Sunday, February 28, 2010

Real Estate

The list of albums I must own grows by the day. Beach House. Surfer Blood. Patty Griffin. And, maybe most of all, Real Estate. A taste:

Lucy and Lloyd




I never thought I'd find myself working at a high end fashion consignment boutique, but last year I added that very job to my resume.

When I first met the girl who would eventually become my wife, I didn't have the courage to ask her out on a date. It was at a birthday party in East Nashville outside of the bathroom of all places. Although I did coerce her to pose for a cell phone picture with me, I never got around to asking Ali for her phone number before she ducked out of the party.

It musta been an act of God that brought to memory the profound coincidence that there had been a feature article about her consignment boutique in the City Paper a few weeks earlier. That article helped me figure out a way to finally contact her and eventually go out on a charmingly awkward first date.

Just months later, I would find myself working some Saturday shifts at Lucy and Lloyd. The consignment shop that was frequented by the likes of Alison Krauss and Wynonna Judd will be closed, I think temporarily. It is entirely possible that had it not been for Lucy and Lloyd, and that feature article, I never would have met Ali so for me it was a nostalgic weekend.

Those close to us know that Ali and I are about to embark on another adventure, so there was definitely a strong mixture of emotions as we packed up shop and whisked away dozens of gorgeous designer dresses. Still, I couldn't help but be selfishly thankful more than anything for the role that Lucy and Lloyd played in my life.

Friday, February 19, 2010

letter

Dear Baby,

I found out you were coming into this world at about 5:30 a.m. on a frosty January morning. The room was still and gray with some faint bands of light crawling in through the curtains to show the steady outline of what must be the most beautiful woman in the entire world. I hummed a pleasant song about taking a Brazilian train ride as I climbed the concrete stairs up from starting your mother's truck so it would be warm as she drove to work a few minutes later.

I had put myself in the business of breaking news and in that moment my mind was on a story I'd been working on about injustice, and indifference, and helpless children slipping through government cracks. I walked into the apartment and there, lunging at me with arms and a bowed head was the love of my life, your mom, which makes you the luckiest child ever. There were tears and a long embrace. I was confused, so I cracked a lame joke, as I am prone to do, hopped into bed and wrapped all I had around the precious gift from God that is your mother.

She told me the news. A baby, our baby. You. As I said, the room was gray and for a breath, or two, I couldn't see clearly. I gasped, worried aloud, an unfortunate moment I will never be able to take back. I wanted to grasp onto something I could understand. My heartbeat outpaced the song that had been in my head, and it drowned out the day I had planned for myself. My whole world started spinning in a different direction, spinning on an axis about three centimeters long.

The anxiety was gone by sunrise replaced with the unexplainable amazement that comes from knowing your world is changing for the better. An entire army of family and friends, eccentric though they may be, found out the news one by one. They loved you before your wrists and ankles even formed, and they will love you every day of your life.

Your mom and me met in East Nashville, fell quickly in love and got married on top of the Brooklyn Bridge. We started a life together with the promise that we would love each other, put faith in God's plan and take every and adventure and obstacle in front of us together, no matter what. I can't possibly tell you how happy I am today. How curious I am to meet you. I pray every night for God to send you to us in one beautiful piece. You must be healthy, we saw you wave during your first ultra sound last week and you're giving your mother's intestines fits.

Our lives are filled with love now and we're grateful for where we are, and for our growing family.

With love,

Disney World




In the real world, pushing a stroller is a hindrance to getting around unencumbered. At Disney World, a stroller is a license to angry-walk through perfect strangers from all parts of the world. A stroller becomes a battery ram, a weapon to clear the path of enemy combatants who would love nothing more than to beat you to Space Mountain and steal your spot in the fast pass lane.

Disney World was blissfully surreal and American. The happiest place on earth, Disney World served as the stage for some of the most hostile and uncomfortable social interactions of my life. Waiting in line to ride the unforgettable Soarin' flight simulator, I observed a livid Canadian mom spewing hate about how "the dumb teenagers aren't managing the fast pass lane well enough." Fast pass is a tool Disney uses to limit waiting in line by letting people reserve a spot to ride an attraction at a certain time. It's pretty ingenious really, but this mother of three seemed to doubt the logistics and programming capability of the most technologically advanced theme park in the world. Idiots.

In line for another ride, a woman with serious anger issues grilled her 5-year-old about what he wanted to do with their last free hour at the park. The kid said he wanted to get Mickey Mouse's autograph at least three times, but the mother apparently wasn't satisfied with this request. "We have one hour here! Do you understand that concept?!" I wondered if she understood the concept of trying not to make everyone within a 20 foot radius feel wildly uncomfortable.

That's not to say my first Disney experience was a lost cause. I had an amazing time. It was cool to see what in a lot of ways really is the epicenter of American culture. To some people, we might be stretching the word culture pretty far in context of Disney World, but I saw the around-the-world attraction that educated kids about other countries and payed homage to cultures around the globe. The future world ride inside the center of the iconic Epcot ball was a fascinating look at the history of communication with cavemen drawing on walls all the way to a prediction of what the world might look like 50 years from now.

Besides that, I got to rub elbows with Mr. Incredible and watch the most impressive fireworks show I've ever seen. All in all, I give Orlando and Disney two thumbs up, while also giving the clueless angry parents two thumbs down. Next time yell at your kid in the confines of your own backyard. Leave the happiest place on earth to the rest of us.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Volunteering





Last week Ali and I volunteered at a local charity as part of Disney's promotion where you receive one free admission to a theme park in exchange for one free night of community service. Let me start by saying our service was to a very worthy cause run by, and for inspiring people at the American Cancer Association.

That said, the promotion created a bit of a volunteer log jam. Our job was to collectively serve dinner to about 35 cancer patients and their family members. As anyone from a large family will attest, feeding eight or nine people is tough, nonetheless 35. The task was made easier for us by the fact that, thanks to the Disney promotion, there were about 20 people working the kitchen to serve the food.

Pre-service involved complicated tasks like setting out the pre-cooked food or putting ice in a bucket to be served with the soft drinks. As a matter of fact, once the paper plates and plastic silverware were placed on the counter, there was no other pre-service work left to do. So we all just stood around staring at each other, while we secretly envisioned ourselves screaming joyously on Space Mountain.

One by one the patients and their families made their way through the assembly line and filled their plates. Ali and I brought dessert. I say Ali and I when really it was Ali who went shopping for the chocolate cookies and cheesecake we brought for the meal. We were told that since there were so many volunteers, we should make ourselves useful and offer the diners refills. This created confusion, because we weren't divided into sections. So whenever someone had their cup of Coke go dry, as many as four people would bump into each other racing out to the dining area to offer a refill.

If you happened to win the race and earn the privilege of filling up the cup, you felt like the most useful person in the world. Like you were really contributing to the cause of curing cancer. If you lost the race, you felt useless. Back in the kitchen everyone shot looks at each other, secretly thinking how lazy you were for not getting to the empty cup sooner. Then someone else would go empty and the whole thing would play itself out again.

Dessert time was depressing, not for the cancer patients fighting for their lives, or their loved ones watching their family members suffer, but for Ali. It turns out cheesecake is quite popular with cancer patients, who gobbled up the multi-flavored cheesecake platter in mere minutes. Not nearly as popular? Store-bought chocolate chip cookies, which sat virtually untouched in their plastic tins. Eventually the cheesecake was gone, which led to a stream of cancer patients walking slowly back to the kitchen, only to be told there was no cheesecake left to eat. It felt like Oliver.

Toward the end of the meal, a woman in a wig with drawn-on eyebrows and an instantly likable demeanor came back and asked for cheesecake. One of the members of the volunteer army told her we were out. Ali stood off to the side pretending not to listen to the sad exchange. Tears filled her eyes as the woman sheepishly said the cheesecake was the only thing she really wanted to eat that night. It made us feel like bad people that we decided to offer a dessert variety and serve two different options. Next time, only cheesecake.

After the meal when it was time to clean up, bedlam ensued. Every spatula that needed washing was a chance to feel useful. But there were only so many menial tasks and if you found yourself out in the cold, you instantly looked around for something else to do. I think I moved the paper towels between two different counters at opposite ends of the kitchen about 10 times. It didn't really matter where the paper towels went, but walking feverishly across the room gave me the air of being useful. One guy even told me to slow down and pace myself. At one point a woman set a dirty knife down between me and Ali and we fought over the instrument like two trampy stray dogs battling over a piece of ribeye. I won. Ali stood uselessly off to the side, enduring comments about her laziness from the other Disney-goers.

We stayed around to the bitter end, our heads on a swivel hoping for one last ice cube to toss in the sink or one last paper cup to be thrown away. Total time spent at the kitchen equaled about an hour. Total amount of work done in that time equaled about four minutes. A ticket to a Disney park costs about $85. Multiply that by two, subtract the few bucks it cost us for the transcendent cheesecake and the so-so chocolate chip cookies and you've got yourself one heckuva deal.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Super Sunday with links

My friend Kyle Swenson covered this weekend's Tea Party Convention for SouthComm, I mean Salon.com.

An amazing account of the convention came from co-worker Jennifer Brooks.

I had a story published about sex abuse at a Nashville juvenile detention center.

Said story was dwarfed in online comments by a Peter Cooper commentary on the Taylor Swift situation. The score was 98-39 at the time of this blog post. I'll get you next time Cooper!

My Super Bowl prediction: Colts 38, Saints 37

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Taylor Swift

Ever since I've been a music fan, I've pondered the tension between what sells and what receives critical praise. That tug-of-war became a blood sport this week when critics rightly bashed country music darling Taylor Swift's awkward performance at the Grammy's.

It would have been a simple case of high-minded critics panning bubblegum pop, until Swift's label chief -- some stiff named Scott Borchetta -- chimed in to defend his girl. Borchetta responded with an ad hominem attack on critics who he said "aren't getting it" and are missing the "voice of a generation."

Let me start by saying, I don't know everyone of Taylor Swift's songs and it's possible that underneath the window dressing there's something relevant and hard-lived. But to me, Taylor embodies all that is out of touch with the Nashville music industry. Cheesy. One-dimensional. Marketing-driven. Mostly irrelevant.

Taylor Swift appeals to teenagers, her record sales prove that, but if she's the voice of their generation then I weep for our future. Borchetta called Swift the best "emotional" singer, whatever that is. I wonder if Borchetta recognizes the remote possibility that an act could appeal both to the masses and to the critics. After all, Taylor Swift was sharing a stage with Stevie Nicks, who's had both an enduring career and a musically relevant one.

Would Taylor Swift have a record deal and be considered the voice of a generation by a Music Row stiff if she were fat or unattractive? Of course not. But this notion that critics don't get it is absurd. Vampire Weekend have received critical acclaim on both of their first two records and their new album debuted at No. 1. Grizzly Bear makes intricate, ambitious music that's truly an acquired taste and their album reached No. 9 on the Billboard charts last year.

The truth is that country music just stays happily behind the curve, because record executives have found a formula that works every so often. There's nothing wrong with that when it sells millions of records and makes millions of dollars. But there's nothing wrong with enjoying music with a critical ear. Last week Taylor Swift made our ears bleed and it doesn't make someone out of touch to point that out.

Last time I checked the Grammy Awards were handed out by other artists and music journalists who obviously thought enough of Taylor Swift to give her the album of the year honors. I doubt Borchetta would call those voters out of touch.

Finally, one annoying byproduct has been Taylor's fans pointing out what a nice person she is and how everyone should lay off of her for this reason. Please. No one's calling her Cruella Deville. We're only pointing out she's tone deaf. The same way Kenny Chesney, Britney Spears, Madonna and countless other pop stars are.

OK, off my soapbox and back to my Washed Out.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010