Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Okay, I'll rent Crash

Here's what I've learned after just watching the Academy Award nominations announced on Good Morning America:

1) I think I might type fast enough to be a court stenographer.
2) I really, really need to rent Crash. It's been at the top of my Netflix queue forever.

Even though you may have seen these elsewhere by the time you read this, I went to the trouble of typing them out, dammit, so they're being posted here. (I should've just waited until the complete list was posted online.)

Best supporting actress:
Amy Adams - Junebug
Catherine Keener - Capote
Frances McDormand - North Country
Rachel Weisz - The Constant Gardener
Michelle Williams - Brokeback Mountain

Best supporting actor:
Matt Dillon - Crash
George Clooney - Syriana
William Hurt - A History of Violence
Paul Giamatti - Cinderella Man
Jake Gyllenhaal - Brokeback Mountain

Best Actress:
Judi Dench - Mrs. Henderson Presents
Felicity Huffman - Transamerica
Keira Knightley - Pride & Prejudice
Charlize Theron - North Country
Reese Witherspoon - Walk the Line

Best Actor:
Terrance Howard - Hustle & Flow
Philip Seymour Hoffman - Capote
Heath Ledger - Brokeback Mountain
Joaquin Phoenix - Walk the Line
David Strathairn - Good Night, and Good Luck

Best Director:
Ang Lee - Brokeback Mountain
Bennett Miller - Capote
Paul Haggis - Crash
George Clooney - Good Night, and Good Luck
Steven Spielberg - Munich

Best Original Screenplay:
Paul Haggis and Robert Moresco - Crash
George Clooney - Good Night, and Good Luck
Woody Allen - Match Point
Noah Baumbach - The Squid and the Whale
Stephen Gaghan - Syriana

Best Adapted Screenplay:
Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana - Brokeback Mountain
Dan Futterman - Capote
Jeffrey Caine - The Constant Gardener
Josh Olson - A History of Violence
Tony Kushner and Eric Roth - Munich

Best Picture:
Brokeback Mountain
Good Night, and Good Luck

The first thoughts to come to my mind?

▪▪ I think Walk the Line got ripped off a bit. Yet as I look at the Best Picture nominees, I can't think of one movie to replace. (Again, I haven't seen Crash.) Same with the Best Director category. Maybe it could've gotten a Best Screenplay nomination instead of Match Point (which I'll write about later this week; here's a preview: I didn't like it) or Good Night, and Good Luck (which was structured well, but seems like more of an actor's showcase). But I realize I probably liked that movie more because of my feelings for Johnny Cash's music.

▪▪ If Brokeback Mountain won for each of its eight nominations, I wouldn't have a problem with that. Each of them would be well-deserved.

▪▪ I haven't seen Cinderella Man yet (though a disc from Netflix is currently sitting on top of my TV), so I can't say if Russell Crowe got snubbed. I think Ralph Fiennes could've been nominated for The Constant Gardener. What about Viggo Mortenson for A History of Violence? Or Jeff Daniels for The Squid and the Whale? But look at the other nominees for Best Actor. Who would you replace? That might be the toughest category.

▪▪ I should really rent Crash. Others I need to see: Hustle & Flow and Junebug.

▪▪ I thought William Hurt was awful in A History of Violence, but I'm apparently in the minority with that opinion. Anyone else who's seen it thinks I'm wrong, and obviously the Academy thinks highly of Hurt's performance. I thought it was a bad Christopher Walken imitation. I'd have nominated Clifton Collins, Jr. for Capote instead.

▪▪ I haven't seen Mrs. Henderson Presents or Pride & Prejudice, so I can't say if you'd replace Judi Dench or Keira Knightley, but I think you could've nominated Maria Bello for A History of Violence.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Peeling away the truth

Has it ever occurred to you that there was another way to peel a banana? You go from the top end, bending the stem until the rind breaks, and peel down, right? Simple. Isn't that how everyone does it? I have never once looked at a banana and questioned whether or not I was peeling it the right way.

Now my world has been rocked, thanks to Mis Hooz and an article she submitted from the Fried Rice Thoughts New York bureau. It's an old story (running in Slate back in 2002), but I hadn't seen or heard of it before. (Some of you may have, as it was mentioned on Boing Boing a week or so ago.)

Apparently, this is how monkeys peel bananas. And one might think they know what they're doing when it comes to bananas. However, they also pick their own asses and fling their $#!+ around - often in full view of the public, if they're on exhibit at the zoo. Some homeless people do that, too, and I wouldn't seek advice from them on how to eat food.

Is this method more efficient? The article mentions that those "stringy things" that we often have to peel from the bananas after we've skinned them tend to stick to the rind when peeled from the bottom. However, it's also argued that eating from the stem end saves time, as the bottom end is the one most typically bruised, and we can just toss that part out after we've eaten down to it. If we ate from the bottom, we'd have to deal with the bruise right away.

Of course, we're just talking about seconds, aren't we? (But in my more pokey moments, I'm sure I've spent minutes dealing with the "stringy things.") And I'm not really in a rush when putting bananas in my morning bowl of oatmeal. However, when I am pressed for time, a banana is a quick, easy breakfast, and I'm sure I've nearly caused auto accidents when trying to shake one of the "stringy things" off my hand while driving.

But let me get back to my original point, which is shaking up conventional wisdom and looking at things in an another way? What else could we do differently, what else have we possibly been doing wrong? What if we should really be eating sandwiches with the bread in the middle and the meat on the outside? Are we meant to put on our socks before our underwear and pants?

This could change everything.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

But y'all come back now, y'hear?

This morning, I have to point you to one of the more bizarre comment threads I've ever read. Fried Rice Friend Spinster Girl found a book whose title struck her as rather sad, and made a note of it on her blog, the spinster girl's guide to love. Sounds pretty simple, right? And funny. Other than a couple of observations and comments from friends and readers, I imagine she thought it'd end right there. But Spinzo's post was noticed by someone I don't think she ever would've expected, someone who brought her wagging finger of shame with her.

Another finger points to a blog that should've existed from the moment the blogosphere was created. One of the great aspects of this medium is the forum given to voices that might otherwise not be heard. As readers, we might gain a perspective that we might not have considered. With the best examples of this, both writers and readers are enriched, better for having shared the experience. I found just such a blog through The Movie Blog, who I simply must thank for bringing this to attention. Please, click here and check it out. I'd rather not mention the author here, as I'd prefer not to deprive you of the experience of discovery that comes once you see it. But trust me when I say you'll find it's a voice we've always wanted to hear, whether we realized it or not. You're welcome.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Thought for the day

When hanging out and talking sports with a few guys that you either barely know or just met, it might not be the best idea to ask if anyone wants to catch a late screening of Brokeback Mountain when things are breaking up. Even if you were joking. Or not.

Unless you want to deliberately clear the room. And compel everyone to look at their watches and say they're late for somesuchsomething. Or make them begin to question why you write about sweaty men.

What can I say? I want to see it again, man. And the Main Art Theatre was right across the street. But I ended up driving home. And I never actually asked about the movie. But I thought it would've been funny.

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

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Shaving the caveman

To the hairstylist who cut my hair yesterday:

I apologize for letting my hair go for so long. That couldn't have been fun to deal with. I could tell you weren't thrilled, judging from the smirk on your face when I walked in the salon. [Somewhere in New York, Mis Hooz is laughing at my use of the word "salon," given the cheap-ass chophouse where I had my hair cut. Man, did she give me a tongue-lashing about that.] Your fingers have to be sore from scissoring. And that was a lot of hair to broom off the floor. I never intended to go four months without cutting my hair. It just seemed like the natural thing to do, along with growing the beard. Recent events have required that I rejoin society, so I thought it would be a good idea if my ears and forehead were visible again.

[To those who may be concerned: Don't worry, I still have the beard! There was some trimming yesterday, but I'm not shaving it off yet. Not after putting so much, um, non-shaving into it. And not while that cold-as-hell wind wants to bite my cute cheeks.]

I thank you for your time and patience, hairdresser lady. And I hope the tip was sufficient. I never know how much to tip hairdressers. I used to have a "regular" stylist, like all the hip people, and she told me I didn't have to tip her since I was a "frequent client." That reminds me of this one time when she was shopping at Borders when I worked there. She asked if I was in, but I was on a lunch break. So she told one of my co-workers that she'd stopped in to say hi, and said I was "one of her clients." Rumors immediately began to circulate throughout the bookstore as to what sort of services I was receiving.

Unfortunately, I lost contact with her after I left for Iowa. I should've checked in at her salon to see if she still worked there. I could've told her I'd been living in the wild, after being stranded by a plane crash. You know, like Lost. Although I probably look too well-fed to make such a story convincing.

Anyway, I'm digressing. Again, I thank you for making me look somewhat presentable. My mother is now willing to see me again - and more importantly, feed me. I hope she'll whip up a batch of her famous fried rice to console me. See, I already miss that hair. Oh, what have I done?

Why I hate taking my car in

Auto Mechanic: Sir, have you ever replaced the car's battery?

Me: No, I don't think so. Why?

AM: Well, we just ran a test on it. It's running at really low power.

Me: What?

AM: Yeah. I don't even know how you started it.

Me: Are you serious? It's been starting fine.

AM: Really? Well, you can look for yourself.

Me: Well, now that you mention it... I did have a little bit of trouble last week.

AM: We recommend replacing your battery, sir. You really should. It'll only take 15 minutes or so. We'll do it right here.

Me: How much will it be?

AM: $105

Me: Can you at least show me the test?

-- Howard Cooper Honda Service Center, State St.

Overheard by: Me, in my car.

Shortly thereafter, I stabbed myself in the eye and let my empty wallet drop to the ground. Numerous coffee shop punch cards scattered in the cold winter wind.

Dude, I just wanted an oil change.

(Image from "Pearls Before Swine" ©2005 Stephen Pastis/ Dist. by UFS, Inc.)

Monday, January 23, 2006

Hey, I think we just made eye contact

For anyone who might wonder if Detroit has an inferiority complex and is secretly dreading hosting the Super Bowl in two weeks, Kortney Stringer's article from last Friday's Detroit Free Press should take care of those doubts.

Here's the gist of the piece: "Well, the commercials don't mention Detroit directly, but they imply it's the place to be."

What? Are we that insecure? The article reads like an ugly guy trying to ask out a gorgeous woman. "Well, she didn't agree to go out with me, per se. But she talked to me. And she laughed at one of my jokes. That's a good sign, right?"

C'mon, let's have some more self-esteem than that. I've been in a defensive posture for the last year, too. But enough of that "please don't make fun of us" junk. Let sportswriters and columnists take their shots, and make the same old, tired, played-out jokes. (They've probably had those pieces written for months, so they can go to the Super Bowl parties instead.)

Stick out your chest, Detroit. Strut around a little bit. (Better yet - do it like Mick Jagger, since the Rolling Stones are playing at the Super Bowl.) Don't cower in fear of insults. Dare them to make fun of you. How many other cities are hosting the Super Bowl this year? I don't see any other cities raising their hands, do you? Hey, how about the ClubJenna Bowl?

While I'm on the subject, does anyone have $500 to spare? That's the cover charge. I promise I'd write the best blog ever after attending that party.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Back off the golden delicious, whippersnapper

Oh, it was a bit tense in the produce section yesterday. But I don't understand why. I was minding my own business, innocently picking out apples, and cherishing the time spent with my new best friend, the iPod Nano.

Then an old woman shot me a withering look of disapproval, one of those "This country is going straight to hell, and it's because of young punks like you" looks.

What did I do? I didn't have my earphones jacked up to full volume. I wasn't speaking to anyone, so I wasn't talking loud enough to hear my voice over the music. I very seriously doubt I was singing.

I may have been bopping my head a little bit or tapping my feet, but I do that whenever the right pop song is playing over the grocery store loudspeakers. I wasn't flailing around, like those silhouettes in the iPod TV ads. I wasn't juggling apples.

What the hell was this lady's problem? Did my cart cut her off in the aisle? Was I somehow preventing her or blocking her from a particular item she wanted to see? Did I take the exact apples she wanted? Does she harbor disdain toward anyone long-haired and bearded - in other words, the hippies? Maybe she mistook me for someone who won all her money at the bingo parlor. ("B-68, bee-YOTCH! Hand those chips over, Clara! Who's the man?!")

So I handled the matter as any other mature young man would. I made a face back at her. Nothing outrageous. No tongue sticking out, or other obscene gesture. Just a frown, similar to the one she gave me.

With one simple look, I stood up for myself, and the oppression that young people suffer from the elderly, man. Just like Will Smith in Men in Black II, I looked at her, pointed, and said, "Old and busted." Then I pointed back at myself, "New hotness." All of that in one look. My face is very expressive.

The only thing I can think of is that the earphones bothered her. Why does this kid (and I'm hardly a kid anymore) have to listen to music while he shops? Remember the old days, when people actually interacted with each other, and didn't tune the world out? Or maybe she thought I looked like a poseur, someone trying to look cool while grocery shopping. (And I'd resent that. I don't have to try, okay?)

I really should've asked her what her problem was. It's probably silly, but that look bothered me. One people, one produce section, one grocery store, one society, Clara. Let's share it.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Scarlett who? Nope, didn't see it.

I've been told by the Fried Rice Thoughts Board of Directors that I'm approximately four Scarlett Johansson blog entries away from being issued a restraining order. So I'm hesitant to address this particular topic. But I received several overnight e-mails concerning Ms. Scarlett and her Golden Globes attire for last night's Golden Globes award show, so it seems only polite to respond here.

Hell yes, I saw that! I almost incurred serious injury while walking by the TV when she appeared on the red carpet. Sweet sassy molassey. There are moments in this life when men are truly happy to be men. Scarlett Johansson created one of them last night. My knees are buckling, just thinking about it.

I should also announce at this time that I would like to give up my dreams of finding gainful employment as a writer, in favor of aspiring to become a gay red carpet correspondent, a la Isaac Mizrahi on E! last night. After asking Ms. Scarlett what sort of underwear she was wearing (to which she responded, "Very little. It's built into the dress."), Mizrahi confirmed this curiosity in dress design with his own hands. Literally. The man felt up Scarlett Johansson right there on the red carpet. Men have gotten thrown in jail for lesser groping instances.

Right then and there, I had a new hero.

I flipped between the Golden Globe Awards and 24 last night, so missed several other water cooler moments, such as drunk Harrison Ford. I'll try to catch the rerun this weekend on Bravo. But glancing at the list of winners makes me happy, as Walk the Line, Brokeback Mountain, and Capote each received well-deserved awards. And the Fried Rice Thoughts offices are very pleased with Hugh Laurie winning for his work on House.

▪▪ Here's Gothamist's live blog of the show.

▪▪ And Defamer has some great screen captures to check out. (And not all of them involve cleavage.)

Monday, January 16, 2006

24 ways to leave your television

The following was typed between 1:30 pm and 2:30 pm...

I'm a sucker for popular television. If people tell me I have to watch a show, or I read good reviews in newspapers and on the internet, I'll usually check it out.

So I gave 24 a chance. But it lost me somewhere in the first season. I think it was the premise that I couldn't get over. Each episode is supposed to be happening in real time? So all that stuff is happening in just one hour? Riiiight. And it felt like the writers were stretching plotlines too thin, or suddenly coming up with new developments, trying to stretch the story over 24 episodes. I gave up on Jack Bauer and his wacky adventures four or five shows into the first season.

Two seasons later, a couple of my classmates were really into 24 and couldn't wait for Season 3 to begin. I said I wasn't going to watch, and told them my problems with the show, which were disregarded. "Ian, don't think so much about the premise. Just enjoy the show. It's really good."

"Don't think so much about the premise"? The show is #@$%ing called 24! If it didn't want me to think about the premise, it'd call itself Jack's Yelling at People and Shooting Them. It takes great pains to point out that everything is supposed to be happening in real time, with "the following took place between 12:00 pm and 1:00 pm," ticking clocks, and multiple screens to show everything going on at the same time.

So I gave 24 another try. Then one of the characters was shot in the neck while pursuing a suspect. From there, he was rushed into emergency surgery. And after the procedure, he ignored doctors' orders and went back to work. Blood loss and surgery? This guy had to get back to CTU because he was needed and the country was in danger. But it doesn't sound too far-fetched, does it? Until you consider that, according to the show's premise, all of this happened in the span of four hours.

Let me go over that sequence of events again: Chased a suspect, shot (almost fatally), rushed to the hospital, surgery to remove the bullet and repair the wound, little to no recovery, and back to work to help chase more bad guys. All in four hours.

I almost threw my remote at the television. Mis Hooz might still have the exact rant you just read recorded on her answering machine, so she can play it for guests. Once again, I gave up on Jack Bauer's yelling, screaming, and shooting guns and heroin. I was never going to watch 24 again. Don't ask me to accept that everything's supposed to happen in real time, and then show me a guy getting a shot, having major surgery, and going back to work in four hours. I didn't care what people said, or how often it was talked about on the internet or the radio. No more!

Well... I was lonely and bored last night. And maybe just too damn lazy to turn the channel after the Panthers-Bears playoff game. Plus, I was expecting Mis Hooz to return my call, so the TV was really just on for background noise. But then I started watching. And Oh! My! Gawd! They did what?! in the first ten minutes of the show? They killed who? (I won't be specific, just in case anyone's into the show, but hasn't watched it yet.) Holy $#!+! Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.

Well, sort of. Mis Hooz called me back, but she didn't really save me from anything. My eyes were already glazing over because the same problems were popping up for me. Important people were killed, lives were thrown into total upheaval, murder investigations and counter-terrorism operations were mobilized, and our hero eludes 164 federal agents in one building - all in less than an hour. Riiiight. Maybe my life just isn't interesting enough, but if I can watch a little TV, read something, and go to the bathroom in half an hour, I consider that a pretty full 30 minutes. But Jack Bauer doesn't. He's got people to scream at and shoot.

Will I watch the second two hours of 24's season premiere tonight? Maybe. If I'm lonely and bored again. And if I want to throw something at my television. Or tip back a shot every time Jack yells at someone. (Two shots if he shoots someone.)

Sunday, January 15, 2006

No one told me about this!

Scarlett Johansson hosted Saturday Night Live?! I had no idea until I was flipping channels and caught the last half-hour of SNL - which is always the crappiest part of the show.

Nobody told me this was going to be on. Have I... have I gotten spoiled from you people being so good to me?

I missed the show! When will NBC play a rerun? Almost 90 minutes of Scarlett, and I missed it! Did anyone tape it?

Why didn't I check the TV listings? Why didn't I... I... I'm... getting angry. You... won't... like... me... when...

Rrrraaaaahh! Hulk smash!

Want to watch Scarlett! Even if it's on Saturday Night Live! Rrrraraaah!!

Friday, January 13, 2006

Fried Rice Favorites: 2005 Movies

I've been meaning to write more about movies for weeks now, as I've been trying to catch all the critical darlings and nominees before the award shows hit the air. But I've procrastinated a bit too long; the Golden Globe Awards are on Monday. So as I did last year, I'll try to cram in a last-minute Fried Rice Favorites list, just so I can say, "Oh yeah, I picked that movie, too."

Here are the Best Movies I Watched in 2005 (and very early 2006). Movies I wrote about previously are linked back to the original posts:

1. Capote: I actually enjoyed Walk the Line more, but Capote avoids the conventional "biopic" formula and none of its characters are one-dimensional. And I think it deserves tremendous credit for that.

2. Walk the Line: Am I making sense if I say this was my "favorite" movie of the year, but Capote was the best? I loved every scene in this film, though a couple - such as the one in which Johnny Cash auditions for Sun Records - truly stand out. Joaquin Phoenix was amazing, and I forgot how good an actress Reese Witherspoon can be. She might be the best part of the movie. Both of them are surprisingly good in the musical performances, too. And if they didn't get that right, you just don't have a movie here.

3. Brokeback Mountain: There are two moments at the end of this movie that might be among the most powerful I've ever seen. And not a word is spoken in either of them. This is such a heartbreaking story. It makes you appreciate what you have in this world. It shows us how terrible it is when you can't have something that many of us take for granted. And it reminds you what can be gained when you take a risk, despite what other people might think of you. I saw this weeks ago, and I still can't shake it. I'll be talking about it years from now.

4. Munich: This wasn't quite the movie I was expecting. I knew it wasn't going to be a straight re-telling of the 1972 Olympic hostage crisis in Munich. But I didn't realize how rich the story would be, either. It's about national pride, and the lengths to which some people will go to fight for it. It's about vengeance. But more than anything else, I think this is about what happens when seemingly normal people are asked to do something that normal people don't do. What kind of emotional and psychological toll does committing violence (and fearing retaliation) take on a person?

5. Good Night, and Good Luck: I'm still impressed by how much this story can be applied to our current culture. How much has changed? How much hasn't changed? Yet the message isn't given in heavy-handed fashion, which I appreciated.

6. A History of Violence: This could be an interesting double-feature with Munich. Both films try to make you think about violence. What does it really mean to see someone shot and killed? What effect does violence have on people's lives? Is it something that can be avoided or something we all have to confront at some point? What happens if we tap into that dark side of ourselves? And if someone acknowledges that side, and does terrible things to other people, should he or she ever deserve to forget that and try to find happiness?

7. The Squid and the Whale: I think the reason I liked this so much was that I hadn't seen anything else like it this year. Each of the characters is unlikable, but hilariously so. And the story is painful to watch, but you're rewarded with the humor found in those situations.

8. King Kong: I don't think Universal Pictures needs any more blurbs for TV and magazine ads, but if they do, here's one: You'll believe a computer-generated ape can make you cry. With Peter Jackson directing, you knew the special effects would be incredible. But Kong is so real as a character, not just because of his animated expressions, but because of the backstory he's given. The relationship he forms with Naomi Watts' character is surprisingly believable. My only (tiny) beef is that I wanted more stuff in New York and less on Skull Island.

9. Batman Begins: Until the fall, this was the only movie I really enjoyed this year. It's not just tights, capes, fancy cars, and cool gadgets. I loved how the story took Batman seriously, and really tried to explain what makes him tick. Give me a sequel - now!

10. The Constant Gardener: This might be higher on the list if it was fresher in my mind. I always thought Ralph Fiennes was kind of cold as an actor, but he showed a different side here. Maybe he wasn't acting; how difficult would it be to fall in love with Rachel Weisz? How intoxicating can it be to meet someone who passionately believes in something? But the story is about bigger things, too - primarily the lengths to which big corporations will go to generate maximum success and profit for their products, and how deeply those conspiracies can run.

From what I've heard and read, Me and You and Everyone We Know and/or Crash could join the list, but I haven't seen those films yet. (I know they're both on video now. Maybe I'll watch them both this weekend.) Up until the last couple of months, it seemed like this was a terrible year for movies. Now, a bunch of good ones are out, they're all coming out at the same time, and I'm trying to see them all.

Which 2005 films disappointed me?

I really wanted to like Syriana. This is a film that needed to be made, much like Traffic was. There's so much to learn here about the oil industry, and what kind of role it plays in our world. But this is just not a coherent movie. Maybe I could've followed it better on DVD, where I could rewind several times and absorb everything thrown at me. (I know I kept pressing an imaginary remote control while I was in the theater.) In a two-hour movie, it's too much and becomes a mess. This would've been an outstanding HBO mini-series, in which the many characters, plotlines, and conspiracies could be given the time they need to develop.

And Elizabethtown. Oh, Elizabethtown. How I wanted to love you, as I've loved Cameron Crowe's other films. I thought directing Vanilla Sky would prevent Crowe from making something like this. Taking a departure from his usual material might sharpen his skills and make his next film seem fresh. But this was so stale. The first 10-15 minutes of the movie is like a microwaved Jerry Maguire leftover. After that, it has no idea where it wants to go. There's a story somewhere in this movie, but I don't know what it is. Was this about picking yourself up from failure? Was it about a man trying to learn about his father after he was gone? Was it a love story? A good story can be about more than one thing. But it needs something to drive it, to bring it all into focus. And Crowe never seemed to find it.

You know what else has been disappointing? All of the year-end "Best Of" lists from movie critics. There seems to be too much agreement this year. Not everyone agrees on the best film, though the critical darling seems to be Brokeback Mountain. And nobody's arguing with that. No one's calling it overrated. No one's fighting for another movie. Unless I'm missing it. Maybe that's a good thing, but it makes for boring reading this time of year.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

No such thing as bad publicity?

(No, I did not need a one-day break for my "research" of the Detroit Pistons/Automotion swimsuit calendar. Very funny. Smart guy.)

We're skewing local today, folks. For those in the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti area, did you notice the big slice of spotlight Ypsilanti received in yesterday's USA Today? I almost dislocated my neck, looking back in a double-take at the front page of the "Money" section, which featured a photo of the oh-so-distinctive sign belonging to the Tap Room tavern.

"Hey, I know that sign! Which paper is that... ?"

(Photo by Kimberly P. Mitchell/ USA Today)

Unfortunately, USA Today's spotlight was more like an overhead flourescent light that accentuated all the pores, bags, wrinkles and cracks that better light might hide. It's not that the article was a slam at the city; it's a matter-of-fact portrayal of a community that's had its limbs hacked off by the auto industry's decline. Schools are closing. Neighborhoods are crumbling. Civil services are dwindling.

How can a city redefine itself? Where will it find a new identity? What new industry will create and drive commerce for a place in desperate need of a fresh economic blood transfusion?

Some - such as the owner of the outstanding Sidetrack Bar & Grill, who is quoted in the article - think this could be a historic opportunity for Ypsilanti. Two universities are in close proximity, and if that brings in young people and creative talent who could stick around (ideally, with the help of programs such as Gov. Granholm's "Cool Cities" initiative), the city could have an infusion of new culture.

That might sound hopelessly optimistic, especially to those familiar with the area. I know several people (including some with whom I'm allegedly related) who are endlessly negative about Ypsilanti, Ann Arbor's ugly stepcity to the east, and wrote it off long ago. That kind of attitude is what kills communities. ("Oh, it's all going to hell. Why bother?") But those who are willing to take a chance on a place - one that's a hell of a lot more interesting now than it was even five years ago - can make change happen.

I'd much rather listen to an optimist who believes in something than a pessimist who believes in nothing. And that sentiment is what kept the USA Today piece from being utterly depressing. If this is the kind of publicity Ypsilanti gets, I don't think it's all that bad.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Pornography? I'd better look to be sure

I try to keep the sports-related topics restricted to my sports blog closet, but this really has nothing to do with what happened on a court or field, so the Fried Rice Thoughts Topic Committee has decided the following is a suitable subject.

The local drive-time talk radio stations playing in my car this afternoon were hijacked by this Detroit News story, which detailed an effort by the American Decency Association to prevent the Detroit Pistons from selling a calendar featuring its cheerleading team.

The ADA feels the calendar is "pornography" and is demanding that the Pistons stop selling it. Barbara Rotary of Pontiac, MI, who was quoted in the article, brought the calendar to the organization's attention. "To me, this is a form of prostitution," she told the News. "The Pistons are profiting from using women's bodies this way."

A suggestion for what Ms. Rotary really needs comes to mind right now, but that would probably be crass of me to say. (Looking in a dictionary might not be a bad idea for her, though.) Besides, I just don't know as much about this story as I should. And I'd really prefer to know my facts before commenting any further.

So I'll be doing some research on this calendar. A lot of research, in fact. Because we need to know. And I have the time to exercise due diligence on this matter. I'll probably need to be alone, however, so I can fully concentrate and give the calendar my undivided attention. If people are interested, I'll post the results here after my research has concluded.

By the way, you can buy the "Automotion" calendar here.

Monday, January 09, 2006

I sell the things you need to be

So if I write about a story that I think we shouldn't care about, and that the media - especially the New York literati - is blowing out of proportion, does that mean I'm actually caring about it and contributing to the overreaction? Just checking. I didn't think it made sense, either.

Anyway, are you familiar with the JT LeRoy story? I haven't read any of his books, but have read a few essays and feature articles. And Mis Hooz informed me that he'll be writing for Deadwood, a perennial contender for Fried Rice Favorite TV Show. (Note to self: call cable company to renew subscription to HBO before March.)

If you're not familiar with LeRoy (yet are intrigued enough to keep reading this), his alleged backstory might be more interesting than his work. Here's an excerpt from an article in yesterday's New York Times:

Mr. Leroy's tale was harrowing in its details and uplifting in its arc. He was a young truck-stop prostitute who had escaped rural West Virginia for the dismal life of a homeless San Francisco drug addict. Rescued as a young teenager by a couple named Laura Albert and Geoffrey Knoop and treated by a psychologist, he was able to turn his terrible youth into a thriving career as a writer. JT Leroy has published three critically acclaimed works of fiction noted for their stark portrayal of child prostitution and drug use.

But here's the thing with LeRoy: He is apparently not a "he." We're not talking about a Glen or Glenda or Transamerica situation here. It's more like a pseudonym/secret identity thing. For example, publishers paid people other than LeRoy for services rendered, sometimes to a company called Underdogs, Inc.

In response to questions of whether or not LeRoy truly wrote the stories and essays with his name on them, and if the person making appearances in public - with a wig and sunglasses - as LeRoy was, in fact, LeRoy, New York magazine "outed" him last October as Laura Albert, a former singer living in Brooklyn. Meanwhile, the NY Times reported that the person appearing as LeRoy was Savannah Knoop, a part-time model.

Scandalous, right? Well, I suppose. Unless you don't give a $#!+. If you didn't know who JT LeRoy was, this story certainly doesn't matter to you. As someone who's read some of LeRoy's work, it doesn't matter to me. Mis Hooz was more familiar with his/her stuff, and I think she was momentarily perplexed. But this doesn't change what she thinks about the writing. (I hear, however, that she's highly suspicious of this "Ian Casselberry" that's been sprinkling his words around the internet.)

And that's what makes me a little crazy about all this. If you've read any of LeRoy's work and you enjoyed and/or admired it, should that change in light of this revelation? Someone wrote those short stories, essays, and articles, right? Shouldn't the quality of that work be judged, rather than the true identity of the writer?

A year or two ago, there was a comic book writer (whose name I won't mention because he shouldn't get any publicity) who worked on a series about some team of super para-military operatives. He said many of the stories were based on his own experiences as an Army Ranger, and in interviews, talked about how much this series meant to him. Well, it turned out he never even served in the military. I'm not sure what he's doing right now, but he ain't writing comic books. At least not under his real name.

I'm not saying you should just disregard any deceit or fabrication that may have taken place, but this isn't a Jayson Blair situation, where supposedly factual work is actually fiction. If LeRoy curried favors (financial or otherwise) from anyone because of his backstory (for example, saying he was infected with H.I.V.), that's deplorable. And I understand why people would be upset about that. But if it was the writing that was admired originally, should LeRoy's true identity be of any real concern?

And that brings me to why I think the media - again, especially the literati - is so outraged by this. They were caught falling in love with a story and a persona, rather than the author's actual work. They ate it all right up. And now that it turns out some, if not all, of that backstory might be phony, they feel foolish for having believed it and are going after LeRoy with fangs and claws fully bared.

You should care about this! This is an outrage! See how he/she lied to us?

Never mind that if those same writers and reporters hadn't been seduced by the cult of personality, and done some homework, rather than just eat what they were spoonfed, this wouldn't be a story at all.

Friday, January 06, 2006

"Pour Some Sugar on Me" is just a song

Okay, I've tried to keep this to myself. Once in a while, it slips out and the poor sap(s) unlucky enough to be with me have to listen to my rant. But I have a pet peeve. And I've encountered it not once, not twice, but four times this week. So I can no longer keep it to myself. I'm also hoping that by writing about it here, I'll provide something of a public service that can help us all.

How #@$%ing hard is it to get the sugar in your coffee cup?

Why do some people feel the need to coat the condiment counters at coffee shops with sugar and sweetener? I'm trying to understand, so I can help.

Is the mouth of the cup not wide enough for you? Do you shake all the sugar to the end of the packet you want to open before you tear it? Are your hands shaking in anticipation of the caffeine fix?

Do you love sugar so much that you feel the need to share it with others, so you leave it on the counter for us to get all over our hands? Do you like the pretty little rings that form when we have to set our cups in that mess? (Is it more enjoyable for you if a little coffee drips down the side of the cup and forms sugar paste?)

Is it too difficult to talk to someone (either in person or on your cell phone) while you're trying to sweeten your coffee? Is that too much multi-tasking for you? Is it too simple to just pour the sugar directly into the coffee? Are you playing "sugar basketball"? Do you think it's cool to fling the sugar in the air, like rice at a wedding, and let it sprinkle down into your drink? If it's a sunny day, do you see rainbows when you do that?

How about sweeping your #$@%ing mess into the wastebasket? Most coffee shops make it pretty damn easy for you by having a hole in the counter that leads directly to the trash. What, you don't want to get your hands sticky with sugar? Guess what, #$@%nut, neither do I.

I can handle this at gas stations. I figure it's my punishment for buying coffee at a gas station. Those counters don't give you a lot of space to work with. And cleanliness isn't always a priority in such places. But cafes are different. The environment's usually nicer. Maybe it's a little rushed in the morning, and you have three people waiting for you to decide whether to stay with Equal or if today's finally the day you try Splenda. But you usually have plenty of space to work with. And the aforementioned hole in the counter is on hand.

Maybe I'm getting too worked up about this. Perhaps a little more decaf in my life would help me relax a bit more. I'll work on that. But only if you work on getting that sugar in your cup. Sound fair, Shakes?

(Image from Chinito.org)

Thursday, January 05, 2006

If you hear rockin', don't come a-knockin'

My Christmas gift from The Best Sister in the World arrived in the mail yesterday. And I can barely tear myself away from it. We've already spent a lot of time together. But that's no surprise. I've ogled it for months from afar, imagining how it would feel in my hand, between my fingers, in my pocket.

Yes, I am now - finally - a member of iPod Nation. More specifically, I belong to the Nano Club. Even better, Lil' Sis got me the black model. Mama Cass wasn't too happy about that first. She always had something different in mind for her children. But once I told her my Nano was assembled in China, she relaxed. I can bring it over for dinner any time I'd like.

Mom couldn't have kept us apart, anyway. The Nano is too sleek. Too sexy. So smooth. So thin. And soooo small. Seriously, a pack of Trident gum is bigger than this widdle thing. I'm worried I'll lose it.

As grateful as I am to have found love, however, I wonder if my sister realized she's contributing to my future hearing loss? In case you didn't hear (HA!), Pete Townshend is warning us - especially the children - that we're doomed to a life of deafness if we keep insisting on jamming those lil' buds in our ears and kickin' out the jams. (Here's more on that from the Village Voice's Riff Raff.)

Hello, everyone. Have you met my friend, Debbie Downer?

Well, I guess I have a head start on my 2006 Christmas list. First item? A hearing aid. What happens if you jam that earpiece in and crank up the volume, though?

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'll be away for the rest of the day while I make love to my Nano. I'll be doing so, I might add, while listening to the theme from Superman: The Movie, which I downloaded onto it mere hours ago.

(Is that three Superman references in three days? What a nerd.)

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Above all, do no harm?

Okay, I'm sure I knew the truth at some point. I should've seen the inevitable conflict coming. But either my brain just wasn't making the obvious connection or I'd suppressed this knowledge deep into my subconscious.

Until last night, I didn't realize that Scrubs and House would be on at the same time, Tuesday at 9 pm.

I looked at the TV schedules at the end of the summer. I knew when my favorite shows would make their season premieres. I should've marked the dates in red marker on my calendar. Better yet, I should've bought a calendar to mark in red. But maybe there's a reason I didn't. Maybe this is something that I knew, deep down, I didn't want to face.

Fortunately, last night's House was a rerun. But I'd become too accustomed to spending my Tuesday night's with Dr. Cameron to just turn the channel and watch something else. I've become a big fan of her bedside manner. Oh, and I think she's hot, too.

But Scrubs isn't just "something else." Every episode is a live-action cartoon. I love those characters. They're funny. I like to laugh. Laughter helps me show off my beautiful teeth. It quells the roiling bile in my stomach. The tension in my neck, temples, and jaw disappears.

Last night, I called Mis Hooz to share my pain. What was I going to do? This was my Sophie's Choice.

As always, she was there for me. She listened to my whining, crying, and fretting while I was curled up in the fetal position, soaking my sheets with sweat, and trying to hold the remote control in my trembling hand. After she stopped laughing, she said what many others have wondered. "Why don't you have TiVo yet, dude? You gotta get on that."

While I'm at it, why don't I just hope Superman will fly in and save me, too? Every Tuesday, after House is over, he can fly around the world, make the earth spin backwards, turn back time to 8:59 pm, and let me watch Scrubs. (And that's the second day in a row I've made the "Superman flew around the world to turn back time" reference, which means it should be retired for at least six months.)

Even in my Cro-Magnon VCR household, I can tape one show while I watch the other. But that only solves part of the dilemma? Which show will I tape? Which one will I watch in real time? Which show will have the lines of dialogue that'll compel me to rewind and listen to them again? What if I choose the wrong show to tape that week? What if I loved a sarcastic zinger by Dr. House, but taped Scrubs? What if J.D. did something totally hilarious, but I taped House?

I'm supposed to be enjoying my TV shows, not agonizing over which one to watch. Why do you do this to me, TV doctors? You're supposed to heal, not hurt! What happened to the hippocratic oath, man? Figure this out and fix it!

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Call later - my head's in the oven

Well, I wanted to start off the new year - our collective arbitrary turning point - on a positive note. But I've spent the first two days of 2006 much as Mr. Rat over there suggested. So maybe I'll settle for realistic, instead.

My dear friend Mis Hooz - Fried Rice Thoughts' New York Bureau Chief, for those who might be new to the blog - sent me an article over the weekend that might compel me to add some vodka to my morning tea. (I'm in full avoid-the-cold mode. Lozenges, vitamin C, tea, etc. No echinacea, as I'm convinced that it makes me nauseous. Fried Rice Favorite Mrs. K, if she remembers, might be able to confirm this for everyone, as she witnessed my skin turn a peculiar shade of green while we worked together.) This comes via the Sunday Times of Britain:

They can’t judge a book without its cover. Publishers and agents have rejected two Booker prize-winning novels submitted as works by aspiring authors.

One of the books considered unworthy by the publishing industry was by V.S. Naipaul, one of Britain’s greatest living writers, who won the Nobel prize for literature.

The exercise by The Sunday Times draws attention to concerns that the industry has become incapable of spotting genuine literary talent.

Well! How about them apples? I'll be serving you behind the counter at your local bar or coffee shop any day now. (This is presuming, of course, that I have anything near "genuine literary talent." I likely do not. This might be modesty, however, as my mother thinks my short stories are "#@$%ing brilliant.")

The Sunday Times piece reminded me of a New York Times article I'd been sitting on for a few months, which detailed the Kubler-Ross-esque 13 stages of misery that any author fortunate enough to be published must endure. For example, there's the stage of "obsession":

Author spends hours and hours in autoerotic self-Googling and checking his Amazon ranking (and the rankings of his friends' books and of books published during the same time frame as his). He moves his book to the front of the bookstores, changes its position on display tables and flips shelf orientation from spine out to cover out. He cajoles friends into writing positive reviews on Amazon.

And this is for the writers who get published! I can't relate at all. For instance, I don't spend any time at all autoerotically checking this blog's site counter for hits and links. No way. And I have never (at least in, like, the past eight or nine months) "cajoled" a friend into posting a comment, positive or otherwise.

Maybe this is why I have something of a Superman fetish. Remember the scene in Superman: The Movie, in which Mr. Blue Tights flew around the earth at super-speed to make it rotate in the other direction, thus making time turn backwards? Okay, Superman would have a lot more flying to do, to turn time back some 15 years, when I thought to myself "You know what I'd like to be? A writer!" But yeah, sometimes I'd like to do that.

You think an agent or publisher would accept that story if I submitted it? What if I said it was written by a Booker Prize winner? Or the "Hacker Prize"?

(Image from "Pearls Before Swine" ©2005 Stephen Pastis/ Dist. by UFS, Inc.)