November 30, 2011

November 30, 2011

In the Year 2000

Traveling to the future is one of mankind’s universal dreams. If offered the chance to see what civilization is like in 20, 50, or 100 years, who wouldn’t be tempted?* Soon after we figured out how to use technology to travel in space, we started trying to use it to travel in time.** Because, you just KNOW the future is full of really cool crap, right?

Here is the video that inspired me to believe that humanity has hope after all, and that by Jove, anything is possible!



Chills, people. CHILLS.

After watching this things, I made a list of stuff I hope to see when I travel to 2112**:

- A cashless society. Or at least one free of checks. I’m not talking a full-on “mark of the beast” situation here. But can’t we relegate checks to history, like telegrams and the Postal Service***?

- Video calling everywhere voice calling is available. It could be turned off, of course, but I pretty much want teeny webcams on every phone, computer, and device in existence. My dry humor is even more impressive when it come with a complete lack of facial expression.

- Teleporters. Self-explanatory when you spend 3 hours a day in traffic.

- Medical treatment based on genetics. As I understand medicine today, we seem to be playing a lot of defense. Once we’ve sequenced the genome or what-have-you, we should be able to pre-treat everything with fancy drugs, right? (I would also like these drugs to be available as gummies. They’re fun.)

- Free Diet Coke for everybody. Not necessarily a technical advancement, but y’know.

I was pretty optimistic that this was all possible. It was a new feeling for me.

Then I saw a similar video from back in 1993. I can only assume that it too made people All Excited:



Is it just me, or do we have all of these things already? And while we are technically living in what the people of 1993 would have considered the future, it doesn’t seem full of cool crap at all.

%&$@.

Now my only hope lies with Oprah, and I’m not at all comfortable with that. Sigh.

* Though this question is intended as rhetorical, I understand that “Mayans” and “the Tea Party” would both be acceptable answers.
** Oprah told me that The Secret is to think positively, and positive things will happen to you. I am POSITIVE that Oprah could pay to build a time travel machine. It’s one of my favorite things, O!
*** Too soon?

November 29, 2011

November 29, 2011

Slug It Out

Though I’ve written quite a bit about my adventures in commuting (note to self: possible memoir title) on Metrobus and Metrorail, I hardly ever mention the commutes of others. Chalk this up to my general misanthropy, because there are some really interesting ways for people to get around the DC area. You’ve got your fancy commuter buses (padded seats! functional A/C! alert drivers!). You’ve got your commuter rail (for those living so far away, their state starts with “Delaware”).

And you’ve got slugging. (Sounds dirtier than it is.)

See, in the DC area, we have these things called High-Occupancy Vehicle lanes (HOV lanes). During rush hour, a vehicle must have 3 passengers to use the HOV lanes. Since our traffic is so bad, this can cut your travel time by a good day and a half.

The rub, of course, is finding two other people to ride with you. If only there were a way to pick up strangers who claim to also be headed in your direction.

Thus, at designated pick-up points—including the Pentagon, and certain streets in DC and Arlington—people will line up at destination signs and wait for a ride. In places where queues are discouraged, they will walk around with signs proclaiming their destination. In either case, a car will pull up, the person will get in, and they will wake up the next day in a bathtub full of ice missing all their vital organs.

Well, sometimes they just make it home quicker. Same dif. I mean, does this sound like organized hitchhiking to you, too?

To its credit, slugging is Really Organized hitchhiking. There’s a website where you can map routes, print out destination signs, and read up on the etiquette. As my bus leaves the Pentagon every day, I see hundreds of people in the slug lines. I assume that only forty, maybe fifty percent of them end up in grisly murders.

I’m the first to admit that Metro has a lot of problems, overcrowding among them. I rarely mention the benefit of crowds: lots of witnesses discourage a gruesome death at the hand of “Bob” from “Springfield” who would “love” to “give you a ride” “home.”

People are weird.

November 28, 2011

November 28, 2011

Fired Up

As I hinted earlier, I’ve been given a Kindle Fire. Though we’re still getting to know each other, I’ve found some definite advantages to an e-Reader versus my beloved regular books. Keep in mind that 90% of my reading is done during my commute (ie in public places that are often crowded). Your mileage may vary.

Books are available on demand. Now, I’m as big an advocate for libraries as you will find. I have spent literally thousands of hours in libraries. When I go on vacation, I stop at the local library. I have library cards in five jurisdictions. I still remember my card number from the Milwaukee Public Library (25260001812164, no longer valid). I am a huge supporter of this, the only part of public infrastructure I use and care about.* But browsing the fiction section at the library only goes so far. (What, you expect me to read nonfiction on a regular basis? About, like, science and stuff?) Another thing about libraries: they aren’t always open. So when I finish a book during the week, I tend to grab something from my own collection to tide me over until the weekend. Thus how I end up reading Nancy Drew books in front of the Pentagon. Suck it, terrorists!

But with a Kindle and the internet, I can access Great Literature any time I want. Also, Angry Birds.

No one but me knows what the book looks like. Remember how I said earlier that I read a lot in public? And how my fellow passengers are often more interested in my book than I am? That becomes a problem sometimes. Like when I read this:

Now, the book itself was a sort of modern-day Lord of the Flies, with beauty pageant contestants. But I’m pretty sure the typical assumed subject matter is…how can I put this delicately…boobies.

With a Kindle, I don’t have to worry about titillating covers. When your commute involves the Pentagon, you have to think about these things. I have probably inadvertently offended a lot of members of the armed forces. Suck it, terrorists!

Size doesn’t matter. Large books are heavy. Logistically, this makes reading while standing difficult. And my commute, even on its best days, involves a fair amount of standing. (On a bad day, I waited 50 minutes for a bus before giving up and taking a train.) Since I have the upper-body strength of a two-year-old, I much prefer the weight of a Kindle.

Large books are also large. (QED) Now, you car people don’t think about this, but we public transit folks must be able to carry all of our stuff during the commute. Beverages, work items, lunch, gadgets, all of it. Ideally, we must also be able to carry it while sprinting 100 yards to the other end of the Pentagon bus bay, because the 7Y IS JUST ABOUT TO LEAVE THE STAND.

Anyway.

One of the main reasons I checked out and immediately returned Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals was its immense size. (Also, nonfiction, bleh.) That thing was like a Gutenberg Bible. I couldn’t fit it AND my lunch, so obviously the book had to go.

But now I can fit even the Gutenberg Bible on a tablet the size of a Nancy Drew book. Suck it, terrorists! (Less appropriate here, but I feel as if I have to live up to the trend.)

Kindles help you look busy. Granted, any tablet or smartphone achieves the same end here, which is to discourage conversation or communication of any sort. My fellow commuters, I am not interested in discussing the weather, the traffic, the upcoming holidays, sports, news events, the economy, elections, your family, or health issues. While you used to be able to see that I was obviously Not Busy when I was reading a fluorescent yellow Nancy Drew book, note that I am now tapping on a tablet. I am probably recalculating** the nuclear launch codes, which requires MY FULL FOCUS. Suck it, terrorists!

Look, I’m as surprised as anybody that I’ve come up with such a full-bodied defense of an e-Reader, which is what I consider the Kindle Fire to be (alert: soapbox coming). It’s a souped-up e-Reader. It’s not a tablet computer, or an iPad, or a portal into the future. It’s a way to read books and occasionally use the internet. So stop comparing it to full-bodied 3G-enabled devices, OKAY?

I’m not yet a convert (I think books with pictures would be better in regular form), but I’ve definitely come around.

* I don’t go to the hospital, use the schools, or call the police. I own no property and have no dependents. Election ads focusing on the use of my tax dollars don’t go very far.
** You think they don’t need to be recalculated? Ah, the innocence of youth.

November 23, 2011

November 23, 2011

Northern Aggression, and Crisps

When the stresses of city life threaten to crush our spirits, TheBoy and I like to find a vacation rental near the Blue Ridge Mountains and far from any Occupy movement. Most recently, we stayed here:

Now, I realize that you probably live in a home like this. You have a garage, maybe a pool, definitely a grill. But for me, an apartment dweller making the most of 767 square feet, it is heaven.

There was a giant TV!

And two tables!

Stairs!

Basketball hoop!

The hits, they kept on coming.

So we obviously spent 80% of the weekend watching cable TV and eating hot dogs. But we spent the other 20% visiting the Route 11 potato chip factory, WHICH WAS NOT IN PRODUCTION THAT DAY AND LOOK HOW THRILLED I WAS ABOUT THAT.

But, also, the site of the Battle of new Market:

Which was the only Civil War Battle involving cadets (from the Virginia Military Instute), and only the second historical attraction I’ve visited (after the Duke Homestead) where I felt overwhelming southern sentiment.

The North won. Get over it.

Alas, we had to bid the mountains farewell all too soon.

November 22, 2011

November 21, 2011

November 21, 2011

Sorry I Missed It: Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares

One of the side benefits of getting a Kindle Fire is one free month of Amazon Prime.

(Oh, did I not mention that I got a Kindle Fire? Believe me, that will be a separate story unto itself, not least because of the many similarities between caring for that li’l fella and what I imagine parenthood to be. Cut to me, at 12:30 a.m.: “Why won’t you sync? Sync! Sync, dammit!”)


So, anyway, Amazon Prime. The chief benefit of which is the ability to stream lots of movies and TV instantly. While I’ve already seen 24, Lost, and Arrested Development (Prime, you do have good taste), I had not seen any episodes of Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares. Note that this isn’t the FOX series, with overscored tension and bleeping. This is the original UK series in all its unbleeped and uncensored glory. Seriously. During one episode, Gordon takes the restaurant owner to some sort of adult show and I saw more boobies than I ever cared to.


The gist is the same, of course. Gordon visits a failing restaurant. Tries the menu. Observes the staff. Makes recommendations for new food, décor, and/or staff. Ideally, the restaurant then takes these suggestions to heart and turns over a new leaf. In reality, it appears that most of these places later close anyway. So…yeah.


Now, where the UK version really differs from the US version (boobies aside) is in Gordon’s behavior. In the US, as you might know, he’s a furious, profane fireball in chef’s whites, turning even the most seasoned cook into a quivering mess. He’s made contestants on both Hell’s Kitchen and MasterChef cry and collapse. It’s right up FOX’s alley.


But in the UK? In the UK, Gordon seems…subdued. Sure, he swears up a storm, but apparently the Brits aren’t nearly as prudish about that as we are. Other differences:


UK version: Gordon eats the restaurant’s “signature dish” and throws up

US version: Gordon eats the restaurant’s “signature dish” and throws up on the chef


UK version: Gordon throws most of the refrigerator’s contents in the trash

US version: Gordon throws most of the refrigerator’s contents at the chef


UK version: Gordon plays football with the staff and scores a goal

US version: Gordon plays soccer with the staff and scores a goal off the chef’s head


You get the idea.


Perhaps it’s that stiff upper lip that encourages Gordon to keep his composure. Perhaps FOX encouraged him to “trash it up” a little to appeal to their demographic. Which is the real Gordon Ramsay? I dunno.


If you ever have to meet him, let’s hope it’s in the UK, okay?

November 15, 2011

November 15, 2011

"I'm a Big Open Book!"*

Note: Your comments about e-readers and tablet computers are not welcome. Paper or death!

I’ve finally taken a small step on the bandwagon of hoopla that is “The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo.” I’m not ready to review it yet; I’m on the third chapter. The first few pages didn’t impress me; I figure you probably need to be more Swedish to fully appreciate it. The closest I get is the $2500 or so I’ve spent at Ikea so far this lifetime. However, things did get more interesting once Lisbeth showed up. (Question to fans: Will I ever stop reading it as “Salamander” in my head?)

Anyhoo, the fact is that I’m reading a LARGE PRINT edition of “The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo.” Not because I have eye problems (nearsightedness notwithstanding), though I’m definitely going to get some looks during my commutes. It just happened that the only copy of this book available at the Alexandria Public Library was the large print edition.

I’ll be honest: I didn’t even know where that section of the library was at first. It’s like the microfiche section, or the career assistance section, or the section where they do puppet shows for kids. I know they exist, but I am not among their devoted demographic. Until, y’know, I am.

Other than some ancient Reader’s Digests at my (also ancient) great-aunt’s house, this is my first true experience with the world of LARGE PRINT books. For one thing: it appears that italics become bold print. I’m not sure on this, but every time I’ve come upon a periodical title or a scientific name in “The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo,” it’s been in bold instead of italics. Maybe italics are harder to read? Bold is certainly easier to read. Which makes one wonder why we aren’t all using bold instead of italics. Let’s take a page from the old people, people!

I have no idea how big the book is in regular print. I can tell you that in LARGE PRINT, it’s not nearly as big as I expected. I mean, I think LARGE PRINT book and I picture something resembling a Gutenberg Bible. This book is smaller than some non-LARGE PRINT books I have read. Probably helps that it’s a paperback.

I’m a bit concerned that the LARGE PRINT will make it even easier for fellow bus passengers to “share” my reading experience. I’m used to it by now: people scope out my Bloomberg Businessweek, they read along with my Real Simple, and they ogle my Town & Country. No one has yet asked me to stay on a page until they finished the article, but I figure it’s a matter of time.

Buses are fun!

But I’m told that this book features adult activities that I will be inwardly horrified to read about. Never mind the fellow passengers who are minding my own business some Tuesday morning as we all read about hacking and rape in LARGE PRINT. My best choice is to hope I sit next to people who can’t read English. Or who can’t read. Or who can’t see. Or who are headless.

Rarely do I wish my fellow passengers were actually weirder.

* A million points to anybody who got that reference to "The Librarians" and Book Week.

November 14, 2011

November 14, 2011

Chill

I recently saw a great article showing office fridges from your (and my) favorite TV shows, blogs, and other media producers. I found it fascinating, and not just because it was about food. You can tell a lot about what a person keeps in the fridge at home, but perhaps even more about what they keep in the fridge at work.

Your home fridge contains the stuff you need to survive. Eggs. Bread. Medication for that weird skin thing. Your kid’s science project. It’s routine. It’s boring.


With a work fridge, you have the option to put your best foot forward. You can choose to have a fridge filled with fancy waters and tinfoil swans. Imported honey. Coffee creamer made in small batches by blind nuns. “What’s this, you ask? It’s just a mason jar of agave oil my friend Caspar had smuggled out of Mexico. He knew I liked it in my tea.”


Working as I do for Uncle Sam, I forget that a good number of workplaces allow the occasional (if not frequent) possession and consumption of alcohol. Perhaps your office fridge is nothing but PBR.


Now, disliking people and commingling of possessions as I do, I’ve opted to purchase and maintain my own minifridge. I believe this is the way to go. Everything in there is YOURS. YOUR STUFF is the only stuff in there. The stuff that’s in there is ALL YOURS. Get my drift? Don’t ask to put the other half of your $5 footlong in my fridge. I will eat it. In return, I won’t ask you to keep my coffee warm by holding it in your hands for the next two hours. I believe it was the Communists who said, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need for climate-controlled food storage,” and I am no Communist.


Plus, you get to buy great fridge magnets that subconsciously proclaim your world views. (Please, no magnetic poetry.)


I feel like there should be a branch of anthropology dedicated to office fridges. Whose lunch will rot over Thanksgiving? Has the yogurt that’s been in there for two years actually turned to cheese? How many packets of ketchup can fit in the door until they attack each other, “Lord of the Flies” style? The drama! The tension!


I keep a small jar of relish in the communal refrigerator just to keep a hand in the action.

November 11, 2011

November 10, 2011

November 10, 2011

'Tis the Season

Tuesday was Election Day in Virginia. Despite the fact that 2011 is a pretty quiet year around here, I voted. Democracy is the best system we have until the robots turn sentient, and I like to support it every year. Plus, they give me candy and a sticker.

Ideally, I would be allowed to vote absentee in Wisconsin for the rest of my life. Moving away from my hometown has showed me that I you can never really connect to a municipality unless you learned to read and drive there. While Virginia is a lovely vice-ridden state,* the only bits of its infrastructure I care about are the roads and the libraries. This is the lot of a single person without child or property. It’s hard to care about who’s ruling the schools, hospitals, and law enforcement when you don’t use any of those things.

Nonetheless, I won’t let my lack of standing keep me from the candy and the sticker. It’s best to have a backup plan when you vote. Some people write in things like “Mickey Mouse” or “99%” or that symbol that Prince used to go by. Some people vote for the first name. You get the idea.

Me? In races where I have no strong feeling, I vote for the Republican. (Am I the only person you know who has voted in times past for both Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin?) In non-partisan races, I vote for the incumbent. (I’m a Republican: no news is good news when it comes to elected officials.)

Though parties (when applicable) and incumbents were ALWAYS CLEARLY MARKED in Milwaukee, I pride myself on doing just enough homework and sample ballot studying to make sure that I know what to expect when I step up to the futuristic Vote-a-tron 4000 here in Virginia. Between not knowing the local corridors of power and working that machine, it can be a bit much.

This year: utter fail.

The first two races on the ballot were for state representatives, with clearly marked parties. No problem.

The final race on the ballot was for clerk of courts. No parties were denoted. The incumbent was not denoted. I had not done any homework on this race, nor had I seen signs, advertisements, or campaign workers.

I concluded that we had a rare breed here: the incumbentless non-partisan race for an office not high enough to warrant significant press.

Crap.

Luckily for me, my mojo kicked in and I ended up voting for the Republican anyway. Close one.

There were no poll workers at the exit table, so I didn’t know what to do. Remember from a prior experience that they are VERY PICKY about what you do after you have voted. I was afraid that if I just threw away my voter code, took a sticker, and left, they’d be on me like [insert Herman Cain joke here]. But after another voter mistook me for a poll worker and thanked me, I threw caution to the wind.

However, I have saved the best for last. Here, the conversation I had with that voter while walking out of the building:

He pulls out his wallet and shows me a faded sticker on its cover.
Him: Now I can replace last year’s sticker.
I’m very impressed that he still has the sticker from last year.
Me: Wow, good for you!
Him: Actually, I think this is the sticker from 2008.
I quickly walk away.

First of all: ew. Second of all: you haven’t voted since 2008? 2008?! There have been at least two major elections since then and now, dude! You know what they call people who only make an effort once every few years? Members of Congress. C’mon, man.

(Note that if I had accidentally voted for the democratic Clerk of Courts—who happened to be the incumbent—this entry would have been titled “The Accidental Democrat.”)

* Case in point: this recent “Vices of Virginia” event, where people drank wine, smoked cigars, and sold relatives into indentured servitude. Or two of the three.

November 9, 2011

November 9, 2011

Quick Biscuits

This past weekend, I attended the 2011 Metropolitan Cooking & Entertaining Show. This was my fourth one, and I like to think I’ve got it down to a system by now. Though I forgot my camera (so much for the system, huh?), pictures from a prior visit are here. Basically, you need to arrive early to get a good look at and taste of the vendors. During the middle of the day, you attend workshops both to get away from the crowd and to rest your feet. Oh, and also to learn something. Then, at the end of the day, you shop and get more samples, since the vendors will inevitably have put out a new round of stuff.

TheBoy and I made it through round 1 of the vendor floor in about an hour. Among the things we tried: cheese, cake, nuts, hot sauce, mustard, hot tea, cold tea, chicken, and beef. The usual, really.

Time check: 11 a.m.

Our workshops were about Indian food, coffee, styling a buffet (TheBoy skipped out on that one), pairing tea and chocolate, and cookies.

We watched a local chef prepare scallops and listened to a story about how he recently set his hair on fire.

We were ready for the second and final round of the convention floor.

Time check: 5 p.m.

Now, I never go in expecting to buy, since I’m notoriously cheap and the food at this show is too classy for my blood. But I’d seen something that caught my eye, something that I’d been wishing for, something that I figured was logistically impossible but oh. if. only.

The booth said: “Fully-cooked microwaveable biscuits.”

See, the one redeeming value of the south (imo) is biscuits. As a Wisconsinite, the best I got were proffered either by a man in a white suit or a stuffed doughboy. But STILL. They were delicious—warm and buttery and flaky. Of the many delicious forms of carbohydrates, biscuits are absolutely in my top three.

But unless you have a live-in servant, making biscuits takes time. I’d be totally fine with popping a can of Pillsbury if it didn’t also involve 15 minutes of toaster oven time, during which I consume an entire can of Pringles in anticipation. And in the morning? Forget about it.

So God bless Cathy Dunn, proprietress of the Biscuit King Restaurants in Lexington, North Carolina. She has somehow figured out how to make biscuits that can be frozen and microwaved FOR FORTY SECONDS without losing any of their flavor. Oh, and they are only 169 calories each. Did I hug Cathy? No. Did I buy biscuits from her? Yes.

I bought four dozen biscuits, people. Honestly, I should have gotten more. I really hope they come back next year.

The website is here, though I don’t see anywhere to order. You’ll just have to drive to Lexington, I guess.

November 8, 2011

November 8, 2011

WTF Product of the Day, Volume 14: The Traveling Toddler Car Seat Travel Accessory

The train was particularly crowded this morning. Not sure if that was related to the end of Daylight Savings, the fact that it was Tuesday, or the earthquake in Oklahoma. Perhaps a combination of all three. Many Typical Metro Types were quite literally in my face as I rode: businessmen, students, quite-possibly-homeless, and so on. No tourists today, thank goodness, because there is frankly NO GOOD REASON for tourists to ride the train before 8 a.m. The museums don’t open until 10, people. Let the workers settle in before emerging from your hotel rooms. Tuck into an extra plate at the continental breakfast buffet. You know I would.

So, anyway, what WAS unusual this morning was the presence of a baby. I’m not certain of its age. It was small enough to fit in a chest carrier, but old enough to make comments as we rode. I found the child less-annoying than usual for two reasons: One, it was both physically and audiologically contained. Two, its mother spoke to it as an adult. Her tone, volume, and vocabulary were all the same as if she’d been speaking to me. (Which, mercifully, she did not attempt.)

Parents, take note! If you MUST use public transit during the rush hour, treat the child as an extension of your body. Keep it quiet, off the ground, and close to your torso. Under no circumstances should you ever use this:

So many bad ideas combine in this single product.

It takes up a lot of space. Space that instead could hold two or three commuters. I am already uncomfortably intimate with people’s messenger bags on a daily basis. Your child shouldn’t have to suffer through it, too. But if s/he kicks? Make no mistake: WE WILL KICK BACK.

It could easily get caught in the train doors. I have seen people lose backpacks, beverages, and lesser extremities in train doors. As Metro will oft remind you: “Our doors are not like elevator doors.” See, unlike elevator doors and politicians’ pants, they stay closed. Best case scenario: your kid makes it onto the train while you end up a smear on the platform. Unfortunately for your kid, you’re probably the one with the farecard and he is going to have a lot of trouble reaching the Exitfare machine.

It substantially increases the chance that your child will accidentally get shipped to Orlando. I ride the blue line, one of two that services the airport. Blue and yellow line riders see an unattended bag? As soon as the doors open at the airport stop, we chuck it onto the platform and carry on.* Our other option is calling it in as a potential bomb threat, and that’s going to shut down the line and add several days to our travel time.

We realize this is an inconvenience for you, too. Maybe your daycare was closed for the day or your child has a job interview downtown or something. The girl from those Verizon commercials probably got her start riding orange line from Dunn Loring. I get that. Just please do what we all try to do: keep out of the way.

* It’s little-known that the saying is “Close only counts in hand grenades, horseshoes, and the DC Metro. We put unattended pets at the zoo stop, unattended books at the Library of Congress stop, and unattended sporting goods at the stadium stop. It’s like a giant filing system.

November 7, 2011

November 7, 2011

Easy on the Hands

We seem to be having a bit of a controversy in the bathrooms at my workplace.

(Not that kind of controversy, ew.)

Soap-related controversy. It’s a tense passive-aggressive battle, really. That’s what I tell myself, anyway, because it makes for a better story.

The facts are these*:

Our bathroom sinks have pumps built into the countertop. These pumps are filled with pink soap. I assume the soap is standard industrial supply. It doesn’t have any strong odor or distinguishing features. I mean, to quote Chandler Bing, “Soap is soap.” I took no notice of it until the kerfuffle started.

Which happened when someone bought one Spa Originals liquid soap for each sink. Fancy soap. Soap that smelled like coconut, or the ocean, or the dreams of children named after flowers. Soap that was obviously meant to substitute for the inferior standard-issue soviet soap. So we used it. And the bottles slowly emptied. Until I thought it was going to be victory for the communists and their skin-melting soap.

Then new bottles of freedom soap showed up. This time, WITH MOISTURIZER! Oh the things a free market has to offer! Once this soap was gone, who knew what would show up? Foaming soap? Soap with glitter in it? Soap dispensed by a trained panda? Man, remember when we thought all soap was pink, smelled like turpentine, and turned our hands purple? HA!

Then, a chilling development.

For, today, the soap bottles had indeed been refilled.

With pink soap.

Those fascists were obviously just biding their time. Brilliant.

Soon, I will forget the smell of coconut, and the ocean, and the dreams of children named after flowers. Do those things still exist somewhere? I hope so.

* RIP, Pushing Daisies.

November 2, 2011

November 2, 2011

Television Internationale

Hulu is a boon to avid entertainment consumers. You know this. I know this. Most people know this, CBS and sports fans excepted. While I appreciate the fact that it’s free, and legal, and lets me watch episodes of network shows I missed, I really love Hulu’s recommendations feature. I love it almost as much as I love Amazon’s “You Might Also Like.” I mean, do you know how many amazing books I’ve found because Amazon’s AI knew I would like them? Yet another reason to open our robot overlords with open arms. They want to entertain us, in exchange for the inconsequential matter of harvesting our bodies’ natural resources! It’s not so bad being an organic cog in the machine if you have a really good book to pass the time.

Anyway, I’ve gone on a Hulu recommendation binge lately, and here’s a report of my findings. The most highly-recommended stuff is at the top.

Program: The Librarians
Country of origin: Australia
It’s a lot like: The Office, set in an Australian library
Watch it because: Michael Scott couldn’t even imagine this place. You’ve got library-related hijinks (literal crap in the bookdrop, hilariously-inappropriate weeknight workshops, etc.), you’ve got a cast of employees that put Creed Bratton to shame, and you’ve got words that should end in –er ending in –re! This is my number one suggestion to you. Everything below is just gravy.
I knew it was for me when: The first scene of the opening credits showed the main character, head librarian Frances, making a week’s worth of sandwich lunches at once. I’M NOT THE ONLY ONE!

Program: Goodnight Burbank
Country of origin: USA
It’s a lot like: SportsNight, but with local news.
Watch it because: The quips come fast and furious. Politics, race, sex: nothing’s off the table. Imagine if Sarah Palin and Ricky Gervais anchored a local news program. And there you go.
I knew it was for me when: The female anchor made a stunning Muslim joke, and the Muslim makeup artist gave as good as she got.

Program: The Palace
Country of origin: UK
It’s a lot like: The Tudors, set in the modern day
Watch it because: Royals are people too. The Palace is a bit high-concept: it’s not the merry Windsors we watch here, but a fictional royal family. There are two young guns, similar to pre-wedding William and Harry. In the pilot, one of them ascends to the throne as King Richard IV.
I knew it was for me when: The opening credits showed a servant measuring the distance between huge place settings at the royal table.
Caveat: One of the major plotlines involves the scheming eldest sister, who was passed over by the rules of succession. Those of you who follow monarchy news (I’M THE ONLY ONE!) know that these rules were recently changed to allow rule to pass to the eldest child, regardless of gender.
Caveat #2: This show only ran for one season. Apparently the Britons found it tawdry. Not respectful enough of the royals and all that.

Program: Spy
Country of origin: UK
It’s a lot like: Chuck
Watch it because: Sometimes good guys finish first, but can’t tell anyone about it. The main character is working a dead-end computer store job. His son despises him. He’s a perennial screwup. Until he ups and quits, and the employment agency refers him to a “civil service exam” that turns out to be a recruitment test for MI-5. He aces the exam and BOOM DIGGETY he’s in. Except no one can know about it.
I knew it was for me when: The main character completely overturned his desk in the MI-5 testing room. I laughed so hard I cried.

Program: Campus
Country of origin: UK
It’s a lot like: Community
Watch it because: The dean (here called the Vice Chancellor, or VC) is simultaneously evil and hilarious. He could quite literally be the boss from hell—he has some weird telekinetic powers.
I knew it was for me when: Not sure on this one yet. It’s definitely amusing, but there are many characters and not all of them are hits.

Program: Party Animals
Country of origin: UK
It’s a lot like: The West Wing
Watch it because: Parliament is even crazier than Congress. Drunker, too.
I knew it was for me when: Still waffling, actually. Knowing that this show only ran for one season lessens my enthusiasm.

November 1, 2011

November 1, 2011

In My Opinion: Everything Must Go

Will Ferrell received this year’s Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. The Kennedy Center-hosted ceremony was taped last week and broadcast on PBS last night. If you didn’t catch it, I encourage you to look for the repeats. It’s PBS, so you KNOW there will be repeats. Though not as funny as last year’s event (feting Tina Fey), guests such as Conan O’Brien, Adam McKay, and Gwen Ifill (there’s that PBS thing again) got in some good lines.

Paul Rudd made passing reference to the film Everything Must Go, joking that Will was great in it even though no one saw it. Well, I saw it, and I really liked it. Then again, I also saw and liked Stranger Than Fiction, so perhaps I am just weirdly out there.

The film opens on a very bad, no good, horrible day for Nick Halsey. He loses his job. He goes home to find that his wife has left him, locked him out of the house, and thrown all his stuff on the front lawn. His car gets repossessed. His bank accounts are locked. His phone gets turned off.

Basically, this is a man with the clothes on his back, the money in his wallet, and a really big LP collection.

He sits on the lawn for a while, pondering what to do, until a neighborhood kid bikes by. Long story short: they become friends, and Nick uses the kid’s bike to make grocery runs to the local convenience store. That’s the short-term plan.

The long-term plan is to sell all his belongings and start fresh. If you see an overt metaphor there, well done! During the selling process, complications arise with the attractive neighbor lady, Nick’s cop friend, his former supervisor, and so on.

And now, some reasons I really liked this movie.

1. It didn’t have a happy ending. Call me cynical, but I firmly believe that things rarely work out. Probability just isn’t that friendly. In this film, Nick doesn’t reunite with his wife. He doesn’t get his old job back. He doesn’t even go out in a blaze of vengeful glory. Quiet desperation is the name of the game here.

2. Speaking of quiet desperation, Will Ferrell underplays this character in a really effective way. I know that subtlety is not a characteristic you typically associate with Ferrell, he of the “more cowbell” and the Old School streaking. Trust me: he can do subtlety, and he does it here. There’s something about the manic comedians that makes their calm roles more effective (see: Jim Carrey in The Truman Show).

3. It’s efficient. At 92 minutes, this film makes things count. I mean, I also recently saw Transformers 2: Electric Boogaloo, and I believe that film had 92 minutes of extraneous robot battle. Here, it’s about dialogue and character development. No narrative tricks, flashy bangs, or bangy flashes. In fact, I’d love to see this film done on stage. I think the limited number of characters and sets make it doable. It’s just that tightly executed.