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AUGUST 2004
Monday, August 30, 2004
I have to go back to work tomorrow. I'm totally bummed that school is happening again this year.

Sunday, August 29, 2004
I totally forgot that I was going to talk about the books I've had time to read! Okay then. After going a few years since reading a Paul Auster book, I got around to reading The New York Trilogy. The collection consists of three stories: "City of Glass," "Ghosts," and "The Locked Room." All three, like some of Auster's other work, has a mystery-novel feel to it, and I think he's very good at creating tension and making you wonder what the hell is going on. His characters are mostly believable, and he's obviously intelligent and well-read, weaving references to everyone from John Milton to Alice in Wonderland throught his narratives. I was really interested for the first 90% of all three stories.

But, I think Auster falls short in his endings. Maybe it's just me, but at the end of all three stories, I was a little disappointed. It just didn't seem like anything really got resolved in a satisfying way, and I found myself wishing he had given his stories more of a conclusion. I don't think I always need a story to be wrapped up neatly at the end, but with a mystery-ish story, the last thing I want to say when I'm done reading it is, "That's it?" And that's what I said at the end of these.

Still, Auster might be worth reading for all of the aforementioned good qualities. And, if you prefer a more visual approach, City of Glass is also available as a graphic novel. Cool!

Thursday, August 26, 2004
They're out there? A crop circle was found in a field about 20 miles from where I live! Having never really spent much time around corn, or farms, or anything even remotely agricultural, I was kind of interested in seeing this whole crop circle phenomenon. And you know, it's a little creepy. It seems like it would be difficult for a person to knock down all that corn, and to do it in a circle (this one was more elliptical, but it was still shaped well). And although it was kind of close to the road, there weren't any tracks in, according to the local paper, which has been following the story. Caused by aliens? Probably not. But it's as weird as I thought it would be.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004
Notes from the past few days:

  • You can't buy alcohol on Sundays in Indiana. In the entire state of Indiana. Those slimy bastards.
  • I've been falling asleep really early on the couch lately. It's like I'm 80.
  • Aqua Teen Hunger Force kicks ass!
  • Geez. I'm not very chatty today. Try again tomorrow maybe.
Sunday, August 22, 2004
I'm in a hotel room in Indianapolis. I haven't seen much of the city, and I probably won't, but the suburban area I'm in looks exactly like suburban Chicago: mostly highway-ish streets intersecting and enormous shopping malls with upscale chains and big mid-priced chain restaurants. In fact, the hotel is behind a mall. If I didn't know I was in Indianapolis, this could be anywhere. I kind of want to go home.

Thursday, August 19, 2004
I readjusted my cable tv the other day, due to some readjusting on the part of the local cable company. I called to see where my Sundance and IFC channels went, and they told me that for just five bucks more a month, they'd give those channels back to me, plus five HBO channels and a whole slew of other stuff, plus they'd up the speed of my cable modem. So I considered it for five seconds, decided I wouldn't miss five bucks more per month, and agreed. Now I have like 300 channels.

So far, I can't switch off of VH1 Classic. Have you seen VH1 Classic? It's awesome! It's videos for every song ever made ever! Well, not every song, because they don't play recent stuff (that's what VH1 Hits is for) or country music (see VH1 Country), but they play videos for songs you didn't even know had videos. And you know what? Music videos used to be really bad! Not bad as in, I can't watch this, but bad as in campy. So I am really enjoying watching videos by Nick Lowe and The Jesus and Mary Chain ("Head On" had a video? I had no idea) and Alphaville (bad bad hair, and hello? Too much eyeliner!) and Duran Duran and 10,000 Maniacs from back in the day when Natalie Merchant used to wear those frumpy old lady dresses. It used to be that Food Network was the default channel on my tv, but VH1 Classic is taking over.

Monday, August 16, 2004
When I was little, my mom listened to country music. Therefore, when I was little, I listened to country music. It wasn't so much that I liked country music, but it's what my mom listened to (and still listens to, even though what country music is has changed drastically -- but that's another topic). I was too young to realize that there were listening options beyond country music, so I just assumed that country music was the only thing to listen to. Of course, this all changed soon enough, and I started listening to the Top 40 station like every other kid in the third grade. I also decided that I hated country music.

Lately, as you probably know, it's become cool to hate contemporary country music (which technically isn't country music) but really like old school country. It's okay to look down on people like Shania Twain, for example, but if you can't see the inherent brilliance of people like Hank Williams and Patsy Cline and Johnny Cash and George Jones, you just don't appreciate good music. I will admit that over the past few years, I've come around to liking some of these "classic" artists, but I generally don't listen to country music unless it's on a sound system that I don't have control over (or if it's the horribly out of context Martina McBride intro to the Sean Hannity radio show, but again -- another topic).

So over the past few Sunday evenings, I've been driving in my car and scanning the radio, and I discovered that one of the local country radio stations -- and there are many -- does an all-request classic country show for five hours on Sunday nights. At first I started listening because the timing of their commercial breaks were opposite the stations that I usually listen to. But now, I listen to it almost exclusively when I'm in the car on Sunday nights. I thought it would be fun to see if I remembered any of these songs, but I'm mostly horrified because not too long ago, I realized as I was hurtling down the 94 that I remember all of them. Sure, it's all well and good to know a common song like "Stand By Your Man," but why in the name of all things holy do I remember every single fucking word to "That's My Job"? Remember that song? It's by Conway Twitty! Remember Conway Twitty? Of course you don't -- why on earth would you? Yet I do.

I know them all. Everything that DJ throws at me, I can sing along with. Songs about not even calling me by my name, hiring a wino to decorate our home, how's the frost out on the pumpkin -- the whole lot of them. Now I listen to see if I'll be stumped. So far it hasn't happened. I don't know if I should be concerned, since it is country music, or start bragging, since knowing these songs might be considered cool. For now, I'm concerned.

Saturday, August 14, 2004
Julia Child died yesterday. I used to really like watching her on tv, and I think she and the Frugal Gourmet (who also died not long ago) were mainly responsible for my learning how to cook. I liked her because she showed that you could make seemingly exotic food at home, and if you made a few mistakes along the way, it was okay, because if you can make it work in the end, who's going to know you messed up? (It was this attitude that once helped me turn a slab of bad fudge into a plate of kickass truffles.) I also liked her approach to food. That is, eat everything, and enjoy what you're eating, and just don't overdo it. Throughout all of the low fat, low cal, low carb, fat free, South Beach, grapefruit, cabbage, Zone diet nonsense, she kept on eating eggs with mayonnaise, white bread with butter, liver with bacon, and just about everything else that's supposedly bad for you. And she lived into her 90s, strong and smart. Dr. Atkins was so weak from carb deprivation that a small patch of ice was enough to do him in. There's a lesson here.

On a related topic, I saw Supersize Me last night. While the premise was a little extreme -- eat nothing but McDonalds for 30 days? -- it was fun to watch Morgan Spurlock try to turn himself into Michael Moore (physically, anyway). But it still amazes me that so many people eat McDonalds on a regular basis and then complain that they can't lose weight. I think one thing that Julia Child knew that a lot of people today don't get is that no matter how healthy you think you're eating, if you're not making it yourself, you really can't be sure. Yeah, Julia used butter and mayo and bacon fat and chicken fat and heavy cream, and that was just to cook one Porterhouse, but she knew exactly what was in that recipe and she didn't overeat. I'm not sure that McDonald's fried contain real potatoes.

To sum up: Sad about Julia. See Supersize Me. Cook your own dinner.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004
A few years ago when Zadie Smith's White Teeth came out, I wanted to read it, but...I didn't. I don't know why. I just didn't. But I've always meant to. But then a few months ago when I was in the local big box book store, her second novel, The Autograph Man, was on the clearance rack for five bucks. So I bought it. And it was five bucks well spent.

Let me go off on a tangent for a bit here, as it sort of relates to a point I want to make about the book. When I go places, I like to take pictures. Sometimes I take lots of pictures. Sometimes all I do is take pictures. But sometimes it concerns me that I'm replacing the actual experience of whatever I'm doing with the experience of documenting my surroundings. In other words, I'm not truly enjoying the beach because I'm so engrossed in photographing the beach. And yes, that in and of itself can be an enjoyable experience, but it replaces the experience of the sand, the water, the ice cream, the beach balls, and so on. In the end, I don't have the memory of my experience, but I've recorded what should have been my experience.

I think this idea is, in a similar form, present in The Autograph Man. The protagonist is, as the title suggests, a collector and seller of autographs -- documents of a person being present to sign a piece of paper (a photo, a guitar, what-have-you) without necessarily coming into contact with the person itself. You can't buy and sell a person, of course, but you can buy and sell autographs which may or may not be true signatures of the person behind the name. A big point that I got out of the book is that at what point does the autograph replace, or become, the person itself? (There's a Derrida essay on this, but since I've tried to block out a lot of that stuff, I will not be discussing it in this space. I also remember this theme being somehow present in Laurence Sterne's A Sentimental Journey in that Mr. Yorick fretted that he wrote too much in his journal and didn't enjoy his travels, but that discussion took place like ten years ago, so I don't remember it really well, and besides, half of the text was in French without the luxury of a translation, and since I don't speak French, I skipped major sections of that book. Major. Anyway.)

There's more to The Autograph Man than that, of course. There's a main plot involving a reclusive former bombshell movie star, a lot of subplot about Jewish mysticism (you know...Kabbalah!), and all of the clever winding digressions that you'd expect from a work of hysterical realism. And the writing is clean and intelligent, which I guess should go without saying, but I still appreciate it.

All of this, of course, makes me want to go out and get White Teeth and read it soon. Strangely, The Autograph Man didn't get nearly as big of a promotional push as White Teeth, Smith's first novel, received. This either means that White Teeth is really really good, or that you can be the "Next Big Thing" once and only once. And should this phenomenon interest you, there was an article about this very subject (that is, debut novelists, not autograph collecting) in this past February's issue of The Believer.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004
From the "That's Just Wrong" Department: You can buy a Paula Deen-inspired shirt with the phrase Put Some South in your Mouth on it. Wrong, wrong, and wrong.

Monday, August 9, 2004
With all of my time off this summer, I've actually had time to read! But somehow, I've forgotten to write here about what I've been reading. Until now, that is. So:

I bought a copy of Vikram Seth's The Golden Gate at a book sale in grad school like six or seven years ago after reading that it was kind of clever. Why is it clever? Because it's written in sonnets, that's why. Petrarchan, I think, but gah, who can keep them all straight? Anyway, I was skeptical, but it was indeed very clever. The story itself is simple but very accessible and even a little sad, and the verse form made it fun to read. I usually have trouble reading longer works in rhyming verse, as I get tripped up in the rhyme scheme and lose what's going on (it took me like three reads of The Rape of the Lock before I finally had some idea of the story), but The Golden Gate was no problem. I liked it. Give it a try.

More book chat later in the month. In completely other news, a local Chuck-E-Cheese-type pizza and ball-pit place closed this week! I'm not sure why: it always seemed full of screaming kids and parents with pain killers (for the headaches, you understand). The pizza was lousy, but I'm pretty sure that's not why people go to those places. Anyway, it was kind of surprising. The sadness of the local kids is probably matched only by the sheer glee of those kids' parents.

Thursday, August 5, 2004
Two wheels better. I've been wondering lately: How can I combine my need for a little more excitement in my life, my desire to combat high gas prices, and my goal to one day own a Vespa? It's simple! I could do all of the above by buying a killer Yamaha Vino! I picked this puppy up on Monday night, and let me tell you, it kicks so much ass. I can't think of a better way to get around during the summer. It's fun, it goes up to 30 miles per hour, and it gets almost 100 miles per gallon! Yeah, it's not a Vespa, but Vespas are expensive, and there's no place to buy one in town. This looks Italian enough for me. Plus, I don't have to get special insurance or a special license or anything like that. Just a three-year registration for fifteen bucks and I'm good to go. And a helmet. That's important too. I got a helmet. It's black and shiny and protective and makes my head look like a mushroom.

I've been riding it around town for errands and to the gym, but mostly I've been just cruising and enjoying it. I get the occasional horn honk or "woohoo" from wannabe playas, which is okay but silly. But lots of women think it's really cool, and I see them smile when they drive past. A few have even come up and asked me about it, and said that they've always wanted one.

So: what have we learned today? We have learned that a kicky motor scooter is indeed a wise purchase. It's the most fun way to get around ever, it uses very little gas, there are few fees associated with riding one, and it promotes girl power. Does it get any better? (No. No it does not.)

Monday, August 2, 2004
Two wheels good. Mackinac Island is way way way up north in Michigan, right around where the upper and lower peninsulas meet. I should mention that it's pronounced MackiNAW; for the first few months I lived here, I pronounced it with a "C" until someone corrected me. Anyway, it was really beautiful, and one reason for this, I think, is that there are no cars or motor vehicles of any kind on the island. How do you get around? Walking, horses, horse-drawn carriages, or bikes. There are several thousand bikes on Mackinac, and it's cheap to rent one. The perimeter of the island is eight miles, which takes about an hour or so to cover on bike, and you ride along the water, and the lighthouses and sailboats and trees and stones all look a little unreal.

Also available anywhere and everywhere on Mackinac Island is fudge. Supposedly it's the best fudge in the world. I've never really had bad fudge (except for one time when I tried to make it, but we won't get into that here), but the fudge on Mackinac is quite good, and these places must make a killing selling it to tourists. In a way it reminded me of when we used to go to the Jersey shore when I was little, and you could get fudge everywhere. Maybe it has something to do with vacation destinations located on water? I don't know.

Sunday, August 1, 2004
Doesn't look north, does it? I am now back after a week "up north" (see the last entry from last month for explanation), and I am happy to report that it's really nice! I had heard about the northern part of Michigan before I moved here; mainly, I had heard that every kid who grows up in this state spends at least a few days of his or her childhood at Sleeping Bear Dunes, a national park on the upper west coast of the state. This was one of the first stops on the trip, and it was beautiful. The huge mountains of sand and the blue sky were amazing, and the dunes are a blast to run down. It's also fun to watch little kids go too fast and unintentionally take a few tumbles, but maybe that's mean. Or...nah. They're kids. It's fun.

This shot was taken at the end of one of the trails in the park. Those are my feet in the foreground and Lake Michigan in the background. It's not easy to tell from the photo, but there's about a 350 or 400 foot drop from where I'm sitting down to the lake. It takes about a minute to get down, but getting up takes considerably longer. I can't tell you how long because it varies from person to person, and to be honest, I didn't try it. It was hot, and it looked like hard work. I was on vacation!


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