Categories
general

The Deal (2021 edition)

So. It’s time to write another post like this one from 2010. It’s not LinkedIn official yet, but I’m leaving my current job, and going to a new one. And that’s always a good way to rustle the various nostalgic bits of the brain, especially when as much time has passed as it has with the current employer.

I don’t like to cross the streams and won’t discuss the specifics of either job here. But the old gig is the one I started in September of 2010. And I did a previous tour with this company from 2001 to 2007. So that’s a grand total of almost sixteen and a half years of service between the two, which is insane.

This job started almost on a lark. I was working in Silicon Valley and doing the big commute and wasn’t entirely into my gig. Joel, my old boss, asked me if I wanted to come back. I said nah, I owned a house out here, wasn’t about to move back to New York. He said I could work remote. I said, okay let’s do this, and I was officially a full-time work-from-home worker, ten years before everyone else did the same.

There are two distinct eras to the job, and the nostalgia for the first half is much heavier. I really liked working on my old products, and loved working with Joel and the old crew. All of us who were there from the start-up days had basically gone to war together, and had an entire vocabulary of our own, plus total knowledge of what was where, how things worked, how to get stuff done. We were all introverts, and a decade before Slack became a thing, we all used an internal IRC server for air traffic control and general water cooler bullshitting. Nobody ever used the phone. I didn’t even have a phone; the company gave me one in the Palo Alto office, and then promptly gave my cube to someone else when I never came in. There was a lot of general insanity, a small company running within a giant one, but I really enjoyed that five year chunk of time.

I also liked that it was a strange virtual conduit back to my old life in New York. At that point, half of the team was still at our old office at Bleecker and Broadway, and the other half was up in Boston. But I worked in New York, from Oakland. I time-shifted three hours earlier to match their hours, and kept up with all of the gossip and the general zeitgeist of working for a New York company, even though I technically worked for a Palo Alto company. I went back to New York three times during that first few years, which was always a bizarre deja vu experience. Like the first time, I came into the office at 632, went right back to my old desk, and it had been vacant for the last three years. All of my old files were still in the filing cabinet. It was like I’d never left. And on another trip, I stayed at a hotel a few blocks from my last apartment. I’d walk the same exact route from the Lower East Side to the office, and it felt like I had traveled time back to 2006.

The parent company got bought out by venture cap, and everything shifted after that. Pretty much the entire team left. I got moved to another team in Palo Alto, and a new product, but I still had the old product. But we went through a big “push to cloud” where the old product was put out to pasture, and I spent much less time on it. I also started managing people, and working on this new cloud thing. I really missed my old team, and 2015 was an extremely depressing year for me.

I probably shouldn’t go into any details of the second half of my tenure. I started managing people, and loved doing that, up until the point when I had to start doing layoffs. That’s brutal, and the only thing worse than firing people who have been very loyal is getting invited to random meetings with HR and not knowing if it’s to fire people or to get fired yourself.

Anyway, don’t want to get into that stuff.

One of the things I have liked about my work situation is that the time-shifting means I have a few hours in the afternoon to write. And I pretty much floundered and was not consistent in my writing in the 00s, and figured I needed to focus and get more regular writing done after I took this gig. I’ve published twelve books in that time, and 30-some articles, plus everything written here and in other random places. I’m not sure what my work schedule will be like in the future, and I think I’m done with this constant grind of trying to publish a book every year.

The new job is in San Francisco, but given the situation, I’ll still be home until at least the fall, and I don’t think any of us are ever going to be back to five days a week in the office. (Famous last words.) The big weird thing about this job will be that I don’t switch desks. I’ll still be in my home office, have the same chair, same monitor, same keyboard. I’ll just be swapping out my old Lenovo for a new Mac. And what’s weird about that is it’s identical to the Mac I have at home.

What’s also strange is that in the pandemic, there’s no goodbye. I mean, no cake, no lunch, or anything else. I’m not big on goodbyes, and I’ve hated that I’ve have to force myself to end conversations this last week without saying “talk to you later.” But my boss is in the UK. My workers are in the midwest, the east, and India. My teams are scattered. There would be no lunch at Chotchkie’s and gift card to Starbucks, even if we were allowed to eat in restaurants. I just realized the other day that I have never physically met any of the people I currently manage. Sarah said the other day, “I feel so bad you talk about N__ and A__ every day and I never got to meet them!” And I said, “well, neither did I.”

Anyway. Old job ends on the 10th, and new one on the 15th. So I get a four-day weekend to FedEx computers back and clean out behind my desk to redo the cables and maybe sleep a bit. Then on to the next era. Should be fun.

Categories
general

Day 4

I’m not alone here in saying that things got weird fast here.

I’ve been debating writing about any of this. I’ve seen every hot take possible on COVID-19, and I’m seeing endless posts about being shut in, suddenly having to work from home, losing work, panicking about food and medical care, and so on. And in the current climate, I feel like putting anything out there opens me up to “oh, you think you have it bad?” attacks. I feel the same way about writing almost anything these days. We’ve fallen down this pit of stupidity that makes talking about almost anything pointless.

But, I need to keep writing every day. It’s more important than ever when the only other choice is to freak the fuck out about everything. And also, I know someday, I’m going to want to look back and see what I was thinking as World War C unfolded. If you look down at the sidebar here, it’s missing a few months of dates in the fall of 2001. This wasn’t a conscious decision; I was just working on finishing Rumored and was too busy to run this thing. And now I wish I could go back to read entries from September and October of that year, to see what I was thinking the last time the world was ending.

So first, the boat. The fucking boat. That Princess cruise ship docked at the Port of Oakland like a week ago. (I don’t even know when it was. The last week seems like a year and a half long.) The ship was about four thousand feet from my house, and if I was up on the parking garage connected to our building, it was plainly visible. (It’s not visible from our house, because they built another set of townhouses right in front of us, blocking our view. That’s another point of aggravation, but what can you do.)

Despite it being that close, it was a world away. No danger of infection, no view of the evacuation, just a giant symbol of how shit was about to go down, sitting on the horizon. The optics of it were bad — “well, we can park this thing in Oakland, because nobody lives there.” Thanks a lot, fuckheads. I understand the logistics of deep-water harbors and all that, but I’m sure if Atherton had a fifty-foot draft depth berth next to it, there’s no way the ship would have ended up there.

I also got the usual craziness from relatives who assumed I was ten seconds from death, like I do every time there’s a forest fire six hundred miles away or a 3.2 earthquake outside of LA. I had a real problem after 9/11 in that for a lot of people, I was their closest connection to the attacks. I did not like being in that position, being the face of the disaster, especially from people who generally had zero interaction with me, and suddenly they had a best friend who was in the towers when it collapsed, even though neither of those things were true.

The shelter-in-place happened quickly. At one point, they said seniors should think about staying home, and hours later, we all had to go on lockdown. Things changed fast, and in a world of clickbait media and dumb algorithms, it was difficult to get straight answers on anything. There were more questions than answers on Monday, and I didn’t wrap my head around the enormity of the situation as it was happening.

I did ease into this a bit since I got back the week before. I resupplied at Target on Friday afternoon, thinking everything would be wiped out by the weekend. I filled my prescriptions, bought toilet paper, got cat food, did all of my errands. I’m glad I did, because by all accounts, Monday’s midnight shelter order turned every store into a nightmare. You probably saw the pictures, a million times. Disaster porn is big these days.

The Saturday before, it was rainy and cold, and I drove out to Pleasanton to walk Stoneridge mall. I was slightly apprehensive about it, but I figured if I kept my space and didn’t touch anything, it would be no problem. The mall wasn’t empty, which surprised me. I think that was more scary than if the mall was completely empty on a Saturday. The quick walk made me super anxious and nervous, and I had to get the hell out of there.

That mall is now closed — all Simon malls are. The only malls that are open at this point are insane or stupid. A month ago, the whole concept of the mall in general had a shaky future at best. Now, malls are absolutely fucked. Some of the more prosperous large chains are withholding their earnings projections statements. Every anchor store imaginable is completely dead. None of the mom-and-pops will be able to survive. At least in the bay area, malls that were living day-by-day are going to be shuttered for months. At best, they’ll be temporarily reopened as virus hospitals. Most will probably end up in foreclosure, chained up, left to rot. Maybe in five or ten years when the market is back and REITs are thinking about redevelopment, they’ll get rebuilt into apartment complexes.

I wanted to get out of the mall nostalgia thing. Looks like that decision’s been made for me. Hang onto your photos, fellow mall-walkers. It’s all we’ll have left of the era of indoor shopping.

I’ve been working from home for almost ten years now, so this is business as usual for me.  I never leave the house anyway, and all of my meetings are always on Zoom. If anything, things are more chaotic for me because I simply have too much work to do. Not to get into details, but I have three really big things going on, plus an endless barrage of update meetings on what’s happening, how we’re responding, etc. Also, there’s a lot more chatter on Slack, in email, on Zoom. One of the reasons I love WFH is that the eight-hour office work day is really about two hours of solid work, and six hours of social interaction and distraction and annoyance and ritual. Remove that, and I can do three times as much work, plus still have time for cat herding and whatever else. But a lot of other people are getting stir crazy over this, and it’s ramped up the amount of online distraction. This is in addition to the bad news every two minutes on the rest of the internet.

The structure of my work day routine has not changed, for the most part. Work all day, try to take a walk at lunch (that’s still allowed), try to write (and don’t), then watch TV until bedtime. The weekend is going to be another story. I usually walk around my house during the week, and spend the weekends driving somewhere else to walk or hike or shop or whatever. Now, I can’t officially do that. Not sure what I should be doing to stay sane. And this will go on for weeks, or maybe more. I know, #humblebrag, I still have a job and a roof over my head and health insurance, and I’m worried about park access. I’m mentally ill, go fuck yourself, see the second paragraph above, and feel free to start your own blog.

I think the worst part of all of this is the resonation between this and 9/11. There’s that overwhelming feeling of panic saturated into everything. The economy is in free-fall, and not coming back. Major industries like the airlines, auto production, retail, restaurants may never recover. Many things we took for granted two weeks ago have completely vanished. A large swath of the public is completely fucked. And none of this is even including the tens of thousands of people who are going to die from this.

I don’t officially have PTSD from 9/11, at least from like a diagnostic standpoint. And if I did, I’d be too ashamed to admit it, knowing that people in my office died, and they had family and friends and spouses who were directly tied to it, while I was just an observer. But sirens can get me ramped up. The smell of burning electronics has the same scent as the powdered concrete and metal smoke that hung over lower Manhattan, which doesn’t exactly have a calming effect on me. I tend to get too amped up over natural disasters and emergency evacuations and mass-panic situations like that. And having a helicopter hover a thousand feet over your house 24/7 for a week so the channel 2 news can get a picture of a fucking cruise ship isn’t great for this predicament. All of this, all of the uncertainty and the plummeting economy and the thought about if the grocery store is going to be open in a week and if I’ll still have a job by then or if banks will still be open — there are strong parallels, ones I can’t entirely put on the back burner and ignore.

This situation makes me think way too much about the fall of 2001, the feeling that all of lower Manhattan was going to shutter, send everyone back to whatever square state they came from, leave behind a skeleton crew of locals and a few bodegas, boarding up everything else, turning into some burned-out dystopian nightmare like the 1977 shown in every Son of Sam or Ramones movie. When I walk outside with nobody around, almost no cars on the road, no planes overhead, it reminds me of that same feeling I had eighteen and a half years ago. It’s scary. It’s something I wish I could ignore. It’s something I can’t. I have to work on that.

Not much else. Working. Watching TV. Trying to not look at my 401K, which I think is gone now. Playing Out of the Park Baseball, and simulating a season per month, now that the 2020 one is probably dead. This week, my team is 61-60 and three games out of the wild card, with 40 games left. (It sims a game every thirty minutes.) The 1971 Dock Ellis is the ace in my rotation, and my outfield is a 1984 Tony Gwynn, 1976 Ron LeFlore, and 1934 Jo-Jo Moore. If you’re a fan of the national pastime, spend the twenty bucks and get a copy. Drop me a line when you do, and we can start a league or something.

I should be writing. I’m not. I should work on that. Hope everyone else is surviving out there.

Categories
general

Bourdain

Usually, these things don’t get to me. But for some reason, this one has.

So Anthony Bourdain is dead. Suicide, hotel room, 61. I feel some need to extrapolate on this, front-loading this with a lede of what he accomplished or why this is so tragic, etc etc. I have no energy for that. You can go to Facebook and see that 50,000 times.

I’m trying to figure out why this bothers me so much, and I think it’s because of when I became connected with his work. I remember exactly when and where I first picked up a copy of Kitchen Confidential. There was a book store called Coliseum Books in Columbus Circle, and I’d go there every Friday after I went to my shrink. (She’s also dead, I found out recently – lymphoma, I think.) I think I read the New Yorker article, so I picked up his book. This was back when I spent hours and hours on the subway, and was single, lived alone, had no cable TV, so I would plow through books, reading a book a day most of the time. But while I read a lot of forgettable work back then, his stuff had a real resonation for me.

My kitchen career was low-level and short-lived. A summer on the Taco Bell drive-through; a couple of months washing dishes at an old-school Italian restaurant; part of a semester doing the same at a dorm, with the very brief and slight promotion of being the dude who stocked the milk and juice bar in the front-of-house. But when Bourdain described the camaraderie, the in-the-trenches slog of working the back half of a restaurant, I immediately related. I’d never aspired to cook or even stay in the business long enough to do anything other than collect a small paycheck, but I’d spent enough Friday nights at war with the dinner rush, completely slammed with a wall of dirty pans and plates, and no way out. I got it, and it pulled me in.

Bourdain had a persona, and I think it grew much more when he became a TV personality, picking fights with other chefs, with vegetarians, with food chains. His work as that persona was good, but it’s easy to forget he was a hell of a writer, and that’s what drilled into my brain. It wasn’t that he was a good brand; he was a guy I knew, someone telling stories and shooting the shit and talking war, a war I briefly fought. There’s something about any writing about a very involved job like that – it’s the reason I probably go back and re-read Bukowski’s Post Office every other year. Bourdain had chops, but he also had the ability to figure out what to write from such a career, and to do it in a different template than all the other stodgy food books up to that point.

I think he’s also a very intertwined part of the early 00s and New York for me. I was not a foodie, and spent far more time at McDonald’s than at any French restaurant. But if I had to make a list of the things that made up the background of my time in New York from 1999 to 2007, he’d be on that short list. I used to walk home down the back alleys of south Manhattan to avoid the tourists and bustle of Broadway, the Broome to Jersey to Mulberry to Prince to Bowery route, the interior of the blocks that were grand and exquisite on the exterior, but I’d be seeing the service entrances and freight elevators. And that’s where I’d see the chefs, always smoking, always preparing for a battle that was about to start when I was heading home from the cubicles. And that always made me think of Bourdain and other chefs, and the underbelly of the city, and those folks who took the long train from Jackson Heights or Hoboken to cut up fish or wash dishes for minimum wage in a city where bankers earned millions of bonuses in the W years.

It’s weird because I feel like I knew Bourdain, although I didn’t. When I stop and think about it, I think, wait, did I know him? Like did I meet him at a signing, or have a friend of a friend that worked with him, or run into him at some point? I didn’t, but it feels like it, because his writing got so in my head. I don’t have a connection to the TV host who jetted to France to eat oysters with someone famous in the food world. I mean, good for him that he got the money and the opportunity, and it’s fun to binge-watch on Netflix, but that’s not what did it for me. He somehow burned into the background of my brain, and that’s why his death bothers me.

There’s also the usual thing I do, where I look at him at 61, and me at 47, and I’ve wasted a lot of time on 401K calculator sites that all tell me I have to keep this optempo going for another twenty years, and I feel like I want to retire in 20 weeks, and who knows when I’ll even get started with this writing thing in earnest. He broke big because he wrote what he knew and he wrote as a person, and I’m so burned out and sick of writing what I write. So I keep thinking, well maybe next week I’ll reinvent myself, and do everything different. But the clock is ticking, and when someone goes, it puts that in perspective.

I’m not going to go into the why of how he did it, or if this is some epidemic, or if prescription drugs played a part, or what 800 number you should call, or any of that shit. You’ve probably seen it a million times already this morning. Just like how I couldn’t think of a snappy paragraph to open this, I don’t have one to close it. Just wanted to get down my thoughts now, because it seems like I never get to do that anymore.

Categories
general reviews

Paul Auster – 4 3 2 1

Paul Auster’s new book, 4 3 2 1, was a slog. It had a payoff in the last dozen pages, but it took some effort to stay with this for the other 850.

I’ve been reading a lot of Auster recently for some reason, and in the last six months have probably read at least six of his other works. So I threw his latest, still in hardcover, on my wish list for the holidays, and got a copy. I started wading through it a few weeks ago, and initially thought it was a heavy piece of dead tree, but the deckle edges and thick paper add to it, and it felt like it was maybe a 400-page book, but it’s really double that. And I remember twenty-odd years ago, a certain thousand-page book filled with footnotes made the news because of its absurd length and thickness and heft, but now it seems like 600+ page works are becoming pretty common.

Anyway, 4 3 2 1 is the story of a young man named Archie Fergusun, starting with his grandfather’s arrival at Ellis island. The big twist is that the story follows four different instantiations of Archie’s life, and detail how he would have grown, matured, and ended up if little circumstances had changed. It’s basically four parallel books, each with the common characters of parents and aunts and uncles and so forth, but as the back story changes, the four lives fork into much different directions. Each chapter is numbered 1.1, 1.2, 1.3 and so forth. It’s like an extremely complex choose-your-own-adventure, where you are watching each branch of a tree unfold in completely different realities.

So, simple example, without too many spoilers, is that one Archie has a dad who struggles in the appliance business, has brothers who run the business into the ground, and he goes from job to job as the family lives in semi-poverty. Another has a dad who strikes it rich in the same family business, and the brothers go fuck off to different states as his kingdom flourishes, affording that Archie a much more lavish wife, but a mother who also is “encouraged” to close up her photography store and become a bored socialite drunk, and Archie is much more resentful toward his distant father who is always working. You end up with four very different Archies, all born in 1947, but heading into different versions of the turbulent Sixties, becoming involved in different angles with the youth movement of the era.

The style and stage of the writing is very familiar Auster. Like I said, I read Moon Palace and Invisible right before I read 4 3 2 1, and they all bled into each other. One thing I like about Auster is he has a familiar field he often works with, and I don’t know if the events are based on his own life, or just random things he keeps coming back to. I mean, it’s a known thing that he went to Columbia, and then moved to France, and both of those happen frequently in his stories. 4 3 2 1 has no shortage of these themes, and his modernist portrayal of New York in the Sixties is deep within his canon here.

Auster is also big on using a “gimmick” of some sort to frame his traditional writing about the city or his youth and bend it around into a meta, postmodern structure. This was a big thing in the four-part narrative of Invisible, and this one uses a different approach to take this even further. I don’t mean that a “gimmick” is a bad thing — it’s something I’m always searching for when I try to write something nonlinear or outside the narrative box like this. So it’s interesting to see what he used and how he extended it into such a big book.

Did it work? Yes and no. I didn’t read anything about the book going into it. I read 1.1, thought okay, it’s a story about this kid, his dad, his grandpa, etc etc. Then I read 1.2, and thought, “why the hell is he telling the same story but just changing one or two things?” It was like someone singing a song where the second verse is the first one with a few words changed. Then 1.3 came up, and I had to stop and go read the wikipedia article to see what the hell was going on. And I have to admit, for my no-attention-span brain, it was hard to keep the four stories straight. Like I’d be reading, and then think “wait a second, is this the rich Archie or the poor Archie? Is Amy the stepsister or the girlfriend in this one?” There are four casts of characters, all with similar names, but all different people. It’s a big investment. And I got about 200 pages into it and thought I needed to just quit and go read something else. But I stuck with it, just forcing myself to read 50 pages a night, or get to the end of the next chapter, and eventually, about 400 pages in, it caught me.

I really want to talk about the ending, but it’s such a huge spoiler, I can’t. I’ll just say that it’s enough of a payoff that I was happy with it, but I could also see that it would really piss off some people, especially those who invested so much time in the reading. Some reviewers were really unhappy with this; Michelle Dean from the Los Angeles Times also called it “a slog” and “a bad joke.” I had the opposite reaction, but yeah, some people didn’t like it.

I’ve often wondered about Auster’s end game, not to be morbid about it, because it took him seven years to write this book, and he’s recently talked about how he’s been out of ideas. At 70, I’d expect him to keep kicking for a while, but what does that mean — another book, maybe two? Like I said, this is a bit morbid, and maybe driven by my own birthday last week and the constant thoughts/fears about how much more I’ll get on the page, especially since I am tragically out of ideas and beating the same dead horse for the last few books.

Anyway. Interesting book, good stuff, but obviously, a heavy investment. If you haven’t read Invisible, you might want to start there, but maybe put some space between the two books, so you don’t get hopelessly confused like I did.

Categories
general reviews

The Big Short

The Big Short is a film adaptation of the Michael Lewis book of the same name. But in a similar fashion as Dr. Strangelove being a version of the Peter George thriller novel Red Alert, this film is done as a dark comedy, directed by Adam McKay. It’s an oddly-toned film, not a ha-ha funny comedy, but more like a comedy based on the absolute absurdity of the collapsing ponzi scheme of the credit default swap market of the mid/late 00s.

The plot follows a few players: a borderline-autistic hedge fund manager (Michael Burry, played by Christian Bale) who’s got one eye and a Supercuts bowl ‘do, used to be a doctor, blasts thrash metal in his office, and walks around wearing no shoes and the same t-shirt and cargo shorts every day, but is able to zero in on the housing bubble before anybody else. When he calculates that the mortgage industry is going to collapse in about two years, he goes to Morgan Stanley and purchases a fairly new financial instrument which enables him to bet on the collapse of the housing market, which he could do without actually owning any of said market. It’s essentially like taking a fire insurance policy on somebody else’s house. And because the banks thought that metaphorical house was fireproof, they were more than glad to sell him a billion dollars of fire insurance and take his money.

Ryan Gosling plays a trader who hears of this scheme, and accidentally hooks up with a damaged, type-A personality hedge fund manager played by Steve Carell and his ragtag team of misfits. There’s also another team of garage band young investors partnered with a retired banker played by Brad Pitt (whose Plan B produced the film) and gets in on the action.

The movie covers some of the background of the predatory lending market and absurdity of the housing run-up, like mortgage companies handing out loans to people with no income and no jobs (a so-called NINJA loan), but is fairly light on this information. I think the film would have been much more preachy if they spent any time on it (and it already clocks in over two hours) but there’s certainly the case that a different film could cover this human angle much more.

Instead, this film blows through the Manhattan banking side, and at a quick pace. McKay does try to explain this slightly by breaking into celebrity cameos, for example having Anthony Bourdain explain repackaging bad mortgages into investment vehicles by explaining how old halibut is repackaged into fish stew for the Sunday brunch crowd. Even with this, it might be well beyond the ability of an average civilian to grok all the financial background here. I recently read Matt Taibbi’s Griftopia, which was a good high-level introduction to the financial crisis (albeit sensationalized, Taibbi-style. And cognitive bias trigger alert: he skewers Obamacare in the book, calling it a gross giveaway for the insurance industry, which, as much as I love affordable health care, is largely true.) Anyway, without that background, I would have been lost. But with it, the total absurdity of the scenario becomes hilarious.

The other thing I appreciated about the film was the near-past nostalgia aspect of it. The trading aspect starts in Manhattan in 2005, only a few blocks from where I worked at the time, and my company at that time had most of the major players involved as customers. As the timeline of the film advanced, I spent a lot of time in the back of my head calculating where I was or how the events correlated to my own timeline and when I left the city (about halfway through the film.) I also kept an eye on the backgrounds of the street scenes, looking for anachronisms. (License plate colors, guys! And a Ralph’s in Florida?)

Overall, an interesting film. Best picture-worthy? I don’t think so, but it was entertaining without being too preachy, and the absurdity of the black humor made it enjoyable for me.

Categories
general reviews

Hated: GG Allin and the Murder Junkies

I remember buying a copy of Hated, the Todd Phillips documentary about GG Allin, in 1995. It was right after my last student loan disbursement, and I bought a copy on VHS at Karma Records for some outrageous price, like $40 or $50. Blockbuster didn’t have this one as a rental, and this was way before torrent, so I ponied up full price and bought my own copy. I was with my pal Larry, and we went over to his apartment and watched the tape, hoping for some insane footage of the then-deceased shock rocker.

I remember at the time being somewhat unimpressed by the movie; this was before YouTube, which made the notoriety of characters like Allin much larger. Unless you caught the Geraldo show or traded video tapes with someone who recorded it, the only exposure (no pun intended) to GG’s antics would be third-hand, like the way urban legends used to be spread. That’s where I heard about him — I used to hang out in this bagel shop with this punk guy named John, and in 1992, while he played Hated in the Nation on the store jambox (much to the chagrin of the store patrons) he told me all about this guy who ran around stage naked, beating up fans, shoving the mic up his ass, and cutting himself with bottles.

I remembered the movie as being a bit flat, not capturing this rawness, and being a bit of a let-down. After the first viewing, I almost completely forgot it. It’s something that pops in my head when I fall down a k-hole about GG or old New York, but I haven’t revisited it, until yesterday. I was pleasantly surprised at what a nice little time capsule of the early 90s New York this has become.

Hated was directed and produced by Todd Phillips, who later became an accomplished Hollywood director of such films as Old School and The Hangover. But this is anything but a Hollywood blockbuster. It was filmed when Phillips was a junior at NYU (and employee at Kim’s Video) with a budget of only $12,000. The film looks like a student film, and is even more dated now, in a pleasant way. It resembles 1970s news footage shot on film, then tele-cined to betacam video and back to film again, with old pre-computer titles and washed out lighting.

My first thought on this was that it reminded me of a Nick Broomfield movie, like Kurt and Courtney, which I also saw recently. It had the same feel, with voiceover between segments, establishing the story. Phillips isn’t actually in the film, in the same way Broomfield does the on-camera gonzo interviewing. But I looked it up and there’s a good interview on the Suicide Girls site where Phillips said Broomfield was a huge influence for him to get into documentary.

Another reason I really liked this film was it captured a New York that is now gone, an early-90s lower east side grimy New York. If you consider a generation to be twenty years, New York moves at five times that speed; a mayoral term is four years, and the average restaurant lasts a year. At any given point on Broadway, every business will have turned over in four years. When I arrived in 1999, there had been at least two cycles of this renewal, and there were only small hints of this old world for me. It was like standing in an average city in 2000 and thinking about 1960, like the level of nostalgia Mad Men brought about, any time I would see a speck of graffiti from the era of this film. So I really loved the washed-out views of St. Marks and alphabet city in this.

(Side note: GG’s last show was at a club called the gas station at 2nd and B. Here’s a great article about it, with some film: http://vanishingnewyork.blogspot.com/2015/01/2b.html. The site of this infamous club is now a Duane Reade and high-end condo.)

The film is hilarious, in an unintentionally hilarious way. GG’s brother Mearle and other various hangers-on are over-the-top bizarre, and even though they are being straight-up serious, I could not stop laughing at them. It’s a total Jerry Springer guest type of humor, but the film takes it further by showing the various scatological antics of the crew. It’s not for the squeamish; like there’s a scene where they get a hooker to piss in Allin’s mouth at a barbeque, and he starts puking up beans and franks while she’s squatting over him and urinating on his face. So it’s not exactly family entertainment.

The film in general though made me think more about who the “real” GG Allin was, and if such a persona could survive in today’s always-on media. Phillips has professed that Allin only acted the way he was when he was drunk or high, and that drugs fueled this persona. He claims that when he was sober, he was a calm and rational guy you could hold a conversation with. It seems like in the days of paper news and videotape journalism for only an hour a day, it was easier to ration out his antics, to only go insane and knock teeth out for a rare show, or save the “I am Jesus and the Devil and I will die for rock and roll” speeches for televised court appearances. Could he have kept up the persona in an era of TMZ, 24-hour news cycles, and every passer-by carrying a video-enabled iPhone? Would he have killed himself much sooner? Or would he have become a person like Marilyn Manson, who had a brief tenure as a crazed satanist, then vanished from the limelight and spent years holed up in a mansion with various Hollywood starlets?

I feel like GG was close to his persona, the product of deranged parents and crippling substance abuse issues. But I also think it could have been the ultimate Kauffman-esque ruse. Most people dismiss his music as noise, but sometimes I listen to Hated in the Nation and think this stuff is far too catchy to be written by a completely blotto drug addict on the verge of murder/suicide. And I wonder if total exposure in the media would have cracked the shock-rock image and showed a person behind it.

At any rate, this is worth seeing if you’re interested. I believe this was re-released on DVD with more footage from GG’s funeral, although once you fall down a YouTube k-hole, you’ll see it there, too. (A good starting point is this three-part camcorder video of the riot ensuing after GG’s last performance at the gas station: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3F9yk8X1TAw)

Categories
general reviews

The Wolfpack

(I have a half-resolution this year to try to write down something about every movie I watch, which I’ll probably stop doing by mid-January, but it’s only the third, so bear with me.)

The Wolfpack is a documentary about a group of seven kids who were never allowed to leave their New York apartment, and were homeschooled and cloistered by their weird hippy Peruvian father and slightly altered mother (played by Gary Busey.) The kids, unable to see reality, fell into a world of Hollywood films, and spent all their time remaking old classics like Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction shot-for-shot, using cardboard props and cheap camcorders. Then the oldest son decides he wants to explore outside the apartment, and the whole thing falls apart, or comes together, I guess.

The situation is an interesting premise, although I didn’t feel there was enough content to fill a 90-minute film. The director, Crystal Moselle, took a more poetic structure to the documentary, instead of being expository, and the more artistic approach didn’t hold my attention, and presented more questions than answers. (How much was their rent? Where did they get money? What happened to everyone after the film? How did they do things like go to the doctor?) Also, the oldest kid, Mukunda, looked enough like Adam Driver that it really bugged me (especially after Star Wars) and I spent the second half of the movie playing Scrabble and making jokes about this. So yeah, I’m the asshole for not paying more attention, but it didn’t fully click with me.

But here’s what did throw me, and made me waste half the movie scouring Google Maps: these kids lived a few blocks from the last place I lived in New York. For those interested, they lived in Seward Park Extension, which is at 65 Norfolk Street. I lived in Seward Park, at a building at Grand and Pitt.

I don’t know the exact history of Seward Park, but they lived in a much more run-down public housing building, whereas we lived in the co-op buildings. (Also weird trivia: one of the guitarists of Guns ’N Roses lived in my building, which would have been a weird mindfuck for these 80s-obsessed kids.) But yeah, while they were locked away on the 16th store of that building, I used to walk past it almost every day on the way to work. Maybe their camcorder footage of the streets below has an image of a dude with coke bottle glasses and a leather jacket, walking to the McDonald’s on Delancey to shove another Quarter Pounder meal into his fat face.

There are the usual allegations of “is this fake” and “was this exploitative” and I don’t care either way. All documentaries are fake now, and they all exploit someone; it’s a carryover from reality TV, and it’s why they largely bore me. As a metafiction nerd, I’m much more into reflexive documentaries, that play with the idea of their constructedness and dance around going meta with it. David Holzman’s Diary is my favorite example of this, although good luck getting anyone to pay attention to a film that bizarre.

This ultimately didn’t blow my skirt up, but I did enjoy the random bit of scenery reminding me of my old home. There’s a brief bit where Mukunda breaks free and goes to the grocery store, and I was thinking “oh my god, that’s the Swine Fair on Clinton Street!” So, interesting, but a bit of a nostalgia trigger, and not much else for me.

Categories
reviews

Bridge of Spies

When I was a kid, maybe ten or so, I got a book at the school book fair called Is James Bond Dead? Great Spy Stories. It was a little 64-page book with an illustration at the start of each chapter, about various true spy tales, such as the story of Mata Hari, and Operation Mincemeat, where the allies planted a body of a dead “spy” with false information on the D-Day invasion for the Axis to “capture.” But one of the stories that stuck in my head was that of Rudolf Abel, a Soviet spy during the Cold War, who hid microdots in hollow nickels and planted them in dead drops all over Manhattan, while posing as a painter and ham radio enthusiast. He was captured, prosecuted, and later exchanged for Frances Gary Powers, the U-2 pilot shot down over the USSR.

I’ve fallen down the Abel k-hole a few times, as well as all things black-op spy plane related, and apparently so has Hollywood. Bridge of Spies is a Spielberg-produced Tom Hanks film, written by British relative newcomer Matt Charman, and punched up by the Coen brothers. The movie ties together three (or four) stories with one pivotal event.

First, there’s the Abel story, told in a vintage late-50s New York (which was partly filmed in my old hood of Astoria, which doubles for nearly everything these days.) The other leg is Francis Gary Powers, the secret overflights with spy planes, and his capture. It’s joined together by lawyer James Donovan (Hanks) who was first asked to defend Abel in his espionage case, but who later brokered the hostage exchange, which took place in East/West Germany. A side story involves Frederic Pryor, an American economics student who was captured by East Berlin and held on suspicion of espionage, who was also released with Powers.

The movie itself is a predictable and lukewarm meander through the usual tropes of spy stuff and “let’s be like Mad Men” throwback nostalgia. The Donovan kids are shown duck and cover films in school and cry accordingly; everyone reacts to those goddamn reds who want to nuke us, and so on. There are attempts at chuckles thrown in, making the film something your mother-in-law will enjoy, but ultimately making it a whitewashed PG-13 maybe-historical drama, and not a dark thriller. The Germany sets look like a Hollywood backlot that was used for a Band of Brothers shoot, with the Nazi flags hastily replaced with GDR black, red, and gold. It’s not badly done, but it’s not excellent, either.

The history isn’t horribly mangled, although it is very compressed. There’s great on-ground footage of the U-2 in the hanger, ala a training/introduction montage that teach us all about the high-altitude spy plane, but the film squishes the timeline so it appears Powers is shot down on the plane’s maiden flight. In reality, there was a long test period at Groom Lake (aka Area 51) with three pilot deaths, and 23 missions over five years prior to Powers and the May 1960 shootdown. Abel’s timeline is similarly compressed; no facts are greatly changed or even omitted, but Abel was arrested in 1957 and didn’t get released until 1962. The film makes the five-year saga seem like a couple of months of time.

I didn’t know anything about Donovan prior to seeing the film, so it’s interesting to read about him. The Pryor thing is also an odd footnote that I knew almost nothing about. It’s also difficult to find anything describing his involvement or arrest. Pretty much any mention of him is the same single sentence wedged into discussion of the exchange, and I can’t tell what he really did to get arrested, if there was any backstory at all. Maybe there’s some Stasi paperwork on this (that got shredded, probably.) Given the situation, it would not be unfathomable that someone from the CIA pulled him aside in a cafe and told him to snap a few pictures of a building for a few bucks. Or it was a wrong place/wrong time thing. Who knows.

I liked the film in that it was an endless stream of things I later read about. It’s very easy for me to take off from the various points on this and read about the Stasi, the Prior situation, East Berlin, the Glienicke Bridge, U-2 planes, Lockheed’s Skunk Works, Area 51 — the list is endless.

(An interesting sidenote: the movie mostly wrote out the involvement of Milan Miskovsky, the CIA agent who was largely instrumental to the exchange. After retirement, Miskovsky was appointed to lead an investigation about the 1967 Detroit riot for the Kerner Commission. He interviewed MLK and other leaders, and wrote a report concluding the US was transitioning into two societies that were greatly unequal, which is an interesting deep-dive if you’re up for reading about civil liberties in the sixties.)

I didn’t like the Spielberg-ization of the movie, though. The film was agonizingly long (141 minutes) and meandered and shuffled through the plot slowly. There were places where he chose to smash-cut between the subplots at a fast clip, but too many other places where he vegetated and made the movie an hour too long. Hanks had a weird Bosom Buddies comedy slant to his character, which didn’t help. And the general sterility of the experience soured it for me. If the Schindler’s List Spielberg, or even the Munich Spielberg direct this, it would have held my interest a bit more. Instead, we got Catch Me If You Can Spielberg, which was meh for me.

Categories
general

New York, Again

It feels like I was just here, but I guess that was almost a year ago.  And it feels like I just lived here, but that ended six years ago.  Six years?

Anyway.  Woke up early.  Packed a carry-on and a personal item.  Drove to SFO and left the car at the wrong terminal, the one equidistant to the Virgin America gates.  Sat at their little desks with power plugs and banged out the morning’s writing.  I’m still writing in OmmWriter half the time, and it was somewhat ironic that the fake-ass ambient drone music in the headphones was the sound of being on an old train, the clacking of the rails, and I’m in a super-futuristic airport that looks like a Kubrick wet dream, watching giant Airbus spaceships launch into the skies at near-Mach speeds.

Full flight.  No meal on the plane.  I cobbled together a fake meal of dry goods, and then realized that eating tuna while sealed in a tiny tube is a dumb idea.  Couldn’t write on the plane so I read half of Fight Club in one clip on my Kindle.  Reading a book about insomnia, being crammed in planes, and a lack of life fulfillment isn’t advisable when you haven’t slept, are crammed in a plane, and aren’t feeling fulfilled with your life.  Good book, though.

The wait for a cab took a half hour.  I was behind two women who were fresh from London, and bitching about the cabs and how you couldn’t just take the “tube” from JFK.  Well, you sort of can, but it’s not advisable.  It was raining, 30 degrees, just trying to snow.  I got a cab, headed in, and it took about 90 minutes to cover that 9 miles, as the snow started to stick.

And now I’m in my old neighborhood, the LES.  I’m staying in a hotel right by my old house.  This really freaked me out last time, and it’s doing it even more.  It’s my old hood, my old McDonald’s just down the street, my old subway stop just a couple of blocks away.  Allen, Orchard, Stanton, Delancey. We used to go to Clinton Street Bakery and Alias and walk up and down these side streets almost every day.  We’d order from Schiller’s and wait in an impossible line at the Rite Aid while they fucked up our prescriptions and talked on their cell phones instead of actually working as cashiers.  My current office is my old office, and the walk to work will be the same tomorrow morning.

I just emailed John about something and remembered how he stayed here with us at our old place, right before we left in 2007.  I know I hated a lot of things about New York, and I know I could never live here again, but I really do miss our place over there – it was the most tolerable place I’d lived here, a real gem of an apartment.  Lots of light, a deck, a nice view of a park below us, big rooms, and my own little office to hide in and try to write, although I don’t think I got anything substantial done the whole time we lived there.

My nostalgia really tortures me sometimes.  I think the ironic thing is, I’m slowly losing my memory, and I fear that at some point in the future, I will remember nothing of the past, won’t have any idea if I already ate the sandwich I’m holding in my hand, and the only thing left will be these unbearable pining feelings for certain eras of my life, specific times or places or feelings or moods that can be summed up by the menu of a restaurant or the pair of jeans I used to wear.  So I sit here, a few blocks from my old apartment, and miss that era, that feeling, even if I’m making more money and living in a nicer place and married and way more productive.  The nostalgia is overwhelming and depressing and uplifting and impossible to capture, but impossible to avoid.

It’s past my bedtime, but of course I’ll be wide awake for three more hours due to the magic of time zones.  I was so starving, I went to the sushi restaurant in the hotel, sat at the bar lined with raw fish, and ordered a cheeseburger and fries.  I’ve been impeccably good with weightwatchers for the last couple of months, but snapped, ate a day’s worth of food, and now I’m pumping with insulin and not ready to sit down and write, but I must.

Categories
general

First Falafel

About ten years ago, I lived in New York: rented a shithole apartment in Astoria, took the N train in to Times Square every day, and worked three floors down from Puff Daddy at a soon-to-be-irrelevant dotcom. My life consisted of TPS reports, delays on the N train, and arguing with old ladies in three different languages at the local Key Food. I guess I wrote books too, but that involved more sitting at the computer wishing I could write than actual writing.

When the soot-black snow melted away that spring and I no longer needed to wear two jackets for my ten-block walk to the subway, I started developing this stabbing toe pain. It felt like I broke my big toe, but couldn’t remember actually doing anything like stepping on a mouse trap or slamming it in a car door or whatever else you do to break a toe. At least every other month, I’d have a stupid spaz moment while walking, hypnotized by whatever album spun in my MiniDisc player to cover the sounds of the city, and trip on a ten micron high difference in the pavement. Some cable company that just spent all of the previous summer jackhammering a trench at six every morning, dropping in new fiber, and poorly sealing over the pavement — well, they either forgot where the fiber was, or lost it in some wave of mergers and acquisitions and deregulation and re-regulation. They re-dissected the pavement and left even more opportunity for me to fall on my face when one of my clunky boat shoes hit a new asphalt patch the wrong way.

And that’s what I told the doctor at the ER a week later, after a $60 cab ride to the nearest hospital on an early Saturday morning, when I could no longer put on a shoe or sleep in bed with a sheet on my foot. I spent a Friday night with every possible combination of foot-propping and elevating pillows and pieces of couch I could find, before I finally gave up and went in for a two-hour wait with some worn Sports Illustrated issues so old, I think they were talking about rumors that the Dodgers were leaving Brooklyn.

My feet are naturally fucked up. Every podiatrist who has examined them says they’re the worst they’ve ever seen, even a guy I went to who had been practicing since 1946. And on that morning in Queens Hospital, while I writhed in pain after a battery of x-rays, the ER doc paged every intern and resident from orthopedics and podiatry to come down and check this shit out. As a half-dozen guys in scrubs prod my feet, one of them, this guy with an uncanny resemblance to Samuel L. Jackson says, “hey man, you ever been worked up for the gout?”

Gout — I’d heard the word before, but didn’t know what it meant. I think one of my grandparents had it. And maybe it was a running gag with various old characters on The Simpsons. But no, I’d never been tested for it or diagnosed with it or anything else. So along with a cane, a soft cast, and a handful of Vicodin, they sent me home with an appointment to see a podiatrist who could tell me more about this gout thing.

New York City is the place to be if you want to be a writer, work in advertising, enjoy high fashion, make big bucks on the stock market, or you have old money and need to be in the center of the universe. But it’s not a place to be mobility challenged, as I found out the next Monday on my long hobble to work on a new aluminum walking stick with one regular shoe and one velcroed boot. Taking the subway involved at four long flights of stairs per trip; while I sat in the slow lane, taking it a tread at a time and gripping onto the rail for dear life, an army of insufferable guido pricks swore incessantly as they tore around me. And every time I got into a packed train car for the city, not a single self-absorbed person would give up their seat for the cripple trying to balance on one foot while hanging onto the rail above. Every step on the inflamed toe, now cherry red like it was hit with a hammer in a Warner Brothers cartoon, felt like pure evil. But the embarrassment and torture of the subway ride every day was far worse.

I got in with this podiatrist in Murray Hill, this Gary Shandling-looking fucker who glanced at my foot and without a second thought said, “yeah, that’s definitely gout.” He took x-rays and talked me into a $175 pair of orthopedic inserts to correct the flat feet, and I said yes, mostly because he had a really cute receptionist who talked to me. He got me an appointment with an internist to do some blood work, but first, he gave me a steroid injection into the joint of my big toe.

I don’t normally have a problem with needles. When I was a kid, I had allergy shots for three or four years, and I could probably handle jabbing myself with a hypo better than most junkies. But when a doctor says, “look, most podiatrists won’t give you this shot because it’s really hard to do, but I think I can try it,” followed with “I’m going to give you a shot of lidocaine so I can give you the actual shot,” then produces this giant railroad spike of a needle along with a giant jar of fluid that’s going in your intra-articular area, you tend to freak the fuck out. And I did. And I kept a straight face, until he had to push around the second needle and jockey with the syringe, like he was putting the eleventh gallon of gas in a ten-gallon tank. But I walked out of there — WALKED out of there, with both shoes on, no cane, and a Barry Bonds-like amount of steroid in the knuckle of my toe.

Here’s what I found out about gout, after a weekend of frenetic web searches: gout is a form of arthritis, where excess uric acid in the blood crystallizes in the coolest extremities of your body, where there’s the most pressure. Those crystals then cause inflammation and push into your nerves, making it feel like a lobster has clamped down on your toes. Doctors and junk science folklorists go back and forth every few years, either saying it’s caused by rich diet and alcohol, or genetics and heredity. Common treatment involves strict diet, a regimen of uric acid-depleting medication, or both.

And when I got to the internist’s office and got a few tubes of blood drawn, he told me the same thing, and gave me a script for allopurinol and some scare tactics about my daily McDonald’s regimen. The next day, he called and gave me the complete rundown, that my uric acid levels were off the chart, along with my cholesterol count, triglycerides, and every other bad thing that a 30-year-old shouldn’t have coursing through their veins. He told me to come back in six months and get more blood work to figure out if I needed Lipitor. But this was in April of 2001, and his office was in the World Trade Center, so you can do the math on that one.

I called my friend Cynthia, this Venezuelan swimsuit model in LA. She started emailing me about Bukowski a year ago, then read my books and became a fan. She told me she was a Venezuelan swimsuit model, and I became a fan. We met whenever one of us was on the wrong coast, and I considered selling everything I owned and moving to LA, except I just did that a year ago with New York, and it didn’t work out well.

“Cyn, how’s the city of Angels?”

“Horrible when you’re not here,” she said. “What happened with your doctor?”

“The prick told me I needed to take more pills, lose 40 pounds, go on a diet, and lower my cholesterol.”

“You don’t need to lose weight,” she said. “You’re fine.”

“Right back at ya,” I said. “But I’m hobbling around this fucking island like Quasimodo. I think I’m going to have to become a vegetarian,” I said. “I don’t know what the hell to do.”

“I’m a vegetarian,” she said. “It’s not that hard.”

“You live in the land of fruits and nuts,” I said. “The frickin’ Burger King out there has a vegan menu. I grew up in Indiana. Even the vegetables have meat in them. How the hell am I going to live on salads?”

“What about falafel? That’s vegetarian.”

“What the fuck is a falafel?”

“It’s ground up chickpeas, fried in a ball, in a pita. You’ve never had falafel?”

“I don’t even know where the hell to get it. The most ethnic food we had as a kid was Pizza Hut.”

“I’m sure you can find a guy in a cart selling it there. I know a really good place in the East Village — we’ll go the next time I’m in town.”

“I’m starving now,” I said. “I’m going to try to catch some lunch. Catch you later Cyn.”

Times Square might be the center of the universe for tourists, but that only makes it a horrible place to grab a quick bite to eat if you work there. When you’ve only got a half-hour between meetings, going to Sardi’s and beating past the Wednesday half-off theater crowd bussed in from Iowa isn’t an option. It’s one of many reasons my diet consisted mostly of grabbing a #2 meal from the mega-McDonald’s, and maybe switching off with the Pizza Hut Express hidden in the food court underneath the Viacom ghetto across the street. The BMG building had a giant cafeteria, but it wasn’t good for much except mediocre ten-dollar hamburgers, and occasionally running into celebrities. (I kept seeing Booger from Revenge of the Nerds eating lunch there.)

I prairie-dogged over the top of my cube to talk to my neighbor Amy. “Do you know of a good place for falafel around here?”

“There’s a guy with a cart that’s always on either 48th or 49th, between 7th and 8th,” she said.

I grabbed my MiniDisc player and headphones, and headed for the elevator. Down in the lobby, a group of ghetto kids stood at the security desk, trying to convince the guards to let them through the TSA-like checkpoint to go upstairs and tell Diddy they were the next big thing. Sometimes the guards would let them audition on speakerphone for the 30th floor receptionist. I always wondered if I could start some kind of scam telling wannabe rappers in the lobby I was a producer and could get them face time with Puffy for a small cash fee. But I was too hungry to deal with that today.

I cut east on 46th street, to avoid the crowds, and walked past the American Express office where I was always making last-second thousand-dollar payoffs to keep my corporate card out of hock. I hung a left back onto 48th and saw my destination, a green cart with glass walls and a middle-eastern looking guy manning the post, shuffling ice over cans of Coke in a plastic tub.

“Hi, uh, I’ll have a falafel?” I asked.

“Just one, boss?”

“Uh, I don’t know, actually. How big are they?” I had no concept whatsoever what constituted a falafel, or an order of falafel. For all I knew, falafel was one of those words that was both singular and plural. Does several falafels constitute a bunch of the fried balls in one pita, or many pitas, each with multiple balls? I had no idea.

“You never had a falafel? Here, try this out.” He pulled out one of the spheres from a pile just out of a fryer and handed it to me. My first thought was that it looked like a dried meatball, maybe something you got in an silver astronaut food pack and then reconstituted before adding to a spaghetti dinner.

I bit into the piece and was surprised by its crunchiness. It had a texture that was tactically satisfying, like the experience of biting into a hard-shelled M&M candy and finding the soft chocolate inside. The piece came straight out of the fryer and felt like it was a thousand degrees in my mouth, but this wasn’t the soggy, reconstituted, sad falafel patty you get in the freezer section of your local Kroger; this was the real deal.

I hurried back to the office with the paper bag containing the warm, foil-wrapped pita, got a soda from the break room, and sat at my desk to dig in. I quickly found falafel isn’t the best thing to eat at a computer, with tahini oozing from the seams onto your hands and pieces of lettuce and tomato overflowing onto the keyboard with every bite. And a single pita-ensconced sandwich wasn’t enough — I instantly regretted not buying two. But I loved the heartiness of it, and didn’t regret not eating some meat-based lunch. I always associated bean-oriented food with the thin, massless bean burritos you get at taco joints that taste like a beef burrito minus the beef. Falafel has a satisfying quality, and when you mix that with the tang of the tahini sauce offset by the crispness of the lettuce and the sweetness of the tomatoes, it’s a perfect storm of sandwich goodness.

I’ve eaten a thousand falafels since. From the raw food place in Mar Vista to the historic Mamoun’s in the heart of Greenwich Village; from the local sandwich shop I walk to almost every day in Silicon Valley to the time I discovered you could get a falafel plate at Dodger Stadium, I’ve loved every time I could wrap a pita around some fried or baked chickpeas. I never stuck with being a vegetarian — within a week of that attempt, I was at the Times Square Chili’s, eating the ten-pounds-of-ribs meal. But I cut the fast food, lost the weight, and still love me a good falafel.