brokedown kitchen at the top of the stairs

I do karaoke in the Boston area a lot, so I pick up on the little differences between joints. For instance: Charles Playhouse Bar, the bar beneath the theater that hosts Boston’s long-running Blue Man Group and Shear Madness, hosts karaoke every Friday. DJ Jimmy boasts a selection that rivals Paul B. over at Asgard – tens of thousands of tracks indexed on computer. Since the low-ceilinged basement bar is built for performers, hosting stand-up comedy on other nights of the week, the sound system has some bite to it. And the bar’s hard enough to find that nobody stumbles in off the street. You have to know someone to get here.

Plus they have a mic stand. Most karaoke DJs work several gigs, providing their own display screen, mixer and wireless mic. But at Charles Playhouse you’re looped into the bar’s sound, meaning you use the house mic. And ask anyone who performs on stage: there’s a substantial difference between performing with a mic stand and without. Most comedians I know find it comforting. It gives you something to do with your free hand. It gives you something to lean on if you’re drunk. If you’re singing, it gives you the opportunity to use both hands (simulated air guitar, clapping over your head to exhort the audience, twitching like a British New Wave singer). At the very least it gives you a dancing partner. I suspect the crucial function of a mic stand is to act as a security blanket. If there’s a mic stand in front of you, you’re performing into the mic; if there’s nothing, you’re performing into the audience.

“I’m hanging onto consciousness by my fingernails here,” I told the audience an hour before closing. I would have stayed longer, but my friends had been buying me drinks all evening (birthday, etc) and I couldn’t even pretend to roll. But, after the DJ couldn’t load my first three song choices (“read error? what the fuck does that mean?”), I settled on a little Violent Femmes to close out the evening. Gano’s lyrics were meant to be sung while tottering, so overcome with the bitterness of adolescence that you need to anchor yourself to the ground or else explode in a hail of fists. And I clung to that mic stand like it was keeping me alive.


our hopes and expectations; black holes and revelations

Today begins the last year of my twenties. Anything I should do before I become a for-real adult? I’ve already seduced and betrayed, and been done unto in turn. I’ve been to Iceland and I will have been to London. I’ve written a few novels; haven’t sold one yet. I have a job and a nice car. Got a 401(k). What have I missed?

and love, you can’t give it away

Thank you to everyone who made it out for one of my three birthday events in the past week. I deliberately picked times and places that would draw a crowd already – Asgard on Wednesday, Common Ground on Friday, Phoenix Landing on Saturday – to make it easy for people to show up. Also, because I have lots of good memories associated with these places, and would never mind having more.

I drive myself pretty hard on the things I find important – fitness, writing, finances, this weblog. But I picked this past week to indulge. I still worked out, but I ate greasy food I’d normally avoid. I still wrote, but I didn’t force myself to stare at an empty page if the words weren’t coming. I still got up early, but I sat around reading (or watching The Shield) in my pajamas rather than hurrying into the shower. Birthdays are as good a period as any to let the routine slide.

It felt good, of course. I can see why some people want to do it all the time. But idleness like that only works in contrast. I can only let the bills pile up and the novel grow dusty for so long before I start itching to make changes to the world again.

Sometimes I wonder what I’d do if I came into a mythical amount of money – the illusory hot stock tip, the briefcase of money at the train station, the winning lottery ticket. I couldn’t see myself living a life of mindless luxury. At least not for more than a year. Probably travel the globe and weblog about it. Learn some exotic and expensive skill (sailing, hang gliding, wine growing, etc). The hands itch for, as Sterling Hayden put it, “some form of working activity that will yield a sense of accomplishment.”

So: the consumption cycle ends. The production cycle begins anew. Enough cake. Back to work.

everybody knows that you’re in trouble; everybody knows what you’ve been through

“You should join Twitter!”
“I can’t.”
“Why not?”
“If I had another outlet for self-indulgent blurbs, I’d have nothing to write about.”

. . .

Thanks to everyone who came out to Asgard last night for my birthday. I appreciate all your shout-outs and dedications. I reserve a special spotlight for Doug, the only man who can pull of Andrea Bocelli at karaoke; Melissa and Fraley, who came out all that way; and Rachel V., who rocked a vicious rhyme like she never did before. And to choreographer Kate, and MB back from New York, and the drunken panda, and, and … well, you’re all great.

. . .

The water in my Brita tank has started to take on a vaguely sweet aftertaste. Since my initial efforts at diagnosing it have all failed, I’m using PathWise Root Cause Analysis to find an answer.

What is the object affected? Taste of water.
What other, similar, objects could be affected but aren’t? Appearance of water (no weird particles or changes of color); temperature of water.

What exactly is wrong? Very mild aftertaste of something sweet.
What else could be going wrong but is not? Could be a stronger aftertaste. Could be a really foul aftertaste.

Where do you see the problem? In the water that comes out of the Brita pitcher.
Where else could I expect to see this problem occur, but hasn’t? In the milk. In the bread. In the cheese or yogurt.

When did the problem first occur? Couple of weeks ago.
When else could the problem have occurred, but didn’t? Couple of months ago. In the old apartment. Just yesterday for the first time.

When in the process flow does the problem occur? After the water’s been sitting in the fridge for at least a few hours. (I discovered this on Tuesday, having poured myself the dregs of a pitcher and getting that sweetish smack of the lips. Then I poured myself a second glass, having just refilled the pitcher, and tasted nothing)
When else in the process flow could the problem occur, but hasn’t? As soon as the water filters. Before the water filters (i.e., could be originating at the tap).

In what pattern does the event occur? Every instance, given enough time.
How else could the problem repeat itself, but hasn’t? Every second or third or nth instance.

How big is the problem? Mild but not ruinous aftertaste.
How big could the problem be? Bad taste that ruins the water-drinking experience.

Based on the above, I’m going to test one theory, by filling the pitcher with water and leaving it on the counter rather than refrigerating it. I’ll keep you posted, as I’m sure the suspense is killing you

Edit: I never spelled out the next step, confusing some of you, so let me continue. What I do now is test several theories and see whether they satisfy the Is/Is-Not conditions listed above.

  • “You need to change the filter.” This doesn’t satisfy the “when” condition – the fact that a pitcher sitting in the fridge for hours gets funky, but a freshly-filtered pitcher does not.
  • “There’s something in the fridge emitting odor.” This one gets a little shaken by the “where” condition – it’s odd that only the water would be affected by whatever the thing is. But right now it’s a strong possibility.

  • “The tap water itself is funky.” This is a heavy runner-up. Any changes to the consistency of the tap water would be beyond my control. It seems odd that I wouldn’t have noticed any other symptoms (see first question – “what other, similar objects”), but it’s eminently possible.

Science – it’s a method!

if I told you I felt ageless, would you tell me I’m not old?

I turn 28 today.

In a few months I’ll have outlived Jimi Hendrix. I’ve already buried Tupac and Biggie.

By the age of 28, Dylan had already recorded Highway 61 Revisited, Blonde on Blonde and Nashville Skyline. Pynchon had already written The Crying of Lot 49. Welles had already released Citizen Kane. And let’s not get started on Mozart.

Not that my best years need to be behind me. Muhammed Ali didn’t even start boxing until he was 28 Gene Hackman didn’t got an on-screen role until he was 33. Fitzgerald wouldn’t see Gatsby in print until he was 29. Jordan had only brought the Bulls one title. Soderbergh had yet to follow up on the acclaim of sex, lies and videotape. Hemingway had already written The Sun Also Rises, but For Whom The Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea were still ahead of him.

Also of note: when he turned 28, my old man was four short months away from bringing a certain young heartbreaker into the world.

All right, Professor. Enough cake. Back to work.

(correction c/o Matt W., who realized I said 28 when I should have said 18)

you can find me in the club

Today being my actual birthday, I’ll recap the birthday celebration:

#: I caught up with Christine and surprise guests Meghan and Sam by getting to Common Ground early. Not early enough to avoid a cover, unfortunately. They’ve also switched to using bracelets instead of stamps, but the bar was already pretty packed with people who weren’t wearing bracelets. So I chucked mine soonest. I have hairy wrists.

#: I should have learned by now not to try listing attendees, as I inevitably forget someone and hurt their feelings. But: Joanna, Tim, Sylvia, Dan, Stephanie, Matthew, and Katie – thank you for coming out for my birthday.

#: Melissa and Fraley asked me to officiate their wedding! I accepted.

#: Someone stole my green thrift store coat at some point between 10:00 and 2:00. Stephanie used her pull with the staff to ask them to search, but with no luck. Apparently mine was the last of four coats to be taken in the evening. I love Common Ground, and I dearly love 90s Night, but this might be my last time there until the weather warms up.

#: So my first birthday present to myself – a green thrift store coat! I bought it at the same secondhand store in Allston as the last one, also for $20. It has a slightly warmer liner but feels a bit lighter.

#: Other birthday presents: Bridge of Birds, the House of Cards trilogy, Mind Performance Hacks, a sword stand for my recently acquired sword, and a big stack of graphic novels. Expect a digest on the lattermost with your next media blow.

#: I saw a bunch of two-person improv shows at IB on Sunday night. They ranged from the fantastic (Flynn/Maclean, Reynolds/French) to the mediocre (two BU alumni who just, I don’t know, god). Improv is tricky, and the two-person show is a tricky format.

#: I’m now in my late twenties.