Fifteen years ago today, I married the love of my life. (More inside.)
My love for the location-focused social network Foursquare (and it’s sibling check-in game, Swarm) is no secret. I’ve found it adept for finding new spots locally and when I travel. The community rating numbers tend to be very on the nose and trustworthy. And it’s also perfect for maintaining lists of places, as I just made heavy use of while in London to tick off places I had been recommended.
With that in mind: the two questions I get the most are “Where should I eat?” and “Where should I drink?”. Typically, my answers immediately start drilling into specifics (neighborhood? price? formality? noise level? occasion?). But I’ve finally gotten to the point where I’d rather just give people a broad list to start with – there’s too many good places to just keep them in my head.
So here are my core lists, “A Restaurant For Everywhere” and “A Cocktail Bar For Everywhere“. They’re not bound to one city (the cocktail list used to be NYC focused), so if you’re traveling places I’ve been, it should come in handy. Both lists run the gamut from quick and casual to super upscale. Take a look and I’m sure you’ll find something to love. (Lists are in no particular order.)
The prevailing sentiment among my social circle as we end a year of celebrity death, dismay, and non-stop electoral insanity is “fuck 2016”. With each day bringing some new blunt emotional trauma, I get and fully understand it.
On personal reflection, though: it’s not been a bad year. It’s been a surprisingly decent year. And I’ve been terrible at keeping track of the year that was here, as opposed to other social mediums. I’m reasonably worried about losing track of the year and just writing it off as “that year Trump won and every celebrity died”.
So, with that in mind, some personal highlights from the year that was.
Eight years ago, immediately following the first election of Barack Obama, I wrote a blog piece entitled The Great Release. While I had memories of writing it, I hadn’t re-read it in the years since.
The short version of the post: it had been around eight years since I had started this blog; writing was my catharsis, and I wrote to ensure I couldn’t forget the emotions I felt on that night.
Those exact emotions, I had forgotten. Sure, there were symbolic actions (“as the tears came to my eye”) and (now) foolish declarations that the country had “spoken resoundingly” and rejected fear mongering. But the description of those eight years under Bush felt like a repressed memory:
I can not ever forget what the last eight years have done to this country. It has divided us, such that my own relatives feel that calling me a “commie pinko” is acceptable discourse. It has destroyed our good standing around the world. It has warped our values: intelligence and eloquence had become something that we no longer wanted in our leaders.
So. Here we are again. Back where we started, as though the last eight years not only hadn’t happened but had somehow caused us to backslide. Our international good standing is shattered, buffered slightly by the UK beating us to the punch some months ago. Our values have warped farther, where playing to hateful views is not only viable enough to win you the nomination, but the presidency as well. And the “commie pinko” comment from one of my in-laws was not merely said but screamed at my wife last night.
Unlike eight years ago, my emotional spectrum over the last twenty four hours doesn’t feel worth jotting down in detail. Dread, regret, sadness, indignation, exhaustion – they all eventually gave way to knowing the sun would come up and the world around me would try to find a way to continue. (As I grow older, my emotional range in narrowing; less jittery highs and lows, more smooth curves.)
The emotion I do want to focus on is the recurring theme as I check in on my friends: heartbreak and resolve.
There’s the heartbreak of my LGBTQ friends who now will wait in fear for the inevitable rolling back of their rights.
There’s the heartbreak of my married friends who have to find a way to explain this to their kids.
There’s the heartbreak of my female friends who are terrified that birth control will be outlawed.
There’s the heartbreak of my immigrant friends who have had their impressions of what this country represented fractured.
There’s the heartbreak of friends who have to face antagonistic family over the holidays, who now feel empowered to spew hate about minorities, immigrants, and imagined threats.
The heartbreak was pretty uniform, but a collective resolve is showing through soon after. Whether that’s resolve to protest, resolve to work to understand the other side, or resolve to dedicate themselves to a cause, it’s starting to show up in my conversations as much as that initial heartbreak. There’s not talk about “second amendment solutions”, little serious talk about running away to Canada – everyone’s just ready to put in the work. Society can’t change on its own.
As for me: while I need to figure out a path to make a difference on my area of biggest concern (trying to reverse decades of slow-building voter suppression efforts), the thing I’m going to focus on for now is supporting the people I care for. Despite 2016 having plenty of low points, I refuse to lose sight of the incredible group of people I get to call my circle of friends.
So to the older version of myself, who will eventually pull this post up in a future election cycles: remember that you don’t win every time. Remember that what feels like progress can disappear in the blink of an eye. Remember to put in the work. And remember to be there to help with the heartbreak, because that is when you may be needed the most.
When I wrote that piece eight years ago, I chose a fairly deep cut from the LCD Soundsystem discography for the post title. The lyrics may not have worked as well as the title did, but it stuck enough to make it through.
This year’s post comes from a 2003 Ted Leo song. The lyrics work better here, but they’re slightly at conflict with the title of the song:
No more shall I be, loyal to my sorrowful country
No more shall I be, loyal to my sorrowful country
And I’ve walked from coast to coast
And I’ve seen, yes I’ve seen…
No one’s business but my own
Where I’ve been, where I’ve been…
And no more shall I be, loyal to my sorrowful country
No more shall I be, loyal to my sorrowful country
In the days when we were young
We were free, we were free…
Now that Georgie’s reign’s begun
We won’t be, we can’t be…
And no more shall I be, loyal to my sorrowful country
No more shall I be, loyal to my sorrowful country
Though I’ve lived my bygone years
In this land, in this land…
I’ll uproot it without tears
And I’ll change it if I can!
And, no more shall I be, loyal to my sorrowful country
No more shall I be, loyal to my sorrowful country
“As you have no doubt noticed, many people in the U.S. have lost faith in liberal education. From governors to legislators, from pundits to parents, Americans increasingly view higher education as purely instrumental—as a ticket to a job, nothing less, nothing more. This vocational view sees college as a commodity: you purchase education the way you buy a car, and the return on investment is measured in strictly financial terms:
How much do graduates make?
How much do individual majors make?
What percentage of new graduates get jobs?
Why major in subjects that do not lead directly to high-paying jobs?
The Arts College does not see itself as a vocational school. Neither do our other colleges, which depend significantly upon the Arts College for many of their fundamental courses.
What is liberal education? I take “liberal” in its original Latin sense as an education for free people; that is, people who do not live in a dictatorship, but have an active role to play in the life of their society. Liberal education liberates students to think for themselves as individuals, to develop their creative capacities, and to contribute to public life, not just earn money as a cog in a machine.
A university’s curriculum says a lot about what that university purports to be. The Stanford faculty recently published a well-conceived report on the Stanford curriculum. Princeton is about to release its report on the same topic. In its turn, I would like to see Cornell give strong and clear answers to the following questions:
For tomorrow’s world, what should a well-educated person know?
What should she be able to do with her mind?
To contribute to her society?
These are tough questions. They are particularly pertinent now, given the state of this country, when our national discourse has descended to the language of the gutter. It is the responsibility of universities to do what they can to raise the level of discourse. Here are a few thoughts:
First, we need citizens who can read closely and critically; otherwise they will be easy prey for political and Internet nonsense.
Second, we need citizens who can reason intelligently and ethically; otherwise, we will continue to suffer from shallow arguments and dishonest leadership.
Third, we need citizens who can speak and write clearly and persuasively; otherwise, they will be incapable of convincing others of their views.
Fourth, we need citizens who can do independent research; otherwise, they will depend upon someone else to tell them what the facts are.
Fifth, we need citizens who can analyze quantitative arguments common to math and the sciences; otherwise, they will be unable to assess issues of critical importance.
Finally, we need individuals who have intellectual curiosity and a lifelong desire to keep learning; without those assets, they will not escape the vapid consumerism and celebrity culture that is all around us.
Those are general goals, as I see it, of a liberal education.”
– Cornell University President Hunter Rawlings, “State of the University”, October 28th 2016. Comments have been condensed and reformatted.
Saturday was Record Store Day 2016, which saw local vinyl shops filled with limited new releases. I went a little nuts, and this is a fairly quick take on what I bought. Thanks to Turntable Lab for making the process painless, and to Dan Budiac for keeping me company in line.
#1 – Lush / Origami
Beautifully packaged, beautifully mastered, and the download codes contain a ton of demos and unreleased tracks. Glad I splurged on this.
#2 – The White Stripes / The Complete John Peel Sessions
Didn’t even know this was getting released. Missed how raw TWS could sound.
#3 – Clint Mansell feat. Kronos Quartet / Requiem For A Dream
One of the greatest all time soundtracks, with new material and gorgeous packaging.
#4 – The Go! Team / Thunder, Lightning, Strike
Has been on my favorite albums list for a while. This would be higher if it wasn’t for the nitpicky issue of this being the other version of T,L,S. (There’s this weird thing where there’s two very similar versions of the same album with some differences in the vocals and samples, and I’m used to the other one.)
#5 – J Dilla / The Diary
Didn’t realize this was going to be a vocal album. Digging what I’ve heard so far but I need more time with it.
#6 – Air / Casanova 70
Not normally crazy for splatter designs, but it looks nice in person and it’s a reissue of a classic Air track.
#7 – CHVRCHES / Every Open Eye (The Remixes)
Haven’t spent much time with this, but liked what I heard. Annoyed the download code doesn’t work (yet), and doesn’t have a fully design sleeve.
#8 – Junior Kimbrough + Daft Punk / I Gotta Try You Girl (Daft Punk Edit)
Not what I would’ve expected out of a Daft Punk remix/edit, but a solid 15 minute reworking of a soul classic. Nice etching on the B side.
#9 – If Music Presents You Need This: Eastern European Sounds (1970-1986)
Some interesting exotic tracks, but Alojz Bouda’s “Random (Naslepo)” was one of those songs you drop the needle on and immediately rip it back off the vinyl.
#10 – Afrika Bambaataa & Soul Sonic Force / Planet Rock (Remixes)
A little underwhelmed with what I heard of the remixes. But one of those classic songs that felt mandatory.
#11 – VA / Disney’s Favorite Songs
Was hoping this would be more than just a by-the-book compilation of well known Disney songs. Dig the cover art, though.
#12 – Hello Kitty / Hello World
It’s telling that no one submitted this into Discogs for a solid 24 hours out of embarrassment. Luckily, I have no shame. Mostly just bought this for Katie’s Sanrio collection – the songs are pretty awful.
About two months ago, my iMac died. Five years ago, this would have been a huge inconvenience. In 2016, it became a mild irritation (mostly because I was making good progress on Jonathan Blow’s wonderful The Witness) and an opening to reconsider my personal technology stack.
Since my dad first lugged home an SE/30 in 1990, I’ve always been a desktop-Mac-as-my-primary kind of guy. That poor abused SE/30 gave way to a pokey Performa, and a very early G3/233 accompanied me to college. I scrapped and saved for a G4 Cube mid-way my junior year, but by graduation I was tired of having an external monitor. Thus began a solid 14 years of an iMac on my desk. Every major model (outside of the “gumdrop”) worked into my cycle, including the bizarre but quirky “white half sphere” with the articulating arm display.
Helping to reinforce this was the side effect of Apple’s Intel transition: through Boot Camp, I could now run Windows, and therefore could run Steam. A new avenue of gaming opened up, and my replacement iMacs were almost always BTO options to max out the graphics card and RAM. It wasn’t top tier gaming performance, and it certainly was a premium above building a separate gaming PC, but I always appreciated having a single computer.
But back to January: the iMac went kaput (likely a hard drive failure, undoubtedly related to my inability to heed a recall warning), and I instinctively went to the Apple Store to start pricing out a new model. And then thoughts started swirling in my head:
- Over the average week, I was using my iPad Air considerably more than my desktop.
- The things I was using the desktop for was mostly Windows gaming.
- The Retina iMac had increased the cost of the line generally, particular at the higher end
- The higher end would be needed, as the only place you can max out the graphics card is the very upper end of the line
- Even after my educational staff discount, I was still looking at about $3,000 for a like-for-like replacement.
- While I do have a work laptop available for business functions, I’d need something to not lose my oversized Steam library and want something for day-to-day computing.
- I refuse to use Windows as my primary OS. Just out of principle.
After some soul searching and some research, I’ve settled on a new approach: an iPad Pro 12″ for the non-gaming, and an Alienware Alpha for the gaming. (I was holding out until last week’s Apple Event to see if the lineup changes might’ve changed my plans, but they did not.) Combined, I saved about $1,300 versus the traditional iMac plan, and spares me a separate iPad upgrade later in the year.
Given how Apple is now trying to sell the iPad Pro as a viable laptop replacement, I’ll be interested to see how this turns out. Check back in a few months for the oh-so-thrilling results.
I still have faint memories from around age six of the day we first got cable. Mostly because I refused to go outside, watching every game show I could that afternoon on USA network, to the point where I got my television privileges removed for a week.
For about thirty years, I’ve had fairly consistent access to cable TV, even though I tend to not binge watch much of anything, and the onslaught of technological advancements over the last decade (everything from iTunes selling TV shows to streaming solutions like Netflix) have made it easier and easier to just not utilize it.
Three months ago, triggered by the sweet combination of “needing to get rid of the phone line we never use” and “Comcast jerking us around about previous item”, we decided to cut the cable, and try and make due with just streaming solutions. Front and center in this plan was Playstation Vue, Sony’s internet television service. (We already had heavily used Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime accounts.)
Three months later, I have no regrets, and only minor quibbles.
Soccer is a never ending sport. On a match level, the clock never stops during play; on a competition level, there’s always someone playing globally.
The longest measure of defined time in soccer is the World Cup cycle, the four year period from the end of one World Cup to the end of the next. Experimentation yields to eventual stability, as qualification and continental competitions dot the timeline. It crests in the World Cup, and then it’s time to reflect and rebuild. Coaches move on, players retire, and we go again.
The end of 2015 marks the end of a four year cycle of my own: being a soccer writer. In those four years, I’ve gotten to do quite a bit. I’ve talked to legends, picked brains of coaches, and debated with fans. I’ve broken news, coined terms, weaved narratives, and written a few things that, even to my hyper-critical mind, are worth reading. I’ve co-hosted a podcast for a year and a half, gotten to do color commentary on a professional soccer match, and hosted pre-match coverage twice. And I’ve helped grow a small, passionate soccer community into a giant, passionate soccer community.
Which is why now feels like the right time for me to leave the soccer business, at least in the semi-professional sense. Effective today, I’m marking myself inactive.
“Wait! You can’t just do that! How can you just walk away from your job? And why would you want to, it sounds incredible! What kind of a spoiled prick are you?”
Slow down there, Imaginary Abusive Soccer Person Who Cares Enough To Raise Objections.
One of the most eye opening things that I discovered upon being inside the press box is that almost no one is there as their primary job. A sizable chunk have day jobs – IT guys, mechanics, small business owners, etc. There’s a subsection of journalists who do soccer, but usually either cover other sports (typically NFL or NBA) or do other things at their outlets (copy editor, webmaster). The sports journalism business is not doing great, and in a sport that still counts as “niche” in the US, soccer gets a very ad hoc press corps.
This was a shock when I first entered the box, but also relieving, because it meant I wasn’t going to be an anomaly. The soccer things I’ve done for the last four years haven’t been a job, but a really professional hobby. That likely sounds insane if you’ve never heard me say it before, but it’s not something I’ve been hiding. Anything you’ve read from me, any podcasts you’ve listened to with me on them – those were all done as an outlet, as stress relief from the rest of my life, as something to pour my energy into. I am not a professional sports journalist by trade.
What that all means was also this: I always have had the ability to walk away, if this no longer felt like the right thing to do.
The “why”, or even “why now” is tough to answer. I struggled with writing this post at all, because I don’t want to sound bitter, and I’d love to just fade away quietly. But walking away in silence is tough after spending such a long time writing and talking about soccer.
So let me boil it down to three quick things: one negative, one positive, and one sort of in the middle.
The negative: over the course of the year, I hit some major levels of burnout, to the point where seeing a game on my calendar lead to a groan rather than excitement. I made a joke in my last pre-season piece that I would be “covering all three soccer NYC teams to the utter detriment of his personal life this season”, and boy, was that prescient. I’ve worked 29 games this season, which is about 50% more than a typical season over the last four years. Podcasting has its own stresses, and /r/MLS hit that tipping point of subscribers where it becomes a constant battle to keep the place falling into disarray.
Emotional, mental, and even physical exhaustion were not uncommon, and it lead to me indulging some old personality traits in order to defend myself. I’ve made some unhealthy decisions and many times have not liked what I see when I look in the mirror. And so, I need a change.
The positive: I went to three soccer games this year not as a media, but just as someone in the crowd. And I realized, especially during the days where the stress was high, how much I missed that.
During our two week vacation to Cascadia, I got to take in Seattle vs. Orlando from just above the Emerald City Supporters. A week later, I stood with the Timbers Army and sang my way through Portland vs. Houston. And not long after that, I paid for tickets to go watch NYCFC vs. Columbus with a friend and wandered around Yankee Stadium, taking in the game from different perspectives.
After having to have been “on” for so many games (live tweeting, observing, checking replays, locker room scrums, arguing over social media, laying out narratives), it was nice to just be able to watch a game, to eat some overpriced stadium food, and to be able to go out before and after the match.
The grey area: one of my favorite restaurants in Jersey City closed in November. The end of Thirty Acres in and of itself didn’t make me give up on soccer, but the story from co-owner (and generally awesome person) Alex Pemoulie describing the lifecycle of the restaurant got me thinking (emphasis mine):
So, that’s it. That’s the story of Thirty Acres. We took risks—some of them incredibly stupid, but all of them worth it. We are not the people that we were when we opened this restaurant. We know a bit more than we did then, but more importantly, we know how much we still don’t know.
And we did do it after all, we opened Our Dream Restaurant. It just turned out that in the end, once we had done it, it didn’t make us happy.
I can’t say the soccer journalism role never made me happy – it absolutely did. And even this year, there’s been some wonderful days. It just on a whole isn’t a positive anymore. It’s not filling a hole or gap I feel. And I’m ready to move on before the burnout and negativity overtake all the good memories and leave me resentful.
So what does this all really mean?
The most immediate is that I’m resigning as a moderator on /r/MLS, the community I’ve served as a moderator for four years. (There’s a post specifically about this from me over there.)
The next most pressing is that after a year and a half, I’m departing Seeing Red, the long running RBNY podcast. I look forward to being able to listening to the show again now that my voice isn’t a part of it. Mark and Eric will continue to be great, and listeners will get some relief from the whiplash hosting lineup that 2015 involved.
Lastly, I will not be applying for season credentials for any area team in 2016, and I won’t be writing regularly for Gothamist (or any other outlet) about soccer.
I’m not leaving “soccer Twitter”, and I’ll be back on /r/MLS, but I’m forcing myself to take a few weeks off after today, at least until the start of 2016. I need that space to decompress. But I will be back, at least as a voice in the crowd. Eventually.
(I should note that despite all of this, there are some question marks looming above my head, and so I can’t say that this is a permanent decision. If something earth shaking happens in the NYC soccer scene, I may still write a one-off for Gothamist. I hope to contribute the occasional non-soccer thing over there, as I’ve enjoyed writing on other topics – already talking with the food team about some future pieces. But returning to soccer is not part of my day-to-day plan going forward.)
I also must note that this is not secret code that I’ve taken a job with any club or league; that I’ve been sacked; that I’m buying season tickets for any club or joining a supporters group; that I’m leaving the NYC area; that I’m dying of some terminal illness; or that this means anything other than what it says above.
I want to close out with some thanks, because the one thing that kept me going with this very strange hobby is regularly being around some incredible people.
To Dave Martinez, who has mentored me for four years and occasionally gotten something worthwhile in return: thank you, thank you, thank you. I wouldn’t have lasted as long as I could without your support. I wouldn’t have understood half the things going on without your guidance. And I wouldn’t have grown as quickly as I did without your help. Thanks for the trust, the laughs, and the faith. You’re a rockstar. Let’s finally get that brunch soon.
To Pablo Maurer, a guy I met through a hastily planned “trash talk” piece between the soccer guys at Gothamist and DCist: you’re the most underrated and most under-appreciated guy in the business. I wish I had a tenth of the creative spark and drive you did. Thanks for everything – the FIFA games, the endless jokes, and the constant perspective. Let’s catch a game together next year and/or do donuts in the RFK parking lot.
To Katie: thank you not only for your support as I’ve been wrestling with this, but for the four years prior. I know it’s been rough at times. I look forward to being next to you at games again, not in front of you.
To Jen Chung, Gothamist’s fearless EIC: thank you for putting your trust in me, for letting me associate with such a great news site for so long. Your kindness, support, and advice meant the world to me. (Additional thanks to the rest of editorial for helping get my pieces out into the world.)
To Mark Fishkin: Seeing Red has always been your show, Mark. Thanks for letting me be a small part of it for a little while. It’s been an honor to be a footnote on its storied history, and I’m really looking forward to the show in 2016.
To Eric Giacometti: I was honored to ever have you come to me for advice. I’m not going to pretend for a second I mentored you in any capacity, because you’re already way beyond what I’ve done. Keep writing great things.
To Brian Tsao: had any other communications person been running the team when I came knocking, I don’t know that this would’ve happened at all. Thanks for letting me get my foot in the door.
To Malena Barajas: thanks for all the lunches and being someone to lean on. May you never be in crisis.
To MC Bousquette: never, ever change.
To the communications staff over the years at RBNY (Frank, Corey, Joe, Jason, Gordon, Scott, Molly, Paul, and the team who helped produce two Seeing Red Live episodes), at NYCFC (Marty, Sam), and at the Cosmos (Dee, David), thank you all. It’s a shame the fans will never know how hard you all work. Additional thanks to folks at other clubs (Chris Thomas, Jonathan Kaplan, Trey Fitz-Gerald, Daniel Robertson, Lizz Summers, Frank Stanzl) who worked with me over the years on AMAs.
To the MLS league communications office (Dan, Susan, Sal, and especially Jane) – thanks for dealing with my random inquiries over the years. It’s been a pleasure.
To everyone past and present at MLS Digital and KICKTV who I’ve gotten to know (Greg, Andrew, David, Matt, Ben, Hans, Amanda, Folg, Sarah, Abner, Erin, Chris, Billy, Kuba) – you all rock. Apologies for ending up at so many of your parties. (I swear, it was mostly accidental.)
To the /r/MLS mod team: thanks for an incredible ride. Too often people were quick to credit me for team decisions, but it’s always been a team effort. I promise not to jam the “report” button too often now that the “remove” button is gone from my toolset. If you’re in town, drop me a note – beers are always on me.
There’s a countless list of soccer reporters both local to NYC and across the country that are all people doing this not because of the paycheck (in cases where there is one), but because they love the sport. There’s too many of you to list without the guarantee of forgetting someone, so I will hedge and just say: thank you, all of you. It’s been an honor to be a peer.
To all the players and coaches: whether it was a locker room interview, an AMA, or a podcast appearance, thanks for sharing. I’ve learned so much about this sport.
And to the fans, the followers, the subscribers, the listeners, the debaters, the trolls: thank you for the discussions, the arguments, the feedback, the occasional love, and at the very least, listening to anything I had to say. It’s been a memorable four years, and I hope I brightened your world even a little bit.
If you’re still reading this, and want to share a drink and some stories, I’ll be at the Seeing Red Holiday Party tonight. Hope to see you there.