Thursday, December 20, 2007

Justice for Christmas

Crack is wack.

But is it decidedly wacker than coke, robbery, arson, sexual abuse or manslaughter?

Mandatory minimums suck.

The US Supreme Court finally seems to agree. With the minimums, not necessarily the crack.

And the US Sentencing Commission is right behind them. With the crack, not necessarily the minimums.

Just in time for the holidays.

Maybe we'll get our inmate count under 2 million in'08.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Answer Gift

I invented something today.

Maybe I didn't invent it, but I am naming it and I am taking full credit for that. At least.

Back in the summer, I sent a 1AMish text message to a bunch of people exclaiming, "TRANS-EFFING-FORMERS!" to let everyone know that I had just emerged satisfied and triumphant from my own neighborhood's premiere of the 2-hour trip back to my childhood. My trainer received that text. And she had a good laugh with me next time I saw her as we traded notes about what we enjoyed most about the movie.

A month later, she laughed when I serenaded her with "The Amazing Spider-Pig" theme from The Simpsons Movie. After both of us saw the flick, we traded notes about that one, too.

A week ago, she came to the gym clutching a small bag. I had not completed my Christmas shopping, so I was embarrassingly empty-handed. I didn't feel quite so bad when I opened the bag to find a t-shirt with the Autobot logo blaring from the chest area. We both laughed. As much at the memory of the first laugh as anything else.

When I resumed digging around for this b-boy movie that I really wanted to get for her, I kept coming up empty. My second choice, The Flight of the Conchords Season One , proved to be equally elusive. Then I saw a big stack of DVDs for The Simpsons Movie at Target. And the Answer Gift was born.

As you might deduce, the Answer Gift represents a dialogic approach to gift-giving. Like it's a thoughtful conversation. Jerome gives a gift to Tamara that corresponds to a shared experience unique to the two of them. As if he were asking her a question. Tamara then gives a gift to Jerome that corresponds to that same experience (or perhaps another thing they share in common). As if she were answering him.

Since I invented the name for the Answer Gift, I'm also going to set a couple of rules:

1) There is no price range or call for price parity. The thought is 1,000X more important than the cost. A good answer gift could cost 1/50th of the gift it is responding to. Or it could cost $375 more than the question gift. Doesn't matter. Long as it is a fitting response.

2) You can't give the answer gift at the same time you receive the question. You can give an answer gift at Christmas or for an anniversary or some other mutually shared holiday, but only after you've received the question gift first.

3) The answer gift doesn't have to be directly linked to the question. Conversational tangents are permitted and encouraged. As long as the answer gift connects in some way to an experience you share with the recipient(s).

And I think that's it. For now. Too many rules really aren't good for anything. trainer did laugh when she saw the box with Homer J.'s face and that porcine webslinger. What comes next I cannot say. Guess it's her turn to answer. Or not. That's kinda the beauty of the concept. It can end at any time. Or continue for as long as it keeps making sense.

Just like a real conversation.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Eulogy for a Gifted Bastard

You're not supposed to speak ill of the recently departed. There's kind of a code we all subscribe to 'cause we're not sure where those people have traveled to. Or how they might be able to exact retribution against us. Some of us truly don't have the stomach to pick on the defenseless. Most of us simply don't like to mess with our kharma.

Sometimes, though, exceptions deserve to be made when discussing the recently departed. Ike Turner is probably one of those exceptions.

You know all about the bastard side of him. There's a whole movie about it.

Maybe you even remember the gifted side of him. Or, probably, you remember how his gifts were most commonly filtered. As they were in the following performance from 1971ish. (Or was it '77ish?)

For most folks, Ike Turner is a supporting character in the story of his own demons. For some, he's the father of rock and/or roll. The truth, as it tends to do, derives from both.

This guy seems to have the whole story of Ike Turner--however condensed it may be--all figured out. I can't say much more about Ike than he did. But I did spend some time today digging around youtube for this. (Watch the first two minutes. Trust me.)

1993 was a very good year for me. That NCAA Tournament was one of my favorites. The most bittersweet of endings. But still in the top 3 of the 20-odd Tournaments I've watched. (1988 and 2003 fill out that list, BTW.)

And everything that was good about that tournament--indeed, that year--could be summed up in the first two minutes of that video.

I used to have a VHS of that game. And I used to watch the first two minutes. On the afternoons before the nights when I used to dash up and down a basketball court in front of 3,000 people. All blue and white and hairless. Arms and legs flying through the air. First name: Tremendous. Last name: Potential.

My fingertips glowed from being so close to such brilliant possibility. And I used to watch that video to see and hear a facsimile of what it was that was waiting for me to snatch it and make it mine.

I haven't watched it in years. Today, on the occasion of the death of Ike Turner, I needed to see it again.

It gave me goosebumps. Just like it used to. And it made me wonder where things had gone wrong. Maybe not all the way wrong. Some dreams came true. Some dreams died viciously. Others have been deferred altogether.

Life, much like that game, didn't turn out quite like I envisioned it.

As eulogies for Ike Turner slowly pile up, I can't help but feel that Ike would have related to that. He was clearly a hungry man. And he was an amazing musician. Yet, he will mostly be remembered for the worst that he was capable of.

Hardly what he would have envisioned for himself.

Rest, Bad Man. Peace may not be yours to have. But, if it means anything, your gifts still give.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Street Teams Are Made of Me

Numerous Cats Productions has four moving parts. Me, of course. Chris, the web developer, internet guru and father of arguably the most adorable 2-year-old alive. Dom, who runs a record label, sells tickets and redefines the hustle everyday of his life. And Lamont, who is currently chasing his own vision of the American dream.

That does not count Leslye, who shoots, edits, designs, codes, produces, directs, writes and performs minor miracles when called upon.

Of our five, I was the only one who traveled to attend Black Soil. It doesn’t matter why. It only matters that it is. Or was.

And that I was the lone hand, voice, set of feet and eyes available to street team for the okaymentary.

Which is how I occupied the last four days of my time in the Netherlands.

A Pre-Screening Party at Jimmy Wu’s. IDFA. The Flying Pig Hostels. Black Soil, itself. And every nook and cranny of a 25-round-mile-radius of Amsterdam proper. Or not so proper. As it were.

I wandered. Purposely. Accidentally. Endlessly. (Seriously. You should see the callouses on my feet.)

In those wanderings, I...well...I wish I could tell you that I was inspired. But inspiration is not the byproduct of the street teaming process. No matter where it takes place. It is exhausting. And, in the best of times, it is hopeful.

Hopeful that the people whose hands you shook were genuinely interested in your project and will remember when it is that you want them to attend your screening. Hopeful that none of the flyers you placed so thoughtfully and artfully will be carelessly discarded. Hopeful that you'll get a 10% return on all of the work you put in.

Fast forward to 7 pm on Sunday, Dec. 2. An hour before the Amsterdam screening of the okaymentary.

The venue hosting the Amsterdam installation of Black Soil was dope. Similar to the one in Rotterdam as Bitterzoet served multiple purposes. Theatre plus cafe plus bar. The gorgeous soda bottle of a Dutch-Israeli bartender who worked in the café arrived early. Her sunny brown eyes and extra large dimples sharply contrasted the dark, cold, rainy outside where most of my last desperate afternoon had taken place. Hope hung on. For just a few minutes longer.

Minutes before the screening, though, practicality entered the building.

The Bitterzoet Theatre contained about 150 seats. It was about a third full. I would have preferred that it be about a third empty. I made a quick visit to the bartender to keep my spirits up. And the screening commenced.

The post-show Q&A—as is becoming customary—featured an intriguing array of inquiries and comments about the internet and its cultural impact. We may not have made a widely seen (yet) or easy to sell film, but our story certainly is a thought-provoking one.

If only my credit card company accepted thoughts as payment.

Clinging to the last bits of hope, I asked the bartender to help me out with that.

By pouring several Jamesons, of course.

How else did you expect this story to end?

Thursday, December 06, 2007

"Dude, We Have a Problem."

After my walking-talking meeting with the BFI cat, I saw London with new eyes. Gone was the wonder of walking through the world's largest (and dirtiest) outdoor museum. In came the feeling that it was just another place on earth for me to be. Doing whatever it is that I do. Clearly a different place than others I have lived in or visited. But nothing that was fundamentally larger than me.

That, of course, is when the mouth of the city gaped open and took a big, humbling bite out of me. In the form of one gawdawful day.

These days happen when you travel for long periods of time. They're unavoidable. How you deal with them proves your road mettle. Without doubt. One way or the other.

This kind of day pokes you in the eye, kicks you in the balls, then hovers over you--deciding whether to add a third, fourth or more kind of pain--while you writhe about. These days happen when you're away from home for more than just a week at the beach or a 3-day conference in Atlanta. They’re completely pitiless. And nothing makes you more sick. Not so much for home. But for something that feels comfortable. Knowable. Familiar.

Something that doesn’t involve dragging 70 lbs of clothes, flyers and equipment all over London.

My cell phone gets no service in Europe. I do not wear a watch. Which means that keeping time had been a daily challenge. A confusing one at that as I’d been in two different European time zones.

If there had been time to do some serious watch shopping, I may have avoided that gawdawful day in London. Alas, the watches I’d seen were either expensive arm jewelery or didn’t meet my immediate needs. Or both. Consequently, I had to be creative about how to trigger the end of each night’s sleep.

Which places us on the morning of Wed the 28th. The homie Adam--who graciously provided shelter in his brand new, yet to be furnished apartment in Hackney--and I both made mistakes in the way we set alarms on Tues night. I’m not entirely sure what happened, but I do know that...well, let me just tell you.

A knock on my door woke me up and one sentence set the tone for the day.

“Dude, we have a problem.”

He informed me that it was 8:30 am. My flight departed at 9:40. That’s not much time to travel halfway across London and check in to Gatwick, but I crammed all of my things into my bags anyway and gave it a go.

We had no car. A taxi was not an option. Nor was a double-decker. Best bet was the Tube.

Sardines are the obvious metaphor that might describe the scene on the Underground during rush hour. That’s really not the whole story, though. And it’s not all the way accurate either.

An assembly line of human goings supplies densely packed train cars that depart every two minutes with a steady stream of passengers. You fight your way up, down and around the station. Fight your way onto the train. Fight your way off. Passively, of course. And without much sound. There are no loud conversations among the British. There is no echo of trains moving elsewhere on the subway system, either. There is just you—plus whatever crap you carry—quietly struggling to squeeze into half as much space as you really need. Oh, and 15 jillion other people trying to do the same thing at the same time. With 15 jillion more people coming right behind you.

We transferred trains once. Then again. Time quickly slipped away from me. We both realized there was no way I was going to board Easy Jet Flight 0942.

Bummer. With a capital B. For real. ‘Cause I was supposed to return to Amsterdam to do a radio interview that afternoon to promote my movie.

After we extracted ourselves from the moving metal amoeba, we found an internet connection. I checked flights. Called Philip and Sasha from Black Soil to see what my options were for arriving in time to do the interview. There was no flight available that would get me back to Amsterdam to do it.


Missed flight. Missed interview. Several new bruises from wrestling a me and a half through the Tube during rush. Oh...and I think the dollar lost 5 more cents to the pound while I endured all of that. Putting my money halfway to worthless.

Suddenly, London didn’t seem like just another place on earth for me to be. It felt like someplace I had to escape before the bank notified me that all of my accounts had been overdrawn. And I still had 70 lbs of my crap to lug around. Somewhere, a voice inside of me couldn’t figure out whether to whine or scream my disgust.

I logged onto the internet and checked all the choices for planes, trains and automobiles and found one semi-affordable option: book a new flight on Thurs. It cost me two pairs of sneakers and a couple CDs. Or a third of one month’s rent.

Adam, kind soul that he is, bought breakfast for both of us. A proper English breakfast with sausage, eggs, beans, toast, tea, tomatoes and mushrooms.

Since I was stuck in London for another day, Adam and I figured we’d try to make the best of it. He had only moved back to the country two weeks earlier and was still setting himself up. He had an apartment. Was still looking for a job. Had just opened a bank account. And still needed to buy a cell phone.

It seemed like a simple enough chore.

We hit up the cell phone store. Adam copped a mobile. We found a Starbucks and he got online to launch the service for his new phone. The sun even made an appearance. Maybe the day wouldn’t be so bad after all.

An hour and a half later, the battery on my laptop died. With him still stuck on step 26 of the 4,968-step process.

We found another Starbucks that had an electrical outlet. I had to ask a couple of blokes in business suits to give up their table so we could plug into the only one in the store. Adam got back online to resume the process. He got bumped off. Back online again. Bumped off again. Back online. Advanced to step 37. Bumped off. Back on. Was told to go back to step one.

When he finally made it to step 40, he was told that his mailing address was not being recognized and that he’d have to contact the Royal Post to get it verified. At no point was he invited to contact a live person. ‘Cause, um, there are no live people left working for his new cell phone provider, O2.

Obviously, this was not my battle. But when you watch someone struggle to restrain themselves from throwing a tantrum in a coffee shop, your energy can’t help but sour. Just a little bit. And that’s not a good thing. ‘Specially not when the day has already shit on you in about 8 different ways.

Mid-afternoon had crept upon us. We’d already drug all of my stuff through the morning rush hour on the tube. And were about to get stuck dragging it through the evening rush, too.

So...we jumped back on the train. Rather, we elbowed our way back through the Underground. Again, it was the best of a bad lot of travel options.

We arrived back at Adam’s place and made one more feeble attempt to salvage the day. Adam went to the Royal Post. And I tried to do laundry.

Seemed like two easy enough chores.

The apartment was fitted with a single machine which washed and dried. I fumbled through the instruction booklet, dumped some detergent into the receptacle and hit start on a very small load of jeans and boxers. Half hour later, the buzzer rang. I fumbled again through the instruction booklet, pressed a couple buttons and left the machine alone to do some drying.

Adam returned from the Post with bad news. He was going to have to wait 2-3 business days to have his address verified before his phone service could be activated.

More than an hour had passed since I started the dryer cycle so I figured I’d check my jeans and boxers. Surprisingly, they were very hot and very damp.

After an hour?

Perhaps I’d pressed the wrong combination of buttons. Or maybe I was proving Adam’s theory that I was mildly retarded. He had yet to learn how to properly use the machine, so he was little help. I re-read the instructions. Pressed some buttons. And we went out to get some dinner.

We wandered around. Heads down. Bellies growling. Every menu seemingly more expensive than the last. Finally, we saw a pizza place. Grabbed a table. Ordered a couple of drinks. And sighed a bit when the pretty Italian waitress returned with pints and pizza.

The day was pretty much over. There was only night to survive. And since Elie Wiesel was no where to be found, we chose the next best--and presumably cheapest—-entertainment option appropriate for such a day. We bought tickets for Rescue Dawn. A movie about prisoners of war trying to survive a Vietnamese concentration camp.

Given the day I’d endured, I found it to be a very cheerful film. Someone somewhere had it much worse off than me. And no matter how exhausted, frustrated or broke I was, my situation could have been much, much, much worse.

When we got back to the apartment, I optimistically checked the dryer.

Still damp.


Such is life.

In London.

On the road.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

H-U-S-T-L-E-R, Hustler

Before I ever booked a Trans-Atlantic flight, I targeted Giles Peterson as someone I needed to track down whilst on the other side of the pond. I put out a bunch of feelers to my circle and came up empty. Didn't seem like a problem, though. At this point in life, I've heard "No" so many times that "Yes" is a three-letter surprise to me.

Giles, as you may know, is a massive British DJ who has a show on BBC radio. Giles is also a long-time supporter of the Roots. The Roots are an integral part of my flick. A friend of the Roots should also be a friend of mine I figured. Hence, the ?uest to link up with Giles.

The new homies from the fest gave me two handfuls of leads who might be able to get me to him. I arrived in England late on Mon and figured I'd have Tues to make chase.

When I woke up on Tues, it occurred to me that I might actually be on a fool's mission. I mean, I could have handed Giles a DVD, but--whether he liked it or not--what exactly was he gonna do with it?

The new homie Kevin had put me onto this cat from the British Film Institute (BFI). I thought he'd be a most appropriate--and logical--target, so I rang him. He was on the grind himself but agreed to link up near a tube stop to do a little hand-off.

I met him. Handed him a DVD, flyer and business card. We were headed in the same direction, so we walked and talked for about 7 minutes total. He said he'd been hearing about the okaymentary and that he'd be interested in screening it at the BFI. I'd hardly call this an official meeting. Nor a firm commitment. Yet, it seemed as if this is the way things really get done in the entertainment industry.

Find someone to vouch for you. Make a call. Shake a hand. Fill that hand with something. Keep it moving. Cross your fingers.

Sometimes there's an office involved. Sometimes it happens in the street. As long as it happens.

And, when it does, I presume that I'll be able to make a new friend called Giles.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Bucked Naked

Businesstime commenced in Rotterdam the day after Thanksgiving. A city of about 600k people located an hour away--by train--from Amsterdam.

Black Soil had promised a hotel room for the weekend at the five-star Westin downtown. Philip, one of the fest's two lead organizers--greeted me and promptly whisked me off to do a radio interview. The host of the show was very professional. Explained that the interview would be conducted mostly in Dutch and that Philip could translate for me. I nodded and cleared my throat just as the red "On-Air" light came alive.

I don't speak Dutch. So I have no idea what questions she initially floated out into the ether. Or how Philip responded. Suddenly, she made eye contact with me and started asking basic questions about the subject of my film and how it was made. In English, thankfully. I blathered on--as I usually do--struggling to spit out soundbytes laced minimally with American colloquialisms. No translation seemed to be necessary. She and Phillip then resumed their Dutch exchange. The red light died for a moment. And we all exhaled, reclining into the backs of our chairs.

The Dutch, by and large, speak both Dutch and English. The latter with a marvelous depth and nuance. Apart from the accent, communicating with them is extremely easy.

The Red Light (LINK IS NWS.) came alive again. More Dutch. Interrupted by my own crude English. Dutch again. Then a softball question about my first impressions of Rotterdam. I remarked that I really admired the graffiti art which decorated the otherwise unused canvases along the trainline. The host grimaced and started taking the piss outta me. We all had a good laugh. Philip and I made the last plugs for the fest and my screening. Said goodbye and set out for next.

Next included meeting Sasha from Black soil and the crew from South Coast—another film screening at the fest. It tells the story of the hip hop scene in Brighton, England. Next also included linking up with Kevin from Freestyle. The definitive emcee movie. And next included watching an 8-hour loop of hip hop films.

(BTW...Kevin and I had the most interesting introduction of ever. Each of us—lying in our own double bed—woke to a ringing phone and the faces of people we only previously knew via email. Each with a hangover and jetlag. Instant comrades in art were we.)

In between, the group told a lot of stories, traded jokes, bonded over our artistic successes and failures. More tribe building than network building. But, as you’ll see tomorrow, the tribe yields similar benefits.

Eventually, we arrived at the moment when my movie screened. Just prior to the lights going down, I felt a great jolt of nervous energy. As if I was about to be completely disrobed for my new tribe to examine all of my bits.

And, really, I was. I own a copy of Freestyle. Which I dig immensely. South Coast—which screened before the okaymentary—is an especially dope, likable and well-made film. So, I found myself among peers—who had become friends—awed and a bit concerned that I would be unable to call myself a creative equal.

I think that’s called performance anxiety.

After the lights did go down, my film began rolling. The audience laughed where they were supposed to laugh. Remained tensely still during the dramatic moments. And all had positive things to say about the film. Rather, the story.

Where I had been concerned with the production value of the movie, the story became the thing the audience was most concerned with. After the last credit rolled, questions focused on the people who appeared onscreen and the experience of using the internet as a social tool—which has been by far the most common reaction to the movie. It seems to make people think about a behaviour that is second nature to them, yet is rarely contemplated at any length by those who engage in it most actively and most matter-of-factly.

My new tribe all slapped their congratulations on my back. We sat in a café and I picked brains for how to improve the film, what ways it could be promoted and the most sound methods of distribution.

Then there was a party. An after party. And an after after party.

I stayed fully clothed the whole time.


Off to London for two days.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

They Eat Turkey, Don't They?

Late on the night before Thanksgiving, I found myself having a drink--just as any good young, patriotic American would be expected to do on one of the busiest party nights of the year.

Difference between me and everyone else: I tipped mine back on an airliner bound for Amsterdam.

For my first trip to Europe, I flew to the Netherlands to spend a week at the Black Soil International Film Festival trying to hustle this little movie I made. With the fest opening the day after Thanksgiving, I squished my favorite t-shirts and this indestructible laptop into a couple of bags, grabbed my passport and set out for the Old World--on Nov. 21.

On Nov. 22 (Happy birthday to Cyd!), I drug the wheels of my bag across some Dutch cobblestone and wobbled into the Flying Pig.

It's a hostel. Which means that there were all manner of fellow travelers lying about, having a sit and doing what wanderers do. All day and all night. Though no one stays on the premesis for very long. Hell, they are wanderers. And wanderers tend not to sit still.

Anyway, I checked in and saw three icons of the road:

1) A sign with a picture of a mushroom wearing a giant X and text reading: "You can smoke your weed or your hash here, but please do not bring any other drugs into this hostel."

2) The luggage room. Otherwise known as the repository of backpacks small and large. Filled with God knows what. From God may not even know where. 'Cause there simply isn't space for everyone to house their things in a hallway lined with 16 bunk beds.

3) A balding English fellow wearing a towel around his waist and a shiny coat of body hair that would make a German Shepherd blush with envy.

I chuckled at the first. Shook an amazed head at the second. And tried to gouge my eyes out from the third. Then I grabbed a nap. Linked up with D+E, the homies from NYC, and Dennis, the Netherlands' Finest, to tour the city. Tried to take it easy the first night. But it was Amsterdam, so easy is constructed a little differently than it is elsewhere.

For the record, I found that the people most likely to be excited about the legality of weed were the young American kids making their predictable pilgrimages. The Europeans and older folks I ran into were nonplussed about the fact that you could blaze a fatty in virtually every corner cafe in the city. The Dutch were completely ambivalent about it. Apathetic even. Same goes for the attitudes about the sex workers. Who, BTW, have forever changed the way I will hear that song, "How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?" Lesson learned: if you legalize vice, then you diminish its power to tantalize and therefore decrease the threat of it destroying your society. Oh, and you also get to regulate and tax it if you like. That argument is a horse that met Ike Turner, for certain. But it does bear mentioning. Again.

Almost forgot...during the course of the day, I cobbled together some worthy holiday fare. Cereal and raisin toast for breakfast. Later, a delicious caramel milkshake. And then some Chinese food. Which is pretty close to the standard American feast enjoyed on the third Thursday in November. Right?

Monday, November 19, 2007

Not Exactly Pre-Season NCAA Final Four Picks

There are two reasons that this entry is absurd:

1) The NCAA Basketball season is already approaching the end of its first month.

2) Any Final Four picks made before the actual brackets are drawn is fundamentally meaningless.

That being said, I'm writing this sumbitch anyway. And my picks are:

* Memphis
* Kansas State
* Michigan State

I've got good reasons for each. Mostly dealing with post-Fab Five precedents. As in the conventional wisdom derived from all the tournaments that have been played since 1992. And the precedents I'm applying would be:

Precedent: 2000 Michigan State Spartans
Common Formula: Veteran PG + Great team defense + Great team rebounding + Nasty schedule (in and out of conference)

Precedent: 1997 Arizona Wildcats
Common Formula: Superstar frosh PG + Iconic coach due for a title + Depth in front and backcourts + Better athletes than everyone else

Kansas State
Precedent: 2002 Indiana Hoosiers
Common Formula: Young beast in the front court + Replacement coach + Endless conference wars to toughen it up

Michigan State
Precedent: 1997 Minnesota Gophers
Common Formula: Gutsy senior guard as team leader + Hard-nosed style of team play + Anonymous-chip-on-its-shoulder-roster

If you're keeping score at home, three of those teams have freshmen starting in key positions. And none of my picks include the Tar Heels, Jayhawks, Hoyas or Blue Devils. I just can't drink the kool-aid on any of those teams. Not now. And probably not any time soon. Not where national championships are concerned, anyway.

I will, however, be very curious to see what types of seasons Pitt, 'SC, VCU and So Ill each have. Am intrigued by Louisville, Washington State, Nevada, Villanova and Austin Peay, too. I'd plug any of those schools into a pre-season Sweet 16 if I was writing one of those. But I'm not.

And now I'm not writing this one anymore either.

*Logs off to watch second half of UCLA and Maryland*

Sunday, November 18, 2007

West Up: The Epilogue

Believe it or not, I could write a whole lot more about what I saw, did and thought during my Oct trip to Cali+. I could tell you about:

The chick from Milwaukee who looked just like Parker Posey (only hotter)...The Speakeasy...The Amoeba haul...Lunch with my old boss...Catching up with Cap...My first time behind the wheel of a BMW...So much delicious Mexican food...The Halloween Party with the 'SC kids...Hanging out with Uncle Paul...And some other stuff I can't think of right now.

Truth is, there's only one parting thought I find to be appropriate. That would be: California is no longer my home.

I lusted for that place when I was a kid who was stuck in Ohio. To the point that I set the clock in my bedroom to Pacific Standard Time for months at a time. Moving west was more of an inevitability for me than it was a dream.

And I really loved living there. I mean, I hated a lot of things about it with equal fervor. But that's the kind of paradox that makes sense when you live in the Golden State. And, Cali truly was my shit. My spot. My home. I felt comfortable there in a way that I have never felt about any other place on earth. (Possible long-shot exception: Brooklyn.)

When I left in '05, I fully expected to return. Presumably with family in tow. (Which, of course, is another story altogether.) Upon landing temporarily in No Va, I fought viciously against the notion that it could be considered my "home."

(I still do. 'Cause I really don't fit there. But that is where I live. Currently. Alas...)

Going back to Cali this fall showed me that I can still be comfortable there. But not the kind of comfortable that I used to be. That I always wanted to be. The kind that mixes the mortar used to construct the notion of home in a person's heart and mind.

Perhaps I have left behind that time of my life as much as I've vacated my 9-1-something-something-something address. Perhaps those people and those experiences are as much a part of how I defined home as was the zip code. Perhaps I miss them as much as I miss the sun disappearing behind the Pacific.

Anyway you slice it, I'm not in Cali anymore, Toto. And I'm not sure when I will be again.

(Enough melancholy, son, I'm goin' to effin' Amsterdam. I'll get at you later. Peace.)

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

West Up: Act III: Rage

There are LA bands and then there are LA bands. The Doors. War. Black Flag. Motley Crue. NWA. Guns N Roses. Red Hot Chili Peppers. Ozomatli. Sublime.

And then, there is Rage Against the Machine.

You can make a lot of different arguments for why one band or the other more profoundly articulates the rhythms of the City of Angels. Or which is the better collection of musicians. Or which has been more successful. Or...whatever.

But the only thing you need to do in your life in order to know that you have lived is to elbow your way into a mosh pit at a Rage Against the Machine show.

I did that for the very first time last month. In, of all places, Las Vegas.

I missed Rage during their original run. Wasn't really into any form of rock at that time. I dug their politics, though. And nearly saw them live in 2000. That was the same night I got lost in 1968. Maybe I'll tell you about that sometime.

Anyway...I picked up a Rage record on a trip to Amoeba circa 2002. Mostly 'cause I thought I was supposed to. I'm sure it stayed cased in plastic for a year or so. Then I went through a rough break-up. And every piece of music I knew well sounded like teardrops. So, I dug through my CDs looking for something that sounded like something else. Like the unfamiliar.

Back then, Rage was unfamiliar.

Within a day of listening to the self-titled debut, I purchased Evil Empire. The Battle of Los Angeles, too. And proceeded to D'Oh myself through each album. 'specially since it appeared that I would probably never see them live.

Imagine, if you will, how I felt this past Labor Day when I discovered that Rage would be performing near the same place I'd be at close to the same time I'd be there.

Me in San Francisco and LA from Oct. 14 through Oct. 28.

Rage in Las Vegas on Oct. 28.

Say it with me: "No-brainer."

I bought my Rage concert ticket before I ever bought a plane ticket. Or rented a car. I did eventually book reservations for both, though.

So, on the morning of the 28th, I picked up a different cherry red 2008 Grand Prix (What'rtheodds?) at LAX and zoomed up the 15 toward the Vegoose Music Fest. I made good time to Sin City and had enough time to inhale one last double-double from In'N'Out before I needed to find my way to the concert. What I didn't have was a room for the night or any idea where Sam Boyd Stadium was.

Vegas is the opposite of cheap. The wrong place for a broke artist to be trying to find a place to rest his head. I asked the folks at an Embassy Suite located way off the Strip what it'd cost for a night. It cost more than FREE, so I opted against booking a room thinking maybe I'd locate an available couch from an about-to-be-new-concert-friend. I did ask to use the hotel's free internet and figured out how to catch the Vegoose shuttle.

The hungover buffet of humanity assembled outside of the make-shift bus stop at the Tropicana looked just like you'd think it would. A couple painted to look like Papa Smurf and Smurfette. Four widow-peaked 35-ish guys wearing Battle of Mexico City shirts. A gaggle of backpack-wearing kids dressed in black. Three stringy-haired girls wearing mini-skirts and Uggs. In short, a little bit of everything.

On board the bus, you could hear conversations about the first day of Vegoose. Daft Punk. Iggy Pop. Public Enemy. M.I.A. Queens of the Stone Age. Enough to make me really regret not buying the full concert package and cutting my LA stay short.

You could also hear people trading war stories from Rage shows past. Somehow, I was not the only virgin on the bus. And, somehow, the other virgin was seated right next to me.

This dude from Canada. Don't recall his name. But I remember him saying that he tagged along to Vegas with his girlfriend and brother who were attending a conference. That Rage was his favorite band of ever. And that he was 10 kinds of ready to pop his concert cherry.

After he told me he was a serious whisky drinker, I figured I'd found a good ally. The bus rumbled to a stop, opened its doors in front of the stadium and we all poured out into the still falling darkness. Half of that day's show was already over, but we could still see Moe, Muse and this little band from Los Angeles.

The Canadian and I went straight to the bar. I hadn't had a good night's sleep in at least 3 weeks, so I ordered double shots of Patron and some vodkaredbulls. The Canadian joined me for a couple rounds. We wandered the festival grounds a bit. I bookmarked both Moe and Muse as bands I should get better acquainted with. And, about half an hour before Rage was scheduled to go on, we posted up near the edge of the pit.

You realize, nearly as soon as you arrive, that a Rage show will be the definition of a tribal experience. It unfolds in three phases:

1) Communion
2) Competition
3) Re-Communion

During the first phase, everyone trades stories about the experiences they've had at other Rage shows. Some are educational. Some are funny. All are violent. The veterans eye the first-timers like a mother lioness not sure whether she should suckle or suck the meat from the bones of her young cubs. By the advice they share, most clearly choose the former. When the second phase kicks in, it seems as if all of them want to act on the latter.

"Good evening, we are Rage Against the Machine from Los Angeles, California."

With those words, the crowd compresses itself and surges toward the stage as if being commanded by some high holy man. And, really, we were. I started the show 120ish feet from the stage. 90 seconds after that opening statement, after I had been slammed into the mass of bodies, I landed about 20 feet from the stage. I could hear the opening chords of Testify and, like the somethingthousand people squished against me, I began to jump, flail, yell and sweat.

I don't remember what song Rage played next. Or next next. Or next next next. I do remember thinking that I probably shouldn't be jumping around for two hours 'cause the odds of my twisting an ankle or blowing a knee out would increase exponentially by the minute. So, I planted my feet, bent my knees into a sturdy crouch, extended my elbows and tried to box out 492 people at once. The Canadian was no where to be found.

Maybe it was during Bulls on Parade. Or Freedom. Possibly during Sleep Now in the Fire. At some point, I stepped on a cell phone, swiped a paw at the ground to scoop it up and slid it into my pocket. While making that motion, I also noticed these three girls behind me struggling to stay on their feet and off of a stretcher. During a break between songs, I asked if they wanted to stay or exit.


I widened my stance, extended my elbows and built a one-man wall for them. Periodically, I'd feel a familiar hand, cheek, breast, knee or elbow being pressed into me. Mostly, they hung onto my shoulders and arms and avoided harm--as much as it could be avoided under those circumstances--for an hour or so while drunken bodies surfed above us, possessed bodies crashed into us and Zach De La Rocha's musical manifesto exploded through the wall of speakers six arms' lengths from our outmatched little ears.

All the music, of course, was familiar. Most of the standout songs from the first three albums. One, maybe two, from Renegades. When they played War Within a Breath, I tried to keep an eye focused on the stage. Zach and Tom Morello both seemed to be consumed by the energy pouring out of the controlled riot over which they proudly presided. I'd noticed that same thing at other points during the show. During that song, though, I had to wonder how much the band chemistry had deteriorated at the turn of the century for them to "No mas" their otherwise ideal sonic union and give up that high.

Maybe I didn't understand the bigger picture. I mean, what else can you say after you've synthesized 400 years of world history into a 3-minute mission statement for a new people's movement? I always thought that song was the perfect way for a band to conclude its original catalogue. At that moment, I thought perhaps I was wrong. After the show, I understood why I had been right all along.

Rage exited the stage for the first time. Without performing Killing in the Name. Most in the crowd recognized this cue to demand an encore. Hoarse voices suddenly hit the red again, barking "Rage! Rage! Rage! Rage! Rage!" After minutes, the band obliged.

The encore gave all of us who had chosen to remain in the pit another 15 minutes to beat the crap out of each other. And, then, came the signature call of a generation:


Without a hint of irony, the sentence that closed the show sounded just as sacred as the one that opened it. That, dear reader, is a revelation.

The four members of the band clasped hands and took a bow before exiting stage left. The somethingthousand people around me pounded palms, whistled and screeched their gratitude for another Rage experience.

As the applause died down, other voices piped up. "Did anyone find a red Moto-RAZR?" "Hey, I found a shoe." "Brian Dupre, meet me at the beer tent." Other hands shot up with wallets, phones, car keys and other things that are supposed to live in a person's pocket. I whipped out the phone I had found and handed it to its surprised, and thankful, owner.

Even the girls I guarded for most of the show re-appeared to give me a sweaty hug. The happy ending to this story should have featured me sandwiched between the two cute ones in a room at the Luxor. Alas, they were roadtripping back to LA (Naturally) as soon as they retrieved their car from the parking lot.

An appropriately disappointed me then joined the rest of the tribe that had warred against itself for an hour and a half as it slowly began to re-commune. We asked if the passed out girl we raised over our heads and floated to security was okay. We apologized for the accidental elbow that caused a stranger's nose to bleed a bit. We shared what little water we had left in our bottles. We bought t-shirts to declare that we had survived each other.

Then we all shot out into the night in our own different directions.

I found my way to the Strip and located some free internet so I could write the weekly e-newsletter my dayjob expects me to produce each Monday morning. After I hit the send button a few hours later, I was still pretty wired so I bought myself a drink and took a walk up Las Vegas Blvd.

Adrenaline pulsed through me like I remained trapped in the pit at Sam Boyd Stadium. Song lyrics continued to pound against my ear drums. Rage had left the stage a quarter of a day earlier, but I was, somehow, still at the show.

I stopped for another glass of Brazilian rum. The kind infused with a neutral clarity. And I started thinking.

The actual act of raging against a machine is a passionate one. Passion, by its nature, is fleeting. While Zach De La Rocha may have a brilliant command of how to state a problem and convey his own proposal for a solution, the passion his band's music inspires needs only a slogan to feed it.

As that passion wanes, desire invariably takes over. And the generation(s) to whom Rage speaks is/are no different than their mothers and fathers. Each cohort can be seduced by the idea of changing the world, but ultimately is satisfied with simply getting themselves off and going to sleep. We rage together, swell with energy and release it, screaming, "FUCK YOU! I WON'T DO WHAT YOU TELL ME!" as if that's the goal. That rebellious ejaculation from the comfortable and the bored who are easily possessed by a sexy righteousness, yet never separated from the urge to sate their own palettes.

I suppose that's part of why Rage broke up years ago. And I s'pose the intoxicating energy their music produces is part of why they've booked a few new gigs this year. Why they'll book another handful here. Or there. In the years to come.

But really, what else is there for them to say?

Zach gave all of us the outline for updating the Port Huron Statement and tried to inspire us to channel the wisdom of history's greatest recalcitrants to take the world and order it as it could be. Yet, we never got past our favorite line from our first favorite Rage song:


That anarchic "you" simply doesn't lend itself to any further guidance from anyone. It just frees us to pursue our own whims. And our whims are simple. They trace the same paths as those who came before us. And those who will follow us. They take on different forms as the seasons evolve and our resources change. But they're generally timeless.

We hunt. We gather. We provide. We protect. And, then, when all of those things are settled, we pursue pleasure. With as much vigor as our circumstances will afford us.

Which explains why this middle class son of America's Golden age crawled along the Las Vegas Strip hours after Rage destroyed Sam Boyd Stadium that night. Drinking Brazilian rum. Until the sun reappeared. Signaling the opening of Del Taco. Where the breakfast burritos taste a special kind of delicious. And the only thing to rage about is the occasional absence of bar-b-que sauce.

Or, maybe, why the next Rage show isn't scheduled for tomorrow night.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

West Up: Act II: Highway 1

I lived in LA for five years. While I did, I traveled frequently to the Bay. Sometimes by plane. Sometimes by car. When by car, I always took the 5. Up. Then down. It's an efficient drive. Boring for the three hours that separate Bakersfield from the Pleasanton area. Generally unremarkable. Nothing, I suspected, like cruising along California's Highway 1. can guess where this story is going.

When I found out that my office would be closed for a couple days following the conclusion of the conference our whole staff was working in San Francisco during the third week of October, I immediately made plans to kick it in LA for the last week of the tenth month.

Since I didn't have any particular agenda or schedule, I figured I'd do what I never did while I had an 818 number for my landline: drive the coast.

Saturday, Oct. 20 was the glorious end of my conference. I celebrated pretty late that night. I remember some Jack Daniels Manhattans. A really pretty Thai girl. A bus where skinny people skated through the aisles handing out cans of Tecate. A statuesque Swedish chick. A handful of drink tickets that I showered on friends and strangers alike. Somewhere in there, I think I ate a whole pizza. Maybe.

Consequently, I was in fantastic shape the next morning when I showed up at the rental spot to scoop my cherry red '08 Grand Prix.

After I said peace to the homie Dom and the lady Mariam following a healthy breakfast surrounded by upright and fully clothed people, I jumped on the freeway and skated toward Highway 1. No traffic on a Sunday afternoon. Clear blue skies around me. Herbie Hancock in the CD player. And a rather mild headache to keep my company. I hit the 1 just shy of 4 pm.

Turns out that was less than a good look.

Highway 1 is not the 5. At all. It curves around on itself as if it wants to swallow its own tail. There are perilously low-lying stretches. And climbs along cliffs that don't know when to peak. Some places measure out at just barely two car widths. And it takes forever to drive it. Especially when you're hung over and extra-sleepy.

It also has some of the most spectacular scenery you'll ever see in your rear view mirror.

There's a place in Carmel where, if the sun hits it just right, the ocean reads denim. Like it's a big pile of blue jeans waiting to be folded. I've never seen anything like it.

I am not entirely sure how I survived the first six hours of the drive. I do know that Marlena Shaw will never sound so sweet again. And I know that I owe the homie Mike at least three beers for driving the last leg of the trip while I was knocked out in the passenger seat.

Mike and I had made arrangements earlier in the week for me to scoop him up near Cambria. Which is about four hours north of LA. And very close to the Hearst Castle.

He gave me directions which seemed easy enough to follow. In the sleepy darkness, though, I ended up getting lost. Fortunately, there was Highway 1, two different roads trailing off the 1 and the Pacific Ocean. Since I sorta knew better than to drive into the sea, I got unlost pretty quickly.

Just as soon as I did, I heard this strange pop while trying to turn onto the correct road. Stopped the car. Jumped out. A hissing sound from the right front of the car cracked the silence.

No sooner did "Sonofabitch" come off my lips than a random truck wearing a surfboard screeched up beside me.

"Are you a friend of Mike's?"

"Yeah. You got a flat?"

Shook my head yes. Watched the goateed stranger grab a flat tire repair kit from his car and go to work. Phone rang.

"Mike? What's up man? I got a flat, but your dude is johnnyonthespot gettin' it fixed."

"My dude?"


"Uh, my friend Phil is supposed to be in LA right now."


"Let me call you back, Mike."

I asked the Samaritan surfer which Mike he knew. Turns out there are several people on earth who share that name. Thankfully, he had already fixed the tire on my rental when we figured out that we shared nothing in common but serendipity and facial hair.

I shook his hand firmly. Asked if I could make some gesture of gratitude. He smiled. Pointed me in the direction that I needed to travel. Climbed back into his truck. And disappeared.

I shook my head in disbelief and wondered if this little sidebar could get any stranger.

Mike was staying at a ranch house tucked behind an avocado grove on his friend's 400-acres of farm land. The one road that wound through it looked like someone was still trying to learn cursive. It was dark. Country dark. Where the only lights to guide me were the stars in the sky and my own headlights.

As I crawled along, I noticed some creatures standing in the road ahead of me. I slowed. Squinted my eyes. Double-taked at what appeared to be four striped, little horses. I stopped inches away from them. Headlights yelling on my behalf.

Those aren't striped, little horses. Those are f--kin' zebras!

Zebras, dude. Seriously.

It wasn't the hungover. It wasn't the fatigue. It wasn't any part of my mind playing tricks on me. There were f--kin' zebras in the middle of the road. In California.

I got out the car. They trotted away. Phone rang again.

"Mike, where in the hell are you staying, man?"

He laughed a big, knowing laugh.

30 minutes later, he was behind the wheel of the rental explaining that the there used to be a zoo on the Hearst Estate and that they had set a lot of the animals free some time ago to roam the ample farmland neighboring it.

I shook my head again in disbelief.

"Dude, zebras?"

"Yep. Zebras."

Monday, November 12, 2007

West Up: Act I: The Castro

After I landed at SFO nearly a month ago to start a two-week working trip on the West Coast, the homie Dom scooped me up and took me to a dope Indian restaurant in the East Bay. A rare unbooked afternoon for both of us meant that we could do one of several things:

a) dig for records
b) watch some college football
c) have an adventure
d) all of the above

I always vote for "have an adventure," so that's pretty much what happened.

A pretty little Asian birdie told me about href="">this chess tournament. With the Wu Tang Clan as the top seeds in the competition, it made for a gen-yoo-wine curiosity. Which, of course was something Dom and I had to check out. The tournament was actually organized and hosted by Joel Waitzkin. OKA the kid from Searching for Bobby Fischer. Apparently, that dude had befriended the RZA, tutored him in the ways of the chess master and asked the beatmaker to do him a solid and headline this touring chess tourney. Which was actually a slick promotional crusade to sell this self-help book.

Dom figured all of that out shortly after I watched RZA withstand a vicious series of attacks--both knights to get RZA's queen, then both bishops, then both rooks before such an offense left a gaping hole RZA checkmated his opponent through--from one of those obnoxiously anonymous fourth generation members of the Wu. Youknow. The ones who no one knows who they are, don't actually have any records to their names, but still claim the Clan like it's a government check.

Anyway, that should have been the surreal start to the West Coast trip. But it wasn't. Not even close.

It was all merely a prelude to Sunday. So, let's talk about Sunday.

Dom and I started the day at the Gold's Gym nestled on the shores of Lake Merritt. Chest and back. Some ab work, too. About an hour afterwards, he said he hated me. And repeated that mantra for the next four days. But I digress.

We drove into the City, scooped up my dude Joe and headed for the Haight for an afternoon of records, t-shirts and bar-b-que. Well after the moon digested the sun, we found ourselves in the basement of a record store in North Beach when the homie Nick bounded down the stairs.

I've always known Nick to be a rather outsize personality. And I stopped being surprised by him years ago. 'Round about the time that I figured out it was best to limit questions, follow him and see what happens. For better or worse.

Nick works for the Drake. So he took us to his hotel for some drinks. He introduced us to Pazzo. Possibly the best red bottled in Northern California. In 2003. And 2004, too. Then he made sure our foursome put the "d," the "r," the "u," and the "n" in "drunk." Then he lead us to Club Six where the Beat Junkies were celebrating DJ ShortuKut's birthday. If you're not sure what that means, let me translate: five of the dopest DJs in the world went to the same club on the same night in the same city to take turns spinning the best selection of party music anyone could ask for. That should mean the club was packed and all sorts of good-natured debauchery ensued.

I wish I could tell you that's what this story was about. Of course, it is not.

The club was quite sausage-like. 70-30. Dudes-Chicks. At best. Never a good look. Thankfully, they have this drink called the San Francsico Tea. A concoction rated above the Long Island Ice Tea and even the Tokyo Tea in its effyouupability. After a couple of rounds of the City's finest beverage, the four of us added a "k" and several other mismatched letters to the "drunk" we began earlier in the evening.

After last call, Nick said we had to try this breakfast spot in the Castro. 3 am equals breakfast time. So that made perfect sense. And the food beared that out. A turkey bacon, spinach and swiss omelette tastes good under any circumstances. Especially delicious when you're buzzed and starting an adventure.

Just before the -itis could fully kick in, we paid our check and headed for the door. I recalled that the place happened to be named The Squat and Gobble. Clever. Seasonally appropriate. And terribly, terribly prescient.

Yousee, when we walked through the door of the breakfast spot, we found ourselves on 16th. A major surface street in San Francisco. Much closer to dawn than midnight. Very little car traffic. Virtually no people traffic. Less than 50 feet from our parked car.

I looked to my right. Oh so casually. To see a dude. Seated on the ground. His back against the wall of a building that kept normal business hours. Another dude stood over him. Pants around his ankles. Ass to the wind. Head tilted back. Moaning like he worked for Vivid Video. Enjoying some fine sidewalk dome.


I think each of my foursome took turns exclaiming the obvious. Sounding notes of disbelief, outrage and desperation. We didn't trust our eyes at first. Then we didn't believe the brazenness of the fellater and the fellatee. Hell, they were no more than 25 feet from a discreet alley. And then we all wanted to acidwash our memories to unsee that whole scene. Alas, there was not a Haitian among us.

So we did the only thing that was left to do: laugh boisterously, speed off to our homes and pass out.

We laughed some more the next day. And the day after that. Shared the story with a couple people. And pledged never to speak of it again.

Obviously, I knew this this trip was going to be a memorable one. For some much better reasons than the inspiration for this entry. I hoped.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

West Up: The Prologue

There's a big gap between here and here when I wasn't paying any attention to this thing. With good reason.

I spent the second half of October bouncing around the West Coast (the Bay, LA and Vegas). Primarily 'cause my dayjob required that I work this little design conference.

Well, actually, it was anything but little. 2,000+ industrial designers from all over the world. Running up and down Nob Hill. Exploring every nook and cranny of San Francisco.

As a staff member, I was one of the lucky few who got to work the show. Five straight days of 6am to 2am. Work hard. Play harder. Survive hardest. Do it all over again the next day.

That was the first week. Second week involved chilling at the beach in LA. Before the trip ended in Sin City.

There are dozens of little stories that comprise the full tale of my trip. But there are three entertaining poles that prop up the tent of my West Coast sojourn.

Those are forthcoming. C...A...

Monday, November 05, 2007

If I Was Justin Timberlake... next album would consist of 14 duets and it'd be called:

Dreams of Effin' an R&B Chick

It'd include one song each with:

Faith Evans
Alicia Keys
Keri Hilson
Maria Carey
Chante Moore
Anita Baker

I'd gather all those women for a 3-night run at the Apollo. I'd have my people put together a documentary about the making of the record and the concert itself. I'd release the whole package at the very end of March.

And I'd make at least 40 kadrillion dollars from all of it.

I mean, isn't that really what the Until the End of Time remix is a teaser for?

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

One Thought After the Start of NBA Season

While the Lakers did run out of time in last night's season opening loss vs. Houston, they did not look horrible.

Clearly, the Lakers weren't at full strength. But they did have most of the pieces available from the team that got to 30-19 last season before injuries decimated the hopes and dreams of Forum Blue wearers everywhere.

There was actually something uncanny about the way Kobe and therestofthem seemed to coexist. On offense, #24 and #everyoneelse seemed to know what spaces to fill and when to get the hell out the way. The defensive rotations looked pretty crisp at times. And the team showed a fair amount of fight despite slipping into lapses of generally sloppy play.

The Lakers aren't gonna get near the Larry O'Brien trophy this year unless they're looking at a photo from one of their previous championship runs. But this team may not be awful after all.

Fingers crossed.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

One Last Minute Pre-Season NBA Thought

Technically, the very first game of the 2007-08 NBA season is in the books.

Not surprisingly, it resembled the very last game of the 2006-07 NBA season. A San Antonio Spurs win. Ho. Hum. What else is on TV?

But wait, this quickie entry isn't about bashing the Spurs. It's about the last, best, desperate hope for the Los Angeles Lakers.

Before the soap opera As the Kobe Turns becomes The Young and the Kobe-less, I'd like to suggest that the Buss family stop by Amoeba, pick up a dvd of The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh, orville some buttered reddenbacher and take a lesson from the 2nd best movie Julius Erving ever appeared in.

Pick a Zodiac sign. Any Zodiac sign that's compatible with #24. Hold open tryouts for players who share that sign. Negotiate buyouts for whomever is currently on the roster and isn't Zodiacally kosher. Then say a little prayer to the universe.

And hope that there are six legitimate Laker fans left six weeks from now.

'Cause this one--who officially jumped the broom only a season ago--feels like the guy whose wife gained 50 lbs before all the wedding bills were paid off.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Broken Cherry (Longest.Post.Ever.)

I broke my cherry today. (NOTE: Today = three days ago.)

Not that cherry. My Virgin Airlines (VA) cherry.

I am, of course, the 376,921st hack to make that joke the lead for a story. But that’s not what’s important.

What’s important is that I’ve never had a flying experience quite like I had on VX 0466 from IAD to SFO.

It began mundanely enough. The 8 AM was delayed. Turns out the redeye from SFO to IAD from the night before got caught in some weather. This is a problem ‘cause it appears that there are only two planes to service that route. I’m guessing that because there are precisely two flights going in either direction per day.

The passengers for VX0466 sat waiting at Gate 30. For two hours. A cute 22-ish Thai girl broke the delay with occasional updates to say that the plane had arrived. That unspecified maintenance was being performed. That said maintenance was still being performed. That the maintenance was complete. That paperwork was en route to clear the plane. That said paperwork was taking longer to process than should be expected. That we were almost done waiting. That we could board. At last.

(TANGENT: I think I was the only passenger who found her running narrative to be entertaining. Every other face I saw in the terminal was either frozen in sleep or tattooed with the iconic travel grimace that has become the uniform of sojourning Americans everywhere.)

I presented my boarding pass—one slip of glossy paper sized like an index card—and stepped into the lights. A Forum Blue illuminated the ceiling. A friendly magenta hovered over each seat. Both filtered through a clear purple divider separating first class from the masses in steerage.

I sat down in my leather seat and immediately started playing.

My knees didn’t touch the seat in front of me. A small miracle for a thigh that runs 27” from arse to kneecap. My elbow did, however, get stuck in the slot carved out of the arm rest allowing the user to access the removable handheld control for the in-seat entertainment center. I never quite got comfortable with that second one. But I only paused for a moment to ponder that problem before I launched the interactive environment known simply as Red. (Word to Laran Lee. Happy birthday kiddo.)

There are two ways to use Red: the touch screen and the remote control. Since I’m battling carpal tunnel syndrome, I opted for the touch screen. Though I did notice that the cursor activity on screen doesn’t keep up with how fast you may hit the navigation buttons on the remote. Nor does the remote navigation work intuitively. It’s close. But the touch screen is much more effective. There’s no confusing the machine when you’re using your own finger.

The menus consist of single action verbs that reflect the level of engagement VA seems to be going for:

watch – Movies and TV
listen - Music
play - Games
talk – Chat feature
read – No idea
eat – Order food
shop – not sure ‘bout this one either

There was a kids play option for the can’t-drive-they-own-self set. As well as quicknav, info//help, media player and main menu buttons.

Talk, read and shop were disabled. Shame. Would have been cool to pull up the Washington Post or try to holla at the blonde 12 rows behind me. Ah well.

As I clicked through and figured everything out, I discovered a few things:

1) You can only use certain applications simultaneously (e.g. Can’t listen to music and play games at the same time, but can listen to music and scroll through other menus.)

2) The eat button stays conspicuously on screen while you’re watching TV.

3) Parental controls to allow grown folks to filter the rated content that will be made available to their little spongebobs. A polite note to be mindful of young eyes sitting next to you appears as part of the home page.

4) The interface contains elements of both the PC and the Mac experiences. Not sure hot that works, but that was my impression.

I also noticed that there was an outlet under my seat so I promptly plugged the G4 in and started building this gargantuan blog entry. [NOTE: There, apparently, are plans to install wireless internet. That was not available for the flight I took.]

Since I’m not a gamer, I didn’t spend much time learners-permitting the play section. I did, however, completely dissect both the watch and listen features. Before I did, though, I used the restroom. The lever to release the handsoap had a Method sign right above it. The only piece of non-VA branding I noticed on the plane.

On to the listen.

There are two options: music and radio.

Music acts as the jukebox. Most of the standard artists. Prince. The Dixie Chicks. Bob Dylan. Green Day. Earth, Wind & Fire. Nirvana. Mary J. Blige. Etc. Etc. Etc. Along with some eccentric choices. Mozart (+ a bunch of other iconic composers). Zappa, Tiesto, The School House Rock SDTK. Sun Ra. And Funkadelic. Well, Funkadelic is pretty standard on jukeboxes around the world, but I had to save the best for last.

In sum, the variety of genres and artists impressed me.

Except for the fact that not a single legitimate hip hop act placed anywhere in the catalogue. [NOTE: The Black Eyed Peas made the cut. But I did say legitimate.] There was no reggae either. Unless you count Sean Paul. [Robert Nesta Marley wherefore art thou?] And no world music of any sort—which is a strange disconnect from the options available in the radio stations. I’ll get to that in a second.

Rightfully pissed about the slight to the genre that made me, I built a playlist of some of my favorite artists who did make the cut. [No Rage either, homie. Can you believe it?] The playlist option works kinda like it does in your iPod. It’s clickable. Not quite as easy to edit, though. And completely at your discretion. I messed around and added some Funkadelic, James Brown, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye, Radiohead, John Lee Hooker, Prince and Nine Inch Nails. I really hope it survives for the next passenger. They’d inherit the sweetest seat on the plane.

Quick thoughts on a couple of those:

15 total Zeppelin songs. The usuals from from I, II, III and IV. Plus some tracks from "Presence," "Houses of the Holy" and "Physical Graffiti." Other than just Kashmir and Song Remains the Same. Sadly, though, no "Hots on for Nowhere."

James Brown on the other hand included nearly full disc of samplings from the double disc "40th Anniversary Collection." No "Down and Out in New York City."

Oh...and the Marvin Gaye failed to include anything from "Here, My Dear." For. Utter. Unforgivable Shame.

The other listen option, radio, acted as the standard pseudo-radio station that is to be expected from an airline. 20 channels including local stuff--The Sound of Va and Sounds of San Francisco--along with a fairly exotic selection of stuff like Mandarin Pop, Cantonese Pop, Korean Pop, Japanese Pop, Latin Pop. [This theme pops up again later, BTW.]

The Street Channel—which alleged to play hip hop and R&B—actually did so. The first song I heard when I selected it was Common’s “The People.” I also heard some Gnarls Barkley, Mos Def, Ne-Yo, De La Soul, Digable Planets. Lupe Fiasco. And Mary J. Blige. I abandoned the station like it was crazy-ass Howard Dean screaming “YAAAARGH!” as soon as the opening chords of “Umbrella” oozed into my ears. Overall, that station made me feel a little bitter for there being no hip hop artists in the library. But only a little. [NOTE: The radio feature does not provide song titles or artist names. Not a good look.]

All of that cruising around made me hungry. So I flipped over to watch some TV and ordered something to eat.

Very limited food selections. Three meals and four snacks. A cheese plate ($7). A mufaletta + salad ($8). Which was pretty small, though it came with a honey/almond/nugat Tobblerone for desert. And a pastry + yogurt ($6). There were also healthy snacks from the Archer Farms line. A cereal bar ($1). A cookie ($2). A nutbar ($1). A fruit roll-up (1). And buffalo wing chips ($2).

VA doesn’t accept cash. But it does have two in-seat touchpoints for you to run your credit card. After you pick what you want, slide the plastic and press “Pay.” An attendant delivers your order within 5 minutes or so.

I munched on my mufaletta while watching "Boyz N the Hood" on TNT. The sandwich was decent. But I became increasingly less interested in it as a problem began to plague my Red.

A dialogue box popped up on my screen reading “Airplay Error/Fork failed (error 12: Cannot allocate memory).” I clicked okay. It disappeared. Then popped up 45 seconds later. This routine played out a half dozen times before I summoned an attendant. She appeared pretty quickly and volunteered to reset my seat. Five minutes later, everything was functioning as it should.

Back to the watch. This feature offered five choices: movies, music videos, tv, premium tv and multi-lingual tv. TV, first.

22 total channels including 4 espns, cartoon network, cnbc, IFC, CNN, E, Discovery, USA, BET, Current, and Disney, but no MTV. [NOTE: That struck me as curious, too.)

As for the Movie...25 movies available at $8 a pop. Also intriguing for its variety. Ocean’s 13, Shrek the Third, Spider-Man 3, And the third Pirates of the Carribean. But also: Waitress, Breach, Disturbia and The Lives of Others (won an oscar for best foreign language film last year). Along with some random Anime, and a couple of Chinese language films (one Mandarin and one in Cantonese), As well as a Spanish and Korean language film [NOTE: What? No Bollywood love?]

Plus something called—a collection of 20 shorts made by film students. I watched about half of them. A few stood out:

Tangent—knock off Twenty Bucks, but really skillfully done
55: A Meditation on the Speed Limit – ill project to measure effectiveness of speed limit
The Importance of Playing Yardball—kind of amatuerusih, but had a lot of haeart and was structurally sound

And then there was Cocaine: The Musical.

It was terrible and cheesy. The good kind. Where you can’t help but laugh. And sing along with choruses like this:

“Man, this coke is really good. Man, this coke is really good.”

There's not much you can follow that with. There is, of course, the cheesy "Man, this flight was really" good option. But, uh, I'm not gonna do that.

I'll just leave this post here. I will update it eventually. Probably with some pictures. For now, this mini-novella will have to do.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Gossip v. News

I am no fan of the 24-hour newscycle.

By nature, it amplifies events that really aren't worthy of our collective attention in order to fill time and space. And it tends to extend the lifespan of those events well past their reasonable expiration date. The end result is that news devloves into mere gossip. And gossip miraculously morphs into news.

Take, for example, Kobe Bryant.

Unless you've been searching for Osama Bin Laden underneath a rock on the surface of Mars, you probably saw his name in a headline or two this past summer. He demanded a trade. Then rescinded the demand. Then made the demand again. Sort of. Then went quiet while setting the competitive tone for Team USA as it steamrolled through the Tournament of the Americas.

Somewhere in there was some news. Maybe it was the absurd arc of trade demands. Maybe it was the basketball played in Vegas. Maybe it was just the fact that a famous person did something. Anything.

Then, yesterday, folks started talking about what Jerry Buss said.

Which, to any mildly intelligent person, is simple, obvious and the most profoundly common of senses. The kind that doesn't need to be spoken to be known.

A bit like the episode of The Simpsons when Lisa declares herself a vegetarian.

I can't find the clip on youtube, but I did find this weird German web site with a partial transcript. In the relevant scene, Lisa is being taunted by her classmates about her love of vegetables. Her friend Janey asks, "Lisa, are you gonna marry a carrot?" A frustrated Lisa responds, "Yes, I'm gonna marry a carrot." To which all the other kids starting singing, "She admitted it! She admitted it!"

When I read through the "story" about Dr. Buss expressing his willingness to consider trading Kobe and the ensuing difficulty of the business proposition, I felt like someone was asking the Lakers owner if he was going to marry a carrot. Everyone who picked up the story had to recognize the superfluous nature of the question and/or comment. But very few could resist the urge to carp about the admission.

[TANGENT: Is it just me or is the word "admitted" becoming more and more popular among mainstream media reports? Can someone do a study on that or point me to one? Thanks.]

The Jerry Buss story isn't really news. It's not hard and fast gossip either. Its more along the lines of filler. Which, of course, begets more filler. Hours and pages analyzing the admission. Then Kobe's response. Then more analysis. Then Shaq's response. Then more analysis. Who knows how long the tail of this "story" will extend?

There is, however, news to report from the NBA.

Kenyon Martin might be back. I'm no Nuggets fan, but that team has too much talent not to be paid attention to. For better or worse, K-Mart's ability to get his game back will be the centerpiece of their story this season. My money says the Bearcat is gonna beast through this season. Which will be very good for Denver. Bad for the rest of the league.

If you're not interested in talking about the game itself, then there is other news for you about Gilbert Arenas. Apparently, he cheats at Halo 3. Which is entirely forgivable. Though he probably oughta set up an event to prove himself. Som'em for charity maybe?

Oh...and the countdown to the opening tip of the new season is officially underway. Oct. 30 is right around the corner.

Hopefully, it will bring us more news than gossip.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

A Double Fortune

Two weeks ago, I spent the weekend drinking my way through Columbus, Ohio.

Two days ago, I took a redeye flight back to IAD from OAK following a weekend at the SF Doc Fest.

Today, I opened a fortune cookie that contained two little slips of paper. The first one said:

"You are one of those people who 'goes places in life.'"

No shit, Sherlock. The other read:

"A good time to finish up old tasks."

That one, I'll take. 'Cause I've got this cinematic albatross that's been hanging around my neck for seven years. And counting.

In the good news department, though. It's almost all the way done. Really. Like to the point that it actually has a release date. [SPRING 2008.]

It just needs a lil' more work to get there. As in paperwork. And commentaries.

But, first, I gotta pack this bag for my next trip next week.

The Blind Leading the Broke

No one will mistake Iraq for Disneyland anytime soon.

From what I gather, things are pretty bad there.

So bad that a blind man is leading the charge to get food and supplies to the people whose needs are most dire. NPR has the story.

Then again, perhaps that is a sign of hope.

[Bad pun alert!]

One way or another, we'll see.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

I Used to be a Poet

Like a lot of kids raised on hip hop, I took a turn at writing poetry. I dabbled in college. But really cranked out some grade A crap at the dawn of the 21st century following a nasty break-up.

The early stuff was kinda emcee-ish. Thankfully, all of it has been lost.

The later stuff was mostly cheap therapy. From 2001-2004, I posted a lot of it here.

Honestly, there were genuine flashes of brilliance. But I never felt like I found my own voice. Reviewing my own stuff often revealed my poems to be an exercise in imitating everyone from Charles Bukowski to Gil Scott Heron to whomever was appearing on Def Poetry Jam.

When I left LA in '05, I stopped writing. For various reasons. Mostly, though, 'cause I had nothing to say. And Langston Hughes always said, "The prerequisite for writing is having something to say."

Well, I still don't know if I have anything to say. Yet, here I am hacking away for all the world to see. Wouldn't you know it, I even tried to write a little poem the other day. Actually, I wrote it a couple months back. I just forgot about it until now.

"another anybody"

a hug

is a hug
is a hug
is a hug

except for

those embraces
that come

after the end

your favorite
has become

just another anybody.

(c) Tim Adkins, 7.14.07

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Snakes on a Wedding (With Strong Bad, Too)

Last weekend, I traveled to Columbus for three planned nights of drinking with a bunch of assholes I know from Ohio (plus one unplanned night shooting Jack Daniels with a ridiculously hot blonde from some other state) to help one lucky bastard celebrate the exchanging of vows with his new bride.

During the weekend, I can't tell you how many times we watched these two videos--or how we tripled over with laughter singing their songs and doing their dances.

Obviously, neither video is new. I think most of us had seen one or the other prior to the weekend. Though, I don't believe any of us grasped just how hilarious they could be. In tandem. When shared with fellow travelers. Friends and family. Drunk or sober.

I surely wouldn't expect anyone reading this entry to appreciate them to the degree all of us did. In the way that we did.

But that doesn't really matter, now, does it?

You can't explain a good time. Nor can you recreate it. It happens when it happens. Only a fool would deny it. Only a truly lost soul would apologize for it.

*Raises glass of water*

To good effin' times.

P.S. Congratulations B and Whit.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Keep Your Eyes on the Prize

Today is the day.

The day they march on Jena.

Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and the righteous hordes of justifiably pissed off Black folks from all points North, East, West and South.

But for what?

Early observations by the mainstream media sound simultaneously invigorating and frustrating.

A 21st Century Civil Rights Movement? Say word.

I s'pose Jena is as good a catalyst as any. Yet, I wonder how many folks are able to grasp what's really at the heart of the most recent and egregious example of "Southern Justice"?

It's not merely about the noose. Or even whether the kids should be tried as jueveniles or adults.

The trouble in Jena, LA stems from the gross disparities in how differently pigmented kids are charged and punished for similar crimes.

Yes, there was a tree. And, yes, there was a noose. There was also, as we now know, a group of Black kids who beat up a White kid and were consequently charged with attempted murder. That happened in December of last year. Well after the tables had been reversed on at least one occasion. Peep this excerpt from the Washington Post story linked to above:

"White partygoers attacked a black student in one clash but were not charged, according to police statements. The next day, the same black student and some friends spotted one of his attackers and, they said, chased him. The students told police that the white student pulled an unloaded shotgun but they wrested it away. The student who pulled the weapon was not charged. But police arrested the students who took it on theft charges."

If the Black attackers had been treated in the same fashion as the White attackers, there wouldn't be a post on this blog about the biggest little town in Louisiana. Hell, there wouldn't even be a Jena 6.

(I will not even address how asinine it is to charge one kid with theft of a firearm while the kid who drew the firearm goes uncharged.)

Yet, after reading through some of the coverage and hearing people talk about the cause, I worry that this point is being lost.

I hope that someone will refocus the conversation. That there will actually be a conversation instead of the shoutfests that traditionally ensue when sexy soundbytes are left alone to tell a story.

I hope that the kids in Jena get a fair shake. All the kids in Jena.

And I hope that the righteous hordes are celebrated more for their critical than for their mass.

Lord knows the prize is still waiting to be realized.