Monday, December 31, 2012

Five Things I Promise Y’all I’ma Gonna Blog About Soon

On Friday the 21st of this month, I came home from work feeling extremely run down, but that’s pretty much par for the course for me heading into most weekends. The difference this time was that when I woke up on Saturday it was fairly obvious I was besieged by some kind of crappifying illness, and under my wife’s strict orders I bailed on a Christmas party and generally took it easy. I did not come anywhere close to shaking it off over the course of those first 24 hours, so on Sunday morning I took myself to a local urgent care facility, hung around waiting for a few hours, and ultimately was diagnosed with Type A flu (boooo) and prescribed Tamiflu (huzzah). The rest of Sunday continued to be miserable, but at some point on Monday (Christmas Eve, in case you have so-quickly forgotten) I rallied and was able to contribute to the present-wrapping and whatnot. By then of course we had called off the family gathering scheduled for Christmas Day at our house, which was for the best but still a bummer. Nevertheless we celebrated the grand present opening with the kids and then the next thing we knew it was early morning on Boxing Day and I was getting up to go back to work.

I spent that one day at the office as planned, then came home to find that my wife had taken a bad turn. Unlike me, she had responsibly gotten her flu shot earlier in the season, which you’d think would render her immune to what I had brought into the house, but apparently that immunity has limits. I bailed on work the next two days in order to let her rest while I watched the kids (Thursday) and continue to wait on her while the kids were at daycare (Friday). Saturday was more of the same, but by last night it looked like my wife might be, if not out of the woods, at least getting close to a point where the edge of the treeline was remotely perceptible. I should hasten to add that I don’t mean out-of-the-woods in any danger-zone sense, although the flu can be scarily serious for pregnant women; she’s been well clear of hospitalization territory and the baby has been active and happy. But the misery (of not being able to sleep, or breathe, or think straight, or get warm, or stop aching) has been real enough.

At any rate, I’m back at work today, and last I heard things were under control back at the ranch, which is gratifying. But in case you were wondering why the blogging blackout had been in effect for the past ten days, there you are. S has been crazy. If I had had two more days in the office in the past week and a half, I don’t know if it would have made an overly large content-producing difference around these parts or not. But I do know that there are quite a few things clanging and clamoring around my brainpan waiting for me to have a decent chance to post about them at length. So, as the year draws to a close, allow me to present a brief preview of posts in the works and coming soon:

1. 2012 Pop Resolutions As always I will, at some point, refer back to some things I had resolved to do this year and fess up as to whether or not I actually kept them. As always, this will turn out to be a mixed bag. But in spite of that predictability, I still find this compellingly worthwhile every year.

2. Christmas I just gave the I-got-sick/she-got-sick rundown of the holiday span above, but there are a few other noteworthy observations from Christmas which can be recorded here before we move on fully into the new year.

3. The Dark Knight Rises, The Wild Bunch, etc. For example, my wife very awesomely gave me the Nolan Bat-trilogy on Blu-ray for Christmas, which means now I have finally seen The Dark Knight Rises. And I have a few thoughts about it! I also saw The Wild Bunch for the first time recently but have yet to put together a proper review for it. And who knows, by the time I’m firing on all cylinders here I may have absorbed another flick or two along the way. The point being: movie write-ups, and lots of ‘em, count on it.

4. 2013 Pop Resolutions In addition to getting caught up on everything I’ve neglected lately, ‘tis the season to look to the future. And as with the review of last year’s resolutions, the enumeration of the coming year’s goals and self-imposed obligations is a tradition I intend to keep here.

5. Upcoming Theme Months Plus, I already have some ideas for some pop-culture themes which will prop up some vague organizational structure on a monthly basis for the blog. Well, one or two anyway, which I’d better announce soon before January and February get away from me. After that, Baby #3 is due in March and all bets are off!

However you choose to ring in the new year tonight, I hope that bidding farewell to the last twelve months and welcoming what’s yet to come brings you peace and happiness. At the very least, you can drift off to sleep in the wee hours of 2013 secure in the knowledge that I will still be here, yammering on and off about inane movie and tv and book stuff (plus the ongoing, undecided craziness contest between the world of small hyper children and the world of DoD contracting), for a good chunk of the foreseeable future. Like I said, at least until March.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Big (stone) wheels keep on turnin'

Happy 14th B’ak’tun! And how convenient that the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar should restart on Random Anecdote day. I glanced back through the archives and didn’t see any mention of the story I have in mind back when it happened, and therefore I’m considering the following to be both worth sharing and long overdue. But if I’m repeating myself, apologies.

Back in the summer of 2011 I went with one of my buddies to a late-night showing of Captain America at the local theater. My buddy was (and is) a Cap super-fan, so it was fun to share the geeking-out experience with him, not to mention that the movie was entertaining enough in its own right to be a worthwhile expenditure of time. (Seriously, how did I not get around to writing a review of the movie at the time, during which I surely would have shared the subject matter at hand?) After the movie ended, we wandered out of the theater and stood on the sidewalk a while and dissected what we had just seen, as geeks are wont to do; we had arrived in separate cars, so we did not have a shared drive home together on which to compare opinions. This is relevant because when you choose to have an enthusiastic conversation on a public thoroughfare, you really have no control over who might overhear you and join in.

So, inevitably, a random dude did in fact insert himself into our discussion, and it was very clear from the get-go that this was a pretty stereotypical member of my tribe who had come to see Captain America by himself. You may recall that, earlier the very same summer, I had gone to see Thor by myself, due to various circumstances which involved at least some element of choice. But I had also dragged some other friends to see Green Lantern and had specifically targeted my buddy as the ideal Cap companion, and I have always acknowledged that I am very lucky to have a fairly deep bench of friends who are either simpatico or at the very least indulgent (sometimes both) about making pop culture experiences into group excursions. I know there are lots of people who are into fringe-y things that feel extra-fringe-y because they don’t know another soul who shares their interests. I try to be sympathetic to folk in those circumstances.

At any rate, I believe my buddy and I had been talking about possible places that the Captain America film franchise could go in the future, with no doubt in our mind that sequels were totally inevitable, which is another one of those strange effects of the current Hollywood IP-exploitation setup, where actors are contractually locked in from day one with three-picture deals and every blockbuster film is assumed to be the opening installment of a trilogy (if not a septuology or somesuch). It’s very different from how things were when I was a kid buying 65 cent comics, is all. Our conversation-crasher felt compelled to point out that the earliest we might see Captain America 2 would be 2013 or 2014, which might all be moot if the world were to end in December 2012. I genuinely laughed at that, because it was so random. And because I’m never one to let a good joke go without multiple callbacks to really drive it into the ground, I proceeded to return to the subject again and again as we continued kicking ideas around.

The first time I re-introduced the Apocalypse gag, our new third wheel didn’t laugh, which I just took as the standard “hey that’s my joke” reaction. (I get that a lot because I am a compulsive quoter and callbacks are just about my favorite kind of joke.) But by the second or third time I hammered on the end of the world, he felt compelled to speak up, in all earnestness: “Please … please don’t joke about that, you’re kind of freaking me out.”

Which meant that when he had brought the subject up, he hadn’t been doing so in a ridiculous non-sequitor way (as I of course had immediately assumed), he had been doing it in a laughing-nervously-at-a-cause-of-legitimate-anxiety way. This random stranger was someone who, at least in some small, irrational but undeniable way, thought it was nominally possible that life as we know it might mystically, cataclysmically cease in about a year and a half. That’s a bit off, in my book, just like inviting yourself into strangers’ conversations is, just like going to the movie theater by yourself (when it’s not a matinee during your paternity leave and you can’t convince any of your friends to play hooky at your last-minute suggestion) is. So, default sympathies notwithstanding, there were three things at that point I knew for sure about the guy we had met outside the theater, and all three were at least scraps of red flags. Needless to say, my buddy and I politely extricated ourselves shortly thereafter to head to our respective homes.

Wherever that lonely Captain America fan is today, I hope he feels less fatalistic about the open-ended future than he did a year and a half ago about hurtling towards a cosmic finish line. And I hope all of you feel good about it, too! Some people are oddly comforted by thoughts of finality, and regard a reality where we define our own limits as overwhelming. Personally, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Asymmetry, Asymmetry, How Lovely Are Thy Branches

Basically, I am the worst, in that I have this carefully cultivated persona of someone who is eternally at ease, blessed out on the notion of going with the flow, and overjoyed by the constant surprises that life in all its messiness constantly provides. But underneath that, I have an abundance of strong opinions and preferences and I am always trying to make sure that things go the way that I want them to, so long as my efforts remain essentially undetectable, and when I fail I can just play it off as never having been a big deal to me one way or the other in the first place. I like to think that I draw the line well before the outright manipulation of people, per se, but manipulating outcomes falls in more of a gray area. And when it comes to controlling physical things, I yield to temptation often enough that I don’t really think I have anyone fooled there. People who know me, or especially have been to my house (and all through the parts of my house that are expressly mine) know that I’m a collector, cataloguer and curator with an unmistakable obsessive streak.

The intersection of this not-so-proud aspect of myself and the Christmas season probably comes into focus most around the old tannenbaum. The end of year holiday celebrations do genuinely put me in a good mood and I find myself more tolerant than usual of certain annoying things (e.g., I can listen to the Christmas music FM station for hours on end and even the cheesiest and corniest of offerings do not put me off) and completely, sincerely enthused about more positive things, including shopping for and decorating the tree. But, oh man, do I have some starkly defined standards in my heart of hearts for said tree.

It’s the expected stuff for the arboreal specimen itself: it has to be real, fresh, compact needles, dense branches, nice isosceles shape, all that. The massive control freak in me peeks out more when it comes to hanging the lights and ornaments, because those have to be JUST. SO. It’s not so much the character of the ornaments themselves. Survey the collection my wife and I have amassed and you will find cheap ones of Styrofoam and glitter that were literally bought by the dozen and get stored loose in a shoebox, and you’ll find exquisite blown-glass ones that have their own individual impact-resistant sheaths; you’ll find quirky, kitschy ones and classic, understated ones; you’ll find handmade and homemade and Hallmark. But given all of that, there’s a certain method of placing them on the tree that my brain insists is the only proper way to go about it. Every ornament needs to hang from a bough by a string or a hook such that it’s suspended magically in space, without leaning on a branch beside it or resting on a branch underneath, and if it has a front and a back the front must be facing outwards (obviously). And the distribution needs to be well-spaced, so that none of the identical snowmen (or of-a-kind jungle animals or matching snowflakes &c.) are too close to one another, and if the Mario Lemieux figurine is in the upper right quadrant of the tree then maybe the similarly-sized Troy Polamalu figurine should be, not exactly opposite, but at least generally in the lower left area. And so on. I admit it: every year my wife and I decorate the tree together, and every year I make minor adjustments to the placement of the ornaments she hangs, both while we are co-trimming and pretty much every time I walk past the tree for the rest of the month (including re-hanging some of the ones I originally hung, as well, because once you move one ornament it can throw off the balance for a whole swath of the bigger evergreen picture).

Except, guess what? I think this year is the year that finally broke me of the habit. Partly because we got off to a bit of a rough start, with the discovery that many of our trusty old strings of lights were completely non-functional, coupled with the realization that they do not make incandescent tree lights anymore, and the new LED kind don’t mesh visually with the old ones. (The plan currently is to buy several strands of LED lights during the post-Christmas sales and embrace the future going forward … just, you know, not now.) So the lights on the tree are not perfect, totally fine but not the ideal swirling rainbow galaxy I would have aimed for. But far more impactful, as always, are all of our various dependents. The younger cats love playing with the ornaments they can reach, and swat them off their perches pretty easily. The dogs continue to show no restraint whatsoever about wagging their tails when walking past the Christmas tree. And of course both the little guy and the little girl love messing with the Christmas decorations. To be fair, they do all look like little glittery toys. The little guy has also shown his own little obsessive tendencies, for instance gathering up three or four or five snowmen or jungle animals and re-hanging them all together off the same branch, like a yuletide bunch of bananas. (Which of course is the diametric opposite of my own compulsion, and no, the irony is not lost on me at all.)

For about a hot minute I actually entertained the idea of actively combating the entropy, and fixing what the kids and pets had (un)done to the tree every time I wandered within arm’s reach, or maybe at least once a day. But ultimately I decided against that. Let this be the year that the family Christmas tree is a bit on the wild and unruly side, with reasonably well-apportioned decorations on the upper half and a chaotic mix of bare branches and clumps of ornaments and askew strings of lights on the lower half, plus a good number of the cheaper (disposable) ornaments scattered on the floor underneath. I have a sneaking suspicion that there’s a metaphor somewhere amidst all that, too.

P.S. This is tangentially related at best, but I have to make sure I mention as Christmas approaches that we have a nativity scene advent calendar in the kitchen, and the little guy adds a shepherd or farm animal to it every day. He has also rather insistently added an American flag to the manger, waving proudly above the palm trees. I think there’s another metaphor about raising children in the South in there, to boot. But maybe that’s just me.

P.P.S. OK not so much a metaphor as just an easy joke.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Weird time well spent (Mulholland Drive)

So a little while ago my wife asked me what movies from Netflix were currently in the house, and I mentioned that David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive was in one of the red envelopes. This prompted a little bit more questioning from my wife, because the title rang a bell but she wasn’t sure why, so I filled her in a little bit although I was going into the movie mostly unspoiled myself. The upshot was that when I was done she said, “You know, I’d kind of like to see that, too.” And I was only too happy to oblige her, because it’s rare that we sit down together to watch a movie at home (not to mention the fact that I knew Mulholland Drive contained a certain amount of adult-oriented visual content which, as always, I’d be reluctant to force upon my fellow commuters if I watched the film on the train).

Thus, on a weekend night after the kids had been put to bed, we watched Mulholland Drive. We managed to make it through the whole movie in one, uninterrupted sitting, too (which is not always a given) and although we traded a few observations back and forth, mostly we were both just kind of entranced for the duration. (We had lowered the lights and everything.) Not necessarily entranced by the movie, mind you, but quite possibly entranced by the mental activity of trying to parse the movie as it went along, which was by no means easy.

The reasons why my wife and I rarely sit down and watch movies together in our den are mostly logistical: we both work, and we both share responsibility for housework and shopping and child-minding and all that, so we have very little downtime, and very little of that comes along in great big contiguous chunks. It’s much easier to flip around on cable and watch things that begin and end inside a half an hour, and also don’t require great concentration, so that we can be simultaneously catching up on each other’s day, and/or paying bills, and/or indulging in online forum surfing, and/or shuffling loads of laundry, &c. And frankly even when we do have two or three unstructured hours ahead of us, sometimes the weariness brought on by jobs, housework and beloved-yet-maniacal offspring leaves one or both of us too mentally drained at the end of the day to focus on anything more challenging than reality tv competitions. And I’m saying “we” a lot, but there are some fundamental differences at play, too. My wife is pregnant, and that’s draining on a whole ‘nother level. She also has the more demanding job(s) and is more prone to finishing a shift overwhelmed, whereas I’m more likely to be bored at work and look forward to the mental stimulation of a feature film (or graphic novel or whatever) on both ends of my commute to give me a reason to get out of bed in the morning.

So I might be more inclined to watch more movies at home, while my wife has entirely valid reasons for giving that idea a pass. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t both enjoy putting our focus on challenging things. My wife is smarter than I am, and has the soul of a humanities major, and all things being equal I know she would derive a great amount of pleasure interpreting puzzlebox movies on a regular basis.

I’m going on and on about all this at length rather than discussing any of the intricate details of Mulholland Drive because, to a certain extent, even though I’ve now seen Mulholland drive, I’m not really prepared to talk about it. As the movie ended, my wife’s initial reaction was something along the lines of “Seriously?” And I knew what she meant, as the film revolves around multiple mysteries and does not remotely spoon-feed the audience a solution at the end which will make everyone go “Aha!” as all the pieces click into place. If anything, it seems to defy the notion of those mysteries being solvable. I suggested to my wife that it might be one of those movies that you need to see more than once in order to fully appreciate what it’s doing and what it’s all about. I hesitantly suggested this, you must understand, because of course I always carry around this small but significant amount of guilt about everything above, how I have a relatively leisurely life with my cakewalk job and my constant consumption of pop entertainment on a daily basis, and so when an opportunity arises for my wife to watch a movie with me I should take care to make sure she at least enjoys the experience of indulging me. At any rate, my wife acknowledged that I was probably right, but she also immediately declared that she was not going to be watching Mulholland Drive again anytime soon, or possibly ever again. It was just too much. Given that one point near the end a miniature giggling elderly couple walks under the bottom of a door and right into someone’s freak-out, flat refusal to go through all that again struck me as hard to argue with.

Ah, but here is one of the many reasons why I love my wife: we kept talking about the movie and what little meaning we were each able to glean from it. And then within a few minutes my wife had her smartphone out and was looking for further reviews and analyses. And we talked about it some more. And by the next morning, my wife had changed her tune completely, saying that she definitely did want to see the movie again someday. There are people who would have that reaction to challenging pop art, and people who would not, and I really am grateful that my wife is the first kind of person.

Mulholland Drive is surreal in almost every aspect: its narrative structure, its visuals, its performances. I think that last one is especially important to note; I thought Naomi Watts was laying it on a bit extra-thick in the early going, and only much later in the film did I realize that yes, she was, but intentionally so. As I’ve already said, I believe it is a movie that rewards multiple viewings, but at the same time I think it’s a movie which should be seen for the first time with open eyes and few if any preconceived notions. So that’s another reason why I’m posting about watching the movie and reacting to the movie much more than I’m posting about the movie itself. I think that’s largely the point, to watch it and then go back over it in your mind. Or, even better, out loud, so see it with a friend and then try to determine if they had the same viewer experience you did.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

No contest

So 2012 has been a somewhat forgettable football season all around, as these things go. I haven’t weighed in on it much, as you may or may not have noticed, and I may very well not weigh in on it again unless the playoffs turn out to be amazing. But I figured I could give at least one quick nod to it before it’s all over.

From the fannish side, there have been a pair of middling-at-best campaigns mounted in Pittsburgh and New York (New Jersey) this year for my wife and I to ostensibly cheer on. The Steelers are 7 and 7, the Giants are 8 and 6, but they’ve both been struggling lately, banged up, in freefall, however you want to characterize it. Technically both teams are still in the hunt, as the sports pundits like to say, but it seems less and less likely that either will make good on those possibilities. This may just not be their year, in either case. My wife and I are both reasonably ok with that. I’ve talked before about how statistically unlikely it’s been that one or the other of us has had a legitimate rooting interest in the Super Bowl more of the Februaries we’ve been together than not, and the other day my wife and I were discussing how, frankly, it can be exhausting. We agreed that it would be refreshing and enjoyable to go to a Super Bowl party this winter where we honestly had no emotional investment in the outcome and we could merely enjoy the food, laugh at the commercials, and appreciate the back and forth of a hard-fought game without our heart in our throat. I acknowledge that may sound a bit like sour grapes, but there’s really no self-deception involved. Just reading the writing on the wall and not only not being terribly put out about it, but (at least partly) relieved.

Ooooh, symbolic and artsy.

Meanwhile, on the gambling side, the football pick’em pool has been a lackluster enterprise, as well. My wife simply has not been feeling it, due to the distractions of being pregnant and changing jobs, along with the quirks of an online system that requires setting all the week’s picks up online before the first Thursday night game each weekend (you can always go back on Friday, Saturday or early Sunday morning to switch the non-Thursday picks based on changing situations, but still). There have been a couple of weeks where my wife simply did not submit her picks at all, and that has dragged down her overall score for the season, which creates a vicious feedback loop wherein it’s hard to be motivated to do your Week 13 or 14 picks when you’re so far behind in the overall standings. I, on the other hand, have dutifully submitted my picks every week, but I got clobbered more than once, a couple of weeks where I only managed to pick 5 games correctly and one improbable week where I only got 3 correct. The rest of the season I’ve been utterly unremarkable, getting 7 or 8 or 9 right. I’m currently in a 3-way tie for 21st place out of 35 people. (Or arguably 32 people who submitted picks every single week; in addition to my wife, my cousin skipped doing her picks a few weeks as well, and one of the alleged members of the pool has nothing but 0’s across the board for all 15 weeks.)

I can, however, happily report that my sainted grandmother is still at it, and in fact she won Week 15 with 12 games picked correctly AND the closest guess to the total MNF points. So there’s a bright spot.

But as I’ve alluded to before sometimes it feels like football is kind of slipping outside of our sphere of awareness anyway, in no small part due to our kids, who usually keep us way too busy to devote three or four (or six or nine) hours every Sunday to doing anything that isn’t centered on keeping them amused and out of trouble. We’ve been gradually giving up on the idea that we can all just sit on the couch and watch football together, mostly because of the little guy. He often protests that football is boring (and, to be fair, sometimes he’s right) and when that’s not happening, he’s very likely to be getting unacceptably riled up by the Dolby-mic’ed, Hi-Def contact sport playing out before his eyes. As of the next season opener we’ll have three offspring under the age of five, so we might be on a bit of an NFL hiatus by then, and come back to it some time around 2018 or so. If anybody wants some action on the over/under for expansion teams or relocations between now and then, just let me know.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Words fail

(Yeeaaahhhhhhh this one gets a little heavy, folks. In light of recent events it's probably not shocking that everyone's a little sadder than usual, but fair warning, if you came here looking for a little wacky escapism of the kind I usually supply, today is not your day. Tomorrow, maybe.)

I was hopping like crazy at work last week, the result of which was about as positive an outcome as I could have hoped for (notwithstanding the fact that some of the frenzied activity was my own dang fault as I had to clean up a mess or two I had unwittingly caused) but I can’t really get into a detailed blow-by-blow about the experience because most of it concerns security protocols that I probably shouldn’t be blabbing about online. Suffice to say I was busy last week but I expect things between now and the holidays to be markedly quieter.

Maybe just as well, since with work-stories struck from the list of potential post material, I can devote today’s post to other things; I can pivot from things I shouldn’t talk about, even though I kind of want to, to things I don’t want to talk about at all, but maybe I should.

I was finishing up my Friday post just when the news was breaking from Sandy Hook Elementary. I was so stunned I’m pretty sure I went immediately into denial, not only because of the horror of what was happening but because of the where. Newtown is where my father, step-mother, brother and sister live now, where my aunts and uncles and cousins have lived for decades. My sister was a student at Sandy Hook five years ago. I was just visiting my dad’s house in Newtown, with my family, back in July. My wife called me in a minor panic, fearing the worst, and I immediately assured her that everyone we knew was fine. Partly I was confident doing that because there was no reason to think any of my family would be at the elementary school on random Friday morning, and partly because my brain was elementally incapable of countenancing any other possibility.

I did eventually get hold of my dad and confirm that everyone was all right. Except, of course, not everyone was all right; maybe my family's physical safety was never endangered, but everyone was shaken, and that of course pales in comparison to the worst of the worst. Part of my initial denial was a belief that the very earliest reports would turn out to be exaggerated and overblown, that even if many people had been shot not all the injuries would be serious and maybe most if not all would survive. But as the afternoon wore on obviously those hopes were extinguished by reality, and by the time I was on the phone with my dad there was just raw shock and hurt, trying and not particularly succeeding to understand how this could happen, at all, in the community my extended family calls home, in the world we all live in.

I thought about blogging in some fashion about the shootings on Saturday, but I didn’t, thought about it again on Sunday, and didn’t again. It should be pretty self-evident that I’m vastly more comfortable blogging about really silly, inconsequential nonsense I take a personal interest than about matters of great depth and import that affect us all. I don’t know what I could say about the shooting that would be worth the time it would take for me to type or you to read. I can come out strongly against the murder of innocent little children but I would also like to believe that such a stance more or less can be assumed without fanfare. I can say that my heart breaks for everyone who lost loved ones on Friday, especially the parents who grieve for sons and daughters not much older than my own children.

That’s one part that’s so hard to reckon with when I try to put something into words. It’s the nature of my thought process, maybe the nature of writing itself, to relate things to my own frame of reference. I can’t help it. I can’t think about the mothers and fathers of Newtown without wondering how I would feel if my son were taken from me violently and without warning. The wondering doesn’t get very far at all before my brain slams down impregnable steel doors and says, “No, no, absolutely not, not even hypothetically, do not torture yourself with something guaranteed to drive you screaming directly out of your mind.” But even so, I feel like it’s unfair to dwell even for a second on my own feelings, when I have the luxury of imagining something that is all too real for others. If I write about anything, I should write about the survivors. But I can’t write about something I don’t understand, and I don’t have the first clue how to comprehend either what happened on Friday or what is supposed to happen now for those who have no choice but to go on.

And yet. To say absolutely nothing, to go on blogging about books and movies and football and pets and getting ready for Christmas and jumping through social and professional hoops at work, just feels wrong. It feels petty, as if I could not care less about even acknowledging that a deeply disturbing tragedy just occurred. It’s tempting all the same, because as I’ve already said, if I resolve to say something I’m at a loss as to what I’m supposed to say. There’s no international charity I can link to for pledging to relief efforts, no political movement I can urge people to support to guarantee this never happens again, no profound life lesson I wish everyone would draw from the collective experience. I’ve spent just about all of my life looking for bright sides and silver linings but I don’t expect to be able to pull one out here.

There’s an old line that often echoes in my head: sometimes it just feels good to be human. In context it’s a reference to acting with compassion even when it might be more materially beneficial to do the opposite, especially for someone who is rarely compassionate at all, for whom embracing the things that unite us all is a costly luxury. I don’t believe I’ve ever considered the flipside of that philosophy before, the notion that sometimes it feels terrible to be human, sometimes compassion and a sense of unity brings with it overwhelming pain and sadness. Clearly right now that is very true. But above and beyond how it feels, good or bad, I can never doubt that it’s important to be human. And that’s about all I can manage to wrap my head around right now. Both on behalf of those most deeply affected by it, and for my own sake, I’m devastated by the tragedy visited on Newtown, CT. That is, and should be, completely unremarkable, because you can’t call yourself a human being and not feel the same way. And I judge it better to stand up and be human and say so in this moment than to say anything else, or to say nothing at all.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Week in Queen (Conclusion)

I only heard one Queen song in the entire past week ("Somebody to Love" on 102.7 Jack FM, about 8:35 pm on Monday as I headed out to Target to buy more lights for the Christmas tree) which might be attributable to any number of things. Certainly one factor was changing the station on the sleep-aiding clock radio in the little girl's room, to an adult contempo station that basically never plays anything by Mr. Mercury's crew. There's also the reasonable expectation that some weeks are going to be well above average just as others are well below; you sit down at the roulette table betting on black enough times, sooner or later you're going to see it come up red ten times in a row. Plus there's the inevitable Christmas creep in this second full week of December, with the holiday music stations on both the commercial band and the satellite radio getting a lot of airings in our home and cars. But I also have to allow for the possibility that the universe is trying to tell me something about retiring this bit before it wears out its welcome (too late?) and who am I to argue?

So, ultimately and at the very least, I think I proved that I'm not crazy for thinking that I hear a lot of Queen without actively seeking it out. Maybe not every single day, but four or five times a week clearly qualifies as "a lot". (I also, in the process of paying close attention to the songs in the background for a month and a half, unscientifically determined that Billy idol and ZZ Top get ludicrous amounts of airplay as well.) And, as I think I've demonstrated in these posts, Queen deserves to be remembered and re-played because they made some great music. Maybe not life- or landscape-altering, but pretty great.

And in the course of this mini-project, I did a fair amount of research in the interest of fact-checking myself, and I did learn a few things. That always retroactively justifies energy expended as far as I'm concerned. As a parting example, and to bring things full-circle with the "Christmas creep" comment above, I updated my Christmas iPod playlist this weekend, and I added "Thank God It's Christmas" by Queen. This of course doesn't count as just happening to hear a Queen song, as I deliberately sought it out, but I'm not sure I would have done that if I hadn't been so highly focused on the band's legacy lately, which put "Thank God It's Christmas" on my radar screen.

So now I can go back to only half-listening to the radio and not have to stress about illuminating the various facets of Queen's discography with 500 new words a week through the holidays. But it was fun to have a specifically musical theme to keep up with for a while there, so I wouldn't rule out the possibility of something similar coming into rotation in the new year. We shall see!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Ultimately, it's all trivial

I know I say it often enough that it has lost whatever explanatory punch it may have once possessed, but this has been a bit of a week. Yesterday I had a doctor’s appointment which was just early enough in the afternoon that the earliest VRE homeward still would have gotten me there too late, so I rode the Metro, carpooling on 66 both ways with my wife. Of course we had to drop off the kids at daycare in the morning, whereas usually I get gone before they are ready to go (sometimes before they’re awake), and that delayed my arrival. Combined with early departure, that made for a pretty short day. The day before yesterday was my office holiday party, basically a three and a half hour lunch that abridged my daily desktime pretty significantly. The nights this week haven’t been incredibly out-of-control, but throw in some attempts at getting Christmas shopping done here and a bedtime tantrum there and, well, here we are.

But before we move on I do want to provide my annual report on the work party. It was in many ways virtually identical to last year’s; the price of admission had gone up a couple bucks, but the bar was still cash, and the yankee gift swap was still awkward enough that I was glad to have opted out, and otherwise the same obligatory level of merriment was had by all. I should note that one of the lamer gifts in the swap pile turned out to be a large bottle of Listerine, which is one of those things that makes you wonder if the responsible party was trying to be subversively hilarious or simply forgot about the gift swap until the morning of and ran down to the overpriced local convenience store intent on spending $10 as quickly as possible. In any case, Ms. Nonsense was the unlucky sap who unwrapped the Listerine, and although she tried (obnoxiously) to entice others to steal it from her of course she was stuck with it. I am a terrible person, and therefore this all amused me tremendously.

This year the mid-meal diversion was a trivia contest (along the lines of a pub challenge, with each table working as a team) and my table won, but the only prize for that was bragging rights. Presumably this was to avoid any acrimony over the fact that it would have been all too easy to cheat with smartphones and whatnot, although I assure you my table did no such thing. What I found most interesting was that the trivia questions were very much in line with the official DoD policy requiring our gathering to be a holiday party and not explicitly a Christmas party, and thus there were Hanukkah and Kwanzaa questions in the mix as well. Of course this was somewhat undermined by the fact that the member of the organizing committee who read the questions aloud was utterly incapable of pronouncing “dreidel” correctly, but as token efforts at diversity go, I suppose it could have been worse.

I ended up sitting at a table which was only half-full (yet all dudes), between a slightly-older-than-me co-worker whom I’ve known since I came onboard this contract, and who is a really nice guy (let’s call him Frank), and another co-worker (I dub him Melvin) who I guess is about my age but with whom I’ve never really interacted. And I doubt I will do so much by choice ever again. As always, life among the cubicles tends to represent the highest incidence of contact with annoying individuals, as we all have very little control over whom our co-workers may be and furthermore are likely to have little if anything in common with them beyond cashing paychecks with the same signature on them. But Melvin happens to represent one of my higher-ranking pet peeves: the nerd who is bad at being a nerd.

Since it’s Friday anyway, allow me to relate a Random Anecdote from my college days. Way back in my freshman year, the dorms were not wired for internet access (actually that was true for all four years I was there) and in order to check one’s school-assigned e-mail one had to go to a designated computer lab, where there were anywhere between eight and a couple dozen public terminals. One day I had gone to a lab and while I was there two other students struck up a conversation about (I know this sounds like something straight out of bad sitcom writing 101 but I swear to Lucas and Roddenberry it happened totally organically) Star Wars versus Star Trek space battles. And one of my fellow students kept repeating what he considered an important point about trans-spatial something-or-others but he was pronouncing it ‘SPAT-ee-ull’. And to give his interlocutor full credit, he nodded along the first few times but finally was compelled to say “You know it’s pronounced ‘spay-shull’, right?”

So here’s the thing: if you’re going to carry on long, loud, animated conversations in public about imaginary technology and cross-fictional hypothetical showdowns, you’re totally owning the fact that you’re a nerd. And, more likely than not, a nerd who is bad at fitting in to non-nerd situations, which is not all that uncommon. Perhaps due to that commonness, it’s also not that annoying (to me). But if you’re going to do all of the above and yet get things wrong, facts or definitions or basic pronunciations, then you are still very much a nerd but good grief, you are not even very good at that. And those kinds of nerds are rare, but they do in fact exist, and fnord help me but they test my patience.

So, getting back to my unfortunate companion at the holiday party Melvin, for whom a certain social awkwardness and clueless arrogance were his long suits, while little things like accurate facts, correct definitions, and proper pronunciation were in shorter supply. Also, he was bad with names. Frank and I got to talking about movies at one point and that ended up being the focus of much of our conversation. Melvin participated in the conversation as well but inevitably lowered the discourse quite a bit. At one point Frank told a story about how recently he was talking to a much younger colleague and asked her if she knew who Cary Grant was, and she said “The British pop singer?” meaning of course Carrie Grant. The existence of the elder statesman of American cinema was not something of which the young lady was aware, and Frank and I chuckled a bit about kids today, and how they have these knowledge gaps concerning someone who was once considered one of the biggest leading man movie stars in the world. To which Melvin added, “And greatest dancers, ever!” which threw me and Frank for a loop until we realized he was thinking of Fred Astaire. That might have just rolled off my back except it was just the tip of the iceberg.

The crazy thing was that Frank really wanted to talk about the AFI Top 100 list of movies and how many movies that are considered classics were made back in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s and how few recent films are revered the same way. Of course after the year I’ve spent digging deep into the classic canon of cinema I was really in a good position to comment on just about any movie Frank might bring up, which just made Melvin’s off-point bloviating all the more painful. At one point Melvin asked if a certain director had made Reservoir Dogs - I wish I could remember who Melvin named, but obviously he did not come up with Quentin Tarantino. I admit I can be an arrogant nerd myself, and I’ve kind of been that way since I was about ten years old, but Melvin reminded me of why I am the way I am. I may rant and rave to excess, often about arcane stuff very few other people care about, but at least when I do so I get the details right. And that is not universally true of those who talk as much or as obscurely as I do.

At a certain point I stopped correcting Melvin when he would whiff on actor’s names or movie titles or whathaveyou, and left things in Frank’s hands, as he would either catch the gist and help Melvin get back on track, or shrug and move on. And then (possibly apropos of nothing as my mind was wandering) Melvin asked Frank if he had ever heard of “rickrolling”. I was dead certain that Frank was just old enough to be firmly outside the demographics who would possibly be familiar with the term, and I turned out to be right. So Melvin proceeded to explain it to him. Except …

OK, first of all, Melvin tried introducing the concept by saying it was a meme. BUT HE MISPRONOUNCED “MEME”. He pronounced it as if it were French. Hey, I took French in high school, too. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose, non? I can see the source of confusion, but really it’s just a coincidence and how can you never have heard someone say “meem” out loud? So, strike one. Then, of course, he could not come up with Rick Astley’s name. At least he was paying enough attention to know that rickrolling must involve Rick somebody, and then Frank thought he meant Ric Ocasek, and Melvin said “Yes!” and Frank said “From The Cars!” and Melvin said “No!” while I sat between them and squeezed my eyes trying to make my head not explode. And then Melvin explained that Rick Whoever had once recorded a song with Eric Idle … no, hold on, Melvin corrected himself, it was Billy Idol (you guys, I SWEAR I am not embellishing this in the slightest) and so rickrolling was sharing this old video of the duet between Rick and Billy.

Rickrolling. From Wikipedia. Wherein you may see that there is both a little more to it than that, and that it in no way involves Billy Idol (or Eric Idle), a purely extraneous and bizarrely wrong addition on Melvin’s part. Maybe someday Frank will look it up for himself out of curiosity. Probably not. I also realized it was trivial enough to let it pass without comment at the time, although obviously it’s still a bit of a burr in my brain.

Plenty of things can set my eyes to rotating in deeply aggrieved orbits, but one thing I furiously loathe is anti-intellectualism, and anyone who thinks book learnin’ ain’t all that or similar. And I think that’s why nerds like Melvin get under my skin so, so badly: because they help to make the anti-intellectuals’ case. If all you ever do is read, with minimal social interaction and conversation, then yeah, maybe you have never heard another human being say “meme” out loud, and you have only your own narrow interpretations to go on, and when you do inevitable come in contact with fellow Earthlings it will be an uphill struggle to communicate and relate. I would never suggest that books can completely replace life experience, any more than I would suggest the opposite. They complement one another, and either in isolation has deficiencies. Everyone would be better off pursuing both the received wisdom of recorded knowledge and the unique sensations of first-hand perception as much as they possibly can. Even knowing that, I’m partial to the former and tend to struggle more with the latter, and I’m protective of the former as well. People who embody the worst aspects of the life of the mind, the failings without the redeeming qualities, they just give me more to be defensive about. I think the general holiday cheer helped me keep calm enough to spare Melvin a major bile-spitting “You are the worst!” tirade. Another Christmas miracle!

Then again, this year broke my door-prize winning streak at these office parties, so maybe karma had something to do with repaying my less-than-kind thoughts of indignant superiority, as well. It’s a mysterious universe we live in.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Bad case of the you-know-whats

You would think after my dunderheaded adventures in losing and finding my VRE ticket last week that I would have been galvanized to make sure every element of my kit was good to go on Monday morning. But sadly you would have overestimated me.

Over the course of the weekend I managed to forget that on Friday I had worn my heavy winter coat to work. Most likely this slipped my mind due to the fact that the weekend weather was so unseasonably mild, which, don’t get me wrong, was a boon that allowed me to hang the outside Christmas lights on the house easily enough. But that same mild weather was still in effect early Monday morning, and thus I reached for the same light jacket I had been using Saturday and Sunday. And thus the badge which grants me access to the building remained in the inner pocket of my heavy winter coat, at home, as I made my way in to the Big Gray.

So I slapped my forehead when I got to the front door and reported to the security office, surrendered my driver’s license as collateral, and got a temporary visitor pass. At that point I required an escort, but as luck (or my poor planning skills) would have it again, my cell phone battery was completely dead. Therefore I could not call any of my co-workers to come down to play minder for me, because even if I had asked to borrow the phone in the security office, I don’t have any of my co-worker’s numbers memorized since they are stored on my phone. Instead I simply assumed sooner or later I would recognize someone coming into the lobby where I was cooling my heels, and fortunately, one of my co-workers walked into the building about five minutes later, so that worked about as well as I could have hoped.

So I spent eight hours at my desk, technically forbidden from wandering outside of the office suite unaccompanied (also logistically, as the suite doors would have locked behind me if I had left and only a badge can swipe them open). Luckily I had brought my lunch. I also had brought my phone charger, as usual, so I got through the day and got things back on track as best I could.

Until the end of the day, of course. The co-worker who had escorted me up had assured me I should let her know if I needed anything else throughout the day, and since I didn’t take her up on it at any other point I felt only slightly abashed asking if she could escort me back down to the lobby. She agreed and we left the suite, got an elevator, rode as it stopped on almost every floor, and finally hit ground level … at which point I realized I had left my cell phone connected to the charger on my desk. Somehow I managed to convey this to my co-worker without spontaneously combusting in shame, and to her credit she just laughed at me and escorted me back upstairs so that I could grab my phone, then escorted me back downstairs again, when we were finally able to part ways.

I really don’t understand what the difference is between having my badge on my person and being allowed to move around the building of my own solo volition. I know that such a thing as visitor badges with No Escort Required exist, but I don’t understand why that isn’t the default provision for people who work in the building every single day and happen to forget their badge once in a blue moon. With a visitor badge I still wouldn’t be able to unlock the suite door but at least at the end of the day I’d be allowed to show myself out without interrupting anyone else. You would think they could keep a computerized record of who works in the building and has a badge issued in their name and look people up when they forget their badges and give them hall-pass privileges, but no. In fact the sign-in/sign-out process for the visitor badges literally involves a pen and sheets of paper on a clipboard. I suppose it’s just not enough of a priority to get any bleeding-edge upgrades.

Anyway, you would think that with no recourse to physically wander off I would have had plenty of time yesterday to blog, but didn’t I lead this whole thing off puncturing the value of “you would think”s? This is just going to be a wobbly week (tomorrow is the office Christmas party) and the blog is going to reflect that. When things get back to mostly normal (I did manage to remember everything I needed today, at least) you’ll be the first to know.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Week in Queen (6)

There’s a profound amount of overlap between Queen’s discography and Hollywood movies. This shouldn’t be particularly surprising, given Queen’s inherent theatricality, but it’s widespread enough to be noteworthy (or at least as noteworthy as the frequency with which I still hear Queen songs on the radio and other accidental sources to this day). The overt connections include music which Queen wrote specifically for certain movies, multiple songs for the original Highlander film and basically the entire soundtrack for Flash Gordon. On the one had the existence of the Queen Flash Gordon score makes me wonder why the trend of allowing elite rock bands to compose the backing tracks for films, especially action sci-fi films, never quite caught on; on the other hand, Flash Gordon as rendered by Queen might have simply been lightning in a bottle.

And then there’s the occasional song here and there co-opted as part of a film’s soundtrack, like “Bohemian Rhapsody” in Wayne’s World or “Don’t Stop Me Now” in Shaun of the Dead. Or, perhaps a little more obscure, “One Vision” in Iron Eagle. Wayne’s World was fortuitously timed to be pitched directly at me and my cohorts, since we were seniors in high school when the movie was released and both able and eager to drive around in one of my friend’s cars re-enacting the “Bohemian Rhapsody” sing-along headbanging scene. But Iron Eagle may have been even more of a perfect direct hit on our young minds and hearts, as it came out six years earlier; seventeen-year-olds may be impressionable fad-followers, but eleven-year-olds can tap into their own kind of unfettered crazy when something gets its hooks in them.

You may have never seen or even heard of Iron Eagle, so I will do my best to bring you all up to speed: it is a child’s wish fulfillment fantasy in the immediate wake of Top Gun mania. It is about a high school senior who is an Air Force brat, whose dad is shot down over a hostile Middle eastern country, and when the US Government makes it clear they are not going to risk an international incident, the son and his plucky fellow brats, along with one grizzled AF vet with a heart of gold, come up with a plan that involves sneaking around the base, obtaining classified information, falsifying flight plans, and getting the kid and the vet airborne in two armed-to-the-teeth F-15s to go rescue the dad before he is executed and give the Gulf bad guys a major black eye in the process. Cue explosions, rock and roll, and God Bless America. It also has a weirdly star-studded cast (including Lou Gossett Jr. as the grizzled vet). I haven’t watched Iron Eagle in decades but I would sit down for a viewing in a heartbeat if the occasion came up, even though I am positive the film is pretty terrible. I would probably even cheer along again.

“One Vision”, if I remember correctly, gets played through in its entirety in the movie, during a sequence where the high school senior, Doug, is using a flight/combat simulator on the base (it’s technically only for pilots but since he’s Colonel Masters’ son he gets to sneak in and use it whenever he wants). I distinctly remember (again, this was a 1986 flick) that Doug had a large Walkman and a Velcro belt he used to strap the tape player to his thigh while he was using the simulator, which to my sixth-grade eyes was totally badass. Doug hops in the simulator, fires up “One Vision”, goes through a mission program, and gets shot down right as the song reaches its final notes. The sequence, like the movie overall, is fairly dumb yet also an exhilarating thrill. And it burned the song into my brain, as did the video for the song on MTV, which of course made liberal use of footage from the movie, as those synergistic pairings used to work back in the day.

You’ll notice “One Vision” hasn’t appeared in any of my weekly trackings, and I doubt it ever will. It isn’t considered one of the everlasting hits, much as Iron Eagle has been relegated to the discount dvd bin of history. But I have a soft spot in my heart for it, from back when I was young enough to think that fighter pilot was the coolest job in the world, even though it was so simple any moderately industrious teenager could handle it.

And here's the week that was!

Monday: Borderline Queen-free? Gruden didn't namedrop his favorite song during the MNF broadcast, but at one point I could hear "We Will Rock You" echoing across FedEx Field. I suppose if I counted three seconds worth of a song heard before I swatted the snooze button last week, I can count a good ten to fifteen seconds here.

Tuesday, 7:00 am: "Fat Bottomed Girls" on 102.7 Jack FM as I was driving the kids to daycare.

Wednesday: Queen-free.

Thursday, 7:50 pm: "Fat Bottomed Girls" on Big 100 FM, heard through the wall playing in the little girl's bedroom as I was putting the little guy to bed. Also, about half an hour earlier as I was still in the little girl's room and settling her down with a little walkin' and rockin', Big 100 ran an ad for their next Live In Concert program for this coming Saturday night, with Queen as the headliner. The ad contained snippets of live versions of "We Will Rock You", "Another One Bites the Dust", "Bohemian Rhapsody", and "We Are the Champions" (in that order, lest you think I'm arbitrarily splitting up the natural "WWRY/WATC" pairing). I doubt I will tune in, personally, but I'm duly reporting the incident.

Friday, 4:50 pm: "Under Pressure" on 102.7 Jack FM as I drove home from the train station.

Saturday, 12:20 pm: "We Will Rock You"/"We Are the Champions" on Big 100 FM during the little girl's naptime.

Sunday: Queen-free.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Saturday Grab Bag Seventeen Shopping Days Left

It's been a while since I talked about the recommendation algorithms of websites, but of course I am still obsessed with it and think about it all the time. I had a phenomenal run-in with this particular instance of computer logic this week. Amazon alerted me to the availability (and indeed, the very existence) of the following product:

Feel free to check out the product listing yourself, but basically this is specialized equipment which you might find in a home bar. It's Heineken-emblazoned, and while I am fond of many different types and styles of beer, I don't particularly care for that brand. Which got me to wondering how exactly Amazon concluded it needed to get this in front of my eyeballs. Fortunately, Amazon is at least semi-transparent (translucent?) about these things, and when something is recommended you also get a link to information about the whys and wherefores, as well as the option to "Fix" the recommendation. (E.g. if Amazon keeps recommending Blake Shelton albums because you bought your aunt a Miranda Lambert album once, in spite of your personal distaste for "country" music, you can indicate that the purchase was a gift for someone else and not indicative of your own personal tastes. You probably already knew that, I just never fail to find that pretty nifty.)

So, curiosity piqued, I clicked on the Why? link and was informed that Amazon had based its recommendation off the fact that I had recently viewed a certain style of baby gate with built-in pet door. I hadn't even bought that gate (I think I got as far as adding it to my shopping cart, but later deleted it.) So, a reaction in three parts:

1. There is seemingly no more connection between a pet-doored baby gate and a set of beertender tubes than the connection between any two given products located by opening a catalog twice at random.

2. However, in my case, there's a fairly straight-line connection. We recently relocated the little guy's train table to the basement, which is also where my bar is set up. This has led directly to me working on organizing the bar a bit better, if only to make it easier to secure the whole thing against inquisitive little fingers. It has also led to some brainstorming about how to (a) let the little guy play by himself in the basement while (b) keeping his little sister (and soon enough his baby brother) from tumbling down the basement stairs after him while also (c) leaving the door open so that whichever grown-up is home/upstairs can hear if the little guy needs something while also (d) preventing the dogs from wandering downstairs and helping themselves to the litter boxes' contents while also (e) permitting the cats continuous access to said litter boxes. So, bar supplies and barriers which are sound/cat-permeable yet crawler/toddler/dog-proof? Yes, those thoughts have crossed my mind in close proximity to one another.

3. But how in the deepest data-mining hells did Amazon know that???

+++

I hate to put up a beer-labeled post where all I do is badmouth a certain variety, so I would also like to add that on Wednesday night this week, I had some friends over for gaming, and one of my buddies (who, full disclosure, has a professional association with the brewery in question) brought me some Starr Hill The Gift because he figured it was up my alley. Indeed it is! So, The Gift gets my Undiscerning-and-Cretinous-Palate Stamp of Approval.

+++

Speaking of gifts, on Tuesday night, in the absence of anything else remotely watchable on tv, my wife and I returned yet again to our Buffy the Vampire Slayer re-watch project. This may very qualify as egregious misuse of mental resources, but I do keep a bookmark in the back of my mind re: which episode we need to pick up with, and I was legitimately looking forward to our next spin of the dvd's because we were up to the episode The Wish, which not only introduces Anya the Vengeance Demon (one of my favorite characters) but also invokes an alternate reality (one of my favorite tropes). It occurred to me on the second watching that The Wish is really a dark and twisted version of It's a Wonderful Life (actually It's a Wonderful Life gets pretty dark, too, Christmas standard status notwithstanding), since the alternate reality hinges on the idea that Buffy never came to Sunnydale and thus the Master vampire began a reign of terror and indiscriminate feeding. Kinda like George never being born and Mr. Potter's subsequent reign of terror. Have I mentioned I love It's a Wonderful Life, too? The interesting wrinkle in The Wish is that it's not Buffy at the end of her rope who wishes herself out of the picture, it's Cordelia in a fit of pique. Perhaps in a separate post I can unpack the significance of that.

At any rate, my wife and I pressed on to the following episode, Amends, which actually is the Christmas episode from Season 3! I had no idea, and yet there we were watching the story of regrets and redemption and miraculous Christmas snowfall (which prevents Angel from being immolated at dawn since the sunrise is obscured), well within the comfort zone of appropriate Yuletide merriment. Maybe not a full-on Christmas miracle, but certainly a happy accident.

+++

And just as a follow-up, I can happily report that the little guy stayed up and watched the Grinch last night AND cajoled us into letting him watch it again this afternoon, on the logic that last night he had simply sat on the edge of the couch in rapt attention, and thus he needed a second viewing in which he could run around and act along with the story, exactly as Mickey's Clubhouse has taught him is de rigeur.

Friday, December 7, 2012

And then I found five bucks

OK, quick story about what a doofus I am.

Yesterday, shortly after I got to work, I visited the men’s room, the primary purpose of which I (correctly) estimated would take a few minutes. The secondary purpose was to continue reading the book which had been occupying my attention on the commute that morning, at least until I got to a chapter end or similarly suitable stopping point. (Reading at my desk would look like goofing off, whereas the men’s room affords a modicum of privacy.)

At one point, after both of my dual goals had been met, I set the book aside to have free use of my hands. And somehow I neglected to pick the book back up again, probably because my head was already starting to fill up with work-related tasks for the day ahead and a vague plan for managing all of them. It wasn’t until the end of the day that I even thought about the book again, as I was gathering up my things to leave. I couldn’t help but notice that the book was not sitting on my desk or tucked into my workbag, which was distressing for several reasons but foremost among them was the fact that I had used my monthly VRE pass as the bookmark in the book. Those suckers are not cheap, and since it was only the 6th of the month there was a lot of value still remaining on the ticket.

I generally wait until the last possible minute before I have to leave to catch my train, so I dashed for the men’s room and checked to see if the book was right where I vaguely remembered leaving it. It wasn’t, and with no time to look around more extensively I just headed out of the building and toward the train station. Fortunately, I have learned over the course of the past year and a half to carry a spare multi-ride ticket in my workbag, in case I ever find myself without my monthly pass. Usually that happens in the mornings rather than the evenings (if I’ve left my pass back at the house in the pocket of a different jacket or something) but at least I was able to get home yesterday evening without jumping (metaphorical) turnstiles.

When I got to work this morning I was able to look around a little more methodically for my mislaid book, but it stubbornly failed to appear anywhere. So I had to swallow my pride and explain what had happened to the office manager (so much for the privacy of the privy) and ask what the lost-and-found procedure was. Apparently, there isn’t one. But the office manager guessed that if anyone had found the book lying around unattended, they might have turned it in to one of the security officers for the floor. So I had to swallow my pride again and confess my absent-mindedness to yet another person, though I at least could avail myself of a little face-saving by inquiring about the matter via e-mail. My e-mail was answered immediately … by an Out of Office notification, as the head security officer is on leave until next Wednesday. So I had to swallow my pride YET AGAIN and forward my original statement of mental ineptitude to a third person. That e-mail was also immediately answered, but this time with a very straightforward “I have your book.” Turns out this security officer had picked up my book himself, not wanting one of the cleaning crew to assume it was abandoned like an old newspaper and just throw it away or something.

So, the story ends happily, if mortifyingly, I suppose. I imagine I’ll be a bit more attentive to my reading materials in the future.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Carrots, carrots, everywhere

Beebee the scout elf, as I’ve already reported, has been perched in various lookout spots since the beginning of the month, keeping his watchful unblinking eyes on the kids (mostly the little guy) in order to report back to Santa, a fact which my wife and I are not hesitant in the least to remind the little guy about when he’s being particularly obstinate (approx. 67% of the time). The little guy also, on a recent shopping excursion, somehow convinced us to buy him an oversized plastic candy cane filled with mini Reese’s Cups, and we acquiesced primarily with the understanding that he could have one chocolate per day, along with his bedtime story, and only if he were able to get through the rigors of the bathtime and bedtime rituals with a minimum of drama-trauma. And in addition to all that, the little guy is currently working on a sticker chart; every morning, if he gets dressed by himself (with implied minimum of d-t), he gets a sticker, and if he gets enough stickers he will get to stay up a little past his usual bedtime this Friday night and watch the animated How the Grinch Stole Christmas (on dvd, because CBS broadcast it the week after this year's super-early Thanksgiving and we totally missed it because it was November, come on, network execs, seriously).

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year, in other words: between Santa’s naughty-or-nice list and rationing of candy and once-a-year cartoon specials, we have no shortage of incentives for the little guy to do the things he’s supposed to do right when he’s supposed to do them. And apparently we need them in triple-force, because it has been a little tough lately. I can only speculate as to how it must feel to be four years old (no picnic in and of itself), still grappling with no longer being an only child, with a little sister who is rapidly becoming more and more assertive about her own opinions, and fully aware that yet another baby sibling is on the way. And it is almost Christmas! No wonder the little guy just seems to be teetering on the edge of a total freak-out some days; if anything I should be amazed he doesn’t lose it altogether more often.

Some days I think it’s getting better, and some days I think it’s getting worse (like the evening we all got tied up in logical knots because I had defused an extreme little guy meltdown the previous night with a “calmdown story” before the bath, while still allowing for a regular bedtime story after, and now 24 hours later the little guy was expecting to get a calmdown story every single night until the end of time, and finding out it didn’t work that way just sent him into a tantrum tailspin) and many, many days it feels like it’s harder than it’s supposed to be, although in my moments of clarity I’m usually dubious as to where exactly that supposed-to originates. (I suspect it’s someplace not entirely adjacent to reality.) I do believe, in my heart of hearts, that everything’s headed in the right direction in the long run. But then I think about surviving Christmas, followed a couple months later by bringing home the new baby, followed a couple months later by school-testing for the little guy to see if he’s ready for kindergarten, followed (I’m assuming) by actual kindergarten a couple months after that, and the potential opportunities for setbacks abound. Oddly enough my saving grace may be that my wife and I will be too busy and exhausted to overthink it much at that point, and whatever will be will be.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Back when Ice was cool (Three Kings)

1001 Movies Blog Club Time! (Although I’m a bit out-of-sync with the club, as it happens. This week’s assignment is a foreign film which I had planned on skipping, then curiosity got the better of me and I did some research on what the ambiguously-titled flick was about, and now I very much want to see it, but I won’t have a chance to watch and review it for another week or so. Meanwhile, back when the little girl was home sick last month I finally tested out streaming a movie on my Kindle during her naptime, and I chose something I knew the Club had on the upcoming viewing schedule, and so here I am getting some thoughts down before I forget them, although the rest of the Club won’t weigh in until late next week. Everybody got all that?)

David O. Russell’s Three Kings is a movie I can remember wanting to watch back when it was first released, way back in 1999. But it was yet another example of something I never quite managed to get around to, crowded out by other things vying for my attention over the years. The strange thing, though, is that the movie is just as relevant (if not moreso) close to a decade and a half on from its creation.

It’s fundamentally a heist movie, set against the backdrop of the immediate aftermath of Operation Desert Storm (or, if you prefer, the First Gulf War). I was finishing up high school around the time of Desert Storm, and I remember lots of crazily contradictory things about those days. I remember how surreal it was simply to have the U.S. engaged in a major military action for the first time in my life; the World Wars and Korea and Vietnam were events from history books that other people had lived through and no more real to me than the fictional conflicts in Orwell’s 1984. I remember my grandmother fretting excessively, after having made it through Vietnam without either of her sons being drafted, that one of her grandsons (me, most likely, since I was the oldest, but possibly my cousin or even my Little Bro if things dragged out long enough) would be called to service and never make it home. I remember being devastated in the way only a bleeding heart teenage idealist can be, because I was sure that a utopian war-free future was right around the corner for my generation, having learned the lessons our parents fought for in Vietnam, and yet here we were recapitulating bad mistakes.

Of course those are all impressions from the earliest days of Desert Storm, which ended up lasting a grand total of six weeks. In my mind, the soundtrack of mid-January 1991 is dominated by a heartbreakingly earnest cover version of “Give Peace a Chance” by Yoko and Sean and a who’s who of zeitgeisty pop stars and alt-rockers. A month and a half later, Vietnam no longer haunted the U.S. military, it was simply relegated to history, and a modern victory was being celebrated, and an old Vietnam protest song was replaced on the soundtrack by Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA.”

So how brilliant is it that Russell, working with eight years’ worth of hindsight, makes sure that his opening scenes of soldiers in Iraq partying in triumph includes those soldiers not just listening to but hollering wildly and unironically along with the words of “God Bless the USA”? It took me back to the early 90’s in a hurry, that’s for sure. And it captures a lot of the feeling of those times, the sense of wonder and almost disbelief: what had we been so afraid of all those years since Vietnam? We won a whole war in 42 days, and it was easy, with enemy soldiers surrendering without a fight because we totally outclassed them (and they were underequipped and starving)! We’re the supreme global superpower! What else should we do with this newfound sense of invincibility?

And the answer, in the case of Three Kings, is to grab some Kuwaiti gold, partly because the soldiers deserve it for liberating Kuwait in the first place, partly because they deserve it for overturning decades of American malaise, and partly because the post-war landscape is almost totally lawless and no one is there to stop them. Them, in this case, consists of George Clooney, Ice Cube, Mark Wahlberg and Spike Jonze, I should mention, all of whom are excellent throughout the whole film; I especially found Wahlberg’s portrayal of a young new father who just wants to do right by his wife and baby girl compelling (but anyone who reads this blog regularly/knows me at all should not find that even slightly surprising).

Unfortunately, as I mentioned, this is a heist movie, and heist movies are almost always about how the heist goes wrong. (Ocean’s Eleven being one of the major exceptions, and given Clooney’s presence in both that would make for one fascinating double feature.) The real strength of Three Kings lies in the manner in which the heist unravels, as the soldiers get drawn into the struggles of the rebels and refugees who oppose the regime of Saddam Hussein and are in for nothing but misery, torture and death once the U.S. Army evacs out of the area and the despot has no choice but to face-savingly reassert his vicious authority over his own people. Nowadays, of course, we are several years past the ultimate fallout from the decisions made around the time of Desert Storm, including fighting another Gulf War to settle the Hussein matter with more finality. I believe we still have a ways to go before history can judge either of the Gulf Wars; all I can say from personal experience was that my Little Bro ended up joining ROTC in college and serving in Iraqi Freedom and it felt unsettlingly full-circle (which did nothing to ameliorate the fact that when W. tried in his typical way, i.e. employing his dullard’s sense of humor, to justifying going after Hussein by saying “This guy tried to kill my dad” I was furious on my own blood relation’s behalf). But the fact that Russell, before the turn of the millennium, was probing at these questions of what happened in Iraq after we won the war but left the people of Iraq to fend for themselves, is a little bit mind-blowing.

I don’t think Three Kings is a perfect movie by any means. There’s a plot complication wherein Wahlberg gets captured by Republican Guard loyalists, and tortured by someone who monologues about how he was trained by U.S. forces and then further monologues about how his own infant son was killed by Allied bombing in the earliest parts of the coalition offensive. Wahlberg mouths some platitudes about how the U.S. did what it had to do for “stability” in the region and the torturer shoves a Michael Jackson CD jewel case in Wahlberg’s mouth, scoops some oil out of barrel (conveniently labeled OIL) and pours the oil down Wahlberg’s throat while growling “Here is your stability!” So that’s a bit heavy-handed and on the nose with the symbolism of cultural exports and fossil fuels and all, hilarious but I’m assuming unintentionally so. Also, the movie basically has a happy ending; one of the soldiers dies (which is all but demanded by the premise) but the others get honorably discharged after helping the refugees escape over the border, and the epilogue shows them enjoying happy lives back home in the states. It’s honestly hard to tell if the epilogue is supposed to be sincere or satirical; maybe it’s a bit of both.

Three Kings isn’t a fawning love letter to American military might, but it’s not a total condemnation, either. From start to finish, and especially during the tense standoff scene where the refugees may or may not make it out of the country, the recurring theme seems to be “U.S. soldiers will almost always do the right thing … eventually … but it often takes them right up until the very last possible moment to come through.” Not exactly “God Bless the USA” but that’s what makes Three Kings something still worth checking out today, as opposed to an embarrassingly kitschy artifact of another time.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Retroverload

This past weekend, or Sunday specifically, was quite the timewarp. The main objective of the day was getting out of the house on time to meet with our realtor by 10 a.m. at the old townhouse, which has been officially vacant since the last day of November and was going to be put on the market this week. All of those things (he cut to the chase) were successfully managed, somehow, and there was an undeniable nostalgia in heading back to the town that I called home for a solid seven years. We managed to bookend the property walkthrough with meals at a couple of our old haunts, the Dunkin Donuts in the shopping center behind our old neighborhood (where we used to obtain many a weekend breakfast), and a local deli in the same center. As we cut through the vast parking lot from the DD to the back approach to the townhouses, I made an offhand joke about how cutting through the shopping center was the route MapQuest used to default to when giving people directions to our place, which was absolutely true, and got a good belly laugh out of my wife via combination of the inherent humor and not having thought about it in ages.

The townhouse was where I lived when my wife and I got together and where we lived jointly when things got serious enough for a shared address. Its back patio was the spot where I proposed; its second bedroom was the little guy’s nursery when we brought him home from the hospital. There were a lot of sweet memories there, but those same recollections are in our hearts forever so it’s not all that difficult to let go of physical ownership (or heavily mortgaged claim) of their collective backdrop.

And the backdrop has seen better days, as you might expect after renting the place out for three years. Fortunately we didn’t find any gruesome surprises, just an above-average (if we do say so our-fastidious-selves) amount of ground-in grime and wear and tear. Not to mention the little guy’s old room repainted an in-your-face shade of puce. Ah well, the whole plan at this point is to short sell the townhouse as-is. It’s a solid piece of property in a reasonably good location listed below market value on one hand, and a bit of a fixer-upper that has to have any offer on it approved by the mortgaging bank (which could take any number of months) on the other. Hopefully it will all work out, and soon, and we’ll be left with just the pleasant mental associations, minus the monthly bleed of a superfluous house payment out of our budget. Fingers crossed!

Meanwhile, speaking of sites like MapQuest that almost nobody uses anymore, on Sunday night my wife and I put together an Evite for a holiday open house. We’ve hosted mainly intimate, informal gatherings for the past couple-few years, but we’re feeling like we’re in a good place now to handle more of a large-scale mingle once again. The funny part for me was opening up my Evite-specific address book and just kind of marveling at a snapshot of my social life circa I’m gonna say 2005 to 2007 or so. Some of the e-mail addresses belonged to boon companions with whom I still keep in touch regularly, and others were people whom I have drifted away from due to typical entropy and neglect on one or (usually) both sides. It was a lot like reading through the more heartful signatories of your senior yearbook, five or six years after you’ve graduated high school, gone to college, and more or less moved on with life; the strange part was having that experience in my late 30’s as opposed to my early 20’s. At any rate, I skipped inviting the people who had moved far away, but for a lot of the others who (I assume) still live in the area I figured there was no harm in clicking the Add icon. Sure, they may think it’s totally random to get an open house Evite from me after multiple years where I was incommunicado, but aren’t the holidays the best time for warm sentiments’ rekindling? Auld lang syne and all that? We shall see!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Festive festoonings

The building that I work in is remote from yet technically considered part of the Pentagon, much like Alaska and Hawaii are technically parts of the United States. There is a dedicated staff of security officers checking to make sure that no one gets more than a foot or so inside any of the doors without having proper identification and permission to enter. Those multiple doors include sidewalk-facing entrances on opposite sides of the building, and a side entrance that is accessible through a shops pavilion shared with a couple of other buildings connected at street level.

Of course, both the DoD building where I clock in every day and the retail space are fully decorated for Christmas by now, but it’s amusing (to me) how visibly the dividing line between the two areas manifests itself. Inside my office building, the evergreen wreaths and garlands are decked with red and white poinsettias and blue and gold ornaments, leaving absolutely no doubt as to the patriotic nature of our work. Just outside the pavilion door is a huge Christmas tree staged with presents underneath it, and the wrapping paper as well as the ornaments are all purple, green and gold (which obviously makes me think of Mardi Gras, a weird but not entirely bad thing).

The icing on the cake today is … literally icing, actually. When I went to heat up my lunch in the kitchenette’s microwave today I discovered the remains of a large (like, warehouse-store large) sheet cake: devil’s food cake, chocolate crème, chocolate buttercream frosting, and a giant American flag across the top. No explanation for its appearance was given, just a small post-it note exhorting everyone to “Pls eat!” (And under that, not kidding, the assurance “Good for breakfast!” indicating someone had dumped it on one of the eat-in tables first thing in the morning.)

So that’s life in the Big Gray-But-With-Lots-Of-Colorful-Seasonal-Accessories today. I am trying to get ahead on various work assignments today so that I will have plenty of time to babble about non-work topics later this week. So far so good, assuming I get back to it right now.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Week in Queen (5)

I grew up around vinyl records; my dad had a fairly good-sized collection he had accumulated through the years, lots of Beatles, Stones, the Who, Zeppelin, Jefferson Starship, Cat Stevens, the original Star Wars soundtrack … and those are just the ones that stand out in my mind. But the very first vinyl LP I ever owned was Chipmunk Punk. I was six years old, it was a gift, and I loved it. You may suspect this is a delusional false memory of childhood, retrofitted with my wacky pop culture sensibilities, but it was an actual thing:

The name of the album was a bit of a misnomer, though, especially as viewed through the retrospectoscope. The cover songs peformed by Alvin, Simon and Theodore were by such notable punk rockers as Linda Ronstadt, Billy Joel and Tom Petty. There were also versions of songs by The Cars, Blondie, multiple tracks originally recorded by The Knack, and “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” credited to one F. Mercury. Really, it was just a quickie cash-in on songs with available rights that were popular in 1980. “New wave” probably would have been a more apt label (though still not exactly right) but there’s always been a fair amount of both continuity and confusion between those two genres, and at the dawn of the 80’s they were indistinguishable. Plus, admittedly, “Chipmunk Punk” just has a nice ring to it.

If we zero in on the Queen track (which of course is why we’re here), it seems like an odd fit either way, neither punk nor new wave; if anything “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” is a throwback rockabilly number that borders on being a novelty piece. And Queen isn’t exactly a punk band, either. Defining labels is already a mug’s game at best, but I do believe that certain hallmarks of punk rock are essential, including the stripped down, rough-around-edges DIY sound that often resulted from the bands being far more interested in self-expression than technical proficiency. And since I’ve already staked out my opinion-turf on Queen being musically exacting in every way, they’re pretty much the opposite of a punk band, QED.

Most people (and Wikipedia) simply refer to Queen as a rock band, and rightly so since over the past five or six decades the concept of rock has evolved to be pretty all-encompassing. I have my own fair share of bands who are easier to pigeonhole amongst my favorites (glam metal and party rockers and third wave ska and whatnot) but I happily acknowledge that good bands feel the creative freedom and possess the creative chops to dabble in multiple genres. And the truly great don’t just dabble, but approach each song as a brand new starting point. There are disco-inflected Queen songs, operatic Queen songs, arena rocking Queen songs, and Queen songs that defy classification. Queen’s legacy isn’t so much how they shaped the direction of one particular approach to rock music (unless that approach is “pure bombastic awesome”); it’s much more self-contained, and maybe that’s why they continue to stand the test of time.

And I don’t think it’s just me who thinks that. One of my favorite comic novels is Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. Pratchett is brilliant and Gaiman is one of my personal heroes, and their collaboration on Good Omens is another good candidate for my hypothetical Required Reading list. It’s an absurd farce that manages to dig into faith and fate while also throwing in tons of surreal gags about our ridiculous modern world. One such running joke begins thusly:

"Admittedly he was listening to a Best of Queen tape, but no conclusions should be drawn from this because all tapes left in a car for more than about a fortnight metamorphose into Best of Queen albums."
Which simultaneously proves two of my points! First, that Queen’s music is ubiquitous, true in 1990 when Good Omens was published and true today. And second, that any genre of music is only two weeks of ripening away from sounding a lot like a Mercury/May jam.

And this is the week that was in Queen, for the final week of Movember!

Monday, 7:15 pm: "Bohemian Rhapsody" on Big 100 FM while putting the little girl down to sleep.

Tuesday, 5:00 am: "Under Pressure" on ??? right before I hit snooze on the alarm clock. I was so dead to the world that my subsequent attempt to hit snooze resulted in a hot mess of button mashing and inadvertent dial turning. I don't know what station my radio alarm was on before (I just need a burst of noise to wake me up) and I certainly don't know now that I can't refer to the tuner band. But I definitely recognized the bass line for the couple of seconds I came in contact with it, so I'm counting it.

Tuesday, 6:30 pm: "We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions" on Big 100 FM, followed immediately by "Crazy Little Thing Called Love". Twofer Tuesday strikes again!

Wednesday: Queen-free.

Thursday, 6:25 pm: "Under Pressure" on SiriusXM's 1st Wave station, during a little downtime between feeding the kids and getting the little girl into the bath.

Friday, 6:55 pm: "Bohemian Rhapsody" on Big 100 FM as the little girl was being put down for the night.

Saturday: Queen-free.

Sunday, 1:55 pm: "Fat Bottomed Girls" on Big 100 FM, in the car as we were leaving lunch out with some friends.

Sunday, 4:25 pm: "Another One Bites the Dust" on 102.7 Jack FM in the car as I was heading home from Costco.

But, wait! I hear you say. Movember was over as of Friday, so what am I doing chronicling encounters with Freddie Mercury's discography into December? I do love running a concept into the ground and then some, and I still have a few more random Queen-related essays in me, so this feature is going to keep going a bit longer. See you next Sunday!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Saturday Grab Bag Elf on the Shelf

The pixie-snitch is back! The Elf on the Shelf arrived late last night, kicking off the month of December proper instead of lollygagging along a week or so late. We just might get the hang of this whole organize-Christmas-for-the-kids-on-schedule thing yet.

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Tangentially related to my post earlier this week about The Lifespan of a Fact, which is all about the essayist as unreliable narrator, I also wanted to make a minor observation about How I Met Your Mother (which my wife and I are still watching faithfully, accompanied by near-constant vocal insistence that "we just want to know who the mother is!"). You may recall that I had some serious nits to pick with the Wedding Bride episode of HIMYM (or I can link you to it) so I feel it's only fair to admit that I've come around on that particular installment. It's not one of my favorite episodes by any stretch, but I've greatly softened my attitude towards its illogical warts.

Because what I've come to realize is that Ted is an archetypal unreliable narrator. The inherent charm of the show is that it has a framing sequence set in the year 2030 and the action set in our present is one long, extended flashback. And in theory, future-Ted is telling a true story to his kids, because he really thinks it's important that they know where they came from (in the emotional context sense, since they both seem old enough to know how babies are made). BUT, Ted's a human being, not a history-recording robot. They've made running jokes about his deliberate self-censoring of the story (substituting "eating sandwiches" for "smoking weed") and on more than one occasion future-Ted has tripped himself up, conflating events and then later saying, "Wait, that's not right". All of which provides opportunities for both comedy and moderately innovative non-linear narratives, and all of which basically announce themselves as goofs.

The Wedding Bride episode employs a much more subtle device (or so I've convinced myself) in that Ted is neither bowdlerizing nor misremembering. When he says that The Wedding Bride became one of the top-grossing films of all time, I initially cried foul because rom-coms don't do that, ever, argh. But Ted is the one telling the story, and to him, that's how it felt. He was sensitive about the raw wounds the movie rubbed salt in, and it seemed like everyone in the world was talking about the movie, going to see it multiple times like Titanic, and declaring it an instant classic. All of which is an exaggeration, but far be it for me to deny someone some poetic license to convey a subjective experience. There's no overt winking within the episode to broadcast that this is Ted inventing his own reality as he retells his life story, but I think it still falls under the same heading.

And that came up again on HIMYM this week, where the story mainly focused on one of Marshall's court cases. The upshot was that Marshall was on the side of the angels, but the opposing counsel was winning the case with raw charisma rather than the relevant facts. But in the comedic escalation, opposing counsel was doing things which are completely inadmissible in the U.S. legal system. Bad writing devoid of fact-checking? Or just artistic expression of how frustrated Marshall (and Ted by proxy as his best friend) must have been feeling? I'm choosing to believe in the latter.

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Not only did 2001: A Space Odyssey require a large time investment to watch, but I also spent quite a while doing research on it afterwards as part of my overall mental processing. Clearly after all that I needed a bit of a light and effervescent brain-cleanser, so I jumped back into Smallville season 8. And after the deliberately sparse dialogue of 2001 (and the fact that very few commentaries on the film fail to point out that characteristic) my major response to gorging on some typical mid-season episodes of my favorite fantasy teen soap guilty pleasure was: Holy Rao these kids never shut up!

Going from the understated and underexplained to the oversimplified and over-the-top was a bit whiplash inducing, but it did emphasize to me once again that the target audience for Smallville really always was children. After more than 150 episodes it gets a little difficult to roll with all the histrionic highs and lows the characters go through; it's like, come on, the show hasn't been set in high school since season 5 started, aren't Clark and Lana and all the rest ever going to emotionally grow up already? But then again, much like early comic books themselves, there seems to be a built-in assumption that the audience isn't growing up along with the actors; it's turning over, with older kids moving on and younger kids tuning in, so the emotional pitch is still solidly adolescent.

Plus I'm a big believer in the neurological theory that human brains don't finish fully developing until age 25, and everybody younger than that is technically immature. I'm at the point now where Smallville as a whole was getting a bit long in the tooth, but the characters are only supposed to have aged to about 22 or 23 (since they were 14-year-old freshmen when the show debuted) so that's within reason. Smallville ran a total of ten seasons, which means the whole Clark Kent coming of age saga wraps up right about the time he's about to turn 25. I'd love to give them credit for doing that on purpose.

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The falafel joint on my office building's block opened this week, finally. I have yet to go there for lunch, though. My wife has instilled in me a healthy respect for waiting out a grace period to make sure any new restaurant can operate successfully without a horrific food poisoning incident or somesuch. But I've also realized that part of my earlier disappointment at the failure to open was because I consider falafel a summer food, stemming directly from the association with that long-ago summer job, I guess. Warm weather can't return soon enough! (Of course I say that every winter anyway, but still.)

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And finally, since this grab bag seems so very reflective (or outright backwards-looking) let's check in with my co-worker Mr. Gregarious, whom I still see from time to time. I shared an elevator with hm and a few other people the other day, and somehow a woman riding with us casually mentioned something about how she was going through a divorce. Mr. Gregarious kindly offered to answer any questions she might have because he's gone through a few of them himself. I don't remember if I voiced some earlier suspicions that in the time since his arrival in Rosslyn (when we were supply closet co-occupants) and frequent mentions of his wife and our move to the new office building in Crystal City he had dissolved the marriage, but that seems to be (unsurprising) confirmation.

In any event, he proceeded to start doling out advice immediately anyway, but at least it was brief and to the point: "Don't be a taker. And don't be a hater." Honestly, that is good advice for all of us, in every human interaction! And so I leave you with that.