The Weinblog goes north

I had previously been in Canada two times in my life.

The first was to Montreal, Quebec in 2011 for bachelor party. But given that I was one of 17 people on that trip, all of whom had to juggle our work schedules just to make it work, it was a short stay.

We were in and out in just over 36 hours, and were only concerned with doing bachelor party things rather than actually exploring the city and sightseeing. I was also 24 at the time and didn’t really care about that stuff.

The second time was even shorter. It was Labor Day weekend 2014 during a trip to Buffalo. Upon visiting Niagara Falls, we hopped over the border (not literally — we went through Customs) to get to the Ontario side. We only stayed for a couple of hours.

So I was due to return. For one, given the mass shootings, police mistrust and chaotic elections in the U.S. and the endless drug and gang wars in Mexico, Canada has pretty much become the Shangri-La of North America.

Downtown Montreal

The Vieux-Port de Montreal.

It was also a sensible time to make the trip given the political landscape down here, in case I needed to scout out a place to live in preparation for a Trump presidency.

Thus, return to Montreal I did. The motivation for the trip was to attend the Osheaga Music Festival, one of the country’s premier musical events. I went with three friends because we all universally liked the festival’s three headliners: the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Lana Del Rey and Radiohead.

It’s pretty impossible not to like Montreal. The city is large but extremely clean and navigable, with a fairly simple subway system and very nice people. It has a very modern look but also its fair share of ancient architecture.

More than half of its citizens are bilingual — speaking both French and English — and I can’t emphasize this enough: the women are beautiful.

If you do visit Montreal anytime soon, prepare for three things — you will be drinking Tim Hortons coffee instead of Dunkin’ Donuts, you will probably be thrown off by the country’s absence of the penny, and the default beer is not a Budweiser, but a Molson.

Osheaga

Yours truly.

And the only French you really need to know is bonjour (hello) and merci (thank you).

And as a well-documented festival goer, I could not have been more impressed with Osheaga. Like the city, it was vast but accessible. With several stages peppered around the spacious festival grounds, not too many people were in the same place at once (with the exception of the headliners).

There was plenty of interesting activities, artsy structures, scenic views, food trucks and other forms of entertainment to keep you occupied if you felt like taking a break from the music, which also featured some great undercard acts like the Lumineers, Haim, Silversun Pickups and the Wombats. Disclosure did not make it, which meant absolutely nothing to me.

And did I mention?

The women were gorgeous.

God bless the north.

Canadian flag

Sometimes the best decisions in life are spontaneous ones

Devout follower(s) of the Weinblog (hi mom!) know that I am a live music junkie, with a particular fondness towards music festivals.

I’ve said it many times, but if you’re ever feeling a bit disenchanted with the world, or are even beginning to lose faith in humanity for whatever reason — attend a music festival. Because your faith will be restored.

I know a lot happened over the weekend, between LeBron James earning the city of Cleveland its first major sports title in 52 years; developments in exactly what happened in the Orlando nightclub nine days ago; and even more recent news about GOP senators blocking gun control legislation; but I have the whole week to get to that.

Today I want to recap my weekend. Because it was a great one.

I have attended the Firefly Music Festival three years in a row. It’s basically become the premier music festival on the East Coast. Recent headliners have included the Foo Fighters, Paul McCartney and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, among others.

This year’s headliners of Kings of Leon, Florence + the Machine and Mumford & Sons was quite tempting, but various circumstances led me to decide not to attend this year — despite the fact that I had free tickets waiting for me at will call via my old job.

One of those mitigating circumstances was the fact that I was seeing Mumford & Sons that Friday night at a different venue, in Forest Hills, Queens. Which I went to and enjoyed.

But sometime during that night I had a thought. What if I woke up early enough, hopped in my car, made the three-plus hour drive to Dover and spent the day there? I had nothing better to do. Might as well see some free music with my free ticket. I had friends there I could meet up with, and although I had no place to sleep, it was something to worry about later.

Cut to the next morning, 7:30 a.m., I’m awake, lying in bed, contemplating it over one more time. By 8:45, I was on the road. By 1 p.m., I was at a Chic-Fil-A drive-thru in Delaware. Some 40 minutes later, I was taking a selfie in front of one of Firefly’s seven stages.

Throughout the gorgeous, sunny day, I saw several great bands, talked to many people I had never met before, and enjoyed the privileges that my free media ticket allowed me — not only free entry, but access to the VIP areas and Super VIP areas, which contained an open bar and free massages. Ayoo!

But I didn’t realize how convenient the timing was. What happened in Orlando hurt. I haven’t felt completely right since that day. I also mentioned how disappointed I felt with how some people in the country were reacting to it.

Well, spending the day in the woodlands at Firefly, surrounded by tens of thousands of people simply enjoying life amongst their friends and a whole bunch of live music, you’d never know that there is any hate that exists at all in this country.

It was a beautiful reminder of how wonderful we can be when we’re all together and simply living in the moment.

And just when I thought the day couldn’t get more perfect, I decided during my drive home overnight to listen to exclusively Taylor Swift on my iPod. It amounted to 43 songs in a row. And you’re damn right I sang my heart out.

The culminating memory was the piece of advice I received from my friend that Friday afternoon, who I’d potentially be meeting at Firefly, when I shared with him my spontaneous idea to drive down to meet him the following day.

“Don’t think, just do.”

Take that one to the bank, kids.

Weinblog goes to the desert

Allow me to welcome you all back to the latest edition of the WeinTravel Blog.

In a span of seven days, I took four flights and entered every time zone in the mainland U.S. except Mountain Time.

Screw you, mountain time zone. If I wanted to visit a place that corrupts my lungs with thin air and reduced oxygen, I’d sooner go to Pandora from the movie Avatar. That place looked awesome. And me and the Na’vi would be bros.

Upon my return from Chicago, I had less than 48 hours until I boarded yet another plane, this time to Phoenix, Arizona. Except unlike my trip to the Windy City, this getaway was work related.

Phoenix

It was my first ever business trip, and what I quickly learned is how cool it is to tell people that you are away on business. It makes you seem extremely dignified and important, and immediately draws intrigue into what your line of work is.

And the fact that I have a very cool job — working for a charity that builds homes for veterans — just made it that much better. My work trip, in short, involved me and another colleague visiting Chase Field in Phoenix, the home of the Diamondbacks, to represent our charity for an on-field surprise announcement to a veteran that he would be receiving a mortgage-free home.

I wasted little time posting a picture to Facebook of myself on the field, complete with a Fielddescription of what I was doing. It drew likes out the wazoo.

I did get some much needed rest and relaxation this weekend, and am ready for one more final workweek until Memorial Day Weekend. You know, the holiday where everyone forgets what it’s actually for, and instead posts pictures on Facebook of their barbecue, celebrating the “official start of summer.”

Is there any more annoying words than people arbitrarily declaring something as the “official start of summer?” Heck, I’m watching the Billboard Music Awards right now, and Ludacris, who for some reason is hosting despite having the personality of a dung beetle, just declared the awards show as the “official start of summer.”

Sorry Luda, and all those who will inevitably say the same thing next weekend while wearing a tank top and sipping a Corona, but the summer begins on June 20. THERE IS NO ROOM FOR INTERPRETATION, DAMMIT. YOU CANNOT REWRITE THE SEASONS LUDACRIS.

Woah, got a little too excited there.

Anyway, in case you were wondering, Phoenix is a neat little city. I was there for less than two days and didn’t get much time to sight see, but I sensed a very trendy and hipster vibe there. It’s not big at all — any neighborhood in Manhattan will have more people traveling the streets at 4:30 a.m. than at primetime in Phoenix, but it’s all part of its charm.

Cactus

That cactus is more than 10 feet tall. You’ll have to take my word for it.

I was, however, a little disappointed by the weather, which sounds crazy when you consider that it was in the 80s. But I was sort of hoping for that 100-degree desert heat you hear about, especially considering the frigid temperatures we’ve been experiencing on the east coast. And of course, on the day I left, it was 94 degrees without a cloud in the sky. Can’t win ’em all.

But I did see a cactus. A big one, too. It was at least 10 feet tall and looked exactly like a cactus should look like.

Didn’t see any tumbleweed though. So that was a fail.

So now I am back and rejuvenated. The next step is to check in on the news and find out all that I missed.

Before I left, the big story was whether prominent Republicans in Congress would reject Donald Trump as their party’s presidential nominee, or coalesce around him.

I’m assuming they did the right thing and renounced him, right? Right? Guys?

Yeah I’m not going to read the news tonight.

Weinblog does the Windy City

Sometimes cities have weird and exaggerated nicknames. Philadelphia as the City of Brotherly Love? Yeah OK.

New York is The City that Never Sleeps? That’s some hyperbole if I ever heard it.

And I know that Los Angeles in Spanish translates to the City of Angels. But I’ve been to Los Angeles twice. Haven’t spotted a single angel. Even a Nicolas Cage sighting would suffice. But no.

Chicago, on the other hand, has absolutely earned its nickname. It’s so windy there that I almost bottled up some of it and brought it back as a souvenir.

I love visiting new cities and discovering the culture, the people and the vibe. Experiencing its identity. It’s interesting because since I live so close to New York, people tend to use it as the point of comparison to other cities.

“It’s like a mini New York.”

“It’s like New York, except…”

“The people there are so much nicer than New York.”

Well that last sentence pretty much applies anywhere. Except maybe Detroit.

But anyway, calling Chicago a “mini New York” does not do the city justice, because it’s freaking huge. There’s so much to see and do there that it deserves its own stature.

Being there for only three days, I made sure to do the things every tourist needs to do. Go to a Cubs game. Eat deep dish pizza. Stand on top of the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower). And, of course, take a picture in front of the Bean (properly called the Cloud Gate).

Going to Wrigley was especially a huge thrill for me, being a huge baseball fan who has now watched a game in more than a dozen stadiums across the U.S. It’s the second oldest baseball stadium behind Fenway Park, which I have also been to.

The Willis Tower, by the way, is the second tallest building in the nation, topped only by the newly built One World Trade Center. The tower’s Skydeck allows you to stand on a transparent glass panel that juts out of the building and lets you look straight down. It’s not recommended for those with a fear of heights.

And the deep dish pizza shouldn’t legally be defined as pizza. It was delicious, don’t get me wrong, but it was basically just a volcano of cheese and sauce.

Chicago is a very clean, accessible city with its fair share of diversity, giant buildings and very limited places to park. If you’ve never been, I’d recommend going immediately.

Next, my travels take me from the appropriately-named Windy City to Phoenix, which people apparently call the Valley of the Sun.

Something tells me that nickname will also hold true.

Why do we keep going to casinos?

I was in Buffalo this weekend, and at one point me and two friends had about an hour to kill. We decided to head to a casino.

Me and casinos are not friends. I could write a horror novel based on my experiences with them, and I typically leave casinos with a deep feeling of defeat and regret.

I’m not much of a gambler. I do like to play Blackjack, and know all of the strategy, but still always somehow to end up on the short end of the stick. And all it takes is a little bit of an alcohol-induced buzz for me to get a little reckless with my wallet.

Basically, I am the exact type of person that casinos target and feast on.

Casino2My experience at the Buffalo casino was no different. After several hands of Blackjack, I was actually doing well. I started with $60 and was about $50 up, and remember saying aloud to my friend that I should quit while I am ahead. The next moment, we got a text from our other friends saying they were ready to meet up at Duff’s Famous Wings for lunch, a popular spot in the area and one I highly recommend.

I proceeded to lose that hand. Wanting to end on a high note, I decided to play one more. I lost. Figuring the odds dictated I wouldn’t lose three in a row, I played another, and lost again.

I was back at even. I could have quit there. But I was determined to leave with a profit. Because I can safely estimate that in my approximately 20 times going to a casino, I think I’ve only made money twice. And it was a marginal amount.

So I said that I’d bet $10, double it if I lose, and bet the rest if I happen to drop both of them.

My thinking was that there’s no way I’d lose three more in a row — six in total — and if I just won one of those hands, I’d either end up in the money, or even.

I lost all three. And I hated everything.

I only lost $60, which actually makes it one of my better casino experiences, but the way it happened could not have been more disheartening.

The lesson? Just quit while you’re ahead. Even if it’s just $50. Because it also comes with the feeling of knowing you just took some money from a casino, which is basically the most villainous and unforgiving type of facility our world has to offer. Casinos make jails look like three-ring circuses. Even Guantanamo Bay is a more fun alternative.

Or the better lesson? Just don’t go in the first place. Maybe take the money you would have gambled and donate it all to charity.

Who am I kidding. Next time I’m throwing it all on red.

I went to see Jenny Lewis and you’re damn right I left with a t-shirt

After getting home from a Jenny Lewis concert on Thursday night, I unfolded the t-shirt I bought that featured a logo of Lewis’s latest album, The Voyager. The former lead singer of the popular 2000s indie rock band, Rilo Kiley, Lewis released her second solo album earlier this year, and made a stop along her tour at a venue about 15 minutes from where I live.

I bought tickets for the show the first day they went on sale. The venue she played at, called The Space at Westbury, is new, having opened last year, and is quite a luxury for me, considering 95% of the shows I see are in New York City.

Jenny Lewis2Which is fine. I love the city, but it’s quite a nuisance to travel an hour-plus back home following a show. So to only have to drive about 15 minutes from this new venue to get home is very convenient. And it proved especially advantageous on this particular day.

When I unfolded my souvenir, it more closely resembled a bed sheet than a shirt. I wear a medium size, and the shirt was an extra-large, even though I clearly requested a medium. I carelessly forgot to double-check the size before I left the venue and now, was out 20 bucks, and had a useless, oversized shirt.

It was about 11 p.m., and I considered my options. First I called the venue to see if anybody was still there, to no avail. Then I thought, I could call tomorrow, explain the situation, and probably get a refund. But, I realized, I wanted the goddamn shirt. If I waited another day, the merchandise would surely have been packed up and sent to Jenny Lewis’s next stop on her tour.

Without further thought, I hopped in my car and sped towards the venue, in hope that people were still inside. The show had only ended about 30 minutes ago, after all, so I figured there must be people there cleaning the place, at the very least.

I probably exceeded the speed limit considerably in the drive, but I was on a mission. I wanted this to be a success story. Most people would have cut their losses and went to sleep, and certainly wouldn’t drive back to the venue at such a late hour at just the mere possibility of exchanging the shirt.

I arrived at the venue, and approached the doors. They were locked, but there was tons of people inside. I promptly began knocking on the door loudly, and held up and pointed to my shirt, performing a demonstrative pantomime that tried to indicate, “Bought shirt; too big; let me in.” In hindsight, I’m very surprised they didn’t think I was clinically insane.

This story ended happily. They let me in and I quickly explained the situation, and the same people who were manning the merchandise earlier were happy to exchange the shirt, and apologized for the mishap. I was just happy it all worked out.

Jenny Lewis was fantastic, too. I met her briefly at a music festival over the summer, and this was a fairly small-venue show that allowed me to be within feet of the stage. She played a sold-out show in Manhattan’s Terminal 5 the night before, and this was certainly a contrast. It’s another reason why I’m glad to have that venue. And I highly recommend people check out The Voyager on Spotify, because it’s quite good.

And henceforth, whenever I wear that t-shirt, it will remind me of my resilience, determination, and personal resolve.

If I tried as hard in all other aspects of my life as I did to get that damn shirt, I’d be the next Steve Jobs.

But for now, I’m just a man with an aptly sized Jenny Lewis t-shirt, and I’m perfectly content with that.

Sometimes in life you just have to embrace your inner Christina Perri

But I’m only human
And I bleed when I fall down
I’m only human
And I crash and I break down

Sometimes you look at lyrics of a song that you like and think, “What the hell is that person talking about?”

These lyrics, from the song “Human” by Christina Perri are more like facts. If you’re human, then you’re susceptible to wounds, both mentally and physically. Any life form that is intellectually capable of processing those lyrics can’t possibly disagree with them. Unless Superman is actually real.

It’s a bleak outlook, but it’s the truth. And sometimes the truth hurts.

Christina PerriOn Thursday, I had the pleasure of being informed of my mortality live when I saw Christina Perri in concert. As I’ve expressed previously, I’m a pretty frequent concertgoer. In fact I think it’s safe to say that about one-third of my income goes to beer and live music. But that’s another topic.

Since I’ve already seen most of the contemporary bands I’ve wanted to see (the benefit of living so near to New York City is all that bands come to you), I’ve now set my sights on seeing female singer-songwriters who I’ve always respected and/or enjoyed as a guilty pleasure. In fact, the savvy Weinblog followers may have noticed a recurring theme. Last December I wrote about my experience at an Avril Lavigne concert, and one month ago, I documented my time seeing Ellie Goulding.

I long ago realized that, at the end of the day, who cares what other people think? If I like a female musician whose target audience is females aged 17 to 23, then so be it. And believe me, I am going to these shows for the music. Life is short and I want to have fun doing things I enjoy. In the past five months, I have also seen Kacey Musgraves and Sara Bareilles live.

Come at me, bro.

It also doesn’t hurt when the singer I like also happens to be really pretty. Christina Perri is a gorgeous woman who is also extremely talented. I especially like how she kind of has that dark, gothic vibe going with all of her songs. Most know her for her 2010 breakthrough song “Jar of Hearts,” which definitely is sung from the perspective of a scorned, begrudged lover. The song “Human,” mentioned above, is the first single off her second album, Head or Heart, released earlier this month.

The concert could not really have been more enjoyable. Though just 27 years old (my age as well …  *hint hint* Christina … yeah you’re not reading this), she interacted with the rambunctious audience like a seasoned veteran. And she sounded great.

The opener for the show was Birdy, an English singer who became famous a few years ago for her covers of popular indie songs. TheBirdy one that brought her to mainstream awareness was her rendition of Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love,” which is a great version of the already great song. Anyway, she’s ridiculously talented as well and only 17 years old.

After finishing her set, she happened to do a meet and greet with fans in the hallway of the venue. As I was walking by her, I’ll admit I had a very brief internal struggle of whether it was appropriate to photograph myself with a girl 10 years my junior.

I got the photograph.

I also faced an equally brief, internal struggle whether I should post in on Facebook.

I posted it to Facebook five minutes later.

And now I’ll post it here. Seriously though, if you don’t know who she is I highly recommend to look her up on Spotify. She’s seriously talented and could become a huge star.

At the end of the day, the simple life lesson we sometimes forget is that nothing should stop us from doing things we like to do. Whether it’s going to a concert, learning to ballroom dance, or reenacting the scene from Ghost with your stuffed animals where Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore are making pottery. Any outside perception you fear is only amplified by your inner self-conscious.

I don’t blame you, though. After all, we’re all only human.

One against 12: How a game of flip cup allowed for my greatest adult accomplishment

Happy St. Patrick’s Day everybody! The sadist in me almost enjoys that it fell on a Monday this year, and all the people who like to “go hard” were mostly unable to do so, or had to pick between the two separate weekends it fell between to arbitrarily celebrate.

But happy Irish day nonetheless.

Anyway, I noticed it’s been a while since I blogged more from a first-person perspective, recounting my own tales in a humorous way for your personal enjoyment, and instead have been focusing more on current events. It means either one of two things: a lot has been going in the world lately, or my life has just become more and more dull.

Either way, I want to return to my roots of narrating self-deprecating stories about myself, and I have one for you from this past weekend.

This one revolves around a drinking game. When Solo Cups and Bud Light are involved, there’s only so many games you can play that are suitable for a large group.Flip cup Beer pong is a pretty exclusive game that takes a while to complete, so it’s really not the best group game.

Flip cup, on the other hand, really is only fun when there’s a large group. I’m personally not the biggest fan of the game because I think it involves minimal drinking and that way too much time is spent between rounds rather than during. But, it promotes camaraderie and teamwork, and who doesn’t like that?

So that’s why I found myself on Saturday night surrounding a ping-pong table with 12 other individuals playing Survivor Flip Cup. For those unaware, this variety of the game could be played one of two ways: The winning side of any given round gets to “vote off” a player from the losing side, or, the winning side absorbs a player of choice from the losing side (our choice). Either way, the last team standing is the winner.

And that, subsequently, is how I found myself standing alone on one side of the table, competing directly against 12 others.

Ironically, I was actually the captain of the team that had the 12 members, but through a couple dozen rounds in which multiple people were swapped, I ended up on opposite side. Of course, when a team faces a deficit, the players need to compensate by drinking extra cups. For example, if it is eight against four, each person on the team of four will drink two cups in order to keep it even.

Anyway, I ended up being the solo guy on one side, and was basically the one being thrown to the wolves. The sacrificial lamb. I had to drink — and flip — 12 cups before every one else on the other team. It was like a modern day David and Goliath. And once I lost, the game would be over.

I filled the 12 cups, lined them up, and was prepared to at least go down fighting. Had their been any one else on my team to talk to, it may have been an appropriate time to deliver the “I am William Wallace” speech from Braveheart. Although, he ended up losing the battle and being gruesomely tortured to death, so that may have not been the best comparison.

But the round began, and somewhere between cups three and four, something happened.

William WallaceYou know how when you’re in the middle of something important, whether it’s school or work related, or anything else, and you’re just waiting for your brain to suddenly click, and for you to become super efficient? Only it never happens? Well it happened here, on that Saturday, during a game of flip cup.

I became a man possessed — a flip master, if you will — and successfully flipped the final six cups on one try. Suddenly, I could see the numbers in air. My brain calculated the perfect angle, speed and trajectory in which to flip every cup. I was like John Nash in A Beautiful Mind. An assembly line of one.

After flipping the twelfth cup, I looked up, and the other team had yet to finish.

I won.

The opposing team of a dozen was so impressed that they actually gave me a two-minute long ovation. And that, my friends, was probably my greatest single accomplishment since high school.

Of course, my improbable win only served to prolong the game, which continued for another 45 minutes and ultimately ended in a draw. So it actually prevented anybody from gaining any further sense of victory and arguably made the entire near two-hour game a giant waste of time … but, at least I got a great story out of it!

Next time I’m asked during a job interview about my greatest accomplishments, or have to write any type of retrospective essay on my life’s highest point, I will henceforth remember the time I overcame one against 12 in a game that’s culturally known for being most popular among college-aged girls.

Aim high, people. Aim high.

Sometimes you just have to let it burn, burn, burn: an Ellie Goulding concert experience

Last Thursday evening, an amalgamation of voices — predominantly carried by girls aged 18 to 23 — chanted “Ellie! Ellie! Ellie!” inside the Theater at Madison Square Garden, attempting to yield an encore from British pop star Ellie Goulding following her nearly 20-song set.

Among those voices was another — a stark departure from that young female demographic. Rather, a 26-year-old male, a newspaper editor and quasi-blogger from Long Island, vociferously shouting alongside the masses.

That man was yours truly.

Ellie Goulding

On March 13, I attended an Ellie Goulding concert, her second in two consecutive nights inside Madison Square Garden’s theater, a notable stop along her massive, multiple-continent tour that will stretch into August of 2014. I was there with a friend, also male, also outside that average demographic age range.

Now you may ask yourself why two males on the wrong side of 20 would want to spend money to attend such a concert knowing full well they would be in the minority, both in gender and age?

The truth is, I stopped caring a long time ago.

I certainly don’t mean it as a slight to Ms. Goulding — my intent is not to imply that there is a stigma that comes with attending one of her concerts. But unfortunately in life, there is a stigma attached to practically everything.

But I have no qualms announcing that I am a giant fan of Ellie Goulding, and it was actually the second time I’ve seen her — the first being at the Firefly Music Festival in Delaware last year, where she was one of several dozen acts performing throughout the weekend, giving me ample excuse at the time to tell people why I saw Ellie Goulding live.

This time, I needed no excuse. If I like an artist, you’re damn well right I’m not going to pass up an opportunity to see them live. And I have no shame seeing any type of artist, especially not female singer-songwriters. Heck, in the last five months, I have seen Kacey Musgraves, Sara Bareilles and Avril Lavigne live as well, all of which were respectively awesome.

Just for the record though: my musical taste is extremely eclectic, ranging from classic to indie to folk rock, and I see (and spend way too much money on) all types of shows.

But back to Ellie. Or I should I say, “Ellie! Ellie Ellie!”

Ellie Goulding2The 27-year-old has seen quite the rise in popularity the last few years. Having already achieved stardom in the U.K., her single “Lights” made her known in the U.S., reaching #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2011. Since then, she’s produced hit single after hit single, including “Burn,” “Anything Could Happen,” and “I Need Your Love,” (the latter as a featured artist for Scottish DJ Calvin Harris) over two successful albums.

It’s earned her quite the fan base, and that’s how she sold out two shows in the most famous arena in the universe.

I’m a big fan of Ellie Goulding because I have a lot of respect for anybody who writes and performs their own music, and does so with their own unique flair of artistry. Those who’ve heard Goulding before can attest that her sound is not something you hear from the typical musician, and that’s refreshing to me.

Plus, she’s really, really pretty. That helps.

Her lively, energetic performance was very highly received within Madison Square Garden, and, for the record, we succeeded in bringing her out for an encore. Which — though more of a formality than an accomplishment at these type of shows — is something I feel that my masculine, booming 26-year-old male voice had a lot to do with … more than 100 rows back from the stage.

As I said, Ellie Goulding’s sound is kind of difficult to define. She’s a pop star, no doubt, and I consider her songs a mix of a singer-songwriter and dance. They’re mostly upbeat, highly suitable for social gatherings, and, high school proms … I’m sure.

Fans of fantasy-fiction and dystopian novels like myself will also note she wrote songs for both the Hunger Games: Catching Fire and upcoming Divergent soundtracks, for what it’s worth.

But, the point is, if you like something, you have to own it. Who cares about outside perception? If you live your life wondering how others will judge you, then you have to ask yourself … are you really living?

Then, and only then, can you truly let it burn, burn, burn.

10 days in Israel

For those of you wondering where I’ve been and why my remarkable penmanship has not made its way towards your computer screen in two weeks, I have spent the better part of that time halfway across the world, visiting the Motherland, also known as Israel.

Among my meticulous pre-trip planning and organizing — albeit one night before my departure, but meticulous nonetheless — I neglected to post here that I would be MIA for a little while. I tried one time to post it in Israel in a short time I had WiFi, and then I remembered that I’m on vacation and that I should put my phone away. No offense to you all.

My trip was free, courtesy of URJ Kesher, a trip organizer for Taglit-Birthright, an organization that sends young Jews to Israel for 10 days to visit the place in which their lineage originated.

As a young Jew, I have had many friends who have gone on this trip, only to come back reborn, resurrected, a new person with different beliefs and priorities, memories, and an entire new outlook on how they perceive day-to-day living. So I had to go and give it a shot. I wasn’t necessarily expecting to have any type of spiritual catharsis, but hey, if I did, then why not? I could use some structure.

I didn’t know exactly what to expect, but I knew to expect the unexpected. It’s been quite some time since I went on a long vacation, and I knew it would be good for me to get away, and force myself to go somewhere where the trivial things that bother us in our normal lives would become meaningless.

10 days later, I wouldn’t exactly say I am a new man, but I definitely feel like there’s at least a part of me that is forever changed. A little orb now exists somewhere in my chest labeled “Israel” that will stay there forever.

As somebody who is content to spend an entire Sunday in bed in his pajamas — which is exactly what I plan to do today — one can only imagine how different it felt to visit the Old City of Jerusalem, hike a 1,500-foot mountain, swim in the Dead Sea, ride a camel and sleep in a tent with 40 other Jews, all in a 96-hour span.

The trips work to combine 40 people from across the country (including Canada) of approximately the same age, so that you can share the experience with one another. Needless to say, after spending nearly every moment with these people for 10 days, you’re going to form extremely close friendships, and that is exactly what happened.

The purpose of the trip is naturally to educate young Jews on Judaism and the state of Israel, to form a connection to the Homeland, to create friendships with other Jews, and to hopefully stay and/or become a practicing Jew for the rest of your life. I can certainly say that I learned a lot — as someone who grew up in a mostly secular household, I am pretty ignorant to the happenings in the Middle East and to religion altogether. I can’t say I’m an expert now, but at least being there for a week-plus has given me some perspective, and also taught me not to trust the American media too much when it comes to the topic.

It was my first time entering another continent (I’ve been to Aruba, which is really in Central America, but technically considered North America), and the trip definitely inspired me to want to see more of the world.

But what will stick with me the most is the friendships. Not that I don’t love my friends back home, but when you progress through life and enter your mid-20s, you don’t really put yourself in a position to meet a ton of new people. So to meet 40+ individuals and spend so much time with them, learn about who they are and where they come from, is really special and something you don’t experience besides your first few weeks of college. 

I’m particularly glad I went to Israel when I did. I could have went as young as 18. But as ignorant as I am now, at 26, I could say with the utmost certainty that I wouldn’t have appreciated the trip back then as much as I did now. At such a young age, my priority would have been to go to Israel and get drunk — the Israeli drinking age is 18 – instead of focusing on the people, the land, the culture.

Which is pretty magnificent, might I add. Everywhere you step in Israel, a breathtaking view surrounds you. You don’t get that too often in the U.S. The Dead Sea, for the record, is actually a pretty damn exotic place, and not just a historical and iconic novelty. It’s Earth’s lowest elevation on land, and the water is so salty that you float without even trying to. I was actually doing sit-ups at one point while floating in the water.

It’s not to say that I didn’t appreciate the religious aspect of the trip, either. What really stuck with me was learning that the original Jews were forced out of Jerusalem with the intention of getting it back, so that one day, Jews could return. That’s why cedars always end with the line, “Next year in Jerusalem,” to pay tribute to our ancestors who had that wish 2,000 years ago. And it came true.

My group was also fortunate to have quite possibly the best tour guide on the planet, who went by the name of Ayal Beer. His mix of knowledge and humor made the trip what it was, and even though he’s spent his entire life in Israel, his knowledge of American pop culture was impeccable. One night, after returning to our hotel from a night out in Tel Aviv, he walked by a group of us and said, “’80s dance party in room 408.” Naturally, I thought he was joking, but lo and behold, as I walked back to my room, I hear ’80s music blasting nearby, only to see Ayal and a few others dancing chaotically at 2:00 in the morning. I jumped in without hesitation.

It’s still going to take quite a while to decompress, and wrap my head around the whole thing and what exactly it meant to me. Two days after returning home, it’s safe to say I’ve never been more disoriented in my life, between missing the land, my new friends, jet lag, and the shock of returning home and having so much time to myself.

There’s nothing more cliché in life than saying “it felt like it was a dream,” but that’s really what it feels like. 10 days is nothing. It flies by in the blink of an eye, and then so does the next 10 days, and the 10 days after that. I just happened to spend the past 10 of them in Israel. We did so much in such little time, that I’ve never had a more exhausting yet fulfilling experience in my life.

I think what I’ve learned over the years is that the goal of having an experience is not to isolate it. It’s easy to do something memorable and then keep it solely to yourself, and separate it from your every day life. What I really want to do is exactly the opposite — to incorporate it into my life. I want to wear it on my sleeve, and take the things I learned over there — about the world and about myself — and use it to better my life over here. Because that’s the true meaning of an experience, and there’s no reason why the two things have to be mutually exclusive.

Kesher

But don’t worry, some things will never change, and tomorrow, I’ll be back with my typical asinine and childish narratives, tackling today’s relevant issues under a humorous lens.

And next time I go away, I promise I’ll leave a note.