Superbowl Hostage Crisis

I have a problem with being a poor sport. This extend both to sports that I actually play and to spectator sports. The Superbowl this past Sunday was certainly no exception— in fact, it was pretty much the opposite of an exception. I watched it at my place with one friend who complained that I alternated between bouts of ‘passive aggressive’ (his formulation) gloom and insufferable smugness, and left during halftime. Before he left, I tried pointing out that my behavior couldn’t really be described as ‘passive aggressive’, since that would mean that it was somehow aimed at him, to get a rise or inflict suffering— and the truth is that I was far too grimly preoccupied by the game to give a damn about him. His response: ‘Well, I guess when it comes to passive aggression,  it’s all in the eye of the beholder’— which makes some sense, I have to admit.

This left me with one guest for the second half, which was probably one too many. Somehow, I’d always assumed that sports would mean less and less to me as I got older, but in fact, the exact opposite has happened— the weekend leading up to the Superbowl, I had two different dreams about the Patriots losing. This lucky soul who got to watch the game with me was a guy— a perfectly kind guy, really— whom I’d only met for five minutes the day before, but extended a invitation to join him once I ascertained that (a) despite being from New York, he wasn’t a partisan Giants fan and (b) he had no other plans and was planning to watch the game by himself at a bar otherwise.

Fast forward two-and-a-half hours and it’s 4am and I’m slumped on the sofa like I’ve been shot, reeling from a catastrophic last-minute loss, reeking of alcohol and bitterness. My guest is standing nervously by the door, trying to make bland, soothing conversational offerings. Gradually, it becomes apparent that the SBahn back to his place doesn’t leave for another 40 minutes. Swallowing hard, I’m able to resist my impulse to kick him out of my house (just out of raw, malign scapegoating— not like he’d done anything wrong) and halfway pull myself together to make acceptable conversation (we both lived in Prague, our wives are friends, our kids may end of at the same kindergarten) until he’s able to make his escape.

Incredibly, this is the second year I’ve wound up in this predicament. Last year, I watched the disheartening end of the 2010-11 Patriots season in a sports bar in Prague, where I noticed my neighbor sitting behind me and make a desperate attempt to sneak out without him after the terrible end. Once he foiled my escape and made it apparent that we would be taking the late night tram home together, I tried to shake him by announcing that I ‘actually really just feel like making the trip home on foot’ … at which point, he declared that he too felt like doing walking home. So, this was even worse: same grizzly requirement of prolonged small talk, but this was outdoors and in the cold in January at 3 or 4am.

Image: from the Onion, of course.

An L.A. Story

One tidbit from my US trip that I forgot to bring up before: while in SF, I took a quick side trip I took to L.A. to visit former co-blogger Krafty plus some other folks down there.

A mutual friend of ours in L.A.— let’s just call him ‘Job’ for this purpose of this post— is a writer and generally funny guy. For a long time, Job was dating a comedian. Comedian girlfriend, at one point, has a standup gig seven nights a week at a local comedy club (imagine: ‘oh, sorry, once again, we can’t meet because my girlfriend is performing for the 751st consecutive night.’) Then, comedian girlfriend dumps Job and quickly gets not one but two sitcoms picked up by broadcast networks. Yes, it turns out that ex-girlfriend is in fact Whitney Cummings, co-creator and co-producer of of 2 Broke Girls and star, co-producer, and co-creator of Whitney.

But it gets worse: Whitney is essentially a cynical comedy about relationships (‘All relationships end… in sweatpants‘ according to the show’s tagline). It stands to reason a large chunk of the comic material here was pulled from Whitney’s relationship with our friend Job. In fact, the guy in the show— Whitney’s male foil— kind of has the same aura about him as Job. So, imagine: you’re dumped by your girlfriend and suddenly the foibles of your relationship are cannon fodder for a TV sitcom with some stranger playing the part of you. And the city you live in is plastered with billboards for the sitcom like the one above, smirking down at you from dozens of major intersections. And it’s not like this is some obscure show either— it’s Thursday freaking prime time on NBC. I don’t want to overstate the case, but it does seem to be verging on worst-case-scenario territory.

My dad is also friends with Martha Stewart’s estranged former husband, Andy, whose enduring legacy is that fact that he bestowed the highly-marketable last name of Stewart upon Martha (nee Kostyra). But at least Martha never ventured into cynical romantic comedy territory.

Children and Alcohol: Together At Last

[Note: this post was originally written for another Mission-oriented blog, hence the direct references to San Francisco audience]

Raising a child is a breeze in Berlin thanks to the wide availability of kid-friendly beer gardens. (Note: a ‘child’ is a small human who has not yet achieved adult stature— I was a little unclear on this concept myself until I left the Mission.) Take, for example, Prater Garten on Kastanienallee in Prenzlauerberg: the space looks like about eight Zeitgeists stitched together, only without the whole ‘mistaking rudeness for authenticity’ issue that’s been haunting Zeitgeist for years.

Then, in the back, is a fully-equipped playground where you can semi-neglect your daughter or son while you enjoy sophisticated adult beverages nearby. Kids, in my observation, seem to eat this place up: first, they get to enjoy running around in the kid-sanctioned area… but then there’s also the illicit thrill of venturing out into the ‘dark side’, where grownups are presented in various states of alcohol-amplified enthusiasm.

Finally… you know you’re in a land of lessened litigation-culture when there’s a disused diving tower in the back of your local beer garden:

My friend tells the story of being at a kid birthday party at Prater when one of the children suddenly materialized on top of the diving stand. That’ll sober you up in a hurry.

How My First Weekend Back In Europe Was Spent On A Houseboat in South San Francisco

Hey, another travel misadventure! You would think I’d already had enough this year.

This time, my own smart-alecky tendencies were largely to blame. Explanation: my friend Will works as an engineer for United Airlines, so he is able to give me so-called ‘companion passes’ that allow me to fly standby for a fraction of the normal ticket price. The ‘companion pass’ racket is a real roll of the dice— sometimes you wind up in business class; other times, you wind up not getting on the flight altogether. However, in my previous seven companion pass forays, I’d only missed one flight (and with minimal consequences), so the overall risk factor seemed pretty small.

So, I arrive at the airport on Thursday at noon, ready to try my companion-pass luck— and wind up being the only person who doesn’t make it on the plane. It’s a really lonely feeling to watch an entire crowded boarding area worth of passengers gradually make their way onboard, only to be left at the end with a vacant room behind you and a bunch of shrugging flight attendants facing you. You spend the entire boarding routine in a heightened state of Zen powerlessness, futility commanding the last straggling passengers not to show up at the gate so you can get their ticket,  then gradually slouching into a soggy-beanbag-shaped crescent of defeat as they appear one by one in the closing seconds. One thing you learn from this experience is that the kind of people who show up at the gate to board an aircraft at the very last second really ARE the most disorganized goofballs that you’ll ever see in your life. It’s hard to stomach the fact that this specimen of abstracted doofus has supplanted you on the airplane until you remember that they actually bought a ticket and you didn’t.

Missing the one flight seemed benign enough… but then the next flight to Frankfurt was cancelled, and that’s where my troubles really began. Soon, it became apparent that I’d run into a virtual wall of oversold flights, and wouldn’t be getting out anytime soon. After having spent most of my stay in the Mission at this point, I wisely switched gears at this point and spent the next few days with my airline friend Will, who lives just 15 minutes from the airport. His place is The Libertine, a sailboat docked off the South San Francisco Marina:

His girlfriend Colleen, a flight attendant, lives in an adjacent houseboat that she calls The Sanctuary— but Will refers to as The Wild Thing— that was my home for the next three nights:

Thus began a strange three-day regimen: two trips per day to the airport that I decided to treat as though I was a devout Muslim and the airport was the local mosque— i.e. don’t question it, just do it. Stand in line, check in, robotically go through security, read Keith Richards’ Life while everyone bustlingly loads onto the plane, then stoically accept the news that the plane is full, text Will, walk out to the pickup area, jump into the van and get driven back to the marina for another few hours of rancho relaxo… then back the airport for another attempt… then off to the city for nighttime antics.

With the notable exception of these futile, ritualistic airport trips, the rest of my stay was spent in a hazy condition resembling a mixture of Gilligan’s Island and quaaludes. I made a feeble attempt to help Will with fixing up his boat, but then soon retired to a lot of this:

Here’s a typical dinner on the boat, before heading out into the city:

Finally, after a fifth failed attempt to get on a flight, my impatience and desire to see my wife and son became insurmountable, and so I jumped online in the airport… and managed to find a flight from SFO to Dusseldorf the next day for $500. Thank Allah God for 9/11! How weird it was to enter the airport this time as a fully-entitled patron, full of all the normal assurances of boarding the plane, no longer playing the heady razor’s-edge game of airplane roulette. A mere 30 hours later, I was back in Prague, reunited with my wife and child. And then, 24 hours later, back in Berlin again.

See also: How My First Night In SF Was Spent At The Frankfurt Hotel Airport Bar

How My First Night In SF Was Spent At The Frankfurt Hotel Airport Bar

On Friday, I participated in one of the classic set pieces of human experience, the Cancelled-Flight-Where-Airline-Puts-You-Up-In-Some-Random-Airport-Hotel routine.

Here’s some timeline leading up to the calamity:

Thurs, 14:00: My travels begin. Wife, son and I set out in the car from Berlin to Prague.

Technically, this is the wrong direction. The explanation is that my wife and son are spending the next two weeks in Italy, at this terrible-sounding Czech redneck enclave there called Bibione. My wife acknowledges that it’s a terrible place, but she because she’s a good sport and her sister is super into it and so it’s a family bonding thing. I’ve announced from the beginning that I’m never going to this place, so I have two weeks or so on my own at the end of every summer. Now, it’s impossible to drive long distances alone with a two year-old, so I’m accompanying them as far as Prague, where the sister can jump in and replace me.

21:30: In Prague, eating dinner at our favorite neighborhood restaurant.

22:45: Driving to drop me off at a metro stop. Instead, we happen to drive by Trafika bar (the bar next to my old studio, described in the Statler and Waldorf post) and I spot my friends inside having an ‘after work’ drink. Quick change of plans!

23:45: Arrive liquored up at Prague bus station, get aboard overnight bus to Frankfurt. Sleep 5 hours despite crushing lack of leg room. (The rationale behind going to Frankfurt is that my buddy works for the airlines and can get me cheap flights out of there).

Friday, 9:00: Wake up at Frankfurt Airport, the blandest destination in one of Europe’s blandest cities. Kill five hours reading Patti Smith memoir Just Kids.

14:00: Get onboard flight to SF.

15:00: Still sitting on runway, waiting for ‘mechanical problem’ to be resolved…

16:00: Still sitting on runway. Curious message comes over the intercom: ‘Flight attendants, prepare for cross-check and arrival’. Arrival? This is weird. We haven’t left yet. Why are they preparing to arrive? And why is the message intoned with dejection? Uh oh…

16:05: Flight cancellation announced. Shock and outrage ensue.

Now, whenever people would tell me about a flight cancellation experience, I’d always imagined that one moment you’re at the airport, and the next you’re magically transported to your hotel room with minimal fuss. I had never thought about the logistics involved in getting 300 people off a plane and transferred to a hotel in the event of a flight cancellation before:

16:06: Everyone herded off plane. General atmosphere of stunned bewilderment: ‘Wait, you mean we’re not getting our luggage back? I have medication in there!’

16:20: 300 people standing in the boarding area, waiting for one lone United representative who is supposedly going to escort us to our hotel. When this person materializes, she turns out to be the tiniest human specimen that United could possibly have roused for the occasion. She’s immediately engulfed by the crowd, such that only the 15 people closest to her can either see her or hear what she’s saying.

16:40: The Tiny Sprite leads us to one end of the terminal where we are supposed to be able to exit. But, security refuses to allow us to exit here, so the entire group has to execute a reverse of direction and go to the opposite end of the terminal. At this point, the guy next to me calls out ‘It’s OK: the people who fell down on the way… we’ve picked them back up now!’

16:41-17:15: The Tiny Sprite herds one hundred people at a time onto the monorail to the another terminal, then across the street to a bus stop where the hotel shuttle bus ferries us to an airport hotel. I assume that 10-15% of the herd perished during this migration, but still the overall survival rate was pretty good.

During this part of the ordeal, the usual social archetypes emerged as always appear in large group dynamics:

The Insatiable Questioner: This is always a woman in her 50s with frizzy hair. Any time any authority figure appears (airline representative, bus driver, hotel clerk), the IQ begins asking a stream of questions that NEVER STOP but just morph into different topical areas of concern. The IQ needs to have it explained to her that a United Airlines representative cannot help her change her San Francisco hotel booking because the airlines rep is an airlines rep and not a travel agent. The IQ means well and will share her acquired knowledge with the rest of the herd, but is ultimately riddled with too much misinformation to be a reliable source.

There were points when I considered the possibility that if the airplane wasn’t properly fixed by the time we got back onboard, at least the world would be rid of the Insatiable Questioner after the ensuing crash.

The Jovial Jokester: A white guy in his 60s or 70s wearing either a straw hat, a cowboy hat or a Stetson hat. The JJ makes good-natured, non-edgy jokes to put others at ease and quickly acquires a small band of acolytes. I usually start out being annoyed the the JJ but eventually come around to the fact that he’s at least trying to engage the situation in a constructive way. Plus, his sunny demeanor helps quell the anxieties of…

The Quiet Panickers: These are the people who are terrified that everything’s going wrong but don’t even have the confidence to articulate their worries in any purposeful way. The QPs look around wide-eyedly, and if you make eye contact with them, they’ll say something like, ‘I think we were supposed to get off at the last terminal!’ or ‘I don’t know how we’re going to find the bus!’ You learn to stop making eye contact with these people.

The Stoic Mummies: This describes most of the people in the group, myself included. The SMs have moments of alert helpfulness but generally are trying to numb themselves and not get infected by the panic of others.

Jack Shephard Wanna-Bes: A few people who are actively trying to play heroic roles, running around and making loud, brave announcements. Screw these people.

The Legitimate Sharpie: Then there’s the one person who actually is really unaccountably good at figuring things out. Your goal is to find the LS and stick with them.

Example: on the monorail, there was extreme confusion because the Sprite had instructed us to get off at Terminal E but had pronounced ‘E’ the German way, where it sounds like ‘A’. It was the LS who figured this out and quelled a potential mass panic.

The Angry Guy: Less said about him, the better.

In the end, it took about two hours to get from the airplane seat to my hotel room, which isn’t too bad. I have to admit that once we were all installed in the hotel, a fun conviviality did emerge, just because everyone (a) is bored, (b) is at the hotel bar, and (c) has a good conversational ice-breaker. It was like an episode of Lost, only if Lost took place at a Frankfurt hotel instead of on an exotic island. Or: like an incredibly upscale version of the New Orleans Superdome during Katrina, except minus the Marty Bahamonde ‘just took a crap with 38,000 of my closest friends’ aspect. (Note: I do actually feel bad about comparing my benign experience to the horrors of the Superdome… but it was what the experience reminded everyone of.) For my part, I struck up a conversation with two San Franciscans, Houri and Will, at the bar. Later, we ate dinner with a fun couple from Discovery Bay who had managed to get installed in a conference room and had taken funny photos of the woman lounging out sexily on the conference table. So, those were my Single Serving Friends for the evening.

Other small upsides of the experience: (1) excellent buffet breakfast at the hotel, featuring the largest tub of bacon I’ve ever seen in my life. (2) Compellingly weird experience of getting on the same plane a day later, in the same seat, with everyone around you wearing the same clothes. (3) Fraternal airplane atmosphere, as people had gotten to know each other by this point. When you walked through the aisle to get to the bathroom, it was like ‘Oh hey, what’s up?’ … ‘Did you ever find your sweater?’… ‘Have fun at Burning Man!’ etc etc.

Major downside outweighing all above upsides: missing Friday night in San Francisco. Plus, the fact that when I finally arrived on Saturday evening, I’d been traveling for 60 hours.


So, how did the big move to Berlin go? Well, not so great…

The plan was to rent a giant van, pack all our stuff inside on Friday night while our kid was sleeping. Then, Saturday, leave him in Prague to celebrate his birthday with a babysitter while we drove the van to Berlin (this was horribly guilt-inducing and heart-rending, about abandoning him on his birthday I mean… but at least he’s too young to care about birthdays and likes his babysitter.) The idea was to have everything unloaded and carried up three flights of stairs in Prenzlauer Berg by 5pm, allowing us to get back to Prague at about 9 to relieve the babysitter.

As it happened, we got within 12 miles of Berlin– right by the old Schönfeld airport– when some guy in a pickup truck in front of us started wavering uncertainly. He pulled off the road finally ahead of us, so my wife– who was driving– let down her guard for a moment and started to say something to me. Just then, the idiot pulled back onto the road without indicating and decided to try to do a u-turn (illegal of course– we’re on the highway!) in front of us. I yelled, my wife slammed on the brakes and we collided at about 30mph, smashing the passenger side of the van and puncturing the oil filter. Suddenly, the scenario shifted from fiddle-dee-dee, we’re moving to a new city! to we must now stand on the side of the highway and summon the German police.

The spätzel-eating cretin who’d pulled into our path didn’t have a ‘handy’, so it was up to us to make the necessary calls. I had of course imagined that there would be a point in our moving-to-Berlin adventure where my lack of German would be a serious problem… but hadn’t imagined that the moment would occur before we even technically arrived (at this point, I should mention that, mockingly, the Berlin city limits sign was about 100 yards ahead of us). I managed to reach a police dispatcher who spoke the glorious international language that is English and, after a Germanic long-but-not-as-long-as-you’d-wait-in-the-U.S. interval, two cops pulled up. I’d love to be able to write that the encounter with the German police was either like a Sprockets skit or a Gestapo porn scene, but in fact it was neither. There was a point that involved me describing what had transpired in hand signals only, but otherwise there was nothing funny about this situation whatsoever. Luckily, my wife speaks a decent lick of German, so she was able to make the relevant points such as ‘wait, you realize that the other driver has to be lying when he tells you he wasn’t pulling a u-turn, given that the dent is on the side of his car, right?’

Meanwhile, during the half hour we waited for the cops, the following things were learned by phone: (1) the rental company in Prague will send a tow-truck driver out from Prague who will arrive in four hours; (2) the flim-flam insurance agreement my wife signed leaves us liable for the towing costs, but (3) somewhat amazingly, you can get a tow-truck to come from Prague to Berlin at the drop of a hat and haul you and your vehicle back to Prague for about $600, which seems pretty cheap to me, all things considered. (4) Our babysitter has agreed to spend the night with our kid– this news is met with overwhelming relief. But that relief is entirely cancelled out by the horrifying realization that (5) we’re looking at having all our stuff towed all the way back to Prague when we’d almost made it to Berlin, like some obnoxious video game where your frog is run over by a truck and you have to start over again at the beginning of the highway. This prompts me to call my friend in Berlin who (6) is just rolling out of bed at 3pm and agrees to run out and get another rental truck, meet us at the scene of the accident, help transfer everything from the smashed van, complete the move, and drive us back to the scene of the accident in time to meet the Czech tower at 9pm. Day saved! Otherwise, we would have been looking at… what, exactly? Arriving back in Prague with a smashed van full of stuff and no home to put it (sublettors were coming the next day to move into our place), plus a babysitter who’s already gassed and tired of us from having spent an entire Saturday taking care of our kid. Yikes.

Wife and I blearily watched Strapping Tow Truck Guy do his thing and raise our van onto his truck, then we got into the cab of his truck and immediately slept the entire way home, arriving in Prague at about 3am. Amazingly, at this point, we still weren’t out of the woods entirely: two nights later, we were staying at a friend’s place in Prague and planning to make the final move the next morning when we discovered that our child car seat was broken and couldn’t be fastened correctly. After three of the most exasperating hours of my life spent trying to fix it, we eventually consigned ourselves to making a mad dash out the next morning for a new seat. During the final drive in our car on Tuesday, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see the asphalt suddenly rise up and devour the car whole– I don’t think I’ve ever been so nervously prepped for disaster.

Anyway, um………. it’s great to be here! I just wish getting here hadn’t been so fraught. Just to warn you, the two stock overused joke remarks that people have been making about this incident are ‘It’s a sign you weren’t supposed to leave Prague!’ (Czech people make this one) or some variant of ‘Good thing you got all the bad luck out of the way first thing!’ (Germans and Americans). So, if you make a comment along either of those lines, it probably won’t be as original as you think.

Homemade Doorbell

Once Peak Oil hits and we’re all walking to the supermarket to sift around in the rubble and search for bits of scrap metal, I’m definitely tagging along after my stepfather. Like most Czech guys of his generation, he’s a capable mechanic, electrician, carpenter. Being a handyman was basically the Czech male national pasttime during the Communist decade; meanwhile, for my part, I’m not able to do anything other than communicate with varying degrees of sarcasm via text and image. Don’t think there’ll be much of a market for that after that in the post-industrial environment.

So, I definitely don’t mean to diminish his talents. But even the handyman extraordinare has his occasional misfire. Behold the doorbell that he installed into the flat where my wife grew up:

Hell’s Bell

Egads. This sounds like it should be the chime that warns you when the Dutch Concert players come a-calling.

Single Serving Friend

Remember the scene in Fight Club where Edward Norton’s character describes people he meets on airplanes as ‘single serving friends’? I had a good single serving friend experience on our outbound flight to the US right before Christmas. We were standing in line waiting to check in and subconsciously steeling ourselves for the experience of taking a transatlantic flight with an 18 month-old kid (which can range from ‘just fine– lots of fun!’ to ‘total apocalypse’, depending on your luck). In front of us, some frazzled looking guy was getting dressed down while trying to check in, furiously zipping and unzipping bags, apologetically stammering to ticket agents, his possessions eventually spreading out and occupying most of two ticket counters. I didn’t know what was going on with him exactly… but suddenly I realized it’s this guy I know! Specifically, this friendly but somewhat hapless character who runs a business helping expats sort out their working papers in Czech, whom I hired to stand in a bunch of lines for me during time-consuming bureaucratic situations. I made a point of cheerfully regaling him right in the middle of his crisis but got no information other than a couple of typical rueful statements along the lines of Yeesh, I don’t know why they’re giving me such a hard time, etc.

Fast forward to an hour into the flight, when a flight attendant suddenly scampers by us and asks ‘Did you just see a little kitty run this way?’. I initially that this is some fictitious ruse she has invented to amuse my infant son, but then it becomes clear to me that there is in fact a cat on the loose in the cabin. A few moments later, the Hapless Guy scurries up the aisle right behind the flight attendant, at which point it became apparent that it’s his cat. Since we’re only one-seventh of the way into the flight, and I can’t imagine a cat readily giving itself up for capture, I begin to fantasize that the cabin will be covered in ‘Have You See This Cat?’ notices by the end of the flight.

Finally, 800 readings of Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? later, we arrive in New York with my son making passes at a woman 32 times his age in the seat behind us. As we thread our way off the plane, we again see the Hapless Guy ahead of us, who’s carrying his cat in one arm and a bag stuffed full of folders and papers that’s perilously unzipped and seems about to capsize in the other. ‘You’re bag’s open, big time!’ I yell after him.’Oh, that’s OK, the zipper’s totally broken,’ he answers back nonchalantly. In the end, I wound up feeling a bit envious of his half-assed antics– of his latitude to fly in the most disorganized, discombobulated states of unpreparedness, whereas our flights now require an armada of possessions, a  high degree of organization and planning, plus nerves of steel to simply step on a plane with a tiny person who generally doesn’t like to sit still for more than two minutes at a time. So, I tip my hat to you, Hapless Guy– long may you feel your oats.

Ho, Ho, Ho

Our flight from Prague to Boston via London that was supposed to happen on Monday got cancelled due to weather. Though annoying, this result (i.e. sitting in Prague for another four days) is infinitely better than the scenario of getting stuck in the insane, raving madhouse that has been Heathrow Airport for the past week. The broad strokes of this story are the tales of people stuck in the airport for four days and mile-long lines for the Eurostar train to France, but there are also juicy smaller details like the plane that finally received clearance to take off after hours of delay but then had to taxi back to the gate because some guy wouldn’t stop praying in the aisle. Given this whole tapestry of bad, I’ve been happy to sit in Prague and sip my seasonal hot wine and wait this one out.

If our next flight attempt (scheduled for Friday… with no stops in Western Europe, thank god… Prague straight to New York this time) runs into delays and frustrating problems, I’m going to struggle to keep in mind the example of Tsutomu Yamaguchi, unquestionably the victim of the worst-ever travel story. Yamaguichi was in Hiroshima on business on Aug 6, 1945, the day the atomic bomb was dropped. Having survived and spent the night in a emergency tent, he then boarded a train* to his native Nagasaki, arriving a day before the next bomb was dropped. According to accounts, he was literally in the middle of telling his manager at work about the first blast when the second one happened. I guess it would be something like being in the World Trade Center when the first plane hit, then somehow running up into the next tower before the second plane hit. There are believed to be over one hundred people who experienced both blasts, but Yamaguchi is the only certified nijū hibakusha (double blast experiencer). He lived until early this past year, when he died of natural causes at 93.

Take that, frustrated Euro holiday travelers!

[* None of the accounts I’ve read explain how it is that you could just hop a train the day after a city was nuked. Was the snack car running?]

Showcase of Hideous Christmas Reggae Album Covers

Semi-loyal reader KG recently saved me from the terrifying drought in good new music releases by turning me onto Scratch Radio, a station that streams nonstop rocksteady and dub. One of my stock tiresome soapbox rants is the position that Jamaican music is the most unfairly maligned and buttonholed genre or nationality of music (next to, perhaps, early gay underground disco, but that’s a post for another day). It’s a case of one particular artist becoming so dwarfingly popular relative to every other artist that most people automatically think ‘Bob Marley!’, when in fact he’s just the tip of the iceberg (note the self-conscious authorial attempt to avoid referring to the variety of Jamaican music as a ‘rainbow’). It would be like if people failed to recognize any contribution to rock music besides that of, say, Elvis Presley. Or the Insane Clown Posse. You get my point.

The beauty of Scratch Radio is that, in terms of vocal selections, they generally eschew tired-out ‘Roots’ reggae in favor of tracks from the glorious rocksteady years (my friend once explained this preference by saying, “I liked it when they were singing about girls instead of Haile Selassie and Mount Zion’). However, as soon as November rolled into December, I suddenly had to beat a ragged retreat from Scratch Radio because they began playing the cheesiest holiday-themed reggae songs almost nonstop. Who knew that a tropic island had so many hundreds (perhaps thousands) of holiday covers? It makes a certain amount of sense, given that Jamaican artists have traditionally been willing to cover just about anything… but still.

Some album cover examples from this regrettable and surprisingly prolific trend:

Blegh. Having explicitly poked fun at candy cane lettering in the snarky article I recently wrote about type for Smashing Mag, I was delighted to see an instance of this crop up in the first example posted above.

Finally, two covers from this unfortunate genre that are kinda redeemable. I wouldn’t go as far as to call them good, exactly, but there are some likable things going on here:

See also: the incredibly entertaining 42 Reggae Album Cover Designs from’s blog. It includes such fantastic curiosities as Ugly Man’s Ugly Lover album, containing hit song ‘Computer’: