T for Tom

Music Review 2011

Posted in Uncategorized by johnsontoms on November 30, 2011

UPDATED.  I’m not doing too bad in life if I’ve been able to afford a few records from this year.  Here’s a few thoughts on the few I’ve gotten hold of.

1. Fleet Foxes – “Helplessness Blues”

Fleet Foxes follow up the hype from their groundbreaking debut self-titled album by delivering “Helplessness Blues”, a refreshing, breath-taking romantic folk-journey replete with a covering sense of awe and reality.  Focusing more on the melodics of guitar harmonies, Helplessness is often both vast and concise, sweeping from tunes that break your heart to rhythms that shake your feet, all while written around the cause of the human condition – making altogether an unforgettable album, for its music, for its purpose, and for its ability to make us feel great about being alive.  “Helplessness Blues”, the title track, is by far one of the greatest songs I’ve ever heard; written about the loss of purpose in the common world, it’s a guide for finding a place in this coincidental existence, as simple a life as “If I had an orchard/I’d work ’til I’m sore/and you’d wait the tables/ and soon run the store.”  All of the passion, imagery, and feelings that Fleet Foxes have so evoked with their pageantry and folk sensibility is fully realized here, and it is the record of the year, by and large.

2. M83 – “HurryUp,We’reDreaming.”

Pop is bleeding with overdone electronic synths and simple hip-hop beats, and style that was brought in by M83 years ago, and now it’s time for the game-changer to put it back in the his own hands to once again show us where we should be.  With “HurryUp,We’reDreaming” M83 once again channels the 80’s vibe perfectly, but where 2008’s “Saturday’s = Youth” focused on the beauty of a song, we here are treated to double-LP concept album.  As the story follows two children who meet in a dream world to find a better world we are swept along, at once caustic, at times moving, at times haunting, and always epic.  You would be wise to show your friends that you know more about good music than they.  Here is the answer.

3. A.A. Bondy – “Believers”

I don’t have much to say for this record, most will find it flat and needlessly emotional.  But I just can’t stop listening to it.  After the release of his debut “American Hearts” I once said that A.A. Bondy was the closest thing to Bob Dylan’s folk art that we had these days, but now I’m beginning to think that he might be the man himself – each record takes on a different attitude, a different sound, but maintains the same poetic imagery and storytelling as the last.  “Believers” is heartfelt and chokes me up, but it’s Bondy’s ability to find to the sobering, peaceful truth in everyday tragedy that make this record a must-own.

4. Bon Iver – “Bon Iver”

I bet you didn’t think Bon Iver could do better than “For Emma… Long Ago”, because neither did I.  In fact though, he has.  Returning with simple arrangements and low vocals, Bon Iver does what “For Emma” couldn’t – make you feel good.  A complete 180 degree from the debut album, “Bon Iver” is full of sweet melodies that make you feel good about love.  That’s an indictment that makes his wonderful, for longer than an emotion.  This time maybe for a lifetime of enjoyment.  I love this record.

5. Feist – “Metals”

Like “The Reminder” from 2007, Feist isn’t trying to break any ground – she just wants you know that she’s standing on top of it.  With “Metals” Feist reminds us why we all listened first: the songstress voice laid over the big-boy anthems, and here  “Metals” soars.  The opening track “The Bad in Each Other” is a janky, shaky tome of irreparable human conditions, discussing the inability of cooperation while dragging to the beat of a sack full of rocks; one of my favorite songs.  But Feist also reminds us of her groove; with “Anti-Pioneer” she goes into full blues, dropping the tone way down, sinking out the rhythm and crooning over a simple 6/8 blues vide.  It couldn’t be more eerie, crushing, or beautiful, all at once.

Songs of the Year:

  1. Fleet Foxes – “Helplessness Blues”, from “Helplessness Blues” – I dare you to find a better song with more meaning, more emotion, and more creativity.
  2. Feist – “The Bad In Each Other” from “Metals” – the most original alternative jam in awhile, it’s tender, it’s rough, it’s powerful.
  3. A.A. Bondy – “Rte. 28/Believers” from “Believers” – “I didn’t know there was a killer inside, won’t get to heaven tonight.”  And with one line you won’t to listen, don’t you?
  4. Fleet Foxes – “Someone You’d Admire” – this song explains the state of the human emotions.
  5. Bon Iver – “Holocene” from “Bon Iver”– it’s like dreaming in sex-fueled coma, but with more romance than lust.
  6. M83 – “Midnight City” from “HurryUp,We’reDreaming” – Drive to this one.

 

Other highly recommended LPs, in sort of order:

Coldplay – “Mylo Xyloto” – I dare you not to feel good and sing along with this record on. Triumphant return to pop-rock’s throne.

Ryan Adams – “Ashes & Fire” HE’S FUCKING BACK THANK GOD, and with lots of Norah Jones. Wonderful Record.

Booker T. Jones – “The Road from Memphis” – amazing Memphis organ blues, with some cool cameos by Jim James and The Roots.

Elbow – “Build a Rocket, Boys!”

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – “Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds” – one-half of Oasis, the more important half unless you miss Liam’s voice (I do L).

Danger Mouse & Danielle Luppi – “Rome” – sung by Jack White and Norah Jones, it reads like a soundtrack to a 1960′s western, composed by Danger Mouse and Italian film composer Danielle Luppi.  It was recorded on the original analog sound equipment used by Ennio Marcione to record the soundtrack to “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly”.  Wonderful.

Incubus – “If Not Now, When?” – very mature record, with a simple message: “If Not Now, When?”.  If you ever liked Incubus buy this record.

My Morning Jacket – “Circuital” – a step back by the leaders of the alternative scene, it’s a more mature record that doesn’t make too many daring steps in any direction.  Written entirely by Jim James, the record is a smooth Rock’N’Roll album, still worth your listen for any fan of good music.

Other 2011 LPs, alphabetically –

The Black Keys – “El Camino” – still the Black Keys, still good.

Blink-182 – “Neighborhoods” it touches my childhood, ok.

Cake – “Showroom of Compassion”

Gorillaz – “The Fall” – recorded and written entirely on an Ipad.  Very visceral.

Ben Harper – “Give Till It’s Gone” – Rock’n’Roll Ben Harper again.  Great record.

Iron & Wine – “Kiss Each Other Clean”

Limp Bizkit – “Gold Cobra” …go ahead, judge me.

Raphael Saadiq – “Stone Rollin” – British interpretations on 1960′s rock’n’roll meets modern soul.

The Strokes – “Angles” – if you like The Strokes, you’ll like this album too.

Wilco – “The Whole Love” – the record title is cheesy, but this is a good record that fits solidly in-between Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and Sky, Blue Sky.

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The Horror

Posted in Europe by johnsontoms on November 21, 2011

There was blood everywhere.  The spot where our crotches met was red, solid, with the blood that was leaking from her slit.  Sophia was sitting on top of me, still leaning back with her legs toward me and her arms in the air, trying to catch her breath after grinding my prick down to a nub.  I had been leaning back myself, my thoughts wondering what kind of distraction I would need in the morning to allow me never to call her again but, God, I never thought the answer would come so soon and be so goddamned red.  This was not the kind of blood that I’ve seen when I started a woman’s menstruation early with a hard fuck.  This was the kind of blood that comes spurting out of a vein when sliced wide open with a serrated blade.  It was then that I had my Colonel Kruetz moment: “the horror.”  She was still leaning back and congratulating me on a job well done.  I hadn’t even gotten mine but the moment was no longer selfish.

“Sophia, I need you to sit up and look at me.”  She did so, not with much curiosity.  “Look at me, Sophia.  Don’t panic.  But you need to look down.”

Her head went toward our genitals, my cock hard and still engaged but clearly no longer in any condition to continue.  Her reactions were now more aware.  “Oh, oh dear god,” she said slowly, at once realizing something was terribly wrong, even if she couldn’t feel it inside her.  She jumped up to dismount me and there were our groins, each covered in a dark liquid mass making circles on our legs, almost like two lovers with identical scars.  It didn’t start too long ago I concluded, which was a good sign since we had been fucking for about two hours now.  The sheets weren’t soaked but they were absorbing the droplets of blood that fell from her cunt as she stood up and frantically began looking for a towel.  She was apologizing as she tried to think, “This does not happen, this has ever not happened,” in her broken English, unable to translate her thoughts to me.  Convinced that the injury wasn’t mine I was able to make one good point quickly: “Go wash yourself now.”  She stopped looking for clothes and left her room to find the water closet.  I was left sitting there on her bed, the red stains on my thighs glowing from the low lamp light, wondering how I had arrived at this moment.  What could have possibly gone wrong, and what did I do to deserve this?  These are things that happen, but this is not a good way to spend my first fuck in a few months.

We met that night in her hometown, Wurzburg.  Corey and I had gotten off the train a few hours earlier and began with our typical journey through the streets of a foreign country – walking with cigarettes in our hands, hiding behind the smoke while we ogle the girls walking by in the streets.  This country’s people are every bit as beautiful as the hills on the horizon, the footsteps of the Alps just to the east.  Today’s main prize became a brunette that we followed off the train, sharp, glaring eyes like Audrey Hepburn, but sitting on the face of a girl not a day over 19, about 5’6’’ and wearing jeans so tight you’d pop right through them if you had a boner.  Her heels made her walk just right so that her legs, real skinny, moved with a shake underneath an ass so firm I could grab it with one handful.  I shoved Corey over and he tried to make something out of nothing, but she wasn’t having it; seems she just wanted to go shopping alone.

After a meal to supplant the hangover from sharing a bottle of Jameson’s the night before, we started walking in the direction of the river.  Earlier in the week I had squared it with Sophia to meet today.  We had met just seven days ago in Nuremburg, spending a few moments together that taught me just one trip to Wurzburg would reap my reward.  She wasn’t a whore, didn’t have the build of one.  She was wider, more natural; black, straight hair over eyes sunk behind thick black eyebrows.  Attractive, but not a supermodel.  It was the hounds-tooth coat and red leather gloves holding a cigarette that let me know she have something, maybe intellectual, with substance.  Carnal knowledge wouldn’t be hard for me to get, she made that evident.  It was the intrigue of something more that stoked my curiosity.  In any case, I was biding my time and in no rush – she had been at work during the day and what difference would it make if I got to her sooner.  The end would probably be at the witching hour anyway, like it always is.

When we reached the Residenz I decided to phone her.  We were standing in an open parking lot in front of the city’s palace, designed to replicate French capital buildings, and it just seemed an easy thing to do at the moment.  She was at the supermarket, but would meet us later when her friend arrived from out of town.  Corey was delighted to hear this.  So we continued walking through Wurzburg on our own, building schemes about how things would work out, if we were in fact to get them back to their apartment.  It was more than a desire, it was almost becoming necessity.  The last train back home that night ran at ten ‘til midnight, and we weren’t the types of alcoholics to go home so early, with or without cunt.  That meant if they didn’t have us over, because no one likes animals running loose in their home, we would have to drink until the morning’s first train at 5:00.  We were only in Germany six weeks but this we knew already was not of the question.

By the time she called me back we were lost within the city.  Turns out we had no idea where the river was, or where we were.  There were a number of parks, trails, chapels, and vineyards all over the city, each with their own particular intrigue.  After passing through the central park we ran into a park area surrounding by wrought-iron fences where groups of older citizens were gathered playing bocce.  Their metal balls were rolling along the ground and in front of us as we passed by, following the sidewalk to a staircase.  There at the bottom was a memorial, similar to the tomb of the fallen soldier – six stone figures with helmets carrying a coffin, a rather somber sight straight from a Dali painting, surrounded by giant concrete crosses all bearing a year from World War II.  Turns out that toward the end of the German invasion over 200 British bombers leveled the entire city in just 15 minutes – the whole town has since been rebuilt to exact replications.  So much for the “millennial old” feeling.  Even the history here was faux, a gruesome one covering a tragedy.  Despite this, we loved the area.  Maybe it’s being so new was what attracted us – the dirty parts of the Third Reich were buried beneath the streets, and here people could start over, had to start fresh.

Sophia called as were reading this history, but we couldn’t give her any indication of where we were in the town – I wondered if I’d have been better at it drunk.  She got tired of trying to figure it out over the phone and told us to find the castle.  Even then we bungled it, and stopped at a church – I swear the buildings all look alike across the skyline.  A gentleman was nice enough to tell me the name of the chapel and it was enough to get Sophia a mark on our location.  I was buying a cappuccino when I saw her, wearing the same coat and looking around for me.  Our glances met and thankfully we didn’t have the “is that him?” glance where she might mistake me for not me.  I was thankful I didn’t do that to her either.

Her friend was more attractive.  Darker skin, wavy black hair over a set of brown eyes, almost could be mistaken for a Latina, but her name was Christine and she, too, was from Wurzburg.  Corey was excited at the sight of her.  When Christine asked for a cigarette, explaining that she only smoked while drinking, and “tonight will be a party!” with hands high in the air, it was too perfect.  If only I had known then.

“Should we grab some wine somewhere?” I asked, a bit impatient but mostly thirsty.

“We should wait here just another minute, my friend from out of town isn’t quite here yet,” Sophia responded.  So it’s not Christine then.  Wonder what this could mean.  Then, rather quickly, someone walked up and introduced herself.  A blonde, fully built with think thighs, running all the way to her round cheekbones.  Mother nature type. Klara was her name and she was quick to remind me we had met the week before.  Could’ve fooled me, but whatever.  She was going home to drop off a bag and so we left for the wine.  They led us to a German weinstube where I learned who they were, and I repeated myself to her; she remembered everything I had told her last week.  I’m not sure that’s a good thing, but it can’t be bad.  Turns out they were both law students at the university in town, and Christine was moonlighting as a tour guide for the castle on the hill, the big grand fortress that overlooked the entire city from the cliff.  It could be seen from most parts of town, over 500 meters higher in elevation, but just off the river.  When we walked by it felt like I was in a history book, seeing the students looking down at the text and images I too had seen so many times a child – I was there, on that ancient river, in that ancient night, breathing and feeling and finally I was living.  When Klara arrived we moved to the next bar, and I was living well.

There was something about Germany I learned in Nuremburg the week before, but in Wurzburg it was worse.  Bavarians, at least, love to have cheeky names for their drink joints – Bar Celona, Esco Bar, Rue Bar, RE Bar, Bar Code, and we must have hit them all.  At each one these girls insisted we order liquor, and at every joint I made fun of Corey for doing exactly that.   Maybe because he spent his 21st birthday in Germany the week before, or maybe because he’s that kind of flirt, he went right in on it.  All the fruits and colors of the fucking rainbow in their glasses.  No, thank you.  I’ll stick to scotch.  And the occasional tequila.  They found this peculiar of me, but every time they pointed out something “typically American” it was in Corey’s direction, despite my bullheadedness.  Also typically American of him was his pernicious attraction to Christine.  It was no good when she started mentioning her boyfriend, but it was even worse when Klara and Sophia were making sure she ate so that she “doesn’t go crazy” with the liquor.  That’s a locked closet with standing guards if I ever saw one, but you can’t teach a new dog old tricks, and he kept on.  Fuck it, mine was easy and I didn’t care what happened to him.  Sophia got the worst of me and kept on coming back.

One thing you don’t do with an asshole like me, especially while drinking, is ask him what he stands for.  “You don’t want to hear it,” I warned, but Sophia asked again and Klara’s puppy eyes insisted.  Fine.

“I believe in people,” I said.  “There’s only thing on this earth that makes us special and that’s that we think we are.  If we can’t harness that ability, and touch the people, see the people, and learn from the people we aren’t doing a damn thing to enhance ourselves as humans.”

“Is this why you go drinking with girls,” they asked.  So clever.

“I go drinking because it attracts my paranoia.  There are things rolling through my head like a sledgehammer and when I’m out with a scotch and good blues I don’t worry about those things.  For a few minutes I’m normal, and can maybe hold somebody.  Outside of that, I’m not normal to anyone even though I’m as traditional as the Yankees winning the pennant.  I don’t watch television, I never get on the internet, and phones should only make calls.  I prefer whiskey, dark beer, darker women, and good bits of wisdom that come to me while I’m smoking a cigarette.  And if I can’t do everything there is, learn from it, and provide something back to the world than I’m a failure.  And drinking makes that pill easy to swallow.”

They heard about how the world is a cracked safe with no money in it, how we’ve learned how to connect the globe and it only made us shallow, and they think I’m pessimistic if I can’t just go along with the flow – “The world can’t be changed,” Klara said while looking straight into my eyes.  Seems to me that’s more pessimistic than trying to change it, and believing I can.  But I just drank my scotch.  Maybe she’s right after all.  The good news was watching Sophia absorb all of this without running, and seeing that our distraction provided some good time with Christine for Corey.  But the talking was killing me, I needed a lay and heavy drink.  To the next place! For the next drink!

That was Tscharlie’s, spelled in Deustch, where the old people went to hear shitty music and drink shitty beer.  Perfect.  The mix was eighties and funk and everyone’s feet started moving.  Over the next hour I learned that Sophia loved to dance, but to horrible music, and that she liked dancing in clubs.  I liked her better when we were walking through the streets and she talked about the weight an entire country feels for having started and lost a world war, how the people of a city own the pain of being carpet-bombed for no reason, and how as a people they are resentful, out to prove something, even on an individual level.  But I guess all I wanted was a lay, and I couldn’t ask for the world if it comes so easily.  So often the two never come as a package deal, and here was no different.  She had her moments, but really she was like all the rest – studying in school to land a good job.  How noble.  When it was midnight the dancing stopped since it was now Sunday, apparently a day without dancing, a tradition still alive with the heavy Roman Catholic presence in Bavaria.  I was disgusted at that notion, but took the peace for the night.  Sophia replaced dancing with drinking and got more drunk, and soon she began to ask me sincere questions that I didn’t want to answer: “Why are you going to Afghanistan?” she asked as she tugged at my arm.  It seemed to me the kind of question a girlfriend would ask.  Better play it straight.

“I want to see war.  Here, where we are, freely enjoying beer, music, and the opposite sex is the best humans have achieved,” I said to her.  She nodded her head as if she understood.  “But I need to see the worst also.”

“You are so stupid,” was her answer.  She was probably right, but she didn’t mean in the way that was correct.  She placed her arm on my shoulder, and I led her outside for a cigarette.  There we confronted Corey and Christine who by now had become good friends, with him turning to me and giving me the look that said he was out.  Fitting that he gave her the opportunity by looking away to come to us and say she was leaving.  She took Klara with her and Corey was left to his own devices.  Nearing 4:00 in the morning we went inside to share one more drink at the table, my hand on Sophia’s legs, moving up and down softly to make clear my intent.  Oh, it seems her living room is available to us.  How nice of her to offer, I said.

The walk back led along the river and there in the darkness was the calm I can never find.  I hadn’t been speaking much and their drunkenness had them walking forward without noticing I had stopped, but I didn’t mind.  It was more important for me to jump on the ledge and stand upright over the water’s edge, the castle no longer lit for people to see but the silhouette barely visible on the hillside in the moonlight, the sounds of the water rushing through the dam and underneath the bridge, illuminating with the reflections from the lights on the houses that were mere meters from the flowing current.  No one was out save for us, and the world went right on by.  What I was doing wasn’t more important than the water’s movement, so I saluted it with my silence.  Eventually they noticed I was gone and had stopped.  I caught up in time for Sophia to grab me by the arm and lead us to her flat.  Up four flights of wooden stairs that creaked with each step we walked directly into a European flat, as I had seen them in the programs before: very small, and very crowded with the artifacts of their life.  Sophia joined me on the balcony for a cigarette, and when we saw Corey fall asleep inside we were alone.  I knew I had completely misread her when I heard this:

“I love the way your hands feel up my legs,” in a low tone, sensual.  Inside her was an animal too.

“I’ve been wanting to do this for awhile,” I said, and looked at her, moving in to kiss.  It really is true that European women are all tongue.  She went at it, without holding back.  I grabbed her and she moved into my chair to straddle me.  But it was cold out and after five minutes I suggested her room.  We went, took Corey to his bed for the night and went into her room.  As if to be coy, she suggested I could sleep in the living room, on her couch, or cuddle with her.  Whatever cuddle meant, that was I my answer.  She began conversation as if we weren’t going to fuck, but after two sentences she was on me again.  But I learned it wasn’t just an awkward start.  The girl liked to talk briefly, a few sentences at a time, every so often throughout the ordeal.  I didn’t mind, long ago in the night I knew I didn’t want to make her a girlfriend, or anything more than a fuck.  This was confirmed when I saw her breasts, or how very little breasts there were.  It was sad almost.  Here was this attractive, mostly intelligent female that, in spite of carrying a little extra weight, had none of it fall into her bosom.  Of course it wasn’t going to stop me at the moment, but I knew then that my attraction was dwindling.  It was a good thing, then, when I learned that she knew how to fuck.  She was loud, and she liked to move her body around my cock, rather than me do the work.  It’s always such a joy when I find those girls.  I don’t mind getting a workout, but it’s nice to meet halfway.

After two hours and couple of violent orgasms on her part, that’s when it happened, just as the sun was coming up.  Her favorite position was on top, so that she could control the movements.  She didn’t go up and down as much, sliding her cunt on and off my cock, but more in the way a belly-dancer moves, rolling the hips to one side and then the other, up and down exactly like cowgirl – so the saying goes.  It was during one particularly sharp movement by her that my cock slipped out, but before anything could be done she moved back forward and it went back in, hard, with difficulty, like it was being pushed over the edge of a brick wall.  We both carried on like professionals, because it was nothing new in the world of world of sex.  Sex is a physical act that can require precision, but when you’re howling mad and mostly drunk, precision is hard to come by.  I just used my thumb to rub her clit and when it got wet our genitals began to glide more easily.  And then the horror came, the sight, the panic, the finish, the rush, the cleanup.  We washed in the shower to remove the blood, and everything seemed to be calming down until I had to tell her that she missed wiping the blood from her ass.  She got back into the shower while I started wiping droplets from the tile floor.  “You don’t have to do that,” she insisted, over and over.

I had to grab her by the shoulders and let her know that these things happen, that she needs to take care of herself, and that she needs my help right now to keep things calm.  Until I had washed I was even worried that it could’ve been me that was bleeding, and when I pulled a big clot that was stuck to my penis I thought it was – but there was no cut, no incision, no break.  This was her burden, in her home.  And after sharing something so traumatic I knew we couldn’t share anything else.  It was hard to even look her in the eyes, but I didn’t hate her.  We slept there on her bed, in new sheets, and for a while pretended like nothing happened.  I woke up some hours later to the smell of breakfast, she had gotten up to cook a feast for Corey and I.  Of course he had no idea what had happened and I wasn’t going to let him know, not until we were out of there.  So the last thing we shared was a meal.  Eggs, ham, rolls, and every kind of additive she had in the pantry.  “Did I want butter?” or “jam,” or “honey,” or anything that could possibly please me.  I ate my meal and drank my coffee, and did nothing to mislead her.  Especially because every move I made was precariously watched over by Sophia, trying her best to please my every desire, full of shame for the events that passed during the night.  She was noticeably scared, and I couldn’t blame her.  Just when she thought she had a little piece of romance it was taken from her.  And I think she knew then that it wouldn’t be the same for us.  Good, I thought.  I hope she knows.

It wasn’t until right before we left when I went back into her room that I thought she might’ve had a past with this type of thing.  But there on the top of her bookcase were two photos framed together, each of the same thing, from the same moment – it was Sophia, a man her age, and three little girls all no older than maybe four years old.  Ha! You got me this time, I said to myself.  I said goodbye, and she kissed me one time before I turned to leave.  I guess some people are better at hiding their intentions.

Damn you, Selig.

Posted in Uncategorized by johnsontoms on November 17, 2011

Like scratching an amputated appendage, it doesn’t feel real until you look at it directly. Something was there, should be there, but isn’t. And much like the old traditional tune “Long Black Veil”, we “spoke not a word when the order had come.”

We’re voiceless. We’re motionless. If the rest of Astros Nation is anything like me, they can’t even find words to explain it. Trying to look forward to comprehend what it will feel like, I draw blank. I’m trying to remember how wonderful it felt, watching Roger Clemens come to bat in a World Series game, wearing the red and gold, that dirty uniform that said Houston across the chest, and remember how much pride I felt that we played baseball the way it was intended – to match nine players against nine players. We were the Senior Circuit, the arbiters of Baseball, America’s Pastime.

And now here we are – slumming it with the Junior Circuit.

It’s been a long road downward since that World Series, and there’s no way say thank you to Commissioner Bud Selig for placing the coup de gras on top of the same year that our most bitter rival wins the World Series: we’ll never play them again, except – hold your breath – in the World Series itself. And that’s where it becomes real; the Houston Astros are a member of the American League. Baseball has, obviously, two divisions of play that are separate in more than name – they abide by a difference of rules, most of them revolving around a single dominant rule: the use of the designated hitter, that dirty substitution that allows teams to sit their worst hitter while on offense. And don’t let me hear that it’s the pitcher, and they’re trying to preserve their prize arms – the rule does not limit the team’s manager from DHing anyone, and in the past position players have been substituted instead of the pitcher. And now the Astros, as a home playing American League team, can use that dirty rule.

Against the Rangers, Athletics, Mariners, and Angels. Baseball’s worst division. It’s only fitting that baseball’s worst team is now a member. In the end, maybe this will bolster our efforts. But that is little consolation for a team mired in defeat, lack of talent, little fan draw, and slow profit.

Drayton McClane purchased the Astros in 1992 and wanted to win, the only way he knew how: spending money, large sums on free agents that at times worked out. Most did not. Jose Lima in 1996, trade for Randy Johnson in 1998 for half a year (trading away, amongst others, Freddy Garcia and Carlos Guillen), Ken Caminetti who later died of substance abuse, and later Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte. In the only few trades that worked out we acquired Jeff Bagwell from the Red Sox in what is still considered the most lop-sided trade ever, and thankfully he became the face of the franchise.

1998 should’ve been the year. The Astros had Lima, Bagwell, had just traded for Randy Johnson at the deadline, and with Craig Biggio in his fourth year led the National League in wins. They were the best. And baseball, the cruel bitch she is, let those Astros lose in the NLDS to the San Diego Padres. The Big Unit didn’t resign and that was as close as they got for eight years.

Things started turning around when the few homegrown players they owned performed to expectations. Bagwell was still there, and combined with Roy Oswalt, Lance Berkman, and Biggio, the Astros were on their way, winning more games than all but the Yankees during a five year stretch to start the decade. What they needed was just a little more pitching and that’s where McClane went back to spending the big money – he brought in Clemens, Pettitte, and got the Astros first NL Pennant out of it in 2005 after a climactic battle with the Cardinals in that year’s NLCS. Unfortunately that wasn’t their World Series to win, losing to the White Sox in four games. And then the walls came down.

All the money and trades that it took to get that pennant depleted the system, and over the next six years the Astros went from the winningest NL team to the worst, mired under Ed Wade as general manager to watch the farm system run dry, the professional players that were left underperformed consistently, every free agent that was purchased never met expectations.

This wasn’t the way it was supposed to be.

The Astros were supposed to win that World Series in 2005. They had the Rocket, his friend and longtime teammate Pettitte, the Killer B’s, Oswalt in his prime. Even the year after when they spent $120-million on prized outfielder Carlos Lee, it was supposed to solve the offensive struggles. They were supposed to dominate the league for years.

But they didn’t.

-Bagwell underwent the worst injury-handling by a team ever, eventually being forced to retire.
-Clemens fled for more money back with the Yankees. Worse, he persuaded Pettitte to do the same.
-Carlos Lee immediately plummeted in performance.
-Berkman and Oswalt began to decline and were eventually traded.

And the Astros became the worst team in the National League, ran so poorly that the owner began finally to acknowledge all of the previous attempts to buy the team, finally giving in to sell. And Selig, seeing his opportunity, told them to switch leagues. If they wouldn’t switch, they wouldn’t sell. The MLB can do that. So they switched.

And now, I don’t know what to say. As a child we all have dreams, and though mine wasn’t to play baseball, it was to forever watch and chronicle my life by the success and failures of my team – the Houston Astros. Everything that’s been said about baseball and America was true me. It’s the pastime. And for a Terrence Mann to have put it so eloquently in Field of Dreams (written by W.P. Kinsella, “Shoeless Joe”), “There has always been baseball. When there was depression, the people went to baseball to feel better. When there was war, there was still baseball. For all that America has been through, the one constant has always been baseball.” It is the climax of physical and intellectual virtue, and my team, those damn Astros, played it the proper way. They won, they lost, they created rivalries, broke records, and inspired millions. Hell, they even built the world’s first domed stadium to showcase their franchise.

And now the dream is over in its 49th year. Some dreams end up where they should, but I guess most die in the fire.

Mata Hari

Posted in Europe by johnsontoms on November 17, 2011

Corey and I had finished singing our version of Elvis’s “Hound Dog” are were heading outside to smoke, maybe just because that’s what seems to come after everything. We left our Russian friends inside with the intent of coming back shortly, but through the red-lit hallway were walking two vixens – and as the silhouettes turned into seductive, dark faces, the words could have less direct: “You, are, uh, Merican?” Why, yes, yes, we are. And we’d like to make whores of you. The kinds of whores that don’t ask too many questions except for the right ones. They met us directly in the hall after entering the bar, as if they knew what they were looking for and they found it in us. It takes a special kind of cunt to make it so obvious, and the taller one wasn’t hiding that she was special. Our interest made obvious our intentions as well, but the only words were “yes.” We were not so direct as she.

“You will take us to American then, make us wives?”
“Not exactly.”

“See, you’re in Germany. Why would I want to leave this country?”
“I have got to use the loo.”
I wasn’t waiting for that to end and went outside.

There we were smoking for a few minutes when, inevitably, they showed up outside – I’m not certain if they were drunk or determined, or both, but after the usual round of “who are you”s and “where are you from”s she asked if we had ever fucked a German girl. The answer was no, but the words were “we’d like to.” Funny how that kind of thing doesn’t need to be spoken, but sure, go ahead and let them know. In the light I got a better look at exactly what was working me over. Sofina, the one with goals in mind, was taller than her friend, long hair that rolled with slight curls outside her eyeline, painted green to match the outfit, and with just a bit of lipstick. I could tell all of this easily when she came up close, put her face near to mine and asked each question with eyes of a child, inquisitive but sincere, and slightly impressed that I knew a little of her language. She stood with her arms close by her side, but only when she wasn’t trying to figure out to which side my cock hung. It was a nice game that I let her play all she wanted, hands down the outside of my pants. Would’ve been nicer on the inside, but I didn’t mind a slow start.

What I did mind was the interruption. Inside were two Russians we were entertaining, and one I was hoping to make. Her name was Paulina, the exact type you’d expect – long blonde hair over piercing blue eyes, short and the right kind of body, a woman’s. I knew time was running short but they beat me to any type of move I could’ve made when they came outside. The better part was informing me my friend John couldn’t be found, and they were ready to leave. Imagine finding yourself with two whores as your girl comes out, and, oh, my friend’s gone. Thinking quickly as I could I told them to go next door while I called my friend. Simple, get everyone moving before they get talking to each other. Corey was left to escort the four of them to the bar next door and I just knew that Corey’s naïveté would work long enough for me to find John.

Lighting a cigarette I listened to phone dial, and what I heard was the conversation in English next to me. John wasn’t answering, his phone dead, but alive was the girl in front me, the right kind. Dark, black hair, neatly trimmed to lay behind the ears, business blouse inside a peacoat, and a long skirt down to the slips, but beneath all this class was a cigarette in her hand – just right.

“I hear English. What gives?” I’m really good with words when I’m rushed.
“Common language. We’re from all over the place,” she said. But her accent was native German.
“No, no, we just met,” and she went on to explain the male was from Ireland, the other female from New Zealand, and she from Würzberg up the street, her name Sophia. All of them had come on different forms of business but now were just sharing a smoke. I spent a minute yokeling the Mc, but it was the girl I was after now. With just a nod she came over and asked me where I was going. Inside of course, to join my friends. She was doing the same, but was moving on soon. “Why don’t you come with us,” she offered, but I hadn’t even been inside yet with my friend on his birthday. Nevermind that he was a fellow soldier and I was responsible for his livelihood after leaving him with two whores and two Russians, one of which I was trying to score. “Oh, I’ll join you for a beer,” she said. Make it happen, bartender.

What makes this bar great doesn’t even start with the name, Mata Hari. Named after the WWII spy that played both sides until the end, it consists of about 65 square feet of floor space, and about 40 of that is taken by the bar. Throw in 25 patrons and you’ve got tight spaces. Naturally Corey had taken everyone to the other side and when I entered I was stopped immediately with nowhere to go except sideways to talk to Sophia. It made things easier that way, but numbers are easy to decipher – there were two girls I could make on the other side of the bar and I was stuck here with one. To make it worse, Sophia wasn’t even trying to play hard. She had her beer held in both hands right beneath her chin as she looked directly up at me, like a child holding their most precious blanket asking the parents if they can sleep in their bed tonight. What’s my name, where I’m from, what I do for work, all these passed over my tongue quickly, answering each question with a quick glance over my shoulder toward the whores, without any subtlety. Still she persisted. “Look, I have to join my friend, it’s his birthday and he keeps calling me,” I said.
“Can I come over?”, she asked. I couldn’t think of anything to say.
“Why not?” as I grabbed her hand and brought her over.

And there I was, one girl knocking down my door that I wasn’t answering in order to pick up the other two. The one I had spent the whole night jawing, Paulina, was losing her patience with me – when it was just her and I we had it all, conversation, drinks, music, dancing, and her eyes into mine. It wasn’t anything more than a game but the game was easy. I had to mess that up by throwing in two whores and a puppy dog. And still I wanted all their numbers. I couldn’t think quick enough. Initially I had to get back on Paulina’s good side and show her I was listening. This of course was at Sophia’s expense. At this moment I had to finally ask myself what I was doing. What worth am I placing on their feelings if I can so easily ignore and put away their conversations and attention, throwing about what they want for a minutes at a time just because I’m trying to distribute myself amongst them? Would this even work? I had to leave Sophia with Sascha, the male Russian, for a few minutes to get Paulina. It was here that I was given the type of distraction I needed.

I don’t know if he didn’t bring any deodorant or just doesn’t wear any, but Sascha, the Russian, had an odor. It was bad. I don’t know if he could smell it, but he could certainly see that in a bar where everyone has zero personal space, he could stretch out all arms and spin like a dandelion in the air without touching anyone. It was the biting, acidic smell of pure sweat, and everyone came to the same conclusion at the same time: cigarette.

Everyone started grabbing coats and drinks and soon enough were outside, but fragmented. The whore had found me first, and began about her ways.

“How do I tell someone he smell?”
“You mean how do you ask, or you want to tell him?”
“Is there nice way?”
“Tell him he has an odor.”
“Oh-door?”
“Close enough,” I said. Fitting at that moment she pulled out a can of aerosol from her purse and began spraying it about. Here I noticed that Sophia was having the same conversation with a separate group, and I had an in. After joking with her and explaining that I only knew Sascha through mutual friends, I wasn’t to blame. She was laughing when her friends brought her coat to leave. Quick!
“I need your number,” I nearly shouted it I was so desperate. The numbers came across, and before I could close my phone she leaned up to kiss me in the cheek.
“Call me when you’re leaving this bar,” she said. I knew I didn’t have the intention of joining her that night. She wasn’t the one that would give me what I needed, at least not immediately. She was a woman, not a whore. They were inside, and that’s where I went.

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These People Are Not Relics

Posted in Europe by johnsontoms on November 17, 2011

These people are not relics.  They can be touched, they talk and walk down streets just like you and I.  Their language is different, and their streets may be cobblestoned – not bricks, not concrete, but real stones that are fat, jutty, and incongruous, the kinds that give fits to women in heels whose cigarettes fall evenly in the spaces between the rock, but I’ll be damned if they don’t keep walking in heels and they never stop smoking – but they are humans, flesh and mouths that work like ours but with thousand years more practice.  They are good at what they do and they are better at picking out the Americans.  These streets, these damn hard-to-walk streets have enough color and life to write pages about the feet that have crossed their lines, and they’re filled with houses and buildings that look nothing like ours.  Age is the easiest character to recognize, walls that are wooden and without symmetry, towering high at a minimum of four stories, packed next to each other like bundled sticks, smoke pouring out the fireplaces that see much use, doors that push in and coat racks in every room, where space is at a premium because the price of comfort is not worth the expense but yes, absolutely, we will spend €2 on a bier.  And when walking down these streets next to these buildings the Americans are the loudest, the ones taking photos and gawking at the artifacts, each and every piece of a country that despite its duration is funny or obscene because it doesn’t use English on its signs or standard measurements on its coke bottles.  The pictures are the same, but the language is different.  That I assure you is the only difference.

These people pay taxes, too.  Many more taxes than we do.  These people use cellphones just like us, and enjoy a good ringtone all the same.  They gather at coffee shops and talk about getting some, just like us.  They go to the movies occasionally, drive BMWs, and they even like McDonald’s just like us, even if it’s not good for anyone.  Even though it’s in a different language.  There are dogs that bark, stores that sell winter clothes, churches with bell towers, street lights that turn from green to red, trees that drop their leaves before the first snowfall, convenient stores with the newest Playboy, trains that run east to west, plugs in the wall, cash machines on each corner, and refrigerators in every apartment just like ours.  There are the same human people just like us, but with a different language.  After a few thousand years of doing it one way they’ve just learned to do it a different way, but in the same towns and with the same buildings and the same bars.  Don’t come over here and ask them how it feels to be a German because it is the same as it feels to be an American – a consequence of where we were born and no way reflective of who we are.

Two residents of Nurnberg (Nuremberg) were kind enough to house me for a few days this past week.  Oddly enough they were Portuguese, but very capable of conversing in English and even more capable of enjoying their time in Bavaria.  Both are electrical engineers working in Germany for a company that deals largely with Japanese business, and have been in country for 10 months and some days.  They own their same Portuguese flair but eat the Schäuferle and drink the Kellerbier, and were more than happy to take us to the Zindorf brauerei to try each in the very town that they are made and sold from.  We met Antonio first at a café just outside the castle and immediately he began to speak of the dirty taxes and politicians behind them, complaining that the Euro makes less sense than the people implementing it.  I expressed to him my shame using the English language, but he assured me that no one cared, it was the common ground for many people.  Even the Russians that were hosted along with us.  Or when their Lebanese neighbor joined us.  In Germany.  I think the only thing missing was a German.  But as I am learning, they may not be the most outgoing.

There is a history in Germany that many don’t want to remember, but most can’t forget.  It is the reason I wanted to see Nurnberg, “the city of the Nazis.” There in Nurnberg were the very steps that Adolf Hitler stood on to proclaim the glory of the National Socialist Party, saluting over his troops in the Zeppelin Field in front the pillar libraries with the swastika over head on the roof of the building.  And though the swastika was famously blown off the roof following victory over Germany, the Germans themselves were responsible for tearing down much of the rest.  The arena, once lined with stands and bleachers for 200,000 people, are now rotted and overrun by bushes and grasses and only a section remains where a soccer field has been installed, used by the Nurnberg American High School that was run by the American Department of Defense.  A street runs through the middle of the field now and is lined with tractor trailers, where truck drivers everyday park their loads and get out to walk in front of the very place where World War II started and think nothing about it – it was, but it is no more.  It is almost forgotten, and would probably be gone if that didn’t cost money.  Instead, it is for nature to ruin, slowly.  The same is true for the Congress Halls, a giant horseshoe complex reminiscent of the Roman Coliseum, and the Luitpoldarena, where once was a square-kilometer of marching grounds and crested eagles but not rests an open recreational-park, with literally no remains of the concrete façade to be found, only the Frisbees that have been forgotten by the owners of the dogs that now run its greens.  Dogs that were taken by their owners on a weekend, just like us.

And maybe that’s one of the few things they’ve gotten right, and better than us.  Sundays no stores are open, but yet the people still take to the streets and patronize the bakeries and bars.  They walk, they talk, and spend their Sunday simple talking about the night before and never think about staying inside.  Why would you, on a day where there is nothing to do, do anything less than enjoy yourself outside?  It’s too easy to conjure, and where we are failing they got it right.  It helps also to walk off the hangover.  Here, the weekend is a day.  Friday is spent resting because on Saturday, well, it might be Monday until the party is over.  Drinks until 7am, food at all hours, girls smoking outside the doors underneath the signs and streetlamps, giggling with fever because maybe there is a man inside that will give them something, anything.  It could be a karaoke bar, blues bar, club, café, dance floor, sports bar, or patio and the scene is the same.  People drinking and talking.  Funny how humans tend to enjoy the same thing, everywhere and all over the world.

This is why there no dissimilarities.  When I hop on the train to come back, there is a girl wearing a wool head-cover and white headphones connected to an iPod, square-rimmed glasses that catch her straightened brown hair, and pursed lips as she curiously leads her caramel eyes up and down my outfit, trying to figure out what these strange cowboy boots are doing on my feet.  But her intent is the same as mine: go home, and live our life for another day.