Thursday, December 18, 2008

Thanksgiving Week: Wrapping Up the Rest of the Week

After our binge wine drinking on my first day in Peru, we had to wake up at 3:30am the next morning to hoof it to the airport to fly to Cajamarca and then take a "bus" (which is basically a minivan with zero leg room and about 15 people crammed into it) an hour and a half away to San Marcos, which is where Erika's mom's family lived. Erika has tons of stories about this place because it is where her mom grew up and where she spent a month every year while growing up.

We did a little walking tour of the town after we arrived and met some of her cousins in town. We went through the wonderful market that was full of fresh fruits and vegetables (most of which I cannot eat of course), nibbled on chicharron (fried pork, kinda like bacon), and checked out the farm market where horses, cows, and donkeys are sold. The market in general was funny because I am basically a giant in Peru, so I had to walk over all hunched in order to not decapitate myself with the clothes and tarp lines. We also saw a guy meeding some monkeys alcohol, for some reason. It was kinda random, actually.

Then, we went to the family homestead, which was a few minutes drive outside of town to meet the rest of the family and situate ourselves for the next three days. The house was basically up on the top of a hill with a few other houses, a "school" (one or two rooms), and a church and was known as El Cedro. The house was made from adobe (mud and grass mixed and baked), had dirt floors, and had a stove that was basically an adobe cube with a sheet of metal that was heated by a fire, a more-or-less thatched roof, and an outhouse up the hill with no toilet seat. They had one faucet that had running water that we used as our shower more or less and there were animals (like free-range chickens that would be lunch in a few days) running all over the place. It was kinda like camping, only we had misquito-infested bedrooms and a bed. Last year I remember Erika telling me that they were having a party because they had finally got electricity! It was pretty much like camping

In the interest of trying to catch up on my blogs, I will truncate the small details for the rest of the week and provide some insight into my psyche while I was there. But first some bulleted details of activities:
  • I visited the grave of Erika's grandparents, which was way up on top of a remote hill. Interestingly, that was actually the first time I had been to a cemetary and, though it wasn't elaborate, Erika's mom and uncle took time to clean it up a bit and added some palm leaves (courtesy of graves nearby) to cover the entrance of the little tombstone house where they lit candels.
  • On the way to the cemetery, at 9:30am, Erika's dad was hanging out with the neighbors drinking beer, community-style. This is where you have one cup that you pass around, filling it up with beer, passing the beer bottle to the next guy, drink the cup of beer, then shake it out and pass the cup to the guy with the beer. This activity can go on for hours, with other people dropping in and leaving as time permits. But people have time to stop by for an hour or two, pretty much no matter who they are. I thanked them for the invitation but Erika and I stopped by on our way back from the cemetery for an hour or two, drinking some brews.
  • People just plain and simply have time for anything in this place. We dropped by the school house across the street one morning to say hi to the kids and it wasn't like we were interrupting anything. The teacher, Erika's cousin's wife, was holding her baby (who accompanied her to class everyday) and was more than happy to let us chit chat with the little toddlers. Another example of this was when we went into town to walk around for a bit. We ran into one of Erika's old friends (who we met the first day as well), so we started walking with her and a friend of her's. Further into town, we ran into Erika's cousin. So, we were talking with her cousin for a bit while Erika's friend and the other friend just hung out on the sidewalk and talked. For like an hour. I concluded that people here, unlike in New York, don't necessarily have a destination when they are going for a walk. They are just walking to pass the time and talking. I clearly have different intentions when I go walking. I am going somewhere. There is a destination in mind, something to do, time to keep. It made me wonder if I should spend more time just....walking.
  • Towards the end of our stay, Erika's cousin took us and the family to some thermal baths nearby. When I think of thermal baths, I think of Yellowstone Park when I was a kid with my grandpa. A river with a swimming hole that had really warm water and people kind of chilling next to it. This thermal spring was pretty small, a very tiny creek where locals came to wash their clothes. Watching people wash their clothes in this water with their soap made me suspicious of the water quality, for sure. We went down to the river and hung out for a few minutes, since the water was comfortable and the scenery was wonderful. The water was moving pretty quick, but I jumped in and rinsed off, since I hadn't had a shower in a few days. I think I was the only one who could swim, and I fet kind of embarrassed about that. What do these people think of the gringo who can afford to fly the family down here, who uses an electric toothbrush and razor (when the others don't seem to brush their teeth, judging by the lack of teeth) and who has the waterproof boots during the torrential downpour? People there didn't seemed to be overawed with my gadgets and luxury, but I still felt out of place.
  • The thermal baths were surprisingly nice, though. Or seemed to be. They were like little private rooms that you rented with a "hot tub" of hot water. It wasn't disgustingly dirty like I expected. In fact, after every use, they drain the water, scrub the whole thing down with soap and water, and refill them. All for like $1 a person, not bad.
  • As nice as it was to clean off, I can't help but think that it had something to do with the terrible cold that I woke up with the next morning. Besides just a runny nose, I had sinuses full of fluid that I could feel all the way to my ears. Considering that we were leaving in another day on an airplane, I had to get some drugs to help me out because flying with ears like that is pretty painful. We went back to the main city of Cajamarca to check out the tourist sites and I was dizzy and more or less disoriented the whole day, feeling like I was in a daze. I think it was something with my ears, I'm almost positive. That night, I felt like I was feeling better but Erika told me I had a fever and rushed out to get some medicine for me. More mystery pills were ingested and I was feeling much better the next day, but the flight was indeed painful when we finally left town. Even when we got back to Lima, my ears were in and out of equilibrium for a few days.
  • Before we left San Marcos, the "rich" cousin (who was the only one who had a computer), took us on a tour of the areas farms in search for fresh cheese and just for our interest. Well, really it was for my interest since the rest of the family already knew about the area. But the cheese was great from this area. I asked why it was special and apparently it's because all of the cows are organic, free-range, grass-fed, etc. You know, the kind that we pay $5 for a gallon of their milk. It makes you feel kind of strange that we have to pay so much for something that is so natural in a place like this. These people are not trying to make something special for a small sub-market of yuppies. But, I suppose they are still making it for a small market - the local area - hence the fact that they need to industrialize cow and cheese production like they do here.
  • The final thing that struck me when I was here was just how disconnected people are from the rest of the world and how slow and difficult life is. When I left NYC, housing prices were plummeting, the stock market was in turmoil and my employer (the largest financial institute in the world) was on the verge of bankruptcy, which would have financial consequences around the globe. Down in San Marcos? I had a hard time even finding an internet cafe to find out what was going on up in NY. The people here were more interested in making sure there was food on the kitchen table (whether it be guineau pig or hens that were just running around the yard) and, importantly, having daily family gatherings. Each and every day, relatives were frequently popping in to say hello, stopping by for lunch, or bringing the kids over to run around the property. The kids didn't have toys to play with, there were dirt cliffs to climb, dirt roads to run around, and they were just playing random games with each other. As nice as all this is, life is hard here. One of the family members finally found a job as a teacher in a town that was a three hour walk away that had a monthly salary of $65. My jaw hit the floor when I heard that.
And I'm not sure why, but I just couldn't stop thinking about one thing that these people wouldn't have: dental insurance! And lord knows with the mouth I've got, I certainly need that!

After returning to Lima, we had quite a few wedding meetings to wrap things up as much as we could while we were there. The only other major event that I took part in was going to the Clasico football match between the two largest teams in the country with the most violent fans in the most dangerous part of Lima with Erika's dad, grandpa, and cousin. There something about being outside my comfort zone that attracts me to these kinds of events! The game was awesome and we were sitting close enough to the Ultra fans (basically hooligans) that we could hear their M80s explode when they lit them on fire, we could hear their chants, and could see the brawl that broke out at the end of the game. It was awesome! Erika didn't want me to go at first because people get knifed or shot at these games, but we didn't have any problems.

J. Riley, Life is simple in San Marcos, but life is hard.

Isn't It Ironic, Don't You Think?

I got an email this week from my volunteer organization. They were looking for a co-team leader for a project that takes place literally across the street from my apartment, so more or less guilt-tripped into volunteering me to be the team leader there. The project? Having conversations with adults learning how to speak English. Yea, I think I might be qualified for that one.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Happy Wife is a Happy Life!

Posted by Picasa


So last year Jeff started a huge debate about unisex bathroom etiquette. When leaving the bathroom after urination, should a male: a.) Put the toilet seat down so that if it's a girl that follows, she doesn't have to touch the toilet seat (Chivalrous); b.) Leave the toilet seat up so that if it's a girl that follows, she knows you're not the one that just pissed all over the seat.

Personally, I stick with method B. Please discuss via the comments!

Completely unrelated other than the fact that it deals with etiquette, I have another conundrum. I live on the third floor of the building. I always take the stairs so as not to appear lazy in the event that someone else is in the elevator (it's a pet peave of mine if someone takes the elevator when they live on floor <= three) and just to stretch the legs. The resident does not pass the elevators when entering the stairwell. Unlike the manners in NYC, if I walk through the front doors with someone, sometimes the person will go in the elevator and hold the door while I quickly get my mail. So I'm stuck. Do I: a.) Take the elevator so that I can thank the person for holding the door, and be the annoying person who takes the elevator to floor three; b.) Take the elevator to floor five so that I can thank the person for holding the door and not be the annoying person, exit, and walk down two flights of stairs; c.) As per normal, take the stairs and do not aknowledge someone's manners; d.) Take the stairs after yelling down the hall to the elevator "Thanks, but I'm taking the stairs", making the assumption that they are holding the door for me, when in reality maybe the door just hasn't shut yet. This question is much more difficult as I have a 25% chance of making the right choice compared to a 50% in the first question. Personally, I still have some NYC in me and go with option C :) Please discuss via the comments!

J. Riley, I saw a pygmy dump truck today that I failed to capture on my phone camera. Short and stout, I believe it is a member of the species Bobus Belfryus.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Thanksgiving Week: Wrapping Up the First Day

After my wonderful haircut earlier in the day, we had a lunch/dinner date at Erika's cousin's house, which was nearby. Erika had told me that Orfelinda (Orfi) takes very good care of her mom when she's gone and is a great cook. Eating is high on my list of favorite activities in Peru, so I was definitely looking forward to this event.

We walked over to her house up a rock-strewn dirt road near the highway and I was blown away when we got to her house. It looked pretty much like a normal house from the area, but after walking in, it was a really nice house with carpet, living room, big glass windows between the rooms, it was really nice. And Orfi was there preparing a FEAST for us: potato and chip appetizers, tequenos with guacamole, arroz con pato (rice with duck), salad, and mousse de lucuma for dessert. Normally, I won't be caught dead eating salad because of the problems with the water there, but I was assured that this was a fully organic salad and everything was cleaned with bottled water, which is how she prepares all of her food. I was still doubtful, but figured I'd give it a fair review and, sure enough, I can proclaim her food gringo-friendly!

And given that it was a celebration type of meal (for my arrival, of course ;o), there were some fine beverages, such as passion-fruit/pisco (pisco sour, with passion fruit replacing the sour) cocktails, and oh boy, was there wine. And more wine. And then some more wine. We were having a grand old time, everybody was laughing and having fun, my Spanish was better than ever, and there was even some dance moves being thrown down to the Peruvian folk music that was being blasted. Once we finished her four bottles of wine, her husband then went down and bought four more bottles from the local liquor store. Man, was that day a riot.

Seeing as how we had to get up at 3:30am the next morning to head to the airport, the sober person at the table (her mom) was smart enough to make us head home at around 9:00pm before too much damage was done. Lucky for us, waking up wasn't so bad because the drinking was spread over six hours or so and we stayed well-hydrated all day. We had to be ready, we were heading out to Cajamarca that morning for the main-event trip!

J. Riley, there are rumors of a pre-wedding meal/cultural experience at Orfi's house being offered for Friday night...


Before I continue, let it be known that on Sunday, December 7th, 2008 I was really really pissed off because it's around zero degrees (Celsius) outside and I have to actually use my oven to heat my apartment. Is this really what $1700 a month gets you in Astoria?

J. Riley, drinking hot tea and wearing my wool scarf. Indoors.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Thanksgiving Week: Barber Shop

Ahhhh, Thanksgiving week: A time for cold weather, hanging out with the family, shopping, and eating an inappropriate amount of delectable treats and meals given your body mass. It happens every year for me, with little exception. There were some minor logistical differences this year, in addition to the fact that I didn’t eat any turkey.

This year, not unlike last year, I took a few days off and migrated south in search of warmer weather. Like always, I found it in Lima, Peru where my wife had been for the month, planning our wedding. We had plans to fly up to the northern city of Cajamarca (historical note: it was the city where the Incas first made contact with the Conquistadors in the 16th century) and experience the distinct culture there and visit her extensive family that still lived in the area after both of her parents had moved away to the big city of Lima. But before we left, we had a day to kill.

One of Erika’s, like most girls I suppose, favorite things to do was to go to get her hair cut by her gay hairdresser and get her nails and toes done at the beauty salon. You could spend about three hours at the beauty salon getting full manicures and pedicures and massages done and walk out paying less than $10, it’s so cheap there. She had joked with me a few times that men could be found in such places and that I should give it a try. At risk of being mislabeled, I asked myself, “WWDBD?” Of course I knew the answer to that. David Beckham would get a haircut, a manicure, and a pedicure! I had arrived sufficiently shaggy, without a haircut for a few months and had worn my retainer enough the week before to prevent me from chewing my fingernails until they bled, so I was totally focused on getting a suave new haircut from a gay guy and having beautiful fingers and (maybe) toes when I met her extended family.

The only problem was, we had some errands to do, Liverpool was playing soon, the beauty salon to go to was a good 1.5 hours away on “mass” transit, and we had dinner (more like lunch) plans with some of her relatives nearby. CRAP - all that preparation work for nothing. But I REALLY NEEDED a haircut, and Erika told me I could go to her dad’s local shop to get a haircut. Her dad always looks presentable and I had never been to a, shall we call it, “lower income” barber shop before. So of course I would give it a try. I am generally of the opinion that nobody even notices that you’ve had a haircut except for you, so a “bad” haircut that anybody notices is extremely rare. On top of that, they told me the haircut would cost me S./3. That’s ONE DOLLAR, people. Holy crap, that’s awesome.

So off to the barber I went. Erika went with her mom to exchange some dollars for Soles, and I was actually called up by the cute barber while they were gone. My Spanish skills + her lack of bilingualness + describing how to cut my hair: Not good! Where the heck was Erika and why was she taking so long? Well, somehow I described how I wanted my hair cut and Erika came back shortly to further refine any instructions so all things turned out pretty well. This was the first time that I had gotten a haircut from a barber who actually used scissors – as in the kind you buy at Office Depot – along with the electronic shears. She finished it off with the old fashion shave on the edges – you know, the shaving cream along with a slightly dull, possibly rusty, non-disinfected straight edge. It was quite awesome and a decent haircut to boot. When I finished, I looked down at the few morsels of blond hair clumped together on the floor with all the black/dark brown hair with pride and threw down S./ 5 ($1.66) for a job well done.

J. Riley, this is the first half of the first day? I've gotta lot of writing to do!

Friday, November 21, 2008

This Week in Investing

So my employer's stock went from about 12 to about 3 this week. I think that was around the same trajectory as Lehman went before they went bankrupt, Bear Stearns before they had to get saved by JPM Chase, and AIG before they got owned by the government, literally. It's a great time to go to Peru, hope my job still exists when I get back :o/

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

As Promised...

A few months back, I found out my childhood friend was going to be playing a show under his writer's name Bassnectar. Christmases excluded, I think the last time I saw him was about five years ago when I ran into him while I was in line for a club up in San Fran with Stefan and his friends. He had been playing that night and somehow we recognized each other and I got to pretend I was all awesome and stuff by hanging out in the DJ booth with him overlooking and rocking the crowd. 

This time, it would be in New York City, quite close to the nexus of the universe, in fact. I met up with Susannah, his sister, and her boyfr...Irishman friend Shane. I'd heard about this guy because he is a fan of Everton, the Merseyside arch-rivals of my beloved Liverpool Reds. He had passed on some trash talking text messages via Susannah the weekend before but I knew I had a comeback for any trouble that he wanted to start :o) . But, he was in fact a pretty cool guy - especially for an Everton fan. 

Susannah was so excited to introduce me to him (slight embellishment ;o) that we all got to the club early so we could go have a pint before the show. Well, actually not a pint - a liter! We checkd out the bier-garten at Loreley, a favorite German beer pub of mine around the corner. Of course they serve stellar brews there and Shane and I both ordered up a "mass" (one-liter stein) of Warsteiner, one of my favorite beers ever while we talked about who he was and why Everton sucked so much and why I was a Liverpool fan. 

After the brewsky, we headed back to the club, where a group of under-21s were congregating since this is probably the only other place than Webster Hall that actually allows people from 18-20 years old. I felt like a creepy old man in this place! Well, there were a couple of opening acts that were actually quite good and entertaining, like this scratcher guy Mike Relm who had some very cool mixes and videos (check out his live "O-Face" act) .

After him, Lorin was up and the crowd got all crazy. We finagled our way in front of all of the teenagers right up to the stage and danced along with his music, which was a lot different than the stuff he played the last time I heard him. And, to be honest, I didn't really get into it that much, but I was interested in watching him groove to the crowd and also was visualizing his whole setup. Clearly, the electronica industry has changed a ton since I last saw Paul Oakenfold live because everything Lorin did was on a computer and the mixer. I don't think he had any turntables, which is crazy to me. I'd love to get my hands on some of THAT software to mix up some crazy scheisse. 

Towards the end of the show, we went backstage to this little mini-room where they had all the snacks, free beers, and the guys who had played earlier hanging out. Some interesting folks were back there, like a loud-mouthed band-manager who seemed to know everyone and was a total dirty schmoozer type. After the show, the dude brought three eighteen year-old girls backstage (if that old) and was all trying to work them until they left, probably because their mom was waiting for them out front in the mini-van ;o) . He was kinda funny though and it was entertaining watching him go back and forth with Susannah and him talking about all the gay guys he could set Susannah's friend up with and her friend talking about all the hot 23-year-old Jewish girls he could set up this guy with. This guy clearly liked to be at the center of attention, though :o) 

Lorin came back after the show, all pumped up and sweaty and had to lower his blood pressure for a few minutes with just me and Susannah since his manager kicked everyone else, which was cool. He was super-cool like always and strangely still normal despite all his fame. After the show, he was supposed to play at another club that I'd never heard of, starting at 3:30am. So we headed over there and he got out of the cab down the block and we went in to check out the scene to report back to him if it was worth going to or not. Inside, Mr. Superstar Band Manager plumped his credit card so we could all order drinks, but I was doing fine at the moment and, by 4:00am, I was pretty much beat. Lorin decided to go to the hotel and crash instead of playing the next show (I guess he can do that) but overall it was a pretty sureal experience with this host of characters!

J. Riley, it's kind of hard to explain these kinds of experiences, it's another one of those "New York Moments"!!

Believe It or Not...

First, some administrative information regarding the wedding next year. Erika has gotten ahold of the manager of a very nice, local hotel chain in Lima (Miraflores), Peru (Casa Andina for you Googlers)  and has gotten a verbal agreement for a 15% discount on hotel rooms for guests to our wedding. They have three local locations including a 3-star, a 5-star (for Sean), and one a little outside of central Miraflores that I've stayed at. Erika calls it "normal star", whatever that means :o). In any case, that is one option and if you want to make a reservation there, you should send me an email so I can give you the manager's email address so you can deal directly with him. He speaks English, of course. 

For the stingy crowd (people like me), there is another hotel in Central Miraflores next to the park called La Casa de Sanchez. There's no discount there, but the prices are pretty good already. If I was traveling, I would stay here. But Casa Andina hotels are really nice (and more expensive) and, a crucial dealmaker, has wireless internet :o). 

A third option is to check Craigslist for Peru and rent an apartment in Miraflores for like $35 a night. That is what I am doing and typically have done in the past. It's hard to beat that price and you can have your own oceanfront view from your bedroom, overlooking Lima, and a full kitchen, internet, cable TV, etc. 

Contrary to popular opinion, I AM actually capable of surviving three weeks without my wife. For crying out loud, I've only lived alone for the past 12-odd years and did perfectly fine, if you consider living in a messy, cob-webbed apartment with death-like stenched towels, annually washed sheets and blankets, and a weekly pile of dirty dishes "fine". Somehow the wife has rubbed me the right way because today I did laundry and actually voluntarily grabbed my towelto wash and the dishes have been done all week. I guess learning is still a long process since I only washed my pillow-cases because they are most likely drool-drenched thanks to this massive mouthguard that I am reluctantly wearing and suffocating with every night. Plus, I chose a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad pineapple to make juice with yesterday... 

J. Riley, check out my new "Reactions" below - I totally copy-catted Summer

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Dueling Yukeleles

Paul is a Renaissance man when it comes to tunes. Last year, he introduced me to the wonders of boot-stompin', PBR-drinkin', ass-kickin' redneck-hipster bluegrass music in the Hackensaw Boys. Yesterday, he introduced me to yet another off-the-wall, who-woulda-thunk-it's-so-awesome genre of music, the Ukelele Wah Wah event at the Blender Theater. Yes, the ukelele.

But before I get into that, let's break down yesterday a little bit. My first day sans-wife and yes I did, in fact, make the bed :-O !! My apartment is slowly, but surely, disintegrating into disrepair but I gotta get some credit for making the bed! I think the only time I made the bed prior to Erika's arrival was after I washed the sheets and blankets (which was an annual event).

Anyway, after work I had an orthodontist appointment. Ohhh...the orthodontist. As some may know, my talented tongue has been wreaking havoc on my buckteeth and basically reverting my bite to something like it was prior to two years, two surgeries, and thousands of bucks, i.e. "tearing, not biting a sandwich" as one orthodontist in my past described it. Last time I was at the ortho, he decided that I should try a new torture device called a "Positioner", which would make small changes to my bite. My mouth was modeled, diagnostics were performed, and out popped my appliance, which I received last night.

I was in suspicious mood, so I queried my ortho about this device. As in, why am I using it. The skies opened, a ray of light shown down, angels were singing, and he told me, and I'm paraphrasing, that he did research into finding a better solution than a retainer to deal with the massive changes that my jaw has been through and the fact that I have an "aggressive tongue" (watch out Erika). He busted out a model of my jaws (created with the molds) both before and after using this Positioner. Basically, they take my current bite, they make changes to the model to create the "Paul Newman" bite, and then they build this Positioner to ease your teeth into position.

Now the Positioner is no cakewalk. It is, essentially, like a tooth-molded mouthguard. In fact, the pamphlet even says that you can use this for contact sports. I have to "chew" in this thing four hours a day for a few weeks/months and wear it at night in order to move my teeth to the new position. It's extremely drooly, but the good news is that it has a wintermint (borrowing that from Tom's of Maine) flavor too it, so it's not nasty like my old retainer.

But it totally makes sense when you see it. A lot of my work involves writing emails, so I can sit here all day and workout my jaw muscles on this thing. And it is already working after just one day, so I have high hopes for this device and don't be surprised if Paul Newman arrives the next time you see me.

So last night, Paul and I went to go see the Yukelele music festival, headlined by a Japanese/Hawaiian guy named Jake Shimabukuro. Before he was on stage, we got to listen to a pretty cool, suave, Hawaiian sounding band with the slide guitar and yukele and a hip-hop band featuring the yukelele, a beat-boxer, a bass guitar, and an awkward fourth-guy whose role in the band did not seem critical. He wasn't sure what to do with his hands, so he stuck them in his pockets and sang a few chords (looking at the words on his sheet) occassionaly. I figured he must be the trust-fund kid who's dad sponsored the band, since he was so useless.

But Jake Shimabukuro? I can't describe him, so just watch.

We also heard from Michael Jackson ("Thriller"), The Beatles, and even Johan Sebastian Bach! Amazing!

J. Riley, my teeth have already moved and are SORE. That's good news, though....

Airport Tales

I've had some good stories in the past about flight mishaps and
problems. Plenty, in fact. And Tuesday, I added a jewel to my crown of
airport issues. Erika was flying to Peru on Tuesday, election night,
where she would stay for the next month, visiting her friends and
family, preparing for a certain wedding, etc. etc.

Erika spent the last two days getting gifts for the myriad of cousins
and third cousins and uncles, and great aunts, etc. etc. and had three
bags of luggage, two for check in and one for carry on. I was not
looking forward to going to the airport because a.) it was election
night, history in the making, and b.) these bags were so big and heavy
there was no way I was going to be able to take them on the subway to
take the Air-train. I relented, and taxi it was.

Erika had asked me if she needed to confirm her flight or needed to
print anything out for the flight, and of course, being well-versed in
the ways of traveling to Peru on LAN, I told her she didn't need
anything. This is my specialty. Just let me take over and I'll get you
on the plane. So we arrive at the airport and the first thing the
chick at the counter asks for is her flight confirmation. Huh?
Apparently they couldn't find her name on the flight. Ummm, why? She
did some typing, made some phone calls, did some more typing and told
us that her reservation was for MONDAY night, not Tuesday. Oh
scheisse. Oops. Really?

She brought the greasy supervisor over and he told us that Erika could
standby for the flight, even though it was overbooked by ten people
already. Being the rock in our relationship, I immediately comforted
Erika with my negativity, assuring her that there was no way I made a
mistake, that she wasn't going to get on the flight, that we'd have to
try to find a cheap flight for the next week, etc. etc. I'm smooth
like that. No wonder she loves me so much!

Somehow, amazingly, she actually made it on the list and just had to
pay the $130 change-ticket fee. A hell of a lot cheaper than a new
ticket. Anything else? The biotch at the counter said that her
carry-on was too big. Are you kidding me? I've traveled for years with
that thing, always carrying it on, including on LAN for the past two
years. Well, it was $50 to add it and I was done with the stress, so I
told her to check it. Wait, it's not $50? It's $150? To check an extra
bag that shouldn't have to be checked? I was pretty pissed off, but
the fact that she was getting on the flight was not worth me losing my
patience at the counter and getting Erika kicked off of the list.

Erika made it on the flight, she'll be able to celebrate her mom's
birthday after-all, and Obama won the election, so not such a bad
night after all. But I think next time, I'll print the damn
confirmation sheet.

J. Riley, I never did find the email confirmation...


I'm not much of a Halloween person. I don't think I've dressed up for
the pagan holiday since probably high school (when we raided and
pillaged the rich neighborhood way up Shannon Road), but this year
Erika was excited about it being her first one, so she wanted to go
out in style. Sean had some "inside" scoop on some "underground"
warehouse parties deep in Brooklyn, so we settled on that as our
agenda for the evening.

Well, Erika and Roberta didn't get to Astoria until around 9:00
because they were out trying out wedding dresses that day. Erika found
her dream dress apparently and I gave her the stamp of approval to
purchase. Believe it or not, it is actually cheaper to buy dresses
here than in Peru (supposedly). The dress shop sales rep talked to me
and told me that they would do the alterations after the dress came in
in January, not mentioning the price. Assuming that the dress shop is
a complete rip-off of magnificent proportions, I asked how much the
alterations cost. Up to $350! Are you KIDDING me? Eff that, we'll take
it to a neighborhood tailor instead.

Anyway, rather than spending hundreds on a kick-ass costume, Erika and
I decided to go with the face makeup as our prop. Looking to remake
my face as the object of evil and scaring little children and adults
alike like I did at the Bronx zoo last weekend, I went with the dark
green Wicked Witch of the West look, complete with glue-on moles and
some crazy clothes, including home-made ass-less chaps...errr, jeans.
Erika got done up with some face-art and a cute little outfit with a
loose-tie while Roberta stayed true to her colors and dressed up as
the flag of Italy. Not bad for $20's worth of face paint.

So we headed out to Bushwick, Brooklyn for the party. It was like a
good hour's trip, with two train connections, just to get there. Then,
we had to walk for probably 20 minutes down towards the water to get
to the warehouse. Oh, the things we do to keep it real and go
underground! Finally we get there, and what do we see? Cops outside
the joint and like 50 people trying to get in, with more and more
arriving in taxis every minute. What a joke! The place was too full
for anyone to even get in and the cops were going to shut it down for
fire code violations, I suppose.

Soon thereafter, we met up with Sean and tried to check out another
party nearby that was also closed for fire code violations. At this
point, it was approaching 2:00am and it had been a waste of an
evening. It dawned on me that it may feel like you're going out to
some small spot in the middle of the countryside when you go to these
places but, really, you're still in NYC and the city is not lawless.

The most exciting part of the evening happened when we were waiting
for the subway to take us home. We some some cops tear off down the
platform to arrest some guy for some reason (probably drunk, probably
fighting). At that point, someone opened the gate to let a bunch of
freeloaders onto the platform without paying and a plainclothes cop
came running back and tried to pull someone out of the subway car we
were in, even grabbing his gun as if to threaten the guy. Really? For
not paying his $2 subway entrance? Eventually the cop left the subway
car, probably because he couldn't get the uniformed police down to
cover his 6 :o/ . Other than that, the best part of the evening is
that we paid $0 for the night, an extremely rare event on a Friday

Saturday was a nice autumn day, so we made plans to meet up with
Melissa and Jonathon in Central Park to enjoy the weather and the
wonderful changing colors of fall. It was great, we parked it on a
nice little patch of unoccupied grass overlooking the castle and the
turtle pond, made sandwiches, ate cheese and junk food, and played
some frisbee. Who knew that frisbee can make you actually break a

J. Riley, there's more where that came from! Check back later for
pictures and more tales.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


So I'm taking these free Spanish classes at a local church to get an hour of practice in every week. Two weeks back, at the first class, I sat in on the intro class since Erika is convinced I am a beginner. After learning how to count from one to ten and learning how to pronounce the letters of the alphabet (zzzzz for me), the teacher determined that I could attend the more advanced class following the beginner (I didn't know there were two levels). The advanced level was about right and I was still one of the more "fluent" students in that class.

So this Monday roles around and I head out to class, strutting my stuff, listening to my iPod, knowing that I was the cool advanced guy in class. I walked into class and soon learned that I was not the cool guy cuz I couldn't understand anything the teacher was saying and was pretty much lost during the whole hour. Not to mention that everybody else in class was waaay more advanced then me. I assumed it was because the teacher didn't speak as clear Spanish as Erika. Peruvians all say that they speak clear, proper Spanish whereas most other countries' Spanish is kind of dirty, like Spanish from Mexico. I mentally determined that my teacher was from Guatemala (I have no reason why) and that is why I couldn't understand her. Then, later in class she mentioned that she was from PERU!

I guess my Spanish is just terrible :o/

J. Riley, I gotta get Erika speaking to me more. This is avergonzado, or embarrassing!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

While I'm At It...

Did I tell anyone that I went to Charleston, South Carolina two weekends ago? I bet you knew if you were on Facebook and you saw all of my pictures. Or if you have a Google account and happen to have me listed as a Favorite in your Picasa and saw that I just posted pictures.

So, yea, I had the first vacation I've had since February, not including my trip to Cali for my wedding. That's a long freakin time for me to go without taking a major trip! And a domestic vacation - I don't even remember the last domestic vacation I took.

This doesn't really count as a "major" vacation, but it was one anyway - and a damn good one, at that. Does anyone even know anything about this city? I certainly didn't, but came home with a thirst for history books on this city, because it was magnificent. It was Jeff's wedding that weekend and since his wife comes from an aristocratic city, we figured it would be a great one to attend. Plus, Paul, Cathy, Ryan, and his Peruvian wife - good friends with my wife, and in fact how I met mine! - were all attending!

Being tight with the wallet these days, we flew into Charlotte, North Carolina (ironically the city were the acquisition target of the bank that I'm working for is located), rented a car, and drove three hours South to Charlotte. I was thinking that it would be all scenic since it's fall and I knew there were lots of trees. No, it was just solid green, since I guess it rains a lot and is semi-tropical in those parts.

Funny story about South Carolina that maybe you haven't heard. Erika had actually been to South Carolina seven years ago when she came to the States to work at some ski resort for a few weeks. She shows up at the ski resort with her Peruvian friends, doesn't speak a lick of English, but finds out that the Russian owners/coordinators of this "job" actually take the workers' passports and lock them in huge communal bedrooms at night with no access to phones or anything. Well, she and her friends decided to escape right after they got there and took their luggage and started walking down the road to nowhere, since they were in the mountains. They ended up getting a ride from a guy who took them to a hotel in town and paid for their room, brought them food, etc. until they could get the hell out of dodge. Somehow, the Russians found them there and the guy who picked them up happened to be coming to the hotel to check on them and more or less "saved" them again.

So Erika was checking out the map but had no idea what city she stayed in and stuff, but told me that it was on "Jackson Heights" Avenue (JH is a neighboring neighborhood that has lots of Latinos, and is the location of the infamous "putaria". Sure enough, we came across an exit for a Jackson Avenue (close, Erika :) and it was actually the place where she had been seven years ago! We took pictures of her hotel there, of the $5 Chinese buffet place they ate at everyday, etc. before eating some South Carolina (mustard-style) BBQ (tough choice, that or a million other chain restaurants).

Anyway, we made it to Charleston and checked into our hotel shortly before Ryan and his wife arrived. It was raining of course, but we all decided to attend the "cocktail party" at one of Jeff's in-laws many houses in downtown Charleston. And what an amazing house it was! We had a few beers and then headed to the bar/restaurant area to get some real food. The four of us ate at a Brewery nearby the upper-echelon bar that Jeff parked his party at and experienced absolutely phenemonal food, one of the best meals in my life. They were encrusted scallops over grits with a bunch of veggies that was just to die for. I don't know how else to explain them because the taste and textures were very complex and the golden palate was pleased, indeed.

The next morning, we went on a Patriot tour of Charleston to learn about it's role in the Revolutionary War, which I didn't even realize happened down there. Apparently Charles Towne, as it was known, was one of the richest cities in the colonies and according to the guide, more battles were fought in Charleston than in any other place in America. Interesting fact...

So we saw tombs of our founding fathers, we went to churches that Washington himself went to, we saw landmarks, toured the Exchange that 3/4 of all slaves in the US went through, learned about South Carolina's pirate problem with Blackbeard and the others, etc. etc. before finding a divey, but local, bar to eat at for lunch. The tour was interesting, but there were more places to see in the beautiful city with horrible weather at the time. We walked along the ocean-facing street to watch the waves crash against the sea-wall with beautiful, Victorian mansions overlooking all the way down to the battery park that had cannons used to defend the city and beautiful, huge, oak trees. It was just breathtaking, this city.

We decided to buy a ghost package for the night, featuring a ghoulish theater and ghost carriage tour since evereyone else was going to the rehearsal dinner. The theater show was pretty creepy and very well done. Usually those things are kinda childish and boring, but Erika screamed out loud at one point when a loud ghost cry screamed behind us. It's a good thing her big husband was there to comfort her. Or was it the other way around ;o) ?

The carriage tour was a joke since nobody was at the carriage departure site. We decided to use it on Monday morning instead and headed down to meet up with the rest of the group who were eating downtown. We ate at a crab-joint with live music next door while waiting for them to finish. I love me some crab, but not so much blue crab. They're tool small and it takes too much effort to get skimpy pieces of meat. I'll stick with Christmas Eve Dungeness next time, thank you very much.

Afterwards, we made a brief appearance at the after party at a nightclub before calling it a night since it was late and I was golfing with the boys the next morning. Golfing with Paul and Ryan behind the Buxtons was a blast, mostly since we had golf carts :) and I managed to hit the ball straight pretty consistently, even if it only went 25 yards. My grandpa would be proud :). I heard stories of Jeff's bachelor party in SLO with the golf-carts with incidents like driving up and down stairs, getting coolers confiscated, etc. etc. Jeff + Coors Light + toys = trouble and a lot of fun :o) . But, he was well-behaved on this day since he was recovering from five days of drinking and getting married later in the day.

After golfing, we met up with the girls who were shopping downtown and we had lunch with Paul & Cathy at a conspiculously named oyster placed called A.W. Shucks. The name alone sent shivers down my neck and I cringed at the thought that this place must be a chain with a name like that. But, I honestly think it was local, since it was downtown, and I in my memories of the place, I will always think of it as local. At least I didn't see it on any of the highway exit signs along with Bob Evans, Waffle House, Shoneys, and Bojangles!

After lunch, back to the hotel to get ready for the wedding. Most of the pack had to be down there early since they were in the wedding, so Erika and I had some free time to watch TV while I monitored the ocuppied, free PC downstairs so I could learn how to tie a fancy knot, since I can never seem to get it right. Of course, it was ocuppied all night and I ended up with a horrible knot, as you can see in my pictures. Damn you, half-windsor!!! Guess I should practice it more than once a year :o/ .

The wedding was nice, featuring a gospel choir and, best of all, these amazing Sweat-tea vodka and cranberry drinks that I could have drinken all night if they weren't produced in limited quantities. It was probably better that night since I was driving! The wedding itself was held outside an old mansion that was owned by one of the founders of the transatlantic railroad. I'm sure he died a pauper :o| .

After the wedding, of course, everyone went to a complete dive bar around the corner that was occupied by some kids that looked like they were 15 before the artistocracy from the wedding overthrew them. We played some pool, chit-chatted, and had $1.50 drinks for a while before finishing up and heading home.

Monday, we slept in and checked out with Ryan and Lili before going to a place Anthony Bourdain visited called Hominy Grill, which is rumored to be historic, but I'm not sure why. The breakfast was traditional except for my meal, which was traditional shrimp and cheese grits - and tasty vegetables on top. Wow, I was digging the food down south - although the the chainy BBQ experienced a few days prior never did sit right.

We followed breakfast up with a carriage tour of the city that was the highlight and required activity. We had a free-lovin' hipster type of tour guide in his twenties who knew just about everything about everything and had lived in Peru, West Africa, Bolivia, and countless other places. He told us about little details in the houses like the color on the ceiling of the verandas and why they use it, the type of wood used and why the paint was peeling, why houses damaged in the Great Earthquake had steel rods put all the way through the house to the other side, why some verandas had doors and some didn't, and of course who lived in which house.

So, I can't talk about all of the details because we only had three and a half days and could easily have spent a week there, but you get the idea about Charleston. If you have friends in the area (and I know Graham does) or you ever find yourself within driving distance of the city, you should really check it out.

J. Riley, highly recommend Charleston, even if we hardly scratched the surface.

Trouble's Brewing in Astoria...

So today I'm sitting on the bus for my loooong 20 minute commute and am about to doze off when I see a couple police cars swerve in front of the bus and park next to the curb. Then I See more police cars. And more police cars, coming from everywhere and hauling some serious ass from every direction. I've seen this before on 34th St. or in Time Square when they are doing their drills. And I've seen cops on this corner of Astoria, conveniently located in front of several blocks of projects fronted by seriously shady looking characters and the types of stores that would be located a more-or-less abandoned elevator factory - hell yea, Astoria is blue-class like that.

Anyway, these cops are EVERYWHERE. Coming out of the woodwork and I see that they are running into the subway station! The bus kinda creeps along between all the cop cars because they had just shown up and the people getting on the bus there were whispering about a shooting in the subway. Now a shooting is not all THAT surprising, it pretty much happens everyday, but the number of police that were hauling ass down my street to get there was pretty impressive. They must have called all units in the five closest area codes. I got off the bus ten minutes later, went in to get a prescription filled, and came out, and there were STILL cop cars hauling ass down there. There couldn't have been less than 200 cop cars there by this time.

It was impressive, but I couldn't help thinking, what does the guy in that last cop car who's arriving 30 minutes after an incident really going to accomplish? What's going through his mind? And once that many cops show up, who the heck communicates to everyone what their job is? I mean, I saw several emergency response/mobile command center vehicles going there, so I guess that is there job, but still. In any case, I guess this is what these guys train for everyday, situations like this. BTW, it turns out that two cops got shot down in the subway by some thug, probably from the projects. It'll be all over the news tomorrow since it was cops that were shot. Normal shootings? They usually get about an inch-long article - if any at all.

Monday, October 06, 2008

High School Remixed

On Friday, I got my usual call at work from Erika, but this time it was a little different as she let me know that she had invited eight people from her class to come to our tiny apartment for a party. I thought that sounded like a pretty awesome idea, especially with the news that we'd be getting homemade Italian food, Chinese food, and sushi. It totally through me back 12 years (wow, that's weird to say) - back to my senior year in high school. Same idea, but different characters and different...beverages. That was my favorite year in high school because Stefan and I befriended tons of foreign exchange students and totally pulled off a coup d'état on the International Club, making it our own social club. We actually had a few parties back then - sans cerveza.

I can actually blame - I mean thank - that club for helping me meet all of my international friends not to mention my wife, who was now throwing a party of her own. But this time, the foreign exchange students came bearing not only food to cook, but three cases of beer and a bottle of vodka! Geez, am I in college again, too ;o) ?

Well, we were in for a treat. Roberta made amazing Italian meatballs and sauce that tasted just like Stefan's grandma's used to taste. We had amazing Asian noodles with vegetables that was so tasty I couldn't stop eating it, despite the fact I ate (bad) Chinese food for lunch. And later we had sushi that her Japanese friend made and brought over. I should have been shoulder surfing when all this was cooked rather than drinking the Sapporo and Asahi that the Taiwanese and Koreans brought. In return, we introduced Roberta to the wonders of American culinary trends - i.e. the street in Jersey that fabricates chemicals that makes things taste like the real thing: Nacho Cheese Doritos. It's hard to imagine life without Doritos, but apparently they don't sell them in the mercaditos in small town Tuscany. Lucky them!

So, as is predictable, cheap watery beers that taste like Coors Light but have foreign names were consumed and soon DJ Jazzy J. Riley had iTunes purring along with the many techno mixes and the guests who had their jackets on ready to leave amazingly didn't go anywhere and soon were dancing along with everyone else :) .

Good times, I'm ready for them to come back again, I want more noodles!!!

Saturday afternoon I got a call from Paul about wanting to celebrate Oktoberfest somewhere in town later that night. Despite being pretty tired still (for some unknown reason) I suggested that we hit up Lederhosen in the West Village for some authentic cuisine and dirndl girls. I Sent Erika home because she was ready to go to sleep after visiting Bed, Bath, and Beyond (which is an annoying store to shop in because they have too many clever gizmos that Erika wants to buy) and Paul and I got to chit-chat for for a few hours before we headed downtown to meet up with the rest of the quartet for some Hefe-Weissen, tasty Spaten, and a plateful of wursts. That place is great, they have some fabulous beers including the elusive German Rauchbier that tastes like smoked bacon. I thought about getting it for posterity (is that the word?) sake after drinking it in Alex's college town, the only place it can be found, but ended up getting Apfelwein, another drink of yor that I don't care for too much but drink because it brings me back.

After finishing up the bier and wurstens, it was off to find dessert on new streets that we probably haven't been before. Amazingly we couldn't find any place that would serve dessert at that hour except a little vanagan that was advertising a Diesel party and giving out amazing (in a high-pitch voice) blueberry cheesecake ice cream cones - for free! We're talking real chunks of cheesecake and real blueberries, people. Too bad all the drunks getting the free scoops couldn't remember it the next day, because god has reserved a special block of brain cells in my cranium to remember that stuff.

After that, we stumbled upon Lips, a theme restaurant/bar that features transvestites singing dirty, nasty, hilarious songs about things like getting sex change operations. It was off-the-wall funny and apparently "Erika would've loved this place judging by her bachelorette party" :o/ . Yes, she would have loved it for sure, cuz it was awesome.

I headed home shortly after that, leaving the others to bound about looking for more booze because the wife was alone at home and I pitied her soul. And because I had a Liverpool game to watch the next morning. It was one of the best games I have ever seen in my life, despite Liverpool's Slovakian ax-murderer defender Martin Skrtel rupturing his Posterior Cruciate Ligament in his knee. Ouch. But Torres did bag a brace and Liverpool came back from 2-nil down to take the game in the last minute. Excellent stuff.

J. Riley, the rest of Sunday was spent looking, unsuccessfully, for a pair of shoes for the wife for the wedding next weekend. How is it possible not to find shoes to match a black dress?

Friday, October 03, 2008


So last week I was getting a year older, turning the big 31. I had told Erika, mostly rhetorically, a few weeks back that she should organize a birthday party for me and my friends, since we haven't all gotten together much lately. She could surprise me with the location. She doesn't know much about the restaurants in New York or how to research them, so early last week I blasted my friends with some spam about how I'd like to get together with them for my birthday and go out to dinner at a self-proclaimed "California" Mexican restaurant. I know better than to eat at Mexican restaurants anywhere outside of Cali since they always seriously disappoint, but this place calls itself legit and I've wanted to try it out. I joked with Erika that I was looking forward to receiving all of the "sorry, I can't make it" emails. 

Well, they quickly enough started trickling in, but it was worse than expected. Over the next few days leading up to my birthday, people had school, were traveling for work, going to a hockey game, had a business dinner (typical Sean, scheduling it on a day I told him to reserve),  and the best was "School nights are really tough for me to make it to the city", by the father of a child less than a year old 8-| etc. etc. and I was thinking...geez, has my life really dwindled down to this? 

Well, luckily, my always faithful friend Melissa was available as was Erika's new Italian friend from school Roberta. It wasn't exactly the crowd that I was hoping for and since everyone else said they could do it the following week, I was thinking of just cancelling. Erika wasn't having any of that since birthdays are HUGE in Peru. 

She aptly demonstrated starting at 6:00am in the morning (I usually wake up at 7:15am) by waking my tired ass up and bringing in my birthday cupcake. It was very cute because she didn't have a candle, so she spent almost a whole boxes of matches trying to light a toothpick on fire so that I could blow something out :o) . This was followed by a post-it-note trail that led me around the house until I finally ended up looking in the bottom drawer of the dressor, where she had an awesome new shirt for me. She had apparently been saving all of the money that I had been giving her so that she could buy me a birthday present (other than the Liverpool shorts that I got hooked up with!). I was happy and tired, so she said that we could sleep for another 30 minutes, which we did until her PARENTS called me at 6:45am (5:45AM in Peru) to talk to me and tell me Happy Birthday. And her cousin of course was already there too (she sounded like she just woke up). Geez, do I really deserve all of this??? It was very nice, despite the lack of sleep....

So, I agreed we would go out and try to have fun that night. But, truthfully, I was really bummed that only ONE person would make it. I put on my new shirt and a happy face for the wife though and we headed downtown. We get to the Mexican place, and it was already surprisingly packed. There were some small tables by the windows though, so we asked if we could sit there and have some drinks while waiting for the other person to show up. Of course she gave me the typical attitude that we could sit there but if someone else came before my friends, we would have to vacate. "Are you serious?" was my response, although this is common practice in New York. I didn't care though, it was my birthday damnit! And I was not in the mood to get shuffled around just because we were waiting for one person to show up. "Okay, then there's just the two of us. Can we sit there now?". Of course, no problem. So stupid...

So we're sitting there drinking our drinks and eating chips and salsa when a bigger table opens up in the back of the tiny place and she says we can move back there if we want since the table we were at was basically joined at the hip with the bar and was too cramped. I thought it was strange that she would let us sit at a table that would fit about 6 people, but the place was clearing out a bit so I didn't think anything of it. Melissa finally got there, and I was thinking it was going to be awkward because the table was so big. She would either have to be waaaaaay at the end or be sitting right next to me, which would be weird when the rest of the table was empty. 

But alas! Her boyfriend Jonathon made it! Oh good, I was thinking, he's always a fun guy and now the numbers would work well for the table. Maybe it wouldn't be such a bad night afterall. But I was confused, with mouth ajar, because then I saw D and Cathy. I was seriously confused. And then Sean, and then Priya, and then Yinety, and then David, and then Rob, and then Sophy. Wholly crap! I just sat there with my mouth open, totally confused. Okay, I'm not the sharpest tool in the shed, I realize that. But how in the world did this happen? Erika, in cahoots with Melissa, totally, totally pulled the wool over my eyes on this one. Awesome! I have the best friends in the world! And the excuses were so on target and appropriate, it couldn't have been better planned. I guess that's what I get for marrying an event planner!

So we had some tasty beverages and decent, questionable Cali-quality food and I got to catch up with everyone that I hadn't seen in forever, so I was in a great mood. After a few drinks and a shot of tequila, a few of us headed down to SoHo to try to find somewhere to continue the party. Erika and Roberta wanted a place to dance, but there wasn't really much in that neck of the woods that we knew for dancing. 

I wanted to check out this Bulgarian nightclub that was rumored to be in the area, but we couldn't find it and it was raining, so we decided to follow all of our compasses, and head East. Whereupon, we arrived at the classic nightclub Le Souk. A classic enigmatic, eccentric, and ecclectic spot with belly-dancers, hookahs, Moroccan cuisine, and, downstairs a hot dance floor. Sean had had a few drinks by this point and was ready to party so he popped out the credit card and gave it to the vampire at the door. I'm serious, the bouncer had the vampire teeth, dreadlocks, sunglasses, and black trench-coat - gotta love NYC :) . It was cool being led through the crowds dancing to contemporary hip-hop upstairs by a freakin vampire, down the stairs, through the next crowd, and parking it at a table with a bottle of Ketel One. 

We all got our groove on and danced the night away with no worries that night. There were plenty of instances of, as my sister calls them, "shenanigans" as the Italian girl provided a double feature that night by first her losing balance (I have no idea WHY!) while dancing on the couch and face diving the table with the hookah and bottle of Ketel One, leading to the loss of significant amounts of vodka and an army of cleaning crews; and second by engaging in an endless lip lock with Sean by the end of the night. Standard operating procedures for a night out!

We finally got home at around 3:00am. Luckily, I had cut myself off earlier and was feeling fine when we climbed out of the cab. Erika, however, was a different story. Well, "disaster" would be more appropriate :). First, she left her wallet with all of her documentation in the cab (luckily he let us know before he took off so I could grab it) and then dropping my birthday bottle of wine on the concrete - luckily it was strong and resilient and saved for another night! 

We woke up four hours later with Erika getting ready for her school before calling it off for the day and me going to work for the whole day. Poor Erika suffered a nasty day though and couldn't keep anything down all day! I think my other half celebrated my birthday more than I did, but it was a legendary, legendary night. It was up there with The first-annual Anti-Valentine's Day!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A Day in the Life....

I've gotten some recent not-so-subtle messages from people saying things like, "Gee, your incessant blogging is swell and all, but what about life with Erika? How are things at home?". And that is a very valid question, for sure. After all, getting married to someone from a different culture, who speaks a different first language, comes from a different lifestyle is bound to beg the question.

To be honest, I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I proposed to Erika back in February. Since we first met in Lima, there was always a comfortable feeling between us that allowed us to be ourselves and understand each other even when things were being lost in translation. I had a choice - I could continue aging and spending long weekends in Lima, or I could take a chance that just felt right. But I had no idea if she and I could get along for an extended amount of time in a single household. We spent one week together in an apartment as a pilot run to see what would happen. She was always confident that we knew each other so well that there wouldn't be anything new that would throw us off track, but I was getting warned by people that "all the little things" are what cause problems - things like choosing which side of the bed to sleep on and the fact that her dog wouldn't eat if she wasn't at home :o/! What if we both wanted to sleep on the left-hand side? In any case, the pilot run went even better than I expected and I got to experience the wonders of a Latina "wife".

After this trip, I was pretty confident that there wouldn't be any major problems, but I still wanted to wait a bit to actually get married once we were in my comfort zone - and outside of her's, juuuuust to make sure. Well, apart from the first day after the red-eye flight home - which was admittedly awkward living in the Bronx (I mean, where do you start with New York when you are living there?), the results have been even better than the initial pilot run.

It is a little strange for me to get used to a new "system" of cleanliness, such as washing the dishes daily, vacuuming and thoroughly cleaning the apartment weekly, and washing towels and blanketsmore than twice a year. Good riddance to this habits of a bachelor! But the partnership of marriage with someone you can call your best friend is a wonderful and efficient thing. You can do so much more with so less time, it's amazing!

For example, this evening. It helps that I live about 15 minutes away from work via a bus (by the way, I now hate MTA buses) because I now get home by 5:30 or 5:45, like today. With summer over and all of the free events finished, I want to start going to the Beefcake Musclemania gym more than once a week like I have been. So I changed into my gym clothes and coerced my other half into going with me for the second day in a row. We hit the gym, did our cardio and beef-a-reeno exercises and got home around seven o'clock. Summer (the sister) says to eat carbs and protein immediately after exercising, so into the kitchen we go to scrounge for a recipe to actually cook dinner. After haggling over a few options, we settled on salad and a pasta. Into the salted, boiling water went the Trader Joe's Spinach and Chive fettucini (buy this now!) while Erika washed and cleaned arugula and basil for the salad and I got the crushd garlic, fresh parmesan, and olive oil all ready to go. Sorry, we're missing out on the protein tonight, Summer - my progression to beefdom will have to wait.

After dinner, it was time to try to kill the angel-food cake that someone made me at work, along with peaches and whipped cream. The kitchen was a disaster, but it had to wait because it was time for me to sit on my ass and learn some Spanish with Rosetta Stone (sidenote: Astoria rocks, we found a church nearby that offers free Spanish lessons! Sign me up, since my wife won't talk to me in Spanish for an extended amount of time, mostly because I revert to English). After Spanish, I jumped in the shower in order to clean the muscle-oil off my body and shave my 8:00 shadow so that I can sleep an extra two minutes in the morning.

With thirty minutes of easy Spanish lessons done, Erika had to start her homework, so back to the kitchen I go to voluntarily do dishes on a weeknight while Erika chats with her mom and gets back to studying. By 9:00, the kitchen is spotless, the trash cans are all emptied, and I am reading about Liverpool's game earlier in the day (we won, of course). 9:00pm, and all of this has been accomplished!

When I lived in the Bronx, it was more like this: Arrive home after an hour and fifteen minute commute at 6:30pm. Relax for a half-hour, change my clothes, get to the gym at 7:30pm. Exercise for an hour, shower, arrive home at 8:45pm. Eat a Cliff Bar on the way home for dinner because by that time, it's too late to cook a full dinner for myself, eat it, and clean up after myself and get to bed at a decent time. The wonders of a great partnership!

So, in summary to this novel of a 45-minute blog, things are wonderful around here, I could write all night about all of the things that I have learned and experienced. But it's been a busy, efficient day, and it's almost time to settle down for the evening :) .

J. Riley, by the way neither of us cares which side of the bed we sleep on :)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

NoKnow SoHo?

So my friend Sean just moved to a swanky new location in the city - SoHo, where he pays an exorbitant rent (by New York standards, no less) for a small studio. But that's not the point - he's in a HOT neighborhood! To "celebrate" his move, we decided to go down and visit him and go to dinner and "maybe" have some drinks. Sean is not known for being a penny pincher, so I knew that his move would definitely escalate my budget for dinners and nights out.

Now, I know SoHo. Not as well as other parts of town, but I've done plenty of brunches down there, eaten at some nice places down there, and have done plenty of shopping down there on Broadway. What I realized, though, is that I DON'T know SoHo! I've been there plenty of times, but I can count on one hand (or maybe three) the number of times I've gone out at night down there. And every time I've gone out to meals down there, it has almost exclusively been East of Broadway, which makes sense because there are plenty of magnets in the area directly to the East. But West of Broadway? No, I'm drawing a blank there.

So we head out for dinner, and Sean heads West from his apartment. Strange, I thought, there's nothing West of Mullberry, is there? He suggests that we do some Korean BBQ and that sounds good to us. I'm thinking that Little Korea isn't in this neighborhood, so where are we going? As we are walking around the Gotham-like streets in the western regions of SoHo, I notice just how many places there are to eat there - and I'm sure all of them are way out of my budget! But hey, we deserve one big night out, so we go to Woo Lae Oak, a super-duper snazzy place with appetizers and Korean BBQ out of this world! Sean just moved from Williamsburg and has a huge, nasty beard and uber-skinny jeans (yuck) with his black-rim glasses, and my style tends to lean to the east as well, and we TOTALLY didn't fit into this place. This, apparently, is a classy district, so it was interesting for people watching.

After dinner, we decided to explore the hood. We had mojitos at a few places and explored the bridge-and-tunnel fueled Bowery clubs and some standard (boring) bars before ending up at L'Orange Bleue, a Frenchy, North African type place playing funky African type music that seemed like a good place to park the bus for some Sangria and chit chat. The drinks were awesome there, it was exactly the type of place that I love, where you can spend hours just talking and sipping wonderfully tasty liquids. And that is exactly what we did!

J. Riley, A fun night despite the disgusting weather!

Monday, September 08, 2008

We are Expecting!

I have great news to announce - we are expecting....Erika's residency card! We recently received her travel documents so that she can travel outside of the country and actually come back into the country. In addition, last week she got her employment authorization card so that she can start pulling her own weight around here ;o). That's really all that's new around here, but stay tuned for more exciting updates!

Friday, August 29, 2008

Flavor of the Week

This week I had my quad-annual retainer checkup at my orthodontist. In a show of confidence of my teeth, or lack thereof, I found out that He's going to try a new device that sounds like it's a mouthguard-type thing that will slowly move my teeth to the perfect location, since they are already falling out of alignment, as they have since I got the braces off. I am less than thrilled by this idea, although I don't object to getting my teeth in the right spot. I mean, having a retainer with a bridge across it is hard enough to communicate with, I can only imagine what it's going to be like with this new contraption, especially since I'm supposed to continue wearing it all day and night like I do with my retainer. But I'll give it a try since I don't have to pay for it. I'm starting to feel not just like a guinea pig, but like a guinea pig butterflied on a grill in a place like Peru with these teeth of mine!

Some of you know that I like to try out new ingredients in my kitchen sometimes. First there was quinoa, black rice, and other interesting graines that no one else has heard of. Well, lately I've been using a yummy, spicy, pepper-paste laden with various North African spices called harissa, which can be found in stores like Whole Foods, if you look REALLY hard. I had to find someone that fit the "Whole Foods Geek" mold - you know, the guys who know pretty much everything in the store - in order to find it. Here's a couple super-tasty recipes that I've made using this stuff:
The latter, especially, is an awesome meal with a huge variety of flavors and textures!

J. Riley, I added some new blogs that I read to the bar on the right.....

Sunday, August 24, 2008


Last night, Erika and I decided to go downtown to do some perusing at Barnes and Noble, only to find that the East Village as I knew it has completely changed, I couldn't find anything that I knew used to be there, including the B&N! I guess that is how it works in New York, constant change and if you step off the island for a few months, it'll just pass you right by.

After doing some people-watching at our sidewalk-seating at a little cafe, eating some lobster ravioli, and drinking some sangria, Erika was up for a challenge and thought that we should head out to the dark depths of Queens to Jackson Heights, which is where a significant Latin community is and whose disco's I've gone to a few times, with mixed results. Well, we didn't have much else going on for the night, so why not? We figured that tonight could be a night of investigation, we could check out a bunch of different sketchy discos and hopefully find one half-way decent.

The first place that we went looked pretty nice on the outside and had a few big bouncers in front who insisted I talk to the manager before I go in (??). He told us that it was a salsa/merengue place and it had a nice looking dance-floor, certainly nicer than the other chorizo-fest place that I had been. We went in and checked it out and I was cool with it. It was about 9:30 at the time and, amazingly, there were already a bunch of girls there. Those of you who went out to Queens with me last time will realize that this is certainly unusual. The girls were all dressed with high-heels and short-short-short mini skirts and kind of standing around and Erika immediately identified this place as what she called a putaria (you know, like "tacquiera"), which I thought was hilarious (puta=prostitute). I almost laughed out loud, but I thought the place was going to be the best we could find in this part of town because the music was pretty good at the time. We checked out some other spots nearby, saw some hookers on the corner, and got some money at the bank before going back to the place, aptly called Chuptcha, which sounds an aweful lot like "chucha", probably one of the dirtiest words describing female genitalia. And queue one great Curb Your Enthusiam episode and why not the other as well.

Anyway, so we ended hanging out at this place, getting a table and having some cerveza and, mostly, people watching. The place wall really apalling, but we did manage to fit in some bachata dancing, despite being the only white person in the place. People watching was certainly worth the $5 beers, though. Most of the men were quite a few inches shorter than the woman (probably due to the high heels); when reggaeton started playing, the place was just like Santo Domingo, with girls holding onto a stage gyrating their huge asses up against the man of the moment - it reminded me of a men's room where there's a line of guys urinating (since it looked just like that); despite our table being about a foot above the dance floor, we could almost see underneath these girl's skirts; one fantastic male (I think) dancer who was really into the music and dancing, he was just a joy to watch, even if sometimes he would dry-hump a post(??); and special mention to the bleach blonde "girl" of questionable gender. As far as I could tell, we only saw 'benjamins being passed to the girls for these dirty dances, but who knows what happens when the place closes! When we left the place, the manager said "Did you guys have fund tonight" without a hint of irony. Yea, we said, with Erika laughing and saying "it was quite an experience" :o)

We topped the night off with carne asada tacos at a street-vendor which, still, didn't meet my high Mexican-food standards. They just can't seem to get it right out here!

Today, after a late start, we went and checked out the local free community swimming pool. I had visions of one of New York's free beach (Coney Island) and was thinking about how disgusting this pool would be, but I was in the exploring mood anyway. And the pool was actually halfway decent and seemed to be clean for the most part. But the rules - ohhh....the rules. This place was more strict than a concentration camp! We were told we couldn't go in because we didn't bring a lock (which wasn't mentioned on the website). But we could leave our bag outside with an attendant if we wanted to change outside first. No prob, we were already wearing our bathing suit. So Erica but her wrap thing on over her bathing suit. Sorry, they told her, you can't have a multi-colored wrap, solid colors only. We went inside and had to take a mandatory shower (again, the concentration camp illusion :o/ ), which was somewhat comforting so that people wouldn't take their first bath in a week at the pool. Inside, NY Parks people yelled at us for using a cell phone, saying they weren't allowed. And they yelled at people in the observation area above the pool area, saying "you can't stand there", etc. etc. etc. Of course, there was no problem with kids running around the pool at full speed. That was grounds for expulsion where I grew up! But, it was nice to take advantage of the free pool, even for just two hours or so on a Sunday night.

J. Riley, needless to say, Erika isn't really interested in going back to Jackson Heights for dancing, but I thought it was a great cultural event for a Saturday night :o).

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Public Launch

Q: J. Riley, you're quite geaky, where's the website for your Peruvian wedding?
A: With an official launch date of right now, check out

J. Riley, I'll notify you of any updates. If you're not on my list for the wedding, speak now or forever hold your peace.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

End of the Season

Fall has come early this year to New York, which isn't a bad thing.
August has felt more like September with cool, comfortable nights and
mildly warm days. I've said before and will repeat again: September is
the best time of year to live in or visit New York!

At the same time, many of the summertime activities that I've enjoyed
are also coming to an end. Tonight is the last foreign-film at the
hipster- and artist-filled Sculpture Park near my apartment. Luckily,
my Saturdays will continue to be occupied well into September by my
mid-day capoeira lessons, followed by preparing a protein-heavy lunch
(my responsibility on most weekends) and, as of last weekend, watching
Liverpool games!

A few weeks back, I had my final meeting at the Muscular Dystrophy
Clinic to get my bloodwork results back and find out just how
genetically mutated I am. Naturally, they decided to schedule me at
EXACTLY mid-day 12:30, since the clinic is located about an hour
subway away on the upper-upper-upper West-side in Washington Heights.
This, of course, means that I have to use a sick day for work because
it is almost a guarantee that they will be behind schedule and I'll be
lucky if it takes only three hours for travel and meeting times.

So Erika and I go uptown nice and early and arrive about five minutes
late and are flirting with the thought of eating lunch after the
appointment because the clinic is completely devoid of patients
waiting to be seen. After a 15 minute wait, we get sent to the exam
room. Another 30 minutes goes by before the resident doctors come in
to examine the curious genetic specimen that I am, tapping me with
little hammers to see my muscles cramp up and seeing if my body
functions the same way that it has the past fifty times they have
tested me. And, of course, it did. Same muscle strength, same issue
with my hands, and the new resident doctors sitting behind the more
experienced doctors ooohing and ahhing with every kick of my feet.
Yea, yea, yea, get on with it already, get the real doctor in here,
I'm thinking. I want my damn blood results!

They leave and we wait another 30 minutes for the real doctor and his
resident entourage to come back and perform the same tests AGAIN. And
then, let's talk about your blood results. Or LACK OF. I got blood
taken from me back in early May in my stairwell at my apartment before
going to work, hoping that some neighbor of mine didn't come down the
stairs thinking I was a junkie getting a little morning buzz before
going to the bus station. Despite taking about a gallon of blood,
apparently the testing company performed the WRONG TEST on my blood,
so they had no results.

Ex-squeeze me? Baking Powder? How do you make a small mistake on a
$5000 DNA blood test? Naturally, the doctor pointed the finger at the
company who did the blood test, something about them changing codes
and not telling the clinic, blah blah blah. I didn't care whose fault
it was, the doctor was in front of me and he would feel my fury! I
couldn't believe that they would have me take a whole day off work in
August when the WRONG results came in back in late June and they
didn't notice until now. He apologized (for the blood company, of
course) and said the blood company would do the right test with the
other gallon-minus-one-drop of blood they had left and they could call
me with the results. Gee, that would have been a good option in the
first place!

Five hours later, and we finally got back home. What a waste of day.
The next week, the admin called me and said "yea, the blood company
wants to go ahead and take another blood sample." Of course, I told
them what the doctor said so she was going to call me back after
talking to them. She calls back and says yep, they need more blood! I
was not amused and asked who was going to pay for it this time. "Don't
worry, we'll just bill your insurance". The hell you will, I told her!
Insurance doesn't pay for everything and I am not paying a dime for a
second test or another appointment. They agreed to take care of it (of
course I got it in writing) and now I get to wait for the mosquito to
come back to my apartment and take more blood, followed by another
month of delays and waiting. It'll be great if they come back with the
results and have determined that I was mis-diagnosed the whole time,
like on that show "Mystery Diagnosis". I don't think I'll be so lucky!

J. Riley, time to go prepare for tonight's feature presentation!

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Bux Town Wedding

So Erika and I are going to my friend Jeff's wedding down in Charleston, SC in October. Last I checked, it's now August and somehow I hadn't arranged all of my travel plans yet - what's happening to me!!! Last week, I checked the flights down there and they were a whopping $274 each for a direct flight. Doing the math for flight and hotel, I was looking at a grand. Geez, and I'm having a hard enough time paying for my own wedding!

Anyway, I checked flights later in the week only to almost gouge my eyes out when I saw how much flights were now going for. Is this possible? I considered a 12-hour road trip in a rental car but for a weekend trip that's quite a haul and with gas and rental car prices, I'd probably come out even.

So last night, I started the great search for reasonable flights and ended up booking them to Charlotte for $200 a pop. Pretty reasonable price, but that's still a four hour drive to Charleston. So, I decided to use something I've never tried before: . I actually bid $14 for a rental car and got it accepted! With all their scam fees and taxes, it's going to be $100 for the weekend, but that's not bad. Plus, I'm taking a day off on Friday for the flight and drive and it'll be October so the drive should be beautiful. Monday is Colombus Day and is a holiday for me, so that'll be a four-day weekend for us in what is supposedly lovely, historic Charleston, SC.

J. Riley, finally I'll be getting my long-desired road-trip, long weekend. Too bad it's not until October!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Maybe Not Free as a B(ird) Afterall

Last week, I mentioned that one of my recent "Free-B's" was going to
our wonderful neighborhood gym (note sarcasm) Synergy (Astoria, for
the Google searches) for one month, because we were going to quit this
place like a bad habit as soon as we made our mandatory 12th
appearance. Well, just like I have not been able to successfully quit
my bad habit of biting my finger nails, I was not able to successfully
make the 12th appearance within one month in order to quit the gym,
thanks to my lack of ability to count from one to four on my calendar.
Looks like I either have to get used to the terrible spin instructor
or, shocker, have to actually motivate MYSELF to expend energy in the
form of body heat and sweat. Yawn...

Another possible by-product of not being able to get my money back
from the gym is that I certainly cannot now enroll in the capoeira
classes that my heart yearns for. I've been taking the "Free-B"
classes for this Brazilian martial art/dance every Saturday that I am
able to and this weekend completed my third class and have noticed
amazing results in that time. I can almost do a full cartwheel now,
compared to when I started when I made it a quarter of the way before
crashing shoulder-first into the ground. Hand-stands are going to take
some more work, but suffice to say that I am satisfied that I pulled
off a cartwheel and a spontaneous round-house kick while "playing"
capoeira after my class on Saturday. My progress is slow, but we'll
see where I'm at at the end of September when the free classes finish.

A few weeks back, Erika and I completed our requirements for getting
married in a Catholic church by attending our mandated Pre-Cana course
way down in Brooklyn on Friday night and all day Saturday. What I
thought was going to be a forced-feeding of Catholicism actually
turned out to be an interesting class more about our marital
relationship. Poor Erika had to trudge through a workbook that used
highly-complex adjectives to describe various aspects of our
relationship - certainly not things that she's learning in her classes

Speaking of her classes, she is completing intensive-training English
4 (out of 8) this week and what a difference a class makes! She also
started working part-time yesterday in a data-entry/software testing
type of job, which will be good for her so that she can practice her
English with people other than me. Hopefully they can keep her busy
since she's out of school for a month starting next week!

J. Riley, my hamstrings and muscles in my lower back are still sore
after capoeira on Saturday. The twists, turns, and kicks are doing
their job!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A Memory Worth Preserving

As the tune started playing in iTunes, I was presented with a flashback:
  • Location: In my two-tone, manly, muffler-less, '65 Buick Special, somewhere in my stomping grounds of high school and/or possible college.
  • Scene: Listening to a tape of Euro hits that I'd recorded during one of three recent trips to Germany.
  • Memory: Listening to a power love-ballad from Bon Jovi that I'd heard and recorded in Europe. Just as the song climaxes, the tape hits the end of the side and I'm left wondering if he's wrong, if he's wrong, this ain't a love song :o)
J. Riley, thanks D for rekindling that classic!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Evolution of a Blog

Today, I sat at work pondering important questions about life, i.e. if my undoubtedly disgruntled blog readers have indeed upgraded their Firefox to Version 3.0. I decided to do a quick check on my blog statistics, the hits of which were obviously depressing because of the lack of new content these days. But I did see that many people visiting my blog now are finding my site as a result of a Google search for a variety of subjects. I clicked on an old story that was the result of one person's search and read the blog of yore from 2005 and found myself pretty amused at the story and amazed that I had actually written something so witty and comprehensive. And it got me thinking on the elevator ride down and the bus ride home, what has changed? Is it the result of Tivo/DVR's proliferation into my household? The limited social life as a result of things like jaw surgery and leaving the center of the universe to move to a neighborhood that was uninspiring and where I didn't belong? Finally having a meaningful relationship with a girl? Or is it simply the evolution of a blog, the transition from something to record life's stories in into something to read and remember life's stories? Maybe it's a combination of all of the above. Clearly I can't blog as much about jet setting across the country for a weekend, a full weekend of debauchery, or about the nuances of being married, but there are plenty of new things I can talk about.

Last night we went down to see our free movie of the week, My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding. I thought back to when I saw it a few years back to see if I could somehow relate this to my experience in Peru but my memory of the movie was pretty bleak, like it is with most movies. But as we sat there watching it, I realized that there were many subtle things that Erika and I could relate to and we both cracked up about them. I asked her if she thought my parents would be like the "Miller" family in the movie - dry, boring gringos with little interest or knowledge about foreign cultures or customs. She said yes - and was very happy to learn back when she met them that my parents are nothing like them! After recently requesting RSVPs from my friends and family who initially planned to come to my wedding in Peru and realizing that very few are going to come afterall, I laugh when I think about the wedding scene in that movie where the bride's side of the church is packed with hundreds of people and the groom's side has about 10 people - that's totally going to be my wedding! (Side note-if you didn't get the RSVP request email and you want to come, you better email me because apparently I don't have your email address!) Anyway, we enjoyed the movie and had a nice little picnic on a beautiful night again.

Have you ever learned a foreign language on your own? I really need to get to work on my Spanish ASAP and am really getting bored with my Pimsleur speak and repeat lessons. Anyone ever used Rosetta Stone? I tried out their demo for Turkish and actually learned a few things in the five minutes I used it. I might have to give them a try, let me know if you've ever used it! I am using some of the Spanish I know at home and am learning new words from Erika, but they are mostly words that she says to me or about me, things like "susio" (dirty), "que asco" (disgusting), "tacaño" (stingy), etc. While these are valuable, I could use some expansion on my vocabulary and grammar ;o) .

J. Riley, doesn't anyone want to come visit us in New York other than some obscure Germans from the past?

Monday, July 14, 2008

Free B's

It's summer-time in the city, which is a great time of the year for us - other than the weather. While I'm not technically in the city as much as I used to be, Erika and I have been taking advantage of all the free B's that are at our disposal both in our wonderful new community of Astoria as well as some in Manhattan.

- Big Muscles - As in things that I aspire to. We signed up for a local gym near our apartment a few weeks back, getting an amazing deal and paying less than $30 a month for a gym with a decent amount of spin classes and weight lifting equipment, as well as a four-week money-back guarantee that we would be satisfied calling this gym home for the next year. A day after signing up, Erika and I both found out why this gym was so cheap and had already decided to make all the required visits within four weeks to call it quits at this gym.

First of all, from the first time we entered the place, I had already decided that I didn't like the sleezy manager there. He kept butting in on our membership salesman and repeating things that we had just been told. I just had a real bad feeling about the guy.

Second of all, we each had a free session with a physical trainer. You would think a gym with various physical trainers would have a revolutionary time-management tool called a "schedule" so that a new member could figure out what time slots are available for both themselves and the trainer. Not at Synergy! Their trainers just assume that you are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and tell you what time to come in, and then change the time during the same conversation because they don't know if they have someone already coming in at the same time. Terrible. And the free physical training session was really a 20 minute evaluation to see if I'm in shape (duh, I could have told him I'm not in shape) and then 40 minutes of trying to get you to sign up for unreasonably expensive sessions, claiming that he was so good that he didn't need new people to sign up and that paying for a wedding is not as important as looking good in the wedding. And bringing in sleezy manager to try to talk me into it.

Third, the classes. I pretty much only go to the gym for classes, especially the very motivational spin classes. The spin equipment at our new gym is from like the 80's and are horrible. To top that off, we had a huge, buff Eastern Euro spin teacher who was cussing and swearing from the minute he walked in about how he's too old to be teaching this class and not even willing to help new people adjust their bike. He was more impressed with checking himself out in the mirror than he was with making audible instructions during the class. Erika tried the belly dance class but said that it was worthless and she couldn't even break a sweat and didn't learn anything. I tried the Jui Jitsu class with all these experienced fighters and ended up with bruises all over my body - though the class itself was alright (if you know what you're doing, and I don't).

Fourth, this is a place for meat-heads. You may think this would be the perfect place for someone like me and my physique, but I actually don't really like going to gyms where everyone is huge and making me look weaker than I am.

Suffice to say that the four weeks will be free, because we're quittin' this gym big time as soon as possible.

- Big, Fat, Greek Wedding - As in the movie. We have free movies in various Astoria parks along the river during the week - weather permitting. Last week we got down to Astoria park and made a picnic and watched Happy Feet. This week is My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding, though last night's downpour may have been a bit too much to enjoy the grassy knoll that we sit on to watch the free movie.

- Bon Jovi - As in New Jersey and camel toes. Yes, we totally rocked a FREE Bon Jovi concert - in Central Park! D totally hooked Erika and me up with hard-to-get tickets to the free concert that was being put on as part of the baseball All-Star game festivities. And it was awesome!
It was great way to spend a Saturday night and I am totally going to download some Bon Jovi hits this week to relive the experience.

- Brazilian Martial Arts - As in Capoeira. We have free beginner Capoeira classes every Saturday afternoon at a park around the corner from our apartment. These are true beginner classes that are a great workout and are actually pretty fun. I hoping to someday have the strength and grace to perform some of the kicks we learn. But at least everyone is as bad as me! It's pretty fun though, and there's enough experienced fighters there to help me refine my technique.

- Burgers and Beer - As in totally free! One of my favorite restaurants in my new neighborhood celebrated their one-year birthday with a free burger and beer event. The place got rated the best new restaurant in Queens and they have great Asian/French food that we have sampled quite a bit - especially on their 2-for-$10 nights! Anyway, Erika and I got down there nice and early to get a seat and gorged away on our free dinner and beverages until about 8:30. While the place and the corner sidewalk outside were pretty packed, I can only imagine the mayhem and chaos that would exist if someone in Manhattan tried to pull the same stunt. It had a comfortable and friendly ambiance, just like most of the rest of our new neighborhood.

J. Riley, finally got a summer update in!