Wednesday, February 24, 2010


On the way back from my coworker's short film premier thingy, Amy and I saw a vanity plate that read ♡2BNJOY.

We have no idea what it means, but we're both going to see how many times we can say "Heart to bean joy" to unsuspecting folks. Already, I'm telling her to tell her Chinese coworker that it's a greeting. "Heart to bean joy! Oh, yeah, no, there's not really a translation. It's an idiom. Heart to bean joy!"

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Mostly boring, buying kitchen stuff

Our consumer binge

Two weeks ago, we finally took the money that Amy's parents had given us for kitchen supplies and had a day of it. I looked up the old NY Times $200 kitchen article, then we started out at Charlie's Fixtures, on Venice east a ways.

We already had most of what we needed; my folks got stainless religion a couple years back and proselytized us. We finally got Amy a stainless stock pot that she'd wanted for a while, as well as a mortar and pestle, and a bar citrus press. All told, about $65-70, not bad at all.

We were looking at the microplanes, at better mandolines (weirdly enough, the one I bought at Ross for $9 is a piece of shit. Who knew?), and, well, I started thinking about how life would be different if I had my own soft serve machine and professional doughnut fryer.

"No more amateur doughnuts, Amy. For real."

We didn't find the chef's knife that I wanted, nor the cast iron skillet. Their cast iron was only in griddle form, or tiny, and for some reason they didn't have a very good selection of chef's knives at all. Like, I could get twelve different kinds of boning knives, but all the chef's knives were 10" or even 12", which is pretty much a fucking sword, and where am I gonna store that? A scabbard on my hip?

Then we headed down to the barware joint on Cotner, which swore on its website that it was open weekends. It is not.

Finally, we headed to Surfas (online as Culinary District), in Culver City. Now, we drive past this place nearly every time we go to an art opening, and I figured it was a regular restaurant supply spot, similar to Charlie's, only with a bit more of the chichi that Culver requires, the type of people who would declare that if you're not microplaning, you're not zesting.

Well, it is, kinda. Except that it's lacking about two thirds of the shit you'd need to have any sort of functional restaurant, and has used that extra space to bring in overpriced gourmet ingredients, a cafe, a test kitchen, and about 5000 goddamned yuppies waddling through the aisles like stoned geese.

Sure, granted, it was Valentine's Day. They'd had some kind of test kitchen event where they had fondue (getting TMBG's "Hot Cha" stuck in my head for the rest of the day… "Fondue forks for everybody!").

But we found a cast iron skillet there, no problem. Their knives were a bit of insanity—I'd love to spend $85 on steel honed by German gnomes, but I just can't. And while Charlie's had only had electric sharpening steels for real goddamn professionals—"Sure, our cheapest one is three-fifty." "That's three hundred fifty, right?" "Yeah." "Oh."—Surfas had plenty of exotic sharpening implements that drew the least purpose-driven browsers, so I ended up just deciding that I didn't need to figure out the Japanese whetstone system even if it was only $14 bucks or so.

Then, after waiting behind a guy that kept telling us that he was in line, he was in line, and yet letting cute girls step ahead of him since they had so little, we were finally out. The experience had overstimulated my German gland, and I was stalking off with fantasies of gassing the whole place, but goddamn if I don't love that skillet. We've used it for weekend breakfast potatoes a couple times now, and it's amazing. The stainless, it just took so much oil, and could never get a high heat without sticking the potatoes to it, whereas the cast iron just gets things so crispy and so deliciously brown. Big fan of using it to heat tortillas too, since it takes very little oil there. Stainless seems likely to be relegated to fry pan status, which is cool, because it's deep enough and heat sensitive enough to give a lot of control, but that cast iron is going to be the main skillet from here on out.

Oh yeah, and that chef's knife? Finally just bought a mediocre one at Smart and Final. Ten bucks or so, same basic model that I used at Tio's all those years ago. Loving that too, since now I can slice shallots totally see-through. I need to find a regular place to get our knives sharpened though, since the last guy that did it at the Farmer's Market, those blades barely kept the edge a month. The shitty Kroger knife, I expect that (though it's surprisingly sharp given the abuse it's taken), but the Calphalon santoku should get real attention and needs to be retrued.

Next week? Buying a bed!

But so that this isn't a total waste:

1 oz. Blood orange juice
1 oz. Lime juice
1/4 oz. Simple syrup
1 oz. Soda water
1 oz. Brandy
1 oz. Rye
dash bitters

Pour rye and brandy into rocks glass. Add blood orange juice, lime juice, simple syrup, soda water, bitters. Stir. Delicious. Needs a name.

Saturday MADNESS!

Oh, Target.

So, long story of yesterday short:

Went first to Sammy's, dropped off film. Well, first, got high. But then went to Sammy's and everything was hitting on all four cylinders. Then to Target to buy a water filter.

Our Pur had broken, no doubt out of self-loathing; its little gauge window pissed a fine jet of water out, and a seating that never quite worked on the faucet eventually led to its just falling off. After dicking around on the internet (finally finding a phone number on Consumerist), I talked to some guy "Tyler" on the phone, who assured me that nothing like this had ever happened before but by the way we're going to send you a coupon for a free water filter with no more questions asked.

Since we bought the filter at Target, we figured we'd get the new one at Target too. We spent a little time milling around, Amy getting some sweaters and floss, me picking up stuff absentmindedly, then setting down five boxes of glowsticks in the foot care aisle. We found a similar filter, noting that they'd gotten rid of the one that we bought prior—since I saw identical complaints all over the internet, contra "Tyler," I assume they discontinued it due to its crappy mount, but the new ones had a spring-loaded mount that couldn't have been as secure as threading. Whatever. The salient point is that we got as close to the same one as we'd had, in part because that's what the extra filters we already had fit.

We get up to the line, Amy pays for her stuff, and I try to pay the tax on the new filter. Well, except that the register keeps responding with "No Such Item Found—Manager Override Required." The coupon I have from Proctor and Gamble says that it's for any filter system up to $55, and is redeemable anywhere that sells Pur products. So, the poor girl at the counter doesn't know what to do. She calls her supervisor, who tries a couple of times, then tells us that Target just doesn't take coupons like this. I point to the sign right next to her head that says "Target accepts all manufacturer coupons." She looks blankly, tries it again, and calls her supervisor, who tells her we don't take it. I ask to talk to him, to someone who has the authority to accept the coupon.

We wait a little bit more—Amy gets walked on by some lady's cockatoo, who she's brought through the checkout (complaining all the while that it's like having a two-year-old that she can never leave except when he's asleep, while the bird watches her with a demonic red-rimmed eye). The manager, a burly dude built like a football player, comes out (he never introduces himself). He starts telling me that they can't take the coupon because they have no way to get paid back for it from the manufacturer. He keeps saying, "As a businessman, you have to understand that." My point is this: The register says that it simply needs manager approval. How Target gets paid back for the manufacturer coupon isn't my concern, though I'm certain a mechanism exists. Both Target and Proctor and Gamble are huge concerns, this can't be the first time. The item that we bought prior, that we're replacing, is no longer sold, so we can't just get a new one, and the coupon says it's for any system up to $55, and Target has clear signage that says they accept these coupons.

We get to the point where he's just telling me that no one can do it, that it's impossible, that he won't do it because it would be the same as us stealing from him.

"I asked to speak with someone who had the authority to authorize this," I tell him.

"There's no one. That person does not exist. No one has the power to authorize this," he says.

"Really? No one in the company can say that you're going to honor this coupon and sort out the details on your end? No one?"

"No one at Target."

"Well," I say, "You clearly don't have the power. What phone number do I call to speak to your supervisor?"

He gives me the 1-800 number for Target, the broadest number they have. I wait through the phone trees, I muddle through the counter-intuitive menus, going through Returns and then Customer Experience, though neither's really what I want. I finally reach some guy with a thick Indian accent who asks for my information about three times—he has a hard time understanding me, I have a hard time understanding his replies—all while the manager sits there scowling at me. I tell William what happened, he asks a few questions, then asks to speak to the manager. At this point, I find out that the manager's name is JD ("No, Jay Dee. No. they're initials. No, Jay Dee"). JD starts giving the same argument, then gets quiet. Yeah, they've tried keying it in. Yeah, but… Yeah… But how do they get paid… "I just submit it?"

JD pushes my phone back to me across the counter, keys in the code, and I hang up on William without thinking about it. Then JD says, "Oh, he still wanted to talk to you." After a moment of watching the rest of the transaction, he walks off. He does not apologize. Neither does the other supervisor who was the one who finally charged me my $3.30.

How grim, this computerized service economy. For the rest of the day, I was all keyed up, especially from that bit where I had to keep asking who had the authority. If I were rewriting it, that's where the dramatic music would swell, and I'd turn in a performance like Jack Nicholson or Al Pacino. "WHO HAS THE AUTHORITY!" I'd thunder. Instead, it was just stressful and obnoxious and took about an hour and I didn't even get an apology.

So, the lesson? Next time, just fucking walk out with it instead of waiting for some jackass to get read the riot act by some Bangalore phone center operator who they've outsourced all the courtesy and competence to.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The New Neighbors

We used to have fantastic neighbors. Emily, Carlo, Vic, they lived downstairs in One and were courteous, smart and able to share our weird parking alcove that does take real driving skill to navigate.

Then they got an apartment in Santa Monica, and we were sad to see them go, but hey, they were in a better place.

The downstairs sat empty for months, and we spent endless idle time speculating on who'd move in. The landlords wanted too much, some 1500 plus for a crappy two-bedroom where one of Vic's friends had once plunged through the drywall in a Spongebob costume. It had weird rats and roaches, because of which Emily never used the oven. Even after the landlords put in new fences, it still wouldn't be worth the money. (Though it was fun to stroll through during the three unlocked months.)

But down came the Vacancy sign, and in moved the new neighbors. The first thing we notice, they have an immense, white Benz SUV. And they have absolutely no idea how to fit it into the tiny spot their allotted. We lean over the railing and watch them edge in and pull back, edge in and pull back, edge in and pull back. After five minutes or so, they pull out and leave, and we go back inside.

A brief word about the parking: Anyone who's been to our place knows this, but the parking at our place is a little crazy. We all have assigned spaces, with most of the units getting two, three of us officially getting one, and finally Wayne, the weird college kid in Seven who gets none. Amy and I get one of the two spots that are hooked around underneath our house; the folks in One get the other. To get out of those two takes a three-point turn. Emily and Carlo were eminently able to zip under there with their Honda Fit or Vic's Toyota pick-up. The Benz SUV would be a challenge for anyone.

So, our new neighbors are terrible at that parking—they routinely pull in across the line into our spot, and seem to, even after a month and a half or so, to be constitutionally unable to pull into the spot with any confidence. In and out, in and out, hesitating like middle school romance.

Amy meets them first, introducing herself when I'm off doing something. They're French, she says, Josaine and something. She thinks they're husband and wife.

I meet them a couple of days later, just that perfunctory, Hey, I'm Josh, I live upstairs with Amy. Welcome to the neighborhood. France is pretty great. Oh, you're from Paris? Paris is pretty great. (I omit that all I know about Paris is really art museums and a weird Formula-1 themed hotel on the outskirts of town that was recommended when we failed to get a hostel lined up in advance. It's a bit like saying, Oh, you're from LA? I love Burbank!)

The woman is Josaine, the man something like Eduaward, and they have a kid named Herbert or something. The kid's, like, 25, or something, but the dad looks to be about the same age. I can't tell—the mom just has that frumpy black woman in her mid-40s look, and the kid looks just like his dad only the kid seems perpetually embarrassed and his dad wears work clothes on weekdays (the kid is always in baggy sports jerseys).

The problem with recounting this now is that given the number of stupid interactions I've had with them, I'm not having trouble not remembering the mother having great lolling frog eyes and a thin tongue poking past her wide frog mouth. And I think to myself, but "frog" is such a stereotypical French slur! Is it nationalism coloring my memory? Or worse, racism?

Luckily, every time I start to second-guess myself, they park us in and make me go down there and force them to move. It's either their huge SUV somehow wedged into the driveway so that no one else can get past or some friend they've let blockade us.

They way that we'd deal with this with Carlo and Emily is to walk down there, knock, and someone would immediately leap to and move the car. And if they had friends coming over, they'd ask us, let us know how long they were going to be there, then make sure that they were gone. We would do the same thing when we had friends come over. Like I said, Carlo and Emily, fantastic.

The way we'd deal with it when Wayne's predecessors, the Horde of Apartment Seven, would park us in was to tow them. We warned them a couple times, they ignored us, we towed them, the problem stopped. It pretty much severed any hope of being on good terms with them, but there were seven of them in a one-bedroom apartment without a kitchen.

In fact, and I don't want it to sound like I'm boasting, because I'd really rather not ever do this, we've had quite a few cars towed. But they were always blocking us in, and given that it takes a tow truck half an hour to forty-five minutes to come get someone here, it's not like it's unavoidable or capricious.

But we don't want that relationship with Josaine and Eduaward and Herbert. Instead, we'd like to all be cool, able to mingle at barbeques or whatever, maybe have them over to play board games which we will let them win (but not by too much). Try a Manhattan, Josaine! Play some foursquare, Herbert!

Instead, our interactions go like this: They have parked us in again. Usually I go down, since Amy would just as soon tow 'em. I bang on the door. I wait. Already, with each passing second, they're worse than Emily and Carlo. I check the time—I'm invariably late already—and maybe fiddle with my cell phone. Josaine comes out, head nodding.

"It's very difficult to park here," she says.
"Yeah, I know," I say. "But I've got to get out."
"It is very hard to find a place."
"Well, I usually have good luck up on Charnock, and there are always spaces on Venice."
"No, no, I looked on Charnock."
"Well, OK, but I have to get out. I have to go."
"Oh yes."

Then a pause.

A long pause.

"So, I have to go. You have to move your car now."
"Oh, yes."

"Ok." Then she climbs in and takes ten minutes pulling back and pulling up, pulling back and pulling up.

Not so egregious, but then it happens again. And I have the exact same interaction. And then again, and I'm telling her, Look, you really can't park your car here. I can't have this happen. Then it's her friend's car, her friend who's have through with having her hair braided so doesn't want to move the car. Then the same thing again, with the same exchange about Charnock and Venice. I know there are spaces around—my friends find them all the time. It's not easy parking, but there's parking, and part of living in a city is knowing how to find parking. If you're from Paris, you should either know how to park or know how to leave your car in one spot and use public transit. But no, her friend cannot find parking easily. And they're still parking over the line.

Each interaction I have with this woman, there's that central ambiguity: Does she not understand this because it's cultural or because she's stupid? For instance, is there a language ambiguity? She gives me that nod that I give folks speaking a language I don't understand, when they go too fast. But when I try to slow down and explain things, she brushes me off with a "Yes, yes." And then does the exact same thing again. Does she not understand that it's rude? Does she not understand how parking works here? She certainly picked a gauche car. Is she simply in over her head?

Or, and again I'm remembering her with lolling frog eyes and a weak neck, is she just stupid? She might just be a moron. She seemed genuinely upset when someone who had purported to live in One got some letter from immigration. But it was a name that neither Amy nor I recognized, not one of the folks who had lived there for years before us, not anyone who'd lived in our place, no one who'd lived in Seven… really, no one we knew at all. She just kept repeating that it was very serious, and that it was for someone who lived in One but was not her. Amy told her how to RTS a letter, but Josaine just seemed really peeved that we didn't understand that it was from immigration, and was very serious. Yeah, well, what do you want us to do? I don't know any Mohammed Nguimi. They haven't lived there in years, if ever. Let's just hope they hadn't already been deported.

Josaine bears the brunt of this bashing for two main reasons: That she's the primary terrible driver of the SUV, though both men seem equally inept. They just drive it less. And that she's been the primary conversation point. The men are certainly giving impressing the cliché that it's better to be suspected a fool than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt. I'm not sure how much English Eduaward knows, and I suspect that Herbert knows a lot more than he lets on. Helistens to Jay-Z over MC Solaar, so he can't be that alien, and I think it's him and his goofy friend that keep tagging everything.

Ah well. They looked horrified when they saw me coming back from the laundry room shirtless, so maybe they're just clueless petite bourgeoisie who need to have their car towed once or twice in order to assimilate properly.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

In a post about The Game, can there not be a 50 Cent reference?

Nitsuh Abebe writes on Jessica Hopper writing on Nitsuh Abebe writing on Jessica Hopper writing on Vampire Weekend

I like Abebe, generally dislike Hopper, and couldn't care less about Vampire Weekend. I am interested in identity politics in pop music, and the question of whiteness that Abebe writes on is pretty compelling. As someone prone to toss around the phrase "white" to mean bourgie, I feel like I should take a swing at some of the nuance I think Abebe misses there.

First off, it's worth noting that Abebe handily skips over the question of whether being bourgie is worth criticizing, if that's the central complaint of "whiteness." And, frankly, it is. Abebe's point that it's bourgeois to criticize the bourgeois (therefore implicitly hypocritical) is fair, but that doesn't mean that the criticism is wrong.

Second, and I think Abebe misses this fully, there's more to the charge of "white" than "bourgeois." It might be handy for Abebe to think about it as French—calling something "blanc," blank, loses some of the most obvious race and class baggage (which is only really tedious because most college educated folks learned it early) and replaces it with what's a common complaint about his e.g. Vampire Weekend, that they're bland.

Their blandness is on track with most other indie blandness, with facile, cheery, clever lyrics, and perfunctory "outside" influence. Vampire Weekend's was afropop by way of Paul Simon's "Graceland." It might just as well have been cellos or ukuleles.

Now, I totally grant that "bland" is a subjective judgment and that a lot of people like Vampire Weekend a lot and that I only downloaded their first album when it came out, listened a couple times, then deleted it (the system works!). But not every smug crack about "whiteness" is unjustified or playing The Game (which Abebe seems to not realize is Nomic). But no one gives a shit when I complain about Coldplay being overhyped, bland, and yes, white.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Heads up, Ypsi!

"Five DVDs is enough for anybody, right?" I ask.

"Don't take too much pornography, you'll get flagged by security," Amy says.

I imagine the conversation going something like this: "No, officer, I'm bringing pornography for my barber. I can't shave my neck at my parent's house."

This can only end with me on a watch list.