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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Quick Thoughts on the Academy Awards

I'm really glad that Trent Reznor picked up an Oscar tonight for The Social Network, but at the same time I'm really sad that Kurt Cobain couldn't have followed Trent's example and survived his mid-90's suicidal impulses as well. Bummer.
Also, since super-awesome movies never get to win the Best Picture trophy, I'm glad Inception at least got to sweep the technical categories.
And that's it.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Chicago, Day Three: "Hey, Chicago!...Bye, Chicago."

I arose after a horrible night's sleep. I fell asleep gently enough, to that King of the Hill episode where Dale thinks his son, Joseph, is an alien. If only I had really fallen asleep in Arlen. Instead, I fell asleep in Chicago, apparently the city that never sleeps because someone was throwing giant metal boxes into a constantly running, honking trunk all throughout the night directly beneath my Sheraton Four Points window. While some people can sleep through this, including the person in the twin bed next to mine (I guess Sheraton didn't approve of our relationship like The James did), I can't sleep through gadflys loading up a leaf ten stories below my window, so I just got up and stared through the glass at them until they went away and the sun came up.
With the sun came hunger, and with hunger came great responsibility. We chose Yolk, one of the highest rated breakfast joints in Chicago. Also, their website is neat. Maybe I should have ordered something more original than waffles to get the full experience. I wanted waffles, though. Waffle cravings must not be denied. It's like the knock on your door you must answer lest your house be blown down and your family destroyed. I did order waffles with bacon cooked into it, which was pretty good, but again, to actually give a good opinion on this restaraunt, I probably should have ordered one of their signature dishes. We ate and left.
Now was the time to return to the Wear's Tower. Visibility or not, this was the final day of the trip, and The Sillis Tower must be mounted. We entered the lobby again, and were again told that visibility was zero at the top. Outside it looked like this:
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But I mean, it is the Seallis Tower, and it does have glass ledges that extend 1,353 feet above the city(one of the few accurate facts on this website). So up we went. We were nearly alone in our endeaver and were given free reign once we got to the top. And visibility was zero. I sat down on the glass ledge and could see down about ten stories before the fog ate the landscape away. Just like being inside a cloud, I guess, or being inside a really tall building that is inside a cloud. And we left.
OH NO!!! We left too late, and had to run to the hotel to check out on time. Adrian realized that he had left his phone charger at The James so we crossed the street to see our old friend. Unfortunately he wasn't there to hand out more zingers, but the person who was retrieved the charger for us, and we left for more food.
It was time for another deep dish attack, this time at Lou Malnati's Pizzeria, often considered one of the best deep dish restaraunts in Chicago. We ordered the "Molnatti Chicago Classic" a pizza containing lean sausage, extra cheese, "vine-ripened" tomato sauce on their "famous Buttercrust." This pizza gave me an epiphany:
Pizza is the best food mankind (with obvious divine inspiration) has ever conceived. Deep dish is not the best variation of this concept. The bread overwhelms the toppings. The sauce, lacking the containment it usually finds in the cheese, formlessly sits on top and doesn't get the chance to pop. The cheese is buried under the sauce, and does not receive its rightful place as the first thing to hit the roof of your mouth. Deep dish is literally a pizza-pie, and I have made it clear that while both pizza and pie are awesome, this awesomness is cancelled out when they are combined, thus pizza must not be considered a pie. So while deep dish is still figuratively pizza, and therefore, still somewhat awesome, it pales greatly in the mighty literal light of the best pizza ever made by humans, which at the moment can only be found at:
Fleur de Lis Pizza
5655 Government St
Baton Rouge, LA 70806
Their website may have the word "pie" in it, but I assure you their pizza does not. Actually, it has no words in it at all, just high-quality food ingredients. HOLY COW, IT'S AWESOME.
After Molnatti's, Adrian and I had to go our separate ways. Our flights took off at separate airports at separate times, separately. Here is what it looked like when we separated:
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Separate. Goodbye, Adrian. This took place at one of the Red CTA Stations. Some of the colors had little themes going on. Most of the Red Stations looked like this. More on this later, but not too much later because this thing is almost over.
Adrian had been a great guide through the city, but now I was on my own. I decided I should bring some of Molly's Cupcakes back home to my wife because I felt bad for cheating on her with my first cousin, so I trekked three miles through the snow to get some. Yes, by this point it was snowing, hard. I guess those insane blizzards the country has been having felt like they had to show me their stuff, and show me they did, gratuitously and without shame. I was worried I would get Emperor Palpatine feet like I did on the previous day, but somehow I kept moisture out of my shoes this time.
So I drug my suitcase through the snow, all the while being hit up by beggars. I guess I hadn't been making eye contact before when I had Adrian with me, but now I was, and now I was facing the harsh realization I always do when I am visiting a big city: I am a compassionless asshole. I guess my brother got all the compassion or something. Instead of thinking, how can I help this person?, my first thought is always please don't touch me, please don't touch me, please don't touch me. Hey, I might not have much compassion, but at least I am honest and can sleep well knowing I didn't pay for anyone's drugs or booze, right? Right?
Right?
...great.
Anyway, I finally got to Molly's for those cupcakes and with the help of some very nice strangers, found my way through the correct series of trains that led to the airport (I am not stupid enough to fail to notice the irony in this sentence for following the previous paragraph. That's all I have to say in this parenthetical, just that I didn't want you to think I was stupid). I saw this awesome tile artwork at the Fullerton CTA stop, and almost missed my flight because I couldn't stop staring at it, though my fear of city people caused a constant looking over my shoulder that soon gave me whiplash.
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It's like looking down the center of your soul into enternity, dark keeping pace with light, the winner obscured by incomprehensible distance.
My flight got delayed so I tried another Chicago hotdog and found that the Tiger Dogs LSU serves at Tiger Stadium during football games are my favorite hotdogs, and they don't need a fancy poppy seed bun and a trash bin full of toppings to make them champions. LSU! LSU! LSU!
However, I also tried some of Nuts on Clark's original popcorn, and holy crap, Nuts on Clark has the best popcorn in the world, or at least the best popcorn in the cities, states, and countries I've been to and tried popcorn in. Also, the kernels are half the size of a golf ball. I'm not sure I want to know how they are that big, but after consuming them I have not grown any extra appendages, so I'm sure it is fine.
My flight was orginally delayed fifty minutes, and the gate was changed. I found a seat at the new gate, and at the moment the flight was supposed to take off, after hearing nothing from any of the attendants, the doors to the gate were shut. I ran to the door and started banging on it with a few other concerned people, but apparently our flight had been delayed another forty minutes, and they just didn't want to tell us that.
Southwest: Just Plane Smart (TM)
The flight finally took off with me on it and I had one of those deep, late-night, mid-air, existential conversations with myself that is none of your business. We landed in New Orleans. As soon as the "take off your seatbelts" sign dinged, I stood and reached for my carry-on. An elderly man in the seat behind me coughed twice lightly, then coughed violently and wetly. I closed my eyes in an attempt to deflect the germs, and when I opened them, the old dude was covered in vomit. It's like I never left Chicago!
Just kidding. In all seriousness, I greatly enjoyed my time in Chicago. It was definitely like a different planet, and the Eddie Albert lines to The Green Acres theme song may as well be a motto for my life, but I had about as much fun as I could have in a concrete jungle.

That said, South Lousiana is the place to be.
The weather earlier today was sunny with a high of 75, and right now the night is cool, clear, and pleasant.
We have many houses available. Come on down. But no deep dish, please.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Chicago, Day Two: "Extra Juices"

I woke up on top of the sheets with all my clothes on. I was so impressed by the neatness on my side of the bed that I took a picture of it.
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A note on these pictures:
If you read yesterday's post, take a look at the pictures again. They were not sized correctly, and the edges were cut off. That should be fixed. Also, I took these with a disposable camera. Believe it or not, they still make those, and you can tell by the absolutely incredible picture quality featured here that they are definitely your best option in any photographic opportunity.
A note on the picture above:
Notice the mood lighting above the bed. Sexy.
Adrian and I decided to head to Ann Sather, a restaurant he had previously visited that was also featured on a Food Network program entitled the Best Thing I Ever Ate. We took the train, got off, did some walking, and popped in to a warm, friendly Scandinavian environment, completely staffed by Latinos. Seriously, I have been to Mexico twice, but there are more Spanish speaking people in Chicago then all of Central America. In fact, I didn't know this before I visited, but there is this special train in Chicago called the El Train that Latinos must be able to take down south to visit their families. How awesome is that, guys!
The service at Ann Sather was about the best and friendliest I've had anywhere. I'm not sure most restaurants realize this, but if your wait staff is friendly and responsive, your food can be not that great, and people will still leave happy. The food at Ann Sather's is great AND the wait staff is friendly and responsive. I would go back there in a second, and to be honest, I think I liked it better than any other place we visited. Food-wise, there is a major reason I like it best:
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There it is in all its blurred out, disposable camera glory: The Food Network's "best cinnamon roll I ever ate." And it was the best cinnamon roll I ever ate. It was possibly the best anything I ever ate. It was so good, on the last bite I looked up at the ceiling, shut my eyes, and just held that gooey, buttery cinnamon bread in my mouth until it melted. Upon my transcendence at the dissolving of cinnamon roll into my existence, I opened my eyes and stared at the tiles above me.
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Somehow, a picture was taken. I also ordered the Swedish Sampler which featured an actual real Swedish meatball.
SUPRISE!!! The sauce it came in wasn't red and disgusting like the Swedish meatballs I've had at any party I've ever gone to. The color of the sauce on this meatball was delicious.
After I tore through the meatball, potato sausage, Swedish pancake, and some fresh-squeezed juice my waiter recommended, Adrian and I made our way to the Sears Tower...I mean Willis Tower.
After a walk through ridiculous amounts of freezing wind--that Windy City crap isn't crap, that place is like one big wind funnel connecting the frozen north to the heartland--we finally reached the Sears Tower...um, Willis Tower. The foggy sky had been punctuated by rain, and as soon as we walked into the Sears...Willis Tower, a woman ran up to us and told us visibility at the top of the tower was zero. Not wanting to throw our money away, we left the Sears Tower and walked to the Art Institute of Chicago. At this point it was definitely raining, and the awesome canvas shoes I was wearing had turned into awesome sponges with which I was scrubbing the dirty streets of Chicago clean, one step at a time. We finally reached the museum and its awesome guardian lions, which I for some reason recall once singing The Lion Sleeps Tonight on the Muppets. Maybe I dreamed that? I'm pretty sure the lions are real, though.
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Of course, this picture could just be a dream! NOO!!!
I was most exited about seeing Edward Hopper's Nighthawks, one my favorite paintings. I did not realize the emotional impact seeing actual, physical paintings done by masters would have on me. There's actually a difference between seeing a photograph of Renoir's On the Terrace, and having your nose six inches from the canvas. I did not realize this until I was looking into the actual eyes that his brush created, and at that point I almost lost it, which was kind of a weird and uncomfortable feeling in such a public place, but that isn't really funny, so we'll just skip it and look at how my disposable camera translated the experience of me gazing upon Nighthawks.
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Gosh, it's like you're right there in the room with me, isn't it?
Unfortunately, we only had two hours in the museum, and it would take probably two lifetimes to completely appreciate the brilliance on display in that building, and don't I sound like my nose is tilted at a 45 degree angle?
CONFESSION--It's literally probably not far from that. Maybe 40 degrees?
My feet kind of dried off by this point, but as soon as we stepped back into the formidably freezing Chicago rain, they were drenched again. We passed some wacky, mirrored structure called The Bean, but I have no pictures of this, which is obviously some sort of conspiracy, or simply a testament to how awesome disposable cameras are, or maybe I just didn't take a picture. No one will ever know.
We got back to the James, transferred our stuff to Four Points by Sheraton, and jumped onto the train (Literally. Those doors shut fast) to meet up with the # 2 ranked eater in the world, friend of Adrian, and all around class act, Patrick Bertoletti. Pat took us to his favorite deep-dish pizza place, Pequod's. I'll go into my opinion of deep dish later, but any place named after something in the great American novel, Moby Dick, has to be pretty good. We need more of this. Queequeg's Quesadillas? Ahab's Beef Slabs? Tashtego's Groovy Smoothie Winnebago? Ish-Meal's? Starbucks? Somebody needs to get on that.
Anyway, the food was pretty good, and Pat and his girlfriend were good company, but the time came for us to bid them adieu and once again venture into the cold. We were ready for dessert, but dessert was not yet ready for us. Here is a secret not many people know:
At the famous World's Fair of 1893 in Chicago, scientists came together to formulate a plan that would literally allow the city to grow to an infinite size, all while occupying the same amount of space. That's why if you drive around the outside of Chicago, it just seems to be a decent sized city, but if you actually enter and walk down a street, you will walk down that street for the rest of your life. Now you know. I love providing info that the History Channel will not.
Adrian and I walked down icy streets for a very long time. We even passed DePaul University, but there was a big ugly sign that said Blue Demons out front, and that didn't exactly sound promising, so we took a wide berth. We only have jungle cats and other of God's creatures for mascots in God's South, not evil, supernatural beings. Get it together, godless north!
FINALLY, after I was sure my wet feet were frostbitten, we took a bus or a train or something, I can't even tell the difference in Chicago to be honest, and we ended up at Molly's Cupcakes.
Dang, Molly's Cupcakes is good. I know people are saying this whole cupcake thing is a fad, but I don't want to invest money into cupcake stock, I want to eat them.
My stomach was deep on this trip to Chicago, and I wanted to try to hang with Adrian's incredible eating capabilities, but the sheer awesome richness of Molly's Cupcakes did more than anything to slow me down. I purchased their award-winning Red Velvet cupcake, which was easy work, but then I went for their most popular flavor, the chocolate-peanut butter, and let me just say, if not for my glass of Vitamin D milk, I would have died mid-cupcake. Smiling.
After awaking from a sugary-sweet coma, we took some form of public transportation to the Metro to see The Dismemberment Plan. Chicago has a great deal where you can buy an unlimited 3-day public transportation pass for $14. I could get on a high horse about how this is better for the environment than driving a vehicle everywhere, but I won't for the two simple facts that it would not only make me a hypocrite, but also insult my car, who is very sensitive about his emissions problem.
We finally reached the Metro for the sold out show.
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"Why does the sign say 'TIX AVAIL'?" Adrian asked.
"I don't know. It's been sold out for months."
We entered the club. It was quite obvious that the show was completely sold out.
The sole reason the sign says "TIX AVAIL?"
The reason everything solely exists:
TO RUIN MY PICTURES!!!
We went to the show.
It was awesome.
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We got pretty much right up to the front. The show was everything I wanted. A huge crowd of nerds singing and dancing to every song. I actually felt like a bodybuilder or something compared to a lot of people there (actually, I felt like a bodybuilder next to most people in Chicago. Don't you guys have gyms or something?). It was a blast. The band sounds even better now than they did when they were actually recording music. I get that life circumstances change, but The Dismemberment Plan, don't you know you can just e-mail each other song files these days, and work on songs in that fashion? Then you can just do a little mini-tour like this every other year to promote it. Who cares if the songs you already have are timeless, can still be identified with more than a decade later, and are infinitely enjoyable? Make more of them NOW.
After the show, the band just humbly walked off the stage into the crowd and made friends with their fans. Realizing that after 12 years of singing along to The Dismemberment Plan's songs as if I had composed them myself, talking to them would make my mind explode, Adrian and I fled into the night. At this point, I had one thought in mind:
Instead of embarrassing myself in front of one of my favorite bands ever, why not just go somewhere where angry middle-aged women can yell profanities at me?
That thought sounded brilliant to us both, and we headed down the street to The Weiner Circle.
Apparently, the Weiner Circle is supposed to highlight the extreme race separation in Chicago. It exists in a rich white neighborhood, is visited at all hours of the night by drunk over-privileged white youths, and is staffed almost exclusively by African American women. The workers supposedly yell profanity at the customers, the customers yell back, but sometimes the customers take it too far and make racist comments. Since we are actually integrated in the South, this is all kind of beyond me, but I greatly enjoyed my interaction with my cashier/server, who not only told me to "Hurry the F up with my order," but also "to make up my F'ing mind", and also to "put extra money in the tip jar (or "Bitch Jar" as is written upon it) because I F'ed up the register when I changed my order." I was also offered extra female bodily orifice juices as a topping if extra cheese did not suffice to provide my item with the desired moisture. This happens to me in Baton Rouge all the time.
The hotdog was okay.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Chicago, Day One: "I Won't Tell Your Awnt"

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INTRO:
When I write a travelogue, I try to make it funny.
Raise your hands if you've nearly been responsible for the death of an elderly woman and her pregnant teenaged granddaughter. No? Come on, guys!
In January of 2000, for the first time in my life, I got a flat tire. Actually two. At the same time. At about midday, my journalism teacher sent me and several other dutiful students to attempt to get sponsors for FRA's school newspaper, The Gator Gazette, circulation 1,045,007. After taking advantage of my New Roads connections to fill our quota (and taking a detour so a couple of us could register to vote), we headed back to school, in a huge rush, of course. This kid in my backseat was rattling on about how his granddaddy had lip cancer for the second time, but was going to keep dipping anyway, and how proud he was of his granddaddy for doing this because if he got lip cancer he wouldn't stop dipping either. I started yelling at this kid for being an idiot, just as my car bounced over some railroad tracks...and exploded.
Actually, just the back tires exploded, loudly. I think this was supposed to be a sign to this dumb kid to not follow in his granddaddy's footsteps, but it also meant I had two extremely flat tires. We rolled into the school parking lot, then my friend Rob (there Rob, you made it to The Nicsperiment, and I even referred to you as Rob, as you are known by now, instead of Robbie, which you know is your real name) showed me how to change a tire. I say A tire because I only had one spare, so I then immediately drove nearly on the rim through some south Lousiana sleet to the local mechanic. They changed both tires for me, and by the time they were done I had an hour to rush home, eat, grab my Wal-Mart uniform and get to work.
Here's a suggestion for all you kids out there:
Don't work at Wal-Mart.
I had been working until nearly midnight every night and struggling to keep up with school and generally getting really worn out, so I found myself shaken from a bit of a daze when my gas empty light came on. Yes, I just ended that sentence with a preposition, and I'll do it again, so get used to it.
Anyway, I was about three miles from my house, and right in front of a gas station, so I put my blinker on to turn left, waiting for a large truck in front of me to move out of my way. After about a minute, the truck didn't move, so I tried to pull around it. Unfortunately, there was another car occupying the space I drove into. This car was occupying that space at about 50 miles an hour, and I think I heard the girl screaming over the sound of my car being demolished. Her car disappeared down the hill to my left, leaving me sitting in the middle of the lane, covered in spare change. I tried that trick where you say "this is not happening" a bunch to make time flow in reverse, but all it seemed to do was conjur an angry pregnant girl at my window, punching the glass and calling me words The Nicsperiment was more apt to use six or seven years ago.
After her grandmother pulled her away from my car, I stepped out into the now falling snow and looked down the hill. I saw a car resting inside a house's front porch, trailing skid marks. The skid marks ran back up the hill in the small space between a gas main and an electric pole. I have no idea how the girl guided her car between that space, but I assume divine intervention. And she and her grandma were fine and we all lived happily ever after.
Well, sort of. Turns out, the girl had just as crappy a job as me, tending the cash register at the New Road's McDonalds. We would both have to find rides to work and school for quite a while. When she saw the absolute terror in my face after the accident, though, she quickly forgave me. I paid her some visits at McDonalds over the next few months to check in on her, and I kept the clipping of her child's birth announcement (and that kid is about to turn 11, which is insane!). What does this have to do with the reason I just went to Chicago? Everything!
A few weeks after the accident, I went with a few other students to the quaint, conservative village of New Orleans, for a Physics competition at UNO. We took a school bus to the hotel with our teacher, the great white-haired one, Edith Atkinson, stayed overnight, and got our scientific formulas on the next day. Rob and I were a team, and we kicked butt, and I was on an extreme high when I saw a sign on the way back to the bus:
TONIGHT, DISMEMBERMENT PLAN, STUDENT UNION
My heart leapt. I loved The Dismemberment Plan. They were one of the few bands I could identify with in my 18 years. Unfortunately, I was about to take a school bus away from UNO, away from The Dismemberment Plan, and I had no vehicle in which to return. I could convince no one to take me back, so I spent the night in my room, imagining I was at the show, and convincing myself I would get another chance. A few years later, the Dismemberment Plan broke up, never visiting the swamps again. Over the next 11 years, a bunch of life happened to me and the members of TDP. This year, they have finally decided to do a short reunion tour. My cousin Adrian and I picked up tickets for the only show in our time zone, Chicago. This is a travelogue of our 3-day journey. I hope you enjoyed this intro. I wish "intro" was a preposition. A preposition is something I wanted to end on.
DAY ONE:
When a plane loads its passengers, the first call on the intercom is often for children traveling alone. When the attendant made that call this time, I actually started to stand up. I've never been on a plane by myself before, and though I've got three decades behind my belt, not allowing me to board first was a great injustice by Southwest, the evil likes of which will never be forgiven. The nerve of those people. Because of this, I didn't know when I was supposed to get on and was quite fearful that they hated me and would never let me on their awesome jet plane, but they did and I took a pitcher:
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SUPRISE!!! This whole post is just one big advertisement for Southwest.com. Southwest Airlines: Just Plane Smart(TM)
They tell me that this is a river below the wing, but I know the truth. Giant Blue Snakes crisscross and control our country, flowing righteous blue fists ruling our nation at an efficiency our human minds can neither comprehend nor maintain ourselves. All hail the Giant Blue Snakes.
SUPRISE!!! This whole post is just one big advertisement for Giant Blue Snakes. Giant Blue Snakes: Just Plane Smart(TM).
Anyway, after watching the terrain grow ever icier, we touched down. My first cousin, Adrian, who arrived on an earlier flight, met me in the airport. Adrian is the #14 ranked eater in the world. Don't believe me? Click here. Ooh. Showed you. Now you can never doubt anything I say.
Adrian and I were starving, so instead of checking in at the hotel, we headed straight for Kuma's Corner, a Heavy Metal Bar rumored to have the best burger in Chicago. We reached Kuma's with empty stomachs at about 4:15 pm, expecting an hour and a half wait. Upon entering, the hostess, shouting over the deafening double-bass and riffing blasting out of the above-bar speakers, said that the wait was three-and-a-half-hours. Do you put dashes there? I can never tell. Anyway, I set down my suitcase (Adrian did not pack one), and we took off our backpacks and coats and set in for the long haul. Two things became apparent after a few minutes of sitting:
1. If you stand behind people eating at the bar for long enough and get friendly with them, they will give you their seats when they get up.
2. The hostess says there will be a three and a half hour wait so that people will leave. That's right. Kuma's Corner is so good, they have to attempt to convince people NOT to eat at their restaraunt.
The hostess' shift ended and a new girl took over. She immediately appeared to discard the guest list and began seating people as they came in. An hour passed. After two or three just-arrived parties were seated before us, I walked up to the hostess, punched her so hard in the face that my knuckle-hair imprinted on her forehead, and asked her what the deal was.
"Ow," she said. "Okay, okay, you'll be seated next."
Next never came, so when some people we had been buttering up at the bar left, they gave us their seats. After standing for two hours and reading several pages of the book I brought with me, I was ready to sit. We placed our order with the friendly, heavily-tatooed waitress known as Vendetta and waited for our food. I selected the Led Zeppelin, a burger loaded with pulled pork, bacon, cheddar, and pickles. Adrian picked the Lair of the Minotaur, which features Carmelized Onions, Pancetta, Brie, and Bourbon Soaked Pears. We also ordered their homemade Macaroni and picked Mushrooms and Andouille Sausage as our toppings (you can pick two).
There were no survivors.
I couldn't really distinguish the quality of the burger beef because of the sheer quantity of toppings. There was at least as much pulled pork as there was burger patty (and there was a lot of burger patty). That said, all the flavors came together nicely, and it was pretty danged (dang? dang-ered?) delicious. The macaroni, topped with green onions and paprika, was some of the best I ever ate, and it was pretty to look at as well. The waffle fries at first seemed too crispy and overcooked, but this was an underestimation on my part, as I found myself completely unable to stop eating them. I want some right now so bad, my fingers are wet from all the drool on the keyboard, and that is just disgusting. Someone needs to bring me some fries to stop this salivorial calamity. Then my fingers will just be covered in grease and salt.
Though it was 7:15 by the time we left our empty plates on the counter, we had no regrets. If you are in Chicago and have the time, go to Kuma's. In fact, just make the time, or I will leave impressions of my knuckle-hair on your forehead. Please do not construe that as a threat--I am only trying to help you.
I then rolled my suitcase over dirty streets and ice as we searched for dessert, finally settling on Chicago Legend, Margie's Candies, which shone like a beacon in the dark Chicago night...
Just kidding, night in Chicago is actually brighter than daylight in Des Moines, Iowa. I am still putting lotion on my "moonburn."
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This place was awesome. They had all kinds of fattening things that taste good to eat (doing so will no doubt please our Blue Snake Overlords), and picking something was almost impossible. I ended up ordering a Green River Ice Cream Soda because it sounded nostalgic, and this is definitely the kind of place that breeds nostalgia. I now know that Green River is a very old soda that has recently experienced a resurgance. Also, it looks like nuclear waste. Don't believe me?
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Thankfully, it tastes less like nuclear waste, and more like delicious. I refuse to use the Rachel Ray fabrication "delish." That is just dumb. Anyway, Green River tastes like high class sprite, and the ice cream and whipped cream tossed into it were high quality as well, meaning a couple of minutes after I took this picture there was only foam left in the glass.
Taste-buds satisfied (though our hunger is never satiated), we headed for our hotel, Four Points by Sheraton. When the woman behind the counter looked at her computer screen for ten minutes, gave us free water, and disappeared, we assumed something was wrong. Something was wrong. The hotel accidentally gave away our room, and they were completely booked. They shuttled us across the street to a free suite at the James, which was uh...kind of nicer than the room we originally booked. Our original room had a king bed because it was a lot cheaper than two twins. Considering Adrian and I have shared a bed about a million times since we were toddlers, this was worth saving a few bucks.
We heard bumping techno music before entering the James. As we walked into the lobby, we had to side-step a huge crowd of extremely well-dressed people with drinks in their hands. The hotel clerk, a slightly Eurotrash guy in a suit probably more expensive than my car, gave us the immediate feeling that we were underclassed for the establishment.
"I see you had a king bed at Four Points," he said. "We would give you two twins here if you wanted it, but we do not have such a room available. Only a suite with a king bed."
"That's fine," I said. "We're first cousins. We've slept in the same bed since we were little kids."
He looked down at the wedding ring on my finger, then at both our faces, pursed his lips and smiled.
"I won't tell your awnt. You two have fun."
Awesome.
By the way, I know how to spell "aunt," but he pronounced it the fancy "awnt" way.
After having passionate, homosexual, incestuous relations, Adrian and I looked at our new room in disbelief.
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Here is Adrian, sitting on some weird giant European Sofa trying to figure out how to work the movie projector. Yes, our room had a movie projector, Bose surround sound, and a DVD player. We selected the horror remake, Quarantine, from a dozen or so films in a box. This movie isn't bad if you enjoy a movie about a highly mutated strain of rabies where people who contract the rabies are quickly overcome by the rabies and attack other people because of the rabies and spread the rabies until everyone is either dead or has the rabies because the rabies is rabies that is rabies contracted by bodily fluids. Rabies.
That night I was so tired I fell asleep on top of the bedsheets wearing all my clothes. I thought I would dream of rabies, but I didn't. So disappointing.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

New Travelogue Coming Soon!

I am pleased to announce that I am currently working on a travelogue of my recent trip to Chicago. This will be the first travelogue on The Nicsperiment in five years, and I can only hope it will reach the majestic heights that the last one did.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Music News 2/15/11 -- Radiohead Make a Surprise Announcement

In news you may have already heard a few dozen times in the last two days:
Radiohead have announced their new album, The King of Limbs, will be released Saturday. Yes, as in four days from now Saturday. The album is available for pre-order here.
Of course, this wouldn't be The Nicsperiment without my opinion rambling, through...
This is very reminiscent of four years ago, when Radiohead announced the album, In Rainbows, ten days before it was released, and that buyers could pay whatever they wished for it. Unlike In Rainbows, listeners cannot set their own price for the The King of Limbs.
Four years ago, I paid $0.00 to download In Rainbows, then bought the vinyl when it came out. Some people paid $10, some people less, some people more. Radiohead made a killing, but the album was excellent, and they released it on their own terms. They proved that people would pay for good music, even if they didn't have to, and the larger percentage paid money for the album without having heard a song. In the end the vinyl cost me $15, and I had my free digital copy to boot.
I am kind of dismayed that despite how things went last time, Radiohead have dropped that "pay what you want" scheme. Now the album is $9 for MP3's or $14 for WAV's. Radiohead are also making an insane "Newspaper Version" available. While I have no idea what a Newspaper Version is, I imagine it involves lots of pages and articles? Actually it does, and also includes vinyls and an album download, but considering it runs $50 before shipping, I won't be reading it. It looks really cool, though, for those who can afford it.
This all feels far less revolutionary than the In Rainbows release. Because of my love for Radiohead's music, I have no choice but to shell out nine bucks on Saturday. But what if I want to buy the physical release that is rumored for late March? I won't because I don't want to pay for the same music twice, and I know for a fact that Radiohead is not in a financial position that necessitates fans having to purchase their albums more than once. This is a shame because I always enjoy Radiohead's packaging, but there is absolutely no way I can shell out $50 bucks to get it now, and as I said, hearing the album now is far more attractive than waiting for a CD or reasonably priced record that may never happen. Lame. I'm sure when I hear the album, though, my complaining will cease.
Also, Drive By Truckers dropped their new album, Go-Go Boots, today. This is their 4th album in four years, and if you remember, one of those albums garnered record of the year from this website. So regardless of pay schemes, this is a pretty sweet week in music.
End.

Monday, February 14, 2011

James Blake -- James Blake

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7/10
Anytime something is regarded by the keepers of cool as the next big thing, people can usually be found in three camps of response:
1. I already think this is awesome.
2. I automatically don't like this.
3. I'll judge for myself once I listen.
I try to place myself in the third, though I admittedly have to put up a hard fight against the second option. In trendy circles, James Blake, who before this self-titled release had yet to put out a full-length album, is being heavily touted. Not to the "Saviours of Rock" levels of hyperbole The Strokes received upon their inception, but pretty close. I was immediately ready to loathe Blake's music, but have been stopped in my tracks. The guy is pretty good at what he does.
James Blake is essentially a soul singer vocalizing over minimalist electronics, or at times, through electronics. At several moments he also incorporates car-shaking beats and basslines. I refuse to use the description "dubstep" in regard to this music--that term has been parcelled out to cover so many sounds I no longer feel it has any relevance.
Blake spells out his intentions in first track, "Unluck," which employs almost every tool at his disposal--a simple beat, shifting piano figure, rising electronics, and digitally manipulated singing. It does not feature what turns out to be Blake's strongest element--discerning uses of complete or near silence. He utilizes this best on first single, "Limit to Your Love." Though a cover of a track from Feist's 2007 album, The Reminder, Blake makes this song sound like an original. He has also been using visuals to masterfully convey the feeling of his music. Check out the video for the aforementioned track:

I wish I could say he is able to maintain the consistency of quality he does in this track throughout the album, but I put my scores at the start, so you already know I think he doesn't. The problem with this album plagues most "next big thing" releases by artists. The sounds Blake conjures on his debut are nice, but they are limited. Though his album is only 38 minutes long, I found myself looking at my watch 25 minutes in. The same exact piano sounds, similar beats, and repetitive vocals, while always sounding nice, get tiring after a while. And this leads into my lazy comparison for this album because this is the best way I can express my feelings for it:

LAZY COMPARISON: Like taking a warm bath in the dark for 38 minutes. Nice for a while, but eventually your skin starts to prune and you want to get up and walk around for a bit.

2011 ATLAS/A & M Records
1. Unluck 3:04
2. The Wilhelm Scream 4:36
3. I Never Learnt to Share 4:52
4. Lindisfarne I 2:43
5. Lindisfarne II 2:59
6. Limit to Your Love 4:40
7. Give Me My Month 1:54
8. To Care (Like You) 3:54
9. Why Don't You Call Me 1:36
10. I Mind 3:35
11. Measurements 4:21

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Jeess!!!

This morning, my wife went to her Saturday job, and I stayed home with our child. I popped on the band Skillet's first album, which I haven't listened to in quite some time. My son and I were playing with some blocks when he looked up at me and said, "Jeess!" I was confused for a second, then I realized what happened.
One afternoon, my wife dropped our son off at my office because she had to help somebody out. On the way home, he kept telling me, "Jeess! Jeess!"
"No," I told him. "Geese. Remember at the zoo? Honk, honk!"
He just looked back at me with sadness and confusion.
He kept telling me this again and again throughout the night, and I kept responding the same way. He seemed really bummed by the time I put him to bed. When my wife got home, we talked about our day.
"You know that toddler Bible I bought (our son)?" she asked me.
"Yeah."
"I was reading to him about Jesus today, and he started saying 'Jeess! Jeess!' After that, he kept trying to follow me around with it, and saying 'Jeess, Jeess!,' but he started crying because it was too big for him to carry. It was so cute. What did you do today?"
"Be the worst dad ever..."
Anyway, flash forward back to this morning. I was about to correct him again, but then I remembered not only what he was saying (I mean, I've been reading that Bible to him for a month now myself, you think I would learn), but that we were listening to that old Skillet album. The song playing was "Safe With You." It is a great song, though it sounds nothing like current Skillet. That's not a dig on current Skillet--they've just gone through an inconceivable amount of aural permutations in the last two decades and rarely sound similar on any album.
You can give the song a listen below (though the photo on this video does not represent the lineup that composed and performed it).

The last refrain is "Jesus, Jesus, I'm safe with you." That was the line my fifteen-month old was quoting from this fifteen-year old song (Jeez...this song is half my age...scary).
Nice. I like this story.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Wow

This article is incredible. I do not think I could have said this better myself:
America's Game
If this does not peak your interest in its topic, yet you still complain that there isn't anything good on TV anymore (while you gobble up every bad reality show you hear about) you do not deserve to live here. You are hereby evicted to the penal colony, Jersey Shore.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Craig's Brother -- The Insidious Lie

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8/10
It's been ten years since Craig's Brother's last full length release, Lost at Sea, and seven since their last recorded statement, E.P. idemic. Fan expectation is high, but also reveals something else: if people will stick by your band, even when it takes you ten years to put out an LP, you must have something special.
The album kicks off with "Freedom," a blazing punk song that immediately reveals a new facet of the band--they got chops now. Seriously, while Craig's Brother of old were instrumentally at least respectable 10th level Squires, they are now 50th level Paladins. The guitars, played by Ted Bond and Glade Wilson, are tighter than they've ever been, and the leads are blazing. Though this track does not feature them, guitar solos are spread throughout the album, and they are nice. Also, the drums are awesome. I once got into an argument with a cousin who believed that the band Noggin Toboggan's drummer performed faster rolls than Craig's Brother's drummer, Heath Konkel. To my knowledge, Noggin Toboggan are no longer around to defend themselves, but if they were, the drum slaying skills Mr. Konkel has acquired throughout his years of playing would doubtfully be duplicated by whoever NT has behind the kit.
Yes, I just made a Noggin Toboggan reference. Deal with it.
Vocalist, Ted Bond, sounds better than ever, and bassist, Scott Hrapoff, never a slouch behind his instrument, does as well. His bass lines are inventive--they always were before, when you could hear them--and they bring to light another huge positive about this album: the production values. I'm not sure how an independently funded release can sound so much better than Craig's Brother's three previous label-backed ventures, but the production here blows those out of the water. Instruments and vocals are clear as a bell and don't slack at all from track to track. Without knowing any better, you would never guess that a few guys in Santa Cruz did this all themselves with almost negligible funds. The music world has changed.
While there are plenty of fast-blazing songs like "Freedom," The Insidious Lie also features several slowed down rock songs in the vein of Lost At Sea. "Klamath Falls" in particular is a winner. The track's lyrics describe a low point in the band's career, but on a broader level, portray the feeling of having no one on your side but your friends...even if your friends are losers...and even if you are a loser, too. The best two tracks in this style, also the best two tracks overall, come at the end of the album. Tenth track "The Problem of Evil" explores that very topic, changes gears several times, and leads directly into the final track, "The Aaronic Blessing (Peace on Earth)." I am not being hyperbolic here: this is the best song Craig's Brother have ever recorded (also not hyperbolic: I love colons). It features prominent piano throughout, more delicate instrumentation than CB have ever employed, and the most gut-wrenching lyrics Ted Bond has ever put to tape:
And they're gathered against you
Because the story never changed
Who can count the foes of Israel?
And haven't you forgotten your promises?
Or at least where the Jordon flows?
From the north to the south
Let the land give up its kin
Does this need to happen?
Is all this bloodshed predestined?
Peace on Earth, Peace on Earth
Is it more than mere hope is worth?
I haven't heard a song this Psalmic since...the last Craig's Brother's album. It is heartbreaking, but in the end still contains a note of hope. Plus, as you will probably listen to this album again immediately after it ends, this song leads directly back into "Freedom":
Freedom
This corporeal holding cell can't keep me any more
Freedom
Loose these terrestrial bonds and let this spirit soar
Alright, just go buy this already.

LAZY COMPARISON: Sounds like REM in their prime, except they play punk music and have hair.

2011 Self-Released
1. Freedom 2:12
2. Mistake of Caring 3:51
3. Thousand Yard Stare 4:03
4. Klamath Falls 3:38
5. Insidious Lie 3:31
6. Party Girl 3:14
7. Closure 3:14
8. Fallen 3:13
9. Adeline 3:29
10. The Problem of Evil 3:41
11. The Aaronic Blessing (Peace on Earth) 5:15

New Craig's Brother Out Now!

Sorry that I am a little late in announcing this, but Craig's Brother's new album, The Insidious Lie, is available to purchase in digital form. The files are high quality 320 kbps. I'll have a review forthcoming, but until then I will say:
It's really good.
Buy it.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Project 86 -- 15.Live

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8/10
For 15 years, Project 86 have been renowned for the passion and intensity of their live show (and I can vouch for the veracity of this statement). Unfortunately, Project 86 have also taken that long to release an aural document of one of these performances.
The material on 15.Live is culled from several recent shows, edited seamlessly to sound as one. Each instrument comes clearly through the mix. The bass, often neglected in live recordings, but vastly important to Project 86's unique blend of intelligent, experimental hard rock, sounds great. Guitar is just right in the mix, heard clearly but not overpowering. Same goes for the vocals which sound just right. Whoever miked the drums deserves special acclaim--every hit of cymbal, snare, tom, and bass drum is distinctly heard and as powerful as any studio recording, though everything sounds as raw as it should be.
Of course, the high quality of the recordings would be for naught if the performances were sub par. With fill-in players having to take the spots of Project 86's bassist, Steven Dail, and guitarist, Randy Torres, for much of last summer's tour, this could definitely be a concern.
No worries--performances are great all around. The band make a few subtle changes to certain songs just to change things up--check the guitar going up the scale on "Stein's Theme"--but they are faithful enough to the source material to please even the most anal, die hard fans. Also, the dreaded "missing vocals" effect that often plagues the live shows of bands featuring vocalists who both sing and scream never occur. Andrew Schwab holds his own, and the rest of the band helps out when any overlapping vocals from the albums take place. They sound great and mirror Schwab's energy, creating a wonderful, almost dueling dynamic that is actually unique to any Project 86 recording in style. While this element is present in their albums, it is never as in-your-face as it is here, which is refreshing.
15. Live. isn't perfect, though. Sadly, the 15, as previously mentioned, refers to the amount of years the band has been in operation--not the amount of songs they perform on this album. While the song selection is great--all seven albums but the self-titled debut are represented--forty-five minutes and 12 songs just aren't enough. While "Spy Hunter" is the perfect song to end on, Schwab's triumphant final cry seems like the prelude to, "You guys were great! Stick around for Metallica!"
I don't want Metallica, though.
I want more Project 86.

LAZY COMPARISON: Project 86 is already too difficult for a non-lazy person to categorize. A lazy person's head would just explode. On that thought, how about the beautiful sound of a head exploding?

2010 Team Black Recordings
1. Sincerely, Ichabod 4:30
2. Safe Haven 3:28
3. Oblivion 4:09
4. The Butcher 3:02
5. Last Meal 3:50
6. Me vs Me 3:33
7. S.M.C. 3:02
8. Illuminate 3:02
9. Evil (A Chorus of Resistance) 3:04
10. Destroyer 4:50
11. Stein's Theme 4:15
12. The Spy Hunter 4:19