November 29, 2007

November 29, 2007

Favorite Holiday Songs: A Threeve

It’s still November. Yet the stores and the commercials insist on force-feeding us holiday cheer. And if the advertisers are doing it, who am I to stand in the way?

My favorite Christmas carols are all pretty old and obscure. Some were originally written in Latin. Sung by medieval monks, perhaps. Or Druids.

1. The Holly and the Ivy. Wikipedia calls it “among the most lightly Christianized carols of the Yuletide—the holly and the ivy being among the most familiar Druidic plants.” That’s right: I owe my favorite Christmas song to the Druids. When you think about it, though, maybe the Druids were on to something. They were into magic way before that Potter boy. Caesar took note of them. And while they apparently didn’t have anything to do with Stonehenge, I want to pretend they do, because that thing rocks. (No pun intended; you know I hate puns.)



2. Patapan. This could easily have slid into onomatopoeia gone awry territory, but I think it has just the right amount. You should take some Dramamine before watching the video, though. ‘Tis a little shaky.



3. In the Bleak Midwinter. The poem? Good. The song? Better.



4. Good Christian Men, Rejoice. This song was composed in either the 13th or 14th century. Pretty old by any standard. I prefer it a bit faster than it’s sung in this video, but you know what? Still good.



5. Of the Father’s Love Begotten. More music from the 13th century. Apparently I had a past life during the Middle Ages. The video cracks me up because, well, the singers’ outfits are hideous. Close your eyes and listen.



Bonus points to anyone who can sing this in Latin.

November 28, 2007

November 28, 2007

Santa's Village

When I was growing up, a couple of my aunts would pack my cousins and me in a car every summer and drive us down to Santa’s Village. Does anyone else remember that place? According to Wikipedia, it DID exist, though its shuttering last year kinda cements it as a utopia of my childhood. (Fun anecdote: At some point during the drive down each year, my aunt would pop in a Kenny Rogers tape. When he got to “The Gambler,” I knew we were close to the park. To this day, I can’t hear that song without expecting to shortly be riding the tilt-a-whirl.)

I’ve only ever met one person outside my family who’s even heard of Santa’s Village. (Hi, Mr. Betry!) It was like Six Flags, but smaller and Christmas-themed. There were three areas: the Coney Island part (with the tilt-a-whirl, and a yo-yo ride, and one of those ships that goes back and forth higher and higher), a farm part (bird flu, schmird flu), and the Christmas part (hence the “Santa’s Village” thing). Here’s a picture of me and my cousins at the “North Pole”:

I love several things about this picture. One, I still remember the desperate need I had to try to kick the pole over. I now realize that it probably had a METAL CORE. Yet, as you can see, I saw it as a personal challenge. Two, my younger cousin (Hi, Paul!), the one staring into the camera, seems to be having a pretty good time. Three, look how young and cute we all are.

Do you have a place, perhaps from your childhood, that’s so ingrained in your subconscious that you find yourself dreaming about it fairly often, even though you’ve not been there in years? For me, Santa’s Village is that place. Ironically, its slogan was “Always just a dream away.”

November 27, 2007

November 27, 2007

In My Opinion: Beowulf

I like to think that I have a pretty high tolerance for guy movies. The I Am Legend trailer that airs before Beowulf, for example, makes me very happy. It has explosions, and shooting, and Will Smith--all good things. I expected that this film, with its fire, and its fight scenes, and its dragons, would fill me with similar joy.

Alas, I fear I’m a little too old and a lot too female to fully appreciate this film. As I noted in my review of Ratatouille, animated people still don’t look right. They move too smoothly. And their skin looks wrong in low light. USA Today describes them as “waxy.” I’m not sure what it is, but something is definitely off. And while that isn’t a big deal in the action sequences, when your attention was consumed by, for example, watching a man get torn in half and then impaled on a chandelier, the lack of verisimilitude (vocab alert!) is pretty blatant in the quieter talking scenes.

As for content, this is definitely not your parents’ Beowulf. It’s not even your Beowulf, the one you read in college lit class. This is Beowulf for the Wii generation, with naked fighting, a sexy mermaid, and Angelina Jolie. Apparently, animation is like the aspartame of ratings (nutrition reference alert!), because a live-action version of this film would probably have garnered an R.

But, oh, the action. The nice thing about animation is that it frees you of all kinds of bonds. I mean, the laws of physics no longer apply. (I hated physics, so that I was on board with.) Camera shots not possible in real life are the norm in this movie. Thus there’s a lot of swooping and zooming. Those of you prone to motion sickness may need to bring some clear soda and saltines. And while I’ve seen a lot of violent movies, the fight between Grendel and Beowulf had me making a LOT of faces.

Though I can't deny the appeal of randomly using the line "I...am...BEOWULF!" Unless your name actually is Beowulf, it tends to have a fun effect.

November 26, 2007

November 26, 2007

To the NASCAR Nextel Champion

Dear Jimmie Johnson,

Congratulations. You’ve won the Nextel Cup, brought to you by Nextel, in partnership with Sprint. Though you weren’t my first choice, you’re in the Hendrick Motorsports family, so I can take one for the team.

You performed well this year. Granted, Jeff Gordon had an insanely large lead going into the NASCAR Nextel Chase for the Cup, brought to you by Nextel, in partnership with Sprint. But, as you know, the points were reset for the Chase, and hoo-boy, did you benefit.

(I hope you noted that “hoo-boy.” It’s an expression I don’t use in any other context. It seems appropriate for NASCAR-themed discussions, though.)

It’s not that you don’t have what some would call “mad skills.” This is, after all, your second championship in a row; I admire consistence and excellency, and you have them both right there. Also, a USA Today article once noted your penchant for “clean living.” Also good. In these areas, you appear to be emulating your mentor (and my favorite driver) Jeff Gordon. Good choice.

So, in conclusion, congratulations on another Nextel Cup, brought to you by Nextel, in partnership with Sprint. I’m hoping the trophy came with some free anytime minutes.

Cheers,
Heather

November 23, 2007

November 23, 2007

In My Opinion: The Assassination of Jesse James

The coward steals the show.

The full title of this film is actually The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Jesse James, as you may know, is played by Brad Pitt; you may have heard of him. Robert Ford, though, is played by Casey Affleck, a.k.a. the one who’s not Ben. He was one of Ocean’s eleven, but unless you’ve seen that movie as many times as I have (believe me, it’s a LOT of times), you’ve probably not heard of him. Until now.

Going into this, all I knew about the whole Jesse James saga was that he was an outlaw in the Old West. You know, him, Doc Holliday, the O.K. Corral…all that “shoot out at high noon” kind of stuff. It turns out that Jesse James didn’t handle fame very well. He appears to have turned a little bipolar and a lot paranoid--not a fun combo in the days before Ritalin. Among the locals Jesse rounded up for one last train robbery was one Bob Ford, played to sinister, socially-inept perfection by Affleck. Ford had hero-worshiped James since childhood. (Is my celebrity fascination that creepy? Because if it is, I think I need to stop.) So you’d think being in his gang would be a dream come true. And it is…until the fun stops. I won’t spoil it, but here’s a hint: read the title.

While the film could have stopped there, though, it actually continues and shows us the aftermath of the assassination on the lives of Ford and his brother, who was also there. For me, that coda cemented the fact that this movie isn’t really about Jesse James. It’s about Robert Ford, and the ramifications of unrequited celebrity worship. (Wow, it just got deep, didn’t it?)

As for the peripherals, the cinematography was stark but excellent--lots of wheat fields and desolate farmsteads. Basically how I imagine Kansas and Nebraska still look today. (Go Cornhuskers!) The music was almost non-existent, but I found that appropriate. The entire movie was filmed almost like a documentary, its scenes linked by lots of narration.

The trickiest thing was finding a theatre playing this film; only one was in the entire metro Milwaukee area. Granted, we’re not exactly Chicago, but it’s not like we’re Boise, either.

November 22, 2007

November 22, 2007

Thanks

This really isn’t the forum for the serious list of things I’m thankful for, as interesting as that one is. So allow me to present the fun (but still important) list of things I’d be mentioning at the table if my family did that kind of thing. We’re more into the eating and not so much about the talking. We’re like hobbits in that way. (Also, we like mushrooms.)

Google. Where would any of us be without Google? Paging through musty books? Using sundials to navigate? Flipping through card catalogs? *shudders*

Carbon. I’m sure that when the elements have their raves and mixers, carbon doesn’t get a lot of the limelight. It’s not shiny. Or “noble.” (Give it up, argon. I’m on to you.) But I’ll be damned if it isn’t useful. Also, it’s pretty when it burns. (“Hi, I’m Heather, and I’m a pyromaniac.”)

Stouffer’s. Makers of the best microwaveable cuisine. Make the cheese a little meltier, and you get bumped to the top of next year’s list.

Ed Helms. I need only to THINK about the scene in which Andy Bernard sings “Take a Chance on Me” to crack up. That is some very potent funny.

Thank you all. Today, I raise a forkful of mashed potato to you.

November 21, 2007

November 21, 2007

Big Holiday Movies You Must See: A Threeve

As a companion piece to my recent threeve of little indies, here are some holiday films you’ve probably actually heard of, in descending order of squee:

1. National Treasure: Book of Secrets. As someone who loves history, intrigue, and Washington, D.C., I was ALL OVER the first movie. This one takes all of that and throws in Britain, as well. It’s like frosting on…more frosting.



2. I Am Legend. A remake of Omega Man (Charlton Heston did more than cross the Red Sea and battles monkeys), but with Will Smith in a post-apocalyptic New York. He’s the last man of earth…or IS he? *dum dum DUM*



3. Beowulf (this year’s post-Thanksgiving movie). Okay, I’ll admit that I’m a little skeptical. The trailers haven’t been terribly promising. And this is some pretty old and (for people not as freakishly-passionate about literature as I am) relatively obscure source material. But there’s fighting, and fire, and dragons. And it’s gotten the fanboy endorsement. So I’m hoping people will at least give it a chance.



You should also check out Ken Levine's capsule reviews here and here. You may not be able to judge a book by its cover, but you actually can judge a movie by its trailer.

November 20, 2007

November 20, 2007

Things I’ve Read: The Field Guide to Evangelicals

My friend Josh recommended this book, though he couldn’t remember the exact title (it’s okay; it happens to the best of us). It’s called A Field Guide to Evangelicals and Their Habitat and, to be frank, is HILARIOUS. Snarky, yes, but hilarious all the same.

The book presents evangelicals (occasionally referred to as “right wing nutjobs”) as a species for study. There are chapters on education, decorating habits, and even mating. I’ve not done a lot of research into the author, but I have to think he’s spent a lot of time with uber-conservatives, because some of the in-jokes were really too subtle to have been thought of by an Outsider.

If you’re not a fan of putting the “fun” in “fundamental,” or are unable to poke a little fun at yourself, or cannot read, you should probably avoid this book. However, if you are or know someone of evangelical bent, I would recommend it. If you’re still not sure, try an excerpt here.

November 19, 2007

November 19, 2007

In My Opinion: Ratatouille

I sat through most of Ratatouille thinking that it was perhaps the most mistitled film ever. I mean, no one’s eating it, no one’s named it, and no one’s even really talking about the rustic vegetable stew. Then it gets served and I realized that ratatouille sort of functions as the prime mover in this little rat bildungsroman.

To be honest, it took me awhile to wrap my head around the idea of vermin-as-chef. It’s not that I’m one of those people who doesn’t like their foods to touch or something. Believe me, anyone who’s been to my favorite Chinese restaurant knows that possible health code violations are not a culinary dealbreaker for me. (As long as it's cheap, tasty, and at least lukewarm, I'm on board.) But we're not talking a freezer that’s 5 degrees over code. I mean, this is the same species as carried the freaking Black Death making recipes with ingredients whose names I can’t even pronounce. Suffice it to say some suspension of disbelief is required. (Maybe I’m just jealous, since most of my cooking involves defrosting things and dishes that end in “Helper.”)

Ironically, my favorite scenes took place in the restaurant kitchen, because the look of all those copper pots and ingredients and everything was amazing. Not so amazing looking: the people. People seem to be the holy grail of animation. They either look cartoony or disturbing. (Actually, that’s kinda true of real life, too, so eh.)

You did start to root for Remy (the rat) and Alfredo (the human Remy helps) after awhile, though. I won’t spoil the ending, but…it’s an animated Disney film. Take a guess.

Final verdict: not my favorite Pixar movie, but still cute. (Note to Pixar: how about a Monsters Inc. sequel?)

“You know, once you muscle your way past the gag reflex, all kinds of possibilities open up.”

“I hate to be rude, but we're French!”

“If you're focused on what you've left behind, you will not be able to see what lies ahead.”

November 16, 2007

November 16, 2007

My Thoughts on Last Night's "The Office"

I neglected to wish everyone a happy Diwali last Friday, so let me start by mentioning that. As Angela knows, it has something to do with a blue, busty gal.

Last night’s episode was the last new one for the foreseeable future. No doubt sensing my already fragile emotional state, my rewinder tried to eat the tape. After 20 minutes, a few tools, and a bit of scotch tape, though, it was as good as new. My lifelong penchant for taking things apart finally paid off.

Favorite Scenes: Ping pong. Everyone in the lunchroom at corporate reading Michael’s diary. Did you notice how Ryan’s tablemates all looked like him?

Favorite Characters: Trash-talking Kelly. Diary-writing Michael. Ping Pong Master Dwight.

Favorite Quotes: “People underestimate Michael. There are plenty of things that he is well above average at.” “I throw myself at the mercy of the deposition.”

Parting Thoughts: Jan and Michael appear to have a stronger bond than I realized; I assumed the deposition fiasco would finish them off. Shows what I know.

November 15, 2007

November 15, 2007

To the Choosers of the Sexiest Man Alive


Dear People Magazine,

Well. After much cajoling on my part (actually, just complaining to people every year when your choice was revealed), you have finally picked my boy. Allow me to express my appreciation, as well as state a few of the reasons that I feel support your selection.

Matt Damon isn’t flashy. He doesn’t have the characteristics of sexiest men past, like lackadaisical charm (Matthew McConaughey), suave composure (George Clooney), or aloof intensity (Brad Pitt). I can see why you started with men who have those traits; you’re like the people who eat dessert first, or vote for the first name on the ballot. And there’s nothing wrong with that; I think the first suggestion to candidate’s without a snowball’s chance should be to change their last name to something starting with an “a.”

But, anyway, lest the throwing around of names like “George” and “Brad” has made you regret your choice, allow me to give you some items off the Matt Damon Good List. For one, he married a civilian. While the first part of that sentence makes us in the fandom weep (as if we ever had a shot, I know, but don’t hit us when we’re down), the second part gives us hope that we, too, may someday bump into a movie star at a McDonald’s or something and end up married to a celebrity. (Who am I kidding--should I ever happen to be in the Los Angeles area, I plan to check out the Walgreens stores for just such a purpose.)

For two, Matt Damon does comedy and drama equally well. I mean, did you watch the Saturday Night Live episode he hosted? Did you? “Tortillia chips”? Classic. As for serious stuff, I present the Bourne series. I’d like to count that as drama and action, because there is a lot of running, and jumping, and killing of bad guys. Jason Bourne is like Batman, but multilingual, angstier, and capeless.

For three, he’s cute. Enough said.

Thus, though I will continue to read your magazine only in doctor’s office waiting rooms, long grocery store checkout lines, and libraries, rest assured that this year I will renew my subscription to your competitor, Entertainment Weekly, with a slight bit of rue. Because EW, positioning itself as slightly more serious (who are they kidding—this isn’t exactly world politics), keeps itself to a Power List and a Must List (no longer a Hot List, what up, EW?). So it is up to you, People Magazine, to keep the world informed on developments in sexy.

Cheers,
Heather

November 14, 2007

November 14, 2007

In My Opinion: Elizabeth: The Golden Age

In general terms, this movie can be summarized as 3/4 setup and 1/4 Armada. Lest that turn you off, though, rest assured that the 3/4 setup is quite intriguing (and this from a girl who loves explosions; Michael Bay movies are almost like a cinematic utopia).

If you managed to stay awake during history class in high school, you’re probably familiar with the Spanish Armada and Mary, Queen of Scots. That’s good, because this movie doesn’t spend a lot of time explaining those things. People just kinda show up and either declare holy war or try to usurp the throne. Sometimes both. If you’re a little fuzzy (as I was), just go with it, knowing there will be giant ships on fire at some point, as well as a tiny bit of bodice ripping. (More “bodice untying,” really, but still good.)

Cate Blanchett (Galadriel!) plays Elizabeth, and does an excellent job of showing how difficult it was to balance personal desires and political necessities. Clive Owen plays Sir Walter Raleigh, who not only is a pivotal character in all that Armada stuff, but also gets to introduce potatoes and tobacco to England. And where would they be without potatoes and tobacco? Where would anyone be without potatoes and tobacco? I believe the state of West Virginia would cease to exist without potatoes and tobacco.

Anyway, while the film can be a bit melodramatic at times (I can understand something important is going on without needing dramatic lighting AND a weird camera angle AND intense music AND John Woo-esque random indoor wind, thank you very much), it’s got great visuals (Elizabethan clothes! burning galleons!). And everyone in it is British.

Catch it if and while you can; it’s flying pretty undercover in most areas.

November 13, 2007

November 13, 2007

I Will Blog About Anything, Volume 2

I bought a thing of alfalfa sprouts at the grocery last weekend. Before that, I hadn’t had them in years, ever since they were taken off most restaurant salad bars. Normally I'd try to suggest some sort of vast conspiracy between the soybean conglomerates (let's pretend there are soybean conglomerates, just for the sake of argument), but I’m pretty sure it has more to do with the fact that the sprouts are highly likely to have at least one type of deadly bacteria/nanovirus/alien life form in them. Those silly people with the compromised immune systems always ruin it for the rest of us, don’t they?

Sadly, I don’t care about playing raw vegetable Russian roulette. It’s not just me living dangerously again. (Well, okay, I guess it is.) I mean, have you had these things? They’re delicious! Whenever I put them in a salad, the thing ends up being at least one-third sprouts. Granted, every time I put a handful on top of said salad, I realize I’m probably putting death in with the croutons, but it’s kinda worth it.

Alfalfa: not just one of the Little Rascals.

November 12, 2007

November 12, 2007

Gunpowder, Treason, and Plot


I realized on Saturday that I completely missed Guy Fawkes Night this year. I could blame the fact that I don’t live in Britain, but I really have no excuse. I mean, this is a holiday celebrated mainly with a GIANT FIRE. Also, according to Wikipedia, the consumption of treacle, which I have never had but would like to try someday. Ideally as part of an English tea. In London. With someone vaguely royal.

Anyway, if you’re not British (or haven’t seen V for Vendetta) and are looking for the CliffsNotes version, Guy Fawkes tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605. He obviously had some anger issues. (Note that I made a joke about his psyche rather than calling him a Crazy Catholic. Thank you.)

He failed when a letter was intercepted (no text messages back then, alas), tipping off the Powers That Be to the plot. Fawkes was arrested a tortured a bit (hello, Gitmo), but he avoided execution by leaping from the platform and breaking his own neck. What a guy.

Thus, every November 5, people in Britain, Australia, and other similarly-exotic places celebrate Guy Fawkes night with fireworks and bonfires (often burning an effigy of Fawkes). Kids also go around, asking for a “Penny for the Guy.”

And don’t forget the treacle.

Remember, remember the fifth of November,
The gunpowder, treason, and plot,
I know of no reason
Why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.

November 9, 2007

November 9, 2007

My Thoughts on Last Night's "The Office"

Favorite Scene: The montage of past birthday parties. If Michael showed up in my car, I'd probably attempt to stab him with the tire gauge.

Food for Thought: Jim the Acting Regional Manager tried to innovate, but ended up finding out he may be a lot more like Michael Scott than he'd realized. Will this lead to some changes for our favorite salesman?

(I wanted to make fun of Michael's complete inability to survive in the wilderness, but I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be much better, despite having read The Dangerous Book for Boys.)

November 8, 2007

November 8, 2007

In My Opinion: American Gangster

In the opening scene of American Gangster, a man gets doused in gasoline, set on fire, and executed with several shots at close range. If you just blanched, you should probably stop reading now.

This movie reminded me a lot of The Departed in several ways. For one, it’s something you see once, and then maybe again after a few years. I like a little time to absorb these intense movies since my cinema choices usually involve wizards, people stealing things, or explosions. Ideally, all three.

Anyway, the main similarity between this and The Departed is the storytelling approach, in that the lives of two characters are followed as they run on separate courses and then inevitably collide. Usually messily. In American Gangster, instead of the fangirl-pleasing Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio, though, we get Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe. (Still insanely good, but not as squeal worthy for those of us born in the past two decades. Sorry.)

The premise is thus: Frank Lucas (Washington) became one of America’s most successful criminals during the Vietnam era (1968 to 1973-ish) by buying heroin directly from the Asian source and smuggling it into the country (I won’t tell you how--watch the movie). Kind of enterprising, if you think about it. (No, I did NOT just condone criminal activity. Oh, wait, maybe I did.) Because Lucas was pretty freakishly into rules, order, and discipline (immediately endearing him to me, of course), he’s able to sell a purer product (which he coins “Blue Magic”) at cheaper prices than everyone else in town. Which, as you can imagine, totally pisses off everyone else in town.

Enter Richie Roberts (Crowe), one of the last good cops in New York. Early in the movie, he and his partner find almost $1 million in unmarked bills, and Roberts GIVES IT BACK. Yay for morals. He’s eventually chosen to head up a task force-y kind of thing to reclaim the streets of New York from the burgeoning drug problem. After a bad wardrobe choice on Lucas’ part (again, watch the movie--it’s hideous), Roberts realizes that Lucas is The Man and goes after him.

Though the lives Lucas and Roberts take pretty different threads (the bad guy gets increasingly successful, while the good guy’s life falls apart), they meet eventually (like you knew they would), and watching these two act against each other is pretty mind-blowing. (For me, anyway. I’m all about men doing things well.)

Other things you learn about: the Vietnam War, the drug trade (production, use, it’s all there), and Harlem. Also, assault with a piano and how to get blood out of alpaca (it involves club soda and blotting).

If you’re looking for something grown-up and thought provoking, check this out. Just don’t get the large soda, because though it doesn’t feel like it, the movie is quite long. I would also suggest going with someone else, so you can discuss it afterwards. (A good strategy for just about any movie, really, but that’s another blog post.)

November 7, 2007

November 7, 2007

Little Holiday Movies You Must See: A Threeve

One of the best parts of seeing an indie film is the trailers for other indie films. You know, the ones that go to festivals in foreign lands and win awards that no one’s ever heard of. I love those things.

Here, then, the cream of the pre-Darjeeling Limited crop, in descending order of must-see-worthiness:

1. Be Kind Rewind. Jack Black is a video store clerk who accidentally erases all the tapes and has to re-create every movie. I laughed hysterically during the entire trailer, no doubt alarming the two other women in the theater. Eh.

(Directed by the guy who did Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, if that means anything to you.)



2. Juno. A smartly-cynical teenager gets knocked up. Articulate hilarity ensues. The cast includes: Rainn Wilson, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, Allison Janney, and Michael Cera.



3. The Savages. Two adult siblings have to deal with the logistics of putting their elderly father in a nursing home. The brother (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) is a loser manchild, while the sister (Laura Linney) is trying to hold it together for everyone’s sakes.



Remember, these are independent films, so you might have to do a little searching to find a theater showing them. Please do; it’s worth it. Or just come to Milwaukee, and we’ll go together.

November 6, 2007

November 6, 2007

Things I’ve Read: The Year of Living Biblically

A.J. Jacobs is a man unafraid of a challenge. A few years ago, he decided to read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica. Those of you with unhealthy Wikipedia obsessions may be unaware that, in the past, encyclopedic information was commonly found in the form of giant books with tiny print. The Britannica is like the Harvard of encyclopedias, and Jacobs managed to read the whole thing, from cover to cover. (Well, since it was in multiple volumes, there were actually other covers in between. Stop quibbling.) Anyway, he wrote a hilarious book about that called The Know-It-All, which you can and should read immediately (if not sooner).

You might think that that would be enough. You read an entire encyclopedia and hang your hat on that, satisfied that you’ve learned enough trivia to coast through several lifetimes of dinner parties and grocery store waiting lines.

But not this guy. He decided to live an entire year according to Biblical principles. And while a lot of people do that, he went all-out, trying to obey every single command in both testaments. As you can imagine, that’s a LOT of commandments. They didn’t all make sense to him at first (no mixed fibers? wtf?), but during the course of the year he finds a lot of meaning in what seemed arbitrary at first.

Both books are written in a similar format: short entries. In Know-It-All, Jacobs would write on particular Britannica entries of interest, often linking them to his real life. In Living Biblically, he writes an entry for each day, usually linking its events to a particular Biblical command.

I’ve had several people tell me (dare I say it?), that A.J. Jacobs and I have a similar writing style. If by that they mean I seem like someone who could write for Esquire, um…okay. (Yeah, it’s probably more along the lines of sarcastic, intelligent, and quirky. I still like the idea of writing for Esquire, though I have no idea what I’d write about. A ranking of tv dinners? The Office? Is Esquire into that sort of thing?)

Over the course of the year, he visits the creation museum, an Amish community, and Jerry Falwell’s church. He also grows a really funky beard and gets a slave.

Oh, and he stones an adulterer. How can you not love that?

My only caveat: I kept laughing out loud while I was reading this and think I frightened people on the bus a couple of times. So keep that in mind.

(According to the books, A.J. Jacobs often Googles himself. So, if you’re reading this, Mr. Jacobs, I’m a huge fan and would be open to any sort of New York publishing industry networking options you have available for a cynical Midwesterner with a fairly good command of English and a freakish knowledge of trivia. [/squee])

November 5, 2007

November 5, 2007

Big Box Death Match

I did a bad thing last week. I went to a Target.

Every time I go to a Target, I become convinced that I need to start doing all my Wal-Marty shopping there. Target is always much less crowded (unless you go on the first weekend of the month when America’s commerce is driven by people spending welfare checks). The lighting is way more ambient. Wal-Mart always makes me feel like I’m shopping in a hospital. Except not sanitary and with less-educated employees.

Even Target’s ad campaigns are better. Sorry, Wal-Mart smiley man. Target commercials are colorful and whimsical…like a 30-second version of Pushing Daisies. And I’ve already written about the excellent music choices.

And then there’s Choxie.

I had time to really examine the Choxie line during this recent trip, and good lord. It’s awesome. Items whose names I usually whisper in reverence, like “meltaways” and “truffles,” grouped in attractive boxes at relatively affordable prices. Chocolate for the everyman, if the everyman had excellent taste.

The problem is that my closest Target is a full ten minutes further than the Wal-Mart. And while you may be one of those country/suburban people used to driving 30 minutes to everything, I’m a spoiled crossroads-of-the-city girl. Anything over 15 minutes is too far.

Oh, Target. So close, and yet…not close enough.

November 4, 2007

November 2, 2007

November 2, 2007

My Thoughts on Last Night's "The Office"

Favorite Character: Stanley! We got scheming Stanley. I didn't even know he existed. I thought he was a myth, like Urban Stanley.

Favorite Scenes: Any time Michael, Dwight, and Jim were in that car together. Avec mustaches, sans mustaches...it was all good.

Favorite Scenes, Runners-Up: Andy's attempts to inflitrate the Finer Things Club.

Overall Thought: I want a Finer Things Club.

November 1, 2007

November 1, 2007

Sorry I Missed It: Mad Men

This isn’t quite like the other items in this series, since I actually jumped on the Mad Men bandwagon whilst the show was still airing. But I wasn’t on when the ride started, so I consider myself one of those Johnny-come-latelys. And I hate the Johnny-come-latelys.

(Yes, I’d actually be a Jane-come-lately, but that’s not the idiom. Deal with it.)

Mad Men airs on AMC, a channel most people have never even heard of, much less watched. I myself don’t have cable (a fact that seems to really confuse people), but I recently found myself with pirated wireless internet and an introduction to the world of torrents. It was like giving crack to an addict, really. Or a hookah. (Sorry; I just wanted to use the word “hookah.”)

The program focuses on the lives of several New York advertising executives of the 1960s. But there’s so much more to love than can be conveyed in that sentence:

It looks great. The props, the sets, and the costumes all evoke the, well, Swinging Sixties. Womens’ undergarments defied gravity. Mustard yellow and burnt orange were in, baby. And you have to love the advanced technology of IBM’s Selectric typewriter. As one of the secretaries put it, the men made sure to make it “simple enough for a woman.” (More on the implications of that statement later.) And, oh the ambiance: every single person on the show smokes and drinks profusely (even the pregnant woman). Ah, the '60s.

It examines society’s attitudes towards minorities. When people make an offensive ethnic joke now, the resulting laughter is more than likely going to be uncomfortable. Back in the day? You made a crack about how the Chinese family over there is going to start a laundry, or how you hate dealing with Jews, and you got appreciative chuckles and a hearty slap on the back. It’s not just racial minorities, either; it’s gays. And women. Actually, that deserves its own point.

It comments on gender roles, then and now. As an “office girl,” I’ve not had to suffer a lot of sexual harassment (there have been some awkward moments, but story of my life, really). And anything I think I’ve had to deal with pales in comparison to the way the girls on this show are treated. We’re talking groping, ogling, and statements that aren’t so much “leading” as they are “here’s what I want to do to you in the janitorial closet during lunch.” I’ve never been much of a feminist, but even I am pleased by how far women have come. Fish and bicycles, indeed.

It’s full of grown-up plots without being lascivious or soapy. Watching things on Showtime makes me feel bad inside. Watching this just makes me feel grown-up, like when I go to orchestra concerts, or eat sushi, or discuss art. And while a lot of Mad Men focuses on the characters’ work lives, there’s plenty about their home lives, too. Like many powerful businessmen, they’ve got cadres of unhappy women (wives, daughters, mistresses).

If you deal with baby boomers on a regular basis (and, really, who doesn’t? they’re frakking EVERYWHERE), watching Mad Men gives you just a tiny insight into their psyches. These people were raised in an era when it was perfectly acceptable to keep a kid amused for an hour with a large plastic bag. When divorcees were considered worse than criminals. When children roamed free in moving vehicles (now acceptable only for offspring of Britney Spears).

Mad Men: like Desperate Housewives, but set in the '60s and, you know, classy. Check it out.