What’s Up? (2/6/17)

January 2017
I’ve been away for a month, but I’ve had things in order so I guess there wasn’t much to talk about. Coming into 2017 there were just a few things on my to-do list, and all of January was spent focusing on those things. 1) Any weight gained during the holidays has been lost, 2) I went and saw the movies I was meaning to see, La La Land, and Rogue One, and 3) I started putting myself out there again, trying to be and outward social presence.

I’m more physically active than ever before, I’m trying to be more social as well — so explain why “Gaming” is the headline here. Well, I suppose, given that I have lost weight, and that I’m making friends outside of the “Pitt Alumni” group, it helps to have something fun and concurrent to do at home alone. Though I haven’t owned a home gaming console in years, and have stuck to a modest laptop for the better part of 5 years, I have recommitted myself to enjoying the hobby of video games more regularly. I’ve been listening to, and watching, nearly 10 hours of Giant Bomb content a week, since 2008, so I never really left the world of video games, even if I stopped playing them as much. Though that being said, I feel like I could probably go for writing a review of Pokemon Sun (2016).

I did something very drastic this weekend. I tidied my apartment with the help of Marie Kondo’s “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.” Now, typical home tidying would have me finding new ways to hide clutter (shove this there, hide this in the closet, kick this under the couch). I exaggerate a little, but typically that’s how I’d “clean.” With the help of a little audiobook, I discarded most of my clutter, rather than hiding it. What’s more, she helped me redefine many of my possessions as clutter.

Shirts that were going unused, or that had no longer brought me joy, were in my closet for no reason. They were clutter. I’d say my apartment has about 30% fewer clothes in it now, than it did on Friday. I have not completed my work, though you’re supposed to do it all in one fell swoop. The hardest thing to do, would be to let go of some of these books. If a book does not make me happy, then why keep it? I know this will be the hardest step, because I think having a full book shelf is what makes me happy to have a bookshelf at all.

Dry Month
There’s a theme here; less is more. Less clutter, more happiness. Less weight, more movement. Less boredom, more fun. So something I’ve been meaning to try for a while is a dry, alcohol-free, sober month. Why do that? I love cocktails, I like inebriation, I like the social aspects of it!

Well, because less is more? And to an extent, I think drinking a little less, or none at all for a whole month, will give me greater appreciation for it, and greater clarity for how I handle things like stress, and what to do when I’m bored on a weekend. It’s too late to make February my dry month, but I’m eyeballing March. 31 Days of sobriety should also lead to a massive drop in calories consumed. I’m not committing to it yet, but when I do I have to make it public; making it public makes it harder to back down from it.

That could be part of why I keep a public blog like this. A private diary has no stakes. You can confess and make promises, but it’s private, so your confessions and promises only matter as much as you care about yourself? If I tell you, anonymous internet, that I’m going to stop drinking for a month, then I’d be lying if I didn’t follow through. Here’s another public promise: This February I will be reviewing Neon Indian’s “VEGA Intl. Night School” (2015) and La Roux’s “Trouble in Paradise” (2014).


What’s Up? (England Day Six)

Morning Hour
The morning of day six, it was decided between my friend and I that –while going to Cardiff would be nice, Baths Spa was closer and would provide more immediate entertainment than perhaps, seeing a Doctor Who museum would. So it was decided, that we would go to Baths Spa, and with a brief look on trip advisor, I also decided that we would have dinner at the wonderful, four-star, Martini Restaurant.

The adventure started with a big breakfast at Ebb & Flow; scrambled eggs, pancakes with blueberries, and the amazing invention that is fried bread. Seriously, how have I lived in America for 21 years, a land that loves and lives on bread and fried food, and never had fried bread? It is satisfying stuff. Not a shred of nutrition to be had but, satisfying stuff. Ebb & Flow by the way, is this wonderful joint that does breakfast and lunch by day, and booze by night–decorated with retro art, old newspaper comic strips, and graphic designs from the likes of Threadless designers.

Baths Spa
We arrived at the station in Baths Spa and found ourselves in the town square rather quickly. The immediate difference between Baths Spa and any other town in England, is the white stone aesthetic. Everything appears to be made out of this single type of stone, at least in this shopping district. A little further out, the Roman architecture shows its face, mixed in with a Gothic Cathedral, and some cottage-style buildings. Baths is a mix like that–well, nearly everywhere in England appears to be a mix like this–a city that keeps a little bit of every era its survived.

The Roman Baths would be a remarkable attraction for anyone to visit, but having completed a course in Roman Civilization just a few weeks prior to visiting amplified the experience. I wasn’t just in awe of Roman engineering, but often I was recognizing details from class notes, and remembering facts before our audio tour guide could recite them. I think one of the chilling realizations about the Baths is how, as a partially subterranean attraction,  you are reminded again and again how it was street-level back in the Roman Empire. A few hundred years go by, and underneath these British streets, you find entire Roman buildings, and the natural spring water still flows through the Roman architecture. And that spring water, is warm, and heavy with irons. “Tastes like blood.”

One of the funnier historical finds were these curses written by Romans and thrown into the pools of the temple. The punishments the Romans would ask for were completely out of proportion to the crime. Did you steal a bath tows mind. The curses weren’t just physically violent, they were oftentimes mentally cruel.

In any case, after a solid hour or two in the Baths, we walked over to David’s Ice Cream and Fudge, a tiny, tiny little shop that could maybe hold six or seven patrons? I do forget which flavor of ice cream my friend ordered, but I strongly recall ordering a lemon flavored ice cream, in a waffle cone. We ate ice cream on these benches in the Kingston Parade, in the shadow of the Abbey Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul. We made fun of pigeons walking around, and couldn’t help but laugh at ourselves for doing so. And we were beyond puzzled when two men carrying a refrigerator one way across the square, were spotted carrying the same refrigerator back the other way.

Martini Restaurant
We then navigated ourselves through Baths Spa, up Stall, through Burton, and up Milson Street, which was just lined with shops. We ran into a man who, well, put pigeons on people and took pictures of them. So of course we stopped, let the man put pigeons on us, had him take a few pictures of us, gave him a few pounds, and went on our way. And at the end of that road we were on George Street, and we made our way to the Martini Restaurant, a fancy little Italian restaurant that claimed it was “The Italian restaurant, run by real Italians!” Our waiter was a lovely man named Nikolaj who was smiley, polite, and frequented our table to check in on us. An older man, Giordano, occasionally popped by too, once commenting on my friends’ hella-stylish Bugs Bunny patterned button-up shirt. We had a bottle of Pinot Grigio Rosé, 19.95 Pound or 31 USD, which lasted us through the meal and was an absolute treat. Speaking of meals, my order of the Manicotti Roma was perfection; the Manicotti is like a cannoli-sized pasta tube, stuffed with ricotta and spinach, and no part of the pasta was overcooked or burnt. My friend ordered a pasta dish that included crab, Ling Granseola, and like myself, could not stop to talk about how good it was every four bites. Two excellent meals and a nice sweet wine to drink it down with would have made a good time, but it’s what we ordered next that made it a great time.

See, by this point we were a little tipsy, and saying things like “I can’t believe you’re here,” and “I can’t believe what a good time it’s been,” and “you are easily the coolest person I know,” or “I can’t believe I’m going home in three days.” And since we were enjoying ourselves I guess I thought, “why stop enjoying ourselves?” So we ordered two espresso martinis to close out the night, and that decision couldn’t have been wiser. Those martinis completely took the night to the next level. We ventured out back into Baths Spa in that kind of drunken bliss where we could laugh at just about anything, and everything about Baths just felt that much more amazing. We walked to the River Avon to see the Pulteney Bridge, which looked unlike any other bridge I’d ever seen before. The design was such that, it was like you weren’t crossing a bridge at all–the sidewalk kept going, and the shops did not come to a halt. And yet, in our mood, we were all about taking photos of the River Avon and its many seagull occupants. Like we had with the pigeons before, all we could do was crack jokes and laugh at ourselves.

We stumbled on over to Bath’s train station, cracked more jokes at the expense of seagulls, and went home to Southampton. What a day.

What’s Up? (3/5/2015)

The Jinx
This week I’ve been largely obsessed with a new miniseries on HBO called The Jinx. It’s like a true-crime documentary/interview/creative non-fiction project. The show’s full name is, I suppose, “The Jinx: The Lifes and Deaths of Robert Durst.” Does that name sound familiar? It may–it seems the murders associated with Robert Durst garnered a lot of media attention in the not-so-distant past. The show is a lot of fun to watch, for a grisly and ghoulish as it is, thanks to editors who understand how to craft drama. Interviews end at the right time, cut to dramatic music, a reinactment of a crime, then return to the interview. Like all good true-crime novels, certain things are amplified to make reality extra-exciting for viewers of The Jinx, but reality itself is the most exciting part to watch thanks to the center of attention: Robert Durst. The things the man does outside of possible murders, are fascinating and strange. I mean, when he was on the run from Galveston, Texas for murder, he risked it all to shoplift a hoagie from a Wegmans in Pennslyvania… so I remain glued to the TV, wanting more and more from this guy… what will he say next?

Spring Break
So I’m flying tomorrow, that’s crazy. I hope things aren’t as… slushy, as they are here in Pittsburgh. I’ll be gone for almost ten days but it’ll be good. I feel like I have nothing but city plans, like everything I want to do over break is: go to the city for a concert, go to a museum in the city, meet a colleague in the city, city, city, city. Not so surprising I guess, I mean there are places and people I love on Long Island but… you have to drive. And the thought of driving just does not go super smoothly for me, like I can feel a bit of the driving anxiety just writing about it now. I think I was born for walking and mass transit.

Writing about Alcohol
Today I spent an hour in the library just looking at, and looking for, books on alcohol–the history of it, the drinking of it–and specifically gin and vodka. I found a half-dozen pleasant books with Martini glasses on them, but I checked out the three I liked best; “Everyday Drinking” by Kingsley Amis, “A History of Vodka” by William Pokhlebkin, and “The Book of Gin” by Richard Barnett. “Everyday Drinking” is going to be the most enjoyable, since it seems to come from a humorous and witty author, Sir Kingsley Amis. I am unfamiliar with the man, yet he comes strongly recommended by Christopher Hitchens. “He was what the Irish call “your man” when it came to the subject of drink.” And later from Hitchens: “It has been said that alcohol is a good servant and a bad master. Nice try. The plain fact is that it makes other people, and indeed life itself, a good deal less boring.”

I left the library with a pretty solid idea of what I have to write about. Histories of alcohols have been written, stories about alcohol, celebrations and warnings, so I need to cut myself a new space to claim as my own. Taste, and the social identity of the drinker. If we have “all-natural,” “old school,” “modern,” “trashy,” “classy,” and “apathetic,” then where do these identities and practices come from? Is it the drinker’s intent that determines how they drink? At this moment I tend to think that if you don’t care about what you drink, then you drink to get drunk, or drink to be social. Me personally? I think I’d refuse to just drink beers, and if there weren’t any cocktails available, or wines and sherries, then I wouldn’t drink, even if that had social consequences. Comedian Jim Jefferies has this joke where somebody who doesn’t drink says they don’t drink “because they don’t like the taste.” Jim then shouts “Nobody does! We drink because we have to!” And it’s funny and everything, sure, but I’m not in that place. I drink because I can make really good drinks, and, AND, because of the social perks involved. And there are social perks to being a cocktail-maker, to showing up to a house party with a Martini glass, a shaker, ice, and your own ingredients. There are social perks to being a little classy!

What’s Up? (3/1/15)

Back to Normal
So, after a week or so of being sick, things returned to normal this week(2/23/15)-(2/28/15). I missed no classes, I made up missed work, and, let’s see… I think what was most important was just being out in the open again. Not bedridden. Not too sick or tired to want to hang out with people and do things. So, in fact, going out Friday night to a new place, with new people, doing very old things, might have been the most important thing this week. A mellow, “let’s drink and play Call of Duty” felt like something I hadn’t done since after High School / before Sophomore Year. It’s a very Long Island thing, to me. Like I didn’t make friends in Pittsburgh that kind of just lounged out like that, who were content to relax on some nights. It was good. It felt like my kind of tempo.