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Friday, July 31, 2009

How NOT to speak at a city council meeting

I can't help myself. Stupid people proving that Darwin was wrong in front of live television - more specifically, in front of a city council of Santa Cruz - is simply far, far too funny to not share.

Air Conditioning 101 for the DIY hackable

Okay, so my general issue with air conditioners is this: the ones that go in the window are better than nothing. But the majority of windows designed for houses around the Puget Sound are sliders - not sash windows.

For those playing the home game, slider windows leave a nice fat gap of space between the top of the air conditioning unit and the top of the airconditioner. If you live on the ground floor, this means that your AC unit will be blowing hot air out the back and happily sucking it right back in.

This is where you do what I did tonight, which is:

Build a shelf for the AC unit out of plywood project scraps (though truthfully in previous years I used an aged tower computer case that perfectly fit the height of the window of my old apartment - on the balcony, and for someone more worried about redneckian style a pair of AC supports can usually be purchased from Home Depot or Lowe's)

And out of the leftover plywood, snip out a nearly perfect rectangle to fill the rest of the hole. My last place I used thick clear acrylic, but as a slice of Lexan acrylic is approximately ten times the cost of a hunk of plywood, I went with the previous option, adding window insulation foam around the edges and duct-taping the result together. My game plan tomorrow is to figure out how to secure the plywood against the frame with a carriage bolt for added security of the window, but for now I am cool enough to sleep through the night.

The other added bonus? I managed to get enough scraps of plywood to close up the back of my oldschool radio-to-computer server conversion AND have it thick enough to be able to install units that will hang off of the back. Woot, I say, woot.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Yes, I'm going to talk about the weather.

Seattle's heat wave got mocked today by two people I know and love from the Midwest and the East Coast. Specifically, these are the people who mock me whenever Seattle has odd weather of any kind.

Look, Seattle is one of the mildest climates in the world - we have lots of misty rain and moisture, and two of the best investments you can make when you move here are a warm, easy-to-dry hat of wool felt and a windbreaker. The mist is one thing that most people don't understand - you go through windshield wipers but you never deal with pour-down rain, and if a pour-down happens, we slow down not because of the sheer volume of water, but because once water hits the road, the accumulation makes the surface slippery from the run-off. But we don't have massive, thumping heat and we don't have massive blankets of snow that stick around. Which is good, because we don't prepare for either of those. There's no real point.

T's old boss used to give her crap about people missing work because of snow until he came out from the East Coast and couldn't understand why he couldn't get out of the company parking lot due to the sheet of ice that ran down the 8% grade hill.

We live in a mountainous area, and one of the geographical features happens to be hills and mountains and rivers. We also live in a volcanic region, and while the moist air that comes over the Puget Sound is laden with fresh oceanic ions, it's also loaded with rain and moisture. Seattle never gets thunderstorms in the same way that a Kansas college town might - we have tsunami warnings, not tornadoes. And we do not have FLAT surfaces, except when it comes to water.

Every time Seattle gets mocked by someone who doesn't live here, I wonder why they even bother. Our weather is so moderate that when it goes to the extreme and people lose their heads completely, it's completely understandable. We raid the stores for fans. Our grumpiness and crankiness increases exponentially. The people in the kitchens are overloaded and sweaty and service in your favorite restaraunts slide.

We do not like climate change. It's why we live here. Oh, we pay for it with the rain and the mist, but when it snows, it melts. When it melts here, it refreezes into sheets of ice. Those sheets are on top of hills.

We don't have flat land and passive heat sinks combined with industrial freon blocks in front of our houses combined with intentional windbreaks of trees. We don't have flat roads with salt and sand trucks that flood our flat 0 degree plane roads to make it possible for us to drive to work. We barely have enough snowplows to do more than four main roads when it DOES snow.

So to you Midwesterners who've been happily snarking at us out here, panting our way through a 101 heatwave without air conditioning, swamp coolers, massive movieplexes and more "traditional" Americana methods of cooling off, I can only say:

Shut up. No, really. If you don't know what the feel of a forest fire on your face and the heat of a dry, crackling Washington summer at your back feels like, if you can't smell the algae blooms of the ocean water as the heat converts the promordial goo in it to slime, and if your entire experience of summer involves running straight from air conditioned car to air conditioned garage to air conditioned office or home, you get NO mockery leniency.

Of course, this is hugely influenced by the fact that I'm sitting clad in a pair of knit shorts with two fans blowing full bore over me and T, and hoping for any breeze at all to come wafting, cool and light over the Puget Sound to make us feel even remotely cooler. Tomorrow, I may well do all my work in the morning and siesta the rest of the day.

Monday, July 27, 2009

More to Love: Oh god, make the stupid stop.

Hanging out with T, I periodically get reminded of why I love this girl. For one, I am NOT a pleasant person when I get overheated. Both her cat and I are sitting around in a 90-plus temp apartment, though I have the opportunity to remove layers of clothing, while the cat has to lie on the carpet meowing pathetically at us.

But with the pure knowledge that I have decisions that I can make with my opposable thumbs that help me cool down (like putting cloth between my shirtless back and the leather couch on a day where most people are running away to get an AC fix in Seattle).

At any rate, one of the trailers on the background noise that T plays while reading magazines and relaxing after work is E! Entertainment. This is normally a channel I reserve the same emotions for that one might reserve for a particularly cheap wine, left to marinate around the flesh of a raw chicken, found again in the back of the fridge, but not exactly ready to be tossed. A combination of "EWWWW" and rapid shoving away to ignore until I really, REALLY need to use that glass dish.

The metaphor doesn't QUITE work with E! entertainment, but hey, the girl likes it, and sometimes it's like watching a wasp stinging a nettle. Someone's going to get hurt, you don't care who, and it's entirely possible that in the grand scheme of things, it doesn't matter.

And she's a reality show junkie. I, on the other hand, am less interested in most of the shows on television unless they have some interesting hook or catch. I churn through movies on Netflix like mad, I collect old SciFi channel seasons that get canceled after only one season (The Dresden Files, Firefly, etc) and I happily rewatch old Star Trek: Next Generation shows as background. So I can't blame her for her addictions. (Apparently, I've just been notified that Joss Whedon's Dollhouse got renewed for a second season, which means that it doesn't make it into the library.)

But reality show junkie or not, there is NO excuse for Fox's new dating reality show: More to Love.

More to Love is apparently a dating show based on the "idea" that a larger proportion of America's population is bigger and fatter than most of the shiny people showing up on The Bachelor, E! Entertainment, or pretty much any television show that doesn't feature Kristie Alley or Monique. Starring a smarmy guy who looks like a massive chubby chaser happily ready to shove his fetish down the throats of people willing to watch damn near anything in the hope that it highlights their short, inanely shallow, pointless lives (which, fortunately, comprises 99% of Fox and FoxNews demographic).

According to the website the show is about a 6'3", 300lb dude who's interested in pursuing a girl with "real" proportions. Coming from a network that led the media charge to a general whoring out of slender, shallow, attractive women to a single man set up as a media icon (without resorting to the always-bizarre February-December 28th matches of Hugh Hefner), it seems a bit odd that Fox is billing "More to Love" as the alternative to all those shallow, cheap, plastic skinny people seeking true love financial stability with some random guy they meet in front of dozens of cameras.

There's dozens of foodie sites out there that celebrate the rotund, the well-fed, the munchied, the girls who slather themselves in slices of kiwi fruit and allow men and women to gently munch the food on their bodies, but there's also the feeders - the men and women who relish the idea and sexualize the addition to food.

Of course, before the end of this blog's writing, I have eaten 3/4 of an order of General Tsao's chicken and a goodly chunk of steamed rice, ordered from the Rickshaw - a Greenwood institution known more for its drunken karaoke and deep well drinks that glow with an unnatural sheen of blue (rumored to contain depleted uranium) while munching with T. Neither of us are svelte, slender creatures - my balding noggin, combined with my slightly barrel-like torso, and T's well-hipped exterior that she mournfully peers down at and wistfully declaims that if she only had thirty pounds down, she would be back to her skinny, high-school self.

But then again, we're not going to go on a reality TV show and expose our bellies to over 40 million potential viewers for fame and fortune. And if we did, it'd be in the T and B tradition, which is on CBS' The Amazing Race - dressed in orange kilts, jumpsuits, and getting through customs the most awkward ways possible.

I think what bothers me most about "More to Love" is simply that looking at the participants and the people involved, I see not beautiful people who are celebrating their difference, but rather fetishists and people with low self-esteem who shade their true selves by attacking that which is different from them - even if that true self happens to love a really well-padded frame.

I love T in many ways, but her physicality has NOTHING to do with why I love her, and I'd hope that my variable belly, plus my sporadic fitness regimes that have little to do with consistency and everything to do with Athletic Attention Deficit Disorder (OOO! Extreme Bocce and Golf! Wooo! Bike Jousting? WOO! Hiking with lots of photographs of girlfriend? HECK YEAH! Mountain climbing? Ehhhh, did that two days ago) won't scare her off, but I'm more than happy to plunk it on the treadmill or elliptical with her and talk for an hour while we churn out the chubby for an hour a day if it's a time that we can set to be together.

Fox's tradition of getting people with a TWIST not only makes me less enthusiastic about getting the show to market, but also much less enthusiastic about the way people, in general, treat the way we look at ourselves. Regardless of whether you're fat and shallow or skinny and shallow, the adjective in common is still shallow. People are still racist if they act, behave, or make racially-charged comments, regardless of their skin color.

Likewise, "More to Love" stinks to high heaven of a man whose fetish is being televised and the twenty women who parade in front of him, hoping to snare him for whatever supposed qualities he has makes me cringe, just like every other "Bachelor", "Bachelorette", and "Joe Average Gonna Get Some By Lying" reality show out there has.

ADDENDUM: T wishes by way of rapid pokes in my tender thigh to express that she does not in any way shape or form intend to watch "More to Love." As a requirement of maintaining a happy relationship, I now declare that my disbelief (specifically regarding her following or maintaining any kind of interest in the reality show whether she actually reads spoilers for the show on Reality Show Forum websites) is suspended for the duration of this blog post.


Political Post of the Week (and I'm spent)

I won't parse what Palin said in yesterday's "The Door is Not Hitting Me In The Ass" speech, but I maintain the whole speech of Palin's rambling resignation would have worked much better if she wasn't channeling Richard Nixon in body language and poses.

At least she steered clear of adding the middle finger to her gestures, though there's more than one person in both the GOP and Alaska legislature that pretty much believe the entire farce was nothing but middle fingers.

I think more than anything else, Palin's "Have Cake and Eat It Too" attitude towards the media, her family, and her bid to be a heartbeat away from the presidency is finally over, and while Palin can still huff and puff about what it means to be a true American, like Nixon, her final words as the failed governor of Alaska and the failed VP of the Republican nomination boil down to the same basic attitude that toppled Nixon and his corrupt attitude towards American politics:

Accountability sure sucks if they apply it to you, too, huh?
I'm reminded by the utter lack of noise in the middle of the day and the cool of the basement how much I don't miss the heat, the noise, and the drunks who populated the area I used to live in.

Don't get me wrong, I loved the Fremont area. There's something about that section of Seattle that made me extremely happy that I lived there. The rent was cheap, comparatively speaking, the parking was off-street and significantly enough for my two vehicles, and I could pretty much count on going outside, walking four blocks, and hitting a really good pub for music and drinks at any time of the day or early evening. It was a comfortable place from the hours of 4AM to 8PM most days.

After that, the annoying drunks began to invade.

Oh, god, the annoying drunks. See, Fremont, and where I lived in Fremont, has been recently re-termed "Pioneer Square North". Really great bars, including The Dubliner, Norm's, Nectar, Brouwer's, and my personal favorite, the George and Dragon, meant that lesser bars like the Ballroom, The Triangle, and the mass meat-market Red Door filled to the brim with residents of the East Side immediately after work who plunged headfirst into the brine of cheap well drinks and alcohol, and didn't stop until they were hanging over the side of a car. Sometimes, that car would be MY car, and usually that's when I got miffed.

It wasn't uncommon to hear a fight breaking out in the parking lot when the bars closed, because let's face it, young men who are dumb enough to drink to the point where they decide they can take on the world are dumb enough to start fights in public spaces. The Seattle Police response time was nearly always ten minutes too late, so the only recourse residents had was playing neighborhood watch.

One example involved a drunk guy whistling sharply as he walked up and down the road, until finally I walked out and said, "Shut the hell up! It's 3AM." His response, "Dude, it's FREEEMONT. Chill out, hippie."

Of course, he was drunk, and in general hippies don't chase down the whistlers, then give the whistler a stumble, and in a no-uncertain terms voice remind them that while people who wear tie-dye shirts MIGHT look like hippies, sometimes they carry big sticks and are more than happy to use said stick to ensure silence. Watching a cocksure 21-year old drunken idiot swallow his tongue, and while losing control of certain bladder functions, promise to leave, may not be a pleasurable experience, but I didn't hear any more whistles that night.

There was the Human Sprinkler - the guy who whipped it out and began peeing in the middle of the sidewalk but whose friends startled him into spinning around.

Drunk Girls Who "Hide" while peeing - unfortunately, your butts are visible to all, honey.

Mr. "I'm just gonna sit here with the car idling to sober up"? Yeah. Don't. Call a cab. Because if you don't, we'll call the cops.

"My Ride is SOOOO PIMPED" bassthumpers out in the parking lot? Don't be shocked if those nice rims have flat tires in the morning from screws in them.

See, it wasn't that any of these things actually HAPPENED, but the problem with a mixed-use neighborhood catering to an upscale nightlife means, simply, that the nightlife goes with it. The small pub down the street within walking distance of my place never thumps; never has fights, never has to have the cops called because two women are clawing at each other over their ex-boyfriends.

And since I've been living ninety blocks north of Fremont, the biggest issue I've had was with the neighbor's kids playing baseball with tennis balls near my car, which really, on the grand scheme of things, ain't so bad. I know where they live.

But in many respects I feel almost isolated up here. My roommate and I tend to be relatively quiet folks when we're both at home, and even T's place, situated above a fairly busy street, has a park where the sounds of basketball players drift in.

Here, there's none of that, and the thumps or bumps that I can hear some days are all the more startling for their infrequencies.

And the only annoying drunk I've recently had to deal with up here was me, but that was a simple case of overindulgence in very cold Czech lager after a long day in the sun - and a cool, quiet basement with enough insulation to soundproof a cauterwauling opera initiate cures many of those small issues.

I think I'm lucky in that I don't have to worry much. It is indeed a nice feeling to stand and watch the purpling over the mountains without having to worry about pulling your car into the driveway so some drunk jerk won't mistake it for his own, or hear the loud siren beeping of the tow truck as it hauls away yet another sleek black Acura, parked illegally while its owner goes off to play Entitlement In Fremont for the night.

Yep, I've done the urban nightlife living, and while I do like the feeling of being able to walk to whatever I like, not having to step over drunken collegiate girls sobbing into the shoulders of their girlfriends while drunken guys leer at their exposed whale-tails stabbing northward from low-slung jeans a good ten feet away is a refreshing change. Sure, I can't walk to PCC or a good Thai place, but then again, I don't have to avoid the Human Pee Sprinkler to do it.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Brain Crack?

I still laugh about some of the ideas that I have had and that I've talked about with people, especially in the artist community. Everything from that nuclear missile silo that could be converted into an art space/residence/rat warren to a sitting platform sculpture that allowed someone to (apparently) do a kung-fu yoga move for twelve hours without moving, each of those ideas had to take some time and energy to actually execute.

So I started writing some of the stuff down, and thus far, I have a small book of ideas that I'm floating among people I know and trust who could actually help get it off the ground, but limiting my pool of enthusiasm and "OMG, AWESOME!" to those folks - instead of Joe Random.

The thing is, this video, found on, is one of those things that you think, "Well, DUH, I don't want people to steal my ideas!" as opposed to "Well duh, if I talk about my idea with smart people, they're mostly going to give credit to the visionary as opposed to running away and stealing the idea from me."

Anyway, worth a watch (but possibly DEFINITELY linguistically NSFW).

Getting my Handsome on at Valentine's in Greenwood

Before I begin talking about just what Valentine’s did to my head this morning, let’s take a moment to realize a couple of things. Men, in general, spend around zero to no time thinking about their hair, comparatively speaking. When I had hair down to my butt, I didn’t do anything with it. Every so often I’d get the ends trimmed to kill the split ends, but that was less at my own urging and more of the females in my life. The women I know, however, have the stereotypical acre or more of haircare products.

So it’s really not surprising that most of the guys I know take a laissez-faire attitude towards their scalp and the tonsure growing out of it. From the Bunny Faja, a DJ/Insurance Agent in the south came a recommendation of a chap who works in nothing but clippers. From another friend came a recommendation that I just have my significant other, T, attack my head with clippers.

But for me, getting a haircut on that level is definitely comparable to the kind of beer you drink. I’ve always shot for the beer on the higher shelf (comparatively speaking) and tried to steer clear of the beer-flavored fizzy water that passes for most canned American beers. While New Belgium has made strides this way, canning their Fat Tire and a couple of other decent brews, most beers worth drinking are still in glass bottles. At worst, I’ll go with PBR if I need canned beer, or if I’m still on a budget, I steer towards Henry Weinhards’ – not exactly the highest eschelon of brews, but still relatively good and drinkable. For those truly divine beers, I head to the People's Pub in Ballard - staffed with people who have no idea what manscaping is, but host to some of the most exquisite beers in all of Seattle. Also, deep-fried dill pickles. (No, seriously. Eat them. EAT THEM, PRECIOUS.)

And so it goes with haircuts. Since I moved to Seattle I’ve been getting my hair clipped, buzzed, and shaped at Rudy’s Barbershops, a chain that reaches around the city and meanders over to Bellevue. Rudy’s definitely qualifies under the Henry Weinhard’s rule of consumption. Not bad, but definitely not the poshest you could get.

The nice (and worst) thing about Rudy’s is that it’s a complete walk-in system – you need a cut, you go over, plop down, read a magazine, and wait to get your head clipped. But you’re not guaranteed to get a stylist you like, nor are you always guaranteed to get someone who focuses on your type of head, or your type of cut. Even though Rudy’s Barbershops seem to cater nearly 70% to men of all sizes, hairstyles, and gender orientations, they still manage to get populated by women who don’t quite know what to do when a male head confronts them in a barber chair. And when they don’t know what to do, they go with what they know.

My most memorable Rudy’s experience was sitting in front of a vivaciously tattooed woman with a picture of her and her girlfriend dancing on a beach, and me smarmily (and probably, stupidly) saying, “Make me look totally hot. You know, like you’d want to date me.” I wound up with a haircut that made me look like an extra in a K.D. Lang music video. Upon arrival at T’s place, she gave me the universal, “I like your…haircut?” To which I replied, “I look like I should be out protesting male dominance over womyn.” Sweet woman that T is, she began hicupping with laughter, telling me that she didn’t want to hurt my feelings when I first came home, but as long as I knew what I looked like, she was okay with rolling on the floor pointing at me and losing her vocal cords while she shrieked in the throes of hysterical giggle-agony.

At least that’s what I think she said. She began snorting and coughing, wheezing about five minutes into the experience. But the message stayed pretty clear – I wasn’t exactly James Bond material in this haircut. More like Fraulein Dietrich Von Wulfenstein, and not the slender blonde one, either. At the very least, I was able to pull her from the floor before her neighbors called in a domestic disturbance, and I’d have to worry about an accidental discharge from the responding officers as they joined T on the floor laughing their heads off.

In other words: maybe it was time to upgrade my haircut. Rudy's "It's Cheap! It's Sexy" seemed to apply to people who prefer the first over the latter, because frankly the latter, in my direct experience, was so definitively the garnish, not a main ingredient to the menu.

And don't get me wrong, Rudy's is still a great place to get a haircut in Seattle, but the barbers are definitely hit-or-miss. Rudy's still has a location with a tattoo parlor and piercing studio somewhere up on Capitol Hill in Seattle, and the all-in-one body modification system seems to attract a clientele that adheres well.

But again, time to put the big-boy pants on and go get an actual haircut at a place that knows how to 'scape a man's head. So, I tried two different spaces.

My adventures into salon barbershops began a series of misfires. One upscale place in the downtown Seattle area was substantially lacking for what I got – the stress of parking for two hours while I got clipped and shaved in addition to a less-than-cheerful atmosphere made me ponder why I even bothered heading there in the first place. The pain in the wallet made it even worse - I wound up looking like an extra on the set of Dick Tracy. I headed back to Rudy’s and my semi-Lillith Fair ‘do.

As luck would have it, every drive north up Greenwood to make it to T’s place for dinner would take me by Valentine’s. I’d driven by it for years without noting it much. It’s not really flagged in bright neon or emblazoned with huge lettering. It’s more of a subdued place with leather chairs and lounges in the background. Originally, I mistook it for a clothing shop in the same vein as others along Phinney Ridge and Greenwood – boutique, independent shops with higher-priced items.

And around June 20th, I needed a cut for a wedding. While I don’t really take much time to plan this sort of thing, I rang in and asked for a haircut from the perky receptionist. “Nope, sorry, we’re booked up. We have a lot of weddings today.” Oh, the irony.

“So, is it possible to get it next time around?”
“How far is the next time around?”
“Well, how about four weeks from now?”
T elbowed me in the side. The girl’s got some sharp elbows.
“Oh, right. Five. We have an event that weekend.” An event that I would probably return from, looking bedraggled, mussed, and generally like the night of the living dead, possibly with a minor burn injury to my hair from random sparks of fire and other combustibles after serving a lot of very happy people much whiskey and playing much blues music in a traditionally thumpa-thumpa environment. Also, scruffy. My predictions are startling accurate some days.

“Sure, Saturday at 11 is when we have open. And we’ll have you getting your hair cut by Valentine. Did you want a straight razor shave? Manicure? Pedicure?”

Wait, so the guy who's going to cut my hair is the actual guy who owns and works at the place? Not some strangely ficitious character exhorted to stop his messing around by The Specials? I had visions of an old-school Mafioso type with leather suspenders and a belly rapidly expanding. Then I remembered that this is Seattle and revised it to a black t-shirt and suspenders.

“No, just a haircut is fine.” And I promptly forgot about it for five weeks. Heck, I didn’t even look at the website. Which is a good thing, in all honesty. It truly would have fulfilled my impression that a small Mafia family ran craps games out of the back room, staffed by bubble-gum chewing women with teased hair similar in shape and structural integrity to the conning tower of a submarine. (Yes, I’ve been to men’s salons in New Jersey, and yes, it left an impression.)

The Date With The Razor Blade

This morning T woke me up playing Saturday Morning cartoons in the living room, rapidly switched to Talk Soup once she heard me stumbling into the bathroom. A none-too-gentle reminder to me regarding my hair involved, “Honey, I’m glad you’re going to get your hair cut. You look like a rumpled hedgehog.”

“The cute kind?”

“No, the other kind.”

Since the only other kind I could really think about was the roadkill kind, I didn’t pursue it and headed down the road in t-shirt and shorts and some old runners I’ve not really had much cause to throw on in a few years, managed to get parking in front of the building, and meandered in.

When His Mighty Schlubbiness entered the door, I was possibly one of three customers in there, but at that time of the morning, the place was already staffed by three women and two men – a Japanese-American stylist with a full beard, and a slender man wearing a pinch-front straw fedora. A quick look makes you think that the place is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a salon. Full leather club chairs, loungers, magazines neatly arranged on distinctly masculine topics (though I failed to see anything skimpier than a Maxim, and nothing more erudite than a National Geographic Outside). And the dresscode of the people working there (even some of the clients) was far in excess of my own, but then a guy wearing a white t-shirt, with a five-day old scruff of beard meandered in and I no longer felt like King Schlub. Small victories.

Valentine’s looks and feels like a 1950s’ men’s club with a vaguely office-type feel. The cabinetry and autoclaves fit into the d├ęcor, as opposed to occupying space or glaring out in neon blue and chemical disinfectant. It’s one of those places where you know that the entirety was designed to a purpose and the people who run it are very good at knowing what their clientele wants and expects.

Checking in at the high counter (the first one I could happily rest my 6’5” elbows on), the first thing I heard was, “What would you like to drink?”

Drink? What? Drink? Most of the time I would meander to the Fremont Coffee Company for a NASCAR Special – four shots of espresso in a single cup and a $1.50 PBR before hitting Rudy’s when I lived in the Center of the Universe. It seemed like the thing to do at the time, and often removed any lingering feelings of trepidation at my impending diesel dyke makeover. But apparently Valentine’s feels differently. I briefly wondered whether ordering a Vesper martini would be out of place. No such luck, apparently – Valentine’s doesn’t have a liquor license.

They do, however, happen to be located next to Diva Espresso, which means that they have most excellent coffee and tea. I opted for the water, which came out gently presented on a coaster with a napkin in a martini glass.

And with just enough time past 11 for my appointment to relax in what is most definitely a smooth, comfortable chair, one of the extraordinarily efficient women walked me over to Valentine, and introduced me.

Definitely not the pot-bellied Italian, Valentine, a slender, casually-dressed guy in plaid shirt and leather fisherman sandals seems to be one of those guys who has the quiet sense of humor in the background – the one that’s way, way funnier than the loud, obnoxious guy standing up on stage making strange noises into the microphone – but you’ll never hear him, because the jackass with a sound system is busy pumping a drunken audience for yuks.

Don’t get me wrong, most of the time, I am one of those guys. I have a megaphone with a sticker on it that says, “You know what they say about guys with megaphones. They’re compensating for something.” It’s best delivered through the megaphone for a triple entendre. It’s even better when someone tries to decipher the humor. But I’m much more of a fan of the guys who smarm quietly and manage to get away with it.

Valentine had a stylist shadowing him while I sat there, and so I got a basic lesson in barbering the male head while he showed the slender, well-dressed woman behind me how to look at the horizons of the hairlines and blend it seamlessly together. (Seriously, some of the people working there could have easily gone to a Seattle summer wedding with five minutes’ notice.)

Since my general theory up until now has been, “Hey, it’s hair. Eventually it’s going to fall out (THANKS A LOT, GRANDPA) and I could either try to massage hair regrowth tonics into it or just age disgracefully” I more or less handed my hair and style over to Valentine, but he more or less looked at the shape of my head and vastly improved on the zip-zap-zip job done on it five weeks previously.

Now, I’ll admit, small talk in the barber chair is one of the things I’m not a huge fan of, but the small talk of the morning wasn’t about sports, politics, or anything else – it ranged from professions, the history of the place, the fact that I was a first-timer to the shop in Valentine’s chair, my significant other, and a few other bits and pieces. Thank god for that – I managed to talk about the methods to stave off red wine-enhanced drinking headaches, and chatted a bit about the place and its history, the expansion plans, and the added services.

Digression: If you’re sensitive or get nasty headaches after drinking red wine, don’t drink heavy Bordeaux, Cabernets, Malbecs, or other richly tannined wines. Apparently my assertion that it came from the sulfites in the wines is completely wrong, but that Red Wine Headache is a pretty common thing, and it occurs with the stronger reds, though one of the reduction effects can be placed by drinking a cup of strong-brewed Irish black tea, straight, between glasses of wine. It’s apparently suspected that tannins in the red wine – both from the oak aging process and the natural tannins of the red grape are partially to blame in certain people sensitive to tannins, which would explain why lighter reds don’t have the same effect. The tradeoff being, of course, that the bioflavinoids of the black tea that seem to help reduce the Red Wine Headache are accompanied by a screaming rush of caffeine. On balance, I think I’ll stick with shiraz, pinot noir, and temperillos in the future. Frank Sinatra might have loved his Cabs, but I’m not going to risk a headache because of ol’ Blue Eyes’ preferences.

As to the history: Being a barber has been the career of Valentine since he opened his first shop on Greenwood at the ripe old age of 23. A few years back, Valentine got tired of dealing with the aesthetic. Realistically, barbershops that have the old swirling pole don’t attract fantastic clientele, and the move to more upscale digs seems to fit the nattily-dressed crew well. The whole place would not be out of sync if there was a Wurlitzer in the background bubbling away on show tunes. And I’ll admit I wouldn’t have nearly as much fun scrunched up in a metal waiting chair, or Craigslisted church pew staring at scuffed linoleum and half-assed magazine collage work highlighting as many naked pseudo-1970s images as possible. But I thoroughly enjoyed being parked on a deep chocolate leather club chair sipping chilled water out of a martini glass. And I didn’t have to sit next to the crazy lady talking about saving the hair scraps so she can take them home and compost them in her urban garden*.

Yes, yes, I know. My punk roots are fading faster than my bleach-blonde roots. Sue me. (And that was probably the third dumbest thing I did to my hair this year, behind the Lillith Fair Experience.)

At any rate, the conversation was smooth, and far from stilted. I may attribute that to the 400mg of caffeine jouncing around in my brain, or just that it worked. In either case, what would normally be a pretty rough-and-tumble morning wound up working fairly well.

The time that the cut took was the most impressive thing for me, personally. A fast-and-dirty cut at a salon or barbershop by comparison takes around twenty minutes if you’re feeling slow, but Valentine and his crew take their time. It would be intensely frustrating if you had less than an hour to kill on a Saturday morning and just needed a quick clip, but that is not what makes this an experience. And after looking at myself in the mirror like a peacock for a half hour afterwards, I’ll admit the time difference is hugely important. Again, it’s like chugging a handcrafted, lovingly poured Czech Pilsner imported at great expense like you were shotgunning a can of beer. Not really the best idea, no. Valentine and his staff seemed to go slower not to rip through the clientele, but to actually do a really good job and take their time to make sure they got the hairs right.

Valentine’s is a full-service man’s salon, which I took to mean that they deal with the guys who aren’t into the whole manscaping routine, except as a matter of course and/or luxury. What I got was the basic package – a haircut, shampoo and lather, scalp massage, styling and drying, and for $35 plus gratuity (not included), that’s not bad at all. But they offer cleanups at two weeks for $25 – exactly what it says, a trimming and quick servicing of your ‘do to keep it going till the next cut, full straight-razor shaves ranging from $45 to $75, and package treatments ranging from $75 to $275. Manicures and pedicures are $35 and $45, respectively.

Since I wasn’t able to go the whole hog on The Emperor’s Treatment (for $275), I can only go with my cut experience, though once I get over my minor issues regarding someone else holding a straight razor to my throat, I may try it out. At any rate, after a good forty-five minutes of being snipped, Valentine handed me off to a slender woman with star tattoos on her arms who led me in the back to a hairwashing station under blue lights. “Why the blue lights?” I asked.

“It’s so that when you open your eyes from the hairwashing, you don’t get blinded by the bright fluorescents. Also, I think we’d get some strange looks if we had red ones in here,” she said, fingers rubbing at my head. Shampoo or not, gentle fingers washing your hair that aren’t your own are definitely a luxury, and damned if it’s not a nice one. The fact that I didn’t get blinded by buzzing fluorescents immediately afterwards – a definite bonus. And she beat me to the obvious joke. These people know what they’re doing.

After having my head soaped and massaged over a sink with lukewarm water, then dried, I headed out to the styling chairs – overstuffed with comfortable, clean tan lines. Three minutes of stylish mussing later I looked, and felt, like I was a sexy god of men, albeit one still dressed like a complete Saturday morning schlubbie.

In other words, I think I’m a convert to the ways of Valentine’s. For those in the north end of Seattle – and by that, I mean anywhere north of the Aurora bridge – it’s an experience worth trying at least once. I’m planning on going back. Even by the slightly higher cost standards, the quality of service you get from a cut there and the laid-back atmosphere truly does make you feel like you’re there to get your handsome on.

I know that it's rare I spend such a long amount of time NOT disparaging something about the main subject of the place, but the most striking thing about Valentine's is the lack of music overlay in the place. It's quiet, but not distractingly so, and the layout makes it feel like when you're there, you're in a private world of your own. For me, that's a unique experience, and something I rather like.

Maybe I might swing by my old stomping ground, Rudy’s, once in a while, or if I need a cut in Eugene I might stop in at my Dad’s barber down on 13th Street, but I think I’ve found my new favorite place to get my ears lowered.

*No, really. Rudy’s in Fremont has some FASCINATING people who go there. Which is why four shots of espresso and a can of PBR was the pre-attendance ritual. I was told in no uncertain detail about how one could compost dead cats, rats, dogs, hair, bones, and other items of garbage, even wrapping cardboard as I steadily and unsuccessfully tried to show intense interest in Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes’ newest love spat. Off-kilter Fremonsters – crazy, but persistently so.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Racism is still racism - no matter how much "Anonymous" you put behind it

This is a short one - comparatively speaking. But the folks over at the Free Republic, a conservative blog swimming in diehard Republican loyalists willing to sacrifice one and all for the Greater Good, have crossed over the line.

Actually, it really wasn't much more than a matter of time before racially-charged insults and mockery of the Obama administration came out. The Vice-President and current top dog of the Young Republican organization had shown her true colors on Facebook with racial slurs and digs at President Obama on her home page. That page has since been removed and a retcon of her statements hurriedly established.

To see the racism that was inevitable, unfortunately, had to be something that the Obama family has experienced firsthand. However, where it crossed the line was when they went after the kids.

President and the First Lady Obama are adults, and they're public figures. But their kids? Their kids are just kids. The entire rash of racist insults spewing from the conservative forums of the Free Republic weren't aimed at Obama. They weren't aimed at First Lady Obama. They were aimed at the Obamas' preteen daughters.

The best thing about Internet anonyminity is that for the most part, you can get away with saying anything. It's also simultaneously the worst thing, because anything you say on the Internet, if it's linked back to you, can and will be used against you. By employers, potential significant others, your parents, and more.

I've explained the Facebook phenomenon to several friends - look, if you have pictures of yourself humping a stuffed unicorn and/or other really stupid stuff on Facebook, maybe you should, instead of complaining that they shouldn't be judging you on the basis of that picture alone, figure out that taking the damn unicorn picture down would be a good idea. But if it's out there and someone downloaded it, you have no control over it from that point forward.

In essence, if there are pictures of yourself looking like an insensitive jerkwad and/or complete doofus on the Internet*, don't complain when someone uses those pictures against you or places an assumption on your behavior.

Likewise, the Free Republic commentators probably didn't think that their comments would be analyzed, read, absorbed, and detailed, but were I a member of the Secret Service, and threats, even veiled ones, were made against a member of the First Family online, I'd expect that my usage and ISP would be immediately tracked down, and my "anonymous" handle rapidly become not so much.

But the end of the story is simple: the people on Free Republic who made racist comments about the 11-year old daughter may be family people, may be Christian in the extreme, may be incredibly intelligent, and may have all sorts of really brilliant things they do and say that mitigate their "online comedy".

But what they said, and what they did, was incredibly racist, in poor taste, and pretty much made every person who associated with the Free Republic identified as someone who is, was, or might be a racist Jim Crow advocate. Just like Audra Shay, current president of the Young Republicans, who may, or may not be, a racist, but committed a series of statements that could not be identified as anything BUT. Shay has released a statement that tries desperately to say that she is no racist - but the Lady Doth Protest Too Much. And Hides Her Facebook Account Too Much.

I don't care if people think they aren't racist, but I strongly believe that your actions speak louder than words. Telling someone that they are "a racist" allows the person far, far more wiggle room out of it and a whole heap of self-aggrandizing moral justification. Holding someone accountable for what they did is far easier to do and less difficult.

The thing is, watching people try to justify Sarah Palin's bizarre circus show behavior as some sort of plan is mildly entertaining in a "watching a train wreck from a safe distance" sort of way simply because I don't understand why one would actually excuse this kind of behavior in a political figure (though Palin's most recent salvo in politico world reminded us that she, like W before her, doesn't tend to actually read things before she opens her mouth). Likewise, when an adult man or woman makes threats and demeaning comments about an 11-year old girl whose only fault is being the daughter of a famous black man and woman, the only thing I can think of is that perhaps the shroud of Internet Anonyminity makes these people feel safe to allow their baser natures out to play.

And the parroting of voices, conservative or otherwise, means that many of those individuals are channeling purposeful hatred and dissent from an outside source that has nothing to do with their personal morals or convictions simply because they heard FoxNews' Sean Hannity say it.

At the end of the day, I still strongly believe in the IllDoctrine methodology of combatting this kind of prejudice and bigotry. Click play to check out what I still believe to be an incredibly effective method of checking someone willing to play the "I Can't Believe You'd Think I'm a Racist" game to weasel out of responsibility for their actions.

*Yes, that links to my Facebook page, the majority of pictures, on which, make me look like a complete doofus/jerk/idiot/goofball. If I truly wanted to fill it up more, I'd upload a lot more photos of myself doing kinder, gentler, less doofusy/jerkwad things. But I don't muck around with Facebook as much as my friends do, who happen to have a lot of photos of me doing silly things in costume.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

I fear the Executive Chef with the Negative Scorecards

I'm not much for foodies that can't pay attention to proper holding temperatures. When people talk about the deliciousness of a raw food, I can't help but think about preventive contamination practices. People who went crabbing off the Puget Sound last weekend will undoubtedly have issues with the whole red algae that has bloomed as a result of the recent Bainbridge Island sewage leak. And while I'm still shuddering over the idea of an unwashed carrot plucked from the earth of a garden that used fertilizers from chicken manure, I get shivers when I see people eating less-than-cooked food in a publicestablishment.

That said, I thought the two chefs who made it to Bravo's Top Chef competition, Ashley Merriman, formerly of Tilth and currently of downtown Seattle's pseudo-Roma Branzino restaurant, and the former CRAVE! owner/operator Robin Leventhal were completely AWESOME choices. After all, Seattle's food industry reps have been primarily relegated to Tom Douglas and his chain of restaurants. Ask the current foodies outside of Seattle, and you'll never find the intangibly delicious hole-in-the-wall How to Cook A Wolf, Poppy, or even the hidden jewel of the Capitol Hill area, the Kingfish Cafe. You will, however, get a direct comparison to Tom Douglas. And that other guy. And the place owned by that one guy. You know, the one with the really neat...thing. That one. Yeah.

But me being me, I can't not look at the records of a King County Metro Region chef. T and I have been watching the series for the last year and the only thing I almost always wonder is what the food is really like. I grew up with amicrobiologist and a public health inspector, so I know that you can find the records of places in the King County Metro region online. The list of closures always makes for interesting (and illuminating) reading.

Crave, Leventhal's former cafe and eatery business, is no longer open. Leventhal is currently shop-less, but due to my intense lack of trust regarding kitchens (especially after reading Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential, Waiter Rant and a few other salacious reads of the seamy side of the skillet) I spent a few times tracking down her health ratings online before eating at Crave. My response was pretty much always positive and followed what I’d find on the county public health records site: clean, decent kitchen with spotless floors and good prep, with the ability to see what's going on in the kitchen. It was like a high-end Subway, except that you could seeLeventhal carefully crafting your dinner to fit your currently paired wine., usually with fantastically teased hair poking from a hat or bandanna. Leventhal loved to meander out and talk with her folks, and even when exhausted, pulling myself to a meeting in the adjoining theater, she crafted a perfect triplegrande mocha, and left an espresso bean on top for me with a smile. The kitchen was smaller than my current kitchen - though commercial, it left nothing to the imagination nor could Leventhal hide her mistakes anywhere but the round file. Most importantly, I remember peering through her county public health records and realizing that, like many other places that do artisan food in small kitchens, she passed her inspections with flying colors before I set foot in the door for some drunken figs, mac and cheese, or their chocolate dessert.

Of course, Leventhal's popularity and the sheer impatience of many a Seattle diner echo. We tend to enjoy instant gratification, and Leventhal's Crave was the epitome of small kitchen cuisine. If a list formed of customers longer than ten, there was a wait, and the residents of Seattle's Capitol Hill are not used todisappointment regarding their feeding times. Most of Leventhal's critiques on the local reviews involve the wait times in her kitchen - not surprising when one woman is doing all the serious foodie work for you. Of course, being housed in the now defunct Capitol Hill Arts Center might explain more of thefunkified atmosphere - my time spent at the Lower Level (the bar downstairs) drinking Vo-Tang in a seriously cheerful atmosphere.

Ashley Merriman? Not so much. Oh, she still passed, and her reviews online in the local newspapers and Yelp are complimentary, if not obscene (references to acts of physical love and the duck burgers at Tilth are commonplace on both). But the colors were distinctly devoid of the adjective “flying” by any standard whatsoever.

I want to like Ashley, I really, really do. I want to know that she's a talented chef who has had a few slip-ups in the kitchen. I also want to think that cleanliness is also subjective where food is concerned.

But. It's not.

An anonymous friend told me less than five minutes after talking about Merriman and Tilth online that during Merriman's tenure, quote:

Went to Tilth for dinner one night. The first problem came upon being seated: a GIANT chunk of parsley in my not-terribly-large water glass. An easy thing to notice (HAY!GUYZ! There is a giant green chud in a glass of clear liquid that i am about to take out to a table! Maybe I should not bring this particular glass to the table! OH WAIT, NOEZ, THEY WONT NOTIS. Perhaps they will take it as a hint of our earthiness!)

It definitely set a tone for the rest of the meal.

After hearing a few other stories online, I'm not surprised, and I'm not publishing the others. Really.

At the grill yesterday, prepping for a dinner cookout with family and kids, I cleaned it fastidiously with soap and water, flamed off the metal, dried it with a high heat, and sluiced it down with a towel soaked in a light lime juice and olive oil mixture. During my grill time, one single, beautifully shaped hunk of meat fell to the brick, and in the garbage it went. I can't muck around with that sort of thing outside on the brick patio; I sure as hell won't do it in a commercial kitchen. It's lessOCD and more of a phobia backed up with years of experience staring e.coli bacteria right in the face (well, through a microscope, anyway).

And unfortunately, when doing the research on Merriman's kitchens (Tilth and Branzino), a pattern emerges.

Tilth currently holds two red critical violations during the last reported inspection for food holding temperatures and for food worker cards not being present. While that’s not damning in of itself, it reflects exactly the first consultation at Branzino that cited improper cooling temperatures and a lack of food handler cards. While Merriman may not be at fault for the practices at Tilth, she is most definitely responsible for the practices of Branzino - she has had over a full years' experience working there. The similarity of the violations is also damning in many ways.

And the only commonality between the two, at the moment, is Merriman.

I don’t assume that a kitchen staff are perfect by any stretch of the imagination. My first foray into the culinary world resulted in my running in sheer terror from the filth of a kitchen that advertised itself as “kosher”, and I know that under the pressure of making and building food from scratch, sometimes things fall apart.

But I know that one of the most important things I can have from a chef who supposedly has my culinary interests at heart is to know that what comes from his or her hands is clean food that is well-prepared following the minimal guidelines of public health.

Do I care about the flavor, the presentation, the panache, the ability of the chef to combine foods in dazzling combination? Oh, absolutely. But I also want to know if the chef merely rinsed off that delectable lamb chop after it fell to the ground, that the internal temperature of the food has risen to a safe temperature that kills any unknown microbes or holdover bacteria. I want to know her food prep staff are licensed and were able to take a class that requires a bare minimum of food safety instruction.

Merriman's only independently objective assessment shows a track record that says she is incapable of doing the bare minimum of responsible behavior as a lead chef in a kitchen. Her artistry with food is not my concern. The potential for her food making it feel like a team of howler monkeys are trying to claw their way out of my lower intestine for eight hours straight most certainly IS. For one thing, I live with a nurse, and he's quite capable at leaping towards me with a needle, prepped to give me an injection that will make the bad monkeys go away.

As for the competition? I know that every single chef out there has at one point brushed off an egg and served it to a customer. I know that soup has been chilled in five-gallon buckets instead of shallow pans, making it a breeding ground for the bacteria responsible for most “food poisoning”. I know that cremebrulee might have a little extra "flakiness" to it. But I hope they both know that first and foremost, I better not see a damn thing, and second, if they get busted by a public health inspector, on a scheduled visit, they're DOING IT WRONG.

But the establishments Merriman has worked at as “top chef” have been busted several times. They’ve never been closed, but it’s obvious that Someone Is A Slow Learner.

Even a quick dance over to the New York City Public Health Inspection website, which carries (like most others) a record of two years in public health inspections notes that Butter, Merriman's alma mater kitchen, hasn't had the same kind of issues that Tilth and Branzino have had. So it's not like Merriman hasn't had an opportunity to know where to put the spoons after you finish using them, or what it takes to keep a sink stocked with clean hand-washing tools for her staff. Repeat offenses, to me, are an implication that she simply doesn't place a priority on the safety of the eatery's food.

And perhaps that's unfair. I know that if I tracked my own mistakes in a work environment over the last three years I'd be wondering what kind of slacker I actually am. However, when I screw up, it's a period out of place. When a chef screws up, it's a potentially dangerous health issue. I pay to have my food cooked well, and to have it cooked safely.

I also know that Tom Douglas is able to run multiple food establishments in the city of Seattle, none of which, in two years, have had a red critical violation or a citation above “you’re out of soap in this dispenser” - with Douglas rumored to drop everything and get the issue corrected before anything else happens in the kitchen (unconfirmed, but it might explain why I've seen him more than a bit huffily preoccupied at a local restaurant supply store, twice).

It’s not just attention to the food. It’s attention to your work environment. I know Bravo’s going to gloss over most of these things, but in the simplest of things that a public eatery MUST succeed at passing – a government inspection –Merriman has lost both my potential custom and my respect. Simply put, I'm afraid of eating her food for what it might contain, and I'm afraid of endorsing her business because she seems to operate outside of the legal requirements for her employees (which is like failing to learn why one should wash your hands). Getting a food handler's card is not terribly hard, and even the busiest kitchen staff should be able to find a test time within their schedule, so one wonders why Merriman's crews aren't doing it. If I have time next week, I might even do it just to see what it really takes. I'll even do it without studying.

But, in the meantime, I'll be watching Top Chef on Bravo and hurriedly collecting all the episodes I can on whatever service I can (Hulu, TiVo, YouTube, VCR, whatever) to keep up with my Seattle culinary crew. I have a feeling that Bravo's producers collected people from around the country with an intention to develop this season with strong, differing flavors and regionalcompetitions, to see how people shine. But to quote a friend who checked my reservations about Merriman before I published this article, "That's so very Seattle."

Indeed. I know. I'm whinily concerned. It is nigh on our city's pastime to analyze, bitch and then moan (sometimes in a reverse order) about someone else's efforts at artistry, talent, or skill. But I do take my art seriously; if art kills, or the culmination of that art makes someone very ill, it's not something I think should be celebrated and/or slid under the rug.

Regardless of whether Merriman or Leventhal win, or find themselves Top Chef of Season Six, the half-apathetic nature of the Seattle residents will find reservations and increased revenue of their respective businesses increase, regardless of their past, or their performance on the show, or how many people have mouth-induced orgasms over their food. Seattle loves our losers and our winners regardless; but we'll happily wave, and let the door hit you on the ass on the way out if you leave us.

As a side note, I am planning on working up pre-premiere bios of at least four of each of these folks prior to the release of the show, if only to give a bit of balanced coverage. Watch for future updates and/or snarkasaurus tracks.

I don't often post chinese cookie quotes, but...

This was kind of a good quote for the end of a long, yet very warm and deeply personal three-day holiday.

Thanks to rosephase (over at for posting this.

Although I'd kind of like to know who said it.

Tonight it rung true. On many levels. Presciently.
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