January 11, 2016

January 11, 2016

Check Engine, Check Yourself

Cars, in my opinion, are a necessary evil. I don’t like to drive them. I don’t like to ride in them. They get me from here to there at best. So car people, you’ve been warned: Look away.

As little as I like cars, I have one because I’m an upwardly mobile city dweller with a warehouse club membership and weak arms. I can’t lug the club size of anything on public transit, people. I need to tote the pallets of Diet Coke home, along with my boxes of Ikea furniture. The sum total of this driving equals about 500 miles a year. Not a typo. Five hundred. A year.

Nevertheless, I get oil changes and safety inspections and emissions tests as required by law and common sense. I don’t hate the player (the car). I hate the game (having a car). Sure, I may have let the safety inspection slide a month. Or two. In my defense, Wisconsin doesn’t even HAVE safety inspections, so how vital to the general welfare could they really be?

Anyway, I took the day off work on Friday to get all the car-related reckoning out of the way. I needed an oil change, a safety inspection, and—this is the kicker—a stop lamp switch replacement as necessitated by a Hyundai recall. I honestly almost threw away the letter from Hyundai about this, because a) it looked like an ad and b) if it were really serious, Lester Holt would have told me about it. But TheBoy insisted, so I scheduled an appointment with the dealership. Ugh.

I was dreading the entire experience in the same way I assume most people dread the dentist. It’s a semiannual invasion of privacy, wherein you’re hoisted up and examined, hoping they find as few problems as possible. Because you KNOW they’re going to find something. At my last oil change, the guy gave me EIGHT PAGES of recommended services. At which point I fell back on the excuse routine I’ve been using since approximately 1998: “I’ll have to ask my husband about that,” “My husband needs to approve any big spending,” pitiful eyelash bats, etc. FEMINISM LIVES.

Because when else does an expert take advantage of the situation to suggest other services?

“Sure, we scheduled you for an appendectomy, but this left kidney isn’t looking so good, man.”

“I know you asked for a mole removal, but should we do a tattoo while we’re back here?”

No. Thanks. Particularly after the guy checking me in at the dealership commented on my low mileage. He literally said, “Wow, low mileage. You know, we recommend you replace the timing belt, regardless of mileage. Bad timing belt, you lose the engine. It’s $645.”

Ain’t nobody got time for that, son. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

December 31, 2015

December 31, 2015

My Best Podcasts of 2015: A Threeve

It’s been a long time since I last wrote about podcasts. The number of good ones has increased (though a few have stopped publishing—RIP Firewall & Iceberg) while the amount of time in a day remains constant. Thanks for nothing, physics.

As we plan to flip our calendars from Year of the Sheep to Year of the Monkey, I’d like to take a minute to note that Gimlet Media completely changed my podcast routine in 2015.

My point of entry was Reply All, specifically an episode about online dating for Asian women featuring This American Life contributor Stephanie Foo. I believe the show was plugged on TAL, and the internet and Asians are two of my Favorite Things, so I checked it out. It was, in a word, fantastic. As every episode has been. While answering a seemingly simple tech question (“Who wrote this hold music?” “Why is it so hard to cancel auto delivery?” “What happens when you email a generic address like john@gmail.com?”), Reply All’s two co-hosts find all sorts of layers to the internet onion.

Reply All was promising—quality, longform audio narrative—so I decided to add Mystery Show to the mix. It’s hosted by This American Life contributor and pixie-in-a-good-way Starlee Kine. Starlee solves a mystery in each episode, and my favorite thus far has been “How tall is Jake Gyllenhaal?” The answer is far more complicated than you’d expect.

My final Gimlet show (thus far) is Startup, in which each season follows the start of a company. Season one focused on Gimlet itself. Season two focused on a website called Dating Ring. Season three’s subject is TBD, but this Shark Tank fan will definitely be there with Bluetooth earbuds on.

I’m still listening to my old standbys, of course: WTF, Wait Wait, Good Job, Brain, and the like. But few shows have made me think and laugh more this year than Gimlet’s. Thank you, Ira Glass, for being the Lorne Michaels of public radio.

December 22, 2015

December 22, 2015

My Best Books of 2015: A Threeve

2015 was the year I stopped slacking off and started multitasking in earnest. There’s just too much good TV, film, literature, and podcast media out there. I used to have down time while (for example) walking from the train to the office, but this year I realized that life is too short not to listen to podcasts while (for example) walking from the train to the office. Result: my Gimlet media consumption is up 1000% percent, though I still don’t understand the draw of Serial.

But that is for another day. The day I write about my best podcasts of 2015. Stay tuned.

I feel like I read less than I should have this year. (Probably because I was spending so much time listening to podcasts.) I didn’t start tracking myself on Goodreads until the middle of the year, but my cuff records indicate I read between 140 and 150 books this year. Frankly, that is not enough. THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH.

I’d like to do something a little different with my Best Books this year. Rather than focusing on flash-in-the-pan Best Books—for which my love burned hot but short—let me talk about some books that will stick with me. Spoiler alert: None of them are Go Set a Watchman or Grey. Because…yikes.

2nd Runner Up: The Beautiful Bureaucrat by Helen Phillips.

Part allegory, part commentary, part dystopia. Short enough to read in a longish single sitting. Reviews compare it to Murakami and Atwood. I’d throw in Orwell, too. Granted: this is right in my female-bureaucrat-who-loves-dystopian-fiction sweetspot, but still.

1st Runner Up: Miss Colombia*

Winner: The Last Hundred Years trilogy by Jane Smiley

Look. It’s my list, and I’ll name a trilogy as top book if I want to. It’s called the Tolkien defense. Look it up.** The Last Hundred Years trilogy is comprised of consists of Some Luck, Early Warning, and Golden Age. Each chapter in these books covers a year in the life of the Langdon family. Book 1, Some Luck, starts in 1920. Book 3, Golden Age, ends in 2019. We follow one Iowa farm family through the generations, and the great events of history—wars, economic boom and bust, Jonestown, 9/11—are filtered through their experiences. Not every character gets fully-formed, but I’d say there are 15 or so “main” characters covering 4 generations by the end of the trilogy. And the thing is, 100 chapters (100 years) is plenty of time to get to know these people. Since the whole trilogy is rooted in history (except the prospective 2016-2019 chapters, of course), you know what’s around the corner and get to anticipate how the various characters will be affected by it. Dramatic irony FTW.

As with any recommendation, your mileage will vary. These are simply some of my takeaways from a very good year of very good books. (But do remember that one of my recommendations from last year was turned into a movie that basically the entire universe loved.)

* This reference won’t make sense for much longer, so please allow it.
** Don’t look it up. I haven’t looked it up, so it’s probably some weird sex act on Urban Dictionary.

November 19, 2015

November 19, 2015

Edel-what now?

It’s 19NOV2015, which means tomorrow is 20NOV2015, a.k.a. the day The Man in the High Castle is released. (It’s an Amazon Prime production, which means you might as well start your 30-day free trial now, if you didn’t up to Prime back when Transparent came out.)

The show is based on a Phillip K. Dick book with a simple premise: What if the Allies had lost World War 2? What would America look like? Turns out, something like this:

Japan occupies the West; Germany the East. The show’s characters include normal citizens, members of the resistance movement (if it’s America, there’s gotta be a resistance), and Nazi Big Bads. Even if you aren’t the daughter of a WWII buff whose entire German vocabulary consists of military terms, you’ll like this show. (I myself personally watched the pilot when it was initially released a few months ago. Frankly, it’s the most absorbing and haunting thing I’ve seen all year.)

If you are STILL not convinced, try episode 1 for free. Once you see that the cast includes Rufus Sewell AND DJ Qualls, I think you’ll dig.

November 13, 2015

November 13, 2015

I Before E Except When It's an A

Hola, kiddos. It’s been a minute, I know. I left Cabinet Department That Shall Not Be Named the State Department and took a shiny new job at Cabinet Agency That Shall Not Be Named. And my parents decided to move for the first time in 23 years. So blah-blah-blah life got in the way of blogging, excuses excuses whatever.

Serious talk: Do you remember My Buddy and/or Kid Sister? This could possibly be 2015’s second bombshell regarding parallel universes?

Why “second,” you ask? Because of the Berenst*in Bears situation. (I like that the asterisk makes it look like an expletive. This whole thing is just that serious.)

If you haven’t heard, there’s a universe of people (this one) who grew up reading books about the Berenstein Bears. I’m one. You’re one (HELLO, ethno-cultural assumptions!). They are like the Boxcar Children, or The Monster at the End of This Book. Touchstones of our childhood. Right? Right!

Then, sometime this year, we all realized that the actual name is spelled…

B – E – R – E – N – S – T – A – I – N

…and always has been. ALLEGEDLY. Even though the name is pronounced Bear-in-STEEN and not Bear-in-STAIN.


Then, to add literal insult to figurative injury, TheBoy recently reminded me of My Buddy, which reminded me of Kid Sister, and I’ve basically had this tune running through my head for a week and a half:

You haven’t lived until you’ve exited a Metro station with the words “MY BUDDY AND ME!” That day, the guy lying on the ground with a sign and a cup but no shoes was NOT the one getting the craziest looks.

Wikipedia tells me that My Buddy and Kid Sister were marketed for like half a second  several decades ago. I never had one. No one I know ever had one. But everyone seems to remember this commercial and that freaking song.

I can only conclude that in some parallel universe, we all had My Buddy and/or Kid Sister, and wherever they went, we went.

("...our Buddies and us!")

October 14, 2015

October 14, 2015

Ballpark Figures

While I was furiously reveling in the fact that our Chicago Cubs have eliminated the Cards from the playoffs, TheBoy pointed out that Back to the Future 2: Electric Boogaloo Part II features the Cubs winning the 2015 World Series. I’m sure you all have been on this since the season started but WHAT. GUYS. WHAT IF THIS HAPPENS. Science!

My sports research—a phrase I really never get to use—also informed me that my Milwaukee Brewers once had the following alternate logo:

The universe cannot contain the amount of side-eye I’m giving. Shall I start with the fact that Milwaukee is nowhere near the star? You could generously say the star abuts the greater Milwaukee area. Maybe. Sort of. (Going deep for my Wisconsin friends: Looks like rural Racine County to me, yes?) Then you’ve got weird rounding of the state borders. I guess it’s stylistic to contrast with the M, but poor Door County got the short end of that stick.

Honestly, I keep hoping they’ll go back to the old MB mitt, because you can’t beat visual wordplay.

It's good, right? (Answer: Yes.)

So #GoCubs. The dreams of a division are with you.

September 18, 2015