Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Weekend Warrior, Monday Mourning Malcontent

This past weekend I celebrated my 49th birthday. I was not looking forward to it. In fact, I was all set to cue up Morrisey's "Unhappy Birthday" in my boom box and lament the remarkable passage of time in my unremarkable life. But I have to say, it was smashing! For starters, I actually didn't have to work a weekend shift at my job. My two favorite tennis players (Justine Henin-Hardenne and Roger Federer) made the finals of the Australian Open and one of them (Federer) won. My girlfriend gave me sexual favors (thanks sweetie!), a Kinks CD, a Dylan book and last, but not least, a Magic Wand and Mirror Playset from the Family Dollar store (to assuage my Inner Princess). My non-erotic companion Big Dave Cawley (King of Men) gifted me with Jerry Beck's awesome new scholarly tome, The Animated Movie Guide. My "Classroom Scare Films" program got reviewed in the paper and a record number of people turned out see it at the Pratt Library. I got to see some crazy experimental films by my favorite crazy experimental filmmaker, Martha Colburn (pictured below), when she made a rare pitstop in Baltimore at the Ottobar. I also got to see a great documentary on the Ballets Russe at the Charles Theatre (and learned that Yvonne Craig - who portrayed Batgirl on ABC-TV's 1960s series Batman - was a member of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo from 1954 to 1957!). And I dined like a diety on a mortal's equivalent of nectar and ambrosia (in this case pan-seared oysters in a delish fennel and pernod sauce, savory grilled salmon and soul-soothing Shiraz wine) at my favorite restaurant, Henninger's Tavern (where genial host-with-the-most Kenny Veith spoiled me with a bottle of Macallan single malt Scotch, hmm-hmm good!). For two fleeting days during my birthday weekend, I was King of the Hill, Top of the Heap, A-Number 1, Ichiban, Da Man!

But that was then and this is now. Come Monday morning, I had plummeted helter skelter from the top of the heap down to my rightful place as a subterranean bottom feeder, once more resuming my ineffectual and Sisyphean efforts to roll my mortal coil back up the hill of existence. My weekend pass was over and I had to return back to the base. Back to my 364-days-a-year So Called Life. In other words, back to the Daily Axe to Grind for me, The Angriest Librarian in the World. The new year is young and I've already sharpened my scythe to the point where it can cut the wind and make it bleed.

Things That Annoy Me Already in the New Year, 2006

I'm sure I'll have more as the year progresses. These will have to do for now.

1. Slammin' the Slams -
I love how there are only four Grand Slam events in professional tennis and yet coverage of this much maligned sport is relegated to ESPN2 (meanwhile the main ESPN will cover everything from Women's Colege Baseball to Competitive Eating Contests). I can live with that, as I understand how tennis is a love that dare not speak its name and must resort to alternative communication channels, like pirate radio in the UK back in the 70s. But ESPN2 had the nerve to cut away from the Australian Open final this year immediately after the final point to cover a meaningless indoor track and field competition. I read in the paper the next day that my boy Roger Federer, who normally shows as much emotion as The Terminator, broke down in tears at the award presentation. Unfortunately, I didn't get to see this historic event, as ESPN immediately cut to the breathtaking excitement of showing a bunch of gazelles in short shorts doing endless laps around a non-descript indoor facility. Hey ESPN, If I want to watch people jogging, I can go to the park. A Grand Slam is a big deal, whether it's in Tennis or on the menu at Denny's! Don't treat it like it was as routine an event as a best in show dog competition or a bowling match!

2. Chain-smoking Hipsters at the Ottobar -
I reluctantly went to the Ottobar last Friday night to pay homage to Martha Colburn, erstwhile Baltimorean and filmmaker genius, whose experimental shorts will one day will required watching in film study courses and whose name will no doubt appear alongside Mekas, Kuchar, Baldwin and her other experimental film idols as required reading in film history textbooks. I wasn't much interested in seeing the headlining band, Deer Hoof, but I figured if Martha liked them, they must be pretty cool.

But my Spidey senses started tingling the minute I approached the Ottobar. I swear I could SMELL the smoke OUTSIDE the club before I even stepped through the side door, a billious cloud of foul odor seemingly surrounding me like Pigpen in Peanuts. Every single person in Baltimore's indie rock Mecca smokes. Incessantly. And rudely. You'd think that if you were 6 foot 5 inches tall and brandishing a red hot fuming stick of tobacco nitrates that you'd be slightly cognizant of your immense presence and your close-at-hand surroundings. But no, people just light up and stand in front of you with no regard for your existence, without even a passing attempt at manners like, "I'm sorry, am I in your way" or "Sorry, is my smoke bothering you?" These people also like to stand near fans which ideally would suck the smoke upwards but instead tend to whip it back into your face, where it wreaks havoc with contact lenses wearers. I know I sound like an anti-smoking crank but lemme tell you, I smoked for 17 years! I was good at it. And I LOVED it while I smoked. But I was always defensive about it, always worried that perhaps my pleasure and enjoyment was infringing on the comfort level or health of others. These were the days when one could smoke in restaurants and office buildings, when it was a voluntary decision to refrain from smoking around those who didn't care for it. And I liked to have some personal space around me when indulging my dirty sweet little vice - I really believed in those Salem Country ads where my smoke was wafting away in the clear blue country skies. But how can Ottobar scenesters enjoy their smokes when they're packed in like sardines and the smoke billows up in your face? It's like farting in an elevator.

Now that it's legally mandated, smokers tend to light up with abandon in the few places they're allowed to indulge in their pleasure, like addicts in an opium den. But just because you're in a roomful of frat boys doesn't mean everybody has to fart and act retarded. Likewise, hipsters should exercise some moderation in their drinking and smoking regimen. Just as drinking until you pass out doesn't make you any smarter, any sexier, or any more interesting, smoking non-stop doesn't make you any more of a rock star, a writer, a bohemian, an intellectual or Serge Gainsbourg. It just makes your voice raspy, your clothes (and those of anyone near year) stinky and your eyes dry and irritated. Forget about the health issues. I'm just talking superficial skin-deep surface impressions here. Or as Martha Colburn commented to me about the Twentysomething Ottobar scene, "Geeze, the bar scene here is like Puberty!" This from a wizened old 31-year-old! Hey hipsters, here's a suggestion: instead of reflexively reaching for your ciggies during those awkward moments when you're not sucking down Natty Bohs screaming "Yeah!" at the band, try this - try doing something else with your mouth, like maybe having a conversation. Groucho Marx loved his cigars but, as he once responded to a young father who told him he had a half-dozen kids, even he took his cigar out of his mouth once in a while. And at over $30 a carton, wouldn't you wantto be a little more frugal with your dough so you can buy more tunes for your iPOD? (In today's Nouveau Boho Economy, hipsters will dress down like bums - donning the doughty ski caps favored by hip-hop gangbangers, the torn cardigan sweaters of the Grunge movement, and the ever-popular gas station attendant and bowling shirts favored by urban hillbillies - yet spend a small fortune on iPODs, cigarettes. Yet they drink Natty Bohs. Go figure.)

3. Attention-Deficit Indie Rock Bands Like Deer Hoof -
I can be still be hip (or almost hip),
I thought, as I prepared to take in the Deer Hoof show at the Ottobar Friday night. And these guys are supposed to be good, what with the City Paper writing them up, and Martha Colburn endorsing them and all. But the minute the show started I smelled an egg. For one thing, they just started into to playing, not a "Hello, Cleveland!," not a peep, just bang off right into it. So much for showmanship and stage charisma. I then I had that uneasy feeling you have when you realize something isn't what you think it is, that you will have to suffer through something others find appealing (like when I bite my tongue while jocks talk about football). All of a sudden all four Hooves started playing different out-of-synch sounds and I felt like I was at one of those cacphonous High Zero art jams. then the realization came, They don't play songs, they just make noise. And noise annoys. Like so many indie rock bands these days with the weird names - Goatfish, The Shitheads, and so - they noodle, they jam, they go in about fifteen different directions all in the course of one "number," like they're practicing or playing jazz. And the minute a pattern starts to emerge, the second a melody starts to emerge from the cacaphony - WHAM, back to the JAM! Don't get me wrong, I think the drummer's aces - this guy had passion and was unbelievable to watch as he kicked out these off-kilter 7/11, 11/7 jazz counts, anything but 4/4, getting a huge, driving sound out of the most stripped down kit - a snare, a pint-sized bass drum and a high-hat - imaginable. But no songs! The Asian guitar player chick did her whispery "La-la-la" thing into the mic and I'm sure there's a market for that, but Kahimi Karie and a whole slew of J-Pop singers have done the Claudine Longet whisper chant before, and the bass and lead guitarist just worked their way up and down the frets riffing aimlessly. With a kick-out-the-jams style like this, who would know if they were messing up? It's too easy to be free, it's much harder to be tight and constrained to the beginning, middle, end structure of this thing we call "songs."

Of course, I could see why Martha liked these guys. Their music is a perfect soundtrack for the visual anarchy of her films. And I can see stoners listening to this stuff while they nod out. It's basically background music, something to listen to while doing the dishes or while sipping coffee at hip cafes. It's just not something I enjoy watching or listening to live as a performance

4. Being Underwhelmed by Wilco -
I was listening to a WTMD theme song block about drinking and driving (I guess it was because Towson University students started back to school on January 30) and heard some song that sounded like the Replacements, "something about hold the wheel while I'm drinking." The vocalist had a raspy voice like Paul Westerberg, the band sounded like a more polished 'Mats, and the subject matter was pure Replacements/Rock 'n' Roll Bad Boys. In other words, it's all been done before. The DJ said the band was Wilco, whose name I would venture comes from that "Roger, Wilco" protocol pilots and other uniformed professionals use, which means literally, "Yes, I will copy." And how! Color me unimpressed. I do like the fact that the leader's last name is Tweedy. Like Mr. Tweedy in the newspaper funnies. Now that was a cool dude!

Hearing it on Towson's radio station made me think back to last year, when I overheard two returning-to-TU jocks at Panera Bread talking about the back-to-school grind. "What is it about this town?" one baseball-capped yahoo whined. "Another semester, another DUI!" Yeah, that is a shame about our quaint, provincial laws that tyrannically impose their quaint, provincial smackdown on irresponsible self-indulgence. How L7. How un-Rock 'n' Roll!

5. People on Cell Phones Anywhere, But Specifically at the Grocery Store Talking Into Hands-Free Units
"Hmmm, I think I'll have a Spinach Salad. haven't had one of those in a while." When I heared this, I started to respond to the woman behind me, because I'm a big fan of this food genre as well. But I saw she was not talking to me, ambling by and keeping up a steady conversation with herself. Or so I thought. People who talk to themselves are usually demented, and I thought the poor woman was retarded (sorry, "special"). But now, she was talking into one of those wireless, hands-free cell phone attachments, regaling her friend on the other end of the phone with the most minute and mundane details of her eating regimen. How fascinating it must be for her friend, and everyone else in Eddie's Supermarket, to hear how the "Fresh fruit is good, helps my digestion." Thanks - as always - for sharing, Public Cell Phone Users Everywhere! What's next, discussion of your wiping technique in the Toilet Paper aisle? ("I like the Charmin with Aloe and Vitamin E, it's kind to my ass.")

6. People That Say "Excuse Me!" As an Excuse To Rudely Interrupt Others -
A day doesn't go by that I'm not interrupted with this faux pleasantry, usually accompanied by a waving hand or the verbal assailant's face thrust inches away from mine, while at my library gig. What is it with people today? When I'm on the phone or in the middle of a conversation with a patron, or when there is a line of people who are patiently waiting to be "next in line"...why do you think you're not annoying The Harried Librarian by your interruption. Wouldn't you hate it if I was answering you're thrust-upon-me question by someone else interrupting you with an "Excuse me!" No, I won't excuse you. Take a ticket and get in line. You are not special and your needs are not any more urgent than the next person's. So get over yourself. Really, this is a valuable life lesson in You Can't Always Get What You Want When You Want It. Don't believe me? Try being impatient the next time a cop pulls you over. It doesn't go over very well. In fact, chances are the cop will take even MORE time if you act all bothered and in a hurry. You'll learn what you should have learned in kindergarten when they taught you all about "Yes, please, thanks" - the Manners 101 part of Society's Social Contract.

7. Taco Bell's "Good To Go Guy" -
I actually don't hate the Verizon "Can You Hear Me Now" Guy any more because of this new irritation, whose bell I'd love to ring. But my words can't do justice to the Taco Bell beatdown done by the good folks at This Is What We Do Now, so please check out their hilarious posts at: The only thing that's "good to go" is your worthless existence.


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