Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Xmas Xoffee!

"Jeez! What the hell was that last entry? Remember the good old days, when this "Ted" clown went by “caffeinator_x”, and he’d actually talk about coffee on this supposedly coffee-flavored web log? Nowadays, it’s just a constant stream of .02 cent philosophical pontificating, like some excruciating, low-rated daytime talk show - “Chillin’ with Chochem - how long before this dork finally just disappears in a poof of bargain-basement special effects?”

Yeah, sorry about that, folks. Just so much else going on in the ol’ cranium, I ‘spose - what with the holidays and all.

But, hark! What’s this?... Some astounding miracle of the holiday season is actually inspiring me to engage in some real, live coffee-talk!

Now, this time of year can be a boon for us sales-support types; good old fashioned yuletide guilt sets in among the sales folk, who pity me the paltry sum I get for showing up with a smile on my mug every day. Truth be told, the gift-giving was a little more extravagant at my last job; but where I'm at now, I don’t have to work until 7 pm on a Friday while the sales staff begs off early for a “business meeting” (*coff* round of golf *cough*) Besides, I got some surprisingly good peanut butter candies, a pretty nifty-looking scarf from my manager, and, no matter how “indie” and “hip” you are, 30$ worth of free java from Starbucks is a hell of a lot better than a lump of coal in your stocking.

Sure, everybody has their own laundry list of issues with Starbucks, whether it’s the squeaky-clean corporate atmosphere, or how bitter the coffee is, or that their fully-automated, completely self-aware espresso machines debase the barista's profession, or the fact that the afternoon shift-lead won’t go to bed with them. And, hey... good points, all.

But you know what I absolutely, un-ashamedly LOVE about Starbucks? What keeps me going back, in spite of everything above? It's the fact that I could go back in time to Seattle, in 1991, order a grande drip coffee, put it in a locker at the bus station, come BACK to the ass-hole end of 2007 (where I’d now be ridiculously wealthy, what with all my Amazon stock) dig it out, and it would still be roughly the temperature of the sun’s corona.

For me, this is a huge plus. I can drink the vilest cup of mud in the world - brewed at some god-forsaken diner, from a vacuum-sealed packet, sitting on a heating pad since Neil Cassidy originally ordered it – and not even blink an eye.

So long as it’s hot.

Conversely, I don’t care what religious figure blessed which pound of ultra-rare beans that were digested through whatever exotic animal’s rectum – if it doesn’t scald my stomach lining – baby, that’s just not coffee.

Just what mastery of nuclear fission does Howard Shultz possess, that allows him to weild the power of the sun like a Greek god? Can all his money afford him even that?

The other unexpected, out of left field gift that'll be remembered at least as much as the more expensive presents I've received was a Dunkin' Donuts coffee gift set, from my wife's best friend in Conn.

Yeah, that's right - Dunkin' Donuts coffee, pre-ground, shipped across country, not even packed in an air-tight container, from a fast-food chain that specializes in keeping the U.S. the most morbidly obese country in all the world. And you know what?

It's freakin' good. And, no, my wife's friend isn't reading this now.

Dunkin' Donuts is one of those places that you take for granted when you live someplace where there's one on every corner, but once you can't find one, your rare visits are undertaken with the reverence of a religious pilgrimage, like Mecca for Muslims, or White Castle for displaced midwesterners. The wife (east coast born and raised) has been preaching to me about the virtue of this stuff for years, but only now have I seen the light.

This is not the gourmet, subtle cup from Kaladi or Pablos. This is the stuff Philip Marlowe drinks in a diner while talking shop with Sam Spade; a cup of joe. It does the trick, and it's as good of a coffee as my $20, Satuday-nite-special of a coffeemaker deserves.

The label reads "100% Arabica Beans", but then right below, there's something about "Natural and Artifical Flavors". Which I'm betting is code for "opium" and "cocaine".

Crack for Christmas... almost sounds like a missing Frank Capra movie, doesn't it? And it's a hell of a present.

As long as it's hot, of course.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Jupiter and Pluto in the Hiz-ouse!

My 10th house that is - which is all about career, and fame, astrologically speaking.

Now, I’m not a strict adherent of astrology - not by any stretch of the imagination. I mean, what exactly is there to adhere to, anyway? Candle burning and Goddess worship for Winter Solstice? Do you have to make an annual pilgrimage to the Renaissance Festival to stock up on healing energy crystals? Keep Madonna’s “Ray of Light” in heavy rotation with your whale song CD’s?

I’ve always enjoyed astrology, as a kind of ancient, pre-Freudian psychology. I like to imagine the Druids using horoscopes for pre-job screenings; like, if you’re a Pisces, maybe methodically placing the giant rocks at Stonehenge isn’t for you, but we do have an opening in our “staring up at the sky all day, charting the heavenly bodies” department.

I have this completely bogus, pop-psychological theory as to why any system of divination “works”; I think the Tarot cards, or I Ching coins (or whatever) once they’re dealt, they engage the logical, analytical, language-centered left brain, freeing up your intuitive, creative RIGHT brain to play free-association with the world at large, sort of like a giant Rorschach test. So really, the answers aren’t supernatural; rather, they’re coming from deep down inside you. And the reason you can’t access that wealth of self-knowledge without all the pre-modern parlor tricks and slight of hand is that usually, your left brain is way too busy dressing down your right brain, like James Randi getting all up in Sylvia Browne’s grill over in the smoking area, while the poor old bat is just trying to inhale a carton of Camel Straights so she can maintain the demonic growl that Montel Williams finds so positively enchanting.

Ah, I just love relativism, allowing me to get my new-age cake and eat it, too - with my existentialist tendencies perfectly intact.

But, then, what about those real-live supernatural moments, those honest to mergatroid flashes of intuition, like knowing who’s on the phone when it rings, even though you haven’t heard from that person in years? Sure, science can test those experiences back in the lab and confidently slap them with the “COINCIDENCE” stamp – but what if that doesn’t satisfy the person who actually experienced that nigh-transcendent mystery moment?

Just the other morning, I had a dream where I screwed up a big pile of stuff at work. I’d wake up for an second and know that it was just a dream, but when I drifted back to sleep I couldn’t shake that lingering sense of “Oh, crap”. Sure as hell, I came in, and something was messed up – no, nothing big, but still, just kinda weird.

Which brings me back to astrology; everything I’ve ever read about me, as a Pisces, so entirely captures my little personality quirks and gawky fetishes that it’s downright spooky. On a lark, a few months ago, I got a book called “Darkside Astrology”, which centers on the Zodiac’s less admirable traits. After a few passages like “anything with a pulse will get you going, and you sometimes think that maybe you’re being a teensy bit too picky” and “what you want is never what you will want in one minute, or what you did want 3 minutes ago” I swear, I wanted to cry. My editor at The Onion, he’s a Pisces, and I’m convinced that if I never met my wife (a Pisces-Taurus pairing predicted in the books with a level of accuracy usually reserved for blood tests) I would actually BE him; like, if we tried to occupy the same space at the same time, we’d melt together in a fit of CGI fueled protoplasmagoria, like Ron Silver and his future self in Timecop.

This year has been unusual for me, astrologically speaking. Those hip, irreverent horoscopes from Rob Brezny at “Free Will Astrology” have followed the events of my life over the last twelve months like a Daniel Stern narration from The Wonder Year. It’s not so much that they’ve predicted events, but they’ve commented on little milestones in my life, from my car accident, which occurred in no small part to my infinite distractibility (“I'd like to see you permanently lose at least 50 percent of your chronic aggravation.”) to my freelance gig w/ The Onion (“it's definitely a time when you can move closer to making a living from doing what you love.”)

Then, in October, my co-worker Katy (a free spirited creative-type whose natural hair color is a shade of red that every woman I’ve ever loved has spent countless dollars on trying to mimic at one time or another) pointed me in the direction of Astrologyzone.com, and that’s when things got really weird.

For about 12 weeks now, my horoscope has been predicting a big, enormous shift in my professional life; not just vague little subjective tidbits, but actual specifics, like what industry I’d be working in (media) and even dates when the shift would begin to take place. And sure enough, on December 11th (as predicted) I had an interview for a job. And really, not just any job. You know how you’ll talk to a friend, and ask him how work is going, and he’ll say, “OH, its okay. I mean, it’s not my dream job.”? Well, what I interviewed for, truly, hands down, without a doubt, would be MY dream job. And no matter what happens, I’m just happy to know that it’s out there; I was beginning to think that such a thing – where I would spend my days writing about what I love, and actually make a living wage, AND health benefits – only existed in my post lunch hour day dreams.

But that's the thing - as of now, nothing has happened. I’m sitting, and waiting, and wondering, and hoping, and (so far) successfully staving off little pointless bouts of regret and self loathing about what I could have done differently. But I’ve gotten no word.

So it begs the question: was Sartre right? Is the universe inherently empty, with no direction or purpose, regardless of all our hopes and dreams? Or is Daniel Dennet (another avowed humanist) correct; that a living, conscious universe, guided not by mechanistic determinism, but rather on cosmic intervention, no better for humanity’s intentions?

I withhold judgment for now – but no matter what, I’m gonna continue to do what I can to make the things that I want happen. That's probably the best way to go, no matter what side of the philosophical / spiritual fence you sit on.

Thursday, December 13, 2007


(get your minds out of the gutter, kids!)

Sorry I haven’t posted in a while… lots going on. We took a whirlwind trip to St. Louis last week, where I was lucky enough to see The Joffrey Ballet’s Nutcracker. Once, just the wife and me, and again with both kids, who got to meet all the dancers up close after the show. I got to watch my daughter cower in fear from the dread Drosselmyer (who my son refers to as “that vampire man”), and then cuddle up to the snow queen. My father-in-law, the executive director for Dance St. Louis, told me that the dancer who performed Drosselmyer is in his 40’s. How come I don’t have quads like that? “Bar exercises”? Yeah, so what? I go to the bar sometimes...

Also, I had 3 stories due in the last week, including one with an amazing DJ / visual artist named Wigdan Giddy; turned out pretty well, if I do say so myself. He’s showing his work next month at The Martini Ranch, so I encourage everyone to put aside their slavish rejection of Lodo for a night to check out his work.

PLUS… I’m waiting to hear back on an Incredibly Awesome Opportunity, which I’m really not at liberty to talk about it right now. Which means, of course, it’s the only thing on my silly little monkey mind. Therefore (ergo, Q.E.D., and all that) I’ve chosen to keep my virtual lips zipped, for the time being. I should know how that will turn out soon-ish, and no matter what happens, I’ll have lots to say about it at that time.

In the meantime - let's do this thing!

1. When you were born, how much did you weigh?
You know, I really don’t recall – but I’m sure I thought I looked fat.

2. What's you're sugar poison?
Like BD, I’m really more of salty guy, but lately, I have rediscovered my palate for Slurpees.

3. If you had to choose between meat and cheese for the rest of your life, which would you choose? Then be specific.
Funny – the thought of being without either really doesn’t really toss me into the pit of despair. I’d miss dairy though (cappuccino made with soy / rice / vegan’s breast milk is just plain wrong)
4. What, is your opinion, is the worst song ever?
Yeah, “Proud to be an American” popped straight away into my head. Since 2 other folks chose the same thing, I think we could make a strong case for it being a "fact". Something about guys in John Deere hats with their chins up, dewy-eyed with the sniffles just fills me with alternating currents of contempt and embarrassment.

Other than that – pretty much any of those neo-country faith/family/ “I love my little tiny daughter so much it’s creepy” songs.

5. Who was your favorite teacher growing up and why?
I had a couple good ones in junior high, which bears mentioning, since everything else about my junior high experience was absolutely wretched. Other than that, it’s a tie between two from high school; Mr. Studholme, who was one of those awesome, cable-knit sweater-wearing, all-day coffee sipping English teachers, kind of like an emotionally stable, in-shape version of Paul Giamatti in “Sideways”. I always knew I could write, but he taught me how to actually read (not just “sound out the words” stuff). The other was Mr. (Dr.?... it was never clear) Talmage-Bowers. He taught a class in Western Civilization that turned me into the philosopher-hobbyist I am today.

6. What personal activity, when performed in public, bothers you the most?
I could eavesdrop on private conversations in a coffee shop all day long, no matter how pretentious or utterly pointless; but I hate hate HATE women who babble incessantly on their cellphones, describing their life in vivid detail, as if it’s the best episode of Sex in the City EVER.

In person - hell yes; but over the phone, it’s just so canned.

7. Ok, there's a $50 bill lying on the ground. You pick it up. Dumbfounded by your incredible luck, what do you selfishly purchase?
Some books. Coupla CDs. The change would get me my coffee for the remainder of the week.

8. Do you have a recurring nightmare? If so, explain.
(Keep in mind that in “waking life”, I’m a high school dropout) I’m, like, 20 years old, and I’ve gone back to school in order to graduate. It’s the day of report cards, and I find out I’ve STILL failed (…something… usually science); Oh, well, just one more semester, right?

Then I realize I’m actually 35.

Haven’t had that one in a while. Great… now I’ll probably have it tomorrow morning. Thanks a lot.

Also, I lose a lot of teeth in my dreams. And I have long, flowing locks of hair when I look in the mirror.

9. Name one place on Earth you've never been, but vow to visit at least once.
Europe. And Europe. Oh, and, Europe.

10. You notice that question #9 wasn't really a question. You feel smart for catching such a small detail. What else can you do really well that reminds you how smart you are?
If being married 10 years has taught me one thing, it’s the fact that there’s absolutely no difference between a question, and a command for information. (OOOoooh, I’m gonna hear about it on that one…)

“do really well”… “makes me feel smart”… ?

There’s stuff, but I can always be better!

Monday, November 05, 2007

Safe Java!

So, yeah, after very little deliberating and not-too-much soul searching, I decided to update the ol’ profile a bit; to drop that clever little crayola self-portrait and to add my real-life name - all in hopes of increasing the visibility of any freelance work I manage to scrounge up for myself. That, and if any of my old girlfriends happen to look me up on The Google, they’ll realize that I’m neither a Methodist minister, nor a motorcycle racer (not that there was much question on those counts. Gay realtor in Florida, though… that might have garnered some hits.)

Aren’t I just oh-so strikingly handsome and literary-looking? And to think, it only took 87 shots of me alternating between my repertoire of “trademark looks”, including (but - please – not limited to) The Full Smile (which makes my cheeks look too big), The Ne’er-Do-Well Half-Smile, and my time-worn “You Bore Me, Lets Make Love” Gaze (which I always imagined would look like something Ethan Hawke would affect in “Reality Bites”, but its way more “disoriented turtle” when you actually see it. How come no one ever told me?) I did figure out that if you take pictures from a slightly higher angle, you don’t have to do that college-girl/freshman 15 thing of balling up your fist and putting it under your chin to hide your neck fat. There was one other shot that came out okay - me, tapping away on my laptop - but it was a little too reminiscent of Stephen J. Cannell hard at work on next week’s episode of The Greatest American Hero, so I opted instead for the one at the side of the page.

I’m always amazed that our Netflix queues and Amazon picks can peg our personalities with a degree of accuracy that Sigmund Freud could only have dreamt about. No, a blogger profile wont reflect that the writer is orally fixated and has mommy issues (except on Myspace, maybe, where that sort of thing is your run-of-the-mill pick-up line) but if you come across a profile for a 42 year old female who’s into German Industrial music, knitting, and Back to the Future fan-fiction, that’s probably much more invaluable than a “Myers-Briggs” test in deciding whether or not you want to hire her for a front desk position at your law office.

Granted, there can be a fair amount calculated hype featured in online profiles, especially among creative types (who meticulously plot out those kinds of things, picking 1 new album for every 2 classics under “favorite music”, making sure they balance out any “graphic novels” they enjoy with something written by Vladimir Nabokov, etc.), but generally speaking, you’d have to be deliberately misleading to come up with interests so entirely idiosyncratic that you couldn’t see one person enjoying them both.

That is, of course, until I came across this headline.

Now - yes, yes - in case you haven’t heard, I do love my coffee. And sex? Ariel… Ookla… RIDE!

Now. Seriously, the kids wont even know we're gone; put on “Breakin’” and give ‘em some chips.

But, seriously... at the same time? This is not "You got your chocolate in my peanut butter" style shenanigans.

Sure, like any 21st century, 30-something wage slave, I’ve got a triple grande barista fantasy in heavy rotation. (Girl 1: “Oh! Sorry, sir, but we don’t open for another 30 minutes." Girl 2: “But… why don’t you come behind the counter… I’m sure we can whip something up for you…” And then from there, it’s all variations on a theme, depending on the shop. You know how that goes.)

But at no point, ever, have I thought to myself, mid-coitus - no matter how bad and/or ill-advised said-coitus was - “You know, I could really go for a Cuban-style macchiato right now.” Not once have I entertained the thought of re-enacting the “9 ½ Weeks” kitchen scene with a steaming hot cup of Kenya AA.

I’ve always heard that Ethiopians are fiercely proud of their coffee heritage, but this is true dedication.

Still, though, setting aside my own (uncharacteristically) prudish attitudes on the subject, this represents a major progressive victory in a part of the world where the incidence of HIV transmission is staggering. Perhaps there’s still hope for our own country, torn asunder by the redneck agenda though it's been; maybe there's still a chance to curb the average Bush voter's incessant breeding.

After all, how hard can it be to make a prophylactic that tastes like “Peanuts and Coke”?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Alpha Male Update!

Have you ever thought to yourself, “Y’know, self, that damn pope is just too damn liberal.”? How ‘bout Pat Robertson?... Now there’s a guy who could toughen up a bit. At least he’s not a sissy, though, like that pansy, peace loving hippy, Jesus.

REAL men know the truth… if you want the Almighty’s will to be done, you need a real straight shooter - someone with a 70’s porn star mustache on his face, a top-notch toupee under his ten-gallon hat, and a round-house kick powerful enough to knock Richard Dawkins straight on back to the stone age, where he’ll see once and for all that marriage means one caveman / one cavewoman, and a steady diet of fresh, hot bronto-burgers for all.
At long last, Norris: Texas Ranger - star of Cannon Films classics like “Hero and the Terror” and “Missing in Action 2: Still Missing” and all round alpha male extraordinaire has finally stepped forward to choose His candidate from the exciting field of Republican contenders.

Chuck Almighty has granted His divine province to Republican Mike Huckabee, in order to help the candidate do battle with the Democrat’s cold-chance-in-hell contender, Satan’s magik imp, Dennis Kucinich.

Asked for comment, Kucinich repeated the famous incantation from his book “The energy of the stars becomes us. We become the energy of the stars. Stardust and spirit unite and we begin: one with the universe; whole and holy; from one source, endless creative energy, bursting forth, kinetic, elemental” at which point, rainbows shot from his nose.

Dennis Kucinich at a recent campaign stop.

Norris is the second major religious figure to announce their support for a candidate. Last week, the goddess Kali vowed to support Tom Tancredo, so long as the Colorado Republican continues to sacrifice brown people in Her name.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Alpha Male Wednesday!

For the first entry in my “Alpha Male Wednesday” series, I’ve chosen “Brand of the Werewolf” by Lester Dent - featuring Doc Savage – Man of Bronze. I picked this novel up at Half Priced Books, a labyrinthine temple of the written word located in downtown Engleweird; past the Gothic Theater and the paranoid-survivalist outlet store, just around the corner from the creepy Catholic Supply Shop that looks like Sissy Spacek’s living room in “Carrie”. If Mayor Hickenlooper’s office ever chooses Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories for its “One Book, One Denver” program, this would be a good place to find it cheap.

The story begins with Doc Savage and company on a north bound train, headed for some R and R on a nature reserve belonging to Docs’ uncle. En route, the man of bronze receives a telegram from his uncle, stating emphatically that he and his friends are not welcome, making Doc suspicious that there may be trouble afoot.

Why this is the case is anyone’s guess; the man of bronze states that he’s never met this uncle, and he’s headed to his home without ever having heard back that it was okay to do so. It never occurs to Doc, for even a second, why his uncle may be just a little dubious at the prospect of having six well-muscled single men crashing in his rumpus room, eating all his Doritos. Did I mention the reserve is in Canada?

Now, I have to admit, once I committed myself to reviewing these testosterone-laden books, I became concerned that they would appeal, perhaps, to a more conservative audience. Alas, I had nothing to worry about; Doc and his gang (referred to, affectionately, as The FABULOUS Five) are gayer than Senator Larry Craig’s porn collection. His compatriots (represented here with the help of a quick Google Image Search) include:

“Renny” Renwick! – Construction Engineer. Dent continually mentions Renny’s ability to smash in doors with his “enormous hands” (and you know what THAT means…)

“Monk” Mayfair! – Industrial chemist, nicknamed for his simian appearance - the group’s resident bear/daddy.

“Ham” Brooks!
– Lawyer and token metrosexual – the requisite ladies man, but possibly bi. He carries a CANE, for crissakes.

(ahem) “Long Tom”! – Electrical engineer and… uh, he’s long. Yeah, that’s about it.

"Johnny" Littlejohn! – Archeologist. He and Long Tom are like the red-shirts on Star Trek, except they never die. You’d think Doc would want to round out the team with a weapons expert, maybe a judo master or something; but… whatever.

Together, they are a crack team of globe-trotting do-gooders, like the special-ops division of the HRC.

Also on the train are Corto Ovejo, his daughter Cere and a “swarthy” man named El Rabanos, who is continually referred to throughout the book as being “girl-faced”; so - while it’s meant to be a mystery - it’s pretty clear he’s the villain. (Again, that would be misogyny, not homophobia, on Dent’s part). If that didn’t tip you off on who the antagonist is, whoever did the copy on the back cover wrote “Stalking them every inch of the way is the archfiend, El Rabanos…” so the mystery is about as thin as “Who is Darth Sideous?” in the Star Wars prequel trilogy.

Cere and her father are on the run from baddies who want to learn the Ovejo family's secret - involving a pirate ship, a hidden treasure, and an ivory cube that holds a map that will lead to both. You know, your typical, run-of-the-mill family skeleton type stuff. To keep the family at arms distance from Doc and company, El Rabanos convinces his traveling companions that the Queer Eye for the Straight Guy gang is trying to kill them.

Not having read the back cover, the Ovejos take El Rabanos at his word, in spite of (or perhaps, because of) Cere’s attraction to Doc. Doc is the prime suspect when the train conductor turns up dead, the image of a werewolf engraved on the victim’s door.

*Spoiler Alert!* or maybe, more appropriately, *Disclaimer!* … at no point does Doc Savage actually go mano e lupine with the werewolf represented on the cover. It’s mentioned more than once in the book that Doc Savage is not a super-human, but a man trained to the peak of mental and physical perfection (which probably speaks to the fact that supernatural skeptic Harry Houdini still captured much of popular imagination at the time of publication) so his adventures aren’t generally of the occult. And hey, the “let’s scare ‘em off with an obscure local legend” thing always got a pass from me on Scooby Doo. But really, the whole werewolf thing in the book is less a red herring, and more just a non-entity; it would be like calling Raiders of the Lost Ark, “Indiana Jones and the Girl With ‘Love You’ Written on her Eyelids”.

Anyway. Doc’s uncle has been murdered prior to the start of the book, because he was in possession of the aforementioned ivory cube. Doc’s cousin Pat ("It’s Pat!”), and her big fat Native American maid (who, like her “half-breed” husband, is treated here with such pathos, sympathy, and dignity, let me assure you) are kidnapped by the bad guys - which of course is a recipe for much high adventure and swashing of buckles.

The main female characters, Pat and Cere, are both described as “beautiful”. Of course, for Pat, that’s coming from the FABULOUS Five, so I’m guessing a few extra pounds and a page-boy hair cut. I concur: hot. Cere at one point attempts to seduce Doc with her feminine charms, and of course, we get the usual story about how Doc remains chaste, to protect potential mates from his enemies. Which is what Senator Craig says when his wife starts hinting around about a Hello, Kitty make-out party. Really! She said so on the Matt Lauer interview.

The climax of the book involves a hidden, booby-trapped pirate ship – if you’ve seen The Goonies, you pretty much know how that goes. Just no Sloth, and they don’t get to keep the treasure… they hand it over to a museum instead. Because Doc Savage is bigger than than anyone else on his team. And if you don’t do the honest, honorable thing while in Doc's employ, he will "Man-of-Bronze" your ass.


So, what did I learn from this book about being an alpha male?

I learned that the alpha male is not born that way. No, the alpha male is forged, from birth; raised from the cradle by his stern, taskmaster parents to become a world-class righter-of-wrongs. He is molded by a two-hour daily mental and physical exercise program; a regime that would cause a lesser man to curl up on the floor in a puddle of his own urine. His skin is baked (some would even say, “bronzed”) by the scorching sun he’s encountered during his travels throughout the exotic jungles and rain forests of the world.

Of course, requiring that sort of pedigree is bad news for the aspiring alpha males out there who were raised on a steady diet of grilled cheese sandwiches and “Thundarr, the Barbarian” cartoons.

But, hey, what are you gonna do? After all, somebody has to write these blog entries.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Whoop-Ass by the 12 Pack

I have a story in next week’s A.V. Club called “Around the World at a Mile High” (unless the editor changes that… he’s got a better handle than I do on oh-so-clever titles). In it, I showcase all the different international markets that Denver has to offer; the specialty cuisines they sell, the idiosyncratic packaging (Hello, Kitty on EVERYTHING. Swear to god, I half-expected to cough up a hairball after choking down a stick of Pocky); the sugary sweet junk food confections that are anathema to our less-refined ‘Merican taste buds (in South America, Nutella is considered the most delicious, creamiest manna ever to be brought down by Zues from on high by. And hey! Did you know that the Frito Lay Company sells cheese-less Cheetos to our lactose intolerant friends across the Pacific? Did you know there were any dairy products in Cheetos at all?)

I kept the coffee references to a minimum for this one, seeing as 3 of the 4 stories I’ve had published so far revolve around the stuff. Still, I couldn’t help but make reference to the brewing equipment available at the Jerusalem Market. Especially considering that, along with smoking paraphernalia, they didn’t sell much else.

Entirely purged from the article is my love of Asian canned coffees. After all, it’s something I’ve covered extensively enough on this very blog. And I’m trying – trying - to avoid that “alt-weekly” writer thing where all my stories read like a hipster’s diary entry about “Hey, look how interesting I am. Aren’t I just fascinating, what with my juxtaposing interests in all things low and high culture?”, those little trademark touches, kind of like how Kevin Smith puts his stupid friends in all his movies, or how Quentin Tarantino puts his foot fetish on display in all of his. (Particularly a problem, as he focuses so often on Uma Thurman’s nasty-ass dogs. Yech.)

Not only that, but I’ve pretty much been through all of the varieties that you can get here in Denver. There’s a big, wide world of other options available out there, like 12 oz., recyclable holy grails, all of which I have yet to get my hands on.

Luckily, though, for those of us land locked and without the ways and means to go meandering across the globe at the drop of the hat, there’s this site. Seriously, the Japanese know how to turn even the most mundane consumer experience into a veritable cornucopia of high-kitch stimulus.

Go. Now. Dig!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


On New Years Day, driving through streets still buried under the blizzard from the week before, the wife and I got in a conversation about our resolutions. She’s really good about that stuff; writing them down to make them tangible, so they can be mused over, considered and reconsidered… “words that stay” like Gelfling Kara sez in “The Dark Crystal

Me, I’m not as good at expressing such concrete thoughts. My goals, like everything else in my life, tend to be sort of transient, vague. In my head, I went through my usual litany of hopes and desires; to write, to travel, to get in better shape, find a better job, to be more assertive… yadda yadda yadda. But when I finally opened my mouth to put it out there to someone else, so there would be no shirking it the next day, I said my Resolution for 2007 would be, ”to embrace my inner Alpha Male."

Yeah, she laughed, too. She signs the checks for all our bills, drives, when we’re both in the car, and (occasionally) watches the sports on TV. I, on the other hand, put the kids to bed, fold our laundry with the precision and intensity of a master ninja, and listen to Erasure. With apologies to the GLBT community, she’s the “Butch”, and I’m the “Bitch”.

But still, I have perused my goal with some small successes; I’ve got a little-bit better job, I hit the gym 5 days a week, I’m writing for dollars (Hey! Did I mention I’m freelancing for The Onion? What’s that? “With the same frequency that Emily Elizabeth talks about her big, red dog”, you say? Oh. Sorry. Forget I brought it up.)

One of the things that’s always stood in my way as far as being the ideal male was concerned (besides my love of Erasure, that is) is my tendency toward overall “flightiness”. My friends always joked that the reason for some of my more random, illogical (read: downright stupid) actions was that I was “missing part of my brain”. And the only thing that could calm me down? The one and only substance that could get me to think straight?

Yep… coffee. The stuff didn’t just wake me up… it tightened the screws… made me altogether sharper.

So, now, smack-dab in the middle of the whole self-improvement, self-discovery, and all round self-centeredness kick I’m currently on, I'm diagnosed with ADHD… a fairly acute case of it, as matter of fact. I’m taking a medication called Adderal (which is one more reason for me to resent the fact that my insurance company paid out FIVE GRAND for the piece of crap Scientology Indoctrination Unit I rear-ended).

Adderal is a stimulant. More accurately, Aderall a speed-ball; a veritable crack-house fire sale's worth of uppers. A chemical cocktail which features Benzadrine, the drug that Jack Kerouac took in liberal doses in order to write “On the Road” over the course of a few weeks on a single, continuous scroll over paper.
Which, hey, would explain my last blog entry. This one too, maybe.

But I digress (as I’m known to do… hey, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and my ADHD won’t be cured overnight.) I have a lifetime of learned behavior that I’ll be trying to undo w/ the help of a therapist. But the meds do focus me. The speed is, generally speaking, good for me.

Make that some speed is good for me. As such, I’m slowing down a bit on the coffee. No, dear readers, not all the way; just enough to ensure that I don’t claw my way up the ceiling at 11 am every morning.

So this blog, which recently has really only ostensibly been about coffee, will probably be even less so now. And to be honest, I haven’t been too inspired to write about the stuff lately anyway. Everybody needs to change up their focus, every now and again. Paul McCartney and Yoko left The Beatles and started “Wings” ; Jerry Seinfeld tossed his whole act a couple years ago, just to stay fresh; even Jack Kirby left Marvel to mix up his Oeuvre. And now it’s my turn.

I’m starting a new feature… say, TUESDAY… where I’ll be exploring what it means to be an “Alpha Male” – what that has meant, traditionally, to us as a culture. As such, I’ll be reviewing the tomes; the literature* of the so-called alpha male. **

Nietzsche? Bah! Hemmingway? Yeah… running FROM the bulls is more like it.

No, I’m talking REAL men. HEROES! Guys who fight evil while with their shirts are in tatters, like on the cover of a romance novel… but there are no women around!

I’m talking Doc. Savage! Tarzan! Conan! Sherlock Holmes! Mack Bolan e Remo Williams, yo!

I’ve been up to my under-muscled chesticles in new-age sensitive guy-isms for most of my life. Get ready to roll with the Ted’s-tosterone!

* That's pronounced "Lit – aw – ra –tchoor", for you plebians.

** Yeah, yeah, I know, it's called COFFEEcrush, right there in the title. But you know what? When I dropped out of high school, I used to work at a store called "Just Pants". And do you know what we sold? Shirts, and belts, and walets. And, oh yeah, pants... Z Cavarichi's and whatnot. But the point is, that wasn't all we did. Why, my whole job was explaining to a bunch of jokester mall-walkers why a store called Just Pants could sell B.U.M Equipment sweatshirts. Remember the boobie grabbing grandpa in Sixteen Candles? Guys like that. You don't wanna be that guy, do you? I didn't think so.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

In Search of Excellence!

In his seminal, post-cyberpunk magnum opus “Snow Crash”, Neil Stephenson states that pretty much all men, well into their 20’s, hold tight to the belief that (and you’ll have to excuse my wild paraphrasing, here), if they just worked out a little harder at the gym, ate their spinach, took a multi-vitamin, and maybe attended a weekend intensive seminar taught by Shaolin Monks at the local free university – there would still be a chance for them to become the baddest ass MF in all the world.

In the story, these hopes are all in vein. Not, as one may think, because of the fact that the average American male is too lazy, has high cholesterol, and is more likely to spend his free time cruising the Craigslist “casual encounters” section in search of a genetically suitable (for the evening, anyway) female than performing a workout more intense than little itty-bitty crunches on the hardwood floor of their apartment. No, it’s too late for them because the baddest ass MF in all the land is a mass of mullet and muscle perched atop an appropriately imposing motorcycle - a motorcycle that just so happens to have a nuclear warhead strapped precariously to its front.

(Damn, I love Snow Crash. The main character’s name is “Hiro Protagonist”. Don’t think I didn’t notice, writers of NBC’s “Heroes”)

For my part, I’ve always fancied myself more as an everyman hero, like someone from a mid-80’s high concept action-comedy picture... the kind of guy who’d be played by Chevy Chase. Somebody who’d be pulled into a situation beyond his control, only to triumph in the end thanks to a mixture of good old fashioned gumption and comic bumbling.
But every now and then, even I can find myself smack dab in the middle of some uber-jingoistic fantasy, the kind where I carry myself like Matt Damon as Jason Bourne, exhibiting that paradoxical “intense calm”; confident enough know that if the Jehovah’s Witness at my front door just happened to be a terrorist agent in disguise, I’d be able to take him down by punching him in neck and snapping his forearm in two. (Or maybe even if he wasn't a terrorist. Depends on how I’m feeling.)

Of course, I’m not a violent guy. It’s like a metaphor, right? It’s about excellence… mastery, even. That feeling of being the one person in the room who knows everything about one thing - whether it's kicking ass, world history, the collective output of Sid and Marty Krofft from 1968 to 1978… ANYTHING. Because, really, you don't just stumble into victory. Real life isn’t like a Chevy Chase movie – there’s a reason they’re called “comedies”, and it sure as hell isn’t because they’re funny.

This week I have an article in The Onion profiling 3 local coffee roasters (who shall remain nameless, to protect the innocent) * To go along with the piece, my editor asked me to get a hi-res photograph. “Call ‘em up,” he says “ask ‘em if they have any press ready photos.” Easy enough - and frankly, I like doing some of that footwork. Seeing as I never hang out with any of the other writers, never get to shout “stop the presses” over the din of a crowded newsroom, never get invited, as a member of the media, to watch a good-hearted, though misguided, super-scientist unveil the atomic powered robot that will surely make the world a better place to live (and what could possibly go wrong?) little side stuff like getting photos just helps to make me feel more like a Real Writer (™).

But actually talking to people like that – folks who are at the apex of the respective industries (and they are - each of them - or I wouldn’t bother with them) – is an interesting thing. Once they figure out you’re offering free publicity, there’s a fair bet that you’ll find yourself staring down the barrel of an industrial-strength sales pitch, all about how their coffee is served to world leaders, how it cupped better than any of the others at some competition attended by the type of folks who attend that sort of thing, how it dripped from Christ’s wounds while he was hanging on the cross, etc., etc.

And if you’re like me - someone who fancies themself a cosmic court jester; not a post-modernist per se, but definitely afflicted with acute post-modern tendencies - someone who, while he may understand that, say, Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man” is a “better” book than H.G. Wells “The Invisible Man” he'll still cover his bases and put “better” in quotes, 'cause deep down he suspects that maybe it's all just relative; if you're like that, those conversations can feel a little awkward and stilted. Because, hey... it's just coffee, right?

But you know what?... I'm having this epiphany; I'm finally starting to realize that, for all the ribbing I give these guys above, the problem isn't theirs... it's mine. My too-cool-for-school "c'mon, don't take youself so seriously" attitude doesn't affect them one bit. They're gonna continue to do what they do at a level that other companies just dream about, and they're gonna reap the benefits of that - professionally and financially. And me, I'll just be some chump riding on their coattails, coasting along and faking it in my own work, too lazy to even make sure all my information is current - resting on my laurels, just happy that I'm being published at all. **

That is, of course, until I learn to exhibit some of that excellence myself. Because there's nothing wrong with trying to take what you do to a higher level, and to know it when you've done so.

So to everyone in my feature, whether you've been made fun of on this here very blog in the past, whether I'm taking the piss with you right now; or even if you're the one who pretty much blew me off altogether when I asked for a photo... thanks. And keep up the good work... you all set hell of an example.

(what, you thought this "coffeecrush" entry was gonna actually be about coffee? Nope, sorry; just more random musings and soul searching for you. Soon, though. Promise.)

* Go! Pick one up, why don't you? Sheesh.

**however, in the article, the passage "coffees are served at local shops around town as well as many of the big wholesalers" should have read "coffees are served at local shops almost as often as some of the bigger wholesalers" ...that was my editors mistake, not mine. Bastard.***

KIDDING!!! I kid! I totally could have been clearer on that. Loves ya, Jason!)

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Friday, August 31, 2007

Worked So Far... But We're Not Out Yet.

Commencing Random Thought Mode in 5... 4... 3... 2...

You know what's awesome about growing older? The fact that I am right now, at this very instant, apologetically and unironically clothed in an entire outfit from TARGET, including...

1) a faux vintage Mossimo (TM) brand button-up shirt

2) Fruit of the Loom boxer-briefs; the perfect compromise between form fitting but un-complementary tighty-whites and loose fitting boxers that would inevitably wind up contorting themselves mercilessly in my...

3) low end, Target issue Levis (Note to Self: never, ever dry these jeans, lest they reduce in mass to sub-atomic size, part of a plot by the combined forces of the yakuza, the Illuminati, and the insidious Dr. Shrinker to turn the bargain hunting, 30-something men of America into submissive, 21st Century Castrati)

4) Mossimo casual dress shoes. But not the ugly ones. Most Mossimo shoes land just this side of the mark; a lazy mimetic approximation of urban fashion, producing in the wearer the jarring effect of "trailer park metrosexual". But every four (4) years, Mossimo quietly releases truly brilliant footwear to an undisclosed number of stores throughout the country, always directly to the clearance shelves. For a mere $6, you can get into a pair that will earn you endless acolytes from your envious friends. Though mine are encrusted with fossilized oatmeal remains (long story) I continue to wear them, because 4 years is a long time to have to wait. Damn you Massimo Giannulli! Again. I again suspect the Illuminati has their hands in this.

Of course, you can still wear all these things in, say, your mid-twenties, but only to the detriment of your reputation as a hipster - unless, of course you perform a convoluted shell game with the labels, strategically covering the logo on the back of your jeans with a belt, or palming that Mossimo Gryffindor symbol embossed on the front of your shirt.
Another great thing about growing older is the fact that I no longer feel the need to qualify my taste in music. Around 9:30 today, during my usual mid-morning surf, I was plugging random pop-culture memes into Wikipedia. Kismet led me to the entry for Information Society, the late 80's synth-pop band, much maligned by the Cool-Kid Elite for their Thompson Twins-meets- Front 242 sound. I, of course, thought they were nothing less than the bees balls. And they're releasing a new album in October, which is liberally sampled on their website. Great Cesar's Ghost! does it make me want to stand up on the desk in my little cube and dance like an android. It's like a long lost mix tape unearthed from my high school sweetheart's closet.

Luckily for me, I'm too old to be a hipster. I suppose I could be a crypster (the rough breakdown is as follows: 21 - 24, Scenester; 25-30, Hipster, 31 and up, Crypster. It's all very complicated, isn't it?) But really, my life long M.O. is much more akin to "poseur".

Why am I musing over all this? A couple of reasons, I suppose. The wife's best friend is coming into town for the weekend, and we'll be going out tomorrow to pretend like we're young. "Danceotron" at Sputnik, probably. It'll be nice to break from Lipgloss for a change, though I suspect there'll be some crossover, music-wise.

The other reason is my Onion gig. I love it; I'm just enough of a dork to be thrilled every time I see my name in print, waaaaay the hell in the back of the paper. And that buzz, I'm sure, will increase exponentially when I get my first check next week. But damn! if I'm not a big ol' wannabe, an enabler of the big, eeeeevil empire all week long, only to write about entertainment diversions for left leaning Generation Y'ers by night (it just doesn't have the ring of "X'er" does it? Yes, I'm bitter) My love for sub-Depeche Mode (did somebody say "Red Flag"?) technopop alone would be enough to have me barred for life from writing in the alt newsweeklies of the world (though I went to high school with the city editor, and could surely dig up some blackmale-worthy stories if need be).

This must be how Clark Kent feels. That is, if he worked for the Metropolis Voice, rather than the Daily Planet.

All told, though, it's probably good that I'm starting to do this at this juncture of my life, rather than when I was younger. Good for my married and family life. Being published, no matter how small potatoes, is pretty good capital toward getting laid in clubs and bars around town, as no doubt guys like Adam Cayton Holland at the Westword could probably attest to. I myself would no doubt have wound up with a burning case of the herpies.

See... bitter.


Still, I'm lucky that I can still get out occassionally, like I am this weekend; otherwise, there's a chance I could turn out to be a twisted little pervert obsessed with other people's lives...

ending Random Thought Mode.

Friday, August 10, 2007


Beware! and Take Care!… all of those who enter here, seeking out my personal brand of wit and snark and smarm relating to all things coffee. I’m afraid I haven’t the peace of mind to offer up anything along those lines at the moment.

No, this will be one of those long, drawn out, soul searching, emo blog entries, where you’ll laugh (at me, not with me) you’ll cry (again, with the laughter), and then you’ll roll your eyes and generally think “Geez! Pull yourself up by the boot-straps, wuss. There are law abiding citizens in Iraq who are getting the crap liberated out of them day in and day out!” And you’ll be absolutely, positively right to think that. But for now, indulge me, wouldja?

A wiser man than me once said “Your focus determines your reality” I’m not sure who it was. Somebody totally intellectual, whose inclusion in this blog reveals just how deep and thoughtful I really am. (Maybe Sartre. Or Kierkegaard. Alfred North Whitehead, possibly? Yeah, that’s probably it.)

It’s my mantra. More than some mere tool that’ll eventually reveal a grand, unitary big “E” Enlightenment, it is, in and of itself, "The Goal", the very manna of my existence. It’s my personal Holy Grail… and about as difficult to attain. I’m always trying to focus on my work, so I won’t make any mistakes, so things in my life can calm down a bit, so I can focus on my health and going to the gym, and more importantly, so I can at long last focus on my writing, which’ll maybe give me a few more bucks, so I can purchase at least a ford focus, instead of the crappy little piece of Korean engineering I’ve been driving until quite recently. And if I have a little time left at the end of the day, maybe I can crash on the couch and focus a little on “Spook Country”.

And I try – really I do – to pay attention to what I’m doing, to focus on whatever task is most pressing at any given moment of my life. But as always, there is the constant stream of Bright, Shiny Objects which distract me as if I’m some bored –n- horny housecat with a chronic case of ADD.

Last Friday at work was a banner day, which I won’t really go into, other than to say that if Paramount Pictures has a less than stellar 2007, I don’t personally think it’ll have anything to do with the fact that I scheduled the wrong 30 second spot for them. (Hello? Have you seen the ads for “Hot Rod”?).

So, all weekend I was stewing over that, trying to be present for my wife, and kids, and life in general, but deep down not really being any of those things. On Sunday, I was driving past the 16th street mall with my kiddos, looking for something interesting to do with our day. Set up on the mall was a huge, piss-yellow tent with a sign that said something about “Scientology” something-or-other.

Let’s stop there and talk about “focus” for a minute; nobody spends more time focusing - no, no… obsessing about the no good, very bad deeds that have been thrust upon the world because of overt dogma and unbridled religious fundamentalism. Which is fine, so far as it goes. But it festers, even mutates into it's own very own creeping form of fundamentalism, which then drains me of my energy. So as I was driving down the street, musing over a bunch of these angry and entirely un-productive thoughts in my head... and then I proceeded to plow directly into the rear of a rather large van, entirely visible to anyone who was paying any attention at all. My car was totalled, but there was barely any damage at all on the other vehicle (which was empty, thankfully). To make matters worse, the vehicle belonged to the aforementioned Scientologists.

Long time readers of this blog will note that I also spend an inordinate amount of time focusing on “irony”.

In the time since then, the wife’s car has been acting all wonky, and our computer is now on the fritz - all expenses that we weren't really counting on. And without a car, there’s no focusing on going to the gym at lunch… so, there’s that, too. On top of all this, I was working on a last minute assignment for The Onion - the one thing (outside of family, and such. The Big Stuff) that I want to be focusing on.

You always hear those touchy-feely progressive types talk about how “The Universe” is trying to teach us something. And yeah, despite my generally agnostic nature, I guess I really am one of those. But I add a wrinkle into that whole idea... The Universe, right now, is playing a dirty little game with me. Poking and prodding me, just to test my meddle, as if to say “Oh, you want to write, huh? Well, just how bad do you want it?”

The answer to that? (I sez to the Universe, I sez) “Real Fucking Bad.”

Nothing I’ve ever done - not wearing a miserable little headset in a call center, not scheduling freaking commercials, not doing stand-up comedy, not even pulling wicked-ass espresso shots the consistency of the heat vision in Superman II – even comes close. Maybe bike riding. And dancing. But the job market’s pretty dry in those areas right now.

So. You wanna see focus? Watch this space. Right now, out my eye-sockets, there’s a Terminator style readout with everything that I see. My brain is teeming with words and ideas and big important revelations that’ll make you roll your eyes, and little itty-bitty anecdotes that’ll change the world. And if you get in my way, I’ve got enough rhapsodic wax to tear off even the tiniest little hair along your metaphorical bikini-line. Read the local, print edition of The Onion (sorry, us freelancers don't get put up online); my little introductory paragraphs to my Q&A sessions are gonna melt your faces off, bitches!

“You wanna get nuts? C’mon, let’s get nuts!” Bruce Wayne

Okay. Thanks for that. Now back to our regularly scheduled programming. Coffee good. MMMMM.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Yes. Let's.

From the can:
Captures the signature essence of taste and aroma from the selected coffee beans. Ultimately, tasting is comparing.
Throw "Al Qaeda in Iraq" in there a couple (hundred) times, and you've got a presidential speech!
How I love thee, M Mart Asian market in Aurora.

Separated at Birth

Brawny's been moonlighting to meet your needs, girl.

Brawny wants to make sweet love to you.

Brawny misses his mustache real bad.

Friday, July 20, 2007

There’s a passage in Douglas Coupland’s “Life after God” that talks about looking at the world around you and reading the events like you would symbols in a foreign film. If a bike rides by, or a bird crosses your field of vision – what does that mean? What does it say about the world at large? It’s sort of like Jung’s idea of synchronicity – there are no mistakes; every event is indicative of some deeper meaning in the universe.

Yeah, I don’t buy it either. I mean, I do think how you look at the world (what with all your baggage) says something you. And I definitely think that your attitude goes a long way in determining how “good” or “bad” your day is – that’s just practical. But the whole “I can make it rain just by meditating, and quantum theory proves it!” thing – chill, dude, the nurse will be by with your Dixie cup any minute now.

But I do have brief, fleeting moments where I feel like Will Farrell in that “Stranger Than Fiction” movie, where his life is being written in a book by Emma Thompson. Except in my case, I suspect it’s a screenplay, an early draft, and the screenwriter is just screwing around, writing nonsense scenes that’ll never make it into the final cut.

I was out of coffee this morning. Actually, that’s not entirely accurate; I do have a pound sitting on my counter from the Boyer Coffee “Bargain Barn” (No, seriously, they call it that! Bill Boyer may be a prejudiced old fire-and-brimstone style Southern Baptist, but his coffee is 4.95 a pound, bitches!) The problem, however, is the fact that the toddy brewing method I use requires brewing the beans overnight, which I forgot to do. So I stop over at Café Europa, which I haven’t been to in years. It’s a pretty cool place; full menu, great atmosphere, pretty good coffee, but the original owner had a reputation for chronic outbursts of bitchiness. But that was five years ago – seeing as the place has been through, like, three owners since then, I figured it was high time for me to get back.

So before I even order my coffee, I ask the proto-cutie barista (funky glasses, short hair, low slung jeans, and I’m sure there’s a tattoo in there somewhere) if I can pay for just a cup of coffee with my debit card.

“Sure,” she tells me, just as sprightly as you would expect “you know, credit card minimums are actually illegal.”

Interesting enough little insight right there; but more interesting to me, personally… was she just flirting with me? I mean, she could have just given me a dismissive “Yup”, and continued on about her business. But she actually engaged in further conversation; she showed concern for my credit card transaction habits, with a smile that reflected a little in her eyes. The wife assures me that the grey in my goatee is just blonde. I mean, I could still pass for, I dunno, twenty-eight, right? RIGHT???

So I strut away from the counter, and pick up this weeks issue of The Onion, which proceeds to mocks me, mercilessly, with this headline…


Speaking of The Onion (notice the not-so-smooth segue) unless I completely jack up on my first official assignment, I’ll be doing some occasional freelancing for the city section starting in mid-August. That’s right – my stuff on real-live dead tree! Which is, like, 33% more street cred than blogging alone! It's so weird to think something I write is going to be edited - I guess that means no more ritualistic abuse of the semicolon. ( ; )

(See how cool and dismissive and sarcastic I’m being? Yeah, I’m sitting in a pool of my own urine, I’m so excited. It's making me delusional-- see "thinks 21 year old barista is flirting with him" above.)

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Thank You, Come Again!

All right, so what do you think? I’m pretty sure this is post-modern, what with all the irony (a 24 hour convenience store is made up to look like a fictional convenience store, which was based on the original convenience store in the first place. Dude, that’s like post-post-modern) and without a doubt it’s “meta”… but is it possible that this crosses all the way over to “trans” – the latest pseudo-intellectual prefix to get jimmied onto the front-end of all the latest pseudo-intellectual concepts?

The only thing that creeps me out more than the people who are standing out in front of the store taking pictures of their family is the fact that *I* myself, stood out front and took pictures. Because, dear reader, I don’t care how totally jaded you are -- this is freaking AWESOME! Best marketing stunt EVER! Way better than the tie-ins for that crap “Transformers” movie that I was legally bound to sit through, what with being the father of a six year old and all. It almost makes me proud to practically, nearly have a toe-hold in the utmost furthest corner of the advertising / marketing industry.* They even have the Indian guy behind the counter, wearing a Kwik-E-Mart shirt - which on some level is an affront to my knee-jerk liberalism, but considering he’s probably studying to be a heart surgeon, and will one day save the life of that kid in line with a deep love of taqitos, he’ll be getting the last laugh.

I didn’t pick up a Squishee (I mean, come on, they weren’t even Chutney flavored. Talk about your missed opportunities!), but after tap tap tapping away my last entry, I did swing by to satisfy my craving for the Sponch! which I washed down with some of 7-11’s signature Energy Coffee. The resulting concoction is probably bonding to my colon on a molecular level as I write; but, hey! It was pretty damn tasty. Perfect junk food to go with the perfect junk culture experience!


Bad Coffee

A couple of weeks ago, I finally broke down and got a membership for the Hollywood Video a few blocks from my house. I figured what the hell, seeing as I’m no longer getting all the free movies (and half price porn!) that I scored while working for the cable company. No, Hollywood doesn’t offer a wildly eclectic selection, but it’s not bad for a strip mall in Engleweird, Colorado. They’ve got a fair-to-middlin’ amount of the gonzo stuff in stock, and no bounty on my head for all the unpaid late fees I’ve incurred over the years - so that’s two things they’ve got on Blockbuster. And don’t even get me started on Netflicks. What the hell is that? You choose a bunch of movies that you’ve convinced yourself you want to see, only to have them sent to you entirely at random. What if you were just lying to yourself about your love of French New Wave cinema? I mean, yes, in theory, I’d love to see a festival of German Industrialist films, showcasing the work of FW Murnau and Fritz Lang; but tonight, I want to watch a retrospective on the films of John Hughes. And Godzilla.

The other night I was unexpectedly overcome with my bi-annual urge to see “Battle Beyond the Stars”, featuring Richard Thomas wearing Luke Skywalker’s “Member’s Only” jacket from Empire Strikes Back. (Yeah, that crappy model flying through space? Designed by James Cameron. Respect, yo.) I was giving the new releases a once over, looking for something that would keep the wife from leaving me (See? How do you explain that to your Netflicks queue?) and that’s when I found it, sitting on the shelf, calling to me, tempting me like a heartless Jezebel. Like Sponch.* There, sitting among the endless rows of last years Oscar winners and box office blockbusters sat a copy of a direct to video placeholder titled – simply, generically enough - Caffeine.
Oh, yeah, this gag would work WAY better if you saw him from the front! You'll just have to trust me.

One look at the box, at the vaguely attractive cast, and I knew exactly what to expect. Which is to say, “crap”. You know, even when every “twenty-something” kid wearing a long-sleeve shirt under his flannel was making a movie, no one ever had the audacity to actually make a movie about life in a coffee house. It was just too precious, too obvious; even “Reality Bites” was smart enough to have Ethan Hawke hang out in a greasy spoon, in order to make him a little less cliché.

Still, how could I resist? How hard could it possibly be to make at least a passable movie about the subject matter? Especially for someone like me, who sets the bar so freaking low. (Yes, folks, that’s John-Boy, if only you could see his face) Throw Clerks and Empire Records in a blender, add a pinch of Diner for good measure, and hit “frappe”.

Christ on a corn-chip, how wrong I was.

Where to even start? Oh, yes - how about the script, which is presumably where the poor, misguided film makers began. The screenplay is hobbled together from a bunch of clichés from 10 years ago (the quirky customers, the single, life changing day in a static location, etc.) It takes place, for no apparent reason at all, at a coffeehouse in London. Now, as anyone who has been witness to one of my bouts of self loathing knows, I’ve never been to London. But even I could tell that the film (actually, shot on some not-terribly high quality video) was made in LA; and that was before I even heard Mena Suvari (the not-nearly-as-hot-as Thora Birch girl that everyone was lusting after in American Beauty) affect an accent that wouldn’t have passed muster in a high school production of “Pygmalion”. Then there’s Breckin Meyer, who, even if I could suspend my disbelief long to buy him as (from the website) a Sartre reading, aspiring author, I sure as hell don’t buy that he’s 27. Then there’s a bunch of people who have sex with each other.** And some clumsy fantasy sequences of people having sex with each other. And the gay character, who’s “character” is to be “gay”. And then there’s the “surprise” ending, where a character that you would never expect ends up being in a relationship with the aforementioned gay character.

(Spoiler Alert – It’s Breckin Meyer. Now THAT I can buy!)

The End. Seriously, that’s all there is to it. You can figure out the rest of the story yourself by adding a bunch of random nouns and verbs to a book of “Indie” movie Mad Libs. The best thing that I can say about it is that there’s no umpteenth repeat of the coffee ordering scene from LA Story. (Half Caff, Double Decaf, blah blah, HA HA!! snore.)

Here’s the thing – this stuff can be done well. Kevin Smith does this stuff well. I know some people rail against the guy’s success, but what’s the point? Some folks like Adam Sandler movies; I like Kevin Smith. Knocking on the guy’s ability as a film maker is like calling out Chef Boyardee for not being a good cook. But Caffeine? Dude, this movie makes Kevin Smith look like Emeril Agassi.

Maybe someday, another 10 years from now, when we all have enough real distance from the whole “Generation X” thing, then there can be a coffee house movie with a bunch of inside jokes and self referential humor. Hell, turn it into a full scale musical… it seems to be working for Xanadu. What a fossilized pile of pig vomit that movie was.

Except for the fact that it starred the positively brilliant Gene Kelly. MAD respect, yo.

*What do you mean you’ve never had Sponch****? Heretic. It’s a sugary sweet confection made by our amigos at the Bimbo Corporation. Not only does it have absolutely no nutritional value whatsoever, but it tastes like duck turd. And now you must have one, just to quell your Hemmingway-like sense of adventure. Damn you, Bimbo Bear. Available at fine convenience stores everywhere.

** for the record, people who work together at the SAME coffeehouse rarely, if ever, have sex with each other. Sad but true.*** If I knew this back in the day, I would have worked at Bennigans with the cocaine addicted hostesses.

***Yes, dear, I know it happens SOMETIMES.

**** SPONCH also stands for Sulfur, Phosphorus, Oxygen, Nitrogen, Carbon, Hydrogen (key elements that compose living things)

That is all.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

There Goes the Neighborhood!

You may think, for a lover of coffee houses, there would be nothing worse than seeing a burgeoning neighborhood get its very own café, only to have it turn out to be a complete and total bust. Denver is a city of vibrant neighborhoods, each one rife with an eclectic cast of characters, folks who not only deserve, but are practically begging for their very own gathering place; a destination that both caters to and reflects their unique eccentricities. When you have to sit idly by as your favorite haunts go under, it’s pretty annoying to watch an endless string of also-rans pop up all over the place.

There is, however, something worse than that for the coffee lover (especially one who occasionally catches himself daydreaming of owning his very own joint) – and that’s when that very same neighborhood gets a concurrent barrage of half-assed coffee shops, sausaged, one after the other, into the exact same location. One ill conceived independent gets bought out by a lazy franchisee is replaced by some Johnny-Come-Lately corporation. Wash, rinse, repeat. Yawn.

A few weeks ago, #1 son and I were heading up to Cheeseman for a day in the sun when I spotted a Capitol Hill cutie walking down the street with one of those brilliantly iconic/annoyingly loud Dazbog cups that said coffee company supplies to their many local accounts. Cool, I thought… maybe at long last some enterprising individual has come along to challenge Diedrichs default title of “Official Coffee Supplier of the Queen City Queens”. I couldn’t wait to visit this sparkling new utopia, with it’s mismatched couches, and charming baristas, and down-tempo house music thump thump thumping away into the wee hours of the morning

Imagine my disappointment when I looked up to see the Diedrich Coffee sign on the corner of 9th and Downing replaced with a crookedly hung tarp reading (yeah, “duh”, I guess) “Dazbog Coffee”. Meaning, they aren’t just supplying the bean-juice, they are dictating to the hapless franchisee what kind of music gets played, what sort of art makes it onto walls, what color Dazbog logo’d tee-shirts the employees will wear, and what sort of drinks you can find on the menu (which means, presumably, you won’t be able to order a Mr. Brown and Kalua anytime soon).

In the past, I have unequivocally stated my support for the Dazbog brand. It’s just that, lately, they’ve been sprouting up locations all over town. Does anyone still think of this as a novel idea? Or even a potentially lucrative business plan? Does a city which has gone through Peaberry Coffee, Tuscany Coffee, Ink! Coffee, Caribou Coffee, Brio, Brothers Coffee, Diedrich Coffee, Coffee People, French Quarter Coffee Company, Perk and Pub, Gloria Jean’s Coffee Beans and Java City really need one more chain?

I suppose if some smart ass were to answer that completely rhetorical question with a “yes”, then the corner of 9th and Downing is as good a location for it as any. After all, that spot has a storied history, and serves as a graveyard for more than a few of the joints listed above.

See, once upon a time, back before Denver was the thriving, cultured metropolis that it is now, if you wanted a simple, decent cup of coffee - and you didn’t have an hour or two to kill while the waitress at Muddy’s or Paris poured it for you - you had precisely two choices; The Market, or Brio. Brio was an itty bitty chain that served drip coffee, espresso drinks, and one (1) kind of sandwich daily, which could not be customized, because it was pre-made in a commissary deep beneath the earth’s crust. But you didn’t care, because that one sandwich was one of the best sandwiches you could get within city limits. And Brio was good; the owners were smart enough to hire hipsters to man the locations, most of which sat in the bottom floors of office buildings where workers toiled away from 9 to 5 in their business casual.

The owners eventually sold all of their locations to the Boyer Brothers, who thought it would we be an ingenious idea to start a brand new chain of espresso bars - and viola! - Brothers Coffee was born (Their father Bill, owner of “Boyers Coffee”, sued his own sons for the use of his name, leaving his sons with their generic moniker). The brothers remodeled the store from late 80’s black and white deco into a wood grain motif, stuffed the staff into that denim shirt-and-tie combo that was so popular back in the mid-nineties, and basically drove the place straight into the ground. Their only real contribution to the Denver coffee scene was opening the shop across from Queen Soopers. The clientele affectionately referred to it as “Sister’s”.

After a few years, Diedrich Coffee acquired all of the Brothers locations, deciding it was high time to bring their popular SoCal brand to Colorado. I did my time at Brio, and at Brothers, and at Diedrich; and in that time I learned one very important thing - the people of Southern California love them some monumentally crappy coffee.

Ah, Diedrich. What can I possibly say about them that I haven’t alluded to many times before in this blog? Probably nothing, but it all bears repeating… Martin Diedrich is an egotistical, arrogant twirp of a little man, whose idea of coffee training is standing in front of a group of people for four hours, and telling them all about his “family crest”, which is emblazoned on every cup. The man spoke his own name with the hushed tones usually reserved for Hitler, or maybe Jesus. Yeah, yeah, their drip coffee was pretty good, but their espresso drinks were foul. If anyone has ever told you they got a halfway decent drink at Diedrich, it’s because their barista had at one time worked for a better shop. Or they had their sense of taste irreparably damaged due to a severe brain injury.

When the Diedrich plan to establish a new world order, on par with that of Starbucks (while always bemoaning the big green label in the same breath) fell through, they handed the reins over to a franchisee, one who also owned a few Burger Kings. Because, you know, the King knows coffee.

Under the direction of this new franchisee, the store fell further into disrepair, the service got worse, and the staff exhibited that sort of slacker anarchy that happens when the owners just stop caring and the clientele is far too entranced in their habit to go anyplace else.

Over the years, I’ve overheard many an entrepreneur muse about getting their hands on the 2 Diedrich locations that book-ended Cheeseman. And I’ve no doubt the reason none of them jumped on it was that they would have had to take a few of those old Brio locations off their hands, as well. So, now, we’ve got Dazbog.

And how do they fare? Well, credit where credit is due – the coffee I got there on a recent visit was 100% better than anything that’s come out of that location in the last 5 years – maybe even ever. I watched the barista pour a flawless shot of espresso into my red-eye, causing my mouth actually water (and to think, just a few years ago I heard Leonid say that automatic machines were the way of the future – for shame!). On another visit, when I asked to have my beans ground for a toddy maker, the barista didn’t even bat an eye, which was a refreshing change from the apoplectic fit that the average Diedrich employee would’ve had at the same request.

But how is Dazbog really different? Where does it truly distinguish itself from what’s come before? The truth is, it doesn’t; the signs on the wall are the same old humdrum advertisements, and the men’s room still looks it belongs in a New York City subway station (though to be fair, the prospect of cleaning it is more than a little intimidating – we used to have this regular that we called “The Naughty-Potty Man” who would go in there for an hour and… actually, just forget I brought it up.)

It’s funny though, go check out the comments section re:Diedrich Coffee at the Denver Coffee Blog. It’s proof positive that every coffee shop, no matter how pathetic, is somebody’s favorite. And every single owner, from Brother’s on, has had to deal with the complaints when change happens.

My advice for the new owner operator is this – get to know the Boyz in the Hood’. Get a new coat of paint on the walls. Ditch the Muzak. Maybe get yourself one of those hazmat suits and hose down the john.

And most of all, put your heart into it… maybe there’s still a chance to make it everybody’s favorite.