Friday, December 29, 2006

A plea for new celebrities

One thing about America is this: if you're famous, you're never out of work. An actor who was as best a has-been and at worst a never-was, Joey Lawrence, for example, whose entire emotional range is varying eyebrow maneuvers whilst "whoa"ing, can now, in late 2006, not only get onto a reality show where he learns to dance, but can also go on a multi-city tour, selling out arenas with other paragons of thespian virtue (Mario Lopez), and foxtrot his way to the further outskirts of "that guy" fame and glory.

Of course, if you aren't attractive or spry enough to land yourself on a didactic reality show, you can always host a second-tier game show. Since you're a bottom-rung also-ran, the producers will feel it necessary to make the contestants a parade of spastically energetic mongoloids who would rather going into fits of epileptic yelping than actually try to figure out the game.

Of course, if you aren't bald enough or poor enough to be given Emcee duties on "Deal or No Deal" or "Identity," you can always be the sibling of another famous person. Or you can marry another famous person, impregnate them with your magical famous mansperm (as opposed to the highly underrated womensperm, of course), and sell the pictures to US Weekly. Or you can have a reality show about your family that exposes your hitherto imagined lunacy. Or you can box other once-famous sit-com bit players.

Or you can do something. Maybe the problem with pop culture right now is that we reward ex-stars for being has-beens. Maybe we don't have enough room for the future Dustin Diamonds of the world, the future that-guy-who-was-Urkels. We're saturating the airwaves with people whose fifteen minutes are now well into the hour-and-a-half range. It's getting out of hand. After all, who will be our children's Danny Bonaduce?

You see: we need new stars today so that they can be has-been stars tomorrow. I don't know exactly how to make this happen though. I know it involves shutting VH1 down between the hours of...well, really all day, I think. They can still play videos though, which they actually do, unlike MTV who pioneered the wildly experimental recycling of reality TV stars, so that you get to see the same emotionally imbalanced frat boy every third season of Road Rules. We also need a moratorium on hiring of anyone you recognize from a show you watched while in short pants whose name you can't remember. They're out. They now need real jobs. I hear they're hiring at Quizno's.

But I'm not a heartless man. No. We can grandfather in all our current celebritisn'ts. They get a free pass for two seasons. This will give them time to make future plans before they too will be toasting my lunches and asking me what size cola I want.

Oh, and this weekend, we're playing Bottom of the Hill on New Year's Eve. You know this. I know this. But reminders are fun, right? Everyone loves a nag. Hope to see you there. Unless you live in some other country, in which case, you can be late.

Be back in aught seven.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Home is where the heart is. And the brain. And the bed. I miss the bed. In fact, should still be in the bed. No matter. Onwards.

Merry, merry belated whateveritisyoucelebrate. I'm back at the office after a long four day weekend of cat-petting, gift-giving, fine cuisine, horrific airport experiences, couch-bed slumbering, and my first (and let's hope only) smooth-jazz Christmas concert, which was spectacularly incomprehensible and filled with oh so much yogurty-smooth flugelhorn. And I'm exhausted. My flight last night was delayed because that guy in orange with the plane-parking light sabers apparently blew it and two planes had themselves a little fender-bender, so everything was pushed back (two hours in my case), and, by the time I got home, well, let's just say I should've drove. But then, if I'd driven, I couldn't have spilled a Miller Lite on my shoes. So I'd've missed out on that.

Still: I had a wonderful weekend. It was great to see the folks, my sister, and spend Christmas in San Diego, sweating in short sleeves. Sure, the only thing keeping me from being a proper zombie is the fact that I don't want to eat the brains of my co-workers, but it's MonWednesday, I've got a three-day work-week followed by a damn fine New Year's Eve show, and I'm wearing new shoes. No complaining allowed.

Oh yeah. And James Brown's dead. That's a bummer. He was one funky criminal, I'll tell you. I'll confess to thinking almost all his songs sound the same but, hey, they all sounded pretty good. So's Gerald Ford, who the news keeps asking me to remember, but who was president before I was born, essentially on accident (his presidency, not my birth...I hope), so I really can't oblige. Plus, I can't recall him doing much during my lifetime, honestly. But let it be known: 2007 will be less funky. And less that-guy-who-wasn't-Spiro-Agnew-y. And that's all I have to say about that.

Hmm. I feel like I had an amusing story to tell but forgot all about it. This is possible. I blame the non-sleep and the brain-pain. Maybe it'll dawn on me later. For now, let me say welcome back to those of you who spent the weekend away, "sorry" to those of you who didn't, and "rest up" to those of you I'll be seeing on Sunday. It's going to be a fun, champagne-y sort of evening. Until tomorrow.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

There's nothing to worry about. Step away from the Asian-fusion cuisine.

Earthquakes are like avocados. Well, not really. But bear with me for a second. The thing about earthquakes and avocados is that most non-Californians I meet fear them both without much of a reason. Our singer, Peter, is Connecticut Yankee (yes, sometimes he wears a hat which has three corners (three corners has his hat)) and insists that the kitchen remove all traces of avocado from sandwiches which, really, should be covered in the stuff. Now, Arizonans & Texans seem alright with avocado too (it's a proximity-to-Mexico thing) but beyond that, I can't think of another population that enjoys avocado pretty much across the board. Vegans, maybe, but they don't eat cheese which I feel should disqualify them from all culinary arguments. Sorry guys. Here's a box of Kashi to suck on for a few minutes till we're done.

Non-Californians also fear the earthquake. And, to be honest, so do most Californians. San Francisco itself was demolished by one in 1906, though the fires afterwards did most of the damage, but, then again, the fire department would have had way more success had the quake not broken all the water lines. Plus, most of the houses here have already survived one decent quake (in '89 during the Giants-A's World Series no less) and they're all a little slanted because of it. You could go sledding in some of the kitchens I've visited which doesn't necessarily fill you with a feeling of comfort and safety. So you make a safety kit, fill it with water, canned food, a couple books for when your legs are crushed under a collapsed roof but you're incredibly bored anyway, and you just hope that there aren't any major tectonic shifts. If there are? Well, I try not to think about that.

But then again, some earthquakes are just...weiners. Like last night's for example. We were practicing at our studio and we played right through it. I didn't even know one occurred until I got home and my roomies asked "did you feel it?" which, essentially, is universal code for "we had a really wimpy earthquake" but allowed me to say something like "no, we were rocking too hard to care about the earth moving" and then throw up the pinky-and-index-finger-all-hail-metal-thing and make a total boob out of myself.

Of course, our newscasters were breaking into horrible game shows and promising "damage reports" which consisted, I'd guess, of a few old ladies dropping their tea glasses out of moderate surprise and then continuing their Bid Whist tournament.

So what lessons did we learn last night? Well, it was a reminder to check our 72-hour survival kit (which I of course didn't do) and to eat an avocado every day. If you're going to live in the Bay Area, you might as well enjoy it. There is nothing to fear but fear itself. And your house collapsing. And poisonous guacamole. But that goes without saying.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Look. You really should have heard our other ideas...

Very rarely do I actually bring up press we get. It always seems tacky or self-congratulatory or pointless---I mean, we don't have that Sunny Day Real Estate-vibe where we refuse to play California or break-up seven times or find Jesus---so I've always abstained from posting about press. It's the band equivalent of sending one of those Christmas cards with your whole family photographed professionally on the front, in matching reindeer sweaters, and then when you open it it's filled with half-truths about how Junior is really excelling in basketball and his Sophomore year even though he has a well-documented addiction to huffing glue and hits on middle schoolers while they wait for the bus.

But I heard we showed up somewhere interesting yesterday, and I thought I'd share. Perhaps you're familiar with David Eggers. One of our erstwhile readers always suggests, when we ask, that "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius" is the book to take on tour and read, but, well, Michael Malone usually trumps him somewhere in Arizona. I'm making it a New Year's resolution to actually read this book, starting when our post New Year's Eve show hangover ends, which should be sometime in mid-February. Eggers also runs a tutoring facility called "826 Valencia," which, in addition to providing cheap and sometimes free help for all flavors of writing, reading, and test taking, is also a pirate store filled with oddities with products tucked in Tim-Burton looking drawers, dioramas, and a giant vat of lard sitting in the middle. Bonus points for being located next to Paxon Gate, which contains all manner of taxidermy, carnivorous plants, and mammal skeletons dressed up in Victorian-era garb. If you have a ten year old, you should probably take him there. If you don't like your ten year old boy, you might be able to leave him there. Not that I'd condone that, but, trust me: he will not be bored.

Eggers also edits something called "Best American Nonrequired Reading". They're collections of stories, comics, Onion headlines, errata, and lists. We showed up the Best Band Names of 2005.

Of course, not everyone likes the name. In fact, we've found ourselves on some Worst Band names lists. We sent the compilers of those lists anthrax-coated thank you notes. In the end, though, all this just makes me think about the name itself, which, let me tell you, was not an easy decision. It's a pastime of ours to come up with fake band names ("Memory of the Oversoul" and "System of a Ho-Down" come to mind) but when you've actually got to decide on something and realize you'll be saddled with it forever, well, things get a bit more difficult. It's like naming your child. Sure, Ebenezer Gonzopolis sounds like a great idea but can you really put that on his birth certificate? (an aside: my two all time favorite names are Rip Torn, whose name can be pondered for hours and an anchor man from Central California named John Beard, who, while not that great of a name, had the audacity to sport only a mustache. He's a personal hero).

The point is I have no point. I'm just happy we chose Birdmonster.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

How to shop for Christmas

So, I finally ventured into the Christmas shopping world yesterday. Every year, I end up waiting until the most procrastinated second, so that, typically, it's me and hundreds of like-minded idiots fighting over the one shirt that isn't Marlon-Brando-sized. This has a tendency to dampen the holiday cheer, turning gift-giving into a Darwinian fiasco of conspicuous consumption, but when you haven't had a paycheck since, say, late October, you're stuck with the last minute gift-grab. I'm not going to bitch about it thought. No. Today, we're optimists. This isn't going to be a five-paragraph whine about how Christmas is too commercialized or how there's a war of Christmas or anything else that could be confused for the ten unsettling minutes of the O'Reilly Factor prior to the next 50 downright disturbing minutes of high-volumed yelling and visual proof that it's actually possible to contract Down Syndrome during an hour long broadcast. I wouldn't do that to you.

Instead, here are some important strategies for procrastinated Christmas shopping.

1- Go to Costco: So maybe you don't have a special something for your little sister. You'd check the book store or the record shop but she's deaf and illiterate. That's why you go to Costco. Nothing says thoughtful like a 30-pack of C batteries and a maroon Kirkland turtleneck.

2- Add to your friend's weird collections: If you've got a friend who collects doo-rags or dented cans or who stockpiles shotguns for the robot apocalypse, then buy them a doo-rag, take a can out of your neighbor's trash, or buy me a pump-action cyborg-mutilator. Get cracking. They're organizing their forces as we speak.

3- Buy Crap: When in doubt, find some one of a kind bric-a-brac at a garage sale or thrift store. Sure it's one of a kind because there are (at most) three people on earth who want a "Symphony of Destruction" music box, but imagine the joy on that special person's face when they open a box and find a unicorn, circling a carousel, to the soothing vocals of Dave Mustaine. Can you say "New Best Friend"?

4- Give Personalized Gift Certificates: Nothing says "thoughtful" like a gift certificate made by the giver, perhaps 20 minutes before the giving, written in ball-point pen and rife with misspellings, especially when its for something the giver does for free anyway. "This Gift Certificate entitles the recipient one (1) accompanied walk to the liquor store and the coverage of half (.5) the incurred cost of one (1) domestic six-pack," for example. You'll be everyone's best guy.

5- Get their gift first: The worst thing about getting a great gift is when you give something horrible in return. If you're getting a digital camera and you're giving some white socks you bought at Walgreens, while, have a nice divorce. So it's always good to pretend you left the rest of your gift at home or that they haven't delivered it yet. That buys you time instead of looking like a thoughtless prick. And that's what Christmas is all about. Either that or Baby Jesus. I'm going to need to look that up.

Monday, December 18, 2006

It's O.K. Homer. We all have those days. I'll see you same time, same place, next week.

Let's talk about "The Simpsons." See, I've been watching that yellow, mostly overweight family since 1989, when I was eight years old and the "Jingle Bells, Batman Smells" gag from the first episode resonated with me because I'd just sang it a week before. Ah, the things that are funny when you're eight. (Also hilarious in 1989: armpit fart noises, men getting kicked in the groin, the word "poppycock." Still funny to Brendan Frasier in 2006: all those things. Except "poppycock," which he deems "too cerebral.")

I don't think anything else has had a more profound effect on what I think is funny than "The Simpsons." After all, I've been watching it for 17 years (17 years and one day, to be precise). I remember almost going palsy with glee when they started syndication. I had Simpsons video games, Simpsons books, and Simpsons shirts made by slave-wage-earning pre-teens in Indo-China. And I'm not even close to the most rabid fan I know. I have a roommate who can call an episode based on half a joke, recites memorable quotes in every other conversation, and shaved his head a-la Homer for Halloween (with his girlfriend sporting a full-on, two-foot blue-cotton-ball Marge-wig no less). And you know what? I still sit down every Sunday at 8. "The Simpsons" are just what I do every Sunday. It's like church except, well, far superior. Added bonus: not having to drink the body of Christ after some guy with herpes sores.

But every once in a while, "The Simpsons" dissapoints. Last night was one of these nights, one of those nights when the show's all over the place and they're borrowing jokes from the phenomenally-inferior "Family Guy" and it doesn't seem like the writers have their hearts in it. But, of course, I watched. I watched in the way a parent might watch his kid foul up at his piano recital by concluding a Chopin piece with that knuckles song on all the black keys. I watched, recoiled in vicarious embarrassment, but never lost faith. Because, like I said, nothing has ever had a more profound effect on my sense of humor than "The Simpsons." If it wasn't for that show, I might have ended up watching T.G.I.F., shamefully laughing at Urkel or the Olson twins before they devolped eating disorders that were barely less funny than the show they were on. I could have ended up watching "Major Dad" or "Mad About You" or "Will & Grace," which are all about as funny as watching your dog get put to sleep.

So I'm taking today to remind myself of that. They'd need roughly 15 years of crappy episodes for me to lose my faith. Or if they allow Paul Reiser to start writing. Either or. Because, hey, if it wasn't for the Simpsons and Alex Trebeck, I wouldn't even have a TV. Which, come to think of it, might not be a good thing. Perhaps I should reevaluate this whole thing...

Friday, December 15, 2006

Happy endings and Occam's Razor

I'm a sucker for a happy ending. It's not that I prefer my Brother's Grimm Disneyfied or that I can't watch the Empire Strikes Back without weeping uncontrollably, it's just, well, I like a happy ending that doesn't feel like it cheated you. (Tom Robbins, for example, always leaves me feeling fleeced, despite a cover of clever and impenetrable similes.) If our hero gets the girl, rescues his father, and vanquishes the agonizingly annoying receptionist at my office, I'm going to feel fulfilled. (Especially the part about our receptionist, who's screaming about bagels right now in a language that appears to be English but may in fact just be hysterical grunting during some kind of bagel withdrawal seizure that, as I'm sure you can tell, is really distracting. It's like having a banshee on the Atkins diet craving potato bread in your brain. Where was I?)

Now, pretty much any neat, wrapped-in-a-bow style pleasant conclusion is going to be a little ridiculous. You can't really have a perfect ending without it being, at some level, a farce. But I'm okay with that.

Then, there's those times when life itself is a really weird fable that ends up all mushy and lovable and farcical all at the same time. Preferably this involves freaks. And communists. And dolphins. Yesterday, it involved all three.

Here's what happened: A couple of captive dolphins, usually far too smart to go munching on plastic, decided, well, to eat some plastic. Since plastic is rarely found growing naturally underwater, evolution had neglected to give the dolphins Tupperware-digesting amino acids and their trainers feared for their lives. So, they tried to extract the plastic with some sort of instrument (I'm imagining something like this) but they failed. Then with a special genius and a sense of porpoise (I'm sorry), they decided to call (who else?) the World's Tallest Man, who, as it turns out, also has really long arms. So he shows up (looking sharp, I must add), reaches in, yanks out some plastic, and vamooses. Your rather perfect happy ending to a tee.

I have to say: whoever was sitting there, faced with failure and a couple of unhappy dolphins, and thought "You know what? All we need is a really, really tall guy" is seriously a genius. He's like whoever decided, back when we were knee-deep in a costly World War, that we could save energy and increase productivity with more daylight and thought "You know what? Let's just move the clocks an hour." Occam's Razor used to it's fullest. Dolphins and steel magnates everywhere rejoice in unison to unexpected results.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

A dubious award given to a deserving culprit

Dave and I drove home from practice on Monday, having spent a good twenty minutes coming home, listening to radio that was the auditory equivalent of waterboarding. Or the Catherine Wheel (the torture device, not the reverb-y rock band). Or eating a kitchen sponge soaked in Ipecac. Point is: Unpleasant stuff. On the Modern Rock station? Playing some trash where a guy sings “Love, love, love, love, love” in the span of half a second and suddenly, my ears are bleeding. On the Classic Rock station? Well, it sounded like Foreigner but it wasn’t Foreigner so I couldn’t even enjoy hating something I recognized. How about NPR? The world is melting, the country is imploding, and apparently I am to blame.

Of course, we could’ve just turned it off. But then, you know, we would have had to make clever conversation and after playing music in a once-frigid then finally way-too-hot studio (like architectural menopause, essentially), my brain usually shuts down on the drive home. Monosyllabic grumbling: my forte.

Eventually we parked and walked home and, with some hateful ditty stuck in our heads, we tried discussing the most annoying song ever. The Gold Standard, if you will. (The Brown Standard, if you prefer). Contenders included Muskrat Love (too funny to be really annoying), Rockin’ Robin (this is actually the happiest, bubble-gummiest song I’ve ever heard, which makes it kind of annoying, sure, but nowhere near a contender), the entire Alvin & the Chipmunks oeuvre (disqualified on a technicality). Parenthetically, all the contenders above are about animals or sung by lunatics pretending to be animals. Perhaps this is something we all need to avoid in the future.

But we settled on a certain song by the time we reached our house. And, honestly, I hope you don’t remember who I’m talking about. But, in that exhaustively researched three minute pow-wow, Crazy Town won the highest honor, the Nobel Prize for Suicide-Inducing Annoyance, if you will, for that song “Butterfly” oh so long ago. If you must torture yourself, you can listen to a snipet on Amazon. I don’t recommend it, of course, except for scientific purposes. What do you think here? I defy you to name anything more annoying, musically. You can try and claim that Celine Dion “Titanic” song if you want, but at least she has crazy neck veins and I find that funny. So, I veto that. Preemptively.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Inclined Plane is the Umbrella's little bitch

Sometimes, you forget simple things had to be invented. Like the fork, for example. Nobody used forks before Middle Easterners started around 1000 B.C. and Europeans didn't catch on until, believe it or not, 1600. Even then, the fork was denounced as effeminate and "an insult to God" and took another couple centuries before it was sleeping in the cutlery drawer next to the spoon and knife. Before the fork? I think people just ate onion rings. I could be wrong about that, though.

Anyway: I can lay odds that everyone reading this used a fork in the last twenty four hours. Unless someone reading this is a gaucho, which involves eating off a giant knife, which means they can do whatever the hell they want. (And they do. In fact, they wear these thingies that sort of look like diapers but I'd never think of pointing that out because, again: big knives).

Then there's the umbrella. Fairly cheap, completely useful, and you can keep it in your purse (I Like the fork: simple genius. Sure, there are other ways of staying dry: the huddling-under-overhang move favored by dillydallyers, the news-paper-as-mortarboard move favored by the incredibly prepared, the garbage-bag-with-neck-hole favored by, among others, Coco Chanel, but the umbrella is superior to them all. It's to staying-dry what the napkin is to not-wiping-Cheetos-on-your-pants.

But, see, I've got this problem. I lose things. I mean, I left my keys onstage at the Riott festival and told everyone Sage Francis stole them. My wallet is always in a pocket or on a horizontal surface somewhere, I just never know which one unless I'm sitting on the bus and my ass is falling asleep. I haven't had a phone charger since they arrested the Unibomber. Also: I'm prone to breaking things. At least half my shoes have holes in them, all my earphones make that yelling-through-shredded-paper noise and, inexplicably, I'm on my third melodica in 18 months. Which is to say I go through an umbrella about every week. If I ride the bus, I leave it under my seat. If I go in a store, I leave in the trash can up front. If I'm walking down the street, I swing it around in circles until it separates uselessly. So then, I have to buy a new one. I'm like an umbrella junkie. The people at Walgreen's at two umbrellas away from cutting me off. They're the dealer who cares. That's their new slogan, in fact.

So what I need is a disposable umbrella. I need to invent this. An umbrella that costs, say, 50 cents, and that you can leave anywhere and you won't slap your forehead when you realize that you're getting home soggy again. Wait. Wait. That's just the newspaper-on-your-head thing, isn't it? Perhaps I've been looking at this all wrong. I'd rather not spend the 50 cents on a Chronicle if Jon Carroll is on vacation.

Maybe I can call Oswald Cobblepot. I bet he knows the score.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Crazy little thing called internets (pt. 2)

Some weekends are just too short. I spent this last one alternately on the couch, in the kitchen, at practice, and at a friend's Saturday brunch party, which means too many mimosas too early in the day, which means falling asleep halfwaf through Batman Begins, the indisputable champion of all Batman related cinema (apologies to Tim Burton; no apologies to Val Kilmer, who should never have been in any movies except Tombstone and who should've gotten 18 Oscars for Tombstone now is undoubtedly working at the Macy's on Laurel Canyon Boulevard, unshaven and smelling of gruyere).

Of course, a weekend of voluminous sloth doesn't lead to good stories. So, in the spirit of laziness, cop-outs, and our endless voyage against Taylorism, we're providing you with a series of internet-flavored distractions. Let's roll.

- As mentioned in a rambling post Friday, the glorious lady who designed our shirts has designed a shirt of no relation to Birdmonster but which can be championed at no cost to you. Original post is below this one and voting commences here. Thusly. Post haste. Forthwith. Something or other.

- I always enjoy articles that ceaselessly examine something I never really cared about. Like this one about sports mascots. And here I thought mascots were just around so I could throw batteries at them. You learn something everyday, really.

- What are you doing New Year's Eve? Nothing? Really? That's great! You should come to Bottom of the Hill and share it with us. I promise a staggeringly wonderful coversong, a few newies, and a meticulously constructed combination of merriment, revelry, and jollification. Don't say you weren't warned.

- Recently, a law was passed in the internet kingdom. All collections of links must contain at least one (1) obligatory YouTube clip, preferably of a wrestler on such quantities of steriods that, if he cried, he cheeks would grown biceps. This link fulfills my obligation to the above law.

- Oh no. And a man with short shorts shall lead them. Somewhere.

- When you start feeling sorry for yourself, it's a good idea to remember Roy Cleveland Sullivan. I'd make a joke, but Cecil Adams is funnier than I am.

So, while this post may have in fact seemed to be a half-hearted remedy for early Monday writer's block, I'd like to point out that the above links will cost you probably an hour of productivity which is better than the usual five minutes. How's that for rationalization?

Friday, December 08, 2006

It's Double-Post Friday! Which means Unemployed Monday! Also, we ask a favor

See those shirts over there? No, not there. Over to the right. Lower. Looower. There you go. Aren't they nice? Now, I'm not asking you to buy one (parenthetically: BUY ONE NOW), but I'm just providing you a link to a shirt that the designer of that shirt designed. (Apologies for previous mobius-strip-esque sentence structure that was like a mobius strip and also a sentence structured in a way that is akin to a mobius strip). Okay.

So, perhaps you're familiar with Threadless. It's a website where folks submit shirt designs, other folks vote on them, and magically, shirts get made. It's one of those great ideas I wish I thought of but didn't. The fine-woman-who-designed-our-shirt's submission is here. Perhaps you'd like to vote on it. I did and I know you're susceptible to peer pressure. All the cool kids are doing it. It's so easy. No one will ever know. Drugs are great. All that.

Warning: Way too much personification ahead. Proceed at your own risk.

In the unofficial hierarchy of the board game universe, Chess is certainly the all-knowing grandaddy of all games. Sure, chess is kind of pompous. If you met him at a party he'd probably be insanely intelligent, grandiloquent, and intimidating and you'd leave thinking "Man, that guy was intense but, you know: what a prick." Of course, nobody writes books about Hungry Hungry Hippos. Nobody plays computers at Tiddlywinks* (though, if we did, humans would dominate. Computers: no hands with which to tiddly. Tiddly: probably not a real verb). These are the facts.

Chess has his spouse Checkers and his hotter, less predictable wife Chinese Checkers who he broke up with when he saw six people playing her at once (scandalous behavior, quite frankly). Chess hates his younger brother Monopoly, probably because underneath his unctuous exterior, he's a little jealous that Monopoly is more popular, has his own currency (worth slightly more than the Italian Lira), and a mascot who looks like a non-peanut Mr. Peanut. Chess thinks Monopoly is all luck and that you might as well spend two hours of your life flipping coins with four friends. Sure it would be less fun but less people would be left crying.

So what I'm trying to figure out is where Fireball Island fits in. For those of you who don't remember, Fireball Island is a game in which four plastic explorers brave a treacherous plastic island in search of a valuable plastic jewel, all the while trying to set boobytraps for their peer archaeologists, avoiding giant-flaming-balls-of death (which, of course, don't really kill them at all; these are hearty folk), and trying to be the first little plastic man to the painted on boat at the end. Oh yeah: there's a giant, vengeful God on top of the island named Volkar. And no, I'm not making any of that up.

Maybe Fireball Island is a son from Chess's marriage with Chinese Checkers, except, not with Chess but with some other game because, let's face it, Chinese Checkers was promiscuous and she knew that Chess was filing for divorce, so she started seeing other people. Like Mouse Trap, who was a complete idiot but was phenomenal in the sack. Yes. I think that's what happened.

If you're ever lucky enough to see a Fireball Island anywhere, buy it. If there are two, buy two. It's just utterly fantastic. And yes, I obviously played it last night and I lost and I'm still kind of angry about it. Which is childish and obsessive and borderline pathetic but I'm okay with that.

Also, that may have been the most pointless thing I've ever written. I'm also okay with that. Have a fine weekend, one and all.

* In the interest of wrapping up lose ends from last week, Team Human lost it's final chess match about Team Robot Overlord, making the score four ties and two failures for carbon-based life forms everywhere. I say we punish the computer with a sledgehammer. Just to keep it in line. And by in line, I mean obliterated.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Our science experiment goes awry. We blame roasted beans

Today was to be the day where I went 24 hours without music. I'd forgotten, of course, until my roommate reminded me while I was snatching my iPod from the kitchen counter. "Isn't today the day you can't listen to music?" she asked. "GRrbjadbljskj" I mumbled, still forty minutes from my first cup of coffee.

It started well enough: I was on one of those buses that resembles an Indian subway more than a San Franciscan commuter bus (sadly though: no monkeys) and I couldn't hear any Eminem overflowing out the earphones of some pre-pubescent quasi-hard-ass. Sure I was stepping on some large gentleman's foot while enduring the surprisingly pointy elbow of a rotund grandma, but the bus was to be one of the great no-music-for-a-day challenges. I can regulate the atmosphere of my house and my office is a soulless wasteland, so all I had to do was travel between those two places in relative silence and success would be mine. Or, so I thought.

Our rolling sardine mobile stopped on 3rd street and I walked down the alley that takes me toward my office, trying to enjoy the early morning chill and vague aroma of urine. "Coffee," said my brain. "Yes, brain," said my mouth. "We're almost there." And, unthinkingly, I walked into the cafe where I usually start my morning and---John Mellencamp. Of all people. And it wasn't even Jack & Diane. No, it was one of those other "Look, I'm really a lot like Springsteen" "songs" that our Mr. Mellencamp foists upon the unsuspecting radio universe. That is, when he's not scoring flabbergastingly offensive Chevy commercials. Badness abounded.

So, attempt number one lasted about an hour until unbridled Mellencamp flavored failure but I learned a lesson I thought I'd realized, namely: you can't go shopping and avoid music. Attempt two will involve a sack lunch and the soil-flavored work-coffee.

The nice part was I forsaw the probable lack of success and brought my iPod anyhow. Either that or I was too groggy to fully comprehend what my roomie was saying. Serendipitous nonetheless. I say this because, when you get denied by Corporate Springsteen, it's best to wash the taste out of your earholes as fast as humanly possible. I put on that "Pillar of Salt" song by The Thermals (this week's front runner for "Best Song in the Universe"---sorry Beethoven's Ninth) and everything was alright all over again.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Sweet things go sour. But not all sweet things do. I learned that on Monday too, while music was threatening to drive me batty

There's this movie theatre by my house called the Red Vic. It's in the infamous Haight-Ashbury district (which once meant stinky, drug-addled hippie land and now means stinky, drug-addled bum land) a block away from the best record store on the planet. When I moved nearby, they used to charge you $5.50 for great second-run films and quirky little documentaries and classics both cultish and accepted. It was a great place to end up for a night. Sure the screen was small and the sound was AM-alarm-clock-radio-y, but it was charming, affordable, and within walking distance. I saw the Salton Sea movie there. I saw City of Lost Children there. I would've seen Harold & Maude there, but I had the flu. Or the whooping cough. Or consumption. Something that involved soggy lungs, no doubt.

But that was two years ago. Now, suddenly, it costs $8.50 and it's infested with vermin and blood-sucking insect life. In another couple years, there's going to be two fat guys watching some Jim Jarmusch film at $25 a ticket while getting devoured by sewer rats. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a sad, sad thing.

Not unlike when Bruce Springsteen released "Human Touch" or when Tom Robbins released that book about the tanuki with big ol' nut sack*, the Red Vic has taken a shocking turn. When something or someplace that was once adorable or perfect or at least downright enjoyable becomes less so, you can't help but feel robbed, right? You expect those special artists or restaurants or bands to remain phenomenal forever, which, let's face it, is unfair---but that doesn't make it less dissapointing. There's this Ethopian restaurant by my house that went through the same unfortunate devolution. It was delicious, cheap, hideously decorated, with a juke box full of Elvis Costello and Stevie Wonder and a wait staff of two, who also happened to own the place, and who moved about as quickly as turtle in a coma.** Now? What was once a "I've got ten bucks, let's go get Ethopian" is now a "hold on, lemme go to an ATM" sort of place with worse food and a full bar, in case, you know, you want hard liquor with your chicken.

I guess it all comes down to taking things for granted. If it's not static it's going to change and if you love it, it's probably going to get worse. So go on. Give your favorite person a hug, eat at your favorite restaurant, go to that park down the street before they turn it into a Bev Mo. And do it all while you're listening to your favorite CD. Because, even when the Ethopian place a few blocks away starts jacking up their prices and skimping on their portions, "Astral Weeks" will always be "Astral Weeks." And that's weirdly comforting.

* I know, I know. It's serious.

** "I knoow, I knooow. It's seriooous."

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

A detailed chronicle of the first half of our science experiment: dinosaur related asides and scatalogical humor provided free of charge

Disclaimer: Birdmonster would like to apologize in advance for the loopy rambling, misguided whatnot-ery, and slew of shameful "humor" that will ensue at the end of this introductory warning. Birdmonster is still drunk. Drunk enough to refer to itself in the third person, which is quite a feat, considering it's actually four people. Birdmonster needs to remember Mondays are for sleeping, cribbage double-headers, and home cooked crock-pot dinners. Gin is a poor substitute for all three. Next Monday: naps, cards, and stew. This Tuesday: ache-y noggins. Onwards:


When I started this whole "listen to music for 24 hours straight, then go 24 hours without it" thing, there were a few things I didn't properly account for. Firstly, I overlooked the fact that I never came up with a catchy name, which, as any scientist knows, is half the battle. When I discover a dinosaur, for example, I'm not going to name it anything that ends in "saurus." Instead: "Lord Awesome the Kick-Ass." What ten year old wouldn't love that? Secondly, I thought that music all day would be easy, enriching, and downright enjoyable. Like so many good, that was wrong, wrong, wrong. Allow me to explain.

It started easily enough. Alarm clock muzak jazz, relaxing bus ride with Ryan Adams and Primus (not exactly kindred spirits, I'm aware), croissant with Cinematic Orchestra. I was enjoying myself. I got to select my own private soundtrack for every piddling detail of an otherwise drab Monday. Suddenly, my bus ride seemed more poignant, my croissant more epic. I was a living, horrible art house movie where nothing happens.

Then, the little snags began. See, if you're really going for music all day, you need accompaniment while eating, while sleeping, while talking on the phone, while, say, squatting over the toilet at the office. (Which in itself brings up countless quandaries. What, exactly, is good pooping music? Are people going to be slightly perturbed when you walk into the bathroom, rocking out, with headphones in? At what point will this actually get you fired?) By eleven o'clock, the experiment was starting to be a bit of a hassle. I was talking to my boss with one earphone in, trying to explain, no, "I'm not horribly rude, I'm just trying to... oh I love this drum part" when I realized that yesterday wasn't going to be easy. I hadn't fully realized I spend about two or three hours of my work day haggling with people on the phone. This becomes much more difficult when Tina Turner is offering to be your Private Dancer.

I really noticed how burdensome the whole thing was on my bus ride home. Usually, the whole "music while struggling through the crossword I stole from the coffee shop" thing is really pleasant. The bus is empty and I'm trying to figure out who the only palindromic band with a palindromic hit single is (ABBA, by the way) and I'm on my way to the couch and a cozy book. But by 5 yesterday, I was starting to feel stressed out. My thought process was breaking down. It wasn't stupidity, per se, but complete distraction. At home I watched Jeopardy with my girlfriend (while listening to Cake but eating spaghetti) and struggled endlessly. I actually knew the final answer and had to spend twenty second pacing in circles like a skittish Labrador before actually remembering Edward R. Murrow's name, followed, of course, by berating the people on the television who got it wrong to the tune of "This Long Line of Cars."

Then, us Birdmonsters got to judge a local band contest at night. This was good because live music is far superior to recordings, and, quite frankly, I needed a drink. The problem was, I didn't need several. Half-drunk, I almost blew the whole thing when I went outside without my iPod and spent the next ten minutes humming to myself while pretending to talk to some guy who may or may not have been on serious uppers.

But I learned plenty. I learned that music all day, if you're diligent about it, isn't all that hard. It's just annoying. I learned you can overdose on your favorite thing in the whole world if you really put your mind to it. I learned there's a reason everyone loves the Beatles. (News flash: they're really good).

On Thursday, we try to go 24 hours without music. I'd try to do it today, but band practice would be fairly difficult. Until tomorrow.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Today's post brought to you by burning hamstrings and distraction

I swear: I used to be in good shape. I used to be able to run a sub six minute mile, ride a bike to school, play soccer for ninety minutes without someone warming up the defibrillator. Now? I sit behind a computer five days a week, waddle to the elevator for MSG smothered dim sum, and ride the bus home. When I'm not doing that, we're on tour, which is a see-saw between spurts of bastardized exercise and hours of trucker-like immobility. Sure, we carry gear and jump around on stage for an hour every night, but calling that real exercise is like calling the Santa Clause 3 a real movie: technically true but philosophically disingenuous. As an aside: I really wouldn't be upset if Martin Short was smote by a righteous God. Somehow, I'm guessing you wouldn't be either.

Anyhow, I bring this up because I'm incredibly sore. See, there was a time when a couple hours of basketball wouldn't turn me into a salty, hobbled curmudgeon. That time, unfortunately: not now. Had a damn fine time though, atrophied muscles or no. If you need me later, I'll be in an Epsom salt bath sipping a brandy & milk, moaning about "kids today" and the buffalo head nickel.

Also: after a couple false starts, today is the day where I'm going to listen to music for 24 hours in a row. I woke up to an alarm clock radio---God knows what song, though. I do remember hating it. But I hate anything that wakes me up. I'd hate a golden unicorn with a cappuccino and the New York Times, let alone muzak-y jazz jams. Where was I? Yes. Clock radio, the requisite snooze button of five, then, to the stereo and the iPod and the radio and whatever else it's going to take to saturate my entire day with songs. Gillian Welch is distracting me right now---in the best possible way, of course. I have trouble functioning with music on, by the way. So if you talk to me on the phone today or happen to my boss, expect ditsy preoccupation to be the mood. In fact, I'm having undue trouble writing this. On the other hand, Gillian Welch sings a mean country song.

Rather than spiraling into a sea of run on sentences, dangling modifiers, and all the other not-quite-the-end-of-the-world shit that drives me needlessly batty, I'm going to mention one thing. You never want to see this sign on the wall in the bathroom where you work:

"If it becomes necessary, there is a mop and bucket in the break room."

If that becomes necessary, let me know where you ate. I'd like to avoid that and anything else in a ten block radius. Thanks.

Friday, December 01, 2006

The inevitable postponing of a science experiment and the answer to another. Alert the Nobel committee post haste

First off, I should admit I didn't listen to music for 24 hours straight yesterday. I set my alarm clock to "shrill beeping; bringer of insanity" mode, not "bad corporate rock radio" mode, so I stumbled right out of the gate, not unlike a horse I once bet on that actually ran backwards. Not a good omen for your day of gambling, by the way. It'd be like going to a Blackjack table and getting dealt Magic: the Gathering cards. I mean, sure, a Rampaging Orc and a bunch of blue manna look pretty good until the dealer turns over a twenty. Then? Bye-bye fifteen bucks.

Before exposing any other not-quite-expired dork tendencies or vices, let's stop with the analogies, hmm? Great. I've enlisted my girlfriend to join me in Monday's attempt. The alarm clock will be set---probably on the classical station, now that I think of it, since rock radio will have the requisite obnoxious buffoon morning cohosts whose names must either rhyme or begin with the same letter. It's a law, you know. The rest of the day should be constant and painless, what with iPods and CD players and whatnot. Plus---and I'm excited about this---we're judging a local band contest on Monday night along with people who, you know, actually make money on music, with the winner playing this big time-y Live 105 show at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium with a handful of really good bands, notably (for me at least), the Shins. I think I'll wear a special judging hat. Better yet: one of those British powdered wigs. Nothing says "judge" like a grown man in a curled white toupee.

Anyway, I'm planning on going mad with power, demanding bribes from every band, and heckling them to see if they go Michael Richards on me. Should be a good time for the whole family.

Meanwhile, in the real world, Team Human is nearing the end of his fourth game against Team Robot Overlords. And it's looking like another tie. Apparently, chess is the soccer of the board game world. Get the world's best together and they tie spectacularly. Which is all well and good if you understand the intricacies of the games, but if you don't: Rip Van Winkle time. Give me Fireball Island any day. Ties are impossible, vengeance is swift, and heckling is mandatory. Like Rollerball.

As way of introductions go, not my smoothest, I'll admit, but we're back to talking about robots pretending to be human and maddening me with visions of sci-fi armageddons. It was fun seeing everyone's guesses yesterday, including a few people who claimed to know the poet then chose opposite answers. Always fun, there. Without further ado:

[Author's note: It was here where I completely blew it, said that TS Eliot wrote the second stanza, thus almost invalidating the entire experiment. However, I'm going to salvage it thusly: Only a human would make a mistake so buffoonish as to spoil two days of careful writing. So there. Read my incorrectness below, with apoligies to Lester & Kasi for crushing their dreams and kind regards to Mike Young for revealing my ineptitude.]

Poetputer wrote the first stanza. T.S. Eliot wrote the second. [Or, in reality: THE EXACT OPPOSITE OF THAT.] I should tally the votes, but we seemed to be split right on down the middle, more or less. Sad to say that the man who wrote not only the "Wasteland" but also the impetus for a musical that ran longer than most people live was outpoemed by a Macintosh. Spin in your grave, Thomas Stearns. Watch out for the worms.