Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Ode to the BBQ














My ears perk up when I hear the 3 letters B-B-Q. The barbecue is so versatile that it’s a noun (“This barbecue is amazing!”), verb (I’m about to barbecue some hamburgers!”,) and adjective (try the barbecued chicken; it’s delicious!”), all in one.

But there’s a lot more to the BBQ. There’s the smell of charcoal burning on the grill; the sound of bottle caps popping off, that first bite into a burger; the sun beaming down, a mix of friends socializing; music, laughter, and fun!

I’ve broken down the 5 reasons why BBQs are great: food, making friends, meeting girls, banter, and outdoor day drinking.

Here is my ode to the BBQ.

#1 FOOD, GLORIOUS FOOD

Barbecue food can range from simple to fancy, but either way, you can eat forever. Since the BBQ is never ending, I’ve learned to pace myself and eat triple the amount I normally consume. Imagine eating 3 dinners in one night; that’s what a barbecue miraculously allows us to do.

A few weeks ago, I attended a dreadful BBQ which rarely happens. I racked my brain to discover why this event was so bad. What makes the difference between a good BBQ and bad BBQ?

I came up with this. There are two roles needed for a successful barbecue: the chef and the promoter. The chef takes pride in his work and dedicates his time to the grill. He will cook for hours at end, and takes satisfaction in people enjoying the food. The promoter then encourages everyone to eat. He will pass out food, and applaud those for eating the most. He also takes pride in making the guests happy.

If you have a good chef and promoter, you will definitely have a successful barbecue.

I’ve attended so many delicious, relaxing, fun barbecues: from NYC rooftops and the streets of LA (my annual super bowl party on Sweetzer) to family events and summer cookouts with Camp Tel Noar. It was hard to break down, but here are my top 3 BBQs based on food provided, setting, and overall fun.

My Top Three BBQs

Kevin L’s House; Brookline, MA, 2000

After graduating from Tufts, Kevin invited a group of us over to his family’s house for a little BBQ. I expected a few burger and dogs. Not even close. Kevin’s family owned a Chinese restaurant, and definitely placed a high importance on food. Kevin’s father was a remarkable chef while his mother was an incredible promoter (on par with my Jewish mom.) She encouraged us to eat until we were full, and then to eat some more. There were burgers, dogs, bratwursts, chicken, ribs, steak, salmon, and corn on the cob. Not to mention fresh platters of Chinese food. Great BBQ!

Mike B’s House; Honolulu, Hawaii 2006

Mike was another friend from Tufts who lived in an ordinary place called Honolulu. A few friends and I were visiting so we ventured over to his house for a BBQ. His family’s home overlooked the water, and I wondered why he ever left this place for Medford, MA. One of Mike’s buddies was a professional chef and prepared all of the goods with style. Mike served as the promoter; he was simple with his approach: “There are 15 pounds of filet mignon, pork, chicken, salmon, and kielbasas for the five of us. Let’s eat!” (We also watched the Patriots smack the Jaguars in the NFL playoffs; this obviously added to the already amazing experience.)

Ryan’s Apartment; Miami, FL, 2009

This past February my girlfriend and I were in Miami for the day. Ryan and his girlfriend welcomed us with open arms. We all felt included: I went to the market with Ryan and helped choose the meat while my girlfriend helped make the guacamole. We sat by the pool in sunny Miami while Ryan, a professional chef, prepared burgers, dogs, pork, and steak. Ryan also served as the promoter dishing out the meat, his homemade caramelized onions, fresh guacamole, and potatoes au gratin. Unbelievable food, setting, people, and experience!

#2 & #3 MAKING FRIENDS & MEETING GIRLS

The BBQ has an incredible social atmosphere. The sun is shining, the sky is blue, and there’s no pretense. You can wear comfortable clothing. It’s at someone’s house so you don’t need to get by a bouncer or get the attention of a bartender or waitress. Generally, there’s chill music in the background; it compliments the scene, but is quiet enough so everyone can engage in conversation.

Since the BBQ is outside, laid back, and everyone knows one person in common by at least two degrees, people let their guard down. Men and women actually open up, and speak to one another. And as a result, the barbecue follows The Breakfast Club Model.

The Breakfast Club Model

If you place a group of people in one setting for an extended period of time, they will become friendly, no matter how different they are. At a BBQ, you could see the nerd, jock, princess, criminal, and freak all eating dogs, drinking beers, and talking about facebook. The barbecue makes things like this happen.

At the end of The Breakfast Club, two couples are formed (Emilio & Ally, Judd & Molly; Anthony Michael Hall ends up alone, but still…) The same thing tends to happen at BBQs. I’ve garnered more numbers at the barbecue, then any other social function because it’s so much easier to make a connection.

Normally, girls have their force field up. For example, a girl at a bar might flat out embarrass you just for saying hi to her. She might respond to a simple: “Hi. My name is Paul” with “Good for you.” But at a BBQ, this would never happen.

For one thing, it is light out. Most women believe men are like vampires: non-threatening during the day, and then evil creatures at night. Since the sun is beaming down, women no longer fear the approach of the male, and they will give him a chance to converse. It’s as if security has taken the day off, and now men can walk right through the front door.

On the flip side, men feel less pressure speaking to a woman during the day. He is not expecting to bring her home (because it’s light out), so he lets his guard down as well. His intentions are to actually get to know her. He is not spouting off cheese ball lines or using gimmicks from The Game by Neil Strauss. He is just being himself.

References

Since the man and woman know someone in common by a degree or two, it also lightens the situation. Girls feel so much more comfortable when they have a reference. They are a lot like an employer. They’re probably not going to hire you unless a few people make a recommendation. At a BBQ, the man usually has at least one person, (the host or hostess) if not more, to speak up for him. This puts the women at ease. She thinks: “If the host says he cool, he probably is. I’ll give him a chance.”

Alcohol

It also has to be noted that alcohol is free. For BBBQs—the extra B is for BYOBB (that extra B is a typo.) Because of this, the guy doesn’t have to buy the girl a drink. And the girl doesn’t have to be fake in order to get one. Free alcohol takes away all of those awkward moments.

One would think, since the alcohol is free, people would get “embarrassingly black out, on the verge of an arrest or fight” drunk. But this rarely happens. Why? One reason is that people are eating which counterbalances the alcohol. But the main reason is that people feel comfortable at a BBQ.

At bars and clubs, there are fights, people getting sick, passing out, etc. because they feel uncomfortable. They don’t know what else to do. They stand around downing their drink because they feel awkward. And next thing they know, they are falling down face first into a toilet.

But at BBQs, people drink at a comfortable pace. This relaxes both the man and woman. And it adds just enough of a buzz to create some sparks, chemistry, and flirting.

#4 BANTER


What’s banter?

Banter is a unique dialogue in which one must display quick wit and sarcasm. If you need an example to understand better, simply watch an episode of Seinfeld or Curb Your Enthusiasm. Banter is also popular within the Jewish community. We have an ability to schmooze and speak in great detail about inane and pointless topics.

There’s a certain energy and excitement that goes with the rapid back and forth of banter. The conservations tend to be absurd, scattered, and hilarious. Usually, the parties will start on one topic and end with another. It’s also very common to reference TV and movies during a good banter session (see example below.)

Banter seems to be more of an east coast thing. I’ve lived on both coasts, and the biggest difference is the ability to banter. On the west coast, people think differently. They are just as intelligent, but their responses are slower and more laid back. On the east coast, everything is fast paced including conversation. There’s also a lot more sarcasm, and to banter successfully, one must pick things up quickly. For some, this could be difficult. They may take things literally, and just not get the joke. These people should be avoided as they are not very fun.

Banter plays a huge role at BBQs. Since people have their guard down, they are open, fun, and downright silly. The more people are involved, the more fun it is. And at barbecues, everyone is involved. This opens the flood gates for any type of conversation.

Here’s a sample bantering between me and my friend:

F: What’s the most underrated fruit?
Me: I’d say the tomato.
F: Tomato? That's not a fruit.
Me: I googled it. Tomato is a fruit.
F: Google or yahoo?
Me: Google.
F: Maybe because it has seeds or something.
Me: Exactly. The tomato is underrated because it sneaks its way into things.
F: Explain.
Me: The tomato is a staple of the salad, but it’s not even a vegetable. It sneaks its way in. All the other veges are chilling with him thinking he’s one of them. But he’s not. He’s really a fruit.
F: He’s like a narc.
Me: If the tomato was on 21 Jump Street, he’d be Johnny Depp.
F: If the tomato was in the Departed, he’d be Leonardo DiCaprio.
Me: It’s also in juice, bloody mary’s, sauce…
F: Salsa. Ketchup. Tomacco.
Me: How come salsa and ketchup can be on the table, but tomato sauce can’t? Wouldn’t it be fun to dip bread into tomato sauce before the meal starts?
F: Salsa and ketchup have cornered the dipping industry. They're just too tough to compete with.

Other Banter Topics At BBQs Have Included:

Best Saturday Morning Cartoons (Gummy Bears, The Smurfs)

Best Cereals (Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Reese’s Peanut Butter Puffs)

Why is Donkey Kong called Donkey Kong when it has nothing to do with a Donkey?

Hottest Celebrities (Mila Kunis, Rachel Bilson, Megan Fox, Jessica Biel, Elisha Cuthbert)


“Your best friend Harry has a brother Larry, in 5 days from now, he’s gonna marry. He’s hoping you can make it there, if you can, because in the ceremony you’ll be the best man.” -Young MC's, Bust A Move. Why would Larry choose you over his brother as the best man?

If you were to create your own basketball team using only movie/TV characters, who would be on it?

#5 OUTDOOR DAY DRINKING

I looked back at my nights of partying and came up with a simple conclusion.

The best part of the night was the pre-party. I’d hang with my friends, listen to music, play video games, play drinking games, joke around, and have fun. Then we’d go to a dark, loud, bar; get yelled at by bouncers, get bumped into by d-bags, overpay for drinks, and unsuccessfully hit on girls. The witty conversations halted, the awkward moments increased, and the group chemistry disappeared. I’d get home super late, sleep poorly, and wake up the next morning wishing I hadn’t stayed out all night and drank so much.

Then I thought to myself: What if there was a way to have all of the fun of the pre-party, successfully hit on girls, and get a good night’s sleep? I imagined the possibilities, but still could not come up with a solution.

That’s when it hit me like a lightning bolt. I was standing on a chair, when I slipped and fell off and hit my head on the toilet. That’s when I realized: outdoor day drinking makes all of this possible!

And what event always has outdoor day drinking? The BBQ!

It’s just another great reason why barbecues are so much fun. People can consume as much booze as they want and still get a good night’s sleep. And it’s already been noted how alcohol during the day brings people together. Even the people working, the chef and promoter, have a beer in their hands. To quote Andy Dufresne: "I think a man working outdoors feels more like a man if he can have a bottle of suds. That’s only my opinion."

There are some occasions when outdoor day drinking can stand alone even without the barbecue. This might include daylight pub crawls, tailgating, concerts, and softball games.

A few months back, I stopped by a friend’s house during the day after playing some basketball. The only drink on my mind was Gatorade, but he convinced me to take part in a drinking game that I’d never heard of. It was called Beer Die which is slightly reminiscent to beer pong. (For details, click here.)

We played in an apartment courtyard which doubled as the “garbage area.” It didn’t matter. We had so much fun playing this gentleman’s drinking game! Everyone was included even the spectators. We drank the cheapest beer that money could by, but nobody cared. The vibe was so positive that we weren’t even bothered when neighbors brought out their garbage and halted our game.

After winning a few games, getting a tan, and consuming a number of beers, it was time to go home. I stumbled back to my place, ate dinner, and got to bed around 10 pm. I got a great night’s sleep and woke up fresh, ready to go again the next day (which rarely happens now that I’m in my 30’s.)

Let the BBQs Begin

Last Friday, I attended my first barbecue of the summer. I ate burgers, dogs, chicken, sausage, calamari, grilled vegetables, cole slaw, potato salad, and Oreo cookies. I made some friends, chatted with some girls, and bantered about baseball, calculus, and The Price is Right. I knocked back a few beers and watched the sunset.

I stood on the porch, patted my full belly, and thought to myself:

Barbecues are Awesome!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Hangover


Not too long ago, I woke up on a random morning with my head pounding, my throat parched, and my stomach aching. I swore that I’d never drink again.

There’s nothing worse than a hangover. But I still drink, and I just discovered that the hangover is not always so bad.

Todd Phillips (director of Old School and Road Trip) brings us a hangover that we can actually enjoy. The Hangover follows 4 men (you can’t tell from the commercials/posters, but there are 4 guys) celebrating a bachelor party in Las Vegas. The opening scenes are fast paced, music filled, and quickly introduce the quirky characters.

There’s Bradley Cooper, the scumbag, who steals money from his high school students; Zach Galifianakis, the weird dude, who utters random comments, and shows off his can in his first scene; Ed Helms (Andy Bernard from The Office), the whipped guy, who is on the verge of rebelling against his bitchy girlfriend. And finally Justin Bartha, the groom, whose main role in the story is to get these eclectic characters to Vegas.

The storytelling twist is that we don’t follow these characters into the night. Instead, we wake up with them and their hangover the next morning. And we must follow the men as they utter the eternal phrase: “What happened last night?”

The Hangover follows a similar plot to “Dude, Where’s My Car?” But instead of stoners, it’s a bunch of drunkards. And instead of a car, the guys lose their main man: “Dude, Where’s The Groom?” We follow these dudes through a series of bizarre encounters which include: a run in with Mike Tyson, finding a baby in the closet, counting cards, and a demonstration with stun guns.

The adventures are absurd, silly, and for the most part, pretty funny. The Hangover does lose some pace throughout as there are less music cues and longer scenes. But the plot is tight enough that we want to figure out what exactly happened the night before. The film saves the big reveal during the credits which was easily the funniest part of the movie.

The Hangover has an Old School goes to Vegas feel, but it’s not an instant classic. I found myself smiling a lot more than laughing. I liked the characters and the story, but there were only a few moments that were hysterical and made me laugh out loud uncontrollably. Overall, it’s a fun ride, and it made me yearn for a Vegas trip with my buddies.

The Hangover is one part vulgar, one part silly, and two parts absurd. It makes for a fun escape, and by the end, you’ll look at a hangover in an entirely different way.

Sidenotes

Tyson makes a cameo playing himself. He holds his own, but his best moment is given away in the previews when he sings Phil Collins and knocks out Zack Galifianakis with a devastating punch.

Heather Graham’s breast makes an appearance. It's not as exciting as Boogie Nights, but it's still pretty cool. Word around Hollywood is that her boob may be nominated for a Golden Globe (pun intended.)

Todd Phillips has a brief cameo just as he did in Road Trip and Old School. And once again, it’s a sexual innuendo. In Road Trip he sucks on Amy Smart’s toes. In Old School, he’s there for the “gang bang.” And in The Hangover, Phillips is “going down” the elevator with a sexy blonde. If I directed movies, I’d probably do the same thing. Good for him!

The same wedding band from Old School (The Dan Band) makes an appearance near the end of the film. The band is well known for its covers of female pop songs, with added obscenities and swearing.

Zach Galifianakis refers to Three Men and a Baby as the movie with Ted Danson, Magnum P.I, and that Jewish actor.

Zach Galifianakis pulls off his best Rain Man imitation as he rides down the escalator and counts cards. (I was disappointed that they didn’t use the same music, and no direct quotes were used like: “One for bad. Two for good.”)

The psychologist in me thinks Todd Phillips may be cynical when it comes to relationships. In his 3 most popular films, there is at least one character who must break out of a relationship. Road Trip shows that long distance relationships don’t work. In Old School, Luke Wilson gets cheated on, and Will Ferrell is married and divorced within a month. And finally in The Hangover, Ed Helms endures a bitter long term relationship that he is aching to escape from.


The Simpsons aired a similar plot to The Hangover back in January, 1999 entitled “Viva Ned Flanders.” Homer and Ned have a wild night in Vegas. They wake up in their hotel room and can’t remember a thing. They are surrounded by a strange mix of goods from the night before including a watermelon, a sundial, an oil drum, and the Stanley Cup. Then they learn that they were married the night before.

How I Met Your Mother aired the episode “Bachelor Party” in April 2007. Four guys head to Atlantic City for Marshall’s (Jason Segel) bachelor party. One of the characters vanishes at the beginning and is not seen until the very end much like the groom in The Hangover.

According to imdb.com, Todd Phillips has 11 projects in development including a sequel to The Hangover. Old School 2 (Old School Dos) is currently in production.

Meeting Todd Phillips

I met Todd Philips back in 2002. I was living in LA, and heard through the grapevine (Central Casting) that there was a general casting call for an upcoming comedy. They were looking for goofy fraternity guys. For those that don’t know me, that pretty much sums me up. I threw on a Hawaiian shirt, jacked up my pants, tossed on my AEPi fraternity hat, and within seconds, I was a goofy fraternity guy.

It was my first and only audition for a movie. I stood nervously in line at USC with hundreds of other goofy, strange, and odd characters. I tried to converse with my fellow goofballs, but it was difficult meeting other sane individuals. There were a set of attention starved twins, a guy with vampire teeth, and one guy without eyebrows. I didn’t know what was next, but I hoped the line would move faster.

They called us into a classroom about 25 at a time. We all stood before Todd Phillips as he took notes and observed our goofiness. After a brief moment, he thanked us for our time, and sent us on our way.

On the way out, I introduced myself to the director. I felt like if he got to know me for at least a few minutes, he’d realize that I’m the goofy fraternity guy he was looking for. Mr. Phillips shook my hand, and genuinely spoke to me for a few moments. He was really friendly, but unfortunately, there were no sparks. And it was pretty clear I was not getting chosen for the part.

As I exited, I coped with rejection maturely. I rationalized that the movie would be stupid, and I wouldn’t want to be associated with it anyways.

One year later, Old School premiered and became an instant classic. Despite the rejection, I still loved the movie, and finally realized why Todd Phillips had not chosen me.

I was way too good looking to be one of those goofy fraternity guys.

Thanks, Todd.

Friday, June 5, 2009

SUMMER FUN: Wiffle Ball

The sun is shining brighter, the weather is getting warmer, and women are wearing less. It’s a great time of year. The summer is approaching.

The summer has always been a very special time to me. From ages 8-18, I attended summer camp. Camp Tel Noar was 8 weeks of pure fun and mischief (http://thecorner33.blogspot.com/2008/07/oh-camp-tel-noar.html)

Unfortunately, I will not be headed back to Hampstead, New Hampshire this summer. But I’m still looking forward to my favorite season of the year.

It may not be camp, but the next two months still offers an array of activities that will make my summer.

Here’s the first of many more to come:

Wiffle Ball

Every other day at summer camp, my bunkmates and I congregated at the wiffle ball diamond otherwise known as the “corral.” Our field paid homage to Fenway Park; our own Green Monster made out of plywood stood in left field. The “corral” was tiny and the home runs were plentiful (it made new Yankee stadium look huge in comparison.) There was a sense of pride and accomplishment every time you whacked the ball over the Green Monster. There were smiles; there was fun; there was a sense of youth and innocence. And then…

…my friends and I forgot about wiffle ball for about 15 years.

This changed when I moved to NYC four years ago. It was a reunion of sorts; I had friends from summer camp, elementary school, high school, and college, all in one place. I don’t know how it started, or whose idea it was, but one day, a group of us hung out and decided to play wiffle ball.

We headed down to Central Park and took part in the first of dozens of games of home run derby. We took over sections of the park and even hopped fences in order to create the perfect wiffle ball field. We felt like kids again. There was homerun hitting, bat flipping, and trash talking—the basic ingredients to a great game of wiffle ball. Random onlookers stopped by to watch our game. “If you build it, they will come.” We secretly included spectators in the game; if they caught a homerun ball, it was actually an out. I once had a bomb taken away when a woman made a one handed stab while on a picnic.


I did some research and was happy to see that wiffle ball has sprung up all over the country. There’s an official wiffle ball site (http://www.wiffle.com/), wiffle ball associations, networks, clubs, teams, and tournaments. In Essex, Vermont, a man by the name of Pat O’Connor erected a 1/4th scale replica of Fenway Park purely for wiffle ball. (http://www.littlefenway.com/) The field has held events and helped raise over a half a million dollars for various causes. O’Connor and his friends just recently unveiled another wiffle ball field—Little Wrigley.

I’m no longer at camp, and my friends and I have don’t have a Little Fenway. But what we do have is a bat, a set of wiffle balls, some green grass, a homerun fence, and a youthful spirit

Now that the weather is warming up, it’s wiffle ball time again. It’s time to be a kid again. It’s time to have fun.

Play ball!