End of a Hair-a

Prior to 1994, I really didn’t think much about haircuts. My barber, Roger Lovett, was down the street in North Hills, and my dad would usually accompany me, as Roger was actually his barber. Good guy, old school barber shop, but really the only thing I remember was that everybody in there was older, and the place was moderately grubby. He was a good dude, and frankly I didn’t really care how my hair turned out. I was a kid.

As high school approached, and my friend Juice introduced me to his cousin, Bryan the Barber. Bryan was 24 years old and had his own shop in Reseda (nee, Lake Balboa), which he’d inherited from his father. The age proximity and my wont for independence encouraged me to give Bryan a shot at a haircut – a fade, if I remember correctly – and thus a relationship was born.

I previously never understood Barbershop Culture; in fact, I’d never even thought of the concept up to that point. But inside Russo’s Hair Styling, I found a barber that could seamlessly transition between discussions about the Lakers, Juice’s Toyota MR2 and the ongoings of the Reseda Neighborhood Council while making sure that my hair would taper just right.

As I continued my monthly appointments, our banter grew more in-depth; religion, local politics, girls – everything was on the table. And not just between myself and Bryan. The shop was always a nexus of characters, some from as far away as San Diego (“who the heck would drive up from San Diego just for a haircut,” I remember thinking at the time), some from right down the street.

Some of his clients were, like the shop itself, inherited from his father’s old client base. Dudes in their 50’s and 60’s would be mingling with collegians, and the conversation was as varied as the clientele. Blacks, whites, Jews, hispanics, Italians – men of all persuasions ambled in and out of Russo’s. Chauvinistic? Perhaps a tinge, but Cyndi owned The Back Studio, which was a shop for women tucked away in back – and the adjoining door was always open, so she made sure that conversation never crossed that line. It really is a great setup.

At times, I’d see the same people from my last haircut; other times, I’d meet interesting characters. Some sold cars or motorcycles, another played in the NFL, one ran numbers, many worked in real estate. Bryan himself was slowly entering that field as well, carefully and craftily investing in properties from Pasadena to Silver Lake to Sherman Oaks. He was always willing to share information but understood when something was private or personal. He had advice – only sometimes solicited – because he dealt with such a wide swath of the populace and had a tremendous memory that he was always able to have input on the topic. Always.

And what I liked best were that his haircuts were always on point. As my fade evolved into Timberlake-ian curls, a ‘newscaster’ adult cut and finally my closely cropped, modern look, he took care with each clip (“don’t move,” he’d have to tell me about a dozen times per cut), shave and edge. There were times the cut wasn’t perfect (“come on in, I’ll fix it – I told you you shouldn’t have been bouncing around in the chair”), but most of the time it was incredible.

And that massage. Dude had a hand massager on the counter ready to relax your neck, upper back and shoulders after each cut. I mean Bryan literally knew how to make this experience awesome. I contend that half of his clients came to him just for that luxury.

But Bryan was the whole package. Now that he is moving on into more lucrative offerings, I reminisce on the end of an era and what it means to lose my barber. My wife changes hairstylists every year or so, but I’m going on 22 years of never having anybody else touch my hair – even when I lived in Seattle, I’d coordinate my appointments with trips back to Reseda/Lake Balboa to grab a cut and some conversation at Russo’s. So yeah, I became that San Diego guy, only further. That’s how important it was to have the experience, to share the culture of a true Barbershop.

And now, as places such as Sport Clips & Floyd’s exist as ersatz Barbershops, the artifice is evident as these spots are just trying to be the local spot. But they can’t do it; it comes from years, decades, generations of experience, conversation and camaraderie that can only develop when a man has his hand on your skull for a half hour at a time.

And for me, this man was Bryan – whom I’m going to miss dearly as my barber, and I suspect I won’t be the only one. Thanks for the cuts, B.

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Russo Hair Styling, still in its original location, opened in 1956 by Bryan’s great uncle. Ownership transferred Bryan’s father in 1964. It was one of the first shops to specialize in Men’s Hair Styling. Bryan began in 1991 and closed his 25th year on March 31, 2016.

Ranking eMCees: the Naje Scale

This is a project about 17 years in the making.

I’d previously toyed with methods to rank rappers/eMCees/lyricists, and most efforts were either too simple (who are the dopest rappers!!!) or too complex (in college, I included 14 categories such as ‘heart,’ ‘message,’ etc this was really way too much & too corny).

I want to thank Naje for introducing me to the beautiful simplicity that is the Naje Scale. First off, Naje’s gauge, which encapsulates my view as well:

I know this is a bullshit gauge, but it is always one I refer to. If I feel like I can do what an emcee does then I can go crazy for they’re (sic) work. Like I cannot do what Aesop, or Eminem, or Kweli, or Redman, or El-P does.
completely agree. And that’s basically exactly what I look for in an eMCee. Somebody that exceeds what I think I could do if I gave my life to the craft.
For me, a reformed eMCee with dozens of lousy demo tapes and a current freestyle fetish that’s lasted for 20 years, I included myself on the chart (also, because I have a big ego). I quite realistically overrated myself, but allow me the ego trip on this one.
Without further adieu,  the chart is pretty self-explanatory other than to say the colors represent coastal association.
Red is West Coast
Navy is East Coast (I included Philly/Boston/Long Island)
Baby Blue is Midwest
Green is the Greater South
Brown is Bay Area
Slick Rick is in Black
eMCees that ‘tie’ are included on the same line with a slash. There is no association necessary between the rappers other than to say I deem their skills exactly similar regarding this axis.
Also – rappers such as Eminem and Nas with a widely disparate catalog (I’m looking at you, Oochie Wallie) are essentially averaged on their own work.

Naje Scale

*bold lines represent a 5, or average

I think my ‘favorite’ observation is the logjam of West Coast rappers between 4-5.5 (Skill) and 2-4 Content.
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These are the rappers closest to average in all four quadrants: Jean Grae, Masta Ace & L-Roneous above average in both – but barely:
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Another observation: there is only ONE West Coast guy (and two Bay Area) is above average in both, and it’s Acey – who’s barely over the skill line in my book – otherwise lotta Navy in this (coveted) quadrant.
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In short, I’m sure there are criticisms, critiques and methodology concerns. It’s all conversational and in fun. . .and I do tend to value awesome, awesome flow. It’s one of the dopest things in the world.


NBA All-Star Weekend

I had the proverbial foot out the door on this NBA All-Star Weekend, anticipating more flash than substance. . .

three point contest – AWESOME. A 27 from Klay, including EIGHT IN A ROW to pull the title away from Steph? Holy moly. And this after a three-way tie to get into the qualifying round with 20? 20 used to win rounds!!!
Dunk contest – I could not have had lower expectations. That last one that even registered was Blake Griffin, and the previous contest to ‘matter’ was Vince Carter in 2000. That’s 16 years ago. I saw the texts coming in from various sources and decided to check in. LaVine? Amazing. Gordon? Spectacular. Literal unprecedented dunks – Gordon went under BOTH legs?!?!?!  LaVine did a windmill from the free throw line!?!??! And both guys hit the dunks on their first shot!?!!??!?! – with an amazing page. Unbelievable. I don’t think this can be replicated for years but:
a) best one-on-one since Jordan vs. Dominique. Seriously.
b) I don’t think you have 10 dunks stronger than the top 10 from Saturday in ANY contest. Ever.
Game itself – sure, no defense. . .but the west almost drops 200 points?!?!?! Cmon 196!!!! I don’t give a heck, that is amazing. They shot 80 3’s. EIGHTY. Really fun just to see the chase, here.
What a weekend for the NBA. Wow. ‘Fantastic,’ if you will.
Honestly, and I am NOT a Zach LaVine fan (despite UCLA), but man he can soar – not just leap, but SOAR – and Gordon. . .Gordon honestly had the best singular performance since Vince. Look at this

to recap: he jumped OVER the mascot AND went under BOTH legs. reminder = when Isaiah Rider went under ONE leg, it was mindblowing. Wow.
secondly,I’m not a HUGE fan of gimmick dunks – but the timing, smoothness and execution on this are amazing. Great, great dunk. WOW. again.
lastly, and unbelievably, and probably the MOST amazing technical dunk of the night was Aaron Gordon’s final dunk, which only scored a 47. He went tomahawk AND between the legs in the SAME dunk. Judges, admittedly, did not have the benefit of instant reply so they didnt get to score it accordingly. But it was astounding
and just to recap Zach LaVine:
yep. kid can soar.
here’s a full recap on that
Oh – and for the record, a dunk by Andre Drummond which featured Steve Nash doing a behind the back soccer/fútbol kick to set up the dunk didn’t even make the top 8.

Ethier, Donnie & The 2016 Dodgers

So regarding whether Andre Ethier was mad at the umpire, missed a bunt sign, or was just f-bombing an invisible entity, the Dodgers petered out of the playoffs following the in-game, public outburst. Apparently he’s been simmering since the beginning of his Dodger tenure Spring Training when he asked not to play Centerfield despite previous success in Center for the Dodgers. He’s very passive aggressive, and has notoriously bottled his feelings until a blowup at the manager or the front office, or simply in the press. He’s not quite a malcontent, but he’s on the border. 

Bottom line is, that was the most demonstrative I’ve seen him in the realm of the field, and to have that kind of blowout in an elimination game speaks to both Ethier’s (somewhat understandable) general unhappiness with his role as a Dodger, despite a great career (top 15 in HR, hames, hits career as a Dodger) in L.A., as well as the general frustration within the clubhouse regarding Mattingly’s lack of consistency and clear strategy.
I believe that Friedman is going to clean house as much as possible, building the team around Clayton Kershaw, Corey Seager and Yasiel Puig. I think the entire coaching staff is gone, Wallach finds a big league job somewhere, but 2016 begins with an out-of-house manager that changes the culture (Jason Giambi is a dream, but doubtful). It’s not like it was a horrible season. . .it was a stopgap season and they finished in line with (my) expectations, unfortunately.
It’s worth noting that I personally believed Puig needed to be jettisoned to end up more like Adrian Beltre than Raul Mondesi, but seeing a Puig-less lineup, even with Puig deservedly not starting, was painful. We’ve seen Puig’s talent and he needs to be supported & coddled to perform the way he can. It’s obviously not certain, but in my opinion, Puig is one of the top talents in baseball, so with him along with Kershaw and Seager, you have one of the best cores possible to compete with the Cubs & Mets for the next decade.
I also discussed something last night with my brother from another: those wacky ’25 cabs for 25 guys’ Red Sox winners were somewhat despicable, but the Dodgers seem more like ’25 iPhones for 25 guys.’ The difference is there was an emotion – passion? hatred? loathing? – amongst the Sox that made them hatable, but these Dodgers inspire. . . ambivalence.
Adrian Gonzalez is a great hitter, but he’s very dull. Joc Pedersen should be the awe-inspiring, young talent, but he’s shown only regression since June – and definitely doesn’t play with emotion. Jimmy Rollins & Chase Utley are awesome – but they’re old. So Seager, a promising young rookie, is easily to be excited about but these playoffs (I’m calling them his Kobe ’97 performance) dampen the expectations. Puig is a potential cornerstone, but would it shock anybody if he ended up like Mondesi? Or worse? Kenley Jansen is a great closer, but who gets excited about closers? Alex Guerrero? Jose Peraza? Who cares? Justin Turner turned into a gem, and could be the type of player that the Giants would LOVE, and the Dodgers just might look to improve upon, furthering the disparate chemistry issues. Really tough team to root for, and  I’m a die-hard.
I will say this, though: watching Kershaw is amazing. As my dad said via text during his final (301 K) start of the regular season:
“remember that you’re watching a Hall of Fame pitcher every time you see Kershaw pitch”
Either way, Go Dodgers in 2016. Should be a completely new team.

Joey Bats

I hope you have two minutes to watch the Jose Bautista highlight (full sound needed).


His homerun last night is now in my Top Ten Baseball Moments of All-Time. The sheer emotion of an entire nation that has been baseball-starved, mired in a (22-year!!!!) playoff drought culminated with that monstrous homerun and unprecedented glare/bat flip. I am not a bat flip monger, but this one was raw, unadulterated and completely appropriate.

The drama that led up to that moment:
*an elimination game
*2-2 pitcher’s duel heading to the 7th
*the Martin throw that richocheted off of Choo’s bat (I’ve never seen that in 35+ years) that led to the potential game-winning run
*followed by, in the bottom half of the inning, THREE consecutive Rangers errors (first time that’s ever happened in an elimination game)
*followed by a misplayed weak pop-up
*followed by Joey Bats
Listen to that crowd. That was a wholly cathartic release of emotion for a deserving city, and a franchise that has been maligned for the greater part of two decades. Really awesome.
Also, here’s a beautiful pictorial breakdown from Patrick Dorsey of ESPN and this is the takeaway image, the ‘Moment’ after the Moment.
Pretty awesome stuff. . .and these playoffs are just beginning.

Cannibal Ox, Live at Los Globos Los Angeles October 8th

I was enough to score tickets to Cannibal Ox last week, at the Los Globos venue in Silverlake.

Was an interesting venue, as
“who are you here to see” “Cannibal Ox” 
led us “upstairs and to the left.” 
I mean, that’s something you see when your buddy’s band has a show at the local open-mic spot.
We head upstairs and there’s some deep house pounding our souls. “Where’s the hip hop? Where’s Can O, or an opening act?” We look left at an empty dance floor and a stage. “That can’t be it. . . there’s about 30 cats. Total.” Sure enough, we see a guy that looks like Blake Griffin rapping – no wait, he’s singing – on stage, who was followed by another rap duo, all the while getting kind of drowned out by the deep house, which is coming from the room upstairs on the right, a poorly situated layout that was beyond amateur.
But perhaps this could have been portended by the (rundown, somewhat scuzzy) venue itself, or the fact that the day before CanOx was in Santa Cruz. . .where was the promotional team here? Where is the drawing power of arguably the 21st century’s most influential hip hop act? Is the L.A. ‘scene,’ even amongst heads, that dreary?
Regardless, after suffering through one more rap act and then two additional, individual rappers – one of who was kind of dope, frankly (“Double A.B”) – before Cannibal Ox hits the stage.
I turnaround as the venue has surely filled in by now, 11:48 PDT on a Thursday. . .yep, there are 50, maybe 60 heads in the audience. The sounds of Cold Vein permeate the speakers and Vast Aire takes over the stage and the venue. For a minute, I had chills. I was not able to see them perform during their ephemeral peak, so I’m glad I could check them off to my personal HH bucket list. Vast is killing it on the mic and – hey, why are these white rappers staying on stage with them? Is that Double A/B guy actually rapping Vordul’s lines? How is any of this okay with CanOx? 
In studying Vordul, it’s clear he’s either under the influence – heavily – or sedated beyond belief. I’d heard rumors of both drug use and homelessness due to drug use, and where there’s smoke there’s fire. . .and this was definitely gasoline pouring out of his shoes. Which moved maybe a combined five feet over the course of the next half hour. Now we all know hip hop is questionable at times live; it’s tough to create that visceral, ‘live’ experience without instruments. So it’s generally dudes calling for response while marching back and forth across the stage. Not Vordul. . .he was literally catatonic. Most alarmingly, at two points he missed his mark to start a verse; one time he started a verse over; one other instance (Metamorphosis), he needed his verse finished for him by said rapper.
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It was like watching a paternal boxing manager (Vast) trying to shield his younger, punch-drunk son from further embarrassment, but continuing to trot him out there because of the yearning for income, reputation, action, or the fact that there is nothing else.
None of this is shocking, but it’s worth noting. I’m including three snippets, some showing the good some showing the bad:
*’Coming on to the Stage” which was pretty dope https://youtu.be/Agyp6-KPN0s
*”Iron Rose” where you can see the depths of Vordul’s despair https://youtu.be/6n7BsxqwPO0
*general Can Oxxing https://youtu.be/l7SEBF9X9bw
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I am extremely happy to have seen the show. I’m nonplussed by Vordul, though I’m pretty certain what I saw was the real deal. I can’t find any reviews anywhere on Vordul’s performances on this latest tour – and as my cohort said, he was able to at least record his lyrics for the album – but it’s pretty clear there are issues beyond belief with everything from the organization to the execution of the group.


Dodgers Mets Storylines, Prediction

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The Ghosts of Kershaw – his postseason struggles are well-known and discussed ad nauseam. Career postseason, he’s 1-5 with a 5.12 ERA (as opposed to a 114-56, 2.43 ERA regular season career). That said, the (active) Mets have hit a cumulative .213 w/ a .553 OPS vs. Kershaw, and this includes a near-perfect game in July (ended up with a 3-hit shutout, 11 K’s). He also has a career 2.07 ERA in Chavez Ravine.

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Bullish on the Pen – both bullpens stink. The Mets had a 3.48 ERA, Dodgers 3.91, albeit with a 3.43 in the second half. The closers are the – pun intended – saving grace for both squads. Kenley Jansen hasn’t been as unhittable as previous years (2.41 ERA, but still 13.8 K’s per 9), but still saved 32 of 34 chances. Jeurys Familia was a revelation for the Mets, saving 41 games in 46 opportunities to go with a 1.63 ERA. Otherwise, it’s a handful of mix & matching for both managers, as Chris Hatcher has ’emerged’ as the ‘set-up man’ for the Dodgers, although his 8+ first half ERA could portend problems for the converted catcher. JP Howell is the one reliable arm in the Dodgers’ pen, though Mattingly tends to use him solely in the 7th inning and versus lefties, leaving Juan Nicasio, Pedro Baez & Yimi Garcia – all flamethrowers – to sort out the rest of the Mets batters, and though they all garner high strikeout ratios, they’re all very hittable. The Mets have an even sloppier mix of names, Eric Goeddel, Hansel Robles, Addison Reed and the suddenly gas-on-fire Tyler Clippard. So essentially this series is going to come down to. . .
Can These Starters Be Hit – We know Kershaw. Greinke, who had an ungodly 1.66 ERA this season, has traditionally been hit in the playoffs (3.63 ERA). That said, he’s only allowed 12 hits in 22 innings as a Dodger, to go with 21 K’s. What worries me slightly is that he is the modern pitcher most reminiscent of Greg Maddux. Great movement, pinpoint control, cerebral approach and pitches backwards; but Maddux was average at best in playoffs, and pitchers that tend to miss bits are the ones that dominate the most in the postseason. The number three starter, Brett Anderson, is a bit better than average and frankly – a roll of the dice. The Mets answer with Jacob DeGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Matt Harvey; three absolute Aces, or Aces-to-be. They are all young, untested, and most importantly – fatigued, as each has exceeded their innings maximum and never pitched in the postseason. Simply put – who can get to who’s bullpen. . .that will determine the series.
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But What About Offense – there likely won’t be much. The Dodgers, who led the National League in homeruns for the first time since 1983 (!!!), hit a ton of solo homeruns and struggled with runners on base. They also tend to be the proverbial ‘feast or famine’ squad – they’ll compile eight runs one game, one the next. The talent is there – Adrian Gonzalez, Puig is allegedly healthy, Andre Ethier has a good year when Mattingly allows him to play, and Corey Seager is amazing. But there are a ton of question marks – who plays second? Kendrick? Utley? Turner? Who plays third? Turner for sure, or do you put Seager at third and Rollins at Short? Do you need Rollins in the lineup due to his leadership and presence, not to mention postseason experience? Or is he out of the lineup since he hit .224 this year? And what about the outfield – Van Slyke is hurt and likely off the roster, Joc Pedersen had a spectacular first half but has been middling at best since, Carl Crawford is an injury waiting to happen (though clutch), leaving the unlikely trio of Enrique (Kikê) Hernandez, Chris Heisey and lefty-killer Justin Ruggiano as the potential keys to the series. AJ Ellis has probably reclaimed the job from All-Star Yasmani Grandal behind the plate, as Grandal is an unsightly 4-for-86 since his shoulder injury, and Ellis handles the pitching staff better anyway.
For the Mets – this was a tale of two halves. They were hands-down the worst offensive team in baseball in the first half (.233 avg). . .then they traded for Yoenis Cespedes, who along with call-up Michael Conforto sparked a run that had them near the top of the NL leaderboards in most categories in July and August. They normalized in September and flustered over the last few weeks, but there’s some pop in the form of Curtis Granderson, Lucas Duda and catcher Travis D’Arnaud – though all have holes in their swings that can be exploited with precise pitching. Daniel Murphy is a sneaky hitter that has potential to be the annoying X-factor in the series. Not too much depth otherwise, and the Mets bench isn’t to be feared.
Hometown Hero – David Wright is a pleasant story for the Mets and deserves mention. He had a near-career-ending back injury and he battled his way back to provide a productive second half (.277, 4 dingers) but is nowhere near the superstar he was. That said, he’s beloved in Citi Field, and being that Game 3 will be the first playoff game ever in the newish stadium (2009), there will be abundant emotion flowing through Queens.
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Nearly Negated – The Matt Harvey fiasco(s), however, may counterbalance the floral aura in NY, as there may have never been a player in the 21st Century that garbaged his goodwill so quickly. As the leader of the feel good story of the Major League Baseball season, Harvey recovered from Tommy John surgery to manifest back into the Ace he was, dominating in most of his starts and carrying his Dark Knight persona through the five boroughs. Then his agent, Scott Boras, announced that Harvey was being shut down for the season and all hell broke loose. The Mets management knew of no such arrangement, and Harvey was backing his agent over the team. You can imagine how that played out in New York, and only after a stern talking to from David Wright did he come to his senses and agree to pitch again. The damage was done, though not to the depth it could have been if he didn’t agree to take the ball again, and his last couple of starts showed that the innings limit is imaginary, and all would be well with his arm. Then he decided to skip a mandatory workout and made the back pages of the NY papers blow up again, leading to the memorable David Wright quote: “I’m only concerned with the players that showed up.”
In short, this is going to be an incredible series laden with tense, pitching-centric baseball. New York vs. Los Angeles, the young upstart squad versus the third-of-a-billion-dollar payroll, the team with no expectations against the team with the burden of a must-win ownership and championship-starved fanbase. The Dodgers should take Games 1 and 2, the Mets likely win Game 3, but the bats come alive for Game 4 in a surprisingly high-scoring series finale, as the Dodgers move on to the NLCS.
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Bonus Postseason Observation:

Arlington, Texas Rangers
Toronto, Canada Blue Jays
Kansas City, Missouri Royals
Houston, Texas Astros
not ONE of these is a market that MLB can be happy about representing the AL in the World Series.
Los Angeles Dodgers
New York Mets
Chicago Cubs
St. Louis Cardinals
ALL of these cities would make MLB representatives very happy about representing the NL in the World Series