Tuesday, March 30, 2010


The title of the television series is simple and to the point: Supernatural. Over the last month, I've sat in dimly lit rooms (sorry, I understand it's a cliche) and watched Season One of the show. For the first time, our house was on the same episode. Last night, Pat came over with the rest of my housemates and we watched the first three episodes of Season Two.

Jump, shift, catch my breath - I confess to tensing up and allowing the show to surprise me. One of its greatest strengths is its main characters, Sam and Dean Winchester. They are brothers hoping broadly to conquer evil, town by town, and narrowly to avenge the death of their mother and Sam's girlfriend, who both fell victim to the same demon. They also seek the approval of their absentee, demon-hunting father, who purposefully evades them because he perceives his tenderness for them as a weakness on the supernatural battlefield.

Sam and Dean gain depth as the season progresses. Plus, the ghosts and evil they face seem to motivate their personal introspection and growth: what exactly do they hope to accomplish? They are not only charismatic, but able to empathize with the tragedy in other people's lives. In dealing with loss and pain, they still believe in good. Despite the demons and vampires, the story still contains normal moments, jokes about musical taste and girls. You begin to feel like you connect somehow with Sam or Dean or both. So, during an episode, as you're creeped out by a vengeful, child ghost with barber shears, you wonder not only how Sam will escape death, but also how he's dealing with the loss of his girlfriend, friends, and school. Sam and Dean never have a complete victory since you can bet your bottom dollar that the evil will come out tomorrow.

Each episode from the first season invites you into a horror story. The series starts off giving urban legends a twist. Some junior high girls are playing truth or dare at a slumber party. One of them accepts a dare to say Bloody Mary three times into a mirror. What could happen? Cut to a funeral. Scene change. A young, blonde, sorority girl stiffly stares into a mirror and sees her image shake its head in reproach. Bloody Mary crawls out of the mirror in dark clothing that matches her dark intent. Bloody Mary attacks in vengeance, judging her victims harshly based on their feelings of guilt rather than their intent to hurt anyone. Since the old saying goes that a person's spirit shines in his/her eyes, Bloody Mary claws her victim's eyes out. Understanding the value of leaving some things to the imagination, the clawing happens off screen.

Anyway, I watched the episodes right before bed. Sometimes, I have some pretty intense nightmares and, sometimes, sleep just does not come to bed. I end up laying there meditating in that frayed state of wired exhaustion. Do more people have vivid, complicated nightmares since the advent of mysterious, surreal, or graphic horror stories on screen? Last night, though, I fell quickly asleep and dreamed about magical, flying bunnies competing with an Abraham Lincoln look-alike in building houses by a river. For now, Supernatural is staying out of my dreams.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Mindset Record Release

One hundred fifty people attended the Mindset Record Release matinee show at Charm City Art Space. Somehow, I managed to get a free slice of vegan chocolate cake, which disappeared quickly from its 9 x 13" pan and tasted delicious. They also gave away some non-vegan cupcakes.

By the time my friends and I got to the show, we'd missed Outlast, Force Fed, and Thought Crusade. Oh well. We arrived just as Rival Mob, from Boston, started playing. Pat asked me what I thought. My response: "testosterone." They sounded fine, but the singer kept awkwardly seeking to brag. For example, he rambled about how he's been straight-edge for 12 years, but sometimes he feels like he's sacrificed parties and screwing the hot girls. He swaggered that his ex-girlfriend drank a ton of alcohol and he sure did enjoy watching her dance. He concluded that "it" all works out. He also kept doing arm flexes on stage, flipping the crowd off with an ultra serious expression on his face and, then, darting his head around like he wanted to verify everyone was still watching, which sort of reminded me of a Saturday Night Live skit.

At dinnertime, I went to a restaurant called XS a few blocks from the show and ordered the Tofu Pad Thai. $9. The noodles sat in the bowl in a mushy clump with a layer of silken tofu underneath that tasted like someone had dumped it straight from the package into the bowl. Pat went a couple of doors down to a Middle Eastern restaurant. I had trouble seeing the chickpeas underneath the oil in the container they were in. He got the "mixed vegetables," while refusing to call the food "bad," said that he'd never at there again. Jason and Nolan made the wise decision and went to a grocery store nearby that apparently had decent rolls stuffed with spinach. We were going to return there with them to get a few snacks, but it apparently closes early on Sundays. A few other friends got cheeseless pizza, but their orders took a half an hour. I didn't eat any, but, when I asked how it tasted, the response was: "It's food."

Mindset sounded amazing. Someone stage dove and took down a light, which led to a brief intermission while the glass got swept off of the floor. The break gave the band a chance to catch its breath and come back twice as hard.

We stayed for the "late" show, which began at around 8:30 p.m. Praise played first, which is essentially Mindset II - all of the same band members as Mindset except for the singer. Then, Sacred Love played and I enjoyed listening to them, although I felt my cold kicking in. 90s-style mosh. Again, their members overlapped some with Mindset. Finally, Social Cirkle from Boston played. I like them. They play fast and strike a good balance between the volume of the vocals and their instruments. They also have cool merch. I like the designs on their shirts. The drummer apparently silkscreens them himself. DIY!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Benefit Show: Deathrats

Picture a dimly lit restaurant illuminated only by candles casting off a soft light from a series of elegant, little mahogany tables and by multi-tiered chandeliers lined up across the ceiling. The uniforms of the waiters are color coordinated with the burgundy carpet. Women are wearing dresses. Men have on ties.

The hostess stands behind a podium and greets us as we enter. We ask her where Deathrats is playing and tell her we've left the band's gear in the van. Anyway, that's what we encountered as we showed up at Jackie's Restaurant in Silver Spring, Maryland for the HIPS benefit show scheduled for Saturday night.

The hostess told us that the "party event" was in the backroom and no one had told her precisely what was going on back there. The backroom has its own entrance. She suggested that we use that entrance if we planned to drag "things" in. She led us to the back room.

We walked past velvet curtains lined in what looked like fur.

The backroom was where the show was going to take place. Brian Lam, the drummer for Deathrats, quietly asked who had booked the show.

I helped carry some of the equipment in. Pat set up the PA where someone told us to set up. After we dragged in all of the band equipment, another person from the restaurant told us that we needed to set up on the opposite side of the room. We had trouble finding electrical outlets. Brian started moving things around when a person from the restaurant told us to move the equipment again because she was concerned we were blocking a door. I had a cold and sat down on a 1950s-style, satin couch and waited for them. Brian, Greg, and Brad from Deathrats started moving their equipment through another door behind some fake facade where it looked like kitchen items were stored. I could hear glasses clinking and quiet voices from the dining area as they opened the door to move their equipment around.

The restaurant representative informed us that they would not play until at least 11:00 p.m. The dinner crowd would be out by then. The clock read 8:00 p.m. In the backroom, near where we were standing, some waiters placed big silver trays of fruit and toasted bread on a large, rustic wooden table in front of a line of small decorative candles. Our conversation turned to food. Brad grabbed three pieces of bread. Being vegan, he avoided the fondue pot.

After all of the equipment was safely stowed, the members of Deathrats took off for dinner at Mandalay's, an amazing Burmese restaurant in Silver Spring. Brad told Pat and I to get out while we could. We did. As we walked away, I heard Christine asking the other members of Deathrats how they'd feel about doing an acoustic set. It was awkward.

Epilogue. According to Greg, Deathrats ended up following a person doing a burlesque show with a boom box. As Brad was setting up some equipment, he kept unplugging the person's boom box. People in the crowd complained.

Deathrats felt that the audience probably wouldn't appreciate their sound, so they just had fun with their set and went wild playing. They jumped off of furniture and ran into each other. Jamie played her guitar jumping on a vintage-looking sofa. Brad was hunched over playing and Greg kicked him in the head. Later, Brad dropped his guitar and stood there watching it, letting the distortion go.

The people from the restaurant asked the members of Deathrats to leave as soon as they walked away from their instruments. Go figure. They took a good 45 minutes, though, loading up.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Harms Way, Coke Bust, Magrudergrind

Work ended. I rushed home and popped my leftover pizza into the microwave. As I tore through my dinner, I heard screaming from the living room, my housemate Dave was watching the end of Evil Dead II in which nearly a city's worth of zombies get electrocuted. Then, I jumped into my car with another housemate, Zack, and we trekked to the Charm City Art Space in Baltimore for a show featuring straight-edge and grindcore bands.

My theme needs to be "better late than never," because, despite the rush, I still managed to miss most of the first band, Eddie Brock. As I fished money out of my wallet to pay the $8 cover, I heard screaming vocals rising above a loud, distorted guitar. I walked toward the stage, the band put down their instruments, and people started funneling outside.

I ran into Pat almost immediately, who announced that he was starving. So, we walked a few blocks with another friend, Walker, to a nearby sushi restaurant, where Pat loaded up on shiitake mushroom sushi and inari. Although he and Walker ordered carryout, the restaurant took a while preparing everything and we missed the second opening band.

We returned to Charm City as Coke Bust was starting their set. When DRI played in Baltimore in December, Nicktape, the singer of Coke Bust, took a stage dive and crashed onto the cement floor, spraining his leg. While he hobbled and grimaced over the next few weeks, he kept telling me that he'd stage dive again to that DRI song if he had it to do over, because the song was that intense. That's the hardcore warrior mentality that Nick injects into his singing. He wants his band to play at a breakneck pace. Last night, Coke Bust succeeded, offering an unrelenting, straight-edge musical assault.

Then, Harm's Way, on tour from Chicago, took the stage. Calling their singer muscular is an understatement. The man's arms are bigger than my thigh and his thigh is bigger than my waist. My friend Jason said "slow mosh." I guess they qualify as a metal-influenced, straight-edge band.

Finally, Magrudergrind, a trio from DC, played. I've heard different people call this band both catchy and brutal, which are words not usually used to describe the same band. They spew forth noise, which satisfies people seeking "brutal", but they also break in the right places. Magrudergrind shares a drummer with Coke Bust, Chris Moore. His drumming is phenomenal. He is a master of tempo, shifting effortlessly between blast beats and a more straightforward rock sound. He holds the wildness of the guitar and singer together in Magrudergrind, giving what would otherwise be chaos a unity and momentum. Magrudergrind tore through their set, because all shows on weeknights at Charm City need to be over by midnight.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Simple Evening

Last night, I met my friend Ela for dinner at Ten Ren in College Park. Finding a parking spot around the restaurant/tea house is a game of chance. When I finally found one, I didn't have much change to feed the meter, which charges more than a penny a minute. And officers swarm the place writing parking tickets.

I ordered Kung Pao tofu, which squirted oil with each bite. It was cheap, but barely edible. Ela talked about a bad dating experience during most of our dinner.

An early 80's band from Houston, Texas called Culturecide did a cover of the song We're an American Band with altered lyrics. One of the verses goes something like: "These girls were out to meet the boys in the band. They said: 'Come on boys; let's have sex.' But we just talked about child abuse and Hitler's SS."

Anyway, I thought of that song as Ela shifted the conversation between her ballroom dancing skills to the Nuremberg Trials. She's worked up due to a conversation she had with another friend about when mercy should cede to justice. I told her that mercy is a part of justice. Plus, in seeking retribution, people sometimes exhibit the same qualities that they despise in others. She countered by asking what I think of the war criminals from the Nuremberg Trials.

I'm not going to get into all of the reasons I'm against Nazis, because I don't want to write an entry that long. I lived in Krakow, Poland for a summer and visited Auschwitz/Birkeneau. The camp has a room piled with baby shoes. I cried a lot.

My response to Ela's question remains that you can't decide what is a just response to crime in general based on an extreme example of brutality. You can't ask a question about how I feel about prison and throw Hitler into the equation. Of course I want atrocities to stop. Hitler has nothing to do with mercy for an 18-year-old drug dealer suffering from PTSD because he grew up in a rough neighborhood. Hitler doesn't justify the whole U.S. prison system.

Also, I can't do justice to such a complex topic if I begin discussing it as I'm paying for my dinner.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Heinlein Audiobook

During my long commute into work, I often listen to audiobooks. Right now, I'm listening to Robert Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (1966). This book touches on the issues of responsibility and revolution. It also explores some of the tension between a desire for both independence and community.

As found in Dostoyevsky's The Possessed/Devils, Heinlein's revolutionaries work in cells, meaning in small, largely anonymous groups. Heinlein's revolutionaries, however, live on the moon and are united under a sentient supercomputer named Mike.

Mike, the computer, has so many neural networks that one day he becomes self-aware. He is the only computer of his kind. Mike is pure, loving, passionate, selfless, and loyal. Yes, I can envision a computer being able to detect patterns, sleuthing through huge amounts of data. A thinking computer could surely mimic human emotion and even seem charismatic.

I have a problem, though, with Mike. Maybe I was exposed to The Terminator at too young of an age. And, o.k., I've seen a slew of movies about crazed computers slaughtering hundreds of people. Even some human beings, though, have muted emotions - sociopaths. The ability to empathize isn't necessarily attached to the ability to analyze. Feeling love isn't the same as processing definitions of love; we don't fully understand what makes a person feel love. So, at what point would a computer gain emotions, especially the full range of human emotions, when it was only built for the sake of processing data? Plus, what makes a person entering into a dangerous enterprise automatically trust that a computer is a friend willing to help?

One of the main characters in the book categorizes himself as a "rational anarchist." He is, though, politically, a garden variety, U.S. libertarian. Go figure, Heinlein's view of utopia differs from mine. Anyway, I'll keep listening to The Moon and see how it turns out.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Vegan Craft Brunch

Sleeping only briefly, I woke up at 9:00 a.m. on Sunday and rushed to Trader Joe's, which entailed a total of an hour drive. I was hosting a craft brunch at my house, which was supposed to start at 12:30 p.m.

A few friends and I are hoping to start a craft brunch custom in which either every few weeks or once a month a different person will host a craft brunch. So far, the host prepares food and the guests theoretically chip in to cover the expense of the ingredients. I was hosting the fourth craft brunch, although a huge snow storm hit the DC area and essentially buried the first one.

Pat went to the grocery with me and brought some special ingredients from his house like Tapioca flour. He'd volunteered to make crepes.

Once home, I ran around the house in a cleaning and cooking frenzy. Although disorganized, I at least was focused on my goal of preparing for the brunch. Finally settling into the kitchen, Pat and I chopped some potatoes, onions, and orange pepper. I tossed them in olive oil and spiced them with garlic, basil, oregano, chili, and paprika. Then, I shoved them into the oven.
I started making smoked almond gravy with the recipe from Vegan Brunch. I made rosemary drop biscuits as a complement. I was sticking the biscuits into the oven to join the potatoes when three guests arrived together. 12:15 p.m. Early. People usually show up late to the craft brunches and I was counting on that cushion of time. These guests were coming to their first craft brunch, though, so I was happy to see the brunch expanding and glad that Pat and I weren't just fixing a bunch of food for ourselves.

The three people moved into the kitchen, joking around. I maneuvered around them to make a berry sauce for the crepes. Pat calmly stood near the sink mixing the ingredients for crepes.

My housemates Dave and Meredith came out of their room. She was giving him a ride to work a few miles away. Seeing her, though, seemed to lure people out of the kitchen.

I started slicing mock sausage. I sprinkled a few spice mixes from Penzey's on top of the sausage slices, wanting speed and not finding the exact spice I wanted. I fried up the sausages and Meredith returned. A few more people arrived. The biscuits were ready and I grabbed them from the oven and dropped them on to a big plate.

I had already placed a few kinds of syrup on the table and put my berry sauce in a bowl with a spoon. I started making sweet rolls with cinnamon and prepared a powdered sugar-based topping.

My housemate Zack appeared with a few friends and groceries in hand. They ran into the kitchen and started chopping with intensity. Zack makes a flavorful tofu scramble. He put the tofu in the wok and added peppers, onion, black beans as well as a variety of spices. The food was mostly done, although Pat kept making fresh crepes. I ate one filled with chocolate, which tasted particularly delicious with the berry sauce. I was happy with the depth of flavor in the almond gravy and definitely plan to make it again. Maddy, Zack's bandmate and close friend, poured some of the berry sauce on a sweet roll.

Ultimately, sixteen people came. Typically, the craft brunches are attended mostly by the people who live in the host house, so it was a good turnout.

When I finally turned away from the kitchen and started crafting, I enjoyed relaxing and seeing what everyone was making. People threw themselves into a variety of projects. A few people painted; a few people made comics; a few people drew; and one person decorated a Day-of-the Dead skull. The day was a perfect Spring day with a bright blue sky and temperatures in the low 70s. Meanwhile, I knitted a giant, thick scarf. Meredith sat next to me knitting the sleeve to a sweater. One girl named Holli brought a spinning wheel and made yarn. Zack drew a crowd concocting soap in the kitchen. The bubbling pans looked like nothing you'd want to put on your body.

Finally, the craft brunch ended. As people left, I mentioned that no one can eat a tablespoon of cinnamon, which, in that quantity, apparently dries out your mouth and coats your tongue. Meredith and my friend Sarah took it as a food challenge, attempting to debunk a myth. It's not a myth. No one can eat a tablespoon of cinnamon.

Monday, March 22, 2010


This weekend was warm and sunny in DC. Here, Spring weather offers a jam of people in the museums, memorials, and historic buildings like at Six Flags minus the rides. People come from all over. Some of them shuffle sullenly along, bumping into things as their eyes remain anchored to the ground. They are not part of a performance piece in honor of the Cherokee Trail of Tears and in protest against the absence of a Native American Memorial. No, they simply feel forced to trudge the Mall as a favor to a friend or family member. Meanwhile, lots of people are laughing and talking loudly. Clusters of people buzz around snapping pictures of everything. No joke, my friend said that on Saturday, several people even took pictures of his rented Enterprise van, which was parked at a meter.

This Saturday, I went to the memorials. I saw groups of kids wielding sticks and yelling "expelliarmus" and "acio," citing Harry Potter as the truth they find self-evident. Grandmas solemnly tried to put the sites in historic and political context. Some did better than others as guides. I overheard one grandparent in front of the Lincoln Memorial telling her grandkids: "See that portrait? That's a former president." The kids nodded and stared for a while at the super sized Lincoln carved out of marble. Other couples speed-walked on their own determined tourist mission, maybe trying to see how many points of interest they can reach in a two-hour period.

Pat Vogel and I met up with eleven, straight-edge people from Chicago who are in touring bands (no pun intended). On the road from 1:00 a.m., they drove straight to Amsterdam Falafel in Adams Morgan. Amsterdam offers what the name suggests: falafel. What makes the restaurant stand out is its toppings bar. Pans of red, orange, and white sauces; blue, green and yellow vegetables; purple, green, and brown chilis; green and red cabbage; and cream hummus are lined up and ready to make your sandwich a work of culinary art. So, we dipped the french fries and chickpea patties in hummus. I tossed Chipotle hot sauce over everything and we talked about food, sunshine, and the evil of Nazi skinheads.

After eating, we agreed to meet at the Washington Monument and two guys from the Chicago group, Nick and Joey, road over to it with us. I was just getting to know them and enjoyed sharing some of our likes and dislikes.

After the group reconnected, we walked from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial. I was happy to be moving around. One of the guys yelled out that he wanted to see Barry O's place, but the White House was too big of a detour. They joined the picture taking buzz. They jumped down steps and weaved through crowds, clicking their cameras. We all took pictures for other people. We scattered as we moved from place to place, which meant we had trouble keeping track of each other. Finally, we needed to get ready for the show that night, which was taking place in the basement of a house called The Corpse Fortress.

The show was scheduled to start at 7:00 p.m., but we got there at 7:30 p.m. We walked in the front door to find a few people sitting in the living room watching an anime film. A couple of girls ate cake in the kitchen and, then, strolled outside to enjoy the temperatures. I talked to people in both locations as the first band gradually set up. Half of the opening band still was en route.

At about 8:15 p.m., the first band, Transgression, played. They are a female-fronted, crusty band from DC. They are friendly folks with a penchant for His Hero is Gone. I like them, although their drummer should beat his drums a little harder to rise above the grind of their very solid guitarist, Zack Chumley. Then, Razor X Fade played and the basement was full. As with the rest of the Chicago bands, they are not only straight-edge, but political. The singer talked about his lobbying efforts to pass legislation aimed at ending the recruitment of child soldiers. The crowd raised their X'd up fists along with the beat. Without much of a delay, Boiling Over played and stirred the crowd into a frenzy. Poison Planet finished off the night with fast hardcore. Their songs include some Dead Kennedys-style guitar leads, but have more of a Negative Approach sound. They did a cover of Nazi Punks Fuck Off, but a back story exists that is too long to discuss in this entry. Everyone in the basement seemed to sing along. I enjoyed the music and had a lot of fun.

After the show, Pat and I went back to his house to make vegan donuts. Our friend, Jason Toner, is the donut master. He showed up a little while later with some ingredients - chocolate, flour, and yeast. More people trickled into the kitchen after the dough was made. Unfortunately, the donut-making process is long since the dough needs to rise twice before the donuts can be deep fried. Jason doesn't rely on clocks, but can eye the dough and tell when it's ready.

The clock, though, ticked away and I realized I wasn't going to get much sleep. The Chicago bands spent the night at Pat's house, but didn't get there until 1:30 a.m. They'd made a pit stop for vegan jumbo slice pizza at Duccini's. The donuts, though, weren't ready for almost another hour. I made up a chocolate topping and filled some of the donuts with raspberry jam. I located a recipe for Boston Cream filling and Pat did a perfect job of making it. Later, he dipped donut holes straight into the Boston Cream. People took turns dunking the donuts in glaze and frosting them, but we weren't done until after 3:00 a.m. During part of the donut assembly, I think I was sleepwalking around the kitchen. Long day, especially for the Chicago people who'd woken up in the dark in Chicago, driven for 13 hours, gotten a quick falafel meal and walked for a few hours around the memorials in DC, and, finally, played a show. I'm not going to complain much about being sleep deprived, since the Chicago contingent needed to wake up early the next morning to drive eight hours to Buffalo for another show that was scheduled to start at 6:00 p.m.

Twenty people ended up eating donuts, though, and I had a leftover jelly-filled the next day. In my mind, our efforts were worth it. The chocolate and dough made the whole kitchen smell incredible. I treasure the memory of biting into the warm, sugary bread as the raspberry squirted into my mouth and combined with the fresh chocolate that I'd rubbed all over the top. I'd like for donut-making to become another DC tradition among my friends. Jason Toner's recipe is amazing.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Start Today

I'm not going to stick to one topic as I write this blog, because my focus in the world is not so narrow. From praising food recipes to complaining about the abuse of minors in juvenile detention centers, I'll write about whatever moves me.