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Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Happy birthday, Rob Schneider
So this is Halloween and what have you done? Another year older and a new one, uh, er, ummm...ok, so the lyrics don't translate to other holidays. Here's a few Halloween-related links:
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Me vs. the ghost hooker
Last October I spent a night at the White Eagle Hotel, one of Portland's most haunted locales. In the middle of the night, I woke up to find someone or something pushing me off the bed.
It could have been some form of sleep paralysis or a waking dream. I guess there's also the possibility that Sam or Rose, the hotel's two resident spirits, could have been screwing with me. Whatever the culprit, I still don't believe in ghosts. Nevertheless, I still think it's a good enough story to dust off for Halloween '07.
Click here for part one of the White Eagle adventure and here for part two.
Would I spend another night in that hotel? Nope. For $100? Nope. For $1,000? OK, maybe, for a $1,000.
Haunted Mansion en Français
I'm one of these people that travels all the way to a foreign country and spends a full day of the trip in a Disney theme park. I did it in Tokyo and I did it again in Paris. You can only eat so many crepes and stare at so much art in a week. Plus, seeing how Disney regurgitates and reinterprets their parks for foreign audiences fascinates me to no end. If I had the ability to con my way into a doctoral program, I'd probably BS a disertation on the subject.
One of the many differences between Euro Disneyland and its stateside counterparts is its Haunted Mansion. Redubed Phantom Manor, this mansion is much more geared towards adults. There's an elaborate background story involving a ruthless land baron and his efforts to prevent his daughter from marrying some chump. His plan went terribly awry, of course. After hanging the groom in the manor's portrait chamber, the baron and the rest of his family was killed in an earthquake, dooming them to spend the rest of eternity trapped inside. In addition to the more mature plotline, there's a wild west ghost town, flesh-covered bodies that pop out of coffins and an elaborate corpse bride that shows up at the end of the attraction. If I had ridden through Phantom Manor as a kid, I would have spent grades K - 6 wetting the bed.
Do I prefer it to the mansions here in the US? No, mostly because the Paris version cuts out my favorite part: the "hitchhiking ghosts," replacing them instead with a lame phantom projection that hangs over the attraction's "Doom Buggies."
Doombuggies.com, a one stop resource for everything you could ever want to know about the world's four Haunted Mansion, has an exhaustive write-up on Phantom Manor that can be found here. If you're going to waste your valuable time reading about a string of haunted houses in the world's Disney parks, Halloween is probably the time to do it.
Monday, October 29, 2007
Yeah, this is what I spent a good portion of my day-off doing
I could be spending this afternoon raking leaves, getting my car washed or chasing down international diamond smugglers. Instead of all that, I'm sitting on my couch hunting for old Halloween specials. Here's part one of The Real Ghostbusters special from the '80s. Part two can be found here.
The Fat Albert Halloween Special? I can't find that one online but, as for Garfield's Halloween Adventure? Click here. Or It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown? Click here. Did He-Man ever do a Halloween special? If so, I can't find that one either.
I hate you, Binky.
Keep Milwaukie weird
Once upon a time there was a house in NW Portland. Every year around this time the exterior would be covered from basement to roof in Halloween decorations. It was as if the owners had cleared out the holiday sections of every Fred Meyers from Vancouver to Springfield. The windows were lined with purple lights, the yard was filled with Styrofoam graves and they even had a "Crash Landing Witch" attached to the chimney. Then one October I drove by and there was nary a plastic ghost to be found. The owners had either moved, lost interest or maybe even turned their attention towards obsessive cookie jar collecting.
It was a shame because elaborate Halloween yard displays are rare in Portland. The holiday doesn't pull enough weight around this town to earn itself a Peacock Lane but at least the residents of a certain house out in Milwaukie are willing to pick up the slack.
The Davises have been decorating their yard every Halloween for years now with an elaborate graveyard display. An animated grave digger lingers on the lawn alongside dozens of tombstones. Next to the house there's a two-story mausoleum with a projected ghost that darts around the second floor. A bust near the front gate tells jokes beside a driveway filled with grim reapers and corpses rotting in cages. A skeleton-driven hearse greets commuters flying down SE Johnson Creek Blvd. While I didn't get a chance to see it during a recent visit, a ghostly entity supposedly walks out of the front door with the aid of a video projector.
It's well worth checking out and it beats the pants off anything that'll be rolled out on Peacock Lane this December, if only for the Doc Brown tombstone (hooray for Back to the Future references). Does Peacock Lane ever host zombie dance teams? Nope.
The Davis Graveyard can found at 8703 SE 43rd Ave.
Friday, October 26, 2007
The pitfalls of fame
A message on the website for FrightTown that popped up last weekend:
We're very sorry to inform you that viral video sensation Zombie Turtle Boy has canceled his FrightTown appearance this evening. ZTB was here with us last night and afterwards, the poor little guy suffered from nightmares so he's not up for Round 2. But how awesome is it that FrightTown can give a zombie nightmares??? WOO-HOO! We so totally rule! (Seriously though, sorry about the nightmares, kiddo.)
That kid seems to be everywhere these days. He's even doing commercials for KGW now (sorry, I couldn't find a link).
Bavarian Flickr gallery
Click here or on the photo above for snapshots of castles, stinky beer garden urinals and strange warning signs that discourage people from putting their hands in their pockets.
Thursday, October 25, 2007
My Big, Dumb Trip to Europe Part 3 - This is How They Say "Hello" in Germany
You can always tell when someone has been working in the service industry for too long. Look for glazed-over eyes and slouched shoulders in waiters and strippers or an ear out for a robotic, monotone voice when you speak with someone in tech support. Lethargy, blank expressions or long hold times are almost always a dead give-away. I've been stuck in this line of work since college and I reached the "too long" point long ago. Only the most chipper, patient and hardy can survive a few years in the industry without succumbing to a level of bitterness that makes a person completely incapable of empathizing with "the public."
Despite my wealth of experience in the field and all the venom that now infects my soul, I'd never encountered the level of scorn that resides in the hearts of members of the European service industry. Case in point: a blond guy, around 30, that was working the English counter at the Gare de Lyon train station on a day when my sister Shanna and I were trying to get from Paris to Munich. I'm sure he had spent the entire summer dealing with clueless American tourists like us and he was in absolutely no mood to help us on any level. Our self-effacing humor, calm voices and large reserves of patience bounced off him like hollow-point bullets off the Hulk. Any question was met with a short, sharp answer. After a tense five minutes, we finally had our tickets and an afternoon to squander.
That evening we wandered back to the station. With 30 minutes to kill, we headed up to the loading platforms and gazed up at an electronic reader board listing the arrivals. Our train wasn't up there. After frantically hunting down an attendant we discovered that we were at the wrong station entirely. The blond clerk hadn't bothered to tell us that our train was departing from Gare de l' Est, a station halfway across the city.
We barreled down to the subway and desperately blasted up four crowded escalators through throngs of commuters and tourists to the platforms at Gare de l' Est. I remember screaming "SAVE YOURSELF! LEAVE ME! GET TO GERMANY! DRINK BEER!" at Shanna over the heads of two annoyed teenagers after I stopped to deal with an untied shoe. We missed our train by about three minutes. After another 30 minutes in line we received two new tickets on the last train out of Paris that night. Our seats would be in the tail-end of a "sleeper train" where we'd be sharing a tiny cabin in couch with four strangers. If we could last under those conditions for 10 hours we'd be in Munich at 8 AM the next morning.
So obviously we weren't destined for a Darjeeling Limited experience. There would be no cough-syrup fueled misadventures or fun with smuggled cobras on this journey. We found four men in our cabin: two backpackers from France that smelled like they hadn't bathed in days and two Middle Eastern businessmen who smelled like they hadn't allowed their skin to touch soap since 1993. After a few minutes of sucking down enough body odor to kill someone that gets paid to wash sumo thongs, I decided to spend the night in a large area in the back of the train typically reserved for bike storage.
Down there I found ten bikes and one middle-aged stow-away chain smoking cigarettes. He looked like the lead singer of Gogol Bordello but harmless enough. I was too tired to listen to my waning reserves of common sense. I slumped over on the other side of the compartment and threw on a pair of sunglasses to hide my closed eyes and to ward off any invasions of my personal space. I figured he wouldn't screw with me. Anyone stupid and pathetic enough to sleep in a cold bike locker with a guy like him wouldn't be worth the effort to rob. I switched my iPod over to Johnny Cash and somehow slept as "Folsom County Blues" and the sound of wheels rumbling over tracks blasted into my eardrums.
I woke up an hour later to find Shanna kicking me in the stomach. She's not above this sort of thing, especially when her male companions leave her alone on a train in a foreign country filled with strange, smelly men. We returned to our carriage to find the backpackers and a growing crowd sleeping in its tiny hallway, all of them avoiding intolerable scents in their own cabins. Inside ours the businessmen were stretched out across the seats, slumbering comfortably and fermenting in their own sweat. These guys were so stinky they'd chased off two full-grown French nationals! Six weeks removed from that foul night and their assaults on my sense of smell, I still want to kick both of these men in the nuts.
We picked two remaining spots in the hall. I threw my jacket over my head, put on an old trance album and settled in for a night of getting stepped on every ten minutes. I awoke at 3 AM as the train reached the French borderline. An old, cold sign yelled "STRASBOURG" into the foggy night. As the train rolled into Germany past trashbags and stone buildings covered in graffiti, I naturally felt an overwhelming sense of impending doom. The countryside looked like a nightmarish, bombed-out warscape typically seen in WW2 movies. I closed my eyes and prayed as the iPod filled my head full of DJ Shadow's Entroducing, a perfect soundtrack for a slow train ride to peril. I half-expected the lost German soldier from Saving Private Ryan to show up and start babbling about Steamboat Willy.
At dawn we crawled into an empty cabin for two hours of precious, uninterrupted slumber. At 7:45, a girl who looked not unlike the one Jason Schwartman boinked on the Darjeeling threw open the door and tore open our curtains. She yelled something at us in a foreign tongue before heading off to the next cabin to do the same.
So this is how they say "hello" in Germany.
At the bierpalasts. We went to two. The biggest and most overstuffed with Bavarian culture was a place called the Hofbrauhaus. First established in the 16th century, it was once the site of many of Hitler's propaganda beer blasts. Everything but the inn itself was destroyed in the second World War. Nowadays, thousands of tourists pour in there every night to suck down sausages, listen to oom-pah music and guzzle beers as big as six-month old babies. We briefly shared a table with a group of drunk Germans in their sixties. It had the only empty seats in the place and they quickly cleared out. With the exception of these guys and two British expats that made fun of us on the subway, the locals we encountered tolerated our American aloofness. On the other hand, we also spotted this on our way over to the Hofbrahaus.
More interesting was the Augustiner Keller, another popular bierpalasts. We headed downstairs to the enormous cellar were the owners keep gigantic (probably just decorative) wooden kegs. There we sat across from two men with mullets. Actual, full-fledged, real-deal mullets and not just shoulder-length hair that gets unfairly labeled as mullets in the US. Halfway through the evening, we heard a dozen local girls shouting drinking songs, their voices bouncing like Super Balls off the cellar's brick walls.
It was all coming from a long table around the corner and about a fifty yards away. Who knows why they were there cackling and singing the songs of their drunken forefathers on a relatively quiet Wednesday. It could have been a bachelorette party or maybe it's just what these chicks do on weeknights. The staff treated them like Gremlins, rushing over to the table to quickly remove empty glasses and throw down full ones before ducking for cover in the kitchen. The mullet-guys were entranced.
One jumped up. He could no longer resist their siren songs. He was 20 years older than every girl at the table but he dived in anyway. They welcomed him with open arms and plowed him full of German lager. He lasted about twenty minutes before staggering back to his table. After we payed the bill, I snuck past the girls to use the bathroom, fearing hassles and taunts in a language I couldn't understand. I had the sneaking suspicion they were up to something. At a urinal, I unzipped and began freeing myself of all the used ale in my bladder.
"99 LUFTBALLOOOOOONS! AUF IHREN WEG ZUM HORIZONT!"
It hit the bathroom like a bunker buster, all twelve of these women screaming out the lyrics to Nena's nearly forgotten '80s classic. I'm happy to report I didn't piss all over myself or have a heart-attack on the spot.
And there I found all the lederhosen people. And countrysides full of adorable little houses and fields full of adorable sunflowers. And armies of adorable nuns on vacation. And adorable, plump German tourists acting all adorable. And gift shops full of adorable cuckoo clocks, Bavarian teddy bears and steins. And adorable, oversized beer mugs filled with beer that I sent straight into my beer-filled belly. And an adorable, uncompleted castle that cost a crazed Prussian monarch his life. And...not so adorable yellowjackets that kept trying to steal my schnitzel. There's nothing the Germans make that isn't more efficient than a stateside equivalent, even bugs. One of these vicious little ubermenschs chased me across a beer garden. If that yellowjacket had nuts, I'd totally want to kick them right now.
We walked all the way up the hill and didn't even stop for eis. After touring the castle we headed over to a nearby bridge. Written on a railing, further proof of how no matter how far you get away from the United States, its cultural droppings can be found anywhere.
Watch out, here comes the neverending influx of American culture. The Simpsons Movie: posters promoting it were all over the subway stations in each country I set foot in. I took of a photo of each nation's version. They can be found in the Flickr galleries via the links on the left side of the blog.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
It wouldn't be late October...
...if KPDX wasn't running two "Treehouse of Horror" episodes of The Simpsons every evening beginning last night through Halloween. It's an annual tradition, as are ads for Fright Town and bumper segments filmed at local businesses celebrating the holiday (area Dairy Queens are selling Halloween ice cream cakes. Yippie!). The older episodes air at 6:30, the newer ones at 7:30.
It's a shame the more recent episodes keep moving further and further away from horror satire, instead relying on random fantasy plots (Harry Potter and comic book parodies? Zzzzzz...) Where's the parody of the Saw franchise, people? Or at least another segment based on an Edgar Allen Poe story? I don't think James Earl Jones is doing much these days.
And this hipster utopia rears its ugly head once more
Number of window displays currently containing pirate-related stuff within two blocks of the Baghdad Theater on SE Hawthorne: 4.
Number of establishments playing In Rainbows within that same two block radius on Sunday night: 2.
Number of Converse tennis shoes on my feet at the time: 2.
Number of apartments with ironic (?) outdoor Halloween displays incorporating those creepy "grandkid" dolls done up as zombies and skeletons down the street and around the corner: 1.
And Tony kept eating onion rings forever and ever
Or at least that's my theory on what happened to Tony Soprano after that fade-out at the end of The Sopranos' series finale. In a new book, creator David Chase revealed that there are "no esoteric clues" in the final moments of the episode but that Tony didn't get whacked. More here, including the eventual fates of his kids.
Sunday, October 21, 2007
A return to the Rock and Roll Cafe
Back in August I made a few disparaging remarks on this blog about Mark Lindsay's Rock and Roll Cafe, a new addition to the Hollywood district. The post was picked up by Jack Bogdanski, resulting in a small debate on his blog. This led to someone presumably affiliated with the restaurant calling me out for my "errors."
I responded and have yet to hear back from Mr and/or Ms. "Anonymous." I vowed to return to the restaurant and give it a proper review. Here it is:
I took my mother with me last Sunday for dinner at the cafe. She grew up in Portland and was a big enough fan of Paul Revere & the Raiders as a teenager to draw pictures of the band's lead singer in her sketchbook back in the '60s. Her and a crowd consisting almost entirely of people over the age of 50 seemed to love everything about the place. For me, however, it was like walking into a museum filled with things I don't care about that serves spendy fast food.
I ordered a Yaws burger with cheese. By the standards of Yaws, which I'm told was once a beloved fast food joint in NE Portland, it was great. It was juicy and the secret sauce was damn tasty. I'd compare it to the burgers at an In-N-Out franchise down south. Now there's just one problem with this: a cheeseburger and fries runs right around $3.00 at In-N-Out. At the Rock and Roll Cafe they cost upwards of $7.00. Sure, they're served in more opulent surroundings but there's no getting around the fact that the cafe charges too much for way too little.
The chocolate milkshake I ordered was much better. $3.50 bought me more than I could drink and any other burger joint in town will charge you around the same price for a lot less. Unfortunately, it didn't show up at the table until I was halfway through my burger, a common complaint I've seen in other reviews of the cafe. For some reason, the staff just can't get the drinks out before the food. It also took forever to get the check.
In addition to the old Meier and Frank clock, which hangs over the front door, the place is covered in Mark Lindsay memorabilia ranging from shirtless photos to gold records. It's more than a little disconcerting given his involvement with the cafe (the man himself hosts a radio show from a booth attached to main dining room on Saturday nights). The place at least looks like an over-the-hill rocker's free standing tribute to his own inflated ego. Supposedly, the cafe includes tributes to other area rock bands but the only examples I could find were record covers on the ceiling over the bar. There's also an Oregon Music Hall of Fame somewhere on site but I couldn't find it after a short search. We got there around 7 and I figured it was closed for the night.
There's little to bring me back. The meal I had was good but not great and too spendy for what I received. The menu includes more elaborate items like the "Funky Chicken" plate ($15.95) or the "Let's Go Surfin' Now" grilled salmon ($23.95) but if I'm going to spend that kind of money, I'd rather do it in a place that doesn't feel like a reheated Hard Rock Cafe. The Rock and Roll Cafe is the restaurant equivalent of paying $70 to catch an act like The Who in concert. Sure, they still put on a pretty good show but there's no escaping the fact that Pete Townshend can barely pull off a bunny-hop these days and the band's going to insist on playing their new material for at least 1/3 of the set. You just can't go back, ya' know?
But Mark Lindsay's Rock and Roll Cafe wasn't meant for someone like me. I'm hardly in their target demographic. I'm sure if one of the members of Sleater-Kinney ever builds a place like this 25 years from now to wallow in the good ol' days and serve Voodoo Doughnuts alongside Dots-style french fries I'll be drunk enough on nostalgia to overlook the prices and the lousy service.
The Go! Team @ the Doug Fir Lounge (10/17)
The Doug Fir Lounge is too small a venue for a band like the Go! Team. Their "sugar-packed beats" incite massive amounts of ass shaking and hyperactivity. I've never shaken my ass in this or, I'm pretty sure, any previous lifetime but the band's music had a crowd of a few hundred people bouncing all over the place on Wednesday night. At one point, someone up front started swinging what looked like a jump rope over the heads of everyone around them. Why? Because they were listening to the Go! Team. That's what their music does to people.
The Doug Fir's small stage barely had enough room for all 3,000 (ok, maybe six) members of the Go! Team and limited lead singer "Ninja"'s ability to throw down Jazzercise kicks at every available opportunity. The band did what they could with the space though. The guitarists still had enough room to repeatedly perform a near head-butt dive from opposite ends of the stage while Ninja did her best Tina Turner circa "Proud Mary" impression.
It was a great set covering tracks from the band's two albums and they even played "Everyone's a V.I.P. to Someone Else," my favorite song that combines what sounds like samples from a '70s Hamm's beer commercial with a forgotten Disneyland ride soundtrack. My ears are still ringing four days later. Sadly though, they didn't bring along the film projector used during a show two years ago at the Wonder Ballroom.
A band from LA called Bodies of Water opened. Their frontwoman looks like Ramona Quimby all grown up and she howls like a clone mutant slapped together with DNA stolen from Karen O and Bjork. Their music falls somewhere between the Yeah, Yeah Yeahs and Jefferson Airplane. Definitely worth tracking down.
More thoughts on the Doug Fir Lounge/Jupiter Hotel can be found here. The "Comedians of Comedy" weren't too pleased with the place when they stayed there recently.
I wonder if Amanda Fritz is going to team up with any large mammals
Ever since I was a small child it has been a dream of mine to promote a run at City Council by feeding a talk show host's book to a bear. Unfortunately, candidate Charles Lewis has beat me to it.
For further context and video links of Stephen Colbert's response, click here.
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
This was happening at the Roseland on the evening of September 19th
Why can't the Flaming Lips ever play a show in Portland when I'm not stuck at work or on the other side of the planet?
Short reviews for things I've been wasting my free time on lately
Radiohead's In Rainbows: I think we all need to get together as a planet, think this over and come to the following consensus: this album sucks, pure and simple. Yes, we're all happy to see Radiohead back after a too-long hiatus and, yes, the fact that they released the album themselves may forever change the music industry. Also: sure, the album has an interesting theme and it's "cohesive." With that out of the way, let's look at the music itself. Ok, track one is kind of interesting. Thom's doing a hip-hop thing here but, so what, it sounds like more glitch rock. Track # 2, sure, it rocks a bit but "it's the 21st century! It's the 21st century!" is a line that sounds like something Bono would shout out between songs at a concert in Cleveland. The rest of the album? Tedious crooning over the same solo guitar and meandering orchestral score all eventually winding towards a still-born conclusion after a mercifully brief 10 tracks. The fact that the band disappeared for four years and this is the best that they came up with leaves me thinking that they've finally crossed over into the darkest corners of Brian Eno-territory. Sorry Radiohead, it was fun (and by fun I mean liable to make me want to lie down in my freshman dorm room and stare at the glow-in-the-dark stickers on the ceiling in a paralytic state of melancholy introspection) but isn't it time for you to re-recorded The Bends and sell all the songs to iPod commercials? It worked out OK for Bono, didn't it? Don't you want to be even more super rich and beloved like ol' Bono?
Cavemen: I'm one of these idiots that thought the commercials were funny and somehow feel responsible, on some karmic level if nothing else, for this show's existence. I'll give the poor schmucks drafted into producing the show Cavemen for ditching the laugh track and going with the whole single camera thing but there's no getting around the fact that you can't base a decent sitcom on a one-joke ad for car insurance. And that's the entire show: jokes about cavemen in modern times getting hassled by humans, over and over and over again. The second episode was devoted to an affirmative action lawsuit so there is nowhere for the writers to go from here. The worst of it is that I have my DVR set to record the show every week, which means I'll probably keep watching it for reasons I can't quite explain. If you find any obsessive 3,000 word tomes about how terrible Cavemen is with my name attached to them on Television Without Pity, you'll know the reason why.
30 Rock: Because of the DVR, I've seen every episode of the show so far. I still can't tell if it's any good or not. Alec Baldwin and Tina Fey are funny but the intern, Tracy Morgan and everyone else on the show? Er, no. After dozens of episodes I also can't tell you what "The Girlie Show" is supposed to be. Is it a fictional version of SNL? Is it broadcast live? What the hell is it? Every time I try to get out (ie finally delete 30 Rock as a series recording) it brings me back in with a joke like "Werewolf Bar Mitvah."
Battlestar Galactica (season 3): I cried like a little wussy girl when (SPOILER! WOO!) Starbuck's daughter was hauled away by her real mother. Damn those evvvvvvvvil Cylons! This is soooo the best soap opera on TV right now. Way better than As the World Turns. The next season doesn't start until February? Boooo!
Into the Wild: So...abandoning modern society to run off into the Alaskan wilderness ill-prepared in the dead of winter is a bad idea? Ok, thanks Sean Penn. I did not know that.
M.I.A.'s Kala: More albums should use shotguns as musical instruments. You hear that, Radiohead?
The Darjeeling Limited: (SPOILERS!) It was pretty decent until the brothers got to the river and the ending was a total letdown. Plus, I was hoping Bill Murray would show up later in the film to dispense advice and reveal that he was just like them once but wound up spending his life running from his demons. His cameo was downright lame. If only the three main characters could have bonded over hunting down that nun-gobbling tiger instead of a dead 3rd world child. Wow, Slate was right...except not really.
Photoshop: That's Laura Bush in the photo at the top of this blog. You know, because of the URL? http://laurabush.info? Get it? Sorry for slicing off the edge of her hairdo. Cutting and pasting photos with a laptop mouse is more difficult than actually cutting and pasting them with actual glue and scissors.
Neal Gabler's Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination: I recently finished this biography of the entertainment kingpin. A few things you may not already know about "Uncle Walt": he drank, smoked and swore almost constantly, hated communists because he was convinced they helped stage a labor strike at his studio in the '40s, treated his employees poorly, allegedly didn't have sex on his wedding night, walked miles in the snow to sell newspapers in order help feed his family as a child, had no less than two nervous breakdowns and may have (but probably wouldn't have) forever changed society if he had gotten his original vision for EPCOT off the ground before he kicked the bucket. Also: not a Nazi.
Or maybe I should have pointed them towards the Macaroni Grill?
A friend living and working in DC sent me an email asking for local restaurant recommendations for two of his coworkers who will be visiting Portland soon. Both are "professionals" in their early thirties. This is what I came up with. If anyone else has any ideas, feel free to submit them via the comments section at the bottom of this post.
HIGH END: Blue Hour (250 NW 13th Ave). A pinnacle of "new Portland" and, if the Pearl District has a heart, albeit one made of glass and concrete, this may very well be it. All the yuppies around here love it to death. Spendy and pretentious but reportedly great. Someone I know, who may very well be the human equivalent of Remy the rat, once said he'd eat there every day if he could only afford it.
LOWER END BUT STILL CLASSY: Le Pigeon (738 E Burnside St). French food. Small, cozy and bent on recreating the feel of dining in a turn-of-the-century Parisan bisto. Vintage chairs, candlesticks, gilded mirrors, etc.
CLASSY BUT STRANGE: Mother's Bistro (212 SW Stark). The place every female over 30 seems to love in this town. A hard place to explain. The decor throughout the sprawling interior looks like it was cherry-picked from both a New Orleans whorehouse and the White House. Most of what's on the menu is comfort food but spruced up.
THE OBVIOUS: The Kennedy School (5736 NE 33rd Ave). Any McMenamins is bound to give a pair of east coast professionals culture shock but if they're going to venture into one, they may as well do it up proper. Get this: it's an old haunted elementary school that's been turned into a cigar bar/movie theater/brewery/hotel/restaurant. There's even a bar in the old detention room. Kooky and unlike anything anywhere else? Yup, that's what it is.
ANOTHER PLACE EMBLEMATIC OF "WEIRD" PORTLAND BUT NOT TOO GRUNGY AND FILLED WITH HIPSTERS THAT MIGHT FRIGHTEN THEM: Le Bistro Montage (301 SE Morrison). Out-of-towners that aren't creeped out by the dank exterior and the fact that it's located under a bridge all seem to dig it. Like the Kennedy School, you'll never find anything like it anywhere. Waiters in tuxedo t-shirts, crocodile gumbo, 10 different kinds of Mac and Cheese, twisted recreations of "The Last Supper" on the wall, communal tables and leftovers brought to diners wrapped in tinfoil shaped like animals. It's the sort of place that I imagine people tell their friends about back home when they describe how supposedly "weird' this city is.
Four other recommendations I'm too lazy to look up: Old Town Pizza, The Doug Fir Lounge and Chez Machin on Hawthorne
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Paris Flickr gallery
Click here or on the photo above for shots of the Louvre after hours, weird Parisian graffiti, Paris Disneyland, a McRoyal (McDonalds no longer labels them "Royal With Cheese," apparently) and the saddest French chick I saw loafing around Mont Marche.
Monday, October 15, 2007
My Big, Dumb Trip to Europe Part 2- The Not-So-Subtle Art of Becoming One With Your Inner Douchebag
London had set a few hurdles in my path but nothing too serious. Transit strikes aside, I had a great time there. Despite a summer of record-breaking rainfall, the weather even cooperated. Everyday was warm and, at one point, I found myself sunbathing and scribbling on dirty postcards in front of City Hall near Tower Bridge.
The good vibes London left me with faded as I made way towards Paris. Once my train popped out of the "chunnel," the sun was gone. Flat, grey clouds stretched over a long expanse of fields and graffiti-covered underpasses. I'd forgotten to buy a guidebook before I left Portland and didn't bother to exchange my remaining Pounds for Euros before heading to Liverpool Station. Paris' Gare du Nord train station: I would quickly learn to loath it. Almost completely unprepared and unable to speak more than four words of French, I was a moving target in the station's maze of corridors. It should come as no surprise that I had a pickpocket on my tail within minutes of stepping off the train.
He looked like Spud from Trainspotting. I noticed him following me as I wandered in circles hunting for an ATM machine. I headed outside, found one but he was waiting for me when I got back. When I stopped to grab a bagel, he leaned up against a wall around the corner, peaking over his shoulder every five seconds. So I did the only thing I could think of: I stared at him with the best evil eye I could muster. He finally took the hint and moved along.
Pickpocket # 2 was a fourteen-year old vulture that tailed me through a toll gate without paying into the Metro. He kept popping up as I struggled to get my bearings and even followed me into a subway carriage. I tried the stare tick but he only stared back. At my stop I pulled out a tactic I saw in a movie years ago. I waited for the doors to start closing before I jumped off at my stop. Sure, it was cheesy but it worked He kept staring as the train heading out of the station. Despite his hip-hop gear, he reminded me of the mute assassin in Sin City. A wolf could have attacked him on the subway but I'm sure he would have kept his eyes on his mark. Creepy little brat.
Bienvenue vers Paris, abruti
My hostel was located in what the locals were bent on calling a "Red Light district" about ten minutes from Notre Dame. It consisted of little more than a few blocks of crepe stands and old hotels mixed with sex shops and clothing stores blasting Snoop Dogg. Stationed at every intersection were Asian women with clipboards that would wander up to anyone who looked out of place and ask "do you speak English?" One of them even grabbed me on an arm as I struggled to find the hostel. I never did stop to speak to them or figure out what they were up to.
Exhausted and drowning in culture shock sprinkled with paranoia that everyone in the city was out to rob me, I discovered that the hostel had lost my reservation. They were booked solid, as was just about every other hostel in central Paris. A frantic Google search on a computer in the lobby turned up nothing. Finally, eager to be rid of me, the manager made a phone call. There was a room available at a hotel three blocks away. It cost me twice as much as I had planned on paying, the staff charged to use a communal shower and the elderly gent running the place was the epitome of French contempt. Somehow, despite it all, I loved the place. The view from my window was great, I was a block from a shop selling bottles of wine for $3 US and the room had a TV offering up such random weirdness as John Malkovich talking in broken French on a talk show.
After four hours of hassles, I headed for Notre Dame in the rain. In the courtyard the bells overhead rang and the showers stopped as a sunset ripped through the clouds over the Seine, casting a "breath of God" glow onto the cathedral that would have made a lesser atheist convert to Catholicism on the spot. Jennifer Connelly's breasts circa 1990 notwithstanding, there's few sights more gorgeous that I'll see in this lifetime. I tried to take a picture. Here's how it came out:
And that's how Paris made me feel the whole time I was there: like shit- shit for not speaking the language, for not knowing the ins-and-outs of its local customs and for not appreciating its splendors more. Is it the most beautiful city in the world? Probably. Even the graffiti is pretty (see above and below) but, like most beautiful things it has a sneering disregard for anything that isn't up to its level.
That night I spent $18 US for a cutting board of cold lunch meat in a restaurant and another $4 for an eight ounce glass of soda. Two diners sitting three feet away asked, en français, the waiter what I was eating. Two seconds later, they were all laughing and shaking their heads. How did I find myself in this situation? Because I didn't know what I was ordering or, really, how to handle Paris. I was on my own and clueless. Go there unprepared and you'll find yourself in that same restaurant, the butt of lame jokes in a foreign tongue eating something that tastes like dog food and waiting 30 minutes for your bill and another 20 for your change. I guarantee it. Paris does not suffer fools gladly.
Maybe it was because my attempts to speak their language were doomed to failure or maybe it was because my meek "please don't hurt me or spit in my food" attitude was pathetic, the Parisians I encountered lived up to every stereotype I'd ever heard about French rudeness. Here's my theory: anyone who works in the service industry in Paris once aspired to be something more: an actor, an artist, something else. When their dreams failed to materialize, they settled into a lifetime of dealing with moronic tourists but never grew to accept their lot in life. When you have to tell clueless idiots where Jim Morrison's grave is located no less than a dozen times during any given workday, in a language foreign to you, it's bound to inspire a substantial amount of bitterness. And because the people you're dealing with aren't on their home turf and can't speak the language, you can get away with being a complete jerk. Somehow, this sort of thing would never fly in the states.
After wandering around in circles I found a rental shop a mere three blocks from my hotel. For a mere 6 Euros I finally had a Weapon of Mass Annoyance (see above) under the condition I would return it by 11 AM the next morning. Did I immediately start weaving in and out of pedestrian traffic? Yup. Did I ride on the sidewalks despite a local law preventing it? Yup. Did I buzz around the Louvre garden, at one point forcing a security guard to make a fruitless attempt to chase me down? Yup. Did I dent the bike's bell after not properly setting the kickstand and terrorize as many people as possible with its unintentionally modified, super-shrill "DING!"? Yup.
I even blasted my way through a healthy Friday night crowd on the Champs-Élysées. If Paris was going to treat me like an "ugly American," I decided to act the part. What had come over me? The "City of Light" had awakened a bike-riding Mr Hyde buried deep within my soul, a jackass with an insatiable thirst for what a former coworker once described as "scrumdouchery," the art of being a complete and utter douchebag. I should have been forced to spend a night in jail or at least bribed a cop for the things I did.
The Louvre stayed open late that night and I'd have to say that gazing at the Mona Lisa is a lot more enjoyable when you don't have 1,000 other tourists elbowing their way past you. Moments from closing, a mere ten other tourists and I had her room to ourselves.
Entire books have been written about European sports fandom but this wasn't what I had expected. When my sister Shanna landed in town a few days later, we ran into something much more cliched. We stepped off the Metro one night and ran into a small crowd of Scottish guys in kilts bugging random French commuters on a stairwell.
A block from our hostel, we heard the chanting. Around a corner, there they were: hundreds of Scottish fans in kilts, all drinking and hollering in front of a place called The Auld Alliance. They'd taken over the street, showering anyone who tried to pass through with insults. Like moths to a tiki torch, we headed inside. A football game was on the TV, Scotland was winning and I assumed all the celebrating was for their teams' inevitable win. Several men were shouting at the screen. Within seconds, one fan was babbling at us. "So all this is for the win, right," I asked. "Naw, this game is on-a tape," he told me. "We won this match last year."
I can't remember his name but Shanna bought him a pint and suddenly we were all pals. He lead us over to a group of his fellow fans for a crash course in rugby, their "army" and all things Scottish. Some things we learned.
- Rugby is life.
- But, then again, football is life. Somehow, they're both life. I'm still not sure how this works.
- Our new bud had lost substantial amounts of money following around Edinburgh's rugby and football clubs. His first wife left him over it. During a trip to Rome, he slipped down a flight of marble steps and severely injured his back. His extreme fandom may very well kill him but he didn't seem to care. He was having the time of his life.
- None of these guys had ever been to Paris. I asked them how they liked the place. One's response: "We've been here five hours, four of those have been at this here pub, the most famous Scottish bar in all of France. It's been pretty goddamn good so far, let me tell ya'."
- At that point in the World Cup, their team might have gone on to play in Iraq supposedly. Were they going to go if that came up? Nope, even their level of fandom had its limits. Another quote: "Are you kidding me? They wouldn't put up with our shit down there. They'd have us all skinned alive by the time we'd get off the train!"
A French chick had somehow wandered into the crowd. Within twenty minutes, she was drunk and riding around on a fan's shoulders, leading the crowd to chant, "DON'T BE SHY, SHOW US YER' PIE!" Convinced they were talking about someone else or maybe because she didn't have a firm grasp on English, she joined in the chorus. At another point in the evening, we found ourselves talking to a fan that looked like John Belushi and had an accent so thick I couldn't understand anything he said. Later, another fan turned to Shanna and said, "Don't worry, half the time we have no idea what he's sayin' either."
And then they all blocked a bus trying to get down the street so they could pound on the windows and spit taunts at the elderly Parisians inside.
I have enough random quotes and bits rambling around in my head from that night to fill another tedious, 1,000-word blog post but it's probably time to close this chapter of the European trip. In no mood to get arrested, we called it a night way too early and headed back to the hotel. An hour later, I stuck my head out the window. I could still hear them all chanting and shouting into the night. The match they had come for was still another 40 hours away.
The next morning we wandered past the Auld Alliance, dark and vacant, to find hundreds of smashed beer cups and cans in the street. I wonder if any of them made time to see the Venus de Milo or to bug the shit out of the locals with stupid questions about where they were keeping the Lizard King's bones.
Saturday, October 13, 2007
They do public drinking right
Ted Niedermeyer, a former editor of a certain publication I was once involved with, is currently touring China. He recently hit Qingdao, the home of the Tsingtao brewery, where beer can be purchased in the street for .50 cents US. How do the city's entrepreneurs keep their prices so low? Well, at least partially by serving their suds in large plastic bags. Click here for a full report, complete with photos.
Fitter, happier, more productive
After years of being told repeatedly by management that the Blazers "have turned over a new leaf," they may have finally pulled it off. Bonzi, Rasheed, Quintel, Damon, Ruben and Z-bo- all gone, exorcised from the franchise, paving the way for babies and wives backstage at the Rose Garden instead of the "Hoops Family." Who will step up and keep the "Jailblazers" flag flying? Well, Darius is still around, kinda.
Friday, October 12, 2007
Well, it turned out better than last year's Halloween layout. At least the headers are legible for readers using Mozilla Firefox, whereas no one could read them at all during the course of October '06. Sorry, Internet Explorer users and anyone else for whom this website is bein' all glitchy. I literally spent an hour of my "Thursday" evening (I work on Saturdays) trying to figure out why the title fonts of these blog posts are blending into their orange backgrounds instead of coming up as white in IE.
My eyes can no longer stand staring at coding. I can't solve the problem and, well, you should be using Firefox anyway. It's supposedly better, faster and more secure than the browser you're currently using. Ditch that zero (IE) and get with the hero (Firefox).
Here is a helpful link (hint, hint).
Thursday, October 11, 2007
Why I'm Using Fractured Logic to Justify Not Paying a Single Pence for Radiohead's New Album
Because I'm lame (or not lame enough, depending on your perspective) I haven't listened to Radiohead's In Rainbows since it was released online yesterday. I haven't even downloaded it yet.
Even the Oregonian has reported on how the band, now free from the confines of a recording contract, have decided to "charge fans whatever they're willing to pay" for the new album. I'll snag a copy soon but I'm in a slight bind over where I should download it from. Even if I pay nothing for the album, the band is still charging a 45 pence (around a buck US) "transaction fee" to get it off their site, which I think undermines the whole idea of the "pay whatever" scheme. Plus, when I checked the site repeatedly between 1:30 and 4 PM today, it kept timing out, at least temporarily making it impossible to get the album from there.
I'm one of these people that hasn't paid for an album since the dawn of Napster. I've justified this to myself in several ways, including with the widely-held assumption that bands make very little off record sales and that the profits all go to greedy corporate CEOs (their numerous employees, however, must all be independently wealthy volunteers). Plus, I'm not stealing anything tangible, I regularly attend shows and the bands I like are doing what they love and are making plenty of money doing it. I should also confess that I think albums are slowly becoming little more than advertisements for any given band's merchandise and tours and that the public shouldn't have to pay anything for them.
Does this make me a thief? Maybe, but Thom Yorke doesn't need my 45 pence. He's rich. I'm lower middle-class and, again, I'm not actually ripping anything off here. I don't care if the band and him are charging chump change, I'm "stealing" their album anyway. Hello, BitTorrent, good-bye moral quagmire.
On a side note, KNRK played "Body Snatchers," one of the songs off In Rainbows as I was riding into work today. It sounded good, nothing revolutionary but on-air host Greg and his producer were "ecstatic" over the release, going on to say they felt it would have "made a great follow-up to OK Computer." Then Greg cut to a Bob Marley song before returning to declare Men at Work's "Overkill" one of the best pop songs ever recorded. Yeah, that Kenny G-style horn section on that track is really great...except not at all. Yuck.
Finally, here's what now local Dave Allen had to say about the album and its influence on the recording industry.
Oregon Trail: The Mini-Graphic Novel
If I were to ever sit down and compose a list of my top ten favorite video games of all time, the Apple II version of Oregon Trail would be on it. Chum and all-around good guy Sho passed along this link to a fan-created graphic novel about the game. It asks the same perplexing question myself and others have wondered for decades now: why the can't you haul a mere 100 pounds of meat back to your wagon?
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Magic moments, filled with...gin
A postcard for my 10 year high school reunion landed in my mailbox back in February. This was disconcerting for two reason:
1. I'm a decade removed from high school and I have yet to write a New York Times bestseller, inherit a substantial amount of wealth, graduate from an Ivy League school with a PhD in anything and/or jump over fifteen helicopters on a moped.
2. According to a form I signed sometime in 1996, prior to spending a year as my class' Senior Class President, I was supposed to spearhead the organization of the reunion.
But my rights and authority had somehow been seized by our Student Body President and his cabinet. They, along with a local company that plans class reunions, had decided to set the event at a nightclub in NW Portland, charge $90 a head to get in and not even give me a cut of the action. What would that $90 eventually net 100 or so of my former classmates? A lukewarm chicken dinner, a lousy DJ and a night spent picking at decade-old emotional wounds.
Not willing to settle for that, I emailed a few fellow alumni suggesting that we host our own rival reunion. The invite would be extended to anyone who wanted to show up, whether they graduated from our high school or not. The proposed venue? The Acropolis, of course. Really, can you think of a better place to hold something like this? This absolutely brilliant idea eventually petered out when we realized that no female among us would set foot near the place.
So where did we wind up? A certain NW dive bar that rhymes with "Moe's Teller," conveniently located 10 blocks from the official event. Since several of our colleagues from back in the day weren't willing to fly cross-country for a class reunion, real or otherwise, we settled for a low-key night of heavy drinking.
Of course, that was all thwarted when the bar began coincidentally filling with former classmates, all fleeing the real reunion. Word about the Acropolis plan had spread over the course of the summer and I was asked no less than a million times (ok, more like three times) why we hadn't set up shop across town. I still don't know how many people went over there on Saturday looking for a rival reunion.
While we had tried to avoid the reunion it had come to us. Did I see and talk to people I couldn't remember who still remembered me? Yup. Did I chat with a guy I got into a fistfight with in the 5th grade after he jumped on my desk and started poking me on the head? Yup. Did I brag about my "great" career or kill a rival assassin before hooking up with a lost love? Nope.
And, really, isn't that why people go to these things in the first place? To gloat about how fantastic their lives have become in front of their former rivals or to go hunting for someone they still secretly pine for? Everyone else stays away. Or at least that's my theory. Those who attend hope for the Grosse Point Blank experience or the Don Simpson experience (the now dead Hollywood producer allegedly showed up at his 20-year reunion in a helicopter with two Penthouse Pets in tow. He talked to his old friends and ignored the people who once picked on him before flying off to spend the rest of the night presumably engaged in carnal bliss at a fairly high altitude).
Even though none of us really attended our class reunion, we may as well have. The wife of a friend felt she witnessed and experienced enough awkward encounters to warrant avoiding her own class reunion, coming up this weekend. If I'm still living in the area in 2017 I'll be spending the night at the Acropolis, assuming that it won't have been replaced with a hydrogen car dealership or a Clone Gap.
Tuesday, October 09, 2007
"I think around 750 million Euros or something."
Everyone once loved Wes Anderson's films and then along came The Life Aquatic.. Now he's the subject of parodies over at The Onion and his latest effort The Darjeeling Limited, is already being written off as twee and redundant. It's slated to open here in Portland on Friday.
I'm already expecting to enjoy the hell out of it because, one, I enjoy the hell out of all of Anderson's other movies and, two, it's useless for me to resist the sirens' call of Bill Murray, another soundtrack filled with cherry-picked rock songs from the '60s and amazing art direction. Plus, to up the ante, Anderson has tossed in Natalie Portman's bare behind for good measure.
Or at least he has in Hotel Chevalier, the director's 13-minute prequel to Darjeeling that, as you probably know because you're just as curious to see Portman naked as the rest of us, is available as a free download on iTunes or on any number of chopped-up bootleg copies available on You Tube.
The prequel is great but, I've gotta be honest here, Portman's derriere isn't its strong suit for reasons that would be a spoiler to reveal here. I could prattle on about Hotel Chevalier for another two paragraphs but Aaron Mesh already did a better job of it two weeks ago on WW's still-not-a-blog "wire." Click here for his review.
Your share: $7,842.47
Just how much have the streetcar, the South Waterfront development, the ongoing snafu over police/fire pensions and the Oregon Convention Center cost and will continue to cost Portland in the decades to come? I've been wondering for years but I've never had the time, talent or know-how to figure it all out. Fortunately, Jack Bog has all that and, in a series of posts, he's got some bleak news for us all.
Can this city really afford a Sam Adams mayorship? Is there any way we could get Bud Clark back in there? Could I at least get one of those "Bud Clark is still my mayor" bumperstickers?
Monday, October 08, 2007
Guess I'll go with the pumpkins
I was driving home this afternoon and spotted a weird yard sign in my neighborhood. Providing readers with no context, it read:
"PARKING LOTS OR PUMPKINS?"
What's that all about? And who the hell would pick pumpkins over parking lots? Isn't this question a little obvious? That's like being asked to choose between a gravel path and a Slurpee.
Menace to society: Portland's bottle return machines
A decade ago returning bottles and cans to Portland supermarkets was a much different experience than it is today. Back then you'd have to stand around waiting while a stockboy sorted through everything. It was a hassle and it took a lot more time but there was one key advantage to the old system: you got a nickel for everything you brought in. This included even the oldest can of Pepsi that was crushed against the forehead of a friend months prior (these machines started popping up around town long before my colleagues and I had reached an age when we didn't think beer tasted "yucko." Thus, all the crushed soda cans.)
Now everything's automated and anyone returning their empties is subject to the mysterious whims of the bottle return machines parked in front of every supermarket in the city. Increasingly, they spit out most of what you put in them. This afternoon I found myself in front of the machines at the Fred Meyers in Raleigh Hills, muttering under my breath after one of them rejected 3/4s of the bottles I put in it.
Supposedly, grocery stores in the area only have to accept bottles and cans for products they sell on their shelves. Maybe this policy was always in effect but the stockboys of olden days never seemed to care what you brought in, unlike the machines used now. As if this wasn't already a detriment to Oregon's Bottle Bill and a major hassle for homeless bottle hunters, the scanners on many of these machines, especially the ones located at least three different Fred Meyers in Portland, are almost completely worthless. One of my Coke cans, in perfect shape, was rejected three times this afternoon. The machine refused the bottles of Rogue I bought at the same store months prior. The cans of Thai Red Bull knock-offs I picked up at Fubonn a while back? Forgedaboutit.
Out of the 50 bottles and cans I came in with, only 20 of them were accepted by Fred Meyers' machines. So what I did do? The same thing other locals have being doing for years since these machines showed up: I ditched them in a shopping cart nearby. If I didn't know better, I'd assume that the whole thing is a plot orchestrated by local grocery store owners. Why pay your customers for returning bottles when you can merely send an employee out every hour to pick up all the rejects? Why else would there be a conveniently-placed cart right next to the machines? Any store you go to, there's always a cart sitting right there. I wonder how much the Fred Meyers in Raleigh Hills nets in abandoned bottles and cans during the average business day. Those cunning bastards.
Saturday, October 06, 2007
Let the internet vote for you
According to this, I should start campaigning for Dennis Kucinich.
I don't whether to laugh, cry or hide under a pile of coats.
London Flickr gallery
Click here or the photo above for shots of weird art gallery displays, mummified cats, proof that the Rolling Stones have inspired a ballet, Cleopatra's corpse, anti-Napoleon propaganda and the best thing to happen to pizza since cheese-filled crusts.
My Big, Dumb Trip to Europe Part 1 - And Then Captain Picard Killed Everybody With an M16
Someday people far smarter than I will devise a new means of air travel involving catapults and/or teleporting, effectively putting an end to jet lag. Until then, Americans like me will bumble into foreign lands, bleary-eyed, confused and sure to piss off everyone they encounter.
I arrived in London early on September 3rd after being awake for 20-hours straight on the heels of 3 hours of sleep the night before. Like many before me, I was beyond fatigue but all of London laid before me and I couldn't check in to my hostel until 3 PM. Unconsciousness wasn't an option. My first real memory of Europe is a sign featuring a black silhouette stalking a thinner, chump-ier silhouette.
"BEWARE! THEY WANT YOUR POD!" it screamed.
What a warm welcome to London, the one European city where I wasn't expecting to deal with this sort of shit. Already on edge after a cheery British lady at customs warned me of the dangers of traveling alone, my paranoia level jumped another notch. Right then and there I planned to spend the rest of the trip with one hand firmly placed on my wallet. Did this plan peter out five minutes later? Uh, yeah.
Almost immediately I was getting on the nerves of anyone I dared speak with. I incurred the scorn of a cop, the guy working the desk at my hostel, the staff of a small diner and dozens of weary morning commuters in the Tube fumbling to get around my oversized backpack in a standing-room-only carriage, all within an hour of my arrival. Irritating EuroLocals is surprisingly easy when you're half awake and have no idea what's going on.
London- a city where every waitress is French and they serve you doughnuts on plates with a fork and knife. Where sushi can be found in individually wrapped packages for take-out and bored tour guides at Parliament who look and speak like Ian McKellen badmouth the art and shake their heads at centuries-old political procedures. Where a photo of Chevy Chase's fist hangs in the world's second (?) most famous modern art gallery and an oversized Ferris Wheel is considered a major tourist attraction. And where the Tube workers go on strike within hours of my arrival.
Everyone was talking about it and every London paper had some variation of the following headline in 70-point font "TRANSIT! STRIKE! STARTS! TONIGHT AT! 7 PM!" Despite being reminded of this every ten minutes, my mind was unable to process the information. When I get tired, I get even stupider than usual. So, after being awake for 30-hours straight it seemed like a great idea to dart to the opposite side of town to catch a Modest Mouse set at someplace called The Forum, transit strike or no transit strike.
I rushed over to Liverpool Station, working through throngs of commuters, businessmen who decided to deal with the ongoing melee by chugging pints in front of pubs and homeless junkies not above calling me "gubiner" as they attempted to sell me cigarette lighters in a town with a tight smoking ban. The crowds waiting to get on London's double-decker buses that night were enormous. Despite it all, everyone remained calm and chipper, a huge contrast to the drivers assigned to get the city through this crisis. I found myself in the back of a line getting on a bus towards someplace called Camden Town, chatting with a chick dressed up for a night of clubbing. When I briefly paused to grab my ticket before boarding, the driver slammed the door on my face.
I wound up in Camden Town over an hour later, lost in a deserted neighborhood filled with graffiti-covered shops and wet newspapers. I found a hipster couple waiting for a bus. I was four blocks from the Forum. They had walked out on the band's set, labeling their music "rubbish" and told me not to bother heading up there. So much for England's supposed infatuation with Portland bands. Pitchfork's been lying to me.
The band was playing their encore when I got there so I ended the evening at a pub wedged between the Forum and another club. The London pubs I drank in looked the same and all like something that better belongs in the mock version of the UK at EPCOT. They were so uniform they seemed like they were all apart of some sort of cliched London pub franchise. Same decor, same beer selection, same food on the menu. The only thing that separated them was the color of the paint on their walls and their interchangeable names, always "_____ and ____" Insert a mammal and a random noun in those blanks and you've got yourself a name for a London pub. One of my favorites: The Cock and the Clever.
A few of the Tube's main lines were still running so I wound up on a train with a few hundred local hipster kids heading home for the night. They look the same as Portland hipsters but what do they talk about? Rugby. I listened to a group of them arguing about the World Cup all the way back to the station at King's Cross.
On the verge of curling up in a corner in the subway, I broke down and hailed a cab. Three blocks later at a stoplight, we were surrounded. A gang of drunk goth girls wanted in the cab and they wanted in NOW. Beyond exhausted, I blubbered to the driver, "Dear, God WHAT DO THEY WANT?!" One's nose was plastered up against the window, smearing her makeup all over it. Another was slapping the Michael Caine-esque driver's side window. "I think they want to share your cab, mate," he explained. I stammered, the light turned green and he made the wise decision to hit the gas, leaving them standing in the street. Who knows what horrors the Tube strike had bested them with. Maybe they were in a Warriors-style battle to get across town. Maybe moments later they were attacked by a gang of teens in baseball uniforms. Or, more likely, they probably walked three blocks and got their own damn cab.
This trip marked the first time I've ever gone on vacation anywhere by myself. My sister would meet up with me a week later in Paris. I'm sure when other people do this, they strike up conversations with strangers in pubs or try to hook up in whatever nightclub allows in tourists dressed in shorts and Nikes (Europe's all about Adidas). I'm too reserved and lazy for all that so I spent my first week overseas eaves-dropping.
At a Soho pub where a famous journalist supposedly drank himself to death, I decided to order absinthe. A bad move This immediately sparked a round of snide comments from a group of men in polo shirts at a nearby table. I could hear one of them mutter, "Probably spent the whole time waiting to get on the London Eye." "Naw, I spent the whole day at the British Museum, looking at all the loot your people outright stole from other nations." I wanted to spit this back at them but I kept my mouth shut.
The tiny Amelie French girl working my side of the bar looked confused. "What is....absinthe," she asked aloud. She wandered over to a gruff-looking bartender who rolled his eyes and dusted off a spoon and a bottle filled with green liquid that looked like it had been sitting on the top shelf for decades. She brought it over to me, telling me to step outside if I wanted to light up the sugar.
Years ago, a friend smuggled some absinthe back from London in a Scope bottle. One boring February night, we sat around his dorm room melting sugar and dipping it in glasses stolen from the university's cafeteria. I remember it making feel like I was floating and providing a pretty pleasant sense of euphoria for about fifteen minutes.
This was definitely not the sort of thing I should have been drinking in a pub filled with spiteful locals. I downed the absinthe, ordered a beer chaser and keep my eyes on the bar, listening to the conversation of two young businessmen next to me. One was drunk off his ass, lamenting a decision to hire "a bird" he desperately wanted to sleep with. The drunk owned a small design firm and the girl was later assigned to deal with two representatives from a store in the states called Target.
He and his staff had no clue what Target was when they were first contacted. Needless to say, she botched a deal that could have netted the company hundreds of thousands of pounds. The drunk struggled to explain what Target was to his colleague. "I think it's like Wal-Mart but the Americans don't protest against it. They like it more but there's fewer of them about."
The absinthe was tugging at my shirt-sleeve, imploring me to explain the Target chain to these two men but I kept my mouth shut. The drunk was still wondering if he should fire her when a dreadlock'ed bartender kicked us all out the door at 11:30. I read somewhere that pubs can now stay open late in London but, even in Soho, many of them still shut down early.
Unwilling to shell out another $25 US for cab fare, I hiked back to my hostel. The walk took an hour and half. Somewhere along the way I came around a corner and spotted a fox eating a hamburger out a Styrofoam container. On an empty street in a foreign land, half-drunk and dazed, it was the last thing I expected to see. I stared at the fox and it stared back before begrudgingly darting off into the shadows, annoyed that I had interrupted its meal. "Fucking tourists," I'm sure he was thinking. "Haven't you ever seen a fox eat a burger? Wooo! How exciting! Why don't you take a photo, wanker?"
And so I did.
I caught two radically different Shakespeare productions in London. One night, after getting kicked out of the Tower of London for sneaking in five minutes from closing, by an elderly man in a Beefeater uniform no less, I wound up at the Globe Theatre. It's a recreation of Shakespeare's old digs located 900 meters away from the original. I had no ticket and that night's performance of The Merchant of Venice was sold out. While hunting for scalpers at a back gate, two drunk women approached me and gave me a ticket before wandering back to say, "Would it be terrible of us to ask you for money?" I gave them the 7 pounds and the $10 US in my wallet, all the cash I had on hand. They seemed happy to get anything for it two minutes from curtain call.
With the exception of electrical lighting, the theater is supposedly a faithful recreation of the original, right down to the hardwood seats. The audience on the floor has to stand, just like in the old days. By hour three, many of them were clearly weary, especially as the play drags on for another 30 minutes after a climatic trial scene.
While the play only had one guy dressed in drag, this was no stiff, "Shakespeare in the Park" production. All involved seemed determined to keep the show as lewd as it would have been in the 17th century. Any twist of verse that could be turned into a sex gag was, allowing the actors to hump the theater's columns and wag their pelvises around like Elvis during an epileptic fit. At another point, an actor fell over and puked fake vomit into the crowd. Despite the play's alleged subtext, I'm sure a deep kiss between Antonio and Bassanio wouldn't have gone over 400 years ago. On the walk back along the Thames, an elderly woman flagged down a girl on a bike. It was Nerissa, who was apparently heading home for the night with the Prince of Morocco. He patiently waited up ahead as the elderly lady repeatedly told her that the evening's performance was "brilliant."
Three weeks later before flying home, through circumstance, I wound up outside of a theater in Piccadilly Circus where Danny "Harry Potter' Radcliffe stripped down for a production of Equus last winter. I shelled out 20 pounds to watch Patrick Stewart star in a bloodsoaked Macbeth. While Captain Picard was probably too old for the role and paired up with a woman 25 years younger than him, he gave it his all in a twisted production that moved the play to a Bizarro World version of 50s Scotland overtaken by fascists. The stage was set in a mental ward. The Weird Sisters were portrayed as nuns, coaxing their prophecies out reanimated corpses in body bags instead of cauldrons.
Throughout, video projectors covered the walls in images of blood and marching soldiers and during one scene, a soldier flashed his penis at the crowd for some reason. Once the production rolled into act five, Lady Macbeth found herself contending with a water faucet spewing blood. As odd as it was to watch Professor Xavier brutally massacre a family on stage, it was even stranger to see him run around with an M-16 and shooting extras in the head. The show closed with him getting into a knife fight before a blood-covered Malcom returned to stage triumphantly holding his truncated head.
That's what I think Shakespeare in Love could have used more of: machine guns and beheadings.
And now I'll bore you with tales from an ancient land
I'm up to my pupils in photos and anecdotes from overseas so I guess I'll spend the next few weeks rolling them out. I'll try to shake things up with posts on other topics for anyone who frequents this blog and isn't interested in hearing about the night I drank absinthe and encountered a fox eating a Big Mac on a random street in London*. I know, I know, this is supposed to be a blog about Portland but I'm calling the shots around here and I wanna talk about wild animals in the UK who enjoy American-brand burgers.
Also: there will be Flickr galleries.
* If I did hallucinate this animal, well, now you're hallucinating too. Click here for a photo of the fox and his Big Mac. I wish this was a photo of 300 strippers flying around with 301 jet-packs but, hey, I had to take what London gave me.
Tuesday, October 02, 2007
And now a series of cheery messages from all of our friends in Europe
I spent the better part of September wandering around Europe and, let me tell you something, they aren't too big on George Walker Bush over there. Or Americans in general. I tried my best to pass for Canadian but I just couldn't pull off the long "o"s and ending every sentence with an "eh". I could bore you for hours with tales of hostile hotel clerks, sneering British expats in Munich, hate-filled waiters, "TSK!"-ing baristas in Venice and one indifferent French rail clerk that botched our reservations so badly that we were forced to spend the night on the floor of a train bound for Germany. I tried to be humble, calm, polite and as well behaved as possible (without actually bothering to learn their language). My efforts did not subvert their wrath. Does this go for everyone I encountered across a desk or carrying dishes? No, but I'd put the figure at a good 72%.
How I longed to explain to all of them that I hailed from a far away place called Portland, Oregon- a city so liberal that its citizens would make them all look like Blackwater stockholders. That, I too, am not a flag-waving fan of US geopolitics circa 2001 - present. In addition, that I also work in the service industry, deal with clueless people 40+ hours a week, hate my job and would rather spend my days sneering and smoking rolled cigarettes while dressed in tight designer clothing. Would they have listened? No, because I didn't know their language and they only had a slim grasp on mine.
Plus, I had and still have the sneaking suspicion that the entire European continent is fueled by a collective disdain for humanity. Maybe it wasn't me. Maybe 72% of everyone who works in the service industry over there really is an asshole. If only I could pull off the same sort of exploits at my workplace. If only I could get away with an attitude that screams, "Sorry, dickface. I'm too busy text messaging my girlfriend to help you. Come back and bug me in ten minutes and I'll help you if I feel like it."
Anyway, here's a series of photos covering a good portion of all the anti-Bush displays I encountered as I made my way from London to Rome and back again:
One of several anti-Bush shirts in a shop near Piccadilly Circus:
Spotted in Pisa:
Or at least I think that's supposed to be Bush. He's saying, "We fight to return. We return to fight." These next two are much more straight-forward:
Spotted in Rome:
I found this sitting in a large display window in the middle of a tourist district in Munich:
According to Babel Fish, this roughly translates to: "We bring with us democracy, liberty and Burger King. Leave our hive secure." Hive? Secure? Yeaaaaaah....I have no idea what that's all about but I have a good idea of what they're getting at.
UPDATE: A reader named Morgan chimed in to set the record straight:
"I know you posted this a while ago but your babelfish German translation was a bit off. Buergerkrieg is civil war. And that last part translates to "lets get the booty" as in pirate booty not sweet ass.
I'm bored at work at thought there might be the slightest of chances that you care."
So let me try that again. Bush is saying, "We bring with us democracy, liberty and civil war. Let's get the booty!"
The amount of political graffiti I saw relating to local politics? Surprisingly little outside of Pisa, where the stuff covered every blank wall. There's a lot of anarchists in that town.