An old college friend, Pat, is in town this week for a convention of the Coalition of Independent Music Stores (CIMS). The group, which was created when a group of like-minded record store owners banded together in the face of increasing corporatization, is enjoying its 10 year anniversary and as such this years convention is more celebratory. Pat invited me along to a Subpop showcase last night held at the Three Doors in downtown Seattle. The building is a former old tyme strip joint that’s been redone as a hip dinner club and usually features light jazz acts.

Last night Subpop footed the bill and we were served a three course Asian-themed dinner that was quite good, particularly the “seven-flavor beef”. Three Subpop bands then performed for the crowd. It was not unlike the meal events at GAMA Trade Show, except there were bands instead of lame power point presentations and there was free booze (you hear that, GAMA?).

The first band was the Fruit Bats, who have been described as psychedelic folk. In other words, not my thing at all. Next up was Kinski, an art damaged noise band that made the Fruit Bats seem even weaker. Somehow, Kinski is the only local band I’ve seen four times over the past couple of years, probably because they’ve managed to get some great opening slots for the likes of Mission of Burma and the Ex. I wasn’t so thrilled with them the first time I saw them but they’ve been growing on me and I think I may get their new record when it drops in July. Last up was the Helio Sequence, a two-piece with just a drummer and singer/guitarist. Though the drummer played aggressively, they were basically a power pop band. Again, not exactly my thing, though the crowd seemed to like them.

After the show, we went back to the Andra, a hip hotel in the Belltown part of Seattle where the conventioneers were staying. CIMS had rented out a suite for post-con event partying and stocked it with yet more free booze. We hung out there for a while and I got to meet a bunch of people from different record stores across the country. It was interesting to talk to these small business owners and hear what sorts of problems they faced. One nice thing about CIMS is that none of the stores are in direct competition with each other. They are too spread out geographically for that to be a factor. That’s a real boon for a trade organization.

One intriguing trend emerged in my conversations. Whereas normally when I tell people that my company publishes roleplaying games I get vacant stares in response, nearly everyone I met last night knew exactly what I was talking about. While most of them weren’t active gamers anymore, they at least knew what roleplaying was and in many cases had played in their younger years. I’m not sure what that signifies but it was interesting in any case.

I caught one of the last busses leaving downtown and got home around 1 am. It was a nice break from my usual routine. Now I need to see if I can still get a ticket to the Gang of Four show coming up. I fear I may have waited too long and screwed myself. May really snuck up on me.

Where Did My Week Go?

I was doing well with the more frequent updates and then suddenly a whole week went by. How did that happen? Naturally, there’s a work project that’s in crisis mode, because there always has to be one apparently. Nik and I also spent some time trying to get the house better organized. We literally have books in every room of the house. Yes, that does include the kitchen. Nik picked up some new shelves this week and we’ve been trying to find a home for every wayward book, game, and magazine. A historic task I assure you. It seems we are almost there though. If we get one more shelf unit to fit under the bedroom window, I think we can get the last of the books shelved up. That ought to last until convention season. Then we’ll no doubt come home with a pile of new game books. This happens at every con, whether we want them or not.

As per usual I have a lot of shit to get done over the next ten days. I do need to make with the efficiency though, because next weekend I have two friends coming to town at the same time from opposite sides of the country and I’d like to get a chance to see them both. And those friends who have not yet come to visit Emerald City, what’s your excuse? Seattle is both a nice place to visit and a pleasant place to live. Visit once and you may find yourself living here within a couple of years. That happened not only to me, but also to an increasingly ridiculous number of friends.

This weekend I think we’re schedule to have dim sum with yet a different visitor. Our favored joint is Sun Ya in the International District. They do the traditional carts, serving up some tasty food for a very reasonable price. My only complaint is that they don’t serve the sweet egg yolk buns that some of our favorite Vancouver places make. Those things are delicious and even Kate (who eats little and likes less) enjoys them.

Enough rambling. It being 3 am and all, I guess I should head to bed.

Is It Just Me?

Is it just me or are the recent Burger King commercials weird and creepy? They feature guy in a king suit (presumable their “iconic character”), but his head is a big fake rubber mask with the frozen expression of a stalker or maybe a child molester. He shows up at people’s windows to handle them burgers and breakfast sandwiches. He doesn’t say anything, just stands there with his rictus grin. If this is supposed to sell me on Burger King, it’s really going about it the wrong way. “Burger King, the fast food restaurant of creeps and kiddy-fiddlers. Don’t ask about the special sauce!”

Kate and the Robot Butler

Yesterday, Kate (who’s on Spring Break from grade school) came into my office in the afternoon to ask for a favor. She said there was a “build your own robot” kit on Ebay that she really wanted and could I bid on it for her. “It’s only 99 cents and no one has bid on it yet.”

I said, “How do you even know about Ebay?”

Kate said, “I have my ways,” and gave me a smart assed smirk. Ah, my parenting at work.

Intrigued, I went to Ebay and found the item she was talking about. It turns out she had gone to Ask Jeeves and followed a link to Ebay. And the “kit”, which Kate thought was everything you needed to build a robot, was in fact a book that tells you how to do it. Furthermore, it was written in 1987, so it wasn’t exactly cutting edge. I explained to her that we’d still have to buy all the parts and then follow a book full of instructions to make a crude robot. Then I asked her what she wanted a robot for anyway.

She said, “You know, to get me things. And make me tea and stuff.”

I replied, “Well, Kate, what you want doesn’t really exist yet. You want a robot with a brain that can follow instructions and do what you say. There isn’t a book that can help you build one of those. These robots are more like remote-controlled cars. You can make them move around but they can’t hear you or follow orders.”

Kate, realizing her dreams of a robot butler were perhaps unrealistic, was crestfallen. I tried to cheer her by saying, “You’re only 9, so there is a chance you’ll see personal home robots in your lifetime, just as I saw personal home computers in mine.”

This didn’t perk her up much. The tea-fetching robot Kate wants exists only in her dreams.

Democracy? How Dare We!

I was killing time in a Borders this afternoon while waiting for the next bus to R+C’s place. As I was scanning the new releases, I noticed a book called The Vast Left Wing Conspiracy. I assumed this must be some kind of joke, so I picked it up to take a look. Turned out it was completely serious and the full title was The Vast Left Wing Conspiracy: The Untold Story of How Democratic Operatives, Eccentric Billionaires, Liberal Activists, and Assorted Celebrities Tried to Bring Down a Presidentand Why They’ll Try Even Harder Next Time.

Under other circumstances, I would have just laughed but after the past five years I really can’t laugh any more. Books like this only contribute to the poisonous atmosphere of American politics these days and spread ridiculous ideas that are the very antithesis of democracy.

Let’s start with the title. The goal of this so-called conspiracy was to “bring down a President.” Sounds treasonous, doesn’t it? Except they tried to bring Bush down by backing another candidate in a presidential election. Oooh, the scandal. How DARE these people even run against Bush. Why the very thought is treasonous! And creating a coalition of people with varied backgrounds but with one goal in common—the end of this administration—that’s not politics, it’s a conspiracy. And get this, they are going to try again in 2008! Someone better tell the FBI about this dangerous development. It seems some citizens still think that there is more than one party left in America. Good thing Byron York’s book is here to set them straight.

The other hilarious thing about this book is that it tries to argue that the “Far Left” has taken over the Democratic Party and that ” this new movement has transformed American politics.” I love it when these right wing fear mongers start talking this kind of shit. Let me tell you something, Byron, if you think that the result of a “Far Left” takeover of the Democratic Party would a push to make John Kerry president, you know nothing about the left, period. As much as the Karl Rove spin machine tried to paint Kerry as some kind of crazed radical, the truth is that Kerry (like all the guys the Dems put forward these days) is basically a centrist. Now maybe from the point of view of the super-right Neo-Cons that makes Kerry “Far Left”, but please.

Again, this would be sad but it’s so typical. Now that the Republicans control everything, they have no one to blame but themselves for the shitty state of the country. How convenient then that people like Byron York can identify new threats like this conspiracy. Even the Republicans realized that continuing to blame all the country’s ills on Clinton isn’t going to wash with him out of office for 5 years now. So yes, fear the power of the “well-oiled political machine they built.” This conspiracy is so well organized and so dangerous that they still managed to lose the election! Clearly, a force to be reckoned with.

The two party system was bad enough. Now even the mild opposition of the Democrats is painted as treasonous. Democracy? How dare we!

Bad Attitude

My friend Cecil was recently accused of having a “bad attitude” about Star Wars, as if the problem with the new Star Wars movies was with her and not the films themselves. I wrote up this reply and figured I might as well post it here as well:

It’s perfectly all right to have a “bad attitude” about Star Wars. We all earned it by sitting through the shittiness of Episodes I and II. For people of our generation, Star Wars is a big deal. I saw the original 13 odd times in the theater, something I never did for a movie before and certainly never did again. Star Wars tapped into something and we responded. The trouble is that Lucas doesn’t know what he tapped into and maybe he never did. While we all got excited about the new movies and hoped they’d rekindle the same feelings as the originals, we were cruelly disappointed. And it’s not our fault for growing up or what have you. It’s Lucas’ fault for making shitty movies so bereft of good story elements that they seem to exist only to further the sales of toys and computer games.

For the past year, I kept forgetting that there was even one more to go. My interest level was so low it just kept slipping my mind. I was at ComicCon when they announced the title. I didn’t go to the big event because I didn’t care. I only found out when legions of fans began filtering into the exhibit hall wearing the t-shirts. Lately, I’ve been thinking about not even seeing Episode III in the theater. This would have been inconceivable to me 20 years ago. Now though, I feel like Lucas has not earned my money. Why should I give him another $10 when I’m 99% sure this movie is going to suck? And I know I can see it later if I want to, because I have friends who buy every damn thing on DVD and even if they don’t it’ll eventually show up on cable. For me, Episode III just isn’t an event and I feel no particular need to see it debut week or even this year.

So yeah, go ahead and have a bad attitude. The only artists who deserve loyalty are those that earn it. I still love the original trilogy and that was enough to get me into the theaters twice more. But you know what they say. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

This Must Be a First

Some of you may recall that in the lead up to the election Nik and I went to a bunch of “no vote left behind” type punk rock shows. The headliner of one was Anti-Flag, who actually brought out Congressman Jim McDermott to speak to the crowd. At the time I was amazed that a crowd of punks would cheer a Congressman, even one as progressive as McDermott.

Today I got McDermott’s newsletter to his constituents. On the back page there’s a picture of him posing with Anti-Flag in front of the capitol building. The caption notes that Jim McDermott commended the group on the House floor for their voter education efforts. He added that they were “good kids with weird hair.” I think this must be the first time a punk band has been commended in Congress.

The only other connection between punk rock and Congress I know of is by blood. In the mid-80s there was a great DC hardcore band called Marginal Man, who I was lucky enough to see at the Rat in Boston in 1986 or so. Ken Inouye was one of the guitarists for Marginal Man and his father is Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii. The elder Inouye is a World War II veteran of the famed Japanese-American “Go For Broke” unit and a Congressional Medal of Honor winner. I’m going to guess he never commended Marginal Man from the Senate floor though.

He’s a Maniac, Maniac, That’s For Sure

A lot of people asked me about the “had my neck slashed open by a maniac in Brooklyn” episode I mentioned a couple of weeks ago. I guess a lot of folks have never heard that story, so I figured I’d write it up for the old blog.

So 10 years ago I spent two months in Europe as a roadie for a French punk rock band named Scraps. That’s a whole other story, but suffice to say we drove all over Europe and played shows in clubs of all sizes, squats, and even a cave. We survived breakdowns, engine fires, skinhead-infested East German towns, and near financial ruin. It was definitely an adventure and one I’m glad I experienced. And on the whole trip I suffered no injuries of serious illnesses.

The final show of the tour was in Paris and the very next day I left for the airport at 6 am and flew back to New York City. I made it to my Brooklyn apartment 14 hours later, tired but triumphant. I caught up with some of my friends and called my folks to let them know I was back safe and sound. Although I could have gone to sleep right away, I tried to stay up so I could reset my body clock. As I was hungry anyway, I decided to get some food. I hadn’t had Chinese in two months so that sounded perfect. Now I could have just ordered in and paid the extra $2 for the convenience. But no, I thought, I’ll just walk down the restaurant and save myself the dough.

This was my mistake.

I walked the six or so blocks down to China House, our usual joint and the eatery that had provided food for us on many a game night. There was a guy lounging outside but I didn’t think twice about that. This was Brooklyn after all. Hanging out on the street is a way of life.

Now China House was a classic NY take-out place with a screen of bullet proof glass between kitchen and customers and only a couple of tables. Their menu was posted on the wall so I walked up to see with what culinary delight I would celebrate my return to NYC. Before I could order, someone tapped me on the shoulder. I turned to see a large Latino guy wearing a scowl on his face.

At this point I was totally out of it. I was jet lagged, I was hungry, and I had just gotten home. And suddenly it felt like this guy was scratching my neck. Then he said, “Come on.”

I was perplexed. What the hell did this guy want and why was he scratching me? Then he scratched my arm and repeated himself. As he brought up his hand again, I finally noticed what he was holding: a box-cutter. And he wasn’t scratching me, he was cutting me open.

He slashed my neck a second time and again said, “Come on.” To this day, I have no idea what he was trying to say. “Come on, give me your money? Come on, let’s fight? Come on, buy me an eggroll?” Who knows? What I do know is that my sluggish mind finally roused itself. I had so far just stood there like a dope and let this guy cut me. Summoning up all my street smarts, I finally replied.

“Do you have some sort of problem?” I asked.

Now obviously, he did have a problem because he was slicing me up with a box-cutter. I believe he was taken aback by what probably seemed like my total nonchalance at being assaulted. He said, “Come on,” one more time and then ran out of China House and headed towards the projects. I was left in the restaurant bleeding.

This incident took place in the afternoon, when the China House staff wasn’t as concerned with security as they would have been at night. They had their security door open and an older woman had been sitting in the doorway peeling vegetables as the whole thing went down. She turned to me after the slasher left and said, “Oh, was that your brother?” Bewildered, I shook my head. My brother and I may not always get along but we don’t generally cut each other up.

I could feel the blood running down my neck by this point and I turned towards the counter. The guy on the other side looked at me and said, “You should call the police.”

“Yeah, I guess I should,” I replied.

“But not from here!” he added quickly. Ah, that’s NYC for you. No one wants to get involved.

Perturbed now, I said, “Well, can I have some napkins to staunch the blood?” He handed me a stack and I pressed some to my neck. Then I walked home, bleeding quietly to myself.

The only person home was the guy I had sublet my room to. He took one look at me and said, “We better call an ambulance.” The meat wagon arrived a few minutes later. The paramedics swabbed the wound, put a bandage on it, and drove me to the emergency room (a 10 minute drive that cost me $500). I filled out paperwork and then took my place amongst a crowd of the bruised, the battered, and the drug-addled. I was in for a long wait.

After an hour sitting and staring, I decided to call my folks again and fill them in. Figured I might as well, since the hospital was so slow. Now bear in mind I had called them scant hours before to tell them I was fine. A few hours home and I’m in a hospital with a cut up neck and arm. My mom, of course, was beside herself. I assured her that the fact I was making the phone call at all meant that I was going to be OK. While I was talking to her, the staff finally started calling my name. It took me a minute to reassure my mom, end the conversation, and get to the front desk. When I showed up, the exasperated nurse said, “Didn’t you hear me calling your name?”

“Yes, I did,” I replied, “but I was on the phone telling my mom that I just got cut up. So sorry to inconvenience you.”

She led me to he ominously titled “Stitchery Room”, where I was left alone for another half an hour. The room had a reclining operating chair, not unlike what you’d find in a dentist’s office. Hanging out there wouldn’t have been so bad except for one thing: they hadn’t cleaned up from the previous victim. Next to my chair was a small moveable tray that was covered with bloody instruments and big pools of blood. That was very comforting I can tell you.

Finally, a doctor arrived and examined my wounds. The arm slash was superficial, but the neck cuts were more serious. “A little bit deeper and he would have cut your jugular vein,” the doctor said. “Then you would have died.”

Well, fantastic!

Luckily, the box-cutter makes very fine cuts, so they were able to close the wounds with butterfly tape instead of stitches. That was done after the painful cleaning of the wounds with burning horrible chemicals, which I really enjoyed after my long day.

Four hours after I left on an innocent Chinese food run, I got a car service back to my apartment. I still hadn’t had a chance to eat. My roomies were home by then and they had heard what I had happened and were of course concerned. The mood on Bergen St. was subdued that night. I’ll always remember Aaron’s response though.

“Sorry you got cut up, dude.”

Yeah, me too, but at least I got a good story out of it (and a nice scar, of course).

Yet strangely, I still miss Brooklyn.