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

December 23, 2003
QuietThings will be quiet here on Frolic until the New Year. Christmas and my parents are coming, so that should keep me busy. Happy holidays.

Titanic ChristmasSunday night we returned from dinner with friends in Maryland just in time to catch the final minutes of Titanic. Has James Cameron's disaster epic became a holiday classic, like Rudolph and A Charlie Brown Christmas?

Despite the millions Cameron spent to sink his boat, the most impressive scene was a cabinet full of neatly stacked china plates spilling slowly across the floor as the ship dove into the water. It's impossible, though, to watch the computer generated passengers leaping from the Titanic and not think of the people falling from the Twin Towers on 9/11.

Christmas partyThe office was kind enough to invite the temp to the Christmas party last week, and after a few drinks a toast was even offered in my honor. Thursday after work, I accompanied the employees who hadn't been felled by the flu to an elegant Philip Johnson designed building on 13th Street, the future home of our division, for cocktails and dinner. The building features a cavernous lobby with columns and recessed lighting and elevators each paneled in a different exotic wood. The party itself was a dinner in the buildings club, with crab bisque and thick steaks for everyone.

After dinner, Mohamed, one of my coworker, took me to Cafe Prince in Georgetown to smoke flavored tobacco from a shisha pipe and play chess. The café, on a Georgetown side street, plays arabic music videos on a large screen, although "Oops, I did it again" made the playlist during the evening. Britney is a universal pop star, after all. Sometime after we added a second coal to the shisha, I had one piece left on the chess board and Mohamed defeated me quickly.

December 20, 2003
Lord of the RingsTuesday night, the hardcore geeks lined up for the midnight showing of The Return of the King at the Uptown Theater, one of the last great movie houses in America. Wednesday morning, another group was waiting in line as I headed to work at 8:00 a.m. Friday night, the line stretched all the way around the block. And this morning, when I went to the post office to buy stamps for our Christmas cards, another line was already forming.

Anthony LaneAnthony Lane, the New Yorker film critic, offers up a rambling monologue when asked by the Telelgraph if he leads a literary life. As Lane says, "The truth is, that if you're working on a piece at three in the morning, you're not Keats; you're just late." [via Bookslut]

December 17, 2003
Corporate Christmas cards have been piling up in my apartment from the fund managers hired by the endowment I help manage. Our timber fund sent a card with snow covered trees, which I'm happy to say was not printed on recycled paper. Another fund sent the following warm sentiments: "Our entire organization joins in wishing you a Happy Holiday Season." I'm still waiting for our hedge fund to send a package with a lump of coal and note saying "Bah humbug."

Eric AlexanderTwins Jazz club can be found on U Street just past the Rite-Aid and above the Pakistani restaurant, as the bartender told me when I called for directions before Eric Alexander's gig last Friday. I took a seat at the bar, which fills the back of the club and offers an odd tribute to Gaudi in undulating concrete and colored titles. As the rhythm section tuned up on stage, a few men were watching a basketball game on a t.v against the back wall, and farther back in the kitchen Alexander was blowing scales and arpeggios in preparation for the night's two sets.

Alexander, a young tenor who first gained fame when he placed second after Joshua Redman in the 1991 Thelonious Monk Institute's annual competition, opened his first set with a tune that sounded too much like his warm up exercises. Lots of fire and dexterity, but a little too cold. I began to understand why some of my friends can't stand bebop. When Alexander moved on to a tune with a stronger melody, though, he dug in deep and displayed a stronger feel for beautiful melodies than I had anticipated from him. Alexander is a tough player who could probably generate sparks from damp matches, but I often wished he would take a step back and work half as hard. He has a habit of ending songs with a softly blown fade out, and in this moments he showed a delicate grace that he should allow himself to explore for more than just a few final bars.

I would also like to note that Twins Jazz pours a good, stiff drink.

December 16, 2003
Other people's proseOther people's prose:
Good: Going to hear Jonathan Safran Foer speak at the Brooklyn Public Library on Saturday.

Better: Some woman during the Q&A asking him, completely straightfaced, “Don’t you think it’s interesting that you were once a receptionist, and now you receive?”

Best: Jonathan Safran Foer answering, also completely straightfaced, “Uh, I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Sarah B. on her blog Que Sera Sera.

SleepThirteen hours of non-stop sleep can do wonders for a man.

December 15, 2003
Like everyone around me, I'm suffering horribly. It may be the early stages of the flu, or an illness that is uniquely my own. Either way, blogging will be light so that I can devote all my spare time to sleeping.

December 13, 2003
VirginiaMy wife and I were walking along Connecticut Avenue, both wearing University of Virginia sweatshirts and looking more like yuppies than we meant to. Just off Dupont Circle we encountered a man with a shirt proclaiming his allegiance to Virginia Tech, the University of Virginia's main rival. He made some aggressive noises and swung his shopping bag at us. I think he was kidding, but his bag came pretty close to my head.

When I was younger, I refused to identify with any institution. Whether a school, a church, or a team of football players, I kept them all at a weary distance. Recently, though, I soften my stance and acquired some workout clothes officially licensed by both my alma maters. When I'm feeling cynical, I might say that it's just a way to capitalize on my schools to land a job. I've also realized, though, that one person's efforts normally produces a limited effect in the world. Institutions can amplify and carry that effort forward.

December 11, 2003
Russian poetThe New York Times discovered today that Yevgeny Yevtushenko, one of Russia's most popular 20th century poets, has been hiding in Tulsa, Oklahoma for the last decade. Yevtushenko claims that he makes his home "in the bellybutton of world culture that is Tulsa" to find a more authentic version of America. I managed to get out of the city just after Yevtushenko arrived, but I've seen him a few times over the years.

On one of his first visits, he presented his movie Stalin's Funeral. My friend Chris, a projectionist at the local art house, collected the film canisters from the poet's hotel room and was told simply, "Don't fuck up the reels."

Last year, my mother needed a Russian interpreter at her school. She was given the number of a local woman, but was warned the woman's husband was absolutely crazy. The translator, of course, was married to Yevtushenko.

December 10, 2003
Housekeeping note: New posts have been disappearing, so I won't be posting until Blogger gets the problem fixed. Hopefully everything will be back to normal tomorrow.

Washingtonians repeat like a mantra that there is no metro in Georgetown, but the area's restaurants and bars are only a ten minute walk from the Foggy Bottom station. Friday night, I made that short walk through the thickly falling snow to hear the jazz pianist McCoy Tyner at Blues Alley. The weather kept most people away and M Street, the center of Georgetown, felt like a European village rather than a frat party at an Ivy League school.

I had reserved a seat for ten o'clock, and when I first arrived at Blues Alley I could hear Tyner winding down the earlier set. A woman stood outside the door smoking and a man sat on a pile of newspapers listening to the music in the cold. Instead of staying to listen, I walked up the street to down an oversized beer at Soulon before the show.

McCoy Tyner, who first gained fame as a member of John Coltrane's 1960s seminal quartets, can produce twice as much music as a man half his age. He can thunder away on the piano one moment, and thread together a nimble, delicate run the next. After almost forty years at the center of mainstream jazz, Tyner seems to overflow with the music he has lived. Not content with letting his two hands pursue only one musical idea, he made the trio sound more like a quartet during his Friday night set.

In a solo number, Tyner built up a boogie-woogie tune and continually interspersed the traditional phrases with bebop innovations, making the radically different styles meld seamlessly. An original composition with a slow, driving motion recalled Ellington's "Caravan" but with a more intimate knowledge of African music. Throughout the evening, the Czech-born bassist George Mraz, who with his tweed suite and tie looked more like a diplomat than a jazz musician, handled the low end of the trio with an inventiveness equal to Tyner and displayed an almost classical grace when his solos led him towards the upper range of his instrument.

Morgan Quitno has compiled their annual list of America's safest cities. Most of the safe places are small towns where you probably never have reason to leave your home. On the list of most dangerous locations, where you're afraid to leave your home, big cities dominate.

December 09, 2003
EarthquakeWhen I turned on the t.v. tonight, I discovered that an earthquake had ocurred in the Washington area. Our Fox affiliate devoted a special report, and preempted the Simpsons, to let us know that at locations all over the metro area people felt absolutely nothing when the earthquake struck.

To do listTo Do List:
  1. See Bus 174, a documentary of a Brazil hijacking, at Visions Bistro Lounge.

  2. Catch rising young sax player Eric Alexander at Twins Jazz.

  3. Watch Julie Walking Home Saturday at the Jewish Film Festival.

December 07, 2003
Al Shapton on Saturday Night LiveAl Sharpton has established himself as the quickest wit among the Democratic candidates, but he turned in a painful performance as the guest host for Saturday Night Live. The monologue went well, with Tracy Morgan goading the Reverend Sharpton into reprising some of his James Brown dance moves. From that point forward, though, Sharpton made every minute he was on camera look like an act of penance. He missed his cues and spent most of the skits staring glumly into space until it was his turn to talk. After the news, I couldn't bear the thought of watching Sharpton squirm anymore and I turned the television off.

Maybe towards the end of rehearsals Sharpton began to worry that appearing on Saturday Night Live might hurt his chances of becoming President of the United States.

December 04, 2003
Other people's proseOther people's prose:
Where lumps and infelicities occur in fiction, the senstive reader shrinks away a little, as we do when an interesting conversationalist picks his nose.
John Gardner in the The Art of Fiction.

Christmas treeGeorge Bush switched on the lights of the national Christmas tree, and I stood 500 yards away and watched. Between the heated tents and the ambulance standing by in case there were any accidents, I could just see the twinkling tree. The annual lighting of the Christmas tree is really a great democratic tradition.

Once the president's motorcade had safely carried Bush around the corner to the White House, the rest of us were allowed to move closer to the display of Christmas cheer. Around the main tree, each state and territory had decorated a smaller tree with ornaments sealed in clear plastic spheres. From what I could tell, Oklahoma had filled it's Christmas globes with wadded up tinfoil.

Last night, I tried to get an early glimpse of the tree. As I walked along the White House fence, a German shepherd with a green glow stick attached to its collar bounded up to me from inside the grounds. A dark suited commando arrived soon after the guard dog. It seemed like a good time to leave the area.

December 03, 2003
Rick BaylessBurger King has enlisted the star power of Rick Bayless to sell its new Santa Fe Fire-Grilled Chicken Baguette. Never heard of Bayless? He's the owner of the Frontera Grill in Chicago and an expert on Mexican cuisine. And, if you know all about Rick, when was the last time you ate at Burger King?

When I first saw Bayless in the television ad, I just assumed that a New York advertising firm had terribly misunderstood their client. Bayless has been taking considerable heat from the culinary community, reports the Washington Post, but I wondered if I had misjudged Bayless's motives. Maybe it wasn't greed that drove him to shill for the fast food chain, but instead a sincere desire to let food snobs everywhere know about a great new sandwich.

The closest Burger King to my house featured a down market Hard Rock Café/Planet Hollywood decor. In the dinning room, posters of Elvis and Pink Floyd lined the sides and two glass displays cases stood among the table. One case featured an empty guitar stand and the other was just empty. The area around the kitchen celebrated Hollywood, with a flier for Jaws next to a plastic shark exploding from the wall. I noticed that I was the only person ordering a baguette sandwich, but I didn't take this as a bad sign. After being chased across the room by an employee wielding a mop, my number was called and I collected my Santa Fe Fire-Grilled Chicken Baguette to dissect in the quiet of my own apartment.

Opening the bag, I was surprised by the diminutive size of the sandwich. Although a respectable six inches long sub, it's about half the size of anything you expect to find in a Burger King bag. First impressions were not good. The bread was gummy and hard to choke down. The chicken, although clearly processed, was no blander than any other boneless, skinless breast. The salsa of bell peppers and onions was the high point. I'm sure the vegetables had been frozen and chemically enhanced before they reached me, but they had the texture and taste of something that had once been growing in the ground. The sauce even had a slight kick of spice. If only Burger King had been more generous with the salsa, then the rest of the baguette would have been easier to swallow.

In the end, I had to ask the ultimate question for any fast food dish--if I had to eat this at an airport, would I feel sick on the plane. I'd probably feel fine flying after a Santa Fe Fire-Grilled Chicken Baguette, but with a sandwich this bland I'd rather order the Whopper and suffer the consequences.

December 02, 2003
Filene's basementNever enter a grocery store on an empty stomach and never shop at Filene's Basement when the weather turns frigid. I stopped by the underground discounter after work to pick up some gloves. Caught up in the frenzy of men buying winter accessories, I left the store with gloves, a knit cap, a scarf, and a gray flannel shirt. My purchases were driven solely by the thought that I wanted to be warmer when I walked out than when I walked in.

Santa ClausAs Americans add pounds and the baby boomers' hair goes gray, the malls must find it easier to hire an old fat guy to play Santa. I wonder if this has decreased Santa's hourly wages?

TrainOn Thanksgiving, the nation's trains, planes, and buses are full of people who lack experience with public transportation. As I waited beside the tracks in Culpeper, VA, I assumed that passengers with too much luggage moving off the train too slowly at every stop on the route had each contributed a share of the Cardinal line's two hour delay. When I finally boarded the train, the woman sitting next to me told me how she just had no interest in ever flying. A man in the aisle, who looked like Willie Nelson if he had lived a cleaner life, shared the story of a friend who had to remove his boots before he boarded a plane. A complaint was voiced that Amtrak didn't measure up to Trailways when lost luggage had to be returned.

Even with the delay, I was just happy not to be taking the bus. On the train, you can drink a beer and read a book. It was a good way to end a long weekend of doing nothing.

December 01, 2003
To do listTo do list:
  1. Hear pianist McCoy Tyner, one of the last masters of bebop still playing, at Blues Alley.

  2. Sip a few sparkling wines Wednesday at Bob and Fred Luskins discussion of Champagne at Borders (18th and L at 6:30 pm).

  3. See "Sphota Probe" this weekend at the D.C. International Improvisation Festival.

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