Wednesday, January 31, 2007


Twice a week now, I venture out after work to a studio in Bayview, a residential neighborhood capable of illustrating that San Francisco is not actually as blisteringly white as it appears to be. It's supposed to be a "bad neighborhood," but it has more pink and blue houses than most bad neighborhoods I've seen in the United States. It also seems to have a higher incidence of studio space.

I park on a virtually empty street, avoiding some glass from the latest car break-in, and knock on a bright-green door. A nice young man opens it and we walk through umpteen other doors to get to a cold, dimly lit room, the centerpiece of which is a shiny and spectacular drum kit. I pay just $10 for the privilege of spending an hour in that room, sucking at playing the drums.

The first time I got there, the guy who runs the studio asked, "Do you need a ride?" I stood there dumbly. He held up a cymbal. A ride cymbal. "Oh. Um, I don't know. Sure." Whatever dude, I'm just here to suck.

In fairness to myself, I can now play a relatively solid rock beat through a song, as long as you don't ask me to do something crazy like play a fill or hit something other than the snare drum (low tom? hi tom? tom cruise?) while maintaining the beat.

It's slow but steady progress, and in my optimistic moments I imagine playing with some mediocre band on weekends when I get good enough, which should be in about five years or so. I try not to get too regretful about the fact that it's only taken me about 25 years to get started on drums, after realizing that I wanted to learn them. Having the prospect of playing in some dismal garage band at the age of 17, or even 27, is one thing. Contemplating my future 40-year-old self in that scenario is a bit more depressing.

Still, it's fun for me. So I keep on rockin', and keep on suckin', each time getting ever-so-slightly less terrible, hoping to eventually near the skills of this kid, who is 31 years younger than I am.

Igor is my hero. So are Sheila E., Questlove, and Sam Fogarino, the drummer for Interpol. Please feel free to share your drummer-related thoughts here, or anything else about rocking, or trying to rock.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Public Record.

First of all, I would like to point out that the chef from Schnack has posted a response to my earlier post about his establishment. My response is there, too. One of these days I'll learn that the InterWebs are public and freely searchable, and stop being surprised when someone whom I don't know personally manages to unearth something I've written pertaining him or her.

The Web, in fact, probably contains more than a few items that I would prefer to have expunged from the record, or at least altered in my favor. One such item appears in a music review that I wrote for It is yet more evidence that when it comes to "street smarts," you can count me out.

Here is the embarrassing part. I wrote:
I have no idea what a head shop is, but after hearing the song of the same title, I keep singing "Meet me at the head shop/Forget yourself and leave it all behind..."
If pressed to guess at the time, I'd have said maybe "head shop" was some kind of European slang for a corner store. I was later informed that I'm pretty much the only person in the world older than 10 years old who does not know what a head shop is.

Even after having it defined, I'm still not sure I understand the term. It doesn't help that I've never smoked anything, not even a cigarette, in my life. When it comes to drugs, I was scared straight before I ever got crooked by the film My Bodyguard, just as I was going into seventh grade.

I begged to correct the review, which had already been published, but my editor thought the naivete was cute. So there my idiocy remains, preserved for all to see. My only consolation is that the page views for some unknown reviewer's opinions on a low-profile artist are likely to be very scant.

Please feel free to share any instances of your own naivete here. As everyone learns in school, the ridicule of others can help distract from one's own shortcomings.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

The Sounds of Discomfort.

In the basement of the house where I grew up, when I was about nine years old, I discovered a reel-to-reel tape recorder. It became a favorite pastime to use that recorder, and later cassette machines, to document my life at home.

Something about sound recordings of people -- especially when they don't realize or care that they're being recorded -- makes them more compelling to me than video, photos, text or any other method of documentation.

A bonus about these childhood tapes is that all the interactions are enhanced by the background sounds I would have otherwise forgotten -- songs on the radio, TV commercials, a real-bell phone ringing, the vacuum. But the main value is being able to hear just the voices, with no visual distraction: my mom when she was still in charge of us, my brother before his voice changed.

The first time I remember being melancholy about the passage of time, and the change that comes with it, is age eight. It was the last day of third grade. When the bell rang, all the kids poured outside, jubilant that summer was here. I remember moping down the hall, not understanding why no one else was sad. Third grade was over. We would never be third graders again, never have the same teacher, whom I loved. Everything was going to become different again, and harder.

This is pretty much the attitude I've battled with every single transition in my life since then. The only way I knew to combat it was to save everything I could -- keep a daily diary, archive everything, capture it as well as I could. If I couldn't stay in the same place, I was going to make damn sure I could go back if I wanted to.*

All this is to say that I was pretty happy when my generous brother gave me a Sony voice recorder for Christmas. There are a lot of aural UMs I want to share.

So the recording I offer you today is of Dusty, the cat I live with, having his nails clipped. Dusty hates his manicures, and makes his feelings known by emitting a moan that sounds unlike anything I have ever heard from a cat before. He makes this same sound when he is being screwed around with by his owner, which happens regularly. It's simultaneously difficult and fascinating to hear, which is why I am posting it to this blog.

Dusty Gets a Claw-Clipping

Sounds grave, huh? This cat is the biggest and best bitcher-and-moaner I have ever heard, not including myself, hands down. He deserves to be immortalized, to the extent that he can be.

* I also at one point saved in a drawer the wrappers from each type of candy that I ate; wouldn't use my toys that were battery-operated, no matter how many times my mom explained to me that when the batteries ran out we could get new ones; and made a habit of trying to typewrite the dialogue that was going on around me in the room as if I were a stenographer. I guess today, I'd have been treated with Relaxtra or whatever pharmaceutical was in vogue. Back then, all I had was one series of visits to a child psychologist, who determined that I was just a serious kid.

Friday, January 12, 2007

What's in a Name.

Think over the many human acquaintances in your life, deep and shallow: all the people you've known, or sort-of known, or known about.

Across the great distribution of names that have floated in and out of your experience, perhaps some patterns emerge. A string of people share a few remarkable characteristics, you notice, and they all happen to have the same first name. You find yourself, consciously or not, developing a sort of personal name-based astrology, a grouping that tells you what a person might be like based on his or her first name.

It's not, of course, fair. You know there are probably plenty of people in the world who would not fit your perception of the name Susie, for example, and that "Susie" may call up a whole different set of associations for someone else. But a few Susies have defined the bunch for you, and there's nothing to be done about it.

I confess that I am predisposed against people named Dana. My Dana experiences have not been good. If I see or hear the name, before I can even stop myself, the lookup function in my brain produces the result: "a dangerous, possibly two-faced person who thinks she is more special than anyone else."

The most prevalent Dana in my life was someone I met in my sophomore year of college, when we were both admitted to a singing group at the same time. Dana, who had a disconcertingly intense relationship with cosmetics, left the group after only a few weeks because she wasn't being given enough of a chance to "shine," as she put it. She absolutely hated for anyone else to get attention, an unfortunate trait for someone who joins an ensemble performance group. When she sang, she had a tendency to push both of her hands out from her face in a starburst-motion, and if you say the name Dana to anyone who was in my group at that time, that is the gesture you will see.

Another Dana I knew was one of the people my best friend fell in with after she left our public high-school and transferred to a tony private school. This Dana acted as if everyone (including me) outside her private-school coterie was beneath notice or charity, and even when we ended up at the same college together freshman year and she turned into a nice person, she was still a Dana, and nothing could change that.

Then there is the sad shadow of a Dana I never knew, a woman who stalked her ex-boyfriend and tried to get him back, which I wouldn't have cared about, except I happened to be dating that same guy at the time. I only got his side of things, of course, so I only knew her as the psycho ex who treated him poorly when they were going out and then wouldn't let him go when he broke it off. She didn't get him back... and then within two years, word came that she had killed herself, causing my guy even more pain and making the whole story even more terrible.

Now, all of these associations make me feel bad when I think of a person such as the late celebrity spouse Dana Reeve, who by all accounts was a wonderful, courageous lady. But I didn't know her personally, so my Dana prejudice stands.

I have other ridiculous conceptions about certain names: Bens tend to be irresistible guys who can't help but break the girls' hearts. Alisons of all spellings I'm inclined to favor. My Bills have been lovable, great guys who are often emotionally underdeveloped in some critical way. My track record with Lauras is mixed at best, but I never met a Matt I didn't like.

Maybe there's a Dana right around the corner who will turn it all around for me. Does anyone have any name associations, positive or negative, to share? Please don't mention Christinas unless you find them to be universally fabulous.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Searching for Nancy.

One cold, sunny day in Washington, near the eve of the New Year, my husband and I walked through the West Building of the National Gallery. "You know what? You're psyched," M. said. "You're psyched, because after this, we're going to see Nancy Pelosi."

Unplanned, outcome-uncertain endeavors do not usually get a warm welcome with me. (For an explanation of this, see my 'About Me' tag.) I laughed nervously and didn't say anything.

"I'm serious," M. said. "We're going to see Nancy Pelosi."

"I don't think you can just 'go see Nancy Pelosi,'" I said.

"Yes, you can," M. said. He was serious. "We are her constituents, and this is a democracy. Plus, I was roommates with her daughter once."

I tried to distract M. with some lovely British landscape paintings by John Constable. Then, as we left the museum, I suggested a walk on the Mall. But he hadn't forgotten his mission.

"Come on," he said, headed toward the Capitol Building. "We're going to see Nancy and congratulate her on her victory."

It was no use. I sighed and followed.

At the Capitol, menacing-looking guards stood sentinel as tourists milled about on the white steps. "It's closed," I said, relieved.

M. hovered around for a bit. "Right, duh, Congress isn't in session now," he said. But he still didn't move or listen when I tried to get him to turn around for our Mall walk. "I'm going to go talk with that guard," he said.

I waited while M. affirmed with the guard that, indeed, there was no getting into the Capitol.

He set off for a building nearby. "Where are you going?" I said, nervous again. "We're going over to her office," he replied.

M. ignored me as we walked the perimeter of the Rayburn Building, looking for an entrance that was open. "She's probably not even in town," I whined. "Like you said, Congress isn't in session! I'm sure she's back in California! This building is probably closed!"

It wasn't. We found an open entrance and went through security at Rayburn, hopped on the elevator, and took a long walk down the halls, passing wooden door after wooden door with each lawmaker's name neatly posted on a plate outside.

Most of them were shut. Some had newspapers piled in front of them; others had cardboard boxes and makeshift signs posted, announcing moves to other buildings -- the aftermath of a power shift. We reached Pelosi's office. A white printout was posted on the door that read: "Nancy Pelosi's office has moved to 235 Cannon."

"Oh well," I said.

"Let's find the Cannon building," M. said.

By this time I had resigned myself to our mission and decided to change my attitude. After all, it had been kind of fun walking through Rayburn. We found Cannon, which was much prettier inside than Rayburn, and passed through another X-ray machine. More office doors: a handful of them were open and showed signs of life inside. "See?" M. said. "Some people are here!"

We finally reached Pelosi's office, where the door was open and light poured out into the hall. "She's here! See? I told you!" M. said. We stood outside the office, peering in. Talking was audible inside.

M. continued to stand there. "Well, you're going in, aren't you?" I said. "We're finally here."

"I don't know," M. said sheepishly.

"Is somebody losing their resolve?" I said.

"Maybe," he said.

"After all this, you're going in that office and talking to Nancy Pelosi," I said. "So start thinking of what you're going to say."

We edged toward the door and saw reception desks on either side of us. Pelosi's office was visible to the right, with the door open, but she was nowhere to be seen.

"Is the speaker here?" M. asked a young worker at the desk, who looked confused for a moment, then brightened. "No, she's back in California," she answered. I felt both relief and disappointment.

M. explained that we were from California and wanted to say hi. "Oh! Well, I'm sure if she'd been here, she would have been very happy to meet you," the assistant said, actually seeming sincere.

M. made a bit more chit-chat with two of the office workers and then we left. "See, they have to be nice to us," he said.

"Even if we had turned out to be psychos who just wanted to heap abuse on her?" I said.

"I don't know. I think so," M. said.

Outside, we sat down on the steps of Cannon and looked at the Capitol and the Mall. I wondered what would have happened if Pelosi had actually been there. Could people really just wander in and say hello? You have to think she'd be too busy for that. But perhaps if we caught her in a down moment?

I felt a little bad for having been such a killjoy. It was a nice little adventure in the halls of democracy.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Happy New Old.

There's always a "reason" for surprise hangovers. You didn't drink enough water, the drinks were stronger than you thought, you must not have eaten enough, the moon was full, your hormones were off, the year was ending, absinthe was employed. "Those drinks must have been spiked with something!" you say, later. Yes, they were spiked with something: alcohol.

Extenuating circumstances aside, I had only myself to blame when last Sunday found me incapable of travel, or even walking upright, after a night out in New York City. Unfortunately this meant much more time in the lobby of Times Square's Muse Hotel than I would have liked. "I'm too old, too old," I moaned, fairly certain that this was the worst hangover I'd ever had. The rugs and marble floors of the Muse swayed in agreement.

It's tempting to digress further on the subject of aging, Times Square and the revelation that it can, in fact, be too late to save yourself with a meal after three extinction-level-event cocktails on a virtually empty stomach. The point here is to set the scene for day following my hangover, New Year's, when I had finally stopped shaking and was able to digest solid food. Revelling in my newfound stability, I was ready for breakfast.

"We're going to an awesome place. It's like a retro diner, only the food is spectacular," I was told. Given this endorsement, my confusion was understandable when we arrived at the front door of Schn├Ąck in Brooklyn.

I had been dreaming of the previous day's visit to Cafe Luluc, where I could only down three bites of crispy-yet-fluffy pancakes dusted with confectioner's sugar, before sadly pushing them away. I was ready for those pancakes now, but we would have to meet again some other day. Instead, four of us (three adults and a toddler) sat down to a menu full of burgers, sausages, eggs, gratuitous umlauts and smugness. The room was dingy and festooned in '70s memorabilia, the waiter a study in nonchalance, the music collegiate, the soda selection random (no Coke or Pepsi). I frowned. "You took me to a hipster place," I said. My companions couldn't argue and gave me half-apologetic looks.

The table offered a coloring page with crayons. But instead of kid-friendly art, it was a finely drawn scene of diner apathy: scenesters slumped at booths and tables, cool and unsmiling. On the flip side of the page, a smirking soda-jerk accented with facial hair and an earring held up a milkshake. Grrrr. I took out the crayons and started drawing soul patches on the patrons.

Meanwhile, the other toddler at the table was restless -- but unlike me, he couldn't be entertained by the coloring page. He left his grilled cheese untouched, while I contemplated my scrambled eggs with purply-black onions and chewy smoked salmon, smeared with sour cream. Even the food here was ironic. Tofu Reuben or a Camelia Grill Chili Chz Omelet, anyone?

To be fair, the fries were good, and it was probably a better experience if you love kielbasa. But I was done before it started. And so was the toddler, who was wrestled down in his third attempt to make an escape, and in the process, smacked a full coffee mug off the table. It shattered on the floor, and the restaurant got noticeably quieter -- even more so when the offender got treated to a hearty, old-fashioned, over-the-knees spanking. The crying got louder. It was officially a scene.

I've never known what to do when witnessing parental discipline (especially a controversial version of it). Do you look away and pretend it's not happening? Try to soothe the child? Try to cheer the parent? Bow your head in silence and pray it will be over soon? I mostly opted for the last tactic, with some sympathetic glances for the child.

The waiter came and swept up the coffee mug, and we paid the check. The dad here was as visibly upset as his kid, and I felt sorry for them both. But for the grace of God, it could have been me and my kid (who doesn't and may not ever exist, but that's yet another digression). One young couple had smiled kindly at us as we left, which surprised our dad friend. "When you go on the subway, that's when you really see who likes little kids, by the way they react to them," he said. "Usually it's the hipsters who hate children."

"That's because they're mad somebody else is getting the attention," one of us said. We laughed and continued to deride the invisible hipsters some more. The whole scene -- the whole weekend, even -- amounted to one conclusion: We were old.