Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Five Great Billy Joel Songs About New York City

I've seen Billy Joel in concert seven times. Yes, SEVEN. And while every one of those on-the-road shows was magical in its own way, I've never seen him play a home game. Apparently, his New York City shows, charged with the energy of an adoring hometown crowd, are incredible. 

Well, as luck would have it, things are about to change for me. Tonight the Piano Man will be ringing in the new year at the Barclays Center here in Brooklyn, and Mike and I will be there! (Also, Ben Folds Five is the opening act! I can't friggin' believe it. More on this later.) I am pee-my-pants excited about tonight's show, so in celebration, I thought I'd share my own BuzzFeed-style listicle of five quintessentially "New York" selections from the Billy Joel catalog. I hope you enjoy.  

(Also, be sure to tune into "Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve with Ryan Seacrest" on ABC tonight. They'll be cutting to the concert after midnight, as Billy will be performing the first song of the new year.)  

Have a happy New Year, and I'll see you all in 2014!   


"Why Should I Worry?"

Performed (though not written) by Joel for the 1988 Disney animated film Oliver and Company. Dodger, the shades-sporting mutt who rules the streets of New York, cockily boasts about his "street savoir-faire.":

"52nd Street"

Named for the Manhattan street on which Joel's record label and studio were located at the time of its recording (1978), and a tribute to the street's history as a famous jazz-performance corridor. Despite being the title track from one of his best-known albums, this little number remains a relative obscurity in the Billy Joel catalog:

"Big Man On Mulberry Street"

A big-band inspired highlight from the 1986 album The Bridge, Joel self-referentially conjures a "Mr. Cool" poser strutting around lower Manhattan "like he's the King of Mulberry Street":

"Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out On Broadway)"

From 1976's Turnstiles, and inspired by the infamous "Ford to City: Drop Dead" headline in The Daily News, the lyrics imagine the Big Apple's apocalyptic demise from the perspective of an aged survivor who watched it all go down. (Note: the "distant" future from which this old-timer gives his account is now only three years away. Yikes): 

"New York State of Mind"

Joel celebrates his New York homecoming after living in Los Angeles for several years. Said to have been written within 20 minutes of his return, the 1976 release has since become an extensively covered standard and Joel's own definitive NYC anthem:

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

"When the Evil Shredder Attacks ... "

I haven't done a lot of drawing since I was a much younger lad. But occasionally, I'll stumble across an object that really inspires me: 

"Say, that gives me and idea."
And suddenly, I'm filled with the urge to create:

"I'm gonna draw something!"
And then, I let my slightly twisted side take over:

 The end.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Major Assumptions: The Woe of an Aspiring History Student

Don't get me wrong. I have nothing against teachers. I love teachers. They are noble, dedicated professionals for whom I have nothing but respect and admiration. But please, please, for the love of god, PLEASE! When I tell you I want to major in history, stop asking me if I plan on becoming a teacher.

Okay, it’s not the question itself that bothers me. I don’t mind that people are curious about my life plans/career goals. What rubs me like a schoolyard noogie is the automatic, assumptive manner in which this question is always put to me. It’s as if the word “history” triggers a reflex-like response where people can’t help but blurt, “Oh, so you want to teach then?” As if they’re only asking me to affirm what they already know – that, “duh, what else would you do with a history degree?” That my desire to study history must translate to an aspiration to teach.

And I’m not saying I’ve ruled out the possibility of becoming a teacher. Far from it. But, as you might imagine, it gets a little frustrating when you’re relentlessly confronted with other peoples’ narrow view of your future options.

Look, I get it. There aren't many professions where it's important to know when the Battle of Hastings took place. But anyone who thinks bite-size tidbits of trivia are all I'll gain by studying this subject completely misunderstands history as an academic discipline. 

An astute observer will recognize a history major as someone who's well-read and well-practiced in writing, who's adept at detailed analysis and deep critical thinkng, who knows how to do intensive research, connect obscure dots, draw informed, insightful conclusions, and can present these ideas in a cohesive and convincing manner. It's a rigorous, intellectually demanding curriculum that should speak volumes about the aptitude of those who successfully take it on. (Also, you get to learn when the Battle of Hastings took place!)

With that said, it shouldn't be so hard to imagine any other profession where these skills and aptitude are coveted assets. Or to realize that a history degree frequently precedes any number of perfectly viable graduate programs. (Ever hear of law school? Journalism school? Even business school?) Needless to say, peoples' tendency to underestimate the practical value of a history degree is ... irksome.

So, if not teaching, what will I do with a history degree? Well, beyond hanging it on my wall, I really haven't decided. I'm pursuing this course of study with no specific career objective in mind. I want a to earn a college degree, and history is my favorite subject. It's as simple as that. My lack of laser-focus might seem foolish to some, especially given today's competitive job market and the out-of-control costs of higher learning, but I'm really not that worried about it. As I've explained, a history degree is a versatile credential, and if my extensive experience as a job-seeker is any indication, having one will give an opportunity-expanding boost to my future aspirations

In the meantime, I'd rather not dwell on the professional viability of my college education. I get that it's something I'll have to sort out eventually, but for now, I'm just looking forward to immersing myself a subject that has captured my imagination for as long as I can remember. I just want to learn – to to enrich my mind and become a smarter person regardless of the financial payoff. To me, that's what education is supposed to be about.

So, to sum up today's lesson, I am sincerely flattered by your interest in my future plans. And you are welcome to ask me if I want to become a teacher, provided the question arises more naturally in our conversation. But again, please stop asking simply because you assume there's nothing else a history major can do. It just annoys me, and makes me want to put your ass in the corner with a dunce cap. We both know you're smarter than that, so kindly knock it off.

Thank you.

Class dismissed.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Are You a Vampire Weekend Fan?

Well if you're not, you should be. They're really one of the best things going on in the whole alternative/rock/indie/pop/whatever-music scene right now. And if you put any stock in what the critics say, the New York band's latest album, Modern Vampires of the City, is their best work yet, and among the best albums so far this year. (I have yet to decide if it's my favorite VW album, but still, it's pretty fantastic.) Anyway, check them out:

Monday, March 11, 2013

Knives On a Plane

I used to have an awesome Swiss Army knife. It was given to me by my eldest sister as a 21st-birthday present. I had been wanting one for years, and considering the milestone birthday, and the fact that she'd first taken the time to have my initials engraved in the blade, it was an object to which I'd formed a particular sentimental attachment. It was shiny and compact; both beautiful and practical. And for more than a few years, I carried that handy little tool in my pocket at all times. 

But as I passed through airport security in Seattle one day, my folded-up knife was stashed in a small inner pocket of my carry-on bag. I had completely forgotten it was there, and apparently, the TSA screeners never noticed it. I boarded my flight without incident, and for the rest of that trip, I was totally oblivious to the illicit little stowaway in my knapsack. 

That is, until it was time for me to fly home.

The more-alert TSA screeners at Newark's airport detected the knife right away. The agents immediately pulled me aside to ask me what, exactly, a potentially lethal object was doing in my carry-on. I explained my honest oversight to them, and they seemed to understand. Nevertheless, they weren't about to let me board a plane with that blade in my bag. I was presented with a choice: Go back and check my carry-on (and almost certainly miss my flight), or toss my knife into a sad receptacle full of forbidden items discarded by other absent-minded travelers. In the heat of the moment, I made a snap-decision, and ruefully (almost tearfully) relinquished my treasured Swiss Army knife. 

I'm sharing this sad tale because I recently read that the TSA is about to relax its restrictions for knives on planes. Today, it's unsafe to carry any knife onto an aircraft. But next month, blades of a certain size will be perfectly fine. It feels kind of arbitrary to me. I mean, has something suddenly changed as far as the inherent risk posed by a two-inch blade? Or is the TSA telling us that flying would have been just as safe all along without a decade-long ban on pocket knives? 

In other words, was losing my Swiss Army knife a noble sacrifice made for the greater cause of safer skies? Or was it just another degrading act of TSA security theater, serving only to coddle the reptilian brains of anxious travelers? I really don't know. 

As an anxious flyer myself, I readily admit to sometimes allowing myself to be soothed by hollow security gestures. (Whatever gets you through the flight, my friends.) But from the grounded comfort of my home office, I feel freer to rationally ponder the implications of certain measures, and question whether they make us safer, or just make us feel safer. 

I understand the original rationale behind the knife ban. And I realize that the line between genuine security, and the mere illusion of it, is a blurry one. I don't pretend to know what it takes to keep a planeful of travelers safe. But I do know that reactionary, emotion-based impulses frequently lead to less-than-reasonable decisions. (Heck, if all security decisions were based on my usual pre-flight emotions, the only objects allowed on planes would be donuts, Valium, and Captain Sully.) And useful or not, the security measures born in these rash moments seem to have exacted a troubling toll on the weary traveling masses. 

So, with these policies subject to sudden and seemingly arbitrary reversal, it does seem reasonable to ask the overall question, "what for?"

Anyway, I'm not trying to get all mired in a controversial debate to which I bring zero expertise. And I really don't mean to offer commentary from one side or the other. (I'll leave that to The Onion.) I'm just saying, now that the TSA's decided it's safe to carry knives onto planes, I wish I could get my knife back.  

Monday, March 4, 2013

Somebody's Getting Married!

July 2012 (photo by Julia Cocuzza)
Yup, it's official. Mike and I are engaged! Here's how it all went down. 

It began one Sunday afternoon a couple weeks after Mike and I started dating. We were just beginning to introduce each other to our respective friends, and that day, a good friend of mine was meeting Mike for the first time. Somewhere between brunch and a trip to the mall (we're super gay, I know), Mike stepped away for a moment, so I eagerly seized the opportunity to gather my friend's first impression: 

Me: "Well? What do you think?" 

Friend (without a blink of hesitation): "I love him, Dan! He is SO great!"

Me (beaming): "I know ... I'm going to marry him."  

It was one of those moments where as soon as you hear yourself saying the words, you realize you actually mean them. It's sort of startling, but in a completely wonderful way. I suddenly realized this was the first time I had ever felt that way about someone, let alone had the conviction to say so out loud. Mike and I barely knew each other, but that's exactly how I felt. And honestly, I never stood a chance. I was no match for Mike's instant, irresistible charms, and he basically had me at the first "let's get dessert." By now it was obvious to anyone who knew me that I was smitten like never before.

Four years, eight months, and several days later, I would work this little story into the speech I delivered
while proposing to Mike. (And yes, it was I who did the proposing, to answer the most-asked question about our engagement thus far.) After all this time, my early-on sentiment was about to become reality. Sure, there was never much doubt that we would eventually get there, but we'd never been in a huge rush toward the altar, either. We didn't mind just taking our time. And anyway, before we could do anything, this had to happen first.

But finally, after months of anticipation, it was time.  

Last Friday night, under the pretense of treating him to a quiet post-birthday dinner, I slyly lured Mike to one of our neighborhood's finer dining establishments. I made my way to the restaurant a little before Mike (slipping out early for a sudden "work emergency"), and arranged to have flowers and champagne waiting at the table for his arrival. But with everything in place, I was still stressing about when I was supposed to pop the question. (Over the first drink? Over the main course?? Over dessert??? Mmmm ... dessert.)

Mike seemed perfectly at ease during our usual pre-dinner chit-chat, but I was nervous, sweaty, and conspicuously fidgety. I couldn't hold out much longer. Once the server had poured the champagne, and taken our dinner orders, I decided it was do-or-die time. With a deep breath, I reached across the table, took Mike by the hand, and earnestly delivered those heartfelt words about my feelings for him. 

I then asked Mike if he would marry me. He said he'd have to think on it. 

(J/K, friends! He totally said yes! What did you think this post was about?)

I liked it, so I put a ring on it.

And so did he.

(Mike's ring from the Dina Martina Gift-Parade collection, and mine from the decidedly better-tasting Top Pot collection.)

The bubbly-fueled aftermath of this moment is a bit blurry. There were some teary, choked-up exchanges of lovey-dovey nonsense, followed by a dizzying discussion of all the potential details of our wedding, followed by a flurry of ecstatic phone calls to family and friends that basically consumed the rest of our night. One thing I do remember is that Mike called his folks right there at the dinner table, and while they were overjoyed by the news, they expressed very little surprise. (Turns out someone had privately spoken with them beforehand in order to obtain their blessing. Sounds like a classy guy to me.) 

The next day, as our news began to spread, the elated congratulatory calls kept pouring in, and some friends even showed up with vital engagement provisions:

Yup, that's a giant, green beer mug.

They're a wacky bunch, our friends.
And I must say, all the wonderful, enthusiastic responses from our dear friends and loved ones have been nothing short of overwhelming. We couldn't be happier or more excited about our plans, and we've never felt so loved.

Now all we have to do is plan the damn thing. (No sweat there, right? RIGHT?) We'll be figuring out the exact where and when very soon, but we're planning on a Seattle wedding sometime this summer (shooting for June 15th - already our anniversary!). It's gonna be a hectic few months. But hey, at least we know some great wedding-stationary folks!

And if the Muppets can pull it off, so can we: 

(Note: The inclusion of this clip should in every way be seen as an endorsement of legalized frog-on-pig marriage. Love is love, people!)

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

When It's Time to "Lego" of Your Stuff

An Imperial AT-ST walker. I call her "Legs." (Get it? Because of her legs? And because she's made of Legos? My humor has layers, friends.)

As I mentioned in a recent post, Mike and I are relocating to New York City later this year. This will be a huge transition in any number of ways, but surely among the most jarring will be the dramatic loss of space that awaits us. We fully expect that after trading in our sprawling, 1,800 square-foot Seattle palace, we'll be squeezing into a cozy little shoebox somewhere in the five boroughs. It won't be easy, but we're resigned to the realities of NYC apartment-living, and we'll adjust.

In preparation for the big move, we have begun the preliminary purging of stuff, sifting through drawers, cupboards, shelves, and closets for anything unwanted and easily discarded. The prospect of lugging all of our crap cross-country has motivated us to do as much slimming down as possible. And of course, if we hope to actually fit into the new place, this downsizing will be essential. But in spite of having already sold or donated dozens of books and DVDs, piles of clothes and shoes, and numerous other household sundries, we still feel nowhere closer to our goal-weight in stuff. We're beginning to accept the reality that to achieve this goal, when the time comes, some tough decisions will have to be made. 

Which brings me to the subject of this post: My Legos. 

Among my most geeky, but treasured possessions is a modest collection of Lego Star Wars ships. You've already met Legs, but allow me to introduce you to the rest of fleet:

The TIE interceptor

"Slave I" (Boba Fett's ride)

The B-wing starfighter (docked)

B-wing in "flight"

And the rest!

Sweet collection, right? 

Anyway, the first time Mike visited my old bachelor pad, this nifty array on proud display in the living room was among the first things he noticed (along with a badass pair of working lightsabers). I'm sure it was a curious surprise, but if he was at all troubled by a grown man showing off his collection of Legos to a first-time visitor, he didn't let on. He would later confess that although this gave him an "interesting" first impression, he was reassured by all the photos of family and friends also on display. "Oh, I get it. He's not some weird, closed-off sociopath with a toy fetish. He's just a dork." (I prefer "Dork Vader," actually.)

When Mike and I moved in together, it was decided that the Legos had to go. It wasn't that Mike had any particular aversion to displaying toy spaceships in our living room (the decision was mutual, he assured me). It was just a question of space. The new apartment wasn't that big, and with the merging of all our stuff, there wouldn't be anywhere to put the Legos. So, solemnly, I disassembled the fleet, collected its pieces in a drawer, and placed them in the closet for their indefinite exile. 

We've since moved into our current, much bigger place, but it's taken me quite a while to find the motivation to reassemble the ships. It's a time-consuming and surprisingly painstaking process. I mean really, there must be thousands of pieces involved: 

"Ages 8 and up" my foot.

But I was spurred into action when, after the decision to move was made, I realized that I probably wouldn't be able to keep my Legos. We'll have no room to display them in our new place – that's a given. But storage space, too, will likely be a precious commodity for us. True, the sets don't take up that much space, and their weight, in terms of an apartment's worth of cargo, is negligible. But when your decisions on what to keep and what to discard are measured down to the individual coffee mug, every little item counts. So I've decided it's time to let them go. Sure, it was a tough call, but this was really only a trial-run for the bigger, tougher ones that lie ahead. I'm just trying to teach my self how to "Lego" of my things.

So why, if I'm not going to keep my Lego fleet, did I take the time to rebuild it? Well, for one thing, it was easily the funnest way to organize a drawer overflowing with all those tiny, unsorted Lego pieces. I mean, if I'm giving them away (and I'm just sayin', I know a few kids who are gonna be psyched), it's probably best to have them arranged into their respective sets, no? But also, I just wanted to give the fleet one last "hurrah" before we part ways. This was a chance for me to take 'em out on a critical final mission: Allowing me to indulge in some nostalgic, Star Wars-geeky playtime. And now that I've had my fun, and taken plenty of pictures, this silly little blog-tribute is my way of saying goodbye.

It's been easy for us to become attached to our stuff. But in the end, it's only stuff. And next to our dear friends and beloved city, leaving our possessions behind will be the easy part. But by re-building these Lego sets, I've been able to build on the countless memories that I will bring with me to New York. The Legos will forever reside among my Seattle-memory touchstones, and whenever I think of them, I'll be thinking back on my time here. And with this reassurance in mind (and now that I've gone and gotten all sappy about Legos), I see that it's time, and I'm ready to let them go.

But I'm keeping the lightsabers: