Saturday, March 19, 2011

A stroll

Last Sunday, Sarah and I went for a walk to the abandoned Kingsbridge Armory.  We missed our bus on the return trip and decided to cut through nearby Woodlawn Cemetery, which we had been meaning to explore anyway.  I had my camera phone with me so I took some pictures.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Running on empty.

Woodlawn, NY— This place is under water, KO'd by the second rainstorm of the week.  The river has overflown and taken over the highway, a beautiful sight that I intend to explore up close in the AM if it has not receded, but a fucking nightmare for my life as a commuter.  The trek to work this morning was bad but coming home was nearly intolerable, sanity saved only by Mordecai, Sandwich, and The Best Show on WFMU.  Sleep has been minimal over the last few days and a curious combination of Peet's coffee, Anchor Steam Beer and a collection of Templars tracks from their splits are what's keeping me going 1  It's sad to think that it was not too long ago that I could pull off a late night followed by a 6AM start without a hitch; alas, it's gotten harder with every new gray hair.  Still, it's worth the pain.

During Wednesday night's benefit for Showpaper at the Old Firehouse2, Sic Alps had some technical issues to deal with.  The process of setting up the backline shared by their tourmates Magic Markers was prolonged when the mixing board that they run their vocals through was fried.  As the smell of burning circuits permeated the air, I quipped that at least we were in the right place to deal with a fire.  Hilarious.

Eventually the Alps abandoned their attempts to fix the mixing board and turned things over to Magik Markers, who had been slated to go on next.  Firmly in the camp of "heard about but never heard", I was curious to see how the Markers held up to their reputation...or whatever bastardized version of their rep has made its way to my old-man ears.  Of course, what played out was not at all what I was expecting.  Instead of a sloppy burst of noise, I was assaulted by one of the tightest rhythm sections I've had the pleasure of witnessing.  Ever.  They were accompanied by a gal on guitar who convincingly played the part of idiot savant.  She fumbled over the guitar as if she had no idea what she was doing.  But that was clearly not the case, as she manhandled her instrument.  Enhanced by a bevy of electronics and pedals, Magik Markers belted out a dichotomy of mess and proficiency, its form defined by the machine-like duo but personality owned by the structured chaotic guitar.  I've been converted.

Back to Sic Alps, a favorite in our household for a dog's age. These guys have added a member, a second guitarist whose role is presumably to enable his counterpart to not play the guitar and concentrate on singing without losing any of the tune.  It's OK by me.  But backing up...  The band lost their mixing board and had to go to Plan B and send their vocals through the house PA.  The soundman was walking them through their check.  "Guitar please."  Strum strum.  So on.  "Kick drum."  The band stood there looking at each other for a moment. After blurting out "Fuck it, let's just go," the drummer leaped onto his stool and immediately launched into an incredible drum solo to kick things off. Keith Moon incredible.  Animal incredible.  A moment of brilliant turmoil which gave way to a robust set.

The Sic Alps accomplish what few others do in combining lush melodies with breakout explosive jams.  They teeter on the edge for a spell and then explode–bodies flail into the microphones, drums assaulted.  Pick up the pieces and set things up enough to do it again for 3 minutes.  Long enough to get in one or two memorable hooks, to leave an impression most folks are incapable of, then a burst of energy before cleaning up and moving onto the next memorable hook.  A fantastic set.

Thursday night we headed out to see Marc Maron at a taping of his WTF podcast. I encountered Maron's show not too long after joining the podcast culture (which was, admittedly, years after the rest of the world jumped in).  With fond recollections of his standup via Comedy Central, I anxiously dove into the series.  It has become more obvious with each successive episode, but Marc's podcast is not standard fare.  He probes deeper, with more introspect, than any of his peers and in the process not only gets his guests to open up but talks about his own life with more honesty than most can muster in therapy.  And we can relate–this set was preceded by a cast of dozens approaching the stage in eucharist-like earnesty to deliver presents3 to the host.  Thank You's for talking about your life with the honesty that we find hard to reflect upon ourselves.

Marc's panel for this taping (the second of two that night) featured the charismatic Sarah Vowell, Chuck Klosterman, Eric Drysdale, Fred Armisen, and Bill Hader.  Hilarity ensued, really.  As first panelist up, and by definition the longest guest on stage, Vowell initiated a lively conversation about the history of Hawaii, then kept up with comically timed comments and yawns during subsequent guests (after various audience members felt the need to chime in with absurdly trivial additions to the conversation, she announced "it feels like we're sitting in a room with the internet").  Hader's tale of Danny McBride's stoned trek in a car service stole the show.  As was told, the real-life Kenny Powers defied his limo driver's order not to smoke marijuana en route.  When confronted, he acknowledged his gaff, accepted his banishment of the service, and made arrangements to meet his pals at Denny's on foot.  Game, set, match.  Kenny Fucking Powers!


1 Sad to say, but the artwork on many of the Templars records is as bad as the music is good.  I need to start collecting these records exclusively as test presses.  Sleeveless by design without the weight of "missing" part of the package.

2 Aka DCTV, a media arts center housed in a historic former fire station. The exterior is ridiculously beautiful and ornate, while the interior resembles a vacant school gym overtaken by invasive student artists (think overhead projectors + paper mache2a). Sadly, no firepoles in sight.

2aSeriously, they could not leave the paper mache 8-sided die alone. Every few minutes someone would readjust the position of this artifact. That it was opaque, and thus barely being projected onto the wall very effectively, did not seem to factor into the equation.

3Oddly enough, the most memorable gift of the night was the most generic: a Whitman's sampler. I think the grandma of boxed candy reminded us all of plastic-covered couches. Which is just funny.

Saturday, March 5, 2011


The first spring training games started up last weekend and I found myself squared with the TV set during lunch easing back into a familiar routine.  The bad guys faced off against the assholes, and, as always, I rooted for the bad guys (it's been that way since I was a kid, blame grandpa and Donny B).  Old familiar faces took to the plate, giving their first go of the year.  Brilliant to watch, even with the fellows giving 50%.  That's part of the excitement, the slow build of camp as we watch the veterans crawl to life and the kids explode out of the gate.

I never did get totally into the swing of things last year as far as The Game was concerned.  Real life stress and distractions loomed over my head with enough weight to keep me from getting too comfortable or carried away with the season.  I did not put in the requisite time at Bill James Online 1, the Fordham Baldies 2 never did recover from their early season slump, plus my team found new ways to piss me off.  It's all forgotten now, and watching live from my living room in NY, was as engrossing as ever.  I had to split to run some errands and when I got back at the tail end of the outing, the field was covered with guys not named Manny wearing 99 on their backs'.  These kids, totally unfamiliar even to me even as a guy who tends to dip into minor league blogs and scouting reports of the young'ns, were going at it full force.

Young kids on the cusp of living out their dreams who will, in all likelihood, end up back at home all too soon and will spend the rest of their lives talking about how close they came.  I'm envious.  One of the cable networks was showing Sugar this winter, which I think tells that story as well as it's been told on film.  The eponymous star is scouted as a teen in the Dominican where he signs and is brought up through the ranks of a big league team.  This is the dream but the story is anything but glorious.  Pulled away from his family and brought to play in small town Iowa, Sugar is boarded with a Bible Belt American family whose allegiances are with God, America, and their local team.  And so he struggles with language and culture, attempts to find comfort with the locals who, despite sharing a love for the sport, are absolute aliens to him.  The intense smiles and Jesus is looming in the back of my mind chit chat of the youth group teens would bewilder even those of us who get the subtleties of the language so it's no surprise that the character misreads some of this as romantic interest.

This is the setting in which the hero is faced with honing his skills, growing from kid player into pro.  The massive uphill on-field battle actually becomes the most familiar thing around.  And in this tale, Sugar cracks.  He had too much working against him to perfect his curve and to adjust to life on the road  away from family.  After dropping out of the league he ends up in New York, working in a wood shop as he had back home, and playing in a pick-up league in the park.  His teammates have similar stories to his.

Sarah and I often spend summertime weekends exploring one park or another and gravitate towards ballgames when we pass them.  Men on the diamond, decked out in uniform, playing as if their salaries were on the line while their families and passers-by like us watch on.  Perhaps many are like Sugar who had a shot once and keep going still, even after life has moved on.  Or like number 94, who hit a two run homer in my team's loss last week and has spent most of the last ten years in Mexico trying work his way into the radar of a big league team.  He was almost the hero in spring training game number 1 and I'm rooting for him to make a mark over the next few weeks but time has a way of running out as players close in on 30.  The sparse spring training crowds fade into 50 of us crowded around the fence in Inwood Hill Park as the men on field carry on exactly as they always have.


1 Subscription required, kids, but worth every cent of the 300 cents/month fee.  I believe there was a note recently that they were planning to open up some of the content from behind the firewall to the public, which'd be swell, but the fee is a mere pittance so subscribe away.
These Baldies, of course, being managed by me via an app and acted out by millionaires on the field, not being managed by Terror and acted out in front of a recruiting office.  If I could find a decent Woodlawn related gang name I'd consider changing for this year, otherwise two stops on the train doesn't make me too much an impostor.