Monday, June 1, 2009

A little bit of everything...

I originally caught this in Deadpsin, but for those who may read me and not them, I present the best mindfuck I have seen in quite some time:

No wonder Jobu couldn't help Serrano hit the curve.

My favorite Flash game time waster:

And I have wasted a lot of time with Flash. Give it a try if you haven't. Guaranteed to addict if you take the time to make it through a couple stages.

One of my favorite albums of the past five years is "Bubblegum" by Mark Lanegan. The co-founder and lead singer for Screaming Trees, later a member of Queens of the Stone Age and numerous side projects who has a distinct and low voice that sounds like gravel soaked in whiskey. One of the many side projects is with Greg Dulli, formerly of The Afghan Whigs. Called the Gutter Twins, one of their better songs "Front Street" was recently used to great effect in the creatively resurgent "Rescue Me".

Speaking of "Rescue Me", this season so far is its best since the first. It has backed away a little from the "can you top this?" antics of Tommy Gavin and has focused more on what the soul of the show is, the NYFD reacting to 9/11. Not the initial reaction, but the effect it has had over time. The 343 men who lost their lives, plus (according to the show) the many firefighters who left or retired in the wake of the tragedy, the health effects of those who spent time cleaning up Ground Zero. It portrays the events of 9/11 as a festering wound that will never quite heal for these men. The supporting cast has more to do than just comic relief this year (although they do that too.). And Michael J Fox's guest role as the new boyfriend to Gavin's ex is a nice touch, a man whose rampaging id is a match for even Tommy Gavin's. The length of the season scares me, because of the writers strike the show didn't have new episodes last year, so they came back this year with 22. The first arc of the season is coming to an end in the first few weeks, and I will be interested to see where they go with the rest of it. I hope it does not devolve back into a "Shocking Event"of-the-week type pattern.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Blogging is easy, if you know where to go.

So I have been struggling with myself as to what my next blog post should be about. Sports has moved into a lull period for me. I don't want to write about my adventures in trying to find a job because to demolish electronically the last person to toy with my emotions when it comes to my job search would be bad karma. My birthday has come and gone, and it was really nice, I went and saw a movie with my roomies then we went out for brunch. Not a lot there. My family was embarrassingly generous when it came to my birthday, and while I thank them for that to write about it would be torture of the type even my self-hating side cannot get behind. So I find myself up really early in the morning, knowing that I should write about something, but not knowing exactly what. Thank God for What better fuel for the fire than spending some time reading the words of Papa Bear Bill O'Reilly? It really got the juices flowing. So here goes, the top 5 most read articles on over the past 24 hours.

First: The Incredible Shrinking Clintons by Dick Morris and Eileen McGann

Dick Morris is the primary example of what is wrong in politics today. The man has no ideology of his own. He is the man who brought out the worst in Bill Clinton, the pandering weather vane who would point whichever way the polls blew. He has no center in himself, nothing he believes in above all else. From a Time piece from 1996 by Eric Pooley:

"Morris can get so immersed in the game that he barely recognizes his own bad behavior. In 1988 he almost went to work for the presidential campaign of Michael Dukakis, then ended up on George Bush's campaign. Bush commanders Roger Ailes and Lee Atwater, according to two sources close to Ailes, became convinced that Morris was leaking information about Bush's media strategy back to the Dukakis camp. "Roger didn't confront Dick," says a source. "Instead he used Dick to send disinformation to Dukakis." Years later, pushing for more business, Morris had lunch with Ailes. "We should work together; I know how to beat the Democrats," he told Ailes. "I don't want to work with you," Ailes replied. "You have no character." That afternoon a friend asked Morris how his lunch had gone. "It was good," Morris replied. "He told me I had no character. I really learned a lot."

Yep, that's Roger Ailes, the president of Fox News Channel, who now employs Mr. Morris that his primary raison d'etre is to attack the Clintons. Morris also worked for Trent Lott and Jesse Helms in the early Nineties. Karl Rove might be evil, but at least he is consistent. Morris believed in nothing but the poll and the blatant appeal to swing voters. Oh yeah. And hookers.

Second: The Birds, The Bees, and the Cell-Phones by Bill O'Reilly

This is a fairly harmless piece as far as Papa Bear goes. Of course its the Left's fault that kids with hyperactive hormones are using technology in new and different ways to be sexually active (Yawn..big surprise). It could not be the fact that teenagers are just horny little bastards and we as adult Americans are scared as fuck at what they will get themselves into because they are far better at using technology than we are? I know I am. The pathological need to procreate turns every kid alive into MacGyver, but thats not a Swiss Army Knife in his hand. O'Reilly is just scared, and when he gets scared he lashes out at the Left. Its like blaming the sky for being blue. This piece does contain one great line however that is too juicy to resist:

"Children should be taught that America has become the most powerful country in history by embracing a Judeo-Christian philosophy based upon good works, noble intentions and personal discipline."

Really Bill? Good works? Like giving money away? (Feel free to compare and contrast Howard Kurtz's approach to Papa Bear with my earlier link to his take-down of [at the time] Clinton flunky Morris.) Noble intentions? I am pretty sure they paved the road to hell. Personal discipline? Like this display? Great personal discipline Sir. Under similar circumstances I am sure a normal man without your massive reserves of personal discipline would have killed the director at "Inside Edition". Good on you for only screaming at him, I am sure it was his fault that the magic box that gave you words broke.

Third: Time for Nancy Pelosi to Resign by Floyd and Mary Beth Brown

Actually I kind of agree with the thrust of this article, if not for the reasons stated. I am a big fan of this joke. The Newt quote is classic however:

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich described Pelosi's actions as "despicable" and "dishonest", calling for her to step aside from Congress. "I think she has lied to the House, and.I think this is a big deal. I don't think the Speaker of the House can lie to the country on national security matters."

Yes, any Speaker should wait to lie to the House and American people about National Security until after they are no longer the Speaker. From the Economist:

"No. As a British court noted, waterboarding is not torture."

Its not? Lets ask Christopher Hitchens. SERE school ain't nothing to fuck with.

"...the Clinton administration insisted on treating terrorists within a criminal-justice framework. The Obama team is even more pro-terrorist-rights and anti-national security than the Clinton team was."

Damn the Democrats for letting bedrock ideals of this country like "Due Process" get in the way of kicking A-rab ass. Roll the second part of the quote around in your mouth for a little bit. Even Obama's enemies will admit the man is smart and politically savvy. Does that sound like someone who would be pro-terrorist and anti-national security? It was a nice jab at his old rivals the Clintons however.

If Pelosi were to be censured by the House for lying she would be the first Speaker in the long history of the House to be so punished. Wait, what? You mean it has happened before?

Fourth: Burke and Obama by Thomas Sowell

Lets start with the intro.

"The other day I sought a respite from current events by re-reading some of the writings of 18th century British statesman Edmund Burke. But it was not nearly as big an escape as I had thought it would be. "

Ahem. Bullshit. I hate when a writer uses this kind of trope. Be honest. The other day I wanted to write a scary article comparing the more threatening thoughts of Edmund Burke to how President Obama is handling this financial crisis. I could not think of a convenient segue to connect the two, other than pretending I read the works of Edmund Burke for 'respite'.

Thomas Sowell is way smarter than me on just about any topic, so I will comment very little on this topic except for a few niggling questions From the article:

"When Burke wrote of his apprehension about "new power in new persons," I could not help think of the new powers that have been created by which a new President of the United States -- a man with zero experience in business -- can fire the head of General Motors and tell banks how to run their businesses."

Mr. Sowell is a respected economist who is a proponent of laissez-faire economics, and like I said far far smarter than I, so I will ask my next question in very small letters.

If laissez-faire economics works, how did a de-regulated banking industry run itself into the ground? And thus have to be told by the president how to run their business? Should we really be "hands off" with banking after greed baited them into making awful decisions for short term benefit? Shouldn't Government have to take the long view if Wall Street money managers cannot?, Or "hands off" with GM, allow it to go into bankruptcy and cost a whole assload of people their jobs?

And we're back. Later in the article:

"He said, 'the true danger is, when liberty is nibbled away, for expedients and by parts." He also said: "It is by lying dormant a long time, or being at first very rarely exercised, that arbitrary power steals upon a people.' "

This could be my own political leanings betraying me, but don't those two warnings seem like they apply more to the Patriot Act than they do Barack? One more quote from the article:

"He also said, 'of all things, we ought to be the most concerned who and what sort of men they are that hold the trust of everything that is dear to us.' "

This quote is comforting to me. I would rely on Barack Obama to hold the trust of everything dear to me far more than I would any other President of my lifetime. At least so far. I reserve the right to take this back if he turns out ot be a scumbag like the rest.

Fifth: Little Green Cars by Larry Kudlow

I am getting tired now so lets do this rapid fire style.

"With President Obama in the driver’s seat, we’re going to get little green two-door cars that most folks won’t want to buy. "

Most folks are retarded.

"When I sat down with former Vice President Dick Cheney for a CNBC interview this week, I asked him about all this. He wasn’t happy. Of course, many of these policies began during the Bush-Cheney administration, and Cheney didn’t deny it. But when I asked if he anticipated the current degree of government control, he gave me another honest answer, as is his custom: No."

His custom? No and No. My favorite is number 10. Really Dick? Still clinging onto WMD's? Even Karl Rove and W have moved on from that.

"Cheney was very critical of Obama’s big-government spending-and-borrowing policies, too"

Hypocrisy, thy name is Dick. Government spending gets no bigger than this. Maybe Obama would not have to borrow so much money IF YOU HADN'T LEFT THE COUNTRY IN SUCH SHITTY SHAPE ASSHOLE!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

This is a bad sign.

Last night the Red Sox DH David Ortiz became the 320th Major Leaguer in baseball to hit a home run. Yep, thats a DH in front of his name. That means that the only thing he does is hit. And he waited 7 weeks into the season to hit a homer, something he has been known for in days past. I was greeted by this story in the Boston Globe:

That is a really bad sign. This is what he should be doing. He is a professional power hitter. This is his job. And he took a curtain call for a home run in the fifth inning in game where are starter was shutting them out up until that point. Lovely. Look, steroids or not I love David Ortiz. Some of the most exciting moments I have had in my sports fandom include him. But the man is D-U-N done. There are three columns in the Globe this morning about whether this is a turning point for Ortiz. I would love to be wrong. Please Papi, make me wrong. But I am not. This is less a turning point and more of a case of the blind squirrel finding a nut (or for a more apt analogy a really big squirrel whose legs are shot hitting a home run) than a turning point. Theo, go get me Miguel Cabrera. The Yankees are resurgent, their steroid user (you know, he of the purple lips and tranny road beef) is less burnt out than ours. Big Tex is starting to hit in the Bronx. Time to give the Evil Empire a middle finger from the Slightly Less Evil Empire and put out a scary line up. No, Jeff Bailey, Julio Lugo, and Jonathan Van Every have no place in that lineup. Nick Green can stay(when he gets back), he may not be able to hit but he is plucky. Make it happen Theo.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Podcasts are killing good writing (at least some of it)

I am already on record as saying I like podcasts. They are perfect to listen to while I walk or I ride public transit. These are some of the best:

SModcast: Kevin Smith, writer/director of Clerks et al. sits down generally with his producer Scott Mosier (sometimes, like right now, when Kevin is back East he does it with his friends from back home) and they just talk about...stuff. It is meandering and not always factually correct, but Smith is a funny motherfucker, and the quietly droll Mosier is a good balance to some of Smith more outlandish claims.

The BS Report: Podcast by ESPN's the Sports Guy, a former comedy writer on Jimmy Kimmel Live. A very Boston centric guy who likes to break up the sports especially on his podcast by talking pop culture and especially the state of newspapers with a pretty amazing roster of interesting guests that include Chuck Klosterman, Malcolm Gladwell, and his friend from high school, Jack O'Connell, better known as JackO, a Yankee fan with neuroses to match Simmons' Red Sox fandom.

Never Not Funny: Comedian Jimmy Pardo and producer/comedy nerd Matt Belknap talk with a different comedian each week, including names like Patton Oswalt, Andy Richter and Jon Hamm, in addition to their regulars, most of them friends of Pardo and plugged into the LA comedy scene. Recently went to a monetizing format, but it would be totally worth the money if I was not unemployed.

The Adam Carolla Podcast: The cranky old man ranting schtick benefits from a long form with no limits on language. Unfortunately the show suffers when Adam decides to talk politics, where his simplistic approach to things tends to fall apart. The only check to him is when a guest decides to stand up to him, which really depends on the guest. Most just go along.

Fresh Air: Terry Gross talks to people. And she is really good at it, and they find some really fascinating people to talk to. Nuff said.

With that out of the way let me tell you why writing is suffering. The last three are fine, neither Pardo or Carolla are a writer as far as I can tell, so them being able to get their thoughts out there in a radio type format is a good thing, it gives us an outlet that we would not normally have. Fresh Air is traditional radio but superior in every way to any other radio or perhaps even TV talkshow around. The first two however are writers, and podcasting has hurt their writing in different ways.

Smith first. My Boring Ass Life was the best blog around hands down for a 1-2 year stretch. This was his last substantial update on a subject that was not movie promotion. December of '07. The last time he updated it on semi-regular basis was September of '07. Early in '07 he starts using the blog as an advertisement for SModcast. So what? you say. So he stopped blogging and started doing a podcast. Well read this (don't forget to read the continuation on the next day) and tell me writing in general is not poorer for him not blogging. For more like that you can keep going backwards, another highlight being Kevin writing as an actor on the set of "Catch and Release". A publisher even took the time to collate the early blog entries and publish them in book form.

Another problem is one I now have with Bill Simmons. Bill just completed a book. A big book. Devoted to basketball. I will read it. The problem is, just from listening to his podcast and reading his columns I already know about a third of what the book is going to be. I don't really have an answer to this. He put a great deal of time and research into this book, so justifiably he is going to use this newfound knowledge when he talks about basketball, he will apply it in his general discourse, it is hard not to. The problem is the book does not come out until next October, and basketball is his favorite thing to talk about. Now maybe it will calm down a little once the Finals are over, but it has gotten to a point when he says the fatal but oft repeated phrase "Now, I wrote about this in my book, but..." I wince and almost don't want to listen. Its really not fair to the amount of time and effort he put into crafting a supposedly 650 page book for it to be stepped on ahead of time. I want to go along with the book reading experience. I want to read it and let the information and conclusions unfold as he wrote them. I know that will not happen though. I will read it and I will have half-formed notions on each theory, so most likely I will either be a little bored in going over material already covered, or I will misunderstand what he is trying to say because I have ill-informed preconceptions. Neither is good. This is a new problem, but I am glad I did not have to listen to Charles Dickens talk about, around or reference Great Expectations (just an analogy, I don't put Simmons on par with literary greatness) in the months before it was realeased. Immediacy can be bad.

Thats what it comes down to in the end. Immediacy. Writing is hard. Really hard. I am not half as good as these two guys, and it takes me forever to churn out these blog posts. (witness my once a week posting habits.) It is much easier to sit down with a friend, or an interesting guest and just bullshit for an hour. When Simmons was trying to finish his book he stopped writing columns almost altogether and just did podcasts, a mark of how easy they can be. He was writing like crazy trying to finish his book and still had time to punch out 3-4 podcasts a week. Like I said, I find this format to be very enjoyable, its just I fear the already shallow pool of good writing out there gets a little less deep each time one of these guys does a podcast rather than writing.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Just call me Mrs. Butterworth, Bitch

So recently I have stumbled onto something unexpected and inspired, and I had to share it with you. Like my Draft review this is less of trying to inform my few and far between readers and more so in a couple years I can hold up this post and say I got there first. Or at least early. Starz has a new television series (Starz makes TV shows? Holy shit.) I am a big fan of shows on pay cable, as is most anyone else intelligent, because it takes out two of the many forces that make today's TV suck so bad: the FCC and advertisers. Being on pay cable allows shows to portray( or exaggerate) real life in a way that rings more true than normal TV. I am as big of a fan of the Shield as anybody, and they certainly pushed more their share of boundaries, but a real life Vic Mackey would have snarled enough F-bombs to make Al Swearengen blush. So freedom from the FCC is good. Advertisers are a far more behind the scenes and insidious evil. Censorship is one thing, removing curse words or blurring out human flesh. Advertisers affect what is actually being written. To offer a Orwellian and Dick mixed metaphor pupu platter of dark sci-fi futures it is like Pre-Thought Crime. Knowing that any network or cable show has to make sure they do not offend their corporate masters writers and directors are put in a position where they censor themselves rather than try to buck the relentless might of Standards and Practices. Then what they do write is watered down even more. That's good for the product.

So we come to the happy place that is pay cable TV. There are far fewer spots for shows, but the ones that do exist can be edgy in a way unthinkable lower on the dial. Deadwood had its casual profanity. The Sopranos' hands were coated in a grimy blood. Entourage is a hit or miss creampuff made watchable occasionally by their remarkable ability to find smoking hot females to undress. Weeds tackles pot in a way that no corporate sponsor could ever agree to. People other than me liked Sex in the City for reasons that would not have worked on ABC. (I probably should have brought in a guest columnist to write that last bit of inspiring prose) All this is in the service of one thing. Making good TV. Premium channels work on a very simple equation. The better the show is, the more people are willing to sign up for their crappy cable channel. Capitalism at work. God Bless America.

The reason I am ranting about all of this is because premium TV has come up with yet another show that is genius. Its called Party Down. It shows a world I am somewhat familiar with: caterers. It follows a merry band of misfits who cater a different party every week. So far (I have watched the first 4 episodes) the show does not portray their lives outside of work at all. Each week the party they are catering wends its way into the narrative, with weekly guest stars who bring something new to the table for the regulars to bounce off of. The creative DNA of the show is strong, produced and sometimes written by Rob Thomas (no, not the Matchbox 20 douche), along with two other writers from Veronica Mars (look, I don't give a shit that the protagonist was a tiny little blonde girl who solved mysteries, that show was fucking awesome.) and Paul Rudd, who was originally was attached to play the lead but now is way too huge so he was ably replaced by Adam Scott. The series regulars were all instantly recognizable to me as a film and TV nerd.

There is Scott (from Stepbrothers and Six Feet Under) who plays a former aspiring actor Henry, returning to catering after scoring one commercial that makes him instantly almost recognizable to almost everyone, but not enough to get another gig. He has given up on acting and now goes through the motions as a bartender, life only made palatable by a self induced pill and booze haze. His near flatline expression is the baseline for the rest of the characters, the wry eye of a hurricane of desperation around him.

Next Ken Marino (Veronica Mars) who play Ron. Back in the day he and Henry had been running buddies, but now he has turned in his life of quiet desperation for one of very loud, loud desperation. Ron has gone corporate in every way, hoping somehow this will save him from his existence.

The excellent Jane Lynch (the horny older boss in 40 Year Old Virgin) plays Constance, a never was clinging to her dream, who sees herself as a mentor to the younger actors. Oh yeah, and she is completely insane. That part is probably funnier.

Ryan Hansen (also Veronica Mars) plays Kyle, a douchey wanna be actor/singer/model who looks and acts like he should be dating one of the oxygen wasters on "The Hills". Shallower than a puddle, he is actually redeemed in my eyes at the end of episode four that gives him a touch of sweetness to offset the overwhelming self obsession.

His natural rival is Roman, played by Martin Starr (Freaks and Geeks) a pretentious screen writer who is absolutely convinced he is the smartest person in any room he walks into. I am hoping in the next couple episodes they give Starr a touch of heart to work with, the same they gave to Hansen's Kyle.

Lastly there is Casey, played by Lizzy Caplan (True Blood), a conflicted stand-up comedian who sparks off of the blank Henry, and utters the classic line of dialogue that titles this post.

All of these characters are well drawn, considering you only get to see them at work. Their respective neuroses clash and rebound off of each other, mowing down or ignoring the guests at the party, offering service only when coerced or cornered, and drinking or fucking or popping pills or smoking pot, anything to help them get through another day in the miserable life as an aspiring...whatever. This is showing the Hollywood meat grinder not through the eyes of those on top, but through the eyes of the hamburger.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Why We (or just I) Fight

I am a chef. An unemployed chef currently, but it does not change my essential makeup. I still define myself by this vocation. (That may no longer want me.) Working in the restaurant business might be the last refuge for a man like me. I am a caveman by the definition of many. I like red meat, whiskey and I don't like to share my feelings unless I am under the influence of the latter and preferably both. I am not good with petty niceties, I was raised to be polite but I have no patience. If I dislike someone I prefer to treat them with cold indifference. I don't want to ask about the kids and the dog through gritted teeth. I think this society suffers from its crackdown on casual fighting and violence. I miss the days when it was semi-acceptable to solve a problem with physical violence. Most of America is horrified by this, but it is just better. If I had a problem with someone back in the day I could invite them outside. I am not a bully, any person who I extended this invitation to could feel free to say no, with little to no loss of face because well, I am a big bastard. We would step out, one or both of us would lash at each other drunkenly. You might get tagged in the face or gut, and you would try to do a little tagging of your own. It would be broken up within about 30-45 seconds (mostly because it is really hard to throw more then like 10 punches drunk, your hands start to feel like sandbags on the end of your arm) and the worst would be a split lip, a black eye or a few bruises. As the dude in "Green Street Hooligans" expressed so well: "Once you've taken a few punches and realize you're not made of glass, you don't feel alive unless you're pushing yourself as far as you can go."

This whole sequence is just enough to get your heart rate up, to remind you that you are alive, to spring some endorphins into your bloodstream to keep the booze company. Best of all whatever thing (real or imagined) that made you want to go outside is over, there is closure. Most times you just end up buying each other beers and talking about how badly women suck. It is just a male ritual denied to people today. There is no release today. Guys these days swallow everything, there is no outlet besides drugs (prescribed or not) A split lip is far less expensive then a lifetime of Prozac and therapy, or a dime bag of weed and rail of coke. This is all a long-winded explanation of why I am attracted to the lunatic fringe of society, where a caveman is accepted more readily. I don't fit in with the normal folks. Working in restaurants is the fringe, short of becoming a criminal of some kind. (the two worlds overlap a lot) You work when other people play. You sleep when normal people rise and trudge to work. Sunrise is only spotted just before bed if at all. The sun is shunned. Your days off will generally include Monday for fucks sake.

Its perfect for me and dangerous all at the same time. By nature I am anti-social, a night owl, and I have already covered how I am into food and drink, two things abundantly available in the restaurant business. I love my work. Even a job I hated (and I did hate my last job, but mostly because I was worried about being laid off for like 6 months before I was actually laid off.) is better then a 9-5 grind where I would be bored out of my gourd. Even the most monotonous of jobs in a kitchen is livened normally by the fact you are doing two other things at once, or the fact that generally you work with maniacs. Maniacs just like you. I am going to tell you about some of my favorite maniacs, ones that have the most influence over me and where I have been. I am going to change their names mostly because all of them would think me really gay for writing about them. Lets call them Cam, Gordon, Tiny and Clyde.

Cam (so named because he is a hockey freak and we share the same favorite player ever) was the kitchen manager at the corporate steakhouse where I decided that cooking was for me. He never tired of reminding me that I had been hired on his vacation. His assistant (kitchen manager, not personal) had reviewed my application and brought me on as a dishwasher, and this would have never happened, according to Cam, if he had been around. I may have been the last good gringo dishwasher. I was not great by any measure, especially in the beginning. I had a good work ethic however, and I knew the fastest way out of the fucking dish room was to do a halfway decent job. Dishwashers are like umpires or referees at a sporting event. You only notice them when they are fucking your shit up. If things are going good they kind of disappear, and I did not fully appreciate that until I was management myself. No one ever says "Man! these plates sure are clean!" but they will sure as hell say:" Hey! Fuckhead! This Onion Soup crock is still crusted with melted cheese!" Later in my career I forced myself to notice and appreciate the hard work of my dishwashers when things were going well.

Cam taught me what good management is. Good management is not treating everyone the same. Good management is realizing who is busting their ass and who is slacking. The workers get perks commensurate with their value and hard work, slackers get a kick in the ass. Perks range from a simple "Good Job", to buying that employee a drink or a steak, or even to bending over backwards to get that person a night off. Sounds easy. Its not. The key is making sure the system for being rewarded is clear and impartial. This takes the office politics out of it. No playing favorites, simply a meritocracy. Cam pulled this off to a tee. I am not nearly as good as he is. Part of me still wants my employees to like me. Cam could give a fuck, but we all loved him anyway. There is a lesson there. Cam also taught me to be respected as a manager you need to be at least as good or better then the people who work for you at what they do (or at least be able to fake it real good.) This lesson I leaned better. Last time I went home for Christmas I went to the steakhouse where Cam is still king, and he bought me a steak and a beer. Good fucking guy.

Gordon (his first name is Gordon, but he goes by his middle name) caused me to come up with a theory. He worked at the steakhouse for Cam too. I had clawed my way out of the dish room and Gordon was coming back to the restaurant after some time away, so Cam stuck him in prep with me until he had line spot for him. My theory (based only on anecdotal evidence) goes like this. People who used to abuse speed make really excellent chefs. Speed does two things to you that happen to be beneficial in a cook. It speeds up your metabolism, which keeps you moving, and it burns out one of the pleasure centers in your brain. Thus people who have abused speed in the past are rarely happy or content, they never lean. They end up looking like sharks, constantly moving for fear if they stop they will die. Constant motion in the kitchen is a necessary thing. Never being happy leads to a pursuit of perfection when it comes to cooking and plating without any of the annoying quirks of people with OCD. I myself fulfill the second part by being just naturally relentlessly unhappy, but the constant motion is an act of will.

Gordon and Tiny (Tiny was his favorite nickname for me) saved me from myself, for which I am eternally grateful. I was very young and dumb, maybe 20 or 21. My older sister was getting married. She was talking one day about the cost of a caterer for the various wedding related events. She mentioned a number, just for the 36 person rehearsal dinner. I blanched. Then stupidly I spoke up. I could do it for less, much less. Oh to be that young and moronic again. I was a prep cook at this point, on the verge of being a line cook, maybe. My resume highlights at this time in my life include making pizza at fucking Sbarro's and washing dishes. I named a number to my sister, much less than the caterers. This was to be my wedding present to them. I was dumb, but not without animal cunning. I recruited the best people I knew. Gordon to "help" (quotes because i was the one doing the assisting), Tiny and a girl named Marti to do the serving. I use Marti's real name because she would probably not remember me for a hundred dollar bill at this point. Really nice person.

Steak and Lobster is the menu. (I know...right? I was a tool.) I leaned on Cam to not only give me a Friday night off, but Gordon, Tiny and Marti as well. I bought cheesecake from the restaurant. My Dad knew the lobster guy across the street from where the dinner was going to be held, and the lobsters would be cooked fresh at the appointed time and brought over. I had been working summers at a Meat and Produce delivery place and the very nice gentleman who owned it let me buy provisions from him, he even gave me the steaks for free. My skin is crawling right now thinking about how lucky I got that day. Even with all of this I barely make it in under the number I had named to my sister. Day of I arrive at the restaurant early. I make salads and cut vegetables and make mashed potatoes ( As a prep cook this is me playing to my strengths) Somehow it all came together. Tiny and Gordon fly around the kitchen, finishing salads and pushing them out, then we push out the dinners: Steak, lobster, steamed veggies, and potatoes. (Gordon cooked the steak of course) Finally big pieces of cheesecake with good July strawberries. Everything went great (little credit goes to me.) My sister still talks about it to this day.

My greatest shame? I ran out of money. I could easily have asked my sister for more and still have been well below the caterers, but I was ashamed. I had not planned in playing the people who came down to help me out. Who took off a Friday night on my behalf and drove a half hour down to my hometown, and made this event I was woefully unprepared for happen for me. Those people left with just leftover lobster. Just thinking about this makes my reflux act up. Tiny and Gordon even cleaned the kitchen for me, allowing me to go out and be with my family and bask in their accomplishment. This probably contributes to why I don't hold onto friends. These are really good guys. Same trip when I saw Cam I went to the steakhouse Tiny now manages and he bought me a steak and a beer, and I talked to Gordon on the phone. To still like me through all that is an epic kindness.

Lastly there is Clyde. (Clyde is his middle name, I just find it hilarious.) I got the basics in Maine with Cam and Gordon and Tiny, but Clyde started my entry into finer cooking. Clyde is the single best chef I have ever known. A great guy to work for, a relentless worker, good guy all around. Clyde, like Gordon, is a former abuser of speed. He is more sped up even than Gordon, with quick bird-like motions to him. Clyde owns his own restaurant now, and it is my favorite restaurant to eat at, I even worked there before I made the move to the Bay. We met before that however, at a hotel I shall refer to as Mud Hole for reasons of obfuscation. Mud Hole was a passion project of a Rich Guy who knew nothing about the hotel/restaurant business. This is a bad combination. See "Kitchen Confidential". So this man built a brand new shiny upscale hotel where no upscale hotel should be. He hired a chef of some renown to work on it for 2-3 years before it opened. He hired Clyde as the Sous (French for "under") Chef for this man. Then he fired the Head Chef a month before opening day. Clyde was just temping, getting some cash flow so he could work on getting his own restaurant re-modeled. Rich Guy should have begged Clyde to be the new Chef. Instead he brought in a chef I will refer to as Charlatan. I call him Charlatan because his only skills appeared to be drinking Scotch and Schmoozing, bedding anything female he could lay his hands on, and telling us he had a year to live with cancer (nope.) and that he had been selected to Iron Chef America (ummmmm...double nope.). So Rich Guy hires Charlatan a month before opening but does not push the date. This is a bad idea. I am hired subsequently as the lead line cook, and Clyde is my immediate superior.

So Charlatan hands us a dinner menu and heads off to drink and fuck. So Clyde and I just make shit up, reverse engineering the menu. No recipes given. That was fun. Opening date is fast approaching. We put together a tasting for the servers, in which we make three of each dish. Charlatan does some tasting but it is hard to believe he can taste anything past the smoke of the good Scotch he drinks. Time is passing quickly. We go straight to Soft Open. When opening a new restaurant the Soft Open is key. You invite a few people. Friends. Family. People who won't get mad when you fuck up inevitably. This is too sensible to Rich Guy. He decides to kill two birds with one stone. The Christmas party for his company will be the Soft Open. Over a hundred guests. We have made of three of each dish. This will not end well.

So I have been present for the opening of a couple restaurants. There are three steps people take to control these things. First is the family thing described above. Second you make cards and distribute the items on the menu equally on these cards. That way no station takes the full weight while another gets nothing, and you know what you will use so you can prep. You hand people cards as they walk in, and if they don't like it they can trade it with someone else. Third you stagger the times that people sit down so you don't hammer the kitchen all at once. Rich Guy did none of this. His guests sat at the same time, ordered at the same time, ordered whatever the hell they wanted. As the lead line cook I was working the grill, where the steaks, chicken and some fish came from. Clyde is parked next to me, to backstop me and to "expedite". Expediters are the guys who make sure that your steak comes up at the same time as Uncle Joe's. So they all sat down and were told to order whatever they wanted, for free. You think steak was prominently involved? Soon the ticket rail is wall to wall tickets, with a stack next to it of tickets waiting to be fit onto the rail. This is bad.

Worse: Each ticket is handwritten by a server who does not know what they hell he or she is doing. There are an assload of servers. Enough in fact for there to be one for each of the 20 tables. All each one has to do it take the order for that one table, get drinks and put in their order, then field questions on why the food is taking so fucking long. I understand, this is very stressful. I get it. Does this mean they should pass on this stress to already over-worked me? No. Servers suck. The one saving grace for a cook normally is that at least when he is slammed generally the server is too. This allows some kind of balance. No balance in this situation. I am getting creamed like never before and there are 20 servers afraid to face their one table hanging out and bugging me for their food, like they are more important than the fuckhead next to them. I have my head down, just working tickets as they come in front of me, ignoring all else, too damn busy to give a shit. I don't know them by face either, so when I have a question about the crappy handwriting i have to ask 14 servers if they are Bob. This is as screwed as I have ever been, and I never want to feel that again. A perfect storm of suck.

I am not trying to puff myself up when I say this, but I have seen many men better than me crumple under better circumstances. But I was stubborn, and Clyde was right next to me the whole way. This shared experience caused a bond between us, at least for me. We just cooked. I had done a great deal of prep for this evening, figuring it would be steak heavy, just not THIS heavy. Soon enough Clyde has to go out back to cute more filet mignon, the worst cut to try to do on the fly because of the layer of silverskin that clings to it. He is back fast as anything and soon we are bacon wrapping filets on the line and pumping them through. I loved working for the guy, and he hired me at his new place once he got it under way, so I must not have been too bad.

There is a weird symmetry between the rehearsal dinner story and the Christmas party story. in one every guest left happy, and I still get kudos to this day about it, but I look back at it with a deep shame. The Christmas party the customers probably thought me an incompetent moron, but never have I been prouder of myself, for plowing through against a tidal wave of crap and not folding. That's just odd, normally how the customer leaves is the bottom line for anybody.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Dark Alley List

So as a rabid sports fan(and occasional unbalanced psycho), I keep a running list in my head of professional sports players I would like to take a bat to in a dark alley sometime. Now this list does not contain superstars, else it would be clogged up by the Derek Jeters, the Peyton Mannings, and the Kobe Bryants of the world. No the DA list is reserved for the pests of the world, the players who annoy me not because of their skill on the floor, but by their demeanor, their style of play, their je ne sais quoi. Or they just really fuck over my team, in one spectacular way or a long career of continuous fucking. I realize I am a hypocrite, there are many such players on the teams I root for who would qualify, but fuck it, they are family. They get a pass. Former inductees into the Dark Alley List include:

Bucky Dent: Yeah. What can I say? I was like 4 months old when Bucky hit that home run. HE WAS PICKING ON A BABY! Fuck you Bucky.

Aaron Boone: See above, except I am 25, not 4 months. Bonus points for hurting his knee in a pickup basketball game and allowing a pitch-tipping, steroid using uber-Douche to come to the Yankees.

Ulf Samuelsson: Ended the career of my favorite hockey player ever, Cam Neely. According to wikipedia was called Robocop for the suit of armor he wore on the ice. More fuel for the swede hating fire. Fuck you Ulf, if that is your real name.

Sasha Vujacic: This one is a gimme. Everybody hates this Euro cocksucker. When I have that recurring dream where Kobe replaces Eddie Murphy in the opening scenes of "Coming to America"(don't ask) it's Sasha's head that pops out of the tub unexpectedly.

Shannon Sharpe: Really too talented to be on this list, but the clip of him on the phone calling the "National Guard" inspires a rage in me that is almost unmatched. I was actually living in Colorado that year and had to endure the insufferable, cocky-by-proxy Broncos fans he rubbed off on. Bad times. Until Michael Dean Perry could not get his fat ass off the field, allowing my Patriots to go to the Super Bowl. Suck it Shannon and Bronco Fans.

Bill Laimbeer: Aging into a distinguished gentleman, but I remember you cockbreath. I remember.

Which brings us to today, and our brand new invitees to the list. Maybe its because the series is so fresh in my mind, but I have an unprecedented two entries this year, from your '08-'09 Bulls:

Joakim Noah and Brad Miller. These two gave me a reason to care about the playoffs. Once KG went down I had resigned myself to a Cleveland-LA Finals like everyone else, and I was preparing myself to lose to King James. I know, being defeatist is hardly becoming of a fan, but everytime I have watched LBJ this year I wonder how we slid by him last year by the skin on PJ Brown's teeth. So lets say my caring was a little muted. Until the prancing pony duo of Noah and Miller came to town. Holy Fuck I hate these two now. The fantastic shot making in this series by Gordon, Allen, Salmons and Pierce is almost over shadowed by the antics of these two, one a tweener lottery pick with no position but lots of ENERGY! The other a never-was who once thought this was a good idea:

Yep. That is what you think it is. Corn rows on a white guy. I cringe.

I have to believe that with some extra front court depth we could have put a stop to the high stepping antics of Joakim. Hell if Sheriff Garnett were wearing the green tonight he would have poked out Noah's eye and skull fucked him for that horse collar/clothesline on Rajon Rondo in Game 7.

Back to Miller. Have you ever seen a fully grown man pout like he did at the end of game 5? Sure Rondo clocked him, no one is denying that, (mostly because of the video evidence) but really? Did he have to carry the on the verge of tears face throughout that entire pathetic sequence? The celebrations during Game 6 were a tad too much as well, though grudgingly he did have a good game with some key shots.

Kirk Hinrich had a chance to make this list too for playing some goddamn good defense while knocking down some shots, but pity keeps him off because of the arm whip into the turnbuckle by Rondo, and the unforgivable missed layup in Game 6. That could have put him into the goat category for all time, just a few levels shy of Buckner or Bartman. Great series Bulls. I legitimately despise almost every player on that roster now except maybe Derrick Rose (and his crazy block of a runaway dunking Jackie Moon....I mean Brian Scalabrine)

The best thing to come from this series is it shows us the way the Celtics can proceed going forward with an aging Big Three. Rondo's ability to slash and create will set up opportunities for Pierce, Allen and KG to spot up for jumpers well into their golden years. While Perkins and Big Baby can develop their games, undersized big men to be sure but against a weak crop of young big men? They could be special. The only big man in the Eastern Conference who will be able to challenge them physically going forward is Dwight Howard, and nobody matches up with him. Onward Christian soldiers. We move on to face the Magic, and I hope we can play some D on the perimeter because Superman is going to abuse us down low.