Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Super Moon, Alley Wankers, and Keep the Loonies on the Path

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

Super moon. Super freaky moon. The freaks were out in numbers. Roaming. Being freaks. Driven mad by the lunar cycle. Losing their minds. Zombies. Prowling. Swimming in insanity.

Mentally imbalanced people are often called lunatics and loonies for a reason. The moon's gravitational pull drives some people crazy. The moon alters your perception. The moon affects your mind. The moon alters your senses. The moon drives "normal" people completely unstable. And if you're already unhinged, you're totally fucked.

Like that Pink Floyd song. Got to keep the loonies on the path.

This moon business isn't hype or recycled urban legends or old wives tales. Cops and ER nurses can attest to the fact that shit always goes extra crazy during a full moon. My friends who work in casinos tell me that the crowds are extra insane during full moons. Gamblers slid deeper into the abyss more than normal. Some people howl at the moon. Some people lose their shirts shooting dice. Some people eat bath salts and stumble into my alley.

People are deranged. The Super Moon sets them off.

The Super Moon is just like a regular moon yet it appear slightly bigger, Maybe it's an optical illusion? Maybe the aliens are fucking with us? But you can't deny the fact that the levels of insanity are cranked up to its highest levels on the night of full moon. It's like those amps got waaaay past "11". The freaks come out at night.

The super freaks copulate during Super Moons, which is how super-super-freaks are birthed. Beware of Super-Super Moon babies. You can easily spot them. They're the ones who bought Lindsay Lohan's record. They're the ones who by Kardashian perfume.

After Midnight is the demarcation line. The sane souls have to lock their doors and hide from the batshit crazy undead while they roam the streets and alleys until sunrise.

I closed the window in my office. Normally I appreciate the late night breeze, especially when I'm tired but still writing because it keeps me awake. One of my neighbors was snoring. Loudly. He had his window wide open and his snoring echoed through the alley. Holy shit it was loud, and he wasn't even next door. I shut the window and I could still hear his thunderous snoring.

I have a baseball bat. I haven't played baseball since college. I have it for other reasons. I almost put it away in a closet because I was pre-cleaning for the maid. But I left it out. Just in case. Hate to need one and not have it, ya know?

I heard ruckus in the alley. It happens especially in the hour before sunrise. Times are tough and dumpster divers have been showing up earlier and earlier in order to get first crack at empty bottles, cans, and other recyclables. But this was not your typical homeless person quickly going through the bins. This person was screaming at the top of his lungs. Didn't even sound like English or any language. Lots of guttural sounds. Grunts. Then I heard a name. Sounded like "Shelia" but I wasn't sure. After the fortieth time he shouted it, it was pretty obvious. He was looking for someone named Shelia and he thought she lived in our building. He was screaming and running around in circles in the alley. Nicky woke up totally scared. I had been clutching the bat for a few minutes and sized up the lunatic.

"Should we call the cops?"

"Not yet," I said.

Nicky saw me with the baseball bat in my hand. She knew that if he tried to break in by going through a window, I was ready to fucking crack his skull.

He looked fucked up. Like really fucked up. Seventy miles passed drunk. More like tweaking hard on Meth, or probably bath salts. Sheesh. No way I was going to try to fight a psycho on bath salts. It was best to remain quiet and wait it out. Calling the cops was useless, unless he broke a window and tried to break in (more so to get proof someone else did it, otherwise our cheap landlord would make us pay for it). Besides, by the time a squad car rolled up, the lunatic would be long gone and then we look like morons calling the cops for no reason. Then again, perhaps my neighbors were annoyed or freaked out and they had already called the cops?

If we lived one block north, we'd be in Beverly Hills and the cops would have already tasered this motherfucker and he'd shit and piss himself and be withering in pain after getting a gajillion volts pumped through his body. But we don't live in Beverly Hills. We're still in Los Angeles.

Good luck getting the understaffed LAPD to come out and wrangle a drunk. We were on our own.

It's like a bad scene from a Larry David episode or something Johnny Drama would bitch about in Entourage.

The lunatic in the alley was lucky I was not a trigger happy gunfreak who couldn't wait to unload my Mossberg. As one gun enthusiast friend explained about the benefits of a shotgun in an urban environment, "You don't have to be a good shot. You see the flash of light and know you've sprayed the target."

The guy ran around in circles for a few minutes. Screaming. At one point he went into the corner and pulled out his lizard and started wanking it... unsuccessfully. With his limp lizard flapping around he screamed "Sheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeellllllllllllliaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!"

He picked a small pile of leaves and threw it against his face, like he thought it was a puddle of water and he was freshening up. When that didn't work, he finally left the alley, but he tried to access our building. He walked up stairs and got halfway before he rushed back down. They attempted to open my neighbor's door. The douchenozzle with the BMW who has his mom clean his apartment every Friday. After fiddling around for a couple of seconds, he left. For good.

I heard him yelling "Sheeeeeeeliaaaaaaaa!" But the cries grew faint, so I knew he was getting farther and father away. I told Nicky it was over. We could go back to sleep. Now she doesn't think I'm weird for buying a bat.

As long as he walked East and West and South, he's be safe. But if he ventured a couple of blocks north, then you bet your ass one of the residents of Beverly Hills would call 911. I follow @LAScanner on Twitter and the stream is filled with Beverly Hills PD responding to disturbances of the peace, especially from loud wasted lunatics, walking around trying to jerk off in alleys, while screaming "Shelia!"

That's the sort of strange shit that was the norm in San Francisco. We never had a dull night in our neighborhood. Some wasted fucker was screaming at the top of their lungs while walking down Divisidero.

Our neighbors in the Slums of Beverly Hills are loud, inconsiderate self--absorbed assholes, but we live in a somewhat quiet neighborhood all things considered. That's why that strange incident -- the only one in over seven years -- came at a surprise.

Zombies? Derivatives traders on a bender? Bad batch of meth? Bath salts? Who the fuck knows. Glad there's no more Super Moon for a while.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

When the Maids Think We're Crazy

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

"So, do I tip the maids?"

Nicky was still laughing from my previous question ("I don't have to feed them right?"). I have very little experience with domestic maids, yet, I have tons of terrible run-ins with hotel maids, especially the ones who cannot read a DO NOT DISTURB sign and barge right in. I lived in hotels for long period of times during different assignments before I finally figured out renting an apartment for trips lasting longer than 4 or 5 days was the way to go. It turned out to be cheaper in many instances. As a result, Nicky and I were fortunate to stay in cool little apartments in Barcelona and London, not to mention Las Vegas. One of the worst aspects of hotels is dealing with maids early in the morning.

Domestic maids are something completely foreign to me. I grew up in the Bronx. We did not have a maid and my family always did a piss poor job cleaning up, which we usually put off until the night before we had company over for events like Christmas dinner, which my Mom cooked for the extended family. Most of the time, it was messy. I'm not saying she's a hoarder, but she's kind of a hoarder. Not one of those garbage and shit hoarders you see on TV, rather one of those materialistic hoarders that buys a lot of stupid and useless shit and boxes and boxes are piled up everywhere.

When I first started dating Nicky, she and Showcase had a maid that came by their apartment in the Slums of Beverly Hills every two or three months. They were lazy potheads and working a lot so they needed a little help. She was a sweet woman from Ecuador. When Showcase moved out and I officially moved in, we called her to come over and help clean up Showcase's old room which would become my office and guest bedroom. She did an awesome job. We tried to get her to come by at the end of that summer, but her phone was disconnected. We assumed the worst that she got deported.

I did not want to hire a new maid. I don't want anyone inside my home that I do not know or don't trust. For the most part we didn't really have a maid for a couple of years. When we moved to San Francisco, we had to get someone to help clean up for us so Nicky found a reputable agency. They sent two people to do the job, but it was pricey. They were very good, but we never hired them again until this week.

Nicky was at work when they arrived early in the morning, so I had to man the fort while they clean up our disastrous kitchen. I did not realize that I had to give them the tour of the apartment, but in doing so, we had to pass through the foyer which has a gigantic mural of O.J. Simpson's mug shot from after the infamous Bronco chase. One of Nicky and Showcase's friends gave it to them. I totally forget it's there until guests come over. They all say something about it. It's just so massive. I know, it's weird, but in such an out of the way spot that I don't see it too often. Even when I see it, I don't see it, you know? Anyway, we had previous discussions about making O.J. leave or letting him stay. In the end, he always gets to stay.

O.J. sorta freaks the maids out. Every single time. They mutter something in Spanish under their breaths, like a prayer to the Virgin Mary or something deeply religious. I hate to think that they think I'm a crazy lunatic or a potential serial killer for having a five-foot by four-foot mural of O.J.'s mugshot. I can only imagine what kind of stories the maids are telling other maids at their post-job hangout joint (do Beverly Hills maids have a dive bar they hang out at before going home?) about their day. What are they saying about the encounter at our apartment?

"Smells like marijuana and they worship O.J.!"

I noticed that we were pre-cleaning for the maids on Sunday night. Very strange behavior. I used to make fun of friends who said that they did that, yet that's what we were doing. I kept wondering, why are doing something that we're about to pay someone else to do? It's like going to a restaurant and doing prep work for the sous chef. Or like going to get surgery done, but you apply the anesthesia yourself.

The maids were here for three hours in the morning. I had crushed a Big-Assed Iced Tea. Ninety minutes in, I had to piss. Badly. I felt bad asking them to vacate the bathroom so I could take a leak, so I left them alone and did what any normal person would have done... I relieved myself in the alley.

Yes, I pissed in the alley.

I actually like peeing outdoors. It gets me in touch with nature. It helps me regain contact with my animal spirit, which has to be a dog, because I like peeing outside so damn much. I whizzed all over my neighbor's fence. You know, the hipster with the annoying purse dog? Fuck that bitch.

I had to pee a second time and could have held it, but I liked peeing in the alley so much, that I didn't think twice about walking outside and peeing in the alley.

When the maids were done, the apartment was spotless. It sparkled. It didn't even resemble or smell like our apartment, that's how nice it looked.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Effective Communication at 5:55 AM

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

5:55am. It's always 5:55am. My neighbor, a 20-something hipster with a purse dog, opens up her back door to a small enclosed backyard (walled off from the alley) and lets out her tiny yapping mutt to take a leak in the corner. The dog barks like crazy and she tries to shush the dog (unsuccessfully) before closing the door. She goes back to sleep and the dog remains outside. Sometimes thirty minutes. Sometimes an hour. When she wakes back up, she lets the dog back inside. Meanwhile, her dog paces back and forth barking twice every three seconds. The dog does this within the vicinity of our bedroom.

5:55am. Every fucking morning. What a fucking cunt. The Slums of Beverly Hills has no shortage of inconsiderate neighbors. Does she set an alarm or something? Or does her dog wake up at the same time every morning and pesters her until she lets him out? Dogs are gonna be dogs. They pee. They shit. They bark. Sometimes they bark when they pee. Dogs need constant attention. I hate people who are like dogs. Everyone has those types of incessantly needy people in their lives. Nicky and I both get along very well because we both have cat-like personalities. We're nocturnal and want to be left alone. Dogs are gonna be dogs. Instead of dealing with her dog, she makes her neighbors suffer.

5:55am. Nonstop barking. The tinier the dog, the louder the bark. Three straight minutes. It was so loud that she went back outside to tell her dog to be quiet. Why not bring the fucking dog inside? I had not slept well. Rampant insomnia. I feel asleep around 5am. That's why I lost it. Grumpy. Cranky. Sleep deprived. Sore back. Deadlines looming. The brain finally powered down. In a rare calm head space. I drifted off to sleep. Finally getting some ZZZs.... until... I was awoken in the middle of a dream.... about a fucking dog! In my dream, I walked down a street (it looked like Vancouver... like a lot of TV shows, my dreams are shot on location in Vancouver and they try to pass those streets off as a non-specific American city). I came upon a car with a barking dog in the back seat. Going berserk. It was trying to tell me to change the radio station. The dog hated country music or talk radio or whatever was on. It wanted something else. Anything else. Classic rock. Top 40. Anything but country. The dream dog kept barking and barking.  I opened the car door and.... woke up from the dream. The barking was real. Penetrating through the thin walls of our dingbat.

5:55am. I tried to go back to sleep. That fucking dog would not shut the fuck up. I put on my iPod and even Coltrane could not drown it out. I lost it. I crawled out of bed, achy back and all. I walked into the bathroom and opened up the window.

"Shut the fuck up!"

Those four words echoed throughout the alley. I startled the dog. It stopped barking. I'm surprised I didn't wake up Nicky. About 10-15 seconds after I screamed, the door opened and the dog resumed barking. My neighbor scolded her dog and took it back inside. Of course, she did not think she did anything wrong. She passive-aggressively blamed her dog. However, I got my point across. Effective communication. So blunt that even a fucking vapid skank with a purse dog could figure it out.

"Thank you!" I screamed.

Those two words of gratitude echoed down the alley. Silence ensued. Back to sleep.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Ghosts of Stella D'oro

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

You might have heard about Stella D'oro products like their breadsticks and Swiss Fudge cookies. My brother used to live a few blocks away from their factory-sized bakery before they shut it down. Every morning, the pungent aroma of freshly baked Italian cookies wafted throughout his neighborhood.

Stella D'oro was owned by the same Italian family for over 70 years before they sold it to Nabisco in the early 90s. Stella D'oro got lost in the shuffle when it was acquired by the mega-food conglomerate Kraft.  Kraft later sold the company, and those suits ran the company into the ground. Instead of paying loyal bakers who had been with the company for decades, they slashed wages. They wanted to pay roughly the same wages as McDonalds. The bakers were all union guys and they went on strike. In previous generations, bakers were able to support their families on their salaries. Good luck today trying to do that today with a min-wage slave job.

The suits hired scabs, which drew a ton of bad press. The suits eventually broke the backs of the union and moved the factory to rural Ohio, where they hired non-union bakers for pretty much minimum wage, or half of what the bakers used to make. Sucks for local jobs in the Bronx, but at least they didn't move the bakery overseas to China or Mexico.

When the original family owned the Stella D'oro, they hired from the surrounding neighborhoods that included Kingsbridge and Riverdale. Everyone in the community shared in the success of the company. They made delicious products and the neighborhood was proud to be a part of Stella D'oro. Whenever you saw a TV commercial or spotted the products in supermarkets or saw one of their delivery trucks, you always felt good knowing that your neighbors were a part of that product. It was that part of the Bronx's small contribution to commerce. Nowadays, Stella D'oro products are looked upon with disdain and disappointment. Those jobs vanished in thin air.

The Stella D'oro family also owned an Italian Restaurant across the street from the gigantic bakery. The restaurant, named Stella D'oro, was an affordable family-type restaurant, yet they served fine Italian cuisine. The waiters were dressed up and wore snazzy dinner jackets. They were all old Italian guys with thick accents. We went to Stella D'oro for big celebrations like birthdays and Mother's Day and graduation, but my family ate there on random nights of the week too. We even ordered take out from there once or twice a week. Best meat ravioli I ever had. The desserts were insanely delicious like spumoni and homemade chocolate ice cream. They brought out a plate of free cookies... super fresh and baked earlier in the day. Sometimes the dessert and coffee and after-dinner cocktail portion of the meal ran longer than the actual dinner portion. You could have a lengthy family meal without getting rushed out the door. The restaurant was massive with several different rooms and separate banquet halls. You never had to wait long for a table, but on weekends the joint was always packed.

The restaurant was closed in the early 90s when they sold the bakery to Nabisco, which sucked because it was my favorite Italian joint. All time. By the mid-90s, two of my favorite Italian restaurants in the Bronx closed its doors. That left one decent place for over a decade, but that place eventually shut down a few years ago. The adjacent neighbors had changed over the last few decades and there was not longer a demand for Italian family style cooking. Irish and Italian immigrant families that flocked to that part of the Bronx post WW2 were replaced by Eastern Europeans (Russians and Ukrainians), not to mention an influx of immigrants from the Caribbean -- Dominicans, Haitians, and Puerto Ricans.

In the 1960s and 70s, Stella D'oro was a huge mob hangout. Just picture scenes from Goodfellas. I'm surprised no one ever got whacked in the parking lot. Sometimes my old man had to make suspicious trips to Stella D'oro which lasted a minute and he'd double park the car and run inside. He said he had to take a piss, but I suspected he was either getting paid by his bookie or dropping off a payment to the local shylock.

The old gigantic bakery-factory is getting torn down. A big box chain store is moving in. Sad to see that crap replace all those old memories. I miss those long meals at Stella D'oro. Merriment, fantastic food, and good times. I also miss the smell of fresh-baked cookies that would invade my senses when I walked to my brother's apartment.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Apple TV: More Cult Hype or the Future of Home Entertainment?

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

So the big deal with Apple TV is that you're able to watch Netflix on your TV instead of your laptop? Am I missing anything else? I guess that's worth something, especially if we rotate the small device between the living room and bedroom. Watching Netflix in bed is a lot easier with the TV instead of a searing-hot laptop sitting awkwardly in the middle of your bed.

Nicky dropped $99 for Apple TV, which is not a TV, but a tiny little black box. It's a state of the art gizmo that I'm convinced Dick Cheney and his cohorts at the NSA uses to spy on everyone. She'll probably use 99% of it to stream Netflix and Hulu. I will probably use the other features more than her, such as access to MLB.TV and NBA Season Pass. I have subscriptions to both services, so I have an added bonus of streaming games on our TV without hooking up my laptop. I previous watched baseball games on my laptop and once in a while I'd hook up my laptop to the TV during NBA season, usually if I had two or more games I wanted to sweat. The quad box (displays four simultaneous games) should be renamed the "sweat box." It is a fucking amazing invention and it's one of those advancements in technology that gamblers adore.

We finally embraced Apple TV after Nicky used some birthday money to buy it. That's the future right there. Netflix and Hulu (or a new streaming site like those) will eventually dominate the entertainment market and become bigger than TV companies and film studios combined. That's a scary prospect, but it's theirs to dominate so long as they don't fuck it up.

Like radio, conventional TV is dying off. In a decade, we'll be watching all our TV shows on demand via the internet. Only old people will still be watching the TV to get their news. With the exception of sports or any sort of national tragedy, there's no reason to watch TV in real time unless you want to be bombarded with commercials. Of course, if you live in LA, then you get every car chase broadcast on local TV. Some day there will be a special station dedicated to live police chases from around the world. There's a Twitter feed devoted to live car chases and they send out a tweet whenever there's one on TV somewhere in America. In the last few months I watched chases from Dallas, Miami, Phoenix, and somewhere in Kansas.

Movie theatres will never die off because there's something exciting about the big screen experience. More indie films are being made and big studios are making fewer films, but those few films are raking in most of the dough.  In the next decade or so, we'll have ginormous thousand seat mini-coliseums to see Fast and Furious 16, or they'll be tiny little theatres for low-budget indie flicks that cater to the artsy fartsy crowd.

Today, you have the plenty of options to see a big budget blockbuster (think 3-D flicks or sequels), whereas unless you live in a hip city, you have limited options to view indie flicks. Theatres are either a multiplex a part of a corporate chain, or its super tiny indie theatres that are relics of the past. When we lived in San Francisco, our apartment was around the corner from the Vogue, tiny neighborhood theatre that opened in 1910. Holy shitballs, it was a small one screen theatre and the seats were stiff and uncomfortable, but they changed films every week and it was awesome to walk around the corner to see a flick. I caught over a dozen movies in the short time I lived nearby. A couple of times I was one of three or four people in the theatre.

I wish I had a similar theatre here in LA, but instead I have to go to a fucking mall to see a flick (either Century City or The Grove). When I was a kid growing up in NYC, I had access to two different theatres -- The Dale and Riverdale Twin -- neither of which are around. One was turned into a porn theatre for a brief stint in the 1980s before it became a bingo parlor. I saw Rocky IV at that theatre. I also smelled weed for the first time in that theatre. The local hoods would sit in the balcony and blaze up. The Twin was shutdown due to lack of customers. I hung out there a lot and saw Ferris Bueller and Wargames like a dozen times at that particular theatre.

Nicky and I dropped our movies package on cable. We had everything, but barely watched those channels. Like we had a hundred versions of HBO, Cinemaz, SHO, Starz, etc. We trimmed our cable bill by 1/3. I love being able to stick it to major corporations, especially ones that profit off of other people's boredom. Let's face it... fucking Time Warner is not going to miss my $50 a month.

But shedding those extra movie channels comes down to not giving into the fear that you'll miss something (FOMO) and reducing the amount of time you waste watching cable. It's hard not to find something to watch on those superfluous channels (like I have a theory that one of the Matrix movies or a Robert DeNiro movie is playing at any given time on cable). But sometimes you get sucked in and its a dangerous drug and you cannot turn away and the next thing you know it... you wasted six hours getting blazed while watching Pineapple Express and one of the Bourne Identity flicks for the 237th time.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Swimming in Books, Donnie Back Pain, and Foggy Benders

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

Four weeks. Excruciating pain.

I threw out my back a month ago. One of my childhood heroes -- Don "Donnie Baseball" Mattingly -- was plagued with back problems. His career ended prematurely. Long before Mattingly became head skipper of the Los Angeles Dodgers, he was one of the best first basemen in all of baseball during the 80s, but he was plagued with a bum back. With modern sports-medicine technology, he might have squeezed out a couple of more seasons and posted enough statistics that would warrant a nod to the Hall of Fame. Alas, Mattingly currently holds the dubious distinction of being the best player in pinstipes to never make the Hall of Fame. Then again, if fucking Scooter Rizzuto is in Cooperstown, then maybe in a couple of decades Mattingly's peers will vote him in?

Long month dealing with Mattingly-esque back woes. The shortcut is eating a jar of pain pills, but I am gutting it out with the long-term plan of bed rest. That non-narcotic gameplan put a damper on freelance work. I don't have a 9-to-5 office gig that I can hide out in, nor do I have paid sick days. If I don't write, then I don't get paid. Instead of doubling up (or tripling up) with freelance work which I originally intended so I could take off 4-week vacation to travel and follow Phish, I was forced to strip down my schedule down and focus on essential work. The rest of my down time was spent in bed reading books and resting my back. The extra money is not flowing in, but I can't complain because I enjoy reading. I always secretly wanted to be inflicted by a strange disease (non-deadly) that requires a lengthy period of bed rest so I could finally be able to make a dent in the massive pile of books I started to read, yet never finished. Plus, I binge-watched the new season of Arrested Development and have a long, winding queue of 20-30 different documentaries, plus hundreds of hours of unlistened podcasts.

I'm addicted to writing, the one solitary activity that causes me the most pleasure, but at the present moment, it also causes me the most physical pain. Every morning I have to strategically figure out when I'll be in the best shape to write and then I have to dedicate that time to any freelance work, which take priority. But sometimes that's like trying to hit a moving target. I have a small window of time to write every day. I actually have two windows -- one large and one tiny. The first window is as soon as I get up and before my back starts to stiffen up. At that point I wait until I'm nearly crying from pain before I end the session and crawl back into bed and take whatever I need to ease the pain mostly anti-inflammatory meds which is not very strong. I save the harder stuff for nighttime so I can sleep. I spend a few hours resting up and then I take a short walk around the block to see if I can gut out another writing session. But those late-afternoon sessions are shorter and I never know how long I can last.

When I don't get to finish what I wanted to do (I'm waaaaay behind in multiple projects), it puts me in a foul mood. If I don't create something, then I feel utterly worthless and then the day is wasted. I tried to fill in some of that idle time with painting (I'm on a minimalist kick), but I can only really paint standing up which doesn't  put a lot of strain on my back. Sometimes during the afternoon writing sessions, I work while standing up at a makeshift desk. If you spend a lot of time at major poker tournaments, you'll see pros with habitual back problems getting massages for hours at a time. It's almost got to a point when I need someone to give me massages while I write.

Maybe it's time to pull a Kramer and get an "intern" like he did for Kramerica? I'm sure there has to be an over-achiever at UCLA who wants to get credit working for a writer and part-time sportsbettor. I can dictate stuff and get that kid to write it up for me. Or better yet, I'd probably be sending him out to In & Out Burger or the local weed store everyday.

Sometimes I feel better later in the evening after dinner and a very small dose of pain pills. If I can squeeze in a rare third writing session, I'm all for it because it puts me in a good mood. Several downsides to the Midnight sessions: 1) those opportunities are rare (like once or twice a week), 2) the window is incredibly small, and 3) I'm heavily inebriated so I can't do work-related things, so I'm usually dicking around here or on other blogs that I have neglected.

Based on the current circumstances, I gladly take what I can get. Three smaller writing sessions are better than none. Pre-back woes, I completed the same amount of work in a single day that is currently taking me a week to do. Yikes. Productivity reduced by 85%. Yeah, I try not to think about that math side of having a bad back, because the lack of productivity is very depressing. One project is way past due and I have three looming deadlines screaming and haunting at me right now.

Oh, well. This is what my 40s is going to look like. It's only going to get worse. Even surgery isn't a guarantee. I'm trying to figure out ways around this. "Adapt and overcome when faced with adversity", is something my old man drilled into my head. I know my back troubles will eventually alleviate but I'm getting a glimpse of what my writing sessions will be like a decade or two decades from now if I can make it that long.

I got a second chance at life, so this is all gravy. That's why you can't sweat the small stuff and have to find quick solutions to problems and keep moving forward instead of bitching about a bad beat. "Injury is opportunity," Pat Riley once said when he was coach of the Lakers. Injuries gave scrubs a chance to get playing time. My attitude is simple -- it sucks about the back, but I need to look at the positives like the opportunity to read for several hours every day, listen to podcasts, and even finish a few paintings. I got lucky and found some really fucking great (non-gambling) podcasts that I never had the time to listen to before.

Time allocation can be a bitch. I lost a ton of valuable work time, but I'm filling in the rest time with another favorite pastime -- books. Thank God we don't have a cable box in the bedroom, otherwise I'd be zoning out to the boob tube.

Of course, this problem could all be solved if I ate painkillers and blazed my way through this rough patch. That's what I would have done in the past, but I'm trying to be less of a junkie and trying a more natural route (rest, exercise, Tai Chi, medicinal marijuana alternatives etc.). The problem with Big Pharma's pain pills is you instantly build up a tolerance and have to take more and more. When you quit, it's a bitch to withdraw. That's why I'm taking very little at present moment and relying more on medicinal marijuana (strong pot brownies mimic the overall body sensation as opiates). Yeah, the last thing I want is to be hooked hard on pills again. It was a bitch to kick.

After four weeks my back is still out-of-whack. I made big strides last week, but this past weekend was incredibly tough especially after sitting through a 3.5 hour baseball game. By Saturday night I was a wreck. Sunday was tough. I was jacked up on pain pills on Sunday evening. It took a strong dose and flirted with Requiem for a Dream territory of schwastedness, but finally felt painless for the first time in a month.

It's been a year since I was that faded.

On Sunday night, I cleaned some dirty paint brushes and caught up on emails. I have a huge backlog and had like 20+ emails from one assclown who keeps sending me passive-aggressive emails about removing links from sites that I don't even own (they were actually owned by friends but I have no clue why he kept sending threatening emails). I fired off a few snippy emails calling him out for being a shady fucker for buying links in the first place and then called him for being lazy fuckatrd because he didn't even bother taking the time to see if the email addy matched up with the site he supposedly sold a link to. I should post his angry responses. I then offered to solve his problems for a nominal fee. He has yet to respond to that. See... these are the stupid things I do when crocked to the tits.

Reminded me of some of those foggy days that stretched into week-long benders when I lived in San Francisco. The partying commenced on Friday evening after meeting a deadlines for work (usually handicapping football games) and things went insta-fuzzy during the next two days and then all of a sudden it's Sunday morning and time for football! I should be sleeping it off like mostly everyone else, but since NFL games start at 10am on the West Coast, I extended the party a little longer. I had a routine that began around 6am (mostly monitoring injury reports and line moves). Around 8am, I grabbed breakfast and big-ass iced tea while avoiding some of the most annoying people on the planet -- yuppies from Pacific Heights who went slumming in my neighborhood Lower Pacific Heights to run their errands. I'd be faded to the tits and looked like a vampire with Oxy-juiced glassy eyes. Then again, totally shitfaced is the only way to deal with self-absorbed chipper yuppie couples in Lululemon yoga pants and vintage Dead Kennedys t-shirt ($150 retail) pushing a state-of-the art baby stroller that cost the equivalent of a half-a-year salary for a sportswriter at the Chronicle.

Sundays in San Francisco were a whirlwind of betting and high-stakes fantasy football. I hung out in the back of the apartment until the girls woke up by the start of the afternoon game (1pm). Then, I had two different viewing stations at opposite ends of the Victorian with the big screen in the living room and an ad hoc mini-sportsbook in the backroom with at least two laptops. It's fun to think about now, but some of those afternoons were super stressful (the afternoon games gave me an opportunity to get unstuck) which is why I would pace up and down Halli's long hallways while occasionally peeking at the scores.

This past NFL season (in L.A.), I was zapped and drained by the time the Sunday Night Football game ended. I was working anywhere from 80-100 hours depending on the week. Sometimes I'd pass out before the 4Q was over. I learned a ton of stuff the last two seasons, but it this past one was too psychically demanding. The adage is true -- it's a hard way to make an easy living.

In San Francisco, if I had a profitable weekend, then I wanted to celebrate. If it was a bad weekend and lost money, then I wanted to drown my sorrows. Didn't matter... win or lose, I kept the party going on Sunday nights. I forced myself to take a break and get some rest on Monday because we always played poker on Monday nights and those games always went late late late. Halli and Skye hosted the Ice Palace game, which ran at least until 4am, but we regularly played short-handed until sunrise. A few instances we played until noon the next day. We'd jokingly tell friends to stop over the next morning and bring us meatball sandwiches and an 8-ball. I didn't care about the blow. I was just fucking starving. Besides, that's what Adderall is for -- much cheaper and it lasts longer.

The record for longest game was a 28-hour session that began at 9pm on Monday and ended around 1am on Wednesday. I crashed around 6am and re-joined the game at 10am, while a couple of friends left the game at 3am, crashed and went to work, then returned to the game after work on Tuesday.

If you're doing the math... I was partying hard Friday night through Tuesday morning with a short rest. I'd finally crash on Tuesday morning (or sometimes afternoon). I was back to "work" for an intense three-day writing session. After a somewhat sober Wednesday-Thursday-Friday  handicapping games and tweaking lineups, I was ready to resume a weekend bender on Friday night.  Foggy, hazy rage-fests. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.Every fucking week for a few months.

It was an unhealthy lifestyle, but tons of fun. No regrets. Wish I could still do that! It's hard to imagine a sustained buzz for long stretches of time, which is why sometimes I look back at SF and my memories are as fuzzy and murky like the fog that rolled in every morning and flew over our house.

Anyway, flashbacks to late 2011 were over. For a couple of hours late Sunday, I remembered what it was like to be riding the crest of an intoxicating tidal wave. It's that supreme "high" that junkies chase every single day. I felt better both physically and mentally. The physical pain subdued for a few hours, but more importantly, I forgot that "down in the dumps" feeling I got when going through creative withdrawal. When I can't achieve that buzz, I get moody and grumpy and I feel lost and aimless. Just ask Nicky. She has to endure those hurricanes. I'm surprised I haven't blown the roof off our apartment.

I get my rocks off by writing. Cheaper than a therapist. My favorite drug. It's inexpensive too (free) and I can actually make money off of it (not much, mind you but almost enough to get by). In the meantime, the doctor(s) said only time and rest can heal me. In the meantime, I'm swimming in books.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

On Green Dolphin Shit (Fiction)

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

EXT. BEVERLY HILLS - DAY                                         
Lazy Sunday morning. Empty street in Beverly Hills. 
Three twenty-something post-bohemian hipster (PBH) 
types slowly pedal their bicycles. MAISY, 25, 
Female PBH #2 on the far left is silent and heavily 
medicated. The other two  -- DAKOTA, 27, female 
PBH #1 with Tina Fey glasses and DYLAN, 28, 
unshaven male PBH -- were pontificating about nothing 
for several blocks.                                              
                    I don’t know how many times I’ve                       
                    taken the same photo.                                  
                    Imagine how many people took the                       
                    same photo before you?                                 
                    My mom said she used to work in a                      
                    Fotomat when she was in college.                       
                    What the hell is that?                                 
                    It was like a drive thru photo                         
                    store. But very tiny. Like the size                    
                    of a food truck. This was before                       
                    digital cameras. People dropped off                    
                    film things. I dunno what are they                     
                    Umm... Film cartridges?                                
                    Film reels? You know the film film?                    
                    Old school film, like tape. You see                    
                    that shit in old movies.                               
                    Yeah. Film tape.                                       
                    So people drove up to Fotomat and                      
                    dropped off their film tape. When                      
                    pictures were developed, they                          
                    picked them up                                         
                    Where did they develop it?                             
                    Dunno. Some darkroom somewhere.                        
                    Doesn’t matter. The thing is that                      
                    my mom said she looked at a lot of                     
                    the photos. She said when people                       
                    came back from their summer                            
                    vacations, if they went to Europe,                     
                    they always took pictures of the                       
                    same things. Like the Eiffel Tower.                    
                    Or Notre Dame.                                         
                    Right were the Hunchback lives.                        
                    Same photo. Different people. Same                     
                    Imagine how many people take the                       
                    same photo of the same Eiffel                          
                    Day after day. Thousands every day.                    
                    Tens of thousands. Over one hundred                    
                    thousand a week                                        
                    No way. I saw more. Like a half a                      
                    million a week                                         
                    That’s like 26 million people a                        
                    Same picture. Same tower. Different                    
                    people. So what’s the point of                         
                    taking pictures?                                       
                    That’s what I’m wondering. I guess                     
                    as a personal memento                                  
                    But you can just Google that shit.                     
                    You’d find a better one. No doubt.                     
                    By a real photographer. Or someone                     
                    who took a shot with better light.                     
                    I went to film school. It’s all                        
                    about light.                                                                                   
                    I thought you dropped out?                             
                    Whatevs. Just Google pics. You                         
                    don’t need to take ’em.                                
                    Selfies in front of the Eiffel                         
                    Tower is the new postcard. Except                      
                    you don’t actually have to go                          
                    through the trouble of sending an                      
                    actual overpriced card that will                       
                    take a month to get to where its                       
                    supposed to go, and by then you’re                     
                    already home and told everyone                         
                    about your trip                                        
                    What’s the point of even going? You                    
                    can just Photoshop yourself into a                     
                    picture of you with the Hunchback                      
                    of Notre Dame, or hanging with                         
                    Beibs in Rome with 2 Chainz’s                          
                    Food is temporary. It’s unique and                     
                    something worth preserving                             
                    Now you see it. Then it’s gone                         
                    Disappears. Digested. Shat out.                        
                    Flushed away. Into the bowels of                       
                    the city’s sewers                                      
                    Then flushed out to the ocean, so                      
                    whales and dolphins will eventually                    
                    eat it. You shit out dolphin food.                     
                    That’s pretty rad. You can’t do                        
                    that with the Eiffel Tower... eat                      
                    it bit by bit and shit it out for                      
                    Euro-trash dolphins as dessert.                        
                    You ever think that when you take a                    
                    picture of food, that you’re                           
                    capturing it’s last breath of life                     
                    before it gets consumed                                
                    And then turned into dolphin shit.                     
                    Yeah. You capture the food at the                      
                    height of its essence. Someone                         
                    prepares that dish pulling in                          
                    different ingredients and it went                      
                    from nothing to something in a                         
                    short time. But once you get                           
                    served, that’s the beginning of the                    
                    end. The dish reaches its pinnacle                     
                    of existence as its being set down                     
                    in front of you. Once you start                        
                    eating, it’s over. Death. When you                     
                    take a photo of food, you capture                      
                    the moment before it dies.                             
                    That’s some really serious deep                        
                    thinking. Like Nobel Prize winning                     
                    philosophy and shit                                    
                    Thanks. And I didn’t have to get                       
                    thrown out of NYU film school to                       
                    learn that.                                            
                    So how did you learn that? You                         
                    know, the essence of food and dying                    
                    and shit?                                              
                    Xanax. I take one but before I                         
                    drift off to dreamland, I look at                      
                    food photos on Instagram. It’s easy                    
                    to think about death when all you                      
                    think about all day is hiding from                     
                    real life. So I look at a couple                       
                    hundred of food pics every night.                      
                    Relaxes me. Meals by friends and                       
                    strangers alike                                        
                    That’s a lot of dolphin Shit.                          

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Chasing Numbers

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

Do numbers chase you around like a ghost that you see everywhere?

When I was a teenager, I kept seeing the same numbers. It would be on a digital clock radio, or on VCRs, or mi my grandma's microwave when I stopped over to visit. Those numbers chased me to college. I'd see those four digits everywhere. I'm sure I saw different specific number combinations more often, but those were not on my radar. I can't recall when I stopped seeing those numbers. But every now and then it pops up and I chuckle.

When I first met the Joker over a decade ago, he told me about his affinity for the number 4. He felt as though whenever he saw a 4, it was a positive message, and any groupings of 4 like 44 or 444 were a symbol of good things to come. We went on a major road trip together in 2004 to see some of the last Phish tour before they broke up. We saw tons of 4s in different states and for some reason, I found that number comforting.

I'm well aware about the sanctity of the number 8, especially in Chinese cultures. I know a fair share of superstitious Asian gamblers Eight is more than great. It's stupendous. In August of 2008, Vegas was overbooked by people trying to get married on 8/8/08, while gamblers (of Asian and non-Asian descent) flooded Vegas hoping that gambling on 8/8/08 would provide them with a little extra good luck.

After a while, you start seeing groupings of numbers differently. Whenever I see five numbers I think of a zip code. When I see a grouping of six different (double digit) numbers, I think of lotto numbers. When I see three numbers behind a decimal point, I think batting average.

When I played a lot of online poker, a specific hand used to chase me around all the time (Queen-8). When I lived in Vegas, I rarely saw clocks but I saw numbers everywhere else. Alas those numbers and symbols were disingenuous. More like marks of the beast. The entire reason Vegas became Vegas is that many self-destructive people are driven by their addictions and they're tantalized by numbers... especially big numbers... which translates into millions of junkies chasing mega-jackpots. It's easy to fleece someone who is blinded by fortune and intoxicated by big numbers, which cloud their judgement. Casinos generate billions in revenue a little at a time. Sheer volume. Amateur gamblers in Vegas are the fools because they're blinded by the bling and susceptible to get rich quick schemes like winning a huge score in Vegas by a slots jackpot, or a heater at the craps table, or by binking a poker tournament. The house always wins because they stack the math on their side and offer up table games with bad odds. But the public isn't aware of those edges and if they are, they don't care because they're "on vacation." Compulsive gamblers tend to donk off their savings in one batch and eventually evolve into degens who run up massive debts and spend every dollar they can get their hands on. Casinos don't need to think big and opt for big score; they'll gladly grind out billions in revenue by one slot pull at a time, one blackjack hand at a time, one Keno game at a time.

Numbers are hidden everywhere. In NYC, you can't ride the subway without seeing numbers of stops, or you can't work in a skyscraper without being guided by numbers in elevators to indicate how high up in the air you really are. In San Francisco, the city went through so many different building and renovation cycles, that you'll see a vast array of fonts depicting numbers. After a while I got good at recognizing when a building was renovated based on narrowing down popular fonts to specific eras. In L.A., they sometimes paint address numbers on the curb, but you always see random numbers whizzing by on billboards and awnings.

Numerologists say there's more to numbers than we think. There's thousands of hours of "conspiracy" type videos about secret societies that hide numerical codes and scared geometry in plain sight. Your name is important to numerologists because it can be broken down into a specific number(s) and those numbers indicate if you will have a good life or a bad life. Numerologists also speak highly about the importance of "life path numbers" which is a combination of hokey mysticism and something that a shady astrologist trying to scam you would say. In case you were wondering, I'm a "3"... which is funny because I wanted #3 on my uniform in high school because Rex Champan wore #3 for Kentucky and he was one of the best three-point shooters in America. According to some rudimentary research (I lazily looked on the first page of Google), I discovered that a life path number of 3 is specifically slotted to "creative types." Truth, or just a coincidence?

A bunch of math wizards and rabbis broke down the Bible using a numerical code. Some of them apply those codes to beating the sock market (e.g. the indie film "Pi") or even betting on sports.

"Mathematics is the science of nature," according to the trailer...

Yet, it's tough to see numbers and letters in your dreams. It's like newspapers are blurry. Next time you're dreaming... try and pay attention and see if you can recognize numbers/letters. That's how I usually can tell if I'm dreaming -- all the numbers get fuzzy -- and that's what I use to try and trigger a lucid dream. Those only happen once in a blue moon and I'm lucky if I get one a year. It's so hard to differentiate reality from dream state when you're dreaming. Time slows down (I think scientists determined dream time is like 1/8th of real time, but it seems much lower because who can have a dream that takes place over several hours, when in fact it transpired in between nine-minute snooze alarms). It's damn near impossible to realize and then convince yourself you're dreaming and then try to control the situations like a scene out of Inception.

Reality is a mind fuck anyway.

Sometimes life seems too weird and absurd. Maybe we're living in a glitch the Matrix? Or reality is just a hologram? Sometimes I wonder if my real life is just a dream and my dream life is my real life. Sometimes I think I ate much acid because I get stuck in a loop thinking about unanswerable concepts like "what is reality." Sometimes I think I didn't do enough because I don't have a good answer.

Sometimes you see vivid numbers in your dreams, but for me, they are usually on huge banners along side a building, or so obvious that it's hard to miss. Usually numbers are fuzzy in my dreams.  I have a recurring dream about getting lost in a hotel and resort and one of the obstacles is trying to find my way around because all the signs and room numbers are fuzzy. So, any time I have a dream featuring a distinct number, and if I wake up to recall that specific number, then I spend most of that day trying to figure out what the fuck my subconscious is trying to tell me. Those numbers must represent something and my brain is flashing that number(s) for a reason. But what? 

Then again, maybe a "cigar is just a cigar" and these numbers are utterly meaningless.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Police Helicopters, Bieber's Monkey, Alley Possums, and Cat-Killing Raccoons

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

A fucking helicopter woke me up.

What the fuck was a copter doing at 6:30 in the morning? It kept circling my block. For almost a half hour. Over and over and over.

Paparazzi? News copter? Traffic copter? LAPD?

Did Justin Bieber's monkey escape again?

Did I miss a high-speed chase and the suspect ditched his vehicle and tried to hide out in the different alleys in the Slums of Beverly Hills?

Did Lindsay Lohan crash her Mercedes? Again?

I always have a morbid fear that one day I'll see a scene out of Point Break and my alley will be one of the chase routes by an undercover cop chasing after a bankrobber in a Ronald Reagan mask.

It was too early to be a traffic copter, besides we don't exactly live near a freeway. It had to be a newsworthy event or LAPD was chasing someone. Fire? Building collapse? Bieber's monkey?

I never found out what happened. The copter split around 7am. Nicky eventually woke up (with no copters buzzzing, just the echo of dumpster divers looking for empty bottles) and heard me muttering something about copters swirling around our block. I'm sure she thought I was being paranoid. Again.

I did not fall asleep until late. Super late. I tried to crash early, but I was stuck in bed catching up with podcasts and unable to drift off asleep. I was hoping to squeeze an extra hour or so of rest in before Nicky's alarm went off, but the copter woke me up for good.

Doesn't matter how late I crash, I pretty much get up roughly the same time my girlfriend wakes up. Her alarm is a last-case scenario for me. I'm usually awake by the time the first wave of can fairies are done digging through my dumpster and the building next door.

Nicky has the ugly commute. One Los Angeles freeway is a pain in the ass. She has to navigate two of them in order to get to her office on the other side of the Hollywood Hills. Sheesh. I'm lucky that I work at home. My project manager is based in Europe, so by the time I'm waking up, he's done with his work day. By the time I'm crashing or turning in work, he's getting to the office. It could be a lot worse... like a hovering boss... sitting in the same cubicle! Hey, it's only a matter of time before the Big Brother installs cameras in every room in your humble abodes, so get used to the privacy while it lasts.

I rotate my emergency earthquake supplies, particularly food and water. I noticed a few cans of soup, tuna, beans and tea bags had almost expired, so I left them next to the dumpster. Within a few hours, everything was taken except the tea bags. I purposely left them out because I caught one of the dumpster divers literally eating out of the trash. I guess one of my neighbors tossed some edible scraps or leftovers. This one old guy always has a small portable radio with him that plays salsa music. I can tell when he's coming through the alley, because he's tipped off by the static-filled broken sounds of salsa. Anyway, he's the guy I found digging through my neighbor's trash. He takes a sharp stick and breaks open the bottoms of the trash bags. Trash flies out everywhere. He grabs what he can eat. Hey, it's not the worst place in the world to be homeless. The denizens of the Slums of Beverly Hills throw away a lot of random stuff... including food. If you're persistent and adhere to the "early bird gets the worm" mantra, then there might be enough scraps to get by.

Unless the possums get there first.

Yes, there's possums in our neighborhood. Nicky saw a possum the other night lurking around in the alley. I heard a fight between a cat and a non-cat (based on the sounds it was making). It was some other critter that I can only assume is a member of the local neighborhood possum population.

When I was a kid, my neighborhood had a slight raccoon infestation. Yes, raccoons in NYC. Those nocturnal creatures came out during the night and dug through the trash. Those clever creatures knew how to open up trash can handles. Some random late nights, you could hear blood-curdling screams, which were vicious altercations between stray cats and raccoons. Nothing is quite as disturbing as a raccoon clawing apart a cat. You never got to see the dead cat carcass. Raccoons hauled them off and ate them as well. Fresh cat meats trumps human leftovers every day of the week.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Southern Fried Radio and the Rise of the Machines

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

This is sort of an extension of a post I wrote last month -- No Soap Radio -- about growing up with the radio as a major influence in my (musical) life.

In college, I was subjected to Atlanta radio. It sucked. Too many country stations and way too many commercials on the classic rock station. Plus, after a while, you get sick of hearing Baba O'Reilly and Hotel California for the 40,000th time.

Our college radio station had such a shitty signal that it barely reached 10% of the students on campus and you could not get it anywhere else in Atlanta because the signal was that weak. I sat in as a replacement a few times for two friends who had their own slot from Midnight to 2am. That was tons of fun and we'd get wasted and stumble into the radio station (which was the basement of one of the dorms). Sometimes they asked me to call in and disguise my voice and help them do "bits". Good Morning, Vietnam came out around that time and I loved that flick so much (one of the funniest sad movies ever made). For a hot minute I thought about how cool it would be to be a DJ. But then I ate mushrooms one night and realized that the future was in video and not radio. I soon shifted gears and continued on my quest as a filmmaker.

I spent most of college listening to Dead bootlegs and Phish CDs. Funny how today I'll never pick up a Phish CD and prefer live show recordings, while I barely listen to Dead bootlegs and find myself drawn to some of the Dead's earliest albums. In college I was fortunate to meet a friends who helped fill in my music library (especially Chicago Bob and his roommate Jamie who gifted me crisp Dead soundboards).

I moved back to NYC after graduation and stumbled ass-backwards in an advanced knowledge of jazz. I worked at a major museum and several friends in my new social circle were total art freaks and other art school misfits. A few of them were actual jazz musicians, all of whom were very generous and patient in sharing their knowledge about music (not just jazz). They could have been total music snobs. Jazz aficionados have a bad rep for being totally stuck up about music, but these musicians were very cool, surprised and excited that someone actually wanted to learn more about musicians they admired deeply. Don't forget, this was in the mid-90s during the peak of the grunge love fest. Jazz was elevator muszak.

Most people, especially in LA, are full of shit and lie about cultural things either to seem cool or smart. When I first got out of college, I was not shy about asking questions about things I was familiar with something. I did not feel uncool or unhip if I did not know about an artist or musician. Sure, a few people rolled their eyes but the cool cats were excited to share their knowledge about certain subjects. You'd be surprised how fast you can learn about something from passionate motherfuckers. That quest for knowledge was almost like a drug. I felt as though I was getting a crash course in art history and music theory.... just from conversations (sober ones at work and inebriated ones after hours). I was a sponge and soaked up everything around me.

I was super lucky to crash the NYC art scene at the end of the 90s and many of them would go onto become the 21st Century's first generation of artists. If you ever want to gauge the pulse of culture you really have to find out what the current generation of young artists are rebelling against, and find out what inspires them, and try to get them to explain their vision. It was probably best that I didn't hang out with film students or other writers because I probably would have been more concerned with trying to impress them. Instead, I spent a couple of years trying to learn how to think and see things like an abstract painter or a jazz musician.

My jazz buddies quickly rushed me past the greats like Coltrane, Bird and Miles Davis and they told me to focus on lesser known musicians like Lee Morgan, Ornette Coleman, and Thelonius Monk. It's no surprise that almost twenty years later, they are among my favorite things to listen to early in the morning when I'm writing.

By the mid-90s, I rarely listened to NYC radio. The stations I listened to as a teenager were gobbled up by massive media corporations. Ah, the rise of corporate radio. More ads. Less weirdness from the DJs. More packaged plastic shit that passed off as music. I only listened to sports talk radio. At one of my jobs, I became an avid listened to WFAN, which I played in the background. But after a while you can overdose on those morons bitching about the same old shit.

In early 1997, I decided to move to Seattle and packed up everything I owned in a 1984 Chrysler LeBaron (Jon Voight's car). I headed cross country in a beat-up used car witout AC or a working cassette deck. The radio worked, but finding a reliable radio station in the Heartland was tough because whenever you found anything decent, you eventually moved out of range and lost access to that station. I bought a mini-boombox to sub in as my car's stereo. If I was by myself, the boombox rode shotgun. During the cross country sojourn, my buddy Senor came with me and we propped up the boombox right behind our heads on a bunch of boxes. The soundtrack to our epic journey had an entire milkcrate filled with the best of my Dead bootlegs tapes and my favorite CDs.

Pre-iPod, your car was jam packed with CDs or tapes. Everywhere. Under the seat. In the consoles. In the glove compartment. Thieves often broke into your car to steal your stereo and/or your music if you happened to flaunt one of those huge binders full of discs.

Thanks god for Steve Jobs and his iPod. I no longer have to lug around a ton of physical music with me on a road trip. An entire collection fits into a small device that slides in and out of my pocket. Amazing.

By the time I arrived in Seattle, the radio stations up there were stale and full-blown corporate. One of my friends worked for one local station and he told me about the horrors of DJs being replaced by a machine. Essentially they fired their late-night DJs and told the "producers" to simply monitor a computer that ran playlists and commercials automatically. Welcome to 21st Century radio.

I could not afford the newly formed satellite radio which gave you the benefit of nonstop music and no ads. I wasn't that big of a Howard Stern fan that I would jump ship to sat radio. I occasionally listened to staticy jazz stations on the far end of Seattle's dial, but that was about it. Instead I opted to listen to my expanding collection. I met more jazz freaks, more musicians, and more Deadheads that were tapers. I added a ton of Phish bootlegs and went deep into Coltrane and Miles Davis bootlegs. I also got turned onto tons of other stuff, particularly the punk department, which I was weak on but a couple of my friends were in neo-punk bands. I had just missed the punk and post-punk scene in NYC, so I had to move out to Seattle in the late 90s in order to finally have it come full circle.

I sold the majority of my CD collection when I left Seattle. I wanted to travel back to NYC as light as possible. I mostly kept cassettes (Dead, Phish, and jazz bootlegs) and a dozen or so "desert island" albums that I could not part with.

When I returned to NYC at the turn of the century, I missed-out on Napster. I didn't have an office job and did not have high-speed internet access (I was using AOL dial-up), but friends who experienced its short life loved it.

I noticed that whenever I rented cars to drive from NYC to Atlantic City or Foxwoods, some of the cars came with free satellite radio. I took advantage of the "Jam On" station and the Grateful Dead station. But if you have that service all the time, the music starts to get stale and you see tons of repeats. Alas, for a short-term rental... it was a great addition.

The only radio I listened to was Fordham Univeristy's radio and they played a nice eclectic mix, but sometimes they had weird programs, so it was hit or miss. By then I was an iPod cult member. I became a slave to different mixes I made. Specific playlists for playing online poker, or writing, or walking around NYC, or driving. Instead of music getting broken down into genres, I broke it down by activities.

I moved to Vegas in the mid 00s and my roommate was friends with one of the local radio DJs. I got to hear more bad beat stories about modern corporate-run radio when money is the bottom line and a station could change from Top 40 to country overnight. For the most part, Vegas radio sucked. Too many commercials. You couldn't hear three songs without a commercial. My only knowledge of contemporary Top 40 music came through sheer osmosis working and playing poker in casinos that pumped pop hit songs through their soundsystem. When I hung out a lot at stripclubs, I heard plenty of the hip hop and dance hits du jour.

How do you know what's a hip song today? Ask a stripper.

I moved to L.A. and quickly found out the their radio is shitty as well. Too many commercials. Sometimes if the signal is right, you can hear a couple of jazz stations at night time, but I never listen to any local L.A. radio. I couldn't even tell you the radio stations. Nicky and I pretty much listen to our iPods exclusively whenever we're in the car and at home it's nothing but iPods and podcasts.

When I was a kid, the first thing I did when I woke up was turn on the radio. It's the first thing I turned on when I got home from school (and only shut it off to watch TV/VCR). The radio was the last thing I turned off at night and usually fell asleep to the radio on. As an adult, I never listen to radio anymore. Instead, I'm a full blown podcast convert. It's funny... I was on a lot of different poker podcasts and even did one of my own with my buddies Michalski and Benjo, but I did not listen to many of them (probably due to lack of time) aside from a handful of poker podcasts. I became addicted to non-poker podcasts when I moved in San Francisco last year. I liked grabbing a bunch for my iPod and then wandering around the city in a pharmie-daze. Those podcasts ranged from sportsbetting to conspiracy to finance to comedians. Long-form radio-style interviews and discussions are not profitable for corporate radio, but luckily those quirky podcasts found a home on the internet.

My podcast phase carried over into this year. I'm a full-blown addict, which sucks because I'm trying to trim down my podcast listening list. At least I have a few upcoming trips and I'll have some time to dig deep into the long list of un-listened podcasts that keep piling up. Unlike reading, podcasts are impossible to "skim." I wish I had more time because there's some great content out there with fascinating people talking about fascinating subjects. That's what TV used to be... a forum for interesting and intelligent people to discuss different topics. Modern TV has devolved into unscripted reality programming which is the glorification of abnormal behavior and inbred, self-absorbed twits yelling at each other.

Ah, the death of radio. Does anyone under 40 years-old or someone who is not a taxi driver or truck driver listen to the radio anymore? Radio used to be the most important medium in America. Heck, in the world. but then record companies went to TV to sell their crack (music albums from the current sizzling star), and that's why American Idol and Glee albums sell like hotcakes. You know what pushes an indie single? Hearing it during a depressing interlude on Grey's Anatomy. After a while The OC became a forum to sell indie records, just like they tried to do with Dawson's Creek in the 90s. The record labels (unless it's country) cannot rely on radio stations to sell records in the 21st Century, because no one listens to the radio anymore for music. Heck in the last week alone, I listened to more music via YouTube than I did on the radio in the last five years.

Check out the original radio post... No Soap Radio.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Full Moon Fever and Dirty Blvds.

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

The movie Premium Rush was in heavy rotation all weekend on cable. It reminded me of the summer when I worked for a bicycle messenger company in Midtown. One of my neighbors was the guy who owned it and he offered me a summer job. He was a well-known bike messenger who opened his own messenger service. The guys who worked there were an interesting mix and fell into two groups: professional messengers and part-timers. The non-pros were junkies, criminals, and other miscreants.

The eclectic experiences from that summer would make a great novel some day. Coming of age novel. I was 16 years old that summer too. The summer you're 16 is often one of those make-or-break summers that either defines your youth, or totally ruins it.

Someday I'll write that novel. Not now. I don't have the time. Maybe when I'm 50? Or better yet, when I'm 56 so I have a good 40 years under my belt and I want to re-live the rollercoaster ride of being 16 years old and letting loose in NYC for the first time. By then maybe there'll be a desire for late 80s memoirs in actual physical "book form"?

When I think of the Summer of 16, I think of three albums. Doolittle by The Pixies. New York by Lou Reed. Full Moon Fever by Tom Petty. I listened to all three every day that summer. Wore those cassettes down in my yellow "waterproof" Walkman.

If there was one album that could be the entire soundtrack of the Summer of 16, it would be Tom Petty's Full Moon Fever. I think it was released around Memorial Day. I heard Running Down a Dream on the radio. It had such a sick guitar solo that I couldn't wait to run out an buy a copy. When I got my first paycheck, I stopped by Tower Records in the Village and bought Full Moon Fever.

Simple cover. Reminded me of a Rothko painting. Tri-color. Soothing colors. MTV played a bunch of tracks off that album. Tom Petty was one of the few acts from the 1970s who was still bringing it as the 80s were about to turn into the 90s. Full Moon Fever was Petty's huge pay day. He spent most of the 70s in debt trying to pay off the IRS and his record label. He toured for years trying to raise those funds. With Full Moon Fever's success and MTV launching him into the highest echelons of video stardom, Petty was finally raking in big bucks.

I didn't have cable at home, so I did not have MTV. I got hooked on Petty's music and not the snazzy videos. I listened to Petty's album four or five times a day while working all summer in the city as a messenger and trying not to get run over by taxis or avoid collisions with pedestrians.

I liked the delivery job. It was not my first one. I had a brief stint the previous summer as an "errand boy" at a real estate company in the Flat Iron District. I ran documents back and forth between three different offices. But that was only part-time. The next summer I wanted a full-time job and the prospects were thin. Luckily my neighbor gave me an opportunity to work for him. Plus, my mother and I had gotten into a huge argument and she kicked me out of the house that summer.  Without any hovering supervision, I took the most reckless job possible.

I was the youngest person at the messenger company by a couple of years. I was treated like little brother or mascot. I felt as though someone of the other messengers were super protective of me... almost like William Miller from Almost Famous. They shielded me from some of the hard drugs or the more horrors of the world. Some of them didn't. First time I ever saw heroin was from a messenger snorting it in the bathroom (he threatened to kill me if I told anyone, but later apologized and offered to buy me booze whenever I needed it because I was still underage). I also learned about what happens when junkies nod out or how to identify unmarked police cars.

There was so much craziness going on, but I was also too naive to understand or process what the fuck was happening. Like the drug deliveries. Now, I'm not saying that I delivered drugs. But I honestly don't know. You can never really tell. I'm sure the company did not want to be "drug couriers" which is why they focused on working for ad agencies and PR firms. In 2013, I get tons of PR blasts via email. But back in the late 80s, a PR company had to mail out hundreds of announcements... several times a day. Although the fax machine was around, not everyone had one yet. Bike messengers were still relevant... but their clock was ticking.

At the same time... who knows if I was delivering drugs and had no clue. I grew up in the Bronx and knew all about crackheads and potheads. But I was totally naive. Too young to understand the intricacies of the drug trade. Looking back, I can only recall one particular sketchy "client" I used to pick up near the "flower district." The business was a dingy loft above a flower joint. Usually it was a woman with Cyndi Lauper-like hair and a hundred bracelets on who handed me a padded envelope as soon as I stepped off the freight elevator, but a couple of times some bad ass biker dude (reminded me of Serpico) would answer and insist on coming downstairs to meet me in the vestibule. I guess he was too paranoid and did not want a messenger snooping around his place. That's the type of strange paranoia that a cokehead or cokedealer would have (although his girlfriend had no problems letting me up).

I made all of those deliveries from the West 20s down to the Wall Street area. Almost always it was a return trip. Shit, I'm so fucking clueless... I was probably delivering eight balls and bringing back cash. Lucky if I netted $10 for the roundtrip that took about an hour. Cheapest drug mule in NYC.

The end of the 80s was the beginning of the FAX boom. The Fax destroyed the bike messenger industry. By the end of the 90s, everyone had email and bike messengers became dinosaurs. In 2013, probably the only people using bike messengers are drug dealers.

Everyone remembers that summer they're 16 years old. Like every teenager, I wasn't getting along with my parents. They had both checked out years earlier and I felt like a pawn caught in the middle of a drunken game of chess. I was scared about starting my senior year in high school because I wanted to get the hell out NYC and go to college somewhere else. Maybe film school in California?

While my mind worried about getting the hell of NYC, I had an entire summer to explore the city and branch out of the few neighborhoods I knew well. I went to school on the Upper East Side and knew the Upper West Side like the back of my hand. Friends lived in Stuy Town and Peter Cooper Village, so I was familiar with a bit of the East Village and as far west as NYU. I was still scared of Alphabet City and even in the late 80s, you had to be truly brave to venture in that neck of the woods in the days when crack was still king.

With my second check I bought Doolittle by the Pixies. If I had to pick an emo soundtrack for that summer, it would be the Pixies. Super short album. Yet it had 14-15 tracks. Which meant each song was super short. Only 3 tracks were longer than 3 minutes and a few were under 2 minutes.

I had my eyes on three different girls that summer. Two had money and were not in the city. Rich Jewish girl. Poor Catholic girl. Rich WASP girl. The bourgeois Jewish girl went to sleepaway camp in the Poconos and I never saw her. The WASP girl's family had a "country house" out in the Hamptons (she used to get pissed when I said, "it's not the country... it's Long Island.") and I never saw her.

The WASP ended up a lesbian (in college). I should have recognized the warning signs. Like field hockey. I was a moron and kept chasing her around when some other girl on her team kept giving me mixtapes or copies of REM albums. I was oblivious that the mixtape girl liked me, yet I was foolishly chasing a girl who didn't want anything to do with me.

The poor Catholic girl went to our sister school (I went to an all-boys Jesuit school and our sister school was 10 block away). She was one of seven kids from a hard-nosed Irish-American family from Hell's Kitchen. She worked at a pizza shop near Lincoln Center and I saw her almost every day, mostly in the mornings. She didn't have to work until lunchtime, but she hated living in a crowded railroad apartment (five kids and two parents squeezed into three tiny bedrooms and a distant cousin from Ireland crashing on the couch) so I usually had a bagel with her and she'd tell me about all the tourists and NYC freaks who came in to order pizza, and I told her about all the weirdos I worked with or saw during my daily deliveries.

Poor Catholic girl adored the Pixies and she told me I'd like them too. I had heard Here Comes Your Man and thought it was catchy so I bought the tape. I listened to it the most on days when I was feeling super emo, which was like every day. But the more I got to know her, the more she reminded me of one of those sad characters Lou Reed sang about.

The third tape I listened to a ton that summer was Lou Reed's New York. I bought the album for Dirty Blvd. I didn't know anything about Velvet Underground... yet. It's funny that if you read reviews about New York today, the critics are either happy/sad that Lou Reed's latest solo album had shades of Velvet Underground. In college, I'd go back in time and discover Velvet Underground and Lou Reed's days as the house band for Andy Warhol's parties at The Factory.

I felt as though Lou Reed was not writing song lyrics, rather, he was telling stories about people I grew up with. Whereas I couldn't exactly identify with the raps and rhymes coming from the other side of the Bronx, I could totally picture the people Lou Reed talked about in his songs. I saw them in my neighbors. I saw them in the people I saw on the subway. I read about them in the crime blotters.

Today, I don't own digital copies of any of those three albums. Maybe it's time to take a walk down memory lane with Lou Reed, the Pixies, and Tom Petty? Or maybe it's just best to leave those memories untouched for a few more years?

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Lizzie, Stef, and Hugh Freeze

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

I can name more college football head coaches than politicians and I'm not even a huge college football fan. In some southern states, most kids can tell you the name of every head coach in the SEC, yet they do not know the names of their governor and two senators. Three fucking names. But I betcha they know Saban, Miles, and Spurrier. Heck, they probably know the bottom tier of the SEC too... Stoops, Malzahn, and Mullen. Sounds like the name of a crooked law firm out of a John Grisham novel.

My favorite name of a head coach is Hugh Freeze from Ole Miss. Hugh. Freeze. That's a fucking power name. Hugh Freeze.

Hugh sounds like old southern money. Hints at good upbringing. Freeze is one of those trigger words that invokes blustery images of snowstorms and overwhelming associations to ice and cold. Makes a great name for a quarterback, or southpaw out of the bullpen, or or porn star, or sleazy politician. Heck, Hugh Freeze can be a titan in any industry.

Lesson to new parents out there... don't get fancy with alternative spellings of conventional names, yet embrace a powerful name. Monosyllables are the foundation to success. You want such a powerful name that they must say both first and last names together as a sign of fear and reverence. Hugh Freeze.

Reminds of that scene from A Sure Thing. Daphne Zuniga said she wanted to name her son "Elliot." John Cusak protested with this glorious rant: "Elliot is a fat kid with glasses who eats paste.... You got to give him a real name... Like Nick. Nick is a real name. Nick is your buddy. Nick is the kind of guy you can trust. Kind of guy you can drink beer with. Kind of guy who doesn't mind if you puke in his car."

I will probably stell Hugh Freeze for a character name someday. Sounds totally made up, but not like those cheesy stage name in Hollywood (e.g. Johnny Cougar).

I forgot where I read it... but someone said that in the era of Facebook and Wikipedia, it's difficult to reinvent yourself as an artist. For example, Robert Zimmerman could never become Bob Dylan in today's era of social media and nonstop internet surveillance. You see it happening with Lana Del Rey or even Lady Gaga. They can't outrace the ghosts of their given names. When they were Elizabeth Woolridge Grant and Stefani Germanotta, they were struggling singers flirting the lines of failure. They got a break... sold their souls to the devil... and revamped their images, styles, and adopted stage names. It didn't take long before the masses were alerted to the fact that the alter-egos of Lana Del Rey and GaGa were actually Lizzie Grant and Stef Germanotta.

I'll stick to High Freeze. By the way, when are corporations going to start running head coaches for public office?

Friday, June 07, 2013

Back to the Butcher Shop

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

I forgot. I hate editing. Forgot how much I over-write. If I under-write more then wouldn't have to face the dreary editing process. Economy of words. Brevity of wit. Someday I'll figure that out.

Editing has always been an obstacle. The first draft of Lost Vegas was not quite that scene from Wonder Boys, but it wasn't far from it. Original manuscript was massive compared to the lean, mean final draft. I cut almost 300K words down to under 97K. The easy cuts are... easy. Getting it down to 230K was not painful. That's the fluff that you know is there and you must concede. It's those little darlings that are the toughest to kill off. Getting from 175K to under 125K was... painful, and 107K to 97K was torture. For some reason or another, no matter how badly it has to go, I find any excuse possible to keep it in. That bargaining process goes against all logic and reasoning, which is why writers make bad editors and editors have to be merciless. The hardest part of the writing process is flipping the switch from someone who is open to any possibility, to someone who is narrow-minded with one goal... minimalism. I struggle with being cold-blooded and merciless when it comes to editing. Funny... I can act like that in real life no problem.

The key to editing is not to think. Hack away. Nothing personal. It's just excess fluff that doesn't need to be there.

The Human Head helped out with the first round of edits. I nicknamed him the German Butcher because he was not shy about mutilating my script. Entire segments and storylines I worked on and re-worked for years were gone in an instant. It's like seeing a whole chunk of your life get flushed down the toilet. I agonized over certain sections for a year or more. I was haunted for months at a time with chapters. And just when I thought all that agony was over when I finished the script. WHACK! Gone in less than five seconds. Casualty of the editing war. The chapters I crafted and molded and coddled for years were wiped out. DELETE. Gone forever.

It's a mind fuck knowing that something you worked on was considered useless, redundant, sluggish, or out right boring. Why the fuck was I working on something for so long if it was going to get left on the cutting room floor? Such is life. You can't think of that stuff when you're working. You have to put it out of your head otherwise you'll write scared. The way to go about it is... you accept that you have no control over what happens in the future stage of the project, you can only control on your contributions at the moment. But for the moment... for the now... you have to tell the story in the most concise and entertaining manner possible. The better you do that job, the less you'll have to worry about after the fact.

Having your work chopped to bits and flushed down the toilet is tough to stomach. You have to have a thick skin and find confidence at the harshest moments when you haven't seen it in weeks or months. It's terrifying. It's humbling. It's insane.

There was a lesson to be learned during the initial editing process of Lost Vegas with Human Head when he helped me trim it down to one-third its original size. I have to think more like an editor and not waste my time on something that I know is going to get cut later on. And if I want to keep something in a piece, I better have a damn good reason why its there.

How do you slice and dice and three or four page article down to a couple of paragraphs? With a heavy knife blade. I'm currently bogged down in a project condensing articles (anywhere from 2,000 to 3,000 words) down to 10% of its original length (250 words is my target). Sounds easy. Thought it would take a couple of afternoons or one full day of work to complete this two-pronged project. It's been three days so far and I'm still not close to finishing the first part. Holy shit, this might take me a week.

What I have now is a good start. Still need to cut more. Is that even possible? Can I get even more K-Mart Minimalist meets Hemingway? icky thinks I can do a better job. I need to go back in and slash and burn some more.

Sweet Jesus. Kill 95% of the original draft? For fuck's sake, that's maddening. Insane.

She's right. It needs to be even shorter. Cut everything down to its bare essentials. Way shorter than what I'm comfortable doing. It took a ton of cajoling and convincing for me to allow 90% to be cut. WHACK! WHACK! WHACK! Baby steps. It took a full day to totally process the fact that I did a crappy editing job the first night of this project and I'm way in over my head and need to be more cold-blooded as an editor, otherwise I'm doomed. Late last night and this morning, I went back in and chopped away. I got everything down to the right percentage, but then I spent most of the afternoon performing delicate surgery. When you hack and dice and slice indiscriminately, it leaves a lot of the story on life support, so I have to go in delicately and tie the rest of the remaining piece altogether otherwise it dies on the table.

Word economy is the key. Less is more. I used to think that a story trumps length. If it's a good story, it doesn't matter how long it takes to tell it or to read it. Then again, did DFW really need 1,000+ pages to tell you about the freaks in Infinite Jest? It's 2013. When dealing with internet-based data transactions, shorter the better because it does not waste your time. Holding someone's attention span is difficult in today's over-saturated entertainment-drenched world. I mean if you didn't have to go to work in the morning, you'd stay up all night looking up stupid shit like videos of kittens falling down stairs. For what? Shits and giggles? A walk down memory lane? Research? Intellectual stimulation? Sometimes, you just want to be mildly entertained with slam dunk contests from the 80s, or old jazz recordings of John Coltrane. But how can I compete with that? I can't.

My break is almost over before I return to the horrors of the butcher shop. It's ugly out there. Slaughtered sentences. Cliches. Dangling dangling modifiers. Everywhere. My own entrails.