Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Hippies, Maya, the Drunk Bus, and the Ladybug Empire.

Weather-wise, October is my favorite month in San Diego. The temperature is perfect – equal parts warm and cool. But from a visual perspective, my favorite month is April. Dynamic clouds arrive and deliver periodic rains, clearing the skies from marine layer and smog. Dormant plants seemingly explode overnight. Bright and tiny pink flowers – packed so densely they look like moss – envelope the hillsides. Unfortunately their lifespan is short, and they fade into nothingness within weeks.

And here we sit in May bordering June. The weather for these two months is summarized with the infamous phrases May gray and June gloom. These sayings seemingly influence my perception and expectations of the weather. It’s possible that April has the exact same weather, but nothing rhymes with it.

I am not a meteorologist (even though I could be if I took an afternoon class – really, how hard could it be?) but my understanding is that the desert air cools down and condenses, dragging in the marine layer, and leaving us blanketed with opaque clouds that never rain. But this weekend was absolutely beautiful – warm and sunshine bright – easily discarding the convenient rhyme schemes.

The beginning of May found me at the San Diego Healing Arts Festival to see Anya Marina perform on its music stage.

The festival consisted of forty booths dealing with yoga, meditation, and new age healing. It was like the religion of health and well being. There wasn’t a whole lot of science, so you had to rely on faith.

The festival’s theme drew a pseudo-hippy crowd. I went to college in Boulder, so I’ve been around my share of hippies. I can speak the language and have occasionally delved in the lifestyle. I looked around and noticed something odd. Lacking. A puzzle incomplete. And then I realized what was missing…. Where the hell was the hacky-sack circle? What kind of half-assed hippies were these? And sheer moments after these thoughts entered my head a maelstrom opened in the middle of the barren sea. The five-person circle formed to my left and a hacky-sack appeared. All was right with the world.

Later that night I heard Maya Angelou speak at UCSD. There is such reverence surrounding her, and she has so much presence, that it was humbling to see her vulnerable as she needed help walking to the stage. She told amazing stories, and while I was aware of her wisdom and gift as a storyteller, the one thing that really surprised me was her sense of humor. She was funny as hell. While it was great to hear her speak to thousands of people in the auditorium, she has that comforting approachability where I felt like I could chat with her on the back porch while drinking beer.

After hearing her speak about the power of poetry, I decided to start submitting my poetry to magazines again in hopes of getting published. Wish them luck.

The next day I went on an organized wine tasting tour with my University of Colorado alumni group. We were headed an hour north to wine country in Temecula.

The tour bus was an hour late picking us up which was troubling due to our tight schedule but worked out to our benefit in the end.

We started at the Callaway and Churon wineries and then headed to the beautiful Wilson Creek Winery. One of the Wilson family members working at the winery is a CU alum and gave us a wine tasting lesson. The winery had an amazing almond champagne. I bought two bottles.

Our next stop was the South Coast Winery where I was willingly molested by a bachelorette party.

A fellow alum leaned over to me and said, “You have to beware of women wearing boas. It's a bachelorette party thing.”

To compensate for their tardiness, the tour guide took us to an additional winery called the Longshadow Ranch. It was the perfect place to end the day. The wine tasting bar was located outside on a beautiful evening. Horses trotted in adjacent corrals and an acoustic guitar player performed songs on a nearby stage.

In addition to taking us to an extra winery, the tour guide gave us some free bottles of wine. On the trip back to San Diego, these were opened on the bus. This was in addition to the twenty-five tastings we had already consumed. It all made for lively conversations on the way back.

I’m not sure what spawned it. Perhaps it was the serendipitous timing of having read Tony Bourdain’s food/travel books while receiving an overdose of the Food Network. Perhaps it was simply fast food fatigue. Maybe it became another creative outlet. But whatever the reason, I started to get into cooking. This resulted in two endeavors: buying cooking stuff and starting a small herb garden. I thought that starting an herb garden would be fun, convenient, and relatively easy. For the most part, herbs are just flavorful weeds.

When the previous owners of my condo moved out they orphaned a five foot tall cactus on my balcony. I no longer wanted the cactus, but wanted to retain the large metal basin it was planted in. I thought that I would need a crane to remove the cactus, due to its awkwardness and four inch long needles, but through attrition (not watering it for many months so the roots became brittle) and delicate handling I was able to get rid of it. I moved two indoor plants to outdoor and purchased some new ones. I planted them all in the metal basin.

They exploded. My tiny basil plant erupted into a tower. A simple stem from a mint plant grew into its own metropolis. My plants were healthy and happy.

And then they arrived. Aphids. Lots and lots of aphids.

Possibly inspired by the spirit of the Healing Arts Festival, I opted for a natural solution to my problem. My first thought was to use ladybugs. But where the hell could I get ladybugs? Silly scenes popped into my head. I envisioned wearing a safari outfit and hunting them in parks. Not going to happen. I then wondered, “Maybe they have a ladybug ranch?” I would drive out into the country and there would be cowboys on horseback rounding up a heard of ladybugs, occasionally throwing out the lasso to nab one trying to escape. Obviously I needed another solution to my plight.

I referenced a great herb book that I received as a present. It has a new-age flavor to it so it tells you how to make your own soap and how to cure cancer with things from the garden. But it also tells you how to make your own bug spray using natural ingredients. I combined chopped onions, garlic, and mint leaves into a jar full of water and let it sit over night. I then poured the resulting liquid into a spray bottle with hopes of covering my outdoor plants with this fine mist.

Let me tell you how this stuff works. The preparation makes your house smell so pungent that you can’t stand to be around it. To escape, you get in the car, drive out to the desert, and get so consumed by heat exhaustion that you no longer care about the aphids.

To say the least, it wasn’t an effective solution. It may have slowed the aphids down but it did little to stop them.

Due to the fact that you can buy absolutely anything if you have money, I discovered with a little research that you could actually buy ladybugs. They are available at better garden stores or you can purchase them online and have them shipped. The problem is that the smallest quantity they have is 1500. While I was pleased at the idea that I could start my own ladybug empire to overthrow gardens everywhere, my metal basin is only one foot by two feet. I know, I know… I could just dump a few in my garden and release the rest into the wild but it seemed like too much effort to order and handle them.

So I said fuck the environment, and I went ahead and purchased some bug spray. However, to maintain balance, I bought a hacky-sack and donated it to a needy hippy.

I like to draw, paint, write, and play guitar. But these are merely vehicles. What I truly love to do is create. I’ve mentioned it before, but I think that right below food, air, and water, what people need to survive is to create.

In college I took a women’s literature class. I’d like to say that I took it to expand my literary horizons. But the truth is that my friend Brenda took it the previous semester and informed me that her class consisted of twenty five women and four guys. Since I spent three-fourths of my college life in the engineering center, I felt that I was owed this type of ratio. I took the class and the ratio was about the same – it was twenty seven women and three guys. The funny part is that whenever a woman raised her hand the teacher would call on the girl by name. Whenever a guy raised his hand the teacher, unable to remember our names, would just point at the guy and say, “Yeah you, go ahead.” To add insult to injury, not only were there only three men in the class, but two of us were named Bryan.

Anyway, one of my favorite pieces that we read that semester was by Alice Walker entitled, In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens. The author talks about how hard her mother worked to support the family. Her mom went to multiple jobs and tended their garden to feed them. Alice wrote about how guilty she felt that she had writing to express herself creatively and how her mother didn’t have the same type of outlet. Alice them reflected back and smiled. She realized that her mother’s creative outlet was that garden.

Working in my own little, modest garden, I can understand the idea. It’s far from being manly, but there is something satisfying in the process.

I listened to Christopher Knight (aka Peter Brady) on the Adam Carolla radio show last week. He talked about his impending nuptials to the beautiful model, Adrianne Curry. Of course everyone in the studio asked about how he could get someone so hot. His response was this:

"She’s an old enough soul to know what she wants and what she should have are different. And I represent what she should have.”

For some reason I found solace in this sentiment.

Throughout the interview, Christopher was articulate, insightful, and poised.

But this is why I think he’s a genius. Perhaps one of the greatest thinkers of the twenty-first century.

He and Adrian had a television show that chronicled the beginning of their relationship. Adrianne was attracted to him immediately and let him know that she could marry him right then. Christopher was realistically cautious and wary. He had been married twice before and was concerned that Adrianne was too young and perhaps interested in the idea of marriage more so than it being a reflection of her feelings for him. He was concerned that it had little to do with him, and he was merely an actor cast in her play.

As the season progressed, Christopher remained guarded while Adrianne gave him an ultimatum: Propose to me now or we will break up.

In the climatic episode, Christopher says that he wants to show her something. At this point, the only thing that would make Adrianne happy would be a proposal. Anything other than that means their relationship will end. He takes her to an apartment that he has rented for her and she understands what it means. She breaks down dramatically because she knows that he isn’t proposing – he wants her to seek some independence to ensure that she is mature and ready enough to get married. She cries relentlessly and the relationship has essentially ended. By inference, they have broken up. But then Christopher, sensing that she knows what she wants which is him, ends up proposing to her, which she of course accepts.

Now here is why Christopher Knight is a genius. By going through this carefully orchestrated process, not only does he get break-up/make-up sex, but he also gets engagement sex. I hope he was hydrated.

He managed to seamlessly combine the two greatest forms of sexual potential into one orgasmic cyclone. Pure brilliance.

In David Mamet’s book, Make-Believe Town, he writes:

"Those who have not experienced the glow engendered on one’s entering the coffeeshop and having the server inquire, “The Usual?” are poor indeed."

I agree completely with this idea, and enjoy the fact that I have three places in my neighborhood where this is true. I have Thai Time restaurant which I visit on Saturday’s for lunch to get my green curry chicken. I frequent Roberto’s taqueria to get my carne asada burrito and fish taco. What makes “the usual” more impressive is the fact that I go through the drive-through so the cashier identifies me only by the ten inches that my car sticks out from the drive through menu board. Sadly, the third place recently closed. It was Mailo’s CafĂ© which offered an eclectic menu where gyros, enchiladas, and biscuits and gravy were all served with equal zeal.

But in all neighborhoods, things change. As Mailo’s has disappeared, a new restaurant has opened a block away. It is called Crazy Burger – a name that seeded some concern within me. I rarely like the word “crazy” adjacent to any food name, but a good write-up in the San Diego Reader made me excited to give the restaurant a try.

The first time I go to a restaurant is very important. The problem is that I set a precedent which I rarely waver from. The menu item that I get on my first visit will be the same thing I always get at that restaurant. I never change. But somehow I’ve been very flexible in my Crazy Burger orders. I’ve been there three times and I have gotten something new every time. I’m wild and crazy – just like the burgers!

I’ve always been heavily into music, but it’s recently seemed more poignant due to some things grand and other things small. I’ve been actively seeking new and great music.

While browsing this afternoon I encountered the most amazing music source. It’s KEXP and they have a podcast called “Song of the Day.” It’s like having a hip friend with torn jeans who just made you a seriously cool 100 song mix tape.

I’m a new fan of Band of Horses.

Two weeks ago a friend recommended Regina Spektor to me and I absolutely adore her music. I bought her entire catalog after listening to a few songs and I’ve been playing her non-stop. I love her song writing and her voice is absolutely amazing. It can change dramatically within a single line. Some of my favorite songs include:

· Fidelity
· Better
· Buildings
· Whisper/Your Honor
· Ghost of Corporate Future
· Summer In the City
· Chemo Limo
· On the Radio

In her song Love Affair she sings:

He was perfect/Except for the fact
That he was an engineer/Mothers prefer doctors and lawyers

That may be the first song to ever mention an engineer.

A few nights ago I watched a documentary called DIG! It details the intertwined music careers of The Dandy Warhols and the Brian Jonestown Massacre. They started off playing shows together but each took dramatically different paths.

After watching it, I bought The Dandy Warhols song, Bohemian Like You.

Because I am a nerd, and due to the fact that I could never find music I was looking for, I spent part of the weekend alphabetizing my CDs. I can be randomly nostalgic, but the process made me slightly sad since I enjoyed the tactile feel of the jewel cases and artwork of the liner notes, and I realized that since I use iTunes almost exclusively, it could be a long time before I went through this process again.

My favorite breakfast spot in San Diego is The Mission in North Park. When I moved here ten months ago, I had romantic notions of walking there all the time. In those ten months I haven’t made that three block journey once. It’s quite sad.

Feeling that I needed a little time-out for myself, I took a Friday off work and spent my morning at The Mission. It was rejuvenating and serene.

The featured artist was Jackie Lo and I fell in love with her work hanging on the walls. I ended up buying her large painting, Little Green Thoughts.

It hangs on my wall and stares down at me when I read, write and engage in all of those assorted, creative endeavors.

Monday, May 01, 2006

The Casbah (or how I helped cure cancer).

Every city has its quintessential music venue. NYC has (or had) CBGB’s. San Francisco has the Fillmore West. Denver has Red Rocks. Los Angeles has the Whisky A Go-Go. And for my money, San Diego has the Casbah.

I have seen lots of live music in San Diego, all over town. I’ve passed by the Casbah countless times, as it sits counterpoint to the airport, Mission Hills, and Little Italy. Some of my favorite local acts have played there. Even my friends’ bands have performed at the venue (such as DeVotchKa and Secret Apollo). But for some reason or another, I had never made it to the Casbah.

Until yesterday. I finally got my Casbah cherry busted.

My impetus for going was simple. The venue hosted a four hour benefit concert to support the Sidney J Kimmel Cancer Center, where ten local bands would each play fifteen-minute sets covering songs by The Cure. In addition, a friend was co-opted to play bass in one of the bands.

I entered the mystical Casbah and my first realization was that it was much smaller than I had anticipated. I relayed this thought to a nearby friend and he said that this was a common reaction among first timers. Its history is filled with the humble beginnings of now big bands. Nirvana and the Smashing Pumpkins have played this venue, and while it was when they were starting, just the idea that this place hosted them painted some semblance of size inside my head. When I entered and saw how small it was, I then realized how amazing it must have been to see these bands play here. It’s an intimate space. My second reaction was that it was incredibly dark – the lights were dim and all interiors painted black. And my third thought was simply – this is a very kick-ass place. I can’t believe that it took me this long to visit it.

The bands that played were eclectic, talented, and thoroughly entertaining. It was a great evening.

My favorite non-music incident... half-way through the evening, the host took the stage and yelled out on the microphone, “And to all the people who think they’re so cool smoking out on the patio. This is a fucking cancer benefit.”