Sunday, December 31, 2006

Please Please Please

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Portrait of a Capitol






Friday, December 29, 2006

Thoughts Concerning an Execution

So they say Saddam will be shuffling off this mortal coil sometime today or tomorrow.

Is it just me, or does anyone else feel a tad disillusioned at the prospect?

I mean, yes, he commited some terrible atrocities against Iraqi Kurds in the 80s. But the retribution should've come then... not 20 years later under the guise of something else — particularly false pretense.

We went into Iraq looking for supposed weapons of mass destruction. We didn't find any. Turns out we started an entire war, in fact, on bad intelligence and a CIA faux pas (oppps!). But Saddam had already been ousted by the time the American public knew any better, so we had to charge him with something.

But we didn't invade Iraq to punish Hussein for the ethnic genocide his minions carried out when I was still in grade school. We just happened to charge him with that when our other excuses didn't pan out.

And so I say again: Hussein is responsible for some terrible atrocities, and he should've been punished. But when the news of Hussein's demise hits the airwaves post mortem, consider this:

  • Prior to the U.S. invasion, Iraq was one of the most stable countries in the Mid-East
  • Prior to the U.S. invasion, Iraq was one of the most progressive countries in the Mid-East (both financially, commercially, and in its treatment of women)
  • Prior to the U.S. invasion, al Qaida terrorists attacked on American soil, claiming some 2,973 lives in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington D.C.
  • Efforts to connect Hussein to al Qaida have proven fruitless
  • Since the U.S. invasion in Iraq, nearly 3,000 American soliders have been killed there; about 47,000 have been wounded; and anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000 civilian Iraqis have lost their lives in the crossfire
  • These totals don't include lives lost in Afghanistan
  • WWI lasted just over four years; the U.S. was involved for two (from 1917 until the Treaty of Versailles in 1919)
  • WWII lasted less than six years; the U.S. was involved for almost four (from December 1941 until the war's end in 1945)
  • We've been in Afghanistan since October 2001; in Iraq since March 2003
For those of you keeping count, these numbers mean the U.S. has been involved in the so-called "War On Terror" longer than we were involved in either World War. And not only do we have no proof — not even the smallest firecracker — to link Hussein to al Qaida or bin Laden, but we've also lost more American lives in Iraq alone than we did in the September 11 attacks.

I don't know if it makes me a bad American, a bad human... or what. But I get no pleasure out of Saddam's imminent execution. That doesn't necessarily mean I think he deserves to live, either. Just that everything feels... wrong.

Something to chew on the next time you see his face in the news.

Haiku/Gesundheit XXXVII

permission

bad weekend home means
i ask permission to write
summation haikus


a note to grandpa

we're not engaged but
thanks for the public notice
his look was priceless
text message

you were gone so long
people thought you might be sick
"need help toilet clogged"
strike three, haiku four

he's not my father
but i could call him daddy
washington's speechless

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Pariah

This Christmas was a proverbial comedy of errors, replete with mistaken identities, clogged toilets and — as is generally the case in my family — unintentional (but altogether hilarious) innuendo.

There were presents, too. Food with family, and friends. The usual array of festivities you need to make any holiday complete. But the one memory that seems to cast a shadow over everything else — the thought that enters into my head every time I catch myself laughing about the rest of the weekend — is a 150 word obituary.

***

I was at a friend's home when she turned to the obits in the local paper, pointed at a picture, and said "Do you know anything about this?"

I recognized him right away, before my eyes even had a chance to graze his name. The same features I'd last seen in a pudgy 12-year-old boy had become more defined as he thinned out, but were otherwise undeniable.

"Jesus," I said. "What happened?"

No one seemed to know. And the usual "passed away / survived by" closing remarks didn't offer any clues either.

***

I was a "move in" at a rural elementary school in the second grade, and — anxious as I was — I was lucky insofar as it didn't take me too long to make a couple friends. It also didn't take me long to determine the hierarchy of "coolness" that governed this particular playground. Part and parcel of that is determining the kids at the lower rung of the monkey bars.

At this particular school, and in my grade, there were at least 4 kids that were taunted without mercy — terrifying odds when you consider there were only about 80 kids in the mix. But of those four, there was one in particular that suffered the blunt of the ridicule. He was the overweight kid who wore sweats and tattered t-shirts every day. The kid with grease stains around his neck, and an indiscernible odor that prompted much of the taunting.

He was, for all intents and purposes, a playground pariah.

At least the other three kids came to school clean, and in freshly washed clothes. At least they had one or two friends to talk to. But this kid... well. I don't recall seeing anyone ever really talk to him. Teachers included.

Even the ridicule was ridicule by exclusion. You know what I mean... he was the last one picked in gym class. The kid no one sat with at lunch. The kid no one talked to, but the kid everyone made fun of.

"Don't sit there!" kids would yell in the cafeteria. "That's [his] chair!" or "[He] sat there yesterday!"

Meanwhile, at the opposite end of the cafeteria, he was sitting alone, huddled over his school lunch.

This went on for days. Weeks. Months. Years, even, until finally he just... disappeared.

***

Rumor had it his parents finally caught wind of this torment, and so moved him to another school for junior high. Rumor also has it the agony continued at his new school, with the teasing culminating in actual pushing and shoving (if he was ever physically bullied at our school, I never heard about it).

But these are just rumors and, the truth is, I haven't the foggiest idea what became of him. But I'd be lying if I didn't say I often wondered. I thought of him a lot, actually, often recollecting that blank stare on his face as he waited for his name to be called (dead last) by a team captain. Or that look on his face when someone would say something about his smell just loud enough for him to hear as he'd walk past. Or the way he'd wait dead last in the line at the drinking fountain, knowing what a hubbub it'd be if someone had to use it immediately after him.

***

And where was I in all of this? Was I one of his tormenters? Did I sit around and watch? Did I ever step in to help?

Did anyone ever step in to help?

I didn't do much, that's for sure. I can recall shrugging my shoulders and sitting promptly in "his" chair after someone told me not to. And I tried talking to him on occasion, but with no success. He'd just... stare back at me, his eyes hinting at suspicion that any conversation was prelude to a cruel trick.

I don't blame him, really. He had no reason to trust me, or anyone. None of us really went out of our way to help him and so, by default, everyone was to blame.

Students, parents (his and everyone else's), teachers, school administrators. No one really gave him a chance.

***

I mean, if my eight-year-old brain could rationalize that a kid coming to school dressed like he was probably had even bigger problems at home, where were all the adults in all of this? I'd like to think he was getting more help behind-the-scenes, but there was certainly nothing that I could see — aside from free school lunches and reduced book rent, I mean.

Beyond that... where was this kid going for relief? Who was encouraging him to set goals? What made him laugh?

It's a question that has long bothered me — but even more so these past few days.

That was, as you've likely surmised, his obituary in the paper.

***

And as my friends and I read it, one recalled how his name continues to be a legend at our former school (she has reason to frequent there). Kids still antagonize one another by proclaiming that "he" once sat in the same chair, and that now they have "his" cooties (yes, apparently the word "cooties" is still in style).

That same friend has also found out that "he" most likely killed himself. Or at least, that's the word around town. He lived and died in another state, so everything is speculation. I think that was everyone's first suspicion, really. Not cancer, not a house fire, not anything else that would've come to our minds for someone else. Rather, for him, our thoughts turned to "suicide" in unison. That that was our immediate assumption speaks volumes.

But no matter how you look at it, he's dead... after less than three decades on this planet.

I can but hope he had some moments in his life that were far better than those I'm sorry to have witnessed.

Monday, December 25, 2006

I Do [So] Want What I Haven't Got

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Weekend Away









Friday, December 22, 2006

A City in Winter


Voyeur


I Wonder What the Street Value Is

After about 18 months of growing out my mane, I cut it off a day or two before Thanksgiving and sent it here.

The new cut looks decent enough. I'd show you a picture, but my face keeps getting in the way.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Life & Times of a Disgruntled City-Dweller

Just an ordinary evening in my apartment, where I have no control over temperature.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Would You Like Flies with That?
Or: Yet Another Reason to Boycott McDonald's

So I don't often eat at McDonald's, but when I do it's because I need something fast and hassle-free. I prefer my order to be correct though — if it's not, I expect the cashier to be just as friendly when s/he corrects it, as I am when I point out the discrepancy.

This past Monday I was on the road when I opted to stop at a McDonald's first to use the restroom. And then second to get something fast so I could get back on the road and get home.

I was buying for two, so I ordered a #1 (for him) and a #9 (for me). The cashier (who was actually a manager) didn't tell me my total before she took my credit card, and she didn't read my order back to me. And since she didn't give me my receipt, either, I was a little surprised when she slopped a Big Mac (his) and a Quarter Pounder with Cheese (not mine) onto the tray.

"There you go," she said before turning her back to me and yelling at an employee about who-knows-what while she gathered a handful of creamers and rolled her eyes at him.

I looked at the tray. I looked at Washington. I looked at her.

"Um," I said to whomever would listen. "I don't think that's my order."

So I stared at this manager's back while she continued to chew out the aforementioned employee, rolling her head and exerting whatever degree of authority she gets by wearing that light blue denim shirt (which compares to his red).

I waited a minute or so, but she didn't turn around.

"Excuse me," I said.

She turned around, with one eye raised.

"Yes?"

"I need my receipt, and also — I don't think this is my order."

She rolled her eyes, sighing loudly. She put her hands on the counter and offered me a look that simultaneously served as disdain and condescension. She tore my receipt from the dispenser and placed it onto the counter.

"You ordered a #1 and a #3. So that's what you got, and that's what you're getting."

She just stood there, with her hands on my tray.

"Um. I ordered a #9, actually."

"You ordered a #3," she said, her voice growing and her head rolling. "So that's what I gave you."

"But I don't eat red meat, so I won't eat this. And I wanted a #9."

She took the quarter pounder from my tray, threw it into the trash, and barked my order over her shoulder. The proper item was placed onto my tray a couple minutes later.

"There," she said, again turning her back to me.

"Wait," I said, "I should be getting change back."

Suffice it to say, she was not happy when I said that. And her face showed it.

"What I ordered costs 55 cents less than what you charged me for. And that's before tax."

She stared at me for a moment, resting her arms on the counter and thrusting her neck out. She rolled her eyes.

She looked at the prices on the display, walked around for a bit, and then came back to me. She looked at the display again.

"Actually, it cost more, so... " She let her thoughts hang on that long, drawn out "so."

I waited for her to continue. She didn't.

"No," I said, reciting the price differences to her.

She walked away and recovered a band of keys. Another minute passes while she determines the best course of action.

"Here," she said, handing me two quarters and walking away.

***


OK, so technically she owed me more than 50 cents. But by this point I was so frustrated by her, I was most eager to be done with her. So I walked away with my tray, fuming over how I'd just been treated.

If you think my comments regarding rolled eyes, sighs, and abrupt speech are exaggerations... they're not. I've honestly never been treated so poorly by anyone in the service industry.

When I later realized that she'd also kept my receipt — and I figured I needed her name to write a letter to the franchise owner — Washington went back up and ordered a dessert from her. Turns out she wasn't wearing a name tag AND she didn't have her name entered onto the register (as is custom at most fast food joints these days).

But she was also the only female manager on duty, so it should be pretty easy for them to figure out who she is.

My question to you is... do I write the letter? Or let it go?

It is the "holiday season," after all. But then again, I also got the feeling that she's in the habit of ruining afternoons.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Apocalypto Too Bloody for Its Own Good

If you admire predictability and grotesque cinematic violence, then dust off your movie watchin' boots and reserve your tickets to Apocalypto today!

Otherwise... stay home. I certainly wish I had.

It's not so much that everything about this movie was bad — I certainly appreciated the acting, for one — but that it contained nearly every contrived writing device known to man. Even the foreshadowing leaves a lot to be desired, with the not-so-subtle premonitions of a small-poxed Mayan girl foretelling the movie's conclusion with tones reminiscent of a Shakespearean witch.

And if you, like me, aren't wholly aware of what this movie is about, allow me to summarize: we all know the Mayans were among the most advanced civilizations in the so-called "New World" before the Europeans came along and slaughtered the masses with their religion, weapons, and plagues. Well, this movie isn't so much about that literal collapse as it is the decline and fall of the Mayan empire on the eve of the white man's en masse arrival (I'm not certain of the intended year, but I'd position this film sometime within the first decade of the 16th century). Or, more specifically, it depicts the differences between the metropolitan centers... and those clans living on the periphery.

Suffice it to say this contrast is a bloody one and — from what I read in a Newsweek commentary last week — not entirely accurate, either. But here's where I admit my limitations in regards to South American history, thereby reserving my judgement for the portrayal of said violence (rather than quibbling over details).

It's only now — after having seen Mel Gibson's Passion and then this newest bloodbourne history-as-horror film — that I'm starting to rethink my impression of Braveheart — a film I had previously enjoyed. But I'm starting to think Gibson has become obsessed not only with sacrifice (personal, spiritual and physical), but also with graphically portraying the violence therein.

Do I need to see a human heart torn from the chest of a living man, his body writhing in agony as it comes to terms with imminent death? OK, maybe once to get the point.

But not twice. And certainly not three times. Or four.

And whereas the most brutal scenes in Braveheart and Passion both occur in one lump sum at the end (that drags increasingly on in the latter), the gore in Apocalypto begins in the opening scene — and continues on to the end, with only a few brief moments of sunshine.

It's not just the violence that got to me. Admittedly, I don't care much for gore in films, but I do appreciate it more when it's well-used in parts to further a compelling story-line (my previous impression of Braveheart). But Apocalypto is just so... predictable. And not in the we-all-know-the-end-of-this-story way that Passion was. Rather, Apocalypto is replete with the breed of symbolism that you'd want in a story you'd assign to a ninth grade literature class. You know, the sort of symbolism that's so obvious, it just stops short of punching you in the face?

That's what happens for much of this film, with the end literally connecting in a 1-2 punch that left me snorting in my seat.

So how can I even sit here and say it's not all bad? Well, as I said before... the acting was good, and it's easy to empathize with the main characters. And there is a decent enough story at this film's core. But the execution thereof was, well...

A little too bloody... and anything but brilliant.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

To the Makers of Moderately Priced Clothing

Please stop putting those death tags in my clothes. You know the ones I mean: those cloth-encased strips of who-knows-what that read "Please remove before washing or wearing."

As with my "new" gray courdoroys, I tend to wear & wash these articles of clothing 2-3 times before I ever realize such a tag exists (and usually when I do, I'm in a public restroom somewhere miles away from scissors).

At which point, I can't help but wonder: what's in those tags, anyway? And what are the side effects of long-term exposure?

If fatigue, malaise and a generalized dissipation of the Christmas spirit are on the list, I think a lawsuit may be in order.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Intoxicating

I Am Trying to Break Your Heart (Movie Review)

i am an american aquariam drinker
i assassin down the avenue
i'm hiding out in the big city blinking
what was i thinking when i let go of you...


***

Even if it is a tad slow at times, it's difficult for a Wilco zealot, such as myself, to not be absolutely smitten by this documentary.

I Am Trying to Break Your Heart (2002) captures the recording of what is perhaps Wilco's best album to date, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. If you haven't heard anything from this album, buy it. Or at least try out a couple songs on iTunes. I'd recommend the song that inspired the film's title ("I Am Trying to Break Your Heart") or "Reservations" or even "Poor Places."

I'm neither a producer nor a music history buff or even a musician myself, but I do have a keen appreciation for art (both in sound and sight). And Yankee, as far as I'm concerned, is up there with The Beatles' White Album in terms of innovation & style.

Now that I've heightened your expectations to unhealthy levels — and sufficiently set you up for disappointment — allow me to return to the film for a moment.

I appreciated the opportunity to see not only what one of my favorite bands is like off-stage, but also the experience of seeing just what, exactly, a musician goes through to get an album out. In this respect, you don't have to be a Wilco fan to enjoy the film, as it offers a rather interesting behind-the-scenes glimpse into the music industry. And for Wilco in particular, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was tricky because the music label that initially funded the record backed out of the contract when frontman Jeff Tweedy refused to alter the final product to suit their demands.

And, if I wasn't clear before, I'm glad he stuck to those proverbial guns. The final product is phenomenal.

But rather the spoil the documentary by revealing the series of events, and the backstage brouhaha, that finally led to the album's release, I'll refer you to Netflix, where you can queue up this black and white, pop some low-fat kettle corn... and enjoy.

Thumbsucker in a Nutshell

I watched Thumbsucker (2005) three weeks ago, and simply haven't had the time to review it. And now that so much time has passed, I've lost any "real" connection to the film.

In which case I'd say it's not exactly the sort of movie that leaves a long-term impression. It's an Indie film about a 17-year-old boy who can't quite kick the thumbsucking habit. Any efforts to do so ultimately result in the supplanting of thumbsucking with some other dirty habit (drinking, academia, drugs, romance, etc.). He battles this oral fixation all the while dealing with a complicated (albeit normal) family life.

I wouldn't necessarily recommend this film to anyone, but I wouldn't scrunch my nose at the mere reference, either. It goes on a bit too long and is altogether annoying at times (a lot like this blog).

I do recall finding this film to be moderately compelling, and I'm not giving away the ending when I say I appreciated the filmmaker's connection between post-adolescent thumbsucking and all of our adulthood addictions. In short: any short-term comforts we find in life likewise serve to do us long-term harm.

I guess Lily Tomlin was right.

"We're all in this alone."

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Good Deed for the Day

A Vietnam Veteran goes to my gym (I know he's a vet because he wears a hat that advertises as such).

Sometimes when I see him, I worry that he's going to hurt himself. He appears to have received some sort of injury in the past (my first assumption is, naturally, the war) that has caused a fold of skin to cover part of his eye from the side (I'm not sure he can see out of that eye, in fact), and he has a difficult time walking. He's somewhat wheelchair bound, in fact, though he can also hobble with a cane.

And concerned as I may be when I see him, I also harbor a degree of respect for his dedication to keeping active (not to mention, his service in the military).

As you might expect, most of the weights he does are for his arms. One such exercise involves this rope he pulls over his neck, while kneeling on his knees (I don't know the name of the machine, though I've seen it in every gym I've ever been in).

Tonight I was working on leg extensions when I hear this terrible crash. I look directly in front of me to see him face down on the mat, with the rope no longer balanced in the center.

I sat still for a moment, remembering that lesson from Murderball (in sum: "we wouldn't do it if we couldn't"). But in the moment I waited, he made no motion to get up. So I walked over to him; asked if he was OK; and offered to fix the rope for him.

But by this point, he was pushing himself up, using his chair to stand and reach for the rope. He thanked me but said he was OK.

I returned to my machine and resumed my workout.

And, I swear, I'm not telling you this story in search of kudos for a good deed (truth is, I'm not sure it was)... or criticism for assuming the guy needed help.

Rather, I offer this story only as a point of comparison for the actual good deed I did today. Something truly noble that I can but hope some kind stranger will do for me some day.

***
After my workout, I went to the locker room to wash my hands and noticed a rather peculiar sight: a woman a year or two older than I was at the sink next to me, with about 16 inches of toilet paper hanging out over the top of her shorts.

I quickly looked away, and contemplated the situation as a gust of air went to work drying my hands.

She started to gather her stuff and was about to walk into the gym when I went over to her and informed her of the situation.

She was embarrassed, but grateful. I could tell by our mutual lack of eye contact and the "thank you soooo much" she said after she returned from the stall.

And here I've been worried I'm wasting my life, not doing anything good for the world...

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Woody Allen Interviews Billy Graham

Jewish by birth and agnostic in practice, Woody Allen speaks with one of Christianity's most respected reverends.

A great interview, overall. Graham's dedication to God meets up with Allen's wit & cynicism, thereby enabling both to evince their respective good natures (not to mention, Graham has an amazing sense of humor).

This c. 1969 interview is in two parts, both of which you will find (in order, I hope) below.



Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Hang the Moon

Yet another example of a time I wish I really knew how to take a photograph. This was actually a rather phenomenal sight.

Translation: these pictures don't do the reality justice.











Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Perspective

So yesterday I went to the doctor, after battling a sore throat that culminated in three days of hearing loss in my right ear. She confirmed my suspicion: a middle ear infection probably caused by strep. She prescribed antibiotics which make me nauseous but - unlike certain other medicines - otherwise result in no adverse reactions.

That's not all.

I'm driving home last night when a tire blows out. For those of you who don't live here... it was about eight degrees last night. All the snow on the ground has literally frozen into chunks of ice and - for whatever reason - no one in this city believes in salting or sanding the walkways. So just walking outside is often a gamble.

But, luckily, the tire explosion occured not too far from my apartment (I would have been MUCH worse off if I'd been on the expressway). I was able to park, go inside to change and call around to see what time the "tire" places closed. Unfortunately, every place closed at 7, and I was calling at about 6:30 - a deadline I couldn't make since I still needed to change the actual tire.

So I walked back out to my car, figuring I'd at least put on the donut then, and then take it in for a new tire this morning. My car was two blocks away from my apartment and - during the long walk back in the blistering cold - I saw this woman in a van, spinning her wheels on snow & ice in an effort to leave her parking spot. Part of me - the dark and sinister part that we all pretend doesn't exist in our inner psyche - reminded me of my own tragedy, and compelled me to walk on to my own car (not to mention, I quickly envisioned a scenario in which she accidentally put the car in reverse, thereby pinning me between herself and the car behind). I (literally) shook my head at myself, and walked over to the lady.

I made a motion implying I'd push her van, and she nodded. I got behind the vehicle, but she didn't put it in drive. She got out and said to me, "I don't even understand what I'm stuck on."

I looked around, commenting that the snow was so compacted that it was just a series of ice mounds. I suggested she either needed a source of traction or a push. She got back in her car, put it in drive... and then with a couple heaves, she was gone.

***
I felt good for a moment before I made my way back to my car, opened the trunk, and endeavored to inspect the spare and loosen the lugnuts. I was feeling generally lousy, with the occasional searing pain in my ear reminding me that I was supposed to be home in bed and NOT outside in the freezing cold.

So naturally, two of the lugnuts wouldn't budge. They have a history of corroding onto the surface, and it took the entire weight of Washington (who later arrived to assist) literally JUMPING on the wrench to move them. But once we got those off, the tire itself was stuck. We tried everything imaginable (by this point, for the record, my fingers and toes were painfully numb) before I telephoned one of my mechanically-gifted cousins.

He has a long history of coming to my rescue in times of need, and is one of those people who knows how to fix everything -- cars, motorcycles, lawnmowers, HVAC, household appliances. You name it, he can fix it.

"Kick in the front, and then spin it. Kick it, and spin it. Do that until it pops off."

His advice was dead on. After 3 or 4 tries, the tire fell into our hands and was tossed into the trunk of my car.

***


I made small talk with my cousin while Washington put on the spare (thanks, man!).

I eventually made my way to the question I ask my mother every time I talk to her about my cousin.

"So, how is your eye doing?"

A couple months ago, my cousin was out working (he's successfully self-employed) when a metal pipe - propelled by a sizeable force - hit him directly in the eye, taking with it a chunk of his cornea and leaving him immobile in bed for a days while he waited for the pain to subside.

"Oh, I'm blind in that eye," he said matter-of-factly.

He shared more details as we continued to talk. He said they tried a contact of sorts, but his cornea is no longer "smooth," and so the contact didn't work. The only thing that could restore his sight would be a cornea transplant... something he can't have done for another 22 months because - get this - his wife's last day on her previous job was THE DAY his accident happened. And the insurance at her new workplace won't cover "pre-existing conditions." His eye injury qualifies as such. And even though she was still gainfully employed with insurance the day of the accident (not to mention, they had already signed up for COBRA), that insurance company is looking for loopholes to deny his emergency room visit. He has yet to be reimbursed for the thousands of dollars he had to pay out-of-pocket.

This all sounds dreadful to me. And I expressed as much, though my cousin seemed to shrug off my concerns with smile.

"Oh, there are people way worse off than me," he said. "Besides, at least I still have the other eye. And I'll probably get my money back from the insurance eventually."

"But, still, you have to wait two years before this new company will cover your pre-existing condition. You can't even see an opthamologist in that period. That's terrible."

"I know it," he said. " But I'll be all right. I'm just glad it wasn't worse."
***

And there I was, foolishly stressed about an earache and a busted tire.
***

By the time I made my way back inside, I could barely bend my toes. It was late, and I still had about four hours of tasks ahead of me. I went to bed at 1:30 a.m., but woke up continuously throughout the night, the pain in my stomach reminding me that medicine was at work.

***
When my alarm went off at 5:45 a.m., I dragged myself out of bed... called my boss to let him know I'd be in late... and then made my way to the tire place for their 7 a.m. debut. Unfortunately, three cars were left there overnight, so they were the priority. They finally took in my car at 9, charged me a sizeable amount, and rattled off a list of "other" things wrong with my car. I sort of shrugged them off and made my way to work, where I was a veritable zombie for the rest of the day.

"So much for sleep being the best medicine," I thought.

***

But the thing I can't seem to stop thinking about is my cousin's current situation. I mean, this guy has helped me just about every time I've had a problem with my car... whether by offering advice, or doing the work himself (for little to no profit).

And it bothers me that -- in times like this -- I can't turn around and fix his eye. The best I could do was offer to help with his bills... an offer that was nowhere near what I would have preferred to extend.

Times like these, I wish I'd never changed my major.

Pre-med to English.

What was I thinking?

Saturday, December 02, 2006

To the Woman Who Threw Her Shirt into the Washer Despite the Fact That I Had Opened the Lid Myself and Was Starting to Put in My Own Clothes

OK, so I understand city life isn't always easy. And, yeah, I hate that I don't have my own washer and dryer, too.

But that was seriously uncalled for.

There's more than enough misery to go around in life. So, please, stop sharing yours.

Friday, December 01, 2006

What Does It Say about Me...

...that the best thing about being allowed to leave work early is that I'll be home in time to watch reruns of Diff'rent Strokes and Webster?

True story.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Claus Film a Work of 'Art'

So long, Tim Allen. There's a new (old) St. Nick in town.

And he's packing Christmas cheer, ready to kick some serious martian derriere.

I'm referring of course to one of Hollywood's most under-appreciated holiday gems: Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964).

The movie title basically speaks for itself. What more can a girl say about a film so terrible — so kitchy — that you simply cannot look away? By this hopelessly flawed design, Conquers is the sort of film that derives its "greatness" from the simple fact that it appears to be intentionally awful.

Or else the writer and director hoped to make a political statement by aligning the Martians with the Soviet Union (certainly there are faint parallels), and were otherwise terrible filmmakers. Either way, the final product was so awful, it's funny.

The word "sprezzatura" comes to mind, but then dissipates almost as quickly as it appears. That is to say, Conquers isn't so much an art house film replete with "careless grace" as it is a B Movie scattered with careless comedy.

So much so, in fact, that I wouldn't hesitate to recommend parents forego the newest addition to the Santa Clause epic and instead rent this one. I mean, this film is about the kidnapping of Santa Claus by a Martian commander who wants to bring "Christmas" to his own, hapless planet. What's not to love about that?

(Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, for the record, has one of the lowest ratings in IMDB history.)

I'm reminded of a trip I once took to the Museum of Bad Art. I had hoped that the artwork there would be so wretchedly awful, it'd be funny. But, ultimately, many of the pieces there were simply mediocre paintings that weren't so much "bad" as they were reminiscent of a community center art class. In other words, the art wasn't bad, per se... but I was certainly disappointed. I walked away realizing there's a difference between a Museum of Bad Art (this museum's name), and a Bad Museum of Art (what it actually was).

But if a true Museum of Bad Art existed — and they were looking for a video installation — I'd recommend Santa Claus Conquers the Martians without hesitation.

It's just that the film is so bad... it's good.


Addendum: After perusing the MOBA's new website, I've come to realize they've substantially upgraded (downgraded?) their collection. Might actually be worth a visit now, if you're ever in the area.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

These Walls Talk

So I'm sitting here at 11:20 p.m. listening to my neighbor's music when suddenly it hits me:

I'm ready to move.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Silly Borat, Tricks are for Kids

When I heard that two of the three frat boys seen in Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006) were suing the film's star (not to mention the production company), I scoffed.

I mean, sure, they embarrassed themselves on-screen by saying sexist and racist things. And, sure, they thought the "documentary" was going to air only in Kazakhstan.

But they said what they said, unscripted, and they knew they were being recorded. It's not comedian Sacha Baron Cohen's fault they cannot control their tongues (even if the production crew did, as they boys allege, ply them with alcohol). Mel Gibson wishes he could take it back, too, but at least he's not suing the police officers who reported his verbal backwoods shenanigans.

And then I heard about some Turkish guy who's suing Cohen for "stealing" his character. Turns out this guy might have a case: he started a (now defunct) website in 1999 called ikissyou.org. This personal website began as a legitimate homepage, but its creator quickly became an "online celebrity," when his broken English, silly pictures (him sunbathing, him playing ping pong) and pleas for American women to "come stay please at my home" earned him a cult following. He was sharp enough to pick up on this fact, and so played along with it... further transforming his site into a comedy of errors.

If he can prove Cohen stole his "character" as the inspiration of Borat, then he deserves to be compensated. Otherwise, I think Cohen could make the case that the accuser isn't the only man in the world with broken English and bad taste. Not to mention, it's a sad but true fact in the creative world that many of our best ideas are "stolen" (or, at least, independently developed by someone else, and then put to good use before we get the chance).

But this newest lawsuit. Well... this one bothers me a bit.

Turns out parts of this film that I assumed were staged were not entirely so.

And that includes the opening sequence, where "Borat" wanders around his Kazakh village, introducing his family and exposing the town's poverty for all the world to see.

Because of what happens in this scene, I imagined the people were "actors" being compensated for their trouble. Turns out they weren't actors at all, but rather a group of impoverished gypsies in the Romanian village of Glod. Apparently they were led to believe they were taking part in a documentary about poverty, and were paid between $3.30 and $5.50 to do demeaning things.

[Sure, you can argue that's more than they would've had — it's true, and that's precisely why they did what they did — they needed the money. But to see an entire village taken advantage of like that? It's disheartening.]

Is it wrong of me to see a difference between the drunken frat boys and the villagers who live without running water?

Granted, I realize compensating these villagers after-the-fact is a slippery slope of sorts: if Cohen were to pony up more cash, would he then have to equally compensate everyone else who appears in the film?

I imagine, legally, that's a difficult line to draw.

Cohen and company could've avoided all of this up front by being honest with the Romanians (in comparison to other scenes, these people weren't being caught "candid" on camera) and paying them more money (compensating them as "actors" rather than people merely making appearances). Granted, they may have still asked for more money after they realized what a huge success the film turned out to be, but at least that would have had less cause for recourse.

But this newest case infers these things weren't done. I'm waiting for more facts to come out, but if these allegations are true — and it appears as though they are — Cohen owes the people of Glod one enormous goodwill gesture.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Facts about Fiction

Since watching Stranger than Fiction (2006) this past Saturday, I've come to realize just how easy it is to review a film you either love or hate.

The hardest reviews to write are ones like this: films you enjoyed, but not as much as you'd hoped. Films that lure in the literary types with interesting plot twists, only to have a few kinks in the intellectual follow-through.

I mean, I liked this film. I really did. But where as the minds behind Adaptation (2002) — director Spike Jonze and writer Charlie Kaufman — genuinely twisted my brain right in with that film's cute-but-complex plot, Stranger than Fiction requires a sort of suspension of disbelief that's a bit more difficult to swallow (I compare the two here because both films position "writing" at their core).

And, no, I did not expect to find the plot "realistic," per se. I had just hoped for a little more assistance along the trail to make believe.

But that's not to say this film isn't compelling. Quite the contrary: Stranger is about an IRS agent named Harold Crick (well-played by Will Ferrell in his least comedic role to date) who lives his day-to-day as so many folks do: he's caught in a routine that serves only to propel him further into a sort of quiet loneliness. Topsy turvy enters into his world, however, by way of a woman's voice.

He hears this voice from time to time throughout the day, and quickly realizes it's talking about him: the voice beautifully narrates his very movements; his thoughts; his hopes. Needless to say, this disturbs Crick... particularly when the voice forecasts his "imminent demise."

Crick makes it his purpose, then, to seek out the narrator in an attempt to spare his life from this omniscient thrashing.

I was amazed by how well Crick handled this voice, all things considered. He never seems to lose faith in himself, even after a psychologist offers up the expected "schizophrenia" diagnosis. In this respect, the film explores notions of comedy, tragedy, character and various other literary devices.

And for that, I enjoyed the film. I thought Ferrell was great, as were the other "big" names: Emma Thompson (the voice in his head), Queen Latifah (the voice's assistant), Dustin Hoffman (literary critic) and Maggie Gyllenhaal (renegade baker/tax evader), etc.

But no matter how much I want to give Stranger a smashing review, I keep coming back to this: something was missing. It was cute, with meaningful undertones. And I was initially drawn in with the allusion to literary theory, and it's exploration of comedy, tragedy and story-telling.

But I think that may very well be where it falters. It lacked the mind-bending that made Adaptation such a joy to watch, as well as the framework that made the town of Seahaven so believable in Jim Carrey's The Truman Show (1998).

You see what I mean? I have no problems suspending disbelief when there's no hint of reality; but when you intermingle the two, you've got to give the audience more foundation.

Previews for this film had me hoping I'd walk away with an altogether new apprecation for Ferrell, as I did for Carrey after Truman.

And though I wasn't salivating for Stranger than Fiction as I did for The Truman Show or even Adaptation, I've got to admit that I was a fan of Ferrell's work long before this film (I can't say the same for Carrey or Nicholas Cage — the star of Adaptation).

But will Stranger function as a transitional role for Ferrell? Now that he's done a "more serious" comedy — in comparion to the uproarious humor that marks Anchorman — does that mean we'll soon see him in grab-your-kleenex dramas?

I certainly think he's capable. But, man, if he hasn't found a niche...


Monday, November 13, 2006

Gesundheit!

The Setup: Two Catholic priests rise up from a nearby table, having just finished their lunch at the local bar and grill. Their presence spurred a conversation about Catholicism between a man (raised Catholic) and me (raised Protestant).

As the two priests walk away, one of them sneezes.

Man to Priest: Bless you.

[Exit Priests]

***

Me to Man: Wait a minute. Did you just bless a priest?

Man: Yes.

Me: Is that allowed?

Man: What do you mean?

Me: I mean, you just blessed a priest.

Man: Well, the other priest blessed him too.

Me: Exactly. So the blessing was pretty much taken care of by someone of equal status. [Stealing his Bloody Mary and biting into the celery.]

[Man, shrugging, taking back his Bloody Mary.]

Me: No, really. I'm curious. You were raised Catholic, so you'd know better than I. You told me once that only certain people were allowed to "bless" certain others — like only Cardinals and above can bless an entire crowd. So tell me... do you have the authority bless a Catholic priest?

***

OK, so I don't know where the conversation went from there, but I'm pretty sure my question went unanswered.

And while I initially asked the question to underscore the irony/comedy of an ordinary sinner blessing an ordained priest, I'm actually quite curious.

So... can any of you tell me? Can any plebeian bless a priest, or would doing so be against protocol?

Friday, November 10, 2006

OK, So Maybe I'm Simply the Worst

Recently, I gave some thought to submitting a few poems to a literary magazine. The deadline was (is) fast approaching, so I spent some time last weekend looking over some old stuff.

I subsequently decided against submitting. You'll see why once (if) you read the below. I've opted to post this one simply because it explores, in part, the same "window reflection" effect I discussed in a recent post.

Interesting to stumble across this old piece and revisit that same fascination, four years removed... even if is does substantiate my online moniker.

Modern Prometheus


Accursed progenitor!... Accursed fornicator! ~Hamm in Samuel Beckett's Endgame

Enter Boy
He slides the paper across the counter-top,
white smile against dark skin, eyes barely visible
over the ledge, his sketchings on one side,
imagined words on the other: shapes, notions, the
letter "A" scrawled like tree limbs with pink
highlighter; four wheels and a box, headlights
like tin cans, a piece of paper with three
perfect words beneath fluorescent waves

Please pray for ...

A page torn from a Sunday program.
Scrap paper
Ancient thoughts, new form
Unsteady hands, learning the
art of reproduction, symmetry, and reason.

Please pray for...

Recycled smiles
purpose
imagination

Hands that stretch into fists
Laughter like a dying wind;
Intelligence, consequence,
and spiritual cul-de-sacs

Watch the boy walk away
Smile stuttering into a sigh

Six feet in twelve years—
Hand dragging charcoals
across the canvas, mother
in tears, dark faces blurred
by excessive contemplation

Veins drawn, the pulsation,
the explosion that comes
with time, the gap between
then and now

that widens

experience a narrow bridge
with no bottom

like legs spread into
the cold horizon

Reflect

In the beginning, all was
dark. And God said let there
be light, and there was light.

Today I flip the switch

watch you come and go,
reflections build in the glass
transparent until the ghosts
approach

closer and closer

my own reflection growing
as you near

my creation,
completion
in a stranger

unseeing anything
but the hills and then
you, with your hands and
your scowls and your grimaces
and your scents: the alcohol, the smoke,
the cologne

the fast food that bleeds into your
clothes

the human mind is a mystery
when we are first created

all is completion
when we are young

but we never stop to consider
any of these things

only the color of the sky and why, mother,
oh why...

you approach, closer and closer,
I see myself as you near
tuck the scrap into my book
and breathe in the smell of you,
nostrils flaring into the corner
of a stale grin

To Sum Up

Please pray for...

One reaches Nirvana by breaking
out of the cycle

Please pray for...

Wellbuturin for anxiety.
Celexa for depression.

(Take both for balance)

Please pray for...

In academia, one opens not a
can of worms but

pandora's box

Please pray for...

And on the first day, the world was a
satisfying yawn of affection

Please pray for...

And on the second, he pleaded with his
god, who rejected him,

Please pray for...

And on the third, a terrible emptiness rose
into the crux of his eyes

Exit Boy

His right hand arches across the canvas.
Beneath the flesh he battles
the monster of his own


creation

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Prairie Takes Some Getting Used To

Prairie Home Companion (2006) was hard for me to get into. And whether it was just a slow start — or my general mood — it's only just now (four days after watching it) that I'm really starting to enjoy it.

I found the second half to be substantially more interesting, and more comical, than was the first. I think what was missing, for me, was a previous relationship with the Public Radio show of the same title.

Afterall, Prairie Home Companion, the movie, is a fictional story about the "final broadcast" of the popular radio variety show. I believe the radio show is actually alive and well and — though the movie borrows from the show's skits, guests and the like... Garrison Keillor — the "real" radio show's creator/star, and the writer of this movie — is the primary link between the radio show and the film.

It's for this reason that the film bears a sort of resemble to mockumentaries, though we're never once led to believe that the "characters" have any idea they're being filmed (which differs substantially from most mockumentaries). At one point one character — the man responsible for the show's cancellation — even notes that he "wishes" he'd thought to have the final show taped for posterity's sake.

The story goes a little like this: the (fictional) stars of the (real) radio show all gather for their last hurrah; their station has been purchased by a big company who's revamping everything, and cancelling the show. Backstage they're all clearly nervous about their lives post-PHC, and frankly a little sad to close this chapter of their lives. On stage, various performances (throw backs to performances on the actual radio show, I'm told) continue and various other "monkey wrenches" are thrown into the mix.

Death also makes an unusual appearance, and presents one of the more compelling aspects of the film (insofar as we get the feeling that — try as we might — there's no way to separate comedy from tragedy in that bittersweet circle of life).

In short, I found this "comedy" to be markedly depressing (but not in a way typical of most black comedies). And because it's also slow moving (as are most Altman films), I had a difficult time really enjoying myself. But, as I mentioned in this review's leading line... the more I think about Prairie Home Companion — and the more I write about it — the more I like it.

It's that sort of film. The sort that's somewhat touching; somewhat comical; somewhat insightful; somewhat depressing; and, yes, even a tad boring. It's a little of everything (go figure, it's based on a variety show), none of which struck me as being altogether interesting until long after I ejected the disk from my DVD player.

Truth is, I never quite know what to say about Robert Altman films. I always find them intellectually compelling on one level, and yet altogether boring on another. And, yes, I know. I should be ashamed of myself for dissing the much-reverred filmmaker.

But I can't help it. You're reading a review by the same girl who nearly boycotted the 2001 Oscars in protest of all those accolades heaped onto Altman's Gosford Park (a film that, again, I only enjoyed casually after-the-fact).

Oh, well. There's no question people like what he's doing. I guess, in a way, Altman is a little like the tortoise in that proverbial race with the hare: he keeps a slow, steady pace and yet somehow always comes out ahead in he end.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Bacterial Election

Election day is here, and I couldn't be more thrilled.

And, no, it's not because this will be my first time voting in this state.

Nor is it because I'm one of millions out there hoping for a House flipping that will transform our Commander-in-Chief into a lame duck.

Rather, my excitement is powered more so by my desire to have those wretched advertisements (television and otherwise) put to a halt. The attack ads have been so vicious this year, I've found myself rolling my eyes to the tune of every political party. In short: with so much mud being slung around, even I feel dirty.

In many of the races here, voters only know of the candidates what their opponents have said. In which case, we're literally choosing the lesser of two evils because we haven't heard a single good thing about anyone.

For the first time in my life, I'm going to vote for the "little guys" who don't have a chance in at least two races, just to contest all of the negative energy I've had to endure at the hands of big money yarn spinners.

Does that mean the little guys wouldn't have turned up the productivity on the "NEGATIVE AD" machine if they had the money?

They probably would have. But at this point... I don't really care.

Here's what we're dealing with: the two "main" gubernatorial candidates both have very low approval ratings (think "President Bush" low). And yet the incumbent has a 14-point lead over his opponent.

He was asked what he thought about his low approval rating, and he said something to the effect of: "What do I have to be offended about? I'm ahead 14 points. And, to me, that's great news."

OK, sure. It's great news for you. And, yeah, you're likely that proverbial lesser of two evils. But don't you even care that we don't want you, either?

I'm so tired of that dude talking about all the "negative ads" his opponent put out when, in fact, he turned on the heat months ago. In other words: HE STARTED IT!

[Could you tell I was using my best "angry young kid fighting with sibling" voice? Because I was.]

At one point last week, I saw my very first (and only) "THIS AD IS ABOUT ME AND ONLY ME" commercial.

"Holy smokes!" I thought. "I don't care what she stands for... I'm voting for her!"

Turns out she wasn't in my district.

Eh. Who cares. I'm writing her in for Governor.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

In Borat's Alley

If a film makes fun of everyone, how can anyone truly be offended?

See Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006) for details. The president of Kazakhstan has been protesting this film since before it was released. And countless people in Borat have reportedly been suspended from school and work for the things they say and do in the mockumentary.

But the fact remains, this film doesn't so much make fun of people, as it does the stereotypes about them. And by that I mean: much of the humor in this film derives from our understanding of right and wrong; prejudice and reality. We can laugh at Borat Sagdiyev's anti-semitism precisely because we know it's wrong (it doesn't hurt to know that Sacha Baron Cohen is himself Jewish). And though we know Borat is a carciature of someone from a small country in the former Soviet Republic, we don't honestly believe he's an accurate representation of the Kazakh people.

We can laugh at politically "incorrect" conversations because we know those stereotypes are, again, gross exaggerations of irrational fears on both sides of the divide. From Borat's reluctance to eat a sandwich made by a nice, old Jewish woman... to his mistaking an elevator for a hotel room, Borat emerges as a veritable personification of sterotypes... he himself is a stereotype, just as he stereotypes others. And that's funny.

Ditto with his interactions with Christian Evangelicans (the friends of "Mr. Jesus"), various government officials, the Midwesterners, etc. It's our awareness of political correctedness, in fact, that drives much of the film's intelligent humor.



But that's not all. What I most enjoyed about this film was the "candid camera" aspect. Cohen's interactions with the general American public are perhaps the film's most hilarious moments.

But first, a word or two about the "plot."

Borat is a reporter from a small town in Kazakhstan. He's sent to America by his government to learn about the American way of life, so that Kazakhstan might emulate it. Borat and his "producer" travel to New York for that very purpose, and hilarity ensues. In acquainting himself with American television, Borat becomes smitten with C.J. (Pamela Anderson) on Baywatch, and ultimately decides to make her his wife. He talks his producer into driving to California as part of their "learning" experience.

As they journey across the lower 48, Borat interviews with countless politicans, etiquette experts and the like. Many of these "interviews" and run-ins are "real" (or so we are lead to believe). The everyday people Cohen encounters (dressed as Borat) are all under the impression they're speaking to a reporter from Kazakhstan, and so they don't realize they're being filmed for a movie.

Or to use the modern lingo, Cohen is "punking" people all over the U.S., posing as Borat, the naive reporter from Kazakhstan, when... in fact... he's a comedian from the U.K. making a film. The responses, then, are genuine and — at times — horrible glimpses inside the dark American psyche.

The end result: the funniest movie I've seen since Anchorman. Though I would say the first two-thirds is substantially more amusing than the last... I think that had something to do with the fact that they needed to tie the sketches together to keep the plot rolling towards its conclusion.

A word of caution: don't take impressionable young minds to see this. While much of the humor is "smart," there are also some very juvenile (and so very raunchy) elements. So it's a double-edged sword in that much of the comedy will be lost on younger audiences (not to mention, they'll see things they probably shouldn't).

There was actually one scene where — though I recognized it as being funny — I literally sat in my seat with my jaw gaping open, unable to laugh.

I couldn't believe what I was seeing on screen. And if you've seen Borat, I bet you could guess which scene I'm talking about in three tries.

OK. Maybe four.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Daylight Slavings

"So, what time is it?" my mother asked.

"10 a.m.," I replied. "No, wait. It's 9 a.m."

"Yes, but what time is it really?"

***

This past weekend, my sister and her s.o. hosted a Halloween party. Washington and I had costumes to wear, but nowhere to wear them, so we made the three hour drive to my sister's just to have an excuse. We departed late Saturday and, by the time we returned late Sunday, our internal clocks were hopelessly out of whack.

You see, my sister is in another time zone, and we happened to be traveling during the "fall back" of Daylight Savings. So when we got to her place around 10:45 p.m."her time," it was 9:45 p.m. "our time." So we had to make a mental note to add an hour whenever we were asked for the time.

But then around 2 a.m. (her time), the clocks were set back for Daylight Savings. So technically, for an hour (before "our" clocks were likewise set back), we were on the same time.

But then "our" clocks also added a little sand to the stockpile, and we were once again faced with an hour differential (or do we all change at the same moment, regardless of what "time" it is? I don't even know).

The next morning (we were at my folks' by this point), my father had forgotten to set back one clock. There were two clocks positioned next to each other, and I wasn't sure which one was correct. The one that said 8 a.m.? The one that said 7?

And was it not, in actuality, 6 o'clock "my time"? Or 7?

I checked my cell phone. It said 8. I turned it off, and then on again. And it said 7.

"So it's 7 here," I thought. "That means it's 6 a.m. there."

And then for a brief moment between periods of restless sleep, I fumed about Daylight Savings.

"What a ridiculous concept," I considered (this was not my first time pontificating the matter). "How conceited is man! To play with time like this..."

***

If you're not following me here (and I wouldn't blame you if not), here's a recap:

I traveled from one time zone and into another. I had to add an hour to whatever my watch said.

Daylight savings happened while in this "other" time zone. I had to subtract an hour.

I returned from this time zone to my original starting point. So I subtracted yet another hour.

In all: four different time zones in 16 hours (or was it 15?), with a potential overlap between the two. I imagine a transatlantic flight is less of a "trip" than that.

***

For most of you, this switch is rather elementary. I mean, most of the U.S. has been on the Daylight Savings bandwagon for decades. Arizona and Indiana had long refused to comply, however, and I — for one — wish they'd stood their ground in this debate.

But not for business, agricultural or even diplomatic reasons. For me, it's entirely a matter of physics.

There is such a thing are "real" time. And now Indiana has joined much of the U.S. in defying "real" time for half of the year.

As an aspiring philosopher with an interest in Big Bang, Planck time, and all that jazz... playing with time, as we do, smacks of the sort of egotism that has long distinguished man from other members of the animal kingdom.

***

"What time is it?" the chicken asked the coyote.

"It's time for lunch."

***

OK, OK. So there are wormholes, black holes, and all sorts of other cosmic unknowns that call into question our very notions of time. But the fact remains, the time of the day and the day of the year depends on two things:

The rotation of the earth on its axis, and the revolution of the earth around the sun.

So unless it's slowed down all of a sudden — or unless it sped up when I wasn't looking — it makes sense to LEAVE THE CLOCK ALONE.

***

But what do I know? I bunk on the sofa when I'm at my parents', and this past weekend — early Sunday morning, just as the clocks were "technically" resetting — I went around the living room and took the batteries out of two of them.

I couldn't sleep with all that ticking.

***

But all is not lost! On my fourth journey through the man-made time vortex that is Daylight Savings, I was — at long last — back in my timezone. And, because "Daylight Savings" was officially over, we were back on "real time" again.

So that sound you heard last Sunday — that breeze sweeping over your shoes and rattling those fallen leaves —

That was my sigh of relief.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

The Shortest Story Ever Told

On a recent trip here, I was directed to this.

Go ahead. Click it. It's a pretty interesting list of "six word novels" (new meaning to the term "short story," I s'pose).

Basically, it's a response to Wired's request that big shot writers take a stab at mirroring Hemingway's six word story:

"For sale: baby shoes, never worn."

As I read over the 33 submissions, I couldn't help but think that no one had truly accomplished what Hemingway had done. The above sentence really tells a story... one you can imagine, from beginning to end.

But that's not to say many of those submissions aren't clever (they are)... just that the original works best for me.

A Few of My Favorites

Machine. Unexpectedly, I’d invented a time
- Alan Moore

It’s behind you! Hurry before it
- Rockne S. O’Bannon

I’m your future, child. Don’t cry.
- Stephen Baxter

Lie detector eyeglasses perfected: Civilization collapses.
- Richard Powers

To save humankind he died again.
- Ben Bova

K.I.A. Baghdad, Aged 18 - Closed Casket
- Richard K. Morgan

Epitaph: He shouldn't have fed it.
- Brian Herbert

He read his obituary with confusion.
- Steven Meretzky



***

As I read over these, I felt compelled to generate a few of my own. Granted, none of these are as good as the above, but it is a fun exercise....
  1. For sale: bulletproof vest. Some damage.
  2. Pete and Repeat: A boating disaster.
  3. Get that kid a better helmet.
  4. Tell me you love me. Please.
  5. One hand claps. Buddhists everywhere applaud.
  6. "Stop!" he shouted. "Or I'll..." BANG!
  7. Once upon a time. The End.
  8. It's all over before it begins.
  9. Once upon a time, she smiled...
  10. The nursing home smelled of circumstance.
  11. Stories upon stories littered the halls.
  12. Untold stories blanketed the padded walls.
  13. Dear John: Return my stuff. Ciao!
  14. Her hopes meant years of loneliness.
  15. For Sale: Engagement ring, slightly used.
  16. His hermitage was marked by fear.
  17. "I have nothing left! To say..."
  18. The dingo's babysitting career was short-lived.
  19. Proud parent of an honors student.
  20. My child's an honor roll student.
  21. I live alone in the city.
  22. She died alone, surrounded by cats.
  23. She lived full of sleep, waiting.
  24. But I only wanted a tune-up!
  25. Give me my monkey, you ape!
  26. Ophelia: Lovely day for a swim!
  27. Columbus: See! The world isn't FLA—
  28. I can't wait to grow up!
  29. Um. You just called me "Stephanie."
  30. My boyfriend is up for parole.
  31. "Nothing's wrong!" she screamed out. "Nothing!"
  32. Does this make my butt big?
  33. I wish you hadn't said that.
  34. I pronounce you husband and strife.
  35. You got my ring on EBAY?!
  36. But he was always so quiet!
  37. Recite pi to the last digit.
  38. Milk, milk, lemonade. Round the corner...
  39. Her existence was sad; sedate. Ordinary.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Flags of Our Fathers (Movie Review)

I'm about to admit something that would make me tremendously unpopular among film professionals.

But not many folks read these pages — least of all Hollywood celebrities and studios looking for writers "just like me" — so it's only with slight hesitation that I admit...

While I haven't seen all of the films Clint Eastwood has directed... I haven't enjoyed the ones I did.

OK, go ahead. Gasp. I hear you already, "But I loved Mystic River!" and "Didn't Million Dollar Baby get all sorts of Academy Awards?"

Most people "loved" it... and, yes, it did.

And knowing that perhaps only elevated my distaste for both movies. The Mystic River (2003) plot relied too heavily on bizarre coincidences — which culminated in some of the most laughable dialogue I've yet to witness in "serious" drama. And the "plot twist" in Million Dollar Baby (2004) turned an "OK" movie about a boxer into a blase treatment of euthanasia.

"What about Bridges of Madison County?" you ask.

It's been awhile since I've seen it and — though I do recall finding it to be "touching" in parts — I didn't love it as much as many folks did. But I certainly thought more of it than I did the other two aforementioned films.

Which brings me to the actual point of this review: Eastwood's newest, Flags of Our Fathers (2006). In Flags, Eastwood tells the story of the men depicted in perhaps Joe Rosenthal's most recognizable war photograph.

I'm speaking of course of those six men who planted the American flag on Iwo Jima during WWII. Three died before the war was over and — though we do get to know them "on the field" — Flags really focuses on the three "heroes" who survived. It also explores the controversy behind the photograph, and espouses one of the more commonly accepted explanations for why it has been difficult to name, with absolute certainty, the men in the picture.

But it does a little more than that, too. It explores the emotional and psychological complexities the men experienced... both on the battlefield, and off. It relies in large part on the Native American Marine, Ira Hayes, to explore these issues. Hayes resented the moniker "hero," and — along with Navy medic John "Doc" Bradley (one of the other five who helped him raise the flag) — Hayes likewise resents being used as a "money raising machine" by the American government. We see through Hayes just how, exactly, the U.S. government treats its "heroes" — something I'm sorry to report hasn't changed much today (or have we finally started to give our troops the proper equipment on the field... and the proper mental, financial and health care when they return?).

And I don't know if it's because of my general distaste for war movies, or my general dislike for Eastwood films... but somehow two negatives joined to make a lukewarm positive. In short: I liked this better than Baby, and I liked this better than River. Though I still wouldn't nominate it for any awards.

So that, of course, means this film isn't getting the rave reviews that greeted his two previous Oscar phenoms. It's hovering in the lower 70s on Rotten Tomatoes. Not a bad overall rating, but rather bleak in comparison to the 90's given to the other two films.

So what didn't I like about it?

  • The graphic violence, for one. A given with most war movies, though, and one of the main reasons I didn't want to see this in the first place (watching a man stuff his guts back into his abdominal cavity does NOT appeal to me in the least).
  • The overdone — albeit touching — scenes where Eastwood stretches for irony and contrast, leaving the camera on for a tad to long (i.e. an otherwise powerful point becomes lost in cliche). Keep an eye out for the Japanese soldier/American soldier scene... and the strawberry dressing... and you'll see what I mean.
  • The "interview" framework took me by surprise (though I don't believe it's meant to catch us off guard) and seemed forced on film (though it may have worked in the book — I haven't read it to know).
  • The discernible tinge of a political agenda (even if I do agree)
Otherwise... not bad. But certainly not something I would recommend to anyone looking for a pick-me-up (as I was last night).

Monday, October 30, 2006

Vanishing Point

I recently had a genius idea for a post.

I was at the gym on the elliptical, simultaneously gazing at (and thru) my image in the semi-reflective window when I realized I had a tree for a nose.

Yes, that's right.

A tree for a nose.

Allow me to explain:

When dusk hits and the light outside begins to fade, you see more and more of yourself in an otherwise transparent window. But you can still see the outside world — as I did — and what you see depends entirely on your point of focus.

So you see yourself for a second. And then, instead of seeing your reflection, you notice the world outside.

But this transition, contrary to popular belief, is not altogether instantaneous. Rather — for me at least — there was a central point of transition where my field of vision would confuse the outside world with my reflection.

For example: when focusing on myself, I noticed my nose was unusually large... and yellow. I focused on my nose to try and determine the cause... only to lose focus on myself, and instead see a row of trees just above the horizon.

Where I imagined my nose to be was one tree with a few remaining yellow leaves (most other trees were bare).

But about this time — when I realized that tree was acting as my nose in this reflection — I was back to seeing myself again.

(I have to imagine I looked rather cross-eye during much of this).

This exchange of focal points continued until a train went by and swallowed my mouth whole. And by that I mean: as it went past, its image through the window was transposed over the reflection of my mouth... such that steel replaced my lips, and I waxed poetic with notions of Shakespeare's Lavinia trying to speak.

This all struck me as being rather profound at the time. So profound, in fact, that I endeavored to write my observations "first thing" after returning home. But instead I showered... ate... and then went to sleep. And then Friday passed. Then Saturday, and Sunday. And I kept thinking to myself "I really need to sit down and write about that."

And then finally, today, I turned to my computer with that very intention — only to since find myself repulsed by the very idea. Whatever poetic notions I had last Thursday have since faded, only to be replaced by inner-chidings.

I mean... what was I thinking?

However ridiculous, and however pathetic, the truth is... I do wish I could go back there again.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

And We Drown

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Murder & Intrigue

Murderball has a near perfect rating on Rotten Tomatoes, where many reviewers tout it to be one of the best films in 2005.

While I wasn't nearly as excited by it as were the "professionals," I can — at least — see their point. It is compelling, and I would even wager to say that the things I didn't like about are reflections on myself rather than the film itself.

You see, Murderball is a documentary about the America rugby team for the Paralympic Games. The rugby players are all quadriplegics with varying degrees of paralysis.

But how, on earth, could someone paralyzed from the neck down play rugby?

Good question. Or I would say "good question," because I went into the film wondering the exact same thing. And so what happens throughout the course of the documentary is this miraculous thing that American schools could use a little more of:

You learn something.

I learned that many quadriplegics can use their arms and hands, though the degree to which they can depends on their injury. I learned a valuable lesson in the difference between the Paralympics and the Special Olympics (two very different games one should never confuse in the presence of paralympic athletes).

"We go to the games to win," says one rugby player. "We don't go there for hugs."

(I'm paraphrasing, but you get the idea.)

The lessons continue from there, almost by happenstance. And by that I mean: this film doesn't overtly teach the "walking" public about spinal chord injuries but, in the course of interviewing/filming the athletes, the knowledge just... happens.

What you see in the interim is one of the most brutal teams sports I've yet to witness: it really is rugby in that the players slam their chairs into each other to "tackle." Chairs overturn, players bleed. There's screaming, yelling, and a lot of practice involved in winning the gold. It was actually "fun" to watch the fractions of games we see, and I couldn't help but think I'd like to sit in on one as a spectator sometime.

But I also felt tremendously uncomfortable watching players dangle upside down, waiting for referees to flip them right side up. And sometimes seeing them struggle off the court to dress, eat, open cards, etc... made me want to jump in and help (which is precisely the sort of response that offends them... since they know, in time, they can manage to do just about anything without assistance).

Still, it's the same thing I feel when I see someone with an armful of bags struggling to open a door. You open the door for them because you know, if you were them, you'd like a little help.

Ditto with seeing someone in a parking lot, lifting their parent or grandparent from a chair and putting them into the seat, then struggling to fold the chair and throw it in the back. The last time I saw this happen (within the last month, I'm sure)... I actually turned to walk towards them. Stopped. Sort of hesitated. And then turned and walked to my own car.

Murderball confirmed what I've heard so many times... that people who step in to help don't understand that the person in the chair wouldn't go out if they couldn't handle getting back in. But, man, if that isn't sometimes difficult to walk by without at least offering.

And I think that's what bothered me about the film — the thing that says more about me than it does the documentary. I want to help people but, sometimes, you've just got to realize...

you can't.

Friday, October 27, 2006

I've Heard about Her

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Urban Oasis






The Lonely One

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Neologisms VI

What the Newscaster Meant to Say
Homophobia

What I Heard
(And what I'm fairly certain he actually said)
Homofurbia

Definition
An irrational fear of gay furbies

Sample Sentence
The human resources director was fired for refusing to promote countless furbies, despite their superior communication skills and immaculate grooming habits.

"Let it be noted that this firm will not tolerate that sort of senseless homofurbia," the company's CEO told reporters.

The former HR director was unavailable for comment.