A (Bulimic) Food Critic Coughs Up the Truth

Monday  August 31, 2009

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Listen to our GQ Radio podcast with Frank Bruni below or click here to download it from iTunes.

You had to feel sorry for the waitress. She was about to encounter Frank Bruni, the elusive New York Times restaurant critic who slapped David Bouley down a star and savaged Robert DeNiro’s eatery, Ago, both for fumbling the table service. And she had no idea. She bent over us to write her name on a cocktail napkin with a baby blue highlighter, which she festooned with two pretty hearts. This strange naming ritual put her powdery breasts on lavish display. “I’m Jillian,” she announced brightly, pushing her calling card into the middle of our table. “Have you been to Hooters before?”

Bruni was ravenous. He ordered two plates: medium-hot wings with no breading and extra blue cheese, plus the “Hooters ‘More Than A Mouthful’ Burger,” medium-rare with Swiss.

This, it turns out, is the real Frank Bruni. In his unusually revealing new memoir, Born Round, he peels back the aluminum foil on his long relationship with unhealthy (to put it mildly) eating. A rapacious toddler, he grew into a gluttonous adolescent who consumed astounding quantities of food and thought about almost nothing else. As an 8-year-old he was already on the Atkins Diet; by college, he was a full-on bulimic. For him, Freshman Fifteen was the number of servings he would eat at a sitting, and the number of minutes it took him to tickle it all back out in the john.

This went on for years, sometimes coupled with X-Lax abuse, yet he never sought help for it. He seemed to still have trouble grasping the depth of the pathology. “It was certainly disordered,” he said. “But there was a part of me that thought, I’ll be able to correct this myself.” And he did, after a fashion. He quit vomiting, but only once he discovered speed, then gave up speed for a diet consisting of nothing but Greek salads. Nothing tamed The Hunger nor slowed the weight gains. By his mid-30s, traveling around the country to cover George Bush’s first campaign for the Times, he began to pillage mini-bar after mini-bar, sometimes gobbling $100 a night in chocolate chip cookies, Snickers, and roasted cashews. The next 30 pounds seemed to go right to his cheeks, which Bush couldn’t help but pinch.

Bruni’s subsequent assignment, as the paper’s White House correspondent, was his “low bottom,” as the 12-steppers say—a time of inescapable depression and an opportunity for exploring even further reaches of his intestines. “My stomach was nothing but space—a McMansion of stomach,” he wrote, “with laundry rooms and powder rooms and walk-in closets and in-law suits that other stomachs didn’t have.”

Ultimately he pushed the scale to 268 pounds. “I looked like Jabba The Hutt,” he told me as Jillian brought our drinks (“a diet something” for him). He became so unsightly that the Times columnist Maureen Dowd, his friend and colleague, hired him a personal trainer, who turned Bruni into an exercise junkie. By the time he was named Restaurant Critic in 2004, he had lost 65 pounds and was able to have sex with the lights on for the first time in his life.

Which is why he nearly refused the column—a job requiring that he eat out seven nights a week, sometimes two dinners in one day, with an annual restaurant allowance of $150,000, a glutton’s wet dream. His friends worried he would backslide, but because of his twisted relationship with food, he actually saw the job as a solid bulwark against weight gain, he said. “In this job, I can’t diet and that’s my great salvation. Since I can never do extreme denial, I could never talk myself into extreme binging, because I can’t tell myself with any honesty that next week I’ll be better—because next week there are going to be seven more dinners out.”

In the end, he was right. Bruni wraps up his five-year stint this month in a 33” belt, heading to new challenges at the paper. He leaves food on plates now, even the most dreamy concoctions at Jean Georges or Le Bernadin. But on some nights, after an exquisite $200 meal, he cops to stopping for a pint of Ben & Jerry’s or a whole rotisserie chicken, somehow packing it all into his stomach at once. The feeling of near-explosion still gives him a high, like a drug rush. His book is about struggle, not victory.

“I wanted to write something that was in some ways an anti-food memoir, a completely different stripe of memoir that talked not about the seduction and glory of food, but the seduction and betrayal of food,” he said. “Because there are as many people out there who have a fraught relationship with food as a gauzy romantic one.”

When our lunch arrived, Bruni plundered the wings and pushed the burger past his teeth without joy. He found the wings passable, not plump enough but not overcooked. And the burger? “It was terrible,” he said. “If I hadn’t been so hungry, I would have let it be.” He ate all but a little pinch—a token sacrifice to the gods of willpower, proof the war is not yet lost.—david france

MJ's 51st Birthday

Monday  August 31, 2009

Tracy Morgan and Spike Lee

At first we were skeptical. A Brooklyn-style block party to celebrate Michael Jackson's 51st birthday? Two months—and seven thousand hours of dedicated CNN coverage—after his death? But Spike Lee knew that all the mournful glitter at the Staples Center memorial, and likely any tribute to come, neglected one essential fact about memorializing Michael: it takes the sight and heat of a few thousand New Yorkers collectively riding the boogie on a patch of Brooklyn grass, to purge the news crawl of custody battle and autopsy reports.

And this past Saturday, on an otherwise overlooked field in the depths of Prospect Park, Spike and DJ Spinna, along with Tracy Morgan, the Reverend Al (who, in linking MJ with Ted Kennedy, actually uttered the phrase, "…from Flatbush to Hyannisport") and others, evoked the best of the King with five hours of the purest pop. To properly pay their respects, fans from across the city turned out in their best MJ digs. Here, some of our favorites.—mark healy

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Mashterpiece Theater

Tuesday  August 25, 2009

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The fake version: Mad Men, 2008.

One of my recurring grumps about Mad Men is that the health-conscious actors playing 1960s roués don't know how to booze and smoke with conviction. Managing cocktails and Marlboros with only two hands—or four, once they'd had a few—was as close as my parents' friends came to doing ballet sitting down. It may or may not be a lost art worth mourning, but you'll never understand our midcentury forebears without grasping that today's vices were their social kabuki.

Skimping on that particular brand of verisimilitude is not a complaint anyone's likely to lodge against the soused title characters of John Cassavetes's 1970 Husbands. Newly out on DVD from Sony, it's about three New York asshole buddies on the cusp of male menopause who head off to London on a jet-lagered bender after a close pal's premature death. If Smell-O-Vision had ever caught on back then, the reek of stale tobacco smoke, bad Scotch, and worse cologne coming off the screen could have made a coroner gag.

Since that's what I spent my formative years inhaling, I'm responsibly placed to affirm that Husbands has acquired a value as a period document it didn't have then as a film. Given Cassavetes's belief that he was Julia Child at serving up raw psychological honesty—you know, the kind that always gets called "unflinching"—the movie's insights into the protagonists are maddeningly paltry. But the behavior their creator takes for granted—the posturing he was too steeped in himself to have much perspective on—sure is a wonder in 40-year hindsight.

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The real one: Husbands, 1970.

In its combined boorishness and anomie, Husbands mashes Eugene O'Neill with a Rat Pack flick gone Antonioni. Played by also-ran '60s icons who were also cronies offscreen—Ben (TV's Run For Your Life) Gazzara, future Columbo star Peter Falk, and then recent Dirty Dozen and Rosemary's Baby alum Cassavetes himself—the main characters are patently discontented actors in everything but their ostensible (white-collar, cushy, predictably unfulfilling) professions. It's typical of Cassavetes the director that their debauch isn't worked out as a story so much as it stays a premise in search of a plot. Since he was both stubborn and simple-minded enough to equate conventional dramatic structure with commercial-minded Hollywood phoniness, the shapelessness of their midlife adventure equals truth in his mind.

In case that sounds rude to an indie legend, don't misunderstand. The two or three generations of DIY filmmakers who revere Cassavetes as their home-grown John the Baptist have lots of good reasons. Back when Sundance wasn't even a gleam in the twin tanning-machine victims we know as Robert Redford's former baby blues, his determination to go his own way was heroic. Naming the movies that wouldn't exist without his example and influence could keep us here for hours, with Swingers and Clerks at the crowd-pleasing end and Todd (Happiness) Solondz at the other.

All the same, any admirer who thinks Cassavetes' films achieve the oh-the-humanity profundity they hunger for may just have internalized his aggressive self-romanticization. Even at their best, which to my taste means in bits and pieces—parts of Faces, his wife Gena Rowlands' performance in A Woman Under The Influence, one or two sequences here—they're like lesser O'Neill plays rewritten by an only intermittently perceptive O'Neill character. And if the shoe fits, should we blame the bottle?

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All-American boys: Gazzara, Cassavetes, and Falk take a break from dribbling.

Owners of David Thomson's A Biographical Dictionary of Film should feel free at this point to marvel at how skilfully Thomson manages to paint Cassavetes as a drunk without saying so outright. Whether or not he fit the bill clinically, which the evidence is he did—not yet 60, he died of cirrhosis of the liver in 1989—Husbands can't help but look to dazed modern eyes like some kind of tribute to John Barleycorn, Auteur. The heroes scarcely draw a sober breath, yet nobody calls them alcoholics. In their sub-Sinatra world, that'd be akin to accusing them of breathing—and like their phenomenal hostility to women, this isn't one of the movie's points. It's one of the movie's givens.

When his approach works, Cassavetes gets moments Tarantino might envy. And therefore steal, and also improve on. Unpleasant but mesmerizing, one standout scene here is a brutally protracted singalong at a wake that inspires our sozzled heroes to badger and humiliate some poor broad for her rendition of "It Was Just a Little Love Affair" before listening with groggy respect to a male duffer's performance of "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" But not much lives up to it once Cassavetes shifts the scene to England.

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Suave in London.

Promptly buying tuxedos—they might as well be in costume for a fantasy Oscars, which would be smarter if all three leads hadn't wanted one — his not-so-young dudes head for a posh gambling club to pick up some girls. The sextet's face-to-face and head-to-toe encounters in various rooms of a London hotel suite precede but don't especially explain the coda, in which one Yank opts to stay in the Old World. Either sadder or wiser—in this movie, you can't be both—his sidekicks head back to the New One's comfortable hell of suburban domesticity.

Even to characterize their decisions in those symbolic terms may give Cassavetes too much credit for clarity. If the camera's interesting concentration on the female victim's face during the wake makes you suspect the director of backhanded sensitivity, your mind will be changed by the casino sequence's cruel treatment of an elderly—what a sin!—British biddy propositioning Peter Falk. Imagine this dame as sexually attractive, and you've got the movie's hypocrisy—and latent subscription to the Playboy philosophy—in a nutshell.

Cassavetes' intentions aside, his method had an obvious Catch-22. You can't peel away the layers of personalities you haven't individuated in the first place, and his refusal to give us basic information about who these people are to themselves or each other keeps their revelations awfully haphazard. By 1970 standards, Ben Gazzara has a fairly startling bit when he reacts to being gay-baited by chortling, "Harry the Fairy! I wouldn't be surprised. Might even be better off." Yet nothing clues us in whether that's his hidden truth or just boozy jocosity. Anyhow, the moment's soon lost in more footage of our heroes jousting, lamenting their lot or (a Cassavetes trademark) laughing interminably at stupid jokes.

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"Didja hear the one about the Polish starlet?"

At a structural level, zooming off to London would make more sense if the character who proposed the jaunt had some previously established sentimental connection with the place: if he'd served there during the war, say. But spelling out anything of the kind would amount to well-constructed "exposition," one of Cassavetes' great bugaboos—and why? Even by his lights, was Casablanca all that bad? There's a reason it'll outlive Husbands, after all.

It may say a lot about the main trio's lousy, self-indulgent performances—all tics and showpiece broadsides, with nothing in between—that I found myself intrigued by Gazzara, one of my least favorite actors. Despite some advantages his peers would kill for—a bullfrog face that drew the camera, a good and robust voice, a weirdly infectious horniness—he was stopped short of stardom by his bad taste, which was coarse and narcissistic. That's true of his work here too, but at least his obnoxiousness suits the part about two-thirds of the time. He may never have had a better moment in movies than the glimpse we get of him singing along to "Jesus Loves Me" at the wake.

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Eyeless in Gazzara, and Paul Simon was right. Jesus did love them more than they would know.

So far as veracity goes, did I know guys like his character in Husbands back when I was growing up? Oh, sure. I used to see 'em stagger around our lawn in search of the keys to something after every party. But I was 15, and still under the illusion that one purpose of art was to explain my parents to me. If Cassavetes failed to, that was because he was one of them.

All Aboard?

Tuesday  August 25, 2009

US High-Speed Rail Map

It’s possible that—other than desiring universal healthcare or enjoying a plate of roquette (arugula) every now and then—there’s no surer marker of a socialism-enthralled, Europhilic sissy than loving the idea of a high-speed rail. And if you’re a train nut like me, this map of the Obama administration’s proposed High Speed Rail initiative probably makes you drool. Boston to Montreal in 2 hours? Seattle to Vancouver in less than one? I’d be able to live on a farm in the northern Hudson Valley and commute to Manhattan every day. Or make it home to visit my family in Pennsylvania in an hour and an half—instead of the three it now takes by train, or four by car.

Of course, all that is years away. But what’s truly amazing is that—for now at least—this ambitious plan for re-imagining our nation’s transportation infrastructure seems to have bi-partisan support. And funding. I caught up with Joe Szabo, the very friendly Administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration, earlier this week to ask him how long it’ll be, transportation-wise at least, before we become France.—mark kirby

Back in April, you announced the president’s high-speed rail initiative and encouraged states to submit applications to spend part of the $8 billion in stimulus money allocated for it. What’s the value of requests that’s come in so far?
$103 billion, or a little shy. $102 billion is the figure we’re using, but it’s above that.

Whoa. That’s a lot of money. Way more than Congress has agreed to spend. When do you figure out who gets what?
The actual applications will be due next Monday. And, what we did—well, I gotta back up a little bit. Because this is a program that’s in its infancy and because so much of it is executed by state DOTs, we purposefully chose a process of pre-applications. State DOT’s have a high level of experience and expertise in executing road programs. They’ve been doing that for 80 years. But they have greatly varying levels of expertise in passenger rail—from competent (small but competent) to non-existent. We have to insure that we enact a program that is sustainable. And, to do that, we need to develop the same level of expertise and flow with state DOTs like we have for highways. So rather than just having everybody submit applications, a big part of our goal here is working closer with the state DOTs and developing that expertise. We had 278 pre-apps totaling more than $102 billion. And most of these pre-apps were in a very, very rough form.

Well it’s got to be good, from your agency’s perspective, to know that there’s so much demand.
Yes, the good news is that there’s tremendous interest, from forty states around the country, in rail. I’m not the least bit surprised. I come from Chicago, where I was part of an advocacy group that more than doubled our state’s funds for service in Illinois, saw the ridership grow by double-digit growth month after month after month. And, frankly we lacked national political leadership. So, I wasn’t surprised by the level of interest that we saw in the pre-apps. What we did when those applications came in, our staff broke the country up into four regions and we assigned a team to each region to then go out and visit with those state DOTs and help them critique their applications. We couldn’t tell ‘em what to do, obviously, because we’re ultimately judge and jury. But, we could get give all states consistent advice—not showing any preference. Next week we’ll get the final applications for this first round of funding. It is highly likely, and I think almost a given, that there’s going to be a second and third round in this.

More money?
Future appropriations. It’s exciting when you see the White House request an additional billion per year. And, all of the sudden the House Appropriations committee comes in and says “that’s not good enough; we think it should be 4 billion a year.” Wow. And then the Senate comes in—and granted it was a little more modest. It was 1.4 billion, but it’s still above the White House mark. So, our challenge now is to make sure that we select the very best projects. That we’re very careful about not spreading the money around too thin, to make sure something very substantive and tangible is achieved that proves the President’s vision is the correct one.

So that you can implement other projects…
Going forward like we did with the highway system. It’ll take decades to build out. The interstate system took decades, you know.

But that original money was stimulus money, right? Decades-long projects don’t seem to be the best way to kick-start the economy right now.
Both kinds of projects are important, and admittedly there is a degree of competition among those goals. The good news is, with our stimulus money, we were given a two-year period to spend down. Clearly, when the act was put together there was an understanding that the states, while they have an interest in rail, didn’t have this big pile of ready-to-go projects that could turn the shovel in the ground immediately. One of the criteria that we were using in judging applications is the economic development benefits—and how close is it to being ready. Part of the way that we’re balancing this is we have different tracks. Track one is for the small, discrete projects that have independent utility. They’ll provide immediate benefits to the rail system, but it’s more isolated. It’s putting in a new siding here or a new interlocking system there, which will improve existing service, can be constructed immediately, and will be beneficial but isn’t big and exciting. Then, the second track is the corridor plans. That’s the sexy stuff, you know; that’s the sizzle. Those are more expensive, more complex. They’re going to take a little bit longer. But, there are a lot of regions that have been working on this for a while. Obviously, there’s some tweaking that needs to be done to plans—getting all of their environmental work in order. But, again, there are significant corridors that can be announced in this first round. And, there’ll be more and more in the second and third rounds.

How long is the decision-making process on the applications?
We’ll be turning them around quickly. They’ll come to my desk by the first week of September and then I’ll turn my recommendations over to the Secretary. Our intention is to make announcements by the first week in October on the independent projects. We’ll decide on corridors by the end of the year.

What’s this going to mean for the trains I ride all the time: the Northeast Corridor line between D.C., New York, and Boston?
I don’t want to prejudge what the states are going to do, but my instinct would tell me that more than likely you won’t be seeing massive corridor plans for the Northeast Corridor; you will be seeing a bevy-load of individual projects to help improve reliability and reduce trip times. The biggest challenge on the corridor is the old tunnels. They’re a hundred years old or older and supremely expensive to repair.

And if you do some of those repairs, the Acela will run faster?
Trip time is the only thing that matters. Speed just happens to be one component. Too much of the debate is about top-end speed. For example, if you have a pinch point with so much congestion that you’re getting caught up there eight out of ten trips, that’s effecting your on time performance—and you have to put padding in your schedule. So if you improve that pinch point and can pull through there day after day, you’ve improved your reliability. The keys for all high-speed rail are: insuring reliability and reducing trip times. And, if we can reduce trip times to where it’s competitive with the automobile or air travel. If we’re talking 100 to 500 miles, you know, getting trip times that are consistent or superior to air or road, and then reliability—those are components to ridership growth.

It does seem like reliability can be a big factor. When an engine breaks, a three-hour trip seems to become a five-hour one.
That’s gonna happen in any mode. I was an hour and a half late coming in from Chicago yesterday because of weather. Going back to D.C. today, it’ll be by train. [laughs] I’ll take the Acela.

For a lot of these rail trips, it seems like 3 hours is the upper-end of what consumers want—the California rail proposition, for example, requires an LA to San Francisco trip to happen in under 2 hours 40 minutes. Why is that the magic number?
You can’t get much beyond that because then air becomes much more efficient. And as we improve service, that three-hour trip keeps stretching out further and further. The radius gets bigger. And so again it’s about starting that radius with this initial $8 billion and then the steps we’ll be able to take over the next several years, and hopefully the next several decades, to get the radius out to 500-600 miles. And if you look at the potential Eastern and Midwestern markets, you reach a point where they start to overlap—so maybe you do a Chicago to DC route. Of course, that’s decades off.

Are we talking about putting in dedicated, 180 mph tracks all over the country, or are these corridors going to be more incremental?
The Spanish example is interesting. They had rapid build up. They had nothing in 1992, and they decided that they wanted high-speed rail. And by next year, by their figures, they’ll be second only to Japan in miles of high-speed rail. I asked them, When you started in ’92, was it 200-mile-an-hour dedicated right of way? No, it wasn’t. It was 120-mile-an-hour, 6-8 trains a day, and that proved so successful with riders that from there they made the leap to dedicated right-of-way, 200mph. So there’s nothing wrong with us using 110-120 mph as our next step.

That’s sure faster than any train is currently going in the US—I’d be psyched if the Acela would do that. How are you finding the public support for this sort of long-term vision?
I think that there is incredible public and political support out there—on both sides of the aisle. But we also realize at FRA that we’re charging down the field right now and we can’t fumble. That’s why there’s pressure to select the very best projects and show tangible results so that the support can continue. We don’t want to give critics a chance to come in and say this was a boondoggle, and they you lose some of this great positive momentum. The President is dead serious about changing the way Americans travel. And, to me, what I find exciting about it is that for the he’s the first president since Abraham Lincoln to have a vision for rail. You know, Lincoln had a vision for the transcontinental railroad, and it changed America. And, Barack Obama has a similar vision for implementing passenger rail to change the way that we travel. So, our goal is to make sure that what we do here is just not a one-shot deal where money goes out the door.

The GQ Punch List

Friday  August 21, 2009

What you need to look at, buy, see, and watch in the next 72 hours

Guggenheim

Click through Frank Lloyd Wright. The Guggenheim exhibit “Frank Lloyd Wright: From Within Outward” closes Sunday, but you can still enjoy it online. The slideshow, which celebrates the museum’s 50th anniversary, showcases eight of the architect’s most innovative projects, from the concrete cubism of Unity Temple and the sharp lines of Fallingwater to the Guggenheim itself.

Be the early bird—for once. All your favorite places for cool, cheap clothes—Uniqlo, Topman, H&M—start getting their fall clothes this week. Why wait until everything has been picked over? Swing by on Mondays, when new shipments usually arrive and they’ve replenished after the weekend rush.

Baader Meinhof Complex

Don’t overlook a bad-ass German thriller. In The Baader Meinhof Complex, director Uli Eder tackles the Baader Meinhof gang, leaders of Germany’s scariest postwar terrorist group. Featuring Moritz Bleibtreu (Run Lola Run) and Martina Gedeck (The Lives of Others), it’s, as Tom Carson writes in our September issue, a seminal portrait “of 1960s radicalism gone psycho in the ‘70s.”

Indulge your inner germaphobe. So that toothbrush’s new-age ergonomic handle won’t fit into any standard holders, huh? Rather than leaving it by the sink or god knows where else, stick it in a Zapi, an upright toothbrush sanitizer that not only keeps those bristles covered but also uses UV light to kill bacteria. You’ll never have to worry about a dropped toothbrush again.

Let the spoofs begin.  Pulp Fiction had them; Kill Bill had them. And if this Nintendo-themed take on Inglourious Basterds is a good indication of what’s to come, Quentin Tarantino’s latest will have its fair share of parodies, too.

Learn How to Share

Thursday  August 20, 2009

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Let’s face it: sharing music between iPods and even iTunes is a pain in the ass. That was, in part, Apple’s plan: Lay down the law to keep the record companies from going all Metallica on them. So instead of transferring music with abandon, iPods are like selfish children, complete with a USB port. But thanks to the miShare, trading music just got easier—at least a little bit.

The miShare is a palm-sized gadget that lets you share music directly between iPods. Just select your music, move it to the “On-The-Go” playlist, hook up the iPods, switch the miShare to the “music” setting, and hit the button. A playlist called “miShare Playlist” shows up in the receiving iPod’s menu, ready for listening.

The only snag comes when you trade protected (DRM) files, like the ones you download at the iTunes Store. Instead of showing up ready to rock in your iTunes library like free (and possibly ill-begotten) files do, they’ll go to the “disk space” part of your iPod—and can’t be listened to until they’ve been registered for you by the original owner. Sure, it’s a bit of a hassle, but not as much as going to court for piracy.

Despite some initial skepticism, we found the miShare to be pretty solid: It has a sturdy, plastic shell and straight-forward controls, and it transfers files at 500kb per second (that’s roughly six seconds per song, or the entire Run DMC discography in 14 minutes). Plus, in addition to music, it can deal with anything from episodes of 30 Rock to Excel spreadsheets. But if you want to transfer files using an iPhone or an iTouch, the folks at miShare can’t help you—yet.—max plenke
($99.95 at Amazon.com)

The Rank Consumerism

Thursday  August 20, 2009

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A thoughtful email from reader Adriaan Kervin Tan, who also got into the Premiership in ‘06:

… I also started watching the same season you did (06/07) and it was precisely the World Cup that got me started. I can vividly remember being curious about what the fuss was all about with the World Cup….I'm from the Philippines so it was difficult for me to get excited with the game. It's not a big game here; we have boxing, basketball, and billiards/pool. Having said that, I lived in the US for about 2.5 years. Though the sport isn't as alive as in Europe, I was glad to have been in a place that's more open to the sport than mine….Anyway, towards the end of the World Cup and going into the new Premier League season, which was just a month after the WC, I already knew who I would be rooting for.

What's my team you ask? One you also rooted for, at least for some time, before you decided to (shamefully) shift your allegiance to the Gunners…and (smartly) deciding against it later on. Yes, my friend, I'm keeping the Blue flag flying high with the pride of London, Chelsea FC….I chose CFC for almost the reason you chose them before. Watching the World Cup, I couldn't help but admire some of the best players. As you mentioned, Robben was one of them. Then I liked Shevchenko, Ballack, and instantly Terry and Lampard…When I found out those foreign players played for that one team, I knew right there and then I'd found my team.

Adriaan also pointed me to an entertaining editorial from the Financial Times, which divides the world of football fans into two categories: Hornbyesque ones (after the die-hard Arsenal-supporting Fever Pitch author) and “floating punters.” The FT article argues that there are actually fewer eternally-faithful Hornby types than myth would suggest, and that many British football fans switch allegiances during their lives. One such fan is Gideon Rachman, whose Prospect article about switching sides is mentioned in the FT piece (I’m trying to track it down; anyone able to find it on the Prospect site? E-mail me.). This passage from Rachman is terrific, and provocative:

I stopped supporting Chelsea because they were a terrible team, followed by violent cretins. QPR and then Spurs had more exciting players—Stan Bowles, Gazza.

To the true fan, of course, all of this is consumerist heresy. My response is that I’m the real football fan—because I’m actually interested in watching good football.

Rachman came back around to Chelsea post-Abramovich, when they started playing good football again, which was precisely when Adriaan and I first adopted the side. There is something convincing about his argument—but if he’s right, shouldn’t we Americas, consummate consumers that we are, all be watching Barcelona and Real Madrid this year?—mark kirby

GQ Test Drive: 2009 Volkswagen Routan

Wednesday  August 19, 2009

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In the spirit of journalistic transparency, I have an admission to make: I've got nothing against minivans. I don’t resent their stodgy utility, their stubby little hoods, or their goofy sliding doors. I don’t even hate their drop-down DVD screens, even though I think they’re as reliable an indicator that America is surely doomed as the existence of the Triple Whopper with Cheese. And I don’t feel sorry for the men I see driving them, even when they peer despairingly past their wash-'n'-wear wives and juice-filled cup holders at that guy in the Challenger SRT-8 with an easy-looking third date riding shotgun.

Maybe I’m not discerning enough, but as a category I have no special prejudice against those sensible, tragically unsexy seven-seaters. And that’s too bad, because the Routan, Volkswagen’s newest people-mover, could provide a (mildly) happy surprise for someone that did. The Routan is VW’s first cross-badge venture—it’s basically a re-branded, slightly re-tuned Chrysler Town & Country—and an attempt on VW’s part to meet ambitious sale quotas, not to mention give them a smallish van to fill the void left by the Microbus (which they hoped to resurrect the way they gloriously did with the Beetle.)

The Routan is no Microbus. It’s not iconic, not groovy, not remarkable in any way. It makes no design statement and invokes little excitement. And so what? A minivan isn’t supposed to turn heads. It’s supposed to carry people, often little people, that have to climb in and out of their sliding side doors and stay put in their seats until further notice. The Routan…is, well, it’s sturdy: a big, sturdy, reasonably cushy seven-seater van. And it may be the best-looking van on the road. It looks like a Chrysler van re-imagined by a sixteen-year-old who really wanted a GTI—which in my mind makes it a tad less maternal (sorry, moms) in its styling than the category's sex pot, the Honda Odyssey.

While the Routon doesn’t have the agility or the tight-gripped feel drivers love VWs for, it’s fairly athletic in its handling, braking, and accelerating for a car that transports a family of four and their three Great Danes. And inside, it certainly doesn’t feel like a family truckster. The Routan I tested had great seats—buttery leather pilot chairs in front, and some elaborately self-folding ones in back; generous windows and a sunroof that could cover Cowboys Stadium. All of which makes the Routan a damn pleasant place to be, as a rider or a passenger.—mark healy

Brett Favre: A Defense (Kind Of)

Tuesday  August 18, 2009

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We know: Enough already, Brett Favre. Nobody wants to hear any more about the jorts-wearing legend’s career vacillations, quasi retirements, hurt shoulder, bruised ego. The guy’s more desperate than Corey Feldman at a Michael Jackson tribute. He’s overexposed. Attention-craving. Can’t walk away. Favrugh.

But honestly, give him a break. Unless you toiled in a coal mine or picked stocks for Lenny Dykstra, you’ve probably quit a job you loved. And when you left, you wondered why. You wished you could go back. Maybe you did. (Maybe you’re Phil Jackson.) To quit, regret, and return isn’t just Brett Favre being nuts. It’s human nature.

What’s annoying about Favre is how he obfuscates his real motivations. Sure, if he retired, he’d probably miss football, and no TV job could give him professional fulfillment. (Not that one would be forthcoming. Have you seen Favre on TV? I’d rather watch The Warren Christopher Show.) Favre isn’t doing this because he loves football. He’s doing it because he’d like to stick it to his old employer, the Green Bay Packers, for pushing him out. He’d like to lead the Minnesota Vikings over the Pack and grab his nuts in the end zone and tell the whole of Wisconsin to suck it.

And you know what? There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s normal. We all have revenge fantasies against former employers, girlfriends, gym teachers. We’ve all imagined the perfect scenario to show them they made a mistake. Unfortunately for Favre, that scenario did not involve the twenty-two interceptions he threw last season for the Jets. In Minnesota he might get closer to that perfect vengeance. And tired as you may be of Favre, you’d love to see it, because it’s a feeling we can all relate to.—jason gay

Summer Wedding Done Right

Tuesday  August 18, 2009

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Over the weekend, I trekked way the hell upstate to my colleague Jason Gay's wedding in Thousand Islands, New York (a turn-of-the-century WASP stronghold on the Canadian border by the St. Lawrence river). Besides all the JFK-style Chris Craft boats and rad riverside homes, the coolest element of the trip was how seriously dudes turned it out for the wedding. I’m talking hardcore East Coast prep style. Most of the guys were from Maryland’s Eastern Shore, where they understand that you can wear color—even pink!—and still be a man. And that there's no better time to break it out than a summer wedding. I saw crimson seersucker jackets from Brooks Brothers; ties, pants, belts, and flip flops from Vineyard Vines (the prepster’s Hermès); bowties from beautiesltd.com; off-white bucks from Dexter Shoe Company; wire-rimmed aviators from Persol; and one particularly natty gentleman in linen shorts and Belgian loafers. No, not the type of stuff you’d wear to the office, but that’s the point.—adam rapoport

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Monday  August 17, 2009

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One Glorious 'Basterd'

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quentin tarantino’s fans have had a candle in the window for Inglourious Basterds ever since he started bragging up his ballsy script for the ultimate World War II action saga a decade ago. That’s why I figure I’d better break the news without delay: It isn’t the nonstop splatterfest adrenaline addicts were panting for. Anyone hoping to see Kill Bill’s blood ballets retooled for tommy guns is in for a serious case of, let’s say, delayed gratification.

If the trailers do their best to peddle Brad Pitt blasting his way through The Dirty Dozen, Part Deux, don’t blame Harvey Weinstein and Universal for trying. Whatever they thought they’d be getting for their reported $70 million, it wasn’t the Moulin Rouge! of war movies. By which I mean one set in Nazi-occupied Europe at pretty much the level that Puccini’s Tosca takes place during the Napoleonic Wars. One crammed to the gills with elaborate palaver in subtitled French and German. One that builds to a plot to kill Hitler that plays out like The Wizard of Oz transposed to the Third Reich and rewritten by Tennessee Williams on a binge.

The difference is that I wouldn’t sit through Moulin Rouge! again if Baz Luhrmann was threatening to drop a kitchen sink on me. A movie that brings this one’s grand nerve to reinventing the twentieth century’s most cathartic imagery is a whole different kettle of swastikas. Truth is, I’m so smitten with What Quentin Hath Wrought that if I could lug just one Tarantino title to a desert island, Inglourious Basterds would be it. Still, it’s only fair to warn you that I might as well be there already, so far as the conventional wisdom goes.

what naysayers and enthusiasts can agree on is the movie’s refusal to play by any rules except QuentinWorld’s. This thing’s proud excesses make everything Tarantino’s done up to now—which hasn’t exactly been timid, from Reservoir Dogs on—look like the work of a filmmaker trying to conciliate America’s multiplexers by keeping his nutso side on bread and water.

Unless the deliberately misspelled title counts, the first hint that Inglourious Basterds isn’t your grandpa’s wartime Europe is the opening music, a blast from the wrong past: It’s the ballad that haunts John Wayne’s not-so-great epic The Alamo. Next comes an opening sequence as showy as anything in Tarantino’s filmography. To the suddenly unnerving plinks of “Für Elise,” Beethoven’s malicious gift to piano beginners, S.S. Colonel Landa—nicknamed the Jew Hunter and played by a terrific Austrian actor named Christoph Waltz—pulls up with his goons at a simple French farmhouse Paul Bunyan could raise Babe in.

All smiles and polylingual quips, he’s here to interrogate Oncle Henri and Tante Em about the Jewish Dorothy hiding along with some rels in the suffocating crawl space beneath Landa’s boots. While the overscaled staging is pure Sergio Leone, the tension is right out of Hitchcock. Since we know the interview can only end in a massacre, Tarantino has leisure to fetishize every detail of Landa’s self-amused gamesmanship and his human prey’s mute terror under the floorboards—and brother, can he fetishize. When the raid’s bloodied lone survivor, Shosanna (Mélanie Laurent), takes o across the fields, Landa watches her go with a smile. As surely as if he’s been tipped o that he’s in a Tarantino movie, he knows they’ll meet again.

Cut to Pitt’s languidly psycho Lieutenant Aldo Raine and his Basterds, eight Jewish-American GIs recruited to wreak havoc behind enemy lines. But even though Tarantino has touted IB forever as his “guys-on-a-mission movie,” don’t worry about getting this bunch’s faces straight: They don’t rate much more screen time than the cheese baiting a mousetrap in a Tom and Jerry cartoon. Something like half the squad vanish after their big set-piece scene—the chortling aftermath, mind you, of a Kraut-killing spree we don’t witness.

When we rejoin Shosanna in Paris, she’s calling herself Emmanuelle—a double entendre so complicated you’d need a rabbi into 1970s porn to explain it—and running a rep cinema under the occupiers’ noses. The one that’s soon sniffing her marquee belongs to Daniel Brühl as Zoller, who turns out to be, as he explains, “the German Sergeant York.” (Color me impressed: How many moviegoers today have heard of the American one?) Lionized for his feats as a sniper, Zoller is now aiming to turn matinee idol by reenacting his exploits in a Naziļ¬ed ur-infomercial for battlefield sadism called Nation’s Pride.

Putting his new clout to use, he gets Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels (Sylvester Groth, exuding rancid bonhomie like a fart made of champagne) to stage its premiere at Shosanna’s theater. Der Führer will be attending in person, and if you can see how this might give our gal ideas, bingo. But she’s not the only one, since London soon dispatches Michael Fassbender as dashing Lieutenant Archie Hicox—briefed by none other than Mike Myers as a crusty general while a scowling Winston Churchill (Rod Taylor) looks on—to link up with the Basterds for their own crack at bringing down the Third Reich. Their contact is Diane Kruger as the wondrously named Bridget von Hammersmark, a Marlene Dietrich–y movie star-—with a big injection of Mary Astor in The Maltese Falcon—who’s a Goebbels favorite but secretly helping our side. What tells you everything about Bridget and a lot about her creator is that her leg cast once she’s wounded is high-heeled.

Set in a basement dive called La Louisiane, the disastrous rendezvous between Bridget, Archie, and two of Aldo Raine’s men is a sequence sure to keep film classes dazzled for decades. Don’t think Tarantino didn’t plan it to be, either: We’re talking twenty-plus jaw-dropping minutes of edgy chitchat, multiplying agendas, and increasing jitters before the slipup that triggers an outburst of gunplay. In a final flourish, when Raine checks out the climactic carnage, Tarantino underlines his own theatricality by largely reducing Pitt to an offstage voice. And since Angelina’s better half is only in the movie for something like forty minutes as it is, chalk up yet another reason you wouldn’t be surprised to hear that these days Harvey Weinstein’s blood pressure is being monitored by NASA.

it ought to go without saying that Tarantino’s characters are strictly unbelievable as human beings. Magnified to the mythic max, they’re the L. Frank Baum versions of 1939–45: the Plucky French Jewess, the Suave Nazi Monster, the Caustic Kraut Sexpot, the Erudite British Commando, and the other stalwart fixtures of a bazillion Gott in Himmel comic books. But the movie’s preposterousness is its poetry. Most operas are preposterous, too—kind of by definition, which must be why devotees never stop blathering about being transported—and you’re a hell of a lot less likely to doze off at this one.

Tripping up our expectations, Pitt’s role as the Gung Ho Yank Sociopath on the Side of the Angels is the most openly buffoonish caricature of all. Though it’ll win bigger laughs in Paree than in Iowa, the way he and the other American characters get demoted to bungling interlopers in an all-European feud is one of Tarantino’s more sophisticated jokes—take that, Steven Spielberg—and historically astute to boot. Clearly glad to oblige, Pitt is uncommonly focused and funny. Not only is his Tennessee drawl a hoot, but the kind of old-fashioned confidence he’s acquired in his forties makes it hard to remember how blankly puzzled about a movie star’s duties he could seem in his younger days.

Good as he is, though, he can’t compete with Waltz’s Landa, who inevitably resurfaces in Paris and ends up being just full of surprises. Impossibly witty, utterly vicious, and insanely entertaining, Landa is a conception as over-the-top as Jack Nicholson’s Joker. Despite the movie’s unecstatic press reception at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, where the yawnoscenti mostly came out scratching their berets, Waltz won the acting prize there; while you may worry he’s ruined himself forever for nonparodic parts, his performance is a stunner. Kruger, Laurent, and Fassbender—whose roles aren’t any less exaggerated, just less twisted—are all spot-on, too.

Only an American could magnify these faux-European archetypes into yesteryear’s X-Men, which is more or less how The Good, the Bad and the Ugly saw our own Civil War. Yet Tarantino goes further by treating Hitler himself (Martin Wuttke) and his real-life henchmen as grist for his fever dream’s mill. From Adolf’s Roman-emperor red cloak on down, they aren’t historical facsimiles any more than Dietrich was as Catherine the Great in The Scarlet Empress. They’re the rotten gargoyles of our most primitive childhood conjectures, and not so very different from Chaplin’s burlesque editions in 1940’s The Great Dictator.

Then again, Chaplin didn’t call Hitler Hitler—or know about Auschwitz, either. Tarantino does, which is why it’s legit to be appalled at his irresponsibility. To be honest, I wouldn’t want to attend this film with a Holocaust survivor, but is that even a sensible yardstick? I bristled when Saving Private Ryan messed with the facts of D-day while purporting to show the unvarnished truth. But Tarantino has always been the anti-Spielberg—pop as riotous id, not pop as superego—and his movie doesn’t pretend to portray the “real” World War II. It’s a love song to the florid, melodramatic version enshrined in his generation’s trash-culture memories, all leering villainy, tawdry glamour, and righteous rat-a-tat-tat. While I won’t give away the full outrageousness of his fabulously multilayered climax once he gets everyone into Shosanna’s theater for Nation’s Pride’s premiere, suffice it to say his characters—“Hitler” and “Goebbels” included—fulfill their destinies with a flamboyance Puccini wouldn’t sneeze at.

Anyway, whether his wow finish is way tasteless depends on your point of view. When the Nazi era was a lot more recent, Mel Brooks thumbed his nose at Hitler by making him the ultimate butt of vaudeville humor. Tarantino’s pulp fantasy is a cinemaniac’s version of the same comeuppance, and it’s no accident that the fiery finale occurs in a movie theater. More than anything else, this is his most rapturous movie about movies: movies as lingua franca, movies as a mythic past whose marvels trump the authentic one. Gallant Archie Hicox’s civilian occupation—“I’m a film critic”—is the joke that tips Inglourious Basterds into dementia. But the whole thing is set in a Netflix junkie’s self-enclosed universe, right down to the way Aldo Raine’s shoulder patch gives him a Hollywood pedigree; his former outfit is the WWII cutthroat crew immortalized in 1968’s robustly cheesy The Devil’s Brigade.

None of this whimsy would be worth squat if Tarantino weren’t a filmmaker as brilliant as he is cuckoo, meaning he’s pretty darn brilliant. Whenever his coarse streak threatens to do you in, he’ll uncork an image for the ages, like the yellow leaf settling on a Basterd’s chest that uncannily mimics a Star of David. For my money, Inglourious Basterds stands or falls on the most ravishing shot of his career to date: a gorgeous blond in a red evening gown, her face framed and echoed by the movie billboard behind her. She’s opposite a swastika banner whose red matches her dress and whose Führer she’s planning to send to kingdom come by literally setting celluloid ablaze. To Tarantino’s cinema-crazed mind, that’s a contest between equals—and no, real life it’s not. But man, is it some kind of movie heaven.

Ten Years Gone

Monday  August 17, 2009

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If you ask Chris and Kirk Bray where they're from, the brothers behind the leather goods and canvas bag label Billykirk will give you a variety of answers. In fact, the fellas were born in Tennessee (and still have family in the Volunteer state), but grew up in Minnesota—meaning that the brothers Bray bring a unique mix of Southern and Midwestern perspectives to their collections (ticking-stripe bags, hand-sewn leather wallets), not to mention their laid-back personalities. After college the older (and more gregarious) brother, Chris, moved to L.A. to be an actor (mostly daytime TV stuff, according to him; the videos have yet to surface on YouTube), with the artsy and more cerebral brother Kirk soon following along.

"It all started with an inch-and-a-quarter-wide watch strap that Kirk and I found in a pawn shop in Santa Monica," says Chris from his studio in Jersey City. "Kirk would wear it to this coffee-shop job he worked at night, and tons of people would ask him where he got it. Eventually, Kirk came into my office at this real-estate gig I had and we decided we should start making leather watch straps and leather goods." That was in 1998, and in 1999 Billykirk launched, to great fanfare in the fashion community. Ten years later and the brand is de rigeur for cool shops all over the U.S. and overseas.

Last week Billykirk hosted a party to celebrate a decade in the business. The night was complete with beers, cocktails made from ROOT (a root liquor that was mixed with cream soda; think root beer with a kick), and, in typical Bray style, a raffle (lucky partygoers scored free Billykirk bags and wallets). After ten years, Chris and Kirk still get excited to share their creations with people—in my mind, the mark of true craftsmen. Here's to another ten years, times ten.—michael williams

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Billykirk founders Chris (left) and Kirk Bray

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Billykirk's new collaboration footwear with Sebago

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The Premier League Project: Choosing a Side

Friday  August 14, 2009

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Ed. note: The English professional soccer season begins this weekend.

Three years ago, the great ESPN sports columnist Bill Simmons wrote a story called "Choosing My EPL Team." I didn't read it at the time, though I should've. (I was just getting started with the English Premier League around then.) But a few weeks back, Chris Toy of Studs Up told me about the story—and the tremendous acrimony it caused among British football fans. So I went back and read it. It's well worth checking out.

Simmons's piece strikes me as a smart, funny, and sincere (if sometimes superficial) attempt to ask: How can an American football fan develop the same sort of the complicated, impassioned allegiances the Brits have for their teams?

It's an important question for the American fan. Maybe the most important.

We tend to grow up with our pro sports teams (being from south central PA, I'm disposed toward the Orioles, Eagles, and 76ers), yet few of us were raised with any awareness of the Premiership. Today, English football—and since I'm talking about the English game, I'm using "football," not "soccer"—is more easily watched than ever in the States (hopefully, coming soon to ESPN!), and I'll gladly contend that it's the best sporting television available. I regularly find myself watching three or more matches per weekend. Yet doing so creates a strange predicament: Though I spend more time watching the Premier League than any other sport, I don't really have a team.

So, as Bill Simmons did a few years back, I'd like to enlist your help—savvier American fans, rabid Brit football partisans, novices like myself—in selecting one. Of course, I lack the clout (and, by vast amounts, the readership) Simmons has. But I vow to make up for it with commitment. Simmons has a lot of territory to cover on Page 2 and was never really able to keep up the pace of Premiership coverage he intended to. (He also made the mistake of choosing Tottenham and then, earlier this year, showing up on World Soccer Daily to say he's considering switching to Liverpool. This particular heresy caused some message-board commenters to suggest castration.) Here at GQ.com, I'll be writing regularly about the Premier League (moreso in the fall and into next year), hopefully doing some player interviews and breaking some news as time goes on. If you want to think of this exercise in purely self-interested terms, here's a chance to have a major US men's publication covering your team.

Over the next couple of weeks, I'll post reader comments and emails to this site to spur the discussion and debate. I plan to pick my side in October, right when GQ.com relaunches, and describe my reasons for doing so. In the meantime, please educate (or encourage, or shout at, or humiliate) me! Either register to comment below, or email me here.

The idea is to set up a fan-driven online resource for other Americans who come to the game and want some advice on choosing a side. And before you get started on that 1,000 missive about why you've been a Man U supporter for life,

A bit of background:

I became a fan of the Premiership at the beginning of the '06-'07 season, when, after watching nearly every televised World Cup match, I discovered that my local cable network carried Fox Soccer Channel and that I could continue with my obsession. At the time, I found myself rooting for Chelsea, in part because they were on FSC all the time and in part because that '06-'07 roster—Robben, Drogba, Essien—seemed like an All-Star team of all the players I'd enjoyed watching in the World Cup. But mostly, I simply didn't know any better. I knew nothing about Abramovich or the Special One; I just liked those players and how they played.

My good friend Greg straightened me out. An avid, longtime Arsenal supporter, Greg (who's American) taught me the songs, the slurs ("Cashley Cole"), and introduced me to a much broader understanding of the football culture than what you get just watching a few matches each weekend. This Arseblog post he forwarded me on the eve of Arsenal's Champions League defeat this May is unlike any I've seen composed by a fan of American pro sports:

Remember, the guy or girl to your left or right is an Arsenal fan. The boys in red are your team. Our team. United are the enemy. United would kill your mum. They'd run over your puppy and then point and laugh. They would make you listen to Phil Collins. They would insist on putting cloves on everything. They would dip their pizza in ketchup. They would offer you a cup of coffee then serve you chicory. They would force you to watch Tom Hanks films.

Out of respect for Greg's enthusiasm, I signed on. And for the past two seasons, I've followed Arsenal more closely than any other squad. When they're on, they're absolutely spellbinding to watch. And win or lose, I watched nearly every Gunner match last year.

Lately though, I've come to doubt my allegiance (sorry, Greg). It's not because the Gunner's performance has been underwhelming—though I'm sure some might, not unreasonably, call me a fair-weathered. It's because I've lately developed a nagging suspicion that being an American Arsenal fan is sort of a twee, precious thing to do, like claiming Belle & Sebastian as your favorite band or knitting your own custom supporter's scarf. (I mean this only for American fans who've adopted the team in the post-Fever Pitch era, but it may be true of Brit Gooners, too). I love to watch Arsenal play, but they seem a little like the Wes Anderson version of a football team: All cutesy build-up, no point. Your team should not be an affectation. Rooting for them, as an American, smacks of trying a touch too hard.

So going into this season, I'm vowing to finally commit to a side. I realize that choosing a team in this sort of public manner opens me up to all sorts of criticism. I am prepared for a lashing (especially of the, "Fucking Americans, you've ruined our economy and foreign policy so leave our game alone!" sort). But the point of doing so is this: While my affiliations with Chelsea and Arsenal have been shallow, my connections with US sports teams run deep. (I'm a lifelong Orioles fan, for example, even though they've not won a World Series since I was too young to remember it; I root for the Birds because my dad's family is from Baltimore, and my grandfather helped build Memorial Stadium). I want to find a similar connection to a Premiership squad. You don't have to spend long wading through football message boards to find someone saying "You don't choose X team; X team chooses you." I agree with this idea. But we American fans, so far removed from the pure football culture, have a hard time being chosen. I consider this project a way to make it happen. I'm open to any ideas, but there are a couple of prejudices I bring to the process:

I like teams with American players. Call me patriotic, narrow-minded, or just typically American, but I know who I'll be supporting in South Africa next year. I want our national team players to play a lot, at the top level, and I'll root for the teams they play for.

If there's a viable hereditary/geographic reason to pick a side, I'd be all for it. In the States, with a few (generally inexcusable) exceptions you grow up supporting the team you'll support for life. But it's trickier for Americans with the Premiership because most of us come to the league late in life, without an apparent connection to any particular side. It occurs to me, though, that being of British decent (though distant), there may be some geographic connection that I'm not currently aware of. My family name is Kirby, which is supposedly a variant of Kirkby. That name, I've read, originates in Lancashire. I also happen to be from a town in Pennsylvania named York (which is right next to Lancaster, PA). I realize that these connections might be tenuous, but if someone could prove to me that my English namesakes have rooted for, say, Blackburn for years, I'd be swayed.

Slight bias toward larger clubs. I don't make it to the UK often and I like the idea of being able to see my team play live every once in a while. The bigger teams tour the US every once in a while; chances of Chelsea playing at Giants Stadium in the summer are much greater than Stoke City's.

Like Simmons, I want a team that'll stay up top. I know it's lame to say I want a successful team, but the bottom line is that Championship matches do not air in the US. It'd be dispiriting to declare my allegiance and then never be able to watch my team.

And some initial thoughts on teams:

Arsenal and Chelsea: I've enjoyed watching these teams and have flirted with declaring myself a supporter (and buying the scarf and jersey to wear to the bar for those occasional 7:30am matches). But I've had my doubts about both. (Less so about Arsenal—in fact, it may be the case that having a crazy-enthusiastic, die-hard mate like Greg is the best reason to pick a team.) Arsenal and Chelsea fans, feel free to weigh in and convince me. Or curse me as a traitor.

Man. United: Nope. In case it's not obvious: Supporting them would be like having jumped on the Chicago Bulls bandwagon in '94 or '99—i.e., right after a three-peat and the departure of the team's best player (Michael Jordan, twice). The very definition of being late to the party.

Spurs: A lot of my friends in Brooklyn are supporters (there's a great bar called Floyd that's a famous Spurs hang out), and I get the appeal of the "if the Dodgers hadn't left Brooklyn" comparison. But I play in a football league here in the city, and one of my team's (unnamed) rival sides is clearly comprised of Spurs fans—they wear the kit to every match. They're also horrendous whiners and shit-talkers, who'll call a short member of our squad a "midgety cunt" up and down the pitch and then fall over and cry to the referee when that same short player (who's damn skilled) comes in for a hard, clean tackle and wins the ball. (To be fair, the other English team in the league is also comprised of terrible whiners, but neither side is as bad as the Italian squad we play from time to time.) Anyway, their antics have spoiled me on Tottenham. Not sure I could root for the same squad as those guys.

Fulham: I like this squad. They're scrappy, fun to watch, and on FSC all the time. They've also had quite a few American national team players on the roster the last several years—Bocanegra, Dempsey, McBride—who, mysteriously, always seem to play better for the Craven Cottage fans than they do for their own country. Craven Cottage also just seems like terrific place to watch a match, which I'd love to do sometime.

Everton: I play keeper. And I'm a fan of US national team goalkeeper Tim Howard. I also like—and this is just my novice perception—that Everton seems to consistently field solid teams without spending money like the NY Yankees. I appreciate that.

Hull City: I enjoyed the Cinderella story of their rise to the Premiership and was glad to see Jozy Altidore sign—if he gets time on the pitch, I'll be watching every Hull game. I also understand that Hull is in Yorkshire, which seems to my Yankee brain to bear some relation to my hometown, York, Pennsylvania. Downside: High likelihood of relegation. After this season, it could be ten years before I see them again on US television. Also, manager Phil Brown may be too much of a self-promoter for my taste (though I do enjoy the fact the he gives interviews to US media outlets).

Liverpool: I rooted for them for a lot of last season when it looked like they might be the only side with a shot at taking Man. U down. I like the way they play, enjoy watching Gerrard, and my younger brother supports them (for reasons I don't really understand). But I fear the bandwagon factor may be too high, especially this season. And I agree with Simmons's assessment that there may be just too much history and passion here to just "casually" jump on board.

Man. City: I liked them more last year and the year before, when they seemed the runty counterpart to Man U. I respect Al-Fahim's efforts to bring in top-flight talent, but starting to support them now, and the very start of the '09-'10 fixtures, smacks of having one's allegiance bought.

Aston Villa: Simmons said, "By all accounts, they have the most miserable, self-loathing fan base in the EPL." I'm not sure where he got that. The Villa I've seen these past several seasons has been fantastic to watch—with occasional moments of top-flight brilliance. There's also an American owner, Randy Lerner, whose father helped move the old Cleveland Browns football (US) franchise to Baltimore, thus earning the never-ending adoration of my father's family. (He's from Baltimore, and my uncles still speak with disgust at the Colts having left town in the '80s. They're all now Ravens season-ticket holders.)

Blackburn Rovers: The first time my girlfriend heard me say the name of this team, she mistook it for Blackburn Rubbers, which really doesn't make any sense but sounds funny in a sexual way. The team is also in Lancashire, where my "people" are from. And I like their brute, head-on approach to the game—you gotta love David Dunn saying they'll "kick lumps" out of Man City's gold-plated roster this weekend.

The Rest: I've been watching for three seasons now, and these above are the squads that have caught my eye. The others? I'll gladly watch them on a Saturday morning, but I generally just root for whoever's losing, to make for a more interesting match. But I'd be happy to hear from Bolton, Wigan, Portsmouth, West Ham, etc., supporters who want to argue on behalf of their squads.—mark kirby

The GQ Punch List

Friday  August 14, 2009
What you need to eat, watch, wear, and drink in the next 72 hours

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Behold the mollusk. You'll find Island Creek Oysters served on the pristine white tablecloths of the country's best restaurants—The French Laundry, Per Se, and Le Bernardin. But come September 12, you can go straight to the source. Tickets are still available for The Island Creek Oyster Festival in Duxbury, Mass., where you'll find the famous bivalves, along with local striped bass and day-boat scallops, prepared by Boston's best chefs and paired with Grey Goose and beer from Harpoon Brewery. Best of all, there's a good cause behind all the slurping and swilling: The proceeds will help send Island Creek oyster farmers over to Tanzania to teach locals how to grow the best oysters around.

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Get swept away by New Zealand's "fourth-most-popular a capella/rap/funk/comedy/folk duo." Season two of Flight of the Conchords, now available on iTunes, disco-ball codpiece included.

See the real Yi. Before Charlyne Yi embarked on a cross-country trip for the faux documentary Paper Heart, the comic (and maybe ex-girlfriend of co-star Michael Cera) came up the YouTube way. Here, three of our favorites:

1.) A Dirty Dancing reenactment, with G-string diva Channing Tatum
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OqpTADycbyY

2.) Man Man's official music video for "Rabbit Hats"
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fHuUpA6YUwA

3.) The Cave, a one-minute horror short
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_bRL8be0a0g

Slip these on. Now that stores are stocking their shelves for fall, flip-flops are a tough find. Luckily, Banana Republic hasn't forgotten the summertime procrastinators. You can still find their Fresno leather sandals ($40) in stores and online.

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Heal the burn. We've told you before how to avoid a burn, but not how to fix it. When you're hurting, slap on Clarins' Ultra Sun Gel ($30), a mainstay in our weekend bags. The mix of cooling ingredients like aloe vera and melon extract brings instant relief.

Go red. Don't limit your wine selection to whites this season: as long as you know what to look for, a fine red works just as well.

Read This: "It's Beginning to Hurt," by James Lasdun

Friday  August 14, 2009

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James Lasdun’s It’s Beginning to Hurt (in stores now) is the kind of compulsively readable short story collection that's perfect for summer. Why? Because each of the book’s 16 stories are filled with moments so poignant they make you dizzy, and characters so familiar they sting. Take, for instance, Mr. Bryar, from the collection’s title story. While on a train ride home, he ruminates about a former lover whose recent death has deeply shaken him. Preoccupied by the memory of their relationship, he comes home and realizes that he’s forgotten the fish his wife asked him to pick up for dinner. “You’re a fool,” she tells him. “You’re a complete bloody fool.” And with that, Lasdun uncovers the reality of human interaction—that it’s textured by the power we exert, the compromises we make, and the words we can’t take back. The most remarkable feat, though, is that Lasdun can pack stories this moving into as little as three pages. Which means that all of you "I can't find time to read" types would be well advised to make some.—jason chen

Wanna See Jack White Make an Electric Guitar Out of Spare Parts?

Thursday  August 13, 2009

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It Might Get Loud, a new documentary (out this weekend) about the electric guitar—featuring Jimmy Page, The Edge, and Jack White—is the late summer's biggest surprise at the multiplex. Nothing much happens in the film. These dudes sit around. They talk about their first guitars. They jam. And it makes you feel stupid for playing "Guitar Hero" instead of picking up an actual axe. The late Les Paul would've been proud. Here, It Might Get Loud director Davis Guggenheim—who won an Oscar for Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth—talks to GQ.com.—mickey rapkin

It Might Get Loud's opening sequence is unforgettable. It's just Jack White fiddling with some scrap metal and driftwood—which he turns into a rudimentary electric guitar. Explain.
That was Jack's idea. It's called a diddley bow, which is actually how Bo Diddley got his name. The instrument's origins are in southern African-Americans stringing barbed wire between two nails and playing the blues. You see them on broom handles as well. In the movie, Jack just takes it a step further and electrifies it.

It's a perfect image to start the documentary. It somehow says everything. Meanwhile, did Jack White really play the electric guitar so hard that his hand started to bleed?
Yeah. We were filming him in a live concert in Austin, Texas, and he was playing the solo for "Blue Veins" from the Raconteurs album. I was right there, and I said, "Wait, what is that?" In the middle of the solo, his finger was cut, and it just sort of bled all over the guitar. The amazing thing is not that he was bleeding; it was the fact that he didn't notice it. He was like a great fighter being cut. I'm sure he went home and said, "Oh, my finger got cut."

This movie made me feel guilty for playing "Guitar Hero."
My son plays guitar—the actual guitar. He played the electric guitar in front of the whole school today. He played a Flight of the Concords song, and it was genius. But he wants "Guitar Hero," and I forbade it. I was like, "Why would you spend hundreds of hours to perfect this skill which is not actually playing anything?"

Do you play the guitar?
A little bit. I play shamefully, like a cat in a litter box—you know, looking around to see that no one is watching when I do my business.

Come on. You didn't want to play for Jimmy Page? Or The Edge?
Never. No. I pretended I didn't. I wouldn't…

You spent hours interviewing these guys, across the globe over many months. What's the most surprising thing you learned?
Here's one: The revelation about Jimmy Page was how important his years as a session player were. You have to know what a session player is: It's someone who is told to show up at a recording studio at nine in the morning, not knowing what the work is that day. And the producer puts some sheet music in front of you. It could be a jingle for a soap commercial, or background to a trailer for a movie, or you're putting in an electric-guitar track for the latest pop band—a band where the lead guitarist has great hair but can't play. And so Jimmy, for a significant period of time, learned to play everything, and to play it inside a very rigid format. The beats were measured. He had to come in at certain places, come out at certain places. When you think of him in those striking bell-bottom pants with a dragon embroidered on them, with his incredible hair, playing an endless solo, you don't think of someone who might have done session work. So the revelation, for me, is that all that session work—being able to play everything and play it exactly right—set him up to be the best improvisational player ever. Suddenly he goes from being a session player to being in the Yardbirds, where they would have these four-hour shows. And he could just riff on anything. That weirdly formal training of being a session player helped make him a rock god.

What are your must-see music documentaries? What should I throw in my Netflix queue?
My current favorite is No Direction Home, which shows the genius that Scorsese is. It's like, "We're never going to really say what Dylan's contribution was, we're never gonna really say what his essence was, but the whole movie is going to circle that." So when it's over, you end up getting the feeling of what this movie is. Bad music documentaries are the ones that say, you know, "He was the greatest blah blah blah ever. He was a rock god! He changed music forever!" I used The Last Waltz as a map of how to construct An Inconvenient Truth.

Wait, what?
Yeah, isn't that strange? The idea was "Al Gore's slide show." It's giving a presentation, which is like a stage show. And then it becomes "How do you intercut a very personal story inside of that?" That's what The Last Waltz does, right? Scorsese guided me in both movies, weirdly.

You've had quite a career. Are you really directing an episode of the new Melrose Place? Tell me that's an urban legend.
No, I directed the pilot.

Really? From Al Gore to Melrose!
I really loved doing Melrose Place. It was fun! It's like clearing your palate. Like a sorbet. Okay, maybe not a sorbet. Maybe a tequila chaser or something. But my wife and I call it the Family Stimulus Package. I direct television to pay for my habit, which is making documentaries. But it's very difficult to make a living in documentary films, even if you've got rock stars in your movie, so the Melrose Place pilot is to get my kids through private school.

A New Spin

Wednesday  August 05, 2009

Kswiss_table_tennis

There seems to be a table-tennis movement afoot in Manhattan. First came the members-only ping pong club SPiN, which opened to much excitement; and now K-Swiss has teamed up with the quirky gents at Partners & Spade on a special shoe collaboration and sporting event. On August 29th, Partners & Spade's gallery/left-field retail space (and part-time Avant-Garde Preschool) will be transformed into the ultimate ping pong match, awesomely dubbed the "August Sweatout Ping Pong Classic."

Sweatout

The sneaker of choice for The Sweatout is a specially designed white, orange, and neon-colored collaboration shoe that will go on sale the day of the event for a wallet-friendly price of eighty bucks. Or if you are feeling more spendy, you can buy the custom-made ping pong table that will be on offer during the tourney. According to the folks at K-Swiss, this is all just one part of their plan for ping pong domination—next time you hit the tables there's a good chance K-Swiss could be scouting you, so bring your A-game. —michael williams

The K-Swiss x Partners & Spade Ping Pong shoes ($80) will be available in late August at Partners & Spade, the J.Crew Men's Shop in NYC, Conveyor in L.A., and in Japan at the K-Swiss Concept Store and Beams.