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

Saturday, April 30, 2011

The hell with all of it.

Political rant below the fold.

Saturday Centus

Wow, I've been a crappy blogger this week. Only two posts. That's pretty weak. A weak week.

And now I'm reaching for lame puns.

Sigh.

Saturday Centus celebrates one year of writing prompts today. I haven't been along for the whole ride, but I've enjoyed the parts I've been around for. So....

As Emily received her anniversary gift from George, she remembered his proposal, in the empty big top after the show. And the jugglers and stilt walkers and lion tamers who stood up for them at the wedding. Their vows being interrupted by the elephants. The popcorn and cotton candy at the reception.

She made a sound like "oomph". Then she opened her eyes and, through the chocolate-cream covering her face, saw her smiling husband. Emily laughed as she picked up the coconut-cream pie, her gift for him. Although the traditional gift for a first anniversary was paper, this was life with a circus clown.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

Once again, our DSL was very buggy yesterday and continuing into today, hence the lack of posting. But anyway: one of the local sports-talk radio guys here claimed on the air a few weeks ago that he had just that morning eaten his first banana. Ever. In his life. And he's over 40. White American male, over 40, ate his first-ever banana in 2011. Am I alone in thinking that this is incredibly weird?

Monday, April 25, 2011

Sentential Links #244

Two hundred forty-four. Wow.

:: And the books haven’t dated at all, despite or perhaps partly because of, their lack of graphic sexual and violent content. And that’s borne out by teenage girls to whom I’ve introduced the novels; they are immediately captivated by their glamour and excitement and do not care at all that the books are set in the 50′s and 60′s. It’s always fun when you can pass on something you’ve loved to the next generation, but passing on the Mary Stewart bug is sheer delight. (I really need to re-read Mary Stewart's Arthurian quartet -- actually a trilogy with one extra book tacked on after-the-fact -- one of these years. Probably soon, actually. I read it in college, during my big "Arthurian" phase, and I remember it as being wonderful.)

:: Which presents the age old question, if you were able to achieve immortality, what would you do with your time? Would you use it to intimidate, bully, and coerce innocent women, children and babies in the supermarket? The Living Dead are not a bunch of rocket surgeons, that's for sure! (Ooooooh, if you ever enjoyed thumbing through issues of Famous Monsters of Filmland, this blog is for you. Thanks to the Facebook friend who linked it the other day!)

:: Last year I spent Easter at Laduree, and as much as I will always love it there I enjoy discovering new favorites in Paris. I recently stumbled across Meert on the long way home, tucked away on a tinier street of the Marais. One peek in the window and it was a coup de foudre au chocolat. Inside the most precious treats are perfectly organized and displayed on the shelves and in the cases, beneath a pastel ceiling adorned with tableaus of gourmandises. Candy coated happiness! (I just discovered this one, too. Happiness is new blogs to page through and read!)

:: I want some stories about a tough femme fatale who works for an eccentric, rich dude who wants to go on collecting knowledge and artifacts, but is too old to leave his creepy, old mansion to go on his own adventures anymore. That's the sequel to Atlantis that I'll never get unless I end up writing it for myself. (A nice post about Disney's Atlantis movie. As I pointed out in comments there, the late 90s and early 2000s were an interesting period for Disney; Pixar was just getting going, and Disney's films weren't as universally beloved as they'd been in the early 1990s. But still, Disney was producing good films, and even their lackluster efforts had interesting things in them. Atlantis is a solid, fun adventure film, and would likely be my favorite Disney film from that era, if not for the sublimely wonderful The Emperor's New Groove.)

:: She slipped away peacefully last month 6 days shy of 98. You see, for the last 21 years, she has been .... figuratively .... patting her foot, sitting on go, just waiting to join daddy. She's gotten her wish and they're probably off together playing golf, again.

:: When I was a kid, I wanted to grow up to be Phil Tippett. (I wanted to be Lawrence Kasdan....)

:: I love the anecdote about Tony Blair’s visit to Washington following 9/11, and he and President Bush were walking through the White House, and Blair made some admiring comment about one of the rooms, and Bush made some joke like, “You guys burned this room down.” There was a brief pause, and Blair replied, “My apologies.” (I hadn't heard that one.)

More next week.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Just checking in....

I took the day off from blogging because hey, it's Easter. See you tomorrow!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Saturday Centus

Oy. A picture prompt, this time. And it's a horrible one, too.



Like I said: Oy.

"Hello?"

"Mmmmmmfff."

"Hello! Wake up! Wakey wakey!"

"Mmmmmmmm-whuh?"

"Wake up, sleepy-head! Time to face the day! Oh, and nice sleeping cap. We don't wear those where I come from."

"Who are you?"

"I am the Ghost of Easter Future, bada-BING! And you've been very, very naughty."

"No I have not! I'm nice now. 'God bless us everyone,' remember? Tiny Tim's not even tiny anymore."

"What? Let me check my notes...what's your name?"

"Ebenezer Scrooge."

"Aww crap, you're not the CEO of British Petroleum. Sorry to wake you. I'll go now."

"Wait! Are those canoli?"

"Awwww...."


I'm not thrilled by this, but the picture prompts always throw me off....

Thursday, April 21, 2011

High Five!

It's National High Five Day, which means it's appropriate to revisit one of the whacky docs from Scrubs!



High Five!

Yes, I'm posting a LOLCat.

Sue me. It's funny, and the cat looks like our Lester.

funny pictures - You have some overdue library books
see more Lolcats and funny pictures, and check out our Socially Awkward Penguin lolz!

Something for Thursday

My favorite of Antonin Dvorak's symphonies is actually not the 9th, known by its nickname "From the New World". Wonderful as that symphony is, I adore the exuberance and wit of the Eighth. Here is the fourth, and final, movement from Dvorak's Symphony No. 8 in G.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Wrenchin'

At the end of last year, all the big hardware stores started displaying what I came to call "dog bone wrenches", because they look like dog bones. On each end was not one single head to fit a single size of fastener, but a swiveling doohickey with four different heads on it to accomodate multiple fasteners. Here's a representative example. None of the reviews I read of such tools were particularly enthusiastic, and the things just look gangly and unwieldy, so I never even considered buying one.

But I was in AutoZone a month or so ago, and I saw these:

Wreches

I was sufficiently intrigued that I bought them. They're not terribly expensive, as ratcheting wrenches go, and each one has four sizes on it, for a total of...let's see, carry the two...eight common SAE hex bolt sizes. You can kind of see how they get different sizes by looking at the upper end of the larger wrench in the picture there -- the ratcheting insert actually divides into two different sizes, depending on which side of the wrench is down and which is facing up. In practice, this does make operation a little tricky once in a while as a bolt head can slip all the way through, but I like having an option now for when my socket set isn't the weapon of choice (when the opening I have to work in is shallowed than the depth of my ratchet, for one).

These aren't awesome tools, by any chance, and I'd love to own a fuller set of ratcheting wrenches sometime in the future. But as ratcheting wrenches are pretty expensive, these two combo-wrenches make a pretty good compromise for now.

A Rant.

I've got to get this rant out of my system, but I'll hide it behind the fold. I'll even conceal it so you have to highlight it with your mouse to read it.

A-mazin'!

My Mets Journal is all kinds of awesome, even for a non-Mets fan (and a person whose interest in baseball is hanging by a thread). This fellow is doing a drawing to depict something about every game the Mets play this year, and he's got some artistic chops. I love this!

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

Cal had a post about "hype" the other day, in which he discusses the upcoming wedding of a couple of Royals in the United Kingdom. In the post, he describes some things he's avoided because of the hype surrounding them:

I am totally consistent in my attitudes when it comes to hype. I hate anyone telling me that I have to see something or read something or listen to something. Nine times out of ten their recommendations are correct and I may get around to them eventually but initially I just want to run screaming in the other direction.

For example:

I have never seen 'E.T.' nor will I ever see it. If they show it on a plane I will have to take a parachute and jump.


Now, this strikes me as odd, since the hype over E.T. happened thirty years ago, and now the movie is pretty much a classic. Some hyped things fade away, as you'd expect, but others demonstrate that they can withstand the Test of Time, as it were, so by this point, reacting against E.T. because lots of people like it seems weird. So I said so, and Cal responded:

I just don't wanna see E.T. because I want to have ONE movie I never see and that seemed like a good one. If I never see 'Smurfs' then I am a discriminating movie goer. If I don't see E.T. then I am just a freak and I can live with that.


Huh. Here again I'm confused; the very nature of time and the fact that I'll never have enough of it pretty much guarantees that I'll always have a movie that's a classic that I never saw. Same thing with books. Same with music. That realization can be a bit liberating, actually; I remember, back when I was an active film music fan, that there was a particular record producer whom I thought was just a giant jerk, so I publicly stated that I wasn't going to be buying anything from his label, ever. Someone else chimed in to say, "You're just depriving yourself!" My response was, "I'll never have time to hear all the music I want to hear anyway." Which is true. (It also helped that the records the guy makes -- re-recordings of campy sci-fi film scores from the 1950s -- are of zero interest to me.)

So where am I going with this? Where's the Random Wednesday Conversation Starter? I'm not trying to pick on Cal here; I was just thrown a bit by the resolute nature of his being against the hype for what is now an old movie. Scary thought: E.T. is older now than Casablanca was when I was born.

Anyway, here's the question: What highly-regarded movie, or book, or whatever, exists that you're pretty sure you're never going to see, read, or hear, for whatever reason? (And thanks, Cal, for the thought-provoking post!)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

"The things I do for love...."

That's a memorable line of dialog -- perhaps the most memorable -- from any of George RR Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire books, and fortunately, it's spoken in the television adaptation of A Game of Thrones, in exactly the right way. That moment, early in the book, jolted me a bit as a reader as a genuine surprise. Martin would, in my opinion, go to this type of well a few too many times over the rest of that first book and in the three that came after, so much so that I remember reading A Feast for Crows with a constant sense of impending doom for every character. After a while, I have to admit that it got to be a little much, and sometimes I think of A Song of Ice and Fire as the fat-fantasy equivalent of Funky Winkerbean.

Maybe that's not fair; heck, it probably isn't. But while I've enjoyed Martin's books, I've never been as big a fan of them as many. I started to tease out the reason why when I read A Feast for Crows, and now that I've seen the first episode of the teevee adaptation, I'm seeing ASoIaF for what it is: it's a fantasy soap opera.

When I was a kid, I actually became for a time a huge fan of General Hospital. This was back when each summer would have a long and sometimes "action-packed" tale involving spies and espionage and intrigue of such nature, usually featuring characters like Robert Scorpio and his former wife Anna, who were both also former agents of the WSB (World Security Bureau), when they'd square off against the nefarious agents of the enemy DVX. As these storylines wended their way through the summer months, lots of other characters would see their own lives intersect with the "main summer storyline". This was all usually quite a bit of fun, but there were characters I didn't really care about, and thus their bits in the storyline tended to slide beneath my radar. And not all of the show's characters would be involved in the "main summer storyline", so once a week -- usually on a Tuesday or Wednesday -- there'd be an episode of GH that served only to catch us up on the characters who had nothing to do with the fun stuff. These episodes were largely boring as hell; I was watching the show for Robert Scorpio's heroics and whatnot, and I didn't really care one whit about Steve Hardy's son's relationship problems or the various infighting of the Quartermaine clan or the trials-and-tribulations of hooker-turned-straight Bobbi Whatshername. But that was the price to pay for the good stuff.

So GRRM's massive fantasy series is getting kind of like that. Each chapter is told from the viewpoint of a different character, with that character being named in BIG LETTERS at the top of each chapter, so as soon as one chapter ends, you know just by looking at the next page where you're going next in the story. This is classic soap opera structure, and in the first two books it was extremely effective, but I'm finding that now as we're into our fourth book here, it's all starting to feel the same way it felt when I'd watch GH all those years ago. "Oh, cool! An Arya chapter! Her story's interesting!...Oh, bugger, another chapter about Sansa. Snore." If ASoIaF were to be filmed, I think it should be as a soap opera, titled Westeros!. And if they change actors, a voiceover guy could intone, "The part of Jaime Lannister will be played on this episode by...."

It's not that I didn't enjoy the book, because I did, mostly. But the feel of reading this series has become eerily similar in my mind to that of watching a soap opera. I'm not sure if that's what GRRM has in mind, but there it is.


I'm not trying to belittle things here, because it's fun to delve deeply into stories like this. But even so, reading that last book, I remember a certain creeping frustration that things weren't unfolding so much as grinding along.

Martin's series gets compared to The Lord of the Rings a lot, which interests me. I just re-read LOTR a month or so ago, so it's fresh on my mind, and what struck me this time is how surprisingly focused Tolkien keeps things: he's got the story he wants to tell, and he pretty much sticks with it. Martin, however, focuses everywhere. If Martin had written LOTR, we'd have long chapters describing the trials and tribulations of the folk at Bree. We'd have chapters showing the befouling of the Shire while Frodo and the others are away. We'd have the meetings of the Council of Wizards. We'd have chapters set in the North and around the Lonely Mountain, showing what the dwarves up there are up to. And Gondor? We'd see all of the intrigue there.

At this point, I'm not sure that there even is a story that Martin is trying to tell. I think he's immersing us for a very long time in a heavily populated world, a world where there are good people and bad people and people who are just kind of all right, and where sometimes these people do horrible things to one another and where love is not necessarily a happy thing and where sins of fathers ripple out through the generations and where there is murder and incest and people thought dead who turn out to not be dead and...so on. Basically, all the things you'd find in a soap opera.

I swear that I don't mean any of this disparagingly -- but I'm just not all that convinced by repeated claims that George RR Martin has done something staggeringly new and stunning and original with this series. It's a fantasy soap opera. General Hospital meets the Wars of the Roses. The Sopranos with swords. Dallas with dragons. The X-Men when Chris Claremont was in charge.

As for the show itself? Very well done, for the most part. A few more characters might have been named. I didn't care for the look of Winterfell, with all those round towers -- it seemed a bit too elegant in a long shots. But still, very effective. I took one look at Joffrey and immediately thought, "Oh, you little f***er. And the acting was uniformly excellent -- I liked the way everybody looked. I'm fine with Tyrion not being as ugly as described in the books. Part of my problem right now is that I'm spoiled by my knowledge of what is to come; like it or not, I can't set aside the more favorable opinion of Jaime Lannister that the third and fourth books created to hiss the pure shit that he is in the first two.

And as for the books, I remain deeply skeptical that Martin will ever finish them, and I remain deeply hopeful that if he does finish them, the very last line of the last book is "Hodor."

(Can't wait to see Hodor, actually. Talk about an actor lucking out -- he can memorize all of his lines in less than two seconds!)

Fixing the Prequels: Revenge of the Sith (part 1)



I've been meaning to get to this for a while, but various things have distracted me and kept it pushed down the priority list for several months. But now, it really is time to start the final edition of Fixing the Prequels, by turning to the final film in the trilogy, Revenge of the Sith.

Before I begin, it's worth a reminder of what I'm about here. I love the Prequel Trilogy (abbreviated 'PT' hereafter), and have since I saw each individual film on first release. I found them all involving, exciting, and in the case of Revenge, emotionally crushing at times. I know I'm a minority in this, but I've never much cared about that. Even so, I must admit that as much as I love the Star Wars prequels, I don't love them unreservedly, because they are flawed. There are things wrong with them.

That's not an unusual opinion, but I think that my view as to the degree of that opinion is. Most folks seem to hold the flaws of the PT as fatal flaws, sinking the films to the point where the only appropriate response to them seems to be outright mockery. I don't believe that. I think that a lot of the flaws in the films are overblown; others arise from misinterpretation or possibly a failure to understand what George Lucas was at times really getting at. And still more perceived flaws in the PT come, I think, not from a sense of genuine error on Lucas's part but the simple fact that, by the time Lucas made these three films, tastes had changed in a lot of ways.

So when I talk about "fixing" the prequels, I'm not about wholesale rewrites and bagging on the direction of the films in all particulars. I point out flaws along the way, but my goal is also to highlight the things in these films that I find admirable, the things that keep me coming back to them frequently. My approach is to address two kinds of flaws: the ones that I think are real, genuine flaws, and the ones that I've heard cited as flaws from other people over the years but which I either don't see as flaws or as fatal flaws. I'm about credit as much as criticism here, which I think is a more measured response to them than a lot of the people who deeply despise the Prequels would admit. It has long interested me that, in almost all cases of such discussion, the people who hold a negative view of something are the ones who invariably claim to be seeing the thing objectively. My response is to simply point out that having a negative opinion is not seeing something "objectively"; it's having a negative opinion.

And now, with all that preamble behind us, let's move on to discussing Revenge of the Sith, a fascinating film that even as I write this I'm not sure about, as to how I'd go about "fixing" it. This is mainly because I'm not entirely sure what I think is wrong with it. But as I work through the film, I expect some thoughts will crystallize. So let's start at the beginning, which means as it always does in a Star Wars movie, a crawl:

War! The Republic is crumbling under attacks by the ruthless Sith Lord, Count Dooku. There are heroes on both sides. Evil is everywhere.

In a stunning move, the fiendish droid leader, General Grievous, has swept into the Republic capital and kidnapped Chancellor Palpatine, leader of the Galactic Senate.

As the Separatist Droid Army attempts to flee the besieged capital with their valuable hostage, two Jedi Knights lead a desperate mission to rescue the captive Chancellor. . . .


It sets things up nicely. I especially like that opening: "War!" This crawl is pretty blunt, with none of the "politics" stuff that many claim to have been bored by in the first two Prequels. (How they could be "bored" by a couple of lines of text is something I've never figured out, but no matter.) What stands out to me in this crawl, however, is that second sentence in the first paragraph: "There are heroes on both sides." That's an interesting line, there; it seems out of place, but I think it works in an interesting way: it calls to attention the ambiguous nature of the Clone War, the War to Preserve the Republic: we know that it's basically a fake war, started for no other reason than to trick the Republic into destroying itself.

Revenge opens with a massive space battle, of which I've heard many differing opinions over the years. Detractors say that it plays like a video game on the big screen, and is impossible to follow. This has always struck me as odd, because it's always seemed to me that George Lucas goes out of his way to make this incredibly frenetic space battle as easy to follow as possible.

After the crawl, we have our traditional pan down to a planet and a spaceship. (AOTC, remember, actually followed its crawl with a pan up.) The planet is Coruscant, and the ship is a Republic attack cruiser. The music dies away almost completely at this point; all we hear for about thirty seconds is a steady, but off-kilter (because it's in 5-4 time), beat of drums. The camera starts to zoom in on the cruiser, when two new ships enter from behind: small fighter craft. Only two. We follow these two ships as they skim over the surface of the cruiser, out into space beyond it, and then back and dive. The camera follows over the edge of the cruiser, and there – spread out before us – is the enormous space battle.

As soon as the two Jedi starfighters come into view, the music starts in again, with the famous "Force theme". We don't need any dialogue or to even look into the cockpits to know that our two Jedi are flying these ships. Also, of all the ships coming and going in the skies above Coruscant, these are the only two ships of this type. This isn't like A New Hope, when Luke Skywalker was only one of a bunch of X-wings. Even more, the Jedi starfighters are, by design, similar to what will eventually become TIE fighters, and those ships' thrusters emit cone-shaped blasts of exhaust (presumably because the battle is taking place high in Coruscant's atmosphere, as opposed to in the vacuum of outer space).



Another thing that interests me about this space battle is that we see almost none of it. Really. This battle clearly involves several times as many ships and combatants as the big battle at the end of Return of the Jedi (of course, a one-to-one comparison there isn't easy because that one has a Death Star in it), but aside from lingering shots that quickly flash by, we are shown nothing of the battle itself. Nothing of the strategy, nothing of which side is winning and which is losing, nothing of tactics. All we see of this battle is what Anakin Skywalker and Obi Wan Kenobi see as they fly through it, on their way to General Grievous's flagship. The battle is frenetic, and there is a lot happening onscreen, but it's not at all hard to follow, so far as I can tell. The battle is entirely secondary to their main concern: getting through it alive to land on General Grievous's ship and find the Chancellor.

So, after quite a bit of space derring-do that involves flying directly through a cloud of attacking fighters, evading missiles, and dealing with a bunch of small droids who get onto a fighter's hull and then scuttle about taking the ship apart, our two Jedi heroes land on Grievous's ship. I like a lot of the dialogue through here: at one point, Obi Wan notes "This is why I hate flying!", echoing two lines from Attack of the Clones. I also like how when Obi Wan's ship is infested by the buzz droids, Anakin's first notion is to blast them off, which has Obi Wan screaming in protest, at which point Anakin says, "I agree. Bad idea." So he comes up with something else.

What I also like about this whole sequence is John Williams's music, which is full of interesting things like quotes from the "Force Theme", sections in 5/4, and one heroic quote of the Rebel Spaceship Fanfare when R2-D2 dispatches the last buzz droid. This was a musical touch that I liked immensely.

Anyway, back to the General's ship, where Obi Wan and Anakin have just landed. There's an interesting touch here as the two Jedi take on a typically large number of battle droids: Obi Wan leaps out of his ship and ignites his lightsaber before his ship has even slid to a stop; Anakin, however, waits until he's stopped completely before grabbing his saber and hopping out to join the melee. I like that. It's the kind of tiny detail that gets lost amidst a lot of the melee, the kind of blink-and-you-miss-it thing that nevertheless illustrates something about the story and our characters.

Now Obi Wan and Anakin must make their way to the observation deck where the Chancellor is being held captive. This involves more run-ins with battle droids, malfunctioning elevators, and relying on R2-D2 when R2 is dealing with his own problems. (He has to hide from a couple of battle droids when Obi Wan starts talking to him through his comm-link.) I wouldn't change any of this material, because the banter and chemistry between Obi Wan and Anakin really works pretty well, in my opinion:

ANAKIN: I sense Count Dooku.

OBI WAN: I sense a trap.

ANAKIN: Next move?

OBI WAN: (grins) Spring the trap!


And this, the transition from the space battle to the derring-do aboard General Grievous's ship, is a good place to stop. Next time we'll rescue the Chancellor, land half a ship, and find out that Anakin isn't always shooting blanks. Excelsior!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Sentential Links #243

Linkage....

:: Is it possible that you get to a point where you own so many tools that you forget what you own? (Yup, it's possible. I've never bought new versions of tools I already own, but I have done jobs with the wrong tool only to discover later on that I own the right tool, and I then realize, "Huh, this would have made that job a lot easier.")

:: There’s a poetry here; dust from a local storm blowing a few kilometers above, but translucent enough to allow us to see beyond it to a different kind of dust blowing among the stars. (The video over there is amazing. For God's sake, go watch it.)

:: How dare anyone say that Game of Thrones is “boy fiction.” What a crude and useless phrase. I am proof that it is not the case, and I am not alone.

:: This leaves the most important issue. Is this the masterpiece of modern fantasy literature that it’s made out to be? No, not even close. (An older post, but I saw it for the first time this week. He's writing about George RR Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire. I'll probably re-read the series sometime in the next year, but my general view right now is that the first two books are really good, the third one's pretty good, and the fourth was a disappointing slog. We'll see what happens in the fifth, I suppose. Maybe.)

:: How many times are the going to try and make the same movie? They made it right the first time.

:: There’s such an utter disconnect with reality that AMERICAN IDOL has become the O.J. murder trial with a band. (It's funny: this is the third article I've read in a couple of days ripping on this season of American Idol, and yet, each writer has a different view of who's good and who sucks. That's kind of funny, to me.)

:: You can walk away from the things you never really liked doing in the first place.

More next week....

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A lllooonnnggg quiz from Sunday Stealing

Like the title says: a lllooonnnggg quiz.

1. Tell us who the last person that you took a shower with.

I think The Wife would object. (To me describing what we do, not who the person is! Because it's The Wife. And now I've said too much. Stupid quiz....)

2. Tell us about your favorite tee-shirt. Extra points if you show a pic. (We know. What can you do with freakin' extra points?)

Probably any of my tie-dyed t-shirts. I don't really wear t-shirts with logos on them much anymore, and only once in a while the occasional picture of something. I prefer solid colors and the like.

3. Has anyone ever hit on you even though they knew you were taken?

I have no idea. One reason I continue to profoundly happily "off the market" is that I was one of those guys who had zero notion of how to distinguish friendliness from flirting.

4. Do you plan what to wear the next day?

Sometimes, sometimes not. Depends. One nice thing about a job with a uniform is that planning what to wear is not necessary.

5. How are you feeling RIGHT now? Why?

Full, because I just had dinner. (An Italian sausage on a bun and some roasted potatoes, if you must know.)

6. What's the closest thing to you that's black?

My portfolio. It's on my desk, right next to the laptop.

7. Tell me about an interesting dream you remember having.

Ach...I can't. I rarely remember my dreams.

8. Did you or might you meet anybody new today?

Not officially "met", no. There are lots of people in church whom I don't know all that well, but I didn't "meet" any of them.

9. If you could be doing anything right now (or perhaps after you finish this ridiculous meme) what would it be?

I'd say "writing", but truth is, I could be writing right now. I guess I wish I could be traveling with The Wife.

10. Can you think of a meme question that's never been asked?

"If you were going to be hit with a pie, what flavor would it be?" Nobody ever asks about pie-throwing preferences. It's odd, really.

11. What comes to mind when I say China?

"Please step up and lead humanity into the future, because I'm not sure right now that America is going to get it done."

12. Are you overly emotional?

I don't think so...but some people might say that I am. Who knows?

13. If you could listen to just one rock album (CD, vinyl or mp3) which one would you pick?

One album right now, or one for the rest of my life? I'd go with Pink Floyd's The Wall, I suppose. (But Abbey Road is making a serious challenge!)

14. Do you bite into your ice cream or just lick it?

Both. But I "bite" with my lips, if that makes sense. Not with my teeth. That's unpleasant.

15. Do you like your car?

Love it! The only thing I don't like about it is that the A/C doesn't work and is highly cost-prohibitive to fix. (Have I mentioned that I'm driving a new car? New to me, that is? No? Hmmmm...need to blog about that.)

16. Do you like yourself?

What's not to like!

17. Would you go out to eat with Charlie Sheen?

If he's paying, you bet. I never turn down free food. If I'm paying? Well, if that's the case, it's a fast-food place, we bring separate cars, and he's not allowed to talk.

18. What was the last song that you listened to?

"Every Which Way But Loose", by Eddie Rabbitt.

19. Are (or were) your parents strict?

Not really. As I mentioned when a similar question came up on Ask Me Anything! last month, they tended to set some general rules and then wait for me to screw up. (Which I usually did.)

20. Have you ever wondered what attending a wild orgy (if only to watch or...) would be like?

I expect it would be like some of the movies we watched while drunk in college: sweaty and unpleasant-looking.

21. I say cottage cheese. You say:

Throw in a spoonful or two of slivered almonds, and yum!

22. Have you ever met a celebrity?

A few Buffalo Bills, my Congressman at the time (Amo Houghton, incidentally the last Republican for whom I cast my ballot), and former Buffalo Philharmonic conductor Semyon Bychkov.

23. What was the last movie that you watched at home?

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End. (Which is a far better movie than its reputation.)

24. Is there anything sparkly in the room you're in?

Of course! I'm all about the sparkly. I have a wall sconce with a candle on it; from the sconce hangs a sun-and-moon sun catcher and several strands of Mardi-gras beads. And my dragon-head incense burner has some glitter on it. I love sparkly!

25. What countries have you visited?

The US and Canada. (I have it on my parents' word that I've been in Mexico, but I was too young to have any memory of it.)

26. Have you ever made a phone call while you were drunk that you've regretted? If yes, do tell.

Thank goodness, no. My days of getting drunk with any regularity were several years before cell phone ubiquity.

27. Where were you going the last time that you were on a train?

There's a train museum in Medina, NY that does special train runs on occasion. Christmas before last, we went for the ride. It's just an "out and back" excursion which takes about an hour. I love trains and wish we took them more seriously in this country. Our lack of high speed rail is one of the most maddening things I can think of.

28. Bacon or sausage?

Depends. I'll typically order sausage with my pancakes or waffles, but bacon is wonderful, too.

29. How long have you had a cell-phone?

My first one was for a year or two in 1999-2000, but we let the contract expire owing to financial constraints at the time. The Wife got a phone in 2004, when she found herself needing to make tons of calls regarding Little Quinn's health care; she added me to the mix in 2007, and I've had my phone ever since.

30. What other memes do you do regularly?

Saturday Centus. Other meme-things I check out, and if I like the week's installment, I do it.

31. Who is the craziest meme host?

Not a clue.

32. Who invented chop sticks?

I don't know, but he's right up there on my list of Top Inventors of All Time, along with the person who invented the sandwich, the individual who invented overalls, and whoever invented the Spork.

33. Who are you going to be with tonight?

When The Wife gets home from work, her.

34. Are you too forgiving?

Nah. Being forgiving is a good thing. I tend to stew for a while and then I get tired of stewing.

35. When was the last time that you were in love?

It's a constant state, with me.

36. Tell us about your best friend.

Well, he dropped in on me one day to convince me to run for President. I didn't think I could win, but he put together a team that...oh wait, that's Leo McGarry. Sorry, I've been watching a lot of West Wing lately. My best friend is The Wife. Duh.

37. What was the stupidest thing you learned in high school?

I didn't learn anything "stupid" in high school. I don't believe in learning "stupid" stuff. (Although I didn't really see the point of the typing class. But then, I never took that class.)

38. What was the last thing that you cried about?

What Sydney Carton does at the end of A Tale of Two Cities. God, what an amazing book that was!

39. What was the last question you asked?

"Did you wash your hands?"

40. Favorite thing to do this time of the year?

It's Buffalo, so: root for the Sabres, and bitch about our irritatingly crappy spring. Seriously, spring here sucks. It's like winter warms up into the 40s and then stays there stubbornly, for two months. Ugh!

41. If you had to get a (or another) tattoo, what would it be?

Washington crossing the Delaware. (No, not really. I have no desire for tattoos.)

42. How would your best friend describe you?

"He's 5'10", with long hair that's going gray."

43. Have you ever seen all three Twilight films?

No. Reading one book was bad enough. Awful, awful crap.

44. Ever walked into a glass door?

Yes. At The Store, on the day of Buffalo's October Storm in 2006, I was pushing carts in the parking lot because no one else from that crew could make it in. Everything was OK, until the power finally went out just as I was shoving a big stack of carts into the door. Wham.

45. Favorite color on that person that you are attracted to?

Purple. Or yellow. Or blue. Or red. Or black.

46. Have you ever slapped someone?

Yes. (I'm not proud of it.)

47. What hair style (for you) would you like to see return?

I don't care about style. Deciding what to wear because society arbitrarily decides what's "socially acceptable" is silly.

48. What was the last CD you bought?

Wow, I honestly don't remember. I haven't purchased a CD in years. I always loved CDs, but prices are unacceptable.

49. Do looks matter to you?

A little. Not as much as to many, I hope.

50. Could you ever forgive a liar?

Sure. And if it's a one-time thing and they're genuinely contrite (and the lie's of a certain magnitude), I can even trust them. But it would take a while.

51. What's the hardest bill to pay every month?

Currently, I do a pretty good job of budgeting for my bills.

52. Do you like your life right now?

Yes. There are things that could be better, of course, and things I hope to change for the better both near-term and long-term. But we're not wallowing in despair right now, either.

53. Do you sleep with the TV on?

No. We don't even have a teevee in our bedroom. I've been known to fall asleep during our later shows in the living room, though -- especially on nights when I've had to get to work at O-dark-thirty.

54. Can you handle the truth?

Depends on the truth, doesn't it?

55. Do you have good vision?

Yes. I got glasses for reading back in the 90s; I got a new pair in 2001. I then didn't go to the eye doctor again until just last year, whereupon the doc questioned why I was there at all, since my prescription hadn't changed at all in nine years. I had to show him how scratched up my old glasses were; I wanted a new pair for that reason alone, and I figured I might as well get the prescription checked. I only wear glasses for reading and computer stuff; otherwise I get a headache after a while.

56. Do you hate or dislike more than 3 people?

I don't like hate. It leads to the Dark Side. Dislike? Yeah, that's unavoidable. I don't put numbers on it, though.

57. How often do you talk on the phone?

Daily, although it's usually to The Wife.

58. What celeb would you like to come home to?

Nathan Fillion and Stana Katic.

59. What are you wearing?

An old burgundy Old Navy sweatshirt under a pair of blue Dickies overalls.

60. What is your favorite wild animal?

Of the land? I love bison. Of the sea? I love orcas. Of the Muppets? This guy!

61. Where was your facebook picture taken?

In my bathroom, because the light's good in there. (Calm down!)

62. Can you waltz?

Not officially, no.

63. Do you have a job?

Yes.

64. What was the most recent thing you stole?

I don't steal things, unless we're talking about the occasional pack of Post-it notes or Sharpie markers from work.

65. Have you ever crawled through a window?

Not to get into a house or apartment, no. There was some window crawling during college, when we'd wait until dark one year and go explore the construction site of the new music building as it was going up. One time I stupidly wandered out onto this very long beam and got myself to the point where I had to keep moving forward. That was kind of dumb.

And that's it! Wow, what a long quiz!

Sunday Burst of Weird and AWESOME!

Oddities and Awesome abound!

:: Chris Sims answers an eternal question (that's only been an eternal question for a few years): If Harry Potter battled Batman, who would win? I wouldn't dream of giving away Mr. Sims's answer, but I tend to agree. I do disagree with him on the extent to which Harry Potter is a passive hero in the books. It's true that he doesn't take the bull by the horns as much as one might expect -- especially in the early books -- but I think it all fits together with the series's entire thrust that no matter how good one is, you just can't do it alone.

(I'd also note that I'm not the biggest Batman fan in the world. I've liked most of the movies, but I was never really able to get into Batman in the comics. I know, I know, The Dark Knight Returns is one of the greatest of all comics and all that, but I just didn't care for it -- and I will never be able to accept Batman defeating Superman. I just can't get there in my head.)

:: I don't know why I never thought of it, but what if, in Pac-man, when you exited the maze via one of the tunnels, instead of appearing on the other side of the maze, you appeared in a completely new maze? Warning: this thing is addictive, and some of the mazes are diabolical.

:: Trace some of the world's great historical (and a few fictional) journeys and voyages. Fascinating stuff, although I'd hoped for more detail.

More next week!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Saturday Centus

So this week we're supposed to offer a review of one of last week's entries [link fixed]. As is my wont, I shall cheat.

Mr. Shakspur's new play, Pimplius and Dimwittica, is precisely the kind of farce that the Queen (God Save the Queen!) has sought to eliminate from her Royal Stage. Mr. Shakspur's thinking is beyond our guess; his characters are dolts, his plot idiotic, and his tiresome iambic dodecameter only reminds one of his cross-town rival. He is even rumored to have cast live women. Pimplius's ending, wherein all onstage die in a pie-fight using poisoned pies, even steals from his rival's famous "Prince of Denmark" tragedy. Pimplius and Dimwittica: 'Tis crap.

(Playing at the Oblate-Spheroid Theatre. All seats discounted.)

Back in the day we listened to music on 12-inch disks of black vinyl, and we liked it!

Today is "Record Store Day". I won't be going to any record stores today, simply because I've got other stuff to do today. But like many folks of my age group, I miss the music stores of yore.

Record stores for me always ran a close-second to bookstores for sheer amazement potential. Depending on the size of the store, I could spend quite a bit of time in a record store. If it was your typical small record store in a mall, I could be in there for twenty minutes or so -- long enough for me to dig through the soundtrack section, and later, the classical and rock sections. But at bigger stores -- Buffalo's old Record Theatre locations, for example, or my personal recorded music Mecca, Toronto's Sam the Record Man -- I could get lost in those places for hours. (Ahhhh, Sam the Record Man -- what a great place that was! I'd get so excited, seeing those giant spinning neon records on the storefront.)

As I grew up in a small town in Western New York that only had one record store -- which was a mall store -- I never had the experience of "being a regular at the local record store". I'd catch glimpses of that culture when I'd come with my parents to Buffalo and sometimes beg for a stop at Record Theatre or some such place (joints which were usually a bit off the beaten path of wherever else we wanted to go that day). I'd see customers casually gathered around the registers, talking about the finer points of albums by various artists. I'd walk right by on my way to the classical section, where I'd invariably be the youngest person there.

There was a small classical-only store in Rochester years ago that I liked; this place had the same kind of record-store vibe to it that any rock-centric record store has, except the regulars at the register would be vigorously debating things like which was better, Herbert von Karajan's first Beethoven cycle or his second one, or whether the Fritz Reiner era of the Chicago Symphony was better than the Sir Georg Solti era, and so on. I once bought a Berlioz record there, and seeing that the conductor was Charles Dutoit, the guy at the register nodded and said, "Oh yeah, this guy does some good Berlioz. But you really need to hear Colin Davis do Berlioz." And luckily, I was able to say, "I've already got it. Davis is awesome!"

Of course, record stores transitioned to "music stores" once the compact disc pushed the vinyl out the door. I always liked the vinyl, personally -- the sound of a brand-new record was great, but the drawbacks were obvious, primarily in the way the LP sound deteriorated a tiny bit with every scraping of the grooves by the needle. I spent two or three years primarily listening to music on cassettes, mainly from 1988 to 1991 or so. I'd buy blank tapes a lot of times and record my LPs onto them, so as to avoid the wear-and-tear on the records, a task which was supplanted once the CD took over for good. I still loved going to music stores, though -- I was never so much in it for the format as I was for the music, and for a time there, the music store selections got better and better, as the small CDs took up far less rack space than the old LPs (especially once CDs stopped getting packaged in those ridiculous tall cardboard boxes, and when stores stopped using those idiotic plastic guard-things for theft deterrence).

Of course, we all know where this ended up; the rise of digital music and downloading and a general degree to which music lovers were sick of being asked to pay $17 for a CD pretty much drove the mainstream record/music store into oblivion, leaving select few outlets open as niche stores. I do sometimes miss browsing at music stores, but I've adapted quite a lot to the "new" way music gets around, by following recommendations from people I trust, by sampling, by listening to clips on Amazon and YouTube and the like. Record stores were a big part of my adolescence; I'm kind of surprised to reflect on it and realize that I don't miss them more than I do.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Credit where due

I had to go to the local DMV office today to conduct two different transactions. Once upon a time, the prospect of doing such a thing would have filled me with an overwhelming sense of dread. In fact, it did fill me with an overwhelming sense of dread. But the DMV office in question was well-organized and professionally run, and I was in and out of there in less than an hour. Huzzah!

The People at the Gym

Over the last few weeks, I've finally been able to start going to the gym on a dedicated basis again. I'd been planning to do so earlier in the year, but all kinds of "life stuff" happened to intercede, the worst of which was that nasty knee injury I had. But I'm better now and back to the gym. Yay, me!

One of the things that interests me the most about attending the gym is the other people. Seriously, folks: if people-watching is your thing, then a busy gym is the best place to be. You'll see all kinds there. Here are some of the ones that I see.

The super-athletic fat guy. There's no other way to describe him, but he – and another version of him – has been a regular at every gym I've ever frequented. This is a fat guy. Not a guy with some fat on him, but an actual fat guy. He is easily well north of 300 lbs. And he's (a) really really strong, and/or (b) able to maintain a high pace on a treadmill or other cardio machine for a really long time.

Her Ladyship, the Ligament-less. Watching this woman stretch makes me wonder if her body is made of muscle and bone at all, or if she's really some alien whose body is made of some form of stretchy super-polymer or something. I doubt I was that limber at birth.

The docs. This is a trio of three guys who are always there when I'm there. They do their own workouts, but they also socialize amongst themselves, often talking shop, the sound of which implies that they are doctors of some sort. They'll do their own thing for a while, and then they'll just sort of congregate around a certain machine, at which point they'll converse for about a minute. You can tell when the conversation ends because all three of them burst out into loud laughter before going back to whatever it was they were doing in the first place.

The strong couple. This man and woman are hard-core. Both could beat the crap right out of me. You can tell they're super-serious about their workouts. They're focused and they use impeccable form in every exercise they do. If you overhear their discussion, they're talking about protein consumption and how much weight they need to work each muscle to overload. They're fun to watch and a bit inspirational.

Endurance guy. This fellow is skinny as a rail and is all about the endurance. He'll get on a treadmill for the full thirty-minute period that the gym allows, and when that time is up, he'll jump off and onto another treadmill for another thirty minutes. Sometimes he'll come over to the weight training area, whereupon he'll hop onto a machine, set the weight for a fairly low number and then proceed to do about fifty reps without break. There's no doubt that I'm stronger than this guy, and there's also no doubt that if we both entered a distance race, I'd be dead on the ground about half an hour before he even started to break a sweat.

The not-so-strong couple. This couple is interesting to watch in another way. It's clear that they're both interested in exercising, but the girl is obviously more interested in doing something else, exercise-wise. He's into weights, while she wants to stretch, do a little bit of resistance training, and work on her cardio. So she's hanging out with him by the weights, trying not to look bored as he talks about his workouts just loudly enough for others to hear about what he's doing. He'll never admit it, but he sees her as his trophy chick. When you see one of these couples, you can bank on seeing the guy back to working out by himself within a matter of weeks.

The kids who won't move their asses. I hate these kids. They annoy the hell out of me. There are usually four or five of them, all from the same school, and they're working out together. Which means that these bozos will set up camp on one machine and take turns on the damned thing for ridiculously long periods of time. The leader of the pack will be wearing a t-shirt with the sleeves ripped off; the next guy down will be wearing a tank top. The newest member of the club is in a t-shirt and you can overhear him asking the other guys if he's doing it right. The answer is always "No", not because the kid's actually not doing it right, but because the leader-guy wants to show off his knowledge.

Sweaty comb-over guy. This is obviously an older man who is working out with sufficient intensity to get his head sweaty to the point that his combover loses its structural integrity, so those wisps of long hair that he has earlier in the day meticulously arranged atop his melon so as to convey the illusion of hair (an illusion which fools no one) are now protruding from his scalp in all directions.

The walk-in-the-park girls. These are women of any age who use adjacent cardio machines – treadmills, ellipticals, anything – as a way of keeping in touch with one another. They cheerfully gossip away as they walk or pedal or whatever.

Garbage-bag guy. This fellow wears workout clothes that look like they're made of black garbage bags. Seriously. They're real workout clothes, but they're shiny and crinkly like garbage bags. This dude looks weird, every time I see him.

Office-at-the-gym Man. Here's a guy who brings paperwork from his office, which he then does while pedaling away on a stationary bike. I have no idea how he manages to do this, but there he is, pen in hand and flipping through a manila folder of stuff every time he's there, all the while getting all sweaty on the bike. I'm not sure if I admire this multi-tasking skill of his or not. Probably not.

The Lit Critic. This woman always reads on the bike or treadmill she's using. Nothing abnormal here; lots of folks read. I remember her because one time I was on the bike next to hers at the moment she decided that the book she was reading was apparently crap, because she suddenly said, "This book sucks!" and dropped it on the floor.

The business woman. This lady does cardio only; I've never seen her do anything weight-training related. She's extremely trim and fit, she works out with her machine set at high levels of intensity, she always reads a business magazine, and she never, ever, ever, sweats. She could probably pay someone more than I make in a year to erase my existence from the planet.

Range-of-motion man. This guy cracks me up. I love watching him. When I started going to the Y, three years ago, I saw a Harley chopper parked in the lot, and as soon as I saw this fellow, I knew that it was his. And sure enough, when he left, it was. He looks a bit doughy at first, but he's clearly got muscle underneath it. Dark hair, dark beard, and dark body hair. He puts the maximum weight on every machine, but when he starts the exercise, he only budges the weight a few inches one way or the other...but he does dozens of reps like that. I'm not sure how this workout benefits him – I've always read that working a muscle through its entire range of motion is key – but it must, because he's really strong, apparently. He can lift all that weight in the first place, but he'd likely be a lot stronger – and shapelier – if he actually exhibited decent form!

Techno-rower. I don't see this guy all that often. He likes the rowing machines, and he has a rowing program on his laptop, which he hooks up to the rowing machine so it can track his progress with scrolling graphs and an animated guy on a rowboat that pushes and pulls the oars in tandem with whatever our guy does in real life. I'm not sure what the point of the whole laptop thing is, but there he is, tracking his progress or something.

The iPod addicts. There are many of these folks, male and female. Their purpose is to take up space, standing in the way, oblivious to all things around them like other people, while they scroll through their songlists and playlists in search of a tune to play during their next burst of ninety seconds of exercise. These folks are pretty annoying.

Flannel man. This old geezer – sorry, there's no other word for him – shows up to work out in jeans and a flannel shirt. I'm always afraid he's going to give himself heat stroke. In January.

The lady who looks like another lady I used to work with so I always end up staring at her too long as I try to figure out if she's really the lady I used to work with. Only she isn't, so I end up looking creepy. She's not unlike The teenage girl who goes to my church but whom I couldn't recognize in her gym clothes so I stared at her a little too long trying to figure out why she looks so damned familiar.

The overweight folks approaching middle age who go to the Y in hopes that they can recapture some of whatever these younger, and deeply annoying, people still have going for them. Sadly, I fall into this last category myself!

Something for Thursday

I'm in a John Williams kind of mood, so here is the End Title music from the silly, but enjoyable, "Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman as Irish immigrants" potboiler Far and Away.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

Trying not to repeat myself...hmmmm...OK. Which military helmet was the goofier: the Roman one with the big brush on top, or the German one with the single spike on top?

(I swear to God, if I asked this one before, I'm closing the blog for good.)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

X-Files Case Report: "Shadows"



"I'd say you people already suffer from full denial." (Agent Mulder)

The X-Files was so much more than aliens and government conspiracies; it actually drew on just about every occult phenomenon it could find over the course of its run. Here we have a good, old-fashioned ghost story.

A businessman named Howard Graves has committed suicide, leaving his trusted assistant, a woman named Lauren, to clean out his office. As she leaves, though, a desktop memento suddenly moves, and she turns back to see it in a different spot than where she left it. Not thinking much of this, she takes it with her. Cut to later, when she stops at an ATM on her way home. She is jumped by a couple of hoodlums who drag her, screaming, into an alley. Cut to still two hours later, when two young people come along, looking for a place to "crash", when they find the bodies of the hoodlums. The men were killed by having their throats crushed from the inside, and they've been exposed to so much electrostatic electricity that even though they've been dead for six hours, their bodies are still twitching on the slab and their tissue hasn't even started to cool.

Mulder and Scully get wind of this when they are brought in to consult by a pair of taciturn NSA agents (or CIA or some other shadow government group). When they share no information with our FBI heroes, Mulder speculates that they are involved because the case shows earmarks of psychokinesis. They begin to suspect that Lauren is somehow psychokinetic, but it gradually turns out that it's really Howard Graves's ghost that is behind everything.

A fairly standard story plays out: Graves, it turns out, was actually murdered by the business partner who claims to have loved him like a brother, and Graves felt a father-like devotion to Lauren, owing to his having lost a three-year-old daughter years before who would have been Lauren's age in the present day. Howard Graves has not left this mortal coil because he still has work to do.

This tale, of course, is somewhat strongly reminiscent of the movie Ghost, which had come out a few years earlier. It's a nicely done episode, mostly interesting for the performance of Lisa Waltz as Lauren, for some nicely brisk writing, and for the fact that the show seems to be going in one direction at first (psychokinesis) but actually turns into something else (ghosts). It's also interesting in that Scully's skepticism is dialed back a bit, and at the end she seems quite accepting of the ghost story.

Finally, this episode continues to demonstrate just how the world has evolved in less than twenty years since it originally aired. When Mulder and Scully must look for information on Howard Graves, they aren't able to just Google the guy; Scully has to spend quality time with a microfiche machine, manually searching through newspaper archives for a mention of the guy. Shadows aired about eighteen years ago; eighteen years before that, I suppose Kojak was the norm of teevee police procedurals. The distance between the world depicted in Season One X-Files and Kojak seems a lot closer than the present day and the world of Season One X-Files. I even remember reading commentary on Usenet, back during the first couple of seasons, in which Mulder was made fun of for always having his cell phone with him!

Next up: "Ghost in the Machine".

Monday, April 11, 2011

"Two drifters, off to see the world...."

I need to watch Breakfast at Tiffany's again, because I've only seen it once and it's just silly to allow a film you loved the one time you saw it to go unwatched again. I've just read a new book called Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M., by Sam Wasson, about the making of the movie. Interestingly, the book takes a wider view of the making of Breakfast, by showing us the lives of the principals involved in the film leading up to the project that would bring them all together. He gives biographical sketches of Truman Capote and Audrey Hepburn, of screenwriter George Axelrod and costumer Edith Head, of Mel Ferrer and Blake Edwards and many others who came to make the movie. Wasson's approach is almost novelistic, and if it's not an exhaustively detailed account of a single film's production, it compensates for that by being more of a portrait of sorts of the film's genesis.

It's not a portrait in which all the particulars look perfect, either. Truman Capote was apparently a fairly odd individual with a train-wreck of a childhood; Audrey Hepburn is seen as something of a tragic figure as well, enduring multiple miscarriages in a marriage that doesn't appear terribly happy. For all the skill Blake Edwards brought to the film, he is not without fault: he cast Mickey Rooney as Mr. Yunioshi. And though he is only in the book briefly, George Peppard -- the film's male lead -- was apparently a colossal jerk on the set.

Here is an excerpt from the book, detailing Henry Mancini's efforts at coming up with a song for the movie...and more specifically, a song for Holly Golightly, Audrey Hepburn's troubled and wounded character.

For a full month, slouching on the rented piano he kept in the garage, Henry Mancini agonized over the song. What had he gotten himself into? Over and over again, he replayed, again and again, Audrey's voice in his head. He caught Funny Face [a musical Hepburn had done previously with Fred Astaire] on TV a few nights earlier, and with the short range -- her range -- of an octave and one, tried riffing on Audrey's rendition of "How Long Has This Been Going On?" I could cry salty tears....Everything he tried died on the second or third note. I could cry...But for lack of an alternative, he stuck to it. Cry salty...cry salty tears...But the stucking didn't stick. Nothing did. If Mancini didn't deliver on this, what would he say to Jurow and Shepherd [the film's producers], or to Blake [Edwards, the director], who'd had faith in him, who stuck his neck out? Even worse, what would he tell himself the next tim ehe sat down with a pipe at the piano? "You'll do it, Hank"? There were only so many times his wife, Ginny, could say it to him. Only so many more times he would let himself go on to her about what kind of song this girl would sing. Was a Broadway-style melody actually the right choice for "travelin' through the pastures of the sky"? That didn't seem to fit with the private moment on a fire escape. But maybe the blues would. Where have I...Maybe like a jazzy pop thing. Or a country thing. Was that what was in her heart?

This was a time when Holly would cut through the pretense and show, for the length of a song, who she really was beneath all the sophistication. Right: beneath the sophistication. Whatever that sounded like, it had to be simple.

And then -- as these things tend to happen -- it came suddenly. Three notes: C, G, F. It was promising. Not a song, but a beginning. Staying within the range of an octave and one, and being careful to keep the melody all in the same key -- much simpler that way -- Mancini turned out the next several notes, all on the white keys. They didn't sound bad -- actually, they sounded good. At first, he went ahead carefully, mindful of not leaping too far beyond his flow, and then, as he gained momentum, proceeded half consciously. Now it was all falling out of him. A moment later it was automatic -- he was taking dictation. As if they knew just where to go, as if they had been there many times before, the remaining notes obediently assumed their place on the page. Twenty minutes later, the composer looked up from the piano. The song was written.

The next day, Mancini made a record of it and took it in to Edwards. Blake loved it. Then it was to Paramount to play the tune for Shepherd and Jurow. "Hank brought a 78 record up to our office," recalls Shepherd, "and he said, 'Let us know what you think of it.' He just laid it down and left. Marty and I listened to it and we thought it was terrific."

"Who do you want to write the lyrics?" they asked.

"Johnny Mercer," was the reply. Mancini didn't even have to think about it.


The result, of course, was "Moon River".



Maybe I can't hold myself up as any kind of expert, but this surely has to be one of the perfect moments in all cinema. This woman is having a moment all for herself, on the fire escape at the back of her apartment. We first saw her in an elegant black dress, but now she's in jeans and a sweatshirt with her hair beneath a towel. She has no idea anyone's listening, and maybe she doesn't even care; all she is doing is singing this simple tune with its lyrics that are both sad and hopeful. And the setting of the music is so wisely done, the way the muted strings rise up underneath the song in the second verse. Hepburn's Holly Golightly seems so sad here -- but the nature of the sadness isn't spelled out at all. Does she miss something or someone? Does she feel that her life has gone awry? The film will fill in some of those blanks, but the song is, all at once, sad and hopeful and mysterious.

And that little thing Hepburn does at the end, there, when she's done singing? When she looks up and sees her upstairs neighbor listening? And without a trace of embarrassment, she just smiles and says "Hi"? That's one of those Audrey Hepburn moments, the ones that make me want to give her my heart, just because.

Sentential Links #242

Linkage for the weary....

:: So now we have a fully functional, though still far from finished, kitchen. I suppose I would be betraying The Sisterhood if I admit that I’m excited about something as domestic as a sink but you know what? The Sisterhood can kiss my big fat lily-white hiney. (Why would the Sisterhood be annoyed at a good sink? Sinks are important for everybody, right?)

:: Maureen Dowd is the worst kind of square, is what I'm saying-- the kind that thinks she's "hep". This makes sense, because she is also the worst type of political columnist, too-- the kind that thinks that she's got it all figured out, and what do you know? If everyone were like Maureen Dowd wouldn't it be a marvelous world?

:: I love money. I hate money.

:: In Murder on the Orient Express, I wanted Ingrid Bergman to play the Russian Princess Dragomiroff. She wanted to play the retarded Swedish maid. I wanted Ingrid Bergman. I let her play the maid. She won an Academy Award. I bring this up because self-knowledge is so important in so many ways to an actor. (This is actually Sheila O'Malley quoting Sidney Lumet. But what a great quote!)

:: See, we’re not what you’d call a celebrity bar but we do get a name now and then, and when we do it always gives a lift to the shift. A high point to the joint. It’s part of having a bar here in New York City. You might rightly say it goes along with the geography. Stuff just happens here. But you also have to have the right place and treat celebs the right way, meaning not invade their privacy or make a big fuss over them. Sometimes they just want to stop for a drink and be like everyone else, and not be the person or persona that made them famous. At least that’s how I see it and treat them accordingly. (This blog is so terrific!)

:: Blade Runner isn’t about our AI offspring, it’s about us and how we treat each other, our hubris and our compassion, or lack of it. It’s about becoming human, the changing nature of humanity. I don’t think we’re born human, I think we become slowly human, if we learn, over a lifetime. (A fantastic article about Blade Runner, a movie I'm doomed to wish I liked more than I do. By the way, apparently it's "Dystopia Week" over at Tor.com.)

All for this week. Tune in next!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sunday Burst of Weird and AWESOME!

Oddities and Awesome abound!

:: Remember how disillusioned you were when you discovered that the Big Mac you actually get at McDonald's bears little resemblance to the perfect-looking burger in the commercials, the one that towers so high you wondered how anyone could open their jaws enough to bite the thing? Sure you do.

:: Remember how creepy you thought Steve Buscemi's eyes were, the first time you saw him in a movie? Sure you do.

:: Remember how you've always wanted to be able to zoom around the Solar System and look at stuff? Sure you do.

:: Are you getting tired of the endless debate over whether video games are or are not Art? Sure you're not!

More next week!

Saturday, April 09, 2011

My greatest Sabres playoff memory



The other day, as I was driving home from work, the guys on the radio (Schopp and the Bulldog, WGR-550 AM!) were asking callers for their "greatest Sabres playoff memories". The NHL season is ending and the playoffs are getting ready to start, and the locally beloved Sabres have managed to play their way back into the playoffs after a sluggish start to the season; thus, hockey fever is starting to sweep around the region again after falling off a bit in the last year or two. (Plus the team has new ownership that is so adept at saying the right things, that it's almost like Buffalo's hockey fandom has found itself inside a corny sports movie. But anyway....) So, here's my personal greatest playoff memory.

The NHL endured a lockout earlier in the 2000s that wiped out an entire season, but when the league returned to play a year later, suddenly the Sabres were...really, really good. They went to the Eastern Conference finals both years, and most folks around here tend to think that, with a few luckier breaks (especially in 2006, when injuries ravaged the team the longer the playoffs went on), one or both of those teams would have brought home a Stanley Cup. (And believe me, folks: if/when the Sabres actually do win the Stanley Cup, this entire region is going to throw a party that will make Mardi Gras look like Thanksgiving with the Donner Party.)

Here's the thing about me, though: I'm not much of a hockey fan. I enjoy it when I see it on teevee, but that's not very often because we don't have cable and I don't go out much. (I should go out more, but I don't. Because I'm dull, you see.) And because I don't get to watch much hockey at all, I end up not knowing all that much about it. Remember back in the 1990s when whatever teevee network had the NHL rights decided to make the game "easier to follow" by superimposing a blue dot on the ice wherever the puck was? And whenever someone would actually shoot the puck, there'd be a red laser-streak thing on the teevee to show where it went? Most hockey fans I knew back then scoffed at this and made fun of it...but I was the guy that was meant for. No more could I complain that I had no idea where the puck was! I could follow the most important aspect of the game, and thus could turn my attention to other matters, like learning the rules. I remember seeing games, getting caught up in the action of the guys skating every which way, the sheer speed of it all, and then everyone suddenly stopping skating. "Why are they stopping?" I'd ask. "Icing," came the reply. I'd just nod, because no matter what sporting event is on teevee in a bar, you do not want to be the guy asking for explanations of the rules. Even if it's the Winter Olympics and you're watching curling, a sport which by all accounts has no rules at all and only crowns a winner by an off-screen game of Rock-Paper-Scissors after the curling is done.

So anyway, the Sabres in 2005-2006 were really good and only got eliminated from the playoffs pretty much because by the end of their run, injuries had reduced their team to seven guys and two Zamboni drivers. The next year, though, they were better: they won more games than any other team in the league, and were strong favorites to win it all. They dispatched the New York Islanders with ease in Round One of the playoffs, but their Round Two opponent, the New York Rangers, proved a bit more difficult.

Gave Five of the second round in 2007 came on May 4. This happened to also be the opening release date of Spiderman 3. A friend of mine at work was going to the movie, so we agreed to meet at the theater. Problem was, he was going to the game. Now, we were going to a late enough showing that this shouldn't have been a problem -- it was a 10:15 pm showing or something like that, and the game should have been over somewhere shortly after 9:00. So I hung out at home with my family, noodling about on the computer, doing this and that. I couldn't watch the Sabres game, so I brought up the game-tracking page on FOXSports.com and kept refreshing. And I was torn.

See, the Rangers led the game 1-0 most of the way. So on the one hand, I'm rooting for the Sabres to come back and tie it. But on the other hand, I know that if this game goes to overtime, my friend is unlikely to be able to make the movie. Thus I was rooting strongly for the Sabres to put two quick goals on the board, take the game in regulation, and then everybody goes on. Except that didn't happen, and with 8 seconds to go, the Rangers still had their 1-0 lead. So I was resigned to the Sabres losing, but my friend making the movie.

Which is why I both cheered and became dismayed when Sabre Chris Drury put in a shot with 7.7 seconds to go to tie the game. Into overtime it went. Now the start time of the movie was less than 45 minutes away, and I knew that getting out of a sell-out arena and getting to the movie theater (about ten miles away, maybe) in that time was unlikely. My friend called me at home from the arena (I could barely hear him over the crowd noise in there) to tell me that if the game ended quickly, they'd still try. I told him I'd wait outside until the last possible minute.

Overtime didn't go on too long, but long enough to make me think that there was no way he was getting there on time. The Sabres won the game, though, and the nature of that win -- snatching victory away in the face of certain defeat that would have had them trailing in the series had they lost -- only fueled the Sabre-fever that was sweeping over the town. I saw online that the Sabres had won, and then I left for Regal Cinemas to hopefully await my friend.

Who got there ten minutes after I did. Before the movie started.

He was actually riding with another friend of his; how that guy got his car out of parking near the arena, out of postgame traffic, and onto the highway south out of Buffalo in that little time, I consider among the things I'm probably better off not knowing. But they got there. I'd already bought tickets, so we went inside. The ticket-taker guy saw that my friend and his friend were in Sabres gear, and said something like, "I can't believe I had to work through that game."

"Oh dude, it was awesome," my friend said. "I was there."

"You were there?" the ticket-taker said. "Didn't it end, like, fifteen minutes ago?"

"Yeah. I'm still tingling."

And away we went into the theater, with the ticket-taker guy probably wondering if they'd driven from the arena to the theater in the Batmobile. (Which would have been ironic, as we were seeing Spiderman 3. You know, using a car from DC comics to see a Marvel movie.)

Funny thing was, the movie didn't start on time. They never do, and there was the fifteen minutes or so of trailers, Coca-cola commercials, and all the rest of it. The auditorium was pretty full, and as it filled up, there was one final great thing about that game that happened: every single time someone else came into the auditorium who was wearing a Sabres shirt or jacket, everyone in there would cheer. One guy came in wearing a Chris Drury jersey, and he almost got a standing ovation. Everybody was a fan. Everybody was talking about that game. That game wasn't a Cup-winning game; it wasn't even a Conference Finals-winning game. It wasn't even a series winning game: the Sabres only had a 3-2 edge in the series after that one, and ended up dispatching the Rangers from the playoffs two days later in Game Six. At that point, no one thought for a second that the Sabres were doing anything other than winning the Cup, and that that game would give them the unstoppable momentum that would carry them to winning it all.

It didn't work out that way, unfortunately; in the next series, the Eastern Conference Finals, the Ottawa Senators would leap out to a 3-0 series lead and then eliminate the Sabres in five games. And during the ensuing offseason, a bunch of miscalculations and errors by the Sabres management led to the team's best players, including Chris Drury, leaving for other teams. But on that night, that was it. The Sabres were on the way. Before the movie started, I said to my friend, "Do you realize that you were present for what may end up being one of the very greatest moments in Buffalo sports history?" And even though that win didn't lead to ultimately winning the Cup, it was still one the greatest moments in Buffalo sports history.

And that's my greatest Sabres playoff moment. From a game I didn't see.

Go Sabres!

Saturday Centus

This week's prompt is one of those that seems prosaic at first, but it really isn't, because it's the prosaic ones that really make one dig a bit deeper to come up with an idea. Anyway, here's mine. I went in a much sillier direction than usual....

(From a teenage notebook of one Bill Shakspur, Stratford-on-Avon, 1578.)

Florolominio: Sweet, sweet Rosalinimundia! Hath I come to you but too late to enter your embrace that outshine’d the very Sun?

Rosalinimundia: Verily, knave, too late thou art. Another doth carry my troth now. Stew, then, in the vile pot of your own dalliance! Stew, I say!

Florolominio: 'Til the Moon shines not, shall I stew! But ere I depart, dear heart, know this: April showers bring May flowers to sweet maidens in their bowers. Ne'er hath your bower seen such throbbing as I would bring!

Rosalinimundia: Kiss me, you big--

(Here the excerpt ends.)

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

ANOTHER Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

Well, it happened: the Conversation Starter I posed this morning is actually a repeat. I had no recollection of the earlier post -- it's May 6, 2009, for those who are curious -- and I genuinely thought I was posing a new question. So, here's the new question: was this an easily-explained goof on my part since I can't possibly remember every post I've ever created here, or is this the first sign in what will be my long slow decline into inevitable dementia as I end up forgetting my own name? Discuss!

Serious Congressman is Serious

Kevin Drum on the incredible courage of the Paul Ryan budget "plan":

Ryan ignores Social Security because he knows privatization won't fly and he doesn't have the courage to propose a mainstream reform of the system that would be unpopular with conservative mandarins. He exempts seniors and baby boomers from his Medicare plan because he doesn't have the courage to take on a powerful Republican voting bloc. He eschews details, basing the bulk of his plan on little more than theoretical spending caps, because he doesn't have the courage to explain what his spending reductions would actually mean. He focuses most of his cuts on programs for the poor because he doesn't have the courage to tackle weak claims rather than weak claimants. He gives the Pentagon a pass because he doesn't have the courage to stand up to hawks in his own party. And above all else, he refuses to consider tax increases of any kind because he doesn't have the courage to take on Grover Norquist and tell his own caucus what every genuinely serious analyst already knows: the only way to tackle the long-term deficit is with both tax hikes and spending cuts.

So explain to me: what's courageous about a Republican congressman proposing spending cuts for the poor, entitlement cuts only in the far future, tax cuts for the rich today, and hands off the Pentagon forever? Nothing I can think of.


I also love the way this is all being framed as "necessary" to save us from the horrible budget crisis we're facing. The Right has had a major hard-on for doing something like this for as long as the Right has existed in its current form in this country. Hiding their real motives behind budgetary excuses? Yeah, that's pretty "courageous", too. And "serious".

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

I asked this question on Facebook and got a total of two replies (probably because FB's new "Ask a Question" feature is, really, kind of annoying), so here it is. It's the middle of the night. For some reason you're staggering through your living room with the lights out...and you step on something. What would you rather step on? A Lego brick that your kid left out, with all of its very sharp corners to dig into the soft flesh of the underside of your foot? Or the wonderful, cold squishiness of three-hour-old cat vomit?

(I literally can't decide which of these I'd rather have happen less!)

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Another teevee quiz!

Another quiz from SamuraiFrog! Another quiz about teevee! Hooray!

1. What's your favorite sitcom?

Right now, The Big Bang Theory, which is minute-for-minute more humorous than anything on teevee right now. I also like How I Met Your Mother, although it suffers a bit because I think that its "lead" character, Ted, is insanely uninteresting. I enjoy Mike&Molly, although there's not a thing original or especially insightful about it. It's just a nicely-produced sitcom with a pleasantly engaging group of characters.

2. Is there a sitcom you really don't like?

Two and a Half Men is awful. All-time? I hated ALF, Full House, Growing Pains, and every single damned Very Special Episode of Blossom.

3. Which sitcom did you used to like, but now it just seems too hokey?

The Office was great once, but it's gone too far into unbelievable parody, frequently at the expense of its once-interesting characters.

4. If your life was a sitcom, what would the title be?

Geek in Overalls. Each episode would feature dream sequences on space ships, distant planets, and end with a massive pie fight. The show would be canceled after three episodes.

5. Did you watch any of the marathons running this year? In part? In whole?

We don't have cable, so no "official" marathons. We do like to do our own marathons on deeveedee, however.

6. Is there a show you'd like to see run an all day marathon? On the flipside is there a show you'd avoid in marathon?

Again, no cable, so this is unapplicable.

7. What show featuring those who protect your country (fiction or non-fiction) is your favorite?

Victory at Sea is pretty impressive. I also had a love-hate thing with 24. I occasionally catch an episode of NCIS, which is enjoyable enough to not change the channel.

8. Out of curiosity, what's the longest you've ever watched TV in one stretch?!

Probably a time I vegged out in front of MTV for hours as a kid.

9. Do you watch daytime talk TV? If so, which shows do you watch? Do you prefer the calm shows like Oprah or the wilder side like Jerry Springer?

I don't watch these at all.

10. Which daytime talk TV show would you like to be on? What would the topic be?

The old Mike Douglas show. There was some whacky stuff on that show.

11. Is there a daytime talk TV show you miss that's no longer on the air? Is there someone you'd like to see get a daytime talk TV show?

The old Mike Douglas show, duh!

12. Before talk TV took over game shows ruled the airways during the day, which do you prefer? Or are you a soap opera fan? 

I liked The Price is Right back in the day. Ditto Jeopardy!. When I was a kid I liked a lot of game shows, but now, I realize that a lot of them were crap.

13. Which TV Dad would you have most liked to have for your own dad? On the flipside, who was the TV Dad you'd have least liked to have had?

Red Foreman was awesome on That 70s Show -- he seemed to want to run a really tight ship, but it was pretty clear that he wasn't as persuasive with all of his "foot in the ass" stuff as he wanted to be. I think he just decided to overlook a lot of the BS.

14. Who do you consider the most realistic TV Dad? Who did you consider simply too good to be true?

Rick Sammler on Once and Again -- he had a really good handle on some things, and was utterly clueless on others. I also like how the show established alcoholism in his family history and showed him drinking frequently, but never making a plot point of it.

15. Do you watch infomercials? Be honest now!

No. I loathe them.

16. What's your favorite infomercial or infomercial product?

I refer my right honorable friends to the reply I gave some moments ago.

17. Have you ever bought anything from an infomercial? If so, what was it?

I refer my right honorable friends to the reply I gave some moments ago.

18. What's the stupidest (most annoying, most worthless) infomercial you've ever seen?

I refer my right honorable friends to the reply I gave some moments ago.

19. One of the latest trends in Daytime TV is re-runs of 80's & 90's hit shows, what is your favorite that's re-running now? If you don't have one which show would you like to see re-running? 

I always enjoy watching Simpsons reruns. Ditto Seinfeld, which aside from a rare descent into topicality strikes me as fresh as ever. I've also started appreciating Family Guy more, although I'm not ever going to be a fan of Seth McFarlane.

20. On the whole do you feel most Special Reports are really that special? Or are they simply annoying?

It depends on the event. Now that there's Internet, I just divert my attention if the event bugs me.

21. What special report has effected you most? (IE: (9/11, Reagan being shot...etc)

The Challenger explosion, probably. Although I didn't watch until I got home from school that day. A more obvious answer would be 9-11-01, but I was on my way to work and there was no teevee there, so we listened on the radio. Still, that was a deeply terrifying day.

22. What's your fondest memory of something on TV?

Lots. Saturday morning cartoons, culminating in Looney Tunes. Watching Kung Fu and Star Trek back to back after school. Late-night reruns of Star Trek TNG in college, with new episodes on Sunday nights. Watching ER with The Wife, before it sucked. Discovering The Big Bang Theory.

23. What's the first show you remember watching regularly?

The Six Million Dollar Man. We can rebuild him! We have the technology! (And why was it that when he used his bionic powers to run faster, they depicted this by showing him running in slow motion?)

24. What is the (pick one: stupidest, saddest, silliest, most disgusting..) thing you've ever seen on TV?

Stupidest: Cop Rock. What the hell was that?
Saddest: A second season episode of ER in which two ambulance drivers were caught in a burning building, one of whom spent the episode slowly, ever so slowly and painfully, not making it.
Silliest: Any Looney Tunes short.
Most disgusting: There's a Meat Loaf music video that includes concert footage of Mr. Loaf making out with someone onstage. That was kind of gross.

25. What's the best series finale you remember?

Ahhhh, series finales! Which ones did I like? Well, M*A*S*H's was pretty good, if a bit overlong. The West Wing went out with quite a bit of class. Frasier ended very well; I love the subtle little twist at the very end of the episode. Star Trek: The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine both ended with nice bangs. I remember enjoying the final X-Files episode, even if it came two years too late (and the show really should have found its ending with the resolution of Mulder's quest for his sister). And, of course, Firefly's last episode...which was really the movie Serenity.

A note to political pundits

The adjective "serious" should probably not be ascribed to anyone who proposes a budget plan whose goal is to preserve tax cuts for rich people at virtually any other conceivable cost. Thank you.

Bloggus Interruptus

Sorry for the silence the last day or two, but connectivity was hard to come by at Casa Jaquandor yesterday, hence the complete radio silence. We'll just defer Sentential Links for another week, too. Keep the faith! Keep reaching for the stars! In blackest night! Yada yada yada!