I’d say the responses when I ask someone if they read my blog range anywhere from “I would have but it was waaaaay too long” or “I didn’t know you had a blog” to “No” and “Sir, if you’re not going to buy anything, please leave.” So I’m gonna keep writing ’em and I tried to shorten this one; don’t be fooled by scrolling, the pictures take up most of the space. Since it’s the end of the year and everyone gets in the mood to dichotomize something about the last 365 days (and argue about the resulting lists), I thought I’d jump in the fray for once. This started because some good friends of mine have a habit of making a ’50 Favorite Songs of the Year’ list around this time; they’re ridiculously impressive, and since I can name about five albums total per year, I joked I was going to make a ‘Ten Best Things I Ate This Year’ list (with the cinnamon pop tart I found in the middle drawer of my desk at work a couple months ago looking like a VERY strong contender) but it ended up turning into something a little more fun. I cheated and changed it to things I “consumed” so I could widen the scope and then threw in some ties, some sketchy rankings and probably forgot like six crazy things that should all be included. Most things were released or happened this year, some weren’t, who cares!. Without further adieu, the twelve best things I consumed in 2013. Feel free to argue!
12. The Unfinished Swan (Video Game)
So, this is a video game. Well, no, it isn’t really a video game; there are no villains or puzzles or points, so, maybe it’s more like an interactive piece of artwork (I think)? And I don’t know what’s weirder: that there are only two buttons that function and one of them is ‘jump’ which accomplishes you absolutely nothing at any point in the “game,” or that the plot follows a young boy chasing a swan that escaped a painting which is all in fact a grief-induced delusion brought on by his mother dying. Wow. How has this game’s marketing team not hired me by now? This would be worth your time and the five bucks it probably costs by now even if you gave up after the first “level.”
11. Cheese Curds, The Old Fashioned, Madison, WI (Food)
If you don’t know what cheese curds are, I didn’t either until this year. Midwesterners are mad scientists of delicious things, so just Wikipedia them; they’re like rubbery pre-cheese. A friend and Madison native insisted I eat these when in town in August, proclaiming them the finest curds in America, and they were ridiculous. They were barely battered, barely fried, served with a funky horseradish-y sauce and one of them was the size of a Red Lobster Cheddar Bay Biscuit (Red Lobster, have your people call my people). I consumed them with the house’s namesake, an Old Fashioned, which I highly recommend, but drink not required. Curds very required. Required curds.
10. Every Possible Piece of Information or Media of the San Francisco Bat Kid (News)
Alright, everyone already knows this one (if you don’t, here. And here’s video. The 2:04 mark will destroy every ounce of negativity in your body.), but seriously, let’s count it off: adult’s enabling childish BS and imagination to come to life for something genuine? Check. Little kid made impossibly happy? Check. Big middle finger to terminal illnesses and crushed dreams? Check. Mass selflessness? Like twenty thousand checks. Every human who contributed to this happening is now tied for my life hero.
9. A Portland Timbers Soccer Game from the Timbers Army Section (Event)
I already dropped four thousand words on this one a couple months ago; here’s the link. It has pictures and some jokes! Be my guest if you missed it, are extra bored or insanely hung over from New Years right now and aren’t making decision with a sound mind. If all three, you win!
8. The Lone Bellow at Mill City Nights (Performance)
This show was already off to a hot start for the fact it was free and my buddy and I somehow lucked into being “those people” right up against the stage railing. We were close enough to be nearly spit on by Zach Williams (he’s on the left) multiple times in what I can only describe as one of the most intense and passionate and crowd-friendly musical performances I’ve ever seen. They played hard and loud and when they did, Zach almost put a hole in the stage because he apparently super enjoys stomping his vintage distressed boot into the ground. They played soft and slow too, and when they did that, the three band members would intersperse total silence between harmonizing to let the melodies hit home, as shown above. See? No one’s singing! And the best part? Not a soul made a freaking peep when they would do it. Absolute silence. You don’t ever hear silence at a concert, even if the band is gunning for it, and regardless whether the show is great or garbage. It was silent. They earned it.
7. Tie – Seasons One of Orange is the New Black, Orphan Black (Television)
Yeah, the final season of Breaking Bad was awesome, no question, but I got a little bogged down with all the Nazis and Jesse having like twelve words of dialogue for the whole year. What WAS completely, holy crap, where-did-this-come-from type magnetically compelling were the premier seasons of these two shows. I think a lot of people have caught ‘Orange’ by now, which I hope is the case, as it’s hilarious and twisty and smarter than anything else I watched this year. I’m a sucker for big casts and flashbacks that completely subvert your assumptions (we miss you, Lost) and I changed which inmate I was rooting for the most about forty times. I think a lot less people have caught or heard of ‘Orphan’ but hopefully, all six people who read this will give it a shot! This show receives the ultimate compliment in that I devoured all ten episodes in one day, and I am the most vehement hater of binge-TV-watching on Earth. Good sci-fi (stay spoiler free!) and the bestest, ridiculousest high-wire-acting performance by a person I can think of; Tatiana Maslany plays almost every character on the show (and all three women above. Watch to find out why. This show’s super cool).
6. Jason Isbell’s ‘Southeastern’ (Music)
Please don’t let this be one of those pretentious and douchey times someone lists a musician no one’s ever heard of to seem cool and cultured; the Atlanta Braves beat writer loves this guy’s music and pimped the Atlanta native’s solo album like crazy so I gave it a shot. It was great, and then it somehow ended up on a bunch of these best of the year lists (how meta!), including #4 on Amazon’s best albums of the year and numero uno if you ask the American Songwriters. It’s kind of like reading a biography set to a melody, and even if I can’t sympathize with some of his drug and alcohol recovery confessions, I dare you to find another place where someone manages to successfully (and still melodiously) rhyme “benzodiazepine” or outdoes my favorite lyrics of the year, written to his wife in southern ink:
“Go leave your boots by the bed, we ain’t leavin’ this room;
‘til someone needs medical help or the magnolias bloom.”
5. Tie – The Dog Stars by Peter Heller, The Maid’s Version by Daniel Woodrell, The Fault In Our Stars by John Green (Books)
I know. Very indecisive. It’s only going to get worse if this annoyed you that badly. The first is a tale of exploration after a flu kills 99% of the country (no zombies here, just solitude) and an amazing love letter written to nature (Heller writes for Outdoors Magazine), man’s best friend and Andy Dufresne’s advice to “get busy living or get busy dying.” Stay for the wonderful ending. The second is a 180 page historical puzzle of Americana orchestrated around a 1920’s dance hall explosion that killed hundreds in a small town in the Ozarks. The author manipulates words that create entirely unexpected reactions in your brain, not unlike a chemist mixing chemicals. He can and does write single sentences with 20 words that shift your emotions three times, actually pull the wool over your eyes twice, fully characterize someone, stick with you enough to remember them vividly even 100 pages later and make grubby amateur blog writers feel like just throwing in the towel forever. Another amazing ending. The last one’s a, stick with me here, young adult romance novel about two high-school age kids with terminal cancer . . . and might be the funniest book I’ve ever read. It’s so honest and clever. Definitely no happy endings here, but like the book points out, that’s the fault in our stars. Movie adaptation is this summer, but don’t wait for that.
4. Tie – The Views Behind Frozen Minnehaha Falls, Minneapolis, MN and Atop the Astoria Column, Astoria, OR (View)
For everyone that complains these blogs are too long, this will be the lengthy one, so hang in there if you haven’t bailed out yet. Behind Minnehaha Falls in southeast Minneapolis between January and April, you can slip behind the completely frozen waterfall into a cavern closed in by a temporary wall of ice. Seriously. A wall. Of ice. You can touch it, or lean against it, because it’s a freaking WALL OF ICE. Getting up there is something of a trick (apologies to my sister, as all we managed to do was injure ourselves) but once you do, holy crap. Wall of ice. The winning visit was a day in May with friends from back home when just a bit of the water had started to rush again over the outer-facing side of the ice wall, and the sunshine painted a kaleidoscopic rainbow on the interior. It was a highlight of my year to share this place with a few sets of wayward Florida friends. And where this view is an astonishing enclosed space, the view atop the Astoria Column is, well, less restrictive. You can see for fifty miles in every direction.
Picture a clock face. When you step out of the dizzying spiral staircase into the misty coastal air and look ahead, noon is the tiny home of the Goonies, picturesque Astoria, built onto a hill and falling down towards the Columbia river. Start walking clockwise and one o’clock is the massive Astoria-Megler Bridge, crossing into Washington state over the emptying mouth of the confluence of the Columbia and a few other rivers. Two o’clock is the busy Port of Astoria. Three o’clock on down through just after six runs the fat, blue ribbon of the mighty Columbia, cutting a deep gorge between the state lines and heading for Portland and beyond. Seven o’clock finds you mountains. Real snow-capped mountain peaks, just in case the river bed was misleading. Eight o’clock through nine are miles of interminable fields of Oregon timbers, undulating over unseen hills and ranges, a churning sea of pine. And the clock saves the best for the last: ten o’clock on back through the low-lying south side of Astoria are wetlands. Not like Florida swamps, but happy little towns and rolling greens buttressed up to the shores of and dotted in between three rivers that race to the Pacific alongside the Columbia with Astoria as the finish line, and even on a misty and dreary Oregon fall day, those rivers glowed orange. They glowed and they shone in the low autumn sun like they ran from unseen forges that emptied somewhere over the horizon, filling them with molten gold. I stared and stared and then I walked ten feet to see the mountain peaks again. Then a few more for the ships headed to the port. And then the Columbia. Then Astoria. The pines. Golden rivers. I got very dizzy, but it didn’t have much to do with my equilibrium.
3. Tie – Gravity and Frozen (Film)
It’s ironic how contradictory these movies are. One I may never watch again and one I may never stop watching again. One will make you feel like the happiest little kid ever and one will fray your nerves like a cut bungee tether, give you about thirty heart attacks. I loved Gravity because of the absolutely inimitable experience of watching in the theater, that two hours of hating every time I had to blink: superficially astonishing with a message and plot that don’t really matter, like the most colorful and massive firework to ever light up the very night sky it’s set in. I still say I would have paid $100 for that IMAX showing and not felt cheated in the slightest. I hope my eyes ever witness something like it again, as it’s always nice in the land of sequels, remakes and comic book franchising when something expands the scope of what we thought a medium was capable of. As for Frozen, there are certainly impressive visuals but the characters and the message are the real joys, and for the first time in forever I paid twice to see a movie in the theater, did so happily. I almost went a third time a couple days after viewing number two, and I can only assume this is how my four-year-old self felt about The Little Mermaid, how my eight-year-old self felt about The Sandlot. In now 2014, when political quagmire hell and weekly mass shootings are coming to be the norm, what’s it worth, what is it really worth to feel childlike giddy happiness again as a cynical adult? I realize a man in his late twenties waxing poetic about a Disney cartoon and your ‘inner child’ is pretty weird so for everyone reading this and thinking I’m nuts, I don’t blame you. I get it, I really do, but I’m sorry someone froze your heart somewhere along the line. I want to watch this movie right now.
2. Fish Sauce Wings and SOM Drinking Vinegars, Pok Pok, Portland, OR (Food)
Holy. Crap. I’m not a food writer (or much of a regular one to be honest). Telling people how something tastes seems like an adventure in vanity to me, it’s entirely subjective. This was another impossibly successful recommendation from a buddy, as these wings had the most unique flavor I’ve ever tasted and are covered in caramelized sugar. Go eat them some time. Seriously. They’ll make them for you, I promise. The drinks I mentioned were a bit stranger; as some of my friends know, I’m a weird guy who likes balsamic vinegar so much I’m a little snooty about it and will drink it straight on occasion. Well guess what, JERKS: this place makes DRINKS OUT OF FLAVORED VINEGARS. VALIDATION TASTES SO SWEET. No, like, super sweet and equally delicious, or at least the two flavors I ordered were (grapefruit and Thai basil). And they sell the vinegars (just add soda water!). Does anyone remember that scene in the movie Zodiac where Downey Jr. pokes fun at Gyllenhaal’s neon blue Aqua Velva drink order and then it smash cuts to about a dozen empty blue glasses in front of Downey right after he tries the drink? That’s what happened. Our table was full of empty glasses because they were delicious.
Well, thanks for reading all these, whether you already knew them all, knew none of them or could give a crap either way. I hope 2014 brings your eyes, ears, mouth, fingertips and brain memorable things to consume greedily, and in spades. An original Christopher Nolan movie. The World Cup. It should be great. Number one will be the shortest entry by far but the one I most greedily hope I can consume again this year: the vacation days and frequent flyer miles of my family and friends. My god, I love you guys.