Sunday, April 22, 2007

Dubsgiving; or, One Man's Journey into the Abyss (Part II)

Rather than grade papers, and to get my mind out of the funk it's been in all day long, I offer you the conclusion of my recent sojourn to the city that never sleeps.

Day 4

Day 4 was the day that had been long prophesized. For on this date, my generous hosts had scheduled the second installment in their developing attempts to add new depth and coordination to drinking endeavors. Earlier in the year, I believe, they had hosted an event called "Let's Go to a Bar Night," in which they, to wit, went to a bar. To accomodate my schedule, they had arranged for the sequel to occur; thus, Monday became the day of "Let's Go to a Bar Night 2: Return of the Revenge of the Blood." My friends pulled all the stops. They arranged to get off work on a Monday (basically by telling their boss they weren't coming in). They had spread the word via that most inexorable scheduling device, the E-vite. And they had even made plans for at least one actual female to attend (a rare event, I'm told, and one of which they were quite proud). The stage was set for a truly wonderful soiree. But first, we had to go shopping.

The original "LGTABN" had, I was told, begun with a barbecue. We decided to continue this tradition, only it turned into grilling burgers indoors, as the weather was dodgy. That morning, then, Quantum, Bourbon Samurai, and I, took a trip to Costco, a magic land of bulk and wonder. There, one could make a meal on free samples of food (or so tradition tells, though this day the sample givers were few and far between). There, we ended up buying enough jumbo ketchup bottles to last several years, because you had to buy that many. There, the checkout man told us we could not buy the bag of bagels we had in the cart; we had to buy a second one, or they would not sell it to us at all. We were off the map, and my midwestern mind was blown.

Following that trek, we went to Teach's apartment, cooked the burgers (each of which ended up being roughly 1.25 pounds of meat per patty, and of which we each ate two), and then set off for the Continental, gleefully exclaiming "Let's go to a bar!" every few minutes. Now, there are high class bars and there are low class bars. Then there are dives. The Continental, unfortunately, was one of the latter. The place looked 5 minutes from falling down on us. The stall in the men's room was an excercise in contortion. There was only one tv, and a really crappy jukebox. They didn't take credit cards at all. Though, on the flip side, the bartenders (bartendresses?) were fairly attractive, and one of them appeared to be wearing a bandana rather than an actual shirt. We stayed there for hours, in spite of their lack of multiple televisions showing baseball games, for two very simple reasons. One, the e-vite said to meet there, and the rest of our party was staggering in at various points throughout the night. And two, they have an eternal deal where you can get five shots of anything for $10. So the four of us sat there, watching the Red Sox game, playing spades in our booth, and alternately drinking Bud Light and doing shots of Jim Beam. Over the next few hours, we were joined by Uber260, Brownsox, Sketchrock, Hubris, and multiple others whom I either had never met or cannot remember (and, lo and behold, there were several females over the course of the night, though one was a terrifying gorgon of mythic proportions).

Eventually, full of cheap beer and as many shots as we could muster, we crossed bars, rounding the block in order to go to a place that actually had food as well as boozeahol (I believe it was called the St. Mark's Alehouse, though my NY compatriots can correct me). We dined and drank, we had crazy conversations, we marvelled at the whimsy of Fate, who had basically recreated one of the most humorous and disturbing episodes of our college career in the form of a new couple, but with similar names (it's too complicated to explain here, and it might end up with the arrest of several of my friends). At one point, Bourbon and Sketchrock went outside to have a fistfight, because it seemed like the thing to do. Neither of them would throw the first punch, though, so Hubris socked Sketchrock in the ear in order to provoke the fight. Sadly, it did no such thing.

The evening boiled down, to the point where it was just Teach, Brownsox, Bourbon, Quantum, myself, and a latecomer female that Brownsox was apparently trying to engage in conversation (for the full and tragic details, see his post about that night). As we retired to the bar for one last round, my friends all turned into their conversations, while I, on the end, was engaged by the advances of who we would later refer to as "Crazy Carolina Girl." This Southern Belle was clearly under the influence of massive amounts of alcohol, and regaled me with the tale of her and her friend, Necktie Girl, who had travelled from the Deep South in order to seek jobs in some sort of Human Resources related field. Having worked in HR myself for a summer, I recognized immediately that anyone who would actively seek to work there is either A. moronic or B. batshit crazy. Though we did have a nice bonding experience when I mentioned I was from Madison, Wisconsin, and she immediately started talking about the joys of cheese curds, which squeak when you eat them, and are apparently the best or only memorable thing about this city that I love. This sealed the deal, and I tactfully withdrew to use the restroom rather than throttle her with my bare hands. As I left, I noticed she tried to engage Teach in conversation, who in turn introduced her to Quantum, but gave Q. his own name (i.e. Quantum was "Teach" and Teach was "Quantum"). Quantum, recognizing the crazy drunk, backed off quickly. As I returned from the restroom, I found Teach and Carolina engaged in what was unarguably the most one-sidedly offensive conversation ever. Teach was asking her point blank questions about how she valued human life, whose lives she would choose to save over others, and assorted questions, all of which seemed destined to pick a fight due to their obnoxiousness. But she never even noticed, and plowed gamely through the conversation, much to our amusement/horror.

Around this time, I retired to the other end of the bar, lest I burst out laughing in her face. Brownsox had ordered a beer, but the bar had a $15 minimun for a credit card purchase. Rather than actually reach into his wallet and get physical money, he bought me a glass of Macallen's 12 year. I toasted him, and he endeavored to return to his conversation. Unfortunately, as he notes, he was deftly cut out of the fair maid's attentions, and moved to join us, leaving poor Carolina girl all alone with her friends, to the great rejoicing of us all. Well, except for Bourbon, who had been chatting up the waitresses, sharing their contempt for the drunken Carolina and her friend. Brownsox, like a rampaging bull, crashed into their conversation and ruined all chances for our dear cohort to ever seal any kind of deal. Thus chagrined, we all fled into the night, where Teach and the girl ended up in one cab, and Bourbon, Quantum, Brownsox, and myself all together in another. Bourbon, in a show of rage, railed at all of us drunkenly for not capitalizing on our opportunities of the evening, blatantly ignoring the mediating circumstances and relative drunkenness of us all. But then we got home and watched the end of Galactica again, which soothed us all into sleep.

(This concludes my memories of LGTABN2:RotRotB. But my friends are free to add their own remembrances and qualifiers, as I basically drank from 2pm [giant beer at Teach's] until we left the Alehouse at around 2am [hefty glass of scotch].)

Day 5

The rest of the trip from here on out may seem anticlimactic, for the simple reason that my friends had to work the other days of the week. (Not that this would stop them from drinking in the slightest; it just meant we couldn't go on more all-day benders.) On day 5, they departed for work around 10:30am or so, further cementing my notion that they have the greatest job ever. I messed around their apartment for a bit, slept a while longer, did laundry at the laundromat, had a truly excellent bagel, and then went into the city. I was attempting to go to "Top of the Rock," the observation deck of Rockefeller center, as my mother had been telling me for months that I needed to go there. Quantum's directions were ever so helpful (take the subway to 5th Avenue, then go south a while), so I ended up very lost. I did find St. Patrick's Cathedral, and spent some time there admiring the temple to my risen lord, then found another subway station with a map. I made it to the Rock, where, oddly enough, I encountered one of my current students atop the building. She was there with her family, and we had a wonderful "What the hell are you doing here?" moment that was only slightly awkward, further testimony to my teaching abilities and rapport with my students. Quantum called while I was atop the building, having just gotten off work (around 4:30), so we met up for a drink or two.

That night we saw O'Neill's A Moon for the Misbegotten with this man and this one, as well as a truly phenomenal actress who is apparently very well-known in British theatre circles, but not popular American film or tv shows. There was a snafu with our online ticket order, so we got better seats for less money (a Dubsgiving Miracle), and ended up about 10 rows from the stage. It was a spectacular performace all around, the best theatre I've seen in years (definitely the best since my last trip to NY and I saw Albee's The Goat). Not that this is all that spectacular, as I don't see much theatre, and most of what I saw was college productions of things. But still. Awesomely good.

After the subway ride back to Astoria, we met up some of our fellows at yet another bar (which oddly enough shared a name with our pal Irish McJew), and drank more cheap beer until around 1:30 or 2:00.

Day 6

Perhaps the most uneventful day of them all. It rained, so while my friends were at work, I stayed at their place and watched a lot of tv. The rain ended around 3:00, so I ventured into the heart of the Upper East Side, and went to the Met. This was not nearly as eventful as my last trip there, where Quantum high-fived a priceless buddha statue and set off an alarm. But it was still quite nice. Met up with Bourbon, Quantum, and Brownsox for drinks afterwards, as their work was nearby, then went to the theatre again. This time we saw a show called Spring Awakening, a phenomenal new musical that is most likely going to sweep all the major awards this year. I really liked it at the time, but I have since bought the soundtrack and elevated that "really like" into "outright love." The music is powerful, moving, and electric. The story concerns a group of 14-15 year olds in 1890s Germany, coming to terms with their developing sexuality in the face of their repressive schooling and parents. It's based on a play of the same name, written at the turn of the century, which was banned in Germany for years afterwards. If you get a chance, I highly recommend seeing it. If not, I can lend you the soundtrack.

To conclude the events of Dubsgiving, we met at one last bar, where we actually drank very good Czech beer rather than the cheap crappy beer my friends seem to guzzle like water. I also learned that I am awesome at Big Buck Hunter when I've had a few drinks. And that Brownsox can't not hit a doe to save his life, and he gets amusingly irate the further and further he falls in the standings. I learned the history of the bar, where Quantum had both been kicked out at one point and embraced by the owner at another (apparently he was an Eastern European man who admired Quantum because he "looked like Gestapo," an irony they still puzzle over). The beer was good, and though we clearly stayed much later than the wait staff wanted us to, we did tip well.

Day 7

On the seventh day, even God rested. But clearly, God didn't have to travel back to O'Hare and then Madison. Or if he did, he didn't go out of La Guardia or into O'Hare. After bidding a fond farewell to my most gracious hosts, I got one last bagel for the road (this time hot with butter, as Quantum ordered, though sans shmear), then caught the bus to L.G. Quantum said this bus ride would take roughly an hour. Naturally, it took about 10 minutes. So I was there about 3.5 hours before my flight, which ended up being delayed another 2 due to high winds in, you guessed it, Chicago (oh sweet irony). But it was all ok, because we got to spend the last hour's worth on the plane itself, sitting on the runway. I slept through most of it, as well as the bus ride back, and got to my sweet sweet bed at around roughly 10:30, Madison time. Mad props to Nittany Lion for the ride from the bus stop.


Thus ended Dubsgiving, though I did learn several key life lessons:

1. Bagels are in fact better in New York.
2. My friends, who taught me in college to be snobs of all things alcohol (unless drinking games are involved), now subsist almost entirely on cheap beer.
3. Cab drivers are crazy. Seriously.
4. Tall beers are better than regular beers.
5. The e-vite is considered a binding social contract.
6. You can apparently buy 1000 lb of sand at Home Depot for very little, and it doesn't cover quite as much space as one would imagine.
7. The prank value of 1000 lb of sand may still outweigh the drawbacks.
8. I can actually survive for a week in NY without getting shot, mugged, beaten up, or having my teeth stolen while I lie bleeding in a gutter. Though I still will check my back pocket every few minutes, just to make sure my wallet is still there. What can I say? I'm just a smalltown midwesterner at heart.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Dubsgiving; or, One Man's Journey into the Abyss (Part I)

Over spring break, I discovered the single most terrifying thing on the face of the planet: the New York cab driver. These men (and women, I suppose, though all of ours were men) race about with reckless abandon, ferrying merry bands of drunks (and others) to and fro. They don't seem to work strictly in the world itself. They certainly don't obey the laws of God or man. Lane markings? Pshaw! Street signs? Scoff. "Oh my God, you can't possibly fit between those two cars!"? A wry glance and a stomp on the accelerator. While I was very grateful for these brave souls (particularly that first night, as you shall read), I was kind of scared witless when I actually looked where we were going and how we were getting there. People say the subway's dangerous; clearly they've never taken a cab at 2am from the Village to Astoria.

This slight diatribe is my long way of introducing my trip to New York, which my merry band of reprobate friends named "Dubsgiving" in my honor. Dubsgiving has sacraments (mostly drinking-related), various feast days (Let's Go to a Bar Night 2), and a theme song, which they gleefully improvised my first night there. I'll attempt to chronicle these days as best I remember, but my memory is rather uncertain in places, so I invite commentary from my fellow celebrants.

Day 1
To begin, I got into La Guardia around 5:00pm, Friday. I was at Quantum's apartment by about 5:20. By 5:30, we were on our way to a bar.

The weekend was starting off so very right.

Along the way, we picked up one Hubris, fellow rapscallian and committed Dubsgiving celebrant, although he was not in fact drinking during our time there. This above all you must remember, dear reader, lest nothing else appear strange and wonderous. The three of us went to a place called "The Irish Rogue" several blocks away from Times Square, which is supposedly the bar from which one cannot be kicked out. Apparently my compatriots had, at various times, crashed private parties, started fistfights, and generally raised all manner of havoc, without ever being asked not to come back. So naturally this was as good a place as any to kick off our holiday.

En route, the lads sereneded me with an imprompteu version of "New York, New York," which they believed would foretell my week's sojourn in the Big Apple. I don't remember all the lyrics, but I believe it ended with me lying dead in a gutter, with someone running away, having stolen my teeth.

So at the bar, we began by ordering their traditional drink, the Beer Boat (or Beer Bone, or Beer Bong, depending on who you ask). Basically, the BB is a 74 oz glass tube, with a spigot on the bottom. You fill said tube with beer (St. Pauly Girl), and let gravity do it's work. This of course serves as a wonderful conversation piece; all manner of people will come up to your table and ask what that giant tube of beer is for, and then look both bemused and disgusted at your reply. This does not in any way make up for the fact that you're drinking cheap beer out of what is probably an unwashed glass tube, which slowly gets warmer and warmer as the night goes on. But then again, you're talking to men who used to combine tabasco sauce with various alcohols, and who once put gin and soy sauce in a glass together. We are not to be daunted by trifles like that.

Throughout the course of the evening, the cast of characters would grow and shrink, as various friends came and went. We three were originally met by Bourbon Samurai and his parents, who were going to the theatre. They left, and we were in turn met by Uber260. Later, Bourbon came back sans parents, to aid in our drinking. So, over the course of the night, note that the drinkers consisted of Quantum, myself, Uber260, and Bourbon, and that Bourbon was only really drinking during the later portion of the eve. Hubris, as noted, did not drink, but instead pounded diet coke and egged us on.

The result: 5 tubes consumed. 370 oz of beer, split between about 3.5 men. Over a tube a piece. Plus the shots, and Uber260's Irish car bomb.

Why did we drink five tubes, you ask? Why not stop after two, as I originally suggested? Quite simply, because our waitress told us that the bar record was four. Four tubes. I believe she told us this on our third tube, and by that point, we'd already drunk three tubes of beer. We were drunk with power (and St. Pauly Girl), and decided to go all the way. I don't remember if we finished the last tube. I don't remember actually leaving the bar. I do remember the drunken rendition of the St. Crispen's Day speech from Henry V that we all gave, huddled around our beer boat, glasses raised in the air (with photographic evidence taken by Hubris). I don't remember Uber260 falling into the table of frat guys, though I'm told it was quite hilarious. I remember getting into the cab home with Uber260 and Quantum, and Bourbon telling 260 to go ahead and sleep in his (Bourbon's) bed, as I was sleeping on their couch (Quantum and Bourbon live together, for all you non-NY folk). And of course, I remember thinking what a good idea it was that I had eaten dinner at the bar.

In hindsight, this last takes on special meaning, as we all concluded that food was the only reason a dire fate was not a shared dire fate. I ate dinner, and a large one at that. Quantum did as well. Uber260, sadly, did not. Therefore, it is only slightly surprising, in hindsight, that Uber260 ended up vomiting all over the cab floor. Luckily, for us, it was a mini-van-esque cab, rather than a traditional, and so we did not end up with vomit on our shoes. Even luckier, the cabbie was cool, so that when Quantum did what he does best and threw money at him, he was willing to wait and take us the rest of the way to Astoria. I barely hesitated when Quantum asked me for more money to pay the cab driver. Yes, I was on a tight budget. Yes, I had hoped to make my money last, and not blow it all the first night. And yes, I ended up adding about $80 onto Quantum's $120, to appease the cabbie.

It's amazing how things like this can instantly sober you. There we were, nursing our friend home, I cursing myself for spending so much money already, but figuring that this was how my friends rolled in the big NY. In my small-town mindset, I could see Quantum routinely paying cab drivers over $150 a ride. In my mind, Quantum's finances are akin to those of a decent-sized nation state. So we got Uber260 back to Astoria, where he promptly vomited on Bourbon's jacket (which, to be fair, was on the floor). This kicked off a streak of destruction, as Uber basically managed to vomit on everything Bourbon owned, including his bed during the middle of the night. Quantum's possessions, remarkably, remained entirely untouched, as did anything communally owned. Even the floor was spotless, said jacket having absorbed all regurgitation. It was as if there was a vendetta of vomit against Bourbon Samurai, and he was not there to fight against the tide, so to speak. We put Uber260 to bed, I crashed on the couch, and Quantum retired to his room.

Thus ended the first day.

Day 2

Day two is more of a sea of images than anything else. The most joy came from awakening and realizing I wasn't at all hungover. Again, dealing with a friend's breakdown really picks you up. The rest of the joy came from the absurdity of what had transpired the night before. This was where we realized the truth about Bourbon's possessions and their magnetic vomit properties. This was where Uber260, in the most shamefacedly way possible, laundered all of the despoiled goods. This was where Bourbon finally came home, to change to go see another play with his family, and Quantum's first words were "Don't be mad." Which prompted a look of brief caution, and then outright laughter. Bourbon was too amused to be mad, though I think the lingering smell of vomit on his bed was slightly 0ff-putting. Throughout the day, we took stock of the situation, rehashed the night before, ate delivery food, and watched a lot of Battlestar Galactica, as they had it and I needed to catch up on the season.

That night was rather more mellow. I met up with my high school friend The Baker and his new girlfriend (new in the sense I hadn't met her before), who took me out to a delightful Thai dinner in Hell's Kitchen. Supposedly one of the best Thai places in town, a claim I won't dispute. We then went to another bar (Divine, I think it was called) and, in a snobby way, drank flights of wine (rather than cheap beer, a nice contrast to every other night). We chatted, and they had to leave around 11:30, so I basically hung out in Times Square until my drunken friends were done with their late dinner. We met up in the Village (prompting once again my small town fears of riding the subway after dark), threw back a drink or two, then once again returned to Astoria. Here was where I first encountered my supernatural dread of cab drivers, as described above. Seriously. I thought we were all going to die.

Day 3

Day 3 was Sunday, and I sadly could not continue our streak of sleeping in until roughly 1:00. As it was Palm Sunday, I needed to find myself a Catholic sanctuary and holy myself up. Seeing how Astoria contains the second largest Greek Orthodox population in the world (after Greece), naturally there was a Catholic Church about five blocks down the road. After attending mass, I bummed around Astoria, as both of my hosts were out of the house. I got some reading done, explored their local coffee houses, wandered the streets, and ate a spectacular corned beef sandwich from the local deli. Quantum, returning from the children's theatre show he had just seen because a friend was directing it, encountered me outside a local coffee shop reading a book, drinking an italian soda and eating a scone. He quite rightly mocked me for being a pretentious academic, and we retired to their apartment to conclude the BSG season, which was 90 different kinds of awesome. It reaffirmed my faith in television, myth, Bob Dylan, the electric sitar, and the Easter Bunny. Seriously, if you like good tv, excellent stories, great acting, and kickass moments of transcendent brilliance (not to mention awesome lawyers who wear sunglasses and are Irish in space), please check this series out.

Following the viewings, Bourbon made meatloaf and a soup out of what appeared to be a pteradactyl bone, three kinds of bacon, and various other animal parts. I won't describe it further, but I invite him to do so in the comments section. Needless to say, it was all excellent, and we were joined by Rockstar and girl whose nickname I don't know, to feast and watch the opening game of baseball season. The Mets shellacked my poor Cardinals, and Quantum threatened that they also planned to burn my city to the ground. I'm not sure why, other than New Yorkers are apparently full of rage and like burning cities to the ground. Luckily, St. Louis still stands. I think the Mets' bloodlust was sated by stomping the Cards in every game of the series. (Oh, and Sergio, Quantum wanted me to give him your cell phone number so he could call and gloat. I rightly refused, so you owe me.)

I believe we watched the last four minutes of BSG twice more at the end of the night. This would be a recurring practice for the rest of the week.

(Ok, this is already unwieldy and long, and I'm not even to day four yet. I'll add more tomorrow, when I chronicle the events surrounding "Let's Go to a Bar Night 2: Return of the Revenge of the Blood".)

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Vigil Blog

I figure it's worth it to blog about something uplifting and soul-enriching, before I blog about the depths of hell we went through in New York. Plus, I'm at the office right now and have limited time before a student shows up. Don't worry, I'll blog the full experience of Dubsgiving in a day or so. But for now, the blog of Easter Vigil.

First off, this vigil differed from previous years, in that all of my Catholic friends chose to abandon me for lesser masses, due to baby, travel, family, etc., all of which are just excuses that lead down that slippery slope to Protestantism, or as I like to call it, damnation. So there I sat, alone, in my spiffy new jacket, hoping against hope that this mass would be just as amusing as last year, if not quite so heretical (see last April's "Where Was Moses When the Lights Went Out" for details). We began strongly, with a fair showing and a solid lighting of candles, with no small child arsonists this year. Sadly, the seminarian singing the Exsultant this year was not quite so strong as last year's singer, the little man they kept in the closet until Easter. He had a nice tenor, but it was relatively weak, and seemed rather wishy-washy about the ultimate salvation of mankind.

Until the fire alarm went off.

You'd think that Holy Mother Church, in its infinite wisdom, would have realized having hundreds of people holding candles might set off the alarm, and would take preventative steps. You'd be wrong. We stood there, with the lights flashing and the sirens blaring, listening to that one singer. But then, as if inspired by the Divine Himself, our cantor kicked it up a notch from "lame" to "Divine Champion and Herald of Christ's Resurrection." With a nod from the Bishop, he got louder, more self-assured, and infinitely more passionate in his singing. He challenged that fire alarm as if it were Lucifer and he was Piers Plowman, fighting at the Tree of Life. And he won out. Of course, to acknowledge his victory and the ever-present power of Christ, the alarm shut off right when the entire congregation came together for the "Amen." (For you non-Catholics out there, this was after about seven minutes of solo song.) It was as if God truly blessed our mass and silenced our opposition.

From there, the mass itself was much more well-constructed than last year. It was as if the Bishop had read my blog and responded to my critique. The trilling was present, but much less noticeable. The homily was not heretical, nor was it completely tied in with the bashing of the gays and the abortionists, as is his usual idiom. There was a fair amount of generic social critique, but nothing that raised my ire as a free-thinking libertarian ensconsed in a world of crazy liberal academics.

There were only two other main points worthy of notice throughout, as the bishop kept things to a sane 2.5 hours. First, while I acknowledge that it may be part of the ceremony to bless the cross with the incense, I could not help but imagining the Bishop going around and saying, a la Cool Hand Luke, "Holying up the cross here, boss." I nearly lost it when that popped randomly in my head, and stared at my feet resolutely for a minute after the fact. Though I do think that kind of speech would really bring the ceremony home to the common man. "Holying up the bread here, boss." "Transubstantiating the Eucharist here, boss." "Washing my hands here, boss." Etc.

Second, during the baptismal, it is customary for the Bishop to move throughout the church, scattering holy water onto the congregation. Our bishop. though, has not a mitre that holds water, as at my old church, but what is best described as a bundle of reeds tied together, soaked in water. This bundle manages to hurl large quantities of water out over the crowd in large droplets, and this year the Bishop seemed to take a kind of manic glee in aiming directly for the faces of small children. It looked like an insane Santa Claus bringing gifts, except instead of presents, you got a faceful of water flung in extreme violence. I myself caught the full brunt of one such toss, which nearly drove one of my contact lenses out of my eye. Though my eye did feel very holy afterwards.

That was pretty much it. Not as eventful or mirthful as last year, granted, but still full of its own unique brand of charm. I'll stop here, as my student should be here any moment, and leave you with my yearly Easter condemnation of the Hebraic people. That means you, McJew. See what happens when you mess with the Son of God? You're just lucky Jesus didn't bust out his mad vampire-slaying kung fu. Alleluia, bitch. (God, I'm going to Hell, aren't I?)

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Blog! The Musical

After a very lengthy hiatus, I'm back to hit the ground running. Shortly, I plan to post about my recent trip to New York and chronicle the hilarity that ensued. But first, I must fulfill SpeakMemory's request and compile a list of musicals I find awesome. (As a side note, I'm looking for a nickname for her and Renaissance Man's newborn child. My question, to the more literarily-inclined of my brethren and sistren, is which author would you have if you combined Spenser and Nabokov?)

Ok, please note, this list is in no particular order, nor is it exhaustive. It's merely my impressions of shows that people should see, if they get the chance. Also, please note my own bias. I'm aware that there are many older musicals that people consider good. I just don't like them as much. Particularly of the era of Rogers and Hammerstein, whom I acknowledge as innovative for their time, but who don't particularly do anything for me. Also, please note I'm trying to stick to stage musicals here, thus excluding both older fare like the Fred Astaire movies as well as newer things like Disney musicals or Moulin Rouge.

Musicals that are Awesome

1. Anything by Sondheim. You really can't go wrong with the man, but I'll list here two that I've actually seen and enjoyed multiple times.

1a. Into the Woods: This fractured fairy-tale, as penned by the brilliant Stephen Sondheim, tells the combined stories of Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and various other stock characters in more supporting roles. It centers around the quest of a Baker and his wife to have a child, and weaves between all the traditional stories, so that all are happily ever after by the end of the first act. Then, everything goes to hell. It's a profoundly beautiful piece of work that deals with storytelling, childhood and adulthood, magic beans, runaway cows, and all the issues of modern life. Probably my favorite musical of all time, and my favorite show I was ever a part of.

1b. Assassins: My second Sondheim choice, this play tells the stories of the successful and failed presidential assassins of our time. It questions the nature of what makes an assassin an important figure, the power we read into them through a historical lens, and the motivations of figures we might dismiss as merely crazy. "The Ballad of Booth" is a singularly strong piece, as is "The Gun Song," a four-part harmony, sung at times without instrumentation, that requires perfect timing and tone. Also of note is "Unworthy of Your Love," a duet between the guy who shot Reagan for Jodie Foster and the girl who tried to kill Ford for the love of Charles Manson.

2. The Fantasticks: A particularly simple and stirring play. Boy meets girl. Boy and girl fall in love, in spite of fathers' feud. Fathers actually staging feud to make boy and girl fall in love. Fathers hire man to rape daughter so that son may save her and end feud. Wackiness ensues. Feud ends. And, in act 2, all again goes to hell. This play is beautiful for its simplicity, for its earnestness, and for the openness of emotion that it isn't afraid to deal with. It examines the nature of growth, the necessity of pain, and the foundations of a lasting love. It's one of the most moving love stories I've ever seen set to song. But please avoid the film version, which is soul-suckingly bad.

3. A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum: The single funniest show I've ever seen (well, been in, technically). It's laugh out loud funny. Seriously, words cannot describe how funny this show is. See it.

4. Man of La Mancha: I love this show because it's different from anything else I've seen. The Spanish flair they bring to the tale sets it apart musically in a way I haven't seen duplicated elsewhere. And you can't listen to "The Impossible Dream" without feeling stirred in some way. Plus, it appeals to all the literary junkies out there, though the actual tale has very little to do with Don Quixote the novel.

5. Pippin: Pippin has some catchy songs, an interesting ending twist, and loads of fun. But really, you see it because of all the Fosse choreography. It's stylistic and slick, sensuous and seductive, and there are pyrotechnics in the end.

6. Wicked: Say what you will about Wicked. I can see why some people might have problems with the music. Or the dialogue. Or whatever. It's still one hell of a spectacle, which is half of what a good musical should be. I personally enjoy it, and think that when it's strong, it's insanely strong. The closing number of the first act ("Defying Gravity") alone overcomes most of the detriments of the show.

7a. and 7b. Andrew Lloyd Weber has precisely two good musicals in my mind. Jesus Christ Superstar and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat. Superstar has a very distinct sound, and the rock elements of it make up in many ways for Weber's usual shortcoming, that almost all songs are variations on one another. I've seen it multiple times, and enjoyed it every time. Also, the roles of Jesus and Judas are a dream come true for a high tenor. Joseph, in turn, is just fun. You can't not smile while listening to it. It invites you to not have a care in the world while you're watching the show, and it succeeds more often than it fails. Like Fantasticks, it's a simplistic show, and gains strength from that.

Musicals that are Not Quite as Awesome, But Still Worth Seeing

1a. &1b. Les Miserables and Miss Saigon. By the same pair, whose names I don't have in front of me. These shows are constantly hyped, and musical snobs will often disdain them as being too popular (and thus not good). I can see this criticism, and I recognize that there are truly awful parts to them (the choreography of "One Day More" in particular comes to mind). But I've enjoyed them both times I've seen them, and I still occasionally listen to the music. Worth checking out.

2. 1776: John Adams was apparently a badass. And Thomas Jefferson? Nearly didn't write the Declaration of Independence because he was getting it on with Mrs. J. And there's a really cool song where the southern representative accuses the north's complicity in the slave trade. Only seen it once, and I don't have any of the music, but I remember really liking it.

3. Little Shop of Horrors: It's fun, what can I say? Check it out.

4. Rent: I love this musical every time I see it, and I'm torn as to whether or not to put it into the "Awesome" category. But it loses points for being too trendy, a bit too simplistic, and for a truly atrocious movie version. Again, see the snob category. But if you get a chance to see it with a decent cast, definitely do so.

5. Songs for a New World: This doesn't make the "Awesome" list just because it doesn't really have a plot. Or any cohesion. It's more of a collection of songs than a musical. That being said, the songs themselves are entertaining, energetic, and at times very moving. Give it a listen and see if you don't agree.

6. Godspell: I've been in this show twice, and seen it twice more. It's campy, good clean fun. The songs are nice, energetic, and occasionally beautiful. But avoid the movie version, which drains all the fun out of it.

Musicals I've Never Seen, But Whose Music I Enjoy

1. Avenue Q: Told by puppets, it's as if the muppets grew up and lived in New York. The opening number is entitled "What Do You Do With a B.A. in English?" and goes on to meditate upon whose life sucks the most. Also includes such numbers as "The Internet is for Porn," "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist," and "Schadenfreude." Also very stirring are "I Wish I Could Go Back to College" and my personal favorite "There's a Fine, Fine Line." Never seen it, hear it's awesome, and I love the songs.

2. Children of Eden: I still am upset that I didn't see this when it was done at Northwestern. The first act tells the story of the creation of the world, of Adam and Eve, up to the death of Abel and the banishment of Cain. The second act tells the story of Noah and the flood. It deals with fatherhood, children, and the price of freedom and creation. I love the music, and highly recommend it.

3. A New Brain: By the same man who brought us March of the Falsettos and Spelling Bee (I think), it's a musical about a neurotic songwriter who has to have brain surgery. (Also largely autobiographical, so I'm told.) The music is fresh and innovative, and the interplay of "Heart and Music" is particularly intriguing. Probably highest on my "check these out" list whenever I get a chance.

4. Cabaret: I tried to see this when it came to NU, but it was sold out every time I went. Cabaret singers, Nazis, what more do you want?

5. Ragtime: I've never seen it, but I have all the music memorized. I acknowledge the critique that there is very little actual ragtime music in it, but it's very stirring in its own way. Of course, part of that may be coming from my love of the source material, despite the fact that the musical ends on a much happier note.

6. Hairspray: I've only heard a few songs from this, but they were all pretty cool. Not cool enough to make me buy the soundtrack, but enough to make me anticipate the forthcoming movie. Of particular note is the closing number "You Can't Stop the Beat," which is just hands down a great way to end a show.

And with that, I end my lists. I'm sure there are some I'm forgetting, but c'est la vie. True aficionadoes out there will note that my list is somewhat mainstream. I apologize, but I don't get out to much theatre anymore, and most of what I saw at NU was bad dramatic theatre, not musical theatre. So I invite you to correct and augment my list via comments. Particularly those of you out there actually involved in the theatre industry.