January 31, 2011

January 31, 2011

Put it in Your Notebook

Like many websites, this blog has a bit of tracker code to tell me how people are finding this website. It’s more searches for “Minnesota MegaBus” than “a staggering work of heartbreaking genius.” Alas.

Regardless, I keep an eye on the traffic because I am nothing if not falsely modest enjoy seeing how this little endeavor amuses people from all over the world. Plus my devoted readers here in the U.S., including MN, IL, VA, TX, and others. You guys are the BEST.

Every once in a while, though, I will get a hit so wonky that it gives me pause. Like so (click for larger image):

Now, don’t get all distracted by the FBI thing. I have intimate knowledge of the FBI* and it’s really not that big of a deal. No, look again (click for larger image):

I may be jumping to conclusions, but…how AWESOME is that party going to be, amiright? (I really hope it’s someone’s retirement.) Television and film like to portray our nation’s investigators as renegades with chips on their shoulders, big guns, and even bigger sunglasses (e.g. David Caruso). Whereas in reality, they’re the sort of people who want ideas for celebratory pastry.

Should I ever get a job at Justice, I’ll be sure to leave plenty of Hello Kitty clues around.

* Not like that, you perv.

January 27, 2011

January 27, 2011

Walking would be faster. Literally.

You may have heard that the D.C. area got another snowstorm last night. It was preceded by rain and succeeded by moderate temperatures, so I’m hoping things will be back to normal by the weekend. Or as normal as possible, anyway.

While I was able to get home with relative ease, that was not the case for many in the region. People abandoned their cars. In the road. And walked home or slept in their cars. I’m not even kidding; it was like something out of Dickens. (Sorta.) Since people have a habit of living an ungodly distance from their work location, I assume that when dawn broke, they turned around and walked back into the city.

Case in point, one man’s 23 miles took 8.5 hours. HOURS.



(My own 9 miles took almost an hour and a half, but I’m used to that.)

If you’re reading this on a mobile device while stuck in traffic, take heart! You should be home by Saturday!

January 26, 2011

January 26, 2011

Remember This, Volume 19: Paste

Though you may have learned at the knee of a private tutor or relative (homeschool shout-out), I was raised in Milwaukee Public Schools. (Motto: Training tomorrow’s community college graduates!) Say what you will about its staff (excellent), academics (quite good), or safety (less so), compared to the private school I transferred to in 6th grade, MPS had money out the wazoo (technical term).

OUR ART ROOM HAD A KILN. For real. Take it in.

I mean, we did so many science experiments, it was unreal. I may or may not have built a lightbulb. I dunno. It was a long time ago.

But anyway, back to the art supplies. Remember sticky tape (the colored kind that you could lick on one side)? Remember crepe paper?

Remember paste?

Aw, paste. One of those substances I loved to smell (also: rubber cement, gasoline) (also also: do I have an addiction) but was instructed not not NOT to eat. Despite the fact that, frankly, paste looks delicious in a lardy sort of way. I have no idea what it was made of (horse hooves and childhood dreams?) or who made it. As a kindergartener, it was hard to process much more than “I need to get one of the red pencils” and “I have to pee. Bad. Real bad.”

(Oh, dude, and smocks? Smocks? Man, I loved smocks. I’m lucky that the teacher had extra on hand, because the ol’ “Just bring one of your brother’s old shirts” suggestion doesn’t work when you don’t have a brother.)

Am I the only one with fond memories of margarine tubs filled with love and sticky adhesive?

January 25, 2011

January 25, 2011

Bath and Body Works? For Whom?

Though my cheapness is widely heralded throughout the lands (that are in my mind), let it be noted that when I do find something I really really like, I will pay for it. Repeatedly. Even if cheaper alternatives are available. All of which is to say, Bath and Body Works, thank you for getting your heads screwed on straight again.

Ah, but I’m getting ahead of myself. How about a little backstory?

Every year since, like, at least three years ago, I have gotten Bath and Body Works’ Twisted Peppermint body spray. Judge away, but some of us enjoy smelling like a candy cane year round. As you might suspect, however, Twisted Peppermint is a seasonal scent.

[Side note on behalf of all mint fans: Why is it that we get our due only at Christmas? You know who might enjoy mint candy or cookies or candles during the other eleven months of the year? We would! We! Would! WEWOULDWEWOULDWEWOULD!]

So my modus operandi since, like, at least three years ago, has been to buy a year’s supply at Yule. Specifically, just after Yule, when it’s 75% off. (Behold, ye cheapness.) This ends up being about 4 bottles’ worth.

Then, last year, I must assume that the BBW focus groups were high on hand sanitizer because THEY PUT GLITTER IN THE BOTTLES. Check it:

(Last year’s scent is on the left. This year’s is on the right. Note that the glitter has been removed.)

Look, maybe this is a subtle hint that body sprays are targeted to people who willingly accessorize with glitter, such as teenagers and the cast of Jersey Shore. But the rest of us, who are addicted to the smell of mint, now find our entire wardrobes penetrated with unremovable glitter.

Yes, every top I own (and most of the bottoms) now sparkle. I’ve washed. I’ve dry cleaned. I’ve shaken. And stirred. But it’s still there.

You know, this sort of thing would never happen on Mad Men.

January 24, 2011

January 24, 2011

Cheeseheads Never Die

By now, you may have heard that my Green Bay Packers are headed to the Super Bowl.

(GO PACK GO)

I notice that we have had a good run beating animal teams (birds, mammals) this far in the playoffs.

(GO PACK GO)

I also notice that we will not be playing an animal team in the Super Bowl.

(GO PACK GO)

You may judge me for enjoying the food as much as the playing.

(GO PACK GO)

But let it never be said that I don’t cheer loud enough. Loud enough to require TheBoy to take precautions.

(GO PACK GO)

Cheeseheads never die, and that’s for damn sure.

(GO PACK GO)

January 12, 2011

January 12, 2011

Sorry I Missed It: Selling New York

One of those weird coincidences happened to me a couple weeks ago, in which an idea is suggested to me multiple times in a short time. Since I am a slave to the power of suggestion, I usually end up watching/eating/doing whatever it is. In this case, a Hulu ad and an HGTV commercial suggested that Selling New York might be a show I’m interested in.

AM I EVER.

Selling New York is a reality show that follows two Manhattan brokerage firms, Gumley Haft Kleier and CORE. Now, living where you do, you may not be aware that real estate in Manhattan is slightly rarer and more valuable than pieces of John the Baptist. It’s the one location whose rents make me feel better about mine, and should make you feel amazing about yours. Practical example (source):

2 bedroom apartment in Kansas City, average (64108): $1,295
2 bedroom apartment in Washington, D.C., average (20001): $3,000
2 bedroom apartment offered by GHK: $16,000

The clients on these shows are willing to pay five-figures to rent, and seven or eight (OR EIGHT!) figures to buy. Added bonus: they put up the amount of the 6% commission right on screen, making me realize that I will not in my lifetime earn as much as an agent can on a single sale. Six percent of 12 million dollars is a lot of dollars.

Now, you’d think realizing that my life of public service precludes me from living The Good Life would be sobering. Then I realize that I can’t walk in heels, handle my liquor, or have good jewelry and I’m okay with that. I am nothing if not aspirational, and it’s fun to realize that even in the midst of a recession, people exist who are able to invest ungodly sums.

We do have some ridiculously-pricey real estate in D.C., of course. You just have to be elected to live in it. And even the leader of the free world has seen his place lose value. It’s hard out there for a President, y’know?

January 11, 2011

January 11, 2011

All About the Benjamins

Last week, my co-worker (in a loose sense) Tim Geithner unveiled the new $100 bill.

While Benjamin Franklin’s portrait remains as steadfast as his love for stoves and dayplanners, there’s a new Liberty Bell picture. And a 3D security ribbon. (Wtf? Somewhere, James Cameron is laughing his butt off.) And many other security features which Treasury has detailed in this video.

Why does Treasury do this? Why tell all your tricks? It doesn’t work in poker. It doesn’t work in sales. It doesn’t work in dating. Really, the only time you should tell the whole truth is while under oath. (Mileage may vary in Chicago and New Jersey.)

It’s entirely possible that the hundred has security features I know not of. I’m certainly not in Tim’s inner circle. Psh, I’m not even in his OUTER circle. So perhaps Treasury is an even better poker player than I can fathom.

Doubtful.

Sadly, few of us will see terribly many of these in our lifetimes. Not because we’re poor, but because cash is passé. Though my Tea Partiest friends would shudder to think it, I’d pay for everything by debit or credit card if I could. Cash is slow and complicated. I understand that it was a huge step up from barter, because pieces of paper obviously > furniture and rocks. But every time the person in front of me at the grocery store pulls out a wad of cash, I want to punch someone in the face. It’s okay; it wouldn’t hurt because I punch like an armless koala.

(Do NOT get me started on people who use checks at the grocery store or it will get REAL in here.)

Though a cashless society has a host of implications, ranging from privacy issues to the Mark of the Beast (gasp), can we all agree that reducing counterfeiting and whooshy YouTube videos of currency would be a small benefit?

January 10, 2011

January 10, 2011

Next Stop, Superbowl...or Super Bowl (of Chips)

It is with great pleasure that I inform/remind you that my team, the Green Bay Packers, won their playoff game last night. Was this the first Packers game I've watched all season? Yes. Is that because I can't get a Packers game here without selling my soul to the NFL Network? Partly. But let's not quibble.

Rest assured that I commandeered TheBoy's giant TV and enough finger foods to feed an entire army.

(That was just my first plate. I'm not even kidding.)

With fans like me, who needs sanity?

Perhaps those of you who've been faithfully following Aaron Rodgers and company have seen the craziness that was last night for the past sixteen weeks. But am I totally out of line in asking, "What the FRAK?" You re-establish being in-bounds, and thus get to try the failed conversion again? What in the...what?

Rest up for Saturday, everybody.

January 6, 2011

January 5, 2011

Help me help you. But mostly me.

For a long while, I've been wanting to write a "Remember This?" about a board game I had when I was a kid.

Problem is, I can't remember the name of the board game, or enough about it to successfully Google the facts.

Yet perhaps I can harness the formidable power of my readership to deduce what exactly I’m thinking of. There’s always a first time, people.

The game had a wooden frame, with a spring-loaded insert. You would insert round wooden pieces (colored red, yellow, and blue, I think) between the spring-loaded insert and the rest of the frame. Then you would remove the pieces one by one and hope you weren’t the one to make the insert SNAP across the board.

I remember being intimidated by that spring, because it HURT like a mofo. They don’t make toys like they used to, eh?

Herewith, my best Paint rendering of the game:

(In related news, Paint is surprisingly hard to use.)

Anything? Anything at all?

January 4, 2011

January 4, 2011

Your OWN Resolution

Now that the holidays are over, we can all get back to our normal lives. Except, perhaps, for those of you that made Life Changing Resolutions for 2011. It’s not that I want to pee on your dream for a healthier/richer/prettier/etc. you this year. It’s that I want to remind you that life is really a series of small choices, such as not buying expensive crap.

You may have noticed that this weekend’s newspaper sales inserts were all about health and fitness. (It’s the one time of year when the sad diet foods I eat all the time are actually on sale.) Never have yoga pants been so proudly arrayed; thank you, Target. Even BJ’s, which offers gallon jugs of Hershey’s syrup, had replaced the Christmas items with yoga mats and exercise balls. America is definitely going to turn this obesity thing around. Totally.

Yet while plenty of people have resolved to buy fitness equipment they will never use, I have not heard one single person resolving to watch the Oprah Winfrey Network. This may be a reflection on my lack of middle-aged ladyfriends. Though I’ve been getting plenty of ads for OWN during my Hulu programs, so perhaps Oprah aims to bridge the generation gap with all those colorful balloons.



I was actually watching some Oprah last week—

DO NOT JUDGE ME. IT WAS A LONG HOLIDAY WEEKEND AND TV IS STILL IN REPEATS. AFTERNOONS ARE REALLY LONG.

—and she was interviewing Nancy O’Dell and Carson Cressley, co-hosts of a show on OWN. Now, inititally, I was a little confused, since both of these people had perfectly fabulous shows of their own. That, as far as I know, are still on-air. I conclude that they were unable to resist the siren song of Oprah, or possibly that she promised them a trip to Australia.

Having read a little bit in my TIME magazine (yeah, I only just learned it’s all-caps; thank you Washington Week) about the programming lineup, I remain cautious. There’s a makeover show, and some reality shows, and something about health. I was intrigued by the show about decluttering (CLEANING, YAY!), but its summary mentions “emotional clutter” (feelings, boo). For the rest of the day, I imagine the channel runs old O Magazine covers like a sort of flipbook.

I don’t see where Oprah can go from here. Maybe space travel. She already has the balloons.

January 3, 2011

January 3, 2011

In My Our Opinion: Inception

Friend-of-blog Mel and I decided awhile back to try mutually reviewing a film or two. (And by “decided,” I mean that she suggested it and I jumped on her bandwagon.) Events have conspired to allow us to present our first joint production, a review of Inception. To keep it focused, we’ve agreed on the structure outlined below. Her review, which you are welcome to read first, is here.

I. Plot

I’m not going to recap the film here as I usually do, since this review is meant more as a criticism than a summary. You either know what the movie is about already, or can find a much more cogent recap elsewhere. What I’m going to do is opinionate all over the place.

A. Overall Storyline

As someone who is fascinated by dreams (yay, has even written a bit about them), I’m absolutely drawn to a film about the world of dreams. You, perhaps, less so. Yet I feel the beauty of dreams is that, while they are innately personal, are an experience universal to humanity. You couldn’t care less about the dream I had last night (involving a dentist, the D.C. Metro, and pictures, btw), but you know exactly what the film means when it references how dreams begin in medias res.

B. Ending

A critic I admire very much has stated that this film can’t be spoiled. As someone who read the ending before seeing the film, I heartily agree. Yes, the prima facie Big Question is whether the top stops spinning. If it does, the ending is real, right? And if it doesn’t, the ending is a dream, right?

However, the totem conceit itself requires us to accept dream logic—an oxymoron to be sure. Dreams by their very nature defy logic: we fly, we sustain injuries without feeling pain, we see the dead, and so on. Thus any interpretation of the ending based on the totem concept is acceptable if—and only if—we first agree that the “rules” of the movie hold true.

I’d like to add that Nolan’s introduction of the top in the last scene is brilliant fodder for debate. Think about it: without that top, would many of us have challenged the reality of the ending at all? Yet the inclusion of one niggling doubt works just as well here as it did for the serpent in Eden or for every lolcat’s “O RLY” in making us re-think the conclusions presented to us.

I’ve read quite a few people who point out that in the scenes that are supposed to be dreams, Cobb is wearing his wedding ring (and not in any of the “real” scenes or in the ending). That means the end is real, right? Only if that rule of dream logic is consistent, a fact we have no way of verifying.

Starting to see some similarities between faith and dreams? Interesting. I find that, regarding the ending’s reality, I’m an agnostic. I believe there’s no way to know for sure without the Creator Nolan making a definitive statement one way or the other. (Something he’d be crazy to do.)

II. Acting

While the meatiest scenes were naturally given to Cobb—I found his interactions with Mal to be quite heart-wrenching—I’d like to focus on several of the lesser-characters.

First, Ariadne, who I see as the audience surrogate. She comes into this whole inception idea just as we do. Though she certainly has skills that allow her to pick it up much faster than I ever could (seriously, I would have spent the first half of the movie flying around). Ariadne also does her darnedest to help to protagonist, as all well-intentioned viewers should want to do. (The best-intentioned want even to help the antiheroes, but they have medications for that.) Ellen Page was certainly singing a different tune here than her wise-cracking Juno, though a similar straight-talking thread runs through both characters.

Next, Arthur, who does the research and takes point. Though Joseph Gordon-Levitt did a fantastic job throughout, the scenes in the hotel and elevator were both emotionally and structurally dazzling. I was never exactly sure where it was going, but I had confidence that Arthur did. I trusted him in a way I didn’t trust any other character in the film. Gordon-Levitt’s come a long way from 3rd Rock.

Finally, Eames, whose shape-shifting turned out to be the least-compelling thing about him. In the third (arctic) level, Eames showed incredible fortitude of will and action. He’s shooting bad guys, he’s defibrillating Fischer, he’s making sure that as much of the team surfaces as far as possible. Though Tom Hardy got less screen time than the more notable actors (not unreasonable when your film is headlined by Leonardo DiCaprio), I found him equally as compelling.

III. Execution

A. Cinematography

Nolan’s films are often dark, but in a way that’s more ominous than dreary. Dreary is a passive neglect of color, without malicious intent…or intent of any kind. Inception involves a more active tamping of hue, with the occasional flash of color (like the children’s clothes) all the more significant. Think Schindler’s List.

B. Effects

I think any discussion of special effects needs to start (and can reasonably end) with the fight scene in the hotel hallway. A scene which, mind you, used very little CGI. The old school rotating set and camera trick just adds to the elegance.

My other favorite effect was Ariadne’s mirrors, which shattered while leaving their reflections intact and well.

I appreciate the understated nature of the special effects, since any media set in a dream world can be absolved of using quite a bit of image magic—we all do crazy shit in our dreams, c’mon.

C. Costume

Can we please start a campaign to get more men in suits? I thought Mad Men was an excellent start, and I would like to add Arthur to the list of fellows following in Don Draper’s footsteps. Guys, you look better with a jacket on. I don’t care if you’re getting groceries, driving a car, or eating your lunch. Do it whilst suited up. Please.

[Side note here in the hair/makeup category: While Marion Cotillard’s hair may have naturally tousled that way, I found it an intriguing reflection of Mal’s internal combustion. I could just be overanalyzing a lack of strong-hold hairspray on the set that day, though.]

D. Sound and Score

When a plot is as high-concept complicated as this one, it’s best to keep both sound and score simple. Choose a signature sound cue (in this case, the basso profundo brass note) to play at key intervals. Use music sparingly if at all, and choose mostly pieces without distinct melodies or lyrics. Dreams are about the immediate visual, and not the background ambience. As we learned, dreams are peopled by our subconscious, almost as an afterthought. Why are people there? Because it seems like people should be there. Same with music—use only when its absence is more distracting than its presence. Well done, Hans Zimmer.

III. Final Analysis

Moody in a good way, Inception challenges us to put as much stock in dreams as in reality. Or vice versa.