Friday, March 25, 2016

Nurse the Hate: Calling All Americans!

I was very excited to see a petition online that has been gaining steam to allow firearms in the Republican Convention this summer.  The petition is focused on allowing open carry of firearms in the Quicken Loans Arena during the RNC and overturning the building’s foolish policy of not allowing people to bring weapons to things like a One Direction concert, Cavs game or Disney On Ice.  Check it out.

It is very odd that the Quicken Loans Arena does not allow firearms in the arena, which is obviously an outrage to any rational thinking person.  As the petition points out, “This is a direct affront to the Second Amendment and puts all attendees at risk. As the National Rifle Association has made clear, "gun-free zones" such as the Quicken Loans Arena are "the worst and most dangerous of all lies."  Cleveland, Ohio is consistently ranked as one of the top ten most dangerous cities in America. By forcing attendees to leave their firearms at home, the RNC and Quicken Loans Arena are putting tens of thousands of people at risk both inside and outside of the convention site.”

I agree with this completely and feel that a potential target like the RNC needs to be as safe as possible.  As the Republican Party has continued their enabling relationship with the NRA, shouldn’t they “walk the walk” of what they have been preaching and allow 18,000 people to walk around the convention floor with a vast array of weapons?  As the attendees will undoubtedly all be responsible gun owners, this will make the convention site perhaps the safest place on the planet.  If any trouble starts, people can just start shootin’ and fix the problem.  I’m all about safety and want to make sure all the candidates that have accepted financial support from the NRA in exchange for making sure existing gun laws are not challenged in any way feel as safe as possible.  Knowing that tens of thousands of guns are in the same room as they are while they go about their business will make them feel very safe and secure.  

As we all know, the most important part of safety is arming everyone.  We have been told this over and over and over from the NRA and their supporters.  I agree.  Let’s put this practice in motion right now.  Every bad thing that has happened in the past could have been stopped by lots of people with guns.  Let’s make sure there are lots and lots and lots of people with guns at the convention.  It’s the only logical thing to do.  I urge your support of this democratic action.  Let’s all do the right thing here.  Let’s make these people safe.  Really safe.  Let everyone bring their guns.  I signed it.  You should too.

God Bless America.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Nurse the Hate: Trouble Boys

One of the wisest decisions I ever made was to not meet Paul Westerburg of The Replacements.  I say this as a fan.  The Replacements have been a consistent soundtrack to my life since I was given a cassette with the “Tim” record by a friend in 1985.  The B-side of the tape had Fear’s “More Beer” record.  What a great tape.  I spent a lot of time walking around with that in my trusty Walkman.  When I hear “Here Comes A Regular” I think of the smell of leaves.  After I tracked down the “Let It Be” record and “Hootenanny” LP, they were in constant rotation.   Then after introducing the records to the deadbeat guys I lived with at the time, there wasn't a night we went out that those records didn't play at some point.  We were all down with the band.  When “Pleased To Meet Me” was released, it might have been played every day for months.  It’s all we listened to for a year I think.

I just read “Trouble Boys”, an amazingly well researched bio on the band.  I was able to place myself in various moments in their past.  It’s hard to believe that the band was fraying at the edges when I saw them in an auditorium in Kent where I had taken a psychology class just a few hours before.  Who thought it was a good idea to book them there?  It didn't matter.  They were on the “Pleased To Meet Me” tour and they totally destroyed.  They were everything a rock band is supposed to be.  Dangerous, unpredictable and ready to fall apart at any moment.  Then they would bring it together for a song that would rip your heart out.  Damn.  What a great band.  I was lucky enough to see them at the right time in both of our respective lives.

“Trouble Boys” is really well done.  It’s sort of odd.  Despite myself and all my close friends being consumed by the band, we knew almost nothing about them.  “Four guys from Minneapolis that loved drinking to the point of self destructive behavior” was about the extent of it.  That was the common tale repeated in the infrequent press mentions.  The book really lays it out though, staring straight at some really ugly behavior and incidents.  The stories from their heyday are like the band’s music itself, a combination of humor, lack of abandon, sadness and fear of success.  It is really interesting how the band wanted to be huge, but at the same time refused to help themselves to the point of destroying their opportunities for larger audiences over and over.  They shoot themselves in the foot over and over and over.  The story of their Saturday Night Live taping alone is worth the purchase of the book.  The doomed Tom Petty tour opening slot is also a pretty good read no matter if you care about the band or not.

I remember that The Replacements were opening for Petty at Blossom the same night as Social Distortion played Peabody’s Down Under.  The choice was easy for me.  Drive and hour and pay $30+ to see a 40 minute Replacements set in a two thirds empty pavilion or drive 15 minutes to go see Social D for my first time in a small club while on the guest list.   Sorry guys.  I remember seeing Tommy Stinson with the Warner Brothers record rep walk in the club towards the end of the Social Distortion set completely fucked up while wearing the crazy plaid suit he used as stage clothes at the time.  He ran into one of those rails Peabody’s Down Under had by the men’s room and flipped completely over like a gymnast, landed on his feet and kept walking like nothing had happened.  It was pretty incredible actually.

I saw the band one last time before they broke up.  The show was at the Agora with the Goo Goo Dolls opening.  It was sort of depressing actually because I think even the band knew that the audience they had created would be exploited by the Goo Goo Dolls radio friendly sensibilities for great financial gain while The Replacements moment for seizing destiny had passed by in a boozy haze.  They played really well but that element of beautiful chaos was gone.  I knew when I left that room I would never see them play again.  I remember telling my roommate that at the time.  It was like leaving a terminally ill friend at the hospital.

Years later I was working at a radio station and Paul Westerburg came in to promote his new solo record.  He was finally playing ball with The Industry although with a disdainful edge.  There he was, right over there.  He was walking down the staircase as I was walking up.  I would have liked to have conveyed how much those records meant to me, but there was no way I could have done that without it being a disaster.  "Hey, um... You remember that Let It Be record?  Yeah... That was really good."  Still it would have been good to let him know I appreciated it or something.  This guy had created something I loved.  Was there a way to make a gesture?  I had a perfect opportunity to start a conversation but knew it would be a mistake.  If he acted like an asshole, those records would never be the same.  They would be ruined.  It was too big of a risk.  I walked right on by.  It was the only thing to do.

A couple years ago I drove to Toronto to see a festival gig The Replacements headlined (with The Stooges/Rocket From The Crypt and a bunch of other good bands).  It was their first “reunion”, though it was just Paul and Tommy.  It was shaggy, loud, and great.  Those songs have aged really well.  When I heard “Left Of The Dial” roar out, I couldn’t believe how much it touched me.  I’m just glad I didn’t start sobbing in that dusty Toronto field.  There in an undeniable magic those guys have together.  Damn I love that band.

After I finished the book, I listened to all of the records over again, though I never really stop listening to them completely.  When I meet someone that doesn't know the Replacements or their music it is incomprehensible to me, probably like it is to people that are enthralled by cult type bands like Big Star, 13th Floor Elevators, or The Gourds are when faced by people somehow unaware of their personal touchstones.  That band always meant a lot to me, and after reading this background on them they probably earned my respect (and disdain) even more.  Oh, and one more thing...  I'm glad I didn't meet Westerburg that day.  It would have gone poorly.  Really poorly.  I still have my records.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Nurse the Hate: WSET Spirits Report

I had committed to a weekend of tasting spirits in San Francisco, on the face of it an enjoyable task.  I figured I would jet in, sip a little scotch, talk some shit, and pop back home.  How hard could that be?  The WSET Spirits portion of the Diploma is a unit that most of the people involved seem to begrudgingly approach.  There is certainly a line in the sand between “Spirits People” and “Wine People”.  “Spirits People” tend to be 100% male, have ironic facial hair, and walk with the misplaced swagger of someone that has worked in bars too long.  I find it confusing as to why guys that spend 6 days a week mixing up cosmos with an aloof disdain for their customers are under the impression that they have anything really going on.  What is the difference between a guy mixing a cosmo at 95% of taverns and a Subway “Sandwich Technician” anyway?  The guy making the drink gets a tip whereas the poor stiff at Subway gets to deal with mouthy students and truck drivers?

Disaster struck early.  My flight to Denver was delayed by an hour.  The good news was that my friends at United Airlines had also delayed my connection to San Francisco by an hour as well.  Then another 30 minutes.  And another 30 minutes.  And so on.  In the end I found myself with a gutful of overpriced Cabernet with my two new pals I made at the United Club, a hedge fund manager and an attorney with an affinity for the University of Davidson basketball team.  I talked the two of them into making an irresponsible wager on Davidson over St. Bonaventure (pick ‘em) and we white knuckled it to an overtime victory.  Bam!  I almost made enough to cover my overpriced airport food and drink.  Four and a half hours later I was en route to SFO wedged in between a 6 foot 8 red headed monster and his almost as robust goateed drunk buddy.  We all passed out on the 45 minute delay on the runway.  It was a long day.

My plan had been to hit the ground running at 800p, get a nice meal, and maybe a nightcap at a nearby swanky bar.  Instead I limped into my hotel room at 1:11 am and crashed out.  My body was definitely telling me it was still on 4:11 EST.  I remembered to set the alarm and even set myself up for enough time to eat something prior to class the next day.  My guess that sampling liquor all day on an empty stomach would end in my barfing all over the immediate area and earning the type of disdain within the program normally reserved for sexual offenders and traitors.

I won’t lie.  The alarm came early.  I decided to avoid wandering around outside in the rain and instead eat at what I was sure would be a disappointing and wildly overpriced breakfast at the hotel.  I recall the previous evening in the elevator noticing what might have been the most heavy handed hotel restaurant advertisement I had seen in years, a photo of a male model dressed as a hipster lumberjack knocking back a cold one with a woman that appeared to be a witch.  Jaspers.  The ads had the feel of corporate group think.  They were what suburban moms think “hip” people look like at a bar.  I knew I would be spending $7 for toast.  My expectations were low.  They were met.  I headed out in the rain to the Holiday Inn Van Ness to drink some spirits.

There were multiple tables filled with students, probably 20 people or so.  It’s an interesting mix of people.  Every single one is in the wine industry in some capacity.  When a sheet was passed around by a lecturer to fill in our name/title, I wasn’t sure if “lead singer” would cut the mustard.  I thought about “licensed open water diver” and “puppeteer” but figured someone would lose their mind.  There are some very serious people involved that have no time for fun.  Frankly, it’s a bit difficult to explain my rationale for putting myself through this process with no apparent professional payback.  As a friend of mine put it, “you just got a wild hair up yer ass”.  People blink in a confused state when I tell them I am doing this just to see if I can.  It’s best just to keep quiet.

As I had noted before, my past interest in spirits waned when I realized that scotch and I were not necessarily good dance partners.  I already have enough problems.  Being really into expensive scotch isn’t something I really need to add into my life right now.  It’s like being 84 years old and thinking “maybe I should start snowboarding”.  That being said, it doesn’t mean I‘m not interested in what these spirits are all about.  It’s sort of unbelievable that people hundreds of years ago with almost no understanding of science or technology figured out how to distill barley.  “Dude… See that grain over there?  I wonder if we can figure out how to get fucked up on that?  Let’s build a machine and get wasted.”

I sat and listened to what was going on during the lectures, swirled and spit a bunch of wacky ass spirits, and listened to a bunch of people in the room raise their hands in different versions of “Is this going to be on the test?”.  Hey genius.  The guy talking to us doesn’t make the test.  If it has to do with the subject at hand, it might be on the test.  Stop worrying about your stupid grade, relax and learn something.  I do have a massive advantage in that there is no payback to me if I flame out on a test.  I mean, what’s gonna happen?  They won’t let me sing at the Hi Watt in Nashville next month?  That does enable me to sort of glide in, phase in and out of conversation, and drift around with an intellectual curiosity.  “Bourbon barrels were originally charred to get rid of the whale oil that were in them?  No shit?  Huh…” 

After the first class is when a terrible decision was made, a decision that would offer harsh consequences.  I decided to go to The Tonga Room with a friend.  The Tonga Room is a tiki bar institution.  Enormous huts.  A big pool with thunderstorms in the middle of the room.  A drink menu that Satan himself concocted.  The hurricane I had was a bad idea.  The zombie I followed it up with was worse.  Hours later as I gorged on a massive slab of prime rib at The House of Prime Rib like a rabid dog, I knew I would have to pay the fiddler.  I attempted to wander back to my hotel, weaving around some residential area like a gunshot victim.  When my destination refused to get any closer on Google Maps, I did the male version of taking off my heels and sitting down in my skirt.  I shot uber a digital flare and got airlifted out of there. 
I have never had the experience of having a slight hangover and tasting through a selection of cognacs at 1030am before.  Yet that's what I did Sunday morning.  I should have been flooding my body with orange juice, not swishing around barrel aged French spirits like Armagnac and Calvados.  This was a touch and go situation for a bit, especially when the tequilas came out.  I righted the ship though, and actually sort of enjoyed the scotch, bourbons, and rye whiskeys.  That’s probably not good.  The class ended and I got down to the business of killing 5 hours before my flight.  

This is where the trouble really started.  I had a fabulous plan.  Take a 1030p Red Eye out of San Francisco, land at 5am for a 609a to Cleveland.  I would land at 800a, whisk myself across town for a shower at my health club, hop into a suit and breeze into work as a proud member of The American Workforce.  Once again United had other plans for me.  The departing flight took off at 1145p.  I missed my connection in Chicago.  “Well, you can try standby at the 7am but I booked you at the first available at 925.”  925?  That’s three hours from now?  The clerk smiled at me grimly and slid a document across the counter.  The boarding pass said 925pm.  I stared at it again.  It couldn’t be right.  Excuse me?  Are you telling me that America’s busiest airport can’t get me to Cleveland for another 15 hours?  “Well, it’s very busy…”

I failed to get on the standby.  I failed to get on the next standby.  The same people in front of me at the first failed standby were also at the second.  I was screwed.  I tried other airlines.  Other airports.  Fuck.  In the back of my mind I knew what I had to do, but prayed it wouldn’t happen.  But it had.  I went to Budget Rent A Car and payed $144 for a Hyundai to drive the 6 hours home.  Not having slept since Saturday night, I was in that hazy headache lack of sleep world.  I climbed into the Hyundai and immediately drove into the teeth of Chicago rush hour.  I was unshaven, drowsy, and hunched over in my Shimanski jacket.  Things were bad.  But not as bad as when the Indiana State Police pulled me over.

I rolled down the window and cut the serious trooper off before the “license and registration” request.  “Hey look man…  I really need you to cut me a break.  I haven’t slept since Saturday… I was in San Francisco.  United fucked me over.  15 hours in the airport.  15 hours!  I just have to get home so I can sleep…  I… I…”  Do you know how fast you were going?  “I dunno man…  80?  85?”  He stared at me with an incredulous look.  He looked in the car to see the espresso cups on the floor.  He spoke again.  You were really close to that other car too.  “I drive this 911 normally.  Brakes like a motherfucker.  I’m not used to this Hyundai.  C’mon man.  I’ll set the cruise control and you’ll never see me again.  I just need one break…  One…”  I saw the expression of the trooper change to concern and slight fear, not that I would do something but that a human being could fall apart to such a level.  He feared me like someone would fear a skunk.  He didn’t want any of what had enveloped me to even spray his shoes.  He took my license to make sure I wasn’t an escaped mental patient.  Amazingly he gave me a warning.  Just try to keep it together…  “Thanks man!  Hey, you want the rest of this bagel?”

I had left for the SFO Airport at 730p Sunday.  I walked into the CLE airport at 515pm Monday.  I found my bag sitting unattended by a conveyor belt.  I wheeled off.  My phone buzzed with a text.  It was United.  My 925p out of O’Hare would be delayed 20 minutes.  I drove home and found a package in my mailbox.  A book on distilling had arrived.  The hounds and I sat on the couch.  I opened the book.  I really have a lot to learn.  I read for about 15 minutes and fell asleep.