Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Vac-Asian, Part 5: The Thrilling Conclusion

The next morning we woke up jonesing for coffee. When Trung met us in the lobby of our hotel, we told him as much. We were thinking maybe a Coffee Bean, or a Gloria Jean’s (both of which you can find in Saigon). That wasn’t what Trung had in mind.

He took us to a local coffee joint so smoke-filled we had to part it like curtains as we entered the front door. In my mind, everyone had an eyepatch and a cigarette holder clenched in their back teeth, but that’s not really true. It was actually full of Vietnamese families just hanging out in a dark room full of mirrors, ignoring a b-rate American action movie with Vietnamese subtitles. Something like The Delta Force with Chuck Norris, but not quite that awesome.

So it was here that Trung introduced us to Vietnamese coffee. Apparently coffee was introduced to Vietnam by the French in the late 19th century, and Vietnam has since become one of the world’s biggest coffee exporters. By the taste of things, they've definitely gotten the hang of it. We came home with about fifty pounds of Vietnamese coffee grounds.

There aren’t a whole lot of Vietnamese in New York. Nor are there many in Chicago. Apparently, most Vietnamese émigrés ended up in Louisiana. On our second day in Saigon, we understood why.

We had a big trip scheduled to take a private boat up the Mekong Delta, where we’d stop off at a few locales along the way, grab a little lunch, and head back. Originally, we were scheduled to shove off from a dock that was a four-hour drive from the hotel, a plan that we immediately squashed. Since, as you remember, loyal reader…highway driving + Vietnam = horrorshow.

Still, we had to drive a couple hours to the dock, where we stopped off at The Happy Place (Trung’s term for the bathroom), and hopped on a little tourboat that coughed brown smoke with every putt-putt of the motor, and had a colorful set of monster eyes painted on the bow to scare off crocodiles. Our skipper steered the rudder with his foot.

The Mekong Delta looks a lot like what I imagine the Mississippi Delta to look like. Sediment-filled water, fishing boats everywhere, and a landscape flecked with both rampant industrialization, and rural, dilapidated settlements. Our first stop was a little mile-wide clump of vegetation called Turtle Island.

We hopped off the boat, walked up a long, jagged dock, and into what seemed like an uninhabitable wall of jungle. The fist thing we noticed was a decomposing boar carcass. Just when we were starting to question if Trung was planning on selling us into slavery, the foliage opened up into a bamboo encampment with people lazing around in hammocks, smoking cigarettes. Still not convinced we weren’t being sold into slavery, Trung sat us down at a wooden picnic table under a bamboo roof, and told us we’d be sampling freshly picked fruit from the island. We were suddenly incredibly grateful to have gotten all of our shots.

Just as we began to sample the sweetest, freshest fruit I’ve ever tasted in my life (pineapple, dragonfruit, mini bananas, some grape-like fruit, and the only sweet grapefruit I’ve ever tasted) the entertainment stepped up to the table in the form of a 5-member band sporting ratty, acoustic instruments. They were introduced by Trung as a group of musicians specializing in the traditional music from the Mekong Delta.

As soon as they began to play, I got the distinct feeling that this was the Vietnamese equivalent to the Delta Blues. Trung told us what each song was about after they were finished playing, and each one sounded like he was reading the Cliff’s Notes to Muddy Waters lyrics. “His woman leave him, he sad.” “The man he cheat on the woman.” “He born on seventh day, he hoochie coochie man.” If Trung had translated the lyrics, I’d bet my life that every song began with “I don’t know, but I’ve been told.”

After our little snack, we took a quick tour through the lifeblood of the island: a coconut candy plant (I use the term “plant” loosely) called Que Dua, where they gut fresh coconuts, melt them in a stone oven, shape the cooled liquid into strips, cut them with machetes, and wrap each individual piece by hand. I left thinking two things. A. “I never realized how much I like coconut,” and B. “My job isn’t so bad after all.”

Our next stop might as well have been Louisiana. We hopped off the little boat, and staggered into a little clearing where a young Vietnamese man was bridling a scarily gaunt horse. Before we knew what was going on, we were being ushered into a lopsided carriage for a ride down a bumpy dirt path, while locals went about their business, which is to say, standing and staring at us.

The carriage dropped us off at another little clearing, where we literally walked through people’s backyards until we reached another small bamboo hut, full of screaming Japanese tourists. Just as we were about to ask what all the commotion was about, Trung pulled one of three massive boa constrictors out of a huge cage, and gently placed it around my neck.

The verdict on having a boa constrictor around your neck? A little creepy. The verdict on having a boa constrictor around your neck while surrounded by screaming Japanese tourists in the middle of the jungle? Goddamn terrifying. I forced out a waxy smile for about 30 seconds before saying, “Alright Trung, get this thing off me.”

Next up was a tea sampling, enjoyed with honey so fresh the bees were still pissed about having forfeited it, as evidenced by their swarm attacks while we sipped. We both forced rictal smiles before mumbling, “Alright Trung, let’s get the hell out of here.”

The last stop on the tour was a ride on a Sanpan, which is sort of like Vietnam’s version of a gondola ride in Venice, except your ass is deep, deep in the jungle, instead of listening to a costumed Italiano sing fruity love cantos. (No offense, Venice). This was the one and only time on the trip Crissy and I wore the traditional Vietnamese conical hats, and based on the pictures, it will be the last.

We ended the Mekong tour with a ride back to the dock on our trusty crocodile-proof boat, sipping fresh coconut juice straight out of a straw, and breathing sighs of relief that we made it though all of our crazy adventures alive. We temporarily forgot that we still had several hours of highway driving to go.

Around halfway home, we hit some seriously heavy traffic. Since all the highways are two-lane strips of concrete jutting straight through the countryside, if there’s any kind of hold-up, you’re not going anywhere. It seemed like we were inching along for hours, when suddenly, Trung turned in his seat and said, “Don’t look, don’t look.”

Crissy didn’t question Trung for a second. She immediately covered her face with the magazine she was reading. I, being the idiot that I am, did exactly the opposite of what I was being instructed to do.

The first thing I saw was a crowd of about thirty farmers about 10 feet from our car, all staring at the ground. Nobody moved a muscle. As we slowly creeped by, my eyes tried to make sense of an unrecognizable, jagged clump of black steel and two tires. Just as it dawned on me that I was looking at the mangled remains of a scooter, I saw the body.

Through the tinted glass of our van, the blood looked like tomato soup, pooled and splattered all over the side of the road. It looked like he’d been hit by a semi. The man’s crushed limbs were splayed in a way that only a short-circuited central nervous system would allow, and the only words to come out of my mouth were, “Jesus Christ. That guy’s dead.”

We drove in silence for the next couple hours, at one point looking up as an utterly futile ambulance raced in the opposite direction. By the time we finally reached the hotel, the disturbing image I’d witnessed had had plenty of time to marinate, and I found myself strangely pissed off about the whole thing.

Here’s the deal. When you go to Vietnam, everyone chuckles about the driving, “It’s controlled chaos! They know what they’re doing.” To be honest, I saw plenty of chaos, and very little control. In the cities, where there are scrapes, dents, and near misses by the minute, it’s hard to gather up enough speed to do any real damage. But the highways are a different story.

Everybody drives two inches from the bumper of the car in front of them, and attempts to pass every possible second. In a system where everyone is relying on the other guy not to make sudden, jerky, unpredictable maneuvers, EVERYone is making sudden, jerky, unpredictable maneuvers. It’s frustrating, and scary, and on the highways, deadly.

Now I don’t want to suggest that our trip was ruined by this one incident, because it wasn’t. Far from it. We had an incredible experience in Vietnnam from start to finish, and we’d go back in a heartbeat. I’m just saying…next time, we’re renting a tank.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Saigon, part 1

As soon as we arrived in Saigon, we couldn’t help comparing our new tour guide, Trung, to our beloved Huy. Just the day before, Huy had walked us to our gate in the Hanoi airport where we said our goodbyes as the music swelled. Crissy was doing a bad job of pretending not to be upset. I offered one too many extra-manly handshakes.

So it wasn’t Trung’s fault, really. He was just upstaged by the opening act.

First of all, he instantly seemed younger than Huy. Smiley and soft-spoken, he had a chronic neck tick that caused his moppy bowl cut to whip around his head like a hair hula-hoop.

Here’s another thing: generally speaking, you have to be a pretty funny guy to make someone laugh in a language other than your own. Trung wasn’t one of those guys. But it wasn’t for lack of trying.

“You like dog?”
“Oh sure! We have a dog at home named Franny!”
“Vietnamese eat dog. Heh heh.”
“Yes...........yes we know.”

Anyway, by the time we got to Saigon we started noticing something interesting. Everyone wears those masks in Vietnam. You know, those surgeon masks you see old people and tourists wearing while riding public transportation? The ones that say the air you animals breathe is beneath me? Yeah, those. Those are everywhere in Vietnam. But here’s the good news. The people who wear them aren’t all snobs. Some of them just don’t want to look like poor people.

Hm. It doesn’t sound that good when I put it in writing. The point is, we learned something. Apparently, Vietnamese women go to great lengths to keep from getting a tan, for fear that they’ll be confused for peasants. Which means they ALL wear those masks (yes, they make designer versions) and long-sleeved shirts with extra fabric stitched in to cover their fingers, to keep their hands from tanning while they ride scooters all day long.

And in the interest of full disclosure, yes, we wore the masks. But only on the airplanes, to protect ourselves from the air those animals breathe. Look, when you’re on a 2-week trip through Asia that includes 5 planes full of hot, recycled bird/swine/donkey flu breath, you start taking extreme measures. For what it’s worth, we’re not proud of it.

The first thing we noticed about Saigon is that it’s big. Way bigger than Hanoi. I mean, it’s got a KFC, for god’s sake. That’s how you know you’ve made it as a city, by the way. When you go out and get yourself a KFC.

Huy had told us that the traffic in Hanoi was nothing compared to that of Saigon. To be honest, it seemed far more manageable thanks to the breadth of the streets, and the fact that some people (not all) obeyed the traffic signals. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it was still batshit crazy. Just slightly less so.

So it was in said traffic that Trung and our driver took us out to the Cu Chi Tunnels the following morning, which is a massive system of underground tunnels that the Vietcong used to whip our asses during the war.

Most of the site is meant to celebrate Vietnamese ingenuity and determination during the war, which was, admittedly, mind-boggling. First they showed us a vast array of booby traps used by the Vietcong to kill and maim US servicemen. To be honest, the nonchalance with which they were described was a little unsettling. “This chop face, this slice head, this stab stomach.” We hustled past that portion of the tour.

Then they showed us the tunnels themselves. Let me start by saying this. The Vietnamese had a system of tunnels that spanned 150 miles. One hundred and fifty freaking miles. That’s like digging your way from Chicago to Madison, Wisconsin.

Of course, you can actually crawl down into the tunnels just to test your levels of claustrophobia, which, on a scale of 1-10 (1=David Blaine, 10=peeing with the door open), I’m about a 4. Crissy is about a 9. She opted out of the experience.

Trung told us that they had expanded the tunnels to accommodate Western tourists’ frames. Unless he was talking about West African Pygmies, I’m not sure how these things could’ve been any smaller. You can crawl through about 150 yards of tunnels if you like. I made it about 20 feet behind a young, Vietnamese guide before scrambling for the first exit, sweating and sputtering. The tunnel itself is dug out of a claylike soil that’s very densely packed, causing what little air there is to be incredibly thick and clammy. If I had the choice between living down there for 3 years like the Vietnamese, or surrendering to the Yanks, I’d have been whistling Dixie all the way to the firing lines.

I think I can officially say that this part of the trip was Crissy’s least favorite. It was by far the most chilling reminder of the war, not to mention a little annoyingly touristy for such a solemn subject. Particularly considering the next stop on the tour was the gift shop/coffee shop/AK-47 firing range.

This sounded like a great idea when we read it in the brochure. So great, in fact, that Crissy contemplated firing off a couple rounds herself. That is, until she got within 50 yards of the noise.

Here’s the deal with an AK-47. It's not a big gun, but it's absurdly loud. Like, unnecessarily, obnoxiously, maddeningly loud. You get the distinct feeling that they could have built these things to be quieter, but they decided against it as a scare tactic. It sounds exactly like a jackhammer pressed against your cheek. Every round makes your teeth rattle in your skull. I have no idea where my bullets went. I was just trying to keep from getting punched in the face by the gun’s considerable kick back. I shot 10 rounds. By the end, I was happy not to have shot myself.

By the end of day one, we were pretty warred out, so Trung took us shopping around Saigon. We checked out the Chinatown section of the city, which is apparently where every company on earth buys their crap in bulk. Shoes, hats, scooter helmets, purses, sunglasses. We’ve never seen so much crap packed into such a small space in our lives, nor have we ever seen such a perfect breeding ground for bird/swine/donkey flu. We staggered around for an hour or so, spent millions of dong, and headed back to hotel for some much needed r & r.

That night, we bounced around to a couple bars in town, eventually capping the night off with an aborted mission to Saigon, Saigon, our hotel’s rooftop bar (whose tagline, It’s really simply the best, is blatant false advertising), and crashed hard, ready for whatever adventures Trung had in store for us the next day.


I won't insult you with a lame excuse.


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Part 3: Halong Bay

The currency in Vietnam is called dong. I defy even the most mature readers of this blog not to snicker at that. No? Ok, how about in context? Keep your hands on your dong at all times. It’s so hot my dong is sweaty. One dong is good, but a million dongs are better...

Anything? I could go on.

After a day of touring around Hanoi, Huy and the driver were scheduled to drive us out to Halong Bay. For a relative few number of dongs (anything?), we’d be spending the night on our own personal junkboat, with bedroom and a crew of six. But first, we had to get there.

The ride from Hanoi to Halong Bay is three and a half hours long. Which would be fine, except for that driving thing we talked about. Specifically, the driving like an asshole thing. And as every non-car owner like ourselves can attest, the only thing worse than being on the road with an asshole driver, is being in the backseat with one.

Remember how they used to depict driving in old black and white movies? Hands at 10 and 2, jerking the wheel back and forth to convey movement? And you’d always see that and say, who drives like that? Nobody drives like that!

The Vietnamese drive like that.

Their pathological need to pass each other on the highway means that you spend roughly 2 of the 3 ½ hours in the opposite lane, driving directly into head on traffic, in a never-ending game of chicken with a variety of diesel-fueled vehicles. And when we weren’t actually passing, we were checking to see if we should be passing.

But if the point of this trip was to see and experience things we’d never see in the States, this ride offered up some gems, including (but not limited to): a live calf roped to the back of a scooter, a massive gift shop emporium staffed entirely by victims of Agent Orange, and a coal mining town so completely covered in soot it would be invisible by night.

Along the way, Huy educated us about Halong Bay. In 1994, UNESCO (The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) added it to its list of World Heritage Sites, classifying it as one of the 33 most beautiful bays in the world…

Hold on. If you’re anything like me, you might stop Huy right there. What the hell is a World Heritage Site? Why such a weird number for a list? How many beautiful bays could there possibly be in the world? Will there be wine on the boat?

Basically, you can expect two things out of visiting a World Heritage Site: 1. It’s going to be mind-bogglingly, ridiculously, shockingly beautiful. 2. There will be a mind-boggling, ridiculous, shocking number of tourists there.

Which is why whipping out the extra dong for a private guide and driver is crucial in a place like Vietnam. The dock was TEEMING with tourists when we arrived. Hundreds of junkboats waited for gaggles of hillbillies (Europe and Australia have hillbillies, too) to finish rummaging through fanny packs and taking pictures of toilets before they could get going. Not us. Not with trusty Huy in charge.

The second we got to the dock, we hopped on the boat. The second we got on the boat, the boat departed. The second the boat departed, we got lunch. The second we got lunch, we were sipping wine. I’m telling you, there is no other way to do this touristy stuff.

A quick word about our boat. As I mentioned before, we had the entire thing to ourselves, which was a little ridiculous considering the vessel offered a huge upper deck with ten deck chairs, three guest rooms, a kitchen, a dining room, and a crew of six. We tried to compensate for our guilt by being extra nice to the crew, who couldn’t have understood us less if we had meowed our appreciation.

Once our junkboat headed into the bay, we started to understand what the hubbub is all about. I mean, you just can’t believe what you’re looking at. Describing the beauty of Halong Bay goes well beyond my meager capabilities as a writer. Every picture you take makes you think you should quit your day job and become a professional photographer.

The nerdified version of what Huy told us goes something like this: sometime after the Pleistocene, shifting tectonic plates caused a mountain to collapse and break apart into dense clusters of limestone islands. Each island, covered with thick jungle vegetation, juts out of a very shallow bay, which causes the water to be perfectly flat and calm.

I distinctly remember lying in a deckchair while Crissy napped under a cloudless sky, sipping a glass of wine, listening to the distant gurgle of other junkboats lazily chugging along, and the occasional whistle chirp from the soccer game the crew was watching on a small TV, thinking, “I’m about as off the grid as you can get right now.”

Thankfully, the government limits the number of boats that can go out each day, so it’s incredibly quiet as you glide through this seemingly never-ending maze of ancient geological handiwork. I took so many pictures in the first 10 minutes that I had to be reminded we were gonna be there all day and all night. It was about 3 in the afternoon.

Just before sunset, our boat docked at one of the islands. “We go on a small hike.” Huy informed us. A bottle of wine deep and armed with only shorts and flip-flops, we weren’t sure if this was the greatest idea. Huy assured us we’d be fine.

So we hopped off the boat and huffed up a stone staircase and entered the most gigantic cave I’ve ever seen in my life. As Crissy stood gawking and I fumbled with various low light settings on the camera, Huy told us we should keep moving.

He led us through a small passageway narrow enough for our inner claustrophobics to huff asthma inhalers and say, I think we’ve had just about enough of this nonsense.

And then we stepped into a cave the size of an airport terminal.

Let’s see, how can I describe this, other than tell you I was expecting to find woolly mammoth carcasses around every corner. Gargantuan stalagtites millions of years old poured from the ceiling like 10 ton icicles. The place was so gigantic it looked like something straight out of Epcot Center. I took so many pictures Huy wanted to punch me. About two of them came out.

After the caves, we took one more pit stop at a gorgeous little beach for a sunset dip, before our boat anchored for the night. Crissy and I relaxed on the deck of the boat, reading our books to the soothing creak of old wood and wet ropes. I could hear a crew member softly whistling to himself on a boat 100 yards away.

Soon after our second gigantic fresh seafood meal on the boat, Crissy and I retired for the night, stuffed, relaxed and happy.

We were so relaxed, in fact, that we slept in until 10 am, missing out on the last pit stop we were scheduled to make that morning. Apparently, the crew was too respectful of our sleep to wake us up. “I am sorry, we have to bring the boat back now,” Huy regretfully informed us.

“Not to worry, Huy,” we assured him. We saw plenty. And what we did see was worth every last dong.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Part 2: Hanoi

Here’s the thing about Asia. There are so many freaking people. I mean, there are SO MANY people. Especially in Vietnam. You just don’t understand overcrowding until you get there. And you really don’t understand it until every single one of those people drives a scooter.

We left for Hanoi on Tuesday, October 27th, and were picked up at the airport by an awesome little helmet-haired dude named Huy, who would be our own little personal Dith Pran (a buck for anyone who gets that reference) while visiting the city. In addition to being awesome in every regard, Huy knew the answer to everything. Even things in addition to, “Do you hate Americans?” (The answer, by the way, is not really…but more on that later).

So as soon as we got in the car (oh, we had a personal driver too. we're looking into this here in New York), Huy started reeling off facts about Hanoi. Its 1,000 year old birthday is next year. It’s been occupied by the Chinese, the French, and the Japanese. It's a city of roughly 6 million people. 4 million of them drive scooters.

That last fact is not a joke, nor is it an exaggeration. I think I was watching Anthony Bourdain’s eat-em-up show on the Food Channel when he said, “The first thing you notice about Hanoi is the scooters.” You don’t notice the scooters. The scooters ARE the city. You’re absolutely swarmed by them at all times. They drive on the sidewalks, they drive on the ceilings, they drive up your pantlegs. They lay eggs and multiply at stoplights. They turn up in your soup.

The deal is, the government decided that cars simply weren’t a sustainable form of transportation in a county as engorged with people as Vietnam, which is about the size of California, with nearly triple the population. So they slap huge taxes on the purchase of a car, which are over 100% already, and expected to balloon to 200% next year.

The result, of course, that you’ve got families of five, including toddlers and, yes, infants, riding on scooters, surrounded by millions of people driving scooters like assholes. Oh, by the way, everyone drives like a total asshole. That’s an important detail.

Also, the custom is to always be honking. I’m not kidding. They honk to pass, honk to merge, honk to alert you to their presence, honk if they’re horny, honk if they love Jesus, whatever. Huy told us that’s just how it is. He basically told us they’re not honking at you, they’re honking with you. Which doesn’t make it any less annoying, of course.

But somehow, inexplicably, nobody seems to have discovered road rage yet. This probably has something to do with the fact that they’re all out in the open on scooters, not safely seatbelted into steel boxes on wheels with lockable doors. Or maybe it’s because if they did give someone the finger, they’d poke someone’s eye out. Regardless, when it’s just accepted that everyone’s going to drive like a complete and utter dickhead, I guess there’s nothing to get mad about.

We stayed at the Sofitel Metropole Hotel, which, in terms of making its clientele feel like turn of the century French aristocracy, is unparalleled. The hotel was built in 1901, waaaay back when the French kicked ass and took names, and all the Vietnamese employees still greet you with a “Bonjour madame, bonjour monsieur,” which is cool and weird and fancy and reminds me of the deleted scene from Apocalypse Now Redux.

Huy took us all over Hanoi and answered every question we could throw at him. Over the two days we spent in Hanoi, he took us to the infamous Hanoi Hilton, sent us on a CycloTour through the city’s Old Quarter, walked us through the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum grounds, pointed out 400 year old trees, explained the significance of the Temple of Literature, escorted us to the Water Puppet Theater, all without making us feel tired or annoyed or sick of sightseeing.

And as for that hating Americans question, here’s what Huy told us (by the way, this was corroborated by our Saigon tour guide, Trung, who you’ll meet later): Vietnam is a country with a long history of foreign occupation. The Chinese were there for 1,000 years. The French were there for 100 years. Relatively speaking, the American War (as they refer to it) was just a blip in their history.

Yes it was a very destructive war, and yes the scars of the war are still plainly visible, but generally speaking, the Vietnamese just seem to have moved on. I know it sounds like the naïve optimism of a couple of tourists, but both of our guides were very adamant about this fact.

And for what it’s worth, in the time we spent in that country, not once did we encounter even a whiff of anti-American sentiment. And we’re pretty sure it would’ve been the same even if we hadn’t told everyone we were from Toronto.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Vac-Asian, part 1: Hong Kong

Hong Kong is the most explosively vertical city on earth. That’s not a matter of opinion. More human beings live above the 14th floor in Hong Kong than anywhere else in the world. I just had no idea how many freakishly tall buildings they could build in such a tiny space…and we live in Manhattan.

This weekend the ticker taper parade for the World (really?) Champion Yankees was in our neighborhood, and I overheard a drunken Yankees douche, er, fan, blather, “This is the greatest city in the fuckin’ world, bro!” (p.s. the Yankees winning the World Series is about as exciting as Goldman Sachs executives giving themselves billion dollar bonuses…yay, the bad guys won…again!!).

Point is, yes, New York is an awesome city. But I wanted to ask that fan exactly what criteria he was basing his theory on. Because if it’s number of skyscrapers, or impressiveness of skyline, I gotta say, Hong Kong’s got this city beat.

According to the ever wise and reliable Wikipedia-san, Hong Kong has almost two thousand more high-rises than New York City. Two thousand! We’re not talking about dollars or cars or people here. We’re talking about massive structures of steel and girders and glass and lightening rods and millions of people to live inside them.

I mean, I don’t want to turn this into some kind of municipal wiener contest, I’m just saying…for such a small amount of surface area, it’s shocking to see these gigantic economic stalagmites explode upward in such a brazen disregard for nature and gravity and all that is holy. I mean, they have typhoons in this place. Yeah, those are real.

On top of that, the surrounding areas are stacked (stacked!) with mile after mile of public housing that is so singularly unique I wouldn’t shut up about it the whole time we were there. “It’s like Robocop!” I kept exclaiming. Except, of course, sans crime-fighting cyborg with a heart of gold. So I guess it’s nothing like Robocop.

It’s strange, because on one side of the island you’ve got these huge bundles of skyscrapers that throb with the scary futuristic uniformity of a circuit board. And then you go to the other side of the territory (their word, not mine), and…and…

Ok, I should take a step back here. First of all, I have to mention that we were staying with our incredibly generous and hospitable friends the Tiedes, who have relocated to Hong Kong with their two dogs, Prophet and Lester. After a full day of exploring Hong Kong’s money-maker, they took us on a harrowing wrong-side-of-the-road drive around to the back of the, uh, territory, which, inexplicably, looks like the Italian Riveria. I mean, it’s the most incongruous, best-kept secret I’ve ever seen.

So we spent our second day in Hong Kong sunning poolside and sipping vodka lemonades at their private club overlooking craggy cliffs that plunge into turquoise water. There are surf beaches, sandy seafood joints, yachts. It’s crazy. Even if I don’t get to have a yacht, at least it’s nice to be in a place where yachts like to hang out.

Here’s the other weird thing about Hong Kong. When you walk around the guts of the city, which, despite the rampant capitalism is still mighty Chinese, the whole city gives the impression of being built in a treehouse.

That’s because Hong Kong sports some pretty rocky geography, so they just stack all the pubs and restaurants and chicken-windowed shops right up the side of the rocks. There’s actually a moving walkway, called The Escalator, that hauls your fatass right up past level after level of bars and restaurants and chicken-windows. God help our obesity rates when America gets wind of this.

The Tiedes showed our Asia-ignorant asses all over Hong Kong. We drank beer out of bowls, learned how to distinguish between spices that numb and spices that burn, and learned that super rich Chinese people line their security gates with shattered broken glass. And fine, maybe that last one was an isolated incident, but still…it was a learning experience.

To be honest, there’s a good chance that every piece of information I just provided about Hong Kong is completely incorrect. I’m just calling it like I see it. But if there are two things I’m positive of it’s that A. it was an incredible way to launch the journey, and B. it’s near China, right?

Friday, November 6, 2009

pre-trip prep

Our adventure unofficially began the morning of October 20th, when we dropped Franny off at the small commuter airport in Long Island, base operations for Pet Airways. This little entrepreneurial gem was no doubt the brainchild of a group of mustachioed flyboys who decided to make a little extra cash charging $400+ a ticket to fly peoples’ pets across the country in style.

So they outfitted a few single engine planes with a fuselage full of animal cages and a couple flight attendants to refill their vodka tonics, and just like that, a business was born. In our case, shelling out the extra cash to have her stay with Crissy’s mom and stepdad outside of Chicago was half as expensive as 18 days of New York City boarding, and she’d be getting 10 times the attention. Best money we ever spent. Er, top 20, anyway.

When we arrived at the airline counter to drop Franny off, Crissy was so traumatized that one of the employees asked if Franny was moving to Chicago permanently. “Well, not exactly,” I responded, clearing my throat. “We’re going on vacation for a couple weeks.”

Now let me clarify here. My wife has an actual, bona fide phobia of flying, as diagnosed by yours truly, the one sitting next to her on 99.9% of her flights. Admittedly, she’s much better than she was when we first started dating, thanks to a little old-fashioned grit, and a lot of new-fashioned Xanax.

But let me tell you something. My wife’s fear of flying is not a cute little scaredy cat bumpity poo in the planey waney. When that 90-ton winged monster rears up and lurches off the runway in defiance of gravity, something inside Crissy’s primal brain unhinges, and the primordial fight or flight response blares like a siren in her skull. And her inability to do either as the plane rockets into the sky sends her into a writhing, scrambling, eye-bulging, skin-tearing rage for roughly 6 minutes.

Like I said. The Xanax helps.

Anyway, the point is, when it came to Franny boarding her first flight, Crissy was projecting a lot of Xanax-free fear onto our confused puppy, who was actually in great hands with the friendly, helpful employees. Plus, Crissy brought along Franny’s pillow wrapped in one of my stinky t-shirts, so she’d have a familiar scent to keep her calm in case of turbulance.

And to be honest, I’d bet my life that if Franny had her choice of horrors to endure, she’d take a couple bumps in the clouds over the running vacuum cleaner ten times out of ten.

P.S. What, you thought I was gonna lead with the dead body story?

The future is a place of many wonders

We made it. We traveled to the future and back and lived to tell about it. We have many things to report about what you can expect out of mankind in the next 12 hours, including: people will be loud and pushy in the airport, they will be overly paranoid about contracting the swine flu/Sars/ebola, Asian airlines will have a dizzying array of entertainment options to choose from on personal screens…in coach, and food will taste good.

During the course of the 18 days we spent in the future, we experienced expansive cities, mind-boggling swarms of scooters, 10 shots fired by an AK-47, the true resting weight of a 50 lb. boa constrictor, and one dead body.

That’s right. A human corpse.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

little (particles of) shit

Last night, around 3 a.m., I woke up to little furry tickles on my face. Now that Franny sleeps in the bed (it was only a matter of time), I cracked one eye, expecting to see our dog's cute little mug snuggled up next to mine.

Instead, I opened my eyes to find a furry little pink butthole, millimeters from my nostrils.

When I recoiled and tried to shove the little starfish out of the way, she responded the only way she knew how without having to wake up.

By releasing a fresh wave of broccoli breeze, right in my face.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


I know I know. We’re the worst bloggers ever. We agree. Let’s just move past it, ok?

We passed a big milestone since the last time we posted. One full year in NYC, as of September 20th. We made it alive.

We decided to celebrate the one-year anniversary by dressing like pirates and cruising around the southern tip of Manhattan on a modified pirate ship. You know, for International Talk like a Pirate Day.

What? You’ve never heard of ITLAPD? The day that pirates gained their independence? The day that the pirate prophet was born? The holiday that all Somali pirates consider amateur night at the pirate bars?

Truth is, ITLAPD is a joke holiday started by two Oregonians in the mid 90’s, and was promoted by humor columnist Dave Barry (thank you Wikipedia). It was also roundly promoted by our friend Danny Thomases, who so enjoyed bar hopping around Greenwich Village in a pirate costume that he turned to his fellow pirates and growled, “Arrggh ye milksops, cock yer hat athwart my hawse and have a care of the lee-latch.”

Which is pirate for, “Let’s rent a pirate boat, invite all our friends, make everyone dress like pirates, and get loaded.” And so it was.

We weren’t totally sold at first, but when our friends with two kids told us they were going, we had no excuse. Plus, as it turns out, trannies and crazy people had it right all along: shopping for costumes when it’s not Halloween is completely awesome. Empty stores, abundant selections, attentive employees. I think I’m gonna start doing all my Halloween costume shopping in mid-September.

We didn’t go too crazy, since pirate costumes aren’t exactly appreciating investments. But I think we did well enough. Let me just add that Crissy’s do-rag is absolutely authentic, and was not purchased in the costume section. The picture of the super pissed off black dude on the packaging is targeting a very specific demographic that, thankfully, my wife does not fall under.

We ended up having a really incredible time. The weather was gorgeous, the number of people on the boat was perfect, and there were just the right amount of sloppy drunks to provide entertainment: 3 by my count, including one girl who fell flat on her face 30 seconds after complaining about the lack of tequila variety.

The party was so fun, in fact, that I have little recollection of how we got home. Crissy’s memory of the end of the night is equally hazy, though she remembers enough detail to know that we didn’t get mugged on the way home, which meant that my pounding skull was completely self-induced.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

don't make me do it

One of my greatest fears is having people ask me for directions while I’m out walking Franny. Not because I could easily be confused for a homeless person or a terrorist in my dog walking garb. Because I suck with directions. People see the dog and they think dog=local resident=human map.

Well, yes and no. My iPhone knows its way around really well, which is great for me, but awkward and slow with strangers. “Uh, hang on, let’s look it up here. Let’s see, maps…ok, what’s the street? These little buttons are really sensitive, oops…oops. Ok, it’s just loading, just a sec. Are…are you on vacation sir?…it’s still loading, give me a second.”

But when people ask directions, they expect an answer. And you can’t guess. Or you shouldn’t, anyway. Because that’s really the worst thing you can do. The hottest sections of hell are reserved for people who guess while giving directions.

So usually I’ll just say, “I’m sorry I really don’t know, I’m walking a friend’s dog.”

People do not like this.

Typically I get a look that that says, I know you know, so why aren’t you telling me…asshole? Or sometimes I get a look that says, How could you possibly live here and not know your way around….asshole? Sometimes people just stand and stare, like the answer is coming, it just hasn’t hit me yet. So we stand there in silence.

Well, not perfect silence. I can hear Spit it out, asshole loud and clear.

Then it hits me.
“Oh, well now that I think about it, I think it’s, uhhhh, that way.”

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

toast points

Crissy and I did many enjoyable New Yorky things this weekend…Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty, Coney Island. But I’m not interested in reporting on those things. Instead, I’d like to report on a true milestone for us.

The day we officially became yuppies.

It went a little something like this. The missus and I woke up on Saturday, slipped our sleeping masks off with a stretch and a yawn, and patted our dog/child’s furry head. After a quick stroll and several remarks about the lovely weather, we decided to get a bite to eat.

I dressed myself in a newly purchased outfit, which Crissy told me looked truly adorable. I checked myself in the mirror just to make sure I looked appropriately DeGeneres for a jaunt about the city, and we were off.

We decided to lunch at Le Pain Quotidien. Yes, it’s a chain, but since they include the caloric intake of each item on the menu, we decided it would suffice. “This will be splendid,” I remarked. “Quite,” Crissy responded.

After perusing the menu with our shared monocle, I decided to go with the organic steel cut oatmeal topped with fresh fruit, and a soft-boiled egg. Crissy selected a roast beouf tartine, with caper mayonnaise, diced tomatoes, and scallions, served on toast points. It was to die for.

In fact, our lunch was so divine that we both chewed in silence, eyes closed, air-conducting to Mozart’s Serenade No. 13 in G Major, which was softly playing over the tinkling of fine crystal and seafood forks.

It was at that very moment we decided to have 1.5 children, name it Madison Wentworth Porsche Mulroy, and do a Craigslist search for nannies named Isabella.

P.S. Every single detail in this post is true except for the monocle part. We never share.

Monday, September 7, 2009

A New Friend?

The other day I noticed a familiar face at the dog run. It was so familiar that I made Kev bust out his iphone so I could google the guy's dog and famous wife. Right there in front of us was Leeann Rimes' soon-to-be-ex-husband, Dean. We've seen him there twice now with his big poufy Papillion. He just sits there, alone, texting on his phone.

It's so weird to me that I even know who this "normal" guy is, and how I know such intimate details of his life -like how his wife started banging her cheesy co-star during the filming of a Lifetime movie of the week, and that she just filed for divorce and ran off to Mexico for a lover's getaway. Or that he and Leeann's new guy's ex-wife are bonding over both of them being dumped, and that there are rumors swirling that Dean is gay. So it makes me sad that he's here, figuring out his new life, taking care of the dog and he's all alone all the time.

Tonight we saw him eating dinner on the patio of a nearby restaurant, alone again. I wanted to walk up to him and say "Hi Dean, my name is Crissy and this is my husband, Kevin. We've seen you at the dog park recently and I know you're new to the city, wow, what a big change this must be for you coming from LA, so if you ever need some friends to walk your dog with, give us a call. We are nice trustworthy, midwestern people and we know you're going through a tough time right now and you can't spend all of your time alone. You need people around. Seriously. Okay?!"

Then I imagine myself giving him a hug. He looks like he might need one.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

oo-ooh, that smell

Well, the old lady’s out of town for the week, shooting chickens. No, I don’t mean she’s blasting ‘em with buckshot. But I bet she wishes she was armed right now. She’s off shooting more Perdue commercials.

Anyway, that means Fran and I have Dude’s Week around the homestead.

That’s actually not true. Franny’s not a dude. She’s an animal. And if anything, we’re living more like animals than humans this week. So, I stand corrected. We’ve been living like filthy animals since Monday morning.

Things have been good. Really good. Well, ok, they’ve been boring. But that means I’ve had nothing but time to work on the screenplays and sitcom pilots and stand up comedy routines I’ve been meaning to get to. And I’m totally gonna get to that stuff. As soon as I’m done not getting to it.

What I have been doing is watching movies. An embarrassing number of movies, actually. In the three days that Crissy’s been gone, I’ve plowed through the following:

1. The Taking of Pelham One, Two, Three (no, not the remake with Travolta. But thanks.)
2. The Hurt Locker
3. What Just Happened?
4. Role Models
5. Humbolt County
6. Frost/Nixon
7. Frost Nixon: The Original Watergate Interviews

And on the scale of Do I or Don’t I wish I wrote that movie, the scores were the following:

1. Yes
2. Yes
3. Yes
4. Yes
5. Meh
6. Yes
7. It’s a documentary. But yes

Above is a picture of the coffee table last night after movie #6. This is the first of a series I like to call The Lonely Shower.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The New Man in My Life (Sorry Kev)

Well hellooooooo little muffin man!
Introducing Mr. Griffin Lev Liker - We can't wait to squeeze you!!!

(Born to the most bitchin' set of parents a kid could ask for, Christine and Alex Liker, on August 21, 2009)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


Today I am thankful that I don't have to ride the subway twice a day, five days a week in the thick of summer. Kevin describes the subway stations as being "hotter than the devil's breath" (I think he's been watching a little too much Paula Deen) but I liken them to feeling like you're Carly from Days of Our Lives when she was buried alive. It's a suffocating, stifling, raw fucking heat down there.

And it's not so fresh above ground either. I've got a pretty good idea why all the rich people around here flee this island during August - it was 95º + 100% humidity and ZERO breeze today. Combine that with the garbage, general stankness and vehicular and human exhaust of Manhattan and you get one fine lookin' lady right here. I've been sporting a couple of super sexy baloney (bologna?) pits and some beady upper lip and boobsweat that made me look like I've dipped my bits in olive oil. And to add insult to injury, I'm already using men's deodorant to help* curb my spicy Mediterranean sweat glands.

Time to go take another shower.

*It's not actually helping

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


We can't wait to sniff your supreme baby deliciousness!
PS, You learn this soon but you have a kickass set of parents.

*Tanner Leo Kai-Ren Benjamin, fresh from the oven early this morning, weighing in at a hearty 9lbs 1 oz!!!"

Smell Ya Later

Our porn-y next door neighbors must have had the fight to end all fights - the dude moved out two weeks ago and the girl is moving out this weekend. I wonder who we'll be sharing a bedroom wall with next...

*Please revisit THIS POST if you need a refresher

Monday, August 10, 2009

To all the single ladies of NYC

If you're looking for a man, head on over to the Subway on Hudson and Beach at lunchtime on a weekday. They may be khaki pants-wearing bankerdudes, but if you're into that sort of thing you'll have plenty to choose from.

Friday, August 7, 2009


i have the urge to throw eggs out of the window at loud people/tourists/asshole-y jerks on the street below.

also, i've often fantasized about carrying a carton of eggs in my bag and chucking them at people who drive like a-holes.

do you feel me on this?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

planning nostromo's fate

This is a picture of a conference room during preparations for another major pitch my agency is about to begin. Tell me that doesn’t look like an evil corporation in the not-too-distant-future planning world domination.

Not to mention the fact that 3 of the 5 people in this picture have British accents.

So you know if a bloodthirsty alien gets on board the spaceship, they’ll demand the alien be brought back to earth for study, considering Sigourney Weaver and the rest of her crew expendable.

What? Nobody remembers Alien?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

that's some spicy giardia

Admittedly, we let Franny rule the roost a little too soon after saving her grubby life from those rubes in Westchester. (Ok they were nice people...I digress).

We were just so excited about our pre-potty trained dog that we relinquished control of the cable remotes and the good spot on the couch after about 2 weeks. Trust me, we tried to crate train her. We just didn't have the backbone to deal with her desperate cries for freedom. And she didn’t make us regret it for almost two months.

Then she had a little pee accident. Eh, no biggie.

Then another.

Then one or two more.


She got slammed with giardia.

Now just when you think to yourself, “Giardia? Is that some delicious Italian antipasto? Is that a condiment you spread on your Polish sausage? Is it spicy? I love spicy food!”

Let me assure you, it is none of those.

In scientific terms, giardia is an anaerobic flagellated protozoan parasite. In layman’s terms, it’s a diarrhea party in our apartment.

Not only is poor Fran sick as a….a….well, a dog, she’s been ostracized by the entire canine community. Apparently giardia is shockingly, horrifically, flesh-eatingly contagious. Which means no dog park (which is where she contracted the disease in the first place, I might add), and no doggie day care. It also means everything she’s ever touched in her 10 months of existence had to be sterilized with a toothbrush.

And it means (cue high pitched violins) that we can get it.

Actually, as long as we lay off the makeout sessions for a week or two, that’s pretty unlikely. Sadly though, the poor mutt has to stay inside all day long in our 600 square foot isolation unit. We’ve been running her in the mornings to try to wear her out, and she gets hour-long walks at lunch, but still…

Anyway, I’d like to throw in a little plug here. If your dog is planning on contracting giardia any time soon, I’d suggest picking up a Flor rug. They’re super cool little modular rugs that fit together in squares, so you can clean them separately when things get…messy. Unfortunately Franny has been picking ours off one by one like a game of diarrhea breakout, so it’s time to select some new squares.

Something tells me we won’t be picking canary yellow and white next time.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

letter from the editors

This blog is meant to accomplish 2 things:

1. Remind us of things we did while living in New York.
2. Tell jokes.

Not necessarily in that order. Sometimes I'm guilty of a colorful retelling of events that I find funny. I admit it. If at any point I or we offend anyone reading the blog, we sincerely apologize.

In the immortal words of every comedian who's ever lived...

They're just jokes, folks.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

the perfect* saturday night =

my best canine galpal + a bottle o' wine + one of my top 5 favorite movies

*the only thing that would make it better is if K was here

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

eat me

Holy crap. So much going on. A lot of it taking place on the work front, but things are too unsettled to discuss yet. Exciting stuff to be covered in future posts, for sure.

Anyway, this is a little late, but I can’t go one post further without telling you about our first ever lobster boil on the fourth of July.

Let me begin by saying that this was a serious ordeal; caterers, air castle, cotton candy machine, snow cone maker, and a buffet the length of a football field. The party was being held at Kurt’s brother Eric’s place up in Milton, NY, and he was not, shall we say, making love around.

The next thing I should mention is that there were a lot of kids there. I mean, a lot of kids. Which meant there was…

You guessed it.

A clown.

The weird thing about clowns is that they’re actually people, as it turns out. They wake up in their underpants, surrounded by empty bourbon bottles, wipe the cigarette ashes out of their hair, and apply clown makeup in the jagged wedge of mirror resting on a gas station toilet. Then they clear their throats and practice saying “hi kids” in a falsetto voice, before heading off to entertain children.

I’d include one of the pictures I took of the clown in this post, but I fear he’ll google himself, see it, hunt me down, chop me up, and bury me under the floorboards. So you’ll just have to trust me that he was equal parts entertaining and terrifying.

The next thing of note is the way the lobsters were prepared by the caterers. Let me add, by the way, that I’m using the term “caterer” a little loosely. If you’re picturing a mustachioed Frenchman in a tall chef hat, you’re close. Replace the Frenchman with an ex-roadie for the Marshall Tucker Band on probation for a jet ski DUI, and you’re getting closer.

The lobster preparations began with a solemn ceremony, during which the caterers stacked the lobsters in comical positions and supplied funny voices on their behalf.

“Eat me, eat me!”
“I love to gang bang!”
“I’m a stupid lobster. Mah mah mah.”

When the preparations ended, the caterers began the process of ripping the live lobsters in half, one by one, which, in the words of one of the caterers, “is how you do it. I saw it on TV.”

Basically, they throw all the lobsters into a big pot, boil them until their shell has gone from dark brown to bright red, and ring the dinner bell. To be honest, I wasn’t sure if I was gonna be able to consume these creatures after just having watched their violent dismemberment. Luckily, that’s why they make beer. I had two lobsters and a large pile of macaroni and cheese.

Then came the cookies. Then the brownies. Then cotton candy. Then a snow cone. Then more beer.

Then I looked around at all the families surrounding me, and had a sudden revelation about parenthood.

Nobody’s even trying to suck in their guts.

Sign me up.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Floating Around in My Head

1. Poultry - I have another chicken commercial shoot coming up in August right when Christine will be popping out Baby Liker. I would SOOOO rather be in Chicago sniffing and caressing my newborn "nephew" than catering to a bunch of crochety clients - one of whom sadly resembles Dick Cheney in mind, body and spirit.

2. Asia - The Mister and I recently booked tickets to Hong Kong at the end of October. During that trip we're going to make our way to Cambodia to see Angkor Wat (google it, you'll be blown away) and a couple of spots in Vietnam. We are so incredibly excited to go and see/experience something totally foreign to us. But not excited to fly 16 hours in coach or leave Fran for two weeks. Oh well.

3. Goldman Sachs - Kevin has been trying to get me to care about those a-holes for awhile now. About a month ago he read an article in Rolling Stone about what a bunch of greedy jerks they are. I finally read it today after hearing that they posted a $3.5 Billion profit. To say I'm filled with rage is an understatement. Goodbye America, hello Canada!

4. Gay Marriage - Love is love is love is love. Can we please move into the 21st century?

5. Ray Ban Wayfarers. I would like it if everyone could please stop wearing these sunglasses. JFK is the only guy who can pull them off. Not even Tom Cruise.

Thank you and Goodnight!

pray for me

I'm trying bikram yoga for the first time tomorrow morning.
Hopefully I'll have some sexy, banana hammock-wearing instructor like the guy in the pic above - one can dream!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

around town

Sorry to have left you staring at those disgusting poo pics. Here are some shots I've snapped over the past few months. My personal favs are the "don't pee on me" sign, and the $9 watermelons which, presumably, are rind-covered gold bullion.

Crissy, Fran and I are going up to Kurt's this weekend for the 4th. Hopefully we'll come back with some good blog fodder.

Happy 4th!

Friday, June 26, 2009

round two

Man, this rain can suck it. I can handle global warming. But this global drenching crap? It's for the birds.

It's June 26th for crying out loud. How about a little sun, New York? Leave the depressing gray skies to the experts...like Glasgow.

Anyway, we gave the Hamptons one more try last weekend (the Hamptons are on the way out to Montauk, the scene of the Great Escape), with a work friend of Crissy's, and his girlfriend.

Ooh, mister and missus fancy pants, jetting out to the Hamptons to sip sea breezes and rub elbows with the Kennedy's, eh?
Not exactly.

The only thing that makes the Hamptons fancy, aside from the billion dollar houses, are all the Prada and John Varvatos-type stores that line the main drag. Otherwise, it's just like any little sleepy getaway town in Wisconsin or Michigan or whatever. And thankfully it remained gray and cloudy pretty much the whole time we were there, lest we get any funny ideas about having a good time.

Actually, that's not true. The sucko weather aside, we really did have a good time. Crissy prepared an outstanding Mexican feast, to accompany the 500 shots of tequila being served up by Mike, our host, while Franny tried to eat a small lapdog named Gracie for 8 straight hours. I woke up the next morning to a screaming headache with the sickly, pounding throb of a German techno beat.

Oh, and about those pictures. That's a little something we spotted on the way to dinner last night. What you're looking at is a massive load of horseshit. And his name is Dick Cheney.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

that's just great

You slave away at your job.

You worry worry worry.

You bust your hump to make a name for yourself.

And who gets their picture in the New York Times?

That's right.

The dog.

She better remember to thank us at the Oscars.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

oh, by the way...

we won the pitch.


Monday, June 8, 2009

er, maybe not

When I was 20, I loved me a good frat party. Crissy too. The lukewarm keg beer, the public vomiting, the fight!fight!fight! What wasn’t to love?

Now? I’m not so into it. Especially when it’s happening all around you in your $300/night hotel room in Montauk.

Crissy, Fran, and I had been planning to head out to Montauk over Memorial Day weekend, but the Great Suck of ’09 (the pitch) forced me to cancel, so we rescheduled for this past weekend.

About an hour into the 4-hour trip, we pulled off the highway for a bite. While we were eating outside, a scabby, neck-tattooed couple approached us to say hello to Franny. As they reached out their open-sored hands to pet her, Crissy and I blushed at Fran's growl, which said what we were all thinking. "Hey meth heads. Beat it. We're trying to eat here."

We arrived at the hotel a few hours later, only to discover that they were hosting a Nylon Magazine party from 3pm-9pm. 22-year old pretend rich kids (Crissy tells me these people are called faux-cialites) poured through the front doors of the hotel, which was as soundproof as a cereal box.

Suddenly the entire place exploded with queeny gay guys wearing sunglasses indoors, startlingly anorexic girls shout-speaking with armfuls of ice-filled pint glasses, and people screaming conversations across hallways from open doors.

First we tried changing rooms. Which, in terms of annoyingness, was like going from firetruck sirens to firecrackers in a garbage can. When we couldn't take it one second longer, I went down to ask them to move us to their hotel's alternate location.

At first, the woman behind the counter was surprised. "The party only goes til 9," she said. "Yeah, I know. It's 3:30 right now." Puke, puke, glassbreak, puke. "Let me see if we have anything available."

We headed over to the other hotel, grabbed our key from the front desk, and poked our head into the room. The first thing we noticed was an unplugged tv on the floor, and a table in the fireplace. Crissy coined a new adjective, noting that it felt "a little serial killery."

We took a nap, awoke to what sounded like a herd of woolly mammoths stomping through the room above us, and took a peek outside. The temperature had dropped twenty degrees, covering the entire area with a thick, gray fog. Just then, the woolly mammoths began bashing their way down the wooden staircase directly in front of our window, cigarettes dangling off their lips. "Jesus. Look at these f*&#ing fatasses," I groaned as I twirled our miniblinds shut.

"Who said that?" one of them said to the other, stopping in front of our window. The insulation was so bad the window might as well have been open. "Did they just call us fatasses?" I hit the floor and army crawled to the middle of the room.

The missus and I weighed our options.

We could stay here, where the restaurants aren't as dog friendly as we'd hoped, it's 55 degrees, we might get mauled by a herd of pissed off wooly mammoths, if we don't get Dahmered in this hotel room first.

Or we could drive the 4 hours back to Manhattan right now.

So we bailed. What the hell. We got back to Tribeca around 10:15, dumped the Zipcar, flopped onto our couch, and enjoyed our non-serial killery surroundings.

Monday, June 1, 2009

much better

Well, it's finally over. Sorry if that last post was anticlimactic, but I was literally in the middle of writing it when they said go home. It was a glorious moment.

So here I am, sitting on my ass, taking the week off, relaxing, and basking in Facebook love on my birthday.

Man, it's good to have my life back.

Friday, May 29, 2009

DAY 32

Here we are, the night before the pitch. The lead team is in Seattle, doing a final run through of the show, and we're expected to be on stand by in case there's an emergency. Like a sentence ending in a preposition. Or a logo is too small.

Problem is, just for one last little turn of the thumbscrews, they didn't start the rehearsal until 9:30, Seattle time. Which means we're expected to sit on our asses until they're completely finished, which should happen sometime around never.

It's 2 a.m. right now....somehow I don't think I'm gonna make it much longer.

WELL WELL WELL. My project manager just informed me that we are DONE!



Wednesday, May 27, 2009

And Now a Word From Our Sponsor

Please pardon the interruption from Kevin's Wild n' Wacky Advertising Pitch Madness Special for something a little more, uhhh, heartwarming.

Since K was forced to continue his tour of duty at The Sweatshop last weekend, Fran and I had a chat and decided to get out of dodge to visit the Cirel’s up in Boston. Since it was a last minute trip as well as a holiday weekend, it was a little tough figuring out how we were going to get there. But if you know anything about Fran you know that when she has her mind set on something she will find a way to do it. She called all over town and couldn’t find a car rental for under $500. Then she looked into Amtrak but found out dogs can’t travel on that train (and she’s thinking about suing for discrimination since we happen to know an attorney or four). Then we both asked around (she at school and me at work) and I finally found us a ride from our gracious friend Mike and his lovely girlfriend, Evelyn.

The Mulroy family (minus Dad, sadly) departed Friday night from NYC. We had to take a cab to Grand Central Station, then a suburban Metro North train (the only train line that dogs are allowed on, luckily) to Westport, CT to meet Mike and Evelyn who were picking us up at the station. From there we snaked through Memorial Day Weekend traffic to Providence, RI, where Adam, Bekka and Moo were waiting patiently for us. We hopped in their car around 11pm, happy to be on the last 40-minute leg of the trip.

As soon as we arrived we took the girls for a quick tinkle break and leg stretch before heading inside to bed. We went to a nearby park and let them off their leashes and they immediately started going at it. Crying and snarling and hurt feelings ensued. Little did we know at the time, but it was the first of many fights we were going to break up that weekend.

The rest of the weekend was spent catering to the pups and channeling Cesar Millan. And I proudly watched on as my little gal bravely tried so many new things. Twice she jumped right in the nearby reservoir and swam like the doggie version of Michael Phelps (ok maybe that’s a slight exaggeration). She conquered her fear of riding in cars and learned to embrace the wind rushing at her face through rolled down windows. She frantically dug holes in delicious dirt and green grass and rolled around and got dirrrrrty. And after keeping her on a strict puppy diet for the past three months, I realized that we were on vacation and that Adam’s kielbasa maple syrup sausages were perfectly suitable for dinner. And finally, she got to sleep in the bed with me and oh my gosh I think I created a monster.

And when Monday rolled around, the girls kissed and made up and we could not physically tear them apart. They were wresting and kissing and play fighting and it was the best thing I’ve seen in quite some time. Thank you, thank you, thank you for a fabulous weekend, gals.

And now back to your regularly scheduled programming.

DAY 31

Last night one of the clients was in town, so she decided to swing through the office to get a "sneak peek" at the ideas we've been working on for a month straight. The pitch is two days away.

She didn't like them.

At 10:30 pm, they asked us to concept some "quick" launch ideas for a one o'clock meeting today.

They are awesome ideas.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

DAYS 29 AND 30

My diet over the last two weeks
(Or, why I feel like a cement mixer right now):

pizza (twice), Chinese, sushi, Indian, cold cuts, Thai (twice), Turkish (yes, Turkish), Mexican, burgers, one salad.

Two more days.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

DAY 28

Compared to the art directors, this is child's play.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Day 27

Recently I presented some headlines to an ECD and a Tech Consultant. The ECD is a 39-year old ex-male model with dyed black hair. The tech consultant is a 50-year old diminutive gay man in laceless Converse. I had been working on these lines for roughly 2 days.

I handed out 6 pages of headlines.

"I am just so out of it right now!" said the tech consultant, rubbing his eyes.

"I don’t think this copy should sound like this. It should sound more conversational. This is too addy," said the male model.

He read one out loud.

System Center lets you add capacity instantly.

The consultant shrieked with laughter. I scanned my work for the joke.

Here’s another one, the male model said.

Windows Server 2008 comes with Hyper-V.

"Oh! oh! oh! The consultant guffawed.

"Listen to this one," said the male model, testing out a funny newscaster voice.

You can integrate all of your security products from a single management view.

The consultant writhed. "Stop! stop! I can't..." he begged, wiping tears out of his eyes.

I stared at the pages in my hand as the male model skimmed them for the best lines to read in a funny voice.

SQL Server plus SharePoint lets you spot trends in the data!

"I can't breathe! I'm having a giggle fit!!" squealed the consultant.

It occurred to me that I canceled a vacation for this.

Friday, May 22, 2009


The last thing I wanted to do was write a bunch of entries about my job in this blog. But if the point is to document our experiences in New York...well…this qualifies as an experience. I have to write this down so I know I’m not exaggerating when I yammer about this as an ornery old man.

I’ve been working on a pitch for about a month now. Now, for those of you who know what that means, let me just say…even for a pitch, this one’s out of control.

And for those of you who don’t know what that means, here it is in a nutshell.

A pitch means that your agency is trying to woo a big, giant company into giving you bags of money to make commercials and websites and print ads and crap that inspired someone to invent TiVo.

This usually means you work long days and a few late nights and a couple weekends to fill a room with hastily photoshopped ideas. Then the agency picks the best ideas, and parades them around the room for a bored client checking sports scores on his Blackberry. With any luck, the client will declare your agency the belle of the ball, and your agency will walk out of the pitch 100 million dollars richer.

This, however, is not how things are going right now.

I’ve worked every day of the calendar Since April 27th. That’s 26 straight days of deadlines, since my creative director has been demanding check-ins at least once a day, sometimes twice. “Need to see where you are,” the emails say. Typically, I’ve been lucky to get home at 10. Usually it’s more like 12 or 1 a.m.

Weekends are worse. It’s never a question of whether you’re going to be here…just how long. I usually end up working 16-17 straight hours, since there are no meetings to fall asleep in. I've canceled two trips in this time (one wedding in Chicago, one weekend trip to Montauk with the missus and the mutt) incurring $475 in cancellation fees (yes I'm going to expense them, but still). Crissy has taken it in stride. I've been less gracious. At first I thought I was losing my mind. Then I lost my mind. Now I’m just numb.

Now, you may be thinking, there’s just no way a person can come up with new ideas for shoes, or cars, or SQL Server 2008 R2’s for a month straight, 100 hours a week, and create anything halfway decent. Well, you’d be right. But, as it turns out, that’s why there are teams in advertising. When one zombie goes down, the other one can poke him with a stick.

Anyway, I started documenting my playoff-beard on day 22, after about a week’s worth of growth. The pitch is a week from today. Stay tuned to see if I survive till then.