Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Top 2 Dakotas

Yesterday was the 120th anniversary of North and South Dakota's entrances into the Union. I know this because my mom sent me an email to that effect. I have always had an affinity for these two venerable Midwestern states, but I've shamefully never taken the opportunity to rank them in terms of their excellence.

2. North Dakota
Is North Dakota the worst Dakota? No. Definitely not. It is the second-best Dakota, and a close, close second it is. North Dakota has many wonderful attributes... for instance, it's home to a huge number (percentage-wise, at least) of Vikings fans. It also has Fargo, without which, there would be no Fargo. Its state slogan is "Legendary", which means it must be Barney Stinson's favorite state ever. Sacagawea was from North Dakota, as are Lawrence Welk and Chuck Klosterman. (...Who, at the very least, are very fun to make fun of. Did you ever hear about the Chuck Klosterman Soundalike Contest? Oh man, that was a fun joke that Rob and I invented once. It all started when Rob said that "The Thong Song" lacked the ironic posturing of "Baby Got Back" and thus, should be heralded as the true 90s ode to the posterior. Anyway.) Also, the Red River Valley is there, as in that song I like, "Red River Valley". And their state beverage is MILK!!! North Dakota, you're doing JUST fine.

1. South Dakota
But South Dakota has to be my number one. When I was 7, my parents asked where I wanted to go on our summer vacation. Naturally, I chose South Dakota, mainly because its state capital was Pierre, which is like, the French version of my name or whatever. What followed was a mad-cap half-cross-country adventure that involved a lot of iterations of the license plate game, a brief stop in Minnesota to watch the Twins play the A's, a terrifying encounter with a prairie rattlesnake, camping in the Black Hills, playing Teddy Roosevelt in a weird, spontaneous-presidential-passion-play at Mt. Rushmore, hanging out with some German tourists, refusing to walk with my parents through a buffalo herd, and, best of all, visiting the Corn Palace in Custer, South Dakota. Yeah. It was epic.

Anyway, aside from all that, Deadwood happened there, Thomas Vanek of the Buffalo Sabres was born there, as was Tom Brokaw, um, what else... oh, their state beverage is ALSO milk, and to top it all off, the state fossil is the Triceratops (WHAT!? You can have a state fossil!?!). Suffice to say, South Dakota is pretty much the best Dakota ever.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Top 5 Mountain Goats Love Songs

I promised several lists about Mountain Goats songs, and I make good on promises, albeit days later and dollars shorter. (What?) Also, Rami, you are absolutely right about "Sax Rohmer #1". That song is a million bloody fists of fury hurling themselves at the door of heaven itself.


5. "Going to Queens" (from the album Sweden)

John Darnielle is just plain, damn-good at writing all the possible kinds of love songs. One of his real strengths is the "new love" love song, and for me, this song is the perfect example of that. This song captures that moment when everything speeds up and you realize, goddamn, I really do love this person. And it's never when you expect it--and it's never why or how, either. For this narrator, it's his lady coming out of a shower, dripping wet, while kids outside on the street are jumping rope and singing songs. Something singularly beautiful happens in that moment and the lover becomes "all [he] ever wanted", "all [he'd] ever need".

4. "Broom People" (from the album The Sunset Tree)

Another kind of love song that John can really knock the hell out of is the "Oh God, there is nothing in this ridiculous world that makes any sense, except for you" variety. This song always reminded me of my aunt and uncle, mainly because of the '36 Hudson he references in the first line. According to the man himself though, it's about a kid who gets terrorized in school, but falls in love with this life-changing girl--so even though he still gets the hell beat out of him by the jocks, he can handle it, 'cause he's got his girl. (That's nice, too.) I just love how triumphant it is... despite all the shit and mess and pet hair and "good reasons to freeze to death", this guy knows that when his woman comes over and they close the door, they get to share something that no one else has or understands. If that ain't love, well... I'd say "then I dunno what is", but come on, there's no question here--that's friggin' love, man.

3. "Going to Georgia" (from the album Zopilote Machine)

OH MAN. Then, there is the I-am-an-unpredictable-explosive-force-but-I-know-that-you-will-keep-me-safe love song. "Going to Georgia" is basically a perfect song. It's also the first Mountain Goats song a lot of people here. There is such raw, desperate power in this song--both the lyrics and the vocals--that you cannot help but give it your full attention; it commands you to listen, frankly. "Two big hands and a heart pumping blood and a 1967 Colt .45 with a busted safety catch" is one of the most terrifying-yet-gleeful images I can think of. Fun fact time: Pitr and I have a sweet Mountain Goats faux-cover band called Wolves in the Walls, in which we introduce ourselves as "Two Big Hands" and "A Heart Pumping Blood", respectively. (Was that fact not fun? Oh well, sorry. No refunds.)

2. "International Small Arms Traffic Blues" (from Tallahassee)

Honestly, I could have put on all of Tallahassee, an album so earth-shatteringly, mind-bogglingly, noun-adverbially good, that it should be a required course in all US high schools. This is not pretty love. This is not sweet love. This is not lovely love. This is a painful, destructive, watch-the-hell-out, I-will-take-you-down-with-me love that has no respect or regard for anything but its own consummatory force. The cutesy-at-first-glance similes are the hook of this song ("our love is like the border between Greece and Albania", obv), but is there anything that sums this album up better than the bitter-and-yet-disarming admission "the way I feel about you, baby, can't explain it / you've got the best of my love"? Spoiler alert: Fuck, no!

1. "There Will Be No Divorce" (from the album The Coroner's Gambit)

This is... this is just... gah. I can't even say anything. I am gushing, I know. This is why I don't write about the Goats that often, I get to this place where I want to jump up and down on people's faces, screaming "Why don't you love this the way I love it!" (Also, pause for a moment and notice that all these songs are less than three minutes long. The sheer amount of poetry-per-second is baffling.) Anyway. This is a simple song. There were hard times, the end was in sight, but at five in the morning, the narrator watches her sleeping and knows it's going to be okay, it's going to work out. Perfect.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Top 19 Excuses For Not Posting In Forever

You. Guys.

So the other day, I got an email. It was from Barack Obama. Now, we don't know if it was THE Barack Obama. (And who really is Barack Obama anyway? Think about that.) This email was in the form of a comment on our most recent post--if early September can be called recent. The comment said, in effect, "Hey, please post, you nerd-jobs." This marked the third such comment in a short span of time... the second was from a commenter named Professor Remix and the first was a postscript in an email from my mom.

Barack Obama, Professor Remix, and my mom.

Is that not the raddest fucking superhero team of all time? So rad, in fact, that I was inspired. Inspired with such fervor, that on this, my 24th birthday, I am posting once more. And as Barack Obama requested, it's a list of excuses for not posting for so long.

1.) The Obvious, Pt. I: I started grad school at Princeton in early September, so... yah. At first, I was just way over my head, but I'm starting to get a grasp, so I think there's plenty of listing in my future. THIS I PROMISE YOU, PARMLOTTERS. (All six of you. And that includes the League of Professor Remix, Barack Obama, and Mom.)

2.) The Obvious, Pt. II - Rob is doing his thing in LA and his thing involves twittering about his dinner and shit, which, though technically in list form, is not just not the same. THERE. I said it. Also, I miss you, Rob. THERE. I said that too.

3.) You guys, THIS is how I wanted to commemorate September 11th this year, did you not get it?!

4.) Yeah, see, the time between September 11th and my birthday is known as The Troubles. It's this whole big thing... there's fasting and rituals and you're not allowed to post on blogs.

5.) Wait, did you not buy your Troubles calendars?

6.) They're like Advent calendars, but instead of with ornaments inside, it's pictures of me giving the thumbs up.

7.) Anyway.

8.) Oh! Oh! This one is real... early in October, I wrote a bunch of lists, actually. They were all about the Mountain Goats, in honor of the October 6th release of The Life of the World to Come, their new album.

9.) 'Cause, y'know, I talk a lot about how I love the Goats, but I never actually list about them.

10.) That's kinda messed up. It's like I'm not pullin' my weight! But then it was a like, a week later, and it seemed too late. Eh. I'll put up a few soon.

11.) Anyway. (Again.)

12.) Um... Brett Favre. Oh wait, we're done blaming Brett Favre for things, cool!

13.) While we're at tt, 6-0 BABY!? The last time the Vikes were 6-0 on my birthday, it was 2003. The Darkness was on the radio, the whole country was wondering if Frodo would evvvver make it to Mordor, and I was totally a senior in high school.


15.) Jersey has a no-blogs allowed law, on account of all that blog-corruption.

16.) Every list I think up lately is about some combination of Bon Jovi, acid wash, and face perception.

17.) This whole grad school thing was a big lie and I have been on a 41-day PCP vision quest. The good news is, I won! The bad news is, there is no bad news! I was just joking.

18.) I was actually just waiting for Barack Obama to email me.

19.) OKAY. I still got it! Sorta. Now back to reading...

Friday, September 11, 2009

Top 17 Tracks on Abbey Road, After Many Iterations of Google Translate

Hey, no more sad lists for a while, okay? I am settling in at Princeton, where there are so many raccoons and where the Health Services nurses hit on you shamelessly while administering immunizations. 

So, apparently, it is "Oh Man, Weren't The Beatles Great!?" Week or something. As I have stated before (though not in itemized fashion), I was never huge into those guys. My favorite Beatles song was "Rocky Raccoon". That probably speaks volumes. Whatever, y'all--I was too busy learning life lessons from John Prine and Judy Collins and Bob Dylan. Lush harmonies, perfect pop songs? Eh, okay. John Prine swears in a song about Christmas. That was cool.

This being said, it's also the birthday of that kid Pat Higgiston, one of the Okay Guys of All-Time. And he just loooves those Beatles. So in honor of all that, here is the tracklisting to Abbey Road, after being translated from English to Chinese to Norwegian to Polish to Hindi to Thai to Welsh to Yiddish to Chinese and back to English. Or something like that.

1. Together We Come
...re-contextualize that sexually!

2. Things 
...from the people that brought you Stuff.

3. Maxwell Yinchui 
...art, plain and simple.

4. Oh! Expensive 
...sounds like a T. Rex song.

5. Octopus Gardens 
...from the makers of Squid Forests.

6. How To (This Will Be Difficult) 
...sounds like a Talking Heads song.

7. When You Are In the Sun 
...you should wear some sort of protective gear or lotions.

8. Because
...oh, come on. LAME.

9. He Has Meant That Money 
...sounds like an Of Montreal song.

10. Sea-King 
...oh, come on. BORING.

11. Average Mustard Man 
...from the folks who brought you Ketchup Lady on the Street.

12. Polythene Palm 
...sounds like a Pavement song.

13. She Went To the Bathroom, Through the Window 
...oh, come on. GROSS.

14. Gold Sleep 
...is what happened to the dude sleeping outside her window. ZING!

15. To Carry Such a Weight Of 
...sounds like a Smiths song.

16. Final 
...oh, come on. LITERAL.

17. Her Pi
...oh gosh, I don't even know. You guys, other languages are ridiculous.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Top 15 Things I Will Miss About New York

I am no longer a New York City resident. This is how I feel about that.

15. Buying groceries at 4AM

This is as good a place to start as any. Maybe this was just me, maybe I didn't even do this all that frequently, but even really early on, this was one of the things that gave me that "Goddamn, I love this place" feeling. You're up too late, you need a soda or some milk or some soup or something, and you end up walking away from the bodega with a pineapple, just be-fucking-cause. 

14. Watching NY games in NY bars

I will tell you a story. Once, I was watching a Giants-Vikings game at Mercury Bar on 9th. The Vikes had the block on lock; they'd picked off Eli Manning five times. The old guy next to me had the craggiest face I'd ever seen, and he was hitting on the 20-something Emory grad next to him by talking about his ex-wife. (They were still close as close, he begged her to understand.) I'll never forget what he said after the fifth interception--"Fuckin' Giants," he goes, "Born losers." They won the Super Bowl six weeks later. People get down on NYC fans--too hard, too much pressure, too fair-weather. I think it's a different story. They want to convince themselves they're rooting for the underdog. Nothing wrong with that.

13. Getting to know people you've never spoken to

For us, it was Gutter Rockstar--a scraggly, ex-roadie-type who played his guitar (terribly) for all the street to hear. Or Pigeon Kicker--a guy who looked vaguely like Tommy Davidson and kicked pigeons. Or the guy who masturbated by the basketball court every once in a while. Or the bouncer outside of Mixed Emotions, the most poorly titled strip club ever. Or the Sam-the-Eagle lookalike guy who always took the subway at the same time as me, even when I was late, or (god forbid) early. Or those Bryant Park couples you'd always somehow end up next to... and you never go, "I'm sorry, didn't we sit together last week during 'The Thing'?" 'Cause that would have been weird! It's like being the guy who notices the live lobster pinching the passed out drunk's toe on the A-train, and saying, "Oh gosh, what has gone wrong?!" It's New York. Nothing has gone wrong. Don't mention it. If you do, it all falls down.

12. Running by the river

All throughout my six years in New York, the best bet was always Riverside. When I lived up in Morningside, I'd cut into the park at 116th and head down to 86th or so; for the past few years, I'd run up from 47th to 86th... either way, that was always my place. I never got a gym membership; the treadmill idea just didn't seem right. There is nothing in the world like turning a corner through a clearing and seeing the sun explode across the condos on the Jersey shore. Not even kidding. And sure, the water smells like sulfur and pain--the pain comes from Jersey--but there's just something so perfect about that run.

11. Those things you never really intended on doing

I never went to the Statue of Liberty. I never climbed the Empire State Building. I never saw a Mets game. I never visited the Bronx Zoo. I don’t even think I went to the Central Park Zoo. The only time I was in FAO Schwarz was waaay back in 8th grade. It gets easy to wear these things as cynical badges of honor, but that’s probably taking it too far. It’s almost more like, “Well, I haven’t been to the Statue of Liberty… but I can pretty much guess, ya know?” 

10. Adaptability

That's the thing about cockroaches, they know how to make do. Invent a new kind of Raid, the thirty percent of them that are immune to it will run off into some dark corner and breed like hell. New Yorkers--for all their anti-roach vitriol--are just like that. Our freezer door broke off, we jimmied it back on. Our toilet broke, we invented a way to flush it without the lever. They killed the 9-train, we all said, "Oh, okay." Buildings collapsed, cranes fell, bombs went off, kids got shot, we just turned the page and said, "Well, you know." Maybe this is not the best way to go about things, but I won't forget it.

9. The outer boroughs, goddammit

We had a long-standing and unfortunate dispute in my apartment about whether or not the outer boroughs were worth a damn. I can say, without qualification, I have had time(s) of my life (TM) in all five beautiful landmasses that make up New York City. I just want that to be known, and understood, and accepted.

8. Christmas

This is a horrible, horrible clich√©, but it’s goddamn true. There is no better city in which to spend Christmas than New York. It just heightens every little emotion, every bit of cheer. It’s not just the iconic things—the Rockefeller tree, the mad crush of humanity at Macy’s—it’s dopey little moments… walking back from the corner with your Starbucks holiday cup, past the porn store window with mannequins dressed up as slutty elves… then, holding the apartment door for some mom carrying five thousand presents, saying your genuine-non-obligatory Merry Christmases, and heading on in, somehow thrilled that there are pine needles all over your too-tiny-common-room-floor.


1. NYC Duck Tour Ducks

Oh Jesus, these scare me so much. I don't know why. I am not that scared of people in costumes, even big puffy, foam/felt anthropomorphizations. But there's something about that friggin' duck that would stand at the end of our block, almost daring us to pass… that just shivered me to the core. Anyway. I can’t say anything more about this or I will have nightmares.


7. How seeing celebrities never gets old (...until your friends start to get famous)

Nathan Lane’s regular order at Starbucks. David Hyde Pierce stalking Caitlin. Laksh making Judy Gold laugh in the elevator at BMI. The double-whammy of David Schwimmer and Noah Emmerich on Columbus and 72nd. The party that evaporated to go see Rachel McAdams and Eric Bana outside the Barnes&Noble on 66th. Tom pissing off Janeane Garofalo at the Wet Hot American Summer screening. And, oh man, the best one… running smack into Tracy Morgan on 50th: “I’m so sorry, Mr. Morgan!” “Think nothing of it! Be on your way!” (As far as the parenthetical goes… I kid, I kid. Sure, it’s a weird feeling when classmates end up on magazine covers. But at least you get to pull the whole, “Oh, him? Yeah, I knew him” deal. Which is nice.)

6. Becoming a local at a chain

No one really likes going to Duane Reade. It’s too bright, they sell Valentine’s Day shit in December, and the aisles are arranged in the most arbitrary manner possible. It’s easy to loathe this part of New York living. But you guys, how cool are the Duane Reade ladies on 47th and 8th. Spoiler alert: the coolest. Like, cool enough for one of them to have been convinced I was Pacey from Dawson’s Creek. To be honest, for a few minutes, she made me believe I was. Oh, and how about the stand-up fellas at the Subway on that very same corner? Heroes. Heroes, all of them.

5. Being in love

As if “Christmas in New York” wasn’t too much of a clich√© already. (Talk about heightening an emotion…) Being in love in New York is tough, because you’ve got to play up to a certain level. It is not, for instance, like being in love in Portland, Oregon. In New York, you almost have to get wrapped up in it, in this crazy, spinning feeling of there-are-eight-million-people-here-but-all-I-want-is-you, so-let-me-take-a-taxi-through-the-rain-to-you, I-hope-you're-wearing-my-favorite-dress-but-I-will-settle-for-anything-as-long-as-it's-you. It’s not too hard to lose perspective—this is both a comfort and a cause for concern. Joan Didion wrote about the boundless possibility of New York; nowhere is that possibility exemplified than in New York love.

4. Brunch

The New York City Sunday Brunch is a lazy, boozy tradition as old as Sunday itself. (Probably.) The reservation that you always eclipse by about fifteen minutes; the friends who will “definitely be showing up in like, twenty—thirty tops—we hope…”; the menu which is always some variation of the same damn thing, wherever you go; the bottomless Mimosas, which hours later leave you pleading for a retroactive bottom; the bill… AAAH, the fucking bill, which you are now too gone to pay sensibly, so you throw in $7 or $50—one or the other, there’s no in-between. Yes. Brunch. Unforgettable.

3. Stoops

Living on the ground floor of our Hell’s Kitchen apartment made the stoop an inevitability. And a glorious inevitability it was. Pound for pound, there is no better hang-out-drink-a-beer-talk-weird-to-strangers place in the world than a stoop. If that’s what you’re into. If not, I dunno, man. Try a library, I guess. I’ll be on the stoop if you need me.

2. The fact that every street has some memory tied to it

My dad and I were pulling onto the Henry Hudson and driving north up the West Side; it was like we weren’t even passing streets, every two hundred feet was just the beginning of another “Oh man, remember that time…” This makes New York problematic. It’s hard to run from your own story if every single intersection, every subway stop is a reminder of something that happened.

1. The fact that all my friends lived there

In the end, it’s always the same. The best part of New York or San Fran, or Paris or London, or Cleveland or Tallahassee, or Perth or Peoria—it’s always going to be the people you lived with, the people who became your family. You won’t find the moments on the bus tours. (It’s a sappy thing to say, but after six years, I think I’ve earned my sap.) To me, New York wasn’t Times Square or Derek Jeter or the Brooklyn Bridge. It was running down and back the 72nd St. pier with Tom. It was every time Laksh cooed at that scene in Goodfellas where Paul Sorvino cuts garlic with a razor blade. It was falling asleep on Frank’s couch in a plate of Big Nick’s French toast. It was every “Jaws isn’t the name of the shark!” exclamation from Caitlin. It was playing snow-means-we-can-tackle football with Mike and Colin on the Amsterdam overpass. It was Rob walking over to McGee’s and saying, “Hey, what if we had a blog?” It was all the little things that could have happened in any city, but somehow meant so much more because they happened here, to us, now.

And now now is then.

Of course… there’s no law saying I won’t be back.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Top 4 Fictional Characters Named "The Greek"

I am a guy who notices patterns. I'm what you'd call a pattern-noticer. Here's one I noticed today. If you ever want to give a character a name that is enigmatic, imposing, and ethnic, you'd do very well to go with "The Greek". Here are just SOME (ie, I stopped thinking of others) examples!

4. The Greek in Guys and Dolls

We don't know a lot about this The Greek. We know two things, in fact. We know he is a high-rolling gambler and we know that he is in town. (This is established in the opening dialogue to "The Oldest Established", in the first act.) In my high school production, they had this kid named Yanni play The Greek, on account of he was Greek. Race-casting! I feel like there was so much more to know about this character. In fact, if I were some sort of editor and the script to Guys and Dolls crossed my desk, I would have circled this line and written the note, "But who IS the Greek... what does he WANT!?" This is why I am not some sort of editor.

3. Zorba the Greek

Alexis Zorba is the protagonist of Zorba the Greek, written by Nikos Kazantzakis. I have never read this book, nor do I intend to before posting this list. I will tell you, instead, what I imagine Zorba the Greek to be about. I bet there is a guy named Alexis Zorba, who realizes that his last name is way cooler than his first name (which is actually a girl's name?), so he tells everyone, "Nah, blood... just call me Zorba, okay?" Anyway, Zorba's just hanging out on a hillside, eating olives and figs and stuffed grape leaves, when one day, his mom goes, "Zorba, you can't just lead this life of leisure, eating traditional Greek foods and probably looking after sheep. You've got to go to town and make a man of yourself, learn the truths, and build a family worthy of your name." He does this, in accordance with his mother's wishes, but he finds much pain. He meets a woman and they fall in love, but she isn't true to him. He learns many truths, but comes to realize how much he can never know. He becomes a man, but at the cost of his innocence. He returns to his mother and his hillside and his sheep. He weeps, and he is once again whole.

That is kinda what I figure Zorba the Greek is about.

2. The Greek in “Black Diamond Bay” by Bob Dylan

Oh man, have I told you guys how underrated Desire is? For an artist like Dylan, there's a lot of the catalogue that you might never really get to appreciate, so I am sure thankful that my dad was like, "Hey kid, you should listen to Desire, okay? It is a for-real good album, and 'Black Diamond Bay' is as good a story-song as just about anything." Anyway, the Greek is this diplomat/spy/criminal (these things are never clear...) who's doing business on this tiny island, and after things go awry, spoiler alert, he hangs himself, but the wacky thing is that just after he does, the volcano explodes and the island sinks under ocean. Honestly, it doesn't make much more sense than that, but the song is super-tight and has excellent violin accompaniment. 

1. The Greek on The Wire

You guys, this The Greek is pure-bred, factory-bottled Evil. And he's OLD, too! (Old guys can be evil!? I was not aware!) He's into drug trafficking, sex trafficking, stolen goods trafficking, air trafficking, kitten trafficking, pants trafficking... basically any kind of trafficking. ALSO, he might not even be GREEK!?! What!? C-c-c-c-come on! That's just deliberately confusing. Oh, and way to have a mole inside the FBI, you weird, old, evil, maybe-not-Greek dude. All in all, he's terrifying, he's enigmatic to a fault, and he's certainly ethnic--even if we don't really know what kind. Yeah. That's why he's the best The Greek there ever was.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Top 1 Things That Get Me Every Time

1. "I gave her my heart, she gave me a pen." (Lloyd Dobler, played by John Cusack in Say Anything...)

There was a time in my life when I thought every word of this movie was truth. I had the poster on my wall and everything. I didn't think twice abut boomboxing a girl to win her back. "In Your Eyes" wasn't just a good song, it was a romantic endgame. John Cusack wasn't just an actor, he was a walking Bible. There was a time in my life when I was eighteen.

Relationships don't end because your dad says so, and they don't get fixed because he's started stealing money from old people and he gets caught. No one wears those ridiculous Ione Skye sundresses. Kickboxing is not a future. Lili Taylor will never give you advice, and even if she did, it'd probably be bad. You will never, never, ever have a substantiative relationship with your sister's five-year-old... kickboxing or not. Yes. The past few years have been an education.

And yet.

There's something in that line that always gets me. Every few years, it will continue to get me out of nowhere. Breaking things down to the most reductivist, economic level possible. Perhaps past the relevant, sure... but sometimes, that's the only way that makes sense. Anyway. It gets me every time.