Saturday, December 31, 2005
For tonight's New Year's celebration in Times Square, there will apparently be no port-a-johns for people to use. That means if you have to go, your options are limited: hold it, go on the street, or try to get into one of the businesses in the area, purchase something, and then use the customer's only restroom. Or you could take my grandma's suggestion: wear an adult diaper and forget about it. She's so resourceful!

In any case, happy new year.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005
On Monday, after a visit with some rarely-seen relatives in Ann Arbor, we decided to catch a movie before heading back home. Ann Arbor has a few, let's say, "indie" theatres that show smaller budget movies that usually don't make their way to a less "indie"-friendly town like the one in which we currently live, and we wanted to take advantage of that. Our first choice was the critically-acclaimed but very long Brokeback Mountain, but it was 9:30, and we still had a 90 minute drive home ahead of us, so in the interest of getting home at a more decent hour, we opted for the much shorter Jesus is Magic. We thought it looked funny, and Paul had a bit of a crush on Sarah Silverman, so we bought tickets (at a very un-"indie" price of $8.50 each) and went in.

Oh please. Don't waste your money on this movie. If you feel you must see it, wait for the DVD, but honestly, it's 72 minutes of a supposed comedy, and for about 68 minutes, you're trying to figure out what's so funny. Seriously. Most of Sarah Silverman's comedy shtick is in its shock value, which I don't discount on premise alone, but almost all of her jokes were about being shocking and not about being funny. Which first and foremost is what a joke should be. Funny, that is. To me, anyway. Call me a purist, but I kind of think comedy should be funny.

Example: There were jokes about 9/11. Jokes! About 9/11! Now, maybe I just can't think of anything funny about a massive and recent terrorist attack on our country (or any country, really), but that doesn't mean they're not out there. But her jokes seemed mostly about the very act of making a joke about 9/11, and how unbelievable that was. It felt like the members of the live audience in the movie (it's mostly a stand-up feature) were laughing nervously because they were at a comedy show and that's what they were supposed to do, and not because the comedy was truly funny. It didn't feel genuine at all.

I know Sarah Silverman is the new breakout star, or about to be the new breakout star, or whatever, but I'm not buying it. She's been good in other things I've seen her in, but on her own, delivering her own material, she's way too ooh-look-at-me and check-out-how-edgy-I-am, and I think she's overplaying the cute-and-sassy card and is just generally narcissistic and vain. For a comedian in her first starring role, she was remarkably unfunny. I think Paul's comment as we were leaving the theatre summed it up: "I don't have a crush on her anymore." Fine with me.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Friday, December 23, 2005
You know how some people with lots of money like to spend their vacations at one of these overpriced cooking fantasy camp-type dealies where they spend all day paying to cook fancy meals in a shiny kitchen with a pseudo-celebrity chef at a makeshift school with the word "institute" in the name? Yes, well, I've been running one of those in my house these past few days, but the only difference is that I'm both teacher and student, and I didn't blow my savings to do it in an exclusive tropical location. In other words, my time off has been spent in my kitchen, which I really enjoy. The past few days have been all food, all the time, and the excitement continues tomorrow! There have been some successes (so very lovely butternut squash soup and homemade herb bread!) and some less-than-successful attempts that were tasty nonetheless (oh homemade jam tarts, why must you come out of the oven all runny and unpretty looking?), and tomorrow promises some new adventures in baking (rugelach here I come). And it's been fun, too; yesterday I was dipping pretzels in chocolate for a few hours and listening to the show tunes channel on the digital music (shut up) and singing along when I knew the words (Hey, hobo man, hey, dapper dan, etc.).

This is all very fun for me because I get to all of the big fancy time-off-from-work cooking without any of the holiday-related stress because really, Jews don't get stressed about Christmas. No one expects anything from us on Christmas, since it's not our holiday, and if we do anything for a Christmas-related get-together, everyone's glad and a little surprised. And if it happens to taste good and is homemade, all the better. Win win!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005
Lately I've been seeing this PSA on tv about how kids who are shorter than four feet, nine inches should be in booster seats, and it's extremely troubling to me. Have you seen it too?

I am, of course, in agreement that kids should be in some kind of car seat thing when they're little. I guess this is a relatively recent recommendation (I don't think our grandparents had car seats when they were little, or even seatbelts, for that matter), but it makes sense, and I am a big fan of the safety first philosophy. Be safe, is what I always say. But what bothers me is the 4'9" height recommendation. Why? Heh. I'm 5'2". If there's a rise in atmospheric pressure, I might be a bit less. I think I was 15 before I broke the 4'9" barrier. What self-respecting 15-year-old would be caught dead riding in a booster seat? Not one! And yes, I am aware that self-respecting 15-year-old is an oxymoron. Just go with me here.

So yes, I'm short. I'm the shortest one in my family. I'm the shortest one in your family too, probably. I hate height requirements. Always have. On more than one occasion when I was a kid, I couldn't ride the rides I wanted to ride at the amusement park because the top of my head cleared the cardboard cut-out hand of whatever cartoon character happily indicated that you must be this tall to ride this ride. And really, 4'9" is just barely under five feet. I had a friend in college who was maybe 4'7" (and I'm sure she hasn't gotten any taller), and I have an aunt who I'm pretty sure isn't tall enough to not be in a booster seat, according to the government's recommendations. Ha -- maybe she can get a booster seat put in the driver's side of her Pathfinder!

I know the government isn't recommending that we short adults use booster seats, but I do think there should be some kind of age cut-off too. Like, under 4'9" or younger than 11. I think that would make me feel better.

Monday, December 19, 2005
We went to a wedding this weekend. It was in a Chicago suburb, right across the street from an enormous shopping mall. It was a good weekend to not go shopping. Things I did on our quick trip:

  • Slept on a really comfortable hotel bed, which apparently was very new. Oh god it was nice. It was like the mattress molded itself to me.
  • Drank quite a bit of vodka.
  • Ate like an entire wheel of brie at the reception. Brie is one of my favorite things on the planet, and I will eat my weight in it if no one stops me (which no one did), but I guess it's not for everyone. I convinced a few other people to try it. Not one of them liked it, and one even remarked that it tasted like linoleum. More for me, I guess.
  • After getting directions from Evan, who used to live in the area, made a quick trip to Trader Joe's, one of my favorite stores of all time, for an exotic grocery run for old favorites and new discoveries. (Note to self: don't buy dried dragonfruit again. It tastes like linoleum.) Sadly, they no longer sell the outstanding Mario Batali pasta sauce.
  • Jamba Juice!
  • Went for a swim. Then went for a soak in the hot tub. Then remembered I don't like it when there are strangers in a hot tub with me. Then got out.
As you can see, it was quite an exciting weekend.

Thursday, December 15, 2005
As an outsider in the current don't-say-happy-holidays-when-you-mean-merry-Christmas outrage, I have to say that I'm really amused. I call myself an outsider in this situation because I don't celebrate Christmas. So my initial reaction to all of the sudden hyper-sensitivity to the lack of Merry Christmas wishes at department stores and on television networks and in the media in general is more or less, you silly Christians! But then I start to think about it more, and at some point I decide all of these people are idiots.

Listen: aside from the handful of stores in the very Jewish area where I grew up and aside from the one or two five-second slates on the New York network affiliates wishing "all of our Jewish friends a very joyous Hanukkah," no department store, media outlet, or other large corporate-backed entity has ever wished me anything close to what is religiously correct for me. Hell, to me, happy holidays is polite! And if someone does wish me a happy Hanukkah, I'm usually touched by their sensitivity and thoughfulness. But most of the time, people say Merry Christmas, and I say thanks, or you too, or whatever, and I briefly remind myself that we don't all have the same religious foundation, and I smile, and I forget about it and move on with my life, and it doesn't fester inside me like a giant fucking tumor. But some of you Christians -- when you get all worked up about happy holidays instead of Merry Christmas, I think you're focusing on the wrong thing.

Because you know what? If Target wishes you happy holidays, no angels are getting flogged. No one's getting hurt. And if you're one of these people who think that having a good holiday means being offered the right greeting by a national department store, how Christian are you? I'm no expert on Christianity, but doesn't family and self-reflection and goodwill toward men and peace on earth and forgiveness and all that other stuff in the New Testament that I've never actually read but have heard so much about have a little more to do with the season than the marketing message of a store trying to sell you material goods? It seems to me that the spirit of the season is within you. Or should be, anyway.

And then there's this: there's a war going on! And people from New Orleans are living in tents! And people are homeless in your own little town, and you're getting all worked up over semantics? I don't want to sound like a conspiracy-theorist liberal, but if the Bush administration started this Christmas-or-else nonsense to divert attention away from the horror show of a foreign policy they've got going on, it wouldn't surprise me one bit. Please: I don't mean to sound disrespectful, but please: be nice and calm down. If you feel ulcers forming every time you think about this whole every-time-you-say-seasons-greetings-an-angel-loses-its-wings, I think you might be losing sight of what's really important.

Of course, you may disagree. And you'd be justified, because I am Jewish and obviously, this is not my territory here. But I think you people are so silly.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005
Okay, after who knows how many tissues, napkins, and other paper-based mucus receptacles, plus many extra hours of sleep, lots of pillow drool, and an XL crockpot full of turkey soup, I think I am back to normal. I guess this one didn't last too long, which is nice, because fuck, I hate being sick. And you'd think most people would (hate being sick, that is), but a few years ago, when I was waiting on line at a fairly public place to get a flu shot, an acquaintance of mine walked by, and I yelled hello and asked her if she planned to get a flu shot, and she was like, hell no I'm not getting a flu shot, because getting the flu is the only chance I have of getting some time off from work this winter. I thought that sounded kind of dumb (and, frankly, uncreative -- I can think of all kinds of ways to get a bit of time off from any job), but it made me realize that maybe some people, in their own sick, demented ways, actually look forward to getting sick. Yeah, I don't get it either.

Monday, December 12, 2005
So yeah. I got the sick. Whatever's been making people feel all sneezy coughy wheezy lately, whatever's been plugging sinuses and closing elementary schools and making people take this potential flu pandemic thing just a little more seriously than they otherwise would have, yeah, I got it. It's not the flu or pneumonia or something serious, and it's not like debilitating or body-aching or anything like that, but my head feels like it's full of glue (Ross Mucilage kind), and there is all kinds of slime coming out of my nostrils. Really! And my teeth hurt, probably because of sinus congestion. And I've gone through a whole box of blue Sudafed (or as I like to call them, Bludafed), and the more I take, the less potent and effective they are. And my eyes are all itchy and watery and stuff. And don't get me started on how red and raw and sensitive and fucking painful the skin under my nose is. I know it's just a cold, but the pressure inside my head is tremendous, and while I'd never actually attempt it, at times like these I can kind of understand some of the thinking behind trephination. Anyway, I am hoping it goes away soon.

Thursday, December 8, 2005
When I'm home in New York and I'm in my car, I like to listen to 880 AM. It's the CBS AM flagship station (the call letters are WCBS), and it's your basic news talk station, but with a few differences. First, there's no syndicated programming. All of the news is reported live, and they don't take call-ins or give advice or take political sides. The second main difference is that they're constantly telling you the weather and the traffic conditions. They do it every ten minutes on the 8s, just like the Weather Channel does the local forcast, except I think WCBS was doing it first, and long before there was an entire basic cable channel devoted to the weather.

When I'm driving to New York, I try to tune in 880 in Eastern Pennsylvania; it's kind of like how I know I'm getting close. If I can get the station in, I know I don't have far to go. And when I'm driving back to Michigan, I see how long I can get the station to come in as I head into the hills of central PA.

So a few weeks ago, I was driving back from New York. It was about seven at night, and I had just crossed over into Michigan. I was scanning the AM dial and listening for something interesting to keep me alert, when the dial caught and held on a news broadcast. I looked down at the radio and noticed it was on 880. I figured it was another station somewhere in Michigan or Indiana, but then an 8 hit, and they started giving the weather, and then they started giving the traffic and talking about backups at the Lincoln Tunnel, and I was like, holy crap, I am getting reception from a broadcast tower almost 700 miles away! My first reaction was my antenna rocks! But then I remembered that a few big stations boost their power after dark, and that this must be the reason why I was able to get it in. And you know, I was able to listen to the station right up until I got home. When I pulled in my driveway, it was still coming in perfectly. As it turns out, after sundown, I can listen to a New York station. All this time in Michigan, and I'm just now figuring this out!

So now, when I'm driving around town and it's after dark, I listen to 880 AM. Sometimes it's a little scratchy, but for some reason, I get a huge kick out of all of this. It's kind of nice to hear New York accents on the radio (and not in a mocking, Joe Pesci tough guy or Fran Dresher ho bag kind of way), and I really enjoy hearing what the traffic's like! Not that it does me any immediate good to know what the inbound and outbound Holland looks like, or how the Deegan or Van Wyck are moving, or which deck on the George Washington Bridge is my best bet, or if mass transit is on or close to schedule, or if there are delays at any of the crossings. In a weird way, it's kind of comforting to know that even though I'm on the other side of the time zone, the traffic is still being reported because it matters to a whole lot of people, even if I don't happen to be one of them.

Wednesday, December 7, 2005
Last year when I turned 30, it was all traumatic, and I was kind of freaking out and stuff, but this year, my birthday hardly seems significant. And that's fine. In fact, on Friday, I had to tell three people that I wasn't a high school student. So. I'm 31 today, and the only thing that I can think of that I really need to remember is to punch in my correct age in the treadmill at the Y before I work out so it can correctly calculate the number of calories a person of my age would burn at any given speed and incline.

Monday, December 5, 2005
So if you've been reading this site for a while, you may remember that I used to frequently write about the books I read. And you may have noticed that I haven't done that in a long time. And maybe you thought that's because I haven't been reading. Maybe you even thought that I've become lazy, and that after those heady years of higher education and fancy literature classes and writing workshops, I denounced it all in favor of snippet-laden VH1 programming. And, well, you wouldn't be completely wrong. But I have been reading! I have! Really!

What I have been reading is Infinite Jest by freakishly smart MacArthur Genius Grant recipient David Foster Wallace. Let me tell you, this book's title may sound like a joke, but it is no laughing matter, my friend. Why not? I'll tell you why not. Because it's like 1,000 pages. Well, 968, if you want to get specific, which you most certainly should, want to get specific, that is, because this book is nothing else if not specific. (You don't fill that many pages on vague allusions, you know.) Oh, and then there's like another 300 pages of endnotes, which you have to read because they're kind of integral to the story, and they're in this really tiny font, like 6-point size. So you have to use two bookmarks. And the sentences are ridiculously long, with all kinds of asides and parenthetical comments and clauses set off by m-dashes for added emphasis, and the references get pretty obscure, so in addition to flipping back and forth to the endnotes, you kind of need a good dictionary close by also. It's one of those books that requires you to read each sentence a few times, and as such, it takes a while to get through. I started reading it around the middle of June. I finished it last week. Laugh if you want, but let's see how long it takes you to get through it, pally.

You may have read the book's title just now and thought that it sounded vaguely familiar. If you did, kudos! You sure do know your Shakespeare. "Infinite Jest" is from Hamlet -- the scene in the graveyard where Hamlet holds Yorick's skull and remembers him as "a fellow of infinite jest." DFW's novel is, in some ways, a rewrite of Shakespeare's plot, but in a lot of other ways, it's nothing like Shakespeare. Yes, you have a dead father, a protagonist who is Aspergers-ish, obsessively smart (named Hal, a sort of nickname for Hamlet, I'm guessing), and subplots in the form of film criticism (rather than Shakespeare's play within the play). But there's also tennis (lots of tennis), AA meetings and halfway houses and the nature of addictions, the end of broadcast television, subsidized time, weird North American unity and infighting, and wheelchair assassins. (Wheelchair assassins! I know!) The title of the book is also the title of a film, or piece of entertainment, in the novel which is so compelling that anyone who watches it never wants to do anything else besides view it endlessly until they die of whatever kills them first; those who are removed from the film's presence (by first shutting off the electricity, since if someone were to go in to rescue them from the film's grasp, that person too would become seduced by its powers) are rendered drooling idiots, doomed to spend the rest of their days in dreaded assisted living facilities having their chins wiped and being fed with a spoon.

If you're not sure how all of these elements could possibly come together to a satisfying conclusion, let me give you somewhat of a spoiler: they don't. Here's how the book works. You read the first 900 pages, and all the time you're thinking, man, when he finally ties all of this shit together, it's gonna be fucking brilliant. And then after 900 pages, when you're really not seeing how it's gonna come together, you kind of think, well, Mr. Wallace has taken me this far, and I don't see how he can disappoint me now, because look at how much I have invested in this thing! And then at like page 950, you start to get worried, because you really don't see how it can all tie together in the next 18 pages. And then, on 968, when you can see the end space after the final period, and you're really worried, and you read the last paragraph a few times because you think maybe DFW is so damn clever that maybe you missed that magical moment where it all makes sense, you feel that disappointment. And it hurts. And then you think, Wallace, you fucker, you smug bastard. You made me want this book to make sense like all of those shaky alcoholics and speed addicts and moaning drolls watching the addictive film want their substances of choice. Genius! You, sir, are a genius, and well deserving of that quarter of a million dollars that Kingdom MacArthur has bestowed upon you. Well deserving. Well deserving. Yeah, but still, between you and me, I feel a little let down.

Still again, if you have the room in your life for 1200 pages (endnotes, remember) of big-word insanity, you really couldn't pick a better read. And I'll tell you something else: because it took me so long to get through Infinite Jest, it really became part of my life. I would think about these characters, and the scenarios of Wallace's fictional world, and I kind of developed an emotional stake in it. And now that I'm done and no longer reading it (and no longer have the hope that it will somehow make some semblance of sense in the end), I feel like I'm lacking something. Which makes me kind of want to start reading it again. Which, yeah, is exactly, exactly like the film in the book, Wallace, you clever fucking longhaired hippie ratfucker, turning my life into an endless reading of your ridiculously subreferenced and punned beast of a novel. Goddamn I hate smart people. I guess that's why they affectionately call them genius grants.

One more thing: please read this book. I need someone to discuss it with.

Sunday, December 4, 2005
After a week of cooking and baking and vacuuming and washing and setting up and straightening up, we finally had our big housewarming party. It was a little crazy, and for a while our house was pretty much wall-to-wall people, and we went through a lot of wine and beer and booze, and no one ate as much as I thought they would (WTF?), and now we have lots of leftover food (but no leftover crabcakes, which I made after I got some flack for buying a box of heat-n-serve snacks), but all in all, it was fun. And our friends were very sweet and brought us bottles of wine and nice little household things, which means we'll be eating sweets for a long time, and which also means we really need to get a wine rack. And the clean-up wasn't even too bad. And, I think, now my schedule gets much lighter. I hope.

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