Monthly Archives: September 2006

I Can See Why You’d Want to Live Here

I came back from Los Angeles with Melanie on Monday night, and though I’ve been doing my thing in Queens for the past three days, I thought I’d jot some moments from the trip before I forget. While I do appreciate thematic journeys/vacations laced with life lessons and “insightful” perspectives, I’ve found myself moving away from overt sentimentalism to a more matter-of-fact reporting style accompanied by one or two personal notes. It’s a more mechanical way of writing, but I think it saves me from wincing too much with embarassment when I re-read my entries later on. If you’d like to skip reading my thoughts, please feel free to check out photos from the trip.

Before our 5-day trip to LA, I distinctly remember hearing Death Cab for Cutie’s Why You’d Want To Live Here on my iPod Shuffle at the gym. There’s a mix of contempt and fascination for LA in the lyrics – “I can almost see a skyline through a thickening shroud of egos. / Is this the city of angels or demons?” – and this song kept turning in my head throughout the trip.

The trip highlights:

Reunion with Jay Mung – sporting a hipster haircut and hipster lifestyle, Jay, currently pursuing a masters at USC, played the role of graceful host, constantly entertaining and spicing up the nightlife with Mung-esque activities. He even provided me a mattress (albeit from a stack of abandoned mattresses) to sleep on during my stay. A large towel was used as a cover for sanitary purposes.

The Getty Museum – having read about Robert Irwin in his biography, I was excited to check out his Central Garden at The Getty. While I was uninterested in the exhibitions, there was plenty to see in the architecture of the museum itself.

Fast food – In&Out, Carl’s Jr., and Del Taco. I let myself go and indulged in the “higher-quality” fast foods of California. The In&Out burger was reminiscent of Shake Shack in New York, the pastrami burger at Carl’s Jr. was decadent (and mad good), and Del Taco seemed a notch or two above Taco Bell.

K-town – I didn’t have the opportunity to explore much of Koreatown. I biked there once with Mung for a naeng-myun lunch, stopped at BCD for late-night after-clubbing MSG soondubu jigae, and one last time at Hodori for after-concert eats. It’s huge, and I hope someone will take me to more “in” spots the next time around. It was also tough to visualize the vibrant place as the stomping ground during the LA Riots more than 15 years ago.

weather and traffic – the weather was great while I was there with temperatures in the low seventies. The nights do get chilly, and there is absolutely no humidity. It’s nice, but my New York pride wouldn’t permit me to say that I’d love to have such weather all the time. Traffic wasn’t too bad while I was there – we did get stuck from time to time, but finding parking seems to be just as bad of an issue.

TV Show Taping – Mike Lee hooked me and Melanie up with VIP seats at a taping of Fox’s new show ‘Til Death, starring Brad Garrett, the tall goofy brother of Everybody Loves Raymond. It was really interesting and fun to see the actual taping process and the elaborate sets at Sony Studios. The studio put a great deal of effort in having the audience involved – they had an emcee (a fat bald guy with Michael Moore’s voice) whose job was to rally the audience and keep us entertained in between scenes. We even had free pizza. The taping was a bit too long (scheduled to last 5+ hours), so Mel and I left after a couple of hours.

Hollywood Bowl – my last night in LA was well spent at the outdoor amphitheater, the Hollywood Bowl. We – Mung, Mung’s friend Ana, and myself – watched TV on the Radio and Massive Attack from the nosebleed seats in section Q while sipping pinot noir from plastic wine glasses. We also munched on cheeses, crackers, grapes, and Mung’s favorite pecan pie. A wonderful time and very reminiscent of Mung’s Weekender outing for Shakespeare in the Park four summers earlier.

The Other Pae – I met up with Brandon’s cousin Jason, who is currently a senior at UCLA. Mung, Mike, and I went over to his apartment in Westwood and hung out with him and his roommate Paul (a sublet for the summer). Paul, a tall guy with blond, flowing (yet thinning) hair, was a set designer who worked on the sets of music videos and movies. The five of us chatted in the living room before going to Westwood Brewery for a few drinks. A very chill and relaxing time – and it was good to see Jason again.

The ‘Burbs – I spent a night out in Walnut, where Mung’s parents currently live. It is like any other suburban community you’d see across America except that it’s overwhelmingly Asian. Think of Main Street Flushing stretched out for dozens of miles (and cleaned up) with cul-de-sacs of very nice homes in every side street. I met Mung’s neighbor and buddy Max – a super-laid back and friendly dude – and did suburban things like hitting up the driving range (a most unsatisfying time due to our inadequacy as golfers) and going to a local bar, which happened to be a Korean joint called Good Time. Mel came out with her buddies Maggie and Alice and we did a few rounds of Sam Adams pitchers before calling it a night. I really liked Mung’s parents’ home, the way it had a large area in the back to entertain guests, and the way it was situated on a sloping hill with clear views of the sprawling Asian American suburb.

I really admired the culture of outdoor activity in California – the restless desire to go outside and bike, run, and/or swim. Mung and I engaged in some physical activities as we played tennis, biked, and even played some hoops. The idea of outdoor exercise in LA seemed different than in New York. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it felt like people there were willed by the constant good weather to be active while in New York, outdoor activities seem like just another outlet for Type A personalities to release their competitive angst. Maybe it’s not so different in LA, but here, the unpredictable weather and excellent public transportation spoil us.

I hope to spend more time outdoors, especially now that it’s lovely autumn weather in New York. And perhaps learn to lose the anxious feeling of being away from the computer at midday. Parting words, courtesy of Death Cab:

And I can’t see why you’d want to live here,
Billboards reach past the tallest buildings,
“We are not perfect
but we sure try” as UV rays “degradate” our youth with time.

Weekend as Identity?

Can a person’s identity be reflected in the way he or she spends the weekend? I think it depends – if you are given a blank canvas with no obligations and energy to spare, then there is a chance that your weekend can say a lot about you, more so than a weekend involving planned outings, a roadtrip, or a series of errands. And even more so if there is a certain level of awareness – even if only a passing thought – in how you shape your weekend and how you think others might perceive your decisions. I think this past weekend was a good example of a blank canvas. A little recap:

* I had a strong urge to clean my apartment on Saturday morning. I organized my room, did the dishes, took out the garbage, and went to Home Depot with Andy to buy a new mop that could squeeze itself with a twist (pretty neat). I then proceeded to mop the floors, making it safe to walk around barefoot.

* I decided to check out the Brooklyn Book Festival, particularly the panel Of Chaos and Fiction: In an era of war and global political trauma, how do writers maintain their artistic equilibrium and stay focused on their craft? Does reality intrude? A panel discussion with Nicole Krauss (The History of Love), Jhumpa Lahiri (Namesake), Jaime Manrique (Our Lives are the Rivers), and Elizabeth Nunez (Bruised Hibiscus). I was luckily one of the last handful of people to be admitted after repeated warnings about the courtroom being full. It was great to listen to Jhumpa talk, since I’m a big fan of her Interpreter of Maladies. She read a passage from a New Yorker piece that was published in May, which I was glad to have read. If I was to take anything significant away from the panel, I’d say it would be the idea of writing as a way to order the chaos that is our everyday lives — nothing new, but always a good reminder.

* After the panel, I met up with Graceface, who just began attending Brooklyn Law, and had dinner with her at Noodle Pudding, a nice homey Italian joint on Henry St. between Cranberry and Middagh Sts. Afterwards, I went to her apartment/dorm – which was designed by the same guy who did the Broadway dorm at Columbia, thus explaining the same-style furniture and decor – and continued my duties as John Mayer evangelist, letting her import from my Continuum CD. We then went to a Starbucks nearby and chatted before I headed back.

* I stopped by Koreatown to meet up with Brandon, Jong, and Andy for some drinks. We went to the bar below Space Cafe 212 (what’s it called?) and had light Korean beers, a fruit platter, and bowls of popcorn that they refilled for us. They played Spiderman and I, Robot on a projection screen, so when we ran out of things to talk about, we just watched the moving images (no sound). We made the usual cracks on each other and chatted about sports, making money, and girls – the usual.

* At home, I worked on setting up Andy’s new blog about golf, Double Par. It was fun designing the simple logotype and page layout, and I hope he writes some cool stuff.

* On Sunday morning, I woke up to see if a scheduled pickup basketball game was still going on. I called the guy who organized the get-together, but found out that nobody was able to make it. I decided to stay put and puttered around the apartment, tweaking Andy’s blog a bit more, showing him how to use it, and settling down to watch some pro football. I quickly grew disinterested in the Giants-Eagles game as the Giants fell behind early, but as we all know now, they made an amazing comeback and won in OT. Go Eli!

* I read an entry on Gothamist about a play called Never Swim Alone, “swift, funny satire about two Alpha-males and their ruthless competition for the title of Top Dog.” Quickly intrigued, I found an equally interested party in Anita and made plans to watch it later in the afternoon. Oddly enough, the play was playing at The Lion Theater, a few doors down from my old residence 420 West 42nd and a place I never imagined going to all the times I walked by it last year. Anita, who was stuck in a cab in traffic, made a heroic dash and made it into the theater at the last second. The ensuing show, only 55 minutes long, was incredibly entertaining, brilliant, and memorable. It’s tough to describe the play clearly, but just imagine two very white, cocky banker types using their best schmooze-talk (although things heat up later) to convince the audience that one is better than the other – The Office meets American Psycho in surrealist fashion.

* I had dinner with Anita at HK afterwards, a hip and trendy noveau diner a few blocks away. Going back to HK reminded me of all the Sundays I used to frequent the place, ordering its jumbo cups of coffee and delicious French toast topped with generous portions of fresh fruit. I had the portobello mushroom sandwich, which was a pleasant surprise, especially with its sweet onion marmalade. The Magic Hat #9 beer that I also had made me excited about my upcoming Vermont trip, where I definitely hope to stop by their brewery.

* Back at the apartment, I watched more football highlights and then got ready for a “Barrel conference call” at ten o’clock. It was a three-way call with Wook and Dan, and we had a nice talk about upcoming projects and a need to steer our work more internally, so that we may pursue projects of our own creation rather than piling on more client work. I realized that I’ve been way too hurried about growth and making money. It’s time to be more patient, and I need to bring back the bigger picture.

* During the course of the weekend, I read a bit of Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees, a biography about contemporay artist Robert Irwin by Lawrence Weschler. It’s a really well-written biography, almost in the style of a New Yorker profile, and though I’m not a big art history guy, I’ve been intoxicated by the cool, laid-back yet intense persona of Irwin portrayed in the book. I particularly loved the way Irwin describes his passion for cars and how he believed that a teenager’s handywork in fixing up a car or motorcycle was a true form of folk art: “Everything [about the car] was thought out in terms of who you were, how you saw yourself, what your identity was… a folk art is when you take a utilitarian object, something you use everyday, and you give it overlays of your own persoanlity, what it is you feel, and so forth.” How about weekends?

Life Continuum

I spent most of the day today with Melanie at Barnes & Noble on 66th Street on the Westside. We did step outside and walked to Columbus Circle for delicious sandwiches at Bouchon Bakery at the Time Warner Center as well as a free sampling of Illy lattes on the first floor. We also stopped by at Borders Bookstore where I decided to pick up my own copy of John Mayer’s Continuum instead of waiting for Wook to bring a copy of it on Friday.

Continuum – it feels like I’ve waited for this album since the end of 2004, when I had managed to play Heavier Things (his last album) on nonstop repeat for over a year. There were moments of relief, like when the limited edition live concert album As If was released in early 2005 and when the John Mayer Trio album Try! was released in late 2005. But they just weren’t as exciting as a whole new John Mayer album and speculation about Continuum being an incredible album intensified my anticipation. So now I have it and I’m listening to it right now. I’m already familiar with three of the songs on this 12-track album – Waiting on the World to Change, Gravity, and Vultures. I recognized Gravity on the season premiere of House (on Fox) last night and yelled out in excitement after hearing the first few notes of the song. It’s a very slow album, but I think I prefer a slow, blues-ish John Mayer to anything uptempo and pop-like. And don’t be quick to judge him right away – let his lyrics and beats grow on you. That’s what happened with Heavier Things, and I know Continuum will be the same way.

Melanie pointed me to a recent John Mayer interview in Rolling Stone magazine and it was nice to read about him. On being told by the head of Columbia Records that his new album had no singles-worthy songs, Mayer says he cried all day and “contemplated quitting the music business. ”

“‘I started looking up design schools online, because I was ready to go to design school,” says Mayer

Design school. Oh man – imagine John Mayer designing your band’s music album CDs. You can check out the article here.

And to make sure the day wasn’t a complete wash, I did organize the Barrel Library on our Backpackit site. These are mostly design books, but some are business self-help books and others are art history books as well. We hope to build a sizeable collection in the next year or so. Alright, time to make dinner – kimchi and tuna fried rice.