Tuesday, June 30, 2009

blogger's block.

  It's been a little over a week since I last blogged. (And yes. Yes I do hate myself for using "blog" in verb form.) There were a few reasons for that: 

a) I've been working a lot- which is great.  Here's the given: work= money + experience. If money and experience = awesome (which it does) then, by using the associative property of being a member of the work force, we find that work= awesome. Although, when I wake up at 4:55am to catch my 5:55am train to serve suits and tourists their double-shot-half-caf-organic-non-fat-extra-hot-no-foam-lattes for 8 hours and then sit on another train for 30 minutes before I get home, I am not super motivated to "blog."

Come to think of it (as I look at the coffee mugs,  water bottles, and dirty laundry around my room) I haven't been motivated to do much of anything at all. That ≠ awesome...

b) I have been spending a lot of time with my dear friend Moze, who happens to be spending his summer in SF, interning for some cool intellectual magazine in the Mission. He's pretty time consuming and awesome which is also means he's awesome to consume time with. He, Vanessa and I celebrated Gay Pride this weekend, which was a crazy, out of control street party, but also a really heartfelt celebration of a community that is remarkably optimistic and patriotic, despite having it's civil rights completely violated.

c) I'm a little bit obsessed with premium cable shows that are available to watch online. I'm currently on the fourth season of Showtime's Weeds, I finished the first season of Party Down (of the same network), and am anxiously awaiting next weeks True Blood... ahhh HBO. I must say, as someone who has consistently claimed that film is, across the board, more important, influential, and generally BETTER than TV, that these premium cable channels are producing the one and only type of TV that easily rivals movies. Same goes for Six Feet Under, In Treatment, and Biglove. (I'm purposely excluding Sex and the City, because in hindsight, it's not that great, and the movie was terrible.) I always said that I never wanted to work in TV, but this isn't TV... it's HBO (or Showtime).

Aaand I LOVE the Weeds opening title sequence, especially since the song used was written about Daly City- and it's spot on.

I'm hoping to get some time off to visit the fam soon. I just need to keep bustin' my butt at work!!  I really miss all of my nears & dears, but I'll be home soon enough.

Oh, and I found this cool new band thanks to Pandora.com. I was listening to the "Feist" station and heard The Tiny. They're like a Swedish Bjork/Regina Specktor-esque group. Here's their song "The Second Time Around" 

I was totally prepared for a lame/uneventful/lonely summer, and so far (thankfully) that hasn't been the case. 


Sunday, June 21, 2009

Father's Day

So today's a bit tougher than I'd expected. For those of you who don't know, my Dad passed away about a year and a half ago. He was sick for a long time, and I thought I had prepared myself for what life without my Dad would be like. In some ways I was right, but I totally underestimated how often I'd think of him, or how many things remind me of him, or that every significant event in my life from now on is punctuated with the fact that my Father won't see it.
But what can I do, right? I just try to talk to or spend time with the amazing family I somehow got in to, and indulge in some of my Dad's favorite things, which I'd love to share with you.

Happy Father's Day, Dad.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

"I had to come to prison to be a crook"

Yesterday was my first day off in seven days, so I naturally decided to laze about the apartment, drink coffee and watch a documentary about Kentucky prisoners who perform Shakespeare.

Right, maybe that's not what a lot of people would do with their day off, but that is indeed what I did! The doc I'm talking about is called "Shakespeare Behind Bars," and while I've always been intrigued by it, I let it sit on my Netflix "Watch Instantly" Queue for months. I mean, it's tough to get motivated to watch a documentary that you know won't necessarily be the feel-good Wordplay or timely I.O.U.S.A.

Needless to say, I am very glad to have seen it. It was very moving, and certainly portrays the issue as being in a proverbial "grey area." That issue of course being the prison system and it's effectiveness at rehabilitating criminals. It also tested your ability to empathize with criminals.  My gut reaction sometimes is to write them off all together. They are heinous people who have committed heinous crimes. End of story... But is it really? Is it really the humane thing to do? Isn't it better to educate, rehabilitate, and prepare these people to rejoin society? Criminals or not, they are people. And it's tempting to judge them based on their criminal act, but how can you fully define someone by one thing they did many years ago? I don't know the answers to these questions, and continue to struggle with them since watching the movie. 
Similarly, the film addresses the question of forgiveness. The film challenges the audience to feel for these prisoners, and then in an indirect way to accept and forgive them. Not that there is a right or wrong thing to do or feel in relation to these men, but it really questions our capacity for compassion and understanding in contrast with our judgement, fear, and disdain of these individuals.
The prisoners themselves come to their own realizations about these themes because they are the foremost themes in the play that they are performing. It's none other than Shakespeare's last play, The Tempest. As an actor, lover of Shakespeare, and true believer in the power of art in education and rehabilitation, I was especially moved to see how participating in a play effected these inmates. It was truly astounding, and further debunks this idea that Shakespeare is irrelevant, and intangible to modern society. These, primarily uneducated, incarcerated men felt a connection to Shakespeare's characters. And it helped them. In the end isn't prison all about rehabilitating criminals?

Anyway, I'm not sure that I'm making a ton of sense. I just feel like that movie made me think about this otherwise forgotten issue so much that I might have been a little all over the place with this post. You'll have to forgive me, if you can.

Here's Shakespeare Behind Bars. Available for free online via youtube.com with limited commercial interruption. I highly recommend it.

I also recently saw an old episode of Morgan Spurlock's 30 Days. In this particular installment of the FX series, he spent 30 days in prison. It was another eye opening look at the prison system.  I'd recommend this as well. It's very different from Shakespeare Behind Bars, but paints an equally heart-wrenching, confusing, and far more gritty picture of the reality of prison and prison life. The full episode is below, and the entire series is available online thanks to Hulu.com.

I hope this sparks some thought or conversation on this topic. I think it's one of those "out of sight out of mind" issues. It's not often discussed, but widely agreed upon that there is a problem in the prison system. It's an issue that we cannot forget about and cannot ignore. Maybe it's easier to feign ignorance to it because it's so unclear what the right thing to do is, or rather how to do it. In either case- something's got to change. If we want prison to yield upstanding citizens instead of repeat offenders, SOMETHING has to be done. 


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Top 5

So I finally watched High Fidelity. I just loved it. I loved the characters, the pop-culture referencing left and right, the lack of a "fourth wall", the immersive 90's vibe, and well... Jack Black?? Yeah. Aces all around. I honestly can't find anything about that movie that I really have a problem with. 

I genuinely appreciate the non-traditional love story. Rather, the anti-hollywood love story. That's one of the main reasons why I loved Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,  Conversations with Other Women, and 2 Days in Paris. It's also why I'm anxiously awaiting the arrival of Punch Drunk Love, which is about two movies away on my Netflix queue. I've been told it has a similar unconventional love story. 

I'm so tired of the romantic architype that the big studios keep perpetuating. It was entertaining as a kid, but now it's just tired. The great thing about the afore mentioned films, is that the quirky imperfection in the showcased relationships are not only relatable, but engaging. You want them to work it out (an impulse that you also feel in the cheesy generic rom-com) BUT the big difference is that you want them to work it our really. If they fall into the predictable "boy wrongs girl, girl is sad and dumps boy, boy does some heroic, dramatic, often implausible righteous act to win girl back" pattern, you don't care anymore. In fact, if you're like me, you then RESENT these characters. 

That's how I felt about Garden State. I was OK with him leaving. That's life: it's imperfect, and all too often ill-timed. That movie lost all of it's credibility when he came back to her in the end. I mean, how safe? Take a risk Braff. Tell an original story, don't rehash the trite story lines of every other romantic comedy. If he had gotten on that damn plane, I would have been sad that they couldn't stay together. That being said- it's OK to leave the audience a little sad now and then. I say, you're better leaving them sad, than placated. I just felt so pandered to, that I actually hoped that they would (eventually) break up!

Enough rant: Here is one of my favorite scenes from High Fidelity.

And by the way, I am now subsequently obsessed with this song from The Beta Band:


My 7 year old niece, Fiona, sent me a text yesterday that said  
"You are my favorit in the famly."
I mean, does it get any better than that?

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Ratatouille- the dish, not the rodent chef extraordinaire

The time has come for my first recipe post! I went shopping at a little produce market in West Portal yesterday after work and bought all the ingredients to make ratatouille. (A mere $10, including a few other things that weren't even for the ratatouille!! Talk about bang for my buck.)
Apart from inspiring the animated film, ratatouille is a beloved traditional Provencal vegetable stew. It's one of those dishes where every family in Nice has there own take on how to make it, and with the French being the French, everyone seems to think they are the ones who make it properly. The humble American that I am, I did a loose interpretation of the recipe Julia Childs wrote.
 In my opinion, it's less about what goes in to the ratatouille, and more about the process. I suppose some French purists would "poo poo" this notion, but seriously dude? Fix your zinger before you fix my ratatouille.

Since I was too exhausted to make it last night, I made it today. And I was quite pleased with the end result.

Ratatouille (yields 6 servings)
1 medium onion
2 cloves of garlic
1 red bell pepper
1 green bell pepper
1 tomato
1 zucchini 
1/2 medium eggplant
1 medium can of whole peeled tomatoes 
(You can add any other veggie to this you want: mushrooms, peas, summer squash, green beans. I mean why not? For instance I had carrots that were nearing limp-land, so threw them into the mix.)
olive oil
Any combination of the following spices:
thyme, oregano, rosemary, marjoram, basil, or any generic "herbs de provence" mix will do
a pinch of sugar
salt and pepper to taste

So, the first key to a good ratatouille is getting the vegetables all cut into somewhat uniform pieces. This will allow everything to cook evenly and the texture will be a lot nicer.
The next part is up to you. You could just throw everything into a pan and sautee it all together, but Julia recommends a technique that is a bit more labor intensive, but certainly worth the added effort.

Her ratatouille is so good because of the subtle layering of the different flavors. 
In one pan sautee the onion, garlic, and bell peppers in olive oil. In another pan sautee the zucchini in olive oil, and when that is cooked transfer it into a bowl. Repeat this process for the eggplant. In the meantime, the onion-garlic-pepper mixture should be simmering at a medium low heat. (At this point I threw in my carrots, so if you have any funny little add-ins, toss them into the onion mixture about now.) Let that continue to cook, and pour the can of tomatoes into a bowl. Break them up gently with your hands, then add it to the onion mixture. Add your fresh tomato and your herb mixture. (Go ahead and over-season a bit because this will also be seasoning the currently unseasoned zucchini and eggplant.) Add a healthy dash of salt, and more black pepper than you think you need. Don't forget that pinch of sugar- it balances the natural acidity of the tomatoes. Let this big "sauce" mixture simmer and reduce for about 8-10 minutes. 
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
This is where Julia's "layering" technique comes in.
Add these components to each other in a large baking dish.
A little onion tomato, a little zucchini, a little eggplant- rinse, repeat... you get the picture.
The idea is to have a complex layering of flavors, where no one taste outshines the other and they all combine harmoniously in your mouth!!
Let the ratatouille bubble away for about 30 minutes in the oven and voila! Enjoy! It is best served with some sort of starch; polenta, pasta, crusty french bread, or like I had, a baked potato seasoned simply with salt and pepper and a light drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. (See Rachel Ray? Obnoxious acronyms aren't always necessary.)

Cooking all this French fare got me in the mood for some musique Franciase! Here are some choice cuts from the land of brie, Chagall, and attitude unmatched by anyone, anywhere.

Carla Bruni (Yeah, that's right. The French First Lady.)

Django Reinhardt

Charles Trenet
And I just couldn't resist the punnery...


Get it? Ratatat?? Ratatouille?? Ah, mon Dieu! 
Regardless, this song is pretty fun to cook to.

Bon Apetit!!


Thursday, June 11, 2009


So getting to work at 8AM, means getting UP at 6:30AM to catch the Muni at 7:15AM.
I think you all see where I am going with this...

Work is great though, just really physically demanding. The people I work with are fun and super helpful and patient with my endless questions, and the location is awesome- right in the heart of the financial district. Aaaand, we do get lots of tourists from abroad, so today for example, I served a really cute English guy. All in a day's work, right? Not too shabby.

I'm really psyched to watch Synechdoche, New York tonight. 
I got to meet Charlie Kauffman, and having seen him and spoken with him in real life has given me a whole new way to view his films.

All in all, things are going well. And I don't think I've ever been more relieved and grateful to just be OK for a change.


Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Fear & Ignorance

Today is only my second day as a blogger and I've already had an "Oh-my-God-I-have-to-go-home-and-blog-about-this" moment. Unfortunately what I am dying to write about isn't a cool vegan recipe for muffins, or hilarious viral video, but a very disturbing experience I had on the Muni today.
I was on my way home from work, sitting on the Muni, reading my book, when this very large gentleman squeezes in next to me. This man was very large, so when I say squeeze, I am not exaggerating. He was invading my space to the max, not intentionally, just because he was a big guy. He was older, wearing really thick glasses, had thinning hair, a distinct odor and was a classic mouth breather. He wore a t-shirt with the American flag on it and whipped out a handheld video game (something to do with wizards, from what I could tell) and proceeded to prod me with his elbow every time he slayed whatever mythological creature he was battling (which lead to an obnoxious celestial beeping sequence.) All I could think was "Ewww." And then, I thought again. Why was I judging this guy? I didn't know him. For all I know he could be a genius, a veteran, a member of the peace corps, or just a regular nice guy. I was so upset with myself for having these preconceived notions about him, based on his appearance. In my head I apologized to him: "Sorry dude, I didn't realize you were a doctor! I'll never judge a book by it's cover again. Hey while I have you here, I have this pain in my wrist would you mind taking a look at it?"
Just then we pulled up to Castro station (For those of you who don't know, the Castro is the gay epicenter of the city, if not the state.) As the doors opened, the man said, rather loudly "Fag street, Fag street! AIDS district! Thank God fags can't marry in this state! Sodomizing in the streets..." And when the doors closed he went back to his game, mouth breathing and all.
I was stunned. A woman sitting near by made eye contact with me and we exchanged our silent expressions of disbelief. I felt so angry, and shocked and sad. I wanted so badly to say something to set this idiot straight (no pun intended). I wanted to really tell him off- and I knew I'd have support from most of the others passengers. I started rehearsing what I'd say to him. 

"That's totally ignorant and offensive!"
"How dare you?"
"You're a a fat, ugly, stupid, slob! Fuck you! Go to hell!"

I even fantasized a scenario in which I dramatically slapped him just before getting off the Muni.

But, alas, I could not bring myself to do it. It would not be worth the scene it would inevitably cause, and was just crazy altogether. Also, I was afraid of this guy now. Not only because of his flawed beliefs, but because he actually chanted those hateful words, and seemed so pleased with himself while doing so. Not all bigots and homophobes proclaim there beliefs on a crowded subway car, in the most gay-friendly city in the country,  so I figured this guy must be somewhat unhinged.
The rest of my subway trip, I was totally preoccupied with what I had just seen. I could not longer focus on my book, but rather stared blankly at the page, my fists were clenched as was my jaw. I'm sure my face was red, and I was sitting on the very edge of my seat, so I could be as far away from this monster as I could. I was so angry. 
I have participated in the AIDS walk, No On Prop 8 rallies, fundraisers, I'm on every mailing list about gay marriage there is and I happen to be close friends with several gay people. I just thought of this issue, and how long it's taken to get where we are today, and that there is still so much fear and ignorance, even in the most progressive cities.
Then I thought about something I heard Larry Flynt say in an interview. (This was probably related to that joke about some senator losing his virginity to a Nun or something in Hustler back in the 80's.) He said: "Free speech doesn't protect the speech you love. It protects the speech you hate." Granted, I'm sure Flynt in quoting someone far more intellectual, but I'm too lazy to look up the original. I think this is totally relevant though. I hate this man for what he said and what he believes. It's not as if we root for rival baseball teams, but I can still go hang out and grab a beer with him despite our difference of opinion. I think this guy is pure scum. Ignorant, bigoted, hateful, God-fearing scum. But he has a right to be scum. He has a right to his own opinion, be it faith or logic based. He has the right to say what he wants (So long as he doesn't "incite a riot") and I guess I have to be OK with that. Talk about a tough pill to swallow...

I got off a stop early to walk off my anger. I still can't believe it. What can you do in those situations? If anything I am more motivated that ever to participate in educating people about tolerance and acceptance.
Love and peace to you all.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Here we go!

Welcome to the very first post in "State of Uncool." This summer, apart from working part-time, I have a ton of time on my hands, and I'm using it to do all of the things I claimed I "never had time for" in the past. I plan on reading a lot, watching important films, writing,  getting healthy, and exploring the city! That is the kind of stuff you'll be reading about (if you decide to continue reading, that is) in my blog.

That being said let's get right down to business!
I've started working at this great cafe in the Financial District called "Bread & Cocoa." The chef and owner are very adamant about using exclusively organic, local, and fair trade products. It's really cool being a part of that, especially since I'm currently reading Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, (My new commuter read!), and impatiently awaiting the release of the documentary "Food Inc."
Food Inc. Trailer:
A few other things worth mentioning...
Conan O'Brien is officially the host of "The Tonight Show," and I couldn't be happier. I've always been a fan of the Cone-Zone, and I think Leno is such a hack, so I'm very pleased to see him gone. Or at least I would be if he had actually stepped down. I will NOT be tuning in weeknights at 10:00 pm, (an unprecedented slot for a talk show.) Oh, and they brought back Andy Ritcher, Max Weinberg, and the Max Weinberg 7, now dubbed simply "The Tonight Show Band." And rightly so.
Here is a clip from the season premiere. The new studio is on the Universal Studios lot, and this bit is Conan leading the tram ride at the theme park. I've been on this ride a few times before, and it was NEVER this entertaining:

Last but not least, I happened upon a new David Byrne song while watching "The Colbert Report," and immediately loved it, listened to it again and again, and even posted it on my Facebook for all of my "friends" to see. The song is actually a David Byrne and Brian Eno collaboration off their latest album entitled Everything That Happens Will Happen Today. It's called "One Fine Day" and it's just a solid track. I can't stop singing it. So I leave you with this song, and hope it brightens your day. Apart from sounding great, it has a really positive, poignant message.