Monday, June 28, 2010

Girl with the Dragon Tattoo & Percy Jackson

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson involves a murder mystery, but the personal interaction between the characters interested me the most. The story is set primarily in rural Sweden in the town of Hedeby. Lisbeth Salander is a violent, resourceful, emotionally closed outcast who works as a private investigator for a corporation. She writes a profile of Mikael Blomkvist, a middle-aged, well-known investigative reporter and is absorbed by some of the incongruities in a libel suit against him. She obtains a great deal of information on Blomkvist by hacking into his computer, which he finds out at a later point in the book when he reads her finished profile of him. The powerful man, Henrik Vanger, who hired Salander's company to profile Blomkvist, in turn, hires Blomkvist to solve the forty-year-old murder of that man's granddaughter. Ultimately, Blomkvist wants a research assistance and, based on the high quality of Salander's snooping on him, seeks Salander.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo layers stories about Salander's vengeance against her classmates and guardian on top of a story about how the State declared Salander emotionally incompetent mixed in with a story about Salander being a silent member of a black-clad, goth clique in which she absorbs conversations without revealing personal details about herself. Blomkvist is shown from different angles - a divorced father, a friend, a lover, and an intrepid journalist eyeing the integrity of corporations and the government.

The characters in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo are multidimensional, but also provocative in opening up debate on the issue of when personal choice hurts others. The novel plays with how sex can cause pain. The book contains multiple rapes and power driven rapists. Meanwhile, it also deals with the topic of free love. Blomkvist dabbles with women, although he prides himself on being ethical and overall is written sympathetically. As Salander looks into Blomkvist's past, Erika Berger, the co-editor of the journal that Blomkvist works on, emerges not only as his colleague, but as his "occasional lover." Blomkvist never limits himself to Berger, but he has relationships with a series of women. Salander properly deduces that Blomkvist's marriage failed because his wife couldn't handle another woman sleeping in her bed with her husband. Berger is married and while her husband has no additional partners, he copes with her sexual escapades with Blomkvist.

In the small, Swedish town, Blomkvist starts having sex with a woman who feels isolated and past her prime. He disavows monogamy and explains his sexual relationship with Berger. The woman seemingly accepts Blomkvist's lack of commitment. She goes into a deep depression disturbed only by bouts of anger, however, when she's confronted by Blomkvist's lack of fidelity when Berger visits him. The relationship between Blomkvist and the local ends as the woman bitterly avoids any contact with him.

Then, Salander accepts Blomkvist's job offer. She gradually feels a bond with him and eventually initiates a sexual relationship. She knows about Berger, but the knowledge is abstract. Salander has never fallen in love before. She never has exposed her true self to anyone. She feels a tie to Blomkvist and, ultimately, feels her heart break when she stumbles upon him caressing Berger. "Free love" may satisfy Blomkvist, but he's making a series of women feel confused and devalued.

So, the book asks: can you expect a person to disentangle his or her heart from a sexual relationship? When you are in love, your partner can make you feel more secure in the world. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo shows how a woman can read promises into sexual acts that do not exist despite warnings and grapple with feelings of inadequacy when her partner shifts to someone else. Also, what counts as intimacy for one person may be interpreted differently by someone else. Salander sharing secrets, making breakfast for Blomkvist and holding onto him as they sleep may be groundbreaking for her, after growing up without a family or close friend. For Blomkvist, he defines the relationship as more of a collaboration, which is more of the same old stuff. Sex simply entertains him. Blomkvist, values independence over intimacy. He wants to wander, even from Berger.

The book deals with heartbreak, sadism, low self-esteem, hierarchy and nihilism. While it contains many themes, most relate to the fallout from corruption - the illegal workings and pretenses of a powerful corporation, the evil of a guardian raping his ward, and a father anointing himself a religious enforcer to justify... (Well, now, I'll stop there since that's just too big of a spoiler.)

I finished reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo right before Father's Day, when I went to the National Museum of Art with my cousin, Cheryl, and her husband, Mike. Cheryl is my dad's age and treats me like a niece. Anyway, we strolled through the museum and, as we looked at a painting about Zeus, she mentioned how she went to see a thunderbolt thief movie about Greek gods with the young children of her friend. I told her that I'd read the Percy Jackson Lightening Thief book and called it a Harry Potter knock-off. I told her that while the story contains a lot of action, the characters lack depth. So, I lost all credibility with her by admitting familiarity with the book. She reminded me that Percy Jackson is a children's novel. She considers Percy Jackson something a person past adolescence should dismiss.

I changed the subject, but I stuck to the topic of books. I told her that I had just finished reading the Stieg Larsson book. I guess the "dragon" in the title concerned her given my earlier comments on Percy Jackson. I assured her The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was not a kid's book about sorcery and that it was an international bestseller. I emphasized that it was on the New York Times' best seller list for a long time. I thought about trying to curry favor for the book by mentioning that the author is dead, something in common with her favorite authors, but skipped that promo. I did insist that the book offered a malaise of Swedish cynicism and several misogynists. She asked me if I wanted to go to the Museum of Natural History and look at the dinosaur bones. We did.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Insubordination Fest - Chinese Telephones & Food Follies

I stopped through Insubordination Fest in Baltimore yesterday. I wanted to see Chinese Telephones, Tenement, and Off With Their Heads. I, also, hoped to see Deep Sleep and The Max Levine Ensemble. It didn't work out.

I arrived with Pat at the music fest just in time to see Chinese Telephones. We got in for free. They played an incredible set. I stood at the edge of the stage and comfortably watched them maneuver around. They started playing ten minutes early, but, unfortunately, played a twenty minute set as originally allotted.

My friend Jenny lives about 10 minutes from Sonar, where the fest was taking place. She invited Pat and me over for tofu hoagies. I thought we could eat at her place during a break in the fest. We got to her apartment at 5:00 p.m. She spent the next two hours making the hoagies, salad, and home-style fries. She pulled a pile of basil from her container garden on her porch. She cubed the tofu, marinated it, and placed it in the oven to bake. She also prepared a special marinade for the fries. The fresh garlic smelled amazing. She is a creative chef who prepares her food with care and fresh ingredients. At 6:30 p.m., I texted Pat to see if he wanted to go to see Off With Their Heads. He wrote back that it was up to me and he'd be willing to stay at Jenny's if I wanted.

We sat in the kitchen and talked with Jenny, one of her friends that I'd just met, Sarah, and Jenny's boyfriend, Jeff. She was making a ton of food. We ate some toasted rosemary bread that she'd gotten from Whole Foods as an appetizer.

Finally, the clock showed that it was a little after 7:20 p.m. The fries had just gone into the oven. I asked Jenny when the meal would be ready and she said that it'd be at least another 45 minutes. Pat had missed Tenement's show on Sunday and I wanted to hear them play again, so I told her that we needed to get back to the festival. I felt guilty leaving without sampling her culinary masterpiece, but I knew that her other guests would enjoy the meal. She hugged me good-bye and told me that she'd wanted to feed us. I don't think she knew that the fest was still going on. I know that none of her food went to waste, but I felt like a stick in the mud...

So, Pat and I left Jenny's place before eating. Pat wanted to get something quick to eat, because the smells in her kitchen had made his stomach groan with emptiness. I had a cold, dampening my hunger and distorting my taste buds. We went to Taco Fiesta, but the traffic prevented us from getting anywhere in a reasonable time frame. A ballgame had just let out and the cars stood at a standstill. We crawled to Taco Fiesta, arriving there at 8:00 p.m. as Tenement was supposed to be on the stage. Obviously, we missed their set.

I ordered a burrito without cheese at Taco Fiesta. They offered some knock-off brand hot sauce with a weird aftertaste and neglected to mix any seasonings in with their black beans. I wish the restaurant had at least given us the option of shaking some garlic on top of our food. The burrito consisted of black beans without any seasonings that were overwhelmed by a giant lump of white rice and wrapped in a white tortilla.

Pat got a chimichanga. Few restaurants sell deep fried burritos and Pat looks at a chimichanga as crispy, bean-filled goodness. He, however, told me that he'd wanted to stay at Jenny's place, because her food looked delicious and he was more interested in the meal than in the band. I wish he'd have told me his preference when we were there.

Taco Fiesta has a salsa bar. Honestly, I can't understand how those salsas could be so devoid of flavor. The pico de gallo was the best - although it lacked the traditional lime, jalapeno and cilantro I expect in pico de gallo. The onion and tomato combination at least had some flavor.

After eating at Taco Fiesta, we returned to the show to see if Pat's housemate Chris needed a ride home. Chris wanted to remain at the show, though, and our friend David offered to give Chris a ride. David threw me his car keys so we could get Chris's bike into his back seat. David also told me that the Tenement show was amazing. He said that they sounded much better than they had on Sunday and played with even more enthusiasm. Argh.

I felt frustrated. Pat said that he'd mainly cared about seeing Chinese Telephones and that we'd see the other bands again.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Chinese Telephones, Tenement, Holiday Band, Jake Lazovick, The Professionalisms

Simply put, this show at Hole in the Sky was fun. I arrived almost an hour and a half late and the show hadn't started. Go figure.

The vocals for The Professionalisms, sounded not only off key, but whiny. The band played out of tune instruments. While they played inside, I hung out on the rooftop and talked with people.

Next, on the rooftop, Jake Lazovick, played several acoustic songs with sincerity . He sings about relaxing in the summertime, missing his ex-girlfriend but not wanting to get back together with her, and wishing school would end. The word "innocence" may be off-putting to some people, but Jake seems sweet and innocent. He also made a joke: "Why do birds fly South for the Winter?" Answer: "Because it's too difficult to walk." Bah-dum-dum. Cute.

I'll skip to Tenement, who played a solid, melodic punk set. They have energy, but also intensity. Their songs are catchy, but still have bite and complexity. I like them for the same reasons I like early Jawbreaker, which, in my opinion, is a huge compliment. Plus, they are friendly people.

Chinese Telephones enthusiastically delivered foot-tapping, head-bobbing music. I bought one of their t-shirts after walking a block to my car to get the money.

The show finished a little after midnight. I stayed awake until almost 2:00 a.m. because I was so wound up.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Slang, World Burns to Death, The Wanky's, LF, Chaos Destroy - Baltimore

The show at Barclay House in Baltimore started with a few people milling around a dark, graffiti-covered basement. Chaos Destroy played. The vocalist's face looked strained - increasingly red complexion, squinting eyes, furiously moving jaw, sweat breaking out on his forehead - but no audible sound from his throat. I could only hear the bass and the guitar with a touch of drums. Oh well. Still, they played with enthusiasm and passion.

Lotus Fucker played a tight, 10-minute set. The guitars and bass created a chaos of feedback accented by a furious drum beat. Jon, the drummer, has talent. Dan, the singer, lunged into the crowd as he yelled out the lyrics. Obviously, the PA was alright, because, unlike the singer for Chaos Destroy, I could hear Dan just fine, despite the columns of amps and gear for the guitars and bass. The night before, I heard Lotus Fucker play at the Hole in the Sky in DC. After they finished, a guy said to me: "They weren't loud enough." I didn't realize he was joking, because, while Lotus Fucker had sent me digging for my foam ear plugs, they weren't quite as loud as usual that night. Pat had left an amp at home. At this show, they lived up to their reputation of being the show's loudest band.

After Lotus Fucker finished playing, I walked with Pat to get drinks. A few panhandlers directed us to a grocery store when we reached the main road. When we got to the store, the clerk buzzed us in and escorted us to the refrigerated section. Pat picked up several teas and I bought the only caffeine-free soda available, a Diet Pepsi. Pat lacked cash, so I paid and we returned to the show just in time to see The Wanky's.

The Wankys, from England, were more focused and fierce than when I saw them at La Casa a few weeks ago. The bassist shreds. The singer, Mark, seems personable and has great presence. I enjoyed seeing them play again and hope they return to DC.

The momentum of the World Burns to Death set compelled people to move in every part of the basement despite the heat and humidity so thick that I felt at times like I was breathing underwater. The bass pulsated through my body. Nevertheless, Jack Control's voice sounded tough, intense, dark, and commanding like a sledgehammer driving through the heavy fury of the rest of the band.

Slang are from Japan. They played with blistering speed. According to one of Pat's friends traveling with them, the lead singer kept stopping between songs in New York City and yelling "New York," because of his enthusiasm for New York Hardcore of the 1980s and early-90s. Although they didn't play in DC, they, apparently, took a detour on their way to their next show in Richmond, Virginia in order to stop by Dischord House today. These sounds together with brutal Japanese hardcore obviously influence the band.

In the Barclay House basement, people had spilled drinks earlier in the night and tossed water around. The floor was slick. Everyone was sweating due to the heat, but, in the center of the room, people looked like they'd just taken a dip in a swimming pool.

As I stared at the singer's pink mohawk, I thought of Indian Vision Quests. What is in a name - call the basement either a DIY sauna or a sweat lodge. I could literally see the guitarist's sweat streaming down the red wood of his guitar like the replica waterfalls that companies now manufacture for desktops. The effect was pretty in an odd way.

Slang kept playing faster and faster. The circle, too, moved faster and faster. As people shook their heads and flung themselves around in a circle, sweat whipped off of their heads like a makeshift and misplaced sprinkler system. The singer felt dizzy at one point and stepped outside for a minute, although the rest of the band didn't pause in their playing until he returned. The set had a surreal quality and I could imagine someone referring to it in terms of punk purification.

When Slang announced that they were done, people shouted for more. They agreed to play one last song. When it was done, Pat said: "We're not worthy." And, again, despite the heat, I left feeling energized, although I passed out almost as soon as my head hit the pillow.

Monday, June 14, 2010


Bzzzzz... O.K. While I didn't see any bees at Honfest, beehives thrived. (If you're groaning, sorry for the wordplay.) Honfest is a festival in the Hampden neighborhood of Baltimore that celebrates the pizazz and warmth of the working class women of the city's past. The fest features crafts, hula hoops, and local music. And women dress up in bright colors, retro fashions, and, infamously, beehive hairdos that aim for the sky.

This year, a booth at the festival offered to tease and pile women's hair up into towering buns. My friend Sarah couldn't resist. I stood in line with her for a half an hour waiting so that she could get her hair done into a beehive. She offered to pay for fresh-squeezed lemonade for me and our friend Danae in exchange for our patience. I passed, sprinkling the Boston Terriers that I was dog watching with water. Several of the stores had dog bowls out. People and pets crowded the street. While we waited for Sarah, a thin, white woman in her fifties with a high voice played a synthesizer and sung mostly Motown songs. When she started on "Pappa was a Rollin Stone," Danae yelped: "Unh, unh. That woman is not singing that song." We joined the woman for the song's chorus. I recognized the singer from Mindset, who entered the tent with his girlfriend. They decided to keep moving as we started singing. (I don't really know him very well, but he seems like a nice guy.)

I did buy a few crafts. For $13, I got a necklace made out of a domino with the sculpture from Love Park in Philly on it. I also bought a necklace for my friend Bridget for her birthday in December - planning ahead. I buy presents for people when I find something unusual that they'll appreciate. Sarah bought a domino necklace with a retro zombie movie poster on it.

All in all, I had fun. The activity within the fest thrilled the dogs, Basil and Viola. Tons of people kept asking me: "Hon, can I take their pictures?" Cameras seemed to be flashing everywhere.

After Honfest, Sarah, Danae and I went to Paper Moon, a nearby diner. I ordered the vegan nachos - homemade hummus with a hint of pepper, multi-colored tortilla chips, cucumbers, tomatoes, mild salsa, and onions. Towers seemed to be a theme for the day in Baltimore. Paper Moon mounded the chips on my plate. I had more food than I could eat and drank several glasses of iced tea. Another server assisted ours. He kept making jokes about going to a lemon tree to get lemons for our drink. His sense of humor aside, he provided us with solid service. Danae got the hummus platter with pita, which largely resembled my meal, although a smaller portion with a limited offering of bread. For $2 more, I could've added portabella mushroom strips. I skipped the guacamole, but the server told me that she couldn't substitute anything.

As far as the nachos platter goes, the chips themselves were fresh and fine. I prefer Sabra's Chipotle Hummus, though. Of course, I like spicy things and Paper Moon didn't add much to its hummus in terms of herbs or spices. Some might say the chickpeas are unadulterated by outside ingredients, I would call them bland. I bet a jalapeno has never seen the inside of that place. Get this - the server confessed the restaurant was without hot sauces - neither Tabasco nor Cholula.

The diner spotlights retro, however, with a quirky, modern, urban flamboyance, so its decor seems like an extension of Honfest. Vintage toys decorate Paper Moon - the heads of dolls from the fifties, rows of illuminated Pezz dispensers, knickknacks, mannequins, and model trains. The placement of the toys transforms many of them into sculptures. Obviously, whoever arranged the toys asked him or herself: how could a mannequin stand alone without pink, blue and yellow curlers on its head or without being scaled by toy soldiers? Day-glo green, yellow, and orange; hot pink; and fire-engine red color the walls and tables. I wish the food had the flair of the furnishings.
Danae's boyfriend lives a few blocks from the diner and was willing to let the pups play with a ball while we ate. After eating, I made a pitstop at Sarah's. We took the dogs for another long walk. They slept the whole way as I drove home.
PS - A few notes about the pictures. The guy standing behind me in the straw hat looks oddly intense, but is apparently dating a girl I know who was at the festival. Yes, the stylist put little ribbons and a mock bee in Sarah's beehive.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Birthday - Great Sage & Hunan Manor

I went to Great Sage, an up-scale, vegan restaurant in Clarksville, Maryland, on my birthday with Pat. The restaurant is swank - soft lighting with thin waterfalls decorating the wall like fluid stripes. We finished eating at a little after 8:00 p.m. and a jazz band was setting up as we exited.

The food is expensive, especially given the small portions. We got the pretzel appetizer, which came with three dips - a cheese sauce made of Daiya, a spicy hummus, and a peanut sauce. The pretzel, though, was only about six bites. I at least got to taste all three dips with it... Anyway, the pretzel was hot, soft, and tasty.

For dinner, I got the Chimaya Chili Tostada and Pat got the Lentil-Walnut Griddle Cake. The tortilla had rice underneath with a chili sauce and was topped with refried pinto beans, a few sauteed, julienned peppers and onions, and some thinly sliced (my guess), Gardein chicken. I liked the dish, but the strong tortilla taste of the tostada did overpower the other flavors. Pat loved his griddle cake. I ate a few bites of it with his mashed potatoes. The mashed lentils and walnuts tasted great together. I liked the texture and the herb combination.

For dessert, I had the chocolate lava cake with a scoop of vanilla ice cream made from coconut milk. The lava cake was rich and chocolate-y. The center of the cake was gooey and delicious. The dessert seemed like the best part of the meal.

On Friday, I went out to eat with John, who I've known for what seems like forever and remains such a good friend that he feels like family. We went to Hunan Manor, which is my favorite Chinese restaurant in the DC area. I got the Kung Pao Mock Chicken, extra spicy, and he got the General Tso's Mock Chicken. So good. The restaurant doesn't hold back on the spices in its sauces. I love the hot and sour soup and the main dishes never disappoint. I love going there.

Saturday, June 12, 2010


Two words delivered by a jury at the end of a criminal trial should eliminate the threat of prison time for an alleged crime: not guilty. The Office of the State's Attorney in Charles County, however, sees things differently.

If the defendant was on probation at the time of his arrest, the State's Attorney's Office plans to revisit the issue of guilt in a probation hearing before a judge. Yes, you heard it right. A jury acquits the person. Then, the State holds a second trial before a judge with a lesser standard of proof - "preponderance of the evidence" instead of "beyond a reasonable doubt." The judge is asked to ignore the unanimous verdict of 12 people selected at random from the community and freshly listen to the State's arguments. The person's liberty is again at stake. The judge is also asked to ignore the time and tax payer dollars invested in the original trial.

What if the person had a private attorney for the first trial and no longer has the money for a second trial? Too bad. Public defenders in Maryland don't cross county lines, so, if the trial happened in another county than the county in which the unlucky defendant is on probation, he or she can't even retain the same public defender. Hopefully, the new attorney will ask for a continuance, because he or she won't have much lead time before the violation of probation hearing to obtain discovery from the State, investigate and prepare.

When the police place a person who is on probation under arrest, probation officers typically file petitions alleging that the person has violated his or her probation. The court sets a hearing date. If the person is acquitted at trial or the State drops the charges, it is standard that the State dismisses the petition.

I'm frustrated by the State's overzeaous prosecutorial machinations. The State told me it will prosecute one of my clients at his upcoming violation of probation hearing who was acquitted at trial in a different county. I got in the case on Friday, June 11th. The violation of probation hearing is July 23rd. I have no police report or information about the case beyond that my client was acquited of charges at trial. Without even a police report, I lack a starting point to investigate his case at this point. It's wrong for the State to repeatedly prosecute someone based on the same set of facts. I'm filing a motion to try to bar this injustice.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Max Levine Ensemble, Fugitive Kind, Maybe Baby, State Violence

I went to the first show at Hole in the Sky tonight, which is a new venue/group house in DC. I really loved the space, which is a former warehouse that is now a loft. The area for shows was downright spacious and open. Plus, you can walk outside onto a large, flat rooftop. No one else in the building has access to the roof. It was relaxing to stare at the stars away from cars, pedestrians, and nosy neighbors.

I missed State Violence. They played early. I felt bad, but I only made a pit stop at home to eat dinner after work before jumping into my car and heading to the show. I'll catch them next time they play.

Maybe Baby are from Northern Virginia. They played with earnest, but Pat, Brian, and I left to go to an auto shop because Brian had a flat tire. Brian purchased a can of Fix-A-Flat and we missed most of their performance.

Fugitive Kind are from San Francisco/Oakland. Their lyrics advocate being socially responsible. The female vocalist made me think of Mia Zapata, the singer for the Gits. Mia's voice had more strength and range, but Mia developed it over time. The singer for Fugitive Kind has a naturally gravely, deep voice that can work well for a female punk vocalist. They finished with a song reminding everyone to get consent before engaging in sexual intercourse with another person. The frequently repeated chorus and rhythms of the song reminded me of the style of an early 80s California band like D.I. The dunt, dunt, dunt, dunt, da-dunt (repeat) beat seemed like an awkward accompaniment to the raspy vocals.

The Max Levine Ensemble were fun. Everyone in the crowd was at least bobbing his or her head along with the music. My friend Rachel kept turning around and smiling at me. Greg grabbed a stepladder and used it to ladder dive into the crowd. Anyway, I appreciated the warm atmosphere. I think the lead singer, David Combs, is a friendly guy and the band's music delivers a personable tone.

Now, I'm going to sleep. I have work in the morning.

Mindset, Praise, and Rations - Gabriel Kuhn Book Release Show

On Saturday, I got into Pat's orange van and headed to the Gabriel Kuhn Book Release show at Charm City Art Space in Baltimore. On the way there, Pat, Parsons, Brian, and I stopped at Everlasting Life, an all-vegan restaurant in DC. I got the fried mock chicken with rice and beans. The chicken is crisp and absolutely delicious. I'm getting hungry thinking about it.

Gabriel Kuhn lives in Austria and wrote a book on straight-edge. He originally planned to do a book tour, but he was unable to come into our country. So, the talk on his book evolved into a straight-edge show.

Rations played first and sounded great. I love Parson's voice. In one of their songs, he mimics a Youth of Today yell, but that's alright. I enjoy their straight-ahead, youth-crew style. Beyond their original songs, they played three Minor Threat covers, which naturally pleased the straight-edge crowd.

Praise was also intense. The singer, Andy, moved back and forth across the stage, pumping his arms and putting himself fully into his singing. I'm speculating, but I'd guess that the band is named after the 7 Seconds ep Praise.

Then, Mark Anderson, who organized the show, spoke. Anderson is the author of Dance of Days and one of the founders of Positive Force, a DC organization that encourages political awareness, sets up benefit shows, and performs charitable work. Charm City lacked air conditioning so the room was hot and muggy. Mark Anderson started off complaining about how Gabriel Kuhn was banned from DC as well as the rest of the country. Then, he launched into an hour-long speech about how he doesn't care how people label themselves; he cares what people do. My friend Sarah escaped to the outdoors after a while because she was tired of standing and the heat was interfering with her ability to focus on his words.

Already having spoken longer than any band had played, Anderson opened himself up to questions. Tony Pence asked Anderson about how Anderson shifted from denouncing to becoming a member of organized religion. Earlier in his life, Anderson described the people in the Midwestern town where he grew up as being defined by church or bars, which alienated him because he felt like he didn't belong in either place. Now, he apparently has joined the Catholic Church. Anyway, Anderson gave a long, contradictory answer, indicating that he still recognizes the flaws in organized religion, but that he respects the convictions of many churchgoers. He appreciates the sense of community within the church. Anderson's speech centered on individual accountability and concern for others, yet he finished his speech applauding the church in collective terms; focusing on group support rather than on group pressure within it.

Worn out, Mindset played a short set. Only about 20 people stood scattered around the room, a sharp contrast to the large crowd last month for their record release. Still, they played with enthusiasm and skill.

PS (6-10-10) My birthday. Andy confirmed that his band, Praise, is named after the 7 Seconds ep. He said that his favorite Seven Seconds album is New Wind. I don't see how anyone could put New Wind before The Crew. Andy said that he loves the lyrics on New Wind.

The Wanky's, LF, Rations, Eunuch at La Casa

On Friday night, I went to a show at La Casa, a church in Mt. Pleasant, DC, that allows groups to rent out some of its rooms. I got there a little late and missed the first two bands. As I was talking with my friend, Sarah Pette, she noticed that Dan, the singer for Lotus Fucker, was stretching. Walking into the room, I felt a wave of heat. I had wondered whether the lack of air conditioning would make the bands more lethargic. Despite the head start on sweating, Dan moved kicking, jumping, and singing to the left and to the right, as well as to the front and to the back of the room. Pat set up a network of peddles and stacked his amps, producing an extra loud, distortion-filled, fast-paced set.

The Wanky's were entertaining. These veteran punks, being in their 40s (?), hail from England. The band contains former members of Extreme Noise Terror and The Varukers. They play the sort of punk that invites people to sing along. Plus, they lack pretension. The singer pogoed at the mike while he sang. After the first song, he rubbed his hands across his shoulders, dramatically mock shivered, and said: "Brrrr. I can hardly handle this cold." I appreciated his sense of humor and attitude. For their final song, The Wanky's handed the mike over to an avid fan who sang, while the band's singer limited himself to his guitar.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Red Tree

I just finished reading The Red Tree by Caitlin Kiernin, which is a creepy, tension-filled, and thought-provoking book.

I remember reading a short poem that ends: "Love doesn't exist/Does it?" The poet sounds cynical throughout the poem, jaded and uninterested, but the question at the end signals that she may still hope for love, despite her protests. In The Red Tree, the main character, Sarah Crowe is a respected and experienced writer, who is emotionally vulnerable and seeking solitude after separating from her partner. Sarah seems like a pragmatic woman who early on refers to those who talk of ghosts as "crackpots," but, in the back of her mind, recalls the memory of a surreal encounter in a mud pond in Alabama when she was a teenager. Then, Sarah confronts a crescendo of signs of the supernatural. As Sarah experiences things she fails to explain logically and rationally, her willingness to say that the supernatural doesn't exist, like the author of the poem about love, gives way to a doubtful and frustrated questioning: does it?

Sarah initially isolates herself in a farmhouse in Rhode Island, but, then, another tenant named Constance rents the attic. In a trip into town, Constance tells Sarah about a walk along the cliffs by the ocean, when Constance saw a woman dressed like a Goth in a new, antique-styled dress. Constance says the woman pulled a gun on herself, resting it against her own head. Constance responded by telling the woman that she didn't need a gun, because the fall alone from the cliffs would kill her. The woman lowered the gun and, then, completely vanished. Constance researched town history and found the story of a woman who told the mirror of her story - the woman was about to commit suicide; described Constance; heard the warning; and saw Constance disappear. According to the history book, because of the interaction with Constance, the woman reassessed her decision to die and went home.

Constance theorizes to Sarah that maybe ghosts aren't images of the dead, but that time collapses for a moment so we meet briefly with people who are otherwise from the past or future. Constance suggests that somehow strong emotions can rupture time. Sarah gets annoyed, retorting that it's funny how emotions would bring one person a savior through time but ignore another person's need. Sarah disagrees with Constance by turning to the same argument that people use in contesting the idea of destiny: it's too unfair for some force to intentionally condemn some and save others. Constance's sea cliff story is a side note within the main plot, but an interesting take on how to define a ghost.

Plus, Constance's story is another step for Sarah as Sarah moves away from just making jokes about the supernatural and begins reading omens. Layers of stories about and hints of the supernatural collect to form the context in which Sarah finally feels powerless, merely a chain-smoking, journal-writing game piece waiting for the Red Tree to checkmate her.

I'm not going to write anymore, because I don't want to spoil the book. So, read it.

Chris's Surprise Party

A ton of people surprised Chris Moore at his birthday party. The party was a vegan dessert potluck and, from smoothies to cupcakes to pies, people seemed to go all out. Again, I'm almost as impressed with the fact that the party remained a secret to Chris as I am with the baking prowess of the guests. Like finding a four-leaf clover, two birthday parties in a spring in which someone is authentically surprise is rare. Wow.

Furlough Friday in Baltimore - Start of Memorial Day Weekend

On Friday, I went to my friend Jenny's apartment in Baltimore to cook with her and Danae. By the time I actually got there, though, it was getting late and people were hungry. We went to Liquid Earth, a vegetarian cafe near Jenny's place. Liquid Earth sells mostly sandwiches. I ordered a submarine, which was a standard sandwich with mock tempeh bacon, greens, and a vinegarette dressing. The sandwich was alright, but not phenomenal.

The waiter at Liquid Earth looked like Captain Jack Sparrow - Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Carribean - in jeans. Seriously. Reinforcing the pirate connection, he was wearing a Goonies t-shirt with a giant pirate ship on it. Maybe his hair evoked the comparison between the waiter and Sparrow? He did not have missing or yellow teeth and wasn't wearing thick, black eyeliner, but everyone at the table agreed that his appearance reminded them of the character from the movie.

Back at Jenny's apartment, we baked! Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie. Irish Soda Bread. We even made tofu hoagies when it was dinnertime. Tasty memories...

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Monday in NYC - Bliss & Curly's - Memorial Day Weekend

Pat and I met Nathan in Brooklyn on Memorial Day for brunch at Bliss. Nathan is straight-edge and an economics student at Columbia. Last summer he had an internship in DC. I was impressed with the thoughtful way he spoke with concern about some of his longtime friends. He's someone I trust. He treats people with respect, which seems unfortunately like a rare quality. He does have low tolerance for what he regards as passive-aggressive, judgmental behavior, but that's another story.

Bliss is a small, independent cafe in Brooklyn that serves diner-style, vegetarian food and vegan brunch. I ordered the vegan french toast. I love french toast. It was served with sliced bananas and strawberries, and a creamy, tofu-based, maple-flavored dressing. Nathan also ordered the french toast and asked the waitress to bring some maple syrup over to the table. Honestly, I've been on a french toast kick over the last few months after I made french toast with my friends Joey and Shira following the Vegan with a Vengeance recipe. The quality of the bread is important. The french toast at Bliss had a strong, but not overpowering, cinnamon flavor and was made from good, thick bread. I was still somewhat full from the night before and shoved at least half of my meal onto Pat's plate. I preferred the plain maple syrup, while Pat praised the creamy dressing.

Pat ordered the Vegan Bagel Delight, which was a bagel sandwich containing tofu scramble, tempeh bacon and soy cheese. Pat got the home fries with it. He was positive about both the french toast and the bagel sandwich. I'm the only one who ordered a drink. I got an iced coffee with soy cream, which tasted great. It was almost 90 degrees outside and I'd been in an un-airconditioned car for a while, so I savored not only the taste of the coffee, but also the ice.

After Pat and I left Brooklyn, we headed back to New York City. Pat wanted to get ice cream from Lula's, but I was just too stuffed. We walked around Chinatown some and Little Italy. (Yes, I changed clothes into something cooler.)

At dinnertime, we headed back for DC. Before we left New York, we walked around the East Village and went to Curly's, a vegetarian diner. We ordered to-go a vegan faux cheesesteak and a vegan buffalo wing sandwich. The waitress was considerate and brought us glasses of ice water while we waited. She smiled when I asked for an extra, little container of Cholula. Then, we hit the road. The vegan cheesesteak was amazing. I loved the textures of the meat, peppers and onion. The vegan cheese was sparse, which was fine. I dribbled hot sauce over my half of the sandwich and dug in. I love spicy food. The buffalo wing sandwich tasted more like a spicy, chicken patty sandwich than hot-sauce dripping buffalo wings on a bun. The bread and chicken were great, though. Curly's put a variety and a ton of greens on the sandwich, which was a nice touch. Hopefully, I'll get back to Curly's and try more of their sandwiches in the future.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Sunday in NYC - Central Park, Soy and Sake, and Lula's - Memorial Day Weekend

On Sunday, I went to New York City with Pat. We started off in Central Park near a lake in which people were rowing boats. People of all ages and shapes were scattered around on the grass picnicking, reading, throwing balls, and talking. A grizzled man with a long, unruly beard yelled praise for John Lennon near Strawberry Fields while another man in his fifties with a white hat cluttered by John Lennon pins tried to sell laminated pictures of John Lennon for a dollar. A jazz band played improvisational music and I enjoyed wandering.

From Central Park, Pat and I went to the East Village and walked around St. Mark's. Tattooed hipsters loitered on the corner and we walked past sidewalk vendors heckling over prices with potential customers. I love the energy and movement of the area. We stumbled upon some sales. Pat bought a pair of tennis shoes and I got a clingy black dress from Trash Vaudeville that was still more money than I should've spent despite the sale.

For dinner, Pat and I went to Soy and Sake, which is a mostly vegan cafe on 7th Avenue. We had only eaten a few donuts from Vegan Treats for lunch and, after walking for several hours, we were both hungry. The Soy and Sake menu offers an array of pan-Asian mock meat and tofu dishes. We ordered scallion pancakes and sushi as appetizers. At many restaurants, vegetarian sushi is limited to simple and uninspired cucumber or carrot rolls. At Soy and Sake, however, we relished the spider web roll - sushi that is filled with asparagus and mock crab meat and topped with a layer of minced spicy tuna - as well as the smoked salmon sushi. I appreciated the textures, flavor combinations and even the colors of the sushi. The scallion pancakes were thinner than the ones from Kingdom of Vegetarian in Philly, which is where I typically order scallion pancakes. They were delicious, but I didn't like the green curry sauce that they came with as much as the soy-and-vinegar-based dipping sauce at Kingdom.

For my entree at Soy and Sake, I ordered the Thai grilled salmon, which was pan seared soy fish that came with a spicy Thai sauce that seemed almost like a gazpacho - tiny bits of green and red pepper, pineapple and cucumber combined in a tomato broth with Thai seasonings and pepper flakes. The salmon was served with rice;and crispy, fresh, steamed broccoli, cauliflower, snow peas, carrots, and peppers. Pat ordered a grilled chicken dish that came with rice; a mild, brown curry sauce; and sauteed onions and peppers. I ate so much that I still felt full the next morning. I want to go back to New York so I can eat at this restaurant again.

After eating at Soy and Sake, Pat and I ambled over to Lula's, which is a vegan ice cream shop. The ice cream is made out of cashews and tastes rich, creamy, and delicious. We ordered a scoop of peanut butter-chocolate and of mint chocolate chip ice cream. The peanut butter-chocolate ice cream was rich, containing intense flavors. I love peanut butter and, in some spoonfuls, the peanut butter was so thick that it seemed like it had actually been stirred in. The peanut butter was well distributed throughout the scoop, though, and complimented, instead of overwhelming, the chocolate. The mint ice cream, however, could've used more chocolate to offset the mint flavor. If I'm ever at Lula's when I'm more hungry, I'll order a brownie sundae. So many options... Pat and I sat on a shady bench outside of Lula's and savored our ice cream, which was an amazing way to cool off. I enjoyed myself.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Transgression, Ilsa, Sick Fix, Lemuria, Torche Show - 5/27

On Thursday, I went to the Transgression, Ilsa, Sick Fix, Lemuria and Torche show at the Electric Maid in Takoma Park, DC. The show was advertised as starting at 7 pm. I'm used to "punk time," in which everything starts at least an hour late. In fact, the opening band is usually still in route when the show is supposed to start. For once, the show started on schedule. My housemate Zack's band, Transgression, opened and I missed them. I also missed my friend Sharad's band, Ilsa, which are a popular, doom metal band.

Parking was a chore. As I circled the block, I noticed groupings of police officers at the 7-11 across the street from the venue. A line of police officers kept moving kids away from the sidewalk in front of the venue and into an abandoned lot next door. I parked and passed four police officers standing by the crosswalk as I headed to the Electric Maid. I found Pat. In DC, we usually don't see a police presence at shows. Nothing out of the ordinary, such as fights or people blocking traffic, summoned the police. A girl told me that she saw an older man in a straw hat, Bermuda shorts and knee high, black socks talking to the police and pointing at the club when the police first arrived. She blamed this unknown and absent man for everything that happened relating to the police.

The show went on and Lemuria pleased the crowd. Lemuria's songs are melodic in the vein of 90s alt rock. Sheena has a sweet, clear voice. Fans sing and hum along. Sheena told me that her mom sometimes sits at the merch table for the band when they are playing close to home. Lemuria hopes to promote community and the idea of Sheena's mom helping the band out seems appropriate to me.

Sick Fix played next. I saw them play on Sunday night at the Corpse Fortress and they were stronger at the Electric Maid. The sound system and acoustics are better at the Electric Maid. Anyway, they tore into their set of hardcore songs. Michelle's face turned red as she screamed and stepped off of the stage and into the crowd. Pat's hair tossed around as he shook with his guitar and Chris furiously hit his drums with machine-gun speed.

I was talking with my friend Sharad after Sick Fix played and we noticed fire marshalls taking pictures. Sharad asked one of the fire marshalls whether anything was wrong. The fire marshall ominously answered in a monotone that it "soon won't be." I told Sharad that, with only one exit and a ton of people in the building, I bet that the fire marshall would be writing up code violations.

Instead of taking the stage, some guy associated with the Electric Maid announced that everyone needed to leave the Electric Maid due to a fire code violation. People kept standing in confused clusters. The guy with the microphone started berating the crowd for not offering up a place to relocate the show. People suggested the Corpse Fortress. Then, the guy with the microphone broadcast the address of the Corpse Fortress as some people within the crowd called for more subtlety given the platoon of police officers and fire marshalls swarming by the door. All flyers for the Corpse Fortress give its address, so the top secret attitude is, I'm sure, short lived. Anyway, at least on that night, DC officers didn't follow kids into Maryland or contact any neighboring officers.

I joined a caravan of cars to the Corpse Fortress. After parking, I walked with Pat over to 7-11 to get a drink before descending into the Corpse Fortress basement to see Torche. The Corpse Fortress basement was dank after a recent rain and the smell of mold combined with that of sweat. The PA wasn't working too well for Torche and I could only hear the bass and drums. The lights went out after Torche started and people held up cell phones to add some light. Torche was unperturbed and played a long set, maybe as a thanks to the people who switched venues and stayed up late just to hear them.

Saturday in Bethlehem, PA - Double Decker, Vegan Treats, and Secret Art Space - Memorial Day Weekend

On Saturday, Pat and I drove to his grandma's house in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, which is an hour south of New York City. His grandma also lives near Double Decker Records and Vegan Treats.

I went crazy in the record store and invested too much money in a few fairly rare 7"s. I bought a Man is the Bastard 7", NOTA's "Moscow" ep, a Citizen's Arrest flexi, and the Rambo/Crucial Unit split 7" (which isn't rare and was reasonably priced). Pat bought the 1983 Dicks record "Kill from the Heart," which SST had released and is extremely hard to find in good condition in the Northeast. I was happy. We then got in Pat's un-airconditioned car and drove to Vegan Treats. Yes, I worried how the vinyl would hold up to the heat, having had albums warp in the past. And the purchase also made me feel a bit extravagant and self-indulgent, since I already have the MP3s for the 7"s. Actually holding the records, being able to look at the artwork and lyrics, and listening to music on the record player is special to me, though.

At the one and only Vegan Treats, I got a mocha cheesecake, and a dark and white chocolate cake. Pat got a berry cheesecake and a peanut-butter filled donut. The cheesecake was delicious. How can you go wrong with the chocolate-coffee combination? Unfortunately, the desserts at Vegan Treat's have shrunk in the last year. Previously, a solid chocolate spoon decorated the mocha cheesecake, like an invitation to stir a cup of coffee. Now, the cheesecake is just as good, but this chocolate amenity has been cut. The cake used to feed comfortably two people. Now, besides cutting some of the tasty embellishments, such as the chocolate spoon, the cake feeds only one person. Of course, now if you share,maybe you can sample several desserts. The price per cake has gone down some, although per bite the cake is now more expensive. The cake and other desserts are still amazing. I had a bite of the chocolate combo cake and was impressed with the balance of textures in addition to chocolate flavors. The chocolate cake was surrounded by a soft chocolate icing, sprinkled with white chocolate chips, and layered by ribbons of dark chocolate. Meanwhile, molten chocolate pieces were scattered throughout it. Yum. Anyway, I love and appreciate Vegan Treats.

On Saturday night, Pat and I went to a show in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania at the Secret Art Space. We got directions there by asking a woman working at a vegetarian cafe, which offers mochas, but lacks an espresso machine. (Can I be a coffee snob if I admit to liking coffee from WaWa?) Anyway, Distress Signal from Philly played. Pat has known one of the members in the band for a while. I hadn't met him previously. Distress Signal plays metal. Some of the vocals are a little higher pitched than I like, but I the band is solid and fun to watch. The venue was comfortable and clean with a lot of open space. Significantly, someone did a great job of soundproofing it. The PA was loud, but you couldn't hear much noise at all from the outside.

PS When I left my house, I noticed that the elderly lady across the street had dumped a bunch of lettuce in our yard near the sewer. Obnoxious.