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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

September: One More for the Road

Last weekend I drove up to Lancaster, PA to see They Might Be Giants. I've enjoyed TMBG quite a bit; not as hardcore as my brother or some friends who seem to know the track list of every album and the lyrics to all the songs, but enough to want to cough up thirty bucks to seem them in concert. And see them I did, in an ultimately annoyingly small venue that attracted a wide range of listeners, from kids coming with their parents (and maybe even grandparents) to drunk obnoxious idiots who did their most violent thrashing and moshing in the quiet moments between the opening act and that headliner. It takes a special kind of idiot to mosh without music, but in their special mission, they achieved great success.

The opening act was Les Chauds Lapins (forgive the link to MySpace), a niche opener if I ever heard one. A duet, a guy and a girl, both playing banjos (and, eventually, an antique-looking acoustic guitar), performing almost exclusively French pop songs from the 20s, 30s, and 40s. I thoroughly enjoyed their show, the music was great, the French was lovely, and I found their vocalist incredibly cute, especially when she sang raunchy French lyrics. Reactions ranged from distracted apathy to simmering rage. I'm sure there were some who enjoyed them as much as I did.

At last, two hours after the show was supposed to begin, TMBG took the stage, promising to play one song from each of their albums. Since one of their first songs was from the one album of theirs that I actually know well, I almost immediately struck out for sing-a-longs. Peppered amid obscure fan favorites were a smattering of songs I recognized, but the good thing about TMBG is that every song was good, every song they played would be something I'd listen to on the album a bunch of times, and the concert only made me want to listen to their music more. They came back for not one, but two encores, and closed with the ever-popular Birdhouse in Your Soul and a long schizophrenic "song" that is really dozens of song-ideas mashed together. So, like quirky French opener and obnoxious musicless moshers, another resounding success for the evening.

Only downer was dinner at Fudruckers. I'll never make that mistake again. Another long-cherished childhood memory shattered.

So that was Friday night. Saturday night, something special happened: a performer actually came to Delaware. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, one of my favorite comedians came and played the Grand Opera House here in lil' ol' Wilmington, DE.

His name is Patton Oswalt, and he is one of the funniest men alive.

What I like about Oswalt ("Patton" to his friends) is that he seems to never repeat material. I've followed his comedy only through his standup (oh yeah, and Ratatouille), from the Comedians of Comedy and his albums, and now live, and he never seems to regurgitate jokes. So many comedians play from a tight script, and while Patton obviously has "bits" (forgive the show-biz talk, I mean jokes), he always seems to pack them in fresh, natural dialogue that doesn't feel rehearsed, like some wellspring of new material.

I showed up to the opera house alone, determined to make the Patton's visit to Delaware worth it, and I laughed my ass off. His opener was a guy from Philly (whose name I have forgotten) who was quite funny in a morbidly sad, passionately angry Bill Hicks kinda way. Once Patton took stage, the comedy came on like a caffeine buzz, just this inner energy that grew and grew, and I was that jackass who clapped when a bit finished and most people were too aghast to clap, who clapped when he tore Palin a new asshole and refused to care about the sparse applause. (Strange that so many in the crowd were as old as my parents ... did they know who was playing, or did they just have season tickets to the Opera House?) Patton was sick as a dog and damn near choked on (I can only assume) phlegm during an impromptu Tom Waits impression. His number one fear was, you guessed it, dying in Delaware.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Stephenson, PostSecret, and Greece

Right before I left for the stupendous Singapore-Malaysia-Thailand-Laos-Southern-China SuperTrip of last January/February, I was in Hong Kong, and I stopped by my favorite bookstore, flOw ("the organic bookstore") to see what they had in the way of road reading. I found a breezy 300-page paperback called Quicksilver by an author I had read and enjoyed in college, Neal Stephenson. I had read Snow Crash, a cyberpunk postmodern mish-mash of cyberspace, Mesopotamian language-virii, country-owning corporations and mobsters, and pizza delivery. I saw that "Quicksilver" was part one of "the Baroque Cycle," and I figured I'd be digging in to a neat little trilogy. Despite its glacial pace, deliberate anachronisms, and choking on an overabundance of history, economics, science, and math, I enjoyed it. I found part two of this cycle (King of the Vagabonds) in Bangkok, and so, having made my way back to Hong Kong two months and 600 pages later, I stopped back in at flOw looking for the third and final chapter.

I found book three, all right. Only problem: it was book three of Volume One, and sitting there in front of me at flOw was books four and five (Volume Two) and books six, seven, and eight (Volume Three). I walked out of the store with over 3,000 pages to read. And I actually read 'em, geek that I am, and enjoyed them, something I can only imagine a small, small number of people would ever actually attempt, let alone accomplish. I've since picked up another Stephenson novel, Cryptonomicon, which is another thousand-plus page endeavor that links a Marine fighting in World War 2 and a genius mathematician cryptographer working in some fictional wasteland of an island in England cracking German codes with a internet-savvy capitalist in the early 2000's laying fiber-optic cable in the Philippines. Where will the stories intersect? Why does this guy need a thousand pages to tell a story? I don't know, but I'm enjoying it. Oh yeah, his new book came out in early September, and yeah, you guessed it: damn near 1,000 pages. Again.

What else? Last week I went to visit Deirdre at West Chester, and we went to see Frank of PostSecret fame. What is PostSecret? Well, click that link and see. He talked about PostSecret as a "community art project," its origins, and all that he's seen and done because of it. Very interesting concept, mildly interesting speaker, incredibly interesting show. At the end of the show, Frank set up two microphones, and invited people to come and share their secrets. It's truly saddening that so many people came to the mic and shared secrets of pain, isolation, suicide, and depression. If this small sample of West Chester had so many sad and unhappy people, what does that say about our country as a whole? I didn't get up to share anything, neither did Deirdre, and after the show we went in the lobby and read the post cards WCU students had sent in during the last few weeks. Walking back to Deirdre's apartment, I shared my secret: in Cambodia, in 2007, I was traveling alone, and I was in Siem Reap, this small tourist town just outside the Angkor temples. There was literally nothing to do in town but see the temples by day and party at night, and being there alone was an incredibly lonely, isolating experience. Well before I even know PostSecret existed, I took out a postcard, wrote a sad lonely little message for whomever, and left it there at a restaurant table. I guess the secret is that I feel that alone pretty frequently.

And one more, how's about some pictures? This time I want to share Athens with you.

There she is ... the Parthenon, the crown jewel of the Athenian Acropolis.

Listening to our guide.

The Temple of Olympian Zeus from afar.

The Acropolis.

I fell in love with this Cyclades woman, this strange sleek white statue from ancient Greece.

Temple of Zeus up close.

Hmm. That's it? So many great memories of Athens, from gyros to heroes, I can't believe I don't have more to share. Well, I do, but ...

I'll share some pics of the Greek islands next time. Now, off to see They Might Be Giants!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Charge of the Ad-Hocracy

Unlike certain songs by certain bands whose days are somewhat verdant, I did not wish to sleep my way through September. And yet here I am, waking as September ends, settled in to some kind of life here in Delaware, fresh-faced and newly 24, resisting the urge to burn it all to the ground and run for the nearest plane headed for a foreign country. September has been a month of adjustments.

I turned 24 to little internal fanfare. I went to bed Thursday and realized, oh yeah, tomorrow is my birthday. And I woke up the next day, and it felt like just another day, which I guess is how Mature Adult People deal with birthdays. I guess I wanted that first birthday back home to be really special, to have more meaning than it should, but it didn't, and as an aspiring MAP, I should get used to that. I went to lunch with mom at a great little gourmet cafe in Newark, dinner with dad and friends at a dive bar with a roast beef sandwich I'd been lusting over for a few years, came home, cut the cake, and that was that. Nothing special, no fireworks, and yet it was really exactly what I wanted: a birthday with friends and family right there next to me.

Monday I begin my work as an employee, ahem, a partner, at Starbucks. Now some of you may remember me having not-so-nice-things to say about corporate coffee and all that, but three things: a) I need a job with money and medical, which Starbucks offers to even part-timers, 2) Starbucks is actually much more progressive than I originally thought, and d) consistency isn't one of my strong points. I got the green apron, the stupid hat, and next week, I'll be behind the counter. And people say English majors can't find good work!

I've also been slowly going through the process of realizing a long-in-gestation goal. And I say realizing because, well, I think I'm finally coming 'round to seeing it as something I actually want to do, and not just something I'm shrugging my way toward. That goal: becoming a sub, becoming a teacher, and possibly going back to school for a full-time big boy career in education. Delaware has a good program in place to fast-track my teaching degree, and I could get a masters at Delaware for a fraction of the price I'd pay pretty much anywhere else. But we'll see; part of my still wants to do something surprising and scary for a year or two, maybe move to Peru to teach and learn Spanish or something, something that trumps China, something where I can be on the stage of life, shuffle the China experience behind me, and confidently say to the crowd, "And now for something completely different." But barring any more forays into the big beautiful world outside of America, that goal is otherwise moving, however glacially, forward.

And on top of that, I still haven't shared all my photos from Europe. Much like my journaling during the trip, Italy is such a bundle of awesome that it takes time to digest. So here we go: Venice! Florence! Rome!

Venice ... that floating city, that island-state, that strange canal-laden ad-hocracy of pre-modern urban design. So blisteringly Italian, and yet so uniquely Venetian. While it's hard not to be overwhelmed by the maze of alleyways and canals that cut through the city like veins, you ultimately leave Venice with too many pictures of lonely waterways and astounding architecture, which is not a bad thing to have a lot of.

Florence was perhaps my favorite city from my first tour of Europe back in 'aught 'aught (that's 2000 to you folks). I returned to Florence seven years later to see my friend David, and he hadn't changed a bit! We also sampled some of the best gelatto Italy had to offer; may I recommend the chocolate?

Rome ... Rome was my favorite city of the trip, a living breathing pollution-spewing awe-shattering city pulsing with history and life ... Rome. I've been to Beijing, I've been to DC and Bangkok and London and Paris ... something about Rome, I could live there.

Enjoy the slideshows; click 'em for more pictures. Maybe I'll get another blog in soon; I'll try to share all the awesome I saw in Greece.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Déjà Villanova (or: Jim and Law go to Labor Day Camp)

The much anticipated follow-up to last year's summer camp is here! Jim and Law go to Labor Day Camp!

I spent Labor Day weekend living like I did in college: sitting inside on beautiful days playing video games, eating garbage, and drinking what polite company would call "to excess." This time was spent with my good friends (Matt) Lawler, Jim (Hartzel), C(ecilia Bladino) and Keiff ("Keith" Benedict). Last summer Jim and I drove up to Boston to see Lawler, and on the ride home, Jim told me he was this close to buying the ring, and that he already had a plan for how to propose to C, on their third anniversary on the exact spot they first started dating. Fast forward one year, the wedding is in December, and I'm wishing them congratulations in person for the first time as they approach the one-year anniversary of their engagement. It's certainly been a year.

Yeah. It was that kind of weekend.

How does the camera know how to adjust accordingly for all that beer?


Oh yeah.

Happy Birthday, Jim.

My name is Matthew Lawler, and I approve of this cake carving.


Out and about in New Hope.

Jim enjoys looking weird.

Oh dear ...

Congrats you crazy kids.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

European Extravaganza!

My brother the auteur has put together a little video of our trip through Europe this summer. It's a lot of random clips from various cities, all set to a decidedly indie soundtrack. Needless to say, I'm a big fan! I know I have yet to put up all my photos from Europe, but I'll get to it eventually. If you like this vid, be sure to check out a similar video Patrick did of our trip through China!

Wow. It's September already. The first September I've spent in the US in two years. I feel like I should be struggling through class in some obscure Chinese city somewhere.