Sunday, February 26, 2006
I'm not sure why, but I have tomorrow off. I guess it's mid-winter break, even though it's only one day and not much of a break. Anyway, Paul was like, if you have the day off, I want the day off too. And I was like, fine, take the day off. And then he was like, since we both have the day off, let's go to Chicago. So tomorrow, while the rest of the world is at work, we're going to Chicago! It feels more significant than going on the weekend. Everyone has the weekend off.

Thursday, February 23, 2006
You may remember that a few months ago, I tried to make a custard pie, and it didn't go so well. Basically what happened is that it didn't set properly, and I had a bunch of milky (but very tasty) goo in a pie shell, and when I tried to cut a piece, it just all fell apart and looked pretty unappetizing. It got eaten (by Paul, who is really very good and nice about eating my cooking blunders), but it wasn't pie, per se. Well, I am happy to report that the friend who gave me that old-timey custard pie recipe and then heard about how it didn't work passed this NPR story link along to me. And I tried to make this buttermilk pie, which is really just a custard pie made with buttermilk instead of regular milk, when you think long and hard about it (don't think too hard about it), and it came out just right! I can cut slices and everything! We tasted it last night, though, and it is so unbelievably sweet. It's like eating a pie shell filled with cake batter. I don't have a problem with that, mind you, and the pie is actually kind of good, but wow, it's sweet. I think next time, I will try the less sweet variation. But it was super easy, and it worked, so I am happy with that.

Also: apparently, a dislike of Sandra Bullock runs in my family. In response to Tuesday's comments, my brother Evan wrote: "The reason you (and I) like Sandra Bullock in this movie is the same reason why all the riff raf I saw the movie with in Times Square months ago liked her...bitch got knocked down the stairs. Hard." Well, yes, that's a good point.

And a complete non-sequitur: today I heard someone say "meteorologist," and for a second, I heard "meaty urologist." What is that about?

Tuesday, February 21, 2006
In the past few days, I've seen not one, but two movies that are up for best picture. Two! I feel so current. On Sunday afternoon, we actually went to the newly renovated megaplex to finally see Brokeback Mountain. I guess I had anticipated a lot, given all the hype and media attention surrounding it, so as I sat in a new and really cushy chair, I was kind of expecting to be blown away.

It was good. It was really good. I liked it a lot, and I was completely into the story, but I didn't feel awed, or like it was the best thing I'd ever seen. I guess maybe Jake Glyllenhal's character seemed too predatory to me, and I kind of felt like they never fully established the depth of the relationship between the two at the beginning of the film. (Of course, it was made clear as the film went on, but I thought it needed to be sooner.) Yes, the scenery was great (who knew Alberta looked so nice?), and I thought Heath Ledger was fantastic, and I can see why it's up for best picture, but I guess after everything I'd heard and read about it, I was expecting more. I don't know what more. Just more.

And then last night we watched Crash at home on DVD. Maybe this is a good compare and contrast exercise, because I sat down to watch it knowing very little about the movie, and when it was over (two hours, one phone call, and an upset stomach "episode" later), I had that wow feeling that I was expecting after Brokeback Mountain. This, I think, is a best picture caliber movie. Everything about it is good! The script was a really well-written comment on racism, the interweaving of the stories felt natural, and the acting was surprisingly good. I even liked Sandra Bullock in this movie, and I usually can't stand her! In fact, as the opening credits were coming on, and the names of the actors in the ensemble cast faded in and out, I must have said something like, oh, I can't stand him/her at least three times. Yes, three times, in fact: once for Ms. Bullock, once for that stiff-necked punk Brendan Fraser (who wasn't great but who wasn't bad either), and once for that twerp Ryan Phillipe (also shockingly decent). This one is out on DVD, and if you haven't seen it, I strongly recommend it.

Sunday, February 19, 2006
This weekend, we did nothing. It was awesome.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006
I have a friend who I don't see very often, but just about every time Paul and I do see her, at some point during the visit, she starts singing the theme song to Green Acres. My friend does this because Paul grew up on a farm, and I grew up in New York. Not New York City exactly, but close enough to give my friend the idea to start singing the song. So almost every time we see her, she sings it. My friend thinks this is hysterical. We are, at best, mildly amused.

I of course knew the theme song to Green Acres, but lately I've been thinking: I've never seen a single episode. I know that sounds weird, because we had a tv in our house when I was growing up, and reruns in syndication were unavoidable in the late '70s and early '80s. But we also had cable from very early on (like '78, I think), so there was always Nickelodeon or MTV or something like that to watch, and I didn't have to resort to all the stuff on WWOR (back when it was just a little indie station, before its UPN days). For example, I didn't see a single episode of The Partridge Family until I was well into college. You know what? I wasn't missing much.

Last week, I realized that TV Land shows Green Acres at 11:30 every morning. That used to be Love Boat time (more often than not with special guest Charro), but these days, it's Green Acres time. And 11:30 is right in the middle of my designated lunch break, and I am usually home. So for the past few days, I've been watching Green Acres during lunchtime, and I have had the chance to form some opinions.

So let me get this straight. Eva Gabor is married to a wealthy New York lawyer who one day up and decides to buy a farm in the middle of nowhere, and she has to go with him, and that is the premise of the show. That? Is the premise? Wait wait wait. What about Eva's feelings? She obviously loves New York, and she really looks horribly out of place in that run down shack of a farm house, but she has to go? Didn't Oliver consider her feelings? It sure doesn't look like it! One simple "You are my wife," and Eva has to give up her Park Avenue digs for Green Acres? Didn't she get a vote? Why didn't she stand up to him? (I think it's been established that not taking crap is a Gabor family trait, so I would think she was more than capable.) Honestly, this is a huge step backwards for feminists. Charro would never put up with that kind of crap, I'll tell you that much.

And another thing: who farms in a suit? Isn't the guy supposed to be a big fancy rich lawyer? You'd think he could afford a pair of overalls. And they live in Hooterville? Christ, I don't even know where to start with that one. Obviously, this show had no female writers.

As you can tell, the show disgusts me. Maybe I would have felt differently watching it as a nine-year-old, but watching it now just pisses me off. So, upon this recent reflection, I want to change my reaction to being serenaded with the Green Acres theme song from mildly amused (at best) to please please please will you please stop singing that.

But: Green Acres is available on DVD! Why? This is a bad bad show.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006
You know what's a brilliant idea? Those little packets of fruity drink mix that you just dump into a 16.9 ounce (that's half a liter, the standard individual serving size) bottle of water and shake up. You don't have to use a pitcher, which is convenient for people who don't have a pitcher and don't want to buy one/clean one, and those 16.9 ounce bottles of water are freakin' everywhere. And sometimes when you make a whole pitcher, it just kind of sits around in the fridge, and soon it starts to taste like onions and refrigerator funk, and then you get this sludgy sediment that settles on the bottom of the pitcher, and then nobody drinks it, and it goes down the drain two weeks later. But those little packets of Crystal Light are really genius. You just make one bottleful at a time, and there's no waste, and no sediment, and don't get me started on how I so do not want to drink the water that comes out of our taps, even with a packet of orange drink mix dissolved in it. (In short, there's a lot of iron in our water and even after a run through a pre-filter and a brand new water softener, it still tastes pretty bad, and all the packets of strawberry Funny Face in the world won't change that. And if anyone knows where I get score some strawberry Funny Face, please let me know.) I think within like a few months, all of the drink mix manufacturers will have their own version of this product.

Although (and this is where things get touchy), I don't think I like the whole direction we as a country are moving with the whole individually packaged portions. Do I really need my very own travel cup of mini Chips Ahoy? Or a two inch tube with a dozen Pringles in it? It seems like the more Sam's Clubs and Costcos that open, the more individualized servings are pushed on us. So while yeah, those mini drink mix packets for the single-serving water bottles are a really good idea, it's a lot of packaging waste. So I'm conflicted. Convenience or environmental friendliness? It gets harder every day.

Oh, and hey, it's Valentine's Day. Happy Valentine's Day. All of us here at (and by all of us, I mean me) hope you got all the candy, flowers, and make-out sessions you wanted.

Sunday, February 12, 2006
Yesterday we took a day trip into Chicago and spent the afternoon at the enormous Field Museum, an architectural marvel filled with all kinds of archeological curiosities. You can't possibly see everything in one day when you're at the Field, and this seems to be the direction that bigger museums are heading (like the new and improved and flippin' huge MOMA in NY) or have already headed: big spaces, big collections, and repeat visits required. That's fine with me, though. We checked out the Pompeii exhibit and all the minerals and reproductions of photos from Auschwitz, and of course we were impressed by Sue, the museum's T-Rex skeleton. For whatever reason, huge dinosaur skeletons are really cool to me. It's like I'm still in third grade sometimes.

Old school German food. But the real reason for our trip to Chicago was to make one last visit to the Berghoff for some hardcore German eating before the restaurant closes forever at the end of the month. The Berghoff is a real Chicago institution. It's been around for over 100 years, and it probably doesn't look any different now than it did all those years ago. It just looks like you'd expect an old-timey German restaurant to look like: wood walls, wood tables, wood chairs, vinyl floors, and an odor of roasting meat and pickling spices. I had been there only once before and liked it a lot, and we wanted to get in one last meal.

Heh. So did a lot of people. We had been warned about the lines, and Paul wasn't sure we should do it, but I said I thought we'd regret it if we didn't go. So we walked the mile and a half from the museum and got there and got on line (or in line, if you prefer; I've been told that "on line" is New York vernacular). And we waited. And waited. And waited. For an hour and 45 minutes in the blistering Chicago cold. I'd tell you how cold I was, but you wouldn't believe me. It was sub-freezing temperatures, and we were just standing there. Let's just put it that way. After an hour and 40 minutes of waiting, there were still about 100 people in front of us, and it looked like we were going to be there for a while. So we waited some more. And just when I was about to bag it and suggest we go to a place where we could just sit down and get something hot, someone came out of the restaurant and asked for parties of two, and we got to go right in, and there was a table waiting for us, and we smiled and took off our coats, and right then three guys in lederhosen and traditional German get-up came out with a guitar and a trumpet and a saxophone and started playing polkas and singing! And everyone was clapping and singing along and smiling, and at that moment, all that waiting in the cold felt totally worth it.

As for the food: it's good. It's not five star, fine dining, haute cuisine. It's traditional German food made the traditional way with lots of butter and cream and stuff like that. Meat and potatoes. Sausages. Kraut. That kind of thing. We combed through the meat-heavy menu and came up with poultry dishes to order, which were both very good and hearty and homemade and honest. The saurkraut was actually a little too intense for me (it was so sour), but the pickled cabbage was awesome. I wanted to try the creamed pickled herring, but Paul didn't want it close enough to smell it, let alone split it with me. But our food was awesome, and the prices are so reasonable. Maybe that's why the place is closing?

We were too full for dessert, but as we were finishing up, the band started playing "Edelweiss," and all the women in the huge dining room started singing along, and it was great! And all the men weren't singing and all had this look on their faces like, how the hell do you all know the words? (See, Julie Andrews doesn't resonate with boys like she does with girls. Straight boys, anyway.)

So even though we were freezing during our very long wait to get into the place, by the time we were done, we felt good, and it seemed worthwhile. The restaurant closes on February 28, and if you're anywhere near Chicago, it's definitely a trip worth taking. Just be prepared to stand on line/in line for a few hours. If you get the creamed pickled herring, tell me how it was. I'm sure it has real cream in it.

Thursday, February 9, 2006
It's a little hard to believe, but today is this site's five year anniversary. I am someone who, before I started this site, could never keep a journal for more than a few weeks. So, I am a little surprised that I've managed to keep this up for so long, but I'm also kind of glad to finally have a written record of my own life (or my opinions, anyway). How the hell did I manage to do this regularly for five years? I'm not sure if it's that I know I have an audience (a few hundred hits a day is definitely good motivation to write), or if it's that I'm paying for the domain name and the server space and feel I should get my money's worth (I knew from the very start that a free site wouldn't motivate me, although at the time, the free blog/web journal/free ad-free space offerings were significantly more limited than they are today), or if it's just that I'm more mature and am finally able to write on a regular basis without making excuses not to. Whatever. This is one of the few things in my life that I've managed to maintain for five years, and while that may not say much about most of the aspects of my life, I feel a little happy to say that I've kept this up for half a decade.

Alright. Enough with the self-congratulatory crap. Next time, back to normal.

Wednesday, February 8, 2006
I don't know what's worse: the fact that I have to take these stupid college classes to keep my job, or the fact that I genuinely care about getting A's in all of them. I feel like I'm studying as much now as I did when it really mattered. Except now I know how to study, and I know what I'm doing, and I know myself well enough to know how I learn best. So yeah, it's a lot of work, but college is a lot less difficult when you're not 17.

I also have to say that Wikipedia makes it all so much easier. I feel kind of torn about how much I use it, because I wouldn't go look anything up in an actually encyclopedia, and the thought of investing in 30 volumes of Britannica is laughable, but when the textbook doesn't explain something very well (see, I have the ability to discern that now, which I never did in college), I look it up on Wikipedia and it's all there and explained very well. If I were in college for real, I'd keep Wikipedia open permanently on my browser, try to buy stock in the company, and beg them for a job upon graduation.

Sunday, February 5, 2006
Superbowl? I'm sorry. I just don't care. But I was in the mood for some Superbowl food, and so was Paul, so we made some sloppy joes (turkey style, since we don't like beefy), but now it's all acid refluxy on me. This acid reflux thing is new for me, and I think might be a major contributor to the digestive sensation I thought was 4am hunger. I don't get it often (maybe once or twice a week), and it doesn't really hurt, per se, and I don't think it's bad enough to necessitate purple pills or any other meds, but when I do have it, crikey, it is unbelievably uncomfortable. Like a sour, dull burn just below my throat, and it feels like I can just swallow it down, but no matter how many times I swallow, it's still there. This blows. It kind of puts a big dent in my eating enjoyment.

Thursday, February 2, 2006
I've been thinking about this recent media circus surrounding James Frey and his perhaps miscategorized memoir A Million Little Pieces. It's hard not to think about it, because it's been everywhere! I haven't read the book, but I've read plenty of others, and for the record, whatever record that might be, here is what I think about it.

First: a book is in the headlines! And it's not because there's a fatwah on the author's head (not literally, anyway), and it's not because it's being made into a movie starring some overpaid star who had to gain/lose a lot of weight for the role, and it's not because it's a children's book. It's a book, and it's in the news. So that is good. Why talk about terrorism and wire-tapping and human-animal hybrids (whaaa?) when you can talk about books?

Second: if you, a reader, think that every word written in a memoir or any other nonfiction book for that matter is completely, positively, 100% true, you are wrong. Writers tell stories. It's what they do. Even if it's the story of his or her life, some embellishments are taken. Some parts are boring, so they get left out. Some parts are interesting but not exciting, so they get hyped up. Some parts are too intense or too private, so they get reduced or left out entirely. And sometimes the way things actually happen isn't nearly as satisfying as the way we think they should have happened. You know this. You embellish your stories all the time. It's not just what writers do -- it's what people do. If you don't believe me, go down to your local fishing hole and ask the oldest man there how big was the one that got away. He won't tell you the absolute truth, but he'll tell you a good story.

Third: Calling something fiction doesn't make it entirely untrue. The stories have to come from somewhere, and more often than not, they come from the writer's own life. When they don't, they come from the lives of people the writer knows. All those fiction books you like to read? Thinly veiled truth. And this gets writers in trouble all the time, albeit this is usually the kind of trouble that is personal and gets your friends pissed off at you (as opposed to the kind that gets Oprah and the rest of the world mad at you, which is the kind of trouble that James Frey seems to be enmeshed in right now). Take Hemingway. (Please! Oh, that is such a bad joke.) His stories weren't made up. He was too busy hunting and fishing and finding new wives to make shit up. His stories are either him as a child, him and F. Scott Fitzgerald talking about money, or him calling T.S. Eliot an ass. Sometimes he didn't even hide the truth! He named one of his stories "Mr. and Mrs. Elliot." I don't think that extra L was fooling anyone.

So. I'm really thinking that James Frey is getting the short end of a historically long stick. There is no pure truth and no pure fiction, and to expect a writer to offer up one or the other is unrealistic. I don't necesarily feel bad for the guy -- he's getting great publicity out of all of this, and his "fuck the bullshit" attitude is obviously a bad faŤade, given his meek, small-puppy-shake while Oprah was tearing him a new one -- but I do think he's being treated a little unfairly. He owes you nothing. He doesn't know you. If you read the book and you were entertained, he's done his job. And if he had sold the book as fiction, the people he wrote about would have been pissed that he used their character traits as fiction. (Remember Deconstructing Harry?) Seriously, leave the guy alone. For the record.

Wednesday, February 1, 2006
In the past few weeks, I've seen some good movies that I neglected to mention. The best was probably Junebug, a small indie feature that's been getting some well-deserved buzz lately. The blond guy from "The OC" is in it, and he's pretty good, especially when you consider that it's a completely different character than he plays on FOX, but the real star is Amy Adams. I guess she's been in a few movies before, and she played the purse girl on "The Office" (American version), but she was just fantastic and funny and totally human in this. I saw it at a local film group screening, but guess it's out on DVD now. In genre only, it reminded me of You Can Count on Me from a few years ago: good acting, good script, and drama in what's not said.

We've also been renting documentaries lately. Paul is a huge Clash fan, so we watched The Clash: Westway to the World. Since the band was kind of around before I really got into music, I probably never gave them the attention I should have. Not only was it good to hear all the music and hear the band members talk about how they came together and how the songs were written, but Joe Strummer is surprisingly intelligent and insightful about everything that happened. Mick Jones just looks like a droopy middle-aged man (which I suppose is what he is), and the bass player looks like he still has some adolescent anger, but Joe Strummer is so articulate and thoughtful that it almost makes me wonder if any of the players in today's pseudo-punk bands might be smart. (Almost.) My favorite part was his explanation of which musicians can do which drugs. Horn players, he argued, can do heroin and still play because they play above the music, but drummers really can't do heroin because they have to hold the rhythm together, and if you're on junk (like The Clash's drummer was), you can't do that. I love how he never comes out and says not to do heroin. I really liked the movie as a whole too, and I even showed a clip to one of my classes as part of a documentary lecture, partly because the interviews are really well done, but also to let them know where those Green Day dweebs got their moves from.

The last movie we saw that I want to mention is DiG! (yes, weird capitalization and specific punctuation and all), another music documentary about the lesser known Dandy Warhols and the even lesser known still Brian Jonestown Massacre. The two were bands and friends in the late '90s, and supposedly the Brian Jonestown Massacre were really brilliant, even though I didn't think so based on what I heard in the movie, and when they were at an A&R showcase and about to be signed, they got through one song on stage before they started beating the crap out of each other. (Literally!) The lead singer of the band, Anton Newcombe, was this druggie egomaniac, but I never felt he was as good as he seemed to think he was. I appreciated the filmmaker's care in not making him look like some misunderstood genius, like he so desperately wanted to be, but instead making him look like a really flawed guy who thinks way too highly of himself. The movie is narrated by and prominently features Dandy Warhols lead singer and songwriter Courtney Taylor (Courtney is a man, baby), who is surprisingly levelheaded and kind of like a poor girl's Evan Dando: talented, scruffy, aloof, and just ugly enough to be oddly good looking. While the documentary on The Clash might be more for Clash fans specifically, I think DiG! was a good look at the process of how bands get signed and promoted, and how being fucked up as a musician can be an asset only to a certain point. And I never really liked the Dandy Warhols much when they were on the radio, but apparently they're huge in Europe, and since we watched the DVD, I've caught myself singing their single "Bohemian Like You" on more than one occasion. I haven't bought any of their CDs yet, but the movie is definitely worth a look.

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