but when you can’t afford a broken nose, how can you afford to fight?

I got to the concert early.

I get to every concert early. Doors open at 8:00, the ticket says, and like a chump I’m there at 8:30. Of late I’ve grown better at avoiding such foolishness, sitting patiently at home with an improving book until two hours after the printed time. But promoters have changed their game to accommodate me, the crafty rogues, so I still end up sitting through half an hour of some opening act from Jersey called The Mackerlain or Sixpenny Strikers or Chisholm Face or something like that.

The first act (of three) was still on when I slipped into the basement at the Middle East. So I found an open seat at one of the corner bars, ordered a domestic beer, and watched the Kimbo Slice / Houston Alexander UFC fight. Alexander embarrassed himself, dancing in a perpetual circle away from Slice’s reach for the entire first round. I sneered, urging a man three time zones away to close ranks, put himself within arm’s reach of a brawler, and risk permanent injury in order to inflict some himself. Kind of unsettling, when you think about it. How dare you defend yourself sensibly? Drop your guard! Charge the son-of-a-bitch! GYAAARRGH!

But I won’t pretend to be above it. I want blood, and thankfully mixed martial artists provide. We should be glad the UFC exists to give these men an outlet for their aggressions, lest they take up arms and become provincial warlords.

Ted Leo, by way of comparison, is a perfect gentleman.

A lot of acts hide backstage during set changes, letting the roadies do the tuning and the sound check, and save themselves for the big reveal. But Ted was out there plugging in guitars and thumping mics with the best of them. The audience cheered when he first came out; he gave a friendly wave, then went to work. And they cheered again when he came on, officially, and opened up with “Heart Problems.”

And after every song, he said, “Thanks.”

Ted doesn’t sacrifice any of the energy in his songs by being friendly and accessible. You can still hear the anger in his lyrics – not a bitter disillusionment, but a perpetual encouragement to look past the illusion and keep moving.

After listening all morning, as I drove down 95
To a story of detainees who were barely kept alive
I could deal with trying to process pigeons acting like their doves
But not with interference from the power lines above

I describe Ted Leo to friends as an edgier Elvis Costello: swap out the mod for punk and put him in flannel. But his songwriting combines that same subversive genius with upbeat, catchy riffs. He put that cleverness to work in a few new songs (though he didn’t announce a date or title on a new album).

And he closed on a crowd favorite. Because he’s a nice guy.

But I’m here (but I’m here!), and you’re here, and it’s true
There’s a whole lot of walking to do
And you’re cool (and you’re cool!), and I’m cool, and it’s true
There’s a whole lot of walking to do
There’s no fuss (there’s no fuss!), and I trust, I trust you!
There’s a whole lot of walking to do
And you’re strong (and you’re strong!), and I can be too
There’s a whole lot of walking to do

(Better pics coming later)

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a couple of the sounds that I really like

I bought Michelle B. brunch at Johnny D’s, in payment for her reviewing the first draft of my second novel and giving me feedback. She teaches at a public high school similar to the one my novel’s set at and I needed her help on verisimilitude. I captured the attitude of school kids very well, she said, but could probably dial back the swearing.

“Kids are very conscious of where The Line is,” she said, “and will dance all the way up to it without stepping over. Unless they want to get kicked out. So in this section here, where Roland says, ‘Suppose you suck my dick, bitch,’ he might say …”

Next: haircut at Franco’s in Inman Square. I come here often enough to be considered a regular now by the staff. First thing Mike did when he sat me down was ask, “How was the wedding?” So I told him about the Liberty Hotel and officiating a wedding behind Storrow Drive and Clink and all the rest. He did my hair up shorter than usual, at my request. I trust the man implicitly.

Even though the weather was pleasant, I stopped off at Inman Oasis for a soak in the big hot tub, saying hi to Miss Cheryl at the front desk. Then I walked all the way from Inman back to Davis, burning off about a third of my brunch calories.

Serpico invited me out to watch UFC 100 at Sports Despot in Allston. We got there minutes before 10:00 just before the bar hit capacity. I like Sports Despot – crowded, sure, but it’s a well-behaved crowd, and there’s more than enough TVs. We squeezed in behind the Pop-a-Shot game and watched the bloody action on a flatscreen thirty inches from our noses.

Highlights:

  • Akiyama v. Belcher: My favorite fight of the night. Two technically savvy, aggressive fighters trading blows and working angles. Still, this fight belonged to Akiyama – apparently nicknamed “Sexiyama” in his hometown of Osaka, due to his lucrative singing career – from round 1. Superior grappling and more acrobatic striking.

    Match Highlight: Two hundred and fifty men in an Allston bar groaning simultaneously when the clip of Akiyama taking a kick to the groin was replayed.

  • Henderson v. Bisping: I haven’t watched “The Ultimate Fighter” in over a year, so I had no idea of the bad blood between these two. So I leaned back to watch a suitable fight for the first round and a half. Then Henderson knocked Bisping out with a punch that got replayed at least six times. Left knee and low left uppercut to draw his block down, and then a right haymaker that slalomed Bisping’s jaw. Henderson followed Bisping down to the mat, dropping an elbow on his face from his full height. Still not sure the man knows where he is.

    Match Highlight: Rogan asking Henderson afterward: “Did you know Bisping was out when you tagged him that second time?”

  • GSP vs. Thiago Alves: Watching the U.S. Open at work a few months back, one of my colleagues wondered aloud if people watching Roger Federer play realized that they were probably watching the greatest male tennis player of all time – if they were conscious of the man’s place in history. I don’t follow tennis that close, but I feel the same way about Georges St. Pierre. He’s incredibly competent at every aspect of fighting – superior hand strikes, superior kicks, superior grappling, superior submissions, etc. He’s fast and he’s powerful, an optimized fighter.

    I hoped for a knockout or a submission, but even Alves knew after Round 5 that he’d lost – he hoisted St Pierre’s hand and retired to his own corner. Consider that GSP continued to dominate the ground game for the last two and a half rounds, even after pulling his groin, and join in my amazement.

    Match Highlight: The “twenty-one-year old” in the Metallica shirt who booed until his voice cracked every time St Pierre took Alves down. Which was at least three times a round.

  • Brock Lesnar vs. Frank Mir: I hate Brock Lesnar. That doesn’t make me special, of course; he’s practically built to be hated. The man coasted into UFC from the pro-wrestling circuit, was handed title shots on the strength of his name alone, and has comported himself with bad grace throughout. Tonight’s match was no exception: he refused to touch gloves with Mir in the warmup and downplayed his prior loss to Mir (via submission) in the pre-show interviews.

    And yet I have to acknowledge: Brock is good at what he does. He doesn’t possess a lot of technical artistry, but he has size, aggression and a mastery of his limited range. Lesnar took Mir down, slowly turned his ground pin into solid control, then struck Mir until his head bounced off the fence.

    Match Highlight: The post-match interview with Rogan. “Keep it coming!” Lesnar yelled to the booing fans. “I’m’a go home, drink a Coors Light. A Coors Light,” he repeated, pointing to the prominent Bud Light logo on the canvas, “because Bud ain’t paying me shit. Hell, I might even get on top’a my wife tonight. Sarah? Where are you, honey?” The thought of that psychotic thug even simulating tenderness scares me.

Postscript: my first run-in with a crazy neighbor in thirteen months of living here. Given that I live in a brick walk-up for shut-ins, I’m amazed it took this long. At about 1:30 on Sunday morning, the guy in the apartment next to me (not Ryan; the other side) slammed something into the ground about forty times. He went on a screaming tirade throughout, indistinct over the slamming, that ended in “fucking upstate New York!” All quiet for another half hour, until he began a slurring rant about several people who might not have been present or listening. “And Joey? Fucking Joey? Fuck you, you fucking asshole! And Johnny? That fucking fag!” Etc. By the time I had resolved the debate on whether to call the cops or get dressed and knock on his door myself, he had stopped.

chasing sea foam dreams around another dirty old town

A Hyundai commercial came on late in the 3rd. “Have you heard about Hyundai’s new program?” someone asked. “If you buy a Hyundai and you lose your job, they’ll take the car back.”

“Won’t the bank do that for you already?” I asked.

Somewhere between the commercial for the G.I. Joe remake and the commercial for the Escape to Witch Mountain remake, a Super Bowl happened. It was a tense Super Bowl, don’t get me wrong. Lot of good play on both sides, and I have to credit the Cardinals for making it close in the 4th. But nothing epitomizes the Steelers more than James Harrison, hero of the 2nd quarter for running back a pick for a TD, becoming the villain of the 4th by flagrantly roughing Ben Graham. Harrison shoved the Cardinals punter down, kept him on the ground by pushing down on his shoulders, then punched him as he struggled to stand. Taking nothing away from the athleticism of Santonio Holmes and Troy Polamalu, the Steelers are as disreputable a bunch of thugs as ever donned football uniforms*

The Super Bowl was not the most brutal sporting event I saw this weekend. That honor goes to UFC 94, which I watched with Brett, Will and a bunch of other Everett kids on Saturday. In between talking about the murders that kids they went to high school got away with**, we watched a series of bizarre matches and even more bizarre judging decisions:


  • A crowd full of drunken guys in their 20s and 30s went from laughing at the one guy named “Dong” to cheering him on sincerely. He demonstrated more prowess and control in the first two rounds of his fight against Karo Parisyian than anyone we’d seen thus far. Then … he lost in a split decision. I hesitate to yell “racism,” but East Asians always fare poorly in MMA (oddly enough).

  • Winner for most bizarre entrance music: Jon “Bones” Jones, coming out to “Angry Johnny” by Poe. A refreshing change from the late 90s rap and early 00s nu-metal that most fighters find intimidating, but … really? You’re going to pump up the crowd by playing Poe? I suppose it got inside Stephen Bonnar’s head (he entered to The Who’s “Eminence Front,” FYI), since Jones won with the first unanimous decision of the night. He had some sick mule kicks.

I liked the UFC match better – fewer villains won – but I enjoyed the company at both events. If I miss anything about moving to a smaller place, it’s not being able to host a dozen or so people for a ball game or a movie night. Still wouldn’t trade back, though.

_______________
* Unlike my own Baltimore Ravens, gentlemen all.
** Not joking. Murders, dude.

a living study in demonology

Hey sports fans.

I finally checked out Mike’s in Davis Square, which has just tucked its chin over the “dive bar” hurdle but not quite cleared it. Big meatball subs dripping with mozzarella and imported beer in plastic cups. You could call Mike’s, if I may steal the most common line in an in-flight magazine ever, a “study in contrasts.”

I ended up here because I hadn’t eaten that evening (Thursday), and because I wanted to see the tail end of the Ravens squeaking by the Patriots in the pre-season opener. Kyle Boller surprised me by not disintegrating into his coordinate goo, but instead launching bomb after bomb to Derrick Mason for mad points. And our second-string D sacked the Patriots’ QB (not Tom Brady) six times and pulled three picks out of the air as well.

In other news, Brett Favre consented to his own perpetual embarrassment by coming out of retirement to play for the Packers Vikings Buccaneers New York Jetropolitans. People speculate whether he should have stayed out this season, or whether this will be his final season. I say: screw that noise. I hope he has four more seasons. Let him piddle his relevancy away with a series of demeaning second- and third-string roles for increasingly worse teams, until one morning he finds himself fighting for the backup job in Cleveland with Brady Quinn. The 21st Century needs a new Vinnie Testaverde – a homeless parasite of a man, wandering from stadium to stadium, delivering mediocre performances until his name becomes a punchline.

(Sorry; the man just tires me)

Last bit of sports news: I watched UFC 87: Seek and Destroy in good company on Saturday night – RJ, Brett, Will S. and Mike L. All of the fights entertained us a great deal – even the 0:12 second knockout between two Ultimate Fighter also-rans.

Some highlights:

  • Cheick Kongo. Expect him to be a competitive heavyweight name in some later fights. He’s a big, tough dude who moves like a Ferrari.

  • Demian Maia. A skilled jiu-jitsu practitioner, he took down the ugly Jason MacDonald with a very proficient rear choke. Reach advantage rarely helps inside the grapple.

  • Condom Depot. One of the fighters had CONDOM DEPOT sprayed across the ass of his trunks, in an unfortunately suggestive sponsorship deal.

  • Light Flo Day. Boston’s own Kenny Florian took down Minnesota’s own Roger Huerta in a fantastic lightweight fight that went all three rounds. Florian has a pretty amazing arsenal – he kicks, punches and grapples remarkably well. He mentioned his soon-to-open martial arts school in Boston once, when Joe “Bro”gan cornered him after the fight; the ringside commentators mentioned it two or three times.

  • Brock Lesnar. That man is one blown knee away from a bouncing gig in Orange County.

yeah, flipmode; flipmode the greatest

I visited the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum for the first time this Sunday, taking Rachel V. as a birthday present. My impressions: the first floor felt a little cluttered, though the courtyard looked pristine. The second and third floors looked stately and impressive. The curators have labeled almost none of the pieces, leaving the audience to guess at what they mean (Lindsay, you’d have a blast playing “docent for a day” here).

Saturday morning, I squeezed in a workout at the BSC in Davis with Marie. I finished my routine earlier than she did, so I decided to sauna before I showered off. The balls-out naked man doing push-ups on the floor of the sauna gave me pause at first – it’s a pretty small room; I couldn’t exactly step over him – but I finagled my way in. The dude then leaned over the radiator, breathing in hot dry air in ragged, panting gulps, before toddling off to a shower. Still, better than the Central Square BSC any day.

Later I did some paperwork and watched Vertigo. I had kept myself free of half a century worth of spoilers through some miracle, so everything after the first hour caught me completely by surprise. The movie deserves all its critical acclaim: the Hermann score, the weird cinematography and the two leads cooperate to induce a dreamlike hypnosis over the audience. You believe that Stewart and Novak are the only two people in the city, or even on the planet.

I also had some drinks with Serpico and Rachel V. in celebration of their birthday at the classy B-Sides Lounge in Cambridge. They pour a tasty Manhattan. I alternated between socializing – giving Dave S. advice on how to pick up girls, a position I never thought I’d find myself in – and watching the UFC fights on TV. “Why are they fighting?” Rachel asked. “Is it over a girl? Is it a land dispute?”

“Yes, it’s land,” I told her. “We’re watching the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.”

On Friday, not only did I hit up 90s Night (again), but I stopped by Melanie T’s party downtown. She has a place on Boylston St. behind the State House with a stupefyingly gorgeous view. Probably the best view in Boston – you can see from the Zakim Bridge to Southie from the roof deck. I snacked and I chatted up coworkers. The consensus on marriage: expensive! Enter with caution.