Thursday, September 29, 2005

Confessions of a list-maker

The Sports Guy this week published an email conversation he held with some pop-culture nerd named Chuck Klosterman who writes a column for Spin magazine. (Spin magazine is as relevant as Chunky Asses, and I'm not even sure Chunky Asses exists outside of Eddie Murphy movies.) Granted I've never read anything by the guy, who's apparently an author as well, but based on his smug replies to questions Simmons was possibly phrasing in a way to knock Klosterman down a peg I don't think I'm interested. Anyone with such strong opinions about one Pearl Jam album over another is not to be trusted.

Some good did come out of it, for I was reminded of the phenomenon that there is no stronger opinion than that of a favorite band/song/album. Ain't nuttin starts a good argument like disagreeing with someone's musical preferences. Not sports (too ingrained), not politics (largely, too abstract). Music.

And nothing so neatly organizes these opinions like a good list. Desert-island discs, road-trip comps, top make-out songs… these are statements. When you make these lists you stand up and get counted, and fuck all the rest. You challenge someone to come up with better ones. And it breaks your heart to leave something out. Ask someone to pick "the best" Public Enemy song and it will ruin his week, because he's going to flip that question around in his head a thousand times and still not come up with something he can set down and declare "This is the answer."

So I'm embracing the list. The list is my friend. Every now and then I'll throw something up here, not (necessarily) to start debate but to set it down. Some lists I'm formulating are "Albums I wish I'd discovered sooner," "Overrated albums people think they're supposed to like" and "Movies I'd like to see again for the first time" (apparently I'm already breaking away from the whole music thing I just went apeshit over). Future lists may include "Zeppelin songs to play while learning to drive eighty miles an hour down a two-lane undivided Texas highway," "Three-hour playlists to help drown out Joe Theismann's offensively inane football commentary" and "Top soundtracks for not giving a damn about this joker and his stupid lists."

Also, as I was scrambling last night to find a blank VHS tape so I could record the Bob Dylan special on PBS, I found some old mixtapes I'd made in college. Since these qualify as lists from my past, I think I'll post reviews of a few of them to see how far I've come (or, where appropriate, how still I've stood). I realize this is a totally self-indulgent exercise but hey, what are blogs for? Feel free to ignore me in the future; the feelings of a 20-year-old punk who put "Jesus Built My Hotrod" on three different cassettes will not be hurt.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Irony defined

The other night A. and I took the subway home following some after-work drinks. We rode to Porter Square, the big nightmare station with at least one escalator broken at all times. Which is a big deal for a station that's gotta be ten storeys underground. Anyway, we got off the train and walked up the short staircase to the main platform, and as we crossed above the tracks we heard a huge bang accompanied by a flash of light. We walked over to see what happened and it turns out the train, as it left the station, must have clipped the metal DANGER: THIRD RAIL sign—the kind with cartoon lightning bolts all over it. The mini-explosion was caused by the sign falling and landing on the third rail.

If that's not like rain on your wedding day then nothing is.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

William Dawes’s horse is rolling over in its horse-grave

About two hundred yards up the street from the construction quagmire I mentioned last week (which was miraculously completed the day after I posted about it; hmm…) is a short sidewalk span that acts mostly as a traffic island and bus stop. If you look closely there are brass horseshoes set into the concrete, along with a plaque identifying it as the spot where William Dawes began his midnight ride in 1775 to warn the colonists of the encroaching Regulars.

(Never mind that he was caught, and so was Paul Revere. You know who of the three midnight riders wasn't caught? Dr. Samuel Prescott. Christ, the spot where Dawes and Revere were captured is conspicuously marked in Lexington, so it should be common knowledge that they didn't make it. Now I'm not saying those two aren't great patriots, I'm just wondering: where's Prescott's song? He deserves the shaft simply because Revere's name better completes the couplet "Listen my children and you shall hear/of the midnight ride of…"? Where is the love? Can I play a race card?)

Sorry about that. Anyway, a few months back the People's Republic decided to re-pave the roads that surround the park. This meant all the sidewalk ramps would have to be ripped out, with temporary ones put into place until the roads were finished. Fine. Well, it'd be fine if it were anywhere other than Cambridge. These are some serious bastards we're talking about.

A couple months later everything is finished. Everything except for the Dawes spot, that is. It can't be more than fifty paces long, and it's nestled very nicely into one of the more dangerous (for pedestrians) intersections in the area—and that's saying a lot because Harvard Square is a major, major clusterfuck. So it's still got these two temporary ramps at each end. I'm not too inconvenienced by this other than the ugly factor, but every day I see people struggling up and down these steep, narrow chutes with strollers and suitcases. God forbid someone is in a wheelchair—I honestly don't think it'd even be navigable.

I mention Dawes because I think his horseshoes are holding everything up. One morning a month or so ago a couple of construction guys were cutting around the brass, so I realized "Hey, I get it! They're going to redo the whole sidewalk and re-set them in the new concrete. That actually makes sense! I have faith in municipal government!" There are like two dozen horseshoes altogether (plus the plaque) and they were in the process of cutting out number four, so I'm thinking "They might actually finish this before lunch!"

Someone must have snuck some strong hash into my morning tea, because in retrospect those were totally unreasonable expectations. Coming home later in the day I saw that the horseshoes were still there. All of them. Not only that, but they must have taken a break while cutting out the fifth one and didn't come back—it's been cut halfway around and no more. The last bunch were never touched. It's like the foreman called an audible: "Stop what you're doing, we need you in Central Square painting more bicycle lanes, stat!"

Just another amazing/typical example of the city's lunatic inefficiency. I'm sure this post interests no one but it feels good to get it down, so I can objectively read it and confirm that I am not crazy. By the way, I like the Pats over the Steelers tomorrow, 27–13.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Nerd alert!

I love hearing a song for the first time that I know as a sample in some hip-hop track. A while ago I heard "Love, Love, Love" by Pugh Rogefeldt on the online station Technicolor Web of Sound and recognized it from DJ Shadow's "Mutual Slump." (The Web just played it again, which triggered this.) It's really a stupid thrill I get when I realize "Hey, that was sampled in (x)."

Funny story: I was a freshman in college when En Vogue's "My Lovin' (You're Never Gonna Get It)" was a big hit (fantastic song). Sophomore year we were having a party one night when it came on the radio, and probably in some attempt to be cool I said "You know, that guitar riff's from a James Brown song." One girl didn't believe me so I played her "The Payback" and she was completely blown away. I mean, this was 1993, around the end of a very meaty era of hip-hop sampling, and she's reacting like she'd never heard of it before. Or possibly she'd never heard of James Brown before. Either way, I had to push her out the window.

On this topic, if you can find Mojo magazine's Roots of Hip-Hop compilation I really recommend it. A lot of great source material you'll instantly recognize, from Grandmaster Flash to Lee Dorsey to Parliament. Nothing from those asshole Turtles though, thankfully.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Tuesday morning quarterbacks

I walk down Mass. Ave. every morning on the way to the subway. Mass. Ave. is easily the most-traveled road in Cambridge, passing through all the major city centers and leading to Boston in one direction and the suburbs in the other. Wouldn't you know it, it's also Construction Disaster Road No. 1.

Cambridge Common is a nice park right on the way to Harvard Square. Or at least it was a nice park before the mysterious and endless underground project overtook its northern corner back in April (and ever since). Sometimes you walk by a construction site where nothing's happening and you say "Well it's raining, so I wouldn't want to be doing that kind of work right now either." Or, "It's wicked muggy today, I wouldn't want anyone to be killed by heatstroke." But I'm convinced the past two weeks have given us the absolute greatest weather of all time. It was perfect for two weekends in a row and every day in between. So each of those days I thought "Why don't they wrap up this goddamn eyesore already?" I can only hope that whatever they're doing fixes the drainage problem that for the past few winters has reproduced Lake Winnipesaukee with every snowmelt.

It's common knowledge that construction workers time their coffee breaks with rush hour so they can gawk at the ladies on their way to work. As pathetic and shiftless as this is, at least it looks like they're taking a legitimate break. Stick a man on a park bench to mentally undress every woman who walks by and he's a pervert. Put a thermos in his hand and he's a union man.

This morning topped even that. Possibly inspired by Vick and McNabb last night (if you can call that game inspiring), three workers were tossing around a football during their break, not ten feet from the work site, and over the heads of people walking by on the sidewalk. Bright orange vests, hardhats, steel-toed boots… full construction uniform. Now I don't have a problem with them playing catch—it's their break, let them do what they want. But come on guys, kid me into thinking you're having a productive day, that this is a finite project. Instead they're announcing that everyone can eat a dick. Fucking Cambridge.

Wednesday, September 7, 2005

Tomatoes, strangely

At the end of my cubicle row, where people usually put out leftover cake and bagels and such, there is a large bowl of cherry tomatoes. Where did they come from? I was a bit late to work this morning… did I miss something? Is it "Bring in Large Quantities of Anything Bite-Sized" Wednesday and the tomatoes are all that remains? Or is there a salad-related scavenger hunt going on in my building? I am confused.

Tuesday, September 6, 2005

Thoughts on a New Hampshire wedding

In case you find yourself attending one. Live free or love:

With a long, hot drive ahead of you on the way to a wedding, I recommend wearing shorts in the car and then pulling to the side of the road to change into your suit. Aside from the confused glances of other motorists (and one cyclist) it's a good way to remain sweat-free until you hit the dance floor.

It's possible for a Justice of the Peace to be fired and banned from attending a wedding that she was supposed to oversee. Ideally, this firing happens mere hours after the programs have been printed. Even better if the fired JOP is female and the replacement JOP is male, so the programs are suddenly and obviously inaccurate. (Grammar-nerd note: when I got home and related this to A., I properly pluralized "Justices of the Peace" on the first try. We were both very pleased.)

A best man's and maid/matron of honor's toasts should always be about the couple, not the individual. The best man told a genuinely funny story about his younger brother but didn't mention the bride until the end. The matron of honor (bride's older sister) spoke of how wonderful a couple they are and how important it is that they remain best friends. Hers was the more touching, if not the more memorable, toast of the two.

If you RSVP that you're bringing a guest, but it turns out your date cannot attend (see previous post), find someone you know whose date also couldn't show. If the four of you weren't originally assigned at the same dinner table then you now have a choice between two. You can also parlay this into a better meal for yourself, since what you checked off months ago may not be what you're in the mood for at the moment (again, assuming you and your date chose different meals, which is the only way to go).

If the young ring-bearer comes up to you during dinner and asks you to high-five him, you are about to get punk'd.

When the server asks you if you want a slice of white cake or carrot cake, say chocolate. You'll get it.

An all-eighties soundtrack is puzzling at first, but all bets are off once "Safety Dance" comes on. And the one-two punch of "Jump Around" and "It Takes Two" is artistically, aesthetically and athletically breathtaking.

It is stunning when an open bar becomes a cash bar without notice. Suddenly a Corona sounds much better than a top-shelf cocktail.

Lastly, the late RL Burnside's Burnside on Burnside is great driving-home-in-the-middle-of-the-night-trying-to-stay-awake music. Well, well, well and rest in peace.

Friday, September 2, 2005

Friday night laundry party

My girlfriend ("A.") had laser eye surgery yesterday, so we're taking it easy tonight. While she's passed out in a Demerol haze it's a good opportunity for me to do some laundry, which I need for a wedding tomorrow anyway.

We're lucky enough to have washers and driers in the building's basement so it's really no big deal (of course I still put it off all week). But… have you done laundry on a Friday night before? Is there a more humiliating experience? I might as well write on my forehead "I have nothing better to do on a Friday night. Got change for a dollar?"

As if this isn't bad enough, while putting my clothes in the drier I ran into two of the resident middle-aged, single, eccentric women in my building. "Cambridge types." There are four of them out of sixteen units, the equivalent of an entire floor, so the odds were good I'd have to participate in an awkward conversation while shaking out my underwear. Cursed odds!

The second run-in was with the flighty one who alternately acts like we've never met and we're best buds. I asked her how she was doing and she said she was tired, before adding "Couple that with what's going on in New Orleans and it's been quite a tough week." Um, what?

Let's say there's a "tough week" scale from zero to one thousand. I'd put fatigue squarely at one and the ongoing tragedy in the south at one thousand. Add those together and you get one thousand one. It's a large number, sure, though your struggles aren't really contributing to it. On the bright side, you just climbed my loathing scale with a bullet. One thousand!