Being the Ongoing Chronicle of the Anticks, Misadventures, and Odd Deeds of an Overalls-clad Wanderer.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Dugg

OK, I've removed the Digg code from my posts. It was making the blog load in weird fashion, and the only weirdness here will be created by me. Maybe I'll try to figure out where that was going wrong sometime, maybe not.

BTW, still having minor computer problems. Nothing massive, but annoying. Normal posting will resume...sometime.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

AGGHHHH!!!!

So this morning, before work, I went online to check stuff like weather (I've never seen a winter this windy, and I spent four winters in Iowa) and whether the school had been closed for The Daughter (it had) and check e-mail. When I closed out AOL, it did that AOL thing it likes to do sometimes where it downloads its own new features (what these are, I have no idea) and requires you to restart your computer. So I clicked "Restart", and headed for the bathroom to do my teeth and whatnot.

While I was in the bathroom, the power went out for a minute and then came back on. When I came out, I discovered that the restart had failed, and that a file with the ominous-sounding name "Config" had been corrupted. I can only surmise that the computer was trying to do something when the power failure to the apartment interrupted it before it was done, and it wasn't able to recover itself once the power came back on.

So I've just completed the arduous task of running PC Recovery, which restores the computer to its "Out of the box" state. Which is fine, since I'm now up and running again, but it's literally the "Out of the box" state. As in, everything I had on the hard drive is gone.

Now, this isn't too disastrous, really; most of the important stuff, minus maybe a month's worth of photos, was still available via my laptop and my USB flash drives, and even some of the photos I can grab again off Flickr. The music can all be recovered too, I suppose, although that will take some doing. But all of my bookmarks from Firefox are gone, including a giant folder I had of blogs that I hadn't yet come round to blogrolling. This has happened before, and I've in the past been able to find some of those blogs again by memory, but for the most part, I expect that many of them will never be visited by me again, and that's a shame, since there were some good ones there.

Oh well, nothing lasts forever...but really, hiccups like this are why I'm deeply suspicious of our society's apparent decision that physical media are Teh Suck. (I'm sure there's some way I could have saved some of the stuff on the hard drive -- maybe there still is, and I'm all ears, folks -- but I never have to undergo serious technical work for an entire afternoon to recover the music on a CD. I'm just sayin'.)

And the weather? Yeah. The wind this winter is making me batty.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Sentential Links #126

Links, links, links, linx....

:: All in all, a disappointment from a man who promised real and significant change on Day One. Perhaps he meant Day One of Year Three?

:: First of all, Dad’s doing better, to the extent that timetables are being considered for him to return home. (Good news, indeed, and glad to see that Red's getting back in the saddle.)

:: Truth is, when wingnuts see 'Soros' they think 'Blofeld'.

:: Food that is high in fats and starches is cheaper than food that isn't. (This is all you need to know when confronted by someone who opines that we shouldn't feel bad for poor people because they have a greater incidence of obesity.

:: I think it's the most human thing anyone has ever said to me. I was utterly slain by it.

:: These days, post-Pirates, I'm fully recovered from my adolescent insecurity and Johnny Depp now holds a high position on my short-list of favorite actors.

:: With Ledger’s passing, I’m reminded of Britney Spears’s situation and what appears to be her inexorable path to oblivion.

:: I am, as they say, incorrigible. (I should be so incorrigible!)

:: Rare is the performance that can honestly be called a "revelation," but that's what it felt like to watch Heath Ledger in "Brokeback Mountain." (I really need to see that movie. I have only seen Ledger in The Patriot, which I didn't like, and A Knight's Tale, which I did. I liked Ledger in both films.)

We'll return next week. Tip your waitress.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Digging?

I've just joined Digg and added a Digg button to every post -- it's in the footer there, with the permalink and the other stuff. I've been on Digg for all of an hour or so, so I don't really know what to do with it yet. But anyhow, there it is. Digg away!

Sunday Burst of Weirdness

:: OK, I'm going to assume that this is a spoof of some kind, but if not, I apologize for serving Satan all these years. How could I have known???

:: I can't imagine.

:: I haven't tried it yet, so I don't know how it works, and it's maybe not "weird" in the normal sense, but Cookthink.com is a site that lets you enter tags based on what you're craving and then it comes up with what you should make. Could be useful.

OK, that's all for now.

Buffalo, conquering the world!

Gregg Easterbrook, who can be right once in a while, on Buffalo pizza:

TMQ lamented that it longs to savor Chicago deep-dish pizza; those objects in the grocer's freezer just don't do it, and restaurant chains that advertise "Chicago-style" pizza seem to mean East Chicago, Ind. Jeff Roberts of Columbus, Ohio, reported that Giordano's, the current mecca of deep-dish pizza, now ships its pies overnight. The new pizza sensation that's waiting to happen is Buffalo pizza, which is roughly a cross between Chicago style and the Greenwich Village style of "foldable" pizza preferred in New York City. An out-of-the-way place called Bocce Club in the Buffalo suburbs makes the best Buffalo-style pizza and also ships overnight. Taste-makers, this form of pizza needs to be discovered.


I've long thought that people 'round these parts are too hard on Buffalo pizza. Let its praises be sung!

One Hundred Movies!!! (21 through 30)

Only thirty spots remain on my list of One Hundred Movies Everybody Who's Worth Anything As A Human Being Had Better Love, as objectively selected by a committee of...me. Let's fill another ten of those slots! Because what's more fun than filling slots? (Besides playing Missile Command, that is.)

30. The Silence of the Lambs

What I always find interesting about Anthony Hopkins's portrayal of Hannibal Lecter is that it's so distinctive that virtually nothing of it carries over into his roles in other films. I've seen Hopkins in lots of movies, and I can't think of a single scene in any other movie of his that makes me think, "Yup, that's the same guy who played Lecter!". And it's not an illusion of makeup or appearance, either; the only thing distinctive about Lecter's appearance is his slicked-back hair. The way Hopkins is able to fill his eyes and voice with quiet malevolence is astonishing, and so completely does he create his character that when Lecter makes his escape, we already know that there's no way he'll ever come after Agent Starling, even before she says that he won't because "he'd consider it rude".

The movie's an amazing thriller, by the way.

Signature moment: My favorite line of Lecter's is when he comments on the grisly death of one of his former patients: "Best thing for him, really. His therapy was going nowhere."

29. Wayne's World

It's not mentioned enough, I think, that the proper making of a lowbrow comedy requires quite a bit of sophistication. Wayne's World is full of cheerful humor from beginning to end, it's stuffed full of pop-culture references ("We gotta get him to Rampart, stat!"), it genuinely seems to know its subject matter ("I have an extensive collection of nametags and hairnets"), and it wisely never dwells on a single joke, allowing them to pass as quickly as they come.

Signature moment: "It will be mine. Oh yes, it will be mine!"

28. Pulp Fiction

Oft-imitated but, to my knowledge, never equaled. I saw this movie on the strength of two particularly enthusiastic thumbs up from Siskel and Ebert, when they raved about the film's intelligent dialog. The first time I saw it, it was an afternoon showing and the theater was completely empty save for me. The second time I saw it, a couple of months later, the film's stature had grown, and this time the theater was packed. I've always admired the film's cyclical structure in its narrative, as well as the admittedly brilliant, if profane, dialog.

Signature moment: There's a terrific little exchange when Vincent Vega (John Travolta) and his dealer (Eric Stolz) are about to administer an adrenaline shot to Mia Wallace's (Uma Thurman) heart. The dealer guy mimes the forceful motion Vega is to make with the syringe to get it through her breast bone, making the motion three times for emphasis, and Vincent, who isn't too bright, asks, "Do I gotta stab her three times?"

27. ET: The Extra Terrestrial

Wow, it occurs to me that I haven't seen this movie in way too long. I suppose its story is known by pretty much everybody. It bugs me that ET hasn't become an annually televised movie on some network, the way that The Sound of Music and It's A Wonderful Life have, because it's just about the single best "family" movie I know.

Signature moment: "I'll be right here" is one of the greatest closing lines to a movie that I've ever heard.

26. Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

And here we go, with the first appearance of a Star Wars movie on my list. Its pacing is a bit off at times, I admit, and the Ewoks are played too much for laughs; I'd have made them a bit more savage and fearsome ("short" need not indicate a lack of fearsomeness). However, the Ewoks have never offended me as they do most Star Wars fans; the space battle is amazing; the final confrontation between Luke and Vader is powerful, powerful stuff. I've also never agreed that Han Solo's character is rendered uninteresting in this movie; his official joining of the Rebellion seems to me the logical conclusion to his character's growth over the course of the Original Trilogy. Nor do I think that he should have died. So yeah, ROTJ is a good movie. So there.

Signature moment: The quiet scene between Luke and Vader on the Endor moon is, I think, a very underrated scene. It sets up the conflict in the heart of Darth Vader quite nicely.

25. Star Trek: First Contact

The Trek films have been an odd bunch, but overall I think that most of them have been halfway decent, with only one real honest-to-goodness bad movie among them (and no, it's not The Final Frontier, although that one does come close). Although the record of the four films featuring the Next Generation crew is more spotty than the previous six featuring the Original Series crew, First Contact is the best of the TNG films and one of the best of the series. What's good about it is that it doesn't get overly bogged down in bizarre technobabble, that its story is grounded in both TNG and TOS lore, right down to the fact that Zefram Cochrane's experimental warp ship sports nacelles that are modeled on those of the Enterprise from the very first TV episodes way back in 1967. It's too bad that the next two TNG flicks were, respectively, middling and then downright awful.

Signature moment: Data utters the classic Borg line, "Resistance is futile". (If only they'd called that the last word on Data's quest to be a human.)

24. Raiders of the Lost Ark

It's Raiders of the Lost Ark. Not Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark; just Raiders, thank you very much. I wrote about the Indy Jones movies last year, so suffice it to say that this movie made the three-year wait between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi much easier to bear.

Signature moment: The desert chase; one of the greatest of all action sequences.

23. Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

I've spilled lots of cyber-ink about this, both in praising it and mentally remaking it, so I'll just leave it there.

Signature moment: Sunset on Coruscant. This effects shot lasts all of ten seconds or so, but it's utterly beautiful. For all the bitching about CGI, what the PT establishes is that in the hands of dedicated artists, CGI turns out to be just another medium for the creation of beauty.

22. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

For more, check the Star Trek Redux series of posts linked in the sidebar. Suffice it for now to note that I value this film more highly than the usual pick for the best of the Trek movies, The Wrath of Khan.

Signature moment: The signatures of the TOS actors at the very end of the movie.

21. Superman

X-Men 2 and Spiderman 2 have come close, but neither has quite managed to knock the original Superman from my personal perch as the best superhero movie ever. I love the epic scope of the production and that it has a "look" all its own, apart from the SF movie craze that was in full swing at the end of the late 70s (gee, I wonder why). Even more amazing is that the movie turned out good at all, given its turbulent production. (The nickel version is that the original intent was to shoot all footage for Superman and Superman II at once, but a falling-out between the producers and director Richard Donner resulted in lots of ad-hoc editing, rewriting and reshooting of sequel material by new director Richard Lester.) Gene Hackman's Lex Luthor is one of my favorite movie villains, and John Williams served up one of his classic scores.

Signature moment: Lex Luthor's line, "We all have our little faults. Mine's in California!"

And that's it for now. Next time we'll enter the Top Twenty, in which we'll discover my favorite Disney movie ever, my two favorite romantic comedies ever, and my favorite Tom Hanks movie. Zap! Pow!

Saturday, January 26, 2008

I'd have asked for her laptop

Mrs. M-Mv wonders if her reaction to someone asking for her newspaper is the normal one:

Can I read that?"

I looked up.

"That newspaper. Can I have it?"

I blinked.

"Are you reading it? Whose is it?"

"Mine. From home."

"Well, are you reading it?"

I wordlessly handed the interloper the newspaper.

"Are you sure?"

"Sure. Thanks."

"Thank you."

Nonplussed is not an adjective that one can easily link to my name, but I assure you, I was nonplussed by this interaction. My socially gifted husband maintains that this sort of interaction is both normal and common among the gregarious, but I'm not so sure: The newspaper was clearly part of my stuff (i.e., it wasn't on a seat beside me on the commuter train, for example). People person or no, you cannot tell me that it is commonplace for adults to ask for (all but demand in tone) access to what other adults possess, no matter how trivial the possession might be.

Or can you?


Well, kind of.

Assuming this transcript of the interaction is accurate (no reason to suppose that Mrs. M-Mv is making it up or embellishing), the request seems to have been made fairly brusquely, but in my experience, that's not an uncommon thing. When people are gathered together in a boring circumstance, and one has a newspaper and another doesn't, someone may ask if they can read the other person's paper. Now, this usually comes with all kinds of extra verbiage, though: not "Can I read that?" but, "Hey, do you mind if I read your paper? I didn't think to buy one." If this is met with a skeptical glance, then one follows up with, "I'll give it right back, and I promise I won't fold it funny or do your crossword puzzle."

In my experience, bringing a newspaper into a group of adults is not unlike a kid walking onto a playground with a ball when none of the other kids brought their own: somebody's going to want to play with it, and they're going to ask if they can. But it's also my experience that this only applies to newspapers (or, more sporadically, popular magazines like Time or People). I've never sat in a waiting room with two books and had someone ask if they could read the one I'm not reading.

In short, newspapers aren't seen as "community property" if someone walks in with one, but they are seen as something cheap that one shouldn't feel ashamed to ask to look at for a moment. That's my take, anyhow. Thoughts?

OD'ing on Quizzes

Yup, here are three, count 'em, three quizzes. I grabbed all three of these from here, after finding them via here.

Quiz the First

Come on now, even if they won't admit it, everyone really wants to peek in their friend's cabinets and see what they use. Here's your chance! List your favorite product(s) for each of the following categories. You can also expand on why you like them, how long you've used them, etc.

1) Laundry detergent: Arm&Hammer's "dye-free" detergent. We discovered some time ago that certain items with blue dyes make The Daughter break out, so we switched to this. (Tale of Horror: back in the days when I took the laundry each week to the laundromat, there was an old couple who came in and stuffed all of their laundry into one of those front-loading machines, the ones with the thick glass door through which you can see the clothes being sloshed in the water. These folks brought with them an epic odor which quickly permeated the laundromat, and they didn't use any detergent; they simply trusted the water in the machine to do all the work. As I watched over the next fifteen minutes or so, I could see the water in their machines turning browner and browner and browner. I try not to be judgmental, but yeesh, folks.)

2) Fabric softener: None.

3) Floor cleaner: Occasionally Pine-sol or something like it, but most of them time, just sweeping, vacuuming, and Swiffers.

4) Carpet cleaner: Vacuuming, which I do once weekly. I'd like to get one of those Dyson vacuum cleaners someday, but on my list of "Potential Purchases That Cost Several Hundred Dollars", this ranks well below a new TV, a new stereo, and so on. I do like to spray the carpet occasionally with that canned foaming stuff that disappears and makes things smell nice. Periodically I'll also sprinkle troublesome areas with baking soda a half hour or so before vacuuming. (When cleaning carpets at The Store, I've used Rug Doctor products and been favorably impressed, given how much foot traffic those carpets see.)

5) Glass cleaner: The Store's brand. And thanks for the reminder; the old bottle is just about empty. (Tale of humor: Once The Wife and I were eating at a Burger King, when a new employee was sent outside to wash the windows. He very nicely doused everything with window cleaner, wiped away with his cloth, and then started squeegeeing. From the bottom up. He couldn't figure out why streaks kept running down onto his already-done work. This went on for ten minutes or so until the manager saw what was going on and went outside to show him to start sqeegeeing from the top.)

6) Dish detergent: Dawn, for hand-washing; those nifty soap-tablet things for the dishwasher, which I only run at most a couple of times a month, when the number of dirty dishes has piled up to epic levels. (For some reason, I have yet to find a store-brand that works as well as actual Dawn.)

7) Bathroom cleaner: Clorox bathroom cleaner in the spray bottle. It leaves a pleasant smell of disinfection without smelling like industrial medicine (think of a just-cleaned hospital bathroom), and the stuff works very well on hard-water stains on faucets and fixtures. I need a bottle of this, too.

8) Bath soap: SoftSoap shower gels. Pink grapefruit flavor is nice, as is the Pomegranate Mango.

9) Shampoo: Suave Green Apple.

10) Conditioner: Same.

11) Styling products: Just a detangling spray.

12) Deodorant: Some kind of Old Spice "Active" deodorant, or something like that. I have to be careful with deodorant as some brands make me break out in nasty rashes. I used to love the men's products at Bath and Beauty Works, but that product line as originally promoted must not have done very well, because they changed everything a few years later, reduced the offerings, and generally made everything disappointing. I have no idea now if they have a men's line at all, since B&BW stores tend to be in malls and I'm no longer much of a mall person. (By the way, the names of the scents on men's deodorants crack me up: my current brand comes in scents like "Victory" and "Power". I think they should have one called "Napalm in the Morning", personally. Or "Big Friggin' Steak".)

13) Toothpaste: Colgate Cinnamon, although lately we can't find it and are now using some boring blue mint flavor. (One time a vet gave me a tube of toothpaste for the cats we had at the time. It was Chicken flavor. Ewwww.)

14) Mouthwash: Crest's non-alcoholic stuff.

15) Face cleanser: I use the SoftSoap stuff for this as well.

16) Moisturizer: Nope.

17) Treatment: I don't even know what "Treatment" is!

18) Lip balm: Burt's Bees, but I don't use it very often.

19) Nail polish: Well, I'm not a woman, so....

20) Make up: Again....

Do you have a dishwasher?

Yes, as mentioned above.

Is your living room carpeted or does it have hardwood floors?

Every room is carpeted except the kitchen and bathroom.

Do you keep your kitchen knives on the counter or in a drawer?

We have a set in a knife block, while others are in a drawer.

House, apartment, duplex or trailer?

Apartment.

How many bedrooms is it?

Two.

Gas stove or electric?

Electric. We'd prefer gas, but that's what there is.

Do you have a yard?

The grounds of our apartment complex, I suppose.

What size TV is in the living room?

Nineteen inches. We'll get a bigger one someday, hopefully next year when we have to because of that all-digital thing.

Are your plates in the same cupboard as your cups?

No.

Is there a coffee maker sitting on your kitchen counter?

Yes.

What room is your computer in?

The desktop computer is in the living room; my laptop is on my desk in my "office area", which is a section of the living room that I basically claimed as my own when we moved in.

Are there pictures hanging in your living room?

Yes: a couple of mattes of The Daughter's one and three-year-old photos. There's also a wall-hanging of an Irish tapestry. In my office area, there's a National Geographic map of the world, a print of an antique map from the 1600s, two wall calendars (one with pre-Raphaelite "Camelot" themed art, the other with Star Wars art), a framed Phantom Menace poster, a print of a Casablanca poster, and a really cool looking (to me, anyway) mask that The Daughter made as a school project.

Are there any themes found in your home?

Yes, but only if "Hey, we can put this here because it fits!" counts as a theme. As a rule, though, I find that I'm not terribly comfortable in rooms where everything looks the same.

Do you have any curtains in your home?

No; we have blinds.

What color is your fridge?

That off-white "appliance" color. I greatly dislike our fridge, but that's the way it is.

Is your house clean?

My house is spotlessly clean and yet homey, with its yard bordered by a lovely wooden fence and the grounds dotted with trees and tall hedges along the street, giving us a bit of privacy. In the back there's a fire ring where we burn wood on summer and autumn nights. Maybe there's a barn, maybe not.

My apartment, however, is quite the monument to the Clutter Gods, although we are making slow progress this year toward eliminating lots of stuff. (One problem here is that we moved three times in two years, and each move was of the "It's Friday, your new job starts next Thursday, so get moved before then" type, which doesn't lend itself well to going through everything and tossing stuff before the actual move. So we're finding that we have stuff that hasn't been outside of a box in nearly seven years.)

What room is the most neglected?

We're pretty much equal opportunity neglecters, but if pressed for an answer, probably our own bedroom.

Are the dishes in your sink/dishwasher clean or dirty?

Dirty.

How long have you lived in your home?

Five years in April. Wow.

Where did you live before?

We lived outside Syracuse, NY for seven months or so, the winter of 2002 and 2003. We drove out of there in a moving truck the morning after the Orangemen, led by Carmelo Anthony, won the NCAA Championship. So I lived in a Championship City for about twelve hours.

Do you have one of those fluffy toilet lid covers on your toilet?

No. Never saw the point of those.

Do you have a scale anywhere in your house?

Does the kitchen scale count? I judge my weight by how my clothes fit, generally. I've started losing weight again lately, which is nice.

How many mirrors are in your house?

Two: bathroom and bedroom. (I can't remember where I read this, but I recently learned that in Tokyo young women don't carry compact mirrors anymore; they use their cellphone cameras for this purpose!)

Look up. What do you see?

Yeah, like I'm gonna fall for that.

Do you have a garage?

No. Our apartment complex rents garages an an extra thing, but there's no guarantee that your garage will be actually in the same section of the complex as your garage, so it doesn't seem worth it to us. We see people outside in our section of the complex all the time who have to drive over to our building just to access their garage. If that works for them, great, but we don't want that expense or inconvenience.

Quiz the Second

1. How old will you turn in 2008?

Thirteen thousand five hundred fifteen days.

2. Do you think you'll be married by then?

I should hope so, since I'm already married!

3. What do you look forward to most in the next 3 months?

Three months? Hmmmm. Doing more writing, I guess, and whittling down the waistline. I'm not sure what's in the offing in that time frame specifically.

4. Do you like to say "I told you so?"

Well, it depends on the situation.

5. Who was the last person to call you?

The Wife. She needed me to buy a bunch of celery for a recipe she made.

6. Do you prefer call or text?

Again, it depends. Calling seems best, but texting's good for "Hey I'm gonna be late" or "Stop and get some rum" or the like. My real preference, actually, is e-mail.

7. Do you have any pets?

Yes.

8. What were you doing at 1:30 am?

I was having a dream. No, I'm not telling you what it was.

9. What were you doing at 3:00 am?

Wondering what that dream meant.

10. When is the last time you saw your mom?

Earlier in the week, when she and my father brought The Wife's car back up from a trip to their car repair guru. (Guy's good.)

11. What is your mood?

I haven't the faintest idea since I misplaced my mood-ring when I was six. But for the purposes of this quiz, I'll declare myself a big ball of love!

12. How many houses have you lived in?

Counting all forms of domicile, I have lived in fifteen places, if I'm remembering them all correctly.

13. How many city/towns have you lived in?

Cranberry Township, PA; Portland, OR; Aloha, OR; LaCrosse, WI; Aloha, OR (different house); Elkins, WV (two houses there; the first is one of those family stories that we speak of in hushed tones); Hillsboro, OR; Allegany, NY; Olean, NY; West Seneca, NY; Baldwinsville, NY; Orchard Park, NY.

14. Do you prefer shoes, socks or bare feet?

Depends, really; I'll go with any as the circumstance calls. And I see nothing wrong with socks with sandals. Bite me, Fashion Police.

15. Are you a social person?

I'm one-half of a social person. My other half thinks that all people should go away.

16. What was the last thing you ate?

A burrito and chips at Moe's. I'm writing this in the morning, and I haven't had breakfast yet.

17. What's your favorite color?

Purple. (But I really like just about every color, except that one shade of green. You know the one I mean.)

18. What are you doing for your next birthday?

That's not until September, so I have no idea. We don't plan stuff like that this far out. (This year my birthday is on a Friday.)

19. What is your favorite TV show?

Scrubs, but that's ending this year. We're big Grey's Anatomy fans, but the show is starting to spin out of control a bit; it needs more new blood than just the two new characters they brought in this year.

20. What kind of jelly do you like on your PB & J sandwich?

My preference is strawberry, but the Wimminfolk insist that grape is the only acceptable jelly for PB&J, so that's what's on hand most of the time.

21. Do you like coffee?

Coffee is one of my mistresses. (Rum is another.)

22. What are you listening to?

Nothing right now, although earlier I was listening to the score to Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End. (Post on this movie and its music forthcoming.)

23. Do you have an iPod?

No, and it's relatively low on my list of things to buy, as well. In fact, I'd rather just get some other brand of MP3 player. I've never sipped Apple's Kool-aid, and I'm not a big fan of the kind of company Apple is becoming.

24. How do you feel about the last person you kissed?

"Heh. You'll be swimming with the fishies soon!"

25. Do you sleep on a certain side of the bed?

On the right, as you're reclining on the bed with the headboard at your head.

26. Do you know how to play poker?

Nope.

27. What are you thinking about right now?

Gotta check the laundry, gotta get the groceries, gotta change the litterboxes, gotta write some stuff, gotta read those review books, gotta gotta gotta....

28. Any plans for this weekend?

The stuff that I gotta, hopefully quickly enough that I'll have some time left for stuff that I wanna.

29. Have you cut your hair this week?

No, which reminds me that I'm due for a trim.

30. Last picture you took?

The resulting product from when I made quiche for dinner the other night. I'll have it up on Flickr soon.

31. Are you a tease?

I don't think so.

32. Have you ever been in an ambulance?

No, but the Wife has, twice. Once as the guest of honor, and once as the mother of the guest of honor. Neither trip ended well.

33. Do you prefer an ocean or pool?

To swim in? A pool. To walk beside? An ocean.

34. Do you smile often?

Yes. Usually just before I dispatch my victim. Heh!

35. What color are your bed sheets?

I'm not sure. We have a couple of sets and we switch them off regularly.

36. What is your favorite thing to spend money on?

Books.

37. Do you wear any jewelry 24/7?

No.

38. Have you heard a rumor about yourself this week?

No, but I thought about starting one, that I'm descended from the Russian Czars.

39. Who is the funniest person you know?

Well, there are a bunch of people at work who are constantly full of mirth and hilarity, so I'd pick one of them at random.

41. Where do you want to go to college?

Wartburg College, class of 1993.

42. Who was the last person to make you cry?

Sergei Rachmaninov.

43. Do you shut off the water while you brush your teeth?

Yes.

44. Do you wish you were with someone right now?

Is Sela Ward available? No? Then I'm good.

45. Are you mad about anything?

I dunno...John McCain? Spineless Democrats in Congress? The management of the Buffalo Sabres? The government of New York State (ballooning deficits, refusal to cut spending or reform certain services so they stop acting as a virtual payment for people to leave the state while seriously considering pay raises for a Legislature that gets exactly nothing done, and a Governor who campaigned for change and hasn't changed a bloomin' thing)? That football has finally become boring to me? I don't know, these are all minor things, I guess.

Quiz the third

1. Have you ever had mono?

No.

2. The last place you were (besides now)?

A beer store; we'd run out of Yuengling Lager.

3. The last gift you received?

It's not the last one we exactly received, but it's the last one we put into use: a year's family membership at the local Y.

4. How many times a day do you drop your mobile phone?

I've never dropped it yet. I carry it either in a pocket or in a Workforce-brand belt carrier. (You'd expect that the bib pocket of my overalls would be ideal for a cell phone, and I suppose it is, but I don't like feeling of stuff in that pocket. I never carry anything there.)

5. The top three things you spend the most money on?

Me personally? Food, drink, and entertainment. (The rent comes from The Wife's paycheck.)

6. Last food you ate?

Lunchtime has come and gone since I answered this question above, so a bowl of The Wife's homemade clam chowder (great stuff), a piece of French bread sipped into extra virgin olive oil, and an orange.

7. First thing you notice about the opposite sex?

Hair.

9. The school you attend?

See above: I finished college almost fifteen years ago.

10. Your mobile phone provider?

Verizon. (So any of my readers who also use Verizon can call me. My number is...)

11. Favorite store that's usually in a mall?

Mall-based retail has become fairly depressing over the last five or six years. I used to love malls and would go quite often. That all stopped when we moved back to Buffalo from Syracuse; it was then that malls were becoming noticeably homogenized, and at that time, most of Buffalo's malls were starting to look "long in the tooth" (except for the Boulevard Mall, which had been renovated a few years prior, but is the farthest away from my home of all of Buffalo's malls). The Galleria and McKinley Malls are now undergoing substantial renovations, however, with both malls gaining Barnes&Noble stores, so I'll definitely go to each just to investigate the new bookstores. I'm rarely in the neck of the woods where the Eastern Hills Mall is, so I can't tell you at all what it's like there anymore.

My favorite all-time mall-based stores? Nature Company, The Museum Store, and Learningsmith. None of these has existed in years.

My favorite mall in general? Syracuse's Carousel Center, which, when we lived there, I found to be a beautiful place. I don't know what that mall is like now, although an expansion is apparently underway. It was already a huge mall, though. I loved the Mall of America in Minneapolis when it first opened; it had a lot of very cool and quirky stores in addition to the more mainstream stuff. When we were there last, in 2001 (the week after 9-11, actually), it seemed vaguely disappointing, although the aquarium in the basement is really cool.

12. Whats the longest job you have ever had?

Pizza Hut; I was there for four years as a cook and shift manager. That will be eclipsed by The Store in a little over a week, however.

13. What do you smell like?

Having just brushed my teeth and used mouthwash, I'm pretty minty at the moment. In the course of things, I can smell like apples and pomegranate (various shower products, see above), paint, pizza, wood stain, coconut cream, sawdust, sweat (I go at it hard when I'm at the Y), chlorine (when I start using the pool at the Y, that is; gotta buy a new swimsuit first), chocolate cream, chicken wings (when we have to work on a fryer), dishwater (when we have to work on a dishwasher), regular chocolate, or coffee. There was one really bad day at The Store after which I smelled like...actually, never mind. I don't think I should tell that story.

14. The biggest lie you've ever heard?

"Iraq is a central front in the War on Terror." Has there ever been so much dishonesty packed into so brief a sentence?

15. The last time you cried was because why?

They gave McMurphy a lobotomy.

16. In your opinion, do long distance relationships work?

Yes. The Wife (before she was The Wife) and I spent eight or nine months living eight hundred miles apart. It only worked because we were dedicated to making it a non-long distance relationship as quickly as possible. Would we have survived had it gone on past a year? Two years? Who knows. I'll never have to find out.

17. Do you drink coffee?

Of course.

18. What do you wanna say to your most recent ex?

"Seriously, why were you so crazy back then?!"

19. Do you believe in God?

I'm still working through this question.

20. Favorite color(s)?

I've changed my mind since above. My new favorite color is split-pea green.

And now I've changed it back to purple. Sorry, split-pea green. We had a good run, there.

21. The last person on your missed calls list on your mobile phone?

The Wife.

23. How many pillows do you usually sleep with?

Two for sleeping; I add a third while reading before turning out the light. My main pillow is a lumpy old thing; I call it "Lumpy". Because if your pillow doesn't have a name, then what good is it?

24. What are you wearing now?

A blue t-shirt under a dark grey hooded sweatshirt, with both of those under a pair of blue Gap overalls. (By the way, I hate the word "hoodie". Don't know why. I do love hooded sweatshirts, though.)

25. How many pets do you own?

Curse you, duplicate blog-quiz questions!

26. What are you doing tomorrow?

Going to church; probably going to the Y for some cardio; writing; doing the weekly vacuuming. A family friend may be having a birthday, in which case we'll drop in at his home for some cake. I have to check with his wife first, though.

27. Can you play ping pong?

Yes, but not particularly well.

28. Favorite gender?

Women. They make the world worth living in. A world with just men? Ugh.

29. Do you like maps?

Maps are great things. I love maps: old maps, new maps. Maps of real places, and maps of imaginary places. If only more US Americans had maps... (OK, I know, that's a cheap shot. Sorry.)

31. Have you ever attended a themed party?

Yes. In college, one friend had a "Dress as a musical figure" party. I went as our school's oboe teacher, because I apparently looked like him.

32. Have you ever thrown a party?

Only if we count the birthday party for The Daughter a few years back.

33. When did you wake up this morning?.

About seven thirty.

34. The best thing about winter?

I like the winter stars better than the summer ones, and you can see them more often.

35. Last time you were in trouble with the cops?

Unless we're counting a couple of speeding tickets, never.

38. What are your plans for this weekend?

Didn't we just cover this? [scrolls upward] Yup, we've just covered this.

39. How many days is it until your birthday?

Two hundred forty four.

40. What do you want to be when you "grow up"?

Conqueror of Alpha Centauri. It's not looking promising, but you never know.

41. Are you on a laptop?

Heavens no! I'd crush the poor thing. But I am writing this quiz on one. How I love it so.

42. Are you smiling?

No. More of a glower.

43. Do you miss someone right now?

The Wife is at work, so there's that. And the usual depressing answers that I can give to questions like this, but I think I won't.

44. Are you happy?

I'm working on it!

45. Have you ever been in the hospital for an emergency?

Me personally? A couple of times for routine stuff that involved my bike when I was kid. Once I had to have stitches in my chin; the other, I broke my collarbone. Actually, come to think of it, that last may not have been the ER at all.

46. Last time you ate chicken?

Yesterday. I had a couple of chicken wings at lunch.

47. What jewelry are you wearing?

I was wearing my wedding ring and my star sapphire ring, but I took them off a short while ago.

48. What are you going to do after this survey?

Post it.

49. Song you're listening to?

"Tatiana", from Howard Shore's score to Eastern Promises. I'm firmly convinced that Howard Shore is the best composer working in film today.

50. The car you were in last?

My own, for this afternoon's grocery run.

52. What color shirt are you wearing?

It's still dark gray. What is it with recurring questions in the same blog-quiz, anyway?

53. How long is your hair?

It now hangs to the middle of my back.

54. What's on your mind right now?

Wow, was Donna Pescow cute back in the day. (I was just watching a bit of Saturday Night Fever, which I've only seen once before in its TBS edited-for-teevee version. Wow, they bowdlerized the heck out of it, didn't they?)

55. Last show you watched?

The Celebrity Apprentice on Thursday night, I suppose. I wasn't planning to watch it this year, but this version's been fun thus far.

56. Last thing you drank?

I have an open water bottle beside me as I write this, so that. Later on I'll have a bottle of Cherry Coke. Later after that, and more water, I'll have a Yuengling. Or maybe some rum. Or maybe I'll sample the small bottle of brandy I bought. You never know!

(I'm not really a lush, although it may start to sound like it. I never have more than two drinks in any one evening, and I don't drink more than three or four nights a week.)

57. Who was hotter, Ginger or Maryanne?

It's a strange thing, given my lifelong fascination with red-heads, but I have to go with Mary Ann.

No tagging. Anybody crazy enough to do one of these, or all three, is welcome to do so.
A quiz. About books. How can I not? Thanks to Sheila!

Which book do you irrationally cringe away from reading, despite seeing only positive reviews?

That's a tough one. I tend to read on the basis of whims as opposed to plans, so I have a lot of books that are well-reviewed on my shelves that I haven't got round to yet, and it's not a case of "irrationally cringing away" from reading them. Books like The Corrections, The Lies of Locke Lamora, Dr. Strange and Mr. Norrell.

Maybe Neil Stephenson's Quicksilver trilogy counts. I've owned them for years now, and I haven't even attempted to open their covers. In fact, right now they are serving literally as bookends on one shelf. Why this is so, I'm not sure; I devoured Cryptonomicon. I don't think I'm so much "irrationally cringing" away from them as thinking "Wow, that's quite a time commitment. I think I'll read something less long." But that's pretty irrational in itself, isn't it? Hmmmmm.

If you could bring three characters to life for a social event (afternoon tea, a night of clubbing, perhaps a world cruise), who would they be and what would the event be?

I'd invite John Galt to dinner at Tom Joad's house. That should be good for a few laughs. Then I'd have Hannibal Lecter cook Galt. Yippee!

OK, I know, that's a pretty flip answer. I'd like to see a dinner featuring the three greatest wizards I've read in fiction: Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings, Loren Silvercloak from The Fionavar Tapestry, and Albus Dumbledore from the Harry Potter books. What can I say, I'm a sucker for wizards. What would we talk about? I don't know, really. I would like Gandalf to tell me some more about the nature of magic in Middle Earth, since it can get a little hard for anyone who's part of the AD&D Generation to understand why they've got this incredibly powerful wizard who never just uncorks a fireball on his enemies.

(Borrowing shamelessly from the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde): you are told you can’t die until you read the most boring novel on the planet. While this immortality is great for awhile, eventually you realise it’s past time to die. Which book would you expect to get you a nice grave?

Suicide by book? What a dreadful thought. The question's slightly vague, though; would I have to finish the book before dying? Oh well, I suppose it doesn't matter. I suspect that Battlefield Earth would do the trick, although I had a college roommate who insisted that it was a grand fun read of the pulp variety. My best bet, actually, would likely be some novel by a Parisian Existentialist.

Come on, we’ve all been there. Which book have you pretended, or at least hinted, that you’ve read, when in fact you’ve been nowhere near it?

The Bible, maybe? I tend to be upfront about my not having read something, actually. I can tend to claim love for authors on the basis of having read a single work or two of theirs, which can get inconvenient when I'm in the presence of a true fanatic: I'll claim that I love HP Lovecraft, even though I've only read two or three of his tales, for instance.

As an addition to the last question, has there been a book that you really thought you had read, only to realise when you read a review about it/go to ‘reread’ it that you haven’t? Which book?

I've never done this, either. I must lead a pretty boring reading life.

You’re interviewing for the post of Official Book Advisor to some VIP (who’s not a big reader). What’s the first book you’d recommend and why? (if you feel like you’d have to know the person, go ahead of personalise the VIP)

Now, this question's too vague as well. Do I assume the VIP's tastes are similar to mine? Do I know what kind of mood the VIP is in when I make my recommendation? Anyhow, if their tastes mirror mine, I'd recommend The Lions of Al-Rassan by GGK if they're in a sad epic kind of mood, or Island of the Sequined Love Nun by Christopher Moore for all other moods. I would, though, do everything in my power to keep the VIP from picking up anything by Ayn Rand.

A good fairy comes and grants you one wish: you will have perfect reading comprehension in the foreign language of your choice. Which language do you go with?

First choice would be Russian, so I finally would have no choice but to get through The Brothers Karamazov, since it would remove "I think my translations a dud!" as an excuse. Second choice would be German, especially if the fairy's gift includes a hearing fluency as well, so I could see Der Ring des Nibelungen at last. Third? Spanish. I love the poetry of Iberia. (Here's a good example, actually, of the phenomenon I describe a couple of questions above. How much of the poetry of Iberia have a read? Very little.)

A mischievious fairy comes and says that you must choose one book that you will reread once a year for the rest of your life (you can read other books as well). Which book would you pick?

The Complete Calvin and Hobbes, by Bill Watterson. You can't get too much Calvin and Hobbes. (While I don't own The Complete C&H, I do own every paperback of C&H released during the strip's run, which is basically the same thing.) C&H is, as everybody already knows, full of humor, wisdom, poignance, imagination, and even joy. Yes, I think that comics and graphic novels count.

I know that the book blogging community, and its various challenges, have pushed my reading borders. What’s one bookish thing you ‘discovered’ from book blogging (maybe a new genre, or author, or new appreciation for cover art-anything)?

Well, there is always the obvious: discovering new authors or tracking down books based on recommendations I see on blogs, et cetera. I also love reading what others have to say about books not so much for ideas on what books to read, but for ideas about how to read books, and how to write about books. There's nothing better than other perspectives to challenge one, and blogs yield other perspectives a-plenty.

One perspective that almost certainly didn't exist before blogs came along was that of the author while the book was in progress. The number of pro writers who blog gets longer nearly every day, and their perspectives on writing are (most times) interesting. What I've discovered that I appreciate the most, though, isn't the blogging of the nuts-and-bolts stuff that writers do, but rather their daily lives and their own reading habits.

That good fairy is back for one final visit. Now, she’s granting you your dream library! Describe it. Is everything leatherbound? Is it full of first edition hardcovers? Pristine trade paperbacks? Perhaps a few favourite authors have inscribed their works? Go ahead-let your imagination run free.

Wooden floors with throw rugs. My desk in one corner, beside a large window. Every other wall? Books. Of all types. Some first editions, some antique volumes. Basically, books. Books everywhere. There's got to be room for a door, and maybe a bit of wallspace around the desk for some wall art (probably Star Wars posters). A nice stereo system, preferably small but with big sound, speakers in each corner with a subwoofer. And books. Hardcover, trade paper, mass-market paper. Various knickknacks, tschotschkes, gewgaws, and the like. Candle holders galore; I love candlelight. And books, which I would arrange roughly by category but with the emphasis on "roughly", as in, not terribly organized at all. My CDs would have to be in there somewhere, and the books. Maybe a comfy armchair in a corner opposite the desk, with a footstool. I expect that there would always be a cat in my library. Oh, and the books: lots of them.

Did I mention the books?

If you're reading this, consider yourself tagged. You're it!

Thank you, O governmental protectors of my morality!

The ABC television network is facing a fine of $1.4 million dollars because they aired a show that included several glimpses of a woman's buttocks. When did this happen, you ask? When did ABC so brazenly endanger the morality of our nation's children and general people with sticks in their butts? Why, back in 2003! Thank God George Bush's FCC is on the case, because I've barely been able to function for the last five years, so scandalized was I when I saw those buttocks. Thanks, FCC! You guys have your fingers on the pulse!

But I'm gonna need a bit of clarification here, because there were a lot of buttocks shown on NYPDBlue (the show in question, which went off the air in 2005 after a twelve-year run). That show had lots of buttocks. I'd even hazard a guess that the percentage of NYPDBlue episodes that showed buttocks exceeds fifty percent, although I can't be sure. How did this one episode draw the FCC's ire? The article indicates that "a boy surprises a woman in the shower", so maybe it's that the kid saw the buttocks. Oh noes!

But I can't get beyond the fact that the episode being fined aired five years ago. What the heck happened here? Was some FCC guy watching some DVDs of NYPDBlue and suddenly noticed buttocks for the first time? Anyway, I'm glad that the FCC is in the business of retroactive moral policing. Maybe they can finally start punishing CBS for all the shenanigans that used to take place on that filth-fest Smothers Brothers show.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Just impacted on the surface....

OK, I know that posting LOLCat photos is sort of the blogging equivalent of shouting out "Play 'Danny Boy'!" at a Celtic music concert, but I can't help but snag this one:

funny pictures
moar funny pictures


Wow, I just used these words as a post title the other day!

Mission control to Earth...identify yourself....

I've just realized that I have pretty much forgotten completely about my old series "Unidentified Earth", and that the last installment, posted back in December, has remained Unidentified. Is there any interest in this series resuming, or is it one of those "fun while it lasted" things? What say you, Readership?

Recent Movie Watching

One of my goals for 2008 is to catch up on movie watching. And not just recent stuff, either, but some of the "Old Greats" that I've never before seen, or only seen in part. I'm not setting a specific goal, but it's just a general thing I want to do. I'll be using resources like the AFI 100 lists, which even if they are certainly open to debate, they do boast some very good movies in their ranks. In the last couple of weeks I've watched two such films.

:: Even though I'd never seen The Philadelphia Story until just a couple of weeks ago, I knew its story well, because I've seen a number of times High Society, the musical version of the same story that was made fifteen or so years later. Wouldn't you know it; going back to the source material (so to speak, since The Philadelphia Story is in turn based on a stage play), I find that the original is superior to the remake.

It's not an entirely fair comparison, I suppose, since High Society is a musical while The Philadelphia Story is not; they're not really the same types of pictures, even if the stories are the same right down to large swatches of dialog. High Society's songs are all quite good, and the film has a justification for its musical doings: CK Dexter Haven is, in HS, a jazz musician who has scheduled a jazz festival in his home town (Newport, RI) that just happens to coincide with the wedding of his spoiled brat of an ex-wife with whom he happens to still be in love. Hijinks ensue.

Contrasting in TPS is CK Dexter Haven as a rich guy who is enlisted by SPY Magazine to get two reporters into the wedding, on the basis that they are friends of Dexter Haven's equally spoiled brat of an ex-wife's brother Junius. Or something like that. Anyway, the basics are the same: CK Dexter Haven is still in love with Tracy Lord; Tracy's marrying a stuffed shirt named George Kittridge; two reporters (Mike Connor and Liz Imbrie) from SPY are in attendance, even though they find the assignment distasteful, and Liz is in love with Mike, although he's oblivious to her feelings and finds himself involved in shenanigans of sexual chemistry with Tracy. Hijinks ensue.

I find it interesting that while HS is watchable because it's got good actors and good songs and the like (although I continue to be amazed that anyone ever thought Bing Crosby a suitable romantic lead), TPS is, with the same story and much of the same dialog, actually funny. I'm not entirely sure why, but I found myself laughing out loud at a lot of the hijinks in TPS, and I was struck by Cary Grant's ability to be the near-perfect straight man. He's funny just standing there, being stoic while all manner of hijinks ensue around him, and when he himself partakes in some foolery, it's utterly hilarious; witness his impromptu "Pomp and Circumstance" when George stomps away at the end of the movie.

And of course, James Stewart and Katherine Hepburn are, well, they're James Stewart and Katherine Hepburn. I tend to like Stewart more in movies like this, where he can be cynical and weary; for instance, when his boss the publisher guy asks Mike if he hates him, and Mike replies, "No, oh no. But I don't like you very much." It's not a great line, by any means, but Stewart turns it into one, by showing that Mike is enough of a diplomat to not openly admit to hating his boss, but possessed of enough self-pride to not pretend otherwise, either.

I also think that the ending works better in TPS than in HS, mainly because HS really beats the viewer over the head with the fact that CK Dexter Haven is still in love with Tracy, while TPS never really comes out and states it but rather lets us grow to suspect it as we get to know him.

(And for sheer laughs, TPS gets the nod over HS by having young Diana, Tracy's precocious little sister, rip off an exuberant rendition of "Lydia the Tattooed Lady", a song so funny that I'd laugh no matter who sang it.)

:: So, what better to follow up a 1930s screwball comedy about romantic shenanigans in an upper class Eastern city than a cynical 1970s tragicomedy about a man committed to a mental hospital? Nothing, obviously, which is why I finally struck One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest from my list of movies I should really have watched way before now.

What a great movie. Parts of it troubled me, parts of it made me laugh, parts of it saddened me. I guess that was the whole point. It never quite went in the direction I thought it was going in, and that makes me happy, even toward the end when the film took the tragic note that I'd really knew was coming the entire time.

I did find the film difficult going on occasion. I don't know much about mental illness, but I do know that while it still probably isn't taken seriously enough, it's taken much more seriously now than it was even in the time One Flew Over is set (late 60s or early 70s, I assume). The attitude toward mental patients in the film seems to run from seeing them as children who can't handle anything to people who are simply dangerous to themselves and others. I don't know enough about the history of mental illness treatment to know how accurate a depiction of that period's treatment of mental patients may be, but there's certainly a rather disturbing and horrifying tone to it all. I don't know if that feeling was there when the film first came out, but it's certainly there now. Similarly, I'm not sure if I was supposed to feel this sense of impending doom during the fishing boat sequence, but I did. I was surprised when that doom didn't happen at all.

This is why I had a hard time seeing Nurse Ratched as the malevolent villain she's most often described as. I couldn't decide if she was the cold authoritarian, or just a very serious person locked into the standard view of mental illness of her day. Certainly Louise Fletcher's performance is a great one, worthy of the Oscar it won, but watching the movie now, in 2008, for the first time ever, I couldn't truly see her as a villain. She's an antagonist, certainly, but that's not the same thing. She gets her way in the end in the brutal fashion of the day, but again, it's hard not to see that situation playing out any other way, even if she'd been a perfectly nice lady the whole time, right up to McMurphy's attempted strangling of her. The much more malevolent presence, for me, came from the orderlies underneath Nurse Ratched. I don't know if this was intentionally done on the part of the director, but these orderlies, played by two black men, have the same hairstyles and the same mustaches, they wear the same uniforms of white shirts with black bowties, and they walk with the same muted swagger. They seemed like, for lack of a better term, stormtroopers. Certainly nothing in the film was, to me, more ominous, not even anything said or done by Nurse Ratched, than the orderly who decides that it's time to get tough with McMurphy and puts a strap of hard leather over his knuckles in preparation to fight him.

McMurphy was doomed at that moment, of course, but even so, the Chief's subsequent discovery of his lobotomy scars is one of the sadder moments I've seen in a film recently. McMurphy is literally reduced to the drooling existence he had earlier pantomimed after his electroshock therapy. This time it's real, and McMurphy can no longer observe his greatest triumph: that he gave the Chief the wherewithal to free himself. I found the film playing out, in some of its particulars, almost like a Greek tragedy.

To praise the film's acting is easy enough, but there it is. Most of what I've seen of Jack Nicholson has been released in more recent years, when he's been JACK NICHOLSON, so to go back and see him when he was a young and vibrant force on the screen was a real treat. I kept noticing the one guy and thinking "Wow, he looks like a young Danny DeVito!", and then when I watched the credits, I learned that it actually was a young Danny DeVito. And then, of course, there's Christopher Lloyd, much younger than his Doc Brown days and much thinner and cleaner, and thus much more crazy looking, than his Reverend Jim of Taxi.

So: two movies down, and I loved both of them. Off to a good start, I think.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Stay on target! Stay on target!

To whomever came to this blog via this search, I really hope you found what you were looking for, 'cause if you didn't, I think I may have to reconsider the whole darn thing!

Fixing the Prequels - The Phantom Menace (part five)

part one
part two
part three
part four





And here we are again, taking stock of The Phantom Menace. When last we left our heroes, they had escaped Naboo and were now en route to Tatooine seeking repairs to their ship without which they'll never make it to Coruscant. They are unaware that the true menace behind the Trade Federation's invasion of Naboo is actually a pair of Sith Lords, who are even now working to figure out where they've escaped to.

So, let's jump right into it. In the movie, we cut from the awful scene between Jar Jar and Padme (which I replaced in the last installment with a scene between Obi Wan and Padme) directly to the landing on Tatooine. Instead, I'd move the later scene between Darth Sidious and Darth Maul, on Coruscant, to this point.

EXT: CORUSCANT – SKYSCRAPER – BALCONY

Darth Maul walks along the balcony beside his master, the shrouded Darth Sidious.

SIDIOUS: You have done well, my apprentice. The tracking information you discovered makes clear the direction the Jedi took the Queen, and the sensor data indicate that their hyperdrive had been damaged. Therefore they will be seeking repairs, and there are only three systems on that heading where they might have gone. Inspect each system until you find them. Kill the Jedi, and bring me the Queen.

Darth Maul bows his acquiescence.

SIDIOUS: The Jedi have never suspected that the Sith have returned, but the time has come to reveal ourselves. At last we shall have our revenge.


Here's something I've always thought about TPM: Darth Maul should never speak. He only has two or three lines in the entire movie, and those are dubbed by some actor with a fine British accent, and it frankly clashes with his appearance. Maul should be as mysterious as possible, and it would help immensely if we never hear his voice at all. So all of Maul's dialog? Gone. He's all about the body language.

So now I'd cut back to the Queen's ship landing on Tatooine. I like this entire sequence, really, and I'd only make a couple of cosmetic changes:

:: The shot of the ship approaching Tatooine from space should make a bigger deal out of the planet's twin suns. That's the iconic nature of Tatooine, and the suns vanish from the screen too quickly.

:: I like Jar Jar's complaint that the sun is "doing murder on mesa skin", but I'd move it to later in the Tatooine sequence, after he's been in that sun for a while.

One thing I've always liked about the sequence in the film is the way Captain Panaka looks less than enthusiastic himself about the Queen's "request" that "her handmaiden" accompany Qui Gon and Jar Jar into Mos Espa. I would only add a bit of reflection on Qui Gon's part: after he initially refuses to take her, and Panaka says "The Queen wishes it, she's curious about the planet", I'd have Qui Gon look at Padme for a long moment and have her return his stare, unflinchingly. Again, suggesting that there's more to this handmaiden than meets the eye. And then it's off to Mos Espa.

First off, let's get this out of the way: I'm a Jar Jar fan, but there should be no stepping in bantha droppings. I'm far less bothered by that than by the flatulent eopie later on, but still, while my version of Star Wars isn't about to turn the franchise into a gritty space opera version of The Matrix or Blade Runner, I'm not going to keep potty humor around.

However, Qui Gon indicates before they leave for Mos Espa that "This spaceport is not going to be pleasant", so I'd make it actually unpleasant. There doesn't have to be a whole lot here, but little glimpses of stuff here and there to make clear what kind of place they're entering. Maybe two pilots beating the stuffing out of a third who owes them money, or a drunken spacer leering at Padme, or beggars in the streets. Stuff like that. The script even says that they pass 'dangerous looking citizens of all types', but little if any of that reaches the screen. I've always been a bit surprised that Lucas didn't do any of this kind of thing, because it's always been clear in his movies that he knows his Westerns, and Western tropes tend to play a large role in various Star Wars films. (I wouldn't go so far, as some would, to claim that the original ANH is a Western with spaceships instead of horses, but it definitely has some Western-style stuff going on in it.)

Anyway, Qui Gon, Padme, R2, and Jar Jar go into a junk dealer's shop and meet Watto. Qui Gon tells Watto what he's looking for, Watto says he's got just what Qui Gon needs, and he and R2 follow Watto out back to do some haggling, leaving Padme and Jar Jar in the shop, where Watto's slave boy keeps them company. This, of course, is Anakin Skywalker, and he's meeting the only woman he'll ever love.

So here's where it starts. What would I change about this scene? Only one tiny thing: when Anakin asks Padme if she's an angel and she says, "What?", he tells her this:

ANAKIN: An angel. I've heard the deep space pilots talk about them. They live on the Moons of Iego I thimk. They are the most beautiful creatures in the universe.


In the script, Anakin goes on:

ANAKIN: (continued) They are good and kind, and so pretty they make even the most hardened spice pirate cry.


I actually like the entire exchange that comes after this. Anakin's a boy with dreams and talents, and he also has an eye for beauty. It fits nicely that at the heart of his eventual fall into the ultimate ugliness lies one of the most beautiful women in the Galaxy.

As a brief aside, for all the vitriol tossed George Lucas's way as a director, he handles this scene really well, I think. What really helps is that Anakin's question, "Are you an angel", comes out of left field; he just says it, matter-of-factly, meaning every word of it. There was no earlier moment in which he walks in, looks at the radiant girl, and gasps; there's no "meet cute" here. Just a confident boy who doesn't know that he's not supposed to be this confident about anything, who starts talking.

Oh, and I'd leave in the bit with Jar Jar messing with the stuff in the shop and getting in trouble; I like how Anakin and Padme are talking away, completely ignoring Jar Jar's attempts to juggle machine parts.

Qui Gon fails to strike a deal with Watto, and he heads on his way, dragging the others with him. While Watto says something to the effect of "I'm the only dealer in this town with the parts you need," it would have been nice to see a quick montage of Qui Gon dragging his companions all over Mos Espa, from dealer to dealer, confirming this for himself. Toward the end of the day, they'd be heading back to the ship, dejected and wondering what to do (here's where I'd have a noticeably sunburned Jar Jar complaining about the Tatooine suns, along with Qui Gon's conference with Obi Wan via comlink, with Obi Wan's quip about selling the Queen's wardrobe), when they'd come across Anakin again.

(Oh, I almost forgot: yes, I'd ditch Anakin's "yippee". That just doesn't work.)

Now, I'm not wild about the bit with Jar Jar sneaking a bite, and then having said bite flying across the cafe and landing in Sebulba's soup. That was just a bit too slapstick for my tastes (at least, for my tastes in a Star Wars movie), so I'd have something else happen. Maybe Jar Jar could accidentally wander into the path of Sebulba's speeder, causing the alien to swerve out of the way and hit a building or something. Anyway, the rest of this works fine too.

Anakin takes his new friends to his home, in order to shelter them from the coming sandstorm. Again, I like the ensuing sequence, although the initial part is a bit hard to follow, what with Anakin jabbering excitedly to Padme while Qui Gon's trying to introduce himself to Shmi Skywalker. That needs to be ironed out and directed better, I think; I'd have Anakin wait patiently while Qui Gon introduces himself, and then I'd have him sent away by his mother in one of those "We grown-ups need to talk" moments.

Next we learn that Anakin Skywalker actually made C-3PO. I know that this vexes a lot of SW fans, but I'm not one of them. I kind of like the ominous tone this fact lends the line in ANH when Threepio, being lowered into the oil bath, says, "Thank the Maker!"

Meanwhile, back on the Queen's ship, a transmission comes through from Naboo. It's the governor, Sio Bibble, with news that things on Naboo are getting very bad. "The death toll is catastrophic! You must contact me!" Obi Wan sees this for a trick, an attempt to establish a trace by their enemies, and orders them not to respond at all. I would just change it thusly, a little bit:

BIBBLE: (static-garbled) ...cut off all food supplies until you return... the death toll is catastrophic... we must bow to their wishes, Your Highness...Please tell us what to do! If you can hear us, Your Highness, you must contact me!

The Queen, terribly nervous, glances at Panaka.

PANAKA: Open a channel for response!

OBI WAN: No! Open no channel. The transmission is a trick. If we respond, they will be able to trace the transmission and learn where we are. Send no reply, no transmission of any kind. I know it will be hard, Your Highness, but you cannot respond.


Now we cut back to dinner at Anakin's, where Qui Gon begins to hatch his crazy scheme to get engine parts out of Watto after all: he'll appeal to the junk dealer's love of gambling. This whole scene is very nicely done; I particularly like Liam Neeson's delivery of the line "I wish that were so" when Anakin claims that nothing can kill a Jedi. The only change I'd make here? Well, yeah: Jar Jar's frog tongue. This actually does serve a narrative purpose – it establishes what Qui Gon's just said about Jedi reflexes allowing Anakin to fly a pod racer – but really, by this time we should have a pretty good idea as to what Jedi reflexes are capable of, right? Out that goes.

So it's night at Casa Skywalker, and Qui Gon would speak with Obi Wan on the commlink. Obi Wan tells Qui Gon about the transmission, asks what if the Naboo are dying, and Qui Gon replies, "Either way, we're running out of time."

This is where we cut to Coruscant, and Darth Sidious talking with Darth Maul. As noted above, I'd replace this scene with another conference between Sidious and Nute Gunray on Naboo:

EXT: NABOO – PALACE GROUNDS.

NUTE stands on a veranda with RUNE and a captive SIO BIBBLE as a Droid Captain reports. Behind him, several more droids hold three Naboo guards captive.

DROID CAPTAIN: These men have been caught inciting resistance among the citizens of Naboo.

NUTE: Execute them, Captain.

DROID CAPTAIN: Yes Viceroy.

The droids take the men away.

BIBBLE: You cannot kill us all, Viceroy.

NUTE: I trust it will not come to that.

DOFINE comes rushing up, holding a holo-projector.

DOFINE: Lord Sidious, Viceroy.

NUTE: Ah.

He takes the projector and activates it, causing a hologram of SIDIOUS to appear before them. BIBBLE is highly perplexed.

NUTE: Lord Sidious. The occupation goes well.

SIDIOUS: As well it should, Viceroy. And soon victory shall be ours. My apprentice, Darth Maul, has traced the Queen's ship to Tatooine, a system in the Outer Rim. He is on his way there now. When she returns, you will force her to sign the treaty.

NUTE: It shall be done, My Lord.

SIDIOUS fades; NUTE turns to BIBBLE.

BIBBLE: Who--

NUTE: So you see, Governor, the end to this affair is near.

Bibble now looks fearful.


And after that, we return to Tatooine, for the first hint of something that would vex Star Wars fans more than any other thing in TPM, with the sole exception of Jar Jar Binks. So, in our next installment, we shall discuss Midichlorians. Until then, may the Force be with you!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Bush went back, and to the left. Back, and to the left. Back, and to the left.

Oliver Stone is making a movie about George W. Bush. If that hits theaters the same week Hillary Clinton is elected President, I think that millions of right-wing heads all over America will literally explode.

Sentential Links #125

Click these links or the puppy gets it.

:: I find myself somewhat grieving the fact that I will never, ever be back at that time of my life again. And terrified that I’ll never really be ready for the future I’m preparing myself to begin....

:: Because what I realized was this: fans of movies immerse themselves in the fictional world they imagine the movie takes place in and become obsessed with the minutia. I'm a different kind of film buff, I guess. And if that's fandom today, I'm glad I stopped participating in it around that time. It's not fun anymore. It's not about liking things anymore; now it's about not liking things. And I think that's just too bad. (A great post on the ugly side of Star Wars fandom, which has, to my eyes as well as SamuraiFrog's, become the main side of Star Wars fandom. There's some stuff that I disagree with in the comments -- Lucas's recent comment about TESB being "the worst one" was a joke he made at a tribute for someone, and not meant seriously; Lawrence Kasdan always seems to get the credit for TESB but none of the "blame" for ROTJ, to whatever extent blame is deserved -- but still, good stuff.)

:: Still, I can say that there are very few to whom I can more sincerely say "Rest in Peace," than Bobby Fischer.

:: I want a film that is faithful to Star Trek's pioneer spirit and Star Trek's swashbuckling heart. If I get that, but Kirk never served on the Farragut, well...so be it. (I get the sentiment, and I wish I could say that I agree. I think it should be possible to do both. That Rick Berman rarely figured out how to do it shouldn't mean that it's time to toss everything -- baby, bathwater, tub, and towels -- out the window. But here's the thing, really: Trek has so much baggage behind it that if rebooting it means totally starting over from scratch, why not really start from scratch and do something completely new? Why does it have to be Trek at all? Via.)

:: After completing his symphony, Beethoven confided to a friend: "I am at last learning to compose." (Good post on the second movement of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony. The thing is, as great as that movement is, I think it works best in its intended context, as the second movement of a four-movement work. Coming after the fairly dance-like first movement, the Allegretto is shattering. As for the poster's surprise that the Allegretto has been described as "folk dance", why should that be surprising at all? Wagner called the entire Symphony the "apotheosis of the dance". Via.)

:: See, this is how you gracefully retcon stuff, Spider-Man. You don't make a magical deal with the devil. That's just retarded. The way you do it is you get a man from the future to travel through time with his robot friend and another time traveler. Then you get him to team up with three other versions of a dead character and save the dead friend's life. (Good tip, thanks! And congrats on the wedding planning.)

:: Consider this a literary experiment. (Jayme attempts a blog-serial. May the Force be with him.)

All for this week. Next week, maybe something different. Or not. I'm a free spirit!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Missing Mirna....

Wow, I haven't blogged The Amazing Race much at all this go-round, have I? The show's as good as ever, but there weren't any teams that I found really loathsome this time out (unlike, say, Dustin and Kandace from the last two seasons). My favorite team was Kynt and Vixen, the goths in black-and-pink, but they were eliminated two weeks ago when they made a colossal error in not U-Turning a team that they knew to be behind them. My least favorite was the couple eliminated last week, but basically all they did was bicker constantly and treat each other incredibly poorly. They weren't very memorable, and I've already forgotten their names.

This is only my fourth time watching TAR, but this is the first time of those four that the finale sees three teams that I genuinely don't mind racing for the million. While I want TK and Rachel (the hippie-looking couple) to win, it wouldn't bother me at all if the grandson/grandfather or father/daughter duo won.

I don't know when or if the next season is taking place, but I hope it's soon. I imagine that the longer the writers' strike goes on, the more attractive another season of TAR becomes. What would I like to see in future races? I'd love to see more long driving transitions, in which racers are in foreign locales and have to drive themselves not five or six miles within one city, but maybe two hundred miles to another city, maybe even changing countries: they open the clue in Berlin and are told, "Drive to ___ in Prague." Or maybe some new complications: when the episode opens, instead of the clue saying "Fly to Buenes Aires", the clue could feature a clue of some sort to their destination; maybe a photo of a notable building in a city and the words "Fly to the city where this building is located". Or a new complication, which they could call "Pile Up". Only problem is, I'm not sure what would happen in a Pile Up.

Anyhoo, best to the three teams.

UPDATE: Watching the show right now. The final Roadblock is psychotic.

Sunday Burst of Weirdness

Hmmmm....

:: Researchers confirm that kids don't like clowns.

:: This isn't weird, actually -- 18 stunning bridges from around the world -- but it partially qualifies on the basis that I can't believe they want to build bridges in some of these places. Do we need a bridge to link Alaska to Russia? No way I would drive that thing. (via)

:: My Star Trek Year. This person is attempting to watch every episode of every Trek series, and all the movies, in the course of one year. He's also apparently reading some Trek books along the way. Wow. He does not seem to be watching the episodes in the order they were telecast, however. I can kind of see why; a massive dose of, say, the third season of TOS over the course of a week would probably have anyone heading for the bathtub with a couple of brand-new razor blades.

:: In honor of this past week's return of American Idol -- yes, I'm a fan, sue me -- I link the best Idol audition ever. This makes William Hung look like peanuts, folks.

T-minus 366 days and counting

One year until a new President can start fixing things. Hang in there, America. We can get through this. Stay alive, no matter what occurs!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Maybe we can all change our last names to "Joad"

A Republican Congresswoman from Minnesota opines thusly:

I am so proud to be from the state of Minnesota. We're the workingest state in the country, and the reason why we are, we have more people that are working longer hours, we have people that are working two jobs.


Imagine all those Minnesotan chests puffing outwards with pride as they stumble, bleery-eyed, from eight hours at one job to six hours at the next, maybe kissing the kid whose name they barely remember as they lurch out the door toward the 1991 Chevy in the driveway that might be able to last one more winter, just as long as that loud knocking noise the engine makes now and again doesn't turn out to be anything bad, all the while thinking, "Wow, this dull ache in my legs sure doesn't seem to want to go away," or maybe "Hey, with the coins I just found in the couch, I can get a quart of milk and a gallon of gas before payday!". But it'll all be good, because this Minnesotan will know that his or her Republican Congresswoman is proud of their efforts and is planning to help them out by cutting the taxes on their corporate masters, secure in the knowledge that the financial rewards of those tax cuts will make it down to the two-job working grunts real soon.

To the trough, boys!

The Big E

The USS Enterprise under construction in JJ Abrams's upcoming Star Trek movie:



That's a pretty cool image, even if shots of the Enterprise in drydock are getting a little passe, aren't they? I mean, the various Enterprises are shown in drydock in eight of the existing movies already. If you look closely, you can make out the front of the warp nacelles, flanking the saucer section behind. Maybe it's a trick of perspective, but those nacelles seem awfully close, don't they? And big? I wonder what the actual Big E for the movie will look like. I suppose it'll be like every iteration of the Big E: same basic shape but some different bells and whistles.

I'm still not wild about Abrams in charge of Trek, but then I'm not terribly wild about Trek anymore anyway. We'll see.

Recent Reading (KidLit edition)

In reading to The Daughter at night, we've recently started to read chapter books a bit at a time, each evening, as opposed to the single-volume storybooks that were the rule until then. This has opened up lots of new vistas for reading, and it's really rejuvenated a time of night that had for a while felt more like a chore than a treasured portion of our daily routine. I've generally tried to choose books that are slightly above her reading level, so as to keep her challenged and exposed to new stuff, and I've tried to choose books that I'd like to read as well.

(UPDATE: A reader asks how old she is; The Daughter is eight, and she's in third grade.)

Here are some of the books we've read:

:: Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl. This is simply one of my favorite books of all time, be it for children or adults. This one is just sheer, total delight. This story of a young boy living alone with his mechanic father in rural England is full of charm, humor, and also some excitement when our hero, young Danny, learns his father's deepest and darkest secret. It's a wonderful "underdog blue-collar folks against the arrogant wealthy" type of tale, with one of the best endings I know. Why this book hasn't been done into a proper movie, I can't imagine. (Apparently it was filmed in Britain, but I've never seen it or even heard of that production until now -- a TV film for the BBC, perhaps?)

:: James and the Giant Peach, also by Roald Dahl. This was new to me, actually; I love Dahl, but somehow I got through childhood without reading this one, although I did see the Tim Burton-produced movie several years ago, which turns out to have added quite a bit to the story. No matter; the main portion of the tale, in which James is liberated from the clutches of his vile Aunts when he comes into the possession of a giant peach, and the friends he makes inside that peach when he meets the insectoid denizens of the fruit, is the real meat of the story. This is classic Dahl, in which supernatural doings are presented simply as a normal part of the world, and in which our author thinks nothing of having the hero's parents killed by a rhinoceros on page one.

:: Stormbreaker, by Anthony Horowitz. We bought this book at the book fair at the school's Open House this year, mainly because it had a really cool cover. It's actually a halfway decent book, the first in a series of spy thrillers featuring thirteen-year-old Alex Rider, who is recruited by MI6 after his caretaker uncle is murdered while investigating an enigmatic industrialist who is about to donate free computers to every school in Britain. It's a pretty violent story, and there were times in the reading that I wondered if it would have been better left until she was older. She really enjoyed this one, however, finding the suspense sequences pretty spine-tingling. I imagine we'll be tracking down the subsequent volumes in the future.

:: Larklight by Philip Reeve is an amazingly fun book. We had a blast with this one, as we'd hoped, given that the book is subtitled "A Rousing Tale of Dauntless Pluck in the Farthest Reaches of Space". It's literally a steampunk space opera: a SF adventure that assumes that certain scientific theories of the nature of the universe long-since disproved in the real world are actually true. Hence, the book posits the existence of the aether, strange beings on every planet, spaceships that literally look like seafaring vessels in the sky. There are space pirates, malevolent aliens living in the ruins of Saturn, ancient races on Mars, a spacefaring British Empire, and a harrowing journey into Jupiter's Great Red Spot. If you can accept the nature of the world Reeve has created here, Larklight is a rollicking blast of a story. We recommend it highly. Of all the books we've read lately, this is the one that earned the most heartfelt howls of protest from The Daughter when I told her that the page we were on was where we'd stop for the night.

Reading. I like it.

(Each of these books is good on the merits, so don't eschew them if you don't happen to have kids around.)

Pass the Popcorn!

Alan posts about the Ron Paul Newsletter fiasco today, and gets visited by lots of folks who fill his comment thread with poor spelling and even worse arguments as to why Paul should have no responsibility whatsoever for anything that was printed under his own signature. Fun wow!

Here's Kevin Drum on the subject:

Question: what's the difference between a "racist" and someone who was "complicit in a strategy of pandering to racists"? Nothing, as far as I can tell, except that at least the former is bit more honest about things.

So as damning as everyone thinks this stuff is, I think it's even more damning than that. We're not children here, after all. It's plain that Paul knew what was being published in his newsletters. It's plain that he was familiar with the well-developed strategy that inspired the early-90s turn to racist demagoguery. It's plain that he knew it was a key part of his fundraising appeal. Paul can weasel all he wants, but it's plain that he endorsed a strategy of overt appeals to racist sentiment in order to build support for his political career. If he's given all that up since then, it's only because he no longer needs it.

This whole affair highlights one of the reasons that I wish everyone would stop swooning over minor candidates who play the part of bold truthteller. When you have no chance of winning and therefore nothing to risk, it's cheap and easy to stick to your guns. But as Ron Paul has shown, back when it actually mattered he was willing to do whatever he needed to raise money and rekindle his political career. I don't doubt that he'd do it again if anything serious were on the line.


That's exactly right. It's also worth noting that Paul's steely-eyed libertarianism falters where women's rights are concerned.

The guy's a crackpot.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Passages

My mother mentioned in an e-mail the other day, among other things, that my first ever school band director died last week. I hadn't seen Mr. Beach (first name Jim) since I graduated high school, but back then he was a fairly heavy smoker and known for his fondness for booze, so his passing isn't exactly a galloping shock. He looked fairly advanced in years even when I first met him when I was in fifth grade, and his posture was even then terrible; he had a pronounced hunch in his back and his hair was already completely white. It was thus a surprise to learn that he was actually a year younger than my mother.

Mr. Beach was a fairly strange man, as I recall. As a band director, he was adequate, although this is hard to judge by the fact that he was the elementary and junior high band director, so it wasn't as though he was really tasked with great amounts of musical development on the part of his students. He was fairly encouraging of his more talented charges, but as a direct source of musical wisdom, I don't recall much from him.

However, I could be wrong here as well, since my own temperament later turned out to be strongly classical, and Mr. Beach's was strongly jazz oriented. Being a straight "band director" wasn't really his game, but he was quite good at getting the sound he wanted from the jazz bands under him. The one year that I remember him directing the Senior High Jazz Band was probably the best single musical experience of my high school years; for a high school ensemble from a small town, that band cooked. I can still hear remember our bass trombone player on a haunting arrangement of Gershwin's "Summertime", and I can still remember my own frustration that he would never let me play any of the solos. It wouldn't be until college that I'd realize what he'd surely already known: that I was no jazz musician and had no place in a jazz band other than being a really good section player.

I don't recall why Mr. Beach only had one year to direct the jazz band, but I do recall that there was some kind of incident that led to our school superintendent stepping in for some reason. The details were never explained to us, but to my knowledge, Mr. Beach never stepped in front of a jazz band again. I had already thought poorly of that particular superintendent, who was one of those guys who takes a position if and only if he thinks it can lead to the next position. (In a fitting postscript, four or five years ago I was in one of Buffalo's Media Play locations – before they all closed when the chain went belly-up – and recognized one of the cashiers as none other than that ambitious, arrogant superintendent. I found some kind of cosmic karmic justice at work in that; this guy who had once been highly impressed with his own authority in a small town school system was now, fifteen years later, wearing a uniform shirt and a nametag. In his mind, that had to be a blow.)

I remember something else. We used to have a summer jazz band at that school; we'd rehearse a couple of times and then we'd go out and play at various gigs. We'd play the Cattaraugus County Fair, various dances and festivals in the region, and the like. It always went over well; we'd mostly perform the great big-band classics, and the membership of the band would be augmented by other musicians who lived in the area. Those performances were always hard work, but they were also always a joy. One year at the Catt. Co. Fair, we did Glenn Miller's "Moonlight Serenade", but in an arrangement that had an extended clarinet solo. Mr. Beach's main instrument was the clarinet, and he took that solo himself. To this day that one performance of his – the only time I ever actually heard him perform anything at all – remains one of the most beautiful bits of clarinet playing I've ever heard live, and I've heard a lot (Richard Stoltzman playing the Mozart clarinet concerto, for example). I wonder if Mr. Beach was one of the many musicians who went to school figuring to be a professional performer, and then found himself a teacher when gigs were harder to come by than he'd thought. I also wonder if he never quite made the transition to teaching in his head or in his heart. Certainly on the night I heard him play "Moonlight Serenade", it was as if Mr. Beach had grabbed a part of his life he'd maybe thought lost.

Anyhow, I can't really say that I learned a lot about music from Mr. Beach, but if he hadn't specifically recruited me for band when I was in fifth grade, I possibly would never have learned anything about music at all. Berlioz? Rachmaninov? Wagner? The Chieftains? Howard Shore? They'd all be just names, I suppose. And I certainly wouldn't have gone to college in Iowa, thinking to study music; and then I wouldn't have met a girl a year older than me who played the oboe.

We often judge our teachers by what they teach us, and forget the ones who didn't so much teach us as simply meet us at a crossroads and say, "Go that way. You'll like it." Well, Jim Beach put me on a road, sure enough. So thanks for the nudge down the road, Mr. Beach.

And wherever you are, I hope you're jamming with Benny Goodman.