Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Porn, child!

Previously on The Tax On Stupidity:

...I became abnormally obsessed with escalator velocity...
...I pooped shitloads (ha! Get it?)....
...I drank a bottle of gin in one sitting. I think.

Back to Spain. Let's continue my list of insultingly presumptuous and ignorant observations:

6. You'll never be remiss
If you take an extra piss.

This isn't specific to Spain, but it is something I found myself pondering quite a bit whilst in Spain. If I do nothing else with this life--and it's safe to say I have not--I hope that couplet someday becomes a well-worn proverb, like "Beer before liquor, your ass will get thicker." Wait, is that how it goes? Come to think of it, I'm not so good with the proverbs. Anyway, some alternatives:

You'll never end up sadder
If you empty out your bladder.

Just one preemptive pee
Helps you live more happily.

This was eminently noticeable in Spain because we often spent entire days walking around without returning to the hotel. And when you spend an entire day roaming around haphazardly in an unfamiliar area, you quickly realize what a precious resource restrooms actually are. Or more to the point, you realize what a precious resource they are when you CAN'T FIND ONE and you're hit with the epiphany that you reeeeally should've used the restroom in the cafe you left an hour earlier. All of this is my way of saying that when you're traveling; or about to get in a car or train for a while; or definitely when you've been tailgating before a Bills game and you're heading to the Ralph, which seems like not that long a walk but trust me, it takes a lot longer than you might expect, especially when you get to the gate and find a thousand other drunk assholes waiting to get patted down by the two security guards (each of whom will only check those of the same gender); you will ABSOLUTELY want to pee one more time while you have the chance. I postulate that nobody has ever regretted using a restroom "just in case." Even the most disgusting port-a-potty is better than walking around with a bladder that looks like it's in its third trimester for an hour. Or pissing yourself.

Is anyone still reading? Oh well.

7. Porn! On! Network! TV!

So the first night we were in Spain, I was channel surfing. It was a little after midnight, and I was looking for news about how the Dow had completely nosedived (nosedove?) even though, you know, the fundamentals of our economy were strong.

Soap opera, crappy action movie dubbed in Spanish, soccer, hard-core 2-on-1 pornography, news...

Wait, what?

Yeah, at night the Spaniards show porn on network TV. Not on the pay channels or even on cable; the same stations that show the news in the afternoon and sitcoms in the evening show porn at night. And I'm not talking the soft-core Skinemax stuff, either. Normally in order to get this kind of porn you have to go to the back room of the video store blocked off by a purple velvet curtain with a bunch of pale, greasy loners who haven't showered in four days and who quite possibly have drawn up plans to kidnap the cute girl at the cash register. Or you have to spend thirty seconds on Google. Uh, not that I would know or anything.

The Rebel, fortunately, was reading and didn't notice me watching porn, so naturally I took the opportunity to change the channel with her none the wiser.

Except I totally didn't, and exclaimed, "Sweet! Porn!"

There are moments in every relationship where you hit a fork in the road. Sometimes the two of you gladly choose the same path. Sometimes you do it grudgingly. But sometimes, like Elsa and Rick in Casablanca, or Steve Perry and the chick with the "Brigitte Nielsen in Beverly Hills Cop 2" hairdo in the greatest video of all time,* you're forced to go your separate ways.

So The Rebel looked up, saw the porn that I was gleefully watching on Spanish network TV, and started laughing. Whew. Bullet, you have been dodged.**

Now, you might wonder how this is allowed, given that any kid could just stay up late and catch an eyeful of porn any old time. And that's a good question, one that I can't answer. Personally, I was more confused by the fact that news stands stocked their children's books right next to the tittie magazines. As with most countries I've seen (most recently, Brazil, Argentina, France, and Spain), they just seem less inhibited towards sex than we are, and I guess they figure that they should expose (ha!) kids to it, rather than shelter them from it and tell them it's immoral. Crazy foreigners. That probably explains why the teen pregnancy rate in the U.S. is so much lower.

Oh, wait.

8. Vowels are overrated.

You know how the U.S. doesn't have an official language, and all the conservatives are up in arms about how we should make English the official language? Well, Spain is a good example of why we shouldn't bother, because Spain DOES have an official language (that would be Spanish, Pete), and the situation is STILL all fucked up. We visited three cities in Spain and all three spoke goddamn different languages. In Madrid, people spoke Spanish. In Barcelona, they spoke Catalan, which looks like Spanish mixed with Portuguese (which is itself fucked up, because (a) Portuguese sounds like Russian, for some reason and (b) Barcelona is on the end of Spain that DOESN'T border Portugal). And in San Sebastián, they spoke Basque, aka Euskara.

Basque is not related to Spanish. It's not related to Portuguese. It's not even related to French (the French border is very close to San Sebastián; and actually, the Basque region extends into France). In fact, it literally doesn't appear to be even distantly related to any other language on the freaking planet.

English: Restaurant
French: Restaurant
Italian: Ristorante
Spanish: Restaurante
Basque: Jatetxea

Jatetxea! Holy crap! One thing you notice about Basque is a prevalence of "tx" in its words. Or at least its food-related words. The Basque version of tapas is called pintxos. The Basques serve a slightly fizzy sweet white wine called txakoli. And while we were at a jatetxea eating pintxos with a glass of txakoli, we had a dish called txirristra (which translates to "the slide").

Txirristra?!?! That word clearly has a fucked-up consonant-to-vowel ratio. And let me say, now that I've offended any Basque speakers out there--and I'm sure there are plenty who read this blog***--I don't mean to mock the Basque language. If anything, I find it both fascinating and completely awesome that there's this language smack dab in the middle of France and Spain that is completely unrelated to anything else on earth, let alone French or Spanish. It's just that, well, when you're visiting Spain and you already don't speak particularly good Spanish, the last thing you need is another absolutely unfamiliar tongue to worry about. It was bad enough that we were strolling around the Basque country with gastroenteritis, crapping the Rubicon; tossing the Basque language into the mix was an exercise in linguistic Pilates that I just wasn't equipped to handle. After four days in San Sebastián, with all the tx's and double r's and unaccustomed use of z's, I was convinced that if a Basque spoke his name in reverse he'd return to the fifth dimension.****

I think it's safe to say President Obama won't be naming me U.N. ambassador anytime soon.***** President George probably would have, though.

9. "First class" in Spain = "World Famous" here.

To get from San Sebastián to Barcelona, we took a train. They don't have high-speed rails on that route yet, so the trip was estimated to last ten hours. Well, we figured we'd take the overnight train and sleep the entire way, with the obvious stipulation that we'd travel first class. I had no desire to travel in a six-seater with no beds and four random strangers.

I bought the tickets online from RENFE, the Spanish national train network. Trying to navigate through the RENFE website when you don't speak Spanish is like trying to buy steaks at a crooked butcher shop while wearing a blindfold. You're bewildered the entire time, you can't be sure you're getting what you want, and there's a good chance you'll be covered in animal blood when it's all over. I finally determined that "first class" translates to "preferente" in Spanish. (In Basque, it's "ztxrrstrxjzkbrra.")

Well, we got on that train, and when we found our "preferente" cabins, not only were they the worst cabins on the train, they might've been the worst cabins on the face of the planet. It was just six visibly and smellably (not a word) filthy seats facing each other. No beds. No separate washbasin, which is what was advertised on the RENFE website. The damn thing looked like a flophouse for crack addicts working in the fertilizer industry. You know your room sucks ass when you say, without a hint of irony, "Well, at least there's no feces on the floor."

After that miserable train ride was finally, mercifully over, we looked at the actual first class cabins--the ones that did come with beds and private washrooms and complimentary breakfast, rather than our version of first class which were apparently converted livestock troughs and came with complimentary stench--we determined that the ACTUAL first class was called "Gran Clase." There was no option for Gran Clase on the RENFE website. I would gladly have paid more for the Gran Clase; I was simply never given the option. You hear me, RENFE? DUMB AMERICANS LIKE ME WILL PAY MORE for the ability to lie down and not smell like dog breath after traveling. Your website is truly preferente.

10. Coldplay sucks.

Walking around Barcelona's Barri Gòtic, a.k.a. the old, medieval part of town, we stumbled upon a bar which advertised that it would be showing NFL football that night. FOOTBALL! Even better, they were showing my Bills play the Chargers (note--this was way back when I was laboring under the delusion that the Bills were actually good). We made a note to go back and watch the game, since we'd been in Spain for well over a week by then and I was getting desperate for some good ol' NFL action. We were staying in a different part of town but for the ability to watch football, I was willing to make the trip.

So at 7PM Barcelona time, 1PM Eastern Standard Time, we journeyed back to the same bar and settled in for some choreographed violence interspersed with meetings, a.k.a. football. After an interminably long commercial break, they finally started showing--FOOTBALL!!! YEAH BABY, FOOOOOOOOTBAAAAALLL!!!! GO, FC BARCELONA, GO--

Wait, WHAT THE FUCK!?!?!?

Despite their claims to the contrary, this bar was showing fùtbol, not football, specifically the FC Barcelona-Athletic Bilbao game. WHAT?!?! YOU FUCKING LIARS!!!!! I ran outside to look at the sign again, and yeah, it boldly said "NFL football, Bills/Chargers," not "We're thinking about showing NFL football, Bills/Chargers, but we're a bunch of lying bastards and we're showing soccer instead."

Listen, I like soccer. In fact, I like soccer about as much any American possibly can like soccer. I'll even call it "football" when I'm hanging around soccer fans. But dammit, when I want to watch NFL football, I want to watch NFL football. Soccer is a lot of things, but the NFL ain't one of them.

Finally, after searching on my iPhone for a while, I determined that it wasn't actually the bar's fault--there was a power outage in Buffalo and NOBODY could get the game. So the bar showed the soccer game instead.

"Okay, fine," I thought. "This game is almost over; once it's done and the power goes back on in Buffalo, they can switch to the Bills game."

So I patiently waited--by "patiently" I mean "not patiently, frantically reloading the Bills score on my iPhone every other minute despite the sick-to-the-point-of-perversity data roaming charges"--until the FC Barcelona match ended. The second it did, I started staring at the bartender, using the Jedi mind trick to get her to pick up the remote and switch channels since there was still a full half left to go in the Bills game. Which she did--she glanced at the screen, saw the soccer game was over, picked up the remote, and changed the channel.... a COLDPLAY CONCERT.

This bar claimed it was going to show NFL football, and instead it showed soccer and a cocksucking sonofawhoring holy dammit Christmas Coldplay concert. Are you fucking kidding me? In what universe does Coldplay stand in for football? In what universe does Coldplay stand in for ANYTHING other than the soundtrack of a Very Special, Virginity-Losing Episode of "Dawson's Creek"? I disliked Coldplay even before this debacle; now, I hope they get trampled by a herd of rampaging aardvarks.

11. Endings are hard.

It occurs to me now that I have no neat package-wrapping way to end this entry. I should really work on crafting satisfying conclusions, you know? The End.

* Have I linked to this video before? Why yes, yes I have. And I will continue to link to it until its singular kickassedness has spread to all the corners of the globe. I used to dislike Journey, then I started liking them ironically, and then I got to the point where I so thoroughly liked them ironically that I just liked them, period. "But G-man," you may be saying, "this makes no sense, because Journey is, how you say, lame." I will stipulate that Journey is lame, but allow me to further hypothesize that Journey can be both lame and also fucking balls-out awesome at the same time. And if you disagree, then I hate you and hope you swallow a bug.

** In hindsight, The Rebel's reaction should not have come as a surprise. Not because she's obsessed with porn, which, as far as I know, she isn't. It shouldn't have come as a surprise because she tends to be less prissy than one would expect from a Southern belle. True story: a few years ago we visited New Orleans for JazzFest. We arrived in the morning around 10, and immediately went to Central Grocery for a muffaletta. Well, the soda machine was broken, so naturally, The Rebel suggested we hit the frozen daiquiri place next door--if you've never been to New Orleans, they have these frozen daiquiri places all over, where they have a line of machines with differently flavored frozen drinks, most of them made with grain alcohol. They should really call them Hangover In A Cup, only you get the added bonus of brain freeze while you're drinking them.

So we each ordered a medium one--I think I got a Hurricane and she got a margarita--and these "mediums" were the size Big Gulps. Yeah. It was maybe 10:45am, our very first moments of our very first day in New Orleans. Then the bartender said, "You get a free shot with that, too!" And as I said, "Holy crap, I really didn't need to get myself blasted at ten-freaking-forty-five in the morning on the very first day," The Rebel exclaimed, "Cool! I'll have a Blowjob!"

Yeah. That's my girl, right there.

*** According to Wikipedia, there are a little more than one million Basque speakers in the world. There are six billion people in the world, so that means 0.016% of the world speaks Basque. And since I estimate there are 6,000,000,000 minus 5,999,999,997 people who read this blog, that means 1/2000th of a person reading this blog speaks Basque.

**** That's right, a Mr. Mxyzptlk reference. 'Cuz that's how I roll, bitch.

***** Regarding the election: WOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Getting a Hamjob

The Rebel and I just got back from Spain, where we visited Madrid, San Sebastián, and Barcelona over the course of two weeks. It's the absolute height of arrogance to presume one can even superficially understand an entire country based on a two-week visit, so of course I'm going to do precisely that. I'm Amurrican, dammit, we're number one! Lemme list a few observations, beginning with what is by far the most profound and interesting:

1. Spain has the slowest freaking escalators I have ever seen.

We flew into Madrid's Barajas airport, terminal 4, which was designed by Antonio Lamela and Richard Rogers (this means something to people who understand architecture, which is a Venn diagram that would not include me), and looks like a giant Cirque du Soleil backdrop. I don't mean that as a dig. It's beautiful, easily the best-looking airport terminal I've ever seen. It's also absurdly, terrifyingly ginormous, and when you've just gotten off an overnight flight--in coach--that followed a four-hour layover in JFK,* and on this flight there were kids screaming the entire time, and I do mean screaming, like "cats stuck in a running blender" screaming, after all this the only thing you want out of an airport is the ability to exit as quickly as possible.

The sheer grandiose size of Barajas makes this impossible, architectural beauty be damned, and after you've walked what seems like the distance from Marathon to Athens just to get out of your gate, you then, in order to get to Customs, have to deal with the slowest freaking escalators ever seen. It's like the Spaniards set the escalators to "mosey." And since you're in Europe, nobody would ever think of walking on an escalator (Europeans have two, and only two, things in common with obese Midwestern tourists: one, they don't budge on escalators, and two, they still chain-smoke), so you get to fester in your own just-spent-twelve-hours-traveling B.O. moving at whatever the opposite of the speed of light is. When we finally returned to D.C., I was so accustomed to molasses-speed escalators that the Metro escalators looked like goddamn belt sanders by comparison. It wasn't just the airport escalators in Spain, either. Museum escalators, department store escalators, all seemed to move so slowly that walking up the stairs was the quicker option no matter how out of shape you were. Which brings me to number two.

2. Madrid is the least-fat city I've seen outside of Asia.

Around my third day in Madrid, I realized I had yet to see a fat person. NOBODY was fat. It wasn't until a day later that I finally saw a fattie (a tourist, naturally), and even he was just pudgy (he was a Spanish tourist, not an American one). Or, to be blunt, "average" by American standards. (Or, to be even more blunt, "anorexic" by "jackass tourists at Woodley Park blocking the sidewalk as they wait for the bus to the Zoo because the tubby bastards refuse to walk three blocks" standards.)

Most of this was probably because we visited during off-peak season and thus didn't see very many tourists in Madrid (Barcelona, which was still pretty touristy, was another matter completely), but that still raises the question of how the locals of Madrid were so non-fat. I imagine smoking has something to do with it, since a good third of the people there smoked, but that doesn't explain the two-thirds who didn't. Besides, if it were simply a function of smoking, then the sections of America with the highest smoking rates (the Midwest and the South) would logically be the thinnest. They ain't.

Honestly, I kinda think it's the tapas that does it. Or more accurately, the "tapas tour." In Madrid you go to a tapas bar, have a drink and one or two tapas--a few bites, really--and then you walk to another bar and repeat the process. See, each bar has one particular dish that they're known for, so you just focus on that dish when you're there, then go someplace else and get whatever the specialty is over there. Not only are you combining some walking with your eating, you also give more time for your stomach to let your brain know that you've eaten (this ain't something I made up--for whatever reason, it takes the brain twenty minutes to realize the stomach is full, which is why it's so easy to stuff yourself silly without realizing it, and is further evidence that if the human body really was designed by some higher power, then that higher power did a piss-poor job of it).

That's the only explanation for their unusual thinness I can think of, because it's obviously not the food itself that keeps them thin, inasmuch as the food was usually either (a) fried, (b) swimming in oil, or (c) topped with jamón ibérico de bellota, aka ham, although calling it "ham" is like describing Olivia Wilde as "not entirely unpleasant to the eyes." Oh, God, the jamón. They take a special breed of pig that feeds on acorns as it freely roams the oak forests of southwestern Spain, then they cure the legs for three years. The result is an unbelievably rich, smoothly textured ham, with velvety bands of fat that melt in your mouth like the finest butter. It's like prosciutto di Parma, except that by comparison, prosciutto di Parma tastes like something you'd use to pad a jockstrap. They sold the jamón everywhere, too, as in scads of hanging legs of jamón, coquettishly winking, teasing, fondling me until I'd burst in exuberant ham-gasm.

It's somewhat possible I've shared too much.

Where the hell was I? Oh yeah--the food. My conclusion is that they've simply adopted a style of eating that just happens to keep the pounds off, because the food itself is, well, incredible, but at the same time, in no way does it qualify as low-fat or low-calorie. Which leads nicely to point number three.

3. Never gorge yourself on foie gras the night before a six-hour train ride.

Our last night in Madrid, we did one last tapas tour in the neighborhood of Chueca. So at one tapas bar, I ordered something that looked fairly innocuous on the menu, which was a serving of pâté and foie gras accompanied by bread. Well, this thing came out, and it was friggin' huge, an entire dinner plate's worth, with three ice-cream-scoop-sized globs of pâté and foie gras, and the two pieces of bread were supplemented by, for some mystifying reason...potato chips.

I have no idea what it is with Madrid and potato chips. Every place we went, they had potato chips. At one cafe, we ordered hot chocolate (another Spanish specialty--just hunks of pure chocolate that they've melted into a gloriously unctuous chocolate goo--fucking awesome, I tell you), and goddamn if they didn't serve it with a bowlful of potato chips. At another bar, I ordered something called patatas fritas, thinking they'd be like the kickass patatas bravas you can get at Jaleo, and they gave me...a giant bowl, like a mixing bowl, of potato chips.

Anyway, we ate as much of this mound of pâté and foie gras as we could, which wasn't much because we were already an hour into our tapas odyssey, and also because three ice-cream-scoops of foie gras and pâté is a fucking lot of foie gras and pâté. I mean, nutritionally speaking, it's like eating three ice-cream-scoops of lard. So yeah, that ended up being our final stop on the tapas crawl.

Well, you'll never believe this, but shoveling heaps of meat butter down our gullets didn't sit too well. A few hours later, the Rebel was puking frenetically and vociferously, and I was emitting, uh, copious amounts of type seven on the Bristol scale.** And, whoopty-doo (heh--I said "doo"), the next morning we got to hop on a train to San Sebastián! Six hours, already nauseated, riding backwards! Huzzah!

Some background here. San Sebastián is in the Basque country, in the north of Spain. It's a small city of around 185,000 inhabitants, and although it's a gorgeous town--it sits on a cove, with a beach, surrounded by mountains, and bisected by a river, and let me note that many cities that tout their natural beauty only have one of those features, let alone four--the main reason most people visit is because of the food. San Sebastián reputedly has the greatest concentration of Michelin stars outside of Paris. (Other cities have more in total--New York, for example--but they're also way, way larger.) San Sebastián also has its own crazy version of tapas called pintxos. They're like tapas on crystal meth, and the method they use in San Sebastián is to put, by my rough estimate, forty zillion bajillion pintxos right on the bar, then let you pick them up yourself and eat right there. Payment is on the honor system.*** So, obviously, the ONLY reason we chose to go to San Sebastián rather than going south to Sevilla or Valencia was for the food. And we arrived in San Sebastián either vomiting or crapping something that looked like the Potomac**** or both. For three days, the sight of food was utterly nauseating. I couldn't keep anything down other than water and bread.


I can't stress this enough. Remember how John Elway played for 15 seasons, including three in which he lost the Super Bowl by increasingly gigantic margins, and then finally and ecstatically won the Super Bowl in the most dramatic way possible? Imagine if instead, he fumbled as he was running to score the winning touchdown, blew out his knee, cost the Broncos the win, and never played another down. That was me the first three days in San Sebastián. It all culminated when we went to Arzak, a storied restaurant, a Michelin three-star and therefore literally one of the best restaurants in the known universe...and I felt like puking the entire time. By the time we got to the meat course--a hunk of beef so incomprehensibly beautiful that a healthy me would've wanted to have sex with it--I was thisclose to retching all over the table. UNREAL. I actually had to leave meat uneaten. ME! Uneaten meat! (Heh--I said "uneaten meat.")***** For me to leave meat on my plate is astoundingly improbable, like "Cubs win the World Series" improbable. And it all goes back to that goddamn pâté.

4. Booze!

Let's say you're an American in Barcelona, and you decide to visit a bar called Dry Martini because you've heard it's one of the best bars in the world. Let's say you visit said bar and order your favorite drink, a Hendrick's gin and tonic. Let's say the bartender cracks some ice in a huge glass, and garnishes it with--Pete, you'll love this--a bias-cut slice of cucumber, which is how you're supposed to serve a Hendrick's and tonic although nobody ever seems to do it. Let's say he then begins pouring in the Hendrick's.

Let's say that then, he--wait, he's still pouring the Hendrick's.

Let's say that after he's done pouring the Hendrick's--wait, he's STILL pouring the Hendrick's.


See, it turns out that in Spain, when you order a mixed drink, the bartenders pour the liquor in and KEEP POURING until you bloody well tell them to stop. And they charge you the same price whether you tell them to put in the barest whisper of booze or fill the glass completely. Sadly, this information would've come in handy BEFORE I watched the bartender pour the gin until the glass was 99-hundredths full, only stopping when the BOTTLE WAS EMPTY, at which point he asked me if I still wanted MORE before noticing the Manson lamps I had going on at that point.

I'm kind of surprised I didn't see more frat boys in Spain, now that I think about it.

5. This entry is getting really excessively long.

And with that, I'm spent. More on Spain, featuring...
-porn on network TV
-gratuitous use of consonants
-unusual definitions of "first class", and
-the many ways in which I wish to execute the members of Coldplay a few days.

* Which, conversely, is the worst motherfucking airport currently in existence, and you could reasonably argue that O'Hare or McCarran or Hartsfield-Jackson or some bombed out airstrip in the Middle East is worse, but only JFK reminds me of the hedge maze from The Shining, except bumbling through JFK makes you want Jack Nicholson to kill you with an axe.

** I wouldn't click on this link if you're easily grossed out. Oh, wait, you probably clicked on it before you checked the footnote, huh? My bad.

*** This is why it would never work in America. When a waiter in the U.S. forgets to put a bottle of wine on the check, approximately 1% of diners are honest enough to point it out, and actually think they "deserve" to get the bottle for free. On Sietsema's chat once, someone wrote in saying that he discovered the waiter had left an item off the check, so he pointed it out to the waiter, only to have his dining companions berate him for it and make him pay the tip by himself because, in their monkey-brained opinion, he "screwed" them. Read that sentence again. A pintxos bar here would go out of business in about negative three seconds.

**** Uh, hope you're not eating lunch.

***** I am an unrepentant meat eater, as anyone who knows me will tell you, which is why it was hysterical when PETA mailed me--to my work address, no less--the "Vegetarian Starter Kit." What's the exact opposite of "preaching to the choir"? Because that's what sending me a Vegetarian Starter Kit would be. Anyway, although I'm a carnivore, I make one concession to respecting the animal, and that is: finish the meat. The animal died because of you, so the least you can do is respect that sacrifice and finish what's in front of you. I adhere to this no matter how bad the meat in question may be; I once received a steak so overly cooked I condemned it as an abomination and not of the Lord, but I still ate the damn thing.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Customer Always Sucks

Wednesday's Post has an article about the rise of high-end coffee bars in the D.C. area. Of the approximately four people (margin of error: four) who read this blog, at least one (hey, Charlotte!) discovered it after I wrote a post about my desperate search for a decent espresso. Naturally, exactly zero of these quality coffee joints are close to where I work or live, so good on ya, D.C. Thanks a fucking lot.

Anyway, this article focuses on coffee bars that strive to serve terrific coffee, as opposed to, say, the coffee served in the Starbucks-Au Bon Pain-Caribou triangle which I inhabit, all of which serve coffee that's best described as "functional." Their coffee does just a little bit more than the bare minimum--it feeds my pathetic caffeine addiction, and tastes better than, say, something out of a metal cube at 2:00am in a random Shell station off of I-95, but is hardly what you'd call great coffee. Like, if fresh-roasted espresso in a cafe in Nice is a Ferrari, and random interstate highway gas station swill is a rusted-out Pinto, then StarBonIbou coffee is a late-model Honda Civic. Hey, I'm fine with Honda Civics. They get me where I want to go in a reasonably pleasant manner. But they ain't no Ferrari.

Now, once I determined the Post article was a big ol' cocktease because none of the goddamn places were easily accessible to me, what interested me most was an account of this guy's experience at one of the aforementioned high-end coffee joints, Murky Coffee. Long story short--he asked for a triple espresso served over ice, the Murky guy refused, saying that espresso gets ruined when you pour it over ice, he got in an argument with the staff, and left a dollar with, and I quote, "FUCK YOU AND YOUR PRECIOUS COFFEE POLICY" written on it.

I'm honestly not sure how I would react as a customer in such a situation because I've never received what people generally refer to as "snooty" or "condescending" service. Sullen, desultory service? Of course--I go to CVS all the time. Rude service? Hell yeah, and I can't wait to get back to Peter Luger Steakhouse and experience it again, because those steaks fucking rule. But snooty or condescending? Never.

This is pretty bizarre, yes, because it's not like I avoid snooty places. When you eat like me and live in a town like D.C., you're gonna visit a few of them. Despite that, I really can't remember a time when a waiter or barista or anyone in the customer service business was just flat-out disrespectful. And I have a suspicion I know why that is.

I have, however, encountered snooty and condescending behavior before, and that occurred WAY too many of the times I tried to chat up a woman.* When you try to meet women you kind of get used to them treating you like crap, even when you're a hot tamale like me. (Editor's note--the "hot tamale" thing is sarcastic.) So I know just how embarrassing, infuriating, and ultimately disheartening it feels to have someone treat you like dirt just because they've arbitrarily decided you don't deserve to be treated decently.


In the Murky Coffee case, I can't side with the customer. I've written many times about how important it is to maintain quality and, dare I say it, a certain purity, especially when it comes to food. ESPRESSO DOESN'T GO ON ICE. KETCHUP DOESN'T GO ON A RIB-EYE. I hate it when people use the "customer is always right" defense and then accuse the establishment of snobbery. First of all, the customer isn't always right. Maybe this dickhead's next move was to go to his dry cleaner and sue them for $54 million for a pair of pants. Second, yes, it's snooty when someone who has dedicated many hours of study to perfecting espresso tries to tell you you're ordering yours incorrectly. But what do you call it when some ignoramus with no training or knowledge nevertheless insists he's "right" despite all evidence to the contrary? What do you call it when he says he's "right" because he's the customer, and servers are just slaves who should bend over and kiss his ass? Doesn't that sound a little, I dunno...SNOOTY AND CONDESCENDING?!?!?!?!

It's illuminating, for example, to check out the reader reviews on the Post's City Guide. If you pick out any establishment that's attempting to serve a higher quality of food or drink or provide a more upscale atmosphere, the reader ratings will always be low, and there will always be scads of complaints about "snootiness" and "attitude." What becomes clear after a while is this: Joe Schmoe isn't pissed off that the waitress think she's better than him. Joe Schmoe is pissed off because the waitress DOESN'T recognize that HE'S better than HER. There's a huge difference there. EVERYONE is a snob, but the people who get most infuriated by supposed snobbery are the ones who obviously think the world should accommodate their every whim, no matter how patently idiotic their whims happen to be. The people who are most offended by snobbery are the biggest snobs of all.

Why do the better establishments get judged so harshly? Because we live in a mediocre world. Chris Rock once described it like this--you take any class of thirty kids, you'll have five smart kids, five dumb kids, and the rest are in the middle. The typical person is has mediocre looks, is in mediocre shape, makes mediocre money, and is of mediocre intelligence. And nothing pisses off that typical person more than to see someone who's striving to be better than that, because that just shines a light on how mediocre s/he actually is. What's disgusting is that it's now more acceptable to tear down those who try harder than it is to actually try ourselves.

Anyway, as of this writing, the guy who freaked out at Murky got over 200 comments, mostly on his side--that is, the "Murky should be ashamed of itself" side. Perhaps this is a good time to mention that this same guy once wrote a post extolling the virtues of using McDonald's as pizza toppings. See, I complain a lot about declining standards of quality, about the inexorable encroachment of soulless, crappy chains and the "good enough to get by" mentality, and the thing is--I know I'm on the losing side. Every single day, a terrific mom-and-pop restaurant closes down and a Cheesecake Factory or Applebee's pops up in its place.

Which is why I don't understand the vitriol on the part of his supporters, the ones who want places like Murky burned to the ground. Listen, lovers of mediocrity--YOU'VE WON. You can walk down any friggin' block to get whatever crappy, attenuated version of formerly great products you want at Old Navy or Au Bon Pain or T.G.I. Friday's. You're really so selfish that you can't allow us purists--or snobs, if you prefer--the handful of quality places that are left? You have to take over the entire country like the Blob?

Well, yes, of course you do. That way everyone will eventually be EXACTLY THE SAME, and you won't have to try at all anymore.

Me, I love dives, but I also love temples of haute cuisine. I also try to respect whatever the owner and staff of any given bar/restaurant/store is trying to accomplish. The Pug on H Street is a laid-back bar that smells kind of weird; one where the bartender knows your name, you drink $3 Natty Bohs, and you can come dressed however you want. That's great. It's one of my favorite bars in the District. Komi is a fancy restaurant that cost over $350 for two people last time I went, where every plate is meticulously crafted and they describe ingredients as being "sourced" from an organic-sustainable-bioflooperiffic farm from some local idyllic paradise, and you know what? That's great too. It's one of my favorite restaurants in the District. And I love, and frankly envy, the passion of the owners of both. They both know exactly what they want their establishments to be, and they strive to accomplish it.

So if it sounds weird when I say I haven't received snooty service, it shouldn't. I just keep my expectations in line with what the place is trying to be. If I just wanted a caffeine boost but it was too hot to drink an espresso, I WOULDN'T GO TO MURKY COFFEE. I'd go to any of the bazillion places, literally steps away from Murky, that serve a bazillion-jillion iced coffee variations. For the record, I also wouldn't ask for deep-dish pizza at 2Amys, or hamburgers at a sushi restaurant, or Maker's Mark at a Mormon church. If I did want a high-quality, well-made espresso, however, I would go to Murky. And I'd thank the Flying Spaghetti Monster that there are still places that care enough to make them.

For now.

*[HUGE DIGRESSION/]: I don't actually know what any of you (possibly imaginary) female readers look like, so--you'll never believe this--I've decided that the typical female reader of my blog is searingly hot, and reads my blog in a candle-lit room, on a satin-lined bed, whilst wearing a sultry gaze and some of that complicated lingerie with the thigh-high stockings with clips that I've never actually seen in person and, frankly, don't believe actually exists, as a four-inch stiletto dangles suggestively off her foot and Marvin Gaye plays in the background.

It's somewhat possible I've shared too much.

Anyway, I know that as beautiful women, y'all get hit on several thousand times a day, and I, as a member of the gender that is tasked with doing the hitting-on, have just one request: Be gentle. Remember how you felt when a boyfriend you thought you were falling for dumped you out of the blue? That's pretty much what it's like for us, every single time we approach a woman and she cruelly shoots us down just because she can. Of course, I'm not referring to the those dudes in shiny shirts using lines like "Are you from Tennessee? Because you're the only ten I see" who apparently just swam a 400-meter backstroke in a pool of Drakkar Noir; THOSE jackasses, feel free to snub. But if some guy is being nice and just isn't your type, let him down easy. If you're wondering why it's so hard to meet a good guy, it's because all the good guys out there are terrified to approach women anymore because they're sick of the humiliation. [/DIGRESSION]

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Accidental Walrus

I run three times a week. This is tantamount to me saying, "I light my nose hairs on fire three times a week," because I hate running. Hate it. HATE IT. If I could get the same health benefits by letting someone smack the bejeezus out of me with a sockful of Sacajawea dollars, I'd do it in a heartbeat. Less than a heartbeat if the person smacking me was a cute woman.

The rub, of course, is the phrase "IF I could get the same health benefits." Although/because I hate it, running is the single most effective workout I've ever done. Twelve miles a week, and I sleep better, fit into my pants better, and have more energy. Twelve miles a week, and I can eat anything I want--a fact I can prove empirically, because I eat appallingly large amounts of food. Twelve miles a week, and I become bizarrely immune to injury--a couple of weeks ago I was sprinting to answer the phone (I had to buzz in the pizza guy) when the rug completely slipped underneath me, so I slammed into the hardwood floor, bashed my shin right into the corner of my coffee table...and walked away without even a bruise.

None of this changes the fact that I fucking hate running. I'm aware that many people out there actually love running and look forward to their next run the way I look forward to my next serving of bacon, and I'm not dissing them in any way; I'm just saying I'm not one of them. Running, to me, is an atrociously miserable experience that, thanks to some cosmic joke, is necessary for my continued health; it's the exercise equivalent of a rectal exam.

But I do it anyway, and the fact that I regularly do something I so utterly detest helps to explain why I often seem unsympathetic to overweight people. Here's the thing, though--it's not that I'm unsympathetic to overweight people; I'm just unsympathetic to overweight people who make tons of excuses but make little actual effort to lose the weight.

I try not to conflate "overweight" with "lazy" because I know that's not necessarily the case. At my gym, for example, I see a few people who work out religiously but could never appear on the cover of Men's Health or Shape; they just don't have the bone structure or muscle-building capacity or natural fat-burning ability to get in that type of shape without resorting to an Olympic-style regimen of constant exercise and diet. So yes, genes play a role; they establish the limits of your capacity and the rate at which you benefit from exercise and nutrition.

What pisses me off, though, is that these people are VASTLY outnumbered by the fat people who see that "genes play a role" and then distort that to mean "genes are all that matters," which then becomes "and therefore I'm just going to keep my fat ass on the couch and eat Cheetos all day, and it's not my fault I'm fat because...genes play a role." That's a slap in the face of all the people who actually try. Your genetic make-up may determine that you'll never run a four-minute mile, but it DOESN'T force you to be three hundred pounds of fat.

So it's not the moderately overweight people who engage in regular exercise who bother me; it's the grotesquely obese, 300+ pound orci. If you're THAT fat, then I'm sorry, you're just a lazy fuck, so stop bitching about how thin people roll their eyes at you when you phhhbbbllATTT next to them on the Metro.

Take, for example, what I like to call the Yoga Progression. The exercise regimen that, in theory, attracts the greatest number of hot babes is yoga. However, the high babe quotient really only applies to the ADVANCED yoga classes. The beginner yoga classes, not so much, because the beginner yoga classes are filled with the lazy misguided fatasses who are seeking a workout they think requires no effort. You never see a great big lardbutt start a workout regimen by running seven-minute miles on the treadmill; no, they go for the workouts that don't look strenuous. Why? BECAUSE THEY'RE LAZY!!! THAT'S HOW THEY GOT SO FAT!!!! The problem is, yoga only LOOKS easy, and is actually really frickin' difficult. Like, I'm quite flexible by guy standards--not only can I touch my toes, I can easily bend over and grab my ankles, a talent I will DEFINITELY regret having if I ever serve prison time--but one session of introductory yoga killed me. Anyway, after ten minutes, the fatasses realize yoga actually takes effort, and quit what will turn out to be both the first and last day of their new exercise regimen. (Then they blame their genes.)

So with beginners' yoga, a good 50% of the class consists of, let's say "rotund," participants who quickly self-select out, and each succeeding level weeds out more and more of them until you get to the advanced classes, which are a combination of really, really hot babes and bizarrely rubbery guys who look like Dhalsim from Street Fighter II.

And really, that's why you see all these random classes in any given health club. Spinning, yoga, and step aerobics are one thing, but now you have things like Cardio Hip-Hop, Aerobic Belly-Dancing, and Cardio Striptease, which, by the way, you shouldn't be allowed to take unless you pass a strict licensing process. (Same goes for wearing midriff-bearing outfits and, for guys, muscle shirts. It's a privilege, not a right.) I'm not even denying that these new workouts are effective; I'm simply saying they exist to "fool" people into working out when they otherwise wouldn't.

It's gotten to the point where you can make a fortune by manufacturing gym equipment that just makes the user LOOK like a bad-ass without requiring any, how do you say, effort. For instance, there's this machine at my gym called the Ab Solo. You do a sit-up while holding a medicine ball, and at the top of the rep you throw the ball at a net that rolls the ball back to you to repeat the process. The only problem is, the chair you're sitting on is SPRING-LOADED. It's a bad-ass ab workout in the same sense that I have an 80-inch vertical leap...if I get to jump on a goddamn trampoline. There's another ab machine that consists of a kneepad that's placed on a track that's shaped like a J. You hold the handrail and kind of, well, enjoy the ride as the kneepad swings back and forth along the track. That's a workout???? Really? What's next, Cardio Rocking Chair? Aerobic Hammock?

But you see people just going nuts on these things, grunting like 70s porn stars and generally making a spectacle of themselves to show how tough and Rocky-in-Russia they are, as they use these pathetically useless machines that raise your heartrate about as much as a jalapeno popper would.

So when a really fat person claims he works out and it's just not helping because of "genes," you'll pardon me if I'm a little skeptical. First, a lot of people claim they "exercise regularly," but they're defining "exercise regularly" as "go to the gym for the one week immediately following New Year's, then drop it entirely until the next New Year's." And second, a lot of the people who do go to the gym just do pointless exercises like the Ab Solo.

That is, if they even work out at all--a TON of people go to the gym purely to socialize, which is fine except they always seem to do it while blocking something I actually want to fucking use. A couple of months ago I wanted to do some chin-ups but some fat bastard was standing in front of it...talking on his cell phone. Well, I asked if I could work in (I was using "work in" ironically), so he moved to the side, where he continued to speak on his phone as I did three sets of chinups. Now, the standard joke here would be to say, "He's probably STILL talking on his phone, har har!" but no, I can say definitively that wasn't the case, because ten minutes later I went to do some situps and found him lying on a mat FUCKING ASLEEP.

So again, it's not that I'm being unfair to fat people. I'm just ripping on fat people who clearly have only themselves to blame. The problem is that in dealing with the obesity epidemic, we're simultaneously trying to be politically correct about it. We're scared to blame people for being obese because there's a chance it's genetic, but in 95% of cases, if a guy is obese it's his own fucking fault. We talk about "fat discrimination" as if it's the same thing as Plessy vs. Ferguson, and let me say, as an actual minority who faces real discrimination on a daily basis, it's really a pleasure to see that "Snickers-gobbling couch potato" is equated to "Non-white." We increase the width of turnstiles, rescale the size of clothes, and prescribe more pills instead of just saying, "Hey, Porkchop, maybe you want to forgo the third plate at the buffet."

And it's even gotten to the point where fat people are starting to feel comfortable arguing from a position of superiority. See a woman who wears a size four? Accuse her of being anorexic, because God knows anyone who can see her toes must have an eating disorder. Or maybe she's a chain-smoker. Or had liposuction. Or perhaps she purges? No matter what, she MUST have done it in some irresponsible way, because it's just so inconceivable that someone hits the gym and doesn't feast on Big Macs six times a week. And fat people are making these ridiculous arguments with more and more "authority" because THEY'RE THE MAJORITY, and the morbidly obese are rapidly getting to that point as well.

But hey, once 100% of the population is obese and the Chinese are regularly kicking our asses in the Olympics, at least we can say it was genetic.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Adventures in Babysitting

The Rebel and I went to Westend Bistro on Saturday. Westend Bistro, like Central and Brasserie Beck before it, is one of those restaurants owned by the chef of some inexcusably expensive zillion-star place who wants a more "casual" offshoot--Westend is owned by Eric Ripert, who runs Le Bernardin in New York. Of course, when a four-star chef uses the word "casual," he means this: Instead of paying upwards of $150 per person, you pay $100 per person, which is like selling a $70,000 Porsche and bragging about whatta bargain it is because the price includes windshield wipers. The interior of the casual restaurant is just as snazzy as his more formal restaurant, except the tables don't have tablecloths. But since it's supposed to be "casual" you still see some morons from the suburbs dressed like extras from "Saved By The Bell," all dolled-down in their dirty Nike sneakers with stonewashed jeans; when The Rebel and I walked in, the first thing we saw was a fifty-something man at the bar wearing a turquoise hoody with sneakers and terrifyingly short red jogging shorts--one wrong move and he would've been popping outta the hole like Punxsutawney Phil--and this was on a Saturday evening in MARCH.

The restaurant itself was quite good, though the portions were rather small, though I should also point out that I ate at BLT Steak a few weeks ago and polished off a 22-oz ribeye AND oysters AND creamed spinach AND a side of potatoes AND one of those giant popovers AND bread with pate AND dessert and wasn't even full afterwards, so take it with a grain of salt when I say portions are small. Why, yes, I AM the same guy who bitches about fat people, why do you ask? Anyway, food-wise, I'd put Westend Bistro behind Central but ahead of Brasserie Beck, although Brasserie Beck does have that kickass Belgian beer selection, so I guess it's a bit of a Sophie's Choice there. For the record, we split the pate en croute (awesome) and rabbit rillettes (even more awesome), she had the Chesapeake Bay stew (very good), I had the flat iron steak (awesome, but small, but, you know--I consume muchly) with a side of ratatouille (very good, but not as good as Central's), and we finished it off with a caramel-cream pudding for dessert (aaaawwwwwesome).

I'm not here to review the food, though, and I'm sure you're disappointed given the intricate details I just provided of the meal. It takes some real ritin' skillz to come up with "awesome." What happened was, around the time we got our appetizers, this old couple, well into their 60s, got seated at the table next to us. First of all, the old bitch, who was wearing one of those undoubtedly expensive but stupendously ugly, overly embroidered tops with massive shoulder pads, like a female version of the Cosby sweater crossed with a Leona Helmsley power suit (I'll defer to the ladies to tell me how to properly describe an outfit that hideous), spent the entire meal staring at us like we had three heads, so that was great. In her defense, she probably was wondering why I was eating there instead of in the kitchen washing dishes with the rest of the foreigners.

But also, her husband ordered a bottle of wine, and after the waiter brought it out, presented the bottle, opened it, and poured a bit for him to taste, the old guy tasted it, and in classic snooty poser asshole fashion, made a face accompanied by the "so-so" hand motion and sent it back. NOT because the wine had gone bad or anything, but just because it wasn't his preference. So the waiter said he would bring something else, which he did, and which the old dude accepted, and it's a good thing he did because I was about to throttle him for being such a prick.

Later, I heard the old dude say to the waiter, "[That wine] is much better, and it's a great value, too. It's less than half the price of that first one."


The Rebel and I were drinking wine also, so I have a good idea about the prices of the wines at Westend. Normally when I choose a wine, I carefully consider the vineyard's reputation, take note of the vintage, and finally consider how the varietal pairs with the food we choose. Then I ignore all that and order the second-cheapest one.

In this case, the second-cheapest wine on the list was a cabernet from California for $38. The cheapest was $32. Now, the wine that the old bastard finally accepted was definitely not the same bottle as ours, and it wasn't the cheapest wine, either. So if the bottle that he accepted was, say, $50, and this bottle was "less than half the price" of the bottle he had sent back, that means he sent back a bottle that cost at least $100...FOR NO GOOD REASON. "It's not my type" is NOT a valid reason to send back a wine, for the same reason that you wouldn't get a refund for a half-eaten Almond Joy because you suddenly decided you didn't like coconut.

I'm sure this logic would make no sense to the old jackass, though, whom we were convinced was going to keep trying and sending back bottle after bottle until he had exhausted the entire wine selection. In fact, I like to think that the waiter brought out a much cheaper bottle because he said to himself, "I better switch to cheap wines to save money, because this fucktard is going to keep sending them back." It reminded me of the time a friend whose name I won't reveal, but let's just say it rhymes with "Yete," spent SEVEN HOURS shopping for black pants in Montreal, dismissing pair after pair--"I don't like the belt loops," "Those pockets are weird," "I don't want to pay more than $50," "I don't like flat-front pants," and let me point out here that he was specifically searching for "cool" black pants to hit the bars in, but (a) he didn't want to spend more than $50; and (b) he was looking for "cool" pants with PLEATS, which is just depressing--anyway, this took seven hours spread across two days, after which he finally bought a pair of...wait for cotton Dockers. BLACK COTTON DOCKERS. You'll never believe this, but Yete's the guy who got married at 24 and lives in the suburbs.

I digress. So the decrepit jerkoff only forced the restaurant to waste one $100+ bottle of wine, which was both a relief and a surprise, but it quickly became apparent that he only did so because he didn't want to use up his supply of dickheadery too soon. Within minutes of receiving his entree he was rudely demanding more bread, by which I mean he snapped his fingers at the waiter and barked, "Gimme more bread"--for God's sakes, even PARROTS have better manners--and complaining about the food not being salty enough, because the salt shaker that was maybe two inches from his hand must've been too unwieldy or not ergonomically designed or something. And frankly, though I wonder how salty he needed his food to be given that everything I had was perfectly seasoned, I don't think it would be a huge tragedy if his dependence on salt and subsequently sky-high blood pressure caused him to keel over.

His wife was no better, as she sent back her dish because it had endives which, again, were prepared correctly; she just decided she didn't like endives. At least she didn't ask them to cut the crusts off and read her a bedtime story, although she DID later insist that her husband leave a 5% tip. The waiter, by the way, remained professional and cordial throughout, which was a minor departure from the approach I would've taken, which would've been to smack the dude upside the head with a rutabaga.

I can't speculate about what causes to behave like such assholes at restaurants, though I suspect that a lot of them actually think it looks impressive, like "I'm so important I don't have to demonstrate even rudimentary civility." There's a rather, what's the word, HUUGENORMOUSGIGANTIC flaw in that logic, but I never said these people were anything other than complete bozos. But it did get me thinking about people who work as restaurant servers. My parents now live in Southern Cal, and I visit them once or twice a year. The old joke is that all the waiters in L.A. are out-of-work actors and actresses, and there's something to that, but my question is, if you needed a side job to pay the bills while you pursued some other dream, why would you EVER decide to work in a restaurant? It seems like the most exhausting, thankless job there is, and it's not particularly well-paid. More to the point, it seems like SUCH an exhausting job that you wouldn't have the energy to do much of anything else after your shift.

I mean, I sometimes think about becoming a writer, until I come to my senses and realize that my writing style is almost perfectly unprofitable; the last time I checked, "Whiny, Needlessly Profane Vitriol" wasn't a popular genre on Amazon. Even if I decided to pursue writing full-time, though, I could NEVER do it after working a 12-hour shift carrying trays of food between a too-hot kitchen and an overly-crowded dining room, and putting up with obnoxious, phony prima donnas who can't pronounce "bruschetta" and have never performed any tasks more grueling than sending a fax. It would just be too tiring. Ironically, the BEST day job I can think of if you're trying to become an actor or whatever would be...the job I have right now! Office work! Good benefits, plenty of free time, and you sit on your ass aaaaaalll daaaay. I think I'd have a lot more energy for an audition after working on a spreadsheet than I would after having four bowls of soup spilled on my head, but that's just me.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Books, drugs, and rock & roll

Three weeks ago, and with great sorrow, I went to the going-out-of-business sale at Candida's World of Books on 14th and Church. Candida's was an independently-run business that, on the face of it, occupied an almost comically unprofitable niche--they sold books related to travel, and that was it. Why not open a store selling Leap Year decorations, or perhaps a restaurant specializing in poi? Travel, I suppose, is a broader category than one might think, as Candida's sold not only travel guides and language phrasebooks, but also literary travelogues, novels written by foreign authors, and translations of American books. You could get a copy of Harry Potter und der Gefangene von Askaban, for example.

Side note here. In the original English, that book's title is Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. AZkaban, with a "z." It's a proper noun. In other words, it's a name, and therefore the spelling shouldn't change, right? It's one thing if the languages in question already had their own version of the name in place--this is why we call it "Spain" but the French call it "L'Espagne"--but "Azkaban" was the sole invention of J.K. Rowling. So why is it "ASkaban," with an "s," in German? The German alphabet includes the letter "z," so that's not it. I could understand if "Azkaban" meant "child molestation" or something in German, but it doesn't. I also don't understand why Spanish speakers refer to New York as "Nueva York." IT'S A NAME NOW! The "New" is part of that name! You don't see Tony Bennett singing "I left my heart in Saint Frank," do you?

Finally, I REALLY don't understand the anglicization of Asian words and names. The former president of Korea's last name was pronounced "No." If you can read Korean, and I can, that's exactly what it should be. Naturally, in English they spelled it "Roh." Schmucks, they use a completely different alphabet!!! There's no concern about "misspelling" a name that doesn't use the same alphabet, so spell the fucking thing phonetically! It's even worse with Mandarin, where you'll see something like "Xiang" and find out it's actually pronounced "Smith." End of side note.

Anyway, I've gone to Candida's off and on over the past couple of years and always thought it was a rather precarious business idea. First of all, the existence of means any brick-and-mortar bookstore will always face a cheaper competitor with a far larger selection. And that's even before you consider Candida's mission to stick with one relatively small portion of book sales. I mean, when's the last time you walked into Borders or Barnes and Noble and found that the travel section was the largest section of the store? You walk into one of those stores, and the first thing you see is always either the "New arrivals" or the "Bestsellers" section. Then the biggest sections are the oh-so-specifically-named "Fiction" and "Nonfiction" sections. The travel section usually occupies one rack, which is about a tenth of the space that your average B. Dalton dedicates to pink books with Fabio on the cover.

Nevertheless, I always loved going to Candida's. Yeah, the prices were almost always higher. If I wanted to browse for books in general outside of travel-related literature, I was screwed. They didn't have a coffee shop. Basically, I had to be an idiot to give them my money.

But it didn't matter. Candida's ruled. Prior to my trip to France, I walked in there looking only for the latest Lonely Planet guide to Paris; two hours later I walked out with six books and plans to return for more. See, the problem with Borders and big-box chains in general has to do with their supposed strength, which is selection. They have everything under the sun, but on the other hand, they have everything under the sun. I can't remember the last time I walked into Borders just to browse, because there's just too much worthless crap to wade through. It's the Youtube of bookstores. If you don't know exactly what you're looking for, it's almost impossible to find anything good because you have to spend so much time filtering out the contributions of the 75,000 different unemployed losers who actually thought re-enacting "Lazy Sunday" requires some kind of talent.

Most people, however, assume that an absolutely ginormous selection is a sign of a superior store. Perhaps this is a matter of taste, in the sense that some people want an intimate experience while others "need" the knowledge that anything they could possibly want is available. I can't really argue with that, but I'm gonna do it anyway. Having a gigantic selection seems to have the opposite effect you might expect. It doesn't broaden your horizons because its sheer mass requires you to actually narrow your searches just so you can get out of the damn store before it closes. From a practical standpoint, it's impossible to ever take advantage of such a huge selection, so you end up going in with a specific book in mind, then spend an extra twenty minutes simply trying to find the aisle it's in, then wait twenty minutes in line. I mean, how long do you think it would take to go aisle by aisle and merely read the titles in your typical Barnes and Noble? A week?

Contrast that with Politics and Prose, my favorite local bookstore. It ain't exactly small, but it's tiny compared to your average Borders. When I walk in there, I find myself browsing, actually browsing, through the aisles, because it's small enough where the idea of browsing doesn't become some daunting Odyssean test of perseverance and shoe cushioning.

Perhaps the best analogy would be the jukebox analogy. [Dana Carvey Grumpy Old Man voice/] In my day, jukeboxes had a small selection of songs hand-picked by the owner of said jukeboxes. Now, when you walk into a bar, they all have these fancy Internet jukeboxes which can search for, download, and play pretty much any song you could want. This means that the music coming from these jukeboxes is generally the most popular music as determined by the masses, which would be great except for one thing:

The masses are fucking retards.

Allowing the masses to select music in a bar just means that you're only going to hear the absolute most insipid, commercially-produced, focus-grouped pieces of monkey-shit songs out there. Every goddamn time I'm in a bar with one of those Internet jukeboxes, I hear that godawful "Promiscuous" song by the Nelly Furtadobot 6000, a song so utterly fucking soulless and mechanical that it sounds like it was written, produced, and performed by a particularly horny Commodore 64.

Contrast that with the jukebox at Pharmacy Bar, a bar that's such a dive, I literally didn't realize it was open the first few times I walked by because it looked like it was condemned. Realistically, it probably should be. However, Pharmacy Bar has an old jukebox filled with music actually selected by the owners, including local bands and indie bands an out-of-touch, lame-ass tool like me hasn't even heard of. But that's the beauty of it. When I walk out of Pharmacy Bar, I can be sure that I've heard at least five great new songs. When I walk out of a bar with an Internet jukebox, I can be sure I'll have that fucking "SexyBack" song trapped in my head, because about twenty-seven nimrod frat boys trying to impress twenty-seven-plus dimwitted "Lipstick Jungle" fans will have played it over and over and over and over until my head implodes.

Having a huge selection and letting the market determine the best options is great in theory, but that assumes perfect dissemination of information. More to the point, it assumes perfect use of information. Frankly, most people are too busy or too lazy or too fucking stupid and ignorant to make an informed, intelligent decision about music or literature or, really, just about anything. Most people can't even choose their pants size correctly, for God's sake. This is why I like finding small, independent purveyors--they're far more likely to make their decisions based on passion rather than pandering to the average idiot who just wants to fit in with all the other idiots. But as the closing of Candida's shows, having passion for something just doesn't cut it anymore. We're becoming more and more generic and standardized with each passing year, to the point where I'm starting to think those bad science-fiction movies got it right--eventually, we'll all be walking around in identical shimmering jumpsuits and eating entire meals in pill form. But I'm sure the selection will be huge.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The Dumbest Things I Ever Done

Today the Tax on Stupidity begins a new feature, insofar as a whiny, pointless blog with maybe three readers can be said to have "features." I'm calling it "The Dumbest Things I Ever Done," and it will be an ever-increasing feature, as I continue to do dumb things as I get older. That whole line about getting "older but wiser," I now understand, is a complete myth designed to fool decrepit sagging old farts into feeling better about those unidentifiable growths on their asses. (Uh, on the zero percent chance that any hot lady readers out there were thinking of seducing me--I do not actually have an unidentifiable growth on my ass.) (It's more of an unexplained boil.)

Now, I'm not talking about stories of the "I got drunk and slept with this random girl and now I pee orange" variety, because I think such actions are more hormonally and chemically-fueled lapses in judgment rather than pure stupidity. Also, although I have a couple of doozies when it comes to making an ass of myself with women, even those aren't technically a result of my own idiocy, but rather the idiocy of others, because it turns out that even massive quantities of alcohol are not enough to overcome my overarching fear of rejection or the fact that I kinda smell like feet.

Massive quantities of alcohol did, however, lead to part one of infinity of The Dumbest Things I Ever Done, so let's get to it.


THE TIME: Soon after college.

THE CAST: Me, drunk.

It was a dark and stormy night, if by "stormy" you mean "not stormy" and by "dark" you mean "dark as nights tend to be, duh." I was living the Miller High Life as a recent college graduate. I was young, healthy--the world was my oyster!

Apparently "oyster" at that point was defined as "broke, living in a minuscule walk-up above an oft-robbed convenience store and a crappy pizzeria, subsisting on a sandwich called 'The Steak Bomb' from said pizzeria, waking up hungover every morning, and getting waaaay too excited whenever I saw an HBO movie was going to have 'N' and 'SSC.'" You know you need a girlfriend when you start scheduling your day around the 10PM showing of "Species." Still, I'd take that over being a 23-year-old married guy.

[Digression/] Although I continue to do stupid things, I've come to the conclusion that I committed the greatest concentration of inexcusably moronic schmuckosities between the ages of 17 and 25. And I bet if you looked at your life, you'd say the same thing. Yes, I did a lot of dumb things when I was a kid--the time I nearly set the house on fire after I had already almost set the house on fire once before comes to mind--but hey, I was a kid! I didn't know any better! And I've done a lot of stupid things after the age of 25, but (a) there aren't nearly as many as there were between 17 and 25, (b) the dumb things tend to be less serious, and (c) far more of my cretinous actions can be attributed to distraction, stress, etc. as opposed to me just being a fool. If you're under the age of 25, you might be intelligent, but you're not smart. In fact, you're a putz. My point is, hold off on making any major life decisions until AFTER you've turned 26. Just trust me on this. If you're thinking about getting married, having a kid, going to law school, dropping out of school to become a sherpa, tattooing your girlfriend's name on your scrotum, whatever--just wait for a few years. If they're meant to be, they'll still be options for you after you've gotten a little experience, but if you make those decisions too soon, you're stuck for life. I GUARANTEE that when you hit your late-20s and beyond, you'll look back at the 22-, 23-, 24-year-old you and think, "GOD, what a fucking doofus I was" even if you somehow emerge relatively unscathed. The key is to minimize the damage the early-20s version of you is going to do to the rest-of-your-life version of you. [/digression]

Anyway, one night I returned home after yet another session of drinking. I can't remember precisely where I was drinking--probably somewhere on Lansdowne, which was close to my apartment--but I can say with some certainty that shots of Jäger were involved, because my equally idiotic roommate Bosco always had to order shots of Jäger, and when he wasn't doing that he was ordering a drink called, I swear to Zeus, the "Mongolian Motherfucker." (Incidentally, Bosco's an MIT grad and a doctor now. See what I mean about everyone being dumb at 22?) We somehow made it home without, like, fatally colliding headfirst into the outer wall of Fenway. Bosco went to sleep, but at this time of my life, I had this weird condition where a night of drinking usually left me too wired to sleep. Yeah, I don't understand it, either.

So I turned on the TV--the massive 36-inch TV I had bought despite the fact that I was making less than $25K a year and, more importantly, that this TV was sitting in a "living room" that was literally 8 by 6 feet, so that watching it was like sitting in the first row of an IMAX theater, and I'm sorry if I keep bringing up how stupid I was at 22, but COME ON--and flipped through the channels. I can speculate, again with near perfect certainty, that I started off with Skinemax and HBO, desperately hoping for one of those awful late-night "premium" cable movies with lots of boobs. But I couldn't find one, probably because HBO was showing "Forrest Gump" for the 712th time that day, so I flipped around until I stumbled upon a commercial, or perhaps even a full-fledged informercial, for

Okay, wait, let me set this up correctly.

A commercial...



Featuring such absolute megadeities as Twisted Sister, Poison, Ratt, and Dio. DIO!!!!! I shit you not!!!!

Now...I am an unabashed fan of bad music. But let's be absolutely precise, here--I'm not a fan of just blandly mediocre music. No Maroon 5 for me. No, I figure if you're going for greatness in any form--even when you're going to be greatly terrible--you gotta go balls to the wall, dude! I like my bad music to be stupendously, incomprehensibly horrid, and I have a slew of embarrassing CD purchases to back that up, oh my brothers. Do I have that Ricky Martin CD with "Livin' La Vida Loca" on it? Damn skippy I do, and if I stuck that on the stereo, YOU'D DANCE TO IT, don't even try to deny it. Some of the most tremendous songs of my lifetime, in my opinion, are "Detachable Penis" by King Missile, "Separate Ways" by Journey--which also doubles as the greatest video ever--and the champ of them all, "Get Low" by Lil' Jon, which might be the most utterly, fantastically irredeemable song ever written. It's a toss-up between that and Beethoven's Ninth.

So there I was, watching a commercial for this CD of fourteen crappy-beyond-belief songs. Take, for example, the chorus from one of the songs I've recently become reacquainted with thanks to Guitar Hero III, "Talk Dirty to Me" by Poison--and by the way, lemme say that Guitar Hero III is devouring and ruining my life because I'm disturbingly obsessed with it; as Beatrice was to Dante, so Guitar Hero III is to me. Anyway, the lyrics:

'Cause baby we'll be
At the drive-in
In the old man's Ford
Behind the bushes

'Til I'm screamin' for more
Down the basement
Lock the cellar door
And baby
Talk dirty to me!

Now, this song was written in 1986, not in 1955, so right off the bat, I'm wondering where the hell these guys managed to find a "drive-in" or a "cellar"; I imagine the director's cut version of this song has them sending a telegram to the apothecary. But you have to admire the nuanced, subtly metaphorical brilliance of these lyrics, don't you?


'Cause baby we'll be
At the drive-in
In the old man's Ford

They're fucking in his father's Ford. At the drive-in.

Behind the bushes
'Til I'm screaming for more

They're fucking behind the bushes. The wildly reckless abandon with which they're fucking has led the boy to shrilly request--nay, demand--the continuation of the aforementioned fucking.

Down the basement
Lock the cellar door

They're fucking in the basement. In the interest of privacy and, one assumes, propriety, they've locked the door.

And baby
Talk dirty to me.

They're fucking in general. The boy has un penchant for salacious repartee whilst fucking.

(Apologies to
Joe Mathlete for ripping off his schtick, but c'mon--these lyrics, these ghastly, ghastly lyrics, required it.)

Anyway, as you've probably figured out, as I sat there slack-jawedly watching this commercial in all its magnificent putrescence, I had to pick up the phone and order. I mean, check out the
cover--I really didn't have a choice. Now, you'll notice that I've peppered this recollection with lots of "I can speculate" and "I can state with some certainty" and other phrases that show I'm reconstructing this from memory, and a drunken memory at that. It's based on deduction and extrapolation of my typical behavior at the time. Kind of like when archaeologists take a speck of bone and figure out the dinosaur had tentacles or whatever, only with more beer and less sex.

So when I say I ordered the Youth Gone Wild: Heavy Metal Hits of the 80's CD, I'm not saying I remember actually placing the order. I just figured that out seven to ten business days later, when a box arrived for me. And ordering a crap CD when drunk, while dumb, isn't necessarily dumb enough to qualify as one of The Dumbest Things I Ever Done.

Ordering NINE COPIES of said CD, however, very much is.

NINE COPIES!!!!! Why the fuck did I feel the need to order nine copies of a CD I shouldn't have wanted in the first place? I don't have nine friends who I like enough to send a bad CD to, and more to the point, I don't have nine enemies I dislike enough to want to send a bad CD to, even if it does include such classics as "We're Not Gonna Take It" and "Cum [sic] On Feel the Noize [sic]"!!!!!!

But order them I had, and so ashamed was I of such a remarkably inexplicable act of unadulterated schmuckery that I immediately sent the nine copies back...okay, that's a lie. I HAD to send them back because I was so broke at the time that ordering nine freaking copies plus something like $3.99 for shipping and handling caused me to go over my credit limit--the hits just keep on coming--so I guess this was a rare case where blowing ludicrous amounts of money on booze left me incapable of blowing more money on worthless crap.

The moral of the story, I guess, is: Spend all of your money on booze.