Saturday, December 31, 2005

Wander'd mony a weary fit

I'll try to end what's been a bipolar week for me on a positive note. (It might take me a few paragraphs to get there, but trust me - that's where I'm going.) And I look toward the Casselberry women for inspiration on this last day of 2005.

Last year, my sister was carjacked in Charleston, SC. Approximately two weeks ago, the asshole who did it was sentenced to 37 years in prison. He wasn't charged for the carjacking, however, because he pleaded guilty to first-degree sexual assault. After stealing my sister's car, this scumbag went on to rob someone else, and then raped a 71-year-old woman in her home - all in less than 24 hours.

Though she tries not to, my sister often thinks about what would've happened if she hadn't fought her way out of that car and run like hell to a nearby bookstore. Fortunately, a great career and a full life both help her get past such thoughts. But when a victims' right advocate called about the sentencing, all of the old feelings, those fears, came back.

She told my sister that seeing an attacker go to prison helps many victims with closure. When my sister asked me what I thought, I said maybe it wasn't a good idea. Why re-open all those old wounds? Plus, she never got a good look at the guy during the carjacking. If she were to see him in that courtroom, wouldn't he become all too real in her memory? Ultimately, my sister decided that she would go. Not just for closure, but to support the woman that was raped. She faced her fears, and I'm in awe of her bravery.

Early last week, the secretary of my father's cardiologist called my mother. The doctor developed a close relationship with my dad throughout his heart surgeries and rehabilitation, and seemed to take my father's death rather hard. While expressing his condolences to my mother, he said he would talk to the doctors involved with my dad's case and see if he could get some answers for her. At the time, that was something my mother badly needed to hear.

Weeks and months passed, however, with no word from the doctor. Once in a while, my mother wondered if he was ever going to call, but eventually seemed to forget about it. Privately, I thought that was a good thing. After my father died, she agonized over what happened in the hospital that day, wanting the entire sequence of events replayed for her. She tortured herself over and over, wondering what she could've done differently. What could the doctor really say, what information could he have, that would make my mother feel better?

I answered the phone when the secretary called. She told me the doctor wanted to meet with my mother. After taking the message, I honestly considered not telling my mother about it. As with my sister, I questioned whether she would want those wounds re-opened - especially when they haven't closed. She's having a rough enough time each day as it is. Why would you want to relive that day? Again, what could the doctor say that would make any difference whatsoever?

But I gave my mother the message. She actually expected the call, as she'd recently spoken with a nurse who worked with the doctor, and whose mother was in rehabilitation with my father. I said I'd take her to see the doctor, if she wanted to go. Maybe I tried to talk my mother out of going because I didn't want to be in that office, reliving the events of that day, hearing what I already knew had happened.

She didn't want to go. She called the secretary, thanked her and the doctor for their time, and asked if a letter could be written, in lieu of a face-to-face meeting. I wanted to make sure I hadn't influenced my mother, so I asked if she was sure about her decision. She told me she'd accepted what had happened. Life was difficult enough without having to go through that pain all over again. I'm still worried that I swayed her with my thoughts on the matter. And I know she still tortures herself with what happened. But I think she's made great steps in her recovery. Declining the doctor's offer for a meeting shows how strong she's become. And I'm proud as hell of her for that.

This past year has been the most difficult of my life. I finished a rough, yet fulfilling two years in Iowa, earning the degree I'd worked so hard to pursue. Yet shortly after coming home, my father passed away. And I'm still trying to figure out where my life is going. Ambitions were shelved, plans have changed. Some of my friendships and relationships have become stronger, while others have deteriorated, maybe irrevocably. I know I have work to do in those areas. I've been something of an anti-social hermit. But I know this is where I'm supposed to be, where I need to be. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

I believe that the bad has to be followed by the good to maintain the natural balance of our lives. So 2006 has to be a better year, right? I think it will be. I look at my mother and sister and know I'm capable of getting through this, of doing more. And I had a conversation with someone yesterday which could lead to something that would start the new year off nicely. (More on that later. Someday. Maybe. We'll see.) So I'm hopeful. And I think that's the feeling we all want on New Year's Eve.

To those who have helped me get through this year, whether I know you personally or through this blog, I'm eternally grateful for the kindness you've shown. And I thank you for taking the time to come here each day and read my writing. You allow me to have an outlet that I've sorely needed. I appreciate that more than you know.

I don't know about the rest of you, but I need a drink. Happy New Year, everyone.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Gimme DVD!

This week, The Onion's A.V. Club listed "Eight Things the World Needs on DVD." Only two of their picks, however, got an "Amen!" out of me ("Twin Peaks" and "Animaniacs"), which inspired me to think of my own DVD wants and needs.

Ladies and gentleman, friends and readers, I present:

Six Entirely Reasonable (at least to me) DVD Requests

1. Paris, Texas (Special Edition): Some of you might say, "Ian, Paris, Texas is already on DVD." Yes, but that thing might as well be a coaster. All it has is the movie. Sure, that's better than no movie on DVD. But one of the most beautiful, fascinating, and wonderfully written films ever made deserves the spa treatment with plenty of bling. I want commentaries from Wim Wenders and Sam Shepard. I want interviews with Nastassja Kinski and Harry Dean Stanton. I want documentaries - not just on the film, but on Ry Cooder's haunting soundtrack, also. Hell, while you're at it, film something about the real Paris, Texas, too. And talk to the band Travis, whose name is taken from the main character of the film.

2. Pinky & The Brain - The Complete Series: Are you pondering what I'm pondering? This cartoon was the last good reason to wake up early on Saturday mornings. Kids could laugh at the cute cartoon mice, while adults appreciated the witty jokes and sneaky parodies. Gee, Ian, what do you want to do tonight? The same thing I want to do every night, Pinky. Watch this series on DVD!

3. The Tick - The Entire Cartoon Series: I'm not talking about the FOX live-action series, which is already available on DVD. That was very funny in its own right (Batmanuel? HA!), but pales in comparison to the cartoon, which was another reason to get up early on Saturday mornings. A brilliant parody of superhero mythos and pop culture that could also entertain the kids, while amusing the hell out of adults. One of the villains was a life-sized sunflower named "El Seed"! El Seed! You know you want to see that!

4. Saturday Night Live - The Music: Again, I know a five-volume set of SNL musical performances was released two years ago to commemorate the show's 25th anniversary. And it's a very good set, with a variety of musicians and performances. But I want more. In fact, I want them all. Every act. Every song. Every single one of them - good, bad, and terrible. (Actually, what I want to see more than anything is The Replacements' 1986 appearance on SNL. It's not just because they're one of my all-time favorite bands. Apparently, they were forever banned from the show after showing up drunk, Paul Westerberg said "fuck" during "Bastards of Young," and trashing their hotel room.)

5. VH1 Storytellers - The Complete Series: Yet again, some of these performances are available on DVD. But I want all of them. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were on that show. Give it to me. Bruce Springsteen. I want it. Counting Crows. I'll watch it. Def Leppard. Even if I'm the only one who asks for it. Lenny Kravitz, Tom Waits, Coldplay, and R.E.M? Yes, yes, yes, and yes. I want them all.

6. Gideon's Crossing - The Complete Series: This has to be the only TV medical drama in the past 10 years that didn't make it. Maybe it was the wrong show at the wrong time. People already had ER and Chicago Hope to scratch their hospital itch. Gideon's Crossing had the amazing Andre Braugher, along with everything the good medical shows have: fascinating cases, compelling characters, mentors and students, conflicts with administrators, and I think there was even some sex in there. Not as much as Grey's Anatomy. But maybe they were getting to that. (Wouldn't you have to, with a babe like Rhona Mitra on the show?)

Care to add anything to the list?

I blame the beard

At some point between last night and this morning, I had the sudden urge to download the greatest hits of .38 Special from iTunes.

Is this really how I want to break in my new iPod?

No, I have no explanation for this. Maybe all the Johnny Cash I've been listening to lately opened up some sort of "southern fried rock" gland in my brain. If I have another urge over the summer to see these guys at a state fair somewhere, I'll admit I have a problem and seek help.

Hold on loosely. Don't let go.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

All my family are going to be strangers

I'm sure Christmas was going to be bittersweet this year, no matter what we did. Even toward the end of the summer, when I was working through the brunt of my grief, I dreaded the coming of the holidays. Part of me wanted to sequester myself out in the wilds of Montana. Or leave the country. Of course, that wouldn't have made a difference.

This time of year meant a lot to my father. Knowing how important it was to him, I often felt guilty over not really acknowledging the religious aspect of Christmas - especially as I got older. I know it disappointed him. But we reached an understanding, and I think that played a large role in us growing closer as father and son.

However, I'll always feel like we should've talked about it more. And that's one of many regrets I'm still carrying with me.

As I think about the Christmas holiday which just passed, the words "self-fulfilling prophecy" keep swirling around in my head. I felt it was going to miserable, therefore it would be miserable.

Actually, it wasn't that bad. The morning I spent with my mother and sister was extremely meaningful - and not just because they gave me an iPod as a gift. Being together helped us deal with our sense of loss, the feeling of emptiness in the house.

It was later in the day - at my aunt's house, with my dad's family - when I truly began to feel sad. I wish just one person in that house would've asked my mother how she was doing. It would've been nice for someone, other than me and my sister, to acknowledge that this was her first Christmas in 36 years without her husband.

Maybe no one knew what to say. I realize they were probably dealing with their own feelings, and doing what they felt necessary to get through the day. And I know my mother isn't easy to deal with in such situations. She can be curt, and even outright rude, preferring to wall herself off, rather than address her feelings. Relationships with my dad's family have become strained because of that. So maybe it's hypocritical of me to ask for anyone to reach out to her when she hasn't really been reaching out to them. They lost a brother, too.

But someone could have tried. I'm not talking about another wake, or some shrine in the corner, devoted to my father. No one would've wanted that. But I don't think the other extreme is necessary, either. Unfortunately, denial has been a popular method of coping in the past. Keep things locked away in closets, underneath clutter and dust. Get his or her stuff out of the house, as soon as possible. Just talk about something else.

Moving on is important. I know that. My mother knows that. And to think that she hasn't "moved on," to shoot her a disparaging look that might as well say, "C'mon, it's been seven months now - get over it," makes me question how well some of the people in that house truly know her. I'm not sure how well I know any of them anymore, either.

That's why I felt so sad - and quite frankly, angry - while driving home Christmas night. People who I used to feel close to, whose company I loved and enjoyed, now feel more like strangers. And I'm probably a stranger to them, too.

I hope that feeling eventually passes. There's a chance that it could. Maybe feelings are still too raw. Wounds are still closing and healing. And some will work to strengthen bonds that seem weak, to maintain a sense of family that feels so strained right now. I probably need to work harder on such things myself.

That's what my father would expect of me. But I know he knows I can't do it alone, either.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Four paragraphs later, it's about Nip/Tuck

Am I going to blame tonight's late post on the New York City transit worker strike again? Well, I want to, because it's been a top story on The Situation Room, so you know it's, like, a situation. And when Wolf Blitzer talks, I listen. (Actually, I don't even listen to him. I just stare at his beard with admiration. Someday, I tell myself, I could look Wolf-ish, too. No way he has the same gravitas with a clean-shaven face.)

But if Mis Hooz could hoof across blocks, boroughs, and bridges (both ways!) to get to work today, the least I could do is update The Casselbloggy. Plus, she said she'd kick my ass if I ever tried to use her as an excuse again. Those New Yorkers - such attitude!

No, today's lateness is due to Mama Cass, who made her poor son drive her all around town to run holiday-related errands, which included some final Christmas shopping. I was her little rickshaw boy, dragging her from store to store.

"Trader Joe's! Now! Stop whining about your blog! Your sister likes that Two Buck Chuck! And I like those frozen stir-fry mixes! Shut up! I'll feed you later!"

I earned so many Good Son points today, man.

It's probably a good thing that I didn't post an entry earlier today, anyway. See, I really wanted to write about last night's Nip/Tuck season finale, and I didn't want to say too much before everyone had a chance to watch the episode. With the identity of "The Carver" finally being revealed, no one should have been deprived of the feelings of shock, affirmation, disappointment, etc., that could come when the big moment arrived.

Actually, I almost ruined it for myself. Every time Pop Candy has blogged about Nip/Tuck, the comments are filled with rumor, theory, and speculation, all of which I've been reading. And yesterday, Nip/Tuck Fanatic, which I've been reading rather regularly lately, posted a possible spoiler that the FX network either inadvertently or intentionally ran on its website before the episode was broadcast. I was one mouse-click away from scrolling down to it, but held back. I've prevented myself from experiencing too many movies and TV shows with untainted eyes because I couldn't resist the instant gratification of knowing what was going to happen.

As it turns out, had I scrolled down, nothing would've been ruined. There was no spoiler, just a few links to some very telling images. Good job, Nip/Tuck Fanatic. I'm just sorry that the episode may have been spoiled for you. I'll post my thoughts on the episode after the jump, just in case you still haven't watched it.

Consider yourself warned...

I was pretty damn disappointed. And it actually made me unhappy because the episode was going so well. The stuff with Kimber was great. I really felt for her character. I also liked Matt's storyline with the tranny, though it would've been better if Zed and The Gimp from Pulp Fiction had come down to the basement to join Ariel's father. But then, that damn ending messed everything up.

Maybe the best line of the night was from Mis Hooz. While we were talking on the phone afterwards, she said, "I think you're more disappointed than I am. You sound so sad."

It wasn't so much about who The Carver was. Quentin Costa, as many have said, was the obvious choice all along. I don't know about the rest of you, but in my TV-watching circle, Mis Hooz sniffed it out right away. I joked that it had to be Joan Rivers. But she stuck to her guns throughout this season, even while people were scoffing that it couldn't be Quentin, because he's too obvious. And I took a sip of that Kool-Aid, trying to come up with my own crackpot theories as to how it could be Merril Bobolit, McNamara/Troy's old rival. Or Julia's old med school classmate (and love interest), Jude. That's the prediction I posted in yesterday's comments when Spinster Girl asked. I just had to be different.

But I'm glad Ryan Murphy and his merry band of writers didn't dip too far back into the show's past cast of characters. Maybe that would've been fun for those who have been watching Nip/Tuck all along, but it wouldn't have been as believable. I'm not going to say it would've been too contrived, however, because Murphy and the gang went ahead and twisted the story into all kinds of contortions once The Carver took off his mask. Kit, the detective investigating the case, was his sister? Are you fucking kidding me? That is the kind of development that sends TV shows leaping over marine carnivorous fishes.

Doesn't that mean they stuck their tongues in each other's mouths and rolled around in bed in a previous episode? Speaking as a brother, let me say emphatically, eeeww. (Lil' Sis just called; she said that's just fucking gross.) Of course, it does add a layer of insanity and sleaze to the whole dynamic, which is one reason I love this show.

I even hated the moment when the Carver took off his mask. That was supposed to be the money shot, man. To me, it just hit the wrong note dramatically and felt too staged. Wouldn't the scene with Sean and Christian being tied up and tortured in the operating room have been even more harrowing if The Carver still had his mask on and we didn't know who it was - as had been the case with all of his other attacks? The tension would've been clench-inducing. Instead, Quentin becomes a mustache-twirling villain whose dialogue is all exposition.

Sean - you fool! I wasn't really getting a blowjob at that party! I have no dick! HAHAHA! BWAH-HA-HA-HA!

You just should've let me be one of the guys! Now, I'll have to cut your hand off! How will you do surgery then? Did I mention I have no dick? HAHAHA! BWAH-HA-HA-HA!

But there was another half-hour to go after that. I was ready to smother myself with a pillow. I decided to cry into it as I fell asleep, instead. And as I drifted off into sleepyland, my feelings changed from disappointment to relief.

As much as I initially enjoyed the Carver storyline (and I will fight you if you try to argue that last season's cliffhanger wasn't one of the best in television history), it's clear that this is something that the writers completely lost control of. Based on what I've read, The Carver was supposed to be a one-episode storyline. But it became so popular that the premise was stretched further into more episodes and the following season.

Now that it's over, however, I just want to see what's next. The very end of last night episode's had a peaches/puppies/sunshine feel to it, and you know that won't last. The world that's been created is just too dark. And that's why I still love Nip/Tuck.

This past season was rather inconsistent, which makes me worry that the show has said all it has to say. Episodes and storylines were getting dropped and/or picked up all over the place. But there's some stuff leading into next season that could be promising. Is Julia really having another child with Sean? Will Matt have to answer for an apparent murder? And will everyone just forget that the McNamaras actually have another child? (Just cut her loose, man.) That gives me hope. Just keep Quentin and Kit in Spain, okay?

(Image via Nip/Tuck Fanatic)

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

A dripping $#!+bag of inconvenience

Today's lack of a proper blog entry was brought to you by the New York City transit worker strike.

With Fried Rice Thoughts' New York Bureau Chief Mis Hooz unable to get to work today (and to be honest, I didn't know the strike was on until she e-mailed me from home), and thus not able to make important (i.e., from work) phone calls, send pertinent (i.e., from work) e-mails, and otherwise feed me the material, encouragement, and jokey-jokes I need to get through the day, I just can't get it done.

And I'm sure not going to just throw up some post, like a picture taken of me at the bar. No way. You people want substance. I know that. You need steak with your sizzle (or seitan with your sizzle, for the vegetarians in the audience). You crave words. And I want to type them.

But today, I'm standing with Mis Hooz and the other stranded people of New York. Hey, I know how you feel! I was trapped at home today, too! Yeah! I had to wait around the house while a man replaced the gutters that were filled with ice and frozen leaves, and came crashing down over the weekend. Frozen leaves! My house looked like a condemned property, man! How's that for "a dripping $#!+bag of inconvenience"?

Everyone will probably be back tomorrow. The transit workers union is getting fined $1 million a day for striking. Even if they're mad at the mayor for calling their tactics "thuggish" and "unconscionable," that's a lotta cheddar.

Until tomorrow, when gutters and subways are hopefully running smoothly, carry on.

(Photo by Hiroko Masuike/ New York Times)

Monday, December 19, 2005

S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y! Night!

Courtesy of my friend Chris and his new toy, this is how every woman got to see me at Ashley's on Saturday night.

Why, yes - that was me in the Metro Times. How's about givin' a lil' sugar? *smooch*

Miss, would you like to leave this place and take a ride in my looove mah-cheene?

Can my nostrils get even bigger? The answer is yes. Years of nose-picking can do that for you. Yeesh. I apparently also need to get some more sleep. (Sis, add eye cream to the Christmas list.) Watch out for those camera phones at the bar, kids. Also, stay in school and don't take drugs.

I got a couple of questions about the beard-in-progress from the fellas on Saturday. (I should also take this opportunity to apologize to anyone's cheeks I may have scratched. I thought it was softer.) And yesterday, it occurred to me exactly what look I'm going for: Al Pacino in Serpico, circa 1973.

I think that could be a good look for me. I just have to find those sunglasses. And a bead necklace. (Think I can find one in Ann Arbor?)

Actually, the more I look at Chris's photo, something else comes to mind. Compare that image to the cover of P.J. Harvey's first album, Dry.

No, you're right - Polly's lips are prettier than mine. And I imagine she doesn't have hair on her face.

To the fellas, it was good to see you on Saturday. I hope we get to do it again soon. And to our waitress, I apologize for staring at your boobs. (Am I taking the bullet for someone else at the table? Omerta, baby. Omerta.)

Scott, I'll call you about Brokeback Mountain. Just give me a day to look for my cowboy hat in the basement. Don't forget your chaps.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Meet your blogger

Who the hell is this guy?

If you're in the metro Detroit area, and have access to the Metro Times, a certain Fried Rice Thinker is one of nine local bloggers profiled in this week's cover story, "Meet the Bloggers." (And as the links indicate, the article is also available at the MT's website.)

The feature is a fascinating look at the variety of blogs that are being written in Detroit right now, and I'm incredibly flattered to be a part of the article. It seems a little strange to see my sports blog alongside sites covering the city's politics, urban decay, art and music scenes, and community. But obviously, I'm glad Sweaty Men Endeavors was considered an interesting enough part of Detroit's blogosphere to be included.

I'd like to thank the writer, Nate Rogers, who was intrigued enough by the "slightly gay name" to check it out, look me up for an interview, and write what is quite possibly the best article the Metro Times has ever published. I'm thrilled with the piece, which reflects the enjoyable conversation Nate and I had last week, and captures the tone of Sweaty Men Endeavors very well.

And I'd also like to thank the article's photographer, Doug Coombe, who made it fun to sit down on snow-covered metal bleachers in an empty Michigan Stadium and make a fool of myself in front of the camera. After trucking through the snow and up the stadium steps, I was ready to collapse and make snow angels (which might have made another beautiful set of photos), but Doug's a busy man and had to get moving. (Just tell me you were as tired and sore the next day as I was, man.) Doug can now add me to a photo resume that includes shots of Oasis and the White Stripes. I'm sure he's thrilled about that.

So please pick up a copy - I promise I haven't taken every one in Ann Arbor - and see what metro Detroit's bloggers have to offer. It's a really cool feature, and I think it's great that the Metro Times chose to cover this subject.

And if you don't mind, I'd like to leave this post at the top of the blog for a few days to celebrate and acknowledge the article. But I promise there will still be plenty of new entries. So please scroll down for the latest posts if you come back here. Just because my clownish mug is at the top of the blog doesn't mean there isn't new stuff. Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Making sense of all this tipping

Have we gone a whole four months without discussing tipping? Here at Fried Rice Thoughts, it's been one of the more popular subjects of deliberation. Most everyone has an opinion on the matter; it's not something you can casually say you care nothing about.

Do you give 15 or 20 percent to your waiter? How much does the pizza delivery guy get? What if I pick up the pizza myself? What's acceptable for the skycap at the airport who handles your luggage? How much do you give to the person who cuts your hair? And c'mon, do I really have to leave a tip for the barista at the coffee shop?

And now, we're at that time of year when you have to decide who gets a holiday tip, which drives me nuts. My parents and I argued about this most every year. Do you slip some money to the paper boy? How about the mailman? Should you give an extra gift to your hairdresser?

So I was grateful for the public service the Washington Post provided in last Sunday's edition with a feature article on tipping. Joe Heim's piece tries its best to break everything down and cover most any situation you can think of. And hosted a chat with the author of The Itty Bitty Guide to Tipping, Stacie Krajchir. People came up with some interesting questions, and Krajchir had some opinions on gratuities which might surprise you.

Unfortunately for this blog, all this information might be the final word on the tipping debate. Or is it? No, I'm sure we'll be faced with something - a tip jar in the most inexplicable place, a service we haven't previously encountered, etc. - that could reopen the discussion. If so, bring it. I love talking about this stuff. It's provocative! It's hot button! And it's a hell of a lot more legitimate topic than the supposed "war on Christmas." (But please read Raging Red and Orotundity, who have written some great stuff on that very subject.)

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

12 days 'til Christmas

Yesterday, Lil' Sis called me to complain that I hadn't sent her a Christmas list yet. In years past, I relished the opportunity to send suggestions to my sister, both because of the gifts I might receive and the child-like excitement that comes from making a list. She likes it so she knows exactly what to get for me, rather than rack her brain for ideas. I think it would be nicer if she picked something out for me, but she thinks I'm impossible to buy for. (Of course, I disagree with that. If she just read this blog, she'd get plenty of ideas.)

But I can't think of anything I want this year. It's been a rough year, and at the risk of sounding mushy, I'm grateful for what I have right now. Unwrapping the Season 2 DVD set of Scrubs on Christmas Day would be nice, but I don't need any gifts.

That's how I felt until a couple of hours ago. Now I might be rethinking that stance, after reading Deadspin this morning, and its post about Mark Cuban's investment in the Brondell Swash.

The Brondell Swash 600 is an amazing piece of machinery, people. Maybe it's not as cool as Kohler's hatbox toilet, but I think it's much more practical. It has retractable wands (for both posterior and feminine washes) that spray warm water to clean you after you finish your business, and an air dryer dries you off before you put your pants back on.

It's a piece of the future, right under your buttocks. And those buttocks would be warm and cozy on the contoured, temperature-adjustable seat. All of it can be controlled with a console you can install near the commode.

And since you always like to think practically, Sis, consider how much I might save on toilet paper if I had one of these. Plus, it's one less thing I'd have to buy at the grocery store when the next Snow Storm of the Century hits (currently scheduled for tomorrow, according to our local meterologists).

So there you go, Lil' Sis. You don't even have to shop for it. I know you like to go out shopping, so maybe this won't be as fun for you. But you asked me what I want, right? I want my futuristic toilet seat that washes and dries me.

Or you could just buy the Scrubs set.

Monday, December 12, 2005

These dreams go on

If I keep this up, my dreams could become a weekly feature here at El Bloggo. They're still going, and I'm still remembering them. So I'll keep writing about them. Let's see what you think of this one, Dream Doctors:

My refrigerator is full of melting pints of ice cream, like I've been collecting them. I don't know if I forgot that I left them to thaw, or was just too lazy to throw them out. I open one, see it's melted, and then put it back. I open another, which I remember as mint chocolate chip, and put it back. And so on. But I can't find one that's still frozen.

At the bottom of the refrigerator, the entire shelf is full of cake. Nothing's in a box. It's like someone took a giant cake and just stuffed it into the compartment. The stuff is drooping over the lettuce crisper. It's white cake with white frosting. I try to push it back in, but it squeezes between my fingers and falls over my wrists. From there, I scoop out a big chunk of cake, and put it on a paper plate to eat. But I take one look at it and feel nauseous. And that's when I wake up.

I did have a craving for ice cream over the weekend, but didn't indulge. Is that what the dream is all about?

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Easy like Sunday morning

I don't do these too often (or post them here, anyway), but hey, it's Sunday morning. I'm feeling whimsical as I drink my coffee, and I have a soft spot for superheroes.

Your results:
You are Spider-Man

Iron Man
Green Lantern
The Flash
Wonder Woman
You are intelligent, witty,
a bit geeky and have great
power and responsibility.

Click here to take the "Which Superhero are you?" quiz...

With great boredom comes lazy blogging.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Doesn't feel like a favor

Here's one for the homeowners out there (stop giggling, Beavis):

What's better? Your street covered in snow, still difficult to drive in, or that same snow, along with ice and old leaves, pushed up into a wall at the end of your driveway, thanks to snow plows?

I can tell you which option my back would choose.

I need another heating pad. And an ibuprofen.

Friday, December 09, 2005

I've got a movie itch

Here's a pet peeve for the weekend: Movies I want to see that open in New York and Los Angeles first. (Stop laughing, Mis Hooz.)

Look, I know I'll get a chance to see Brokeback Mountain at some point. Maybe even next week. But after reading so much about it, and seeing Ang Lee and Heath Ledger interviewed on The Charlie Rose Show this week, I'm ready to see it now. And it's not here. Screwed again in the Midwest, man.

While I'm waiting, however, the New Yorker has done something very cool, posting Annie Proulx's original short story, upon which the movie's based, on its website. (Thanks to Pop Candy, which has become one of my favorite blogs, for the heads-up.)

▪ ▪ David Poland has changed his views on the film, after repeated viewings, which has been interesting to read. (Watch out for the spoilers.) I wish more film critics would do this.

▪ ▪ I've also enjoyed reading Dave Cullen's anticipation of the movie and explanation of why this movie it's so important to him. He's written and collected a lot about it, which can be found here.

On another movie note, have you seen the trailer for Match Point? If not, it looks like an exciting thriller, and not just because my fantasy girlfriend, Scarlett Johansson, is in it. But if you have, were you surprised when you saw who directed the film, like I was?

Meanwhile, Syriana looks like a good one. I'll try to catch that this weekend. George Clooney is my brother in beardom.

(Image from "The Boondocks" © 2005 Aaron McGruder)

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Carry that weight

At a bookstore yesterday, I spent most of my time next to a table stacked with books about John Lennon. There's just an astounding amount of material on the man available right now - new biographies, photography books, magazines, etc. I already own plenty of stuff on Lennon and The Beatles, but I still considered buying one or two of the books for myself since I won't get one as a gift (Happy Holidays!).

Eventually, all the reading and perusing blew dust off whichever part of my brain remembers such things, and I realized that we were at that time of year, the anniversary (which doesn't seem like the right word) of John Lennon's death.

And now, it's been 25 years since Lennon was killed. I was a little kid back then, and thanks to my uncle, very familiar with the Beatles' music. And my dad knew that. The morning after it happened, he gave me the news as he fixed breakfast for us. He heard about it while watching Monday Night Football. It's a rather vivid childhood memory.

“Why would someone shoot him?” I asked him. He said he didn't know. Thinking about it now, I'm glad he didn't try to explain how insane the world could be. No kid should have to learn about the terrible things people can do to each other while wearing Superman pajamas and eating Cheerios.

I remember trying to call my uncle - a huge Beatles fan - after I got home from school, but he didn't answer the phone. When I saw him days later, I asked him the same question I asked my dad. I got the same answer.

Four years ago, when I visited Mis Hooz in New York for the first time, I told her I wanted to see where Lennon died. She asked me why I would want to do such a thing. It was a good question, one I didn't know how to answer.

I went to the Dakota, stood at the exact spot I recalled from old news footage and photos, and began to take pictures. After snapping two or three, I lowered my camera and noticed someone walking by. He looked at me and shook his head. And then I felt like shit, like I was being disrespectful and ghoulish.

Looking for some shade (and probably a place to hide from embarrassment), I walked across the street to Central Park. I had no idea Strawberry Fields or the "Imagine" mosaic were there. But of course, that's what I found.

It was really quite a sight. Rays of sunlight streamed through the trees and reflected off the white mosaic tiles. From a distance, in the middle of a courtyard, surrounded by an iron barricade, it almost looked like a pool of white light. Outside the barricade were dozens of shells of melted wax, from the candles that had been lit in tribute.

In today's San Francisco Chronicle, Steven Winn writes, "We don't just remember Lennon. We remember how we remember him." Given the preceding 500 words in this entry, I'd say there's certainly some truth to that. Most every time I read about him or listen to his music, I think about that visit.

Tonight, there will be a vigil in Central Park to honor Lennon. I wish I could be there.

♦ From today until Sunday, an exhibit of John Lennon's art will be on display at the Ann Arbor Art Show. I have a feeling I'll check it out.

♦ Today's New York Times has an Op-Ed piece by Jack Mitchell, who photographed Lennon a month before he died.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Radio's slippery slope into suckiness

The only person who kept me from listening to sports talk radio in the afternoons no longer works at Detroit's WDET. And I don't want to listen to sports talk radio all afternoon.

Martin Bandyke's show was smart, eclectic, and entertaining, and one of the many things I missed about Michigan while living in Iowa for two years. Almost every time I listened, I felt like I discovered a new artist or learned something new about music. That is nowhere to be found these days on regular radio, and from what I read and hear, that's a problem plaguing the airwaves all over the country.

I hope he finds another radio home in Detroit some time soon. If not, it's everyone's loss.

Hey man, what's on your face?

For those you who have been asking, the beard is starting to come in. It's been just about ten days, and I'm not sure whether or not I should be happy with the progress. But my face is moving past the stage where it just looks like I rubbed my cheeks with charcoal. So I think I'm happy about that.

I caught myself stroking what hair is on my face the other day while thinking, which I take as a clear sign that I'm ready to have a beard.

I'm not sure I'm going to take it to "Al Qaeda" lengths, however. For one thing, as I said last week, I'm annoyed enough by having my laptop searched at airports, so I don't think I'll agree with full body cavity exams. Secondly, after reading about ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons in this week's New Yorker, I'm pretty sure the beard's not moving far past my jawline. Why? Gibbons sips beer through a straw, so the suds won't get into his beard.

So is this worth the trouble if I have to drink beer through a straw? Would the manly points I'd earn from showing the world I have the testosterone to grow a beard automatically be lost as soon as I slid a straw into my bottle of Harp? Or would it all even out at the end?

I'm glad I have something on my face to stroke as I contemplate this.

(Image from "Get Fuzzy" © 2005 Darby Conley)

Monday, December 05, 2005

What did you just say?

Yesterday, while I was in line (not "on line," which is a pet peeve of our New York bureau chief, Mis Hooz) at a grocery store, the couple in front of me got into a minor argument when the man tried to gently touch the woman's face.

"Eeew!" she said. "Your hand stinks!"

She didn't say exactly what his hand smelled like. One can only imagine. But judging from the way she scrunched up her face and reeled back, it wasn't pleasant. Or maybe she's just really averse to public displays of affection.

As you might imagine, the guy was mortified. He sheepishly tried to defend himself - "What? What do you mean?" - but if he hadn't been trapped between people in line, he might have run away to wait in the car. He looked over at me to see if I heard what she said, but I was pretending really, really hard to be really interested in the organic lip balms on display by the register.

Hell yes, I heard her. Anyone standing back by the dairy section looked up to see what smelled.

Of course, as I drove home, I knew I'd write about this. And I began to wonder: What is the worst - or most embarrassing - thing someone has said to you in public? Is there anything that a woman could say to a man that would be worse than anything a man said to a woman? How important is the setting in such a situation?

Here's the first thing that came to my mind, which might disappoint you a bit: A few years ago, while working at Borders, I was talking with one of my co-workers after returning from lunch. Just before she left to take her lunch break, she gave me a strange look, and then asked "Did you eat salami for lunch?"

And I always chew on gum or a mint after lunch, just to avoid such a situation. I wash my hands too. So I either forgot that day, or was just emanating the scent of salted, cured meat. Anyway, I've never eaten anything close to salami on a lunch break ever again.

I'm sure I'll think of something more embarrassing later. Or maybe we can share stories from grocery store lines.

(Image from "Red Meat" © 2005 Max Cannon)

Friday, December 02, 2005

What is going on inside my head?

I'd like to thank everyone who chimed in on "To Beard or Not To Beard." If I ever want to grow hair on another part of my body, I'll remember to run it by you guys first. You're the best.

I also received some interesting comments last week when I asked you to consult upon a couple of my recent dreams. And I'd like some insight from you again, because my subconscious imagination is apparently still quite active. (Maybe it's the bedbugs biting.)

Before this past month, I was one of those people who hardly ever remembered his dreams. Yet these have been so vivid, I still remember them later in the day, long after I've woken up. So let's see what you think of these.

♦ In the first dream, whenever I held a conversation with someone, he or she kept pointing out that every time I said a word that ended in "s," like "guess," it would come out sounding like a "z." I didn't even notice myself doing it. Yet each person I talked to was getting extremely annoyed with this, so I tried to stop - even though I didn't think I was doing it.

But I couldn't stop, no matter how hard I tried. One of the conversations took place at a Starbucks, and the person I was with got so frustrated, she got up and left. Maybe it was that Starbuckzzz coffee.

♦ In the second, I ran into an old girlfriend while Christmas shopping. I haven't seen this person in over ten years. We were at a toy store; I was buying gifts for my cousin, she was vague about whom she was buying for. The conversation was really enjoyable, so we continued at a bar after we finished shopping.

I told her I was sorry for being insecure and immature while we dated. She said she often thought I was a sad person, and wondered if that's why I constantly made jokes. Then she asked about my father, knowing that we didn't get along so well back then. I told her he passed away. And then she began crying. Apparently, that was some sort of aphrodisiac because we got a hotel room after that and spent the night together.

The next morning, as I'm getting dressed, she tells me she has to go but really hopes we can start seeing each other again. And I can't believe what's happening. This affirms my belief in the natural balance of life; something bad is almost always followed by something good.

Later that night, I'm at another bar with a friend, and he sees my old girlfriend. She's scanning the crowd, looking for someone. Once she sees us, she comes over and sits down with us. After she catches up with my friend, she turns to me with a smile and I figure we're going to tell him about what happened the night before. She then tells me that she's married with two kids and is going back to Washington after Christmas.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Getting fuzzy?

So I'm thinking of growing a beard.

I can hear most, if not all, of my female readers and friends screaming "NO, NO! PLEASE GOD, NO! ARE YOU A MORON?"

And a hefty percentage of my male readers and friends are probably wondering whether I actually want women to find me attractive. Otherwise, how would I meet one, exchange "me toos," play doctor, and eventually give the world more Casselberrys?

Lil' Sis thinks I'm insane. Mama Cass wonders if she'll have to introduce the potentially hirsute caveman she once spawned as "her son."

But I go through this nearly every winter. First of all, the weather gets colder. And this face could use the protection. Those elements are tough on my supple, pinchable cheeks. Maybe (HA!) I've gone through a dating drying spell, which makes me question my manhood. And what better way to gauge testosterone production than to see how much hair you can grow?

This isn't a final decision. A few things are giving me pause. One is itching. I know I won't be able to stand it. And if any chin hair somehow gets stuck in a sweatshirt or coat zipper, I'll go berserk. I also think I'll look like an idiot. How do I know? Well, I ran an image with various calculations and scenarios into the IDC-3000, and this is what came out:

To beard or not to beard; that is the question.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Come out to plaaa-ay...

Don't you love it when you see an article that addresses something you'd been wondering about? I got that feeling when I saw Allen Barra's piece in yesterday's Salon about the cult popularity of The Warriors, which is being fed by a special edition DVD release and a video game based on the movie.

A video game based on a late-70's cult movie? Is there really an audience for such a thing? Obviously, the Rockstar Games guys think so.

I didn't realize The Warriors had such a following. I recall watching the movie a few times when I was a kid, after we got cable. But I can barely remember what the movie was about. I remember the "Warriors, come out to plaaaay-ay" taunt, which I may have imitated while playing with my friends, along with "Caaan yooou dig iiiit?" But that's about it.

(Image from The Warriors Movie Site)

I like the cultural precedent this could set, though. In ten years, who knows what people will look back on and remember lovingly? (I'm sure VH1 will give us a few ideas. They're probably already working on that show.) But if we're talking about special edition DVDs and video games, I'm putting in a request right now.

Road House.

You read that right. Where's the "director's cut" DVD for that one? Who's working on the video game? Rockstar Games, are you on it?

The slogan is already there: "Pain don't hurt." Or maybe "Don't eat the white mint" would be better.

I want to be Dalton, to beat the $#!+ out of a bar full of guys, and "take the biggest guy in the world, shatter his knee and he'll drop like a stone." Tell me that video game wouldn't be #@%ing. Sweet.

Allen Barra, there's your next writing assignment. Save it for ten years from now. And if you don't want to write it, I will. Salon, you know how to find me. "My way... or the highway."

Monday, November 28, 2005

Thankful for what... ?

There's an episode on the first season of House in which someone finds out his comatose wife's illness was likely contracted through sex with another man. While sitting by her bedside, he confesses that a part of him hopes she doesn't recover because of how she got the disease. The man then asks one of the doctors if this makes him a terrible person.

I was anticipating an awful Thanksgiving holiday. Not just because it was going to be my first Thanksgiving without my father, but because relationships among certain people who were going to be at dinner have become - to be diplomatic - strained. In the weeks and days leading up to the holiday, I just could not imagine this going well. I envisioned plenty of scenarios that ended with me taking a swing at someone with a turkey leg. Leaving dinner early had become an inevitability in my imagination.

But Thanksgiving was actually quite pleasant. There was still some tension over unresolved issues between me and a relative or two. I also couldn't resist arguing with the conservatives in the room. And my mother chose to hide from everyone and wouldn't eat. Overall, however, I thought the evening was nice.

(Though we did get majorly screwed on leftovers. A 20 lb. turkey for seven people, and all we got to take home was a #@$%ing drumstick? I'm making my own turkey this week, man. I want my turkey sandwiches!)

As I drove home, it occurred to me that I had nothing interesting to write about. Thanksgiving had given me nothing. And I was anticipating plenty. I figured I'd be annoyed, if not outright angry, and would vomit my bile all over this blog. But I enjoyed myself. And I was slightly disappointed by that.

Does that make me a terrible person?

(Image from "The Boondocks"
© 2005 Aaron McGruder)

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Movie Week -- Jarhead

Here's one reason I was eager to see Jarhead: The author of the original book, Anthony Swofford, studied at the Iowa Writers Workshop, and I was able to meet him when he returned to Iowa City for a reading last year. Even though we all say it's about literature and the work, there's a healthy amount of envy swirling around when someone gets his or her book made into a movie.

To Swofford's credit, he talked more about the book and the writing process, and resisted opportunities to name-drop (unlike me in that first paragraph). And no one asked him how it felt to have Jake Gyllenhaal play him in a movie. So he must be a better man than me. Because if Jake was playing me in a movie, I'm sure it'd come up in conversation. Frequently. Especially to the ladies sitting in the front row at one of my readings. Or at the bar afterwards.

"Why yes, my ass looks just like Jake Gyllenhaal's. Hey, I have a Santa hat in my car! Wanna go back to my place?"

Okay, I think it's only fair to give those who know me a minute to collect themselves while they try to get the visual of me naked with only a Santa hat covering up my nethers out of their minds.

(Image from A Socialite's Life)

Ready? Where was I? Before my ass, I mean.

By the way, in case you're thinking I Googled "Jake Gyllenhaal," "naked," and "ass" to find that image, it actually comes from Fried Rice Thoughts' New York Bureau Chief, Mis Hooz. Painstaking research on that task. She really busted a hump, and earned every penny of her paycheck. Thanks, Hoozie.

Hello? Mis Hooz? Still with us? Are you going to read the rest of this post? I'm still writing here.

Okay, she's off to get a bootleg of the movie from some dude near her subway stop on the way home.

Ian! What about the movie?

Here's one reason I wasn't eager to see Jarhead: I fear Sam Mendes is an overrated director. In fairness, I only have two films to go on, which isn't a large sample size. But I would argue (and have in the past, though not on this blog) that American Beauty largely owed its quality to Alan Ball's writing. (I think Six Feet Under supports that theory.) And with Road to Perdition, Mendes took a movie about mobsters, rolled with the theme of fathers and sons, and tried to aspire to something higher, which resulted in a surprisingly boring (though nice-looking) film. Gun violence has rarely been so elegant.

So I was worried that Mendes would take many of Swofford's vivid descriptions of desert landscapes and make a movie that looked beautiful on screen, yet somehow made soldiers and warfare seem dull. But maybe I'm just jealous that he's married to Kate Winslet, and I'm not.

Fortunately, he didn't make a boring film. I actually thought Jarhead was much better than the critics have been saying. It's disturbing, provocative, and funny - much like Swofford's book. He also somehow takes seemingly every cliche from war movies (dickhead drill sargeants, guys who love war a little too much, soldiers going crazy) and manages to create more of a tribute to those films than an imitation.

I will say, however, that the story feels a little aimless. There's not much of a narrative. But that's the spirit of the book. These guys were trained to become elite killing machines and were pumped up with the idea that they'd shoot holes into hundreds of Iraqi soldiers and become American heroes, only to get shipped out to the desert and... wait. And never get to confront the enemy they were conditioned to destroy. What do you do with all that free time and all that aggressive energy screaming to be released?

Not exactly the stuff of beginning-middle-end. Or Act I-Act II- Act III. And that works just fine in a book - especially a memoir. Not so sure it works in a movie, though. But Mendes gave it his best try. So I'll take back that "overrated" crack. Yes, I said "crack." Go ahead and scroll back up to the Jake picture. Geez. And here I was, about to write another 500 words on translating a book to a movie...

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Glad to wake up

Do we have any amateur (or professional) psychoanalysts or dream interpreters in the house? These have been my last two dreams, both of which have been quite vivid:

1) All of the plumbing in my house clogged up. Pipes exploded in the living room and kitchen. I had handfuls of muck (which contained stuff I'd rather not mention). As the dream ended and I woke up, I was knee deep in stinky black water.

2) I tried to organize an elaborate heist of money from a bookstore I worked in. Yet the bookstore the dream took place in was one I'd never seen or worked in before. Everything was set to go. The money went out the door. But at the end of the dream, I was called into an office and when I opened the door, police were waiting for me.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Movie Week -- The Squid and the Whale

For those of you who have your own blogs, or write in other forms, such as essays, short stories or novels, how many times have you been in a situation, and then been asked if you were going to write about it? Or been told that you should write about it? (And do you find that as annoying as I do?)

I'm sure Noah Baumbach didn't hear those questions from his parents as they were going through a divorce, but I thought about that often while watching The Squid and the Whale. How long was this movie in his head? Did he know he was going to write or make a film about this ordeal as it was happening? Maybe he was taking notes the whole time.

For any child of divorce (or anyone who's gone through a divorce), I imagine you'll find a lot to relate to - and maybe painfully so. My parents never split (though once came close), and there were a couple of scenes that rang extremely true. But that makes this film sound rather depressing, and it really isn't.

Maybe it's laughing to prevent from crying, but there's so much humor that is mined from these situations. The parents' negotiations over who gets the kids on which day and whose stuff belongs to whom. The kids' comparing new homes to old homes. Deciding whose side to take. Discovering details that children probably shouldn't learn about their parents - at least not until much later in life. And maybe that's what this film is really about: finding out that your parents are actually people with flaws and weaknesses, not just archetypes and role models.

That premise is embodied in Jeff Daniels' character, a supremely pretentious, arrogant writing instructor - he refers to Kafka as one of his colleagues, and to Tale of Two Cities as "minor Dickens" - whose literary fame has long since passed, yet still feels he's entitled to adoration from the people in his life. The only one who idolizes him anymore is his older son, who's trying that pretentiousness - to sound smart, he says The Metamorphosis is "Kafka-esque" - on for himself. Yet Laura Linney's (a Fried Rice Thoughts favorite - love her) character isn't blameless, either. She's a bit too honest with her children about the various affairs she's had, including one with William Baldwin (who is still working, if you were ever wondering).

One sidenote: There's a very Wes Anderson ("Anderson-esque"?) tone to the movie, so if you're a fan of his work, you'll probably enjoy this film. It fits into that world very well, with that same sort of painful humor, the same types of deplorable, yet charming characters, and a similar exploration of the relationships between children and their parental figures. (Maybe that shouldn't be a surprise, since Anderson is a producer on the film.)

As I write this, I find myself envying Baumbach for making this movie and working through his memories, and the issues that surely come with them. I imagine it was extremely therapeutic. And I'm kind of inspired by that. I should probably warn my family right now: I'm bringing a notebook to Thanksgiving dinner. And if you feel the need to suggest what might make a good story, don't worry - I'm probably already ahead of you.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Movie Week -- Good Night, and Good Luck

Good Night, and Good Luck comes at an interesting time. It's been quite a year for journalism. Many reporters found their courage while covering the Hurricane Katrina aftermath. The White House press corps is showing more teeth toward the Bush administration. And then there's the Judith Miller story.

Of course, this movie was made before those developments took place. Yet the beginning and end of the story, in which Edward R. Murrow scolds his industry while accepting an award, seems particularly resonant, given the current culture. And that was surely the point.

Is the movie heavy-handed with that point? Actually, no - not nearly as much as it could've been. But are there really two sides to tell in this story? (Ann Coulter says yes, if you care to read or listen. I don't.) The journalists who saw something wrong and stood up against it, despite opposition from political and corporate factions, are the story.

I also thought it was an interesting coincidence that the story is set in motion by reading a report in a newspaper, which was also the case in Capote. It must be the ol' journalism major in me.

The culture of CBS News in the mid-1950's is also a major factor in the movie. Murrow's "serious work" wasn't bringing in money, so to appease his bosses, he had to conduct fluff interviews with celebrities like Liberace. It's in these scenes that David Strathairn might do his best acting. These reporters and producers worked hard, with virtually no support, living and dying with these stories. (And they smoked like chimneys. No wonder most of them died from lung cancer.) But I'm not quite sure how necessary a subplot involving Robert Downey, Jr and Patricia Clarkson was. It provided another example of the oppression of expression that was taking place in that environment, which was interesting (especially with those two actors). But it seemed like a digression to the main story.

Ultimately, what impressed me the most about this movie was that George Clooney preferred to tell a story that meant something to him, rather than go make something like "Ocean's 15." Is that a little bit of my old man-crush on Doug Ross popping up? Maybe, but I don't think so.

I'm glad that he didn't try to tell the complete story. He lets you try to fill in the blanks and form your own opinions. And if you want to learn more, the information is out there. But the movie also makes you wonder how much the world has and hasn't changed since the 1950's. And if you're like me, that could either depress or excite you.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Morning amour

In a blatant attempt to get me to renew my long-expired subscription, today's Detroit Free Press ran a story on my future girlfriend (and, if things work out, future wife - keep your fingers crossed, guys!), the Mercury spokeswoman.

I've expressed my infatuation with this woman before, which prompted a few kind readers (including my friend Miko) to tell me who she really was. And if you ask me, I conveyed my admiration much more tastefully than the blanket portrayal of bloggers by the Free Press.

The brand has hired a fresh-faced, down-to-earth spokeswoman, actress Jill Wagner, who seems to appeal to women and men -- judging from the online blogs where men call her "hot," "Definitely HOT!" and "hot, hot, hot."

I didn't even use the word "hot" in my post. I was much more respectful. Although I did call Ms. Wagner a "babe" and admit I was a lonely man, one who watches certain TV commercials very, very closely. Apparently, I didn't drool enough to warrant a mention in the Free Press. They screwed me again!

When I wrote that entry back in June, it was my hope that Fried Rice Thoughts would soon blow up into the huge, synergistic multimedia empire that could bankroll a dinner with the Mercury spokeswoman. My people would call her people, we'd set up a meeting (date), and then just let the inevitable magic happen. Unfortunately, it didn't quite work out that way. I'm not a blog-fueled superstar yet. (Although my mom reads the blog now, which I consider an improvement. Hi, Mom!)

But I think I see what's going on here. I watch movies; I see how a lot of these romances develop. Is it a coincidence that I just happened to see the Free Press at a coffee shop this morning? And I don't even read the Free Press much anymore, but today I did. And what (who) was on the front page?

Jill, you didn't have to go to all the trouble. My e-mail address is posted near the top of the blog. I'm not a difficult guy to get ahold of (unless you're trying to ask me questions about Thanksgiving dinner). But hey, if you wanted to find me through an article in a local paper, it worked. Maybe you like a little bit of mystery. Maybe you like the grand gesture. Maybe you wanted an entertaining story for friends and family. And this could be one.

Who should I ask for when I call the Free Press later today? Or should I just wait for you (or someone representing you) to call me? Again, I'm not difficult to get ahold of (unless you're calling to suggest what sort of wine to bring to Thanksgiving dinner). Especially tonight. I'll probably be watching Smallville, since a trailer for the new Superman flick is supposed to play during the show. Hey, do you like superheroes?

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Movie Week -- Capote

During my last semester at Iowa, I took a Nonfiction Writing course that just wasn't scratching my creative itch. Despite that frustration, I enjoyed the class because of the material that was assigned. One of the books we had to study was Truman Capote's In Cold Blood, something I'd always wanted to read.

The term "creative nonfiction" was thrown around a lot in those courses. For anyone who wondered what exactly that entailed, Capote's book provided a perfect example. It wasn't just a report of the Clutter family murders that took place in 1959. Capote told a story, creating some sequences to pull everything together. He got into the heads of his subjects, giving them distinct voices on the page. He painted scenery with his words. You already knew this, but I'll say it anyway: it's an amazing piece of work.

So when I found out a movie was being made (two, actually) about the writing of In Cold Blood while doing research on Capote, I was excited. Philip Seymour Hoffman's playing him? I was thrilled.

To me, one of the more intriguing things about Capote is that it tells a story about a book being written, without being boring. And that's probably because of the title character. Capote was such a personality, which the script and Hoffman detail perfectly. He's flamboyant. And arrogant. The man was a literary rock star, something I'm not sure could happen in our current culture. Of course, that means he's narcissitic. But he's also amazingly perceptive and empathetic (two traits which surely helped his writing). And ultimately, he uses those skills to get what he wants.

How manipulative was Capote? Well, it probably depends how you interpret the information the movie gives you. But the portrayal of Capote isn't a soft one. Toward the end of the story, he's outright hoping for the execution of the killers - Dick Hickock and Perry Smith - because that's the ending he needs for his book. But he also knows what kind of person that makes him. Dealing with that is probably the central conflict of the film, one made more complex due to the relationship Capote has formed with Smith. Yet the story ends with enough questions to compel you (or me, anyway) want to devour any Capote biography available.

And Hoffman isn't the only actor who shines, either. Catherine Keener's Harper Lee (of To Kill a Mockingbird fame) is essentially Capote's conscience, giving him the kind of friend we all need sometimes - someone who's willing to call you out when you're being an asshole. And her own literary success that develops during the story provides a further opportunity to show Capote's self-centeredness. But Clifton Collins, Jr.'s portrayal of Perry Smith might be the most intriguing of the movie. You can see how Capote became so taken with him. How can such a seemingly gentle soul also be a heartless killer? It's an intoxicating question. Yet maybe Capote isn't the only one being manipulative. Collins's performance shows all of those sides, and sometimes within one scene.

It doesn't matter if you read In Cold Blood or not. I actually think it might be better if you didn't. Then, if you're interested, you can go read the book with the backstory in your mind and form your own opinions. But if you did read the book, this movie is something of a behind-the-scenes DVD extra. How often do you get to know the person who wrote the book, and the people behind the characters in the story?

Capote will stay with you as you leave the theater. I think you'll want to talk about it, and learn more about the story. That resonance, that kind of substance, makes this such a good movie.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Fried Rice Movie Week!

Okay, this is something I meant to start yesterday, but things came up. You know how that goes. Besides, isn't Tuesday the new Monday? No? Well, it should be.

Anyway, if you know me or you've been reading Fried Rice Thoughts for a while, you know I love movies. I'd rather see a movie than almost any other leisure activity. If I'm traveling and staying somewhere for a while, I want to know where the movie theaters are. If I visit Mis Hooz in New York, I have more fun with her at the movies than virtually any other quintessential New York activity. I enjoy going to the theater and watching a movie.

But I've been going through a dry spell. For various reasons, I haven't been able to get myself to a theater as much as I used to. Several movies blew through town that I wanted to see, but didn't: The Aristocrats, Junebug, Thumbsucker, Everything Is Illuminated, and Proof, to name a few smaller, "indie" flicks. Serenity was another one. (But I wanted to finish the Firefly DVD set first.) And Elizabethtown - a film I'd been anticipating for months - was in and out of theaters before I could plan an afternoon at the movies. (Maybe that tells me I didn't miss much.)

That was it. I knew something had to change. What had I become? What happened to the man who used to love going to the movies, the man I fell in love with? In an attempt to reunite myself with, er, myself, I've been going to the movies - with a vengeance. And I want to write about 'em.

To whet your (and my) appetite for film talk, here's an excerpt from Stephen Hunter's review of Pride and Prejudice in last Friday's Washington Post. He's the film critic I would love to be.

Is it as good as the superb BBC miniseries of 1995 starring Jennifer Ehle as Lizzy and Colin Firth as Darcy? How the hell would I know? Do you think I watched it? Get serious. Life's way too short for five hours in front of the tube watching ponces and twits flounce and scrape and talk tony Brit. However, many learned people say it is not as good, and that would therefore become my official position.

So welcome to Movie Week! We'll start off with Capote. Tomorrow. (Ahem.)

(Image from "Heart of the City" ©2005 Mark Tatulli/ Dist. by Universal Press Syndicate)