Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Couch Trip

Ah, it's great to be young and insane!

-- Billy, from "The Dream Team*"

Yesterday evening, N. and I executed Part II of the Couch Upgrade Master Plan that was begun over the weekend. We had to return to her sister's place in Virginia to collect the final of three pieces.

Potomac Storm 4
This is the last thing I remember before the apocalypse.
Everything went fine getting to Virginia. We took Rock Creek Parkway to avoid the construction on 9th Street, leaving just before 6:30 so we'd hit it when the traffic returned to two-ways. Easy as pie! Getting out of town during rush hour is the hard part, right?

Wrong. We came back in over Memorial Bridge, with the intent of returning home to Columbia Heights via RCP, as we had come. In the intervening time, which couldn't have been more than an hour, the parkway had been completely barricaded. You couldn't turn right onto the parkway, so you had to go into this little Ohio Drive turnaround thing. From here, I figured I would try to get back to 23rd Street by going around the other way 'round the Lincoln Memorial.

Wrong. You could not go left in order to go "clockwise" around the circle, also blocked, forcing you to go right, into some kind of no-man's-bus-parking-tourist-zone. A place where no sane person would ever choose to drive. A place where I had no choice but to drive.

Us and about a million other cars, of course, since everyone was thoroughly confused at this point by the complete madness of the dysfunctional detours and non-existent traffic control officers.

This was 30 minutes of my life. Really.
So around we go, eventually ending up right back where we started: at Independence & Ohio Drive where the parkway was blocked. From there, of course, it was clear that the only way to escape was on Independence Avenue eastbound. A U turn and there we were.

Hello, Washington Monument! Hello, Tourists!

At this point I realized we would be required to drive deep into the heartland of DC, the mall. We eventually found ourselves heading up 14th Streetish. By now, it had been an hour in traffic and the weather was looking ominous. But we were close to home: I was on Rhode Island Avenue, heading towards Logan Circle. Soon I would be at Sherman Avenue which is pretty much a straight shot to from my front door. I could almost taste victory!

But no, the saga was not meant to end like that. Rhode Island was blocked off before Logan Circle. There was some incident on the northern side of the circle involving many police cars, but the south side looked clear so I wasn't sure why they closed RI Ave. completely. Nor could we turn around, because traffic was bumper to bumper the other way. But hark, an alley! We were saved! I ducked in, convinced we would soon be free.

But as I could see the light at the other end of the alley, one final challenge lay in wait. Like the Kraken of our odyssey, it loomed before us.

A Ford Expedition with a trailer in tow was attempting to back through the alley.

"Ford Expedition" just by itself is something that simply has no place in a city, much less an alley. Add "trailer" and you're fully West Virginia. These things should be stopped at the border. But backing up through an alley?? The alley that happens to be the only possible escape route from traffic hell? While rain is starting to pelt down upon our precious couch?

In the meantime, of course, another car had come into the alley behind us, completing the absolute madness. Hunger-induced crankiness ensued. Words were exchanged between myself and that Expedition's "navigator." Everyone threw up their hands. The details are a blur at this point but somehow, miraculously, we turned around and got back out of the alley. We found a place to stop and covered the couch with a tarp. Somehow we escaped to 15th Street which by some miracle was functioning and got the hell out of Dodge. Somehow the skies were sort of merciful and the storm had passed by the time we got home.

Nearly 90 minutes after leaving Springfield, VA, we got home.

What did we learn? Who is to blame

I tried to find a way to blame this on the bikes, but I couldn't. A couple of them did scare the crap out of me by blowing by me just as a light changed, but it was no skin off my nose. I did, however, nearly have a collission with someone in a wheelchair who playing frogger with his life downtown. That was awkward.

I would like to chastize the Park Service for the worst traffic control ever when closing basically the only way to get to Northwest DC from Memorial Bridge. You stole an hour of my life that I will never get back.

But at the end of the day, it was just one of those situations where everything aligns to create the perfect storm. That was one big twinkie, but we lived.

* I couldn't find any suitable quotes from "The Couch Trip." But they are both movies from the late '80s about escaped mental patients so it was close enough.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Decision '10: What the Cluck?

Things are starting to heat up in DC with the race to the bottom for mayor. Don Peebles, the great white hope, except he's black, has finally decided not to run. Or has he? Honestly, it's entirely unclear. But despite his waffling over the very issue of his candidacy for going on a year now, he still remains a powerful, alluring figure. He's from DC, he's rich, he's disgusted with Fenty, and unlike Vincent Gray, he has a personality.

Unfortunately, he still lives in Florida and doesn't appear to be running. I'll probably vote for him anyway.

The Actual Candidates

Despite Peeble's irresistable appeal, most people are concentrating on the decision between incumbent Adrian Fenty and Vincent Gray, as Vermin Supreme has not yet announced his candidacy.

Arguments in favor of Fenty include:

  • he's not Marion Barry,

  • everyone feels safer than they did 3 years ago, except the people who left Arlington and bought their first house in Trinidad,

  • has succeeded in having a term coined with his name: "fenty field" (def: a spectacular, fabulously expensive sporting facility made of high-tech, washable turf that is installed outside a decrepit, barely functioning public school, bearing the mayor's name)

  • doesn't let arrogant celebrities like Dorothy Height and Maya Angelou bully him into meeting with them, and successfuly outlived Dorothy Height, too.

  • successfully appointed close friends to most agency head positions as well as the Attorney General, ensuring that his agenda can be implemented without any pesky obstructions or "checks and balances."

Arguments in favor of Vincent Gray include:

  • he's not Marion Barry, and

  • he's not Adrian Fenty.

Beak It Down For Me

For me, this is a difficult decision, because one crucial piece of information on the candidates' platforms remains a mystery.

Where do Fenty and Gray stand on chicken ownership?

Councilmember Tommy Wells forever endeared himself to me by coming forth last year in favor of easing restrictions on chicken ownership in DC. Neither Fenty nor Gray has distinguished themselves in any meaningful way on this issue.

Fenty is running almost entirely on a platform of taking credit for all the development projects conceived and begun during the Anthony Williams administration, as well as the reduction in crime that nearly every American city has seen.

Meanwhile, Gray has countered by clearly identifying himself as a man who is absolutely, positively not Adrian Fenty. Though we still have not seen the birth certificate... could it be that Gray is Kenyan? Wait... Fenty grew up on Kenyon Street... which sounds like Kenyan Street... could Fenty also be Kenyan? Hmmm....

I, for one, will support the candidate that pledges to ease the unconstitutional restrictions on chicken ownership. And is not a Kenyan citizen. Though this may make me a single-issue voter, it could be the only substantive difference between Fenty and Gray's platforms. Without this distinction, their campaigns are a yolk. Should either candidate decide to take a stand... or even a roost, we will have a race. Until then, things look pretty beak.

Don't chicken out. Don't lower your eggspectations. Demand a farm-fresh perspective. Vote chicken rights!

Monday, June 21, 2010

The 'hood provides for all needs

The weekend couch olympics

Sunday, N. and I were bestowed with a hand-me-down couch from her sister. Since our evil puppy believes he owns most of the furniture in the house, and identifies things as his own by chewing holes in them, this was a welcome upgrade. And, I can say it now, because N. and I have finally gotten this out in the open: her old couch just wasn't that comfortable. It looked nice enough, but it was just a little too short to stretch out on comfortably, and not quite deep enough for proper laziness, especially when shared with another human being and/or one or more dogs.

So we picked up the couch and and the shuffle began. First, I had to remove another old couch that had been taking up space in the basement for a couple years to make room for one of the pieces of the new set that we weren't going to use right away. I remembered that it had been almost impossible to get in there in the first place, and I was dreading going through that exercise in reverse. So instead I destroyed it. With nothing more than a hammer and a box-cutter, I had that thing reduced to a pile of sticks and rags in an hour.

Next, in a complex dance necessitated due to limited space and dogs, we had to temporarily move the old couch to the dining room, move dogs around and close doors, and get the new one in. By some miracle the new couch fit easily through the door and it was in the house in no time.

Out with the Older

I should have converted the old couch into a Tailgate Couch®
But now, the old couch: what to do with it? It was actually in OK shape, and only a few years old. The major downside was single dog-chew hole in one of the integrated back cushions, but it was hardly visible and could probably be repaired by someone so inclined. We figured one of our friends might be interested in inheriting it, so we didn't just want to toss it. But nor did we want to spend a lot of effort finding a home for it. So the plan was to take it around to the backyard and cover it, hopefully finding a taker before the elements or wildlife got to it.

But the fates solved that problem, and in record time. Our neighbors two doors down have been having an ongoing moving sale for the last couple weeks. Basically, their front yard and sidewalk have been a turkish bazaar. And a remarkably popular one -- their stuff was actually better than a lot of the weekend yardsales we've been to around town. It seemed like people were around their house all day long.

So we threw the old couch on the truck and let them know that if any of their customers were interested, they could have it. We struck paydirt almost immediately: one of their friends inspected the wares and it was removed from the truck within the hour.

You gotta love the 'hood.

Now I just have to deal with the mountain of rubble in the backyard from the old couch and a long-overdue yard cleanup...

Friday, June 18, 2010

Well I didn't have any plans anyway...

So this 26-year-old girl went to see Phish in Portsmouth, Virginia on Tuesday, but after the show, her friends couldn't find her. So they went home. Her parents, being the protective types, freaked out and filed a missing persons report.

Drag Me To Hartford

Laura Pepe and, likely, one of her newfound
traveling companions. I don't get it either.
As it turned out, she just decided that the show was awesome and, not having any other particular plans, decided to catch a few more shows. Apparently she had made some new friends and tagged along with them. Once the acid wore off, she thought it might be prudent to let people know she was alive. She called her parents from somewhere in the DC area yesterday to let them know she was on her way to Hartford.

Hilarious... and proof of why Phish is better than Metallica. The woman who disappeared from a Metallica concert, sadly, was never seen again.

Drag Me To Hell

While Laura was tooling around the U.S. with her new friends, I was, sadly, on haitus from my own Phish tour. But I had an opportunity to see Sam Raimi's first directorial gig since the last "Spider Man" last night, "Drag Me To Hell."

She was probably also at the phish concert.
I've long adored his campy, cheesy, and brilliant horror spoofs, "Evil Dead," "Evil Dead II" and "Army of Darkness." So I was looking forward to seeing his first return to the genre where he cut his teeth since making the giant-budget "Spider Man" trio.

I have to say I was a little disappointed. Perhaps it is a matter of setting one's expectations too high, or perhaps it is that the genre is best suited to a low budget. Or, perhaps, it is that Bruce Cambpell did not even have a cameo. I am not going to describe the plot too much - because there really isn't one. That is never the point of these movies.

Raimi's original low-budget, over-the-top films owed much of their charm to their absurdity and self-deprecation, yet still were groundbreaking technically. The famous scene from Evil Dead II where Cambell is fighting against his own hand is frightening, hilarious, and somehow believable. Drag Me To Hell featured modern production and much better special effects, but the result was often flat.

The best scene in the movie came early on, in which our hero, Christine, is attacked in her car and consequently cursed by the gypsy pictured above. A young woman fighting off a crippled old lady with a stapler? Brilliant. But things kind of deflated after that. The frights were simplistic, and the enemy was intangible and impotent. Most of the demon's chills came in the form of rattling kitchenware, billowing curtains, and an occasional nightmare. So while the sets were lush and lavish, they were a backdrop to relatively uninteresting proceeedings.

There were some positives, most notably the fortune-teller character who Christine consults throughout the movie in her efforts to free herself from the gypsy's curse. He got all the good lines, while most of the other characters were pretty flat. Another scene where Christine meets her boyfriend's parents also has some priceless moments. But unfortunately these bright spots were overwhelmed by a rather plodding pace and pretty uninspired action.

At the end of the day, it was an okay movie. At $30 million, it wasn't exactly a big-budget film either. But Evil Dead II, which was made for $3.5 million more than twenty years ago, did far more with far less.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A Light In The Attic

I am not referring to the Shel Silverstein collection of the same name. But it is a wonderful book nonetheless. Rather, I am referring to the latest bit of incremental progress on the long road to transforming my "fixer-upper" into a mansion of exquisite charm and taste.

I am now officially in Year 4 of living in (or, perhaps, living with) my Columbia Heights home/project/nemesis, and I have shared that space with my lovely fiancee for close to a year as well. There is a theorem that says that you will gradually accumulate stuff to fill the space in which you live. This has always proved true in my own life, as I am a hoarder.

The Project

Just over two years ago I first addressed this problem in the only rational way: by expanding the space available to store things. This involved putting in a staircase so I could access my attic more easily than by hoisting myself up through a crumbling hole in the ceiling of one of the closets. Since I only have three closets in the entire house, one of which is too small for any useful purpose, this inefficient attic access method also served to reduce my available storage space, since I couldn't really use the closet as long as I had to go through it to get to the attic.

Two years later, over the weekend, I got around to putting some lights up there. Now I can see without a flashlight or an extension cord from the 2nd floor of the house! Since it was about 130 degrees up there while I was working on Saturday (when the mercury outside reached 95) I had the roof hatch open too. This reminded me that the roof hatch thingy had seen better days. Probably about 50 years ago. It was crumbling to dust, so I also rebuilt that thing to ensure that water and rooftop prowlers stay out. All in all it was a fine day in the attic and I now have improved my ability to store things that I have a 10 percent chance of needing in the next 10 years.

The Reward

That was Saturday. Sunday I headed off to see my favorite band Phish in Hershey, PA with a friend. In order to justify this, I need to explain to you that I have been a fan for 20 years as of this September. That means that I am not:

  • A stoned college student and/or drifter
  • Asking people on the way if I they can "kick me down" some change for gas and/or tickets
  • Going to be checking out from society until Phish finishes their tour

On the other hand I am, probably, still:
  • Clinging desperately to some vestige of carefree, bygone days
  • Willing to drive long distances and deal with much inconvenience to see three hours of music from a bunch of guys who are still wearing the same tee-shirts they were in 1986. The setlists haven't changed much since then either.
  • Convinced that it is worth every bit of the money & effort.

It was a fun time. Hershey, by the way, is decidedly not intended for pedestrians. The hotel I stayed in was, as the crow flies, about one mile from the stadium, pictured above. Seemed like a no-brainer to walk in instead of dealing with a massive parking lot situation. That walk involved walking on the edge of a quasi-highway for a mile. Then, the actual road into the park has no sidewalk or shoulder for a stretch, even though it's right in the center of town! Luckily there wasn't much traffic at that point so it wasn't especially scary but really quite baffling how difficult it was to do what seemed entirely reasonable and sensible.

The stadium, by the way, was half-empty - certainly a change from bygone days when you had to work every angle you had just to get a ticket. I thought, perhaps, this meant that Phish has finally been around so long that some of their fans are dying off due to old age. You know, the ones who were already old when they were deadheads back in the 80's -- those guys could easily be in their 60s by now, and anyone born after 1980 probably thinks of Phish as some kind of curiousity from a bygone era.

But the crowd was a lot of young people, and everyone seemed to be pretty into it. That is, it wasn't like a bunch of college kids just came to the show because there was nothing else to do that night. I talked to a few people who were old timers, sure, but they were not the rule.

Anyway, the light crowd made for a great experience. You could easily move anywhere in the venue, and even though it was a pretty big place, it felt much more intimate. The sound was great (as expected), and people were up to their usual standards of friendliness with complete strangers. Like someone just handed me a bottle of water at some point - which was much appreciated, as it was damn hot out there.

The put on a fantastic show. Interestingly, they didn't play a single song written in the last decade -- actually nothing that came after the album "Billy Breathes" which was released in 1996. The fact that I really liked this conclusively identifies my as a curmudgeonly old-school fan who still thinks of songs from "Billy Breathes" as "new songs." That made the show very much a time warp. I doubt it was intentional - I don't think Phish analyzes their own sets that much - but it was a rare treat.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Road to Leftovers

In which I discuss old food, and the quest for old food in "The Road."

I eat leftovers. Old ones.

There, I have said it. I'm not ashamed. I hate wasting food and have been known to eat things that have been in the refrigerator long enough to receive four weeks' vacation each year. Freezer burn can be fun! Dinner goes from a tedious affair, to a special surprise, since you don't know what you'll be eating until it's defrosted. Sometimes not even then.

N. does not share my enthusiasm for green cheese and grey meat. While I prefer to rely on the "stink test" to determine the safety of most items found in the fridge, she prefers more conventional methods. Personally, I think that "best if used by" dates are a guideline, rather than a rule. I mean, if it said "absolutely do not use after this date," that would be one thing. But it's really just a suggestion. And then there's the "sell by" dates. Well, I bought it by that time, didn't I? Once it's in my fridge, obviously, time stops and I can eat it until it decides to leave on it's own volition.

Anyway, in the interest of protecting herself from my toxicity experiments, N. has started marking items with a date after they've been liberated from their original packaging. In some cases, such as the taco shells picture above, that information was not available. As you can see, her dating convention accounts for this situation as well.

I had leftover tacos for lunch yesterday... mmmm....

Moving on down the road...

On the subject of old food, we happened to watch this movie "The Road" the other day. The majority of this film involves a man and his young son clawing their way around a burned-out post-apocalyptic world looking for old food, since nothing will grow any more.

This movie is based on the pulitzer prize-winning novel of the same name by Cormac McCarthy. Because I am functionally illiterate (I just finished reading my first book in 14 months last week) I had never heard of the book. No matter, though, because had I known this fact before watching the movie, it is certain that my disappointment would have been that much greater.

I am going to level with you. And this may expose me as a boorish, MTV-generation loser with the attention span of a gnat.

I did not like this movie. At all. It was an exercise in bleakness. It's not that I can't handle slow-paced movies. I can. But when the high point of a movie was watching Viggo Mortenson finally wake out of his depression long enough to defend himself against a bow-and-arrow attack using a flare gun, it's time to consider the appropriateness of the medium.

What I'm saying is, perhaps this was a great book. Apparently there are droves of people out there who are entertained and inspired by a story of survival in a grim, hopeless world. Maybe, as a novel, one finds much insight into the character of humanity, finding life and clinging to morality in a lifeless world. I don't know, since I did not read the book. All I got from the movie, though, was scene after mind-numbing scene depicting the end of civilization and the pathetic fool's quest of two of the handful of survivors. It was basically like watching a cancer patient's last two hours of life.

Apart from the pure unpleasantness of the watch, there was no effort made to explain what this was all about. Perhaps this is not important for the movie's target audience (obviously, not me) but if you are going to create a vehicle for an end-of-days character study, at least make it plausible.

Something seems to have wiped out all life on earth, including every plant and animal. Yet somehow, a number of humans survived. What an odd catastrophe! Was it nuclear? Disease? Are some humans just miraculously immune to the effects of whatever it is that made the entire earth look like an abandoned Detroit suburb in January? And all along I thought it was the cockroaches that would survive.

I realize that for the literati, the backdrop of a story is merely a stage. The grey landscape and the brutal conditions are a canvas upon which a story is told. But if these deplorable conditions defy any conceivable reality, then what we have is an excercise in academics. It is no different than an economist demanding that the world must behave rationally, because in a village of three people, it always does. There is no such village. The oversimiplified setting detaches the story from any kind of reality. It makes it impossible for me, the viewer, to evaluate and absorb the emotions and actions of the actors in any substantive way, because I do not believe it. Each of the handful of confrontations on this Odyssey between our anti-heroes and the few other survivors is specifically contrived, altogether implausible, and consequently without weight.

Anyway, I can't recommend this film, unless you need something to put you over the edge on your plans for an oxycontin overdose.