Tuesday, July 24, 2018


Japan... a place I never thought I would go... it was the most challenging and difficult week of my professional career.

I worked 12 hour days every day, I did about 45 hours of travel in a week, and the heat index was 115 degrees while I was there.

I want to focus on the positive things as much as I can.


Akihabara is a part of Tokyo built for nerds the world over. After World War II, it became known as Japan's electronic mecca. Now it's a place to buy old videogames and statues of your favorite Anime characters.

I was on the hunt for some weird videogame items... and had too many choices and froze. So I didn't buy anything. But it was fun digging through the stacks of all of these hole in the wall stores and look at these old Japanese video games.

The awkward part of Akihabara are these popular places called Maid Cafes. 

Essentially 20 something women dress up like cats and 8th grade school girls and call you master and serve you food and drinks.

I did not go into a Maid Cafe, but I did accidentally end up in an alleyway where there were a dozen of them and had to run a gauntlet of dodging young pirate ladies trying to hand me fliers for their club.

The Food

The food was amazing. Every building in downtown Tokyo has 6 restaurants in it and every one of them is packed with a line out the door.

I had the best ramen of my life, I had conveyor belt sushi, I ate octopus, squid, swordfish, and eel (by far the best of the 4).

We ate at a place where I had to take my shoes off and sit on the floor (but not really, there was a hole in the floor to put your feet)

The Vending Machine Life

Vending machines are everywhere, but instead of getting sodas from them, you get everything. Iced coffee, energy drinks, water, mineral water, sandwiches, tempura ... everything. And it's good... everything is so good.

The Respect and Order

Everything in Japan was about respect. It was draining on my mind sometimes, but I liked it.

You don't just toss your credit card across the counter at the cashier. You hold both corners of the card and present it to them.

You don't cross the cross walk unless you have a green light, even if there are no cars coming.

You stand on the left side, you walk on the right of the escalator.

No one smokes outside. Instead, you go into smoking rooms that are always separated by at least a hallway so you don't have to smell it.

Penguin Bar

The absolute highlight of the trip was going to the Penguin Bar. You make a reservation, sit at your table, order a drink, and then go meet the 5 penguins they have in a habitat in the back of the bar.

Then at 9:30 PM, table by table you are ushered to the back of the bar... to feed... the freaking... penguins.

Friday, June 8, 2018

My idols are dead and my enemies in power

I always feel a little fake, overly emotional, when a celebrity death affects me. I can count on one hand the celebrity deaths that have hit me hard. This was one of them.

I went to bed last night having watched the Washington Capitals win their first cup. Ovechkin, who has more than earned a cup, lifting the heavy trophy with a happiness rarely seen. Oshie, who will forever be the babyfaced Blue that took down Russia almost singlehandedly in the Olympics, choking as he talks about his Alzheimer riddled father remembering this event. It was a high note to go to bed on.

I woke up this morning with my Twitter feed exploded with condolences for Anthony Bourdain. I had that sinking feeling in my stomach and I've not been able to shake it since. Just been in a funk all day.

When Sal and I moved to Myrtle Beach, I lost a lot of drive. I was ready to sink into middle management in retail and just live out my days watching my big screen TV and eating my mediocre pasta dinners until retirement.

It wasn't until I read Kitchen Confidential that I felt inspired to cook again. I felt the pain of loss that my college education had priced me out of doing what I actually loved doing for a living, cooking.

I started challenging myself to find out where my food came from. How do you make BBQ sauce? How do you make bread and unleash the deep flavors from the fermentation? I love beer and I want to make it.

And soon my will to not just settle into a 9-5 existence was strong. My cooking was not enough.

Bourdain then had several travel shows where he would pick a destination, and food was the glue that held it together, but it was more about experiencing other people's cultures and getting to know them on a personal level.

I always liked this quote from him:

Meals make the society, hold the fabric together in lots of ways that were charming and interesting and intoxicating to me. The perfect meal, or the best meals, occur in a context that frequently has very little to do with the food itself
He made me want to travel, something I never thought about. He's the reason Sal and I went to Detroit and started chatting up random people in downtown bars. He's why I shoved that fear of being in a foreign place down and allowed me to go to Germany. He's the reason I look ahead a month with excitement about going to Japan.

He wasn't like other cooking personalities where it was just about cooking or just about getting into people's kitchens or challenging himself to eat a 50 inch pizza.

Anthony wanted to hang out with you and your friends on the beach during the pig roast and get to know your family and share a bottle of wine in Italy or cook for the staff when locked down during a civil war erupting outside of his hotel.

He was just this punk rock, down to Earth guy that could find good in everything. One of the first rock stars of the cooking world.

Dammit Bourdain... just dammit... we need you.

My internet feeds have been filled with stories of Anthony's grace, warmth, and his hunger to be in touch with humanity.

RIP chef, hang your apron up, you are already missed.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

The Greatest Stories Told by Professional Wrestling

Sal and I went to WrestleMania this weekend in New Orleans. There will probably be a followup post about the extravaganza that was WrestleMania, but I want to spend today instead telling you a story, a wrestling story.

You see, the reason we watch wrestling isn't because of the acrobatics, the pageantry, and it sure as hell isn't for the sport. Sure, all of those things feed into the greater overall package that is professional wrestling, but you watch wrestling for the stories.

We see stuntmen and women tell classic myths of good vs evil, haves vs have-nots, privileged vs underprivileged while accomplishing extraordinary feats of the human body and will.

Nine times out of ten, those stories aren't anything special. Bad guy causes grief to the good guy, the underdog is constantly beat up by the big bad bully, and the payoff is relatively standard and you move on to the next story. But that one time out of ten you see something special. Wrestling is a medium that can bring you to tears or make you laugh.

This weekend, we saw the conclusion of one of those one out of ten stories, this is the story of the fall of DIY, best friends torn apart.

In September of 2015, Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa entered the minor leagues of the WWE as a tag team called DIY. For months they had equal amounts of wins and losses, but they started building a fan base with their incredibly entertaining wrestling style that both looks brutal and heavy hitting, but graceful and acrobatic.

Throughout the spring of 2016 DIY started beating all of the major tag teams such as the Revival, the Vaudevillians, and TM-61. After a win against the Revival on June 1st of 2016, DIY were attacked after the bell. As a foreshadowing of events to come, the Revival focused on wrecking Ciampa's knee.

Besides the abilities of both wrestlers, people latched onto DIY because Gagano and Ciampa are best friends in real life. Ciampa was in Gargano's wedding. They traveled together. They posted selfies together. These guys legit spent five out of seven days a week together.

In June, the two men entered the WWE Cruiseweight Classic. It's a tournament where the smaller, acrobatic guys fight for the Cruiseweight title. The members of DIY drew each other in the first round of the tournament. (This was the highlight of the tournament)

You can watch the full 15  minute match here if you want to. It's a barn burner and well worth it.

The story these two are able to tell with subtle little nods to their friendship is incredible.

The two men start facing each other, both obviously emotional. Gargano is nervously twitching his hand, playing with his fingers. They shake, locking eyes, but there's no malice. There's this emotion of longing. They both want what's best for each other, but find only one of them truly can.

Gargano tries to go easier at first, performing various grapples, looking into the crowd with a far off stare and it's Ciampa that hits him with a hard elbow first. And as if the adrenaline takes over, both men give into animal instincts for survival and start pounding each other for the next 15 minutes.

Finally Ciampa seems to take the upperhand and looks as if he's going to win this first round. He pulls his knee brace down ready to hit Gargano with an exposed knee to the face, and after lining up the shot, sort of shakes his head and pulls his knee brace back up.

Gargano reverses a pin for the win. He goes to the center of the ring, looking Ciampa in the eye with his hand extended, hoping that his friend is still in his corner. Ciampa, feeling he was on top the entire match, frustrated he lost, starts to leave the ring. Then Gargano, exhausted, sits in the middle of the ring, emotionally spent, conflicted because he might have ended his friendship. Ciampa sees him, comes back in the ring, sits next to Gargano, cradles his friend's head, and consoles him.

This is when wrestling is at it's best. This story is getting to breath and these two men were bringing us along for the journey. We felt the emotion of these competitors. They weren't the emotionless comicbook heroes of the 80s. These were two men, leaving it all out in the ring. This heartfelt image would play an important part in the story, almost two years later.

Gargano would be eliminated from the tournament in the next round and DIY started competing in the tag team division again. They kept climbing the ladder to the title picture, but ultimately kept losing.

After losing in NXT Takeover Chicago against the Authors of Pain, Ciampa finally snaps, throwing Gargano into the stage, turning on his best friend. The crowd is left to believe that Ciampa is the bad guy.

Ciampa tells a different story from what we have been witnessing since 2015. He tells of a teammate holding back the team because Johnny Gargano has only ever cared of himself. His self preservation and ultimately his selfishness wasted some of Ciampa's best years.

Right as this betrayal was heating up, Ciampa was sidelined with a torn ACL, and was out of action until January 27th, 2018 at NXT Takeover Philadelphia.

Johnny Gargano created a successful singles career while Ciampa was out, eventually challenging Andrade "Cien" Almas for the NXT championship in the first 5 star rated NXT match in history.

Gargano, with a heartbreaking loss, exhausted, turns to face the crowd and wave one more time. His former friend Ciampa sneaks up behind him and beats him with his crutch. 

This video package catches you up on the weeks leading up to Wrestlemania. The bad blood between the two best friends grows. The crowd is becoming blood thirsty for revenge on Ciampa.

That brings us to April 7th, 2018, NXT Takeover New Orleans. In front of a sold out crowd, Ciampa and Gargano finally got closure on their feud in the man event.

Ciampa came out first with no music. Instead, the crowd's booes rained down on him and became the soundtrack for Ciampa's villainous reign.

What happens next is one of the all time classic matches. It's a ballet of emotion. Both men so in sync you would believe this was a choreographed fight in any film. But they did it live, with no editing, no sound effects. The entire crowd sat at the edge of their seats, knowing they were seeing a match that would be discussed a decade from now.

If you have 40 minutes, watch this match. It's one of the purest examples of why wrestling is so great. (The quality gets better a minute or two in)

Gargano shakes his hand, not nervously like with their Cruiseweight match, but with intention. The bell rings, Gargano strikes first. Ciampa throws Gargano through a table, Gargano powerbombs Ciampa on exposed concrete, Ciampa steals crutches from a fan ring side and belts Gargano with it. Both recover. Both showing visible bruises. We are seeing the visual representation of the movements of a symphony.

Ciampa is sitting in the ring, pain across his face, fighting back tears. You can see there's conflict in him, you can see that he still cares for his friend, but he has to end this. Ciampa takes off his plastic medical knee brace in order to deliver an exposed knee to Gargano's head. Unlike the Cruiserweight, there is no hesitation. Ciampa wants to knee his former friends head off.

Instead, Gargano rolls out of the way, swinging the discarded knee brace into Ciampa's bad leg. Taken by the same rage that Ciampa had in the Cruiserweight match, Gargano breaks the crutch into a stabbing implement and goes to ram it into Ciampa's forehead.

He stops though. Gargano still sees his friend behind Ciampa's bruised and swollen face. You can see the years on the road flashing through Gargano's mind. Ciampa is nothing but a broken man with flaws. and Gargano is ready to forgive him.

And this is why wrestling is so great. When a story is given the space to breath over two years, we are told a story of friendship and betrayal rarely seen in any other medium. To bring the storyline full circle, Gargano puts the broken crutch down and goes to sit next to his friend and comfort him. Gargano only wants his closest companion back. He wants to tear his Darth Vader from the dark side. He sits next to his partner, just like in the Cruiserweight Classic two years before in the center of the ring. Gargano goes to comfort his friend, just as his friend did to him two years before...

But Ciampa is too far gone. He reaches for his discarded knee brace, swinging as hard as he can at Gargano's face. Johnny Wrestling ducks just in time for the swing to completely miss and roll his former friend into a submission move using the same leg brace.

And the crowd celebrates with Gargano for ten minutes after the match. Gargano's wife enters the ring and they embrace. And although Gargano can claim victory, you can see the pain still in his eyes as he mouths, "I love all of you" to the crowd.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Home in the Alternate Universe

We will spend the next four days in a land of make believe.

Tomorrow Sal and I adventure to our 8th True/False film festival in Columbia. I always feel light, like none of my personal problems exist.

I live in this alternate universe where I'm embedded in running a successful theater, entrenched in film. In a way, David Wilson, one of the co-founders of the RagTag cinema and True/False Film Fest is living the life I wish was possible.

It's one of those classic, dollar short and a day late situations. Had I been born just a few years earlier and graduated with a few thousand less in debt, I might have taken a huge risk opening an independent theater and it would be me running around for the next 7 days with no sleep.

I always leave the festival feeling rejuvenated, empathetic to the real problems of the world, unfathomably sad for situations people are born into, and celebratory of the simple human experience.

Even outside the films, there's something magical about the city of Columbia. It may be the nostalgic energy flowing through my veins. This short period of time where I didn't necessarily have true adult issues, protected from the outside world by the promise of a great life. But I was independent. I lived on my own, made my own schedule, did whatever I wanted to do.

We come back from the film festival Sunday afternoon and have that Monday off so that we could go to the Central West End and watch the Academy Awards with some friends at iTap.

Last year we had a blast at this party, and we didn't even see most the films. This year, we've managed to see most the nominated films.

Get Out
Lady Bird
Baby Driver
Star Wars
The Shape of Water

(And there's a chance, a small one, but a chance, that we will fit Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing Missouri in before Sunday.)

I may be more excited about this weekend than anything else I'm doing this year. I'm ready to give myself to the magic of Columbia, documentary films, Hollywood, good beers, better friends, and great memories.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Separating the Art from the Artist

The #MeToo movement kicked off as sort of a second wave of the Women's March from early 2017. It's has brought down many powerful men from Harvey Weinstein, Louis C.K.,  Max Landis, and Kevin Spacey.

It's an important movement. When so much of America's social progression is being rolled back to some semblance of the "good ole' days" (for white middle class men), the #MeToo movement is making sure that the abuse of power that has been going on since the beginning of time is at least thought twice about by the abusers.

None of the people being brought down really affected me. 

Al Franken was a tough one for me to swallow, but not impossible. He's a man that seemed to have a more than ton of integrity, supported many progressive ideals that I do, and was a possible Democratic candidate for the presidency in 2020. Having his voice removed from Senate, I believe is more harmful than not. But you have to take your medicine when you screw up.

But a few weeks ago, there was one I didn't expect and I'm having a hard time with it.

When we moved from North County to St. Charles, I went into a deep depression. There were several factors into this depression: deaths, loneliness, medication, body issues, and general boredom in the suburbs. It was more than a normal moody teenager depression, but not quite a suicidal (at least I don't think it ever got to that point) depression. It bounced somewhere between the two where there wasn't enough to be taken seriously, but enough to where all I did was sit in my room alone listening to music.

Your Favorite Weapon by Brand New came out in 2001 and I finally felt like I found friends. These were guys around my age and felt betrayed by society and women. Bolstered by the single "Jude Law and a Semester Abroad," I've keep the radio on 93x, waiting to hear the song again until I finally found a copy on CD at Slackers.

My friendship grew with them through their next album Deja Entendu, often seen as their breakthrough into critical acclaim. Like me, the album showed the band growing. Still an awkward teen, but under the stubble and clever hooks, you could see the adult product.

And I continued with each album growing a little. The lyrics kept speaking to me.

The last show I saw at Mississippi Nights was Brand New. The first time I hung out with my sister-in-law Beth alone was at a Brand New concert. I followed every rumor and overly complex info drop on the band.

Hell, last year when I was in St. Charles, Cory fell asleep at 8 pm and I wandered my old high-school football field and ex-girlfriend's neighborhoods, listening to every Brand New song from start to finish to just completely soak in the weird nostalgia I was feeling.

I bring this up because the lead singer of Brand New, Jesse Lacey was accused of hounding underage women for nude pictures in his mid-20s. And his recent Facebook apology seems to confirm a lot of what he's accused of.

I'm having a hard time separating the art from the artist. I mean, can you even do that cleanly? Or am I doomed to secretly listen to Brand New albums in my basement wearing headphones for the rest of my life? Can I even listen to them anymore without getting flashes of teenage girls, shaking uncontrollably because their favorite band's singer is giving them attention, but in return for the attention he wants to see them with their shirt off?

I think, like with any breakup, the best way to get clarity is to remove yourself from the situation. Maybe I move all of that vinyl to a box in the basement for a few years, let time hopefully heal the wounds of the victims, give Jesse time to try to properly atone for these grievances, until when moving out of our starter house I find a bunch of old dusty Brand New albums and listen to the art and some old friends of mine, but not the artist.