1. In the “Takes a Licking” Department: Katelin left her cell phone in the pockets of her jeans Saturday, a fact we discovered when fishing a load of clothes out of the washer. The cell phone appeared to be completely dead after going through the heavy duty cycle . . . but as it dried out, functionality returned one piece at a time. Today, as best we can ascertain, the phone receives and makes calls as well as it ever did, her contacts are intact, and you can see everything you need to see on the screen, even with little water marks inside it. Astounding!

2. In the “Performs as Advertises” Department: We’ve noticed a higher than usual Japanese Beetle population in our gardens, and noticed a couple of trees were looking a little chewed up, so I went and bought three Bag-A-Bug Japanese Beetle traps. As I was setting them up, I opened the little attractant scent packages, and the bugs started swarming me. I got three traps set up, then fled inside, shaking beetles out of my hair. About four hours later, I went out to look at the traps, and each one had literally hundreds of beetles inside it. Very impressive! (Reminded me of when I was a kid, and we had a Japanese Beetle invasion one year, so they had us all making traps out of chlorine bottles in art class at school to take home and hang in our yards . . . these traps, with these modern attractants, blow our arts and crafts traps completely out of the water, and how).


Since I stopped working as a music critic in 2003, most of my listening tends to be either (a) new stuff by old bands that I already know I like, (b) old stuff by old bands that I already know I like, but can now buy online when the whim strikes me, or (c) stuff made by people I know from around here. It’s rare when a new or new-ish non-local band really captures my fancy anymore, so I figure I ought to report out since I’ve got two rocking my world of late.

The first is Battles, and their album Mirrored. The single “Atlas” is one of the coolest, catchiest things I’ve heard in a long, long time. Infectious from the first listen, which is sort of astonishing, since it’s sort of a math rock meets Burundi beats mash-up with strangely processed, unintelligible lyrics. This quartet of seasoned indie rock vets produce some remarkably nimble and complex music together, and do it with some truly impressive displays of creativity and instrumental skill. I had heard (and liked) their earlier EP’s, but this record takes them to a whole new plane of accomplishment.

The second band I’m enjoying a lot lately is Blitzen Trapper, especially their latest album Wild Mountain Nation. This one’s all over the place: they swing from knotty-proggy numbers to hashed-out Neil Young-style folkie fare, touching all sorts of straight-up melodic rock high points in between. I think they could fill the part of my heart that died when the wonderful Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci gave up the ghost last year; they’ve got the same sort of thrilling, eclectic, imaginative approach to stirring weird musical things together and creating magic in the process.

Both highly recommended, with some interesting back catalog that’s worth exploring if these rock your socks off.

Upstate Scene War: Rockets Over the Pruyn House

Albany: Oh man, did you see this week’s concert listings? Someone messed up big time. On Friday night, they’ve got Wheel Dio, Stake Knife and Cake Gobbling Merkin playing up at Ting’s Tavern in Saratoga, the same night that we’ve got Gassy Veal Kittens, Space Chubby and a Drunknard poetry reading at Mister Larry’s Music Space here in Albany. This is a problem! Why would anybody book another big local show on top of ours? This seems to happen every single time we get something big lined up! Why, dammit? Why?

Saratoga: Oh, there’s no problem here, really, Albany. We can just combine the two shows into one at Ting’s Tavern, see? I mean, six bands isn’t so bad considering Stake Knife only plays for 10 minutes. Plus, you can’t drink at Mister Larry’s, or at least not legally anyway, so why not just take this whole gig out of Albany and move it up the road to Saratoga and have great night out for the whole scene? I’ll give you 10% of the door and 5% of the bar and you can buy some nice little art for your nice little nonprofit music space. Or a pizza. What do you say?

Albany: How come Saratoga is always messing with Albany, huh? You think you’re better than us? Well, I think it’s time that we come up there and hapkido your ass, Saratoga! Then when that’s done, we need to drag your pretentious, horsey-loving, plaid-stretch-waistbanded-fancy-pants-clad asses back down here to Albany to have a little sit down under the bright lights to let you know what’s going to happen if you book another unapproved out-of-town gig for our local Albany artists again!

Clifton Park: The head of the dojo we take our kids to says that hapkido is only for self defense. So Saratoga would have to attack Albany first, or it would be a violation of the rules. We’ll bring it up at school tonight when we’re meeting with the principal and the guidance counselors to make sure that all of our kids get into all the talented and gifted and advanced preparatory courses they need to make us all proud, so we don’t have to disown them and ship them off to Catholic schools in Waterford or Troy should they fail to make (and start on) the cross country, basketball, and lacrosse teams. There will be no average kids in our houses, no way!

Saratoga: Oh, I’ll attack first, Albany, you bet! Your thin, anemic blood will be spilt by psychic fire from Saratoga before you even get your Toyota Tercels out of your driveways! Bring it, little Capital City! We superior horse-folk will crush you with our fabulousness and complete and utter disregard for the less-than-wealthy people who populate your badly-furnished little swamp along the Hudson. For Mary Lou! Onward! Huttah!

Waterford: Oh, no, watch out! Upstate Scene War, with us in the middle! It’s on! Call the gang! Call the cops! Call Troy!

Troy: Troy represent! Ain’t nobody can take on Troy and be able to walk away! This Friday night, Troy will draw blood from both Saratoga and Albany simultaneously with a show by The Fearsome Furniture Fondlers at the Pretentious Arthaus Klownplex! Take that, you backward-looking, government-loving sissy towns! And, uh, now if you’ll excuse us, we’ve got a City Hall to sell so that we can send our kids to school. Later.

Albany: Yeah, that’s right, Troy, you just shut your collar over there! Everyone knows you’re just Albany’s little side-kick city, where we stick our community colleges and minor league ball clubs. The stuff that’s not nice enough to go into the suburbs.

Latham: Yeah, we get all the nice stuff. Sam’s Club. Latham Circle. Latham Circle Mall. Hoffman’s Playland. Latham Farms. We look down our noses at Troy.

Loudonville: Oh my heavens, will you look at this? Mindy Muffinstuffer and Heather Loudonvillian are holding a fundraiser for NPR this Friday at the Starbucks in Loudonville! Bring your tote bags and coffee mugs, everybody! Six dollar grande skim soy lattes, dust of nutmeg, vapor of cinnamon, stirred with cruelty-free, sustainable recycled wooden stickie thingies, for everybody! Yay!

Latham: Oh, shut your pie-hole, Loudonville! You don’t even really exist. What the hell’s a “hamlet,” anyway? You’re just a Bantustan for rich wingnuts. Latham is where it’s at! And we mean that literally, in the case of that Starbucks. You just like to say it’s in Loudonville to make the coffee-snob wingnuts who hang out there feel special.

Guy Who Esplains Thins: Latham is correct. The Starbucks in question is north of Newtonville. It is therefore impossible for it to be in Loudonville.

Loudonville: Latham is where we send our more marginal residents (and sometimes children) to work. It’s also where we feed.

Newtonville: Please don’t fight, Latham and Loudonville. Every time you do, I’m the one caught in the middle! Think of the children!

The Children of Newtonville: We live on Maxwell Road, right on the bitterly contested Latham-Loudonville border. At night, we fall asleep to the sound of rockets flying over the Pruyn House.

Newtonville: See? There’s the problem: most of Maxwell Road is actually in Newtonville. In fact, the heart of Newtonville is the intersection of Maxwell and Route 9. It’s us innocents who continually get blasted in the internecine war between the Loudonville and Latham Bantustans, with the trust funds on one side, and the wannabes on the other. We’re like the Kurds of Suburbia.

Osborne Road: We got it the best: blue collar neighborhoods with a Loudonville mailing address. Jacks the property values up like crazy, yo!

Pruyn House: We are the Switzerland of the northern suburbs, a little forested enclave filled with chocoholics, frolicking in the flowers. All people are safe in the neutral Pruyn House. Although we do have quotas for the number of Newtonvillians we will let in.

Old Niskayuna Road: Psych! I’m not in Niskayuna! I’m a Bantustan within a Bantustan! The slightly-rich Loudonvillians all pine to live on me, with the fabulously-rich ones who actually do!

Something-Shaker Road: We can’t even keep ourselves straight. All we know is that having the word “Shaker” in your road name means “higher traffic, lower property values.” Damn you, Old Niskayuna Road, Maxwell Road and Fiddlers Lane, how we hate you!!

Watervliet-Something Road: How do you think we feel?

Watervliet-Shaker Road: Is it any wonder I have an inferiority complex, given my parents’ low self esteem?

Spring Street Road: I have the best name of all times! I am a street and a road!

Troy-Schenectady Road: Well I guess I’m screwed, but good.

Watervliet-Shaker Road: Yeah, our motto is “Thank God for Troy-Schenectady Road!”

Latham: If we sealed our borders, all of the northern suburbs would starve and run out of hardware. Don’t push your luck, Loudonville. And by the way, Newtonville: we consider you to be our Sudetenland.

Loudonville: Yo, Latham, you are aware that Latham Farms isn’t really a farm, aren’t you? You’d starve if we isolated you from Albany!

Latham: Latham Farms honors our agrarian past. Now we don’t need farms. We have Sam’s Club, Target and Allstar Wine and Liquors. All of our needs are met within our borders! Plus, we’ve got the best water towers in the region. Dig those checkerboards, yo!

Menands: I think I can lay claim to the best water towers, actually.

Latham: What?! How can Menands claim better water towers than Latham?! Menands is nothing but a historical anomaly, like San Marino or the Vatican City. It is only a matter of time before it fragments, with its richer folks joining Loudonville and its poorer folks joining North Albany. What a silly, useless little town it is!

Colonie: Menands is ours, you fools. And, really, don’t you all realize that you all effectively live within Colonie anyways?

Latham: Shutup, Colonie! You’re always trying to lord it over all of us that “Oh, look! I’m the township! You’re just hamlets!” Well, piss off, you! Because the only part of you that matters is the strip between Route 5 and Sand Creek Road, that none of the rest of us want. That’s nothing to be proud of, fool!

Colonie: Look, facts are facts, and if you don’t live in Albany, then you’re pretty much in Colonie. Unless you’re in Troy, in which case you’d be wise to keep your mouth shut.

Latham: See, Colonie, it’s just that attitude that makes us set up our own little hamlets. You’re like the Holy Roman Empire, with a little self-satisfied government sitting in Town Hall while the Huns and Goths from Watervliet and Cohoes are terrorizing the hinterlands. No wonder Loudonville and Latham have to take care of our own affairs. We sneer at you, Colonie. And The LORD is clearly on our side, because we are home to the largest evangelical church in this region. It’s a big box church to go with our big box stores. We’re a big box kind of hamlet. But we’ll be all set when the Day of Judgment comes, all self-contained and happy while all the heathen Loudonvillians roast in their own rich juices.

Heather Loudonvillian: Did someone call for me? I could certainly use a little roasting in my own juices, if you know what I mean, after all those crantinis and wine coolers I just had down at the Club with Mindy Muffinstuffer. Who’s on first? It’s tee time! Hee hee! Hic! Urp . . .

Tommy Cohoes: Hey there, Heather Loudonvillian. I think I got just the baster for you!

Heather Loudonvillian: Urp!! Hic!!! I don’t feel so good, all of sudden. I think I need to . . . bleeeurrghhh! Bleeee-ARRRRGGHHHHH. Bleeuarrgh-uh-peck-a-wretch-a-kopf!

Guy Who Esplains Thins: Peckawretchakopf was a brilliant composer and laptop player. I saw him at the Pretentious Arthaus Klownplex in Troy once, before he died of consumption and ennui.

Vrolobad Peckawretchakopf (in Hell): Zank you, Guy Vot Esplainses Zins. Ich bin gut to be remembert. Das Sigh.

Space Grief

Marcia and I were channel surfing late last night at The Lodge at Turning Stone when I caught a news report that both Mars Rovers were in jeopardy of suffering their final shutdowns due to a nearly planet-wide dust storm on Mars. As a serious space nerd (see links at right), I find this heartbreaking. While the little robots have long outlived their initial 90-day warranties, they’ve been so robust, and so cool, as they’ve climbed things they weren’t meant to climb, gone down into places they weren’t meant to go, caught amazing shots of rocks, vistas, dust-devils and (most awe-inspiringly) sunsets. Rover Opportunity has spent months riding around Victoria Crater, and was poised to begin her descent into the bowl just as the storm began, but if the sky continues to darken, Opportunity may die of hunger (she’s solar-powered) before getting the chance to roll down into the crater. This makes me sad. I’ve gotten quite fond of clicking the “Mars Rovers” link to the right every so often to see what the little buggers are up to. I’d hate to think that Mars whipped them right on the cusp of a whole new phase of exploration, as the descent into the crater would provide Opportunity the chance to essentially go back into geological time by studying strata through the trip to the bottom of the basin. Here’s hoping the storm blows over, the wind clears the dust off of the Rovers’ solar panels, and both of them are able to keep rolling around the Martian plains, sending us more cool pictures as they do it. Fingers crossed.

The De-Potterized Zone

Lawks, I’m sick of Harry Potter!!

I had thought I was sick of American Idol and The Sopranos, but neither of them quite rose to the levels of deranged hype and hysteria that the overlap of last book and fifth film are generating. I hope it passes soon. I expect I will be disappointed. And that it won’t be the last time.

I come by my lack of interest honestly: I read about 50 pages of the first book before giving up on the series forever, bored and completely unengaged. (Marcia and Katelin, on the other hand, have read them all, and eagerly await the finale). I slept through most of the first two movies before they actually figured out how to film one in an engaging fashion for someone who doesn’t worship the franchise. (Hint: Fire the hacktastic Chris Columbus and his skull-crushingly literal narrative and directorial style).

Back in 2003, I wrote the following in an earlier version of my blog . . .

“Special JES sneak preview of the plot of the next Harry Potter movie, no doubt opening any month now, now doubt requiring me to take my child.

Here’s how the film goes, scene by scene:

Things happen.
Things happen.
Things happen.
Things happen.
Things happen.
Things happen.
“Oh no, it’s Voldemort!”

[Does this show that I’m not really a fan? Should I note that based on my attendance at the first two movies, I should insert “Eric takes a nap” somewhere between the fourth and fifth “Things happen”? Should I express the dismay I felt when I read that the director of ‘Y Tu Mama Tambien’ was directing this one? Or should I just sit tight, secure in the knowledge that ‘Return of the King’ is coming soon, too, and will no doubt wipe the stale taste of the Harry Potter franchise out of my mouth in no time at all?]”

Just for the record, I did manage to stay awake through most of the third and fourth movies, but didn’t really get much from them. Katelin went ahead and saw the new one on her own already, which means I don’t have any parental obligation to do so now. Lucky me.

Don’t get me wrong . . . I’m not some pop culture hating crank who thinks he’s too good or smart for things that are popular. I love it when the stuff I love gets popular, because then it means that I don’t have to work so hard to get it. I’m essentially lazy and lowbrow in that regard. I mean, I love me some My Name Is Earl, some Lord of the Rings (books and movies), some Carl Hiaasen, some Entertainment Weekly, and some really, really, really bad popular music. I even had a blast in Las Vegas a couple of weeks ago, the ultimate in lowest common denominatorship when it comes to entertainment separating you from your money.

I even love me some Charles Dickens and Robertson Davies, so I can get past absurdly named characters and loopy plot cycles if there’s a reason for me to do so. But Ms. Rowling never gave me that, and there’s just something about the Potter books and movies just never worked for me, and I resent the fact that when I don’t get all ga-ga about the latest Potter merch that I have to explain my position to the aghast observers, as if I’m some sort of ugly cultural bridge troll caught by daylight in a brightly lit field of puppies and lollipop trees.

I just don’t like it! Why is that so wrong? Stop staring at me! Rrraarrrgghhhh!!!!

Also for the record: I don’t begrudge the little chiddlers their love of the franchise, nor the parents who buy the books and go to the movies because it brings their children joy. Watching your kids’ faces light up is magical, worth even sitting through Sesame Street Live in the Elmo era. (It would have been a pleasure back when Frazzle and Herry were in charge, and before Cookie Monster cleaned up his act and went veggie). That’s why I went to the Potter movies, and I don’t think Katelin’s enjoyment was reduced one iota by my snoring and drooling in the popcorn.

So I’ve had enough, thank you! No more for me! Move along, nothing to see here! Don’t poke the troll, please! Now I think I’ll go see if I’ve got any My Name Is Earl racked up on the TIVO. That’ll make me feel better, until it’s time to go out and buy the new book and FEDEX it up to camp where Katelin is working, just so that I know she’ll have a smile on her lovely face when she opens the box.

Oh, the terrible things we do for love . . . the horror . . . the horror . . .

Time and Heat

In the ten days since I last posted, I’ve been discovering all sorts of new and interesting ways to test my body’s ability to deal with heat. Marcia and I spent five days in Las Vegas last week, including both the Fourth of July and “07/07/07,” the busiest day in Vegas history according to the newspapers out there. (The lucky day corresponded with the World Series of Poker, no less, so the amateur and professional gamblers were out in force). While there, the air temperature hit a whopping 118 degrees Fahrenheit, which made even the desert-hardened locals grumble. I have felt hot air in the desert before, but nothing like this: it is amazing once you get above about 110 degrees how much of a difference even one additional degree makes. Your skin felt like you were getting a deep sunburn, even when you were in the shade. A half-mile walk from our hotel to a friend’s condo was enervating . . . the air heat being magnified by the reflected heat off the buildings and asphalt along the strip. Our flight out of Vegas was a real heat-influenced trip, as airplanes don’t lift as quickly in thin, hot air, meaning we had a long, long roll down the runway, followed by a long, slow climb into the air, roiling with thermals and turbulence.

 We figured Albany would be balmy by comparison, but then discovered that mid-90s feel pretty rotten too, when coupled with high humidity. To top it all off, we lost power overnight (again!) in the storm earlier this week, so spent a hot and sticky evening at home, unable to comfortably even open the windows, due to neighbors with roaring generators. I give them an A for planning, but a D for community spirit. Tuesday morning (still no power), I arose, drove to work in the Berkshires (equally hot), then drove back to Hudson to catch the Amtrak into New York City for a two day training session. Unfortunately, our train was hours late due to power outages back up the line and heat-related speed restrictions. I guess in the same way that airplanes have to compensate, trains have to slow down to deal with over-heated rails. Manhattan was a stewy miasma when we arrived, though I am grateful that my hotel room (where I type) has good, solid air conditioning and high quality, high pressure shower. Those factors make many other unpleasantries better.

 Day one of training behind me, I’ll be heading out soon to find a cool (both temperature-wise and cache-wise) place to eat dinner. Last night, I actually had a delicious pollo enchilada con mole. A good mole sauce also mitigates many ills. Let’s see if I can’t find something tonight to do the same. At least it’s raining out now, so I’m hoping this is the end of my ten day high temperature test trial. I’m ready for some crisp, autumn air at this point!