Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Howling Dogs, Dead Cats, and Back to School Books

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

6am. I heard loud thumping sounds from upstairs in the vacant apartment. That's not supposed to happen. I got out of bed and heard commotion outside on the stairwell. I peeked through the peephole and a guy dressed in white carrying a bucket passed by. Ah, he was the painter who arrived at 6am to work on the upstairs apartment without any care of the tenants below (us). As per usual, your slumlord failed to tell us that they were going to be doing work on the apartment and that it was going to be loud.

Luckily Nicky had to wake up at 7:30 to get ready to interview someone for a column. I had to get up anyway, but I'd rather not be disturbed by someone doing work at 6am. It set a bad tone for the day considering I scheduled Monday as a writing day. It was difficult to write with all of the noise. For someone who was supposed to paint, it sounded like he was bowling up there. I couldn't win either, when he was making too much noise in the room above my office, I migrated out to the living room, only to be pestered with barking dogs that our neighbors leave in the backyard when they go off to work. Just when the dogs stopped, the painter decided to sand the walls right above me. One distraction to another. I did what I can and cranked up the music and attempted to write through it.

The day was not as productive as I would have liked, which always bothers me because I hate wasting writing days. The landlord is trying to justify an increase in rent to the potential new tenants -- by renovating the apartment above us, but at the expense of pissing us off. It's not like he's always rushing to fix our stuff. So, I don't except him to help us out with trying to rectify the barking dog situation. Nicky mentioned that it would be in his best interest to make sure he was renting out an apartment that did not have annoying barking beasts.

The barking dogs encouraged me to check out local services that could help us out. I knew that the last thing I wanted to bother the federales with was a barking dog. Besides, they probably wouldn't even bother showing up. I turned to Google with "Barking dog complaints LA" and found a website for Los Angeles Animal Services who handle all barking dog complaints. The city is completely broke and they recently created a law that allows that agency to fine pet owners $100 for each barking dog complaint. All we have to do is set the wheels in motion and write a formal letter of complaint. The agency will then write the evil pet owners a letter informing them that a complaint has been filed by one of their neighbors. If the barking continues after a 15 day period, then we can file a second complaint. The agency will then send out an officer to assess the situation to determine if a fine is necessary -- which it usually is. Normally they wouldn't be quick to rush to help us out, but since the city sees this as a means of extra revenue, they are gonna expedite every original complaint as quickly as possible.

In the meantime I looked into foghorns, dog whistles, and a device that looks like a garage door opener, but emits high frequency sounds that supposedly silence the pooches. I have my doubts, but I'm curious to see if those things actual work. Otherwise, I have to crank up the music to drown out the howling dogs.

When things got really shitty with the noise, we decided to leave the apartment for an hour. Nicky drove me up to Beverly Center to find a pair of hiking boots. I needed something for the upcoming seasonal change. While I tried on new boots, she ended up wandering around the camping section and purchased a knife sharpener. I guess the guys at Whole Foods are thrilled that they don't have to sharpen her knives.

The other day, I made a horrible decision and went to Staples early on a weekend morning. I forgot that it was the weekend before kids went back to school, and a dozen other families had a similiar idea -- beat the rush and show up as soon as it opened. All I wanted were printer paper and padded envelopes so I can mail out a few books, but I got stuck in a long ass line with parents holding shopping carts overflowing with supplies. I got was flashback of negative emotions. Shopping for school supplies with my mother was always a nightmare. Shopping for anything with her was, so I definitely did not associate that time with pleasant memories. Nicky was a bit of a nerd growing up and she said that her favorite part of the school year was getting to go shopping for school supplies with her mother and her sister Mandy. But I was on the opposite end.

I really hated buying books in college. I knew some of my fraternity brothers, the few that were not uber-rich kids, had to steal an occasional text book if it was too pricey. Me? I had a scam were I pulled off yellow "USED" stickers off of used books and put them on new books. I figured that a text book was too hard to steal, but I wanted to get some value out of my limited budget for books (even though I tossed it on my credit card), so I wanted new books at a discounted used price.

I drove to In-N-Out Burger a couple of late nights, which tortured Nicky because she is back to her LA-starving diet. I had been eating breakfast at the crack of dawn and skipping dinner in favor of lunch in the late afternoon. But by Midnight, I'm starving and still have an hour or so of work to do, which is why I the run to In-N-Out has been clutch. It only takes less than ten minutes to get there. One of the nights, a SUV in front of me was blasting Iggy Pop as marijuana smoke billowed out the open windows. Isn't that how Paris Hilton got caught in Vegas?

By the way, I penned a piece about Paris Hilton on Saturday morning a few hours after she got busted for cocaine possession. It is titled Cocaine Cowgirl. Been hearing whispers in the hills of Hollyweird that she was set up by the cops because the blow was not hers. Um, I don't believe that. But I do believe that her legal team will attempt to get the case dismissed on terms of an illegal search. Whoever is Paris' criminal attorney must be making a shitload of cash because his client is always getting into trouble.

After watching a bit of Hoarders, Nicky and I went through my sparse wardrobe that I accumulated in the two years that we've been shacked up together. She was surprised of 1) the specific colors in my wardrobe and 2) the fact that even though this is probably the largest my wardrobe has gotten since we've been going out, that I still didn't have much stuff. She persuaded me to get rid of the items that had holes and that were ripped. She also made me toss out one of the two Hawaiian shirts that I own. It was a coin flip, but she snatched out the older one that has a cigarette burn on the back.

I also have about ten books that I read and want to get rid of, but couldn't think of anyone to give the books to. I might have another book sale here with all proceeds going to fund fall Phish tour.

Yeah, after watching that Hoarders episode with the cat lady, I got a bit freaked out. She had over 70 cats in her house and cluttered garage. More than half of them were dead, most of them kittens. The cleaners were uncovering skeletal remains and other feline corpses every time they moved a box. It was incredibly sad and disgusting. Dead cats inspired me to get rid of some books. Stay tuned for a list if you're interest in taking them off my hands.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Melody Fakers

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

BTreotch recommended a podcast from a Texas sports radio station that included an interview Chuck Klosterman, one of my favorite contemporary writers. He has an amazing grasp of music history, sports, and popular culture. His versatility as a writer and journalist landed him many envious and sweet-ass gigs. Many moons ago, I spotted someone on the subway reading Klosterman's Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto. The titled fascinated me and I found a copy at Strand a few days later. I've read Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs three or four times since then, with some essays over a dozen times, and it still holds up today as my favorite Klosterman book, along with IV: A Decade of Curious People and Dangerous Ideas.

Random side note...I know two guys who look like Chuck Klosterman.

One of the co-hosts of the show inquired about Klosterman's writing process, specifically how he comes up with the ideas to write about. Klosterman admitted that was hard question and did his best to answer, but that's a complicated and complex issue. Inspiration is not something that can be easily described. Sometimes it's all around, other times it's drought.

On most days, I can't afford to sit around until inspiration strikes. On the best days of the year, I'm jumping out of bed and sprinting to the laptop. On the worst days, it's a grueling mental battle and I have force myself to write. Even if the words suck cowballs that day, I gotta get through it. Everyday. No matter what. That's one of the secrets. It wouldn't be a chore if I was fired up or passionate about something to write about. But on the bad days, it's rough.

When I go through stretches of inactivity, my problem is that I give up before I even start typing the first words. That's when the confrontation of fear takes place. On the uncourageous days, I feel like shit because I hate wasting time. That's when I do something to find inspiration or jump start the creative area of my brain. Usually a little weed and John Coltrane do the trick, but on the bloody awful days, I have to dig a little deeper and find inspiration elsewhere.

Books are a good start. I hope that inspiration will jump off the pages and smack me in the face. When that doesn't work, I turn to music. It's no secret that I write with music on in the background. Like peas and carrots. If that doesn't work, I give the cinema a shot, particularly documentary films.

If that doesn't work, I go slumming for inspiration on the TV. I put on the History Channel and watch WWII-themed programs and wait until Hoarders comes on and I watch in a stoned glaze at the excessive clutter and filth inside the disastrous homes of hoarding addicts. That show, and others like it, became the inspiration for a few hundreds words of verbal diarrhea here on Tao of Pauly. It also inspired a short story about hoarders titled... Everest.

I'm reading Imperial Bedrooms by Bret Easton Ellis, which details the shallowness of LA -- a subject very similar that I'm interested in because I'm writing a novel about the shallowness of LA. Instead of getting spooked or jealous, I'm excited to read it and get a grasp of his take on the same city. I always sit down and write up notes and random bits of dialogue after a read a few sections of Imperial Bedrooms.

Anyway, traveling and people are valuable inspiration jump starters. Travel stories write themselves. My problem is that sometimes I was traveling too much and didn't have enough time to write about what happened. It took a while, but I found a happy medium where I write less and live more, because at some point, I'll have to shut out the world and withdraw while I write about those experiences.

So if I'm not writing, I better be living.

Friends are amazing launching pads for inspiration. There's no coincidence that some of my closest friends are the ones who inspire me the most. I could say that Matisse is a major influence on me (I often try to write like he paints), but I have never met the guy. He's been dead for a while now. But I see my friends as much as I can, which is amazing because I can interact with the very people who get me fired up to write. Those are the ones who also get me back on track when I'm headed toward an catastrophic derailment -- whether it's life, work, or writing.

In the end, you just have to start typing.

And you have to write a lot. A shit ton. Because you never know when that perfect groove is going to pop up. On magnificent days, you're running right out of the gates and hit the groove 30 words in. That's what we're looking for, that moment when all those internalized thoughts make an effortless transition onto the pages. On the craptacular days, it takes you 3,000 or more words before you even get warmed up, but that's part of the hassles of writing. Some days it's not there and you won't hit the groove because you don't have enough time to keep plugging away.

It's a queasy feeling when you keep falling short. But when you hit that groove, you never want to stop.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Indigents with Cell Phones, Howling Alley Dogs, and Orphaned Socks

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

I guess you can file the following incident under, "I thought I had seen everything in LA, until..."

I encountered a homeless guy with a cellphone and a charger. The charger baffled me the most. I could see a potential scenario where a homeless dude found a lost cell and used it until the battery ran out or until the service was disconnected, however, this disheveled guy looked like he had not showered in months. He clutched a contemporary model (nothing resembling a smart phone, but let's just say the phone is no more than two years old) that seemed out of place in his black stained fingers and grimy hands.

I wandered inside Jack in the Box very early for a Sunday morning because I was in search of my early morning fix -- Big Ass Iced Tea. The homeless guy sat in the back booth near the bathrooms. A writer-type sat on the other end of fast food joint. He pecked away on his laptop while he sipped on a cup of coffee. I once saw that same guy many months ago only because he was the one who clued me in on the secret of the Jack in the Box ceiling. He needed juice for his laptop and reached up to plug his chord into an outlet located on the ceiling. Yes, the ceiling. I quickly learned that an electrician had re-wired this particular Jack in the Box with ceiling outlets.

I purchased my Big Ass iced tea and made my way to the exit. I initially saw the homeless guy stand on his seat in his back booth, but I figured he was deranged and his bizarre activities were none of my business. Growing up in New York City, I found it best to simply ignore peculiar behavior from homeless people, because the one time you might make eye contact with them, they will lunge at you with a box cutter and attempt to sever your jugular. Alas, I ignored the guy until he pulled a power adapter out of his long frayed winter coat and then plugged it into a ceiling outlet. He pulled a cell phone out of his other pocket, hooked it up, and then sat down.

And that's how I encountered a homeless guy with a cell phone and charger. Only in LA, and only at Jack in the Box at 7am.

I learned valuable lesson that took me a couple of years of being in LA to figure out -- do not put out the recycling stuff at night because the homeless dumpster divers will rattle around said aluminum cans and bottles at 6am and wake up everyone within earshot of the alley. Even with our bedroom windows closed, we can still hear the ruckus. At least four or five can fairies stop by per day, so if we put the recycle stuff out in the early afternoon, it will get picked up by nightfall.

The annoying dogs next door is a different story. Sometimes, the douchey owners of the big dogs let them roam in the tiny backyard parallel to our alley. The problem arises when they let those dogs out in mornings, especially on the weekends when everyone is trying to get an extra hour or two of sleep. Well, they dogs go berserk whenever a someone walking a dog passes by and they really lose it when a homeless person sneaks down our alley in search of cans. They can smell the perpetrator a half a block away and they bark progressively louder and louder and scratch at the wooden fence separating the two properties. In one sense, it's good to have a guard dog, but since the dog is behind a fence -- it's virtually ineffective and the result is just noise pollution.

I fear that one morning, one of the big dogs is going to break through the fence, much like out of an old Warner Brothers Bugs Bunny cartoon, and the outline of the dog's body will be punched out of the fence while the dog mauls the homeless guy and chews off his arm. That's why I always keep a camera close by because you never know when a mauling like that is going to happen and you'd hate to pass up a chance at snagging the next viral video on YouTube -- "German Shepard tears off arm of homeless person."

The dogs have been extra annoying recently. I have to assume that their home life has been rough, so they take out their misery on the rest of the denizens of the slums of Beverly Hills. While I sat down to write this, the dogs had an incident when a few upset neighbors were shouting across the alley. I even joined in on scorning the barkfest and unleashed a loud "Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! People are sleeping in. It's the weekend for fucks sake."

The apartment upstairs has been vacant for a week. I miss our neighbors, who always smoked cigarettes at odd hours -- which means they constantly watched the alley because someone was out there at least once an hour. We're more worried that we're going to have to deal with inconsiderate neighbors. We also wonder how long it will take to rent out the place -- our slumlord is cheap which means he offers very little in return for what the market considers is a high rental price for the neighborhood. It's not a surprise that it often takes him several months (even with the help of an agency) to find a tenant -- mainly because once they see the shit hole, they know they can find a similar place a few blocks away for a few hundred less per month. Shit, whenever I take a walk down the adjacent side streets, all I see is "For Rent" signs. Why pay more for less? Which is why the slumlord either has to fix up more shit or reduce the monthly rent.

The slumlord hired a cleaner to tidy up the vacant apartment so it looks clean while they show the place to prospective renters. We're on the cusp of a new month, so he better get cracking or he'll miss out on revenue. The guys who lived upstairs left a shitload of random food in the kitchen and pantry because the cleaning service dragged one of the big ass dumpsters to the side of the building (right in front of the window where I prefer to write). The vacant apartment is located on the second floor and the cleaner was obviously lazy, so he threw trash out the window, rather than collect it in trash bags and bring them down to the dumpster. For two hours, we were treated with the sight of random jars, stale bread, and unknown condiment containers steadily fall from the sky and an echo rattled around the alley whenever something hard clunked into the bin.

Moments like that make me want to reduce the material items that have slowly been accumulating in the apartment. I usually get freak out whenever after an episode of Hoarders, and I slip into an OCD spurt and clean the fridge, removing expired items. Then, I rummage through my closet in search of clothing items to toss or donate. I also go through my collection of books, especially the ones I started and never finished, and determine which books I can give away to friends.

And what's the deal with the three solo socks that I discovered. Each sock is not even the same length or color, so it's not like I can mix and match. I have one long white tube sock and two ankle-sized socks -- but one is black and the other is white. I assume that the socks are gobbled up by the gremlins who live in the washing machine. At least one sock a month gets stuck underneath the spin thingy, and the other socks hide out in the most random places, usually underneath couches or the bed, or they wedge themselves in between other odd spaces.

Orphaned socks. Who is going to save all of the orphaned socks in the world? I considered handing over the orphans to the homeless guy at Jack in the Box, but then again, they guy has a cell phone, so he must be doing pretty good in life and presumably does not need orphaned socks.

Please, someone claim these orphans fast, otherwise, I will be forced to euthanize said sock orphans.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Some Lost Vegas Love

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

A few review have trickled in for Lost Vegas: The Redneck Riviera, Existentialist Conversations with Strippers, and the World Series of Poker. I didn't even have to bribe Shamus. He wrote a glowing review before I had a chance to pay him off.

Check out his review of Lost Vegas. And when you are done with that, take a peek at Shamus' interview with... yours truly. We delve into a more in depth discussion on the origins of the book.

Oh, and one of the best reviews to date was penned by Brendan Murray from Ireland.... Dr. Pauly Gets To Grips with The Real Sin City and its Highs and Lows.

Here's some answers to FAQs about Lost Vegas. And please go here to buy the book.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Whimpering Dogs and Hate to Wait

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

Pet owners are smug motherfuckers, especially the ones next door in the slums of Beverly Hills who have jobs and leave their pets at home all day unattended and don't give a shit if their adorable Shi Tzus cause a constant ruckus and distraction to their work-at-home neighbors.

The smaller the dog, the bigger the headache. Two dogs to the right of me. Two dogs to the left of me. I could fry all four of them in a microwave if given the chance. One of those hell dogs yaps incessantly at such a high pitch that it's similar to hearing nails on a chalkboard. On the other side (closest to the window by my office), there's a depressed dog that whimpers and cries the entire day until the owner comes home. That's just mean and wrong to imprison a bitch of a dog. And if you're gonna be a dog, well bark like one instead of being a mopey depressed puppy.

I'm just praying that our eventual upstairs neighbors will not have any pets.

Creativity is fickle. I wish that I can whip it up at any moment and crank out savory copy. Most of the time, my writing is bland and mediocre -- at best. Some days it is very easy to write and the words and phrases just flow easily, but on an average day, I definitely have to hustle and prep myself to achieve the maximum possible results. The hardest aspect is to remain patient when things beyond your control interfere with the arduous creative process. But it's not that simple. You need both time and that intangible quality (the ability to harness a creative spark) to successfully pull off a miracle. Sometimes the spark is fleeting and you have a small window to snag it in order to keep the fire burning inside you long enough to get out what's inside my head and onto the blank pages. And when the fire is gone...it's gone. I went weeks and months without any inklings to write anything of significance. Nothing was burning. But that's not a bad thing. It happens, so I just wait until I get another shot at igniting that fire inside.

After getting re-energized and finding inspiration on my most recent mini-vacation, all I could think about was finding the time to write. I know better than to force things, so all of the stories and ideas that I encountered over the last few weeks are slowly making their way into some sort of narrative. The conflict arises when I'm in the zone and want to write -- but circumstances are not optimal. It's happened a couple of times already this week when I had to deal with other things outside of the scope of sitting down and plugging away at the laptop.

No one values my time more than me, so I get pissy when others waste it, especially during a fertile creative period. And yes, I definitely have more important things to do than wait around for lateness, but everything on my "To Do" list requires large chunks of time for me to complete those tasks. Aside from catching up on (endless) email, I don't really have tasks that can be accomplished in less than ten minutes when I'm in limbo and waiting and waiting and waiting. Books can help bide the time, but I get more details out of a book when I can devote a good hour or two to the task at hand.

In the end, those ten minutes of wait time get lost. I'm actually a very patient person and understand when I'm about to be forced to deal with down time. I only get discouraged when I think about the cumulative effect of all of that waiting time. When you add up all that wait time that I wasted over a week, I discovered that surplus equals a few hours. Man, I could really use those couple of hours to catch up on sleep or work. Alas, that fee time gets flushed down the toilet. I'll never get that time back.

Yes, I'm being incredibly selfish because it's my time. I also feel like a dick when I'm late for anything or have to hold people up, which is why I often say, "Go without me" or "I'll catch up."

I get uber-depressed thinking about how much time I waste in a single year waiting on other people and things. Airport security lines. Traffic. The post office. Nicky getting ready. Late planes. The waitress lallygagging when I asked for my check five minutes earlier.

The worse case scenario is waiting on something that includes an unquantified wait time -- like the cable guy or the a friend who is habitually late. I can't really sit down and start writing something in those instances -- because nothing infuriates me more is not being able to finish something that I sat down to write. So I have to find other semi-meaningless tasks to entertain myself and keep sane. I also have to train myself to not think about the cumulative lost time.

Thursday afternoon was a complete waste because I had a shitload of work to do, but was caught in limbo while I waited on someone who showed up three and a half hours late. We usually hang out late nights, which we both prefer since traffic is less of a burden at night and I'll be done with all of my work for the day. In this instance, he wanted to chill out around noon. Fair enough. I re-arranged and juggled my schedule to fit his. I awoke early and began working when I got the first of many unnecessary calls from him starting at 8am -- when I'm in the middle of finding my groove writing wise. I usually shut my phone off when I write, but kept it on just in case. We touched base and I was done with the call, but he launched into a full on conversation that I had no desire to engage in because I wanted to get back to work. I told him that I had to go and to call/text when he was about to leave.

I turned off my ringer and hid my phone for a few hours. I got a text message at 11:30am saying that he'd be here in an hour. Well that hour turned into four, and I wished that I kept working instead of stopping. He called and texted many times during that four-hour stretch and each time I thought it was a potential emergency, but it was nothing of significance -- just a random update on why he's late. Plus, he wanted to chat while he was bored and stuck in freeway traffic. I was not about to have any of that. I'm not about to entertain someone who I have been waiting on for hours. At that point, I got snippy and said, "Just call me when you're a block away."

I hung up and groaned. I was caught in limbo and irritated because I didn't want to start/stop an assignment or project. I finished up my work by noon, as promised, so I could hang out for an hour or so before I returned to the grind and embarked upon a scheduled (and rare) free writing session, which obviously never happened as I waited and waited. During the down time, I finished reading one book and began another during his four hour delay.

We hung out for a brief amount of time, something I cut short because I had to get on with the rest of my day. He finally left at 5pm and my entire afternoon was shot.

Next time? We're hanging out at night. I hate burning daylight.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Rescue Pile

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

It was early, too early for a Monday morning.

I sat at the end of the counter of the coffeeshop. I was third from the far end in front of the TV. The old smelly guys sat on two of the first three stools, with an empty stool between the two. A trio of cops sat in a booth in between us. They were plain clothes and I couldn't tell if they were at the end of their shift or just beginning. I slid into my spot at the counter and minded my own business -- that business being a book about rock journalism that I found at a used bookstore. For the mere price of $2, The Sound and the Fury: 40 Years of Classic Rock Journalism was one of the best literary steals I had gotten this year because the anthology of articles included a few gems on Neil Young, Marvin Gaye, and Bob Dylan, not to mention stunning pieces on Altamont and the Monterrey Pop Festival.

I conducted a little background research on a couple of the scribes included in the compendium of rock and roll literature. That's how I stumbled upon a website that included links and copies of different articles on particular scribe had written spanning thirty years as a journalist and manager -- covering both music and mainstream events. Most of the time when it comes to reading about the subject of music, I'm seeking out articles about specific bands, jazz musicians, or musical genres. In this instance, the writer I had stumbled upon was so skilled that I became a quick admirer of his work. I never knew he existed prior to today and developed an odd fascination of his opinions on subjects that included musical acts whom I don't particularly like or have listened to extensively. That's was a reminder that the secret to being a good writer is to tell a compelling story. If you can e an effective storyteller, then the audience will want to read almost any subject you write about.

I happily returned to a phase in which I'm reading books at a voracious pace. I pulled a few books out of a former pile of unfinished books, sort of a rescue mission. I vowed to finish at least two books that I began earlier this year but for some reason or another, I was unable to finish up. In the end, if the book or author is fascinating, I'll read it cover to cover, and unable to put it down from the moment that I opened up the book. Sometimes, books and I don't mesh and it just doesn't work out or I don't have enough time to read a mediocre book, or a more interesting book presents itself and I get lost in that book instead. Other times, I simply give up on the writer or the subject material. I must have started hundreds of books, probably in the thousands, that I never finished and will never open up ever again. Every once in a while, I'll give a book/author a second chance -- usually out of lack of reading material or because someone I know thought very highly of it. Michael Chabon's books often fit that genre for me and end up in the "started and re-started, but never finished pile." I've given him more chances that I usually give for an individual writer. He reminds me of the band Mars Volta. All of my friends raved about that band for a year or so, and I wanted to give them a shot and caught them at a few festivals and I always wondered what was wrong with those interactions because their music didn't resonate with me. That's when I realized that sometimes you can't force the issue on abstract things like food, music, art, and literature. We didn't hit it off. That happens.

Upon my return to LA, I rescued two books from a pile that I probably would have forgotten about in a few months. Those were books in my former "To Read" pile prior to moving to Las Vegas at the end of May. Those abandoned books sat in the same spot and collected dust while I left for the summer. Now that I have more free time and actively seeking to expand my brain power (by not numbing it from all the garbage on TV that I am unable to turn away from like Hoarders and anything on the Military Channel or History Channel that involves Nazis), I want to jump into books again and allow my brain to marinate in words instead of watching douchenozzles in wifebeaters trying to bang spray-tanned chicks. I have to see that gauche behavior whenever I'm in Las Vegas for work, why on Earth would I want to spend my free time doing that in my own home? Books are my salvation.

The books that are lucky enough to be labeled as a re-start are tossed into a new pile -- the current "To Read" pile, which includes a book that Nicky finished from Steig Larrson. It's funny, all of the Scandis that I know in poker are total degenerate gamblers and/or major drunks and/or potheads. I only know one Scandi, my friend Sigge from Norway, who is not a degen gambler. He's a writer and musician and might be a pothead if he had better access to the finest herbs in the world. Aside from Sigge, Steig Larrson is the only other contemporary Scandi writer that is on my radar. He's an exquisite storyteller and I hope to learn a few things from him. Benjo left behind Bret Easton Ellis' novel Imperial Bedrooms for Nicky and I to read. It is a follow up to Ellis' Less Than Zero. It's super short and more a novella than anything else about the original characters twenty years later. I'm waiting for that to be made into a really bad movie.

My "To Read" pile is getting even higher and higher because I purchased three new books (including Mesopotamia the latest from my favrite NYC scribe Arthur Nersian) in the last 24 hours -- all of them used and I'm positive I could find two worthy recipients to give two of the three books away. I'm hoping to finish one or two before those arrive. Regardless, I'm excited.

Books are everywhere, and you can even read them for free in bookstores if you can't get to a library. But it's takes dedication and a willingness to use your imagination in order to get through one book, let alone four or five in a single week. Books are a journey and not everyone has the time or patience to do so. Reducing the amount of TV and the internet certainly helps the literary cause. Not driving also helps. People in LA would read more books if they weren't so vain, shallow, and uneducated. Because the denizens of LA drive everywhere, they can't physically read on the road. Driving and yapping on a cell phone is tough enough.

NYC is a different beasts when it comes to books. Shit, an entire subculture of used book sellers exist who set up shop on random corners and streets, when they are not being run off by overzealous cops. Books are a common sight in the city. I always see at least one or two people per crowded subway car with a non-Bible in their hands.

I travel 250 days out of the year and airports are one of the few places where I actively see Americans buying books and reading them while waiting for their flights at the gate or even on the plane. More people would read books if the Internet had no evolved past the dial-up connection phase or if we returned to the TV of my youth when there were only three major networks and seven stations in total. Since there's an abundance of distractions in different forms of entertainment (not to mention the highly addictive nature of social media), books often get tossed aside. I don't buy this bullshit that e-books are creating or adding new readers to the marketplace. Once a reader, always a reader. If anything, more tech-savvy book worms are purchasing books on their new toy du jour, more as a means to fulfill the coolness of said device, rather than to help the advancement of literature.

Speaking of e-books, I finally popped my cherry and purchased my first one. My buddy John Hartness self-published a novel and I was curious about his e-book version, mainly because I'm supposed to launch an e-version of Lost Vegas in a few weeks. I'll buy a hard copy of his book at a later date because I support my writer friends and recently began a collection of signed books from authors that I know. Anyway, check out The Chosen if you're looking for something different to read. I breezed through the first forty pages before my eyes started to bother me. Ah, one of the drawbacks on the e-book.

Sorry for the tangent... alas, I was supposed to tell you about my Monday morning, so, moving on...

I was sitting at the counter of the coffeeshop a few minutes past opening time at 6:15am or so on a Monday morning. I had been up writing for a good hour when I decided that I needed fuel to write more. I grabbed a book and headed to the coffeeshop. I was halfway through my bacon and eggs when someone sat down in the last seat at the counter. He was unshaven and wearing a faded bar t-shirt and green sweat pants. He was a good four or five years older than me and carried a Macbook. It took me three seconds to tell me that he was a writer. He put in his order and then groaned at the TV. I had ignored it since my arrival and more interested in my book, but I finally looked up at the TV to see what he was groaning about. One of the dudes from the Jersey Shore was standing on a red carpet as paparazzi flights flashed. He was shirtless and flexing for the cameras while the words "$5 million in earnings this year" flashed on the screen.

$5 million? I groaned too.

I had never met the writer sitting two stools to my left. He could be a shitty writer for all I know, but he's gotta be 1,000 times smarter than anyone on that reality show. Any writer I know will gladly accept $50,000/year as a guaranteed salary, let alone $500,000 or even $5 million. I don't know too many writers who make $5 million a year. None actually. Even the top screenwriters would be lucky to earn couple of million and they are either Academy Award winners or penning a sequel. Maybe Stephen King or the chick who writes the Harry Potter books rake in millions, but most writers are lucky to make a few hundred dollars a week -- if they can actually get their clients to pay them on time. I have at least so much money owed to me that I could purchase an used Acrua with all the outstanding monies that is owed to me by delinquent clients -- a couple of magazines or websites who stiffed me over the years. The only thing I can do is warn other writers not to fall for their false promises. I've yet to actually run across any of those people in a dark alley, but if I do, someone is getting kicked in the nuts.

The undercover cops finished their breakfast and left. I finished my breakfast and an article about Nirvana before I paid my tab and walked outside. The late summer sun was out and beginning to blaze but the streets were still on the empty side, save for a few delivery trucks and the random bus that zoomed by. In less than an hour, the intersection would be packed with cars heading to/fro the freeway as people commuted to work in their vehicles. I hate driving in LA during the daylight, but the 6am hour is the best time to run errands in my neighborhood before everyone wakes up and clogs the grid.

I'm getting used to this waking up early to write phase. It's good for my soul and makes me feel more productive. Heck if I'm pecking away at the keyboard by 5am, I know it's going to be a good day. After breakfast, a short morning walk, and running a few errands, I can be done with essential work by 9am and caught up with emails and other bullshit by noon. Shit, by lunchtime, I've already put in a full day and I have an entire afternoon free to myself -- which has been dedicated to reading and reading and sometimes itching my jones for Angry Birds or hanging out with my girlfriend. Sometimes it seems so easy to work on a simple schedule, while other times this year, I desperately struggled to find ten minutes to wipe my ass while bogged down in a hectic rudderless day with more things to do than hours in the day allowed me.

For now, I welcome the ease of the "wake up early and get your shit done by noon" philosophy. Just how long can I keep it up is the question?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Random Food Photo Dump Returns

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

Here are some random pics of food from my on the road travels this month...

Monday, August 23, 2010

Back to the Early Morning Sessions

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

One of the best things about returning to LA is getting to jump into an old routine that brings me endless joy. And no, it's not whacking off with a plastic bag on my head while Van Morrison's Caravan plays on an endless loop. Not even close. The creative process is probably boring (or pretentious) in your eyes, but I don't give a shit what you think about the fact that I love to write during the hour when night bleeds into day and light begins to creep out of the darkness. For some reason, that is when I am my most productive.

There's two ways to go about to maximize that time period... a) stay up all night and begin writing around 4am or b) crash around Midnight and wake up around 4am. During the summers when I live in Las Vegas to cover the WSOP, I don't have a choice and I stay up all day, slogging around in the bullshit, ignoring all the petty high school-ish gossip, and desperately waiting until the late hours arrive so I could sit down and write about what happened that day. On Phish tour, I was often conflicted. I wrote when I could, but sometimes the party was raging too much for me to slip away. Alas, would do what I could the proverbial morning after, with full knowledge that the better stuff I write happens at that odd hour between 4 and 5am.

Since my return to LA, I've been crashing early in an attempt to catch up on all of the sleep that I lost the last few weeks due to excessive partying and exhausting traveling. Falling asleep is the easy part. And waking up is not hard either, since I usually wake up several times in the middle of the night. I simply make the decision to get up to write instead of trying in vain to fall back asleep.

Benjo crashed in LA for almost two weeks after the WSOP ended. The space was available because I was in between projects and to be honest, I wasn't in a good enough headspace to write. I staggered out of the WSOP with a few salty experiences and I wanted to spend my waking hours thinking about anything other than poker and writing about poker. While I was caught up in a peculiar spot creatively, Benjo slept in my office and pretty much used the same desk to write the French translation of Lost Vegas that I used to write the manuscript. I often wondered if my office was a comfortable place for him to write? Or if it was horribly intimidating? It's probably a little of both. While Benjo lived in my office, I migrated to the living room table, which I enjoy equally as much to use as a work space. Yeah, I like writing at the table in the mornings and prefer the office in the afternoons and early evening.

The early morning writing sessions are the sole reason I'm on this planet, or at the least, that's what I tell myself. I sit down at the solid table that weighs like 150 pounds. Oak. Solid oak. It belonged to Nicky's grandmother, and old German woman absolutely loved the table before she passed away a decade ago. At least, that's what she once told me one late night during a paranoid-induced speed binge, when I had the first of many conversations with the wispy apparition. Whenever I told Nicky about my paranormal encounter, she got either spooked out and didn't want to talk about her dead grandmother, or she'd roll her eyes and say, "This is what happens when you eat too much Adderall...you think you're talking to my dead Grandmother."

But, I am.

And she speaks a lot of German, so most of the time I don't know what she's saying. The conversation begins in English then trails off into German. Regardless, she likes the fact that I dig her table. It's a solid anchor and is a perfect base for my writing operations. The chairs are flimsy, though, and falling apart, but the table has a lot of history and energy. Most people think that's bullshit, but then again millions of people think God lives in the sky, so who am I to judge people? I just don't want them to judge me based on my conversations with a dead German woman.

They don't make furniture like the oak table anymore. Heck you could probably break up this friggin' table and make 14 pieces of disposable Ikea kitchen tables. When you rap your knuckles on the table it echos. Loudly. That's the sound of strength and promise. That's why I prefer to write here as the sun slowly sows itself upon the City of Angels.

The two stoners who live upstairs have officially moved out. One of them got a job teaching English in Korea and the other moved to the Valley to be closer for work as a camerman. We liked them a lot because they stayed up late, smoked tuff, and played video games. They were both Tampa Bay Bucs fans for some reason (I think one of them grew up in Florida) and every Sunday during football season, they sported Bucs jerseys. Anyway, they were always cool about our nocturnal habits. They never got freaked out if I was blasting Sketches of Spain at random times. We just wish our new neighbors are equally tolerant.

During my time away, I noticed that the other vacant unit upstairs was rented out to someone driving one of those hybrid vehicles. I saw a university sticker on the back, so I have to assume it's a student of some sort. I caught a glimpse of our neighbor -- just the back of her as she walked out around 10am wearing a collared white shirt and black dress pants. Yep, I'm guess she's works in the food and beverage industry in some sort to help put her through school, or it's her first job after she collected her degree. With an abundance of out-of-work actors and actresses in Los Angeles, the food industry is cluttered with pretty people, many of whom can't wait on a table worth shit.

I missed my hood but being New York reminded me of what it used to be like living in a proper neighborhood. The best thing about NYC is that the basic necessities are within a five block radius, or just a phone call away with a delivery service. NYC is awesome in that you can order a pizza, hooker, or get your dry cleaning delivered to your door at almost any hour of the day.

I'm back in LA for at least five weeks, maybe six. No travel. Nothing, aside from the jaunt up to Malibu to go to Zuma beach with Nicky. It'll feel good to stay put for a bit and return to the old routines. I have an upcoming freelance assignment spread out over three weeks that allows me to stay home and I even worked out a clause that gave me Sundays off to watch football.

The last few days in LA have been devoted to three things: sleep, writing, and watching random shit on the DVR. I finally caught up with episodes of the few programs that I follow... mostly Mad Men, Top Chef and Entourage. I've also got hooked on two new programs Rubicon and Hard Knocks.

Entourage has been hit or miss the last few seasons, but the show is less than thirty minutes so it's not much of an effort to watch it. Plus, I'm a sucker for gratuitous beaver shots (this instance, Sasha Grey) and glorified drug use (ecstasy, weed, cocaine, painkillers -- or what we call the "breakfast buffet" on Phish tour).

Mad Men is my new favorite drama that has since replaced Weeds and Breaking Bad after both of those programs disappointed me the last year or so. Mad Men is one of those programs that you have to watch each episode at least twice to pick up on all of the background detail, symbolism, and nuances in the characters. And man, can't believe they really went to that taboo place -- little Sally Draper diddling herself after cutting her hair off. Nicky mentioned last year that Sally is being set up to be a complete hellion and force of counterculture -- if they show, which is currently set in 1965, is still around in a few years. Heck, the mid-1960s was a watershed year for numerous movements that it's going to be interesting to see how characters develop or resist the massive tidal wave that is about to hit America. Even Peggy Olsen is dragging weed, hanging out at art parties downtown, and befriended lesbians.

Inspired by Garth's ingenious method of creating a scoring system for a Top Chef fantasy league, Nicky and I have been doing fantasy Top Chef the last two seasons. I usually scorn reality programs, but this is more like food porn and I have a tremendous amount of respect for some of those chefs -- they are true artists when it comes to culinary vision. That's inspiring in many ways, for me as a writer and as someone that has trouble deviating from the norm when it comes to food because I'm a meat and potatoes and cheese kind of guy. I'm also kicking ass in my pool. I have five chefs remaining with six to go -- Angelo, Ed, Tiffany, Vanessa, and Kevin. Victory is imminent after Nicky caught a bad beat and Kenny was knocked out during Restaurant Wars.

Since I'm a Jets fan, I checked out Hard Knocks and Rex Ryan doesn't curse as much as everyone said. That's how coaches talk -- they drop f-bombs. A few email threads have popped up about Hard Knocks including the NYC Sports thread manned by my brother and sent out to Jerry, the Rooster, and myself. The guys in the Lamont Jordan FFL are also talking about it. The biggest topic? Not the Revis holdout. Fuck him. We're all goofing on Antonio Cromartie's desire to plant his seed in as many women as possible.

"Wait, it's six kids by seven women in five states?" was one comment.

If anything, Hard Knocks got me fired up for the Jets this season, especially since they have a huge target on their backs this year. I lucked out and got to see at least 10 games last year on the west coast. My theory is that Mark Sanchez was an USC alum and since LA's only football team is USC, Sanchez and the Jets were a huge draw so CBS aired many of their games. Let's hope that half-baked theory holds true this year.

Before I bail for the day, I gotta tell you about Rubicon, a new show on AMC that popped up on my radar. If you like plodding conspiratorial thrillers from 1970s cinema like Alan J. Pakula's Parallax View or Coppola's The Conversation, then give Rubicon a shot. Most of it is filmed on location in NYC near South Street Seaport. It what my brother would call an "thinking man's action hero" type of a series. It's the opposite of '24' and you won't see shit get blown up, and I don't think I saw a gun until the end of the second episode. I sat down and caught all four episodes on Sunday, and I'm hooked for now. Give it a shot.

That's it for now. Gotta go write about other stuff.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Smell Marking the End of Summer

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

During my impromptu sojourn to New York City, I was confronted by a bittersweet smell... the smell of late August in the city.

If you have ever lived in New York, then you know exactly what I'm talking about. The late night air in late August has a distinct aroma. I've lived in many cities and have traveled the world, but nothing matches that muggy end of summer smell. I immediately got flashbacks of my youth. Whenever your brain conjures up memories of summer, it's a an instant flashback to your lost youth. That's the one thing you lose when you become an adult -- the summer fun. I was never much a fan of school and the holiday season was always rough for me, so the summers where my favorite time of year. My parents couldn't afford to send us to sleepaway camps upstate, but they managed to scrounge up enough to send us to basketball camp for a week or two. The financial strains almost meant a limited vacation lasting about a week. We only went as far as my old man can drive us in a day, but we covered lots of ground visiting different parts of New England and Canada.

Last week, I got blindsided by the smells of late August in NYC and that struck a nerve with me the most out of all the other memories I encountered on my travels through Northern California, Colorado, Indiana, Wisconsin, and New York. The floodgates opened. The stroll down memory lane was bittersweet. On the good side, the memories were what Bob Dylan descried as a "road map to the soul" as I re-traced many of the pleasant summer memories that helped remind me who I really was as a person. I grew up in the late 1970s and early 80s before we got addicted to video games and were influenced by VCRs and cable television. We were kids at a time when you could ride a bicyle without a helmet. My brother and I roamed our Bronx neighborhood freely with other feral kids from different buildings (including Vinny the Barber's kids who lived across the street).

I don't have kids, but these days, I would never think about letting them out unsupervised in New York City. Alas, I grew up in a halcyon era. My brother and I played lots of baseball or variations. We played hardball in the local park that had ballfields. We also played a lot of ball in the schoolyard of our Catholic elementary school using recycled tennis balls and a bat that we acquired from Bat Day at Yankee Stadium. Other times, we played stickball (also using a tennis ball) or a derivative of the game Stoop in the back of our apartment building. When we got bored of those games, we'd stir up a bee's nest by fucking with Boris, the angry old Russian guy across the street who always screamed at us, or we'd wreck havoc on the bitter old Jewish lady who lived on the 5th floor. She always complained about us playing in back of our apartment building. She was an old school racist from the Archie Bunker Finishing School of Hate for sure, because our playmates were the only people of color in our building -- two kids from Kenya.

Memories of a lost youth. That smell of late summer was bittersweet. The good memories included the play time with my brother and getting to stay up late or heading to the library on the really hot days to cool down and check out books. The bad part was thinking about those utterly disgusting sticky sweaty humid days, not to mention counting down the days until school began on the Wednesday after Labor Day.

Over 25 years later, I stood on the same street that I rode my bicycle up and down thousands of times. I took a deep breath and inhaled every memory, both good and bad. The goosebumps that sprinkled my arms were a sobering reminder that I also experienced the same bittersweet feeling -- I had a balls out fun the last few weeks on Phish tour, but all of that fun was coming to an end. Once I returned to LA, I would have to return to real life, whatever that is. I was fortunate enough that I put myself in a position to take the time off to have a "summer vacation" (e.g. embedding myself with hippies on a cross-country Phish tour). However, a tinge of depression tried to drag me down because I did not want the summer to end. We always chased that endless summer as a child. I still chase that as an adult.

Although the primary focus of my quick trip to New York was Jones Beach out on Long Island, I found myself soaking up a few moments of different parts of the city when I could. I spent more time in Brooklyn than I thought when I crashed with Bruce in Bay Ridge at the last minute one evening. I also had to drive Matt back to Park Slope both nights after the show. I lived there many moons ago and got flooded with a different set of memories as crawled along the streets at 2am being ambushed by memories of seeing brownstones and a few old haunts. On the afternoon before the concerts began, I took a stroll on the Upper West Side and popped into Central Park for a brief moment before I grabbed a burger at one of my favorite joints. I didn't get a chance to visit the Greek diner in the old hood that I always go to, but I snagged an Everything bagel earlier that morning for breakfast. Savory.

I also drove over the Manhattan Bridge one night as I departed Brooklyn. I made the wrong turn and got lost in the part of town where Chinatown bled into hipsterville. That wasn't the only wrong turn I took. When I picked up Bruce in Bay Ridge, I made a crucial error on the BQE and failed to get off at his exit -- the last one in Brooklyn. I drove over the Verrazano Narrows Bridge while screaming, "Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuck!" The rookie mistake was a costly one... $11 toll. Fuck me. I made a quick turn around and spent less than a minute in Staten Island before I returned to Brooklyn. I started that day in the Bronx, picked up a rental car in Manhattan, and then drove through Brooklyn, got lost in Staten Island, before I returned to Brooklyn to pick up Bruce and later passed through Queens on my way to Long Island. A rare treat -- all five NYC boroughs in one day.

I was relatively sober during my time in New York while I logged designated driver duties for both concert nights. A decade ago, I would have gotten snookered without any qualms. But, I'm wiser now and I really needed to ease off the pedal after pushing myself to the limits for two weeks in a bender that started out in Berkeley, moved to Telluride, then spilled over into Indiana and Wisconsin. Since this part of the trip was a bonus, I didn't mind the opportunity to be sober and responsible.

However, one night I wished that I was shitfaced because I went on supreme traffic tilt one night due to construction on the Belt Parkway. Friggin' night construction cost me 40 minutes of my life -- at a time when all I wanted to do was get back to Brooklyn safely so I could start partying for a bit before I wrote a review of the concert that I had just seen.

My tiny travel laptop has many advantages but the biggest disadvantage is that it's not as easy to write as my other regular sized laptop. I have two older laptops in NYC (including my old Apple notebook) and a British version that I purchased in London a few years ago during a business trip. My laptop died and luckily my client split the cost of a new laptop with me so I could finish the assignment. The British keyboard is slightly different -- the QWERTY is fine as far as the letters go, so that aspect is fine, however, all of the special characters are in different spots! That initially tripped me when I tried to use that laptop to write the other night. I got tired of writing on the small laptop and wanted a larger keyboard.

I booked a 7am flight out of NYC in order to get me back in LA way before lunchtime. Early flights are a bitch because of the time, but the good news is that there is no traffic at 5am. I got a car service around 4:45am and the city was empty. The airport was a different story. JetBlue scheduled all of their flights to the west coast starting at 6am and heading out just as the same time as the flights to Dominican Republic and the Bahamas. I got caught up in the log jam with only two security lines running. As soon as I cleared security with my tiny backpack and laptop bag, I avoided the long lines at the main food court area and walked to a semi-secret bakery at the far end of the terminal. All I wanted was a chocolate croissant, but I got caught up in a youth group ordering food just before their flight departed. I thought I made the vet move, but got screwed. I finally put in my order, grabbed a water for the flight, and popped the last of my pharmies for a very long time. I needed something to take the edge off on a six hour flight to the left coast. Besides, I also had a window seat and wanted to knock myself out in an attempt to get a few batches of slumber. I can't sleep for more than twenty or thirty minutes at a time on a plane, but I was exhausted and only thinking about my bed back in LA.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Wook Patrol Podcasts - Summer Tour

In case you missed the Wook Patrol podcast, here are the episodes that the Joker and I recorded in Berkeley and in Telluride. Special guests for our Phish-themed podcast include Jonas, Wildo, and Benjo.
Episode 15: The Greek: Cows and Discoball Hemlets (1:14) - The Pauly and the Joker return with a post-show episode. They chat about the Joker's encounter with the cow people while he and Carrie were rocking the Disco Ball helmets.

Episode 16: The Greek: Wook Patrol Update (1:34) with Benjo - Pauly asks Benjo to give him the run down on the wook trying to jump the fence in the back of the Greek, and the cops who were busting them.

Episode 17: The Greek: Setbreak Convo with Benjo - Pauly and Benjo chat during setbreak of the Saturday Greek show. Pauly quizzes Benjo about the funny snippets of conversations he's heard around him while waiting in line.

Episode 18: Telluride: The After-Party with Wildo - Pauly and Wildo survey the bizarre, yet heady scene at the Coventry crew's post-Phish after-party that the Joker hosted in his condo.

Episode 19: Telluride: No Wooks, No Tour Dogs - When it started getting late at the after-party at the condo, the Joker went on an aggressive patrol and encountered a wook trying to enter the party with a tour dog. The Joker was not going to have any of that. Listen in as the Joker explains to Pauly what happened.

Episode 20: Telluride: The Ganjala - The Joker tells Pauly about his ride on the Gondola, which the locals refer to as "the Ganjala." The Joker ran into the only non-herb friendly person in all of Telluride. Hilarity ensues.

Episode 21: Telluride: Late Night Patrol with Jonas and Wildo - Party crashers were the biggest concern for the mellow Tuesday after-party. The Wook Patrol was prepped. Pauly discusses the new security set up with Wildo and Jonas.
Thanks for listening to Coventry Music blog's podcast The Wook Patrol. To listen to older episodes from Horning's and Phish summer tour Part I, then visit the Wook Patrol archives.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Photo Dump: Berkeley and Telluride

By Pauly
New York City

I uploaded pics to my summer tour gallery. Here are a few of my favorite shots from the last two plus weeks on the road...

The Greek Theatre - Berkeley

Thug for life

View from our Telluride condo

4 fish per kid

Yoga class in downtown Telluride

The Disco Ball Helmets

The Telluride Crew: The Boys

The Telluride Crew: The Girls

Sunset #1 as the band plays on

Sunset #2 (during "Divided Sky")

For more pics of summer tour, check out my Flickr gallery.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Dispatches from Jones Beach: The Last Grope

By Pauly
New York City

(photo by Dave Vann © Phish 2010)

"Where does all this molly come from?" asked a curious friend.

"The aliens obviously," I blurted out before I realized that I unwittingly revealed an untold secret. It's been urban legend in the lot since the Year of the Funk -- that an elite group of aliens, aka the Moon Wooks, are the ones responsible for the manufacturing, processing, and distribution of the beloved molecule.

I said too much and glanced over my shoulder to make sure no galactic agents were on my tail. I quickly changed the subject... "Oooh! look at the pretty rainbow!"

If you don't believe in life on other planets and never smoked enough DMT to see the aliens, then you might be skeptical of the link between Phish, life from other galaxies, and the vortex of energy released by 2012. However, if you caught a couple of Phish shows this summer, then you probably saw many extraterrestrial references sprinkled throughout the show. Chris Kuroda's lighting display is the most obvious indication that something not-of-this-world is going on, and that the music Phish performs is indirectly involved in communicating with the beings occupying the celestial heavens. Trey didn't hide his agenda when was noodling the notes from Close Encounters of the Third Kind during the Alpine Valley Piper. No coincidence that strange lights lit of the Wisconsin sky on the same night with hundreds of unidentified flying objects reports flooded 9-1-1.

Phish completed their second leg of summer tour, 11 shows in all spread out coast to coast over 14 days with a mere three travel days in between. You could not have done this tour in a vehicle. You needed a spacecraft or enough cash to fly to a few shows. If you did the entire tour in car, then you definitely earned your stripes. I have no clue how I was able to survive the entire tour considering I let it all hang out in Telluride when I actually had a conversation with myself when I said, "This is not such a bad place to die." That's when you peer into the darkened abyss, hear the never ending echo, then jump anyway. I was on vapors once Alpine Valley rolled around, and barely had any energy for the Jones Beach shows. But I dug deep and rallied. Phish is magical that way -- the love of the music makes you do things that make most Americans shake their heads in utter disgust. That's when I know I'm doing the right thing. As the anthem goes, "Can't I live while I'm young?"

* * *

I woke up on Bruce's couch in Brooklyn and rushed outside to re-park my car after being unable to find a proper spot at 2:30am a few hours earlier. I was five minutes late to the metered spot and penalized with a parking ticket and an annoying fluorescent green sanitation stickers that one of the surly douchenozzles in the Sanitation Department attached to one of the windows. I spent most of my morning scrapping off minuscule pieces of the sticker while humming Carini. The parking citation and the cleaning supplies I had to buy to remove the sticker are just more miscellaneous expenses that I incurred on summer Phish tour. I'm eventually going to write a book about my Phishy experiences spanning 200+ shows. I wonder if I can write off the ticket as a legit business expense?

I escaped the city and drove out to the Island with Bruce trying to beat the rush hour traffic, when I got a text from Jesse in the lot. He overheard the soundcheck and sent me a text: "You Can't Always Get What You Want." He also informed me that the rest of the soundcheck included Jimi Hendrix's "Hey Joe." So the boys are dicking around with the Stones, but where's my Torn and Frayed?

We drove up to the parking lots and heads wandered up and down the road with their index fingers pointed to the skies. When we pulled into the lot, we were greeted by hundreds of ticketless fans seeking out the toughest ticket on the tour since Telluride. Extras for tour closers are never easy. Alpine Valley's massive lawn meant that those shows were not sold out. Lawns to Deer Creek were available for face with some legwork. But I didn't see too many extras at the beach for either night. It was a hot ticket and fans stood at the entrance to the parking lot and praying for a miracle. Some held out cash ($20s will never suffice, you gotta flash a few Benjamins to get someone's attention) while few amateur artists whipped up snazzy signs hoping to catch someone's eye. A few hopeless heads scribbled their pitch with a sharpie on the back of an empty beer box. I doubt any of them got inside.

Upon my arrival in the lot, I attempted to repair the damage that the mini-flood had caused after the top of our cooler popped off on the drive to the show. A few inches of standing ice water in the trunk had seeped into the floorboards. At least Bruce's beers was still cold. I went to work selling the last of the Dharma patches, while Bruce had leftover t-shirts that he designed from 2004 summer tour. I can't believe we both still had stuff left over. I wandered through densely packed Shakedown and unloaded the last of the patches. Bruce traded for a Led Zeppelin shirt. Significantly more illicit wares were being hawked than food stuffs. The thirty-yard stretch of parking lot transformed into a bazaar of dope pushers dangling old-fashioned rolls, overpriced and under-weighed grams of molly, dried-out headies, and shrooms. It was a virtual fire sale of all products because it's the end of tour. Every other person who whispered the druggie passwords to me were sketched out -- either a tough-guy shyster, shady informant, undercover officer, and/or tweaker. I got a mixed vibe from the lot on Wednesday. It was a festive yet tense scene with state police busting random tards for being stupid. Sometimes I wonder how many people show up just for the party favors?

I made my way to the other side of the lot, where Phan Art had set up shop for an "everything must go" sale on all of his posters and t-shirts. I ran into the Phishy Twitter Mafia including a few familiar faces (UNOolker and Mountain Laura) slinging beers to help pay for tour. The Dharma patches don't really fund my adventures. That's why you have to buy my book, Lost Vegas. Anyway, I also ran into a few familiar names in the twitterverse that I was meeting for the first time IRL: EricWyman, AdamIcculus, tmwsiy, and TenaciousTJ. Even though we've been raging at the same shows the last year or so -- we never actually got to meet prior to the Jones Beach lot. Ah, the magic of Twitter. And yes, those folks on Twitter are some good people. They were all asking about the Joker's disco ball helmet. That kid is a rock star.

Matt hooked me up with tickets to both nights and he arrived in time for a beer or two before we prepped for the potential wet show. Scattered showers were in the forecast as a light drizzle began around 7pm. Last summer, we experienced some of the worst weather I had ever seen on tour including the monsoon that struck Jones Beach. I brought my rain gear and an empty plastic baggie -- a safe and dry refuge for my CrackBerry if the skies opened up and pissed on us. My phone got toast last summer during the lightning barrage at Deer Creek. I vowed never to make a rookie mistake like that again.

It took several minutes and discussions with three different ushers to figure out where our seats were in 7L. Very confusing considering that I was having a second sober show in a row. Anything I had ingested in the weeks before was flushed out of my system, yet, I still struggled to make sense of the unusual seating arrangements. I wonder how spun out heads expected to find their seats under duress?

And that's when the rainbow appeared. Everyone hoisted their cellphone cameras while the guys behind us were mocking the now infamous YouTube video of the wook who discovered the double rainbow. And yes, for a while we got two rainbows. Supposedly there were rainbows at Jones Beach last year, which I don't recall. However, one rainbow that will always stand out for me happened during the 2000 Japan tour. It was the only outdoor show in Japan, located in Hibiya Park in Tokyo on an afternoon. It had been raining all day, but stopped before Phish took the stage in the first set. A rainbow appeared at the end of the second set. The locals called it "niji" as I quickly learned the Japanese word for rainbow. This rainbow appeared moments before the encore. The crowd went nuts because they don't get to see too many rainbows. As Phish re-took the stage, a few band members looked up to see what all the fuss was as they launched into a sensational Character Zero. The Niji Zero.

The (dual) rainbow over Jones Beach dissipated and the late-arriving crowd made their way into the theatre while a few Draconian security guards heavily policed the rows in front of us bouncing the few wook seat jumpers who invaded the section. We actually had row T or the last possible row in the first section off the floor. A small stone wall separated us from the walkway. As soon as the lights went down, a dozen people hopped up on the wall and danced to the Down with Disease opener.

I've been critical of the throw-away openers that's why I don't mind the standard Jim or Bag opener to shake off the rust and get the party started. The Telluride DWD opener was wasteful because everyone was too busy gawking at the surrounding mountains and snapping pictures rather than getting down and dirty. I prefer my DWD as a set 2 opener where they can open it up and let it rip. The Jones Beach show opener was by no means a throw-away; it was tight, powerful, and concise. It was definitely short, clocking in at eight minutes. I called it the "Hemingway of DWDs" in my notes.

A couple of cute Phishy chicks danced on the wall behind us and they happily joined in the sing-a-long for Sample in a Jar. The schwilly girl hovering over my right shoulder was out of tune, but she nailed the first verse. In a drunken howl, she butchered the second verse. Normally, singing incorrect lyrics out loud is a violation and warrants a wook ticket, but since she got a pass because she was adorable and braless.

The funny spastic leg dance in Guelah Papyrus always makes me chuckle. The heads with the cannonfetti were back in position along the rail and let the canon rip. Poor Heart gives me flashbacks of popping Picture of Nectar into my CD player in my fraternity house. The album came out in 1991, when I was starting college. I was still a few steps removed from methheads in the early 90s in the wake of the crack epidemic and on the cusp of the heroin-chic grunge era. We called song like Poor Heart "cocaine-bluegrass" in those days, but shit, these days Poor Heart is easily labeled as tweaker-bluegrass.

I wore my green ocelot shirt yesterday and waited a day to play my favorite song off the new album. They jammed out Ocelot longer than DWD and it's become a rare jamming vehicle in set 1s. I'm digging the slowed-down faded-start as Ocelot builds to a frenetic jam. Hey, any song about Oxy abuse is something I can wrap my mind around.

Chalkdust Torture wasn't anything out of the ordinary. As a thirty-something with a watchful eye on my 40s around the bend, I always shout along with "Can't I live while I'm young?" The older I get, the more that lyric gives me goosebumps. When we were chilling out at Iggy's baller suite in Indiana, someone in our group looked up my PT stats and noticed that I had seen at least four songs 50 times or more. Chalkdust topped the list.

I usually love "people watching" during Bathtub Gin and take note of everyone in my vicinity who is grooving and singing along during different intervals of the song. For this show, I focused on the lights. Never underestimate the importance of a single white light. Kuroda knows how transform something so basic into a showstopper.

Everyone knows I'm a funk guy and want to hear Tube at every show. I got three this tour and only expected to hear it once, so many thanks to Phish. Tube openers are fun (that definitely set the tone for the monumental Alpine Valley show), but openers don't get as funky as they can get cooking later in the set. In this instance, Tube was well-placed but we were served up a super-abbreviated version coming in at barely four minutes. What happened to the elongated stretched-out, dance your ass off, Tube-funk jam a la the historical Dayton show?

The guy next to me from Rochester was an old head and racked up most of his shows in the late 90s. He had never seen Destiny Unbound. "This is my first," he gleefully admitted with his jaw on the ground while dirty-dancing with his girlfriend. Shit, the boys only played it seven times in Phishtory. I missed the first one in 1990 (I was only 18), but I caught the bustout in 2003 at the Nassau show. I was there with my groovy friend Molly from Texas and she was only 8 when they first played Destiny. I missed the Fenway version last summer, but caught versions at the Gorge, Alpharetta, and in Telluride. I'm a lucky duck -- I witnessed five of the seven times Destiny got played. It gets better every time. The Jones Beach version was highlighted by Gordo's scintillating throw down on the bass during the purple pants/light jam. Seems as though whenever Gordo gives us a clinic, Kuroda illuminates the stage and crowd with purple lights.

Matt has an amazing ear and can pick up a Phish song before they even begin the first note. He had to piss for most of the first set, but since the boys were keeping up a frantic pace, he was unable to leave without any lulls. Alas, he knew Joy was coming before Trey plucked the first note and he hopped over the back wall and bolted down the stairs to the pisser. If I had to pee, it would have been a "Pauly Takes a Piss Song." Alas, this instance it was a "Matt Takes a Piss Song." I engaged in paraphernalia maintenance and putzed around with my one-hitter. I successfully cleaned out the congestion with a paper clip and the end of my shoelace. I smoked tough the rest of Joy and can't recall smoking more herb at a show that I did NOT see with DJ Ocean. When you see a show with DJ Ocean, you're in for a Cheech and Chong smokeout. He's constantly rolling blunts, packing finger hash on bowls, and puffing nonstop -- which means so are you if you're within in a ten foot radius. DJ Ocean was only at the Greek shows, but I was holding the torch for him at Jones Beach with my own version of a beachy smokeout.

"The Antelopes have been amazing this tour," said the guy next to me as the boys invigorated the somnolent crowd after being put to sleep with Joy.

I caught four versions of Antelope this summer and they all passed the litmus test. The Tellur-a-lope was epic until I was floored by the intricately layered Alpine-a-lope. The Beach-a-lope was a bit formulaic but until the monster crescendo. Trey gave a shout out to "Mike-O Esquandoles." Antelope ended the 76 minute set. I vaguely recall last summer's Ghost-a-lope being one of the standouts from the Jones Beach run.

A scary scene unfolded during setbreak. Within moments of the house lights coming up, everyone was turned around and looking at the far section on Fishman side. Whispers flew around that apparently someone fell off the upper deck at the end of Antelope. Security and paramedics carrying a stretcher raced down the walkway behind me. The crew from This Week on the Lot found out from a security guard that supposedly the guy jumped from the upper deck. The guy next to me told his girlfriend not to look. In one way, it's natural to rubberneck at horrific accidents, however, no one wants to ruin a good buzz by focusing in on the stupidity of others. Who knows what happened for sure, but when in doubt, you should always follow my basic principles for drug/psychedelic usage...
Dr. Pauly's Rules of Tripping:
1. No one knows you are tripping until you actually tell them.
2. It's cold outside -- bring a hoodie.
3. No matter what you think, you CANNOT fly.
If you stick to those rules in life, you should have a safe show/trip.

The guy was alive and got carried out on a stretcher, as the crowd gave him a warm applause. Just before the second set began, someone launched fireworks in the lot as Phish unleashed a hard-rocking Axilla set 2 opener, which came out of left field. During setbreak, Matt and I joked around about the impending setlist: Tweezer opener with Light up second not to mention 46 Days and a YEM wedged in there. Light has become the consummate "second set second song" jamming vehicle. In this instance, the coaches bumped Light down in the batting order. Whoever bats third in baseball is the best hitter... and that distinction went to Light for the tour closer. The second song was Timber Ho or as the guy from Boston in front of me pronounced "Tim-baaaaaaaaaaaaah Ho!" It was a quickie and Phish opted to wait until Light to let loose and drag us down the rabbit hole.

Kuroda's cones and funnels of light during Light were tripping me out -- and I was sober. I'm not that much of a fan of the first few minutes of Light, but as soon as they are done with the semi-ghey lyrics, I hitched up my belt and prepped for a mental journey. The Light jam at the Gorge is still one of my favorites in the 3.0 era (along with the Albany Seven Bleow > Ghost). The pulsating UFO ring of lights returned, a hearty reminder that the Mothership was due to pick up all of the freaks, spacekids, and other curious souls after the show. The jam morphed into a helicopter jam with blades/propeller-type bluish lights whipping around. The seg wasn't pretty as they hobbled into 46 Days. I was impressed with the Berkeley version as 46 Days has become a go-to song for some heavy lighting. I'm digging how they stretched out and explored different corners of the universe with 46. They eventually headed into murky territory as a veil of darkness descended upon us with a transition into My Friend My Friend. As per usual, it was a haunting, spooky, cooky version. I circled it in my notes, so it must have really struck a nerve.

Gordo tore it up with a bong-rattling bass intro to Hood. Most of the jam was soothing as they down-shifted a gear before revving it back up. Tweezer was a surprise because I never thought they'd toss it into the mix at the end of the second set. The UFO lights returned during yet another attempt at contacting the Mothership. The Close Encounter lights flashed continuously and I finally figured out those were signals to the aliens in the crowd to pack up their mobile molly labs and head to lot 3 after the show for immediate extraction. Yeah, the aliens have been cooking up batches of molly all summer in the back of a beat-up RV.

I had mixed emotions about Horse > Silent in the Morning, but they won me over by the end of Silent. YEM ended the set. Not as incendiary as Alpine or as funkified as Telluride, but they brought a beachy version of the heat. The vocal jam no longer features those white lights twirling around which often made me nauseous. Kuroda has been going to the UFO lights all tour. He's in on the conspiracy. If you're a fan of the X-Files, then Kuroda is the proverbial "Cigarette Smoking Man."

I have a theory about the vocal jam out of YEM -- Phish pre-records excerpts and embeds subliminal messages. No wonder why we're so hooked, because the band has been brainwashing us for years. To go a step further, the CIA or other alphabet intelligence agencies are also using the Phish's YEM vocal jam as a weapon of mass destruction to program us. I have no idea what their messages are, but we'll soon find out. And lastly, most of the aliens speak Mayan, so I'm fairly certain a few Mayan chants are often included in the vocal jam to pay homage to the ETs who fly the friendly skies above Phish shows.

The encore was predictable Suzy Greenberg > Tweeprize. The Suzy funk jam at Berkeley still holds up as one of my favorite bits from this tour. Trey was jumping up and down as per usual at the end of Tweeprise, and that song is fucking loud. They really crank it up to end the show... and the tour.

And just like that, the fab four took a bow and exited the stage. They rushed to their individual tour buses and got the fuck out of dodge. The rest of us wandered out into the lots gossiping about the stops on fall tour. Phish achieved the most basic rule in show business -- leave the audience wanting more. I dunno about you, but I can't wait until the announcement about fall tour.

Yep, 11 shows and an entire tour in the books. This has been a remarkable run for me starting out in Berkeley and then being a part of the magical Telluride destination shows with Joker, Jonas and all of my Colorado crew, before the boys scorched the Earth in Deer Creek and Alpine Valley, before ending the tour with a double-dip at Jones Beach. Thanks to everyone who hooked me up with tickets (especially the Joker for Telluride, not to mention Kari for Alpine Valley #2 and Matt for both Jones Beach shows). And thanks to the folks who acted as designated drivers on a few nights including Mr. Fabulous, Iggy, and especially my girlfriend Nicky.

The party is over and the psychedelic circus has come to a close. Go home hippies and spacekids. See ya in a few months.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Dispatches from Jones Beach: It's No Easy Road

By Pauly
Brooklyn, NY

Jones Beach is gravy.

I wasn't supposed to be at these shows. I booked a flight out of Milwookie airport for Monday and intended on heading back to LA. My vacation was supposed to be over and I was going to be rocking the couch tour for the last two shows, however, something magical happened during Alpine Valley, in which I was compelled to make an impulsive decision and say, "Fuck it! I'm going to Jones Beach."

I'm my own boss and have a cool girlfriend, so the decision was an easy one for me to make. Nicky is awesome and when I told her I was going to Jones Beach to extend the party a few more days, she said, "Have fun!" I worked my ass off the last six years as a freelance writer, web entrepreneur, and amateur poker player to put myself in positions like this -- and seize the day when life offers you up something that's impossible to pass up. In this instance, it was two more Phish shows. To be blunt, if Phish sucked cow balls in the Midwest, I would have skipped these Jones Beach shows, but after bringing the heat for the previous three shows (Deer Creek #2 and both Alpine Valley shows), I felt like the lyrics in Down with Disease. I couldn't stop.

The Jones Beach shows came to fruition in a very short time. My buddy Matt from Brooklyn responded to my plea on Twitter for extras and within minutes he offered up tickets to both nights. I grew up in NYC and have family to crash with, so my brother was more than accommodating. Probably the best part of this trip was getting to see him because we don't get to spend much time together these days. It was even cooler than we watched the Jets/Giants pre-season game. As I told him, my last Dead show was at the former Giants Stadium in the Meadowlands circa 1995. Bob Dylan opened for the Dead that tour. I had no idea it would be my last. And to make things even juicier -- my old weed dealer owed me money from a previous gambling debt, so I actually had local produce waiting for me upon my arrival in NYC. As I said, this leg of tour came together so easily considering I pulled the trigger at the last possible moment while standing in the lot at Alpine Valley.

I have to admit something: when I booked my Milwookie to LA ticket, I opted for a refundable ticket and spent a few extra bucks. I usually don't do that, but deep down I wanted to give myself the option to fly to NYC at the last minute -- just in case. I'm glad I gambled correctly and paid extra because sure enough, months after I booked my flight, I drastically changed my mind.

I traveled to the shows with my old Deadhead buddy Bruce. I went to my last Dead show with him in 95 and since then I had been trying to convert him to the church of Phish. I took him to his first show in 99 (Camden, NJ at the old "E Centre") and after a handful of shows, he officially got hooked during the Miami 2003 NYE run. Just as he started to really get into Phish, they pulled the plug in 2004. During the down time between 2.0 and 3.0, he transformed into a bigger Phishead. He swallowed the Kool-Aid and he's hooked.

I picked up Bruce in Brooklyn. My rental car had a fucked up window, one of the minor obstacles to overcome. My old man was in the Marines and he taught us to adapt and/or overcome anything blocking our path. We skipped rush hour traffic and headed out to the Island at 3pm. We made a few stops for supplies and smoked a blunt in the parking lot of a random Friendly's. I got to the Jones Beach lot, ran into Phan Art, and saw my buddy Jesse on Shakedown. Jones Beach is half the size of Deer Creek, but most of the people at these shows had jobs in the city, which meant it was a late-arriving crowd. Party people in the lot were mostly binge-drinking college kids in search of mind-altering substances. I kept getting hit up for molly, even though I'm not a dealer and it's not my drug of choice. Initially, food vendors were up and running with many of them at the end of "prep" mode before the state police came in and shut down all of the food operations. Selling bongs and doses were cool, but food was not kosher.

I met up with Matt, who had my tickets, and we headed into the show. Compared to last June, the weather in August was warmer and less wet. Yeah, I survived a monsoon one night last year. Phish is the only band that I'll stand in the rain to see. Bruce made a killing that night on Shakedown selling $1 ponchos for $5.

Matt scored pretty good seats -- the fifth row off the floor on Fishman side. Access to the floor area was a clusterfuck. You needed a wristband and to show your ticket if you were in the orchestra. Because the JB show featured a late-arriving crowd, a massive traffic jam of people backed up the entrance to the lower level. The walkway in between sections could barely fit two people and the tunnel leading into the stadium contained a frantic mob of people trying to get onto the floor. They missed most of the Fluffhead opener while security slowly let people in one by one. Our seats were right above the tunnel, so I watched as this madness unfolded.

The Midwest shows had lots of drunks, where as my section at Jones Beach were filled with potheads. I hadn't smelled an overwhelming stench of weed since Berkeley -- just not as aromatic. Everyone fired up once the lights went down. Fluffhead was rushed but well received. The section around me was thrilled with Kill Devil Falls. I still think of what Daddy called it the first time he heard KDF... "Chalkdust Torture's little brother."

I was all smiles during Cities, but it was rushed and they never allowed a deep funk jam to develop. They played it at Jones Beach last time.

"They kept it pretty basic," explained Bruce, a drummer by trade.

A hard-bluesy version of Funky Bitch was next up on the menu for back-to-back covers. The gem of the first set was Wilson, a trashing version with a dash of Trey the class clown. He busted out a mini-guitar, or a kid's learning guitar, for the solo. He dipped into that bag of tricks twice during Wilson. I gotta say, it's much better than when he used to noodle around with that mini-keyboard many moons ago.

An exceptionally adequate Reba kept the crowd reeling. I hope that doesn't come off too harsh, but it's the truth. Exceptionally adequate is really the best way to describe the entire evening. I dunno what was wrong. It wasn't anything major, but something was slightly off that I couldn't put my finger on. I went into the show with zero expectations and was simply happy to be there. It was a good show overall but nothing really blew me away. I jotted down in my notes that Walk Away was one of the highlights of the set. Maybe that better explains what I'm trying to say.

A perky Wolfman's kept everyone grooving, but as Matt noted, it seemed as though Page and Mike had gotten bored and were trying to end it, or push it in a different direction, but Trey was having none of that. I was trying to curtail the masturbatory references, but in this case, Trey was playing a little too much with his wiener.

High-energy Possum closed the 80-minute opening set. It was yummy and included the return of the Cannonfetti. By itself, it more than served it's purpose. Compared to the other three this tour, it's second to Deer Creek.

For a two-show run, I look at each set as a "quarter" in sports terminology. Phish just finished the first quarter. They looked strong and played well enough to win, but they weren't exactly blowing out the other team. The sound was a bit muddled at times. I chalked that up to the wind that occasionally whipped off the bay. If you've seen shows at Red Rocks you know that the sound could get caught up in the swirling wind. Wilson, however, was eardrum-shattering loud. Guess they turned up the amps to 11 on that one.

I caught up with my buddy Zig at setbreak. He was surfing in Long Beach prior to the show and strolled on in. Not a bad way to spend a Tuesday, eh? Surfing and Phish. I told him he's on the wrong coast and needs to move to California for the surfing, but Phish is partial to the East Coast, so it would be tough to get that frequent combo in SoCal.

The sound was mixed better in the second set. I was expecting a Rock and Roll opener, but it seemed as though Trey called an audible as he stepped on stage. He conferred with Mike, then Page. Fishman embarked on an acapella Lengthwise, something that we got during the Phish "Storytellers" segment in Asheville last year, when Trey admitted that he wrote many of Phish's earlier songs after flipping through Fishman's journal. Lengthwise (along with Tube and Gumbo) was one such journal tune. Toward the end of Fishman's vocal offering, he started up the high hat. Everyone knew what was coming... and the band ripped into a scorching Maze. The other Mazes I heard this tour were led by Page's magnificent soloing at different sections, but this version was all Fish. He seized control of the bus and the rest of the band was following him down the rabbit hole.

I knew we were getting a short Halley's Comet, so I wasn't pissed when the boys got cooking and Trey abruptly stopped the jam, to hasten to Mike's Song. Mike's was like a big fat burrito with shredded pork (Trey's playing) and lots of hot sauce (Mike's playing). The only curveball in the Mike's sandwich was that we didn't get a curveball throw to us. Instead, the boys threw a fastball right down the pipe with Simple, a soothing yet sultry version, which included plenty of UFO-riff teases and Kuroda's Close Encounter-ish lights. Simple seg'd into Backwards. Initially I resisted the song, but once the lyrics and verses were over, they boys blasted off into the jamming comos. The first half of Backwards was uneventful, but the last six minutes were filled with a rich and creamy celestial jam. Ever get a fresh canoli for Little Italy or Arthur Avenue in the Bronx? Well, that's what it felt like, except you are eating it on one the moons of Jupiter.

The epic Backwards Jones Beach jam stumbled horribly into Prince Caspian. The seg wasn't pretty, sort of like when the town drunk stumbled out of the pub at closing time and violently puked on the curb. Caspian is a song that can outperform expectations or completely underwhelm you -- depending on your state of mind and the version they played. In this instance, it killed any momentum that the Backwards jam had conjured up from the altered spirits. I was thrilled when Trey dragged them out of the muck and into Rock and Roll. Instead of the set opener, we were treated with a mid-set version in the middle of a Mike's Groove sandwich. Page always shines on the Velvet Underground cover, but this version had a devastating jam. Using a derivative of sick as an adjective for "awesome" -- this jam was terminally ill. It eventually morphed into a spacey jam with the "Alright" vocal part as a primer.

And then came the Weekapaug. I dunno if anything can touch that Sneaking Sally > Weekapaug (or what Daddy called "Sneakapaug"), but this one had plenty of its own moments to savor. Gordon was at the top of his game, but stepped aside for the set closer -- Loving Cup. Phish nailed all of the covers tonight, including this oldie from Exile on Main Street. Am I the only one who wants to hear a Torn and Frayed every once in a while? I also wonder if they will play Shine a Light some point in the second set on the tour closer?

The encore was Show of Life. I dunno why I thought it was a Tom Waits cover. Matt corrected me and said it was a Trey/Dude of Life joint production. Benjo mentioned in a text message that he's been getting into that song. I've seen it a few times and it gets better every time played. Some of the crowd thought otherwise. I had never seen so many people head for the exits before (at a non-Velvet Cheese encore). I assumed that they were not fans of the new song or they actually had jobs and had to get up early for work the next day. Perhaps, they were both?

Show of Life finished strong, but Golgi saved the day. The crowd-pleasing high-energy fan favorite ended the show on a zenith, as Trey blurted out, "See ya tomorrow night."

As Matt said it best on Twitter, "I say it every time... Phish is good. Really good."

We headed out to the lots and within seconds the sounds of evaporating brain cells filled the air. The tanks were out in force and the crackheads rushed towards the hissing sounds. Within seconds, my row was filled with brain-damaged tards clutching balloons and stumbling into oncoming traffic. You can't sell grilled cheese at Jones Beach, but nitrous is perfectly acceptable.

Overall, a fun night. Phish played good enough that I was happy that I extended my vacation. If you want me to be honest, well, they fell short of the mark set by three Midwest shows. Phish scorched the Earth in both Deer Creek and Alpine Valley. There's a brush fire burning at Jones Beach. We'll see if they can ignite that into a raging inferno to end the summer tour.

Ten shows down, and one Jones Beach down with one more to go.