Soju

“Sneaky Fire Water”

The first time I had the Korean liquor soju, it was the day before my 23rd birthday.

I was living in Bangkok at the time, and in a random twist of fate, a very good friend from high school had popped back into my life. He had spent the last few months traveling and was cooling his jet-setting heels for a bit in the Thai City of Angels.

Our friendship reunited, he insisted on taking me out to dinner for a proper Korean meal as his birthday present. I was slowly starting to realize that the best gifts aren’t items, but life experiences, so I gladly accepted.

He found a delightful spot near my apartment, and we sat down to gorge ourselves on a scrumptious array of banchan (small side dishes) as the wait staff began to grill meat for us.

“Have you ever had soju?” he asked me.

“No, is it like sake?”

“Kind of, but better. It sneaks up on you”

A small green bottle of soju appeared at the table, and because I was older than him, he poured me a shot of perfectly clear and pleasant smelling liquid, then he poured himself one. We exchanged a loud “Geonbae!” and threw them back.

Sweet, smooth, and soothing, this soju stuff was great!

Part of Korean drinking culture (or at least that night it was) is to always keep the glasses full of others around the table. Pouring a drink for someone else is an act of respect, as well as drinking with one another. Over the course of a few hours, we polished off three bottles of soju together.

When complemented with smoking hot meat, this chilled and clear liquid seemed like the optimal counter-point to the charred and spicy flavors that were exploding in my mouth.

The meal done and our bellies full, we left the restaurant. Up until that moment, I had felt in full control of my senses. Standing outside, I turned to my friend.

“Oh man, I feel like I want to go get in a fight or something”

He laughed, “SojuJoey has arrived!”

Don’t worry, from that night until today, I’ve continued my pacifist streak of never getting into a fight. Like my streak of pacificism, my love affair with soju has continued as well. It’s been a staple in every Korean meal and Karaoke session since then.

Tonight I’ll be saying 여보세요 again to my old friend soju for a work event. I can’t wait to catch up with soju, hear the stories it has to tell and sing it’s praises with a loud “Geonbae!”

Soju – 3 out of 5 Stars

PC Gaming Cafes

“Terrible Margins, Terrific Fun”

Last weekend, I dragged two of my friends to visit a PC Gaming Cafe near our houses. In case your unfamiliar with what that establishment is, I’ll give you the quick tl;dr.

A PC Gaming Cafe (Or PC Bang) is a business that has a large number of high-end gaming computers that are available to rent by the hour. The computers have the latest games installed on them, and you’re free to play whatever you wish.

Imagine a LAN party, but one that doesn’t require you to drag your entire system to the event.

Speaking of LAN parties, they were a major part of my childhood. If you’ve read anything of mine, it’s apparent that the Nerd is strong with this one. Growing up, instead of asking for new toys for Christmas and Hannukah, my big ticket present items were graphics cards and memory upgrades for the desktop that I played on.

I spent many a weekend lugging my desktop up the street to a friends house, navigating a maze of cables and wires, ordering pizza, and binging ourselves on snacks and Mountain Dew as we played Counter Strike until the sun came up.

This pilgrimage to the PC Gaming Cafe near home immediately brought back that joy of pulling a Sheryl Sandberg of geekdom and leaning into gaming culture. This was a place where gaming was celebrated, as opposed to hiding in the shadows.

It didn’t hurt that last weekend was one of the hottest in Southern California. To be in a dark, powerfully air-conditioned room while it’s a swampy 95 degrees outside is the same reason that movie theatres see an uptick in business when the weather sucks.

We paid our five dollars to rent a computer for an hour and then got our game set up. Our pixelated adventure of choice that day was a game that focused on squad-based combat, and in no time, we were shouting nonsense at one another – dropping our best military jargon into our shared comms channel.

After several hours (obviously, we kept re-upping), the three of us emerged and blinked at the harsh sunlight. New bonds had been formed and new relationships had been solidified – all thanks to the high powered memory and performance provided to us by a PC Gaming cafe. Turns out Christmas and Hannukah came early.

PC Gaming Cafes – 4 out of 5 Stars 

Pineapple on Pizza

“Fruit Gold On Top of Pies”

I know what you’re thinking.

You’re thinking, “well here we go, a delightful and wild yarn on the pros and cons of pineapple on top of a pizza.” Well, you’re mostly wrong, but not entirely.

This a piece about friendship, romance, and maybe just a bit of pizza.

Pineapple on a pizza order is a weirdly divisive thing. While it doesn’t rival the tribalism that we’re seeing in our national politics play out every day in the headlines of CNN and Fox News, it’s just a rung below.

People will get strangely passionate about whether or not pineapple has an appropriate home on top of cheese and bread. Obviously, I’m strongly in the pro-pineapple camp. How could you not like biting into a juicy baked explosion of sunshine and sugar as a counterpoint to the normally savory bits on a pizza?

Now, I’ve never ordered the pineapple option a nice pizza or Italian restaurant. It’s never a choice between a nice Margarita and a Hawaiian. But if I’m at home and don’t have anyone to please but myself, you’re damn right I’m ordering a Pineapple, Jalapeno, and Pepperoni from Dominos.

And this brings me to the crux of my argument. It doesn’t matter whether or not you’re pro or anti pineapple. What does matter is that you surround yourself with people in your life who have the same pineapple leanings.

I truly believe that my relationship with Kate wouldn’t have made it if we both hadn’t been pro pineapple. As a couple, a real loose estimate is that we’ve ordered around 75 pizzas delivered to our home in the last two and a half years of dating. Probably 72 of them have been Pineapple, Jalapeno, and Pepperoni.

Can you imagine the resentment, rage, and raw sadness that would have been built up between us if 96% of the time, one of us was getting an unfulfilled pizza experience?

All relationships, romantic or otherwise, are built upon and ultimately solidified by sharing a slice of za. Like a doughy and well-risen crust, pizza creates a solid foundation of trust and respect – and if you and another person nearly come to blows over the pineapple debate, the relationship won’t last.

Find people in your life who you can easily order a pizza with. Having a group that sit firmly in one side of the pineapple camp or the other shows that each one of you is of strong moral character (but maybe weak in fiber if they’re anti pineapple), and with those bonds built, you’ll always have one another to lean on, order a slice with, and laugh together.

Unless they’re olive people. Immediately cut that useless chaff out of your life.

Pineapple on Pizza – 4 out of 5 Stars 

Triathlons

“Well, That was Hard”

As I’ve mentioned in past few weeks, I signed up for a triathlon, and this weekend I did it.

I’ll never be able to pinpoint exactly why I decided to pay money to swim a quarter mile in the ocean, bike 10 miles and then end it all with a 5k run.

Perhaps because I saw it as a good excuse to bond with new coworkers. Maybe I wanted to see if I could do it. Or it could be possible that it’s the continuation of the trend in my life where I do things that aren’t well thought out, purely with the idea that “this will be a good story to write about later.”

My motivations still a mystery, I’m here to tell you that I did it! I did all that stupid exercise in the correct order in one hour and twenty minutes. Here’s a breakdown of each.

The Swim:

Before you actually jump in the water, you stand in a loose clump with your gender, separated by age group. So at 7:06 AM last Sunday, myself and probably another 150 31 to 39-year-old men, in various states of aquatic gear (From Wetsuits to Speedos) found ourselves breathing heavily and staring at the Pacific Ocean.

A siren was rung, and we were off. I had been keeping up my open water practice, but I hadn’t factored in the 149 other people who I would be sharing the water with.

It was a 400-meter swim, straight out to a buoy, a 90-degree turn that put me parallel to the shore, and then another buoy that sent me back to the beach. I did okay, but halfway through I definitely wanted to quit. My arms screamed in confusion, and I worked hard to not gulp down seawater.

The only thing that kept me going was the dual thoughts of “you might die if you stop swimming” and “don’t be the guy the lifeguards have to rescue” – so I put my head down and continue to pump my shoulders, eventually making it back to shore.

The Bike: 

It was a three lap circuit, and it took me two circuits to even catch my breath from the swim. The best part about a triathlon is that every single participant has their age written in marker on their left calf. So as numerous “On your lefts” were shouted at me, I could feel the humble shame of watching a 63-year-old in a speedo zoom by. My favorite part was when a 14-year-old girl passed me, and then as she did she yelled “good job!”

Thank you little 14-year-old triathlete. I needed that good job.

The Run:

The run was the easiest part for me, except that two minutes I realized that I desperately had to pee. Wearing nothing but a spandex unitard, I had the serious question in my brain pop up – should I just pee myself?

Then I remembered it was a 5k, not a run for my life, so I luckily found a clean bathroom. Less liquid, I was able to complete the 5k in just about 30 minutes, a new PR.

Overall, I’ve never felt physically better after finishing the race. Looking back, the swim definitely was the part that took it out of me, but the rest was pretty manageable. It was a neat emotion realizing that I haven’t done something that physically strenuous… almost ever.

Even weirder is that I’m now in the “have done a triathlon” column. The weirdest thing though? I’ll probably do another one. Mostly just for the smug reply to “what did you do this weekend” though.

Triathlons – 3 out of 5 Stars

Father John Misty at The Hollywood Bowl

“Hipster Cat Nip”

He’s a ridiculous caricature, but I’m a sucker for a good crooner, and Father John Misty is one of the best. He just released a new album, and when I saw that he was playing at the Hollywood Bowl, I immediately snapped up four tickets.

What I didn’t realize is that I had bought tickets for the same day as my triathlon. So when we went to the Bowl, my body was on the delightful edge of physical exhaustion, which is exactly how everyone should see Father John Misty in one of the most iconic music venues in America.

I’ve been a fan of FJM for years, seeing him in San Diego for $5 at the Casbah in 2012, and then helping my best friend cover him for FYF.  Hipster cred certified, it was really amazing to see his act go from dive bar band to Hollywood Bowl star.

Strutting out in an all-white suit and giving off the stage presence of David Byrne combined with the wiggly body motions of a young Mick Jagger, FJM came out and played the hits. And that’s exactly what you want when you see someone at the Bowl. This isn’t time to trot out obscure b side material.

Opening up one of his first singles, when he sang the line “Look Out Hollywood, Here I Come” it was a nice moment.

As he ran through his songs, the visuals of his show deserve a mention. Jumping from album to album, the songs he chose told a story about the greed of humanity, our addiction to technology, the casual plundering of the environment, resulting in…the end of human life. Using a combination of animations and lights, the graphicl story he told was both engaging and stunning.

I took my parents to the show, and was a little concerned because neither of them had listened to FJM (besides on the car ride to the show), but luckily, FJM’s on stage theatrics combined with sweeping narratives of his music made the experience enjoyable for all who were there, as it simply was pure comedy.

Father John Misty at the Hollywood Bowl – 3 out of 5 Stars

Sleep Masks

“Go The F&*K to Sleep Eyeballs”

I’m 31, so that means the only thing I value more than cryptocurrency is the precious hours I set aside in my life for sleep. Most often, these hours are enjoyed horizontally, in a bed of my own making.

Occasionally, I’m forced to attempt to sleep while being an awkward vertical. This occurs on airline flights. But in the last two years, I have found a new weapon in the battle against wokeness.

Better than alcohol, better than Ambien (and with no racist side effects), a comfortable and cozy sleep mask is the answer to all your unwanted waking hours.

First introduced to me when I managed to get a business class flight home from Rome a few years back, a sleep mask is a gamechanger. The ones they hand out in business class are nice, but they’re not manufactured for multiple uses. If you’re in the market for better zzzz’s, shell out the 10, 15, or 20 dollars for a quality mask.

Their price point is so low that they allow experimentation. Kate surprised me with a mask on our flight to Iceland last year, but since then we somehow have acquired (and since misplaced) around 8 different types of masks.

Bug-eyed masks, large and uncomfortable masks, masks with creases for your nose, we’ve tried them all. What is right for me probably isn’t right for you. But I have to say, investing in sleep accouterments is not only fun, when you find something that works, it’s incredibly rewarding.

How will you know it’s rewarding? Because you won’t think about it, that’s how. You’ll be too busy flying on a piece of celery to wage battle against the tyrant red onion oppressors. You’ll be too tranquil listening to the dulcet tones of a praying mantis playing you a harmonica ditty that lulls you to ultimate peace.

You’ll be too stressed about falling asleep to realize that you’ve already fallen asleep and that you actually don’t own a Maybach made out of marshmallows in your waking life.

Effortless sleep is for the young. Once you’re past 25, start investing in your sleep future (Sluture) and purchase a sleep mask or two. There are many ways where it’s good to be “woke” but in bed isn’t one of them. It’s time to pull the wool over your eyes and drift off.

Sleep Masks – 4 out of 5

Piloting a Boat

“I Am the Captain Now. And I am Very Bad at It”

Last weekend, in a celebration of one our dear friends continued existence for 365 days, we rented a small Duffy boat for three hours and motored around the marina near our house. It was a delightful time full of white wine, nautical puns, and many sea lion sightings.

This wasn’t Kate and my first Duffy boat ride, but this one felt more classy. Instead of blaring reggaeton horns at passing boats, this time we exchanged pleasant waves interspersed with appropriate volume yacht rock.

Instead of lapsing into drunken Northeastern fisherman accents (get to the fackhan habah yah louse), this time our boat kept a pleasant and light chatter. Two people announced they were pregnant. It was elegant.

What wasn’t elegant was my Captaining skills. In an attempt to show Kate that I might have some blue blood in me yet, I signed myself up to be one of the designated Captains. While they didn’t hand me an ascot or an acceptance letter to Trinity College in Hartford (Trinity University forever!), I felt an inch closer to being an east coaster. Boats, ships, and sailboats are something of a class thing, and dag nabbit, I was going to be classy.

Turns out piloting a boat takes more finesse than I thought. Our real captain, the organizer of the birthday bash (and boyfriend of the birthday girl) handled the wheel with an ease and confidence that made me think “hey, that doesn’t seem too hard”, so after an hour, I asked to take over.

Skippering a boat is a game of inches, as opposed to the 18-wheeler steering wheel sized turns I was making. Our route through boat docks was anything but straight or smooth. However, I was told that I made the ride more exciting.

The real test of my innate maritime mastery was when the other gentleman on the boat asked me to dock our boat. Now he actually owned a boat, so obviously I was intimidated. What progressed was an incredibly stressful 11-minute experience where I sidled up close to the pier, cut it in neutral, hoped to be carried into the dock, but to no avail.

After minutes of Austin Powers-like maneuvering, we finally got close enough for the certified captain to jump onto the dock and drag us in.  After depositing our cargo (his pregnant wife), I sped away and basically forced the helm back onto the original Captain.

Lesson learned I’ve realized that the only blue that runs in my blood is my affinity for the ocean itself, and my confidence in swimming in its vast embrace. I’ll leave the fast floating (aka boating) to others, and do my best to lay off the reggaeton horn.

Piloting a Boat – 2 out of 5 Stars