Friday 5: Ache but Don’t Break

From here.

  1. What caused your most recent tummy ache?
    Jalapeno poppers at this pizza place in town.  My writing partner loves them.  I love them too, but I’ve been having major problems on the evenings after we meet, and I’ve narrowed the culprit down to those poppers.  I’m super annoyed about this, but whatever.  One of these days I’ll tell the story of how I had to relieve myself in the field at a local middle school at close to midnight.  Or maybe not.
  2. What cause your most recent heartache?
    It’s not one of those break-down-and-cry heartaches (I’ve had plenty of those), but today I ache for this week’s death of Greg Lake, the singer in Emerson, Lake, and Palmer (also in King Crimson for a time and briefly in Asia).  Keith Emerson died in March, so it’s been a rough year for prog-heads.
  3. How did you deal with your most recent headache?
    I popped three ibuprofens the night before last.  I usually do three pills in some combination of aspirin, ibuprofen, and acetominophen (usually two of one and one of another), but I’m down to just a handful of ibuprofens right now.  Need to make a Walmart run soon.
  4. How do you deal with a sore throat?
    Ugh.  Usually hot tea.  Sore throats are miserable.  My mother used to give me an iodine swab, something I hated (I gag on my own toothbrush every day), but it did seem to work most of the time.
  5. Where else do you ache?
    I’ve been having some tightness in the neck, shoulders, and back that gives me some pain, especially in the mornings right before I get up.  My feet were pretty achey for a while, but that seems to be subsiding, thank goodness.  And that thing I’m still not talking about, that still aches like crazy.

Thanks for participating, and have an owie-free weekend!

Making it So

Just saw Star Trek: Generations.  I hate to say this, but if it weren’t for my wanting to see all the films in the series, it would have been mostly a waste of time.  Review to come later, but geez.  If I’d seen it in the theater, it might have kept me away from the TNG films that followed.

Wednesday was a strange day for me.  I stayed up far too late getting ready for my interview and only got a few uneasy hours of sleep.  Not good.  I did prepare everything I wanted, including some decent attire (and a lavendar shirt that used to be a favorite before it got too tight on me), and got there about an hour ahead of schedule, which had been my plan.  There was a spot nearby where I knew I could wait in comfortable air conditioning with a cold bottle of water.

I get nervous at interviews, and when I’m nervous I talk too much.  But since I read that book about the Wonder Woman poses, I’ve had a couple of interviews, and that pose really works for me.  I was as present as I could have felt, given the circumstances, and felt mostly at ease, so I smiled a lot and didn’t talk too much.  I think it went okay.

I have to do a follow-up email tomorrow, to send a few things they asked for.  I honestly don’t know what my chances are, but at least I feel I was given a fair chance and I didn’t blow it.  If I don’t get it, I’ll feel okay about that.

The writing partner picked me up and we met, even though neither of us had work.  Ugh.  That’s not good, but meeting is good.  We reset our goals and will meet once more before her winter break.  I need to focus a little more this week on my productivity.

Because I spent most of Tuesday getting into the right state and all of Wednesday in what I used to call my teacher costume (the best version of it, but still it), I haven’t done as much walking.  I’m about where I used to call right on pace, but this past month I’ve been well ahead of this mark.  So I’m not worried, but I am slightly disappointed.

I have a deadline Thursday and hope to get it taken care of early in the day so I can get caught up on the rest of the things I wanted to take care of this week.  The weeks go by so quickly at this time of year, something that surprises me.  I thought that was a symptom of my teaching work, but apparently it exists outside that realm too.

Gonna try and get to sleep early so I can get up early and hit that deadline.

Tuesday Tunes (flashback): March 2, 2010

Can’t think of anything to write, and I have to get to bed at a decent hour, so I’m doing a music meme.  The old Top 5 on Friday shut down several years ago, taking with it its midweek brother, the Tuesday Tunes.  I went here for questions from March 2, 2010.

Tell us your favorite music related:
tv show
…and why you like them.

Website:  I like a few of them, but my favorite is Metal Sucks.  Of the good music websites, it’s the least reverent (I mean, look at the title) and has some decent writing once in a while.  Mostly, I like its community of readers who (usually) leave great comments.  In 2008, it asked its readers to chime in on the practice of wearing the t-shirt of the band you’re seeing in concert, and the comments were a great mix of idiotic and hilarious.  I only visit once every few months, but I always get caught up on the weekly list of new music that comes out each Tuesday, and its annual year-end poll, first of its own writers, then of people in the music industry, and then of its readers.  It’s good stuff, and I’ve discovered a lot of my favorite music there.

Magazine:  My favorite is probably Rolling Stone, but it might be Blender, one of the first magazines I can remember that looked like a website.  It was aimed a bit younger than me, and its covers tended to feature sexy women dressed sexily (it was published by the company that also published Maxim), but its substance and writing were terrific.  For a music geek like me, who likes to get deep into the tracks and liner notes, Blender was a monthly deep-dive into music old and new, with recommendations for immediate downloads and (my favorite) a detailed look at one artist’s complete discography, with advice for where to start and where to go next if you were interested in exploring the artist.  I want to write like that someday.  I was a subscriber, and its going under was a sad day I haven’t yet gotten over.

TV Show:  I’m sure I’m forgetting something huge.  I’m going to have to go with Austin City Limits because I tend to prefer its offerings, but man.  It frustrates me that they’ll split a one-hour block of television between two great musicians sometimes, when they have enough material to go two hours on each musician.  Drives me crazy.  I haven’t seen enough of VH1 Storytellers, but I love what I’ve seen of that, too.  Is that even on anymore?  Wikipedia uses the present tense in describing it, but its listings only show one episode since 2012.

Review: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009)
Voices of Bill Hader, Anna Faris, Neil Patrick Harris, Benjamin Bratt, Bruce Campbell, Andy Samberg, James Caan, Mr. T, and Lauren Graham. Written by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (based on a book by Judi and Ron Barrett). Directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller.

cloudy3aCloudy with a Chance of Meatballs might be the funniest movie I’ve seen this century. I have now seen it three times, and I keep finding new things to laugh about. It’s cute, smart, and clever, and its animation is sneaky terrific. It has that shiny surface a lot of recent 3D animation has, but it manages not to have just one look, at times looking like a box of Skittles and at others like a postcard from somewhere with foggy moors. I’m not exactly sure what a moor is, but I imagine a lot of damp greys.

cloudy2Like the earliest Pixar films, this picture by Sony Animation seems to be driven by a creative force that says, “What can we do that nobody’s ever done before?” This spirit permeates the animation, story, dialogue, and voice acting, as if every decision was made by a refusal to do what every audience has come to expect from any other film, or (at some of its funniest moments) doing exactly what other films do, but exaggerating them to the point of ridicule. You know those ten million other movies where a nerdy girl takes off her glasses and is suddenly stunning?  The writers in this movie do something different with that idiotic motif that makes me want to hug them.  Meatballs raining from the sky are really the least surprising thing about the movie.

The meatballs fall from the sky because Flint Lockwood, a young genius inventor, has created a machine that turns water into food. His town on a small island in the Atlantic has seen rough times after the collapse of its one-strong sardine industry. Now, since the world doesn’t like sardines anymore, the locals are forced to eat them for every meal. Flint’s idea could turn things around for his community. But as with all his inventions, something goes wrong. Unlike his previous foul-ups, this one seems pretty great. Food falls from the sky, delighting the locals and drawing the attention of a national weather channel, who sends its newest intern, Samantha Sparks, to cover the story. When things get out of hand, it’s up to Flint to save not only his town, but the whole world. He’s joined by Samantha, her cameraman, a pet monkey named Steve, and a grown man in a diaper.

cloudy1The first half of this movie is hilarious, especially for those who appreciate a clever sight gag or bit of playful dialogue. It rewards multiple viewings because there’s so much interesting stuff packed into visual and verbal presentation. I love how it doesn’t take very long to set up and gets right into the heart of the story. The second half is a bit on the wild action-adventure side, something that doesn’t thrill me much, but even in the middle of crazy stunts and heroic sequences, there is a clever, creative touch.

It’s a very good film. I wouldn’t put it up there with the greats because it either shoots for the heart and is off by a little, or it never really wants to go there. Not every animated movie can be Beauty and the Beast, and that’s okay. It’s more than enough as an exercise in super-creative silliness, and it is the first movie to make me regret not seeing it in 3D on a big screen. I’m probably going to have to buy this.


With Love’s Light Wings Did I O’erperch These Walls

When I was in college, a friend took me and another friend up in an elevator in the Ala Moana hotel. We walked into the lobby, grabbed an elevator, and got off at some floor kind of high up. We went through a door to get to the stairs, then walked down half a flight, where another door opened out, onto a balcony.

The balconies above and below were, I think, for hotel rooms. This one seemed only to serve the purpose of — heck, I have no idea what that was there for.

We hung out for a little while and got out of there, probably to get food somewhere open late.

A few months later, I was with a girl on a date, and we were in the area.  So of course I took her up there.  Maybe we brought some food and made a picnic of it, or maybe we just hung out and looked out at the lights.  It was windy; I remember that.  It wasn’t as romantic as it could have been, because dang, it was this little balcony with nowhere to sit or anything.  All we could do was stand there, arms resting on the rail.  It was cool because we weren’t supposed to be there, and it was cool because who does that?  But the experience itself left something to be desired.

I may have scored romantic points just because it was unusual.  And it was, unlike most of my creative dates, completely stolen from my friend who was dumb enough to bring two guy friends up there.  This would be a better story if, while we were up there, standing really close to combat the chill, the door swung open and that friend appeared with a girl.

You know what else would make this a better story?  If I could remember who I was with.  I can’t for the life of me remember who my date was.  You’d think a thing like that, which I have only done with one person, would make it easy to remember who the date was.  I find this amazing, because I pretty much remember who I take out and what we do.

Somewhere out there is a woman who doesn’t even remember that she went out with me once, let alone that I took her up to a fire escape balcony in the Ala Moana Hotel.


Review: Good Enough to Dream

Good Enough to Dream
by Roger Kahn (1985)


“I have lived variations of this moment, with authors, physicians, lawyers and bartenders. Layers of acquired, mannered sophistication fall away to passion when they talk of distant baseball dreams that failed.”

Roger Kahn’s The Boys of Summer was published in 1972. Thirty years later, Sports Illustrated named it the second best sports book of all time, saying it was a baseball book “the same way Moby Dick is a fishing book … no book is better at showing how sports is not just games.”

A copy of that esteemed story of the 1950s Brooklyn Dodgers has been on my shelf forever, a tribute both to its place in the sports canon and my penchant for biting off more books than I can chew. On the same shelf for even longer is Good Enough to Dream, also by Kahn. I first read it in the early 1990s, and it has survived multiple (though not multiple enough) cullings of the collection, one of my ten favorite baseball books.

I read it again this summer, a season in which I paid more attention to my favorite sport than I had in many years, sensing since the early days of spring training that 2016 would be historic. The Chicago Cubs were months away from winning their first World Series in 129 years, something so mind-blowing and deep-hitting that I yearned to get back in touch with the fan I used to be, before the days of fantasy baseball. I remembered baseball in Kahn’s book about his year managing a single-A minor league team the way I remembered my earliest baseball cards, not as some commodity or billion-dollar-enterprise, but as something to be treasured because it is beautiful.

I don’t know if anything in baseball will ever be as beautiful for me as Rickey Henderson’s headfirst slide into a stolen second base or Phil Niekro’s knuckleball floating past opponents who could only wave their bats at it. I’m not thirteen anymore, and I’ve seen too many Jose Cansecos and Mark McGwires to be certain of anything.

But the 1983 Utica Blue Sox were the only team in the New York—Penn League without a parent club in the Major Leagues. This meant its players didn’t have a next level to aspire to, at least not the way their opponents did. If the young men on the other side of the field performed well enough, they’d be promoted through the system, someday to make the big-league club. The best a Blue Sox could aspire to was catching the eye of a scout and being purchased by a real team the next season, one with built-in upward mobility.

This is the team that sportswriter Roger Kahn purchased, serving as its president and daily head of operations, making decisions out of a trailer, about a budget that didn’t have room to purchase jackets for its players because it first had to make good on bills unpaid in seasons past by previous owners.

“These fellows I hear are coming back,” I said. “Hendershot, Jacoby. Moretti. Coyle. Are they really major league prospects? How good are they?”

Joanne stood on her high heels in the infield and thought for a while. Then she said, “They’re good enough to dream.”

Why would one of the most successful sportswriters in America put himself in that trailer, mediating disagreements between coaches who had nobody better to coach and players who had nowhere better to play? Because baseball is beautiful, perhaps nowhere more than at its lowest levels, where young men who were legends of their high-school teams, and slightly older men who were about to run out of opportunities, clung to the hope that their time had not yet run out on their dreams of playing professionally the game they loved.

Kahn’s account of that season and the men who played it is one of the best things I’ve ever read about baseball. This recent reading reminded me not only of how much I adore this game, but how many of my own unrealized dreams are still in play. It’s a great book.

Four and a half stars out of five. I love it.

My Ten Favorite The Brady Bunch Episodes

My Ten Favorite The Brady Bunch episodes, in order.

  1. “The Liberation of Marcia Brady.”  Season 2, Episode 19.bb1
    Marcia tries to join the Frontier Scouts. In retaliation, Peter tries to join the Sunflower Girls.  Marcia demonstrates over the course of the series that she’s a modern woman with a sense of fairness, often expressed in defense of others after correcting errors in her own judgment.  You can say whatever you want about the Bradys, but one thing they were consistent about was that fairness is worth stiving for, even if sometimes it can’t be achieved.
  2. “The Voice of Christmas.”  Season 1, Episode 12.bb2
    Carol comes down with laryngitis right before she’s supposed to sing in the Christmas service.  I really, really don’t like Cindy episodes, and this one’s remembered for Cindy’s asking Santa to restore Carol’s voice.  But I forgive the cutesiness because of two moments: the scene where Mike admonishes Santa for promising something he can’t deliver, and the one near the end when Mike is awakened by the sound of Carol humming in her sleep.  “Sing!” he urges her when she wakes up.  She sings “O Come All Ye Faithful” and it’s a thing of beauty.  I never realized how pretty Florence Henderson was until much, much later, when I was in college, but now when I see this scene, it’s all I can think about.
  3. “Vote for Brady.”  Season 1, Episode 11.bb3
    Greg and Marcia square off in an election for class president, which dosen’t make sense because Marcia’s younger and not even in high school yet, as we learn later in the series when she enters ninth grade.  Not a very strong episode, but I love Marcia’s determination, and there’s a kind of dark undercurrent when Greg’s campaign manager suggests spreading rumors about Marcia.  I like that.
  4. “The Not-So-Rose-Colored Glasses.”  Season 3, Episode 13.bb4
    Jan gets glasses.  The rest of the plot isn’t great, but I got my first pair of glasses in fourth grade, and there were things here I really related to.  More importantly, Jan Brady was my first TV crush when I was a kid (years before my fourth-grade year), and I loved her in glasses.  It always made me happy to see this episode.
  5. “Juliet is the Sun.”  Season 3, Episode 7.bb5
    Another one where Marcia is uncool and then makes amends when her sense of rightness clicks in.  When I was a kid, I never thought Marcia was very pretty (I was a Jan guy), but years later, even though Jan would always be my favorite Brady, I started to favor episodes where Marcia’s prettiness and her conflicts between ambition and kindness are critical plot elements, as this list probably illustrates.
  6. “Her Sister’s Shadow.”  Season 3, Episode 10.bb6
    The famous “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!” episode.  Jan continues to have identity issues.  I love Jan.
  7. “Dough Re Mi.”  Season 3, Episode 16.bb7
    Greg wants to cut a record, but he needs some money, so he recruits his siblings in a new singing group in order to raise the funds.  Peter’s voice begins to change, ruining the recordings until Greg writes a new song, “Time to Change,” featuring a voice-cracking solo by Peter.  Nowadays, I hate sitcoms where the central characters find some reason to sing together, but in the 70s I loved it.  This episode’s other song, “We Can Make the World a Whole Lot Brighter,” is also entertaining.
  8. “Marcia Gets Creamed.”  Season 5, Episode 7.bb8
    Yeah, that’s the actual title of the episode.  I figure they can get away with this stuff since the titles of episodes were never really public when the show aired.  Marcia gets a job in an ice cream parlor.  She gets Peter a job there too, but Peter’s a goof-off, so Marcia fires him and hires Jan.  Jan’s actually better at it than Marcia, so when the manager has to cut staff, he cuts Marcia and keeps Jan.  A favorite because I like the Marcia-Jan dynamic.
  9. “Confessions, Confessions.”  Season 2, Episode 12.bb9
    Not really that great an episode, but “Mom always said, ‘Don’t play ball in the house!'” is from this one, and it’s one of those irritating lines of dialogue you can never get out of your brain.  I’m fond of it only for this reason.
  10. “Jan’s Aunt Jenny.”  Season 3, Episode 17.bb10
    Jan finds a photo of her aunt Jenny as a kid, and she looks just like Jan.  Carol invites her over, and at first Jan is horrified because she thinks Jenny (Imogene Coca) is ugly, and that Jan will grow up to look like her.  But Jenny turns out to be a lovely person, and Jan realizes she would be blessed to grow up like her ebullient aunt.  I like Jan-centric episodes.


Friday 5: Celluloid Heroes

From here.

  1. What movie most recently impressed you with its score or soundtrack?
    Last year’s Oscar-winner for best score was Ennio Morricone’s beautiful work on The Hateful 8, and I was pleased that it was recognized.  I was sure Star Wars: The Force Awakens was going to get the award, and it was certainly worthy, but Morricone’s was slightly more memorable.
  2. What movie most recently impressed you with its costumes or makeup?
    The costumes in Mean Girls, which I saw recently for the first time, were really creative and interesting.  You could tell the costume designer had a lot of fun dressing up these four pretty actresses.  Honorable shout-out to Captain America: Civil War.
  3. What movie most recently impressed you with its scenic backdrops?
    Strangely, it might have to be Pali Road, a film I disliked.  It’s filmed in Hawaii, and at first the scenery is the usual Hawaii stuff.  Beaches, mountains, greenery, oceans.  But then it takes us to some less picturesque locations that residents will recognize, if not for their exact spots, for their everyday Hawaii-ness.  It’s a film that looks like home.  A pretty crappy film that looks like home.
  4. What movie most recently impressed you with its originality?
    I’m going with Inside Out, although the case could be made for Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.  The very concept of a children’s movie about emotions personified is so huge and unreal that its making it to screen is impressive enough.  But not only does it exist, it works in ways that hadn’t been invented yet.  Pixar didn’t just create a movie whose technology hadn’t been seen before (as is the case with just about every Pixar movie); it may have created a movie whose characters, themes, and plot devices hadn’t been seen before.  It’s just an amazing piece of film.
  5. What movie most recently impressed you with its dialogue?
    There’s a scene in Hail, Caesar! where Alden Ehrenreich (the future-and-past Han Solo) and Ralph Fiennes do the old “repeat after me” gag that had me nearly in tears, it was so well done.  It wasn’t the most creative dialogue — I mean, it was basically the same line said over and over — but it was so well delivered I may have sprayed iced tea all over myself.  That was just one scene, though.  For a whole movie of impressive dialogue, a recent rewatching of Chasing Amy was a nice reminder of how good Kevin Smith is.

The Stranger but Wiser Show for Me

I have an interview next week for one of the things I’ve been going after. Trying not to get my hopes up, but I have a good feeling.

Until I can settle that, my other thing, the thing I’m hoping to get into as a response to this election, is kind of on hold. I haven’t called the person I need to call yet, although I may at least do that before the weekend.

Today is the last day of NaNoWriMo, which I did not participate in this year. Too much other writing I have to do. It felt a little weird not to do it, but I am surprised at how quickly the month has gone. November is usually a long slog.

I’m still on a break from political media. Maybe after the new year. Maybe after the inauguration. I don’t know. Whatever. I’ve even avoided SNL.

I’m down to the last two episodes of Stranger Things. It’s a great piece of work, a nice tribute to films of the 80s. I’m also down to the final two episodes of Westworld. The contrast is amazing. There is no resonance with Westworld. It’s barely interesting enough now to even care, but I’m going to finish it because I am still curious about a couple of things.

Meeting with the writing partner today. I didn’t finish my goal for the week, but I drafted a poem, my first in several years. I have a good premise and some nice phrasing, but I don’t really know where to take it. It’s sorta been all over the place with no real destination. I often have the last line in mind once I get the poem going, but I’m at a loss on this one. It might be a non-keeper, alas. Interested to hear what the writing partner says.

There’s this new podcast called Heavyweight that just wrapped its first six-episode season. It was kind of amazing, not for its actual subject matter, which varies in interestingness, but in its writer’s hilarious writing. It was a reminder that I’ve been trying to figure out how to be funnier in my writing. I may try to practice a few ideas in this space.

Review: Midnight Cowboy

Midnight Cowboy (1969)
Jon Voigt, Dustin Hoffman. Written by Waldo Salt (based on a novel by James Leo Herlihy). Directed by John Schlesinger.

Before this week, these are the things I knew about Midnight Cowboy:

  • midcow1
    Hey! They’re walking here!

    Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voigt are in it, although I wouldn’t recognize Jon Voigt because I only know what he looks like today.

  • ”Hey! I’m walking here!”
  • ”Everybody’s Talkin’,” a song performed by Nilsson, is in it. And before two weeks ago, I knew the song but didn’t know it had anything to do with this film. Tony Kornheiser featured it on his podcast during the Old Guy Radio segment.
  • At the end of the Seinfeld episode with the mom-and-pop store, Kramer and Jerry get on a bus for New Jersey. Kramer’s nose starts to bleed, and he says, “Look at me; I’m falling apart here.” Jerry puts his arms around Kramer while “Everybody’s Talkin’” plays and the closing credits roll. I hadn’t made the connection between the song and this scene until last week, but I had a vague idea that this was a parody of Midnight Cowboy.
  • It was the only film rated X by the MPAA to win a Best Picture Oscar.
  • On the original (1998) AFI 100 Films list, it was ranked 36; on the updated list in 2007, it was ranked 43.
  • It’s been in the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die books; I don’t know if it’s in the most recent (2016) book.

midcow2That’s a lot more than I thought I knew about it, but for such a decorated, celebrated film, it still feels almost like nothing. I had no idea who the actors played and I didn’t know the first thing about the story. So I went in about as cold as I ever do.

I can see why it’s something that sticks in people’s brains. The performances by Hoffman and Voigt are strong. The cinematography is gritty, grimy, dark, bright, and warm, a look I associate with the great films of the 1970s. It looks like a film that should be on the AFI list.

midcow3But man, the material just isn’t good enough. It’s clear that we have a film about how two guys become friends, but there are a couple of leaps in the development of their relationship that don’t make any sense. I’d be (mostly) okay with this if there was more story, but the way the story plays out doesn’t warrant fast-forwarding through our sense of what each man means to the other. Flashbacks and fantasy shots give us an inside look at backstory and characters’ thoughts, but they don’t do anything meaningful. I’m not totally sure why the film was rated X (the rating has since been changed to R), but I suspect there are dark, sinister things going on in those flashbacks, only I can’t say what, because I don’t understand much of what I saw.

Anyway, who would have guessed that young Jon Voigt was kind of a poor man’s Robert Redford? This is my biggest takeaway: that Voigt is an actor whose early work may be worth a look. Hoffman is solid in a Hoffman-like way, but that’s no surprise, and honestly, I don’t know that I would put this in my top five Hoffman roles.

While I don’t see this as essential viewing, it’s worth checking out, if only for some cultural literacy.