Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Men's Water Polo (United States v. Romania)

Here we are live from the, um, pool with the Americans' prelim against Romania. Pretty sure these guys will be tougher than Montenegro, whom we barely beat on Sunday.

It's tough to imagine a more boring sport than water polo. Boring to watch, that is. Fourteen hulking men (or women, who are probably hulking as well) tread water in a giant pool for what seems like forever and try to throw a ball into each other's goal. Torture for both viewer and participant.

The commentators opened today's segment by repeatedly reminding their likely novice viewers that water polo is the most difficult sport in the world to play. Every sport (except baseball and golf) claims to be the most physically demanding sport in the world. Ironically, the two hardest things to do in sports are (1) hitting a major league curveball, and (2) hitting a golf ball near crowds of people without killing anyone.

If you're actually interested in the rules of water polo, check out this idiotic guide courtesy of ESPN. I learned that the goalies are about half as large as the other players, and that the playing area is marked by lines of "bouys."

My college roommate was on the school water polo and swim teams, and my buddies and I would often cheer him on at home meets. There was a particularly buxom freshman girl on the swim team that was legendary for causing epileptic seizure epidemics simply by climbing out of the pool after a race. Boy, do I miss college.

Speaking of miracles of science, I had a particularly grueling MRI done last week. I was back at the __________ Imaging Center, the same place I've had this kind of thing done in the past. I reprised one of my earlier performances by enduring a brain-spine-thoracic scan, which most industry insiders consider the Iron Man Triathlon of MRIs. This particular combination usually takes almost an hour to complete, and can last well over 75 minutes with contrast injections. The three components of the examination are rarely administered consecutively, except perhaps with patients in vegetative states, medically induced comas, etc. Unless, of course, that patient is none other than The Ice Pop.

The ____________ Imaging Center is absolutely top-notch, with state-of-the-art equipment and a wonderful staff. I've developed a bit of a name for myself at this particular facility for my ability to endure long periods of time "inside the tube." I scrawl my signature on the required forms and releases, skipping most of the minutae I imagine most clients are asked to complete. An annoying man on a cell phone jabbers away next to me as his partner (girlfriend? paid escort?) fills out his paperwork. Apparently he had a meeting later in the afternoon and was annoyed at waiting so long. You think this is a long time? You're about to learn all about time, my friend...

A nurse materializes from the special elevator, and summons me to come "down to the center." She also summons the phone guy and his companion, which struck me as odd. Before I could think much about it, the jackass bounds past me and almost knocks me off my fucking walker. The nurse stammers an apology (for him), and escorts the three of us into the elevator.

The jerk was still yelling into his phone as we descended two floors beneath the earth. The nurse says, "Sir, you can't use your phone now. There's no reception down here anyway!" The guy, who looked like Kelsey Grammer after ten twists in a vertical head-vise, loses his signal and growls at the nurse. We finally arrive at the facility proper.

Again, this place usually runs with as smooth and efficient as a Swiss train. But something is a bit off today, which is both concerning and a bit depressing. The waiting area, always a calming oasis with tons of room, was completely packed. A guy with a yarmulke rocked an infant in an enormous stroller while his wife waited for her exam to begin. Grammer keeps arguing with the escort nurse, and I calmly wait for my own personal nurse to show me the changing room, outfit my catheter, and present me to the awaiting team of imaging technicians.

My suspicions were validated right away, as the escort nurse fumbled around with a few plastic jugs of barium sulfate for Grammer. He was slated ahead of me (I guess?), but still hadn't drank his barium for whatever the hell he was having done. She says they can fit me in ahead of him as soon as I'm changed, and hands me a plastic keychain. I say, "Shorts and shoes off, robe tied in front?" and she says, "No, just put your bag in the locker, and don't take off your shoes." I say, "OK, but shorts off, right?" and she says, "Leave them on, and don't take off your shoes." I imagined my shorts ripping off my body and through the tube by their metal snap, but didn't argue. As I made my way over to the changing lockers, a new nurse (named "Nimh") hops out of the imaging rooms and asks if I'm ready. I say, "Just putting my bag away," and Nimh says, "Shorts off. Keep your shoes on." WTF?

I came out of the locker area, and asshole was slurping barium sulfate like a kid at the soda shoppe. The guy with the baby has his black shoes off and seems to be nodding off, while his wife was already in room #2. Nimh leads me in to the tubes and I ask about my arm catheter, since I'm being scanned with and without contrast. She mutters something about not having time we'll do it later blah blah 20 minutes barium OK let's go! and I'm going in.

Finally I see my old friend, Anton LaVey. "Anton" (not really his name) is the tech that's done all my MRIs at this place, and a great guy. I'm debating between high five and handshake when Anton totally disses me-- he's just too busy with tube #2! What's even weirder is that there's a new assistant that looks like an imitation of Anton, with the shaved head, pointy beard, but not nearly as cool as his mentor. The minion, as I immediately dub him, doesn't seem to be doing much of anything.

I'm crushed that Anton won't be twirling the knobs on my scan. I had a whole back-and-forth planned out between us, after my MRI tech friend from Cali told me they were able to play music for patients while in the tubes! Something like this:

ME: "Hey man, any chance you can pipe in some tunes for me during round one? I'm thinking Cluster's Sowiesoso would be pretty sweet, if you got it."
ANTON: "Negative. We have Floyd Wish You Were Here, cool?"
ANTON: "I said, we have Floyd..."
ME: "Yeah, I heard you."
ME: "Nah, forget it."

Instead, I get Nimh herself doing the setup and the controls for my MRI. I'm imagining results weeks later looking like an Etch-a-Sketch drawing, and a report stating, "Results inconclusive..." But Nimh was alright, deftly inserting my earplugs and packing my head tightly into the plastic helmet. She packs more foam next to my ears so that I literally can't hear anything (great!), but then explains what the first round would entail while I'm halfway inside the tube (bmfft mwar bmffa mwrlla wrrmf... mmkay?!).

With my head as cozy as a cotton clam, I'm totally in the zone within minutes. I like to keep my eyes barely open while in the tube, like a really stoned frankfurter. I'm about 20 minutes in and feeling like I can do 25 to life when I'm yanked out of the machine. Nimh tells me they have to fit in another client because his barium only works for so long and he's been waiting and I'll have to finish the other parts of my MRI when he's done in about 30 minutes. Fucking Grammer!

I make the walk of shame back out to the lounge, and Grammer's in his robe like some kind of perv waiting to pounce. The magazine table looks like the common area of an upstate SUNY dorm, with shit all over the place. The dad is full on passed out now, and still has his damn shoes off. Why does he get to take his shoes off?!! His child is now awake, and getting restless in his enormous stroller. Making matters worse, my iPod and crossword puzzle are locked in the damn locker, and I can't get to the magazines because of the stroller and the barium bottles. Plus my balls are totally squeezing out of my boxer briefs.

Any questions?

At least I have a front row seat for Grammer's X-ray! I can't tell if it's his head or his stomach, but I can make out what looks like a giant scorpion on the screen. Doesn't look good. Anton's minion is assisting on Grammer's imaging, but is really just fucking around on the side computer. The snoring dad is subconsciously rocking the stroller every time his kid starts fussing. I'm fucking pissed off for almost an hour.

Well, I finally got back in there with the minion running my MRI. He turned out to be an OK guy, and nothing of any interest occurred. The contrast went into my vein like metallic Tussin, and I didn't complain much. All in all, I was down on the imaging floor for a total of three hours.

The U.S. beat Romania in water polo 10-8.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Women's Volleyball (United States v. Brazil)

"Ladies, let's not get ugly out there..."
I missed the entire first set because my son fell in the toilet.

Hey, I caught I nice chunk of the Serbia-Korea match this morning, which was thoroughly entertaining. The Serbian Ivana Đerisilo caught my eye, mainly because I was so busy averting my eyes from the rest of the players on the court (don't bother trying Đerisilo's personal website-- it diverts to a diabetic supply company (?!)). That's not sexism, because I hate watching ugly guys like Mike Miller play in the NBA too, and my other favorite sports all mandate the wearing of helmets. The Serbian coach, Zoran Terzić, was like Aidan Quinn trapped in some kind of fetishistic nightmare. Let's just say they won't be appearing nude in an ESPN photo essay.

Perhaps the Serbs would have fared better against a team not featuring the superhuman Kim Yeon-Koung. I thought she was at least 6'8", but my depth perception was a bit off while I peeked through my hands. Apparently she is known as the "Asian Gamova," which means about as much to me as calling her "Funicular Hedge." My research did reveal that Yeon-Koung is one of the only members of her national team that doesn't play for a team called Korean Highway Corp. Either way, she dominated the game.

As for teams that did appear
nude in an ESPN photo essay, the Americans seem to be in control here. Destinee Hooker is literally blasting the ball down the throats of her opponents, which is pretty awesome! I don't see how they can lose with her at the net. I'm assuming the rest of the team is at least competent. One of the commentators keeps calling the U.S. women "workmanlike." Like, multiple times.

Brazil is making a comeback. Sheilla is mind-blowingly good-- I'm wondering why I don't watch Brazilian volleyball more often. Powerhouse Paula Pequeno seems strong enough to deforest a sizable chunk of the Amazonian rainforest with her bare hands. My third or fourth favorite part of Team Brazil is the diminutive libero Fabiana, who has the appearance of a South American Jerri Blank (she can't possibly be confused with their other Fabiana, who is 6-4 and stunningly beautiful). Fabiana scurries on and off the court like she has absolutely no idea what she's doing, or so I thought until I learned that her position requires her to scurry on and off the court depending on who's serving.

OK, Brazil took the third set and trails 2-1. [zzzzzzzzzzzzz... zzzzzzzzzzz...] Whoops, the U.S. won! [zzzzzzzzz... zzzzzzzzz...]

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Women's Soccer (New Zealand v. Brazil)

This isn't going to be easy.

I've been planning my coverage of the 2012 Olympics since I first learned that London would be hosting the games (about a month ago). The challenges are myriad: time zone differences, children, confusing broadcast programming, lack of prescription drugs... But here we are.

I've decided to go with NBC Sports (channel 122), since it sounds more appropriate than CNBC, MSNBC or Bravo. NBC proper is showing cycling, which I can watch right outside my living room window.

The last 15 minutes of the first half were pretty good. Nil-nil. The Brazilians are absolutely manhandling abusing the Kiwis. Blatant shoves on the sidelines, brutal kicks to the gut on the ground, and even what appeared to be a flat-out insult by Marta. No shit, I saw one of the players standing directly behind a blonde New Zealander during a free kick, rubbing her hands vigorously up and down her opponent's chest and stomach. This is way more exciting than men's cycling.

Still no scoring at the 60-minute mark. Totally into it. Fabiana's pretty dope! Worried that I'm not gonna make it through this whole game...
My wife dragged our shrieking children across the street to the playground about a half hour ago, so I don't have much time here. Last time out the boy kept telling some kid named John that he "looked like a girl," and some adult intervention was required. I told Jr. later on that it's not nice to tell boys that they look like girls, and he said that this one might have been a "boy-girl." Since I wasn't actually at the playground for the incident, I just said, "Well, all Johns are boys," and changed the subject.

We're at 75:00 now. Hey, the opening ceremony was sort of cool! Helped that I was buzzed on some kind of 7.2% weird red beer (Dog-Snake? Dogbite?) and pretty loose after the drubbing of the Red Sox. We didn't really have the sound on, so I had no idea what was going on most of the time, or any sense of what things "meant." That was a big plus.

I was transfixed by the beige-clad escorts of each nation's athletes, and the mysterious objects they were holding. I thought they were either autoharps or personal spittoons (for olive pits?)-- turned out they were components of the massive torch-piece for the finale. Even the Pink Floyd thing worked for me, but I just couldn't sit still for "Hey Jude." Total downer! "Get Back" would've been awesome but a bit confusing... I don't know.

OK, Brazil finally scores after 85 minutes of slogging away. Looks like Fabiana's hurt, or simply exhausted. Put this one in the ledger.


Thursday, July 19, 2012

U is for Urban Dance Squad

Cross-eyed and painful
I looked through my vast subset of CDs by artists beginning with the letter U, and made the extraordinary discovery that many of my personal favorites were all released in the same year! Utopia's Oops! Wrong Planet, Uriah Heep's Innocent Victim, and Ultravox's Ha!-Ha!-Ha! were all born in 1977, and used lots of exclamation points!!! Instead of alienating the shrinking fan base this blog is very fortunate to still have, I've decided to focus on a slightly more contemporary time period...

The early '90s were a marvelous 1000+ days to be alive, especially if you weren't busy overdosing or listening to Michael Bolton. Here are some of the very best records from 1990-1993, all found in the ubiquitous U section.

Uncle Tupelo - No Depression (1990)

Most people I know felt like they'd been waiting to hear this record for most of their life. Not literally waiting for this specific release (like the new MBV?), but waiting for something to sound like this. When everyone on earth was slogging their way through Ragged Glory (myself included), these boys from Belleville took Neil somewhere completely fresh and new. The first three songs alone were responsible for thousands of drunken fights, follies, and promises in my circle of friends, and that's well before "Whiskey Bottle" and "Outdone" hit the stereo.

The first time I met these guys, I told them they reminded me of Metallica. That was the highest praise I could possibly give, but I don't believe it came across that way. In fact, I might as well have said they sounded like Michael Bolton.

Urban Dance Squad - "Deeper Shade of Soul" (1990)

Very little is known about a trip I made with two (three?) of my buddies to see Urban Dance Squad at [unknown club] in New York.
We're sure that we were forcibly removed from the club before the band began, and at least two of us were wearing "U.D.S." promotional goggles/sunglasses for the event.
We think that tequila was consumed on the LIRR trip in, and one of us puked generously at Penn Station after the event, prompting the following exchange:
Cop: "Are you sick or just drunk?"
One of us: "Both!"
We fear that the three (four?) of us ordered Chinese food somewhere near 34th St., sat at a table with our food, dumped the food out on the table, ate some food, and then spat on the floor.

Ultra Vivid Scene - "Special One" promo CD (1990)

No puking or Chinese food associated with this one. Features samples of "Funky Drummer," "When the Levee Breaks," and vocals by Kim Deal. Pure '90s.

U2 - Achtung Baby (1991)

A completely underappreciated album. Five singles, a consistent sound and concept, and just plain fun. I mean, when's the last time someone had a meaningful discussion about how great Achtung Baby is?! Wait, it sold well over twenty million copies worldwide? Still underappreciated.

I stole the CD single for "Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses" at Walt Whitman mall right before seeing Glengarry Glen Ross with a veritable drunken posse. I passed out at the beginning of the film, and woke up amongst my cackling friends, utterly confused and lonely.

Urge Overkill - The Supersonic Storybook (1991)

I wasn't right-away hip to the first two UO joints, but this one totally did it for me. Nothing more fun than indie rockers acting like megastars and pulling it off. Pretty fucking cool.

My friend Kong and I had an ecclesiastical listen to "The Candidate" on about 1/3 malt liquor, 1/2 weed, and 1/6 cough syrup. We then agreed it was as trippy a song as we could remember, and we still agree to this day.

Unrest - Imperial f.f.r.r. (1992)

Unrest was the opposite of Urge Overkill: shrewdly calculating indie rockers acting like indie rockers and pulling it off. They played their cards perfectly with well-placed 7" releases, deft steps along the indie label landscape, and finally a masterful full-length in the Imperial release. Irresistable high-energy pop ("Suki"), pretty drone songs (title track), perfect synthesis of the two ("I Do Believe You Are Blushing"), experimental/ragtag interludes ("Champion Nines," "Sugarshack"), gorgeous balladry ("Isabel"), and full-circle breakneck pop ("Cherry Cream On"). It really holds up, even if you're totally over the label hipster scene.

Uncle Tupelo - March 16-20, 1992 (1992)

No confusing this release with the label hipster scene, unless devastatingly depressing acoustic numbers about coal miners and bulldog gravy are your idea of "indie pop." The Tweedy numbers on this collection are like sprawling daydream-nightmares of America-- the musical equivalent of being crucified. That said, it's actually an enjoyable and even uplifting record ("Sandusky") that carries fond memories for me. Let's ignore the fact that we substituted the word "tussin" into key verses throughout nearly every selection on the album ("Lookin' for a sip of tussin... maybe a sip of mine..."). A nice record to pass out to with all the lights on.

Urge Overkill - Saturation (1993)

Geffen finally gave the UO their big chance, and the rockstar act became reality... for a short while. This record sounds incredible, and there's at least four picture-perfect rockers on here. "Sister Havana" and "Positive Bleeding" were everywhere, and the hipsters that Urge used to have in their hip pockets started looking elsewhere.

Maybe that's why "Dropout" was always my favorite on this record. It's a classic chillout number, kinda sounds like a demo, everyone holds up their lighters (not phones!), etc. I interpreted it as the end of the indie rock era, but that's just me.

US3 - "Cantaloop" (1993)I just couldn't escape this god-forsaken song, everywhere I went. I even pocketed a promo of the damn thing hoping it might provide some sort of protection. Commercials, MTV shows, supermarkets, aaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh!!!!!!

I went to a friend's house for dinner (he will remain nameless, for several reasons), and he fucking put this song on just as we sat down to eat! In fact, he put on the whole damn record! When it happened a second time a few months later, I knew the US3 conspiracy was terrifyingly real.

U2 - Zooropa (1993)
I was way too fucked up on several families of intoxicants during the summer this came out to say anything worthwhile about this album, but I know that I loved it to death. I had one of those 5-CD changers, and I used to sneak this one in there along with weirder instrumental stuff. Zooropa always held its own. At least, I think that's what I was listening to.

Uncle Tupelo - Anodyne (1993)

Let's close things out with this one, the swan song for our beloved UT. I told anyone that still listened to me that this was their very best record, and I became so obsessed that I allegedly demanded that a future band of mine record our only proper studio record live in deference to Anodyne (I lost the banjo argument, but did manage to get violin on a few tunes).

Once Uncle Tupelo lost the three-piece thing, they became something else. What exactly they became depends on whom you ask, but I'll just say "something else." I saw them at least four times on this tour, and I saw their very last regular set in Columbia, MO before the final pair at Mississippi Nights. Sounded like Jay was diddle-soloing over Jeff's verses, but I'll say for sure that the guys were ready to move on.

I guess I was ready to move on, too. I quit my own three-piece band a few months later, and I did it at Cicero's in St. Louis, MO.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

T is for Trip Shakespeare

"You will find a weapon..."
Talking Heads - More Songs About Buildings and Food (1978)
Not the one most people pick, which (I can't deny) makes me like it even more. I like the fact that it still sounds like a live band, except we've got Eno floating around overhead. He's kind of just observing, but occasionally breathes a cloud of synth-mist when he deems it appropriate.
These guys were absolutely ahead of their time, but also very much in their time.

Talking Heads - Remain in Light (1980)

So fucking good... This is the one topping most lists. Hotshots galore (Belew, Nona Hendryx, Jon Hassell, Robert Palmer (!)), but that's just fine. A party album for wiseass dorks, but also a dark sonic tunnel for dopeheads. James Murphy was listening.

Teenage Fanclub - A Catholic Education (1990)
Not the one most people pick, which (I can't deny) has gotten me into more than a few ridiculous fights. "Everything Flows" is the best and most important song of '90s indie rock. Period.
I never thought of this as a pop record, despite coming from indie pop's "next big thing." When this record came out, I was blissfully slogging around in the sludgy morass of the day: anything from Seattle, Ragged Glory, Goo, as well as MBV, Ride, etc. The murkier the better.
"Everything Flows" emerged from the swamp like a beast of enlightenment, still a creature of the mud but clearly headed somewhere better. It also carried an entire album on its back, giving brilliant context to a collection of occasionally very good songs. We listen to the rest of A Catholic Education to reconcile our silly lives with the opening track.

Teenage Fanclub - Bandwagonesque (1991)
I popped in an advance cassette of this album sometime early in the fall of '91.
I was amongst friends and fans (not of me, of music), and sat seething in my chair as the pretty outro of "The Concept" slowly faded away. I then took the tape out and threw it across the room (did I really do that? not exactly sure) in disgust. What the fuck were the Fanclub doing? I proclaimed their new album to be "worse than The King" and drank myself stupid (did I really do that? probably). I even suggested that we were being duped by yet another throwaway album, and that the "real" new Teenage Fanclub record is still out there somewhere.
I eventually calmed down and learned that Bandwagonesque was almost perfect (except for the first two songs, since I still can't listen to "The Concept" with a straight mind). "I Don't Know" and "Star Sign" are all-time greats, and "Alcoholiday" became a life-anthem for my tightest group of friends at the time, albeit in a slightly revised form ("We've got nothin', let's drink tussin...").

Television - Marquee Moon (1977)
I was kinda young when I bought this one, and scrambled for reference points when I first heard it. I was certainly no stranger to guitar records, but this was from another universe. I was still under the impression that the Allmans Fillmore stuff was as far as two guitars could go, and the title track changed my mind. Funny, "Marquee Moon" and "You Don't Love Me" are more similar than anyone might imagine.

Richard & Linda Thompson - Shoot Out the Lights (1982)
I bought the cassette of Across a Crowded Room right when it came out, after seeing the video for "When the Spell is Broken" (great fucking song). I wanted more, and some quick research (a book!) led me to Shoot Out the Lights. Blown away, I vowed never to buy another Dire Straits record after Brothers In Arms, which I had just bought.

Tortoise - Millions Now Living Will Never Die (1996)This is as much clean fun as one can possibly have with a clear conscience while listening to absurd math/post-rock from Chicago. I used to pronounce the pastiched masterpiece opening track ("Djed") as "JED" but with a slight hint of the D, kind of like DJIBOUTI. I am an idiot.

Trip Shakespeare - Are You Shakespearienced? (1989)
This was the unanimous theme of a life-changing summer voyage seven of us took to the largest state in the union. Most people don't really like this record, let alone love it like I always will. Guess you had to be there.

Pete Townshend - Empty Glass (1980)
I listened to this one on headphones on an early '80s family trip to California. Hearing "I Am an Animal" while driving up the coast was a profoundly formative experience, both musically and personally. Great songs, exquisite musicianship, and Pete's arrival as a vocalist. Oh yeah, the terrifying baring of a pained human soul as well.

A Tribe Called Quest - The Low End Theory (1991)
It wasn't exactly a challenge to find a great rap record in 1991, but this one slammed like an upright bass over the back of your head. Not many got the "jazz" thing right in '90s hip-hop, and these guys nailed it down first and best.
Me and the "Alcoholiday" crew I referenced earlier blew the roof off a party in Providence with this joint. Our band had just moved to town, and we were slowly getting to know the local scenesters. We were finally invited to a party, and decided to bring this CD along with a few 40s. Not exactly revolutionary from our parts, but our party hosts eyed our entrance as if we'd walked in with Uzis and a pitbull.
What happened? Whaddya think-- we rocked the house, met some ladyfriends, and I think I walked home in the snow at six-in-tha-moooornin'.