Archive for August, 2008


Hip-hopped, Flashed, Pegged, Spaced and, um..Rudded

People often flip out when they see a celebrity, whether coincidentally or deliberately at events they attend. I am not one such, I don’t acknowledge “celebrity” in itself as anything important. The term is quite nebulous. Instead of going on an endless rant debating what the term means, who should and shouldn’t be worthy of it, and so on, I’d rather just tell two short stories that happen to involve a handful of well known people.

Biggie Grand and the Biz

If you’ll allow me to get personal for a minute, I’m not big on hip-hop or rap. It’s an argument I’ve been having since middle school, when these things mattered. Come to think of it, they mattered a great deal. Back then, music seemed to define who you were. The “rock” kids and the “rap” kids shared a healthy divide, and when new kids showed up, they were warmly assimilated into one of these inner circles. Naturally, I was the odd one out, not having listened to hardly anything contemporary outside of the car radio, possibly by accident.

7th grade was when I realized I hadn’t actively pursued my own taste in music. And since I didn’t have that, I had no need for music TV, so I was again missing large quantities of the raw materials used to fashion a social life. Awkwardly, I got my mom to take me to circuit city to buy my first CD, Aerosmith’s Get a grip album. Taking that and my new CD player to school had indeed convinced some kids to speak to me (not about me), which led to my second CD purchase, Offspring’s Smash. Superunknown, Far Beyond Driven, and Dookie got me through to High School, where a kid played an Op Ivy track for me and taught me the word “Ska.”

Ska and Reggae, Punk, then Techno, then house, I became a sponge to it all. These were the musical education years, where I would skateboard to the mall and rummage through the music stores, listening to everything, old and new. It turned out I did like some hip-hop, but mostly the old school stuff. the farther back, the better (especially while skateboarding). So when Rich called me up to see Grandmaster Flash and Biz Markie a few weeks ago, I leaped at the chance.

A new Guitar Center opened up in Garden City, and they went all out, taking half of the shopping center parking lot for their own. A tent housing a stage was set up, flanked by rows of booths. Lines wrapped around the building to see the the inside of the store while people flooded the scene. I couldn’t care less. Rich, Tony and I had no interest to see the inside of the store, nor go through the booths for the free swag. there was no beer, there was no one really over 20 anyway, and we were purpose driven. Faithfully, we camped out by the stage and listened to Sway (swaze? swazye? the guy from MTV) warm up the crowd…and by warm up, I mean speak in a slow, monotone voice and pose trivia questions for free merch. Mercifully, a man in a blue shirt and white Kangol hat took the stage and interrupted him, it was Biggie Grand himself, Grand Master Flash.

I’ve spoken before about heroes of their fields before, and here is another example. Flash was up there, fiddling with a laptop that fed music and controls through a top of the line turntable and sound system, switching and scratching some of the best tracks of all time. I couldn’t help but picture this man flipping vinyls back and forth using some 70’s record set-up at parties, forming the furious 5 and making unbelievable hip-hop before it had a name. Before it was a multi-billion dollar industry, listened to my millions of people across the entire planet. And he was there, at that moment, in that particular Long Island supermarket parking lot, taking us on a 30 year journey. It was a privilege.

We were hotly anticipating the Biz Markie awesomeness after being charged by GrandMaster Flash’s set. Swazyzye was replaced by another guy, who rode the audience’s energy, giving away more merch, having more trivia and verse contests as the show runners set up for Biz. After a good long time, we were getting pretty tired of hearing “who wants this?” while being teased with electronics, just to provoke a cheer from the crowd. Biz Markie finally takes the stage away from this guy, and procedes to play tracks from his playlist, doing very little spinning, as he’s unsatisfied with the setup they had. There was apparently some technical issue that wasn’t getting resolved and Biz was exchanging words with the head guitar center guy for a while, until he just sang the hook from “he’s just a friend” and left. all that waiting for very little in return. We caught up with him afterwards, where Rich consoled the big guy, telling him not to sweat it, but…well, he’s a hard man to read.


The Spaced Race

You never get to hear the “asshole’s” side of things, so here goes.

We were late. My intricate plan to see Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright and Jessica Hynes( née Stevenson) Screen episodes of SPACED was collapsing rapidly. They were promoting the release of the series on DVD for the first time in the U.S. of A, screening and doing a Q&A at the Village East Cinemas and I very much wanted to be there. I love SPACED. For the uninitiated, SPACED was the series that was the launching pad for the creative team of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. (all these links go to clips, btw. dive in.)

I love SPACED. I said it again, I know. The show was a great discovery for me because I enjoyed the characters, the stories, concept and how creatively it was crafted. Watching it, you feel like this was a true labor of love that proved you didn’t need to have an astronomical budget to make something great. I could go on, but I won’t. See for yourself, the DVD’s are available, conveniently.

Melissa and I were at the office because, well , it was Monday, that’s where we’d be. The screening being a free event, we couldn’t get tickets ahead of time, which elevated my anxiety since ticket-in-hand means a guarantee of ass-in-seat. VIctor was sent ahead of time to snag a place in line while we skipped out of work as early as possible, catch the LIRR to Penn Station and there either catch a subway to the village or, if we felt the crunch, taxi.

Murphy’s law was in full effect here, as my workload piled up with last minute changes, as did Melissa’s. Victor, whom we had sent ahead to camp out in line, was having difficulty getting a ride to the train station. He does eventually get on his way, and just a bit past 4:30, I grab Mel and we race to her house to drop off the car and get a our own ride to the station. We then sprint up to the platform because we are, of course, late, and there are a million people also trying to get their last minute tickets. We split up and go to separate ticket machines and then meet in the middle. and then nothing. The train had been delayed.

Disaster. I’m fully aware that Westbury train station is outside of Switzerland, and thus I should give them some leeway for tardiness, but this train was 10 or so minutes behind. Finally boarding, I tried to take that train nap, to no avail, my nerves were riled up from the mad dash to the late train. It was the beginning of a major loss of temper, I felt it. Blood was not yet boiling, but at a steady simmer. The train again takes its sweet time to platform, as if it couldn’t make up its mind. We need to make a mad dash at this point, but there is a multitude of people trying to exit as well, like coaxing molasses to flow uphill.

V calls. “the good news is I met Simon Pegg, the bad news is we might not get in, the line is massive and they might cut it off.” Crap. No time for subway then, we desperately need a taxi. Literally running out of Penn, we grab one and spit our destination at the driver. V calls again to say that the line is moving. “where are you guys?”. I don’t know what to tell him. It’s 6:40 in midtown Manhattan, traffic is practically standing still. and the event starts at 7. We crawl cross-town, watching the minutes pass. V calls again, and every call is a punch in the gut. Melissa doesn’t think we’ll make it, and I, distraught, begin to feel the same.

Our cabby then asks if he can try another way, to which we agree to, sullenly. He proceeds to take us UPtown, away from the village. Great, now we’re going slowly in the wrong direction. Then, he makes a rapid right and then another and we are suddenly flying down second ave. I sit up watching street signs blow by, 34th, 33rd,32nd… A crazy blurry countdown. it’s 6:55 and I think that we may just make it. And we do. Mel bolts out the cab to find V as I pay the cabby and resist the urge to kiss this wonderful, wonderful man. V sees us, amazed by our last minute arrival, and we tell him the story, as now we’re in line, hoping desperately to get in. the line inches to the door and they are letting people in by the handful, controlling the flow of audience members as the theater must be pretty full. We approach the door, as a man is counting all who enter. “..18, 19, 20”. and then clips the velvet rope after Victor, before Melissa and I.

“We’re all together,” we say, as the doorman gives an unsympathetic sorry. Victor is ushered in as some event officials mull over closing the doors. The venue looks full and we, after coming all this way, are to be the cut-off. Blood temp? boiling. Melissa looks at me concerned as she probably saw my mind click over to “rage”. I’m contemplating grabbing the rope guy by the throat at this point, when someone inside walks to the line and says they have a little bit more room, and the rope is lifted. We’re in. I have Melissa’s hand as we walk to the theater, I, still navigating through a red haze of anger. I’m at my tipping point and I’m trying very, very hard to control it.

We enter a large theater and we see V seated in the middle section, but we are ushered to the lower area to fill in seats. when we get there, the two that we were going for are occupied. we turn around, going back to two other seats we saw. Those are full as well. At the floor level, we find separate seats and I tell Melissa to grab one, while I go for the second, which she does, unhappy that we’ve been separated. the single seat I wanted was quickly occupied. This was getting ridiculous and I’m fuming. I storm back up to the middle level and grab a seat, while Melissa leaves and goes hunting for a seat on my behalf, which panics me because I’m afraid she’ll lose her seat. I call out to her (calmly as possible) to sit down and express my concern, and she returns.

I take a deep breath as I’m literally twitching at this point, when a girl in a (possibly, I can’t remember) purple dress asks me what the hell I thought I was doing. “that seat is taken” she says, heatedly. Now, I usually don’t act like how I’m about to describe, but the events that have transpired have left me in a state that would normally elicit a tantrum and destructive violence. I’m trying not to be a complete jerk here when I say “I’m sorry, but I left work early, caught a late train, sat in traffic to get here, almost not let in, and then separated from my girlfriend and my brother when we were because people grabbed seats from under me that I said were taken, so y’know what? I’m sitting here.” The girl, offended, began stammering, so shocked at my blatant douchebaggery, she didn’t know what to say other than the odd swear. I sat defiantly in that seat, pleading to the fates that she angrily summon her boyfriend so I can lash out like an animal and attack a person who would be so clearly well within the right ( I also wanted him to be twice my size, with a group of friends. I wanted war, right there, in the theater). I was aware of everything that moment, I knew I was being selfish and mean, but I was so goddamn angry, I just didn’t care. So girl in the purple dress, if by some coincidence you are reading this, I am very very sorry. I was not myself and my behavior was uncharacteristically malicious and vile. You had every right to be angry, and under normal circumstances I would have moved. None of this excuses my actions, but I do hope they explain them slightly. As it happens, you were in the path of a runaway train.

Fed up, the girl calls me an asshole and leaves, freeing up two more seats. Me, the asshole, is delighted by this and I leap to my feet shouting to Melissa and V to join me. Melissa has watched all of this transpire from the lower deck and approaches me with caution. The event is beginning and Melissa gently touches my arm, which I recoil to her shock. I’m electric. I’m so angry and so riled up, I am producing energy. At this moment, we realize that seated directly ahead of us is Paul Rudd, actor from Clueless and 40 year old virgin, among others. Melissa is upset at my reaction to her touch, to which I explain to her how I’m feeling. This is how brilliant Mel is at diffusing me, she says ” You know what you should totally do then? go punch Paul Rudd in the fucking face.” This cracks me up. It was such a random thing to say and an equally random scenario that would have transpired. We craft a scene where I go ” hey Rudd!” who stands up and I send him flying with a left cross for no apparent reason. I couldn’t help thinking how funny it would have been to start this blog with ” I punched Paul Rudd in the face.”

I of course, do not punch him or anyone else that evening. Simon, Jessica, and Edgar emerge to our cheers and introduce the three episodes that were selected by fans to be aired. We sit back and watch SPACED for the first time on a massive screen, galactic in comparison to the Windows Media Player we’ve been watching it on. These are episodes we know back to front, and they’re still hilarious. Enhancing the experience is watching the show with thousands of people all sharing the laughs together, hooting at our favorite scenes. The episodes end and the crew emerge for a Q&A that kind of falls flat. As good as their A’s were, the Q’s were a little “eh”, which led to mildly uninteresting responses. Simon would often go into tangents about his geeky nature, while Edgar spoke of his meeting famous people. Edgar Wright gets star struck. I hope this doesn’t give off the sense that it wasn’t enjoyable, it very much was.

Afterwards, throngs of people had also discovered Paul Rudd and surrounded him outside, beneath the Marquee for pictures and autographs and such. We watched in amusement from across the street. It’s there that I reflect on everything that happened. The mad rush, the anxiety, the embarrassment in the theater. We had ultimately succeeded in what we set out to do.

Happily, we left to find some food, and I spent the rest of the night walking through the city with my two favorite people in the world. As cheezy as it sounds, a perfect end to an amazing day.



Nobody said adventure would be easy

Melissa and I competed in our first ever official adventure race this past weekend, and lived to tell the tale.

Here, in fact, is said tale…

First of all, you may ask “What’s an adventure race?” In essence, it’s a checkpoint search for teams of usually two that’s spread across various square miles of terrain which is, in this case at least, broken up into three different disciplines. The three that concern me is kayaking, hiking, and mountain biking.

after spending a day up by Lake Wawayanda (take that, spellcheck) preparing for our first adventure race familiarizing ourselves with the fundamentals , we were very confident that we’d have no problem facing what lay ahead of us.

Genesis Adventures, the company that arranges these things, mapped out a grueling course throughout Allamuchy State Park (clearly, no adventure can be had in an average-named venue). This area, and feel free to google it at your leisure, is divided into two parts that meet in the middle, divided by the highway. think of an “8” leaning slightly to the right and I highway passing through the narrow bit, a river flowing along the edge.

We were up against a kayak up and down the river, a hike through the southern half of the park, and mountain bike throughout the north half. Things couldn’t have seemed simpler.

In our pre race briefing, we were told two key points of information. the first being that the river was a foot lower than previously assessed and that we were allowed to set our boats down at any point at the river. The other note was that one of the checkpoints in the hiking section, the 2nd of 3, was deemed too difficult and was crossed off the list. This meant all we had to do was stroll all the way to “checkpoint 5” and walk back. Easy breezy.

All teams line up at the starting point. We were to run a path around the staging area ( the area where we have our equipment), grab a kayak & paddles, and carry our craft down a road, and drop it in the river. The first checkpoint was upriver, the next far down, and then we had to return to the staging area for the next leg.

At the horn, we all took off in a cheer, running down the path high fiving with smiles from ear to ear. we grab the boat and head up the bank, ignoring the set path for river entry. We can set down anywhere! we laugh at your designated launch area. as with most, Melissa and I run further up the road and set down in the water ahead of us. Many of us found ourselves bumping into each other in the surprisingly narrow river. Paddling excitedly on, we all realize that, in our excitement, paddled our way up a canal that runs parallel with the actual river. some moan, others, like us, take it in stride. “alright! practice pond!” Which actually worked in our favor because the river flows down from a lake and has a 5 or 6 foot drop that a team would need to climb up, kayak and all… unless you bypassed it with the practice pond.

Having the river a foot shallower than it should be came in play when we were near checkpoint one. The kayak had to be pulled through the sediment and we paddled fast as possible for fear of getting stuck in detritus. Melissa scurried uphill and disappeared for a while until she triumphantly returned with our control card successfully marked with checkpoint one’s distinctive pattern punched into it. we make our way to the waterfall and climb down it aided with some quick thinking to use the flood control gate on the far side, instead of the uneven earth nearest of us. I don’t remember just how high the drop was, but in retrospect, climbing up it would have been a severe pain in the ass.

Having paddled a fair ways south, and having at times to get out and push, we get the second checkpoint and head back towards the transition area. It’s around now that Melissa mentions how “lord of the Rings” things just got, when I noticed the sky had been gradually blacked out by cloud cover. This was the beginning of a thunderstorm that moments later erupted in full fury on top of us.

a large, loud thunder crack spurred us to paddle even faster. it put the fear of God into many people who hopped out and carried their boats through the brush much too early, never to be seen again… ok, that’s not true, I just wanted to say that. Those people did end up dragging a kayak unnecessarily through the woods though for at least an extra half hour.

Melissa and I drop our kayak at the transition area and go to get ready for the hike. We’re wet, we’re beat, and since we left our stuff outside without waterproofing most of it, we had little dry clothes to change into. Donning ponchos, we head to the hiking stage of the race. Keep in mind that through all of this, people are very much focusing on the “race” part and running steadily throughout the whole thing.

The rain has lightened up at this point. We enter a dreary looking wood and carry on to our first hiking checkpoint, number 4. It’s found easily enough and on our way out of the trail that led up to it, we run into Gunther, the head race organizer. He’s helpful in giving us some navigation points, but informs us that we’re moving too slow. given that we’ve never done this before, it was hard for us to gauge how “good” we were doing… or bad, I guess. Up until that point, I wasn’t concerned because we were constantly running into other teams. The critique as well as the woods began to play on our emotions. We wanted to hurry, and we made mistakes in our haste. We were sad and angry at this point, which led to further mistakes. Trails that we should have crossed were elusive. Streams that should have been in our path were not. Finally, we argue a bit and quickly realize that we can’t find “checkpoint 5” nor will we because the worst had happened. we were lost.

Lost. lost, lost, lost. Our only clue was that around checkpoint 5, there would be an old stone wall that ran north and south. We were told that this would greatly aide the locating of the checkpoint, barring that you knew where you were in the first place. Mel and I found something that could have been an “old stone wall” but there were several fixtures in the woods that could have been translated as such. we follow it north and then back south when I make the decision that the race, for us, was over. I made the call to follow a road to the south in the hopes that it’s the road that leads to the park entrance. We haven’t seen another team for probably an hour. heading back up the road, miserable, wet and defeated, we seriously considered throwing in the towel.

Surprisingly, we ended up south of checkpoint 7, the final checkpoint needed to continue onto the bike leg. A racer we ran into told us just how impossible CP5 was for him, and that he and his teammate stumbled onto it luckily. Seeing a fellow human being and having the time to reassess the situation, now that we were no longer lost, re-invigorated us and we decided that we would continue, despite missing the elusive checkpoint 5.

Back at the transition area, we saw that half of the other teams’ bikes were still on racks, meaning that there were a lot of people still out there, stumbling about the wood. Indeed, what we learned was that CP 5 was near impossible to find, and that even the advanced teams were having a hard time navigating that half of the park. We were moving slow, as Gunther said, but everyone else was, too. we head out on our bikes to get the rest of the checkpoints.

The sky has, at this point, opened up significantly and the sun has warmed us up a bit, along with lifting our spirits. The bike trail was described to us as “boney”, which I guess meant comprised solely of wet rocks and deep vats of mud. Much of the time was spent walking our wheels uphill. We find checkpoint 9 by a tiny bridge and get to a crossroad. Left or right? we go right. along the way, Melissa and I are having a glorious time, making light of the difficulties we came across, which was comforting to me. I was glad to see that, even though arguments will happen, through the worst of it, Mel and I will come out the end smiling and joking.

That was important because we got lost again. It wasn’t as bad or desperate as before, we just should have taken that left. we did find a huge boulder though, that was cool. The conditions being the way they were, we surmised it would take us at least half an hour to get back to the transition area, which would make it about 4 PM, the cut off time we were all given at the start. They told us that if we weren’t back then, they would send teams out looking for us. So abandoning the checkpoints, we head back and cross the finish line together, completing our inaugural adventure race.

Gunther greeted us and mentioned that we had surprised him with our progress through the hike section, despite not getting CP 5. He went on to say that this was the hardest race that they’ve ever organized, noting how they have a third of teams still out even though it was beyond 4.

Melissa and I completed the whole course, missed CP’s and all, just under 7 hours. We were soaked, exausted, cut, bruised, riddled with ivy induced inflammations (that one’s just me, my ankles have been itchy for a week), sad, happy, beat and battered.

We can’t wait to go to the next one in September 🙂