March 31, 2009

March 31, 2009

Long Odds

The very last of the Valentine's Day stuff, I promise. Yeah, it's six weeks after the fact. Other things kept coming up to whine about; so sue me.

Sometimes I think it’s a wonder people find love at all. I mean, think about it. Sure, there are six billion people on this planet. But half of them are the wrong gender. Throw in age, appearance, and personality requirements and you’re left with maybe a handful. Then you’re expected to find one who likes you back AND is geographically-feasible?

Please.

Or perhaps you’re one of those people who likes to look at it from the macro side. Rather than starting from the “There is ONE in this six billion for me” perspective, consider the “There are SIX BILLION out there and I only need one” aspect. If you’re as particular, anal-retentive, and choosy as I am,* you’ll want to try all six billion before you figure which is best.

Advances in health and science notwithstanding, it ain’t gonna happen. Not enough Applebee’s and not enough Friday nights. As this excellent pre-Valentine’s Day article states, “There are 28 million times more possible romantic matches among people in this world than there are stars in the Milky Way. If God spent a minute evaluating each match before assigning people their spouses, the procedure would take 21.4 trillion years to complete. By then, the chocolates would be stale.”

The gist of the article is that increasing the numbers doesn’t better your odds when it comes to love. Aim for six and not six billion, in other words. Choosing fewer often means choosing better. Plus, it’s cheaper. Win-win.

You may not find your soulmate.** But you might find someone who’s up for a little Jenga.

* Not possible, but let’s pretend.
** You also may not HAVE a soulmate, but that’s another blog post entirely.

March 30, 2009

March 30, 2009

Who can find a virtuous woman?

Unless you are a deity (or perhaps Mary Poppins), you probably have a few vices. Maybe they’re little—you’re a bad tipper or sometimes leave gum under the table. Maybe they’re big—you have a penchant for money laundering or making up reasons for war. Whatever the case, you probably also know you shouldn’t do fill-in-the-blank but just can’t/won’t help yourself. For me, this manifests itself every time I have to cross the street.

Friends, I am a jaywalker. And proud of it.

The way I see it, life’s too short to wait for traffic. You’d think that the fact that said traffic could (and probably will someday) easily kill me would deter me from walking out into it.

Um, no.

Don’t worry. I look both ways. The intersections around here are almost all quite controlled. We got signage and signals and markings. S’all good. In fact, my jaywalking habit was born here. Most of D.C.’s walk/don’t walk signals are accompanied by a countdown clock showing how many seconds until the light turns red. After a couple of times realizing I’d have to wait a minute (or more) to cross some avenue or boulevard, I pshawed the law* and crossed against the signal.

That first time was difficult, but all subsequent violations have been much easier.** I now actually get annoyed at people who DON’T jaywalk. Time’s a-wastin’, people!

Jaywalk, follow, or get out of my way.

* Imagine, if you will, me dismissively waving my hand while saying “Pshaw” and you’ve just about got it.
** That’s what she said?

March 27, 2009

March 27, 2009

My Thoughts on The Office: #521 “Two Weeks”

Say what you will about Michael Scott: you can’t deny that he’s entertaining. Dunder-Mifflin Scranton just wouldn’t be the same without him. You know this. I know this. And I think the office workers themselves realized this in last night’s episode.

Pam: “He finally has a story we really want to hear.”
Toby: “Michael’s like a movie on a plane. You know, it’s not great, but it’s something to watch.”

I guess I’m the type of person who would rather have a nice-but-clueless boss instead of an involved-but-hostile one.* Sure, you won’t get as much done with the former. But at least you won’t want to end every workday by killing yourself.

Surprisingly, one of the aspects of this episode that I enjoyed most was the Pam arc. We know from past seasons and episodes that she’s unhappy at Dunder-Mifflin. She wants to be more than a receptionist, and I can’t blame her. I was pretty disappointed when the art school dream fell suddenly- and severely-flat.** Thus I’m excited that Battle Copier ended up being the straw that broke the camel’s back and that Michael’s lunacy provided the escape vehicle. I know she’s tied her mast to a sinking ship. But at least she’s going SOMEWHERE. I’d read that the show PTB were casting a new receptionist, so it looks like Michael’s business adventure is going to last for a little while, anyway.

New Boss-man is starting to swing from “creeps me out” to “pisses me off” (a place most people I know end up eventually, granted). While pompous assholes are usually my cup of tea,*** something about this one rubs me the wrong way.

* Amber, am I right?
** Aimee, am I right?
*** Nicholas, am I right?

March 26, 2009

March 26, 2009

Mano a Buggo

I love living alone. Let me state that up front. It’s not that I dislike my parents, or even the idea of cohabitation itself. (Whether other people enjoy living with ME is a whole other matter. To be fair, I’m still on good terms with the college roommates. So there’s that.) It’s just that I enjoy being able to come home and be alone. Not have to talk to or be with anybody. For an only child-misanthropist like myself, it’s a win-win.

BUT.

But sometimes, it sucks to live alone. When assembling furniture. Or hauling crates of beverages home from Sam’s Club. Or dealing with freakishly-giant bugs.

LIKE THAT ONE.

You know, I knew that moving to a warmer climate would entail a few trade-offs. Sure, I wouldn’t have to suffer a killing frost. However, it turns out that without a killing frost, you get freakishly-giant bugs. That show up in your apartment. Randomly. At night. While you are alone, because OH YEAH YOU LOVE LIVING ALONE, LA LA LAAAA.

While considering my initial plan of action (and, obviously, taking pictures for you people), I managed to scare it off the wall and behind my entryway dresser. So I made a book barrier to keep it back there until I could revise my tactical strategy.

I immediately called TheBoy and commenced a 40-minute freak out. Eventually, I bit the bullet and went all Static Guard on its ass. (I prefer hair spray, but the hair spray I use is a spritzer and not the sort of continuous spray o’ death I need in an anti-bug device.)

Once I slowed it down a bit, I trapped it under a glass and weighed the glass down with a couple of textbooks. That master’s degree is finally coming in handy.

If I’m lucky, maybe someone will just burn down my building. S'okay. I have renter’s insurance.

March 25, 2009

March 25, 2009

In My Opinion: Duplicity

Like astronaut, ice cream taste tester, and king of the world, the profession of spy is one most kids consider, even if only briefly. Sadly, most of us end up becoming, you know, accountants and whatnot. Still, it was nice to dream, wasn’t it?

Duplicity is the sort of film that seems to defy classification. Yes, it’s a movie about two spies. Who also happen to be romantically involved. So is it a romance? A thriller? A…thromance?

Yes. Let’s go with “thromance.” Cool.

In the world of Duplicity, NO ONE CAN BE TRUSTED. Not your lover, not your boss, not yourself. You just never know when you’re getting played. Fun times!

As you probably already know, Clive Owen (obligatory squee) and Julia Roberts play the leads. He works for MegaCorporation A and she works for MegaCorporation B. MegaCorporation B has developed a Shiny New Product. MegaCorporation A wants it. And is willing to do anything to get it. The entire film is a cat-and-mouse between not only the two companies, but also the two characters. Because NO ONE CAN BE TRUSTED. Much of the film involves flashbacks in various sexy, European, and/or exotic locales that slowly reveal the relationship between Owen and Roberts. Say what you will: they have great chemistry.

Speaking of great chemistry and casting, the head of MegaCorporation A is played by Paul Giamatti; the head of MegaCorporation B by Tom Wilkinson. Both actors are perfectly-suited for this sort of role: a character whose power lies not in his looks or charm, but in his tenacity and willingness to throw down. Because NO ONE CAN BE TRUSTED.

While there’s a fair amount of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it here, you don’t have to be on the edge of your seat. You probably won’t fully-understand the who, what, AND why of every scene, but if you have two of the three you should be okay. I myself was kept guessing up until the end. Then again, I never get twist endings ahead of time.**

The government girl in me would like to here point out that this movie is proof of the sort of kerfuffle people get into who leave federal employment for the private sector. Because NO ONE CAN BE TRUSTED.

* Sort of like me and fudge.
** Bruce Willis was dead the whole time?!

March 24, 2009

In My Opinion: Synecdoche, New York

You know how you have to be ready for anything during a David Lynch movie? Random dwarves. Gorillas. Blueness. You just never know when weird crap is going to jump out from behind a dumpster. This movie was a little like that. Granted, it’s a Charlie Kaufman film. He of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Adaptation. Wikipedia charitably calls his films “mind-bending.” I can think of less-generous terms for it, but okay.

The title of this film is significant in two ways. First, it’s a play on Schenectady, the city in which the movie’s set. (Don’t ask how many times I had to check the spelling on that while I was typing it*) Second, it refers to the literary concept of (shockingly enough) synecdoche, in which a part stands for the whole or vice versa. A common example is when you refer to your “set of wheels.” Unless you’re a lot poorer than I think you are, you’re probably driving something that’s more than just wheels.

I was drawn to this film mostly by the presence of Philip Seymour Hoffman. Until this point, I found every one of his roles fascinating. While his performance here as Caden Cotard wasn’t enough to turn me off to him completely (Heather is nothing if not loyal), it certainly sours his oeuvre a bit.

Caden Cotard is a theatre director whose life is unraveling. Unhappy marriage, dissatisfaction with work, etc. The crisis event occurs when his wife takes their daughter and moves. To Berlin.

Ouch.

However, as often seems to happen in the movies, this oh-so-bad event is followed by an oh-so-happy one: Cotard wins a grant that allows him to do whatever he wants. Pursue his Dream Project, so to speak. He does so by making art imitate life: casting people as himself and everyone he knows, moving them all into a giant warehouse, and setting about directing the play of his life.

At this point, things go from “weirdness” to “completely whacked-out.”

Caden develops various physical ailments during the course of the movie. Granted, he’s also aging, and that’s part of it. But there are a few too many boils and a bit too much bleeding to attribute to age only.

The lines between fact and fiction (or between life and art) blur as the film progresses. Caden seems to forget when to live and when to direct. Personal and professional relationships mingle and collide. Does he love the woman playing his wife because of who she IS or because of who she’s pretending to be?

Also, there’s a house that’s perpetually on fire. However, since this is ME, I was equally fascinated and weirded-out.

Going into this movie, I’d hoped for something along the lines of The Truman Show, one of my favorite movies and a fascinating examination of voyeurism, art, and human interaction. This…was not that. Granted, there was some interesting stuff involving the father-daughter relationship as well as the dynamic nature of artistic vision.

Overall, though, I can’t recommend the film. Top-notch indie cast: Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Emily Watson. Interesting thesis. But I felt it failed in the execution. Too long, too muddy, too self-aware.

Then again, all the world’s a stage.

* Two.

March 23, 2009

March 23, 2009

John Brown’s Body

TheBoy and I went to West Virginia on Saturday. Despite the temptations of marrying kin and making moonshine, we went to see Harper’s Ferry. You’ve probably heard of it (think back to those long-ago days of high school history). Let’s check Wikipedia:

Harpers Ferry is a historic town in Jefferson County, West Virginia. It is situated at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers where the U.S. states of Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia meet. The town is located on a low lying flood plain created by the two rivers, it is thus surrounded by higher ground on all sides. Historically, Harpers Ferry is best known for John Brown's raid on the Armory in 1859 and its role in the American Civil War. As of the 2000 census, the town had a population of 307.

In a nutshell, then, visitors to Harper’s Ferry should expect rivers, old buildings, and a lot of small-towniness. Though I handled the first two pretty well, the last one weirded me out. I mean, people are free to cover their yards in trash, their cars in bumper stickers, and their porches in furniture. I will just never be one of them.

Anyway, here is the best of the rest:

I may slander small towns all the livelong day, but I can’t deny they kick city butt in the scenery arena. Look at that, for crying out loud!

A lot of structures along the river still stand, though in various states of decay. This trestle bridge was pretty solid, though. How do I know? I checked. By jumping up and down on it. Twice.

The Lower Town part of Harper’s Ferry was historical re-creation stuff. And you know how I love historical re-creation stuff. It’s like Dr. Quinn, come to life. It really is.

High Street leads to the Upper Town of Harper’s Ferry. Upper Town is the tourist-trap kitschy part, with overpriced memorabilia and food (my advice: pack a lunch and picnic near the water). Oh, and the wax museum. We didn’t go to that, as we both find the concept more disturbing than amusing.

Well, okay, not ALL the kitsch was bad.

As a bonus, we went through Virginia to get there and through Maryland to get back. Any day in which I can visit three states is a pretty good one in my book.

March 20, 2009

March 20, 2009

My Thoughts on The Office

5.20 - New Boss

15-minute moment of silence
JIM IN A TUX!
"And, of course, classy."
Classy-cal music
Classy like the opening of a car dealership.
Regular peanut, with a cane, a monocle, and a top hat
Angela looks interested in the new guy
Bagels...shaped like c's.
diggin' each others' vibe
My lover...and my best friend
"like a black George Clooney"
"He's not...unattractive"
"I come from accounting, too." "Oh, nerd alert."
Kevin: no sexual history
Salaries, benefits, insurance: all discretionary
[Side note: Hulu at this point inserted an ad with Anthony Edwards and MAN is he looking old.]
"I think I thrive under a lack of accountability."
Hire Cirque du Soleil as salaried employees
"Such a rich history of unusual names"
"Tell him to call me asap...as possible."
"Michael Scotch"
He bought them lunch! Good move!
"A little hypercritical"
"He just skipped the Ace Ventura talking butt thing."
"You pet the animals and they pet you back."
"End of story. End of story."
"Any responsibilities come with it?" "Not exactly."
"I feel like I've been sort of boned."
"It's so worth it, you guys." "It's just me here."
How cute is bedraggled Angela?
"He does not need to go dumpster-diving for companionship."
He QUITS?
"You have no idea how high I can fly."

March 19, 2009

March 19, 2009

Things I’ve Read: The Last Single Woman in America

The fact that I’m in a happy relationshippy sort of place in no way detracted from my enjoyment of this book. I’m not going to lie; that surprised me as much as anyone. You can take the single out of the girl, but you can’t take the single girl out of the girl. Or something like that.

Cindy Guidry’s The Last Single Woman in America is one of those “not a memoir…except that it is” books. While it purports to be essays based on truth (as any memoir I ever end up writing would admittedly be), readers realize that the narrator and the author share much more than a name.

I think of Cindy as a west coast Carrie Bradshaw. Pretty. Job in the entertainment industry. More man trouble than you can shake a stick at. What keeps this from becoming a novelization of Sex and the City, though, is the way Cindy ultimately realizes that being single isn’t a bad thing. In fact, you can’t really appreciate a relationship without understanding the concept of self-sufficiency. As someone who saw entirely too many girls married straight out of college (or younger), I have to concur. I wish people (of both genders) would take the time to establish their own identities before legally binding themselves to each other.

But that’s a rant for another day.

Oh, no, wait. Today is that day.

Folks, the average age of marriage is now somewhere in the late 20s. Despite my friend Amber’s assertion that I’ll get married sooner than I think, I’m all for a lot of careful thought before, you know, making a lifelong commitment. This is also why I rent and don’t have tattoos. Measure twice, cut once.

Anyway.

Not all the essays are about relationships. Guidry’s originally from New Orleans; there’s a great section on how her parents were affected by Hurricane Katrina. There are also the requisite tales of pets, crazy friends, and work.

But the gist of the book is certainly along the lines of “I like men even though they have screwed me over more times than I’d like to admit.” She’s very funny, though, and it’s a quick read. Don’t let the pink cover throw you.

As the book ends (spoiler alert), Cindy’s found a man who accepts her, quirks and all. So the singles out there might want to prepare to be a little bitter. Don’t worry; your time will come. Or you’ll die and it’ll be a moot point. Definitely one of the two.

"People are more than the sum of their parts, not to mention the fact that I already have someone who likes and dislikes all the same stuff as me: Me. And as luck would have it, I'm available to me 24/7."

"He doesn't have to love food. He just needs to eat food, appreciate a hot meal, and be able to put up with me talking about food all the time."

"We've made codependent a dirty word, but really it's not. It's nice to have someone to depend on, and to have someone depend on you. That kind of responsibility is good; it helps keep you from becoming a big, self-centered baby. There are a lot worse things than being alone, but I think there's something better than being alone, too."

March 18, 2009

March 18, 2009

Recessionista

When faced with a difficult situation, you have two choices: embrace it or avoid it. I think scientists call this the “fight or flight phenomenon.” To be fair, I know very few actual scientists; the fact that I don’t own a lab coat keeps me from getting into all the cool parties. Still, I’m pretty sure that’s the gist of the idea.

You, like me, have probably found ways to deal with the giant f-you that is America’s economy. Perhaps you had a few children for tax reasons, decided to postpone a vacation, or relocated to a van down by the river. Good ideas, all. I myself, though fortunate enough to have both a fantastically-stable job (say what you will about my job; it has great security) and the financial safety net of my parents, have developed a few spendthrifty habits of my own. And by “developed,” I mean “continued.” Because c’mon. You know me. My cheapness is nothing new.

Thus, a la Kelly Marages of the Washington Post and my own friend Mel of grassrootsmovement, I shall here enumerate several ideas for avoiding personal financial meltdown. Absorb or discard as you will.

1. Tupperware is not a dirty word.

I take a lunch to work. Always have. Sure, a group of us usually goes out on Fridays, so I save that lunch for Monday or take it back home. But as a rule, the noon hour finds me in my office with several small containers of re-heated food and a good book. Federal-agency-that-shall-not-be-named has good food service, don’t get me wrong. But I really can’t justify spending $6, $8, or even $10 every workday for lunch. Especially not when my fetish for containment can also be satisfied in the process. I’m also at the tail end of a several-year-long diet that involved becoming entirely too conscious of calorie counts, so knowing exactly what I’m eating is also helpful for me. And you know I love you, but it might not hurt for you to eat a little less pudding. I’m just sayin’.

2. Cut on the dotted line.

On food. On clothes. On household goods. I get the Sunday newspaper for the news*, but I also get it for the coupons. There’s nothing quite like seeing my pre-coupon grocery bill of $40 getting cut by $10. Judge away, Safeway cashier lady. Judge away.

Where you have to be careful, though, are the new-product coupons. You think something along the lines of, “Oh, hey, I was going to try that anyway, so I might as well use this $1 off two coupon!” In reality, you end up with, like, two boxes of Hamburger Helper pouches that taste like sadness.**

3. Read free. As free as the wind blows.

I read a lot. You may have noticed. Despite my penchant for paperbacks, I’d be shelling out quite a bit on books if I had to buy every one I read. Thus the library is a godsend. And the only public institution I use. (Police? No. Fire? No. Schools? No. It’s like I’m throwing my taxes into a black hole, but at least I get chucked a Harry Potter novel every once in a while.)

4. The Salvation Army: not priests or soldiers.

In the D.C. area, everyone dresses well. As someone who grew up in the Midwest, I keep expecting to find some concentration camp of people in sweatpants. Because I have not yet seen them anywhere else. It’s fantastic. A benefit of this fashionista phenomenon we got going on here is that even the discards are good. Of the many Ann Taylor pieces I own, the vast majority were purchased here. Let’s be honest: if she isn’t making custard or playing for the Packers, the average Wisconsinite isn’t going to be terribly concerned with Ann Taylor.

I stick to well-known thrift stores (oh, look, I manage to be snobby while buying USED CLOTHES) and have developed a pretty good system for reviewing the goods. As someone who’s been doing this for a while (and whose parents were doing it long before that), I know what to look for. Digging through the racks (and then examining the items) is a fair bit of work, true. But getting a $50 shirt for $6 makes it worth the trouble. And while I’m a terrible judge of such things, the consensus seems to be that I look pretty good. So, um, ha.

Honestly, I could go on for quite some time in this vein, and you stopped caring several paragraphs ago. But until those stimulus recovery checks kick in, perhaps things like this will help tide you over.

Oh, and also, STOP BUYING SHIT YOU DON’T NEED AND CAN’T AFFORD. Ahem.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to find a place for this soapbox.

* Okay, and the comics. Shutup.
** Not based on an actual story. Could’ve been, though.

March 17, 2009

March 17, 2009

Kiss me. I’m Polish.

St. Patrick’s Day has come once more. I hope you’re wearing something green. I also hope that something is green on purpose and not as the result of a freak mildew incident or a pea soup catastrophe.

Milwaukeeans don’t dye the river green, preferring to leave that to Chicago. Also because the Milwaukee River has enough problems already, but that’s another blog post entirely. However, we* certainly give the Windy City a run for its money when it comes to drinking. Milwaukee’s not a big Irish town; far more surnames involve the suffix of -ski than the prefix of O’. When it comes to St. Patrick's Day, though, everyone wants a bit of the blarney.

So make sure you do something special today, whether it’s making green scrambled eggs for your kids, opening some Bailey’s, or (as I did) making a pie.

There’s mint chocolate Bailey’s in the pie, so it’s a twofer.


Happy St. Patrick’s Day.


* For the purposes of this blog post, let’s pretend I still live there. Since the D.C. area seems to have a dearth of celebrations in general (Mardi Gras came and went with barely a flutter), I’m reverting to my Midwestern memories of dodging drunks and bullets.

March 16, 2009

March 16, 2009

Sorry I Missed It: Iron Chef America

Despite my lack of cable television and cooking skills, I manage to catch way too much Food Network programming. God bless my building’s tv-enabled treadmills. And the torrent. And the siren song of Alton Brown.

I’m sorry, I got carried away for a moment there. Where were we? Oh, yes. Iron Chef America.

Though watching people cook is fascinating enough, watching them compete against each other under special constraints is even better. It’s like watching Nature. Seeing a gazelle run is good. Seeing a gazelle run from a lion is better. Seeing two gazelles run from a lion, knowing that at least one is headed for certain death is best of all.

Obviously, had we lived in Roman times, I would’ve been a thumbs-down sort of emperor on Coliseum Day.

The concept of Iron Chef America is pretty simple. Two chefs, the challenger and the Iron Chef, have one hour to prepare several courses based on a key ingredient. Said foodstuff could be as specific as soft-shell crab or as broad as beans. Regardless, each chef and his/her sous chefs usually end up with four or five courses for the judges to sample and rave/bitch about. During the hour of cooking, Alton Brown of Good Eats (an upcoming entry in this “Sorry I Missed It” series) is the sort-of announcer/commentator and some Canadian guy reports from the floor of Kitchen Stadium.

That’s right: they call it Kitchen Stadium. Only in America. Well, technically, only in Japan (where the show originated) and in America. But you know what I mean.

My favorite Iron Chef is probably Bobby Flay, because he seems to be one of those guys who is always freaking out inside while maintaining a calm exterior void of emotion. A less-nasal version of Charlie Trotter. Bobby Flay doesn’t need to bam (sorry, Emeril) or giggle (Rachael Ray, you know I love you, but SERIOUSLY). He just gets it done.

The judges are usually a motley crew of people with semi-valid food credentials and celebrities. (The show on which Tina Fey was a judge was a pretty fantastic confluence for me.) They sample each dish and judge it on appearance, taste, and originality. Then the scores are tallied and a winner declared.

But, really, when you’re combining food, judgment, and Tina Fey, we’re ALL winners.

March 15, 2009

March 13, 2009

March 13, 2009

Writer's Almanac Highlights of the Day

Today, a twofer:

Today is Friday the 13th. The superstition that Friday is unlucky has been around for hundreds of years. Chaucer mentioned it in his Canterbury Tales, and by the 1800s, there was a whole list of things that were unlucky to do on a Friday, including needleworking, writing letters, beginning a sea voyage, moving, getting married, and going to the doctor. As for 13, its status as an unlucky number probably comes from the Bible — Judas Iscariot was said to be the 13th guest to sit at the table at the Last Supper. By the 1700s, it was a common superstition that if 13 people sat down at a table together, one of them would die. Eventually the number 13 became unlucky in any circumstance. Many hotels still skip the 13th floor, labeling it as 14. At some point, these two superstitions were combined into a fear of Friday the 13th.

The anal retentive part of me weeps inwardly at every row of elevator buttons with the sequence 11, 12, 14.

It's the birthday of Uncle Sam. He made his debut on this day in 1852 as a cartoon in the New York Lantern, drawn by Frank Henry Bellew. The name "Uncle Sam" had been used to refer to the United States since about 1810, but this was the first time that someone thought to make him into a character and draw him in human form.

So who represented America for its first 34 years? Uncle Bob?

March 12, 2009

March 12, 2009

Brideshead Revisited

Being a huge fan of any and all things British gains me little cachet with the common man. My co-workers never want to have our weekly lunches at a place that serves bubble and squeak. I feel awkward inserting random u’s into words. No one ever asks me to list the names and fates of Henry VIII’s wives. Thus I sometimes wonder whether I shouldn’t switch my allegiance to a country that’s, like, more popular or sexier or something. (Morocco, maybe. I dunno.)

Then I experience something like Brideshead Revisited and my faith in Britannia is restored.

Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited is just the sort between-the-wars social drama of which my favorite film is made. Waugh wrote that his aim with the tale was to show the effect of religion on a small group of intertwined lives. While I didn’t pick up on that aspect so much in the novel, it was certainly emphasized in the 2008 film adaptation I watched the day I finished the book. (Yeah, so I may have read the book only as preparation for the film. When it comes to things like this, Heather does her homework.)

The main characters of Brideshead Revisited:

Charles Ryder, protagonist. We start and end with Charles and it is he who is doing the titular revisiting. An atheist who falls in love with two of the residents of Brideshead.

Sebastian Flyte, dandy. Imagine a younger Oscar Wilde with a zeal not for writing but for Catholicism. Also, liquor. Charles Ryder’s first love.

Julia Flyte, lady. Sebastian’s sister and Charles’ second love. Keep in mind that this is British society in the 1930s—no one’s going to end up happy. Once a Catholic, she falls away from the church until [spoiler redacted].

Lady Marchmain, mother. Sebastian and Julia’s mom, who’s more interested in God than in any of her children. Not a major player in the book, but a domineering presence in the film.

There are other assorted lovers, siblings, spouses, and friends, of course. But that foursome dominates the story.

The trailer makes it look much more modern and badass than it really is:



To be honest, the whole “The decisions we made as youths profoundly affected our lives, as did the Second World War and the fact that we’re repressed Britons” thing was done better (or at least equally-well) by Ian McEwan in Atonement. Right down to the shrewdly-observant younger sibling (here named Cordelia*).

If I had to describe this story in one word, I’d have to use “wistful.” But who doesn’t rue the past? I think everyone, British or no, has a few regrets.

Rule, Britannia. Rule.

* One of my favorite girls’ names. However, I realize this is going to be a pretty hard sell should I ever find myself needing to name a daughter. Yet another reason I probably shouldn’t attempt to parent.

March 11, 2009

March 11, 2009

Listen to This, Volume 20: Justin Timberlake

As one of my friends said when he noticed my AIM status of “Justin Timberlake – My Love”:

“Justin Timberlake, Heather? Really?”

Yes. I’m afraid so.

I was never a big NSYNC fan, though I recently realized I remember far more of the lyrics to “Tearin’ Up My Heart” than I really should. However, Justin Timberlake is the rare group member who was able to spin off into a successful solo career. Like Sting. And unlike almost every member of the past decade’s SNL cast. (I haven’t seen the movies, but I’ve seen the commercials. That was enough.)

While most of my exposure to a post-boy band Justin Timberlake has been (ironically enough) his musical and hosting appearances on SNL, I was at some point introduced to the song “My Love” (kickass-but-not-embeddable video here).

I once read that the tracks of Futuresex/Lovesounds was meant as dance music. While we all know I’m probably the last person on earth* you want dancing (or, for that matter, bringing sexy back), I still enjoy doing my best to this song.

As a fun aside and testament to my continuing oblivion to the ways of men and women, it took me several listens before realizing the singer is proposing. You’d think lyrics like “This ring here represents my heart” would clue me in. (They do, but I have to be paying attention to the lyrics and not bopping around my apartment like an idiot.)

Justin Timberlake: good dresser. Good dancer. Funny. What’s not to like?

* Okay, second to last, since even we non-Catholics don’t want to see the Pope gettin’ down. I can barely stomach typing a sentence involving the words “Pope” and “gettin’ down.”

March 10, 2009

March 10, 2009

In My Opinion: The International

The economy’s bad. You may have heard. Thus, just like in previous eras of national calamity, a new villain has arisen in the zeitgeist.

Bankers are the new Nazis. You heard it here first.

Though The International began filming in 2007, its delayed release is nothing if not serendipitious. I mean, back in 2007, people had things like money, houses, and jobs. Heady days, my friends. Heady days. Shooting a thriller about the evils of finance must have seemed pretty ludicrous.

So it’s good that the economy collapsed, really.

The International stars Clive Owen as an Interpol agent and Naomi Watts as a D.A. The two team up to bring down the just-this-side-of-generic International Bank of Business and Credit. Like most European things, the IBBC is stylish, sexy, and dangerous. As Owen and Watts globetrot (you know I love a good globetrot) from Berlin to Milan to New York City, they encounter assassins, money laundering, and some tricky bullet work.

Oh, and also, AN AMAZING SHOOTOUT IN THE GUGGENHEIM.

Folks, I need to pause here a minute to give said shootout its due. Because as much as I love Clive Owen, and as much as I enjoy a good thriller, there are few things that bring me more joy in a movie than a great shootout. Set the thing in an art museum (with a really whirly atrium and some modernistic glass installation that shattered for, like, hours) and I sort of turned into a puddle of squee right in my seat.

The unsettling ending will do nothing to restore your faith in bankers. Frankly, this movie does for finance what The Da Vinci Code did for religion. Hello, conspiracy theories.

But see it anyway, if only for the shootout.

March 9, 2009

March 9, 2009

This Old House

As much as I despise* math and other left-brained disciplines, I can’t seem to get enough of art, literature, and history. (If only the federal government needed analysts for THAT, eh?) Gather a collection of things old or artistic, and I’m set for days. Thus this past weekend found me at the D.C. Spring Antiques Show. Despite the fact that one ticket got you in for four days, I went only once. Even Heather has her limits.

The show’s subtitle was “fine art, jewelry, and antiques.” I’m not sure what it says about me that the jewelry aspect was the least interesting. Once you get past the initial oh-so-sparkly aspect, what do you have? It’s not that I dislike jewelry. I’d rather wear a little than stare at a lot.

But.

But such is not the case with fine art and antiques. I mean, I could look at coffee tables for hours. I once did that with an art museum exhibit on chairs. CHAIRS, people. Biedermeyer chairs. CHAIRS. HOURS.

Yep.

While D.C. is chock-full of great museums and galleries housing collections of Old Things, there are also quite a few old houses. I almost like these better, as you get to see the antiques in their natural habitat. Some people safari in Africa. I safari at Monticello. Some people safari vicariously by watching Nature. I safari vicariously by watching Antiques Roadshow. You get the idea.

The only thing I have to watch** when I go to things like this is striking the right balance between knowledge and pretension, without letting on that I’m sort of a corn-fed Cheesehead who’s out of her league. Example:

[Scene: October 2007, Anderson House. I and the tour guide have just entered the ballroom.]

What I Thought: “Ooh, I want to get married in here! But where are the bathrooms?”

What I Could Have Said: “Despite the heavy ornamentation, there a definite airy lightness in the room that balances the atmosphere.”

What I Actually Said: “Wow, this is a great space.”


Don’t get me wrong: I have a long way to go. But it’s nice to be living in a place where conversations are about names like Steuben and Delft rather than Miller and Pabst.

* Okay, okay. I don’t despise it. But I don’t enjoy it, either. We have a working relationship.
** To be fair, my first concern is always not knocking anything over. This IS me we’re talking about.

March 6, 2009

March 6, 2009

My Thoughts on The Office

Overall thoughts: I’m just as confused as you are why this episode aired now and not closer to February 14. That said, I liked the mixer, cringed at the blood drive, and imagined enough Bob and Phyllis bathroom sex to last me a lifetime.

Favorite quote: “Really, Jim? On Cupid’s birthday?” Those two are just too darn cute.
Favorite quote, runner-up: “We don’t need no stinkin’ relationships.” The best part of this quote for me was the accent.

Favorite character: Kevin. He needs love, too, and I’m hopeful that mystery woman (who was rocking that lavender peacoat, by the way) turns out to be something.
Favorite character, runner-up: Andy. How sad was the idea of him partaking in all those non-refundable couples’ activities alone?

Favorite scene: The post-mixer cake. Um, hi, red velvet. Share with me your deliciousness.
Favorite scene, runner-up: The cold open. Granted, the realization that you could be replaced with answering and vending machines is pretty chilling. But the multiple Fonzie “Ayyyy”s made up for it.

5.18 – Blood Drive

“Basically, 95% of my job.”
Jim as Michael!
Fonz shout-out
“Shovin’ our faces in it this year.”
“You’re only engaged once.”
Dental Valentine
Don’t want the flowers to fall
Great capacity for emotion
Protected from having love shoved in their faces
The general sexiness
Lonely hearts convention
“I train my major blood vessels to retract into my body on command.”
“Type O…cean Spray.”
Michael is terrified of Bob?
“Those mines aren’t going to sweep themselves.”
“Excuse me, waitress? Where did the lady go?”
*I* use a 6-pound ball!
Ladies’ jewelry model
Angela lived in Ohio?
POOR ANDY.
“There’s a girl out there for all of us. Maybe even in this office park.”
Giant net vs. mixer
Creating an even lonelier generation
“shoot my sparrow”
Total hysterectomy: sort of a repair
3 billion women, most of them in Asia
This is like Cinderella.
EW EW EW, Bob and Phyllis.
“Are you on email?”
Red velvet cake!
“You don’t deserve her.” “Thanks, Michael.”
All different sizes and shapes of feet and hands

March 5, 2009

March 5, 2009

Hot, Sweet, and Addictive

Unless you were cloned or birthed from a pod, you’ve probably found yourself doing or saying something that made you realize you’re slowly-but-surely turning into your parents. Though I was very much a daddy’s girl growing up, once I hit college I turned into Heather’s Mom v2.0.

Sure, some of that involved conscious choices (hello, getting a job in government, wearing chunky-heeled shoes, and repurposing the oven for storage). Other times, even though I see the Momness coming through and wish I could stop it, I can’t. Or won’t. That happened recently.

I confessed to my mom earlier this week, and now I feel that I must confess to you.

I’ve started drinking coffee. (Step 1: Admit you have a problem.)

It’s not like I need more caffeine. I tend to be pretty excitable in general (see: my penchant for clapping and high fives). I also tend to consume enough Diet Coke in a typical day to strip the paint off a chain link fence. (I must conclude that either my stomach is lined with tinfoil or I’m in for a world of hurt.)

In my defense, this whole thing started because I realized I could get coffee for free. And you know that Heather cannot pass up a freebie. (Unless it’s something on the free section of Craigslist, which strikes me as a place where people offer the sorts of goods and services that Heather’s not quite ready for, if you know what I mean.)

Anyway.

The lobby of my apartment building has a K-Cup brewer, which (for those of you unfamiliar) is the sort of appliance I would imagine the Jetsons have. A single cup of hot coffee in like 30 seconds, people. There’s a little canister involved. And a fun frothing noise. Good times, all around.

While waiting for a treadmill to open up in the nearby fitness center last week, I was hanging out in the lobby near said coffee machine and decided to try it out.

Were my life a novel (oh, if only), I believe you would term this the crisis point. Because that was a darn good beverage. Granted, I had to add a little saccharine (hi, cancer!) and creamer. But still.

The problem I have with coffee (now that I have shopped for my own supply—yes, folks, I am PAYING MONEY for this stuff now) is the plethora of choices. So many kinds of coffee. And sweeteners. And machines. And creamers.

It’s just too much. I mean, I’m new at this. It’s overwhelming. You don’t give a baby every toy in existence. You give a baby one small blanket to chew on, set him in front of a television switched to PBS, and hope for the best. My beverage equivalent is packets of Taster’s Choice* and mocha-flavored Splenda.


The verdict: delicious.

The one difficulty I’ve run into so far (well, besides the gazillionteen varieties) is the fact that coffee is a morning beverage. While using instant cuts down on the time and effort required, you still have to microwave the water, stir the whole dealio together, and try to drink the cup without a) spilling on or b) scalding yourself. And while I am many, many things, a morning person is not one of them. (Sorry, mom. This will never change.**)

Just one more step in my gradual journey toward adulthood. Sigh.

* I’m not patient enough to cook FOOD. You know I’m not going to wait to brew a beverage.
** It’s okay. My mom doesn’t know this blog exists. I actually don’t think my mom even knows what a blog IS. I really don’t know that it would do anyone any good to have her reading this, though. Let’s be honest.

March 4, 2009

March 4, 2009

A Marquee Name

You may have chosen your favorite actor based on his skill with accents, his ability to rock a top hat, or his shoe size (ahem). Or you may not have a favorite actor, but rather a group of men whose work you really admire. Or you may not watch films at all, in which case this entry is going to be very confusing for you.

I myself have a few men whose films I will almost always see, whether or not the subject matter speaks to me. I mean, I’m not a chick flicker by any means (seriously, ANY means), but Matt Damon was in Stuck on You so I did what I had to. That that film was just as comedic as it was romantic helped. Anyway.

Clive Owen is one of the members of my good actor cadre. I first saw him in Gosford Park, but have since seen quite a bit of his work, including his little-known debut in Croupier. (And oh the things I had to do to get a copy of Croupier. Let’s not go there. Seriously.)

I most recently saw him in The International (more on that later), a film which would have done fine with me on its own merits (shooting! In an art museum!) but was certainly made better by Owen’s presence. I like the way he balances smoldering intensity with amused detachment. (Also, HE IS BRITISH.) I’m greatly looking forward to Duplicity, in which he and Julia Roberts remake Mr. and Mrs. Smith without as much violence and real-life adultery.*

In short, the inclusion of Owen’s name in a film’s credits is pretty much enough to get me to see it. Unless he decides to start co-starring with animals or talking children. Then I'll go, but unwillingly.

Is there an actor who does the same for you?

* Team Aniston all the way.

March 3, 2009

He’s So Fine

Washington, D.C. is a pretty big convention town. With so many organizations headquartered here, that makes pretty good sense. Plus, I daresay the nightlife and attractions make a trip here more attractive to Joe the Plumber than, you know, Minneapolis (sorry, Aimee).

Since I moved last fall, I’ve been to a couple of events at the Verizon Center. One was, of course, the auto show. Certainly comparable to Milwaukee’s, though the dearth of Packers gear (and corresponding uptick in Redskins jackets, blurgh) was a little disconcerting. At any rate, I got to sit in a Mini Cooper, touch a Beetle, and inhale the fragrant aroma of funnel cakes. FanTAStic.

I also went to a cooking and entertaining expo a few months ago.

[I will pause here for your questioning/confused looks and/or maniacal laughter.]

Despite the fact that I neither cook nor entertain, I am nothing if not aspirational. I enjoy looking around at the latest and greatest in party throwing technology. (I mean, sure, if anything’s being thrown, I’d rather it were flames, but let’s not quibble.) I sat in on a few educational sessions, during which I learned things like how to design a good floral centerpiece (I seem to remember the word “sparkly” being bandied about quite a bit) and what exactly goes into a good chocolate (answer: magic. Also, cacao.)

While I may not have been the target audience for either of these events (unlikely as I am to buy a new car soon, cook real food, or throw a gala), I had a good time. Imagine, then, my quandary when I found out last week that the upcoming wedding expo will not only be featuring cake but will also have the man himself, Clinton Kelly.

Clinton Kelly fascinates me. While his work on TLC’s What Not to Wear is pretty indicative of his oeuvre (helpfully stylish but slightly bitchy), his book Freakin' Fabulous: How to Dress, Speak, Behave, Eat, Drink, Entertain, Decorate, and Generally Be Better than Everyone Else earned him my undying affection. As the title implies, Clinton gives tongue-in-cheek advice on ways to rock in various areas of Fine Living. Sample quotes (I don't agree with all of them, but go with it):

How to Dress
“When a shoe is freakin’ fabulous, it may be worth a subsequent day of misery.”

How to Speak
“You might be asking yourself what gives me the right to tell you how to speak. The answer is simple: 40 grand, roughly how much I spent on my master’s degree in journalism. So suck on that.”

How to Behave
“I don’t know about you, but I think it’s pretty sad that so many starlets have discovered that flashing their junk while exiting a vehicle is the best PR.”

How to Eat
“If you’ve gone on a few dates with a guy and you want him to fall in love with you, cook him this steak. Men are sucker for beef.”

How to Drink
“Gin has made me do a lot of stupid things, but I forgive it.”

How to Entertain
“You must also consider the contents of your medicine cabinet…especially if you’ve been known to brag about how easily your doctor prescribes Xanax. In other words, hide the good stuff.”

How to Decorate
“If you’re a grown woman with 42 stuffed animals on your bed, what does this say to potential suitors? ‘I’m a wee child of tender heart who loves to cuddle with dusty, smelly, bacterialaden plush toys. Hold me.’”

As you can see, the man is hilarious. I’m sure he’s not quite as funny in person, but still. The fact that he will be near me coupled with the expo's almost-certain free cake/frosting samples had me seriously considering how to fake being engaged. Get a cheap ring (hello, Kohl’s), make up a good backstory (we met while serving in AmeriCorps), and hello fondant.

Then I realized I had gone to the Bad Place. Fun while it lasted, though.

March 2, 2009

March 2, 2009

Let It Snow

Apparently that old adage “In like a lion, out like a lamb” is going to be at least half true for D.C. in 2009. Our first winter storm hit (in MARCH, yeah), and it’s for real this time (4-8 inches). I don’t get to scoff at people freaking out over, like, half an inch, either. Once you get into the 6 inches and above range, even a Wisconsinite starts paying attention.

Growing up in the frozen tundra as I did, snow was a way of life. Snowball fights, snow forts, and snow angels were pretty common winter activities. I never owned a pair of snow pants, but I wanted to. (I did, however, own a hideous bright yellow coat for one season. My mom was hoping for visibility. I was hoping for sudden death.)

In college, I was always amused when folks from other parts of the country saw their first snow. I remember a couple of Alabama boys in one of my science classes (well, I actually just took one science class, but anyway) saying that things back home would be shut down for “this sort of weather.” And “this sort of weather” happened to be a thin coating (seriously, maybe that “tenth of an inch” that technically makes up a trace) of ice and snow. I didn’t realize parts of America were like this.

Then, of course, I moved to one. I’m told that people stock up on water and toilet paper if even an inch is predicted. I haven’t been to a grocery store since this thing started, so I have to envision apocalyptic rows of empty shelves. A tumbleweed rolling down the aisle. Will Smith and a dog.

I’m afraid snow to me is more of a nuisance than a wonder. You have to shovel it. (Well, I don’t, since I live in an apartment. But you might.) You have to walk in it. (Well, I don’t, since they gave us a snow day. But you might.)

But the one time snow is allowable—nay, preferable, is during an engagement. Because while most engagements are perfectly wonderful on their own terms, I contend that engagement snow makes them at least 30% better. I’m talking giant flakes falling incredibly slowly. Getting stsuck on your eyelashes. Making everything shiny. Movie-style. I get a little verklempt just thinking about it.

Thus every time I’m in a snowstorm (or even a light shower), I hope that kids are playing in it, Southerners are being dazed by it, and people are getting engaged in it. I may not be happy, but I take solace that someone is.

Happy Snow Day.