10/30/2007

BUS RIDIN' WITH MOZART

I've been experimenting with alternative transportation lately, such as buses and cabs. Not so much because I'm deeply concerned about petroleum and climate change, but because I need to stop driving drunk.

I tried it out a few Fridays ago. Took the bus from my house to Benaroya Hall, where I was going to see Mozart's Requiem via a last-minute invite from my friend Tara. I tried to plan my route on the Metro Transit website, but it gave me a tangled web of bus stops, numbers, and vague street intersections, and I found myself wandering back and forth across the street with a puzzled, "unfrozen-Neanderthal-lost-in-New-York" expression on my face. It makes me wonder--if I, a supposedly intelligent, semi-educated intellectual-type, am having such a hard time figuring this out, how the HELL do the inbreds, schizophrenics, and lunatic drunks that make up most of the bus ridership ever figure it out? Is bus-knowledge just naturally hardwired into those unfortunate genes collecting algae on the bottom of the pool?

So, finally, I find the right bus, and get on it. I ask the driver if this bus goes to University St. downtown, and he just stares at me with an expression that somehow makes the word "dour" seem like onomatopoeia. I shrug and climb aboard, and he hands me a piece of paper covered in columns of cryptic numbers and arcane symbols. I think it was a transfer, but it may have been a Tarot card.

I sit down, and within a couple stops, the seat next to me is filled by a cute girl listening to her iPod. Hey, this isn't so bad. A few stops later she exits, and is replaced by a catastrophically obese man whose body mass slowly squishes me against the wall as it spreads out to the sides of him like melting jello. He smells vaguely of nutmeg, which doesn't seem right, and confuses my senses. I minimize my breathing.

Eventually I reach my stop and arrive at Benaroya Hall. I realize that my previous impression of the Seattle Symphony crowd as being a fairly equal mix of formal and casual dress was slightly inaccurate, and I feel a little conspicuous. At least my hoodie is black. I meet Tara and we go inside.

The "opening act" is a frilly, bouncy little number by Mozart that brings to mind flowers, powdered wigs, and schoolgirls in petticoats fighting about limes. When that bullshit finally ends there is an intermission, and since I haven't eaten anything all day and my stomach is growling like an open-string double-bass in rondo, I decide to make a dash for it and get some food.

I'm not about to stand in line with a bunch of suit-wearing richies to pay 20$ (no joke) for a plate of Wolfgang Puck food scooped out of a cafeteria-style warming vat, so I run down the street to Quiznos. It's closed. I run down the street to a Teriyaki place. Like many small Asian restaurants they turn out to be cash-only, since Eastern peoples are not particularly adept at operating credit card swiping machines. Although I hear the more industrialized areas of Japan are starting to develop some rudimentary electronics capabilities--hopefully someday it will spread to their expatriates here in the US.

Finally I end up at a 1950's themed diner, and order a "Rocket Burger Cowboy Deluxe". Meanwhile, back at the concert hall, the 20 minute intermission is rapidly coming to an end. I get my burger and jog the whole way back while stuffing chunks of burger into my face, but I'm too late. I walk in to find the lobby empty, and the ushers frowning at me while strains of the Requiem seep through the closed doors. I ask if there's any way I can still get in somewhere, and one of the ushers sternly escorts me to a seat in the very, very, back, back, far right corner, underneath the overhanging box seats. I feel strangely singled-out, like I'm the only unshaven 25 year-old shuffling into his seat in the middle of the chorale wearing jeans, sneakers, striped pirate shirt, and a hoodie with half a bacon-and-onion-rings burger bulging out of the pocket.

So I finally settle in and enjoy the symphony. It's dark and stirring, with a massive choir belting out ominous latin verses. Apparently Mozart had some balls after all. Maybe that's why he died in the middle of composing this piece, since sex-change operations probably weren't very safe in the 18th Century.

At one point, as a movement ends a woman gets up to leave. Just as she clears the last seat she trips on something and falls flat on her face in the middle of the aisle. Instead of rushing to her feet and fleeing in embarrassment she just huddles on the floor with her arms covering her head. A man gets up to help her and she staggers to her feet, turns on him and shoves out her hand like someone warding off a vampire with a crucifix. She loudly hisses, "Stay back! Stay back!" and then runs away. Never a dull moment at the Seattle Symphony. I think she was late for a demon-summoning.

The symphony ends and I catch a ride with Tara to Easy Street Records, where I'm supposed to be going to a show where pretty much all my friends in the city are going to be. I soon learn that there are 2 Easy Street Recordses, and the correct one, which I'm not at, is faaaaaar on the other side of town. This is what I get for trying public transport. I start walking back in the general direction of my house, hoping to catch a bus heading back that way, halfheartedly holding my thumb out to the street as I walk.

At one bus stop I encounter a large man wearing a jacket covered in buttons. I ask him if he knows what bus will take me to Ballard. He turns slowly and smiles down on me beatifically. "Yes," he says, "Of course." And he begins a homily covering every glorious detail of the public transit system, in such a flood of information that I can't possibly absorb anything useful. Eventually I manage to nod and thank my way out of the conversation. Later, browsing on the internet, I discover that the man I encountered was in fact a local street celebrity, known as The Button-Wearing Bus Expert. He has his own page on Seattlenotables.com. I had no idea I was in the presence of a legend.

Finally I catch a bus to Ballard. The moment I step aboard, a scraggly old man in the front seat points at me and declares, like the prophet Elijah declaring the arrival of the Christ: "Now this looks like a young man who can take it!" (Behold!)

I sit down and look him in the eye and say, "Yes, I can take it."

The lady next to me rolls her eyes and says, "We've been 'taking it' for hours…"

Apparently the old man is quite the storyteller. He's also a close friend of President Nixon. And a member of The Who.

I love the bus system.

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10/28/2007

A CLOSER LOOK AT AN ANCIENT PROFESSION - LOBSTER TRAINING IN THE 21ST CENTURY

COMMON EQUIPMENT AND ATTRIBUTES OF THE CERTIFIED LOBSTER TRAINER




1. OUTBACK BUSH HAT - Not technically necessary for this trade, nevertheless a traditional element of the Lobster Trainer's ensemble

2. STEELY GAZE - Essential for "breaking" new lobsters, which are often wild and unruly and respond aggressively to signs of weakness or uncertainty. It is essential that the Lobster Trainer maintain firm eye contact at all times during these early phases of training, in order to establish dominance.

3. EYE PATCH - Although deeply rewarding, lobster training is by nature a hazardous profession.

4. DUCK CALL (unseen beneath scarf) - A whistle used to call or signal the lobster in various ways, both during training and in the home. A duck call is used because it is the type of call most similar to the lobster's own vocalization, since lobsters evolved from ducks.

6. LEATHER GLOVE - Protects the trainer's hands from minor lobster-related injuries, although it is a mostly ineffective defense against the lobster's actual claws, which can cut through steel.

7. HOOK HAND - Although deeply rewarding, lobster training is by nature a hazardous profession.

8. CONTROL ROD -Used to guide the domesticated lobster when walking it in public places. In this case the rod has been given red stripes to double as a "sight-impaired" indicator, as this particular lobster also serves as a seeing-eye animal for its partially-blinded trainer. This relationship is unique, as it is the first known case of a seeing-eye animal being the very same animal that caused the disability, but as pet lobsters continue to gain mainstream popularity, it will surely not be the last such case.

9. TRAINED LOBSTER, "PINCHE" - This fully domesticated lobster, dubbed "Pinche", is over 17 years old, and has been in its trainer's family since birth. Although generally mild-tempered and affectionate, Pinche, like all lobsters, is a powerful, mysterious animal, and must be treated with caution and respect, or serious harm may come to its human companions. Increasingly aware of this danger, the FAC has implemented a law requiring all lobster owners to carry a registered firearm at all times, to be used to destroy the lobster in the event that they lose control of their pet.

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10/10/2007

TRICK TRUCK

You know that new trend in commercial truck signage where the back of the truck is printed with a graphic that makes it appear as if the sliding door is halfway open, revealing the tools, equipment, or U-Haul storage space inside? Often with a friendly, uniformed employee standing on the edge, waving? Some of them are quite convincing illusions, and I find myself thinking, Hey, that guy's hatch door is open! But luckily, a crew member is there to hold it shut, and also smile and wave at me. I like this company because not only are their employees brave, they also provide great customer service! With a smile! While hanging off the edge of a fast moving truck!
Eventually the angle of the sun changes, revealing the 2-dimensionality of the scene, or I notice that the employee has not moved at all for several minutes despite being jolted around by the bumpy road, and I become aware that I'm looking at a clever illusion, and I feel somewhat let down and maybe even a little sheepish. But still, it's effective advertising. The illusion is not quite as successful when the image is printed on the back of a city transit bus instead of the company truck, however, because that makes me think, Hey! The hatch door on the back of that transit bus is open, all their drywalling tools are going to fall out--waaaait a minute.... and then I just get angry at the company for making me feel foolish. Damn you, company. I am smart. You tricked me.



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10/02/2007

FOOD REVIEW 2 - CHOCOLATE PEANUT BUTTER POPS




I've always been a big fan of Corn Pops, or as they're now called, "Pops", having modernized by dropping that old fashioned "corn" from the title, and changing their tagline to "Big Yellow Taste!". I have no idea what "Yellow" is supposed to taste like, but Pops taste pretty good. So, I was delighted and curious when I saw "Chocolate Peanut Butter Pops" at my local Safeway. I brought home a box and immediately poured a bowl.

What's this? The Pops are not in their usual puffed corn kernel shape, they are all perfectly round spheres. This can't be a good sign. I take a bite, and instead of the soft, gently pliant crunch that I'm expecting, the spheres shatter between my teeth like little balls of peanut-buttery pumice. Apparently the addition of the chocolate peanut butter flavoring necessitated a complete alchemical change in the basic structure of the cereal, because what I was eating was not Pops at all, it was slightly larger-than-average Cocoa Puffs, or maybe even Captain Crunch---the ultra-crunchy polar opposite of sweet, gentle Pops! The antithesis! And I have the scarred gums to prove it.

How does Kellogg get away with a switch-up like this? Why would they call this cereal Pops, when it is so clearly not Pops? Now I'm waiting nervously for the day I open a bottle of "New, Improved Taste!" Pepsi only to find it filled with Lil' Smokies.


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SAD ADS

Have you heard V8 juice's new slogan? It's:

"You Could've Had a V8".

I love the note of hopelessness and despair in this one.
It would seem advertising slogans have almost come full circle in their semantic tense. Back in the olden days, everything was an imperitive, telling you to
do something, telling you, the consumer, what to consume and exactly how to consume it. You know, "Eat at Joes!" "Enjoy Coca Cola!" etc. Then came a softer, more sensitive era where this approach of direct action was deemed too agressive, so everything became a little more uncertain and switched over to questions. "Where Do You Want to Go Today?" "How Many Bars Do You Have?" "What Are You Gonna Love at Qdoba?" etc.

Now apparently we've given up on convincing and cajoling people, and settled on just a weary sigh of resignation and regret over their poor choices.

"You Could've Had a V8..."

What other slogans can we expect to come out of this new advertising trend?

"You Were In Much Better Hands With AllState." (Allstate)


"Still Happy With That PC?" (Apple)


"You Left Home Without It, Didn't You??" (American Express)


"Too bad you grew up. What Are You Like 30 Now?" (Toys R Us)


"Home Improvement Could Have Been Improved A Lot More, But We Tried." (Lowes)


"Remember How Well You Used to Be Able to Hear Me?" (Verizon)

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FOOD REVIEW - SWEET POTATO CHIPS

Terra's Spiced Sweet Potato Chips wisely add the word "spiced" so that you don't think these are "sweet chips", like those abominable cinnamon-and-sugar Sun Chips, which taste as if they took regular salty Sun Chips and just sprinkled cinnamon and sugar on top of the existing flavor powder. The resulting flavor, "Cinnamon Cheddar", is a bold culinary stroke, but like many bold culinary strokes, tastes like sun-dried vomit.

I open the black, stylishly understated bag of Terra's chips and am delighted by the chips' deep orange color. They look just like sweet potatoes look! I pop one in my mouth, and my first reaction is, "Wow! These chips taste good!" The contrast of rich, mellow, sweet-potato sweetness with the tangy, cilantro-laden spice is an exotic new sensation. But something is nagging at the back of my brain, a vague feeling of familiarity. The odor of the chips is teasing my memory, somehow bringing to mind images of walking the snaggly streets of downtown Seattle late at night. Intrigued, I crunch down on another handful and breathe deep. Then it hits me. Where have I smelled this odor before? This musky blend of sweet, sour, and tangy? On every downtown street corner, wafting from the layers of tattered rags and crusted sweatshirts that form the steaming mound of lost humanity that is the homeless man. The truth hits me like a bolt of sickly-sweet lightning. These chips smell like B.O! Exactly like B.O! Like the kind of B.O that has been cultivated and nurtured and fermented until it acquires the richness and complexity of a great and terrible wine.

The chips taste delicious. But I can't shake the olfactory associations with diseased armpits and shambling hobos. I hurl the bag away and run to the bathroom to deposit some Cinnamon Cheddar in the toilet.


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FASHION, MOVIES, CELL PHONES, MADNESS


My client in this morning's visit is a Mexican dad and his son. Dad mainly speaks Spanish but speaks English well enough to be conversational. And is he ever conversational… The guy is talking to me non-stop. He's talking to me as a write this. And what does he have to talk about? The following things, and nothing else: Fashion, Movies, and Cell Phones.

Every single visit, without fail, he will notice my shoes and start talking about Converse, how he likes this or that color, how they look great with a suit jacket when you go to the club, etc. It's the same conversation every visit, almost verbatim. He will then ask me about other brands of shoes, and I'll shrug and say "Sure". Next he moves to movies, and briefly touches on the latest major releases and whether or not they were awesome. Finally, we move to his favorite, Cell Phones. We discuss at great length the many merits of the iPhone, and various other new models I haven't heard of. Sometimes it veers into other electronics, iPods, laptops, etc, but usually we stay pretty firmly in the mall phone kiosk. I have become really adept at smiling and nodding.

Today, we had a slight variation on the motif. To be sure, it was still about mass-culture consumer goods, but today his big thing was about where those goods were manufactured. He was outraged to find that his new Dolce & Gabbana sunglasses were made in China, and went on to list every product he had ever seen that was made in China. Guess, Gap, Holister, Levis, even the beloved Converse…all in China. And when he ran out of stuff made in China, he began to list everything from India, then Korea, and so on. It took about 20 minutes.

For me, the sublime moment of this whole experience was when, later on, during a rare lull in the conversation, while I'm writing this blog and Dad is just sitting there looking at the wall, he suddenly, with no apparent context whatsoever, just blurts out, "Nike."

I think now I finally grasp the idea of rampant and toxic consumerism. I've always kind of dismissed it as a scratching-post for over-caffeinated social critics eager for a target, but I'd never known anybody who was really part of the scene, never really had it shoved in my face. Having just sat through a 2 hour lesson in pop-culture-consumer obsession, I think I get it now. Sign me up for a 10 year subscription to Adbusters...

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