(Set your radar for science, peeps. Secondhand SCIENCE, as usual.
This week’s wonderment involves the Doppler effect. It’s not just a tool for meteorologists or a shirt for Sheldon any more! Check it out.)
It’s weird what modern technology does to nostalgia. As in, tech kind of short-circuits it. At least, the kind I usually have.
I’m not the nostalgic sort, mostly. I don’t yearn for the “good old days”. I’ve never eagerly anticipated — nor attended, nor sorely missed — any reunions that I can remember. And if I can remember when candy cost a nickel and gas was a dollar and the kids kept their pants hiked over their whippersnapping knees, then I keep my damned mouth shut about it. Nobody cares. Least of all me.
“And if I can remember when candy cost a nickel and gas was a dollar and the kids kept their pants hiked over their whippersnapping knees, then I keep my damned mouth shut about it.”
It’s a little different with music. But not exactly the way it is with most boring old geezers who use words like “whippersnapping”. (I hope.)
See, I’m not some cane-waving caterpillar-eyebrowed relic who thinks “all this new music is crap”. Sure, some of it is crap. Okay, a lot of it is crap. But a lot of music has always been crap — or at least really, really lazy and mainstreamified and boring.
To me. That’s solely my opinion; your musicage may vary. If you happened to enjoy gyrating pelvises in the ’50s, bowl-cut Brits in the ’60s, boogieing lapels in the ’70s, vamping virgins in the ’80s, pouting plaidgasms in the ’90s and the autotuned rap-rockers reigning since, that’s peachy. Pop music wouldn’t be “pop” if it weren’t popular, so you’ve got a lot of tunes to choose from. Bully for you.
(Also, I went through a plaidgasm phase. I get it.)
My point is, I don’t think music is worse now than it used to be. I’m not sure it’s any better — those One Direction hobbits look a lot like the Backstreet Boys to me, which were basically NSYNC so far as I could tell, and they were a takeoff on New Kids on the Block, and weren’t they just basically Menudo North? Or the Monkees West?
(I’m just saying, if you’re going to put together a boy band, why not try something different? Take t.A.T.u., for instance. There was a boy band with just two members, instead of the usual four or more.
Also, they were Russian. And girls. And pretending to be lesbians.
Anyway, I do get nostalgic about certain music. I listen to “unpop” stuff now — Watcha Clan, Mike Doughty, Masaladosa, Jonathan Coulton, Midival Punditz, Beats Antique, DJ Click. Not exactly legends of mainstream radio, destined for elevator Musaking. Thankfully.
But my preference for fringe acts started back in my early teens, when music was one of the first “fringe” things I could get my hands on. Or ears. Youknowwhatimean.
I wouldn’t say the town where I grew up was culturally diverse, particularly. At least if it was, there weren’t many cultures diversing themselves onto me. I remember musical arguments among friends about whether Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd was better, or if Angus Young could kick Geddy Lee’s ass.
(Which, seriously, of course he could.
I mean, musically, I have no idea. But a Scot-Australian versus some gangly Canadian dude? That fight would look like Rhonda Rousey in the ring with Strawberry Shortcake. No contest.)
These debates didn’t concern me.
(They do now, because they date me old as hell. But that’s different.)
But the talk about music — and TV shows and sports and movies and video games — did make me uncomfortable. It felt like all of us, the handful of kids I knew in our sleepy flyover town, were essentially doing the same thing. We tuned in at the same times, all went to the same theater, picked one of the three radio stations, cheered for the local-ish teams and Kong’ed our Donkeys at the same arcade.
(Which was a place back in forever ago where cavemen and dinosaurs played together in public on oversized coin-operated Wiis. GIT OFFA MY LAWN!)
For whatever reason — personality quirk, social anxiety, bump on the noggin as an infant — all this sameness felt wrong to me. Too scripted, too predetermined, too easy. Why root for these guys when the other team has cooler uniforms? Why go after the Galaga high score, when I don’t much like the game? And why on earth listen to the same six bands they play on the radio station, when I’m not a fan of any of them?
So I didn’t. Gradually, I stopped doing all those things. I picked new favorite teams, based on how exciting they were on television. I started playing Xevious — which was totally more kick-ass than Galaga; I don’t know what people were even thinking. And I started listening to college radio.
That last one was the kicker. The arcade closed at 8 and sports are seasonal, but I could listen to music — glorious, oddball, weirdo music — any time I wanted. And I did. I fell in love with barely-heard bands like Not Shakespeare, the Spoons, Screaming Blue Messiahs, the Del-Lords and the Waxing Poetics. I caught snippets of bands tearing up elsewhere — like Husker Du, Robyn Hitchcock, Throwing Muses and X — that weren’t likely to visit my town, short of a lost bar bet or a wheel falling off their tour bus on our four-exit stretch of interstate.
Those songs let me glimpse a different world — really, dozens of different worlds — and I latched tighter onto the music than maybe, honestly, some of the music had a right to be latched onto.
(That’s the only way I can explain owning a Figures on a Beach album. That, or a lost bar bet. Take your pick.)
I’ve carried that fondness for unusual ’80s bands — very specific unusual ’80s bands; heaven knows I’m not looking for Weird Al bootlegs — with me ever since. And occasionally, the nostalgia will hit and I’ll go off in search of a song or album that I loved at the time, but could never find to buy.
This has happened many times over the years, and in the past it’s been an enormous pain in the ass. Every search for some beloved old favorite ended in a nightmare. Early on, I’d comb through every thumb-grubbed LP and CD in a local record store (when they existed), and usually come up empty. When I did find treasure, it was often on vinyl, because that’s all the band ever put out, which meant I’d have to convert it somehow to hear the damned thing anywhere away from a turntable. Which I didn’t own for most of those years because I’m not a DJ or my grandfather, so I couldn’t hear some of the finds at all.
Usually, I’d spend months tracking something down. I’d comb the backwaters of the internet (once it existed), searching out online catalogs of music stores all over the planet, hoping for a hit. Also, hoping the exchange rate into pounds or pesos or Papua New Guinean kinas wasn’t so high as to nix the deal. I wanted music, not math. But I was desperate.
I scored a few successes, but always with considerable time and effort. There were plenty of long hours to savor the search, the hunt, the nostalgia of the enterprise. It felt meaningful, if only to me, to track down a Frontier Theory EP, say, and finally hear a song that was first revealed via an old boom box in my bedroom thirty-odd years ago.
And also to hear it at roughly the same quality as through that shitty old boom box speaker, because my vinyl-to-digital transfer skills are terrible. A lot of the stuff I found and cherished and lovingly converted over sounded like it was being played through the mouth of a dead cat, with the band shoved up its butt. Not ideal for a music fan.
Or for that matter, a cat.
It’s been a few years since the “music search mood” has struck, but this week I went looking again. I made a list of a few albums I wish I had, or wish were in digital form that was actually listenable, and not ninety percent whalesong and white noise. I brought my list to the computer, and set off on an odyssey I knew would require patience, perseverance and probably a pallet of Pepsi. The journey began…
And within an hour, I had four albums.
Three were on Amazon, of all places. And the fourth on some music blogger’s out-of-print download site. These were songs I’d scoured the virtual globe for, just a few years ago. Nobody had them. Nearly nobody had heard of them, and then only ever on vinyl. Stores were out of stock. Ebay’d had e-bupkis. The shit was scarce, I’m telling you.
But other people are nostalgic, too, it seems. Old albums — and old, obscure albums, too — got reissued. Also remastered, digitally recombobulated, and sold as MP3s. Available on Spotify, too, and probably Pandora. But I wanted to see them on my hard drive, so I downloaded. It was a long time coming.
But not a long time searching. Or transferring. To be honest, the whole thing felt a little… easy.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m thrilled to hear this music again. Or to hear it better, and not as though I’m six miles from a speaker planted at the bottom of the ocean. But the nostalgia barely had time to kick in. Just as I was thinking how sweet it would be to find one of these… I found one. And another. And another. And another. I might as well have been shopping for tube socks:
“Thanks for your purchase! Would you like a limited edition Japanese-issue Beat Farmers bootleg with that?”
So it’s weird. It’s nice that I don’t have to “fight” to find this music any more, apparently. But I didn’t mind fighting a little. The struggle made it feel special, and gave me that thrill I remembered from hearing these oddball songs the first time around. Having them suddenly at my fingertips (or earlobes) seems somehow… wrong.
But I think I’ll get over it. Especially since I’m sitting on three hours or so of teen-hood soundtrack that I haven’t heard in decades. Turn up the volume and get the whippersnappers out of here; things are about to get a little weird and very old in here.Permalink | No Comments
(Hey, everybody — it’s science time! Secondhand SCIENCE, and this week we’re feeding our GAG reflex.
No, not that one. Step away from the spoon. We’re talking about glycosaminoglycans, also known as GAGs in biochemistry laboratorial circles. Fun times. Go see.)
There’s something magical about the junk you cram into a storage unit.
I’m not saying it’s the good kind of “magical”. But it’s magical.
This weekend, I’ve been tasked with cleaning out one side of our storage unit in the basement of the condo building. Later, I’ll be tasked with putting the junk back into that side of the storage unit, which all seems like a Cool Hand Luke-style psychological torture to me, but I’m assured it’s for a good reason. I’ve learned not to ask too many questions. Keep’n my mouth shut over here, boss.
Meanwhile, I’ve piled all this displaced stuff in our back room — and it’s fascinating. A lot of it is sort of hazily familiar. We moved into the building six years ago, which is a helluva long time to go not seeing something you were once familiar with.
(And my memory’s not so great. After a year away at college, I couldn’t remember my dog’s name. I spent the whole summer after freshman year saying, “heel… buddy” and “stay, pal” and “roll over… you”.
If she’d actually known any of those commands in the first place, it could have been really awkward.)
Most of the junk is just sort of random; trinkets and nonsense not worth keeping track of. Oh hey, look, there’s an old lamp we stopped using. And a milk crate full of textbooks I didn’t read when I was supposed to. And a box of hanging folders.
“I’ve never used hanging folders. I don’t remember buying hanging folders.”
I’ve moved maybe eight times in my life. There’s always a box of hanging folders. I don’t know why. I’ve never used hanging folders. I don’t remember buying hanging folders. I just assume that after every move, I look at all the boxes and junk to unpack and think, “Man, this is never gonna happen. I need something to help me organize.”
And then I buy hanging folders, toss them in a box, shove them in the storage unit with half the unpacked shit I just moved and get on with life again. It’s a process, apparently. The pointless hanging folder process.
Then there’s the stuff in storage you forget about, but rediscovering it is so awesome that you get distracted from the actual work you’re supposed to be doing. Hey, is that… a guitar? Right! I own a guitar! Ooh, I should totally tune it and bring it upstairs and learn Driver 8 real quick, before the next trip downstairs.
Even better is finding half of something cool, which means even more work that isn’t the work you’re actually supposed to be doing. I found a stack of vinyl records I haven’t heard in years, on the side of the unit I was “authorized” to clear out. So of course those have to be listened to. I mean, obviously. That’s the rule.
All I needed was my old turntable — which, of course, lives somewhere deep in the pile of stuff on the side of the storage unit I was not supposed to be cleaning out. So that was unfortunate. For three hours or so. Because vinyl records. Come on.
But my favorite — and also least favorite — stuff is the junk in our storage unit that I would swear, under oath and penalty of organizing the whole unit alphabetically, that I have never seen before in my life. We own (apparently) some contraption with metal rods that slot into plastic holders, and I’m sure assembled it forms some amazing structure or piece of furniture or device for dialing up the mothership, but I can’t tell what the hell it’s for. And I don’t have any idea where it came from. Disassembled, it fits under the chair in the back room. That’s all I know, or care, about the thing.
We’ve also apparently collected a Whitman’s sampler of paint cans, in colors that do not appear to currently exist in our condo. Maybe we brought them from the last place. Maybe the previous owners left them. Or maybe that other contraption signaled the mothership, and it beamed them down in a supply crate. I don’t know. But they’re heavy. And I’m just waiting to spill one. Because that’s going to happen.
And since there’s more to haul up, I’d better stop wasting time here and get back to it. That’s the responsible thing to do.
Just as soon as I turn my LP to side 2, and sort out the fretwork for the bridge in Don’t Go Back to Rockville. Priorities.Permalink | No Comments
(Hey, Scienceers! Wait, that’s not right. Scientitians? Scientarianists? Sciccer Hooligans?
I have a car problem. At least, I think I have a car problem.
Probably, I have a car problem. And I definitely had a car problem, which I tried to get fixed. Twice. But I still probably have a car problem. I just don’t know for sure.
The thing is, most of my driving happens during my commute — and it’s not much of a commute. On a good day, I can zip my old Nissan Maxima through my neighborhood, over a bridge, down a nice, big river-adjacent road — those of you on the right of the vehicle can enjoy a beautiful view of the Boston skyline; thanks for joining us today — and into the parking garage in ten minutes. On a bad day, it might take twenty.
(On apocalyptic traffic days — like, during the Boston Marathon or a Red Sox game or thirty-seven feet of snow falling during rush hour — well. Then it takes an hour or more, which is maddening.
All I ask is for every person on this side of the planet to keep themselves and their vehicles the hell out of my way. Is that so unreasonable?)
Of course, as the saying goes: “It’s not the length of the commute; it’s the… uh, motion of the ocean.” Or something. I forget the saying. The point is, I also don’t go very fast on this commute. There are no highways or expressways or keep-the-hell-out-of-my-way-ways (sadly) on my drive, so I rarely tick the speedometer over forty miles an hour. These are “city miles”, in car-peddlerspeak.
And that’s nearly all the driving I do. Except for the occasional trip to shoot a short film — or to plan out an phenomenally festive faux theme park website — which seem to mostly happen in Rhode Island. Which is an hour away, mostly down a highway.
(Though not necessarily, I’ve found, a keep-the-hell-out-of-my-way-way. Bastards.)
“Fearful for my car’s well-being — and also my teeth knocking each other out, and additionally, my life — I took the car to a garage.”
These trips involve streaking down the road at sixty-plus miles an hour, which is no issue at all unless that speed makes your vehicle rattle like a handful of Mexican jumping beans inside a maraca in a dryer running the “Megaspin” cycle.
Which, I found out a few weeks ago, it does.
Fearful for my car’s well-being — and also my teeth knocking each other out, and additionally, my life — I took the car to a garage. They told me one of my tires had a “bubble”, and yes, that could totally cause shaking on the road, and no, you might not feel it until higher speeds, and yes, we do totally have cheaper tires in stock, but instead we’re going to sell you this outrageously expensive one, because what did you expect, really, sir?
Also, you know you need those in pairs, right? For balance, or something. Probably.
Two (presumably gold-plated) tires later, and I was on my way. Back to the commute, and all was fine. Until the next trip down the highway, when the car shook again like an epileptic bartender mixing James Bond a martini during a Twist and Shout marathon.
Back to the garage. They found a bubble in another tire — not a new one, naturally — so I got that one replaced, too.
But if it was all tire bubbles, I asked, shouldn’t the first one have cancelled out the second one?
It doesn’t work that way, they said.
So how does it work, I said.
They replied: Here’s your bill.
So. Two bubbled tires, three new ones installed and I should be all set.
And maybe I am. I haven’t been back on the highway since. But I have been up around 40 mph on the commute, and it feels maybe a little… wiggly? Just a little? Vibrational. Am I imagining that? Maybe something’s rattling — or bubbling, please god no — and there’s a hint of a ghost of a shimmy? Or maybe just a pothole. Dead squirrel? Slow biker? I really can’t tell.
So I probably have a car problem, but I really won’t know until I get it up to speed and see if it shakes. I’m sort of expecting it to, at this point — and then what do I do? Take it to the same garage, because maybe third time’s a charm? I’ve only got one old-ish tire left; maybe they’ll find a bubble in the carburetor or something next time. Or maybe it’s a bubble on the spare in the trunk causing the issue. I don’t know. And I don’t really want to find out before I have to, which is why I haven’t popped out to the interstate for a test run.
But soon, I’ll have to. Before the next jaunt to Rhody, ideally. Because I don’t think I can take another hour riding in the “Agitator”. There’s a reason they don’t shake babies, you know. And now I know why.Permalink | No Comments
We’re not always pronouncing it the same way, and we probably don’t spell it the same way twice. But that’s what we’re talking about. It’s the ptosis with the mostest.)
I’m struggling with tea.
Not all tea. Just office tea. And only bad office tea, at that. I’ll explain.
Where I work, we have a break room. The company is kind enough to provide snacks and fruit and whatever off-brand Cheeto-like puffs qualify as.
(Flavored styrofoam? Orange chalk dust? Chemical weapons?)
There’s also a water cooler — or bubblah, in Boston-ese — which I take advantage of a couple of times a day.
(Which is to say, I get a couple of cups of water. Nobody’s “taking advantage of” that water cooler in the break room, if you know what I’m saying.
At least, I hope not. The sloshing mess alone would be ridiculous.)
“If you water down water, all you get is more water. It’s like the Hootie and the Blowfish of the potable beverage world.”
Anyway, I drink the water — but I get bored with water, because it’s water. I like strong tastes and bold flavors. Spicy food. Hoppy beers. Coffee so black it exerts a small gravitational pull. You only live once; I say, who wants to go out with a pristine intestinal tract? That’s just a waste of good colon, right there.
So water is fine, but it’s obviously not interesting. Water is the very definition of bland. If you water down water, all you get is more water. It’s like the Hootie and the Blowfish of the potable beverage world.
So I started making tea. Or rather, TEA.
See, there are two ways in this break room to prepare tea. The first, which tea fans, cucumber sandwich eaters and citizens of the British Isles would no doubt prefer, involves steeping tea bags in hot water.
(Which you can get straight from the bubblah! Because it’s duah-tempahtuah, that thing. That’s wicked pissah, kid!)
If you make a strong choice and use enough tea bags — oh, say, three for a twelve-ounce cup — then you’ll get a nice, flavorful, intense cup of tea.
It’ll also take five minutes or more to steep — “but I’m thirsty noooooow” — and results in a drink that’s quite hot. Tongue-burningly so, and that adds more hassle. Especially now that it’s fricking June, and we’re not fighting our way through polar bears and frostbite to get into the damned office. It’s eighty degrees outside; why the hell would I want a hundred and eighty more in my mouth?
I wouldn’t. So I moved over to the second, lazy method of making tea, which involves opening a little packet of powdered tea dust — or off-brand Cheeto scrapings, for all I know — and stirring the contents into a cup of cold water.
Is that “proper” tea? No. Is it “good” tea? No. Does it taste more interesting than water, which is the whole point of this ridiculous endeavor?
Weeeeeell. That depends.
Because at first, I read the labels on these little one-serving packets of tea dander, and the labels said to dissolve the contents into 20 ounces of water. I tried that. And I got some semblance of something that maybe one day in the past brushed up against tea, or maybe had worn a pair of pants after tea had been in them. But I wouldn’t call it “tea”. And certainly not TEA, which is what I really wanted.
So I downsized. I found if I stirred that same bit of fluff into 12 ounces of water, the ratio worked out well enough to resemble tea. It even bordered on TEA, which I could live with, and so planned to continue this system for the foreseeable future.
Which turned out to be about four days, when we ran out of tea powder sleeves. So for the next week, no tea. I tried making off-brand Cheeto water, but it wasn’t the same. And my orange lips were beginning to freak people out. So, no tea.
But then. This week, someone restocked the break room, and that’s where my struggles began. Because they didn’t replace the single-serving leaf-dirt sleeves; instead, they brought in bigger sleeves, meant to flavor something like a gallon of water at a time. I didn’t notice the difference right away, and used one as I normally would.
That didn’t make tea. Nor did it make TEA.
That shit made TEEEEEEEEEEEA.
I drank it, but it was hours before I was right again. It felt like someone’s oolong was all crammed up in my orange pekoe. Not cool.
I’ve tried making more — using only part of the packet at a time — but it’s not an exact science. I’m not going to measure out individual tea grains, so all I can do is pour out what I think is half, or a third, or a quarter of the sleeve. Sometimes I get tea. Sometimes Teeeeea? Occasionally tea. But very rarely do I get TEA, which is what I actually want.
In a lifetime mostly spent knowing exactly how Arthur Dent feels, now I know exactly how Arthur Dent feels.
I feel like the best option is just switching over to dry martinis, which turn out to be way less fiddly to make and almost never taste like water. I might not get any work done, but at least I’ll be passed out at my desk, instead of sitting in the lunchroom for four hours at a time, microdosing dirt into water like some kind of modern-day deranged beverage alchemist.
Yeah. Definitely better.Permalink | No Comments