppity rascal. I quip, "Mmm ... if you catch it, we can eat it." (Maybe not the most child-friendly comment, but I'd just eaten some tasty tagliatelle with rabbit ragu the night before!)

This stops my niece in her tracks. She dons a look of disgust and asks, "You eat rabbits?"

By this time, I'm having a little fun with her. So I say, with a smile, "They're delicious!"

She dons a look of even greater disgust and tells me, "You're a bad, bad man." Then she pauses a bit before finishing things off: "That's why you don't get any dates."

I didn't quite follow the logic, and I questioned the accuracy of her information. But, really, there was nothing to do but laugh. I guess I'd better watch my diet if ever I'm going to settle down.