15 April 2013

Never Ever Be Any Good

Listening to: iTheory, "Thinkin' Bout You (The Frank Ocean Project)." From what I can tell, Geoff Ibe is a college student in Arizona who somehow has the time in-between classes to do smoothed out Frank Ocean covers. Taking into account my weakness for anything "Thinkin' Bout You" related, this version is my favorite so far. The fact that this is produced by a young Asian American student pushes it over the top. Throw in a cover of "Weak" Ibe did with some friends and it's game over. Here is iTheory's Bandcamp page.

Bonus: He also produced this Niki Fajardo cover of Elle Varner's "Only Wanna Give It To You" and I've had it on repeat too. Clearly there is a lot more productivity going on in university kids' dorm rooms than when I was in college.

For a second, I thought the cold was over and I could celebrate having made it through a New York winter. Case in point, a few weeks ago, as the city rejoiced and people came rushing outside to enjoy the weather, I stayed indoors to get tan by the glare of my laptop screens. "Why go out in all the crowds when it would just be sunny from here on out?" Little did I know that it would only be a tease.

This past week, when it neared eighty degrees, I knew better. JMZ called me up on Thursday and said "Let's go skateboarding!" I immediately said "yes" even though I (a) don't own a skateboard and (b) haven't skateboarded since middle school. In fact, the last time I got on a skateboard, I was trying to play basketball on it at the same time and ended up breaking my arm. I'd like to think that fateful date short-circuited both my professional skate and basketball careers.

We found a guy selling a cheap board on Craiglist and set off toward the Newkirk Ave stop to buy it. The eight dollar board was passeable -- for child's use, which was fine by me -- but the wheels were heavily cracked. So we made a pit stop at Skate Brooklyn to buy some wheels. That's when sticker shock hit. A lot has changed since the Eighties! Skateboards now cost $100-150 for the entire rig. Deck, trucks, wheels, bearings, risers, etc. I had been hoping to just drop a few dollars and get a nice afternoon reacclimating myself to skateboarding. Instead, JMZ and I faced some tough financial decisions. The guys at Skate Brooklyn were super knowlegeable and helpful, and we ended up dropping sixty bucks on a new set of wheels.

By the time we got to Central Park, it was nearly five in the afternoon and we didn't have much time left to hit the loop, or give me time to bunny slope it, as it were. JMZ assured me that riding a skateboard would be like riding a bike, and I believed him, but apparently I never really got good enough at skateboarding in the first place, since no muscle memory kicked in. Within five minutes of struggling and wobbling, I'd already received unsolicited tips from a stranger -- "Keep your head up and look ahead instead of down" -- and managed to go chasing after my board as it shot out from underneath me.

Needless to say, my dreams of cruising around on the streets of New York this summer will have to be slightly delayed. My goal isn't even to do any tricks or anything, I just want to get from Point A to Point B in a fairly efficient manner. I did manage to get semi-comfortable on my board by the end of the day, but as this (embarrassing) video can attest, I've got a long way -- and many more MPHs -- to go. The good news is, all weekend long I've been reading about how to skateboard, watching inspiring videos, thinking about re-reading Jocko Weyland's The Answer Is Never, and twitching my thumbs thinking back to when I used to play the shit out of Tony Hawk. I figure that should take me halfway there right? Plus all the skate lingo I learned? #laserflip #thrash #durometer

There's a larger conversation here about being a poseur, but we'll shelve that for another time.

Since that initial foray back in the saddle, I've bought two skateboards -- including a miniboard for JMZ. Basically, the ratio of me surfing the Internet for skateboard stuff versus time actually spent on a skateboard is about 10:1 so far. I mean, when in doubt and without skill, accessorize! I also desperately wanted to buy these electric blue cruising wheels, but that would just be ridiculous so I stopped myself. By the end of summer I hope to be risking my physical health at a street corner near you. Please scrape me off the sidewalk and say hello. But don't call an ambulance because I don't have insurance. Because I am a writer.
My friend reminded me that I have a tendency to get really into something each summer, and then promptly forget all about it soon afterwards. A few seasons ago it was the ukulele -- I can only play one song -- and last year it was bird watching. I hope to somehow conflate all of these faux hobbies into one...by buying a backpack that can hold my binoculars, the neglected uke, and my flashy new skateboard. Yes, I will travel around with gear that I can neither use effectively nor impressively. It'll prove all my doubters wrong for sure.

In related news, I lust after this 2010 Incase x Paul Rodriguez Skate Pack. After AMR showed it to me online the other day, I saw someone in the street wearing it out by Herald Square. I literally stopped in my tracks and wanted to ask him where he found it. Or rip it right off his shoulders. And then skate away.

For a potentially cheap, fun thing to do, skateboarding is sure turning out to be expensive. And obviously it's seriously kicking my consumerism instincts into overdrive. Maybe it was better when it was winter and my hobby was being a hermit. That was definitely cost effective.

10 April 2013

All of the Lights

Did you hear? The new X-Men comic features an all female team comprised of Storm, Rogue, Kitty, Psylocke, Jubilee, and Rachel Grey. I don't care if this is a marketing thing or whatever, I'm all in. I mean, I even read that Jubilee is the main character and if that's true, I'm about to start collecting comics again. I mean, I run the pre-emiment Jubilee Tumblr, Fuck Yeah Jubilee, on the entire Internet so I feel like it's my absolute calling and duty, right?

Jubilation Lee has come a long way since Uncanny X-Men #244. She went from being a mall rat, to Wolvie's sidekick, to getting shuffled down to Generation X, to getting some love in the X-Men cartoon, to getting whitewashed in the classic but rarely seen Generation X made-for-TV movie (her character was played by Heather McComb, James Van Der Beek's wife), to getting her scenes chopped in X2: X-Men United. Also, she had her own mini-series, was a playable character in X-Men Legends, lost her powers and became Wondra of the New Warriors, and is still recovering from a nasty battle with vampirism. Whew! Basically I can not wait to start reading this X-Men series. Mom, clear out space in the garage, it's comic book collecting time (again)!

Marvel recently launched a new service, Marvel Unlimited, which is like Spotify for its comics. Available for iDevices, I'm seriously thinking of testing it out even though I lack an iPad to properly view the art in all its glory. But having all those archived comics makes me salivate. X-Men forever.
Speaking of comics, or um, graphic novels, a couple of weeks ago we went to Carnegie Hall to check out an interesting symphony inspired by Art Spiegelman's 9/11 memoir. The University of Kansas Wind Ensemble was on hand to play a piece commissioned from composer Mohammed Fairouz -- who is sickeningly, just twenty seven. The piece was called "Symphony No. 4, In the Shadow of No Towers," and its four movements were built upon panels from Spiegelman's In the Shadow of No Towers.

The night before, we read Spiegelman's large format graphic novel -- Speigelman did Maus, which everyone should have read by now -- and got very curious how the symphony would sound. I am not a musician, although I did spend many years playing the flute, and we sat a little too close to the front of the theater to fully experience the wonder that is Carnegie Hall. Pro tip, from my godsister who plays for the Boston Symphony Orchestra: The acoustics for Carnegie Hall is conducive to sitting up high. Next time I'll know sitting fifth row is actually a sucker's seat. I was so excited to be up close too. "This is not a concert, it's a classy symphony."

I'd explain more about what Fairouz's piece was like, but it's probably best for me to turn it over to the following links and videos. Suffice to say, my favorite part of the symphony was the third movement, when the red and blue states went to (sonic) war! It wasn't quite the "1812 Overture," but it was something. Also, if you want to test out your classical music skills, try this Sporcle quiz, naming famous pieces of classical music from audio snippets. I did this with my friend and she shamed me and knocked it out of the park. Of course, she's like a classically trained pianist, but still. Losing always hurts...

04 April 2013

Seaweed Is Always Greener

My favorite museum, stretching back many years, had been the American Museum of Natural History. It was the first time I laid eyes on a (fake) blue whale, a sunfish, and many other fine specimens. It didn't occur to me that a better natural history museum existed. Sadly, in a blow to my ignorance and my childhood, I went to the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History recently and within minutes, knew that this was far superior.

Sure, the whale on the ceiling of the New York natural history museum was bigger -- a blue whale versus a right whale -- but everything else at the Smithsonian was better. The only defense I have is that Sant Ocean Hall is much newer. It opened in 2008, and features a giant squid. Yes, an actual giant squid. It's only thirty five feet long or so, but c'mon, it's a freaking giant squid. Oh yeah, there are actually two giant squid in the hall. The other one is slightly smaller at "only" twenty feet. Pew pew, mind blown.

And then there were all the things I'd never seen before -- except maybe on nature documentaries. Like this prickly thing that I thought was maybe a strange Dumbo squid. Or how about this beauty with the daddy longlegs? The hits kept on coming too. It wasn't just the ocean stuff. The mammals and dinosaurs were also amazing. I saw an echidna, two pangolins, a pair of giant sloth skeletons, a coatimundi, a hyrax, a cloud leopard, a teeny tiny European mole… Ugh, it was just so much. I saw things I had never even heard of, like a streaked tenrec and a kinkajou.

Related: With certain friends, we talk about animals a lot. Like a lot a lot. And we used to play a game where we'd pick a letter of the alphabet and then go around naming as many animals starting with that letter as possible. Whenever I see a new great animal, I try to store it away for future game use. The Smithsonian blew my mind. I can't wait to scream out "kinkajou, kinkajou!"

Most of my commentary during our museum excursion, aside from general wonderment, had to do with how fluffy the fur was for all of the stuffed mammals. Basically, this was me the whole time: "It's so fluffy!" The brown bear in particular seemed to have had all sorts of hair product applied. Plus it was gigantic, which led me to believe it had to be a Grizzly bear, but since that's just a sub-species, perhaps it wasn't labeled as such.

The presentation of the specimens were a bit cramped, but I'd rather have a lot of things to look at rather than not much of anything. Exhibit A: California Academy of Sciences, which has a pathetic natural history display. Sorry San Francisco, you deserve better.

Coincidentally, I just happened to read this great article from Lapham's Quarterly, "How to Be a Stuffed Animal," about the sponsored hunts that the American Museum of Natural History used to acquire specimens, along with some interesting tidbits about advancing taxidermy techniques and philosophy. It also made me realize the difference in how the AMNH showcases their collection (in a diorama-like style) versus at NMNH, which was just straight animals. A highly recommended read.

And let's not forget this piece, "The Private Lives of the Cryptozoologists." My friend has been obsessed with crytopzoology for awhile and he recently visited the International Crytptozoology Musuem and met its founder, Loren Coleman. Coleman's book, Cryptozoology A To Z, is the one to buy if you need a gateway into this fascinating world. Okapi what?!
In other news, the cherry blossoms in Washington D.C. haven't bloomed yet. Luckily there exists a cherry blossom cam to see when the proper time to visit our capital is. On the list of cams that I'd recommend watching, it's about one hundred slots below the Shamu Cam and fifty times less useful than Surfline. Really, it's better to just go to D.C. and hope for the best, like we did. Also, Ai Weiwei's first major U.S. show at the Hirshhorn is (sadly) over. We missed that too.

What we didn't miss was getting a chance to try out D.C.'s burgeoning ramen scene. While Toki Underground will have to wait for another visit, the shio broth at Daikaya is complex and delicious. They also play Prince and D'Angelo while you eat. If you're into that sort of thing.