Friday, April 29, 2011

J & K Do Portland Food Carts: Month 4

April Food Cart Win

We were somewhat lazy this month and returned to A La Carts, which we visited Month 1. This is only lazy because there are still so many other carts we haven't visited. But listen: A La Carts is really close to us. And they have a lot of great options of food to eat. So, there you have it. This pod, by the way, also has restrooms, a heated tent, and the city's first and only HAIRCUTTING CART. Yes, you can go to a cart and get your hair cut. What will this kooky place think of next?

My Choice: I went to Fondue It and got this, which I believe was called the Mac-a-Due: macaroni with sausage covered in fondue cheese sauce. This was pretty good, but not fantastic. I really enjoyed the sausage--who knew I would become such a sausage person? Not me, for sure. My sister would be disappointed. The crusty garlic bread which came with it was also really great--so salty and yummy! But I felt like there either needed to be less pasta or more sauce--pretty soon I was left with just a bunch of sticky flavorless noodles.

Oh, and that thing next to my Mac-a-Due is a piece of chocolate covered bacon. On a stick. Covered in salt and pepper AND powdered sugar, to really take the sweet/salty thing over the top. It was a little bit too much for me, and I found eating it off the stick to be slightly difficult, but Kathy enjoyed it.

Kathy's Choice: Kathy visited Over the Top, a high quality, classy kind of cart which serves huge burgers made from all variety of animal. Elk, bison, lamb, boar, emu, etc. Yeah, EMU. Kathy went with the wild boar. This was one impressive burger, people. It also came with an apple coleslaw covered in blue cheese. In general I'm a big coleslaw person, and I was particularly blown away by this one--even with the delicious blue cheese and the sweet and tart apples, it still had a completely classic vinegar-y coleslaw taste! I don't even know how it happened! Anyway, Kathy was clearly the winner of this round. Good, meaty stuff.

April Food Cart Fail

This past weekend, we visited Eat Mobile, a food cart festival put on by Willamette Weekly. We had bought tickets for this a few weeks earlier. We were pumped. I in particular thought that in addition to being delicious, it would be something cool and interesting to blog about. (Because life is all about blogging! Right?!?!)

Well my friends. Eat Mobile ended up being a kind of sad story. Here it is:

We arrived a little late, and even though showing up late to a festival is FINE because it's a FESTIVAL and you can arrive WHENEVER YOU WANT, I am sometimes surprisingly neurotic and so was already stressed out. When we got there, a half hour after the gates opened, there was still a HUGE ONLY SEMI-ORGANIZED LINE to get in. Huge lines apparently always signal Bad News For Jill, because they always mean that there will eventually be lots of line cutting. This makes me suddenly remember that when in crowds, human beings turn to their most irritating assholeish traits. This makes me angry, turning on my own irritating assholeish traits. Yeah, so those people who got here WAY BEFORE US are waylaid because they're letting a car pass through the line. So let's ALL FIFTEEN OF US JERKFACES WHO JUST GOT HERE jump in line ahead of them, BECAUSE WE CAN! And even though we all have tickets, we all HAVE TO GET IN RIGHT NOW OR WE'RE GOING TO DIE! And suddenly, even though I am normally a very calm person, I am also from the East Coast, you see. And I also have remnants of genes from a very grumpy grandfather who loved yelling at and about people. And sometimes all these things come out fiercely, and causes me to yell, "Oh yeah, AWESOME. All of you people are SO AWESOME. YOU ARE NOT ASSHOLES AT ALL. All of these people DID NOT GET HERE BEFORE YOU. AWESOME. JUST GREAT." Kathy eventually persuaded me to take a chill pill. Kinda.

Anyway, so we eventually got in and were right away overwhelmed by all the people. In my opinion, there were just too many people here. You had to wait in line for at least 20 minutes for any cart. Often when you finally got to the cart, you were presented with the tiniest sample of all time. While this is understandable, since they're carts and don't have limitless supplies of food--there were a few carts already bearing "ALL OUT OF FOOD" signs by the time we got to them--when you're hungry and pumped for food, this can be less than satisfying. Also, you often have no idea what type of food exactly you're going to get. After waiting for 20 minutes at one cart, we were presented with fried anchovies. To which I said, "I CAN SEE ITS EYES!!" and promptly gave it to someone else waiting in line.

The location under the Morrison Bridge was also kind of weird. I mean, it was a hip, indie location (I guess), but it also felt just dark and crowded, enhancing my grumpiness. It was actually a rare nice day on this day, too, which I felt was almost wasted in the dark industrial gloom. I would have enjoyed the waiting in line much more if I was on the other side of the river, on the lovely Tom McCall Waterfront Park, where many summer festivals are held, instead. (I do understand that this location is much more expensive for festivals to rent.)

I had also been led to believe that you got free PBR, a notion which was confirmed when we saw almost every person passing us holding a can, and we thought if anything, some free crappy beer would help soothe us. Lo and behold, once we finally made our way through the throngs, they cost $2.50. Later on, upon further studying my ticket, I realized that the beer was only free for special people who paid a lot of money to get in to the festival early. Boo.

Overall, after awhile, we decided it all just wasn't that worth it and we weren't having that great of a time. So we left. But, to not be too much of a sourpusss:

The best part of our experience at the event was a stop at a pizza cart called Slice. Slice is located off of Division, but not at A La Carts, which is also off of Division. (Seriously: So many cart options even on one street!) The workers at the cart were very cool-looking but also very nice, and we got a small, but still almost full, SLICE, of pizza! This was very exciting after the single piece of pasta we got at another cart! They were slicing from two pies, and we actually could have gotten a slice from EACH pie, but they ran out of the second right as we got there. Bummer. This I'm pretty sure was their Smokin' Soppressata, and it was gooey and flavorful and delicious! This cart was also located on a side street that extended beyond the bridge, so we also got to wait in the sun, adding to the good pizza time.

Also, we didn't feel that we had wasted our money, since all of the proceeds went to Mercy Corps, which I believe is pretty much one of the best organizations of all time.

In conclusion, Kathy is a good person for always putting up with me when I am grumpy, and secondly, pizza always makes everything better.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The finest photo of me ever taken.

My stomach, by the way, still looks like this. And I still have glasses. And am still bad at wearing tights. I tend to stay away from pink floppy hats, but other than that, not much has really changed.

Happy Easter everyone. Especially all you East Coast folks I miss so very much.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Husky sick voice.

What I learned this week: when you are not feeling well, you should not work two thirteen hour days in a row. Especially when your vocations during those thirteen hour days include teaching and customer service, i.e., being on your feet and talking to people all day. Also, prior to those thirteen hour days, you should probably not spend the night drinking a lot of beer at an arcade and eating greasy food at a gay hamburger joint. I know, I'm a genius! It should be noted, though, that prior to my hectic mid-week schedule, I actually took Monday and Tuesday off. This is remarkable, since I rarely--and I mean rarely--take sick days. Kathy has been a good influence in encouraging me to take better care of myself; normally, it's hard for me to break from a stubborn "suck it up and stop whining" mentality. It should also be noted that Tuesday was an accidental day off--the tutoring program I usually work for on Tuesdays actually didn't need me, so I drove to school and then drove home. I don't think I've ever in my life actually purposely taken two sick days in a row. And here's the shocking part--during those two days of rest, my sickness didn't escalate and I felt pretty good! I know! Wonders never cease.

My sickness has been a weird one which mainly just involves a really sore and swollen throat and overall fatigue. Normally this type of thing would evolve into a general stuffy nose type cold, but that's never happened--it's just my throat. And while I'm exhausted, feeling exhausted is just my normal state of being most of the time, so, who's to say whether that's actually special or not. In any case, after two days of overextending myself, last night during work I quickly descended into having Husky Sick Voice. This is different from Stuffed-Up Sick Voice, which just sounds gross. With Husky Sick Voice, you can still pronounce all of your syllables correctly, your voice is just two levels lower, with a handful of gravel.

Husky Sick Voice is the most awesome part of being sick! It makes one sound so much more badass than one normally does! Especially when I normally am not a fan of my voice anyway, which I harbor a constant insecurity about still sounding silly from my speech problems I had as a child. As part of my teaching program, I've had to videotape and then analyze myself teaching (I know, ugh), and while I was actually pretty happy watching my interaction with the students, I couldn't get over my voice and how my face, at 27, still looks like a 10 year chipmunk. Imagine how my street cred with the kids would improve if my voice was ALWAYS two decibals lower! Who DOESN'T want to sound like Tracy Chapman all the time! (Confession: I really, really, really want to sound like Tracy Chapman all the time. I think about it frequently.)

Plus, Husky Sick Voice also seems to happen when the rest of your body is starting to actually feel better, causing you to really not be that bad off, but still able to make people feel sorry for you!

Unfortunately, overnight the Husky Sick Voice has progressed to an almost complete lack of a voice, which is much less sexy, much more pathetic. More prone to cracking like a teenage boy, more prone to warbling and sounding like I'm constantly on the verge of crying, more prone to sounding like a dying duck. Additional lesson learned: it is nearly impossible to teach with such a voice. My wisdom is never-ending! But, I had already taken TWO days off this week. Taking another day, just because I physically can't communicate with people? Pssssh. Don't be ridiculous. Oh, and we're also hosting a party at our apartment tonight! I will probably drink more beer, even though I can hardly speak! And I'm working at 7:30AM tomorrow morning! So much smartness up in here!

Whenever I'm blessed with the Husky Sick Voice, I think of that Friends episode where Phoebe has the Husky Sick Voice, and realizes that her singing sounds ten times sexier with it. (Duh!) She feels so satisfied with herself, as I did with myself last night. Such a devastating loss when it goes away and you're just left with normal you again.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Top 5 Ben & Jerry's Flavors.

It was Free Cone Day last week, but I sadly didn't have the time or patience to wait in line at any of the multiple stores in the Portland metro area. I did have a quick minute when I was downtown before I had to be at class, and so I scooted over to the one at Pioneer Courthouse Square, hoping against hope it wouldn't be too crowded and I might be able to squeeze in. Like all of my willfully delusional ideas, I was wrong, as the line spread around the block--with a guy in a cow suit encouraging more people to jump in. (Just seeing the guy in the cow suit was worth the walk, though.) The line at the Hawthorne store, hours later when I drove by it on my way home, was just as long. While I was bummed I wasn't able to partake, just seeing the throngs waiting for ice cream made my heart immeasurably happy. We all need more ice cream.

In fact, if I were to rank things that I believe make America great, it would go something like this:
1. Freedom of the press
2. Freedom of religion
3. National parks
4. Free cone day
5. Other stuff
There are some factors, however, which currently work against my desire for Ben & Jerry's. I've been trying to roughly enact an eating-local philosophy over the last year or so, and being that they're from the very opposite end of the country--what else is Vermont even known for, really? (Beautiful scenery and skiing? Naaah)--obviously breaks this rule. There's also the disconcerting fact that it's not owned by Ben and Jerry anymore, and their ingredients also aren't always as pure, simple or good as other local ice creams I can find here, or even as much as Haagen Dazs or Breyer's. But still--it's Ben & Jerry's! Who cares!

After careful deliberation, I've decided on my Top 5 flavors, since making Top 5 lists is apparently something I'm into lately.

1. Chubby Hubby

This can be hard to find here for some reason, but, PEANUT BUTTER FILLED, FUDGE COVERED PRETZELS. HELLO. Also, the fact that they briefly changed the name to Hubby Hubby in support of gay marriage in Vermont is just another reason to endlessly love B&J forever.

2. Marsha Marsha Marshmallow/S'mores

So this flavor is now called S'mores. It used to be called Marsha Marsha Marsmallow. I am irrationally irked by this, even though the change happened years ago. S'mores? Really? When did you become boring? Did Ben & Jerry approve of this? I thought they still had some say, somehow, maybe? This article I found wraps up my feelings more precisely than I could: 
"There is an allure to Ben & Jerry’s that, perhaps more than any other brand, is communicated by their naming. Ben & Jerry’s has brand permissions that few others enjoy, using product names to connect with us, entertain us and engage us all at once...Ben & Jerry’s is the king of naming with a wink and laugh. Long live Marsha Marsha Marshmallow."
Yes. Exactly. Case in point: one of their newest flavors is called Clusterfluff. Clusterfluff! That is ballsy (and hilarious)! But you change Marsha Marsha Marshmallow to S'mores? I will never stop being disappointed.


Of course, I still buy it, since it's still delicious. This flavor, along with Phish Food, has the beautiful ability to become gloriously goopy and messy through its use of the marshmallow swirl. Combined with the rich chocolate and the surprisingly satisfying slight crunch of graham crackers, it inevitably makes a pint of melty, mushy bliss.

3. Oatmeal Cookie Chunk

Kathy introduced me to this flavor as one of her favorites, and for some reason I was slightly skeptical at first. It just didn't sound as exciting as some of the other flavors. But man oh man, was I wrong. The sweet cinnamon taste of the ice cream along with the chewy cookie bits is perfectly complemented by the dark chocolate chunks. Perfect.

4. Chunky Monkey

Chunky Monkey is a classic flavor, and a favorite of my family--what we would often get when my mom occasionally felt wild and crazy and bought us a pint. Ben & Jerry's felt like a fancy treat as a kid--little did I know I would grow up to one day literally live across the street from a 7-11 which I would stumble across the street in my pajamas to in order to pick up a pint literally every other day or so. Good times, unhealthy obsessive eating habits! (Apartment on Comm Ave in Brighton, Massachusetts, I miss you.) Back to the matter at hand though, the flavor of the banana ice cream in this joint is so refreshing that it pretty much tastes like it should be good for you. Which it is, right? Bananas? Hello? And there's protein in nuts, right?

5. Half Baked

One of my favorite classic ice cream flavors of all time is chocolate chip cookie dough. A good, solid chocolate chip cookie dough (including Ben & Jerry's) is close to perfection--but sometimes I stray away from it when it just seems too vanilla, and I'm leaning towards a chocolate mood. Well, welcome to Half Baked! We'll give you your cookie dough, and through in some FUDGE BROWNIES, yo! And we'll swirl that vanilla and chocolate all up for you! Because we're Ben & Jerry's, and throwing a bunch of stuff together in one carton is what we're here for!

What are your favorite flavors that I missed/you want to fight me on? (I'm up for the fight.) If you need some guidance, you can surf all the delicious choices here. And if you really have some extra time on your hands, you should entertain yourself by browsing their flavor graveyard. (When you tour the factory, there is a literal graveyard, and it's one of the best parts of the whole thing.)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Signs of spring: Magnolias.

I love magnolia trees! Magnolia trees are my favorite! I don't even care if the wonderful, soft, pink-white petals fall off relatively quickly, often quite suddenly after a cold Northwest rain, and soon make the sidewalks underneath where they stand a pink-ish brown, slippery, soft-petal bunch of mush. While they are still resting upon the branches, they are magical, the loveliest petals on a tree I ever did see.

Our living room window looks out onto our neighbor's yard (yeah, kind of creepy), which luckily has a HUGE magnolia tree in it. If I could do anything I wanted tomorrow, I would lay on the couch, reading a book, looking out at that magnolia tree, all day, maybe taking some breaks to eat some ice cream. While looking at the magnolia tree. Well, I mean, if I could do ANYTHING, and I had lots of money, I would take a day trip somewhere fun and beautiful with Kathy and eat out for every meal. But, still, laying on the couch and looking at the magnolia tree would be a close second.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Concertgoing in Boston.

Music/Boston Nostalgia series: Part 22987123

Tonight Kathy and I went to see Lauryn Hill at the Schnitz, an amazing experience which should be relegated to a post within itself. (While going to this concert was legendary, it was really Kathy's dream: she is one of the best white lesbian hip-hop fans ever. I am never more in love with her than when she is rapping.) However, I haven't been to a concert in quite awhile, and thinking about tonight's concert all day made me start waxing nostalgic inside my head about my concert going days in Boston.

We've been able to attend a decent amount of concerts in Portland/the Northwest, and some really good ones at that. (Brandi with the Seattle Symphony! Elton & Billy Joel, Face 2 Face! The Avett Brothers at McMenamin's Edgefield! Sufjan at the Schnitz! Lilith at the Gorge!) But my live-music-life simply isn't the same as it used to be. I get Ticketmaster & other local concert venue email updates every week and always scan the Oregonian A&E section for names I want to see, but this has become a more painful habit than anything else. I've reached a point in my life where I realize I can't afford to go see every concert I want to go see. Getting those emails and reading the A&E section has become a tiring adventure of salivating over things I want, dreaming about all the arts I will be able to support some day in forty years when I'm retired.

However, there was a time when I never said no to music. This, of course, was the time which started the downward spiral of debt which I will never get out of and which holds me back now, but I don't regret it. This period of time was called, "college in Boston." In particular, the first two years. It seemed like I went to a concert almost every week; I often went to multiple ones in one week. While in later years I often dragged Kathy to these things with me, in my first two years of college I went to innumerable concerts by myself. Along with taking long walks by myself (which I discussed here), I used live music as my avenue to explore my independence, my route to finding-myself-in-the-city. In other words: what a loser!

In seriousness though, the experience of live music is one I will never stop loving, one I will never not view as essential to getting the most out of life, one that encapsulates the adjective 'special'. Hearing drum beats and bass reverberate up through your sneakers until they pulse through your whole being, taking a step away from real life to just listen to some music for a night--it's essential, people. Essential!

Here are the Boston venues in which I spent many hours of my life back in the day.

1. The Paradise
Located off the dreaded B-Line on Comm Ave, right past the most-dreaded-of-all multiple BU stops but before Packards Corner, the 'Dise was a brick one story building in which I believe I spent the most hours. This served a lot of big-but-not-too-big acts, which could also describe the size of the floor inside--big, but not too big. The worst part were the few, huge, stupid columns which blocked your view if you were unfortunate enough to get shoved behind one. The best part was waiting for the T afterward, on that tiny little strip of asphalt by the tracks, your head still buzzing, and you could just see the lights of the skyline off into the distance. There were also a few times when the T had stopped running by the time I got out, so I walked the whole way back to Emerson and the LB. But I didn't mind that much, either.
+ Best concerts seen here: multiple Cowboy Mouth concerts, one of the greatest live acts you will see, ever, in your life ; multiple Jump concerts in my Jump phase ; Sondre Lerche.

2. The Avalon
Oh, the Avalon. I hear that you are closed now, that you have in fact been closed for awhile.  As one Yelp reviewer writes: RIP Avalon. Since your heartbreaking close, my days of Guido-mackin' and shameful drunken dancing are now in the past :(  Thankfully I stayed away from Guido-mackin' and, since I could obviously never afford any drinks from the bar, shameful drunken dancing, but I went to SO many concerts at this piece that it's weird to me that this trashy corner of Boston history is now silenced.

The Avalon was one of those enter-through-a-black-door-in-a-black-wall type of places which resided at the end of Lansdowne Street, literally an alley abutting the back of Fenway Park. Lansdowne was comprised of a few sports bars and the Avalon and not much else, and during game days was full of t-shirt vendors and peanut sellers and other classic baseball Americana, but somehow became the capital of Trashy Boston Nightlife after dark. My ticket stubs (which I obviously keep religiously in a book) reveal to me that I also went to a show or two at the Axis, which I think was Avalon's baby sister, but honestly I can't remember anything else about it. Anyway, the Avalon was the classic nightclub-turned-concert venue: big square dance floor, some seats in a small mysterious balcony at the back which was normally reserved for, like, cool people with the band, or something, and uber cool bars (or, trying to be uber cool bars) on either side of the dance floor. I also remember the bathroom being weirdly designed/dark/lit up with lots of neon lights. I definitely felt like a hip city person anytime I had to pee.
+ Best concerts seen here: many, but the best ones I remember: Hanson ; Interpol ; Badly Drawn Boy ; Modest Mouse ; Pete Yorn ; Damien Rice ; Sleater-Kinney.

3. The Orpheum
The requisite big-ballroom-concert-hall type place every city should have, like the Schnitz in Portland, but older and more falling apart. Even its official website describes it as thus: It began as the Music Hall in 1852 and served as the original home of the New England Conservatory, this grand old lady appears a bit dated, but despite its tattered appearance all seats are normally filled for most shows. Grand old lady! Wonderful. I have to say that I liked the tattered appearance though, and I liked the old architecture of its white front which hid, somewhat oddly, at the end of an alley off a corner of Boston Common, contrasting with the taller and more modern buildings all around it. (That hideous orange of that weird "The Corner" place. So weird, so Downtown Crossing.) I definitely went to less shows at the Orpheum than most other places, and I feel like there were more jerky Boston type people at these shows, although there were jerky Boston type people at almost every show. (Well, unless you were seeing, like, The Weepies. Which I did, once. It's hard to be a jerk and be a Weepies fan.) Although maybe I am being overly influenced by my memory of seeing Ryan Adams at the Orpheum when Tegan & Sara opened for him, and I was sitting next to these guys who booed and jeered them the entire time they were on stage. Who boos Tegan & Sara? Drunk Boston dudes, that's who.
+ Best concerts seen here: Patty Griffin, two times.

4. Berklee Performance Center
It is not surprising that one of the best music schools in the country should also have a kick-ass performance center, but I feel like this was a hidden gem that's often forgotten about. I feel especially fond of it since it's located in what I considered, in a way, my 'hood for a good portion of my time in Boston: on Huntington  Ave, down the road from the lovely Christian Science Center and right at the busy intersection with Boylston and the overpass over I-90 which included the loud and dirty Hynes Convention Center T stop. This venue is auditorium style, like the Orpheum, but smaller, narrower, and more well-kept. This is, probably, the best place to see music in Boston. (Unless you need to get up and dance.) They know what they're doing: the acoustics are wonderful. If you have a good crowd, it can feel simply religious.
+ Best concerts seen here: Patty Griffin, again ; Jenny Lewis ; Andrew Bird.

5. The Middle East
Oh man, now we're getting to where the cool kids go! Located in Cambridge off of busy Mass Ave, this was a venue behind a restaurant which served, you guessed it, Middle Eastern food (although I never actually ate there), and there was a Middle East Upstairs and a Middle East Downstairs. The downstairs was the much larger venue and the one you normally went to, and it was very bare bones. You descended some steps from a door in the side of the building, passed a little bar, and hung out under a low ceiling to look up at a no frills stage. I actually really enjoyed the basement type of feel of the Middle East, but overall my memory of it seems hazy.  Shows at the Middle East always started way late and definitely made you miss the last T home, but again, walking home to Boston over the Mass Ave Bridge was never a shabby experience (well, at least for me). I only went to the upstairs once. I have no idea who the band was, or even who I went with, but it was one of those deals during freshman year where I went when somebody offered in an attempt to be social and make friends. I think. The space is super tiny and there were approximately ten people in the audience. The band smashed their guitars and kicked stuff at the end. It was awkward.
+ Best concerts seen here: Flickerstick ; Jump Little Children, again.

6. TT the Bear's
Okay, this was actually where the REAL cool people went. The Middle East's little brother, it's located right next door, but isn't affiliated. I honestly didn't go to many shows here, and it's basically just a little box of a room, but it was a solid place to see slightly smaller acts. I think I'm mentioning it just because I really liked the name.
+ Best concerts seen here: Mirah ; my friend Lindsay!

7. The Roxy
Oh man, I totally forgot the Roxy--which I think is now called the Royale?--existed, until I found a ticket stub for The Shins from there. Pretty sure I went there another time, too. Located right down the street from Emerson, towards the South End, on Tremont, this place also hosted Chippendales, or some other such thing, so the staircase up into the club was adorned with pictures of men with shiny pectoral muscles and those silly tuxedo-bowtie-only outfit things going on. The Royale website refers to it as "Boston’s only true mega club." Sounds scary.
+ Best concerts seen here: Uh, the Shins.

8. The Wang
The Wang is now called the Citi Performing Arts Center. YAWN. MAN I LOVE WHEN BANKS TAKE OVER THE NAME OF CLASSIC BUILDINGS. ESPECIALLY WHEN THE BUILDING USED TO BE CALLED THE WANG! How can you take that away from us! Sigh. We are defeated. Anyway, the Wang is almost right across from the Roxy, a block away from Emerson. I graduated there. It's a huge arts auditorium which hosts a lot of plays, important speakers, and overall fancy things, with the occasional bigger name rock band/musician. The Wang is the way fancy big sister to the Orpheum. And according to my ticket stubs, I apparently saw Wilco there in October 2004. I do not remember this at all! At all! This is a shame, because that sounds like a good show! I was just bemoaning the other day that I had never seen Wilco live! What is wrong with me!
+ Best concerts seen here: Well geez, I guess Wilco!

9. Bank of America Pavilion
Right, so this may seem like a weird one to include, since it's a big corporate outdoor venue that's way out in the middle of nowhere on the waterfront--so out of the way that you have to take a shuttle from South Station or the SILVER LINE to get there. Yeah, the SILVER LINE. But, still, the few times I went there it reminded me of going to concerts at home at Montage Mountain in Scranton (okay, Moosic, technically)--in other words, good, summery fun. I also attach somewhat sentimental emotions to it since Kathy and I spent our very last night in Boston there, seeing Fiona Apple and Nickel Creek. This was memorable because 1) we were super stressed out about moving across the country the next day and what we were going to do with all of our crap that still remained in our apartment and going to a concert was perhaps a silly way to spend this night, but that is how we roll, and 2) in case you missed it, that combination of artists was Fiona Apple, and Nickel Creek. It was a bizarre, somewhat awe-inspiring combination.
+ Best concerts seen here: the one I just mentioned ; Ben Folds & Guster.

Oh, humongous debt. You were so worth it.

Friday, April 8, 2011

I Like the Internet: Part I

Many of my favorite blogs have periodic posts where they highlight awesome things they found/read that week on the internet. I always enjoy these posts, because, you know, I like the internet. As of today I'm going to start making these posts myself. I will call them, "I Like the Internet," because I am creative. So when I've gathered enough articles/videos/websites/internet-things stolen from those other blogging people, or from people on my Facebook page/Twitter feed, etc., I will regurgitate it all on here for everyone! Maybe sometimes I will be adventurous  enough to read and find cool things of my own volition, but, I mean, just catching up on all of my friends' shared links is a lot of work, so, let's not get too out of hand here.

Here we go:

+ The turmoil and upheavals which are occurring all throughout the Middle East/African world are fascinating, simultaneously exciting yet heartbreaking and violent, and overall, impossibly important. The New York Times crafted a video feature a little while ago called A New Arab Generation Finds Its Voice featuring interviews with well-spoken young Arabs from countries such as Libya, Morocco, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, and Palestine. The individual videos are brief and move quickly, but with 25 in total, it does take a little while to get through, but I believe it's worth it to hear all of them to absorb the diversity of perspectives presented. All of their voices speak to the power of revolution, social media, youth, and hope, but many of them do question the drive to embrace democracy. One young man in Jerusalem points out that democracy in Palestine has essentially failed, since they democratically brought Hamas into power but the world still refuses to listen to/accept Hamas, so what good does it do? Others meanwhile maintain that the word democracy, in itself, especially in terms of Western interference in the Arab world, has become a muddled, meaningless term.

+ Heather Anne Hogan recently wrote about her research on rape being used as a tool of war in an entry called the sweet individuality of each face, and in typical Heather Anne Hogan style, she writes with  an overwhelmingly moving combination of intelligence and compassion.

+ I had never previously heard of The Rumpus, and then one day I had three friends posting links to  two different Dear Sugar columns. Both of them give advice about, essentially, how to not feel shitty about yourself for wanting to be a writer. The first one is entitled Write Like a Motherfucker, in which a female writer writes in about how depressed she is and how she's worried she's not good enough and even if she was good enough, all the famous female writers kill themselves, anyway. It is a cheery little letter! Okay, actually, it's a brutally honest account of depression and can be hard to read. Mainly, going to this link is actually worthwhile just for this quote at the bottom of Sugar's reply:
The unifying theme is resilience and faith. The unifying theme is being a warrior and a motherfucker. It is not fragility. It’s strength. It’s nerve. And “if your Nerve, deny you –,” as Emily Dickinson wrote, “go above your Nerve.” Writing is hard for every last one of us—straight white men included. Coal mining is harder. Do you think miners stand around all day talking about how hard it is to mine for coal? They do not. They simply dig.
So, there you go, I already kind of ruined it for you. I also fear I am already writing way too much about these links, and that it would be more likely for people to actually visit them if I just, like, posted the links. Also, everything I've included so far is kind of depressing. Dammit, apparently I'm bad at I Like the Internet. Focus, Jill, focus!

The other Sugar column is called We Are All Savages Inside, and deals with intense writer jealousy. The person who writes in this time is bitter and jealous of everyone around him, and Sugar explains why. Both of these articles could come off as extremely whiney and exceedingly annoying to most people in the world except for the sliver of lunatics out there who want to be writers. I also find Sugar's excessive use of the phrase "sweet pea" to be somewhat irritating, even if I do understand that, her name being "Sugar," and all,  these sweet euphemisms are probably used on purpose. However, again, the real gem of this one comes at the end of Sugar's response, when she breaks down our jealousy based on our past privilege and what we think we "deserve" from attending a "prestigious school."

+ Ever since the extremely poignant, important, and successful It Gets Better project was created by Dan Savage in reaction to a slew of teen suicides, it seems like there are more and more, and better, anti-gay-bullying/gay-teen-support type things popping up on the internet and in the world all the time. This video is especially awesome--AND it's Irish! Seriously, watch it.

+ To end things on a simpler note, I can't believe it took me this long to discover  Garfield minus Garfield.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Five Bruce Springsteen Songs.

I spent a decent amount of time in Jersey growing up, admittedly mostly during drives from my hometown in the Poconos to "the city" (New York) or during drives to the Jersey Shore. (While I do not associate my memories with Snooki, J-Woww, GTL, cabs being here, or anything of the like, I do not judge. Except when it comes to hating Ronnie and Sammi with a fiery passion as some of the most horrible and boring people alive. Then I judge.) When I think of Jersey, I think of a few things: The Bagel Station in Sparta. Johnny's Hot Dogs in Buttzville, as shown above in a classic pic of me and Joe Gruber. (I love that kid.) "Livin' on a Prayer" playing during my cousin Chris's wedding in south Jersey a few years ago, during which my cousin Greg ran around the dance floor screaming indiscriminately, "JERSEY! JERSEY! JERSEY!" I also think of Bruce Springsteen. Springsteen for me is like wine, or cheese: the flavors mature and grow, slowly, sneakily, inside of my gut each year. I don't even notice it, until, out of nowhere, one Sunday morning I'm listening to the radio while doing dishes and I hear a cover of Atlantic City and it suddenly makes me cry.

* Since VEVO won't allow me to embed any official videos, you're getting all live versions for this one. I mean, not that that's necessarily a bad thing, but as I'm writing, I'm listening to the polished studio versions that my ear is used to hearing to access the full amount of my nostalgia. Also, after actually watching all the official videos, there is so much good stuff in them that it pretty much breaks my heart, so I will ramble about them anyway.

Born to Run

The highway's jammed with broken heroes
on a last chance power drive
Everybody's out on the run tonight
but there's no place left to hide
Together, Wendy, we'll live with the sadness
I wanna love you with all of the madness
in my soul
Someday, girl, I don't know when
We're gonna get to that place where we really want to go
and we'll walk in the sun
'Till then, tramps like us
Baby, we were born to run

I know this is a "well, duh" moment, but I'm going to say it anyway: This is one of the greatest songs that has ever and will ever be written. Ever in the history of music, in the history of mankind. Nothing else will ever capture the dreams, the passion, the idealism, the trappings of youth as these five minutes do. There is no greater use of the phrase "tramps like us." There is no greater "Who-oooaahhhhh!" than the Boss's, 50 seconds in. There is no other song that greater captures my desires to jump in a car and drive around the country for the rest of my life, listening to music with the wind in my hair, that ran rampant through every cell of my being in high school. There is no greater song about the American dream. I'm just going to say it: Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run IS the American dream! The first dramatic chords, that sax solo! I love this song so much that even Jimmy Fallon/Glee's rendition of it during the opening of the Emmy's last year made me bawl like a baby. You must watch the official video, which is merely a miraculous collage of sold out stadium shows, cut off t-shirts and arm muscles, backwards baseball caps, joyful E Street Band jamming, sweaty locks, fist pumps and air kicks, all ending with a freeze frame of Springsteen jumping into the air, while 'Thanks to all our fans!' scrolls on the screen. If this video doesn't make you feel like life is worth living, you are a horrible person.

Atlantic City

Everything dies baby that's a fact
Maybe everything that dies
someday comes back
Put your makeup on
Put your hair up pretty
and meet me tonight in Atlantic City

I know I just rambled about how great Born to Run, including the lyrics, was/is, but now I'm going to say this: there is no greater chorus than this one. I don't know. Something about it just gives me the chills. I love this song something fierce. The official video is full of black and white images which perfectly match the spare, lonesome feel of the original Nebraska version. I've mentioned several times in the past how much I like storytelling in music; this song is a perfect, and wonderous, example. From the memorable first line: Well they blew up the chicken man in Philly last night, yeah they blew up his house too, you are taken along in this story of a guy who's just trying to scrape along and make his way in this heavy, bleak world. The last line we know of his story goes as such: I'm tired of coming out on the losing end, so last night I met this guy and I'm going to do a little favor for him. This is a story, we know, that is not going to end well. The only thing left to say is, girl, put your hair up pretty, meet me for a night in Atlantic City. It is as hauntingly human as it is beautiful.

Streets of Philadelphia

I was bruised and battered
I couldn't tell what I felt
I was unrecognizable to myself
I saw my reflection in a window
I didn't know my own face
Oh brother, are you going to leave me
wasting away
on the streets of Philadelphia?

So, in case--just in case!--Philadelphia wasn't already one of the most depressing films of all time, Bruce allowed us one of the most appropriately depressing soundtrack songs in history. Take that amazing feeling of triumph you felt during Born to Run, flip it over, and smash it on the ground under your boot a few times, and you have the Streets of Philadelphia. But, from the beginning drum beat and the steady synthesizer throughout, it is pretty much pitch perfect. (I also can't really deal with the waving, smiling children in the streets in the official video.) Again, it is hard to listen to this song without chills.

The Rising

Sky of blackness and sorrow
Sky of love, sky of tears
Sky of glory and sadness
Sky of mercy, sky of fear
Sky of memory and shadow
Your burnin' wind fills my arms tonight
Sky of longing and emptiness
Sky of fullness, sky of blessed life

After September 11th, there pretty much wasn't anything a politician could say that wouldn't make me angry. There were only two people who were appropriately eloquent--and also close enough to the life and heart of the city as to be authentic--on the subject: Jon Stewart, and Bruce Springsteen. The entire album of The Rising in 2002 (his first studio album in seven years; his first one with the E Street Band in 18!), regardless of whether every song on the album was meant to be or not, read like an elegy to the event, and to the city, and to the country. Springsteen was able to voice the dreams and the angst of America's soul in the 70s and 80s, and he was able to voice what America needed post-9/11. Along with heartfelt sorrow, he did it with light and with hope. The chorus with the "li, li, li, li"s in this title track feel positively chock full of optimism and camaraderie. Feeling moved by this album makes me feel similar to the way I felt in front of a classroom in the Netherlands full of angry European university students during the second Bush presidency, when I told them that I loved my country and they asked me why. I felt kind of embarrassed, and my answer was bumbling and insufficient and they gave me a look full of skepticism. Listen, I know it sounds cheesy, but there it is, and I know it's the truth. I love America, and this is a moving album.

Radio to Nowhere

I want a thousand guitars
I want pounding drums
I want a million different voices speaking in tongues 
I just want to hear some rhythm
I just want to hear some rhythm
I just want to hear you swoon

To bring things full circle and end on a happier note: I know this is Older, Middle Aged Springsteen, okay, and I know--and he knows--that there is no physical way this can compete with 1970s Born to Run Springsteen. This is proved by the Today show crowd in this clip: full of women in their 40s and a spattering of a few balding dudes. Like, really, just sad. But hear me out: this is still a great song! It's full of classic Springsteen spirit, and it even has a great sax solo! For an old dude who's been making music for decades now, I think this is a pretty fantastic effort. I can think of tons of other old dudes his age who should've given up the act a long time ago, but he is still full-out kicking ass. It is impressive! And it's full of the same classic ideas: he's still "searching for a world with some soul." Sweet mercy, I'm glad you are, Bruce. We need it. I love the repetition of "I just want to hear some rhythm": I heard this song on the radio a few years ago, and I said, shit, Bruce! I want a thousand guitars, I want pounding drums, I just want to hear some rhythm! Who doesn't!

(Just to let you know, I started writing this entry well over two hours ago. It might've only taken you a few minutes to read through it, but I've spent my entire morning listening to Springsteen songs instead of doing other things I need to do. Should I feel bad about this? I sort of do, and I also sort of don't.)