June 30, 2007

June 30, 2007

More bloom, less onion, please

Last night, I ate at an Outback Steakhouse for the first (and probably last time). I'm still recovering from the Bloomin' Onion I split with my friend Beth, so on to the bullets:
  • Why so dark, Outback? Does the sun not shine in Australia? Do people have amazing night vision?
  • Not once did I hear the phrase "Maybe the dingo ate your baby." I realize the odds were long, but I was hoping.
  • I was amused by the little "Down Unda" touches, like how the ladies' room door said "Shelias." The curiously-named "Kookaburra Wings" led to an interesting discussion (What if they used actual kookaburras?) and a short sing-along.
Unfortunately, my first thought upon waking up this morning was "Ugh. Bloomin' onion." Darn eater's remorse.

June 27, 2007

June 27, 2007

Is that origami in your pocket?

http://www.faceyourpockets.com/index1.html is a website with a simple plan: get people to empty their pockets/bags and scan the contents. Oh, and get them to put their faces on the scanner, too.

I spent way too long this afternoon checking out the 130 (so far) pictures and wondering what my scan would look like (lip gloss, altoids, bus schedule, cell phone, wallet, and keys; pretty boring). Observations:
  1. I really need to get one of these iPod things.
  2. One person has a box of bandages. I can see one bandage, but a whole box? How accident-prone is this person?
  3. A gameboy! A slinky! Hello Kitty! Good to see people keepin' it old-school.
  4. Scanning the entire front side of your credit card might not be such a good idea.
  5. To the chick with a single roller skate: Seriously, wha...?
  6. My favorite: the woman with the origami. Because origami in your pocket is both artful and a smart conversation piece.

One drawback: a lot of it is in Russian. Unless you speak Russian, in which case, no drawbacks.

A Great American Road Trip

Well, I'm using "great" loosely, since it's really 6 hours on a bus to Minneapolis. And 6 hours back, of course, since I don't want to overexpose myself to the Minnesotan culture. I'm not sure what exactly that would entail, but I'm guessing Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup would be involved.

So, anyway, I'm going to have a lot of time to waste. I've got the first 3 of Cooper's Leatherstocking Tales, Ulysses, and The Poisonwood Bible. I'm hoping those will both provide sufficient distraction and prevent people nearby from trying to strike up conversations with me. Does that make me sound antisocial? Should I care?

Mall of America, here I come!

June 26, 2007

In My Opinion: High Fidelity

At the suggestion of a couple of guys who know way more about movies than I do, I watched the movie High Fidelity. Here's my analysis:

The setting. Chicago is probably the only thing saving the Midwestern region from ignominiousness. (Yes, that is a word. I looked it up.) Without Chicago, we're all just waiting for the next State Fair and its giant butter statues.

The cast. Jack Black's amazing performance in School of Rock instilled a love in me that no amount of Nacho Libre can kill. I recently heard that John Cusack's days are probably behind him; this was definitely a highlight for him. And Joan Cusack? If the School of Rock stuff, didn't do it for me, the U.S. Cellular ads would.

The subject. No, not music...lists! I now want to randomly ask people for Top 5s. Weird ones, too, like "Top 5 cities ending in -polis." Are there even 5? I want to know. Oh, and the stuff about romantic maturity was good, too.

"What came first, the music or the misery? People worry about kids playing with guns, or watching violent videos, that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands, literally thousands, of songs about heartbreak, rejection, pain, misery, and loss. Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?"

"It's brilliant, being depressed; you can behave as badly as you like."

"Top 5 musical crimes perpetrated by Stevie Wonder in the 80s and 90s. Go. Sub-question: Is it in fact unfair to criticize a formerly great artist for his latter day sins...is it better to burn out or fade away?"

June 25, 2007

June 25, 2007

Stream of consciousness...or just rambling?

WARNING: Grabbing a random book off the library shelf because you need something to read on the bus that's leaving in 2 minutes is not a good idea.

See, I actually have a list of books to read, most of which were gleaned from Entertainment Weekly reviews and random browsing on the Sparknotes website. However, when you're short on time, you sometimes have to throw caution to the wind and go "off-list." This kind of risky behavior often has serious consequences, hence my penchant for lists.

Anyway, I now find myself struggling through James Joyce's Ulysses. My reasoning when checking out this book was something along the lines of "James Joyce is respectable. But Finnegan's Wake is supposed to be unintelligible. I liked the Wishbone version of The Odyssey, so I'll get Ulysses."

The fact that the none of the 28 libraries in the county even has the CliffsNotes for Ulysses should perhaps have given me a clue. Or maybe I should stop choosing literature based on the opinion of a jack russell terrier.

What's the story, Wishbone? Unintelligible rambling, as far as I can tell.

June 23, 2007

June 22, 2007

Listen to This, Volume 4

"This song will change your life."

That's a quote from Garden State, referring to "New Slang" by The Shins. Don't get me wrong, "New Slang" is a great song; I've blogged about it already.

However, I think this quote applies equally well (maybe even better), to "Hide and Seek" by Imogen Heap. I first heard this song on May 19, 2005, when it was used for the final scene of an episode of The O.C. Like any good episode of The O.C., there was angst and fighting and drunkenness, so I was already pretty emotional. Then someone got shot (spoiler alert!) and started bleeding out to this song. And then my head exploded.

Seriously, though, while that maybe sounds like nothing you'd want a part of, let me assure you that this song is haunting in an amazing way. As far as I can tell, Imogen records and rerecords in order to get a layered quality. And the harmonization is unlike anything else I've heard before or since.

Pick up a copy of Speak for Yourself to see what I mean. Or listen to it for free here.

June 21, 2007

June 21, 2007

Office Marathon Tonight

Consider this invitation my good deed for the day.

What: 3 episodes of The Office ("Casino Night," "Branch Closing," "The Merger")
When: Tonight, 8/7c
Where: NBC

Quotes to whet your appetite:

"I know it's illegal in Pennsylvania, but it's for charity, and I consider myself a great philanderer." —Michael, "Casino Night"

"I always knew that the branch would shut down someday. I just figured it would be because Michael would sell the building for some magic beans. " —Jim, "Branch Closing"

"Sometimes what brings the kids together is hating the lunch lady. Although that'll change. Because, by the end of the fourth grade, the lunch lady was actually the person I hung out with the most. " —Michael, "The Merger"

Old World Wisconsin

I went to Old World Wisconsin on Saturday. It was amazing. Kinda like Colonial Williamsburg, but not colonial. Or Williamsburg. Okay, not at all like Colonial Williamsburg. It’s best described as “Wade House on crack,” but only people who were in my 6th grade class are likely to know what Wade House is.

So, for the rest of you, Old World Wisconsin is 576 acres of kettle moraine with 65 historical buildings that were relocated from all around the state. There are 8 main areas, with trams to take you around if you’re too lazy to walk. (If you aren’t, there are some really great trails. Buggy, though.) Pictures are here, and they’ll probably help you understand the rest of this.

I liked the “Crossroads Village” area best, because it reminded me of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. There was a little general store, and a blacksmith, and an inn. Sully, where you at? The girls in the general store were very informative, but my favorite was the man at the shoemaker. He was little and old and really into shoemaking.

I was disappointed that Poland got one lousy building. The Germans got, like, 13. Typical. And though the Danish area wasn’t much to speak of, the tour guide there was very friendly and rather cute. I spent quite some time there…but that’s really another story.

It happened to be “Base Ball Day” when I went, so I got to watch a little old-school baseball. Some of the re-enactors came to watch, and they had cowbells. I kept thinking of that great SNL sketch: “More cowbell!”

And as I was getting ready to go, I even got to see a little of a wedding that was taking place there. Aw.

June 20, 2007

June 20, 2007

The British Betty Crocker

The name "Isabella Beeton" isn't likely to ring any bells with you. I first heard of her when watching a really good Masterpiece Theatre called The Secret Life of Mrs. Beeton. I'm not a huge Masterpiece Theatre fan, but the commercials for this had people in Victorian clothing with British accents. And sadly, that's really all it takes to get me on the wagon. Well, the racy (for PBS) opening scenes didn't hurt, either.

To give you the CliffsNotes version, Isabella Beeton is a lot like Betty Crocker, but real and British. (Betty Crocker's not a real person; sorry to burst your bubble.) Isabella gained notoriety for writing Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management, which is apparently the domestic Bible of Britons. You gotta learn how to make tripe somewhere, I suppose. Sadly, she died at only 28, probably because her husband gave her syphillis. NOT a good wedding present, in case you were wondering.

Because I found the Masterpiece Theatre pretty well done, I picked up a book called The Short Life and Long Times of Mrs. Beeton to find out more. Now, granted, I'm a big fan of the Brits, the Victorians, and reading, so it comes as no surprise that I found it a fascinating read. But where else can you learn about plum puddings AND venereal disease in the same book, I ask you? Gotta love the Victorians.

June 19, 2007

June 19, 2007

The Princes Royal

Last night, Dateline aired an interview with Princes William and Harry (transcript here, video here). While I'm tempted to unequivocally gush about them, I will try to refrain myself. I mean, I do realize that the only world in which I have a chance with Prince William is probably a post-apocalyptic one. We might burn a Wendy's together.

The ostensible purpose of the interview was to chat up an upcoming tribute concert to their mother. I have to say, for being of royal blood and everything, they seem remarkably normal. Though many of the topics were expected (Diana, public image, charitable causes), we also got some interesting tidbits. Like the following exchange:

Matt Lauer: If your last name weren't "Windsor," if it were "Smith" or "Jones," and you didn't have the duties that you were born into, what would you want to do professionally?
Prince Harry: All sorts of things.
Matt Lauer: Like what?
Prince William: Well, when I was younger, I wanted to be a policeman. And I wouldn't want to be that now.
Matt Lauer: The most popular cop on the block.
Prince William: Yeah, exactly.
Matt Lauer: What would you want to do?
Prince Harry: I think it's…
Prince William: I don't know. It's a really tricky question. It goes through my head lots. I'd like to fly helicopters, definitely. I'd like to be some sort of heli [helicopter] pilot, you know, working for the UN maybe or something like that. Go off and do some, you know, I'd have to be doing something active, outside and doing sort of fun stuff but with an edge to helping people.
Matt Lauer: What about you, Harry?
Prince William: He'd probably sit and play computer games and drink beer.
Prince Harry: Oh, thanks a lot. No, I don't know how well this would get on, but I'd probably live in Africa.

Overall, I got the impression that these are two brothers who are very poised and eloquent, and who are dedicated to some extremely worthy causes, but who also enjoy a good time at the pub. They just happen to be in line to the British throne.

And freakishly cute. (Sorry. I had to squeeze in a little gushing.)

June 18, 2007

June 18, 2007

Does Cleveland rock?

For some reason, I've had a weird fascination with Cleveland recently. It seems to have a lot going for it. And I'm not just talking about its appearances on 30 Rock, though I'll get to those in a minute.

For one thing, it's apparently just like where I live now. According to this article, both Milwaukee and Cleveland "are small-market, blue-collar, Great Lakes cities. They have declining populations and industrial bases, with higher-than-average crime rates and struggling public school systems." Nothing screams Midwestern mediocrity like declining industry and bad schools. From my Wikipedia research, the governmental structure and transportation systems are also comparable. I think we have a better arts scene, though.

But on to the 30 Rock connection. During the last couple of season 1 episodes, the main character's boyfriend is seriously considering moving to Cleveland. As he says, "If the whole world moved to their favorite vacation spots, then the whole world would live in Hawaii, Italy and Cleveland." I think the show did a pretty good job of capturing the Midwestern psyche. It's a complex mixture of casseroles, snow, and the State Fair.

So I'm tempted to hop on a Megabus one of these days and see what all the hype's about. It's worth 9 hours, right? Right?

June 15, 2007

June 15, 2007

Help save McSweeney's!

McSweeney's needs you. While the best response here would be something along the lines of, "What can I do to help?" I understand that most of you are cynical enough to want to know, for example, what McSweeney's is and why it needs your help. Skeptics these days, honestly.

McSweeney's is an independent, San Francisco-based publishing house. So there's the whole "promoting reading" thing. But the best part of McSweeney's is the website. Friend, I have spent hours on this website, and I've only skimmed the surface.

I've read all of the "Open Letters to People or Entities Who Are Unlikely to Respond." Here's a sample:

An Open Letter to My Computer's Insert Key

May 19, 2004

Dear Insert Key,

For the love of Mike, whose so-called innovative idea was your

Insert key, you vex me. Many and long are the days that I've been scribbling away at my machine with little cause for editing as I type until you rear your ugly head. Your goodly aunt, fair Spellchecker, rarely steers me awry. I can rely on her to put forth a best effort. She's my George Foreman: not the best to look at, nor the smartest, but deliciously helpful, whilst you're my Gerry Cooney: lumbering, oafish, and a bit too hairy.

Whither your existence? Never can I recall actually pressing you intentionally. However, late at night when I'm revising documents and endeavoring to complete my next days' tasks, you taunt me in a way that I can hardly put words to. I place my cursor on the page and add a few words, a space or two, or even an inserted graphic. Given the fast-paced nature of today's society, I don't always pay close attention to the screen. And lo, upon review, you've been selected!

The fiendish OVR button is highlighted at the bottom of my document! All my changes are for naught. Spacing is lost! Text is overwritten! Formats are jumbled! Why? Why? Why?

I rue the day you were spawned.

Wishing you all the best,

Steven Burt Forest Grove, OR

I'm currently working my way through the "Reviews of New Food," like:

Reduced Fat Jif

Submitted by Alan Hayes

The most prominent wording on my peanut butter's label seems forthright at first: "REDUCED FAT JIF." "CRUNCHY." Nowhere does it say reduced-fat peanut butter. Just Jif. As it turns out, the closest thing to a claim of being actual peanut butter that's made here is to the left of the label, where it says, "Peanut Butter Spread. 60% Peanuts." I equate this to "Orange Juice Drink," a statement that implies that what you're drinking is not actually orange juice but a drink that is in some ways similar to orange juice. In this case, I'm being told that Jif is not peanut butter per se but some sort of similarly textured spread. The most damning claim on the label, though, the one that really makes me curious as to what exactly I am putting copious amounts of into my body on a weekly basis, is "25% LESS FAT THAN PEANUT BUTTER." One can't help but notice that it doesn't say "25% less fat than regular peanut butter" but instead suggests that this product is entirely different than and separate from the peanut-butter family. All of these facts inspire in me a great number of questions as to what composes the brown paste holding together the peanut chunks. However, despite the fact that consuming a great deal of "Jif" on a weekly basis may be responsible for the seemingly permanent eye infection I have developed (who knows?), I will not stop eating it. After all, it is delicious, and it has 25% less fat than peanut butter. Also, one of the ingredients is "rapeseed."

While neither of these examples are the funniest in their respective categories, I hope they've whetted your appetite. There's a lot of great dry humor "up in here," as the kids might say.

So now I have you thoroughly convinced this is a cause worth saving, right? Because it turns out that some sort of financial snafu in which they got screwed over, McSweeney's needs to make $130,000 fast. You can help by going to their amazing store and spending freely.

You, too, can save McSweeney's.

June 14, 2007

June 14, 2007

The Sport of Kings

Thanks to a little schedule juggling, I was able to watch all three legs of the Triple Crown this year. In the past, I’ve usually been able to catch the Derby but always seem to forget about the Preakness. And once you’ve missed the Preakness, the whole “triple” thing is really shot, no?

Here, then, are my thoughts on this year’s Triple Crown:

Kentucky Derby. Probably my favorite of the three races, because it’s equal parts history, horse, and hat. This year was extra-special for us Anglophiles as the Queen was there. (Do NOT ask me which queen. You know which queen.) NBC managed to sucker me once again, since I’d forgotten that of the 3-hour coverage, only about 4 minutes are actual racing. So I got about an hour more of Bob Costas than is really healthy. (During the Olympics, I approach toxic levels.) Also, fantastic finish; best of the three races by far.

Preakness. I like saying “Pimlico.” It’s a fun word. Try it. Imagine me repeating it softly to myself at random intervals and harmonizing with the navy cadets on "Maryland, My Maryland" and you've pretty much captured my Preakness experience. Seriously, is there any chance Wisconsin's state song could be changed to "Maryland, My Maryland"? I mean, that is one kickass song.

Belmont Stakes. The worst part? I got confused as to the meaning of "post time." Turns out that's when the horses get lined up, not when the race starts. The best part? This year's race was won by a girl. Oh. Yeah.

So the Triple Crown is over, and I will have to wait an entire year before I can shout "Superfecta!" at the tv again. On the plus side, I can hum "Maryland, My Maryland" any day of the year.

June 12, 2007

June 12, 2007

The Raison d'Etre

As admirable a social innovation as MySpace is, it's blocked at work. As per usual, the overlords scoff at progress. So, to facilitate the posting of things from my handy-dandy notebook, I've decided to convert to the cult of Blogger.

You can read the little over 100 previous blog entries in their original form and with any original comments here, at the old MySpace blog. If you're too lazy for that, most of them have been imported to this blog.

June 8, 2007

June 8, 2007

The Father of Impressionism

The Milwaukee Art Museum's had some pretty good exhibitions over the past few years. Like the Degas one. And Biedermeier. Also, Rembrandt. However, those all came before I joined as a member, so I had to brave them amidst hordes of sticky-fingered children and strollers. No longer, my friends. No longer.

Pissarro: Creating the Impressionist Landscape opens tomorrow, but I went to a (members-only!) preview last night. It even made AOL news. While there were way more people there than I expected (about 500, I'd guess), I'm pleased to say that I only saw 2 kids. That's the kind of kid-to-adult ratio I like in a museum.

The exhibit itself is pretty impressive, with over 40 paintings by the artist some people (and by "some people," I mean Wikipedia) call the "Father of Impressionism." The only thing that bothered me was this weird alarm that two-tone chirped every time someone got too close to one of the paintings. Why not just put up a railing? Is it really that much better to have what sounds like a doorbell going off every ten seconds followed by a docent ordering people to "Take a few steps back"?

Anyway, the best part of the night was the lecture. Because I am that odd person that actually like to sit and listen to knowledgeable people speak. I had to stand in the back (note to self: next time, bring a seat-filler), but I ended up next to this deliciously bitchy couple who kept using phrases like "Oh, he's just here to be seen." Wow. Snap. The lecture speakers included the Wisconsin secretary of tourism, the exhibit curator, and Pissarro's great-grandaughter and her art-dealer husband.

Once they started the Q&A, I booked it over to the hors d'oeuvres, which for some reason included, like, a beef stew. I thought that was kinda random. Not exactly finger food, is it? And leaving the museum was tricky, since I had to face gale-force winds (though no rain yet), harbingers of the storm that would later knock out power to my house for almost 8 hours.

June 7, 2007

June 7, 2007

The Tempest

An epic storm is supposed to roll into the Milwaukee area tonight. I'm talking a Day After Tomorrow, biblical-plague style storm. The gale-force winds, hail, and rain are supposed to hit around 8, which, conveniently enough, is the exact time during which I'll be heading home from an art museum reception. Gotta love that timing. It's as if Mother Nature herself has chosen to thwart my social agenda. But I'm not backing down. No way.

Sure, I could certainly leave a little early. The lecture is supposed to end around 7; "Music, hors d'oeuvres, and a cash bar round out the evening," according to the official description. Yet I don't want to miss a chance to show that I, too, can be pretentious and arty. I, too, can pretend I remember the difference between Monet and Manet. I, too, can intelligently discuss Impressionism while eating a tiny shrimp puff.

No mere proletarian am I. Weather be damned.

(Um, if I'm not online for awhile, you can probably assume that Mother Nature was not amused by my little diatribe and decided to relocate my house to Oz. I hear she's kinda temperamental. Whatevs.)

(Mother Nature, if you're reading this, totally kidding about that last part. And, also, sorry about that whole global warming deal.)

June 5, 2007

June 5, 2007

The Swinging Sixties

In a bit of serendipity, I spent much of last week experiencing the 1960s. Not via the time machine; we're keeping that under wraps until I can iron out the patent issues, remember? No, I read a really good book and watched a pretty good movie both set in those far-off days of yore.

The book was The Secret Life of Bees, which, as it turns out, contains quite a bit about both secrets and bees. Also, civil rights, the black Madonna, and imprisonment. It's a typical bildungsroman, with the main character forced to leave home because her Dad is an enormous jackass. She ends up living with three beekeeping sisters and learning about both her dead mother and herself. And even though that sounds like Lifetime/Oprah Book Club crap, believe me when I say it's actually really good.

The movie was The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio, starring Julianne Moore and BASED ON A TRUE STORY. I love things BASED ON A TRUE STORY. Especially if you put stuff at the end of the movie telling how the characters ended up; for me, that was only good part of Goodfellas. This movie had the actual kids, all grown up, at the end. I was totally crying. It was awesome.

But anyway, The Prize Winner of Definace, Ohio tells the story of Evelyn Ryan, a homemaker who has to support her 10 kids (birth control, anyone?) by winning contests because her husband is an enormous jackass. By writing jingles and stuff, she wins appliances and trips and all kinds of things. Julianne Moore really makes the movie, though I also have to give props to Woody Harrelson.

Obviously my memories of the '60s are a bit dim, but any time period in which you could get milk delivered TO YOUR DOOR is all right in my book.

June 4, 2007

June 4, 2007

The House on the Rock

I went to the House on the Rock for the first time Saturday. Frankly, my overall impression was one of creepiness. You might say it was almost nightmarish; there were actually small children crying. But I should begin at the beginning.

The trip was put on by this organization called Milwaukee Recreation that does two trips every quarter. The good thing is that it's an excellent way to see other parts of the state. The bad thing is that you have to sit through an atrocious movie during the drive. In this case, it was something called Winning London. It had the Olsen twins and the United Nations, which probably tells you all you need to know.

Anyway, the House on the Rock is located in Spring Green, which is a good 2 ½ hours west of Milwaukee. You know you're not in Kansas anymore when you see signs that say "Dubuque, 63 miles." I was a little freaked out to realize I was literally an hour from Iowa. Iowa.

The House on the Rock was created by a guy named Alex Jordan who wanted people to question his work (and also his sanity, apparently). He built his dream house, a Frank Lloyd Wright-esque maze of rooms, and filled it with oddities. And since my tour group got admission to the combo tour, I saw everything. Twice. (My ticket was good all day and we were there for 6 hours. You do the math.)

Imagine walking from a case of antique typewriters to one of spittoons, then to one of doll's head vases, then to a room of doll houses, and ending up in a room with the world's largest carousel ("2,000 animals, not one horse"). Multiply that times about 10 and you can imagine what this place was. Plus, it hasn't been renovated since it opened in 1960, so it's really dark and twisty. And Jordan was a big circus fan, so there are token-operated calliope machines and miniature scenes all over the place. It was quite freakish. And parts of it smelled weird.

So you can see why the children were crying.

June 1, 2007

June 1, 2007

Listen to This, Volume 3

You know how you hear a song on a commercial and think, wow, I really need to find out more about that? No? That's just me? Huh.

Well, my first exposure to Goldfrapp was a Target commercial. (On a side note, I've really liked the Target commercials of late; you know, the ones with sequences of, like, all orange products or whatever. Very eye-catching.)

Anyway, Goldfrapp is two Britons that put out really funky electronic music. It's good for when you need something to get your spirits up. Don't look too hard at the lyrics, though, since they appear to be in the form of text messages. My favorite song off Supernature is "Fly Me Away" (that's the one from the Target ads), but "Lovely 2 C U" is also good.