Monday, July 31, 2006

Well, at least it's a different kind of disappointing.

The Mind-Body Problem turned out to be a really satisfying book in some ways. It's nice to know I can still catch a reference to Kant's categories of perception. And it was nice to read a book that turned so clearly on a philosophical problem, rather than having to make one up myself. Some books do tend to make you do all the heavy lifting of making them meaningful, and this book doesn't have that problem at all.

But the end is disappointing. Disappointing in a way that's worthy of a Nick Hornby heroine (perhaps you hadn't heard--men are worth redeeming, but women should just surrender to resignation and consider it an honor--at least Goldstein doesn't disciminate) or an Edith Wharton novel. If you love Edith Wharton, well, I gotta tell you, this book is spectacular. Go buy it--the Mind-Body Problem by Rebecca Goldstein. But I spent 250 pages with this woman. I listened to characters debate the comparative merits of philosophy and math in dialogue that sounded like a vocabulary test (evidently Princeton folks talk like slangless foreigners). That's fine--that's her given topic, as James would say (in a proof-like argument that Goldstein must appreciate). I just hate that we put in all that work for this ending. I'm not saying I wanted her to win the big game for Princeton in the last 30 seconds. But surely there's some space between Edith Wharton and Rudy that someone could explore.

That said, Edith Wharton is a pretty awesome novelist. And I do know at least one woman who would be crazy about this book. It's highbrow enough for her over-Austened sensibilities and gloomy enough to be "worthwhile" (because in this woman's mind, Jane Austen's only flaw is that the patriarchy convinced her to have all those damn happy endings). I may have to put it in the mail.

This is terrible. It's a good book, honest. I would never want to discourage anyone from reading it. But it's exactly the opposite of the feeling you have when your dieting friend eyes the brownie at a restaurant. You know that it's your duty to push her toward the good-for-you-and-very-tasty salad, but you just want to give her the damn brownie.

This book is really, really good. It's just...well, it's the salad.

Dammit. Don't they publish any brownies any more?

In honor of the Night Listener being made into a movie, that's my next book. I've already read it, and it is the kind of book I want more of. It's the kind of book that lets your hot drinks get cold and your cold drinks get warm, and I still think about the questions it poses years after I put it down. I'm a little nervous about the movie (they seem to be marketing it as a thriller, which surprises me), but the book is mine forever.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

So Many Disappointing Books...

So you probably knew this already, but the Laurell K. Hamilton book was a crushing disappointment. And the bar was really quite low, because all I was looking for was a reasonably suspenseful little ball of fluff to get me through the moments between when I brushed my teeth and when I fell asleep.

It's billed as an erotic vampire thriller. It was neither erotic nor thrilling. There were vampires, as advertised. Only one was a decent character, and he spent the last two thirds of the book literally locked in a box waiting to be rescued by our relentlessly independent heroine. Lots of men are interested in her, but they all bore her because she's so busy not needing anyone, so clearly the only dude with any shot is the dude in the box, which was pretty much a non-starter if you're looking for eroticism with any character-based heft to it.

The "eroticism" billing seems to rely on combining violence, non-consensual vampiric activity (don't make me go into it--there are rules and levels and it's just not worth it), and sex. Maybe my eroto-meter is down, but violent sex doesn't seem erotic to me, and neither does non-consensual anything. It's just violence. And although I'm sure there's some raw feminist empowerment going on, I just found myself having a serious attention span problem.

I'm aware that this is the first in a long and illustrious series of allegedly erotic vampire thrillers, but I look at any good mystery series where the detective fails to have sex with his/her sharp and attractive but unavailable partner/coroner/profiler, and I think there's room for a lot of eroticism that doesn't spoil your character arc and doesn't involve sexual violence. Robin McKinley's Sunshine was a much more satisfying erotic vampire thriller that would be a great first book in a series--pity she doesn't write enough to keep me from straying into the novels of folks like Hamilton.

As an antidote I read Thomas Harris's Red Dragon, a thriller that's actually thrilling, and where the sex knows it's not erotic. Sometime last year I found myself watching the movie with renewed interest (the new one, not the old one--the one with Edward Norton and Ralph Fiennes). There was something about watching a really decent man being taken in by a predator that I found comforting, and something about Will Graham's one-victim-to-another pep talk to Reba that just charmed me to the core. I was pleased to find the pep talk in the book, although precious little else that I enjoyed about the film was in it--a good film brings someone's interpretation to the book, so I wasn't really surprised.

Even knowing the outline of the plot, it's still a decent thriller--no attention deficit disorder while I was reading that--and all of the characters were a lot more lively than Hamilton's. And after way too much Law & Order and Without a Trace, it was nice to meet some victims who didn't have dirty little secrets. Seems like everyone who's the victim of a crime on television is hiding some illegal and/or unsavory activity from the NYPD or the FBI. Harris's victims are just cheery families with pets whose mothers save money by continuing to wear their damaged pantyhose. Of course, that was back in 1981. Maybe victims have gone downhill since then.

And again, I was really hoping to stumble on a whole series of books that would be satisfying without being demanding. Harris is up to what, four books? Ah, well.

So I'm back on the wagon, ready to put in the time on some potentially demanding fiction. My next choice is Rebecca Goldstein's The Mind-Body Problem. I read her Properties of Light last year and loved it, despite its leisurely pace and for its philosophical bent. I'm no mathematician (her books love math--I keep encouraging my cousin to read them, but she never seems to), but the philosophy is something I appreciate, and at least I'm sure the book will reward my attention. We'll see...

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Hell's Kitchen Too Annoying to Watch

I'll continue watching it, because I have some annoying form of OCD that doesn't let me quit things--put down a book I'm not enjoying, for example (note the foreshadowing) or give up on a movie in the middle. But I have to say, I don't want any of these people to have a restaurant. I don't even want them to have a voice. In fact, if we could just duct-tape their mouths shut for the remaining challenges, that would be great.

I'm tired of Keith imitating slot machines. The actual slot machines are already annoying, but his rendition is like fingernails on a chalk board. I do wonder just how often he does this versus how many times the editors just cut this in to liquefy my brain. Editors, if it's you, mission accomplished. No more. Uncle.

I'm tired of Virginia's airhead routine. Seriously. How many times have you just wanted to ball gag her over the last two episodes? Ten? A dozen? Every time she opens her mouth? In the interests of full disclosure, I know I sound exactly the same after a glass of wine. My question is, where is she getting all the wine, because she seems to be like that all the time.

Sara. Oh my God. Sara. Points for the Vader impersonation, and points for not being a backstabber. (She'll stab you through the heart while you're watching, thank you very much--otherwise she'd miss the look in your eyes.) But every time she manifests delight at someone else's mistake, I just want to see lightning strike her down. As such, she's probably the best qualified person to run a big ol' snooty restaurant.

Maybe the winner should just stay in Hell's Kitchen, where the clientele seems bent on proving the assertion that "hell is other people." Does anyone else think these people are INSANE? I mean, as Hell's Kitchen diners, you do understand that you're the willing pawns in a reality TV show. As such, you should, oh, I don't know, bring some crackers in your tiny-ass purse. Maybe come prepared to drink your weight in alcohol. I would not suggest throwing food in the kitchen, which pretty much guarantees you'll go home hungry.

Maybe they offer them extra money for obscene and/or pissy behavior? Or maybe some hapless production assistant is in charge of actually trolling through LA's enormous stock of very annoying people for the cream of the crop and then offering them dinner at Hell's Kitchen?

Whatever. I hope this is the last season of this program, so that Chef Ramsay can go back to filming "Kitchen Nightmares" (where no one is EVER this annoying, not even the woman who wanted to put peanut butter on salmon). I have a production note or two on that show, too. (Do we really need to see Gordon without his shirt in every episode? I know I don't. Not that there's anything actively wrong with him--it's not like he has a third arm or anything--but it seems to demonstrate a kind of hubris that's less, um, visually stunning than his usual egomania.) But the imperfections of "Kitchen Nightmares" are infrequent and endearing. I'd take it over "Hell's Kitchen" any day.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Meetingfest 2006

So this week I have 35 hours of meetings on my calendar. No, wait, that’s not the good part. That’s 35 hours of meetings plus two whole days of SAP training and an additional day of less-crucial but kind of important preparation for the SAP training. Yeah. On top of the 35 hours of meetings. This isn't typical, but that was precious little consolation as I called in to my 6 a.m. (although I have to say, that was a very pleasant meeting, as meetings go).

The other day a friend of mine complained about how his meeting schedule was so insane that he wasn’t going to be able to eat lunch. I was all, dude, your company lets you eat lunch? Where do I get an application?

The thing is, my company would love for me to eat lunch. They’d like for me to eat lunch and work out and achieve Work-Life Balance. Alas, they’re also evaluating me on the basis of my accomplishments, which currently require that I attend the 35 hours of meetings. Oh, and I should also be producing something that looks like actual work. Heaven only knows when I’ll be getting that done. Probably on Friday, which is freakishly clear of meetings despite my outrageously overscheduled week (because all of my meetings require the attendance of people in Israel).

For those doing the math at home, first, you clearly need to achieve some Work-Life Balance of your own. Second, some of my meetings start at 6 (a.m.) or end at 7 (p.m.), so if you're assuming 8 hours in a day, dream on. Also, many of the meetings conflict with other meetings, so I’ll probably end up attending the first hour of this hour and a half long meeting in order to attend the first hour and a half of this two hour meeting, which I’ll leave early to attend another hour long meeting in its entirety. If you see what I mean.

Meanwhile, I try (try is the key word here) to read two or three books a week. This week that might just drive me crazy. So this week my reading is going to include something really, really trashy. No, really--it's so shameful that I hesitate to share it with you. It's a Laurell K. Hamilton novel. And I might really really like it, because I doubt I'll have a single critical faculty online by the time I read it--if it's more interesting than a change impact assessment or a baseline data assessment, I'm expecting to be enthralled by it.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Check This Out

Well, okay, it's kinda long. And if you don't know what I mean when I say, "Damn You, Berlanti!" then you probably shouldn't read it. But the upshot is this. The fine folks at Television Without Pity (the best website ever, go to it now) have finally gotten an actual interview with Greg Berlanti, the creator and executive producer of a show called "Everwood." "Everwood" was one of the best recaps on TWOP until the show's cancelation (the last episode aired earlier this year). The interview as a whole is probably only interesting to fans of "Everwood," TWOP, and AB Chao (one of TWOP's star recappers).

But what's fascinating about TWOP in general and about this interview in particular is that it shows that what sports fans have always believed is ACTUALLY TRUE for TV fans. You know how that adorable lunk on your sofa thinks his favorite team knows whether or not he's watching their games, and how he fantasizes that they actually yearn for and attend to the advice he dispenses in the privacy of his own home? Well, this interview and other recent incidents show TV writers, producers, and stars DO care. No, really. It's not an imaginary relationship. Berlanti admits that writers and producers watch the boards, that they admire the staff at TWOP, and that they interact with their audience partly by writing with this particular audience in mind (a shout-out here, a considered plot-line there).

This is a proud era of entertainment. Dickens wrote serials that were, make no mistake, the equivalent of "Lost" in their day. But I don't think anyone's ever proved that he listened in on readers' reactions in an effort to decide whether or not to kill little Nell. Dickens and his contemporary, Wilkie Collins, were the masters of serial entertainment. (Collins' mantra, "Make 'em laugh, make 'em cry, make 'em wait" should be on a lucite cube in the office of EVERY television producer.) And I bet if you'd given them the internet and a message board, they would have been all over this kind of audience interaction like white on rice.

My interest in the interaction between viewers and the trade has been building steadily in recent years. Perhaps one extreme is a series like "Lost," which is actively courting the online attention of its audience with websites not only for the program, but for its fictional companies (Oceanic Air, the Hanso Foundation) and people (Charlie's band, Driveshaft). For the really motivated fan, "Lost" has supplied an alternate reality game called "The Lost Experience." Followers of the game get a sort of off-season minidrama played out in websites and blogs--it doesn't further the action being told in the main storyline, so viewers who just stick with the ABC broadcasts aren't being left out. But it fosters speculation about the island, the Hanso Foundation, the Dharma Initiative, and other peripheral aspects of the main drama. Although there is a communal element to the "Lost" multimedia effort (fans trade clues in internet forums and create their own websites devoted to the program) and there's no shortage of creativity, I'd argue that this is really just a marketing campaign aimed at creating and rewarding die-hard "Lost" fans. (As Berlanti points out in the interview with AB Chao, die-hard fans are good for business--they give you a little muscle with the network.)

The "Rescue Me" dynamic is more authentic. The interaction between the creative talent behind the show and the fans is immediate, raw, and genuine. And it's definitely two-way communication. Earlier this summer, "Rescue Me" aired one of its "very special" episodes featuring a scene that looked, to a lot of people, like a rape. As soon as the thing was broadcast, message boards were furiously debating whether or not Tommy had raped his soon-to-be-ex-wife, Janet. After a while "Rescue Me" co-creator Peter Tolan spoke out on the TWOP message board to clarify the show's intention (essentially, he said they didn't mean to depict a rape, just one incidentally-sexual dimension of a relationship that is dysfunctional across all its dimensions--summaries of the interaction are here and here). Whether Denis Leary is finding out that yes, fans actually did notice when he sported a World Series ring in one episode or Peter Tolan is striking glancing blows for authorial intention, fans and the show's creators are definitely communicating.

"Lost" is just controlling its fans--sure, it's giving them more of what they want, but it tells them where to go next and what to do when they get there. Maybe there's some other interaction I'm not privy to, but the creative folks at "Lost" seem pretty firmly in the driver's seat--which is very much in keeping with the program, which I firmly believe will not give up its secrets one second before the series finale. "Rescue Me" has a candid and spontaneous relationship with its fans that likewise mirrors its program's creative spirit, which values raw, chaotic drama over orderly arcs and acts.

While both of those types of audience engagement interest me, TWOP's Berlanti interview showed me a level of audience interaction that I fantasized about but never really expected to see in action. Berlanti says his writers combed through the TWOP forums and courted the satisfaction (narrative satisfaction, which involves a lot of frustration) of these fans with a zeal that he sometimes had to hold in check. He admits to being baffled when viewers rejected a character who embodied their age-inappropriate crush on the handsome-but-far-too-young Everwood character, Ephram. He admits that characters use "lingo" popularized on TWOP's boards, and even that AB Chao's husband is immortalized by having an offscreen character named after him. It's not a choose-your-own-adventure novel (thank goodness) but it is a genuine and (apparently) a mutually respectful interaction.

And I hope it lasts. It pays to give fans what they want. (Go ahead. Google "Snakes on a Plane." I dare you.)

Sunday, July 23, 2006

New York Minute

Most of the very tiny readership of this blog already knows the highlights of my trip to New York, in which I saw just enough to discover that I definitely need to go back again and again. So I'll just do a few headlines--the ones that won't spoil the update for certain humans who don't answer their phones.

Central Park Really Quite Large
I'm sure this surprises no one, and believe me, I was prepared. But I was really, really sure that I was cutting straight through it, you see, to get to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. My Plan was to hit the Met, and then if I hadn't succumbed to the overwhelming nature of New York, I'd hit the Natural History Museum on the way back to my hotel. I freely admit that this was folly of a type that only overtakes tourists, because clearly it would take many moons to see either museum and doing both in one day is obviously insane, but I'm just lettin' ya know, that was the Plan.

Sadly, the Plan sort of fell apart when, an hour or so after entering the park, I became a little tired of being lost. I knew I was lost roughly five minutes into my excursion, but I had been ambling around in a "this is a pleasant, green place" sort of way, and I hadn't been too put out about it. But at some point I found a map that showed just how hell and gone I was from the Met, and I started to enjoy my vacation a wee bit less. I got my bearings and tried to strike out in a goal-oriented way, but alas, the park is not congenial to the goal-oriented, and after a while I was just tired and sweaty. It was at this point that I passed a bench where there were three separate groups of people with open guidebooks, and so I ambled over and said, "This must be where they put the lost people. Mind if I join you?" A man gestured to me that I should have a seat.

He and I looked idly at the runners, bikers, rollerbladers and speedwalkers coursing past for a while, and eventually we struck up a conversation. It turned out that he was here on business from Germany, where he worked at a software company. (I asked, but it wasn't SAP. It was another company whose products I'm familiar with, but the name of the company meant nothing whatsoever to me.) We talked about sports, about our favorite leisure activities, about the absurd American system of vacation time (giving our employees what Europeans believe to be an unbelievably puny amount of vacation time, which the employees then leave on the table, arguing that they can't afford to do anything spectacular anyway or that it would be too painful to catch up when they get back to work), and about New York.

Then we spent about an hour talking about nothing in particular, but trying to shore up my companion's stock of idiomatic English. Sadly for him, a lot of my idiom is stuck circa 1950, but hey, dated American idiom with a German accent is pretty damn charming, so I think he'll do okay. His favorite phrase, in case you're interested, was that someone had "bigger fish to fry." I'm sure that when he gets home he'll be talking about fatter clams to roast or something like that, but again, he can always fall back on that beery German charm.

Oh, and then I turned around and practically ran smack into the Met. Victory!

New York Cab Drivers Fail to Dish Out the Crazy
Don't get me wrong, I'm immensely grateful. I was all set for a crazy motherfucker of a cab driver, and Sanjeev was sweet, sane, and personable. I would never, ever assume that he was a representational sample, but he was damn nice. He got me to my date on time, he was immensely indulgent of my first-date-in-way-too-long jitters ("You look very nice"), and he gave me bonus tour guide information ("This is the West Village. All these men are gay."), and the best ever thumbnail review of the city ("I came here eighteen years ago from India. I've been driving a cab all that time. This is a wonderful city--you'll see everything. I really love it here. This is a good time to be here because during the summer, everybody leaves on the weekend. Now it's just you"). I tipped him an obscene amount and told him it was partly for getting me to my date on time and partly for not being crazy. We were old friends by that time, and I guarantee you absolutely that he did not take it the wrong way.

Thanks, Sanjeev. And don't worry, your daughter will love MIT.

I Was Scared of the Subway for Nothing
Well, not for nothing. I mean, it is public transportation. If you ride public transportation enough, you will see and experience some things you wish you hadn't. But on top of my totally reasonable fear of running into someone who wanted to masturbate next to me or steal my handbag, I had a paranoia that I wouldn't be able to navigate the subway. I'm not sure why I thought this. I've figured out the BART and the London Underground. And compared to the arcane zone system of the London Underground, where you have to stand there and figure out how many times you want to go outside of Zones 1 and 2 on your trip to London, and then do a quickie financial analysis in your head to tell you whether you should just buy the travelcard that covers additional zones or whether you should buy your restricted zone travelcard and then supplement it with one-time tube tickets for those trips outside your Zone, the MTA's "don't think, just pay me $2" system is pretty easy on the tourist brain.

I did have the pleasure of riding in a car with no air conditioning during a heat wave. I could have moved, and I know it. And my guidebook said I'd be safer in a full car. But to be perfectly honest, that car was like an oven, and no one was moving, except to mop sweat off their brow--they didn't look especially threatening. And the neighboring cars were crammed with people who were only marginally less sweaty, and there I would have been pressed right up against a stranger's armpit. So I rode with my little band of sweaty companions, and if I'm honest, they're the real reason I stayed. It was like a psychology experiment--what kind of people stay in the hot car, and what is their reward? I'm not sure what kind of people we were (although we certainly shared a warped and heat-addled sense of humor by the end of my journey), but our reward was a total suspension of the suspicious and guarded behavior typical of public transport.

We had lots of space to stretch out. And we were really entertained by the people who took one step onto the car and then turned around and left. (The expressions on their faces were priceless, and also, if they stepped in far enough, cold air from outside got carried in with them. It was good.) There was a little group of spirited women with projection that would be the envy of Aretha Franklin. They'd shout, "It's a HOT CAR!" every time someone thought about coming onto the car. There was a guy across from me wearing a haircut that will NEVER be out of place at my college, no matter how long it exists, accessorized with Chuck Taylors, jeans, and a dress shirt (instant endearment alert) who I thought might pass out. But he didn't. There was a woman wearing a Sari who said she'd rather have space than air conditioning, and there was a man sitting near her who couldn't believe we weren't getting off the car, but who never switched cars himself. I liked them. We had a good time in our hot car.

I Have Kick-Ass Airport Karma
The day I left is the day La Guardia had power outages, causing tons of flights to be canceled and, as my friend who flew out of JFK later in the day found out, massive overflow of air traffic in and out of JFK. But I left early in the day and got to watch the miserable airport people on the news as my plane took me home, happy but exhausted.

When my friend Holly and I used to visit London, we would gird our loins for a couple of days of nonstop entertainment and tourism. And every time we got back on the train to Colchester, we would look at each other and know, without a doubt, that London had kicked our asses. New York didn't really kick my ass, but then, I'm not twenty any more, either, so it didn't have quite the opportunity that London had. I didn't make a list of 30 things to do every single day, and the mishap in Central Park pretty much put an end to my overambitious tourist schedule. But I definitely didn't get enough of it, and I really did love it.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

An Unknown London Book Dealer

I know it's not technically his thing, but I like to think Aziraphale's cocoa is getting cold tonight.

Do You Suffer From Short-Term Memory Loss?

I admit it. I got dragged kicking and screaming into the world of reality TV. I didn't want to enjoy it, but it won me over, and there are certain shows I'll do my best not to miss. Since I have a Tivo, my best is pretty good.

But here's the deal. I'm not a moron. And despite appearances to the contrary (co-workers, please hold your heckling until the end) I have hardly any short-term memory damage. So I don't need to see the same damn clip four hundred and thirty-seven times. Seriously. We saw it two minutes ago before we went to commercial. Those of us with Tivo saw it three b-boop's ago. I swear to you, I can remember the snarky comment. It may not be immortal, but it'll stick with me for a few minutes.

Even when we're not seeing the same actual clip, we're being drilled like slow children with laminated flashcards. Let's just look, as an example, at the instructions for the challenge on Project Runway. First, Heidi tells them what the challenge is, and we see their reactions. Then we get clips of a couple of the contestants, all of whom say something like, "When Heidi told me that the challenge was x, I instantly knew that I wanted to do y." By the time they start sewing, we've heard four or five variations on the instructions for the challenge--and it doesn't stop there, because someone helpfully summarizes the challenge as they explain their design process. By the time we get to about variation number six, I'm thinking, can I test out of this?

I understand that part of the nature of reality TV is that we want to catch the attention of the random channel-surfers, and I know we need to relentlessly recap every ephemeral moment of reality so they can catch up, but the deja-vu is getting to me. I can only hope that the editorial theory is that as we progress through the season, viewers become more familiar with the premise and then we can stop hitting them over the head with it every twenty seconds.

Of course, that hope has not been gratified by "Hell's Kitchen," which still has to recap everything in a "Dune"-style voiceover after every commercial break. Everyone who's seen "Dune" knows instinctively that unless you are certifiably brilliant, voiceover is the editor's crutch. When the footage you've been given lacks crucial exposition, or when there is no feasible way to cut from one shot to another--when, in short, it sucks so bad that you can't make it hang together into a coherent story to save your life, you have two choices. One is to reshoot (which I think we're still pretending reality TV doesn't do). The other is voiceover. "Hell's Kitchen," not to insult the program, is not nearly as complicated as "Dune," so why they use voiceover is beyond me, apart from the fact that they obviously think their audience has the collective IQ of a lima bean. Actually, writing your show so it could be understood by a particularly stupid lima bean may be the leading cause of voiceover in America. I'll have to look into it.

Editors, reality TV can make you stars. I beseech you, use your powers for good. I have a secret weapon, and I'm not afraid to use it. Closed captioning shows up perfectly when I fast-forward my Tivo, enabling me to skip a clip whenever I feel like it. Right now I can watch an episode of Project Runway in about 30 minutes. When you get to 20 (half as much content as an ordinary hour of TV), you're out.

Monday, July 10, 2006

The Evil Hand

Horror humor fans take note, on Thursday TNT rebroadcasts the episode of "Angel" where Lindsay gets his evil hand. I don't know if the writers remembered the old Hammer Horror films, but the evil hand is a terrific homage to these and other horror classics. If you loved things like "The Skull" or "The Scars of Dracula," this funny little thriller is calling you. And if you didn't, well, you missed out, and this episode of Angel is as close as you'll get until you can hie yourself to the video store and rent something starring Peter Cushing or Vincent Price.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Man of Steel

I confess, I have a bit of a soft spot for Superman. I grew up on the TV series and the Christopher Reeve movie. I quite enjoy the shared fiction we've all decided to adopt that glasses are a disguise that will protect your secret identity from investigative journalists. I miss the phone booth.

But wow, this new movie is...long. Really. Long in a way that left me time to wonder if maybe the Fab Five wouldn't have time to drop in for a quick intervention. (I would pay good money to see Kyan do away with that spit curl. I can see him now, kicking back and watching Sup get ready for his big date, sipping a photogenic cocktail and saying, "See, this is why I told him to always start applying the product from the back." When Lex Luthor has better hair than your hero, that's not a good sign.)

And I understand that Lois needed some updating. Uncle Bonsai did a great song about what Lois would have done if she'd known Clark was Superman. I really love that song, because Lois strikes me as sort of shallow. Motherhood alleviates that somewhat in this film, but really, I ended up feeling pretty sorry for the poor idiot who's stuck with her (poor James Marsden, second-best-man in two comic movies this summer). Superman, meanwhile, gets to fly off into space and be manly, having dodged more than one bullet by the end of the film.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

The Horror of the HOA

My Homeowner's Association bites the big one. I won't even talk about things in the not-too-distant past, because they really have been much better lately. But in the past month I have received:

A nastygram for leaving a garbage or recycling receptacle out after dusk or putting it out before dusk.
A notice saying they're going to turn my water off to perform repairs (twice).
A notice saying my community is going to be messy and noisy while they overhaul our landscaping.
A bill for $30 for a new gate opener after my antiquated gate card finally surrendered to the Arizona heat.
A gate opener (it doesn't work).
A whole newsletter full of fussy admonitions to clean up after our pets, not feed the pigeons, etc.

I'm waiting for a nastygram they're probably wording with a lawyer now--something about how my overgrown trumpet vine is taking on a life of its own and now leers hungrily at the neighbor's dog.

I've never gone to an HOA meeting, because I don't want to draw their ire. Better that their bitchy little edicts should continue to be about people like me generally rather than targeting me in particular. But when I leave, I'm going to ask for an accounting of what they've done with the princely sum I award them every month, just for being them. It's a lucrative gig.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Shower Wars

Yesterday I went out with my friend and helped him pick up tile, a new duvet, new artwork, and new outdoor chaise lounges for his new place. The new place is shaping up to be pretty snazzy, and one of the chaise lounges is for me, to lure me to central Phoenix from my tropical oasis in Mesa.

If "tropical oasis" and "Mesa" are not concepts that go together in your mind, you are not alone. It costs me a small fortune in dues to a tyrannical HOA to live next to a pond that is dyed--yes, dyed--an otherworldly shade of blue-green. It may be a grubby little unsustainable oasis, but it's mine for a sum of money so large that I am embarrassed to disclose it.

Since he's actively buying furniture to attract my company, it seemed rude to complain about the things he hasn't done around my place. Like the upstairs shower that hasn't worked in three months. Or the upstairs sink that now emits a reassuring gurgle only half an hour after I've gone to bed to let me know that the two tablespoons of water with which I rinsed my toothbrush have finally gone down the drain. My friend is not under the slightest, most tenuous obligation to fix these things. Still, he promised, and they are getting annoying. So I might have mentioned them until I saw his shower.

He JUST moved into this place, and the shower in the master bathroom developed mold. Contractors came to apply some kind of mold cure to the shower, and now there is a gracious waiting period to see if the mold reasserts itself. My friend, who is occasionally prone to exaggeration, told me his shower was "essentially gone." I opened the door to the bathroom expecting a loose tile or two, and instead I found myself looking at what's under all that tile, fiberglass, and porcelain that we normally associate with the word "shower." It was shocking--a little like finding out all the steps between a cow grazing in a field and your styrofoam package of steak.

So I've decided two things. One, I will try the scary percussive liquid plumber thingy that I purchased for the benefit of my upstairs sink. I am really, really scared of my sink, but after the scary percussive thing has discharged, one of us will be the other one's bitch. I may have to phone someone just so they can call 911 while I give that a whirl, but I will do it on my own, before things start to actively climb out of the drain and try to kill me in my sleep. And two, I'll just keep showering downstairs for a while. At least until his shower is fixed. Because let's face it, I have NO problems compared to a man whose shower is not just naked, but stripped to the bone.