Monday, March 30, 2009

A Night of Gambling, Boozing, Smoking and the Blues

With an hour to kill before the concert at the Horshshoe Casino in beautiful (read: industrial wasteland) Hammond, Indiana, Alex, Seth, Mehdi and I made our way through a flashing, bleeping, shimmering, smoke-filled jungle of slot machines and roulette wheels. Alex, five dollars in hand, gravitated to a machine she thought felt 'hot.' She inserted the fiver, placed her bet (all-in!) and pulled the lever with all her might. The tumblers spun, stopping one by one: cherry, nothing, bar, nothing, nothing. I swear, J. W. Booth couldn’t have wiped that Lincoln out any faster. Thirty seven seconds later, the machine next door killed my Alexander Hamilton in efficient, Burr-like fashion.

Our night in the gaming room was over (honestly, what is the lure of machines that do nothing but inhale your money?) but we didn’t care. B.B. King was in the building.

I ordered my second Jack on the rocks and told the lady to make it a double. Alex opted for a glass (plastic cup) of merlot. After inhaling seven packs worth of exhaled Marlboro Lights, Camels, Kools and Basic Filters, the auditorium was mercifully smoke-free. The doors swung open. We entered what would be, at least for one night (Tomorrow: Michael Bolton, read the marquee. Thursday: A Night with Peter Tork), a Hall of Greatness.

The band, or perhaps orchestra is the word, warmed up the crowd with a couple of rollicking, brass-heavy numbers. And then he appeared. Corpulent and practically sweating charisma, B.B King settled himself into a chair and seized his life partner by the neck. “Is that Lucille?” someone asked. “Yes,” he answered. “This is Lucille.”

The crowd exploded. Blues Boy expressed his gratitude, but we were the ones who were grateful. Grateful for all 83 of his years. Grateful for the infinite licks squeezed out of that old guitar. Grateful for the voice that, in spite of age and diabetes and extensive use, remains as big and beautiful as ever.

Yes, B.B. King is old, as he boasted countless times on this night. In fact, age was his most constant theme (um, and sex). He doesn't play guitar as much as he once did. I suppose his fingers are a bit worn out after six or seven decades of picking and fretting. But he remains as soulful an entertainer as you'll find. Also one of the coolest. Did you know he was a licensed pilot? Because I sure didn’t. His set was short and featured many long monologues (in one bizarre turn, he defended Michael Phelps and his use of marijuana) that served as segues into his songs (See That My Grave Is Kept Clean was an unexpected and poignant delight). But when he did summon Lucille to throw down a sweet, tremulous solo, he was the same B.B. King that was changing the face of music half a century ago.

When the final chord of The Thrill Is Gone had been played, the music was done. There was no encore, but this legendary man, who by rights should be sitting on the throne of some tropical island nation and having his every wish indulged, stayed overtime to toss trinkets to the crowd and shake hands and sign autographs. I'm not an entirely unsentimental type; I got a little choked up seeing B.B King wheelchaired off the stage. He won't live forever, but he'll also never die. At least not until the world explodes.

So, here is my thank you, B.B. The McBoners will forgive a bit of corniness when I say: thanks, you, Mr. King, for coming to this awful, smoke-filled, money-sucking place to give us more, when you should be relaxing in a harem until the end of time, having your toes massaged while being fed grapes and fanned with a giant palm leaf by 100 veiled maiden-goddesses.


Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Brand New Life in Mexico

It's not easy being famous. Believe me, I would know. As one of the world's most high-profile bloggers, with legions of rabid readers veritably slobbering for some of that good old-fashioned brand of McBone wisdom, I have been thrust before the always-watchful public eye. I know what you're thinking: how can a guy who has everything--fabulous riches, trophy wife, perfect teeth--possibly have anything to complain about? Well, I've got news for you people. It's hard sometimes, sitting on top of the world. It's hard having to put on dark glasses just to walk the short distance from the McBonemobile to my high-power job as a bookstore accountant at the local community college. It's hard sifting through the harmless, corn-fed, admiring slobs and those who just want a piece of me. There are plenty of sharks out there, let me tell you, and they'll eat you alive if you let them. And I gotta say, sometimes even a simple autograph can take a lot out of you. How many times have I had to grin and bear it when some booger-crusted little kid sticks a pen and a 8x10 glossy in my face, when all I want is to sip my Château Haut-Brion in peace? Boy, I don't even want to know!

Well, sometimes when you do have everything, your needs become simple. That's why I think I'll head on down to Mexico and start a brand new life, just like Tim McGraw says. See, life is simple in Mexico, where all you really need is a plate of beans and one of those crazy big hats. After that, there's not much to it. Maybe an occasional sip of tequila when I get thirsty, and a whole lot of R&R for when I'm tired. I mean, Dios mio, just think of the siestas I've been missing out on. Sure they've got all those stray dogs and chickens running around, but I don't think they'll bother me. Really, would it be any different from dealing every day with the rabble that constitutes my fan base? Oh, I suppose there is the outside chance that someone will recognize me down there, but if some little Pedrito approaches me for an autograph while I'm trying to sip my banana daquiri in peace, I'll just shrug and say in perfect innocence: ¡No hablo Mexican!

Sounds pretty good, right? Honestly, if it's good enough for James Taylor, it's good enough for everyone, I should think.

Then again, maybe it wouldn't be so terrific. The truth is, there are certain creature comforts that I'm not sure I can live without for too long, like electricity and indoor plumbing. And, truth be told, all those chili peppers are bound to give me some pretty bad bouts of Montezuma's revenge.

And you know what? I'm sure after all that time in Mexico, I'll start to miss this constant shower of attention I've grown accustomed to. So maybe a brand new life isn't really what I need after all. Still, isn't it good to know that God made a whole country where gringos like me can lie low for a few months?


Sunday, March 22, 2009

Scotch Eggs!

Ah, shame. That burning, torturous feeling of having done something terribly wrong.

My friend Craig and I ordered the Scotch Eggs at the Lafayette Brewing Company yesterday. One look at the menu and we knew we had to. We ordered the Scotch Eggs because we liked what we read about them, and because we'd never had hard boiled eggs wrapped in sausage and coated in breadcrumbs. The fact that they were deep-fried didn't make us hesitate at all when the waitress took our order:

Waitress: Have you decided?

Nate and Craig (in unison): Scotch Eggs, please!

W (horrified): Um, ok. You know that they're sausage wrapped eggs, right?

N & C: Scotch Eggs, please!

W: And deep fried?


W (shrugging): Whatever. It's your funeral.

Across the table our wives tsk-ed and cast looks of profound disapproval. Twice Craig's wife, Jessica, commented on how delicious she thought the garden salad sounded, but our resolve was not to be tested on this day. Craig and I took deep draughts of our handcrafted ales and sat back in silence, hands clasped beneath the table and privately bracing for the arrival of Scotch eggs.

And arrive they did, sausage-wrapped and deep-fried as promised, and positively sweating hot oil.

They were quartered for easy handling, and we dove right in, squealing with the delight of a pig who, amid the refuse and scraps in its trough, discovers a Scotch Egg.

All that remained, 14 seconds later, were a few breadcrumbs drowning in a pool of brown grease. Delicious? Yes. Deadly? Almost certainly. How much shame do we feel at having devoured a couple of sausage-wrapped, deep-fried Scotch Eggs? About as much as we will next time when we order the Bavarian Beer Nuggets.


Saturday, March 14, 2009

Watchmen; A Long-Ass McBone Mini Review.

Why, as Americans, do we love superheroes?  Uh, because they're awesome.  That's the short answer. A more prosaic musing would be that we are a nation founded and shaped by heroes.  George Washington was like the original American Hero.  Ben Franklin was totally a hero.  Wyatt Earp, Billy the Kid, Jesse James--the Wild West was the great breeding ground of the antihero. Fredrick Douglass? Hero. Harriet Tubman?  Hero.  Harvey Milk? Oh, yeah, he's a hero.  None of these men and women had supernatural powers, but they're all heroes because they did incredible things that we can't do and probably don't have the guts to try.

But of course, being Americans, we got bored somewhere along the line with our regular, run-of-the-mill heroes. Enter Superman.  He flies, he shoots white hot beams out of his eyes, and his breath (minty fresh) is stronger than any hurricane. Amazing, yes, and all-powerful, but a little too straight and narrow to content us for long.  I mean, who can relate to Superman?  Soon our superheroes and sociopaths were becoming hard to distinguish.  By the time Watchmen came along, our superheroes had been perfected.  Here are people with our everyday failings, but they're still doing all those things that we will never be able to do, whether (Spider-Man) or not (Batman) they possess uncanny traits.
I've never read Watchmen, but I know after watching it that the creators of the movie set out to accomplish one thing: create the greatest comic book film of all time.  Director Zack Snyder wanted to raise the bar on the superhero story, do what Star Wars and later The Matrix did for science fiction and Lord of the Rings did for fantasy.  Did he succeed?  Yes and no.  
Make no mistake. I love this movie.  I loved it so much I watched it twice.  Hell, that opening sequence where we learn the back story of the Watchmen against a semi-historical backdrop and Bob Dylan singing is nothing short of stunning.
But is it the greatest of all time?  I think ten years ago it would have been no contest.  Now?  With Iron Man, Spider-Man, Batman, Sin City, Hellboy and the like, the competition has gotten mighty stiff.  And Watchmen has its flaws.  For one, it's a little hard to follow.  I have a hard time blaming Snyder for being too ambitious, but there is a hell of a lot crammed into this film.  No doubt the director's cut will be the more wide open tableau that Snyder, if not Warner Bros., had envisioned.  
But enough about the defects.  The crowning glory of Watchmen to me is the humanity of the characters.  The pathos we feel for an older, retired generation of heroes that plasters its walls with newspaper clippings and photos from its heyday of crimefighting.  Then there is the new generation, outcast by society when villainy and heroism became ambiguous, just like war became irreparably ambiguous with Vietnam.  Spanning the generations is the Comedian, the cigar-puffing vigilante who walks the line between good and evil and sees the whole charade of war and peace for what it is: a farce with no clear cut morality.  For his clarity of vision, he is murdered in the film's first scene, but he remains the core of the story throughout, a reminder that the world is fucked up and there's no good way to fix it.  The Comedian is the true genius of the story, and Snyder got him just right.
And if the Comedian is the core of the story, then Rorschach is its voice.  Narrated in a voice like jagged glass and metal, Rorschach is the perfect counterpoint to the Comedian.  The one who refuses to compromise his moral code, no matter if he's right or wrong.  So who actually is right in this story?  Well, I have my opinion, and you have yours, and I don't think we're going to change each other's mind.
 Oh, I should mention also that the Comedian and Rorschach are played with a gusto by, respectively, Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Jackie Earle Haley, as is every character, really.  The acting is roundly well done.
Then of course I would be remiss in not mentioning the presence of none other than our best worst president, Richard Milhous Nixon.  Of all the historical characters, from John and Jackie Kennedy to Pat Buchanan to Andy Warhol and Annie Liebowitz, Nixon is the most profound. He is, after all, president.  The year is 1985, and RMN has just been elected to a 5th term.  There he is, his nose exaggeratedly long (think Pinocchio), and ready, less than two decades after winning Vietnam, to march us into nuclear war.  I love how history is rewritten in this work, but, really, what's the big deal?  If we're on a march toward armageddon, what difference do the details make?  Does it really matter if Richard Nixon or Ronald Reagan or Mr. Snuffleupagus is president in 1985?
If this review seems to ramble and get lost, that's just how hard a movie Watchmen is to review.  I haven't even gotten into Dr. Manhattan and the time-space continuum, but maybe I'll just leave all these details alone for now.  
Suffice to say that Watchmen teeters at times under the weight of its own lofty goals, but never once collapses.  I've heard 'boring' as one criticism.  Cadswallop.  If scenes longer than 2 minutes aren't your thing, and you don't like 3 hour films, go see the exquisitely, rapturously bad Taken instead.  As for me, I'll take Watchmen, and content myself with this abbreviated version until the DVD comes out.  Flawed it may be, but it will satisfy any craving for more than the garden variety superhero.
Official McBone rating: 4.5 McBones.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The McBone Beer Journal; Shiner Bock

One of my absolute favorite genres of literature is that which can be found on the sticker on the neck of a bottle of beer.  The writing ranges from pompous to poetic, from banal to beautiful. The space is by definition small and the word count limited.  How to tell the story of a beer in 50 words or less, a sort of beer haiku?  I've never tried it myself, but it can't be easy.

Shiner Bock is brewed in Shiner, Texas and has been since 1909.  It's neck label reads as follows:
Handcrafted with small-town pride in Shiner, Texas.  Since 1909, the 'little brewery' has been the source of every drop of Shiner Beer.  We hope you enjoy this beer with the same passion that went into brewing it.  Prosit!  Bock Beer Traditionally was brewed in Germany to celebrate the arrival of spring.  Shiner Bock combines its old-world, Bavarian heritage with the ingenuity of American handcraft brewing for a smooth, rich, always satisfying taste.
So what do we know without ever tasting a sip?  There are many positives to take away.  We know that Shiner Bock is over 100 years old and has clung to its roots as a small batch brewery. We also get a little historical tidbit about bock beer in general, proving that a bottle of beer is, if anything, educational.  I also love the merging of old world and new in each bottle of Shiner. Inspiring.  A reminder that Beer can save the world.
Sadly, this label devolves into hackneyed beer jargon with words like  'smooth' and 'satisfying.' I mean, if you want to tout yourself as a small brewery, why turn around and start speaking Budweiser? And I'm very suspicious of the quotation marks that surround the phrase 'little brewery,' which lead me to believe that the brewery was once small, but is no longer.  The presence of this beer way up in West Lafayette, Indiana suggests that, just maybe, the little brewery has fattened up a bit since 1909.  
Still, I'm intrigued, and the bottle is so handsomely labelled with its heroic and mighty-horned ram that I am compelled to crack open and pour.  Out flows a gorgeously deep, dark amber-tinted brew with no head to speak of.  My mouth waters in anticipation of heavy caramel notes, the big toasty maltiness evident in the color.  Alarmingly, however, there is very little to nose in my glass.  I snort with desperation, but detect only the generic waft of the weaker lagers of the world.  And, alas, a long gulp leaves me searching a little too hard to find these flavors.  Not that they are entirely absent, as subsequent sips reveal, but I was expecting, I don't know, something more.
Disappointing?  A little.  This is an understated beer.  Too understated maybe, but there are subtle but undeniably present hints of caramel, and maybe an ever so slight earthiness from whatever hops were infused here.  Bold?  No.  I would call this a versatile beer, a dependable, all-weather beer, one that is almost robust enough to go with a winter stew, yet crisp and refreshing on sweltering day.
Promise unfulfilled is the story of this Shiner Bock from label to last sip, and it thus earns itself a very pedestrian 2.5 McBones.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Today I Chased a Bat out of the Garage

Today I chased a bat out of the garage. I don't know if it was one of those bats that gets all tangled up in your hair, or if it was the rabies-carrying type of bat, or if it was the kind of bat that transforms into a vampire and seduces your wife, sucks her blood and leads her into the eternal torment of the waking damned. All I know is that the bat was in the garage, and seemed to be in a supreme state of agitation.

Twice the bat swooped at my head, and twice I ducked. Its eyes, like pools of fire, blazed with menace, fear and madness. I did not panic. Calmly I told Alex that there was a bat in the garage and then proceeded to open the garage door. The bat was no dummy. It circled a few more times before flitting into the night, at last vanishing in undulating flight back to from whence it came.

I know not what its purpose was in our garage, whether it sought shelter or food or a warm place to nest. I do know that its presence touched me in ways I've yet to understand. It seems silly to slap a name on such a filth-ridden creature of mystery, but if I had to, I think I would call it DeVonn.

Fly on, oh creature of the night. Sup on moonlight and bugs and remain ever the leather-winged harbinger of pestilence and woe.


Mr. Sniffles, Nixon Dog

In keeping with the spirit of presidential pets, I'd like to take a moment and tell you about my personal favorite, Mr. Sniffles.

Richard Nixon had several dogs during his tenure as president, none more beloved than Mr. Sniffles.

Mr. Sniffles came to the White House as an adorable puppy in 1969, the same year Nixon was sworn in as the 37th president of the United States. It is said that, when faced with the burden of an unwinnable war, Nixon would find solace in stroking Mr. Sniffles' stiff, bristling fur.

Mr. Sniffles would remain in the White House for a year and a half. Sadly, Mr. his life ended in tragic fashion when White House guards were forced to shoot him after savagely tearing out the throat of local paperboy, Billy Cooper.

Mr. Sniffles, gone but not forgotten.