Conquistador Instant Leprosy

The tingling fresh coffee which brings you exciting new cholera, mange, dropsy, the clap, hard pad and athlete's head. From the House of Conquistador.

Chock full of the esoteric and the gratuitous, sort of like my life.

(Formerly known as Pomegranate Rickey.)

Friday, February 01, 2008

Well, we've had a good run...

Note: cross-posted from my main blog for the benefit of you folks (hi, Adam!) who mostly come here.

Over the past year and a half, I've maintained a pretty clear distinction between my two main blogs: while this blog is devoted to non-film writing, I've maintained Silly Hats Only for my film-related work. But lately I've become more uneasy with the idea of separating the two, as the film stuff and non-film stuff are but two sides of the same coin. As a way of acknowledging this, I've finally decided to post both my film and non-film writings on my principal blog from now on. After all, as Terence wrote, "I am a human being, so nothing human is alien to me."

I'll be keeping this blog open in case you ever want to re-read my older stuff, but don't expect any new content here, so change your blog rolls accordingly.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The quiet man in the easy chair

I was in middle school when my mom first told me about meeting my Grandpa Clark for the first time. She remembered my dad taking her to his parents' house, and she noticed my grandfather sitting alone in the living room, doing nothing in particular. According to her, even after she was introduced to him, he didn't talk too much. He wasn't unpleasant to her by any means, but he just didn't have a whole lot to say to her, or to anyone else. I remember her saying that she worried a little about him- not because she thought something was amiss, but because she didn't quite understand his reluctance to talk.

Back then, the picture she painted was a sharp contrast to my personal image of him. When I was growing up, he was always cheerful and friendly, always happy to play games or tell jokes or funny stories to us when we visited. He was the sort of grandpa who would always remember my teachers' names, even after I had moved on from their classes, and who would always try to keep tabs on what I was up to in school and in my life. One of my earliest memories of him was when he spent an afternoon with me while my parents attended the wedding of my mom's brother. Normally I would have felt left out, but because I got to spend the day with him I didn't mind.

But as the years passed, I began to see what my mom was talking about. While he livened up when children were around, he was much quieter around adults. I began to see him and my grandmother more infrequently, due in no small part to my allergies that would be set off by the cats they always kept around the house, but at the same time he was just getting harder to talk to as I got older. However, in recent years I began to realize that I was becoming quite a bit like him, and I became much more sympathetic to how he was. I don't think there was anything wrong with him at all- I just think that he was a little more reserved than most, and more reluctant to butt into a conversation he thought didn't particularly concern him. It was just his way, as people used to put it. Maybe being one of nine children having to compete for attention, he simply relished the chance to keep to himself.

Yet at the same time I missed the Grandpa I grew up with. I think that he felt like he could open up to children because he was able to let his guard down with them in a way he couldn't with adults, and I still remember the glimmer in his eye whenever we would come over to visit. In the past few years, as I began to approach parenting age, I always hoped that I might eventually take my own children to visit him, so that they might catch a glimpse of the same Grandpa who was so important to my own childhood.

Sadly, that wasn't to be. My Grandpa Clark died this morning at age 92 in the hospital, where he had been since checking in with pneumonia this past Friday. He hadn't been well for some years- he was prone to falling asleep in mid-conversation, and he required a walker to help him get around- but that doesn't make it any easier. He was exactly two weeks shy of his birthday, which was the day after mine. This news still hasn't really hit me hard, and I fear that it really won't until my own birthday hits and for the first time in my life I won't have his to look forward to on the following day.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

It's time to light the lights

How was your holiday? My Christmas went well. Saw the family, got what I asked for, and all that. And the weather was even good for driving home. My troubles didn't actually begin until after I drove back to Columbus this evening. Pulling into the parking lot around 11, I unloaded the car, surveyed the scene, and decided to hit the grocery store to pick up a few things. Nothing fancy, just milk, cereal, orange juice, and iceberg lettuce for my guinea pigs. I know what you're thinking- aren't the supermarkets closed on Christmas night? Well, I wasn't so sure. After all, movie theatres are open all day on Christmas, and last I checked food was still more of a necessity than movies, even for someone like me.

So I got back into the car and drove to the local Kroger. Everything looked OK, with the store and parking lot brightly lit, and even a few cars in the parking lot. But when I tried to enter, none of the automatic doors would open for me. Somewhat annoyed, I drove to the Giant Eagle a few blocks away, with the same result. I was getting a little pissed off at this point, but I tried to figure out my options. I could go out for breakfast, thus rendering the milk, cereal, and OJ unnecessary at this point. All I really needed was the lettuce. So I passed a Wendy's, and hit upon the idea of ordering a couple of sandwiches with extra lettuce. Alas, also closed.

On the way home, a thought occurred to me. Every place I'd stopped had been closed, yet their signs had been lit. Now, I don't know about you, but whenever I see that a business' sign is lit up, I'm inclined to believe that they're open for business. In fact, this isn't an idea I pulled from thin air- back when I was working fast food in high school, the managers were sticklers about the sign. The last thing we did in the morning before unlocking the doors was to light the sign, and the first thing we did after locking up at the end of the day was to turn it off. Makes sense to me, but obviously not to some people who run local establishments that carry lettuce and are generally open late.

Now, I understand the need to keep your business illuminated. Nobody likes to walk around at night, and even less so when you're walking by a darkened property. But the sign is a different story. A lighted sign doesn't illuminate its surroundings. Its sole purpose is to advertise the business to passerby. If the business is closed, there's no need to light the sign. Is the wasted electricity worth pissing off would-be patrons? I don't think so.

Monday, December 24, 2007

To each his own Christmas

During my freshman year of high school, my parents had the idea for us to forego the usual Christmas with the family to celebrate the holiday with some family friends in Florida. It sounded like a fun wrinkle on the holidays, not least because we could enjoy warm sun instead of snow on Christmas Day, something we'd never really experienced before. For the first few days in Florida, we had a good time, but all this changed once Christmas morning rolled around. What my parents hadn't taken into account was how much more extravagant their friends' idea of Christmas was than theirs. At our house, we always gave gifts, but this was usually limited to five or six per person. So when I awoke and saw the wall of presents that greeted the children who lived there, I knew this was a whole different ballgame. So after me and my family finished with our gifts, we politely sat and watched everyone else open theirs- for nearly two hours. Frankly, I was pretty miserable. I was old enough to understand that my parents didn't love me less than their parents loved their kids simply because I received less presents, but I felt extremely uncomfortable, like I was intruding on someone else's holiday. At that point I made the fairly conclusive discovery that everyone Christmas is different. It was around that same time, I think, that my parents decided to henceforth go back to celebrating Christmas in snowy Ohio.

Out of the entire year, the holidays are the time that's most bound to family tradition. So much goes on in our lives that we can't control that it's a comfort to be able to gather as a family and experience the holidays in pretty much the same way we have in years past. We bust out the old recipes, cue up the Christmas albums, and hang the same ornaments on the tree that we've always hung, plus the new ones we received last year. There's something comforting in that consistency, the knowledge that this Christmas is going to be the same as last Christmas, and that next Christmas will be the same as well. This also goes for Thanksgiving, as I learned the hard way the year I decided to bring some of my homemade applesauce to Thanksgiving dinner. Most of the family eyeballed my unfamiliar contribution quizzically, like I somehow willfully decided to mess with something that didn't need fixed, and I ended up taking most of it home with me. I haven't brought it since.

But no breaking of Christmas tradition was quite as drastic as when I wasn't able to come home for the holidays. For several years, I worked at a movie theatre that was open 365 days a year, and all staff members had the option of taking off either Thanksgiving or Christmas. In my family, Christmas has always been spread out over a number of days while Thanksgiving is one day only, so I decided to work on Christmas. But while the theatre needed the help, and they paid time and a half and paid us for working Christmas, something just felt wrong about not spending the holidays with my family. To comfort myself, I would always take in a movie, but doing this just served to underline that I was by myself on this most family-oriented of days. If nothing else, this has given me a greater appreciation for the holidays, especially my family's one-of-a-kind version of it.

Happy holidays to all of you, and to your families.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

"Because Mad Cow Disease was already taken."

Case you were wondering, I'm still at the bank, still doing what I was doing before. It's not so bad, I guess. I won't do it forever, but it's mostly harmless.

Anyway, when I'm processing checks at the end of the day, I have a tendency to hum songs to myself. Most of the time the machine is loud enough that nobody notices the songs, and the music I like doesn't really appeal to most of my workmates, who tend to go in more for country. But anyway, lately I've been on something of an Elton John kick, and some of his stuff has snuck into my recent humming repertoire. Today, it was a few selections from Tumbleweed Connection, one of which actually got recognized, much to my surprise. And of course, her recognition necessitated a funny response. Because that's just the kind of guy I am. To wit:

Female coworker: "Hey, is that 'My Father's Gun'?"

Me: "I dunno... did he put his name on it?"

I'm here all week, folks.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Snack time, anytime.

The other night, I was feeling a bit peckish after catching a movie, so I ducked into a sub shop that stayed open late. There were no customers in the store and only one guy behind the counter, so he engaged me in a little friendly conversation.

"Nothing like a sandwich, right?... Man, I could eat a sandwich anytime... I could've just had something to eat, and if someone said 'hey man, you want a sandwich?' I'd probably say yes. Know what I'm talking about?"

First off- now THIS is how you converse with a customer. Of course, it helps if you're a genial guy in the first place, but still, this is how it's done. Since it was a sandwich shop, tips weren't expected, so I doubt he was angling for one. Instead, he just wanted to be friendly, while still respecting the boundaries inherent in the customer/employee relationship. As you might have guessed, I appreciated it.

But his statement got me thinking- what sort of food could I eat anytime? I'm not talking about rich, fancy dishes that require lots of preparation so you only eat them when you're dining out. I'm talking about the food you reach for when you're at home and you're not necessarily starving but you just want a quick and easy snack. Like cereal for Seinfeld or that old lady who eats Stella D'oro Breakfast Treats at midnight in the old commercial.

Me, I'm partial to toast. Doesn't need to be all dolled up with fancy preserves or anything- a smear of butter will suffice. But toast just hits the spot anytime, anywhere. I wonder if it has anything to do with a subconscious connection I've made between toast and feeling better, since whenever I was sick as a child the first thing I'd try to eat would be toast. But trying to pair up childhood causes with adult effects doesn't matter here, just what tastes good to me. Rye is my toast of choice, but really, any toast'll do.

What about you folks? What's your default anytime comfort food?

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Road tripping

I don't normally watch much television, but I caught some this past weekend when I was visiting my folks. One of the commercials that really lodged its way into my memory was for a particularly family-friendly SUV, with cushy fold-down captain's chairs in the back and not one but two video monitors. Now, I realize that TVs in vehicles are nothing new. After all, I saw Silent Light. But I still felt more than a little uneasy about the idea.

I suppose this has more than a little to do with my own childhood road trips, in which there was no television to watch on the road, although even if there were my parents probably wouldn't have allowed more than a teensy bit. I'm sure some of the younger ones out there might be wondering what we did on the road without TV to entertain us. Well, I'll tell you. We listened to the radio, we put on some music, or- dig this- we just talked.

The more I think about my youth, the more I realize that it wasn't always the major events that made the biggest dent in my consciousness. I don't remember some of my vacations all that well, but I have no problem picturing the drive in my mind. Mom and dad in front, alternating driving duties, with my brother and I sprawled out in the back of the minivan amongst the luggage. Likewise, I'll always associate certain things with the road. A long drive out to camp with dad meant sports on the radio, usually a Cleveland Indians game (then announced by Tom Hamilton and Herb Score) or Cavaliers basketball (called, then as now, by the great Joe Tait). I don't think I've ever listened to a book on tape except when I've been on the road, with or without family. Nothing says a late-night drive down a country road quite like the songs of Glen Campbell. And we'd do a lot of talking, even over the music or the book tapes- nothing very profound of course, but it was probably the longest consecutive parcel of time we had together for the entire summer, so we'd make the most of it.

I could speculate all day about what the proliferation of TVs in our nation's family automobiles means- a fascination with electronic gizmos, cross-promotional shenanigans between the automakers and the electronics giants, even the a la carte entertainment ideology that seeks to keep everyone diverted by giving every single person what he wants (divide and conquer?). But that's a subject for another time, and perhaps another place. All I can think of now is that something has been lost. The family car trip, once a bonding experience, a few days' worth of "quality time" spent en route to a destination and back again, has reverted back to its most basic form, some slow time required to get you to where you really want to be. The televisions may pass the time and distract the kids from the drive, but the truth is that we never needed them before. The only entertainment we really needed was buckled into the other seats, headed for the same place we were, and we'd all be arriving at the exact same time.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Friendly, not familiar

I don't know if anybody else has noticed this, but when I head out to restaurants nowadays, I feel like the wait staff is trying extra special hard to get my tips. I say this because they're going overboard to be almost smothering in their friendliness. Instead of the usual "hi, welcome to So-and-So's, can I get you anything to drink today?" I often find myself confronted with servers, usually college-aged, who greet me like a friend. This is especially noticeable when you're with a group: "hey guys, how's everything going today?" and the like. For one thing, this is especially irritating when the group contains both men and woman. Call me old-fashioned, but I don't refer to women as "guys" unless they're friends of mine.

But even when it's just me at the table, too often I feel like the server is assuming an institutional, tip-grubbing kind of familiarity on me that I don't really feel like dealing with when I'm hungry, or any other time for that matter. Now, I understand that servers make a good chunk of their money on tips, and that to get those tips they need to be friendly. But there's a difference between good service and aggressive service. I find this is especially prevalent among male servers, who will lay all manner of forced banter on me, the better to make a strong impression. Is it just that women, or at least the kinds of women who are drawn to server positions, are better able to project warmth and cordiality without backing it up with go-getter aggressiveness?

So, a note to all servers and wait staff who are reading this: I don't ask for much from you. Greet me with a smile. Take my order. Bring it to me in a timely manner, and make sure it's right. If there's a problem, solve it to the best of your ability, and if you can't, bring me someone who will. And when I have my food, leave me alone and let me eat. Unless you screw up, you'll get your 20%. And who knows- if there's a problem but you solve it with grace and efficiency, or if you deliver outstanding levels of service, you may very well get more than that.

I go to restaurants for one reason only- to eat. Despite what you might think when you read some of the posts here, I do have friends, and I don't need people to act like my friends just to make my dining experience special. There's a rather disturbing trend I've noticed lately at certain restaurants I visit- after I've received the bill and the server has taken my credit card, he or she will sometimes return with the card and refer to me by my name. Seriously- WHAT THE FUCK? Oh, do I know you? Have we been formally introduced? No? Then don't refer to me by my name. Get it? Got it? Good.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Well, that settles it... says I'm a Kinda Dorky Nerd.  What are you?  Click here!

Good to know, I guess. Although I remember taking a much more thorough nerd test back during my high school years, so there you go.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Home cookin'

Taking the advice of Andy Horbal, I gave Alton Brown's recipe for Baked Macaroni and Cheese a whirl last weekend. As expected it was tasty, although I think I could make a few small improvements to up the deliciousness factor. But since I live alone, I had a whole bunch left over (don't worry, this isn't going to be another post about how I can't get a date). I ended up taking the leftovers to work with me for several days thereafter, as a reprieve from my usual can of soup.

Now, here's the real story. When I'd be heating up my leftover mac and cheese, most people would either say nothing or say, "hey, did you make that yourself?" But there was one exception. A woman about my age (I almost typed "girl" for some reason) who I sometimes see at lunch noticed what I had and asked me, "did you make that or was it from the Colonel's?" Those six words made all the difference- "or was it from the Colonel's". I gotta admit, that hurt my feelings a bit.

I pride myself on being at least a little domesticated. I don't always eat out of boxes or cans, and can cook a decent number of good dishes either from memory or from recipes I inherited from various sources- mom, grandma, Uncle Alton, and the like. So I think my reaction to her question had a lot to do with her (entirely unnecessary) implication that I might not have cooked the macaroni and cheese. After all, most people simply asked if I'd cooked the dish without feeling the need to suggest an alternative that involved me not lighting the stove.

But I'd be lying if I said that the particular alternative that popped into her head and out of her mouth had nothing to do with it. Because... KFC? Really? I'm sure their mac and cheese isn't bad for fast-food mac and cheese, but is it really worth saving the leftovers?

Or could she have possibly been implying that I had brought in my lunch a dreaded failure pile in a sadness bowl?????

Ugh. Heavens forbid in my opinion.

Oh well. Let her eat her Colonel's mac and cheese. More of the homemade stuff for me, thankyouverymuch.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

"If you want the things you love, you must have showers"

It just dawned on me that there might be a few people out there who visit this blog but aren't in the habit of checking out my main blog. Well, here's some motivation for you. Starting this past Sunday, I began a weekly quiz entitled Famous Last Words. The basic idea is that I post the final line from a movie and you guess the movie. Guess the most over the next 12 weeks and you win a $20 gift certificate from The Criterion Store.

Well, what are you waiting for?

Monday, October 01, 2007

Love is all around

In my last post, I related a story that happened to me, in which I was turned down by a certain Internet dating service, the reason being that based on my performance on their "personality test," I was judged unlikely to derive much benefit from their service. In other words, I didn't fit into one of their neat little profiles. I get it- I'm not like most guys, and while I'm completely cool with that, I'm not what a lot of women are looking for.

I hadn't intended a follow-up post, but I received the following in my e-Mail this morning and couldn't resist:

We’re excited to announce our latest personals site: An exclusive dating community, is devoted to linking successful men with compatible women who appreciate the good life.

Gentlemen - your time is valuable, and you didn’t make your way to the top by settling for second best. As is only for successful men – our women know your quality. Our exclusive verification system lets women know you're credible.

Sign up today for a free membership!

Setting aside the fact that there is no mention here of rich women looking for eager "sophisticated" men (or gay pairings, for that matter), there's plenty to chew on here.

Seriously, how could nobody have thought of this before? What kind of men have the hardest time meeting women? Why, rich ones, of course! Really, doesn't a poor rich guy have enough hardship in his life without having to put forth the effort of finding a woman who could find it in her heart to embark on a relationship with him? What could a woman ever expect to gain from a well-to-do gentleman?

But what's that you say? The life of a wealthy young man is fraught with peril from a slew of tight-bodied, ambitious ladies seeking to ensnare him purely for financial reasons? Surely a woman such as this wouldn't dare hunt for a man at a site called! No gold-digger would dream of joining a service that advertises itself as catering to "women who appreciate the good life." That, my friend, is crazy talk.

Remember, ladies and gentlemen- relationships aren't just for plebeians anymore. Love, or something vaguely resembling it, is within your grasp! Visit today to take advantage of our free membership. Sure, you can afford to pay, but why should rich people have to spend money needlessly?

And while you're here, consider any one of our fine prenuptial agreements, from our First Timers' "Better Luck Next Time" policy to the top-of-the-line model, written by Miles Massey himself. Remember:

"Only love is in mind when the Massey is signed."

Sunday, September 23, 2007

That old autumnal feeling

OSU started classes this past week, and as such the city is crawling with students. And you know what that means- parties and keggers and drunks screaming "O-H!" "I-O!" to each other at all hours. It's around this time of year that I begin to reflect on how my college experience was really nothing like this scene. I didn't- and still don't- care for football, and the only reason I'd buy a student ticket would be to sell it for a profit. Likewise, I mostly went to movies or stayed in on weekends. I remember one time I got dragged along by my roommates to a party and wasn't really having a good time, and people kept asking me what was wrong. These people thought that since I was at a party, I should be having a good time, and since I wasn't I must be sick or sad or something along those lines. But the only thing wrong was that I was out of my element.

This is indicative of something that I realized long ago: I have a hard time relating to the majority of people out there.

I think this began when I was young. I was one of the smart kids, and I didn't play sports, so I didn't really have much in common with most of my classmates. I preferred talking to my teachers, which of course didn't endear me to my peers. I was thought of as a teacher's pet and a kiss-up, but I was just trying to connect with people who interested me. In high school, I had an easier time of things since I started involving myself in theatre and other school activities. But since high school, I've become less sociable with others. Sure, I'm cordial and friendly in my everyday interactions, but that's a far cry from really relating and connecting with those around me.

I used to agonize about my asocial (or is it anti-social) nature in my darker moments, wondering if maybe something was wrong with me that I didn't have a whole mess of friends to hang out with every night of the week. I thought that maybe the problem was that I was a snob, that I was too narrowly-focused on my own interests and priorities to be open to the interests and priorities of others. I thought that if I could work on being more easygoing and openminded, I could solve my problem.

But recently, I've realized something- I don't particularly enjoy most of the interests I can't relate to in others. If I'm going to be miserable at an OSU football game or at some party, why should I pretend to enjoy it just for the sake of those who do? It doesn't do me any good, and my lack of enjoyment will most likely bring them down. So I'm not going to waste my time, or their time, by faking it.

Sure, this hampers my social life. Just like in college, I'm spending most of my weekends watching movies and doing various jobs around my apartment, with the added fun of writing for Screengrab and occasionally posting to my blogs.

And understandably, my dating opportunities are limited. I've mostly given up on the possibility of meeting women through online dating services. Have you ever noticed that these things mostly pair up people with the most mainstream interests? Looking for a girl in Columbus who likes Buckeye football and reality shows? Yeah, that's a tough find. Let's look at the other end of the dating spectrum- a few months ago, I took a "personality test" to see whether I would be eligible to sign up with a certain dating service that will go unnamed. After tallying up my answers, I was told that I would not be accepted because my "personality score" fell outside the range that the jokers who ran the site believed could be easily hooked up with other eligible singles. Now, riddle me this, folks- if I could easily hook up with women, do you think I'd be wasting time and money on your site?

But it's cool. It's not a problem- it's just how I am. I've grown to accept it and even find ways to enjoy my solitude (the guinea pigs help). I don't have to answer to anyone if I'm alone on a Saturday night. I get lonely sometimes, but I could just as easily be lonely at a party, and at least at home I can watch a DVD.

And I still value my friends, both old and new. That's why Toronto rocked so hard. It wasn't just that I got to see a bunch of kickass movies before most of the world got to see them. It wouldn't have been nearly as much fun without the kindred spirits there with whom I was able to share my experience. It takes a certain kind of person to really dig into the TIFF experience, and for those who do it's a great way to bond. Of course there were all the cool people I got to hang with throughout the week, but even those random festival-goers I chatted with in rush lines or in theatres waiting for the screenings to start enriched my festival experience. It was only one week out of the year, but it was well worth the wait. I've learned to follow Polonius' advice- "to thine own self be true"- and I finally found an environment where my true self would be perfectly at home. And if I have to wait until next September to find that again, then so be it. I know it'll be worth the wait.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Self Preservation Society

In my ongoing mission to support Columbus area movie exhibiting in its many incarnations, I attended the Studio 35 theatre for the first time in ages Friday night. My excuse for going was a one-night-only screening of the 1969 version of The Italian Job, which I'd never seen, but I've always had a soft spot for the Studio, and not just because they serve local microbrews on tap. It's been around since the late 30s, and as such it's got more character than the prefab multiplexes around town. Theatres like this are a dying breed, and can use my patronage more than the big chains.

But I was in for an unpleasant surprise when the movie began- the screening was taking place on *gasp!* projected DVD rather than film. Of course, I stuck around, since I wanted to watch the movie, but I was pretty miffed. The Studio screens all of their new movies on film, so one would assume that maybe they'd get film prints of the classics as well, and if not, that they would be honest enough to admit as much on their web site. Unfortunately, this isn't an isolated incident for them. I've been attending the Studio for years, mostly for screenings of older films, but in the last few years- since they were bought by their present owners, come to think- more and more of these screenings have been projected video.

Now, I can guess why this is happening. It's a financial issue- film rentals are too high, and these screenings aren't well-attended enough to justify the cost. Besides, most people don't care. With practically everything going digital, most people won't complain, and in their eyes the somewhat lower quality is a small price to pay for the big-screen experience. Still, that's not what I go to a place like the Studio to see. The digital projection takes me out of the old movie-house experience. Show me a movie as it was meant to be shown, folks. Is that too much to ask?

I suppose it is. In order to keep Studio 35 open to the public, certain corners have to be cut in order to turn a profit. Showing a one-off late-night screening of an older movie on digital rather than film is a relatively minor concession, born more of financial necessity than negligence. It's certainly not as distracting as the wacky projection at the Drexel Grandview, not to mention the shitty sound system in auditorium 3 at the Drexel East, which gurgled so much today during a screening of Molière that it sounded like the orchestra was playing the score underwater. I skipped out on that film for that reason, while I was able to reconcile myself to the digital projection of The Italian Job at Studio. Still, in future I'll think twice before seeing a movie there. If nothing else, I'll be sure to call ahead to inquire how they'll be projecting the films.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Oh, what the hell...

I was tagged for the 8 Things Meme again, this time by Dr. Criddle. Although I've already done my official entry in the meme, I figured I'd oblige with 8 more things, what with it being a slow work day and all. I won't burden you with the rules again, nor will I tag 8 more unfortunates. I've done my duty to the meme- this is just gravy.

1. I know this won’t sound very politically correct, but since we’re being honest here… I find the word "homo" hilarious. In particular, every time I hear someone whose age is in the double digits say "homo" in reference to a homosexual, I have an almost unbearable time containing my laughter. It’s one thing to hear a kid use it- kids are often prone to using cutesy names for stuff that shouldn’t be talked about in "polite" conversation (see also: "doody," "nards," "frenching," "cooter," "doing it," "wiener," and so forth), but adults who wish to be taken seriously at all have no call to say "homo." It’s just so bizarre to hear it in a supposedly grown-up voice that I’ll end up laughing to myself about it all day. I wonder what gay people make of this word- it’s undeniably a smear against homosexuality, but at the same time it’s so childish that laughing seems practically the only reasonable response. Thoughts?

2. I’m probably in the minority on this, but I don’t find Kirsten Dunst hot. I know plenty of guys who are into her, but not me. The only movie I find her even remotely appealing in is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which oddly enough had perhaps the least flattering cinematography of any movie she’s made. In the Spider-Man movies, on the other hand, I’m just not feeling it.

3. I was pretty musical in my youth, taking piano lessons for ten years and playing in the marching and symphonic bands in high school. I would like to learn another musical instrument. Several, eventually, but one to start out with. I’m not all that jazzed on learning to play the guitar, woman-attracting potential aside. I’m thinking something more along the lines of a classical instrument- perhaps the violin, or even the flute. The flute would be a better option given my current living situation- if I had my own house, I wouldn’t have to worry about noise so much, but in an apartment complex you don’t want to disturb the neighbors. Or maybe I could learn to play the theremin…

4. In addition to my instrumental music endeavors, I’ve also done a lot of singing in my life. Between some musical theatre, high school choir, and Men’s Glee Club in college, I was pretty active there for a while. And I was pretty darn good, if I do say so myself- I had a strong, clear baritone voice, well suited to both solo and ensemble singing. Unfortunately, in the intervening years my voice has suffered, due to lingering issues related to allergies and a seemingly endless string of minor respiratory ailments. I just can’t sing like I used to, and when I try I can’t keep it up for long. Damn.

5. I’m the only member of my immediate family who has never worked for Goodyear. Then again, I’m also the only one who doesn’t live in or around Akron, home of their world headquarters, so I suppose that makes sense.

6. Of all the movies I haven’t seen in my life, the one I’m most ashamed of is Pialat’s A Nos Amours. There are others I’m more eager to see, but of all the films on my lift, Amours is the only one I actually own. I’ve had a VHS copy for about 5 years and I STILL haven’t gotten around to watching it.

7. The more I think about it, the more I’ve warmed to the idea of naming my purely hypothetical daughter Muriel. I originally named my guinea pig Muriel in part because I liked the name but didn’t consider it something I’d name a child. But given my love for somewhat outmoded names, I could do a whole lot worse. And it beats the hell out of the lame crappy names you hear nowadays. I can’t tell you how sick I got of hearing the name "Chelsea" while working at the movie theatre. Gee lady, I wonder who was president when you had HER?

8. The thumb on my right hand is double jointed, but not on my left hand. So much for bilateral symmetry.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Meme fever!

Perhaps as payback for stealing his idea to post great faces, Dennis tagged me for the Eight Things meme that has been making the blog rounds of late. But first, the rules:

a) Post the rules
b) Post eight random things
c) Post the names of eight as-yet un-chosen bloggers who will subsequently ignore your tagging them or put off posting their own responses

Anyway, here goes. Unlike Dennis’ contribution, my eight things are all true. Make of that what you will.

1. I’m currently planning a trip to the Toronto International Film Festival this fall. As part of my fundraising attempts, I’ve cut back on all incidental spending. The biggest sacrifice will be my plan not to buy any more DVDs until after the fest. Granted, this will be made somewhat easier by the fact that the upcoming Zodiac DVD reportedly contains no extras, but still- given that I average at least one new DVD a week, this’ll be kind of tough.

2. I have very pale and sensitive skin. I generally avoid the sun for fear of getting burned, many fragrances tend to irritate my skin, and I redden easily, particularly on my neck. The latter provided my high school classmates no end of amusement, as they would always jokingly refer to me as "redneck" or ask me who give me those hickeys. Ever since then, I’m inclined to think that anyone who calls high school the best years of your life could probably use a good punch in the face.

3. That said, not all my high school experiences were negative. Of course, since they take place over four years, how could they be? But for all I accomplished back in high school, nothing made me prouder than a long letter I wrote to the school newspaper my junior year. The subject of the letter was my displeasure with the publication’s tendency to publish as many athletics-related stories as possible, to the exclusion of other activities and interests. Not the most original subject, but it was very well-received by many of my peers. On the day it was published I actually received a standing ovation from several of my classmates, and several "hell yeah" response letters appeared in the next issue. Last summer, when I was sorting through some of my old personal affects, I found the letter and read it again, and to my surprise it still hit home. What struck me wasn’t simply how exhaustively I argued my points, but the passion with which I had written it. I sometimes wish I had something in my life today that I could be this passionate about, or simply the energy to be passionate about something.

4. I’m not a big fan of weekends. Having few major commitments in my life, I find that I need to keep busy or else time slows to a standstill. Back when I was at the theatre, I would always request never to be given two days consecutive off unless I had specifically asked for those days. The reason for this is because by afternoon of the first day I usually ran out of stuff to occupy my time. Things have gotten better for me ever since I started writing for Screengrab, since now I have something to focus on over the weekend. So that’s nice.

5. As much as I write- and profess to enjoy writing- I’m not a big fan of the writing process in and of itself. Simply put, it takes me ages to write something that’s actually to my liking. Much of this comes from the fact that I constantly second-guess what I’ve written, and that I generally rewrite as I go. I think of part of this is due to the dinosaur word-processing program I used in my youth, which didn’t even have spell-check, so I had to pay particular attention to everything I typed. But whatever it is, the simple fact is that it takes me FOREVER to write anything longer than a Trailer Roundup. Once, I told someone that I wish I could attach a printer to my brain to print out all of my creative ideas, since while I don’t like writing, I really like re-writing, and if I could jump straight to the re-writing the process would be much less of a chore. Sadly, I don’t think that’ll happen anytime soon.

6. I own the Hudson Hawk soundtrack CD. I can’t remember why.

7. About a month ago, I was holding my guinea pig Muriel when I noticed some strange growths on the outsides of her front feet. I inspected them (she has an occasional tendency to nip at my hands) and concluded that they were probably calluses. However, a few days ago I was holding her again when I noticed that they had grown out. These growths weren’t calluses at all, but extra claws. As the fellow said, life is full of surprises.

8. I haven’t been in a serious long-term relationship since Clinton was president. Just wanted to get that out there.

Finally, I hereby infect: Jason, Steven, Mark, Jay, Kent, Tosh, Danny, and, uh, Kevin. Let the disregarding commence!

Saturday, June 30, 2007

This blog will be released unrated in my opinion.

Online Dating

Dear blog ratings board,

I know I don't have studio backing for this blog or anything, but I'm sure you can agree that this is a bit excessive. For a blog that contains no graphic decapitations or scenes of committed gay couples making love, I don't think an NC-17 is warranted. Especially for such arbitrary reasons. As you yourself point out, the reasoning behind this rating is as follows:

Pain (9x) Hell (7x) Shit (6x) Death (4x) Dead (3x) Sex (2x) Crappy (1x)

I gotta say, the offensiveness of some of these words is new to me. Obviously, we don't want our kids growing up and saying stuff like shit, but to penalize my blog to this extent for "pain" and "death" and even "sex" just tells me what a candyland you're living in. Meanwhile, my occasional tendency to casually use the word "fuck" seems to have gone unnoticed.

Another thing- Do you only rate blogs based on the posts on the main page? Because I'm sure I've posted some more objectionable material in the past. To wit, the rating of my flagship blog, Silly Hats Only:

Online Dating

This making my principal blog my equivalent of THE STRAIGHT STORY, which I can handle. I suppose this would make sense if you only took into account the main page of the blog, which is mostly composed of pictures. All told, you only found 2 uses of the word "dead" and 1 of "hell," although I'm a little surprised you overlooked the word "shitty" about halfway down. And it's obvious that you didn't scan the comments, or else you would have discovered "battered chapped vagina" among the Patton Oswalt comments. But if you didn't notice it, then I needn't inform you about it. Oh, wait.

Finally, if you're curious, here's the rating for my screening blog, where most of my recent short-form commentary is currently housed:

Online Dating

Yeah, I figured this would happen, considering that I write as much there as I do on Leprosy. The reasons for the rating were:

Hell (11x) Dead (7x) Sex (5x) Zombie (4x) Death (3x) Kill (2x) Gay (1x)

I do find it odd that you folks place such importance on the word "zombie" in your rating. I guess I ought to start referring to the rocker-cum-DEVIL'S REJECTS auteur as "Rob Undead" or "Rob Brains Eater" to meet with your approval. But no, I'm guessing this is all about that single use of the word "gay." Isn't it, guys? ISN'T IT???

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Somebody's getting married...

And no, it's not me.

For the last week, my office has been abuzz at a coworker's upcoming wedding. The wedding itself was yesterday, and barring any unforeseen complications they should be on their way to their honeymoon. All in all, it brightened the mood at work, which was nice, since working in a bank the mood could use as much brightening as possible.

However, I found myself in a strange position, as I'm the only permanent employee in my office who has never been married. There are a few who aren't married anymore, but they're in a different boat altogether. So whenever somebody would congratulate my coworker on her upcoming nuptials and I was somewhere nearby, the congratulator would inevitably turn to me and ask, "so, when are you getting married?"

Eventually, I learned to tailor my responses depending on who was asking. My generic answer tended to be "not anytime soon." If it was a guy- especially an older guy- I'd heap on the alpha-male swagger with "you know me, I like my bachelor lifestyle too much for that." And if it was a woman with whom I had a comfortable working relationship, I'd turn it into a self-deprecating joke, something along the lines of "I like women too much to inflict myself upon them."

All the wedding talk got me thinking- many of the people in my life are married. Not just those at work, but family members too, even some younger than I am. To say nothing of my friends, both in my everyday interactions and those I correspond with online. Looking down my blogroll, the majority of the people whose sites and blogs I frequent are married/engaged/in long-term relationships, and a good number of them have kids.

So being single and not in a relationship, I do feel a little out of the loop sometimes. By and large, married people gravitate toward other married people. This makes sense, since they tend to have a good deal in common with each other. But at the same time, having lots of married friends hasn't exactly done wonders for my own social life either. Heaven forbid anyone try to fix me up with their single friends or anything, but more and more I notice a tendency among married people to freeze us unmarried types out of their social circles. Not that I'm asking for them to hook me up with their single friends or anything- I'd just like to be included in the grown-up games now and again, instead of being relegated to the kids' table, figuratively speaking.

And yet, I'm not all that impatient to be married. I'm genuinely happy for my married friends, and I'd be a shitty friend if I begrudged them that happiness. Likewise, I don't dismiss the idea of marriage as a serious possibility for myself in the future. All I'm saying is that I'm not sweating it. This hasn't always been the case. As many of you may recall, I used to despair that I'd end up alone and unloved, like the overweight best friend in a bad chick flick. But the more I see of myself, the more I think that I simply may not be ready for marriage quite yet. And you know what? I'm cool with that. I can wait to get married, if waiting means I find someone cool instead of someone whose standards are relaxed enough to marry me. Sure, if I wait I might never end up being in a 66-year marriage like my paternal grandparents, but oh well. I've got a lot of living, and I dare say no small amount of growing up, to do before I commit to marriage. I can't be sure, but I believe it'll happen someday, and for now that's good enough for me.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Reflections on a cinema

Ever since I started going to movies down here in Columbus, I've had a soft spot for the Drexel Grandview Theatre. This theatre, about a twenty minute walk from my apartment, is your basic old-school neighborhood movie house. Whereas other theatres in the area offer everything from sandwiches and alcohol to stadium seating and IMAX, the Grandview is a no-frills operation, serving just your basic concession items- popcorn, candy, soda, and your requisite snacks- and more often than not is staffed by two or three people, one to sell tickets and run the projector, the others to sell concessions and clean up. Hell, they don't even have their own parking lot. But all these things are part of the charm. At a time when multiplexes tend to resemble Vegas casinos or alien ships, there's something comforting to visit a theatre with a tiled lobby and upholstered walls. They still use the old roll-style ticket stock, and they don't accept credit cards, but it's a small price to pay for a relaxing setting in which to watch a movie.

And yet the relaxation I get from the surroundings is twinged with more than a little sadness, as the place has more than its share of problems along with its comforts. One of the sadder ones is the seats. Now, I love the seats at the Grandview- the old-fashioned padded, folding theatre seats that have just enough padding in the butt cushion and just enough give in the back to be really comfortable. But it's a good thing I habitually arrive early and sit in my same seat, otherwise I might have a hard time find a seat that (a) has both of its armrests, and (b) doesn't have torn upholstery. To cite one example, the seat next to my regular seat has been torn for years. I'm not sure if nobody has noticed, or nobody has cared to fix it. I'd wager it's the ladder.

In addition, there are some pretty glaring presentation problems to reckon with. The sound system is pretty old and probably hasn't been fine-tuned in years (one reason why I sit in front). But even worse is the picture quality. The masking around the screen doesn't adjust, which wouldn't be a big deal except that the projector's aperture plate is visibly dirty, which isn't a problem on flat movies but is really distracting on 'scope. In addition, some of the masking is torn, and on a flat movie it hangs down into the image.

However, the biggest problem I have is a design flaw that probably dates back to the theatre's construction. The projection booth is almost directly above the box office, and so the image is projected out of the booth's port glass, through the high-ceilinged concession lobby, through a second window, and then over the audience onto the screen. Not ideal, but not terrible, except that the directly under the second window sits the theatre's popcorn popper, which when it's turned on expels steam from its exhaust vent, which then travels directly through the path of the projected image. When this happens, it's plainly visible onscreen, and is highly distracting. Imagine watching a movie in a sauna and you have the idea.

The Drexel Grandview shows mostly arthouse-oriented movies, and because of the prevalence of DV-shot indies and documentaries in the arthouse market the visual quality of some movies suffers more than others. But honestly, it shouldn't matter. If the owners of the theatre really cared about their visual presentation, they would try to formulate a solution to this issue in order to improve their projection standards- perhaps a duct from the top of the popper that could carry the exhaust around the image path instead of through it.

Unfortunately, judging by this and other necessary repairs that have yet to be undertaken, this probably won't happen anytime soon. At a time when more people are waiting for DVD to watch movies, arthouse movies are especially vulnerable to dips in attendance. People outside the major markets have no other option available, and people in the big markets figure they don't need the big-screen experience in the same way as, say, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN. So while the multiplexes try to hold onto the crowds with expanded concession offerings and state-of-the-art performance gizmos like digital projection, small theatres like the Grandview get left in the dust.

From a business standpoint, I have no doubt that it's something of a white elephant, a money pit. But if one really cares about cinema and the experience of watching movies, it can also be a labor of love. One of my dreams has always been that if I had enough money, I'd buy, restore, and operate an old movie house. If I was given a chance to do so with the Grandview, I'd jump at it. Something about watching a movie in a place like that feels right in a way that it doesn't at the snazzier, more modern theatres, and I only hope that its owners will finally fix its big problems while keeping what makes it special. After all, I'm not sure I like the idea of a future with nothing but prefab multiplexes.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Counting my blessings

This was inspired by Donna Bowman's recent post, "Lucky Me." I don't know if I'd consider myself as lucky as she is, but I'm still doing pretty OK. A dozen reasons why:

1. When I moved home briefly a few years ago, a major reason was because of my dad’s health. This eventually led to his getting bypass surgery- cardiac, not gastric. Thankfully, there were no complications. A year and a half later, you’d never guess he had heart problems.

2. My mom spent the first fifteen years of my life at home taking care of me and my brother. Once she returned to the workforce, she eventually found a job she loved- working on the ground crew for the Goodyear blimp. She spends most of her summers away from home, but she loves it all the same.

3. All of my grandparents are still alive and alert. They aren’t as young as they used to be, but who is? I still have time to spend with them and, more importantly, they still have their loved ones to keep them company. I can imagine few fates lonelier than weathering your final years without the person you love most.

4. As for me, my health is pretty good, and getting better. Working a set schedule means I have a consistent sleep pattern, and my migraines have mostly cleared up ever since I dropped caffeine from my diet. Plus I recently was able to take my belt in a notch. Which means my tactic of dietary moderation is working.

4 1/2 (just added). All five senses still work beautifully. Watching so many movies has taught me to love my sight and hearing, but lately I've been growing more and more fond of my sense of taste*. This is a pretty great time to be a lover of food, and Columbus is a pretty good place to be to indulge that love, even if like me you're on a budget. There's plenty of different foods to choose from here, running the gamut from old-school to thoroughly modern. Consider that last night I stopped at a coffee shop and picked up some bread pudding**, while today I dropped in at Jeni's Ice Cream and tried one of their seasonal flavors, called Crème de Violet***. If the variety of desserts offered around here is that impressive, imagine the meals one can find.

5. My mind is as active and alert as ever. Even when the task in front of me doesn’t demand a whole lot of thought, I have plenty to occupy my brain. I wouldn't trade my intelligence for anything- not money, not fame, not charisma with the ladies, nothing.

6. I know I complain a lot about my job, but I’m pretty lucky in this respect. I can afford my own apartment, to pay for all my necessities, and still have time left over for the simple pleasures that make my life rewarding.

7. Columbus may not have the formidable amount of cinema and arts options of a New York City, but it beats the hell out of most places. The Wexner Center in particular is invaluable to the cultural landscape of my life.

8. Most of my favorite films are out on DVD, with others on the way. And more as-yet-unseen treasures too, still waiting to be discovered. Yes, I'd love to be able to watch all the greats on the big screen, but being able to see them at all is wonderful enough for me.

9. My guinea pigs are as cute and fun as ever. First I bought Muriel last fall to give me a life to worry about besides my own and keep me company, and a few months later I bought Victoria to keep Muriel company when I wasn’t around. A month later, Victoria surprised me by having babies, and I ended up getting two of them adopted and keeping the third for myself. I couldn’t be happier- Charlotte is as adorable as her mother, and is a welcome addition to the menagerie. And Muriel is as cute and ornery as ever, but that’s OK, since I’m kind of ornery too.

10. In addition to the job that pays the bills, I’ve been lucky these past few months to write for The Screengrab, which allows me to parlay my twin passions for cinema and talking/writing about cinema into a few extra bucks a week. Sometimes I wish I could write about movies full-time, but I’ll take what I can get. As it is, the relatively light writing demands placed upon me by The Screengrab give me an outlet for my love of cinema, plus lend some structure to my weekly routine. When the most difficult aspect of a job is coming up with a new Movie Moment every week, you know you've got a pretty good gig. And being on the same writing staff with Vern is pretty sweet too.

11. My writing has connected me with a lot of other great writers and bloggers online, not just those with a cinematic focus- like this one and this one and this one- but more broad-minded types as well, like this one and this one. You really can’t go wrong with any of the cool cats in the blogroll on my main blog- some post more frequently than others (and most more frequently than me) but they’re all worth reading.

12. I’m young and relatively free. No significant other, no kids. Makes the nights lonely sometimes, but I can deal with it. Even more than when I had just graduated from college, I feel like I have a world of possibilities is open to me. And if one of those possibilities is marriage and a family, then hey, that’s fine too.

* Last year I took my grandma and grandpa out to lunch one day, and my grandma told me that she has almost completely lost her sense of taste. No doubt this is due to a combination of smoking for a few decades and, y'know, being 90 years old, but still, yikes. Much of the enjoyment of eating must be gone if you can't taste your food, and the workmanlike way she shoveled bean soup into her mouth reflected this. Because if you can't taste what you eat, what's left? The texture? The temperature? To no longer be able to taste the foods I love- whether it's a big fat steak or a Galley Boy from Swenson's in Akron- is almost too sad to bear.

** I have a weakness for somewhat outmoded foods (is there anywhere around here that serves a good corned beef hash?) and I'd say bread pudding certainly qualifies. Verdict on this particular incarnation: Not bad, but nothing worth writing home about. Certainly not as good as the place I get bread pudding whenever I'm in Cleveland, which usually uses the previous day's muffins. Usually they would use blueberry, which was tasty enough, but it was a special treat when they had leftover cinnamon raisin muffins to use. Oh great, now I'm craving bread pudding. The only thing that's keeping me from getting it is the fact that it's a 3 hour drive to get the kind I really want. Of such unhappy accidents are successful diets made.

*** Yes, the flavor name is to be translated literally- as in "Cream of Violet." Jeni's uses special edible violets for this flavor, which has a light, fruity taste- perfect for eating in 80-something temperatures. The downside is that they're pretty pricey, but in a way that's good, since a little ice cream is about all I can afford to eat at one time without worrying about packing on pounds. So a small cone has become a kind of reward for a week of healthy eating, which gives me something to look forward to. Next week: Bartlett Pear and Riesling Sorbet!

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

When 4 and 5 are not the same as 9

Back in grade school, I hated that the teachers graded us on handwriting. Maybe the fact that my penmanship has never been the best had something to do with it, but even then it seemed to me a little unfair that something so contingent on natural ability warrant an official letter grade (I felt the same way about gym and art class). Try as I might I could never manage to get my right hand to make the proper loops on the capital F's, and so on. It seemed to me that handwriting would be better if it was graded pass-fail or outstanding/satisfactory/unsatisfactory rather than A-F grades- after all, an A should be something that's always attainable, and even in my best efforts, I could never manage A handwriting.

(Side note: fuck cursive in my opinion. We got cursive rammed down our throats in grades 2 through 6. Every damn paper in cursive. How much have I used cursive since I graduated? Big fat never. I think even those who aced handwriting in grade school can probably say the same. Sorry for the digression.)

But while today I still sort of question the wisdom of handwriting as an all-out class in school, I respect it more as a discipline. Sure, we type a lot more nowadays than we did back then, but most of us still write things in longhand. Longhand writing tends to be for less formal occasions, such as when we write quick notes for others or even ourselves. While the notes aren't anything fancy, the people I leave them for still have to read them. So I set about to improving my handwriting (manuscript, NOT cursive) so that I wouldn't be misunderstood. That's just good courtesy. AND good communication.

Yet it amazes me how sloppy other people's writing can get. If I find a note written to me that looks like a chimp was trying to doodle, I question why the writer of the note even bothered. What is the point of writing an urgent message for somebody when that person has to hunt you down just to decipher it?

But just like I didn't get in the habit of throwing away my trash after a movie until I toiled in a theatre, I never fully appreciated the value of legible penmanship until I started a job new a few months ago. I work at a bank, and much of my day is spent operating an electronic check processor, one that scans checks from our customers and enters them into the bank's computer system. Ideally, this job would be a piece of cake, and when I say "ideally," I mean to say, "if people took more than 2 1/2 seconds to fill out their checks." The pain in the ass part of the job isn't the scanning of the checks, but the second step of it, entering the check data the processing program can't quite read.

Seriously- if you're paying a bill with a check, don't you think it'd benefit you to write your numbers legibly? How would it benefit you if the 6 you wrote looked like a 0? You could get something shut off for not paying the minimum amount, and it'd be your own damn fault. The worst are people whose 4s, 5s, and 9s are virtually indistinguishable. You'd think it would take some effort to make those look alike, but no. All you have to do is make them all look like cartoon lightning bolts. More common than you'd expect.

There are some other troubles that come with the job (don't get me started on people who write checks in green gel ink), but this is by far the biggest and most common annoyance. I'm sure others have the same problem- consider your local pharmacist, who has made a career of deciphering doctors' scrawled prescriptions. If only the habitual chicken scratchers of the world could be sentenced to a week's worth of remedial penmanship, perhaps working a check processing machine to see what a pain in the ass their lazy, lousy writing is. I'm not asking for "A" handwriting, folks, but how much more effort does it take so that we can read it?

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Rude awakening, or: Thanks, Jane!

Waking up in the morning (or for some, the afternoon or evening) is something we all do, so we don't really think about it. Most of the time, I'll set my alarm clock to the local classical station, setting the alarm time for about half an hour before I actually want to get up. That way I can hit the snooze button, lie in bed for another half hour listening to music, or get up if I'm no longer feeling sleepy. But when I don't have to work in the morning, I'd rather just wake up naturally. If I am awakened by an outside force, I'd rather it be a benign one, like the tiny feet of my guinea pigs running around in their cages, or a beautiful woman gently nudging me awake.

Some mornings- most, really- I'm not that lucky. But aside from some highly unlikely candidates (a grizzly bear tearing off my arm, say) I can think of few wakeups that would be less unpleasant than the one I got this morning. Yep, I had a cramp in one of my calf muscles. Around 6:30 this morning, I was in the middle of a fairly pleasant dream when it hit me. I remember actually crying out in pain, that's how bad it was. What could I do? There I was, my mind still not alert, suddenly shocked into a waking state by a sharp pain.

Naturally, the first thing I did was reach down and try to massage it out, but that didn't really work for me. When I got my composure a little more, I hit on the idea of stretching out the muscle, so I turned over on my stomach, planted my big toe on the bed, and pushed back on the leg, which helped to alleviate the pain. But I think what helped just as much was the glass of water I usually keep by the bed. I started doing this a few years ago in the winter, when the heat would get me dried out, and I never got out of the habit. I think it helped that I had just watched Scott Stark's More Than Meets the Eye: Remaking Jane Fonda, which contains audio of one of Jane's old 20 Minute Workout tapes. As I lie in bed, trying to work out the pain, I thought of Jane saying, "now go drink a lot of water- muscles need to be hydrated," or something like that. Sure enough, after half a glass of water and some stretching, I managed to get back to sleep. Whew.

Friday, April 27, 2007

OK, just so you don't have to look at that horrible William and Mary post at the top anymore...

Over the past week I've come to the conclusion that I should look for a new job. This one just isn't cutting it. And it's not about the money. Check that- it's not JUST about the money. Getting paid more would be nice, especially so I don't have to blow my nest egg just to go to TIFF this year.

But more important than the simple fiscal consideration is my gradual realization that the banking industry really isn't for me. I'd had my doubts about this job before, but I was able to rationalize them away. But little stuff has really started to grate on me, and when that happens there's only a matter of time before it piles up and then spills out.

The weirdest conclusion I've come to lately is that I don't like banking's overreliance on numbers. This may sound like an odd objection, but hear me out. I don't mind math- in fact, I'm pretty good at it, if somewhat out of practice. But in banking, you work with two kinds of numbers. There's the kind that you use for their mathematical properties- to add, subtract, and the rest- and then there's the kind that is used just for identification purposes. And those I don't do so well with. When I look at something like 123456789, I immediately think one hundred twenty-three million four hundred fifty-six thousand seven hundred eighty-nine. But a lot of the time you can't do that. The kicker is that I probably work with more non-math-related numbers than I do with math-related ones.

Now, I don't confuse easily, but when someone asks me to do something and the key elements of the request are four or five series of numbers- say, "can you switch the thingy from 45798121 to 7965223 with an index of 518 and a reference of 86859?"- I usually have to ask him to repeat himself at least once. And quite frankly, having to do this regularly makes me feel kind of stupid. I don't like feeling stupid. Really, I'm sure nobody does, but being thought of as stupid is one of the things I fear most. So you can see why I might have some misgivings about this part of the job.

I think I'll call up my old temp agency- the one that got me this job- next week, to see if they can find me anything else. Hopefully something involving fewer numbers, or at least numbers I can add up if the urge hits me.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Offensive semi-jokes that will almost certainly get you slapped

This was inspired by a girl I saw while I was out driving today:

A rather healthily-chested woman is walking down the street, wearing a t-shirt with "William and Mary" emblazoned across the chest. A guy walks up to her and asks, "so... which one's William?"

Sorry about that, guys.

Religious debate, in license-plate form

When I came home from work today, I pulled into the parking lot and found a spot. As I was walked into my building, I noticed two cars parked next to each other. One had a license plate that read "LIV 4 HYM." The other's plate said "6SIXX6."

This could get reeeeeeeeally interesting...

Friday, April 13, 2007

So it goes.

I was saddened by the recent passing of Kurt Vonnegut, who was a major literary hero to me during my high school and college years. I’ve been meaning to either read or re-read his work lately, and maybe now I actually will. But for the time being, I’ve been reading all of the appreciations of his life and work, many of which reference a certain passage from his masterful Slaughterhouse-Five, one that I hope someone will be cool enough to reference when delivering my funeral oration.

But this isn’t one of those- plenty have been written, most of which are better than I could have done. And that’s what really moves me about this, how personal these writers’ reflections on Vonnegut are. There is a great outpouring of sadness whenever a majorly respected or even beloved public figure dies, but the tenor of people’s reminiscences is different when it’s an artist. Writers in particular inspire very personal reflections, which makes sense- whereas many other art forms are best experiences communally, writing is a one-on-one relationship between text and reader. When you read a book that really hits home, it feels like the author is speaking directly to you.

Strangely, in light of Vonnegut’s passing, I couldn’t help but contrast it in my mind with Anna Nicole Smith’s death a few months back- strange because the reactions to their deaths were as different as their lives. Vonnegut’s passing has inspired a passionate wave of emotion from a relatively small segment of the population, and respectful shout-outs from the mainstream media. By contrast, Smith’s death was a media circus, with feeding frenzies springing up in the press over her autopsy and the paternity of her child.

These contrasts are illuminating. In a way, they kinda come down to the basic fact that he was an old writer who died, whereas she was fairly young, thus turning her death into a "tragedy." But it goes deeper than that. Writing is a solitary activity, and when writers become celebrities, it has as much to do with their extracurricular activities as it does with what they actually write. Smith, on the other hand, was a media creation through and through, a beneficiary of a popular culture that values visibility over accomplishment, and in which no celebrity is ever forgotten provided that she keeps the cameras close by. This was why the occasional gush-pieces that suggested that Elton John re-record "Candle in the Wind" in her memory were so misguided- she never had a legend in the first place, much less one that would endure after her candle burnt out. What, is the guy supposed to trot out the old warhorse every time a famous blonde dies before her time?

Thinking about these contrasts just throws into relief how the media is as much about telling stories as it is about reporting the facts. And rarely is this more apparent when a celebrity passes, since it gives journalists the ideal opportunity to pare down the lives of the famous into convenient plots- the humble beginnings, the rise to fame, the salad days, the fall from grace, and the tragic demise. When it all comes down to it, Smith’s life fit this mold perfectly.

But with all the ink has been spilled over her death, people just didn’t respond to it the way they did with Vonnegut’s. While Smith’s fame was largely predicated on what took for herself, whereas Vonnegut’s was predicated on what he gave to us. And that makes all the difference, really- Smith’s legacy was some naked pictures, a few lousy movies, a dopey reality show, and lots of disposable press clipping, all of which will no doubt be swallowed up by the media abyss. Whereas Vonnegut gave the world some of the greatest novels to be written during his lifetime, which will endure as long as people continue to read them.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Words, music, light and life

- Watching CELINE AND JULIE and UP DOWN FRAGILE on two consecutive nights, besides reminding me once more how amazing a director Jacques Rivette is, also got me thinking about libraries. Nowadays, when you walk into a library, the architecture is contemporary-looking, with soft colors, fluorescent lighting, practical carpeting and metallic shelves. And lots of computers, of course. But for me, that's never felt right. Give me that old-school library look, with hardwood paneling and gigantic reference volumes. And the card catalog, naturally. Man, I could hang out in an big, old-style library all day, wandering through the bowels of the stacks, checking out what musty and rarely-unearthed treasures are just waiting to be found. And don't get me started on the fun that can be had with microfiche.

- My latest musical obsession: Patti Smith's "Birdland." I won't go too in-depth as to why this song is so awesome, lest I appear out of my depth in terms of my musical knowledge. But man, is this song ever amazing. What I love is how it starts off like a downbeat girl-and-a-piano tune, sort of like something Laura Nyro might sing. When I listened to it again a few days ago, I started grooving on it on that level when the roiling, almost dissonant guitar playing behind Smith started to sink it. It doesn't start up suddenly or anything, it just sort of occurs to you, like that pretty girl at work who you've never quite paid attention to before. And that ending- rather than building to the big finish, it just chills out. It's so simple and sublime. If you have a copy of HORSES (and if you don't you really ought to) do yourself a favor and listen to this one again.

- There's a fluorescent bulb almost directly above my cube, right in my line of sight, and it won't stop blinking. It's driving me completely batshit. I feel like I've woken up in one of those experimental flicker films from the 60s, the kind that always have a warning for people prone to seizures.

- Bad Cavy News: So the other day I was cleaning off Victoria babies, getting them washed so they would be good to give away when the time comes. It turns out that one of them is actually a boy, something I wasn't certain of before. They're small creatures, y'see, especially when they're that young, and their, ahem, naughty bits can be hard to distinguish when they're that size. But now it's pretty certain that she is actually a he. So I separated him from the rest post haste, much to his dismay. He seems pretty lonely all by himself for the first time, and he squeaks a lot more than he used to. I feel a little bad for him- it's not his fault he's a guy- but I can't have any more babies running around the place. The worst thing of all is that he's the cutest one, and had he been a female he would've been the one I would've kept for myself.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

More adventures with fruit and meat

I usually try to make it home for Easter Sunday with my family. Not that I'm religious or anything, but they have a nice get-together every year with a big meal, so I get to visit them all and get some free food at the same time. But this year I had some stuff going on at work that necessitated my staying in Columbus, so I decided to call them after their meal instead. And in lieu of eating with the family, I decided to take the time to do my own home-cooked meal, rather than the frozen dinners or carry-out I usually get.

Anyway, I settled on a pork roast as a suitable dinner. More specifically, that wonderful and surprisingly inexpensive cut that has been rather unappealingly labeled "pork butt." Seriously, do they just call it that so that your casual meat-buyer will pass it over, thus keeping prices down for those who know better? Bearing in mind my grandmother's philosophy that half of cooking is knowing what foods go together, I tried to come up with something to pair with pork, either as a side dish or a sauce. And then it hit me- apples.

Here's the recipe I formulated:

Slow Cooked Pulled Pork with Applesauce Topping
1 5-lb pork butt (bone-in pork shoulder)
1 tbsp garlic salt
1/2 cup water
5 cooking apples, peeled, cored and sliced
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 cup apple cider
1 lb egg noodles, cooked

The night before you plan to serve, rub down the outside of the pork butt with garlic salt. Place in slow cooker with water. Turn slow cooker to low level and cover. The next morning, add apples, sugar, and cinnamon, turning the heat to high level. 1/2 hour before serving, remove pork butt from slow cooker and turn heat back to low. Pour cider in slow cooker. Let pork butt stand 15 minutes, then pull into small pieces with two forks. Just before serving, place noodles in slow-cooker with applesauce mixture.

It takes a little planning ahead, but it's easy and very tasty. The pork alone was worth it- literally falling off the bone. I hadn't originally intended to use the cider, but the trouble with pork butt is that it produces so many juices that they overwhelm the apple taste. 1/2 cup is just about the right amount of cider to balance with the pork juices, although you can add more or less to taste. Oh, and don't forget that when you serve this, serve in a deep place or a bowl, because it gets pretty sloppy.

Now the only problem is what to do with the leftovers. I'm storing the pork and the noodles separately, so I could potentially pick up some BBQ sauce next time I go grocery shopping and use it for that. Maybe I should just start dating again, so that I won't have to waste this awesome innate cooking talent on myself (he said modestly). Hey, there's an idea...

Monday, April 02, 2007

Buckeye blast

I don't really follow sports. Heck, I haven't watched a football game since I graduated from college. But after some ribbing by my co-workers at the bank last fall, I gave in and bought an OSU polo shirt to wear before big games. Every Friday, most of the employees sport their Scarlet and Grey in support of the Buckeyes, and during Michigan week participation is almost de rigeur. Heck, we even have a token Michigan fan to antagonize us. I don't really get into the games, but I do enjoy the energy that they create among my co-workers, so I play along so as not to be left out.

Now, I'm sure most of you out there noticed that Ohio State is playing for the NCAA men's basketball championship tonight. I don't follow college basketball any more than I do football, although I do fill out some March Madness brackets for fun, flipping a coin to pick the winners. So, anticipating the same Scarlet and Grey barrage at work, I dug my OSU polo out of the mothballs. But even though OSU was playing for the national championship- against the college the beat them in the football title game, no less- I and my scarlet-sportin' ways were in the minority. The energy that greeted every football game wasn't there.

Why is this? Why do my co-workers get less emotionally involved with the biggest, most important OSU basketball game in years than they do with your average football game? Why won't they break out the colors for this game even though they'll happily do so when Tressel's boys take on Podunk State? I'm not saying that my co-workers are a good representation of the mood in Columbus, but I'm pretty puzzled by this realization. When the football team lost the national championship, going to work was like attending a wake. If the same happened to the basketball team, will anyone care all that much?

Lester Bangs was right

The other day I was over at a friend's house, watching some of ALMOST FAMOUS. It used to be that I would watch the radio station interview with Lester Bangs and look at his statement about the Doors as being an eccentric viewpoint by an opinionated guy. "Jim Morrison? He's a drunken buffoon masquerading as a poet." But watching it again, I realized that I was agreeing with him now. While I've claimed to like the Doors ever since my high school years, when was the last time I actually listened to any of my Doors CDs? I dare say it's been years.

The Doors are a big band for high schoolers getting into the uncharted realms of "classic rock." With Morrison's lyrics and the funereal music, they feel serious and deep, especially compared to innocuous contemporary pop. "Morrison's words are poetry," we tell ourselves, sometimes through a pot haze, sometimes not.

But when I came home and popped in one of my Doors CDs, I had one of those Tom Wolfe, can't-go-home-again moments. Most of their songs are pretty unlistenable. Maybe if I still smoked pot, I might have gotten that old feeling back, but I'm afraid those days are gone. A few songs hold up- "L.A. Woman" especially- but most hardly justify the grandiose claims we once made. The groovy organ solos now feel like drug-fueled dicking around, no less wanky than the guitar noodlings at a Dead concert ("I know my friends always charged me $35 bucks to listen to them dick around on guitars"). And poetry? Saying Morrison wrote his lyrics as poetry isn't necessarily a compliment- couldn't the same be said of any wannabe songwriter who rhymes "mire", "wire", and "pyre"?

I think what I responded to at that age, more than the lyrics or the music, was the pageantry and the pretention. Morrison played a dual role in his career, a rock'n'roll artist and a doomed musical messiah. He conveyed these roles in his music and his short life, and we believed him, as the young are apt to do. But divorced from this belief, the music just isn't the same. Nowadays, I yearn for music, not mystique. Bangs extols the virtues of the Guess Who- "they've got the courage to be drunken buffoons, which makes them poetic"- and I took have my favorites. Yet I can't help but feel a bit like a kid who just found out that there's no Santa Claus. I know the truth, and objectively I should be satisfied. But Christmas won't be quite the same anymore.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Bright idea du jour

I hated high school gym class. A lot of this surely had to do with the fact that I was a clumsy nerd, so I was one of the last kids picked for most games, with the curious exception of basketball, which I ended up doing pretty OK at because I always scrambled to pull down rebounds. But another problem is that I just didn’t like most of the sports and activities that were foisted upon us. Naturally, most P.E. teachers are jocks themselves, so their lesson plans tend to be pretty jock-friendly. But then as now, I just didn’t enjoy dodgeball or soccer.

The funny thing is that I did enjoy taking P.E. classes in college. The big difference wasn’t just that the college courses were elective rather than mandatory, though that certainly didn’t hurt. No, what I really liked was the way I could handpick the sports I enjoyed or was curious about. I took everything from racquetball to ballroom dancing, and I enjoyed them all.

I’m wondering if an à la carte system might not also work at the high school level. Naturally, there would have to be some required stuff- a class focusing on fitness and nutrition, for example. But rather than making all students take the same P.E. curriculum, they would be able to choose from several different options every nine weeks or so. Give them a variety of choices- not just the obvious things like basketball and volleyball, but other stuff as well, like weightlifting or aerobics. Hell, I would’ve taken a quarter of aerobics in high school- not only would it have been good exercise, but it would’ve been crawling with girls, which would have appealed to me then as now.

Naturally, there would be some sports you couldn’t do, either due to insurance reasons (swimming), risk of injury (football, wrestling), or logistics (golf). And we could probably rule out ballroom dancing, due to parental complaints and awkwardness issues. But still, there are still plenty of sports out there for the students to enjoy. There could even be a points scale, based on the estimated level of impact.

For all the complaints that have been raised over kids getting fatter, most of the solutions have addressed diet, with very little proposed on the exercise end. I’m a firm believer in the idea that if you want people to get into good habits, you should make it fun for them. By allowing students to focus on sports they enjoy rather than slogging through ones they dislike, they’ll be able to get into a regular exercise routine as well as building a firm foundation for physical fitness in the future. After all, it wouldn’t be called "physical education" unless you were supposed to actually learn something.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Today's paradox: I become a grandpa before I'm even a dad

So the pet store sold me a pregnant guinea pig. Victoria, that is, not Muriel- I've had her too long for her to have gotten pregnant on my watch. But you'd best believe that once I discovered that Victoria had given birth I took Muriel out and inspected her in order to prove that she was most definitely female.

In recent weeks I noticed that Victoria had been getting bigger, but I chalked this up to her increased appetite- I observed once she started relaxing around me, she began eating more, both pellet food and veggies (she's partial to kale). Now I see that there were other reasons behind her change in diet, and she wasn't gaining weight because of the eating, but vice versa. I wonder if Muriel's odd behavior around Victoria might have been triggered by Victoria's hormonal changes as well.

Anyway, right now mother is doing well and caring for her new litter of three. They're tiny and adorable, no bigger than mice, all of them with brown, red and white coats. It was a nice surprise, but a little worrisome too- the whole reason I bought another female was so she wouldn't get pregnant. So tomorrow I'm going back to the pet store to see if they have any ideas. I'm thinking about complaining in order to maybe get free shots for the newborns, since had I known Victoria was pregnant I would've thought twice about adopting her. After that, I'm going to wait for them to get older and more self-sufficient, then I'll send out an e-Mail to my co-workers offering them for free. Maybe they'd make good prizes for the Muriel Awards...

Mother and children are doing well, thank goodness. So everyone out there, fire up a stogie to celebrate the miracle of life, right here in my shoebox-sized apartment, where at least someone who lives here has gotten some action recently.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Exactly 6 months and 20 posts later...

Two milestones are better than one, they say. Well, actually I think I'm the only one who says it, but what the hell. Maybe if I'd actually put some effort into this blog I could get 50 by Christmas. Moving on...

- I've been getting the feeling lately that all is not right with Muriel. She's always been fickle and spoiled and sort of a brat, but a lot of her less pleasant tendencies have become exacerbated of late. Whenever she's with Victoria, sooner or later Muriel is going to scare her little buddy, but while before I thought Muriel was just being a bully trying to put the smaller pig in her place, the other day I actually sat and watched them together for a while. Eventually, the strangest thing happened- without warning, Muriel started running around and around in the cage, paying no mind to where Victoria was, and even at one point actually running over Victoria's butt, causing her to start squealing. The really odd thing was that Muriel didn't seem to be angry or annoyed with Victoria, but rather did it without knowing any better. So I'm wondering whether something might actually be wrong with Muriel- could it be an eye problem, perhaps, or is it simply possible that Muriel just isn't very smart, even by guinea pig standards?

- Ever since I've started doing my own tax returns, I've gotten used to the idea of getting a fairly healthy return. To wit, I paid for the computer I'm currently typing this on with my tax return from three years ago. So you can imagine how surprised I was when I completed my tax return this afternoon and discovered that not only was I only getting back $150 from the federal government, I actually OWE the State $125 dollars. Wow, a whole $25 overall. Big whoopdie doo fuckin' ding. I re-ran all the figures, and the result was the same. I really wish I would've known that the temp agency for whom I worked for the last six months of 2006 (a) didn't take out state tax, and (b) withheld less federal tax. Now, I'm not the sort of person who plans his spring expenditures around the money he anticipates getting back from Uncle Sam, but I always liked getting a nice big tax return. It always made me feel like I was getting something back for the taxes I paid, and besides, it's not like I ever saw the money that got withheld, much less missed it. Oh well... at least next year's will be better. Right?

- After the worrying over Muriel and annoyance over my tax return, you'd think that a punctured tire would just be the king of all pissers for the day. Well, actually... you'd be wrong. Under the circumstances, this is more or less the least inconvenient flat tire I could conceivably have had. This evening I made too tight a turn and ended up clipping a curb with my right rear tire a block from my apartment. I didn't even realize that anything was wrong until I pulled in, parked, and was walking away. It was that unmistakable whistling hiss that inevitably comes from air leaking out. So I was a little anxious about it, and I contemplated whether the local Goodyear store was open on Sunday (dad and mom are both employees, and they can get me a discount). However, after a few minutes I remembered that I have a full-sized spare in the trunk that was actually one of my old tires, replaced about two years ago. I made sure that it wasn't flat (it wasn't) and then came back inside at ease with the situation, resolved to change the tire tomorrow morning, when it'll be easier to see what I'm doing. See what happens when you heed the Boy Scout motto to "Be Prepared"?