Sunday, December 29, 2013

Nurse the Hate: Hate the NFL Week 17

On Sundays, whenever possible, I take my bassets for a long walk.  This serves the purpose of letting the dogs be dogs and getting them nice and relaxed for the rest of the day.  The other purpose is it is an excellent time for me to clear my head and think about the big issues in my world.  While I spent an embarrassing amount of time pondering the potential look and fit of some clothes from Banana Republic, I was also able by sheer force of will to consider today's NFL games.  I have heard of runner's high, which I had always assumed was some scam created by the running shoe marketing department at Nike.  I have never heard of dog walker's high though.  That is the only way to explain how I became so engrossed with thought about Banana Republic outfits and sorta crappy NFL games that I became utterly lost.  I don't know how far we walked, but we were gone for two hours and now my hip hurts.  The good news for you is that I have made some conclusions that I am ready to share.

Most of the NFL games today have little meaning.  The only way to bet on them is to know if one of the teams has totally given up, and only wants to get this thing over so they can be fellated by strange girls in the Bahamas by Monday afternoon.  Ideally that team would be playing a team that has something on the line.  That is what we have today I believe with the Browns going to Pittsburgh to play the Steelers.  Pittsburgh has a very thin chance at the Playoffs, which is amazing since they also appear to have very little talent.  As usual, they have played tough and found a way.  Hell, they broke the Bengals punter's jaw a couple weeks ago.  Even the Bengals must have been taken aback by that.  "Hey!  Why do you gotta do that to our punter, man?"  The Browns meanwhile appeared to have their spirits crushed after that New England game they inexplicably lost a couple weeks ago.  This has all the hallmarks of a Cleveland "phone it in" effort, especially after Pittsburgh manhandled the Browns a few weeks back in Cleveland.  These guys want to get out of town and forget about this disastrous season.  While I was lost in suburbia, I was trying to come up with an eloquent way to say "I think the Steelers are going to kick the fuck out of the Browns", but couldn't seem to find better language than that.  I love Pittsburgh today on the money line.

I feel compelled to bet on the two games that will directly decide Playoff participation.  The Bears v Packers game will decide the NFC North and also who will get to lose in the first round next weekend. These teams are both sorta awful, and will get destroyed by whoever they play next.  Neither one of them has any defense whatsoever, so this should be a game decided by quarterbacks.  If I have to choose between Jay Cutler and Aaron Rodgers, even with a broken collarbone, I'm taking Rodgers every time.  You just know Cutler will look awesome for three quarters and then throw a backbreaking interception late that will be discussed for the next eight months by buffoons on Chicago Sports Talk Radio.  It's like it already happened.  "Uh, hi Jerry... Love the show.  First time caller, long time listener.  I think the Bears should just cut Jay Cutler and see if Jim McMahon can come back.  That pick he threw at the end of the Packers game killed us.  He sucks.  I'll hang up and listen."

It's so easy to hate Cutler, mostly because of his facial expressions.  He's probably an awesome guy, just with a fucked up set of expressions.  Who knows?  That's all people will remember though.  Not that the Bears will lose 38-34, and the reason they lost was the defense gave up 38 points to the Packers, not Cutlers INT.  Who cares anyway... They both suck.  Pick: Packers.

The Cowboys are so bad defensively, it is beyond human comprehension.  They have a guy in the secondary that is a rookie from William and Mary.  Last year he was in college covering a guy that is in an entry level insurance sales job somewhere.  Now he has to cover DeSean Jackson.  Their middle linebacker is an undrafted rookie from Oklahoma State.  Now he has to tackle LeSean McCoy.  I think it is safe to say that the Eagles are going to score what analysts have predicted as "a shit ton" of points.  Now all the Cowboys will need is to have Kyle Orton seamlessly replace Tony Romo, who somehow won a game last week with a bulging disc in his back so bad that he needed an epidural afterwards.  Ouch.  Pick: Eagles.

It's the NFL, so please be advised anything can go wrong with this plan, but I am moving ahead strong on all three picks.  I really need something to watch today.  I am going moneyline, parlay, and three team tease.  Let's flame out on this 2013 disastrous season in true grace!  Bring it on!    


Saturday, December 28, 2013

Nurse the Hate: The Illinois Tollway Fiasco

On June 10th the Whiskey Wagon drove through a toll booth in the Greater Chicago area and our trusty EZ Pass did not register.  A week later I received in the mail a tersely worded notice that I owed the State of Illinois and the Greater Illinois Tollway Authority $6.00 for the unpaid toll and an additional $80 for daring to drive through the automated toll booth without an EZ Pass.  Not wanting to be on the bad side of the People of Illinois, I immediately called the 800 number and paid the $6 toll on my MasterCard.  As we had an EZ Pass in good standing, I wanted to clear up the additional $80 fine as this was clearly a mechanical malfunction of some kind.  After all, I’m just a good citizen.

I was told by the good people representing the State of Illinois and Greater Illinois Tollway Authority that I would need to fill out an “Affidavit of Nonliability for Toll” form, and have it in to them within 14 days or my fine would escalate to $280.  I filled out the three page form providing a variety of codes, secret numbers, and account information.  Additionally I photocopied my actual EZ Pass transponder. Surely, this will set me back on the right side of the law.

When I called back, I was told that I did not provide the correct information.  But, how was this possible?  I filled out all the forms you requested.  I was then informed that the Ohio EZ Pass system and Illinois I-Pass system don’t “talk” to each other, and I would need to provide a document proving that my EZ Pass was active on that fateful day when I drove through the gate in the Greater Chicago Area.  I was told I could access this on the EZ Pass website.  Oh?  No problem.  I will email that to you.  What is your email address?  Oh?  You don’t have an email address, but I can fax it to you?  Alright…  I will head back to 1993 and do just that.  Are you sure you don't have an email address of a direct line where I can call you back personally?  I don't want this to become so kind of fiasco...  No?  OK.  I'll get the information from the EZ Pass website like you asked.

As I logged onto the EZ Pass website, I discovered I would need my account name and password.  Having no previous need to ever log onto this website, I had no idea of either of these pieces of information.  The good news was that I could get my password emailed to me after I logged in my account name.  The bad news was that after multiple attempts, I couldn’t figure out what my account name was…  I tried my email address, name, full name, screen names… Nothing.  The only way I could proceed on this website was by logging in my account number.  I looked at the transponder and typed in the number on the side of the plastic device.  No dice.  I tried again; convinced I must have made a mistake.  No sir.  You would think that my account number would be listed on the device, but it’s not.  Of course I could have simply looked at my bill, but I selected the “paperless” option when entering the program years earlier, convinced my selection was brimming with the good karma of being environmentally conscious.  Now, I could not look at my bill to get my account number because I did not have a bill to get the account number from.  Follow?  I was a dog chasing his own tail.

This led me to have no other choice but to call the Ohio EZ Pass office.  Whoa be to those that must make this effort.  The phone rings and rings.  No one answers.  The call shifts from mechanized voice to mechanized voice.  No one ever answers.  I tried in the morning.  I tried in the afternoon.  I tried early.  I tried late.  I made seventeen (17) attempts before finally getting someone on the phone.  I would estimate on each attempt I spent 15-20 minutes of being on hold with the automated message blandly speaking meaningless options to me before maddeningly having the system disconnect me.  For those of you that didn’t do the quick math, that’s an estimated 5.5 hours on hold.  At last I reached an actual human being.  He had a weary voice, no doubt from being screamed at by annoyed callers day after day after day.  He gave me my account number.  I moved ahead with great confidence.

Not wanting to leave anything to chance, I printed each page of the website.  I wanted to make sure that there was undeniable proof that I had an active EZ Pass account, and the unpaid toll incident was simple mechanical failure, not a criminal attempt to evade providing The People of Illinois their well earned $6.00 fee.  I bundled up all the documents, including another copy of the precious “Affidavit of Non Liability for Toll” form and sent it via US Mail as per their instructions.  On the form I was reassured that the Good People of Illinois would review this information, and decide if in fact I was still responsible for this fine.  It had been a long hard road, but I was pleased that at least this would be resolved.

Several weeks later I received a letter from my now good pen pals at the Illinois Tollway Authority.  I opened it and blinked as I tried to comprehend the content of the form letter.  “Based on the information provided, we have reviewed your case and decided that you owe the $280 fine.  Enclose a check. I called their helpful toll free number.    "But… but… but… I provided all the information you asked for…  I need to provide you with what?  You didn't ask me for that?  I printed out every screen on the website.  You need what type of form?  But, there’s no such thing on the Ohio EZ Pass website!  How can I provide you with a form that doesn’t exist?  And why is it $280 now?  What?  Because I didn’t get the information to you in two weeks?  But how could I?  It took 17 calls to get my account number!  The information isn't even available where you sent me!  I don’t understand!  My EZ Pass paid you the day before and later that same day from the same unit.  Does it make any sense that my account wasn’t active?  Hello?  I need to provide what form?  But there’s no such form!   I can’t have been the first person ever from Ohio to have this issue!" 

Almost totally defeated, I realized I would have to somehow get through to the Ohio EZ Pass office so they could provide me with a form that did not exist.  This was not the type of situation one likes to find oneself in when dealing with government.  This task proved time consuming.  It went as smoothly as last time, no one ever answering the phone.  It seemed like an impossible dream.  I would chip away at it with the occasional call.  No matter what extension was entered, no one answered.  There was no email address.  It was like trying to get a return call from Santa Claus.  Meanwhile, the Good People of Illinois had decided to send my account to a collection agency after I told them “no matter what, I am never paying you this fine for something I didn’t do.  It is never going to happen.  Do you understand?”.  I may have been a bit hasty in my proclamation.  They were going to have their revenge.

After that unfortunate exchange with The Greater Illinois Tollway Authority, I would receive strange voicemails from “The Law Offices of Blah, Blah, and Blah” and was told to call back and speak only to Mr. Scott.  When I would call back and ask to speak with Mr. Scott, an operator named almost always Shaniqua or Dezmont would tell me that Mr. Scott wasn’t there.  I would insist that the message was quite clear I was only supposed to speak with Mr. Scott, and then she would assure me that Mr. Scott wanted me to talk to her instead.  I would then always ask why the message said I was only supposed to speak with Mr. Scott, and wonder if Mr. Scott knew that his calls were being intercepted.  This generally confused Shaniqua and she would start to say things like “Sir!  Sir!” over and over again.  I began to question if Mr. Scott even existed.  "Sir, I can assure you there is a Mr. Scott."  Well, why can't I talk to him then?  He is the one that left me a message and insisted I speak with him.  Why are you preventing me with speaking with Mr. Scott?  "Sir!  Sir!"  We mutually made little progress in resolving this dispute…

 At last I was able to reach someone from the Ohio EZ Pass office.  I explained to them what I needed, and they sent me a complete print off of my account history, indisputably showing that the EZ Pass was active at the time of the alleged crime.  At last, the Good People from the State of Illinois would know that I acted with no malice as I drove around the Greater Chicago area with my trusty EZ Pass.  I placed the document in my car, ready to once again send it off to the shadowy post office box.  This is when I made another crucial error.  I had every intention of making a copy of this document.  I really did.  However, I found myself at the post office, another fresh harassing call from the Law Office of Blah Blah Blah sitting in my voicemail.  I decided to send the documents off without making a copy, thinking “What are the odds of them losing it?”.

It turns out that I should’ve bet the odds.  Three weeks later, I called to follow up.  I spoke with a woman named J’nise (pronounced “Jah-neese”) who told me they had not received the documents.  I confirmed the mailing address.  She informed me I could fax them to her.  I said I had sent the only copy, and would have to descend into the Hell of contacting EZ Pass yet again to attempt to procure another copy of these precious documents.  Was she sure they were not there; sitting in an inbox ignored somewhere?  “Nah… I dunno about dat.  But you could fax dem here.”  My blood pressure began to spike.  I read her the tracking number of the envelope I had sent them.  I asked J’Nise how she would recommend faxing a document that was no longer in my possession, but instead somewhere at her office.  J’Nise did not know and was completely unable to grasp the concept of not being able to fax something that you no longer had.  We had reached yet another stalemate.

I repeated my efforts in getting a copy of the elusive proof from Ohio EZ Pass.  It was a long road.  It was a hard road.  The Ohio EZ Pass office assured me they would send me another copy.  Many conversations were also had with the offices of Mr. Scott, though Mr. Scott continued to remain well behind the scenes, pulling the strings to this never-ending beauracratic nightmare.  “Why can’t I speak with Mr. Scott?  He keeps leaving me messages to talk only to him, and then when I call you won’t let me talk to him.  Have you done something with Mr. Scott?  Is there even a Mr. Scott at all?  Who are you people?”  These were not the conversations the phone representatives of The Law Offices of Blah Blah Blah were used to having with their prey.  My continued alarm concerning the wellbeing of Mr. Scott made little impact with the increasingly frustrated African American women on the other side of the line. 

At last I received the document that was sure to free me from this inexorable situation.  I made numerous copies, sending them via fax and registered mail to Mr. Scott and his people as well as the Good People from the Illinois Tollway.  The calls from the Law Office of Blah Blah Blah stopped as they “needed to confer with the Illinois Tollway”.  On Christmas Eve, late in the afternoon I received a call from the Illinois Tollway.  “Mr. Miller… This is Kathryn from the Illinois Tollway.  We have received your documents regarding your violation from June 10th.  I have been advised to offer you a settlement on this matter, and am prepared to take your credit card for $20.”

Um… what?  You want me to settle on a fine that I have just proven to you that I never should have been assessed in the first place?

“Sir!  Sir!  You were past our deadline to pay this fine, so we now have assessed you a late fee.”

Are you out of your fucking mind?  Why would I pay you $20 for not paying a fine that I was never guilty of in the first place? 

“Sir!  Sir!  We were very clear in our first mailing that this fine needed to be paid in the first week, or the fine would escalate.”

This is when I began to attempt to reason my way through this.  Each point I made was generally answered in the same way, with urgent calls of “Sir! Sir!” like I was the crazy one.  No matter what I said, they just went back to the script.  How could I have not had an active EZ Pass when you can clearly see on the document you asked me to provide that I did indeed have an active pass?  “Sir!  Sir!  If you had an active pass then the transponder signal would have been picked up at the time.”  So my transponder broke somewhere between the two other tolls I paid you on the same day?  “Sir!  Sir!  I can’t explain how that happened, but we were very clear on the form we sent you regarding payment of this fine.”  So are you telling me that there has never been an issue with equipment on your end?  “Sir!  Sir!  This equipment is checked all the time!”  So you are saying that it isn’t possible that the technical issue could have been yours?  “Sir!  Sir! You are just trying to get me to say something you want me to say and I am not going to do that.”  So, it’s not possible… “Sir!  I am ready to take your MasterCard number!”  Look, if you just say to me that this is nothing more than a shakedown, I’ll pay you.  But that’s the deal.  You have to admit that you are just shaking me down for money and this has nothing to do with my pass being active.  “Sir!  Sir!  I am not going to say that!”  Well, I’m not going to pay you then.  What is your name?  “Kathryn N.”  Kathryn N?  What are you, an R&B star?  “Sir!  We are not allowed to give our last names!”  OK, then from now on you have to call me Greg M.  Ms. N, may I speak with your supervisor?  “Sir!  She is just going to tell you the same thing I am telling you!”  Ms. N… Are you suggesting that you can read the mind of your supervisor?  Are you suggesting that each of you is nothing but an automaton which is incapable of independent thought?  Is this what you are suggesting?  “Sir! I am going to terminate this call!  Do you wish to make a payment?”  Let me ask you… Do you think I wish to make a payment?  Are you under the impression that is where this conversation has been headed Ms. N?  I wish to speak with your supervisor… Can I speak with her please?  “Sir!  She is not available, but I can leave her a message to call you when she is available.”

Two days later, I received a call from “Jackie”.  Jackie read back the lengthy history of this dispute and confirmed that I would have to pay her $20.  She left an 800 number as a call back.  I called the number and got Shanquelle on the phone.  Hello, I am returning Jackie’s call from five minutes ago.  “Uh… What is your account number?”  I don’t know, but can I speak with Jackie?  She just left me a message to call her at this number just moments ago.  “Uhhhh… What is your license plate number?”  Why would that be relevant?  Can I speak with Jackie please?  “…….hold on……”  I wait eight minutes.  “I can’t transfer the call and I don’t know who Jackie is.”  Can you give me her direct line?  “Uhhhh…. Hold on…”   I wait another ten minutes.  “This is Leslie.”  Hello Leslie.  I’m holding for Jackie.  “Can I help you?” Sure.  You could get Jackie for me.  “Well, I’m a supervisor too.”  Yes, but I am supposed to speak with Jackie.  "Can I help you?"  Why do you keep ignoring what I say to you?  Is it crazy for me to ask for who called me as per my request?  "I can help you."  OK.  I’m confused by a message Jackie left me about me being responsible for a late fee on a fine that I never should have been assessed in the first place...

I then listened to this woman read the entire history of this episode back to me, including a number of times in which I was “difficult”.  That point was inarguable, as I had certainly not been very helpful in their efforts to squeeze cash from me.  I suggested to Leslie that perhaps why I was difficult had something to do with the fact that I was never guilty of the alleged crime in the first place.  That had now become a moot point.  In fact, it wasn't even worth discussing on their end.  It was no longer about the crime, but the length of time that had elapsed as I waded through the layers of government.  Frankly, I thought I should have received a medal by this time for getting so far in proving my innocence.
“Sir, regardless if you had an active EZ Pass account or not, the length of time spent to determine this exceeded our two week window so you owe the fine.”  I responded.  I am not sure how to compete with that logic.  It makes absolutely no sense to me and I will not pay you.  This will never happen.  Who else can I talk to?

I was given new contact information for someone else in the apparently bottomless pool of defenders of the Greater Illinois Tollway Authority.  I realize I am but one man and I am greatly outgunned.  There is almost no chance that I will be able to find anyone that has even a lick of sense.  I am doomed.  I will fight on however.  I will never pay them their shakedown money.  I don’t care if my credit is destroyed and I am left living in a cardboard box by the freeway.  I don’t care if I have to dance for nickles on the dock just to survive.  It has become a quest.  I will never give up.

I will clear my name.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Nurse the Hate: Hate Maxwell's

Maxwell’s was a club in Hoboken where every notable band in the last 25 years played.  A small room that held maybe 200, it was one of those New York area landmarks that became larger than life.  It was one of those places that you had heard about forever, and then walked in and thought "This is Maxwell's?".  I tried like hell to get the Cowslingers booked there, as it represented yet another place where everyone in our record collections played.  It was also especially exciting in that we risked being exposed for the frauds that we were by hitting the stage.  I think it was 1995 when we finally got a date there.  We were getting better, and had earned a modicum of respect for our “That’s Truckdriving” record on Sympathy.  We were by no means even close to the same level as bands that had headlined there like Husker Du, Replacements, Link Wray, X, Nirvana, Pogues, The Strokes, and on and on and on and on.  However, the kind of music we play was having a bit of a moment then, and we caught someone’s attention.

The plan was that we were going to be teamed up with somebody that had some draw in the area.  I think it might have been either the Swingin Neckbreakers or one of Ben Vaughn’s bands.  We had absolutely no draw in the area except for possibly three people on our mailing list and anyone that had been sent our “Hogtied” Estrus Crust Club single against their will and liked it in 1994.  (It did have a pretty good cover of Johnny Cash’s “One Piece At A Time” on it…)  This was a common tactic.  We would get ourselves in front of people that liked our kind of music and hope to win them over with our scruffy charm.  In that role, we were pretty good.  Give us 45 minutes to present our best material, and then let us get the hell out of the way.  However, things did not work out exactly as planned…

The gig was scheduled for a coupled days before Xmas.  I used to spend the holiday with my Aunt Rose and Uncle Jack in Tarrytown NY, just a short train ride away in Westchester County.  My plan was to stay at some dicey hotel near the venue after our triumphant show, make my way to the train station, and then shoot over to the greater Scarsdale area with presents in tow for all.  “Hello everyone.  I have just played the most noteworthy live music club in New York and now I will spend a few days here in the Big Apple hobnobbing about with you little people before my next glamorous adventure.  Who would like a marvelous gift?”  

We arrived at Maxwell’s at the same time a “Nor’easter” blew up the coast.  For those unfamiliar with this term, a “nor’easter” is a horrible storm that whips down the East Coast with awe inspiring winds, gallons of rain, and in this case sleet blowing sideways.  Every media outlet in the area has broadcasts which sound roughly like “Take shelter!  There is no hope!  The wrath of God is upon us!  Under no circumstances leave your homes!  These are End Times!”.  We, being used to horrible weather in Ohio, got out of the van and noted “Hey, it’s raining pretty good right now.”  We had no idea of the impact of this storm on the potential draw for the evening.  It seemed like a random rainy night, not A Major Weather Event.  What was the big deal?

We went in to the club and discovered the other band had cancelled.  It would be us and a guy called something like “Rockin’ Ricky” spinning old rockabilly records.  This was a Doomsday Scenario of the highest order.  Well intentioned booking agents love/loved sticking us with straight up rockabilly bands and the associated culture.  This is usually a disaster as we are more akin to a twangy country rock band that plays too aggressively than people that love Sha Na Na.  Making matters worse, we would be opening for “Rockin’ Ricky”.  This is an indie rock version of "Puppet Show & Spinal Tap".  Opening for a guy playing records?  Really?  The very, very small group of people that had assembled was all dressed like they had just stepped off the set of “Grease”.   I knew, without question, that they would hate us.  They did.  Oh, how they hated us.  Towards the end of the set there were about five people standing against the back wall staring at us and looking at their watches, hoping that this onslaught to their sensibilities would end and they could hear some guy spin a scratchy 45 of “Rock Around The Clock”.  We ended to complete silence.  I mean, NO ONE liked us. 

We slunk off the stage.  The promoter was furious with me.  I don’t know what he expected.  No one knew who the fuck we were there, and anyone that did sure as hell wasn’t going to go outside in this weather.  I didn’t tell him to book us with an oldies DJ.  The original plan would have been OK.  The events that transpired weren’t my idea, but he was writing the history and I stood there and got lambasted.  “You’ll never play this town again!” type of shit…  It wasn’t very fun.  Clearly, it was time to leave.  I don’t think we got paid, but they did comp our meatloaf dinners from the restaurant.  This was what being in the Cowslingers in the early 1990s was all about. Our motto was "Drive Further For Less".

I had no idea where I was ging to stay the night.  I had no plan.  All I knew was I had to get to a train to Westchester County at some point the next day.  The band dropped me off at a hotel I spotted from the road heading out of town to the turnpike.  It was an anonymous high rise business looking hotel that looked like it had been decorated by ex-Soviet military personnel.  It was bleak, but the rates were reasonable.  I struggled inside with my shopping bags of wrapped gifts and overnight bag.  Some greasy Eastern European in the ubiqitous cheap blue blazer checked me in.  There must be huge stores that sell poorly made and ill-fitting blue polyester blazers to Eastern Europeans.  Besides track suits, it is their go-to outfit.  I imagine enormous city squares with these outfits spread on cheap wooden tables as men finger the cheap merchandise.  "Buy two and get goat!"  I passed out almost immediately in my Spartan room, hoping that a night of sleep would wipe the shame off off me.

When I woke up, I was very confused.  Where the hell was I?  I heard people talking, but couldn’t understand the language.  Then more people in a different language.  Hard Eastern European accents.  Then sing-song African voices.  It was very disorienting.  I went into the antiseptic smelling bathroom and washed my face.  A fist pounded on my door.  "Dondrashock!  Kundra modra dog!  Shoo!"  What the hell happened last night?  Did I fall asleep on a ship and wake in Turkey?  I got myself together and went to the lobby to figure out how to get to Grand Central Station. 

Greater New York is a global village.  This is undeniable.  People from countries that are so obscure that they don’t field Olympic teams take over city blocks.  It’s what makes New York so compelling.  It’s a little bit of everywhere.   I have an expectation that I will come into contact with people from far flung areas from across the globe when I’m there.  It is part of the city’s DNA.  However, I think it is reasonable that when I go to the front desk that someone that works for the hotel can speak at least rudimentary English.  Instead, there was an African man that spoke French and a blonde woman that spoke what I believe was Russian.  Neither could provide me any information on where I was or how to get to the train station.  It went even more poorly for the Japanese couple that spoke no English much less French or Russian.  I decided that whatever the cost I would hop in a cab and get to Grand Central.  With all my bags of gifts, I sure as hell wasn’t going to walk around looking for a bus stop or ferry.  The word “cab” apparently was one of the few words my trusty hotel friends knew, and it appeared that they made a call.  In theory, a vehicle of some kind had been dispatched.

I stood out front of the hotel, the wind whipping my bags.  The bewildered Japanese couple stood next to me, either waiting for their own cab or hoping I would lead them to glory.  They just sort of stared blankly at me, waiting for me to take charge.  At least, that’s what I thought they were doing.  When the cab pulled up, I asked if they wanted to share it into Manhattan.  A little Mexican kid was driving.  He looked 14.  I asked him how much it would cost for us to share the cab to Grand Central.  He stared blankly back.  He also spoke no English.  I guided the Japanese couple into the cab, both of them clearly filled with reservations.  They couldn't have known what was going on, wondering if it was an American custom to drive around with visitors carrying gifts.  I climbed into the back seat with them, and said “Grand Central” to the cab driver.  He turned to speak to me.  “¿Dónde quieres ir? ¿Hablas español? No te entiendo.”


The confused Japanese couple looked out the window, overwhelmed.  I had no idea where this driver was headed, my rudimentary knowledge of New York’s geography telling me he was going the wrong way.  I asked the Japanese man where he wanted to go.  He stared back at me.  I took his guide book, looked up the word “where” in the back pages and pointed to it.  “Empire State”  You want to go to the Empire State building?  “Empire State”.  Hey kid!  Empire State building?  The Mexican boy eagerly nodded his head, a landmark he at last recognized.  We made a kazillion turns in what was obviously a trial and error method of getting to the Empire State.  When we arrived, the Japanese couple had no idea of the shared cab protocol of how to handle the fare.  We all sort of stared at each other.  Realizing there was no way I could communicate I needed $20 to this guy; I decided to eat the fare and just get to Grand Central.  Merry Christmas my new Japanese friends!  Good luck in ever getting back to that hotel!

How a cab driver in New York doesn’t know where Grand Central Station is I still find baffling.  It must be one of the top destinations for a cab in the city.  Yet, this tiny little Mexican boy had no idea.  He kept speaking in rapid fire Spanish into the radio and receiving equally rapid fire responses.  He would then mutter “aye aye aye aye” as he drove aimlessly around hoping to stumble into the New York landmark as the fare crept ever higher.  There was the real possibility I would need to take a temporary job as a dish washer to pay for this fare.  Finally I told him just to let me out, figuring that I would find any other human being that could point me in the right direction.  As I stepped out of the cab, my shopping bag ripped, sending all my holiday gifts onto the sidewalk where the always considerate New Yorkers stepped around them as opposed to helping me pick them up in the rain.  At least they didn't kick them into the street.

I walked several blocks juggling my gifts as my overnight bag continually slipped off my aching shoulder.  I stopped at a store on the way, asking if I could have a bag, where I was curtly told “You gotta buy something.  No exceptions!”  Merry Christmas to you too.  I bought a large bag of chips, threw them away, and used the bag to harness a few of my now soggy gifts.  When you see movies about people being chewed up by New York City and then spat out, these are largely based on that morning I spent trying to get to Tarrytown.  I was in well over my head, and lucky to have made the first train out of town.

I read yesterday that Maxwell’s had closed as a live music club this summer, the area around the club now gentrified.  I never got the chance to go back and play the room again after we had become a real band that could hold their own in such circumstances.  My Aunt and Uncle have passed on, the house sold.  Things change, as they so often do.  I don’t go to New York for the holidays anymore.  I miss the camaraderie of those family members.  It almost seems like someone else’s life I saw on a movie now.  As strange as it seems, I’d love to go back. 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Nurse the Hate: Hate Christmas

Christmas used to be the most magical time of the year.  As a child, it was the Super Bowl of all holidays.  Ten days of vacation plus new toys plus the building expectation of the event itself combined to make it the Epicenter of the Kid Year.  I don’t think I have ever looked forward to anything as much as I looked forward to Christmas when I was about 9 or 10.  Festive lights made even the most mundane locations cheerful.  Regular TV programming was replaced with nightly shows about magical elves, talking snowmen, and the Island of Misfit Toys.  By the way, the biggest asshole ever was Donner, Rudolf’s coach who cut him off the sleigh team because of his nose.  This was, of course, despite the fact he had the best natural ability out of all the losers trying out for the team.  Ah, a morality tale along the way to a story about a fat man sneaking into my house and bringing me a bunch of shit I thought I wanted…  What a special time!

Christmas Eve in my house was when we would open gifts from our relatives.  It was the pre-game to the big event.  Each year I had an Aunt that would send me very age inappropriate gifts such as the time I received the Old Spice Shave Kit, complete with Old Spice stick deodorant, the signature Old Spice cologne, Old Spice soap-on-a-rope, and Old Spice shaving cream.  I really had limited use for this gift as I was 11 at the time, but I’ll bet the young ladies in the 6th grade wondered who that worldly smelling sailor was in their midst.  When they caught a whiff of my Old Spice stick, they knew that I was a boy that spent his off time shucking oysters, drinking rum, and whoring along the docks.  It should be noted that the rest of the gift set remained unused until I tried the shave cream to clean up my baby thin mustache area when I was 17.  The soap-on-a-rope sadly was lost, and was never properly utilized as a pre-teen after one of my suspected nights of whoring with fellow sailors.

It was almost impossible to sleep on Christmas Eve.  The anticipation for the morning had reached a fever pitch.  It wasn’t my fault.  For five weeks I had been told consistently that it’s “the most wonderful time of the year” and Santa was bringing a total fucking wonderland of gifts that would blow my head off.  I did not become aware of the Santa Ruse until I was 16, my father looking me steely eyed man-to-man after I had earned my driver’s license.  “Son… You are almost a man now.  There is something I need to tell you.  There is no Santa.  All this time, it was your mother and I.”  What?  Nooooooooo!!!!!  Santa!!!!! Nooooooo!!!!! 

(This may not be totally accurate.  I may have shuffled out the truth with my friends in endless grade school playground debates.  There was no greater shame than to be the last one to believe in Santa.  You know what I am talking about Billy Worthington…)

Christmas Eve for a little kid is like trying to sleep after four espressos prior to boarding a transatlantic flight.  Soldiers waiting to be on the first wave ashore on the D-Day invasion slept better than I did as an eight year old on Christmas Eve.  The clock slowly grinding away, morning completely out of reach.  Could I silently creep out of bed and sneak a look at the tree to at least confirm gifts had safely arrived?  Could I assess the haul from the staircase?  What if I got caught?  I had heard tales from classmates that their parents had placed fishhooks and broken glass on the stairs to prevent this type of snooping.  These were different times, a time when parents routinely slapped the hell out of their kids and kids lived in fear of adults.  Frankly, it was a better time, despite having to rustle a fishhook out of your foot on occasion.

When my parents finally got out of bed at the leisurely hour of six or so, we would go through the gifts and have breakfast.  I think the moments that are hardest were after it was all over, the trash was everywhere and I was being forced to eat our “special” breakfast of bacon and eggs.  It is the child version of postpartum depression.  The entire year had been geared up to the last half hour, and now it was over.  It hadn’t lived up to the expectation built up by Heat Miser, Freeze Miser, Frosty, and the Grinch.  How could it?  It was just a bunch of crap on the floor.  After the age of ten, I think each successive year became less and less thrilling.

Now I find myself looking at the Holidays as an endless chore.  Putting the Christmas tree up is akin to an Amish barn raising.  The hassle of hauling out boxes of holiday decoration crap to make the house a Santa’s Fucking Workshop for visitors seems like a complete waste of time.  Didn’t I just take the tree down like two weeks ago?  Where the fuck is the wreath for the front door?  Oh fuck, I forgot to buy a gift for that client.  What?  Oh, my credit has been destroyed because I went to Target to buy a crock-pot no one needs or wants for the work “White Elephant” gift exchange?  Oh, that’s super.  Hello?  Chase Bank?  No, I did not buy $1000 of gift cards at a Best Buy in Weehawken NJ.  What?  Another holiday party?  But I don’t want any more cheese cubes or gross wine…  Fuck, I’ll have to buy a gift for the hosts, and that means I will have to try and park at the mall.  Maybe I can re-wrap this crock-pot I got at last year’s gift exchange…

I realize that this is a terrible attitude.  Unlike most of the rosy-cheeked Moms that are driving around my happy neighborhood, I have shit going on in my life.  I just don’t have time to participate in a holiday cookie bake-off or ugly sweater contest.  I don’t need or want anything that can be purchased in a department store.  There is no expectation that will keep me awake on Christmas Eve.  The magic has died.  I will need some sort of Christmas Miracle this year.  Something so amazing that it will re-instill my belief in the magic of the holidays.  Something so incredible that it changes everything.

I wonder if Santa will bring me an Old Spice Shaving Kit.    


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Nurse the Hate: Hate Robert Deniro

Do you remember when Robert Deniro was a big time actor and movie star?  I could swear that guy was awesome in "The Godfather II", "Goodfellas" and "Raging Bull".  That couldn't be the same guy that I saw in "Grudge Match", what might be one of the worst movies I have ever seen advertised.  Have you seen one of these awful trailers yet?  The premise is that Deniro and Stallone are going to settle an old score by boxing each other as senior citizens.  This sets off a bunch of stale jokes about age and Rocky references.  The film has yet to be released, but I think any sane person can look at that and conclude "Wow!  Is that a piece of shit!".

So why does Robert Deniro, one of the round table of most respected actors on the planet, take a piece of shit movie like this?  Is he having some sort of financial trouble?  Perhaps Robert Deniro lost his fortune gambling on jai alai in some seedy Miami facility.  Maybe Deniro was heavily invested in Blackberry or My Space.  (insert Deniro voice)  "What? What? I tell ya this Blackberry thing is coming back!  Forgetaboutit!  Hey, are you on My Space?"

Deniro must have made a staggering amount of money doing films, much less those American Express ads he knocked out on the side.  There must be some reason why this guy keeps doing these horrible films, like needing the money to feed a spiraling heroin addiction.  Yet, even if that were the case he couldn't even shoot all that money into his arm.  Maybe he is building one of those James Bond villain complexes where a hundred guys in matching jumpsuits drive around in monorails in secret cave complexes where they are building spaceships to launch a nuclear shot to blow the moon up.  That is the only possible reason for him to do a movie like "Grudge Match".

I can totally understand Stallone doing this movie.  Stallone has never had good taste.  He has had popular taste with Rocky and Rambo, and as evidenced by squeezing every last drop out of those franchises, he is not above doing anything for a buck.  I am of the understanding that there is a "Rambo 9" in development where he drives a rascal around Pakistan shooting up dudes in turbans.  The scene where he is tortured by having his hair plugs ripped out is supposed to be epic.  I don't want to ruin it for you, but the morale of the story is that you don't fuck with old guys on steroids that have access to lots of guns. It's box office gold.

Deniro has always been held to a higher standard.  However, at this point, is that really a valid argument?  "Last Vegas"... "The Family"... "Little Fockers"... "Machete"... This guy hasn't made a good movie since the late 90s.  Plus, every time he is in a movie he is essentially playing Robert Deniro pretending to be a gangster.  Robert Deniro in "Goodfellas" is Robert Deniro in "Analyze This" is Robert Deniro in "Meet The Parents" is Robert Deniro in "The Family".  What the fuck, Elvis played "Elvis" in all his movies and everybody gave him shit.  How is that different?  I'd rather see Elvis and Stallone do this movie.  Well, the exhumed corpse of Elvis and Stallone.  That I'm watching!

The exciting idea that just came to me is Robert Deniro pretending to be Robert Deniro and re-making all those Elvis movies.  The Elvis movies were all a formula just like the Deniro films are now.  Elvis meets girl.  Girl is with other guy, disses Elvis.  Elvis does something cool, wins girl.  I would much rather see Robert Deniro in "Roustabout" talking like he did in "Casino" and then working at a Carnival trying to win a girl.  Deniro playing the "Goodfellas" role in "Girls! Girls! Girls!" would be great.  At least that would be slightly different than the current bullshit he is doing, and has to be a better idea than putting 70 year old men in boxing trunks in some flimsy fight film.  Is Deniro suffering form Alzeimer's?  I can't get my arms around these movies...

I also cannot imagine who will possibly drop their money down to see this in the theater.  Yes, I have walked around a Cracker Barrel Gift Shop and I am aware of what most Americans are actually all about.  Maybe I am just naive to think even people that buy singing fish models will think "that movie is too fucking stupid" to go see it.  This is probably an error on my part, and even now that moronically constructed ad where some second tier black comedian says "What was Jesus like?" to Alan Arkin is motivating someone.  When that is the best laugh of the movie, shiver me timbers. However, I'm sure there is someone watching "The Voice" or "WWE" that is thinking "man, I gotta go see that!".  I don't know why I let it get to me.

As we watch the flaming wreckage that is the legacy of Robert Deniro, it's becoming hard to remember he was once actually considered an artist.  Where he was the film version of Bob Dylan, he is now the film version of Damn Yankees.  That guy was the New York Yankees, and it turns out he's the San Diego Padres.  The good thing is that he has another new film on the horizon.  It's called "The Intern" where he plays an elderly intern that befriends the owner of a successful online fashion company (Reese Witherspoon).  I shit you not.  


Friday, December 13, 2013

Nurse the Hate: The Bluetooth Paradox

It is cold here today.  It’s not “oh, I think I need a jacket” cold.  It’s more along the lines of “Holy Mother of Ass.  I may die if I don’t get to shelter in the next two minutes” cold.  The skies are a dirty gray, blending into the salt stained streets.  There is almost no horizon line.  The bleak frozen landscape looks like a black and white photo from the Depression.  All we need are some bread lines with gaunt unshaven men staring with dead eyes at the camera.  While this is a bleak picture, it is also an accurate picture.  The only thing that makes it worse are when people say “Cold enough out there for ya?”.


Yuk, yuk, yuk.

I walked into the post office, always an eye opening experience in much the same way as a trip to the DMV.  Enormous people flowing out of sweat pants with mismatching oversized shirts, filthy jackets, and ill-advised shoes struggling to comprehend the complexities of sending a box in the mail.  It’s as if they have never sent or received anything in the mail, or perhaps do not speak English as their primary language.  Each transaction at the clerk window takes as long as obtaining a home mortgage loan.  It’s maddening.  I stand rigidly, my eyes noticing all the little details in each person in line.  It’s then something captures my eye.

A middle aged African American man, modestly but crisply dressed, stands facing directly ahead, in his ear a Bluetooth.  With nothing else to do but wait for the line to painfully move ahead, I have to resist the urge to engage this man in conversation about this Bluetooth.  What I want more than anything is to be rewarded with ten uninterrupted minutes to ask questions that have alluded me for the past couple years.  Why is it the Bluetooth earpiece has become the almost exclusive domain of the middle aged African American male?  I challenge you to find a Bluetooth earpiece on anyone else out of this slim demographic segment.  Sure, once in a great while you will see a hillbilly strolling into a truckstop with one in place, but I regard them as aping African American popular culture in a way akin to Vanilla Ice or Macklemore but age appropriate.  It’s the sideways ballcap of middle age.

Why is it only this one population segment exclusively uses this tech device?  I watch an old lady spend ten minutes deciding on “the pretty stamps” and the “those are pretty too” stamps while considering this.  Maybe these guys shop at stores I don’t know about.  As we can all agree that there is population segregation within cities, and there is also a corresponding inclination for different merchants to serve their available customer base.  For example, in high density middle class black areas like Northfield or Warrensville Hts. are there stores I have never heard of that do nothing but have different earpieces beautifully displayed under tastefully lit glass display cases?  If I do a search for “Mr. Bluetooth” or “Bluetooth Deluxe”, will I be dazzled by a mobile website with overwhelming options?  Is this store filled to capacity with African American men between the ages of 40-60 discussing performance and fit issues?  Why don't African American men under the age of 40 ever wear one?  Are they not allowed into the stores?  Is it a generation gap thing?  Why don’t I know what is going on here?

It reminds me of when I walk around in a mall and every 14-17 year old girl is walking around with tight sweats on with the word “Pink” or “Juicy” written on their ass.  I unconsciously read everything, and then find myself looking at a 15 year old girl’s perky buttocks with the word “pink” flooding my brain with all sorts of images that leave me flush with shame.  I had never seen these pants on sale, yet everyone in this tiny population segment was also 100% in on this fashion accoutrement.  Where did they get them?  How was this decided amongst them that this was “our thing”?  What else am I missing? 

A man in front of me tries to send a package without a full address.  He literally has it addressed to be sent to John Doe, Sacramento CA.  After a brief discussion, he then begins to wrap his head around the fact that he will need to provide a street address.  It takes several go rounds for him to realize it will be his responsibility to secure this information.  No one seems to think this exchange is odd but me.  The man with the Bluetooth finally gets to the clerk.  The device proudly protrudes from his ear, trumpeting to all success and his necessity of being available at all times while maintaining a jaunty hands free lifestyle.  He efficiently takes care of his business (of course) and leaves the post office, allowing me to send my package.  I stand at the counter, glancing out the window as he exits, my questions still unanswered.      

Friday, December 6, 2013

Nurse the Hate: Hate Country Standards

I am in the van hurtling towards Nashville to record a new Whiskey Daredevils full length.  I don’t know if anyone listens to full length records anymore, but that’s what we like recording so that’s what’s coming.  I’m excited about recording in Nashville.  There’s just something legitimate about saying, “We are going into the studio in Nashville.” like I’m Waylon Jennings.  Look at me now, walking around in cowboy boots hunched over a cup of joe after a long night in the studio searching for that chart topping sound.  Knocking back a Bud longneck at Robert’s Western World rubbing elbows with studio ringers trying to find a pedal steel guy for tomorrow’s session.  That’s Music City for ya…

There is a definite romanticism about Nashville.  You can see wide eyed foreigners walking the tourist traps on Broadway looking for evidence of the soul of country music.  Most of them have no idea that most of the real exciting stuff is happening in East Nashville in tiny shithole clubs, just like the Broadway clubs served that purpose in the Glory Days of the late 50s.  Almost no one is immune though.  The pull is too strong.

Friends of mine in Nashville reported to me from numerous angles about English alt rock/cult hero Robyn Hitchcock’s recent visit.  Hitchcock, if you don’t know, is a surrealistic songwriter with a “Rubber Soul” era Beatles vibe to him.  He has a million releases, and I think I have almost every last one of them.  He’s a really interesting songwriter, and his strength has always been his own material.  He could get up on stage with an acoustic, tell absurdist stories, and reel off dozens of great songs to keep a crowd entertained for hours.  This is what made his behavior on his recent Nashville visit so bizarre.

Hitchcock walked in to a number of local hipster stages, the places where locals play to other locals and take new material out for a spin.  Understandably, there would be a buzz when Hitchcock would stroll in.  Please note, Nashville is a really good place to be a celebrity. As major recording artists often make use of the town’s excellent studios, and the etiquette of country music is for stars to be just plain folks, celebs can usually maintain a low profile.  However, when something like this happens, people do that move where they talk out of the sides of their mouths and say, “Do you know who that is?  Do you think he’s gonna play?” while they watch the guy from their peripheral vision.

Robyn Hitchcock did indeed come to play, and there were voluminous sightings of him playing country and early rock & roll standards out with surprised bands all over Music City for a couple of weeks.  This brings a point to bear.  While it is probably really fun for Robyn Hitchcock to sing “The Weight” or “Mystery Train” deep in the heart of country music, this does not play to his strong suit.  I mean, at this point, I don’t think I want to see the exhumed corpse of Levon Helm do “The Weight”, much less the second most British man I am aware of on this planet.  American roots music has a certain swagger that does not translate well to the English delivery.  John Lennon’s “Rock and Roll” album isn’t exactly his best if you get my drift. Some things need to be left to Americans.  If you don’t believe me, search out some warbly youtube videos of Robyn murdering these standards. 

If he had walked up and done “Balloon Man” or “Mexican God” or “Tarantula”, I would have burst with excitement.  There isn’t anyone else that can knock out those songs.  It’s what he does.  I just don’t think he could help himself.  He was there in the eye of the hurricane.  It must have been too much.  He was just like a tourist making pasta in Tuscany, or riding to the top of the Empire State Building in New York.  He came all that way!  Who wouldn’t want to sing country in Nashville like every band on stage was your own personal karaoke band?  Now that’s going on holiday bloke!

A few days after learning this unfortunate information about one of my personal favorite recording artists, I was watching Los Lobos at the Beachland.  That’s a great band to watch whenever you need to feel inferior.  They effortlessly move from style to style, delivering the goods in spades with each song.  Suddenly they called a “special guest” on stage.  A pale middle aged guy got up and started to sing “Sea Cruise” with Los Lobos.  Suddenly, I identified him as Glenn Tilbrook from Sqeeze fame.  Holy shit.  It was an epidemic.

I now believe that all English rock performers from the so-called “New Wave” period of roughly 1978-1988 now feel justified in stepping on stage and playing any American standard they please while here in the States.  This must be some Musicians Union policy that recently passed with which I was unaware.  At any time you may see Brian Ferry play “Yakkity Sax” with Wilco.  Adam Ant may force himself up on stage to do “Party Doll” with the Old 97s.  Gary Numan will knock out “Johnny B. Goode” with the Black Keys.  It’s just the way it is now.

This led me to think.  Do I have the same leverage while in the UK?  While hardly a star worthy of “special guest” privileges, shouldn’t I be able to get on stage with the Arctic Monkeys and sing “Victoria”?  Can’t JD from the Shack Shakers go do “Mrs. Jones You Have a Lovely Daughter” with Franz Ferdinand?  Surely there should be a balance of trade and cultural exchange?  After a couple weeks, after touring the Old Country, singing “Autumn Almanac” in every pub I could find, I could head on home having been satiated by my very British Rock Experience.  I never asked for any of these pasty blokes to come do “Rock Around The Clock”, so they will just have to deal with Julian Casablancas from the Strokes doing “Nights In White Satin” with Noel Gallagher.

The last I heard Robyn was setting out for Oslo.  I don’t know if he will be performing Norwegian seafaring songs with local bands there.  I do know that I am closing in on Nashville, and I won’t be getting on stage with anyone to do “Ring of Fire”.  Well, probably not anyway…