Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Rain Spotting: A Field Guide to New Yorkers on a Rainy Day

So it was raining in New York today, and of course, that brings the pointy-head brigade out in full force, even more so than usual, if you can actually imagine such a thing. Every time it rains in New York, you get to see all different varieties of human silliness on full display, and I’ve taken the trouble to break them down for you, so the next time you’re in NYC you can have fun spotting and avoiding them all. It’s sort of like bird-watching, but with less attractive plumage. Here is a short breakdown of the different species you will encounter on the average rainy day in New York:

1) Vlad, the Impaler: Whenever the droplets begin to fall, this single-minded creature of the night tends to run at you full force when the pointy-end of his umbrella angled right at you for maximum injury. It’s almost like Vlad just came from a rousing exhibition at Medieval Times, and now he wants to do a little jousting of his own with any and all hapless passerby. His blood thirst is insatiable, so don’t get in his way; you could be the next unwitting victim of his endless reign of carnage.

2) Mr. Super-Size-Me Umbrella: This commonly sighted fellow likes to run around town with an umbrella twice as tall as he is, and wide enough to keep a couple thousand Mogwai from getting even remotely damp. His umbrella is so big that you have to wonder if it got pelted with a b-movie dose of radiation at some point. Watch out for this breed, for he is usually quite oblivious to his surroundings and will plow down all would-be challengers to his presumed umbrell-ic awesomeness.

3) Sponge Bob Dumb-Ass
: An umbrella-less species, this is the guy who struts around like he’s impervious to H20 and it’s not even raining out. This is true even when there are monsoon-like winds buffeting his frame and the rain is turning hot dog carts into makeshift gondolas floating down Third Avenue. This guy doesn’t want you to know he’s affected by the rain, SEE? So, in addition to walking around umbrella-less, he often wears nothing more than jeans and a t-shirt. Yes, this aqua-male has a clear message for us all: it’s US who are the sissies, running around trying to avoid hypothermia like a bunch of little girls! Either that, or he’s just an ego-maniac who’d never dare admit he left his umbrella at home.

4) Marathon Man: It’s bad enough the rest of us have to be out in the rain trudging to our jobs; this cretin is just out “for a jog” in the middle of a rainstorm of Biblical proportions. No one knows for sure if this fool works for a living, but you’ll usually spot him (or her) dashing across the windswept streets decked out in the obligatory silver and red spandex uniform. Marathon Man is always plugged into an iPod as well, just to remove any remote chance he might actually hear the bus bearing down on him at 50 MPH. Some people believe this is a built-in genetic disposition to keep Marathon Man’s population numbers down, while others believe it’s a learned behavioral trait scientists like to call “being a self-absorbed tool.”

5) Lot’s Wife: She’s completely made of salt, so she whips out the umbrella while the rest of us are still trying to figure out if that even WAS rain we felt on our left arm for half a millisecond, or just a very nimble sex offender. Lot’s Wife is also well-known for her persistent habit of leaving her umbrella up while passing through extremely dry stretches of sidewalk covered by awnings and scaffolds. As a result, she is constantly jeopardizing innocent passerby with the threat of impromptu, un-anesthetized head removal surgery. She also likes to keep her umbrella open while moving through revolving doors and hotel lobbies, even though no rain has ever been known to fall inside a well-constructed hotel lobby in the history of recorded man. Not outside a Stephen King story, anyway.

6) Mr. Never-Say-Dry: He absolutely REFUSES to get a new umbrella, even though his umbrella is falling apart with dangerous phantasm-ball-like projectiles sticking out at every possible angle. In fact, his umbrella hardly even looks like an umbrella anymore, but more like Spider-Man’s nemesis Venom in mid-transformation after getting blasted with sonic waves. Still, he bravely soldiers on, futilely propping a pathetic wad of torn fabric and dangerous metal spikes high above his head. Ironically, he always ends up getting soaked three times worse than those with no umbrella at all. See also: Mr. Floppy Umbrella.

7) Benny on Broadway: A close relative of Mr. Super-Size-Me Umbrella, in the same way a dope is a close relative of a dolt. This is the guy (or gal) who couldn’t scare up a semi-normal umbrella, so he ransacked his summer supplies for a beach umbrella. You half expect this clown to be walking around with a dollop of sunscreen on his nose and a picnic basket under one arm. Large, dichromatic colors (usually white combined with red, blue or black) are the tell-tale sign of this exotic breed, as well as a care-free, lumbering gait more suited to staking out a sunny spot on the beach than navigating a crowded, rain-drenched avenue.

8) The Free Spirit: She looks like she should be plastered on the side of a package of Morton’s Salt rather than walking a city street, this term applies to any of the giddy young females you see whisking around in neon-pink and bright yellow raincoats and protecting themselves with nothing but frail, petite umbrellas. Likewise, these umbrellas are usually adorned with some kind of artsy-fartsy pattern like ladybugs, leopard spots, Betty Boop’s, Van Gogh’s self-portrait, or Andy Warhol cows. While these fun-loving, impish sprites can sometimes bring a smile to one’s world-weary face, they can also make you wish the city would just grind them down and pulverize their souls into dust already.

And that’s it for this week, kiddies! Stay dry!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Death of Music, Part 5: No One Likes "All Kinds of Music."

Hey there music mourners! Put away your tear-stained hankies, ‘cause it’s time for yet another installment in our bile-filled series devoted to the never-ending public execution of music. Which makes me wonder, couldn’t we just get this over with already? I mean, why don’t we just grab music from behind, strangle it with an iPod cord, and bash it over the head repeatedly with the latest Fall Out Boy CD until its lights are snuffed out for good?

Do we really have to keep protracting this grisly murder with near-fatal blows (and new releases) by Madonna, Weezer, Mariah Carey, The Raconteurs, White Snake, The Rolling Stones, Ashlee Simpson, Louis XIV and many others? Do we need to stand by helplessly as yet another musical “savior” shows up, trots out some semi-competent but derivative melodies, and then promptly slips into obscurity within a year or two? (By the way, this week’s semi-competent contenders are Vampire Weekend, with their English Beat/Joe Stummer-ish rock/Caribbean sound. And if you’re sitting there thinking “Vampire Weekend is so 2007!” then that just kind of proves the point, doesn’t it?)

Sadly, it looks like we enjoy torturing music’s once-vital and robust form way too much, so music won’t be COMPLETELY dying off anytime in the foreseeable future. With that in mind, I’d like to offer a little friendly advice in case you ever find yourself in the awkward position of actually having to DISCUSS the damn stuff.

If anyone ever asks you, “What kind of music do you like?” Never, EVER answer (with a playful toss of your bountiful locks) “Oh, I like ALL KINDS of music!!!” unless you want to immediately slay a conversation deader than the buzz surrounding the Arctic Monkeys. In fact, it is better to profess your undying devotion to the complete works of L.A. Guns before you utter something as mindlessly tiresome as “I like all kinds of music!”

Why? Well, first of all, nine billion out of nine billion-and-six times it’s patently not true. A lot of people think their musical proclivities are the metaphorical equivalent of a Save the Children necktie just because they groove around to both the White Stripes AND Led Zeppelin on their iPod shuffle. Either that or they view themselves as “audiophiles” because they have the audacity to listen to melodic, whispery rockers like Snow Patrol back-to-back with anthemic, blow-hard rockers like U2. You heard right; not even a Travis cut between them to buffer the blow. Holy god, I almost had a massive coronary just contemplating the chocolate-in-peanut-butter-lunacy of it all.

In truth, there is an infinite number of styles and sub-genres of music on this planet and Western pop music only comprises a tiny fraction of that music. The music that is aggressively marketed and made available to most Westerners is an even smaller amount, as you are no doubt marginally aware. So when someone says, “I like all kinds of music,” he usually means all the music currently in “hot” rotation on his favorite radio station.

Unless you actually ARE getting down to French film scores in the evening, atonal 20th century classical in the morning, free-form jazz in the afternoon and meringue dance mixes on the weekend, it’s better to just admit your unhealthy fondness for bleating Diane Warren-ish pop ballads or tepid southern-rock-boogie and be done with it.

Which brings me to the second reason you should never say “I like all kinds of music!” In my experience, there is nothing more dish-water dull than a person who can’t get fired up about one type of music, at least once in a while. Mind you, there is nothing wrong with EXPOSING yourself to many styles of music - in fact, I highly recommend that you do - but if you’ve never been moved enough to feel “loyalty” for one type of music, then I believe you’ve never fully experienced the power of music.

While there ARE definitely people who can glean profound meaning from a myriad of musical forms, I believe these true musical connoisseurs (and I am not one of them) are few and far between. More often than not, the people who listen to a large variety of music and then profess to dig “all kinds of music” are really pretentious Paste-subscribing poseurs who want to impress people with their mind-blowing cultural acumen. Their listening may be wide and varied, but their “hearing” tends to be cursory and superficial. Sorry, not impressed.

Similarly, I have a hard time taking seriously any band that lists more than 600 other bands as major influences on their sound. Are they really that non-discriminating? Because I have a hard time believing ANYONE could be that diverse, or immerse themselves fully in that many bands without losing something along the way.

For god’s sake, man! If you’re listening to THAT much music (and you’d have to have it wired into your head while you sleep, if you believe these guys) you should be riled up enough to single out SOMETHING!!! Does nothing jangle your ganglia or make your limbic system want to do the limbo? There’s no style, genre, or artist that makes you want to profess your undying allegiance from the highest mountain top? No? Then you, my friend, have never really been moved by music.

So, let’s review: On the one hand, it’s not a good idea to say you like “all kinds of music” when Clear Channel’s hot AC consultant has your musical knowledge in a triple-head lock, or you own exactly 3 CD’s, and at least one of them is “The Eagles’ Greatest Hits.” On the other hand, it’s a sad state of affairs when you seek out every obscure beat ever committed to digital media and then claim to love them all because you can’t FULLY appreciate any of them, or you don’t want to risk looking like a musical philistine.

Take a stand! Have a viewpoint! Feel the passion! Don’t be a poseur! When someone asks you what kind of music you like, don’t just toss out some nebulous non-committal non-answer. Instead, have a thoughtful response ready to go. Trust me, if you’re trying to flirt with someone you just met, he or she will respect you more if you express your opinions and stick to your guns.

Yes, even if they’re L.A. Guns.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Phrased Out, Part 5: "Soonest"

It’s time for another entry in our ongoing series “Phrased Out,” in which we try in vain to disabuse people of their irritating linguistic habits. Ironically, I suspect there are people who would say MY linguistic habits are a tad bit annoying, but those people simply lack panache and imagination. Either that, or they're just poopy-heads. Simply stated, I like to garnish my speech with the occasional seasoning or two; I don’t pour salt all over everything like a demented fry clerk trying to give someone a stroke.

The latest word that’s giving ME a stroke is “soonest.” Why, you may wonder, would such a seemingly benign word raise my blood pressure so? Well, it’s not the word itself but the way it has been twisted and perverted in the name of pretentious corporate-speak. In this instance, I’m annoyed by people who use “soonest” to mean “as soon as possible, and make it snappy, salmon-breath.”

The last time I checked, at least here on this toxic blue and green ball, the word “soon” meant within a short span of time or in the near future. Of course, what that period of time actually IS can be relative to a lot of factors; what seems “soon” to a Galapagos turtle or someone waiting for a Kate Hudson movie to end may not be the same as what is “soon” to you or me.

Similarly, the SUPERLATIVE form of “soon” always meant (roughly) “coming before all others in linear time.” For example, “Matt will be here soonest,” USED to mean “Matt will be here before Joe, Roy, Sally, and Stevie the one-armed drug dealer.” If you wanted your copy of “S&M TODAY" to arrive “soonest,” you wanted it to show up in your P.O. Box BEFORE the leather masks and whips you ordered. Or, at the very least, before your frail old mother found it and suffered a massive coronary.

Now consider “ASAP,” which, of course, is shorthand for “as soon as possible.” You would think the corporate mannequins would adore a term like “ASAP.” First of all, it’s compact and concise. Secondly, it conveys the image of someone who needs to conserve every available nanosecond for blackberry’ing, cell-phoning, power-lunching and screwing-over. In other words, someone who is MUCH too busy (and much too good) to waste .0004 seconds typing out the words “as soon as possible.”

But not so fast (fastest?)! “ASAP” has lost a lot of its pretentious cache over the years due to indiscriminate overuse. It appears in everything from greeting cards to love letters to everyday conversations. That’s DEFINITELY no good for corporate climbers who pride themselves on being as trendy, cloying, and obnoxious as possible. Their goal is to create a self-perpetuating system of masturbatory corporate-speak that reeks of self-importance and presumed superiority.

Exit: ASAP. Enter: Soonest.

Why is “soonest” so annoying? Well, if by “soonest” you mean “first,” then you should just say “first.” “Please do this first” is a perfectly acceptable request. However, you better be the boss if you’re gonna go around issuing such demands. If by “soonest” you mean “before all other tasks coming up” (a legitimate use of the word) you should also be the boss, and not some schlub who thinks his latest vanity project supersedes the 9,678 other menial tasks I’ve been given today.

However, even if you ARE my boss, there’s usually no good reason to say “soonest” instead of “first.” I suppose if you wanted to acknowledge that I’m probably in the middle of a project you could use the word “soonest” (read: after my present task) but even then the word “next” seems much more appropriate.

All of which brings us to the most annoying use of all. If you are using “soonest” to mean “as soon as possible,” then just SAY “as soon as possible! "Soonest” DOESN’T TRANSLATE TO “AS SOON AS POSSIBLE” any more than “best” translates to “as good as you can possibly be.” “Soonest” sounds cutesy or precious at best; obnoxious and demanding at worst.

So, if you’re a co-worker and you send me an e-mail that reads, “Can you dub my home movies for my personal website? Please handle soonest,” you had better be prepared for a long, long wait.

Simply put, if you want your requests handled in a timely fashion, the words “soon” and/or “quickly” are sufficient. “Please handle soon,” is all you need to say; you don’t need to throw an unwarranted “-EST” on the end to try and create the illusion of urgency. That is, unless you actually think you ARE my boss and you’re telling me to encode your home movies before I do anything else.

If that’s the case, I would kindly ask that you please go to hell soonest.