29 March 2005

Picked up some new music for the first time in a while. It used to be I'd buy about 3 CDs a week, and I'm not sure why that stopped, although I have a few ideas:

  1. 3 CDs a week on graduate student income = huge unsustainable credit card debt
  2. Having a kid limits chances to listen to music other than Barney sing-a-longs (OK - Barney was banned in our house, or at least on extremely limited work release). The child factor also limits exposure to new music in bars or clubs.
  3. I reached saturation.

So now we (another sign of age: your music purchases are no longer your own but rather joint purchase between yourself and significant other; actually this is good because it indicates an affinity of taste conducive to harmonious listening experiences) buy maybe 1 CD every other month or so. I think last few purchases can be listed:

And lastly, the one I want to talk about:

We picked this album up after seeing the video Burn to Shine, which is also great. Burn to Shine is a video of 8 local DC groups/performers playing live in a soon-to-be destroyed house, and one cut is The Evens's "Mount Pleasant Isn't," a beautiful tribute/elegy for the Mount Pleasant neighborhood that could have been (maybe could never have been), in some ways was, and in some ways is.

I've been listening to this album almost continuously for a week now. It's a spare sound, with only Ian MacKaye's guitar and Amy Farina's drums backing their vocals, but it's haunting at times and invigorating at others. Like many good lyricists, these two have conjured up images oblique enough to keep you guessing at the exact meaning of the songs. Take for instance the following lines from "Shelter Two":

Went to Arlington Hardware to buy some electrical tape
It's all downhill from here
You went to Tulsa and I'm going to wait
It's all downhill from here
Not as direct as bottled violence, but there you have it.

24 March 2005

Rat Encounters of the Filth Kind

Living in Adams Morgan, one has to get used to the rats. You frequently see them squashed on the streets during the day, and you always see them rummaging through dumpsters and trash cans, flitting between cars and under fences, secure in the protective cover of the night. I can't stand them. They've chewed belts and wires in two successive cars, left chewed up tin foil through my back yard, scared the living shit out of me when I come up my back yard sidewalk late at night, and in general lowered my enjoyment of the space around me. So one day I decided to fight back.

I used poison. I thought I'd get up the next morning to see rodent bodies stretched out across the yard, victims of their insatiable gluttony. The little green cubes sat in the corners and along the walls in the yard for weeks untouched. I changed to "place packs," which for a while seemed to get eaten, but I never found any dead rats nearby.

I used traps. I hate setting rat traps because they're big enough to put visions of severed digits into mind. I mean, my fingers start sweating when I'm setting that catch under the bait bar. I caught a few rats that way, but I also caught a robin once and that put me off traps for a year or two.

I briefly entertained the idea of trying to shoot them with a pellet gun, but I figured that hanging out in a darkened yard, I had a better chance of being shot by a cop than of hitting a rat.
These rats don't have any nests or holes in the yard. We don't have a dog, so there's no ready-made food supply for them, either. They just like to drag a pizza crust or chicken wing up into the yard, like you'd take a picnic lunch to Rock Creek, but they haven't tried to set up residence yet. It's a convenient jaunt from the alley up the two steps to the yard.

So far my record this spring is no wins, countless losses.

21 March 2005

Sunday Source.

I moved to Adams Morgan in 1995. I thought about the past decade today as I walked along the latest PN Hoffman offering in the area, the recently completed Adams Row. Everytime I walk by those units on the corner of Champlain and Kalorama, all I can think of is a giant aquarium. Fine fishbowl living. It's nothing but a wall of windows down there, and that might be great on the 18th floor in Manhattan or some LA hillside, but as you approach ground level in Adams Morgan you approach Big Brother House. Except instead of being paid to exhibit yourself, you have paid top dollar and the developer didn't even have to hide the ductwork.

Speaking of which, this whole loft thing is crazy. These aren't lofts. Old warehouses or factories with big high ceilings can be converted to lofts. Fresh built little concrete floored boxes with long nondescript nursing home hallways are not lofts. I was in one of these Adams Row boxes for an open house. They wanted around $550K for 2BR 2BA and one big common area. And at the end of the day you still have to walk down those hallways.

Anyway, the neighborhood has changed in ten years. Ten years ago, Ontario Road between Florida and Kalorama was nearly impassable with sinkholes and a gauntlet of drug dealers from the Marie Reed playground to the corner of Kalorama and Ontario. I used to live in Dorchester House, where they had to take out the payphone because it was being used as an office phone by drug dealers. The old roller rink is probably going to be a Harris Teeter. Nearly every surface parking lot has been converted to housing, which doesn't bother me one bit. I am an advocate of in-fill.

One unfortunate change in Adams Morgan, however, was the recent passing of Sid Drazin. DCist has an article on him, and so did the Post. I was only an occasional visitor to Comet, but that didn't matter. Everyone was at home there.

17 March 2005

March Madness = Crack

Yeah you're feeling good good good on that overload but then it all ends April 4 and you realize it's over until next November...basketball is over. Sure you might get a little hit on that methadone-like NBA finals, but deep down you know it's not the same.

I love the NCAA mens tournament even if the first games aren't over yet and I'm pretty much mathematically eliminated from my office pool. I like the nonstop basketball from noon until midnight, interrupted only by some news and the halftime reports. I'm not sure why they even do halftime reports the first weekend: why not just cut over to another game so we don't have to listen to Greg Gumbel and cohorts spout platitudes and catch phrases?

I'm of the opinion that the first weekend of the tournament should be declared a holiday: a four day weekend of roundball with street theater, impromptu hootenannies, and suspension of parking regulations in the District of Columbia. Major intersections should be converted into outdoor courts on Saturday and Sunday mornings pre-games. Tony Williams, who has been known to play basketball (if awkwardly), can connect to his fellow federal subjects.

Well, on with the show...

15 March 2005

Robots Manifesto

Caught the new Robots movie Saturday. Contrary to the reviews, the movie isn't so bad. In fact, it's almost revolutionary in the BushCo era: it critiques the mantra that the sole purpose of running a business is to make money and attacks our seemingly pervasive acceptance of planned obsolescence.

That being said, the movie doesn't really bite much deeper than platitudes about "filling needs" rather than simply greed. It's a story we've seen before (e.g. Oliver Stone's Wall Street), Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol, etc.), but as Willa Cather said, "There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before." Sometimes we retell them in good ways; sometimes we retell them in bad ways. Mr. BigWeld (voiced by Mel Brooks) is that benevolent old boss of yore, who was an inventor first and a businessman second. You may remember that idyllic generation, or maybe you don't, because the few who existed were anomolies who existed mainly in movies. Certainly they didn't run major corporations like BigWeld Industries. People like Andrew Carnegie ran those things (sure we all know about the Carnegie libraries D.C.'s own Carnegie Institution, but Mr. Carnegie came to philanthropy when he could afford to -- after he'd ruthlessly dealt with his workforce for several decades, destroying countless lives in the process). The good old days were taken up by ten or twelve hour workdays, with only Sundays off. As for benefits...well at least robots don't really need benefits.

Rodney Copperbottom (voiced by Ewan McGregor) is that starry-eyed small town amateur inventor who goes to the big bad city to live out his dream of joining BigWeld in its altruistic vision of "See a need, fill a need." Insert standard country bumpkin encounters big city gags here. After finding out, however, that BigWeld Industries is under the control of Ratchet (voiced by Greg Kinnear) and that Ratchet has discontinued supplying spare parts -- thereby forcing all robots to either upgrade or join the scrap heap -- Rodney takes it upon himself to fight the system through guerilla repairs (see Brazil). Really, though, this aspect of the movie is the most revolutionary, although most likely unintentional. Rodney throws a wrench in the system of planned obsolescence by keeping these older durable goods working. In this robot society, marketing pressure appears to be very low: MTV isn't dictating to most younger robots how they should act or dress; robot Maybellines aren't flooding the robot consciousness with messages of youth and beauty. The robots are more interested in keeping their bolts together than in conforming to Ratchet's vision of ideal body image. Sure sure you've heard it before from Sesame Street through Arthur: we're all different and wonderful...But here's Rodney not just affirming difference but actually rejecting consumer culture and actively driving down the need to replace last year's model with this year's model. As any economics 101 student would tell you, good god man the next step is anarchy, as thousands are thrown out of work and warehouses sit stocked to the gills with goods no one needs...

I'm hoping the next movie actually links the consumerism to a demagogic political leader's exhortations to "spend spend spend in the interest of national security."

04 March 2005

Bread and Circuses

I thought we'd hit the all-time low with the OJ trial, but now CNN listed their top story as Martha Stewart's release from prison. In fact, if you had insomnia last night you would have noticed around 2:30 in the morning that cnn.com was listing her release from "prison" as a "breaking news" red background item. I can understand E! being interested in Martha Stewart's release from the drudgery of wearing comfy sweats, but a supposedly reputable news channel? It just goes to show that there simply isn't enough news to fill 24 hours.

There are some things I just don't understand the appeal of. Martha Stewart is one of them. Here are some more: Backstreet Boys, Nsync, etc.; Vin Diesel; the British Royal Family -- first, they're utterly irrelevant to policy and second, they're not the American Royal Family; Reality TV of any kind, but especially Fear Factor; Limp Bizkit; Linkin Park; Michael Jackson post-Bad -- Thriller I can see, but Bad took all the air out of it; anything whatsoever having to do with Paris Hilton.

I am utterly cranky.

02 March 2005

The gnocchi al pesto can't be beat

Everytime I come around the corner of 18th and Columbia and see that line outside Pasta Mia I chuckle to my misanthropic self and mutter, "morons." I'm not knocking Pasta Mia, but I can't justify lining up an hour before a restaurant opens just so I can get a bowl of noodles and sauce. Well, maybe I could, if there weren't an excellent Italian restaurant a few blocks away on 18th and Kalorama named San Marco. It's hard to pick a favorite dish there, but I can tell you my top three are the linguine alle vongole, the gnocchi al pesto, and the fettucine con crema e funghi. After a long day at work, on a warm summer night, there's no excuse not to get the mozzarella pomodoro basilico, which consists of generous slices of fresh mozzarella and fresh tomatoes topped with sprigs of basil and drizzled in olive oil.

I've tried to duplicate the pesto at home a few times, but I can't get it right. Unfortunately, store-bought basil is too expensive for much experimentation and I'm waiting for my new plants to mature.