Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Coolest Thing to Enter My Life in Recent Months...

Tonight, I was grilling some burgers for dinner. The burgers, onions, and tomatoes were on the grill. Yes, I said "the tomatoes were on the grill" - it didn't work that well, so don't bother trying it... Anyway, everything was on the grill, and getting to be pretty in-need of a flip. So I headed back into the kitchen to look for my metal spatula. But my one metal spatula was dirty and in the dishwasher. All the others were plastic, and not suitable for grilling. However, I quickly solved my dilema when I remembered an old Christmas gift that I'd stored away, unopened. It was a set of BBQ tools: a metal brush (for cleaning the grill), a pair of tongs, and a metal spatula. I opened the case and retrieved the spatula, expecting, you know, just a metal spatula. But upon closer examination, I realized that this was much more than "just a spatula." Behold: Isn't it cool? What, don't see what I'm talking about? Look closer: Yes, not only is it a spatula, suitable for flipping assorted pieces of meat and whatever else you may like to grill, but it is also a bottle opener. And if you look at the pictures, you will notice that one edge is serrated, so as to serve as a knife. What the larger prongs on the other side are for, I haven't quite figured out yet... But anyway, isn't that just about the coolest thing you've seen in a while? And it's so sterotypically male. This thing is so bloody masculine, I am dubbing it the Man Tool. Yes, I realize that sounds like a very poorly conceived nickname for one's member, but I can't think of another name that conveys the level of masculinity contained so eloquently within this one simple item.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

More complaining...

Well, for my 1.5 readers out there, it looks like I will be providing more regular, but low-quality reading. The following was written around 11:00 AM in a bout of despair:

Another day at work began well... I felt rested, though as I drove in I was still wishing I was in bed rather than battling post-holiday traffic. Once I arrived at school, things began well enough. I was rather productive for the first hour or so. But then I started crashing... For the past fifteen minutes, I've stared at a laminated BTSA form, trying to read it so that I might fill out another form and thus insure the safety of my credential. But I just can't focus. This isn't just me being resistant to the utterly pointless hoop-jumping that I so loathe. It's as if I literally cannot read that piece of paper. Nor can I focus on the grant I'm attempting to write to gain some funding for mock trial and speech & debate stuff. I'm just done. My brain is fried. I am incapable. A whole weekend of rest, and I am right back where I started... Well, I'm not quite as doom-and-gloomy as I was before. But I am just as out-of-it. I just can't do the work that needs
doing right now...

While discussing this situation with a co-worker this morning, he did have a good insight to share. He said, sympathetically, that when in this situation, at least one knows they are doing the most they can do. That's an odd bit of solace. I shall continue to breathe, take up space, and futilely attempt to stumble through some paperwork, grant-writing, and perhaps some occasional teaching, and know that I am doing my best.

Shortly after writing that, I spent some time signing students' yearbooks. The alternative activity did much to turn my spirits and energy level around. Also, helping a student with some math seemed to help - using a different part of my brain was a relief... The day closed with a dismal senior project re-presentation and a conversation with the principal regarding the senior project fiasco that began as a slight downer but ended up being the enlivening and energizing kind of conversation that made me like this principal so in the first place. We're all tired, I guess, but we're the same people in the end.

Monday, May 29, 2006

One more week...

...that's how long I have to make it. Almost exactly one week from now, I will be free for nearly three months. A week from this moment, I plan to be sitting at home, quaffing a glass of Deus and thinking about the things that really matter, such as "what beer should I brew next," or "what should I serve with the tuna steaks tonight?"

Yes. In one week more, school will be out. Grades will be turned in. I will be free. And it will be good. It will be the Summer of 2006, and like its magical brethren, the summers of '98 and '02, it will be filled with sun, spirituality, and socialization.

Currently I'm feeling much better than I have over the past several weeks. And that's because, thanks to Memorial Day, I am currently at home when I should be scowling though a BTSA meeting, awaiting an hour-long battle up I-80 to reach my home. This weekend, I've finally been able to get some of the rest and recreation that I've so desperately needed over the past few weeks. Perhaps I should explain what's been happening lately...

May of 2006 has been hell. Nay, Hell. As in Satan resides there. I mean, should I suffer eternal damnation following my death, I fully expect it to consist of a constant repeat of the past month. Following Coachella, I returned home feeling energized & youthful. That, however, quickly dissipated upon my return to work. Yes, a crushing load loomed for the following month, but I wasn't letting it get me down. However, my co-workers, especially my team-teacher (we do two-hour long block periods with combined subjects - she's the English half, I'm the social studies half) seemed stressed out by what was to come. This stress wore on me, making me, quite simply, not want to be at work. Did I work to calm my co-workers or alleviate the situations causing them stress? Not really. Whatever the case, I was soon swept up in the same stress-storm as they were. With the first graduating class' "senior projects" happening, and those projects being almost universally abysmal, I began to crack. Because of the time-demands of that week - detailed
here - the moot court field trip the following week, and the "Senior Trip" to Disneyland & Dana Point - which was quite wonderful, but very tiring - I went into this week rendered nearly incapable. As students worked on senior project revisions and finals preparations, I went through the week in an absolute haze. I was utterly exhausted, incapable of tasks that had once been simple. I simply could not focus, and I was so groggy that I could barely stay awake. On top of this, my allergies continued to be torturous, and the only way to effectively combat them was through sleep-inducing Benadryl... I quite literally crawled through the week. I weathered the evening commitments of "Open House" and "Senior Awards Night," managed to not mess anything up too badly in my exhausted state, and made it to Friday afternoon.

This weekend wasn't as restful as I would've liked. A trip up to South Lake Tahoe with Brenda's family was fun, but there wasn't much time for sleep, or even for sitting still. And what sleep there was was disturbed by a hotel-wide alarm and a drunk fellow in the hallway. But after a full (over eight hours) night's sleep last night, the first I've had in ages, I'm enjoying life again. Today has been good. In addition to getting caught up on sleep and some chores, I'm generally experiencing a better outlook on life. The end of the school year and the beginning of vacation is finally close enough that it is tangible. Yes, I have to go through a week of finals, graduation practices, and the actual graduation itself, but the end is in sight. Just four days of school, then a brief meeting on Monday, and I'm free...

So, in a week, I shall begin my professional recreation, which will likely include a fair bit of blogging. However, I don't expect to post much, if at all, over the intervening time. I shall continue to be busy for a short while longer, but let's just hope that I make it through it all better than I had been.

12 Days

Twelve days... That's how long it's been since I last posted. Nearly two weeks. That's unheard of since this blog roared forth from it's initial lethargy. The reason? I've been extremely busy at work. But that shall change soon. Details forthcoming...

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Where the hell I've been...

Oy vey.

It's been a while, yes. Why, you ask? Work has been absolutely crazy. Just as the end of the year nears, and as my co-workers and I grow exhausted, and as the students grow restless, our duties grow exponentially. Last Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday were 14 to 15 hour days due to "Senior Project" presentations scheduled in the evening. For the weekend there was an enjoyable (sort of) though not exactly restful jaunt to see my yuppie relatives in the North Bay. Monday brought a pointless but mandatory "colloquium" to herald the close of this year's session of the torturously pointless
BTSA program - if you're going to keep me at work until 12 hours after I arrived, at least make it worthwhile. On Tuesday, stressed out staff and students straight-up ruined my day. Today was a 10 hour day that included a field trip to conduct a mock trial in San Jose that, while successful, had its bumps. Now I'm finally home and doing everything I can to flush the work stress from my mind, but it ain't happening. I currently need to pack, for tomorrow I depart with a bus-load of students for a grad-night trip to Disneyland. Before you start protesting about how that sounds nice, realize that this trip involves a 10+ hour drive in a bus, the students will legally be my responsibility and it may very well be on me if they do as teenagers do and do naughty things while on the trip. And the whole thing doesn't end until 10:00 PM Saturday evening, which means I'm giving up half of my weekend. And I'm just damned tired, burned out, and I just want some rest. On top of all of this, it's unseasonably hot right now, and my apartment is hovering near 80 degrees despite the efforts of the AC unit.

Basically I'm feeling like there are just too many responsibilities being placed on me right now - responsibilities that inevitably mandate time spent working beyond the six hours for which we "officially" work under our contracts - and I'm too tired and frazzle-brained to juggle all the appropriate tasks. It's inevitable that I will mess things right now. Mistakes are being made with increasing frequency by myself and my co-workers, and what we need is rest, not to be hounded.

No wonder the majority of teachers don't last more than five years. I won't be a goddamn martyr for this...

And yes, bitching like this may not be good for my longevity as a teacher. Perhaps I should be spending this time attempting to reframe things in such a way that I am re-motivated. But then, I'm not sure longevity as a teacher is a wise decision right now. Why continue at this, when, with what I am paid, I don't even have the hope of buying a house in the area in which I live and work? Why when countless other people work jobs that have set hours - eight to five only, and with no weekend duties, ever - less stress, and considerably higher pay?

Gah. I just need to get this stuff out. It's not all there yet, but this was a start...

In other news, plans for the summer are coalescing. The bachelor party is still up in the air, but it looks like there will be some spelunking in late June, some high-Sierra camping in early July, and perhaps even some time spent in delicious isolation in a cabin in the Sierras. I hope all this prooves rejuvenating, 'cause I'm sure as hell going to need it.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Beerlog: Lagunita's Imperial Stout

Why are imperial stouts ever done as a summer release? Lagunita's & Stone both do it, and it makes no sense... Heavy, intense beers like RISs and hot weather never go well together. It's 90+ degrees in the Sacramento Sprawl right now, and I'm feeling the kolschs and saisons, not the impy stouts. If I were to drink any "bigger" beer during the late spring/summer, it'd probably be a big Belgian, with a lighter mouthfeel (in fact, I've gone on my greatest Belgian binges during the summers, for some reason). Nevertheless, despite the current, unseasonable heat, I finally decided to try Lagunitas' offering in RIS the style. And I'm glad I did.

I have issues with Lagunitas. I don't quite trust the brewery. Half of their beers I hate. Half I love. Until now, I couldn't quite discern the pattern of their schizophrenia. It's the hopping. I love their "non-hoppy" beers, while I loathe (nearly) everything they do in the "hoppy" styles. Something about their hop choice turns me off from their IPAs, DIPAs, and pale ales - the Imperial Red is the only exception. But their "non-hoppys" have all been damned good. Their saison (#9) and Neuvo Noir were both wonderful, and this imperial stout ain't too shabby.

It poured a clear and exceedingly deep amber. Not black, mind you, but dark amber. Not unpleasant, but a bit out-of-style, so I'd dock a few points on appearance.

The aroma is all I like in an imperial stout. A hint of roastiness, hopping subdued, and a big, mealy, malty, gamey, with that indefinable odor that is unique to good RISs and dopplebocks. There are also undercurrents of currant and plum. And chocolate. A definite winner on the aroma...

The flavor fills the mouth with stabbing bits of charcoal and chocolate, and there's sweet, dark fruit at the end, but in the middle it's a bit anemic... It could use a bit more malt body to carry it through. The mouthfeel suffers with the lack of residual sugars that impact the "middle" of the flavor, but the acrid bits at the end from the roasted malts make up enough to land the beer in the territory of "interesting" in terms of mouthfeel.

Overall, a damned drinkable RIS, and with the relatively low price at which my nearest supermarket is offering it, I should think I should often find myself drinking this beer. That is, were this not a bloody hot late-spring/early-summer. Move this release to winter, and I might choose to live off this stuff through the cold months...

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Recent Purchases

Killing a little time in America's second-favorite mass-retailer, Target, I decided to buy a few CDs. Yes, I know, I should've bought 'em at an indie shop, but the indie shops around here are mediocre at best. Anyway, here are the spoils:
  • Tool, 10,000 Days - I never wanted to like Tool, but after watching them perform back in 1998, and being subjected to some forced exposure by my friends, I eventually had to acknowledge that despite their creepy and sophomoric imagery, they do make some damn good music. And really, progressive metal is a hard concept to disagree with - I do like my Opeth, after all... On this latest album, they deliver what is to be expected - lean, sprawling prog-metal of high quality, and laughably bad artwork that only a 15-year-old metalhead could dig. Buy the CD, ignore the packaging.
  • Wolfmother, Wolfmother - I bought this CD based on its overwhelmingly good press, a brief listening on the band's MySpace page, and the $10 price-tag. So far I'm pleased. Garaged-out Sabbath - quite a fun formula. And the Frazetta-ish artwork warms my heart.
There were also some non-music purchases. For the purpose of facilitating a spelunking trip this summer (a repeat of '04's most enjoyable outing), a quick jaunt to REI yeilded the following:
  • Black Diamond "Spot" headlamp - If you've never used a headlamp, you can't possibly conceive of how wonderful they are. They make spelunking infinitely more enjoyable, easier, and safer.
  • Some generic "multisport" gloves - Just some regular, synthetic-fiber gloves, with a slightly rubberized palm. They should hold up to the lava rock. And I was elated to find some XL gloves - it's amazing what a proper fit can do.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The Truth About Beef Jerky

Back when I was going to UCSC, I lived in a funky little beach-cottagey studio apartment near Seabright Beach. This thing was funky and old - thin walls, crooked door frames, drafts, astroturf-like carpet, etc. But it was a cool place in a great neighborhood - two amiable bars, an Italian restaurant that played Snoop Dogg, a laundromat, two tacquerias, a Chinese place, a breakfast cafe, a coffee cafe, a corner liquor shop, a wood-fired pizza place, a barber, a brewery, and a bus stop, all within two or three minutes' walking distance. And then the beach just a few minutes' walk in the other direction. Ideal, really.

Anyway, my next door neighbor at this place was a guy about five years older than me who seemed to lead a very odd life. He always seemed to be home, and never out working. And he always seemed to have money, somehow. He seemed to lead the perfect life - always having friends over, sleeping late in the morning only to wake to a breakfast of grapefruit (the sign of a luxurious morning), and spending the day listening to good music and detailing his Harley. I couldn't quite figure out what it was that he did for a job, and figured he must've been independently wealthy. Since then I've figured out what it was he was doing, though I still don't know where he got the money. In fact, what he was doing led me to question even more the source of the money.

This man, Fritz Junker, was producing a movie. A movie that ran under a half hour, and cost over $300,000 to produce. And this movie was called The Truth About Beef Jerky, and I have just watched this movie. It's a short comedy lampooning the two extremes of hippie and redneck culture, with a Ted Nugent doppelganger leading a group of sportsmen on a hunt of hippies who had been lured into a trap with promises of a Phish reunion concert. The slaughtered hippies are used to make "Count Nugent's Beef Jerky." It's a rather amusing 24 minutes, at least for anyone who's lived in Santa Cruz or anyplace like it. You can get your own copy on DVD by e-mailing Fritz yourself.What do I take away from this? Well, I have a memento of my time in Santa Cruz. And I have more questions about Mr. Junker, who now leads up a music-promotion non-profit in Des Moines. I guess you just meet some weird people in life, and I'm thankful for that.

Monday, May 01, 2006

The mainstream media just doesn't get it

Just a short little rant here...

After a quick look through Google News and other sources, it seems all the big media outlets care to talk about when it comes to the Coachella Festival, 2006, is Madonna. If you were to trust the articles, you'd think it was the Madonna Festival, not an indie-rock/hip-hop and dance festival. I'm not exactly upset about this, I just think it's odd. I mean, the festival just finished its seventh go, and since 1999 it has been gaining international attention, recognition, and applause. And despite all that, despite the combined power of the dozens of other artists on the bill, the celebrity of Madonna was enough to trump all else in the eyes of the non-music, mainstream media. A most odd situation.

Travelblogue, Coachella 2006 11: Reflections, Part 1

The following was written while waiting in the Ontario International Airport:
Though I’m writing this from the Ontario airport, it won’t be uploaded until later, as the wi-fi here isn’t quite working for me - “limited or no connectivity,” grrr…

The rental car has been returned, I’m checked in, I have my boarding pass, and I’m waiting for my flight. Everything that needs to be paid for on this excursion now has been, and my tax return has arrived to offset the cost. Now it’s time to relax, recuperate, and reflect.

I’m not quite sure what form this or the subsequent posts will take… I just know that I have a lot to say, and I’m not quite sure how to sharpen it all up and organize it, so you might just get some verbal vomit here. Be prepared…

One thing that I have to say concerning my Coachella experiences, and one that I have long felt the need to say is this; what’s with the people attending in groups?

That probably already sounds strange. But let me elaborate. I’ve been to Coachella five times now, twice solo, and thrice with two different sets of two friends. And while it’s nice to have friends around to share the experience, I think I’ve enjoyed myself most thoroughly when going solo. Attending solo has given me freedom to wander on a whim, drifting from show to show without having to worry is the others want to do the same. I haven’t had to worry about anyone but myself, and I like that.

Watching those attending in groups, I’ve been astounded at how much time they waste on the logistics of staying connected. They move through the crowd at a crawl because of their insistence on staying in a tight pack. They get separated, then miss five minutes of the show because they’re texting or calling each other to re-connect. And at the close of the festival, when everybody just wants to get out of the human crush – this is the annoying part – they stand in the middle of the exodus, facing against traffic and slowing things down, as they wave hands and hats in the air to signal to their other group members. Because it’s totally unacceptable and inconceivable that they should, you know, meet out in the parking lot, at the car.

And on another point, what’s up with people’s insistence on using drugs and alcohol at concerts? The marijuana use I can understand to some degree, because I don’t see it having any increased ill-effects in conjunction with the heat – if you have to be inebriated to enjoy the festival, I suppose that’s the way to go. But what’s up with the people drinking alcohol? Now, I love beer. I mean I love beer. But when I’m at Coachella, beer is about the last thing I want. Why? Because alcohol always seems to increase my body heat and dehydrate me. Those are very undesirable outcomes when you are in the bone dry, 100 degree heat of the Coachella Valley. At that point, all I want is water, and maybe some sports drinks.

But on the larger issue, am I that odd for wanting to depend on the music for my intoxication? I have had some amazing experiences at concerts – the most psychedelic, out of my mind and body experiences. Religiousness, we’re talking about here. Transcending the body and self and reaching out beyond. Communing with God. Pure ecstasy, and I’m talking about the state, not the drug. And I’ve experienced this all through the music, with no assistance of drugs or alcohol. I’ve been stone-cold sober at every concert I’ve been to, and I’ve had some damn-fine times. Why aren’t more of the others doing the same?

But then, also, I’ve had a harder time achieving that same state of music-induced euphoria lately. The last time I experienced it was at Coachella 2003, and I experienced it big. All day Sunday I was dancing in the Sahara tent. The day culminated with the a massive set from Underworld, and an amazingly funky techno set from Richie Hawting. I have never danced so hard in my life. I was experiencing complete suspension of inhibitions and self. And it was bloody amazing.

However, in the few years before that, and in the years following – the current one included – I never quite attained that same level of euphoria at any concerts, and I don’t quite have they why puzzled out. Perhaps it’s age creeping up on me. Perhaps it’s related to my overall health (which was peaking in 2003). Perhaps the concerts just haven’t been as good. Whatever the case, I want that same level of rapture that I experienced at Coachella 2003 and Rave on the Rocks 1999 back. I want to experience it again and again. I want it to never stop. Perhaps those using drugs to alter their experiences are seeking the same thing. Not that I can endorse that, but this may give me a certain
degree of understanding. But then again, I think a lot of those folks are just immoral, lowly, dirty, and base party-folk. The same kind that get drunk and high every night of the week, and eat Domino’s pizza while playing video games, only to return to their crap service jobs the next day.
And that's as far as I got before my flight started boarding. Now I'm home, and I've been here for a while. I'm quite tired now, and I have to go to work tomorrow, but I feel satisfied. I feel transformed, if only slightly. I feel reconnected with the music scene, and with youth and energy in general. I feel vitality flowing back into me. Before heading home today, I went by the grocery store to pick up a few items. While I was selecting some mangos in the produce section, Depeche Mode's "Enjoy the Silence" started playing throughout the store. And I started nodding my head. And there was a bounce and sway in my step. And a shake in my ass. And I was dancing. Just so slightly, but I was dancing. That isn't something I would normally do. Normally I would enjoy the music, but find something to grumble about. But I wasn't grumbling, and I was dancing. And that is remarkable.

Travelblogue, Coachella 2006 10: Sunday Summary

Well, I deem Zac's trip to Coachella a success. Sunday went just as well as Saturday, and probably better, overall. I thoroughly enjoyed every act I watched today. Here's the summary, with the briefest of comments.
  • Matisyahu - Unexpectedly good. Like, prog-reggae or something. Doesn't sound like it would work, but it does.
  • Bloc Party - Outstanding. Just outstanding.
  • The Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Karen O is an outstanding rock & roll performer. She looks like she could have studied under Iggy Pop. Imagine Iggy, but with femenine sexuality, and occasional jaunts into girliness. Bonus points for swallowing the mic and screaming (I haven't seen that since the Murder City Devils' Spencer Moody did in back in Santa Cruz in October of 2001).
  • Massive Attack - You know how Mezzanine sounds really good when you turn up the volume and the bass really loud? Yeah, imagine that times, oh, about 100. Fantastic treatment of "Karma Coma" in particular.
  • Tool - These guys were my first concert back in '98, in a very small venue in a town that rarely gets visited by tours. They're still good and creepy in the way that only Tool can be.
I'll expand on everything later - there's much I'd like to say still... But for now, I have to get to sleep, as I have a flight to catch tomorrow.