Saturday, December 27, 2008

Sushi + Christmas

You can compare sushi to Christmas. Here's how it works: if you aren't a sushi chef, and I am assuming you aren't, and you attempt to make sushi at home (which most of us don't) you will know first hand that it's nearly impossible to make. Don't get me wrong, you can do it but the process is labor intensive and the finished product is usually decent at best. In the end, the rolls that took you most of the day to make are gobbled up in 3 seconds.

Making sushi is a condensed version, a replica, a 1/64 scale of Christmas. Hours, days and months are spent determining what your family member wants. Scratching down ideas, picking up on hints, doing the necessary research of where to get it, and on and on. Like making sushi, you don't want to start too early because tastes change (sushi goes bad), and prices vary. You don't want to wait too long either because of crowds and availability, shipping time, and the chances someone else already got the pajamas is great. Wait until the last minute to make an eel and avocado roll and, well, you won't have sushi.

So comes Christmas day and the moment you are ready to eat the fresh cut rolls. Looking pretty in bows and decorative paper (the presents under the tree), the kids tear into it. Every year you want to make the act deliberate and measured. "Stevie you open 1 present, then let your sister Cindy open 1," mom says. "Okay mom," says Stevie. For 1 or 2 presents the new method works, then chaos breaks loose and the attention span of a 4-year-old clicks from "I can do it" to "Uhh no." And in an instant, that fleeting moment of controlled chaos becomes a mass of wrapping paper, cardboard, plastic, and drunken toy joy.

The sushi experiment is the same way. Buy the paper, make the sticky rice, get the freshest ingredients, shop all over town for the equipment, labor over it, roll it, make it look pretty, cut it like your local shop and present it. Like opening presents you attempt to maintain some self-control: eat a roll, rest, sip some Asahi, clean your palate with ginger, and dive back in. For 1 roll it works, then you refer back to the uncontrolled state and rolls disappear with blinding speed. Next thing you know, the rolls are gone and you sit in that same drunken stupor that unwrapping presents creates.

So in a weird twist of imagination Christmas and sushi are the same. Both are hard work, both get you drunk and full, and ultimately you do both all over again.

Long live Christmas
日本語 長く生きているクリスマス

Saturday, December 20, 2008

"Happy Trees" at 5:15 on a Saturday morning

Baby Hope is restless. She's either feeling the ill effects of the burrito wrap/straight jacket contraption that she sleeps in nightly or she's craving some early morning television. In some cities and for some lifestyles, this time of day is considered late night, but for me it's prime sleepy time. I usually am up late anyway getting my fix of Charlie Rose or something on the DVR, and this night/morning was no exception but 3:30 a.m. for me is pushing it.

Soon it was 4:00 a.m. and the little nugget was having "issues". Twitchy, stretching, squeaking. I've been through this twice before so for those who offer up the usual "That's going to happen sometimes," I know that already. Rub her back, feed her boob (not mine), tuck her tightly in. Nothing. So I make the management decision to get her up, and go to the living room. On goes the plasma and we settle in to what could have been some rough television: Infomercials, public television, lame crafting or quilting shows on HGTV (who watches that shit?).

Instead, because I was tuned to PBS when I switched the television off the previous evening, we watched pure glory: Bob Ross! "The Joy of Painting" is likely the greatest art show ever made. It enjoys a cult following even to this day, and I remember years ago watching it every once in a while. While I never could understand how someone could possibly follow along and paint the brilliant landscapes he painted, I was more mesmerized by his language, the sweet afro, and his soft-spoken delivery. "It's your world, so you can put happy trees anywhere you like," is something similar to what he would say and then "boom" he would brush in a brilliant Evergreen. This particular segment he did the usual mountain scene, perhaps early morning, snow on the ground, trees both living and dead, and plenty of wonderful light play.

While my daughter faded off to sleep, I watched until the end and found myself wanting more of Bob Ross. "Should I put him in the DVR schedule?", I wondered. Why isn't Bob's show on later in the morning so that kids can enjoy the master of landscape and his own "wet-on-wet" technique. Bob died in 1995 at the age of 52, but his legend and cult status continues. Long live Bob Ross!

1. Hoodie sweatshirt that says "Happy Trees" on the front
2. Tons of DVD's and VHS copies of his show including one showing you how to paint a giant Panda
3. Kid package that includes paints, an easel, and a t-shirt
4. Bob Ross lunch sack
5. 1,000 piece puzzle called "Mountain by the sea"

Monday, December 15, 2008

The chair that could

"It's not that bad" I said. It was a response to a question or maybe it was an exclamation made by my wife about a chair that was destined either for the scrap heap or local thrift store. "It's kind of cool in a 70's, err, 80's kind of way" I said with head tilted and eyes squinted as if the obscured view and awkward angle would turn it into an Eames lounger. It was a hand-me-down from a psychotherapist's office that my wife used in her practice and now was deemed un-cool and un-comfortable by her and her office mates. Back when it was made it was likely super-stylish in an office kind of way. Imagine it placed near the coffee table standing tall, equipped with a fair amount of padding, a generous headrest, and the ability to lounge it back and forth. Now place a mustache'd, curly-haired "analyst" offering opinions decked out in his Earth shoes, brown bell-bottom'd cords, a macrame tapestry on the wall and shag carpeting on the floor. No doubt there's a ton of miles on this chair and while it has stood the test of office time, it truly was never designed for home-living room use. But on that fateful day when it seemed that the leather lounger with the wood base was on its way out, I stepped in and rescued it. "Come check it out" my wife said. "We're tired of it and just want to get rid of it" she continued. So I did and instantly placed it in my head on the wood floor in our living room, next to the old bench my wife found on the street. I quickly visualized the remote on the arms and lazy Sunday afternoon naps. While the style was still in question, I saw it fitting nicely and filling a void in our now "modern" living room. So I lugged it home and plopped it down and it worked. It actually fit the spot and complemented the space and furniture. While my wife shrugged and gave out a few "ehh's" and "If you like it..." it stood strong. I used it often, propped my feet up on another freebie known as a footrest and basked in the glory of my interior design senses. But the boss wasn't convinced. I could see it in her eyes, and in her actions: she never sat in it and pushed it close to the wall as if to make it disappear... kind of. It was quickly becoming my "Archie Bunker" chair. A perfect view point to the television on the wall, a comforting cream leather that was cold yet cozy (after 5 minutes of sit time) and that 70's modern look made it fit into that category I refer to as "So bad, it's good". It's the same category that every Patrick Swayze and Chuck Norris film fits into. Several months went by and then my wife gives birth to Hope. Now, the kookie therapist chair with thousands of session miles on it has become the nursing station. It's soft seat, overall comfort, the ability to recline and ease of use has turned the once landfill-bound chair into a gem, a treasure, a great "find". Checkmate!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Do you want it tucked or untucked...

It's been a while since my last entry and boy have things changed! Now along comes a girl in my life called Hope. She's the new baby nugget in my life and while it's nice to have masculine energy in this household with the 2 older boys, it was ripe time for some fem vibes. Out she came before the scheduled C-section... 6 days early in fact. All babies that come out of the womb either look like: A) they aren't yours; B) an old man; or C) they were probably more comfortable inside than out.

The pregnancy period is great. Sure, your woman is pregnant and sometimes uncomfortable, but the reality is that the baby is still inside and not out. Being inside, for parents, is "easy". Mom obviously feels the pains and discomfort, but dad still does his thing: Mow the lawn, wash the cars, take naps, watch boxing, etc. Even 7 months in, the baby still has some time until it comes out. Same with 8 months and for that matter 9 months (or close to it).

Then she comes out, and instantly your world takes a left turn. In that moment, the defining millisecond between "Baby In" and "Baby Out" is remembered, ingrained, stamped into your memory. Now it's on. "Baby Out" means so many things not only in the moment, but for the next 18+ years or so. Instantly my mind jumps to "How to handle the rag-doll neck," to "Where the hell are my diaper changing skills at this moment?," to "Sleep? Umm. No.," and "When she's 16 will she call me from "Burning Man" to ask if it's cool she goes topless the whole time." [Yeah I know. She won't ask]

And so with all of this in mind I began my rigorous "Baby Out" training. In my head I replayed the bygone days (4 years ago) when my diaper changing skills were stuff of legend. My ability to wrap a dirty diaper into a tiny ball made me smile and do imaginary high-5's to myself. My ability to stay up late is already in place considering I frequently pull all-nighters for work. My bottle feeding skills were also solid as that technique never seems to get lost. It's like riding a bike really! And so it seemed that all of the skills from 2 older kids were polished for the most part, until it came to time to swaddle.

"Take this part and make a triangle, then take that part of the blanket and wrap it over her right arm, but under the left shoulder... Then take this segment, twirl it, roll it, wrap it, tuck it and then voila, a perfectly wrapped tuna hand-roll." Huh? Are you kidding me? No matter how hard I try, the whole burrito wrapping thing still eludes my comprehension. Male swaddling comprehension is in the same category as our inability to want to ask for directions or follow directions when constructing some obscure child's toy, or reading the manual for your Kenwood. Nonetheless, my skill-set is way off and now I must resort to practicing on a fake doll. Yes I have hit swaddling rock bottom! The nurses in the delivery room swaddle with Bruce Lee-like speed. You can't see their hands when they tuck, swirl, fold, and wrap. I aspire to be in such ninja-like swaddling company.

In the end aside from my swaddling skills, having another woman in the house is pure joy. We'll see if the swaddle practice pays off.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Visit your local hole-in-the-wall

Who needs to frequent a big chain restaurant when you have a hole-in-the-wall or 2 or 3 that serves better food, is cash only and sports some of the best décor around?

Stop 1 was the Thai restaurant in Eagle Rock, CA. Thai Spirit sports a great name and likely some of the best naugahyde around. Nineteen-seventy's green "hyde" was the rage back in the day and with rips and tears abound, it always makes me wonder what may have happened. Did a hot plate of Pad Thai hit the spot and disintegrate the man-made miracle? Who knows, but if a place has a deep, half-moon booth with a crumbling laminate tabletop, it's a guarantee that the food will be good. Exterior lattice on the interior of the restaurant is another sure bet too. Fake plants? Yep. If the place has them it's a bonus. If the plants are dusty, even better. The last element that assures the place is good is not the "A" or even "B" rating, but the tiny Asian kid taking a nap on the seat in the booth across from us. Apparently he's the owners kid and was real tired.

Stop 2 is also in Eagle Rock, CA. Casa Bianca is without question the best pizza, bar-none. It's a landmark for kitsch and of course cash only. Red naugahyde adorns this joint too along with bad wallpaper and those sweet overhead lamps you normally see in Uncle Bubba's paneled basement above the pool table. The walls in the entry have framed pictures of the B-celebrity variety, and the people who own it have done so since the mid-1950's! The cash register is still the old "typewriter" style and the female waitresses kick ass. We've watched many of them grow up! Another tip for judging a place: If the bathroom is a shithole, the food will be good. Oh yeah, the lineup is always out the door... another good sign it's good.

Stop 3 is our favorite little sushi place in Korea Town (Los Angeles). Noshi Sushi is also an institution and also cash only. Please note that if you are "whitebread" you will stick out like a sore thumb, but they don't care. This place serves the basic sushi. No jalapeno-cream-cheese-sour-cream-candy-yuck-hipster rolls, but instead the tried-and-true bits and the rolls are big. About the only thing super-progressive is the Dynamite. Everything but the kitchen sink (or including the kitchen sink) has been thrown into this casserole-type dish. It's hot and gooey and will likely give you heartburn, but when you eat something like this you don't contemplate the consequences! It's the equivalent to going to Tommy's. You know it's "bad" for you and that you will pay dearly for it, but it tastes so damn good. "The journey is the destination" my friend. Noshi sports green naugahyde and the bathroom is also nasty. The kicker to this place is the old Asian guy who acts as the security-parking patrol in the parking lot. He's usually kitted out in the usual security garb and on occasion sports a pistol that resembles that of a child's cap gun. He's a great dude, always smiling and directs you to a open space.

Go ahead and seek out your local holes in the wall... They're there!

To recap some requirements for what makes a dump a true dump with great food:
1. Must have naugahyde. The more ripped the better.
2. Cash only.
3. 1970's style lighting.
4. Laminate table top, preferably the crumbling variety.
5. Booths that have seating that have nothing left in terms of padding or springs.
6. Stucco and/or lattice on the interior walls.
7. Massive iron security gates that keep the place tight when it's closed.
8. ATM machine inside.
9. Napping Asian kid in the booth across from you.
10. Pistol packing (on occasion) parking guy.
11. An "A" rating is okay but it's always better if it's lower, or if the rating sign is obscured.
12. A crappy bathroom.

Bon appetite!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

That early morning sound of yard work

It's 7 in the morning and the cool chill coming through the bedroom door feels great. Snuggled under the down comforter, it's a typical morning until the hum begins. First it's the chatter of workers, then the sound of the mower starter. Yep, it's Monday or Tuesday or Wednesday, etc., and the yard work begins. Gone are the days when dads would wake up on Saturday morning and do yard work. Next comes the other guy with an edger and then the dreaded blower. All are gas-powered of course, none good for the environment, but it's always been that way. Prior to my electric mower that my sis-in-law donated to me, I had the gas gobbling, fuel burning front throw mower and the gas edger (now electric through a donation from my dad).

My point is this: Where are all the dads doing yard work? Am I the only one? Am I just a throwback? My hunch is that the dads of guys my age didn't teach their sons to do yard work or wash their cars or change their own oil, or even clean out their rain gutters! Now I am not saying I am some masculine macho man, but the lessons I learned from my dad regarding hard work and yard work and all that, have stuck with me. While some dads claim it's too much, they are wussies and for those who say it takes time away from being with their families or kids: whatever!

So the buzz of mowing and edging break out in full force down my street, and I get annoyed. Why do they start at 7:15am? Why do they use gas? Isn't that outlawed? I have the same reactions every day, every week, all the time. It's predictable.

When I get out there with my mower, blower and edger (all electric, mind you) I get blank stares from the workers, from people driving by and others. "What's he doing?" is what I assume they are thinking. "Mommy, is that a rake?" says the little girl (maybe).

Edging the lawn is a fine art. I remember my dad showing me the finer tips of the "art" of getting a straight line. At the time, it was annoying, but today I attempt to apply those same rules and methods. "Mow this way, this week, then mow that way next week." Whatever dad. Now I do the same thing. These lessons I learned are being passed to my 10-year-old and soon to the 4-year-old.

So I am the only one on my street. A rebel, outcast, revolutionary(?), maverick. No not a maverick, I hate that word... been exploited too much. I get a great sense of enjoyment and pride from manicuring my yard, adjusting the sprinklers, replacing PVC pipe, swapping our sprinkler valves and trimming trees. Getting the hands dirty, having finger nails full of mud and dirty shoes all excites me. Me caveman? Naw. Throwback? Maybe. Satisfied? Yep.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Where's my bailout?

So let's get this shit straight. It's no longer a bailout but instead an investment. Initially it was going to be used to help out banks and it seems it has... a little. And it was also supposed to be used to help out folks with bad mortgages (more on that in a second). Ultimately it was going to bailout, yes bailout, financial institutions and now it will likely change. The Big 3 automakers are now bleeding, no erupting, money out the front door and need help. Meanwhile the likes of Toyota, Honda, etc., seem to be doing okay. The Big 3 are dieing a slow death because, in my opinion, they have been off the back for so long. Rather than making economical cars and pursuing hybrid technology, they continued to make "Bummers", Escalades, and Suburbans like it was going out of style. Now they are in trouble, behind the times, and look to us the tax payer to help them out. Many financial experts believe that we should help them, while others think we should let them fail. It seems that the only way for someone (in this case a company) to change or evolve is to hit rock bottom. The Big 3, it seems, have been on standard operating procedure for way too long. Would they change their ways? Since gas is relatively "cheap" will they be aggressive with hybrid and alternative fuels? Maybe we should let them fail, reorganize and come back leaner, meaner, more aggressive, and perhaps creative. You can't teach an old dog new tricks but perhaps bankruptcy could change them.

Buying people's bad mortgage is a bad idea. I say this because I, along with millions of others, went the appropriate route. My eyes weren't bigger than my wallet. I didn't buy a $700,000 with no money down. Nor did I state I made $100,000 a year when I clearly didn't. I asked questions. "What's my mortgage payment now?" Or, "What will it be in 5 years?" So to the people who went that crazy route and thought things would be sweet, even though common sense would tell you it would eventually suck after a few years, don't expect a gift. I mean another another gift.

And so it goes. The American way to "cure" a problem: Throw as much money as possible at a problem and hope it gets better. Put a Band-Aid on a gaping wound.

So look, I can fill out the 2-page application for money. I would love to have an extra $2,000 to do stuff around the house, get my teeth whitened, get a pedicure, buy some socks, and get a 1 terabyte firewire external hard drive.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Stacks, packaging and junk mail

I don't know about you but stacks have become a normal part of my life. They infiltrate my home, garage, office and sometimes my car. How do they get there? Why can't I get rid of them. Without question stacks are my doing. I get things in the mail, bring things home from work, accumulate things.

My "purge" process is simple really: Do an initial "weed" through and move the stuff I don't want into the "trash" stack. Next I take the stuff I want and make the "keep" stack. That "keep" stack is then moved to a place such as the location above. There it sits for days on end. Lonely, heart broken, yearning to perhaps be filtered again and maybe moved to a better spot. After a week the "keep" stack should be considered trash shouldn't it? Not in my world. I filter it again and make yet another stack, which then is joined by other pieces because by this time, new material has been brought into the situation. Pick it up, move it, move it back, add new things, and on and on. It's an evil cycle an eventually all of it gets thrown out because of frustration. Then, of course, a couple days after I chuck the remnants of the "keep" stack I usually find myself looking for something that was tossed.

Look, as a graphic designer I love packaging. I am not alone either. How many of us have bought things based on the packaging? Yeah, I thought so. I'll buy a bottle of wine because of the cool label! I am convinced that if the label design is slick, the product must be good too. Look at all the toiletry products with crazy bottle shapes. I guess you have to somehow differentiate your "insert aromatherapy crap name here" from your competitors since most of it is the same, using the same exotic herb from some mysterious place. I buy a tiny, portable stereo for my iPod and the packaging accounts for most of the girth. There's the box of course, the plastic adult-proof sealed thingy that you must machete through, the cardboard protection, the manual, the registration sheet, the remote control and the cardboard box it came in and finally the foam sheet liner that keeps it all in place. The carbon footprint on this $39 electronic bit is mind-boggling.

"Hey, here's a sweet website you can go to, to get your name off the junk mail-catalog list," says a tree-hugging friend of mine. "Sweet! I'll try it out" I say. I did it. Checked off all the catalogs I get and don't want, all the catalogs I don't want but get and everything in between. Sure enough, I get even more and I still get the ones I supposedly checked off. I half-way think I signed up for more in some mysterious, marketing way.

So now I have too much junk mail, way too much packaging that I throw away (gets recycled... hopefully) and islands of stacks that have just become a part of my life. Funny thing is that I am not alone. Multiply my situation by millions of others and we have a crapload of, well, crap.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Fresh_sounds: U2 October (1981)

This is the first installment of CD reviews and my approach is quite random. I have about 500 CD's sitting in a giant library-dresser type thing in the garage. Due to its proximity to the living room I rarely dig into it, and when I do it's usually to hear some mad-beats in the garage or backyard. I was a firm believer that CD's would never become obsolete, but with the advent of digital files, the Licorice Pizza's of the world are no longer with us and the CD's gather dust.

And so it goes. My random drawer pick drew U2's "October" CD. I remember the first time I heard U2 way back in the early 1980s at a junior high dance. Me, the wallflower, wondered who they were and soon searched for the tape. By this point U2 "War" was out so that's what I bought first, then I got "October" and "Boy". While "War" was the one they broke through with in the US, it was "October" that intrigued me most. It's much more of a soulful, spiritual album that's as raw as "Boy" and less studio than "War". Plenty of spiritual overtone mark this album from start to finish but it's not in your face because the accompanying music is spectacular with great changes of pace and the refreshing use of piano on a number of tracks.

The early stuff is awesome because this is when they were literally "garage". The Edge's guitar playing is rabid and un-polished, Larry Mullen, Jr's drumming is succinct and loose, and of course Bono's tone is more "garage" than he certainly is today.

There's plenty of "New Wave" pace in it but it's not the caramel, keyboard, Euro stuff but instead more progressive licks byway of guitar and drum. While most of it has the traditional U2 sound and pace that's similar to "Boy" the real standouts for me are the slow one's like track #4 called Rejoice and track #7 the albums namesake, October. The knee-jerk choice by most is track #1 Gloria, but I favor track #6 Tomorrow and track #9 Stranger in a Strange Land.

Sophomore albums are notorious for lacking the energy of the first and such is the case for this one compared to "Boy", and at the time "October" got shelled though some of it is similar to "Boy". By the time "War" hit the streets, "October" was forgotten and if you ask any mild U2 fan what they know of "October" they won't have a clue.

While I haven't listened to this CD in a long time, it was refreshing to hear the early U2 again. And when you compare it to their new stuff or even something like "Zooropa", it becomes an immediate reminder of how "garage" these guys used to sound. A part of me wishes they would return to that for just 1 album.

TIME: 41 minutes, 8 seconds
LABEL: Island
OTHER SLEEP CD: U2 "Wide Awake in America". The track Boy is incredible.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Why pro baseball kinda bugs the crap out of me...

The remote and my tv as seen from nap level.

I have always been an athlete. As a child I played many sports including the traditional soccer, basketball and of course baseball. Other sports have interested me too including golf, hockey, tennis and of course cycling. And while I admire the professional players I have grown to despise or grow bored with the professional game. Is it the ridiculous salaries? Perhaps. The over analyzing of chatty commentators? Yep. Or maybe it's the new super-parks that have chain restaurants and $10 beers. I definitely know that fake grass and lame rally caps and mohawks are on my shit list. I am especially annoyed by the fair-weather Hollywood-types who all the sudden become fans of the LA Dodgers. Watch any game of their playoff battle and you will find some hipster chick wearing big sunglasses sitting in the rich seats fumbling with her Blackberry not aware of what a two-seamed fastball is or that a foul ball counts as a strike. She's there because she got the tickets for free from some super-agent. All of this annoys the hell out of me.

A quantitative content analysis of any Red Sox-Rays playoff game of the number of "loogies" would likely show an average of 15-100 spits per inning... All captured on film. I kept wondering why they always spit and here's what I have concluded. First, baseball players are just spitters. The game is on "grass" so it allows for it. Kobe's not spitting on hardwood, or Federer on clay. Second, this game is slow. Most of the spitting comes at moments when there's nothing to do. Every bench player sits for 3-5 hours with nothing to do but drink, chew, munch on sunflower seeds or all 3. With this habit comes spit. It has to go somewhere! Finally, maybe it's cool to spit. We men are freaks as you ladies know. Essentially we are dogs, cavemen at best and baseball players are closest to cavemen of all sportsmen. They scratch, tug, don't shave, chew, make a mess of the dugout, and ultimately spit. Unlike cavemen, they make obscene amounts of money. The random guy on the bench who just hit the top of the dog pile (another caveman characteristic along with the high-5) makes middle 6-figures. Way more than Joe the F-ing Plumber!

I don't watch professional sports of any kind such as baseball or the others until the playoffs. Today I watched my first full game in it's entirety. I can't remember the last time I have done this, but it wasn't a "clean" watch, quite the contrary. Here's my stats of the 9 innings:
- NAPS (3. Most were about 10 minutes each)
- BEER (3/4. Hefeweizen with a splash of white grape juice. Very un-caveman-like indeed)
- VERBAL ASSAULTS AT THE TV (Countless. Commentators bug the shit out of me and I am convinced that hey are afraid of silence)
- PAUSES (Thank God for the DVR. Allowed me time to stretch the legs and spit)

I was hoping that it would end with the Dodgers and Redsox in the World Series, but instead it's the Phillies and Rays. Nothing against the 2 teams but I am a true ballpark person. There's no 2 better fields than Fenway Park and Dodger Stadium. How great would that have been to see more Pat Sajak and Ryan Secrest at Chavez Ravine and Joe the Plumber-likes in Fenway. What a dichotomy. True blue collar versus Hollywood. Now we are left with 2 great young teams with great athletes. Wonder if the television ratings will be any good? How much is a large orange juice at Tropicana Field? Will I watch? If I am really, stinkin' bored.

Friday, October 17, 2008

It's official: I have voted.

My mind was made up many moons ago when it came to deciding who I want to be the next president. Going back I have voted for Clinton and Kerry and now Obama. Not to sound cheesy, but when I filled in the bubble I felt a sense of relief: A) that this long, drawn-out process is over; and B) that it is a historical moment. We keep hearing that this is the most important election in generations, if not ever. That this moment will determine not only my future, but my kids' future and their kids too. Will it? We always hear that shit will change and grand ideas will come to fruition but usually it never does. I just want it to be stable.

I sat in front of the television for the 3rd debate and sighed and barked at my plasma, at the old man trying to pick a fight, at Obama for not sticking it to him. I couldn't be president, I would get all fired up. I can't even buy a new car without getting upset. I get pissed when my sprinklers drip or when my white adidas kicks get smudged. So while I wished he would've kicked the old geezer in the nuts, I was more impressed with his composure and explanation of his policy, his doctrine.

But I also fear that some people who may like what he's about will decide not to vote for him because of race. This certainly is a weak excuse, but while many Americans say they are accepting, they also get confused when they close the "curtain" behind them and punch the ballot. In that instance people could turn the switch and vote based on nothing more but color. It's absurd that for more than 20 months of watching, reading, and listening that someone could go that route.

I'm confident it won't happen and that people will vote for true change and a new direction. My soapbox is creaking, better step off. Oh wait, maybe that's my water main. Better call Joe the Plumber. More on him later.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Make sure the tubes are tied... To the right section

"You probably have a vapor lock," says the sweet thing from Starbucks' customer service department. Vapor lock? It sounds similar to that special coating the car salesman tries to pressure you to buy. My first instinct was to believe-assume that this was simply a distraction, that it was read from a pre-printed list tacked to the cubicle wall. The manager telling his herd in a pre-clock-in meeting that "If the Barista owner bitches that the pump is not working, immediately go to #6 on the list: vapor lock." The crew nods in agreement and shuttle off to receive panicked calls from jackasses like me.

Damn I hate when I'm wrong! I thought for certain my call would be re-routed to India, where I would have to rattle off the 16-digit serial number. This exercise would last 30 minutes because the person on the other end would repeat the numbers back to me 5 times and get them wrong all 5 times. Instead I was talking to Angie here in the US! I explained my predicament: that life was shallow and depressing because my said espresso-latté-cap machine was not operational. The tiny screw wasn't coming out of the section that housed a filter, which gets clogged, which then renders the machine useless. This little screw no longer than 1/4 inch long that was causing grief and hardship was determined to stay lodged-fixed-stuck. A trip to the hardware store fixed it with the purchase of an extractor set. With certainty I believed that the machine had been fixed, but I got nothing.

That brings me back to the first line in this particular blog entry. The vapor lock sounds more hardcore than it is. All it takes is a few runs through the steam wand and the actual drip itself. Do it for 6 minutes, let it cool. Over and over. Nothing.

A couple days go by and this time I speak to Claudia at Starbucks. She has me open the machine back and check all connections. This is where my lameness gets magnified. At some point after I began un-hitching hoses, cussing, and then re-assembling hoses, the machine truly stopped sucking... water that is. Nothing. No steam, no drip, no sucking (water). "Um, do you have the hoses hooked up right?" says Claudia. "Claudia, seriously?" I say. "Just making sure that you do, you know sometimes it happens," says Claudia. After a semi-detailed discussion about hoses going here and bending around there, and hooking to the mushroom-looking-thingy, it was concluded that a hose was out of place. Now you may be thinking that their must be 15 hoses bending and feeding, sucking and pulling, releasing and such, but instead it's just 3 that go A) here; B) there; and C) right there. One hose out of place. One hose caused grief for 2+ weeks. One hose I pulled from here and assumed it went there. One hose now in its right place because Claudia rocks.

Gone now is the French Press and the Mukka to the deep, dark bowels of the lower cupboard. Back is the automated machine with a new screw replacing the chewed up old one. The morning mood is better, spirits are high, smiles are taller.

- Don't put your hose in the wrong place.
- Sucking is good on an espresso machine.
- The mushroom-thingy needs a hose.
- Starbucks customer service is rad.
- Starbucks customer service is in America, which is super-rad.
- Small screws can cause grief.
- My fix-it skills are sucking (not good sucking).

Sunday, October 05, 2008

The temporary death of my latté machine

A while ago I was raving about the brilliance of Starbucks Latté/Espresso maker. How it made the best cup of "Joe" ever and how my mornings became the equivalent of a scene from the "Sound of Music". Things were rolling along just fine with few mishaps. Oh sure, the strength on some days was weak at best and my feeble attempts to substitute true espresso with traditional ground coffee was a pure rookie mistake.

Then it happened. The mother of all F-ups. I pulled the upper screen to clean out the "muck" and screwed it back down. As per usual, I likely tightened the poor guy way too tight. In it went. Secure and snuggly. Too snuggly apparently. Suddenly the poor machine stopped producing the frothy goodness, and my sad self being wondering what my next step would be. As a male I struggled to open the manual. Who needs a manual, or instructions or directions? Reluctantly I went to the "troubleshooting" section for advice. Needless to say, the suggestion was to remove this formidable screen. The aforementioned screw needed to come off. However, the screw no longer resembled a screw, but instead a car wreck, or quite simply a screw that had been screwed by an aggressive Phillips head screwdriver attached to fix-it wannabe. Nonetheless, the operation was hopeless. This guy wasn't budging and operation-latté-fix was knee-deep in frustration and going nowhere.

A call to father-fix-all was my last resort. My dad can fix anything, even stuff that is truly unfixable. He came locked and loaded with an assortment of screw drivers: big, small, short, beefy. None worked and while the years of experience that my dad brought to table was quickly halted in a red-hot minute by his son's ridiculous sense of what's tight and what's too tight, he offered up plan B and C. Plan B is in action now: WD-40 and if that doesn't work then some sort of rust killing mix. Plan C is drastic and may involve replacing parts or drilling out the said screw.

For now I have gone back to the French Press and my friend Mukka. It's an awkward alternative, but for now it's all I have! I am struggling here to get into a rhythm. The Mukka lacks the control of the true machine. I have taken 2 steps backward. I have come to recognize that I am a latté elitist. I fumble through the motions. I had buttons before and now all I have are instincts. But my instincts are unpolished, out of practice and downright minor league. The first 2 attempts failed miserably resulting in a liquid mess equivalent to Valdez. Number 3 comes tomorrow morning and I know I will strategize vigorously prior to sparking up the burner.

For now the Starbucks machine sits on my work bench, upside down with a helping of WD-40 in it's "tummy". We'll see.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

The left side of my face is numb

The dentist is always a daunting place for me. I wasn't blessed with the best set of chompers nor am I any good at maintaining them. My caveman approach of eating, drinking, gnawing on sunflower seeds and chomping on my fingernails has sort of, well has, caught up to me. Turns out my teeth are getting flat (unlike my stomach) and they are in need of some deep-cleaning. Whenever the dentist himself does the cleaning, you know it's much more serious than the hot little Asian dental assistant applying some polish and picking at your gums and chit-chatting about USC.

Numbing. Back in the day I had to get a bridge. The numbing process at that time was horrendous. Shoot me a couple times in all the right places and presto-magico I'm numb and slobbering like a Springer Spaniel. Also back in the day my worst fear came true when doing a root canal: I felt a fair bit of it. I thought for certain I would be permanently cross-eyed. "Do you feel it?" the dentist said. "Uh do you see my right eye looking at you and left eye looking at the opposite wall?" Pop, ping, sizz... another shot goes in the mouth, and off-shore drilling commences. "Do you feel it?" he asks again. "Do you see the hand prints on your assistants neck from my struggle to defy pain?" More numbing juice ensued to no avail. Onward to the specialist who pricked and poked and bingo I'm numb within seconds and the root canal is finished.

This time around it was mild. A needle insertion here and there and I'm numb, but the memories came ashore. I tighten up and brace myself for what turns out to be a deep-cleaning and a mild filling behind my front tooth. All the while the dentist continues to insist on me flossing and to stop biting my fingernails. I reply with an "I know, I know." If he only new the amount of Red Bull I drink and god-awful energy gels and bars I eat when I ride my bike. Shh. The right side deep-cleaning is tomorrow. On a side not: my insurance sucks.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

I can see Pasadena from my house...

So I sit here on the eve of the vice presidential debate wondering more about what the "F" Biden will say. Sure, my knee-jerk is to ponder the skills of Palin, but I have thought about that too much and have been reminded too often by the media of her downfalls and inability to elaborate on complex topics like the bailout or what to do with Pakistan. I've seen it over and over and the blue-eyed boy Anderson Cooper has mentioned it way too much that I have grown weary and jaded. I am at the point now where she could very well surprise us all and come off "normal" and smart and (gulp) savvy! Now I turn to Joe Biden. He's never shy about anything and is such a part of Washington that it initially made me notch up a victory immediately for him. But Joe also says wacked stuff from time to time, though it gets no press, and now I am a bit worried that he may come off too strong, back her into a corner, and be seen as picking on the woman. Is he too DC? Is she too "Aw shucks"? Will mid-America go for "Aw shucks"? Is DC too cap. hill gangsta? Too inside?

My hope is that Biden tells it straight. Talks to me. Tells me this crap is all going to work itself out. Tell me how we're gonna get this country back on track to where it was, whenever. I liked the 1990s. We had surplus and Nirvana. I don't want bad country music and NRA and off-shore drilling crap. Who cares if you can see Russia from your house. My hope is that Palin gets all balled-up and answers questions in a way that shows her inexperience. Nothing against her, but she should have said no to McCain.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

3:10 to the Broken iPhone

My "old" Samsung. The way phones should be made. This guy has bounced off floors many times with no issue and still works.

My broken rectangle of glass that I have been using for the last 2 weeks has become a case study in patience. I have patience for some things but not for others and this is one of them. The glass is shattered like a web and while the actual screen itself stayed in tact though was legible.

As the days went by, the screen began to morph into simply horizontal lines similar to an Etch a Sketch. Day by day the Etching grew until my text messages became a guessing game.

EXAMPLE: "This shitbox phone is worthless at this point. Need to do something about it quick", became "This shift phon if word st the poubt..."

I was hitting letters that were in the vicinity of the letter I really wanted. Suddenly the A was neglected because I couldn't see it, while cussing became out of the question. My text world became a mess and the people on the receiving end were probably like "Wut thw fuxk?"

Fast forward to a few days ago and part 2 of my fruitless encounter with American Express. "It's beyond the 90 days after purchase," said the kind AMEX woman a while ago. "Can't you make an exception?", said guy with broken glass rectangle. "Sometimes we do, but not on the glass rectangle," said AMEX woman (well she didn't say that, but she basically said no.

So my plan was then to use my sister-in-law's boyfriend's "old" iPhone. Before I resorted to that, AMEX sends me a note saying they credited my account for $250, roughly the cost to fix the glass rectangle. I shipped the old girl out yesterday to Apple's facility and in return I will get a brand-spankin-refurbished-glass-rectangle of the same variety as my "old" one in the mail in 3-4 days... hopefully.

In the meantime I have bought a new rubber case for it with some serious grip and while this thing will always break when it hits the floor (a real weakness of the phone), I am psyched that i can get back to my impersonal text messaging.

Moral of the story? Raise hell with your credit card companies and glass breaks.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

The 'Genius Bar' Chronicle

So going off of my last entry of the broken rectangle of glass (iPhone), I made my appointment with the concierge for the 'Genius Bar'. Unlike normal bars, you can't just walk up and say 'Hi Skippy! Can you help me figure out my broken iPhone?' Nope, you have to make an appointment similar to one you would make at the DMV or to get your tires rotated. It was a Thursday, and the only opening was for the following Monday at 10:30 am. So I did. Why appointments? Is is that packed? What does it say about your product if the fix-it stand is backed up? It's like that auto repair place on the corner that has 25 cars sitting on the lot in various states of undress and disrepair. One is missing wheels and on blocks, another has the hood up with spider webs dressing the underbelly of the hood, and on and on.

I came back on the Monday, 15 minutes early of course, because you have to be early for some reason. If you are late, you are F'd because Skippy will, well, skip you. So I sit for 15 minutes and observe the shop. The Apple store is a great place to people watch. Some people futzing with the new iMac, some checking out over-priced iPhone cases, a group of 5 out-of-towner dudes buying the 3G phone. The best are the nerds sitting in the area of comfy chairs doing their own thing. They aren't there for any other reason but to be at the Apple store and feed off the free wireless. It's 10:15 am, shouldn't you be at home on your own wireless, sipping coffee, enjoying the morning? Whatever.

Oh, by the way, I do this for 25 minutes while my wife looks around and my son plays children's games on an iMac. Oh, by the way, it's now 10:45. And the smart guys at the 'Genius Bar' are helping a woman with her dated laptop, and some guy is wondering why his iPod is skipping.

Now it's my turn and the bed-head kid with glasses doesn't smile. I'm screwed. 'How's it going?' he says. I reply 'Not so good, my iPhone is broken.' His reply: 'Bummer, that will be like $250 to replace.' I proceed to tell him that the phone is not worth that much, which sparked a trigger in him that spilled out dribbles of the Apple Kool-Aid he drinks every morning: 'What do you mean, just the software alone is worth that much!!' Game over. Once you get an Apple-ist fired up about the shortcomings or what you think the shortcomings are of an Apple product they proceed to reach deep into the section of their brain that holds the Apple bundle of nerve endings. I had no chance. I got zero compassion from Skippy and had no answer to his Koo-Aid-induced reply. Before I left, I got in one last line: 'It's a mobile phone, it should be stronger than this.' 'Next in line' was all I heard.

Do I spend the $250 for a replacement? In the end my expense for this phone would be about $750. Is it worth it? Hold on, let me take a sip of the Kool-Aid. Yes my friend, it is, it really is.

For now I hold back and use the spider-webbed, glass rectangle. Text messages are hard to read and typing them is even harder. I am not sure what I am typing, so the word 'shit' turns into 'shut', etc. I roll with it now.

My brother-in-law has upgraded to a new 3G phone so he is giving me his 'old' 2G phone. I still may get mine fixed though ad sell it on craigslist for a crazy amount. We'll see.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Piece of China Meets The Bull

I am not a big tech guy when it comes to cell phones. I recall the day I went to the T-Mobile store to inquire about a Blackberry Pearl. I waltzed up to the counter to chat with the "emo-ized" slacker twenty-something to get the big picture. He told me about what it did, how it worked, why I should have it, how you can send text messages and IM with your BFF and on and on. Glassy-eyed, I accepted his corporate style sales-pitch knowing full well that the sale of a Blackberry could help him out with a new exhaust or ridiculous tail fin for his Honda CRX (remember those?). He asked what I used now as if we were from some strange cellular brotherhood comparing notes. Me, being competitive no matter the situation, and perhaps a bit over-confident, pulled out my slider Samsung. It twinkled with a Pong-like pixel graphic that was the wallpaper as I gently placed it on the counter top. At the last moment I pulled a Clint Eastwood-like move and pushed the slider open like it was a scene in a spaghetti-western. I thought for sure emo kid would give a nod (a touché if you will) of approval, but instead he gave that smart-ass grin like "Oh I remember those." Sure enough his reply was "Oh I remember those." Touché indeed, reverse style! It was as if my phone was from the early cell days when you carried a battery pack over your shoulder and the receiver resembled the type you saw in Vietnam footage. In the end I passed on the Pearl and kept the slider.

Fast forward a year later and I decided to make the iPhone plunge. Not the 3G line but the second generation in a 16gb size. Look, let's get one thing straight, I like tech stuff. I have a couple of Mac computers at home and one at my office. In the past I was a PC guy until I was turned on to Mac. Far better, more stable, you get the idea. Needless to say, this marriage between me and the iPhone was bound to happen at some point. I knew it wouldn't be the first generation, I am just not a "Gen 1" type of person, but the odds were pretty good that I would jump at "Gen 2." So I did this past May and while the price was high, I was comfortable with it because it was, well, an iPhone. Take a cool company, make a cool product, make cool ads, have cool design, and we, err, I will eat it up.

Everything worked easily. The setup was a snap, the contract a breeze, the learning curve simple. What is the iPhone? We all know of course, but it turns out it's a wafer-like rectangle heavy on design and sleekness and extremely low on durability. The durability factor plays with your head. Here's a $400 phone with a piece of glass on the face, no ergonomics, slick, shiny, slippery. That plays into your mind when you handle it, especially if you don't wrap a case around it. For the first couple of weeks I handled the naked phone with care. Got used to it. Bonded with the shape. Practiced my hand hold, my grip, the way I dialed, and the way I deposited it back into my pocket. I was an iPhone Ninja moving swiftly from white belt to black with ease.

Soon the $6 rubber case went on and the Ninja continued to master his craft. However, the false sense of security of a rubber case caused Ninja to lax his grip. The deposit to the pocket was beginning to fumble. Things were not unraveling, but the black belt was a bit loose.

A couple weeks later Ninja got a heavy duty case from and immediately snapped it on, in and around the fragile china. Quickly the false sense of security went to volume 10. The Otterbox is an awesome case, and will withstand even the most aggressive of soccer moms. Bang it against the Escalade driver side door and MILF will likely break a nail before the iPhone gets hurt. The case made Ninja sloppy though. My handling became clumsy, I had occasional 6 inch drops on the counter top, and my pocket deposits were ridiculous. I became a lazy Ninja because of the Otterbox.

Otterbox, while bullet proof, is also big. The iPhone widened and became heavier and valuable pocket real estate was reduced significantly. Lint was screaming for more room. After a couple weeks of Otterbox, I free'd the iPhone to breathe and show its sexiness again. My phone came out of the closet! Things went well for 2 weeks until a couple days ago. My lazy Ninja attitude was still present though the tough case was tucked away in a dark corner of a real closet.

The scene goes like this: Ninja reaches in for the iPhone. Grabs it with hand. Pulls the phone out of pocket to show onlooker something slick. The shiny rectangle with a glass front slips out of Ninja's hand. It twirls the most beautiful twirls and twists Ninja has ever seen. Ninja is in shock. The scene is in slow motion. Ninja's reactions are slow, too slow. Before Ninja can blink, iPhone smacks face first on concrete driveway no more than 2 feet below Ninja's pocket (I was wearing cargo shorts for some reason. Very un-Ninja like). Ninja is frozen, iPhone is weeping. Ninja can dance on top of bamboo stalks but can't dive for base-jumping rectangle of glass and slickness.

Ninja's horrified by web-like shattered glass. Ninja thinks design is cool looking but not too cool in real world. Phone is working but Ninja has to read between lines of shattered glass. Ninja shocked that such a phone would burst into tears not far from ground. The sinking $400 feeling sets in and it turns out that to fix this "problem" that seems to occur quite often (search on that thing called the Web for 'broken iPhone glass') it may cost $250. Ninja ponders next move which is undoubtedly encountering another emo at the Apple Store.

- You may be able to drop your phone that isn't an iPhone and things will likely be ok, but if you drop a glass rectangle, things will go sideways. Guaranteed!
- Hey Apple. How about including a case of some sort in the package so Ninjas like me can have a slight sense of security.
- Use something other than glass for gosh sakes.

In the end, this sad Ninja should have had a burly, military like case wrapped around the glass phone. I will keep you posted as to how this all pans out when I visit the "Genius Bar" this Monday.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

An old door and a tween...

My son turns 10 on the 29th and while I grimace at the thought that he is closer to his teens than my youngest son who is 4, I admire his "ballsiness" (that's not a word of course). There are many cases when I just think to myself 'How the hell did he come up with that?' or 'Holy crap, he just didn't say that, did he?'. I can go back many years and think of things like telling people to 'chill' or most recently when I put an old indoor door out on the curb for free. It was out there 2 days with no takers, but this evening we had a taker. Me, the sarcastic pessimist, with a big helping or realist mixed in for good measure knew that things could go sideways when trying to give an old door away. I said to my wife as the guy pulled up in his van and began prying the cat door that was mounted into the door off: 'I bet that guy takes the door, prys off the cat door and the hard ware and brings the door back.' My wife, of course, is the optimist and said 'No way!' Sure enough back comes the slacker, opens up the back of his van, begins pulling out the old door with the intent of setting it against the tree. My wife says to me 'Go out and tell him he has to keep it!' Me, the 'all talk' wuss said 'Me, why me?' 'Because you're the man,' lovely wife says. No sooner did I wimp out that my 10-year-old son marches out the door with a home made sign in his hand that said 'No Givebacks!!!!!' Down the driveway he marched and met the man near his van. He held up the sign and the reply from the slacker was 'It doesn't fit.' My son had none of it and a stare down ensued with a 10-year-old intimidating a grown man. Off the slacker whimpered, back into the van with the old door shoved back inside and off he sped.

What is this message? That my son is 'ballsy'? Yep. That our youth hopefully gives the old 'f*!ks' some hell when this country needs to get turned around. I sure as hell hope so! That a young boy is tougher than his dad? Hell yes!

And so while I hate the fact that in a few years he will be a teen and full of gumption, and bull, and attitude, my sincerest hope is that he maintains his loyalty and sticks up for his brother and soon to come sister and doesn't stomp me in basketball. For now, he's a 'tween' and that rocks! I better brush up on my skyhook!

Sunday, August 03, 2008

The Flea Market Chronicle

Dateline Pasadena, CA: My wife and I haven't been to a flea market in a year or so. Today we decided to take the kids to the Pasadena City College (PCC) flea market to see if we could find a piece of art for over our couch. We aren't newbies to the "scene" so we always know what we are in for. The City College flea market is far different than the Rose Bowl swap in that it costs nothing to enter and it has "junk" rather than a mixture of "junk" and new gear like the Bowl version. It's also smaller and less crowded and the hipster index is low too.

We have bought plenty of things in the past from both the Bowl and PCC including a few pieces of furniture, clothing, art, and garden architecture. However our taste has changed significantly and no longer are we "shabby/bohemian" but instead we lean toward modern... Hey wait, we're hipsters! Damn it!

Flea markets are flea markets pretty much and what I enjoy best is when I have a single product or two in mind before I enter. Have a mission, a quest. Like a Dennis Gonzalez cd, a pair of Puma California's, or a piece of art. While I failed on the first two I succeeded on the art. It had to be long (about five feet) but not "tall". It's usually a tough task unless you like weird pictures of a wacked-out clown or a bad portrait of some unknown aunt painted by a beginning water color artist. At last though, I found a painting of an unknown city scape from the 60s-70s that
only borders on semi-bad art. It's one of those that may be bad but good. You get the idea. Either way, the colors are perfect as is the style.

My kids never have a goal in mind, which is why a flea market to them is like a candy store. My youngest brought $10 and spent it on a few old dump trucks and a Matchbox car; my oldest son brought $15 and bought six Hot Wheels/Matchbox cars and the hat you see above. Both kids have a passion for cars and hats with an emphasis on the Trucker variety. Back in the day Trucker hats weren't hipster cool, but instead just known as the basic Little League cap. I had a ton of them. They would probably sell today for about $10 each the Rose Bowl. Should have held on to them.

The best part of a flea market is the crazy stuff you can find: plenty of military stuff, crazy paintings, 70s furniture that the hipsters (aside from me) love for some reason, etc. My guess is that they get the ugly lamps home, set them up, live with them for a while and then conclude that they are indeed ugly. Same with the faux wood side table and pleather side chair. Cool at the time, but in the end just plain ugly. That's why most of the stuff from the late 60s and 70s (the whole decade) is for sale at a flea market. Knock-knock. Who's there? Ugly. Ugly who? Ugly stuff you bought.

Another fun thing to do is people watch, especially the folks who sell the stuff at the flea market. An idea I have is to bring my camera and take portrait shots of the wacky vendors, as well as shoot the people who buy the stuff, with their products in hand. Set up a white backdrop with some lights and get some intimate portraits of the hipster with his side table, or the woman with the "vintage" dress, or the old man with the giant sombrero, or the weathered, old, toothless woman selling old dolls. Plenty of material for a coffee table book. Hmm, maybe I should use the 35mm Ricoh camera I bought from the swap a couple years ago. I wonder if it works. Damn, I should have check before I bought it.

The Making of a Latté

It's funny but I never liked coffee when I was a teen or in my twenties or even early into my thirties. The same goes for onions and tomatoes. The reasons are simple really and engrained somewhere deep into my cranium. My mother was and still is a huge fan of the onion and she made it known with practice. Every meal she made incorporated onions. Most notably the meatloaf that had not small but large chunks of the yellow or red variety throughout. I would ask if there were onions in the meatloaf and she naturally would say "No honey." The same thing happened with tomatoes. The coffee thing just came out of the bad taste. Perhaps it was the Folgers, Yuban or Sanka that was in our cupboards as a teen. I quickly associated coffee with a stale taste.

Later on though I discovered that onions and tomatoes are good and that coffee doesn't have to be instant. I now grill my onions and eat raw tomatoes and dabble in different coffee (espresso mostly) from around the globe. While I used to frequent the local coffee joint I eventually began making my own, granted it's not the old-world manual press, but instead an old Krups my wife got as a wedding present years and years ago. Simple and industrial, the thing was a workhorse and eventually I was in a routine of making lattés and/or espresso shots every morning: one for my wife and one for me. It became ritual and still is to this day for the past two years. I retired the Krups in favor of a Starbucks Barrista. Before you give me a shakedown on Starbucks, it's actually Saeco and made in Italy. Oh snap!

This new chapter of a new, more modern machine is about a year old and I couldn't be happier. It steams wonderfully and makes a fine shot or two of espresso.
I love this current machine and made the wise choice. At the time I searched five different stores and none of them had the model because they were discontinuing it. Eventually I tracked one down and got it for 60% off! Though the Krups was older and less fancy, it clearly made a stronger shot for some reason.

Fast forward to now. This is where I get melodramatic. Yes I love the machine and what it does, but I am growing tired of the latté. I end up leaving about one-quarter of a cup in my mug and the taste has become too familiar. I have deduced that the reason I continue making lattés is because I like the process. I like the morning ritual: climb out of bed, go to the bathroom, get the milk and espresso out, turn on the machine, and on and on. I like steaming and presenting the mug to my wife and getting the praise she delivers after the first sip. I like the way it makes the house smell and how it signifies the opening of a new morning, a new day.

And so my "predicament" has caused me to be jaded in a way, but I have now figured that my next homemade latté may be a Yerba Maté Latté.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Zen and the Art of Flying Coach

I have come to despise, no hate, flying. Back in the day prior to 9/11 the task was easy. It was like you saw in the movies with friends and family pulling up to curb, parking it and hanging out, people moving freely through the airport and seeing you off at the jetway, bringing whatever the hell you wanted on board, and on and on...

Of course things have changed and the times have changed even more. Now my 4-year-old son gets patted down, and my flip-flops are examined. Because all American airports (especially LAX) were and still are not equipped to handle the stress, our airports and the grumpy security people who man the place, have become shit-holes. Compare any European airport to any of ours and the differences are extreme. The Euros know how to handle security because they've been doing it for years. We got cocky and cheap and as usual, without something tragic happening, we/American industry usually doesn't seek to progress. The most current examples are: the mortgage industry, and the sudden turn to "green" technology. Now all of the sudden the banking community has tightened down on loans, and American car companies are suddenly bypassing the praise of horsepower and have moved to highlighting fuel efficiency. I digress...

Airlines too have determined that screwing the customer is the best way to save money. Now or soon, you will pay for your checked bag(s), which means people will try and stuff as much into that one bag as possible. Be careful of course because the bag still has a weight limit and they have become more stringent on that. In the past they would "look the other way" if it was too heavy, but now the extra $25+ is golden. You want something to eat? Nope, it will cost you $7. My advice, bring your own food. We did on our way back from Hawai'i recently. It's better food and people around you tell you how smart you are. Perhaps there is a new industry arising: buy enough food to sell some on the plane. If someone will buy a hot-dog cooker from SkyMall while in the air, they'll surely be open to purchasing some hummus and crackers from you for $5.

With all of this uptight flying, the class difference has grown even wider. First Class folks don't feel the strain. If you are able to fly first class, you aren't bothered by the hike in price or the fact that the exit row has now become an "upgrade". You don't care. The cheese tastes the same, the silverware is just as shiny, and the legroom still borders on the size of a walk-in closet.

So I am stuck in Coach. I am fine with this. I am an excellent flyer and frankly would rather spend my money on finer things than use on an upgrade. My preference is the window because I can snooze without being bothered by seat mates. Though the aisle has its strengths including the freedom to roam, and for making a quick dash to the can before that grumpy old woman from Tulsa t-bones you, it puts you on call. On the aisle my snoozing becomes lighter, even one-eyed because I know the minute I doze, Cindy from DC will tap me on the shoulder so she can touch up her mask. Plus, the aisle offers no place to rest your head.

The middle seat is the worst and people who occupy the space have this sense that they own both arm rests. On my recent flight from Maui, a women sat, immediately bundled up with blanket and pillow and stretched out, spreading both arms on the rests and then proceeded to widen the elbow a couple more inches so that she was now 3 inches into "my" space. With an elbow in my gut, I had no choice but to apply pressure and back her off an inch or two. This pressure lasted four hours, and when I departed the plane, I made a vow that I will never sit on the aisle.

The window is where I am most at home. Plop the "pillow" that is still free against the window area, drape the blanket that is still "free" but for some reason are scarce, across my legs and nod off. I can go eight hours without moving, talking or going to the bathroom. I am what you call a "air travel survivalist". It's a crew that is becoming few and far between but we are out there and we don't need your $7 "meals" or snotty flight attendants. Give me a window, and a drink (they are still free) and leave me the hell alone.