Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Barsky's Hit The Road A While Ago - OR - What I Wish I Did Over My Summer Vacation Rather Than Play POGs With My Ugly, Stupid Neighbors

The Barsky Family, Nina, Howard, Michael, Benjamin and Daniel Barsky, took a road trip in 1969. They traveled across the U.S. in a TravelAll and an Airstream trailer, from L.A. to Maine and back through Canada. I don’t know them, but I am jealous. I stumbled across this journal of the trip, mostly written by Nina, the wife and mother of the clan. It has been a source of inspiration to me; to drive to the horizon, to see the wonders of the road, to meet new people and amaze the ones I already know, to fall back in love with the world and to have… dare I say it… a family to do crazy things with. I hope you enjoy this as much as I have.

Thursday, January 17, 2008


Why is this somewhat believable?

Powerthirst 1 is here.

Monday, January 14, 2008

There Is No "I" in "Sunday Supper", Or; Why Did The Duck Sauce Cross The Road?

Every Sunday, there is a meeting of the minds. It is at a friend’s house, it alternates which friend hosts, but they are the kind of friends that own matching plates, more than four wine glasses for each kind of wine, have coat racks, welcome signs and shoe mats, and have family pictures on the walls and guest bedrooms and untuned pianos in the living room. The kind of friends with dinner tables that have leafs. They are good friends, no matter what they own, and they own all this stuff. Every Sunday, my friends and I eat a home cooked meal, drink a lot of wine, and let the week behind us melt away with talk of movies, weather, theater, art, music and wine. At least that is what they say they used to talk about before I started coming to dinner. I have a way of obscuring the lines of decency with the lines of a more unrefined manner. As an example, the second dinner I attended was at an American Baptist Minister's house, he goes by the name Tripp, he’s the mandolin player in an Irish band that I’m in and here is a link to his blog. He and his wife hosted a dinner that included the following items; an appetizer of an assortment of eight exotic meats and cheeses with table crackers, then the main course of gluten free lasagna and flattened chicken breast in a light brown sauce with capers served with whole broccoli heads, and for dessert a chocolate frosted chocolate chip cake (also gluten free), all accompanied by more than seven bottles of wine throughout the meal. At one point, the conversation brushed the topic of the gentrification of Andersonville, my neighborhood. Someone noted how it was nice to see my neighborhood getting safer due to local businesses demanding police attention to gang fights in the alleyways. Someone else noted how they noticed that the shops were beginning to only focus on very specific items which seem almost useless to the general public; an exotic imported olive oil shop, a healing rocks and dream catcher store, a furniture shop called White Attic, which only sells tables and dressers that are painted white, designer pet food stores, and my (least) favorite, Sir Spa, a men’s only day spa, “Where Men Get Their Go”. Barf. The point was made that this type of lucratively expensive, obnoxiously specific type of business was driving out any sense of diversity in the community and forced rents up or renters out due to the construction of “Condo-Land, Chicago”. That’s when someone noted how hard it was to get American- Chinese food anymore. “Not real Chinese, there are restaurants serving Authentic Chinese Cuisine everywhere. I’m talking about the take out stuff that comes in folded paper boxes with fortune cookies and plastic packets of duck sauce and chop sticks that give your tongue splinters. Where everything comes with an order fried rice, no matter if you want it or not. You know, the kind you order by memory.”

And this, my friends, is when I chimed into the conversation.

I’ve been living in Andersonville for three and a half years and I’ve watched it change. I’ve had to move out a huge $900, two bedroom apt with a huge dinning room and an even larger living room with tons of natural light, where heat was included and there was a roof deck and back porch. It was converted into $475,000 condo units. I got the first option to buy a unit due to the fact that my apt lease was being broken. I passed it up but not without snickering at the fact that I had been living in a half million-dollar condo for over a year. I’ve seen the building since they renovated it, there are two bathtubs in each unit and each of those bathtubs is about four feet long. My 6’4” body and I preferred the old six-foot cast iron tub with the lion feet and wrap around shower curtain to the two “foot baths” that replaced it.

But, alas, the point that I just made here was not my response to the conversation at the dinner table.

I have seen the shops in Andersonville change from that of a cute little Swedish neighborhood, to that of a fun loving 'lesbian response to Boys-Town' neighborhood, to what it is now; an affluent, mostly white folks, extra-starch, dry clean only, now-that-I-have-a career-I'm-too-busy-to-be-an-activist, "Hey! You just hit my bumper while you were parking!", small-dogs-wearing-sweaters-in-the-summertime, Christmas-decorations-up-before-Thanksgiving, I-don’t-stop-for-pedestrians-because-I-drive-a-BMW-SUV-with-GPS-and-XFM and-I’ll-honk-at-you-if-you-cross-infront-of-me, gay friendly... but not too friendly, prudish, uptight, over polished, uninviting, materialistic community complete with expensive restaurants on every corner, condos down every block, with fences around every tiny front yard, and people who don’t say hello, with all the day spas, coffee shops, tax offices, investment bankers and furniture stores than you can shake a stick at, and I can shake a stick rather well, thank you very much. And, of course, every business has a “Please turn your cell phone off while shopping with us” sign on their door.

But this isn’t what I talked about at the dinner table either. What I said after someone mentioned the lack of take-out Chinese in Andersonville was…

“That reminds me of a joke. A small, old Chinese man says to his wife as they are lying in bed one night, ‘How bout a little 69?’ And his wife says, ‘Why you want Chicken and Broccoli now?’”

Friday, January 11, 2008

Last Night's Fun

It’s another Friday night and I got nothing going. So I’m doing what I did on New Years Day; cleaning my apartment in random, spastic bursts, while writing down some thoughts and listening to a random mix of music that includes everything from INXS to Otis Redding to Public Enemy to Shostakovich. I know what is going to happen tonight, because it is just like New Year Eve. I’m going to be cleaning the bathroom with some previously-unknown-to-me passion for cleanliness and grout free bathroom tiles and, just at the climax of Dark Side Of The Moon, just about twenty minutes before midnight, the ajax covered toothbrush I’ve been using to clean the hinges of the bathroom mirror will get tossed into the pristine blue water of my spotless and sparkling toilet bowl and, like an abrasive-cleaner-covered, attention-depraved janitor from hell, I will descend onto the dive bars of Chicago armed with a blue rubber glove, toilet scrubber and a bottle of Scrubbing Bubbles. Until then, I will alternate writing a sentence and Mop-and-Glowing my living room. At midnight on New Years, I was three sheets to the wind thanks to a warm 11:45 pm welcome the bartenders gave me with Jameson and Jim Beam, and the PBR that was basically thrust into my hand upon entering, and the multiple shots from the plastic bottle of Mango Vodka that the bar owner dusted off and decided to give to the revelers at midnight. Some one was making newspaper hats, tons of newspaper hats, and everyone was wearing a newspaper hat. The really wild thing was that each of those hats was a totally different style. There were sailor hats and waiter hats and dreadlock hats and dunce caps and top hats and captain hats and pirate hats and pope hats. I didn’t know there were that many varieties of paper hat, this guy was prepared. There was a young couple dressed in shiny black leather jackets and pants, with jet-black hair and thick black eyeliner (the guy was wearing more than the girl), doing interpretive dance to Auld Lang Syne, which involved flopping around on the floor of this dive bar like fish out of water and then knocking over some drunk people doing shots of Mango Vodka, then striking a disco pose and finally making out on the pool table. That night was good, unpredictable, down and dirty fun. The kinda stuff you just can’t make up and it was the kinda night that you hope to have once in a while. I just finished doing my dishes and washing the kitchen counter while listening to Tom Wait's The Piano Has Been Drinking,when my buddy, DA called. It’s only 11:22pm, but that’s close enough. Let’s see what tonight brings. Cheers.

Friday, January 04, 2008

To the LINKS!

If you like me, if you trust me, then follow these links and digg them.

1) David Sherman's new music video, "If I Were President." He's a great musician, and he picks up the bill when we go to breakfast. I'd vote for him.

2) An addictive vocab game called Free Rice. My pops maxes out at level 51. I'm no where near as good but like going down to level 1 and defining the word, "chair."

3) Ask a ninja. Really, the name says it all.

4), my favorite place to shop and live. Someday I'm gonna cover my office with the motivational posters. Sure to be a cult classic

5)And, finally, a list of members of the coleus plant family, offically named Solenostemon scutellarioides.


Hats Off to the Holidays

I like presents. I have always liked presents. I like getting them, and I like giving them. Of all the kinds of presents that I like, Christmas presents are my least favorite kind of presents. I don’t like Christmas because you don’t have a choice about it, you just have to give presents and if you don’t give presents, you are a scrooge… or an asshole. That being said, I still like presents. I still like getting them, and I still like giving them. A monkey-head car air freshener and a box of evil duck band-aids was a present I once gave to a girl I was courting. A big slab of thick sliced bacon was a Chanukah present to one of my non-Jewish friends; a Kosher gift to those who love bacon and aren’t Kosher. I once gave a second grade class a plastic penguin and most of my first houseplant. I even gave the worst boss I’ve ever had, a pillowcase with a picture of me looking a touch mentally unstable, a bit chemically unbalanced, a little nuts. Right above my face, it read “Sweet Dreams!” I wanted it to give her nightmares, night after night after night. She laughed and foiled my plans by, upon receiving this pillow case, immediately giving it to the girl I later gave the monkey air freshener to. I guess neither of those gifts worked out the way I wanted. I’ve gifted books and music, wine and flowers, shoes, coats, sunglasses and scarves, to all types of people for all kinds of occasions. I really like presents.

My brother, Adam, and I have a little ritual with our gift giving. Our gifts to each other must amuse both the gift giver and the gift receiver. I think I unknowingly started this ritual as an eight-year-old. I bought a dinky $1.99 soccer ball key chain and put it in the biggest cardboard box I could find in out basement. I filled the box with foam peanuts and bubble wrap and put the key chain at the bottom. It took a whole roll of wrapping paper to cover the refrigerator box I used. I think the card said something like, “Good things come in small packages.” This obviously wasn’t a small package, or a good gift. By the time he found the key chain, there were peanuts all over the floor and he looked at me with a tiny key chain in his hands and a look on his face that said, "what the...?" And so it began. I had given him an annoying prank present that wasted more raw materials and created more of a mess than the idiots in the parking lot of a Phish show could creat (I hate Phish), and I thought it was hilarious. Years later, he got me back and it solidified our little ritual, the traditional brotherly giving of gag gifts. At this point in my life, I have whole-heartedly, and almost tenaciously, latched onto it.

The tradition really took its current shape one Christmas when Adam was in Scotland while the rest of the family had gathered to celebrate together in Vermont. He had mailed a package with gifts to each of the three of us. He might have given my mother a framed photograph that he had taken, and it's possible that he gave my father a book about Scotland. Those would seem like appropriate gifts for my brother to give to our parents, but in all honesty, I've totally forgotten what he gave to them. But I will never forget what he gave to me; a mullet wig. I big, black, tangled, itchy mullet wig. The card read, “To My Redneck Brother. Yeeeehaw!” On the box, which was a bag, there was a picture of a guy with bad teeth wearing a plaid flannel shirt and overalls, chewing on some hay and drinking a can of beer. I promptly donned my new coif, stuck out my jaw, slapped my knee, slapped my boot, slapped my imaginary pregnant wife, Amber, then slapped her sister, Crystal, and started tromping around the house talking like a hillbilly. “Christmas is saved, God-damn-it-all!” Adam had hit the nail on the bulls-eye of the donkey-tail with this present. And so it continued.

For my birthday, some years later, when I was living and working in downtown Boston, he gave me a camping thermos that could keep coffee hot for hours while being exposed to the most extreme cold conditions; a tundra proof coffee pot. It came with a shoulder strap... you know, for traveling. There were three Dunkin' Donuts on my ten minute walk to the subway. There were also two Dunkin' Donuts across the street from my office in downtown Boston. In fact, there wasn’t a street corner within the Commonwealth of Boston from which you couldn’t see at least four of those distinct orange and pink logos. Dunkin' Donuts are as commonplace in the Commonwealth as people with bad attitudes; you can’t flip the guy off in the car next to you for no reason without practically running into one. Point being, I was constantly surrounded by fresh brewed, liquid-frickin’-magma, melt-your-soul-it’s-so-damn-hot coffee, but now I had a way to keep coffee hot for my next ascent up Mt. Kilimanjaro, and it had a shoulder strap... you know, for traveling. Later that year, I gave my brother, who works in the wilderness for months at a time, a fancy fountain pen that would only have broken and covered all his possessions with ink had he actually brought it out on the trail with him. He, knowing this, left it at my parent’s house without ever opening the box, let alone filling the pen with ink. For my birthday last year, he and his fiancĂ©e, Kassy, gave me a one-gallon jug of Tabasco Sauce. I laughed for a good hour when I opened that present. The expiration date says 2009. I’m about an eighth of the way into it. I’ve got some work ahead of me. I have a picture of it on my cell phone to prove to people how cool Adam and Kassy are.

This year, my folks and I flew down to the Grand Canyon to celebrate the holidays with Adam and Kassy on their home turf. The plan was for the five of us to celebrate Christmas together and then meet Kassy’s parents who were flying in the next day. It was going to be the very first time anyone from either family had met the other. We were all a bit nervous about this, especially my brother. My parents embarked on this trip at 4am Eastern Time. They had to drive from Vermont to the airport in New Hampshire, fly to Chicago to meet me, the three of us would then fly together to Albuquerque, then Phoenix, only to drive five more hours in a crappy rental Pontiac to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, dodging elk all the way. Our plane landed, the car was there and red and crappy and, after a long drive with a quick recharge stop at Denny’s for Moons Over My Hammy and a chat with a jaded waitress who was originally from Maine and hated Arizona or at least the Denny's there, we reached the Grand Canyon, or as my brother calls it, “The Big Ditch.” We got in at 1am, Mountain Time. My parents had been traveling for twenty-three hours. They have never been to China, but that is how long it would take to get there. Maybe next Christmas.


“This year, our Christmas gifts to each other will be spending the holidays together after so many years. We don't need to buy things for each other. This trip is gift enough.” This is what each member of my family, including me, said at some point during the planning of this holiday reunion on the rim. We made that single rule together, everyone agreed on it. Then we all broke it individually.

These were my Christmas gifts to my family.

This is what we did with them.

And this is the Obsquatch-Theoman-Sherbald Memorial, known as Mount Big Ditch; commemorating the 2007 alliance between the United Obsquatch Rebellion, the Holy Embassy of Kassy, and the People’s Republic of Adam. Behold it’s glory.

The bottom line of this story is that the hats were a big hit. The other good news is that Adam and Kassy are still going to invite me to the wedding, even after I gave both of Kassys parents, Deedee and John, their own present. I gave John a plastic king's crown. He is honestly the Pork King in my book. I gave Deedee a pink, sparkly cowboy hat. Now she could drive the tractors and combines around the farm in style; pink, sparkling, cheep plastic style. At one point, she hinted that she should put on some "hot pants" and make Adam some money. That just floored me. Although I doubt any of those hats will ever be warn again, there was a beautiful two hour time span where the Village People were nothin' compared to us. Happy Holidays.