Monday, April 30, 2018

Nurse the Hate: Hate Celebrity Whiskey

I have learned just enough to be dangerous about distilled spirits.  All this means is that I know the basics on how various liquors are made in a very general sense.  It’s rather amazing how early spirits were invented in our collective history.  Wine came first as all you need to do is put juice into a jar, and the sugars will start to ferment by the wild yeasts in the air.  The first wines were undoubtedly made by accident.  There was wine.  And it was good.  If you lived somewhere you couldn't ripen grapes, you had to make due with other fruit sources.  Apple cider anyone?

 Human nature being what it is, guys sitting around in places that couldn’t ripen fruit of any kind asked themselves what they could use to get buzzed up.  It had to be grim sitting on a windy barren hill in Scotland.  What can you do with sacks of grain?  I suppose beer is easy enough to figure out, but how did they make the leap to liquor?  “Hey Bardolf…  What if we took this beer and boiled it at just low enough temperature in this crazy pot we made to capture the alcohol and leave the other crap behind?  And then what if we put that in a wood barrel for a few years?  Good idea, right?  Let’s go saw that heretic in half, tromp around the bog and then go make some booze!”.

Please note that this is a wildly simplistic consolidation of history, but it’s not that far off.  I used the heretic line in trying to pass my WSET Diploma Spirits exam as I recall.  The complexities of whiskey and scotch are of particular interest to me.  Variables like grains used, the fineness of the grind, temperatures of the initial “beer” ferment, shape and type of still, when the head and tails cut is made, type of barrel used, size of the barrel, length and place of aging and the eventual blend are all factors.  I don’t even know what I don’t know and it is overwhelming.  It would take generations to get it right, which is why many of the most influential brands have families that devote their lives to fine tuning recipes.

Knowing this, it drives me insane to see the sudden fashion to have celebrities release their own line of spirits.  Let me temper this with a caveat.  I don’t have a problem with someone being an endorser.  “For relaxing times, make it Suntory time” after all…  If the current James Bond gets a deal schilling a new gin, that’s fine.  However, the new “thing” is to suggest that the celebrities are as qualified as the artisans that have dedicated all their working hours to making whiskey.  I saw one where Matthew McConaughey is standing around the distillery with an old Kentucky distiller that has been making Wild Turkey for the past 50 years.  The good news for that KY good ole boy is that Matthew has been appointed “Creative Director” at Wild Turkey.  They even gave him a title!  "Alright! Alright! Alright! Good news!  Step aside and let me show you how it's done!  Matty is here!"

From the press release…  “McConaughey and master distiller Eddie Russell have collaborated to launch Wild Turkey Longbranch, a new bourbon that’s filtered with Texas mesquite and oak charcoals.   The idea behind Longbranch, says McConaughey, was to blend the tastes of Kentucky and Texas together.  “Longbranch, in its simplest form, is an extended hand, inviting a friend into your family,” he said in a statement. “So the branch that was extended to me from the Russells was a long one, one that reached from Kentucky to Texas and back again. I offered the Mesquite from my great state to add to their legendary Kentucky whiskey and together we made Longbranch.”

That poor Eddie Russell…  The guy is a master distiller and he has to pretend that his new Hollywood “creative director” is his equal in making whiskey.  Can you imagine the pitch the board had to make to Eddie Russell?  “Eddie… Look, Matthew is going to come in for a photo shoot.  Just listen to whatever bullshit he says, smile and nod.  He’ll hop back on a private plane and you will never see him again.  Just make a run of whiskey and filter it some mesquite when you’re done.  We’ll blend it in with the regular Turkey, let him take the credit for this “big idea” of his and we all make some money.  C’mon Eddie…  Do it for the team.”

That distiller guy does not look like a guy that is interested in talking to a groovy bro like McConaughey.  He looks like a guy that doesn't like little actor fellas on his turf, loves UK basketball, and has not been to a movie theater since he watched “Patton” in the 1970s.  I would have loved to have listened to his conference calls with McConaughey.  If you break it down according to what the PR piece says, it went like this...  McConaughey made the big suggestion of using mesquite charcoal because it’s from Texas and so is he.  The Wild Turkey guys handled the other 117 decisions.  His work as creative director was done after remembering mesquite was from Texas.  Later boys!  Who wants Vegan Tacos?

As patently offensive as that situation is to me is not nearly as bad as Bob Dylan partnering in "Heaven's Door" whiskey.  Apparently the guy that sold Angel's Envy whiskey for $150 million saw Dylan filed for a patent on "Bootleg" whiskey.  The Angel's Envy guy, a huge Dylan fan, reached out to him to partner on the idea and somehow convinced him on a partnership and a name change.  Dylan, who at this point is best known for his complete inability to communicate with other human beings, actually had several meetings and several phone calls with the whiskey pro from Angel's Envy.  That could not have been easy to arrange as even the Nobel Prize people couldn't get Dylan on the phone.  Then again, the Nobel Prize people weren't offering to make Bob a little jing-a-ling selling hooch.  In what is likely one of the biggest mistakes of Dylan's career, these meetings were not recorded.  I cannot begin to guess how bizarre and nonsensical these meetings must have been.  Recordings of these would have generated much more excitement than Dylan's current penchant for recording old standards from the 1930s.

From a New York Times article this weekend:  

Mr. Bushala said that over four or five meetings — always at Mr. Dylan’s metalworking studio in Los Angeles — and a number of phone calls, he had learned that his partner has a sophisticated whiskey palate.  Yet communication was still a challenge. Mr. Bushala and Ryan Perry, the chief operating officer, struggled to interpret Mr. Dylan’s wishes. Often they came in the form of enigmatic comments or simply glances.  “Sometimes you just get a long look,” Mr. Bushala said with a laugh, “and you’re not sure if that’s disgust or approval.”  He and Mr. Perry recalled Mr. Dylan’s tasting a sample of the double-barreled whiskey and saying that something was missing. “It should feel like being in a wood structure,” he said.   They struggled to decode the remark. What kind of wooden structure? A church? A railroad car? A barn?

How the fuck are you supposed to work with that?  I am a guy with an unsophisticated whiskey palate.  Yet if I am going to launch a whiskey brand, I think I would go to the effort of being able to describe the taste I was seeking.  "Guys, it should have a round flavor profile with sweet, toasty oak notes and a finish with cinnamon and baking spice.  Assertive but not too hot.  Perhaps in a style like Booker's but more rustic."  Yet Bob Dylan, a man known as a master with language offers "it should feel like being in a wood structure".  Holy crap would I have liked to hear what he said at the other three meetings.  There is no way in hell he said anything even remotely on topic.  Meanwhile his crew of attorneys would have been hovering like hawks to insure Bob's licensing interests were completely protected.  

Bob Dylan is worth an estimated $180 million dollars.  Why does this 76 year old man need to launch a whiskey brand at this point in his life?  At any point in his career, has he ever been photographed with a bottle of whiskey near him?  What association does he have with whiskey?  Has Bob Dylan ever heated a can of soup much less handled a ferment of a grain spirit?  He could have just as easily launched an energy drink or maybe gotten involved with those man groomers Bret Favre was hawking last year.  Bob is an older gent.  He probably knows a thing or two about cleaning up unwanted ear hair.  Maybe Bob teams up with Martha Stewart on home baking supplies.  "Like A Rolling Pin".  C'mon Bob...

I will tell you this.  If I am going to buy myself a nice bottle of whiskey, I am not concerned about whatever Matthew McConaughey or Bob Dylan are dabbling in.  I am asking what master distiller Eddie Russell from Wild Turkey thinks is good and I am having one of those.  That guy knows what he is talking about.     

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Nurse the Hate: The Most Important Basketball Game

I am attending the deciding game of the Cavs first round series against the Pacers this afternoon.  One would think I would be very excited to attend this Game 7 of the NBA Playoffs.  I have luxury suite tickets.  I will park just steps away in reserved parking.  The only way it could be any easier for me to attend this event is if someone carried me into the arena.  There is only one problem.  I absolutely detest going to Cavs games.

The NBA is very focused on what they call “game presentation”.  This is also referred to as “fan experience”.  This means that the atmosphere at the arena has been very well thought out through a series of meetings with bland suburban white people sitting around conference tables on how they can convey “the NBA culture”.  The NBA Culture is a homogenized take on what suburban white people find exciting about their ill-conceived perception of “street” (i.e. “black”) culture.  It is a very well funded version of someone’s mom dancing to an old hip-hop song at a wedding.  It’s that feeling you get when you see a straight laced news anchor try to be “hip” by using words like “crew” or “squad” and then crossing their arms in a clumsy recreation of something they saw on a rap video a decade ago.  It’s Disney doing a re-boot of Spike Lee’s “Do The Right Thing” with cartoon animals.  It’s all bad.

The massive sound system and video screens in the arena will constantly be blaring instructions for me to “make some noise”.  Electronic beats will pummel me at every second.  There will be no opportunity for anything organic to develop.  Sound effects, old popular songs, beats, movie clips, and in arena “hosts” will scream at me the second I walk into that Hellhole.  I have played astoundingly loud music for decades.  It’s not like I have a problem with noise.  Hell, I can’t hear anything as it is.  But all I want when I step into that arena is for the “game presentation” to cease.  The wave of relief I feel when I escape that building is the same as when exiting a Las Vegas casino.  The sensory overload is too much.

I understand that I sound like an old crank.  Please note that I have always been crotchety.  This is not a new development brought on by age.  I would have hated this when I was 17.  I would have had a better understanding of why anyone else would have liked it though.  I recognize that culture has passed me by on this “game presentation” issue. 95% of the dipshits in that arena absolutely love it.  There is so much going on between the stripper outfit cheerleaders, hot dog cannons, prize giveaways, mascots leaping on mini trampolines, and guys beating on buckets that there is hardly any time for basketball.  I like basketball.  Basketball is great.  It would be incredible to watch LeBron James without all the distractions.  I just don’t know if I can summon the mental discipline to zero in on the actual game.

If the Cavs lose, this could be LeBron James last game as a Cavalier.  This will create what I call “The Doomsday Scenario”.  An early exit for the Cavs in the Playoffs would create a series of events where previously placed ad schedules I have sold get cancelled, LeBron leaves in free agency, the Cavs become one of the worst teams in the league, and I spend next year in a half full luxury suite shielding my eyes from unwatchable basketball and even more enhanced “game presentation”.  The team will have no choice but to compensate for not having any basketball of interest.  They will have topless cheerleaders shot out of cannons landing on trampolines.  A dozen mascots will shoot across the arena on zip lines.  The game will be played with strobe lights synced up to dated rap songs.  The “Kiss Cam” will be replaced with “The Handjob Cam”.  They will do anything to trick The Dipshits back to the arena.  I can’t take it now.  How can I deal with that?  There has never been a more important basketball game than today.  I need LeBron to will this team to victory.     

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Nurse the Hate: The Puffer Fish

I would not imagine that anyone reading this is terribly familiar with the puffer fish.  The puffer fish is a medium size fish that is awkward like a loaf of Brownberry Wheat Bread finning around reefs and rocks.  It's an odd looking creature.  It would have been extinct eons ago if not for the defense mechanism of blowing up like a basketball so predators could not get their vicious mouths around them.  I have never seen a puffer fish do this in the wild.  Another diver when I was out last time said that on a previous trip, he had touched a puffer and it had blown itself up.  This prompted a quick rebuke from our dive leader that said the puffer fish could only do this trick three or four times in its life before stretching itself out permanently, leaving itself adrift like a beach ball until its lonely demise.  Do not touch the puffer fish!

That filled me with a wave of sadness for the puffer fish.  What a terrible fate.  Is the puffer fish aware that he can only pull this stunt three times in his life?  If so, clearly our friend the puffer fish does it once early in his life, maybe just for practice.  If someone told me I could do that, I would definitely check that out.  I don’t want to see what puffing up would do when a school of tuna come ripping through the reef.  That is not the time for experimentation.  A puffer fish needs to know what he is working with out there.  So there's one of the three gone right off the bat.  It's like finding a genie and asking for a cold can of Coca-Cola as your first wish to test the concept out with something low risk. 

If you are born a puffer fish, the first thing you notice is that you can’t outrun any other fish on the reef.  I would think this makes a young puffer fish quite edgy and self-aware of your physical shortcomings.  You're an aquatic version of a spindly grade school kid at the playground.  The first time a fish of any size whatsoever swims near, he invariably would completely inflate, even if he’s not in any real danger.  Then he will obviously face ridicule from the other fish on the reef.  “Hey, look at Simon over there!  He’s completely inflated for no reason!  What a pussy!”.  The other puffer fish will then give him a stern warning.  “Look Simon… I recognize that the trigger fish over there looks like a bad ass, but you can’t just blow yourself up like that!  What are you going to do if a shark moves into the area and you’ve already blown up twice?  You’re fucked!  Fucked!”.

Now the puffer fish is gun shy and likely won’t puff up for any reason.  Who wants to face that type of criticism from so-called friends?  The puffer fish becomes preoccupied with "saving" his inflations and now can't justify any scenario to puff up and risk an even worse scenario down the road.  This is how 68% of all puffer fish lose their lives.  They get eaten when they could have just puffed up.  Look it up.  It's well documented.  I’m sure it is on Google. It certainly is no way to live.  “Well, I better stick close to this little cave.  If I go out there I will probably get eaten.  Damn, I’m hungry though.  There isn’t anything left to eat in this cave.  I am going to need to go out there and nose around.  Shit.  Is this my life now?  My choice is to be eaten, stay in the cave and starve, or drift the ocean like a discarded beach ball?  Why has God forsaken me?  Is this all there is?”

I am probably projecting slightly here.  I don’t know if fish have existential crisis like that.  When I raised this entire concept to the gents in the boat, they seemed to have a great lack of concern over the situation of the poor puffer fish and instead seemed to focus on creating a distance between themselves and the guy that felt melancholy for the puffer fish.  Look guys, I am not the problem here.  I am attuned to the suffering of others.  It’s called "empathy".  Only the stoner guy gave it serious consideration because that is the type of thing stoner guys get tripped up on.  He did not believe the puffer fish had the mental acuity or consciousness to keep track of the number of times he had blown up, much less strategize about it.  He seemed unconcerned about the fish's emotional well being and was more concerned by ecology in general.  Fair enough.  Still, I worried about the mental state of my new friend the puffer fish, convinced he lived a life of constantly game playing scenarios of probability of his certain grisly death and worrying about his inflation limits.

When I swam in the ocean, I kept a safe distance from the puffer fish.  The last thing I wanted was a false inflation on my hands.  I kept thinking about the fish long afterwards, feeling terrible about his situation.  Then I decided to look into the puffer fish.  There is page after page of people asking about this Three Inflation Limit concept.  What I discovered was that this whole “three times inflation” thing is an urban legend.  It has no more basis of fact than than getting a 4.0 GPA if your roommate kills himself.  It turns out Mikey the Life Cereal Kid didn't OD on Pop Rocks and the puffer fish can puff up with water whenever strikes his fancy.  I felt relieved.  Not only that the puffer fish might be OK, but that someone other than me cared about the puffer fish enough that they decided to look into it as well.  These are the little moments that flicker to let you know that you aren't alone. 

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Nurse the Hate: Wines That Cannot Be Opened

I believe wine is a great beverage because only wine allows you to taste place and time.  Wine is a living thing.  It is constantly evolving.  The moment a bottle of wine is open it is unlike any other time when you could have opened it.  The land and particular climate of that growing season can be tasted in the glass.  With a great wine, you can get an essence of the place.  It is unique among things a human being can consume.  It is magical.  It is a time capsule and a postcard in one 750ml container. 

I have many bottles of wine.  Probably more than I will ever drink in my lifetime.  I'm not a crazy trophy collector.  I just buy what interests me.  I never buy a wine with the intention of not opening it.  There are all sorts of wines that are like baseball cards, collectibles being passed around between old men that will never be consumed.  That is a crime.  The beauty of wine is that it must be eventually consumed and that experience is what has been paid for when purchasing the bottle.  Like all experiences, some are amazing and some are disappointing.  A bottle never opened is a chance never taken.

That being said, there are just a few bottles which I wonder if I will ever open.  Sometimes bottles are held for “the perfect moment” which never comes.  The expectation is built so high that no moment is ever worthy.  I will admit that I would have difficulty opening a $12,000 bottle of La Tache.  That is just too much money to be opened lightly.  I can’t afford wines like that, so that’s not my issue.  Mine is strictly nostalgia and romanticism. 

I have a bottle of 2007 Coudoulet de Beaucastel Cotes du Rhone that is almost without financial value.  It should have been opened in 2010.  It must be well past its prime.  I see this bottle every single day.  It is on my dresser.  It holds up a hand puppet I bought in Klobenz Germany which bears an uncanny resemblance to Leo.  The bottle of wine was purchased while on a Whiskey Daredevils tour in Bremen, home of Becks beer.  I remember waiting around forever while the sound guys dicked around on a soundcheck.  I was tired.  Touring is more tiring than you would expect.  Every night is Saturday to the people that come see you play and they want to hang out.  Then you wake up and drive several hours to the next place. Sleep becomes elusive.

I remember finally finishing sound check and walking around Bremen.  It’s a college town, so the area was all vegan restaurants, head shops, and coffee shops.  I was stomping around alone in my full cowboy stage outfit, just wanting to not be annoyed by German sound guys.  I had decided I was done drinking beer for the day.  I wanted a decent red wine.  Miraculously I found a wine bar with bottles on the wall available for purchase.  I sat at the bar hoping for a glass and some consultation on the unfamiliar wines on the wall.  Now I would have been fine choosing something, but in 2010 this was deep water.  It was all Euro subregions and mostly artisan producers.         

I could not get any help from the staff.  They kept blowing off the cowboy in a way that suggested this was well beyond Euro casual restaurant service and more of an anti-cowboy outfit statement.  I was not in the mood for any bullshit.  There was a bit of a confrontation which I escalated to the point of everyone in the room being uncomfortable.  Looking back I don’t know how much of it was me being cranky and them being dicks.  Regardless, I left that place with that bottle of Cote du Rhone with the intention of drinking it when we got back to the band apartment.  It was the only producer I knew.  Instead of drinking it, I left it in the van and decided I would open it later when an occasion I deemed worthy arose.  I am still waiting.  I think about that cowboy musician in Bremen stomping around whenever I see that Leo puppet.  It remains unopened.

I have two wines I had decided to drink together, a 1990 Chateau Lynch Bages and a 1966 Chateau Lafleur.  These wines are linked in my mind and I can only open them together.  I have had both of them forever.  Bottles come and go around them, but they remain.  I used to have multiple Lynch Bages vintages including the 1982, 1989, 1995, 1996, 1998, and 2000 but drank them all.  For some reason the 1990 was spared.  It had always sat right next to the Lafleur.  It reached a point where they became a couple.  It seemed impossible to separate the two.  It always seemed like I needed to keep them for something on the horizon.  Now it seems far fetched to think of a turn of events that would warrant both of these being opened at the same time.  I suspect that I will give these wines away after I am deceased to someone that will likely never open them either.

The great thing about wine is that it can outlive us all.  I had a 1787 Madeira once that was terrific at Bern’s Steak House in Tampa.  Think of it.  This was grape juice made when there was no such thing as a powered ship.  Yet, that very day I had flown across North America on a jet plane to sip it in an air conditioned restaurant in Florida.  It had allegedly been owned by Napoleon.  Now it was being drunk by some asshole with an expense account.  Juice from a smashed grape that the ruler of France had owned was now in a glass in Florida and consumed by me.  It tasted like almonds, and dried fruit and marzipan.  I will always remember it.  Hopefully just like someone else will remember that 1990 Lynch Bages sometime years from now.              

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Nurse the Hate: The Manta Ray Dives

Every divemaster in a tropical location is the exact same guy. He is in his early thirties. He is well educated but that is usually hidden by a stoner slacker exterior. After college he decides to maybe do a little traveling to distant lands. He is desperately avoiding becoming his father and is delaying any responsibility. He always starts in Thailand, goes to Asian party hot spots, mixes it up by drifting up and down South America before arriving in his current location wherever it is that I have just met him. He learned how to dive when he realized that being a drug dealer was too dangerous in the countries he was loitering in. He makes just enough money at the current dive operation to move to his next target location after he has fucked his way through the attractive locals and a few adventure seeking tourist girls. He always wears a groovy hemp necklace with some sort of magic rock provided by a mysterious woman from an exotic locale. There is rarely a linear story that he tells but sticks to anecdotes. He is a great guy to party with on shore. He is, surprisingly, quite capable in scuba as he does it every single day.

Now when my latest version of this guy, Mark, made the shark hand signal at me with some enthusiasm, I knew I should take him seriously. I had a couple bigger issues to contend with at the moment though. My rental mask was not holding a good seal. I had a consistent rising tide of ocean water slowly filling the mask, and at this point was now over 50% full, over my lower eyelids and clouding my vision. It was frustrating. I would clear the mask but it would seep back quickly, leaving me in the same position over and over again. Diving blind is not very fun. As I was attempting to clear the mask this time, I recognized I was being pulled into the rocks of the off shore formation we were diving. The current was sucking me into the opening of a crevice where the previously mentioned seven foot white tip shark was now exiting directly towards me. As I cleared my mask enough to gain some vision, I noted the expression of the shark as he swam past me as “slightly annoyed”. He was not annoyed to the point to bite me in any of my limbs, which I appreciated as he was quite a big fish. It was much larger than me. I would call that shark “attention getting”. While sometimes these sea monsters just seem large from a distance, I would like to confirm that they seem quite large a couple of feet away too.

I was diving the area off Tamarindo in Costa Rica in the Pacific. My game plan was to see a giant manta ray, a beast of a ray about twenty feet across. They are elusive and somewhat rare.  There was reason for optimism as they had been spotted in the area just the day before. Today, as we readied to get in the ocean, dozens of devil rays flew up out of the water around us landing with a “thwack” as they smacked the surface after their “flight”. This is usually a good sign. The captain’s helper, a local named Leo, pointed out just off the stern. “Manta! Manta!”. We weren’t quite all geared up yet but got in as soon as we could hoping the ray was lazily cruising the area. He was not. I saw devil rays, stingrays, spotted eagle rays, and some big sharks doing their thing. I did not spot the manta. My leaky mask and I went back to the surface and climbed back in the boat in an angry swell that bruised my toe on a cleat as I got tossed around.

We climbed back to come up with a new plan. The captain and Mark debated en espanol about the best location for a second dive. A woman who was previously introduced as “Leo’s friend” was along for the ride and had stripped down to a bikini revealing the most spectacular pair of breasts in Central America. She was from Slovakia and was doing the hippie-girl-backpacker-trip thing wandering around anywhere with good weather. She had that unusual Slovakian trait of speaking English while being shockingly direct through either limited vocabulary or cultural nuance. I can never tell for certain. She and I were talking on the front of the boat as we motored to the next location. I was pretending she wasn’t almost naked and consisting of perfect curves like a 1940s pinup model. “Yes. I go with Leo on boat today. He is my friend because I like to fuck him. I like to fuck. (Smile) I go to Cozumel in next days when am ready.” Ummm, I beg your pardon? You like to what? This conversation was a bit distracting from the matter at hand of finding the sea monster. Leo looked over at me and I swear to God he smiled and nodded. This situation, though fleeting, was something he would retell in his small village for the rest of his life. That lucky son of a bitch.

We went out again the next day after a nice, but unremarkable second dive. Thankfully Leo and his backpacker girl weren’t on the boat this time. Instead there was a father-daughter Deadhead team, a couple dull middle aged guys and my stoner dive leader new pal Mark. Mark leaned in as soon on as the boat started moving. “Jesus dude... that Lucy chick was completely distracting. I told Leo he had to leave that shit on shore when we’re doing these dives.” Agreed. Nobody wants to be the guy with the erection poking from his wet suit. We motored our to the location of our first dive the previous day.

The wind had picked up last night. I was concerned the visibility would be less than yesterday. The waves were pounding the cliff of the rocky island. I flopped in the water to see that I was right about the water clarity. The water looked like a jar of formaldehyde that had been rigorously shaken up. When we started to drop to depth one of the guys was having trouble pressurizing his ears. Prior to dropping in, we had agreed to meet on the bottom. Mark stayed with the guy having trouble with his ears. The other guy and I dropped to the bottom without incident. Almost immediately we lost visual of the two other divers. The water had a weird greenish hue. I thought I saw a shadow of a bull shark cruise past. Who the hell knows. It was big and moved with a gliding grace.  I bet it was 10 feet of visibility where we dropped in. We waited on the bottom. And waited. I counted out 45 seconds.  Finally they came down to the spot and we got to work slowly transversing the edge. The only way we would see a manta today was if he passed over us and blotted the sun. I had to be careful not to get lost down there. We saw stingrays. Lots of five foot across big ass stingrays looking up at us with their raised eyeballs thinking “what the hell are these guys doing out here today of all days?”. It was a bust.

We made one more dive that day where my mask refused to keep a seal. Slowly rising water in mask, attempt to clear mask, repeat. It was frustrating and the dive became a struggle of endurance rather than any form of enjoyment. With about 700 pounds of pressure left I somehow tenuously formed a working seal. A school of hundreds of jacks swam through a slight opening in the rocks and totally enveloped us. It was difficult to see anyone, just jacks as far as vision could see. Then, at the tail end of this school, an angry green moray flared out after the jacks in some sort of “get off my lawn” eel gesture. It made the previous 25 minutes of tedium worth it.

I did not get to see my manta ray. Who knows if I ever will get the chance again. I suppose if it were just as easy as “book trip/see the sea monster” there would not be much sport in it. That’s what makes it special when something out of the ordinary happens. The world is geared to make you become a gray little ordinary man. Every day I feel it pull on me, adding weight and effort to prevent real substance to rise from the mundane sludge. I’m disappointed I didn’t see a manta ray. I’m glad that I tried though.  All is lost without a mission. 

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Nurse the Hate: The Ancestry Results

I have received my results.  First off, let me say how relieved I was that my entire idea of heritage didn’t get thrown into chaos by discovering I descended from an area that I have no working knowledge or interest in.  For example, I’m sure Albania has many fine attributes.  They have a great national orchestra and fine park system as I understand it.  Good people...  However, I’m confident that I would not burst with excitement telling everyone about my Albanian roots.   It just doesn’t have any panache.  What is there to get fired up about?  There’s probably some sort of National stew made of turnips and pig offal that all Albanians eat on Hermansitz Day.  Look, that’s not true, but you didn’t know that.  Nobody is going to offer you a high five if you tell them, “I just found out I’m 65% Albanian!”.  Fuck yeah dude!  Up top!  

I consider not coming up as Albanian as a win.  I’m sorry if you are Albanian and are currently wearing the National Head Dress of Albania, the “Kruzett”, while reading this.  (Also made up).  I just did not want to be forced to go through a radical self re-identification process.  Even coming up as Dutch would have been sort of difficult.  Do I need to then start being the guy that wears wooden shoes so I can spark up a conversation about how Dutch I am?  Who has the time or the access to quality wooden shoes?  Good riddance.

As I noted in an earlier post, I had been told I was Irish.  There was some evidence of this as we have a photograph of my descendent that was immediately conscripted into the Union Army after arriving from Ireland to the US and got his arm shot off at Gettysburg.  The Millers have never been great warriors.  I had confidence that Ireland was a big part of the mix.  The results of the test (whatever they are worth) did indeed show 20% Irish.  Here’s the twist...  The other 80% came up as Great Britain.  This is a conundrum.

I have spent the better part of two years being yelled at by English people.  The good people at the WSET finally broke me and had me accept the nuances and foibles of the English education system.  I fought them but they wore me down.  I bought in.  Hell. I even flew over there and had people call me “mate”.  I sort of liked it when a woman called me “Luv”.  If I can be totally honest, most of the people I have met from Jolly Old England do appear to be more educated and well rounded than most Americans,  However, I have mostly interacted with wine professionals and not blokes with 17 pints in them, so perhaps I need to cool my jets on my assessment of “my people” based on this limited sample.

So where do I got from here?  Do I need a stiff upper lip?  Do I need to obsess about the finer details of the Prince Harry and Merkel nuptials?  (She clearly isn’t Royal Family material!). Am I going to have to buy a Mini Cooper with the British Flag on the hood and side view mirrors?  I don’t want to have to start calling cookies “biscuits” godammit!  Yet, what else can I do?  I already drink an abnormal amount of tea.  I live in a rainy sun deprived climate.  I own some Oasis and Kinks records.  I think I’m halfway there...  I suppose I just have to make a total commitment.  

I did consider that these shocking results could mean I am Scottish or Welsh, but I am not pale enough to be Scottish.  I know next to nothing about Wales so I think out of convenience sake I will pretend Wales is  not part of Great Britain.  Isn’t Tom Jones Welsh?  I am sort of the low rent version of an indie rock cow punk Tom Jones I guess, but I am going to pretend i don’t know that.  I’m English dammit!  These are my people.  Give me my gin.  Buy me a Union Jack.  Let’s talk about The Pitch!  God Save the Queen!  


Friday, April 13, 2018

Nurse the Hate: The Psychadelic Protein Bar

I wish I would have known that my decision to eat a RX Bar at 1:30am would be a wild psychedelic ride.  Who knew that “3 egg whites, 6 almonds, 4 cashews, 2 dates and No B.S.” would lead me into one of the wildest nights of sleep I have had in weeks.  I figured it was better to eat this driving down the highway then it was to eat a jalapeno roller dog from Speedway.  An American convenience store after midnight is filled with bad choices.  I was just trying to limit the damage.  I'm trying to do the right thing by God!  That damn snack bar thing should have had a warning label on it for the dreams it gave me.  

Dream #1...  I am at a ranch house which feels like I own.  My friend Mike comes over and brings in tow with him a friend of his.  There is a “party” at this house, but it’s really just a bunch of dodgy characters drinking cans of beer.  I don’t know these people and feel uncomfortable with them in my space.  They walk around the house indifferent to me, looking at me suspiciously as if I am the unwanted guest.  I am wary of Mike's friend as he seems like a grifter dope fiend.  The friend asks me to borrow a beautiful Porsche 911, a resplendent silver late model that I don’t actually own but for the purposes of the dream I do.  In my desire to appear to be “the good guy” and overly generous to the strangers at the party, I toss The Grifter the keys and am filled with immediate regret.  What have I done?  I know he is not going to respect me or my car. 

Within minutes I nervously get The Grifter's mobile number from Mike and call him to make sure everything is OK.  He answers the phone, obviously high on a combination of drugs, laughing about how he had been going 110 mph down a dirt road.  He then keeps laughing like I am in on the joke and hangs up.  The dream then sequences to a tow truck pulling the battered 911 into my dirt road driveway.  Mike’s friend jumps out of the tow truck laughing with some half baked story he had obviously just concocted to deflect blame and suggest that the incident wasn’t totally his fault.  Filled with anger at myself for creating this entire scenario, I reach into The Grifter's chest chest as his eyes open in pain and surprise.  I pull out what looks like a battery pack with four main cables that reach out from it like octopus tentacles.  He falls to the ground as if I have shut him off.  I calmly pick up a large fallen log and bash his head into a red jelly, insuring no one can re-insert the battery into him and bring him back to working order.

The dream is a bit unsettling.  Next...

I am wandering in a flea market.  It’s very crowded and I am always in someone’s way.  I can’t make any progress.  Folding tables are set up with vendors trying to sell all sorts of odd curios.  It’s a mixture of junk and odd pieces.  A man with broken teeth is selling swords.  A leathery woman has antique pins and broaches set off by mismatching ear rings.  A spindly man that keeps dabbing at his nose with a handkerchief sits in a beaten wooden chair.  On his table are jars with old taxidermy animals floating in a yellowish liquid.  He looks disinterested in the present scene as if waiting for the perfect customer he knows will eventually arrive.   

I am getting pushed by the crowd behind me.  I am guided into a table with a perfectly pressed white tablecloth.  Artfully giftwrapped boxes are arranged in a pleasing way on the table.  A smiling blonde girl in a sundress hands me a box with green paper and a gold bow.  Her silver bracelets jingle as she reaches towards me.  “It’s ready for you.  Here you go.”  I tell her that it must be a mistake.  This isn’t my box.  She smiles at me as the crowd pushes me along.  I stutter step ahead being protective of the box.  I want to get the box to the rightful owner and am afraid I will damage it before I can do so.

The crowd keeps pushing me until I am forced out of the market.  I am walking down the sidewalk away from the market.  It’s a worn cityscape.   I don’t know this place but it feels like I need to keep moving ahead in the direction I am walking.  The sky is low hanging clouds.  I hear one of those European sirens.  People are approaching from behind.  I can hear them as their footsteps get louder.  Dozens of commuters rush past me, hitting my elbows, jostling the box.  I walk for blocks like this.  I'm slightly panicked.  I stop when the road dead ends in front of a large tunnel.  It’s dark and I can’t see inside it.  It smells like a polluted river and urine.  I stand in the middle of the street.

A woman calls out from a window facing the intersection.  She leans out of what looks like one of those farmhouse doors.  It’s a shop of some kind.  “Hey!  What’s in the box?”  It hits me that I have no idea what’s in the box.  I feel foolish for having been so protective of this box without knowing what it contains.  I pull the gold ribbon and it falls away.  I lift the lid of the box to reveal a swarm of bees.  They aren’t angry but buzz with life.  They swirl out of the box in one gorgeous black and yellow cloud.  I stand in the street holding the empty box.

I tell you what...  You eat one of those RX Bars and take some NyQuil you might never come down.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Nurse the Hate: Feeling Sorry For President Trump

I was reading the headlines this morning and felt an odd sensation for Trump that I hadn’t felt before.  Pity.  This guy is in so far over his head it’s painfully obvious. He has very few of the skills necessary for him to be effective in his job.  Regardless of where one stands on personal philosophy and political alignment, it is almost impossible to suggest that Donald Trump has any knowledge of most of the issues he is forced to face or details of any kind.  He doesn’t “do” details.  His attention span is so limited that even if he wanted to plow through economic data or intelligence reports on the Middle East, there is little evidence he could pull that off.  He has always succeeded by being a flashy showman that says what he feels the people in front of him at that moment want to hear.  That is awesome when the task is to sell a branded sponsorship of a hotel.  That is not so awesome when trying to figure out a plan on Syria.

On top of this, his past contains a web of poor decisions of adulterous fucking of strippers/porn stars, grabbing anonymous pussies, back slapping and cutting checks to those in his wake.  Things go away when you cut a check and you are a Real Estate Charlatan.  Unfortunately, it all comes back around when the entire planet is digging around in your past.  He has completely screwed so many people over the years in all aspects of his life that he makes Bill Clinton seem pious.  A wise man would never buy a used car from Donald Trump or leave his sister in a room with him alone. 

So now this ill-equipped man is sitting in a room trying to bluff his way though global politics, international trade, and high temperature domestic complexities while simultaneously being investigated for a variety of things which are at the least unethical and more likely illegal.  It’s too much for a capable person to handle even if they knew what they were doing.  Every time Trump turns around someone has found something from his past that requires rigorous defense.  He can’t possibly offer the concentration necessary to solve the stacks of problems in front of him, many of which he unwittingly created from his lack of understanding of the very situations he is now been tasked to solve.  Despite his mammoth ego, Trump must know that he is not fit for the situation he knowingly placed himself into.    

I am unbelievably bad at advanced math.  I remember sitting in Geometry class being asked to “find the area of the rhombus”.  While my classmates were diligently buried in their papers using theorems I didn’t understand, I was thinking “when am I ever going to encounter a rhombus?”.  4X+Y=Z+2Y=what the fuck are you talking about?  I spent one full semester not having any idea of what was going on around me while staring at the curve of a girl named Laurie’s left breast two seats ahead of me to my right.  I knew every nuance of her body’s left side and not a thing about Geometry II. 

There was a crisis point when I had to go up to the blackboard and work through a problem.  I had fallen so far behind in my understanding, it was like being asked to stand in front of the class and perform “The Odyssey” in original Greek from memory.  At this point in my life I did not have any confidence whatsoever.  I was afraid to say “I don’t understand.  Explain it to me.”.  I assumed that if I asked anyone for help it would make me look weak and foolish.  I just hoped maybe I could blend in and no one would notice I didn’t know anything.  There was no escaping this moment though.  I walked up to the blackboard that day like a prisoner walking to the gallows.  I tried to bluff my way through it, but even to a casual observer walking past, I had no idea what I was doing.  I remember feeling ashamed and embarrassed as the class didn’t laugh at me, but instead looked on with silent horror.  I never should have been in that class in the first place.  I didn’t belong there.  I was just like our current President who, at some point, is going to get called up to that blackboard and must try to come up with an answer while we look on horrified.     

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Nurse the Hate: The Stranger On The Path

I noticed the man running towards me on the bike trail.  He was exerting great effort but making almost no progress.  It is a great illusion some people are able to pull off.  They appear to be running with limbs flailing, yet they are somehow moving more slowly than any other person would while walking.  It was cold, so the man had on a knit hat and heavy sweatshirt to compensate for his exposed legs in shorts.  His face was a bright pink from the cold.  His glasses were fogged over.  He had the appearance of a middle aged man unaccustomed to exercise, as if his doctor had told him in a stern tone “Bill, you are going to need to start some sort of cardio exercise if you hope to see age 60”.  He was now trying to undo 40 years of stagnation. 

The man stopped his locomotion (I still can’t call it “running”).  He leaned down to make himself available to the bassets.  “Sir?  What do you call this breed of dog?”  His use of language was odd, like this wasn’t his native tongue, but he had no discernible accent.  I told him that these were basset hounds.  “Yes!  That’s right!  Basset hounds!”  I explained how we normally walked the woods, but it was too muddy today.  Regardless of the weather, these hounds expected their long Sunday walk.  “Yes…  It is good to go hiking and such in the wilderness.  It is important to find time for wilderness.”  He looked at me directly as if remembering something of great importance. 

“A family friend… a woman…  She will have great outbursts at almost anything.  She…  Even if she saw you standing here now, she would begin to yell at you with great volume.  And it can be about anything!  Anything!  Always arguing about small things with strangers.”  His expression changed slightly as he read my face.  I was struggling to see how this connected to basset hounds or the muddy conditions of the woods.  Something wasn’t quite right about this man.  He was non-threatening, but something was just off.  Yet he was dressed like a dorky suburban everyman.  He was everyone and no one.  He was indistinguishable from the herd until he started talking. 

“She was backpacking in Montana.” He then made a motion as if he was carrying a heavy backpack.  “While she was walking, a rock came loose from the cliff above her.  It rolled all the way down an struck her in the head!”  He made a motion to indicate a rock hitting his temple and even threw in the head recoil to emphasize the point.  I still had no idea where this was going and said “Wow.  What are the odds?  To be walking by at that instant?”  He leaned in to me and lowered his voice slightly.  “Her family said that they noticed this behavior of hers starting a couple of years after the hiking accident.  The doctors say that there is nothing they can do, because it is the brain!  They can’t just go in there and fix it…”

He paused, as if this were the great reveal of the story.  I wasn’t sure how to respond and looked at him, wondering if there was more.  I tried to figure out why he had brought this up out of the blue to a stranger walking two basset hounds.  He looked slightly panicked, as if he realized he had offered no context or link to our present situation.  He could feel that this wasn’t going as he had planned.  “Well, when I heard about that I went out and bought a helmet for when I ride my bike.”  He nodded, looking for me to confirm his wisdom for avoiding future brain injury from random falling rocks.

I stated the obvious.  “You know, that didn’t happen to her on a bike.  She was just walking.  If you want that helmet plan to work, you are going to have to wear it all the time.”  He looked at me with great seriousness, considering the flaw in his safety scheme.  I could see him weigh his risk right now at this moment, wondering if a rock or tree limb would suddenly fall from the sky onto his head.  He hadn’t considered how exposed he was to danger at this moment.  An expression of worry creased his forehead. 

I started to walk away from him, the dogs eager to continue.  A thought hit me.  I turned back to him.  “Your problem then will be you are going to be known as The Weird Dude In The Helmet.”  I thought he would give a little laugh.  Instead, he nodded at me as he turned to continue his “run”.  He was now deep in thought weighing the positives of helmet safety versus the potential for further becoming a social pariah in his bike helmet.  There was much to consider.

I look forward to walking the bassets down that path next week at about the same time.  I wonder if I will see a man chugging towards me in shorts and a bike helmet.  If I do, I look forward to a chat.  That man that has things to say.    

And I’m listening.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Nurse the Hate: Ruminations on Golf

Despite having almost no interest in professional golf, I once again am strangely drawn to the Masters Tournament this weekend.  I think it has something to do with how winter grimly hangs on in this climate.  Seeing even televised green grass expanses, flowers, and the sound of songbirds chirping is comforting.  The sound of the telecast is like a warm blanket.  Hushed reverential tones from the announcers at a measured pace over the music of the birds.  There is an implied seriousness in each small event.  The golfers stride like kings as tournament staff clears their path.  The entire thing is ridiculous, pompous and wonderful.

My parents used to watch golf on TV on Sundays.  I have no clue as to why they did as neither one of them golfed or appeared to have even the slightest interest in taking up the game.  This was in spite of us living 125 feet from the 11th hole of a golf course.  My friends and I used sneak on at dusk and chip from the sand traps.  As a result, I was a 12 year old with a wicked short game that had never once tried a tee shot.  This comes in handy once a decade when I am required to take part in a scramble.  There are looks of great surprise when I hop out of a golf cart in Chuck Taylors and can drop a ball within a foot of the hole from a sand trap.  This is soon forgotten when I majestically slice tee shot after tee shot into any poor sap’s homes that live near the course.  This results in my never being asked to participate in any further golf from that group, which is not only fine by me, I prefer it.  It’s a tribe of which I am not a member.

Suburban middle aged dudes absolutely love golf.  They are as enthusiastic about golf as I am about obscure indie bands and artisan wines.  They like to gather in groups at golf club grill rooms and watch the tournament while drinking light beers.  It is a fraternity.  I like how when they talk amongst themselves about the golfers they use their first names as if they are all in that Brotherhood of the Links.  “Yeah, Rory had some trouble on 14.”  You don't say Sean, you don't say...  

I recall when I had a job in college as security for the Muirfield PGA Tournament and was stationed on Hole 16.  A professional golfer would be trying to recover from some errant shot and hope to knock it out of some trees onto the green.  A hundred suburban dudes would encircle the player as he prepared his shot.  Like kids taking baseball mitts to a MLB game, they would all be wearing their golf spikes and special golf shirts.  Inevitably one would lean in to the other as the pro eyed up his shot and then say to his friend “I had almost the exact same shot last weekend.”.  This would be true if not for the fact you weren’t circled by 97 people and $600,000 was on the line.  Other than that, it was exactly the same. 

I worked that tournament for three years as it paid pretty well.  I enjoyed watching the club members doing menial tasks for the tournament with a look of steadfast determination and seriousness.  For 51 weeks a year, the plump man in the golf cart was a powerful attorney.  For one week a year he drove that cart around taking ice to water stations for the players he watched on TV every weekend, and that week was the highlight of his calender year.  It was endearing and sad at the same time.  

I don’t care who wins the Masters.  I am only peripherally aware of a few players beyond Tiger Woods.  I will put it on the TV, turn the sound down, and let the whisper of Spring fall over me.  I want to see the gorgeously framed TV shots of fresh bloom by gurgling creeks.  I want to hear the hushed tones of the announcers as they try to levy the drama unfolding of strangers golfing.  In an unpredictable world filled with sadness and disappointments, the sound of that tournament is an anchor of predictability.  Who wins or loses is immaterial.  I am just glad that it is there as it always has been.     

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Nurse the Hate: The Gill Net

Now that I have taken my last WSET Diploma exam, I find myself lacking purpose.  I might have the cart way in front of the horse on this.  Frankly, I might have failed that last exam.  It’s entirely possible, especially after what I noted when I saw the posted exam afterwards.  It is possible that I answered one of the three essay questions incorrectly based entirely on a language nuance.  That would be very disappointing but not completely unexpected.  I have always been a man that sees things in “color”, not “colour”.  Fucking Yank I am.  (Said in a Dickensian accent)  I do hold out hope even if that essay answer disaster comes to pass.  I did perform better than I expected on the tasting portion of the exam.  Not only did I identify one of the wines correctly by type (Champagne NV) but I noted the actual wine (Pol Roger).  That must count for something besides the obvious point that I have had too damn much Pol Roger champagne.

I need to focus on accomplishing something challenging while I wait the ridiculous amount of time for my test results.  I can’t make my next “wine move” until I know if I passed the Diploma.  There is nothing to do but wait and it’s killing me.  I look around me and everyone seems content doing nothing but watching TV, punching the time clock, and going to Wal Mart for synthetic food.  How do they do it?  It appears that they have achieved a Zen acceptance of boredom and won’t let me in on the secret.  They are on a life time pleasure cruise and I am on an endurance run on a fixed gerbil wheel.  It will be impossible for me to continue if I don’t do something.  I have to keep moving ahead like a shark.  Perhaps this can be taken as evidence of self motivation like a Nike advertisement.  Just do it baby!  Of course, the downside is also realizing that the shark never is allowed rest but just constantly swims until death. With luck I can get caught in a gill net and finally relax.

I am committed to diving with sea monsters very soon off a remote island in the Pacific Ocean.  I locked in with a stranger via money sent on the internet.  What could be safer?  The dive I talked this guy into sounds absurd.  I can’t believe he thinks I am as experienced as I vaguely alluded to in our brief email exchanges.  All I know is I will be required to drop down to a challenging depth very quickly while navigating the unpredictable currents and hope the visibility isn’t too limited or there is a decent chance of drifting right through the bull shark feeding grounds like I am on a sushi conveyer belt.  That would be disappointing but admittedly is very exciting.  If you stop seeing blog posts after a week or so, it probably means I fucked up out there.  If I get my arms chewed off, I can probably tap something out while using a chopstick in my mouth on the keyboard.  It will take a week or so to get the handle of it I am sure.  Stay tuned on that front.

I also discovered that the day after doing a Nashville gig with Hillbilly Casino it will be convenient to do something called Halo Jumping in Memphis.  I forget what HALO stands for beyond “high altitude” for the first two letters.  I’m not very well researched about it, just enthusiastic enough to commit mentally to the idea.  The gist of it is that I can jump out of an airplane at 30,000 feet.  The altitude is so high that it is necessary to have an oxygen mask on, which I think plays into my favor with my experience (or lack thereof) in scuba.  It is three times higher altitude than the free fall I did previously.  It’s like jumping out of a commercial jet flight when a kid is kicking the back of your seat over Memphis.  Pretzels sir?  “Not only do I not want pretzels, I am leaving.”  This seems like exactly the type of thing I need on my calendar to fill the unfillable void.  Shove it in the box.

I will be with the band, so it will be prudent if I can get full band buy in.  Granted, this is a somewhat extreme activity that might not appeal to everyone.  I know I can talk Leo into it in about six seconds.  He will likely not even remember agreeing to it as they zip him up into whatever illusionary safety gear is required.  I will feel somewhat responsible speaking at his memorial service when he inevitably forgets to follow directions and plunges to his death.  The upside is if we take video and get it shown on international news channels, it should help album sales.  That’s taking one for the team!  I should write a song called “Subterranean Homesick Skydiving Accident” right now to prepare.

I am eventually going to run out of dangerous things to do that I can still survive.  Is “lava surfing” a thing?  What about “amateur space exploration”?  Hopefully I passed that wine test and can see if I can keep moving ahead on that to Yoda Level.  It has to be a better idea than going over Niagara Falls in a barrel.  I wonder if when a shark gets caught on that gill net he thinks “Damn, I didn’t see that net.  Well, ...that’s it.  Phew.  I can stop swimming now.  I’m glad it’s finally over.  I didn’t know how much more I could take.”