Thursday, December 15, 2011

Random Football Prediction

I would just like to go on record to say that I think New England is going to beat Denver by more than 7 points this weekend.  It's relevant because that is currently the spread.  Denver is playing at home and they have the Chosen One of God at Quarterback.  Nevertheless, were I a betting man (which, as it happens, I am) and, were I in Vegas (which, as it happens, I am not) I would be plunking down some C-notes on New England.  Denver is a mediocre team that has been the recipient of many, many, good breaks the last few weeks.  The miracles have to end.  This is the week.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The New Muppet Movie

Totally rocks. I mean, I'd see a Muppet Movie no matter how good or bad it was. That goes without saying. But the new one--it's actually pretty great. Up there with the old ones (not the first one, of course, but definitely in the same league).  Bret Mackenize (from Flight of the Conchords) wrote some pretty great, singable tunes ("Life's A Happy Song"), the jokes were memorable, the story moved along.  All in all highly recommended.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Friday November 11

Well I've posted very little this month I know. No real excuse except a lingering emotional debility. Or a lack of energy. Or something. It's not been a very good month. And I don't have much mojo working right now. My time keeps getting broken into small parcels. And, going back home for a brief time and seeing all the old gang and feeling companionship and energy from them again only makes California's isolation more difficult and unpleasant.

So, my usual policy when I'm filled with despair and grouchiness is to not post on the blog--figuring there's nothing worse in the world than reading other people's complaints. But, at the same time, I know from experience that often just forcing myself to write a post tends to lift my mood. So it's a double-edged wombat, as it were. Or maybe a double-furred wombat? That's a lot of wombat!

And the good news is that next week I'm going to New York, to see friends of all stripes and furriness. And the tutoring is very busy, although that's a mixed blessing. It's more money but it's less time to do the second draft of the play. The second draft is essentially becoming a page one rewrite, which is a thing to make one sad. To make me sad, actually. But that's okay. It's not that I can't build the bridge, I just need time to get all the pieces. That, at least, is a development.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

"Pepe is a Prawn"

The Paranormal Activities bit, about a minute in, is where this started to make me laugh out loud.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Monday, October 24

Shocked to see the total lack of response to the excellent Tinie Tempeh video I put up Thursday.  I've been reciting his rhymes to myself all weekend.  My wife even compared him (favorably) to The Streets--favorably!  (She prefaced that by saying--correctly--that I probably wouldn't agree.)  But his rhymes are clever and fun and his general attitude towards life is festive and upbeat, in a knowing ironic way.  So I can relate.

Have to fly to [Southern City] this weekend for a semi-expected funeral.  My grandmother was 102 years old; she'd lived a long and happy life.  In recent years her medical problems had made it harder and harder to do the things she most enjoyed--working in her garden and walking in her neighborhood.  So, all in all, it was probably as optimal a death as one could have.  If I were speaking at the funeral, I think I'd talk about wisdom.  We'd like to hope that as we get older, we all get wiser.  In reality, though, I'm not sure that's the case.  So the trick for those of us who are still relatively young, who are still aspiring to acquire wisdom from our elders, is to work out who actually possesses wisdom and who only thinks they do.  And there's no surefire way to do this.  But, one reliable signpost, I think, to indicate a person who may actually may be wise is that they still have a capacity for joy.  As most people age, they tend (in general) to become less joyous.  This is understandable; in some basic way life is suffering--the more we live, the more we suffer.  So joy becomes, with age, more difficult.  The ability to feel and express joy despite advancing age is one of the surest signs I know that the person aging has somehow gotten wisdom--and is someone therefore we should seek to learn from.

Of course, joyousness despite advancing age can often make a person seem foolish.  Think of Falstaff: the greatest fool--and sage--in all of Shakespeare.  His foolishness is one with his wisdom; two sides of the same coin.  My grandmother, who retained a capacity for joy well into her late nineties, could also in her way seem foolish.  Her entire philosophy of life could be accurately reduced to: growing tomatoes is a lot of fun.  But in the time I spent with her (when I lived in Houston I used to visit her every week) I always came away feeling like she actually did know what she was talking about--that she actually had wisdom.  She was alone in a house with just her maids; her husband had died more than twenty years ago, and yet despite it all she was still--in general--remarkably happy.

I hope our visits together allowed me to gain from some of her wisdom.  At the very least I hope I can emulate her spirit of joyfulness.  Those readers who attended my wedding (which I think is pretty much all of you) might remember the speech she gave before dinner about our relationship.  In its details, it was almost entirely inaccurate.   But in its underlying insight, it was completely true.  It may have been the best speech of my whole wedding.  Now the speaker is no more.  But the words, I hope, in some way will endure.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Call me chauvinistic but she can't even spell it

Tinie Tempah--what I'm listening to now. Here he's featured with Chase & Status, but he's the attraction. Get his album, Disc-overy  for lyrics like this:

papz (paparazzi) see me up in the vicinity and flash me
i'm the definition of definitive and catchy
the only thing that's bigger, quicker, slicker
more black and more upper london is a taxi

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Weekend Report

The Parents were in town this weekend which gave me an opportunity to do some of the LA things that tourists usually do.  After four years here, I still hadn't been to the Getty Museum (which I pass daily driving to tutor).  We cooked for them one night and went out the others.  Their experience was a bit desultory I think--the freeways were even more clogged than usual and their hotel proved to be a major disappointment.  But it was nice that they came.  Exhausting, but nice.

I saw two new movies last week.  One was In The Loop.  A dark comedy about the political machinations that lead up to the US/UK declaration of war on Iraq, In The Loop is the only movie I can ever remember Netflix recommending to me with four stars (when they do the thing about "What YOUR Rating Will Be.")  I had high expectations, therefore, and I have to say they weren't really met.  Every character in the movie is deceitful or cowardly or manipulative or...base.  It's supposed to be funny, but I found its cynicism so excessive that I couldn't care about the comedy.  A fantastic cast with great performances (James Gandolfini as a coarse US General was particularly good) but the movie itself did not equal the sum of its parts.

My other recent viewing featured a corp of Scottish Bagpipers and Alec Guinness.  Therefore, you would assume that it had to be great.  And, indeed, Tunes of Glory did not disappoint.  Well, okay, it disappointed a little (the ending maybe didn't work perfectly).  But mostly, Tunes Of Glory gets an unequivocal "Yes" from the ANCIANT reviewing team.  Guinness is the movie's center, of course; he plays a rough and ready, hard drinking Scottish soldier who's been assigned the command of a military outpost in the Scottish highlands.  The plot involves his growing conflicts with a by-the-book commanding officer who's brought in to replace him, but the plot is less the draw than the performances.  Also, the bagpipes.  There are a LOT of bagpipes.  Plus, a lot of people drinking Scotch and using words like "lassie" non ironically.  It's a good time.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Big Meal in NYC

After years of writing restaurant reviews for the New York Times, critic Sam Sifton announced that in his farewell column he would select the single "Best Restaurant" in New York.  To nobody's surprise, he chose Thomas Keller's Per Se.  The wife and I (who are heading to The Big Kiwi in a month) have already considered having a blowout meal at Keller's world-renowned foodie Mecca, but the cost and time commitment made us waver.  The article doesn't really change my opinion; although part of me thinks this would be a fascinating, perhaps sublime, experience, I also question how any one meal can be worth close to 1000$ (the price of a nine-course dinner for two with full tasting menu and drink pairings is slightly less than that, but not much).

Luckily, in another 'farewell' column Sifton also ranked all the restaurants he's ever  reviewed in New York.  There, again, the list of places awarded three and four stars is predictable: Daniel, Jean-Georges, Del Posto, Ai Fiori, etc.  Still, worth looking over for those interested in American fine dining.

Right now I'm leaning towards Eleven Madison Park for one (possibly our only) big blow-out New York foodie dinner.  Although Per Se still has a dark fascination...

Saturday, October 8, 2011

A Post With More Home Life In It

Yesterday, while I was working on a scheduling issue with one of my students, she said that maybe we shouldn't meet late in the afternoon on Friday, "because you might want to have Date Night with your wife."  I don't know where it came from; it's not as if I ever talk to this girl about my wife, or about Date Night.  (Also the meeting in question was going to start at 4:30, which has little chance of interfering with Date Night around the ANCIANT household).

Then, later the same night--on a Date with the wife--I was told that my blog has not featured enough family stuff of late.  There's been no Bink.  There's been no wife.  That's no good, the wife said.  My readership wants family life!

So, here's some snippets of family life--centering around Date Night no less--to appease the quiet majority my wife thinks is out there.

-We went to a new Italian restaurant.  The food was above average, the ambience was great.  The service was terrible.  But they had forty dollar Barolos, which is pretty great and pretty rare.  The wine alone made it worth the price of admission.  Barolo--the grape of the gods.  Reminds me of my friend Cold Bacon, who sent me a great email yesterday.  But that's not apposite.

-Discussion Topic At Dinner (Main): my wife's research.  She has about nine different projects at various stages of completion right now, and I need constantly to be reminded of what they are and what they aim to do.  Her most exciting project is...

-The Illumaniti.  The wife has been invited to a National meeting of higher-ups within her work universe. They are going to meet at a retreat somewhere near DC and decide the future of the planet.  The price of Zinc. Who'll win the next Presidential election.  Stuff like that.  So, if you have any hopes for the future, submit them now.  It's all about to be decided.

-At the end of the date, when we returned to the Eager Dog Locale (aka our house) I let my wife suggest some appropriately romantic music.  Her choice?  Rumours. (!?)  Don't get me wrong: I LOVE LOVE LOVE Rumours, but....I don't know.  The album is a chronicle of two different marriages dissolving.  It has Stevie Nicks singing things like "if you don't love me now, you will never love me again."  Yes, it's Stevie Nicks, which is an absolute good.  But I had to question the mood of the thing.   ("Chains...keep us together" I quoted to my wife.  To which she said, defiantly, "that's right.  I am your chain."  Which, while true, doesn't necessarily awaken thoughts of love in me.  Or anyone.)

Anyway, it was all moot in the end because I don't have Rumours on my iPod (inexcusable, I admit).  So she got a second choice, and with it she picked....Led Zeppelin. (!!!)  And there was much rejoicing!  We watched a long documentary about Robert Plant when we were in London last year.  I think that, combined with It Might Get Loud (which we also saw recently) has finally allowed my wife to put aside her high-school associations with Led Zeppelin (i.e. geeky boys and Rush) and listen to them on their own terms.  Doing so, she has realized--like all right-thinking people must--that they are fricking awesome.  (One of the few bands from my youth that I actually seem to like MORE, the older I get.)

So anyway, I got to listen to Robert Plant singing about ringwraiths last night, during a date.  Now THAT is romance.  Yes it is.

Oh, and here is some Bink.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Current Input(s)

What I'm Listening To:

Everything That Happens Will Happen Today
by David Byrne and Brian Eno (2008)

One of my favorite recent purchases, and for sure of David Byrne's best non-Talking Heads albums.  An album about aging that is not maudlin or self-pitying and that actually rocks.  Grown up music that's still invigorating.  Three and a half stars.  (Out of five)

What I'm Reading

Dead Souls
by Nikolai Gogol

I keep intending to stop reading this book but then I keep reading.  I think that says something about its hidden depths.  Either that or my hidden persistence.  It has no real story, instead the author just follows around a would-be entrepeneur as he meets and talks to various members of Russian society.  It fees like a documentary, or a piece of New Journalism a hundred years avant la lettre.  Except it's not--it's a novel.  One that I never look forward to reading, but always think about with interest when I'm done.  Three stars.

What I'm Watching

Samurai Assassin
by Kihachi Okamato

Decent but uninspring.  A displaced ronin joins a conspiracy to murder an important samurai daimyo.  He is compelled to make increasingly difficult and painful sacrifices in order to help the conspirators until ultimately he leans (too late) that the daimyo he has plotted to kill is in fact his own father.  Two and a half stars.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Sept 30

Watched Kobayashi's excellent Samurai Rebellion this week.  A pacifist and something of a gentle cynic, Kobayashi makes movies about the failures and inconsistencies of the samurai code. In Samurai Rebellion, for example, the injustness and capriciousness of the daimyo (the lord of a particular region) ultimately pushes one of his followers (played here by T Mifune) into open rebellion.  The inciting incident involves a courtesan whom the daimyo has grown tired of. Wanting a new lover, he forces the courtesan to leave his house and asks Mifune to marry her to his son. Mifune demurs at first but then, reluctantly, agrees (he had intended to choose his son's bride for himself and resents having to take a 'fallen woman' into his household.) The courtesan and the son eventually fall deeply in love, at which time the daimyo changes his mind and calls the courtesan back to his court. At this, Mifune balks. Ultimately, a mini-war breaks out, with predictably deleterious consequences.  The movie traces out Mifune's growing disillusionment and resentment toward not only his daimyo but the whole system which supports him. Really, really excellent.  (Harakiri, also by Kobayashi, is similarly great.)

Have been watching 30 Rock in syndication at night of late; it’s on twice here at 11:30 and 12. Surprised to find how poorly it holds up, how much less good it seems now than it once did. Not sure exactly why and would like to figure it out. A few great episodes, of course, but... hmm.  It's a lot less funny than I remember.  Also Tina Fey is starting to wear thin. The fact that she frames herself as a klutz who eats all the time when she’s in fact thin, pretty, and successful may be part of it. Feels all like a ruse of some sort, I don’t know.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

"He Left Us Too Soon When He Croaked On Top of That Chick For Hire"

As I was reading the article in last week's New Yorker about Tony Bennett recording a duet with Lady Gaga, I thought occasionally of an SNL skit from a few years back called "The Tony Bennett Show."  In it, Alec Baldwin does one of his funniest bits--impersonating the irrepressible, and often inappropriate, old crooner.   This weekend, watching SNL, I was happily surprised to see Baldwin reprising the role.  The whole thing is pitch perfect and hilarious.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Why Anyone Would Go

I never thought I'd be writing this but after reading this piece in Slate, I think I want to go to Burning Man next year (!).  If only to be able to witness things like this...

There was also a Billion Bunny March. This involved hundreds of people—sorry bunnies, journalistic ethics require me to provide a factual attendance estimate—dressed in bunny costumes, parading together around the city. OK, I hear you saying, cute, fine, whatever. But then people in carrot costumes show up to protest the march! With signs demanding bunny-carrot equality!
Launch a slideshow of Burning Man signs.
 At one point I happened upon a wooden pier in the middle of the open desert. It was about 75 feet long, and 20 feet high at its furthest reach. Actual ocean-going yachts (they had been refitted with motorized wheels) pulled up to the pier and docked at it, sometimes three at a time. Passengers would disembark and party on the pier to the thumping sounds of a DJ. Then people hopped back on the yachts—often different yachts than they'd arrived on—and the boats pulled away and sailed off into the desert again.
When there were no yachts at the pier you could go fishing off its edges. A woman handed us a fishing rod with a small toy tied to the end of its line, urging us to dangle our lure and see what we might catch. After a few moments, a dude in a crab costume jumped out from beneath the pier and grabbed the toy in his mouth.

Friday, September 23, 2011

"It baffles me that grown people must convince themselves that those with whom they disagree are stupid or malevolent.”

I highly recommend this fascinating and thought-provoking consideration of George W. Bush written by a former Washington Post reporter who had an opportunity to get to know him--well--over a number of years.  Whatever you think of his presidency or his politics, this is worth your time.  The comments beneath also bear looking at.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Thursday, Sept 22

Long tedious day of driving and errands.  First to Gucci to haggle with people about a purse I've finally convinced them to take back (it's involved two separate trips and a long, crafty letter to their corporate offices).  That took an hour each way in traffic.  From there to [Bank Name] to deal with more ridiculousness for our refinance plans.  Even describing what the underwriter for our hopefully-soon-to-exist new loan is asking us to do, the hoops within hoops within hoops he wants me to leap through, singing, would take more energy and time than I can summon.  And it might not be plausible anyway.  Suffice it to say that the mortgage industry has gone from a policy of giving anyone off the street who wants a loan whatever they want without any background check to one of requiring DNA extractions, personality tests, and donations of blood and kidneys.  It's horrible.

Watched a fairly mediocre Samurai film a few days ago—Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman.  (Directed by Takeshi "Beat" Kitano).  Zatoichi's a classic iconic Japanese figure, maybe a bit like Robin Hood for the UK or The Lone Ranger here.  He's a blind samurai master who travels around Japan righting wrongs and saving the downtrodden and such.  All sorts of directors there have used him in all sorts of ways--this is the second movie I've seen in which he was the hero.  

Movie didn't work on various levels.  Main problem was the hero's near total invincibility.  He can win at dice by listening to them roll in the cup; he can defeat any other samurai in battle; he can sense when a man is dressed as a woman just by...I don't know.  Smell?  Point is, this Zatoichi could basically do anything, which makes for poor drama.  Heroes without flaws are not heroes--they're Gods.  (How much less interesting would Superman be without kryptonite?)  The only drama in this Zatoichi was seeing HOW he would eventually be ranged against the various baddies threatening the peaceful countryside.  Once that happened, there was no doubt he would defeat them.  And so, no point in watching.

Movie was shot in 2003 and had some very stylized violence in it that made me think in bad ways of Tarantino.  Also, Monty Python (the skits where people have their heads cut off and blood shoots twenty feet out of their neck like from a hose).  Actually it may have been one of the no doubt nine dozen samurai swordfight movies that inspired (if that word can be used so loosely here) the two Kill Bill movies.  I don't know.  But it wasn't worth my time.

Tomorrow I go back to REAL samurai movies, with some Kurosawa and some Mifune.  And some real work without driving.  And, maybe, in the evening, a Sierra Nevada.  Sweet, sweet Sierra Nevada.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Tuesday, September 20

Yesterday turned out to be a very good one for work.

Sunday's new student went all right but not great.  Didn’t get as good a ‘read’ on her as I would have liked.  Still the mother is no nonsense about work and she is driven enough to have told her mom she wanted an SAT tutor at the start of her junior year.  So it should be all right.  Still not sure if I didn't say a few things I shouldn't have.  I give myself a B to B- on our first meeting.

I think I’m giving up on Dead Souls.  300 pages in and I guess I should just finish.  But I feel little motivation.  Gogol's voice is for him the attraction I think and though it may have been ground-breaking when published the contant authorial interruptions and commentary feels now gimmicky, tired, and over-cute. (“Oh some readers may object to _ I know, but what can I do? This is how we poor Russians are!”)  Too much of that.  I started reading Isaac Babel short stories yesterday but I think I’ll also begin a novel of some sort.

Have been enjoying return of NFL far more than I expected.  Having DVR makes a huge improvement to watching games.  The ability to fast forward through commercials, kickoffs, and Dan Dierdorf makes the watching experience exponentially better.  The league itself continues to be the best run in pro sports; the salary cap allows relative parity (no Yankees and Red Sox buying the best team every year) and because of the season’s brevity the actual games all feel important.  It’s a surprise to me—as little a jock as there ever was one—but I’ve become a real football fan.  I even watch football ‘analysis’ shows (of which a great parody could and should be written—if I were on SNL I’d pitch this in week one).  Although I will say that, for my money, Mark Schlereth is the worse—and the dimmest—commentator in all of sports.

Watched a fascinating documentary on Bobby Fisher over the weekend (on HBO).  I knew already most of the facts about his life, but I’d never seen the video footage—his confrontation with Spassky in '72 and his steady devolution thereafter into an anti Semitic conspiracy nut.  (His radio address exulting in the attack on the World Trade Center was particularly unsettling).  The press conference he gives when he is allowed to enter Iceland and become a citizen (2001?) stands out, especially the exchange between him and Jeremy Schaap about J’s father’s “typical” Jewish treachery towards Fisher.  Then the older man from Iceland who talked about how exhauasting it was to be around Fisher, how he drove everyone away.  Not that that needed explaining—it was plain on the video.  But fascinating.  Made me feel much more sympathy towards him than I ever had.  His mother more or less abandoned him at sixteen and he clearly never developed even the most minimal socialization skills.  (He basically locked himself in his apartment and played chess from sixteen to his mid twenties).  Although I have a fatigue about the genius madness thing.  We like to have our geniuses nutty so we are freed from the burden of being not genius.  

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sunday September 18th

Planned to write all day Friday but decided to try and take things easier this weekend.  I've had to tutor both days this weekend so I won’t have much time to myself, and I'm down in the up/down fatigue excitement cycle that a long project involves.  I don't usually write on the blog much then, but I am trying to force myself to post every other day. 

Bink misbehaved Thursday night; howled for a while after bedtime and then began clawing up the box.  We have a box that we use to keep him inside the kitchen; a cardboard box, and on top of it a large plastic box containing his food, leash, playthings and sundry.  There used to be two cardboard boxes and then the plastic but he’s done so much clawing and eating damage to the first box we’ve taken it away.  Now he’s on the second box.  Some nights he goes quietly to bed and makes no fuss.  Other nights he makes considerable fuss.  You can hear him clawing and biting at the box from the bedroom.  Both wife and I got up a few times to try and stop him but he wouldn’t relent.  In the end the only solution was to go to bed and come in the morning and pick up all the shards of cardboard his work has left.  Then he's tired all day (from having spent the evening working on the box) and doesn't sleep that night.  And the cycle continues.

You might wonder why we keep him in the kitchen for the night at all.  We’ve tried letting him roam; the problem is that he will see one of the neighbor’s cat (or sense, more likely) outside the front door or back den windows at 4 in the AM and howl and how and howl.  The front door hallway is right next to the hall where our bedroom is and that howl shoots down the long hallway like a rocket.  No sleeping through that.  The ideal would be to somehow train him not to howl at things during the night (especially cats—burglars might be okay) but we don’t know how to do that. 

After all the fun on Thursday night, wife bought a pet gate for the kitchen which I then installed, using my many macho powers of...installing things.  So far the gate has not provoked his wrath--no nights of clawing and howling have yet occurred.  I don't know if that's because he's been tired again at night or if somehow the gate makes him less aggravated than the box.  We'll see.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Friday September 16th

I'm going to resume my 'journal a day' practice for the next month.  Except it will be 'journal every other day.'

Last night watched Taste of Cherry by Iranian director A. Kiarastami.  A man drives around Iran in a car trying to find someone to help bury him after he commits suicide.  That’s the story.  It’s mostly all shot inside the man’s car.  The people he meets are all men, and seem to represent the spectrum of people in today’s Iran (well, some spectrum).  They are each deliberately noted as being from different places (Kurdistan, Afghanistan, Lorestan(?)) and work a variety of jobs that seem to represent roles in modern-day Iran—soldier, seminarist, guard.  The movie ends with the man taking sleeping pills and lying down in the grave, as he’s told us he would.  The ‘drama’ such as it is involves whether or not the man has taken enough sleeping pills to wake up or not (this is the role of the person who has to help him—either to wake him, in the morning, or bury him).

Movie was not what you’d called thrilling.  In an interview on the DVD, Kiarastami talked about how he personally disliked movies that compelled you to be thrilled.  Movies that grabbed hold of you and didn’t let you think.  He said he preferred movies that you thought about for days after seeing them—even if, during the viewing, you fell asleep.  Some of my favorite movies, he said, are ones I fell asleep watching.  He went on to talk about how nice it is to nap in a movie.  I think he was joking, a little.  But maybe not.  Anyway, the movie definitely had a soporific quality.  I’m not sure I agree that that’s a useful or worthwhile goal.  In fact I think it rather isn’t.

Also you never find out if the man wakes up or not.  The movie's last scene is of the director and other film people (crew, cast) gathered on a ridge working to get the sound down for some shot in the film.  Post modern flim flam, is how it felt to me.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

I Didn't Know There Was A Basingstoke in Westphalia

Spending all of the morning dealing with bank and mortgage people.  Sweet lord is it difficult.  We're refinancing our house.  We have perfect credit, we have savings, we earn money--and still.  They cavil and harass.  The bank wants records and proof of everything.  The amount of documentation we've been asked to provide--at this point I'm not going to be surprised if my middle school report cards have to get faxed somewhere.  It's exhausting and aggravating but the banks have all the power; there are so many people right now trying to do refinances they can demand to see into every detail of your financial life.  And you have to take it.  It fills me with rage.

Other than that, not too much afoot.  We're planning where to eat in New York City, in November.  Also, what shows to see?  So far our only decision: Anything Goes.  Cole Porter + PG Wodehouse.  What could be better than that?  Also, the subject of a great, great Monty Python skit. (Starting above at the two minute mark)  The dining options are, of course, insane.  We've decided to leave Per Se for another time (a nine course four-hour tasting menu is more than we're ready for).  I'm not sure what else we'll do.  The Cloisters, I think, and maybe The Frick (where neither of us have been).  Why are we planning now?  It's fun to plan in advance--looking forward to things is a great source of human joy.  Maybe the greatest?  But before that can happen we have to get done with our mortgage people.  And that will not be among the greatest of human joys.  No, or even in the top ten....

Saturday, September 10, 2011


Dangerous?  Yes.  Insane?  Probably.  But also, strangely beautiful.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

September 7

I recommend this excellent if unsettling look at the malaise within the Republican party--from a Republican.  Depressing but informative.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

September 1

I don't know why I didn't much want to write anything last week.  I was sort of down.  I don't know why.  I felt creatively at an ebb; I wasn't inspired, I felt very blah.  Maybe it was to do with what I've been reading?  I always assume that it's garbage in, garbage out, and of late I've been reading a lot of blogs and newspapers but nothing really nutritive.  I read the first Flashman novel, which was fun but not inspiring.

Now, for no reason I really know about, I've started reading Gogol's Dead Souls.  So far it's pretty excellent.  The wife and I are planning a trip to New York City in November and that has got me excited.  Also, I've got a new deadline for the play.  On September 15th, I'm sending into at least one contest.  I also intend to send it some friends for feedback.  The goal is to get it so that every page is a 'seven'--meaning on a scale of one to ten, that no page is worse than a seven.  Hopefully many pages will be better.  But they may not.  The ultimate goal is to have it all to be an 'eight' with moments of nine and ten.  But it's been harder than I anticipated to go from fives and sixes to seven.  After this draft, I'll take comments, and do one more rewrite.  And then, I'm done.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

August 20

Watched another movie by Ermanno Olmi, this one called Il Posto (the job, the position).  I don't know if it's that I've learned a little now how to watch his films, or if I was just in a more receptive mood, of if it was just a better movie, but this one, unlike my last, really worked for me.  Like a lot of semi-socialist working class art (the Realist novel, e.g.) Olmi's films are very much concerned with work--with what we do at our jobs.  Il Posto is the story of a youngish man who applies for and ultimately gets a job working at a fairly vast sprawling company somewhere in Milan.  (The factory and offices I learn later are based on Italy's Edison Corp, where Olmi himself worked until he was 33).  Like i fidanzati, the story is fairly minimal.  He takes the test to work at the corporation; he walks around Milan with a girl he has a crush on; he gets the job and goes to work; he tries to reconnect with the girl; he settles into the job.  That's it.  And yet the attention to detail, the versimilitude, the quiet beauty of so much of the action, elevates it into something mysterious and almost holy.  At times it reminded me of Daumier.  At times it reminded me of De Sico.  But mostly it was like nothing else I'd seen.  Highly recommended.

Addendum: in the interview with Olmi that came on the DVD, he specifically denied that his work belonged to the tradition of Italian Neorealism.  The Neorealists, he said, used outdoor locations and a documentary feel, but their main characters were always portrayed by professional actors.  Olmi on the other hand, used everyday people in making his films.  No actors.  Therefore, he claims, while he was influenced by Neorealism, he was not, himself, a part of that school.  For whatever that's worth.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

August 17

Haven't watched any movies in a while, or read much.  Without input there is no output.  So I had a return to ANCIANT movie day, and watched an Italian film called I fidanzati ("The Fiancees" or "The Affianced").  Directed by Ermanno Olmi (whose work I don't know at all), the movie had very minimal story (at least in the sense of 'dramatic conflict that leads to self-realization.')  It's about an industrial worker of some sort living in Milan who's transferred to Sicily for a few months.  The literal and cultural distance between Milan and Sicily leads to tension between the man and his fiancee (who has not gone with him).  The movie is essentially a series of Neorealist-tinged vignettes about life in backwards, peasant-dominated Sicily.  The man goes to a festival, deals with a landlord, works in his factory--basically goes about day to day life.  Nothing much happens, but by the end of the film when the man returns to Milan he and his fiancee have reconnected emotionally.  Their distance and uncertainty has turned into true love, and we sense that their-long prolonged wedding will soon take place.

Like a lot of Neorealist cinema, the movie veered a bit too close to documentary to thrill me very deeply.  It was pleasant and unthreatening and undemanding, but I don't know if it did that much for me one way or another--other than making me want to go to Sicily (which is striking and beautiful, in a harsh, spare way).

After the movie, I worked--from about 3 to 10.  Trying to make the play shine and sparkle.  Right now it's a car with a strong powerful engine but with holes in the floorboard and without a working turn signal, brake light, stereo, et. al.  It'll go--even go fast, I think--but the ride isn't going to be too pleasant for whoever's inside.  So I have to get some nice fabric on the dash and figure out how to make the seats comfortable and attend to a thousand uninspiring details that make the difference between bad and good and great.  Then, we take it to the Dakar Rally, and whup up on people.

All right.  Off to go walking.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

August 14

Terrible weak of recurring medical stuff (reactive hypoglycemia flaring back up) leading to muddle-headedness and depression.  After making some diet adjustments (more slow carbs, especially in morning, careful rations of coffee) I think I've got thing back under control.  Hard to perfectly control my blood sugar and still maintain a weight loss diet, however, though I think I'm getting back to it.  Probably what messed things all up was the weekend in Vegas.  No exercise, lots of fatty foods, not enough sleep.

Also very hard to get back into writing groove.  Think that as of today I'm almost there.  Before I left I was working twelve hours a day and had no problem getting down to work every morning.  Now I find myself wanting to go check the internet every hour.  The work I have done has been all right, but I haven't done enough of it.  My hope is to have a rewrite done in a few weeks.  At which point, we'll see.

On top of all this, Bink has decided that he needs to get up every night at 3 AM and howl for a while.  Maybe he thinks the Redcoats are coming? I  don't know.  We've been experimenting with letting him roam around the house at night (instead of penning him up in the kitchen).  It seems not to be working.  The problem seems to be the neighborhood cats.  They wander through our yard in the early morning and Bink feels the need to protest.  The cats, of course, are unbothered.  Not so his owners.   The kitchen-penning must return, I fear.

Finished a very mediocre Balzac novel before going to Vegas (The Black Sheep).  Now reading Herodotus, though not intently.  Listening to Wodehouse's ultimate Jeeves and Wooster novel (Aunts Aren't Gentlemen.)  Not his best by any means--most of the plot and characters feel much-recycled--but still not without its joys.

Two great TV shows to recommend: Workaholics, on Comedy Central, and Louie, on FX.  Everyone knows about the latter, I think, but I'll add my voice to the chorus of those calling it the best show on TV.  (The recent episode featuring Dane Cook turned out to be one of the most unexpectedly fascinating and--somehow--moving 30 minutes of TV I've seen in a while.  A close second was the less recent one with Joan Rivers).  Workaholics is a lighter, sillier show but still well worth watching.  It's twenty-something guy humor, which is not a genre everybody necessarily warms to.  (My wife, e.g., tends to hate it).  But, for my money, it's about as good a representation of that kind of humor as I've seen in years.  The actor's timing is especially noteworthy.

Terrible dreams last night in which my brother and a long-ago girlfriend conspired to keep me from attending my brother's wedding (to his current wife) and rehearsal dinner.  I ended up crashing the latter, to the dismay of my entire family.  Now all day I've felt this strong urge to apologize to various people for ruining an event that didn't happen.  Hmm.

Friday, August 12, 2011

August 12: Republican Debates

Ezra Klein's article in today's Washington Post opens as follows:

The most telling moment of Thursday’s GOP debate wasn’t when Michele Bachmann cooly stuck a knife between Tim Pawlenty’s ribs, or when Rick Santorum plaintively begged for more airtime, or when Mitt Romney easily slipped past questions about his record on health-care reform. It was when every single GOP candidate on the stage agreed that they would reject a budget deal that was $10 in spending cuts for every $1 in tax increases. Even Fox News’s Bret Baier couldn’t quite believe what he was seeing. He asked again just to make sure the assembled candidates had understood the question.
That says it all for me.  This is why I cannot seriously consider the Republicans as candidates.  

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

August 10

Every one of these articles is funny.  They'll appeal especially to my D&D/Computer Gaming Friends and fans of "Comic Book Guy" from The Simpsons.  

Sample excerpt (from "Don't Come Crying to Me When You Need Someone Who Speaks Elvish")
No, it is not easy, but you had already made some inroads. You recognized the essential difference between the Cirth "runes" of Balin's tomb and the Tengwar "letters" corrupted by Sauron upon the One Ring–so basic and fundamental a difference that many students overlook it, to their later dismay. And, although I feel the high-elven dialect of Quenya would have given you trouble and Valarin, the tongue of the Valar, would likely forever elude your grasp, I thought you certainly capable of one day becoming conversant–if not fluent–in Sindarin. But it was not to be, for you, like Radagast The Brown, have chosen the path of blissful ignorance. In so doing, you turn your back on the riches of the world. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

August 9

We got back from Vegas about 3 pm yesterday afternoon.  Helicoptors swarmed above the freeway.  One of the exits near to our house was entirely blocked off.  We swung by the kennel and picked up the Monster (dirty, tired, and smelly) and took Sepulveda back over the hill.  Police had cordoned off a neighborhood en route (Sherman Oaks).  Turns out this was what the helicoptors were doing.  My first guess was it was some kind of car chase.  (They happen here with distressing regularity).  We found out later that there'd been an armed robbery at a hair extension factory (!!) in our neighborhood.  The thieves had broken in, taken 20K in high-end hair extensions, and then abandoned their van in the middle of a residential neighborhood.  The police were trying to find them.

Then, we get home. I check my iphone.  The stock market has gone down almost 700 points.  The city of London is in flames.  Waist-high weeds fill our front and back yard.  (Our yardman is out of town).  After dinner, I start to feel cloudy-headed and dizzy.  My hypoglycemia, it seems, has returned.

It is not, in other words, good to be back.

Friday, August 5, 2011

First Draft Done! Going To Vegas

The first draft of my play--the play I've been wrangling with for almost two years now--is done.  It's rough and raggedy and definitely needs a rewrite.  Said rewrite will start on Monday, when the wife and I return from a weekend in Vegas and some much-earned vacation.  Hopefully that rewrite will take no more than about a month, after while time I'll...what?  Send it out into the world to struggle and (one hopes) prosper.  Of course what 'sending it out to the world' actually entails, or how I will do that, or how I SHOULD do that...I have no idea.  But, that's a problem for another day.

I have a lot to say about that.  The play was basically scrapped in its entirety on July 3rd (a very important date for me).  I then rewrote it almost from scratch.  The scrapping and rewrite were the result of what seems to me still to be maybe the most crucial insight or discovery about how to structure long narratives that I've ever had.  In a way I feel as if I've unlocked the secret, although I now that feeling is at least in part illusory.  Still, it's been a big month.  I've understood something for the first time and I think it will help a huge amount going forward.

Also, totally unrelated as this is: I've decided that not only will I be voting for Obama next year but that I may actually give money to the Democratic Party.  The Republican shenanigans with the debt ceiling last month, on top of the increasingly persuasive proof that our current deficit is as much the fault of George W as anyone else (J Chait in the New Republic has a good piece on this right now) combined with the fact that somehow Sarah Palin remains someone who's embraced by a sizable minority (at least) of the Republican Party... it's all too much for me.  Obama hasn't been perfect, and the Democrats irk me in non-trivial ways.  But, it doesn't matter.  I'm done with them.  They showed their true colors this summer I think and I for one did not like what I saw.  (I suppose that opinion could change if the Republicans manage to nominate a moderate like Huntsman.  But, they never will.)

Okay.  Off to Vegas.  Posting to resume (I hope) next week.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Programming Note

Sorry that things have been so spotty around here.  The wife and I are going to Las Vegas next weekend (first weekend in August) to see some friends.  When I get back, I plan to resume regular posting.  I think I'm going to aim to do my "30 Days of Posts" again, only this time space them out so that they fall every OTHER day.  Hopefully this will allow me to have to more to say, as well as giving my loyal and scrappy readership a regular schedule of posts to look forward to.  Or, alternately, to fear and despise.  Whichever you all prefer.

Anyway, I'll be back with regular posts starting on August 8th.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

More Evidence The End of The World Draws Nigh

It's more or less common knowledge that The New York Times has been experiencing a steady decline in quality over the last decade.  In the last year or so, I'd come to believe that they'd hit bottom; I didn't think they couldn't realistically get worse and still be a functioning newspaper.  This Sunday's edition of The Book Review, however, pretty conclusively proves I was wrong.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

July 18

This will be a brief odd entry but I just was standing at my kitchen counter eating lunch and I had a thought: at this moment, right now, in time, I am truly happy.  And I wanted to record it.  Why was I happy?  I walked this morning, did my pushups (140) and then grilled some chicken I had marinating overnight.  I ate it with brown rice and reheated mustard greens from a few days ago, in front of the TV, watching part of a rerun of The Sopranos (where Johnny Sac changes his mind about killing Ralphie when he finds out his wife is cheating on her diet).  Then as I was at the counter cleaning up everything I had a forkful of the mustard greens-not reheated this time-just out of the Tupperware, so that they were lukewarm.  And then I had one more bite of chicken.  The chicken was delicious.  I've started grilling meat with the lid open, so that it takes longer but allows more heat to go on each side, resulting in a crispier harder 'bark.'  I put maybe a smidge 'too much' pepper on it this time (white and black) but it turned out well despite that (perhaps because I had no garlic powder and had to use garlic salt, instead of pure salt and pure garlic powder as I do normally, thus making sure the ratio was 1:1?)  Anyway.  That's all.  Because yesterday I for some reason read my old journal from when I was in [Midwestern town] with [old girlfriend] (who I've been thinking about recently, and recently tracked down her PhD thesis online and read that) and I don't know.  I don't know what I thought reading that journal.  It stirred some bewildering welter of emotions, but of what specifically that welter consists, I don't know.

So that's all.  Just that I'm happy.  The play seems to finally have a shape.  The wife is in Rome, so I'm alone but not in a bad way.  Knowing the current isolation will end makes it seem not like isolation, in a way.  More like we're both away at work.

But that's all. The moment at the sink is the point.  Because happiness is just a piercing moment now and again, and it passes so quickly it's usually not worth setting down.  So I'm setting this down.  (And also, I should say that I've felt more and more of those moments over the past few months.  More than I have in a while).

That would be an interesting idea for a story, or some kind of devotional journal exercise at the minimum: "Moments of Happiness."  Where everyday you set down something in your life that made you happy, for an instant, and that was it.  "To Say Yes"  What you were saying yes to that day.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Mega Wombat

Thanks to Johannes for this link which includes the phrase 'rhinoceros-sized wombat.'

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Thursday July 7

Watched Jacques Becker's Casque D'Or last night. French gangsters fight over a woman ('a tart' as she's called by a respectable matron in the film) with predictably deleterious consequences. Well, maybe deleterious is too strong a word. There are a few slappings and one death, but as is typical with the 'hard men' one encounters in French movies, their toughness is foregrounded much less than their...well, Frenchness. They play backgammon and talk about cheese and engage in various other cultural cliches that make French movies of the era (it was shot in the 50s, but takes place around the turn of the century) so recognizable.

Listening to The Mating Season (another Jeeves and Wooster) on my daily walks right now. Just encountered one of the funniest Wodehouse scenes I can remember coming across, a village hall entertainment dominated by a family known as the Kegley-Bassingtons. Can't possibly do justice to it here. Enough to say that my estimation of Wodehouse's powers continues to balloon.

I haven't bought any new books in quite a while. Instead I've been reading the ones I've already got. I finished Graham Greene's Our Man in Havana last week; now I'm working on On Growth And Form. I've almost done with The Myth of Sisyphus (it's a hard slog) and am about halfway through Tomas Transtormer's Collected Poems. Wanting to read some plays yesterday, I got down an old anthology of Restoration drama. Then, ten minutes in, I remembered: I loathe Restoration Drama. So, instead, I'm reading some of the critical essays contained at the back of the volume (it's a Norton Edidtion, thankfully).  The Transtormer poems have their moments but a lot of them seem to consists of a speaker describing a snow-covered road (or maybe a forest) in a muted and unadorned language.  They're very Swedish, in other words (in the Ingmar Bergman sense.  Not the ABBA sense) and thus do not accord with summer in the Valley in California. Where there are a relative paucity of snow-covered roads.

Friday, July 1, 2011

All These Moments. Will Be Lost

July 1

My current interest in samurai movies lead me last night to watch Sword of Doom, another classic of the genre.  Directed by Kihachi Okamoto and released in 1966,  Sword of Doom is the story of a cold, soulless semi-evil samurai named Ryunosuke.  The first scene in the film shows him killing an old man on a pilgrimage to a shrine for no apparent reason and the rest of the movie continues in the same vein, with Ryunosuke's murders soon getting him expelled from his village.  Forced to work as a hired gun in Edo, Ryunosuke becomes an assassin, spending his days gazing morosely into the distance and arguing with his wife (whom he's married after forcing her to have sex with him earlier in the film) and his nights killing other people for money.  His  'empty style' of fighting makes him essentially impossible to defeat in battle, effectively draining the fight scenes of any suspense.  There's a subplot about a brother of a man he's killed and his romance with a would-be courtesan, but mostly the movie is Ryunosuke, brooding.  People who praise the film make much of the final ten minutes, an action sequence in which after going more or less insane, Ryunosuke attacks a houseful of armed men.  For me, the ending didn't make up for the tedium of the first two hours.  Lots of gorgeous and dramatic camera work, but not much of a story.  (Apparently it was intended to be the first movie in a trilogy that was never made.  Maybe that explains it).

For some reason I also watched half of the new episode of True Blood.  Its incredible silliness intrigued me enough to want to know the backstory and that lead me to spend an hour reading episode summaries of the first three seasons.  They were also silly.  So, that's an hour I'll never get back.

Unsatisfying day of work yesterday.  Feel down.  Also, my blueberry muffin mix hasn't arrived in the mail.  Isn't life hard enough already without having a tupperware of low fat blueberry muffins on hand to make it better?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

June 28

Today is the day called "Let's Find Out if The Home Warranty We've Been Shelling Out For All These Months Will Actually Help Us."  A home warranty is essentially insurance.  You pay a set fee (about 500/year) and in return, when anything breaks in your house, the home warranty people fix or replace it.  At least, that's what they say.  We've never used it.  Today, though, I have people coming to look at the garage door opener and the kitchen vent.  The garage door opener has been spotty since we moved here (I can usually get it to work but I sometimes have to wait outside the garage pushing the button for a long time to make that happen).  The kitchen vent does work, technically (it blows air) but its power is so limited that it's effectively impossible to cook anything that produces any kind of odor or aroma.  That's why I almost always either grill outside or make chinese food.  I'd like to start pan frying fish, or roasting stuff in the oven, as I did in our old apartment.  But right now doing so involves smelling up the whole house.  A new vent might change all that.

So it'll be a morning of service men, not at all the kind of morning I enjoy.  At the same time, our gardener and our cleaning lady are coming.  So Eliot should be utterly and totally insane.  All these invaders!  They must be fought off!  And what better way but by barking at them or, better, by taking his blanket in his mouth and shaking it back and forth with extreme vigor.  That will show them!  Or something.

Monday, June 27, 2011

June 27

Watched Hobson's Choice last night, a David Lean movie set in the 1890s.  Story is about a buffoonish domineering merchant who tries to prevent his three daughters from marrying.  The heroine, his eldest daughter, contrives a way to escape the house by proposing to one of the cobblers who works in her father's shop.  Cobbler is unwilling and confused but the eldest daughter is not to be denied; a force of nature, she succeeds in wrenching the cobbler out of her father's shop and ultimately setting him up in his own business.  For me this is the best David Lean movie ever made.  Highly, highly recommended.  Dickens meets Balzac meet Daumier with top-notch performances by all involved (Charles Laughton as the blustering, bumbling father was particularly good).

More than halfway through Part I of Tom Jones on tape.  Have to admit my appetite to keep reading has diminished.  Not sure I'm ready for 20 more hours of this stuff.

Very difficult day of work.  Am at the glowing core, where all the electric lines run together.  Had one great idea and many bad ones.  Blargh.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

June 26

New recipe for sauteed mustard greens quickly proving a favorite.  Ate mustard greens, brown rice, and a bit of marinated grilled pork tenderloin last night (marinade is sirracha, worstershire, olive oil, garlic, brown sugar, salt, pepper).  Healthy-ish and pretty tasty.  No wine, despite the urge.  Which is strong.

Per my recent exchange with JMW about Kurosawa (see below) I investigated his discography.  Turns out he directed in the neighborhood of thirty films.  Of those, I've seen about half.  So I was wrong.  I haven't seen near to all of his films.  Nor am I likely to any time soon.

Today will be a day of work.  Yesterday was a day of plumber.  The plumber has come and fixed our sink.  He has fixed my shower.  He was explained to us the nature of the valve above our water heater and how it can be activated to release pressure in the system.  Or something.  I don't know, really.  I think my wife and I together understand maybe 25% of what you need to know to own a house.  Less, maybe.  Now the wife wants to get a water softening system.  Our dishes don't get clean when washed.  She thinks this is due to our water being too hard.  Our water is mean. It's tough, bitter, prison-yard water.  It must be reformed.  I needs schooling and Bible study.  Love too, maybe.  Presumably that now will happen.  Well actually no it won't--not exactly.  Water softening systems cost many thousands of dollars; installing one involves banging around in the pipes and maybe ripping open our walls.  This we are not up for.  Instead we will get a filtration system installed on the main line.  This will filter all the water coming into our house.  The virtuous water will be allowed in.  The drug dealing water will not.  That, at least, is the plan.

Friday, June 24, 2011

June 24

Watched Kurosawa's Sanjuro yesterday.  As my wife said, I must be at a point where I've seen nearly all his films.  Funny thing is that the movies of his most people recommend have turned out not to be the ones I most prefer.  Seven Samourai, Ran, Rashomon, High and Low--I've seen and enjoyed them all.  Still, I think that Yojimbo, Hidden Fortress and Ikiru (movies typically not recommended to interested viewers just coming to K) are, in fact, his three best films.  Also realized, watching Sanjuro (which was excellent) something so obvious it's probably not even worth stating: the Jedi Knights of Star Wars ARE samurai.  Forces of good in a chaotic world moving from place to place trying to right wrongs, armed with only a sword and the power of their code.  I know Lucas got the ideas of R2 and C3P0 from Hidden Fortress.  I wonder how many other ideas he took from Kurosawa.

Fantastic day of writing yesterday.  Maybe my best ever, in terms of the number of problems I solved.  Possibly due to my new diet (oatmeal with fruit in morning, light snack at 11 am, no food till light dinner) and new walking regimen, but I feel physically as good as I have in years.  Probably not drinking a bottle of wine every night helps but I think undereating slightly is also a plus.  I'm more cheerful, more motivated, and more energetic.

Also want to talk about a fantastic Chekhov story I read last night ("The Student") but I'll put that for later. I've almost finished my book on cell biology.  Next I'm starting a book I read about on John's Second Pass site--On Growth And Form.  Should be interesting.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

June 23

Just got an email from amazon recommending I buy Yes's "Close to The Edge."  In college, my freshman year, I listened to that album almost every day, turned up as loud as my roommate's stereo could go (well not that loud.  But very loud).  The whole dorm came to know it.  But amazon is right; it is the definitive prog rock album.  One I haven't heard in a long time.  Time to rectify that maybe?  Chris Squire's bassline is the crucial element.

Yesterday a long wasted time of waiting for a plumber who never arrived.  Took Binks to groomer and read my book about cell biology.  I should write more about it later.  Right now I have to go take the wife's car to have its oil changed.  So much time in my life and yet the errands seem to devour it.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

June 21

Well vacation's done and I'm back at work.  The wife is now in DC, at a conference.  I'm pushing the boulder back up the hill again, after a long time ignoring both boulder and hill.

Yesterday a long work day.  After a week or so away it went slowly.  So much I realize is kept in my head usually--about what's going on, what's supposed to happen at set parts--that coming back after a time away involves not just going back to the problem(s) to solve but refamiliarizing myself with the whole contraption, as it were, of the play.

Bink has been exhausted since we got him from the vet.  Yesterday I started to be worried that he was TOO tired--even he usually doesn't sleep all day.  Without the wife here to consult with my paranoia tends to grow.  Another of the many benefits of not being alone--keeping you grounded in reality.  In fact, the Bink was just tired but I couldn't help checking up on him as he slept in various points and positions throughout the day, making sure he was still breathing.  Which is somewhat odd.  Strange that I would worry about him sleeping, something I usually wish he did more of (especially when I work).  Any variation from routine seems ominous, I guess.

Have joined and am enjoying the new frontier of books on tape.  Walking about 45 minutes a day, it's astonishing how much 'reading' you can get through.  My first book was Jeeves in the Morning; now that I'm done with it I've moved on to something more ambitious (and much longer)--Tom Jones.  So far, it's been excellent.  It's also something like 60 or 70 hours long (in three parts) so it should last me the better part of the summer.  And it's a book I've never read.  Nor really ever wanted to (strongly).  I picked it to listen to because it came highly rated on the audible web site.  So far, I'm not disappointed, although I do miss Cecil Beaton imitating Jeeves' voice.  One benefit of listening to a book (not reading it) is that it's impossible to skim.  I realize, as I walk, that I have a tendancy to not attend too carefully to passages I either find difficult or tedious.  Listening that's not possible.  You 'read' every word.  With Wodehouse that was an undoubted benefit; he puts so much care into his language that missing even a word or two really matters.  I think it will hold true with Fielding as well (though I've already noticed a tendency to repeat himself and overlabor certain ironies--something more common in the 18th century, it seems to me.  It's as if irony needed to be more explained because people weren't so used to it.)

No tutoring for the next month at least so it's time to really work.  And diet.  Those are two big agendas for the next few months.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

June 8

This will be my last post for the next week.  We're going tomorrow to Houston, for a wedding, after which time we're going to Puerto Rico for a vacation.  The vacation will involve lying in the sun, drinking things with Rum in them, playing low stakes roulette and, undoubtedly, bacon.  (The breakfast near where we stay is one of the main attractions of the trip).  My nascent diet will have to be put on hold for the next week.  But that's okay.  I've already lost a few pounds and I'm confident I can return to LA and get back to it without any hiccups.

Sadly, the Binks is going to have to be boarded during all this--at the NEW KENNEL.  We've been acclimating him by taking him to the new place once a week for the last month.  Hopefully he'll be able to bear it without being too upset.  We are already the both of us fairly upset.  He's so small and helpless!  How will he hold up with all the other dogs?  What if one of them picks on him?  What if he forgets to drink water?  What if he gets lonely in the night?  What if he thinks we've abandoned him forever?  What if the kennel where he's staying is invaded by an alien race and it's up to him to push the one button that will send them back to their home world but he hasn't gotten enough sleep and he pushes the wrong button, the one that lets them take over our planet?

It's all very worrying.

Monday, June 6, 2011

June 6

Watched The Long Good Friday last night, starring a young Bob Hoskins and Helen Mirren.  A british gangster tries to go legit by interesting American investors in a project to turn parts of London into a site for the '88 Olympics.  The story and style were hit and miss for me (great late 70s keyboard parts, however) but the acting--especially that of Hoskins--was spot on.  Something about watching a British gangster movie makes me want to start calling my phone "the blower."  "Get on the blower to Tommy and tell him we need shooters," is the kind of thing one wants to say, having seen a movie like that.

Listening to Jeeves in the Morning on my walk right now.  A long-ago gift given by Johannes.  The older I get the more I admire PG Wodehouse's prose style.   The high tone and convoluted diction is meant as a joke, of course, but that doesn't make accomplishing it any less difficult.  Wodehouse gets it right every time; he's a great crafter of sentences, among his many other virtues.

Our tecate tile back patio is currently being cleaned and treated by a workman.  How does the Monster feel about this, you might ask?  Not good.  He is yowling and whimpering vociferously from the other room.  It's a hard life, being a small bear.  Only you can detect the danger that lurks in the hearts of the people your foolish owners let into your backyard.  The price of freedom, as The Binks reminds me often, is eternal vigilance.  Also, huge amounts of sleep.  And treats.  But mostly, eternal vigilance.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Sunday June 5

Twice in the last two weeks the wife and I have spent close to 300$ on dinner for two.  Last night it was at Providence, a highly rated and regarded LA seafood restaurant.  (Seems like it maybe aspires to be the Le Bernadin of LA?)  And like last week, the meal did not come close to living up to its billing.  Was it good? Absolutely.  Were there moments of brilliance?  Yes: there were moments.  But for that amount of money, I don't want moments of brilliance: I want only brilliance.  I don't want dry duck or octopus that's rubbery.  I want perfection.  And this was not perfection.  Not even close.

So, that makes me kind of grouchy.  I feel like I've been suckered, slightly.  But oh well.  What can I do?  And the service, I must say, was impeccable.  As you would expect.

I want to write about the moving and fascinating This American Life I listened to yesterday while walking (4.5 miles) but I don't have energy now.  If you go to their website, where you can download all their episodes to listen to, it's called something to the effect of "If Kids Ruled The World."  It was put out in the last year and was absolutely first-rate.  Highly highly recommended.  Moving and funny and thought-provoking.  Great great stuff.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Day 88

Listened to a fascinating "This American Life" yesterday (part of my walking regimen: walk a few miles, and listen to TAL).  The subject was tenacity; people who don't give up, who refuse to give up, even when all available evidence suggests that they really really should.  The most interesting story was about a guy in Orange County who thought, when Conan O Brien left NBC, that he might try and be his replacement.  To get the job, he decided to start his own talk show.  In his house.  (His bedroom, actually).  Which he did.  It ran for more than two years, and involved a house band, writers to do monologues, guests, a sidekick, and, eventually, an audience numbering as high as 70 or 80 people.  (They eventually moved from his bedroom to a Veteran's Hall).  He quit his job, depsite not having much savings, and dedicated all his time and energy to the talk show.  In the process, he almost wrecked his marriage, went heavily into debt, and, as you might guess, did not end up replacing Conan.  Insane insane stuff.  (The show by the way was called The Duke Finemaster show, and apparently exists on YouTube).

Watched Fassbinder's "The Marriage Of Maria Braun" yesterday as well.  A bit too random in structure for me--biographical obviously, but still--but still worth the time.  Fassbinder is a director I know very little about.

How the Mavericks managed to win that game yesterday I don't know.  All I know is that it made me excited enough that I was actually shouting inside our house, at ten in the evening.  I'm not even that big a basketball fan.  It was just a great game.  And it at least gave us all in the good part of America hope that the Heat might have a chance to lose.  And suffer for their sins.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Day 87

Woken by prolonged and unsettled howling.  Thought for sure the house was being broken into.  Of course it wasn't.  Apparently another dog a few blocks off had started barking and Binks, in a show of solidarity, had thought it best to bark along with him.  For twenty minutes.  Loudly.  I was in the middle of a vivid dream involving training to teach middle school at my old Houston area school.  For months I had been trailing around a middle school geometry teacher, helping her in the classroom, and trying to learn how to be a good teacher.  Then, when filling out my evaluation, my mentor teacher informed she had debated between giving me "twos or ones" but decided to give me all ones.  She THEN told me that ones were the worst rating there was.  I had no future as a teacher, that was the basic gist.  It was very unsettling.  A large amount of my dreams seem to involve failure.  Is this common?

The Stephen J Gould book (The Flamingo's Smile) continues to be excellent.  Fascinating essay last night about the way flamingos eat by turning their heads upside down to dip them in water.  Upside down eating posture explains their strange smile, in which the lower and upper jaw seem to be reversed.  I also learned that flamingos eat in much the same way as great whales, by using filters in their mouth to remove tiny particulate foodstuff from the water.  Their tongues are thick and fleshy (unusual for most birds, who tend to have thin, stringy tongues) in order to aid in the filtering process.

Long day of errands yesterday will give way to long day of work today.  Doctor went fine (although I learned I now weight close to 200 pounds!), tux place went fine, it all went fine.  Now it's time for TCOB.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Day 86

I've gone to an every other day type posting deal as some may have noticed.  Try and contain your sorrow and despair at not reading me every day.  It's hard but it'll get better.

Doctor's appointment today to get me some more of that good thyroid medicine I love so much.  That means today will be another day of errands, since I do have other things to do (get contacts, pick up tux alteration, buy new mustache wax) and since the doctor's thing already comes in my sweet spot for writing.  It's my 2:30-5:30 work, after I've run, when I've got some endorphins when the morning's thinking starts to yield results.  Sometimes.  So today is another day off, of which I've had too many.  But it must be done.

Heat's win seemed inevitable last night.  They played the same as in Chicago.  They hang around for three quarters, doing nothing spectacular but keeping close enough to prevent a blowout.  Then, come fourth quarter, they unleash their superstars.  Dallas had all kinds of chances to put the game away before then--for all the talk about the Heat's stifling defense the Mavs had a TON of open looks--but it didn't happen.  Too many turnovers and too many missed shots.  I'm starting to worry it's going to be Heat in four or five.  At least give us a series, Mavs!

I wonder if LeBron genuinely regrets "The Decision."  If he could do it all again, would he do the big public announcement?  And if the answer is 'no' is it because he actually gets why people found it so galling, or just because, having seen the negative reaction, he doesn't want to repeat it.  Like a small child who touches something hot--he may not understand why he got burned but he knows he doesn't want to do it again.

Also let me say I really like the Breen/Jackson/Van Gundy announcing team.  Their personalities mesh very well.  Van Gundy can be ridiculous--the lengths he'll go to apologize for or otherwise excuse star players never cease to amaze--but he knows the game and he's funny.  Mark Jackson always seems to be auditioning for a coaching job with his commentary but oddly I find that endearing.  And Breen does a nice job of mediating between the two, occasionally provoking and sometimes conciliating.  I wish they called baseball too.  Maybe I'd watch more games.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Day 84

Worked most of yesterday, into the night.  New ideas getting harder and harder to come by.  Earlier, when I said I'd solved all big problems: that was incorrect.  Turns out a small crack can hide a big chasm.  But that chasm is being filled.  Thought by thought, agonizing intuition after agonizing wiping out of prior agonizing intuition.

A break is needed.

New books arrived, including The Flamingo's Smile, a collection of essays by Stephen Jay Gould.  Don't know why, but I've never read any of his material before (maybe an odd piece in the New Yorker).  So far I'm thrilled with the book.  I'm more interested in natural history/popular science these days, and Gould is about the best writer in that genre I've found.  Also, the fact that it's a book of essays makes it easy to dip in and out of.  (I also started The Myth of Sisyphus, but that's clearly going to require more concentration.)

Tutoring all afternoon.  Then, leftover pozole.  Got a great new recipe.  Stewed pork!  It's what's for dinner....

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Day 82

Woken this morning by loud and prolonged howling.  Wife got up and for some reason left the Monster out to run around (his usual routine is to go back in kitchen lair rest area after wife wakes up and feeds).  He sat by the window, I guess, and got angry at the cats.  Too much yowling.

Finished two books yesterday--The Comedians and The Ghost Soldiers. The latter got better the more I read it; the former did not.  I'm trying to finish the Eco book but the writing is so poor it's difficult.  It actually makes me angry this book was reviewed as well as it was.  It reads as if it were written by a computer program trying to mimic English--a computer program written by someone who doesn't speak English, even.  It's filled with all sorts of glaring grammatic errors, and the prose style is muddy and awkward beyond belief.  Half the time I read it I honestly can't figure out what the meaning is supposed to be, so poorly phrased is so much of it.   How could anyone recommend this book?

I ordered nine more books online yesterday.  Tried to start reading Passage To India yesterday but it didn't do much for me.  Maybe another time.  I've ordered a lot of books on genes and natural history; I think it's time to read some non fiction.

Diet continues.  No alcohol and long walks in morning (plus cardio, etc).  I feel like I'm fighting a war against my stomach.  Every day I look down at him like he's an arch enemy.  Eventually he will be defeated.  But he is a wily and relentless opponent--he won't go quietly.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Day 80

Going to get my tux altered for an upcoming wedding I had the unpleasant experience of learning that I have gained so much weight that the pants are beyond alteration.  Sweet lord how depressing.  I started a diet last week but I guess it'll take a long long time to get down to where I was when I married.  I've been trying to find a tennis clinic group out here but the coach keeps offering me times that conflict with my tutoring.  I think he's given up on me as a result.  The real key for me is eating dinner no later than 6:30.  That, however, is often not possible if I want to eat with the wife.  Stephen Fry seems to have a lost a lot of weight by walking every day.  Maybe that's a way to go.  Not that I don't exercise.  I do.  But clearly I need to do more.  How else will I be able to appear in Milan for the 2012 collections?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Day 79

The End of the Affair

When we last left our hero (and Johannes) they were sitting in their rental house reading and waiting to go back to the concert venue.  We were both of us, I think, steeling ourselves for a fairly unpleasant concert.

And then we got there.

And it was fine.  Better than was outstanding.  The wind, while not completely gone, had subsided enough to be pleasant.  The music was underway, and it was excellent.  El Ten Eleven, the first band we saw, consists of only a drummer and a guitar/bassist.  The guy (let's call him the bassist, since that's his primary wombat) plays a riff to the drums and loops them into a pedal.  The riff repeats and he plays a new riff over it.  Pretty soon a fairly complicated set of interlocking patterns has built up from all that looping.  (He alternates between guitar and bass while effecting his loops, using a double-neck instrument for most of the set).  The songs build slowly, gathering in intensity as the loops accumulate.  Then, inevitably, he does something that strips away all but one or two of the built-up loops.  The tension subsides, and then there's another round of loop-building.

Some of the songs do tend to sound alike.  But the thrill of watching Kristian (that's the loop-builder's name) build up each new song from nothing was significant.  He was also plainly very happy to be up there performing and his joy rubbed off on the crowd.  Neither J or I was necessarily expecting that El Ten Eleven would put on a great live show.  But in fact, they did.

After El Ten Eleven came Rubblebucket, a Brooklyn-based band which featured a horn section, eight or nine members, and a lot of uptempo craziness.  

The El Ten Eleven experience was about standing and listening.  The Rubblebucket experience was about dancing.  Sadly for everyone there are no pictures of me dancing.  But dance I did.  Because that is what I am all about.  

Rubblebucket was a more satisfying live music experience, for me, than El Ten Eleven.  They got the crowd riled up, they laid down some grooves, they had a trumpet player who did some body-surfing in the crowd while he played.  They had a percussionist.  It was high-energy stuff.  Great ending to the show.

I'm going to pass over the EmCee who asked us to observe a moment of silence so we could 'feel the desert' and then told us to try and practice "Wishcraft."  (By praying for world peace or some such).  Certain kinds of hippies can actually make me want to vocally support war.  He was one of them.

On the way out, we stopped at the shrine that had somehow been assembled in the middle of the music area.  It's hard to do justice to its good-natured insanity in only a few photos.  But I'll try:

The large figure in the center is the Virgin Mary.  The other figures around her are..uhm...NOT the Virgin Mary.

On the way out Johannes insisted we stop and take a photo of an airplane that someone had mounted near the entrance of their property.  Apparently, in doing so, he fell over and ended up rolling around in the dust.  Sadly I missed that spectacle. 

That night we ate leftovers, watched True Grit, and generally chilled out.   I learned J thinks Matt Damon is a bad actor.  He learned that I disagreed.  We agreed, as I recall, that I was right.  About that, and just about everything else.

The next morning we got up, cleaned, and headed out.  (Finishing off a few of the blueberry muffins I'd made before we left).  I dropped J off at the Palm Springs airport and headed back.