Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Eat Huh? (Gripe of the Week)

I don't understand Subway. The fast food chain, not the mass transit method. They have these pictures of everything on the wall, and they've got this whole Atkins-Friendly campaign going on right now, with nutritional information posted everywhere, yet no one who works there seems to know what goes in anything. I ordered one of those wraps today, and when the guy asked me what I wanted in it I said, "whatever is usually in it," which he apparently took to mean "everything." I didn't really mind when he went for the jalapeños and the pickles, but when he reached for the onions and the carrots -- which are NOT Atkins-Friendly in the least -- I became suspicious. I stopped him and asked him if all that stuff normally came with the Chicken-Bacon-Ranch and he said, "It's whatever you like." I resisted the urge to ask him which set of ingredients the posted nutrition facts applied to, and just told him I had enough veggies.

I can't help wondering how many people go to Subway and order their wraps with onions and croutons and honey mustard and think they're doing Atkins.

Low School Reunion

I'm not sure I want to dignify High School Reunion with a full post. It's pretty trashy. Don't get me wrong, it's still the best reality show ever, but precisely because of that trashiness, and it just doesn't seem right to give it any intellectual validity by critiquing it. They've really gone out of their way to up the drama factor this season by casting not only the sweethearts who got married after high school and have since divorced, but also the sophomore girl who was supposedly dating the guy until the girl who wound up marrying him told her that she was pregnant with his child (which the sophomore claims she wasn't). Woah! Makes me grateful for my artsy-fartsy high school. We had our share of drama, to be sure, but nothing like that! Maybe it was just the circle of geeks and theater queens I hung out with, but I'm glad to have avoided it either way. The two girls have vastly different versions of what happened, but the announcer continues to paint the one who got married as a complete psycho, which seems unfair. At least there's some balance on the crazies this time with a guy who is also desperate to rekindle his idealized high school romance with a woman who's totally uninterested.

"The Gay Guy" also makes me count my blessings. Starting with the fact that I look better now than I did in high school. But also, this guy is so damn bitter. He keeps saying he has "unresolved issues." I'm not sure that the person I am now would have been happy in high school, but being ignorant of my sexuality definitely had its advantages, and in any case my school was definitely not in Red Rock, TX.

Last season there was a bit of a flap about how the producers had manipulated people's labels and included members of other classes in the reunion. This year they're at least being up front about it. One of the guys went to a different school but apparently dated everyone in this class, and they've got the aforementioned sophomore and her two equally trashy friends, and an older guy who had dated the "Homecoming Queen." It makes sense -- it's not like each class only hung out with its own members, so if you're trying to recreate high school (and all the drama that comes with that), you should mix it up a little. It's just nice that they're acknowledging it. Everyone seems to be owning up to their labels fully, even if some of them are a bit of a stretch.

I don't have a ton of sympathy for most of the "classmates" here, since they chose to go on the show and deserve whatever crazy twists they get. In particular, I think going on a reality show with your ex-husband and trying to win him back (or with your ex-wife who wants to win you back) is probably not the best idea. But I do feel horrible for "The Geek," who is at least as geeky (if not more!) now as he was ten years ago, and has no friends on the show. He must have had friends in high school, as there's never just one geek, and on last year's show there was a handful of outcasts who hung out and bonded. Poor Lenny just sits by himself all the time. Sure, there could be editing trickery involved, but I doubt they asked him to eat dinner just so they could stage a scene of him eating alone.

Um, what was that about not dignifying this show with a real post?

This is how we jump the shark in the OC, bitch.

With all the catching up on new TV, I almost forgot to write about the ridiculous stunt The OC pulled last week. Since the series began there have been some subtle background references to a TV show called The Valley, which is clearly meant to be The OC. And that was cute, and fine, and only mildly eye-rolling. But last week they went all meta and had half the episode revolve around The Valley shooting on location in Orange County, and Summer drooling all over "the funny one" who "I hear improvises like all his lines so you know it's totally him" (in other words, Adam Brody). When Seth and Ryan meet him, Ryan asks, "How can he get away with playing high school?" Har har har, Benjamin McKenzie and Adam Brody are both 25.

Now, this being The OC, all of this winking was well acted, pretty well written, and surprisingly entertaining. But isn't first season a little too early to be parodying yourself? It doesn't bode well.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

This is a vaguely inappropriate segue, but...

...speaking of vampire slayers... Part of the reason I've been so behind on my TV is I finally got the Buffy game for GameCube. (Yes, folks, it's another video game review for my fellow geeks out there.) Despite my mildly obsessive Buffy fandom, I still can't quite deal with dropping 50 bucks on a game, so this is another one I was waiting to see reduced. When I went to that used game store a couple of months ago, I asked the clerk if they had any, and he told me they were hard to come by because they'd stopped making it. It seems like a logical overlap to me, but apparently your average Buffy fan isn't much of a gamer, and your average gamer isn't much of a Buffy fan, so the game had bombed. The clerk told me the game was really good on its own, and it was a shame that people didn't realize that and buy it.

So of course, I was on eBay that night getting a copy before it got any rarer.

I'm not sure I agree that it's a good game on its own. If you're interested in story, it assumes a certain level of knowledge with the characters and the setting, and there are lots of in-jokey references to the series. And if you're a more hardcore gamer than I, it's probably too easy. I, of course, love it. You cycle through different characters -- Buffy, Xander, Willow, Spike, Faith, and Sid the Dummy, and you get to run around Sunnydale High. At one point there are bunnies involved! Yay, bunnies!

One thing I usually take for granted in games, even those based on films, is the voice acting. I'm incredibly aware of it here because they managed to get most of the cast of the TV show. Sarah Michelle Gellar and Alyson Hannigan are notably absent, but the girl doing Buffy's voice does an extremely convincing impression. The girl doing Willow's voice, however, makes my ears bleed. It's really really really bad. I'd rather listen to someone who sounds nothing like her than this awful attempt at an impression. It really becomes distracting when playing her. I don't usually pay much attention to the quips and noises in video games. They're awfully repetitive and rarely entertaining. But of course some actor got paid to record each and every one of them, down to the last grunt or sigh. Eliza Dushku makes up for Tru Calling by committing 100% to her work in the game. Playing as Faith would be fun no matter what, but Eliza makes it way funner by keeping her quips, even when they repeat, from getting dull, and making the most out of lines like "Grrr, Aaargh yahself!"

As a fanboy geek, I don't quite understand why you can kill vampires with a metal sword through the heart (though playing as Spike with a sword is cool enough that I don't question much). Since the game is rated T (for teen), I suspect they had to avoid beheadings to keep it from getting an M (for mature). Far more annoying is the level where you fight vampires in a quarry...in broad daylight. Okay, the game is set in an alternate reality, but come on! This is taking the conceit of the show that a vampire can survive in slight cloud cover a little too far.

Still, they've paid great attention to detail in other areas -- My favorite sequence in the game so far involves Faith doing some serious damage with a shovel. The game makes it pretty easy to fight without having to learn lots of silly combos. If you're fighting three demons at once with an appropriate weapon (say that shovel), you'll twirl it and whack them all with one swipe. As a player, this is easy, and would come "naturally" to these characters. This sounds too easy, but the enemies work on the same engine, so they can knock something out of your hands and use it against you, and do lots of cool moves of their own. So it's pretty evenly matched. And despite that bit with the sword, if you're fighting a vamp with a shovel or an axe, after beating on him for a while you'll turn it around and stake him with the handle (this is one of the few moves that actually does involve a separate button). Weapons degenerate with use. You have to be careful fighting near walls, or you'll hit the wall more than the enemy and your axe will fall apart sooner. But when that happens you can still get a nice wooden spike from the handle...until that gets whittled down to a stake. And Willow, for all her annoying vocal ticks, gets to use magic, and making a miniature sun appear to kill a room full of vamps never gets old (oops, there goes that alternate reality theory).

They claim that the game's storyline can be viewed as a "lost episode" of the series from season five, but I have to admit the writing's pretty crappy and the plot makes little sense. Still, I miss these characters so much it's just nice to have them on my TV in any form. It's horribly addictive. It's taking me a fair amount of time to finish, but it's never stupidly frustrating like Bounty Hunter. Just good demony fun.

Apparently, I'm not the only one who misses the show. The new trend in games is to include extras like on a DVD (though they need to be unlocked by achieving things in play). Chaos Bleeds features interviews with the actors at their recording sessions, and apparently no one told Nicholas Brendan this was happening, because he's there in a white tank top looking remarkably doughy, and I think he might be stoned. From an interview with Joss Whedon elsewhere on the disc, I got the impression that they did all this right after the final season wrapped. At one point I think they ask Nicholas what his plans are now (we don't get to hear the questions), and he stammers something about not wanting to talk about things that aren't final, and yammers about how the show was his life for so long, and maybe I'm reading too much into it, but I felt like he may as well have been saying "Yeah, that bitch Gellar ruined it for all of us." (In contrast, Amber Benson looks adorable and just seems thrilled to be back for a day a year after her character died.) It made me sad. Though not as sad as that awful movie he did for ABC Family.

Of Vampires and Men

I wanted to follow-up on my post about the nutjob who shot a Domino's worker believing he was a vampire. I've received a couple of comments from people who apparently know the victim, David Harrison, found me by Googling the incident, and are understandably unhappy about my glib treatment of a real-life shooting.

Of course, it was insensitive of me to ignore the fact that Mr. Harrison is a real person who has suffered a real tragedy. My intention was merely to point out the stupidity that seems to go along with such crazy people. I'm fascinated by the lack of internal logic that people like this often seem to have -- like if you believe so strongly in vampires that you'll attack innocent people, shouldn't that belief include all the details of the mythology? And in light of all the flap about The Passion, and the creepy website I linked to on that post, I was commenting on how someone who claims to believe in Jesus can think he's doing the right thing by walking into a restaurant and shooting someone. When things baffle me, I tend to use humor to deflate them a little.

I have no way to contact the people who left comments, but hopefully they'll Google again and read this follow-up. I am very happy to hear that Mr. Harrison is alive (and well, I hope?), and we should be grateful, I suppose, that Mr. White didn't use a stake, which, if aimed properly, would surely have had a less happy ending for either vampire or human. Get well soon.

Monday, March 29, 2004

But where's the cow creamer?

I was all ready to hate Wonderfalls, and whaddaya know, it's my favorite show in a surprisingly strong spring season. The vague commercials didn't help my expectations, nor did the sense that it was a blatant attempt to cash in on the success of Joan of Arcadia. In fact, I've since learned, Wonderfalls was slated for the summer, but was shelved when Joe Millionaire 2 tanked and they decided to burn it off with double episodes, then delayed again in the fall when CBS announced Joan (it's like Armageddon and Deep Impact all over again!).

Still, it's easy enough to make the Joan of Arcadia comparison, but it's really very different. For starters, it's FUN! And well written. And I care about the characters. And Joe Mantenga's not in it. It's a little bit creepy, which I find highly refreshing. Joan could use a little extra creepy, considering the premise. I could do without the "quirky" music and the "wacky" Viewmaster editing, but the show is legitimately weird, and I really like that. And it's a weirdness that doesn't feel forced. It helps that Jaye is an adult, and therefore can drink (which I'm sure I would do if inanimate objects started talking to me), that Caroline Dhavernas deserves the title of Queen of the Reaction Shot, and that some of the little talking animal objects are just supremely fucked up.

I actually like Joan, in small doses, but while it hasn't gone into Touched By An Angel territory yet it can (understandably) get a little heavy-handed. God inevitably teaches Joan some great lesson, while Jaye sometimes has to go a very long way to figure something out on her own, and often winds up right back where she started. Jaye's mission seems to be to help people, but it's almost always highly indirect. The animals inevitably tell her to do something, which she misinterprets completely, and her resulting actions set of a chain of events that ends up doing whatever it was she was supposed to do. You'd think that by now she'd know that she's always wrong about her mission the first time, but I like the message that everything is connected, and that your actions have consequences you may never know about (without the guidance of talking knick-knacks).

I also have no interest whatsoever in Joan's supporting characters, but Wonderfalls goes out of its way to keep its narcissistic protaganist from completely hogging the spotlight, and there's some really wonderful ensemble work happening. I'm especially fond of Jaye's best friend and adorable bartender love interest, and Broadway vet Katie Finneran is fantastic, playing the complete opposite of the Noises Off role that made her famous in theater circles.

I just hope that the show doesn't become too one-note. Three episodes in, it's all good fun, but it could easily degenerate into Talking Knick-Knack of the Week. All the regular characters are so far are pretty much just types. Totally enjoyable types, but we know very little about them and I'd like to see that change to ground the show in something besides the guest stars. In any case, definitely one to keep watching.


In even weirder territory, there's Kingdom Hospital. I've always been a Stephen King fan, but his recent work has been pretty assy, especially on film and TV, so I was skeptical about this. I'm still not quite sure what to make of it, but I'm enjoying it. Not much has really happened yet, and each week is starting to feel the same, but the characters are interesting enough, and the show stylish enough, that I don't really mind. King's longer novels usually take a couple hundred pages to get going, so things should be getting good and scary soon. I could have done without the 15 minute sequence in the pilot establishing that one character is an asshole (we got it!), and some of the quirkier characters feel forced (what's the deal with the German security guard with the improbable glasses, who also occasionally cleans floors and signs in patients?) but I'm pretty engaged. Hopefully it'll all tie together and make sense eventually like It, and not turn out to be a big steaming pile of crap like Dreamcatcher. We've got ghosts, a factory fire, psychics, a vampire (I think), some kind of mystical aardvark, and musical fantasy sequences galore. It really could go anywhere.

Saturday, March 27, 2004

Playing With It

I've been almost as negligent about keeping up with the new spring shows as I have about blogging, and it's time to start fixing both those things.

So can we talk for a minute about the genius that is Playing It Straight?

Back when Boy Meets Boy ended, I proposed an idea for the sequel on the Television Without Pity forums. (The powers that be over there seem to have done away with the BMB thread, so you'll just have to take my word for it that I came up with this months ago.) I suggested that they do the show again, and tell all the participants that it was the same show as season one, with straight guys mixed in with the gay suitors. The twist this time would be that no one is actually straight. It would be fascinating to see how the Gaychelor dealt with that, what criteria he used to eliminate people, how the knowledge that they were "infiltrated" would affect the way the other competitors interacted with each other.

With Playing it Straight, Fox (natch) has basically given us that show. For any of you who may not know, PiS is a cruel joke masquerading as a dating show (in other words, a typical season on Fox). One woman and 14 men arrive on a secluded ranch for Bachelorette-style high jinx. Only what the woman and half of the men don't know is that some of the guys (cue dramatic music and badly-edited reaction shots here) are gay. The last man standing gets a million dollars at the end if he's gay, or splits it with the woman if he's straight. I have to wonder what the casting process for this was like. Did they ask for some sort of proof of orientation?

What makes this show a little different is that once they arrived at the ranch, everyone was let in on the secret. I thought this would make things less fun, but it's actually kind of refreshing. For one thing, after the initial shock, most of the cruelty is gone. Jackie knows she's being lied to, so she's not going to let herself get all attached to one of the guys only to have him break her heart for a million dollars. She sometimes comes off as really dumb in her interviews, but she's also really willing to play the game. Some contestants would say "I just really hope I can figure out which guys are straight so I can still find my true love like I'd planned." Nope, she wants that 500 grand.

One of my fears about the show was that the gay guys would all come off as villains, deceiving the "poor, innocent girl" for money. Never mind that deception has become the backbone of reality television. But since everyone's in on it, it all seems strangely...fun? It's also to the producers' credit that they're avoiding any editing that would make the gay guys look evil, and that they cast some straight guys who are just naturally tremendous assholes. Last night, one of the guys, a singer-songwriter who Boy, Jackie and I all think is straight, said in an interview, "Yeah, she's nice and pretty and all, but I'm not really looking for love. I just want that money and some exposure for my music." Since the gay guys are trying to deceive the audience too, I don't think one of them would risk tipping his hand like that. There was something inspirational about such honest fame whoring.

The honesty about the lying (an odd combination, I know), also gives us a much truer "social experiment" than the one the producers of BMB used to help them sleep at night. In their interviews, everyone obsesses over who the gay guys might be, and several of the guys have even chastised themselves for having accidentally shown effeminate qualities in front of Jackie. I'm fascinated by what these people thinks makes someone appear gay or straight, even in this day and age of metrosexuals and Ryan Seacrest. And even while talking directly to a camera, they all seem to have forgotten that they're on TV, and the show has been cast by a very savvy team of professionals. Two of the more "obviously" queer guys -- both skinny and soft-spoken with good hair -- were eliminated the first week, and of course turned out to be straight. Also in the first episode was much controversy of the fact that one of the guys had a hairdryer with him. Uh-oh! Red flag! But never mind how femme it may be, the guy has short, straight hair in a gelled spiky 'do -- all I wanted to know was why he needed a hairdryer at all!

Though a lot of them are coming off as very "country," it's hard to tell how naïve the guys really are, because the gay ones have to keep up their charades in their interviews. But they seem to be even more thrown by all this than Jackie. When guys are eliminated and we learn their true orientations, the other guys are frequently shocked that their suspicions (either way) were wrong, and the subsequent questioning of what a gay guy or a straight guy is supposed to look and sound like seems extremely genuine. (Jackie's naivety is far more annoying, as in one breath she'll profess to have her game face on, and in the next say things like, "I'm sure he's straight because he was flirting with me," or "He looked me right in the eye and told me he was straight so I believe him." Honey, there's a million bucks on the line, and you know half the guys are lying to get it, you need more evidence than that!)

This also illustrates how well the show has been cast, and for me it's less about what I think about stereotypes than it is about what I think about reality shows. The "prettiest" boy on the show (he of the hairdryer incident) must be straight because he's so "obviously" gay. Same with the personal trainer and the baby-faced bartender. All they're missing is a hairdresser and an interior designer...and a construction worker and an Indian. The butchest guy is probably queer. I'm more interested in how reality TV gets made than I am in how it all turns out. And the fact that if they were really smart the obvious guys would be what they appear, because they know the audience is going to second- and third-guess everything.

But my favorite thing about PiS is the way they refuse to take themselves seriously. From the Kathy Griffin wannabe host whose announcement of the secret to Jackie at dinner wouldn't have been out of place on Joe Schmo, to the fact that the ranch is named Sizzling Saddles. The show opens with a warning -- not a disclaimer, a warning, complete with flashing lights and sirens -- that some of the guys are lying even in their interviews. They love to accompany voiceovers of the various contestants speculating about who's on which team with shots of the guys hugging, or hot-tubbing, or bending over. Lots of bending over. Last night there was, I kid you not, a slow-motion hot-dog-eating montage. During a one-on-one date, they blatantly manufactured an eye-roll for Jackie. They took a shot of her moving her eyes to one side, then ran it backwards, like those cats who do double-takes in litter commercials. The cheesy dramatic music plays if someone spills a glass of water, and a good third of the episode is recap and another third is in slow motion. You just get the sense that they're in on the joke. It's really kind of the final frontier for these shows. We've had ultra-serious (even when it didn't deserve to be), and we've had parodies, now we have a show with real stakes but chock-full of irony.

Mostly, I guess, I just think about how poorly I'd do at Sizzling Saddles. They ride horses all the time. Few things will turn me nellier than getting me anywhere near a horse, let alone making me ride one! Ow and ew.

Tomorrow: Wonderfalls and Kingdom Hospital

Friday, March 26, 2004

"Out like a lamb" does not mean wearing a wool sweater!

It's finally spring! We broke 60° in New York today, and it's sunny and breezy. Times Square even smells nice.

This should make me incredibly happy (and okay, I'll admit it, no matter how much I'm about to crankify the situation, it does) but unfortunately I had to run errands this morning, and all the people who control HVAC in the city live off in a cave somewhere with no access to The Weather Channel. It must have been at least 90° in Office Depot, and the C train was like a sauna. By the time I got to work I'd sweat right through the denim jacket I'd been so excited to pull out of the closet this morning, and now I get to face the whole day feeling gross.

Oh what the hell do I care, it's spring!!

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Kill All Humans

I was at The Container Store yesterday (mmmm...Container Store), and when I approached the checkout line from an odd angle, the woman who had gotten on line just ahead of me thought she might have cut me by accident. I assured her that this was not the case, but then we were trapped. It was one of those awful moments that happens in elevators and subways where you've accidentally started a conversation with someone you have no interest in talking to, but you can't physically get away from them and it suddenly it becomes awkward not to continue chatting, but no less awkward to engage in pointless small talk.

But the woman was pleasant enough. She was in her 20s, smartly dressed in a way that made me think she had some sort of upwardly mobile job in the fashion or music industry (think season two Rachel), probably from money but if not she probably had it now. Sizing up strangers like this is not something I usually do, but this one was easy -- I could have easily hated her in high school, but enjoyed getting tipsy with her at the reunion.

I picked something up from the impulse buy rack, cleverly trying to avoid conversation, only I didn't actually know what it was, and neither did she, so we spent some time trying to figure it out. This led me to ask her what she was buying, as it was unidentifiable too (they turned out to be plastic shelf liners). Then we were on to how much we loved the Container Store, but only for little stuff, as their furniture is too expensive. She made a point of mentioning her husband; I gayed it up so she wouldn't think I was hitting on her. The whole exchange took two minutes, three tops, and then she was on her way to the next available cashier.

I checked out faster than my new yuppie friend, and I passed her on the way out. I caught her eye, smiled, and said "Have a good day," mentally patting myself on the back for being cheerful and friendly and ending the awkward encounter on a positive note.

The bitch looked at me like I was covered in vomit, bleeding from the head, and had just grabbed her crotch. Apparently, idle chitchat about shelf liners and suction-cup sponge holders is okay, but wishing someone happiness is still off-limits in New York.


I actually managed to get out of bed and go to yoga today. The Y calls the class "Gentle Yoga," but I usually refer to it as "Old Lady Yoga." I don't mean that disparagingly -- I'm a relative yoga newbie and the class is just my speed, and lemme tell ya some of those broads are wicked flexible. I just tend to be both the only man in the room, and the only person besides the instructor under 50.

This morning, two of the women in the back were having a fairly loud conversation as the teacher got started and asked us all to come into Relaxation Pose. They either didn't hear or didn't care, and kept on talking. Suddenly, from more than one person in the front of the room came a terrifying sound. Not a gentle, soothing "Sssshhhh," but the angry hiss of a thousand poisonous snakes. Others picked up the rattle and soon it was louder than both the talkers and the teacher. I just didn't understand what had pissed these people off so much. I thought someone was going to get killed, and it just didn't seem like a proportionate response. And this is coming from someone with a pretty short fuse and low tolerance for cluelessness.

Clearly these people needed that yoga class even more than I did.


If I've learned anything from the last two days, it's that people suck, and I long for the day when my Roomba and Explorer 8000 Home Entertainment Server join forces to take over the world.

The British are awesome

I placed an order on Amazon UK on Monday. It arrived today. Shipping was about $7, which would be totally reasonable for domestic shipping, and this got here faster than my order would have even been processed on Amazon US.

As if we needed more evidence after Coupling, I think this proves that Americans are stupid.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Fun With Playlists #5

Speaking of the iPod, it's been a while since I've done a Fun With Playlists, and I just made a new mix (something else I haven't done in a while), so here's what I'm listening to this week:

Songs That Make Me Want To Dance (Though Not Well Or Anything)

On Broadway – George Benson
Canned Heat – Jamiroquai
Flashdance (What A Feeling) – Irene Cara
El Tango De Roxanne – from
Moulin Rouge
Don't Tell Me – Madonna
Be A Man – from
Zanna, Don't!
Higher Ground – Red Hot Chili Peppers
The Want of a Nail – from
Camp
Genocide Peroxide – Boy George
Simple Joys – from Pippin
Rhythm Nation – Janet Jackson
Cell Block Tango – from
Chicago
The Way You Make Me Feel – Michael Jackson
There'll Be Some Changes Made – from
All That Jazz
Cold Hearted – Paula Abdul
Sparkling Diamonds – from
Moulin Rouge
Simply Irresistible – Robert Palmer
Mein Herr – Liza Minelli (from
Cabaret)
Rock Your Body – Justin Timberlake
Ride 'Em – from
Zanna, Don't!
Happy Feet (High Heels Mix) – Jack Hylton (from
Strictly Ballroom)
Pray – from
Once on This Island
Maniac – Michael Sambello
America (Movie Version) – from
West Side Story
Thriller – Michael Jackson
Hanky Panky – Madonna
Nowadays/Hot Honey Rag – from
Chicago
Beat It – Michael Jackson
Dance of the Vampires – from
Dance of the Vampires
Hindi Sad Diamonds – from
Moulin Rouge
Bye Bye Love – from
All That Jazz
Sing, Sing, Sing! – Benny Goodman

Learning things the hard way

Apparently, when I set the alarm on My Precious to beep (as opposed to playing music), the sound comes from the iPod itself, not through the headphones. This is not at all useful for letting me know it's time to leave the gym and go to work. Though it does explain why lots of people turned to look at me at 11:15.

This morning's second lesson: 15 minutes on the StepMill might just make my heart explode.

Saturday, March 20, 2004

Donuts: 2; Adam: 0

CRAP

Friday, March 19, 2004

Bagels: 1; Adam: 0

I overslept! I had no choice!!

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

People are really fucked up!

This was in the New York Post today. I have no witty comment, but I felt compelled to share.

A delusional man who apparently believed he was Jesus Christ built a wooden cross and tried to nail his hands to it in a horrific bid to re-create the crucifixion, police say.

But after hammering a spike through one palm, the man realized there was no way to hammer his other hand to the cross - so he dragged himself to the phone to dial 911 with his free hand.

Asked if he'd recently seen "The Passion of the Christ," the 23-year-old man, from Hartland, Maine, answered no, but said he had been "seeing pictures of God on the computer."

The Somerset County Sheriff's Office has classified the incident as a suicide attempt.

The gruesome incident began when the man, whom the cops would not identify, took two pieces of wood, nailed them together in the form of a cross and laid them on his living-room floor.

Then he tacked a sign reading "SUICIDE" to the wood and proceeded to nail one of his hands to the cross, using a 3 1/2-inch nail and a hammer. But as he gushed blood, he faced a dilemma - he couldn't finish the deed because he didn't have a free hand.

"When he realized that he was unable to nail his other hand to the board, he called 911," said Lt. Pierre Boucher, adding it was unclear whether the man was seeking assistance for his injury or looking for help in nailing down his other hand.

Rescuers cut off the wood while it was still attached to the man's hand and rushed him to Sebasticook Valley Hospital, where the spike was pulled out.

People are fucked up

The other day, Faustus posted this link on his blog. It's to a comic strip that suggests that role playing games and related fantasy fiction are anti-Christian and will lead to suicide and hell.

Then yesterday, Jenn e-mailed me this:
'Vampire Slayer' Shoots Man In Face
Suspect Reportedly Fascinated With Zombies, Vampires

POSTED: 6:29 a.m. EST March 15, 2004
UPDATED: 2:15 p.m. EST March 15, 2004

Police in Jacksonville, Fla., arrested a man who believed he was a 'vampire slayer' after he allegedly shot his Domino's Pizza co-worker twice in the face because he thought he was a vampire, according to Local 6 News.


Timothy White, 35, who was described by friends as a born-again Christian with an unusual preoccupation with zombies and vampires, was arrested outside of a church after Friday's shooting.

Witnesses said he walked into the pizza shop on Normandy Boulevard and allegedly said David Harrison looked like a vampire. He then allegedly shot Harrison in the face and stomach.

Police said White was heavily armed with a knife, a sawed-off shotgun and three pistols when he was taken into custody.

Harrison is listed in critical condition at a local hospital.

A grief counselor was brought in to help Domino's employees.

White remains in the Duval County Jail Monday.



So of course, I was intrigued right away by the fact that this man was a born-again Christian.

But more importantly, I can't imagine why Mr. White didn't stake Mr. Harrison in the heart. Doesn't he know that bullets can't kill vampires?

Click here for a follow-up to this post!

Irish Soda Bread: 1; Adam: 0

One of my coworkers made it for everyone for St. Patrick's Day! What was I supposed to do???

Idol Thoughts

One of the things I really liked about the American Idol semi-finals was that they used a live band throughout. It helped take the taint of karaoke away from the proceedings, and in some cases I think it helped the performers sound better. So why, now that they've moved to the snazzy studio with the huge audience and the 10,000 Vari*Lites, have they gone back to the terrible canned tracks?

That aside, this is where the real game begins. And strangely, I feel much less shame watching now. I guess because all the singers are theoretically good now, it's just about watching a decent concert. I never would have said that about season one. All twelve of these finalists are a zillion times better than most of the first group of kids. I watched much of the first season in horror, but only one of the performances tonight made me feel that way. A definite boost to the experience is not watching it live: judicious fast-forwarding is key.

I won't be foolish enough to do predictions (after all, this contest is won with votes, and the whims of the American people elected George Bush as President...well, sort of), but here are my thoughts on the first show in the finals.

Okay, so LaToya is amazing. She's this season's Tamyra Gray. Not only can she sing the hell out of everything, she was the one contestant who didn't seem the elast bit nervous. If only her name weren't LaToya. Not a great track record for a career in pop music.

I like Amy a lot, but I think only because she reminds me of Nikki McKibbin from season one. Only she can sing. I always liked Nikki because she was an underdog and she was unique, at least among the contestants. She was also never boring. She may not have hit all the notes, but she always rocked. Amy, not so much with the rocking. She picked an amazingly bland, boring song, with a bland, boring arrangement, and sang it blandly and boringly. Honey, your hair cannot be the only thing about you that stands out.

How did Matthew make it into the finals? He has no stage presence, and he sang the whitest rendition of "Hard To Handle" ever. Whiter than The Commitments and The Black Crowes combined. The track didn't help, but this guy is terrible. Okay, he's still better than Jim or AJ or Ejay or RJ or eBay from season one, but if you could vote against people, I'd be on the phone all night. Randy and Paula disagreed with me, and I'm baffled. Simon called it "a second-rate Tom Jones performance," and this is why I have always loved Simon.

Jon Peter Lewis is my favorite. I don't think he'll win, nor should he (though he may be the last man standing with the kick-ass women), but I'm rooting for him. He's also very white, but he picks songs that work for that ("Tiny Dancer," "Drift Away"). He seems to be the breakout heartthrob among the screaming girls in the audience, since cute geeks seem to be in (see Clay Aiken and Adam Brody). And yeah, I too like his crooked smile and pretty eyes. Simon called him "the dark horse to win this competition." Yup, loving Simon.

Camile is dull. Not bad, but dull.

Fantasia is like Macy Gray on crack, with a bigger range. She's fantastic. I can't wait to see what she can do when she's not nervous. Someone said to me, "I hope she doesn't become a big star because I'd hate to see people start naming their kids Fantasia," and I couldn't agree more, but the girl's got some serious pipes.

I don't like George, but I have to admit it's got nothing to do with talent. He's not great, but he can sing. But he creeps me out. I don't know why. He's funny looking. Maybe it's his posture. I just don't like watching him perform and I haven't since his first audition. I don't want to think about him any more to actually critique his performance. He might be an alien.

Okay, by this point in the show, they're all kind of blurring together. The performances are good, but all the classic soul is starting to sound alike. Jennifer is good though, very good. It's always tough to sing an Aretha song because you've gotta compete with Aretha!. But she totally pulled it off. And I loved her outfit (tailored pinstriped blazer with jeans) and her poofy hair.

I love John, but what is he doing here? In ten years or so (he's 16), he'll have an amazing career in cabaret, and doing recordings of classics. He can be the next Michael Feinstein. I'm rooting for the little guy, but he's not a pop star. I'm fearful for what the coming weeks of theme nights will do to him. And I'm also wondering how long it'll take him to come out of the closet.

Leah sang a mediocre song mediocrely. I want to like her; she's cute. But it wasn't a great performance, or a great shirt.

Jasmine sang an interesting song (I don't know what it was, I'd never heard it before), but I didn't think she sang it well. She seemed to hit a lot of wrong notes. The judges loved her though, even Simon. I've always hated Simon.

Another Aretha song, another 16-year-old trying to be Mariah Carey (when really a much better goal would be to try to be Aretha Franklin), and another round of praise from the judges that I didn't understand. Sorry, Diana, not a fan.

Um, yeah, so I'm hooked. Okay, I guess I was already hooked, but now I'm really hooked. In a way, after watching Average Joe and a little of High School Reunion, there's something sort of refreshing about watching a bunch of fame whores on a show that's explicitly about fame. And talent. Idol is nothing if not up front about its pretensions and manipulations, and now that I'm not watching bad singers for the schadenfreude, it's one of the few things I watch that doesn't make me feel dirty!

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Maybe the world doesn't revolve around me after all...

...because if it did, there would not have been a goddamn blizzard on March 16!!

Monday, March 15, 2004

Average Joe My GOD!

They're evil geniuses. Truly evil, and truly genius. It was brilliant.

At first I was nervous. It started off with a bunch of recaps of the first Average Joe, and the reactions of Adam and his friends back home to his rejection. Fine, that's to be expected.

Then they brought back the freakiest of the freaks from the first show, and set them up in obviously scripted "searches" for the right match for Adam. Dennis (über geek) was screening tapes at NBC. Tareq (terrifying enginerd with the anger issues) whored himself out to shill for eHarmony.com, since he's the scientist of the group, he was using a "scientific" method to find Adam a mate. All four of the extremely overweight guys -- the first four eliminated by Melana -- were sent to Vegas to find "the hottest possible chicks."

Blah blah blah, the mansion, the hot tub, the airplane hangar, the bus. Dennis and Tareq arrived with the women they'd chosen...and Jason, the prettyboy Melana had chosen, in drag. Seriously. He was supposedly on the bus to spy, but I think that would only work if Dennis had brought a busload of blind women. As MCM said, "For such a pretty boy, he makes a really ugly woman."

Writing about it, it all sounds hopelessly silly, and I would have preferred if the other Joes had been used a little less obviously (or scripted better). But Adam is so damn charming, and frankly the other freaks are fascinating too. They showed some tapes of women who'd applied for the show, and many of them seemed smart and funny. It was all just astonishingly watchable.

What really makes it interesting so far are the women. While none of them are on the sad, sad level of the last crop of Sub-Par Joes, they're an amazingly diverse group, with a pretty wide range of looks and both good and terrifying clothing choices. There are more Jews than in the current revival of Fiddler on the Roof. It's kind of a refreshing change from the usual dating show crowd. And I've already been creeped out by someone, which is really my test of any reality show. One of the first eliminees cried in her exit interview about how she was sure Adam would pick her and she'd move to New York to be with him. Putting the cart before the horse a bit, aren't we sweetie?

The only twist they've told us about so far is that, like on the previous Joes, a busload of super-hot competitors will arrive. In this case, they're the ones the producers expect us to believe the fat guys rounded up in Vegas. It's doesn't seem like such a big deal this time around though, since some of the women already there could give them a run for their money, and none of them are as ugly or creepy as even the best-looking season two Joes.

Regardless, I'm hooked. And to think I originally didn't like Adam and was put off by his upsettingly large teeth. (One of the women has an...exuberant smile as well. I shall call her Gums from now on.) I can't wait to see him deal with all this, and I'm especially interested to see how he handles making the elimination decisions, many of which will be, by their very nature, superficial. He seems like he's smart and together enough to know what he's gotten himself into so he won't make too big an ass of himself. But he also seems like he expects to find the love of his life on television, so maybe not. And that's the inherent contradiction that keeps me watching garbage like this.

The searched for a year for THIS?

Elisabeth Hasselback to Scarlett Johansson, on her boots, and Girl With A Pearl Earring:

"Now those are quite modern compared to your attire in the film. I felt like I was, like, transported back in time!"

Yeah, I really think I can't watch The View anymore.

Sunday, March 14, 2004

Martini: 1, Adam: 0

I'm not actually sure if a martini is allowed or not. Olives are good for Atkins!

Oh well, I think my new rule is Atkins Monday through Friday.

Caffeine: 1, Adam: 0

Mmmmm...Diet Coke... oops.

Killing Snowboarding Sims for Money

When I returned from my February hiatus, I promised some video game reviews. Here they finally are, for the geekier among you...

A couple of weeks ago, I watched ESPN for the first time ever in my life. This was a very strange experience, and anyone who knows me would undoubtedly be shocked. The thing is, I've become somewhat obsessed with snowboarding.

Though I'm generally a pacifist and very anti-gun, my taste in video games leans towards the violent. When it's purely fictional and safe, I find bloody death strangely relaxing. I don't like sports games and I don't like racing games. So it stands to reason that I would have no interest in the SSX series of snowboarding games. And in fact, I didn't, before SSX Tricky captured my soul.

Last year, Boy and I were staying with some friends of his in DC, and they had the first SSX on their PlayStation 2. I don't remember playing it at all myself, but Boy enjoyed it a lot. One of the many things that makes Boy such a fabulous boyfriend is that he has almost endless patience for watching me play video games. Unfortunately, he doesn't enjoy shooters himself, so we rarely play together. So when I saw a used copy of Tricky (the second game in the series) in Blockbuster, I grabbed it for him. I thought we should have something we could play together.

Little did I know. Little did I know that buying it "for him" would become a source of endless mockery.

I got hooked. Completely and irrevocably hooked. I played for hours on end when Boy wasn't around. I mastered the courses, and came up with complicated backstories and relationships for the characters. Part of the hook of Tricky is that you can choose from several characters to play as. Each has his or her own personality, strengths and weaknesses in racing and performing tricks, and a short bio you can read. As you advance through the game, you unlock different outfits for them to wear, and half the fun is in dressing them up. In other words, it's sports for fags.

So for Chrismukah, Boy got me the latest in the franchise, SSX 3. And it's goooooood. It's just so fucking pretty. The environments are amazing, the sound design is perfect, sunlight shines through pine trees, snowflakes blow in the wind and melt on the "camera lens"...it's just cool. They've also done an amazing job of making the physics of the game seem very real when of course they can't be. Real snowboarding, I learned from ESPN, is pretty dull. The game, like any good game, is a fantasy, where you can spin a board around your head or fall several stories after a jump, land on your feet, and not shatter both legs.

Unlike its predecessors, SSX 3 is non-linear. Instead of a series of individual courses, you board down a mountain, turning this way onto a race course, that way onto a freestyle course, or just cruising around to explore and complete challenges that pop up at various points throughout. You need to complete certain tasks to unlock more challenging peaks, but you can spend a lot of time getting to know the terrain and earning money (which matters now in a way it didn't before...in 3 you buy increased skill or, if you prefer, cuter outfits, rather than unlocking them) without getting bored. With Tricky, I often felt like I was thisclose to getting something. This would lead to hours and hours of trying to do the one little thing that would win me the race. SSX 3 is both easier and harder. Some areas are simply out of my league and must be saved for later. And I still occasionally get caught in the "restart loop." But there are also so many things to do that I can always do a short challenge so I feel like I've accomplished something, and call it a night. Or, y'know, stay up all night trying to get all the challenges. Either way.

My only real complaint is that the voice acting isn't nearly as good as in Tricky, which snagged several celebrities. There's much less emphasis on the gimmick of character relationships (where people would either encourage or threaten each other in cut-scenes, and if you pissed someone off enough he'd start knocking you down on the course) so the voiceovers obviously took a back seat to the visuals. Which I understand is why most people play games, but are you surprised that I want a story and good acting?


As things calmed down at work last month (a relative description, to be sure), I swung by a used game store and picked up a couple of things I've had my eye on for a while that I've been waiting to see for under $20.

First up was Star Wars: Bounty Hunter. It's not a bad game, but not nearly as good as the Star Wars game released around the same time, Jedi Outcast. Once you've had a light-saber, telekinesis, and the power to control minds and shoot lightning (all things I've wanted desperately since I was eight years old), everything else just pales.

Plus [geeky rant alert!], you play Bounty Hunter as Episode II's Jango Fett, and he bugs the hell out of me simply as a concept. I've never understood the fanboy obsession with Boba Fett, and the fact is that he's an incredibly minor character in the original films, who's been inexplicably fetishized through later merchandising. He has somewhere in the neighborhood of five minutes of screen time over two films, and he dies one of the most idiotic deaths in the series, even by Star Wars standards. So to give him a big fat portentous backstory in Episode II makes even less sense to me than the rest of Episode II. Especially because his backstory is totally irrelevant to his appearance in Episode V. It's not like Boba goes after Han Solo to avenge his father's death. He's a freakin' bounty hunter, and any connection between him and the later characters is a complete coincidence.

So anyway, yeah...now on top of Boba's useless backstory, we've got this game to give us Jango's useless backstory.

Remember the "junk dealer" in Episode I? You know, the CGI alien with the hooked nose and the Semitic accent who was obsessed with money? Well, there's another one of those aliens in the game. This one is a motherly figure to Jango, and along with giving him leads on bounties, she needles him about when he's going to get a nicer spaceship and settle down and "have a kid." I assume that this is all setup for Jango getting Slave One (his butt-ugly flying iron of a ship that didn't have a name until it was made into a toy, and that no one seemed to care about until that toy sold millions) and begetting little Boba, but aren't these characters offensive enough without making one into a Jewish mother?

But I digress. The game itself is pretty entertaining. A jetpack is almost as much fun as a light saber, and there are lots of fun winks for the fan. I'm currently playing a level on Tatooine, where I'm especially fond of killing Sandpeople, and there's a fun sequence over the Sarlaac pit (a locale that didn't work out so well for Boba). When you shoot enemies they will, whenever possible, not just die, but fall screaming into a bottomless chasm. Are there no safety codes in the Republic? Have these people never heard of guardrails?

In addition to the main missions, you can earn points and unlock bonuses by collecting secondary bounties. That little antenna thing on the Fetts' helmet is apparently a scanner, and if you scan someone with a bounty on his head you'll get a little bio and find out how much he's worth dead or alive. Personally, I enjoy the utterly ridiculous names like Merk Teg, Bulbousola, and Samm Duo (yes, I made all of those up, but they're not too far off). Once you've marked them, you can either tie them up and take them alive, or kill them and take them dead (though this is where the falling bodies can get annoying, as your bounties can easily go bye-bye). There's always been a don't ask/don't tell policy among gamers as to how characters can carry so much shit with them, but I really have to wonder where all these bodies Jango carries go.

But I digress again... the fun thing about bounty hunting, is that Jango is a complete psychopath. And no, it's not just that I as a player, am a complete psychopath, these things are actually necessary to advancing in the game. Jango will gun down an entire neighborhood, unarmed bystanders and all, in pursuit of a couple thousand dollars (or whatever). Several of the bounties are placed by good guys -- escaped criminals wanted brought in or whatever -- and no one seems to care about all the collateral damage I cause. Good times.

Several elements of the game design can be annoying. I like a challenge, but I also play games to relax, not to get more stressed out, so I don't like being frustrated by my games. I've fallen to my death or failed to kill an enemy several times, not because what I was doing was meant to be hard, but because Jango failed to grab a ledge he was supposed to grab or because the targeting system didn't work properly. There are checkpoints throughout the game, from which you can continue if you die. But you only get five lives per level, regardless of the level's length or difficulty. So of course, the levels where you run out are also the ones you really don't want to do again! There's something nicely old-school about this, like when I used to spend an entire Saturday on Level 8 of Super Mario Bros., but in this day and age of memory cards it strikes me as odd.

Overall though, if you like blowing shit up to the accompaniment of John Williams music, this is a good game to buy used. (Look for mine on eBay as soon as I finish it!)


Last, and most definitely least, I picked up The Sims, whose transition to a console game intrigued me. I never got into the classic Sim games (SimCity, SimEarth, etc.), but when The Sims came out for the Mac I was sucked in by the chance to play god on a smaller scale. I've had my same little gay sim couple for years (their names, Dawson and Pacey, attest to their longevity), and I'll go for months without playing, then get obsessed again for brief periods (usually when I have insomnia) and advance them a little before getting bored, or just losing the time to play.

I'd read that in console form, The Sims was level-based, with specific tasks to accomplish before moving forward, much like a more traditional, linear game. And that's not exactly untrue, but since the goals are things like "learn to cook" and "get a job," gameplay doesn't feel any different than it did on a PC. I'd expected the graphics to be vastly improved, so many years since the original came out, but they're actually worse. Sure, there's more detail in the faces, and you can select individual features (hair, eyes, nose, etc.) instead of an entire head at a time, but it's so badly rendered everyone just looks creepy and ugly.

Maneuvering around the screen with a controller instead of a mouse and keyboard is clunky, at best. Worst of all, the game is boring. Like, shockingly boring. I realized something very important about The Sims: On my laptop, it's a great game to play while doing something else. At work, listening to music, watching TV. And even if you're giving it your full attention, it goes pretty fast. On the GameCube, of course, I can't have the TV on in the background, and I can only move away as far as the controller cord will take me, so it's nothing but dull. I don't know how they took a good game and made it not good, but they managed. Look for my copy of that on eBay too!

Saturday, March 13, 2004

Cookies: 1, Adam: 0

Today I'm working near Chelsea Market, a sort of gourmet mall that might as well be called Carbohydrate Market. I walked through it on the way in, just because I hadn't been there in a while and wanted to see what was new. I was very proud of myself for not stopping, walking right past the Fat Witch Brownie Company and Big Apple Bagels.

Then, one of my coworkers, being "nice," came back from a break with a box of cookies. And I caved. Immediately. I know I should be proud of myself for only having two (they were small), and for not even really wanting any more during the following two hours while the box was in arms' reach. But instead I feel guilty for falling off the wagon after less than a week. I felt my gut expand with each chocolate chip, the two ounces of sugary goodness putting back the 5 pounds I've already lost.

See, this is why I don't diet. In a lot of ways, I was much better off when I was fat, ignorant, and didn't know what a gym looked like.

Help Me!

So the first of the new shows I watched was The Help. It made me sad. There are so many actors I like (along with Mindy Cohn, there's Al Santos from Grosse Pointe and Brenda Strong, who played Sally Sasser on Sports Night), and it's totally fun to watch Tori Spelling make an ass of herself (in a good way), but it's just so bad. It also has the most egregious laugh track since Scooby-Doo, which actually makes the show worse. Rather than telling me when to laugh, the raucous canned whooping just points up how unfunny the jokes are, and makes me feel like I'm the only one in the room not laughing. Of course, I'm the only one in the room, but you know what I mean.

As if that weren't bad enough, during the show was a commercial for Pier One, and it appears that Tom Fillichia from Queer Eye is the new Kirstie Alley. I don't just mean he's shilling for Pier One, I mean he's actually doing exactly the same annoying schtick that Kirstie Alley used to do. Tom, it's okay to sell out, and I'm a huge fan of both you and Pier One, but if you gain 100 pounds and start wearing crazy prom dresses on television, we're through.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Random Acts of Spending

I'm pretty short on cash right now, yet for some reason I can't stop shopping. Nothing big, mind you, but I keep spending money.

I've decided could pretty much live at The Container Store. I went there yesterday to return one of the shelves I'd bought (I measured badly), and wound up walking out with these neat things that hold excess headphone cable in a cute little capsule. One tiny problem with My Precious is that my headphone has a super-long wire, which when added to the iPod remote becomes super-duper-long. So that takes care of that.

Also on the impulse-buy rack by the register were these brilliant toothbrush holders. How can a toothbrush holder be brilliant, you ask? In this case, it's a little clamshell-like thing that you stick on your wall and that holds the head of your toothbrush. When you put your toothbrush in it instantly closes on it like some kind of alien pod. Pull the brush's handle towards you and it opens right up. It's a marvel of candy-colored plastic engineering, as one would only expect from the marketing geniuses of...Malaysia? Although I've never trusted suction cups (and I never will...I've never forgiven them...for the death of my shower caddy) alien pods are cool!

Leaving The Container Store for my other home away from home, the Apple Store, my incredibly sexy new laptop bag arrived today. Mmmm...ergonomic... And with a special pocket for My Precious! And now the wires won't get all tangled in the strap!

As if that's not geeky enough, tonight I downloaded a nifty little bit of software called Netflix Freak. As I've mentioned before, my Netflix queue currently has 456 movies on it. This is as much because there are a ton of films, both new and old, that I've never seen and feel like I should, as it is because I'm extremely slow about watching them when I have them. Netflix Freak pulls your information off of the Netflix website but in a much prettier and easier-to-manage interface. You can search your queue, and re-order it by dragging, and you can even search for and add new discs. If only it would help me watch the movies.

In other, non-shopping-related news, I walked by a diner today with a sign that said "We now serve cappuccino and expresso," (italics are mine), and I nearly kicked the window in.

Finally, I leave you with this link: God Hates Shrimp

Sugar Free

On Sunday I started the Atkins Diet. Again. I've been doing some variation on the low carb thing for almost three years now, so when I say I'm doing Atkins I mean I'm doing it hardcore: No sugar, not caffeine, and no more than 20 grams of carbs a day. This is what Atkins calls Phase One of the "Nutritional Approach" (don't call it a diet, they get pissy), and it's meant to kick-start your weight loss before you ease into the kindler, gentler phases of the diet -- oops, the approach.

The thing is, all phases, for life, involve complete sugar deprivation, and I'm simply not capable of doing that. Cake and ice cream are close friends of mine, and it would be cruel to cut them off completely, wouldn't it? So I try to moderate. When I find myself doing less well at the moderation (Entenmann's oatmeal raisin cookies, anyone?), I try to kick the cravings out of my body by going to the other extreme.

I first did Atkins for about six weeks in 2001, after watching an actor in a show I was working on lose so much weight he needed new costumes. I lost about 40 pounds. (Before you tell me how unhealthy it is to lose that much weight that quickly, know that I had gained about half of it in half the time not long before, doing a children's theater tour where I ate only fast food, Cracker Barrel, and scary things out of motel vending machines, and spent all my time in a van.) Maybe more important to me than the weight loss was the examination of my eating habits that came from doing something so extreme. It's amazing what you discover when you can't have any sugar at all. I started reading labels and was shocked by the amount of sugar and carbs in, well, everything. My idea of eating healthy had been getting low-fat cream cheese on my bagel. Pasta was good, right, because there was no fat and no grease and occasionally some vegetables? Yeah, except for the carbs of course and all the sugar in the sauce. That breakfast cereal with the fruit and the nuts...yeah and the frosting. The common denominator in everything I ate, even when I was trying to be healthy but not losing any weight, was carbs.

I also have no willpower, which made Atkins a good option for me. In theory, as long as you don't have any sugar at all, portion control is not a problem because of the way your body processes protein in the absence of carbs. You're basically tricking your body into burning off its stored fat to make energy for digestion. Okay, I'll admit it, that doesn't sound healthy. Anyway, this does not mean, as many people seem to believe, that you can stuff your face with bacon all day long. But it does mean that a snack of cheese can actually be a good thing.

It also means that doing the diet is, I assume (and hope), the closest I'll ever come to knowing what it's like to have an eating disorder. Because, as I understood it, if you have any sugar at all, the trick doesn't work. The wheel of cheese is just a wheel of cheese. So I became hopelessly paranoid about everything I put in my body. Wait, was that steak marinated in something? Are tic-tacs sugar-free? Were there shredded carrots in that chicken salad?. It's maddening. Of course, I'm sure it's nothing like having an actual eating disorder, but I've never experienced so much second-guessing and obsession over food -- how much, what kind, when.

Like any diet, it's not for everyone. And like any diet, if you don't do it correctly it won't work. It worked for me, and it educated me on what my personal food pitfalls are. For six weeks, I ate not one bit of sugar and only 20 grams or less of carbs a day. And no caffeine, which was perhaps the hardest part. At first, I ate a lot of McDonald's burgers (sans bun, ketchup and onions), but that made my skin break out, so I wound up doing a lower-fat, lower-grease version of the diet that many do, cooking at home and altering a lot of the recipes from the Atkins website (to include less oil, butter, etc.). In the end I saved money by eating out less and learned how to make some great stuff. I lost weight, my cholesterol went down, and my skin cleared up. And, best of all, I kicked my Diet Coke addiction and learned how to control sugar cravings.

Then I stopped. I'd learned how to snack more appropriately and eat sweets in moderation. So I was still on the right track, though I wasn't technically "on Atkins" anymore. And, despite the warnings I got from everyone, two-and-a-half years later I haven't gained the weight back. I still eat sweets and bagels and whatnot, but I eat far less of them. I'll eat at an Italian restaurant, but no longer keep pasta in my house. I order brown rice in Chinese restaurants instead of white, get sashimi instead of sushi, snack on nuts instead of pretzels.

Unfortunately, I also get into weird bingey places, where, due to stress or laziness, I pig out on all the wrong kinds of things. So occasionally I'll do a couple of weeks back on phase one -- what I like to call "touch-up Atkins." It's not how you're "supposed" to do it, but it works for me. Lately I've been getting better at striking a balance between low-carb and carb-crazy (much easier now that the craze has caught on and there are all kinds of sugar- and wheat- free substitutes, and everyone from Subway to Ben & Jerry's has Atkins-sanctioned products), and I haven't had to really diet since the four-week panic-and-donut-induced stint I did last summer right before my high school reunion.

But two months of my schedule being turned upside-down, and a high-stress job in a neighborhood with few food options except for the diner across the street (which has awesome turkey clubs and chocolate chip muffins) has kept me from the gym and sent me reaching for whatever food is on hand again, as well as spending far too much money on prepared food.

So I'm trying to get some discipline back in my life for a couple of weeks. I'm not so concerned about losing weight (though I wouldn't mind a little), but with getting those cravings out of my system. It's like re-training my body, reminding it that it doesn't need the morning jolt of caffeine or the mid-afternoon comfort cookie. It's also one of the few areas on my life I can hope to exercise some control over right now (and there's that eating disorder again!).

This is Day Four, and so far so good. But if I seem to lose my sense of humor and zest for life over the next couple of weeks, please forgive me!

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Idle

Well, I'm still alive and my brain hasn't turned completely to mush. American Idol is like a trashy novel: It's better when you skim and don't think too hard. I survived my marathon catch-up by fast-forwarding a lot. The first episode on my list was the first round of Hollywood auditions, which I actually found thoroughly engaging, and a little bit interesting, seeing how the kids handled the pressure and the hotel-induced freedom, the bizarre exercise of making them write a song (not what they signed up for at all). Plus, that pretty boy took his shirt off a lot, then made a complete ass of himself in his audition. What more can I ask for from reality TV?

Next up was the group auditions episode, which so bored me that I stopped and erased it after ten minutes. Then we were into the final 32, which is where my skimming technique came into play. Contestant's background? Don't care. More than one verse? Not necessary. I skipped the results shows entirely and hit the website to see who won. Because Fox needs to milk as much ratings gold out of this thing as they can, and because showing the clips of the bad people's humiliation until the end of time wasn't enough, the cruel producers actually brought some of the nightmare first auditioners into the studio to sing badly live. I hope they got paid.

So now I'm all caught up...and I don't care one little bit. Not even slightly. Well, okay a teeny tiny bit. But mostly I couldn't tell you anything about any of the contestants with a gun to my head. Two of my favorites made it through, but I'm only interested in John as a curiosity (he sounds like Dean Martin, even when he sings Billy Joel), and I only like Amy for her hair. Where's the spark of first season? Where's the guilty pleasure of actually calling in and rooting for an underdog? (I still love you, Nikki!) Where's the heartbreak of Tamyra? The charisma of Justin? The embarrassment of Jim? I'd even take the creepiness of AJ.

The thing is, I felt totally out of the loop last season when I didn't watch the show. It's just become far too embedded in our pop culture. And you know how I love my pop culture! So I feel compelled to give it at least one more week, because a couple of the contestants who made small impressions on me (for being cute or singing songs I like or being named after Star Wars characters) are in the wildcard round. And more importantly (as well as more embarrassing), I hate feeling like I'm missing something.

Monday, March 08, 2004

What I Watch: Spring 2004

I'm still catching up on TV from the last couple of weeks (there are eleven episodes of American Idol on the Explorer 8000 Home Entertainment Server right now, and I have no good answer to the obvious question of why I don't just erase them and not waste my time with the humiliation) so I completely lost track of the approaching spring mid-season premieres. There are eight new shows I plan to watch, which is more than I have time for, but you know what a sucker I am for new season commercials. The really sad thing is that three of the eight are reality shows (1 new and 2 returning) that I promise I'll keep watching even after the fictional ones suck. So I can safely look forward to a spring full of feeling dirty.

Here, in no particular order, is my rundown of new spring shows.

Average Joe 3: Adam Returns (Mondays @ 10, NBC)
Do I really have to explain this one? I thought the magic was gone on the second season, and I actually restrained myself from watching between the first episode and the baffling conclusion, but dude, it's Adam! It's hard to believe I started off not liking him and his giant teeth, but now I can't wait to see what fresh hell these producers are going to unleash on him and us. The fact that the commercials have not shown us the face of a single one of the women is a good sign.

Cracking Up (Not sure of the timeslot since it's previewing at odd ones, Fox)
I can't muster much enthusiasm for new sitcoms, especially after the disappointment of Coupling and Arrested Development (yeah, yeah, I know everyone loves it but I just don't get it and never will), but I really like Molly Shannon and Jason Schwartzman, so we'll see.

Playing It Straight (Fridays @ 8:00, Fox)
This is basically Boy Meets Boy in reverse, where a woman must choose from a pool of male suitors, some of whom are actually gay. There's an understandable fear that the gay men will come off as clowns, or that they'll be demonized for deceiving this "poor woman" for money. But, um, hello, that's exactly what the straight guys did to the Gaychelor on Boy Meets Boy! So I'm looking forward to a little revenge. But also, honestly, to the inevitable flesh parade and the sheer Foxerific trashiness that this promises to be.

Wonderfalls (Fridays @ 9:00, Fox)
I'm not actually sure what this show is about, but the teasing commercials have me intrigued. And that damn song keeps getting stuck in my head. I give it one episode, but I'm curious enough to see what the deal is.

High School Reunion 2 (Sundays @ 9:00, WB)
Best. Reality Show. EVER. Seriously, the first attempt at this was pure genius. I've never seen such a Parade of Delusions. Starting with anyone thinking that Dan Boobatos was attractive. The stalkers, the criers, the bizarre forced dating, the nerd who wasn't really much of a nerd at all... it was all too delicious to pass up. Of course, that it aired a month before my own actual high school reunion didn't hurt my fascination. Kinda like the way every major event during senior year seemed to occur in the same week that the 90210 episode about the same event aired ("Donna Martin graduates!"). Anyway, last year there was some minor scandal about how not everyone was really from the same class, and how the producers had assigned titles to people somewhat erroneously. Judging from the looks of the very pretty "Ugly Duckling," nothing's changed this year. But I'm thrilled at the addition of "The Gay Guy," so you know I'll be watching.

The Help (Fridays @ 9:30, WB)
I've missed the first episode of this low-rent sitcom already, and I've heard that it's terrible. But I will watch it because Mindy Cohn is in it. Poor Mindy. Blair was the Pretty One, Tootie was the Black One, Jo was the Butch One, and poor Natalie was stuck being the Fat One. No! She was the funny one! And the sensible one! And my favorite. There should be some kind of support group for underappreciated comic actresses, led by Mindy and Joyce DeWitt.

Century City (Tuesdays @ 9:00, CBS)
Sci-fi lawyers! Woohoo!

Kingdom Hospital (Wednesdays @ 10:00, ABC)
Okay, so his last few books have sucked. And his last couple of miniseries. But it's Stephen King, and I can't not give it a shot. I haven't watched the pilot yet, but I've heard great things. I am perplexed as to why everyone, from the network to Entertainment Weekly, is calling it King's first TV series. Am I the only one who remembers the brilliant and underappreciated Golden Years, which starred Frances Sternhagen and Felicity Huffman?

Most of these start this week, but fortunately there seem to be a lot of reruns of older shows happening too, so as long as I can survive eleven hours of American Idol, there should be lots of fun reviews coming up soon!

Friday, March 05, 2004

When good metaphors go bad

I recently came across this quote from an associate director of the NYC Poison Control Center: "A lot of people assume they're going to smell something. But they won't. [Carbon Monoxide] is colorless and odorless -- that's why it's called the silent killer."

Ummm...did I miss the part where people assume they're going to hear something?

Thursday, March 04, 2004

Linkity Linky Link

I know I do some of these things myself, but much more often I'm bugged by other people who do many more of them. I need to get some of these.

Also, courtesy of m.e., I have to share this little gem of fucked-up-ness.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

It's the economy, stupid!

Has anyone pointed out to George W. Bush what a boon to the economy it would be if gays were allowed to register at Bed, Bath & Beyond?

Monday, March 01, 2004

Well this is unusual…

I had a lovely evening last night with my lovely boyfriend (who brought me flowers for no reason at all).

I slept well.

I was up before noon.

The flowers from Boy have opened and my bedroom smells just the right amount of roses.

It was 70 degrees and sunny today, and I actually managed to get outside before dusk. Without a jacket.

I went to the gym.

I discovered the new low-carb line from Entenmann's and it doesn't taste the least bit like yarn.

I did my taxes, and my federal refund is much bigger than the amount I owe the state and city of New York and it will soon be deposited directly into my checking account. The TurboTax people now even do rebates by direct deposit. My new cell shows no signs of having to be returned, so I sent in the rebate for that too.

I redeemed 2 of my free songs on iTunes (I now have a total of 4).

I cleaned a little.

I'm catching up on my TV.

I have absolutely nothing to complain about. Not one thing.

I feel...lost, somehow...