Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Brookline Booksmith.

I've talked about a lot of things I like on this blog so far, but the truth is, other than Kathy, my family, traveling, and ice cream, there is nothing I like more than a good bookstore. Being in a good bookstore makes me feel happy and calm in such a deep down way that I like being in them even when I have no intention of buying a book, even when I have a huge stack of books waiting to be read at home and $0 in my bank account. I like just being there, just looking at stacks of books, being around other people looking at stacks of books. I can't describe it! There is only one thing that can make a bookstore bad, which is extreme pretentiousness, such as the random one we went to in San Francisco once who rudely kicked out Kathy and I when Kathy (quietly) answered her cell phone. Man, San Francisco was wonderful and all, but some people there really need to get off their high horse.

Anyways, I know this will be sacrilegious of me since I now live in Powell's country, the largest bookstore in the country, the bookstore everyone here loves to love. And I love it too! But no matter how big and wonderful it is, I don't think I'll ever love a bookstore more than Brookline Booksmith in Coolidge Corner in Brookline, Massachusetts. Booksmith is like a tenth the size of Powell's, if that, but I loved being there. I loved their sale book tables up front, the wall of fiction on the right, and the amazing gift section to the left, full of amazing jewelry and mugs and cards and an assortment of charming crap. Their children/young adult section always seemed to be lacking a little, but maybe that's just me, and that's the only slightly bad thing I can think of. Maybe the truth is that I just loved Coolidge Corner in general, and Brookline Booksmith was like the capstone of the neighborhood to me. Being there made me feel really Brookline-y, like I could one day live this really New England life and fill the big dark bookshelves I would own one day in my spacious personal library with books bought from there while sipping hot cider, or something. When I think about the fact that I will probably never live in Boston again, one of the things I'm immediately saddest about is not being able to call this place my own anymore.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Striped shirts.

So I swear it hasn't been done consciously, but 85% of the shirts I've bought for myself over the last two or three years have been horizontally striped, in all widths and colors. I didn't realize this until I really looked at my closet one day and said, "Holy crap! I have a lot of striped shirts. Is that weird?" After I took this picture I realized there was at least one more long sleeved striped shirt in the dirty laundry, and that I own at least two striped sweaters, too. Upon further reflection, I'm pretty sure striped sweaters made up a good portion of my middle school closet, and does this mean I should be worried about my fashion sense/inability to grow up? Also, Kathy and I spent a good portion of today shopping for our upcoming vacation/weddings on the East Coast we're attending, and although I actually did buy a good amount of things I actually needed, I couldn't resist buying one more - guess! - striped shirt from Old Navy.

In related news, I know malls are supposed to stand for all that's wrong/annoying with our current frivolous, soulless culture, but ya know, spending a day at the mall with Kathy is pretty much one of my very favoritest things in the world, anyway. God bless it, but spending lots of money with the one you love on goods made in Asia in blasting air conditioning feels so good.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Office.

Since this is a pretty entirely selfish blog, I'm going to start this entry in a selfish way by saying that: who knew a popular TV show set in your pretty crappy kinda-hometown could make you realize how much you actually appreciate your pretty crappy kinda-hometown? So Scranton wasn't my actual hometown, but it was the closest thing to a city that was in proximity to my hometown, and we went there anytime we wanted to 1) go to the movies, 2) go out to eat at some big chain restaurant, or 3) go to the mall. And really there wasn't much else to do in Northeastern Pennsylvania except for those three things, so, we went there a lot. In any case, anytime something local is mentioned on the show that I recognize my heart fills up with unexpected glee and I want to say "Hey, hey, hey, I know that!!!" in an excited/annoying type of way. Such as: 1) Crystal Club soda, which they seem to drink in copious amounts, which is okay since I grew up drinking it in copious amounts, 2) Dwight's Froggy 101 bumper sticker, the local crazy country station, 3) In an episode we just watched they were at Idle Hour Lanes, 4) Once Pam was giving out a fax number and it started with 570, and I said, "Hey, that's my area code!", 5) They mention Cooper's a lot, which is fun even though we never ate there much. The day they mention eating at Fresno's, my favorite Scranton restaurant as a kid, I will die happy. 6) Any general mention of Dickson City/Carbondale/Lackawanna County/The Steamtown Mall, 7) And of course the Booze Cruise episode, when the office takes a booze cruise on Lake Wallenpaupack, which actually is my hometown, and although it's very clearly not actually filmed at Lake Wallenpaupack, they got a Hawley, PA bumper sticker and displayed it inside the boat, so I was pretty much satisfied.

As for the show, I don't think I've ever watched something where the characters seem so real to me that I am pretty convinced I actually know most of them, although if this is the case I feel like real life should be more constantly hilarious than it is because this show is hilarious. Although what makes it good is that, like all good comedies, it is actually extremely heart warming at the same time. Let me tell you about Michael Scott. One episode, I can completely hate Michael Scott and feel completely frustrated by something he is doing; the next episode my entire heart and soul is rooting for him. This conflict makes him pretty much one of my favorite characters on television. Pam and Jim = amazingly sweet and endearing in a way that always makes you pretty much completely happy. There are only two things which I never find not entirely frustrating: 1) Whenever Michael is mean to Toby for no reason; 2) Whenever Jan is mean to Michael for no reason. Other than that, these are my favorite Office moments off the top of my head:

1) The Dundees
2) "I declare...Bankruptcy!!!!!"
3) Whenever Creed says anything
4) At the end of pretzel day when Stanley and Michael are bonding and Stanley does his one and only "that's what she said" joke
5) When Michael includes Ben Kingsley on his list of famous Indians
6) In general every office meeting & office party in the conference room
7) In general every single character on the show

And yeah, I'm too tired to think of more. I first got in to this show two winters ago when I was unemployed for a month, which made me really quite depressed. But I watched The Office on DVD every day like it was my job, and it was literally what I looked forward to every day. I'm not unemployed anymore, thankfully, but these people are still my people, and I love them, and root for all of them in their wanting-better-than-Scranton-but-loyal-to-Scranton-anyway lives, and really I love the writers who create them & their commentary on white middle class America so wonderfully.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Beatles.

Today on 09/09/09, all albums by The Beatles have been remastered and re-released (as well as The Beatles Rockband), and Kink FM has been playing every Beatles song - alpha'beat'ically (yeah, I know) - all day. This idea was so amazing to me that Kathy & I actually went out to Fred Meyer and bought a radio - no joke - just to listen to it while we were at home most of the day. I don't think there's any other band one could listen to nonstop for an entire day without getting sick of, but listening to it throughout the day has been kind of a grand musical voyage. If you think I get a little riled up when I hear people calling Michael Jackson overrated, just wait until I hear the words, "The Beatles are overrated." In fact, the minute I hear that come out of someone's mouth, my respect for them automatically plummets a little bit. Sorry, it's just the truth. That statement to me isn't a personal judgment call, it's just someone being stupid.

On my own personal level, there were two bands which shaped my musical life growing up: The Beatles, and Simon & Garfunkel. (And then after that, Fleetwood Mac and Stevie Wonder.) Only I feel like kind of a bad Beatles fan because I can't really tell you the specific attributes of each individual album. I own Revolver, Rubber Soul, and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, and I think that's it. And even those I bought later, just because I felt like I should, and never actually listened to a huge amount. What I actually grew up on was this blue cassette of my parents', which my sister and I combined probably completely wore out. The Beatles, 1967-1970. There's another similar collection, with a red background instead of a blue, of their earlier years, and I think I later bought both the red and the blue on CD but listening to it weirdly somehow wasn't as good as listening to that cassette. And the red, earlier-years CD is fun, but it's the songs on that blue one which I know so well and have listened to so often that every time I hear one it's like hearing an old friend who's known me my whole life. Hence, while a real Beatles fan could debate the merits of say, Abbey Road versus The White Album versus Let It Be, my only contribution to the conversation would probably be, "Uh, was that song on the red album, or blue?"

I feel like I don't really need to talk about the cultural and musical significance of The Beatles as a whole because it's already been stated better a hundred times over by rock critics and smart writers around the world. But here's a list of some of my favorite things.

1. I believe in that fifth grade journal I had where I listed Dreams as my favorite song, I'm pretty sure I probably had Let it Be as my number 2.

2. Help! My favorite of their earlier, jinglier stuff. This song is awesome, and like a lot of their early songs, there's something slightly edgy hiding behind the happy-go-lucky-ness, something hinting to the world that Rock 'N Roll is going to be really, really awesome, a la the Beach Boys' Good Vibrations.

3. Songs Which Are So Uniquely, Simply Wonderful There Will Never Be Anything Else Like Them: Eleanor Rigby, Yesterday, and Lady Madonna.

4. Blackbird. This song is so delicate, so pretty, so lovely.

5. Hello, Goodbye & Here Comes the Sun: I have just always liked these a lot and found them the most fun to sing, for some reason. My other favorite thing I like to sing is from She Came In Through the Bathroom Window and I like it just because it sounds fun, although it makes pretty much no sense, which is a theme among a lot of Beatles songs (You'd like to be under the sea in an octopus's garden? Really?): Sunday's on the phone to Monday, Tuesday's on the phone to meeeeeee.

6. These lyrics from Strawberry Fields Forever: I think I know, I mean, oh yes, but it's all wrong. That is, I think I disagree.

7. Don't Let Me Down: Just for that chorus, for the first time he sings it at the very beginning of the song: that is soul, that is the blues.

8. Those na-na-na-na's at the end of Hey Jude. Come on. I don't think there's anyone alive who doesn't feel good when they hear those na-na-na's.

9. Golden Slumbers. This song is short, less than two minutes, and quiet and simple, but there is something about it that almost makes me cry. Perhaps because it is such a sad, defeated song, signifying their sad, defeated end after a long and tumultuous journey, starting with the hopeless line, Once there was a way to get back homeward. Once there was a way to get back home. And then what gets me is when the song swells and it is just full of sweetness, Golden slumbers fill your eyes. Smiles awake you when you rise. Sleep pretty darling, do not cry, and I will sing a lullaby. This song then segues into Carry That Weight, which takes all that tenderness and just feels good, determined, triumphant. This YouTube video someone made, coincidentally, is pretty awesome.

10. While My Guitar Gently Weeps. Thanks, George Harrison. Thanks.

11. Revolutionary: A Day in the Life, Come Together.

12. In My Life. If this song doesn't just wrap you up in its sweetness, you have no soul.

13. Pools of sorrow, waves of joy are drifting through my open mind, possessing and caressing me. Across the Universe, the song, not the movie, which I thought was awful.

14. Finally, I almost cannot stand how perfect their last words - I cannot remember if they were the last recorded or the last released, I know it is all kind of switched up and confusing, but it doesn't matter - were. Thinking about The End (which segues after Carry That Weight, see #9, I just wanted to write about this separately), how it is so simple yet so brilliant, it just blows my mind, and, just, just, Overrated? There are people in the world who can actually think that?

And in the end
the love you take
is equal to the love

you make.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Breakfast in Portland.

Kathy & I concluded a long time ago that our favorite meal to eat out for is without a doubt breakfast. And so thank goodness we moved to Portland, because I have never met a city who loved the art of eating out for breakfast as much as Portland. Like, for serious. Portland LOVES BREAKFAST. There are so many places to eat good breakfast here I don't think I'll ever get to all of them, but I am pretty determined about it anyway. Here's a list of our favorites, two years in:

1. The Hawthorne Cafe, SE Hawthorne
Pictured above, from the first time Zoe took us there when we visited in 2007. This restaurant-in-a-house (Portland is big on this business model) is cozy with yellow walls and those classic red-checkered-table cloths, and Kathy & I are so enamored with this place it deserves its own entry. There are two reason: 1) The crepe special, which is $10 and consists of a seasonal fruit crepe, potatoes or fruit, and half of an eggs benedict. Does this seem like a ridiculous amount of food? Yes, but in fact the portion sizes of each are perfect and it completely satisfies my Constant Breakfast Dilemma: Sweet, or Salty? I agonize over this decision every damn time, but the crepe special is amazing because I get both and both are completely delicious! 2) The owner, or at least the guy who is always there and always serves us, is this amazing Iranian fellow who loves his job more than anyone I have ever met. These are the things I never tire of him saying every time we go: "It is my pleasure, madame," "Everything is fresh, fresh, fresh," "We have a very fine black tea," "That comes with a very delicious house po-ta-to," "Always so good to see you, madame," or pretty much any sentence he ends with "madame," which is pretty much every one. I really can't even describe this man, other than to say he is the most amazing man I have ever met after Alan Hankin and Kathy and I are in love with him.

2. Fat City Cafe, Multnomah Village
One of the first places Kathy & I discovered on our own, this is in the uber-cutesy-but-not-in-an-annoying-way Multnomah Village in Southwest. This is the perfect kitschy breakfast diner with license plates and other crazy decorations covering every inch of every wall. I love these places. Walk me in to any restaurant covered in license plates, and I'm pretty much immediately satisfied. I know, it doesn't take much. Also, the place lives up to its name - the portion sizes are riduculously too big. For instance, your normal, say, omelette comes with a SIDE of pancakes (pumpkin pancakes in fall!) which could very well be an entire meal, and a HUGE melt in your mouth biscuit and it overall makes you feel like you want to pass out and die afterwards. So, you know, the kind of meal my family and America are known to enjoy.

3. The Arleta Library Bakery & Cafe, SE 72nd
This little cafe is really close by to us, meaning we can ride our bikes there, which we have done once or twice, and which makes us feel really Portland-y. In fact, its closeness is one of the reasons I like it. We live in the Foster-Powell/Mt. Scott area, which, in a city full of really funky, neat-o neighborhoods, is, well, not a funky, neat-o neighborhood. Powell is busy and full of fast food, Foster is full of run down, dilapidated businesses. But after living here two years I now feel a strong loyalty to it, a kind of love almost, and in the midst of the ugliness, there are these little gems of really great places which gives it that on-the-cusp-of-something-good feel. Arleta Library Cafe is one of them. Another reason I feel loyalty to it is that I'm pretty sure the guy who owns it is from Philadelphia, and they have a big Eagles bumper sticker on their fridge, and we all know how excitedly I latch on to anything East Coast out here. Their menu is relatively small and simple but good. They are one of those Portland places who are so hard core about serving local, good, organic food that they even make their own ketchup. There is also something about the atmosphere there too - the simple front windows with "cafe" written in cursive across the glass; the lazy window fans; all of their produce being shoved in the front display case; the stacks of delicious-looking scones, cookies, muffins on the wood counter - which takes me to someplace slow-paced and romantic, like New Orleans, or Paris.

4. The Cup & Saucer Cafe, SE Hawthorne & other locations
The Cup & Saucer serves up good, reliable breakfast chow, with a really big & hearty menu, including lots of delicious egg scrambles. The scramble = the easiest, most genius breakfast idea ever. Also, the few times we've been there the service has actually been pretty friendly & efficient, which is somewhat rare in what we call the blight of West Coast Service. Which means, it's not difficult to find the friendly part, but it is really, really difficult to find the 'efficient' part. We understand that it is probably a lifestyle thing, and that some people don't care if you have to wait a leisurely half hour to get your check, but, we're not West Coast people, and we do. Anyway, I mainly wanted to mention the Cup & Saucer for their homemade vanilla scones, which you can get instead of toast with your meals, and you should, because they're delicious.

5. The Waffle Window, SE Hawthorne
So we've only actually gone here once but I want to mention it just because I am so taken with the very idea of this place. So it's a window on a side street off of Hawthorne. They serve waffles. It's amazing. A waffle window! Seriously. Portland is awesome.

Hey, this was really long. Sorry. I really like breakfast.