Y Marks the Spot: The First Drunkpocalypse

 

I miss Oktoberfest in La Crosse.  I miss the rabid alcoholism, the stumbling through blocked-off streets, the police horses shitting in the middle of the street, the dudes puking in the alleys, the girls crying the mascara off their faces on the edges of the sidewalks.  I miss watching the madness unfold below me as I perch on the old Second Supper fire escape.  I miss writing crass, forbidden satire about it.  I miss the chaos, and the ridiculousness, and the block party sense of community.  And lederhosen.

The first time I looked past the curtain of plastic horns, parades, and shitty carnie games of daytime Oktoberfest, I was a year too young to enter the bars.  Nevertheless, I felt compelled to wander around downtown, mostly because the skies had decided to dump snow on the festivities for that night.  It was kind of wonderful walking sober among the inebriated, watching drunks fight and celebrate, stepping over puddles of freezing puke.  I couldn’t wait to be legal for this.

It would be years before I’d enter an Oktoberfest bar.  When I was underage, all my friends were over 21.  When I became legal, all my friends became underage, so I’d buy myself booze and slip out of my brain at home.  I didn’t really go to bars until I came back to La Crosse from my time poorly spent in California (and out there, cost, not age, was the issue).  I returned to Wisconsin like a thirsty tornado, ready to commit some serious drunken psychotherapy with my friends, all of whom were now street legal.  The plan went magnificently.

These more or less high spirits led me into my first full-fledged Oktoberfest, which ended up being pretty life-changing.  The first day began with my usual work at the time, helping to set up the new Barnes and Noble in the mall.  I had found out during my shift that a fellow employee was an old high school acquaintance who had accidentally broken my glasses once and whom I had been kind of a dimwitted dick towards from time to time.  I invited him to meet up with me at the fest, but nothing came of that.

Instead, I met up with more established friends at the Southside Beer Tent, a meeting place which would have been less pointless to me had it been a Screwdriver Tent.  I sat around on benches with my thumb in my ass, blankly looking at such clever Oktoberfest banners as “2001: A Fest Odyssey!” as my friends drank beers that were to me indigestible.  At some point I also met old high school friends whom I quickly blew off.

I escaped the festgrounds with a pair of cute girls I vaguely knew and was vaguely interested in, true Oktoberfest warriors who had been drinking since that morning.  We lurked in Yesterdays in the vague hours before the crowds began pouring in, pounding down our respective drinks with good cheer.  One of the girls vanished at some point, leaving the other one to wander the streets with me as I looked for my reassembling group of friends.

We reconvened in the infant Shooter’s, where my faint hopes of hanging out with my companion were crapped on by another girl who got a she-boner over the way my spiked hair and black clothes made me look vaguely like Robert Smith (I guess).  This new factor followed me around the bar and monopolized my time, trying to excite me by employing girl-girl antics with a neighbor of mine and trying to pull me into the fray.

Looking for any way out of this mess, I grasped onto the Bruce Springsteen song that was currently playing.  I think it was “Born in the U.S.A.”.  Pushing my neck away from Boner Girl’s clutching mouth, I shouted “You show some goddamn respect for the Boss!” and stormed off.  My absurd sense of decorum came too late, though; the girl I had come into the bar with had gone.

We ditched the Boner and wandered back to Yesterdays, but at that point I wasn’t feeling it anymore.  I was crouched on the sidewalk in front of the bar, bored with the overabundance of life unfolding around me, when an exasperated-looking girl with red hair and black boots swept past me and into the bar.  And I was back.  I followed her in.

The timeline for that weekend becomes a bit fuzzy after that, but I think it goes like this: I had a large man nearly twist off my nipples in the middle of Pearl Street at bar time, my friend and I raged about some offense in our dark living room, another roommate staggered in and begged him for pot, Red Girl had a breakdown, I told her things would be fine, and she replied that things would never be fine.  Later, she and I became friends, then we ended up in a relationship for two years, and then we became friends again.  So I was right.

May Gambrinus’ grace watch over you all, you glorious drunks.

The Designer’s Drugs: Tori Amos – Night of Hunters

 

Medium: Album

Stimulus: Tori Amos – Night of Hunters

Anno: 2011

 

 

Tori Amos doing a classical-themed album is sort of an obvious proposition.  As it turns out, it’s also a powerful reality.  The classical aspects of Night of Hunters aren’t blatant; the songs are still mostly built around Tori’s vocals and piano, with all the new orchestral sounds filling out the periphery.  What makes this album different from her previous works, however, almost seems to be the knowledge that this was going to be a classical album.  That label does more to define Night of Hunters than any change in instrumentation.

It’s a very long and dark album, both brooding and distant.  The contradiction is that the music found here is about as menacing as anything Amos has made, yet the lyrics often have a feel of epic poetry and lack Amos’ usual fire.  Sometimes it’s more of an opera than a collection of songs.  The nine minutes of slow decline comprising “Battle of Trees” construct the most obvious example of this grandiose sense of fiction.  It’s a strange thing to say about a musician who once created an entire album exploring five separate aspects of herself, but Night of Hunters feels like Amos at her least personal.  That’s not awful by any stretch – as the brilliant ten minute darkness of “Star Whisperer” proves – but it does require some level of adjustment.

Also requiring some adjustment is the addition of Amos’ daughter on backup vocals.  She’s a bit raspy and nervous, which tends to take away from the songs in which she appears.  The greatest example of this is the Alice and Wonderland-like “Cactus Practice,” which dips into the sort of repeat after me chorus mantras that normally show up in hip hop singles.

There is an example in which the backup steps up, however.  “Job’s Coffin” is one of the moments in which the album shakes off its epic classical programming, and this sort of bluesy feminist call to action is vocally driven by Tori’s daughter, whose rougher voice serves it rather well.

The usual response to those times when musicians create albums that buck their established formulas is to give them a condescending pat on the head and say “Nice experiment!” while waiting for the errant artists to remember where their bread is buttered.  Night of Hunters, however, never comes off as a toe in the water, something to be later written off as non-canonical (see: Y Kant Tori Read?).  Sure, I’d like to hear more albums from Tori Amos that have the high energy, tempos, and lyrical fists of her usual work, but would I listen to another half dozen albums of Amos doing classical?  If they’re like this, then absolutely.

Y Marks the Spot: Stay in Your Lane

Assholes.

 

I really like the town where I live now, but there are two aspects of Bellingham that I could do without.  The first, being the difficulty of procuring cheap liquor, is more of a Washington state issue.  The second, being an arrogant dickhead bicyclist culture, feels a bit more home grown.

Most times I notice the schmucks riding their wheels down the dead center of the city’s car lanes and I smile at the audacity.  The broad dressed like a jockey riding her old-timey steed through the left turn lane of one of Bellingham’s busiest and crappiest streets was actually kind of awesome.  Yet when I have somewhere to be in the early hours of a weekend morning and I end up turtling along in my car behind a parade of professional spandex-covered douchebags who have taken up the entire goddamn street, my blood starts to boil.  In these moments I think of a video I saw in which a car plows through a South American bike parade, and that usually gets me through long enough to veer onto a side street.  Still, I do sometimes curse America’s stringent vehicular manslaughter laws in the meantime.

However, my irritation at my new town’s bike culture run amok comes more from my being a bike rider myself.  I don’t really like driving my car, and $4 a gallon gas and expensive insurance makes my tendency to walk or bike if I can get away with it all the easier.

But I’m also an amateur student of science, and my years of armchair research in the field of bicycle studies has led me to the discovery that my bike is neither as big nor as fast as a car.  Add to this my lifelong paranoia about being run over from behind by one of those bigger, faster machines – a fear that, when I was eight, landed me in Bike Court for riding on the left side of the road, where I could at least see the cars coming.  Yes, Bike Court is something that exists.

This combination of science and dread has led to me adopting a simple rule for when I’m on my pedal horse.  If a street doesn’t have a clear, painted bike lane, I usually stay on the sidewalk.  I’m sure the true bicyclists of Bellingham, when they see me riding around in a state of such blatant cowardice, assume that I’m also a grown man who sits down to pee.  Whatever.

Lately, I’ve been hearing a few bike crusaders on the internet calling for a War on Cars, a concept that is pretty fantastically ridiculous even beyond the basic truths that cars are useful and America is a big place.  If this oh so bold stance came from a line of thinking that included (or at least mentioned) mass transit, I’d be more okay with it, but the rhetoric of the War on Cars people just makes them come off as spoiled dickhead bicyclists who think that they’re the center of the universe and think that that cars can just idle along behind their puttering asses.  According to this prejudice, these helmeted revolutionaries would take the interstates if they could.

Sure, I absolutely support the creation of bike lanes everywhere, though the established structures of cities makes universal application impossible.  I’d like to be able to bike wherever I need to go.  I’d like to not be hit by a car, and I’d like to not run over a pedestrian (side note: how many pedestrians are calling for a War on Bikes?).  The thing is that these ideals don’t have to put bicyclists at cross purposes with car drivers.  Calling for a war on competing forms of transportation is both silly and dramatic – unless the form of transportation is a Segway, in which case it’s totally justified.

It’s been an increasingly accepted idea that streets are meant to be shared between cars and bikes, and I agree.  But when I’m driving to work on a bleak Saturday morning and I have to drive 15 miles an hour behind a four-wide bike parade, well, they’re the ones who aren’t sharing.  I have the prejudice that more than a few bike snobs are the sort of people who think that the average car driver is this spoiled and loud creature who could care less about the rest of the world so long as he’s comfortable.  To those fulfilled bike snob stereotypes, I ask this: when your small, slow asses take up the entire street when they could easily and comfortably fit in a much smaller space, are you any different?

The Designer’s Drugs: The Rapture – In the Grace of Your Love

 

Medium: Album

Stimulus: The Rapture – In the Grace of Your Love

Anno: 2011

 

The Rapture used to be an exciting dance band.  Now it’s just a dance band.  Not everything on In the Grace of Your Love is the bored, stoned beach hippie electrorock that can pass for songwriting maturity since MGMT came out with Oracular Spectacular (a comparison that’s easy to make considering the waterfront album art of each).  Still, there’s also not a lot here that is as gripping as past Rapture works.  Almost as if it was made to reinforce this idea, track two of Grace is a harpsichord-wielding swinger titled “Miss You” which, while it’s one of the album’s best tracks, also has the exact same beat as the title track of the Rapture’s much better album, Pieces of the People We Love.  That track was also a track two, appropriately enough.

There’s very little that’s gut-wrenchingly terrible; I’d point to Luke Jenner’s screechy vocals opening the album on “Sail Away,” the boring and annoyingly whimsical “Roller Coaster,” and the terrible, repetitive lyrics laid over the dull, repetitive synths of “Can You Find a Way?”  These shortcomings would have been overlooked had the Rapture compensated by filling the rest of the album with great songs.  Instead, the rest of the songs are at best pretty good, the main selling point being that Luke Jenner, who used to screech and wail and get kind of ridiculous with his high-pitched throat muscles, has become a much better singer.

The title track of Grace is probably the collection’s high point, being a sly and self-assured bass-synth and guitar track that saunters through alongside Jenner at one of his best vocal moments on the album.  It’s followed by “Never Die Again,” which sounds the most like the big, spastic dance rock sound of old Rapture (without, as mentioned above, the band plagiarizing itself).  “How Deep Is Your Love?” is pretty solid dancefloor fuel, being both old and new by busting out some old Rapture saxophone while exchanging the guitars for piano.  “Come Back to Me” could have been great; it starts as a neat French accordion-driven dance song that would have been so much better had the brooding sluggishness of the second half been completely cut out and the opening it reflected allowed to exist independently.  That last half drags down the whole song.

It’s a bit of a disappointment hearing the Rapture trade in frenzied groove for a slower shot at adulthood, but In the Grace of Your Love isn’t the worst letdown imaginable.

Y Marks the Spot: Turd Ferguson

My new neighborhood is very cat friendly, to the point where gangs of the mild mannered beasts roam its narrow streets with impunity.  They sit around on the sidewalks, gazing at human pedestrians, and if you walk up to one of these furry loiterers, it won’t mind a gentle scratch on the neck.

So I wasn’t surprised when, a few weeks back, I noticed a cat slinking into my secluded backyard, making its way into my moss-covered and dilapidated shed where it made camp and stared at me through my back room window.  The unusual part happened when the cat stuck around.

It was a bit too easy to befriend this animal, even for our neighborhood.  The first time my girlfriend went outside and held out her hand, the cat ran right over and they were instantly friends.  Seconds later, I made my first formal acquaintance with the creature, and we were all pals.

We named the cat Ferguson, because it was, while a handsome creature, also a matted-fur longhair with turds hanging off its ass.  This led to a lot of awkward dodgings when the cat did what normal cats do and obsessively tried to rub itself against our legs.

But the desperation in the animal was radioactive.  From the point of introduction, Ferguson slept in our backyard under a far off tree at the corner of our fence, and it didn’t leave.  Any time he saw motion in our back room and any time we went outside, he would rush out from the shadows and rasp at us for attention until his voice grew hoarse.  Ferguson sounded like a cross between a chain-smoker and the annoying fairy from Ocarina of Time.  Hey!  Hey!  Listen!

Ferguson wanted in our house because it was obviously a housecat that had been abandoned.  The facts that he was declawed and extremely comfortable with humans as well as his refusal to leave our backyard once he set up base were strong proof that Ferguson once had an owner who didn’t deserve him, and he wanted us to fill that space.

If my girlfriend and I didn’t already have two spoiled, absurdist kittens, we’d have taken Ferguson in following the quickest of groomings.  But that wouldn’t have been fair to the beasts we were already responsible for.  After we brought them to our new sanctuary they were just as shell-shocked over the new solitude as we were.  A new cat would have wrecked them, so that wasn’t going to happen.

We did what we could to help him out: scooping food out onto the grass, filling up a can with drinking water, coming out to be around this sweet, neglected creature.  But we couldn’t give him what he wanted, and there was a lot of guilt that followed each time we went back inside and shut the door on him, leaving him to stare through our blinds at an impossible safety.

We wouldn’t have let this situation stand under normal circumstances, but being that the weather was getting colder we decided that we had to find Ferguson a home as soon as possible.  I put up a few feeble posts on Facebook to little avail, but my girlfriend had better luck.  A coworker of hers was an established adopter and rehabilitator of strays, and she was looking for a second cat.  After a few text conversations, the coworker walked into our backyard with her family and was immediately love-mugged by our feline hobo.

And that was that.  The family returned the next day and took Ferguson off to the vet, after which he was taken to a home where I’m told he’s very comfortable and happy.

Once all the turds were snipped away, Ferguson ended up being a girl.

The Designer’s Drugs: Glorious Nintendo 3DS First-Year Plan

EPIC!

 

Medium: Game – Portable

Stimulus: The Nintendo 3DS First-Year Rorschach

Anno: 2011

 

Last Friday, I picked up a brand new fire red Nintendo 3DS.  I’m pretty pumped about my new acquisition.  I can take or leave the 3D screen option, as it’s pretty hard to maintain a steady gaze and fight off the eye strain.  But I love the improved touchscreen, which is so much more responsive and usable than the old clunky Nintendo DS screen.  The inclusion of motion sensor controls on the system, in which you get to aim the screen instead of simply aiming a controller, also works wonders.

I’m pretty skeptical about game systems in their first year.  The hardware can get pretty buggy, and a solid collection of titles doesn’t develop until at least the second year of a system’s life.  Yet I found four games for the 3DS that looked good enough to merit picking up this new piece of technology, and I obtained them all.  Three of these games are remakes, and one is an established minigame set loose on its own.  Yet each one is a blast; even the worst of the bunch is above average.

Submitted for your approval: the best of the Nintendo 3DS, thus far.

 

Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition:  I remember getting written up at work for Protestant-bashing on a St. Patrick’s Day years ago, ditching out to take an extended break at Best Buy, playing the original version of this game there, and feeling okay with the world.  This is the better version of that game.  It plays as great as I remember, but the real star in this edition is the touchscreen, which is an absolute godsend.  No more fighting like a thumbless, black eyed chimp trying to enter convoluted commands to execute one’s special moves; the four touchscreen buttons can be programmed to bust out any command with a simple tap.  The simplicity is breathtaking.

 

Resident Evil – The Mercenaries 3D:  The weakest of my four purchases is still a fine game.  The premise of this minigame turned full release is simple: choose a character, choose a mission, and shoot as many zombies as possible before time runs out.

The Mercenaries does have a few issues, though.  It suffers from a weird form of slowdown when there are many baddies onscreen, in that the zeds furthest away seem to run around in a stilted slow-motion.  Also, this is not a game to go in for the long haul; missions get pretty monotonous quickly.  This one seems built for multiplayer.

Is it worth new game price?  Probably not, but The Mercenaries is everything good about Resident Evil ultraviolence distilled into a quick little injection.

 

 

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D:  This is the flagship, the standard-bearer of the 3DS.  There is no question.  In what seems to be a trend with this system thus far, Nintendo took a decade-old game for the Nintendo 64, made it beautiful, and added some neat tricks to the gameplay.  The result is not only an epic, sprawling quest that doesn’t feel old, but also a game that is far superior to most new releases.  Vital and magnificent.

 

Starfox 64 3D: Nintendo’s other big rerelease from the Nintendo 64 days is a pretty slick update on Starfox 64’s classic of space combat.  The big selling point of this version is the ability to steer one’s spaceship with the 3DS’ motion controls, which is a cool feature but also one I think works best in combination with the traditional and more stable analog stick steering.  Again, this is an old game that has much more life in it than a lot of new games have.

 

The verdict?  The 3DS is worth the purchase.  It doesn’t hurt that the system’s price just dropped a hundred bucks, either.

Little Girl’s Tea Party Draws Inappropriate Crowd

 

Waukesha, WI (AP) – When little Daphne Johnston, a girl of five, announced to her kindergarten classmates that she was hosting a tea party, she had no idea of the outpouring of rage she was in store for.

Last Sunday, the home of little Daphne Johnston was the unwilling host of a massive political demonstration held by members of the Tea Party Patriots, liberal counterprotesters, and, bizarrely enough, members of the Epsilon Omega fraternity.

Dirk Diamond, head of Epsilon Omega, explained the misunderstanding.  “When we heard about this rockin’ tea party, my broskis and I just thought that there was an all you can drink on Long Island Iced Teas!  Our bad, bro!”

Yet only Epsilon Omega remained in high spirits.  To the horror of the pint-sized hostess, what was to be a dainty, well mannered affair quickly degenerated into hundreds of Waukesha citizens screaming at each other over hot-button issues such as same-sex marriage, immigration, and Governor Walker’s attempt to eradicate public unions.

Thankfully, violence was averted, but a little girl’s hopes and dreams were crushed.

“They called Mrs. Kendrick a lazy, spoiled, godless socialist!” Daphne cried after the rally, tears running down her face as she described a Tea Party member’s verbal assault upon her kindergarten teacher.  “She’s such a nice lady!  She taught me how to count to twenty!  Why would anybody say that?”

Daphne’s mother Roxanne was so distraught by the demonstration that she bought ten bottles of Long Island Iced Tea and bribed the brothers of Epsilon Omega to chase away the protesters, which they did in short order.  With peace regained, the frat boys were invited by Mrs. Johnston to stay and attend her daughter’s tea party, where they sipped Long Islands from tiny plastic teacups, content with having made the world better for one little girl.

“I say,” Diamond quipped to his little hostess, his pinky held aloft from his tiny teacup, “your mom’s a total MILF!”

Daphne giggled, having no idea what her new friend had just said, and handed him a purple stuffed pony.