Archive for February, 2006

The SMITH Diaries Live in New Orleans

Monday, February 27th, 2006

NOLA returnee and crafty badass Cree McCree launches our SMITH Diaries column with a dispatch from New Orleans, where the bawdy Krewe Du Vieux parade “kicks off every Mardi Gras season by giving the high and mighty a raucous kick in the ass.” Over the next few months, Cree, whose own home was bent but not broken during Katrina, will be offering her words and images about what her life is like back home in New Orleans after the flood. She’s a raw, real writer who pulls no punches—and has a way of finding truth and beauty in everything she sees, and sound she hears.

Christopher Walken

Monday, February 27th, 2006

Christopher Walken’s Crisp Twenty
By Grant Munroe

Five years ago, I had a job working the night shift at a convenience store in the northern suburbs of Chicago. I was reading a novel when the door opened, and in walked Christopher Walken.

You don’t spot too many celebrities in the northern suburbs of Chicago, or even Chicago proper. Walken was my first. How was I sure it was Walken? No easy answer, but he is an extremely distinctive person; there’s no one else he could have been given his look, and the way he glumly entered the store, and, without looking at me, turned down an aisle. He shopped for about a minute before he reached the counter.

This is what he bought:

1 24 oz. bottle of Lemon-Lime Gatorade;
1 small can of Vienna Sausages;
1 can of Carnation baby formula

Too star-struck to speak, I fumbled putting the items in a bag, took his twenty—which I remember as the crispest twenty as I’d ever come across—rang him up, and gave him his change. He didn’t say a word. Not a thanks, nothing. Neither of us spoke. He pocketed his change and took the bag.

Finally, when his back was turned, I had the courage to call out: “Hey—you’re Christopher Walken.”

He opened the door, paused and turned.

“So?” he said, almost indignantly. Then he left; the door closed. I watched as he drove away, then went back to my book.

Apple’s One Billionth Download - An Inside Job(s)?

Saturday, February 25th, 2006

Apple’s one billionth download on iTunes is a monster milestone in the personal media revolution—and giving away a $10K iTunes gift certificate, a big ol’ iMac, a bunch of shiny iPods, and establishing a music scholarship in the lucky downloader’s name is another stroke of marketing genius.

Jeff Koons

Thursday, February 23rd, 2006

“Excuse Me, But Is Your Name Jeff?”
By Laura Fraser

I was on the train from Naples to Rome, First Class, when I saw a guy I vaguely recognized. For some reason it came to me that his name was “Jeff.” I thought maybe he was married to a friend in New York or something.
“Excuse me,” I said (traveling in a foreign country gives you license to be bolder than at home), “but is your name Jeff?”
“Yes…It is,” he said, sort of startled but polite. We then began the “name game.” “Are you from New York?” I asked, and he nodded. He said he was an artist there. I commented that it must be very difficult to make a living as an artist in New York. He asked what I was doing in Italy. I told him I was working on a piece for Gourmet.
“My daughter works at Gourmet,” he said. Small world! He told me her name, Shannon Fox—I had met her once, told him she was very nice—but “Jeff Fox” still didn’t ring any bells. Then he asked if I knew Si Newhouse from Conde Nast. No, I said, since Si Newhouse—the pater familias of the poshest magazine company in the world—was simply out of my stratosphere. I saw him lunching with Anna Wintour once at the Royalton, but I was seated in Siberia, near the kitchen, mainly because the waiter recognized that my mode of dress was from the hinterlands (“Perhaps,” my kind editor said, “you should go down to Century 21 and see if you can find something with more structure.”)
“Si bought one of my pieces,” Jeff said.
“How nice,” I said. He really was making a living as an artist in New York. “What were you doing in Naples.”
“I had an exhibit.” I noticed he used the verb “had,” not “saw.” Then it clicked, all those big banners strewn up around Naples for a retrospective: KOONS.
“I’m so sorry I missed it,” I said. “I wished I’d had time to see it.” He nodded.
“But I loved your poopy,” I said, brightly. “Poopy” is how they pronounce “Puppy” in Bilbao, where I’d recently seen his giant puppy sculpture planted with flowers.
And then Jeff Koons got up and went to the dining car for a drink.

This Girl’s Life: Eat, Pray, Love is the Best Book This Man Has Read All Year

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2006

LizG-BN.JPG [This review includes two excerpts from Eat, Pray, Love, courtesy of Ms. Gilbert. See the author on tour across America over the next few months.]

I liked Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert so much that I recently had no choice but to give away my advance copy before I had actually finished it.

I was sitting in the formal dining room of a Scottish castle with seven other men and three delightfully batty British women of a certain age. Wine flowed, haggis was served, and the conversation among a roomful of people who barely knew each other roared on with each course.


An Excerpt from Eat, Pray, Love

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2006

LizG-BN.JPGEditor’s note: Here are two excerpts from Eat, Pray, Love, courtesy of Ms. Gilbert. First, we find our heroine at a soccer game in Rome. In the second excerpt, the author arrives in Bali, without really understanding what “arriving in Bali” actually entails.

See the author on tour across America over the next few months.


Spaghetti and Soccer in Italy—from chapter 23 of Eat, Pray, Love:

Yesterday afternoon I went to the soccer game with Luca Spaghetti and his friends. We were there to watch Lazio play. There are two soccer teams in Rome—Lazio and Roma. The rivalry between the teams and their fans is immense, and can divide otherwise happy families and peaceful neighborhoods into civil war zones. It’s important that you choose early in life whether you are a Lazio fan or a Roma fan, because this will determine, to a large part, whom you hang out with every Sunday afternoon for the rest of time. Luca has a group of about ten close friends who all love each other like brothers. Except that half of them are Lazio fans and half of them are Roma fans. They can’t really help it; they were all born into families where the loyalty was already established. Luca’s grandfather (who I hope is known as Nonno Spaghetti) gave him his first sky-blue Lazio jersey when the boy was just a toddler. Luca, likewise, will be a Lazio fan until he dies.

“We can change our wives,” he said. “We can change our jobs, our rationalities and even our religions, but we can never change our team.”

By the way, the word for “fan” in Italian is tifoso. Derived from the word for typhus. In other words, one who is mightily fevered.

My first soccer game with Luca Spaghetti was, for me, a delirious banquet of Italian language. I learned all sorts of new and interesting words in that stadium which they don’t teach you in school. There was an old man sitting behind me, stringing together such a gorgeous flower-chain of curses as he screamed down at the players on the field. I don’t know all that much about soccer, but I sure didn’t waste any time asking Luca inane questions about what was going on in the game. All I kept demanding was, “Luca, what did the guy behind me just say? What does cafone mean?” And Luca never taking his eyes from the field would reply, “Asshole. It means asshole.”

I would write it down. Then shut my eyes and listen to some more of the old man’s rant, which went something like:

Dai, dai, dai, Albertini, dai va bene, va bene, ragazzo mio, perfetto, bravo, bravo Dai! Dai! Via! Via! Nellaporta!Eccola, eccola, eccola, mio bravo ragazzo, caro mio, eccola, eccola, eccoAAAHHHHHHHHH!!! VAFFANCULO!!! FIGLIODI MIGNOTTA!! STRONZO! CAFONE! TRADITORE! Madonna Ah, Dio mio, perch,perch,perch, questo stupido, una vergona, la vergogna Che casino, che bordello NON HAI UN CUORE, ALBERTINI! FAI FINTA!Guarda, non successo niente Dai, dai, ah. Molto migliore, Albertini, molto migliore, s s s, eccola, bello, bravo,anima mia, ah, ottimo, eccola adesso nella porta, nella porta, nellVAFFANCULO!!!!!!!

Oh, it was such an exquisite and lucky moment in my life to be sitting right in front of this man. I loved every word out of his mouth. I wanted to lean my head back into his old lap and let him pour his eloquent curses into my ears forever. And it wasn’t just him! The whole stadium was full of such soliloquies. At such high fervor! Whenever there was some grave miscarriage of justice on the field, the entire stadium would rise to its feet, every man waving his arms in outrage and cursing, as if all 20,000 of them had just been in a traffic altercation. The Lazio players were no less dramatic than their fans, rolling on the ground in pain like death scenes from Julius Caesar, totally playing to the back row, then jumping to their feet two seconds later to lead another attack on the goal.

Lazio lost, though.

Needing to be cheered up after the game, Luca Spaghetti asked his friends, “Should we go out?”

I assumed this meant,”Should we go out to a bar?” That’s what sports fans in America would do if their team had just lost. They’d go to a bar and get good and drunk. And not just Americans would do thisso would the English, the Australians, the Germans everyone, right? But Luca and his friends didn’t go out to a bar to cheer themselves up. They went to a bakery. A small, innocuous bakery hidden in a basement in a nondescript district in Rome. The place was crowded that Sunday night. But it is always crowded after the games. The Lazio fans always stop here on their way home from the stadium to stand in the street for hours, leaning up against their motorcycles, talking about the game, looking macho as anything, and eating cream puffs.

I love Italy.

Hello …. Bali—from chapter 73 of Eat, Pray, Love:

I’ve never had less of a plan in my life than I do upon arrival in Bali. In all my history of careless travels, this is the most carelessly I’ve ever landed anyplace. I don’t know where I’m going to live, I don’t know what I’m going to do, I don’t know what the exchange rate is, I don’t know how to get a taxi at the airportor even where to ask that taxi to take me. Nobody is expecting my arrival. I have no friends in Indonesia, or even friends-of-friends. And here’s the problem about traveling with an out-of-date guidebook, and then not reading it anyway: I didn’t realize that I’m actually not allowed to stay in Indonesia for four months, even if I want to. I find this out only upon entry into the country. Turns out I’m allowed only a one-month tourist visa. It hadn’t occurred to me that the Indonesian government would be anything less than delighted to host me in their country for just as long as I pleased to stay.

As the nice immigration official is stamping my passport with permission to stay in Bali for only and exactly thirty days, I ask him in my most friendly manner if I can please remain longer.

“No,” he says, in his most friendly manner. The Balinese are most famously friendly.

“See, I’m supposed to stay here for three or four months,” I tell him.

I don’t mention that it is a prophecy that my staying here for three or four months was predicted by an elderly and quite possibly demented Balinese medicine man, during a ten-minute palm-reading. I’m not sure how to explain this.

But what did that medicine man tell me, now that I think of it? Did he actually say that I would come back to Bali and spend three or four months living with him? Did he really say “living with” him? Or did he just want me to drop by again sometime if I was in the neighborhood and give him another ten bucks for another palm-reading? Did he say I would come back, or that I should come back? Did he really say, “See you later, alligator”? Or was it, “In a while, crocodile”?

I haven’t had any communication with the medicine man since that one evening. I wouldn’t know how to contact him, anyway. What might his address be? “Medicine Man, On His Porch, Bali, Indonesia”? I don’t know whether he’s dead or alive. I remember that he seemed exceedingly old two years ago when we met; anything could have happened to him since then. All I have for sure is his name Ketut Liyer and the memory that he lives in a village just outside the town of Ubud. But I don’t remember the name of the village.

Maybe I should have thought all this through better.

Weird Jobs: Guard Save the Queen!

Tuesday, February 21st, 2006

larrydoeslondon.jpgI just got back from an assignment in Scotland and had the supreme pleasure of popping in on a couple of blokes living in London on the way there. My old pal Nigel was kind enough to give me a four-hour tour of the city and took this photo of me and member of the Horse Guard’s Parade. This fellow is what’s know as a “Lifeguard,” as his duties specifically involve protecting the Queen. In reality, what he does all day is pose for pictures with camera-toting tourists like myself.

One of our favorite subjects to explore here at SMITH is weird jobs. (Weird in the most macro sense of the word—odd or unusual or rarified—not simply freaky, like our pal the cow ob-gyn). And as I walked up to my new friend across the pond here I thought: what’s it like to be him? Problem is these guys aren’t talking. They just stand there silent and stoic, specifically told not to speak. I was determined to crack one of them. The first young man I approached wouldn’t budge, but his pal across the way (look at him—could the lad even be 20?) mumbled answers to a few questions from the corner of his mouth, all while staring straight ahead. This, friends, just might be a world exclusive.

SMITH: How long have you been a guard?
GUARD: Two years.
SMITH: Do you ever get bored?
SMITH: What did you do before this?
GUARD: Snowboard instructor.
[end of interview]

At that point I wasn’t sure if he was in fact messin’ with me. I mean: from snowboard instructor to guard? Maybe he just needed the ultimate change of pace. Who can say? Whatever the story, my hat’s off to a weird job well done.

Smith Roundup: That Ain’t Chicken Soup!

Thursday, February 16th, 2006

As we head into the post-Valentine’s day weekend, I thought we probably all deserve a little downtime and could benefit from a little light reading. When you’re finished, take a moment to send us a story of your own. We’re here to listen.

Some relationship stories to mull: kryptonite, mexican jail and 90210he’s just not that into younot the marrying kind?

Ever say something embarrassing in front of a celebrity? Nancy probably has you beat.

In case you missed these stories: I’m an Angelina Jolie look-a-likeconsoling Jennifer Anistoninterview with Iraq war veteran and activist Paul Rieckhoff.

Plus, there’s a new Built to Spill album imminent, though you won’t hear about it from their Web site. There’s a track on iTunes now (here)
and the album, “You In Reverse,” hits stores April 11th. This has been a public service announcement.

Thanks for your support.

Breakups: The Dumpster

Wednesday, February 15th, 2006

dumpster_overview.gif A quick link from yesterday, in case you missed it in your Valentine’s Day reveries: The Dumpster (loads a java app).

The Dumpster … attempts to depict a slice through the romantic lives of American teenagers. Using real postings extracted from millions of online blogs, visitors to the project can surf through tens of thousands of specific romantic relationships in which one person has “dumped” another.

The project’s graphical tools reveal the astonishing similarities, unique differences, and underlying patterns of these failed relationships, providing both peculiarly analytic and sympathetically intimate perspectives onto the diversity of global romantic pain.

My Beating Heart (or, V-Day Mention #3,709,246)

Tuesday, February 14th, 2006

beatingheart.jpg I was in a funky NYC-based freelancers’ group office space when across a crowded room of desks and video equipment and the sound of writers tapping tapping tapping I fell in love. With a pillow. A pillow that appeared to be moving. Who are you? What is this? Why am I here? A quick inquiry to the low-key lad stitching his creation revealed everything: It was My Beating Heart, a heart-shaped pillow that mimics the beating of a human heart, and the unique creation of philosopher/artist/digital guru Yuri Gitman. He spent years working out the algorithm that simulates the heart, one that even gradually changes its beat the longer you hold it, and leads to a happy, meditative place that’s perfect for a sleeping-pill-popping wreck such as myself. For my $120, My Beating Heart is the single most genius commingling of form and function I’ve ever had the good fortune to drool on.

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