Friday, March 28, 2008

Mysterious Ways

For months now, I had thought that my laptop's DVD player was outputting abnormally low volume. DVDs were faint, even with the volume turned all the way up - and when you do the bulk of your DVD watching on a train, that's trouble, my friends. Then, just a few days ago, I started to notice it on my iPod as well. Finally that very dim light bulb above my head flickered, and I realized that it might be my headphones. I dug up a pair of old earbuds, and viola! I could hear!

So, two days ago, I was on the PATH train heading into Hoboken. I had the iPod on my 5-star musical theater song playlist and was reading Death Star. And I wasn't really paying attention to the music. Then, "Next," from the English National Opera's production of Sondheim's Pacific Overtures came on. I noted the song, and how much I love it, and continued reading.

When we got to Hoboken, I put the book away and headed towards the stairs. And as my consciousness started to register the music more, I found myself smiling at the song. And I grabbed the iPod to boost the volume all the way up - which was now, remember, actually loud. And the big drums section of the song kicked in.

Now I was walking with hundreds of commuters. And the song was divorced, not just from the play, but from the rest of the score. And yet, as those awesomely loud drums pounded away, and as those awesomely loud horns blared, I found myself blinking away tears. "Next" is not a sad song. It is the finale of the musical, with the story being about the opening up of Japan. And in this song, the all-male chorus sings of how quickly Japan will rise to become a world power, and how quickly they will modernize. It's a song full of ironic portent, and excited fury. But it's not sad. And yet the sheer power of Sondheim's music, its sheer boundless energy, can move me to tears. And that amazes me. It amazes me sometime to realize the primal power that music can hold. After all, it's not as if I know why the song works on me the way it does. I just know it does. And it's part of what makes music so important for me. As an atheist, I don't feel a connection to something bigger than I in church, or in prayer. But in music? I do.

Until Whenever

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Old Times

Back in college, I read a fair number of the new Star Wars universe novels, starting with the much-loved Timothy Zahn trilogy. They were fun and they featured characters I loved in a universe I loved. Sure, some were better than others (I remember The Marriage of Princess Lea as being shockingly inept), but they were good disposable reads. When they got into the whole 30-novel cycle about strange new alien beings coming from beyond the outer rim I tried to keep up but just couldn't - way too much product. So it had been a long while since I'd read a Star Wars novel. But when I was in the library last week, I saw a new hardcover that cried out for an impulse borrow.

Death Star is a fast, tight, episodic look at a wide range of characters involved in the construction of the Death Star - from such muckety mucks as Tarkin, Mott, and Vader, to a cantina owner (it had never occurred to me that the Death Star would have bars and restaurants, but of course it would), to an architect, to a stowaway thief, to a pilot,to a guard, to a doctor. I haven't yet finished the book, but it seems that the plot is careening towards what we readers now will be the death of nearly all these characters as the Death Star is destroyed.

What I think I like most about this very fun book is the very idea of the thing - getting a Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead kind of backstage look at what was going on in the Death Star, is just good wholesome geeky fun. And the writers, Michael Reaves and Steve Perry, do a very good job of making their universe feel real and of a piece with what we know, with very good, never overbearing, hard sci-fi type stuff abounding. But what's even more impressive is the pathos they manage to wring around the moral and ethical feelings that would go along with building a weapon that kills millions - or of being the guy who "pulls the trigger." Or of being a good man, a doctor, nevertheless in service to the Empire. This is very well-done world building, and I find myself now curious to see if there are any other Star Wars books out there that take this approach - the R&G approach, I'll call it.

Until Whenever

Monday, March 24, 2008

Three by Three

Three things I liked about No Country for Old Men

  • The acting. Don't think Bardem trumped Holbrook, but he was very good, and Jones did a marvelous job of creating a very real-feeling, sympathetic character without much screen time to do it in. Josh Brolin was fine, if a bit one-note, but Kelly MacDonald, as his wife, was excellent - and how shocked was I to hear her Scottish burr in the featurette? (Although it does beg the question - they couldn't have found a Texas girl?)
  • The skill - all of the set pieces were immaculately composed and edited, and had me on the edge of my train seat. It's a gorgeous film.
  • The beginning - the Coens do a very good job of quickly introducing the characters and situation, of getting the ball moving with a minimum of fuss and bother

Three things I did not like about No Country for Old Men

  • The ending. The sequence of events at the end of the film were just a little too understated for me - I was not exactly clear as to what was going on. But on top of that, I wasn't sure of the point - apart from that violence is pervasive? Or that greed is bad? I felt a little lost as the credits rolled.
  • The violence - in the end, the film may have been a tad too much for my squeamishness levels. The broken arm at the end really disturbed, for some reason.
  • The score. I read somewhere after seeing the film something about composer Carter Burwell being part of the Coen family, and had to think back - was there a score? I guess so, but it did not register at all.

Thus far I've seen three of the five Best Picture nominees, and so far I'd put this third, after Juno and Michael Clayton.

Until Whenever

Thursday, March 20, 2008

. . . and then you wrap it in prosciutto . . .

Have you ever stopped to realize just how unhealthy Buffalo wings are? I mean, you start with the fattiest part of the chicken - layers of fat and fatty skin covering little slivers of meat.

. . . and then you deep fry the suckers in oil.

. . . and then you slather them with, not just hot sauce, but hot sauce and butter.

. . . and then you dip them into a blue cheese dressing that basically comprises chunks of cheese suspended in mayonnaise.

Damn, I love Buffalo wings.
Until Whenever

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

My 100 Favorite Songs - #s 81-91

91. "Tokyo Storm Warning" - Elvis Costello
A raucous, end-of-the-world rave up anchored on a groovy riff reminiscent of the Sesame Street intro. This is one of those songs (Dylan writes a lot of them) where I have no idea what the lyrics mean but absolutely love the way they fit together. This has the feel of a very classic Costello song to me, kind of uber-Costello, what with the biting phrasing, the intricate, wordy lyrics, and post-punk stomping rhythm.

90. "Window in the Skies" - U2
This single, included with the U218 greatest hits disc, is far, fare better than such filler has a right to be. It's got a theatrical feel that U2, even in their epic mode, usually don't approach, and an absolutely epiphanic release at the chorus. The insanely well-done video, which makes it look as if a cast of the twentieth century's greatest musicians are performing the song, is what drew me to it, but the music kept me. Edge's ridiculously simple guitar solo in the middle is one of those perfect musical moments for me - those ten or so notes just completely capture the mood and moment.

89. "Standing in the Doorway" - Bob Dylan
A sequel (prequel?) of sorts to "Knockin on Heaven's Door," this is a gorgeous, slow, shuffling ballad of mortality. And it benefits exponentially from the fact that it's sung by old Bob, not young Bob. The weight of experience he has in his voice simply can not be faked.

88. "The Way" - Neil Young
A simple, clear-as-crystal ballad sung by Young and a children's choir. This should be cloying and sticky-sweet, and yet it's very effective - I think at least in part because the children's choir is not polished and ethereal, but down-to-earth and untrained.

87. "MOFO" - U2
Dark, angry U2 during its brief flirtation with techno rhythms. That propulsive, super-fast bass line creates a palpable sense of urgency, and the deeply personal lyrics and emotive phrasing make this a keenly felt emotional song, full of real need. And those explosive guitar bursts at the beginning from the Edge are just great - as he aptly termed it in an interview, they sound like a plane taking off.

86. "Accidents Will Happen" - Elvis Costello
I actually fell in love with this song via the live piano version on an early reissue of Armed Forces, but the album version is no slouch. Few artists have combined angry lyric with poppy sunny rock music as well as Costello. And, as this song illustrates nicely, few have combined keyboard rock and guitar rock as seamlessly as he.

85. "Sacrifice" - Sinead O’ Connor
One of my all-time favorite covers. O'Connor creates a lot of momentum and emotion by simply letting the song build, slowly, slowly, over the course of its entire length. She starts off almost whispering, and end, not loud, but strong and firm. A haunting rendition.

84. "Fragile" - Sting
A classic, sensitive Sting song, with a lyric that is a bit heavy-handed, but with a lovely, delicate little melody that more than makes up for those shortcomings. Sting is very underrated in his ability to evoke mood, and this song is a prime example of that ability - the melody and arrangement work in perfect concert to create a very sublime sense of hopeful melancholy.

83. "Mmm, Mmm, Mmm" - Crash Test Dummies
I think I'm supposed to not like this song, but, well, I do. That steady, step-wise, patient melody just grabs me, not sure why. And I love Brad Roberts' deep bass voice. Basses in pop music number what? just him and Johnny Cash?

82. "Bridge Over Troubled Water" - Simon & Garfunkel
I kind of find it hard to believe that no version--and there have been tons--of this song has bested the original, especially considering the obvious gospel inspirations behind the song. And yet it's Garfunkel's pure (but thin) choir-boy vocals that remain the standard, no matter how many great singers try and make it the gospel song it seems to want to be.

81. "Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right" - Bob Dylan
A classic break up song, with one of the purest, cleanest melodies you'll find in the Dylan canon.I love the simple, arpeggiated accompaniment, as well as with the simple acceptance of defeat with which Dylan puts forth the lyric.

Until Whenever

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Three by Three

Three things I liked about Michael Clayton.
  • The way Tony Gilroy, the writer/director, gets the important plot information to us (who Michael Clayton is, what the agro-company his firm is defending did) in such a subtle, minimum-of-fuss way. There are no big info-dumps, and even though the viewer is dropped into the middle of a lot of stuff, it never gets confusing in that "too many white guys in suits who look alike" way legal thrillers can.
  • Wilkinson and Clooney's performance - as much scenery as Wilkinson chews, he's still very organic and believable as a man who's had a crisis of conscious that may as well be a psychotic break, and Clooney underplays very nicely, especially in the very low-keyed scenes with his kid.
  • The way Gilroy starts with the end before flashbacking, making the vast majority of the film a flashback, taking what is rapidly becoming a screenwriting structural cliche and making it work.

Three things I did not like about Michael Clayton.

  • Tilda Swinton's Oscar. She was fine, but the best supporting female performance of the year? I know I haven't seen many 2007 films, but I'd easily put, say, Jennifer Garner in Juno ahead of this. Foreign-actor bias at work.
  • That they do such a clean, impeccable, well-planned job of killing the Wilkinson character, and resort to a cheap car bomb to get Clooney.
  • The closing credits gambit, with a very long single take focused on a Clooney close up - I like Clooney a lot, but he simply doesn't have the chops yet for such a long, silent stretch.

Until Whenever

Friday, March 14, 2008

Doin' the Friday Shuffle

Been a while.

1. " Sanctuary" - Miles Davis - Bitches Brew
Sweetly mellow jazz.

2. "Opportunity" - Elvis Costello - Get Happy!!
Elvis in soul groove.

3. "One of dese mornings" - Gershwin - Porgy and Bess
I really would like to see a production of this one day.

4. "Blue Eden" - Neil Young - Sleeps with Angels
Smoky, ominous, plod-rock.

5. "The Ludlows" - James Horner - Legends of the Fall
Sweet, wistful piano piece from an underrated score.

6. "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year" - Johnny Mathis - Now That's What I Call Christmas
Kind of essential.

7. "Southern Man" - Neil Young - After the Goldrush
The best kind of angry rock.

8. "I Can't Give You Anything But Love" - Louis Armstrong - The Essential Louis Armstrong
Old-school jazz.

9. "It Wasn't Meant to Happen" - Stephen Sondheim - Marry Me a Little
A cut Sondheim song - pretty and melancholy.

10. "Beautiful" - Aimee Mann - The Forgotten Arm
Mid-tempo rock, with a nicely understated melody.

Until Whenever

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Astonishing Acting

I have not yet seen No Country for Old Men. So I will not say that Hal Holbrook was robbed. But, having just seen In the Wild . . . damn. Holbrook doesn't show up until the end of the film - he's the last of the people McCandless befriends before he goes to Alaska for his final outdoor adventure. Holbrook plays an old man, Ron, with no relatives, who bonds closely with Chris. In reading the book, the pieces with Ron telling Krakauer how it felt when he learned Chris had died in Alaska were easily some of the most affecting. For whatever reason, this man had been deeply, deeply moved by his brief friendship with the much younger Chris.

And in the film, because of the facts of the story and the episodic structure (we only get 10-5 minutes with Holbrook), all of the weight falls on Holbrook and Hirsch to make that relationship work on screen - to make us believe in that bond that was made. The script simply doesn't have time to do it; the actors have to do all of the heavy lifting.

And Oh Jesus does Holbrook deliver. He's great throughout, but the scene where Ron drops Chris off to hitch a ride up to Alaska is astonishing. There's little dialogue, just a short speech in which Ron proposes "adopting" Chris, of becoming his grandfather, but the subtle, bewildering, hurt and terrified emotions that flash across his face as he says goodbye are as real as anything I've ever seen in a film. I had kind of suspected that Holbrook's nomination wasn't really earned, that it was more of a token "nominate the old guy" thing. I could not have been more wrong.

This clip, from the Oscars, cuts a bit even from the small piece of the scene shown, and doesn't do the moment I'm describing justice, but it should give you a sense. Genius.

Until Whenever

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Random Top Ten

Random Top Ten!

Top Ten Marvel Sagas

10. Secret Wars
So contrived (infinitely powerful being shuttles major heroes off to a planet he creates so that they can fight), but it had to be done, really.

9. Armor Wars
Tony Stark finds out his tech is being used for evil and begins hunting it all down, no matter who gets hurt. Folks who found the Iron Man/Captain America stand-off in Civil War without precedent have not read this.

8. Avengers Disassembled
Bendis does a good job of destroying the Avengers.

7. Civil War
A delicious concept. The execution may have been off, but the logic was great, and the outcome was real, and is still being felt.

6. Phoenix Saga
The inspiration behind the X-Men films. Grand superhero soap operatics at their best.

5. Death of Captain America
That the title has been so good even though the title character is dead is testament to how well Brubaker has thought all this out.

4. Operation Galactic Storm
Civil War detractors take note - Iron Man and Captain America at loggerheads again. I was too young to read the Kree-Skrull war, so this Kree-Shi'ar war had to do. Grandly fun and exciting cosmic stuff.

3. Infinity Gauntlet
Exuberantly big, the overwriting and histrionics are compensated by the great one-two punch of George Perez and Ron Lim.

2. Masters of Evil Take Over Avengers Mansion
Small-scale and human, with very real-feeling ramifications.

1. Kraven's Last Hunt
Spider-Man is "killed." Haunting and dark.

Until Whenever

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

More Than Little Ditties

The induction of the irascible and oft-maligned John Mellencamp into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last night, got me to reminiscing about how much I actually like his music. As a teen, he was right up there with Sting as one of my favorite artists after U2, but these days that star has been eclipsed by artists like Neil Young, Elvis Costello, and Bob Dylan. Still, the odd shape to his career has, I think, contributed to what I think is a bit of an underrating (many bloggers and critics seemed to take umbrage at his induction, for example, seeing it as watering down of the Hall).

Mellencamp started as a studio creation (Johnny Cougar!) singing pop constructions designed for hit status. Accordingly, his first few albums are kind of disposable, the trashy fun of "I Need a Lover" notwithstanding. And, in his late career, he has settled into a kind of monotonous sameness of solid, uninspiring, heartland rock albums pumped up with lots of filler. But in between that beginning and end was a string of well-constructed, thematically integrated, tuneful and beautiful albums that stand up to similar strings of great albums from other acts. The albums in that stretch, all worth getting were:

Featuring such break-out hits as "Authority Song," "Crumbling Down,"and the song that just may be his career-defining song in the end, "Pink Houses" this was his first really mature work, and the one in which he cemented what would be a winning combination of social commentary, strong rock grooves, and off-model instrumentation.

The album that made him a star, a very socially grounded album, almost a protest album, that among the hits "Rain on the Scarecrow" and "ROCK in the USA," features two of his greatest songs, and proof that he had developed into a real songwriter - "Minutes to Memories" and "Between a Laugh and a Tear." If forced to choose just one, this is probably the album to get.

His best album. It doesn't have the hits of the previous two (although "Paper in Fire" made some noise), but it's the most cohesive of all his albums, and there's not a bum note or filler song in the bunch. It's also the most aggressive in terms of social commentary, and the most richly imagined in terms of the characters that populate the songs. "Check It Out" is unheralded, but it's Mellencamp's best work as a songwriter.

A smaller, more acoustic-feeling album that's probably his prettiest. Featured the wannabe-hit "Pop Singer," but is notable more for such gems as "Mansions in Heaven" and "Jackie Brown," a devastating little ballad about poverty.

The opening track, "Love and Happiness," is as tight and aggressive a little rock song as you could hope for, and the sardonic, cynical stance Mellencamp could take in song reaches its apex in the bitter and damning "Melting Pot."

The filler that starts to haunt the rest of his albums starts to rear its head here, but there are easily enough strong tracks - including the killer title track - to count this as an essential.
For a look at ten great Mellencamp songs, see here.

Until Whenever

Thursday, March 06, 2008

The Calm Before the Storm

We are only a few months away from the big Summer movie season, and yet films will continue to be released between now and then. The question, then, is - is Tosy and Cosh interested in seeing any of them? Let's take a look (list cribbed from Samurai Frog, as is the whole notion of this post, really).

10,000 B.C. - Looks very silly, and like a wasted opportunity. WHY DO THEY HAVE BRITISH ACCENTS??

Horton Hears a Who - They got the look of the Seuss universe right, I'll give them that. And if the kids get into the book, maybe I can get them to see it. Will have to look up how long it is. Maybe I'll show them the trailer.

Drillbit Taylor - There's the Apatow connection, but nothing is grabbing me there. Will skip.

Stop-Loss - My interest in Iraq movies is pretty close to nil (although affection for Crash and Million Dollar Baby does have me looking to rent In the Valley of Elah.

21 - I've read the book, and it was great, and yet it looks like the movie is needlessly going to amp up and overdamatize what was a very compelling, dramatic story on its own. Jerks.

Leatherheads - I might actually try and see this in the theater. Looks like a heck of a lot of fun. Clooney does retro well.

The Ruins - I'm not too into horror films, but this does remind me that I liked A Simple Plan a lot (novels by the same guy), and so should really read The Ruins.

Smart People - This looks like a sweet little comedy/drama, and I like Ellen Page, Dennis Quaid, and Sarah Jessica Parker, so this goes on the list. In the end, likely a rental though.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall - Kristen Bell AND "guy from Freaks and Geeks and How I Met Your Mother whose name i am too lazy to Google (but not too lazy top type all this)"? I'm in.

Baby Mama - Tina Fey has earned a lot of goodwill thanks to the genius of 30 Rock, so I'm there. The wife likes her too, so this might even be a theater one!

Until Whenever

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

How White Am I?

Roger points me in the direction of the funny social commentary at Things White People Like. And, inspired by the non-white Roger's admission of liking some of these ostensibly dorky things, I thought I'd catalogue which of the things white people like I like. So:

#81 Graduate School
Yes. I have an MA in English and I'm not sure why. I started it because my company at the time was paying for it. But I only took one class before leaving for greener (but less tuition-reimbursement-happy) pastures.

#80 The Idea of Soccer
No. Never played it and don't particularly care for it, or that America is seemingly alone in not loving it.

#79 Modern Furniture
No. Ick. I like classic or old-fashioned furniture. Amish-made, solid, handcrafted stuff. Hate modern furniture.

#78 Multilingual Children
No. I've nothing against kids learning more than one language, but don't feel passionately that they must.

#77 Musical Comedy
Lord yes. As any regular reader knows.

#76 Bottles of Water
Ugh. I hate buying bottles of water. Very silly thing to do, unless one is thirsty and there is no convenient supply of tap available (at a park, say, where the pretzel guy has water but there are no fountains.). That being said, I hate water. So . . . flavorless.

#75 Threatening to Move to Canada
Nah. Like any good American I get frustrated by the guvment, but never enough to threaten leaving.

#74 Oscar Parties
Yes. Never been but love the idea in theory. If the Oscars were on a Superbowl timeframe, I;d have one. But a Sunday party at 8? Just doesn't work.

#73 Gentrification
No. I'm a suburb guy.

#72 Study Abroad
No. Never saw the draw.

#71 Being the only white person around
No. Sad to say, but I have no compulsion to travel to China and eat in a restaurant where I'm the only pale whitey there.

#70 Difficult Breakups
No. Never dated much, frankly.

#69 Mos Def
No. He was OK in Hitchhikers Guide; other than that, I'm nonplussed. Oh wait - I did very much like his "America" on the West Wing finale.

#68 Michel Gondry
Yes. Well; Sunshine and John Malkovich. Don't think I've seen any others.

#67 Standing Still at Concerts
Yes. But that's because I dance like a, well, white guy.

#66 Divorce
No. Not fun.

#65 Co-Ed Sports
Sure - it's fun to play with the wimmin folk too.

#64 Recycling
Yes. But I'm not much of an evangelist for it.

#63 Expensive Sandwiches
Yes. Guilty as charged. I love a fancy samwich, with sun-dried tomatoes, and high-falutin' mayos.

#62 Knowing What’s Best for Poor People
No. I don't pretend to know what it's like to be poor, or the best way for poor people to stop being poor.

#61 Bicycles
Of course. Who doesn't like a nice bike ride. And for kids they're indispensable.

#60 Toyota Prius
Nah. I'm a "buy used and drive it into the dirt" kind of guy.

#59 Natural Medicine
An emphatic no. I'm a hard science guy; no quakery for me, thanks.

#58 Japan
No. No interest in going, and don't have any real interest in Japanese films, music, comics.

#57 Juno
Yes. Thought it was great.

#56 Lawyers
No - not if it can be avoided. That it takes a lawyer to buy a house irks me to no end.

#55 Apologies
Yes. I apologize often.

#54 Kitchen Gadgets
Yes. And I take the extra-bleached step of never actually using them.

#53 Dogs
Yes. Cute and good companions.

#52 Sarah Silverman
Yes. I'm not a huge fan, but she makes me laugh.

#51 Living by the Water
Oh yes. A dream of mine - a big ol' vacation house on a lake in New Hampshire.

#50 Irony
Of course. It's hard-wired.

#49 Vintage
No. I hate old stuff. Clothes, antiques. none of it.

#48 Whole Foods and Grocery Co-ops
No. too much work and not worth the price. I shop at a regular grocery store and shop sales.

#47 Arts Degrees
The aforementioned MA has me guilty.

#46 The Sunday New York Times
Yes. In theory. In practice, I read some of the front and sports pages, much of the arts section, and hope the magazine has an article I'm interested in.

#45 Asian Fusion Food
No. Haven't tried it, at least.

#44 Public Radio
No. I tried This American Life on podcast and got bored.

#43 Plays
Yes. I do have a BA in Theater Arts.

#42 Sushi
No. Bland and non-filling.

#41 Indie Music
No. Too much to wade through - I need a bigger filter.

#40 Apple Products
Yes. But I haven't switched from a PC yet.

#39 Netflix
Yes; but I switched a few years back to its cheaper copycat, Blockbuster online, to take advantage of a cheaper price and in-store rentals.

#38 Arrested Development
Yes, but haven't gotten around to season two yet.

#37 Renovations
Yes; not that we've gone down that road yet. But the idea of adding to my house is appealing.

#36 Breakfast Places
Yes. I LOVE a good breakfast place. I miss the Le Peep in Morris County terribly.

#35 The Daily Show/Colbert Report
No. On too late, and on too often to TiFaux.

#34 Architecture
No. Boring as hell.

#33 Marijuana
No. Never tried, never will.

#32 Vegan/Vegetarianism
No. Meat is just too good.

#31 Snowboarding
No. Too expensive.

#30 Wrigley Field
No. Never been to Chicago; and if I do go, I won't be stopping by. Don't care about the Cubs.

#29 80s Night
No. The 80s music that gets played is mostly the bad 80s music.

#28 Not having a TV
Never. I LOVE TV.

#27 Marathons
Yes; in theory. I have a bad knee (and I am lazy). But I ran cross country in high school and always wanted to run a marathon one day.

#26 Manhattan (now Brooklyn too!)
No. I like the occasional visit, but mostly I'm happy in the suburbs.

#25 David Sedaris
Yes. Funny.

#24 Wine
No. I'm a teetotaler.

#23 Microbreweries
No. Ibid.

#22 Having Two Last Names
No. Confusing. And where does it end? If I give my daughter two last names and she marries one day and wants to hyphenate . . .

#21 Writers Workshops
No. I didn't find the workshop aspect of my writing classes all that useful.

#20 Being an expert on YOUR culture
No; I'm an expert on no cultures, and make no pretensions otherwise.

#19 Traveling
No. Expensive. Sure, there are places I'd like to see one day, but not tons of them, and I may never get to see them.

#18 Awareness
No. Awareness is overrated.

#17 Hating their Parents
No. My parents are all right.

#16 Gifted Children
Yes. I do fervently hope that my kids will turn out gifted. And yes, I know this is dumb.

#15 Yoga
No. Beyond my ken.

#14 Having Black Friends
No. Although, I don't have many friends, period, being something of an introvert.

#13 Tea
No. I like a cup of tea fine, but that's about the extent of it.

#12 Non-Profit Organizations
No. I'm pretty apathetic, is the truth of the matter.

#11 Asian Girls
No. I'll admire a pretty Asian girl as much as a pretty white girl, but have no special affinity.

#10 Wes Anderson Movies
No. I liked Tanenbaums and Rushmore fine, but that's about it.

#9 Making you feel bad about not going outside
Yes. I get cabin fever pretty quickly, and look in suspicion on those who don't like being outside.

#8 Barack Obama
No. Not in love.

#7 Diversity
No. Just can't get too worked up about it.

#6 Organic Food
No. Not worth the price.

#5 Farmer’s Markets
No. Ibid.

#4 Assists
As a Net and Kidd fan, yes.

#3 Film Festivals
No. My tastes tend towards the populist, not the super-arty.

#2 Religions their parents don’t belong to
No. Not a fan of religion at all.

#1 Coffee
A thousand times yes. I am well and truly addicted.

My final tally? 28 Ayes and 53 Nays, which makes me only 35% white. Not sure what it makes me 65% of though.

Until Whenever
It was a dark and stormy night . . .

Another in a rare series of short fiction by Tosy and Cosh. I wrote this story for a Master's Class years ago. The professor found it slight and melodramatic, and it probably is, and yet I've always kind of loved it, obvious Stephen King influence or no obvious Stephen King influence.

On the Beauty and Danger of Cell Phones

“Timmy, put that down this instant!” Mary’s nerves had progressed beyond frayed and had achieved the shredded and loose consistency of a piece of twelve-year old cheesecloth. Timmy was (much to her chagrin) completely and utterly fascinated with the winter sale brochure that had come that Saturday from Victoria’s Secret, and Mary, who was dreading the day when she had to worry about inadvertently catching her little boy in the bathroom with materials far more embarrassing than an underwear catalog, was most certainly not ready for his nascent six-year old interest in the Wonderbra. At her sharp admonition, and with a hint of shame that Mary felt instant guilt for, Timmy dropped the verboten sales flyer and the treasures it contained within and went back to his trucks.

It had been one of those days. Mary and Timmy had returned home from after-school care only an hour before, and already, in addition to the Victoria’s Secret incident, Timmy had spilled a large glass of chocolate milk, which had somehow found its way into the illicit living room, directly onto the cream-white sofa; been caught torturing the cat; and, in direct correlation to the cat incident, spoken his first dirty word. A banner day for young Master Timothy. And, since days like this were never content with just an hour’s worth of misery, the Timmy-related incidents were hardly the beginning. Mary’s day at the office had consisted pretty much entirely of an interlocking chain of unfortunate and maddening incidents, not the least of which was getting her ass groped by Jim from accounting after a two and a half hour meeting on the evils of sexual harassment. Ha-ha.

So it was with a little less than what would be the usual amount of guilt that Mary noticed Timmy very quietly and disinterestedly playing with his toys in the corner. She knew something was wrong because the bulldozer wasn’t making its strange cat-coughing-up-a-hairball engine sounds as it trundled up and down the pile carpet. She could tell from his slow, measured, deliberate breaths that Timmy was trying not to cry. She hadn’t meant to snap at him, especially not as loud as she did, it was just that, as she had been very surprised to discover when he was only three months old, a mother’s love was not so big as to preclude the occasional frayed-nerves explosion. Mary walked over to Timmy and knelt down, carefully avoiding the red Tonka fire truck.

“Hey, bud. What’s wrong?”


Another sure sign that she had upset her normally energetic son was the one-word answer. He had inherited his chattering tendencies from her, and ever since he had learned to do so, he loved to talk.

“Nuttin, huh? You wouldn’t be mad at Mommy for yelling at you would you? Maybe Mommy shouted a little too loud?”


“I think you do, buddy. You know what I always tell you. If you think Mommy’s not being fair, you can tell me. And most times, you know what? I’ll tell you that, sorry, but Mommy was being fair. But sometimes, just sometimes, mind you, even Mommies can be unfair. If you think maybe I was being a little unfair when I shouted about the magazine, you can tell me. But you have to ask.”

Slowly, her little son turned to her, with a scared and hurt look on his Charlie Brown face. “Mommy, were you unfair, ‘bout the magazine?”

Mary picked her son up, a task that she was deathly afraid would soon be beyond her strength, and hugged him. “Yeah, bud. I think I was. No more magazine though, OK?”

“’Cause it’s for Daddies?”

“That’s right. Cause it’s for Daddies. And speaking of Daddies, it’s his late night at work, isn’t it? So how’s some McDonalds’ sound, huh? Sound good?”

With the solemnity rightly afforded such a momentous decision as where to eat out on one of those rare occasions that Mary’s standard anti-fast food edict fell, Timmy nodded.
“McDonalds. Yes.”

It had been a nice McDonald’s trip. No spilled soda, no fight over the meal and, miracle of miracles, Timmy had actually waited to open the toy until he finished eating, as he was told. Was it possible for a six-year old to be growing up already? Mary smiled at the thought as she tucked Timmy in.

“I love you buddy.”

“I love you too Mommy. Will Daddy be home soon?”

“Soon enough, but not until you’re asleep. So get to sleep, you. Deal?”

“Deal. ‘Night Mommy.”

“‘Night buddy.”

Mary sat on the bed, her attention divided evenly (well, truth be told, perhaps not quite evenly) between a stack of bills that needed attention and a riveting docudrama on the tragically overlooked story of übergroup the Bangles on VH-1. Mary felt bad about the lack of attention the bills were getting, but not too bad; after all, if any story demanded attention it was The Bangles’. Timmy was fast asleep and Jeff was speeding home to her on the late train, due to arrive in about half an hour. Another part of married life that she never would have anticipated on those altar steps six years ago was how much she enjoyed and looked forward to those minutes she could catch that were hers and hers alone. A quietly steaming cup of boysenberry-enhanced herbal tea sat on the night table beside her; the stack of bills, open checkbook and uncapped pen on the bedspread gave off the necessary air of time not spent foolishly; and Suzanna Hoffs was looking as old and not-twenty-five anymore as she was. All was right with the world.

The phone rang.

Not really taking her eyes or attention off of the TV, she picked up the receiver and muttered a hello.


It was Jeff. He sounded distant, quiet somehow, almost as if he was telling her a secret. In the background she heard an undecipherable mass of sound. It was a strange and foreign-sounding dim cacophony that was at the same time oddly familiar; it gave her a palpable sense of déjà vu and she shivered.

“Jeff? What’s up hon?” Bringing her attention to the phone, she hit mute on the remote sitting next to the cup of tea. The phone and remote looked like subjects for a still-life, like models waiting for the painter, she thought. A Study of Tea and TV in Oils. Mary shook the somewhat disturbing and unsettling image away and turned her attention to the phone.

“Honey?” Mary felt a pit, like a hard, black wrinkled stone, form in the middle of her stomach. It was almost as if her inner organs had psychic abilities that her brain lacked and knew what was going on already, even though she herself did not.

“I’m right here Jeff. What is it?”

“There’s been an accident.”

The pit hardened. That wall of sound in the background, muted but still very present, had started to gel into a recognizable pattern. She thought she dimly heard sirens, with staccato, panicked shouts piercing their high-pitched clarinet wail like a syncopated jazz rhythm.. “What kind of accident?,” she asked, as the pit grew heavier, blacker and harder.

“The bad kind.” This last came through the receiver in a hiss, as if her husband was speaking to her through gritted teeth.

“Jeff, where are you, what do you mean the bad kind?” The pit had started to blossom, green earthy tendrils of panic bursting forth from cracks in its glossy surface and snaking their way through her lower abdomen.

“I’m on the train, on the cell. It was in my pocket, in my jacket pocket, it actually fell out at some point, when I came to it was right in front of me. I just wanted to hear your voice.”

The tendrils had bloomed in full now, the buds at their ends unfolding into brittle flowers, their paper-thin petals whispering against her lung walls. “Came to? What do you mean, came to, what do you mean, Jeff, what’s going on, what . . “

“Mary, the train crashed, it derailed. It’s a mess here.” He coughed then, a syrupy and chunky wet cough, and even over the staticky cell, with that maddening buzz of what were now clearly sirens and shouts of pain in the background, she could hear a sharp wince of pain in his voice.
“Ambulances, Jeff, are the ambulances there yet? Jeff, what’s hurt, are you OK, are you?” Mary fought the hysterical edge that had intruded its way, uninvited, into her voice.

“Mary, I love you. That’s all that matters. That’s all I wanted to say. Listen, hon, listen, I can’t hold the phone much longer, it’s slippery and it’s hard to concentrate. Tell Timmy his Daddy loves him, will you? Just tell him.”

“Jeff, the ambulances are coming, they must be, just hang in, just keep talking to me, keep talking Jeff, keep talking . . .”

“No Mary. I’m sorry baby, I’m sorry, but no. I – no. No time for ambulances. No time. Just tell me you love me, that’s all, just say it.” There was a pause and with all the strength she had Mary fought the urge to start screaming into the phone. Then Jeff started speaking again, but fainter and with less strength than before. “I’m not gonna make this hon. I’ll spare you the gory details, but I’m not gonna make it. I just wanted to hear you. Hear my Mary. One more time."

Mary heard a distinct thud on the other end, as if the phone had dropped.


She shook in the bed; as The Bangles silently walked like Egyptians on the TV across the room, she trembled with a feverish chill. Mary vaguely noticed that her face was cool, much cooler than the rest of her body, and she started to panic before she realized that it was only the tears that had been streaming down her face, unnoticed.

“Jeff,” she hoarsely whispered into the receiver, the words barely making their way out. That same hysterical, mashed-up wall of sound was there, but Jeff wasn’t. “I love you.” Through a salty film, Mary looked at the phone in her hand. She felt the feverish trembling start to spin and accelerate out of control, felt her body start not to tremble but to shake, epilepsy the connection she made in her mind now, not a fever. And, as she started to scream, Mary dropped the phone.

Until Whenever
Three by Three
Three things I liked about Apocalypto.
  • The fact that Gibson doesn't cheat. This is a movie entirely in ancient Mayan, with not a word of English, and it works beautifully. I see the trailer for 10,000 BC, and am dismayed at the laziness of making the people seem like modern-day English speakers, and think of what potential there really is in an epic action movie taking place in pre-historic times. Gibson makes us believe these characters really are 15th-century Mayans. I don't have the history to know how many liberties he took, especially in areas like costume, makeup, tribal dynamics, but the bottom line is that it feels real.
  • The focus. For all of the hundreds of extras this is really a very simple story, and Gibson keeps us focused by pretty much never leaving (save for a moment here or there) Jaguar Paw's point of view. Which makes it that much sweeter when he triumphs at the end.
  • The horror. Gibson's point here is to demonstrate very palpably that man's horrific treatment of man is not new, and that it is in the end corrupting. And he does so by giving us an unflinching look at what it would be like to be be violently abducted into slavery. He makes sure we feel the terror these people feel, and yet it's never gratuitous or cheap.

Three things I did not like about Apocolypto.

  • The violence. Very effective, but a bit strong fro my weak constitution. I was forewarned about the whole jaguar-ripping-off-guy's-face thing and so therefore looked away.
  • The pace - it was a tad slow, with a bit too much time given over to near-identical short scenes of prisoners being marched through the jungle, or of Jaguar running. Could have used a slight trim.
  • James Horner's score - it's not bad, but it was a bit too modern. Gibson did such a good job of making the setting and costumes and props look very authentic and real that i wish the score had followed suit.

Until Whenever

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Because Flattery Will Get You Everywhere

Jaq has indicated his keen interest in my response to this list of the "greatest" children's books, as compiled by some British poll or somesuch. So then; I've bolded those I've read and italicized those I have an interest in reading.

1 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, C S Lewis
I read this so long ago (fifth grade) that I honestly couldn't say much intelligent about it. I remember liking it well enough, but not falling in love with it as I did, say, the Prydain stuff by Lloyd Alexander.

2 The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Eric Carle
I think I read this at some point. Probably.

3 Famous Five series, Enid Blyton
Never heard of.

4 Winnie the Pooh, AA Milne
I think the girls (just about four) are almost ready for these. I might try soon. I love, more than the stories, or the characters, the prose style; it's just delightfully low-key and whimsical.

5 The BFG, Roald Dahl
There are better Dahls, although the BFG is fine enough. It's no James and the Giant Peach, though.

6 Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, J K Rowling
A great book, but, as Jaq notes, an odd choice out of the seven.

7 The Faraway Tree, Enid Blyton
Never heard of.

8 The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame
I may try this someday, but likely will never get around to it.

9 Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
I read these several times as a lad, and am due for a refresher. Probably on a list of my favorite novels ever; just endlessly inventive. I remember as a kid being very taken by the wordplay.

10 The Gruffalo, Julia Donaldson
Never heard of.

11 The Tales of Peter Rabbit, Beatrix Potter
Never cottoned (hah!) much to these. Not bad, but not something I'm eager to share with the girls.

12 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl
There's a great Dahl. I must have read this at least 5 times as a kid. High on the list of books to get the kids to read when the time is right (although they will have to first get over their phase of not wanting anything to do with stories where people are "mean.")

13 Matilda, Roald Dahl
Don't remember much about this one.

14 The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett
As a boy, I read some girl books (Judy Blume), but not this one.

15 The Cat in the Hat, Dr Seuss
My daughter brought this to show and tell. While she loves it, she does need reassuring that the cat won't actually come to our house.

16 The Twits, Roald Dahl
If memory serves, this is Dahl being meaner and crueler than usual. I remember loving it.

17 Mr Men, Roger Hargreaves
Never heard of.

18 A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens
A fine book, but not really a children's book.

19 The Malory Towers Series, Enid Blyton
Damn, but the Brits love this Blyton.

20 Peter Pan, J M Barrie

21 The Railway Children, E. Nesbit
Never heard of.

22 Hans Christian Fairy Tales, H C Andersen
Don't think I've actually read any of them, but I have sung "The Ugly Duckling" to my kids.

23 The Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum
I have the annotated edition, which is beautifully, deliciously dense with context, facts, ephemera, and detail.

24 The Witches, Roald Dahl
One of my favorite Dahl's. So unhesitatingly nasty. And what a great, great, uncompromising ending!

25 Stig of the Dump, Clive King
26 The Wishing Chair, Enid Blyton
27 Dear Zoo, Rod Campbell
28 The Tiger Who Came to Tea, Judith Kerr
Never heard of.

29 Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Jan Brett
A version of the classic?

30 James and the Giant Peach, Roald Dahl
Maybe my favorite Dahl.

31 A Bear Called Paddington, Michael Bond
All I know of Paddington is the Nickelodeon series that was on ALL THE TIME when I was a kid. I hated that show.

32 Black Beauty, Anna Sewell
Not my cuppa.

33 Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak
The kids like this one too. A true classic.

34 Aesop's Fables, Jerry Pinkney
I know some of the stories, of course, but that's about it.

35 The Borrowers, Mary Norton
I may have read this once. Not sure.

36 Just So Stories, Rudyard Kipling
I think I had a collection of these as a kid. I really need to raid my parents' attic one day.

37 Meg and Mog, Jan Pienkowski
38 Mrs Pepperpot, Alf Proyson
39 We're Going on a Bear Hunt, Michael Rosen
40 The Gruffalo's Child, Julia Donaldson
41 Room on a Broom, Julia Donaldson
42 The Worst Witch, Jill Murphy
43 Miffy, Dick Bruna
Never heard of.

44 The Little Prince, Antoine De Saint-Exupery
Another always-on adaptation, this time the movie. Hated that movie too. (I Was too young for the trippiness.)

45 Flat Stanley, Jeff Brown
46 The Snail and the Whale, Julia Donaldson
47 Ten Little Ladybirds, Melanie Gerth
48 Six Dinners Sid, Inga Moore
49 The St. Clares Series, Enid Blyton5
Never heard of.

50 Captain Underpants, Dav Pilke
After my time.

Until Whenever

Monday, March 03, 2008

On the Nightstand

The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals - Michael Pollan

I'm almost done with this one, and have been enjoying it immensely. Pollan does a great job of laying out the way food production has become so heavily industrialized, and the hidden impacts of that change. The opening chapter, in which he delves in exhaustive detail into the history of corn, and how it has become the omnipresent force it now is on grocery shelves, is the most compelling, but each chapter has its own highlights to recommend it (be forewarned, though, after the chapter on the Saletan farm you will be really hungry).

Y: The Last Man - Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra
Thanks to the glories of the inter-library loan system (thank you BCCLS!), I have been reading most of the run of this comic, which just ended last month I think. I'm liking the story and characters a lot, and you can definitely see the Lost connection in (which way it runs, I'm not sure though) the pop culture references and sense of pacing and story structure. I have found myself wishing for a broader scope at times - the global story of all males dying instantaneously is a huge one, and yet this is a very focused story, concentrating on on one group of characters - but on the whole I don't mind. I just got the 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th collections, and am hoping the 10th (and final, I'm guessing) comes out soon.

The Best American Magazine Writing 2007
I absolutely love these collections, and this was a great one, featuring compelling, engrossing stories about the history and secrecy of Scientology, the brutal and horrific school hostage crisis in Chechnya, a candid profile of Christopher Hitchens, and a beautiful, tragic tale of a white farmer and black minister in Africa.

Until Whenever