I need a new dream because I fulfilled a long-standing one, right at the top of ye olde bucket list. To go to Iceland, stand on its moss, rub the noses of its ponies, gaze at its glaciers, be wine-drunk somewhere where 4am looks like late-afternoon. I guess it all started somewhere in my teens, with Hyperballad or maybe Flugufrelsarrin; it seemed like these songs from the great glaciered island had a certain quality of cavernousness, oldness, paleness, sparkle of crystalline, like you could imagine that maybe they were really adapted from the chants of vikings mixed with the harmonies of weird little elves who live in piles of rocks. Then came the actual imagery of it, all of that lava and those gentle little sheep and those massive and desolate fields of green or gray that seemed to go on truly forever. And no billboards—how can a place in this space-time point have no billboards? And can I go there, can I really? And I did.
And it was cold, and so empty, and when it’s summer in New York and you’ve tired of brunches with three Bloody Marys and rooftop parties with bored graphic designers, well, that’s just the kind of place I’d like to be.
I was also blessed to be with wonderful friends from the UK, and to meet their wonderful friends, and to all drink whiskey together out of a flask that I bought at a geyser and to laugh at the austerity of our barely-manned, minimalist airport hotel. And the grocery stores were so confusing, Christ, they were confusing, with sheeps’ heads and what felt like 300 different flavors of yogurt, and way too much salted licorice. And then at some point, I’m back at my desk in New York, in Times Square, sorting spreadsheets and writing Tweets and listening to Bruce Springsteen on Spotify but still being able to hear honking through my headphones. That ache of having been alien and going back to just being a busy little person in a big noisy city.
So, where will it be next? Or should I forfeit Starbucks and subways and just become a shepherd?
It’s slightly ironic that the past two weekends—arguably the nicest, weather-wise, the entire time I’ve lived here—I’ve been out of town, considering my past personal dredges of Seasonal Affective Disorder that begged for 78 degree days. But it was worth it, because I got to stuff the above creation into my face (a salted caramel hot chocolate cream puff… heavens to Betsy) and gaze upon the Washington Monument in a 10-mimosas-deep state of mind.
You can find the link to the Bonnaroo rundown in the post below (or on munchies.vice.com ). One thing I didn’t adequately elaborate on was the absolutely fantastic burger made for me by Jeremiah Bullfrog, aka Rick Ross’s personal chef. I’ve only had one other “real-meat” burger in the past 11 years, so it’s true that I may be biased (and I’m not planning on having any more in the near future.) But lord, this thing… if anything was worth betrayal of my personal ethics… A salty, juicy handheld from heaven, I’ll tell ya. One every six years is okay, right?
As for DC, here’s a rundown:
Took Amtrak for the first time in my life. Everyone told me that I would love it—I’m partial to old-world modes of transportation—and they weren’t wrong. Penn Station is not romantic, make no mistake, but the long and sunset-backdropped weave through New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland was spectacular.
Stayed with Ms. Shaelyn Dawson, one of my literal best-friends-forever (since we were 14 and counting) and went on a worthy rampage around the city. Started Saturday with a bottomless brunch of about 10 million Mexican breakfast tapas and google-plex mimosas, ran around the touristy stuff in a heightened state (the Jefferson Memorial, the Potomac, the Washington Monument from a safe distance to avoid the grumpy families and tour groups of teenagers), followed by a cartwheels contest on its accompanying lawn.
Regained composure and watched the World Cup at this nookish bar tucked on the second floor of an apartment building called Ivy & Coney, which felt like a moderately dilapidated Victorian living room with ice-cold beer. Fantastic. After a nap and some time with Shaelyn’s ridiculously photogenic miniature Australian Shepherds, it was off to Show Time to eat pizza and listen to all of the Shangri-Las and Smoky Robinson songs I could manage from the free jukebox before pissing off fellow patrons. Unnamed members of our parties vomited from the building extravagance of the day and I almost tried a potion made from “every leftover bottle of weird promotional liquor that we get sent, mixed together” but thought better of it.
Walking to my friend Brett’s house later on, we were apprehended via shouts from an upstairs window by some artists partying in a loft who saw us walking by. They invited us in and we passed through a ground-floor studio of impressive neon sculptures and plaster busts and up into a high-ceilinged converted firehouse, where a gaggle of creative types were playing pool and dancing to Pusha T. They equipped us with beers and brought us up to the roof, but eventually we departed to hit a different roof (that of my much-missed friend from college, Brett).
Maybe I just had no idea that DC was such a friendly place? Admittedly I had stereotyped it as a collared-shirt kind of town where no one schmoozes unless they have something to gain from it (politically or career-wise), but this conception was totally shattered. Maybe it’s no longer the land of Dischord, but it’s pretty cool.
Trains, planes, and automobiles seem to be the theme of my summer. And that’s more than fine with me. Take me to a Ruby Tuesday’s in rural Tennessee or a fjord in Iceland. I’ll take it all.
I interviewed some incredibly charming bartenders about their love of Campari to unearth the reasons why it’s so beloved, even through it’s crazy bitter and used to be made with crushed-up beetles. Read the story on VICE here.
Here’s what I’ve been letting myself feel to, while standing up straight and walking down the street like a girl who’s back.
1. The Replacements – They’re Blind
I never listened much to Don’t Tell a Soul until I found it on cassette a few weeks ago and thought to give it a whirl in spite of the fact that it’s the least-discussed Replacements album. But when this song wafted out of my pink Panasonic, I loved it’s doo-woppy sound and soaring chorus. It could be sung by the Zombies or the Miracles in a different era, but it’s with Paul Westerburg’s throaty, warbly voice that it really turns to magic.
‘Cause they’re blind They hold you too close to the light and I see what they only might if they’d learn but they’re letting you burn, ’cause they’re blind
2. American Football – Never Meant
The special part about this song is its perfect encapsulation of bittersweetness. It’s as pretty as it is sad, as musically complex as it is melodically simple. I think that this one will stick with me forever; it has for 14 years and counting.
3. Underworld – Born Slippy Nuxx
Dirty numb angel boy In the doorway boy She was a lipstick boy She was a beautiful boy And tears, boy And all in your inner space boy He had hand girls, boy And steel, boy He had chemicals, boy I’ve grown so close to you, boy And you just groan, boy She said come over come over She smiled at you, boy
This song is difficult to dissociate from Trainspotting, so let’s not dissociate it. Let’s suppose that it comes in tandem with the last scene, when Renton has decided to turn his back on his junkie criminal tendencies with a final act of selfishness; stealing the bag of money from his miserable friends and running off to better himself because he know that they won’t. Now I don’t want to say that this is an admirable act—even he agrees that it’s deeply messed up. But this is the song of empowerment, of doing what’s best for yourself even when to others it may seem wrong. And that, well, that feels really good.
4. Washed Out – Paracosm
Listening to this song at high volume through decent headphones feels like getting a massage on a raft that’s floating down a secluded river lined with flowers. It’s a warm wool blanket that wraps around you when you most need it. And the fadeout is an homage to Slowdive’s “Shine,” which is another perfect anthem for unfurrowing your brow.
5. Cocteau Twins – Sea, Swallow Me
Pure, glassy, sparkling beauty. Nothing more, and nothing less. It reaches inside of you and touches your skin from the inside out. But unlike Paracosm, which is incandescent and embracing, this one is a cold mist. That’s all you need sometimes—a chill to wake you up.
6. John Maus – Cop Killer
Turn to this weird darkwave cop-killing anthem for a dose of sinister camaraderie with a fellow renegade. It’s as though John Maus knows just the absurdity of being the professor-turned-electronic musician who is advocating one of the most frowned-upon crimes possible. We all get some dark thoughts sometimes, don’t we?
7. The Cairo Gang – Shivers
The Cairo Gang have a lo-fi, smoky noise that turns croons of hurt into spirals of psychedelia. Through a stained glass window, after all, everything is fragmented into gentle, glowing color. This track is a cover of young Nick Cave’s band Boys Next Door, and through their simple interpretation it is made lusher, more rural and rugged. It’s hard to believe that the original is 35 years old, but it fits in just as well here as long as there’s still a corner to lean up against, a place to narrow your eyes like you’ve got a bad one coming.
Even though I haven’t actually had one of their “real” burgers in 11 years, they’ve still got a special spot in my California heart. Check out the rundown at the link above on Munchies.
I also infiltrated the online world of adult picky eaters for VICE/Munchies, and it was thought-provoking in ways I didn’t discuss in the piece. The thing is, even as a food writer who is almost completely fearless in terms of flavors and cuisines, I related to a group of people who only eat French fries. But not for the reasons you might think.
What resonated with me was the convergence of their individual and highly personal quests to find kindred spirits in an unmanageably large, and largely “normal,” sea of humans. There are certain things we can deduce about others are first sight; their level of objective and subjective attractiveness, their sense of individuality, their sartorial choices. But the stuff inside isn’t so obvious. On the subway, we’re crammed into the tiniest, most intimate confines with other humans whose thoughts are a complete mystery to us. And for people who feel like they don’t fit in—for whatever reason—sometimes you need more.
Over the years, I’ve taken a lot of solace in the internet’s music communities; blogs, band message boards, file sharing groups. Even as a fairly extroverted person, I still find something comforting in reading the words of others, hearing their experiences and struggles and the fodder that they don’t say out loud. What I’m writing right now I might not say aloud. It’s just different to keep things in the written word. Safer.
But I realize that this is a double-edged sword, because these peeks into each other’s minds only go so far. They’re no replacement for sitting at a diner at 2am with your best friend in the world, or exchanging a knowing glance across a room.
And I’m not talking about social media; that’s something else. That’s a platform, a janky soapbox. I’m talking about the opposite; the corner booth, the quieter outskirts of this strange, sticky hub that we’re all using for ten thousand different things every day. I’m talking about the seven other people in the world who want to talk about your favorite Claymation rendition of The Little Prince from 1979. More than that, I’m talking about not being alone. Somehow, Facebook and Twitter and Instagram can make us feel left out. But for shy record enthusiasts and Picky Eating Adults, there’s somewhere to go where everybody knows your name.
Do I really hate cats? Probably not. But I can tell you one thing; I don’t fit in with serious cat people. I went to New York’s first cat café for VICE and interviewed happy kitty lovers who stood in the rain for 5 hours so that they could pet cats … but never visit animal shelters.
Public service announcement: every major city has tons of animal shelters with dogs and cats that would LOVE for you to visit and kick it with them. They’re chilling in their kennels all day, gazing longingly through the chicken wire, praying that you’ll take them for a walk or scratch behind their ears or even talk to them in that high-pitched voice that makes your significant other cringe. You don’t need to get drenched in a lemming line for half your day just to say what’s up to some animals.
This is completely unrelated, but I cannot iterate strongly enough how good the new Afghan Whigs album is and how much pleasure it is bringing to my workday.
So many of my friends of the rock ‘n’ roll persuasion dangle on either side of what the Whigs do, either opting for something a little more grungy and mainstream or snottier and less accessible. But for God’s sake there should be a fantastic band playing heavy soul music right now and this is it, even after all those years. Emote a little.
Why do people make New Year’s resolutions? They’re conceived in a state of undoubted drunkenness, when one is feeling ultimately miserable from holiday indulgence and begging for some sort of self-affirmation that you will lose 10 lbs or “date better guys” or whatever. What people should really be making are birthday resolutions. Birthday resolutions strike when you’re already in a state of hyper-awareness about getting older, can look back with better accuracy at all of the stupid things you’ve done in the past 365 days, and hopefully capitalize on the idea of “wisdom” with “age.”
Here are my BIRTHDAY RESOLUTIONS (28TH YEAR OF LIFE)
1. IT IS MANDATORY THAT I END MY ADDICTION TO SUGAR
This one is the most serious. My friend’s 90-something Korean grandmother told me that when you eat sugar, parasites grow inside of you and munch happily on all of the candies and cookies and lovely treats that you stuff into your face. Even though I believe this to be … false, to put it lightly, the very concept of it has disturbed me for some time. I am absolutely, unequivocally, physically addicted to sugar. I find ways to sneak it into everything and for my birthday two of my friends made me the most delectable s’mores ice cream cake that my lips have ever beheld, so I will have to begin as soon as the cake is gone (which will likely be in 24 more hours). There is no other way.
2. LEARN HOW TO USE TWITTER
The other day some obnoxious troll commented on a post that my boyfriend had written for a relatively popular music website, and went on some ridiculous rant about how writers should be ignored if they have less than 1000 followers on Twitter. Obviously, I disagree with this strongly and wanted to vomit all over my keyboard at the site of his comments. But, like the Korean grandma sugar-parasite legend, it still stuck with me in spite of its obvious lack of factuality. Working in media, one needs to, at the very least, try to be less averse to all things Twitter, since there seems to be a collective idea that it’s “integral” to “modern culture.”
3. BE LESS SARCASTIC
I just realized this one while typing out why I should learn how to use Twitter. But honestly, as someone who vouches for earnestness so earnestly, I should be better about practicing it.
4. STOP BEING A WUSS
My former roommate was reading a self-help book titled The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking. One day, I was leafing through it and read a considerable portion about what can be learned from Stoics, a formal philosophical practice that entails placing less emphasis on the demand for “true happiness” and more on developing tactics for managing uncertainty, regret, and insecurity. It mirrored what another friend told me he learned from Allen Carr’s The Easy Way to Stop Smoking; accept times of mild to moderate discomfort and unpleasantry. Welcome them, and recognize that you can survive them. Understand that all experiences are finite and that the worst case scenario is unlikely to happen, and, even if it does, it likely isn’t something you can’t withstand. And even if you die—well, we all do. This is actually a very liberating thought, and one that I am trying to integrate more into my daily experiences rather than leaning on complaining and avoidance.
5. START DRESSING MORE LIKE AN ADULT FEMALE AND LESS LIKE A TEENAGE BOY FROM 1994
Just kidding. I’m going to wear overalls and band t-shirts all summer.
I moved to New York on September 1st, 2013. I often get asked, by people both here and in California, whether or not I like it. And I feel like I should be completely sure how to answer them, but I’m not.
My coworkers, my parents, or my friends back in California (many of whom I still text or Gchat with on a near-daily basis, one of the few plus-sides of contemporary tech-communication norms) usually pose this question as well-meaning small talk, but I’ve yet to come up with a confident answer. I feel 100-percent sure that I needed to move here at some point my life, and 110-percent sure that I chose the perfect time to do it. But whether I think that New York is patently better to live in than San Francisco or any other decent metropolis? Well, I’m just not sure about that, no matter how many people tell me that the colloquial Big Apple is the best city in the world. There’s so much to it, I know, but it lacks trees (especially of the palm variety), decently priced avocados, and underdog charm (something that’s rapidly and violently being sucked out of my beloved San Francisco).
The house that I left behind was at the base of Bernal Hill. I would take 6-minute hikes from my front door to its peak, where I could ogle all of the Australian Shepherds in the city as they chased each other in circles around its slopes. Once, some local do-gooder mischief-makers dragged a stand-up piano up to the top of it, and people would play concertos and shit while others would sit in circles around them like hungry first-graders. Another time, someone made an expansive crop circle at its base out of red rocks. It was magical.
I moved to the three-way border of the Mission, the Excelsior, and Bernal Heights in January 2010 when I was 23, a refugee from the even more sickeningly gentrified neighborhood Hayes Valley. That same month, that particular stretch south of Cesar Chavez, then a bit of a no-man’s land, was dubbed “La Lengua” by local blog Burrito Justice, named for its tongue-like shape and high concentration of pupusa restaurants. At the time, it was considered slightly peripheral, almost an outskirt, a place for lesbians and musicians and Latino families. The primary attractions for my demographic were a very affordable spaghetti restaurant (love you forever, Emmy’s), a fantastic late-night taqueria (Cancun, obviously), and a dive bar with a superb $2 photo booth (love you too, Knockout). We had friends who wouldn’t come over because we lived “too far,” even though we were less than 10 blocks from many of their favorite bars. There was no Rock Bar or El Amigo or Virgil’s Sea Room or Ichi (in their places were two Mexican pool bars, the infamous Nap’s 3 (RIP), and an admittedly mediocre sushi spot that no one really misses). Even just four years ago, it was a great neighborhood because it was an actual neighborhood, not yet a bloated, price-inflated, new-condo strip mall.
This year, it got voted the Hottest Neighborhood in the Country, something that I’m sure the Mission was awarded shortly before it started getting soul-sucked by Google Bus riders. How quickly things have changed.
My dad was born and raised in the Sunset District, and my grandfather was brought to San Francisco by his Russian immigrant parents. Both became restaurateurs—it was truly the family business, and probably a huge influence on my eventual foray into food writing and media. Before my dad joined my grandfather, however, he was a bail bondsman, with most of his clients being Vietnam draft dodgers and other hippie types. (Now, in his state of full brainwashed addiction to Fox News, I sigh at the thought of this.) He also owned nightclubs and comedy clubs, the Old Waldorf, The Matrix, X’s, and the Punchline. In the ’70s and early ’80s, there was a vibrant, dirty music scene in San Francisco, a thirst for culture and subculture and drugs and grime and leather jackets, that week by week since has been replaced with untucked polo shirts and Google Glasses and people who think that Tartine bread could somehow be objectively better than a fresh Oaxaquena torta.
My grandfather owned Tommy’s Joynt, a still-standing no-bullshit corned beef sandwich dive on Geary and Van Ness. He died in 1999, but sometimes I read the Yelp reviews anyway. They’re peppered with rants from entitled self-identified foodies who don’t understand why anyone would want something non-artisan, served on a tray, palatable for the working class and for people who don’t give a shit about quinoa or kombucha, and reviews from people who gave one star because their drunk friend brought in outside food and had to throw it away when anyone who has worked in a restaurant knows that this is against the law.
Maybe that’s one of the things that really burns about San Francisco’s class war; the giant influx of new residents who have never and will never work a service job, or know what it’s like to have to wipe down a table when someone has drunkenly soaked it in their own interpretation of an Irish car bomb, or hang back up a pile of two dozen dresses that someone left in a dressing room instead of bringing it out for you to sort on a rack. Like most people who grew up in the area that I did, I was born with some kind of silver spoon in my mouth and undeniable privilege. But I’m glad that my parents never raised me to be above working at a record store or a restaurant, because that is when you see people’s true nature. When you are there simply to serve them, to assure that they have a good time, and they really have nothing to gain from being kind to you. They also feel like they have nothing to lose by yelling at you for taking too long to refill their water. And in spite of that, even though now I’m sitting at a desk in an office with free Lara Bars and soda, I still feel the urge to bus people’s tables whenever I’m at a restaurant.
San Francisco was once a place where people in the service industry could afford to live. And other non-white-collar people too; performance artists, drummers, political writers, radio show hosts. You’ll find them on the next ferry to Oakland, if they’re not there already.
I miss San Francisco. When I left, it felt like a languid, gap-toothed lover that I kept getting wine-drunk with over and over, each time ending up on the same couch giggling and eating the same quesadilla. I felt overly contented, uncomfortably comfortable. It’s hard to remember sometimes that that can be a bad thing, but it’s the same reason that if you wear leggings every day, you’ll get fucking fat. Resistance can be very valuable.
But in New York, the resistance might be excessive. A trip to Target takes a week to plan. Leaving the city is almost unheard of unless you magically befriend someone in ownership of a car, or are willing to spend $100+ to Zipcar it far enough out of city limits to feel like a real day trip. Mediocre cocktails are regularly $12 or more. But the difference is that New York knows this about itself, and shrugs. San Francisco is in the midst of an identity crisis. Is it North Beach strip clubs, or Haight Ashbury burnouts, or 24th street immigrants, or Valencia hipsters, or preening SOMA tech peacocks? And can all of the above possibly live together, fairly and happily, in a space only 7 miles by 7 miles?
What I had in San Francisco as a younger person will never be again, because I will never be 23 and devoid of responsibility again. But I carry with me literally hundreds of flashes of running down the street, barely able to breathe because I’m laughing so hard, happy that things were still kind of weird and dangerous and unpredictable.
So I don’t know if I’ll be here for a long while, or what my next frontier will look like. It’s hard to chase beauty when you find it in things that are a little bit ugly. San Francisco, I don’t know when or if I’ll ever be back for good. Maybe in six months, maybe never. But I’m not ashamed to say that I miss you, or at least my memory of you.
Pardon my inexcusable lapses in updating. Now that I’m not entrenched in a snow fortress, desperately attempting to thaw by consuming only hot toddies and ramen, I’ve been (thankfully) spending less idle laptop time.
I have three new stories up on VICE from the past week or two:
If you had told me when I was 15 years old that I would be casually chatting on the phone with the guy who made Dude Ranch, Bleed American, and everything else I viewed holy as am emotional, “alternative” adolescent with a penchant for drum fills, I would have just about died oh my gawd. Let alone that the same dude was the drummer of Drive Like Jehu, a post-hardcore band that is oft-lauded as “seminal” amongst us “-core” miscreants. But even as a 27-year-old, I definitely felt a massive rush of nerdy satisfaction from hearing Mark Trombino casually mention, in his own voice, that he produced those albums. Anyways, now he makes awesome donuts and I interviewed him primarily about that.
For this sucker, I dug deep into the academia of marijuana brownie history to get to the root of how little old ladies became the prominent icons of weed treat ‘lore, starting with Alice B. Toklas and finishing with San Francisco’s own folk hero Brownie Mary.
This one was a little old thing called an assignment, though no complaints other than that body odor issues will now be forever Google-associated with my name. And now even worse since I just typed that out on my own blog. But anyways, broccoli and garlic and meat might be making you stink, but you should probably keep eating broccoli and garlic and stop eating red meat because obviously and now even the UN says so.
Thanks for reading and I’ll have more to say soon than just links, links, and more links. My brain is crowded. Honest.
Heading to Palm Springs this weekend, thank the lord. It’s time to get out of the oppressive snowglobe that this winter has transformed New York into. I’ll be relaxing inside the half-shell of a coconut, spooning a pineapple under the shade of a palm frond.