Sunday, December 27, 2009

Lessons Learned From my 12 Month Old.




"See Lainey," I whisper in my daughter's ear as we pass by the sparkling plate glass windows. "This is where all the pretentious retards come to graze." My mood was a little sour today. My girlfriend's grandparents came to town, and one of the things they love to do when they come to Florida for the Holidays is to go halfway across the state for something as innocuous as a pizza. It's not so bad because they go on their merry way and take the day to do whatever they want.

This year, they invited the grandkids. Which means the parents of the grandkids had to come too. Fine, I thought, let's just get this over with. It'll just be for an hour or two, then I can get back to business at hand.

No. It lasted all day. We met up with a second cousin. And she was catching up for years of not catching up. And she was so impressed with the home made Christmas cards that she makes every year and oh, Micheal's is having an after-holidays blowout, and oh this is my first time at making artsy crafty crap, and could you give me some pointers andonandonandon...

My belly is full, I'm tired, bored and uncomfortable. I walk out of Micheal's having seen all I needed to see 5 times over. So I walk, baby in my arms, Momma coming up from behind. Lainey doesn't care, she's having a grand time with her daddy and checking out her reflection in the windows. We end up at a coffee shop. We wait for everyone to catch up, which they do, and they proceed to linger and loiter further drawing my ire...I've checked out about an hour ago, all I want to do is go home.

I pick up my daughter, and we walk passed the shiny plate glass terrarium of Whole Foods' cafe. My mood is sour, I revert back to my asshole stage. "See Lainey, these Green Freaks might save the world a lot quicker if they captured the methane from their own pretentious farts and use it as a fuel alternative. The problem is, they can't find a tube small enough to penetrate their flowery assholes..." I go on like this for a few minutes. As I'm ranting, Lainey just smiles and waves to the people inside. The people, so enamored, smile and wave back.

It takes someone who has a vague comprehension of the English language to say, "Hey, chill."

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Strays of Hotel Pine St. Part 4

(The following is a edited thread posted on a friend's Facebook page. I've been trying for an hour to convert a web page into a JPEG, into a word document, into a....well, I kind of forgot what I was doing at that point...so...here it is in the unfancy form.)

"[I have] 15 more days at Hotel Pine St [before I move]. It has been 16 years and 1 month at the Hotel. Goodbye, Pine St."

Soon, friends old and new chime in. Some of us breathing a sigh of relief at the pathos of the situation, the rest of us delighting in some sort of latent schadenfreude, and I'm willing to wager that none of us were truly prepared for the realization of how wide the gulf had become between then and now....

"That reminds me, when do you want me to swing by with the kerosene?"
"The end of an era! And yeah, the only proper way to leave is to light it up on your way out the door."
"How's the packing going? Still thinking about renting an industrial debris chute before torching the place?"
"Listen, if there's arson involved, at least turn it into a party. Give the old girl a proper send off."
"Hear, hear!"
"Our Pine St. reign of terror is over, it was a good run."
"It's funny...I think of how long we've had a history with it, but in the life of the building, we are but a blink. I would totally love to send it out Viking Funeral Style."
"Yeah. So how 'bout it? Big Party?"

I strain to remember the first day of moving in. I barely remember the other roommates at the beginning. The finer details of who, what and why have been worn down to generalities. I catch up with people who have long since gone, people who blazed their own trail out of Portland years before I did. I ask them if they can remember, the subject inevitably changes to the here and now. They left as I did; under cover of darkness looking for something, anything that would feed their soul. For some of us, we needed to grow as artists, as craftspeople, as individuals. We needed to see the world and we couldn't do it standing still. For others, it wasn't the painting in the gallery, but the writing on the wall that drove us away; the sudden, sobering moment when you realize that you used up all of your karmic credit, and you didn't have enough to pay the bill. For me, it was a bit of both.

Court Jester takes your hand and guides you around.
When the priest walks by she says, "Hey, look who I found!"
Priest smiles and says, "We're so glad you came back around
To the Western Promenade."
Then he scratched his name into the facade
of brick and wet concrete.
And then turned his heel on the ways of Hotel Pine St.

~***~

I have to keep reminding myself that this isn't a "soul searching" piece. I know where my soul is, he's on the couch eating Fig Newtons and falling asleep watching the Science Channel. He comes around every so often to remind me how ridiculous I am. I have no problem with knowing that that little piece of me that I was looking for has been with me for a lot longer than I thought. I have to snap myself out of this, because it felt like I was blogging about mid-life crisis things. I'm turning 40 soon, and the last thing I want to do is write about something that would bore me to tears if it were 20 years ago; I do not want to go down the Sad Old Bastard route, so put down the Big Chill soundtrack, put down the doobie and understand that although I will look back fondly in spirit, I kind of lost the directions to go home again. I had them once, I lent them to that Zimmerman fella. Haven't seen him since.

I know why I left. The road, whether it's high, low or less traveled is nothing more than a concept unless you put your feet to it. It's a wanderlust; something that needed addressing before I got to old to care or do anything about it. Beyond a career that may or may not exist, the bigger item on the agenda that needed attention was the itch that needed scratching by getting up, getting out and doing something.

But that doesn't mean that my mind drifts back homeward. It doesn't mean that I'll never give in to nostalgic fits.

I know why I left, but I'm not sure if I gave a proper farewell. Does anybody?

Memories filter in like sunrise through an afghan. I remember waking up in interesting positions on the floor in the living room, unlit cigarette in one hand, full Big-Gulp sized container of coffee in the other, notes and crude model making supplies strewn all about me, glue in my hair, permanent ink on my fingers, because I waited until the last minute to finish my final project. Again.

I remember a night when we were hungrier than usual, no money in our pockets and a kitchen that was running on empty. We had to dig deep, and so we did...to the back of the pantry where we unearthed (wait for it) C-Rations. Specifically, dehydrated scrambled eggs. Specifically, dehydrated scrambled eggs that look like they've been stowed away in the pantry since the Vietnam War. Literally, it was either this, or condiment sandwiches without the bread. I remember putting down my powdered egg stained fork and thinking....this ain't so bad.

I remember an occasion at one of our hosted parties. For some reason, a gathering of around 15 people found themselves sitting on the floor in the back hallway. A friend of mine was sitting across from me. This guy would go on at length about Vishnu and all her crazy cousins; he had an extensive knowledge of Eastern Religion and he'd always be more than happy to let you know it too. He and I gave each other the "hi sign" and started to hum a low, guttural, tantric chant. We weren't loud, but it was loud enough to carry itself over a cacophony of conversation and a white noise snow squall of music from another room. It was mostly sibilance, I'm sure it meant something in Sanskrit or whatever, but it was fun to get the walls to vibrate. It was even more fun to get everybody else to join in and get the entire apartment to vibrate.

I remember love found and love lost. I remember the faces changing and the landscape staying the same. I remember walking through a room at another party at another address and noticing the blank, unimpressed faces and listening to the absence of conversation. It felt like we all had the same expression on our face, and we were all thinking the same thing: "What the fuck are we doing here?". From that moment on, I could not help but think that this attitude has transcended into my every day life. "What the fuck am I doing here?" became a mantra; a wake up call. It was the first inkling of growing up; it was the grease in the hamster wheel. I felt it was time to move on.

On November 28th of this year, the last in a long line of us finally felt the same urge as well, over 20 years later. My gentle giant of a friend felt it was time to move on. After some gentle urging, those of us that remained in Portland decided to get together for one last hurrah, one last night of celebration, one last night within the walls of Hotel Pine St. Those of us that moved on, could only be there in spirit, leaving us to send our goodbyes through other means.

Goodbye to the rickety staircase and ugly hallway that we beautified with the help of friends, alcohol, a few paint brushes and a love for Dr. Seuss.

Farewell to the windowed hallway that looked out over an abandoned courtyard.

So long to every upstairs neighbor that tried their damnedest to redecorate the apartment above us. Maybe now it could finally become a reality.

Adios to the summer time ritual of a decent pub crawl with dear friends and ending up at that baseball themed diner in the old port that was always bursting to capacity with other drunken heathens. Au revoir to the brilliant sunrises that were often delighted from on the roof after a long night of commiserating and laughter. Tonight is the final night of 2009. In a manner of days, I'll be officially a grown up, not that I needed any help with that with the gray hairs, pot belly and rugrat scurrying everywhere. Tonight, I shall raise a bottle to all of us; To all of you and your beautiful families, here's to you. Here's to us, by God. Here's to the privileges of youth, and to us, and to what has been, and what will be...

He missed the boat for the November Breeze,
And had to hitch a ride on a December Freeze.
I had better words to make this reprise,
But that was so many years ago.
Now I'm old enough to know
For a while, I laughed with the elite.
But now I'm just another stray of Hotel Pine St.

~***~

It only took me the better part of a month to complete, but here it is, a belated Christmas present for my friends back home. I may be late for Christmas, but I'm right on time for the end of the year.

This is a montage constructed out of various resources, mainly photographs from my friends taken from the early '90s to the final night of revelry this passed November. The soundtrack I chose is R.E.M.'s Time After Time from Reckoning. Somewhat because they were in some fashion or another always on our stereo (before they got old and corporate sponsorship). But, mostly because it's about good friends getting together, getting a little too drunk and doing something foolish.

I thought it most appropriate.


Monday, November 23, 2009

The Strays of Hotel Pine St. Part 3

Alverez2

The rug is filthy, but it's the last thing I'm thinking about as I try to will the walls of the living room to stop spinning.

Birch wood smoke has always been a favorite odor of mine. It's particularly one of my favorites as I speed passed the smoke with the windows rolled down.

Even though I spent the entire day in Washington Square Park, I find that I can't remove myself from the stone steps of the Synagogue on the corner to write the last verse of a song that I just hobbled together.

~***~


I focus on the silence, on the traffic passing outside, the breeze dancing with the window in the living room. I like these little moments of calm, it makes me appreciate the days of madness that much more.

"I am bulletproof," I mutter to myself as I downshift to the bend in the road. I'm grinning like an idiot on a road that I traveled many times before, knowing in my heart of hearts that I may never do so again.

I knew it was her birthday. She knew that I knew it was her birthday. I could have done something normal like dinner or a movie. But no, I had to take the "homemade" approach and write her a song.

~***~

I'm twenty-two. It's late summer, I have a day off from work and yet I find myself back at work. Not to work, but to donate blood. I thought it might be a good gesture to make an appearance and do my good deed for the day. I haven't donated in a long time and it felt good knowing that I might have saved a couple of lives that day. I also wondered if the people I saved would appreciate the free ride I gave them because I indulged in my usual excessive behavior at a party a few nights ago. By the time they give you your "I Just Donated Blood!" sticker and offered you a second helping of chocolate chip cookies, they have already told you at least thrice to take it easy for at least 2 hours afterwards, do not smoke or drink alcohol for at least 6, and do not operate any machinery immediately after donating.

These apocryphal harbingers of doom are promptly ignored as I get behind the wheel and light up a Camel for the ride home. It was my day off. Although I was doing the nice guy thing, it did not mean that I wanted to spend the rest of the day recuperating at the place I work at. Besides, it was not, nor would it be the last time I drove home feeling....ohhh...let's say, a little light headed as it were.

Cookies and juice are nice, but they do little to stave off the altered state of perception a little bloodletting can provide. What I really need is calm. Calm and silence. Food will come later, after all, I have all day. "Just let me feel the breeze," I thought, "The breeze and the afternoon sun, and I'll have my head on straight in a few minutes."

Then, I heard the front door open.

~***~

I'm eighteen. It's late summer, and I'm driving to no particular destination on a winding, hilly stretch of road on Mt. Desert Island. My car is a piece of shit 1986 Ford Escort GT that I spent the previous summer babying. It was my Millennium Falcon; it may not look like much, but she's got it where it counts. It was my second car, and as a privilege of youth, it was my duty to get into as much trouble as I could with it. At least, that's what I'd like to think at the time. I had a romantic vision of myself being a reckless speed demon, but in reality, the thing was a four cylinder, 5 speed, no options, and had a top speed of 50 mph, and even then it took gentle negotiation to get that needle to hoover around that number. Not much badassery going on there. Still, it was a blast to drive.

But regardless, high school career over, my summer with a troupe of struggling artists was winding to a close, and in a few weeks, I'll be heading out to college. From every angle in the driver's seat, all I can see is green. From where I sit, I have the world in my lap and nothing will get in my way.

Then I do the math.

~***~

I'm twenty-five. It's late summer, and I'm going to enjoy this one single solitary day not being at work, or attached at my girlfriend's hip. It was a postcard perfect day...in the park...where everyday's the Fourth of July.

I needed room. Just enough. The walls of the crummy basement apartment were getting to me and the air was just a little too still. I wanted to catch New York on a good day, so I packed up my guitar, and headed to Manhattan to find the closest park I could walk to that was near the 3 Line. All around me is green. All around me is fresh grass, the bluest sky and a dancing laundry line of color playing all around me. I wasn't sober, but I was more sober than I had been. I'm trying to put words on paper to a song that I had in my head. The words aren't coming, and the melody is holding out for a better paying gig; a mutual disagreement for everyone involved. Negotiations broke down quickly and picket lines were bolstered in my mind. All around me is a wonderful distraction. The words in front of me are a pathetic few. I pack up. I walk. I search for some other inspiration.

Then I lose track of time.

~***~

Draw the shade and put my clothes on the shelf.
It's hard to concentrate on anything else.
It's been a while since I felt like myself.
My attention is turning west,
I need to get this off my chest,
You've made my life more complete,
When I call back to the days of Hotel Pine St.

Footsteps walk on creaking floorboards. No need to get up and see who it was, whoever it was would find me eventually. Besides, it could have only been one in a handful of people, and sure enough it was. Small, tentative, cautious mouse-like steps could only mean one person, and it was a slightly peculiar trait coming from such a big guy. [Author's Note: I will not give his name, because I didn't ask to use it. However, those who were around at the time, will know who I'm talking about almost immediately. For those that don't, I'll just use the term "my friend" when I need to refer to him.]

A familiar head poked around the corner and spied a familiar person sprawled out on a cheap, yard sale rug taking in the fresh air and what was left of a late afternoon sunset. My Friend smiles his goofy smile and waves, I smile and wave back. He turns around and without a word, inspects the rest of the apartment for other inhabitants; a gentle recon mission that reminds me of a child looking for Santa Claus on Christmas Morning. He's restless. Bored. When he gets like this, which is on occasion, no good could ever come from it. That is to say, when he gets like this, me and perhaps everyone who might be in the room with me is at risk for going on a little ride with him. Not that we don't encourage him. Not that we don't avoid him when we see a change come. First and foremost, he is our friend. Second of all, it was the Nature of the Beast to do what thou wilt. Like we needed encouraging.

"Hey, man." He finished his sweep of the apartment and has put his attention to the only biped left around.
"Hey," I replied. "How's it goin'?" Our dialogue being the very height and breadth of wit.
"Pretty good." His attention is drawing him to other places, his fingers searching for something. His voice was the tenor of a man in his golden years on the front porch swing. He's only half paying attention. "Why are you on the floor?"
"Well, I just got back from donating blood," I say trying to not sound like I'm woozy, "and I'm just lying herrrrre relaxing."
"That's nice," he said, half interested. What I needed was calm. Calm and silence. Food would come later, but with him in the picture, with that goofy look on his face, any personal pursuit of relaxation would have to be put on hold. "Hey," he finally blurted out as the light bulb he was so eager to light in his head finally clicked. Here it comes, I thought. Here comes the whirlwind. Just stick to your guns and tell him you're not in the mood right now. Time to take it easy. Whatever he has up his sleeve can just wait. "I was wondering," he continued with that look, "would you like to smoke some hash and ride on the back of a motorcycle?"

~***~

Things just seemed clearer driving 15 miles over the speed limit. Savoring a mixture of sea spray and birch wood smoke while speeding through it at 15 miles over the speed limit helped me put things in perspective. This was my home turf, after all. This was my country that I would soon expatriate. As I write this, every zip code that I've ever lived in comes to mind, and I've yet to see anyplace that compares to the Coast of Maine in summertime.

I've been stuck in the bottleneck of the Miracle Mile in Ellsworth and now I'm making a bee line to Bar Harbor on the as-of-yet undeveloped area of Route 3. The act of sitting still in summer time traffic winds me up like a Mickey Mouse wristwatch and I'm driving faster than I should be. The wood smoke I smell is the byproduct of the lobster shantys that dot the side of the road; Little mom-and-pop shacks that boil the day's catch outside in these huge metal pots built inside these ancient brick woodstoves. White smoke from wet birch logs billows for hours. It collects thick near the stove and then dissipates, painting the wind, and gives the tourists and townies alike a subtle reminder that summer is in full swing, and you won't be leaving these parts without having at least one basket of steamers under your belt.

It's not yet Labor Day, and you could already feel the hint of the sea change in the air. Morning dew is collecting thick on leaves, telling them to make arrangements on changing their decor. Out of State plates have become fewer as the herd of traffic from Bangor to the Sea Coast becomes thinner and thinner. You might see a straggler in from Iowa or Illinois, a minivan from New York bravely hanging around for Foliage Season, Cadillacs from Canada their trunks full of Outlet schwag on their way back across the border. For the most part, these last few days are ours. These days were saved for us to do with as we saw fit. For some it meant getting a jump start on gathering winter fuel, for the rest of us, it meant doing what comes naturally when the sun asks you to dance. Warm weather came at a premium price, and some of us indulged to the fullest extent so that we may survive the winter blues. These days were saved for me, and I was doing what came naturally.

Our last show was wrapping this weekend. I have already begun my mental rough draft of a good bye note that I will have to recite to my fellow artists, gypsies and vagabond friends in a few days. Summer Stock theater might be the last stop on the way down for some, but for people on the way up, it was nothing but good times, good connections and a highlight on a very meager resume. I knew most of these people, I've worked with them previously. In a few weeks I was to enter College as a theater major; a fact that to this day, I try and downplay. So this summer was work, play, get experience, maybe make connections, and most importantly, spend some quality time with my best girl. Ah yes, my last high school romance. She was the very essence of "naughty and nice"; a sweet veneer coating surrounding a soft, nougaty core of damaged goods served up on a plate of Catholic Guilt. She was a summertime daydream, still in high school, a lovely sight, and ohhh...who am I kidding......?

Seriously?

Things just seemed clearer driving 15 miles over the speed limit. It helped me put things into perspective. 15 miles over the speed limit isn't reckless. Not yet, anyway. It's just fast enough to let the world spin by on the hum of mosquito wings. It's just fast enough to get some alone time with you and your conscience. The air rushing threw the open windows, the Van Halen mix tape you have sputtering through your pathetic set of Radio Shack speakers, the smell of smoke wafting through, crystal clear blue skies and the sun on your face all help in aiding your denial, but sooner or later.....
"Dude?"
Oh, not now. Not now, not now...I'm having a good day.
"I know, I am too, so I'll make this brief. You do realize you are going into a field that has a low success rate for employment, your car's a piece of shit, and there is absolutely no way in hell that your girlfriend is going to wait around for you when you come back for summer break, you do realize that, right?" I don't answer. I rewind the tape back to the beginning. "C'mon, I know you can hear me."
I don't want to talk about this now.
"Good, at least you've thought about it. Tell you what, just admit that this paradise you've concocted is going to disappear the moment this summer ends, and I'll leave you alone for the rest of the week. Deal? Good. Now, just say 'yes' and we can get back to admiring the view."

The view, by the way, is spectacular. From the drivers' seat, all I can see is green. It rushes up one side of a mountain, and slides down to the ocean. It's the green that makes jealousy even greener. "Yes," I say out loud to no one in particular. "Good," comes the reply from no one in particular. The tape deck clicks to the beginning of tape.

~***~

"Shit, it's getting dark." In my search for words and a decent place to write said words, I have come up with a head full of caffeine, a few miles put on to cheap shoe leather, a head full of wonderful images that might come in handy later, and half a song. Not even a good half at that. I'm using a melody that I tinker with when I run out of things to play; a warm up piece. Something I strum to keep my mind tethered so that it won't wonder too far. It was unfinished then, it remains unfinished to this day. The words I'm using are gently and lovingly placed in such a manner that if you listen carefully, it sounds like brain surgery performed by Silverback Gorillas with an ice cream scoop, a length of fire-hose, and an old, scratched up copy of Air Supply's "Lost in Love" on vinyl done to the tune of a couple of frat boys taking turns vomiting up keg beer in an alley outside of your bedroom at 4 in the morning. Did I mention that I'm not much of a poet? This song was not supposed to happen, but I'm trying to make it work.

A few years ago, I stole her and ran blind and mad to New York. I was nowhere near thinking clearly back then, but I had to try. I needed to make my own mistakes. I needed to fuck up royally. I needed to do something foolish. Anything to keep from drowning in complacency. If I was to start my acting carrer, I needed to be where the action is. I needed to know. I needed to experience. I was in my mid-twenties, and I was trying to avoid the inevitable intersection of ambition and reality where starving artists meets in a head on collision with full time, dead-end job. Now its present day, and my vision of a better future wasn't all it was cracked up to be. The brochure lied again. But, I'm trying to make it work.

Nightfall came on so suddenly. It's a good indication of how long I spent on a subway. She is home now after working all day in Staten Island. I'm almost home after a day of wandering around Manhattan. I pause on the stone steps of a Synagogue on the corner to write the last hackneyed line for some half baked song. A birthday present for my girlfriend.

But, I'm trying to make it work.

~***~

When I had the cash, nothing came close to a veggie sub that came from the pizza shop across the street. It was run by this little Italian guy and his wife. They where in there from open to close, 7 days a week. How long can one man and his wife keep up such an operation, you might ask? Approximately 8 months, when he sold his shop and everything in it to some old guy with a failing liver and two slacker sons. Still though, my sandwich is satisfying, healthy and cheap and as of this moment, it's the first thing that comes to mind. The second thing that goes through my mind is that my hair is definitely the most frightening feature about me. Even more so as it gets the blow back of it's life while I speed through affluent suburbia on the back of a motorcycle, slightly toasted on a decent little nub of hash. The third thing was....well, it's anybody's guess at this stage. Cognitive and logical thought left a long time ago, and it's all I can do to hang on to my ass as the landscape shifts around me. Still though, I like these moments of madness. They make me appreciate those moments of calm that much more. As we whiz pass another old Victorian on a vintage 500 cc Honda motorcycle, and letting the slow burn of a sticky brown substance become our co-pilot, I could not help but think...

The view is stunning, and all at once, this overwhelming feeling of being alive flows over me like the smokey ocean wind that's blowing through my windows. Go ahead, laugh like madman, crank up Little Guitars on your stereo as loud as your little speakers can hold it, take a deep breath, and most importantly, remember this feeling for the rest of your life. You may never come back here. Not to this moment, not to this feeling, ever again. Enjoy it while it lasts, it'll all be over soon. As you gaze at the chaotic perfection of mountain ranges that have carved their initials on this island, remember this one thing....

"It'll have to do," I say to myself as I clench the crumpled up wad of paper in my mouth, stick the pencil behind my ear and pack up my guitar for that 36 step walk back home. I can't shake this feeling of dread, and I couldn't quite explain it. I couldn't explain it because I couldn't see it for what it was: I was too busy being the good boyfriend to notice that I was being disingenuous in my gesture to someone who could not abide by disingenuous people. Still though, it's the thought that counts, especially when I didn't have two nickles to rub together. Just go inside and get it over with. Get it over with and try not to think about...

...I don't want to leave.

...I can never really leave.

...I have to leave. And, I can't help thinking that I've been here before.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Strays of Hotel Pine St. Part 2

November.

Another November has come calling to our Hotel. In an ideal world, it would be as quaint as a Grandma Moses painting this time of year; everyone all snug and cozy in their idyllic, New England scenery and stiff linen shirts while somewhere a hearth was burning bright against the impending gloom that was lumbering in from the top left corner of the canvas. But for our little building in our little neighborhood, we had to make do with what was offered.

Being an old building, every corner and joint, everywhere where wood met wood, there was air escaping through it. Fortunately, air conditioning is a foreign concept for many of the historical buildings in Maine. A cool breeze was a good friend to have in July, but by November, he has worn out his welcome. Drafty. But, as time went on, you eventually got used to the klunk-klunk-klunk of the window in the living room that was dangling by sheer will itself every time a breeze wanted to let itself out. You eventually didn't notice the rain seep through horsehair plaster in the walls every time a strong nor'easter started its trick-or-treating a little late. You eventually learned to wear thick socks or shoes to protect your feet from uneven floorboards and the random heads of nails that sprout up like wild blueberry shrubs from them. It was cozy. It was befitting for a gaggle of Bohemian Twentysomethings; heat and hot water included, proximity to the University, two very good pizza shops and a 7-11. Proximity to downtown was obligatory and not important to get into because honestly, when you live in the West End of Portland, everywhere is walking distance, and somehow rather obliquely, that made the town itself cozier by default.

All of this conceived shock of living in squalor was short lived because if anything, this building had character, and our apartment, the Suite of the Hotel, had gone through many incantations before coming up with the right balance of comfort, apathy, angst, expression, joy and ambivalence. It was cozy, for all of its obvious flaws. Of course, electric heat included in the rent didn't hurt either. The colder it got, the more that heater would blast. By January, the entire Northeast is encased in a wet, freezing tomb while our little corner of the universe stayed unnaturally warm and dry.

Another November has come calling to our Hotel, and change comes quietly if it was to come at all. Our landlord started one of what was to be many renovations that would take years to accomplish a couple of weeks ago. Prior to that time, our place was a burglar's paradise; the front door was old, and the frame that was holding it could no longer do it's job. The frame was swollen and mailable which worked in concert with the front door lock. The lock itself worked fine; you could only open it from the inside, while on the outside, you needed a key. Which is all well and good, but on the off night where you forgot said key, you could just as easily use a little English on the doorknob by lifting up the door itself by the knob and pushing the door open. If we were rich and were in constant fear of someone actually coming inside and taking all of our possessions, we would have been upset about it. But we didn't have much by way of family heirlooms or pricey electronics, and the people that were bold enough to barge in were people that we knew anyway. That all stopped when the landlord purchased and installed a brand new front door; Heavy, metallic, industrial. Able to thwart the cattiest of burglars with the stickiest of fingers.

If anything, our new door kept more of the chill outside where it belonged. It was nice not having to deal with a creeping snowdrift that found its way inside every year. The biggest hassle from that moment on was that we had to eventually learn to take our key every time we left.

November. Darkness comes early and Winter is picking out wall coverings. My roommate, St. Ken, had just come home from being at school all day. No sooner had he reached for his fresh set of front door keys and unlocked the big gray behemoth, when he heard a small bleat over his shoulder. He almost didn't hear it over the wind ripping his ears off, but he heard it again, and this time it had feet and it came rushing up to him in a hurry.

Most of the stories I remember during my tenure there, had nothing to do with me, which is refreshing. These are the stories that are painted in a particular shade of "hadtobethere". These are stories that are deserving of a little embellishment, they are worthy enough to indulge in an extra coat of paint, because they may not mean anything standing on their own. But as you take steps back, and take steps back, and take steps back, you'll have a better look at the bigger picture; a more detailed tapestry.

Before he could focus on what came flying past him, the noise was already heard again on the other side of the new door. It was a cat. A young male Abyssinian or American Short Hair; Golden eyed, fur the color of chimney soot. Even though it was maddeningly cold outside, this creature bore no ill will. It was as if he almost had a voice of his own, "Hold the door, hold the dOOOR!! Thanks! Wheew! *heh* How 'bout that weather, huh? It's enough to freeze your pee right to your fur!...I MEAN...not...that you have a...problem...anyway. Food! You wouldn't happen to have any food lying around would ya? No? Well it's okay, it's not like you were expecting me right? *heh* Of course not. But anyway...." By this time, he had infiltrated our apartment, and started making himself at home. Almost as if he knew his way around. No fear, an outgoing personality, never a wont for anything. He came in, found the warmest spot on the warmest section of the couch, shook the chill from the tips of his whiskers, curled up in a ball and went to sleep. We got food the next day.

A week later, he hadn't left yet. Going by the current rules at the time, he had become a permanent roomie. And yet, he still went unnamed. We told this story to Di, St. Ken's girlfriend at the time. As I recall, she didn't have to dwell on the subject too long. As I recall, we didn't have to finish the story. She named him after a wandering prophet.

His name was Elijah.

There was the thief, the cleric and the Prodigal Son,
The Prince who painted is demons for fun,
My poet lover who spent her life on the run,
And a cast of hundreds strong.
We all sang a different song,
And the tune still sounds bittersweet.
The song still plays at Hotel Pine St.

~***~

"So, I know that this isn't the best time to bring this up, buuuut I've found a place down the street, and I'm moving in a few weeks, soooo...." There wasn't much I could say. He was and always will be my friend. Go ahead. Go ahead and move down the way and move in with your other friends. I'll just try and figure out a way to pay rent I can't afford by myself. It's all good.

Seriously, still good friends. As with most good friendships, it will have it's ups and downs. This was one of the downs. We had given up the dormitory lifestyle a year before, and felt the need to finally snap that umbilical chord and live in a place where we weren't under a scrupulous eye. He made it out first, I followed in the summer. The following summer, old mates came calling and they all found a place together. Not that I blame him. He has a longer history with people he grew up with, and I've only known him a relatively short amount of time. They had dibs. I was a smoker, he wasn't. I was loud and obnoxious, he wasn't. I didn't blame him in the least. It wasn't like he was moving to Europe or anything. A wise man once told me that you have to do what you have to do. But still. Still, it didn't help matters any that this place was going to be more vacant in a manner of weeks.

(Overheard sitting at an outside table at a coffee shop on Congress St.) "My God!! Portland is so....HUGE!" My friend and I laughed over our double espressos upon hearing this from a Young Impressionable passing by. "Obviously from the sticks," one of us said. It was a laugh of a common recognition, of getting the humor of any situation at the same time when there is no apparent humor to be seen. I'm sure we both thought the same thing, once upon a time. Although Portland is the largest city in Maine, it is by no means the largest in the world, and time compounded with wisdom and experience had made us slightly jaded about that fact. We thirsted and hungered to have our feet touch different soil, while at the same time being more than content to stay right where we are and have time pass right on by. I suppose that's what home should feel like.

My once upon a time with The Forest City began when I was a boy. Once a year, my family and I would head south for the weekend. My father was a high school guidance counselor and my mother had a flexible schedule with the public library, and so every year in February, we would pack up the car, drive 2 and a half hours south, and shack up at a Ramada Inn in Portland for a few days. In those few days, we would stroll the Old Port, go to a Mall that was far better than the one in our town, and generally get away for a while. It was our Southern getaway. I was10 at the time. Now its 10 years later, and I'm still acting like I need permission to go outside.

It wasn't too long before I discovered the Hive of the Boho. I say wasn't too long because you could hardly miss it at the time. If you didn't pass by it in the center of town, you would see its detritus strewn all over town. Green Mountain Coffee Roasters was cool before coffee was cool. Green Mountain Coffee Roasters was serving the counter-culture before there was a counter to the culture. Green Mountain Coffee Roasters pwnd Starbucks. Which isn't saying much, because Starbucks slowly became the Wal-Mart of cafes, and either assimilated or drove everyone else out of business. It became so big as a matter of fact, that it stood next to the Mountain in Portland, and chopped it down with an edge of its hand. Green Mountain, has since been confined to the world of online shipping, and does all of its business out of one location. It was back before it met its demise, that I found myself inside its pseudo-industrial walls, huffing the dust of the second biggest Columbian export, shaking the rain from my head, trying to make sense of the menu, and coming to grips of how I was going to go about paying rent to a two bedroom place with what I was getting from a part time job.

When you get caught up in your own inertia, you don't really focus on the world at large, except for maybe the cup of strong Venezuelan blend in your hand. You see the rain outside, and the bright contrasting colors of random umbrellas splattered against the canvas of dull gray, but it doesn't register. You take a sip from your cup, but you barely feel the burn as it coats your stomach. You know it's Paul Simon, but the piped in music is barely audible. You recognize his face, but the two months or more of growth from his face obscure the mental photograph you've taken a year or so ago. You notice that he is trying to get your attention, but you can't get out of your head long enough to hear him say,
"Hey,"
"Oh hey! How've you been? Haven't seen you in a while," I say as desperately try to clean the mental photograph.
"Pretty good," he replies. There's a calm-after-the-storm behind his eyes. There's proof that there is an end to the Earth in his voice. His current outward appearance reflected his inherent inward nature; A refined unkemptness, a willingness to get his hands dirty while at the same time, a taste for the finer things. "I just got back into town."
"Oh really? Where'd you get back from?" The picture cleaning almost complete. I think I remember him from a class last year, which is to say I recognize him in passing.
"I spent some time hiking the Appalachian Trail," he says as if he just came back from the grocery store, "and I just got back into town." His clothes weren't dirty, they were beat up. Like they were cleaned with rocks in a stream. Small talk is a welcome diversion, especially when you need to clear your head, but you know it will end soon and you'll be right back to what was weighing you down a few minutes ago. "By the way," he continued, "I was wondering if you knew anyone who was looking for a roommate?"

It was at this moment that I came to know St. Ken.

~***~

We hung our lives on a nail in the wall.
Carved our philosophies into frames in the hall.
Never missed a chance to answer the call
To go howling at the moon,
And end up at a greasy spoon.
We'd laugh until we found our feet,
And stumbled home through a maze to Hotel Pine St.












Photo Credit:
Russian Blue

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Strays of Hotel Pine St. Part 1

He blew in on a November breeze.
Wearing a gray coat worn out at the knees.
In a low, whiskey voice he said, "Mister please,
Do you have an extra bed?"
He shook the winter from his head.
Then I gave him a bight to eat,
And welcomed another stray to halls of Hotel Pine St.

~***~
First. I'd like it to be known that I am not a poet. Rhyming, poetic imagery, meter, all of these things have been crossed off my Christmas Card list for many years now. We aren't on speaking terms, and we aren't the best of friends.

Second. I would also like it to be known that I would never willfully post anything resembling a structured piece of verse. Ever. I'll leave that to the professionals.

So why am I breaking protocol? Two months ago, I get a soulful injection of good memories from an old friend; the side effects include extreme nostalgia, reminiscing about once upon a time and blog topics. Two weeks ago, I felt inclined to reciprocate said gesture of goodwill through my own means. Two days ago, I just received word that a common denominator of my life will finally be drawing to a close. Two hours ago, I fired up my blog site and tried to make some sense out of the pencil scratch in my journal. Time is not my friend. The only deadlines that exist in my life are the ones that in my head, and therefore, most important. My new found Sense of Urgency is getting a little dusty, having not been using it in over a year. It was something I picked up in an office environment and I assumed should be used in an office situation. That was over a year ago when I had a legitimate office job. And I was still smoking. And things were set in there ways. And blahblahblah......As of this moment in time, the most personal is the most important. I need to give this voice. A chapter is closing on my life, and I feel I need to scream before they draw the shades and change the locks forever.

Time is not my friend.

~***~

'Twas on this date two years before,
Another stray came through the same door.
His eyes were heavy and his back was sore
From staying up all night.
A Welcome Mat is a welcomed sight.
Then he crashed out in the window seat,
And woke up in the morning rays of Hotel Pine St.

His name was Elijah.

My friend is a bit of a shutterbug and also shares my affinity for Portland, Maine. Every nook, every cranny, everything blatantly obvious, or easily overlooked is precious and we regard it as such. Only, I have to rely on memory which is almost twenty years on, and hers is firmly planted in the present. She has seen the wax and wane of every trendy restaurant, political hot-button issue du jour, and ticking time-bomb relationship pass by her door for about as long as I've been away from my fair city. It is her home in reality, and mine in my head.

My friend is a bit of a shutterbug and also shares my affinity for Portland, Maine. Having a Facebook account and an impressive collection of photos that showcase our seaside town, she put her skills to use, and fashioned a gift application. A Gift Application, for the 2 or 3 of you who don't know what that means, or have yet to join the rest of the planet in getting a Facebook account[Planet Facebook.....*shudder*...], is quite simply, an application to make "gifts". These gifts are essentially pictures you have taken, found, made, or if you're feeling particularly adventurous, animated into gif files. The sender sends one picture, or gift, to one or more if their friends, then they gift two friends, and so on, and so on.....These gifts could be anything; from inside jokes to general pop culture knowledge. Hers was everything Portland; a lovely patchwork of nostalgia consisting of a couple hundred photographs. The pictures were of old haunts, city landmarks, and perennial festivals, but the icing on this cake walk down memory lane was a photograph of a place lovingly referred to as Hotel Pine St.

The picture was a welcomed sight. It was a feeling that I suppose Old Salts and Sea Captains feel when they see their best girl immortalized on film. It's like after being landlocked for so long, and they see a reminder of who they are, what they were, and what they can be. They feel greatness and a humbled moment of clarity at the same time. It's the sheet music to the song that calls them back to the sea. You see, Hotel Pine St. doesn't officially exist in any literal way. You won't find it in any travel brochure. Zagats has completely ignored it. There is no website dedicated to it, and you won't find an entry in Wikipedia about it. If you're very lucky, you might find something in the Portland Chamber of Commerce regarding this building.The "Hotel" is another in a long procession of Gothic inspired brick houses that survived The Great Fire of Portland. Its architecture isn't particularly unique for the area, in fact most of the buildings in this neighborhood were designed by an unknown Italian immigrant who, to varying degrees, built entire residential blocks from the same plans. Among it's historical highlights, it was allegedly a pit stop along the Underground Railroad, but has been converted into apartments for as long as anyone can remember. To anyone reading this, it's just another building that had just another apartment in just another town. But, for a bright, shining moment in the early Nineties, one of them was inhabited by me. For all intents and purposes, she was my best girl.

Multiple gushing thank-you's like a fan boy's platitudes weren't enough. Responding with a worn out old video of "Old Apartment" from the Bare Naked Ladies seemed lackluster. My friend put a lot of time and effort into something rather insignificant but at the same time really cool and much needed for the soul and therefore rendered her entire project sublime. I needed to respond somehow on the same level, and I was coming up with a dandelion corsage; nothing seemed to measure up. So, what to do? A journal entry of mine sort of sheds a light on this minor frustration.

9/22/09
Idea for a blog: Hotel Pine St.

What style? Story form? Where I try to recall the birth of Hotel Pine St. and the many characters that have inhabited her? That might work, if I had the time. But nothing happened there that hasn't happened anywhere else in the world.

The usual way? A journal form that weaves in and out of fiction? Maybe. The style I write in still doesn't preclude the fact that not much happened there. It has to grab the readers' attention. It has to grab my attention. So, where to start?

At the end. Start at the point where everything is packed into a U-Haul and I drive away to New York. Then again, it wouldn't really be considered an end, because it had a life of its own. It kept right on going. Anyway...

And it sort of went on like that for another paragraph or so. A few days pass, and I've had a chance for this idea to steep in my head; something to keep me at least half awake during work. Then...

9/28/09
After mulling it over for the past few days, I've decided to write it epic-poem style. The more I got the idea of writing this way in my head, the more I channeled a younger, angrier Dylan. The more I thought about it, the more I found myself falling in love with Blood on the Tracks. Especially, Tangled Up in Blue. It is a powerful song. The story behind it is rich enough, but more to the point, it's lyrically potent as well. It's structurally sound; the framework itself is a testimony to architecture that has been mastered many lifetimes ago, and was built with full intention of lasting forever. Timeless.

The deciding factor lay in that reasoning. If I were to handle this as business as usual, then it would've came across as such. I wanted this memory to be timeless. Therefore, I chose a more timeless landscape.

This rambling session still didn't take care of the "where to start" issue. I had a plan in motion, and not much else. Good intentions, but no license from Hell's zoning board yet. It would be another week until I fell face first into my Eureka moment.

His name was Elijah.


~***~

It wasn't long before more came to stay.
Some stayed for years, and a few just a day.
A few surfed on couches, the rest paid their own way
To the carnival inside.
You had to be this big to take this ride
Up to where the gypsies meet.
A mad romp through the haze of Hotel Pine St.

*

(*not Hotel Pine St., but a nice photo of downtown. That picture is coming soon.)


Monday, October 12, 2009

We now pause for this commercial break....

I've got something in the pipeline right now, it's just taking me forever to put the finishing touches on I'll be posting soon. But in the meantime, very excited about this.....

Tom Waits - Glitter and Doom Live from Anti Records on Vimeo.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Sourdough Project, Day of Reckoning

If I were starting anywhere near to what "traditional" standards, I'd be blogging about something entirely different. If I were searching for enlightenment by following the methods of my ancestors and kinsmen, I'd be going in an entirely new direction.

If I were going the "traditional" route, I'd be chronicling my quest in finding the right kind of "00" flour (hard to find, and more than likely extremely expensive), finding the right kind of crushed San Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella, fresh herbs, and on and on. If I were going that way, I'd be on a seemingly never ending journey to find and create my perfect D.O.C. (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) pie; Fussing like an Italian mother over her child's First Communion, tirelessly nitpicking finer details while getting lost in the bigger picture. If I were going that way, I'd be blogging about something entirely different, and more than likely, going mad in the process.

But I've traveled the traditional route. The end result was hardly a payoff of the journey, and besides, I wasn't much for following tradition. Especially when I'm so far removed from it. I've been more keen on starting my own traditions. Granted, I am partial to deviating every once and awhile, but somehow, I always find my way back home. I always find my way back to what works, and what is good.

Yesterday was the inaugural run of my fist sourdough pizza crust. Between my last entry and last night, not much happened. The starter was completed, then divided to use in a batch. The batch was then divided into equal parts, frozen overnight, then sat in a refrigerator for 24 hours. While this was going on, I made a back up batch of my usual dough for the rest of the family, just in case something went horribly wrong.

Their doughs were wonderful as always. Mine (the sourdough)Moment of Truth, Part 1, I didn't know what to expect. The dough did not rise during the initial construction, not noticeably anyway. After thawing, it retained its shape rather nicely. Immediately, my mind went to my first dough making experience. It was that fear that gripped me for a moment. I removed the dough from the freezer bag, I noticed it's distinct bouquet immediately. Smell was one thing, its true test was to be on the floured working surface.

I was in trouble when I shaped my first dough years ago. I knew I was in trouble. Not only because I was shaping from sense memory, which was questionable at best, but the dough itself was way too knackered to do anything with; it fell apart almost immediately after being constructed. Since that time, I've modified my approach to the shaping process. I had to accommodate for how much space I had in the kitchen, how the dough was actually prepared, what kind of ingredients were used and what kind of hardware I was using, including the oven. I've moved three times since then. Every time is a brand new learning experience.

My family's doughs weigh in at 12 ounces; again, a measurement that came out of trial and error. The size is just right for covering a 14 inch pan. It's stretches just enough to make it thin with a nice lip around the edge. Anything less will result in a crust full of holes because it's stretched way too thin. This sourdough was divided into 10 ounce portions, and it was strong enough to stand up to the abuse I gave it in the shaping process. Moment of Truth, Part 2It stayed thin and elastic without tearing, which is always a good sign. The oldest daughter's pizza is pepperoni and bacon. My girlfriend's is fresh tomato, bacon, garlic and fresh basil. Mine is the kitchen sink: My vision of Heaven, Before...extra cheese, roni, bacon, green pepper, onion and a pinch of fresh garlic. I wanted to weigh this sucker down to see how it would behave in the oven.

Eight minutes later (3 of which were spent on a stone at the bottom of the oven), it came gliding out unbroken on the peel with a nice, toasted char on the bottom....My vision of Heaven, After. Wonderfulness. It put up a fight as it was being cut into equal slices, which I thought was peculiar, but then I remembered that I wasn't working with my typical dough.

"Please don't be like that other dough," was what I kept repeating to myself as I was taking my first bight. I had to expect the worst, and my first attempt at a pizza that would satisfy the requirements of il Denominazione di Origine Controllata, had become the benchmark of what not to do in the future. The dough was crisp, then gave way to that slight chew I have been searching for. It was sweet, nutty, it had a taste that was all it's own. The overall experience was not perfect, it was sublime. Which is close enough for me. I can find perfection on my own. I think next time, I'll let it spend a full 8 minutes on the stone, rather than shaping on a pan.

My quest for the perfect dough is on going. It might take me a while to find my white whale; My eureka moment. But at least I won't go hungry on this journey.

Daddy tested, Baby approved.
(Editor's Note: It may look like we're shoving this down her throat, but in actuality, she's got a firm grip on that slice, and she's got a right mind to eat the entire thing. She only has two teeth. It does my heart good when she uses a crust for a biter biscuit.)

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Sourdough Project, Day 4

Day 4:

The directions state:

"If the dough has more than doubled in size, you can go on to Stage Two."

DSC00240

EXCELSIOR!!!

Finally! I get to make my Mother. I will probably have to make a special cupboard just for flour. As I'm looking further in the directions, they're calling for 3 to 4 cups at a time, and this is like every 3 days....hmmm...that doesn't sound right.
DSC00241

Such predicaments, I must forge ahead into alien territory. I cut the culture into 6 equal pieces and separate to the best of my ability in a large metal bowl. The directions make it sound like your dividing a nice piece of Sharp Cheddar to be served with crackers, but in actuality, it is more like bathroom spackle. As I move this goop around, I can't help but catch a whiff here and there. All concerns about it losing its initial acidity and unique aroma have vanished. It's just as fruity, sharp and complex as Day 1.
DSC00242

I add 3 1/2 cups of bread flour and 2 cups of water, stir together until everything gets moist. I cover the whole thing in plastic wrap and wait for 3 hours. Which is just long enough to continue another blog I have going.
DSC00245

Yep. That's right. Another blog. It's about 11:30 on a Tuesday night. I have to wait for another hour to put my Mother in the fridge, and I have another blog that I have to finish in the next two days. Forgive my brevity, but there's really nothing more to this than this. I've tried to embellish as much as I could, but as I'd like to point out every so often......got nothin'.

More later.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Sourdough Project, Day 3

Okay, note to self: Read the damn directions. Of course the seed culture didn't rise, it wasn't supposed to!

....okay, no problem.

So, after needlessly starting again, I have...um....started.

Again.

[flips open book to the sourdough page] Aw, geez! Would ya look at that:

"Day Two: There will probably be little or no growth of the dough."

HaHAAAA! How's THAT for investigative journalism. On day two, the instructions say to "crumble" the remaining dough into a bowl after getting rid of half of it.DSC00235The act of "crumbling" to me suggests breaking up something that's...I dunno...crumbly. Like a cookie, or a cracker....or a Papa John's pizza. Why not start out with smaller measurements? Not sure. But, I'm supposed to "crumble" this dough into a bowl. You tell me:DSC00236
Does this look like something you "crumble"?"Ewwww....I touched it...." I crumble this into a bowl, add bread flour and a little water and knead until the dough has the same consistency as Day 1.

Having learned my lesson, I look a little bit further into the process, and it states that if the dough hasn't doubled in size by the third day, repeat step two, and so on until the dough does indeed grow. At this rate, I don't understand that if there's nothing left of the original seed culture, how will it continue to grow? If I keep cutting away at it, it will eventually just turn to glue.

In any case, it looks like I'll be repeating this process over the next few days. Since I have other things to blog about, I'll be reporting back when there is real progress.

The Sourdough Project, Day 2

Day 2:

Total failure.
How it looked after I made the seed culture:


...aaaaand here's how it looked the next day:


Same picture? Well...yes. But the idea's the same. After adding the juice to the flour, I was to seal it in an airtight container and within 24 hours, this mess was supposed to double in size. The crude arrow on tape method was supposed to mark how far it has risen.
Well, I ran out of lids for this particular container, and had to resort to plastic wrap and wishful thinking. The next morning, 12+ hours later, no movement whatsoever. It was still a tub full of kindergarten paste goop.

Total failure.

Although nowhere near catastrophic, I can't help but be reminded about my first foray in the dough making world. I've worked in many restaurants in my life, including a few pizzerias. Those places had their own method on how dough should be made, but they all resulted in the same thing. As a result, I came away with taking a little from column A, and a little from column B. But I didn't apply this knowledge in my inaugural run. Instead, I relied on instruction from a cook book. Mistake. I should have gone my own way as soon as I noticed a step or two was missing from the directions I was following. THAT was a disaster: The dough was stiff, tasteless, flimsy and I think caught fire in the oven...not unlike the Hindenburg...oh the humanity!

Second attempt, I said screw it. I'm going my own way. Cookbooks be damned, I have enough experience to do this. The result was slightly better. This one didn't catch fire, at least. At this rate, it took me an entire summer to get to where I needed to be, and even then, I wasn't anywhere close to where I am now, which is "pretty good". I think this latest endeavor will more than likely head down the same route.

Tonight, we shall see how this goes. The new culture I made is now in a real airtight container and has been sitting out on the counter top since last night. I'm fairly confident that it'll be better this time around.

More later.

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Sourdough Project, Day 1

Crust makes the pie. Master the dough, master the Universe.

I have been making my own pizza dough from scratch, every weekend for the past 3 years. I think it's safe to say that I might be getting the hang of it. I have finally gotten to the point where the dough is lovely and fragrant, the homemade sauce is piquant and aromatic, and my cheese of choice (cut from a block rather than getting a bag of shredded mozzarella), are producing edible joy on a weekly basis.

But it's not enough. It's never enough.

Everyone has their own idea of what the perfect dough should be; New York thin, Chicago thick, West Coast crunchy....Papa John's (not saying anything bad about Papa's. If eating dog turd on a cracker is your idea of a perfect...by all means...mangiare). My vision of perfection is thin. Not paper thin, but thin, with just a slight chew. Something that holds up to the scrutiny of the heartiest of toppings, yet not so obnoxious as to insist on usage of fork and knife. I've tasted this in a couple of places, and they've immediately became my favorite. Which is why it maddens me that I can't replicate it, or rather up until now, haven't replicated it.Gathering ingredients and toolsPeter Reinhart's American Pie is quickly becoming an important read in my library, right up there with Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. It's equal parts questing travelogue and cook book. Within its pages, I recognized my own hunger for wanting something new; something I haven't tasted before. Maybe it buys into my obsessive nature, but I think I might have found my latest life's calling. I have never made it, but I'm sure I've had it, I believe a sourdough crust will be the next logical step in approaching bliss. Master the dough, master the Universe. For as long as it takes, I will chronicle my quest for my white whale. For the one or two of you who caught my previous blogs, I don't think I need to explain my need to indulge in labor intensive activities. Sourdough takes patience, nurturing, a keen eye, and lots and lots of time. Sounds like something that's right up my alley.

Day 1:

Presently, I'm used to making my dough the American way, as opposed to the traditional, Italian, DOC approved, kinda tasteless dough. I've made it the traditional way, I found it in direct violation to my delicate American taste buds. I stick with what works and stopped giving a damn on what the DOC thinks.
Still, the dough that I make, while sufficient, isn't quite doing it for me. Which is why I'm switching to sourdough. Now, this is something new to me. Sourdough is made from a wild yeast. Wild Yeast is not found in stores. Wild yeast has to be farmed fresh. Wild yeast originates from a mother starter. A mother starter comes from what they call a seed culture. A seed culture is produced by making bacteria, and they way to get this certain type of bacteria is by introducing pineapple juice to whole wheat flour. I'm process oriented, but there's a simplicity to this that intrigues me. Bread has been made like this for centuries. It's important to remember one's roots.

Today, I make the seed culture. Initially, it takes less time than my usual dough prep. But my usual prep time is for one night, and one night only. Sourdough prep time takes days. It's like a plant: Tend to it, walk away, let it do its thing.
Adding the wet to dryIncorporate ingredients, knead into a tennis ball sized ball, cover in an air tight container, leave on a counter top for twenty-four hours, and bam! Instant seed culture. Time to go on to step two.

Dough!

More later.


Thursday, September 3, 2009

Remembrance, 2009


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From the Desk of Ego

To: 2Cents
Cc: Cognitive Memory;
Subject: 9/11 Blog (sequel?)
Everyone,
As you are all aware, September 11th is right around the corner. Which means it's time for another award winning blog of remembrance on the subject. Now, it has come to my attention that we may be running low on memories for a proper remembrance, coupled with the fact that people are starting to get over anything and everything that has to do with this date in history, this may be a daunting task indeed. That being said, I have seen amazing feats from everyone when crunch time is around. So, let's all pull it together and think outside the box, and what ever else those motivational quacks tell you to do!
-Ego


Reply from: 2Cents

Hey,
Thanks for taking the bull by the reigns and running with being all motivational and stuff, but I fear if I blog another one of these memory lists, I think I'm going to lose some more people. Myself included. In case you haven't heard, the word in the trenches these days is that we haven't done enough creatively. Journal style blogs are nice, but we need to shake it up a little, and soon. Besides, 9/11 is like a few days away. There is no way we'd be able to post this in time.
I'm trying not to be a downer here, but I don't think any of us are up for it.
Oh, by the way, "award winning"? WTF?
-2Cents

Reply from: Ego

I appreciate your candor as always but if you recall, your first crack at legitimate fiction writing kind of ran out of steam after the first 2 chapters. I also appreciate the notion of you wanting to branch out into something a little more meaningful. However, given your track record for procrastination, it is in our best interest to forge ahead with what we know, instead of trying something new and different. We need ad revenue. Bottom line. And although it's conceivable to generate cash with empty space, I'm guessing it would be better to not alienate readers by offering them nothing. So, if you please, give it the old college try and make us some money.
Happy writing,
-Ego

Reply from: 2Cents

When I first started this, it was cute, but it lacked structure. Also, when I first started, it was for fun and to clear my head. It was therapeutic. It was never about making us rich. Anybody with a blog will pretty much tell you the same thing. As much as I'd like to hammer something together about my life in New York, it's not going to have the charm it did when I first started. It might also be borderline tasteless.
-2Cents


*BLEEEEP**BLEEEEEP*

...sigh..Yeah, Ego?
"Okay, what are you working on now?"
I'm chronicling my adventures in dough making.
"......Seriously?"
Yes. Seriously.
"....You are refusing to do something actionable so you could pursue something that's as exiting as watching paint dr..OKAY! Let's do this. What did you do when you were in New York?"
Work fifteen hours a day, give away headshots and resumes while getting deeper into debt?
"Okay, good. What was your job?"
Register jockey at an specialty pizza shop.
"You worked fifteen hours a day?"
Six days a week. And I know what you're going to say so stop the this-is-all-new-to-me act.
"Really?"
Stop it.
"Pick up a few things while you were there, did ya?"
Kinda. How'd you know, he asked as if he wasn't talking to himself.
"How else would you explain your need to blog about...dough making?"
You getting at something here, I hope?
"Wait for it."
...Wait? Wait for what?
"Just...wait for it. Do the math, let it sink in....aaaaaaannnd...?"
..Ooohh. Right. Since I spent so much time at that pizzeria, I might have some stories from there, and therefore a more cohesive blog?
"Call me when you're done." *click*
~***~
How long has it been? Feels like another lifetime.
How long did it feel when I worked there? Long enough.

An unglamorous life it was, pressing buttons and dealing with the public all day. But these are the dance moves you learn quick when you're working on a plan B, while at the same time avoiding the traps of easy money and illusion of a livelihood that would keep you in a dead end job for the rest of your life. On my day, or sometimes days off, I'd spend most of my tips on the latest copy of Backstage, stamps, packing materials, a fresh pack of smokes and a decent cup of joe, and then I'd get to work on my second job. My second job started at around noon when I woke up. Then the rest of the afternoon was spent scouring the casting call pages, pasting resumes to the back of headshots, shoving the lot in stiff manila envelopes, stacking them up high while I catch up on the Channel 11 afternoon syndication line up of Hill Street Blues, St. Elsewhere and Doogie Howser, MD. Then it was off to the mailbox on the corner to throw these coins in the wishing well. Then it was off for a night of heavy drinking. Welcome to my wasted life.

Underneath all of this was my second life of working at a pizzeria. The shop itself is sandwiched in between a knock-off electronics store and a bodega. It is tiny and for many, a saving grace, because it was a vegetarian pizzeria. It sat at the foot of Harlem on the Upper West Side. Daily foot traffic consisted mainly of NYU students, artists, writers, poets, Bangers, Slangers, working and out-of-work actors alike. It is on occasion that you will encounter an actor you know. But standing up for 12 hours straight behind a register, sort of dilutes that excitement to something as exciting as a peanut butter sandwich. After a while, nothing surprises you. That means when something normally spectacular happens, it might go unnoticed. The little things stand out much more brilliantly as they are a welcome distraction. These are the ones that stand out in my mind.

We called him "Bobby". His real name was damn near unpronounceable, so we called him "Bobby". Bobby is Albanian, Muslim, a charmer with the ladies, a graduate of the Archie Bunker school of tact and a damn good pizziola...just ask him, he'll be more than happy to let you know that. He comes from the old-school, manly-man type of mindset; a type that I have never seen in this lifetime, but heard about through other people that grew up in the Fifties. He is loud, brash, bull headed, workaholic, and a pretty decent guy...until you wind him up and watch him go. You can tell he was always ready to throw down when the bottom lid of his left eye started to twitch. The twitching eyelid almost always accompanied an evil eye that I'm pretty sure he inherited from his mother.

Two occasions where I saw him break it out.

The argument didn't start out that way. They usually don't. This one started out innocently enough; a customer was inquiring something about the ingredients, Bobby answered to the best of his ability. The customer kept inquiring, Bobby had to tend to his pizzas. Customer got snippy, Bobby showed him his degree from Archie U. Customer was black, Bobby was mildly racist. It was about to turn into Do the Right Thing in a few minutes. I stepped in to cool the situation down a little bit by looking the customer directly in the eye and answering his questions in a calm and professional manner. The subtext of our dialogue went something along the lines of:

"You better put a leash on the puppy, or he's gonna get a surprise when he gets off work!"

"I know, he's an asshole. Look on the bright side, at least you don't have to work with him."
"Damn, this guy pissed me off."
"Tell me about it. He pisses a lot of people off, but trust me, he's okay."

And on and on, until he calmed down enough to actually eat something and leave. Crisis averted.

The second occasion I will never forget. Never. It gave me my first indication of how insulated from the world I am. It was a reminder to keep an eye and an ear open to what is going on around me, a reminder to never be an Ugly American.

"Where do you want me to put dis?" He stood in the doorway with a canister of soda syrup on his shoulder, Big Name Soda company name stitched into one side of his coat, name stitched into the other, letting cold air inside as he tried to get someone's attention from behind the counter. A younger guy, broad shouldered, world weary face; kind of resembled a more-sensitive Ivan Drago. His accent was familiar. For Bobby, too familiar. The eye twitched as he got extremely quiet. He slipped away from the ovens for just a moment to presumably help the guy hook up the soda canisters.

Sodas got hooked up, and then it was time to sign the invoice. For several minutes, Bobby and the soda guy engaged in what looked like a heated discussion. No voices raised, no brow furrowed, no teeth gnashed, no chest pounded, but something boiled beneath the surface. Tense. Very tense.

"So what you guys talking about?" I asked.
"Who?" it was much later, and his head was still spinning from dinner rush.
"The soda guy. It looked like you guys were pretty intense on something."Keep in mind that this was the early Nineties. The Middle East was page 7 news at best. Bosnia and Herzegovina was the mess of the day where every ill-informed Westerner was scratching their head as to what the hell was going on over there. The most evil man in the world wasn't Osama Bin Laden, it was Slobodan Milošević. Does anybody remember THAT guy?
"Oh yeah," his tone turned to something that was lost in memory. He then proceeds to tell me about his conversation. I can't remember what was said verbatim. The dialogue went essentially like this: [Envision a sort of High-Noon, Spaghetti Western type of scenario here, with an Ennio Morricone soundtrack in the background...]

Bobby: "I am Serbian."
Soda Dude: "I am Croat."
Bobby: [sneering] "Mmmm...You know if we were back in our own Country, we'd be killing each other right now."
Soda Dude: [returning sneer] "Well then it's a good thing we are both on American soil, eh? Land of the Free? Home of the Brave?"
Bobby: "Yes. Very good thing."

Both of them saving face. Both of them walked away. Both of them secretly relieved that the other guy didn't do something stupid and even more relieved that bombs aren't going off in their faces. Never in this city.

Never in this city.

*BLEEEP**BLEEEEEEP*
Yeah, Ego?
"So, how are we doing?"
I think we're doing pretty good. We're trying to move away from the list-type of format and closer to something resembling a story. Still no stream of consciousness, but it's getting there.
"You know, I heard a rumor that you want to open up your own pizzeria. That true?"
C'mon. Do I really have to answer that?
"It's not for my benefit, it's for your wonderful readers. How come you haven't worked this little nugget into your blog yet."
I'm saving it for another time. The fact that I want to someday open up my own shop bares little relevance to what I'm blogging about now, for what it's worth.
"Alright, fine. Another time then. You have anything else here?"
I've got one more. It's almost off topic. In fact the only thing that's binding this entry to this blog is that it happened in the shop I was working at.
"Oh...heh. This one? Really? You're posting this one?"
My secret ambitions are yesterday's news, but you have no idea what I'm posting next?
"Again. Not for my benefit." *click*

~***~

My relationship with network television was waning at around this time in my life. Aside from the occasional afternoon lineup on Channel 11, or being lucky enough to catch an episode of MST3K (when it was still good), I didn't watch that much television. I missed the hype of Seinfeld and Friends. Didn't get wrapped up in America's Most Wanted or COPS. I'd be screwed if I were on Jeopardy.

I'll take, 'I just watched movies and hid under a rock for 10 years' for a thousand please, Alex.

Television was almost unrecognizable to me. So much so that when Primetime and I were reunited around 1998, it felt like catching up with an old girlfriend...and not in a good way...

Damn girl, you changed. You used to be all sexified, now you look like a worn out handbag. What? Nuh-uh. There's no way. I used protection, it sure as hell ain't mine. What'd you call him? The WB? Then it sure as shit ain't mine, it doesn't even look like me!"


Working 15 hours a day, you have no time to keep up with Ross and Rachel. Working 15 hours a day, the only things you know are the quickest route by subway to get to work, how to prepare mass quantities of dough, and your girlfriend is tired of you. All work and no play makes anyone a dull boy. When you've been properly dulled, you won't notice too much. Except for the finest collection of women this side of the Mississippi. Day in and day out, an almost endless parade of eye candy almost made me forget that I've been standing up since I got to work...when the sun came up. Summertime was particularly awesome.

"Get to the good part!"

Right, well it was a fairly typical Friday night. We were close to closing time. All day has been a steady stream of slices on paper plates, lines out the door, tip jar refills and of course, lovely, lovely ladies. In walked one more. Looking back, I didn't stay too long at this place, but it felt like an eternity working there. It felt long enough. My point is, you get to know your Regulars. I didn't recognize her. At all. Not that it was a bad thing. She was no girl, she had some years behind her, but she still clung to her youth. She was small framed, dark haired, green eyed and whiskey voiced. Oh yeah, commence to flirting...

She got a slice and a ginger beer. I engaged in some mindless drivel, she played along for a few minutes and walked away, and at the time, I didn't regard it as anything beyond that. Now, remember what I said about not watching too much television. Remember what I said about the location of the restaurant. Remember what I said about the clientele. Flash forward a few years later. I'm living in New Hampshire. I'm working days and I catch up on some television when I feel like it. It's the famous Thursday Night lineup on NBC, and I'm trying to find something funny about Seinfeld and Mad About You while trying not to go to sleep. Then comes "ER", and all of a sudden I'm taken back to that one night where I was flirting with a brunette I've never seen before. I almost fainted when I suddenly realized that I flirted with Julianna Margulies.

Ms. Margulies, if you are reading this, I apologize profusely. That was rude of me, and I should have been more respectful....what am I saying. I just hit on a celebrity!!! Snoogins!

Anyway, I think I should wrap this up because it is officially 9/11. My point of these remembrance blogs is not to be maudlin. It is a celebration. New York has always been good to me, and I will always remember the good times. Peace be with you.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Best. Cat. Video. EVAAAARRR!!!1!1!!

Best. Cat. Video. EVAAAAARRRR!!!11!! Anyone else thinking about putting a cat video on YouTube now, just...stop. Just....give up, and I mean...right now. Put down the camera, and walk away. Because you're video of your cute little 'Mittens' or whatever playing the piano will never, ever, ever, EVER have and entire MUSICAL PIECE written FOR THEM. BEHOLD AND TREMBLE, SUCKAHS!!!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

All Roads Lead to Raoul's

Follow I-95 North from Boston for about 2 hours or so, and you'll eventually land in what is arguably the crown jewel of the Northeast. Infinitely smaller than the wasp's nest sprawl of Boston, and about twice the size of her older sister, Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Portland, Maine has long been a haven for artists, craftspeople, Bohos and anyone who has just felt the need to create. Regardless if you are good with your hands or not, this city will draw the need from you. You will have no choice but to give in to your own personal muse. Towering Banking Headquarters in the center of town that have seen the rise and fall of whatever economic climate of the time may be, fade into the background against the vibrance of weekly Farmers' Markets, and yearly Art and Music Festivals. The people who inhabit her, in this city that wakes up before the rest of the country, take their work as seriously as their play. It's a serious college town. It's a serious college town that still knows the privileges of youth and how precious that brief moment in time is.

What I'm trying to say is this town likes to drink.

This town likes to drink, dance, eat, carouse. This town likes feeling alive, and this town loves it's music.

There is a small but measurable sense of pride that Portland has about it's burgeoning local music scene. To say that it's huge, would be a great injustice toblahblahblah[Hi. Author here. This is the section of my journal entry that just went on and on about the Portland music scene. Rather, the Portland music scene of my memory. This is also the section of my journal entry where it evidently went through several drafts. From what I could discern from the chicken scratch in my book, it looks like a bunch of run-on sentences about this place and that venue. I was either really tired, or really happy. My point is, the Portland music scene isn't unlike most towns in the world; it's everything from aspiring hopefuls who either have a record contract, or have made their own label (I'm so proud of my Twisted Roots), or they're the weekend warriors that play for beer, or they're music students from USM trying to get their bones on any gig they can. However, regardless of what I say, I feel I cannot paint a proper picture of the scene having been gone for so long. Bottom line: the scene is diverse. It's as deep and wide as the Back Cove, and I miss it, and miss being a part of it, that's all I really wanted to say. Anyway, let's get back to this geezer's rambling before he notices we haven't been paying attention.]e, complete with a full horn section.

The pride also extends in some part to the major acts we attract. The Cumberland County Civic Center is either a starting point, or a last venue for arena-packers like Def Leppard on their world tours. Add to that, the acres of bars and cafes that were and may always be the place to see any band "before they were cool". As in politics, we have given our not-so-silent approval to acts such as Live and the Indigo Girls from such establishments; our warmest blessing magically sprinkled upon them before they went supernova. On any given night, we might unknowingly give the next biggest thing the Portland Bump. If you want to catch them before they turn pro, I suggest heading over to the Big Easy or even Zootz on some nights. But up until recently, if you wanted to check out the favorite haunt of artists such as Ani Difranco and Leo Kottke, or if you wanted to put a face to your ultra-hip record collection, then the place to go was Raoul's Roadside Attraction.


~***~

"Weren't you supposed to teach me that song?"

"Which one?" I ask as if the span of over fifteen years didn't just flash in front of me. This is an abbreviated email exchange between me an another college buddy that came out of the woodwork to find me on Facebook.

"Oh, I can't remember," she replied. Of course she remembers. All of it. As we all still do. She remembers that privileged time. "Maybe it was something by John Gorka?"


Back when I was still a wandering troubadour, I kept a handful of songs in my pocket and few more in my guitar case. Only two of them were original and hardly ever saw the light of day. The rest were cherry-picked from here and there; jam circles at parties, learning by ear. All of which accommodated the scant few chords I mastered, and they were all put to the test at said jam circles while drinking beer, beer gigs, and playing for spare change on street corners...to buy beer. I did say that this town likes to drink, right? My guitar, my weapon of choice, my dancing partner is an Alverez Dreadnought 12-string. For these many years, she has been my secret lover, and I have been trying to impress her since the day we met. How and why she keeps singing for me, I have no idea. So we dance, at another party. I break out another old reliable from my pocket, and she impresses without effort. This was one of my go-to's:



First of all, I'd like it to be known that that's not me in the video (of course). Second of all, I'd also like it to be known that I would never perform this song for cash. Beer sometimes, but never cash. For me, it was more about finding my own voice through other artists and, let's face it, to get girls. It was the musical equivalent of walking into a crowded room with a new suit on and asking what everybody thought. I didn't fall in love with this song right away, but once it set in I couldn't let it go. It became a part of me, it became automatically associated with me, and perhaps, that's not all bad.

Follow Forest Ave. until you've just about hit the outskirts of town. As soon as you see the signs for Westbrook, you've gone too far. I'll even go so far as to go to cliche-land and say if you blink, you'll miss it. Actually, blink all you want. They padlocked their doors some years ago; End of an era.
View Larger Map
There it once stood, defiant against time and the Earth and the landscape that has been trying to reclaim it for years. During its prime, the place was a dump of the highest caliber. It was the Dive Bar at the End of the Universe. The weather, the years of diesel saturated atmosphere had rendered it's facade prematurely old like some champion sun worshiper. So it was either through sheer force of will, genius design or somewhere in between that the miracle of how the walls stayed up laid. I don't know. Maybe it was the sawdust and peanut shells on the floor.
To be sure, finer, larger and albeit more architecturally sound places are plentiful all the way across town. You could run the gamut from the sleek and sterile meat market of the Old Port Tavern, to the warm and cozy dungeon, the son of a CBGBs, purveyor of all things Metal, The Cave, in the span of an hour or two. But, they all lack the soul of Raoul's; An old fashioned honky tonk that refused to give into the pressure of passing trends. Raoul's is the guy at the end of a dimly lit bar that's holding court over his glass of Old Grandad. Raoul's is the faded beauty that still holds vigil in a downtown train station, ever hopeful that he'll be coming home on that next train. Raoul's was the Blues, and as such, attracted just about just about every major Blues artist that still drew breath to its stage. Etta James, Susan Tedeschi, bless my soul I do believe even John Lee Hooker made an appearance or two. But they weren't all blues, all the time. Even the powers that be knew that it would be wise to keep a diverse portfolio, and therefore, charmed the likes of Warren Zevon, Robyn Hitchcock and Marshall Crenshaw to play. Artists who don't get radio play, but still manage to pack houses through their devoted following. Artists like John Gorka. Portland loves its music, John Gorka loves Portland. The love-fest happened on a fairly regular basis at Raoul's Roadside Attraction.

~***~

"I never did tell you about the time I went to go see Judi Collins at Raoul's," she wrote. We were catching up as two people that haven't seen each other in years often do. "I had no idea who this guy opening up for her was, until he opened up with 'Stranger With Your Hair'." It's a funny feeling when you suddenly realize that you haven't danced in a while, that the piece of your life that you were saving in the back of your refrigerator and you swore you'd use in something has been forgotten for so long that it has become unrecognizable. I haven't played that song in years. I haven't played any song in years.

"The place had really good acoustics. Too good. I said to the person next to me, 'this is Tony's song!'." What happened next will put a smile on my face for the rest of my life. She continued, "John heard me, turned to me and said, 'No, I'm pretty sure it's mine.' "

Yes Mr. Gorka, you did write this wonderful music. And I'm very glad. Without you, I wouldn't have found the kind of voice I was looking for. I wouldn't have had that special connection between man and guitar. I wouldn't have gotten laid. Most importantly, this probably would have never happened:

A few weeks ago, my girlfriend and our 7 month old daughter are hanging out at home. She has this song on in the background: This is a song I sang to my girlfriend in our early days of courting. From the moment she was born, I have hummed her to sleep with a fairly decent cross section of lullabies. As far as I know, my daughter may have never heard this song, but she is a direct effect of it. After the intro, when the first lyrics were sung, my baby daughter turns to the direction of the music and says, "Dada!"

Yes Mr. Gorka, I'm pretty sure you wrote all of your wonderful music.

...But I'm fairly certain I've made it my own.

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