The August Monkey

Monkey!The August monkey is Something Weird: The Musical.

I have a life-long affliction — apparently not uncommon — of having songs I hate pop into my head, where they reside for hours, sometimes days, at a time. In particular, I’m afflicted by really old songs from the 70s. Currently playing is one of my longest standing demons; the awful “Don’t Look Back” from the annoying Boston, the Beach Boys of guitars. I will admit that Boston’s first album was worth a brief teenage obsession, but the second album (from which “Don’t Look Back” is the title song) was dreadful. It was the Stephen Spielberg sequel of rock albums; take the money shot — all those harmonized guitars — double it, and leave out all the other stuff that made the first album good. And now, more than 25 years later, those guitars and those annoying lyrics buzz in my head like a tripped-over wasp nest for days at a time.

I’ve developed a defense mechanism against these unwelcome musical intrusions; I subvert them by editorializing them towards the ridiculous, after which they have a markedly decreased effect and frequency.

Here’s an example. Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” — particularly the chorus — is prone to pop into my head at random. It always starts with ‘Cause this is thriller, thriller night…. Those first four words are the worst — and not just because they change during later choruses (‘Cause it’s a thriller… and “That it’s a thriller…). I hate the way Jackson sings it. It sounds like Dit – dit – dit thriller….

My cure was to think of something else that sounds like Dit – dit – dit. That was easy — whenever The Skipper on Gilligan’s Island was flummoxed by something Gilligan did or said, he would flail his hands and bat his hat and say Dip – dip – dip… Gilligan! (Dit, dip; close enough.)

You know where this is going… I superimpose the two, so whenever the song invites itself into my consciousness I end up hearing: (Skipper) Dip – dip – dip… (Jackson) …thriller… . It isn’t long before the evil DJ in my head tires of this parody and stomps off to the demonic record library in search of some other treachery.

He’s out of luck if he picks “It’s You Babe” from Styx. I confess there were a few early Styx songs that I liked, but the ballads are cloying enough for me to permanently take Styx off the play list. I particularly hated vocalist Dennis DeYoung’s crystal-clear articulation on songs like “It’s You Babe.” The opening line of the song begins Babe I’m leaving… and those four syllables have been burned into my mind as if tattooed there by a gleaming diamond.

The evil DJ digs that one out occasionally and slaps it on, so out of the blue, and beyond my control, I suddenly get BABE I’M LEEEE-VEEEENG belting through my head. Fortunately, and ironically, my cure was to give Dennis DeYoung a really bad head cold. Now, when that record spins, I hear BABE I’B LEEEB-EEEEEG. Needless to say, the evil DJ tires of this quickly.

Recently, I’ve brought a double-whammy to this one. I’m reading Between Meals: An Appetite for Paris by New Yorker alumnus A.J. Liebling. For the past week, if the evil DJ tries to slip that one past me he’s met with Dennis DeYoung yelling AY-JAY-LIEBLING! That oughta shut it down for good!

Monkey time!

august-monkeyIt’s time for the August monkey: Something Weird: The Musical!

In other words, tell us something weird about yourself that involves music. I don’t just mean the normal weird things, like that you’re a closet Barry Manilow fan or you lost your virginity at an Alice Cooper concert. Tell us the really bizarre stuff. Take me, for example — I never get the lyrics right. I interpret songs in all kinds of weird ways because I just don’t hear right. I was a teenager before I realized that “Puff the Magic Dragon” wasn’t “Puff-da-matic Dragon.” (Lyrics . . .)

Bring it on! We won’t laugh, really! Post your monkey on Monday. That’s when I’ll tell you about some really bent musical obsessions that I can’t get out of my head — and I’m hoping you won’t call for the men in the white coats after reading it!

Update: As I think about my upcoming monkey I’m remembering more weirdness about that song. I hated it, and not just because I couldn’t figure out what a “puff-da-matic” dragon was. After all, it was in my nature to hate all popular things when I was a kid. But I particularly hated this song because all the kids I hated would sing it, and grownups who I hated tried to make me sing it.

I was particularly disturbed by the line in the song that goes “A dragon lives forever, but not so little boys.” It refers to the fact that kids grow up, but to a nasty and angst-filled kid like me it conjured images of little boys dying slow and miserable deaths from cancerous boils or flesh-eating diseases. Bleh!

The Old Whore is Dead

Bill informed me today that the car I sold her two years ago has finally died. It was a 1987 Volkswagen Jetta that I had owned since about 1999.

The Old Whore was my second Jetta in a row. I bought the first one in 1996 when the company I worked for moved to Old Montreal (and founded the “Multimedia City”). I quickly realized that public transit would no longer work for me, as that part of town is (or at least was) bad for bus and Metro connections. One day it took me a full hour to get to work by public transit. The next day I walked there in 45 minutes.

I heard through a mutual friend that a guy in Toronto was selling an old Jetta in decent condition for $500. I was due for a road trip so off I went, intending to buy the car and to continue on to Waterloo for the weekend, to visit a friend.

I bought the car in Toronto at noon on Friday, drove around town a bit, and at 5:15 P.M. — just as all the garages were shutting down for a long weekend — the car broke down. Or at least it wouldn’t start. When I turned the key all the lights went on, but nothing happened.

After an hour or so I managed to find a tow truck. It towed me to a garage where the mechanic declared the starter was dead and he wouldn’t have a replacement until Monday. I was due in Waterloo in about an hour and I didn’t want to hang around. Fortunately, the car had a standard transmission and the garage was at the top of a hill, so I used the old “roll down a hill and pop the clutch” method to get it going. For the rest of the weekend I had to make sure I parked on a hill whenever I stopped the car.

That old beater served me well for a few years. It had no radio and the floor was rusting through — requiring me to prop up the driver’s seat with a piece of 2×4 — but it drove well and cost me almost nothing in insurance and maintenance. Eventually, however, it just rotted into the ground. Our last ride together was from the Plateau to NDG, where my trusty mechanic had offered me $100 for it if I upgraded to an identical Jetta he was selling for $1400. That was one sad and scary ride; the gas line was spurting fuel all over the road and the remnants of the exhaust pipe (the muffler had fallen off) was dragging on the ground making sparks. I could see all this through the holes in the floor.

Jetta number two — The Old Whore — was much nicer. It even had a radio instead of just a gaping wound in the dash with greasy protruding wires. Its only real drawback was the rust patches all over its body. Every now and then I’d scrape the rust off and paint over it, but I never really did a proper job of it so the rust kept coming back. Oddly, that flaw became an endless source of amusement. I lived in Westmount then, supposedly the most upscale part of Montreal. I, and the building I was in, were decidedly not upscale. For that reason I enjoyed scandalizing my tony neighbours by parking The Old Whore on the street alongside their Mercedeses, Porsches, Audis, and Cadillacs.

Then I bought a condo on the Plateau — the worst neighbourhood in Montreal for parking. Within a few months of moving in I knew I was better off without the car, especially since by then my place of work was directly connected to the Berri/UQAM Metro station.

So I sold it to Bill for $136.97 (plus the cost of registration, which was due). Bill and her consort drove it around for more than two years, and even drove it to my place last week. Prophetically, I broke the back driver-side door that night by simply opening it. She was looking pretty grim by then, and wasn’t expected to last much longer. Soon after, she died. Perhaps it was the jealousy of seeing me with my almost new, almost shiny 1999 Corolla.

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That’s living!

After riding our bicycles all the way from Longueuil to Isle des Soeurs and back, M and I had built up a powerful appetite. It was a beautiful September evening (too bad it’s still August), so the only solution was to spark up the barbeque.

Fortunately, we had stopped into La Maison du Rôti yesterday afternoon during a shopping spree on Le Plateau and had picked up a couple of excellent looking contrefilet (strip loin) steaks. Despite my wobbly legs I hastily assembled a menu:

– Hickory-grilled steaks with Blork Rub
– Blork’s BBQ fried potatoes
– Herbed onions, à la Blork
– Eye-popping snow peas
– Grilled peppers, zucchini, and mushrooms
– A nice California Syrah (R.H. Phillips, 2001)

Oh, so you want specifics? OK, here you go.

Blork Rub for beef is really easy, and is an excellent (if I do say so) dry rub for a juicy steak. Use equal proportions of garlic powder, freshly-grated black pepper, and Piment d’Espelette (about a tablespoon of each for two steaks). Shake over the steaks and rub it in with your fingers, flip over and rub it into the other side. That’s it! The hickory comes from using hickory wood chips in the barbeque.

Then there’s those BBQ fried potatoes — my own invention. Take some nice new potatoes and slice them about a centimetre thick (which is to say, about a third of an inch). Put them in a very large bowl and glop a few major slugs of olive oil over them. Toss until the slices are well coated. Scratch on a generous amount of fresh black pepper and some salt.

You’ll need a wire mesh to put on the grill or you’ll end up loosing half of them. You can buy an excellent “disposable” BBQ mesh at Canadian Tire for $1.99 — I’ve used mine at least a dozen times already and it’s holding up rather well. Forget about those high-falutin’ barbeque “woks” that are as much metal as hole — a mesh gives you maximum exposure to the heat of the grill, and that’s what you want.

Place the sliced and oiled potatoes on the mesh and barbeque over medium heat for about four minutes per side. Keep an eye on them, as some will cook faster than others (unless you have a perfect barbeque that has no hot or cool spots). Move them around, flip ’em, and do the other side. You’ll get some flare-ups from the oil, but that’s half the fun. If you have a large grilling surface you can cook them fast and then turn off the heat under them while you cook the steaks on the other side of the grill — the indirect heat will cook them through without burning them. Just before serving, drizzle with a bit of vinegar and coarse salt — preferably fleur de sel from the Camargue.

Then there are those lovely herbed onions. Take the biggest Spanish onion you can find and cut it into 1/4-inch thick rings. Poke the rings to separate the layers and put it all in a wide bowl. Glug on some olive oil. Scratch on lots of salt and pepper. Throw in a bunch of fresh herbs — tonight I used thyme, oregano, and ciboulette. Stir it up. Lay a long strip of aluminum foil down and dump the onions onto it. Add a pat or two of butter. Fold the aluminum foil into a pouch and throw it onto the grill. This should go on first as it takes the longest. The longer the better. Generally, I find about twenty or thirty minutes at medium-low heat makes it perfect.

The eye-popping snow peas (also known around here as pois mange-tout were a spur-of-the-moment thing, as I felt like we needed something green on our plates (the grilled zucchini was yellow). I laid a handful of snow peas on a sheet of aluminum foil with a bit of olive oil, and added two crushed garlic cloves and a shake of sesame seeds. I folded the foil into a pouch and added it to the fire late in the game (about ten minutes at the cooler end of the grill).

Not a bad way to end the weekend, and a nice reward after a long bike ride. Sorry, no pictures. Too hungry.