December 31, 2007

December 31, 2007

The Year That Was: A Threeve

Humor me for a couple of minutes while I take a break from food, commercials, and movie reviews in order to look back at the year that was. For me, 2007 was a holding pattern year, between a graduation and a new job in 2006 and a graduation and a new job in 2008. 2007 was like the peanut butter in the sandwich. (Oh, wait, breaking from the food. Right.)

Here, then, the top stories of my 2007:

#5: I watched The O.C. die. (February)
The O.C. started the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of college. As such, I felt I had reasonable amounts of distance and perspective in order to appreciate a show about teenaged travails. I’ve already professed my enjoyment of this program so I won’t rehash. My therapist says I have a predilection for opening old wounds. (Note to readers: I do not actually have a therapist. Meet my friend Hyperbole.)

Anyway, I’ve found that The O.C. lives on. In musical influences (“Death Cab!” *shriek*). And in how the actors keep popping up in other things (“Julie Cooper’s in Reaper!” *shriek* “Jimmy Cooper’s in Good Night and Good Luck! *shriek*).

#4: I acquired a lot of gadgetry. (All year)
I’ll admit it: I sold out in 2007. I got a cell phone, a digital camera, and an MP3 player. None of which I really need, but all of which is very shiny. And, yes, I probably could have sponsored several dozen foreign orphans with the money I spent on gadgetry. But I’m a capitalist infidel.

#3: I rode the Megabus. A lot. (All year)
Megabus speaks to the Midwestern ethos of finding a cheap way to get to Chicago. Sure, you can also go to places like Minneapolis (which I have) and St. Louis (which I haven’t). But if there’s one stereotype about Midwesterners that is absolutely true, it’s that we know Chicago is our best contribution to American society. (Other contributions: casseroles, blizzards, and the phrase “Dontcha know?”) The fact that I can get to Chicago and back for less than ten bucks was truly one of 2007’s great discoveries.

#2: I got magical bootleg wireless internet. (Octoberish)
Technically, I have no idea when the magical wireless internet waves began penetrating my house. (Were you just reminded of health class for some reason? Ick.) I only know that I discovered them in late October or so. The jury’s still out on whether this is a good thing, because while having the internet at home has greatly simplified that portion of my schoolwork that’s online (read: all of it), it has also allowed me to become addicted to Facebook (who knew that the people I went to school with were interesting?), do even more instant messaging than I did before, and watch entirely too much YouTube. I like to pretend that all the Wikipedia articles I read will allow me to someday cure cancer.

(I just realized that my times, which were already becoming less and less specific, have now devolved into fake words. The internet is melting my vocabulary lobe.)

#1: [Redacted]. (All year)
Alas, the top story of my 2007 is one of those things I don’t blog about. For some things, you have to maintain an air of mystery. Like Waldo. I mean, why must we all incessantly search for him? Wouldn't that time be better spent searching for, I dunno, Bin Laden?

Stay tuned for 2008. The first of The Great Years.

December 28, 2007

December 28, 2007

In My Opinion: Annie Hall

I know it’s been a rather monotonous week of movie reviews, but I’m between semesters. And when I’m between semesters, I watch movies and catch up on tv shows. Hence all the reviews.

Anyway, Woody Allen is one of those cinematic names that you have to try at least once. He’s like the rhubarb of film. Or something. I enjoyed his vocal performance in Antz well enough, but I don’t think that really counts. So I went for the Woody Allen magnum opus: Annie Hall. As one of my friends described it: “A romantic comedy, yes, but a Woody Allen romantic comedy.” I’m allergic to chick flicks, but I figured I’d be safe as long as I kept a reasonable distance and took a cynicism booster beforehand.

The story to me was eh. I thought the film was a little dated (I missed a LOT of references). What I enjoyed, though, were the lines. So many quotables:

“Sun is bad for you. Everything our parents said was good is bad. Sun, milk, red meat, college.”

“My grammy never gave gifts, you know. She was too busy getting raped by Cossacks.”

“They give awards for that kind of music? I thought just earplugs...They do nothing but give out awards. I can't believe it. Greatest Fascist Dictator--Adolf Hitler!”

Annie: [about California] “It's so clean out here.”
Alvy: “That's because they don't throw their garbage away. They make it into television shows.”

I recommend this movie mostly for the script. Neurotic romance doesn’t really do it for me, but witty banter does.

December 27, 2007

December 27, 2007

In My Opinion: Charlie Wilson’s War

I’ll be honest: on my list of holiday movies to see, Charlie Wilson’s War was…okay, not on the list. Even though it had an excellent cast. And came highly recommended from several of my trusted sources. I remained reluctant to see what I thought would be a cheeky retelling of not-very interesting events that happened before I was even born.

Turns out I was wrong. See, it does happen on occasion.

Charlie Wilson, played by Tom Hanks, was a Texas congressman who had a lot of favor in Congress. For those of you unfamiliar with the U.S. government, “a lot of favor” means “can help you out if you help him out.” Wilson almost single-handedly brought about U.S. involvement on behalf of Afghanistan against the Soviets during the 1980s. What we did or didn’t do back then and its effects on what is or isn’t happening now are really outside the scope of this blog. (Inside the scope of this blog: tv, food, and words that are fun to say.)

The cast really made this movie for me. Wilson was, well, sort of sleazy, and seeing the upstanding Hanks in such an anti-Gump role is quite fun. Julia Roberts plays an insanely rich Texan God-fearer with gravity-defying hair. Of the top-billed cast, though, Philip Seymour Hoffman gets it done for me. I absolutely loved every one of his scenes. He’s rapidly rising to the top of my favorite actors list. (Yes, I have a thing with lists. This should not be news to, well, anyone.) There’s a great scene in Wilson’s office involving a liquor bottle that had me doing actual knee-slapping in the theater. That’s right: knee-slapping. North of the Mason-Dixon. *pause for jaw drop*

The supporting cast was also incredible, and had me doing this in my head:
“Ooh, Amy Adams!”
“Emily Blunt!”
“John Slattery!”
“Amy Adams, again!”

Aaron Sorkin did the screenplay, so fans of The West Wing (or intelligent banter in general) should make note of that.

If you need a change after watching Will Smith or Nicolas Cage save the world, watch Charlie Wilson give it a shot.

December 26, 2007

December 26, 2007

In My Opinion: I Am Legend

I saw Omega Man, another version of this story, many moons ago. I remember three things about that movie: Charlton Heston, vampires, and a naked lady. In my defense, my family was in the middle of a Charlton Heston post-apocalyptic movie phase, and “Soylent Green is PEOPLE” had much more resonance with my subconscious. It’s all about the catchphrases with me.

Anyway, I’ve been a Will Smith fan since Men in Black. And that film is really the essence of what I like about a typical Will Smith movie: lots of excitement, a bit of thinking, and an extra-large can of whoopass. That, to me, is the perfect cinematic recipe. (Optional: Add elves, a government agency or two, and/or Wes Anderson.)

(I’m not going to comment on this movie’s plausibility or lack thereof. I don’t care about plausibility.)

When I watched Batman filming in Chicago (no, I will NEVER stop mentioning that whenever possible), I found out how many logistics are involved in shutting down a city street (answer: a lot). And they appear to have shut down large portions of New York for this, which must have been a nightmare. But it definitely made for some eerily-arresting visuals. To be honest, a lot of my reason for wanting to see this movie was the “How’d they DO that” factor.

I like to flatter myself in thinking that, were I stuck in a similar situation as Will Smith’s character (survivor of a plague that’s turned everyone else into rabid zombies), I’d go about things in a similar manner as he does: continue work on a cure while systematically amusing myself. Well, maybe not so much of the cure working. But definitely the systematic amusement. I’d camp out in the nearest Target. (Yes, I realize the closest Target is actually across the Hudson in Jersey City and that I’d have to swim there because the bridges had been blown out in the quarantine. See “I don’t care about plausibility,” above. The likelihood of my being the sole survivor of any sort of cataclysm is nil. I don’t know how to shoot a gun. I can barely tie a square knot, and that’s after several years in the Scouts.)

If nothing else, this movie’s a good reminder that while God may have promised never to wipe life out again, that doesn’t mean humans won’t try to have a go at mucking it all up.

December 25, 2007

December 24, 2007

December 24, 2007

In My Opinion: Elf

No one plays a guileless manchild quite like Will Ferrell. I’d like to say that right off the bat, because I don’t think this movie would work nearly as well without him in the title role. When he first gets to the magical land of New York City, the naivete and amazement are actually believable. You laugh in amusement (and not derision) at the phrase “son of a nutcracker.” That he would sit feet away from a showering woman just to hear her sing seems plausible. All of this is really contingent on Will Ferrell, and he comes through.

The supporting cast is also very good, though I would preferred to have seen the roles of Amy Sedaris and Andy Richter beefed up a little, if only because I quite like Amy Sedaris and Andy Richter. (Amy wrote a darkly funny cookbook/guide to living called I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence that can be purchased here. She’s like a subversive Martha Stewart.)

I was greatly amused by the North Pole sets, as the already-giant Ferrell appeared even more statuesque when in elvish confines. Leon the Snowman had some good lines, and that penguin was too frickin’ adorable. The narwhal freaked me out, though. Even freakier? They’re real.

I don’t usually go in for PG movies, but this one I didn’t mind. It was short. It featured a Milwaukee-based retailer. And it was directed by Pete “The Millionaire” Becker.

“Us elves like to stick to the four main food groups: candy, candy canes, candy corn, and syrup.”

“This place reminds me of Santa's workshop. Except it smells like mushrooms and everyone looks like they want to hurt me.”

“It’s just nice to meet another human who shares my affinity for elf culture.”

December 21, 2007

December 21, 2007

To Time Magazine’s Person of the Year

Dear Vladimir Putin,

Congratulations on being named Time magazine’s Person of the Year. As last year’s person celebre, let me assure you that I understand the feelings of flattered surprise you right now are experiencing. It’s nice, isn’t it? And while I never went so far as to have cards printed up with simply my name and the words “Person of the Year,” I think you should.

But, Vladimir Putin, I must admit a question that has been perplexing me since I heard your news. Namely: How in the world did you pull THAT off?

You beat out Al Gore. He won a Nobel. Single-handedly brought the word “inconvenient” back into the zeitgeist. And appeared on 30 Rock.

You beat out J.K. Rowling. Every person alive has read Harry Potter. Some dead people have, as well, though it’s much harder for them to set up book clubs.

You beat out General Petraeus...okay, that one I’ll give you.

Apparently, attempting to set up a puppet government is the new thing to do. (Hi, Hugo Chavez!) And while my knowledge of the subject is based mainly on the movie Anastasia, I’m pretty sure you have the added advantage of leading a country used to dynasties.


December 20, 2007

December 20, 2007

Things I’ve Read: The Book of Abigail and John

I realize that The Book of Abigail and John sounds like a crappy love story. This is why, when people would ask me what I was reading, I would add the sentence “It’s collected letters of John and Abigail Adams.” Sadly, even after that, some people continued giving me a blank stare. If you’re unfamiliar with John Adams, you should be talking to David McCullough and not me.

Anyway, I’ve always been fascinated (well, that’s perhaps too strong a word, but “interested” doesn't seem strong enough) with the relationship between John and Abigail Adams. I think it really was a marriage of the minds, even though Abigail, living in colonial times, had to make do with an education based on cross stitch samplers and nursery rhymes [/feminist rant].

I’d classify the contents of the letters as about a third each of the following:

Shopping lists. Along the lines of “Please send several yards of muslin, any tea you can find, and some handkerchiefs.” Apparently, while John was abroad, he could cheaply procure things that Abigail could sell for profit at home, what with all the insane British tariffs.

Domestic stuff. Includes the romanticy stuff, which is self-explanatory. Also includes notes on bringing up the kids. Interestingly, the Adams spent just as must time apart as they did living together. Yay for public service.

Historical commentary. This was the really interesting part for me. You got a sort of unofficial historical perspective on the events of the 1770s and 1780s. When “Dr. Franklin” was casually mentioned, I was like, “Holy crap, they’re talking about Benjamin Franklin. THE Benjamin Franklin.” Then again, that could just be my unhealthy fascination with celebrity kicking in.

If nothing else, reading these letters makes you glad we’ve evolved to phones and email. Because, especially once politics makes travel tricky, most of the letters begin with a request to note the dates of all received letters, so as to ensure none of them miscarried. This was back in the day, you know, and so you couldn’t just rely on the USPS. (Well, you really STILL can’t rely on the USPS, but for entirely different reasons.)

And while it won’t necessarily inspire you to write a letter, or even check out the very good PBS documentary on the Adamses, at least it’s a smart book. Unlike 70% of what I read, this is actually something you could read at the dinner table. (Or is it just me that does that?)

December 19, 2007

December 19, 2007

In My Opinion: Waitress

Waitress is a well-reviewed indie film about a pie savant/waitress starring Keri Russell and Nathan Fillion. If you look closely at that last sentence, you can find five reasons to love this movie.

1. Well-reviewed. I’m entirely too susceptible to peer pressure. I know this. Yet I can’t NOT read movie reviews. It probably doesn’t help that I subscribe to two entertainment magazines (neither of which is People, thank you very much). But eh. Anyway, people who know what they’re talking about loved this movie.

2. Indie. I’m a sucker for little indies. And with this film, Fox Searchlight has surpassed Focus Features to become my go-to source for little indies. Because…Garden State? Yes. Little Miss Sunshine? Yes. The Darjeeling Limited? Yes. Juno and The Savages? Yes and…yes. You get the idea.

3. Pie savant. Though I later found out the pies aren’t real (which was like finding out Santa isn’t real), they look amazing in this film. And they, like me, have funny names, like I Hate My Husband, Marshmallow Mermaid, Naughty Pumpkin, and Lonely Chicago.

Between this and Pushing Daisies, pie is obviously the new “It” dessert. (Previous “It” desserts include Jell-O, English trifles, and flan.)

4. Keri Russell. Back in the day, I was a pretty big fan of The WB. Dawson’s Creek and Felicity were a twofer of verbose angst set to hip music. I like to think that Felicity helped prepare me for college, in the same way that Lost prepares me for life on a desert island. (Also preparing me for life on a desert island: The Dangerous Book for Boys, the film Cast Away, and a strange fascination with constellations.)

5. Nathan Fillion. Captain Tightpants, for those of you who get that reference. Seriously, though, what has he NOT been good in?

This is as close to a chick flick as I get, so take it as it is.

“I know what you’re thinking. No…I don’t. What are you thinking?”

“I love living vicariously through the pain and suffering of others.”

“If I had a penny for everything I love about you, I would have many pennies.”

December 18, 2007

December 18, 2007

Chicago: Part the Second

(If you missed the first part, I’ll allow for your laziness in not checking this blog daily and instruct you to click here.)

Magnificent Mile. By the time I finished with the Chicago History Museum, it was snowing pretty heavily. Luckily, I come of hearty Midwestern stock. (True story: The day my parents got married, the temperature was hovering in the 20s BELOW ZERO. Milwaukee’s record coldest temperature, -26 degrees, was set the next day, as they were leaving for a honeymoon in California.) I also figured that I was probably only going to be in Chicago during the weeks before Christmas once in my life, so I might as well do things right.

Yes, it was snowy. And crowded. But I got to window shop at places like Burberry and Cartier.

Field Museum. Since I hadn’t been to the Field Museum since I qualified for children’s admission, I figured it was time to go again. And the really good museums just get better as you age; you appreciate the details of the exhibits. Also, the weird ones don’t freak you out as much. (True story: I could only run past one of the dinosaur exhibits at the Milwaukee Public Museum for the first decade of my life. It had a life-size T. Rex eating a felled triceratops and scared the crap out of me.)

The Hall of Mammals isn’t really something that can be described; when you try it comes out as “stuffed animals in glass boxes.” But is really is quite something. That Field guy knew what he was doing.

And they were setting up for some sort of catered event, too. Why WOULDN’T you want your wedding reception in the shadow of a giant dinosaur skeleton?

Daley Plaza. The Chicago Christmas tree, though a little out of my way, was also one of those things I figured I should see while the seeing was good. I was actually alarmed at how large it was. And how baubled. I mean, the Milwaukee tree doesn’t even have ornaments on it. (Let’s face it: they’d probably get stolen.)

As you can see, I was not the only person enjoying the tree.

After that, I just wandered back to the train station, enjoying the snow and the lights. Yes, I was alone. After dark. In downtown Chicago.

I survived.

December 17, 2007

December 17, 2007

Chicago: Part the First

Yes, folks, it’s that time again. I’ve found that I always visit Chicago on a Saturday in even-numbered months. Who says I’m predictable?

Union Station. I was forced to improvise right from the start when the CTA pass machine informed me that one-day passes (a STEAL at $5 for unlimited rides) were “not currently available.” You’d think that the city’s main transit hub would keep that kind of thing in stock. But, really, what do I know? By the time I decided to pony up $9 for a two-day pass, a large group of Mennonites had swarmed the machine. I walked over to the Sears Tower (luckily it was on my way, or there’d have been MUCH more cursing on my part) and got a one-day pass there instead. And it only took me four tries to get into the building (seriously, it’s a building with a zillion doors, only two of which are unlocked).

Chicago History Museum. According to the schedule, route 36 buses are supposed to run every ten minutes. My waiting time: 35 minutes. This wasn’t my first time, though, so I’d factored it into my schedule. The rule of thumb for Chicago transit is to take the posted time and double it. If the weather’s bad, triple it. If you have to transfer to another bus…just walk. It’ll be faster.

Anyway, once I made it to the Chicago History Museum, I was pleased to finagle a student discount, though confused by this on the sidewalk out front:

The Chicago History Museum has a lot of Lincoln artifacts. Shocker. Some of them are kind of cool, like the bed he died in. Some of them are creepy, like a purported lock of his hair. (Depending on your taste, I guess you might be able to switch “cool” and “creepy” in that last sentence.)

Overall, I found the collection a little underwhelming. (Sorry. After the Smithsonian, almost anything’s going to be a letdown.) However, the fantastic Chicago Room made up for it. I have a weird thing for great architecture; I couldn’t stop taking pictures.

Best Part of the CHS: The video that taught me how globes are made.
Worst Part of the CHS: Losing my chap stick.

Tomorrow: Fancy stores, snow, dinosaur bones, and lots of sparkly lights.

December 14, 2007

December 13, 2007

December 13, 2007

Things I’ve Read: Then We Came to the End

I think debut novels are like rookies: for every one that breaks out, there are dozens that do little more than warm the bench. (Wow, I used a sports metaphor. Someone make a note of this.) Though it seems publishers are always trumpeting the next King, or Rowling, or Grisham, keep in mind that (a) that’s their job, and (b) they probably reject hundreds of people for every one whose manuscript they accept. So these up-and-comers are really just a tiny minority. A cup from the literary swimming pool, if you will. (Lifeguarding the literary swimming pool: James Frey. He will NEVER live that Oprah thing down.)

I decided to pick up Joshua Ferris’ Then We Came to the End because EW gave it a pretty good review. And, as we know, EW is my Bible. Well, except for the ACTUAL Bible. But…you know. Also, it’s set in an ad agency, and if I learned anything from Mad Men, it’s that I’m fascinated by the world of advertising. (As if my addiction to commercials hadn’t clued me in, I know.) Finally, the cover art is Post-Its. And I can’t tell you how many Post-Its I go through on a weekly basis. It’s insane. Not just, “cute delusional” insane; more like “in a quiet facility upstate” insane.

As an office drone myself (though not a corporate one), I enjoyed reading about the idiosyncrasies of a Chicago advertising agency. Ironically, though, anyone who’s worked in an office will recognize some universals. The guy whose mass emails of random ponderings everyone just deletes. The gossipy woman whom you go to for all the good news but then loathe yourself afterwards. The executive who meets his match in the copier. Good stuff, people. Good stuff.

Though the narrative structure is a little confusing (note to Mr. Ferris: please stop flashing back without warning, and then flashing back into the present, and then flashing back again--I felt like I needed Dramamine), the characters are interesting (if a few too many) and the pranks are amusing if juvenile.

As for what “the end” turns out to be, well…I can’t give it all away, can I?

December 12, 2007

December 12, 2007

To the President of CBS

Dear Les Moonves,

I know that you, like me, love television. Thus you, like me, are greatly impacted by the recent Writers’ Guild of America strike. However, you, unlike me, can actually do something about said strike. No doubt realizing this, you have taken action that, while not the “facilitating a settlement” I might have hoped for, is still a thing to behold.

(Let me note here that I have been a fan of yours since David Letterman’s “More with Les” segments. I believe you performed admirably during these skits, revealing a personality more than able to deal with your wife, Chenbot.)

Les Moonves, you have announced plans to bring several Showtime programs to primetime CBS. This will require some doing, as Showtime programming is not so much “family-friendly” as it is “naked.” That aside, I myself (Victorian sensibilities and all) have enjoyed several episodes of Californication and Weeds. That these two programs are among those you hope to clean up for network tv caused me considerable excitement. That Dexter, a program I’ve had recommended to me by several people, is also on the list was the proverbial frosting on the cake.

In short, Les Moonves, I applaud you. Though a censored episode of Californication may last all of 90 seconds, rest assured that I will block out that 9:58:30 to 10:00:00 on a weeknight to be named later.


December 11, 2007

December 11, 2007

Listen to This, Volume 8: Landon Pigg

Yes, it’s another artist discovered via commercial. With the amount of tv I watch, I’m bound to pick up things, musical and otherwise (for example: someone I love may be a numismatist, I apparently need to ask my doctor if Caduet is right for me, and Bounty is the quilted, quicker picker-upper).

This time of year, you get a lot of ads for Christmas presents. That makes sense. What doesn’t make sense is that there appears to be a massive group of people who buy their loved ones products measured in carats or made by Lexus. Question: Who ARE these people, and how do I get on their gift lists?

One of this year’s “A Diamond Is Forever” commercials uses a song called “Coffee Shop” by Landon Pigg. Things to love: he’s lived in Chicago, only two months older than I am, and “credits his mother for nourishing his poetic side.” His music has been classified as “romantic” (chick music, blurgh), so I can really only vouch for this one song. (Which is also very chicky, I know, but eh. It’s the holidays; we’re all feeling a little sentimental.)

Though I find that 80% of YouTube videos are of dubious (read: crappy) quality, this one is pretty amazing. It helps you learn the lyrics AND quotes John Donne. That’s what I like to call a “twofer.”

December 10, 2007

December 10, 2007

Yankee Swap

My work Christmas party was this past Saturday. And though I’m pretty anti-social, I make an exception for this event. My reasons? Partially because every career advice columnist says the Christmas party is NOT optional, partially because it’s fun to watch my co-workers get completely drunk, partially because I get to eat fancy food for free, and partially because I have the chance of ending up with a good gift.

Let me focus on that last one for a minute. The gift exchange at the fire department’s administrative Christmas party is best described as a polite white elephant melee. Though there are only 50 or so guests, the gift exchange takes several hours. This year’s theme: liquid gifts, $10 limit. Since I don’t drink, I figured right away that 90% of the gifts would hold no interest for me at all. But there was hope.

For my gift, I brought this lovely bottle of olive oil.

Nice, right? Classy, right? I know.

I picked number 17. Of 50. Not promising. When my turn came around, I opted NOT to steal a gift (because I’m nice) but rather get one from the table. I ended up with a gift card to Speedway. I actually found this pretty clever: gas IS a liquid, after all.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t the only one interested in $10 of gas. A few rounds later, my card got stolen by one of the battalion chiefs. The room actually BOOED him for stealing my gift. The Chief (who was emceeing) pointed out that he was stealing from the youngest member of the staff. I found the whole thing hilarious.

Here’s where I made my mistake. I should have stolen the tin of Williams-Sonoma peppermint hot chocolate. I love mint. I love hot chocolate. I love classy food. That gift was all three. Instead, I went for another gift on the table. And got this:

That’s right, ladies and gentlemen. Cherry-flavored personal lubricant. Even the bottle of Jack Daniels would have been more appropriate. THAT I could have re-gifted.

Anyway, one of my friends mercifully stole it in a later round (her exact words were “I’ll take a hit for Heather”; the room applauded her), so that I could re-steal the gas card. It, of course, was later stolen again, at which point I stole the tin of hot chocolate and called it a night.

So it all worked out. Eventually.

December 7, 2007

December 7, 2007

Big Ben

I like to listen to the radio while I’m getting ready in the morning. (Bear with me, I come to a point eventually.) I usually listen to a local AM station that gives me news, weather, and sports in the span of 10 minutes or so. Like the radio version of USA Today (McPaper…tasty).

When you listen to any radio station regularly, you become pretty familiar with the advertisers. They work hard to ensure this, hence the slogans and the jingles. (I know; I’ve taken a whopping three marketing classes.) And as with books, t-shirts, and pastries, some are better than others.

One of the frequent advertisers I hear is a local mortgage company that obviously wants to impress listeners with its cool. And while that may have been the first sentence to ever feature the words “mortgage” and “cool” in such close proximity, it actually works.

The ads are always read by the same guy. The deceptiveness of voices aside, he strikes me as middle-aged and affable. Plays golf, but doesn’t have a huge handicap. Likes his scotch, but not enough to buy the really good stuff. You know, THAT guy. The commercial that had been airing until just recently started with the guy (badly) singing the words, “What goes up…,” admitting his lack of vocal talent, discussing rising rates, and eventually ending with “…rates come down.”

So far, so pedestrian, says the girl with nine marketing credits. But where this company gets it is in the fine print. Those disclaimers read at breakneck pace during the last 5 seconds of the commercial. This ad ends with, “Rates subject to change. Lender is not a rock band.”

I heard a new commercial for the first time yesterday, and found it similarly amusing. I may be the only one, though. Because the tag was “Rates subject to change. Bernanke still won’t return my calls.”

Now, I’ve taken economics (and recently), so I know who Bernanke is. But does the average person?

Do you?

December 6, 2007

December 6, 2007

Happy St. Nick's

Today is St. Nicholas’ Day. Unless you live in what Wikipedia calls “cities with strong German influences like Milwaukee, Cincinnati, and St. Louis,” you may not have known that. It’s okay. That’s why you read my blog: to learn of obscure holidays. And television. And food.

Though Wikipedia also notes, “The tradition of St. Nick's Day is firmly established in the Milwaukee community, with parents often continuing to observe the day with even their adult children,” I’ve not found that to be the case. You know how many people at work have wished me a happy St. Nick’s Day? None. Granted, I appear to be the only one with holiday spirit, having had to put up all the decorations myself while my co-workers said things like “I don’t even HAVE a tree” and “Those things are so much more exciting when you’re YOUNG.” Don’t make me bury you with a stake of holly through your heart, people.

But my favorite part of today isn’t the decorations or the toys. Or even the candy. It’s the murky history. To wit (warning, block quote ahead:

Like many ancient traditions, the history of St. Nick's is debated. Some say St. Nick's Day is a decidedly German observance. Others say it is Spanish or Dutch. What is known is that St. Nicholas lived in the fourth century. He was a Christian prelate and the patron saint of Russia. Nicholas was a native of Patara, in the ancient district of Lycia in Asia Minor (now Turkey). He became archbishop of the metropolitan church in Myra, Lycia.

How he came to be so famous is a little bit of a saucy tale, not suitable for tender ears. Legend has it that he took pity on a poor man who was about to abandon his daughters to prostitution. The story goes that he left trinkets for the man in his chimney. From this came the custom of secret gifts on the eve of the feast day celebrating St. Nicholas. Because of the close proximity of dates, Christmas and St. Nicholas Day are now celebrated simultaneously in many countries.

"Saucy," indeed. And while you’ll probably not be able to help anyone keep their daughters on the straight and narrow, you should go ahead and celebrate anyway. Candy cane it up.

December 5, 2007

December 5, 2007

This is My Tannenbaum

This is my tannenbaum. One of the first things you notice is that my Christmas tree is, in fact, an actual tree; a balsam fir, to be specific. It is not made of metal. Nor is it pre-lit. Until a short time ago, it was growing in the woods of Wisconsin. Perhaps near a log cabin. A log cabin owned by a man named Zeke. A man named Zeke who also makes cheese. Anyway, contrary to popular belief, real trees aren’t a huge fire hazard; you just have to keep them watered. They’re like animals or small children in that way. And they smell much better. Sometimes I forget whether I’m in my living room or a forest.

Notice also the relative dearth of ornamentation. It’s not exactly a Festivus pole, granted, but it’s pretty sparse. Call me a traditionalist (I’ve been called worse), but I like to see actual TREE in my Christmas tree. I’m such a freak, I know. The color scheme, of course, is up to you, though I think the red/silver combo has just the right amounts of Christmas and winter. It’s classy. And I choose to top the tree with a star that we got at a dollar store several years ago. It ain’t broke, so I ain’t fixing it. (Also purchased at the dollar store: the garlands and the pinecone ornaments. Like I said, classy.)

Though my family doesn’t have and pets or small children (“Tommy, do NOT chew on that!”), we get a tabletop tree. That way, the presents are at eye level. And if you have way too many to get under the tree (as in those years when the corn crop’s good/a Wisconsin agricultural stereotype of your choice), you can start shoving them under the table.

December 4, 2007

December 4, 2007

Listen to This, Volume 7: ABBA

As these things often do, it all started innocently enough. One of my favorite characters on The Office sang a minute of “Take a Chance on Me.”

I found the scene itself hilarious, but also enjoyed the song. So I Googled.

Turns out that “Take a Chance on Me” is an ABBA song. Like my knowledge of turnips and calculus, my knowledge of ABBA was vague at best. I knew they were a group. I knew they were Swedish. I knew the musical Mamma Mia! was in some way based on them. But really, doesn’t that describe the shoppers at your average Ikea store on a Saturday?

As one of my co-workers put it, ABBA is master of the kind of song that gets stuck in your head. “You will never get rid of it” were her exact words when I described how “Take a Chance on Me” has been playing in my head on a more-or-less constant loop for the past week. (Side note: my co-workers, upon learning of my ABBA discovery, considered getting me a disco ball. Then they realized that I wasn’t even conceived during the years of disco and got depressed at how much older they all are than me. Office fun.)

I got the Gold: Greatest Hits album, which has (in my opinion) all the best ABBA songs. Not just “Take a Chance on Me,” but also “Fernando,” (featured in one of the funniest Malcolm in the Middle scenes ever), “Mamma Mia!,” and “S.O.S.”

Take a chance on ABBA.

December 3, 2007

December 3, 2007

In My Opinion: Good Night, And Good Luck

Good Night, And Good Luck portrays the 1950s battle between CBS (“This is the Columbia broadcasting system”) reporter Edward R. Murrow and Joseph McCarthy (“The junior senator from Wisconsin”). The most notable cast member is George Clooney, who doesn’t play the lead, but opts instead for the role of Fred Friendly (alliterated names: always a plus), Murrow’s producer and go-to guy.

Structurally, the film’s 90-minute run time and heavy dependence on historical clips of the HUAC hearings (what, no one wanted to play McCarthy?) make it feel more like a long documentary than a short feature. And as captivating as the blacklist no doubt was back in the day, it loses somewhat in the translation here. However, I think several interesting parallels can be drawn between that witch hunt and those of the modern day (I won’t ask if you don’t tell).

Aesthetically, though, this movie gets major bonus points. Like the AMC show Mad Men (which I’ve already gushed over), Good Night, And Good Luck does an excellent job of portraying the post-war years, when men were men, women were women, and everyone smoked two packs a day. With a bottle of scotch. At least. (Also, everything was in black and white until the invention of color in 1962.)

Supporting cast members who don’t get nearly enough credit: Robert Downey, Jr. (who’s an excellent actor when he’s clean) and Patricia Clarkson as two CBS employees who have to keep their marriage a secret (forbidden love: always a plus), Ray Wise (currently seen as the Devil on CW’s Reaper with my boy Bret Harrison), Jeff Daniels, and Tate Donovan (The O.C.’s Jimmy Cooper, making good).