I’m a strange guy


Living in New York is different than living anywhere else in the U.S.  I don’t mean on a cultural level, of course there is that, but in an everyday sense.  Everyone living stacked on top of each other and an extensive public transit system makes owning a car pointless, most of the time.  It’s not necessarily a bad thing.  You save money on car payments and insurance (though, like everything else, it’s probably made up for in the cost of rent), you don’t have to worry about sobering up for the drive home from the bar, and you have a smug sense of self-satisfaction for being “eco-friendly.”  But sometimes, it really sucks.  You can’t jump in to your car and cruise over to a Wall-Mart or Target to pick a few things up.  You have to plan out what you want to buy, go to the different stores, and carry all that back to your apartment—and, if you’re like me (living in a walkup), up four flights of stairs.

So whenever they can, New Yorkers try to make things easier on themselves.  The city’s Chinese restaurants and pizza places employ an army of deliverymen that bring takeout to your door; any business that sells merchandise that can’t be easily carried out offer a complimentary delivery service; and one of the most popular grocery stores in the city is just a Web site.  If you’ve never heard of Fresh Direct, the concept is simple: order your groceries through their site and they bring them to your apartment. Yesterday, my roommate off handedly mentioned that it was how he would get his groceries from now on.  I had used the service years ago, but don’t anymore.  “What’s a good amount to tip the delivery guy?” He asked me.  “Do you think $5 is enough?”  I paused for moment to consider the question.  “Actually, I don’t think I think I ever tipped them,” I said. My roommate was shocked.  “Dude,” he said, “you have to tip.”

For the rest of the day, all I could think about was the act of tipping.  I kept replaying Steve Buscemi’s rant in Reservoir Dogs about throwing in a gratuity for your dinner.  In the film, Buscemi’s character, “Mr. Pink,” regales a table of career criminals just after breakfast on the morning of a heist on the inequality of tipping guidelines.  He points out that it’s good manners to tip a waitress, yet no one gives anything to someone working the register at McDonald’s. “I don’t tip because society says I have to,” he explains. “All right, if someone deserves a tip, if they really put forth an effort, I’ll give them something a little something extra. But this tipping automatically, it’s for the birds. As far as I’m concerned, they’re just doing their job.”

Okay, I don’t know what it’s like to be Fresh Direct driver.  Maybe it sucks.  Maybe they pay next to nothing and you need tips to get by.  But in all honesty: the job doesn’t seem all that different from Fed-Ex or UPS and we don’t tip them.  Is it because they’re delivering food?   What if you’re a diabetic and UPS guy brings you a package with your insulin that keeps you alive in it, do you tip him then?

A friend once told me that you tip to ensure good service for NEXT TIME.  And I get that for certain situations—try tipping a dollar or too more the next time you order from your favorite pizza place and you soon get a reputation among the delivery guys and they’ll get your order to you way quicker….and probably won’t spit in your food. But it still bugs me that there is this odd dichotomy about tipping, like slipping your barber five buck but leaving the dental hygienist hanging.  The only remedy I can think of is to not tip anyone (people will think you’re a cheapskate) or tip everyone (they’ll think you’re an obnoxious big shot).  In closing: tipping is weird.

[Pic via]

The scene: last week in my apartment.  I found the bright green plastic bowl underneath the kitchen sink, careless tossed into the milk crate that held bottles of various cleaning solutions and soaps.  A bulbous knob extended from one end with a smile, and eyes peaking from behind a thin red mask painted on it.  “What is this doing in here?” I asked my roommate.  “Oh yeah,” he said. “I wasn’t sure where to put it.  What is it?”  I looked down into its goofy painted eyes. “It’s my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cereal bowl,” I said.

Twenty years ago, when I first dug the bowl out of the bottom of a Cheerios box, I didn’t want it.   My TMNT obsessed kindergarten brain immediately recognized the red mask as the identifier of Raphael and no one wanted to be Raphael.  Whenever playing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with your friends, you would want to pretend to be your favorite turtle. Young “type A personalities” were drawn to Leonardo (succinctly described in the theme song with “Leonardo leads”), while the more creative kids wanted to be Donatello (“does machines”).  A rare few even liked Michelangelo (“a party dude”).  But no one, not a singe kid, liked Raphael (according to the song, he was “cool but crude”); and some unlucky latecomer who didn’t call dibs to be one of the other three early enough was general stuck playing Raph.  His other option was playing April O’Neil and she was a girl which was way worse (though I now wonder why no one volunteered to be Splinter, the giant rat that was the group’s sensei).

“Aw man, Raphael.” I remember saying with disdain, then turning to my mother, trying to enjoy her first cup of tea of the day, and inquired if we could run to the grocery store before school and get another box of cereal that would probably have a Donatello bowl (my first choice, but I would have settled for either of the other two) inside it.  Without having to say anything, I could tell her answer was a strong and definite “No.”

And so I made due with my Raphael bowl.  Years after the Ninja Turtle fad had died out, I found it again and brought it with me to college (mainly for its kitschy throwback value) and now keep it at the office so I can eat cereal at my desk (I had brought it home to wash last week, which is why my roommate didn’t recognize it).  And you know something?  Raphael has really grown on me.  What I mistook for a grumpy cynic was actually the group’s speaker of truths, who never beat around the bush and always said what was on his mind.  And his hot-headedness?  While many will agree that it constantly brought the group into dangerous situations, it was also the acting force on most of their greatest adventures (many of which forged their strongest alliances).  In essence, Raphael was probably the best Ninja Turtle and I am proud to own his cereal bowl.

I hate current pop music.  This isn’t exactly a unique or groundbreaking sentiment; I’m sure many people agree with me.  It’s just that when you operate under the belief that quality popular music (with some exceptions) died in 1980, you don’t exactly keep up with what’s hip.  I tend to stick with stuff on my iPod and tune to NPR whenever I’m around a radio.  My girlfriend on the other hand likes current pop music and owns a clock radio.  So every time I sleep over, I’m blasted awake by obnoxious morning DJ’s and the latest hit songs.  Usually I just brush off these the chance encounters with the current music scene and go about my day.  But recently my brain has become infected with a particularly nauseating bit of modern musical horror that I’ve heard every time I sleep over and when I looked up the lyrics I found that they were bizarrely and comically nonsensical. So I decided to use my two English degrees to analyze it.

Before I begin, I want to be clear that just because a song is catchy (which this definitely is) doesn’t mean that it’s good (which it most surely is not).  The two are not mutually exclusive (something a lot of current songwriters seem to not be aware of); “Hotel California” by the Eagles, for example, is a good song that’s catchy, while Pearl Jam’s “Yellow Ledbetter”  is not catchy yet still a great song.

The tune in question, “Tik Tok”, sucks.  The, um, “artist” is “Ke$ha”.  How you do pronounce that? Key-dollar-sign-ah?  Is that Dutch? As soon as I saw this young lady’s title spelling and grammar, I knew things did not bode well.  Though, oddly enough, while I was trying to clear my head of this song’s insipidness, sites like Gawker and The Awl pronounced her the new pop princess and “Tik Tok” to be her inaugural hit.  If you haven’t had a chance to listen to the song, consider yourself lucky.  But if you want to know what I’m talking about, here:

Ke$ha’s autotune-tastic song is a first person rhyming dictionary heavy narrative of her day.  I’ve gone ahead and mixed my comments in with her lyrics.  Mostly they’re just notes on how I was feeling while listening to it.  Let’s begin.

Wake up in the morning feeling like P Diddy
[P Diddy speaking] Hey, what up girl?

Wait….is P. Diddy there? Is she waking up with him?  And what does it mean to say that you feel like him? You feel like a media whoring past his prime music producer who rode the coattails of his talented friend that was murdered?  I’m confused.

Grab my glasses, I’m out the door, I’m gonna hit this city
Before I leave, brush my teeth with a bottle of Jack
‘Cause when I leave for the night, I ain’t coming back

What? Leaving for the night?  She just said she was waking up in morning.  And shouldn’t the line about brushing her teeth come BEFORE the one about heading out the door?  Also, I’m pretty sure most dentists don’t recommend using Jack Daniels as tooth paste…bourbon has too much sugar.  Use Vodka, it’s the breakfast booze.

I’m talking pedicure on our toes, toes
Trying on all our clothes, clothes
Boys blowing up our phones, phones
Drop-topping, playing our favorite CDs
Pulling up to the parties
Trying to get a little bit tipsy

Whew, I love it when musicians blatantly explain what they’re “talking” about.  It saves me the trouble of having to try and understand the subtleties of suggestion or symbolism.  From this passage, we learn that Ke$ha (God, I think my IQ dropped just typing that name) is singing yet another party girl anthem (I’m sure that’s just what humanity needs right now), in which the priorities are partying, music, boys, drinking, and getting pedicures “on our toes” (as apposed to pedicures anywhere else?).  Thankfully we’re now onto the chorus.

Don’t stop, make it pop
DJ, blow my speakers up
Tonight, I’mma fight
‘Til we see the sunlight
Tick tock on the clock
But the party don’t stop, no [Yodel]

When did music digress to just singing orders?  Here’s she’s telling everyone to keep partying, the DJ to keep playing music, and proclaims that she’ll continue the struggle of whatever the hell her idea of partying is.  Did she take the room hostage? Is she holding a gun on everyone?  I’m sorry but this doesn’t make me want to have a good time.  Jesus, this chick makes getting drunk and dancing seem like working on a chain gang.  A sense that’s doubled by the fact that she immediately repeats the chorus.

Ain’t got a care in world, but got plenty of beer
Ain’t got no money in my pocket, but I’m already here
And now, the dudes are lining up cause they hear we got swagger
But we kick em to the curb unless they look like Mick Jagger

Wouldn’t having plenty of beer be the reason you don’t have a care in the world? Also guys don’t line up because they hear a girl has swagger (lets be honest, that’s a weird word choice), usually it’s because she’s easy and won’t reject them for not looking like Mick Jagger (which I’m going to assume means when Jagger was in his prime in the 1960’s and not now…that would be an old man.)

I’m talking about everybody getting crunk, crunk
Boys tryin’ to touch my junk, junk
Gonna smack him if he getting too drunk, drunk

The only type of person I’ve heard use the phrase “junk” are frat guys talking about their genitals.  It sounds like she’s admitting to being what the Internet is claiming about Lady Gaga.

Now, now, we go until they kick us out, out
Or the police shut us down, down
Police shut us down, down
Po-po shut us…

Goddamnit.  Now I’m just confused.  I thought we were going until dawn, now it’s until the cops shut us down.  What kind of party is this?  A meth party?

[Chorus] x2

DJ, you build me up
You break me down
My heart, it pounds
Yeah, you got me

Why the fuck….


With my hands up
You got me now
You got that sound
Yeah, you got me

Am I listening…

DJ, you build me up
You break me down
My heart, it pounds
Yeah, you got me

To this song?

With my hands up
Put your hands up
Put your hands up

Now, the party doesn’t start ’til I walk in

Oh, shut up!

[Chorus] x2

Thankfully, the end.

Sorry I haven’t posted in awhile, but I’ve been busy dealing with some horrible life-changing news.  That’s what this post is about.   It’s hard to write these words, so here it goes: I’m loosing my hair.

Now to be fair, I’ve know this was coming for sometime, my mother’s father is bald (he’s also who I blame for this…damn genetics) and my front hairline has been making a strategic retreat since college.  But things have taken a dramatic turn for the worse.  I awoke one morning just after Christmas; it was fairly early and the apartment was dimly lit and almost deathly silent.  I stumbled into the bathroom and flipped on the light switch and, blinded by the fluorescent lights, felt my way to the toilet to pee.  On my way back, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror.  It was not good.  My tussled “bed head “ revealed the two paths of flesh cutting their way from my forehead to my scalp were closer than I was aware and… there in the very back of the crown of my head was a thin spot—a definite bald patch in its early infancy.  “NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!” I screamed as I fell to my knees.  Followed by a “Not yet!” and “I’m too young!”

When I told my girlfriend about it in an urgent harsh whisper—as if I were telling her about some deep secret (like “I was the driver of an unsolved hit and run” or “I own a DVD of the romantic comedy Sweet Home Alabama starring Reese Witherspoon.”)—She was not surprised.  “Yeah,” she said, “It’s always worse right when you get up in the mornings.” Wait… she knew about this? She knew how badly unaware I was of just how thinning my hair was getting?  “Baby,” she cooed to comfort me, “I don’t care.” Don’t care? THAT’S NOT THE PROPER RESPONSE!  She was supposed to tell me that it didn’t look that bad.  “But then what will I say to you when it gets worse?” She asked.   IT’S GOING TO GET WORSE??!!

I quickly went through the five stage of grief.  First, denying that it was that thin at all.   The bright bathroom lights in my apartment made the thin spots seem thinner than they actually were (Yeah, that logic makes sense).  Which was quickly followed by anger at how unfair it was that I was loosing my hair at 26 and raging at just how many bald men I see EVERYWHERE I GO.  Then there was bargaining. I searched for a “cure” like I was the parent of a child dying from some rare disease.  I bought Rogaine and practiced new ways to comb the part of my haircut to hide the growing thin spot.  I even visited the Hair Club for Men’s web site.  This was swiftly followed by a bought of depression in which I wore my bathrobe for days on end and caught up on the entire last season of “Lost”.  I found myself identifying most with the character John Locke, who (if you don’t watch the show) looks like this:

And finally, just now, I’ve accepted it.  I figure I’ve got at least one or two more years with my beautiful hair.  Then, it’s time to shave it down to a low buzz cut (I should also be in fantastic physical shape by then, because there is no way I’m going to be fat AND bald). In the words of a friend going through something similar, “You’ve got to own it.”

Pics via and via.

[Okay, I admit it: I’m copping out with a cheap “listicle” for this post. Give me a break, it’s Monday and I had a rough weekend. So, enjoy…]

I’m a man of many talents. I can pontificate on the symbolism found in 80’s action movies, hold my own in drinking a surprising large amount of whiskey in one sitting, and make a fairly decent omelet. But alas, there are some skills which I simply do not possess though wish I did. With the New Year coming up soon, it could be my chance to finally pick these seemingly effortless abilities. Unfortunately, I suspect they will remain gaping holes in my repertoire. Without further ado:

  • Carrying an umbrella
    I don’t know what the hell I’m doing wrong here, but I can’t properly carry an umbrella. I’m either getting soaked down my back or its getting caught in the wind and turning inside out. Then, I’m sure to pass to some suave impeccably dressed ass holding his umbrella perfectly balanced over his well entrenched area of dry space. And he’s always sure to give me a pitying look. Motherfucker.
  • Closing roller window shades
    I recently got a new apartment. And the windows to my new bedroom feature those rather inexpensive vinyl shades, I immediately wanted to move again. Here’s how these things work: you pull them down to cover the window and block out light (or hide your hideously pale nude body from your neighbors when changing) then have to tug them to activate some apparatus that rolls the shades back up. For some reason, I can’t do this and it takes more than a dozen attempts to get the thing to retract EVERY SINGLE TIME. But there’s the rub, those who can get the damn thing to pull up in one try cannot comprehend not being able to use such a simple mechanism and thus are unable to describe how to do it. It’s like one of those test that kung fu monks give children they suspect of being the reincarnated soul of their master—they either intuitively know how to do it or they don’t.
  • Remember to brush my teeth
    This one isn’t entirely my fault. I think my parents should share part of the blame. For some reason, they used to let me slide on going to bed without brushing my teeth and then totally left to my own devices in regards to my oral hygiene. So I never got into the habit of doing it twice a day, everyday. But I’m sure as hell going to make my kids do it. And when I’m pointing a shotgun at them from the bathroom doorway and they’re shaking with fear as they squeeze Crest onto their toothbrushes, I’ll say, “You’ll thank me when you’re in your twenties.”
  • Fly a kite It’s ironic that in describing the first skill on my list I admitted that whenever I’m holding an umbrella it gets caught in the wind, because I can’t do that with a kite.  Flying a kite looks like one of the most satisfying and fulfilling experiences one can have in this world. But when I try, it simply crashes to the ground and lays there… much like my soul.

Let me begin by explaining how I “sort of” have a dog.  He’s not technically my dog, but rather my girlfriend’s. You see, Kate (my girlfriend) adopted Marshall a bichon/poodle/maltese mix (that’s him in the picture to the left), the same month that we started dating and he’s been a heavy presence throughout our relationship.  Whenever we make plans, we have to consider how it will fit in with giving the dog his evening walk.  When I come over, the dog flips out and demands attention from me as soon as I walk in the door.  During naps on the couch, he’ll wiggle his way between my legs and fall asleep.  So for all intents and purposes, I consider Marshall my dog too.

So when I found this picture of a little dog wearing a miniature scuba suit (see below), I know there was only one thing to do: get one for Marshall.  First off, let’s step back and think about this for a second. A dog in a scuba suit. Two things that you’d think would never combine in anyway, but do—like some sort of mythical beast.  I don’t know why that pairing works so well together, just like I don’t know why chocolate and peanut butter taste better mixed than separate—I just know that it’s awesome.   And as soon as I saw that picture, I knew what I was going to do it.   “I’m going to get this for my dog,” I said out loud to myself.

Now, here’s where I think I should explain a little bit about Marshall.  The dog had a rough life before Kate got him.  He was abused for years.  He’s missing several teeth and a chunk of his tongue (I suspect from being kicked repeatedly).  He also walks with a limp due to a broken leg that didn’t heal properly.  And despite an annoyance with other dogs that try to sniff him (especially bigger breeds), he’s very young at heart for his age of about nine (closer to ten) human years, which makes him a cantankerous fifty-something in dog years.  He’s a badass for a dog and I have the best way to explain his personality to people is to analogize him to Sean Connery.

I can already see him walking along by my side with his goggles pushed to the top of his head and his flippers smacking against the pavement, maybe a tiny speargun or diving knife holstered to his front paw.  Thus, I’m adding it to my list of life goals (AKA “a Bucket List”).  Right there, below “publish a novel,” “learn to surf,” and “solve a murder,” is “walk down the street with my dog while he’s dressed in a scuba suit.”  It’s going to be awesome.

(Ho, Ho, Ho.  Tons of Movie Spoilers ahead.)

It’s the holidays.  And to help me get in the yuletide spirit I popped my favorite Christmas movie into the DVD player, Die Hard.  Released in 1988 and best known for launching Bruce Willis’s film career, Die Hard is an integral part of the wave of action movies set during the holiday season that began with 1982’s First Blood and runs on into Lethal Weapon, Batman Returns, The Long Kiss Goodnight, and Reindeer Games (there’s also a similar subgenre of horror films).  Now, while many may think that titles like It’s a Wonderful Life or Miracle on 34th Street are quintessential holiday movies, I’ll make the argument that in fact Die Hard is the perfect cinematic embodiment of Christmas.

What makes a good Christmas movie?  Watch enough movies about the holidays and you begin to pick up on what a film about the most revered and commercialized celebration on the planet needs to succeed (they’ll also annoy you into becoming a cynical alcoholic).  The first key is pretty obvious: setting.  It needs to take place during the Christmas season.  Even Elf , a film in which the title referencing character is a year-round embodiment of the holiday,  wouldn’t work if Will Ferrell, who plays a human raised by Santa’s little helpers, came down from the North Pole to New York looking for his biological father, James Caan, in the middle of July.  The film’s plot also needs to force at least one of its characters to reexamine his or her life in a moment of self-reflection.  In It’s a Wonderful Life, Jimmy Stewart realizes just how valuable his life is by seeing what the world be like if he’d never been born (though such an epiphany is generally meant for the main character, it can also apply to a supporting cast member like the previously mentioned Jimmy Caan in Elf).  This usually results in the troubled characters redeeming themselves through some act that ends up reaffirming the concept of family and togetherness.  In Home Alone, Macaulay Culkin’s exuberance at being alone is replaced with wishing for his family back and then “earning” their return by defending the family home from burglars Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern, maturing himself in the process (Catherine O’Hara, who play his mother, does the same for Culkin by enduring travel hell, including sharing a ride in the back of a U-Haul with John Candy.).

So how does Die Hard do when stacked up along side these rules for Christmas movies? Well, as we’ve already mentioned it’s set during the holidays.  At an office Christmas party no less (seriously who hasn’t wanted to shoot one of those  up?).  Willis plays a New York City cop who flies out to L.A. to see his wife and kids for the holidays.  You see, the Mrs., played by Bonnie Bedelia, has a successful corporate gig and was promoted to the Los Angeles office (taking the children with her) and can’t decide to go by or her maiden name (Gennaro) or her husband’s last name (McClane). Willis is driven from the airport straight to his estranged wife’s office building, where, while in the midst arguing with her and changing for the party in her suite like office, terrorists burst in and take over the place. Willis slips out during the mayhem and spends the rest of the movie fighting the bad guys in nothing more than black slacks and a tank top (barefoot, too) throughout the building.

It’s interesting that the terrorists (lead by Alan Rickman) aren’t actually terrorists, but rather posing as such so they can steal $600 million in untraceable bonds in the company’s safe.  Greed and avarice are constantly vilified in Christmas stories and the motivation behind the most archetypal holiday seasonal tale villain, Scrooge. It’s also a driving force for Bedelia, whose character has clearly chosen her career over her family.  In essence, she, like many modern women, has two different lives, but her’s are each distinctly named for us.  There’s the Holly McClain, wife and mother of two children and there’s Holly Gennaro, successful corporate executive.  Her internal struggle is between the Gennaro and McClain personas.  At the start of the film, Holly Gennaro is in charge.  She places the family portrait with Bruce Willis and the kids face down in her office, calls the Hispanic maid whom she’s shirked her maternal responsibilities on to (“What would I do without you? She proclaims to her surrogate over the phone), and is rewarded with an expensive watch for all she’s done for the Nakatomi  corporation (“It’s a Rolex,” her coked out coworker brags to Willis).  But at the end of the move, we know the Holly McClaine role has won out.  In the climax, after dispatching all the other villains, Willis shoots Rickman, who stumbles out a shattered window and grabs Bedelia’s wrist (the one with that watch) on the way, thus dangling precariously out the building and about to take her with him.  Willis then saves Bedelia by unhooking the Rolex’s clasp and plunging Rickman to his death. In essence, Willis’s character is forcibly destroying his wife’s professional persona (the Gennaro role) and hoisting her back into the traditional wife and mother function—something she confirms when Willis introduces her afterwards as Holly Gennaro and she corrects him by saying: “McClane. Holly McClane.” Thusly reaffirming the traditional (and completely sexist) family roles.

But Bedelia’s character isn’t the only one who “redeems” herself.  Willis (besides mimicking the bloody image of a Christ like sacrifice by the end of the movie) also his own culpability to the state of his family.  In one scene, he makes a rather odd speech over the radio to his one ally, Reginald VelJohnson as  an LAPD Sergeant with whom he spends the majority of the movie talking to for moral support, and instructs him to find Bedelia and apologize to her on his behalf for the vague infraction of “being a jerk.” VelJohnson, with whom Willis hugs after the ordeal—projecting the theme of togetherness—experiences his own redemption in regaining the ability to use his service weapon (he explains in one radio hear-to-heart with Willis that after accidentally shooting a kid with a toy gun he could never pull his gun on anyone again and was regulated to desk duty) and shoots the last terrorist (he’s thought to be dead, but isn’t).

So you see how Die Hard meets all the requirements of a Christmas movie, but let me explain why it’s the perfect Christmas movie.  The genius of this film is that carries the same message of Miracle on 34th Street and accomplishes the goal of It’s a Wonderful Life under a completely different genre.  It’s still an action movie with a healthy serving of gratuitous violence (is there any other kind) and explosions (so many explosions), things that one would imagine might offend Christian morals.   It’s just been co-opted by Christmas, a holiday early Christians adopted from pagans.

By simply taking place during the holiday season, having characters redeem themselves after self-reflection, and affirm traditional family values and roles, the movie allows itself to be drafted into the Christmas movie category and as such parallels the actual history behind the holiday.  Thus Die Hard is the perfect Christmas movie.

[Pic via]

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