Wednesday, November 30, 2005
After much negotiation, the Misanthrope has purchased a brand new Misanthropemobile. (Representative photo above; Options may vary.)
Anybody who has gone through the process of dealing with car salesmen will agree that it leaves one with an overwhelming desire to scrub oneself down with Janitor-in-a-Drum. As Tony predicted, every ludicrous salesman tactic in the book was employed, including the "I have to ask my manager" trick.
I suppose these ploys must work on somebody, but I can't imagine who hasn't heard of them by now.
Some favorites include:
1) Presenting the car with an outrageously high list price and then immediately crossing that out and offering a "discount." Uh, okay, but when I've already used the Mercedes website to build a car and get a lower price quote, the salesman looks kind of stupid when he tries to convince me that this is a deal.
2) Pretending that he would "throw in" the GPS navigation system for "just" $xxx. I happened to know that this involved nothing more than shoving a DVD into the system and downloading the software. Also, he was quoting me a price that was, once again, higher than the price on the Mercedes website for the option.
3) Telling me "nobody gets that option" when the option I was asking about was not available on a car in stock. I'm not buying a car for anybody else. If I want it, I want it.
Anyway, I managed to bring the deal in for a pretty big chunk of change below invoice price (according to Kelley Blue Book figures) because it was late November and I bought a 2005 model that they were holding in inventory. I cannot say enough about doing research on the Kelley Blue Book site before negotiating. The information is amazing. Not only does it list what retailers are asking for on a particular model with options, it tells you at what prices consumers are getting deals done. More importantly, it tells you what the manufacturer is charging the dealer (the "invoice price.) That gives you an idea of how low you can really get with pricing.
What got me a good deal in the end was pretty simple. I kept leaving the dealership and then negotiating over the phone to get me to come back. Finally, I put a price on the table that was outrageously below reasonable. The dealer met me halfway and we were done.
Now, where is the Janitor-in-a-Drum when I need it?
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
Until then, Happy Thanksgiving to everybody except my foreign friends; those guys get nothing.
Friday, November 18, 2005
The Misanthrope and the 27 year old met Philip last October when we stayed with his owners, Hamish and Andrea, in Washington, DC. He was just a kitten then.
I 've always been firmly in the dog camp in the eternal battle between dog lovers and cat lovers. My proof that dogs are superior? Have you ever heard anybody say about a dog, "You'll like him. He's just like a cat."?
Of course you haven't.
Philip, however, won us over instantly. He was so affectionate and so fun to play with that it was hard not to be totally charmed. For weeks after we returned to New York, we talked about our love for Philip. Even the WMDs (Wallace and Maggie Dogs) were getting jealous.
Philip's passing got me to thinking about why it is that we form such deep connections with animals. Pet owners often mention things like companionship, unquestioning love, etc. Obviously, those are wonderful benefits, but I suspect that the real reason we form such attachments is because of the sheer pleasure, the deep joy of caring for somebody else. Caring for a cat or dog, an animal that is almost totally dependent upon you for its well-being, brings out the best of human nature. I know that I take pleasure in making sure that Wallace and Maggie have a good life and are healthy. We are always told that it is better to give than to receive and it always turns out to be true when we can remember to give. Taking care of a dog or a cat is like a constant reminder of that. What dog owner doesn't know the pleasure of getting his dog a treat or taking him to the beach and seeing the unbridled enthusiasm of a dog running at top speed with ears flying back and tongue hanging out?
So it came as no surprise that Hamish told me that Philip made his already wonderful marriage feel like a family.
I know the feeling.
Thursday, November 17, 2005
Also, I don't like people.
Anyway, after reading her lips and paying attention, I understood that she was saying, "Can you spare some change so I can get something to eat?" I tore off the uneaten half of the pretzel and and handed to her.
She seemed taken aback at first, but once she regained her composure, she looked at me skeptically and said in a concerned voice, "But this has too much salt!"
I can prove that Maggie is Satan.
About a month ago, I was at the studio with MikeDot when my cell phone began ringing over and over. It was the 27 year old (then 26), telling me to get home. It seems that the dogs had gotten into the box of heartworm medicine and eaten over a year's worth of doses. The medicine comes in a meaty treat that Maggie adores and the carpet was covered with empty foil wrappers. So, we called the animal poison hotline and they advised us that we shold induce vomiting in both dogs to be certain that there were no adverse effects.
It turns out that the way to induce vomiting in dogs is to feed them bread and peanut butter and then give them a shot of hydrogen peroxide. The hydrogen peroxide foams up in their little peanut butter-laden stomachs and VOILA! After loading down their beagle bellies with Wonder and Skippy, we positioned ourselves close to the door, delivered the dose of peroxide and rushed to the street.
Wallace, as usual, obliged almost instantly. He covered the corner of West 12th and Washington with puke and then looked up with pleading eyes. We felt horribly guilty because the contents of his stomach turned out to be only bread and peanut butter - he hadn't eaten any of the medicine.
The Iron Bitch, on the other hand, would not be broken. Per the doctor's instructions, we ran her around the neighborhood to jiggle her stomach, but she just looked at us with cool determination. We dosed her again with peroxide, but she would not budge. At one point, she stopped at a corner and it looked like our wait was over. Instead of puking her guts out, however, she hunched into turtle position and emitted a Super-Soaker-like spray of watery crap. There was so much pressure that we could actually hear a "whoosh" as she painted the lamp post.
Despite this Satanic crap, still no vomiting. After a third dose of peroxide, we decided to go back to the apartment and give her more bread and peanut butter. When we got upstairs, Maggie made a bee-line for the persian rug and immediately released the contents of her stomach in a torrent of peroxide, peanut butter, bread and nearly two years' worth of Heartguard.
That dog is Satan.
Wednesday, November 16, 2005
It's pure genius. Hugh Laurie is brilliant as George, the idiotic public school boy. Stephen Fry is hilarious as Gen. Sir Anthony Cecil Hogmanay Melchett. The writing is the best of all the Blackadders series.
Get it, Darling.
During the drive, I was able to partake of the many classic rock stations in the New England area, including my old college favorite, 99.1 WPLR.
Here is a list of the songs I heard more than once over the course of 7 hours of driving, round trip:
1. Don't Fear the Reaper - 3 times
2. Runnin' with the Devil - 3 times
3. That's All - 3 times
The first two don't really surprise me. Reaper has been an FM radio staple for years, as has the Van Halen.
But "That's All"? Seriously? 3 times?
Monday, November 14, 2005
I may only be partially kidding.
Sunday, November 13, 2005
Last month I referred to al-Qaeda's quagmire in Iraq. The attack in Jordan is an example of that dilemma. Jordanians appear to be outraged. Thousands of them demonstrated against Zarqawi last week. The Palestinians are putting distance between themselves and al-Qaeda because of the attack. Zarqawi knows he cannot beat the U.S. military head on. So he attacks Muslims indiscriminately in the name of Islam and it appears that this strategy is starting to backfire very badly.
In Iraq, some Sunni insurgents are making overtures to negotiate an end to fighting and begin participating in the political process. The Saudis, who are a powerful Sunni constituency, have committed $1B to the reconstruction of Iraq. Iraqi President Talabani is saying that British troops may be able to leave Iraq in 2006. These are the actions of people who know which side is winning and which side is in the process of shooting itself in the foot. If all Zarqawi can offer is the chance that you are going to be blown to bits at a hotel while trying to plan your wedding, he's in a pretty weak spot indeed.
Obviously, this kind of backlash didn't occur when al-Qaeda was killing Christians and Jews in New York, London and Madrid. If Tuesday's attacks had killed a bunch of Western Christians, I have no doubt that there would not have been such an outcry. That's depressing. Still, if last week's attack in Jordan turns the tide of opinion against al-Qaeda and its mindless slaughter, that's some progress indeed. On top of the grief and anger, I'm sure that many in the Middle East understood the attack in Jordan as a sign that al-Qaeda has no strategy for winning this war.
UPDATE: The Imam of Zarqawi's childhood mosque calls him "kufr," which is about as damning as you can get in Islam.
Friday, November 11, 2005
The opener appeared at first to be former New York Mayor David Dinkins backed by the local Phish cover band.
Only after the show did I learn that I had seen Motor City urban legend Nathaniel Mayer.
No, I've never heard of him either.
Mayer apparently had two minor hits in the 1960s, "Village of Love" and "I Want Love and Affection (Not the House of Correction). " He definitely played the latter song last night, although I have to admit I thought he was singing "I Want Love and Affection in the House of Correction," which, I am sure you will agree, puts a slightly different slant on the lyrics.
His band was actually pretty good and I enjoyed the set for the first few songs. It was only after the 10th variation on the same sound with the same basic lyrics (sample: "shake what your momma gave ya") that I started to yearn for an end to the set.
Midway through, Grubzilla decided to leave, which was probably the smart move because the time between the end of the Mayor's set and the start of the Black Keys' was about an hour. Yes, it took a two-piece band nearly a full hour to, um, uh, plug in their one guitar and turn on two amps. The drums had already been set up. Brother BRJBJE was starting to lose his temper as we watched the stage hands walk back and forth on stage rearranging the water bottles into neat stacks.
Anyway, the band played okay, but both of us were so overwhelmed with the DMV-like wait for the set that we bailed before the encores.
The Black Keys - Bring a Magazine and a Folding Chair
Wednesday, November 09, 2005
About $11,000 big, in fact.
For, you see, it seems that La Voiture Misanthropique suffered a complete and catastrophic failure of the engine cooling system, leading to irreparable engine damage. There is no fix. A new engine must be bought.
I will not be buying a new engine. We must all bid a fond "Adieu" to the late, great Misanthropemobile.
Now, getting a new car is a big enough pain. But I've also got to figure out what to do with the old car, especially since the dealer now knows I won't be providing him with any revenues.
I must say, with some shock, that I have remained bizarrely calm throughout this whole affair. And the people with whom I have had to deal have been remarkably nice.
I must be getting soft. Time to venture out into the Meatpacking District to restoke the flames of hatred.
Tuesday, November 08, 2005
And so it is. I guess it has its roots in the time when you would cover the hearth fire before going to sleep for the night.
Vachement chouette, non?
"Leur analyse n'est pourtant pas dénuée de perspicacité. Elle souligne l'échec de quarante ans de politique. Si la France n'est pas en guerre, elle est plongée dans le bourbier de ses incohérences, de ses contradictions."
[Trans: Their (i.e., the foreign media's) analysis is not without insight. It highlights forty years of failed policy. If France is not at war, it has been plunged into the quagmire of its inconsistencies and its contradictions. ]
As they admit, France has never been been slow to lecture the rest of humanity on its failings.
Monday, November 07, 2005
WARNING: CHRISPY SHOULD NOT READ THIS POST
Seems like Phil Collins is floating the idea of a full-scale Genesis reunion.
I am always hesitant to mention my love of Genesis because of the difference between the band I loved (Genesis 1967-1980) and the band that most people are familiar with (Genesis 1980-1998). So, to be clear, I AM NOT TALKING ABOUT THE COLLINS-LED BAND THAT PRODUCED DRECK LIKE "INVISIBLE TOUCH."
If you want to make fun of me, make fun of the fact that I will be one of the few guys in the audience who is more psyched that Steve Hackett is back than he is that Gabriel is in front.
While I was waiting for MikeDot to show up, I saw a homeless guy pandhandling in the middle of Delancey Street. I saw him coming towards me, so I reached into my pocket and pulled out whatever change I had and gave it to him.
Now, let me pause here and say that I am a native New Yorker filled to the gills with cynicism and doubt about panhandlers. I know that some of them are truly mentally ill and need serious treatment. I know that some of them are caught in abject poverty. And I know that a small number are just bullshitters trying to pick up some extra cash.
When I was a kid, we used to see a guy begging near Central Park at the 7th Avenue entrance most days of the week. About a year after we first saw him, my parents told me they spotted him in a restaurant having a pretty expensive meal with two beautiful women. That experience just begs to grow into a lifelong rationale for not digging into one's pockets, but I ended up going the other way. I give to anybody who asks me on the theory that anybody who is cheating me has their own eternal soul to worry about; I'd rather not miss the chance to help.
Anyway, I give this guy all the change in my pocket and put it in his Chicago Bulls cap (note to panhandler: stick with the home team). Now we are best friends. He proceeds to tell me that New York was once inhabited by soldiers and horse-drawn carriages and that "He" controls it all. (At this point it was a little unclear if "He" was God or Bush.) The guy was clearly a little nutty, but the narrative was kind of entertaining although it was a bit unnerving that he never made eye contact with me. He spoke for almost five minutes, talking movingly off the fact that we were all once babies who grew in to men and this is how he knew God created the Universe.
And then he finished with, "So, I guess what I'm saying is, 'Is that all you gonna give me?'"
Misanthrope has a brother. All of the genes our parents had that convey a general love of your fellow man were, obviously, passed to him. This left the Misanthrope with his black, empty, hollow soul. But the brother is a good guy.
He's currently living in Kiev, which, I just learned, is now spelled Kyiv.
Kyiv also happens to be the original home of Yasha, who taught me to play classical guitar. Yasha fled Kyiv when it was still part of the Soviet Union and has not been back since. At some point, I need to have him re-tell the story of his defection because it is pretty incredible. Of course, that was nearly 30 years ago and a lot has changed.
My brother is in Kyiv teaching at the University. His three sons are having quite an adventure. Two of them are pictured above standing in front of the 12th century church of St. Sophia.
Now that he is settled, expect updates from Ukraine from time to time.
Sunday, November 06, 2005
Saturday, November 05, 2005
The pickings there are usually pretty slim, but somehow we stumbled across Born into Brothels, the 2005 Academy Award winner for Best Documentary.
The film documents the friendship of the children of prostitutes in one of Calcutta's red light districts with a photography teacher named Zana Briski. She gives the children cameras and teaches them the basics of photography. Being children, they respond with excitement and glee. In one case, a genuine artist is revealed.
All of this happens against a backdrop of social pathologies that are gut-wrenching. The children describe their situations in a kind of frightening poetic language. For the girls, all of whom are at the age where prostitution is maybe a year or less away, the sense of impending doom is pervasive.
Briski sets out to place the children in charity boarding schools, but almost all of them refuse to admit the children of criminals. Her efforts on their behalf are matter of fact and never presented with cheap sentimentality or self-righteousness. And getting them placed at schools is just half the battle; the families don't always share Briski's vision of a future with education.
For me, the most difficult case to watch was a young boy named Avijit. The photographs the children take are interesting and some of them are quite good. When we meet Avijit, however, it is immediately apparent that he is exceptional. The boy has real talent. He speaks directly and movingly of his desire to express what he feels inside through art. His photographs are on a different level than those of the other kids, hell, even his commentaries on the other kids' photos are on a different level.
At the same time, he is very clearly conflicted. His talent earns him the chance for a way out of the brothels, but he struggles with a desire to be loyal to his family and their world. Watching him cope with his general situation and his conflicted emotions about escaping is extraordinarily difficult. His plight makes you wonder how much other talent is lost in poverty and violence.
Go rent it or check out the children's photographs here.
So, I decided to do a quick loop up and down the Hudson River. Below are a few photos. Unfortunately, there was a low layer of smog hanging over the area, so the view was not too crisp.
Jane Street - Home of the Misanthrope:
Friday, November 04, 2005
On Monday, the 26 year old and I were sitting in our apartment on Jane Street when the Fire Department banged on the door and told us to get out because there was a fire. Luckily, the fire was small and in the building next door, but I now realize that this was God's way of warning the Misanthrope to make himself scarce because vengeance was at hand.
This was followed on Wednesday by a 4 alarm fire in a garage on 15th Street.
Following through on his "plague every two days" plan, God delivered this mayhem on 14th Street this morning. The 1010 WINS story is not very informative, but it features the best news graphic I've seen in a while. Instead of a picture of the actual scene of the crash, we get this:
Classy! I think the soft pack of GPCs really adds to my understanding of the story.
I emailed Misanthrope correspondent Kevin Dugan and got this report on the NY1 employee who caught the drunken driver.
The best part about this story is that Howie's name means "bad man" in German. My German isn't good enough to translate "kick ass."
(Editor's Note: During the writing of this post, the 26 year old suggested that we should "run to the hills" and attempted to emphasize this point by singing "Run to the Hills" by Iron Maiden. Unfortunately, although she got the lyrics right (i.e., "Run to the Hills"), she sang them to the tune of "All By Myself, " by Eric Carmen. The Misanthrope interprets this as "speaking in Tongues," another sign from God to get out of town before the smiting begins anew.)
I called Roadside Assistance for the Misanthropemobile and a tow truck was on the way in short order. We got the car to a storage lot and the towing company will take it to the dealer for repairs on Monday. The towing lot was in Yonkers and I needed to get home. In a display of shocking kindness, the guy who towed me got in his car and drove me all the way to the A train on 207th Street in Manhattan. It may not seem like a huge deal, but he probably saved me a good 45 minutes in travel time and he went pretty far out of his way to do it.
It's just too bad I couldn't understand a word the man was saying at any point in the trip.
Fresh from this kind gesture, I was in as jolly a mood as one can be when riding the A train, at least until a father and his two boys got on the train and sat across the aisle from me. After watching them from 207th Street to 34th Street, my heart was pretty much broken.
You see, the father talked to those two boys (I'm guessing ages 9 and 7) with such violence in his voice and such anger that it was all I could do not to wince. He was not yelling or even talking loudly. He was just flat out mean, in the plainest sense of the word.
The younger one was still at an age where he took the abuse silently, although with much confusion. After an exchange with his father, he would return to that world where 7 year olds live, the one where the biggest challenge is deciding if the Mr. Incredible action figure will defeat the evil crab action figure.
The older one, however, was aware enough to have a slighlty defeated look when his father spoke. What was worse, it was clear that, unlike his brother, he was old enough to be conscious of the fact that other people could see the way his father treated them. You could see in his eyes that a light was slowly going out.
I once saw a documentary about New York in which the narrator said that every day, New Yorkers see the greatest kindness to others and the greatest cruelty.
You can see it all in one trip on the A train.
This passage gets to the heart of the tension that France is experiencing:
In some areas, it is possible for an immigrant or his descendants to spend a whole life without ever encountering the need to speak French, let alone familiarize himself with any aspect of the famous French culture.
The result is often alienation. And that, in turn, gives radical Islamists an opportunity to propagate their message of religious and cultural apartheid.
Some are even calling for the areas where Muslims form a majority of the population to be reorganized on the basis of the "millet" system of the Ottoman Empire: Each religious community (millet) would enjoy the right to organize its social, cultural and educational life in accordance with its religious beliefs.
In parts of France, a de facto millet system is already in place. In these areas, all women are obliged to wear the standardized Islamist "hijab" while most men grow their beards to the length prescribed by the sheiks.
The radicals have managed to chase away French shopkeepers selling alcohol and pork products, forced "places of sin," such as dancing halls, cinemas and theaters, to close down, and seized control of much of the local administration.
France has long pursued a foreign policy designed to promote good will in the Muslim world. Unfortunately, that good will can't solve the inherent tensions in trying to integrate two vastly different cultures.
The discussion went in the direction of the problem of passages in the Koran that advocate the killing of infidels. That was not really where the original post was pointing, however. My joke about "insurgents" was more of a jab at the ridiculous coverage of events in Iraq and the endless pontificating on America's failings from the "enlightened" French government.
France has the largest Muslim population in Europe now. These riots are, no doubt, the result of the growth of that population in a country that has a long historical obsession with the concept of French identity and the uniqueness (and superiority) of French culture. Until now, my impression is that the French have tried to pretend that there would be no problem assimilating a large Muslim presence into its modern, secular state.
Unfortunately, many of the cultural norms and beliefs that the immigrant community bring to France cannot be squared with a modern, secular state. You can't have one community that believes in French jurisprudence, for example, and another that wants to live under sharia law. This tension was revealed recently in the controversy over banning headscarves from French schools.
It is, therefore, not surprising that the Muslim community is mostly ghetto-ized. This doesn't excuse the rioting, but it does provide some context.
I am not assigning value judgments here. I am merely pointing out that France has a mess on its hands and not a lot of ways to square the circle. I suspect this is going to get uglier because the problem has been ignored for a long time.
Thursday, November 03, 2005
I'm certainly no big fan of the Roman Catholic church (full disclosure: I am an Episcopalian), but this is a worthy statement and deserves recognition.
Mike hates that title.
What was interesting about it was that I really feel like we have sharpened our focus on what we can make the band sound like through the songwriting.
Ever since we became a three-piece, creating the band sound has been a bit of a conundrum for me. Mike and Joe can vary their sounds somewhat, but the guitar has the most options available for different sounds and approaches. The problem was that I was growing tired of the sounds and approaches that I had used in the past because they were so heavily indebted to mainstream rock. As satisfying as it is to play a lot of big, thrashing chords, it was getting kid of dull for me.
It was "Paper Airplane Crash" that set off the lightbulb in my head. We played it on Sunday at Tedstock and I really felt like it was the most original and satisfying song in our set. It builds on the minimalism that we explored in "Beauty Mark" and it includes time-honored Microdot techniques like different instruments playing in different time signatures. Most importantly, the arrangement itself is a centerpiece of the song. All three instruments have a lot of independence in movement and the result is more of a weaving of sounds, as opposed to the big brushstroke of one color you get when the bass is holding down the root, guitar filling the air with big chords and drums laying down a backbeat.
On the way home from Tedstock, I felt like the light had been turned on and I could see the map at last. It's hard to put it into words, but I had a clear conception of how we could sound as a three-piece that didn't amount to a retread of a lot of 1990's indie tropes and 1970's prog tricks. Mostly, it involves weaving the instruments together and using that weaving to create patterns of tension that resolve into beauty.
What was cool about last night was that I think Mike is looking at a pretty similar map, which is exciting. Nothing beats working with somebody who is on the same page.
Wednesday, November 02, 2005
It is remarkable to see this kind of thing happen in France because of the age-old fascination with French identity. It will be fascinating and somewhat scary to see where this goes.
One thing is for sure. Platitudes about the need for "dialogue" with the rioters are not going to stop much of anything.