Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Restaurant Wars

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

Padma the co-host of Top Chef

When I started dating Nicky a few years ago, she and her roommate Showcase religiously watched a reality show where 12 or so of the best chefs battled it out in the kitchen for the honor of being crowned... Top Chef. I loathe reality programming as a general philosophy because for every reality show, at least five writers don't have a job... or some WGA-inflated statistic like that. Most of that reality fodder is junkfood and I only stumble up on a few compelling shows. But I caught one episode of Top Chef... and I was hooked.

In the middle of a crazy travel season, I pieced together viewings of Top Chef Chicago (the year that Stephanie beat out the freaky guy with the hair and the lesbo with an attitude problem) via the intertubes and TiVo. I quickly became a convert and religiously watched last season of Top Chef New York when Hosea (the bald dude from Colorado) came from behind to upset Stefan (the bald Fin raised in Germany) who the supreme chef among a gaggle of fry cooks. Stephan is the best of the best that I had seen on the show in the last three seasons -- but he choked in crunch time when it counted the most.

I recently discovered that friends of mine are also Top Chef freaks including a few who are gambling on the outcome of this season of Top Chef Las Vegas. Garth created a Fantasy Top Chef league and Daddy is a part of that contest in DC. Wow. What an ingenious concept! Nicky was impressed and inspired by Garth and Daddy, we engaged in a heads-up Fantasy Top Chef Pool. With 10 chefs to go in this season, Nicky and I drafted a team of 4 chefs a piece. She had first pick.
Nicky's Team Volt: Bryan V., Michael V., Ashley, Mike
Pauly's Team Chorizo: Kevin, Jen, Eli, Laurine
Undrafted: Ash (the gay guy) and Robin (the cancer survivor who won;t shut the fuck up)
Nicky scooped up both Voltaggio brothers while I anchored my team with Kevin and Jen. The oldest Voltaggio brother, Bryan, is the best chef of the crop. Let's be blunt... Top Chef is his to lose. Older Voltaggio's problem is that he's too technical and too perfect that his food and approach is almost too boring. He lacks the imagination and fearlessness that drives his younger brother. Michael is clearly not as skilled in all areas of the kitchen as his old brother, but he has a wider vision and a compulsion to take those risks to meet his vision. If Michael can nail one of those attempts... then little bro will finish ahead of old bro.

I liked my first pick.... Kevin knows how to bring flavor to a meal and put a high brow twist to traditional Southern cooking. It's hard to beat a fat guy who loves pork because his food is consistently bursting with flavors. Jen was a solid second pick because she's the most classically trained and has a firm grasp of old world cooking. Plus, she paid her dues in Eric Ripert's kitchen which means knows how to "wow" the British and Euro-trash chefs who are guest judges. She also has tremendous mood swings and I'm convinced that she's a cokehead, while Kevin and Eli are the two potheads in the group.

On the first week that we kept score, I beat out Nicky 11-2 when Jen won the Elimination Challenge (EC) to take an early lead. I scored a huge break when Ashley got booted (crappy prawns and salty gnocchi) and my Team Chorizo gained an advantage. Nicky's Team Volt was playing 3-handed and I continued my run during the second week when Kevin won the EC and I opened up a 20.5 to 7 lead.

Coming into the Final 8, Nicky was desperate for a big week from the Voltaggio Brothers especially since we reached the exhilarating Restaurant Wars where the contestants pair off into two teams and open their own restaurant within 24 hours featuring a menu with three courses. Disaster or success ensues. The crews who work the best together usually win while the teams screaming, whining, and moaning fizzle out.

But before Restaurant Wars began, the episode kicked off with a twist where the Quickfire Challenge divided the eight chefs into two teams for a blind-folded tag-team cook off with Rick Moonen (has a fish joint at Mandalay Bay) as the guest judge. Tag-team. Difficult challenge for a chef walk into a kitchen with ingredients on a stove and not know what's going on. Chefs drew knives and Jen won the chef lottery and secured the first pick for the Blue team. Jen immediately picked Kevin, followed by Mike, and Laurine. Michael was the captain for the Red team; his brother, Eli, and Robin. Interesting to see who was picked to close for both teams... Kevin (Blue) and Bryan (Red). The two top dogs to anchor the challenge.

Jen kicked off the the first leg and returned from the pantry with Alaskan black cod and scallops. Mike and Laurine kept it moving along and Kevin finished strong with a butter-fried fish dish instead of a poached fish dish as original conceived by Jen. Eli (aka the fat kid with glasses who lives with his parents) went with beef dish. Robin seemed clueless as per usual, but everyone seemed a bit clueless going in blind so she wasn't really at a disadvantage. If anything, I expected the Voltaggio Brothers to push aside her work and go with their instincts. They final product? Asian beef dish.

Moonen is a fish guy and naturally preferred the fish dish. Ergo, the Blue team won. Three of my fantasy chefs were on that team and I picked up a few points. As a bonus, those chefs won a $10,000 M Casino chip with a choice of letting it ride... if they won the Restaurant Wars, then they'd get $40,000. 4 to 1 gamble on a coin flip? Fuck yeah! I loved that added element to this season in Las Vegas. In previous years, Quickfire winners were awarded lame prizes like a new set of knives or day trips to Sonoma. Cold hard cash is way better for chefs who don't make much money anyway and the ones who own restaurants are probably leveraged to the hilt. Letting them gamble on themselves for money is more exciting.

With $40,000 on the line, the Blue team made two crucial mistakes before they even stepped into the kitchen.... Laurine in charge of front of the house and omitting a dessert on the menu. Mike, the most talkative of the bunch, would have a perfect candidate for schmoozing guests. When designing the menu, Jen opted for a conservative route and didn't want to fuck up a dish that ended up the demise of teams in the past. They picked Mission as their name, but it seemed as though they were on a mission towards failure. During the prep, they fell behind schedule and it seemed evident that they did not have enough time to handle the rush. Little did we know that Jen would be steaming clams to order... instead of cooking up batches before they seated anyone.

Red team went with a modern American food twist but picked a horrible name... Revolt, a play on their names (Robin - Eli - Voltaggio brothers). That sounds chic enough for a lounge in the East Village or in Silver Lake, but not a kitschy name for a hip eatery. During their prep... Eli took on front of the house duties, Bryan was in his own world, while Michael was bossing Robin around who didn't take too kindly to his barrage of insults and micro-managing of her dessert dish. I understood his intentions -- he doesn't want to loose on Robin fucking up a peach cobbler, so he's keeping an eye on the weakest link, but his desire to win unleashed his inner asshole.

During service, Padma was quick to bust on Revolt's menu and the name of their restaurant and that would be the only bad thing they had to say about them The first course... Arctic Char with beets & crispy potatoes was average, but Michael gave the judges a hearty boner and promptly gave Padma a wet deck with his chicken and squid concoction. "Lovely" was how Padma described the dish as she couldn't contain her food orgasm. Colicchio dug the chicken so much, he hogged Padma's.

"What the fuck, Tom? Why you stealing my chicken?"

"Models don't need big portions. Fat guys need to eat more."

The second course included the beef dish (NY Strip and short rib) and a fish dish (cod with zucchini and a croquette). Moonen jizzed all over Michael's "brilliant" cod that melted in the mouths of the diners, while his brother Bryan's beef tandem was tasty but served cold.

Michael and Robin feuded during dessert service over the portion sizes. Bryan didn't have time for that petty bullshit and wanted both teammates to take a more professional approach -- shit up and get the dish out and bitch about their issues after service is complete. Despite the spat in the back, Robin's Pear Pithivier impressed the judges, even the hard-to-please Toby. Bryan hit a home run with chocolate ganache with spearmint ice cream even though his brother thought it was a shitty dish when they were tossing around menu ideas the night before. As the judges gushed about the desserts, you pretty much knew that the gang at Revolt locked up the victory despite their shitty name and the bickering in the kitchen.

On the other side... Mission was fucked. They had to pull off a perfect evening if they wanted to have a chance at winning. Laurine seems like a sweet lady, but she looks stoned the entire time. That's cool when you're working the line, but I dunno if she was perky or sociable enough to run front of the house of Mission. It really looks like she just took a Valium or too to cope with the added pressure of Restaurant Wars. hit with $40,000 on the line for her team, you figured that she would have stepped it up. Instead, she wilted under the pressure.

Before the even sat down, the judges moaned about a lack of dessert at Mission. They were more than doomed. Laurine's crappy hostess duties didn't help the cause and she didn't even explain the dishes until Padma had to beat it out of her.

Mike's dishes in the first course looked kinda weak. Come on, an egg and asparagus for Top Chef? Plus the Arctic char was under seasoned that Padma actually asked for salt. Yet, compared to the ensuing dishes from his teammates, Mike's food was more than satisfactory.

Misson was slammed with back orders and the second courses did not arrive in a timely fashion for the judges. Those orders should pushed to the top of the list. Shit, as soon as they complained, I would have tackled other waiters and grabbed four dishes ASAP to send over to the table.

The two fish dishes had to be masterpieces in order to impress the judges when the food finally arrived. You don't make Colicchio and company wait on mediocre food. Alas, the Trout was so-so and the Halibut with clams severely disappointed the judges who had lofty aspirations of Jen's dishes. Even Colicchio took a dig at Jen and said that her mentor would not have been pleased with her piss poor performance.

To complicate matters, the third course also failed to impress. Since they didn't present a dessert, they needed to blow them away instead the undercooked lamb was the nail in their coffin. The Pork Belly was the only highlight for Mission as Kevin hit solo home run but he also fumbled the lamb (conceived by Laurine).

Revolt easily won Restaurant Wars with better service and better food. Michael's dishes were the highlight of the event and the youngest Voltaggio easily won the Elimination Challenge. Michael picked up a book as his prize and $10,000, but gained some karma points by splitting the winner's booty with his teammates.

Mission chefs got their asses reamed by judges. They were shocked that Jen admitted that she steamed the mussels and clams to order. Which would have saved her valuable time and gave her more time to properly cook the other dishes. Jen was mortified when she found out her sauce broke on the halibut. Yeah, she fucked up big time and all the talent in the world was not going to save her. She was on the verge of being sent home to Philly for a couple of crappy seafood dishes.

It came down to this... would the judges have mercy on her or kill off Laurine since she was the weakest chef on that team? Well, it seemed that Laurine took one for the team. She was booted due to her lackluster performance running the front of the house. She really took the bullet for Jen, who gets to redeem herself after faltering under pressure.

Nicky had two players on the winning team and racked up the most points during Restaurant Wars. She finally posted a winning week 11-8 and negated the four-to-three chef advantage. She picked up some ground but I'm ahead 28.5 to 18. With 7 chefs to go... the Voltaggio brothers are surging and Jen is a little rattled.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sunday Morning Margaritas

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

I uploaded a new video... How to Make a 90 Second Margarita.

If my writing career goes to shot, I can always return to being a bartender.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Klosterman and the Twitter Revolution

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

One of my favorite writers is speaking about the impact of Twitter...

And yes, you can always follow me on Twitter.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Los Crickets

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

Disney brainwashed me into believing that crickets were green, and that they spoke English, and wore top hats, sang flaming show tunes, and did annoying shit. Well, the last part was correct.

I had never really seen too many crickets up and close and personal until I moved to L.A. of all places. When I first started dating Nicky, a cricket that lived inside the wall of her bedroom. Some nights it annoyed the fuck out of me during those edgy insomnia-ridden hours when I wasn't quite comfortable enough to sit around her apartment (because she had a room mate at the time). I'd have to bang on the wall to get the bugger to shut up otherwise, I'd lie in bed in utter agony.

Last fall was the first time that I saw a cricket inside our apartment. A couple of random ones that appeared late nights. They never made a sound but skipped around silently. They almost blended into the hardwood floors since they were a mixture of brown, beige, and euchre. I never knew how they gained access inside the apartment. One day they just showed up and they appear from time to time.

How do I deal with the illegal cricket immigration? I slaughtered them. I know, I know, I'm going to hell for the act and for even writing it. I'm probably going to get a bunch of hate mail from pro-insect activists who have nothing else better to do that scour the web for hate crimes against insects. I'm pleading insanity. The shrill sounds of crickets drive any human insane. If anything I was doing our society a justice by cleansing our community with loud-mouth insects.

Of course, some folks will tell me that I'm foolish to kill a cricket since they symbolize good luck. I should be swooning over the fact that crickets are gracing me with their presence. In Brazil, crickets usually symbolize impending wealth and money. Well, if that's the case, I'd sure as hell like to see more crickets.

As I write this, a couple of crickets are milling about in the alley outside the window of my office. They are communicating with one another. I don't speak cricket so I can't tell if they are bitching about the Angels loss to the Yanks or if they are relaying recon information to launch an attack on our apartment. Maybe they think I have their fellow crickets hostage since they have not seen them in days or months. Little did they know that their squished carcasses were flushed away and never to be seen again. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. No mas crickets.

I thought cats eat bugs. Where the hell are the alley cats? They can have a feast on all of the crickets having outside. Would homeless people eat crickets? They have some protein but you'd have to eat hundreds for it to make a difference. There's a bunch of bums who go dumpster diving by the Jack in the Box. Nothing says nutrition like the leftover food people toss in the trash at a fast food eatery.

It rained for a day and a half and came down heavily at some points, something that rarely happens and couple of bums makeshift home washed out. They were squatting on discarded box springs in the alley behind a mortuary at the far end of the alley where the Jack in the Box is located.

Yeah all of this plight is located within a block of my apartment in the slums of Beverly Hills -- Chinese food, kosher baked goods, a medicinal marijuana dispensary, Indian food (that I think is a front for the mob or a narco-terrorist organization because I have never seen a patron), a church, and a Catholic school. No wonder there's dozens of for rent signs.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Happy Birthday Derek!

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

Today is my brother's birthday. Happy Derek Day!

Monday, October 12, 2009

October Breeze

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

I missed feeling the breeze.

The morning breeze makes you reach for a hoodie for an hour or two until the Impressionist-grey-splotches of clouds that make up the marine layer burns off and the friendly California sun bakes everyone's brain from the rest of the day.

The sweltering summer is officially over in Southern California, as the October morning breeze flowed through the open door and escaped out the dining room window. This is the fall season. No foliage like the Northeast. The ground is not covered in multi-colored leaves save for a crinkled fallen palm leaf. The only way you can tell it's October in L.A. is the bombardment of Halloween decorations in various stores.

A few minutes past the lifting darkness of the 7am hour, the birds who live in trees in the alley had started their chorus of chirping an hour or so earlier. The birds are the only ones up except a few dumpster-diving bums. The smart ones know that guys consume a significant amount of booze on the weekends, especially on Sundays during football season, so hitting up the recycle bins early on Monday is a sure-fire way to strike gold. The lucky bums cart away their booty while the unlucky ones nibble of rock-hard scraps of crust from a discarded Papa John's box.

I wasted a full Sunday devoting myself to the baseball playoffs and sweating all of my fantasy sports teams. I barely left the couch with one hand clutching the bong and the other maniacally flipping the "last" button on the remote as I toggled back and forth between football and baseball. The only moments of mobility included getting up to piss, getting up to retrieve more beverages from the fridge, and the odd times that I walk over to the dining room table to check the scores. On some Sundays, I paid more attention to the laptop than the games. I vowed to flip that around.

I welcomed the day off from the grind of being chained to my laptop, so I sprung out of bed on Monday to return to the old routine. First thing? I turn off the ringer then hide my cell phone. Bury it under a pile of clothes. The world will have to wait until I finish a writing session and I come up for air.

I open up the front door and windows, which airs out the apartment and lets the morning coolness instead. I wake and bake with a random jazz mix on low in the living room as the first inklings of morning light burst through the open curtains.

I set up shop at the hardwood table and the chair creaked as I sat down. The dining room set belonged to Nicky's deceased German grandmother. She ate thousands of meals off of the table. I wonder if she knows that I use it as my morning desk?

Although I have a small office (that my girlfriend was kind enough to redecorate for my birthday last year), I prefer to write at the dining room table in the mornings. For some reason, it shields me from distractions. These days, there are so many to ignore -- the news updates, overflowing email, Twitter, and urge to browse the abundance of content on random sports sites.

I usually stay in the same spot for an hour, maybe longer. Sometimes Nicky wakes up which is a cue that it's time for me to move from our common areas and retreat to my office for the rest of the day. She likes to work in the living room and since she also works from home -- she gets free reign.

Sometimes I write for several uninterrupted hours until the landscapers arrive at the houses or apartment buildings of the few clients that can afford to pay them for their manicuring services. The landscapers fire up their shrill-sounding machines. The echos reverberate down the alleys. Some days, there's a barrage of hammering and it sounds like they are constructing the Bridge Over the River Kwai. I've heard their loud sounds as early as 7:30am. I snicker but never say anything. Those illegals are armed with machetes. I turn up John Coltrane or Sonny Rollins loud enough to drown out the gargling sounds of leaf blowers and weed whackers. They have work to do and so do I.

The early morning sessions are the best sessions of the day because most of the time those words are not for anyone -- except myself. 90% of the time that effort gets shoved into the trash. Sometimes I save bits and once in a blue moon that fodder ends up here. For example, I can't believe I wrote almost 800 words about what happens in the mornings when I get up early to write. More importantly, I can't believe you actually read it.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

The Lunch Counter

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

"You're late today."

That's what the waiter told me at the coffee shop when I walked in just before noon. I'm usually there in the early morning hours. Before 7am, a time when most people in the neighborhood are not even out of their beds.

"Late night," I said.

I was up later than usual the night before. A little wired. Unable to sleep. I spent the dead hours of the night staring insomnia in the face and digging around YouTube. I ended up watching an entire episode of Dinner for Five. Usual host Jon Favreau was not there for some reason and Kevin Smith took his spot. The rest of the dinner table included Stan Lee, JJ Abrams, Mark Hamill, and Jason Lee. They all told fascinating stories about the entertainment industry and I really wish that show still existed.

I kinda stumbled into the coffee shop, something acceptable at daybreak when the place was empty, but not-so-much so at lunch rush. I sidestepped a sprinting busboy and a trio of customers exiting. I took a seat at one of three empty stools at the counter. I had a breakfast book, something that a friend had written, and I usually get a full chapter in before the food comes. That day it would be a lunch book.

I glanced at the open grill behind the counter. Mostly lunch foods. The cook in the Dodgers hat who usually manned the egg station was on duty at the deep fryer. I went with the lunch flow and ordered a cheeseburger.

"Throw some bacon on there," I said at the last second.

I opened up the book and heard the chatter behind me. Three booths. Three different conversations. Two guys were in the first one. Three hipsters (two girls and a flaming guy) sat behind me. And in the corner were three huge guys, two of which were black.

I actually recognized one of the guys in the back booth. He worked as a security guard at the medicinal marijuana dispensary on the same block. Two new "weed stores" had opened up in the last month and it looked like they had some big ass mother fuckers standing guard at the front door. No shenanigans there.

The hipsters behind me? Full of nostalgia and talking about what their grandmothers made them for snacks as little kids.

"Did your nanna cut the crusts off?"

None of them were from L.A. and two of them were from Missouri, at least they found out that their grandmothers lived less than 50 miles away from each other. I drowned out that chatter. Well, I didn't really control that because of the voluminous dudes in the first booth. They weren't pretty boys, wore t-shirts with ironic sayings, and hadn't shaved in weeks. Writers. Like everyone else in L.A. they weren't from California. By the ton of their sports-themed conversation, it didn't take too long before I figured out one was originally from Chicago and the other was from New England. All I wanted to do was read a pulp and I had to try extra harder to block them out.

Of course, their conversation immediately changed when the MAW (model/actress/whatever) sat down in the empty stool two to my right. She sat right in front of the writers, who stopped their conversation for the first time since I had arrived. They ogled for a few seconds as she floated on by before they immediately segued into industry talk. Their scripts. Who they met with. By the looks of them, they were out of work, or probably like me and humping online media jobs. Didn't matter. They were trying to show off to the MAW. But, she was oblivious.

I had seen her at the coffee shop before, but always earlier in the day. She was an early riser and ate there in before/after a morning workout. I had to contain myself from laughter one morning when I rolled in there crocked and faded to the tits as she tried to negotiate a meal that consisted of a single blueberry pancake.

Her hair was purplish with hints of auburn, a much different shade than I remembered, but her distinct tattoo on her left shoulder blade gave her away. Some sort of green circle with Mayan markings. Kinda spooky.

I read my lunch book and nibbled on fries. Crinkle cuts dusted with a special cajun seasoning. MAW ordered an orange juice and some sort of egg white omelete with spinach and peppers. She flipped through Variety until her phone rang and she answered. That's when I tuned her out too. Magical Mystery Tour was playing on the oldies station and I let me mind get fixated on the Beatles.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Ruskie Origins

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

I never really took English classes, which might come as a shock to some of you.

I can only recall three specific English classes during that eight year period of high school in New York City and college in Atlanta. I only took once English class in college to fulfill a requirement. If you took classes with a lot of papers, then you got "composition credit" and did not have to take a shitload of English classes. Usually one of my poli sci or film studies classes required a lot of paper writing so those courses saved me from sitting through required English classes.

I'm glad that I didn't take any creative writing classes because it probably would have made me not want to be a writer. Then again, in college, I thought that I was on my way to law school or a job as a political consultant -- when I wasn't trying to construct a bong out of household items.

In high school, only one English class stood out. Our school was divided into trimesters. I skipped the final trimester of my senior year and went the internship route. Instead of sitting in stuffy class rooms on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, I opted to be a runner on the floor of the NY Commodities Exchange. Yeah, I took the subway to the World Trade Center every day instead of going to class. The trading floor was inside one of the Twin Towers. That's where I learned the ways of the Bull and the Bear as a runner. I glimpsed at my future and acquired a bevy of life's lessons during my time there.

For the other two trimesters, we had electives and were required to take at least one English elective per trimester. During the first trimester, I signed up for a class only because the teacher was the most lenient grader in the English department. I believe the class was the 19th Century novel. I can't even remember what we read. That didn't really affect me as the second class.... Russian Literature.

I had become a fan of Gogol a few years earlier when I read one of his most famous pieces of work... The Overcoat. When I realized that he was one of the featured writers on the syllabus -- I quickly signed up. It ended up being the smallest class that my school offered. Not even ten classmates were interested. And the ones that were? Some of the brightest kids in school.

I'm just trying to picture the classroom, actually it was so small of a class that they made us use one of the conference rooms. So the teacher sat at the head of a long table and nine of us sat in swivel chairs around the table. Those kids went onto Ivy League schools. Every single one of them with the exception of me. I was more of an athlete in school and not known for my academic excellence due to my utter laziness to study. I preferred working on my three-point shot than spending time in physics lab. And home wasn't the most conducive place to study and I spent more time playing video games and watching taped movies than hitting the books.

So there I was, seventeen years old and sitting in a Russian Literature class with nine future Ivy League schmucks. Actually half of the class went on to Yale and the other four kids went to Harvard, Penn, and Princeton. One classmate boasted a perfect SAT score and early admissions to Yale. Yawn. Not that the number intimidated me. Most of my classmates were surprised at my boards with a near perfect score in math. In fact, I was nipping at their heels in the standardized testing department which bothered my teachers. They used to tell my parents that I lacked the drive and discipline to reach my full potential. They were correct. I just didn't give a shit.

But Russian Literature? I picked the class because that's what I wanted to learn about. I didn't get a chance to pick my classmates. My private school had stringent academic requirements to get in. So basically in the entire city of New York, the elite special forces of nerds, geeks, and other social misfits sat across from me in the conference room for English class.

We had to read a significant amount of books. During high school, I was a Cliff Notes and skimmer kind of guy. One of my friends used to steal Cliff Notes from Barnes & Nobles and then sell photo copied pages for $5. That scam was not going to work with that class. I used to read the newspapers during the morning commute and that changed as I had my faced buried into Puskin, Bulgakov, Solzhenitsyn, Dostoevsky, Chekhov, and of course Gogol. The Russian experience is peppered with conflict, tragedy, and genocide. Yet, I learned more about Russian history reading these books than anything I could learn in a series of history classes. The characters told the stories about the daily struggles of Russians, their complex political/financial systems, and the quest for answers to the bigger questions.

The reading assignments were the easy part. The toughest? class participation. Think if the most annoying person in school who raises their hand and blurts out answers to every question and cuts off other students and hogs the floor and loves to ramble on and on and on. OK, now picture a six or seven of these people engaging in hour-long discussions about the symbolism of blisters on the hand of one character. And there's me trying to get in a word or two so my teacher doesn't flunk me for shitty class participation.

Maybe I was wrong. That wasn't the worst part. Reading each others papers and critiquing them was bloody awful. If I knew that my writing would be under constant scrutiny, I probably would have skipped the class and taken Advanced Shakespeare with the rest of my friends where they get to act out their favorite scenes.

The quality of my copy was poor. I was the worst writer in the class and my classmates were not shy about red lining my assignments that I often turned in on loose leaf paper. Of course, all of them had home computers and printed out their papers. Me? I was writing most of them in the cafeteria in the early morning on the day that they were due. We also had difficult creative writing assignments as well where we had to use themes learned in the books we were examining. I got shelled on those.

The teacher did not grade the papers... we did. Yeah, we graded each other. And we didn't use numerical grading. We used letters... HH (high honors), H (honors), M (merit), S (satisfactory), U (unsatisfactory), F (failure)... and the equivalent failing grade? 75%. Yikes. Talk about tough. The teacher tallied up the average grade and usually made the decision to round up or round down based on the consensus.

Sometimes, the truth hurts. I had a room full of Ivy League dickheads telling me that my writing sucked and they were merciless about their (correct) assessment of my stories. Lots of U's, but never an F. Everyone else was pulling M's and H's. Instead of letting that get me down, it inspired me to write better and more importantly, take the necessary time to write something satisfactory. Heck, I was an athlete after all and I thrived on competition. Once I started pulling those S's, I focused in on the next level. I wanted to write something of merit. I diligently worked during the last weeks of the class.

I'm pretty sure for the final grade, I got an S for the class or a satisfactory grade. For my very last paper, which I had actually typed on my Commodore 64 and printed it up because I wrote several drafts, I was floored when I saw my grade. M-. Shit, it was the lowest rung of merit, but I completed the class on a high note after being torn to shreds all semester. Not that it really mattered. My original attraction to the class was to read some cool authors, but for the first time in four years at my high school, I harnessed the competitive nature in me and applied it to academics. The Jesuits were proud but a few of them shook their heads, "What took you so long?"

These days, I have it easy. Even my editors (including Karl the German Butcher) are not as harsh as those nine high school seniors. I never ever have to worry about that morbid fear that I used to have about being crucified in that conference room. I have a much tougher skin because of that experience but I left that class with a very important reminder -- that if I wanted to be a writer in the future, it takes a significant amount of time and dedication. More importantly, there was a vast difference between satisfactory writing and something that merits the highest achievements.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Thom Yorke Phones Home

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

Before I begin, I have to explain a theory first.

This is an unproved theory that I developed over the years, but many friends tend to agree with me. You see, the universe? It's full of life. We're not alone. Aliens are here. They have been here way before the dinosaurs. We can't see most of them because they're in hiding -- underwater bases or deep beneath the Earth's crust.

There are even a few aliens hiding among us. Some in plain sight, like Sam Cassell who played with eight different NBA teams over his professional basketball career. Other aliens include that Japanese guy who eats all the Nathans hotdogs and Thom Yorke from Radiohead.

Thom Yorke
Photo by: Joydoy197

With that said, Radiohead is one of my favorite bands. The rest of the band members are humans. Brits to be exact. Why Thom Yorke chose to hide out in Oxford, we will never know. Maybe he liked all the intellectuals, or maybe he found a group of musicians that understood his plight... that he was an alien stranded millions of miles from his own home.

Even if you think I'm full of shit about the alien stuff, just think about those worst moments in life when you felt uncomfortable with everyone else around you -- especially yourself and your own body. Most people call those terrifying moments "high school" and others call it social anxiety disorder. For me? It's called... every day. But you make the best of your weirdness and the weirdness of the people around you. Sometimes I think I'm the human and everyone around me has been possessed by aliens. Some of you might think that I'm an alien, which if that is the case, it would make a lot of sense.

Anyway, as I stated earlier, Tom Yorke is an alien. He's a very sad alien because he can't go home. But while he's stuck here, he can't understand the human condition - why we're so destructive to nature and ourselves and the universe. Music is essentially math, and math is universal which is why Thom Yorke gravitated to music - it's the most real entity in the universe and that gives him a semblance of happiness.

Thom Yorke recorded a solo album a couple of years ago named Eraser. I'm sure you can find 1,001 meanings, symbols, and other mystical shit by over analyzing the name of the album. For musicians who play in a famous band, their first solo effort is a true statement of their artistic vision. The band? A group creative consciousness. The solo album? A glimpse into their subconscious.

I took Thom Yorke's solo project with a grave understanding that that is the music he wants to play. In other words, we all have a soundtrack playing inside our heads. Our own musical melodies. Eraser was a chance to peek into Thom Yorke's alien mind and listen to what's playing on the loudspeakers. The music -- the chatter inside his head -- was always changing yet never deviating too much from one central boulevard of poignant and spastic energy. At times the dissonant moments were overcome by serene harmony. The majority of the time, we got to see what made Thom Yorke tick, or rather, what made his synapses fire. He simply cannot sit still and has to move around contorting back and forth while singing or bouncing up and down while strumming on the guitar like a little kid jumping up and down on his parents' bed.

Thom Yorke assembled a group of musicians that he had never played together before Thom assembled them. They didn't even have a real name. They were simply four guys backing up Thom Yorke.

Nigel Godrich, a trusted chap from the Radiohead family as the producer of the music we love dearly, varied from keyboards to guitar... essentially playing whatever instrument was needed at the time since Thom Yorke was alternating better a piano and guitar.

Flea was Thom Yorke's bass player. The last time I saw the Red Hot Chili Peppers perform, Flea was buck naked with the exception of a white sock that he used to cover his junk. Flea was fully clothed this time around and just like Thom Yorke, he took advantage of a spacious stage where he could pogo, bounce, shake, and jog around.

The other two musicians have been around the block before; Joey Waronker (drums) played with Beck before while Brazil's Mauro Refosco (percussion) frequently jammed with the legendary David Byrne. Refosco was a jack-of-all-trades on the stage and must have had a table full of random items (like metal bowls) to make odd sounds that Thom Yorke had used computers to create on his first album.

Nicky had a blast. She loves Radiohead and was impressed with the quality of our seats -- second row mezzanine in the center -- so close that we could see Thom Yorke's droopy eye. The art deco theatre held less than 2,000 people and it's claim to fame was that Judy Garland once performed on stage during the Great Depression.

Anyway, since this was not a Phish-show and a band with a very low hippie-element and non-existent-wook-factor, Nicky had blast making fun of the hipsters. We kept an eye out for random Hollyweird celebrities that might be sitting in the side boxes - or even in the row in front of us. The night before Spiderman, Don Johnson, Anne Hathaway, and Ed Norton caught the gig.

Sadly, the parking lot scene was lame. No hippie chicks in butterfly wings selling veggie burritos. No nitrous mafia hawking over-priced balloons. No wooks with tour puppies slinging molly. The only people I saw in the lot were a car load of hipsters getting drunk off of their own angst.

I secured tickets via Ticketbastard because the Joker told me about the tickets five minutes before the sale time. I could only get two and lucked out. I had so much bad ticket karma this year trying to score Phish tickets online -- so I guess I finally had some good vibes coming my way because not only did I score tickets -- I scored some of the best tickets in the house.
10.5.09 Thom Yorke, Orpheum Theatre, Los Angeles, CA

Set 1: The Eraser, Analyse, The Clock, Black Swan, Skip Divided, Atoms For Peace, And It Rained All Night, Harrowdown Hill, Cymbal Rush

Encore: Lotus Flower / Moon Upon A Stick, Skirting On the Surface, Super Collider

Encore 2: Paperbag Writer, Judge Jury and Executioner, The Hollow Earth, Feeling Pulled Apart by Horses
The first set was all of Eraser. There were sevens songs performed over two encores including two Radiohead tunes (Thom threw everyone a bone with a rare Super Collider and Paperbag Writer) and five songs that represented new material that Thom Yorke had written during his time up in a house in the Hollywood Hills near Laurel Canyon. Lucky mofo. That's where I want to live, and Thom spent the last few weeks there rehearsing and writing new material.

The first three songs of the encore were just Thom Yorke solo. He played guitar for Lotus and the piano for Skirting On the Surface and Super Collider. In between songs,a few people shouted from the crowd. One guy particularly annoyed Thom Yorke and he snapped, "Hey loudmouth! Shut the fuck up!"

You don't hear too many Brits dropping f-bombs, which is why I loved it. Genuine emotion. The guy is a tortured artist and an alien unable to get home. All he wants to do is play music and not have some drunken jerkoff request Radiohead songs.

The show was rather quick but an intense 80-85 or so minutes. Thom Yorke seemed upbeat and in good spirits. I was thinking that these concerts in L.A. were nothing more than he trying to contact the Mothership to pick him up. Sort of like E.T. phoning home, but Thom Yorke is calling out to the universe with his solo tunes. Maybe he knows something about this 2012 hoopla and found a small window where he might be able to hitch a ride back to his home planet.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Six Seconds of Amen

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

Stumbled across this enlightening video, explaining how six seconds of one song sent ripples through the musical cosmos...

Thursday, October 01, 2009

A Couple of Couples

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

A priest and a nun. A pimp and a hooker.

I saw both sets at the coffee shop. I can't make this stuff up. The priest and nun sat in the back booth with two other people. They might have just come from weekday 8am mass. A few minutes later, an older gentleman sat down. He wore khakis and tucked in a black golf shirt over his bowl-bowl sized pot belly. I dunno why but when he sat down I got this image that the guy was a used car salesman who spent the last few years unsuccessfully running a rug store. Yes, he went from cars to rugs.

A lanky guy with cornrows, wearing black jeans, and old school Michael Jordans walked inside with a young Asian woman in a jean skirt and halter top. They sat down with the used rug salesman. After that... I stopped paying attention. It was none of my business what was going down, all though I was pretty fuckin' interested if that was some sort of prostitution ring or human trafficking.

On the way back from breakfast, I walked down the street and watched a landscaper pull out a machete and hack apart fallen palm leaves. That was a good reminder why I should never yell at the landscapers when they start trimming hedges at 8am. You don't want to fuck with people who regularly handle sharp objects.