July 31, 2012

July 31, 2012

Physical Education

“Need a fun, good workout? Try training for the zombie apocalypse.”

Though I didn’t click through to the article, this headline reminded me of a conversation I had with TheBoy recently, wherein we agreed that gym class was good for absolutely nothing. When civilization collapses, you’re not going to defend yourself with kickball. You’re going to need to know survival skills. How to start a fire. How to purify water. How to turn a volleyball into a delightful traveling companion. The things you learn in scouting (and from the movie Castaway). Not this “let’s choose teams and do jumping jacks” bs.

(I say this only partially because I’m terrible at athletics, and still have the occasional stress dream set in my elementary school gym.)

Honestly, this is true for almost every subject. We spend a lot of time learning theory and stuff, but it’s not like anyone in the Hunger Games used calculus EVER. Can I get a what-what-hey-o for Consumer Math? Give me APPLIED sciences, people. Those are the skills that will save you from bands of marauding aliens. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure Darth Vader was not defeated by reciting the periodic table. I’m pretty sure he was defeated by a giant explosion.

(Note: I have never seen any of the Star Wars films, so I guessed on that. It was either “giant explosion” or “vat of goo.”)

Nor can I suggest we solve this problem by mandating scouting, because even in my day we spent most of our time working on crafts and talking about boys. I assume that these days, 15 years later, girl scouts spend their meetings tweeting at each other. They will be among the first to go when society descends into chaos. The boy scouts will fare slightly better because they have knot skills and neckerchiefs.

Did you have the parachute in your gym class? Remind me what the point of that was, again? How many times as an adult have you found yourself holding the edge of a parachute and moving it up and down while other people run around and under it?

(If your answer was nonzero, tell me so we can trade lives.)

Maybe things would have been better if I didn’t have glasses. As my friend and fellow blogger Mel has attested many times, life is hell with corrective vision. Logistically, you can’t survive in as many situations. Underwater. Darkness. If the polar ice caps ever melt overnight, you might as well eat me right away.

Note that I’ve tried to stay away from criticizing The Rope, because I can see how the ability to climb a rope would help anyone In the Wild. Unfortunately, I’ve yet to come across anyone who could do so. I think maybe those kids get yanked out of school and put in a spy program to build a covert force of people with ridiculous arm strength.

(You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth!)

I plan to remain childless, so I must depend on those of you with offspring to teach them well. They’re obviously not going to get the training they need from school, or even from the scouts. Parents, get off your soda-stained couches and show those kids how to evade someone who wants to eat their face. Once the apocalypse hits, and I’m part of the shadow government, I’ll see to it that we leave them alone.

July 30, 2012

July 30, 2012

Sorry I Missed It: Hollywood Treasure

“Hollywood Treasure” is a SciFi Syfy program along the lines of “Auction Hunters” or “American Pickers.” In the case of HT, Joe Maddalena’s California-based Profiles in Courage sells Hollywood memorabilia for astounding prices. And unlike many shows in the genre, “Hollywood Treasures” features genuinely cool stuff. We’re talking Forrest Gump’s bench, Dorothy’s ruby slippers, and Beetlejuice’s coffin. Not just old Coke machines and stuff.

An episode we were watching the other day featured Wolverine’s claws from the film X2. Some guy in Oklahoma City had gotten them in a charity auction or something, and now needed money for a new roof. Though the seller wanted to just go for the quick cash, Joe Maddalena convinced him to consign the claws for auction, where they were likely to fetch a much higher price than Joe would be able to offer in an outright sale.

The claws were very nicely packaged in a wooden crate with custom molded foam cushioning. After the consignment was agreed to, I assume Joe got the claws back to California as checked luggage or heavily-insured UPS. (I’m assuming that if I can’t take tweezers on a plane, footlong mutant claws are also a no-go.)

TheBoy and I discussed the logistics of moving the claws, and I’m not sure who won:

Me: I wonder how heavy those claws are.
TB: Pretty heavy, probably.
Me: I wonder how heavy adamantium really is.
TB, a fiendish chemistry devotee, gives me A Look.
Me: What?
TB: You know that’s not a real element.
Me: Um, the next thing I know, you’re going to tell me that unobtainium isn’t a real element. I bet they are both really heavy.

James Cameron wouldn’t lie about science, right?

“Hollywood Treasure” is a good summer show, in that it is airing new episodes now and is availably legally for free on Hulu here. You won’t be able to afford any of the items, but you will be able to judge the people who can.

July 27, 2012

July 27, 2012

L-E-U! L-E-U!

Once again, it’s time for my second-favorite quadrennial event: the Olympics.* Though I prefer the winter version, the summer games have plenty going for them. The sheer number of events and participants, for one. You’ve got people twirling ribbons and jumping on trampolines, all in the name of sport. Or, um, “sport.” But far be it from me to judge any of the competitors, since I can barely complete a commute without breaking a shoe or a body part.**

I love watching the opening ceremonies, because I am all about the spectacle. I want the host country to blow me away with sound and visuals. Since the games are in London this year, I’m hoping for holograms of all the monarchs going back to Henry VII. (I’ve been practicing that list in eager anticipation. William IV always throws me for some reason.) The Parade of Nations, wherein all the competitors enter by country, is another favorite. Not least because there are a great many countries that you never hear about except during these 11 days every four years. St. Kitts and Nevis? C’mon! Plus the parade of crazy outfits. Plus the fact that everything is spoken first in English and in French. Chant it with me: Les Etats-Unis! Les Etats-Unis! Les Etats-Unis!

The games themselves are hit-or-miss for me, since they often (a) take place outside of prime time, and (b) involve people I don’t know doing things I don’t understand. I’m hoping Bob Costas will be out in full force summarizing events, providing athlete backstories, and generally being awesome. Because for any event covered by NBC Sports—be it horse racing, golf, or pole vaulting—I expect touching previews and wrap-ups. #TeamCostas

Plus, I recently read an article in ESPN Magazine about what goes on in the Athletes’ Village during the games. Apparently, it is like a giant fraternity of skilled/healthy/beautiful people full of adrenaline and looking to celebrate with no commitment. It’s no surprise that condoms are shipped in by the crateload. Seriously.

Then you have the closing ceremonies, which are a bit of a downer for everybody. The winners realize their time of glory is almost over. The losers are losers. The sore losers have already gone home. The monarch holograms are about to be put back in the Matrix. Sad times.

But tonight? Tonight I’m on the edge of my seat with several litres of Diet Coke.

* #1 is the Presidential Election.
** True story. I realized on Wednesday that I had somehow cracked the heel of my left shoe. The rubber heel.

July 12, 2012

July 12, 2012

In My Opinion: J. Edgar


J. Edgar Hoover is one of those names so ingrained in DC culture that you forget there was once a man behind the myth. It’s like when I learned that Dulles was a person before Dulles was an airport. There’s an uncomfortable flash, then a shock of recognition, then confusion. Sort of like when the Chipotle server gives you the wrong kind of beans.

Anyway, I knew very little about Hoover before this film. First director of the FBI and namesake of its headquarters, sure. That’s enough to get you to the $600 clue in Jeopardy. I’d also heard that he was a bit paranoid and possibly gay. But that’s about it.

The movie does quite a bit of flashing back and forward. It tries to be a frame tale, with Old Hoover (DiCaprio in some pretty bad prosthetics) narrating his memoirs to a series of young agents. (With typewriters; how quaint!) The film flashes back to notable events in Hoover’s life. How he got started with the Bureau after nobly fighting Communism on our shores. How he shaped the Bureau to his exacting standards with regards to everything from agents’ appearance to the use of fingerprints and criminological techniques. How he single-handedly brought down some of the day’s most notorious criminals.

Or did he?

See, that’s the thing. The whole thing is obviously told from Hoover’s point of view. In which he was nothing short of the hero during each and every arrest. Towards the very end of the film, Hoover’s confidante, Clyde Tolson, challenges many of Hoover’s assertions. He claims that the flashbacks as portrayed in the movie were mostly Hoover’s aspirational imagination.

Well, crap. Glad I just spent two hours watching them, then.

Also, we get a healthy dose of dysfunction in Hoover’s relationships with his mother and with Tolson. I get that those things were major factors in his life. I guess that I was just looking for a little more “Let’s kick some criminal butt!” and a little less “Let’s wear mother’s pearls!” I’m generally way more interested in someone’s work life than home life. (SO PLEASE DON’T TELL ME ABOUT YOUR KIDS.)

(Arnie Hammer as Tolson, though? Fantastic. For one, the old-age prosthetics were so much better. For two, Winklevii in the house!)

Another thing I noticed about this movie was that it was dark. I don’t mean thematically; I mean visually. Most of the scenes seemed to be set either at night or in darkened rooms. Whether this was a stylistic choice on the part of director Clint Eastwood or a condition of the TV on which I watched the film, I cannot say. Let’s pretend it’s the latter, because I see no good reason for 2+ hours of blackness.

I give this film a wistful thumbs down. I so wanted it to be good. FBI insider with a dose of Hoover-at-home. But perhaps I should’ve known from the title that this was a film about the man, and not the myth or the legend.

July 11, 2012

July 11, 2012

City Mouse

A recent article notes that cities are growing faster than suburbs these days, mostly because young people choose to live urban rather than suburban. While I am nothing if not an old soul in a young body, on this point I heartily agree. I’m a child of the city and plan to remain so until retiring to the moon colony in 2048.

You may not be a city person, and that’s totally okay. (Or, I will pretend it’s totally okay while I surreptitiously try to bring you to my side.) You have nature and sunsets and things. You don’t have to worry about crime, or traffic, or that homeless guy on 23rd Street. Win-win!

But the city. Oh, the city. To me, it’s like a symphony, both of sight and of sound. Have you ever watched the traffic on Broadway? Any time of day or night, it’s a ballet of taxis and pedicabs and pedestrians. On their way to a show, or dinner, or that new thing at the Met. It’s not that you can’t get a show, or dinner, or that new thing at the Met when you live in the suburbs. It just takes a heck of a lot longer. (Unless you get an apartment in the city, but Pete Campbell showed us that’s probably not a great idea.)

Yes, I realize the irony here. I hate people, yet I prefer to live in the midst of humanity. I think it’s because I love the amenities built to cater to a high population. While rural areas are devoid of people, they are also devoid of libraries and Trader Joe’s. Someone once said something to me to the effect of “Back home, we have to drive 45 minutes to get to anywhere” and I almost slapped them.

I can handle about 4 days in the wild, after which point I need the comforts of the city. Diet Coke from a soda fountain, jaywalking, etc. When it comes to NATURE and QUIET, your mileage may vary.

“I have an affection for a great city. I feel safe in the neighborhood of man, and enjoy the sweet security of the streets.” ―Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

“I look out the window and I see the lights and the skyline and the people on the street rushing around looking for action, love, and the world's greatest chocolate chip cookie, and my heart does a little dance.” ―Nora Ephron

“A city is a place where there is no need to wait for next week to get the answer to a question, to taste the food of any country, to find new voices to listen to and familiar ones to listen to again.” ―Margaret Mead

July 10, 2012

July 10, 2012

One Across

A few weeks ago, during a summer-induced Hulu binge (did you know they just added millions of hours of Cooking Channel programming?), I watched the documentary “Wordplay,” about New York Times crossword editor Will Shortz, and the cult of the NYT crossword.

Utterly. Transfixed.

I haven’t gotten that level of chills during a film much since…since…since the titular talk in The King’s Speech. I was roused, I was prepared for action, I was open equally to defeating the Nazis or attacking a grid of squares with a sharpened number 2 pencil.

Since Hitler’s already dead,* I went with the crossword. With the best of intentions, I planned to do each weekday’s puzzle during my lunch hour. (Which is actually a lunch 45 minutes.) But then I forgot. Or had to work through lunch. Or what-have-you. With the end result that three weeks later, I’d done about a puzzle and a half.

But yesterday, I pledged to make a fresh start. It helps that the Monday puzzle is always the easiest. I may be smart (okay, really smart), but I am certainly no pro when it comes to crosswords. Lo and behold, though!

Finished in 11 minutes.

Then, I caught the daily Jeopardy tweet question:

On a roll!

If only all of life were as immediately intellectually rewarding.

* Have you ever considered when you’d go if you had a time machine? People ask me this all the time (okay, once in a while), and I always say that I would save the Titanic.** People are shocked because you are apparently supposed to say that you’d kill Hitler. But *I* say that we obviously eventually found a way to kill Hitler, whereas we did NOT find a way to keep the Titanic from sinking. So there.
** I would then go back to Victorian England and dissemble the machine because HELLO MOTHERSHIP.

July 9, 2012

July 9, 2012

Sorry I Missed It: Girls

I’d always planned for Girls to be a summer catch-up show. Not least because I’m not an HBO subscriber. But also because it seemed like the sort of frothy Junior-Sex-and-the-City bildungsroman that would work so well with long summer evenings and Diet Cokes with pink umbrellas in them.

Girls, of course, is so much more than that, but I think the comparison to Carrie and company is a good place to start. You have the earnest writer, the chaste prepster, the wild child, and the sane-but-boring one. They live in New York. They have struggles related to work, romance, and ekeing out a living in the Big Apple (but Brooklyn, not Manhattan).

But, of course, these are women born in the 1980s. They (we) barely remember a time before the internet, are concerned with text message etiquette, and count on our parents for emotional and fiscal support. That last one is the catch for Girls’ main character, Hannah, you see. For she’s found that following her dream of becoming a writer is financially incompatible with the cost of living. Even in Brooklyn. And her parents are being SO UNREASONABLE by not agreeing to give her $1100 a month. The way Hannah sees it, $1100 a month is a small price to pay in order for your beloved daughter to become the voice of this generation. (Or even the voice of *a* generation, as Hannah accedes is probably more likely.)

Becoming an adult is kinda scary. And while it’s tempting to write Hannah off as a selfish, entitled little twit, you end up empathizing with her, even if you aren’t also someone who also spent her first quarter century subsidized by Midwestern parents. It’s not a totally realistic show; of the four leads, only one appears to have an actual job, and that’s as an art gallery receptionist. (Whereas the women of SatC at least had identifiable and lucrative professions.) Nor am I a fan of Hannah’s boyfriend, who some describe as “hipster Mr. Big.” Ugh. But the dialogue is good, and the show’s muted colors make me think of a less-precious Wes Anderson. It’s like life through a nostalgic filter. And isn’t that really what the transition to adulthood is?

July 6, 2012

July 6, 2012

Hot Town

Despite my curious fascination with weather phenomena, the word “derecho” was not one with which I was familiar. Spanish in origin, the word may be a contrast to “tornado,” which indicates spin. Whereas derecho is just straight-on ball-busting wind and rain. As I saw on Friday night, when all hell broke loose in the DC area.

Bottom line up front: I never lost power, water, or internet. I sustained no damage to myself or my property. I have absolutely no reason to complain, for once in my ungrateful life.

I avidly followed Twitter and the local media feeds to watch the chaos unfold. Since I was at TheBoy’s apartment, and he’s a bit of a Doomsday Prepper, I was surrounded by emergency radios, ultrabright flashlights, and more Doppler radars than you can shake a water purification tablet at. We watched the derecho blow in (literally), and I saw trees bend in ways I thought confined to Florida and the movie “Twister.” It was insane, I tell you! Insane!

While we have plenty of tornadoes in Wisconsin, you are very rarely able to watch them come in. Instead, you are ducking and covering in the basement of your school, or possibly under your parents’ ping pong table. (I have done both.) A good chunk of my summer vacations were spent cowering in fear of a green sky. It’s just how we roll in the Midwest, though we rarely end up transplanted to Oz.

So Saturday morning dawned bright and hot, and I started on my First World Errands. I had to buy a new laptop, get my free monthly piece of Godiva chocolate, and use a couple of Victoria’s Secret coupons. Never mind the people who were sitting in pools of their own sweat, ha ha! I had a COUPON to use!

All this to say that as misanthropic as I am, there are times when I am the very model of the person I despise. Some people still have no power. With temperatures that have been in the 90s every.single.day.this.week.

To those reading this blog on a cell phone charged surreptitiously at the local library, I salute you. You’re better people than I am.

July 5, 2012

July 5, 2012

U-S-A U-S-A U-S-A

Did you have a good Fourth of July? I spent the night before at a party wherein I tried to interact socially as the humans do while kicking butt at party games. Moderately successful. I’m just not cut out for human interaction.

The holiday itself involved a trip to the National Geographic Museum. Had a Groupon expiring Sunday for the Titanic exhibit. I don’t know about you, but I enjoy nothing more on a holiday than pondering the death of thousand of people one hundred years ago. I’ll never let go, Jack!

Because it was eleventy billion degrees outside, we made our burgers on the stove. And by “we,” I mean “TheBoy,” because I am more of an eating person than a cooking person. But behold!

Colby jack, garlic, mustard. Exactly as Thomas Jefferson had his veggie burgers.

The big event in these parts, of course, is the fireworks. They broadcast them on PBS, but we threw caution to the wind and decided to find a live viewing vantage point. The problem with watching the fireworks on the National Mall is the fact that millions of people have the same idea. The exact same idea. So you end up with a sea of hot people who have no idea how to use the Metro. It’s a convergence that I want no part of. So many people find alternatives. Tall buildings with views of the Mall, and ideally not even in the District itself. We went to Long Bridge Park, a newly-constructed dealio right across the river from where the action was.

(Note that should nuclear weapons ever get launched from the Pentagon, Long Bridge Park will provide an excellent view.)

Folks, this turned out to be a brilliant setup. I’d nervously watched people head to the park all afternoon from the Metro station, and assumed it would be jam-packed with the festering masses I’d been hoping to avoid. We didn’t head over until 15 minutes before the fireworks started, because it was just too effing hot. But instead of moving to the end of the park directly across the river from the Mall, people were spread all along the length of the park. I’m honestly not sure that 90% of those people ended up seeing the fireworks at all.

But we did.

GOD BLESS AMERICA, BITCHES!

And after the 17-minute show was done? WE WALKED HOME. Phenomenal.

I hope that all countries celebrating independence this month have as much fun as we do.