Monday, March 27, 2006

What is it about Lowell?

You don't have to go downtown to notice it, and it has little to do with all the new condos, the national park areas, and the park trolley that runs around laden with class-trippers. It's the hum of the short buses that ferry the workers around, the sirens on the vintage 70s and 80s fire engines, the unintelligible signs in the Cambodian ghettos, the peeling paint on outskirt-straddling 3-deckers with too many people packed inside. It's the feeling of discovery that hits you after you wind through the surrounding hick-laden suburbs and end up in this city of 100,000, a world unto itself just 40 minutes from Boston. Here all the things that annoy me elsewhere--police babysitting construction workers, people talking on cellphones in restaurants, parking meters--cease to bother. Every time I show up in Lowell, I blend into the municipality, into the city...for the short time I am there.

I have to wonder: how did Lowell keep its own distinct identity in a culture of homogenization? Is it really true that federal money helps keep the place running so well? And why does no one know where Lowell is?

Depressed as some say it is, Lowell is an utterly bustiling place--not just in terms of traffic jams, but all the interesting things a city needs to be a city (like a university, a distinct creative culture, actual nightlife, food, hotels, and fires). If you ever have the opportunity to stop in for afternoon, all of this will make sense to you.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

A TRUE ACCOUNT OF LINE DANCING IN RURAL MAINE, AS REPORTED BY R. BELLINGER, TRAVELING REPRESENTATIVE OF N------- & CO.

Maine, like America, is now two states: blue and red, east and [mid]west, with I-95 running right down the middle. Bored with the uppity little restaurants in Waterville, I sought salvation in my hotel room Yellow Book and discovered a half-page ad for COYOTES COUNTRY BBQ BAR. Located in the town of Oakland, the restaurant--a single-story wooden box with a tiny sign--stands exactly one half mile west of 95. That's as far west as anyone could ever need to get.

Naively, I expected some uncomplicated brisket and baked beans. But the sight of the bar's exterior made me nervous. In my travels, I always drive by the places where Western Maine nightlife takes place: the empty parking lots and decaying exteriors of places like the MELODY RANCH in Fairfield or the STEPPIN' OUT NIGHT CLUB in Jay warn me to get the hell out of the alfalfa fields while the sun is still up.

Coyotes was a bit more well-maintained other places I'd seen, but just on the outside. When I walked into the place, everyone stared and I stared back. To my left, seven men at the bar (six in cowboy hats, one in checkered ballcap). To my right, a floor full of line dancing trainees, encased by Pre-Vatican II style wooden railings. A ZZ-top looking old man with a footlong beard sat at the opening to the floor, doing nothing. It didn't appear that more than a few lightbulbs were on in the place, and soon all the attention was focused again on the dance floor. I asked the little lady behind the bar if I could take a seat somewhere, and wandered across the room. The only open table was in the poolroom, where anorexic men in Harley t-shirts cursed each other out and swung pool cues at each other as they played.

I sat and looked at the menu. I didn't look up for a while. When I realized that nothing productive would come of my sitting, I approached the bar and asked for a pulled pork plate and a Bud. A table had opened up next to the bar, on a raised platform next to the kitchen door and behind two fat elderly people. I took a seat there and hid myself behind their opulent corpora.

From this new vantage point, I discovered a triangular stage far off in the opposite corner. It too was cut off from the dancefloor by the rectangular wooden railing--no "Blues Brothers"-style chicken wire, though. Big, black amps stood silent and waited for weekend brawls.

Basking in the glow of the resident Jager machine, none of the men at the bar talked to each other. They all did, however, talk to the bartender, who was young and nervous. When she brought my food out, she told me that it was her second day and that she had never seen line dancing before, either. The guys at the bar shot dirty looks at me.

As I ate, I began my attempt to understand the line dancing spectacle. It wasn't hard to count how many bodies were on the floor. 7 rows x 3 bodies per row - 1 = 20.

Ninety percent were women, almost all of whom you'd mistake for one another in a lineup. Middle aged, somewhat chubby and short, with bushybig hair that didn't move when they did, even when they jumped. There was one overweight 20something and one anorexic one, the former with a bad tattoo on her lower back and the latter with long, long curly hair and a body none of the cowboys at the bar would forget for weeks, as evinced by the way they all stared at it. The body's owner was all dolled up and pretending not to enjoy her moment, being the only borderline attractive female in a sea of mostly overage fatties. I wondered how many beginner's nights she could go to before the joke wasn't funny anymore.

There were three men on the floor, too, evidently the most desperate. They all hid from view, dancing next to each other against the wall, farthest from the real men at the bar. They made eye contact with nothing--not each other, not the instructor, not the young girl everyone at the bar was staring at.

The instructor was one of the fifteen bushy-haired ladies, the shortest one, in fact. Every time I looked up from my dinner I had to strain my eyes to find the mouth that her bark was coming from...

"...and HIPS
HIPS TO THE RIGHT
HIPS TO THE LEFT
HIPS TO THE RIGHT
HIPS TO THE LEFT
RIGHT, LEFT
RIGHT, LEFT
HEEL, TOE
STEP, TOUCH
CROSS-TOUCH
CROSS-TWO, THREE...JUMP!"

Everyone followed her orders precisely, except for the fattest fatty, whose body just warbled in place. She only looked briefly embarrassed--with a momentarily excessive tinge of pink in cheek and jowl--each time she stopped moving. For the most part, she was enjoying herself.

At the conclusion of each musicless lesson, a hip-hop-country song would come on ("ho-teyll, mo-teyll, hawliday-iynnnnn") and the drill sergeant would continue to bark repetitively all orders until the final chorus.

Then, at the conclusion of each dance, the men ran to the pool tables and the ladies went outside to smoke and avoid being hit on. The instructor offered photocopied stepsheets to her faithful trainees, and one or two would oblige each time. A tall, older guy in a flannel shirt materialized. He appeared to be in charge, telling the bartender and the kitchen kid what to do. He laughed loudly, clutched a Smirnoff Ice, and continuously danced like the guy Juliette Lewis quickly slaughters in the first scene of "Natural Born Killers."

My beans and fries were gone; some pork and slaw remained on my plate. When the bartender girl came by, I asked for another beer. More dirty looks from the guys at the bar.

"You sher do stand out in a crowd!" one of them was telling the skinny linedancer, back in from a smoke.

As I scraped my plate clean, I realized that these people were attempting to honor a tradition they had probably known about for ages, maybe even practiced in their youth. Here they were, most of them entering the second halves of their lives, and beginning to learn (or perhaps relearning) how to line dance. They could all relate to one another in more ways than that they all had the same awful haircut; other coincidences were obvious as well. What they were doing was more fun than sad; it was recreation and socialization and some badly needed exercise. That much was obvious to an outsider, and it was something they could do every WED THURS SAT NIGHT as the sign out front proclaimed. It wouldn't be outlawed like Fourth of July fireworks, and it wouldn't dissolve in its own hypocrisy like Catholicism.

Behold the mighty, American[ized] tradition of the ritualistic line dance! Any idiot can do it!

It was 8:30, and I didn't want to see what happened in COYOTES when the dance lessons stopped at 9. I cashed out--to my surprise, they took Visa. Then, to the relief of the hat-wearing barflies who had been trying to figure out what I was for over an hour, I walked outside, got in my car (the only vehicle in the lot that was neither a Grand Am nor a pickup) and drove back to the Comfort Inn.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Checklist of things to do before leaving New England, 3.24.06

  1. Bike Fitchburg, the filthiest shithole I've ever seen, and take lots of pictures.
  2. Consume baked beans in a wooden shack in rural Maine, because there are no beans in beantown.
  3. Get in more springtime street altercations with downtown Lowell's teenage thugs.
  4. Watch big ships pass through the drawbridges in Portsmouth.
  5. Finally go to Kelly's Roast Beef and gain more weight to lose.
  6. Go to a show at The Stone Church.
  7. Witness linedancing in rural Maine.
  8. Ask a Massachusetts cop on "detail" outside a manhole exactly what he is doing, and who he is protecting.
  9. Take more pictures of wooden houses burning down around Boston, because the 6,321+ local construction unions still do not recognize the invention of the brick.

LIVE BY THE CODE

If you could stand to read a focused blog with a track record for high quality and no spelling errors (!), my brother's own CODE 1053 is back. Let the assault on UVA continue!

Thursday, March 23, 2006

"The deli as contemporary art"

starting to collect images...

Never use ADDR.com web hosting

It's just a billing department in India, where fake reps with fake Aryan names cheerily email you to tell you that you owe them money you don't owe them. Fuck on that!

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Again: Who decided that commas were no longer needed in lists?

I had to read the first fucking sentence in this Times article 3 times to understand it.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Traveler food

I will really miss the meal randomness offered by this job. Today:
  • two Pop-Tarts at home.
  • Popeye's 3-chicken strip meal with red beans and rice, Mardi Gras Mustard, and a root beer, at a rest stop, three hours late and on the way to a campus.
  • Three-quarters of a bag of Sour Patch Watermelons.
  • Chicken Vindaloo (made tears roll down my cheeks) with garlic naan and a King Fisher in Bangor
Now I'm completely ill and my digestive system is terrifying the hotel patrons on my hallway.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

You are cordially invited to Tiki-Wiki,

our bizarre blog celebrating the bizarre Tiki-style restaurants of New England, and everything else.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Urban Filth #5

More photos are up--including my treasured shot of fat people at Revere Beach.

mima

Congrats to Dan Barry for his first Advocate cover story this week. [Read the article here.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Anybody know anything about Jamiroquai?

Apparently their last album is a well-researched, organic funk/disco tour, and they only play in Brazil, Australia, and the U.A.E. Sometimes South Africa. When they came to Boston in October the Roxy sold out instantaneously.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Welcome, W. W. Norton employees!

Sunday, March 12, 2006

only in rhode island

can you have a lobster burger for lunch and a lamb burger for dinner. cool state!

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

i want to shoot

the chick who sings backup on the recent bright eyes album(s). you know which one i mean. i know i can't control the urge. i know i can't explain.

i still hate bright eyes, too.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

They're back! (old testament people whose images are infrequently posted here)


Read the article at CNN. Wouldn't it be fun to be in the Patriot Guard Riders for a day?

Saturday, March 04, 2006

New homepage.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

IT IS NOW SAFE TO MOVE BACK TO NEW YORK

No more worries about where to get cheap basmati rice and korma paste. Now if only they would open a store where people actually live...