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Sunday, June 22, 2003

A Few Randon Thoughts

I usually make essay-type entries here at leftbanker but today I just want to throw out a few random thoughts and observations.

No, I am NOT going to see the new Hulk movie or the newest Matrix (I’m sure it has some super-clever sequel name). Yes, I am too much of an intellectual snob to waste my time and money on this sort of corporate-generated bullshit. When are people going to realize that Hollywood is not even interested in making good movies? They don’t need to with the marketing juggernaut that precedes the release of every new blockbuster crapfest. They are out to make money and they don’t have to have a quality product to do it. Just look at McDonald’s. They have the worst food on the planet but they package it well.

I don’t have time to watch crappy movies because I read and reading takes up lots of time. What I am reading right now is The Lean Years: A History of the American Worker 1920-1933 by Irving Bernstein. I like books on labor because I actually care about the plight of the worker and I feel that people who don’t care about the worker don’t care about the worker. Does that make sense? It does to me but then again I’m a pretentious turd who wears a Che Guevarra T-shirt to Starbucks. I know, the irony almost kills me, too: An elitist fuck who spews off about the workers.

I have just recently altered my fitness regimen from calisthenics to weight lifting. I haven’t lifted weights in over a year and a half. I have been doing push-ups and pull-ups for upper body strength. I could do 23 pull-ups in one set on a good day and maybe 75 push-ups. My left elbow is about ready to fall off because an old jiu-jitsu injury flared up so I had to change my routine. I couldn’t believe how weak I was when I first started with weights but I am quickly building up my strength. I know this crap is thoroughly boring but I just wanted to get it down in writing when I changed up my fitness program. I am primarily a biker anyway.

After reprinting that piece yesterday on playing the piano ( I had originally written it months ago) I actually sat down and played the piano yesterday. It felt good and I may do it again today. What a novel concept for these past few months: Semi-regular practice. Who am I kidding anyway? I’m no Liberace even though I have a couple of really crazy silk shirts in my closet I found at Value Village.

Speaking of Value Village; Value Village fucking rules (Pardon the skateboarder speak but it seems overwhelmingly appropriate). I have bought so much baseball gear I am ready to go to Cuba at any time and be a baseball gear Robin Hood. I want to be made honorary coach of a Cuban baseball team (At least for a couple of late innings when they have a big lead).

Saturday, June 21, 2003

Blog About Music

(Today is the day to blog about music. I don't feel like writing so I'll just rehash something I wrote a while back).


Sound too good to be true? I wouldn’t have believed it myself but I am now living proof that it can be done. Wait a second people; I’ll answer all of your questions if you’ll only act like civilized human beings for a few minutes instead of the unruly bunch of animals that you are.

Does it cost a lot to learn to play badly?

Oh, my lord, yes. It is as expensive as all get out. First you need a piano which is one of the most costly of all musical instruments, not to mention the doctor bills that will pile up quickly if you decide to move the thing by yourself. Next you’ll need instruction--but what is $40-50 an hour for a big shot like you? Just take the money from your food budget (you don’t think I would tap into my booze budget do you?).

Will I need to practice a lot?

Yes. If you are looking to play this instrument with anything approaching my level of incompetence you’ll need to practice constantly.

If I spend a lot of money and practice a lot will I always suck?

At this writing I am not qualified to reply to that question but if I may speculate I would say the answer is ‘yes.’

I’m probably not as bad as I think I am but then again I probably am pretty bad. I’m too stubborn to quit and I have begun a new practice regimen with the vain hope of making a marked improvement in my playing. It takes a lot of work to hump over and beyond the plateau's (or ruts) that I encounter in my playing.

A couple of things conspired to get me to take up the piano in the first place. This may sound corny but the movie Groundhog Day was a big motivation. In the film Bill Murray is sitting in a diner when he hears a Mozart piano sonata and is prompted to seek lessons. He makes a triumphant public appearance at the end and impresses the gal.

The other big motivating factor was the discovery of Glenn Gould’s recording of Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier. The first track is the prelude in C major--a simple yet infinitely charming piece. I probably had this CD for six months before I listened to any of the other tracks. I was not only struck by the beauty of this little prelude but I thought that it would be easy to play.

That prelude was the first piece that I learned to play closely followed by the andante movement from Mozart’s first piano sonata. Playing an instrument is very similar to learning another language. It is a life-long process of learning with no definitive goal but there are plenty of rewards along the way.

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

Plan B

Back many, many years ago when I was still working on my plan A for life (college, job, family, etc.) I visited a lonely and fairly remote village on the Pacific Ocean in the north of Peru. The Pacific Highway turned inland for many miles at this point on the coast so there wasn't a direct bus route directly to the village of Puerto Chicama. I had just spent a few days of surrealist reverie in the mountain town of Cajamarca. It was here in Cajamarca that Pizarro began his conquest of the Incas almost 500 years ago. Holy Week, or Semana Santa as they refer to their Mardi Gras, had just ended. I could digress for many pages on that pagan/Christian festival but let me keep to this story.

I was on the Cajamarca/Lima bus and it was about 2:00 a.m. when I noticed that we were approaching the cross road to Puerto Chicama. I grabbed my pack and moved up to talk to the driver. He told me there was a small village on the highway at the cross road and he would drop me off there. As the bus sped away in the dead of night I looked around and wondered if the driver would hear me if I screamed for him to come back. The village was completely dark. Not one single, solitary light could be seen in any of the streets or inside any of the dwellings. Puerto Chicama was another few miles due west from here but that was an even smaller village than this and probably locked-up even tighter.

I was about halfway through a year study program in Peru. I attended the Catholic University in Lima, the best school in the country. When I told Peruvians that I was studying there it was like telling them I was going to Harvard AND Princeton. When I say that I was studying at that university I should put the word study in quotation marks because I did lots of things and study was probably what I spent the smallest part of my day doing. To this day I speak pretty good Spanish so I don't think I was wasting my time there. How many people can say that they actually remember anything they learned in college?

The fact that I was in a pitch-dark village in the middle of nowhere didn't bother me in the least at this stage of my stay in Peru and I was ready to sleep in some doorway or other. As I searched for a suitable place to flop for what remained of the night I saw a sign for a hotel. I knocked quietly on the front door. After a few moments an old woman carrying a candle opened the door. As she showed me to my room she explained that the village was completely without electricity for a few hours each night. She lit a candle or two in my room and shuffled out the door. I blew out the candles from the bed and noticed that the village was as quiet as it was dark.

The next morning I hitchhiked the three miles or so to Puerto Chicama. I had no sooner shouldered my pack when a guy about my age approached me and explained that the village had one hotel but not a single restaurant. If I cared to eat while staying here he invited me to take meals prepared by his mother at his house. Sounded good to me. He led me to the hotel. The place must have been built in better times because it was a pretty nice structurally although the rooms had become pretty worn out. The desk was downstairs and the rooms were above. The hallway between the rooms was without a roof and they all shared a single bathroom and an outdoor shower. The only other guests were a couple of Peruvian surfers. The bathroom was pretty nasty but my room was clean enough. I loved all of the graffiti and artwork on the walls drawn by other travelers. I am not much of an artist but I couldn't keep myself from adding to the decor. I penciled in a beach scene with palms and seagulls. I wrote a short paragraph explaining my existence in this coastal town and left a few suggestions for fellow travelers concerning other spots they might care to visit.

The second floor of the hotel had a balcony with a splendid view of the Pacific and I spent a good deal of time up there drinking cold Crystal beer, reading, writing, and gazing out over the water. I always tried to imagine I was an Inca seeing the masts of a Spanish galleon on the horizon. Besides trying to coax Mozart into leading a healthier life (so that he would have lived longer and wrote more music) my second biggest historical fantasy would be warning the Incas that the Spanish were a sack of bastards and should be killed on sight.

I threw my pack in my room, took a cold shower, and headed out. It was lunch time and I almost immediately came upon the guy who offered me board at his house. His mamá could cook like no other. I've never had better seafood in my life. Peru has about the best shrimp in the world, crab, and fish of all sorts--most notable here was the flounder. I had three meals a day in their home and was treated like a visiting family member. The se?ora's specialty was caldo de mariscos, a sort of Peruvian bouillabaisse with a huge cracked crab in the middle.

Puerto Chicama is fairly well-known among the surfer crowd for having near perfect waves and a long break along the southern point of the town. I wasn't a surfer so I spent my first day exploring the coast to the south. There is a small island close to shore so I swam to it and hiked up to the top. When I was living there the chief export in Peru was fish meal, a poultry feed made from anchovies. The cold Humboldt Current coming up the west coast of South America is one of the world's greatest fishing grounds. Another big industry in Peru is the production of fertilizer made from guano or bird droppings. These droppings are shoveled off the coastal islands like the one I was currently exploring. The sea birds of Peru are as diverse as they are numerous and their food supply--the anchovies--is endless. So Peru makes money on feeding birds and selling their shit.

After I reached the top of this small island I noticed a raised earth platform, perhaps three feet high--like a table. There was a human skull on the table. The really weird thing is that after having lived for six months or so in Peru and learning about all of the strange Indian cultures this didn't really strike me as odd. The drug culture among the various Indian civilizations is pretty intense. Coca leaves are sold (or were back then) legally in the Andes. Hallucinogenics can be found occurring in all sorts of plants. Although the skull didn't really alarm me I decided to swim back to shore just to be on the safe side. When it comes to ritual human sacrifice I prefer to error on the side of caution. Call me a pussy if you want to.

Although I don't have an ounce of entrepreneurial blood in my body I would sit on the balcony of my hotel and look out over the beach and dream of turning this place into a tourist destination. I began writing a short story about a disgruntled American who pulls up stakes in the U.S.A. and moves to Puerto Chicama to renovate a run-down hotel. He works with the villagers to turn the place into a sort of Peruvian Martha's Vineyard. God save the planet from such a dream but I have always thought that if life gets so bad that I needed an out I would try a similar adventure. I thought back then that everyone should have a plan B if things turned to shit, a sort of trapdoor to life, a parachute, an escape hatch.

I was a college student back then. I got fairly good grades and saw the world as my oyster with infinite possibilities. But even in those halcyon days I was already dropping out. I discussed this with the other students in my program, mostly kids from east or west coast schools much more expensive and prestigious than the Midwest state school I attended. I said that we all must have been dropping out by spending a year in Peru instead of spending this time in some intern program in Washington, D.C. or on Wall Street. They all disagreed with me. Who knows, maybe they are all doctors and lawyers at this point. I couldn't say if I've taken the road less traveled. It always looked pretty crowded to me but it has made all the difference.

I figure that I am on plan 6 right about now. I've been through the entire alphabet of plans, plans A-Z, then breezed through the primary colors, and 1-5 of the ordinal numbers. Life has been pretty good through them all I must say. Not too many things I can complain about that weren't all my doing. I have plan 7 laid out fairly well right now and have been saving cash for two solid years. More on that later.

My Stockpot Can Kick Your Stockpot's Ass!

I like to cook. I think that in another life I must have been an Italian grandmother who cooked for about 20 people every day. I make my own chicken stock and freeze the contents in containers ranging in size from a few quarts to ice cube trays. Ice-cube-tray- sized portions of chicken stock are great when you sauté vegetables or want to jazz something up.

I have a freaking enormous stockpot. It reminds me of the big pots the cannibals used in the bugs bunny cartoons. I could fit your scrawny-assed pot with you in it inside my pot. Why do I need such a big fucking stockpot? Hell if I know. Maybe my thingy is too small and I am compensating. Perhaps it is because at 5’9” I am considered a legal midget in our society. I sure as hell don’t need to make five gallons of stock at a time. I still have several quarts in the freezer from the last batch and I am making a new batch as I write this.

If I may say so I think I make the best risotto I have ever tasted. If you make your own risotto you realize why restaurants can’t compete with making it yourself. Risotto is incredibly time-consuming. It takes about 20 minutes of constant stirring to make it. Restaurants must prep their risotto ahead of time which means that the Arborio rice is never al dente like I prefer but mushy and over-cooked. I also use my own chicken stock which is of a higher quality than most restaurants are willing to make.

I was supposed to be cleaning my apartment but instead I have trashed my kitchen and spent the past hour and a half farting around online. I think I need help.

Monday, June 16, 2003

Yes, We Have No Fakes

A while back I wrote an essay entitled “National Boycott Fake T#ts Week.” I spelled the slang term for breasts correctly in the essay and I have paid the price since then. Leftbanker is now the number three spot out of a possible 230,000 in a Google search for “fake t#ts” (henceforth referred to as fakes so as to fool Google’s search algorithms). This is a message to all of the creeps stumbling onto this page with their pants down around their ankles: This web page has no pictures of women’s breasts, either surgically enhanced or otherwise. I would say that my page has probably deflated more erections than parents returning early from a night out or an improperly-locked bathroom door.

If you want to look at fakes just turn on the TV or drive around town and check out billboards for shitty beer like Coors Light and Bud Light. I was watching a Mariner's game and I saw a commercial for some men’s hair color product that had literally dozens of girls in bikinis with fakes. I turned to the girl next to me and asked her why they didn’t just use hardcore pornography to sell Maxim. Her answer was brilliant. “Because they can’t,” she said.

At what point does a culture get so inundated with sexual messages that they lose their intended function of eliciting sexual arousal? I think that we have already beat the dead horse of sex so often and for so long that we have become a culture that probably has less sex per capita than any culture that has ever inhabited this earth. This excludes masturbation, of course. I’m not knocking masturbation but generally speaking it is for people who can’t get sex and for adults with partners it should not be a substitute. I have heard many women complain that their boyfriends would rather jerk off to porn than make love to them.

How much lower can we set the bar for women’s fashion? I’m not suggesting that we go the way of Muslim cultures but I do think it is way too much for women to walk around with their asses hanging out of their pants or their breasts falling out of their tops. What is next? Exposed labia? I think that we have a lot to learn in this country concerning the differences between sex and sexy.

I would guess that the number of women opting for breast enhancement surgery in Los Angeles is somewhere around 25% and in the entertainment industry that figure is probably closer to 90%. What the fuck is wrong with men that they need comic book huge fakes to coax anything resembling an erection from their dormant glands? Do some push-ups or something, guys. Get in shape and you won’t need a hand full of Viagra and two whoppers to get the blood flowing south.

Don’t look to me for the answers to the great questions of sexuality. I simply ask the questions. I consider myself to be a philosopher more than anything and philosophy doesn’t give out the answers. Religion always seems to have the answers to everything which is why I choose to be an atheist.

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

L’Auberge Espagnole: Euro MTV Real World

I just can’t watch most American movies. If a movie has a well-known American star I stay very far away. You don’t have to rub my nose in shit very often before I learn the lesson. I hate the stars and all of the baggage they bring with them to the one-dimensional roles they inhabit. I prefer foreign movies simply because I don’t know any of the actors involved. The only actor I recognized in the current film L’Auberge Espagnole was the gal from Amélie (Another foreign film populated by no-names).

I won’t go on here to tell you that this was a great movie but I will say that I thoroughly enjoyed it for a number of reasons. I studied abroad for a year and a summer when I was in college and I identify with all of the fun and frustration that goes along with dealing with lots of other cultures. I have also lived in Europe and identify with the movie’s lesson that it is up to the individual to bridge the gaps that separate us as citizens of the world. I was reminded of countless conversations I’ve had with groups of Europeans, of how we all jockeyed to find the most suitable language for the conversation, and how much fun it was to talk about music or politics with a group representing five or six countries and a couple of continents in whatever language or languages suited our immediate needs.

L’Auberge is a truly polyglot movie. It is a French/Spanish film but the characters speak as much English as they do French and Spanish. It must have been a very confusing movie to subtitle. I am fairly comfortable in French and my Spanish is fairly fluent so I tried not to read the subtitles. I lost track of what language was being spoken many times during the movie.

L’Auberge is pretty silly, more of a TV sitcom if the truth be told. There was one rather profound moment when an African student offers his opinions about identity. The man from Gambia says he has his outward identity--that of a black man--but he also has other identities. He speaks Spanish and claims that identity as well. I think he very well could be speaking of national as well as personal identities. This idea seems especially pertinent in these times when our president is trying to alienate every other culture on the planet. I think that Bush’s anti-French stance is merely pandering to the worst in American xenophobia.

I think the best way to rebel against our president’s anti-intellectual stance is to go see this film. It is also a way to rebel against the endless onslaught of terrible films being thrown at us from the corporate Hollywood juggernaut. Vive la France! Viva la diferencia!

Thursday, June 05, 2003

Things to Say to Uncouth Male Pigs

Why do guys insist on saying vulgar and inappropriate things to women they don’t know? For that matter why do they say vulgar and inappropriate things to women they DO know? I don’t know. Do the guys even know? I doubt it. I think they think that they are being flattering and charming when they are in fact being vulgar and have no chance of eliciting anything other than contempt from the object of their remarks.

While living in Latin American many years ago I learned (from men) that men are expected to offer compliments to women. The compliments are somewhat harmless, things like “You have pretty eyes” or some such tripe. These little compliments are called piropos in Spanish. The male is simply trying to get the woman to smile or turn her head. I was mostly embarrassed by my Peruvian friends who were trying to coach me on this “integral” aspect of Latin culture. I would chide them that this sort of sexual harassment (That phrase was still waiting to be coined) never lead to an introduction, let alone to sex. I didn’t see the point.

Latin culture is a sexist culture; most cultures are, unfortunately. I feel that our own culture here in the USA is growing more egalitarian and more sexist with every passing year and every Coors Light commercial featuring women with huge fake jugs.

Try one of these lines the next time some slob offers up some remark about a part of your anatomy that he has absolutely no chance of ever seeing:

I’ll bet your girlfriend is home having the best sex of her life right now.

I have this uncanny knack, call it a gift if you like. I can guess your wife’s weight. (Put the back of your hand to your forehead and close your eyes in mock concentration). I’m going to guess 285 pounds. I’m close aren’t I?

I’m really sorry your girlfriend dumped you because you're such a big fucking loser but you shouldn't feel the need to take it out on all women by reducing them to objects.

Why don’t you go call your mother and talk about this problem you have with women. I’ll bet she can help.

If you have any other suggestions I’d love to hear them.

Wednesday, June 04, 2003

Be Careful or This Could Happen to You

(Based on a true story)

From time to time I grow a little facial hair. It isn’t so much a fashion statement as a statement about how shaving is a big pain in the ass. My most recent outgrowth was about a one-week goatee. I quickly grew tired of my swarthy appearance and decided that it was time to get rid of it.

I shave with the Gillette Mach III razors which cost a fortune. I was down to my last blade (Perhaps I had stopped shaving to save money?). I was shaving in the shower as is my custom (Kill two birds and what not) and had just finished shaving my chin and part of my upper lip. As I went to lather up the final section of my lip I dropped my razor. When the razor hit the bottom of the shower the blade popped out of the handle and went down the drain.

As I said before, that was my last blade. I rinsed off and looked in the mirror. To my utter horror I saw that I had left myself with a sort of Hitler moustache. Now I would be forced to go to the store looking like this to purchase my blades to finish the job, the de-Hitlerization if you will.

The moral of this story is that when you are shaving with no back-up blades always shave right under your nose first to avoid this embarrassing sort of accident.

P.S. Instead of going to the store looking like you-know-who I pulled out the remainder of my facial hair with tweezers. YIKES!