Single Guy Says ‘Happy Boxing Day’

Happy belated Christmas everyone, I hope you spent it surrounded by family, love, warmth, and happiness. And good food of course. I’m in the midst of packing, getting ready to leave for a week in Las Vegas with my family. It will be a brand new year when I return, and I can’t wait to read and catch up on all the great stories, experiences, and writing I’ll have waiting for me from you all when I return.

At the same time, between the past week and this coming week I’m sure there will be plenty for me to share  when I get back, so here’s a quick preview of what to expect just in catching up on all the holiday festivities.

  • My cousin and I made a Japanese feast for dinner, with special premium ingredients I bought from a Japanese market. I’ll be posting pictures of the meals and of us in the kitchen, plus writing about how much fun it was and how exciting  it was to spend a good part of the day just doing some serious cooking.
  • As is our tradition, we spent Christmas Eve at my great-aunt’s house, and Christmas Day at home. We exchanged gifts, did a gag gift ‘white elephant’, and played all kinds of Christmas games, sometimes for prizes of money or for punishments of drinking.
  • Las Vegas is sure to be an incredible time. My family and I love Las Vegas, and we’ve been back almost every other year, but this will be our first time spending New Year’s in the heart of what will probably be the biggest and best city-wide party in the world. My brother and I will be headed to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway to drive supercars around their track, go to a shooting range to shoot weapons from WWI and WWII and more modern weapons like those used by US SWAT forces and Cold War-era fighters, we’ll be trying a whole new list of exciting and unique restaurants, and catch plenty of Vegas shows.
  • And perhaps last but certainly not least, as I sit here typing and packing to try and push my mind away from the crushing disappointment, I will let you all know how my first date in two years went, how fun, how thrilling, how promising, and how shattering to find out mid-way that she already has a boyfriend with whom she is unfailingly happy. Thank god Vegas is the last place where one has to think of normal life, or worry about normal problems, or normal disappointments.

Anyways, since I won’t have the chance to say it later, I wish you all a very happy and prosperous new year, with plenty of riches in love, laughter, and happiness.

Single Guy Sends You to Philadelphia

On the occasional Friday night when I don’t have anything to do, I find myself enjoying a few pints at my local brewery. I’ve been there often enough now that I’m considered one of the ‘regulars’, and I can look around in the crowd and with a wordless nod, recognize the others who faithfully congregate here week after week. I’ve had some friendly conversations, met some nice people, but the only constant face I can always rely on and expect to see is Chelsea, the unfailingly amiable bartender.

A couple weeks ago, on a slower than usual night, we talked about holiday plans. Whose relatives would be visiting whom, who decided to forego all of the holiday traditions and run off to some warm Caribbean island. And she mentioned she and her friends would be visiting Philadelphia sometime in January. Immediately my ears perked up. It’s been pretty obvious if you’ve read some of my posts that Philadelphia is one of my favorite cities, holding a lot of special and emotional memories for me. So jumped at the opportunity to share some of my experience, knowledge, and dare I say ‘expertise’, with someone who was about to explore it for the first time. I wrote up a little travel guide breaking Philly up into Center City, with Market Street and the heart of the historic district and waterfront, and South Philly, the artistic, creative, colorful, but troubled younger sibling.

I don’t know if I’ve ever fully laid out my ideal Philly trip map, but I figured since I went to the trouble to create this for her, I ought to share with you all too. Whether Philly is one of your own favorite destinations or you too have never visited the City of Brotherly Love, I hope you might find something here that entices you, encourages you, excites you, calling you to Philadelphia.

Philadelphia Winter Guide

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***SEASONAL*** RiverRink Winterfest at Penn’s Landing (now until the end of February)

Penn’s Landing is a beautiful waterfront area with a boardwalk and it’s just a short walk from Center City and all of Philly’s historic attractions. During the winter the area is transformed into a winter village, with an ice skating rink, a giant Christmas tree, restaurants, and an outdoor area with fire pits, board games, and little cabins with seats and blankets. It stays open pretty late, so it’s a nice place to check out at night and get some ‘adult’ hot chocolate, relax in one of the mini cabins, or go ice skating.

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Franklin Fountain and Shane Confectionery – 116 Market St.

This place is awesome for that old-timey vintage feel that’s legitimately authentic, and not hipster-y. They even still use the same original push-button register from when the Fountain first opened. The staff still wear the same white apron and red bow ties of old-fashioned soda perks and ice cream parlors. They make their ice cream in-house, and in winter they have a special menu with things like hot milkshakes and fresh baked apple pies, brownies, and cookies. Their ice cream is super-rich and they’ve got some interesting and unique flavors. Then next door there’s the Shane Confectionery, where they make all their chocolates by scratch. It’s a great place to get snacks and souvenirs. Their truffles come in like a hundred different flavors, they have great decadent bon bons, and the chocolate covered potato chips are really good.

Sonnys Famous

Sonny’s Famous – 228 Market St.

Philly is undoubtedly the land of cheesesteaks, and everyone has their favorite. I can’t tell you Sonny’s is the best in Philly. But I can tell you that I’ve had a lot of cheesesteaks, and I only go back to Sonny’s. Maybe it’s the fresh bread delivered daily. Or the fact that they use whole, thin slices of rib-eye beef slow cooked in its own juices, without oil. Maybe it’s the mushroom and onions that I add to my Cheese-Whiz. Or I’m just a creature of habit. But it’s right in Center City, in between the historic district and the waterfront, so it’s all along the way.

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Reading Terminal Market – 51 N 12th St.

If you ever needed proof that God loved us and is in everything, just wander Reading Terminal Market, and you’ll understand that there is a great and wonderful beauty in the chaos of the universe. There are some great eateries, like Pearl’s Oyster Bar for some great chowder, po’ boys, and fresh oysters, or the numerous Chinese stalls with tender juicy roast pork and crispy duck. There’s also an Amish confection booth that has the BEST gummy bears ever. Don’t ask me why or how. The mini ones are best. Have lunch, or grab some fresh unique doughnuts, ice cream, or whatever. Walk around and explore the countless seafood stalls run by scrupulous Chinese families with an exacting eye for the freshest and best seafood. Grab a few free samples of the incredible array of fine cheeses and charcuterie at the cheese and cured meat stands. Look and marvel in horror at the chocolate covered onions. I wouldn’t recommend actually trying it though.

Nan Zhou

Nan Zhou Hand Drawn Noodle House (CASH ONLY) – 1022 Race Street

A block away from Reading Terminal is Nan Zhou Hand Drawn Noodle House. Take a wild guess what their specialty is. Chewy, fresh-made noodles stretched by hand through hundreds of folds to create incredibly long strands of perfect noodles. It’s surprisingly incredibly cheap to get some of the best, most authentic Chinese food in Philly at this historic restaurant. They have an equally impressive and superbly flavorful selection of appetizers and dim sum. I don’t know how adventurous you are, but I would highly recommend getting either the spicy beef tendon or spicy pig’s ears to go with your noodles. Regardless, you can never go wrong with delicious pork and chive dumplings, if you must.

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Time! – 1315 Sansom St.

I have to admit to my own great shame that of my numerous trips to Philly, I only recently discovered Time! on my last one. Not too far away from Reading Terminal, Time! is an incredibly impressive bar with a kitchen menu that rivals its drinks menu. I sat at the bar, alternating between one modest yet sophisticated cocktail and a plate of understated but quality food. Deviled eggs, a macaroni and cheese with crab meat and smoked bacon, a juicy house-made sausage, punctuated with perfectly made Sazeracs, Negronis, Old Fashioneds, and their own oak-aged Vieux Carre. If you’re not a cocktail person they also have an impressive selection of fine whiskey with options for tasting flights, but the real reason why I want you to go to Time! and make sure you have at least two hours to dedicate to the visit is the fact that Time! always has an amazing lineup of live jazz bands performing in the corner of its simple bar room.

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Brauhaus Schmitz – 718 South St.

Hard to miss Brauhaus Schmitz as you’re wandering Philly’s more ‘artistic’ and ‘flavorful’ district of South Street. The exterior reminds you of a giant beer barrel, beckoning you inside. Brauhaus Schmitz is the best place for authentic German food and beer. They have over thirty German beers on draft and a mouthwatering selection of imported cured meats, authentic German bratwurst, knockwurst, and every-wurst, and wonderfully crispy schnitzel. It’s undeniably German and yet still feels like eating dinner at home.

Magic Gardens

Philadelphia Magic Gardens – 1020 South St.

The Magic Gardens is the ongoing and literally boundless project of local Philly artist Isaiah Zagar. He moved to the area in the 1960s, and his artwork can be seen all around South Philly in murals and mosaics decorating building walls all around South Street. The Magic Gardens doubles as his studio and also a living, breathing, ever-changing work of art. He creates these elaborate and beautiful mosaics using reclaimed materials like broken mirrors and glasses, bottles, bicycles, and hubcaps. You can enter the exhibit and see some of Zagar’s works in progress, and it’s a complete departure from the Philly city life. The outdoor area is a labyrinth of narrow stairways and passageways, all built around whatever Zagar could find and where he could put it. As long as the weather is dry, the Magic Gardens is open to the public.

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Atomic City Comics – 638 South St.

Between the Marvel movies and the spread of things like anime and manga, it’s time to admit that nerd culture has become pop culture. Atomic City Comics existed way before everyone and their neighbor suddenly thought it was ‘cool’ to be ‘uncool’. They have a few vintage arcade games in the back you can play for a quarter and an extensive collection of Western and Asian comics and collectibles. It’s fun just to walk in, browse, explore, and read for a bit. The staff is super friendly and knowledgeable, and depending on the level of your nerd-dom, this place could be pretty fun to check out.

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Condom Kingdom – 437 South St.

Look I don’t know who you’re going to Philly with. Maybe they’re cool, maybe they’re not. If they’re not, don’t go here. If they are, absolutely check out Condom Kingdom. This is not for the faint of heart. That becomes readily apparent when you say the many sex toys hanging from the ceiling, and the sex toy crane game. They take the sale of high-end sex toys for both men and women as seriously as any discerning sommelier would treat picking a selection of wines. They also have a wide assortment of novelties and gag (no pun intended) gifts for bachelor parties, bachelorette parties, or you know, birthday parties if you’re so inclined.

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Pho Ha (CASH ONLY) – 600 Washington Ave

I have long since said that Philadelphia has the best pho in the country, and Pho Ha has the best pho in Philly, so you know what that means. The bowls of pho are ridiculously large and filling for what amounts to chump change. You can customize your pho, with different cuts of beet like brisket, flank, or top round steak. I would recommend brisket, beef tendon, beef tripe, and beef balls. If you’ve never had Asian beef balls before, they’re very different from western meat balls. The meat is minced finely and repeatedly beaten and pounded to create a chewy, bouncy texture. The bowls are served with heaping plates of fresh cilantro, lime, jalapenos, and bean sprouts to add to the still hot broth to cook right at the table. Vietnamese iced coffee, sweetened  with thick condensed milk, is perfect to cool down from the warm soup.

Single Guy Does Music Mondays: ‘The Christmas Waltz’

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When the ‘Chairman of the Board’ asks you for something, you don’t say no. At least, that’s what writer Sammy Cahn and composer Jule Styne soon found out when Frank Sinatra came to them and said he wanted an original Christmas song. It was 1954 and Frank was about to record a new version of ‘White Christmas’ and wanted an original song for the B-side. Cahn was initially reluctant, skeptical of trying to make anything new so soon after the hugely successful (and to this day still the most recorded Christmas song ever) Irving Berlin song ‘White Christmas’. But Cahn and Styne met in Styne’s apartment, began working, and when Cahn realized there had never been an original Christmas waltz, immediately began working on the lyrics of what would eventually become ‘The Christmas Waltz’.

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‘The Christmas Waltz’ is definitely one of my all-time favorite Christmas songs, and not just because of its beautiful melody and picturesque, scenic lyrics. During the fall semester of my sophomore year of college, Beautiful and I took a dance class together. As part of our ‘final’ we had to pick a style of dance we had learned, find a song, and arrange a dance on our own. We picked the waltz, as it was the most elegant and romantic to us, and since our final was in December, we picked ‘The Christmas Waltz’ as our song. I remember us gliding across the floor in our classroom, our classmates and professor in a circle around us, but all we could focus on was each other. I wore a bright red Santa cap, and she looked so adorable with her reindeer antler headband.

Frank Sinatra would record ‘The Christmas Waltz’ as a B-side in 1954, in 1957 for his album ‘A Jolly Christmas from Frank Sinatra’, and again in 1968 for ‘The Sinatra Family Wish You a Merry Christmas’. Since then it’s been covered by Christmas song legends like Bing Crosby, Johnny Mathis, and Tony Bennett. You’ll most likely hear the Carpenters’ version of it on the radio this time of year, though Harry Connick Jr’s was the most popular, appearing on the Adult Contemporary Billboard Top 100 for two weeks, and Cahn even wrote a whole new set of additional lyrics when Mel Tormé recorded his version in 1992. Personally my music taste compass has been pointing more towards low and slow recently, so this version by She & Him is my current favorite. Simple and clean and with the right partner, I imagine just as beautiful to dance to.

Single Guy Says, ‘Sawatdee Khap’

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This review is way overdue, after seeing a movie recommendation made by M.Gin.

And boy howdy am I glad I listened to her suggestion. ‘Bad Genius’, known in Thai as Chalard Games Geong is an incredible film, inspired by true events, that went on to become Thailand’s highest grossing film of 2017 and gave rise to model-turned actor Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying. Oh and yes, for the entirety of this post I will only be copy-pasting that name.

‘Bad Genius’ is about Lynn, a young genius high schooler who gets accepted into a prestigious Thai school. Timid and studious at first, Lynn befriends the much more outgoing but academically challenged Grace. Lynn tries to help her friend with private tutoring lessons, but when all else fails, she comes up with an ingenious way for the two to cheat and share answers during a crucial test. After Grace tells her lavishly rich boyfriend Pat of their success, he offers Lynn an irresistible payment to help him, Grace, and his friends successfully cheat on their exams in increasingly elaborate and intricate ways. When she realizes that she could be doing bad for millions versus doing good for nothing, Lynn embarks on a cheating heist of international proportions with Grace and Pat. But to do so would require the help of another equally brilliant but straight-laced student, Bank. Success would mean financial and academic security but regardless of the outcome, the cost to their futures still remains to be seen.

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There’s an incredible amount of style and finesse to this movie, blending many different film genres to create a movie that’s part bank-heist and part social commentary. Most striking to me is how ‘Bad Genius’ sets cheating as a necessary evil versus class and social inequality but also as the tainted fruit of misguided friendship.

In the first sense, it strikes a personal and professional tone from my time as a teacher and someone who still cares profoundly about education. I know prestigious schools like the setting in ‘Bad Genius’ because I went to one similar to it in high school. My high Bad Genius Glassesschool has consistently been in the top rankings in the country, garnering attention for the many academic achievements of its students. It handpicks its student population based on a series of tests and interviews, with a very limited allocation reserved only for the top percentage of students in each district. But once you get in I mean…what happens in these schools? Sometimes it’s just a matter of getting in. You do your work, pay your dues, get in, get that extra blip on your resume, and you’re set after graduation. But what makes a school truly exemplary is not in how good the students are when they get in, but how much better they are after they leave. Some of these schools that are so reputation based forget their responsibility to actually elevate their students, and instead expect them to rise on their own. It leaves the truly naturally gifted to simply continue on unfettered but also unchallenged, and it completely abandons those who possess the potential but require the nurturing.

At the same time, a major focus of the story is the stark contrast in income and class. Lynn and Bank are both academically rich students, but Lynn lives with her father, a simple teacher earning a modest income, and Bank has to balance school work with helping his struggling family’s meager laundry business, sometimes having to wash the clothes himself by hand when their old and outdated equipment breaks down Bad Genius Celebration.giffrequently. Both are barely able to attend the school thanks to generous academic scholarships, which they must continually compete against each other and other schools for. Meanwhile Pat and Grace live lives of opulence and decadence, comfortable knowing their successes are almost guaranteed by the pedigree of their families. Academics isn’t so much a matter of success but of stature: Pat’s parents want him to attend the same elite American university his father attended, and Grace is expected to follow along. When some have so little, and others have so much, and those with few realize they possess something those with plenty actually want, cheating becomes a financial transaction. Almost a profession, finding a way to make money off of what one is good at. And isn’t that supposed to be the goal?

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I think Lynn and Grace could have truly been great friends. I think Lynn’s natural academic ability and her caring nature could have made her a great teacher, finding unique and personal ways to reach even struggling students, like Grace. On the other hand I feel Grace, with her warm and open nature, could coax the confidence and adventure out of Lynn. I believe the nature of their relationship started out with the purest of intentions, and they made an honest effort to do honest work, trading each other’s greatest strengths to help one another. But friends don’t always know what’s best for each other. They might see into each other and see what they want, but friends might not have the maturity, the restraint, patience, or understanding to know what they need. In the heat of the moment, with the pressure of a critical test deciding whether or not Grace could act in the school play, her true calling, Lynn reacted in any way a caring friend would. She helped her. Just, not in the way she needed. The way she wanted. And who among us hasn’t compromised a bit to help a friend in need? Or isn’t guilty of greasing a friendship for some benefit sometimes? It’s what happens afterwards that determines the true nature and health of the friendship. Can Lynn realize she is hurting more than helping her friend? Is Grace able to see that she is using her friend, and in doing so losing her more and more with each exam? It’s a dynamic of the movie that culminates in a very open and authentic ending.

Honestly, there’s very little not to enjoy about this movie. It’s a thrill, it’s dramatic, it’s Bank and Lynn 1incredibly sleek and smooth. My biggest gripe is actually with the community of movie fans ruining one of my favorite aspects of the film. ‘Bad Genius’ is not a love story. Not all stories have to be love stories. They don’t even have to have any love in it. In fact I’m pretty sure if you were to count them, most stories aren’t love stories. There are a few moments where Lynn and Bank seem to gravitate towards each other. The director of the film has even gone on to comment that the chemistry of the two characters was unplanned but had become an excellent element to play on. But to any objective viewer, it becomes very clear that while they may at times seem to get so close as to almost touch, they inhabit completely different worlds, revolving around completely different stars. And believe it or not, that’s okay. In fact, with movies and books more often thanBank and Lynn 2 not forcing unbelievable or untenable love stories into their midst, I’m glad in the game of ‘will they/won’t they’ ‘Bad Genius’ was smart enough to say ‘no they won’t’. They may have started out as similar stars, but the events of the film change their characters in pronounced ways, and the movie respects their growth, rather than slapping them back to the beginning like a rubber band brought back to snap at our wrists. I’m tired of reading so many fan reactions and reviews wishing and hoping the two end up together, or that in the sequel they become a pair. The story arc of these two characters is rich and lavish enough to appreciate without adding this element. HEY ‘MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US’, YOU COULD LEARN A LESSON OR TWO FROM THIS.

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There’s a lot to love about ‘Bad Genius’. Not the least of which is that it has given birth to a rising star-soon-to-be-legend in its main actress, (copy-paste) Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying.  Her incredible performance in ‘Bad Genius’ (her first one ever) has even earned her the Screen International Rising Star Asia Award at the 2017 New York Asian Film Festival Awards. (By the way, past Rising Stars have included the Philippines’s own Teri Malvar.) She does an incredible job expressing care, concern, confidence, and in intense moments, guilt. I can’t wait for her future projects, and I hope with the incredible success of ‘Bad Genius’ I see her in many more films. It certainly doesn’t hurt that she is absolutely stunning. Why yes, I did in fact immediately follow her on Instagram after watching the movie. No, that’s not at all strange.

I hope you have a chance to find this movie online. I won’t even ask how you found it or where you saw it, because I just want you to watch and enjoy. But if you can’t, here’s a great clip from an old Japanese movie that shows you just how clever and ingenious we Asians can get when it comes to cheating.

Single Guy Parties with French Royalty

Well okay let’s be completely honest here. It was more like…’Single Guy Serves at a Party with French Royalty’. Hahah. But I’m getting ahead of myself here.

A couple weeks ago while Emi and I were having our lunch together, she mentioned that she would be having some guests from France stay over at her apartment in Manhattan and that they were planning on hosting a little Christmas party for some friends and relatives living in the states. She was asking if I could be free that day to come over before the party started and help prepare and decorate and whatnot and stay during to help Emi host. Of course I happily agreed and made sure that last Saturday I would be free to head into the city and help at what I thought would be a rather simple and modest little get-together.

Ha. How could one be so wrong.

The story of Emi’s friends is pretty surprising. Emi met this young woman at the school where she was learning French. Emi had always wanted to learn another language, and the young woman was learning French to surprise her fiance, who was from France. They became fast friends, helping each other study and review, and going out for dinner regularly after their classes during the week. Emi was even invited to their wedding in France, which was held at this lavish estate.

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Of course she wanted to find out more about the venue and how her very kind, very unassuming friend was able to get such a location for what was turning out to be a very posh wedding. Turns out, this beautiful estate is none other than Maison Chateaubriand, the home of Francois-Rene de Chateuabriand, the famous French writer, diplomat, politician, founder of the French Romantic movement in literature, and yes, the namesake of the famous Chateaubriand steak. And why were they there? Because the mansion belongs to her fiance, the descendant of Chateaubriand, himself an aristocrat and scion to an incredibly wealthy family. And it was this lovely couple who would be staying with Emi, who I would be meeting and helping host a party, for all of their family and friends.

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It was actually a very fun evening, and I got to meet some fascinating people all with great stories to tell. First of all, Emi’s apartment is in an incredible spot. It’s right at the corner of Central Park, with a balcony overlooking the New York City skyline and the park below. She even showed me the balcony from when Dustin Hoffman used to live in the same building and across the street, where Madonna has an entire floor just for herself. We took advantage of the gorgeous view and took a picture together standing outside before it got too cold.

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The inside of her apartment is like a time capsule. From the wallpaper to the plush carpet, I feel like I’ve been brought back to the many years past when Emi and Frank Emi's Pianoused to live here together. And I’m sure that’s what Emi is hoping to preserve. On the wall is an beautiful, framed painting of Emi in her wedding dress in Hawaii. It was the one-year anniversary Frank gave to her after they married. Her piano is full of old photos of her mother and father back in Japan, of Frank as a young man, and photos of the two of them as a couple from when they were dating.

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I think we did a pretty good job as a team though! Emi and I took care of the food and decorations and her friends took care of the drinks. Sixteen bottles of some of the finest, Emi's Glassware.jpgmost expensive champagne I’ve ever drank. You can bet at the start I was pretty worried and timid pouring what was essentially the price of liquid gold for around thirty guests, but after having a glass…or two…or nine…myself, it surprisingly became a lot easier. Hahah. French people can really down their champagne. Luckily we didn’t finish all the bottles, so I even got to take one home for myself. You know what my family and I will be drinking at Christmas. To help identify and differentiate people’s glasses Emi had these cute little charms of acorns and leaves, and we put different ones around the stem of each champagne flute. For food Emi ordered three large platters of sushi from her favorite sushi place in Manhattan and I helped her cook the family recipe for baked ziti that her Emi's Pastahusband’s mother gave to her when Emi and Frank married. Tomato sauce from scratch, ricotta and egg mixed into the pasta for extra creaminess, and plenty of fresh mozzarella torn up and spread all around for extra cheesy gooey goodness. We had all kinds of dips and chips and Asian snacks and homemade gyoza  (dumplings) and guests brought sesame and green tea cream puffs and red velvet cupcakes and homemade chocolate cakes and all kinds of sweets and other desserts.

While the party was going on and Emi was floating from one guest to another, greeting Emi and the Bodybuilderand being greeted, exchanging stories, meeting all of the guests her friends had invited, I was going around refilling champagne, serving pasta, identifying sushi, helping to make  sure everyone was fed, drunk, and happy.  I got to meet and talk with some of the friends Emi invited as well. Most of the others, being family and friends of the couple, were French so it was hard for me to communicate. Emi was having a great time getting to use all those French lessons. But still I got to spend time with Emi’s good friend Marilyn Horne, the famous and unbelievably gifted opera singer. She told me stories of growing up in Orange, NJ but living most of her live in California. I also got to meet some other of Emi’s friends, like the NY-based artist with a small studio near her apartment. She walked by his studio one day and loved the art so much she went in and spoke with him and they became friends ever since. And the filmmaker who was currently shooting a documentary on women in the computer science industry who Emi met at a show at The Bodybuilder and ILincoln Center. And one of my favorites, Arthur Lange, the former competitive bodybuilder. A massive titan of a man with a booming voice and an old-school Brooklyn accent and attitude. Not to brag, but I have a theory he liked me too, since I was the only one who recognized him before he said who he was. (He was competing around the time Schwarzenegger was, and I remember him from some old magazines my father had.) Not for nothing, but before he and his wife left for the night, he told Emi next time she comes over to their place in Brooklyn, she should bring me along. Hahah.


All in all, I think the party was a major success. Emi’s friends had a great time and were so happy to have had the chance to see so many of their friends and family, being separated by distance and whatever demands a French aristocrat may have of his time. They were actually incredibly nice and down to earth, with only a hint of you know, living the high life. It came about in often funny and strange ways. Like their super strict diet and how at the end of the night once everyone left and we were cleaning up, the husband tried his best to help out but couldn’t for the life of him figure out how the vacuum worked. Or how she didn’t understand the very particular rules of recycling and waste when it came to throwing everything out. Had to break down you know, paper, plastic, glass, etc. I spent a good time of the entire night in the kitchen, from helping cook to serving food to washing all the dishes afterwards.

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Near the end I also helped Marilyn back to her apartment; she lives a few floors below Emi and it was getting late for her, not being able to keep up with the younger, drunker crowd. She let me know how happy she was to meet me, after Emi had told her so much about our lunches together. And that she was happy to see Emi opening up her home again. After Frank had passed, Emi never really had any guests, or any reason to decorate again. But with the party and my help, she was able to bring some holiday cheer back into her apartment. And you know ultimately, that was why I was there in the first place. It was cool to meet so many new and interesting people, but I didn’t expect that to happen. It could have been just some simple little get-together with crackers and cheese. I was glad to help out a friend, and I would never hesitate to help out again, which is what I told her at the end of the night before heading out to catch the subway back to Port Authority and my bus back home.

Single Guy Does Music Mondays: Rodgers and Hammerstein’s ‘My Favorite Things’

My Favorite Things

One of the advantages of being so love and relationships-driven for so long is you get really really good at giving gifts. After so many years of Valentine’s and birthdays and Christmases and anniversaries, you start to develop a real keen sense of just the right gift for just the right person. Giving a good present is like being a good martial artist. It’s all about using your opponent’s strength against them. If I’ve got to get something for someone I’m not gonna be out there throwing gift cards or kitchenware or really bad lingerie. I’m gonna be smart and let the gift come to me. Win that battle with finesse and elegance. You know, like how Emi just so happened to mention to me once a while back when we first met that she loves loves  loves ‘The Sound of Music’, and that it was her favorite musical, and how since she and her late husband never got to have any kids she’d watch it with her nephew and niece, the children of Frank’s sister. So with Christmas coming up in a couple weeks and Emi’s birthday being last Thursday, guess what just came in the mail today and will be wrapped up for when I see her again for lunch this Saturday.

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Ba-bow. Special 45th anniversary limited edition number 182,698 of 250,000 Blu-ray + DVD box set with sing-along, special ‘making of’ features, hand-painted music box, hardcover book, reprint of the 1965 theatre souvenir book, and pictures from location in Salzburg, Austria. I just judo-ed the gift giving season. No but all joking aside, I’m really very happy with this gift, and meeting Emi has been an incredible opportunity for me to learn so much and expand my world so I’ve been unbelievably grateful and I wanted to express that to a wonderful person.

But thinking about ‘The Sound of Music‘ reminds me that surprisingly, one of the songs from the musical has somehow managed to market itself as a ‘Christmas song’. Of course I mean ‘My Favorite Things’. Between ‘Jingle Bells’, ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’, and ‘I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas’ sometimes I do hear ‘My Favorite Things’ during the holiday season. I mean don’t get me wrong. ‘My Favorite Things’ is actually one of my favorite things. Aside from being a mysterious holiday song, it’s also a great jazz classic that’s been done by John Coltrane and Dave Brubeck. If you’ve got ~14 minutes to spare I highly highly recommend listening to John Coltrane’s extended version. Of course there’s the classic sung by Julie Andrews in the musical, but it’s been done and redone by some absolute greats. Perry Como, Tony Bennett, Kenny G, Barbra Streisand, and I also particularly enjoy Rod Stewart’s version too. But there’s nothing particularly ‘Christmas-y’ about the song or the musical it came from. So how did it end up in the playlist? It’s a complete mystery to me, but if you happen to know, I’d love to learn the story behind it all!

Single Guy Does Music Mondays: Trans-Siberian Orchestra

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Last week we went with sad Christmas songs and now we’re adding a little nitro to Santa’s sleigh with the wild guitar riffs and heavy rock style of Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Which, BTW, in researching them a bit for this post, I was shocked to find out that they weren’t actually angry Russians who happened to like Christmas. They’re an American rock band. Whaaat? I mean, with the name, and the music style, and the long hair, you can’t blame me for thinking they give off a faint patina of what Christmas would be like if you lived in the frozen, harsh, unforgiving land of snow, ice, and Putin.

I think like most people who know about TSO, you’ve heard my all-time favorite on the radio. Christmas Eve/Sarajevo is just really cool, dramatic, riding to war on the wings of valkyries Christmas music. And I know I’m mixing up cultures and mythologies here. What you may not know is that when TSO was originally formed, it was formed with the initial idea of creating six rock operas, including a trilogy about Christmas. I actually bought the first part, Christmas Eve and Other Stories, and the second, The Christmas Attic, on CDs. I used to play and listen to those two CDs exclusively during the holidays. Christmas Eve and Other Stories told the story of an angel who comes down to Earth and meets with a young man in a bar on Christmas Eve and tells him stories of the magic of Christmas throughout the ages. The Christmas Attic is about a young girl in an old house on Christmas Eve who finds an old trunk full of letters, toys, and memories of Christmases past.

If you’ve only ever heard some of their songs on the radio, I highly recommend looking up their albums and listening straight through. They’ve created beautiful pieces of music that tell truly wonderful stories. Even better still, if you ever have the chance to catch them live, that’s the way to go. I’ve unfortunately not yet had the chance to see them, but it’s definitely tops on my holiday list.

Single Guy Tries a Damn Fine Cup of Coffee

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‘Harry, I’m going to let you in on a little secret: every day, once a day, give yourself a present. Don’t plan it; don’t wait for it; just let it happen. It could be a new shirt in a men’s store, a catnap in your office chair, or two cups of good, hot, black, coffee.’

-FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper, Twin Peaks

It’s strange how we sometimes need the encouraging words of strangers to give ourselves permission to get the things we already know we want. I’ve never actually seen the mystery drama series Twin Peaks. Though I am quite familiar with Kyle MacLachlan, and I admired his determination to perform the hell out of the otherwise flaming shitshow that was the 1984 film Dune. If ever there was a film with so much incredible potential that it truly deserved a remake, it would be Dune. But I digress. The first time I actually heard this credo to coffee’s credit was in mtbrd’s chillhop track ‘Damn Fine Coffee‘. If you’re ever in that mood and need the extra push to assure yourself it’s not only okay it’s demanded that you remember to give yourself something nice, I highly recommend you give it a listen.

I think the worst thing we can do to the constructive and pleasurable act of helping ourselves is to label it. It’s not ‘self-care’ or ‘self-love’, it’s not an ‘indulgence’ or a ‘guilty pleasure’. It’s a simple thing really, something that wasn’t just discovered or that needs to be taught. I’m not here to tell you how to do it, or what to do. I won’t say I’m the first or the last or the best to promote it. It’s not about making the world, or you, better or happier. Things don’t magically sparkle because you took a two-hour lunch to enjoy a massage or blew a week’s pay on a new jacket. But if you’re rushing around between work and home to finish a few more errands, or your arms are sore from bumping elbows and shoving other Christmas shoppers around, and you pass by a coffee shop and smell the wonderfully dark aroma of a fresh pot of coffee, and you stop and put everything down and actually sit in a chair (as in with both legs firmly planted under the table) and you sip your coffee and listen to realize the mall is playing your favorite Christmas song, aren’t you at least a little bit more at ease? Isn’t it then far easier for you to find that happiness, to appreciate the next little moment that comes your way? This should be a natural instinct. These moments that lead to the moments that make us happy should be as natural as breathing, blinking.

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That’s why by the time this post first hits the blog, I will be far, far away from my computer. I will be sat in my favorite seat, overlooking the busy streets of Fort Lee, in my favorite Japanese bakery/coffee shop, enjoying one of their made-to-order cream puffs and a hot black cup of coffee. Or matcha latte. Who knows. I can’t plan that yet. You’ll know when the picture hits my Instagram feed. And if I’m at my coffee shop having my cream puff and drink, that means I’ve already had my dinner at my favorite soba restaurant, where I’ve probably had a nice chat with a beautiful girl I’ll never be able to date. And it also means that not long after, I will leave that coffee shop to go to the mall, to walk and wander and be surrounded by people I’m not with, but just content to be around. Sometimes someone like me needs that. Not to be alone, but not to be with other people. Just to be around them. This doesn’t necessarily make me happy. But I’m not lonely or sad. This isn’t a ‘me-date’ or ‘self-care’, it’s, all of it, my damn fine cup of coffee. It is the moments I have to content myself with what I have, who I am, where I am, and to remind myself to be open to the real moments of happiness, wherever I may find them, or whoever I may find them with.