Sometimes The Train Is Cool And Comfortable And Speeds Along At A Nice Clip; Sometimes The Train Resembles Something You See On The National Geographic Channel, Complete With Farm Animals And People Hanging On For Dear Life

Have you ever heard someone use the idea of a train as a metaphor? Like as in, say, "there are two trains in this budget process"? Perhaps something along the lines of "traditional software projects are like a train leaving the station". Maybe even The Leaving Trains.

When we bought the house, we also had two trains. One was the mortgage train. The other was the details-in-purchasing-the-house train. At times these trains resembled 110-mile-per-hour Amtrak locomotives rumbling through Lancaster, PA on the high-speed stretches of the Keystone Corridor. Other times it seemed like something out of Unstoppable, the 2010 film starring Denzel Washington as the Veteran Allegheny and West Virginia Railroad (AWVR) engineer Frank Barnes, who is merely doing his job to the best of his abilities despite the best efforts of heartless penny-pinching executives to screw him out of his retirement. I'll never forget Denzel's words to Chris Pine as they are barreling toward "Stanton" — they're a prime example of Denzel's acting style in which he makes something sound really dramatic by repeating key parts of preceding sentences. In this case, Denzel says: "I'm not doing this for you" [smiles and slightly shakes head] "Not for you."

Other times the trains looked like something hobos sleep in in a railyard somewhere out in Plains.

In the middle of January we learned that there was a slight formality that would have to be resolved before we could buy the house. After we were in contract, we discovered that the house was, in essence, an estate sale. Our understanding was that the family members who inherited the house had it for some time until they decided they no longer wanted to deal with it; normally this works in the buyer's favor but we didn't know this fact going in; in retrospect, it probably accounted for the relatively smooth negotiation. (I just Googled the previous owner and it seems that he died in March 2010 at the age of 90, so the heirs were basically unloading the house.)

Some years before, the original owner had moved to Florida and rented out the house's two units. After he passed away, ownership of the house was transferred to his nephews and nieces (not totally sure how many, but my impression was that it was at least two and perhaps three), who continued renting out the house.

Now Florida has a lot of older people living there, and a lot of older people who move there from other places, so the Florida probate courts are attuned to issues with estate sales, and thus pay close attention to such sales. In our case, it meant that the Florida courts would have to approve the sale of the house. This was something that the realtor was unaware of. This was something that the seller's attorney said he was unaware of. You'd think it would be a formality, but sometimes nothing is a formality.

By March, we had a "CTC" from the bank — that's "clear to close" — but we still hadn't heard from the Florida courts. According to the seller's attorney, this was because the judge assigned to the case had retired. Not to worry, however! The attorney's sense was that the judge just wanted to see a list of comparable sales so he or she would be satisfied that the sale was on the up and up. The seller's attorney assured us that all was going well and that we should be on target to close at the end of March. We were still hoping to close just before the end of March.

And now on to the other train: So that brings us to the middle of March, ten days before we were supposed to close. All through the process, the underwriters want to see everything about your finances, for obvious reasons. That means that they want paystubs, more paystubs, tax returns and updated tax returns and bank statements and updated bank statements. At some point after we initially submitted our bank statements and before we submitted our updated bank statements, Jen's mom found a bunch of savings bonds that Jen received as a child. That was fortuitous, because we could use the money for the closing costs. Jen's mom cashed them and sent her the money. But when the underwriters saw the extra money in Jen's account, they needed to know where it came from.

Since the money looked like a gift from Jen's parents, we had to fill out and have Jen's mom sign a gift letter, as well as furnish the underwriters with a copy of the canceled check. The problem was that the first several versions of the scanned canceled check were too illegible for the underwriters. We had to submit and resubmit copies of that check. Eventually they determined that the scan was good enough. I'm not sure what the issue was.

The more pressing issue that materialized in the middle of March was the termite damage the housing inspector found. It wasn't a lot of damage — just ("just!") some soft beams in the basement — and the inspector had no way of knowing how long ago it happened, but he noted it on the report. We thought this was to our advantage because rather than do a treatment or fix ("sister") the beam in question, we got a small concession from the seller on the closing costs.

Now we had the inspector out in December, just days after we agreed on the price, and the underwriters had the inspection report since early February, but it wasn't until ten days before the scheduled closing date that they made it an issue. Some blamed the stringent requirements of a FHA loan; I'm not sure what the issue was, but suffice it to say, the underwriters wanted proof that the seller took care of the termite situation before they would issue us the loan. But the seller had no idea when the damage happened, or whether it had ever been treated, much less any documentation thereof, so we were stuck. And since we already got a concession from the seller for the termites, they were unwilling to do a treatment. Which meant that we would have to pay for a termite treatment on a house we did not yet own.

You know what happened? The realtor passed along names of some exterminators he worked with, set up the appointment with one of them and we paid for a termite treatment on a house we did not yet own. As Jen put it, "The upside is we can get a mortgage." The downside was that we would be out $1000 if for some reason the deal fell through. But of course we paid for the treatment; we had no other option. I'm just amazed it got taken care of as quickly as it did; it was taken care of in a matter of days.

Meanwhile, back to the other train: The Florida court finally approved the sale. Although it appeared to be a formality — and really, why would a court want to hold up a sale? — apparently those involved were somewhat concerned that the approval wouldn't happen. Which brought us to the last wrinkle in the mad rush to close on this house: The upstairs tenant was still there.

And that became a whole separate issue.

Posted: December 15th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: The Cult Of Domesticity | Tags: , , , ,

And Then They Put You In Left-Center Field

Ex-Black Flag, ex-Circle Jerks frontman Keith Morris on the existential motivations of late-70s/early-80s punk:

"Black Flag didn't know it was a punk band. We were frustrated, stressed, angry. We were the last guys picked in P.E. class for softball teams. That's what all of this is about."

Exactly! That's what should drive rock — getting picked last in PE — not stuff like, I don't know, religion, politics or whatever else that takes the fun out of rock. No one really wants to Rage Against The Machine — they want to Rage Against Being Last Picked In PE.

I've thought that Keith Morris was the best Black Flag vocalist of the — checking Wikipedia — I think four they had — including Henry Rollins, who is now the most famous of anyone involved in that band. Morris' whiny voice totally fit the simple songs and complemented Black Flag's SKRONK! and YARR! sounds. (Also of note: according to some, apparently guitarist Greg Ginn eschewed tube amps for solid state ones that emphasized the CHUNK-CHUNK-CHUNK-CHUNK SKRONK! sound; this makes me feel good because I never had enough money to own a tube amp and felt uncool for years because of it.)

Take a listen for yourself . . .

Here's the Black Flag classic "Gimme Gimme Gimme" with Keith Morris (1977 demo):

And here's Henry Rollins doing the same song on the Damaged LP (1981):

Rollins just kind of sounds like he's trying too hard.

The songs on Damaged (1981) sound redonkulous — so messy with two guitars and Henry Rollins MAXING OUT HIS VOCALS, etc. Later in Black Flag's tenure, Henry Rollins' over-caffeinated ROAR made the band sound kind of big and dumb (and then there's all that weird poetry stuff, though what do you do?). I guess he was probably the best vocalist, objectively, probably, but there's something really great about Keith Morris' style.

By the way, the Circle Jerks Group Sex LP (1980) is so, so great; at 15 minutes long you can send MP3s of the whole thing in one Gmail. If I wanted this to be a music blog, I'd post every single one of the songs and encourage you to dump the whole shebang straight into your iTunes sight unseen — it's just that good! Keith Morris expands on the Black Flag sound, taking the skronk! of Black Flag and perfecting it, which is funny and "hard" all at one time; kind of a perfect punk album. The 25-second (!) "Deny Everything" is just brilliant, as is the rest of it. A lot of stuff from this era is "interesting" in the way that academic art is "interesting" (cf. Live Skull) but Group Sex really rocks. I was excited when I dug it out and made MP3s from the vinyl.

Posted: March 29th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Jukebox | Tags: , , ,

The Return Of The D.R.I. Truck!

In fact, I was just thinking about D.R.I. the other day — can't remember why now, but I think it had something to do with the Greater New York Show (don't ask). D.R.I. is one of those memories that sit inert in your head until you suddenly come across the "Skanker Man" logo (that's what the Wikipedia calls it anyway):

D.R.I. Truck In Front Of E&I Deli & Grocery, 49-12 Vernon Boulevard, Hunters Point, Long Island City, Queens, October 21, 2010

I've seen this truck before — I assume it delivers something to the deli that it's double parked in front of — and every time I'm amazed that Skanker Man still exists on a level where folks feel compelled to spray paint it places.

Lately it seems that the type of graffiti that doesn't serve as a backdrop for a Marc Ecko fashion shoot has mostly been eradicated, either by the strong arm of the law or by providing red light districts for it, but one place it persists is delivery trucks. People care about the subways, various walls and even now the roll-down gates on storefronts, but no one really seems to notice or care about the graffiti on delivery trucks. Maybe those spots have been ceded to the writers/vandals (take your pick with the terminology — I'm not sure I care either way anymore) . . .

Vernon Boulevard, Hunters Point, Long Island City, Queens, February 28, 2006

But Skanker Man — dude, Skanker Man exists! I think Skanker Man is cooler than Andre the Giant — he's definitely less self-consciously oddball (to use Talk of the Town terminology) than Andre. And I wonder if Shepard Fairey was thinking about D.R.I. instead of Kilroy when he made Andre . . .

The question this morning for me was whether the spray painter painted Skanker Man because he is Skanker Man or because the painter is a D.R.I. fan — that's Shepard Fairey's semiotic point, right? If he's a Skanker Man fan, then big props to Eric Brecht, the band's original drummer, who came up with the logo (again, according to the Wikipedia); he created something that outlasted the band.

On The Staying Power Of The Early 1980s Thrash Band Dirty Rotten Imbeciles

On the other hand, I shouldn't really write "outlasted the band," since it appears that they're still around. The Beer City Records page says they're playing in Peekskill, NY at Popeye's Pub on November 9. Wow.

On Why I Shouldn't Really Be Feigning Surprise That D.R.I. Is Playing In Peekskill On November 9

On yet another hand, I shouldn't really write "Wow" because I think about D.R.I. more than I let on. I think — though I can't be sure — that I have a vinyl copy of their Dirty Rotten LP. If I do, it's in one of the eight or nine boxes of albums that are squirreled away in our not-quite-500-square-foot apartment. I hadn't listened to those things for years and years until Jen got me an MP3 turntable for Christmas and I began listening to these things again. Just so everyone understands, the Circle Jerks' Group Sex is a brilliant album. Others are maybe less brilliant. Butthole Surfers sound dated, for example — I recorded the records I have of theirs but haven't brought myself to make the MP3s yet. And I still don't know why I have all those Live Skull LPs, though I already dutifully converted those tracks (they sometimes crop up on the Shuffle when I'm out running — believe me, nothing gears you up to exercise like four minutes and fifty seconds of "Wallow In It").

Anyway, over the years — during slow times at work, for example — I'd start to go back into my memory and pull up all sorts of things . . . the Dirty Rotten LP, for one! My memory of it was that it was a total mess and the songs were like five seconds long. I think I found this live footage on YouTube back then:

The second song (at about 1:32), "Reaganomics" ("Reaganomics killing me/Reaganomics killing you!") is typical — about 40 seconds long — and they just plow through it. It actually looks a lot more put together when you see them perform it than it sounds on the album. And — I guess over time I've built up a high tolerance for noise or something? — it's not as skronk! as I remembered it being. One funny thing about thrash is how much energy the singer and drummer put into the performance as opposed to the guitarist and bassist — it certainly doesn't look like those other guys are putting in as much effort!

If you want to familiarize yourself with the Dirty Rotten LP, go to iTunes. The great thing about the iTunes store is that they have that preview feature where you can listen to 30 seconds of each song. The great thing about Dirty Rotten LP is that there are many songs under 30 seconds.

Now that we've done that math, in my mind Dirty Rotten LP was the quintessence of — I don't know what to call it — pow! skronk! zblam! — rivaled only by Hüsker Dü's absurdly skronky! Land Speed Record, which I think might be even messier (maybe one day we'll get into that, too). Point being, D.R.I. has been on my mind for a while now, this in spite of the fact that I really wasn't that much into thrash music, just that Dirty Rotten LP sticks out.

D.R.I. lost its allure to some when they adopted a "crossover" approach that combined thrash with heavy metal. Maybe the band just wanted a more equitable division of labor — drums slow down, guitar gets more solos, etc. Here's a YouTube from that era:

By 1987 this would have been a lot less appealing to me. I never sold my Metallica albums, but in general I was interested in hearing less heavy metal and not more heavy metal. I trace this to 1986 when I first heard The Dead Kennedys' Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables.

A classmate lent me the cassette tape of Fresh Fruit and I dutifully 69ed two silly desktop tape recorders — I didn't own a dual tape player — and tried to be as quiet as possible while one the tape played and the other player recorded (I never knew what the lyrics were until much, much later). Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables was the first thing I heard that made me see that Mötley Crüe might not be the most rocking band there ever was. For some, punk was a movement, a release from society's constraints, a new community to join and build — whatever it was. But for me punk meant a whole wonderful genre of music that was actually more awesome and intense than even Mötley Crüe.

Suffice it to say, the music during D.R.I.'s crossover era would have lost me. (I did enjoy Neil Strauss' The Dirt, however — very much, in fact. Mötley Crüe might be the first outfit that is better as a book than as a band.)

I think I will go check to see if I still have Dirty Rotten LP . . . if I can dig that far into the closet, that is.

Posted: October 21st, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: M+/MR | Tags: , , ,