Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Year of 25 Books: #20 - Rats

Think of the things that would make a perfect book. Mutant rats? Check. Mutant MAN-EATING rats? Double check. Mutant man-eating rats headed from a dump on Staten Island towards Manhattan to feast on limitless flesh? Triple effing check. How could a book like this go wrong, especially when it's written by esteemed Pulitzer Prize winning young adult author Paul Zindel?

Let me count the ways.

As I alluded to, Rats is all about gigantic mutant man-eating rats that bred underneath a Staten Island dump that had been sealed over with asphalt. I guess it was the buildup of methane that caused them to mutate, but they escape and much calamity ensues. I'll admit that I picked up Rats partially because it is a paltry 203 pages, but I thought that with a set up like that, I couldn't miss. I'd have an easy entry into my 25 books AND have an enjoyable time. It sure starts out with a bang as a landfill operator on his last day on the job decides to take his BB gun out to kill some dump rats. Like something out of Creepshow, the rats descend on him until he is nothing but pieces. All of this is described in great gory detail as if this were a Stephen King or a Brian Keene novel.

Then the main characters got introduced and it was all downhill from there.

Because this is a young adult novel, the main characters are teenagers, the son and daughter of the widowed landfill director. When the rats start coming up through toilets and other pipes, they know something is wrong. What follows is a confusing and nearly unreadable mess that I'm not sure I would have even been terribly interested in as a 14-year-old boy. Plot lines show up and then are dropped. Things are never adequately explained. There's some business with their pet rat Surfer - does he or does he not communicate with the rats? The world may never know.

There is the inevitable meetup with the king rat but at that point, the book is so cartoonish I half expected him to be wearing a crown and holding a scepter. The ending is nonsensical and abrupt and left me scratching my head.

Needless to say, I don't recommend this book at all to anyone of any age. The gory parts were cool, but the parts with the whiny kids and the ineffective adults more than canceled that out.

I expected much more out of the man that gave us The Pigman.

(I know I promised the NaBloPoMo wrap up post tonight, but it's going to have to wait till tomorrow. The plague is descending on me and I want to do that one up right.)

Monday, November 29, 2010

Through the cracks

There are so many movies that I really, by rights, should have seen but for whatever reason, I missed. I have never seen Dirty Dancing all the way through. Same for Sixteen Candles and Pretty In Pink (must be a Molly Ringwald thing.) I've missed most of the Die Hard sequels, haven't seen a Bond movie since Goldeneye and couldn't be bothered by most of the Coen Brothers stuff. And perhaps most glaringly, I've mostly shrugged my shoulders at the oeuvre of Judd Apatow. Looking at his filmography, be he producing, directing or writing, I've missed most all of them. No Anchorman, no Talladega Nights, and until today, not even The 40-Year-Old Virgin.

So I decided enough was enough. The 40-Year-Old Virgin has been hanging out in perpetual limbo in my Netflix queue forever. I finally decided to move it to the top of the queue and even though I've had it for about a week, I just got around to watching it today. I knew quite a bit about it already and really, it's kind of one joke movie. But what the filmmakers did with that one joke was pretty amazing. That they managed to take what basically has the lifespan of a Saturday Night Live skit and turn it in to a 2 hour, 13 minute film was nothing short of astounding.

I'm not going to bother recapping the movie as I'm sure I'm the last person on Earth to actually see this movie. Suffice to say that Steve Carell is Andy who is the 40-year-old virgin. His co-workers at a Best Buy-ish type place find out about his lamentable state and make it their life's goal to help him shed his virginity. Funniness ensues, some predictable, some not so much.

I found the movie to be funny but not hilarious. I never once laughed out loud. I'm not a huge fan of humor that relies on embarrassing the protagonist so badly that I have to watch through my fingers. This is not a horror movie so I shouldn't be experiencing that mildly uncomfortable feeling in the pit of my stomach. I also think I might have found it funnier had I not known so much about it going into it. The scene with the chest waxing was more ridiculous than funny and knowing what was going to happen definitely took some of the funny out of it. Naturally, the best thing about this movie is Paul Rudd. The man steals every single movie he's in.

It was worthy my time but ultimately, I don't need to see it again. If it was only mildly funny the first time, I can't imagine it holding up well on repeat plays.

I have a feeling that I'll feel this way about The Hangover as well. Everybody has told me it's the funniest movie EVER (my sister would have a field day with that statement) but I just can't shake the feeling that I'll walk away from that underwhelmed like I did The 40-Year-Old Virgin.

Back tomorrow with the NaBloPoMo wrap up post.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

This is the rhythm of my life

Wow, we're on day 28 of NaBloPoMo - it seems like it just started and here we are, almost to the end of it. I'll save the wrap-up post for day 30, but I really felt like that needed to be said.

Tonight's post will be brief as I'm pretty wiped out. The last two days I've worked at 7AM and because of that, I've been up before 6 both days. The amazing thing is that I managed to make it to work on time at all this weekend. Both mornings my alarm went off at 5AM and I turned off my alarm and went back to sleep. I have my own internal clock to thank for keeping me from completely oversleeping. Yesterday I got up at 5:20AM and today it wasn't until 5:45AM that I hauled my ass out of bed. And to think that in college, I couldn't get out of bed for 8:30AM classes. Sleeping that late is sleeping in these days.

I went to my friend Matt's tonight to watch episode 5 of The Walking Dead. The episode itself was a little bit of a let down - Matt put it best when he said "I'm just not scared enough of this show" - but the company was great as always. He and his wife are the perfect people to watch this show with. Next week's episode will rock though because, although it seems like we just got started, it's the season finale. I'm hoping a little bit of light gets shed on what caused the zombie apocalypse, but I'm not holding my breath. I know next to nothing about the graphic novel (and I'm keeping it that way for now) but this show seems very intent on keeping the origin story a secret. Not that it really matters, but you know me. I want to know WHY and HOW the zombies came to be. I want a nitty-gritty scientific explanation to give reason to something that is so unreasonable you can't even fathom it. So we'll see what happens.

I drove back up to Ames at around 10:30PM and was, like I said, pretty tired from my early morning and day of work. I was not in real danger of falling asleep on the drive home, but I figured I'd leave nothing to chance. After gassing up (gas is 11 cents a gallon cheaper in Ankeny than in Ames - WHY?), I fired up my Genius playlist based on Snap!'s "Rhythm Is A Dancer." It is kind of my 90s Eurodance playlist, but it's confounded by the presence of things like Girls Aloud, Katrina & the Waves and Take That. Genius is not so genius in this case, but it did make for a nice mix. I figured that there was no way I would fall asleep listening to the sounds of Corona, La Bouche, Black Box and Real McCoy.

It turned out to be just what I needed. And in the end, I've finally settled on Corona's "Rhythm of the Night" as being my favorite of that type of song. La Bouche's "Be My Lover" is a very close second. I even picked up Black Box's album Dreamland last week on eMusic and haven't been disappointed. "Rhythm of the Night" is a time machine to a time that was not necessarily simpler, but one that seems so now in retrospect. You have to be careful not to idealize the past; it's so easy to do. But with a song like this, how can you not?



I wonder if that lady actually sang that song or if she's lip syncing while someone less photogenic actually did the singing. I totally want their full length album. It's on Amazon for 65 goddamn cents. Someone buy it for me for Christmas.

Speaking of photogenic, check out the Corona artist photo from last.fm. It's a hoot.


I heart it. That's the kind of look Heidi should go for, right?

Back tomorrow with something more substantial. For now, I'm going to get unconscious.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Shotless

OK, it's Saturday night and it's confession time. I've told a few people this already, but it's time to come clean to the whole internet. Actually, now that I think about it, this is pretty appropriate for a Saturday night.

Confession: I have never, not once in my 38 years on this planet, done a shot. All those years of college and fancy book learnin' and somehow or another, I managed to get through it without doing even a single shot. I told this to my wife and she was absolutely incredulous. When I told this to a couple of my co-workers, they accused me of lying. When I finally convinced them that I was telling the truth, one of them told me not to worry because he had done enough for the both of us over the years.

But really, when you get right down to it, is this the alcohol equivalent of being the 40-year-old virgin?

My shot-lessness both was and wasn't something that happened by design. I have never been a huge drinker. I never touched a single drop in high school (shocker) and even in college, I didn't really partake a tremendous amount. The first beer I ever had was 6 months shy of my 21st birthday and the only reason I drank it was because it was one of those situations in which it would have been rude and awkward to refuse. I only had a few sips of it - looking back, it was probably something nasty like PBR or Bud Light - so I look at my first REAL beer as occurring 3 months later around St. Patrick's Day when I partook of green beer with my friends Rick & Ellen at Diamond Dave's in Old Capitol Mall. I won a Firewater Cinnamon Schnapps T-shirt that night and Rick (or was it Ellen?) won a huge green foam top hat. It was a fun night, one of the fonder memories I have.

I would go out with my class a lot - usually after a brutal round of exams - but it was usually a toss up as to whether or not I would have a good time. It was usually about every other time that I went out that I had a good time. I quickly learned about of the positive effects of being just slightly buzzed vs. completely hammered and would usually drink just enough to feel that buzz and then switch to water or pop. It helped me to lower my inhibitions and work past my shyness and awkwardness that really got in my way without causing me to make a complete ass of myself. Those were the fun nights. The nights that I was feeling shitty about myself or feeling drained being around people were the nights that I would hang back at a table while the rest of my friends had a great time. Sometimes, not even the 80s music could coax me out of my funk.

Doing a shot never really crossed my mind during those years because I equated hard liquor with "loss of control" and I was (and still am, but to a smaller degree) all about control. I like the slight loss of control that a buzz gives, but flat out drunkenness still frightens me a little, even at my advanced age. I have also never been a fan of undiluted hard liquor. To me, it seems like drinking that kind of stuff is akin to opening up a bottle of rubbing alcohol and downing a swig of it. Or maybe drinking from the gas pump. Heidi was double-dog daring me the other night to do a shot of the cheap-ass butterscotch schnapps we have and I wouldn't do it. Old habits die hard.

So yes, somehow I got to be as old as I am and have still not done a shot. And now that I am to the point in my life where I am reflecting on that fact, it seems like there are as many different kinds of shots as there are stars in the sky. I've had a lot of recommendations from the dumbfounded people I have told. Someone at work told me to do Liquid Cocaine. I don't even know what that is supposed to taste like, but they told me it was good. My hunch is that it is what might be categorized as a "lightweight shot" and that they are trying to break me in easily. Beyond that, I have no idea what I would even like. Are there any suggestions from the peanut gallery?

The reason I ask is because I'm going to change this - sooner rather than later. Maybe before the year's out, but more likely in 2011, but mark my words. My shot virginity is going the way of the dodo bird.

Surely I'm not the only one in this situation...if you are in the same boat as me, please let me know so that I don't feel so alone in my patheticness! :)

And that's all the confession you're getting out of me on this particular Saturday night.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Year of 25 Books: #19 - Confessions of a Prairie Bitch

This book had me at the title. I was powerless to resist it. It pulled me in like a tractor beam on an alien spaceship.

Confessions of a Prairie Bitch by Alison Arngrim - better known as her alter ego Nellie Oleson of Little House on the Prairie fame - is one of those books that I lap up like a kitten at a milk bowl. I love a good dishy celebrity tell-all. It probably started with Joan Collins' Past Imperfect which I read in the 9th grade (this would be the point at which Heidi would say "and you turned out straight exactly HOW?") Since then, I have always loved those books that tear back the curtain on bits of the pop culture. There's always more going on than what we're allowed to see. And what could possibly be a more wholesome subject than Little House?

The book starts out with a bang as it describes Arngrim's hilarious encounter with a woman at the L.A. County Fair where she was signing autographs alongside other former child stars. I won't give it away, but her husband sums it up best by saying "we need to start bringing video cameras to these things." As it turns out, Nellie Oleson still elicits strongly negative reactions in people, even though Little House has been off the air for nearly 30 years. Everyone identified with Laura "Half-Pint" Ingalls and in so doing, everyone hated her nemesis, Nellie. I was not a religious watcher of Little House by any stretch of the imagination, but even I knew that Nellie was the spoiled brat foil to Laura's good-hearted eagerness.

Arngrim's life is fascinating and as expected, the bulk of the book encompasses the Little House years. The stories from the set are always interesting and are told in such a funny and readable way that even if you had no interest or exposure to the show, you still can't quit reading. She is a natural storyteller and relates incidents like Michael Landon's failure to wear underwear on the set and the enigma of Melissa Sue Anderson with great flair. She even explains why Carrie Ingalls falls into the grass in the opening credits of the show (you'll never guess) and talks at length about her life-long friendship with Melissa Gilbert.

But her life was not all great. Her youth also involves a heartbreaking story of sexual abuse at the hands of a family member. We also learn of her devastation at the death from AIDS of the man who played her Little House husband. His illness launched her into the next phase of her career - AIDS activism - which then led naturally to activism on behalf of abused children.

Confessions of a Prairie Bitch contains material that Arngrim uses in her stand-up act of the same name. What I loved is how at peace she seems to be with everything - with Nellie Oleson, her connection with the character and with her life in general. She has really lived her life and now she's happy. This was one of my favorite parts of the book.
"...I'm happy, I'm just that. There's no static on the line now. It's not 'I'm happy but...' or 'I'll be really happy when...' I am just ridiculously, stupidly happy. I am often cheerful to the point of being annoying as hell. I don't know if this is a sign of good mental health or recovery, or if it means I've finally snapped and just gone the rest of the way to completely batshit crazy."
Whatever it is, she's got it figured out. I can't recommend this book highly enough.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

They wrote the book

Every year, we get together with our closest friends on a weekend before Christmas and celebrate the holidays in style. We always get Christmas crackers from World Market and Heidi makes a big dinner. People bring food and presents and we all really get into the Christmas spirit. And there are always many many pictures of us looking ridiculous in the paper crowns that come out of the Christmas crackers.

Heidi had been on my case to make a Christmas list this year because we all exchange gifts each year. She took to publicly shaming me in an e-mail loop between all of us to get me to do it. I finally did it this morning before we left for our Thanksgiving travels. We have a great time with our little gift exchange because finding unique items that match the other people's personality is really the challenge. Anyone can buy a summer sausage or a popcorn tin. Making the gift match the recipient is the really tough part.

One of the things I really want this year is something that I denied myself for the last couple of years. In 2008, at the Sticky & Sweet Tour, I bought the Guy Oseary's Confessions book which featured hundreds of shots from Madonna's 2006 Confessions Tour. It was a lot of money and is basically a photo book (not much text to be had) but the photos are brilliant and a good way to remember the actual tour as the tour book you buy at the concert never has any photos from the show in it. Well, after the Sticky & Sweet Tour, Guy Oseary was at it again and released Sticky & Sweet early last year. It's not something that I can justify buying on my own, so what better reason to put it on my Christmas list? I am really hoping that I get this this year as it will be such a good companion piece to the already purchased Confessions book. I really enjoyed that tour and having some high-quality professional photos of it just seems right.

Another diva has a book out this year but as far as I'm concerned, she can keep this one. Barbra Streisand has written a book. I was talking to my friend Jeff about it the other night. Streisand is at the point in her life where she really needs to write her memoirs. So many books have been written about her life - all of which have been unauthorized to the best of my knowledge. I think that hearing her talk about her career and life in her own words would be fascinating. So when I heard that she was writing a book, I was pretty excited. When I found out that it was about interior design, my excitement level dropped to a negative level. Instead of writing the story of Streisand by Streisand, she's written My Passion for Design. It seems like the ultimate in narcissism and Jeff and I laughed about it uproariously on the phone the other night.

Seriously? Barbra may be an actress who sings, but now she designs as well? Maybe she'll still write her memoirs, but as far as I'm concerned, this is a missed opportunity. I've followed her career for a long time and I haven't even the slightest bit of interest in it. She's foisting this $60 doorstop on a market that I don't think really exists. I certainly would never buy it and I can't think of many people who would.

But the one thing these women have in common is their dogged determination to do whatever the hell they want. So if Madonna wants to continue to not record music in favor of filming a movie that no one will see, far be it for me to stop her. And if Streisand wants to write about the carpets and architecture of her homes rather than writing her memoirs, well, I guess that's her business.

Make no mistake - I'd rather look at photo after photo of Madonna's tour than Streisand's home.

Fail

I didn't blog yesterday. I totally meant to, but a combination of many things prevented it from happening. When I went to bed at 12:45AM last night, I admit that I felt a little bit bad about it. How could I bomb out 6 days from the end of November? I was seriously disappointed in myself.

What happened was real life. I kind of have this rule that I try hard to stick to that real life always trumps any internet anything. And yesterday, that's exactly what happened.

I am kind of bummed out that I didn't blog daily in November which was my goal when I started out this month. Ultimately though, I have to recognize it for what it is - an artificial bar for success that I placed for myself that I can just as easily tear down. And in the end, it's just a blog. People are generally not waiting with bated breath for my next random observation, two paragraph post or long diatribe. Just as blogging is mostly about me, the attempt to write for 30 consecutive days is also mostly about me. And I can change what that means with a simple realignment.

If it sounds like I'm making a big deal out of this, I'm really not. I'm over it - but I felt obligated to at least acknowledge the lapse. Last year I did 30 posts in 30 days, so from here to the end of November, I'm resetting the bar to that. All that means is that I have to have one day with two posts. I can do that. It might even happen today depending on how things go.

But now it's time to go off the grid (as much as is possible in this day and age) and celebrate Thanksgiving. We'll be spending it with a part of our family-of-choice and then tomorrow with Heidi's family. My goal for these next two days is to not work my brain too terribly hard. Hopefully, I can manage that.

I would be remiss if I didn't thank the friends and family that read this space. I'm proud of it as it's a pretty accurate reflection of me and the fact that anyone would spend even two minutes reading it makes me happy and very, very thankful.

(photo via)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

It'll tumble for her

It all started with the mother of all crashes.

I was sitting at my computer catching up on blogs before heading to the kitchen to start thinking about getting dinner ready when, from the other room, I heard a most horrendous noise. It sounded like items sliding off a shelf. What began as a whisper soon became a roar as it became abundantly clear to me that something had gone seriously awry. I yelled out to Anna "Anna, what's going on?" only to hear her scream out to me for help.

I swear I was there in less than a second and could not believe my eyes. There was the entertainment center, on the floor face down. Everything had fallen out of it and Anna was underneath it crying and not able to move. I managed to lift up the entertainment center (which was the bulk of the weight) and pull her out from under it. After being pulled from the wreckage, she basically had the equivalent of an anxiety attack - talking about how she was afraid she had brain damage and that she was seriously injured. Her ability to walk and form coherent sentences pretty much ruled out brain damage and the fact that she could move pretty much everything made broken bones unlikely. But she was a bundle of nerves and acted like someone who had just had a near-death experience. This would be the point at which I would normally make a glib comment about the drama of being a 9-year-old, especially this one.

The truth is though, that it WAS a pretty big deal. She admitted that she'd been hanging on the entertainment center - something she's been told repeatedly not to do. I think she is unlikely to do it again. As Heidi said, she has a newfound appreciation for physics.

Our first job was calming her down. We got her into the tub and turned on her music and let her soak while we went down to assess the damage and try to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. The contents of the entertainment center included: a not-quite-year-old $800 television, a couple of DVD players, a VCR (yawn!), the Wii, various DVDs, the Roku box, and assorted knick-knacks (the Cher doll being the most cherished.) When we put it all together, we were looking at nearly $2000 worth of electronic equipment that had a very high likelihood of being ruined. I will admit that I was not at my best at this point. Once we hooked the TV back up and ascertained that yes, it still functioned, I started to pull myself back together a little bit.

Piece by piece, we tried out each piece of electronic equipment. My prediction early on was that anything that had a laser would be destroyed. But the DVD player worked, as did the Wii. We didn't even bother hooking the VCR back up - heaven only knows when the last time we used it was. The Roku box, I fear, took a fatal blow. I still can't make that work but fortunately, we have the Wii to allow us to do our Netflix streaming.

All in all, we majorly dodged a bullet on so many levels. Naturally, the most important thing is that Anna was virtually unharmed. She has a scrape on her arm along with a pretty colorful bruise from where she was pinned underneath the entertainment center but otherwise, she is mostly just shaken up. The hardest part was trying to move the entertainment center, thinking that my child had been seriously injured while she cried and said she was sorry and admitted to hanging on the entertainment center. At that point, I didn't give a shit about the electronics, I just wanted her out from under there and safe and unharmed. It shook me up a bit, I must say.

As Heidi and I were reflecting on the evening, we decided that even if everything on there had been broken and Anna would have been safe, it would have been a huge win. It's a cliche yes, but that doesn't mean it's not fucking true. The fact that, in the end, only the Roku box was rendered non-functional is just gravy. Oh, and Cher's microphone is still MIA.

Glinda, however, will never be the same.


And here's a picture of the Humpty Dumpty, put back together again.


Not how I would have scripted the night had I been in charge, but hey, who ever said I got to be in charge?

Now pardon me while I go hug my kid.

Monday, November 22, 2010

A 2010 Nightmare

It's hard for me to get my head around the fact that a lot of the movies I grew up with are at least 25 years old now. It doesn't seem possible but really, when you think about it, being as old as they are makes them prime target for being remade for a modern audience. No genre has seen this happen more than horror. Many of the classics from the late 70s and early 80s have been revamped and reimagined - most notably Rob Zombie's take on Halloween, a new and not-necessarily-improved Friday the 13th and a new version of Dawn of the Dead, now complete with fast zombies. Of these new versions, I approved of Dawn of the Dead, had mixed feelings on Halloween and honestly, haven't even seen the new Friday the 13th so I can't really say much about it.

A remake of 1984's classic slasher flick A Nightmare on Elm Street seems like such a bad idea on paper. The original is pretty much perfect and seriously, why mess with perfection? Because we can, that's why! Freddy Krueger has been reinvented for the new millenium and everything old is, well, old again. I'll admit that I was intrigued by the remake but really didn't know what a remake could add to the story. When the scathing reviews came in (13% on Rotten Tomatoes) I felt justified. In a move rather unlike us, my friend Matt and I completely skipped it when it arrived at the dollar theater. Surely with reviews like that, it wasn't even worth a lousy $1.50. But when it finally hit DVD, I figured what the hell, I'll give it a try.

Clocking in at a measly 93 minutes, I'm still not quite sure what to think of this movie. As an homage to the original, I liked it. It is certainly nothing to write home about, but I thought it was a capable horror film that honored the intentions of the original movie without vomiting all over it. Nancy is still the main character, except Glen is now Quentin, perhaps to reflect that this is no longer 1984. The body-bag-in-the-school-hallway scene is still there, albeit much later in the film, as is some of the other imagery - particularly when it came to the death scenes.

Perhaps the biggest difference is that Freddy is no longer a child murderer but is, instead a pedophile. Apparently, this was Wes Craven's original idea for Krueger, but it was scrapped as there was national attention on the McMartin preschool case, so instead, he was just a murderer of children vs. a sexual abuser of children. No matter, he's still the bastard son of a thousand maniacs. Robert Englund, who played Freddy in all the original installments of the series, is replaced by Jackie Earle Haley who puts a much more menacing spin on the character. Say what you will about the original movies, but by the time you got around to A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child, Freddy had been reduced to comic relief. As my friend Missy famously stated at the end of that film..."THUMBS DOWN! I've been more scared at a Disney movie!" Alas, she was right. At least the new Nightmare was scarier than that.

Usually when I see these movies, I'm not much of a stickler for reality. This is especially true for a film like A Nightmare on Elm Street since so much of it takes place in dreams and sometimes, the dividing line between the dream and reality is nebulous at best. But Quentin stealing epinephrine syringes from a hospital crash cart and using them to stay awake REALLY bumped me out of the movie. It will not work, not even in a dream. What it will do is speed your heart up and make you jittery for a little bit. Even if it did manage to keep you awake, the buzz would be short-lived as the half-life of epinephrine is 2 minutes. Did they not have medical consultants on this film? Or were they just that lazy?

Be that as it may, I still recommend the film as I felt it didn't disrespect the original film and had a few pretty good scares. The final scare really took the cake, even though I was half expecting it based on the end of the original movie. Just don't expect an Academy Award winner (or medical accuracy for that matter) and you'll be good. Rumor has it that this film made enough that there's going to be not one but two sequels.

I won't see those at the dollar theater either.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Two years in the framing

After today's mouse debacle, I'm totally getting a jump on today's blog post. We're 27 minutes into Sunday and it's going to be done before I go to bed. Really, Saturday was kind of a wash. I got nothing done that I wanted to. Heidi was at a NaNoWriMo "stakeout" which basically amounted to an all-day write-in. Anna and I were on our own and I was a complete fail. I didn't get the fish tank cleaned out, nor did I get the laundry folded. I even forgot to feed Anna lunch. That sounds terrible and it clearly didn't faze her. She was probably glad to not have someone harping on her to eat. I didn't get Blair his antibiotic this morning and then, when I got it all ready to go tonight after getting home, he must have heard me prepping it because I couldn't find him when I went to give it to him. Bastard cat.

But today was not all lost. I went to Matt's and had fun at his Rock Band/Guitar Hero party. I also, after over 2 years, finally got my Sticky & Sweet Tour poster framed.

I bought the Sticky & Sweet Tour poster off of fanfire.com prior to actually going to the tour so as not to have to worry about getting it home from the concert without it getting all dog-eared. When I got it in the mail, it was immediately smaller than I wanted it to be and when I went to find a frame for it, the search was fruitless. I don't remember the actual dimensions of it, but there was no frame on Earth that matched it. I would look periodically and always come up with nothing. So it sat, neglected, rolled up on the top shelf of my closet.

Well, Heidi had gotten a print of the cover of her first book, Hero, and had our friend Rick McCubbin frame it for her. It cost a little bit, but he did such a good job that I decided to entrust him with my Sticky & Sweet poster.

Tonight, I picked up the poster and, what can I say, this is a work of art and exceeded my wildest expectations.


I can't believe I still had my ticket from the show, which of course, I had him put in with the poster.


I don't think that the poster itself is as iconic as some of her other tour posters, but it'll do. In hindsight, if I had it all to do over again, I'd get this one, if for no other reason than it's more colorful than the one I got. But, as I said, it'll do.

Rick did a fantastic job and I can't thank him enough. I may not get it hung up tomorrow - especially considering my track record on how today went - but it will be up soon. I have just the spot for it on the wall in my office and it will make a fine addition to that very Dan space.

You can relive my account of the tour, where I met not just one but two fellow bloggers, here. It's riveting reading, as is pretty much anything that is in this space.

Now to go try to find that cat one last time before bed to give him his antibiotic. And then, sweet sweet sleep.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

An abbreviated post

I have spent the last half hour when I was supposed to be writing a post battling my wireless mouse. It inexplicably stopped functioning for reasons known only to itself. I really wanted to write a good post this afternoon as I'm going out tonight and may not feel like doing today's post afterward. I had grand plans for it, but alas, those will not come to pass. At least not for today.

If I get back tonight and have time and energy, I'll do a more proper post. But if not, blame the fucking mouse.

Friday, November 19, 2010

This is only a test

I found this on Facebook tonight. It was posted by a not-quite high school classmate of mine (as in, we went to high school together but she moved at some point and graduated from a different high school.) I totally made my night. Clearly, someone decided to have fun with the tried and true way of doing this kind of stuff.



Truth be told, those "tests of the emergency broadcast system" always kind of scared me a little bit as a kid. They were always so vague about what the emergency might be - what would trigger an actual use of the emergency broadcast system vs. a test? As I got older, I figured out what would do it. The most frequent use of the EBS in Iowa was (and still is) tornado warnings. But even then, you didn't get the long tone followed by a monotone guy giving you instructions. Instead, you got the KCCI breaking into "The Dukes of Hazzard" and Connie McBurney telling people in the warning area to seek shelter immediately.

The other use of the EBS was, obviously, to tell of the imminent arrival of Soviet missiles and the ensuing nuclear armageddon. Obviously, the EBS has never been used for this purpose, but once I learned about the threat of nuclear weapons, if I didn't hear the "this is a test..." part of the test, I was convinced that as soon as the long beep was over, they would tell us that nuclear war was upon us. Do you think I might have benefited from Effexor in 1983 or 1984? Even to this day, I get just slightly anxious when the tests come on the radio. I check to see if it's on the hour which, for some reason, makes it more likely to be a test than something serious. Because, as everyone knows, nuclear attacks only arrive at 13 minutes past the hour. It's not as if I'm actually scared of it as an adult, but I think it dredges up very deeply buried stuff. It's like the 9 year old version of Dan is still waiting for the nuclear holocaust.

But all tests of the EBS pale in comparison to being woken up at 2:30AM in my dorm room at Iowa State with the air raid sirens blaring outside my window. Talk about a childhood nightmare come true! As it turns out, there was a logical explanation. There was a "malfunction" (you're telling me!) that resulted in them all going off in the middle of the night. Still, my first move was to turn the radio on. *sigh*

I'm exaggerating this a little bit for comic effect but if there's one thing I've learned over the last couple years it's that you really can't teach an old brain new tricks. Some of that stuff really is just hard-wired into us and I've spent the better part of 15 years trying to "change" that. The thing is, you can't. And ever since I just accepted the fact that yes, my brain is frequently going to attempt to write a worst-case scenario in 30 seconds or less, I've been a lot happier. I'm able to recognize it, but that sure as hell doesn't mean I have to believe it and act on it. I may not have much control over those old circuits, but what I do get to control is what I do with it. And anymore, what I've tried to do is see it, acknowledge it and then realize that it's mostly garbage. Anxious brains were great for when we were being hunted by saber-tooth tigers. Not so much in the 21st century. All they accomplish are ulcers.

So the next time I hear a test of the EBS at work, I'll think of this fancy little jingle. I dare you to not smile as the missiles fall. ;)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The written word

And now for something completely different - to be legible, you'll have to click on the images to make them bigger.


I got this idea from another blog, but sadly, I can't remember where.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The OTHER Chumbawumba song

Anna has recently discovered (by virtue of yours truly) the wonders of Chumbawumba's "Tubthumping." Since it's been 13 (!) years since that song was played into the ground popular, I think I'm just about ready to start listening to it again. My sister claimed that it was played at least 3 times an hour on the local top-40 radio station back in 1997. What started out as pretty infectious and cool sounding (I GET KNOCKED DOWN...but I get up again...) became massively annoying on the millionth listen. It's been in my iTunes library since the advent of iTunes and I'm sure I had the mp3 long before then. Ignored and unloved, it languished.

Well, it ended up on the story soundtrack of one of Heidi's NaNo novels and now it's like it's 1997 all over again.

I always did quite like the dichotomy of the song - the loud and boisterous guys and their aforementioned knocked down portion, followed by the sweet female voice of the verses. It's kind of everything that's right about a novelty pop song. Trust me, a novelty song is one of the hardest things in the world to pull off and still sound good once the novelty has worn off. I never liked it enough to actually purchase the Tubthumper album. In hindsight, I am so glad I resisted that urge because believe me, it was totally there. How many people bought that album based on the strength of "Tubthumping" only to have it end up in a used CD store or a library 3 months later? I remember seeing multiple copies at just about every used CD store I frequented in the late 90s/early 00s. That said, the Ames library doesn't have a copy. For shame.

That's not to say that there are no other good songs on the album. I would argue that there's another song that's at least as good, if not better, than "Tubthumping." The follow-up single "Amnesia" (which completely failed to chart in the U.S.) is completely and utterly worthy. As ear-wormish as "Tubthumping" it contains the great lyric "do you suffer from long term memory loss...I don't remember." I think I heard it on the radio exactly once because I remember Heidi and I laughing at that lyric. Have a listen for yourself. (not the greatest copy of the video, but it's what YouTube has)



This was, amazingly, not on my iPod until just now.

Despite their one-hit wonder status here in the U.S., I was surprised to find that Chumbawumba actually has had a 30 year career in the UK! Who knew?

My friend Mary and I always like to joke about one-hit wonders and say how much better we liked their other hits vs. their one hit. The implicit suggestion in that statement is that there WERE no other hits. But I think that given the choice, "Amnesia" actually does edge out "Tubthumping" although there will always be something so fun and 90s-tastic about getting knocked down and getting up again.

And another goodie I found this morning - the country/western version of "Tubthumping." HOW do I get a copy of this? Dolly should totally cover this song in this style. Anna would, undoubtedly, prefer the original version. She's a purist that way.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Year of 25 Books: #18 - The Old Neighborhood

I have a real fondness for books about our modern age. The only trouble is, as I have mentioned before, that there is so frequently a temptation to write about a period of history before a sufficient amount of time has elapsed to really see it objectively. I found this to be a bit true with Ray Suarez' The Old Neighborhood: What We Lost in the Great Suburban Migration: 1966-1999. For the 1966 part, yeah, I think we have good perspective but not so much for the 1999 part - especially considering the book was written in 2000. I sometimes think I missed my calling as a social scientist, but really, it's better that I just read about it in my spare time rather than try to make a living at it. And I'm much better with pharmaceuticals than I would be with the statistics that are required for this kind of research.

The Old Neighborhood examines the late 20th century phenomenon of "white flight" - the exodus of middle class white people from the cities to the suburbs. Their departure was frequently prompted by the arrival of minorities in the neighborhood. In what was really a vicious cycle that fed on itself, the first minority families would move in which would prompt the original white residents to move before their property values went down. More minorities moved in, more whites left as did local businesses and a neighborhood that was once was solidly middle class went into free fall. The subsequent loss of tax revenue affected local schools and other public services. Those left behind lived in an area that was a mere shadow of its former self, largely due to the fear of the unknown and the different.

What I liked about Suarez' take on white flight was rather than take a grim, textbook-like approach, he made it very personal. He examined many different cities in the book and in each, he interviewed many people that lived in the city or in the neighborhoods that had deteriorated. I also appreciated the short history lesson that he gave about each of the cities he stopped in - I learned a great deal from this as the only city in the book I claim any kind of real familiarity with is Chicago and even there, I learned something. The book did get bogged down in the interviews a little bit. They SO could have been edited, thus making the book a little leaner and more effective.

I've find it sad what has happened to our cities over the last 50 years. Across the nation, miles and miles of suburbs surround donut holes. Thankfully, this has been improving some as reinvestment in city centers has been occurring. Even in our capital city of Des Moines (not featured in the book, obviously), there has been a vigorous attempt to revitalize the downtown area and draw residents to the area vs. the daytime population of office workers. This has met with considerable success, so much so that downtown Des Moines is no longer a ghost town. I wonder how different things are in the other cities profiled in 2010 vs. 2000 when this book was written.

An interesting book, but again, could have been much shorter and would have gotten the same point across. That's kind of the trouble with books like these - they really overdo it after a while. I found myself skimming toward the end of the book which is never a good sign.

PS For those keeping track, I am only 2 books away from my 25 book goal for the year. I am totally going to make it.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Dad + daughter v.9.0

It's been a bit of a bittersweet day around here today. Today marked the 9th anniversary of the day that my one and only child made her long-delayed entrance into the world. In sadder news, today was also the day that our cat Mia lost her fight with what I fully believe to be vaccine-induced sarcoma. She was a tough old bird and Heidi has done a wonderful and loving tribute to her here. I encourage you to read it. Keep the Kleenex handy.

I am sad about the loss of Mia - you don't have a pet for 14 years and not react to it in some way. But today is also about Anna. I've done birthday posts for her in the past and I didn't want to let this year go by without celebrating the amazing kid she is. I got looking through pictures on the hard drive and was surprised by how many photos of the two of us there actually are. I always half-kid that I feel like an absent father because I work so much and such weird hours. When I was getting ready to go to Kansas City in October, I asked Anna if she would miss me and she kind of tsk'd me and said "Dad, I'm USED to you being gone." I try not to take it personally. Judging from the sheer number of pictures of just the two of us, being an absent father is the LAST thing I need to be worrying about.

Here are 14 of my favorite photos of Anna and me. Roughly in chronological order. I'll keep the commentary to a minimum and let the photos speak for themselves.


The very first photo taken of the two of us, 11/15/2001.

I had important e-mail to read. She's a little bit pumpkin-y so I bet this is the first week.

About 11 months old, we were headed to the park.

Summer of 2003 - I can tell because that's when I grew facial hair. The book is Halley Came To Jackson.

Halloween 2006.

Summer/Fall 2006

Christmas 2006, I'm pretty sure.

Pride 2007

Pride 2008

Winter 2008, my best guess.

Mesa Verde National Park, 2009.

Center Grove Orchard, 2009

Daddy-Daughter Dance, May 2010.

I want to end this with one of my favorite photos of Anna and me. Taken at the Pacific Ocean in June of 2009, I love her outstretched arms and what is almost assuredly a pensive look on my face even though you can't see it.


I love you kid. I hope your birthday was happy and I can't believe you're half grown up.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

We haven't seen the last of her

I honestly don't have time for a proper post tonight. I've survived the to-be 9 year-old's birthday party today. It was actually kind of fun. She got this game yesterday from her aunt and uncle called "Bling Bingo" which we played at the party. If this pharmacy thing I'm doing doesn't work out, well, at least I know I have a fall back career as a bingo announcer.

But I did find this tonight - a new Cher song. FINALLY. It's from the movie Burlesque which I heard referred to this weekend as "how can this movie NOT be a flop?" I don't care, it looks cheesily bad and seriously, it has Cher in it so you know I'll be there. But getting new music from Cher has been like getting water from a rock these last 10 years or so, so this is a good thing. The song is "You Haven't Seen The Last Of Me" and is a cheesy Diane Warren ballad, but hey, I'll take what I can get.



Now if we can just get a new album!! I don't care if it's full of Diane Warren schlock. Well, actually I do, but I'll forgive it because it's Cher.

A better post tomorrow. A certain 8 year-old in my house turns a year older.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Smokey Row write-in

I spent a large chunk of today in Oskaloosa, IA. It was the site of the NaNoWriMo write-in that the Central Iowa Authors (CIA) was putting on today. It was kind of nice to get out of town for a bit and then there was the added bonus for Anna that she got to go see her grandma who took her to Jumpin' Jim's Jungle in Ottumwa for a pre-birthday celebration.

But Heidi and I spent all our time today at Smokey Row. Smokey Row is an Iowa based coffee shop that started out in Pleasantville, IA in 1998. Since then, it's opened three more locations, the most recent being in Des Moines. It is one of the more frequent locations for CIA write-ins during NaNo. It's also one of our favorite spots in all of Des Moines. What Smokey Row does right (in addition to coffee and food) is atmosphere. Everything feels so retro, right down to the metal signs advertising products like Hires Root Beer, Folger's Coffee (celebrating 100 years, 1850-1950) and Pepsi-Cola. It has high ceilings, wooden floors and copious amounts of seating. The Oskaloosa Smokey Row even has a stage for live entertainment. All in all, you really can't beat it as far as central Iowa coffee locations go.

Heidi wrote pretty much all day. She's writing not one but TWO 50,000+ word novels for NaNo this month. The woman is amazingly prolific. You can follow her progress on the official NaNo project here (the 3rd book in the Special Delivery series for those that love those characters) and the second one here. Me, I was mostly along for the ride. And the coffee.

You might think that I had a bit of a boring day at Smokey Row, surrounded by writers and me with nothing to write. I thought about blogging, but the wireless was so inconsistent and crappy that I quickly gave up on that idea. I suppose I could have used my phone, but the mere thought of typing a whole blog post on my phone sends me into apoplexy. Clearly, that wasn't going to happen.

I did get a lot of reading done. With a bit of discipline and stamina, I'll be able to get to 25 books by the end of the year without too much difficulty. There was also a nap involved. I put my iPod on and since Heidi was sitting on the floor with the laptop, I snuggled right up against her and fell into what I would consider a rather deep sleep for a public place. I told Heidi to jab me in the kidney if I snored. I must not have or else she had her headphones on and didn't hear me. I think that was probably my favorite part of the whole day, truth be told.

After the write-in, we met my mother-in-law and her husband who had brought Anna back up for a small birthday party, complete with a horsehead cake. Heidi's brother Hans and his wife Alicia were also there, as was our doctor friend from our Washington days, Lynette. It was good conversation and nice to see everyone again.

We probably spent a little too much money but you have to live. The folks in CIA are some of the nicest people I know and it's always fun to get together with them. Not many of them live in Ames so it's always a treat to see them.

We have a birthday party to attend to tomorrow with eight 3rd graders in attendance. The birthday girl doesn't officially turn 9 until Monday, but the weekend has been the chance to get the celebrating done. I still can hardly believe she's nine, but time continues to march on.

An aside: I'm extremely proud of the fact that we are on day 13 of NaBloPoMo and I haven't missed a day. Last year, I missed a couple days but they were offset by the fact that on two days, I posted twice. It's harder to blog every day than you might think! The last few days I have been getting the posts in just under the wire, reminding me of my graduate school days when the lab reports were due at midnight on Friday night each week. So far, I'm happy with the quality of the posts and while some are definitely more throwaway than others, it's been a fun exercise in daily writing. I could not do this every month, but it's a fun experiment to try.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Zombies of a different color

Lance tweeted to me tonight that he was watching the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead which, for those that don't know, features a zombie baby. This got me to thinking - most zombies in zombie movies are interchangeable. They're slow (or fast, depending on the movie), decomposing, bloody and looking for human flesh to consume. It's not like them to stand out in the zombie horde. But there are some that have - zombie baby being one of them. Here's some other ones I thought of.

1) Nurse Zombie (Dawn of the Dead, 1978)
Nurse Zombie is easily the most memorable zombie from the original Dawn of the Dead. However, I've never been able to figure out what a nurse was doing at the mall in full uniform. Did she do the zombie shuffle from a nearby hospital? Was she at the uniform shop? The world may never know.

2) Zombie Dixieland Band (Land of the Dead, 2004)
Dawn of the Dead may feature the only zombie pie-fight in cinematic history, but 2004's Land of the Dead does it one better by having what, to my knowledge, is the only zombie Dixieland band. In the opening moments of the movie, you see zombies in a park gazebo with a trumpet, a trombone and a saxaphone all trying to play the instruments as if they were still living. I don't remember tons about that movie, but the zombie Dixieland band really stuck with me.

3) Hare Krishna Zombie (Dawn of the Dead, 1978)
Another rather unforgettable member of the undead mall walking club in Dawn of the Dead, Hare Krishna zombie helps us to remember that yes, this movie was made in the 70s. The only thing that gives away his zombie nature is his shuffling gate and faint blue skin. And although it's been a while since I've seen the movie, I'm pretty sure that he's the one that first finds the heroes' hiding place although he ultimately does no harm. There is an action figure of this that would go quite well with my Fly Boy Zombie and Plaid Shirt Zombie from the same movie, but alas, I have not yet purchased it.

4) Half-a-girl Zombie (The Walking Dead, 2010)
One of the first real zombies we see in the pilot of The Walking Dead, I was amazed to find out that this zombie, who is nothing but head, arms and torso was pretty much entirely done with CG. There is an actress there, made up and snarling and what not, but the bottom half of her has been green-screened out a la Lt. Dan's legs in Forrest Gump. When we originally watched it, we weren't sure if that was an amputee or if it was CG or if somehow they had cleverly disguised her lower half so as to give the image of a legless zombie. It showed that the best kind of CG is the CG you don't know is there.

5) Corpse Bride (Corpse Bride, 2005)
If you really think about it, Corpse Bride is a zombie movie. It's not one in the traditional sense, but the Corpse Bride is a reanimated corpse, right? And Scraps, the all bones dog - is that a zombie dog? Animals are usually immune to zombification, but as Brian Keene has pointed out, anything's possible when it comes to living things being zombified. The Corpse Bride makes this list if, for no other reason, than because she is the best looking zombie I've ever seen.

Did I miss any?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Craving the un-cola

I had this terrible craving for pop last night at 11pm. We had nothing in the house but flat Hy-Vee brand grape pop that was left over from Halloween and there was no way I was going to drink that. I toyed around with the idea of going out to the grocery store and getting some, but really, it's was late and I was tired (as was evidenced by last night's crank filled post) so I ended up pacifying myself with Emergen-C. What I was really after was the carbonation and that did nicely in a pinch.

There was a time when I was in college that I found myself completely and utterly obsessed with Diet 7-Up. This is kind of strange because really, to crave 7-Up at all brings up questions of not only your mental health but also your physical health. The reason for this is because for me, the connection between consuming 7-Up and being ill is a very strong one. Growing up, the only time I drank 7-Up was when I was sick. It was never a drink of choice, but one that was foisted upon you in your unhealthiest of times.

But yes, I was once, very briefly, obsessed with Diet 7-Up. It was 1993 and I was living in the dorms at Iowa and I would walk up to Osco Drug in the cold and snow to buy two-liters of Diet 7-Up and put it in my dorm fridge. I loved the carbonation. As I alluded to previously, it's the carbonation that I really love about pop, not the sugar or the caffeine (although the caffeine definitely comes in handy from time to time.) I have more or less given up on diet pop now due to aspartame and I can't drink regular pop that much unless I want to be as big as a house. But back then, I drank pop like crazy.

I've probably mentioned here that when I was in college, I journaled like crazy. I distinctly remembered journaling about Diet 7-Up. I was right. Here it is.

Iowa City--February 2, 1993 11:50 PM

7-Up is the newest rage. I'm drinking it like it's going out of style. Maybe I should call home and tell them to send me about 48 cases of it because I love it so much. And I determined the other day that there is sufficient difference between Sprite and 7-Up so as to validate my hatred of Sprite and love of 7-Up. And I love Diet 7-Up even more, although I fail to understand what's in it. No calories, no sugar, no fat, nothing but 392 mg of sodium in the whole 2 Liter bottle. It's also very acidic, much carbonation.

Written proof that even back then I was in love with the dissolved carbon dioxide!

That's probably the only excerpt I'll ever post from my college journals. The angst factor alone would probably break the Internet if I ever posted more. Plus the fact that I'd probably never be able to show my face again spares you all from more of that. There are parts of those that even I can't read anymore! I've been tempted to do retro posts and repost something from those journals on the date that I wrote them, but every time I go to do it, I decide against it and really, I think it's best that way.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Cat barf

I am tired beyond my capacity to even articulate it, but I can't go to bed. Not yet anyway, because I am waiting for the damn sheets to finish drying.

I got a text from Heidi right before I left work saying that there was "serious barf" on the bed and that she needed me to start the cleanup process. When she said serious, she wasn't kidding. Mia had gotten sick on our bed (as she has done several times in the last few weeks, always necessitating a complete changing of the sheets.) I started the washer at 5:30PM. It is 11:12 PM and the goddamn mattress pad is still drying. It really needs to hang out on a clothesline as it gets all bunched up on itself in the dryer and just doesn't dry right. I thought it was dry earlier and when I went to put it on the bed just now, it was so NOT dry I'm not sure how I thought it was earlier.

Truth be told, I'm so sick of cat barf I could just barf myself. But with five cats, cat barf is kind of a fact of life around these parts. And with Mia especially. It's kind of hard to get mad at her for barfing considering her terminal cancer. It doesn't make it any easier when you are trying to go to bed and you can't because a cat has unceremoniously puked all over your pillow and bed sheets 5 hours ago (FIVE!! Why are we still waiting for these sheets to dry?) but you try to put it in perspective. At least we're going to be afforded the luxury of being alive for what is hopefully a lot longer. No matter how you slice it, Mia is at the end of hers. We don't know when the end will come, but we're enjoying every single day we get with her because it really is a gift.

Even when she barfs all over the bed.

So for now, I'll keep cleaning up her sick because one of these days she won't be around to get sick anymore and we'll say "remember how Mia always used to barf?" and we'll laugh about it.

But right at this moment, I just want to sleep. And I think I'm going to go try now.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Are they still there for us?

My sister and (soon to be) brother-in-law were cracking me up tonight. They were taking a page out of the Dan & Heidi playbook and were pseudo-conversing on Facebook. My sister was taking great pleasure in the fact that she "got Andrew to admit that Star Trek: The Next Generation was the best series of the 90s and that Friends totally doesn't hold up." And Andrew said something to the effect that "Ross had the most punchable face on television." I'm not sure how I feel about the first statement (um, X-Files anyone?), but I totally agree with the second point. Ross mostly just pisses me off and that was before he all the characters became caricatures of themselves and Ross' neuroses went off the chart.

I will admit that I only sort of watched Friends while it was actually on TV. Where I really learned to appreciate the show was in syndication starting in roughly 1999. We would watch it every night at 6:30 after the local news, but heaven forbid we actually remember to tune in and watch the new episodes. When Friends and Must-See-TV Thursday night on NBC were at their peak, it was very like me to hold that which was terribly popular with disdain. I still do that sometimes but to a much smaller degree than I used to and when I do it, I usually get called on it by Heidi. It was the constant onslaught of reruns that eventually wore me down. And for the most part, I think it's a pretty funny show that is by and large well written and well acted (save some of the latter seasons.)

But to address my sister's assertion - does Friends hold up almost six and a half years after it went off the air? To be honest, I actually think it does, and better than many of its contemporaries. Like so many sitcoms, it's important to remember that it is ultimately a product of its time. And for Friends to hold up, you HAVE to keep that in mind.

The greatest argument that Friends does hold up is that it really captures a part of the 90s zeitgeist. It is 90s nostalgia at its finest and only during the final few seasons, when the writing kind of fell apart and (as I mentioned) the characters become extreme versions of themselves does the connection to that zeitgeist feel a little bit forced. For what Friends really represents is a 90s nostalgia that never existed - it's kind of a modern day Leave It To Beaver. Maybe it rings a little truer in more urban areas, but let me tell you how I did not spend my 20s and early 30s hanging out in a coffee shop waiting for my friends to show up. No, TV is not reality, especially a show like Friends, but I think it plugged into the kind of community that a lot of people our age really wanted but were having a hard time getting. Who wouldn't want a group of close knit slightly neurotic (in a good way) friends to be with and to have basically as a "family of choice?"

When Heidi and I were rewatching Friends on DVD (which took about half the time that it took for the show to actually air), there were a lot of times that I found myself a bit wistful for what I knew really never was. I always wished that I knew someone like Phoebe. I always loved (and was frequently a bit jealous of) the relationship between Joey and Chandler which was probably one of the best examples of a bromance before bromance was a buzz word. Even self-absorbed Rachel and massively OCD Monica were very oddly comforting. By magnifying their quirks, the writers somehow managed to make mine feel a bit smaller.

And then there's Ross. *sigh*

Whenever I do one of those "which Friend are you?" quizzes, I always, without fail, get Ross. And that kind of ticks me off because I don't think that I am in any way as pathetic as Ross. Ross is so much a victim of his life's circumstances which is something I try to avoid. But when I'm honest with myself, I'm so not a Chandler (everyone always wants to be a Chandler) and hell no, I'm not a Joey. So that leaves Ross. There are so many episodes of Friends that have massively painful Ross moments, and they usually aren't the focus of the episode. It's always some dumb plot point that relies on Ross being clueless or socially inept and it's usually regarding his rather hapless efforts to find love. These moments multiply exponentially in the final seasons to the point that it really is just so much farce. I have blocked a lot of them out, but so much of the time, it was like watching a horror film through your fingers.

So yeah, Andrew is right. Ross is the most punchable face on television, but I don't think that just because I keep getting him on a stupid Facebook quiz means that I'm equally punchable. All in all, if I had to pick, I'd rather be Paul Rudd as Phoebe's husband Mike Hannigan (aka Crap Bag) than any of the the three main Friends. But who in the hell DOESN'T want to be Paul Rudd? The guy is crazy cool.

If it hadn't been for Wendy, this post would never have happened. Honestly, I don't usually think about Friends this much. But now I want to go rewatch the series. Or maybe just the one in which Chandler is trapped in an ATM vestibule with Jill Goodacre.

I look forward to hearing what others think - does Friends hold up? Or is it just hopelessly dated and passe?

Monday, November 08, 2010

Massacre on QVCUK

To be honest, today was a bit of a misfire. Up too late last night, up too early today. No nap. Lots of work to do - some of which I did, most of which fell by the wayside. I did end up taking Anna out to the dollar theater to see Toy Story 3 which was pretty damn amazing. Mostly, I just liked being there with her. I hope she still will go see movies with me when she's 13 and 15 and whatever. Who knows if she will. A dad can hope though.

I had a post that I really wanted to write but I simply ran out of time today, so it'll have to wait for another day. That's okay, really. November has plenty of days! So in the place of a real post, here's the most horrifying thing I've seen all day (courtesy of P.Viktor.)



Yes, that is Elaine Paige massacring "Take A Bow" - one of Madonna's biggest hits. As a friend of mine said when I sent him the link - MY EARDRUMS ARE BLEEDING.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Dolly-lusional

Fandom is an interesting phenomenon. Even as diehard of a Madonna as I am, I'm still pretty tame compared to some. All you have to do is head over to a message board and you'll see that, despite my ability to talk about nearly any aspect of her career, I am clearly not as obsessed as some of the fans. My friend Kelly once said that you haven't really experienced something until you've dipped into an obsession. While I think that's true, my view on that has softened significantly as I have gotten older. And after watching the documentary For the Love of Dolly tonight, I'm more convinced than ever that fandom is one of those things that can go from charming to downright creepy in 3 seconds or less.

For the Love of Dolly is a 2006 documentary that follows five extremely avid fans of Dolly Parton - and that is putting it mildly. They have gone beyond the usual collecting of her music and movies and interest in her projects. These people live and breathe Dolly. Their homes are filled with Dolly memorabilia. Dolly dolls, posters, records and CDs adorn the walls and shelves. One of the fans sports a tattoo of Dolly's autograph. They've saved the clothes that they were wearing the first time they met Dolly. Dolly has signed a wide variety of items that they proudly display under glass cases. One wanted to drain their backyard swimming pool to have a portrait of Dolly painted on the bottom. They have made it their life mission to follow Dolly. And they gather annually in Pigeon Forge, TN for the Dolly Parade, an event for which Dolly serves as the grand marshal. They long for just an acknowledgment from Dolly and since they have been so persistent, they usually get it which just serves to fuel the obsession.

I'm not quite sure what the intent of this documentary was, but if it was to portray these five fans in a positive light, it missed the mark by about 100 miles. Rather than understanding the reasons for this level of devotion, I found myself saying to myself throughout the 60 minute documentary "These people need help. Professional help."

I get that these people took a great deal of personal inspiration from Dolly. I think Dolly herself would appreciate that. But when someone goes and creates a life-size replica of Dolly's Tennessee Mountain Home cabin in their backyard complete with dolls representing Dolly and her childhood best friend Judy Ogle, I think it's safe to say that things have gone a little overboard. And when you add in the fact that to make this cabin replica, the fan took a piece of wood from the Tennessee Mountain Home cabin at Dollywood and TOOK THE WOOD TO HOME DEPOT TO HAVE IT COLOR MATCHED, you've crossed a line that I can't even come close to. It's one thing to be a fan, it's quite another to let said fandom take over your life.

I thought I had seen everything, but the scene in which two of the fans track down a car owned by Judy Ogle that had been sold back to a dealer really took the cake. They scoured the car for Dolly's hair. They were obsessed with the fact that Dolly had ridden in the passenger's seat. They LICKED the seat belt. Even my 8 year-old recognized the batshit craziness - her comment was "Yuck, Dad! That has DNA on it!"

I really do love Dolly and her music. I have been a fan of hers since I was a kid and was a fan before I even knew that I was a fan. I'm also a fan of a lot of other artists and celebrities. A friend of mine is fond of saying that if you don't have passions, you're a little bit untrustworthy and I mostly agree with that. But these people? I'd be backing away slowly from them. They scared me with their level of devotion. And if I were Dolly, I would be putting out a restraining order on them. But since she's Dolly, she doesn't and she meets them and signs whatever random crap they've brought and accepts their handwritten crazy stalker notes.

Maybe it's just me, but I'm one that likes to keep the objects of my fandom at a comfortable distance. In the end, they are just people like you and me - they just happen to be famous. And I think that if I got too close, the illusion would be shattered and well, I kind of like the illusions I have built up around some of my favorite artists. I have no desire to meet Madonna - she'd likely be bitchy! Don't get me wrong, I understand the devotion but I feel like fans that tip into obsession have really lost sight of reality and end up putting a lot on the celebrity that isn't really there to begin with. What killed me the most was how these folks assumed a personal relationship with Dolly. I suppose if that delusion helps them get through the day, well, more power to them but not being able to see the folly in that is quite dangerous. Somewhere, somehow, the balance was lost.

All I can say is that if I ever tell a potential employer that I need a flexible schedule to be able to follow Dolly Parton around, someone please organize an intervention.