Saturday, August 9 2003
Today was my second on the job at the Saugerties cowboy electrician gig, and I'd learned some lessons from yesterday's experience. I thought ahead and bought a bag of corn chips and a non-alcoholic beverage (normally I would never buy a beverage unless it contained alcohol). I also brought a small clock radio so I'd have something to listen to. When I got to the site, Louis (who is working as the carpenter) has brought his own radio, and since it was already on, we listened to what he was playing. It was WDST, the often-annoying alt-pop station from Woodstock.
WDST thinks it's hot shit because it's not owned by Clear Channel and at one time it was a cutting-edge station that launched pop music careers. Nobody who really makes a difference listens to music on the radio these days, so stations can't really do that anymore, and WDST doesn't bother trying.
WDST does occasionally play the odd song from, say, Guided by Voices, Lou Barlow, or even Soundtrack of Our Lives, but it's always the same predictable song, an overproduced radio-friendly sample that gives no clue of the artist's brilliance. If it's a song by Guided by Voices, it's sure to be the smarmy "Hold On Hope," and if it's Soundtrack of Our Lives, prepare to hear "Sister Surround" (which actually does rock). But if the song is by Lou Barlow, forget about Sebadoh or even early Dinosaur Jr. No, it's all about Folk Implosion, as represented by that overplayed dirge from the mid 90s, "Natural One."
But WDST's tired formulaic programming was much better than the soul-suffocating silence of a basement. Even the advertisements, as shrill and poorly-targeted as they were, provided a certain amount of entertainment. When you're kneeling in spilled cat litter stringing wire between electrical boxes in a musty basement, it's fun to chuckle at the notion that the ditty "Healy Brothers!/Healy Brothers!/We deliver value!" is going to make me want to buy a car from Healy Brothers.
It might have made my day far more interesting, but one thing I didn't do was smoke pot on the job. I can think of at least one carpenter who has no trouble completing his tasks and operating a skilsaw while under the effects of THC, but if I were to smoke pot, it's almost certain I would have ended up stringing wires in absurd defiance of the outline provided by the underlying skeleton of two-by-fours. I'm older and wiser now than I used to be; I'll never forget the times I tried to write software and install insulation after smoking pot.
I broke from work early so I could meet up with Gretchen and Joslin and ride with them up to the town of Hudson to attend an opening of luridly-colored paintings by her friend B!ll Sull!van.
As usual for this summer, rain poured down occasionally during the entire trip both to and from Hudson. The only other time I'd been to Hudson (also to visit B!ll Sull!van) was similarly dreary, and I'm beginning to get a bad impression of the place, if only in my subconscious.
The opening was in the lobby of a hotel. It featured none of B!ll's more homoerotic works, focusing entirely on his richly-colored and naked-man-free landscapes. Also showing was the guy who hosted the brunch we attended during our last visit to Hudson. He's the guy who paints huge collage-influenced paintings. Looking closely at these, I realized he used some of the same quasi-pointillist decorative techniques I use in my paintings.
Gretchen had heard about a new restaurant in Hudson called Mexican Radio. It was actually a secondary location of a New York City restaurant having the same name. But when Gretchen told B!ll she was thinking about going there, he told her it was too expensive and that we should go to this other place that he likes to go to (just from the name of it, it sounded like it wouldn't be especially rich in vegetarian options). But Gretchen was determined to check out Mexican Radio, local opinion be damned. As we were walking there, Gretchen, Joslin and I were discussing gentrification, particularly as it applies to a nascently-gentrified town like Hudson. I said that Hudson looked like it was comprised of two different groups: the pre-gentrified (mostly poor blacks) and the gentrifying (mostly artists and members of the gay community). Gretchen said she didn't think of B!ll as much of a force of gentrification, pointing out that he was too frugal to consider eating at Mexican Radio. "Maybe you're one of the people gentrifying Hudson," I said, nodding my head towards Gretchen.
Outside Mexican Radio, I didn't have a good feeling about the place. Just looking at the sign out front and the prices on the menu told me it was making its gentrification proclamation just a little too loudly. For Christ's sake, this place was trying to sell burritos for $14! They don't even do that in Manhattan, and this, let me reiterate, was Hudson, a largely pre-gentrified upstate village.
Inside, the pretense was expressed itself as an array of beautiful antique iron crosses hanging in a dimly-illuminated array in the front dining room. This space extended upwards into a two-story atrium. The designers had actually ripped out part of the second floor to give the space a dramatic verticality. Everywhere you turned to look the message was clear. This isn't your grandmother's Mexican restaurant. The music blaring from the sound system was dance electronica, the kind people listen to at dance parties (known to kids these days as raves). The samples used in this music had no discernible Mexican flavor.
When I learned that chips and salsa were items that had to be ordered separately and, yes, paid for, my first impulse was to get up and walk out, but then I decided to open my mind. Why shouldn't a Mexican restaurant be hip and expensive if that's what it wanted to be?
The food was exceptionally good, with genuine flavor and ingrained spiciness. The manner in which it was brought out - as a kit "requiring some assembly" - rather reminded me of the way real Mexican food is served at fine restaurants in Mexico. (For some reason they only gave me three small corn tortillas with my otherwise generous quantities of food.) Had the spiciness proved insufficient, I could have picked from one of six different kinds of hot sauce sitting at my table. Most of these appeared to be novelty variants on a Tabasco theme. I tried a little of the "Saddam Insane" sauce (the bottle featured a picture of the deposed dictator and a supposed quote about how he uses the stuff to torture prisoners). It was definitely hot, but I didn't really suffer until I accidentally rubbed some of it into my eye.
Gretchen wondered why Mexican Radio had come to Hudson and not, say, Kingston. Then she figured it out: it's doubtful Mexican Radio could survive in a small town with other Mexican restaurants. People would go there, wonder about the lack of free chips and salsa, and fail to get it.
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