The Old Country: The Where and the How

Irish cars don’t go in reverse. This is what Jen told me on our first day in Ireland when we were stuck in an alleyway in downtown Dublin at four in the morning. This was not a metaphorical statement about the ability of the Irish people to push forward in times of adversity. This was my wife telling me that if we would like to, at any point in the day, not have our car be in this alleyway, we were going to have to get out and push it backwards. And so, after being awake for 24 consecutive hours, we pushed a Skoda Citigo out of an alley. And this pretty much sums up our approach to navigating in Ireland: never elegant, but sort of effective. Sort of effective in the sense that we’re not currently dead.

For instance, we inadvertently decided to leave Dublin at the exact time that rush hour got into full swing. This is a “live like the locals” experience that we could have done without. On the second day, it only took us two turns to get lost. And it took me longer than I would care to admit to realize the benefit to looking at how long we were going to be on a given road and knowing the general shape of that road. It wasn’t all on the side of the navigator, however. Jen navigated her way onto the wrong side of the road more times than I was comfortable with.

The problem wasn’t just how we got to the places, either. It was the places themselves that didn’t seem like they particularly wanted us there. When we went to see the Book of Kells in the Trinity College library, the caretaker mumbled that some of the exhibits were closed. When we asked which ones, we were told–

Proprietor: The Book.

Us: The book…of Kells?

Proprietor: Yes.

[long pause, and then begrudgingly providing an explanation]

Proprietor: They’re paintin’ in the room that it’s in.

Us: (unsaid, but not unthought) And you couldn’t have moved it to…not that room?

When we went to visit the Marble Arch Caves in County Fermanagh, we were told that there were no more tours of the caves for the rest of the season. The rest of the season! The earth needed to be in a completely different place in the solar system in order for us to be welcome there. So we asked if we could just walk down and tour the caves ourselves, and we were told that at this time of year, the caves are flooded. Now that’s nature saying no means no. Finally, though, we were allowed in to one of our destinations–Glenveagh National Park. And we relished every second of hiking through its natural beauty–that is, of course, when we weren’t being pelted by intermittent waves of hailstones.

But it was in the quiet, unsearched-for moments that we felt really embraced by the sights of Ireland. It was in an afternoon spent sitting in a castle drawing room by a coal fire, reading together in wingback chairs. It was in getting completely lost on the way to somewhere and stumbling on a Benedictine abbey founded in the 7th century–its beautiful ruins inviting us in and at the same time remaining completely indifferent to our presence. It was in a dozen other places–cemeteries, museums, castles, and ancient mounds–and people too, that stood indifferent to a casual gaze, but if we were willing to look and listen–willing to really investigate–would open up a world of beauty and wonder. Oh and the pubs were pretty good too.

The Old Country: Folks

Ah, the people we met in Ireland. And let me say that anything I write here is certainly meant to reflect just the people we met. It’s definitely not useful as any sort of portrait of Irish people as a whole (since we spent 100% of our time in the northern part of the Republic and 0% of the time in not the northern part) or even of the particular parts we visited. We stopped at a pub in which someone, we never quite discovered who (but we did verify after multiple trips to the bathroom to meticulously scour our shoes that it wasn’t us), smelled powerfully of the poop of sheep. This certainly does not mean that everyone in that region or even that town exuded the odor of sheep leavings; it means only that one guy from that region and town decided that hanging out with all these sheep has made me very hungry and I need to satiate this hunger very soon and very publicly.

On the whole, everyone we met was incredibly congenial. They were not at all pretentious, but were noticeably closed off. Their collective attitude seemed to be, “Of course you’re very welcome and we’re glad to have you here. But why are you here?”

There was the pub owner in Knockabbey who was very friendly but also very suspicious when Jen asked for her cheese omelet to also include vegetables in it. This was not a request that she was familiar with, nor do I think she much approved of it culinarily. But she was very glad to hear that Jen enjoyed it. There was also a barman in Sligo who very happily took our food orders; he then asked what we’d like to drink, and I thought I’d try to engage in some friendly conversation and asked what he’d recommend–what he does he like to drink? And the sheepishness that came over his face. He hung his head and sort of hemmed and hawed like the prettiest girl in the class had just asked him on a date to the soda fountain for a chocolate malted. He finally compromised by recommending a beer with the rationale “people seem to like it.” No chocolate malted fan, he.

Probably the best friends we made on the trip were radio personalities. We spent our long drives listening to the dulcet tones of “Down to Business” with Bobby Kerr, wherein he traveled to businesses and interviewed the proprietors (and for some reason used the theme from the “Bourne Identity” as his intro and outtro music). When we heard that Bourne tune, we knew it was time to hear Bobby ask the hard hitting questions–like asking a donut baker, “does it have to have a hole in it to be considered a donut?” (The answer, in Ireland as in America, is no.) We also (me more than Jen) enjoyed the daily comedy stylings of Dermot and Dave and their recurring “Wacky Gardener” character. Though we never met them, they were all our stalwart friends and will definitely be invited to our birthdays and anniversaries and christenings and funerals.

Returning to the people we actually met, though, the moment we thought we had them pegged, they’d surprise us. During an excellent tour of Dublin Castle, the tour guide subtly and offhandedly tossed in a brilliant joke about statue masturbation. Also a pleasant surprise: after six days of being utterly unable to make an Irish person laugh, I finally cracked up a gift shop cashier after suggesting that Jen had an inordinate love of tea towels. And the crown jewel of Ireland’s surprises for us was a bouncer in Carrick-on-Shannon. He informed us that while we sounded incredibly American, we didn’t look American because we were “wearin’ fookin’ noice boots and ya don’t have a fookin’ fanny pack on or a fookin’ cell phone strapped to your belt.” There is a very low bar for Americans abroad. And yet, many still fail to meet it. Let us think on our sins.

To be honest, the good humor of the Irish people we met was remarkable given the heartbreaking tenor of much of Ireland’s history. At monument after monument, we read about famine, strife, and eviction of the poor by the English rich. One aristocratic Irish family at Strokestown gained their wealth by backing the British invasion of Ireland and then backing another group of British people who weren’t huge fans of the first group of Brits. This family had a horn that they would blow whenever they were leaving their manor to let the townspeople know to get back in their houses so they wouldn’t clog up the road or look at the aristocrat family’s cool carriage. In the face of so much pain, which when you look at the dates didn’t happen all that long ago (Ireland didn’t even gain its independence until after World War II), the joy and jocularity of Irish people is pretty incredible.

The final thing we found about the people we met in Ireland isn’t even about Ireland at all. When we were out to dinner in Donegal, we overheard a couple a few tables over saying, “when I was back home visiting my family in Ohio…” and I realized that Ohio truly is inescapable. It will follow you across the Atlantic, ye even to the ends of the earth.

I’ll Figure Out a Title Later

It was either Confucius or John Mulaney who said, “It’s so much easier not to do things than to do them, that you would do anything is totally remarkable.” I heard this as I sat in bed this morning desperately staving off getting ready for work. I actually worked really hard; I thought up so many things to do instead of getting out of bed. And so many reasons why these things were more important than getting out of bed. The only reason I did end up getting out of bed was because my wife spilled a cup of coffee onto the floor and I wanted to help her clean it up. But there was a split second where I thought, “she’s a liberated independent woman, she doesn’t need me to help her. I should probably just stay in bed.”

There have been hundreds, probably thousands, of things written on the causes of procrastination. Even the title I was considering for this post “Procrastination: A Love Story” already has an entire page of Google search results devoted to it. So, for an in-depth analysis of why people procrastinate, you can go read something by, y’know, an actual medical professional. Suffice it to say that the reason I procrastinate is that I figure that the thing that I’m avoiding doing, I probably won’t do very well. I leave it to a Future Kevin to accomplish this task, because Future Kevin will be much wiser, much more capable than this current Kevin. I have a lot of faith in Future Kevin, so procrastination is my way of hail-Mary-passing my important tasks to him. You got this, future big guy.

In fact, the reason that this post isn’t a continuation of me writing about my trip to Ireland is that I figured Future Kevin would have more time to think of something more clever and insightful to write about on that subject.

So instead, let me provide to you some of my favorite methods of procrastination. That way, if you recognize any of them and think “but wait, that’s an incredibly valuable way I use my time,” you may discover that you’ve been procrastinating and without even realizing it.

  1. Reading news articles on my phone. This one is THE BEST. Because I can convince myself that I’m actually just keeping myself informed; I’m ensuring that I remain an intelligent person who’s equipped to discuss and act upon the issues of the day. The procrastination part of this is the timing of thinking that I need to read about the impeachment of the South Korean prime minister at the exact moment and only at the exact moment that I should probably be emptying the litter box instead.
  2. Staying in bed and being awake. This one’s awesome because it works at night or in the morning. At night, I can justify lying in bed and reading or checking my phone because I’m winding down, can’t I have just a few moments (read: 50 minutes) of peace and diversion before I go to bed?” Instead of just going to bed and actually getting some rest. Or in the morning–I can’t just jump out of bed! I didn’t sleep well last night, so I just need five minutes (read: 45 minutes) of becoming one with the day before I get pummeled with an ocean of responsibilities and obligations!
  3. [Insert menial task here]-ing. This one’s beautiful because I can use it to dodge a more important task by doing a less important one. No, Jen, I can’t talk to you about when we plan on having kids because I need to pay our credit card bills! Do you want us to go into credit card debt? I didn’t think so. This one is also nice because you can chain it with reading news articles on your phone so that you can start off paying the credit card bills, but end up reading about the Keystone Pipeline. You want me to pay the credit card bill, Jen? You don’t care about the environment and don’t want us to be informed about the ways our government is avoiding meaningfully exploring alternative energy sources? Wow. I thought I knew you, but, just, wow.

Hopefully none of these sounded familiar, but if they did, you probably stopped reading already and switched over to reading an article about how a popular TV show perpetuates cultural stereotypes. Godspeed.

The Old Country: Expectations

I finally did it. I finally got to visit my ancestral homeland. I got to return to the Old Country. Since I was a youth, I have yearned to walk the streets of my forebears and hear the old tongue spoken–to hear “Mangia! Mangia!” as the gondolas float laconically down the river. Then I learned that these things happen in Italy, not Ireland–which is where my very pale and potato-loving kin come from.

Thanks to the kindness and generosity of the folks at Groupon, Jen and I were able to take a trip to Ireland at an outrageously discounted rate! The savings were so great, you had to see it to believe it! We had to act fast, because a deal this good wasn’t going to last! So after some hemming and hawing and tax refund calculating, we did indeed act fast.

We wanted the trip to be low key. Jen has the propensity to aggressively sightsee, to use sightseeing as a way to wrestle a vacation into submission, as it were, so on this trip, we wanted to make a conscious effort to just relax and have fun. Consequently, I tried not to go into the trip with too many expectations, to let Ireland be Ireland and wash over me like a refreshing waterfall of Irish Spring liquid gel body wash. After arriving, however, it quickly became clear that I had still unconsciously developed several hopes for the trip.

  1. That I would finally be “home.” That I’d get off the plane and some stout old Irishman would slap me on the back and say, “Fair play to ya, lad! Welcome! Now let’s get y’a pint of Guinness and a tweed flatcap so you can finally relax. And by the way, you’re lookin’ a little tan–you might want to slather on some sunscreen, you might.” I thought I would experience an ineffable connection to people and places as I took in my roots.
  2. That people would be friendly and interesting. That every stranger would enjoy the chance to strike up a conversation and expound upon the intricacies of their life in Ireland. And that they would have troves of interesting and entertaining anecdotes for me to enjoy. Certainly they might not just volunteer this information, but also certainly they would respond readily (and in detail) if I asked, “So how about the intricacies of life in Ireland? How’re those going?”
  3. That everybody at a given restaurant would be enjoying a pint. I wanted to go to lunch and see old men catching up over a lunch beer.
  4. That navigating an unfamiliar place without the aid of GPS, WiFi, or a general skill at navigation would be easy and enjoyable.

In my next post, I’ll let you know how those assumptions worked out.

Mr. Gaul Goes to Brooklyn, Part 2

I last left off writing about an outrageous misapplication of public transit law. But I didn’t get mad; I got even. Well. I did get mad. But I didn’t stay mad. And I did get even, the way any true revolutionary does–by using the legally established channels to politely seek a more favorable outcome.

This involved traveling to the Transit Adjudication Bureau by subway (a delicious irony) to plead my case before a “hearing officer,” a term for a public functionary which has just the right amount of Orwellian ring to it. As I took the elevator up to the Transit Adjudication Bureau offices, I saw a notice posted on the elevator wall that read “the use of profanity or physical violence against public employees will result in criminal prosecution.” Which is very comforting to know–that the place you’re about to enter necessitated a sign like this to be posted. And they weren’t kidding either. Before you can enter the waiting room, you have to go through a metal detector and then talk to people at two separate windows before you’re even allowed to wait for someone to listen to your case.

The reason for this immediately became clear–if you’re coming in hot with a lot of ire about how the system has done you wrong and you’re gonna let the system have it, you have to keep that ire kindled for about 50 minutes before you can actually unleash it on Uncle Sam’s surrogate. I say it became immediately clear because after I walked in, a guy came in behind me who tried to tell every employee he came in contact with that “the back door of the bus was open and everyone was getting in and the machine was broken, and nobody else got fined, and how are you going to charge $100 for not knowing that you can’t go in the back door of a bus?” He was a passionate man. So passionate that I thought even if he had a decent case, he wasn’t going to win it by delivering it like it was the Sacco and Vanzetti trial.

A true and honest 60 minutes into my visit, I was finally called by hearing officer. He was a short, stooped genial old man, wearing possibly the widest tie I’ve ever seen. He was not the physically imposing robed figure carrying a cudgel that I’d imagined a hearing officer to be. And if I had misjudged the officer, I had even more misjudged the office. Because it was legitimately an office–smaller than some offices of middle managers at companies I know aren’t doing well financially. The office was completely painted off-white with a perfunctory file cabinet, desk, and computer. Wide Tie dialed a number on the desk phone–oh there was also a phone–which it turned out was what they used to record court proceedings.

And with that, and a request to “please speak very loudly,” the State of New York asked me to defend myself.

Which I did and it took about five minutes and they made a copy of my Metrocard and sent me back into the waiting room.

Where I sat for another hour.

And during that hour, I got to enjoy the fellowship of my co-defendants. These included two older men, one of whom was helping the other remember what his social security number was. Not the actual number, but the concept of a social security number. It took a couple of minutes. It also included a baby who was apparently very displeased that he had been ticketed for jumping the turnstile; he made this apparent by crying at full volume for twenty minutes. I think he had a good case, though, because I don’t think he was capable of jumping. And finally, I got to hear more from Sacco and Vanzetti who it turned out had tried to argue his case with the hearing officer in the lobby before they even got to the office. He did not win. His last defense after losing his case was “if they charge you $100 for getting in the back of the bus, do they charge you $200 for getting in the front of it?!”

Finally after what seemed like an hour, and actually was an hour, my name was called for the rendering of my verdict. And to my surprise, Wide Tie didn’t even give it! I guess because they’re worried about the whole profanity and physical violence thing. It was one of the window people who actually told me that I’d been set free from the bonds of tyranny and handed me a piece of paper wherein Wide Tie basically said, “this guy seems alright and the turnstile seems like it was garbage and he came all the way down here, so I say he’s good to go. Why not, right?”

And with the harsh rebuke of the Law silenced, I went to celebrate my victory at Starbucks, just like Martin Luther King Jr. and Susan B. Anthony.

Mr. Gaul Goes to Brooklyn, Part 1

“I fought the Sort-of Law, and the Sort-of Law did not win.” Ah the memorable refrain from a memorable song by a memorable band called The Clash, a band made memorable because they sort of lazily mentioned it in an episode of Stranger Things. However, this iconic line also described my Monday morning.

You see, in the recent past, I was attempting to take the 1 Train home from 72nd Street, when a grievous miscarriage of justice occurred. I swiped my legally purchased and functional Metrocard at the subway turnstile and after a myriad of “Please Swipe Again” messages, I received the dreaded “Just Used” message, despite the fact that the last time I had used my Metrocard was four hours ago! Four hours is a very loose usage of the word “just.” Nevertheless, I was trapped. The turnstile stood immovable, and no Station Agent was present to help me through. My wife waited patiently on the other side, having successfully penetrated the MTA’s fortress.

So after what seemed to me like hours of deliberation (but what may have looked to an external observer as instant unhesitating action), I stepped gingerly over the turnstile to partake of that which had been unfairly snatched from me. And oh, the freedom.

As my wife and I walked down to the subway platform, I heard someone call after me, “Hey! HEY!” But being a well-trained New Yorker, I know better than to respond to a random person yelling; that’s how you get stabbed. So I pressed on. But then I felt a tug on my arm, so I wheeled around, ready to absolutely not physically resist the person, but really look like I was capable of doing so. Into my face was thrust a badge; it was an undercover cop. And just a quick note to the NYPD–your badges look super fake. The badge I saw looked like it could have come from a Spencer’s Gifts.

The undercover New York City Police Department officer proceeded to write and issue me a ticket for “jumping over the turnstile to avoid paying the legal fare.” It took a minute and a half to write the ticket and for some reason fifteen minutes to radio this heinous crime into headquarters. Another quick note to the NYPD–it seems like the strategic resources for and expertise of undercover cops is best suited for, y’know, stopping heroin deals or gang violence, not for stopping someone from maybe not paying $2.75 to ride a train.

The glorious irony of the situation was that as we were waiting for the Comish to radio back in from Headquarters, we watched a woman have the exact same problem at the exact same turnstile that I did. Except, when the turnstile told her “Just Used,” a uniformed cop happened to be walking by and swiped her in with his own Metrocard after she asked for help. Which prompted me to turn to the undercover officer and say, “Man, I wish you had been wearing uniforms.” This is apparently not an acceptable legal defense. Or maybe “We don’t even work with that guy” is an acceptable counterargument, because that’s what the undercover cop said as she handed me the ticket.

I wasn’t about to take this lying down. In fact, I didn’t lie down that day until 11pm, long after I’d resolved to fight this thing even if it brought me to the halls of the Supreme Court (spoiler alert: it didn’t).

The Nerve of That Man

Whoever said “clothes make the man” was an idiot. You can have on a well-tailored suit and still spill wine on it because you missed your mouth when you went to take a drink (not that I’ve done that). You can be wearing burnished leather boots and still walk backwards into a door and apologize to it, just as a reflex (again, not that I’ve done that). Probably a better rendering of that classic adage is “confidence makes the man.” A person who’s confident enough could be wearing a giant chicken costume and a sign that says “I eat farts” and still make you feel like the dumb one. Conversely, it’s very hard for a person like me whose default mode is slightly anxious and fidgety to pull off an air of respectability and suavitude.

I think it’s because, for me at least, I tend to think that everyone else seems to have their lives figured out to a decent degree. Other people seem to walk around with a general sense of having their situation on lockdown; they’re not collapsing on the floor randomly or stopping people on the street saying “am I doing it good? Y’know, life and stuff?” And to be fair, neither am I, but I’ve got kind of an inside scoop on me, so I know that deep down, I’m just kinda making it all up as I go along over here and please don’t look too closely at that any one part of my life, I haven’t had time to spruce up over there yet.

It’s not all bad though. For instance, no one can really make me uncomfortable because–joke’s on you–I already am. Also, if there’s a way a situation can go wrong, don’t worry, I’ve probably thought about it. I haven’t done anything about it, but rest assured that when it happens, I’ve already thought about the ways in which it is a huge bummer. If you’re visiting me, and you’re looking for someone to be so concerned about your comfort that it makes you uncomfortable? I’m your guy. And really, no one wants a hangout where everyone is having a good time; you want at least one person to be preoccupied with where your other friend is going to sit if she shows up halfway through.

Herein lies the dilemma, though: I can’t just simply try to stop being anxious. Because then I’ll get anxious about whether I’m trying hard enough to not be anxious. Maybe I need to try to try to stop being anxious? Seems foolproof. The other option is to just not think so much being anxious or about myself in general, but that seems less fun. That navel ain’t gonna gaze itself, after all.

Do You Krave Maga?

I love me a good opportunity to feel inadequate. So why not start the new year trying the Israeli self-defense art of Krav Maga?

Let me back up. You can buy the classiest clothes on the planet, but it won’t matter if you can’t fit into them because of one (or five) too many figgy puddings around the holidays. This was the situation I faced upon returning from my holiday travels. It wasn’t so much that I couldn’t fit into my clothes, it was that when I did, I looked like a tube of toothpaste that had been squeezed empty at the bottom but still had quite a bit to offer at the middle.

Needless to say, it was time to get back on the workout train. And the most readily available ticket for the workout train was, for some reason, an already-purchased Groupon for three Krav Maga classes (or as Google Voice Search pronounced it “Kraeeve Maeega”).

Let me say, the folks at Krav Maga Federation in NYC were fantastic. They were super friendly and incredibly encouraging. Multiple people said hi to us as we waited for the class to begin despite the fact that we were decked out in full yoga gear and clearly weren’t from around here. The friendliness was enough to help us overcome passing by a young man who had achieved the orange belt rank despite being over fifteen years younger than us (you start, and we started, as mere white belts. Mercifully, we were not required to bow before him as he passed).

Immediately when the class began, I knew I was in over my head. We started without any preamble by doing a circuit of push ups, sit ups, jumping jacks, and leg lifts with no break. I started to think that if this was the entire class, I was pretty sure my heart was going to explode. And not in a Grinch-learning-the-true-meaning-of-Christmas kind of way. Thankfully, this was just the warm up and ended after 15 minutes of unimaginable abdominal effort.

After a short water break, though, the next section of the class didn’t leave me feeling much more boss. We proceeded to practice kick combinations, punch combinations, and choke hold breaks–all of which had at least three steps. The instructor was fantastically patient, but that didn’t change the fact that in order to combine breaking an assailant’s choke hold, kneeing him in the crotch, and twisting his arm into submission, I needed about three weeks of training rather than five minutes. Seriously, if someone let me know a month in advance that they were going to try to assault me in a Starbucks, I would be so ready.

Consequently, maybe the most valuable lesson I learned from Krav Maga was that if someone attacks me, the best thing I can do to defend myself is make peace with God and resolve any unfinished mental business I’ve got kicking around. And that’s a counterattack with the mind–the most powerful weapon we have. Which is exactly what nerds who are bad at martial arts always say.

Crackin’ Nuts at the Barre

Near the end of December, I got the chance to see the Nutcracker performed by the New York City Ballet. Choreographed by George Balanchine in 1954, the New York City Ballet’s version is widely considered to be the definitive production, so much so that no one at the NYCB is allowed to change any of the choreography ever. Ever. You over there–what’s that you’ve got in your hand? Is that a change to the choreography of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker? Put it down! Down! Now get out; you’ll never work in this town again!

All that said, the choreography is really stunning.

It was indeed a delightful experience. One thing that people don’t mention, though, is that all the parts that everyone talks about–the fantasy world made of candy, the dance of the Sugarplum fairy, even the part where a tiny wooden man stabs a rat to death–come fairly late in the play. The first, like, hour and a half is a Victorian-era Christmas party happening in real time. (Although it’s set in Germany, so I guess it’s a Kaiser Wilhelm-era Christmas party.) The hosts wait for people arrive, people arrive, hands are kissed, children are introduced and told to introduce themselves to other children, children are told to go do whatever it is that children do so that adults can have fun, adults drink, gifts are exchanged–all of this happens at realistic, often painstaking, speed. Which, while interesting, is not altogether fantastical and why in the world would you go to the trouble of putting it in a ballet?

Then we get some real stuff. Some stuff we can sink our teeth into. A grizzled old man with an eyepatch(!) named Herr Drosselmeyer shows up. And it is clear that this guy has seen. some. stuff. Seen enough stuff, in fact, to be in possession of a magical nutcracker man that can transform into a real person after tasting the blood of his rodent enemies. I think I can speak for all of us–and by “us” I mean “me”–when I say that we eagerly await a spinoff ballet about how Drosselmeyer lost that eye and how if you think that’s bad, you should see the other guy.

Eventually the Nutcracker, who is now a flesh person and a boy rather than a man for some reason, and the ballet’s heroine Clara enter a world of fantasy and wander around in the snow before entering a magical candy kingdom. This is oddly prescient of Tchaikovsky to know that snow would be rare and fantastical in the future because of global warming. Germans invading a beautiful and peaceful land in order to lord over its people and consume their resources was also a nice farsighted touch.

When they get to the fantasy kingdom made of candy, a bunch of food performs some really beautiful dances for them and a couple of racist ones. (Check out the “Tea Dance”; the egregious bowing and rice-farmer-hat-wearing doesn’t age well.) Then, the Sugarplum Fairy and some random beefy dude whom we have never seen before dance together in one of the most beautiful dances I have ever seen and which made me think about how my body is physically incapable of moving that gracefully. My muscles would get some sort of server error and pop up an “Error 404: Dancing Not Found” message. Oh, and I would fall over and break something or several somethings. But they found two people who are capable of moving that beautifully and do it at the same time, right next to each other! This is a modern marvel, and I think proof that the moon landing was not a hoax.

All in all, I highly recommend the Nutcracker, especially if you can find some kind of Drosselmeyer extended cut.

Liquor + Other Liquor + Stuff = Cocktail

My wife Jen and I have been getting into cocktails lately, and it has been glorious. First, because cocktail-making has all the trappings of a great hobby–lots of paraphernalia to sink money into, techniques to learn, countless articles telling you the real right way to do a thing. But cocktail-making is a great hobby also because even if I screw up a cocktail, it’s still booze! So there’s no way it’s not going to be enjoyable. And as a bonus for me, Japanese people are super into it enough to write a meticulous and highly technical book about it. The best part of taking an interest in cocktails is that my wife’s and my routine of dinner wine, post-dinner brandy and cigars, post-brandy-and-cigars cognac, and pre-bed schnapps was feeling a little incomplete.

After acquiring our new hobby, I even considered taking up bartending before realizing that I had no experience in the service industry and looking at the average income of a beginner bartender. (The average income of a beginner Bart Ender–that is, a hired assassin specializing in people named “Bart”–was much higher, so I may look into that for a future hobby.) So I had to be content with being a home bartender, even though the tips are terrible. I’ve learned quite a bit, though, and it’s filled the post-college “I need to continue learning stuff in order to feel like a well-rounded person and ‘This American Life’ only comes out once a week” gap. For instance, I now know that in cooking, you can substitute vermouth for cooking wine, but in cocktails, you can’t do the reverse.

The other bonus of getting into cocktails is that I now have the confidence to sort of talk to bartenders about drinks. It’s kind of like when I first discovered while growing up that it turns out you can actually talk to adults and have a conversation with them, that they aren’t going to just tell you to clean your room or go find something to watch on TV. Bartenders actually like to talk with you about how they make different cocktails. I asked a bartender what kind of vermouth he used in a gin martini because it was so delightful, and he poured me two different kinds of vermouth and explained the differences and what kinds of drinks each was best with. I felt like some kind of international vermouth celebrity. And when you google “international vermouth celebrity,” this is the image that comes up:

vermouth-man

Yup. I felt like that guy. Another time, I asked a bartender what kind of cherries she used in a Manhattan because they looked and tasted way better than the lame maraschino cherries you can buy at *insert store where normal people buy cherries*, and she gave me and my wife an entire bowl of them to eat! Which was actually way more than we wanted, but that didn’t make it less awesome.

So I guess at this point, I have become bartender? Because if there’s a diploma from bartending school, I think free vermouth and cherries is what it looks like.