Saturday, November 29, 2008

2008's Most Annoying Songs.

Between the car and the office, I listen to a lot of FM radio. I grew up listening to FM radio. It is a staple in my life. There are better options now -- satellite radio, Internet radio, my iPod -- but I (and happily, my coworkers) enjoy a love-hate relationship with corporate radio stations. Being subjected to the same formats and playlists offers an opportunity to learn, through sheer repetition, what one can grow to like (Chris Brown), tolerate with indifference (the same damn Journey song every day on KFOG -- to this day I still don't know what it's called), and hear with nothing but morbid, clinical fascination (Fergie).

So many broadcasted things annoy me on a regular basis (John Mayer's cover of "Free Fallin'" [John, you prick], Rihanna [but her bizarre vibrato always hooks me into even her most grating material), that damned Los Lonely Boys song ["If I told you I loved you, would you walk awaaaaay?" Yes!]), but my tolerance for a lot of it is pretty high. I also like a lot of things that others revile, such as Sean Kingston or the song "Low" by Flo Rida ("Apple bottom JEANS, boots with the FURRR"). I respect that you can't stand T-Pain -- really, I do -- but you'll excuse me while I like the "Bartender."

Still, some performances emerge as being in a class by themselves, rising above the level of merely annoying and becoming actively torturous. These are songs that actually make me feel mad and exasperated. Congratulations, ladies. Like George W. Bush, Paris Hilton and Keanu Reeves, you have gotten way too far on very, very little.

1. "The Way I Am," Ingrid Michaelson*: A Chinook wind could not compete with this song, so hard does it blow. I hate everything about it, from the bongo drums to the twee phrasing. "If you are chilly, here take my sweater/Your head is aching, I'll make it better." Seriously? Did she write this for her son? Nope, no, she talks about buying Rogaine, so we know it's a full-grown adult to whom she's singing. Terrible.
2. "New Soul," Yael Naim: Is banality more acceptable when it comes from someone who is French-Israeli, recites her lyrics as if she can barely speak English, and in fact does not even bother with actual words for her chorus? Apparently so.
3. "So What," Pink: When I first heard this song, I assumed it was by Katy Perry, and that made sense. The fact that Pink is perpetrating it makes me sad. I think we are supposed to be impressed that a girl is singing the lyric "I wanna start a fight." Like Yael Naim, Pink doesn't come up with actual words for her hook. Na na na na na na-na, la la lah la la-laa, whatever. It all makes Hanson's "Mmm Bop" sound like Chaucer.
4. "Bubbly," Colbie Caillat*: The PR storie for Colbie, which is that of an obscure talent unearthed by the denizens of MySpace, would be a lot more palatable if her dad had not been a producer for Fleetwood Mac. The best thing I can say about this song is that the worst part is over earlie: Her falsely earnest plea, "Will you count me in?" helpfully prompts you to change the station before the song gets too far.
5. "I Kissed a Girl," Katy Perry: To be honest, I don't think this song is that bad. The vocals and production are good. It's just that the facile opportunism inherent in the whole thing is tough to take. It assumes that people are suckers for phony sensationalism, and based on the popularity of the song, it assumes correctly. Not to get overly serious, but in the wake of all the Prop 8 nonsense around here, it would be nice if this song and artist were something that actual lesbians could get behind. It doesn't seem like that's the case, though.

* Apparently these songs technically were released in 2007, but well, they still bothered me in 2008.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Scairy Tales.

On my sixth birthday, my grandmother gave me a book of fairy tales. It was very thick -- 832 pages -- and the top of the book's pages were edged in gold, like a proper treasure. In wonderfully neat cursive, she had written my full name in blue marker on the inside of the front hardcover. On the flyleaf, she wrote, "To the sweetest -- smartest -- dearest child I know, with love from Mamaw on her 6th birthday (Christina's birthday -- not mine)"

It might be the best gift I've ever received. Three years later, Mamaw would be excommunicated from our family. That's another post.

When you're a child, the most profound thing that an adult can do for you is to take you seriously. A Reader's Digest Anthology: The World's Best Fairy Tales was more than two inches thick and contained 69 fairy tales. I read each and every one, many of them multiple times. I loved running my fingers along the gilded edge of the book. It was special, and it was mine.

The anthology contains all of the classics -- "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," "Sleeping Beauty," "Hansel and Gretel," -- but some of my favorites are the lesser-known ones. Thanks to Reader's Digest, I was able to enjoy these tales unbowdlerized, in all of their politically incorrect glory. Who better than Hans Christian Andersen or the Brothers Grimm to reveal to a child the wonders of arranged marriage, kidnapping, theft, despotism, cannibalism and murder?

I would recommend the following fairy tales to those who are not familiar:

"Little Match Girl": I think of this tale nearly every Christmas, and other times of the year too. A little girl freezes to death with a smile on her face, imagining a happier life in the light of the matches she can't sell. She dies, you guys. Because she is poor and no one helps her out. Scarring passage: "But in the cold dawn, in the corner formed by the two houses, sat the little girl with rosy cheeks and smiling lips, dead -- frozen to death on the last evening of the old year. The dawn of the new year rose on the huddled figure of the girl. She was still holding the matches, of which a packet had been burned more than halfway down." Invaluable life lesson: Sometimes, a society can completely fail its children. Also, if you're cold and poor on the streets, you should probably try selling something other than matches.

"The Snow Queen" : This is a freaking masterpiece. A little boy is lured away from his home and his little girlfriend playmate, and she sets off on a journey to find him. Scarring passage: "Little Kay was almost black and blue with cold, but he never felt it, for the Snow Queen had kissed away his feelings and his heart was a lump of ice. He was sitting in the hall, pulling about some sharp, flat pieces of ice and trying to put them together into a pattern. He thought they were beautiful, but that was because of the splinter of glass in his eye. He was able to fit them into a great many shapes, but he really wanted to make them spell the word 'Love.' The Snow Queen had said, 'If you can spell out that word you will be your own master. I shall give you the whole world and a new sled.' But Kay could not do it." Eventually his friend Gerda finds him and the two of them melt the ice shards into the word love and Kay goes free. Invaluable life lesson: True love can bring us back to ourselves when we are lost. Also, never accept a ride on a strange sleigh. Also, boys can be named Kay.

Blue Beard: By far the scariest story in the book, "Blue Beard" is about a woman who discovers that her husband has murdered all of his other wives, and she's next. Disney isn't making this shit into a movie anytime soon. Scarring passage: "She took the little key and opened the door, trembling, but could not at first see anything plainly, because the shutters were closed. After some moments she perceived a bloodstained floor on which lay the bodies of several dead women. These were the wives Blue Beard had married and murdered, one after another. She thought she would die of fear, and the key, which she had pulled out of the lock, fell from her hand." Invaluable life lesson: Don't marry a crazy dude. Also, if someone warns you not to peek in that closet, you'd better check and see what's in that fricking closet.

"The Little Mermaid": Um, first of all, "Ariel" does not get the prince. In the real story, she fails to get him to marry her, and according to the terms of the witch's deal, she becomes foam on the sea. Scarring passage: "Your tail will part in two and shrink to what the people of the earth call 'pretty legs,' but it will hurt as if a sharp sword were cutting through you. Everybody who sees you will say that you are the prettiest human being they have ever seen. You are to keep your gliding motion, no dancer will be able to move as gracefully as you, but at every step it will feel as if you were treading on a sharp-edged knife, so sharp that your feet will seem to be bleeding." Scarring passage II: "Her delicate feet seemed to be cut by sharp knives, but the anguish of her heart was so great that she did not feel the pain. She knew only that this was the last evening she was ever to see the Prince, for whom she had forsaken her people and her home, had given up her beautiful voice to the Sea Witch and had daily suffered untold agony, while he remained unaware of it all." Invaluable life lesson: Men are often unbelievably clueless. Also, metaphorically speaking, losing one's virginity is a bitch. Also, as directly stated in this story, "One must suffer to be beautiful."

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Sure You Are.

Some job titles are very tricky to claim as one's own.

Let's say you're at a social gathering and someone asks what you do. Unless the person with whom you are talking has actually heard of you, or unless you can cite the title of a project that has earned you rent-worthy income within the last six months, don't bother appropriating one of these titles. You may very well be great in the role, but it won't matter. The person will think you're full of shit. And for all intents and purposes, you will be.

1. Writer
2. Actor
3. Artist
4. Musician
5. Consultant
6. Chef
7. Producer
8. Entrepeneur

Anything I'm missing?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Resident Evil.

Recently I caught a cab from downtown to my apartment building in Hayes Valley. I was in a pretty decent mood: Any day that you can actually hail a cab to your destination within five minutes in San Francisco, as if it were a functioning urban center, is a pretty good day.

We pulled up at my place on Fell Street, a 50-unit building that's nearly a century old, with a heavy iron-gate door and a Spanish-style lobby. As I dug around for the fare, the cabbie muttered, "Ugliest building in San Francisco." I didn't know what else to do but laugh. Gee mister, do you spread that sunshine for all of your fares, or just lucky me?

Yes, my cab driver was a turd, but I'm not exactly going to wave a flag in front of my residence, either. Like most middle-class people who live in urban apartment buildings, my presence here is more by necessity than by choice. My apartment is centrally located, has a nice renovated kitchen, and -- most important -- I can afford the rent. The fact that it has a closet for a bedroom, a constant stream of traffic noise from the street, and the occasional bug -- I tolerate these things, because I have to.

The first apartment I saw on my hunt in July was a garden apartment in Potrero Hill. It was literally someone's basement, but it was above ground and had a gorgeous little yard with views -- and it was cheap. I got there five minutes before the open house started. Withing five minutes of the door opening, there were two applications on the place. That's when I realized you don't screw around with the rental market here. You put on your New Yorker hat and hit the pavement.

My building's manager, S., answered the phone when I responded to the ad for my current place. "Ugh! You're the 80th call I've had in the last hour, since the ad went up," she said, exasperated but friendly. I made an appointment to see the place in two hours.

S. took me up in the old-school elevator, which has an accordion gate and sounds like Frankenstein jolting to life whenever a button is pressed. (Little did I know at the time that the elevator is audible from my apartment every single time it is called.)

After a glance at the apartment, I asked for an application. S. gave me one and informed me that I was the third person to apply. "One thing to know if you are putting in an application," she said, "Is that the owner is obsessed with credit. If you don't have a good credit report, don't bother." I told her her my credit was excellent.

Soon after my credit assurances, her chumminess increased exponentially. "Well, of the two people who are in line before you, one of them makes great money, but he doesn't have any credit rating," she confided. "The other one is Indian, and you know, we don't like that!"

I stared blankly, not sure what I was hearing. She talked through the pause. "You know -- because they outsource all the jobs! That's not good for the economy!" I kept on staring and let her continue on. Her racism was as nonsensical as it was stunning.

At another point she waved at the brand-new hood over the stove in my kitchen. "I wish I had one of these," she said. "The tenants before me were Latinas [sic] and there was grease all over the wall behind the oven!"

She talked blithely throughout my visit, continuing to drop disparaging comments on the previous two applicants. One of them was in the gaming industry in Silicon Valley. "You know, those jobs come and go," she said dismissively.

Later, as she glanced over my application, she caught sight of my surname. "Nunez! Look at you!" she said, simply. Look at you, fooling me with your Caucasian looks and greasy Latina surname!

By the time I left, she was practically promising me the apartment, kissing me on the cheek when we parted, every other word "sugar" or "sweetheart." I don't know why she liked me -- I had a "foreign" name, after all -- but she did, and I'm ashamed to admit that I didn't once do anything to put that in jeopardy. Who was I to question her theories about Indians and Latinas? I needed a place to live.

Ironically, her prejudices may have worked against her in the end. "I want you to have this apartment," she told me, "because we are a family here. We want people who are going to live here, who are here to stay for awhile." I wasn't sure what led her to think I was any less transient than the two dudes who preceded me -- I am willing to bet that they will stay in the area longer than I will. The lease, friends, is month-to-month; and tonight, I made myself a big, stinky curry.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Ew and Q.

About a year ago, my employer moved her small business from the attic of her house to an office space in San Francisco's Dogpatch. Working in my boss' attic wasn't as bad as it sounds -- we were a homey little unit -- but by the time we graduated to a real office space, we were excited.

Our new office received more decorating attention than my own home. Paint colors, furniture, beanbags and signage were all given serious scrutiny. The boss, ever trained on the details, even got hand towels monogrammed with our company's acronym for the bathrooms, along with magazine racks. Each of the two bathrooms got a placard denoting men's and women's, even though the placards were immediately ignored.

First, let's talk about the magazine racks. To me, I don't know what marks women's lib more: the fact that we just hired a male assistant for an office of all women for this holiday season, or the fact that we got fricking magazine racks for the bathroom. The only difference between us and a guy office was that the mag rack had issues of People and Gourmet instead of Sports Illustrated. (We do, however, have some issues of Business Week as well.) We all raised our eyebrows about the installation of the mag racks, but I think secretly we all like them.

The hand towels, which are white with stitched initials, are now a year old and nasty. Even when they are freshly laundered, they still appear to be grubby with handmarks. Everyone complains about it, but who among us wants to take on the issue of the office hand-towel? Most normal companies just have paper and are done with it.

Women tend to get fussy about using a men's bathroom when they're in public and the line for the women's is too long. While it's true that men's bathrooms tend to be disgusting, ladies, don't even front. We're the ones who create the foulest bathroom scenes, and you know it. I had a line in here about why, but it grossed out even myself, so I have deleted it.

Our office bathrooms tend to suffer given the fact that we don't have a nightly cleaning service, but little about them has truly skeeved me out -- until today.

I went to dry my hands on the gross towels and encountered a perfect, red lipstick print: Someone had pressed her lips to our hand towels.

I don't even want to press my hands to our hand towels.

That's all I really have to say. Lipstick print. On the hand towels.

In other news, here's this month's reason to be happy. Lindemann, I know you are listening...

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Ten True Joys of Girlhood.