Monthly Archives: August 2008

The Care Bears touched me wrong

Years ago, when I was around 6 or so, my mother sent in a coupon to get a free Care Bears “Safe ‘n Fun” playset given out by the Adam Walsh Foundation. For those who don’t remember the media circus, Adam Walsh was a kid who got abducted off the street, and after a multi-state search expedition all that was recovered was his head.

And so his foundation sent out these free paper playsets.

I barely remember this part. I might have looked at it for all of thirty seconds before tossing it. However, the set came with a record, featuring the Care Bears cautiously reminding kids not to talk to strangers, and not to let Uncle Bob play Mr. Slippy Fist with them.

For your listening pleasure, I now give you Safe ‘n Fun™ with the Care Bears.

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WTF

 

Touch & Dance!

Touch & Dance!

Thank you, Japan, for a world where we can still make fun of a pudgy white kid named Johan.

Is one who dreams a fool, or one who implements his dream badly?

For years, there was a fruit market on the corner of 30th Avenue and 35th Street, around the block from me. It always had fruit and vegetables beautiful enough to photograph, was a bit too expensive for the neighborhood, and would close around 9 every night whereas other neighborhood fruit markets would stay open all night. I seldom bought anything there, but enjoyed walking by it, taking in the view of some of the most beautiful produce I’d ever seen.

About a year ago, the place closed, and after about six months of construction, in its place opened “Corner 30”, one of many nicely decorated sidewalk cafés on that street.

Many of those sidewalk cafés actually have pretty good food, so I thought I’d give Corner 30 a try. It was overpriced and terrible. Its offerings had no sense of style or identity, and its food tasted like it was made out of obligation. The place closed after only a month, 1/6th of the time it took to build the damn thing.

Six months later, the windows remain papered over. I noticed yesterday that the small potted evergreen bushes sitting outside had died, and somebody had taken (or stolen) the pots, leaving the brown trees collapsed on their clumps of potting soil, ground pointing up at a 45° angle. Perched in front of a clearly ill-conceived business, they seemed like tombstones to the dream of the proprietor, as temporary and as worthless as the dream itself.

I have spent my life collecting garbage.

So I helped my friend Dylan move apartments today. I hadn’t actually moved or helped move anyone since I made my last move over 7 years ago. It’s amazing how 7 years dull the pain.

As I’m inevitably going to move myself in a few months, it occurs to me that the sooner I get rid of my old high school stereo, the TV I bought when I was 13, my VHS deck, my old mac and the half-billion CDs I don’t like and will never listen to, the better. Because there is nothing more terrifying to me than having to move that stuff.

I come from a long line of pack rats. When I was a kid I used to (kinda) look forward to going to my Chinese grandmother’s place, a large two-story treasure trove of old crap that reeked of mothballs and old food. I never knew what I was going to find there, from a WWII era cigarette lighter to an 8mm projector. My then-college aged uncle also had most of his stuff there, and there were countless old cigar boxes that reeked in ways I would not experience again until college. 

In more recent days I had to argue with my father as he clung tenaciously onto his first DVD player, a miniature Sharp model that no longer works at all. “DVD players are $30 now, dad!” I told him. He agreed and exhaled with a sad look on his face, and I instantly understood what he was going through. I glanced over at his reel-to-reel tape deck circa 1972. It had spent over a decade of its life in my bedroom. Next to it was my first bookshelf stereo system, two cassette decks, a turntable, and a Radio Shack audio processor that never seemed to do anything useful. I had lost track of what was originally mine and what was my dad’s. (I should admit here I was less sympathetic to my mother and her over 4 full metal cabinets full of craft supplies she hadn’t touched in over a decade.)

I’ve always been a media collector, be it ancient video game ROM files, anime or obscure movies. In that way, the digital revolution has been a boon to me, as I can sort of have my cake at eat it too, or rather have a perfect reproduction of a 35mm-quality film print without having to keep the 70-pound canister of film. Now that DAYS worth of music can fit on a 25¢ DVD-R and I have the life-long creative output of a small army of movie directors in a binder on my shelf, the media and its related rituals have been lost. Romanticism aside, it seems like a decent trade-off. 

In my heart of hearts, I know I’m not going to be able to pair down this collection much. My CD library, much of it serving more a sentimental role than a utilitarian one, will probably not see much more than a 30% reduction. My DVD library, around 500 discs strong, will likely not take a hit at all. But I can try.

Ironically, the first to go seems to be not the media itself, but the engine on which I play it. My bookshelf stereo system, a Sony all-in-one replete with tape deck, AM/FM radio and 5-disc carousel CD changer, is headed for Craig’s List. I can’t remember the last time I used any of those. (I still have a few cassettes, but most of them are unimportant and easily replaced.) More alarming is that the Logitech iPod dock I bought for $30 after rebate sounds considerably better than this old behemoth. So out it goes, along with the quite serviceable but big and ugly turntable my uncle gave me. I was delighted to discover I still had my little portable turntable, the Mister Disc.

 

Japanese magazine ad for the red version. Only the silver was released in the States.

Japanese magazine ad for the red version. Only the silver was released in the States.

Originally marketed in Japan with the hysterical name “Sound Burger”, the Mister Disc is a turntable capable of playing full-sized records, but it folds up into a little brick not much bigger than one of my shoes. With a built-in preamp, it hooks right into a modern stereo, and even had headphone jacks. So between my Sirius radio, my iPod dock, and my Mister Disc, my entire stereo system now fits in an 18″ x 9″ square on my computer desk.

We’re living in the future.

I can still taste the fish

My friend Mayumi and I decided we were hankering for seafood, but wanted to try someone new. My usual seafood joint, Elias Corner, hasn’t been quite so hot in a while. All I can say is, thank God for the internet, because a quick search of my neighborhood revealed a treasure of a small restaurant that I can easily say is the best seafood experience I quite possibly have ever had.

The place is called Sabry’s, and it’s a little Egyptian place with a sidewalk café so far down Steinway you’re practically on the Triborough Bridge on ramp. I’d actually never been this far down Steinway before, and was unaware of the large Egyptian population just under my nose. (Mayumi insists that I must try real Egyptian hookah, as Indian hookah just doesn’t hold a candle to it.)

Sabry’s looks quite a bit different than it does in its New York Times write-up of 3 years ago. It’s now full of bronze and metals, reflecting an elegance that its simple menu wouldn’t: the prices are low (no item is over $20) and there’s not a drop of alcohol to be found. As Sabry is Muslim, there is strictly no drinking at his restaurant. Instead, there are fresh squeezed juices of a quality rarely seen. We ordered the lemonade, and was treated to a delicately sweetened version of fresh lemon juice. It was out of this world.

But what of the food? Well, we started with babaganush and salad, and couldn’t resist some mussels in red sauce. There were no mussels, but rather clams, and so we resigned ourselves to picking at these pathetic little rubbery things. When the plate came out, we were utterly shocked: these were the biggest, meatiest, most tender clams I’ve ever had. It redefined what I thought clam should taste like. Seasoned in a tomato reduction with onion, cilantro and whole coriander, all talking stopped until they were reduced to shells. Then we grabbed spoons and started lapping up the sauce. It was THAT GOOD. And the bread, oh, the bread! Fresh flatbread, seemingly baked just for us.

Then the main course came out: one was called tagine, a stew (with the same base for the sauce that the clams came in) with squid and grilled shrimp, both out of this world. And then the fish came out. We ordered whole, fried fish, a whiting and a larger one I couldn’t remember. Crispy skinned and lovely, we quickly reduced both to skeletons.

Afterwards Sabry himself came out to ask how everything was, and we told him. A very friendly man of large proportion (as a great chef should be, see: Ratatouille) he and Mayumi chatted about the delights of his hometown, a place she had recently visited. It was a glorious night.

Few restaurants have moved me like this place has. I immediately ran home and wrote a review on Yelp. Everyone must learn of Sabry’s. It’s a treasure.

Remembering why nobody buys CDs anymore

I actually bought a CD this week. I haven’t bought a CD in years! But, listening to Pandora on my iPhone, I actually found a song I really liked that just wasn’t available online ANYWHERE. It was a late 80s cover of Elvis Presley’s “Burning Love” by none other than Ronnie Spector. So I found a used copy on half.com for $8 or so.

Jesus, there is only ONE GOOD SONG on this whole freaking disc. And that was it. Every other song was this terrible 80s pop pablum that made me want to sit in a dentist’s waiting room flipping through old issues of Us Weekly. All I could think was, “$8 for THIS? Imagine if I had bought it NEW back in the day!”

And then I remembered that I did. We all did. And we pretended to like it, but every album and CD we bought with a single listenable track made us all die a little inside.

Downloading isn’t what killed the music business. Filler. THAT’S what killed it.

A sad day at the trash can

Today I threw out about 20 laserdiscs. I cannot overstate how wrong this felt. Laserdiscs are something I once paid $35+ for, and once held the promise of everlasting top-quality video. They were what separated those who are serious about media from those who were only casual consumers. Like VHS, they have long since been made obsolete, but unlike VHS they never had that period of psychological depreciation: they never felt worthless.

Part of the reason for that is that they were always somewhat rare in the United States, and that they are both delicate and heavy: double-sided shiny 12 inch platters that weigh almost a pound, which like a CD can only be handled by its edges. They remain something special that only videophiles of the era can appreciate. Moreover, the experience of using a laserdisc feels weighty and important, like playing a record as opposed to an MP3.

But alas, space considerations mandated I go through my collection and pair it down to only my recent Japanese import purchases of rare anime not available on DVD. I went through all the discs I was so happy to find once upon a time: Broadcast News, Strange Days, Wings of Honneamise…

They now are sitting out at the curb. Tomorrow I’ll forget about them. I have them all on DVD, and a few of them, Blu-Ray. Time marches on. But occasionally one must stop and take notice as days go by.