(Auld Lang) Syne of the Times

Ex Machina and into the BottleFrom the progression of light and dark bits out my window, it’s fair to assume time has passed since New Year’s Day. So it’s probably high time I get dressed.

Nah, I’ve been dressed in 2004. We were out depleting the bottle stocks at Spuyten Duyvil just last night, and I distinctly remember wearing clothes. Someone would have said something if I’d forgotten. Right?

The ghosts of New Year’s past:

  • 1999 – We don’t quite party like it’s 1999, but props to Prince for planting that song so long back that it’s instant future nostalgia until we get bored to tears with it. And we do, we do. I am about to come down with a six-week stint of severe bronchitis, which is nassssty hobbitses all around, and this is the last bit of real life before the sick thing hits.

  • 2000 – You can say “millenium” all you want, this is the year before the millennium. Bit of a flinch at midnight, remember that? We don’t have terrorism yet, but still. All those zeroes coming at twelve combined with Y2K doomsday hilarity makes for nerves. I head out somewhere small, cheery, and New Jerseyful for First Night with The Cucumbers and their two delightful cornichons, Jesse and Jamie, and see out the old year in the wholesome company of happy parents and giddy kids. I am the only single man without an instrument in hand for miles in any direction. A late train to the City puts an end to the wholesome part, and I ease back onto home ground in the East Village at d.b.a. until the chummy wee hours. Nothing much blows up, and we’re so relieved that we party like it’s 1999. Oops.

  • 2001 – Never saw September coming, did we? Who knew that these were going to be the good years? We who refused to say “millenium” in 2000 say it now. No one heeds. It is the last great shindig in these parts; no need to watch your back, and the future seems full of bounty. We make lots of “I’m sorry Dave” jokes and find the world has thoroughly and unjustly forgotten Stanley Kubrick’s majestic 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), which is a fine film like they used to make ‘em back before focus groups (here is a link to a fun if slightly shrill Flash version of the 2001 saga).

  • 2002 – If we don’t stay out drinking hysterically, the terrorists have won.

  • 2003 – Sean over at Micky’s Blue Room discovers that one bad apple can cause no end of woe at the pre-paid open bar if Patrón Tequila is part of the scenery, and if I’m the apple. It’s a sloppy night. It’s a grim morning. Whee!

2004? This year spins out as planned, and shortly after midnight I am up on stage at The Slipper Room with Miss Saturn, hula hooper extraordinaire, and a gang of adoring fellow hoopers (that hula hoop thing is a lot trickier than it looks, by the way, and not as easy as I remember). The indubitable Miss Delirium Tremens is a fetching Baby 2004, reprising her role from last year. I’m wearing the leather pants and get home well after 6:00 a.m. Yep. It’s the Noughties still.

The Word of DeuSI won’t say I found God last night, but I did find DeuS, Brut des Flandres, a fascinating “Méthode Champenoise” beer, which means it’s made (in part) champagne-style and it sells (in whole) at champagne prices – so thanks, Warren! Spuyten Duyvil stocks this mutant Belgian triple from Bosteels, which is brewed in Flanders and then shipped to France’s Champagne region for secondary fermentation. DeuS is served colder than most Belgians will want to be, in champagne flutes, and it’s a pale hybrid with a solid, persistent head. We agreed on anise and minty hints; Pierre found it overly spiced, Bill encountered vanilla-bean notes, and I thought the initial attack was reminiscent of rosemary. It is aggressively dry with an elusive, evanescent sweetness that dances on the palate but does not remain. Overall a treat, and at 11.5% ABV it is lightly-built on a muscular frame.

Posted in About Last Night |

Time Was…

… There used to be a Bottom Line.

No more. We have heard that the legendary Bottom Line closed its doors for the last time after the New Year’s show. The world needs another NYU dorm, right?

Posted in About Last Night |

Sands of Time

These last few years, and by “few” I mean six or seven, I’ve rung in the dawn of the New Year in glorious, disgraceful frolic. Down the East Village the better bars buy day licenses so they can keep serving until 8:00 a.m. or later on the morning of January 1st, a dangerous luxury that most of America outside of New Orleans never gets to taste. And so historically Pierre and I have clung, limpet-like, to the last shreds of night, waiting bleary-eyed for the sun to burble through so we can at last head our separate ways with the satisfaction of a job well done.

I’m startled to discover that this is getting a little old. Which means, I gather, that so am I.

The only time I ever went to Times Square for New Year’s is so far back I guess I was in high school. I remember being cold and bored. Perhaps it was drizzling. Add this year’s Condition Orange wall-to-wall cops and metal-detector screening, add the inevitable rules about alcohol, backpacks, and handbags, and even if I’d thought of going up there I wouldn’t go up there. I think I was with someone and her friends that wayback night, and if I’ve got the someone right, by gosh, I haven’t thought of her in years. Proof positive that smooching ’til dawn isn’t always such a hot idea.

A couple of years ago I was in Austin for the SXSW Music Conference when a music girl and I were caught in a deluge as we walked back from a party across Town Lake on the Congress Street bridge. We bolted through the sheets of water to a gazebo generously perched in a bit of hollow on shore, and huddled together under my leather jacket as whipcracks of rain snapped past. We were drenched and pressed close, giggling as water sluiced out of our hair, as drops pelted against the leather. There was a lingering gaze-into-each-other’s-eyes turn-up-the-soundtrack pause. We realized it together, irrevocably: Right place, wrong guy, wrong girl. I hate when that happens.

Anyway, after a flurry of shrugging-shoulder emails it looks like we Peppers will start at Sparky’s Ale House down on Court Street, and usher in the ball a few long steps from the madding crowd. Then the late burlesque show at The Slipper Room and, when the crowds subside, surely a last dip into zymurgy at d.b.a., which is after all where these sorts of nights always come to roost. Mailboxes or no mailboxes, and whether or not the manhole covers have been welded shut.

Posted in General Musings |

And in This Corner, Playing the White Races…

It's a bird, it's a plane, it's Harlem Globetrotter Man!This woman was telling me about a neighborhood uptown in Manhattan which is really dangerous. Her friends warned her about it in big red letters, shaking their heads and saying it was the worst place she could imagine, no kidding, that she might go in but she’d never come out. Her eyes were bright with the promise of fragrant urban misery, seamy undersides, and crackling danger. Her voice quivered at the thought of Evil Lurking in the Hearts of Men. She couldn’t remember what it was called, but it started with “H.”

I had no idea what she was talking about. Morningside Heights was my theory. That was a pretty rough patch for a time. But would she really know Morningside Heights? Then her hands shot up to her lips and she said, “Oh! I know! I remember now! It’s Harlem!”

New York is funny this way: we think in paths and pockets. The City is a staff of songlines in clanging keys. If you say Harlem, my first association is Renaissance (lest we get too hifalutin and self-congratulatory here, the second one would be Globetrotters – sometimes it’s all about the cartoons you grow up with). I don’t hang out in Harlem, and sure there are nasty corners of it. But on my scope, which is admittedly often oblivious, it’s been years since the neighborhood on the whole was dangerous. The last time I got mugged, and that’s years back, it was smack in the middle of the tame and touristed West Village, somewhere off Varick Street near Houston.

Couple’a white guys with a knife, if you’re wondering.

The innocent outdated notion of Bad Harlem comes to mind because I was up on 133rd Street off Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard reading a few small parts in a play-in-progress by A., an actor and writer I met over Thanksgiving. The piece starts as a tritely treatment about a young black man under siege in a Wall Street world of white old-boys, and then sidesteps into a much more interesting magical realist exploration of tradition, family, wisdom, and mystical Southern matriarchs. I played The White People – the proper and political head of the investment house, the leering snobby bigot supervisor, and the Cool Guy From Accounting.

If I knew more about the theatre scene in Harlem, I suspect I’d be amazed by the company I kept that afternoon – there was an air of royalty. After the reading some of the actors and audience talked about the play and how it struck them, and how the themes developed or didn’t. As a newcomer to the project, I mostly listened.

It was striking to hear Wall Street described without rancor as part of “the white world,” a phrase which turned up again and again. I was reminded of Capt. Kirk in Star Trek IV telling Catherine Hicks, the Whale Doctor, “No, I’m from Iowa. I only work in outer space.”

I don’t think it’s possible to grow up in an American city in the latter 20th century and be a stranger to prejudice. It’s one of the many strands wound into our daily rope. At times I’ve been a Jew, a shrimp, a four-eyes, a pinko (I was actually called that back in my civil disobedience days). I was a longhair one afternoon at a truck stop in Mississippi, which was scary. Sometimes I’ve been White, in a bad way (subway, weapons). And like all of us I’ve done my share of snap-judging too.

But this was the first time I was ever explicitly a cog in “the white world,” part of a faceless assembly that runs from my boss and his ‘burb and country club partners, to my musician and artist and writer friends who temp or tend bar or hold day jobs like mine to keep themselves in rent and shoes and beer money. To the Cool Guy From Accounting. To my partners in our record company. We’re the lumpenburgher. Hear us moan.

Posted in General Musings |

Parental Advisory

Dear Linus’ Mom:

Linus sure has been having a good time this holiday season. This is good, but you should know that he has neglected his work on Pepper of the Earth, and that his exuberant eating and drinking habits sometimes frighten the other children.

Last night, for example, we were pleased that Linus went out to Williamsburg in the windy cold to see the Howard Fishman Quartet and Marissa Nadler in the back boxcar room at Pete’s Candy Store. He enjoyed Marissa’s Goth-folk – what if Judy Collins had a thing for severe eyeliner and trenchant deep-wash reverb? – and Howard Fishman’s rambunctious thumpy Tom-Waits-For-No-Man blues-drizzled musical soupçon, though the band started quite late and he had to leave after only a few songs.

However, his attempt later on to drink all of the beer at Spuyten Duyvil was uncalled for, no matter how pretty the labels on the bottles are. As you know, Linus becomes quite enthusiastic at times like these, and some of the other boys and girls felt that he was playing too hard for their toys. Some of them left the sandbox early and were very agitated.

As for the incident at the Grand Sichuan restaurant on Thursday, perhaps the less said about that the better. It is just not appropriate to finish the hot and sour soup and the wontons in red chili oil and the smoked tea duck and the aizhou fresh chicken and the Mao’s home cooking pork with chestnuts, and then think about eating more. Some of the girls were very frightened that he might eat them too, and judging from the curious look in his eyes he might very well have been thinking about it.

As you know, we in New York do not condone having Too Much Fun. Please ask Linus to have just A Little Bit Of Fun in future so that he will be a better citizen. And tell him to quit it with the crazy girls, he should know better by now.

Very truly yours,

The City of New York

Posted in General Musings |

The Fantôme In The Machine

It’s late night on Boxing Day. Linus and I are at the bar at Spuyten Duyvil, working our way through a big bottle of Fantôme de Noël, a mysterious amber brew with dark cherries in the nose. That’s it for the evening, we agree. Linus wants to go home; I want to go home, and I’m twice as far as he is. We bask in virtuous feelings. Then in walks the Duyvil himself, bearing a trombone, several strange half-liter bottles, and a 5-liter keg that looks like an over-fed beer can. Dan and Joel Shelton have arrived, bearing temptation (and I don’t mean the trombone…)

An impromptu tasting is swiftly in the works; Joe, the estimable Spuyten Duyvil patron, produces a row of glasses, and we start with the Export from Brewery Zehendner in Mönchsambach, Franconia (a town so small, apparently, that there are no street names, the houses are merely numbered and the brewery is Haus Nr. 18.) With a hint of sulfurous bite in the nose that sharpens its honeyed aroma, this unfiltered, slightly cloudy, extremely pale lager starts out very soft, the exact opposite of a crisp pilsener; this is more like drinking velvet. The clean bitterness comes up at the end, but it is rounded, without any sharp edges.

Next comes the “ungespündet lager, equally pale, equally cloudy, equally soft, but with a completely different aroma. There is hardly any sulfur, no trace of honey, but instead a fresh green grassiness that Linus likens to raw asparagus. I don’t remember sniffing raw asparagus, so I can’t confirm; I would say “cut grass” except that this is often used to describe the smell of phosgene, and this beer does not smell like phosgene at all…

We forge ahead. Minikegs are apparently quite popular in Germany, and Inn-Brewery Will in Schederndorf, between Bamberg and Kulmbach (it’s not big either, the brewery is Haus Nr. 19; but then it is a mere Dorf…), offers its Landbier, a light brown lager, in what looks like a 5-liter metal keg equipped with a pull-out plastic spigot. The beer pours with a thick head that leaves abundant lace on the glass; the body is thin, and there is only a hint of caramel. Linus finds “cooked asparagus”. I call it Newcastle Brown Lite, though at 5.1% it is marginally stronger than the English ale.

And talking of Newcastle, a few hops and we’re in Scotland, in Perth to be precise. Blackfriar from Inveralmond Brewery, is reddish amber, caramelized, but it tastes lighter than its 7% ABV. There is little bitterness, all the accent is on the malt as befits a Scottish ale. The highly unusual label, shown on the link above, is actually metallized in golds and silvers! Very medieval.

It’s getting on to 2 a.m. and there’s still a Fantôme to bust. There has been a considerable change as the beer warmed up; the dark cherries are all but gone from the aroma, replaced by intense dry fig notes, while the palate is now dominated by raisins, although the cherries are still there in the background. The figs seem to be linked to the yeast, as the last glass to be poured is by far the more intense. A whole orchard in a bottle!

The Shelton Brothers’ entourage has faded away, Linus is negotiating with a livery cab, and I head for the L train. I have a large book to keep me company; a good thing, because it’s 3:45 by the time I get home. Mission accomplished.

† “ungespündet” is literally “un-bunged”, i.e. beer that is fermented in an open vessel, so that it does not overcarbonate.

Posted in General Musings |

Happy Holidays!

Peace on the third planet, good will to lifeforms

The best of holidays to you, and thanks for reading. Click on the card image above for our history of alienations. Drive safe, eat well, drink merrily, and sleep hard.

Posted in General Musings |

‘Tis the Season…

… to skip blogging. What with the Day Job Christmas Party last week (it’s a worm! it’s a cactus! it’s … Tequila Man!) and a celebratory dinner last night at The Waterfront Ale House (you must, you must try Sam’s sinful and delightful Spirited Egg Nog) and all of the holiday running around in between, there hasn’t been a soberwaking minute to spend at the keyboard.

I’ll be back to it as soon as things settle down a bit. You’ve probably heard, but that hobbit movie is pretty good. Happy Chanukah!

Posted in General Musings |

A Movie Runs Through It

I’m back from a quick trip up to Boston for the Temptress Christmas party. This was the Day Job version (there’s a tech company lurking easily behind the rock and roll), so we drank and ate and drank and then had a few drinks among the IT folk and gangsters and other plumed birds of Boston. Plus occasional techie musicians. And the ineluctable Chrissy, who was equal parts Mira Sorvino and Jessica Rabbit. Or at least that’s how memory draws her after drinking and eating and drinking, and then having a drink. But not in that dress.

After drinking, cars were pointed toward the dark, and driven into it. This is one of many reasons I may never really leave New York.

The Peter Pan bus to South Station was spiffy and new and the seat backs wouldn’t adjust. There was, of course, a decorative seat back adjusting lever, apparently intended to lull us into a dreamy state of confidence that we could adjust the seat backs if we wanted to. I think it was an intricate and fiendish psychology experiment. The decorative lever is like a locked bathroom door. You can pull on it and establish that it does nothing, but sooner or later if nothing moves you’re going to have to pull on it again. Just to check.

Speaking of Mira Sorvino: In a bizarre and wonderful turn of events, the movie on the bus – and I am no fan of movies on busses – was the 1994 Robert Redford treat Quiz Show. How they choose the features is beyond me, but this was a pleasure.

In a not-so-bizarre and not-so-wonderful turn of events, the trip was my chance to finally spend quality time with Elvis Costello’s newest album North, which has been lurking easily on my shelves for weeks. It’s a spare and rainy piece, I knew that. Still, even the thoughtful ride into memory and up through the wintered snowy fields of New England couldn’t perk it up. It’s not a bad record, in the way that bad records are bad and you roll your eyes and smack your forehead and swear you won’t be fooled again. But I was hoping for buried rusted razor wire and watchful flinty stone in tone poems too small for the average ears, the kind of clear dim flame a fan could find and huddle up against for warmth. That stuff might be in there, but I didn’t hear it, and I tried with the force of decades of fan-love.

Posted in About Last Night |

A Camry by Any Other Name

As a guy named Linus in real life – it’s not a nickname – I always appreciate a good out-of-the-ordinary monicker. It’s frankly hard to imagine what life must be like as a Michael or a Paul or a Dan. In my world, when someone calls out “Linus,” they are talking to me.

One of the most distracting movies I ever saw was Sydney Pollack’s 1995 comedy Sabrina, with Harrison Ford as a guy named Linus Larrabee. (Humphrey Bogart played me him in the 1954 Billy Wilder original, which I have not seen; I fear when I do the universe might cease to exist, although I am probably wrong about this.) Every time anyone called Linus by name, I perked up and looked around. Paging Dr. Pavlov, paging Dr. Pavlov.

Today our blog friend Guinness, who sweetly made personalized e-cards for his holiday blogroll (ours has a beer label!), runs a link to a story in The Orlando Sentinel about peculiar names for children. I love this stuff. (Note that the Sentinel, like so many other newspaper sites, will try to download the Avenue A Inc. adware/spyware application. But if you don’t already block this stuff, you’ve already got it in your machine.)

The article covers a small it’s-so-wrong eddy in the naming trend, in which parents name their children after companies and products. Thus this, in reporting commercial names extracted from about 4 million births from the year 2000:

There were 55 Chevys, 12 Camrys, 7 Courvoisiers (named for the cognac), 17 Dodges, five Darvons and six Ronricos.

That’s just the boys.

The girls’ names included 298 Armanis, 164 Nauticas, 36 Cateras (a Cadillac) and six Cartiers.

I love it. “Can little Darvon come over and play with our Michael next week? We love it when he visits, he’s always so, well, so quiet.

The name study was done by Cleveland Evans, a Nebraska psychology professor whom you will note is not named Michael or Paul or Dan. He reports a classic bit of before-the-horse revisionist logic behind the trend, explaining that parents sometimes choose product names that in turn sound a bit like traditional names: “Camry sounds like a feminine version of Cameron, while Lexus sounds like a variation of Alexis. Chevelle, he notes, sounds a lot like Danielle or Michelle,” says the article.

It’s amusing since most of those product names were probably chosen in the first place precisely because they sound like traditional first names. It’s a classic tenet of branding to lift names from the personal and familiar. The Mercedes, for example, was named after Mr. Daimler’s daughter.

  • Scariest name reported in the article, apart from little Darvon: apparently five count ‘em five girls in 2000 were named “Disney.”
  • Scariest name ever encountered in real life: Icantena Turner.

Today’s trivia question: there was another Linus played by a leading-man dreamboat in a big-budget flick a couple of years ago; what’s the picture? No fair using the Internet Movie Database to answer, even if it is just about the most useful Internet site ever.

Note to parents: please do not name your children Xanax. Thank you. I mean, talk about the sins of the fathers.

Posted in General Musings |