Thursday, February 24, 2011

A cheap date

So I went out on a date last night with my friends J and A which proved to be a delightful and cost-effective way to spend an evening on the town in LA (note: not actually a date).

It started off innocuously enough with a movie screening at a local mall, the AMC Century City (a wonderfully trendy, open-door mall within a few-pleasant-suburban-minutes' bike ride from campus). An audience-testing screening involving a Scantron-style review form and no deduction of money from my bank account. A movie whose identity I might share or about whose artistic merits I might be tempted to offer my opinion, were I not contractually debarred from disclosing such. Suffice it to say a good, if somewhat low-expectations-fulfilling, time was had by all in attendance. [NB: The author realizes this isn't that big a deal, but is kind of getting of on the intellectual exercise of excessively-self-aggrandizing doggerel.]

And afterwards, like one does, we decided to sojourn to Banana Republic for some light browsing of the summer fashions and a few glasses of champagne.

Because, of course, it's that one day of the season where the Century City Banana Republic offers its customers hors-d'oeuvres, gourmet chocolates, and champagne. Oh, and of course, the best part: 25% ALL PURCHASES! God knows why, but it was such a delightfully weird little experience that I felt compelled to post about it (and, of course, provide them with that grass-roots buzz that they so crave). And they didn't skimp, either! This was no Dixie cup (™ the Koch Brothers) of champagne and a Hershey's Kiss. No, no. These were full flutes of champagne and large, caramel-filled salted truffles. And constant, friendly attention from the immaculately-dressed employees, always happy to refill your glass or provide you with another bacon-cheese-stuffed mini potato. Professionals, they were.

I have no idea why Banana Republic thinks of itself as upscale enough to warrant a champagne evening, but who am I to turn down free food? We spent a good half hour in the store exploring, me serving A's desire to have a life-sized Ken doll of her very own for the evening, and it was delightful. I now know what I look like in a pink button down shirt/argyle sweater combination (spoiler: not very good) and have a new appreciation for the weird things marketers will do to push a product.

I almost felt bad that I didn't buy anything.

Friday, December 3, 2010

An ever-so-minor rant

So I went to a rave a few weeks ago because, you know, why not.

It was an illuminating experience. First and foremost, I suppose, I learned that I am just way too damned old to go to raves anymore. Don't get me wrong! I had fun, the dancing was great and Moby's certainly a heckuva DJ. But the kids dancing around me, those young, fresh-faced little college kids who'd come to the event in their parents' borrowed Nissan Ultimas, wearing shiny costumes that they could just barely afford on the wages from their crappy afterschool jobs selling frozen yogurt at the local Red Mango. Those kids! A basketball stadium teeming with youth, every glowstick-bedecked head a quiet, bobbing sentinel, a vessel for a pair of piercing, intense eyes all focused on me, on my gray hair. Watching me. Judging me.

It was oppressive.

And I went to this thing and as I sat there in the limo I thought I'm going to challenge strangers to rock, scissors, paper because how cool and random would that be? To be standing there, alone, a sad anonymous face in a sea of thousands and then BLAM you're fighting for your honor in an intense, low-stakes game of Roshambo. What a delightful, unexpected little bit of oddity it would be in an otherwise staid and ordinary dance-hall extravaganza. Who wouldn't love to break the monotony of a massive dance party with a little bit of light person-to-person interaction?

I'll tell you who. Everyone at the goddamn rave. And not for my lack of effort! Time and again I would meet some stranger's eyes, hold out my hands in the traditional challenge stance, and wait for their response. Which was usually a vacuous gaze that, when roughly translated to English, means "Huh?" After a bit of gentle prodding they'd figure out what was going on and then, slowly and confusedly, they'd put out their hands. And play one, solitary, polite round. Then the hands went down, the head turned, and it was back to staring at the DJ, swaying mindlessly to the beat.

What the hell?! I get that you don't know me, but why not take advantage of a simple chance to inject a little weird into your life? A simple, no commitment opportunity to do something ever-so-slightly out of the ordinary and you dismiss it out of hand because it's not on the printed setlist. You boring jerks.


Last summer a few of us were dancing at Burning Man, at Opulent Temple (one of the bigger dance venues featuring, as pictured at right, flamethrowers on the DJ booth). A woman approached us and, as we danced there heedless of our surroundings, she took a moose out of her backpack. A small, dancing moose, which she placed on the ground and made an impromptu part of our dance circle. She left it there for a few minutes and the moose gyrated happily away, outdancing all the rest of us. I loved that moose. That one simple little moment, a pointless bit of randomness, made my evening. I want more of that and goddammit, world, I want you to help me.

Thursday, November 4, 2010


I just finished reading Lolita.  I picked it up some time eons ago in a moment of faux erudition and managed to make it through -- enjoying it, I think, although it's hard to separate the experience of reading a Great Work from the experience of being someone who is reading a Great Work. I don't remember much of it from the first time through, certainly nothing that couldn't be gleaned from a quick skim of the back cover. I can't say that I any longer feel the need to work my way through the canon (Paradiso quite handily cured me of that), but having randomly come into possession of a (heavily annotated) copy of the book, I decided to give it a second run through.

It was a much more memorable read this time through and (the annotations are quite useful here) the wordplay and allusions are all quite clever. But, try as I might, I couldn't find it within me to give a damn for Mr. Humbert. He has an unhealthy attraction to underage girls, of couse, but he's also arrogant, alcoholic, and an all-around unpleasant personality. He really has nothing to recommend himself, and so, while I enjoyed the book, I spent most of it hoping that the guy would just get picked up by the cops or run his car off a cliff or something.

Of course, proudly announcing to the world that you don't care for a hebephile is hardly a controversial opinion, so allow me to generalize.

I don't like anti-heros. Can't stand 'em. I'm not talking about your good people caught on the wrong side of the law--your Jean Val Jeans, your Malcolm Reynolds, what have you. I have no especial attachment to the rule of law in my fiction, and it's not that I fell the authorities somehow need to be the face of morality. No, I'm talking about irredeemably bad characters, ones that have nothing to recommend them but for their protagonism.

You ever seen Reservoir Dogs? Movie about a diamond heist gone bad when it turns out one of the bad guys is an undercover police agent (played by the delectable Tim Roth)? There's this one character in it, Mr. White, who befriends Tim (without knowing, of course, that he's a cop) . Most of the movie is Mr. White and the cop interacting and, at the very end [SPOILER ALERT] the cop lets out who he really is and Mr. White gets all weepy.

I think you're supposed to empathize with Mr. White and for how horribly betrayed he feels at the end, but I couldn't have cared less. He's a nasty, unpleasant murderer -- why the fuck should I care what happens to him? I certainly don't feel any sympathy for Ted Bundy or any other real-life psychopaths. I just felt bad for Mr. Roth, who trusts the guy and gets killed for his troubles.

I just can't bring myself to care about these guys. I don't sympathize with them and I generally want them to die, be arrested, or otherwise get their just desserts.

I realize this sounds a bit moralistic and, therefore, uncool, but I don't think that's really my intent. I've definitely seen movies with thoroughly unpleasant characters that I've liked (American History X comes to mind). I just can't bring myself to root for them. Maybe it's just 'cause I'm a contradictionist and my immediate reaction is "Screw you! I'm not going to care about this guy just because you made him the star of your movie."

Or maybe not. What say you? (Also: hey! I just updated my blog! Crazy.)

Thursday, May 20, 2010


I ran a half marathon last weekend. Finished in 1:52:41 (8.6-minute mile). Kinda proud of that.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


♫ I'm sailing away
Set an open course for the Baltic Sea
'Cause I've got to be free
Free to play guitar invisibly ♪

And with those inspiring words still echoing over the Troubador's audience, Björn Turoque strode on to the stage, microphone in hand and beer in the other, to MC the 2010 LA Regional Air Guitar Championships.

My God do I lead an awesome life! Yeah, yeah, I'm 28 and I don't know what I'm doing with my life and all of my friends are racing off and getting married and blah blah blah. But goddamn it, I spend my Saturday nights watching people in ridiculous costumes play hair-metal anthems from the 80s with imaginary instruments and that is a beautiful, beautiful thing. If you don't get that, I'm really not sure how we're friends.

Quickly, the setup: the competitors run onstage, ridiculously garbed (viz The Caplickster, in full, glorious regalia at right), and have one minute to flail away on their air axe to a song of their choice, impress the (increasingly inebriated) judges with their technical virtuosity, stage presence, and "airness",1 and flee the stage with what little shreds of their dignity they can salvage.

How glorious. How absurd. How American.

(Also, how LA: Dee and Mac from It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia were celebrity judges.)

It started off slow. The first two acts were... less than good. (The first was named Fretophile and you can imagine exactly what that was like).

Zero Prospects
And then BLAM HOLY SHIT Zero Prospects ran out on stage in crazy glam-rock regalia (her crotch clearly stuffed beneath her mini-skirt) and ROCKED THE SHIT out of my face. Notice her playing the guitar between her legs there? Yessir, that is pure, raw, unadulterated talent.

Good God, sir!

There was a shirtless guy rocking out to System Of A Down and a number of Demon Hell Things as well, if that's your kind of thing. Also a shirtless guy in boxer shorts and a lab coat.

It's glorious -- truly, utterly glorious -- living in a city so full of out-of-work actors that people will spend weeks working up a routine so that they can run out on stage waving a huge American flag with confetti falling all around them and a working, beer-dispensing tap on their crotch and stand on stage for a scant 60 seconds to spastically fling their arms around to Poison. And for what? For the momentary amusement of a couple hipster nerds on a Saturday night? Fuck. Yes.

For Christ's sake, Thai Elvis performed.

And the woman who won? The Bride Of Rock? Oh, fuck yes she deserved to win. This is a video of her (unrehearsed) winning performance. Watch this video. I demand you watch this video. The whole thing. NOW. (Preferably in fullscreen.)

That is commitment, my friends. That is awesome. That is rock and roll.

And in a final moment of glory, for a rousing encore, the entire audience was invited onstage to join in a mass Freebird ensemble. Yours truly joined in and muddled through the solo on a very rubbery air rhythm guitar. Sublime.

[Pictures gratefully stolen from the LA Weekly. Check out the whole set.]

1 Oxford commas for everyone!

Sunday, April 18, 2010


Are you familiar with the trombottle? If not, you should be! It's the most unique1 and innovative new instrument of our time. This cleverly-constructed device, recycling two humble beer bottles and repurposing them for greater things, was developed a few scant years ago by ingenious undergraduates at the University of Oregon seeking an environmentally-friendly way to discard of their spent beverage containers. Minutes of discussion and brainstorming resulted in an initial prototype, which was painstakingly refined over several iterations. After years of research and development, the trombottle was finally released to the public in the summer of 2009.

Deceptively simple, the trombottle is constructed of two beer bottles, one slightly larger than the other. Both have their base removed (a simple task for an experienced glass cutter). The larger of the bottles is turned on its end, its neck plugged, and filled with water. The smaller of the bottles, upright, nestles cozily in its larger brother. The instrument is played by gracefully blowing across the top of the smaller bottle—as with a flute—while moving the smaller bottle up and down in the larger, effectively changing its water level and thereby the pitch. Such an elegant concept, so simple in its execution!

Finally, after years of labor, its creators have consented to provide the world with a short performance. Featured below is a performance of the Bottle Waltz, a commissioned piece written by renowned composer Keith Kirchoff. Joseph Barker, the world's foremost trombottle virtuoso, solos accompanied by accomplished bottle performers Joe and L.

Sheet music, as well as opportunities for engaging the performers, available upon request.

1 Yeah, most unique. You heard me.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Pimpin', part 2

I'm glad to realize that LA has its own, homegrown brand of psychedelic limousine.

Monday, January 25, 2010

My adventure with Pee Wee

I'm ever-so-slightly afraid that this post, coming hot on the heels as it does of Flight of the Navigator, will change the tenor of this blog somewhat, reducing it to a series of pithy commentaries on pop culture ephemera from the 80s. Which, I suppose, could be an interesting topic for a blog (certainly already being done, I'm sure), but a blog that I'm ill-qualified to write for1.

Having not grown up in the US (you may have heard?) but having lived here for the past 10 years, I find myself in the odd position of being nostalgic for 80s childhood pop culture that I have no connection to at all. So far as television went, TV time in Barker household meant putting in one of our 10 well-worn VHS tapes of PBS kids' shows, watching reruns of Sesame Street (or -- my favorite -- 321 Contact). My parents' Varese Sarabande Classical Music Collection provided me with most of my musical education until I discovered Garbage my senior year of high school (also: Weird Al, for whatever that counts). Your favorite TV show when you were growing up? I've probably never seen it. (To those who didn't grow up in the US: don't worry, I probably haven't see yours, either.)

For Christ's sake: I watched the live-action Transformers movie for the nostalgia, despite never having seen a single episode of it as a kid.

I've done a whole bunch of catching up in my years in the US, to be sure. There've definitely been some pleasant surprises on the way (The Muppet Show and Nirvana: still quite good!) and some disappointments (I still don't see what you get in Ferris Beuhler's Day Off). And as uninformed as I may really be, I can fake it pretty damn well. Which is really all that counts.

And which is why I recently found myself standing at a smallish theater downtown, watching a man in a too-small suit conversing with an armchair.

I saw exactly one episode of Pee Wee's Playhouse when I was a kid, and I remember almost nothing of it. Pee Wee had a weird voice, wore a tight suit, and had a friend who was an armchair named Chairy. That was it. So I'm not exactly sure why I decided to say yes when my good friend J asked if I wanted to see Paul Reuben's new live show, a revamp of his original 1980s Pee Wee stage performance. Novelty, I guess?

The show was remarkably kid-friendly, I was surprised to realize. I guess I was expecting Pee Wee's playhouse, but with more adult-friendly humor (you know: like how Bob Sagat apparently now does really raunchy humor now that he's been freed from the PG-level humor of Full House). But no: it's a straight-up adaptation of the TV show to the stage2. There was a tiny amount of suggestive humor and the death of a sentient cleaning device, but that was really it3. You probably would have been comfortable taking your 8-year-old child to see it (except for maybe the audience: they might have bothered you a bit).

Which was: awesome? Yes, I think so. Awesome. The recurring sketches from the show all came back to me: Jambi, the genie in a box who channels spirits; the secret word of the day, at whose uttering all must scream real loud! (today's secret word: Fun!); Conky the Robot who bounces around like a steam-powered epileptic fit; "I know you are, but what am I?"; "If you love it so much, why don't you marry it?"4. All this, a potent deluge of nostalgia, evoked from the memory of a single 20-minute video watched when I was 8. Crazy!

Through a surprisingly serendipitous confluence of events, I was able to get a Meet And Greet ticket to stay after the show and watch Paul Reubens (note: not Pee Wee Herman) talk with the audience. I somehow managed to finagle my way to the front row and watch him stand five feet in front of me for the whole 45-minute session. My closest brush with fame yet!

He turned out to be quite the charming and pleasant conversationalist which, I suppose, you have to be to become a reasonably successful entertainer. He had a whole bunch of cute stories (in particular, one in which Michael Jackson emphatically reiterated how mean Prince had been to him once) and was delightfully charismatic as a host. Plus, it was super cute to see the giddy super-fans in the front as they gave him a gift of two shoes for his Pee Wee doll and answered back to all of his rhetorical audience questions. Also, some big promoter sitting right behind me offered to take his play to Broadway right while I was sitting there, which was kinda neat.

It's totally unfair that I have to get my nostalgia fix from pop-culture references to your childhood, oh reader, but, nevertheless, I had a good time. I felt like the luckiest boy in the world.

1 Yeah, that's a preposition ending my sentence. What're you going to do about it, style Nazi?

2 The obsessive part of me feels the need to tell you that the show was originally performed on stage, only later to turn into a movie and kid's show.

3 I suppose some might consider the political humor about chastity rings and gay marriage inappropriate for a younger child, but I also suspect that those people are not reading my blog.

4 Site of the gay-marriage-themed humor referenced in the preceding footnote.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Flight Of The Navigator

You remember this movie. You know you do. I was living in Egypt when this movie came out and I remember this movie. If you were a nerdy little sci-fi-loving kid like me (and if you weren't, how are we friends?), this movie was a highlight of a fleetingly brief period of your childhood. It had aliens! Time travel! And a really, really awesome looking spaceship.

I loved that spaceship.

Of course, as these things go, the details of the movie faded from the light in the dark, twisting passages of my memory. Oh, sure, I spent countless hours as a child (excuse me: young adult) fantasizing about it, running around the playground in my enormous, invisible spaceship (invariably by myself: I was a pretty solitary little kid, and besides, there was only enough room in the ship for one). How cool would it be to have your own personal spaceship? It would be rad. Tubular, perhaps.

My youthful enthusiasm, sadly, wasn't able to sustain itself through adolescence. All that remained of a treasured childhood memory were vague images of an enormous, silver football and an alien with an eyeball in its mouth (which freaked my shit out! -- how biologically implausible is that?!).

So, of course, when L and I decided to maybe re-watch the Childhood Classic, I squealed with joy. Sure, I'd already tried a similar experiment once, to disastrous results (childhood self: I'm very sorry, but Thundercats kinda sucked. As did the Transformers.), but c'mon: AWESOME GIANT SILVER SPACESHIP!!!

And, by god, it didn't disappoint. Don't get me wrong: Flight Of The Navigator is a Bad Movie. The acting is ham-fisted and cringe-inducing. The dialog would try even the most talented thespian (sample: "I'm afraid I can't talk about it. It's a matter of national security. You understand."). The plot is utterly implausible (and that's ignoring the time-traveling, Pee-Wee-Herman-voiced spaceship).

But so what? The movie is pure adolescent wish fulfillment and egads, does it do a fine job. A kid from a perfectly average, boring, typical American family gets thrust in to the middle of a stellar zoo-curating expedition and gets to fly HIS OWN SPACESHIP (which is still AWESOME, even to a somewhat less impressionable 28-year-old). Who wouldn't love having their own sentient buddy to fly them to Mars and back?

I guess there was a cute little sidekick alien, too, but that clearly didn't register with me.

I can't believe how many details of the movie I was able to dredge up from the dark recesses of my memory. The kid gets abducted when he's going to pick up his brother from a friends' house. He has a pet dog who sucks at catching frisbees. He makes Max the Spaceship let him out so he can take a pee-break next to some cows. The spaceship becomes sentient when he read's the kids brain and starts talking with the voice of Pee-Wee Herman (Pee Wee Herman! Speaking of which, how cool is it that he's starting to be popular again?!).

Although I didn't remember Sarah Jessica Parker being in it. You'd think that would have registered.

It's probably for the best that I don't get that caught up in movies any more. Lord knows my life is busy enough without re-imagining every damn movie I see with myself as the star. Especially with my current taste in movies (Donnie Darko: good movie, bad wish-fulfillment fantasy).

So I think I'll leave Navigator as a happy, nostalgia-filled excursion in to my childhood. You were good to me, Max, and you no doubt played a formative role in my blossoming in to an AI researcher as an adult. But I'll keep you nestled comfortably in the back of my mind, a happy memory that re-emerges every so often to bring a faint smile to my face.

And damn do I want that spaceship.

Monday, December 14, 2009


Walking down Fremont today (I'm in Seattle for the next two weeks, by the way), I happened to walk past this phenomenal, psychedelic stretch limo and thought I would share it with the world.