Friday, February 23, 2018

Homage to time, place, and tobacco

Every pipe smoker has at least one story of that perfect experience wherein everything came together in a seamless harmony of time, place and...tobacco. That experience was most likely made all the richer when it appeared out of circumstances that seemed unlikely, or at the very least, unexpected. Here's mine.

We had departed home for an extended vacation in the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York, packed, jacked and stacked for two weeks of hiking, eating great food and exploring the surrounding area. But, upon arrival and unpacking, disaster struck: I had forgotten to toss into the duffel my little drawstring bag containing two pipes, lighter, tamper and some premium tobacco (including a fresh tin of the extraordinary Margate). Driving the two-and-a-half hours back was out of the question (but don't think I didn't at least flirt with the idea of doing so, until the wife set me straight).  Panic soon set in.

But, as the lead-in to this story clearly states, that seamless harmony began to take shape. It started with a quick stroll into the center of our little hamlet, population 275, where the local community center was doing a brisk business in 75-cent coffee and used clothing in their thrift shop. Which is to say exactly four people were there, one of whom, Don, turned out to be that one guy who was, in the tradition of Red from The Shawshank Redemption, "a man who knows how to get things."

Don recognized a man in need, a desperate man, and his calm demeanor and wealth of local knowledge proved invaluable: all it involved was a quick walk (or even quicker drive, which we opted for!), about 1/4 mile away, to what is known as "Bellayre Plaza", which serves as a gas station/laundromat/convenience store/deli/breakfast and lunch counter/hunting supply/head shop and is also home to something known as the "Discount Beer Cave". I don't know about you, but anyplace that calls itself "Discount Beer Cave" is my kinda joint. It sounded and looked to me like a slice of heaven however the burning question remained... do they have any pipe tobacco?

Turns out, they did: a single, lonely pouch of one of those brands we remember from our childhood. Represented by quaint images of dogs (Grainger), clipper ships (Captain Black) and Saxon royalty (Prince Albert), they sat on the side table next to the 'smoking chair' of our fathers, grandfathers, and, in my case, great-grandfathers. There it sat in the display case, next to the stacks of Drum, Bugler and EZ-Wider... exactly one pouch of Sir Walter Raleigh.

My first thought: "Oh boy, this is gonna suck." After all, even though I'm only a part-time puffer (or, maybe it is precisely because I'm a part-time puffer), I prefer to smoke premium blends. Hey, I figure, my time here is short, and life is too precious to be hanging out with drugstore tobacco, after all we've got an embarrassment of riches from the good folks at McClelland, Dunhill, G.L. Pease and Esoterica, right?

Wrong. Very wrong, in fact. Now, of course, you already knew how this story was going to end, after all, it's right there in the title. Yet I am compelled to elaborate because it was nothing short of an epiphany, even though it was such a simple, unadorned event, I mean, all I did was walk into a convenience store and buy some pipe tobacco. But in my view, it represented everything that is wonderful about pipe smoking.

First off, we've got the tobacco itself: oh, I recognized it, but in more than 20 years of on again, off again piping, I'd never tried Sir Walter Raleigh, not once. This is a bit surprising, as I started out with a bowl of my dad's Holiday, stuffed into one of his old Kaywoodies under his watchful eye. That was followed by a few puffs of his beloved Half & Half; are you getting the trend here, fellas, burley burley burley! But, I was soon thereafter more heavily influenced by one of his pipe-smoking brothers, my Uncle Anthony, who fancied Latakia and orientals. His pipe smoking world was populated by the likes of Balkan Sobranie, Early Morning Pipe and the English blends from the local tobacconist in their hometown. Much more exotic and, well, sophisticated, for a young and impressionable plebeian like me.

So, you could well imagine, I found myself in a bit of a pickle as I forked over the $6.99 plus tax for the only known pouch of tobacco between here and Lord-knows-where. I was entering uncharted territory but, as mentioned previously, I was a desperate man. Of course, I couldn't leave without a quick turn through the Discount Beer Cave which had a very respectable selection of regional beers; I settled on an Ommegang variety pack (brewed about an hour or so up the highway) and headed back to our accommodations. At least, I thought, the beer would be good.

I shall cut to the quick: as I packed that first bowl, opened and poured that beer, lit up and eased back into my chair on the back porch, overlooking the mountain that we would be hiking in the morning, everything came together in that uncommon way where all of your worries, your anxieties, your bills and other debts simply disappear. I found Sir Walter Raleigh to be eminently enjoyable even though it fit none of my preferences in pipe tobacco, in fact, I had been 'warned' of its lack of flavor and body by some fellow Latakia-Oriental smokers. But I loved the easy-to-pack course 'cube' cut, especially since I had also left behind my pipe tool (not a problem as far as tamping is concerned, I usually pick up any loose twig to perform that function when necessary). And the chocolate-nutty sort of aroma and flavor was just enough to go along with a full-flavored, high-alcohol Belgian style ale. It was a no-fuss, easy going, delightfully simple smoke and it was just what I needed.

The pouch lasted the two weeks of our stay. As a part-time, one or two session/day fella, tobacco has  a long shelf time with me. Upon our return, I included Sir Walter Raleigh in my next online retail order. My first smoke with it was missing a few elements... mountains, discount beer caves and friendly thrift shop owners, so the experience would not be duplicated. But I can now say that I've never been happier to have forgotten to pack my pipe and my fancy tobacco. If not for that, I would have missed out on that one experience for me where it all came together. What's yours?

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Music that reached me ears in 2017

It's that time of the year again, me fellow 'Scatters, time to offer up my list of the best music I've been listening to over the past eleven-and-a-half months. This year's list features a couple of departures from past editions in that I've not limited my selections to albums or songs released on physical media. Some of it is new, some it is old, but all of it represents my favorite kind of music: the good kind.

HUDSON: Hudson (DeJohnette, Grenadier, Medeski, Scofield) (Motema Recordings)
Hands down, this disc spent more time in rotation than any other here at ScatHQ. A masterful collection of skillfully-wrought covers and original compositions inspired by the Hudson Valley/Catskill region where all of these cats call home. To wit, Hudson's take on Joni Mitchell's "Woodstock" does justice not only to the roots of the song but to the composer's own jazzy sensibilities, while the sprawling title track, co-written by all four members, is an homage to the power and majesty of its namesake. My 'desert-island disc' of the year.

THE REPLACEMENTS: For Sale: Live at Maxwell's 1986 (Rhino Entertainment)
The fine people at Rhino Records have done it once again with this lost gem from the golden era of garage-punk rock. Maxwell's in Hoboken, New Jersey was the mecca for any band that 'mattered' or was about to matter, but you had to endure what was also the most uncomfortable venue for live music ever imagined. The music had to be epic in order for you to put up with the bleacher seating, the stifling heat (even in winter) and the trip to the bar for another round. You never knew what you would get at a Replacements show, but this set found them unusually tight, focused and in fine voice (even though Paul Westerberg often swapped verses or simply forgot the lyrics). On a personal note, my mates and I were supposed to attend this show, but someone was sick, another was wishy-washy about it, so we bailed. Thanks to this release, I get a nice helping of what I missed.

PAUL WELLER: A Kind Revolution (Parlophone/WB)
In a year full of fake news, fake leaders and fake promises, The Modfather has given us some welcome relief. Most of "A Kind Revolution" is a message of hope as Weller sings of remembered love, returning cranes (both the avian and construction variety) and new ways of coping. "Pick ourselves up off the floor, try to heal the land once more. The cranes are back! They're all flying back..." Take a listen to this record and you just might like the idea of a kind revolution as well.

LIAM GALLAGHER: As you Were (Warner Bros.)
To those who know me well, you know that Oasis remains my standard for what a rock-and-roll band should be. Founded by the squabbling brothers Gallagher, they burned the brightest of all the BritPop acts that emerged from the 1990's. Since they've split, Liam and Noel have dabbled in various projects yet this is the former's very first "solo" album, more than eight years on. And it's a cracker. He's matured in every way, from the depth of his singing to that of his songwriting. He's still loyal to his beloved Beatles and still sniveling at the foolish world around him yet he also manages a rare show of remorse, in the form of "For What it's Worth", an open apology to his ex-wife. For many of us, that sort of contrition comes easy yet for Liam Gallagher, it's a massive step forward.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

There were a few other highlights for me ears this past year, including some older releases that I've just recently discovered, or re-discovered. Here's that short list:

BILL EVANS: The Complete Village Vanguard Recordings 1961(Riverside Records)
SIMPLE MINDS: Acoustic (Caroline International)
OLAFUR ARNALDS & NILS FRAHM: Collaborative Works (Erased Tapes Records)
OLAFUR ARNALDS & ALICE SARA OTT: The Chopin Project (Mercury Classics)
WOLF ALICE: My Love is Cool (Dirty Hit Records)
RYAN ADAMS: Prisoner (PAX AM/Blue Note)

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

RADIO, RADIO it's a sound salvation.

Shouts out and big ups to the following radio stations who never disappoint when it comes to hitting the sweet spot just when you need it:

WQXR-FM, New York City... still the best classical music on the dial. The highlight of the year came just last week as they streamed live Handel's Messiah performed by The Choir of Trinity Wall Street and the Trinity Baroque Orchestra. The traditional male & female parts in the oratorio were swapped in recognition of the continuing discussion (and, debate!) on gender identity. Thoroughly modern, thoroughly creative and thoroughly extraordinary.

WFMU-FM, Jersey City...The quirkiest of the quirky. Special props to Clay Pigeon and his Morning Wake-and-Bake show which is a compendium of new and old music, stylistically all over the map, and with frequent interludes for features like "HazMat News", "School Lunch Menus", "Civic Showcase" and regular call-ins from a range of smart and funny listeners and friends.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~


Aaaaaaaaand, finally... your 'Scatter-in-Chief is not particularly patriotic (especially these days) but if any of you happened to watch this year's edition of the classic Army vs. Navy football game (it was the 118th time they've clashed on the gridiron), you witnessed one of the all time greatest. This was football the old fashioned way. Running and blocking. Only two, count 'em, TWO, passes were attempted between both teams, for a total of 24 yards. All of the other yards were gained the hard way: on the ground. Most of the game was played in a driving snowstorm and it ended with a missed field goal attempt as the clock expired, giving the cadets from Army a 14-13 victory and their first Commander-in-Chief's trophy since 1996.

Now to the patriotic part: the national anthem was sung by the combined Glee Clubs from West Point and Annapolis, and it was extraordinary. One could only imagine that if it weren't snowing, how much more those voices would have carried. The planned flyovers by Navy jets and Army 'copters had to be scrapped due to the weather but in the end, we didn't need them... these kids sang as high as the heavens. Booyah. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Observations and Announcements: Cremo Lives Here!

Your 'Scatter-in-Chief has a few things on his mind this morning, and what better way to share them than with my Tiger Scat faithful? So, if all eleven are you are paying attention, here goes:

---What's a metaphor for?
I've been tuning in to our local classical radio station, WQXR-FM, a lot lately. This past week, they've been running their annual Fall membership drive, and to sell the benefits of the station, at least one of the on-air personalities says things like, "You tune in to QXR because it soothes you, it settles your nerves, after all these are very unsettling times we are living in..." Now, without getting too political, they've deftly skirted around what they really want to say, which is: "We are your musical refuge from Donald Trump"!

This is not the only example, it's all over any other media that isn't associated with one agenda or the other, but I thought it funny how ideas, beliefs and opinions get communicated. Take, for instance, all of those "Hate has no Home Here" lawn signs. Not to criticize those of you who've planted one (or more) on your own expanse of green, I'm with you, conceptually that is, and I know your heart is in the right place. But, I think we need to add a line to that: "Except for Trump. We totally hate Trump." Just keepin' it real, folks. And while we're at it, a friend and I were discussing how this particular sign bothers us, on some level at least. First off, it's filled with negative language:  "Hate". "No". Are these the ideas you want to broadcast to the world, and to your children who live in that hate-free home? I think it would be a nice change of pace to place a sign proclaiming that "Love Lives Here".

---CSW* Department (*Coulda/Shoulda/Woulda)
I've been a bit reflective this week, for no specific reason other than I'm a very deep and complex man, and whenever I get like this, I start to ruminate about the things I wanted to do in life, but I'm thinking it might be too late. I know that most of you will boost my morale by giving me the ol' pep talk, "It's never too late", "You're still young", etc etc. But let's face it kids, when you get to a certain age, your capacity for learning and retaining newfound knowledge or skills starts to seriously diminish.

This being stated, wouldn't it be nice if I suddenly found the money, energy and passion to do the following things in life that I've always wanted to do: Play the piano. Ice skate. Speak another language, fluently. And, properly identify birds, plants and trees. You could add to that the ability to properly execute an underarm fart, shuffle a deck of cards and whistle while using two fingers, but those could be easily mastered in a relatively short period of time. After all, it's never too late!

---I've been casually following the Columbia University football team for several seasons now, even attending a couple of games at their beautiful facility overlooking the Hudson River in uptown Manhattan. For any of you familiar with it, the football program is a perennial failure, with many teams in recent years either going winless or managing one or two victories in a season.  But that's all changed this season, as the Lions have come out of the gate roaring with an untarnished 5-0 record, and making legions of crestfallen fans jumping out of their seats at Wien Stadium, which has been filled to capacity for home games. Last week, they came from behind to beat Penn in their homecoming game, and the final touchdown drive was a thing of beauty. Now the student body in Morningside Heights has something else to cheer about other than men's fencing and women's golf.

The Shaving Chronicles, addendum
---Finally, another bright spot to report: my recent discovery of what I think might be the best shaving cream ever. It's called "Cremo", and it fits in with the current trend of vintage barber-shop chic, with it's throwback packaging and kitschy product name. You only need an 'almond sized' portion rubbed into your stubbly tangle of whiskers; don't expect a big foaming event, this stuff does it's job via the 'moisturizing' approach, so it takes some getting used to. I've cut down on the nicks and scrapes and the stuff has a lovely peppermint scent to boot. Just another thing to like in these 'unsettling times'. Hey, maybe I'll make a sign and post it out front: "Cremo Lives Here!"

Saturday, October 7, 2017

He's back. And, better.

For those of you of a certain age, and a certain musical knowledge, I ask that you take a break from your busy day and listen to these two tracks from the just-released solo debut album "As You Were" from the godson of Britpop, Liam Gallagher. 

There once was a time, when people named George HW Bush, John Major and Boris Yelstin were running the world and then, bursting onto the scene to urge us to "fuck them, fuck the world, fuck everything, turn up the fucking music and fuck off!" came a band of brazen Mancunians led by two uncontrollably loutish and ill-behaving brothers. They called themselves Oasis.

The world has changed a bit (or has it?) and one of those brothers has changed a bit (he definitely has!). This is accomplished, high-end music made by a guy who was the very embodiment of a rock-and-roll bad boy; heavy drugs, heavy drinking, trashing hotel rooms, cursing out his fans from onstage, crashing cars, endless girlfriends and generally boorish behavior no matter the venue. No, those days are most likely behind him for now, and he's the better for it.

Now it seems as if time and the conditions of the world have given Liam pause to not only offer us all what seems to be a genuine apology ("For what it's worth, I'm sorry...") but one of his most reflective and most informed compositions in "Chinatown". The opening stanza is brilliant, a commentary on the police state, our indifference to it and a nod to his beloved Beatles all in one fell swoop. The string section in "For what its Worth" adds some poignancy to the message, helping to make his mea culpa all the more believable.

I've previewed the rest of the tracks and there are several more gems in there, so if you like what you hear, you should do the same. It's always nice to witness the maturation of an artist (well, this is Liam Gallagher after all, so I'll try not to keep my hopes up for his full-on rehabilitation!) but with the release of "As You Were", I daresay this particular one threatens to be downright transformative.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Spursy, Chirpy and the $5 Shish Kebab

Your 'Scatter-in-Chief seized the golden opportunity this summer to witness his beloved, mighty Tottenham Hotspur live, up-close and in living color, right here, just about 11 miles from our front door, at Red Bull Arena. It was a pre-season friendly international match played against another European powerhouse, A.S. Roma. It went off back in late July, and I'm still on a high. (That's me above, hamming it up with "Chirpy", the team mascot!)

The tournament was sponsored by Heineken, it's known as the International Champions Cup, and the teams who participate come from the top flights of European football leagues, representing at least some of the creme de la creme. Arguably, its a stretch to have Spurs included in this mix of 'champions', shoulder-to-shoulder with the likes of Paris-St. Germain, Manchester City and Bayern Munich, as we've not been on the receiving end of any hardware in about ten years, and the last time we took the whole magillah was way, way back in 1961. But we've a long and storied past, we are coming off of our best season ever (by the numbers, that is) and although the trophy case has lots of shelf space remaining, Spurs can match up with the best of them any day.

There is so much for me to report about this event, it's a challenge to put it all down in writing. We have the ridiculous, as in this was my first ever attendance at a soccer match, at any level. And here I am, a guest at a match featuring two of the world's greatest professional clubs with a combined 225 years of history behind them. Then, we have the sublime: the capacity crowd of 26,129 was overwhelmingly Tottenham supporters, and that created an atmosphere that could have mimicked White Hart Lane itself. We were in full voice, chanting "Oh when the Spurs come marching in", "Come on you Spurs", and even a few "Harry Kane, he's one of our own!". If I closed my eyes, it could just as easily have been North London, N17 on a Saturday afternoon. (As an addendum, some time after returning home, Spurs' manager, Mauricio Pochettino, confirmed this for me, telling reporters at their training ground that he felt "as if we were playing on our own pitch". I should be in the booth!!)

I was accompanied by my wife, who reluctantly "accepted" my offer to come along but who became a true believer once the action heated up, and a good friend, Steve, who is a lifelong Manchester United fan. Steve also plays in an adult league, and is a real student of the beautiful game. He regaled us with tales, tall and short, of his many experiences on and off the pitch, most of which involved detailed descriptions of horrific injuries, drunken post-game celebrations and other such career-threatening calamities. At one point, he felt the need to list all of the dimensions of the field of play, and the purpose of each and every hash mark and painted line. By the end of it, I was dizzy with numbers, facts and figures, and I let him know that I needed to conserve some of my energy to concentrate on the proceedings.

He's one smart fella who also never passes up the chance to give a good-natured poke at those of us who don't support a side that's been crowned champions a combined 65 times in major competitions, including 20 League Titles alone. When I told him that Spurs just might have the most chants and songs of any other club, he intoned, "Well, sheet music takes up a whole lot less space than trophies!" I proceeded to pummel him senseless with my foam "Come on your Spurs" finger mitt.

Now a word about the match itself, which I might remind you, was a friendly. For those of you not familiar with the wider world of football/futbol/soccer, a 'friendly' is that sport's equivalent of a pre-season exhibition game in our own National Football League. Typically, each team will send out a starting side that features a nice mix of regular stars and starters and two or three kids who've made it up from the development squad and are competing for a spot on the bench. The NFL does something similar, only most pre-season games feature the starters for one quarter, and then they're sent off. The rest of the game gives us 'the scrubs', many of whom will be cut before the sun goes down.

After stuffing our faces with the $5 shish kebabs that were being sold outside the boundaries of the arena (so much better than the $16 nacho plate inside the place!), we settled in to watch a match that had us down 2-0 until the 88th and 89th minutes, wherein we staged a typical Spurs comeback to knot things up at 2-2, only to lose in the 92nd minute, also in typical "Spursy" fashion. So, in theory, I actually witnessed the sort of match that generations of Spurs supporters have: a well-played match with many missed scoring opportunities, a handful of joy-producing moments and then a massive letdown as time expires...

And, as I finally publish this, the new season has started with our beloved Spurs' in their usual sputtering form in the month of August; it could be worse, but we've only taken four of nine points, and we can't seem to find the net. I'm sure things will brighten up but as we wait, impatiently, for our new home on White Hart Lane to be completed, "the curse of Wembley" seems to be firmly in place. It matters not, as win-lose-or-draw, a Spurs' man never changes his stripes. COYS. TTID.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

What I've Learned, Section 347, Part 112.7

--o-- We have a neighborhood woodpecker who announces himself on any given morning by rat-a-tat-tatting away at the side of the house. I wondered what would possess the feathered beast to do this, so I consulted the website managed by the good folks at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. When a woodpecker simply 'pecks', he's probably looking for food but when a woodpecker rapidly drums away at your house, it's a male trying to attract a mate. It should end some time in late spring, but here we are on the first day of summer, and this guy is still lookin' for some.

--o-- There's a pizza place in Jersey City that features not only their own dough, but they use the naturally occurring 'airborne' yeast in the kitchen for the starter. The guy also churns his own butter (and, rightfully, charges $4 for a plate of it with his house-made bread). And he makes his own mozzarella. This sounds like the sort of place that would never answer their phone, "Hello, every pizza place!"

--o-- There is a brewery that officially started brewing in the year 1040. Yes, the Weihenstephan has been in operation for almost 1,000 years. And I'm happy to report, with all of that practice, they've gotten pretty darn good at it. I especially like the product they call, simply, "Original", which is a a Munich-style lager. I suppose few other products can be labeled 'original' unless they started being made when the world population was about 350 million, Macbeth succeeded Duncan as King of Scotland and woodblock printing was invented in China.

--o-- And finally, an update on one of the 'Scat's favorites, the United States Post Office. They've finally started delivering those fancy new trucks to the letter carriers (who are more like package haulers these days). And now that Amazon just bought Whole Foods, who knows? Maybe the USPS will install refrigerators on some of these little rigs so they can join in on the upcoming rush of home-delivered quinoa and coconut milk.

Friday, April 28, 2017

This World Over, indeed.

XTC: This World Over. The more things seem to change, they really don't change at all. One agenda, in continuous operation at least since Dwight Eisenhower left office. Or since Jesus took his last steps on earth before saying sayonara for the second time. As I post this, we're being pestered yet again by the fine people in Pyongyang with their unauthorized, internationally-prohibited launches of nuclear-ready missile tests. And the 'nuclear football' will get its very own posh apartment in the sky at Trump Tower when our version of Kim Jong-un is in town. And last week, it was featured in a photo, posted on Facebook no less, by one of his dinner guests at that other palace of tackiness, Mar-a-Lago with the military aide in charge of it being identified by name. Yes, it is very much 'this world over', over and out...

Oh well, that's this world over
Oh well, next one begins 
Will you smile like any mother
As you bathe your brand new twins?
Will you sing about the missiles
As you dry off numbered limbs? 
Oh well, that's this world over
Oh well, next one begins
Oh well, that's this world over
You sadly grin 
Will you tell them about that far off and mythical land
About their leader with the famous face?
Will you tell them that the reason nothing ever grows
In the garden anymore
Because he wanted to win the craziest race
That's this world over 
Will you smile like any father
With your children on a Sunday hike?
When you get to a sea of rubble
And they ask 'What was London like?'
Oh well, that's this world over
Oh well, next one begins, it begins, it begins
Oh well, that's this world over
You sadly grin 
Will you tell them about that far off and mythical land
And how a child to the virgin came? Whoa
Will you tell them that the reason why we murdered
Everything upon the surface of the world
So we can stand right up and say we did it in his name? 
That's this world over
Or so it seems
But that's this world over
The end of dreams 
That's this world over, over, over and out
That's this world over, over, over and out