Saturday, April 25, 2009

Saturday Story Hour: Wells Tower

After taking a week off to reload, "Saturday Story Hour" is back. With a BANG.

This week, we're focusing on an author who is entirely new to Fosco! Just a few weeks ago, Fosco semi-randomly clicked on a story on the NY Times front page about a short story collection by an author named Wells Tower. The name of the collection is Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, which is a pretty catchy title. Fosco decided to buy the book (from his local independent bookstore--thus paying almost $10 too much), after reading these paragraphs in the Times piece:

Wells Tower’s book of short stories, “Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned,” has attracted a great number of vivid descriptions from admiring critics in the few weeks since it came out, and “strange” is perhaps the most commonly employed.

Also: “lurid”; “crammed with more pathos than a 400-page potboiler”; “bittersweet,” “beautiful” and “ardently conflicted” (in the same review); and “sad-funny-disturbing” (all in the same hyphenated clause). The last came from Michiko Kakutani of The New York Times, who wrote that the book “decisively establishes” Mr. Tower “as a writer of uncommon talent” and drew comparisons to Sam Shepard’s social radar, Frederic Barthelme’s ear and David Foster Wallace’s eye.
To me, those paragraphs pretty much sold it.

When Fosco got the book home and cracked it, he was surprised to discover that one of the stories had originally appeared in The New Yorker last November. Apparently, that one slipped past me. The story is called "Leopard" and I'm glad that I got this second chance to read it, because it's great.

The story is written in the second person--which is somewhat unusual and, in the hands of some writers, very show-off-y. However, in this case, I found it very easy to slip into. By the third or fourth paragraph, the oddness of second person address had entirely disappeared. At that point, I was comfortably living inside the head of Towers's teenage protagonist.

The story is also, in places, extremely funny--and poignant at the same time (just like your own teen years, right?). Consider this section that describes a small fungus spot that has appeared on your upper lip (wasn't Junior High absolute torture?):
A tiny hamburger is what the fungus resembles, cracked and brown and perfectly centered in the little fluted area between your septum and upper lip. Yesterday, in the cafeteria, Josh Mohorn pointed out the similarity before a table of your friends. A painful thing, considering how much you would like to be Josh Mohorn. He turned to you and said, “Hey, Yancy, do me a favor.”

“What’s up?” you said, excited by the rare pleasure of Josh’s attention.

“Could you take that seat down there?” he said, gesturing toward the far end of the table. “I can’t eat my lunch with your fucking burger in my face.”

Even you had to admire the succinct poetry of the line, which launched an instant craze of everyone jeering and calling you Burger King, or Patty, or All Beef, the name that stuck for the rest of the day and that will surely greet you this morning at school. You are eleven years old, the age that our essences begin revealing themselves, irremediably, to us and to the world. Just as Josh Mohorn is irremediably a soccer ace and a clothes ace, with feathered hair and white bucks, you are irremediably a fungus man.
I don't know about you, but for me that passage pretty much sums up my life during the years 1985-1989.

Sadly, it turns out that you live with your loathed stepfather. By the end of the story, you'll be silently praying for him to be devoured by a renegade leopard. How does the story go from your fungus to the leopard? That's what makes it so amazing--the strange chain of contingency that seems so perfectly normal for a day in the life of a misfit eleven-year-old.

You can read "Leopard" here.

If you would like to purchase Towers's collection from Amazon (thus saving almost $10), you can do so by following this link:

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Primatology of BBQ

"Foodie Friday" returns (a little late in the afternoon) with something mouth-watering.

The first week of April brought Fosco's friend Todd on his annual pilgrimage to the Bay Area. You may not know that, in recent years, Todd has become something of a BBQ expert. Because of his travels around this country (and a group of very food-obsessed friends), Todd pretty much has recommendations for good BBQ in almost any major American city. I never travel without asking Todd if there is a good BBQ place to visit at my destination. Todd was particularly excited this visit, as he finally had a lead on some good Bay Area BBQ. And so we drove to the small town of Pacifica, just south of San Francisco along the coast, to find Gorilla BBQ.

Gorilla BBQ turns out to be notable for several reasons. First off, there is its location in a bright-orange boxcar. Second, there is its theme song (listen to it at the website). Third, there is the fact that the owners spent $26,000 on a smoker. Fourth, the place recently appeared on punk bear Guy Fieri's "Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives" on Food Network. And perhaps most interesting: one of the co-owners has the words "PORK" and "RIBS" tattooed on his knuckles. Indeed!

Let's check out the setup. This is boxcar (and over that hill is the ocean--that's Highway 1 right there).

The sign is perhaps slightly misleading, as I have yet to see much smoke coming from the place. Too much smoke is probably against local environmental restrictions anyway.

This is Jeff, one of the co-owners (and apparently the primary chef). Notice all of the monkey tchotchkes on the counter.

This is Rich (aka "Gorilla"). He's the one with the tattooed knuckles. He takes the orders.

As you can see, there isn't much space in the boxcar to run the whole operation. Of course, it's takeout only.

So let's talk about the food. The menu features the standard smoked meats: pork ribs, chicken, beef brisket, pulled pork, hot links. There are traditional sides (mac and cheese, red beans and rice, corn muffins, potato salad) and NorCal-inspired sides (portabello mushrooms, grilled eggplant). When Oz and I went with Todd, I opted for the three meat combo: brisket, pulled pork, and hot links. It came in two containers: one for the meat, one for the sides. Plus sauce on the side. Here's the meat:

The pulled pork is fine. The hot links are spicily delicious. The brisket is EXTRAORDINARY--crusty, smoky, tender, cut-able with a spork (yes, a spork is what they provide you to eat with...). The BBQ sauce (appropriately served on the side) is tart and wonderful--best I've had outside a hundred-mile radius of Memphis. One thing I liked: the attention to the sides, which were pretty much all delicious. The Mac N Cheese is absolutely awesome, and the corn muffins are the Platonic ideal of corn muffins--best I've EVER had. Seriously.

Oz and I were smitten and we returned the next week (with Todd in our memories...). This time, we concentrated all of our attention on the brisket and mac n cheese:

At this point, I am absolutely obsessed with this brisket. Apparently, however, I am not alone. This was the line at 11:45 on Saturday (for the opening at noon):

Sure, it may have taken half an hour to get to the counter. But it was worth it. Brisket!

Of course, Gorilla may not compete with the best of Memphis (or Texas and North Carolina, for that matter), but I suspect it's the best in Northern California--and that's not too shabby. If you are ever within 50 miles of this place, it is worth a trip.

submit to reddit
submit to reddit

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Did Jesus ever rebuke "Ankle Biters"?

In yesterday's post, I published a photograph of lovely Christian gentleman and his informative sign listing all of the groups of people who will be judged harshly by God. Here, again, is a closeup of his sign:

In my previous post, I helpfully turned this poster into an easy-to-read list and my readers responded--by determining how many of these categories are going to contribute to their own eternal damnation.

However, as you may recall, there were two groups that Fosco couldn't quite read. With the help of some new bionic eyes (and some other pix of this guy from other sources), Fosco is pleased to announce that he can now complete the list:

ADDITIONAL People Who Will Be Judged (Presumably Unfavorably) By God

  • Thieves
  • Ankle Biters (what does that even mean?)
Do these additions cause any revisions in your personal number, readers? (Especially if any of you are small dogs...)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Postcards from the Counterculture: A Fosco Lives! Special Report

Unless you live in a college town, you may not be familiar with yesterday's 4/20 holiday (it's "clever" because yesterday's date was 4/20). It's that day of the year when pot smokers come together at 4:20 PM to celebrate "cannabis culture" by smoking up--often in public. It is a particularly popular holiday at two major US public universities (as noted in this article in the NY Times): University of Colorado at Boulder and (wait for it) Fosco's own University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC). In fact, the holiday has become so closely associated with UCSC that a picture of UCSC's 4/20 event is used to illustrate the 4/20 entry on Wikipedia. (And yes, the above picture is of UCSC's mascot, the Banana Slug, smoking pot.)

The event has always been unsanctioned by UCSC, of course. However, as the holiday has become larger and more public in recent years, the UCSC administration has become more concerned about the questionable PR. This year, UCSC sent an email to the parents of all first-year students asking them to discourage their sons or daughters from participating. As the email suggested (with keen insight into the mind of today's youth):

"I encourage you to talk with your student about his or her plans for 4/20. Ask direct questions about the choices they make and express your expectations regarding marijuana, alcohol or other drug use. Although students may not initiate discussion on this topic, your opinions and expectations can influence their behavior."
"Golly, Beaver, I sure hope you aren't planning to take the pot on April 20th. Remember that anyone who offers you drugs is not a true friend."

But that was just Prong ONE of UCSC's two-pronged attack on 4/20. Prong TWO was to essentially shut down the campus for the whole afternoon, in an attempt to prevent easy access to the Porter College Meadow (traditional home of the gathering). This meant shutting down the bus routes, closing the West Entrance to campus, and beefing up parking enforcement. Of course, there was added benefit of inconveniencing any non-pot-smokers who remained on campus: "Can't get home? Blame the potheads!"

Normally, Fosco would strenuously avoid an event like this, considering that he considers any group larger than twenty-five people to be an unpleasantly large crowd. And when that group is made up of pot-smoking hippies... well, let's just say that Fosco has aesthetic objections to "cannabis culture." However, this year found Fosco in class at Porter College until 4 PM on 4/20. Essentially, Fosco was a within an easy quarter-mile walk of the whole gathering: could his inner anthropologist resist a glimpse of the spectacle? Would a giant crowd of pot-smoking hippies be enough to convince Fosco to stay on campus for an extra half hour?

Yes, of course, I went to look. You would have too. And this is what I saw...

By 4 PM, the people walking toward Porter Meadow had become a steady line (see Monterey Bay in the background?).

It's kind of like watching pot-loving ants, no? And look at the smoke cloud.

Here's a view of the line looking back from the Meadow:

One thing I didn't mention yet: this was the hottest day we've had this year. It was 97 fucking degrees. (And yes, even with my canteen of water, I was regretting the quarter-mile walk by this point--anthropology is hard.) Of course, the heat did give the Santa Cruz Sentinel the opportunity to use the "twice-baked" pun in their coverage, so I suppose it was worth it.

One option for beating the heat was to smoke in the woods that surrounds the meadow:

Other heat-beating options I observed: umbrellas, parasols, shirtlessness, sweating profusely. These photos were taken around 4:05 or so--note the giant crowd and smoke cloud.

For the first time in the history of UCSC's 4/20 event, there were some party-crashers: local Christian nutballs showed up with signs to protest. Seriously!

Don't these guys have something better to do? Like picketing AIDS funerals? Or throwing blood on abortion doctors?

This guy was my favorite:

Who would have thought that God could hate so many things! Luckily, this guy has made a list for us. Can we go to a closeup? Yes?

Let's just take a moment and convert this sign into a list.

People Who Will Be Judged (Presumably Unfavorably) By God
  • Sex Addicts (tough luck, David Duchovny)
  • Baby Killers
  • Witches
  • Dikes [sic] on Bikes
  • Pencil Neck Weak Kneed Gutless Men (hmmm...)
  • So Called Christians
  • Pot Smoking Little Devils (Bingo!)
  • False Religions
  • Lewd Women (well, duh!)
  • Porno Freaks
  • Homos
  • [something I can't quite read]
  • [another something I can't quite read]
  • Sports Nuts (Seriously?)
  • Perverts
  • Racists
  • Money Lovers
  • Two Faced People (sorry, Harvey Dent)
  • Rebellious Women
  • All Non-Homemakers (wow, I bet these guys get lots of dates)
  • Party Animals
  • Drunkards
  • Jesus Mockers
  • And Catholics...
Whew. I don't know about you, but that's the kind of God I could really get into. Watch out, Sports Nuts.

Anyway... the golden moment, 4:20 PM PDT, finally arrived and the smoke got even thicker:

These pictures don't quite capture the moment adequately--for one thing, you can't hear all of the drums. Consequently, allow me to offer the brief video that I recorded (and uploaded to YouTube):

Sadly, I cannot make this experience available to you in "Smell-O-Vision" because, as my college roommate David noted, the whole thing "must have smelled unspeakably awful." I cannot disagree.

All in all, I managed to stave off incipient heat-stroke until about 4:30 when I gave up and walked back to my car at Porter. I wasn't the only one leaving:

Caption: "We'll always have these stupid memories."

Walking back, I passed the only official UCSC presence at the event:

And what did I learn? Well, for one thing, I thought there would actually be a more communal atmosphere at this thing. I had envisioned people passing joints and conversing. Instead, everyone just broke up into their own friend groups--and most of them weren't actually very nice about it. I had kinda been expecting to be offered some smoke (not that I would have indulged), but that didn't seem to be the vibe. I've been to much friendlier football tailgates. And I've had more pot offered to me at concerts.

For another thing, I wonder how many actual UCSC students were there. Walking down, I was in front of a group from Berkeley. In the Sentinel coverage, they interviewed students from everywhere but UCSC: UC Berkeley, UC Davis, CSU-Monterey Bay, Cabrillo College. N.B., some kid from Berkeley was named in the Sentinel coverage as "Skittles." Delightful! Also suprising: I didn't see anyone I knew there. I've been at this school for three years and have a pretty large circle of acquaintances: colleagues, grad students, current students, former students, etc. Of course, it's possible that my students saw and avoided me...

Random 4/20 observations:
  • You could not pay me enough to eat the vegan food being sold onsite by the Hare Krishnas.
  • Hippie guys are not very attractive.
  • God is surprisingly wrathful. That's probably bad news for my afterlife plans.
  • Too many people brought their dogs (which are prohibited on campus). And too many of them were pit bulls.
  • I thought there would be more music (of the non-bongo variety). Where were all the people I saw walking with acoustic guitars?
  • It was SO FUCKING HOT.
All in all, I think I learned some important lessons. And I hope that I have created a precious anthropological record--especially for those of you who wonder what undergrad life is like nowadays.

Oh, and of course, I will NEVER do this again.

submit to reddit
submit to reddit

A Programming Note

You've probably noticed that my blogging has been sporadic lately, and I think you (the loyal FL! reader) deserve an explanation.

You see, Spring Quarter (stupid quarter system!) started recently and Fosco has a couple of abnormally time-consuming activities to deal with right now. For one thing, Fosco's teaching assignment is a course that has two sections a week. This means that I have to prep for section twice a week (Monday and Wednesday). And because I am constitutionally opposed to subjecting my students to time-wasting activities like "everyone get in small groups and talk about your papers while I sit at the front of the room and take a little nap," the extra prep time adds up. Not to mention that the professor for this course has allowed the TAs complete freedom in planning the course for their students (which is, in many ways, a good thing); however, this means that I don't have predetermined activities or assignments to fall back on.

The second time-consuming activity for me this quarter is the final course that I need to satisfy my language requirement. I read French pretty well and my previous French course (last year) was not a huge burden--we read the novels in French and had our discussion in English. However, the French course I am taking this quarter is not just French readings: the entire seminar (including discussion) is conducted in French! This is both difficult and terrifying (although the professor is perfectly understanding). I find myself planning in advance the simplest discussion comments (I frequently write out what I want to say in discussion the night before, so as to double check the grammar, etc.). It's getting a little easier every week, but I still spend almost every class (and it meets twice a week) feeling either panicked or embarrassed. You should have seen my deep blush today when I very publicly misunderstood one of the professor's directions. In addition, there is a passage translation due every week and I, with characteristic conscientiousness, try to make my translation perfect (while I regularly watch the undergrads in the seminar just sight-translate a passage). It's been a long time since I've felt so academically inferior in a class (well, since college physics) and while a humbling experience is always useful, it can also be painful.

I don't want all of this to sound like a bid for sympathy, because it's not--at least not primarily. I recognize very clearly the following things:

  1. I chose this life.
  2. I still have it pretty good.
  3. Lots of people have to work much harder than I do.
  4. At least I have a job.
  5. It's a privilege to be doing something that I (mostly) enjoy.
  6. It's all part of the process of becoming a professor.
  7. It will all someday be worth it.
  8. I could always quit and get a job waiting tables.
So there is no need to repeat any of these things, Dad. :) However, I did want to explain why my blog has been so empty lately (and why I've been so bad about reading and commenting on the blogs of some of my favorite people [esp. Jill!]).

The good news: I have a plan! My blogging may not reach pre-Spring-Quarter levels for a while, but I am going to try to ramp up my posting--starting now. Once again, thanks for your patience! My love to you all.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Queer Crucifixion

"Music Monday" was always sorta queer, don't you think?

Today we have the second installment in Fosco's series of "The Queerest Music Videos Ever!" Today's video is from those ultraqueer Swedes, Army of Lovers. This is "Crucified"--a song which is, I suppose, slightly blasphemous--especially if you don't have a sense of humor. If you watched a lot of MTV in the 90s, you may recognize this video from an episode of "Beavis and Butthead." Surprisingly (or not so surprisingly), I think this video is funnier without their commentary.

I've still never watched this video without laughing out loud at least once. Usually, it's the Elvis bit, but sometimes it's also when the dark-haired guy raises his eyebrow so provocatively. I don't know about you, but I can't help but appreciate a video where everyone seems to be having so much fun!

And good luck getting this song out of your head today.