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REVIEWS & INTERVIEWS: One More Cup Of Coffee

These hilarious shorts are a perfect snarkfest, combining people watching and café criticism with abundant humor. Pappalardo visits coffee emporiums in Northampton, Amherst, and other towns in western Massachusetts to sample brews ranging from fabulous to putrid and to jot his impressions of baristas and customers. He ranges from local coffeehouses to Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks locations, going so far as to reference the noncontroversy of the 2015 red holiday cups; he even experiences coffee in his local public library. In one riff, he rails against the ludicrousness of far-distant coffee pickup counters; elsewhere, he visits a Dunkin’ Donuts dominated by painful country music. Pappalardo’s enjoyment of doughnuts, pie, and other comestibles adds delight to the collection, as does his recording of overheard conversations and scenes. This collection is good for a consistent supply of laughs, regardless of whether readers live in Massachusetts or drink coffee.
Publisher’s Weekly Continue reading

PIECES

I’m sitting at my desk on post-election day, reviewing eight pages of aborted paragraphs I’ve scribbled in my notebook, wrestling with the desire to communicate and connect with you, to say something important or useful or — if all else fails — something clever or entertaining. The eight pages have come up short on all fronts. I got bupkis.

All I can do is tell you what I’m going to do: Make things I care about and call out bullshit when I see it. I will do these things because I think they’re important and vital to our culture and society (and also because they’re the only things I have any aptitude for). So I will play to my strengths, even if it’s in the form of a dumb joke. So be it. These are the tools I have, so I’ll use them. I encourage you to create art and fight against the things that make you mad, too, in your own way, using the tools you have.

Go forth and make something. A scathing op-ed, a stupid meme, a fierce metal riff, a sketch (comedy or pencil), a protest sign, a hilarious book about drinking coffee available on Amazon next month, a photo of your world, an earnest Facebook post, whatever. Inform your audience, or rile them up, or give them joy. Play to your strengths. All I ask is that — on some level — you believe in your thing, it communicates something you give a shit about, and it’s the truth. Cut off little pieces of yourself and set them loose in the world. Don’t be afraid. You won’t run out.

Lucinda

I am dreaming. I think about Lucinda Williams, and then I’m talking to her. I ask her if it’s difficult having such an unusual name. My sleeping brain constructs a dream-world where you need to possess a rock with your name written on it in order to have that name. There are name-rocks all over the place, but the polished Lucindas are rare gems, hard to find. If she ever lost her name-rock, she’d have a hell of a time trying to replace it, and might end up having to take a different name. I don’t have that problem. Toms are dull and common, about as rare as pigeons in a parking lot.

Broken Lines: LO

The cowboy is tired and a bit cranky.

“Whaaat?” asks the spaceman in disbelief. “No, it’s cool! Like a mascot!”

They sit in the rear booth of the Stop-N-Go Diner just off of Route 28. Two cups of coffee rest on the table, surrounded by breakfast debris. Above the din of ordering, smalltalk, and determined mastication rises the tinny sound of that accursed “Life Is A Highway” song. It leaks out of the diner’s table jukeboxes, thirty-odd speakers radiating unspeakable brain damage. The cowboy—normally more than willing to maintain a low profile in public—considers pulling out one of his revolvers so he can start pegging the quarter-only machines like it’s a goddamned carnival game. Instead, he opts to jab at the “LO” volume button on their booth’s juke for the tenth time, hoping against hope that this will somehow elicit a lower “LO.”

The little spaceman fidgets on his side of the booth, feet dangling over the edge of the seat, kicking along to some broken rhythm in his head. Next to him, a fiberglass clown head the size of a large beach ball sits quietly, its mouth smiling around a much-abused speaker grille. The clown head has seen better days: wind-scoured, sun-faded, graffitied. The ClownyBurger down the highway will open in another forty-five minutes. The morning crew will call the police shortly thereafter.

“We can glue it to the roof of the truck!” the spaceman continues. “C’mon, Cowboy! It’ll look awesommmmmme!” He points a gloved finger at the RENT: America! truck parked outside their booth window. “I think I’ve got…” He ponders the control panel on the front of his spacesuit. “…some…” He runs his hand across the small keypad. “…adhesivvvve…” He tries to recall the correct numerical shortcut. Spaceman has yet to admit to Cowboy that he has no idea how most of the functions on his suit work. “Yeah yeah yeah!” he declares. “Watch the salt shaker. I’ve totally got this structural adhesive bonding agent stuff. Space Agency grade stuff.” The cowboy drops his face into his hands as the spaceman points his pinky finger at the salt shaker. He punches a few numbers into the control panel, there is a momentary hum of electric discharge, and every jukebox in the diner gets louder.

“Awww, come on!” Cowboy cries, pounding his fist on the tabletop. Spoons jump.

The spaceman examines the small outlet tube mounted on the pinky of his glove. “Musta hit the wrong button.”

“Oh, musta,” the cowboy moans into his palms.

“Pardon me, gentlemen.” An Indian accent. Cowboy peeks through his fingers and spies a well-dressed man standing next to their table. Tweed suit. Bow tie. Fez. “Is that your rental lorry out there?”

“Yeah!” says the spaceman.

“No.”

“Well, technically, no,” the spaceman admits. “It’s a rental.”

“No,” Cowboy reiterates. Then to the stranger: “No. Uh, our truck is parked around back. Moving Unlimited.” He gestures to the truck outside their window. “That there’s a RENT: America! truck. The little fella’s confused.” Cowboy slaps the little man’s glass dome. The spaceman, not quite comprehending the deceit, eyes the truck suspiciously. “What’s this about, mister…?”

“My name is Mister Manwani. I’m with The Brotherhood.” He leans in close and speaks quietly. “We’ve had reports of a vampire in the area. We’re hot on the trail.” He is already walking away. “Nothing to worry about, of course. Leave it to us.” He continues talking as he moves back towards the door. “I think I’ll take a quick look at that unattended vehicle. Bit suspicious, I think. Thank you, gentlemen. Good day.” Polite. Dismissive. He opens the door and a bell rings. He’s gone.

“Well, balls,” Cowboy growls, pulling a crumpled ball of dollar bills out of his pocket and slapping them on the table. He stands up and unholsters one of his big revolvers. “C’mon,” he grunts at Spaceman, followed by a pre-emptive “…and leave the clown head here.”

“But—”

The jukeboxes play the opening notes to “We Built This City” at the new, higher volume and no one in the diner seems to mind. Cowboy checks the chambers of the gun as he stomps down the aisle. Loaded. He whirls around abruptly at the door, the spaceman almost tripping over him. “What is wrong with you people?” he accuses the room as he waves the gun over his head. A few people look up, amused. “Balls,” he growls again, already giving up on the half-formed speech in his head. He has other things to attend to. To the spaceman: “C’mon. Stick close. There’s probably more of ‘em out there staking the place out.”

“Ha. Staking. Good one. I get it.”

“Shut your face-hole.”

The cowboy gives a final condemning glare to the room full of chewers and swallowers. Everything he sees is coated with a greasy film of Starship. “Ungoddamnbelievable,” he mutters. Raising his gun to his cheek, he kicks the door open and bolts out into the parking lot. The spaceman sticks close.

Stunt Design

There’s an insidious monster whispering in the ears of amateur illustrators and designers, haunting Twitter feeds and blogs and tumblrs across the web. It isn’t an art movement or anything, it’s an internet trend. I have come to refer to it in my head as Stunt Design.

Stunt Design, n. The phenomenon of designers & illustrators creating gimmicky graphics purely in the hopes of ‘going viral’ on pop culture/arts blogs.

Stunt Design is combining pop culture things with a seemingly incompatible design style. Or maybe just mixing up two pop culture things for the hell of it. The surface-y statement of purpose is usually something nebulous and meaningless like “juxtaposition” or “reimagining.” But if you scratch at the label with your fingernail, you find there’s not much underneath it. I think that the real goal is to create something that will appeal to the insatiable appetites of design and pop culture blogs, leading to exposure, name recognition, ad revenue, and/or selling digital prints.

Movie posters redone with minimalist design. Re-imagined hip-hop album covers. Swiss Modern design mixed with punk flyers. No context, no meaning, just juxtaposition for juxtaposition’s sake. Like a bad mashup based off of song title puns instead of something musical. Stunt design is empty decoration. And its proliferation begs the question: Why the fuck are these people making this stuff for public consumption? Feedback? Acknowledgement? Portfolio padding? Boredom coupled with an incredible amount of free time? Simply expressing a love for something? Painfully excruciatingly pointless design exercises? Some of these reasons are completely valid. Some of the work I’ve seen has technical merit. But the cynic in me sees the majority of this work and can’t help but think: Capitalism. Self-promotion. Website hits. Hunger to go viral. A desire to make a buck off of any and every goddamned franchise they can smash together.

And that hunger is fed by the enablers: The blogging community. There are countless design and general pop culture sites out there, and they all demand a constant flow of fresh design-related content to feed to their readers. They’re less concerned with the quality of the work being presented than they are with the general relevance of the content. And once a handful of these blogs start disseminating the work, it spreads quickly. From a purely marketing point of view, I’m impressed with the phenomenon. It’s a supply-and-demand situation that benefits the creators and the disseminators. It benefits everyone except the readers, of course, whose mental bar of what is good or interesting is continuously pushed lower. It’s crap in, crap out, because every day is a new day, and every new day needs new crap.

And that’s why I’m pleased to announce a new project I’m really excited about. A poster series mixing two of my greatest passions: the bold imagery of Russian Constructivism and classic retro 80’s television!

rodchenko-alf1

Check back for more! I’m available for freelance! 11″x17″ prints available soon (digital, of course! They’re so easy and disposable!). Please click on my banner advertising! Oh, man, do you think I should register a domain name? Ohhh! www.rodchenkoincharge.com is available!

PODCAST INTERVIEW: The Bill Dwight Show

I stopped by the ol’ podcast shack to talk to Bill Dwight and Jaz Tupelo about my book Everything You Didn’t Ask For. Discussed: My soul, suicide, old movies, Charles Schulz, internet trolls, One More Cup Of Coffee (now a book you can purchase!), and other ramblings. I bet I will sell thousands of copies because of this! Check out a bunch of other cool stuff at The Bill Dwight Show.

(my bit starts at 24:30)

CLEAR SKIES (Sip, Northampton)

An excerpt from my book One More Cup Of Coffee
It’s a blustery New England morning on Main Street. I inhale a chilly lungful of Monday, smug in the knowledge that, unlike west coast writers, I get to use words like “blustery.” I step into SIP for a coffee and a bagel. I’m not sure if all-capping SIP is required, but I do it because I dig their sign, which is all-caps, which is successful branding. Continue reading