May 31, 2012

May 31, 2012

Sorry I Missed It: Inside the Actors Studio

My obsession du jour is Bravo’s “Inside the Actors Studio.” While you may have never watched an episode of this show, you probably know a little about it from its many parodies on Saturday Night Live. The gist: host James Lipton interviews a performer (or a group of performers, like the cast of a TV show) starting with where they were born, continuing through what inspired them to enter showbiz and how they approach the craft of performing. Lipton’s questions and research are printed on a giant stack of blue cards. After asking his own questions, Lipton asks a series of questions developed by a French interviewer named Bernard Pivot. Finally, the episode wraps with Q&A from the students in the audience. (This whole thing started as a sort of classroom seminar at Pace University.)

Several things fascinate me about this program. First, its treatment of acting as a craft. From the episodes I’ve watched so far, I’ve learned that some actors have been technically trained and thing about things like pacing and diction and whatnot. Others just go by instinct and do what comes naturally. I also appreciate finding out just how many actors moved from the Midwest to a coast in order to pursue their dreams. Me too, guys! Me too!

But what REALLY intrigues me is the Pivot questionnaire. All those times I saw Will Ferrell-as-James Lipton ask someone what their favorite word was, I thought it was a joke. But it’s real, and it’s amazing. For your reference, the questions are as follows:

1. What is your favorite word?
2. What is your least favorite word?
3. What turns you on?
4. What turns you off?
5. What sound or noise do you love?
6. What sound or noise do you hate?
7. What is your favorite curse word?
8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
9. What profession would you not like to do?
10. If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?

I like hearing what the actors’ responses are. But I *LOVE* thinking about what my own responses would be. I think I have my answers set, but am still looking for even-more-succinct-yet-witty-yet-hilariously-insightful answers. Obviously, I need to be ready for my own interview someday, when the program has morphed into “Inside the Geniuses Studio” or some such.

So what’s your favorite word?

May 28, 2012

May 28, 2012

Meet the Authors

Went to a couple of author events recently: one at a Barnes & Noble for Jen Lancaster, the other at Sixth & I synagogue for Joel Stein. I enjoy both authors enough to brave the hell that is other people to see them in person.

Because oh DANG.

Let’s start with Jen’s event at B&N. No tickets or wristbands or anything. The event started at 7, so I showed up around 6:15. A significant number of people were already there, of which one was male. Understandable; Jen’s work skews female. No prob.

I sit down in an empty seat in the last row and pull out my Kindle. For I too can emulate the Aloof City Dweller! I’m nose-deep in my book when a group of four large women who I shall dub the Drunky McDrunkersons sit next to me. They loudly chat amongst themselves before sending one to the café to get everyone iced teas. And (assumption on my part) spike them.

The woman next to me was the worst. Wearing the sort of garish makeup and jewelry indicative of one whose best self was 20 years and 40 pounds ago. At one point, she put her iced tea on the floor, and then put her giant purse directly on top of it. Since my stuff was safely out of the way, I was prepared to amuse myself as her beverage slowly pooled onto the B&N carpet and her shoes. Sadly, one of her friends noticed and the situation was cleaned up. And by “cleaned up,” I mean that Drunk Lady smooshed the iced tea puddle further into the carpet with her shoe. Just as Mr. Clean intended.

Once the event started, though, everyone calmed down and I enjoyed listening to Jen read and take questions from the audience. The last part of the event was the booksigning portion. Now, you may not be aware, but B&N is Puritanically strict about this. The only thing you can get signed is a copy of the specific book being discussed at the event, and only with proof that you bought that book from B&N. Now, I myself had already read my local library’s copy of said book, so I just wanted to snap a picture of Jen. The B&N Lackey-In-Charge had told us, and I quote, “You can take pictures during the book signing.” Thus my plan to, y’know, take pictures during the book signing.

Do you hear ominous foreshadowing? You should.

Those with books start lining up. In B&N’s defense, the line is very clearly marked. Jen goes to the signing table to get ready. I stand near (but not in) the line to get my picture. The setup looks a bit like this:

I start taking pictures, messing with the zoom and focus, aiming for just one good shot of Jen sitting at the table preparing to sign books.

At which point the B&N Lackey-In-Charge whooshes towards me and we have this exchange:

B&N LIC: “Sorry, no pictures.”

Me: “…what? No pictures?” (Didn’t you say earlier that we could take pictures during the book signing, which THIS IS?)

B&N: “No, no pictures. You can take a picture once you get up there.”

The joke’s on her, though, because I totally got the picture:

Now, to be clear, I didn’t want to get a picture of myself AND Jen. Just of her. I don’t see how it matters where that picture is taken from. WHEN that picture is taken from, sure. I obeyed the rule about not recording or photographing during the reading itself. But now? During the book signing portion during which we had been told pictures were allowed? Fair effing game, lady.

Honestly, if one of the people in the line had called me out, I would have been more acquiescent. They perhaps had some standing for complaint, since they were all waiting in the line to get signatures and pictures and stuff. But they either didn’t notice or didn’t care that I was taking pictures.


And then, a few days later, at the Joel Stein event, whilst minding my own business in a little folding chair, I realized that the chick behind me had her feet up on the back of my chair. Of the 200 people in 200 folding chairs, one person had the immaturity to kick back and it was the chick DIRECTLY BEHIND ME.

I took a passive aggressive route and started randomly leaning my chair back and startling her. I was secretly hoping she’d make a comment, so I could ask whether she was disabled physically, mentally, or both. Because the way she was sitting appeared so uncomfortable, it had to be one of the three.

(As the event wrapped up, I looked back at her and noticed that her boyfriend was maybe a 2. I consider TheBoy a solid 8. I win.)

But lest I despair that humanity is filled with nothing but assholes, there was a light at the end of the tunnel. During Joel’s Q&A, someone asked him who the greatest man was. (I won’t get into the details behind the question; suffice to say it does tie into the theme of his book.) He was at a loss. Chick sitting in front of me raises her hand, ostensibly with another question. Joel calls on her.

Chick: I would say, George Plimpton.

(Rest of crowd turns to neighbor and asks wtf that is.)

Chick: I mean, he was such a Renaissance man. Author, athlete…

(Joel goes into a story about how he attended an amazing party hosted by George Plimpton.)

Joel: But I’m sorry, you had a question of your own to ask.

Chick: No, I just wanted to answer that one.

Only in DC, people. Only in DC.

(Having read the Wikipedia article on Plimpton, I guess I can see the point. He appears to have been an author, actor, and athlete. But he also died in 2003. So if we extend the candidate pool to all men who have lived ever, I’d have to go with Da Vinci, the original Renaissance Man.)

(When I have book signing events some day, you all are invited. But no one else. These people can buy my books, but they must never enter my presence again lest I go all John McClane on them.)

May 24, 2012

May 24, 2012

It's Vegas, Baby

I find myself about to embark on a trip that will encompass not one, but FOUR New York City boroughs. Three more than I’ve visited on prior trips. They say there are two types of New Yorkers: those who won’t leave Manhattan, and those who will. Though not a New Yorker, I am definitely akin to the prior kind. (To be fair, Brooklyn DOES have an Ikea. But still.) I think it was Samuel Johnson who said, “When a man tires of Manhattan, he tires of life, for in Manhattan is all that life can afford.”*

But TheBoy is celebrating a big birthday, and wants to visit places outside Manhattan, so QED.

I, of course, have already begun planning my 30th birthday extravaganza, coming October 2013. (Don’t worry, TB isn’t going to read this. He gets the real-life me, which is 20% snarking a la this blog, 70% complaining about being hungry, and 10% sleeping.) I have decided on Las Vegas, because any city whose “Buffets” category in the Frommer’s guide is THAT long is worth doing and worth doing well.

So far, I have two things I really want to do (besides all the eating): indoor skydiving and a magic show. Preferably not together, but I really don’t know how things work there. Indoor skydiving because it’s all the thrill with little of the risk. A magic show because I’ve been a fan of magic since those David Copperfield specials in the ‘80s. I used to get the little magic books from the library and try to do card tricks. Like a little Barney Stinson, really.

Anyway, I figure that I won’t have much free time between the constant buffet-ing and avoiding the heat, but I’d love to hear everyone’s suggestions on other things to do. A day trip to the Grand Canyon: doable? How close to the Strip do I need to be? Which circle of Dante’s inferno most closely matches Las Vegas’ weather in October?

And in case it needs to be said: NO ADULT ACTIVITIES, PLEASE. I may be turning 30 on the outside, but I have the soul of a peevish old lady.

* Bonus points if you know to which city he was actually referring.

May 23, 2012

May 23, 2012

Dancing 9:00-3:30

Have you seen the iPhone commercial with Zooey Deschanel? This one?

The people I’ve discussed this ad with (and there have been a few), seem to fall into two camps: disgust and indifference. I’m in the former camp. As one might blithely say, “I am so, like, OVER Zooey.” I can tolerate her in tiny doses, but this much quirk in one single commercial makes me stabby.

Yes, I’m an avid “New Girl” watcher, but part of the brilliance of that show is its juxtaposition of Zooey’s ridiculously-twee lifestyle with, y’know, NORMAL people. (The lion’s share of the brilliance of “New Girl,” FYI, is Schmidt.)

But since I’ve never been one to complain in general when there’s the option to complain in detail, let me break it down for you.

“Is that rain?”

Well, Zooey, you could always just look out the effing window. Though your coy tone of voice sounds almost as if you’re challenging Siri to defy your genius conclusion that it’s raining outside.

“Let’s get tomato soup delivered.”

First of all, you said this while looking through your giant, rain-soaked windows. So we’ve now established that you’re either an idiot or blind. (Someone recently suggested that this ad becomes palatable if you pretend that Zooey is blind.)

Secondly, have you not heard of Campbell’s? It’s a well-known fact that every American household has at least one can of Campbell’s soup in the pantry at all times. Sure, the can may have expired in the late 1990s, but still. It’s there, waiting for the next Boy Scout food drive.

“I don’t wanna put on real shoes.”

Can we define “real shoes” here? You seem like more of a pedal pusher kind of girl. Maybe something vegan. Tom’s?

“Remind me to clean up. Tomorrow.”

It’s not the statement that annoys me here; we’ve all postponed cleaning. It’s the accompanying shot of a room containing a couch covered in books, a piano, a banjo, a drum and two ukuleles. As a musician myself, I know that instruments require a lot of care. Which I was always told included storing them in cases. Have Siri also remind you to hit up the Container Store.

“Today, we’re dancing.”

Oh for a life in which one can devote a day solely to impromptu dancing to the strains of “Shake, Rattle, and Roll” while avoiding the piles of books and musical instruments.

Maybe I’m just jealous. Zooey’s ad for cotton taught me that she spends significant time trying on clothes and shopping at record stores. Really, she has the schedule of a 1960s socialite transplanted to the modern day.

May 22, 2012

May 22, 2012

In My Opinion: Anonymous

The film Anonymous is all about the Oxfordian theory of Shakespearean authorship.

If that sentence turned you off, stop reading now. I completely understand if you’re not a fan of Shakespeare, historical intrigue, and/or intellectual property rights. But I am, and I’m going to talk about each one in detail below.

As you may know, there are several schools of thought about who wrote Shakespeare’s works. Some attribute them to Shakespeare (a no-brainer, right?), others to Francis Bacon, and yet others to Edward De Vere, the Earl of Oxford. It is this last school that gets its day in Roland Emmerich’s Anonymous.

The film flashes back and forth between the end of the Elizabethan era and a time about 40 years prior. Queen Elizabeth discovers that the author of a lovely play she’d just seen called “The Tempest” is in fact an 8-year-old scamp named Edward De Vere. She sends him off to be raised by the Cecil family, powerful political rivals of the Tudors. Just go with it.

During a fencing lesson one day, Edward accidentally kills a servant. Cecil blackmails Edward into marrying his daughter Anne, which he reluctantly does. Good thing the Queen still has her eyes on him. They become lovahs and (oops) she has his lovechild. (Who is then of course squired away to be raised as the Earl of Southampton with no idea who his real parents are.) In the meantime, Edward writes, political intrigue ensues, and the question of the Queen’s successor remains unanswered. Will it be James of Scotland, backed by the Cecils? Or the Earl of Essex, backed by the Queen?*

Meanwhile, Ben Jonson is trying to get his own playwriting career going. This is where it got a little confusing for me.

Deep breath.

I think what happened is that Edward gave his plays to Jonson to pass off as written by Anonymous. Shakespeare took credit for them (and thus “stole” the credit from Edward) and started extorting Edward for money. Edward tries to stir the country into a pre-Essex/anti-Cecil revolt with a stirring version of “Richard III.” Jonson, Essex, and Southampton are accused of treason and locked in the Tower. Cecil burns down the theater. Edward privately meets with Elizabeth, finds out that she is (incest alert) both his lover AND his mother, and agrees to never take credit for his work as long as Southampton is saved. Essex is beheaded. Jonson is set free, returns to the theater, and finds that some of the plays had survived.

Got all that? I myself had a LOT of trouble keeping up, and I’ve seen more historical drama than you can shake a spear at.

Twisty and turny though the plot was, the real revelation for me was the entire Oxfordian theory. I mean, think about it. William Shakespeare was the child of an illiterate father. No education. Not well-traveled. How could he have written what he did? How does one write about Italy in the pre-internet age without having been there? Or without having been taught?


Regardless of who wrote them, Shakespeare’s works are obviously of immense importance to western civilization. But it’s fun to wonder, whether you’re a believer, a skeptic, or an agnostic.

* Not least because he is also her lovechild. Scandalous!

May 20, 2012

May 20, 2012

The Same, and Different

Now that the warm season has hesitantly shown itself here in DC, I spent some time recently reorganizing my closet. True, part of this had nothing to do with the weather and everything to do with my OCD, but whatever.* The long and short of it (ha) is that I realized I have the same Land’s End sweater in eight different colors. If variety is the spice of life, this cannot be good. I’m like a movie character whose closet is filled, but with fifty of the outfit. Zoinks!

Or, to put a positive spin on it, minimizing variation maximizes efficiency. Right? RIGHT?

When you were a kid, and you imagined what The Future would be like, didn’t you envision uniforms? I did. Sort of like that one scene in Willy Wonka when the kid gets sucked into the TV. (It’s been a while. I’m hazy on the details.) All-white bodysuits and helmets, baby. You may think them sterile, but I say that if cleanliness is next to godliness, then sterility is between cleanliness and godliness.

Okay, that made more sense before I put it into words.

Yet here we are, in the effing 21st century, and we appear to be no closer to a planet-wide uniform policy. Or even a nation-wide one. Let’s fall into line, people. We’re never going to beat China if we’re dithering over cords vs. khakis.** Those hesitant for us to all start dressing alike are probably concerned about people’s feelings and freedom of expression. But since we’ve established that I hate people, these things are less of a concern for me.

In not-at-all-related news, I am preparing for my possible future appearance on Jeopardy! by reading a book of Greek and Roman mythology. Aside from the fact that not one but two civilizations took enough time to invent a god for literally every thing, let’s talk about how many interesting names have fallen out of use. If it weren’t for the solar system and the Harry Potter books, we’d know very little of mythology at all, I fear. My top three (so far):

Fortuna (goddess of luck)
Hypnos (god of sleep)
Morpheus (god of dreams)

They announced the most popular baby names recently, and it was, like, Jacob and Isabella for the umpteenth year in a row. Hey, reproducing people of the world: let’s show a little creativity! You’ve just pushed a person through the human body’s equivalent of a drinking straw. Make that thing unique!

Since we’ll soon all dress alike, your progeny can “express themselves” with a funky name. Win-win.

* Let’s arrange by size! Now by color! Now by size AND color!
** I never claimed to be uninterested in clothes. Just disinterested. Yes, Virginia, there IS a difference.

May 16, 2012

May 16, 2012

Things I’ve Read: Dear Coca-Cola

I’ve mentioned before that Amazon’s free Kindle books feature has turned out several pleasant surprises. My latest is “Dear Coca-Cola,” a series of letters written by British pensioner Terry Ravenscroft to various food and beverage brands. Look carefully and you’ll find at least three of my favorite things right in that sentence. The first set of correspondence is to Coca-Cola, hence the title. Terry includes the replies to his letters, so you get a nice back-and-forth between him and the terribly-polite customer service representatives. Only in the UK, people. Only in the UK.

Though a few of the letters are complaints, many of them offer compliments or suggestions. A new flavor, a request for a recipe, etc. Whatever Terry’s request, he receives a thoughtful reply and (almost always) a voucher (coupon) from the brand. What really makes the book, though, and Terry’s replies to the replies. If he got a form letter from Sainsbury’s or Mars, he calls them on it and (depending on the brusqueness of the form letter) returns the vouchers. All very politely, though.

As a huge fan of the British, food, and British food, I found this book nothing short of wonderful. Did I mention that it can be procured for free? And that if you don’t have a Kindle, you can still read it on your computer? For free? Do it. Do it now.

Then come back here and let’s talk about Cock-of-Puddings.

May 15, 2012

May 15, 2012

EU Open House 2012

This year’s EU Open House was on May 12. It gave Europe’s embassies a chance to forget about their failing economies and media scandals by opening their doors and putting out cheese on crackers. Don’t think I’m mocking them; this event is one of the highlights of my year.

Friend-of-blog Patricia and I started at the Germany/France event, which was being hosted at the French Embassy (Germany’s Embassy is under construction).

One would expect them to have great food and plenty of order, but we found neither. The brie table was swarmed by the unwashed:

And the lines were chaotic and unmarked.

Luckily, they were handing out very good reusable totes, pens, and magnets. Sprechen sie freebies!

Next up, Sweden:

Sweden was my new discovery this year. It was bright and uncrowded. They let us go on the roof. And the staffers all had shirts that said “HUG A SWEDE.” Okay!

Then again, I’d expect nothing less than greatness from the country that birthed Ikea.

We took a harried Metrobus ride north to the Embassy of Belgium. The line was astounding, probably because Belgium gives out waffles every year. Word gets around, y’know.

Belgium opens up the Ambassador’s office, which is a nice gesture. (Only surpassed by Finland, who had the REAL LIVE AMBASSADOR in attendance. More on that in a minute.)

I forgot to take a picture of my waffle before inhaling it, but here is one of the Belgian volunteers manning the irons:

We headed to Finland with great anticipation, since this was one of the best ones last year. We didn’t know how they would top themselves. Until they did, with the effing Ambassador herself!

And plenty of food and beverage. And an accordionist.

Well done, Finland. Well done.

The final stop of the day was the UK. One of my highlights, obviously. They seem to be preparing for a sporting event of some sort.

New this year, visitors could sign a banner wishing QE2 well on her diamond jubilee. I signed as medevam and really hope doing so leads her to my Twitter feed and/or this blog.

Since it was after 3 pm at this point, we stopped for bangers and crisps.

What, were you thinking that was some sort of sex move? Perv.

My haul on the day was pretty good. I resisted grabbing most of the brochures, since I just end up throwing them out.

Whew. Good times.

May 14, 2012

May 14, 2012

In the Water Closet

If there’s one room that should be self-explanatory, it’s the bathroom. While there are a number of things you can do in there (pun intended), they are limited and involve specialized equipment. It’s not a room people generally hang out in, singly or in groups, and it tends to be closed up when not in use. But then you have your public bathrooms, and all strictures get tossed out the window.

I’m told, for example, that graffiti is common in men’s restrooms. On the urinals, stalls, walls, and just other flat surfaces. Some of it is vulgar, some of it isn’t. What matters here is the fact that men, instead of taking care of business, are instead drawing, inking, or scratching their way to artistic expression.

Whereas the last time I saw graffiti in a women’s bathroom was elementary school. Conclude what you will about the maturity level of fifth-grade girls and grown men.

Women’s bathrooms have toilet seat covers. Do men have those? I don’t really understand them, since I’m much more likely to die from eating poisoned food or getting hit by a car whilst jaywalking, but okay. I’m guessing that men don’t have much use for something that ostensibly keeps seats (both man’s and the toliet’s) clean.

Don’t even get me started on urinals. There’s this whole vocabulary (Cakes? Liquid-activated video games and music? Advertising?) that disturbs me every time it comes up in news stories or on sitcoms. Ugh.

There was an episode of The Office some time ago when the men of Dunder Mifflin learned just how different the women’s bathroom was. Some were willing to pay for the privilege of using it. I never understood that until I started learning about the chaotic mess that is a typical men’s bathroom.

Guys, I just don’t get you.

May 10, 2012

May 10, 2012

Science Rules

The second annual USA Science and Engineering Expo took place a few weekends ago. (The first expo was two years ago, though almost everyone involved invoked the phrase “last year” when discussing the 2010 event. Whatever.) TheBoy, ardent lover of science that he is, volunteered for the entire 3-day shebang. I, cautious acquaintance of science that I am, volunteered for half a day and wandered the festival for another half a day. I got two t-shirts and a CIA plastic bag out of the deal, so I’m putting it in the “Win” column.

The festival’s headliners were Bill Nye the Science Guy and the Mythbusters. They both appeared on Saturday, when I’m told the crowds reached epic Tahrir Square-like levels. I love me some Bill Nye, but not enough to wrestle with hundreds of children. There were plenty of other things and people to see, though: astronauts and spies, Mayim Bialik, robots and cheerleaders, and a guy who used math to prove that most science fiction movies are heavy on fiction and light on science.

Oh, and the optical illusions guy. I spent most of his presentation staring confusedly at his shirt.

My volunteer assignment was manning the book signing line, which wasn’t terribly busy.

It was the ideal volunteer assignment for me, since we both know I hate people. I did manage to answer a few questions from passers-by, though, so I felt marginally helpful. Then someone would ask where the plasma ball was and all I could muster was a blank stare. Never had my two business degrees seemed less impressive than in the face of a child looking for “the booth giving out the glasses with the lights in them.”

What would I advise a first-time attendee at the next fest (in 2013? 2014?) to do? Go early, for one thing. Tattoo your contact information on each child in your party, with marker if not with ink. Pick an –ology or two on which to focus—you’re definitely not going to see all 3,000 booths, so pick your top 100. Bring a swag bag, because you will find yourself with a lot of brochures and science paraphernalia.

Oh, and none of these:

For the love of Pete, NONE OF THESE. If they can't walk, they can't do science, okay?

Here's hoping Lockheed Martin ponies up for another festival next year, so I can realize my dream of spilling yogurt on Bill Nye the Science Guy.

May 9, 2012

May 9, 2012

What I Learned from “Battleground”

A few months ago, I raved about a made-for-Hulu series called “Battleground,” produced in part by my former collegemate and current friend-of-blog Melanie.* The series wrapped up its (hopefully first of many) seasons this week. This means that the whole thing is available legally for free on Hulu, so go watch it already. (Apologies to my non-US readers, for whom Hulu is a riddle wrapped in an enigma.)

Then come back here and continue reading, because I’m about to deconstruct it in a majorly spoilery way. (An adverb too far, you think?)

While my beloved “West Wing” was mostly about being in office, “Battleground” was all about how one gets into office. I myself have no experience with campaigning, and now know that I’m not cut out for it. Here’s how Battleground convinced me:

1. Running for office isn’t always compatible with a sound personal life. The campaign becomes your life, you see, so kiss your spouse/children/pets/book club goodbye. Think of all the scenes involving Tak and his wife going back-and-forth on the estrangement scale. In one of finale’s last scenes, Tak and the crew are celebrating their new gig, while Tak’s wife wistfully looks on. Which brings me to point #2…

2. Your hard work will be rewarded with more hard work. To be fair, this is true in most professions, and not just political campaigning. But American politics is sort of a giant pyramid scheme, from municipal offices at the bottom, through state and Congressional offices in the middle, up to the Presidency at the top. There’s always something to strive for, and Washington loves to strive. We’ve been called a city of student council presidents, and as a former student council president who moved to DC, I can attest that this is completely true.

3. Your fellow campaign workers will annoy and amuse you, and sometimes both at once. Jordan was my favorite “Battleground” character. I realize that he was probably intended as a sort of seasoning to the show: used just enough to spice things up but not enough to overpower everyone else. But I found his crazy antics, insane non sequitirs, and questionable intelligence absolutely fabulous.

4. Politics is a dirty world, and you gotta fling as good as the next guy. So many devious tricks showed up in “Battleground.” Endorsements that went awry. Phone jamming on Election Day. Smear ads. Nepotism. And this in my beloved home state of Wisconsin!

So what of the future for the “Battleground” gang? Though our candidate** lost, the team was offered a job running a presidential campaign. I hope to see this happen in season 2. I also hope to see more outside-the-box stuff, like the documentary episode. And maybe I just wasn’t paying attention, but did we find out how Cole ended up in jail? Why Tak wasn’t in any of the talking heads? Did Ben and Lindsey get married? What’s KJ’s new gig in that fancy-schmancy office? What did Samuels do next?

Ben said something in the finale to the effect of, “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. And I miss it every day.” Here’s hoping we won’t be missing “Battleground” for too long.

* Happy birthday.
** I think of her that way despite the fact that I probably wouldn’t vote for her in real life. The show was just that good.

May 8, 2012

May 8, 2012

Things I’ve Read: Drop Dead Healthy

AJ Jacobs is a man who likes a big project. He read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica and wrote about it in “Know It All.” He followed every Biblical rule for a year and wrote about it in “The Year of Living Biblically.” In those books, as in this one, he manages to be informative, humorous, and emotional. But in a good way, not in a Facebook-status-y way.

In “Drop Dead Healthy,” Jacobs resolves to diet, exercise, cleanse, and generally will himself to health. Each month for 2ish years, he focuses on one body part at a time. One month, the skin: what’s the best sun protection? What should you eat and drink for good skin? What about botox?

Another month, the stomach: What’s the best diet? How do you get washboard abs? Are washboard abs even healthy?

And so on and so forth, including the brain, the eyes, the (ahem) intimate parts, the lungs, and so on. You’ll learn a lot, occasionally be grossed out, and laugh quite a bit.

You’ll also read about AJ’s grandfather, a once super-famous lawyer, as he finishes life. It’s heartbreaking but ultimately uplifting, in the same way Jacobs and his wife struggled to conceive during “Know It All.” I realize I’m sounding like Oprah here, but it’s true.

The one criticism I read of the book was that it was very egocentric. Jacobs talks about himself a lot, it’s true…but that’s sort of the point, isn’t it? Hard to describe your self-improvement project without discussing yourself. And I didn’t mind, since he’s incredibly self-deprecating.

I wouldn’t recommend this book as any sort of diet/exercise/health guide. You may pick up a few tips here and there, but it’s ultimately a cautionary tale. Jacobs finds that health, just like knowledge or virtue, can overwhelm your life. All things in moderation.

May 7, 2012

May 7, 2012

Wrath of the Titanic

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of the Titanic. Not just the movie, but the whole event and its ephemera. You got a work, fiction or non-, about the ship? I’ll read/watch/listen to it. Britons? Wealthy? 1912? Class warfare? Love it.

We’ve been getting lots of Titanic-related news lately, what with the 100-year anniversary and all. I think I read about a Houston restaurant that served a replica meal for some insane amount of money. I also think they did some sort of re-enacted voyage, though one hopes they didn’t also re-enact the sinking and tragic deaths.

But now I learn that an Australian billionaire plans to build and sail Titanic II in 2016. The vessel will be Chinese construction, so look for the little “Made in China” stickers under your pillow. No word on the food or entertainment plans, though I myself am hoping it tends more to shrimp than vegemite. I figure you’re going to get mostly American on this thing, after all; we’ve been re-enacting our two domestic land wars for hundreds of years, even though that involves wool stockings in 90-degree weather.

Speaking of historical re-enactment, why is it only the great events that get treated thus? What about those of smaller scale but equal importance? I’m talking about the guy who invented elastic. The discovery of the microwave. The first person to put the lime in the coconut. Where would society be without these discoveries, and why do we not honor them? Instead, we have people in blue shooting at people in grey every April for the next gajillion years.

But anyway. I’m hoping they let media on Titanic II, perhaps to live-tweet. Hashtag ideas: #NeverLettingGo, #Titanic2ElectricBoogaloo, and/or #AstorsRevenge.

Or if one of my lovely readers would live to give me an amazing 33rd-birthday present, well…

May 4, 2012

May 3, 2012

May 3, 2012

Generation Gap

While helping my parents with an internet-based transaction for the eleventy billionth time yesterday, I realized that it’s just a case of “what goes around comes around.” My parents, despite their many wonderful qualities, are woefully unsavvy when it comes to technology. I taught my mom to use Skype before she moved to Turkey, and nearly hanged myself during the process. Neither of them has a Facebook, or a Twitter, or even a Gmail. (Well, okay, my mom has a Gmail, but she doesn’t use it. I created it for her so she could…actually, I don’t even remember the reason.)

Unfortunately, more and more home- and employment-related transactions are going online-only. And while I don’t mind helping my parents update their health insurance coverage or pay the occasional utility bill, I do sometimes wish they understood what Google is.

Until it dawned on me that my parents’ generation had to do the same sort of stuff for THEIR parents. Take my dad’s parents, for instance.* They didn’t know how to drive. Instead of learning how to drive, they took public transportation until their oldest child (one of my aunts) learned how to drive. She then toted them wherever they needed to go.


Perhaps your parents were exasperated when their parents didn’t understand phonographs, or typewriters, or Pong. And your grandparents would’ve given anything to teach their parents how to use the phone, or a pocket camera. (Note: my knowledge of inventions is pretty limited, so please substitute innovations that would actually make sense here. The lightbulb? The cotton gin? Idk.)

Just think what your kids will be doing for you someday? I mean, we all think we’re the bee’s knees right now, with our Google+ and our foursquare. But once holograms and gesture-based technology come into play, we will be pretty much obsolete. Many of you have already spawned, so you’ll be all set. I myself plan to go hermit, until our robot overlords let me upload into the Matrix.

Time’s a funny thing, innit?

* Disclaimer: My dad’s parents had him in their 40s. So you may need to add a generation when considering your own family.

May 2, 2012

May 2, 2012

The Ulysses Contract

While reading AJ Jacobs’ newest (and excellent) book, Drop Dead Healthy, I learned about a Ulysses Contract. Have you heard of this? Basically, you motivate yourself to do (or refrain from doing) something by making the consequence untenable. AJ couldn’t figure out a way to stop eating dried mangoes, which were simultaneously delicious and diet-destroying. So he had his wife write a check for $1000 to a pro-Nazi organization, and made her promise to send it if he ate another dried mango.

Every time AJ considered having a li’l snack, he thought about how many (insert Nazi propaganda item here) you could buy with $1000. And he put the mangoes back. It’s not pretty, but it worked.

I seem to recall hearing about a website that did something similar. You had to designate an amount of money up front in exchange for…something…exercising every day? Quitting smoking? I forget. But if you didn’t succeed, the money was withdrawn from your account automatically. Again, I’m a little fuzzy on the details, but the gist seems to be that of a Ulysses Contract. Like that sailor of old, you resist the siren song of cigarettes/mangoes/actual sirens by giving yourself a Really Powerful Motivation the other way. (I don’t want to lose money/I don’t want to fund white supremacism/I don’t want to lose my arms while tearing myself from the mast of this ship, respectively.)

Some would say we just don’t have enough willpower. That if you need to start (or stop) doing something, you should Nike up and JUST DO IT. (Fun fact, also learned from “Drop Dead Healthy”: the Nike ad man who came up with that slogan was inspired with the last words of a guy preparing for lethal injection.) I consider myself one of those willpower advocates. Then I find myself staring at the bottom of an empty peanut butter jar. Burn!

Now I just need to figure out an organization that I hate enough to keep me from a faceful of Nutella.

May 1, 2012

May 1, 2012

Career Day

Take Your Daughter Child to Work Day was last Thursday. You may have noticed the presence of extra-small people. Or not. Surprisingly, more than a few showed up at CDTSNBN. Though my contact with them was minimal, there was a certain je ne sais quoi in the air that day.

Growing up, not once did I go to either of my parents’ workplaces for one of these. Was it not a thing in the ‘90s? Was it not a think in my parents’ government workplaces? Did they think it was better for me to just go to school that day? I can’t say. Though my parents both work for the same organizations now as they did then, and neither of them mentioned Take Your Child to Work Day last week. I can only assume that my parents’ employers are either too cool or not cool enough to participate.

Did you ever accompany a parent on-the-job? I can see certain situations in which this would be a pretty cool experience. Race car driver. Journalist. Television producer. Batman. Just spending a day riding shotgun with any of those professions would be something to remember. (Possibly dangerous, as well. Bampf, pow, and all that.) My parents spend their time helping bureaucracy grind slow and fine, so it would be less crime-fighting and more clerical. (In other words, my perfect day.)

CDTSNBN had a pretty structured set-up for the kiddos: scheduled activities, and office visits, and even a meet-and-greet with our top official. I’ll be honest: I’m jealous. (And probably subconsciously jealous becase I never got to do any of this stuff when I myself was a kid.) Because of the nature of the day, it was recommended that only children ages 9-15 participate. I’m told by TheBoy that children at his workplace (a component of a different CDTSNBN) ranged quite a bit younger. And noisier. And probably stickier.

I hope the kids left with a favorable impression. Perhaps even an inspiration to someday come work for us. Then again, we’ve come a bit full-circle, haven’t we? It wasn’t so long ago that children went to work all the time. As employees. Sewing shirtwaists and building the Titanic and what have you. Poor kids. (No pun intended.)

I wonder if future robot overlords will keep this going. Build a little extra capacity into the Matrix one day a year. Hmm.