justin adler, blog, buenos aires, bahia blanca, university of arizona, brooklyn, basketball, travel, paul mcpherson

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Thursday Night Adventures With Old Christine



I'm still not sure what happened last night. Sarah and I went out to dinner with our neighbor Christine, a short and feisty woman I'd guess to be 65 years old. If you talk to Christine for at least three minutes (an easy task as she effortlessly turns small talk into a 10 minute conversation), you're guaranteed to hear, "Nowwa, Lissen heare," "Well i says," and "Boy, I oughta hit you upside the head!"

On top of the joy that comes with conversing with the human incarnate of Foghorn Leghorn, I love talking to Christine because I feel like I'm doing some good in the world by spending time with an old woman who lives by herself. The other day I suggested that Christine come over for dinner. 

"Hell, Justin your wife is too pretty to be cooking in the kitchen, let's go out to eat," was her way of saying, "Sure." After we agreed upon going out on Thursday, I received a call from her that afternoon, where she just kept repeating, "Are you sure you wanna go out with me? I'm nuts! I tell ya, I'm nuts."

Now would probably be as good a time as any to disclose the 5% ulterior motive, to the 95% of me just being a good guy who wants to provide some company to a lonely woman, who for all I know, isn't actually lonely at all.

At the end of the month Christine is moving back to her hometown of Greenville, Mississippi and I was hoping that she'd just give us a sweet deal on her apartment, which is much bigger and has a real bedroom, unlike ours which has a walk-in closet that happens to just fit a queen-size bed.

When game time rolled around and Sarah and I strolled the thirty feet from apt 203 to apt 207. Christine rumbled to the door, let us in and within 60 seconds, she was already saying she wanted us to have the apartment and that we need to move in. She repeats this over and over without revealing any numbers. 

As we walk the six blocks to a Thai restaurant that she had picked out, Christine is babbling about everything and anything. She often will stop mid-walk to tell a story, this was especially troublesome when she stopped in the middle of the six-lane avenue of Van Ness, forcing us to dangerously stand on the narrow median. The short commute that should have been eight minutes, ended up taking us well over 30 minutes.

The entire time she either gripped Sarah's arm, my arm, or both in an effort to maintain balance. As she kept leaning backward, I was very afraid that she was going to topple over. Fortunately, she never fell. Unfortunately, I couldn't stop feeling like I was in an episode of Seinfeld, woo-ing an old lady in an attempt to steal the apartment she's owned since 1975.

Once we arrived at the Thai restaurant T2J, Christine let her presence felt. She shouted out the staff's names -- names that I'm not sure were all that acurate since I have a hard time believing a Thai woman is named "Punky." After doling out a few kisses and hugs, she ordered up a delicious duck salad dish, followed by some crunchy egg rolls. Over a few glasses of wine she told us stories that ranged from wildly confusing, to utterly boring, to just-above-mediocre.

"You know what Bob's landscape is?!" was followed by a 10-minute rant that can be summed up by the fact that she once saw "Bob's landscape" painted on a tractor wheel in Spokane, Washington.

"Sarah you're gonna love riding the combine," she said, once we told her we'd like to visit her in Mississippi (although the odds of that actually happening are slim). "Justin, you can't ride the combine, you're stuck in the kitchen cooking rice with me."

"Don't fuck with Chinese men!" Christine repeated frequently in regards to the Chinese chef, who gave Christine her fifth glass of wine for free.

"You know Daddy was a scout for the Dodgers and Giants, on top of running the rice plantation." I really can't tell you how much I love how she refers to her late father as "Daddy," and the fact she actually grew up, and is returning to a rice plantation is just the cherry on top.

My own lunacy prompted the most awkward part of the night. I'm not sure what to call my faux-ADD other than faux-ADD, but at the end of a meal, I often doodle images into the sauce on a plate with the edge of my fork, or I'll rip my paper placemat into million pieces. Last night I was unconsciously shredding a piece of parsely until Christine asked, "What the hell are you doing?"

I tried to play it off. But just like a mother trying to teach her son a lesson, Christine wouldn't let it go. She kept yelling, “Make it right,” and no matter how I tried to reconfigure, or simply hide the dissected parsley leaves, she would put them in front of me and demand that I put it back together. This went on for a good 15 minutes.

After she brought up the fact that she wanted us to have her apartment for the 203rd time and after we subtly said we're relatively poor, and shyly inquired about the price for the 203rd time, we learned she's was willing to give us the apt for $3,500/month, which is cheaper than the $4,000 she knows she can get. This woman may have been tipsy and full of love, but she knew full well what she's sitting on and the SF real estate market. Our dreams of moving on up from an incredible apartment to an incredible-and-massive apartment were over, but like I said before, that was only 5% of the evening's goal.

Sarah and I picked up the bill and this moved Christine to cry tears of joy for a long two minutes. I'm pretty sure it's a good Thursday night when you get an old woman, or anyone, to cry tears of happiness, even if those tears of joy have been greased by fives glasses of wine. 

She tried to offer us money as she felt bad about us paying, but I got her to laugh when I told her that we'd deduct the check from the bill of sale when we buy her house in a few years.

We took a cab back to our place and walked Christine to her door. She gave Sarah a bunch of cookware and kitchen utensils, with the promise that we'd be scoring a lot more goods before she moves out. I'm OK with the fact that half of our kitchen has came from Christine or /r/randomactsofamazon, which Sarah has learned to master -- both have been a lot more fun than the wedding registry we both felt wrong about making since we didn't invite anyone to the wedding. 

At the end of the night, Sarah told me she couldn't believe how wasted Christine was from the start of the night. Somehow this went over my head as I thought she was just an very nice and very old lady. 

Friday, March 29, 2013

A Modest Proposal (With A Knife-Edge Pass)



I don't know much about franchising, the Air Force's budget, or Catalonia's ongoing independence efforts. But here's a sales pitch I wrote from the Blue Angels to the Catalan government. I think it's a win-win for all parties involved. 

Dear Arthur Mas or any high-ranking Catalan official who loves air shows:
 
I've noticed your autonomous region is on the brink of becoming an independent European state and I wanted to let you know how thrilled the US Navy is for your nearly successful secession. As an early gift, I’d like to present you with an attractive offer of your very own Blue Angels franchise – the aerobatic flight demonstration squadron that is essential to any military. More importantly, the Angels are capable of performing the Knife-Edge Pass: a stunt where two fighter jets fly directly toward one another on an apparent collision course of fiery death, until one flips upside down(!) at the last possible second to avoid the crash and leave onlookers in utter awe!!
 
Yes, I know it sounds – and is – absolutely incredible, but you’re probably thinking you have more pressing issues facing your soon-to-be-independent region. There are the headaches associated with fiscal sovereignty and a 22% unemployment rate, plus that whole applying-to-join-the-EU thing. However, coming from a freshly-minted-independent country (speaking in the overall history of western civilization context) myself, trust me when I say that those first two minor issues will take care of themselves.
 
As for gaining admission to the EU… Who wouldn't want a country that just scored itself six slickly-painted F/A-18 Hornets capable of doing a Double Farvel at 400 mph?! (That’s 643.738 kmh!!!)
 
Now that we've taken care of the boring stuff, let’s get to the fun part. If you make a tiny deposit today, we’ll throw in a 40-show supply of sky-writing smoke canisters inCatalan and FC Barcelona colors. Plus we’ll give you our highly-confidential, brand new technology for skywriting accent marks and that squiggly line on your “ç.”
 
Yet I know times are tough and I know that some sweet independència (just imagine that written in the sky, and really try to visualize that “è”) isn't going to erase your country’s debt of €43.95 billion and I know the Angels franchise annual operating cost of €145 million (special reduced-for-Catalonia price!) can seem a bit intimidating. But let me remind you that these jets can do that mind-blowing trick where they really look like they’re going to crash, but they don’t collide because one flips upside down at the last second and leaves an awesome colored-smoke trail. You can’t really put a price on that or the inspiration it will provide countless Catalans.

Remember this is a limited-time offer, so act now before this deal makes like a slot pilot in a Delta Break-Out and invert rolls away! (That’s Angel talk, don’t worry you’ll catch on quick.)
 
Sincerely,
Captain Jim McKisson
Sales Representative to Potentially Independent Regions
 
P.S. If you think this whole Catalan-independence thing is over-hyped and not really going to happen, could you by chance give me the number of a high-ranking Scottish official who loves air shows.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Patting My Back



I'm still riding the high of scoring the winning point in a last night's pick-up game.

Sure, it was a sloppy in-traffic lay-up that barely rattled in. 

Sure, it was the end to a game that featured two tiny 15-year-old kids. Kids who had far superior dribbling and shooting skills than myself. Too-cool-for-school kids that shrugged me off post-game, after I tried to give them some praise and compliment their game. 

But dammit, I hit the winning shot while wearing a pair of Gil Zeros. And in that same rubbish game to 11, I swished a 12 foot fade-away along the baseline. The shot where in my head I can see myself floating majestically away from the hoop, as my picture-perfect form is just as stunningly beautiful as Kobe's. The shot that in reality is me awkwardly spinning while clearing the ground by all of three inches. 

Somewhere in heaven China, Gilbert is smiling. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

El Ultima Dia


I spent my last morning in Barcelona sitting in the windowless upstairs cave of my of Quality Street, the art gallery/collective/hangout where I met most my BCN-based friends. I sunk into a well-worn brown leather chair and watched Corinthians play Chelsea in a cup that I didn't know about until the night before. As I sat there watching a grainy internet stream, while my friends chain smoked and ate Burger King, I realized I did it. I went to a completely foreign country with zero connections and found myself in the exact same place I'd be if I was back in the States. 

After giving my Brazilian friend Carlos some congratulatory handshakes for his club's win, I started to check off the few remaining items on my Barna bucket list. 

I rode up Passieg Sant Joan to visit Casa Macaya and snap a picture of the bike sculpted into the building's entry way. The bike respresents the buildings architect Josep Puig i Cadafalch, who rode his bike between projects. 

Then I headed over to the Christmas market in front of the cathedral to snap photos of the caganers, because that's the best poop-related Christmas tradition outside of Mr. Hanky. Brief back story: Since the late 18th century, Catalans have placed a pooping figuring aside their nativity scene. The "shitter" is fertilizing the earth, or any of the other explanations from wikipedia. Catalans also have the Caga tió aka Shitting Log aka Christmas log, which is far better than Santa, because you don't get to beat Santa with a stick until he shits out candy. While little Catalans do get to beat Caga tió with a stick while singing a song that translates to: "Shit log, shit nougats (turrón), hazelnuts and cottage cheese, if you don't shit well, I'll hit you with a stick, shit log!"

After I'd Catalan Christmas'd myself out, I bounced over to Raval to get one final haircut from my Pakistani barber who is the first person in the world to give me a haircut that I don’t hate. The fact that his prices range from 3 to 4 euros for a cut also make it a great stop. Inside the dingy shop, three fellow Pakistanis sat in the waiting area and watched a championship game of Kabaddi being broadcast on a 13-inch oldschool TV that was hung in the corner of the shop. 

I still have zero clue about how Kabaddi works. It’s one shirtless and shoeless guy against
four opposing equally disrobed athletes. After watching it for 10 minutes I could only gather that it
was a cross between Red Rover and wrestling.

Post Kabaddi/hair cut sesh, I passed through Ciutadella park one last time and tried to take in all its beauty as I have no clue when I’ll ever get back. It’s a shame that despite reading its wiki eight times over I never could remember its amazing history of being a jail or prison town or something properly. 

I did snap a picture of this kid though. 

When I showed Sarah the picture, she asked if the kid was alright. But at the time I never even thought to ask if he was OK. I just snapped and bopped. 

This is the same logic that I used when I didn't help a young woman in the grocery store who had tripped and fell. Sarah said I was rude, but my thinking was that she was too embarrassed
and I was doing the right thing by not drawing any more attention to her.

Back to Barcelona. Many of our friends came over for one final goodbye. We played Pictionary and I drew the word "Warsaw." Having little knowledge of Warsaw I sketched a picture of a war, which was quickly
guessed, then a picture of a saw, which everyone recognized but nobody knew the word of in
English, which ruined my turn. I joked that this is why I need to return to America, but it was actually better than any other moment in my short Pictionary career. 

After our friends left I was sad that I wouldn’t be seeing many of them for a long, long while and I'd probably never see all of them together again. I stared off my balcony into a plaza that I’d spent countless hours gazing into. Then I heard the bar below come alive after a Barca goal (somehow I watched a Corinthinians game and Kabaddi game, but I couldn’t bother to care about watching my local club one last time). It was a nice year. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Quick Munich Memories


I went to Munich last weekend, where I drank some beer, endured the frigid, frigid cold, saw some guys surfing in the same frigid, frigid cold. On my birthday I went to the BMW Museum, a fancy spot where I'm pretty sure I was the only person wearing grocery store plastic bags in my shoes. 


A real Bavarian

Pizza L'Avia Round 13


I've wrote about Pizza L'Avia here before. And there (slightly) before as well. But I still don't feel like I've done the place justice. 

So here's a collection of Mario-related tidbits that I need to have documented on this blog. 

• Of all of Mario's books ranging from the Voynich Manuscript, Pythagoras, Free Mason Society, as well as a collection of short stories he collected while the Barcelona metro system. I chose the surreal subway adventures figuring it would be easier to read short essays in Castilian rather than trying to decipher an analysis of the Voynich Manuscript.


Upon signing my copy, he asked me what my favorite word was. I froze for a second realizing that I didn't have a favorite word, then I looked around for inspiration and said, “Empanada.” With his massive arm already resting atop the display case, he put his hand on his forehead and began writing a poem about “empanadas” with the most serious resolve I’ve ever seen a human exhibit.

The poem reads:

Desde el Mexicolindo, las fiesteras muchachas, los guacamoles y mas al sur donde el sol cambia con las nubes, las empanadas, un mundo atrasado, que nos recuerda, que hacimos sin hogas, sin cueva, los sobrevivientes, los analfabetos, los olvidados. Luego las aspiraciones de escritor del mundo desarrollado.

Which I can roughly translate to:

Since the beautiful Mexico, the party-loving girls, the guacamole and more to the south where the sun changes with the clouds, the empanadas, a backward world, that remembers us, what we did without homes, without cave, the survivors, the illiterate, the forgotten. Then the writer’s aspirations of the developed world. 

• Mario told me that during the 1992 Olympics, then Texas governor George W. Bush ate at his restaurant three days in a row. He said that W always ate a Napolitan-style pizza and would bring his plate to Mario when he was done. Despite the fact that Mario hates W's politics, he was a kind guy. I've told this story to friend who doubt that W would be wondering around the Raval neighborhood in 1992. But dammit. I want to believe.

• If I had to rate the service at Pizza L'Avia, I would give it the best .25 star ever. It's always the same waiter, a man whose name I believe is Gabbi. He's just as tall as Mario's at-least-six-foot-frame, but Gabbi is every bit as lanky as Mario is wide. Even my native-Spanish-speaking friends find it almost impossible to understand a word he says. When you ask for a bottle of cava, he'll bring it to your table, unopened, because at 4.50 a bottle, you have to open it yourself. Then once you have opened it, you're faced with the tough task of flagging down Gabbi to ask for some glasses to drink from. 

• Paying the bill at Pizza L'Avia has never been done in less than 20 minutes time. The process normally goes like this: 
- Ask Gabbi for the bill. 
- Wait 5 minutes
- Go up to the cash register to ask Mario for the bill
- Wait at least 5 minutes
- Finally get Mario's attention
- Wait 6 minutes as he gets distracted by something else
- Tell Mario what you had
- Wait 4 minutes for Mario to confirm this with Gabbi
- Receive your bill and give Mario the money
- Look in awe as Mario pulls out a 8-inch thick wallet from his pants pocket and gives you the change. 
- Thank Mario and be on your way

• Mario claims he is responsible for bringing hot dogs and American-style hamburgers to Barcelona. 

• On my way out I would normally bullshit with Mario for a few minutes on politics, the neighborhood,  and whatever else he wanted to discuss. At the end of each conversation he would thank me then hand me a tin-foil-wrapped alfajor. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Ben



In my junior year of college I shared a Spanish class with Ben. At first I wasn't a big fan of Ben, because he always asked too many questions and he would get so nervous before each question that each question would take forever to get out. 

The class' final project was for each student to give a 10-minute speech in front of the entire class, entirely in Spanish. I can't remember what I spoke about, but I remember being excited to see Ben fail in front of the class because I was (maybe still am?) a terrible person. 

But instead of falling apart, Ben gave an incredible performance that I'll never forget. He began talking about his incredible memory, then we went around the class person to person and correctly said everyone's birthday and day of the week they were born on. (He'd got the dates from Facebook). No note cards, just a very solid memory that allowed him to shoot a perfect 30/30.

I was blown away and instantly became a fan of Ben and hated myself for ever hating him. I learned that on top of memorizing the birthday of everyone he meets he was also skilled at writing backwards as well as he could forward.

I haven't talked to Ben since I graduated from Arizona in the spring of 2008, but every year since then he's wrote a backwards birthday wish on my Facebook wall. This year I removed my birthday from my Facebook profile with the motivation being 50% I'm too cool for school, and 50% to see if Ben would remember. 

December 11th came and Ben wrote:  NITSUJ YADHTRIB YPPAH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! KEEW LLA ETARBELEC DNA NUF EVAH!!!!! LLEW SA UOY ROF LLEW SI LLA TAHT EPOH I, OSLA! YOJNE, LLA NI LLA!

This again from someone who I have not spoken to in almost five years. I was so moved that I wrote him a Facebook message thanking him and asking him a few questions: 

I was curious that if he found the time to write on my wall, and he has over 1,700 friends, just how much time does he spend every day writing birthday wishes on Facebook? Unfortunately he didn't answer that question too precisely, but he did tell me the following factoids:
• He's memorized just over 5,500 birthdays
• In response to the question: "Do you store all these dates in your head or do you 'cheat' and use Facebook?" Ben wrote, "I try to store everyone's birthdays in my head as best as I can. I try to avoid Facebook whenever I can, but sometimes, it is my last resort. Texting is my priority and emails come second. I have a backup log (of recorded birthdays) that I'm constantly reconstructing due to hard drive crashes. I'm on my 6th backup log."
• Other memory-related hobbies: "I memorized all the clauses of the Constitution for one of my classes. It served me well as I got one of the highest grades in my class (paper writing a weakness). Other than that I'm working on memorizing all the stations and the history of the Paris Metro. I've mastered the London Tube and Washington Metro."
• His job: I work as a planning technician at a land use firm in the LA area.