Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Avergonzado!

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'├ętat 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

Surprise!

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!