I might be the last American male who will admit that he doesn’t like beer. Yep, even your favorite beer. Even the craftiest craft beer, made by monks in an abbey high in the mountains. I suspect I’m what’s known as a “supertaster,” which means that all flavors are particularly intense to me. I have particular trouble with beverages containing alcohol. The best wine you can imagine tastes to me like grape-flavored turpentine. Meanwhile, all beer tastes like goat piss—or what I’d imagine goat piss would taste like, if I’d ever tasted it.
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All that said, I’ve finally found a porch sittin’ booze for me, in the form of Coney Island Hard Root Beer. Yes, I know hard soda concoctions have the reputation of being the Playskool My First Hangover Kit. But I like it. Though some hard root beers I’ve tried predictably dance across the tongue like Billy Dee Williams’ mustache sweat, Coney Island Root Beer tastes like, well, root beer. I suspect they may be buying their concentrate off of Barq’s, because it tastes EXACTLY like that, only with a bit of a beery twang that goes away after the first few swallows. Believe me: given my delicate palate, if I can drink it by the pail with no problems, it should taste like heaven to your average person, especially if you don’t mind your drunk coming in a sweet wrapper. If you like unleaded root beer, give it a try.
If you have a driver’s license, a piece of property that needs to be improved and $300 (or $200 and a trailer), you should immediately rent a mini excavator. Operating heavy equipment, it turns out, is not unlike playing a video game. You quickly become adept — or at least competent enough — at maneuvering the joysticks and levers. Then: digging and destruction! Expending the amount of energy it takes to dip a spoon into ice cream, you’ll be able to dig up three or four feet of rocky, thick-rooted soil in one scoop. If you have things you need to knock down —old fencing, smallish trees, neighbors’ mailboxes — you can swing the bucket into them like a slap with devastating effect. There’s a bulldozer blade, too, which helps you smooth the mess that you’ve made. It’s the kind of contagious power that makes you want to dig massive holes just for kicks. Who needs a goldfish pond?
As the title suggests, That Dog’s “Retreat from the Sun” could be construed as pretty antithetical to “summer fun,” but I’d dare anyone to stick to that literal interpretation after digging the surfy, ultra-pop vibes on this album. Producer Brad Wood put such a thick coat of polish on these tracks that you barely notice the lyrical despair in the title track’s rearview mirror: “you may run like a bitch in heat, but it’s fun to sometimes try to retreat from the sun, cause it’s awful lonely where I’m coming from.” No less giggly than 1995’s “Totally Crushed Out!” but definitely less driven by Petra Haden’s artsy violin lines (which have shown up on albums from Beck, Green Day, Weezer, and Cibo Matto’s Yuka Honda), “Retreat from the Sun” is an absolute pop confection. It’s sonic summer candy, stuffed with “oohs” and “la-la-las,” crunchy guitars, and tales of crushes that begin with mutual t-shirt admiration. It even explores the often-ignored subject of Platonic love—from 1997 until today, I’ve been rocking out to the track “I’m Gonna See You,” thinking it was a sweet song about grown-up love, about falling out of Total Infatuation Phase with a lover and still being thrilled about what’s left, and about learning to adore the feeling of having a mundane routine with another human being: “I’m gonna see you in the morning, I’m gonna see you when you’re uptight, I’m gonna see you when you’re boring.” Apparently, though, it’s singer-songwriter Anna Waronker’s “love letter to the band” (with whom she was initially unsure she wanted to create this album), and that bit of knowledge makes me dig it even more. Here’s the beautiful thing about “Retreat from the Sun:” If you listen to this track and don’t like it, stop. You won’t like the rest of the album. I promise. Save perhaps the dominatrix routine in “Gagged and Tied,” there aren’t really any surprises, just 13 tracks of synth and sunshine.
Pan bagnat means “bathed bread” in French, and I have no idea what its original Provencal form is like, but the following Americanized adaptation is a perfect summer picnic food — salty, fresh, portable and satisfying. Procure a baguette or some similar substantial, crusty loaf. Slice it open, leaving one edge intact. Then, pile on the thinly sliced vegetables: Tomato, cucumber and purple onions are necessary, while black olives, artichoke hearts, razor-thin peppers and most anything else are optional. You can stop there if your tastes run vegan; otherwise add thin slices of Provolone or another mild cheese, hard-boiled egg
and/or a smattering of meat. Drizzle with olive oil and top with freshly ground black pepper, course salt and a single minced clove of garlic. Your goal is to bind these ingredients tightly together in the heart of the bread, wherein their comingled juices will inform the whole. Lay out a yard or so of plastic wrap on the counter and place the sandwich on top; wrap the entire thing up, including both ends, and wind the plastic around a time or two as if you’re bandaging an injured arm. Now, compress and be patient: Place the sandwich beneath something heavy and flat (bricks, dictionaries, etc) for at least a couple hours of marinating time. Unwrap, slice and serve with a Busch Lite and 95 percent humidity.
“The Summer Cake”
Bake a yellow box-mix cake in a 9×13 pan until done. After the cake cools, take a butterknife and poke a buncha holes in it. Then pour a whole can of evaporated milk (brand name: Pet Milk) over the cake. The whole. Damn. Thing. Then, take a large tub of thawed Cool Whip or el cheapo equivalent, one large box of instant vanilla pudding mix, and a can of crushed pineapple. Drain the pineapple as best you can, then blend the pudding mix, Cool Whip and pineapple together with a hand blender until well combined. Frost the cake with the resulting goop. Garnish with maraschino cherries or maybe some nice sliced strawberries or blackberries… Whatever ya got. It’s good with or without. Cover the cake and stick it in the fridge for a few hours, until chilled. Remove from fridge. Serve with a big ass spoon. Enfatten thyself. Groan. Unbutton pants. Promise to do situps. Eat more cake.