Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Memories of the Summer

It’s very hot in here.

It’s 2:00 on an early-June afternoon, and a generously sunny day is being filtered to impotence by this building’s obstinate windows. The sparse rays that make it into the room quickly find they have little for company—some cubicles, a couple of printers, computers. The cubicles are small, like shirt cuffs wrapped too tightly. Everyone is playing music at bewildering volumes, a virtual staple at every music label’s corporate headquarters. Guys with names like “Oliver” and “Kevin” are wearing clothing with names like “American Eagle” and “D&G,” but playing to a hip-hop sensibility. They are fist-pounding (often missing) and trading barbs about Kanye West.

There is an oversized poster of The Bravery on the far wall, and as I begin to abhor my very existence, someone offers coffee. I follow her past enclave after enclave of Olivers and Kevins and arrive at the kitchen: a frugal collection of utensils, a severe-looking fridge, and a coffeemaker. “Allie,” she says, extending her hand. “The coffee here sucks. Sorry.”

I take her hand, then the coffee.

The coffee sucks.

“Is it OK if I don’t drink it? I feel bad. You made it.”

“No, it’s fine,” Allie says. “Actually, you’d be insane to drink it.”

The coffee swooshes down the tiny sink. Allie empties hers, as well, perhaps for moral support. I follow her to the reception area, where she finds that an artist due to arrive any minute for an interview—the reason I am here—is still not here. Moreover, nobody knows when the air conditioning will be fixed.

A rotund, polo-shirt-clad man approaches. “Allie, what’s up baby?” he asks, employing the half-hug, half-butt-bump that is so popular among music-label types.

“Nothing,” she flirts back. “Just looking for some air conditioning.”

“Woo-wee!” he exclaims, as if she suddenly reminds him of the copious sweat holding court along his hairline. “Yeah, it’s hot as a mofo up in here.”

There are few certainties in New York City. One is that you will not get a seat on the Queens-bound F train between 6 and 8 in the evening if you get on after 34th Street. Another is that people complain about the weather—admittedly, New York has deplorable climactic behavior, with about five hot months, five cold months, one nice month, and around 30 days, collectively, that serve to transition from one undesirable weather-type to another. New Yorkers have legitimate claims, but that the former air the latter so frequently is something of an anomaly.

The winter in Montreal is so cold that the residents live in an underground civilization half the year, replete with supermarkets and transportation. The humidity in Miami is wringing, as torturous and inescapable as a first date. New Jersey abuts New York City; most days, the two share a forecast. Whatever the reason, NYC’s moaning quotient is greater than those other locales’ combined. Although New Yorkers endure work more hours than anyone else, the sun scandalizes them.

Holding a cell phone to her face, Allie winces and apologizes. “Sorry, she’s not going to be here today,” she says, referring to my interview subject. “Maybe you wanna come back later this week?”

“Sure,” I respond, a little dejected. “Maybe when the A.C. is fixed.”

“Yeah, we’re all dying. You better come back later.”

In the elevator down to the street, a saturnine fellow wearing a double-breasted suit, a gold watch, and designer sunglasses clutches a handkerchief against his nape.

“Goddamn weather,” he exhales. “Goddamn weather.”

Stay Sweaty, New York
MC Muggy

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Riot, Then Quiet: To and From and To The New Deal

Moans and caterwauls ululate in the undergrowth, and while cars and trucks zip up and down the Pennsylvania Turnpike nearby, a single pedestrian stops to listen. The young man lowers his sneakers into the grass behind a rest-stop convenience shop and examines the noise. He lopes further, the green sod underfoot checkered with fenestrate dirt patches, and locates the culprit: a small cat, beleaguered and gaunt, is rummaging for food. The pedestrian cedes the cat a Sunny Doodle, and the recipient unfurls a whimper and retreats to deeper reeds.

This small, eminently quiet moment happens at 3 am, a similarly small, eminently quiet time. Vehicles are passing only intermittently as the night wears on, and the convenience store clerk, wielding a broom, is the only other sign of human activity. To be fair, it is late at night, and this is a forsaken stretch in northern Pennsylvania, and the cat is situated in an abandoned thatch, so the hush is concomitant with the context.

The pedestrian, pleased with his generosity, wants to get back on the road. “Two more hours till New York,” he says to his two companions, who exit the store with a candy-and-caffeine haul. Suddenly, the pedestrian is pedestrian no more, as he torques the key in his SUV’s ignition. The car is rife with the evidence of travel—wrappers, empty Snapple bottles, old receipts, and an iPod hooked directly into the car stereo. The GPS flashes a northbound route as the driver exhumes a long-ago road trip.

“I was down in Asbury Park, south Jersey, for a Jimmy Eat World concert,” he says, lips perched above a coffee cup. “I came back up through Staten Island and got two tickets on the way home. I was about 17 or 18, and it totally ruined my life. I was in car insurance hell for years.” Now 23, his spell in hell is long over. But he still hates Staten Island, and so, “we’re not going that way. It’s probably longer the other way, but I can’t go back.”

The purpose of this trip is relatively straightforward. These three friends live in New York, and The New Deal, a band that pseudo-broke up and rarely performs, played in Philadelphia tonight. Two hours down, two-and-a-half hours there, two hours back. About seven hours in all, rest stops included. They’re on the way back home now, content with the The New Deal-inflicted abuse (“That pretty much rocked my face,” one of them remarked earlier, which seems to echo the general sentiment), but the damage is considerable—show-going is a taxing business, what with the drive, the sweat, the jostling, the dancing, and, of course, the face-rocking. The return trip is, for lack of a better word, sloppy. The three road warriors, all about the same age, rehash their favorite moments from the night, venture into guy-territory tangents (girls, boobs, LeBron James), then trail off into silence. There’s only so much to say at this hour on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, and with The New Deal slated to perform in New York the next night—“which is huge,” the driver says—they’re probably contemplating how it might be possible to get home at five in the morning and still manage to present their faces, for rocking, a few hours later.

The driver figures it out first. “I’m going to sleep ‘til about 4 in the afternoon tomorrow,” he announces, “have myself a late breakfast, get ready for the concert.” He mulls over abandoning his traditional front-row spot for something farther back. “I stand front row. I AM front row,” the driver barks, lowering the stereo's volume. “But maybe I’m too distracted by watching the band to really listen to the music.” He may have a point—The New Deal, like a high-octane combustion engine, burns brightly. Watching the dance/trance/electronica trio from a front-row perch and listening to them from the bar are two different animals.

“You should meditate beforehand, get yourself really centered and focused on the show,” the front passenger responds to the driver. “That would take the concert back up a notch.”

The highway is dark, and the few drivers we pass are using their brights, as are we. The iPod is gently streaming another New Deal concert, from a festival in 2005. The car steadies at five miles per hour above the speed limit, an excruciating pace except for the serenity it engenders. It is already past 4:00, a full hour after the driver fed a stray cat behind a rest stop, but neither driver nor passengers evince any sign of being in a rush. Philadelphia was a victory for them, a cool thing to do. They are soaking in the win, knowing that tomorrow night—later tonight, really—brings another contest.

Stay Sleepy, Pennsylvania Turnpike
DJ Dance

Friday, May 9, 2008

Craigslist: Saving Monogamy, One Cheater at a Time

Cheating happens. Some of us do it, some do it to us, and the rest know people who do it. With divorce rates so high and caustic break-ups at their peak, cheating has become love’s dark handler. Disloyalty is an ancient fact—the Ten Commandments proscribe adultery—but only recently have we embraced technology that, among other functions, makes cheaters more visible. They’re caught on videotape, spied on surveillance systems, and exposed on YouTube. Cellphones, PDAs, emails, and instant messages are all potential evidence.

Now, it seems, technology is not just facilitating apprehension, but also punishment. My friend Rivas, while perusing the Craigslist apartment listings, discovered the following solicitation:

Punishment for cheating - mw4m
Reply to:
Date: 2008-05-08, 7:21PM

The worst thing imaginable has happened. My wife caught me messing around and she is the breadwinner in our home. Like everyone I never figured I would get caught- but I did.
So she gave me 2 choices. Pack my bags and split(that won't work and she knows it) or I have to run this ad and recruit 3 men who will let me service them on my knees while she watches! I have never done this before, but if I want to stay I have to.
I don't care what you look like- I just need you to show up at the hotel room at the appointed time and let me do what I have to do. Then leave- I would prefer if you didn't even say a word. The first 3 guys who answer are the ones.
It would be this Saturday night in the Upper East Side.

[Original post:]

For anyone genuinely interested, this is an unprecedented windfall: free gratification, no strings attached. More importantly, though, this post (and others like it, if there are any) should change the paradigm for how we handle infidelity. Millions of users log in to Craigslist every day, virtually guaranteeing that fetishists of all sorts are merely a post away. This is greatest possible deterrent to cheating: if you know that your partner could instantly access two hermaphrodites, a horse, and a ring of fire, you might not cheat in the first place. With technology increasing the probability that cheaters will be caught (as mentioned above), and with Craigslist making possible even the most perverse revenge schemes, not only would you have to be verminous to cheat, but you'd have to be idiotic.

Plus, there's an added bonus: we, the Craigslist community, will get to read about the whole thing. And, like three individuals will this Saturday night, we'll even get to participate.

Stay Single, Everybody
MC Monogamy

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

FU, Bro

Perhaps sports fans have not taken an anti-establishment stand because Sports Rooting, as an institution, indulges our primal indolence. Enjoying a sports contest is inextricably linked with sitting—on a couch, in a bleacher, in the stands, in the grandstand, on an inflatable seat cushion. “Spectating” and “Rooting” share a referent: lazy boys in Lay-Z-Boys.

In response to a previous post's conviction that fans are being priced out by sports franchises, a reader named "Pete Rose" offered the following proposal:

“Good point. My friends and I came to a similar realization a while back. We did not decide to strike but wanted to create a big FU, by that I mean a fan union. As you mentioned the players have done it. The highest paying outdoor job in the country is baseball player, because the players union for baseball is not only one of the strongest unions in sports, it is one of the strongest unions in America. A large fan union would give some power to the fans, they would be able to have some leverage and barging power in terms of the price of tickets and merchandise.” 

To which we say: Good point. The FU (an all-time acronym) would transfer some leverage to professional sports’ consumer sector, which would potentially affect a seismic reduction in the cost of fandom. Given that we, the fans, inexplicably remain at the mercy of everyone else’s avarice, it only follows that we exercise a little frugality and organization.

However, the rub lies in the axiom cited above: sports fans are shiftless. To be any other way is almost antithetical to being a fan. The most active role a fan serves is maintaining the integrity of The Wave. Some fans took another step, though, and created We The Fans, which advertises as “The Official Sports Fan Union.” Its tag line announces, “Activism For The Rights & Demands Of Sports Fans Since March 8, 1999.”

Its raison d’etre, the site professes, is combating the exploitative owners and overpaid players with a well-oiled fan coalition. We The Fans pleads with the public to form “A union to fight the MADNESS of the outrageous concession prices, the outlandish cost of tickets, the ‘obscenely overpaid,’ ‘team mentality-challenged,’ ‘psuedo-entertainers,’ playing A GAME in an arena or stadium that increased OUR taxes! The MADNESS must stop! The ONLY WAY it will be stopped is by YOU.”

Noble, indeed, but for how long did We The Fans exist? It’s hard to say, but the website for this underclass uprising was last updated on October 1, 1999—less than seven months after it formed. It seems that even the most motivated of us, the ones sufficiently outraged to build a website, devolved back into inactivity after just over half a year.

Seems like we’ll be overpaying for beer for a while yet.

Stay Slothful, FU
DJ Devolution

Saturday, May 3, 2008

The Butcher from Brisbane

"Hi. I'm Mick, and this is my brother Rick. He's a carpenter, and I'm a slaughterer."

The sizable Australian is gesticulating with his half-quaffed beer, amusedly lamenting his inability to end lives more effectively.

“I kill about 209, 210 animals a day. It’s a nice round number. It should be more,” he roars, undulating to the prospect of upping his slaughterhouse's output. With sharp-crested brown boots and a to-the-scalp buzz-cut, the Brisbane native is in New York with Rick—who, by building houses by hand, occupies an equally masculine realm as his brother—and is full-heartedly singing the enthusiasms borne of killing animals for a living.

“I love hamburgers,” he says, addressing whether or not butchering has changed his culinary habits. “I also love swine—do you call swine ‘pig’ here?” He interrupts the taxonomy questions with a blunt promise. “Bring me a bird right now and I’ll kill it.”

Mick’s job consists of shooting cattle and swine with a captive bolt pistol, firing into the front of their heads to stun them before slaughter. His sanguinary occupation notwithstanding, Mick is genial, loquacious, and engaging, and, according to cell-phone pictures, in possession of a very hot girlfriend.

He says that he rides the swine while they’re still alive, that he mock-milks the cows, and that he generally loves his work. Mick doesn’t seem so cut-throat by nature, which makes all the more stupefying the thought of condemned beasts subject to the insouciance of this man, whose oversized hands must make difficult the hanging of his one stud earring on his right lobe.

Mick is a paradox: an eminently simple man with a self-concept that spans a thousand fathoms. From his tone and comportment, one gathers that Mick pseudo-aggrandizes his station, envisioning himself as natural selection’s assassin, the animal kingdom’s Darwinian enforcer. He stands increasingly upright at mentioning his slaughterhouse exploits, and seems to think, magnanimously, that everyone does something as carnally blue-collar as him and his carpenter brother.

It is rare, especially in Manhattan, to meet somebody from the old guard, the type of industrialization-era laborer who isn’t helpless with his hands. Instead of droning over spreadsheets or dissecting affidavits, he enjoys the immediate fulfillment of task completion: he stuns, he slaughters, he goes home. His job description is terminally simple, yet—for Mick, or someone so constituted—endlessly satisfying.

As my friend Sarah observes, “In New York there are guys. Those people (Mick and Rick) are men.” Indeed, the down-under twosome are somehow fuller, more virile, even more contented, than the mere “guys” in their presence. They are this generation’s Paul Bunyans—folk heroes without the slightest inkling as to their own immensity.

Stay Sizable, Slaughterer
MC Mick