Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Breakup Soup

A guest post for Kirsten's cooking blog I Eat Veg:

I've never been much in the kitchen. It's just not my gift and I'm jealous of the people with the cooking skills. They make it seem so easy, throwing spices, adding dashes and turning oven knobs with a taunting confidence.

But today I'm making my contribution to the culinary arts; a recipe I created last summer called Breakup Soup. It's cheap, delicious, and single-person friendly. And it takes, like, a minute and a half to make. I literally lived off this for months. Of course I also lost about ten pounds during that time, so maybe it should be more of a treat than the entirety of your diet.


Blue Corn Tortilla Chips

STEP 1 - Have a debilitating breakup

STEP 2 - Pour chips onto a plate or bowl and try not to think about debilitating breakup

STEP 3 - Crush the chips in a million little pieces, just like she did to your heart

STEP 4 - Add salsa, red like the color of valentines, roses and your pain-poisoned blood

STEP 5 - Mix.

STEP 6 - Eat.

STEP 7 - Go where it takes you.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


1. A move happened.
And while my arms and legs burn like I just shimmied up Everest (it was actually just the two back flights of stairs to Kirst's apartment, scaled 600 or so times), and my Achilles tendons are threatening to snap if I break out into sudden dance (which I have been known to do), our relationship surprisingly shows no signs of wear. Now, I'm not going to lie. It was completely shocking to arrive Thursday night and, instead of finding her apartment in a state of neatly boxed moving appropriateness, open the door to this:

"What!" she says. "I've been doing stuff!"

"I didn't say anything!"

The fact is, there are an inconceivable amount of things that need to be done when you suddenly have two weeks to move your entire life to a new state, new job, new car. And in between taking care of business, Kirst launched a full-on bi-state farewell tour that included seeing each of her closest friends at least twice (four if they have a baby), and getting in one last meal at each of her 25 favorite restaurants. What can I say, the girl's a social butterfly, and it's one of the things I adore about her (we both have August birthdays but I always say she's the real Leo). So packing was a low priority and ended up getting done during and up until the final seconds of move-out day. But in the end, we nailed it, and within about 36 hours the monolith of mess you saw above had been safely transported to Michigan and stacked in the 50 square feet of floor space that we call The Manor.

2. The saga continues. A couple of weeks ago I alerted you to the world series of trash talk, a comments section on a site for illegally downloading movies. Believe it or not, those idiots are still going at it.

If someone were compiling an anthology of their caveman hate poetry, FORSALE8859's entry from five days ago would have to make the cut. I quote:


No less eloquent though, was crom271's brilliant little stanza posted 6 hours ago (this thread war has been going strong for over a week!):

paulzoeknate I am not suprised that you agree with forsales. Gay‘s always agree together. So fuckin fagget keep your opinion to yourself and do what you are doing best...Go suck a dick

If this keeps up it's going to fester into some kind of mini world war, with UN peace keepers and secret prisons. Was it Robert Frost who wondered if the world would end in fire or ice? Maybe it ends in douchebaggery.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

String Theory

In a few hours I will get on a train headed for Chicago. We're moving Kirsten out of the city she's called home for four years now and into the sub-posh digs at my Ferndale Manor. I've been Lord of the Manor for nearly eight years (with a couple of key co-Lords along the way), but the house has never felt so bright as when she's powering it.

I have a theory about places. It's not even a theory really, as much as a mental picture: as we go about our days, driving the same routes to and from work, crossing the same streets, frequenting the same shops, we pull an invisible yarn behinds us that threads through the soul of things. It's just yarn - a couple of passes with it and it won't hold, you could pull it out with a tug. But do that for a year or five - or in my case eight - and you've sewn yourself down. That's how roots are made. I'm not against roots, or the feeling of home, but I know that I've outgrown a lot of things in the past few years. Inside, I'm not tied down to the same states of mind I was. At some point we have to cut those strings and sew new ones in new places that have room for our better versions.

For the immediate future though, Kirsten and I will happily settle in at the Manor and continue our scheme of love. And as soon as we can bounce out of there, we will. It's all about new starts these days, new territories. I'm anxious to hit all those new territories with this face by my side:

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

My Compliments

A female co-worker of mine has embraced her Judaism later in life. As a bonus, she's found that it's brought her much closer to her extended family. Female cousins are like "girlfriends" now and she's got family/social engagements coming out her ears, including invitations to two Passovers. One of these invitations was from a newly girlfriendy cousin, who said: "We want you to come. We all think you're so interesting..." She's telling me this, laughing, and fumbling to put into words just why this remark of her cousin was so...

"Yes, it was a nonpliment," I said cooly from behind my desk, my spindly fingers forming a steeple as I gently pressed fingertips to fingertips.

"What's a nonpliment?" She asked, intrigued, a hint of recognition already dawning on her face like a sunrise over the African Sahara.

"It's a statement that seems like a compliment at first, but upon further reflection actually says nothing at all. It's non-content; neither a compliment nor a bompliment."

At this her expression exploded in understanding. "Yes! That's what it was. That's exactly what it was. A nonpliment. Ha ha. But – what was that last part you said? A bomb-pliment? I've never heard of such a thing."

I nodded, chuckled, and smiled in calm condescension, always happy to dispense nuggets of esoteric wisdom I've gathered in my broadly lived life.

"A bompliment is just what it sounds like. Like the nonpliment, it too at first seems to be a compliment. Only, instead of having no negative or positive content of any sort, it's really a thinly disguised dis. A bomb has been dropped, so to speak, which only explodes in afterthought. Hence the name, bompliment."

"Oh, I think I understand. Like the time that Jane Johnsonson in legal said to me, 'You know, I've never thought much of your looks, but you look awesome today?'"

"Well, not quite." I said, pleased to make the distinction. "What Ms. Johnsonson said was actually a fourth variety of compliment. It contained both an outright dis and a legitimate compliment in one. There's no catchy name for it - that I know of, anyway - but I'd be happy to look into this matter further. However, on further thought, I suppose the tone she encased it in probably seemed complimentary on the surface and so, because it sheathed a daggardly dig, might possibly qualify as a bompliment proper."

On and on the discussion went, in waves of semantic glee.


As far as I know, the phrase "nonpliment" originated in my band. It was derived from "bompliment," which had been floating around the backwaters of the zeitgeist for years (Rodrigo imported it into Judah Johnson as he had similarly smuggled in so many things; Cuban cigars, exotic plants, rare diseases). But we needed a new term for a new breed of comment that is particular to band life.

The scenario is this: you're on tour, headlining another three-band bill with two locals in an endless string of three-band bills with two locals. It's not that you're not supportive of local music. It's not that you don't like other bands or aren't interested in discovering new groups. It's that you're tired and fried, have been in a dark, smoky bar every night for weeks in a row, and so sometimes you sit out the opening acts and call your girlfriend. Or go read a book in the nearest coffee shop before your set. The only downside to this is the awkward moment when you're loading your gear on stage and the band before you is coming off. What do you say? You didn't actually see their performance. Or, worse, you did and you honestly didn't like it. You could try not saying anything at all, but inevitably some kind of eye contact is made as that band member, high on post-show adrenaline, looks straight at you craving something, anything in the way of validation.

"You, uh... you guys really looked like you were having fun up there." This was actually said by our drummer, Charlie, to someone in another band during one of these situations. When the rest of us heard about it later we were so disgusted (yet entertained) that we made him promise to never say that to another person again. But what kind of comment was it, we asked? It wasn't a bompliment. A bompliment would have been: "Wow. Your show really reminded me why I like punk rock - you don't even have to know how to play your instrument to do it."

The genius of Charlie's comment was how completely non-commital it was. We christened it a nonpliment.

The greatest nonpliment of all time was given not by my band, but to my band, during a tour we did a few years ago. We were actually the openers in this instance, and the headliner was a solo act who left much to be desired in the way of good. "Let's give it up for Judah Johnson," he said between songs. "They're really a band of musicians."

Though all of us had been slobbering with boredom, we perked up with admiration for the brilliant nonpliment he had just thrown our way. A band of musicians. Indeed.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Fone Culture Post: Searching for "Champ"

Just posted on Fone Culture tonight about my year-long search for a song that I heard on an HBO show. With the avenues of consumerism being hog-greased by the internet these days, it's kind of remarkable that there is anything out there like that that can't be found and purchased in under a minute. But it's all true.

Yes, Please

Sometimes - ever so rarely - you've got to give it up for corporate America.

As if from a dream, a man wearing a green jester hat and pushing a cart full of booze stopped outside the door of my office and asked, in a plausible Irish brogue, if I wanted anything to drink. I looked up from my desk, bewildered. Hurrying to answer before he evaporated into thin air, I said, " any whiskey?"

He did.

It happened.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Poetic Exchange Gone Wrong

Another great moment in g-chat history. Or maybe it's a horrible moment in g-chat history. I can't tell.

The setup: apparently my friend Nicolle was drunk on pre-spring. Or New York. Or something. So she instant messages me poetry. If that sounds a little odd, you should know that stuff like this happens all the time in my world. Which makes me wonder, am I the only guy getting such depth of experience out of the chat and text mediums? I have great friends.

Nicolle: Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
-William Yeats

me: I ain’t got no money
I ain’t got no car to take you on a date
I can’t even buy you flowers
But together we could be the perfect soulmates
Talk to me girl
- Timbaland

Nicolle: I was trying to come up with a rap like that. My friends and I came up with a hook but we need more lyrics to fill the in between

me: The day you start rapping I fully expect the anti christ to arrive in power and terror

Nicolle: hahahaha
I'm not THAT white
I still got flavah

me: oh god

Nicolle: remember I'm Puerto Rican

me: true. but you've been away from the homeland for a long time
perhaps too long

Nicolle: true dat, dog.

me: you must stop

Nicolle: why you illin, yo?

me: i'm not illin. i'm looking for something sharp around here to take myself out with

Nicolle: don't be frontin D. My shit is tight. Fo shizzle.

me: seriously, our friendship is at stake

Nicolle: ok. fine.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Hard Way

I think the Feds are monitoring my house. Either that, or it's Palma parked in the white van out front, fingering his mustache and contemplating revenge. But if my house is under surveillance, the transcript of last night's tap would show that this happened, word for word.

The setup: I'm sitting on the couch computing while Claire is taking her bath. She's singing songs and speaking in voices, creating mini bath dramas with her dolls. I had just gotten deep into reading an article I found online when...

Claire: Daddy. I'm ready to get out of my bath.

Me: [distracted] What? Oh, ok. Hold on.

A minute passes.

Claire: I'm ready to get out of my bath daddy.

Me: Ok babe. Just one second. Give me a few more minutes.

30 Seconds pass.

Claire: Daddy? Are you going to get me out of the bath?

Me: [trying desperately to stay in the article] Yeah, Claire. Can you just hold on a sec. Seriously, just give me two more minutes, ok?

Another minute passes. She starts talking in doll voices again and then...

Claire: Do you want to do this the hard way or the easy way?

Silence. I know what I just heard, but surely she must have been talking to her dolls.

Me: Are you talking to me?

Claire: Yes.

Me: What do you mean? What's the hard way?

Claire: I keep asking you if you're going to get me out of the bath.

Me: What's the easy way?

Claire: You come right now.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Hello Kitties

So, Kirsten's move has begun and I have cats again. And not just cats but hulking, black and white fur-manatees. Lucy and Tobias are siblings. Lucy's pretty hefty, but Tobias is just a moose. The floorboards creak when he walks and he's always reaching down to loosen his belt and then realizing that he's a cat and he's not wearing one. I don't even have a picture of him to post here because I don't own a lens wide enough to capture his girth. He goes by Tobes for short, pronounced "Tohhhbes," in a slow surfer drawl. That's fitting because he has a stoner's disposition - perpetually calm and given to flopping over onto his back. Lucy is a chill one too, but that sweetness masks a born troublemaker. Her favorite pastime is waiting for the house to go to sleep and then ransacking the place like she's faking a burglary.

Kirsten spotted them as kittens 11 years ago while accompanying a friend to the animal shelter and made a rash, on-the-spot decision to adopt them. Since then they've lived with her all over the damn place, in big and small cities. And now, after four years of the Chicago high life, they've arrived at the Manor. Guess who's thrilled about it?

Guess who's so thrilled she spent the day in a catsuit rolling around on the ground, meowing?

Growing up, the Johnson house was a cat house. I was raised to know the joys of waking to your hair getting licked off by a sandpapery cat tongue (which, everybody knows, is basically a brillo pad that cats wipe their asses with). I liked our cats, but it never translated into becoming a "cat person." And so, though I always considered myself a friend of the feline, I had no real desire to get one of my own when I struck out to carve my way in the world. I was living a petless single existence. That is, until Keith Sanchez.

I found Keith about a year before Claire was born, in a parking lot. He tried to buy weed from me and, though I couldn't help him, we hit it off talking about our different backgrounds. He was fascinated by my descriptions of living in southern California, miles from the Tijuana border, and he regaled me with stories of his Mexican ancestors, all of them freedom fighters. I decided to put him up until he could check himself into a decent rehab program. He never moved out.

Keith lived hard. There were mornings I'd wake up to find him passed out in the living room, empty wine bottles scattered like so many leaves. When I left for tour that first summer he got into a bottle of AJAX, no doubt assuming it was some heaven-sent can of blow, and my roommate found him passed out with his nose all covered in chemical snow. He had to get his stomach pumped. And then there was that time he sold ad space on our front lawn and scored himself an eight-ball and a couple of Eight Mile hookers with the proceeds. But though Keith had his fair share of demons, it was his gentle charisma that he'll be remembered for most. He was stocky. Handsome. With smoldering eyes and thick fur. To women, he was entirely irresistible. And men wanted to be him.

Over the years I came to know him as a mess of contradictions: a lovable rapscallion; a misogynist with an insatiable hunger for women; a son of Mexican immigrant parents who was still, somehow, the quintessential American cat. And the most telling of all: he dreamed always of RevoluciĆ³n!, a bright vision of a new Mexico, but wasted his days instead sprawled on the couches and floors of my Ferndale home in half inebriation, a slave to the sauce. I think deep down Keith hated himself for this.

Ultimately what endeared Keith to me most was the way he was so gentle with Claire when she was a baby. Anybody else, he'd mangle their hand just for petting him funny; and even as Claire ascended into toddlerhood, he began to take the gloves off a bit. But in those first months, he was all cuddles. True, if he had made one false move I would have brained him with lasting damage. Still, I appreciated his soft manner with my infant child.

In the fall of 2006 I was on tour in Kansas City. I got a call from my then roommate, Tim, saying Keith was making strange sounds. Four hours later, Keith was put to sleep. The vet said he had developed a urinary blockage that, untreated, was fatal as well as extremely painful. The procedure for it was over a grand and they told me point-blank he would probably develop it again. I didn't have a thousand dollars. Not even close. He's buried behind the shed in my backyard now.

Keith was a cat with the soul of a dog, the claws of a tiger and the carnal appetites of a bandito. He had many names - Tubesteak, Diablo, Biggs Brigante - but only one home while he lived. Mine.

Vaya Con Dios, Keith.

Friday, March 7, 2008

The Rosetta Stone of Idiot Culture

When archaeologists dig up the chemically-poisoned remains of our civilization thousands of years from now, they're going to find a lot to be confused and disgusted by. Such as Ugg boots, professional wrestling paraphernalia, Detroit, and landfills of magazines dedicated to stalking and reporting on people who've become famous for no good reason. And if the internet survives in some type of artifact form, there will be no better example of our devolving culture than the guttural, profane and unintentionally hilarious douchebaggery that occurs daily on message boards and comments sections the Web over.

There are inexhaustible examples of this to choose from. But this, this might possibly be the Rosetta Stone. The greatest find of them all. It's a comments page from a bittorrent site - which hosts movies that people can easily download illegally. Remember, anyone uploading these files is doing it without permission. And everybody else, like duditz565, maxim66 and dikhead, are all getting something for nothing. You'd think there'd be a little modesty, possibly even thankfulness. And yet, observe how entitled and angry they are. How they devour each other, trading insults with the grammatical proficiency of grade schoolers and people with closed-head injuries.

I present to you: The Rosetta Stone of Idiot Culture

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Painfully Intimate Zoos Story

This is that feature I've been working on for the Metro Times. The band posted a link to it on their myspace page and described it as "painfully intimate."

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Double Bubble Trouble Bear

I realized lately that there is a kind of madness going on around Claire's bedtime that nobody would believe if I tried to explain it. It's like, in the 10 minutes preceding lights out, the souls of her entire day care class leap into her little body to form one powerful, giggly toddler demon. Imagine The Excorcist if, instead of making her vomit pea soup and spin her head around, the devil made that girl prance about like a sparkle fairy and say the most unintentionally cute shit of all time.

So tonight I set out to prove it and brought a sound recorder into her bedroom to capture whatever happened. On the whole, she was subdued, almost as if she knew I was gathering evidence of her happiness and wanted to thwart me. But I did manage to snag some audio of us doing this little Abbott and Costello routine of ours.

I should explain. I used to call Claire my Bubble Bear when she was a lot younger. Then later, and I can't remember why, it became the basis of a taunt; this song I'd sing to her that goes, Claire bear's a bubble bear. A bubble, double trouble bear. Bubble trouble double bubble trouble bubble bubble bear. Only Claire's not one to take taunting lightly and so one day she flipped it on me. I won't say any more than that except that we can literally do this routine forever. It comes in handy in grocery stores and long lines.

The setup: Claire is being tucked in for the night and asks me to sing her a song.

Double Bubble Trouble Bear