Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Tico Tico, Procrastination, and 28 Pairs of Underwear

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

Underwear. You can never have too many pairs. I specifically purchased 28 pairs of underwear so I would only have to do laundry once a month. I usually travel so it's rare that I go a full month without doing laundry. I finished a four week stretch at home, which is about right because I was in Vegas four-five weeks ago and I did laundry when I got back from that sojourn.

I know some folks that could make 28 pairs of underwear stretch into 2 months, or even 3. That sounds morbid or disgusting, but hey, some people have weird habits when it comes to undergarments.

My bud Schecky worked in rock and roll for many years as a road manager for a well-known 90s band. The band added fresh/clean underwear to its backstage rider. It wasn't just their band... but other bands often asked for a fresh batch of underwear. Bands didn't always eat the food and occasionally left some of the booze untouched, but they always took the clean underwear. The longer you're on the road, the more valuable an extra pair of skivvies can be.

Aside from books, the only bulk item I own is underwear. 28 pairs. I actually have 30, including two emergency pairs, one of which I wore all of Monday because I woke up and hopped in the shower and opened a drawer to see zero reserves, so I had to go to the "in case of emergency break glass" and wear one of two spare pairs of boxers. Without any underwear, I could not finish the day without doing laundry.

I also notice there's a correlation that I almost always do laundry whenever I'm on a collision course with multiple deadlines. Yeah, it's a weird coincidence that I'll finally break down and do laundry instead of working on a deadline. I'm actually in the middle of four different things I'm juggling and I have no one to blame other than myself for putting everyone off until now. Then again, I do my best work when I'm under the gun. I thrive under pressure.

Yeah, it's the end of the month and rent is due in a few days, which means I had to get off my ass and crank out a few freelance pieces (a column on Jerry Buss's passing) and finish off a project for the Frenchies, not to mention a baseball preview for Ocelot and fourteen other silly projects I thought I wanted to do, but never had the time to finish. Instead of writing, I'm jerking around doing shit I should not be doing (like laundry, or blogging, or listening to podcasts, or just see the list below). I even cleaned my closet and hung up shirts on hangars instead of leaving a small mountain of balled up clothes on the couch/futon in my office.

In college, I always cleaned my room during midterms because I felt compelled to do something constructive as a way to combat a wave of guilt that I had for not studying. That's why I cleaned my closet and did laundry on Monday instead of working on other stuff. It's not being lazy if I'm doing other stuff, right? I mean, I had to wash those 28 pairs of dirty boxers eventually.

I'm not someone who relishes material items aside from books and underwear. I own no furniture (everything is Nicky's save for the TV and a desk chair that Halli gave me as a memento from when we all had to leave the Ice Palace). The only thing I own that you could call excessive is... books... which does not seem odd for me. It's almost a given that I'll have a ton of books. I'm a writer. Books are like drugs, or like know-it-all and highly-entertaining friends with lush stories. Books are my druggie friends.

Whenever I visit someone, I carefully inspect their book shelf and their medicine cabinet. Yes, if you invite me to your home, I will snoop for your stash in your medicine cabinet. I'm a junkie, but not a thief. I won't steal your meds, but I will probably offer you a swap at some later date if you have some good stuff. You should be wary of strangers in your bathroom because not everyone is honest like me. Be careful of the millions of closet pillheads who won't think twice about pillaging your pill bottles.

You shouldn't care what other people think of you, and I won't be quick to judge someone based on their book shelf... especially in today's world of e-readers. I forgot who said it, maybe Capote or maybe it was Tom Wolfe, but they said something like don't sleep with someone who doesn't own any books. Of course, they're not talking about hookers, then again you'd be surprised to find there's a fair share of literate street walkers. Not everyone who sells pussy for cash or chugs cock for rock is an illiterate crack whore.

It's 2013. Maybe instead of shelves I should look on people's Kindles to see what they're reading. Kindles and Nooks are great for hiding embarrassing porn-like titles such as 50 Shades of Ass Fisting, a Nicholas Spark book from Oprah's club, or eye-rolling self-help books like Chicken Soup for the Soul or some terrible passive-aggressive new age trite like God Likes Me Better Than You Because I Do Yoga.

However, I'm surprised to visit other people and see how few books they own. You have no idea how many friends I have who tell me... "You're like one of the only writers I read." In a way, it's uber-flattering, but in another it makes me afraid of the future when people with advanced degrees barely read anymore. We're on our way to becoming a nation of illiterate Kardashian-worshipping klones and Honey Doo Doos. Sometimes I go to rich people's house and see a shelf with a lot of dust which tells me, 1) their maid is fucking lazy, and 2) those books are for show and they're not really an active reader. It's like the books are part of the decorations like a table or a vase, or it's just a ruse to keep up a nice appearance with a perfectly manicured lawn. You don't want your superficial neighbors to think you're a Philistine, right?

Then again, Nicky's book shelves haven't been touched much ever since she migrated to a Kindle. I looked one shelf the other day and was surprised to find a few gems that I'd like to read or re-read. On the other end of the spectrum, I found Liz Wurtzel's gutter-emo-memoir Prozac Nation, which was the rage like 15 years ago among Gen-X twenty-something femme fatales. Unfortunately, the most intelligent thing  to ever come out of Lizzie's mouth was David Foster Wallace's cock.

Reading never used to be a chore, but now it's become an ugly art form like annoying-loud opera singers. It's hard in today's age to be an avid reader of anything with substance. We spend so much time sifting through narcissistic updates and speed reading superficial articles from your favorite news aggregators excelling in churalism. Heck, even CNN has outsourced their sports department to a site synonymous with slide shows to tell a story.

I try to give away books that I think friends will enjoy. I'm just completing the cycle. I'm fortunate people give me books or recommend books, and I want to help reciprocate. What I really wish I could do was give someone a book that always comes with a 12-hour chunk of unfettered time so they can read the book. A book is anywhere from $10 to $20, but chunks of peaceful time is impossible to get. I have a lot of friends who used to be voracious readers, but they seriously lack the free time with real life hassles like work, relationships, kids, or migrating online to cultivate a lush virtual world and keeping up with the online Joneses.

The competition is fierce with addictive static of social media and cable TV and new movies and old TV shows and old movies being released every single day on Netflix. The entertainment world is dominated by auditory and visual nuggets which are easy to digest, so it's almost insulting to some people (who are used to having their entertainment spoon-fed to them) if you ask them to devote 10-15 minutes to read a piece of stellar longform journalism, let alone ask them to devote 12-15 hours to read a book. If you had six extra hours I can guarantee you'd probably opt for extra sleep, or use that surplus to spend time with something far more important like your family or significant other.

Anyway... let's get back to the real problem... my procrastination. I should be working my ass off and editing things, but instead, I'm farting around. You'd be surprised to find out how much stupid shit I did instead of sitting down to write. I should clarify... I wrote a lot, I just don't like to edit. It's the least favorite part of  the writing process. I remember having a long discussion with my friend Mean Gene over the editing process. He felt that was his favorite part of being a writer. I had the opposite affect... it was the most excruciating and painful part.

To avoid that searing pain of editing, I often embark on other things to procrastinate. For example in the last 24 hours or so...
1. I looked up the remaining schedule of every Lakers game and other teams that could be fighting for the #8 seed in the NBA playoffs (Houston, Portland, Dallas, and Utah). This is supposed to be research for an Ocelot Sports post that I wanted to put up last week.

2. Listened to 50 versions of Tico Tico and then settling upon a random organ video on YouTube, which I played five times yesterday... for shits and giggles.

3. I passed out on the couch while watching the recent episode ("Video Games") of Girls.

4. I watched the Catfish reunion show and must've cracked the same joke forty times about the lack of intelligence and blind will of the duped participants. "Man, I can't wait to call up these dumb fuckers and pitch them some stock." To Nicky's credit, she laughed at least 1/4 of the time, but hasn't laughed since the 35th time I made the joke.

5. I listened to all of Thom Yorke's new album Amok from his side project with Flea and decided that I miss Radiohead, and I'm convinced more than ever that Yorke is an alien.

6. I watched three innings of a Yankees preseason game, then spent an hour writing emails for a ongoing thread with a bunch of Yankees fans including my brother and Jerry, in which I said that the Yankees suck and that I wish A-Roid would get slashed by a wilding pack of teenage girls with razor blades.

7. I read my brother's thoughts on the win totals for all 30 major league baseball teams and tried to figure out which teams we might bet on. (Going way UNDER on Houston Atros).

8. I wrote about my take on win totals for all 30 MLB teams, and showed them to my brother, which eventually will get post on Ocelot Sports next week.

9. I read Jess Welman's tumblr and her hysterical story about being a seat filler at the SAG awards.

10. I caught up on a few hours of podcasts (including a sensational story about misplaced religion by Christopher Hitchens at a Moth show in 1999, a few hours of sportsbetting podcasts, and the B.S. Report from Bill Simmons, which I usually don't listen to but I wanted to hear Chris Connelly's take on the Oscars... oh, and I also fell alseep listening to conspiracy fodder by Clif High, the guy who created the infamous web bot project that tries to predict the future.)
Time to get back to work, but let me make a quick check to see if the lines moved in tonight's NBA games, and then I can finally get back to work.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Red Plastic Bag

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

Taking a shit on airplanes is never an easy task. I traveled enough to know that defecating on airplanes is an arduous undertaking so I avoid the scenario as much as possible. The key to avoiding having to take a shit on an airplane is to do it before hand somewhere in the airport, but that means you have to take a shit in a huge public area. It's kind of a catch-22. Take a dump where the entire bathroom is a petri dish of every possible internationally-known fecal disease, or roll the dice and hope you don't have to take a dump at 35,000 feet while whizzing through the air in a metal tube.

My biggest problems happened on international flights, especially ones that were redeyes from NYC to Europe, or long-ass trans-pacific flights from LAX to Sydney, Australia. I couldn't fade a trip to the bathroom in those instances. I got good at holding my dump until I arrived in Europe, but I couldn't cut it too close because no one wants to shit themselves while standing in immigration. Luckily, I often connected in Amsterdam and immigration is efficient and went very fast.

One morning after a long flight from America, I wandered into the first toilet I could find at Schiphol Airport. The meal KLM served was a horrendous, lukewarm lasagna and I struggled and struggled and struggled to take a massive dump and after twenty minutes of a sweating it out, I only ejected a couple of pebble-shits. I was exhausted and in a Xannie haze and sweating my ass off and trying to hold my breath because a couple of Hungarians occupied the surrounding stalls and they launched an all out ass-bombing campaign, while I was saying Hail Marys in Latin and drenched in a waterfall of sweat.

I realized that those toilet battles were the last thing I should have doing upon landing, then wandering out sweating profusely and a ashen look over my face and a pair of big-ass glassy eyes. If anything, it looked like I was a drug courier shitting out bundles of smack wrapped in condoms.

So what's wrong about shitting on airplanes? For one, I get pretty nauseous whenever I'm on deck and anxiously waiting and then finally get my chance and rush into the bathroom and scrunch the folding door then catch a whiff at the remnants of someone's ass-bombing. Yeah, going into a toilet inside a phone booth after someone else dropped a deuce (and God knows how many people before you dropped a deuce) is one of the most disgusting aspects of air travel.

The worst seats on any airplane are in the row closest to a rear bathroom and the two or three aisles seats in the rows toward the back where you get stuck having to deal with a line of passengers waiting to use the shitter or pisser.

I thought about David Foster Wallace and his cruise ship piece, Shipping Out, when I heard about the broken-down cruise ship in the Gulf of Mexico. I'm too much of a control freak and don't like being stuck on a boat for extended periods of time with spoiled people looking to be decadent and self-indulgent. Those are the last people you want to experience a disaster scenario with, because they'll just bitch and moan the entire time and act like selfish assholes instead of coming together as a group to overcome a terrible situation. One or two spoiled dickheads can make a break a large group before its all out mutiny. I can only imagine how crazy it got on that ship. I would love to find out if one of the survivors was a writer who penned a DFW-like essay about surviving the ship disaster and all those nasty red bags.

All of those cruise people had to shit in red plastic bags when the ship lost power and they were adrift at sea and the vacuum-system that sucked up all the human waste was not working. Even if the so-called housekeeping staff collected the shit bags, at some point they threw all the bags off the side when no one was looking. The Gulf of Mexico is destroyed after the BP oil spill, so what a few thousand tons of fecal matter going to make the different?

You know you reached a new low when you have to shit in a bag. Sadly, those folks paid for an exotic adventure... which included shitting in a bag.  

Today's activities include watercolor painting, shuffleboard, and a shitting in a bag contest. The fastest person to shit three pounds gets a free roll of toilet paper. 

I feel bad about those poor folks on that boat. Their dream vacation ended up a complete nightmare. Hell is stuck on a boat with other annoying, self-absorbed people and forced to shit in a bag.

Side note... I'm always afraid to take a dump at Denver Airport because of all the freaky occult artifacts and art strewn around the massive airport and I'm paranoid that some of the stalls are attached to secret passages, and as soon as you sit on the throne, you get sucked into the depths of the underground complex underneath DIA, where you get gassed and stacked in holding pen with other unsuspecting tourists, only to boiled in a vat of olive oil and fed to Reptilian overlords.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Slums' Swing

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

In San Francisco, we interacted with our neighbors frequently. We lived on the second floor of a Victorian. The woman downstairs, originally born in Ireland but a resident of San Francisco for over two decades, taught yoga down the street. She had a gigantic boxer who barked at everyone who walked up to the front door. Postal workers were scared shitless because of the beast. The funny thing is if you saw the dog in the street, it's the most chillaxed mutt you'd come across, but the moment you infringed upon their home, the dog would go berserk.

The upstairs neighbors were a rotating mix of Grade A San Francisco Hipsters and Burning Man converts who spent all year working on a Thai-vegan-taco truck, or teaching yoga down the street to Pacific Heights Xanax-chomping housewives so they can save up for Burning Man, and whenever you ran into them in front of the building, the only thing they can talk about is how many days it was until Burning Man or how they were diligently working on their complex, cosmic, ethereal Burning Man art installation and sewing hand-made costumes using real seashells and goat hair, and then upstairs was quite during the week they went to Burning Man and when they came back, they threw post-Burning Man parties with lots of weird half-naked people holding crystals and listening to dubstep.

We had to get to know our neighbors because we didn't want them to call the cops every Monday night when we played poker once a week in the infamous Ice Palace games hosted by Halli that would run until the wee hours and were lucky our neighbors put up with those shenanigans with glass breaking and me cranking up Jay-Z at 3am and people coming at odd hours and our friend The Wolf howling whenever he won or lost a pot which seemed like every ten minutes.

Generally speaking, the average resident of San Francisco might fall into the category of a hardcore hipster or someone with serous hippie tendencies, but they were much cooler and had more depth than anyone we encountered in the Slums of Beverly Hills. The thing about San Francisco... there was a prevailing sense of community with gregarious attitudes and hope for humanity, so you wanted to get to know your neighbors and help each other out whenever you could.

In Los Angeles, it was the complete opposite vibe. It was everyone man and woman for themselves in an competitive "me" conscious world where everyone you meet is desperately seeking their fifteen minutes of fame. You're surrounded by people who fabricate reality for a living... and their damn good at it... from plastic surgeons in Beverly Hills, to personal trainers in WeHo, to video editors hunched over their laptops in the dark and fighting off carpal tunnel while mainlining Red Bull.

In the Slums of Beverly Hills, your neighbors don't give a shit about you because everyone is too self-invovled to notice what your doing. It's the perfect place to disappear and be invisible, which is one of the few things I love about this place. I usually loathe it but on days when I want to disappear, it's easy. I just have to stand still and I'll get ignored. It's why my neighbors scream at the top of their lungs and have fights with their significant others without thinking twice about getting embarrassed if anyone hears them... because after all, nothing is more important than themselves and if anyone was listening, well shit, it's Hollywood... every wants an audience.

The nonstop sunshine and mixture of car pollution and chemtrails creates a soupy layer that hovers over the city and intoxicates the denizens of Southern California by preventing oxygen from flowing to their brains, so they get into this weird zombie-like trance. Or maybe it's the inertia from being stuck on the 405 for too long and you get freeway legs, just like cruise chip travelers get sea legs if their adrift for too long.

Everyone drives around everywhere in Los Angeles, totally distracted by cellphones or traffic-tilt, but they think they are invincible in protective little bubbles and spend most of their waking hours detached from reality because they're constantly cultivating their online persona. It's tough enough to try to be yourself and be cool in real life, try struggling with trying to be cool online as well. It's a stressful undertaking and I'm surprised more people don't snap and have MORE breakdowns/mental implosions on Facebook and Twitter.

It's hard to get to know your neighbors in LA when they are too self-absorbed, but then again, you don't have the time to develop an actual relationship. More than 33% of the tenants in our building turn over in six months. Within a year, it's 50%. They're gone. One day their car is no longer parked out front and there's a red and white FOR RENT sign dangling on the side of the building.

I'm sure those temporary neighbors hated our slumlord, or maybe they didn't want to pay his outrageous prices considering he never fixed anything?

Or maybe they loathe all the ruckus from the steady stream of homeless can farries digging through the dumpsters.

Or it's the illegal immigrant landscappers who showed up at the crack or dawn?

Or maybe it's Nicky bonging out in the afternoons and the luscious aroma of medicinal marijuana filled the alley?

Or they hate jazz music and get incensed when I cranked up Coltrane on full blast?

Or maybe it's the upstairs neighbor whenever she practiced her violin (which made a gargling echo like a cat getting stuck in a blender)?

Or it's gotta be the hysterical actress across the alley who practiced her eardrum-shattering vocals at the strangest of times, or screaming at her drunken no-good boyfriend?

Or maybe it's the hipster next door with his ukulele trying to impress OK Cupid dates with his vast knowledge of Vampire Weekend?

Or it's Middle Eastern cabbies who congregate in an apartment across the street for an unknown clandestine rendezvous?

Or the creepy 60-year old Hasidic who drives a white minivan and blocks the alley all the time and he's constantly berating his former teenage bride who birthed a dozen toddlers in ten years and they all have terrible vision and forced to wear thick Coke-bottled eye glasses, which means our alley is over run by half-blind, little, orthodox Jewish kids in white shirts, black vests, and black pants with payot sidelocks dangling down the sides of their heads and screeching at each other because they keep bumping into each other while playing in the alley?

The Slums of Beverly Hills is the kind of transient neighborhood where people stay for a while before they move on... hopefully to better things. Yet, I know this is just a stop over in the long journey of hopeless mediocrity, which housed millions of broken, unrealized dreams. Most of the time I assume those temporary neighbors get priced out and end up in the Valley or Koreatown. Or they figure out there's better places in the neighborhood than living in these particularly shitty dingbats. There's at least one apartment in our building and the two surrounding buildings that can never retain an occupant for more than a few months before the abruptly move out under 90 days. I assume it's either shitty plumbing or lack of light or a menacing ghost or pests or a draft or too much noise. The slumlords will never try to fix whatever is broken and keep renting the place out until they find someone passive enough who won't complain about whatever is fucked up.

Nicky and I are friendly with only one of our neighbors and she has seniority in our building as the neighbor who has been at our slummy dingbat here the longest. She's an artist in her late 50s or early 60s. She moved in here when she was around our age. She said she was the youngest tenant and everyone else was older couples or widowed women. They eventually died off over the last two decades and replaced by much younger people with lofty aspirations of hitting it big in Hollyweird. I think she's an art teacher somewhere but spends a lot of her time working on different landscapes. Nothing too fancy or mind-blowing, but she cranks out cheesy 12 inch by 12 inch paintings that you'll find hung in your aunt's bathrooms or kitchen.  She's laid back and polite and one of those people who live in LA that you know doesn't quite fit in here but can't figure out why she's here. She'd fit in more in San Francisco and not LA, but I don't know her that well enough to pry. She essentially leaves me and Nicky alone and doesn't bother us much. I catch her smoking cigarettes in the alley from time to time. I assume it's her only vice. The fact there's a real artist in one of the seven other apartments gives me hope, especially in this town.

* * * *

More posts about the denizens of the Slums of Beverly Hills....
Monday Morning Lurid Gaze
Neighborly Turbulence, Squabbles, and Brouhahas
Russian Daycare, Taxi Fleet, Chainsmokers, Dog Walkers, and the Old Couple in the Matching Track Suit
Echo Canyon
You can also check out the Slums of Beverly Hills tag. Scroll down a bit to view older posts I wrote pre-2011 about this crazy little hood on the fringe of Beverly Hills.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Bad Bands

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

I feel bad for bad bands. I'm not talking about the disaffected suburban kids who form punk bands to piss off their divorced parents and square neighbors, and they end up venting angst by barely learning 1.5 chords and getting blind drunk in basements and play so loud it sounds like roaring lions humping a washer machine. There's a ton of nobility in that pursuit. I'm talking about wanna-be bands with starry eyes gigging in big cities across America who that log endless hours and hours in the tightest of spaces practicing their asses off to get a gig in the divest of dive bars, only to shit themselves on stage by bombing a set.

It's one thing to know your band sucks ass and barely held together by a mixture of bad drugs and nowhere else to go. You know it's a glum situation, but the show must go on and you can only hope your bands' internal problems will disappear by the time you take the stage. But if you put in the prep time thinking you're much better than you are and really suck... well, that's one of the worst failures you can hope for. Lack of self-awareness has let to many humiliating nights. Nothing breaks up bands faster than a bad gig. So many bands inflict unnecessary torture upon themselves, because there's nothing more pathetic than a band sticking together that should have broken up two weeks before they started.

Most of the bad bands are bad because they don't practice. You cannot develop chemistry if you don't practice. You can't hone your craft if you don't practice. You can't create new stuff unless you practice and experiment with new things. Not every musician practices outside of practice. Laziness breeds mediocrity.

Weak links kill bands. There's someone in every band who is the weak link. You can overcome youth and inexperience by putting in the time, but you cannot overcome musicians who lack drive and ambition and give the band their full attention and devotion because they're bone-dead tired juggling a day jobs or other nagging things like disapproving parents, jealous girlfriends, baby mama's, or addicted to snorting Xanax. It's tough enough to get your own shit together and jump out of bed willing to stay on the same path and reach a specific goal to become a kick-ass band. Try getting three other people to do the same. Or four. Or five. Or if you have a huge band... ten or more. And then try convincing everyone's support group that each band member's individual sacrifice is worth the time and effort.

Bands will only go as far as their weakest link. And if they have a glimmer of talent and ruthless enough, they'll get rid of the one person holding them back. It's a fucked up thing to do... but a lot of bands get desperate after putting in years and years of hard work with nothing to show for it. The "love of music" and working hard to make your dreams come true can only carry you so far before you become a jaded, weary road warrior gigging in shitty-ass bars that smell like septic tanks exploded underneath the stage, or getting stiffed by slithery club owners, or ducking empty bottles thrown at you by shitfaced hooligans, or catching an STD from a buxom jail bait hottie. So if replacing your lazy bass player (who nods out most of the time and who's always late) with someone more talented and significantly more sober can get your "bar band" one step closer to landing a huge recording contract with potential radio play... they'll do it. In a heartbeat. Whack. Two to the back of the head. Sorry, you're fired. Especially if it's a slick L.A. suit from the music machine dangling fortune and fame in front of starving musicians.

I've seen plenty of bad bands by accident, you know, without intending to pay money to actually see them. This ranges from well-known bands to unknowns. I caught dozens of shitshows from so-called big bands at musical festivals (I really wanted to like Mars Volta at Vegoose but they were horrible, and REM at Langerado was one of the worst live performances I've ever seen), let's not forget about all those Grateful Dead shows I saw in 94-95 when Jerry Garcia was so strung out he stared at his feet the entire time (I swear he nodded out during Wharf Rat at Giants Stadium in 95). And how about the hundreds of shitty bands I saw only because they were opening up for a band I intended to see? I'm the schmuck who showed up early and got stuck listening to bad bands as one of eight people in the crowd which included the so-called girlfriends of the bad band (at least one of them was pregnant and another looked like a 50-year old biker chick), who both hit me up for blow ($50 worth in a swap for $20 and a "shit-load of methadone that could kill a dog").

Right after college, I moved back to NYC, and my circle of work friends from the museum were in a couple of bands. Pretty-dam good ones like Slab, Any 4, and Hot N' Hazy. Not to mention a couple of jazz groups with names and rotating band members that changed every other week. They gigged all over the East Village and the occasional club in Chinatown. But along the way, I sat through dozens and dozens of bad bands with horrible names like Cattle Twinkie, Loopy Muppet, and Zerg Stegasaurus and fronted by neophytes who hadn't been in New York for more than a few months and were trying to hit it big with their knock-off versions of Green Day or Talking Heads or Megadeath. Sure, some of them had better stage presence and schtick than others, but they all flat out sucked. No energy. No riots started. No faces melted. No orgasmic explosions. Just a steaming pile of turd on stage. Not all the practice in the world, or wearing snazzy outfits with drag-queen smeared makeup was going to make those bad bands sound any better.

The reality of the industry is harsh. If you can't sell records, you better be able to play live to earn some bread. And if you can't do both... you're totally fucked and need to give up and get a real job, or go find a new band, or spend some more time practicing. You have to be decent enough to draw good crowds otherwise venues and bars are not going to hire you, or you have to be mainstream-sounding enough to get a shot at recording something for the machine so they can make money. At the same time... being a bar band is not the end of the world. In fact it's what a lot of musicians strive to be after taking a shot and missing, because at least bar bands get free tabs and gigs. Sure it's lots of covers and lots of talkers, but you get to play in front of crowd and before/after any gig there's the opportunity to score some cheap thrills, cheap booze, cheap drugs and cheap sex.

During college we wanted to hire a band for a fraternity party, but all the local bands we liked were booked up or cost too much, so the social director hired a really really really bad band for next to no money (we used the surplus on booze). They had some really tragic name like Ten Below Zero, or Zero Below, or Alaska Station Zero, or something like that. They looked like a bunch of burned out heavy metal guys driving in a beat-up van who got stuck playing classic rock covers on college campuses.

After the sound check and during the pre-party, the drummer all dressed in black (black Chuck Taylors, black skinny jeans, black t-shirt) shot up in the bathroom stall. Riding the H train was pretty shocking, even for most of us college kids. Sure, we smoked a lot of dope and ate mushrooms once in a while, but the hardest shit we touched was drinking Jim Beam out of the bottle. We also got the lead singer stoned off a three-foot bong and he got so schwilly that he almost knocked it over and acted like a total jerkoff trying to pick up sweet girls from one of the southern sororities. He looked like a bloated Sammy Hagar wanna-be with stingy blonde hair that smelled like a wet dog. He bragged about all the coke he and his boys did back in LA in the 80s when his former band Nuclear Laceration was huge and had videos on MTV. He destroyed his nostrils so he had to shoot cocaine and made sure we understood the difference between snorting and shooting.

Why he was playing a random party for $280 with a bunch of long-haired junkies could be a great episode of Intervention someday. One moment, you're at the top of the world and getting rimjobs from silicone-stuffed starlets in the dressing room at the Viper Room, the next you're playing Light My Fire in the basement of a dilapidated mansion on frat row somewhere in a Atlanta for a couple hundred beer-guzzling, Jaegermeister-drenched college kids. Hey, it's not the Sunset Strip and his drummer is strung out, but at least he's working and scored some free weed, right?

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Arbiters of Taste

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

I used to have two modes... switches, gear shifts, or whatever you want to call it. Those two modes were: living and writing. These days I have three: living, thinking, and writing. Most of 2012 was what I would call a deluge of deep thought during a thinking phase because for the first time in a decade, I wrote less than I had ever before and even published fewer things on the web (save for the fact freelance material I was paid to do and twenty or so Phish concert reviews). Yeah, if you're just like me and hate mostly everything I write, then we were both spared from logorrhea last year.

Alas, 2013 is a new year and I'm back to drowning myself in word shit after taking an extended break in San Francisco to think while I wandered the streets, rode buses, sat in parks, slumped in cafes whacked-out wasted and studying hipsters in their natural habitat. Now that I had some time to think about life and re-think new goals as a writer, it's time to get off my ass write (for play and for work, mostly work) for a while before I head back on the road in the summer and start living hard again.

For most of my 30s, I jumped back and forth between extended periods of living/writing. When I wasn't living, I was bogged down writing about it trying to remember everything crazy that happened. That's why Tao of Pauly (immensely valuable electronic notebook), other blogs, Twitter, pictures, notebooks, ticket stubs, and whatever mementos I accumulated (hotel room key, receipt, trinket, matchbook) to help me reconstruct a specific moment so I can write about it at a future date. The memory is fickle and the older you get, you struggle to recapture those memories. What was once vivid and clear in technicolor, has become fuzzy and soaked in sepia.

The memory is dangerous because it is something that allows people to hold grudges, and it allows people to let things go. The memory makes you nostalgic, but often for the wrong reasons, and doesn't allow you to evolve. The memory can be a pain in the ass, or a trickster. For most of my life, my own mother mixed up my name with my brother's and vice versa. Maybe it was the booze, maybe it was the mischievous memory fucking with her.

Sometimes it's impossible to figure out where your car keys are located, or what's the password for a random website, yet it takes the littlest things to jog the memory and give you instant flashbacks.

Music is one of the most powerful things to evoke a feeling or recreate a memory. It's why teenagers get even more angry or sad by listening to the same emotional song over and over and over again. It's why directors (e.g. early Marty Scorsese, PT Anderson, Tarantino) pick the perfect song to add more depth to a scene to help convey a particular mood in a film (e.g. Scorsese's use of the piano solo in Layla during Goodfellas as the cops find the corpses all the dead mob guys).

I rely on music as a necessary tool to write. The most popular usage is background music to drown out any potential distractions. I have that specifically in the early mornings in Los Angeles to keep me sane from losing my shit from all of the leaf blowers or construction. When I covered the WSOP in Vegas, and sat in a pressbox for seven weeks inside of a casino's convention hall, I made sure I had noise-cancelling headphones and a series of playlists to help block out everything.

Sometimes I listen to a specific set of songs/musicians to get me in the mood to write about a certain subject. In the mornings, I opt for jazz because it's low maintenance. I don't ever have to worry about getting hooked by a catchy sequence or have lyrics interrupt my train of thought.

Around the turn of the century (pre-iPod), for writing sessions I sought out five albums to load them in my CD player, but these CDs were full albums I could listen to from start to finish without wanting to skip over anything. You know how impossible it is to find a flawless album? Even the best albums had a few weak spots because it's really impossible to find a perfect album with as few lyrics/vocals as possible from start to finish? As much as I enjoyed Blue Train or Kind of Blue or Monk's Dream, I had grown tired of those CDs. But those two of those three classic jazz albums were perpetually inside my 5-disc changer. Yeah, I struggled to find two or three decent albums of background music, but then try to find 5? or how about 10 to keep things fresh? After a while, the playlist got stale and I struggled to find a new batch of inspiring albums.

Thankfully the technology improved and I got my first Macbook in 2002. iTunes helped solve my music problems and I took advantage of playlists. No more struggles searching for complete albums to write to. I had playlists. Hundreds of them. Over a decade later, I burned through a half dozen laptops and created almost a thousand playlists.

Whenever I worked on larger projects, I relied upon specific playlists to get me in the right frame of mood to write. For example, I've told anyone who asked that I wrote (and re-wrote and edited) the final chapter of Lost Vegas while listening to Tumbling Dice by The Rolling Stones. Just when I thought I was struggling with the final edit of book, Phish played that exact song on Halloween in 2009. I took that as a positive sign and it really fired me to finish the book on a strong note.

I spend mostly every morning listening to jazz music. Enthusiasts and hardcore jazz geeks uploaded entire ablums onto YouTube. I know, it's weird... YouTube is a video platform, but it's an awesome place to listen to almost any song for free. Just type any song from your teenage years into the search... "Dead Milkmen, Debbie Gibson Is Pregnant"... and viola! I spent plenty of late nights with Nicky looking up old music videos from MTV's heyday in the 80s.

Anyway, I found hundreds of old jazz albums on YouTube... no video, just the audio. The sound quality is sub-par, but I decided to buy my favorite ones via iTunes to acquire higher quality recordings. In the process, I created a playlist of entire jazz albums. Several of them had become writing music staples over the last decade or so (like Headhunters or Milestones or The Sidewinder). Instead of using iTunes, I can fire up YouTube and play a bunch in the background. A couple of weeks ago, I created a jazz writing music playlist. Every few days I add another new album to the list and it's slowly growing.

I'm lucky. I have a great group of friends who recommend new music and bands through a daily email thread or someone is passing off a new batch of tunes on Dropbox. The key to discovering good music (both old and new) is to rely on your friends, so find a core group of eclectic people (bonus if they're musicians, but any artsy types will do) whom you trust and then be very open to what they have to share.

Music lovers have always been stuck up about what they think is good or bad. Unfortunately those arbiters of taste are biased and often have auditory tunnel vision. It seems that during my journey through life, the more pretentious someone is abut music, the less they know. That's why it's important to have different avenues to explore music. The internet has made music more non-popular available to the masses than ever before. Combined with technology, music fans have been able to streamline specific content to create your own playlists (mixes or genres) for yourself or to share.

Over the last decade, the internet has become a bastion for passing along really shitty music. In the early days of music blogs, (I blame tech-geek hipsters for infiltrating the music scene) there was a race to pass along the most obscure indie bands. That mentality has trickled down into social media, so it's difficult to get anything of substance. Sure, you might find a gem in that pile of cow dung, but there's too much crap out there. The positive part about music and the intent, is that slew of online communities sprang up and became a valuable source to discovering new bands or connecting with like-minded people.

That's why your friends are important, especially if they are musicians and understand the difficult process at expressing yourself but making it palatable for the masses. They are like lab rats who try out a new wonder drug and croak or grow a third testicle. They'll sample the music and know your kind of tastes so they can cater their recommendations. These days there's so many diverse genres that most of them sound made up (e.g. glitch hop, Nu-disco).

Looking at my inbox over the last week, I'm fortunate for the Coventry crew (Joker, Jonas, and BTreotch, Broseph) continuously turning me onto new music I would have dismissed or never even knew existed. Most of the time, I'm super busy with work (aren't we all?), so I don't have chunks of free time to explore as much new music as I'd like, so I naturally gravitate to what I know and like. I devote any free time to reading, but music is a close second. You have to make time for music. It truly soothes the soul.

When I grew up, my original musical tastes were shaped by the radio and later TV. If my mother did not play old Motown records and listen to the Beatles (they were staples on the oldies stations), I would have never had that as a musical base and would have been stuck listening to nonstop rap. Like most of the kids from the 80s, I cherry-picked the coolest stuff from the radio. These days, I do not rely on corporate owned radio stations to determine what is cool and not. I also never listen to the radio in the car, so that's why I have no idea who are the current pop stars. I don't pay attention to what the music machine is forcing down the throats of America's youth. I never relied on MTV (wait do they even have videos anymore? the station has become reality TV catered at pre-teens and teens) to curtail my tastes, even though cable TV in the 80s-90s allowed the record industry as an alternative means to get youth hooked on bands through catchy visual cues and videos. The migration from radio to cable shifted after the tech boom. I don't rely on indie music blogs to give me clues on what I need to be listening to. And like anything on social media, you have to figure out which people's feeds cater to your needs/attention the best, that way you can follow who can turn you onto some new/old stuff.

Over the weekend, Nicky and I got our hands on an advanced copy of Amok, from Thom Yorke's side project Atoms for Peace. During my aimless web wanderings, I came across  Chuck Norris, Bitch! mix, which was the latest in a series of mixes (Motown, French pop, surf guitar, and soul) inspired by 60s exploitation films. Oh my... blending genres and nostalgia. Good shit.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Permanent Records, Credit Scores, and Chocolate Conspiracy Theories

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

The Man knows how to prey on your insecurities. It's how he and his friends entice you to buy stuff you don't need, yet subliminally desire. And if you don't have the money, the Man will set you up with his Bankster friends and they'll loan you the money (at redonkulously high interest) so you'll finally have enough money to fulfill your wildest dreams. They all profit from your internal struggles.

Homes. Cars. College degrees. Second homes. Third cars. Boats. Pristine lawns.

All crucial aspects towards fulfilling the American Dream. If you want it but cannot afford it by falling short for some reason (that reason being the inability to live within your means), then you can put up the appearance of being successful by borrowing the money.

Credit card. College loan. Car loans. Gas card. Mortgage. Grad/law/med school loan. Second gas card. Second credit card. Second mortgage. Third credit card. Borrow from rich aunt. Fourth credit card. Third mortgage. Fifth credit card.

Want. Buy. Consume. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

That's the Neo-American Dream. Not to be debt free and successful, but to have good enough of a credit score to acquire loans so you can put up the image of success. Just like Fernando, the Billy Crystal character from Saturday Night Live explaining 80s gross consumption, "It's better to look good, than to feel good."

When I was a kid, the powers that be tried to keep you in line by threatening you with a "permanent record." It's like a rap sheet for kids who stay out of jail, but sort of like that list Santa Claus makes every year... he's checking it twice to find out who's been naughty or nice. Of course, the permanent record scam was total horseshit and one of the many mechanisms that adults used to keep kids in line so they didn't go ape-shit crazy and take over the asylum.

When you get into your early 20s, the new means of control is your credit score. That's how Citibank scared the bejesus out of me. If I didn't pay my Visa card or my college loan, then it would affect my credit score and they will prevent me from getting future credit cards and loans for cars, mortgages, or potential loan for law school. Heck, some landlords might not even want to rent an apartment to you because you have a crappy credit score, which translates into risky behavior.

Your credit score was like a scarlet letter. Shitty scores were a huge red flag toward banking intuitions and potential landlords. You paid your bills and kept your nose clean to ensure you stayed in good favor with the Banksters.

You should want to pay your bills on time because it's an honorable thing to do, but moreso not to get  labeled as a deadbeat or brokedick. Centuries ago, they put you in prison if you ran up debts. The British crown emptied their jails filled with debtors and shipped them off to Australia. In modern-day America, you declare bankruptcy and get a new batch of credit cards.

In the poker world, I've seen some of the nicest guys (and gals) in the world get shunned by their peers because they were deadbeats who never paid their debts. It's a catch-22 in the gambling world... they can't earn money (and pay back debts) unless they have a bankroll, so they have to find someone to loan them money at high juice in order to get back in the game. It's not just with poker pros and sports bettors. It happens everyday down on Wall Street or out in the suburbs with real estate gurus (gurus, gamblers... same thing) begging banks to allow them to borrow enough money to keep their properties afloat like a dope-sick junkie trying to cut a deal with his ruthless dealer.

Every group of friends has that one guy (or girl) who is perpetually broke, but borrows constantly from friends with no intentions of paying them back. If your friends could hand out credit scores to each other, then you'd see that that person was a huge risk and you'd probably not lend out cash anymore, even if you doled it out in $20 increments.

While on path to fulfilling the American Dream, you have to get a car loan, school loan, or mortgage somewhere along the way. If you don't pay your bills, it could affect your future. You cannot start a family without a good credit score. In the days of heavily-regulated banking, you needed to walk the straight and narrow and show you're not a credit risk in order to be eligible for a housing loan. Otherwise, you needed some rich relative to co-sign the loan for you.

When Glass-Steagall Act got thrown out and other forms of banking regulation disappeared over night, banks quickly lowered the bar and offered sub-prime mortgages so anyone could get a loan. NO MONEY DOWN! Who needs one house? Let's get fourteen! NO MONEY DOWN!

The Banksters didn't even finish shoveling dirt on Glass-Steagall's coffin before shit got out of control. It didn't matter if you paid your bills or not because the sub-prime lenders had lowered the bar so low that they were turning away anyone with a shred of financial responsibility. They wanted the biggest fuck-ups out there just to fulfill a quota. After all, any shitty loan wouldn't be on that bank's books because they were waiting to ship them out to bigger banks who were going to bundle up all those shitty loans and use it as lunch meat with other fancy investments. That's how immigrants who couldn't speak English walked off the street into banks to secure a home loan. They weren't even in America a few months and they were leveraged to the hilt, but at least they were on the right path to home ownership and fulfilling the American Dream.

If you cannot afford to live the Dream, then you could borrow from unscrupulous Banksters to make it happen. The Man knows how to prey on your insecurities as he lowers that golden carrot in front of the donkey cart.

Enter Valentine's Day. Talk about a polarizing holiday that whips people into a frenzy. You would think that Americans could recognize the absurdity of over-consumption during Christmas, but we've all had fucked up childhoods at this point so it's pointless to try and change tradition. After all, it's a family holiday and nothing is as crazy as your particular family.

But Valentine's Day is not a family-oriented holiday like Turkey Day and Christmas. If you're single, it's a reminder from society that you have failed to find a "soul mate" or at least a fuck buddy. If you're with someone, it's a reminder from society that you're a shitty significant other so you better buy some shit (made in China) so they won't figure out that you really suck and they'll leave you for someone else.

It's truly the most absurd holiday when you think about it. Screw the couples. Make them pay. And while we're at it, let's totally mind fuck everyone else too.

Valentine's Day used to be called St. Valentine's Day. It was originally a Catholic holiday to celebrate a rogue priest willing to marry star crossed lovers. Makes you wonder if the Pope or Shakespeare wrote the original story of St. Valentine. Like mostly every other religious holiday, it got hijacked by the Don Drapers running Madison Avenue, who bent, stretched, and twisted the holiday through their massive media machines, and when the dust settled the sheeple were bombarded with advertisements reminding them that true love only comes in the form of blood diamonds from De Beers, or milk chocolate from Hershey's, or some other high ticket travel item that includes airfare and resort fees.

Here's the crux of the conspiracy... well, it's not really a conspiracy because everyone knows the truth... Valentine's Day is a fabricated holiday designed by Madison Avenue to increase chocolate sales for corporations (Hershey and Mars) in between Halloween and Easter, so they hijacked Valentine's Day.

These days, V-Day carries so much societal pressure that it drives people crazy. I've seen it first hand the last few years with the rise of social media. Man, you really see the anger bubbling to the surface starting about a week before and leading up to full-blown volcanic explosions on February 14th. Most of the time, guys think V-Day is moronically stupid because it's just another way for the Man to sink his hooks in us and take away our money by trying to trick us into thinking we're bad people for not buying into the hype. Women either love it, or hate it. Most of those lines are drawn between those with someone special, and those without. Everyone deep down likes attention. It's a drug. It's hard not to like a holiday that strokes the ego and provides you with free stuff (gifts). Most guys see V-Day as a monetary issue and a holiday forced upon us. Some women see it as a personal attack by the Man who preys on their self-image insecurities and there's not a worse day of the year for single women to feel horrible about their lack of a mate. Most people can rise about it, but it's not easy when you're bombarded with non-stop images and ads. Yeah, it's an evil holiday that corporations make people feel like shit just to turn a profit.

2013 Valentine's Day came and went without any problems. Nicky and I made Valentine's Day really mean something special for us, so we decided it would be the day we celebrated our anniversary. It was almost six years ago when I came up with the idea. Unless you're talking about a wedding anniversary and a set date of nuptials, non-married couples have to deal with an arbitrary date anyway. Some relationships have a clearly defined starting point. Others? A little more complicated. We weren't one of those couples who constantly broke up with each other and reveal an estimation of how long they've been together with a caveat "on and off." We started officially dating sometime around Valentine's Day in 2006, so it made sense that we picked that as the date to celebrate. It was a perfect coup because I was able to kill two birds with one stone. Valentine's Day wasn't a fake holiday the Man forced us to celebrate. It was a celebration day because we decided so. Feels awesome to hijack a holiday like that for your own purposes.

And and happy seventh anniversary to Nicky. Seven years? Cannot believe its been seven years. That's a story for another time.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Trumpet Under Aunt Mary Mae's Bed (Fiction)

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

1958. Louis needed to find a new drummer. He made a list with a pencil and scribbled down four names. He walked down to the bar, ordered a beer from Jimmy, scooped up changed, and retreated to the bank of phones. Dexter was his first call.

Sid emerged from a month-long bender. He was more gaunt than usual. Leathery rings swirled around his sunken sockets, but his attentive eyes were swimming in eagerness. Sid begged to book studio time. Louis advanced Sid at least three albums worth of money, which he blew paying off debts to other musicians. Louis didn't care about that. He was happy for a chance to get a full day of recording, maybe even two? He didn't want to push his luck.

Sid materialized. Out of thin air. The last anyone saw him was a sweltering Indian summer night in September. Then he vanished. Melted into the shadows. Gone. Months. Months. Months. Louis hoped Sid would stick around long enough to scratch together material for an album. If it was halfway decent and 5% as good as his stuff from 51-52, then Louis would more than make his money back and then some.

Sid showed up with four feverish compositions. He had to have Philly Joe on drums for the session. But in doing so, Philly Joe would have to miss a gig at the new club in Jersey. Everyone knew the mafia owned that club in Hoboken. It was going to be packed with mafia types and their girlfriends. Louis didn't wanted to piss off the owner when they found out that his record label stole their star drummer. It really should not had been Louis' responsibility per se. Sid should have shouldered the burden to find a replacement but he pushed off the task onto Louis.

The tiniest things sent temperamental Sid into a fury and he'd fight with the engineer or storm out of the studio and that would be that. Louis struggled to get Sid to sit down and record over the last two years. Anything. Even if he was playing Egyptian scales and farting. At least it would be something. But dealing with Sid was like juggling flaming swords while standing on eggshells with a hot poker shoved up your ass.

Their disastrous last session was typical Sid. It should have been a single afternoon, but it was stretched out over five painful days. Something always got fucked up. On Monday, a lazy bass player got fired on the spot for fumbling the chorus... Tuesday, a strung out sax player passed out in the toilet and caused a ruckus with the janitor... Wednesday, one of Sid's crazy ex-girlfriend showing up at the studio with a dagger... Thursday, everything was finally on track before Sid made them do a seventh take, which irked the drummer who was late for a gig. Sid stormed out of the studio... Friday, everyone showed up... except Sid.

Critics said he was washed up. Club owners said he was an unreliable druggie. Dealers said he burned them for hundreds of dollars. His peers thought Sid was mediocre, at best, as a trumpeter, but he was a stunning composer. Ahead of his time. Canonball called him a jigsaw puzzle with all the outside pieces missing. Every time he self-medicated, another piece of his puzzle eroded.

Sid poached Philly Joe from Dexter's band. It's a jazz taboo to steal another bandleader's players without talking to the head honcho first. Sid never bothered to call Dexter. That was his first infraction. He did even have the decency to find a replacement, or at the least, recommend someone competent for the job. That was his second infraction. Sid always did things his way, which is why he butted heads with almost everyone in the music biz on the island of Manhattan from the tip of Inwood all the way down to Chinatown.

Instead of Sid doing the right thing by calling around to find a new drummer for Dex, he told him tough shit.

"Fuck that junkie cat in the ear."

Louis knew Dexter pretty well when Dexter recorded a few sessions with Daddy Long Legs Sims. Dexter was an easy-going guy and would be angry for a day or so, but he'd get over it. Bands get raided all the time by ruthless club owners and other desperate band leaders. Louis' biggest concern was the Sid's cavalier attitude toward the mafia. They were some serious fuckers. Louis' uncle Howie owned a restaurant and a banquet hall in Lodi and the mafia tried to shake him down after the war. At first it was just muscle money, and he reluctantly complied with a monthly pay off. Then they wanted him to open up in the middle of the night for private parties and Salvatore DeBlasio started running an illegal casino in the back room. One night a fight broke out and the hall was destroyed. It looked like a bomb exploded. Tables, chairs, glasses... all shattered and broken. When his Uncle asked them to pay for the damages, Sal DeBlasio's sons beat him with baseball bats. They eventually took over the restaurant and gave his Uncle a stolen watch for his troubles as a retirement present. It probably came off the wrist of a murdered deadbeat dock worker who crossed the union. Louis' uncle checked out of life and became a full-time whino living on the streets. His Uncle kept the watch as a frightening memento. Why? Who knows.

Louis knew better than to piss off the wrong wiseguys, but Sid didn't care. Once Sid disappeared, you wouldn't be able to find him for days... or weeks... or months. Sid knew no one would go into the darkest alleys of city to look for him, which is what bothered Louis the most. At some point during their search, unsavory thugs would show up at Louis' recording studio looking for Sid. Louis didn't want them to smash up thousands of dollars in recording equipment when they couldn't find Sid, so he frantically called around looking to find a replacement drummer for Dexter.

When Sid didn't want to be found, he vanished. Gone. Poof! Melted into the shadows of the worst of the worst flophouses to hang out in East Harlem and the South Bronx, the forgotten alleys of ill repute where no one from the square world wanted to poke around the labyrinths of neglected buildings on the fringe of erstwhile neighborhoods and former bustling thoroughfares teaming with life, but had since fallen upon harder than hard times where ghosted haunted the streets and thieves prowled at nights and where the invisibles disappeared in plain sight.

Sid holed up on 143rd Street. Drunkards shat themselves in that tenement's doorways and you had to step over a minefield of shellacked bums to reach the dilapidated backrooms where working girls yanked, tugged, inserted, and sucked for a few bucks.

During the days, Sid gazed at cracked plaster and squashed the bugs, both real and imagined, with his thumb.

When he ran out of money for junk, Sid sniffed a rag soaked with paint thinner.

He left his trumpet with his Aunt Mary Mae on St. Nicholas Avenue and asked her to hide it, so she stashed it under her bed. Sid didn't trust himself when he was expecting an internal torrential downpour and fierce thunderstorms. He'd get incredibly dope sick and sell his instruments if he had to which is why he left them in safe keeping with his aunt. She had explicit instructions to give him back the trumpet at a gig or recording session.

Sid once made the mistake of bringing his horn with him during a bender. He thought he concealed it in a brown paper bag, but he nodded out and when he woke up from his junk-induced dream, it was gone. The bag was left behind, but the trumpet had vanished. It was like losing a family member. Or a limb. Sid cried and cried and cried. Like Ahab in search of the white whale, Sid scoured every pawn shop in the city. He never found that stolen horn. It was gone forever. He stopped the search. Chalked it up to another bad decision in life.

Sid told his bad beat story to Louis, and Louis made a warm gesture and advanced Sid some money so he could buy a new one. That was three years earlier. Sid made a vow: never again would he lose his horn during the nods. Sid made sure he left the trumpet with his Aunt Mary Mae. Safe keeping. It sat idle under her bed for almost nine months.

When Sid didn't have his trumpet, he'd close his eyes and play the notes in his head. If it was nighttime, he'd just stare off into the darkness and start playing. It was silent, save for the ambient noises of the local blight. Inside his head, Sid could hear echoes and echos of notes. Bah. Bu. Bah. Bu. Blat. Bah. Burhd. Bah. Bu. Blat. Buh. Burhd. Bah. Bu. Blat. During these trances, Sid must've run through thousands of imaginary recording sessions and thousands of gigs. He heard hundreds of versions of his new compositions tested out with dozens of musicians. He played the solos over and over and over until he got it right. He played over and over until everyone in his mind's jazz club nailed it.

Even completely strung out and dope sick, Sid figured out the perfect ensemble for each song. He settled on four tracks he wanted to record, sort of Vivaldi's Four Seasons in reverse. Instead of titling each track after a season, he wanted to call it a specific month. January. April. August. November. Sid wanted four sets of musicians for each track. A quintet for the first song, November. A quartet for the second, August. A sextet for the third, April. And a quartet for the fourth, January. He only had one or two drummers in mind. Philly Joe was one. Three of the songs couldn't work unless he had Philly Joe. He'd settle for Clarence Brown on the fourth tune, January. Maybe Clarence could mesh on April, but his Latin-style was ideal for a specific section on January. The other three were too complex for Clarence to handle. He was still a kid. Didn't have enough living in his belly. Only Philly Joe understood. Philly Joe lived hard and fast. He knew how to conjure up the melodies in his head the same way Sid enticed the notes to magically appear as floating swirls of color and wispy trails of dancing smoke.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Invisible Chameleons

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

I'm a sponge. That's dangerous because I'm a sponge who feeds off of my surroundings and absorbs the vibe of the environment. In hostile situations... I get hostile. In lad-back situations... I'm laid back. Some folks are wired to rebel against their surroundings. I used to be like that and fought whatever environment I was thrust into, which was super exhausting, until I eventually figured out that I was fighting myself and the fear of assimilation. Once I let go... things got better. I realized that adapt well to keep the harmonious flow of things, but it's not a complete and perfect assimilation. It's more like being a chameleon... on the surface it looks like I blend in, but underneath it all, I'm something totally different.

It's just how I'm wired as an observer and chameleon. It's always been important for me to remain on the fringe of things and not get too deeply involved (thereby losing my objectivity). But it's vital to be a chameleon and blend in the background, especially while hanging out on the fringe. You really can't maintain anonymity on periphery unless you blend it. No one likes the "watchers", but if it weren't for the watchers, then they wouldn't be able to keep the herd honest.

Sometimes I think I'm more of an invisible man than a chameleon. It's not that I blend it... I'm completely invisible. Sometimes this can be a cool trait to have, mostly it's annoying because people walk right into you.

You're more invisible than you think, whether it's driving on the freeways in one of a million other cars, or shuffling to work on a subway as one of a million other commuters. In the virtual world, we're mostly all invisible. The vast majority of the web is generated by a small assortment of content creators and the rest of the sprawling web content -- specifically social media -- is generated by users.
The majority of the social media cycle is driven by egomaniacs and other creative types, but the mass appeal to Twitter and Facebook is that it allows its users to be active voyeurs while remaining invisible. You can be a part of the ether without participating it in, or you can add to the static by cranking out more static.

Mass entertainment is based on the assumption you want to be invisible... hence the term guilty pleasure... and why the porn industry rakes in more money than Hollywood and Bollywood combined. If people really revealed what they watched, then it would be utterly embarrassing. Like the time I was in the press room at the 2005 WSOP and Amy Calistri borrowed my laptop for a few seconds and then busted my chops because she accidentally stumbled upon a frequented porn site.

Bottom line... you are what you consume (whether it's food or popular culture). But deep down we don't want to be judged by those (entertainment) choices, so we often hide the more embarrassing selections and only reveal things that might make you look cooler. That's why there's some pressure to watch the niche shows (if you want to be a hipster), or delve into mainstream (the most popular TV shows, sports, and current events.). I once had a close friend confide in me that he watched Survivor because he wanted to keep up with everyone in his office and not feel left out of the loop during morning water cooler chit chat.

I'm more interested in the other shit that you watch. That's what truly defines you and your true tastes, whether it's a guilty pleasure (insert title of embarrassing reality show here _____ like the Shahs of Sunset or Teen Mom 2) or something to just pass the time (watching The Bourne Identity or any of the Matrix movies for the thousandth time).

TV is truly the opiate of the masses. Projection, submission, zombification, pacification. And if you sit around and watch nothing but alphabet news networks, then you're the perfect candidate for indoctrination after being bombarded with propaganda disguised as news nuggets.

Sometimes I catch Nicky watching really bad reality TV, but I let it slide because she doesn't give me shit for watching Ivy League basketball on women's Pac-12 volleyball. Hey, Nicky is on the production side of reality TV so it's almost like work for her to keep up on her contemporaries and rivals. It's like when she used to work in the "pictures" and was a film executive she spent most of her weekend mornings going to the movies and viewing recent new releases or catching something that flew under the initial radar, yet everyone's raving about.

I have binges when I'm watching a lot of non-sports TV programming (interesting how it's called programming, more like conditioning the masses to become consumers). I zone out in front of the boob tube during down writing cycles. But TV is like eating junk food, then feeling guilty so you work out twice as hard. I also feel as though I need to read twice as much TV I watch. So two hours of TV is counter-balanced by four hours of reading. That 2:1 ratio seems about right. Reading massages the brain muscles, it makes you smarter and expands the creative mind. Too much TV (I should say, too much bombardment of commercials to try to trick me into buying shit I don't need) just makes me angry, depressed and encourages me to consume.

Fear. Buy. Guilty. Buy. Desire. Buy.

I'm not embarrassed to say that I watch random college basketball games for enjoyment, but most of the time I'm scouting a team for future betting purposes (like March Madness). The PAC-12 women's volleyball is pure ogling and I'm overjoyed by the addition of the Pac-12 channel. Other friends with different cable providers have yet to acquire the Pac-12 channel and I tell them how they're missing out on some serious butt-hugging-gazing. One of my friends used to cover women's volleyball for his college newspaper and I thought, "Holy amazeballs, talk about a sweet fucking assignment! How can I sign up for that?"

You know those silly movies about adults going back to high school in some undercover fashion? Yeah, I considered re-enrolling in some state college and going out for the school newspaper, just so I can cover women's vollyeball. It's perverse, but after sitting in casinos for seven straight years covering sausage fest after sausage fest of a poker tournament, a guy can dream right?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Dream Project: Grilled Cheese and Lost Car

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

Painting by David Campbell
 Over the last year or so, I attempted small projects every month that focused on something related to creativity. On the surface the goal was to become engaged in a specific subject or topic for four weeks and then move onto something else. The short-term goal was to feed the mind. The long-term goal was I hoped some of the things I did or daily habits would resonate and spill into my every day life and carry on when the project ended.

Some of these monthly projects included "listen to every Grateful Dead show from 1979", which I did last March, or "watch a documentary every day", which I did last February. In the short-term, I watched a lot of amazing documentaries on subjects I didn't know much about. The long-term affect... I've been actively watching at least a documentary per week.

Last November, I decided to write a blog post every day about sports betting, which is how Ocelot Sports was spawned on Tumblr, and I continued writing in December and it snowballed into a new site.

January's project was a Tao of Pauly revitalization project and I wanted to generate 500 words at least five times a week. That project blossomed into regular posting (six days a week and double sized posts), which has spilled over into February. Who knows how long I can keep this pace up before I get bored or hit the road for an extended stint.

In February, I wanted to maintain a dream journal, which became problematic from the start because I'm an insomniac. Whenever I eventually fell asleep, I didn't always fall into a deep enough of a sleep to dream. And on the few times I did dream, I always forgot about them upon waking. So, this month's project has been a bit of a failure. I had only 2 dreams of note that I wrote down, and o ne of them was last night.

I could only recall a fragment of last night's (early morning) dream. I parked a car in a strip mall parking lot for a mob guy. His grey Cadillac. But I forgot where it was parked... or it got stolen. Upon returning to the lot, I couldn't find it and started to freak out. I walked frantically back to the restaurant where he was eating and I tried to ask around if anyone had seen it, but trying not to let the mob guy know I lost his car. I walked back to the parking lot and passed a diner. The grill was in the window and the cook was making a grilled cheese with an old cast iron pan, but he used olive oil instead of butter. I got back to the parking lot and one of the low-level mob thugs helped me look around. He kept saying, "Where the fuck did the grey Cadillac go? It just didn't get up and walk away."

I woke up shortly after and recalled the dream while stumbling the the bathroom to take a piss. That's when I struggled to piece together the narrative of the dream... and I blurted out, "Why did I walk around the parking lot and use my keys to find it by pressing the UNLOCK button or the alarm, which could help signal me to the right place?"

Logic sometimes falls out of whack when you're dreaming. The weirdest thing about the dream is that I have slim to no details about the parking lot, but I have a vivid impression of the grilled cheese in an old pan. Olive oil? Really. That's what my subconscious wanted to point out to me?

Of course, that's not what's really going on. It took about thirty seconds to break down the dream. The mob guys were the bookies I worked for. The lost car represented my inability to pick winners in the NBA (I'm having a break even year in hoops and struggling to even accomplish that, compared to a remarkable year in the NFL). But, I'm still trying to figure out what the grilled cheese was all about.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Neighborly Turbulence, Squabbles, and Brouhahas

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

Untitled #4 by Alejandro Santiago
We survived another weekend in the Slums of Beverly Hills, but our neighbors barely got through several bouts of restlessness, which led to altercations. Ah, young love, quarreling couples, and struggling artisans.... you remember what it was like being 25 years old, right?

We live in a dingbat, an eye-sore and the bastard child of mid-20th Century mod-architecture, which is a "two-story apartment building with fancy names that promise the good life." Each dingbat is comprised of 6-8 units and synonymous with the Slums of Beverly Hills. We're on a block full of dingbats with dingbats on either side of us and two more on the opposite side of the alley. Dingbats everywhere. One of those adjacent dingbats is undergoing a renovation, which means we hear the shrill screeching metallic sounds wood cutting. During weekdays, the workers arrive around 1pm or so and continue renovations through early evening. It could be worse and they could start at the crack ass at dawn. One of the downsides from working from home means dealing with all the external noises, like landscapers and their leaf blowers starting around 7:50am and continuing through early afternoon. The last two weeks have been particularly rough with nonstop noise from 8am to 6pm echoing through the alleys. Really, the best times to write are 4am to 7:30am, which sucks because I either have to wake up early or stay up super late.

On the weekend you'd expect the ambient noises to settle down because there's no construction or landscaping on the weekends. However, the locals went berserk instead. Sure, at some moments it was entertaining, yet definitely distracting because I had work to do. Maybe it's the drinking water, but two sets of neighbors engaged in vicious screaming matches and they let everyone without earshot know about their domestic upheavals. On Saturday the actress next door went ten rounds with her boyfriend as the two were embroiled in paranoid turmoil. Then on Sunday, the married couple upstairs got at each others' throats in the early afternoon before it escalated early evening. They got so loud at one point that they were drowning out the sound to Battleship... which is one of those terrible action flicks with lots of stuff blowing up. If someone is getting verbally abused louder than a Michael Bay knockoff, then you know you have a problem.

On some level... our quarreling neighbors create a hilarious situation for Nicky and I. It's free entertainment, while I'm sure it's hell for them. We usually stand in my office by the window giggling like little kids listening to the actress hurl taunts and insults like grenades. Sometimes I feel bad about writing about them here or occasionally tweeting about #hipsterneighborsfighting. Then again, if our neighbors cannot conduct themselves like adults have have a civil disagreement without acting like a raving lunatic or conceited adolescent, then they should be ridiculed! Arguing with your boyfriend/girlfriend is not pleasant, especially if you live with them, but it's disgusting when they're channeling their inner whiskey tango, wanna-be reality star.

The first few minutes of any outburst is funny, but anything after that is sad, and anything prolonged is disturbing. Sure Nicky and I get in a few blowups once or twice a year, but we've been together for seven years and we're practically married, so anyone who's married will tell you they'd love to have it that easy and only have a spat once in a blue moon. I'm lucky. We're lucky. It could be a lot worse... and listening to how our neighbors poorly handle their relationships while airing their dirty laundry for everyone to hear makes me realize how fortunate I am that Nicky is a level-headed woman (and tolerant and patient if she puts up with my shenanigans).

We all have problems. That's life, but the most successful relationships involve two people putting their egos aside and actively listening to one another. You don't have to scream if the other person is listening. Being able to work through your problems demonstrates emotional maturity, but it's obvious that our neighbors handle the simplest conflicts like pampered children. I'm surprised both relationships lasted as long as they have (I actually set the over/unders at the end of this post). Unfortunately, both of my neighbors are self-involved women in their early 20s (one actress, one violin player) who get off by flipping out on their guys and embarrassing them in front of the neighbors. Maybe it's a way to get back at their fathers? Maybe it's a control thing? Maybe they had bad childhoods and like to scream? Maybe it's how spoiled little girls act when they can't get their way? Maybe they're taking out their shortcomings and failures on someone else? After all, Hollywood is a brutal town and constant rejection wears you down.  and pokes holes in your soul. Trying to make it in LA puts an incredible amount of stress on you and your loved ones, which is why many relationships have been ruined while pursuing and falling short of fulfilling "the dream."

To complicate matters for Nicky and I, not only are both neighbors fighting... but one of the hipsters next door has been learning the ukulele since October, which is utter torture for everyone who has to hear the inharmonious sounds. That hipster (we'll just call him Colby) plays the ukulele in his bathroom, most likely for better acoustics, but that location cannot hide the naked truth that he's horrible after practicing for 25 hours a week over the last few months. That's like 300 hours, at least. You'd think Colby would be somewhat decent. Part of me wants to applaud him on his tenacity to learn that tiny string instrument because so many people today are weak-minded and give up if anything is remotely challenging. To their credit, the actress and the violin player are constantly honing their craft. She sings constantly -- in the shower, in the bedroom, in the living room, meanwhile the violin player often practices within ninety seconds of coming home from work. The ladies both dedicated to the arts, yet you don't see the same passion they have for their individual talents then they have for their partners.

Anyway, Colby is a shitty ukulele player, but at least he's practicing as much as he can. Too many of us were coddled and spoiled as children so the moment there's any resistance or a whiff of a struggle, they get the fuck out of dodge. It's easier to sit on the couch and become a TV zombie, or troll celebrities on Twitter, or act like a dickbag by starting flame wars on internet forums... than it is to try to learn an instrument or create anything from scratch. Then again, how fucking long does it take for someone to learn how to play a fucking Vampire Weekend song? It's not that hard... three fucking chords at the most, but trying to play it day after day after day and failing is completely insufferable. That's how the CIA tortures jihadists. No more water boarding. It's a couple of hipsters armed with ukuleles.

Back to the over-dramatic damsels causing their own distress...

The actress loves drumming up her own drama.... both real or imagined. If she hates her boyfriend so much, why doesn't she break up with him? And why does he stay with her crazy ass? She's cute in a girl-next-door way, but by no means smoking hot. It's a twisted relationship for sure and I haven't really figured out what's up aside from some sort of "daddy issues" she has yet to resolve. It sounds like he sponges off her mostly, or he has some sort of wealthy relative to borrow money from.

Anyway, the actress went ballistic on Saturday morning. I settled in to work in my office when the screaming began around 10am. She was pissed that he was doing too much blow that morning. Last week it was his drinking and they got into a huge dust up. I think he gave up booze for a bit after she wigged out last week, but on Saturday morning he was getting jacked up on nose candy. If I was her boyfriend, I'd be stoned to the tits or cooking on four or five Valium because that's the only way you can handle someone that intense. It's all or nothing with her. She's one of those types of overly dramatic girls with intimacy issues who is constantly breaking up and getting back together with her boyfriend... and I'm talking about this process happening two or three times a day.

The actress woke up in a bad mood and she went right for the jugular. "You insane disaster of a man! My dad was right about you!"

If the rest of our neighbors were still sleeping, they were awoken by the actress berating her boyfriend. It was a reprise of previous arguments... she wanted to discuss her feelings like her blown voice audition, and he ignored her by... 1) watching TV, or 2) dicking around on Facebook, or 3) playing video games. That morning, he was powdering his nose and looking online at used car site.

Every twenty minutes or so, she'd retreat to the bathroom and sob before composing herself and going back out for another round to remind her boyfriend that he was a lowlife piece of shit. This happened four or five times before the screaming escalated to a frightening point when you heard slapping sounds. They were on the cusp of coming to blows a few instances, but that particular time you heard a WHACK! Yeah, she smacked him. It got so bad that I wondered if anyone else had called the cops yet? She totally egged him on and practically begged to get slapped back. Yeah, she's a total head case and strikes me as the type of girl who likes to be strangled during sex, or some sort of freaky asphyxiation thing.

I heard her smack him a few times. WHACK! WHACK!! That wasn't the first time that happened. She's gotten super drunk before and tried to pick fights by whaling on him. To his credit, he always absorbed the blows and never laid a hand on her (because if he did connect a punch, she'd totally lose her mud and she'd be screaming to everyone to call 911). But one of these days he's going to lose his shit and tag her a few times and then the cops will really show up and haul him off to jail, which is the last thing a struggling actor wants to deal with like missing auditions because you're sitting in lockup with illegal aliens and then faced with looming legal bills because of a useless domestic dispute.

Their argument lasted three hours and by that point, she threatened to quit her job and quit acting and was going to do nothing but sit on her ass. She insisted he get the fuck out, and I guess he got sick of her (or ran out of coke) before he finally stormed off. Of course, he wasn't out the door for ninety seconds before she went into the bathroom and started wailing and moaning. Then she called him up. I could hear her leave the first voice mail, which she screamed at the top of her lungs...


The actress is totally nuts. She wanted him to leave and as soon as he left, she begged him to come back. Eventually she got him on the phone. I assume he said something like, "I won't come home until you're calm." Because she kept saying, "I CAN'T CALM THE FUCK DOWN UNTIL YOU COME HOME YOU INSENSITIVE ASSHOLE!!!"

It was a lose-lose proposition for him. I dunno why he drove back. I woulda kept going and never went back. When he walked back into the apartment ten minutes later, she quickly apologized before things got ugly again. The commotion took another deviant turn and the two resumed about round of name calling. At that point, I got tired of it all and I tuned it out.

On Sunday, the upstairs neighbors got into their own squabble. They're a young married couple. Nicky is convinced that he's a closet homo and she's someone who was so blind to reality that she married a gay man. I guess after a year or so of marriage she is finally realizing her mistake, but instead of confronting him about it, they get into other petty arguments due to her passivity. I can understand why he gets pretty pissed off at her because he's working full-time to support the both of them while she works part-time, and then she gets irked at something pretty stupid which escalates into a verbal lashing.

She did most of the yelling. She always does. In my notes I refer to her as the "frigid bitch", which is not really fair and somewhat misogynist, but it makes Nicky laugh so if she's not offended then I have nothing to worry about unless she happens to stumble upon this blog... and if that happens, then so be it. She deserves to be embarrassed for expressing her furor like a 15-year old girl who just got grounded. And her husband should be ashamed. No one deserves to be spoken down to like that. I really want to smack him upside his head and tell him to man up and tell his wife that she's being disrespectful.

The actress next door is simply bat-shit crazy, but the girl upstairs is an annoying whiner. She complains about everything. At least the actress has some sort of dramatic flair and you could sense she's either going to break up or stab her boyfriend within the month, meanwhile the upstairs neighbor has as much depth as one of the self-absorbed, highly-entitled characters on Girls.

I watched basketball all Sunday morning and afternoon. It was the first weekend without football, but I bet on four different NBA games. I was heavily vested in the action, which meant I hurled cuss words at the TV and called Joey Crawford a fucking shit-bag on more than one occasion. I have a theory that my upstairs neighbor gets irked on Sundays after she hears me screaming at the TV while watching sports, which is what normal guys do but my "guy behavior" triggers her suspicions that her husband is a closet homosexual because instead of rooting for the Clippers or Lakers, he'd rather watching Project Runway or Glee reruns.

I'll give the actress a couple of more months before she breaks up with her boyfriend (or stabs him in his sleep). I'd set the line on April 30th for a breakup or shanking. The upstairs married couple? That's a little more complicated. For her sake if he is gay, then I hope they break up sooner than later, like before they have kids. I doubt that will happen, so I can see them keeping up the charade for a few more years unless she catches him playing hide the salami with another dude. Hey, it was a coinflip anyway if their marriage was going to last anyway, but I'll give them 24-25 months max before they embrace the inevitable.

And the shit-weasel hipster next door learning the damn ukulele? Even if you give Colby six more years, he'll still never improve. Fuck him.