29 October 2005

How to Throw a Dinner Party for 45 People

Last weekend Danielle and I had our housewarming party, "HOUSEWARMED!" officially marking the 6th month anniversary of our cohabitation. It was the half-full/half-empty point in the lease, and if we didn't do it then we'd never get around to it. What transpired was thoroughly educational, and well, as close to perfect as any party our diminutive apartment could handle. Be advised:

1. Roommates with opposite work schedules will have difficulties planning large-scale events.

- Neither of us was around for the week's planning, so at least 7 To-Do lists were tacked to the fridge.

-We did our grocery shopping at midnight the night before, after two equally long and stressful workdays. The bottle of wine at dinner got us through a concert in the evening, but by midnight we were both on empty.

-However, it was required of us to put at least 3 good hours of prep cooking in before we could rest. What could have proven to have derailed the party actually turned out to be quite a lot of fun. I announced, grating sweet potatoes in the bathroom sink at 3am, "I'm already convinced we should do this again." Danielle, knee-deep in a pound of spinach, heartily concurred.

2. Arrange all of the evening's cooking, timing the arrival of each dish and the schedule of its baking.

-The 17 dishes served that evening were on a precise schedule. We also knew, with 25 guests scheduled to arrive (of which 20 could be safely predicted) that not everyone would be able to eat everything. We planned the entree arrivals to the minute, ensuring a swift and well-oiled operation. Only one plastic mixing bowl melted on a lit burner. Only one small grease fire.

-We made sure all of the dishes were as edible as possible without the usual "banquet style" plate stuffing. No "all at once" eating meant that people could chat up what they tried and liked. This allowed some anticipation to build between dishes. And kept people from getting a plate of food at 7:30 and not wanting anymore food for the rest of the night. We essentially starved our guests, teased them I suppose, for the entire evening, and it worked.

-We kept portion sizes small, to avoid leftovers, and planned so that our bedrooms (which acted as separate dining rooms) would each get half of the entrees. That way it did not depend on what you like and dislike but where you happened to be sitting. This worked in theory and in practice to some degree but...

-We did not predict 45 people would show up.

3. You'll be cooking all night.

-Even when the cooking finally subsided to a degree at around 9ish (a full 2 hours after we began cooking) I found it nearly impossible to acclimate myself to my own party. I went into Danielle's bedroom first just to see who was about, and discovered everyone was completely shitfaced. Somewhere a dozen bottles of wine, 3 bottles of whiskey, a 12 pack of beer, and one bottle each of rum, gin, vodka, and tequila had evaporated. I stayed for a minute and then said, "I'll come back when I'm drunk. I wonder if Danielle needs help with those stuffed peppers." It took me til about 12:30am to reach the level of drunkenness most guests reached at about 7:45. Hell, Pat was warmed up for the party by 2pm, a full 5 hours before he showed.

4. Invitations should go out early, but not too early.

-We sent out invitations on the Tuesday before, allowing just enough time to take someone's Saturday evening who had a Saturday evening to spare. We missed the people who had already made out-of-town plans, but also snagged a lot of people (THE AUTHOR OF THIS BLOG is notorious for such behavior) who get emails in advance of large events and let them get buried in Life's Inbox.

5. Get some help.

-My friend John heard me griping about the stress of preparations and offered to help. He did maybe three errands at best, but those errands saved us an hour on the day of the party that we did not have.

-Another helpful piece of advice would be to keep a strict start time to only a handful of guests. We both picked a handful of people to tell "It starts right at 6" and told the rest "7ish." This meant that we had a few minutes to enjoy ourselves before the chaos erupted. And it did, when about 20 showed up in the same 10 minute span.

6. Enlist the help of a notorious socialite.

-During the party, I advise that you find two or three individuals who can keep the atmosphere lively while you're in the kitchen. Since it is your party, people will expect you to talk about your apartment, your decorations, your rent, everything. But you will be cooking. At times, people found their way into the kitchen to make chatter, and all I remember from those conversations was that they weren't talking about the acorn squash, which had to be warmed 20 minutes prior to serving. I now know why an MC and a cook have never been confused. Except Chef Raekwon of the Wu-Tang Clan, but then I've never seen him cook anything.

7. Steak is very popular.

-It broke my heart to see the disappointed faces when, after the 2 pounds of strip steak ascended from beef purgatory to cow heaven in less time than it took to construct that metaphor, the Chilean Sea Bass hit the table. "Oh, $20-a-pound fresh Chilean Sea Bass. Fuck that." Those who got to have their fill of it had one of the best (and easiest) dishes we came up with. The sliced strip steak, dangerously tasty, inspired a bloodthirsty rampage. Next time you consider feeding that many people, keep at least thirty pound of ground chuck on hand in case of emergency.

8. Thank your guests.

-It poured like hell, there wasn't enough food, we didn't buy any mixers, the place got cramped (cozy, but cramped), and neither of us did any real "hosting," but we want to say thank you for all the amazing guests who showed. We really truly appreciate it, and had so much fun cooking for all of you that it wouldn't have mattered if five or fifty showed up.

24 October 2005

The Upstate Chronicles, Vol. 1

Rural legends abound in the quiet filth-beauty of upstate New York, a place I occasionally call home. Washington Irving, in his "The Sketch Book," gave the Catskill region more mystique than it probably deserves, but no one has yet captured the American imagination by writing about the Adirondack region a hundred miles further north. Although I have no intention of changing that, I will from time to time collect some delicious tidbits from the Great Caucasian North, and pass them on to you.

In this story below, taken from an email, an English professor colleague of my father describes a recent car accident. He does so in one continuous compound sentence, with enjambments used for effect. He signs it with style. The title of the piece, one of the many great things about it, perfectly summates the storytelling techniques of the Upstater. Here it is. Enjoy.

"Check it out...."

. . .Check it out: I'm driving on one of my favorite roads Rt 35 Rd. in Ft. Anne which is kool to navigate because it's all apogeed-perigeed-troughed-crested-helixed wickedly fun to flash-blast in my light-ended Sonoma in four-wheel drifts and I'm quite good at it--Rob can vouch for that--having had plenty of practice doing hundreds of doughnuts in late-night-closed parking lots with friends growing up in Cleveland which is one of the snowiest cities in the country and so like I said I come up on one of Rt. 35's awesome curves and from the direction I'm traveling--east--this particular section of the road is fairly well-banked with the biggest problem being that most of the curve is blind but that makes things only that much more exciting naturally--there's always the envelope you see--and right as I come around the corner to accelerate up the rise there's this gravel- and rock-strewn mars-scape appearing ex nihilo obviously part of a dump truck's load just lying there covering both lanes and I mean pea-to-baseball-sized detritus and suddenly I'm riding the wild surf
attempting to negotiate
these totally fucked-up-centrifugal-centripetal-coefficient-of-friction-second-law-of-thermodynamics vectors and like I say instead of pavement I've got a surface behaving more like ice #9 from the Bizzaro world so I try to straighten her out
as I drift when BLAM! right at my shoulder and head level I hit a steel pole inches from my head the pole bends completely to the ground from the force but
in so doing prevents
the bottom half of the truck from rotating as quickly as the top and so
having already spun around 180 degrees horizontally I'm simultaneously barrel rolling
in the air 180 degrees and down the slight embankment me sitting there
upside down like I'm in some fucking Mercury capsule unlock my seat belt upon which I land with a thud on my left shoulder and head and on all manner of broken shit mostly glass--some got stuck in my head--a samaritan motorist ducking his head in the window the rooftop now flush with the ground asking if I'm okay and after a quick inventory I decide I am and crawl out through what used to be the driver's side window and naturally an ambulance firetruck police sheriff
(did you know that that word comes from shire reeve?)
even the Post Star if you can believe it (photo and story!)
at which point there are the obligatory
and I guess they're right because this morning I'm not even aching anywhere and I think I got all the glass out of my head and left hand and the truck's lights are still on but the cd player has cut out I can't remember what tune was playing all I recall is skidding spinning and looking out my window at this solid steel pole approaching at light speed which hits my driver door panel and leaves a completely crumpled nastiness on the truck and so now the police say they're going to look for who dumped the load but for some reason I don't care and I didn't get cited because I'd done nothing wrong--for a change--the action being pretty kool not depite of but because of
all the adrenaline and endorphins that flooded my system for hours
and of course a mild case of shock which is always an interesting state of reality I have it even as I write this.

Barnacle Bill, the Sailor Man

18 October 2005

Memphis Songs.


Congratulations to Cleek, who nailed the Memphis question in high fashion, picking 3 the first time and 4 the second time, for a total of 7 songs. After all, I got Portastatic's "memphis" from you. Bryan snagged three and Jonny Cigar got 4, though he was joking and couldn't match his invented song titles with the musicians.

Here they are:

1. Marc Cohn, Walking In Memphis
2. Louis Armstrong, Memphis Blues
3. Pixies, Letter to Memphis
4. Portastatic, memphis
5. Dylan, "Stuck Inside of Mobile..." from Blonde on Blonde
6. Dylan, "Stuck Inside of Mobile..." from Hard Rain
7. Dean Martin, Night Train to Memphis
8. Colorblind James Experience, Considering a Move to Memphis
9. King Curtis, Memphis Soul Stew
10. Memphis Nomads, Memphis Nomads, Don't Pass Your Judgement
11. Rufus Thomas, The Memphis Train
12. Percy Wilson, Katy Left Memphis
13. Percy Wilson, I'm Going to Memphis
14. Beatles, Memphis Tennessee
15. Chuck Berry, Memphis
16. Neil Diamond, Memphis Streets

And if I decide to consider the Dylan song as two different recordings (which I did for the voters), we've got ourselves 16.

Still no takers on the Harlem songs? This wasn't easy...

1. Rolling Stones, Harlem Shuffle
2. The Action, Harlem Shuffle
3. Aretha Franklin, Spanish Harlem
4. Ben E. King, Spanish Harlem
5. Dylan, Spanish Harlem Incident from The Times They Are A-Changin.
6. Dylan, Spanish Harlem Incident from Live 1964
7. Cab Calloway, Tarzan of Harlem
8. Duke Ellington, Jungle Nights In Harlem
9. Duke Ellington, Harlem Twist (the 1929 remake of East St. Louis Toodle-oo)
10. Duke Ellington, Harlem Airshaft
11. Duke Ellington, Drop Me Off At Harlem
12. Randy Newman, Underneath the Harlem Moon
13. Suicide, Harlem
14. U2, Angel of Harlem
15. Alicia Keys, Harlem's Nocturne
16. Ol Dirty Bastard, Harlem World
17. Chick Webb, Harlem Congo

Thanks for playing. Boxed-sets to both Cleek and Jill (which includes Bryan anyway, despite his stupid Globetrotters joke). I promise to hold another contest by the end of 2009.

16 October 2005

Memphis vs. Harlem

I called my father and mentioned casually that after going through my music library, I was surprised to find so many (15!) songs about Memphis. This is a vague transcript of the conversation.

Mark: 15 Memphis songs, unbelievable!
Dad: Was that the most?
M: No, it was third.
D: What!!
M: Uh... yeah, third.
D: Come on! There is no other city that has as many songs named after it as Memphis!
M: That's not true at all.
D: What was second?
M: Surprisingly, and I don't think it even counts, but it was Harlem.
D: Really?
M: Yup.
D: And first?
M: Well, of course New York.
D: No way there are more New York songs than Memphis songs.
M: Well I have 18 songs that mention New York in the title.
D: Hold on, just let me get the computer going here...
M: Okay.

-unnecessarily long pause ensues-

D: I have 46 songs that mention Memphis in the title.
M: You're kidding?
D: No, I collect em. It's kind of a hobby. I have every Memphis song from the iTunes site and the Crandall Library.
M: That's incredible.
D: Do you have that version of Tiny Tim doing "Hey Jude?" That rhumba... no wait... no, that cha-cha version he does?
M: No.
D: Oh it's great. Yeah, you should look for that. I can't find it anywhere.
M: I'll see what I can do.

He proposed a competition, between Harlem songs and Memphis songs. Whoever can collect the most wins. Wins what? I haven't a clue.

But I offered up some damn fine music to those of you who could answer one of the three questions below. Jill nailed the 3rd one, and 3 contestants took a stab at the Memphis question, but no one's got that so far. I can't say whose in the lead or closest or whatever, because I'd like to leave it open for at least another day.

Wish me luck in my attempts to notify the world that Harlem is the most written-about and least habitable relic of the songwriter's imagination. Memphis is a worthy opponent on both fronts.

12 October 2005


Well, as I have passed the 1300 Albums mark on the iTunes Library, I figured I'd give a quick update on the current music collection's many highlights. The last time I did this I included mostly album-related stats, so for this time around I figured we'd do some songs. Here goes!

Songs: 15,363

Most Songs By Genre
1. Alternative: 4166
2. Rock: 3991
3. Hip Hop: 1479
4. R & B: 1403
5. Jazz: 1379

Most Songs By Artist
1. Beatles: 507
2. Bob Dylan: 325
3. Sinatra: 280
4. Rolling Stones: 233
5. The Who: 215 (I think I've listened to 8 of them)
6. Miles Davis: 187
7. David Bowie 166
8. Elliott Smith: 179
9. The Kinks 177
10. Pavement 176

Most Songs by "Cuss" Word
1. Fuck: 28
2. Bitch: 19
3. Ass: 12
4. Shit: 11
5. Cock: 1

Most Songs by City:

1. New York: 18
2. Harlem: 16!
3. Memphis: 14?
4. Paris: 13
5. St. Louis: 10
6. London: 9
7. Los Angeles: 8
8. Chicago: 7
9. New Orleans: 6
10. Kansas City: 5
11. Las Vegas: 4
12. Nashville: 4

13. East St. Louis: 3
-Atlanta: 3
-Reno: 3
-Brooklyn: 3
-Stockholm: 3
-Statesboro: 3
-Detroit: 3

20. San Francisco: 2
-Seattle: 2
-Box Elder: 2
-Queens: 2

24. Cleveland: 1
-Dayton, OH: 1
-Modesto: 1
-Vancouver: 1
-Miami: 1
-Atlantic City: 1
-Clarksville: 1
-Birmingham: 1
-San Diego: 1
-Hoboken: 1

-Saratoga: 1
-Montreal: 0

-Houston: 0
-Anaheim: 0
-Boston: 0

Most Songs by Color
1. Blue: 102 (excluding "Blues")
2. Red: 36
3. Green: 33
4. Orange: 18
5. Pink: 13
6. Yellow: 12
7. Grey: 9
8. Indigo: 7
9. Purple: 3
10. Violet: 2

Songs With The Words...

-Love: 508
-Blues: 428
-Money: 82

-Rock: 113
-Roll: 80
-Heart: 128
-Soul: 56
-Day: 304
-Night: 239
-Life: 94
-Death: 48
-Heaven: 46
-Hell: 24

-Hard: 60
-Soft: 6
-Mean: 24
-Nice: 18
-Dead: 38
-Alive: 11
-You: 95
-Me: 30
-Happy: 28
-Sad: 27

-Milk: 20
-Coffee: 9
-Whiskey: 7

-Man: 95
-Woman: 49
-Girl: 57
-Boy: 32

-Jesus: 18
-Dylan: 5

If you can name:

1. 8 of the 16 "Harlem" songs from my collection,
2. 5 of the 14 "Memphis" songs from my collection, or...
3. ... the song with Saratoga in the title

I will send you the complete Atlantic Rhythm and Blues Singles Collection, 1949-1974, on 8-CDs.

Answers next week! OH BOY!

06 October 2005

Sex Sells... But Does It Need to Sell Email?

I have been using Yahoo! Mail for a little while and I'm pleased with it, yes, overall I cannot complain. Hotmail, which I've been using since 1996, is a piece of shit. Especially on a Powerbook. So Yahoo has me as a customer and I don't need to go gushing like yuppies at a yacht party about it. But in the past, when you logged in, a smiling woman would greet you. I started calling her Miss Yahoo! She was generic brunette white lady to a T, but I got so used to her vacant expression that I wondered what kind of life she was leading in Los Angeles or Bulgaria or in a cramped folder of public domain images. Sadly, she has been replaced. And not by a NEW Miss Yahoo, a younger, sexier Miss Yahoo, but by a host of new and exciting images that capture what Yahoo! Mail is today!

And apparently what Yahoo! Mail is today just happens to be...well, a service that relies heavily on overtly suggestive images intended to... make me log in? I don't get it, but judge for yourself. The rotating group of photos they use when you log in to http://mail.yahoo.com favors women to men by a margin of about 4 to 1 and girls to men at a ratio of 3 to 1. Again, you can decide if I'm being a little to Pat Robertson about this, but man, I am getting pretty sick of these inane photos greeting me everytime I want to see when a Netflix film is coming.

Culled directly from the Yahoo! Mail Site. Enjoy!

EXHIBIT A: Faceless Tits.

This one goes right to the point. It seems to suggest that we prefer women with hideous paper faces and huge tits; is there any other kind, Yahoo? A little oriental theme is icing on the pervert cake.


EXHIBIT B: She Loves Pigs!
Well, I guess you could argue that "overt" is an overstatement, but just look at the way she admires that piggy bank. I mean, with 'tongue-rolled-under-her-lower-lip excitement,' she looks like she's going to eat it.


EXHIBIT C: She Ate It!
Of course this is the exact same girl, offering us loads of tongue, and we don't even have to pay a subscription fee! Screw you AOL, and you too Lesbos.com!


EXHIBIT D: She Ate It Too!
An underage girl being force-fed a slice of pizza. Is she anorexic? Submissive? You decide, I'm going to check my email.


EXHIBIT E: The Trilogy Is Complete
Sometimes a snow-cone is just a snow-cone, and sometimes a 10-year old girl is just a jpeg.


EXHIBIT F: Beach Fun
Cum shot?


EXHIBIT G: Are You Fucking Kidding Me?
Either you've got a Georgia O'Keefe painting in your mouth, or you are really happy to see me.


I mean, should I ask them to remove these? Or just wait for them to sue me for posting them here?

Thoughts on The General, Buster Keaton, 1927.


Before I saw The General, I asked myself if innocence was a thing that could be displayed not simply in passivity, but by an intense struggle. Lets take for instance the comic elements of a love triangle. Shouldn’t one person be vulnerable, one be oblivious, and one be slave to unreconcilable fascinations? Hijinks galore! I knew comedy was capable of showing us that innocence is difficult to maintain, and the breakdown of it so delicious to watch. But I never thought that an exuberance for innocence (a truly American concept) would translate to film.

And then I saw Buster Keaton's film. We have Keaton the diminutively indifferent, yet irrationally excitable hero. Capable of destruction in ways each of us with a conscience can’t be. How does this violence keep our attention? He commandeers it with his overwhelmed main character. He destroys at whim. He fancies nothing more than fear. We want him to be deadly and he is not; he is a shadow of his masculinity. Yet when the ironies of his triumph become apparent –

1. he fights for the South,
2. he wins for them even though we know they will lose,
3. he represents a romantic social code that never existed,
4. he pulls us in endlessly without ever cracking a smile,

- still we must root for him. This is the true performance of innocence, no ignorance in it. Keaton’s character handles circumstances as they arise, yet prepares for nothing. It is as if preparation has become instinctive. The South must triumph over the North, the most improbable of all chores. Five feet tall, barely 120 pounds, he takes on the North and proves them wrong. Not ideologically wrong; he is never anywhere near an ideology. But because he is in a comedy, and in comedy, ideological struggles must be laid to waste like wooden bridges doused in kerosene and lit by a single match.

In this, Buster Keaton does not go about predicting the future of the comedic film, he flaunts our desire to be willingly deceived; this is the function of any artistic expression worth a damn.