Accessory? I Hardly Know Ory

Next to fire, accouterments are probably the most influential invention we’ve got. Because, yeah, fire’s nice and all, but wouldn’t you like a specially designed branch to carry around your fire on to really take the fire to that next level? Not only is the branch made of birch, which gives your fire optimum brightness, it comes complete with accent leaves on the end to make sure your other cavemates know that you‘re the fire guy. Fending off challenges to the rule of your cave by young upstarts has never been easier, or more fun!

Call them whatever you want–accessories, add-ons, accent pieces, frivolous luxuries– accoutrements are delightful and addictive, like a drug. Which is great, because there’s plenty of drug accessories to be had too! Want a bong that’s in the shape of former president Eisenhower? There are at least twelve websites that are ready to take your money in exchange for this. In the past, it had looked a little dicey for humankind because it almost looked like we were out of new ideas for unnecessary accessories and then–men’s sock garters. Lo! The economy is saved.

The key to accoutrement is to focus–pick too many areas to accessorize in and you’ll find that you and money don’t see each other very often. My personal accoutrement of choice is alcohol paraphernalia, which is just delightfully broad enough to be inexhaustible. Because when someone’s decreed that there’s a different size and shape of glass from which to drink every different type of liquor out of, you know you’ve hit a rich vein of accessory.

And if you combine two liquors, or maybe put some fruit juice in there or something–whoa, whoa, you need a different type of glass for that, buddy. You think we wouldn’t notice what you’re up to over there mixing all that stuff together? In fact, while you’re at it: what are you mixing all that stuff together in? A regular glass? Could it be a metal glass? Could that metal be copper sometimes? Could that copper be hand-hammered by Swedish artisans? Instead of stirring the concoction, could you put a top on the glass–sorry, metal–and shake it up for, like, way too long? Or listen, if you’re going to stir it, at least use a special stick that’s designed just for stirring cocktails. And stop putting that sugar in with a regular spoon! Get a spoon that’s super long, so long that it’s almost unwieldy. Now that’s a beverage.

There’s even glass containers you can put your alcohol in until you’re ready to put it in a different glass container; they’re called decanters, and they’re fantastic. But then, how are you going to remember which liquor you put in which decanter? Sounds like you need some custom placards to affix to your decanters to identify what’s in there. Because how else are you going to know that it’s not filled with strychnine? In fact, maybe you should just invest in a label maker so that you can label everything in your apartment that isn’t strychnine. And then you could get different colored labels, maybe with some cool patterns–just to keep things fresh.


The Symphony, Part 2: Soon and Very Bassoon

Previously, I wrote about how an unclassy audience conspired to ruin a very respectable Groupon-fueled concert that my wife and I attended at Carnegie Hall.

However, it seems that the audience had an accomplice. Onstage next to the pianist was a man with one of the most classy and dignified professions that I just learned existed–a professional page turner. His sole function is to follow along in the piece and, when the pianist graces him with a slight nod of the head, turn the page of the pianist’s sheet music. Fantastic. There are few things in the world I wouldn’t give to have a guy professionally follow me around and turn the pages of a book that I’m reading. Man, that’d be sweet. BUT. Midway through the second piece, I noticed the pianist turn the page of his own sheet music. The guy standing right next to him whose only job is to turn pages apparently found something more important to do in that moment than to do the one thing that he gets paid to do. Interesting.

So the audience has lost its gentility, the orchestra has lost its class, and then. And. Then. They had the audacity to bring out a bassoon. Now let me be clear here; I think the bassoon can do some beautiful things. But it’s also hard for me to enjoy it because I’m constantly dissociating it with my previous experience with the bassoon–as the principal instrument featured in every terrible educational video produced in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, especially if there was some sort of mischievous person or creature (I’m looking at you, slinking octopus in that ocean science video). It’s like every school had a bunch of excess bassoons lying around, and people were like, “What do we do with these things?” “I dunno, give ’em to the guy making that movie about how to have good posture.”

Those goofy, short, staccato notes haunt my nightmares sometimes. Thankfully, this bassoonist kept himself to long, flowing, beautiful notes, but every once in a while, he got to a part where his head started to bob back and forth and he belted out those short, vile blasts, and I was forced to straighten up and glare at him until he cut that garbage out. Then he’d go back to the flowing stuff and then–no–he’s back to that staccato goof-trash, so I’d have to glare at him again until he stopped. Look, I’m all for musical expression, but I just don’t think the refined recital halls of Carnegie Hall are the place for bawdy woodwind fart songs.

Overall, I felt cheated by Carnegie Hall. I had come expecting to rub shoulders with the extravagant, and all I got were lies. And I guess Beethoven’s Piano Quartet in E Flat Major and Brahms’ Piano Quartet # 2 in A Major were sublime and some of the most moving pieces I’ve heard to date.

The Symphony, Part 1: Practice, Practice, Practice and Buy a Groupon

In 1890, steel magnate Andrew Carnegie liked music. In 1891, steel magnate Andrew Carnegie purchased, built, and owned music. For practically as long as it’s existed, Carnegie Hall has been the destination–the apex–for musicians of all kinds. Alvin (of Alvin and the Chipmunks) even stole a golden harmonica from a terminally ill child to play there. And recently, yea even recently, my wife and I got to attend a concert there. Our benefactor? Why, Groupon of course. Our obsession with Groupon will merit its own post entirely, but suffice it to say that attending a concert at Carnegie Hall by presenting a Groupon voucher bar code was a humbling experience for all parties involved. I’ve discovered that there’s only a very minor difference between shamefully handing someone Groupon tickets and dealing drugs: no one really wants to be there, and everyone’s glad when it’s over.

We had a bit of an inauspicious trip to The Hall (as people in the know call it) because just outside of it, we passed by a thoroughly intoxicated gentleman sitting on the steps, rocking himself back and forth, smiling, and releasing such a thunderous stream of pee that it soaked through his pants onto the sidewalk below. This man was serious about appreciating music, and he took “leave it all on the stage” to a new (and incorrectly located) level.

But we soldiered on. After all, that was outside The Hall; we figured that once we got in, it would be a bastion of class. And indeed it was. We made our way to our seats, and took in the room. It really was quite beautiful, so we started talking about what we assumed we should be talking about–how the intricate molding on the ceiling was “quite a bold relief” and using the word “Rococo” a lot. We used it a Rococo amount.

Our Carnegie Hall expectations took another hit, though, when an elderly man sat down in front of us wearing a bucket hat, shorts, and a tuxedo t-shirt. Where were the white gloves? Where were the tails? Where was the monocle ready to drop from the eye at the slightest moment of astonishment while his wife exclaims “I say, what a scandal”? Not to be found on this man or, it turns out, on any other person in attendance.

But soft! The concert begins! And then any veneer of respectability in the audience disintegrates. Because right next to Shortsy McTuxshirt is a pair of French teens who cannot keep their tongues off of each other for the. entire. performance. The garcon makes absolutely sure that he has kissed every discernible centimeter on the madame’s hand. And then, just when you think they’re taking a break by whispering sweet nothings into each other’s ears, they’re licking each others ears! The girl’s father is sitting right next to them and is clearly not into it. Although it would probably be worse if he were.

But if one closes one’s eyes, one can still enjoy the music all on its own. Ah yes, a beautiful back-and-forth conversation between a lively piano and a laconic violin. But wait a moment. What’s that sound? Is it two Asian schoolchildren who have fallen asleep and are snoring louder than the violin? Why yes, it most assuredly is. The audience’s betrayal is complete.


A Way to Spend Your Time

Shelves from floor to ceiling on every wall. Each shelf filled with countless treasures–some placed there just this year, others first housed on these shelves decades ago. On the front of each treasure, a few words meant to reveal only the barest details of a deep mystery of joys, wonders, sights, smells, and tastes. But to truly experience these depths, you’ll need to pick one up, open it, and take a drink. But not before you pay. And not here. This is a liquor store, man; you can’t drink here. You’re legally obligated to place that classy bottle you just bought in a tiny black trash bag so you can go home.

The same feeling of awe that some people get in a library or a bookstore, I get in a liquor store. Let me set up some ground rules here, though. Not every liquor store gets me jazzed like this. There are plenty of liquor stores that I’ve walked out of and immediately booked myself for a hepatitis screening (I’m thinking of one in particular on 8th Avenue whose interior is constructed entirely of plywood. The proprietor sits behind the [plywood] counter on a metal folding chair with her feet on the counter. A metal folding chair? Seriously? You’re the owner, you know you’re committed to sitting in that seat for many hours a day, many days a week, and you voluntarily choose a metal folding chair? It’s unfathomable.)

But there are a lot of really wonderful, very classy liquor stores that I walk in and think, “man, I’m underdressed for this. Let me grab an ascot and come back.” And just like books, each bottle has its own story, its own history, and countless hours of hard work that made it possible. Hard work by people whom you are somehow magically connected to through this object, which they’ve given to you to tell you a story, a very delicious story. (A folding chair? She’s not running a banquet hall; the chair is staying in the. same. place. all. the. time. Does she take the chair home at night? Is this chair some sort of family heirloom that she carts back and forth every day from home to work so that she is never without this precious totem? I need to let this go. Moving on.)

I also love looking at the different bottles: the different shapes, the different labels. Each bottle is a piece of artistry. I love doing this because, let’s be honest, I usually end up buying something from the second-from-the-bottom shelf or nothing, depending on the recommendation (i.e., mandate)  from the budget committee (i.e., my wife). I once had a protracted conversation with a liquor store owner about how rye whiskey was making an impressive and delicious resurgence in the market and then proceeded to buy the cheapest scotch sold at that establishment (it came in a plastic bottle, and its name rhymed with Shclan Shmacgregor). My wife actually had to stipulate a limit of two dragging-her-into-a-liquor-store detours per day when we’re out someplace because she “has things to do” and “stop it; you’re bugging me.”

But you can take the man out of the liquor store, but you can’t take the liquor store out of the man. I’ve started keeping a dossier (read: Google Doc) of all of the liquor stores I’ve been to, and if they are particularly notable for any reason. I make particular mention of whether the liquor store has especially good prices on any type of spirit. Saké is a particularly fickle one; the price of the same saké can vary by $10 or more depending on where you go. And since whiskey is my particular liquor of choice, my dossier even drills down to which liquor stores have below-average prices on particular brands of whiskey. Rittenhouse Rye is a fun one that can range from $25 to $40 depending on where you go.

“But Kevin,” you might say, “What about the possibility that this is a huge waste of time?” To you, I would say, “Beacon Wines and Spirits on 74th and Broadway is notable for its extensive selection of a variety of whiskey types, especially Irish. Prices are average.”

I would also say, “if that 8th Avenue lady’s metal folding chair breaks, do you think she’ll replace it with another metal folding chair?”

Olive and Well

A year ago, I could not be bothered with olives. I would actively brush them away to get to other foods that I was actually interested in eating. They were the culinary obstacle course that I overcame to prove that I deserved the other actually good food. Olives were like the guy at a party with entirely too much cologne: you know what he’s going for, but it’s still gross. Fast forward to now as my wife commits via Amazon Subscription to the bimonthly purchase of a five pound bag of olives.

I won’t in this post go into the merits (or follies) of buying bulk olives on; that’ll be the subject of another post titled “Thank Goodness for Amazon’s Liberal Return Policy.” The fact remains that olives are genuinely delicious to me now. They have this glorious, salty taste that bursts onto my palate and lets me know that life’s worth living again.

And for some reason, they are ubiquitous at fancy events. Consider this: you eat olives with your bare hands. You know what else you eat with your bare hands that is nevertheless conspicuously absent from cocktail parties? Cool Ranch Doritos. And olives, like Cool Ranch Doritos, leave behind a fragrant residue on the hands that can only be removed by an incredibly dignified lick of the fingers or an equally dignified begging of a passing waiter for a tiny napkin. I’m very skilled at the second option; I’ve learned that the secret password for napkins from waiters is,  “I’m an absolute mess over here.”

And here’s the crazy thing–olives have a downside that not even Cool Ranch Doritos have: pits. There’s no Dorito husk that you have to surreptitiously slide into your suit coat pocket. But olives–the only way to finish eating an olive is to dispose of the pit by spitting it out into some sort of specially designed olive spittoon (which you’ll of course have to bring yourself), or you have to reach inside your mouth and extract it. And there’s nothing fancier than ramming your fingers in your mouth and pulling out a fruit ovary. I know the last time I did that, my boss definitely asked how quickly they could promote me to vice president of everything everywhere ever.

The key to olives’ classiness, of course, is that someone decided that they paired well with wine, which is completely arbitrary. I’ll tell you right now that Cool Ranch Doritos pair excellently with a crisp zinfandel. Don’t believe me? Go try it yourself when you have a lot of time and no shame. Until then, the world is going to keep believing that wine and olives are perfect together. When my wife and I discovered that we loved olives, she remarked, “I could eat olives and drink red wine until I threw up.” And she could; she can; she is; please go get a mop.

I’m not writing this to try to go after Big Olive. I am soundly in the pocket of the olive lobby. I am fully in favor of declaring eating fistfuls of olives our new national pastime.But let’s all admit it: there’s nothing classy about olives. They are Cool Ranch Doritos in oval form, and yet, there is no restaurant called The Cool Ranch Dorito Garden at which, when you’re there, you’re at a college party playing Halo 2.