Friday, August 29, 2008

Sad Songs Are Nature’s Onions (Pt. 1)

(This is the first part in a long series about sad songs and how they are nature’s onions.)

Kate Bush-“Running Up That Hill”

Some songs make me sad, and then there’s the songs that make me want to pull out the veins in my wrists with my teeth. Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” belongs in the second category. Oddly enough, the song isn’t an especially depressing one. Bush herself has stated that it’s simply about the way men and women don’t understand each other and how it would be interesting if they could swap places. But for some reason, it doesn’t sound like that. It sounds like the worst possible thing in the world has happened. My version is about cancer. Bush’s version is probably better.

And for your further enjoyment, a fan-made video for Placebo’s excellent cover:

Thursday, August 28, 2008

They shoot smokers, don't they?

Maybe you’ve heard this one before. A man vacationing along the central coast of California hears a rumor about a small village of Dutch settlers called Solvang. He drives to Solvang, and finds a city lined with pastry shops and chocolatiers. There’s Dutch architecture everywhere he looks and every restaurant is a “smörgåsbord” (even though anyone can tell you that smörgåsbords are Sweedish, not Dutch). It’s homely, and maybe even a little kitschy. He feels comfortable. Maybe even a little pleased with himself. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a pack of cigarettes. He lights one, taking a nice, long drag. He barely notices the hands creeping along his back, just before he disappears into a dark, foreboding alleyway, never to be seen again.

So maybe Solvang isn’t quite that foreboding, but there is definitely a level of creepiness associated with the small town of 5,000 possibly Dutch residents. It’s got that “It’s A Small World” kind of atmosphere, minus the creepy dolls. Eat enough of the town’s sugary pastries or chocolates (and trust me, you can’t walk 20 feet without tripping over marzipan) and you might even get a sugar high bad enough to evoke an acid trip through Fantasyland. I’m convinced that there must be some sort of city-mandated ordering structure to the shops in Solvang. It goes: bakery, shiny things shop, chocolatier, smörgåsbord, toy shop. Lather, rinse, repeat. And probably the creepiest thing about Solvang is that no one, I repeat no one, smokes there.

I did not see another soul light up the entire time I was there. I saw no cigarette butts in the gutters. I didn’t even see any tobacconists in the area. It made me paranoid. Anytime I lit up, I searched the crowds of tourists for “men in black” or “doppelgangers” or even “strangers.” Instead, all I found was the disapproving gaze of shoppers who’d eaten far too many preserved orange slices. “Stop smoking,” their eyes said. “It makes my aebleskivers taste funny!”

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Why, I never!

I never flew a kite, though I did watch other people fly kites.

I never ate fois gras, though not from any personal objection.

I never listened to a Kelly Clarkson song all the way through. That was due to a personal objection.

I never spoke a second language fluently, though I can get my point across in Spanish.

I never flew on an airplane. Anything east of Las Vegas scares me.

I never left the country, as such. Although I do have a mildly funny story about the time I was kept from going to Mexico.

I never understood the appeal of NASCAR, or racing in general.

I never drank Jägermeister. It just sounds gross.

I never had a big sense of self-preservation. I worry about everyone else, though.

I never ate at Red Lobster.

I never surfed, or did anything that involved the ocean and a solo floatation device.

I never did a “happy dance,” although I can see the appeal.

I never drank a glass of ginger ale and thought, "That was a good choice!"

I never thought hockey in the American south was a good idea. I doubt I ever will.

I never owned my own car, or house.

I never planted a garden.

I never made Chicken Fried Steak from scratch.

I never truly appreciated the genius of Marvin Gaye.

I never got what I needed. Just what I want.

I never really liked dogs much. Cats rule.

I never did see Dog Day Afternoon. Isn’t that ironic?

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Summer Olympics

I’ve never been able to really figure out why I don’t care about the Summer Olympics. As someone who truly appreciates culture, spectacle, and feather boas, you’d think a series of events kicked off by a party that would make any Pride event proud would be right up my alley. Unfortunately, it is not.

Swimming? Does nothing for me. Horsies jumping over things? Even less. Volleyball? I don’t like playing it, much less watching it. 14 year-old girls pushing themselves to unbelievable physical limits in gymnastics, lest they be sent to the glue factory? Nope. Never.

I can’t even bring myself to be wrapped up in the national jingoism that appears every four years. I’m still worn out from the “Domestic Attempt To Neutralize Bad People” in Iraq. I’m plum out of reasons to hate the Algerian steeplechasers.

And the sad thing is, I always watch the Winter Olympics. Even if just for the hockey. At least with Olympic hockey, the games are long, involved, and intriguing. Many of the events in the Summer Olympics remind me of the Kentucky Derby. About 3 hours of talking about something, and about 3 minutes of doing it. If I’m going to engage in that kind of pathetic ratio, I’m having sex.

Does the fact that I find watching the Summer Olympics about as exciting as the idea of Kevin Costner playing the Green Lantern in a Michael Bay-directed movie make me a bad American? Or, at the very least, a lapsed one?

I know a lot of people who feel the same way, and I’m pretty sure they’re Americans. And isn’t that one of the great things about America? The ability to gather and complain about our mutual dislikes? Let’s celebrate our dislike of the Summer Olympics! Let’s grouse together about reruns of The Office being taken off the schedule and replaced with basketball! Let’s be the best Algerians we can be! Oops.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Avila Beach

Everybody needs a home away from home. For some, it’s an actual home away from home, filled with knick-knacks and boating equipment. For others, it’s a destination oft visited. A place of comfort. A “happy place,” if you will. My home away from home is relatively new to me. In fact, I’ve only been there twice. But those two visits enriched my tiny black soul enough to snatch the top spot away from the Troubadour in West Hollywood.

The place is a little beach community called Avila. Located on the central coast, Avila Beach is special to me for a lot of reasons, not the least of which for being the current residence of my best friend, Stephanie.

It is also the land of storytelling. Being such a small place, the residents of Avila Beach all come with a tale or two:

“That guy could kill you! He was in Special Forces!”

“Oh, she’s slept with the entire town…”

“He’s the guy who used to own this place, but now he owns the other place. Also, he’s the brother of that other guy you just met, and he’s slept with that girl over there.”

I paraphrase, of course, to protect the identities of the poor residents of Avila. No one needs to know exactly who drinks too much, or who sleeps around too much, or who is a complete jerk to everyone. The point is that it is a city rich with flavor. And I feel very welcome there. Hell, maybe someday I’ll be the subject of an Avila story or two.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Transsexuals Love Me

I had the most fascinating story to tell today. It was about a concert I went to three years ago with a friend-of-a-friend. He had stepped up and agreed to go to a show in LA with me since my now ex-wife was beyond pregnant and unwilling to go. The show was at the Henry Fonda Theatre, now the Music Box at the Fonda (whatever that name change is supposed to imply), on Hollywood Boulevard. The story involves a pair of male-to-female transsexuals who were quite into the FOAF and I, and how they spent the evening trying to get us drunk and worse.

The problem with the story is that I can’t, for the life of me, remember who it was we were there to see. Just how do we get these odd holes in our memories? Being the sort of guy who remembers these sorts of things, I can’t figure out why I would forget such a personally important aspect of the story. I can tell you in detail about each of the 16 times I’ve seen Moving Units live. If I’ve seen a band open up for another band, I can tell you exactly which band it was and where the show was. And chances are I can tell you approximately when the show was.

But when it comes to the show where the FOAF and I were the target of a pair of horny transsexuals, I just can’t remember the band playing on a stage ten feet from us. I can’t even lay claim to the incident being particularly traumatizing. In fact, at the time, I thought it was hilarious! I’d never been hit on by a transsexual, and certainly not to that level. For once in my life, I can officially declare that the band on stage was secondary to the action going on directly in front of my face.

Was it The Dresden Dolls? The Futureheads? The Hives? I go over the list of bands I’ve seen live at the Henry Fonda Music Box Theatre at the Fonda in my head and can’t come up with the right combination. Trannies and TV On The Radio? No. Trannies and Yeah Yeah Yeahs? No. Trannies and Queens Of The Stone Age? Ironically, no. This story has become this giant blank spot in my brain. I wouldn’t even know how to go about contacting the FOAF, who floating off into the ether a year after that show, for information.

So, the story remains incomplete. To think of all the cute ways I could have juxtaposed the band’s lyrics with the cheesy pickup lines employed by the transsexuals! I’m sure there has to be some song titles from the mysterious band that jibe nicely with the way one of the “ladies” kept a half-inch from me the entire show, whispering in my right ear. The whole thing is just a huge missed opportunity.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Salt And Pepper

There’s always been something wrong with every haircut I’ve ever received. Some were lopsided, some were too short. There was this one time where I had my hair professionally dyed red and it turned out a rather amusing shade of pink. Today, I received a haircut that absolutely surprised me with how it was wrong, rather than the simple fact that it was wrong. Today’s haircut was wrong because it makes me look like my father.

I think most guys will agree with me that getting a haircut that makes you look like your father is officially the point when we feel old. Looking down at the hair gathering in my lap, I was completely astonished at the amount of grey hairs peppering my mousey brown locks. When did I start getting old? How long until I need a box of Just For Men hair color?

And what makes it all that much sadder is that the haircut doesn’t look bad on me! Could I have had it wrong this whole time? Did my father figure out that this haircut is simply the best one around decades ago and I’m simply late to the party? Are all of those years I spent making fun of my father for getting these ridiculously short haircuts coming back to bite me on the ass?

I spent years of my life with long hair, and only recently began cutting it short. I think today was the realization that I’ve crossed a bridge and burned it to the ground behind me. I can never have long hair again. My temples have receded too much. There’s just too much grey involved. Long hair would make me look like either a dirty hippy or a greasy mobster.

So I’ve reached this impasse in my life: I’m no longer young, yet I’m not quite “Old Man River.” I’m not really allowed to be found cute by young girls anymore, and I’m certainly not ready to buy a sports car and take up golf. I’m just sort of at that in-between age. It’s awkward, and it shouldn’t be. This should be the time in everyone’s life where they’re beginning to figure stuff out. And all I’ve figured out is how to look like my father.

Love is like a Depeche Mode song...

I believe in true love. I am also an idiot.

I suppose I was brainwashed by Hollywood and the adult Top 40 hits of the 80s. These ridiculous and corny notions that love is the only thing that matters, that it can stand up in the face of anything. Love is all that matters. I believe those things. I was tricked!

I guess the key to being someone like me is finding some other sucker who believes the same thing. I know there has to be someone like that around, dealing with the same disappointments I am.

I know a few couples who are of the same mindset I am. I have no idea how they managed to find each other. And I have even less of a clue how they've managed to stay together in the face of a world that doesn't care. But I guess that's the whole point. The outside world doesn't matter.

I'm amazed at the reasons people have for breaking up. You aren't ambitious enough. You're not tall enough. You're don't make enough money. Are these reasons for being in love with someone or reasons you chose your particular banker?

I'd hate to go so far as to declare the world full of shallow people who're only looking out for themselves in the end. I know it's not that bad. But it's certainly discouraging.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Hockey Versus Baseball (Hint: Hockey Wins!)

I love hockey, as anyone with a passing familiarity with me knows. From late September to mid-June, I am pretty much unavailable for societal functions. I turn off my phone. I don’t return e-mails. I stop looking both ways when crossing the road. I am glued to the television, watching my beloved Los Angeles Kings embarrass me night after night.

Being a hockey fan in southern California is hard. When most people discover that I am a hockey fan, they immediately assume I’m an Anaheim Ducks fan. Well, before that they get confused and think I’m talking about Soccer or Badminton or any of the other sports 99% of Americans don’t care about. Once they figure out that I’m talking about the sport played on ice that isn’t curling, they assume I’m a Ducks fan. Which makes me want to stab them in each eye with a used spork. Kings fans hate Ducks fans. Ducks fans hate Kings fans. It’s the SoCal equivalent of the Yankees and the Red Sox.

And, so it goes, year after year. I obsess over hockey and fill in the occasional gaps in my schedule by watching the NFL. But the summers are long, and boring, with only a few brief weeks before and after the hockey season to keep me entertained (Yes, I watch the NHL Draft, NHL Awards, pre-season games, Free Agent Day, YouTube clips of training camp, reruns of playoff games on the NHL Network, etc, etc, etc…). So, this summer, I’ve made an attempt to ingratiate myself to America’s past-time. You know, the one that isn’t football?

When I was a kid, my father made me play a few seasons of kiddie-baseball. I don’t think I played in Little League. I want to say I played in the Junior Baseball Association, but I can’t be sure. I really don’t care. I was terrible at the game. But I was dutiful. He brainwashed me into caring about the Los Angeles Dodgers. I watched their games. I wore the hats and t-shirts he bought for me. I drank the blue Kool-Aid.

That is, until the early 90s. I was becoming a teenager, and I decided that I really didn’t give a crap about baseball. I liked hockey, girls, and football, in that order. The last game I watched or even attended was when I was 17. I was taking a journalism class at Bakersfield College, and one of our group assignments was to attend a local baseball game and each write a story about it. I think I might have written about how boring the experience was.

Flash-forward 12 years, and here I am making an attempt to understand why people are interested in baseball. I have a few friends who are absolutely die-hard baseball fans. A few Boston Red Sox fans… A few San Francisco Giants fans… Hell, one of my old bosses is a dyed-in-the-wool Los Angeles California Angels of Anaheim fan. And, of course, there’s my father, who is still a Dodgers fan.

So, I try to understand them better. And I watch a few games a week. I still don’t get it. The game is slow, and I think a lot of fans would agree with me on that. There is a certain “chess match” quality to it, I suppose. And I do love the fact that 114% of the league’s players aren’t from the United States. What can I say? I love a good accent!

I don’t really know for sure if I’ll ever truly appreciate baseball. I just haven’t had that moment or moments that make it click for me. I don’t even know if I’ll pick a team to follow. Maybe just to be contrary, I’ll become a Toronto Blue Jays fan. They suck, right?