Sunday, November 29, 2009

Tramps like us

It's pretty unbelievable that I've been writing this blog for nearly a year and a half and not yet posted anything about karaoke. Karaoke is one of my dearest pastimes; I've done it everywhere from Tokyo and New Orleans to the rural town of Sedalia, MO. Trust me, there's no better way to sample local flavor than to watch locals get drunk and sing. Just last night, I got on stage at Kennedy's Lamp Post Lounge in Cape Canaveral, FL:

When I lived in NYC, rarely a weekend went by that didn't include a late night stop at Sing Sing, Planet Rose, or any of the other dozens of places to do karaoke in Manhattan. Fortunately, many of my friends share my passion for belting out power ballads and watching nonsensical Japanese music videos.

Then I moved to Boston. And lo and behold, whenever I suggested karaoke as an evening activity, I was met with uncomprehending stares. No one knew where to go. No one felt inclined to investigate. Why drink and sing when you can...just drink?

I feel like it's high time I respond to the most common objections raised about karaoke.

1. "I can't sing."
Um, LOTS of people can't sing, including some with record contracts (see Spears, Britney). Singing well is not what karaoke is about. Karaoke is about entertaining yourself and others through the power of pop music. I have seen many "terrible" singers bring down the house.

2. "It's too expensive."
Yes, renting a private room can add up. But lots of places let you sing for free, like the Hong Kong near Faneuil Hall and Sissy K's. And actually, you can MAKE money doing karaoke, as I did the night I won a contest at Sissy K's. Every Thursday night, they give away $100 to not the best singer, but the best performance of the night.

3. "I can sing so why would I sing karaoke?"
Technically, I can sing too, but that doesn't mean I should sing every song I want to. But karaoke allows me to do just that! While I know that Whitney Houston and I have very different ranges and timbres, after a few vodka tonics, I want my "One Moment in Time." For real singers, karaoke isn't about showing off, it's about goofing off and singing completely inappropriate songs.

So there you have it. I'm lucky enough to live within spitting distance of Do Re Mi, which has probably the best song selection I've ever encountered. Worst song selection award goes to Maluken, where I was reduced to singing "The Little Mermaid" for lack of better options.

The title of this post, "Tramps like us," exemplifies another good thing about karaoke -- you get to learn the actual lyrics to songs that you might have been mishearing. I always sort of sing along with "Born to Run," but somehow the "tramps like us" line in the chorus escaped me. Until last night.

However, singing the right words isn't always essential. If you don't believe me, watch the video below. One Korean man's creative rendition of Mariah Carey is another man's comedy goldmine.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Seafood feast!

In lieu of the traditional turkey, my family decided to mix it up this year. We went to Florida to celebrate Thanksgiving and created a seafood-themed meal very different from what the pilgrims probably ate. The menu included:

Lobster tails
Crab stuffing
Corn casserole with mussels
Lemon garlic shrimp with peppers
Green beans (the one classic side we couldn't abandon)

No mashed potatoes! No pecan pie! It was very revolutionary. We also instituted the first ever Vagnino Family Book Exchange. I made out like a bandit with a new collection of Russian poetry and How I Became a Famous Novelist by Steve Hely, which looks hilarious.

I'm trying not to think about the terrifying amount of school work I have awaiting me in Boston as the semester winds down. I'm looking at the ocean and making plans to play mini-golf tomorrow. For these few days in the sun, I am thankful.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Napkins = my nemesis

The hardest part of a new restaurant job for me is not learning table numbers or the names of the kitchen staff. I have a great short-term memory and can recite daily specials till I'm blue in the face. No, the thing I absolutely dread every time I get hired by a restaurant is.....

napkin folding.

Every restaurant has their own way of doing it. And it always takes me much longer than it should to master it. It's like there's a gap in my brain -- things start misfiring and I just can't make the napkin look the way it's supposed to. I'm earning a master's degree and yet the simple task of folding a napkin becomes Herculean when under the watchful eye of whatever server is training me. It doesn't matter how deftly I can refill butter ramekins or polish water glasses. She will lose all respect for me as soon as she sees me try to fold napkins.

As far as I can tell. the skill involved with napkin folding has something to do with spatial reasoning, which I apparently was born without. Spatial reasoning is "the ability to visualize spatial patterns
and mentally manipulate them" and is pretty essential for engineers and architects. The Wikipedia entry also states that it is "important for generating and conceptualizing solutions for multi-step problems that arise in everyday life." Great.

This has all been on my mind lately because I finally got hired by a legitimate, well-run, upscale restaurant:
Lineage. I'm incredibly happy now that "Dos" didn't hire me. I've done two training shifts at Lineage and no one seems to have noticed my napkin-folding disability yet....but it's only a matter of time. I can only hope that by the time they catch wise, I will have won them over with my charm. The napkins at Lineage appear to be rather simply folded -- if I had shown up for training and seen something like this--

-- I probably would have turned in my bistro apron then and there. Just looking at that picture stresses me out.

Curious about your own spatial reasoning aptitude? Take this free online test to find out your spatial ID.

Monday, November 16, 2009


It was bound to happen eventually: I lost my cell phone. Well, actually I know where it is, but I can't get to it. I left it at a friend's apartment Saturday night and while said friend was supposed to leave it with his doorman, he forgot. And sadly, my phone went back with him on a bus today to New York.

Fortunately, I kept my old, outdated phone from the last time I upgraded and Verizon was able to restore service to it. But I was sans phone for almost 48 hours and friends, it was tough. I use my phone as an alarm clock and thus had to download some weird alarm clock application and install it in order to make it to work on time. Which I didn't, because the alarm app didn't work for some reason. I also got semi-stood up for a coffee date with a friend because I didn't receive her text message cancellation.

But those were the biggest catastrophes. And now I'm somewhat restored to the world of communicative technology. However, since I got my new phone before moving to Boston, the old phone I'm using temporarily (until my real phone is Fedexed back to me) has no numbers of new friends. It's like I've been blasted back to before I moved here....looking through the contact list is a walk down memory lane. I can't call anyone in Boston, but I can call my favorite Thai take-out place in Brooklyn.

So if you are a friend made in the last year or so, I won't recognize the number if you call. Feel free to prank me!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

So You Think You Don't Like Poetry

First, an announcement: For various reasons, I'm taking down the links to my own poems on this site. This is mainly because it has come to my attention that putting them here on this blog might make some editors decide they are already "published" and hence, not desirable. I know that's a long shot, but the good people at
Duotrope's Digest recommend not making your work too widely available before it's been published. Another reason is that some of the poems I put up are still works-in-progress and I'm too lazy to update the links every time I tweak a word or two.

I suspect that I can count on one hand the people who will care/be affected by this change (sorry, Dad). Instead, I'm going to put up links to the publications that have been so kind as to publish my poems. If you desperately want to read my other poetry, well, just write me a note and I'll send you some.

Now on to today's poem, which is by May Swenson, my new poet crush. Swenson writes mostly about love and sex (she famously wrote a poem describing the act of cunnilingus with lines like "Pink lips the serrate/ folds taste smooth"). Her poetry is very erotic and some of it makes me blush, but I have to give props to anyone who dares to title a poem "Daffodildo."
Hello, that's awesome.

Today's poem is not about sex, though. Sorry. It is, however, very romantic in that it captures that sensation you have when you're in love and convinced that no one else on the planet exists.

Early Morning: Cape Cod

We wake to double blue:
an ocean without a sail,
sky without a clue
of white.
Morning is a veil
sewn of only two
threads, one pale,
one bright.

We bathe as if in ink,
but peacock-eyed and clear;
a roof of periwink
goes steep
into a bell of air
vacant to the brink.
Far as we can peer
is deep

royal blue and shy
iris, queen and king
colors of low
and high.
Then dips
a sickle wing,
we hear a hinged cry:
taut as from a sling

a taunting gull.
And now across our gaze
a snowy hull
along its stays
break out to windpulls.

With creaking shears
the bright
gulls cut the veil
in two,
and many a clue
on scalloped sail
dots with white
our double blue.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Me + Cobra Starship in the Fall issue of nthWORD!

A poem I wrote last semester, "Ode to Virtues," is in the online publication
nthWORD. Click here to read it!

The issue also contains an interview with hipster band Cobra Starship, who wrote the hilarious theme song for "Snakes on a Plane." Remember this?

Friday, November 6, 2009

Scary Movie Smackdown

Disclosure: I'm a scary movie junkie. Last weekend, in honor of Halloween, I saw two new horror movies: Paranormal Activity and The House of the Devil. Maybe there's no way the former could have lived up to its hype, but suffice it to say that I was very underwhelmed. Admittedly, the Blair Witch-style hand-held cinematography made me very nauseated and I had to stare at the floor of the theater for at least a third of the movie so as to not vomit. So maybe that affected my opinion of the film's merit.

The House of the Devil
, on the other hand, is being added to my Favorite Scary Movies of All Time list. Like Paranormal Activity, 90% of the movie is buildup -- nothing truly horrifying happens until the last 20 minutes. But I was on the edge of my seat the whole time and duly impressed with the whole look/concept of the film. I'm not a film critic so I won't go into more detail about that, but if you're interested, check out the trailer here.

What are my other favorite scary movies, you ask? In no particular order:

The Descent (2005)
I have never screamed louder in a movie theater. I also love that before the supernatural element is introduced, the premise (being trapped and lost in a claustrophobic cave) is already scary as hell.

Ginger Snaps
In 2004, I went on two dates with this guy and on date #2, we watched Ginger Snaps, which he owned on DVD. Though the relationship went nowhere, I will always be indebted to him for introducing me to this Canadian werewolf flick. I could write an amazing women's studies paper on this movie; it conflates the fear of female sexuality with the werewolf myth. It's smart, funny, gory, and very suspenseful.

I've seen it probably a dozen times and it never gets old. I love how Ridley Scott uses silence and minimalist sound design to create an eerie, lonely atmosphere. And Sigourney Weaver kicks ass.

The best adaptation of a Stephen King book, in my opinion. And the unexpected last scare? Classic and oft-imitated, but not yet surpassed.

Rosemary's Baby (1968)
Say what you want about Roman Polanski, but this film is a masterpiece. Period. Somehow, a ridiculous-sounding premise (a woman is impregnated by the Devil) seems completely plausible.

28 Days Later
Zombies don't really scare me that much -- they are slow-moving and kind of stupid. But
28 Days Later uses a disease/plague metaphor (the zombies are "the infected") and makes the idea of a zombie apocalypse seem all too real. Also, the infected are NOT slow-moving.

Fright Night (1985)
Ok, ok, this movie is pretty dated and not that scary...but it terrified me when I saw it as a kid and I still find it tremendously entertaining. Plus, Chris Sarandon makes a sexy vamp.

The clown, the tree, the swimming pool filled with skeletons....

The Exorcist
Saw this fairly recently and was pretty shocked by how explicit it was. I totally get why Linda Blair grew up with serious psychological problems.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
This movie is not kidding around. It's balls-out violent, not to mention weird and truly disturbing.

Feel free to weigh in on any classics you feel I've missed....

Monday, November 2, 2009

To Catch a Predator, with Predator

Dateline NBC's "To Catch a Predator" is a creepy, guilty pleasure. It's very controversial, due to its obvious trial-by-public-opinion approach; I would wager that most men "caught" on the show soliciting sex from minors lose their jobs and/or wives, partners, girlfriends, friends, whatever dignity they might have had. However, a lot of the men featured on the show have successfully gotten their charges dropped and/or sued NBC.

I have mixed feelings about the show. Is it a trashy but effective deterrent for would-be sex offenders? Or just trashy and socially irresponsible? On the one hand, Chris Hansen and the camera crew intervene before anything super illegal happens, but the guys do show up expecting to meet a 13-year-old and usually arrive armed with beer and condoms. GROSS.

The format of the show is simple. First, we are shown excerpts from the online chat between the suspected predator and a decoy.

Huh, I never thought of Family Guy + weed as foreplay....thanks, icetruckkiller103!

Next, the decoy arranges a meeting. The guy shows up and is greeted not by the Taylor Swift-esque hottie he thought he was chatting with, but by Chris Hansen. Typically, the dialogue between Hansen and the suspected pedophile goes something like this:

Chris Hansen: Who did you think you were going to meet here?

Suspected Pedophile: Um...this girl Kristy that I met online.

CH: And how old is Kristy?

SP: Uh, I don't know. 17? 18?

CH: She told you she was 13. I have the transcript from your online chat.

SP: (color draining from his face) Well, I was just coming to hang out with her and, you know, talk...about stuff.

CH: You didn't come here to have sex?

SP: No.

CH: But you asked Kristy if she was a virgin and said you could (reading from the transcript) "sex her all night long." Isn't that right?

SP: (looking for the exit)....I don't remember?

Then the poor dude (again, I'm not excusing guys who try to pick up underage girls online, but you have to feel somewhat sorry for their televised humiliation) usually tries to leave, only to be cuffed and led to the police station.

It's a very formulaic show and after watching this happen to a few guys, it gets old. The show needs an update, a makeover, something to spice things up. Which is why I think they should replace Chris Hansen with Predator:

No offense, Chris, but I suspect that Predator's interview style would be more direct. He would just rip the guys' arms off and that would be the end of it. I mean, these guys' lives are basically ruined anyway so they might as well get a violent, memorable send-off. And the merchandising possibilities? Endless. Just look at what happened when Predator and Alien teamed up -- it was all kinds of awesome.

You're welcome, NBC.