Friday, June 23, 2017

Thursday, June 22, 2017


Join us in the comments for world-class analysis and hi-jinx. Now, some pictures to get you excited for the evening.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

zTravelogue: I Love The Hanshin Tigers

For my last night in Osaka I went to Koshien Stadium to watch Osaka's beloved Hanshin Tigers play the Yokohama DeNA Baystars. I think this was the best live sports experience of my life.

Tigers fans are notoriously passionate, possibly the most rabid fans in Japan. The Tigers are also perennial losers. Taken together, they were called the Red Sox of Japan until 13 years ago, and fans still use that analogy to explain their vibe to foreigners. When I went to the game they were in first place but the guys who took me assured me that it wouldn't last for long. They are 4 games out of first place as I write this.

I was invited to the game before I even left the US and I jumped at the chance, name dropping Kosuke Fukudome in my reply email after checking the roster and recognizing the former Cub. That I knew who Fukudome was put me in good stead as he is one of my host's favorite players.

I work closely with the two guys who took me to the game but I've only met them in person a handful of times. Most of our interaction is by phone or email. But they like to drink beer and watch baseball and we get along well so I was sure we would have fun.

In order to foster more eating and drinking in Osaka restaurants and bars, the local government started this "Premium Friday" summer program where corporations are incentivized to let employees leave early so long as they go out and have fun. Sort of like summer hours crossed with beer bash. As luck would have it, my last night in Osaka was the first Premium Friday ever so I went out with a large contingent of colleagues.

People in Japan love to drink, and if you aren't drinking speedily or volumetrically enough booze, someone will say "Will you drink my sake?" I Apparently this is trash talk (I think it sounds more like smack in Japanese) so when someone explained what was going on I started telling everyone "Oh, I'll drink your sake!!!" Aggressively. But it went over well (Osakans love humor, even misguided American humor) and I drank a lot of sake and malt liquor and ate some beef and fish and headed over to the subway.

A ticket from Umeda Station (right by my hotel) to Koshien is 270 yen, or about $2.50. As with all trains and subways in Osaka it was immaculate and the AC was forceful. We got there in about 20 minutes. I got off the train and the weather was perfect.

Koshien is the oldest stadium in Japan but you'd never know it. It looks modern and spotless, although the stadium itself doesn't look like much from the outside.

On the way in my hosts got all excited when we passed a trinket stand. They bought a bunch of what appeared to be unrolled condoms with very large reservoir tips and insisted that I do so too. They were balloons. More on this later.

We also passed a bunch of food vendors. Suffice it to say that ballpark food in Japan is different than what they serve in the Bronx.

Later we passed some higher quality merch. I abstained.

Then we went inside. The first order of business was getting more beer, then we found our seats in right field, near Fukudome. I settled into my seat and I was not prepared for what I saw. An entire section in left field was blue jerseys--Baystar fans. And they had flags and drums and trumpets and chants. It was hardcore. And it was clear that I would never run out of beer--the vendors are 21 year old girls in pink Asahi outfits carrying small kegs in backpacks. They are ubiquitous.


The Tigers fans soon clapped back. Turns out they have their own band in center field, sort of like the Bleacher Creatures only more musical. They even have a conductor. The whole crowd got into it.


One of my friends disappeared, presumably to go to the bathroom, and returned with two yellow Tigers jerseys. He told me "This is my gift to you so now you are a Tigers fan! And now we will wear them." I'm the fat guy on the right.

They don't play Take Me Out to the Ballgame during the 7th inning stretch. Instead they do this.


That's what the balloons were for. Fun, right? But that wasn't my favorite moment of the game. Here's my favorite moment of the game.

Top of the fifth inning, Fujinami, their 6'5" 19-year-old fireball-throwing future phenom with control problems (think of an Asian Nuke LaLoosh) gets into a jam. Japanese managers let their pitchers try and work out of it longer than Americans do--it only gets worse and he gives up three runs (one unearned) and they pull him with two men on. Iwakazi comes in and gets out of the inning but gives up two more runs. My friends are pissing and moaning, in English, throughout. "Oh, bad control!" "He trying to kill me!" "I've been saying he too young!" "Ug. Tigers." It really was kinda Red Soxy.

Bottom of the fifth, runners on first and second, Fukudome comes up to bat. He's 40 but he's still a slugger in this league and you can feel a energy and hope ripple through the crowd as he enters the box. The bandleader calls up their rally song--every batter has their own song, but this time they play the Hanshin rally song (this was explained to me by one of the other guys). You know how sometimes you can just feel a big play coming? Here's what happened. The video is a little over 2 minutes long but I think the payoff is worth it.


That was great. But it wasn't what made me title this post "I Love The Hanshin Tigers." I've never experienced a sporting event like this. Plenty of people were drinking, many heavily, but no one even considered getting into a fight. We were all having fun. There were tons and tons of children at the game. They were all well behaved and all the adults behaved well in front of them. There was passion and heartbreak (the Tigers went on to lose 5-2) but everyone was happy and upbeat. Everyone cheered together and no one took the loss to heart. Everyone knew all the songs and all the cheers, everyone wanted the home team to win and yelled themselves hoarse, but no one was a meathead or a jerk. No one gave the chubby American guy a hard time. Instead, for a few hours on the west side of Osaka on a perfect May afternoon into night, I was passively taken in by a community of people, embraced and accepted and included, and despite the fact that I had no idea what they were singing or why they were singing it, I had a spiritual experience. Those who know me well know that I laugh when people wax overly poetic about sports, and my sister says I'm the coldest person she knows, but God help me I got misty-eyed at the affection on display between parents and children, groups of friends, complete strangers. It was like a cross between an SEC football game, or maybe a Premier League soccer match, and a Quaker meeting. Maybe it was the alcohol, who knows. But I can't wait to get back to another Tigers game.

Monday, June 19, 2017

zTravelogue: Another must-try restaurant in Osaka, alternatively titled "Mm.. Food"

I went back to Osaka a few weeks ago and did two things for the first time that were post-worthy (no TR, not those kinds of things). I will regale with each in separate posts. Suspense!

I'm good friends with two guys in Osaka. The last time I went they took me to the Swimming Squid (which is still my favorite restaurant in Osaka). This time they took me to Umapero, a horse meat spot. The menu is all horse all day. For real.

It turns out horse is really good! And Umpero is really cool! As I should've expected from the Google translation of their website and the horse pinatas mounted over the door.

Fun drinking party girls' association! Reasonable horse meat! Homemade sangria and grilled wine glass! What could go wrong?

Our first course was horse sashimi. The white stuff on the right comes from the horse's neck, right under the skin below the mane. The stuff above the neck meat is skirt steak (which is the diaphragm). I think the thick pink meaty stuff on the top left was tenderloin. The stuff below that was cured tongue. The stuff below the tongue was sirloin, I think.

The neck meat wasn't particularly flavorful, but the other selections had clear, clean flavors. The tongue, skirt, and tenderloin were all lean and different from beef but not gamy or cloying like venison can be. The sirloin was fattier but not not nearly as fatty as Japanese beef.

After that was horse sushi. It was good but after that sashimi platter it was just more of the same and the rice actually detracted from the flavor of the meat.

I ate cooked food too, like this horse steak frites (which was completely indistinguishable from American beef).

We had a bunch of other cooked and raw courses, but the most interesting (at least to me) from a cultural perspective was the pastrami and pepperoni platter.

The ambiance is great too. The waitresses are friendly, cute, and speak serviceable English. Their uniforms include a golf shirt with one of those giant Polo logos, except instead of a mallet the polo guy has a giant fork. I was the oldest person there. Everyone was knocking back malt liquor and/or sake and you can smoke if you want. There were several tables of ladies that definitely made the place seem like "Fun drinking party girls' association." The tables are close to foster conversation between parties, and if things go well you don't have to go far--during a conversation about Japanese politics and societal norms, my friend Soichi pointed out the window to a building and said "That is a place for sex. If you meet a girl and want to have sex you don't have to take her home, you just go to an hourly place like that. They are all over the city." Umapero even has an adjacent hourly sex hotel! But be sure to bring some Alka-Seltzer and be prepared for strange smelling farts.

Umapero gets a 5 out of 5 spur rating. You should absolutely check it out if you're in Osaka. And if you need a reason to visit Osaka you should read my next post ...

Saturday, June 17, 2017

New (and Newish) Stuff I'm Listening To

Here's some new music I'm enjoying and you might too.

White Reaper, "The World's Best American Band"

Who would like them? TR, Clarence

What do they sound like? Everything there is to love about Van Halen, Queen, Blue Oyster Cult, Cheap Trick, Thin Lizzy; Japandroids if they got laid more and listened to AC/DC.

What's your favorite track? Crystal Pistol

The Regrettes, "Feel Your Feelings Fool!

Who would like them? rob, Squeaky, anyone who won't be depressed to learn that the band members are in high school

What do they sound like? An angrier harder Dum Dum Girls; a post-modern feminist take on 60's rock n roll; a cross between the Pixies and Florence and the Machine if Florence had a sore throat and recorded an album in a broom closet using old and marginally functional equipment.

What's your favorite track? It's hard to say, the whole album's really good. I Don't Like You is good, but Hey Now and Hot have actual music videos so I'll post those.

And this isn't on the album but it's worth listening to.

Talib Kweli, "Indie 500" (This isn't new but it escaped my notice until recently.)

Who would like them? Mark, maybe Dave

What do they sound like? Exactly what you would expect a Talib Kweli/9th Wonder collaboration to sound like.

What's your favorite track? Every Ghetto. This song is so sparse and so hard that it inspired me to write a post about the sparsest hardest conscious songs in hiphop history but I never wrote it.

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, "The Nashville Sound"

Who would like them? Rootsy, Whitney, rob, anyone who appreciates lyrics that are simultaneously austere and a punch to the gut

What do they sound like? Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, which is to say damn good.

What's your favorite track? This album comes out June 16 and I'm writing this on June 15 so I've only heard four songs. That said, If We Were Vampires is the weirdest love song I've ever heard but it's sincere--you can hear Isbell's voice crack around the 1:56 mark.

Friday, June 16, 2017

I Want My MTV

Okay, so if you're the opposite of the guy who needed 40 years of hip-hop videos crammed into one 4 minute song, this is for you.  Got all day and nothing to fill it? Well, here's one hour and 18 mins of MTV from June 16, 1982.  As in 35 years ago today.

The videos are limited to a few seconds of each, which is as much as you need of certain acts.  (I'm looking at you, Loggins.)  There are old commercials, amusing and nostalgic.  (Erasable pens! Wow!) Touring info like Asia playing Norfolk Scope on June 25, and tons of cool arty graphics of the MTV logo.

And lots of Martha Quinn.Who doesn't love Martha Quinn?

Total waste of time but more compelling than I would've thought.

Did you know?  Five (5) of the first 50 videos aired on MTV were Rod Stewart tunes.  What gives?

Untitled . . . or Monkey Wrench, Whichever

Gheorgheness occurring is worth celebrating these days, what with some decidedly un-gheorghey people barking most loudly.

Dave Grohl did a cool thing, one which probably didn't require a large degree of skin off his back, but (a) plenty of folks in his position don't do that and (b) it was still very kind and very thoughtful.

Personal backstory: I don't boycott many things in my life, in part because I enjoy a lot of stuff and in part because I don't have the will power to see it through.  But I boycotted Dave Grohl for a while.

I formally abstained from the Wendy's on Lee Highway in Arlington when I was living with Rob (when he boycotted Best Buy).  They mangled every drive-thru order, just total and complete ineptitude.  Never to my advantage.  I let them off the hook in 1996, and on the very first run-through they forgot my order of chili.  I don't eat much fast food these days, but since that night that particular Wendy's has had a lifetime ban.

I have consistently forbidden myself to frequent Paul's Deli in Williamsburg, Virginia since 1989. Our fraternity was banned from entering for a semester for throwing snowballs at the place during an inter-frat pelting one snowstorm in late '88, my freshman year. Banned in a really heavy-handed manner by the owner, George.  Then he proclaimed in the spring that we were once again allowed to resume spending our limited funds at his establishment.  Didn't go over well.

A huge group of our gang rolled into Paul's one afternoon.  George was all smiles, very welcoming.  Everyone lined up and ordered sandwiches one by one, and ordered some pitchers.  The sandwiches were being made.  The pitchers were all poured.  And just as it was time to pay, one of our most smart-assed brethren said for all to hear, "Eh . . . let's go over to College [the adjacent, rival deli]."  Mass exodus.  Permanent ban of our fraternity!

The permanence of that ban was severely tested.  George forgot about it after some years.  Meanwhile, some of our less-imbued fratres caved very early.  Others over time.  I have never purchased food or drink there since, and although I don't really care at all, I'll go ahead and take advantage of the opportunity to mockingly question any of our vintage who do.

Worth noting that George bought the College Delly some years back.  Point totally moot at this point.  But still . . .

In 1997 or 1998, I was living in Arlington, fairly newly married.  Sitting on the couch and watching Kilborn interview Dave Grohl on the "Daily Show" prequel.  Kilborn asked Grohl what kind of music he listened to, other than that which he created.

Out of nowhere, utterly unprovoked, Dave Grohl responds:
"Why, what do you listen to, Craig?  Bruce Springsteen?  because if he's the Boss, then I quit!"
I remember shouting angrily and shaking my fist -- with no one around.  Always a bad sign.

That was it.  The boycott was on.  I told Evan and he would have boycotted Grohl and the Foo Fighters as well, if he had been otherwise interested in that band at all.

That ban lasted for a few years.  Signifying nothing, of course, but it was the principle.  Those years were the apex of my chronic CD-buying time, and I steadfastly refused to buy their album.

Sometime after acknowledging that "My Hero" and "Everlong" were great tunes and I was only impacting myself with the ban, I later broke down and eventually bought The Colour and the Shape.

Used.  Ha ha!!  Take that, Dave Grohl!

Over time, of course, Mr. Grohl cemented his reputation as a top-shelf music composer and performer, as well as an all-around great dude.  No more boycotts.

Makes you think, though -- did my punishment help turn him into who he is today?  One has to wonder.

Fast forward to now.  Among a number of other cool things, Dave Grohl reached out to a mourning fan and did this:

Dave Grohl Sends Heartfelt Note to Husband of Fan who Died of Cancer 

The band is expected to dedicate 'Everlong' to his late wife at Glastonbury.

Dave Grohl has a big heart, as he proved yet again by sending a touching note to the husband of UK Foo Fighters fan who recently died of cancer. 

 The woman, Laura Plane, suffered an eight-year battle with the disease before she died last year. She and her husband Jon were huge Foo fans. When they were married, they danced to the band’s song “Everlong” for their first dance and they had planned to attend a Foo Fighters gig to celebrate their 10th anniversary. But Laura was too ill to make the show. So her husband posted a note to the band to ask them to play “Everlong” at Glastonbury festival in her honor. 

After the post went viral Grohl wrote a response to Plane on a piece of scrap paper: “Jon – Dave here,” he wrote. “Heard about Laura. Sending you much love and hope and light. Will be thinking of you at Glasto. Take care mate.”

Full article here.

Kudos to Dave Grohl and the gheorgheness he brings on a pretty routine basis.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

I Come Bearing Mashup Magic

Sure, it's not the Muppets, but it's definitely in our wheelhouse:

[H/T here]