Month: May 2013

I don’t need a Phrenologist, I just got a bad haircut

“There is something funny going on with your hair.” This is not what one wants to hear when getting a haircut, but it was what I heard the last time I went to get one.

I am not picky when it comes to getting my hair cut. I generally go to a place that is open and ask for a haircut. I like barber shops best because they know what it means when I say, “I want it shorter.” Ladies working at a beauty salon usually respond by asking several questions that I don’t know the answer to and then spend the rest of my haircut asking me questions that are really complaints about the current state of my hair. “Do you want me to make your sideburns even? What is going on with your neckline? Do you want me to round it off or leave it uneven like this? Why does your hair stick up like that?” Most of the answers relate to the last place I got my haircut and since I am a man I don’t really care . I only have to look at myself three times during the day: When I shave in the morning, when I drive to work and see myself in the rearview mirror, and then on the drive home. If my hair looks like two ferrets got in a fight on my head, then that is everybody else’s problem, they have to look at me.

My relationship with the person cutting my hair is very different than my wife’s relationship with her hair stylist. My wife returned from her last stylizing and told me that her hair cutting lady was moving to San Francisco. My first thought was, “How lucky. San Francisco is a great city,” but I have been married long enough to know that this was not great. This was a bad thing. My wife likes her hair cutting lady and doesn’t want to find a new one. It may have taken me 10 years of marriage to figure this out, but I know all the hair rules now.

Hair rules: 1. When your significant other gets her hair cut, tell her it looks nice. 2. Never ask how much it cost. 3. Don’t ever make hair suggestions for your significant other. 4. If your significant other asks if you like their hair longer or shorter, answer “Yes.” All other hair related questions should be answered using the Socratic Method.

Barbers are all about efficiency. “You want it short? Military short, or just regular short?” We don’t need to spend five minutes discussing the haircut, we just sit down and get it done. This is a fundamental difference between men and women. If I know what size pants I wear, why would I want to spend an hour trying on pants? If it is the right size and it is a good price, then I buy it.

My favorite barbershop of all-time was Dan’s Barbershop in Spokane. Haircuts were done with electric clippers and lasted about five minutes. Flat-tops took an extra two minutes, but the barbers there all knew the deal. We didn’t want to spend 15 minutes getting our haircut, we wanted it done, and then we wanted to leave. We were college kids who had lots of important things to do like watch He-Man at 3:30.

A friend at work sent me a link to a new kind of barbershop that has sprung up in Portland. The Modern Man Barber Shop looks like the kind of place I could spend more than 10 minutes in. First, there is a bar. Second, it has a Clint Eastwood High Plains Drifter quality to it, so if I wanted to wear some six shooters and belt I bought at Toys R Us into the shop I don’t think anyone would care. Third, did I mention they have a bar? Fourth, I could get a straight razor shave, which I am considering since I will be in Portland in the very near future. $24 for a shave might seem a bit pricey, especially since I can do it for free at home, but when in Portland, do what the Portlandians do and Keep It Weird.

The Summer of Jon: Czech Rail

English: CD class 682 007-0 Supercity "An...

English: CD class 682 007-0 Supercity “Antonín Dvořák” (SC 16) from Vienna to Prague crossing the first bridge over Thaya (Dyje). Note: the second rail track was under reconstruction at that time (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For the past week I have attempted to buy a rail ticket from Prague (Praha) to Vienna (Wien). I have had a few difficulties since I am not a native Czech speaker and everything about the website confused me. I am no rookie when it comes to navigating foreign language websites, I know how to find the button near the top of the website with an American or British flag (I can read and write in British also) and push the little icon. These icons can be helpful when a traveler might be language challenged like me. I did have five years of Spanish classes and I can say some pretty entertaining things in Spanish like: “There are many tacos in the airport.” “The elephants are very long.” “The door is closed.” These key phrases have helped me when making my Spanish-speaking relatives laugh, but I have yet to travel to a Spanish-speaking country where I needed to use this wealth of language.

My language limitations have not stopped me from doing what most Americans do when traveling: expecting everyone else to speak English. This makes it hard for me to have meaningful conversations about philosophy or global politics, but I can live with that. I doubt if I spent the next 30 days studying Icelandic it would pay off anyway. Icelandic people speak English better than most Americans and how often will I be called upon for the rest of my life to say something in Icelandic?

So, back to the Czech rail site. I have tried unsuccessfully for about a month to buy tickets for my trip from Prague to Vienna. I finally figured out that I cannot buy tickets from the website until the trip is within a 60 day window, for German rail it is 90 days  so I was semi-aware that this could happen to those of us that want to have our trip planned out five years in advance. I waited until I reached the 60 day window and then I went to the Czech rail website to buy. I found the little “en” button at the top of the page and pushed it and the page was transformed into actual, readable English. I filled out the little boxes at least five times and got rejected each time. This was a bit frustrating because each rejection had the same paragraph about why my request could not be fulfilled. I switched a few things around, maybe leaving later would work, nope. Maybe I should try earlier, nope. Eventually I lucked out and my request was accepted. This was great, but I could not tell you why it worked or what magical combination you should select if you were going to be traveling between Prague and Vienna.

The next problem I encountered was selecting a seat. Reserving seats is for suckers because most rail passengers just grab whatever seat they can find, but since reservations were only 7 Czech monetary units (either 25 cents or $2.50, I think) I pulled the trigger on reserving a seat. The seat map was wide open since the rest of the world was not waiting to order their tickets at the moment they became available. This was mildly exciting for me. I looked at each of the train cars, thought about what it would be like to sit in different locations and then notice that some of the cars had those private four seat rooms. I have never traveled on a train with those little rooms so I narrowed the seat selection to the two cars with little rooms. One of the cars had a bike storage area and I decided that I did not want to be on that car since people stuffing their bikes on my train would get in my way. (The real reason had more to do with body odor, but that sounds even more shallow than having to wait to get to my seat. I figured people riding bikes might be sweaty and being in a little room with smelly people for four hours does not meet my romantic idea of traveling on rail.)

I finally narrowed down the seats and looked for a lucky number (77) near a window. I pushed the button, paid for the ticket and then had all kinds of second thoughts. Reserving a seat might put me in a little room with a pack of Gypsies, or even worse a pack of loud Americans. It was too late. My ticket was approved and I printed it off.

Hopefully my little room with be filled with travelers like me: quiet, and self-centered. Then we should all get along.

The Curse of the Sonics

Dear David Stern, Clay Bennett, and Fans of the Oklahoma Thunder,

I watched the NBA playoffs last night. Seeing the Thunder getting knocked out brought joy to my heart. Yes, I am one of those bitter Sonics fans who will always support any team other than the Thunder (by the way, worst team name in the NBA.) Yesterday was a bitter pill (it was decided that Seattle will not get an NBA team next year) and a then the Thunder lost and made everything better.

I will start with the bad news OKC fans, it is over. It was over last summer when you traded James Harden. Sure, you got two future first round picks from Houston. Those first round picks will land you outstanding middle-of-the-road talent. Late first round picks are worthless unless you have a GM who can see those diamonds in the rough, thank goodness no one in your front office will ever find one of those. Last year you landed Perry Jones (good work) two years ago you had three first round picks and got lucky once because you picked a Quincy Pondexter from the University of Washington.

Most of you are still thinking that Russell Westbrook’s injury was what prevented you from getting the NBA title. It could be, but it doesn’t matter because YOU LOST! It doesn’t matter why you lost, it just matters that you lost because you, my friends, have a cursed team.

Here is how the next ten years is going to roll out for your team. This summer your front office will go looking for a center who can play basketball better than your current centers. The team will pay this new player too much, in Seattle we call this the Jim Mcilvaine syndrome. The stars of your team will become disgruntled, demand more pay and then begin the next season with bad attitudes. The team will spin out of control for a little bit and then your front office will trade one of your best players to Milwaukee for Vin Baker, or a Vin Baker substitute of similar quality. Fans will rejoice and everything will be right with the  NBA until the playoffs start and your Vin Baker substitute isn’t quite as tough as your previous star. This is when the fun really begins, because now you (do you guys say “y’all” in Oklahoma?) will be unhappy with the direction of the team. People will begin questioning the coaching and front office. Clay Bennett, your owner/James Bond supervillain, will announce a few changes and then raise ticket prices. Fans will become outraged and the new “center will not hold” the team together.  Attendance will drop. The team will play like an NBA Developmental team and will finish in the middle of the pack in the Western Conference. Playoff loses will accumulate and after a few years the team won’t even make the playoffs. All of the superstar players you currently have will be too old to improve and will be traded away for younger players. Pretty soon your team will have one good player surrounded by twelve bad ones. This is when Clay Bennett will demand a new tax-payer funded stadium, oh, and he will raise ticket prices again.  He will claim that he needs to improve the facility in order to improve the team. People in the community will ask, “Didn’t we just spend X number of dollars ten years ago on a stadium?” This is when Smeagol (aka David Stern) will swoop in and start the blackmailing process. You will have to decide whether to pay up or have the team move to another city worse than OKC. Fresno? Bakersfield? Waco? Smeagol will do his best to find another owner in the city, he is not very good at this so he will have to find another owner somewhere else. A new owner will appear and he will promise not to move the team. You will try to believe him, but you know behind those dead eyes, pretend smile, and ape-like forehead that the owner is going to do his best to sink the team to unheard of depths so people will stop going to games. The owner will raise ticket prices, hire a terrible coach (is PJ Carlesimo available? He usually is.) and start planning his escape. The team will be so bad that they will get great picks in the draft and will begin building a solid, young team, but it will be too late, your team will be off to Fresno and you will be left with an empty, almost new stadium and a bunch of old OKC Thunder t-shirts.

That is where it will end, except the team will change its name to the Fresno Fog and begin their rise to playoff contention. Smeagol will appear occasionally to thwart any efforts your city will make to get another NBA team and he will continue sucking the blood out of communities to extend his life. You will watch the Fresno Fog from a distance, you will enjoy the talent on the team, but in the end you will hope they lose.

Thanks for a great season. See you next year when you lose in the first round.

Love,

Jon

 

 

 

What Happened to Chicago?

Like a pregnant woman who knows there is something out there that will meet her need,  I occasionally have a hankering for some new music so I  go to the iTunes store and try to fill the empty space. That’s right, I’m still buying music because I am so old-fashioned. Sometimes I find what I am looking for immediately, but there are times when I troll too long, get frustrated, and end up buying something I regret later.

 

Cover of "The Very Best of Chicago: Only ...

 

Remember Chicago?  Not the city, but the funky musical group, at least they were funky at one point and then somehow they turned into group whose primary focus was producing music for elevators. I remembered Chicago as I was looking around from music the other day, and swept up in a wave of nostalgia and consumer frenzy I purchase the 39 songs on Chicago’s The Very Best of Chicago: Only The Beginning. I feel a little betrayed and it is my fault for not taking the whole album out for a test drive. Chicago might have had 39 hits but 24 of them must have been hits in South Africa. (Note the subtle Rodriguez allusion that is no longer subtle since I wrote this sentence.) It was like I bought a tourist guide to the city of Chicago that is three hundred pages long, but two hundred of the pages are dedicated to the Cubs.

 

My ear can pinpoint the moment that Chicago started to suck, it was the moment they decided to stop blowing horns. The horn section of Chicago was great. Whoever decided to replace the horns with a synthesizer should be taken to the Hague and tried for crimes against humanity, and I don’t mean just the person that decided to do this for Chicago, I mean every single person involved in music during the 1980s who added a synthesizer and took away a horn section. It makes me a little sick to think I was somehow involved in these crimes, I listened to synthesizer music, I danced to synthesizer music, and I even thought that when Eddie VanHalen started playing the electronic keyboard that it was a good idea. My only defense is that my brain wasn’t fully developed at the time. I am certain that I could provide plenty of evidence to prove that I was temporarily insane for a period of 10 years: I wore bell bottom jeans, I had a perm, I thought Leif Garrison was cool (this alone would seal the deal.)

 

For the historians out there, something happened to Chicago around the year 1982 (again, speaking of the group, not the city). The songs pre-1982 are pretty awesome but almost everything after that is bad.  They had a couple hits with Peter Cetera and I liked the songs at the time, but now I am ashamed of myself. We all make mistakes. I am sorry.

 

The real reason Chicago started to suck isn’t really funny, but life often isn’t, the lead singer Terry Kath died of an accidental gunshot wound. I don’t remember any news of his death in January of 1978. I don’t want to sound overly sentimental here, but I think Kath’s death should rank up there alongside with the deaths of Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and Kurt Cobain. Spend ten minutes listening to Make Me Smile, Colour My World, and Saturday in the Park and then tell me that we did not lose one of the great vocalists in American rock history.

 

Why didn’t Chicago pack it in and call it good? I don’t know, but I wish Chicago had turned the amps off and left the stage.

 

Dreaming of the Summer of Jon

Last night I dreamt I was in Vienna. Since I haven’t been in Vienna before I can’t really speak to how authentic my dream was. For some reason Vienna looks a lot like San Francisco in my dreams. There are older, fancier buildings and fewer people speaking English in my dream version of Vienna than the real San Francisco, but for some reason my subconscious is making a connection between Vienna and SF. Maybe deep, deep in my mind there is some little spark connecting my childhood fascination with Vienna sausages and Rice-a-Roni. (This reference will not make sense to most people, but my mind is trying to tell me something and I need to get to the bottom of it.)

So here is the dream: I arrive in Vienna by train. I hop on a little street car and meet a family of Americans. You can’t get away from those damn Americans even in Vienna, they are everywhere in my dreams. I talk to the family a little bit, pretend I know more about Vienna than I do. (I don’t tell them that I only thought about Vienna as the capital of little hot dogs in a can until a few years ago.) I take a picture of a large white building (it looks a lot like the TransAmerica Building in SF) with my iPhone. I get off the trolley at the next stop and head underground to get on a subway. Here is where the dream gets a bit confusing, I buy a ticket, but remember that I left my luggage somewhere. I head upstairs and start looking for my luggage where I left it in a big library/transit station. It is odd that I would have left the luggage there because I have not been in this building before. I stroll around looking for my luggage and when I say stroll, I mean I am lollygagging. This is where my dream brain gets itself into trouble. I would never set my luggage down and just walk away and if I did, I would be frantically running around like Tom Cruise. (Watch any Tom Cruise movie, at some point Tom must tell the director, “We need a shot of me running because I am really fast.”) Vienna may seem like a safe place in my dreams, but in reality there are Russian gangsters all over the place. So instead of dashing around looking for my stuff, I just walk around like I have all day. Eventually I end up talking to some bearded guy working at a North Face store (located inside the library/transit station) and telling him that I should probably cancel my credit cards. He is confused because I am speaking English and he is Viennese and speaks just a touch of the Mother Tongue. He finally understands what I need and then I wake up.

What an unsatisfying dream. First off, I don’t get to see much of Vienna. I would hope my brain could create a better Vienna than that, but I guess not. Second, I never get to cancel my credit cards. I would like to have the opportunity to close that loop so I don’t spend the rest of the day wondering if someone is out there spending my money. Third, why can’t North Face hire a more helpful employee? I understand that my dream lacks a little verisimilitude, but come on North Face, why can’t you hire an American to help me out in my dream?

I do believe that dreams hold importance, but I’m not so sure about this one. I have been thinking more about my trip now that it is less than 60 days away so I guess my brain is trying to tell me to be careful. Maybe my brain thinks it is unwise to wander around Europe for a month, but that is where my brain is wrong. It is very wise and it is time my brain got on board and understood that Vienna is a safe city even if it is filled with Russian gangsters.

I knew this must be out there. Cue Tom Cruise running.

Gatsby: A movie review before seeing the movie

Cover of "The Great Gatsby"

I have not seen the new Great Gatsby movie, but it is going to be horrible. How do I know? I just do. I don’t think I am alone in my opinion. (No, I am not secretly a republican congressman, or a member of the 700 club.) First off, the movie was originally slated to open at the end of 2012. It could be that the producers were worried about the Mayan end of the the world and wanted to make sure the movie beat the apocalypse to the box office, but I suspect what really happened was that the movie was previewed and people said, “This movie sucks.” So the people in charge moved the release to May.

May is a great time of year for releasing…pollen? I don’t think there has ever been a great movie released in May. May is where bad movies go to die. What makes me an expert on movie releases? Nothing, I just have been living long enough to see movie releases pushed back, and not once has the push back been a good thing. If the movie had been pushed into the summer to compete with the mindless explosion movies, I might be more willing to believe that Gatsby is going to go on to be blockbuster, but it was moved to May where it will line up against other classics like Tyler Perry Presents Peeples, and Fast and the Furious 6.

My next problem is the director, Baz Luhrmann. I don’t know much about Baz other than he directed two movies that I hated: Moulin Rouge and Romeo and Juliet. His movies are very stylish, bright, and loud, but turning Fitzgerald’s Gatsby into a musically driven pile of bright colors and loud sounds isn’t going to make Gatsby a great movie. Take Romeo and Juliet  for example, the play is pretty good. The writing is solid and I believe the guy who penned the play knew what he was doing. Then along comes Baz who decides to spice up the play by adding loud noises, flamboyant outfits, and a gaggle of young actors that are way, way over their heads. A few of the actors did not seem to understand the words that were coming out of their mouths and so Baz gave them these two directions: “Yell the lines if you don’t know what the words mean.” Or, “Whisper the lines if you don’t know what they mean.” Shakespearian language is not about yelling and whispering, it is about understanding the words and speaking them as the writer intended. Leo DiCaprio was about the right age for Romeo, but he was terrible in the movie. Painfully terrible in my opinion. I realize that I am not the target audience, but there were times when Leo looked confused by the sounds coming out of his mouth. Someone needed to explain to him that the words were actually in English. Having the director who brought out the worst in Mr. DiCaprio does not bode well for Gatsby. Leo is older and a much better actor these days, but can his experience overcome the flashy stylings of Mr. Luhrmann? I hope so, but I doubt it.

Some books, even really great books, cannot be made into movies. Gatsby is tough to translate onto the big screen because it is Fitzgerald‘s writing that makes the book special. The plot isn’t much to get excited about (mysterious rich guy woos an old flame), but there are passages in Gatsby written by the angels sitting on Mr. Fitzgerald’s shoulder. Those words cannot be turned into a loud, flashy movie about the Roaring Twenties.

Hemingway wrote in A Moveable Feast “His [Fitzgerald] talent was as natural as the pattern that was made by the dust on a butterfly’s wings.  At one time he understood it no more than the butterfly did and he did not know when it was brushed or marred.  Later he became conscious of his damaged wings and of their construction and he learned to think and could not fly any more because the love of flight was gone and he could only remember when it had been effortless..” (This is one of the nicer things Mr. Hemingway said about Fitzgerald in the book. Hemingway had a way of saying something cutting and complimentary at the same time.) Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby is a butterfly also. It is beautiful and floating, it moves quietly, it darts up and down, and then it rests. The butterfly is beautiful and should be enjoyed for what it is, but I fear Mr. Baz  Luhrmann fingers are covered in butterfly dust and a once beautiful thing is lying on the ground struggling to live.

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