Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Hemp Con

I'm a big fan of conventions.

Star Trek conventions, comic book conventions, anime conventions: all affirmation that I do not exist alone in a vacuum - a nerd might be lonely, but a nerd is never alone.

But on Friday, Varga informs me about Hemp Con, a convention whose express purpose is to promote, sell, and legalize hemp.

Hemp is a soft durable fiber used in textiles, paper, and traditionally rope. The cannabis, or "bud" of the plant was a happy accident, a byproduct that found widespread use in the 20th century.

Y'know....hemp....marijuana. Shhh.....

"I bet there's a good story there," Varga says slyly. "A great blog entry. Wanna go?"

Turns out he can't make it, but I'm hooked in. For a $15 daily admission at the LA convention center (and $7 for parking) I can see what it's all about.

At the convention center I'm not sure where to go, until I spot a woman in a gauzy skirt and leather bodice with feathers in her hair.

When in doubt, follow the hippies.

Outside the convention a long line moves quickly. A security guard checks back packs and bags, but he waves most people through with a cursory glance.

Hemp Con is held in the West Hall, a large double wide auditorium suitable for a car show, about two thirds of which is full of vendors hawking their wares. Almost everyone is wearing green: green T-shirts, green ball caps, green pants, green scarves.

"Attention, attention," a flat voice announces over the speakers, "Please be aware there is no smoking or vaporizing in the auditorium. Thank you."

I walk past a booth specializing in pipe cleaners, "For when you really need your pipes cleaned!" The vendor next to the pipe cleaner specializes in anti-odor sprays, "Guaranteed to get out the strongest of cannabis smells!"

There is a booth of "theoretical" marijuana plants beneath a rainbow of strobe colored lights, the perfect adornment for a Christmas tree. The booth vendor is in the middle of an explanation about how hemp grows best under a variety of colored lenses, the differentiated colors enables the hemp to absorb more ultra violet light.

Other vendors promote their dispensaries, all claim to sell the very best pot: the Valley, the Inland Empire, the City of Industry. One dispensary booth has a trio of young women dressed in low cut nurse outfits and white nylon stalkings. Another dispensary offers a promotional free pipe on the first visit.

There is a booth offering courses at "Amsterdam University", quality training for the cannabis industry. In a one weekend seminar you too can learn the ins and outs of the latest court decisions and laws as well as how to open up your own dispensary.

One booth has a collection of red, orange, and purple colored pipes. "Get your LOLLIPIPES!"

"Excuse me," I ask, "lollipops?"

"LOLLIPIPES! Smoke a bowl, then get rid of the evidence by eating it! Now in cherry, grape, and orange!"

"Doesn't resin get stuck in the pipe?" I ask

The salesman ignores me. Instead a well endowed young woman behind the counter pops a lollipipe in her mouth, sucking on it.

I pass by a mobile trailer. Nicknamed a "Tow and Grow", its advertised as a quiet odorless mobile grow room complete with 1800 watt vegetation chamber complete with a 4x8 hydro tray. "Never again will you need to build or tear down a grow room!" a salesman calls out. "Check it out and come inside!"

I peek in the trailer. Inside are rows of plants. A line of people waits patiently for the tour.

I walk by a pair of tattoo artists, both display banners for lawyers specializing in marijuana law. Both booths are busy, a man who looks like a member of ZZ Top is having his arm touched up with new ink. He's dressed in dark sunglasses and black top hat; body is covered in tattoos, he looks like he belongs at a voodoo festival.

Finally I arrive a booth full of vaporizers, the latest in marijuana technology. Small portable machines that run on batteries, electricity, or butane; vaporizers cook bud, but don't burn it. I'm told that vaporizers allow for cooler air and prevent "burning" but more importantly, use less bud.

A cute girl demonstrates a portable canister model, known as the Gravity Vortex, "As seen on Weeds!" The top half of the canister is filled with water, the bottom half is empty. The girl lights a small bowl on the top of the canister, causing the water to boil and seep into the lower half of the container as the top half fills with smoke.

After a minute she attaches a tube. "Now you can smoke it," she proclaims proudly, "Or you can do a "shot!" She opens the canister dousing her face in smoke. "Normally $100, now only $60! But we've sold out, so you'll have to put your name on a list!"

"Does the vaporizer use less marijuana?" I ask

The girl nods her head emphatically. "Oh yeah! I used to go through an eighth every three days. Now it takes me like, two weeks."

There are vendors selling pipes, vendors selling T-shirts, vendors selling marijuana cook books, and even a guy promoting his new dark comedy, "Bad Batch."

"You'll be able to download it on line!" he calls out.


"On 4/20!"

I nod. April 2oth is official pot day.

"Hey!" a vendor cries out. "Did you know that smoking pot prevents cancer?"

I shrug. "I didn't know that. My sister has breast cancer."

"Then you need to tell her to smoke. It slows down the growth of cancerous cells! Here's a card to our natural medicines website! Check it out!"

"I'll be sure to pass that along."

"Don't hesitate, man! The more women that smoke, the more we can eradicate breast cancer forever!"

"Attention, attention. Please be aware that there is no smoking or vaporizing in the auditorium."

I pass by a whole sale nursery offering to sell clones of famous brand name strains: AK-47, Black Domina, Bubba Kush, Bubblegum, Green Crack, Hindu Skunk, the Hog, Jack Herer, LA Confidential, Master Kush, OG Kush, OG Purple, Pineapple Express, Super Lemon Haze, White Russian, White Widow.

All for a small donation of $15, plus $20 delivery fee. (Only to dispensaries and patients with verifiable recommendations.)

I ignore the resident psychic, give a sex toy booth a brief glance. Several people ask me to sign a petition to stop LA county from closing dispensaries.

"It's prohibition man! You know that in November there is going to be a "Regulate and Tax" initiative on the ballot!"

"You mean an initiative to legalize pot."

"Yeah, but we can't call it that. So we say regulate and tax."

I nod, makes sense to me. Language is everything. Republicans have been beating Democrats over the head for years with the "Death Tax" moniker.

I back away, watching the entire proceeding with a critical gaze. A full convention centered not around marijuana, but all the accoutrement's surrounding pot. Marijuana is no longer a drug, its an entire industry. If there are billions to be made selling and taxing pot, there are billions more to be made on marijuana paraphernalia.

Marijuana is a psychoactive drug used primarily for recreational use. Hemp Con is the happy byproduct; it's all about marijuana's medicinal use, merchandising and retail potential, its growers and legal issues.

From hemp to marijuana we've gone from marijuana to hemp.

The circle is complete.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

I Hate Rihanna

She has the perfect pedigree.

Beautiful lithe body, striking features, hailing from the exotic far off land of Barbados, Rihanna symbolizes raw feminine sexual power. Her look is versatile, she is the punk chic, the lady in red, the hipster, the dominatrix, the Las Vegas showgirl: Tina Turner, Grace Jones and Lisa Bonet wrapped in one sexy package.

Her debut album, Music of the Sun, was a mixture of reggae and R&B, and received luke warm reviews. Rolling Stone gave the album 2.5 out of 5 stars, claiming it "lacked replay value." Slant and Entertainment Weekly were even less kind, they considered Rihanna "maudlin and chintzy" - a clone of Beyonce.

Rihanna seemed destined for the trash heap of rejected teen debutante pop stars.

Then before the release of her third album, Good Girl Gone Bad, Rihanna changed her look. She cut her hair short and dyed it black, adopted more provocative outfits, and metamorphosed her image from good girl to sexual predator.

Good Girl Gone Bad was a smash hit. It sold over 2 million copies in the United States, was nominated for a slew of awards, and the AMA awarded Rihanna with best female R&B vocalist of the year.

So what if her voice sounded nasally or suspiciously "not as good" live when she performed at award shows. Who cared if her songs were jacked from other R&B artists, lacked originality, or were little more than turbo charged soul cringing power ballads produced, written and packaged by veteran music producers like Timbaland and Christopher "Tricky" Stewart?

Rihanna was hot. She was the self made success story, a Horatio Alger tale for the new millennium. The poor little immigrant girl who struck gold and made it rich. She even had the faerie tale boyfriend, fellow R&B crooner hottie Chris Brown.

Then it all fell apart. Chris Brown received an alleged "booty" call text. The couple argued, Rihanna grew angry and tried to leave, Chris Brown grabbed her and forced her back into the car. Violence ensued.

Photos of Rihanna's bruised and bloody face were "mysteriously" leaked to TMZ, and Rihanna went from being an R&B star to a household name and the national topic of conversation.

Chris Brown hadn't beaten on a girl, he had beaten on a vibrant sex symbol, an icon of post modern feminine empowerment. The story was inescapable, it played everywhere, even the most clueless and out of touch, those who had never heard of Rihanna and never listened to R&B were subjected to endless stories of Chris Brown's rampage.

Obama's stimulus package, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Recession - momentarily forgotten. Rihanna had become the Reality TV moment, the national dialogue, endless fodder for talk shows and late night comedians, the symbol of domestic abuse.

Predictably, in the wake of the assault Rihanna's sales skyrocketed, while Chris Brown's plummeted. Rihanna was a victim, the heroine, the girl done wrong. That she and her publicists milked her domestic abuse for free publicity - well, that's just business. Any publicity is good publicity, in the age of reality TV notoriety and fame are interchangeable.

There's nothing worse than being anonymous.

Rihanna used all the free press to market her latest album, Rated R. Initially the album sold well, but then its sales dropped off. Industry experts were baffled, Rihanna had received more publicity then any other singer in 2009. Rated R was supposed to put Rihanna over the top, crown her the new queen of R&B. Rated R was supposed to make Rihanna the new Beyonce.

But they forgot what made Rihanna a smash hit wasn't her singing, it was her image. She was supposed to be the nubian goddess, the unobtainable temptress, the sexual dynamo.

No one wants to buy the image of a beaten and broken woman. That's not the Rihanna brand.

A few days ago, new photos emerged of Rihanna nude, photos of Rihanna flashing her "asshole" in the mirror. Rihanna is posing - the photos are provocative, dirty, hot.

But hey, Rihanna knows the score:

Paris Hilton Sex Tape: World Wide Fame
Kim Kardashian Sex Tape: World Wide Fame
Rihanna Flashing Asshole: ( Do the math )

What choice does she have? Her album sales are down, Rated R has sold barely half of Good Girl Gone Bad. She has to remind the world that at 20, she's still sexy, she's still hot. What better way then to grab headlines then flashing your bum?

That's because Rihanna knows there is nothing worse than being anonymous. If album sales are down, you have to do what you have to do...

..... even if that means flashing the world your asshole.

But Rihanna is just a piece of the reality glitz junket, the fast food image vomit tapestry that dominates cultural discourse.

She's verbal junk food, safe. You can't offend anyone talking about Rihanna, provided you agree that she's a victim and Chris Brown is a villain.

It's like talking about balloon boy, or Jersey Shore's Jenni "Jwoww" Farley trash outfits, or the Salahi's crashing white house dinners. You don't have to have an opinion, its already made for you.

Wouldn't you rather see if Jon and Kate Gosselin can save their marriage rather then focus on your own?

So on Friday when someone mentioned Rihanna flashing her asshole, and what a poor abused victim she was, I told them Chris Brown was justified and that she deserved it.

I don't really believe that, I just wanted a reaction.

The teachers got angry, but for the first time all day, we had a discussion. From Rihanna to domestic abuse, from domestic abuse to the "double standard" of men being attacked by their wives and the attacks never reported, Rihanna latest"half-ass" venture was evaluated with a critical eye.

Because I don't really hate Rihanna....

.....it's just that when you flash your asshole at the world, don't get mad at the world for thinking you are an asshole.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Confessions of a Burger Whore

I'm a burger whore.

No matter where the burger is from, how it is cooked, its condiments or lack thereof - there is something special about a pile of beef and cheese dashed with ketchup on a thick bun. From the snooty hotel burger to the cheap and tawdry Big Mac, the burger is all one could ever want in the perfect meal.

If I had to have a last meal, it would be a cheeseburger.

But where is the best burger? The burger that triumphs over all, the burger that simultaneously exists on both this plane and in heaven, the taste of which transports the lucky soul somewhere between here and Nirvana.

I seek this perfect burger. It is a never ending crusade, a personal odyssey, a quest that has seated me through power lunches, seedy diners, pretentious bistros and murky restaurants where white people fear to tread.

One day I will find my Big Foot, unravel the mystery of El Dorado, spot my Loch Ness Monster. One day I will discover the perfect burger.

Until then, the quest continues. What follows are ten of the best burgers you can get in LA. The list is ever changing liquid mercury, for the burger paradigm is forever shifting, ever fluctuating, never to be set in stone.

Until then, here's my list of the current top 10 burgers: (In LA)

#10. In-N-Out

It may have one of the smallest menu's in America, but In-N-Out gets the basics right - cheeseburger, fries, coke and shake. If you're looking to head into artery clogging territory, try the double double animal style with fries and a large shake.

My one complaint - I've never gotten in and out when I've gone to an In-N-Out. Expect a ten to fifteen minute wait.

#9. Bobo's

Another small chain that caters to a primarily Latino population, Bobo's is the proud creator of the bacon ranch double cheeseburger with mayo and avacado on fried sour dough bread. From the moment you bite into it, the burger slips and slides and threatens to fall apart.

It's an awesome burger - but make sure to bring a vial of tums. (health insurance optional)

#8 25 Degrees

Off of Hollywood Boulevard, 25 degrees is a 21st century diner with red salon interior, the burger place trying not to look like a burger place. They make an awesome burger, a mountain of meat on two massive kaiser roll buns. Unfortunately, the bread gets in the way of the burger, or otherwise I'd rank 25 degrees higher. (And no, you can't put it on different bread. 25 Degrees only has the Kaiser roll.)

Great burger, mediocre bread.

#7 The Village Idiot

Just off of Melrose, the Idiot is a Chicago style bar smack in the middle of LA. It has a variety of food, but you can't ever go wrong with the Idiot burger. Get it with blue cheese, get it with bacon, this is the idiot proof burger - you don't like their burger, you just don't like burgers.

Shame on you!

#6 The Burger Bar

Another burger joint just off Melrose, the Burger Bar lives up to its name and delivers a mouth watering culinary delight of beefy perfection. Best of all, go during happy hour and you can get burger, fries and a beer for $10. The burger bar did offer one of the best burgers in LA, but in recent months its slipped from its perch.

# 5 The Bowery (Burger)

The Bowery is off of Sunset about a block and half west of the Arclight theatre. The Bowery makes a simply delicious culinary treat of beef, bacon, pickles with ranch sauce all served on an English muffin. Small and unpretentious, all the food here is great, but for an added treat get the crispy sweet potato fries. Amazing!

#4 Father's Office

Father's Office is the grand daddy of burger joints, word of mouth has proclaimed the FO burger as the best burger in LA. The FO burger is a work of art, a half pound of delectable beef on a crispy baguette bun slathered with garlic sauce, the FO burger sets the gold standard for the LA burger.

But they don't serve ketchup. No ketchup for the fries, no ketchup for the burger. Father's office believes the FO burger doesn't need ketchup.

Wrong, wrong, wrong. FO to you Father's Office! Every great burger has ketchup. This snobby no ketchup no can do attitude prevents them from taking the top spot, no matter how highly they are ranked.

Sorry FO, you are so close, but no ketchup, forget about it.

#3 The Essex House

Another Chicago style bar off Hollywood Blvd near Mann's Chinese theatre, it offers a delicous alternative to the Hamburger Hamlet down the street. Essex House is a gastro pub with an amazing bacon blue cheese burger and delicious garlic fries. For the truly daring, try the onion rings, the best I've found in LA. Succulent, juicy, and perfectly cooked! Best of all: the happy hour prices!

#2 The Umami Burger

Kobe beef served on a buttery bun, the Umami Burger has gone from one to four locations in the course of a year. Umami was at first a bit of disappointment, but after trying the truffle burger glazed in light creamy truffle sauce I've amended my initial response. Umami is a collage of flavors that light up dozens of taste buds all at once. The sweet potato fries even come served with a slight coating of brown sugar!

Savory, mouthwatering, glorious! Go Umami!

Bonus: The coke comes in a glass bottle, imported from Mexico with real sugar.

#1 The Laurel Tavern Burger

Currently the top of the heap, Laurel Tavern was a complete and total surprise. Served in a metal tray, the burger's here are hand crafted pieces of art, done to juicy thick perfection on a crispy bun, the "old school burger" has slices of apples mixed in with the meat for a unique and sensational taste.

Did I mention the mountain of fries cooked in bacon fat or the great beer selection? Burger $8, Fries $3 - the Laurel Tavern is unpretentious and a bargain. I would have placed Laurel Tavern at #2, but they evidently serve burgers with bone marrow.

Anyone that cooks fries in bacon fat and serves burgers with bone marrow ain't messing around.

The burger, a meal unto itself, a culinary masterpiece that has evolved before my very eyes into a delectable meal. I may unconditionally love any burger placed before me, but the burgers on this list love you back.