Monthly Archives: November 2011

Day Game Encounter: Poinsettias in the Pet Aisle

It was the evening and I was wearing my Santa hat; I stopped by the grocery store to grab a bottle of Omega-3 (seriously, take that shit if you aren’t already) and grabbed a poinsettia on an impulse buy. I was going to approach a woman in the cheese aisle, but she turned her back to me whilst examine a wondrous collection of bries and I was logistically blocked from opening.

I was browsing the drugs and saw a thin middle-aged brunette woman in the next aisle where the pet food was. As I approached I saw no ring on the left ring finger, she was turned to face me and I opened by gesturing with the plant.

“Hey, do you think this goes with my hat?”

“Hmm, I dunno, I think you need more glitter on your hat to match the shiny paper.”

(noticing her red scarf) “You know it looks like you match it too.”

“And my socks!” (She points to her feet…she’s increasing investment in the conversation)

“Look at us, we’re just like the stores, starting Christmas before December even…”

(with nonreaction) “You’re not coming from a Christmas party are you?”

“No, not quite yet…”

We were in the pet aisle, which provided a perfect segue into another ramble point:

“…you know I’ve heard stories of dogs eating poinsettia leaves and getting sick.”

(with a smile and a laugh) “Oh, I don’t think I’d feed that to my dog.” (Excellent news, not a cat lady)

“Dogs are such sweet animals, they are so curious, they’ll put anything they can find into their mouths.” (another laugh from her)

I could have continued on with the ramble, perhaps noting that because dogs can’t talk, it’s pretty transparent when they are trying to dominate you, or alternately manipulate you, unlike people who can access and fool our rational centers. Or discussed the comfort of the Christmas holiday with a dog warming your feet, or of the dog begging at Thanksgiving dinner. The most obvious personal question she might have asked is whether I had a dog; dropping personal questions is a big sign of escalation in the day-game conversation.

Alas I was tired and my verbal circuits weren’t firing quickly; I fiddled with some rawhide products to avoid the impression I was ejecting and then skedaddled down to the register.

Let’s recap.

1. She found my opener at least mildly humorous and stayed to hear what I had to say

2. She drew attention to herself telling me to look at her socks

3. She laughed more than once, and wasn’t in any hurry to leave the aisle once I had her in conversation

A successful approach, for as far as I took it.

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Filed under dating and field game

Rock and Roll Dreams

My middle school happened to be stuffed with musically-talented budding rock stars. I had picked up both the guitar and the drum kit in the fifth grade, spurred on by the tide of new and energetic music coming out of the alternative rock scene, and several students followed my lead. It was only a matter of time before we started forming rock bands.

Despite being a very skilled guitar player (especially for my age), I always found myself behind the trap kit; I was the only kid in the school who could play the drums, which guaranteed that every band needed me in it. My intense study and imitation of Neil Peart of Rush and Stewart Copeland of the Police gave me a versatility that fit me in several styles.

All told we had about five bands in middle school (including two separate incarnations of the same lineup), of which only two ever actually met to practice let alone play a gig. We spent downtime in class drawing logos and album artwork and writing up set lists composed of song titles we’d never end up writing. Debates raged about which guitars were appropriate for our artistic look, how we would arrange the group on stage and whether the drummer needed to lift weights and wear short-sleeved shirts in concert.

The whole thing had a huge undercurrent of manufactured drama. The interpersonal politics from the first (real) band, which involved a kleptomaniac/pathological liar, got so bad that the second (real) band wrote a song about him. In retrospect it brings to mind the first world problem “I didn’t have a shitty childhood so I can’t turn my pain into art.”

The stuff really hit the fan when, desperate to get some time on the axe, I decided to form a second band in which I would play the guitar. I hadn’t quite figured out what we’d do about the drums but maybe we’d play acoustic or only use percussion.

A friend of the primary band inquired about joining. I wrote a note to our lead guitarist explaining that I felt his musical abilities were redundant in our group and saying some unflattering things about his personality, while also stating I was considering him for my side project.

Ever the man of social skill, he pulled a classic takeaway move by replying to the following effect: “wtf is this side project? We don’t have to accommodate someone who can’t dedicate himself to our group. We’ll find a new drummer.” Years later I realized my own bargaining power (there literally were no more drummers), long after I meekly supplicated my way back into his good graces. To boot, he left the note on the floor of my basement, where it was found by the outcast friend and then I had some real apologizing to do.

The following summer I got fed up with the lack of focus of the group at practice and the poor quality of a long-promised hit song presented by the frontman and one of the guitar players, and quit on the spot. Little did I know I was pulling a takeaway of my own; they reapproached me when school was back in session, saying they had a plan for success (and better songs)…oh, and, uh, they had struck a deal to play a school assembly and were really hurting for a drummer to round out the group.

Having a gig on the calendar, an item of focus to prevent eternal squabbles in the practice studio, was enough to bring me back on board, and we really started to function as a band and not a glorified talent show cover group. Although I was pretty creative within the bounds of basic rock drumming, my social-dominance skills were not well developed at that age so I was pretty much walked over in terms of the oeuvre and set list. But thanks to my deep study of the gigging business and studio equipment, I could produce and engineer the recordings and hook up all the amplification equipment. (Let me tell you, musicians today have it easy with computer-based hard-disk recording; I still have the four-track 1/4″ tape recorder we used, a kludged and cost-cut version of technology that was introduced in the 1950’s.)

When we showed up to play I made sure we were ready, plugged in and tuned up.

We split to different high schools after graduation and couldn’t keep the group together. It was too bad, because it was a great experience: writing songs, playing on stage, strutting in the hallways as we passed out cassette tapes of our latest tracks, expanding beyond our primary influences like Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins by introducing each other to groups like the Beatles, the Doors and Led Zeppelin. We went balls to the wall, never wavered in our passion and were by far the coolest guys in the school.

Despite the short window, it was the kindling to a few careers in the business (most notably not mine). One of the guitar players founded his own label in college, did a few tours and is living the dream as a starving artist. Another guy got into a large rock combo that was signed to an independent label and had a song make the soundtrack of a television show. Yet another lived a rock-star lifestyle without the commensurate success and died young.

Our seriousness and dedication probably surprised our classmates and parents, but we were lucky to be too young to know that kids weren’t supposed to do stuff like that so well.

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Styles Upon Styles Upon Styles Is What I Have

This goes out to all my readers in the Hudson Valley.

A Tribe Called Quest’s 1991 album “The Low End Theory” has been cited as the defining marker between old- and new-school hip hop, although I think it’s more a work of sui generis quality than a transition point. Drawing heavily from jazz in both samples and style, and sometimes backing the vocals with only a trap kit and a string bass, the sound intentionally strips down in favor of a spontaneous edge that brings the personable MCs to the forefront. This differentiates it from the pop-style production of the parallel new jack swing and R+B genres (new jack swing is referenced in one of the tracks).

The style avoids the shock-jock punch of gangsta rap that would go mainstream a couple of years later, although it’s interesting to note that NWA’s in-your-face “Straight Outta Compton” was credited as an influence on Tribe – one that can be heard in the album’s sludgy tone. If John Bonham were to produce a rap record, this would be it.

Although Tribe was well-known and the album a success, The Low End Theory has an anonymous quality to it, as if the group had showed up to an open-mic night, done the material on stage and gone home without waiting for the groupies.

“Buggin’ Out” showcases dizzying rhythmic and verbal syncopation.

I especially like “Butter,” which juxtaposes Phife Dawg’s high-school player days against his annoyance with superficial attention whores after he made it big.


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The Greek Crisis in Perspective

John D. Cook quotes a pair of tweets from Dan Snow, the self-styled “History Guy:”

BBC reporter: ‘This could be the worst crisis Greece has ever known’. There speaks a man without a history degree.

Greece has been ravaged by Persian Immortals, Roman legionaries, Huns, Janissaries, Russian cossacks, Nazi stormtroopers. She’s seen worse.

 

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Filed under history

A Badger Hut Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers (you Canadians have it both ways, you had your Thanksgiving last month and can sneak across the border for some November turkey).

My family has always been quick to invite various acquaintances to the Thanksgiving meal, people who couldn’t get to their own families, which combined with the potlucking of dishes has always given the holiday a spirit of friendliness and generosity. While I try to get back to the family home, as long as that spirit is present I’m not that concerned about whom I spend the holiday with.

Of course, there are peripheral benefits to holiday travel.

The Coney Dog, a heavenly treat

The airport restaurant told me they are no longer serving Vernor’s. Bitch please.

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Filed under la dolce vita

Pressure-Free Fun, Received Boomerism and the Fear of Failure

Susan Walsh posted last week about the frozen margaritas she would make in her younger years, and how they complemented Friday nights with Mr HUS:

“we got in the habit of collapsing after a long work week with a pitcher of frozen margaritas and reggae on the stereo…We’d slurp our drinks and dance, and I always wanted to lead, but Mr. HUS would just stand still with his arms crossed until I stopped misbehaving.”

This is so charming and simple, and for some reason it feels so foreign and strange. I’m telling you, among the educated class in the Millenial generation there is so much damn pressure to be working and learning and growing and – here’s the kicker – being “cool,” that it’s almost bizarre to think a young couple would just drink and dance in their own house and enjoy it.

It’s like a cultural rat race pressing down on my generation. There’s this nonjudgmentalism fetish around the culture, but at the same time there’s so much pressure to not be a fuddy duddy. It even slips down to booze – instead of just drinking, we feel like we need to be drinking fine bourbon or top wine. There’s cultural cachet to watching heady HBO dramas or reading culturally-approved modern pop literature instead of enjoying classics.

Hipsters, of all people, have tried to make valor out of the pedestrian, and it’s not just about their clothes, it’s about their skinny-fit and intentionally-mismatched clothes, their consumption of offbeat culture and music and even their smoking, an intentionally self-destructive behavior that belies their epicurean subculture (it recalls one of Roissy’s later maxims that expendability is a DHV). All the hipsters I’ve met have been pretty nice guys, but on a macro level they are cultural badboys.

Someone at HUS recently mentioned Joan Holloway of Mad Men playing her accordion in an episode. Before the radio, housewives were venerated for their ability to play parlor instruments to entertain the family (creating the market for sheet music that WAS the pre-modern music industry). Today, learning band instruments is another activity of overscheduled kids packing their resumes for college applications.

I notice a lot of poker players in my generation (in a quest for socially-approved expressions of masculinity, with its attendant competitiveness and shit-talking), but also what seems to be a loss of more recreational card games like hearts, cribbage and euchre. My parents love to play cards with us kids and their own parents, it’s just a pastime with no greater meaning. No one laments the loss of time that could have gone into “classier” pursuits. But today card games and board games are seen as geeky and offbeat, a sort of countercultural statement. It’s like mindless fun isn’t OK, you have to put on an expensive wardrobe and buy expensive cocktails and have a soul-crushing night of forced socialization to feel like you’re having socially-approved fun.

I had lunch with a former boss last week, a late Boomer/early Gen X-er with a thoughtful eye towards social trends, and I mentioned what I saw as a pervasive fear of failure among my generation, which I believed was at least partly a fear of letting down our parents – who never let us forget what high hopes they had for us, nor the sense that they were relying on us to carry out and finish the dreams of their youth.

He replied that he had had the exact same discussion several times recently. He added that when he was young, it was understood that young people were going to make mistakes in work and life, that it was part of the growing process – but that today he saw a lot of people defined by their incidental failures with nary a chance to redeem themselves. Which I suppose validates my cohort’s concerns. I shouldn’t have to mention that politics – who know whom – is a big factor in escaping the scarlet letter.

Boomers are alternately lauded and mocked for their idealism, and for the failure of that idealism with divorce, war and economic strife that has followed them in adulthood. What the Boomers passed to my generation was the idealism, but stripped of the knowledge that idealism is messy, that it comes with failure and false starts and with suffering the consequences of your convictions (notice the trend of attachment parenting/helicopter parenting where parents take a direct role in shielding their children from the important lessons that failure and disappointment impart to young people).

Some of my cohortmates have responded to this subtle pressure of expectations with perfectionism, and the eventual neurosis that comes with it – spectacular burnout, depression, bitterness or self-harm.

Some of them, who never even tried to fake the perfectionism in the first place, turn the other way to a sort of primary fatalistic nhilism – a sequence of pornography, promiscuity, junk culture, lack of ambition or a belief that their work can contribute to society, self-medication,  profligacy in pursuit of achievable material comforts against unachievable philosophical ones.

Frost and Ferdinand Bardamu have dubbed the maturing crop of youth “Generation Zero.” Fly Fresh and Young (don’t know what’s with all these F’s) drops all pretense with “Generation Nihilism.”

This modern neurosis, the first-world problem, of being afraid to get your ego bumped around, has to be scrapped to accomplish things. The only way to go from good to great is to destroy your ego and accept failure as a necessary step on the path – otherwise your self-consciousness and self-flattery will hold you back from seeing the dull points that need to be polished. That means giving up the comfort of things being consistently OK.

When I’m out about town and get rejected or blown out of a set, I immediately turn to the next woman and open her. I process the failure and learn from it, but I don’t let it define me except to become part of the knowledge base I use as experience. Same with a screw-up in my career. Did I do that? OK, I wasn’t born with that knowledge, let’s figure out how to do it right next time. In this way, failing actually moves me ahead of where I was before it occurred.

If we’re not ready as a generation to break out of our control-freaking comfort zones, and not as a society to accept some bumps in the road as the price of a building a capable and well-drilled cohort of people to handle the reins for the next quarter-century, then we’ve devolved and are not much better than dogs or horses, emerging from the womb as miniaturized versions of our adult selves – growing quickly into a vapid, animalistic existence driven by little more than our atavistic instincts and the subconscious social-validation layer that sits atop it.

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Filed under junk culture, la dolce vita, quarterlife crisis

Mommyland’s First World Problems

The girls from Rants From Mommyland have wrapped up their First World Problems contest. Susan Walsh herself contributed some whoppers. I was partial to the Starbucks one, but we ultimately decided that “the backyard looks ugly when the pool cover is on” took the cake for pure venal decadence.

They even spoofed the Crying Dawson image to include their own finalists. Well done, ladies.

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Filed under this is just funny