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

Friday, February 27, 2009

Seven, into Eight

A couple of weeks ago, this blog's official Blogiversary came and went. I didn't mark the occasion at the time, but this whole month has partly been for me about seven years in Blogistan (minus a three month holiday last year). That's a lot of insightful content blather and drivel to produce and a lot of time to produce it in, and I'm gratified to find that I have any audience at all, even a small one. Thanks to one and all my readers! It's been an interesting seven years, marked by politics and war and Star Wars movies and poetry and music and Tolkien and Spiderman and Berlioz and Rachmaninov and pizza and chicken wings and coconut cream pie...and always a long-haired goof in overalls sitting back and looking at it all with a fairly jaded eye. Or, maybe, not so jaded.

So how long can it go on? Who knows, really. As in all things, we'll see. Excelsior!

(And don't forget Ask Me Anything!, for which I will definitively cease taking queries after tomorrow.)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Brightly Weaving

After clearing the decks of some earlier reading I wanted to get out of the way, I'm finally embarking on something I've intended to do for a couple of years now: I am re-reading every word Guy Gavriel Kay has written, in the order that he wrote them. Why? Because he's my favorite living author, and it's been a while since I've gone through his work. Here's how it breaks down:

:: My last re-read of The Fionavar Tapestry was almost exactly three years ago. This will be, by my count, my fifth complete re-reading of the trilogy, although I have dipped into it to read favorite passages too many times to count.

:: Then comes Tigana, viewed by many as GGK's finest work. It's not my favorite of his, but it is wonderful. It is also the first of GGK's books that I ever read in its entirety. The last time I read it was, I believe, in 2000. That's far too long.

:: After that is A Song for Arbonne, which seems to be held in less regard than GGK's other works. It was the first time I ever encountered his writing, when I saw the book at the Olean Library and was intrigued enough by its cover to check it out, but for some reason I didn't finish it at that time. I think school got in the way or something...I'm not sure. This was in 1992 or 1993. My last re-read of Arbonne was in 2001; that I remember because I recall the apartment we lived in at the time. This will be the third time I've read it.

:: In 2005 I re-read The Lions of Al-Rassan for the third time, so this will be my fourth trip through what is my favorite of all of GGK's books. This book, with its tragic love stories and its wonderful characters and gorgeous setting just hits on every level for me.

:: Of the two volumes that make up The Sarantine Mosaic, I have only re-read the first, Sailing to Sarantium, a single time, and that was in preparation for the release in 2000 of the second book, Lord of Emperors. I have never re-read Lord. This may be the one I'm looking forward to the most, at this point.

:: GGK's book of poetry, Beyond This Dark House, came out in 2003. I read it, and since have dipped back into it a bit, but now I'll re-read it in its entirety.

:: I reviewed 2004's The Last Light of the Sun for GMR, and since then I have not re-read it. I remember this book very favorably and look forward to seeing if it measures up to my memories of it.

:: And finally, 2007's Ysabel, which I blogged about when I read it. This will end up being the shortest period of time I've ever gone between full re-reads on a GGK book.

All this means that if GGK has a new book out next year, which seems a reasonable expectation (he seems to go about three years between books), I'll be totally up to speed on his oeuvre. And that's a good thing.

Even though I already own every one of his books, for the sake of this project I spent some time on eBay last December searching out new copies of each, in different editions. I've sometimes found that when you re-read a book that's very familiar to you, but you read it in a different edition than the one you're used to, with a different typeface and different cover art and so on, some details in the story stick out more than they otherwise would. I'm already noticing this in Fionavar. I already owned two editions, one a mass-market paperback edition that was my first copy and a trade paperback edition with new cover art; but both editions were done by ROC Books, and both used identical type-settings. This edition I'm reading now uses a totally different font, even, so I'm finding the experience of re-reading just slightly different. This may sound goofy, but we're talking about books I'm sufficiently familiar with that with some passages, I know where they physically appear on the page. Now those passages will have, well, shifted.

(Besides, my original copy of Last Light of the Sun is actually an advance reading copy; the thing doesn't even have cover art. I've rectified that with a hardcover version, albeit a book club edition. Nothing's perfect.)

I'll blog my way through these, obviously. I'm not sure if I'll be reading them all back-to-back-to-back, or if I'll read something else in between once or twice, just to cleanse the palate a little, but I'm hoping to be done with this at least by the end of summer, if not sooner. We'll see...but for now, I'm off to Fionavar!

Something for Thursday

No introduction necessary. Here are Fred and Ginger with "They Can't Take That Away From Me", from Shall We Dance.



Happy Thursday, folks!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Happy Birthday, My Love



UPDATE: An annotated version of this photo appears on my Flickr stream, here.

Today is The Wife's birthday, a day which will be filled with much celebration and joy. And, later on tonight when she gets home from work, cake. And maybe some rum. And then...well, that's none of your business.

She and I actually had our first date just four days before her birthday, on February 21, back in 1991, so each time her birthday rolls around, it also means that we've been together in some fashion for another year. She has now been in my life for eighteen years. That is longer than anyone else in my life, save a few college friends who were around a year earlier (we started dating when I was a sophomore), Matt Jones, and my family members. Next year, we'll reach the point where she will have been in my life for more than half of it. And after what feels like more than our fair share – way more than double – of toil and trouble, we're still going strong.

Here, now, is the official Byzantium's Shores celebration of The Wife, in my typical form: a list. One hundred things about the woman I married: memories, observations, things I love about her. In truth, I could probably write ten of these lists and still be less than half done.

1. Her hand fits perfectly into mine, as though our hands were fit for each other.

2. The first time she saw Star Wars was with me. And ET.

3. She used to keep an aquarium before a bunch of moves made us give up the fish. Maybe we'll do that again someday. But when we started dating, she had two fish, named Ken and Wanda, named after two memorable characters from A Fish Called Wanda. When Ken went belly-up, she called a friend and solemnly informed her, "K-k-k-ken d-d-d-died." (One of the movie's running gags is Ken's stuttering.)

4. I don't remember exactly when it happened, but I've converted her from someone who hated coffee into a regular coffee drinker.

5. For reasons passing understanding, she has always found Erik Estrada attractive. She and I used to have arguments over who could best the other in a fight: Agent Mulder from The X-Files or Ponch from Chips. (I think Mulder would have blinded Ponch with the beam from those giant blue-beamed flashlights he and Scully were always toting, and then beaten him into submission with his eternally-able-to-get-a-signal cell phone.)

6. One of the first things we cooked together was Spanish rice, which is to this day a comfort dish of ours. The first time we made it together was also the first time she'd ever cooked with actual bulb garlic, as opposed to garlic powder. The recipe called for a clove, but she thought the entire head was a clove, so into the rice the entire head of garlic went. That was the best Spanish rice ever.

7. A few years ago she baked a Bundt cake for The Daughter's birthday, but the damned thing stuck in the pan, resulting not in a ring but a mound. So she just mounded it up, glopped the frosting right over the top, and called it a "Volcano Cake". Now, every year at her birthday, The Daughter says, "Remember the Volcano Cake?"

8. Our first date was to see Edward Scissorhands. So, Johnny Depp's been there since the beginning, from Edward all the way to Captain Jack Sparrow and beyond.

9. We used to go out for chicken wings and beer every Thursday night. We didn't even miss our Thursday night wing night when The Daughter was born: her birth was on a Saturday, and we left the hospital on Tuesday, so at the tender age of five days, The Daughter entered a bar for the first time. This may have made us bad parents, but I don't think so. A girl's got to know how to handle herself in a bar, right?

10. She insisted on breastfeeding both The Daughter and Little Quinn, which in both cases required lots of pumping. Especially in Little Quinn's case, since he was never able to eat by mouth. Every drop of breastmilk that entered his body went in via the G-tube, so for as long as her production held up, she pumped six times a day.

11. I'll probably never completely understand how much of herself she sacrificed in fourteen months to keep Little Quinn alive and progressing. It seems, in retrospect, that every free day she had was given to him.

12. That same instinct in her kicked in again when Fiona was in danger. She didn't question the necessity or possibility of spending months flat on her back with her feet inclined, if that was what it took. If commitment was all that was needed, Fiona would be here today. (Of course, if commitment was all that was needed, Little Quinn would be here and Fiona wouldn't have happened.)

13. We used to associate certain teevee shows with the snack foods we'd eat while watching them. NYPDBlue was always chips-and-salsa. ER, when we still watched it, was often good ice cream. Now, good ice cream has been transposed to Grey's Anatomy.

14. "Our" first teevee show was LA Law.

15. Subsequent teevee shows of "ours" included ER, Mad About You, The Pretender, Profiler, CSI, Firefly, and more.

16. On our first Internet account, we set up our combined e-mail identity after the two main characers on The Pretender. We were "Jarod and Miss Parker". People familiar with the show wondered what that said about our relationship, since Jarod and Miss Parker aren't allies. In fact, Miss Parker was initially a villain but as the show went on her character became much more complex.

17. She started roller blading, got me hooked, and then promptly stopped roller blading. Now she prefers biking.

18. It was almost without warning that I met her parents for the first time. We started dating late February 1991; a couple of weeks later was spring break, for a week, so I came home to Buffalo. At the end of that week I tried calling her, only to learn from the old lady she was renting a room from that she wasn't home because of a death in her family. I remembered her saying something about a sick grandfather, and that's what turned out to have happened; her grandfather had passed away from Lou Gehrig's Disease. When I got back out to school, her entire family was there. So I met the future in-laws on the spot. Luckily, I seem to have made some kind of decent impression.

19. Our first long trip together was from Iowa to Idaho, to visit her family, a couple of weeks before school began in August of 1992. She had already graduated college, but I was in my senior year. While we were out there, the infamous Ruby Ridge Incident was taking place twenty miles down the road, so all week there were National Guard vehicles on the roads and helicopters overhead.

20. I am forever amazed at her ability to take some fabric and create a garment. This skill of hers looks like magic to me.

21. Her first pair of overalls were a gift from me. She thought the whole thing was goofy – maybe she still does! - but she wore them for years until at one point they became too small for her, and then a short while later they became too big for her. We didn't start wearing overalls together until we'd been dating for about a year.

22. Back in the 90s, on two different occasions, we picked out Persian kittens. Both were wonderful cats, both are gone now, and we miss them both dearly. The first was a beautiful tortoiseshell Persian named Jasmine; the second was a red Persian named Simba. Both died in the year preceding this blog's launch.

23. Adopting Lester and Julio was The Wife's idea. I'm still unsold on these two giant lummox goofballs.

24. The Wife also took The Daughter to adopt Comet, when The Daughter was only two.

25. Shortly after The Wife moved to Western New York to be near me, she adopted a cat from the shelter she named Lilac. That cat never really liked me all that much. Lilac died a few months after Little Quinn passed.

26. She loves to laugh, particularly at my expense. She is convinced I don't think she's funny, but that's just not the case.

27. Things with which she has a deft touch include: a pair of scissors, a needle and thread, a kitchen knife, the mixer, bread dough, a screwdriver, a lug wrench, and a shot glass.

28. It irritates her that The Daughter has inherited my tolerance for sunlight -- I tan, whereas The Wife burns.

29. The Wife likes to read, albeit not quite as much as I do. She always has a book going, and she reads every day.

30. She never used to use a bookmark, until I finally decided I was tired of watching her flip through a book looking for a passage that was familiar to her so she could find her place. I bought her a bookmark.

31. She loves nuts – except for walnuts and pecans, which I love. This makes it occasionally difficult find good brownies and similar items in bakeries, since many people default to putting pecans or walnuts in their brownies or other chocolate cookies.

32. When I first met her, she was a huge Anne Rice fan and read most of what Rice wrote until she decided that Rice's output wasn't interesting her much anymore. Since then she's read a lot of other authors, including a lot of unfamiliar names whose books I've plucked from the stacks of offerings at library book sales over the years. Interesting how obscure even the bestsellers of yesteryear eventually become, huh? Currently she really loves Gregory Maguire, the Wicked guy.

33. When we first met, she was a Washington Redskins fan. So of course, the first Super Bowl we were together was the one where the Redskins knocked the Bills on their collective arse. Oh well, at least she hated the Cowboys.

34. She prefers her KFC "extra crispy", where I'm an "Original Recipe" guy.

35. Movies that are particularly meaningful or nostalgic to us, in addition to Edward Scissorhands and Star Wars are Dances With Wolves, Titanic, The Lord of the Rings, Singin' in the Rain, and the James Bond movies.

36. For some reason we didn't take any pictures when we were on our honeymoon or when we were on our vacation to Disney a year later. I think we were between working cameras at those points...but lately I really wish we'd have addressed that at the time.

37. Things we did on our honeymoon to Cape Cod, Boston, and New Hampshire: road a boat out to sea to watch the whales; visited the New England Aquarium; ate dim sum in Boston's Chinatown; bought lots of kitchenware at an outlet strip (don't laugh, we still have some of that stuff); visited the Boston Science Museum. While doing two days in Boston we stayed at a hotel about forty miles out and road the train into town; on the second day, on the way back, we fell asleep on each other's shoulders.

38. Our first argument as a couple resulted from a common misunderstanding between people when one is from Iowa and one is just living in Iowa for a while. I told her we'd meet for dinner, so she showed up at noon and got annoyed because I wasn't there. Well, duh! I said "dinner", not "lunch". Except, remember, she's a native Iowan, which means instead of eating breakfast, lunch and dinner like most (ahem) normal folks, she ate breakfast, dinner and supper. Thankfully, I've converted her since then. Whew!

39. Our first wedding anniversary saw us spending a week at Walt Disney World. What a wonderful time that was! Even if she managed to rip her toenail out two days into the trip, thus requiring me to push her around in a wheelchair the whole time after that.

40. She had long hair when we started dating, and I had short hair. Now we've reversed that.

41. Before we started dating, I had a beard. When I became interested in her, I shaved it so I'd look better. Then, I learned that she likes facial hair. So I grew the beard back a while later.

42. Foods I've tried because of her: asparagus, squash, rhubarb, grapefruit, and more that I don't recall.

43. She loves George Carlin.

44. She bought me my first cell phone, and my second cell phone.

45. When we were at the Erie County Fair in 2001, she wandered off to look at the Bernina sewing machines. When I came by ten minutes or so later, she was in the process of buying a Bernina sewing machine. I didn't complain; I just stood there, kind of looking shell-shocked.

46. Leading up to our wedding, she rigidly adhered to the notion that the groom should not see the bride in her wedding dress until she comes round the corner to walk down the aisle. So I didn't see her until she came round the corner to walk down the aisle.

47. Starting a family was her idea. Not that I was against it; I figured we'd get there eventually. She just picked the "eventually".

48. She picked The Daughter's first name, so I got to pick her middle name.

49. Since Thanksgiving Break at college was only a four day weekend, I didn't go home for T-giving my junior year; instead, I spent the weekend with her. We went to see her extended family out in Storm Lake, Iowa, which is on the other side of the state. Since she has family over there on both sides of the family, we ended up having two Thanksgiving dinners that day. Some part of me is still full from those two meals.

50. Iowa delicacies that The Wife and I share are pork tenderloin sandwiches and broasted chicken.

51. Some of our early dates were sufficiently cheap that we had to look for ATM machines that would dispense cash in five dollar denominations.

52. She bought Simba, the above-mentioned red Persian kitten, while we were on a shopping trip to Erie, PA. She fell in love with the kitten as soon as she saw him in the pet store; we then spent the rest of the day walking around the mall with me listening to her as she tried to talk herself out of buying him. (Persian kittens are pricey little buggers.) Finally, while we were at dinner at Red Lobster, she decided to pull the trigger.

53. Before Little Quinn, the most heartbroken I ever saw The Wife was the day we finally had to end Simba's life. His kidneys were in failure.

54. Great gifts she's bought me through the years: my current winter coat, a cupboard-full of drinking vessels of all types, candles, incense burners, the Star Wars original trilogy on DVD, my anniversary edition of The Lord of the Rings with paintings by Alan Lee, my star sapphire ring, my current wristwatch, and many more.

55. The first thing she ever gave me: a stuffed bear, around whose neck she tied a lavender ribbon. I think she doused it with perfume. I named that bear "Bertrand", after philosopher Bertrand Russell.

56. The first thing I bought her: a little two-inch high figurine of a laughing Buddha. I think this confused her a bit.

57. Despite my best efforts for a while, she's never much warmed to baseball. That used to bother me, but these days that doesn't bug me much at all. I'm pretty cool to baseball myself now.

58. For a few years we went to Cedar Point each fall. We haven't been there in a long time, but I always found being there with her in the fall, in the cool air, pretty romantic. I loved riding the Giant Wheel after dark, sitting up there with her hand in mine, looking out over Lake Erie.

59. At Cedar Point, she decided that she liked this one coaster that does loops, so I stayed on the ground while she rode it. I'm terrified of those things.

60. Why don't we play mini golf more often? We both love mini golf. The Daughter loves mini golf. What gives?

61. One day in 1996, we were eating lunch in Buffalo when we had "The Discussion". Any guy who's ever been dating the same girl for a period of time measurable in years will know what "The Discussion" is. So I agreed, it was time for us to take the "next step". Later on, while she was having her eyes examined at LensCrafters, I bopped over to Penney's to buy her a ring. I chose a nice emerald one that looked really pretty. Sadly, they didn't have it in her size, so they had to order it, which would take three weeks. So I figured, OK, I'll get the ring in three weeks and make this thing official. Yay, Me!

62. The next day, she proposed to me.

63. Three weeks later I showed up to get the ring. They had it, but they couldn't find the paperwork, so some poor guy at the pickup counter at Penney's spent his entire lunch hour trying to find the paperwork so I could give my already-fiancee her engagement ring.

64. I don't remember exactly when we picked out her wedding rings, but we each have an Irish wedding band, and each ring is set with the other person's birthstone. So my ring is set with four amethysts, which is her birthstone; hers is set with four sapphires, which is mine.

65. For years I wore my ring incorrectly. Apparently there's one way to wear an Irish wedding band that signifies being married, and another that signifies being single. I was wearing mine the "single" way. I was alerted to this by a guy I worked with at The Store; he said, "Yeah, you're telling all the women that you're available." I replied, "Yeah, and I'm beating them off with a stick."

66. On our honeymoon, it was important to her that she at least get to dip her toes in the Atlantic Ocean. So she did. The water was very cold, though.

67. It always bugged her mother that she saw Niagara Falls before her mother did. Later we took her mother to Niagara when she was out for a visit.

68. During the summer of 1991, when I was at home and she was still in Iowa, she came to spend a week with me. I took her to Buffalo and to Toronto, on the way to which we stopped to see Niagara Falls for her first time.

69. She was really confused the first time a Japanese tourist asked her to take his picture in front of the Falls.

70. At the time our beer of choice was Labatt's. It's pronounced "la-BATS", but we had a family friend at the time who liked to say it "LAB-uhts", which is how I said it at college just for fun and habit. So when she visited me that summer, we went to the bar where this friend hung out, and he was so impressed when she ordered a "LAB-uhts".

71. Our favorite mixed drink in college was the sloe gin fizz. A few years ago I tried making these again, discovering that her tastes had changed and she now found them sickeningly sweet. I like them still, but yeah, they're sugary. (And pink. When I told a friend at work who knows everything about liquor that I'd bought some sloe gin, he laughed and said, "Oh good! Now you can make pink drinks!")

72. She taught me the right way to do laundry.

73. I taught her the right way to crack open crab legs so as to not mangle the meat.

74. Our first major mistake of parenting was taking The Daughter to a fireworks display on the Fourth of July in 1999. The Daughter was all of fifteen days old. This was the big display in Lakewood, NY, which is right on the banks of Lake Chautauqua. The Daughter did not respond well to the fireworks detonating right over our heads; the sounds were bad and for years afterwards The Daughter was very scared of loud sounds.

75. We always say that we should go camping. We never actually do go camping. We need to do more camping.

76. Once for dinner I made some frozen cheese ravioli with sauce, a favorite meal of ours that we hadn't had in a long time. She said that she was looking forward to "eating some cheesy goodness". Unfortunately, the raviolis were a bit on the old and tough side, and the cheese never got nice and melty, so after the meal, she commented, "That wasn't really cheesy goodness."

77. She likes eggs over-easy. I'm not a big fan of those, but I try to make them for her when she's getting over being sick.

78. She makes fun of my over-reliance on boxed mixes in the kitchen.

79. In 1993, when Cheers aired its final episode, she bought pizza for my roommate and I.

80. She only swears when she's really annoyed.

81. She is not happy that her nine-year-old, fourth-grade daughter is now the same shoe size as she is.

82. A while back she had her hair colored a brighter shade of blond than is her natural color. It was awesome.

83. Before that she experimented with red. I've tried talking her into doing that again, but no dice.

84. When my aunt met her the night before our wedding, she made a comment to the effect that I was to be commended for adding blond hair and blue eyes to our gene pool.

85. The Daughter has blond hair and blue eyes. So did Little Quinn.

86. I'm not sure there's a variety of seafood she dislikes.

87. I love the way she looks when she's just come home from work and changed into her PJ's.

88. Adopting Lester and Julio was her idea, but she claims the upper hand on that anyway because she was helping out my mother.

89. For some reason, The Daughter and I like to bring up at the dinner table the fact that The Wife, as a kid, had to help the family out on Chicken Butchering Day. I don't know why.

90. She thinks Orlando Bloom is really attractive. I don't see it, myself, but you can't argue these things.

91. For my birthday in 1992 she drove me to Dyersville, IA so I could see the Field of Dreams.

92. If I want to spoil her, all I have to do is buy her blush wine, cashews, olives and chocolate. Cake helps, too.

93. She spoils me by looking the other way when I go to Borders; by making me waffles or French toast or Spanish rice; by cleaning the kitchen after I've messed it up; by indulging my love of pie; and a thousand other ways.

94. She doesn't think it's too weird that I love it when she hits me in the face with a pie. And if I'd known how good she is at it, I'd have asked her to do it to me a heck of a lot sooner.

95. I know I've found the perfect girl for me when she describes our Thanksgiving in 2006 as being perfect because, after dinner, we went to see Casino Royale. In her words: "We had a big turkey dinner, and then we watched James Bond kill people."

96. We both love laughing at David Caruso on CSI Miami.

97. One time last year we were at the Y, and she got so engrossed in what she was doing that when I approached her, she didn't recognize me at first.

98. Maybe this is a personal failing on my part, but I can't bear it when she cries. It kills me inside. But I'm trying to get better at this, since as Gandalf said, "Not all tears are an evil."

99. I wish we were living lives that didn't include so many tears.

100. I love her more than I did last week at this time.

101. Number 100 on this list will be equally true next week at this time. And the week after. And so on.

102. She makes me happier than I thought possible.

103. She...oh, I guess that's where I need to stop. I love you, honey!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

NOW they tell us....

According to released text, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal is going to say this tonight in his response to President Obama's address to Congress:

Who among us would ask our children for a loan, so we could spend money we do not have, on things we do not need? That is precisely what the Democrats in Congress just did. It's irresponsible. And it's no way to strengthen our economy, create jobs, or build a prosperous future for our children.


I can't believe any Republican has the audacity to stand up before the country and say this, after they cheer-led George Bush's Bogus Fiscal Adventure for eight years. Or as John Cole put it, "Having the party of Bush lecture you about out of control spending is like having a heroin addict chide you for putting too much sugar in your coffee."

Final extension on Ask Me Anything! (Seriously, this time!)

I know, I've made the "final" extension announcement several times already, but I figure, what's one more? What I'll do is run it right up to the end of this month, and then start answering the questions next month, which starts on Saturday. Or Sunday. Whatever. One of those is the first, so next week, I'll start answering.

So, go ahead, folks, Ask Me Anything! Just put queries in comments to this post. (This is just so they're all in one place. Easier for me to keep track that way; two years ago I had Ask Me Anything! queries all over, in comments to three or four different posts, which resulted in me missing several questions until a month later.) As always, anonymous questions are fine, just as long as they're not mean.

"Most people are, when you finally see them."

After the Twilight debacle, I needed something good to read. I've been hankering to do a complete re-read of Guy Gavriel Kay's entire corpus, but I spied something on my stacks that I've been meaning to get to for a long time, so I figured, now's the time. Enter To Kill a Mockingbird.

I read Mockingbird back in high school, in tenth grade. (That being the case, I should admit that I've been a bit mean, perhaps, in previous mentions of my English teacher that year. She wasn't my favorite teacher by any means, and she did us the disservice of making my class read Ordinary People while the other classes were reading Mark Twain, but she did make us read Mockingbird, as well as Julius Caesar, which is when I first started to realize that maybe this Shakespeare fellow was highly regarded for a reason.

But anyway, back to Mockingbird. I assume the story is sufficiently well known that I don't need to summarize it, right? I loved it in high school, and we also watched the movie, which is also amazing. I've seen the movie several times since then, but I've never gone back to the book until just now. What an amazing piece of work it is, too! I know, this comes as no revelation to anyone who's read it, so I just have a couple of observations:

:: The book is a lot funnier than I remember it being. Aaron Sorkin once referred to his typical script structure as front-loading all the funny stuff and reserving the emotional hit for the last act; he called this "leaving the emotional hit in the tall grass". Mockingbird does this amazingly well. It interests me that more than half the book is gone before we even start to learn the details of the big case Atticus is working on. Meantime, there is a lot of humor in the first part of the book.

:: One thing I've never had the guts to try in my own writing is writing my characters' dialog in any kind of dialect, because I'm always afraid it's going to sound like an affected mess. Harper Lee gets it so totally, totally right. Example: her lower-class characters are always answering questions posed by women in the negative with the word "Nome". Of course this is what "No, ma'am" would sound like pronounced by someone with a Deep South drawl who doesn't enunciate terribly well. It's a brilliant effect, and everyone in the book has their own voice.

:: The story's ending is just so...right. I mean, there are good endings, there are happy endings, there are sad endings that feel hopeful and there are sad endings that are just terribly sad, but rarest of all are those endings that feel like this is the only way this story could have turned out, and it's satisfying in a way that most endings aren't. The only other story ending that leaps to my mind by comparison is that of The Shawshank Redemption.

:: I finished the book while I was on my break at work. Luckily I was in the back room, by myself, so nobody could see me start to cry when Scout says, "It would be like shootin' a mockingbird, wouldn't it?" What a beautiful line, what a perfect place for it! The "killing a mockingbird" metaphor had already been explained, much earlier in the book, and Lee saved it for its second mention at the most perfect place to use it. I'm in awe of Lee's sheer skill in terms of storytelling.

:: To Kill a Mockingbird seems to me to partly be about the falling of boundaries between worlds: the black and the white world, the poor and the not-so-poor world, the child and the adult world. Early on, Scout describes the world of hers and Jem's childhoods being bounded at one end by the house of Mrs. Dubose, and at the other by the house of Boo Radley. And through the book, both boundaries fall, don't they? First, Mrs. Dubose's, and then, the great mystery of the book, Boo Radley at the end. All through the book, the world gets bigger for these two children, first Jem and then Scout. It's not easy for them, and sometimes it's downright painful, but it can't be stopped.

:: Atticus Finch on courage: "It's when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what."

:: Jem Finch on people: "If there's just one kind of folks, why can't they get along with each other? If they're all alike, why do they go out of their way to despise each other? Scout, I think I'm beginning to understand something. I think I'm beginning to understand why Boo Radley's stayed shut up in the house all this time...it's because he wants to stay inside."

:: Scout Finch, greeting the most mysterious person in the world: "Hey, Boo."

I rather hope that Harper Lee has a closet full of manuscripts for after her passing, if she is so dead-set against appearing in print again while she's alive.

It's POP, darn it!

Lynn links this tribute to carbonated beverages of yesteryear. I've actually had a lot of these, and most of the ones I had tasted like crap. But Slice was good stuff, and Apple Slice was fabulous. Pepsi Clear was pretty gross. And I know everybody else hated it, but I thought that Holiday Spice Pepsi was just awesome.

Good morning, Mr. Phelps


Vigil 192ab, originally uploaded by ny_lucy.

Alan posted about the reception received the other day that greeted the representatives of the Westboro Baptist Church when they showed up to protest the services for the victims of the Continental Airlines plane crash. Nice to see that these nitwits got nowhere with their shenanigans, thanks to lots of local people who showed up to basically marginalize them and make them invisible. Kind of like the people in the photo above, which includes...my parents!

There they are, at far right. Mom's in the red overcoat, and Dad's beside her, with the ballcap, looking off down the street at something. Cool!

Stick a fork in it?

I linked it in yesterday's Sentential Links, but I wanted to flesh out my response to George RR Martin's irritation at people who are irritated with him that A Dance with Dragons, the fifth book in his Song of Ice and Fire series, isn't done yet. John Scalzi posts about this:

Some fans do have a tendency to forget that the creative folks they love are not simply black boxes, who produce desired product at regular intervals. They’re actually real people who do other things than just what the fans want them to do, because humans from time to time want to do the things they want to do, not the things other people want them to do. Yes, some fans don’t like that, but you know what, screw the type of fan who thinks a writer (or musician, or actor, or whatever) exists only to provide them with the entertainment of their choosing.

I’ll go personal here and talk about my own experience. As most of you know, the books in my Old Man’s War series are my most popular ones; each of the four novels have done very well and even the shorter works are pretty popular. There are people who would be delighted if all I did was write OMW universe books from now until the hopefully long-future date at which I drop. But thing is, at the moment, I have no plans to write any more OMW books. It’s not to say I never will, if I figure out what I want to do with that universe from here. I expect I may. But at the moment: Nope. I’ve got other things I’m working on which at the moment interest me more.

Now, I know this annoys some people — my matrix of ego-surfing search engines alerts me to many incidents of fan entitlement, particularly as regards the OMW universe — but I don’t think they understand what they’re asking for. Yes, I could write OMW #5 at the moment, but I guarantee it would suck, because at the moment I don’t know what I would write about, and thus OMW #5 would simply be a bit of commercial hackery, and it would show. And these same fans would say “Yeah, the series used to be good, but then he started phoning it in around book five.” You know, if I’m going to annoy a fan, I’d prefer to annoy a fan by not writing a book that sucks, than by writing one that does.


These are all points well taken. I'd only have a couple of rejoinders: first, I'm not sure the OMW books of Scalzi's are a great counterexample, since they're self-contained books; if he never writes another, he's not leaving anyone clamoring for the end of the story. Second, I do think that Martin has himself set up a lot of the bad feelings by periodically making overly optimistic appraisals of his progress on Dance, and by setting up the structure of Feast so as to imply that Dance would come along in pretty short order. Fans no doubt fear that the next book after Dance will take an equivalently long time, and there's no telling how long this series will become when all is said and done. I have a feeling that this series may end up going unfinished, and that would be a shame, even if I was disappointed a bit with Feast.

But this sort of thing is hardly new in the art world. Here is Richard Wagner, writing a letter in 1851 about his new project, an opera based on the legends of the Nibelungs:

With this new concept, I sever all connection with our present-day theatre and its audience: I make a definite and permanent break with present-day forms. Would you like to know what my intention are regarding my plan? In the first place, to carry it out, so far as lies within my power as poet and composer. This will take me at least three full years.


So, in 1851, Wagner was figuring on three years to write his Ring Cycle. When did he actually finish Gotterdammerung, the final opera in the cycle? Not until 1874, twenty-three years later. Of course, Wagner didn't have legions of fans on the Internet clamoring as to his progress, which is the only thing that's different, I suppose.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Run, Dummy!

Here are some random thoughts on watching Bull Durham, which is simply the best baseball movie ever made, and maybe the best sports movie ever made too. (Addendum: I actually wrote this post a long time ago, during my three-month hiatus from blogging. I'm only getting round to putting it up now.)

:: Little touch that I love: the manager of the Bulls has his speech for giving a player his release down pat, not just the words, but the way he says them. "This is the toughest job that a manager has. [Long pause]...BUT...the organization wants to make a change." In a job where he has to give that speech however many times each season, and where every time he does he's likely crushing some guy's dreams forever, having it rehearsed to the point where he says it the exact same way each time is probably the only way he can get through that part of his job at all.

:: Are the any sets in this movie? There isn't a single location, inside or outside, that doesn't look one hundred percent real. Not one second of Bull Durham looks like artifice for the screen. The best location, though, is the Bulls' locker room, with its peeling paint, its ancient archways, its bank of beat-up clothes washers, its manager's office with fridge stocked with beer and little slips of paper all over the bulletin board.

:: Interesting that Crash and Annie can't consummate their long-simmering attraction until the moment he is no longer a ballplayer (temporarily), and that they can't become a couple until his ballplaying days are done entirely.

:: The best line in the movie? Annie, on Nuke LaLoosh's prospects for a fine major league career: "The world is made for people who are not cursed with self-awareness."

:: A lot of people read in Bull Durham. I love this: people are always sitting around, reading. The players, the spectators, the coaching staff of the Durham Bulls: they're always reading. This isn't just an attempt to make everybody look smarter; baseball's a game that includes long stretches of boredom which are tailor-made for reading.

:: How many sports movies have to do with the championship, or winning, in some way? Bull Durham has nothing to do with winning, at all. We're only vaguely aware of the team's success, or lack thereof, during the whole thing. They start out crappy, and they have one good month we know about, but what happens then? We're never told, and that's because winning or losing isn't the point, at all. It's all about the season, and the streak, and the career.

:: The other best line in the movie: "Why's he always callin' me 'Meat'? I'm the one drivin' the Porsche."

:: My favorite baseball moment in the movie: "What are you doin'? I give you a gift, and you stand here, showin' up my pitcher?! Run, dummy!"

:: I like how Crash takes Annie and her theories about baseball seriously, because he's got his own theories about the game that he's thought about for about as long as she does. For every speech she has in which she talks about how "baseball is the only religion that truly feeds the soul", Crash has one where he opines that "Strikeouts are fascist; ground balls are democratic."

:: A little detail that I never noticed before: there's an early scene where Crash, having met Nuke the night before, chews him out because his shower shoes have fungus growing on them:

Your shower shoes have fungus growing on them. You'll never make it to The Show if you've got fungus growing on your shower shoes. Think classy, you'll be classy. When you win twenty in The Show, you can let the fungus grow back all over your shower shoes and the press will think you're colorful. Until you win twenty in The Show, however, it means you're a slob.

So, at the end of the movie when Crash is giving Nuke his last bit of wisdom before Nuke leaves for his major-league call-up, as Nuke is packing his locker, we get a glimpse of Nuke's shower shoes: his pristine white, spotless shower shoes. Great movies get their details right.

:: Great movies also don't beat you over the head with their details. Those pristine, white shower shoes? There is no closeup on them, no moment where Nuke says "Hey, at least I learned to keep my shower shoes clean." He's just packing up his stuff, and in the course of conversing with Crash, one moment the shower shoes are in his hand, and the next they're in his duffel bag.

:: I've come to really love movies – stories in general, really, be they movies, novels, short stories, whatever – that don't so much end as suggest that the lives of the people we've been watching will go on with their lives as we look away. Did Nuke have a good major league career? Did Crash make it to The Show as a manager? I like to think that the latter was more likely than the former, but maybe not, or maybe both. What I really like to think is that Crash makes it to The Show as a manager after years of managing in the minors, and that he hires the just-retired Nuke as his pitching coach. Or something like that.

:: It's everybody's favorite scene, but actually, my least favorite part of the film is Crash's "I believe" speech in Annie's living room. That's the one thing in this movie that feels fake, the one moment that feels like a movie script and not the real life of baseball people and their fans. (And yet, it's such a terrific moment, isn't it?)

:: Annie's final voiceover is one of the best closing lines for a movie, ever: "Walt Whitman wrote, 'I see great things in baseball. It's our game, the American game. It will repair our souls and be a blessing to us.' You can look it up!"

What a great movie. Run, dummy!

Ten teams left....

On last night's The Amazing Race, my initial least-favorite team, a couple of bumpkins I dubbed Cletus and Lurleen, was eliminated, mainly because Lurleen lost her way walking down a mountain and found herself...someplace else. It actually seemed a bit of a shame, because after I hated this couple in the first episode, they were shown much more sympathetically in this episode. Of the remaining teams, I'm not sure who I now am actively rooting against -- but I am most definitely rooting for Margie and Luke, the mother and her deaf son. I just think they're terribly likable; it was great when he said that he didn't want to do the pie throwing detour but did because she wanted to, and "She's my mom".

Last week I also wondered what was particularly "German" about pie throwing, but it turned out that it was the pies that were German, not the actual throwing part of it. So they were throwing pies made of "authentic German ingredients" at one another. Well, that makes sense, I guess. At least everybody seemed to enjoy it and nobody backed out of it as soon as they realized that they themselves were the targets for the pie throwing. (Of course, I'd have chosen the pie throwing myself.)

Next week, I suppose we're back to normal TAR-type tasks, like...ballet dancing? Yay!

Sentential Links #159

Got'cher linkage here....

:: I'm really glad I found this letter. I needed reminding. I'm caught up in the middle of some big challenges right now. This helps me remember it's all a process of lessons. Breathe deep and keep learning. And don't forget to dance. (My friend Belladonna doesn't post to this other blog of hers all that often, but this week she dusted it off for a typically thought-provoking post.)

:: Before we start measuring the property for a memorial, let’s let these people mourn, then let’s let them decide.

:: That's the main reason why I no longer want to give any completion dates. I am sick and tired of people jumping down my throat when I miss them. (Yes, I'm waiting for the next book too, even though I wasn't wild about A Feast for Crows. But some people are being awfully nasty toward GRRM about the whole thing.)

:: Hey, remember when I said I was going to start that series of mix tape posts? (Ooooh, I love reading about mix tapes! I never made any, myself, but I recently made a nice "workout" mix CD for The Wife and another new one for me.)

:: Now, all I want is for you to go: "EEW!" and I will be happy. (OK, mission accomplished.)

:: Forget New York City - the world capital of spend, spend, spend has long been Dubai. (Until recently, that is. The global financial meltdown is hitting Dubai pretty hard.)

:: I’m surprised and saddened to read of the death of conductor and musical-theatre archivist John McGlinn, of an apparent heart attack. He was 55. (This saddens me. One of McGlinn's recordings, his Brigadoon, is one of my favorite recordings ever.)

:: Gene Siskel and I were like tuning forks. Strike one, and the other would pick up the same frequency. (Ten years since Gene Siskel died. Wow.)

All for this week. Tune in next Monday!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Unidentified Earth #57

OK, so thus far we have no guesses for UI 55 or UI 56. So, more hints: UI 55 is in Pennsylvania, while UI 56 is more famous for appearing in a movie as being in a state other than where it actually is.

And now for this week's puzzler:



Where are we? Rot-13 your guesses, folks!

Grim Realizations



There was a shockingly brutal murder in my town little more than a week ago. An Arab-American woman named Aasiyah Hasani was stabbed and beheaded, police allege, by her husband, Muzzammil. They were the owners of a fledgling teevee channel that was, apparently, Aasiyah's brainchild and dream. She wanted the channel to help change the common stereotype of Arabs as being terrorist-minded, violent people -- but it turns out that her married life was a long tale of abuse, that ended horribly. There is speculation that Aasiyah's murder was an honor killing.

When I first saw the above photo in the Buffalo News, I couldn't shake the feeling that I knew Aasiyah from somewhere. True, we live in the same town, so we might have crossed paths at the library or wherever; the studios for their teevee channel, where the murder took place, are only a block away from my church. But when reading today's News article (linked above) about Aasiyah's difficult marriage, I realized where I "knew" her from: for a while she ran the local 7-11 franchise, where we used to go at least once a week, usually after our trip to the library, for Slurpees and Pepsis.

I remember seeing Aasiyah there, milling about behind the counter; I even remember her stepping up to work the register once or twice while her cashier was outside having a cigarette or changing the syrup on the pop dispenser or something. Her little son used to be there, playing in the aisles, usually running a dust butler back and forth over the little three-by-five throw rug that they had in front of the door during the damp winter months. She may have been there on Christmas day once, when we stopped in after our trip to the cemetery to visit Little Quinn. His cemetery is across the street from the 7-11; the 7-11 is four or five blocks up from the library; the library is directly across the street from our church; our church is one block from the teevee studio where she died. Small, small world.

Now, it's not like Aasiyah Hasani and I were friends or anything; any conversation we ever had amounted to "$3.35 please," "Here you go," "Thank you, here's your receipt." But I do remember thinking that she was a strikingly lovely woman, that her little boy was a cute little tyke, and...well, that's about it. And now she's dead and her husband is the prime suspect, having already been arrested and charged.

A couple of years ago we stopped in at 7-11 and saw a sign on the door reading "New Management". I assume that's about when Aasiyah sold her franchise in order to launch the teevee venture. Since I didn't figure this out until today, we haven't been back to 7-11 since the murder. Lately we've been going to another convenience store, anyway, because The Daughter likes the selection of bottled pop there better. But we still go to 7-11 maybe once a month.

It's all very sad.

Sunday Burst of Weirdness

Oddities abound!

:: Check out this mini golf hole:



Wow.

:: Here's a fascinatingly exhaustive article on Pac-man. And I mean, exhaustive. So if you're looking to improve your game, here you go.

:: Baconmania is dead. Or, so says some guy. I sure wish I could get paid money to loftily pronounce that something is over! "Bacon is back where it belongs: at breakfast," he says. Huh?! No bacon at lunch or dinner? No turkey-bacon melt sandwiches? No more starting a beef stew by crisping up three or four cut-up strips of bacon? And bacon on pizza is just terrific: Italian sausage, bacon, and jalapeno peppers make a great pizza.

Bacon "belongs" at breakfast. What a damnably stupid thing to say.

More weirdness next week!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Fantasy movies: A list!!!

Over at World in the Satin Bag, S.M. Duke gives a list of his top ten fantasy movies. As always, I shall reproduce said list, with comment. Huzzah! (Cue the chirping of crickets...anyway....)

Lord of the Rings (Peter Jackson)

Absolutely. This is probably the greatest fantasy film of all time. (Referring, of course, to all three films collectively, which is the only sensible way to think of them.) They're not without flaws, God knows, but the sheer edifice of the creative effort here is so massive as to render the flaws minimal by comparison. It's hard to imagine a production of this scale ever taking place again.

Legend

I think I watched this in college, but I'm not even sure if that's the case. I don't remember the movie being memorable. This movie tends to be particularly reviled by film music lovers, because its original score by Jerry Goldsmith – one of the finest he ever wrote – was replaced for the US release with a lesser score by Tangerine Dream.

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

I'm fine with this being here; I loved the first movie and consider it one of the better cinematic adventures of the last ten years or so. Captain Jack Sparrow is virtually iconic. Now, I would note here that I don't hold the two sequels in nearly as low regard as most others seem to do; I think there's a lot of good stuff in those movies, and had they made one more pass at those scripts in the rewrite phase and recast Lord Cutler Beckett with an actor who had any screen presence whatsoever, Dead Man's Chest and At World's End would be viewed in a much better light.

The Wizard of Oz

Sure. I loved this movie when I was a kid, then I went through a long phase of thinking it was a piece of mawkish, sentimental rubbish. Then I watched it again in college and realized how full of crap I'd become. I'll never forget going with The Wife (she may have been The Girlfriend at the time) to see Wizard of Oz on the big screen.

Princess Mononoke (Mononoke-hime)

Picking a Miyazaki film is hard! You have to have one; he's probably on a consistent basis the best fantasist working in film today. Oh hell, forever that "probably" – Hayao Miyazaki is the best cinematic fantasist alive today, and I could make a case for any of his films appearing on a "Top Ten Fantasy Movies" list. I'll go ahead and agree with this one, simply because Mononoke Hime is the first Miyazaki film I ever saw. It is a beautiful, challenging, magnificent movie.

Toy Story

Well...I suppose it gets mentioned because it's the first of Pixar's films, and yes, it's a wonderful, wonderful movie. But if I'm required to have a Pixar movie here – and the Pixar body of work is almost as good as Hayao Miyazaki's – I'd go with my personal favorite, Finding Nemo. That movie just hits my sweet spot in every possible way. I'm sure there's something wrong with it. I just don't know what that is.

The Princess Bride

How I remember first seeing this movie. The commercials on teevee made it look like a fun fantasy romp, so I was confused when the theater darkened and when the movie started we were in some sick kid's bedroom. What the hell kind of fantasy movie was this? Well, I sure found out. People who don't love this movie are sick, sick individuals who shouldn't be allowed to leave their homes for fear of infecting the populace.

The Neverending Story

I didn't like this movie, I'm sorry to say. It just didn't do it for me. Yeah, it's about the magic of reading and of imagination – but it's also boring.

Willow

Meh. I really loved it when it came out, but when I watched it again a few years ago, I didn't think it had aged well at all. It's very well made, and the acting is generally good, but the story is relentlessly derivative. It's watchable, and I don't hate it, but it's certainly not all that great.

Alice in Wonderland

Not really sure. I haven't seen it in a few years, and even then it was never one of my favorites. (We're talking about the animated Disney one, right? Was there another version out there somewhere?) For Disney, I'd cite Pinocchio, or better yet, my favorite Disney film, Peter Pan.

So, I'd probably replace five of the movies on this list. I already named two replacements, so I need three more, replacing Legend, Willow, and The Neverending Story. Well, then: let's go with The Thief of Baghdad for an old movie, Krull for an 80s fantasy flick (no, it's not that good, but I certainly like it better than Legend), and for a dark fantasy, The Sixth Sense (a movie I still like).

Friday, February 20, 2009

Behold...THE PHILANTHROPIST!!!

Jill points out a wonderful bit of Net timewasting: you can make yourself into a superhero! It's awesome! Here's my creation:



I feel the need for a little contest here, so: who can come up with the coolest Origin Story for the Intimidating Bespectacled Philanthropist? What would turn a mild-mannered guy in overalls into a strappingly muscled hero who flies around on his jetpack, giving out bags of groceries? Let me know, folks!

Twilit

I tried, folks. I'm not usually one to jump on whatever the literary bandwagon of the moment happens to be -- despite my love of a good conspiracy tale, preferably involving the Knights Templar and the secret history of Jesus and the Catholic Church, I still haven't read The Da Vinci Code -- but I figured, hey, I like vampires, and I like well-done teen angst. So I gave Stephenie Meyer's Twilight a try.

The qualifier there is well-done teen angst.

Twilight, for those who haven't succumbed, is the tale of a teenage girl named Bella who moves from Phoenix to a little town in northwest Washington state -- the rainy part of the state, the part that looks like the small towns in most of the early seasons of The X-Files when the show was still filmed in Vancouver -- where she has some troubles adjusting to her new school. She's the new kid. She's living with her father, who is divorced from her mother. She's already studied everything that comes up in class. Some boys take a liking to her, angering the local girls who are already interested in them. She hates gym class because she's a klutz. And there's this one boy who both refuses to give her the time of day and seems obsessed with her. This is Edward. Edward is a vampire.

(This is not a spoiler. The back cover of the book tells us this.)

Bella makes new friends, and a few enemies. She tries getting to know Edward, and is rebuffed. She hangs out with her new friends. She cooks dinner for her father. She tries to get to know Edward again, and makes some headway, before she is again rebuffed. She talks to a local boy who descends from the Native Americans in the area, who have legends that tell of people like Edward and his family. (Oooooh, Native American legends!) She wonders if Edward might actually be a vampire. Edward saves her life in a stunningly contrived incident that suddenly displays his Mad Vampire Skillz, in the school parking lot, before school starts. (And nobody but Bella see what Edward does.) Bella goes to a bigger town to hang out, gets separated from her friends, and happens upon the town rowdies who chase her, until Edward shows up to save her. More tense conversations with Edward, who alternates between being very sweet and a complete prick. Lather, rinse, repeat.

The first hundred pages are OK; they set the scene fairly well. But the whole book just feels like scene setting, not a story unfolding. Not much happens, and it's mostly a series of conversations between Bella and her friends or Bella and her father or Bella and Edward and so on. The dialogue's OK, but the story never seems to build to much of anything. I felt absolutely no tension here, which is weird, because, you know, vampires.

I felt my attention flagging shortly after the first hundred pages, mainly because the book is full of passages that never go anywhere or save any purpose whatsoever. Now, I'm fine with slow-moving stories -- my favorite book is The Lord of the Rings, which can be not-inaccurately described as a thousand pages of people walking from one place to another -- but if that's the case, then you'd at least better have some wonderfully poetic stuff going on in there, or some keen insight into things, or some very compelling characters, or something to make the pages where nothing's happening not so hard to get through. Unfortunately, Twilight doesn't have much going on in that regard.

By way of illustration, here is one such passage that really bugged me. After her conversation with the Native American lad who tells her of the legends about vampire-like creatures which the old-timers still believe ("But we young people know that's all hooey!"), Bella decides to go home and go on the Internet to do some research on vampires. Fair enough. This should have required, maybe, two sentence or so to do: "I put dinner in the oven and then went upstairs to use the Internet. I brought up Google and typed in: vampires." That would have done the trick -- but here's what Meyer does instead:

I dressed slowly in my most comfy sweats and then made my bed -- something I never did. I couldn't put it off any longer. I went to my desk and switched on my old computer.

I hated using the Internet here. My modem was sadly outdated, my free service substandard; just dialing up took so long that I decided to go get myself a bowl of cereal while I waited.

I ate slowly, chewing each bite with care. When I was done, I washed the bowl and spoon, dried them, and put them away. My feet dragged as I climbed the stairs. I went to my CD player first, picking it up off the floor and placing it precisely in the center of the table. I pulled out the headphones, and put them away in the desk drawer. Then I turned the same CD on, turning it down to the point where it was background noise.

With another sigh, I turned to my computer. Naturally, the screen was covered in pop-up ads. I sat in my hard folding chair and began closing all the little windows. Eventually I made it to my favorite search engine. I shot down a few more pop-ups and then typed in one word.

Vampire.

It took an infuriatingly long time, of course. When the results came up, there was a lot to sift through -- everything from movies and TV shows to role-playing games, underground metal, and gothic costume companies.

Then I found a promising site - Vampires A-Z. I waited impatiently for it to load, quickly clicking closed each ad that flashed across the screen. Finally the screen was finished - simple white background with black text, academic-looking.


How much detail is here that nobody in their right mind is going to care about? We don't need to know how slow her Internet service is, how dumb she is for not using an ad-blocker, how comfy her sweats are, what she's listening to, her bowl of cereal, et cetera. None of this is interesting in the slightest. And the book abounds with passages like this. Lather, rinse, repeat.

When I started the book, my initial impression was to think of it as My So-Called Life (with Vampires); I quipped on Facebook that I kept waiting for Bella to launch into another monologue about Jordan Catalano. However, I quickly disabused myself of this notion, because Twilight boasts none of the humor of My So-Called Life, nor does it have any of its compelling drama, its insight, and its memorable characters. I still remember Angela Chase, Rayann Graff, and Ricky Vazquez to this day, even though I haven't watched MSCL in years. Five days after putting Twilight aside, I can't even remember Bella's last name.

I finally threw in the towel shortly after Bella went with Edward out into the woods, where they could touch each other on the arms and shoulders and caress each other's cheeks and listen to each other's heartbeats and then ask each other "Was that hard for you." (I swear I am not making this up.) I just couldn't take the book seriously at all after that. The scene is unintentionally hilarious.

I skimmed the rest to see what happened (some guy does something to Bella's mother, or something like that -- Edward saves the day or something), and then I went on Wikipedia to read the plot summaries of the next three books in this series. (Bella and Edward get married, run afoul of some secret vampire society or something, have a baby with a stupid name, Bella becomes a vampire, and maybe they open a bed-and-breakfast in the Carpathians.) With that, I'm done with the Twilight series.

Needing a good book to cleanse my literary palate, I am now reading To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time since high school. Now there is a book: it's funnier than Twilight, scarier than Twilight (without resorting to a vampire Leif Garrett), more moving than Twilight.

Twilight is awful. Avoid it.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The number of the count shall be three.

SamuraiFrog opines on the Trilogy Meter, and I shall do the same! Because that's what I do. The same as everybody else. First, here's the meter, denoting the level of quality for each film in the trilogy in question:



Star Wars

A disagreement, first off! I know I go against mainstream orthodoxy on this point, but I still personally rank A New Hope ahead of The Empire Strikes Back. But just barely. I couldn't live without a single Star Wars film; I even think Return of the Jedi is unfairly maligned much of the time.

Of course, my ongoing adoration of the Prequel Trilogy continues, even as I fix them.

Indiana Jones

I do think Raiders is the best. I think that Temple of Doom is better
than Last Crusade, however.

(I have a forthcoming post on Crystal Skull.)

The Matrix

I liked The Matrix when I first saw it. I liked it a bit less each time I saw it thereafter, and I haven't watched it in a long time. I tried watching Reloaded a single time and fell asleep in the first half hour.

After that, I'm done with The Matrix.

Star Trek

Hmmmm. See my Star Trek Redux posts, linked in the sidebar, for more. I like TMO; I enjoy Wrath of Khan but think it's overrated; I think Search for Spock is actually underrated. As for the rest of the movies, look for those older posts of mine.

Superman

I've never understood why so many people think Superman II is better than the original. It's good, but the first is iconic. Superman III has some actual good stuff in it, but it's buried under some seriously bad stuff. Superman IV is crap, of course, and I actually liked Superman Returns.

Jurassic Park

I love the first one, to this day, even with all the annoying kid stuff. The second has some fun moments, particularly when they get to San Diego; and I could look at Julianne Moore all day. But it's not a very good movie (thirteen year old kid defeats a velociraptor with her mad gymnastics skills -- was this Jurassic Park II: Gymkata?). Never saw the third one.

X-Men

The first one feels to me like they took a terrific movie and cut out forty minutes of stuff that made it terrific. I loved the second one. Never saw the third, after being told by numerous people that it was awful.

Spider-Man

Liked the first, with reservations; loved the second; liked the third, with more of the same reservations. Basically I hate the way the movies have handled Gwen Stacy: if you're gonna have her, then she has to (a) be Peter Parker's first love, not Mary Jane, and (b) she has to die. It drives me crazy that neither of these are the case in these movies.

The Lord of the Rings

It's not a trilogy. It's one story in three movies. That said, I've never found that Two Towers suffers from the "middle act" syndrome; I thought that Jackson and company figured out an elegant way around that.

Mad Max

I haven't seen these. (I know, I know....)

Jaws

The first is, of course, a great movie, one of the greats of all time. The second isn't as bad as many think. The third is pretty bad. And the fourth? One of the worst movies ever.

Back to the Future

Love the first. I like the next two as curiosities, and I even think they're a bit underrated. The first is the real business, though.

Die Hard

I love all of these. The first one is definitely the best, but the next two aren't bad by any stretch; this may be the most successful trilogy I can think of, in terms of overall quality of the movies. I liked how the each one did something different -- i.e., they didn't just reframe the "hostages in a claustrophobic setting" bit from the first movie -- and I loved the perverse riddles in the third one, as well as some very strong acting from supporting players like Graham Greene and a guy (whose name I don't recall and am not looking up right now) whose main claim to acting fame is having been on As the World Turns for years and years.

I haven't seen the fourth one.



Blade

Didn't see any of these.

Planet of the Apes

First one's good. I have no idea what I've seen of the rest of this series.

The Godfather

I've never seen any of these all the way through. I know I should, but mob tales don't interest me much. Someday I'll get around to them, but I just don't make it a high priority.

Rocky

First one's great. Second, OK. Third, meh. Fourth, crap. Didn't see fifth. Or sixth. (That's where they stopped, right?)

The Terminator

The first two are equals, and they're classics. Didn't see the third.

Rambo

I hate these. They suck. Sorry. I'm not even that big a fan of the Jerry Goldsmith scores for these.

Batman

I didn't care much for the first one. Everybody talked about how "dark" it was, but it wasn't! It played everything for laughs. The second one, though? I liked that. It was really dark and grim. I also really liked Val Kilmer's turn as Batman in...whatever that one was called.

And you know what? I didn't hate Batman and Robin. It wasn't very good, but I didn't hate it.

Batman Begins is a terrific movie. I haven't watched The Dark Knight yet.

Alien

I don't like any of the Alien movies. The first one is splatter and gore; the second is just one expected plot twist after another. The third and fourth ones are shite. Did they make a fifth one? Did I care? Not really. I think this is the most overrated movie franchise in existence.

What trilogies didn't get depicted here? SamuraiFrog mentions the Lethal Weapon films. I have a lot of fond memories of those movies; they were our standard fall-back movies in college. Bored night on Friday? Get some beer and some pizza and watch Lethal Weapon. I love each one. My personal favorite, really, is the third one; I love a lot of the second one, but parts of the third act get really too depressing, especially the death of that poor girl. And the first is terrific stuff. I only saw the fourth one once. It was OK.

How about The Karate Kid? The first one of those is great; and I like the second one a bit. The third is crud, and I never saw the one with Hilary Swank.

Three great Jerry Goldsmith scores can't save the Omen trilogy. I haven't seen the Mummy flicks.

They made three Scream movies, didn't they? The first one is crap, so I didn't see the others.

What trilogies are we missing, folks?

Something for Thursday

Coming to like the Beatles at the age of 37 has its odd things about it...like realizing that "Let It Be" is just a beautiful, beautiful song only after having heard it many, many times over the years.

Here's "Let It Be".



I love a good epiphany....

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A modest suggestion

Alan reports that the creeps of the Westboro Baptist Church -- the creeps who like to show up at military funerals bearing placards that read things like "Thank God for 9-11-01", because it's all God's punishment of the US for, I guess, not rounding up all of its gay citizens and stoning them to death en masse -- are planning to bring their unique brand of protestery to the memorial services for the people killed in last week's crash of Continental Flight 3107. Most people seem to think that ignoring them is the best approach, but I think it would be funny if about a dozen locals made up some placards of their own, in the identical style of the Westboro folks, with messages of a completely nonsensical nature printed on them, and then just walk up and start milling around right next to, or even right in the midst of, the Westboro folks. The placards could say things like "Beware the mind control pizza!" or "All bow down before BACON CAT!" or "My hovercraft is full of eels!"

I just think this kind of humorous approach might neuter these twits a bit, and maybe even get under their skin a bit. Of course, such an approach might detract from the solemnity of the event, but I think it would be a funny way to deal with these nitwits one of these days.

Yay! the Springfield Tire Fire!!!

After so many years, The Simpsons has reworked its opening title sequence. It's still the same idea, but the environs of Springfield have been updated to include a lot more stuff familiar to those of us who have loved the show over the years.



Great!

The Pinnacle of Western Civilization

Via SDB: Chicken-fried bacon.

I want some. I suppose that John Scalzi's already had some, which is why I hate him.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Ask Me Anything! (Final call)

I know, I said that last week sometime was to be the final call, but I figured I'd extend things one more time. So anyone wishing to toss a question or a suggestion for a posting topic, toss it in comments here. For lurkers, anonymous queries are fine, as long as they're not too invasive or require me to go beyond this blog's PG-13 rating. This is basically your opportunity to make me write about something, so go ahead!

Twenty-five cents (part 2)

I launched this series a month ago, intending to update it every couple of weeks or so; then, intervening events threw it right out of my mind, until now. If anyone's been waiting for this, sorry! And now, continuing my examination of the Statehood Quarters.

Virginia




Here we have a quarter deliberately trying to tie itself in with pop culture, with Virginia riding the coat-tails of Disney's movie Pocahantas, which had come out seven or eight years earlier. How shameless is that!

OK, just kidding there. The founding of the Jamestown colony is, obviously, one of the most important events of early American history, and this quarter features a beautiful design of the ships arriving on the shores of what would become Virginia. In practice, I do think that the design is a little too busy for the small surface of the quarter; maybe if they'd only shown two ships instead of three the picture would be clearer. But it was smart of Virginia to tie their quarter to the impending quadricentennial of their state's founding.

Virginia's quarter: $0.20

West Virginia




OK, so West Virginia's not going along the coast, but it seems silly to talk about one Virginia and not the other one, so here's West Virginia. They went with a depiction of one of that state's most famous bits of scenery, the New River Gorge with its stunning bridge. There's not much I have to say about this, except that it's very well done. This is one of the better quarters in the series. (Although I admit that I'm surprised they didn't find some way to get Robert Byrd's name on their quarter, because in West Virginia, Robert Byrd's name is on everything.)

West Virginia's quarter: $0.22

North Carolina




Here's a depiction not of a famous person or scenic locale, but of a very famous event: the first airplane flight at Kitty Hawk. Again, I don't have much comment on this one. It's very nice, although the plane, reduced to that small size, ends up looking a bit like a lopsided ladder. Might have been done a little better, but I like the idea a lot.

North Carolina's quarter: $0.19

South Carolina




Design-by-committee strikes again. South Carolina crams so much stuff onto its quarter that the entire thing's a mishmash. There's a state outline, a tree, a bird, a couple of flowers, a motto, and a star in the middle of the state outline demarking the location of the state capital! Too, too much. There's nothing here to really look at; this is a quarter that one looks at, says "Hmmm, South Carolina", and then sticks the quarter into the slot along with three others to get a bottle of Pepsi. I don't like this one.

South Carolina's quarter: $0.07

Georgia




Here's more design-by-committee, although it's better executed than South Carolina's. Georgia-related plants curling up the edges of the coin, a peach, a boring state outline again, and another motto ("Wisdom, Justice, Moderation"). Again it's too much, although the motto's execution is creatively done, as Georgia didn't just print the motto on the coin but depict it as being printed on a banner draped across the coin. The peach is nice, too, but I think it should have been larger – dominant, even. The big missed opportunity here, though, is that I think the quarter probably should have featured Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Georgia's quarter: $0.15

Florida




I want to like this one, because I like what it's trying to do...but I don't think it works very well at all. The quarter tells us that Florida is the "Gateway to Discovery", so we have a sailing ship approaching a sea shore with a couple of palm trees, and floating above that is the Space Shuttle. The problems are that the seashore looks totally divorced from the sailing ship – are they landing there? sailing by? getting ready to fire cannons? - and that the Shuttle is hanging in space up there, with no context at all of its own. They'd have been better served, with this theme, to ignore the sailing vessel landing entirely (really, lots of places in America were the scene of vessels from Europe making landfall, and Virginia already covered this territory in much better fashion) and just go with the space theme, in which case they shouldn't depict the Shuttle apparently in orbit or final approach, but launching. A rocket launch would have made a terrific quarter, wouldn't it? Florida seriously missed the boat on this one.

Florida's quarter: $0.10

Alabama




Moving along the Gulf Coast now, we're at Alabama. They've got their plants vining up the side of the coin too, but two different plants: a long-leaf pine branch and magnolia, so that's interesting. But in the middle of it all they've got Helen Keller, whose chair is draped with a banner reading "Spirit of Courage", and in an inspired bit of design, they identify Keller not just with English lettering but with Braille. This quarter is very original. (It also strikes me that Alabama, which is now one of the most conservative states in the country, chose for its quarter to depict a woman who, although most famous for her overcoming her disabilities, was a very vocal figure for the political left in her day.)

Alabama's quarter: $0.19

Mississippi




There's no reason to beat around the bush here: Mississippi's may be the most beautiful of all the state quarters. In fact, scratch that qualifier; this is the most beautiful of the state quarters. Two flowers that render wonderfully in struck metal, and the motto "The Magnolia State" is rendered in a script font as opposed to the block lettering that has dominated the Statehood Quarters. Well, well, well done, Mississippi!

Mississippi's quarter: $0.24

Louisiana




Here we have two possible design ideas crammed together by committee to the cheapening of each, combined with a third design idea that nobody would have missed had it not been there at all. They should have either honored the Louisiana Purchase by itself, or New Orleans as the birthplace of jazz by itself, but they cram both onto the coin. With a pelican for good measure. Nothing works very well on this quarter, I'm afraid.

Louisiana's quarter: $0.08

There we stop for now. Next time I'll start with Ohio and proceed westward across the Great Lakes region and the Upper Midwest.

Keep telling me...

...why our health care system is just fine, or why the free market will make all this just hunky-dorey. I'm all ears.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Watching 24: 2 pm to 3 pm

Due to all the craziness of recent weeks, I am now two episodes behind on my 24 watching. Aieee!!! So I finally started getting caught up, earlier this evening. Now I'm only one episode behind...at least for the next six minutes, because that's when the newest episode airs, which means I'll be right back to being two episodes behind. But I should be able to catch up.

In this episode, Jack and Company busted up Dubaku's operation, destroyed the CIP device...or the CPU device...or the CUP device...or the ICUP device...or whatever it is they're calling it. Yay, Jack! But here I'm getting all sad and stuff because some character who had been introduced in this episode committed a very brave act of self-sacrifice, for which he died. I'll always remember you, Chemical Planet Manager John Brunner!!!

The last team to check in here MAY be eliminated.

So The Amazing Race launched its fourteenth go-round last night. I don't have a great feel for anyone yet, except that I know I hate this "hillbilly" couple (they call themselves that, not me). The guy's a nag, and the lady's a whiner. I have dubbed them Cletus and Lurleen. Unfortunately, they made it through to next week. Hopefully they go quicker than the last bunch of "hillbillies" they had on the show, the West Virginia coal miners from a couple of seasons back. (I actually liked those two, in all honesty.)

I liked how they cut down on all the Airport Intrigue that usually marks the first episode; maybe the producers have finally realized that watching people buy plane tickets just isn't that interesting? Anyway, they did the "Initial briefing" by Phil at the start line, and then about ten minutes later, everybody was in Switzerland. Previous seasons wouldn't have everybody out of the airport before the second commercial break, so that made me happy.

The roadblock was utterly insane: people had to use these rickety wooden contraptions to carry giant wheels of cheese down a steep hill, while Swiss guys laughed at them. Many cheeses got dropped, and boy, do those suckers roll. The first team to get eliminated? I couldn't even tell you their names. But they wore orange. The team to arrive first was the mother and her deaf son, so Phil made the "You are team number one!" announcement in ASL, which I thought was pretty cool

Next week, we're into Germany, and apparently Lurleen gets lost somewhere in the Alps. It's on a road, though; she's not lost on a glacier somewhere, only to be found by those St. Bernards who bring the casks of brandy with them. And apparently one of the detours or roadblocks involves pie throwing. I'm unaware of any specifically German traditions that involve the good old pie in the face, but hey, I'm always a fan of that bit of goofery.

I love TAR!