Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Tips for Visitors to New York

Warning: Condescending post that's far too smug and not nearly as funny as it should be!

With the holiday season now inescapably upon us, I've decided to perform a public service to any of you who might be visiting New York in the near future. I often say "I hate tourists," but it's really not true. I like them. I like that I live in a place that people want to visit. And my business needs them. If I see someone who's confused on the subway I'll usually try to help him get where he's going.

But if I see someone who's confused on the street and therefore has stopped in the middle of a crowded intersection to consult a map, I will knock him down. I just don't get it. What is it about New York that turns people into complete idiots with no concept of the world around them? I'd like to give them the benefit of the doubt and say that New York is the most crowded and overwhelming place they've ever been, but in thinking about this post I realized that most people just don't know how to behave in a crowd. And I don't think you can blame that on being from the 'burbs. The mall on Christmas Eve can't be much better than Times Square at rush hour. You may not have subways where you come from, but you still have elevators and escalators and presumably stairs. I got just as frustrated by stupidity in my college dining hall as I do here...which begs the obvious observation, Maybe it's me, but I'm choosing to ignore that for now, and instead take my preferred approach of acting like I know what's best for everyone with the following Tips for Tourists...


First and foremost, Please remember that people actually live here.
It's an easy thing to forget, especially as Times Square gets to look more and more like Las Vegas, but this is not Disneyworld's New York Land, it's a city full of people who are just trying to get through the day. The sidewalk is not a line for a theme park ride, and the people who look cranky and rushed are not animatronics. It's fine to idle while you take in the sights, but please do so off to the side, and allow the people who work in those sights get to where they need to go. It's important to remember that not everything here exists for your amusement. It's an extreme example, but in winter 2001 I was appalled to see not one, but several families posing for group photos in front of World Trade Center debris! What the hell is wrong with these people!! Many things are here for your enjoyment. Have fun. Some of us are just trying to go about our business.

Just because you've reached your destination, it doesn't mean that everyone behind you has.
Don't take one step on to or off of a subway, elevator, escalator or staircase and then stop. Don't walk through the revolving door into Macy's and then stop. The person behind you will have nowhere to go and have no choice but to shove you.

Similarly, Don't stop short or make an unexpected turn in the middle of traffic.
Seriously, I don't care how great the view of the Empire State Building is from the exact spot you just stepped into, or how important it is that you've just realized you passed your destination, or how urgently you need to check your map. Step to the side, and get out of the way, or you will be knocked down. And no one will feel sympathy for you, except perhaps another tourist, who will be knocked down if he stops to help you.

Don't block small spaces that other people might have to enter or get through.
Are you sensing a pattern here?

Don't gesticulate wildly.
You may not be used to such crowded places. Here's the thing: If you flail about while talking or giving directions, or do that weird power-walking thing with your arm that some people seem to do no matter how slowly they're moving, you will very likely hit someone. And we will very likely hit back.

Treat your bag as an extension of your body
It's for your own safety (purse-snatching and whatnot), but for ours too. Just because you can't really feel it when you hit someone with your enormous bag, that doesn't mean the person who's been hit can't feel it.

I know that you are terrified of losing your family in the big bad city, but please do not walk hand-in-hand in groups of more than two. If you must, walk quickly.
Most sidewalks are only 3 or 4 people wide in each direction (imagine a 4-lane, 2-way highway). When you create a Wall of Slowness, you're just pissing people off. A lot. Of course children must be minded, but some of you may need to split up into smaller groups. It's okay, you won't get lost because...

Most of the streets are numbered...
One of the beautiful things about most of Manhattan is that the streets are in a numbered grid. That makes it hard to get lost. Really. Trust your instincts, Young Skywalker. Or at least your ability to count. Which way is 42nd Street? Well, if you're on 46th Street now, and you were just on 47th Street, you're going the right way. It ain't rocket science, folks.

...but you may get lost below 14th Street.
And that's okay. Many natives get lost below 14th Street, where the grid disappears and named streets prevail. It's okay to ask for directions, you won't get mugged. It is not okay however to forget the golden rule and pretend you're in your own private Sex and the City studio tour. Get out of the way. Don't crowd the shop windows looking at shiny objects if you need to block the sidewalk to do so. Take turns. 'Cause the sidewalks are even narrower in SoHo.

Okay, enough "don'ts", here's a big "do:" Go to an Off-Broadway show
By all means, if theater's your thing, go to a Broadway show too. But take a chance. See something else. See something you've never heard of. Go to TKTS and get half price tickets for something that you won't be able to see when the tour comes to your hometown. Just because something's "on Broadway" doesn't mean it's good, or even that it has good production values; it just means it's in a bigger house and your ticket costs more. And just because something's "off Broadway" doesn't mean it's artsy and high-brow or hard to get to. Ask people what they like. Pick up Time Out or The Voice and read some reviews. A few years ago I was in line at TKTS, and a couple behind me was yammering in German about what they should go see. I don't speak much German, but I could tell that the woman was trying to talk the man into something, or explain what their options were. Finally I heard the man say, "Ah! Also! Das Oper mit der Helikopter!" The musical with the helicopter. Miss Saigon. Why travel all the way from Europe to see something you've already seen at home?

On a similar note, don't eat at the Olive Garden or Applebee's.
Nothing against the Olive Garden or Applebee's. I'm a big fan of Chevy's myself. But again, why would you come to New York get the exact same food you get at the mall at home? Sure, it's safe and certain, but take a chance! Pick up a guidebook, ask your friends or your concierge. You'll probably wind up with better food that costs less. Use the money you save to go to another show.

The subway isn't so scary.
It's a big system and it can be a little confusing. But look carefully at the map, and don't be afraid to ask for help. Most importantly, remember the above rules and you'll be fine. The numbered streets go up for uptown, and down for downtown (aka north and south, just like on a map). Don't stop in the train doorway if there's room in the car, because there will be people behind you who will push you without a moment's thought (the conductors aren't kidding when they say "step all the way into the car"). Let people off before trying to shove your way on. (It always baffles me that people don't get this -- it's common sense: if people get off first, there'll be more room for you. It's also the same etiquette for elevators.) If the door is closing on your bag (or your ass) over and over and over again, you're holding people up. Move it. If you can't move it, get off the train and wait for the next one. Don't stop at the tops and bottoms of escalators without taking a few steps first. Don't linger in the middle of high-traffic areas. Go with the flow, read the signs, and...

...Learn to use your Metrocard
I feel this warrants its own entry because one of the most irritating things in modern New York is being in a packed subway station with nowhere to go but forward when the person in front of you discovers his card is out of money or he doesn't know how to work it. True, I shouldn't be tailgating you, but sometimes there's no choice in the crowd. And sometimes people are on the other side of the turnstile trying to get out at the same time. Have your card ready as you approach the gate, so you don't have to stop to get it out while in people's way. It's really simple technology, just swipe the damn thing -- but not too fast. Here's a genuine tip: If it's really not working, blow into the reader then swipe again. They sometimes get dusty and have issues. You'll feel silly doing it, but 99% of the time it works.

Children don't belong everywhere.
New York has many wonderful things for you to do with your kids. But there are attractions, stores, restaurants, etc. where they simply don't belong. At least not unless they can behave themselves. Not to get all Samantha Jones on you, but it is your responsibility as a parent to use proper judgment and remove your child, say, from the theater if he is screaming his head off. Sure, it sucks that you have to miss part of the play, but that's a chance you take, and what were you thinking bringing a toddler to Taboo anyway? And the subway? Not your daughter's private playground. Forget about it being rude to the other passengers, it's not safe for your child.


Okay, I could go on and on, but I fear I'm starting to repeat myself and not being nearly funny enough. It's hard living here sometimes. I love living here, and I really do try to be as charitable to tourists as I can. But that's often at odds with my general policy of being extremely uncharitable towards stupid people. It's tough when you're cranky and just want to live your life and there are all these people in your way. Although the truth is I wouldn't have it any other way. I just ask that you use common sense.

As I was writing, I realized the majority of my "rules" boil down to one thing: traffic. And while I don't quite understand how you can avoid any type of crowd for your whole life, I do understand that a lot of people just aren't used to being pedestrians. So my final tip is this: Pretend you are driving at all times. Think about it: If you were in a car, you'd check out the directions before you left and you'd pay attention to the road signs. You'd never drive on the left, never make a turn without first making sure no one was in your way, would certainly never stop in the middle of traffic. If your kid were making a fuss, you'd get him to stop so you could concentrate on the road. And if you had reason to be slow or were carrying an extra large or hazardous load, there'd be a sign to warn the rest of us. And if all that's not true, I don't ever want to be on the road with you.

Be smart, and you'll have a better time here. So will we. And if you're coming to town, send me an e-mail. I'll recommend some restaurants and some plays and give you good directions for getting there.

Okay, I have to be honest here, not so much because I want to but because I'm sure someone will call me on it: New Yorkers break all these rules all the time. I just prefer to believe that it's all the damn tourists' fault, because I prefer to believe (as so many of us do) that New Yorkers are better than everyone else. Or at least smarter than everyone else. Sadly, it's just not true. But perhaps I can help, and those of you who are reading this will be better prepared for your visit, or your lunch break, or whenever you next hit the streets.

Just remember: the city, like the world, revolves around me.

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody! See you next week.

Holidays That Don't Exist

Okay, kids, let's review...

Acceptable:
Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade
Macy's Thanksgiving Parade
Thanksgiving Day Parade
Thanksgiving Parade
(if you must) Macy's Parade

Unacceptable:
Macy's Day Parade


Thank you for your time.

Aaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!

I should NEVER have posted that Onion article! I've created a self-fulfilling prophesy!

When I'm at home all of my e-mail from my various accounts gets downloaded to my Mail program (Apple's Outlook clone). I've only just started using it, and I guess I've missed some of the finer points of address management, because I just sent my mother an email which lists my name as "Adam875" and my address as "judgementcall@earthlink.net," instead of my "regular" address.

What will I say when she asks about it? What if she Googles the terms? Oh man, I'm screwed!

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Adam's Famous Oatmeal Cranberry Cookies

By popular demand (okay, two of you), and because my apartment smells so good right now I have to share the joy, here is the cookie recipe.

It's adapted from the recipe on the Ocean Spray Craisins bag, but my way is simply better. :-) (Theirs calls for white chocolate, and while I like white chocolate, since Craisins are already heavily sweetened the dark makes for a better, not so overwhelmingly sugary balance. And I added the cinnamon.)

Ingredients:

2/3 cup butter or margarine, softened
2/3 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups old-fashioned oats
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt (or less, to taste)
6 ounces sweetened dried cranberries
1 cup dark chocolate chips (more chocolate is always acceptable, though if you go overboard the cookies will fall apart -- I recommend Ghirardelli "double chocolate" chips)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375ºF.

Using an electric mixer, beat butter or margarine and sugar together in a medium mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Add eggs, mixing well. Combine oats, flour, baking soda and salt in a separate mixing bowl. Add to butter mixture in several additions, mixing well after each addition. Stir in sweetened dried cranberries and chocolate chips.

Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on wire rack.

Makes approximately 2 1/2 dozen cookies.


It's an amazingly easy recipe, and also very easy to double if you need more. Nutritional info is on the Ocean Spray site, but I refuse to post that here! Enjoy!

Funny Word of the Week

Don't you love how I keep titling posts "____ of the Week" and then never ever doing the same thing again? Yeah, I have no follow-through.

Anyway, the plural of clitoris is clitorides. With a D.

Just in case anyone was wondering.

Today's Minor Injustices

In a city made up of three islands and a peninsula, why is there no way to get to the airport by boat??

Far more irritating, why have I had the cute but repetitive song "Stacy's Mom" stuck in my head all goddamn morning?

Monday, November 24, 2003

Joe...uh...Joe....what is it again?

If Linda turned me down because of this lie, I mean I'm'a be very depressed if heatbreaking isn't the word. Like I'm'a be very upset, sad, disappointed... I mean I dunno, I don't know another word for heartbroken. I mean I'd be very...very...SAD.
-David "Joe Millionaire" Smith

Come on, it was the last episode, I had to watch. Jenn made me! It was dull. And are the producers just supplying him with pot now? I mean, I don't think he was quite this inarticulate and slurry in the first couple episodes. As for that quote, which was the high point of the show for me.... Did no one tell him the premise of the show before they started? Was he maybe living in Europe with the girls this whole time? And can someone please buy the boy a thesaurus??

Sadly, I don't have time to watch the Joes that really matter, those who are Average. The half hour I've seen so far (it's an extra-long episode tonight) is cruel to the point of utter hilarity, and it makes me sad that I won't be able to finish it (and therefore blog about it) until after Thanksgiving. Accursed day job!

Now wait, I can't in good conscience do that to you. So here are my utterly random thoughts on the show so far (I've been taking notes):

Can we say, awkward?

Melana: "I think Zach's gonna have a problem with it, I think John doesn't know what to say..." So that's pretty much how things always are, no?

Zach: "My reputation for being a jerk comes from...the other guys in the house self-esteem being so low." No, it comes from you being a jerk!!

I still think Adam is a doofus but there's something undeniably adorable about watching him work out like a fiend to try to catch up to the new guys. Not quite Seth Cohen cute (to say nothing of my boyfriend cute), but close.

It is SO CRUEL to make them do sports! And not only do sports, the winners get dinner with Melana, and the losers have to serve and clean up! I can't imagine anyone thought the original guys would win, but I guess it's okay since they did. Though if the footage of the game is in slow motion, shouldn't the countdown clock be as well?

One of the new guys (interestingly, the one I think is the cutest) is SO GAY! He has the gay accent and everything.

Okay, must tear myself away and turn off the TV. More of my usual scholarly insight next week!

Vive La Tasty of French!

Because I've been watching my carbs and my spending and haven't been temping much (ie, haven't had to be out of the house early enough to necessitate eating breakfast on the subway), I haven't been to Bagel's Plus more than once or twice a month recently. But I know all six of my long-time readers will want an update on the grammatically frustrating transformation of my favorite place for breakfast-on-the-go.

They completed their transition from "Bagel's Plus" to "Bagel's Plus Sports Café" and finally to "New York Sports Café." This pleased me because the dreaded Apostrophe of Doom had gone (strange, all things considered, that it wasn’t “New York Sport's Café”), but it bothered me on the entirely new level that the place itself had not turned into a sports café in any way. True, they added a gigantic TV, on which soccer was often playing (in the morning, which I suppose was due to the time difference between here and countries in which they televise soccer), and they started serving beer, but face facts, kids, this is a corner breakfast place. You've got bagels, a grill, a case of pastries and another of various spreads and deli meats. There's barely two feet between the counter/cases, and the one row of two-top tables along the windows. It's a deli, stop deluding yourselves.

But call it whatever you want, it was a good deli, and they always knew my order, even when I stopped coming as often. Then everything went horribly awry.

I'm not entirely sure what happened, because I haven't had the courage to ask. But suddenly all the people changed. I can only assume they're under new management, and for some reason that meant an entire staff overhaul. Gone are two of the three women who knew my order the moment I walked in the door, as well as the man who always prepared it to perfection. Now I'm greeted by a man of uncertain national origin who seems to be in charge, and while he's friendlier and speaks better English than the man who used to seem to be in charge, he's also kind of an idiot and never seems to recognize me. (I'm not saying he's an idiot because he doesn't recognize me, he's an idiot all on his own.) Adding insult to injury, they never put enough cream cheese on the bagels -- and that's if I'm lucky enough to arrive on a day when they even have lox spread or salt bagels on hand.

The TV is still there, but it’s now usually off. They’ve added a Lotto machine and a window through which you can order things from the street, but they’ve stopped stocking bottled soda (much easier to deal with on the train during rush hour than a can). Curious to see what else had changed, I grabbed a take-out menu today. Though the board on the wall still says "Tasty of French," the paper menu has a section properly titled "A Taste of France," and it's very educational; I had no idea that pancakes and Challah were French. Though they are certainly tasty! On the back of the menu is a heading for "Confectionary Desire," which sounds both dirty and unappetizing, and which includes something phlegmy-sounding called "Ek Mek" (I'm sure I've just offended someone, and if so, I'd love to know what ek mek is!). Under that, the titles "Finger Licking Cakes" and "Finger Licking Pies," which of course make me think of giant desserts running through the streets attacking people's hands.

Most curious of all, the name of the restaurant has changed yet again (they've removed all signage from the actual building, so I only know this from the menu). It's now "Sunnyside Sports Bar Café." Doesn't a sports bar have to have a bar? And, um, sports?

So now they're neither a sports bar nor a good bagel place, and I'm thoroughly disgruntled. On those mornings when I feel the need to break my diet, all I want is the comfort of a good salt bagel with a gigantic slab of cream cheese, and the sweet sweet nectar of Diet Coke. With all the foolish renovation and learning to speak English, they've managed to lose sight of everything that made me love them when I moved to the neighborhood (the very first day, in fact, as I ate a bagel on my stoop while waiting for the movers).

It all just makes me realize that the world will be a much better place when everyone realizes that it revolves around me.

The fates were kind to me...and then they weren't

As I climbed the stairs to the 4/5/6 subway platform at Grand Central Station much too early this morning, I noticed some color newsprint pages fluttering on the floor. I picked them up, and there he was: My dear Opus, in all his full-color, half-page, gorgeously-painted glory. I think the actual pages of the News Sunday comics have gotten smaller since I was a kid, because the strip still looked tiny to me. And it wasn't great, either, but it was a sweet welcome back and a nice reminder of why I was really into penguins in junior high (now I'm all about bunnies, but that's a story for later). Shortly after reading the strip (along with The Far Side which I didn't realize was still being reprinted, and I got really confused about what decade it was for a minute), it dawned on me that I had just picked a day-old newspaper up off of the floor of one of the most heavily-trafficked subway stations in the world, and how gross is that?

So I got to work and washed my hands, and headed to my desk. I'm working in a department I've worked in before, so I know the ropes and it should be a pretty easy three days. The guy I'm filling in for is a little eccentric (which was, in fact, part of what I'd planned to blog about today), but extremely organized, and he left me a very thorough packet with instructions for everything and passwords for voicemail and the computer.

...Only the password for the computer doesn't work. And this company likes to fancy itself as very secure, so you need a password to access even the most basic functions of Windows. So I found myself stuck in a painful bureaucratic feedback loop, as IT told me that they could only reset the password on instruction from the proper user (but wouldn't the correct user know the password?) or human resources (not the proper user's manager?); human resources told me to call my temp agency manager. My temp agency called IT, and was told that she was even more useless than I was as she doesn't work for this company, and called me back and told me to call internal HR again. Internal HR doesn't know who I am, since I don't technically work for them. Meanwhile, I suspect this is all due to a typo in the number at the end of the password (since they make them change their passwords with irritating frequency here, so people usually just increase the number on the end by one) but I can't test my theory as I'm now locked out of the system due to too many wrong attempts...which I was instructed to make by IT...who can't unlock the system for me because I'm not the proper user.

I'm covering the receptionist's lunch hour now, and am overjoyed to have this brief bit of Internet time.

I'm certainly not going to complain about getting paid what I get paid to do nothing at all. But eight hours is an awfully large chunk of the day to not be able to do anything productive at all, either for yourself or on behalf of your employer. And again, getting paid for that time, so I'm happy to show up, but I had lots of stuff to do online today. There's banking to do, Chanukah gifts to order, and of course blog posts to write and read. I can't even write offline, or play solitaire as I can't get into anything.

I've had worse days at work, and other people have had worse days than I've ever had in my life, but it's frustrating. I was doing fine until the red tape tried to strangle me, really.

Then I tried to run an errand at lunch, and after waiting 15 minutes for the subway (it was nearby but too far to walk), I realized I wouldn't make it back in time for my reception duty, so I just got food and came back to the office.

I should have known: If something goes well so early in the day, it must all be downhill from there. If this is the karmic price I have to pay for reading Opus, I'm content to never see the strip again.

Fortunately, I brought magazines.

Sunday, November 23, 2003

Hairy Fishnuts?

I can't believe I've posted four times today. Just one more, 'cause I've got a gripe.

Opus returns today, only I haven't been able to find him. As someone who actively mourned when Bloom County ended, this makes me extremely cranky. I was all excited to hear that Berkeley Breathed was not only starting a new strip, but starting a new strip with my beloved penguin as well.

Yet I have no idea where to read it.

Breathed's website asks people to write their local papers to get them to run the strip (because his insistence that it be printed at a full half page and not shrunk down into oblivion is making it tough to get picked up, apparently), yet there's no corresponding page telling you who is running the strip.

Nor can I find it anywhere online, including the site of The Daily News, which ran both Bloom County and Outland back in the day.

So can anyone shed some light on this please? Where can I find it? I want my penguin back!!

I'm a slave to advertising and sugar

For my contribution to our Thanksgiving feast on Thursday, I'm baking my famous oatmeal-cranberry-dark chocolate cookies. This will not, by a long shot, be the only dessert there, so all month I've been trying really hard to stick to my diet, get to the gym, and most importantly, watch my sweets.

I went grocery shopping this afternoon and picked up the ingredients for my cookies. This put me in the mood to bake, which I haven't done since sometime in March. But I can't make the Thanksgiving cookies until Tuesday night, so they'll be as fresh as possible on Thursday (I'm working all day Wednesday, or I'd make them right before leaving for the airport).

Unfortunately, I hadn't yet left the store when I remembered the commercial for Toll House Ultimate Chocolate Lovers cookies, where the grumpy teenager walks through the kitchen and takes a cookie without stopping or speaking, then runs back into frame to hug his mother. It's a cute, ad, and boy do those cookies look good.

Well, they're not as good as they sounded. Hardly worth falling off the diet wagon. Still, half the package never made it into the oven.

Breaking my own rules...again

Earlier this week I broke my obviously flexible No Theater Talk rule because with all the bitchy gossip and negative press around Taboo, I wanted to share my very positive feelings about it to do what small part I could to balance out the show's karma and encourage people to go judge for themselves.

I'm about to do it again because it's a bad season to be straight play on Broadway, and my friends who are working on I Am My Own Wife asked me to tell everyone I can how much I loved it. This seems like a good way to do that, no?

I'm not sure what I expected from the show, but certainly not what I got. I'm not usually a huge fan of one man shows, but this didn't really feel like one. Maybe that's because it's not one of those shows where a famous actor stands onstage and talks about his or her "fascinating" life. No, he's playing a role -- several of them, actually -- and playing them so brilliantly that I don't know why Jefferson Mays isn't a big star. The play is structured in a way that allows dialogue to happen without getting too into the hokey convention of watching an actor talk to himself. Again, I credit this largely to Jefferson Mays' excellent work. Each character is so specific in voice and gesture that you really do (please pardon the cliche) forget you're watching a single actor onstage.

I don't want to talk about the story, because it's worth discovering for yourself if you go see the play. But it's a historical piece, based on real people (including the playwright and his experience of interviewing the central figure), and it's a truly fascinating and easily-lost piece of history that I'm very glad is being preserved this way.

Finally, every element of the design is flawless, from the simple set and costumes to the elegant lighting to the intricate sound.

If you like sitting in a theater for two hours and being told a great story by a great storyteller, go see I Am My Own Wife immediately. It's not even very expensive as Broadway shows go, so stop using that excuse!

TV Wrap-Up 11/16-11/22

I'm finally (mostly) caught up on my required viewing from the past week. I've been out a lot of evenings this week, and actually leaving the house during the day. Or at least being productive and tackling projects at my desk. So there hasn't been much TV time. Is it awful that I didn't really miss it? Still, it turned out to be a really good week overall (in TV Land I mean...well, and I had a good week too). Here, as promised, my random thoughts in no order whatsoever:

Alias wasn't on this week and it's still the best thing on TV.

It's All Relative is getting steadily worse. Which is a shame. Come on, a dead swan? (That was actually last week's; I watched it and decided to skip this week's.)

The OC is still fabulous. I can't believe I like this show this much. Not that I don't watch plenty of embarrassing crap, but the thing is I'm not embarrassed. This isn't a Creek-style guilty pleasure, this is genuinely good television. on Fox. Go figure. Could Seth be any more of an idiot? Or any more adorable? I realize the character was born in the mid-80s, but has he not seen Some Kind of Wonderful like the rest of us?

Arrested Development's still not doing it for me. Except when David Cross is around, which is odd, because I usually find him fairly off-putting.

The Simpsons Evita parody was disappointing, especially after the love-letter Entertainment Weekly wrote to it. Still, it was better than any live-action sitcom on American TV, and wins major points for the "Rainbow High" spoof with the line, "This cute-ing up suits me / There's beauty within me / So let's Olsen Twin me / Give them someone to love..." And having nothing in the plot for Homer to do led to some of the best, weirdest, most random moments ever. Best Joke goes to the hearing test line, though.

The West Wing is back! And by back, I mean it's good again! There was continuity (something I'm hyper-aware of as I've been watching the Bravo reruns). There was decent lighting. There were pretty location shoots in DC. And best of all, Stockard Channing (the show's biggest asset in my opinion) came back and we had a prime example of the thing I've missed most: [spoiler]

Carnivale: Woah! Naked Nick Stahl! And he bathed! It all makes up for the screaming bunnies, which made me very sad.

ER: Again, I say woah! I've only seen a couple of episodes in the last few years (what is it, 20, 30 years now this show's been on?) but I got sucked in by the commercial. And woah. Great special effects work on the helicopter crash, and I never expected [spoiler]

I haven't actually watched Survivor yet, but thanks to a certain blogger I read who doesn't spoiler-proof, I know who got voted off, and I can't say I'm surprised. [spoiler]. Another thought about Survivor that I've had all season: Even in this day and age of Queer Eye (the other show from the week I haven't gotten to yet), I think if you're a man who shaves his chest and you go on Survivor, maybe you should let it grow out for a while before taping starts. 'Cause man, these guys are looking ragged and weird.

Why oh why do I even consider watching Smallville? Once again, the commercial grabbed me, and once again, the show suck suck sucked. I recently caught a rerun of the pilot, and it showed such promise. It was clever, it was fresh. There were those great costume touches like Clark always wearing blue with a red backpack or jacket. But now it's just ridiculous. I can't even think about the plot enough to write about it.

I still haven't watched a single episode of 24 this season. Which is just weird. At this point, it's been so long that I just kinda forget that it's on (though the Explorer 8000 Home Entertainment Server continues to dutifully record it for me). Now it requires a major time commitment to catch up. Which isn't bad, necessarily, as 24 is served well by watching several episodes at once. I just haven't had the time, and I've got day work coming this week. Maybe after Thanksgiving?

And finally, the creepiest commercial I saw this week (though not creepier than that AT&T Wireless commercial), is for a digital camera with an obscene amount of zoom. The camera is sitting on a table in a park, and it zooms in, through a crowd, on a pretty girl, all on its own. The girl is alone and appears to know she's being photographed, though the camera is 20 or 30 feet away. The girl also seems to be enjoying it. We've established that I make my own narratives to these things, but what I took away from this ad was, "Our camera is the best on the market for stalking! It's so good that whomever you're stalking will be so impressed with your, um, equipment, she'll drop everything and sleep with you! Digital Camera: The perfect way to compensate for your small penis."

Like drinking blood, only it tastes worse

This new beverage brand, Pom Wonderful, has been advertising like crazy on the subways here in New York, and Entertainment Weekly recently listed pomegranate juice as a new "in" thing. I'm always up for trying new foods, and I'm a sucker for well-designed packaging, so when I saw Pom in the supermarket yesterday I eagerly grabbed one of the sexy bulbous bottles.

When I got to the register, I was appalled to discover that it costs five dollars. For a bottle of juice? I go to bars where the drinks don't cost that much.

I was further appalled when I read the label (granted, something I should have done before purchase) and saw that the stuff has 37 grams of carbs, of which 31 are sugar. Oh, and there are "2 servings" per bottle.

The final insult, of course, was that it tasted like absolute ASS.

Friday, November 21, 2003

Something is very wrong with me

I just heard a news report about increased terrorism warnings over the holiday, and I was actually disappointed to hear that this doesn't come with a heightened color-coded threat level, because I was hoping the Muppet Terror Alert would finally change from Bert to Ernie. (Though I suppose a better solution to that would be if it went down to Cookie Monster.)

Terror Alert Level

Fascinating

This is slightly old news, but worth sharing anyway:

Some interesting (and angry) stuff from the creators of the UK Coupling about NBC.

I don't really have a comment since there's nothing I can add to what Steven Moffatt, Sue Vertue and Beryl Vertue have to say. They are as brilliant in rage as they are in comedy, apparently. If you're interested in understanding why 98% of American sitcoms suck, I encourage you to read it. (Though I recently watched My Hero, the show BBC America has been hyping to death lately, and it's baaaaad. So I guess British doesn't equal good.)

(I found the link on Mediawhore.)

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Give me a freak any day of the week

In keeping with my semi-policy of not blogging about theater I won't say a lot about it, but I do want to share how much I enjoyed Taboo. The critics got a lot of things right, chiefly that the structure of the piece is wonky, but I thought music and performances made up for it. I wish more Broadway scores sounded like this -- actual original pop scores, as opposed to recycled pre-existing hit songs (nothing against those shows, I like them too). In a weird way, there's something old-fashioned about Taboo, a throwback to the time when the story mattered less than escaping for a couple of hours into something that made minimal sense and listen to some pretty music. Though that's selling it short too; the story made sense, though it's told in a peculiar way.

Seeing Boy George (excuse me, George O'Dowd) on stage is always an electric experience. I wish I'd been able to see him in his '80s prime, but the 1998 Culture Club reunion concert I attended ranks as one of the best live shows I've ever seen. Tonight I was impressed by his acting as well. And Euan Morton as George does an amazing job of capturing that same spirit and energy, of waking things up whenever he's on stage.

I think Broadway needs more of this kind of music and this kind of energy. More things that are flawed but fierce, to live bitchily alongside all the safely polished spectacle.

I've already said too much! Time to vanish into the mist...or better yet, a dense fog....

Episode V: The E Strikes Back

I've been linked quite flatteringly and felt I should return the favor:

More on the Battle of the E

Fun With Playlists #1

Inspired in part by the 80s quiz, I present...

Songs About Stalking

Every Breath You Take - The Police
One Way Or Another - Blondie
Invisible - Clay Aiken
Obsession - Animotion
Posession - Sarah McLachlan
When You Were Mine - Cyndi Lauper
Run For Your Life - The Beatles
Jessie's Girl - Rick Springfield
Don't You Want Me - Human League
You Could Be Mine - Guns 'N' Roses
You Belong To Me - Vonda Shepard
Hunting High And Low - Ah-Ha
Red Right Hand - Nick Cave
Don't Lose My Number - Phil Collins
I Gotcha - Liza Minnelli
Come To My Window - Melissa Etheridge
Don't Stand So Close To Me - The Police
On The Street Where You Live - My Fair Lady

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Average D'oh!

I realize I haven't written about television in over a week, and while I am trying to bring a little more diversity to my blogging, a complete topic shift was never my intent. The fact is, there's less to write about now that the season has settled in to its paces. Even sweeps are boring this year. I'm not all that interested (and I suspect neither are you) in doing a daily recap or review (Alias: still kickass; Tru Calling: still dull) as there are many other sites that do that much better (see sidebar).

So I'd planned instead to start doing a weekly TV wrap-up every Friday. But then I fell behind and didn't have much to write about. I still haven't watched 24 all season. What the hell's wrong with me?? (I thought I might catch up on that today, but it's already 3:15 and I haven't done nearly enough of the stuff I'd planned to do around the house!) I still have stuff on the DVR from early last week too. I guess I've been watching less TV. Don't worry, it's all stored away for later, but it means I haven't been able to blog about it.

Anyway, MCM was in town last night and she insisted (bad influence that she is) that we watch Average Joe. I agreed, on the condition that she watch last week's episode with me first. Trooper that she is, she sat through the car wreck a second time.

[Fair warning, I'm not going to spoiler-proof any of this. I mean, come on, it's Average Joe. If you tape it for later, well, read at your own risk.]

I hate myself for this, but it's fascinating. I have to give Melana props for keeping a somewhat open mind. She actually seems to be genuinely considering a couple of the guys. Unfortunately, one of them is Zach (who I dubbed "Asshole" last week -- I was actively trying to avoid learning anyone's real names lest I get too involved, but now I'm giving up that pretense as it's clearly too late) who gets more and more offensive each week. He's a pig, plain and simple. He's mean to the other guys, and he's actually kind of mean to Melana! He's not ugly but he's certainly not as attractive as he thinks he is, or (and this is what I find painful to watch) as she seems to think he is! He was all over her in one scene, to the point of borderline harassment, and after the obligatory pushing away (who knows how heavily edited) she not only let him touch her, they made out for what looked like a long time. Again, the magic of editing, but there were several different locations involved. I kept waiting for her to eliminate him and say, "Yeah, Zach we didn't have much chemistry. I know you think we did, but the truth is I was so bored and offended by you that I did the only thing I could think of to shut you up." But alas, she didn't, and he's in the final three.

It's somewhat redeeming that Melana is also into Adam. Unfortunately, despite his good name, I think Adam is a tremendous boob and I hate watching him. He seems like a nice guy, and he's pretty cute, but (and this is so petty of me, I know) he has the most annoying laugh in the world. This wouldn't be so bad if he didn't cackle like a hyena at everything, including his own awful jokes. I just cringe whenever he's on the screen. Zach at least makes a good villain. Still, it was all worth the look of surprise (two looks of surprise, really) when Melana said "You're a great kisser!" with as much shock as happiness.

John ("Dawson") is still my favorite, though he's edging into the pathetic. This show really proves the old adage that's true in all acted entertainment, but seems especially true in reality TV: Casting is everything. John seems so sweet and together, and I couldn't believe he'd have any trouble getting girls. Yeah, well.... My nickname of Dawson proved a little to apt, when John cried no less than three times in the two episodes we watched. And it's okay to cry and all, I do it all the time, but the boy seems to cry over anything. Including Zach's bullying. Dude, you're adults now, get over it. Go to your high school reunion; half the fun is realizing you're better than all the "cool kids" now. Anyway, then he sang Melana a song on their first date. In German. Badly. And while anyone watching at home could easily read her expression as shock and perhaps slight fear, he thought it was admiration. Then, before an elimination "ceremony," he told her "After our date I thought I might be falling in love with you." Dude, NO! Nonononononono!! I sincerely hope he has some girl-friends who are watching this and can help him out afterwards. 'Cause I stand by him, I really think he's a catch. He just needs to not scare the women away, perhaps. Fortunately he's still in the game and I'm holding out hope.

My least favorite (yes, even worse than Zach), Tareq ("Doogie"), revealed that along with his huge ego and pseudo-intellectual bullshit (MCM: "He's putting words together, and I know what the words mean, but when he's done I don't understand them anymore!"), he also has some anger-management issues. And he doesn't hide them the way Zach does. His group date involved golf, and he's not so good at it. It was really fascinating, psychologically, actually. The man has a truly impressive resume (he's getting his Phd at 21), but I suspect he's only ever pursued things he knows he can "master" (his word). So yeah, he's super-smart at all, but he can't handle failing at anything, and isn't used to it since he knows better than to ever try something like golf. Plus, if you're a 21-year-old Phd you must have skipped a few grades, and what does that do to your social skills? Yeah, anyway, he's out, as Melana was suitably terrified when he threw his golf club farther than he'd managed to hit the ball, while muttering to himself (not that smart if you forget that you're miced, are ya?).

After sort of defying expectations in the first episode, Melana eliminated the rest of the overweight guys in episode two, and the remaining uber-geeks and borderline psychos (like Brad, who I decided bears an uncanny resemblance to Family Guy's Quagmire) in episode three.

And then, with two decent and one decent-looking guys left, the brilliant bastards bring on THE TWIST: Three hot guys are introduced into the house (well, MCM and I agreed that one of them was pretty skanky- and gross-looking, but the other two are HOT). Now, I like the idea of this, and I'll reserve full judgment 'til a full episode comes around again, but based on the clips they've shown us so far the new guys seem to be not only hot, but also nice, charming and intelligent. And doesn't that kind of defeat the purpose of the "game?" It's like calling Boy Meets Boy a "social experiment" when none of the gay guys had any reason to suspect that anyone was straight and question anything. Isn't the point for Melana to choose between looks and personality? So then the new guys should all be dumb, or mean, or exceptionally boring. (Granted, based on Zach, she seems to like dumb, mean, boring guys.) But come on, if you had a chance to snag a guy who was hot AND smart AND nice, wouldn't you? Shallow is being with someone for looks alone. This is simply being lucky enough to get "the whole package."

So we'll see. I haven't been angry at the producers so far, as the guys haven't really needed help to make themselves look foolish, and besides you have to know what you're getting into if you choose to go on a reality show, especially one with this premise. I already don't like the implication that the new guys are inherently better-looking than the final three "average joes," because there are a whole lot of different tastes out there. I mean, the producers and even lots of the other guys clearly think that Zach is the most attractive of the original pool, and MCM and I both thought he was gross, even before he opened his mouth. Abs alone do not make the man. But I accept that these new guys are more the type you'd expect to see on a dating show. If they have more to offer than looks though (and from Melana's reaction to the guys in the first episode, these are clearly the looks she prefers, and that's fine), the deck is unfairly stacked against the guys who seemed to have been winning her over. Though I guess in the end that's a good thing for them. Better they learn she's a shallow bitch now (if in fact she is) then later out in the real world.

Man, did I really just spend this much time and mental energy on a post about Average Joe?

Monday, November 17, 2003

Yet another thing for you to read today

I really AM full of links today!

Related to yesterday's post, and one I expect I'll be writing in a couple of weeks:

The always-brilliant Frank Rich on The Reagans and Angels in America.

The Crying Game

I'm just full of links today!

I already adored him from afar, now I have another reason:

Boy George responds to his critics.

I usually cringe a little when I see letters in newspapers or magazines arguing with a review, be they written by fans or professionals. It's one thing to call a critic on factual errors or an obvious bias, but it seems like every week in Time Out there's a letter like "How can you say Barbra Streisand's new album was crap?" Well, because the critic didn't like it. And his job is to express his opinion. The nature of an opinion is that it's subjective. (A point I made very clear to my hateful fifth grade teacher, Ms. DePrimio; I don't remember what I'd said to piss her off, but I defended myself at my very liberal school by saying "I was just saying my opinion." "Your opinion is WRONG!" she shouted at me. I reminded her that we had just recently discussed the meaning of the word in class and I was pretty sure it couldn't be wrong. I won. But I digress.)

I get very upset when I read a review that's misinformed or spiteful. The lead critic for the Times lately seems like he's searching for things to dislike, going out of his way to avoid saying anything nice, and generally talking out of his ass. And that's not cool. But as artists, we put our work out there, and once it's in the world it's pretty much fair game. Not everyone is going to love it, and that's their right. I do think professional critics have a greater responsibility to choose their words with care, because of the power they wield, but that doesn't mean that they should pretend to like a show (or a record or a painting or whatever) just for the sake of keeping sales up.

So anyway, when I saw that George was responding to the press, who were mostly pretty harsh on his show, I got nervous. Of course I've read enough of his blog that I should have known better. For a Broadway newbie he's incredibly insightful (I suppose his 20-odd years as a pop icon -- and a flamboyant one at that -- prepared him well), and talks more about all the drama and gossip and spite surrounding his show (and its producer) than about the reviews themselves. It's a great read, especially for anyone in or interested in "the business."

I generally don't write much about theater here for a variety of reasons, but I'm seeing the show on Wednesday and I may have to break my no reviews policy, just because I now love and respect George (from afar) more than ever. Though I guess that would hardly make my review unbiased, huh?

From The Onion

For those of you who don't blog with Blogger yourselves and may not have seen this on their homepage...

Mom Finds Out About Blog

Link helpfully provided by the folks at Blogger, who also have this to say on the subject.

Sunday, November 16, 2003

Where's Phil Hartman when we need him?

A couple of thoughts on the Reagan miniseries scandal...

First, I'm sort of confused about what the Republican critics are upset about. In particular, the much-publicized line in the film where Reagan says of AIDS victims, "Those who live in sin shall die in sin." Everyone's up in arms, yelling that he never said that and how dare you portray him that way. Okay, maybe he didn't say it, but when did the GOP become such a big fan of the gays? I mean, our current "President" is trying to ban gay civil union because it goes against "the sanctity of marriage," you'd think Reagan would be a hero for calling us sinners. in general, the complaint seems to be that the film has a liberal slant and makes Reagan look like a bad guy. Well, okay, but isn't Reagan going to look like a bad guy to liberals no matter who portrays him? I mean, a policy is a policy and a public statement is a public statement (and the "live in sin" statement was a private one in the film which apparently can't be verified, by the way). You can put a filter on the lens and score it in a major key instead of a minor one, but the politics and history won't change. Someone could make a movie about how Hitler liked puppy dogs (and no, I am NOT comparing Reagan to Hitler) and it's not going to make me go "You know, maybe he was right to slaughter my people. He was just misunderstood." So what's the big deal, conservative media? If you liked him warts and all then, why don't you like him that way now?

But I get that CBS is a mainstream network with advertising dollars to worry about, and I get that because the Reagans are alive there are libel issues, and it's touchy to say mean things (even if they're true) about an old man who has Alzheimer's. What I really don't get is why no one in the liberal media (at least no one I've heard or read), or the filmmakers for that matter, has mentioned Showtime's 9/11 film. I didn't see it, but every bit of press I read pointed out that it was written by a very vocal GOP supporter and close friend of George W's, and that it was not only Republican propaganda, but took some pretty obvious liberties with very recent history to portray "President" Bush as a tough-talkin' cowboy out to kick some evil-doer ass. According to Entertainment Weekly, CBS President Les Moonves said he "was shocked by the [Reagan] movie's 'strong political point of view.'" Fair enough, and yet the same corporate entity put DC 9/11: Time of Crisis, which couldn't have had a stronger point of view if it tried, on the air without any problem at all.

I guess the difference is that Time of Crisis was always slated for Showtime which, let's face it, hardly anyone watches anyway (and which Moonves has nothing to do with). So while it got some bad press, in the end no one really cared. I think it's fitting that The Reagans has wound up there though, for the sake of karmic balance if nothing else. Of course, this also means I won't watch it, since I'm one of those millions of people who doesn't subscribe to Showtime.

I'm just looking forward to The Clintons ten or twenty years from now. It's only a shame Phil Hartman's not around anymore to play Bill.

Saturday, November 15, 2003

iLife

I've always used Apple computers, but it wasn't a decision that was in any way thought-out. My mom used (and still uses) a PC, my dad's last computer was actually something called a Wordstar, and my first was the kid-friendly (and state-of-the-art) Commodore 64. But my elementary school used Apple IIs, and in high school we had Macs, so when it came time for my first grown-up computer that was the way to go (plus, this was still in the days of DOS, so giving a child something windows-based -- which at the time only meant a Mac -- was really the best plan). Once you're on an OS, along with all your stuff, it gets tricky to change. But I've never been one of those rabid Mac cultists. I use Windows all the time because I have to at work, and I have no problem with it. Let's face it, if you know an application in one windows-based environment you'll be able to use it in another, and if you don't know an application in a windows-based environment it shouldn't be too hard to figure out.

But lately I've found myself closer to drinking the Kool Aid. This is partly because I'm a sucker for good design, and my 12" iBook is the cutest thing ever, and OSX is just pretty. But lately Apple has also been nurturing my geek love, my pack-rat tendencies, and my unemployment-fueled need for projects like crazy.

I've always been a pretty big fan of putting certain aspects of my life in the hands of my Mac, like balancing my checkbook or organizing my address book (I used Palm Desktop for years before I actually got a Palm). But I've recently taken on two projects to really get onto the digital bandwagon.

When I got my new iBook last spring, it came with the snazzy new OS X versions of iTunes and iPhoto. It also has a built-in CD burner and a 40 GB hard drive (up from my highly unreliable old external burner, and a measly 10 gigs) and included a great rebate on a 3-in-1 printer that also scans and copies.

So with all this time on my hands, I've undertaken the daunting task of putting all of my 300 or so CDs (or at least highlights thereof) on the computer. I'm not getting rid of most of the CDs themselves (though anything that only had one or two worthy songs on it has gone up for sale on Amazon), but my theory is that if I play music on my computer (something I do increasingly often lately), I can play from the entire library on random and odds are I'll hear all the things I never think to pop into the CD player, but that I really enjoy. So I'll wind up listening to more stuff and remembering old things I like. I just got a neat little device called an iMic, which connects my computer to any stereo or Walkman or whatever, and will allow me to import LPs and tapes as well. This is a much slower process, since it has to be done in real-time (ie, you have to actually play the record or tape) but the end result will be that I'll eliminate clutter by getting rid of most if not all of my tapes, as anything worthwhile has been upgraded to a CD already, and I was mostly hanging on to things for one or two songs. I'm even making iTunes playlists out of old mix tapes, which is a fun trip down memory lane. And it's totally helpful on 80s music quizzes!

Of course, now I want an iPod even more desperately than I already did. When I see people with them on the street or the train I just seethe with jealousy. I'm up to 4,260 tracks and 21.43 GB in iTunes. This rules out the 20 GB iPod; I need to get the 30 or the 40. And I just don't have $500 to spend on something I'm utterly terrified I will drop and smash into a million tiny pieces in the first week I own it.

Oh well.

Project #2 is far more daunting. I want to scan all my old photographs (well, all the good ones). For a long time I was a fairly fanatical picture-taker. I'm mostly excited to now own a digital camera because it eliminates that feeling of looking at prints from a party and realizing you took the same picture five times because you were drunk, or after a long trip discovering that every sunset looks exactly the same. That's all well and good for the future, but I still have 20+ years of prints in boxes here and haphazardly in a drawer at my mom's apartment. Again, I'm not planning to get rid of the originals and negatives, but wouldn't it be nice to have them all in one non-space-taking-up place? I might actually look at them now and again. Plus, there was a big fire in my neighborhood a couple of months ago, and while nothing residential was damaged it kind of freaked me out (not to mention the fact that I don't trust any of my neighbors or their incredibly stupid children to know how to use their stoves let alone a fire extinguisher), and for the sake of humoring my paranoia it would be nice to throw everything on a CD and keep it somewhere else, like at my mom's. Anyway, scanning everything will be hugely time-consuming, and as much as I want these boxes out of my living room I just haven't dealt with it yet.

It's all a lot of work, but it's also kinda fun (and it's hardly manual labor). I've been playing albums I haven't heard in years, and remembering that they're good, and looking through old photos is always fun (especially the ones where I'm fat and can gloat at myself about how much better I look). I don't think I'll ever stop buying CDs or ordering prints of pictures (though I did just download my first complete album), but I find the long-promised "digital revolution" strangely appealing, especially if it can coexist alongside the tangible. I'm trying very hard to eliminate clutter from my physical life, and this is a great way to do it. Dump the tapes I never listen to, shove the photos in the back of a closet, but still have them easily accessible? It's dreamy. Plus, it's nice to feel like I'm getting the most out of my expensive toys while I'm not using them for work. And even though it still doesn't involve leaving the house or doing anything that's strictly "necessary," I feel far more productive than if I were sitting in front of the TV all day.

I'll be accepting contributions via Paypal for that iPod....

Friday, November 14, 2003

I'm drunk.

It was an accident.

I mean, I didn't DRINK by accident. Vodka, vermouth and olives didn't just magically appear in my cocktail glass. But I didn't intend to get DRUNK. Alone. It's fascinating, really, stumbling around my apartment for no good reason. Steak and several martinis. It's a shame I don't smoke.

Thank goodness for I Love The 80s Strikes Back featuring the Nerds of 1982 (yay, Skippy!) and The Wrath of Kahn. It's weird to me that the Hansons are commenting on GI Joe. 'Cause I was, what, eight when I watched GI Joe, so the Hansons would have been like, sperm? I mean, don't get me wrong, I like Hanson (yeah, weird, I know), but I don't think they've won half the battle, really.

On Language

Okay, so William Safire I'm not, but a while back I posted a link to a survey about the use of the words pop vs. soda to refer to a soft drink. A small debate sprung up in the now-deleted comments about it, and I wanted to post a follow-up, a question, and a new related gripe.

I'm a soda-sayer, myself. Of course that's only because I grew up saying that, but truth be told I just think pop sounds silly. It's a sound-effect, not a beverage! And soda doesn't even really pop, it fizzes. Why not "fizzy" or "bubbly?"

But whatever, to each his own. I do have a legitimate question for all you Southeasterners who say coke. I'm not being snarky, I swear, no matter how it may appear! How does that work? I mean, Coke is a brand name and in most places it means something very specific. I can see using it interchangeably with cola or Pepsi, but seriously what do you do when you want a lemon-lime carbonated beverage? Or a Tab? I'm genuinely baffled by the cultural divide and would love to know how it works.

Now on to the gripe. There are commercials running for Nestle Crunch that ask you to go to their website and vote on whether to pronounce the word caramel "car-A-mel," or "CAR-mel." Now, accents on the syllables aside, this seems pretty straightforward to me. As the spelling of the word is not a regional thing, where do the Nestle people think that second A is going to go? Why are we voting on dropping vowels from things entirely?? I won't criticize someone for saying "carmel" (I myself have been known to tawk about cawfee and drop my Rs, an unfortunate combination of my New York upbringing and Boston schooling), but come on, should there really be a debate as to how a national ad campaign pronounces it?

Fortunately, caramel is winning, but by a very narrow margin (52-48% as of this writing). I urge you all to vote so we're not subjected to a year of Shaquille O'Neal butchering the English language (well, English sweets at least) every fifteen minutes on TV.

And don't even get me started on sprinkles and jimmies.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

There's no pun on "Rosie" I can make that hasn't already been made

I've always liked Rosie O'Donnell. Long before her talk show days, her standup cracked me up (remember the bit about aerobics class?...ah, the late 80s). And I enjoyed her show too, and of course was thrilled about the way she used it support and give more exposure to live theater. As she became wealthier, she's put an unheard of amount of her money towards worthy causes.

So I'm very happy about the verdict in her legal battle with Gruner+ Jahr (which I've followed much more closely than any other celebrity trial (which is to say, at all; I generally ignore them)) yesterday. It was one of those media trials where everything seemed so clear-cut, even when people were Rosie-bashing, and it seemed like people were really unfairly out to get her.

Ms. O'Donnell has always spoken her mind, often unpopularly. This is tricky for any celebrity or person in a position of power, and sadly it's still even trickier if that person is a woman, or god forbid, gay. As far as I know, she never called herself "The Queen of Nice," that label was given to her by the press. Even on her talk show, while generally sunny, she could be a hard-ass and her humor often had a dark edge, so why is it so hard for people to accept that she has a multi-faceted personality beyond celebrity crushes and showtunes? If anything I respect her more for being who she is so publicly now, having been saddled with the "nice" thing and risking major tabloid coverage if she says anything negative at all, no matter how uninteresting.

While I don't approve of celebrities being divas, I do respect the fact that someone as famous and publicly scrutinized as Rosie has to protect her image and the quality of her work, for the sake of her personal and professional well-being, as well as for the sake of her family. And it seems to me (and this is as a completely under-informed outside observer) like these publishers were like, "Oh how cute, you want to put your name on a magazine," and weren't prepared for a powerful woman with ideas of her own. I think any of us would flip out if we were treated like that, especially if our name was our brand name, and that brand was in jeopardy. Did she say inappropriate things? If the testimony is to be believed, absolutely. But again, who among us hasn't flown off the handle in anger? The difference is, the Post doesn't care when one of us does it. Everyone I know who actually knows her or has worked with/for her likes her very much, and she was very nice the one time I met her (she didn't shy away from expressing her opinion about the show I was working on that she had come to see, but she was friendly enough about it).

O'Donnell said two things to the press that I just loved: After testimony that she had objected to a photo of herself with her arms around two actresses on the grounds that it made her uncomfortable "as a lesbian." Rosie replied to the press outside the courthouse, "I have never in my entire life said, 'As a lesbian.' 'As a lesbian, pass me the salt. As a lesbian, blah, blah, blah.'"

A day or two later outside the courthouse, she outlined what she seemed to think was the crux of the case: "My name is Rosie O'Donnell. I know what I stand for, I own the name, I created it, I will always own the name. Whether or not you think that is a good name, a bad name, or what it connotates to you is your own conclusion. But it is not for corporations to decide or determine. It is mine." I agree with this statement so much that I'll forgive her for making up a word and forgetting that her parents presumably named her.

The point is, whatever you think of her public persona, the legal issues (at least as they've been presented in the media) seem pretty cut-and-dried. Rosie wanted to run a magazine, not just lend her name to one, and J&G didn't give her the freedom and control she was contractually promised. Then they sued her when she tried to protect her "brand name" and enforce her original deal.

So the trial ending in a draw (in case anyone missed the endless news reports yesterday, the judge awarded no damages to either side) seems the fairest possible outcome. The judge said, "This is a very ill-conceived lawsuit. It seems to me we're dealing with bragging rights." And he seems to be right. Ms. O'Donnell only seemed to have countersued because they sued her first, and it's not like she needs the money. I hope she's happy, and can now give her full attention to actual projects instead of media circuses.

Good luck, Rosie!

Outright Thievery

I've added a new feature to the sidebar. It's a list of recent purchases/views/listens/reads. Since this blog has turned out to be mostly pop-culture-themed (though I'm trying to balance that a bit) it seems appropriate.

Normally I probably wouldn't bother to announce this in a post (since I assume you can all see and read, or else don't pay attention to the sidebar anyway), but I really must because I've completely and totally stolen the idea from MAK. He just added a similar feature yesterday, and I like it so much I'm implementing my own version immediately. You may have noticed I link MAK a lot, actually, and it's worth pointing out that he's been a big help to Judgment Call, especially in the beginning when I had many questions about Blogger and Sitemeter and the like.

I'm not usually this nice to him (though I did introduce him to his boyfriend), but I feel a teensy bit bad about ripping him off. :-)

Hast du etwas Zeit für mich? Dann singe ich ein Lied für dich von 99 Luftballons

Extra special thanks to S. for sharing this 80s music lyric quiz with me and effectively destroying an hour of my afternoon. (No, the post title wasn't one of the clues but it should have been!)

I got a 128 (not counting the 5-point bonus I got for simply filling in where I got the link from).

If you take the quiz, please post your scores in the comments, I'm curious to see how others do. (MCM and EK, consider yourselves challenged!)

Full disclosure: I cheated a little; if I knew the song but wasn't 100% sure of the exact wording I listened to it (the really scary thing is that I have almost all of them in iTunes). There's a much harder version of this quiz where you have to name song titles and artists from lyrics, so I felt justified taking points for knowing that!

Monday, November 10, 2003

Run Eliza, Run!

My personal television lineup is rapidly dwindling. Skin and Coupling we can blame on the networks, and it's probably for my own good. The rest is self-imposed.

After last week's episode I took Tru Calling off of the Explorer 8000 Home Entertainment Server's record list. Even Eliza Dushku can't save that show from being just plain dull. And it's a shame, really, because I like the rest of the cast too along with Eliza, but the new episode was just lame. A twist I saw coming a mile away that wasn't actually twisty enough to make it any different from the first episode, and lots of maudlin weeping. And it was only the second episode! It's just all so tiresome. I appreciate Eliza's breasts as much as any gay guy can, but there's only so much footage of her running I can take. I'm sure I'll watch the show again if I'm around and there's nothing else on, but it's definitely not a taper. Or a digital recorderer. Or whatever. (And thus it's my last chance to use that post title, for which I apologize.)

Elsewhere on Fox, I know I should like it, being a fan of hip, snarky, off-beat comedy, not to mention Jason Bateman (bring back It's Your Move! ) and Jeffrey Tambor (bring back Max Headroom!), but I just find Arrested Development crushingly dull. It's not exactly unfunny, but it's not really funny enough either, and I couldn't care less about any of the characters. I just don't see what all those critics are on about.

I was only interested in 8 Simple Rules for the last John Ritter episodes and the Very Special Episode, so I'm over that now. Joe Millionaire bites the big one, even when David takes his shirt off, and besides I'm totally into Average Joe now and can only handle one trashy dating show at a time. While watching Tru I lost all track of Friends and find that I really don't care. My god, what's happening to me? So...much...free...time...!

In case anyone's keeping score, here's the current rundown:
Monday: Carnivále, Average Joe
Tuesday: 24 (which I still haven't watched yet this season), Queer Eye
Wednesday: It's All Relative, West Wing, The OC (bitch), South Park
Thursday: Survivor
Sunday: Simpsons, Alias

Plus cable reruns of West Wing, Family Guy and the original Coupling.

I don't think I've had this little on my schedule in years!

Tie-in Madness

So I really enjoyed The Matrix Revolutions, although in light of The Devil's Advocate, there should be a law that Keanu Reeves can never say the words "I choose" in a film again.

Meanwhile, the game is pissing me off. Not because it's a bad game -- on the contrary, it's quite enjoyable. But it's the perfect evidence of how the Warchowskis' hubris led to shoddy filmmaking. I find watching the cut-scenes in the game like watching a deleted scene on a DVD and thinking "Well that changes the whole story." It's a great example of how editing can make or break a film. In this case, though, the deleted scenes actually help the movie, y'know, make any kind of sense at all!

Okay, I'm over-stating that, but it would have been really nice to know while watching Reloaded how and why Niobe and Ghost just randomly appear in all sorts of places (turns out it's because some kid with a GameCube plugged into the Matrix and sent them there). It also would have been great to see the scene that's in the game between Jason (the smarmy Zion commander) and Niobe that sheds a great deal of light on their relationship and explains the weird subtext of the council chamber scene in Reloaded (which is repeated in the game).

It's not that either film really needed these scenes, and I appreciate the time and money that was put into making the game. But somehow it's leaving a bad taste in my mouth. It's nice when tie-ins enhance rather than just cash-in on the experience of a movie or TV show or whatever, and it's nice to reward fans with something extra, but I can't shake the sense that the makers of The Matrix fully expect everyone to get everything. "Oh, the second movie doesn't make any sense? Don't worry, just play the game." I got the game because I like this sort of game, not because I'm a particularly die-hard Matrix fan. I imagine there are many more die-hard fans who aren't gamers, or who aren't good at first-person-shooters, to say nothing of the more casual movie-goer.

Well, that was an exceptionally geeky rant. Let's hope I don't get started on Clone Wars.

I'll end on a positive note and say that I really did enjoy the new movie. Not as good as the first, but far more comprehensible and action-packed than the second. I have my quibbles, but it was a good note for the franchise to go out on. If only I'd finished the game first!

Blast!

I just watched an episode of Family Guy which Cartoon Network has been hyping for two weeks now, because Fox had refused to air it because they deemed it too offensive. Sadly, it was neither very offensive nor very funny.

Saturday, November 08, 2003

Super Grover!

I just saw on NY1 that there's a new balloon in this year's Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade (pet peeve side note, there is thankfully no holiday called "Macy's Day," and therefore no event called the "Macy's Day Parade"), my favorite Sesame Street character, Super Grover!

Take that, Elmo, you useless, mentally-challenged little shit!

Woah.

I went to Blockbuster yesterday to rent a game, and wound up buying a used copy of Enter the Matrix. From a technical standpoint, the game is pretty cool. In addition to the usual game-animated cut-scenes, we get actual DVD-quality film clips, both from Reloaded and an hour of new footage shot for the game (mostly featuring Jada Pinkett Smith, who I really enjoy). The Warschowski Brothers have said they treated the game like a fourth film (it takes place during and after Reloaded, but before Revolutions), and that's all well and good in terms of style and money spent, but you know it's still a video game. The missions don't make any kind of sense, especially given what we know about the world of The Matrix. I just have a hard time believing that before we meet her in the film, Niobe has blown up a post office for no good reason and played a little Grand Theft Auto.

The designers did a great job creating the physics model for the "bullet time" effects, making you feel like you're playing the movie when you walk up walls and do cool corkscrew jumps. But they did so at the expense of the normal physics model or level design, and don't seem to have thought about how to work standard video game tropes into that world. So you're playing a character who can bend the laws of physics, but can't climb up on a desk and can be killed by steam.

Still, it's a lot of fun, and, like The Animatrix, far more compelling than Reloaded itself. Coincidentally, I'm seeing Revolutions tonight, and after shooting things in my red leather coat and cool braids all afternoon I'm totally excited for it. I need to think about how bored I was at the last film to bring my expectations down before I leave the house!

I should never have complained

So here's the problem with having freakishly warm weather until November 8th: 42 degrees is a) perfectly appropriate for November 8th, and b) isn't that cold. The problem is it was so sudden that I was completely unprepared, un-eased-into it, and it might as well be Greenland. When I stepped out of my building this afternoon my first instinct was to run back inside and put on every piece of clothing I own. But if I do that then I have nowhere to go when it gets colder. I'm resisting even putting on my winter jacket when I go back out again tonight, because if I wear the warmest thing I own now, what will happen when it's 22 degrees and snowing?

Oh, it's gonna be a long winter.

Friday, November 07, 2003

Disclaimer of the Week

I'd love to actually make this a real weekly feature, though I'm not sure I'll be able to find one every week. There's a new prescription drug commercial on now that freaks me out, though I've only seen it once so it'll have to wait until I can get it written down. Meanwhile, I present this...

Avenue Q has not been authorized or approved in any manner by the Jim Henson Company or Sesame Workshop, which have no responsibility for its content.
-liner notes to the Avenue Q cast recording

Thursday, November 06, 2003

I do read too, I swear...

In my froth over Average Joe I forgot the Carnivále-related book recommendation I was going to make.

Back when Side Show, a musical about real-life conjoined twins the Hilton Sisters was about to start previews on Broadway, I read an entirely misinformed post on the net that said the show was based on Katherine Dunn's Geek Love.

My first thought when I read the book was, "How is anyone going to make a musical from this??" (This was before I met Faustus, who is the only person I know who could probably pull it off.) My second thought was, "This is the most fucked up thing I've ever read and I love it."

Without giving anything away, I'll just say that Geek Love begins with husband and wife who run a carnival. When business is in a slump they come up with the brilliant plan to have the mother ingest all kinds of horrible things while pregnant, in an attempt to breed their own freak show. It works, and their offspring include a boy with fins and twin girls who share everything below the waist. You can imagine how well that works out! The novel is narrated by the most "normal" of the children, an albino dwarf with a hump. Oh, and it has absolutely nothing to do with the musical Side Show.

All this Carnivále-watching got me thinking about the book again. Unfortunately, I told Boy he absolutely had to read it and loaned it to him before I decided that I absolutely have to read it again. Still, I tell you all that you must read it too, especially if you want another look into 1930s carnival life. And really, who doesn't?

It's always darkest just before it goes pitch black

I'm temping today for the first time in weeks. Well, that's not strictly true; I've done some work here and there for my friend EK's law firm. I have no interest in working for a law firm full time, but somehow that seems less pointless and soul-destroying than working here. Maybe it's because they pay me better and generally keep me busy the entire time I'm there, so there's a sense of purpose. Maybe it's because no one seems to care if I show up late and they have a fabulous view of Central Park.

Not that I mind getting paid to essentially do nothing, as I am now, but somehow not being around financial analysts for a while makes coming back to them that much harder to take. Like when you get used to that funky smell in your kitchen, but then leave the house and come back to find the Bog of Eternal Stench. (Note to self: Clean kitchen and re-watch Labyrinth DVD.)

I think what's really bugging me is that I started this particular round of temping in July, and so getting up at 6 AM just didn't seem so bad, and when I left the office the world still had hours of life ahead of it. Now it's dark and I'm so not okay with it. I was blaming daylight savings time initially, that first week when it was dark at 4:30 in the afternoon for no earthly reason, but now the sun seems to have caught up with us. It was pitch black when my alarm went off this morning, which is my excuse for not getting out of bed until 45 minutes later. Usually the silver lining to having to be here at 8:30 is that I get to leave at 4:30, and home in time for Golden Girls and double Simpsons (or in tonight's case, a nap before bowling). But now it will probably be night when I leave, and certainly by the time I resurface in Queens.

I suppose it wouldn't be so bad if we were having normal weather. I expect darkness in the dead of winter, or even the dead of fall. But it was 75 degrees last week and I just got all confused. And believe me, I'm not complaining about it being 75 degrees last week, especially today when it's rainy and gross. I guess I need to take what I can get and stop whining, huh? That's rhetorical, everyone, but thanks.

Come look at the freaks

Boy and I spent all of yesterday afternoon on the couch, so I have nothing to write about except the TV we watched. Oh, wait...

I'm finally caught up on Carnivále. On the one hand, I can't believe it took me this long, but on the other hand I kind of liked watching so many episodes at once. The storytelling is very slow, which I like, but I think it helped not having a week between each piece of the puzzle. People have called it confusing, and I don't agree. There are things I don't know, but that's because I'm not supposed to know yet. I'm an impatient person by nature, so this sort of thing often frustrates me, but here it works well. Our point of view for the story is pretty consistently the same as Ben's (Nick Stahl's character) and he is clueless. It would be much worse if we were watching and yelling "No, don't open that door!" Whenever we get information that he doesn't have it's like a gift.

And the actors are so good. I especially like how they're able to convey knowledge of things that they, as actors may well not know anything about yet (as my understanding of how most TV production works is that you don't get scripts very far in advance). But every sly, knowing look invites the audience deeper into the mystery, makes us want to know more.

I love the look of the show too. As someone who hates to shop for props, I'm in constant awe of all the period details in Carnivále, and also with the designers' and cinematographers' ability to make what must only be a handful of locations that are empty enough to pass for the dust-bowl look different every week. (Deleted scenes on the 28 Days Later DVD of a not-at-all empty London make me wonder if that's all just digital trickery, but either way it looks fantastic.) A couple of critics have snarked about anachronistic speech, but it doesn't bother me too much. It's a show with modern things to say in a period setting, so if they occasionally slip up on their language I'm willing to go there. I'm much more bothered when they dress Clea Duvall like Allyson Hannigan. And while it wouldn't be accurate, I wish they'd let Nick Stahl (who I found so adorable in Terminator 3 but who looks like a sewer rat here) change his clothes and wash once in a while.

From the high-brow to the oh-so-low... Boy wanted to check out Average Joe so we watched a bit of that (still stored on the Explorer 8000 Home Entertainment Server). On second viewing it went from driving by a car wreck to actually being in one, and the pain was too much. I noticed more sad details, hated the guys' personalities more, and realized just how evil the casting people were. I mean, it's fine to not look like a model, but half these guys have serious personality damage too. It's arguable that this is specifically because they don't look like models and have developed complexes about it, but when a girl says "personality is more important than looks," well, this isn't what she means. I hope some of the guys snap out of it, because they're not that bad. I'm especially fond of the film geek (let's call him Dawson), who needs to trim his goatee but is otherwise cute and has one of the better bodies of the group; if only he would get some self-confidence. In the hate category, there's the 21-year-old Phd, who's attractive (save a very odd facial hair choice) but has a severe superiority complex and sense of entitlement (we'll call him Doogie), and the guy who seemed to not get the premise of the show until he arrived, and now is balking about not wanting to be "the best of the second best." Oh honey, don't worry, you're all far from being the second best. And I don't think you're even the best of them! We'll call him Asshole. I feel just terrible for the uber-nerd (how about Gilbert?), who is entirely out of his element, and I'd like someone to step on the very short man, and then drag him out of his closet (I shall dub thee, Niles).

I worry that I only enjoyed it last week because anything would look good immediately following Skin. Well, worry isn't the right word, since if it's bad I can always, y'know, turn off the TV. But I just know my addictive personality too well!

I'll get to find out next week, as Skin is no longer with us. And we never got to see Adam and Jewel take their own lives. Out of boredom. The thing is, I didn't hate the show, and would have liked to see where it was going. The same with Coupling, which seemed like it might have been on its way to finding its own voice out of the shadow of the UK version and Friends. I'm not a fan of the way networks cancel things so quickly these days. I understand the economics of it all, but I think it's unfair. Many shows that are now considered classics had slow starts. Of course, that was back when there were only three networks and no cable and no internet, so people had to watch them anyway. And of course, Skin and Coupling are not examples of shows destined to become classics. But what about things like Andy Richter Controls the Universe and Freaks and Geeks? They were critically acclaimed and getting attention, but were never allowed to grow. People don't always tune into things the first week they're on. It's television, they know they can come back later, and as word of mouth spreads more people will watch. It just makes me hostile that Whoopi is still on the air while things that showed promise are dropping like flies. And yet, now I have more free time.

On the other side of that, I guess people are watching It's All Relative because they haven't pulled it yet. I've really been enjoying it. It's not great, pretty formulaic sitcom, but the good acting and the teensy bit of boundary pushing (okay, no real boundaries are being pushed, but the gay jokes are witty and it's nice to see some sitcom homos who aren't celibate) are making me tune in every week. Wow, two ABC sit-coms in one week? Now that's boundary-pushing!

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

8 Simple Rules for Making Me Cry Like a Baby

If television has taught us anything, it's that fathers shouldn't go out for milk.

But seriously, I was really impressed with 8 Simple Rules' farewell to John Ritter. I imagine it wasn't hard to Method act under these circumstances, but I was extremely impressed with Katey Segal and don't want to sell her short. Her performance was heartbreaking. It was also interesting to see how the writers managed to make testimonials about the character also be testimonials about Ritter without feeling forced.

I didn't even quite realize how emotional I was while watching it until the phone rang and I started to cry when I tried to talk (fortunately, it was Boy, who would be understanding even if he didn't cry at the drop of a hat himself). The thing is, there was absolutely no schmaltz to be found anywhere. They shot it without a studio audience or a laugh track, so it certainly wasn't all sit-commy, but it was also realistic and free of big monologues and cheap sentiment, so it didn't come off as a Very Special Episode of Blossom either.

So as depressing as it was, I'm really glad I watched it. I've never seen a television show handle the death of a character (to say nothing of an actor) and depict the early grieving process so realistically and intelligently, and I'm very impressed. As someone who lost a parent as a child, I really hope lots of parents watched this with their kids.

And you're spinning your new 45s, all the misfits and the losers...

Ah, Amazon. I really should stop bad-mouthing them, since I get money if you buy something through one of the links on this page. But really, they're getting silly.

I'm still a big fan of Amazon's prices, and in this case the fact that two of the things I wanted were tricky to find elsewhere, but after the last debacle with UPS, I had the latest order sent to my friend LK's office (and my former office) in Times Square. So of course I've been home all week and could've easily received it here. Oh well. The really strange thing is that LK emailed me this morning to let me know that the box had arrived, when Amazon's website says it hasn't actually shipped yet. I took its early arrival as a nice surprise and went to pick it up.

But I should have known it wouldn't be so simple. One of the five CDs I'd ordered was missing from the shipment. Since Amazon often splits orders up for mysterious reasons, I didn't give this much thought until I read the invoice, which listed the missing CD as being in the box and said "This completes your order" on the bottom.

I called customer service, who told me that according to their computers my order hadn't shipped yet.
"But I'm looking at my order. I'm holding it in my hands."
"Right, but we can't do anything about the missing CD until your order ships."
"How can a CD be missing if the order hasn't shipped yet?"
"We have to wait until the estimated delivery date before we can put a trace on the missing CD. There's obviously been a mistake, but the order might not be showing as shipped because that other CD is still on the way."

It's totally not a big deal, and as long as Amazon thinks the order hasn't shipped it also means they haven't charged me. But I just love that the comedy of errors never seems to end.

I also don't really care about any of that, because I finally have my copy of Wig in a Box: Songs From And Inspired By "Hedwig and the Angry Inch." I think it says a lot that the most exciting album I've heard in ages is of new recordings of music that's five years old. I'd love a new Stephen Trask album, but in the meantime these new recordings of old songs are pretty fabulous. Some of the tracks are very faithful covers, others are slightly more daring and work just as well. Whomever asked Fred Schneider (of the B-52s) to sing backup and do the monologue on "Angry Inch" is a sick genius. The new songs (three of them) are all great. Ben Kweller and Rufus Wainwright do really pretty versions of "Wicked Little Town" and "Origin of Love," respectively. (Normally the sound of Rufus' voice makes my ears bleed, but I guess the reviews of his new album that say that he's, you know, learned to sing are true. He sounds an awful lot like a hoarse John Cameron Mitchell, actually.) Cyndi Lauper's curiously angry-sounding take on "Midnight Radio" is the most weirdly beautiful thing I've heard in a long time; it gave me chills as I listened on the subway home (as that song is meant to do). I really can't recommend strongly enough that you buy this album. If you're not familiar with the show or the film it's a great way to introduce yourself to some really fine "neo-glam-punk" songwriting. And all the proceeds go to a terrific cause.

I also got a couple of cast albums and the new Bowie. I'll report on them later. It's kind of nice to write about some pop-culture other than TV.

In other news, I voted today, and I'm embarrassed to say that I had no idea what I was voting for. It's all minor stuff this year, and I never got a voter's guide in the mail or saw much about the candidates (though I did seem to find a special radio station that only played New Jersey campaign commercials). Even though I don't think I've ever voted for a Republican, and there were no Independents on my local ticket, I don't like voting down the Democrat line just because it's the Democrat line, without knowing anything about who I'm voting for. But I also feel obligated to vote, especially these days, so that's what I did.

There were several interesting-sounding propositions on the ballot, but they all had sneaky clauses worked into them that either gave the Mayor more power or made the city government less accountable. It's a shame, because some of the overall proposals were good ones. And it's scary, because I'm cynical and doubt that many people stand in the voting booth reading as carefully as I do, especially in my neighborhood where a lot of people aren't native English-speakers. And I know, I know it's politics, but I just wish they wouldn't be so sketchy and try to sneak things in like that, especially when it hurts what might be potentially good changes. Fortunately, I just checked and from the early numbers it looks like nothing iffy is going to pass.