Wednesday, July 27, 2011

We Only Said Goodbye With Words

So, amidst my vacation and LJ's general asshattery, I learned the rather sad news that Amy Winehouse, an artist I was exceedingly fond of, passed away at the alarmingly young age of 27. A lot of people have said a lot of things about her, and they're entitled to their opinion.

I first heard of her around the same time almost everyone I know did, when people started linking to her video of "Rehab" around the time Britney Spears had her bald-headed freakout and got shipped off for her first of many involuntary psychiatric holds. I liked the song immediately - it was sharp, it was funky, the lyrics were clever, and it had horns, which is a major musical weakness of mine. I love me some brass and woodwinds on a track.

New Orleans Girl had just started working with me around that time, and I asked if she'd heard of it. She's generally way ahead of the curve music-wise, and already had the album in her possession. We listened to it at work a lot, so much that I got my own copy as soon as I could. It's a fantastic, fantastic collection of songs, with Amy growling over a whirlwind of moaning horns, thumping bass and drums and dirty guitar. I can't lie - the songs "You Know I'm No Good" and "Back to Black" would send me back to the repeat button far more than some of the others, but I loved every bit of that album. And when New Orleans Girl introduced me to "Valerie", I went nuts. It was a perfect combination of vocal and instrumental, produced beautifully, and what I point to first when explaining why Mark Ronson is one of the best producers around today.

I tried not to pay too much attention to the train wreck that Amy's life started to become after awhile. I just wanted her butt back in the studio, writing and releasing new songs. (Preferably good ones). I discovered other, similar artists that I came to really enjoy as well - Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings, Adele, Kate Nash...but I still hoped that Amy was going to record another amazing record and blow everyone away.

Instead Adele did that (What, you haven't listened to 21 yet? GO. IMMEDIATELY.) and Amy died. :/

I realized today that despite New Orleans Girl's urging, I never listened to "Frank", Amy's debut. She'd said it was more "Erikah Badu-esque", and I kind of shrugged it off, as I much preferred the post-apocalyptic Ronnie Spector vibe she had on "Back to Black." But after learning that there would be no more albums, I finally cued it up on Spotify (a new toy I'm still learning how to use) and had a listen.

Now I am truly sad. The music is funky and jazzy - combining bebop swing with hip hop bounce seamlessly. And the lyrics are equally good - as sharp and funny as anything on Back to Black, if not better.

I wish she'd put more tracks down in the studio than tracks in her arm. I really do. It's a fucking waste that we lost someone with so much potential, and I feel that way someone young and promising meets and untimely end, especially when it's due to addiction. It's so unfair.

One song I heard on Frank just now sent chills up my spine. It's called "October Song," and looking back with 20-20 vision, let's just say it's a little prescient. Look that up, check it out. Check her out - she's more than a punchline, she's a great voice that we lost. And that's a fucking sad thing.


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

We're going to have so much fucking fun, we're going to need plastic surgery to remove our smiles!!

The last few times I've taken time off of work, even with J, they've largely been staycations. Aside from some NYC-based activity (which is no slouch, really), we've largely stayed home, much to the derision and consternation of others (despite our own satisfaction with it). So, when J informed me that he had some days to take off coming up, wheels began to turn, and we decided that it was high time we Went Somewhere.

See, J's family owns a lovely three-bedroom, two bath 18th Century farmhouse in the Hudson Valley region. For the unfamiliar, that's nestled between the capitol region in Albany and my hometown of NYC. It's about 2.5 hours by car, also somewhat accessible via train, and full of green and scenic scenery. Naturally, the house has been well-decorated and appointed by J's folks, combining mid-century touches with many of the original details of the house, making for a really impressive mix. We asked if we could possibly have it for a long weekend in July, and his folks were happy to oblige. I made arrangements with a rental car, and we even invited some friends up for part of it. I was definitely excited - I love the area, and this was going to afford us some opportunity to spend time up there to both relax and go do things, in addition to maybe a tiny bit of wedding-related recon.

The rental car was retrieved from Enterprise on Thursday morning. I was excited, because I had an upgrade coupon and we got everything together to get on the road nice and early. After some mild Manhattan traffic, we made good time and got upstate around noon. That's when the fun really started.

We arrived, turned on the house's central a/c unit, and set about unpacking and settling in. It seemed to take awhile for the a/c to cool off the house, if only to me. Now, I grew up in what some might consider dubious conditions - my house had neither a dishwasher nor central air conditioning. Mind you, we had sponges and window a/c units, so we all muddled through somehow. Anyway, we headed out for some lunch at really amazing local place called The Wild Hive and to pick up some provisions at A&P and cash at our respective ATMs. When we got home a few hours later, it became patently obvious that something was amiss. The house was still not showing evidence that the a/c was working, despite the fact that it was on high. (And with the exceptionally hot weather last week, ac was kind of crucial). We called J's folks, who called their local HVAC people, who said they'd come by Friday morning to see what was up. We had a nice dinner at a local (and delicious) BBQ joint, then came home and crashed early.

Friday J woke up to do some watering in his mom's extensive garden. When he went downstairs to head outside, I heard cursing. Turns out, there was a grapefruit-sized bulge in the ceiling that was leaking water. We scrambled and found a water-catcher, and called his folks yet again to inform them. Luckily, the HVAC people are also all-purpose handy-people, so they would be able to deal with this). Eventually, the colorful locals who run the HVAC company informed us of the following:

- The central air unit was fine, it's just that the house was hot, the weather extreme, it's an old building... (Riiight. Yet my hotel in August in Las Vegas in stupidly hot temperatures managed to get the rooms down to a chilly 60 degrees with no problem. WTF.)

- The leak was caused by the pipe that led to the shower head in the master bathroom upstairs. So we couldn't use the big bathroom to shower, we could only use the small shower on the first floor. They'd be back Monday to fix it. Greaaat.

(I'm not saying they weren't super entertaining. We heard some great stories, and they were pretty damn funny. But still. #$@%@#%)

We showered and headed out to Kingston (about 40 minutes away) to investigate wedding hotels. I learned a lot and felt like I made some good decisions regarding hotels to block for the wedding. We also had extra time between dinner plans with my friend Rob and his awesome gf Wendy, so we even saw Harry Potter. (Which was amazeballs). While wandering around the area (full of every chain restaurant and big box store in the known universe), we got a call from J's mom saying that she'd gotten a call from the alarm company that the power went out at the house. Thankfully, we were far away at that moment and not returning home until later, so we weren't worried, and we heard a couple of hours later that the power was back on, so no big. Friday passed without major incident, only including us getting lost on the way to meet our friends for an awesome dinner, which freaked me out. See, I'm a city girl to the nth power. I like cities, I feel comfortable there. Put me in the middle of a rural-ish area that I don't know and utter the phrase "I'm not sure where we are"? Hello, panic attack. Still, we got there, and more importantly, home, with no problem. The house wasn't too warm when we got back, either. So we came home, did a few things, then went to sleep.

Saturday was the big day of the weekend, as we were expecting four of our friends up, *our* first guests at the farmhouse. I was a little concerned about the house being warm in the morning, but didn't really concern myself with it too much. We had a really nice day with everyone despite the oppressive heat, and then when J took two of them back to the train, I hung out and played a fun card game called Fluxx with the two friends of ours who were crashing in the 2nd bedroom for the night. To our dismay, the house was extremely warm when we returned, and after a few hours, it became plainly obvious that the a/c had shit the bed and we were going to have to go without. Somehow, we managed through the hot, miserable night to endure, but it was the opposite of fun. I do have to extend my thanks to our overnight guests for their grace and good humor in a really crappy situation.

J called his folks in the morning after our guests had left and it was decided that we would head down to their Westchester house for the night when it became plainly obvious that no one would be able to come to look at the a/c unit before Monday, and we couldn't deal with another hot night. So we packed and headed out, a full day earlier than planned, but that's life in the country, I guess. We got down to his folks', had an incredible dinner cooked by J's dad (seriously one of the best meals of the weekend) and were settling in for the evening when I'd realized I'd left a bag I needed in the car.

The battery of the car was dead. Awesome. Because experience has taught me to always get full coverage, I called the roadside assistance people for a jump, and that's when our adventure really began.

The roadside guy made all sorts of upset faces at the sounds our car was making, and after performing a few tests, declared to us that the car had no oil in the engine. Now, I'm not exactly a pep boy, but I know that oil is pretty fucking important to a car's engine. He said that the car was not safe to drive and that we should call Enterprise for a replacement in the morning.

Thus really began our odyssey.

Me: Uh, hi. The car you gave me? It's borked.
Call to Enterprise Brooklyn: "Oh, they're just telling you that to get more money out of you."
Me: [redacted rage]
Them: "Uh, okay, you can call the office in the next town for a replacement."

The guys in the next town were super-helpful, especially after J's dad called and dropped his name, considering they see lots of business from him. They just had to wait for a car that they could give us. And the tow truck to come and get the broken car. After that half a day went by, we were FINALLY on the damn way back home, in the pouring, torrential rain.
There were wrong turns, and we didn't even have time to stop home first to drop off our stuff if we wanted to get the car back in time.

BUT - in a save worthy of Mariano Rivera, the super-apologetic Enterprise Brooklyn branch manager credited us a day on the rental and paid for our cab home. And he was wise to do so, as it prevented me from opening up the epic can of whoop ass I was prepared to launch at them. But after he explained that the employee who told me to drive the car anyway had been straightened out, and was extremely sorry for any inconvenience I was caused. Okay then. Eventually, we were home. And we'd survived.

I'm not saying there weren't highlights, there definitely were. But on the whole, this was a vacation worthy of the Griswold family. And as such, I leave you all with this song, which kept popping into my head over the course of the weekend as things just grew more and more ridiculous. As my dad said, "Times like that, you have to laugh. There's nothing else to do."

Back to work tomorrow. Hopefully that will be smoother than my time away from the office. :/

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