Tuesday, April 28, 2009

How To Be Tortured, And How To Stop It

A 45-minute fly should be no big deal.

Board, taxi, ascend, drink quick cup of tomato juice, descend, de-board, move on with life.

Unless, you miss your flight. At LAX.

After navigating through the throngs, after a rebuke from the ticketing agent for cutting it close to the bone, time-wise, after despondently paying $15 just to check my bag, after channeling my inner snake charmer to cut the serpentine security line to get to the front of it, after making a wrong turn on the wild-eyed sprint to the gate and ending up - inexplicably - right back at the departure curb, I found myself unceremoniously slated for the next San Jose bound flight. In four hours. On standby.

And so I went through the security line again, new boarding pass in tow, with a composure only possible after losing your shit. Relegated to the AA ghetto terminals, via shuttle, I imagined, with all the theatricality possible on mere milligrams of caffeine, that I was like Napoleon on Elba. No free wifi, plastic wrapped food that would make even my sister's non-discriminating dog shudder, and disappointing people-watching (mostly businessmen flying to Monterey and Santa Barbara ).

But all that changed. After listening to a song a friend recommended, I experienced GLOOM-LIFTING TUNE SALVATION. Ever felt like busting a groove in an inappropriate space? Like at a shitty gate in a shitty terminal in front of self-important khaki slacked, bespectacled men, as they drone in deep tones on their Blackberries?

Cause this one just might do it for you.

Thanks, B.C.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Okkervil River

This is all you need to know:

1. Okkervil River is a band from Austin (they've been around for about 11 years).
2. They are on the Jagjaguwar label (coolest label name ever).
3. They know how to put together a melody, don't short-change on the lyrics, and sing with a kind of tortured joie de vivre that is instantly appealing (inexplicably making you want to date a rock star).
4. The band name comes from a short story, by a Russian author I've near heard of.
5. Their latest, and fifth album, The Stand Ins, was released last fall.
6. The latest album is seriously good stuff.

Take a listen:

Thanks, lala.com.


My mother is from Mexico. She has an accent. Although she very rarely utters a derogatory word (she is a hardcore Católica after all), even she is mortal. Even she, my mother of the prim and the proper and the table manners and the “Did you send a Thank You card, mi’ja?”, is infrequently inclined to verbally vent frustration/anger in a decidedly improper manner, as in not always with words that elementary school teachers would advocate in their classrooms. As in: “Shit!”

Due to the accent, despite 38 years in the U.S., and unequivocal American citizenship, my mother cannot pronounce “shit” properly. As adolescents, my sister and I could not contain our laughter when she let slip a “shit” out loud. In private, away from her supersonic ears, we would half whisper “Shet! Shet! Shet! Shet! SHET!!!”, and roar with laughter.

As we got older (and bolder) we would diplomatically point out to her that we did not argue with the sentiment, just that technically she wasn’t pronouncing the word correctly. Me, an English major and aspiring wordslinger, and my sister, a former bad seed who back in the day let loose soliloquies often punctured with shits and fucks, often while sucking on Marlboro Reds, would calmly inform my mother that “shet” in actuality is pronounced “shit”. My mother’s reactions to these corrections varied. In states of extreme agitation she would just exclaim the epithet again, and with an air of “fuck you” about it, which she would never say, although I’m sure she felt. In states of mild frustration she would simply stay silent, hyper-conscious of her moral values, motherhood, and even more acutely, her accent.

And so it was several years later, unexpectedly living at home, and due to wide-open evenings, that I emotionally invested in this season's “The Biggest Loser”. I am such a fan that I can provide an in-depth analysis regarding the machinations of “The Game”, my prediction on the ultimate outcome, detailed psychological assessments of all the contestants, and my assertion that if Bob the trainer knew I were alive we would enjoy each others’ company.

There is a contestant on the show named Tara. I find her grating. A few weeks ago she gained one pound during the episode’s conclusionary weigh-in [you may be able to guess, if you do not watch the show, that the contestants’ goal is to lose weight, so any weight gain is decidedly bad]. My mother is a Tara fan “because she works so hard”. When Tara’s face fell, I smirked, and my mother expressed vehement disappointment.

A show later, during a competition that was to determine which contestant would win immunity for the week, Tara was behind. Way behind. She was in danger of losing big time, which would mean the bitch would be voted off the show. As I MWAHAHA-ED at Tara’s imminent loss, my mother let slip a quiet but discernible “this is bullshet”.

"This is bullshit" is a phrase I say often. Emboldened by what I believed would be Tara’s forthcoming departure, and of the firm belief that my phrase should be well represented, I took a time-out for a quick pronunciation lesson. “Mom: it’s ‘bullshit’. It’s ‘bull-sh-iiiiiiiiii-t’, OK? ‘Sssshhhhh-iiiiiiiiii-tttttt’. NOT “chet”, as in Chet Baker”.

My mother’s response: Silence. And then something along the lines of an exaltation: “Bull-CHET BAKER!!!!” What followed was a deep-belly convulsion, an "I'm about to pee my pants laugh" that I have rarely heard from my mother. Her shoulders shook in between sharp intakes of air, which she fed right back to that fire in her belly. Clearly, the several months I have lived at home have impacted (influenced?) my mother. We spend a lot of time together, and I can’t completely bury my predilection to sometimes swear like an unhinged thug in the darkest corner of the most menacing favela.

My mother, despite her lectures to me about going to church on Sundays and the dangers of abortion, for a few minutes resembled a compatriot: a fellow aficionado of irreverence, of big belly laughs, of creatively strung together epithets, like singularly intricate charms huddled together on a bracelet. Due to the pleas to attend church and to re-define my definition of “when life begins” this is not someone my mother - my mother - resembles often. I won’t soon forget it.