Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Amy's B-Day Bash

Babyheads, BBQ & Brian

June 27, 2010...

Forget about April, Mr. Eliot - June is the cruelest month, as least as far as my bank account is concerned. It's that time of year when I just fork over my paycheck to cover my annual big car insurance payment to Erie, Father's Day, and my Dad's birthday, followed immediately by...my girlfriend Amy's birthday!

Now, I know better than to pick out presents for women because they invariably want clothing, shoes, or jewelry - commodities that are clearly beyond my realm of expertise. So, I ask her simply what she wants and let her pick it out. Amy used to work at a jewelry store, so baubles, bangles, and bright shiny beads are never absent from her short list of conspicuous consumption...and at the recent Hampden Hon Fest she set her sights on the macabre, Goth-friendly trinkets of Martha Rotten (martharotten.com), whose wares are sold locally at Hampden's Paradiso on 36th Street an La Terra on Falls Road.

Martha Rotten

Martha Rotten claims her products will "make your living hell a better place." I'll say! Where else can you buy a Booji Boy mongoloid-sized babydoll head ring for your girlfriend that elicits such praise as "Tres Quay?"

Martha Rotten's Big Babyhead Doll Ring

Yes, babies are very creepy to begin with, but these Rottenesque rings make one think of the eerie dollhead inhabitants of the Quay Brothers' Street of Crocodiles.

Babydoll chic a la les bros Quay

Amy is also the quintessential Queen fanatic (she even has a Freddy Mercury doll at home!), so when she saw on Brian May's web site (brianmay.com) that the well-coiffed guitarist-astrophysicist and stereoscopy aficionado had co-written a 3-D book with Elena Vidal, A Village Lost and Found, I knew I had to get that as well.

Apparently, Brian May and Elena Vidal even serve as directors of a company devoted to the study and publishing of stereoscopic images, the London Stereoscopic Company (londonstereo.com), which published the book.

Cool logo too:

The Queen-approved London Stereoscopic Company

A Village Lost and Found is a completely annotated collection of the original 1850s stereoscopic photograph series Scenes in Our Village by T. R. Williams brought together for the first time in living memory. Described as the perfect antidote to the stress of life in the 21st Century, it portrays the idyll of life in an 1850s village that is "far from the sound of the train's whistle." Quite Village Green Preservation Society, as Ray Davies would say.

An original T. R. Williams postcard

So I ordered that from Amazon (the cheapest price I found - and fast!) and it even came with its own "OWL." Now, you ask, what in the world is an OWL? The OWL is a unique, high quality, stereo focussing viewer that was designed by Brian May himself!

Yes, not only is the brainy May an astrophysicist, but he's also a CAD designer! Unhappy with the 3-D stereoscopic viewers he had come across, May created his own prototype that he took to plastic injection moulding specialists S. B. Weston Ltd to put into production so that he could include them with his book. According to the specs, his OWL "packs into a space only 6mm thick, yet assembles in 15 seconds into a rigid precision instrument which is equally at home sitting on a page to view stereo illustrations in a book, or used in the hand as the perfect viewer for stereo cards - classic or modern."

Needless to say, Amy loved the book, quickly assembling the enclosed OWL viewer so that she could pore o'er T. R. Williams' village pics of yore (as shown below).

Amy sets her stereo sights on Brian May's book

"I wonder if I can get reading glasses in these frames?"

But while Amy enjoys reading and wearing babyhead jewelry, her favorite conspicuous consumption remains food. Specifically: charred animal flesh. Even more specifically: Korean barbecue. So it was no surprise when, sated from looking at 3-d pictures of a small, turn of the century English village, she asked, "Hey, can we go to that new 24-hour Korean barbecue place in Ellicott City?"

That would be Honey Pig 2, so named because there's already the original Honey Pig (1) in Los Angeles, not to mention one in Annandale, Virginia.

Honey Pig Lady: Modeled after Divine?

Honey Pig card, back

"Sure," I replied, because Korean barbecue is also one of my favorite things on earth. Plus, I was curious to see how the new BBQ kid in town compared with our favorite Baltimore Korean restaurant (in the wake of the post-fire closing of Famous Yakitori One), Nak Won (aka "Noc Won") on the corner of W. 20th Street and Charles.

To make the Honey Pig 2 trek to Ellicott City, we needed cool tunage, so I gave Amy my secret b-day stocking stuffer in the form of Devo's new "De-Evolution Focus Group-approved" CD, Something for Everybody. Devo's de-evolutionary ditties are the perfect soundtrack for driving through the urban commercial blight of Route 40 West and Amy particularly liked the new song "Don't Shoot (I'm a Man)" with its chorus of "Don't tase me, bro!"

Devo's new CD: "Something for Everybody"

Don't know why, but we also took my GPS along for the ride, probably because we enjoy hearing the Australian woman's voice (you can adjust the voice to be a man or a woman, and choose different nationalities as well - and since I'm on a Kylie Minogue kick, I try and fantasize that Kylie's giving me directions...in her hot pants!) mispronouce American street names and refer to exits as "slip roads" and circles as "roundabouts." But my GPS directions were totally wrong and after a while I got sick of the annoying Sheila's voice chiming "Recalculating" and turned her off.

Little did we know how easy it was to find Honey Pig 2 because it's literally right across from our old bygone utopia of childhood, the Enchanted Forest!

The Enchanted Forest today on Route 40

The Enchanted Forest in its heyday

Not only that, but Old King Cole even points the way to the Honey Pig!

By Royal Decree: "This way to 24 Hour Korean BBQ!"

Naturally, we had to stop for shameless Baby Boomer photo ops standing next to the Enchanted Forest and jolly ole King Cole, who guards the entrance to an adjoining strip mall.

Amy sez: "Awl, I miss the Enchanted Forest!"

Tom sez: "I'm King of this Public Domain!"

Seeing King Cole made me think of local artist Charlene Clark (charleneclarkstudio.com) and her wonderfully nostalgic Enchanted Forest prints; I reminded Amy that she needed to frame the King Cole print we bought from Charlene at the Hampden Festival years ago.

Charlene Clark's King Cole

And then we crossed the street to visit Honey Pig, which is part of the Princess Shopping Center (named after King Cole's daughter, perhaps?).

"Yay, we're here!": Amy outside Honey Pig Restaurant

We glanced over the menu (shown below)...

Honey Pig menu, front

Honey Pig menu, back:
Note "Hangover Soup" under "Special Kitchen Order"

...but we already knew what we wanted: Amy ordered her beloved galbi short ribs (the most expensive thing on the menu at $22.99 - everything else was $12.99 - but hey, it was her birthday after all) and I, the cheapskate, got the Korean seafood pancake ($6.99), which I tried to order in Korean (Hae mul pa jun?), to which the waitress laughed and said, "Ah, yes, you like Korean pizza!"

For those new to Korean barbecue, Henry Hong had a nice article in this week's Baltimore City Paper that laid out the essentials: "Barbecue By Any Other Name" (6/30/10).

Needless to say, the service was snappy - and by committee (various servers poured us water, brought out the beef, plied us with side dishes - including the de facto kimchi - and stopped by to stir the beef).

As is the custom with Korean barbecue restaurants, there was a gas grill built into our table so that diners get that you-are-there feel for the cooking, with various attendants coming by to stir the beef and bring lettuce leaves for you to wrap it in. Some of the smaller adjoining tables that didn't have the luxury of the built-in gas grills featured little butane-powered hibachi grills sitting on top instead.

Amy's galbi was delish (yes, I stole some!), and she alternated wrapping it in lettuce and mixing it in with her rice bowl.

Amy savors some galbi beef ribs

The first thing I noticed about my seafod pancake was its thickness. As "Korean pizzas" go, this one was definitely deep-dish. In fact, it was so thick I saved a couple of slices to use for insulation in my attic next Winter. Gotta say, the best seafood pancakes I've had have been the thin-slice variety at Nak Won and, in a smaller version, at Geisha Sushi on Saratoga and Charles. Still, thick seafood pancake - on top of rice, galbi, kimchi and all those little assorted side dishes - is pretty filling. We did not go away hungry, that's for sure!

The chopsticks and the damage done

The Korean men at the table next to us were watching ESPN (the World Cup match had just ended) and doing shots of soju, the "Korean vodka" made from rice and/or other straches (barley, wheat, potato, tapioca) that packs a wallop way beyond it's stated 20% alcohol content. That wallop seems to turn all Korean men into Foster Brooks after a few glasses. The sight made me pine for the Korean liquor store down the street at Lotte Plaza, so that became our next stop.

Soju rice vodka

The nice guy at the Korean liquor store picked out his favorite brand of Jinro soju for me, a real bargain at $5.99 for a 300ML bottle, and he even threw in a shotglass 6-pack set at no charge!

The liquor store was next door to the famous Lotte supermarket, so of course we stopped in there - but not to get food, as I never cook (is microwaving considered cooking?), and Amy cooks only infrequently when she runs out of her mother's leftovers. No, we went right to the toy store in the back to look at cell phone charms and other non-essential tchotches like Domo-kun bags and Hello Kitty shower caps. Amy bought the latter two (essential, to her) items, while I bought a Pucca cell phone charm because, well, they're so damned masculine!

Domo-kun bag: essential

Pucca: too masculine?

And that was the end of the day's adventures. Back home I contemplated my bloated belly, emptied my empty wallet, and prepared to pay some bills. Oh brother...

Think I'll open that soju now!

Amy's Birthday-Related Links:
Martha Rotten Jewelry (martharotten.com)
London Stereoscopic Company (londonstereo.com)
A Village Lost and Found (Barnes & Noble)
Honey Pig 2 review (Baltimore Sun)
"The Two Koreas": Nak Won review (Accelerated Decrepitude)

Monday, June 28, 2010

Great Expectations

England's World Cup Flop: Much Ado About Nothing

Lampard's non-goal: convenient scapegoat for a nation's woes?

I'm always amused by England's love-hate relationship with its national football team, especially when the squad flounders against arch-rivals like Argentina and Germany. As you can imagine, the British press is calling for the heads of the players and their high-salaried Italian coach Fabio Capello in the wake of England's dreadful showing at the 2010 World Cup and especially after Sunday's humilating 4-1 trouncing at the hands of Die Mannschaft.

As always, Blimey must have controversy surrounding any defeat to their arch-rivals, be it Maradona's infamous "Hand of God" in 1986 or Frank Lampard's goal-that-wasn't-a-goal in this past Sunday's loss to a German team that keeper David "We're a better team than Germany" James famously described as being inferior to England (Ha! - Begs the question of many goals "Calamity" James would have let in against a "good" Deutschland squad!).

While the Limeys bemoan the fact that Lampard's disallowed goal (which bounced off the crossbar and was clearly two meters inside the goal), would have evened the score at 2-2 and changed the flow of the game, lost in the discussion is the fact that the Three (Cowardly) Lions dug themselves a 2-0 hole to start with, or the fact that Germany made the Lampard goal a moot point with two additional second half scores. As well as German defender Arne Freidrich's spot-on karmic connection when he said sometimes luck evens out, referring to England's lone World Cup triumph in 1966 at Wembley against West Germany when Geoff Hurst's crossbar shot was ruled to have crossed the line when many say it was far from conclusive. (And speaking of that game, how cool was it that West German goalie Hans Tilkowski was wearing one of those Benny Hill/Bon Scott/Andy Capp "old man" caps?) Paybacks are a bitch, no? (Alles klare, Herr Lampard?)

Hurst "caps" off a Blimey victory in the '66 World Cup

Watch Geoff Hurst's 1966 World Cup "goal" against West Germany:

A slight digression: Of course, the missed goal once again brought up the topic of FIFA adding "instant replay" video, but FIFA prez Sepp Blatter is a notorious Old School stick-in-the-mud fuck-mook traditionalist, so that's a non-starter issue (because it makes too much sense!)...in fact, FIFA has already taken down the official video of the goal, leaving it to fans to post low-quality viddy of it on the Internets (as shown below).

In his book Why England Lose (renamed Soccernomics in the US) author Simon Kuper categorizes the outcry over things like Maradona's handball or Lampard's nullified goal as "Phase 3" of "Why England Loses" or "The English Conclude That the Game Turned on One Freakish Bit of Bad Luck That Could Happen Only To Them."

The complete phases of English World Cup Delusion include:

1. Pretournament - Certainty That England Will Win the World Cup
2. During the Tournament England Meets a Wartime Foe
3. The English Conclude That the Game Turned on One Freakish Bit of Bad Luck That Could Happen Only To Them.
4. Moreover, Everyone Else Cheated

Bottom line: At the end of the day, this England squad just wasn't as good as it was hyped up to be. (They looked rather tired, as well.) And as far as their coach Fabio Capello? Despite his sparkling C.V., sartorial spiffyness, and Italian suaveness...color me unimpressed. He simply didn't field the best mix of players, he stubbornly stuck to a questionable 4-4-2 formation, and couldn't adapt when it was obvious that his approach and selections weren't working.

And what's with England's recent self-loathing when it comes to passing over British coaches in favor of European imports? I'm with Sky/Fox Sports analyst and former Scotland national striker Andy Gray when he points out that you never see the other traditional European football powers - France, Germany, Italy, Spain - importing foreign coaches to lead their national teams. After all, England always boast that the Barclay's English Premiere League is the world's best, so why is it that the world's best footballing nation can't find a native son to helm their squad, one that knows the players, speaks their language, perhaps even a former player like Alan Shearer who played with them? (And who cares about coaching pedigree - "genius" gaffers Capello and Sven Ericson have flopped at the national level while a borderline lunatic like Diego Maradona has his team through to the Quarterfinals; I mean, how hard can it be? I'm no genius, but even I figured out that defender Ledley King's knee was suspect - so why include him on the team when he's only going to contribute 45 minutes before hobbling out to see the physio???)

"Don't tell me that there are no Englishmen capable of going out there," Gray told Goal.com. "I think there are many out there: Glenn Hoddle, Alan Shearer, Roy Hodgson. Maybe Roy Hodgson with David Beckham as his number two to learn and four years from then, maybe, to take it on - that kind of thing. But if you want experience don't tell me Harry Redknapp couldn't do this job."

Hmmm, I think "Harry Houdini" is too smart to take the England job, especially when things are going so swimmingly at Champions League-qualifying Tottenham at the moment, but point taken. And in the heat of the moment, Harry Redknapp himself weighed in for a English manager of the national team. "Who wouldn't want to manage England?" Harry asked the UK's Daily Mail.

I think England's anti-homegrown bias stems from its failure to qualify for the 2008 UEFA European Football Championship under former national gaffer Steve "Wally with a Brolly" McClaren. (Here's Andy Gray's full analysis from Goal.com: FA should sack Fabio Capello and appoint an Englishman.)

And I have to agree with Metro Sport's England player ratings for this campaign - England World Cup squad: Player ratings for the entire campaign - though I don't blame Wayne Rooney's poor performance entirely on him. Rooney was a goal-scoring machine for Manchester United this year playing as a lone striker, but 4-4-2 fanatic Fabio paired him with a past-it/paceless Emile Heskey (who was worthless throughout the four matches) until he finally tried a more effective Jermaine Defoe up top, but it was a case of like cancelliing out like (two small forwards)...why not the towering 6-7 Peter Crouch, who is a prolific goal-scorer at the national level, with Rooney playing just off/behind him (it's a total mystery why Capello only utilized Crouch for a scant six minutes against Algeria)(and for that matter, it's a total mystery why Man U midefielder Michael Carrick played a total of 0 minutes!)...why not captain Steven Gerrard in his more familiar central role instead of out of position on the left wing? Why an ineffective holding midfielder in Gareth Barry and why James Milner on the right wing? Why not more Joe Cole, Shaun Wright-Phillips, and Aaron Lennon as wingers? Why start a still ill Milner in the USA game? And why, for that matter, start an inexperienced Robson Green in that game? Hard questions that Fabio will have to answer. (Not to mention his stripping Terry of the captaincy following his sex scandal - a scandal which forced Capello to choose between Terry and Wayne Bridge; given Terry's so-so performances since, maybe Bridge would have been the better choice?)

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Born In Flames

Born In Flames
Howard Hampton
Harvard University Press, 473 pages, 2007
"We are born in flames..."
- Lora Logic

"I'm turning the pages of a book that takes ages for the forward to end..."
- Pete Shelley, "I Believe"

I don't know where to start in describing this book which, like most good things in life, I came across strictly by happenstance. I was at the library and I stopped to pick it up because I liked the cover...and when I started reading it, it blew me away - in fact, I had a phantasmagorical pop-culture epiphany. Howard Hampton's writing style might be called Lester Bangs Meets Roland Barthes, but that doesn't begin to describe how densely packed his sentences are with telling references to film, music, and literature - everything I like, in fact. We're talking Lora Logic compared to Phoebe Gloeckner, Tiananmen Square posited against Charlie Hayden's Liberation Music Orchestra, Natural Born Killers vs. Forrest Gump, Sting vs. Hasil Atkins ("Bring Me the head of Gordon Sumner"), Godard vs. Spielberg, Pennies from Heaven juxtaposed against The Clash's London Calling, with essays on the stare of Hong Kong Cinema superstar Brigitte Lin, not to mention ruminations and contemplations on the likes of Wong Kar-Wai, Seijan Suzuki, Thomas Pynchon, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Columbine High, Irma Vep, Tarantino, Takeshi Miike, Anthony Mann, Sam Peckinpah, Pere Ubu, Bresson, John Woo, Nirvana, Oldboy, Sam Fuller, Fight Club, Pixies, Johnny Guitar, Sonic Youth, Czech avant-rockers Plastic People of the Universe, Wire, Rocket from the Tombs, P.J. Harvey, Sleater-Kinney, Cat Powers, Chris Marker, Tsui Hark, and so on and so on, etc., etc., etc. Not to mention inspired passages like this Kill Bill riff: "Quentin Tarantino's massive, two-part uber-B-movie is a celluloid python that lovingly devours tons of lumpish reference points without ever establishing a reason for being" or "A director such as Takeshi Miike will dish out dozens of viciously outrageous cult flicks at a vending machine clip, but while a high school girl shooting darts out of her vagina is a good sideshow act, it seems instantly dated and film-geekish next to the circa 1950 tough-mindedness of Nightmare Alley, Gun Crazy, In a Lonely Place, Les Enfants Terribles, Night and the City, Los Olvidadas, Diary of a Country Priest, or The Furies" (a statement I certainly can't argue with!). Suffice it to say that's it took me a day just to get through the introduction, which far from introducing anything seemed more like a reading a robustly rigorous Russian novel.

As one Amazon reviewer described it:
Howard Hampton's "Born In Flames," is so vividly written, each sentence like a crazed aphorism on some bleak American-gothic apocalypse just this side of redemption-via-imagination, a creatural re-imagining beyond the blood darkness, effluvia, and debris of our times and ordinary lives. One could study how to write essays and to organize cultural collections around wild tropes by such a book. Not sure the introduction gets at what the individual essays are doing alone or in the aggregate, but it is a book that calls out for one to come to terms with it, as a way of reading film and music and US culture as such, as crazed intervention, as a will to create and transform the ordinary in style and cultural-extremity production. He can get from moments in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid to larger shifts in the culture, and from Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia to the blood poetry of some US frontier apocalypse, still to come.

I'll be reading this one for a long time and I'll be thinking about it for ages.