8-31-04, 5:44 PM -
So much to write about, so little breathable air. Seriously, it is muggy as FUCK around here. It's like inhaling a gym sock with every breath. The coolness, though, is that I'm here at the Tank on 42nd Street, where very shortly there will be a live broadcast of Air America's Majority Report, featuring every dorkboy's secret crush, Miss Janeane Garofalo. Like a dumbass, I didn't bring any copies of my disc, but our still-acclimating friend deanpence is stopping by my apartment to pick some up on the way here.
The Tank has been set up as the Progressive Tourism Bureau ("progressive" is the new "liberal", dontcha know) during the Republican National Convention, & it's a regular swag buffet, replete with stickers & signup sheets for durn near every anti-Bush organization on the planet. It's rather exciting, actually, given what's going on a few blocks to the southeast inside Madison Square Garden.
The big protest weekend was blessedly uneventful in our neighborhood. A few more cop cars scuttling about, but otherwise a normal two days off in the neighborhood. We slept like chloroformed bears most of the time, being that we hadn't had the opportunity during the week to catch up on winks since the blur of JournalCon.
Oh my Pete, JournalCon.
What can be said about a gathering of 150 people who spend their free time writing personal prose to hurl out into the void of the World Wide Web for all to see or completely ignore? I'll tell you what, it's a hell of a party.
But first we had to get there. For people with cars, the trip between NYC and DC might be a no-brainer, but for two people with shallow pockets and no wheels, matters become complicated.
Due to the encumbrance of my overly complicated musical gear, we took the liberty of forking over cab fare for the two long blocks between our apartment and the subway station. From there, it was the E train to Queens & the new AirTrain to JFK. Which I must say is a fine, fine way to travel. Part of the crapulence of any air journey is the cab ride to the airport, so it's nice to be able to ditch all that & get off of a comfortable train right at the terminal.
At the terminal, the rigorous Homeland Security search of my rather bomblike musical gear that I felt sure would ensue didn't, and we ambled onto our tiny Independence Air puddle-jumper right on time. Independence is a groovy little airline, & dirt cheap. They thought they were clever with their little James Carville-Mary Matalin right-and-left-side-of-the-plane safety presentation, but other than that, the flight was fine.
Upon arriving at Washington Dulles, we got into one of those wheeled portable buildings that hauled us to the appropriate baggage claim, & eventually we ended up on a Washington Flyer shuttle bus to West Falls Church, a suburb of DC proper. We took this cheaper option so that we could avail ourselves of the Metro train that would take us downtown to the hotel.
Let me state this unequivocally: The Washington Metro sucks monkey balls.
Not that it doesn't get you where you need to go, mind you. What I'm talking about is the fact that, unlike New York, you don't pay a set amount per trip. You pay an amount based on how far you're going. This would be silly but at least marginally acceptable if they gave you a method of calculating your fare. They don't. You have to guess. It is through these ingenious means that our nation's capitol begins to gouge you. And...yes, you guessed it, the gouging isn't over yet.
But the wonky fare system is merely one of the underwhelming aspects of the Metro. The second is architecture. Dear Pete, what sort of horror befell this city that would cause the creation of such a thing? If one were to read all of the dystopic sci-fi classics of the early 20th century while concurrently attending design school, the stations of the Washington Metro might be the result of one's final term paper. Jeeeezus.
And they're all like 3 miles underground or something. At most stations, the descent is broken up by multiple stairways so you don't notice it so much. But at some, like Dupont Circle, there is a single escalator taking you from street level down to Fraggle Rock or Dante's Inferno or wherever they built these fucking stations. Dupont is the absolute worst, because the escalators descend through open air all the way down until a gigantic concrete space-worm mouth swallows riders whole and drops them off in Satan's Esophagus. It really is that frightening.
But I digress.
After de-training downtown, we ventured out into the unholy coastal Virginia August heatmidity and proceeded to drag our 800-pound suitcases up 15th Street to the hotel. I don't mention this because I'm whining. I mention it because it has significance which will later be revealed (it's "foreshadowing", I'm told...my wife's an editor, so she knows these things).
The hotel itself was quite a revelation. I'm a veteran of many a Motel 6, so anytime a hotel takes the least bit of effort to be original, I appreciate it. The Hotel Helix is a pleather-clad, bell-bottomed, tragically hip monstrosity that is nonetheless rather cool. Being that this was a convention of COMPLETE AND UTTER DORKS (myself included), the framed pictures of hopelessly trendy people placed every five feet along the hallway gazed out at us with an irony so powerful as to induce whiplash.
But if popular culture has taught us anything, it's that we GenX'ers come to praise irony, not to bury it, so we bathed in the glow of electric hipness from our furry-blanketed bed, taking care to select the "Be Green - Don't wash my sheets!" option on the little card atop our nightstand.
However, this is where, in the words of a Scottish friend of ours, it started to go all pear-shaped. Upon heading downstairs and inspecting the PA in the meeting hall I was to perform in, I found that the connector I had brought to hook my gear up to theirs was the wrong one. For once, it was no fault of mine, just a crap-ass design for a PA input. Upon checking with the concierge, we were told that there was a Radio Shack within walking distance of the hotel. Huzzah, said I, and off we went.
Very simple directions, just walk to Dupont Circle & take a right on Connecticut Avenue (they're fond of state-named streets, the Washingtonians are), and it'll be at 3324. No problem, bammo, Dupont Circle, bammo, Connecticut, 1628 Connecticut...hmm. Being foreigners, we assumed it was ignorance on our part which led us to believe that the distance between 1628 and 3324 seemed, as street distances go, A REALLY FUCKING LONG WAY.
But as the sun burned lobsters into our skin and the blocks clicked by--1632, 1648, 1650--we began to come to the realization that as stupid as the concierge was for sending us on this imbecile's errand, we would be far stupider to keep going. A quick phone call to the Radio Shack in question confirmed our suspicions, and told us that they were in fact two distant train stops away. So, of course, it was back to the Metro.
Monkey balls, I say.
Anyway, we did get the connector, and actually discovered a pretty cool neighborhood up there (word up, Cleveland Park thugs). We had really intended to head down to the Mall & take in some good DC tourism, but the extreme heat & nagging uncertainty about whether all the gear would work with the crap-ass PA sent us back towards the hotel.
It was then that I noticed something on the map. Apparently our Metro stop was rather close to the White House. On our last visit together to DC in October of 2002 to march against the impending war (effective, eh?), the march had moved slowly enough that we couldn't get to the White House and get back to the chartered bus in time to make it home. So really, we hadn't gotten a proper chance to yell at George.
So after exiting the bowels of the earth (I swear you can smell the magma from the core in those stations), we trudged a few blocks and rather suddenly found ourselves standing at the back fence of the home of the Preznit of the U.S. of A. Or as we're calling it now, Crawford II.
Mostly alone in the park facing the Executive mansion, we stood silent for a while. I thought of all the hours I had spent in the last three and a half years decrying the man who lived in that house. How to so many people he was the leader of the free world, but how to me he was a middle-aged bastard from my home state who behaved more or less like all the other middle-aged bastards I knew in my home state. How, absent his father's money & influence, he would likely be a shift manager at some small town grocery store, making fun of the retarded sacker and flirting with the checkout girl, smirking all the way. I thought of the size of the cemetery that would be required to bury the bodies of the more than 1,000 American soldiers whose unnecessary deaths he was responsible for.
I really wanted to hit the bastard.
But strangely, as we stood there, the fountain bubbling up between us and the President's back porch, I felt a certain sense of...I'm not sure what. Transience, I suppose. I thought of all the people who must have stood at the same spot I now occupied. People had stood there during the Civil War, the fight for women's suffrage, both World Wars, the civil rights struggle, Vietnam, and now yet another national crisis. Men and women had felt the significance of the men who sat in that building, and each time the power of those men eventually faded and died. Beautiful and horrible things have been done behind those doors, and yet the structure remains a train station more than a residence. In the words of Ben Folds, "you get off, someone else can get on." I kind of felt like it would be all right.
So after looking at each other for a moment, we turned to the White House, shook our fists, then turned around and left. If George had been standing at his balcony, he might've thought we were cheering. But in truth, it really didn't matter. He'll hear my shout soon enough at the polls.
Okay, now...what the hell was I talking about?
Oh, right, the show. Well, upon returning to the hotel, meeting a whole bunch of groovy people and drinking the free champagne the hotel gives out between 5:00 and 6:00 in the lounge, we went to set up the show. As many of you know, I tend to do shows with a DJ, in this case the Wifely, where I can play and sing along to a few backing tracks. However, upon inspecting the CD player, we found that the baggage boys had been a bit careless with our stuff and had somehow bunged up the works enough that CDs were unplayable on the machine. Just fucking great.
Thankfully, I am a veteran of eight hundred million open mics, so doing the show with only an acoustic guitar was pefectly workable. The feeling of impotent rage I began to feel was not based on fear of putting on a bad show, but rather that we had killed ourselves dragging all of this SHIT to the gig which WASN'T EVEN FUCKING NECESSARY.
But showtime was nigh, so I stifled my aggravation and went on to have a really fun show. In fact, it was fun enough that I will likely perform acoustically quite a bit in future. Whether that encourages or frightens you is not my problem. Mucho thanks to Kalamity and all who made the show one of the best I've ever played.
After the show, we were invited to a big outing with many longtime JournalCon operatives. The destination? Marrakesh, a Moroccan restaurant with only a symbol above its door, which only opens upon receipt of the secret knock. Okay, I lied about the secret knock, but the door doesn't exactly draw attention to itself. More like a priesthole. A Moroccan priesthole.
Inside the door lies a huge, high-ceilinged room worthy of even the most well-haremed caliph. Or the middle-class honky equivalent thereof, which comprised the general attendance. The deal with most African cuisine is that it's communal. Several people around a central basket-like table, sharing everything from conversation to bacteria. This is why the 7 courses we were told to expect began with a pre-course of hand-washing, administered by a man with a pitcher and what appeared to be a wide-lipped spitoon.
The staff were outfitted with what Westerners would accept as traditional Moroccan wear (how would we know, really?): Little bottlecap hats and big Tatooine shirts for the men and flowing draperies for the ladies. The server we were assigned had apparently not gotten the full memo, because though the top worked, his high-water khakis were accented with high-top Adidas. Maybe it was an endorsement deal.
Now, even as much as I eat, it's not often in my life that I get an official 7-course meal. And come to find out, in Morocco, this is a FREAKIN' LOT OF FOOD. I mean, a LOT of food. The courses ranged from platters of seasoned vegetables to whole roasted chickens, and a number of items that were difficult to identify, but were tasty as hell. By far the oddest offering was a massive pastry covered with powdered sugar, containing a mix of ground meat (probably chicken) and various pureed things. Contrary to the image this description might conjure in your mind and on your tongue, it was actually damned tasty.
That's the thing: You couldn't stop eating, because it was all too good. By the time the 7th course showed up, I could feel the meat building up in my sinuses and beginning to come out of my ears, but I had to see what new thing Adidas Boy was bringing to please my palate. The last course was a plate of tasty baklava-ish pastry triangles and the thickest tea ever. I mean, this stuff went down like it had been brewed with honey instead of water. Best tea ever, and I ain't kidding.
And as good as the tea was, I wasn't sure I could finish it. I felt like Mr. Creosote in Monty Python's The Meaning of Life:
"Would you like a mint? It is only wafer thin."
"I fink I'm going to frow up..."
But I forced down the gorge, & the last swallow of tea was downed. And there I sat. A man full of meat.
One might imagine that such a feeling would be unpleasant, rather like a two-way enema. But it is more aptly compared to drunkenness. Though I had only consumed a single bottle of Moroccan beer (not bad, but not great), I felt unmistakably intoxicated. Staggering to the restroom, I felt the meat shifting in my torso, head and blood vessels, steering me this way and that, forcing me to put my arms out to keep from crashing into the photograph-lined walls in the hallway.
The photographs were quite a thing, actually. In them were various pop culture personalities of various eras, all posed with the rather Yanni-like owner in various stages of modish hairstyle experimentation. A 1970s Warren Beatty hung next to a 1980s O.J. Simpson, followed by a succession of House Speakers and Senators. If my eye sockets hadn't been full of meat, I might've studied them longer.
Oh, yeah, there was a belly dancer also. I nearly forgot about it because of all the meat in my brain. Wifely's got a better description of it in her JournalCon entry, and she knows from belly dancing.
The trip home offered us yet another chance to be gouged by our nation's capital. I know that people in New York are forever disparaging other metropoli for their dumbass ways, but in the case of the taxicab system, I too offer a heartfelt "fuggeddaboudit!"
Unlike NYC cabs, the dashboards of DC cabs are not adorned with a meter. A meter is a good way to know whether or not you're getting FUCKED UP THE CORNHOLE. Rest assured that in DC, said fucking is a foregone conclusion. Somehow the cab fare from the restaurant to the hotel was twice the fare from the hotel to the restaurant. HUH? We asked the cabbie how this could possibly be, and he went into some extemporaneous drivel about zones, time windows, and electromagnetic sun blister ratios that factor in to the enormously complicated fare which he has been so kind as to COMPLETELY PULL OUT OF HIS ASS and present to us free of any documentary evidence that may have been easily checked with, oh, I don't know, a METER.
So I don't like DC cabs. And I don't care if Mr. T was in that movie.
I've read a number of things about why DC is a bit screwed up. They have no representation in Congress, the residents can't vote, and the city government is made up of federal appointees. So it's hardly surprising that that which is fucked up stays fucked up, and that which can be changed doesn't get voted on. Again with the cornhole.
However, the remaining two days of JournalCon were quite enjoyable, since we didn't really have to leave the hotel much. There were informative panel discussions, interesting people to meet, and even an after-hours room party wherein heaping great liters of alcohol were consumed and I undertook impromptu versions of whatever songs I hadn't played at the show. I don't think I played the few chords of The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald that I know. But I may be wrong.
However, my most interesting JournalCon experience was rather unexpected. Saturday night was supposed to be Karaoke Night at the local gay bar. Not because it was a gay bar, but because it was close to the hotel, and there were a number of adherents to the Love That Dare Not Speak Of Marriage among the journalers, so the rest of us could use their aegis (I don't think that word means what I think it means, but...).
As usually happens in bars, I found myself holding a beer and standing there. After years of gigging, I'm not as uncomfortable as I used to be with the whole bar atmosphere, but neither am I inclined to just walk up and start talking to people. However, I didn't need to. Men started coming up and talking to me.
I've only been mistaken for gay on a few occasions in my life, and to be honest, the interest appeared to be from guys who were just hoping I was curious. I'm not a terribly manly man, but somehow I give off "I AM STRAIGHT, OH SO STRAIGHT" vibes like crazy. However, the assumption likely changes when one is found in a gay bar. I used the wife references to deflect a couple, but one was a bit more persistent, so I actually grabbed my wife while she was walking by. Straight vibes ahoy.
The Karaoke machine was experiencing terminal user failure, so eventually I wandered over to the pool table area. In the far back corner, there stood a lone video game machine. Interesting, I thought. Upon pulling up in front of it, I found that it was in fact loaded up with several '80s video games. Ah yes, the nostalgia trap. Which I was immediately sucked into.
Wonder of all wonders, I found not only games I recognized, but games from that obscure piece of my childhood, the ColecoVision. While kids who had Ataris at home were a dime a dozen, I have seldom found someone who had a ColecoVision. We're like BetaMax kids. Actually, I'm a BetaMax kid, too. So my outsider status is nothing new.
The ColecoVision was billed as a step up from the original Atari, and was, but was eventually outbadassed by the newer Atari and the arrival of Nintendo. But for a good portion of my childhood, I was planted in front of that ColecoVision. And my game of choice was Cosmic Avenger. A game that no one but me has ever heard of.
So imagine my surprise when I'm scrolling through the menu of games on this machine in this Washington gay bar, and what do my eyes see but Cosmic Fucking Avenger. You gotta be shitting me. Well, you don't have to draw ME a Venn diagram. Clink, in goes the quarter.
Whoa, I really suck at this game now. I used to be able to...AAAGHH, fucking UFOs, shooting me in the...okay, new player, now I'll just...AAAAGGGHH, fucking heat-seeking missile firing up my...okay, new player, if I can...BAAAGGHHH, shit, I'm dead. I think I've got another quarter here...hello, what's this? New game? For free?
That's right, it was busted. It just kept on going. Holy shit, I'm 11 years old. I have a ColecoVision, and I'm going to spend all night playing it.
"Need a Player 2?"
Goddammit. Fucking blonde buff gay man.
"Actually, it looks like it's stuck on autoplay."
"Oh, this game? Man, this game sucks. See if you can switch it to Street Fighter."
Street Fighter? Fuck off, junior.
"Wrong generation, man. I used to play this back in..."
"I'll bet you can get it to switch."
"Yeah, well, I..."
"Does this thing have a Player 2?"
"Man, this game sucks."
"Well, I like it."
"I'm getting a beer. You want a beer?"
"No, I've got one."
Okay, the fucker's gone. Now to...dammit, fucking UFO, coming up from...AAAGGGHHH, okay, new guy, oh, this is that tank shit, watch out for the....AAGGGGHH, fucking UFO, blasting the...
"Did you get it to switch?"
Goddammit. AAAGGGHHH, fucking dead.
"No, I'm still playing this."
"I think it's stuck."
"Yeah, I told you it was on autoplay."
"Maybe if I hit this button..."
Blackness. Great. He fried it.
"Dude, I think I busted it."
"Yeah, I noticed that."
"Maybe if I hit this button..."
"Yeah, try that. I'm taking off."
"Dude, you want a beer?"
"No, I'm good."
"Wanna shoot some..."
"No, I gotta find my WIFE now."
See, this is why I don't like people.
It turned out that all the inept clubgoers in the world couldn't get the damn Karaoke machine to work, so we hooked up with a room-party-bound gang of pimp-hand pumpin' journalers, yo, and made our exit. But I'll tell you this: I'm gonna get me one of them ColecoVisions. And I'm gonna play the shit out of some Cosmic Fucking Avenger. Minus the big gay man.
9-6-04, 7:00 PM -
If ever something was misnamed, it's Labor Day.
Did jack squatnotty today, just lounged around and enjoyed the first stirrings of Autumn in New York. Mugginess, begone. Spent the weekend playing tour guide for my old friend Hippie and his companion Jennifer. We had a grand old time wandering Central Park, moseying the Village, and skylining the Brooklyn Heights Promenade.
I'm enjoying a bit of newfound freedom from time constraints due to a lightening of my musical workload. As much as I've enjoyed my tenure as Dorian's bass player/recording engineer for the past 7 months, I have felt a bit of a pinch on my own musical activities, so I've decided to take my leave of his project. The parting was amicable, and I still plan on going to his shows, just on a different side of the audience/performer line. I suspect his voice will continue to pop up on the occasional matthew show recording, as will the drum stylings of Kimberly, who will continue to perform with Dorian. If you haven't checked out his tunes yet, check 'em out.
Speaking of music stuff, I realize that I'm a bit behind in sending out any matthew show music news. A sampling of new texas reviews may be found here.
I've also been getting some play on radio. Dan at Radio Crystal Blue has been so kind as to include me in a number of shows. Michiko and Chris at Yellow Beat in Japan have also given me some airtime, as has Radio Mike. I get the impression that I'm getting some airplay in Britain at present, because my last batch of sales have gone to UK addresses. Still trying to track that down. Back in the States, Radio KAOS and Lexrock have also been so good as to give me an occasional spin.
More news should be on the way, now that I've got a few more free hours every week.
8:54 PM -
So, here I am. JournalCon's over, the RNC left without leaving too big a scar on the city, and Labor Day Weekend passed without a blip on the Labormeter. Feels nice.
The cat is resting, enjoying a return to relative normalcy, as much as she ever gets around here, the Wifely's watching Everwood (a secret vice of ours), and the cool Autumn air blows in unobtrusively through our one window without an air conditioner in it. Summer appears to have left us alone, and the arrival of Hurricane Frances' dregs later this week will take us into the rainy season with gusto.
Things are as normal as I could've hoped for a couple of weeks ago as I watched the Coast Guard and NYPD clipper ships patrol around my waterside lunching place in Lower Manhattan, with their machine guns mounted (and presumably loaded) on deck. We still have a ways to go before November, but I'll allow myself a measure of relief that the city is as yet unmolested by those who might wish to molest it.
I walked to the pet store today for some birdseed, the better to stock our feeder and keep the cat entertained. The neighborhood was quiet and the weather pleasant. I took the liberty of breaking my diet at the pet store's gumball machine. If a man can't have a gumball on a beautiful and peaceful Autumn day in New York, what the hell can he do?
All for now. You DC folk stay safe, and mind the monkey balls.