A Frolic of My Own

Jazz, Books, Macs, Food, and Life Outside the Academy

Blogging from Cleveland Park, DC

iJunkman at hotmail dot com

Pages Written
in 2004 = 3

November 27, 2003
My boss shut down the office early Wednesday, so I started my journey out of Washington a few hours before the after work rush. I picked up a rental car at National Airport and joined the crawl of traffic moving west on I-66. After an hour of driving through the ever-expanding suburbs of D.C., I exited on to Rt. 29 and the speed of traffic increased. Around that point, I began picking up fewer radio stations concerned with the congressional budget and more programs occupied with the imminent end of the world. From what I heard, we've got about 20 or 30 years left.

In the middle of my journey, I stopped at Pete's Park-n-Eat for an Italian sub and a chocolate milkshake. The uninformed masses eat their roadside snacks at McDonald's across the street, but people in the know stop at Pete's. While waiting for dinner, Chris called from Aspen to wish me a happy Thanksgiving. He said it was already snowing in Colorado.

Thanksgiving morning, while Andrea studied for finals, I cooked a few pies. Ricardo and Zoe had invited us to their house for Thanksgiving, which is a good place to go since they think about food as much as we do. Normally, I don't care much for turkey, but they brined it following Alton Brown's recipe and it was one of the best birds I've ever eaten. After a second of helping of sides and three slices of pie, all I've been able to do all night is sit on the couch and sip water.

Happy Thanksgiving.

November 25, 2003
At the lower end of Adams Morgan, L'Enfant Café serves humble French food, one of the rarest cuisines in American. In this country, we recognize that some occasions warrant multiple courses and heavy sauces, but we have a harder time understanding the need for a well made salad or a crêpe of gruyère on an ordinary evening. Andrea and I ate at L'Enfant Café Monday night, and the simple food and the almost French atmosphere was the ideal antidote to the rainy evening. Now that the weather has turned cold, I might go back for the boeuf bourguignon. If only this neighborhood restaurant were located in my neighborhood.

November 23, 2003
After work last Thursday I was too tired to buy groceries and cook, so I decided to go to Matchbox in Chinatown and order a plate of mini-burgers on brioche buns. I'm terrible about easedropping, so I couldn't help but notice that the other patrons in Matchbox were talking about the last time they saw Bon Jovi or how high they got in the bathroom of a Rush concert. Aerosmith and KISS, I discovered, were playing later that night at the MCI Center around corner.

The personality of Chinatown changes nightly depending on what event is attracting which particular population from the suburbs to the MCI Center. That night, there were more denim jackets than normal and more kids stumbling drunk through the aisles of CVS. There was also a good showing of pudgy office workers ready to rock out.

To do list:
  1. Schedule an appointment at the Federal Reserve Board Gallery to see Complexity.

  2. Catch jazz great Maynard Ferguson at Blues Alley.

  3. Hear Paul Krugman read from The Great Unraveling Friday at St. Paul's Lutheran Church and become even more depressed about the state of the nation.

November 21, 2003
Other people's prose:
The students are trying to go on strike over some educational reforms, but most seem apathetic about the whole thing. A couple of the strikers knocked on my door while I was trying my best to dispell stereotypes about Texas and announced that they were going to give a speech to the class about "the capitalist pillage of the planet."

"Allez-y," I said.

Twenty minutes later, I regretted the whole thing. No respect, I thought. These young French wippersnappers have no respect for their professors. They tell me to me face, "this isn't interesting. We want to play games." Wow.
Russ Cobb writing about teaching in Paris on his blog This Paris Review.

November 20, 2003
untitledTerry Teachout judged the non-fiction entries for the National Book Award this year and wisely voted to award the prize to a professor of Early Modern Spanish history. On his blog, About Last Night, he offers a glimpse of the awards ceremony for those who couldn't afford the $1,000 a plate dinner.

It sounded like quite an elegant affair, which makes it hard for me to believe that it took place at the Marriott Marquis. For me, the Marquis will forever be associated with the MLA job interviews I suffered through in several of its rooms.

Tina BrownTina Brown, in her weekly Washington Post column, voices her concern about the plight of the modern-day mogul. The CEO, once a giant among men, is now just a fat guy in a suit bewildered by this newfangled digital age. For Brown, no simile is too stretched, no hyperbole too large to describe the fate of her regular dinner guests. The overpaid executives live in a "Fog of War" like "dinosaurs after the asteroid impact" and must "swim in a rancid scum of aired feeling."

Pondering the tragic fate of the corporate leader, Brown naturally draws a parallel to the citizens of the Congo living through the chaos of a civil war and US soldiers in Iraq killed by shadowy assailants. As Brown says, reporting on a Manhattan conference of media executives hosted by an investment banking boutique, "It's not just in Iraq that we don't know who the enemy is."

November 19, 2003
NYCNever stay in an $80 a night hotel room in New York City. Even if it's located on the Upper West Side. Even if it was recommend by Expedia. Last weekend, the four members of the Telluride Association investment management committee who lacked friends in the city with extra space in their apartments checked into the Hotel Riverside Studios on 72nd St. The lobby, looking like an IKEA showroom that had seen better days, was fine. When the desk clerk locked the lobby and led us down a narrow hallway and through eight doors to the elevators, things took a turn for the worse. Up on the sixth floor, we found grim hallways with braids of phone cables running along the ceiling instead of crown moldings. A half dozen rooms shared two bath rooms and two showers, and the toilet paper was provided in each guest's room to prevent theft. The rooms were clean, at least, but the curtains were falling off the windows.

The next day, we had considerably betters digs when we took over the Burden Room in Columbia's Low Library. With its wood paneling and stuffy portraits of early century industrialists and their wives, it was the perfect setting to decide how to spend several million dollars. As it usually does, the committee's meeting lasted all day and into the night. Around noon, a conference of French MBAs assembled in the main room of Low Library. By the time we left many hours latter, they were drinking wine and dancing poorly.

For dinner, we ate high brow Mexican food at Rocking Horse in Chelsea. If you go, be sure to try in the Shrimp in Papaya Sauce and slurp down several bowls of the salsa.

Photo Bonus: All this week, Frolic Photo will feature photos from the Hotel Riverside Studios.

November 18, 2003
Kwame BrownIf a politician hands a Washingtonian a pamphlet, you can bet it will be scrutinized closely. Tuesday morning, Kwame Brown, who is challenging Harold Brazil for an at-large seat on the D.C. Council, was distributing fliers outside the Cleveland Park metro. Down in the station, half the people waiting for the train were reading what Mr. Brown had to say.

Then again, if you hand a Washingtonian a copy of the Express, a daily give-away that reprints brief AP wire stories and makes USA Today look profound, it will also be read carefully. The Washington commuter may just be extremely bored.

November 17, 2003
Be careful when you make a deal with the devil to sell a gallon of pickles for $2.97. Vlasic learned the hard way that selling 240,000 gallons of underpriced pickles at Wal-Mart can cost you millions of dollars, undermine sales of your higher priced products, and empty entire fields of cucumbers that eventually rot in people's refrigerators before they can be eaten. Don't ask for relief and a slightly higher price, though, or you might find all your products pushed off the shelves a company that earns 7.5 cents of every dollar an American spends at a store.

Wal-Mart, of course, is not the devil, but a tough company with an almost crusading zeal to sell things cheap. It's hard to blame the company when Americans want nothing more than a bargain. Fast Company reveals, however, the consequences of an economy dominated by Wal-Mart.

It's not just that 10% of all imports from China end up on the shelves of Wal-Mart, it's that Wal-Mart removes the barriers that foreign companies used to face when trying to enter the American market. With a single sale to Wal-Mart, a foreign company can blanket the entire U.S. As Paul Krugman says, "Wal-Mart is so big and so centralized that it can all at once hook Chinese and other suppliers into its digital system." In the end, sending manufacturing overseas will erode the quality of jobs held by Wal-Mart shoppers. It also sends a signal about the American consumer's concern with the rest of the world. Says Steve Dobbins, whose textile company has felt the full force of Wal-Mart's need to sell the cheapest product no matter the costs, "We want clear air, clean water, good living conditions, the best health care in the world--yet we are not willing to pay for anything manufactured under those restrictions." [via Locus Solus]

Other people's prose:
Though learning to write takes time and a great deal of practice, writing up to the world's ordinary standards is fairly easy. As a matter of fact, most of the books one finds in drugstores, supermarkets, and even small-town libraries are not well written at all; a smart chimp with a good creative-writing teacher and a real love of sitting around banging a typewriter could have written books vastly more interesting and elegant. Most gown-up behavior, when you come right down to it, is decidedly second-class. People don't drive their cars as well, or wash their ears as well, or eat as well, or even play the harmonica as well as they would if they had sense. This is not to say people are terrible and should be replaced by machines; people are excellent and admirable creatures; efficiency isn't everything. But for the serious young writer who wants to get published, it is encouraging to know that most of the professional writers out there are push-overs.
John Gardner in The Art of Fiction.

November 13, 2003
Tomorrow I'm off to New York for the quarterly meeting of the endowment I help manage. Through a connection at Columbia, we found meeting space in Low Library, one of those grand university libraries that now houses the offices of top administrators. There is no telling if I'll find an internet connection, so you may not hear from me again until Monday.

WindsThe winds picked up this evening and created a constant howling noise in the halls of my apartment building.

November 12, 2003
The Red BoxThe window of the Red Box vending machine in Adams Morgan was shrouded with a tarp when I drove past it Saturday. A sign thanked customers for their patronage over the last year, as if the Red Box was a family owned store and not a giant machine installed by the McDonald's corporation. The Washington Post confirmed today that all four Red Boxes in the metro area have been closed. A McDonald's spokesperson said, "We are focused on bringing more customers to our 30,000 restaurants around the world." Perhaps if the Red Box had sold alcohol like the vending machines in Japan it would have survived. Selling booze might also be a strategy for attracting more people to McDonald's restaurants.

OnionBloggers are second guessing every word they type as The Onion exposes the blogosphere's deepest fear: "Mom finds out about blog."

To Do List (New York City edition)To Do List (New York City edition):
  1. Hear Dave Holland at Birdland.

  2. See the James Rosenquist exhibit at the Guggenheim.

  3. Catch the tenor Benny Golson at Smoke.

November 11, 2003
Joan DidionJoan Didion writes with such a powerful voice that I was surprised, when I saw her reading at Politics and Prose last week, by how slight she was. That's the oddity of a prose reading--you go expecting a performer, and instead you find a writer. Some writers can recreate their page voices on stage. I once heard Robert Coover read, and his performance was so apt that I still hear his cadences every time I reread his work. Others take advantage of the page to invent a different personality. I remember that Didion once wrote that she uses her retiring appearance to her advantage. In interviews with powerful figures, she would provoke them and quietly encourage them to lash out at her, since she knew that as the writer her word would be final.

Andrea and I left the reading midway through the audience questions. The questions were fine, I suppose. As Andrea said, though, "It's hard to sound smart when you're talking to Joan Didion."

November 10, 2003
SaturdayAndrea had never eaten at Chinatown Express and I had never had the noodles, so Saturday we drove down to Washington's "Chinablock." Five dollars buys you a big bowl of noodles and meat in a light broth, which you can fine tune to your own taste by adding pickled garlic or red pepper oil. We started lunch with handmade dumplings of leeks and shrimp, but the noodles were enough for a meal.

After lunch, we strolled around the area. New apartments buildings and chain restaurants are going up quickly. Tasca, a tapas restaurant, was under construction when I passed by two weeks ago. And now the restaurant, with the too bright paint and phobia of real wood that marks it as a chain, was already serving tortillas and Spanish ham. I wonder how long the Chinese restaurants will survive the onslaught of the upscale chains?

Not ready to go home, we drove around Logan Circle a few times and admired the recently gentrified apartments. Just off the circle, Reincarnation Furniture sells some stylish furniture for good prices. We saw a dining room table and a half dozen coffee tables that we would be happy to buy. With only five hundred square feet of space in our apartment, though, we don't even have room for the couch we already own.

That evening, we had planned to have drinks with some friends. In the end, though, they wanted to stay in Northern Virginia and we didn't want to leave the District. Instead, we walked down the street to Bardeo for some wine and a cheese plate. Midway through our drinks Governor Warner of Virginia walked into the bar. I'm not one to be star struck, but it's hard to carry on a normal conversation with the governor of Virginia standing over your booth.

November 09, 2003
Repent now and turn away from your demon internet!

Ryland Sanders has built the Church Sign Generator, and now any heathen can take on a Bible Belt church's most glamorous job. If you grew up in a Blue State, this will probably seem kitchy. If, like me, you hail from a Red State. it feels a little sacrilegious.

November 08, 2003
PrinceWhen you are an American reading the BBC News and you see the headline "Prince Faces Fresh Media Claims," you immediately think, "Don't the Brits know he's now the Artist Formerly Known as Prince?"

untitledThe fine reality show elmiDATE is more scripted than spontaneous, according to an investigative report by the St. Louis Riverfront Times. Now you're going to tell me that the toothfairy is just a myth.

The article also reveals that producers of elmiDATE often have to beg people to go on the show. According to one recent participant, "I was like, 'I have two roommates, I have no college degree, I just got a DUI, my car has no transmission -- do you guys really want me on your show?' This guy Chris calls me, and I'm not even returning their phone calls." All right, that restores some of my faith in humanity.

November 06, 2003
Instead of an Arts section, the Washington Post buries its cultural coverage in the hodgepodge Style section. Since this is a serious town without much style, the section often focuses on topics that would be better placed in other parts of the paper. Thursday's front page featured, for example, featured articles on Lt. Gen. Boykin, who looked stylish in olive drab, a football coach, the Enola Gay, and two creepy supporters of the DC snipers. Tina Brown also returned to tell us that Americans handle their servants better than the British. Who knew? If you keep turning the pages, you do run across one or two articles on the arts before you reach the comics.

November 05, 2003
Over lunch, I stopped in at the ALF-CIO headquarters, located just a block from the White House. From the outside, it could be any other non-descript office building in downtown Washington, although the workers smoking outside the entrance look tougher than your average bureaucrat. Once you enter the lobby, with its bright mosaic celebrating labor's role in industry and black leather Le Corbusier chairs, you know that this building belongs to neither lobbyists nor lawyers. Just inside the lobby, the union gift shop sells books, t-shirts and buttons with slogans celebrating the worker. I considered buying a button for my bag, but I was afraid I might look like one of those people who pins slogans on their bags. That's just one step above bumper stickers. Unfortunately, the shop didn't sell hard hat wearing action figures to battle the new Ann Coutler Barbie doll.

Other people's proseOther people's prose:
Here's a tip for those of you whose move to Shreveport is imminent. The food here is designed to kill a man dead. If you don't already have a cast-iron stomach, I'd suggest you install one before moving in. Vegetarians and health-food nuts will be chased out of town by a mob of type 2 diabetes candidates wielding big blocks of beef. I mean this. Ain't no half-steppin' with respect to food around here.
Charles Goldthwaite writing on the blog One From None.

November 04, 2003
St. LouisTyler Green, of Modern Art Notes, has just returned from a tour of St. Louis' three major museums: The St. Louis Art Museum, the Pulitzer Foundation, and the Contemporary Art Museum of St. Louis. Tyler comes away impressed by the two new additions and asks, "Is there anywhere in America where you can see contemporary architecture this good all in one block?"

When I was in college, I spent many afternoons in the modern galleries of the St. Louis Art Museum. I was drawn to installations and paintings of Anselm Kiefer and would often stop by the museum just to spend time with his works. Having the luxury of focusing on one artist and ignoring whole wings of the museum--knowing that they were close at hand and I could always return--permanently shaped the way I view art. I find now I'm willing to skip over most of the works in a show, a gallery, or a retrospective with only a glance, but if something catches my attention I linger over it and return to it several times during my visit.

ReaganCaving to protests mounted by the Republican National Committee, CBS canceled plans to show the miniseries "The Reagans." RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie, who had not seen the show, expressed concerns about the "historical accuracy" of the series. Republicans were particularly riled that the Reagan character says of AIDS victims, "They that live in sin shall die in sin." Edmund Morris, who openly fabricated quotes and whole characters in his official biography of the 40th president, states in the Washington Post that Reagan actually said, "Maybe the Lord brought down this plague" because "illicit sex is against is against the Ten Commandments." As you can see, the series wildly distorts the views of the former president.

It would be funny to think that someone cared about the accuracy of a television miniseries. It's frightening to see how quickly the reigning political party imposed their will on one of the largest media conglomerates in the world. So much for the post-modern vision of corporations so powerful that they possessed their own sovereignty.

Other people's prose:
I went to graduate school at the University of Chicago, where fun goes to die, where masochists and nerds and the unbelievably smart and the unbelievably ugly frolic free in the frozen glare of a clay-colored sun. All in all, I felt quite at home.
From Jessica Burstein's "Rudeness Loves Company" in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

November 02, 2003
To Do ListTo Do List:
  1. Hear Michael Govan, director of the Dia:Beacon, deliver the Mordes Lecture Sunday at the Hirshhorn Ring Auditorium.

  2. Watch Joan Didion read from Where I Was From Monday at Politics and Prose.

  3. See Jim Sanborn's installation of atomic tools at the Corcoran Gallery.

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