Wednesday, December 19, 2007

On the importance of not sucking

I knew I was going to be using this topic, but I thought I might be more humorous, and actually I am feeling fairly serious now.

After the San Francisco trip, a friend picked us up from the airport and we regaled him with stories of our time there. He asked us, “Why do Mormons suck?”

I replied that they don’t, and raised the counter question, Why do so many fundamentalist Christians suck? You could keep going with that too. Why do so many lawyers, or Intel employees, or short doctors or republicans or men?

It is easy to make generalizations like that, because it is easy to discover proof that people suck. Working in customer support for so long, I could give you many examples showing that humans in general are willfully ignorant and mean-spirited, with an over-inflated sense of entitlement. However, when I talk to people I often find them kind, and smart, and interesting, and having lives and problems that I can really relate to.

Some groups may be more prone to sucking, especially if the membership within that group brings a feeling of superiority. This should really never happen with a religious group, especially a Christian group, because that should teach you that you are sinful and you need Christ to be saved. If He could sit down with publicans and sinners and not be looking down at them and sniffing in disgust, well, how can you look down on anyone? That it happens all the time anyway is not a reflection on religion, but on people.

There is great importance in not sucking if we are going to represent Him. If I believe I have something true, and good, and joyous, that needs sharing, the last thing I should want to do is alienate anyone. That seems fairly obvious. I suppose people don’t realize that they are doing it, or they think it is okay for that type of person. We can’t really put an asterisk next to “Love thy neighbor” and list our preferred exceptions. It just doesn’t work that way.

For the San Francisco trip, we did get a general feeling of superficiality, and that is bad, but the real problem is that they were disorganized, and that’s not a sin. It’s just inconvenient when you are planning a large event involving lots of people.

Thinking of other people who suck, it is usually snobbery. I suppose the concept of sucking brings in a vacuum, which implies a certain emptiness. Maybe that makes it easier to sustain an illusion of superiority. There’s generally no valid basis for it though. What, you’re better because you can sing? Because you have never smoked?

There is a frequently used joke that goes something like, “Every time I think I am becoming humble I realize I am mistaken.” I don’t find it funny because paradoxes annoy me, but okay, perhaps it can be hard to recognize an appropriate level of humility even if you find it. However, I don’t think it’s necessary. The opposite of humility is pride, and pride is enmity with God and man, so if you work to rid yourself of any enmity by growing in charity, the humility should take care of itself.

I just know that the people I like and admire most tend to be very accepting of other people, and interested in them, and usually they are also interested in lots of other things. In terms of curiosity and passion, they are full.

I also know that we all tend to do a little better with a personal touch. There was recently an essay in the Oregonian about a local woman who had her hours cut at work, and it covered her experiences applying for aid, and the utter humiliation and futility of so many of the hoops set up for people in need. It was depressing, but it generated a big response of people wanting to help. I could give lots of other examples of individuals whose hard luck stories generated big responses, but on the whole the Oregon Food Bank is strapped and other charities are strapped, and need more help.

Studies have shown that charity ads with a face and a name receive more response. We may feel bad over 1000 anonymous displaced persons, but tell us about a specific person, and what they have lost, and we will feel it more deeply, and reach farther into our pockets.

This may be partly because one person is manageable. I know I can’t fix 10,000 people on unemployment, but I can give one family a merry Christmas, and it is comforting in how finite it is. More to the point, I think when we have an individual and their details we connect more.

Because of this, I think a key component of not sucking will be looking outward and making connections. Don’t stay in your insular little world where you can be smug and snug! Make eye contact and voice contact and pay attention to the little details. The world is a richer place when you actually pay attention to it.

This is not always easy. I have no patience for stupid people. I don’t feel so bad about it when they are willfully stupid, and just don’t want to think or know anything more, but I feel like I should have a lot more compassion for the ones who can’t help it, and all I really have is impatience. I have bonded with a few, but I still always dread the next one. This is wrong of me. Still, that’s a relatively small amount of people.

Snobs? Heck, I just met one today, and it was amazing how desirous he was of avoiding conversation, but I had to try in case he was just shy or did not realize that we knew each other. But it was amusing because I got in a little jab at him and then I had a brief online conversation with my sister where we rolled our eyes at him.

Do those two confessions make me sound like a nice person? Probably not. It’s still something that I’m working on. I can say that I have never regretted getting to know a person, but I have regretted passing opportunities by, and not speaking up when someone seemed down, and not paying enough attention when someone seemed to need something.

Are Mormons lame? They can be, but it is a matter of personality, or a poor understanding of how to live the religion. There is nothing in the religion that dictates we should be so. Do Mormons suck? Some do, sometimes, but they should know better. Feel free to tell them so.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Sad Ballad of Cute Cafeteria Guy

About two years ago when I started this blog, I committed to not using my own name or the names of my family members. This was to protect me in case I ever want to call my boss stupid or something like that. I decided it would be too complicated, and probably unnecessary to find code names for friends, but if there was a love interest I would use a code name and I gave three examples: Mr. Intimacy Issues, Gerard, and Cute Cafeteria Guy. They weren’t really hypothetical.

Oddly, Gerard is back in the area, and based on my horoscope I believe he is going to call me Wednesday. Mr. Intimacy Issues and I have the same relationship that we did then, and there is no reason to change his code name. Well, there’s no reason in terms of accuracy. Everyone who knows both of us recognized him right away, so I guess it isn’t a very good code name. Quite a lot has happened with Cute Cafeteria Guy, and I thought I would take a moment to reflect on that.

I would say I have been in love twice, and both times it happened at first sight. Some times I have talked myself into liking someone, and that is always a mistake. At other times you get carried along in an unexpected rush of attraction, and maybe you know it is not love, but the flow is pretty strong anyway, and this was more like that. I was not initially attracted. There was nothing wrong with the way he looked or anything; it’s just that my first thought was that he had to be gay.

Perhaps that sounds like an unfair stereotype, but there are generally two types of cashiers that we get in the cafeteria. The most common type is an older, outgoing woman who doesn’t have a lot of skills but does need some extra money. We also get younger girls who haven’t figured out what they want to do yet. There are occasional departures from this formula, but there were never young, handsome, straight guys.

He was remarkably friendly, which did nothing to discourage the stereotype. Still, he did not really give off that vibe. Later on as we started visiting more he mentioned a daughter, but that was still not definitive. I was by this time definitely attracted to him, and I was starting to feel that he was attracted to me. I know his eyes would light up when he would see me, but he was still so friendly to everyone else that it was hard to know how special I was. That’s the problem with nice guys.

At this point I knew quite a bit about him. A lot of it was good, like he was also an artist and a drummer, and those were things that just made him more attractive. I also knew more about his previous job history, and it started making more sense that he was in this job.

Other things did not mesh. He liked hot dry places like Arizona, and I am a complete green Oregonian. We both liked Law & Order, but I prefer SVU and he liked Criminal Intent. They were little things, but they were symbolic of the more important disparities making a successful romance unlikely.

The biggest issue was time. Often I felt like we were on the verge of making a breakthrough, and someone else would come into line and I would have to go. It is hard to progress very far in one minute a day. It was still a minute to look forward to.

The most flustering moment did not happen with him. I needed something quick, so I went through a different line in the other café. The cashier (one of the young girls) was really excited, and she knew my name, and she said “You’re Jason’s girlfriend!” Then she excitedly let me know it was his birthday, and I should go wish him a happy one.

I just said that he had mentioned it, and we had talked about his birthday earlier, but my mind was still reeling from the girlfriend thing, and from being known by name. Obviously, she could not really have thought I was his girlfriend, or she should have expected that I would already know about the birthday. I think what was in her mind was that this is the girl that seems to like him and he seems to like back, but that is longer and complicated and it just came out girlfriend. It seems we were a topic of workplace gossip.

It was interesting, but it was such a wasted opportunity. I should have said something like, “Did he say that? Then he better ask me out!” If I could have said something kind of light, but that confirmed my interest, I think that would have been good. I was just too floored in the moment to think of anything. Anyway, that moment slipped past, and then later he started mentioning a girlfriend, and then I saw him with the girlfriend, and one day I came up behind someone congratulating him and he was getting married that weekend. I congratulated him too, and really, I never expected us to work out, but it was kind of a bummer.

Friends tried to be supportive, but the supportive comments ranged from “It won’t last” to “Now you can flirt with him guilt-free.” Actually, marriage to me means you don’t flirt at all. I was worried about it being weird, but he never came back from his honeymoon. Yay?

There were good things about it too. First of all, he was a truly nice guy, and it was fun interacting with him. Also, it was nice believing that someone could like me, and not having it end in catastrophe (that sentence references some horrific times). The best thing was, and I will sound like a terrible person here, but I need to do that periodically, after seeing her, I am cuter. I can’t say that very often, but it made me feel like I was not completely delusional.

I also learned some things about myself. It was analyzing my attraction to him that helped me pinpoint my ideal height range, which gave me insight into why I was not attracted to certain other guys. This is a shallow insight.

The deeper insight came once when I was going to meet a friend, and I had missed him at lunch and I just decided to go see if I could see him for a minute, without any reason than saying hello, and I did. As I walked away, feeling like a dork, I realized that I cannot imagine being smooth. I have mental pictures of what my life would be like if I were rich or thin or other things, and my ideas may be wrong, but at least I can conceive of something. Being suave is completely alien. And I also realized that I felt just the same way that I did in junior high. However, that was when I stopped believing that I had any romantic chance at all, so it makes sense that I stopped developing there at fourteen. This crush was a big steppingstone for me. Romantically, I think I am close to sixteen now. I’m almost ready to date.

Odd. After yesterday’s entry, I was just thinking how I am turning into this curmudgeon griping about modern times, and one month away from turning 36. Well, 30 is the new 21 and 40 is the new 30, and my RealAge is 34 but relationship wise I am still in my mid-teens (jail bait), so yeah, I’m turning 36.

I wonder if I can find it on eBay...

It seems like I keep coming back to music and movies and television. They are things that I think about a lot, and generally enjoy. One thing I have been pondering lately is my first real record album, Aerosmith’s Toys in the Attic. The album was released in 1975, when I was three, but I believe I got it in 1977 or 78. The reason I believe this is that for a long time I thought it was by the Steve Miller Band. How could I be so horribly mixed up, and why would that lead to the later purchase date? Good questions.

Basically, I remember a shopping trip at K-mart, and probably the Tualatin K-Mart, which is the one we went to when we lived in Wilsonville. We moved here in 1978. I was taken in by the cover art, but I was told that I would not like it. I wanted it anyway, and got it, but I remember that it did not sound at all the way I thought it would. I believe it ended up going to my brother. The other strong memory I have is of my older sister playing Swingtown over and over again, which I remembered as Spacetown. I think we all got to pick a record, and that she picked up the Steve Miller Band Book of Dreams, which came out in 1977 when I was 5. Looking at that cover art, I can totally imagine her choosing it because she was really into horses. And I did not start reading until after I started first grade in September of 1978 (kindergarten was only offered privately at that time, and a bit expensive for us), so any confusion on titles should be forgivable.

There are several things that I think about with this. One is that the answer wasn’t really that I wouldn’t like it—just that I wasn’t ready for it. I should have held on to it and played it once a year until I could appreciate it. Five-year olds do not tend to be that forward thinking.

My other thought is that it is sad that with CDs being so small now, cover art is kind of a waste. For technical aspects I do prefer CDs to vinyl. I was always worried about scratches with records, and I can play CDs on computer, and burn my own and still have better sound quality than cassette tapes, so that is all worthwhile, but there is still a bit of a loss there.

I also like shopping online, and I’m sure downloading individual songs is convenient, but there is another loss right there as more record stores close down. Having a central place where you could browse for new things to catch your eye was good, and it is a good venue for finding local artists, and just that people would buy the whole album was good. Will people even make albums with a theme or unifying concept anymore if they keep finding that they lay fourteen tracks and people only buy three? A lot of things are fundamentally changing, and not necessarily for the better.

One of my favorite memories is calling Mike one night, and we just spontaneously decided to go over to Tower Records. He had heard this new song on the radio he wanted to check out, which happened to be Roxette’s Look Sharp, and I wanted to get The Promise. I assumed it was by New Order, because it sounded like them, but he was saying it was When in Rome, whom I had never heard of. Obviously he was right, and he did gloat a bit, but the point was he had just gotten out of the shower and his hair looked great and the moon was full and we came away with music. For a junior in high school, that was a great night. The last two record stores that people have really recommended have both closed down. I guess I can try EM, but things just aren’t the same.

The other train of thought is that when I call Toys in the Attic my first real record, I did have some others. They were all Disney or Sesame Street. When I did make the transition to pop shortly thereafter, it was a Shaun Cassidy record. I got it because I knew him from The Hardy Boys on TV. Clearly this would still not be as edgy as Aerosmith, but I am still wearing my hair in pigtails and scared of the dark at this point. In fact, Dah Doo Run Run becomes a defense mechanism for me, as I use it to drive scary thoughts away by singing it in my head. I’m not sure why I never had an Osmonds record because we watched their show too, but my older sister had two. Also, my older sister had a Bay City Rollers record we would listen to, because they had a Saturday morning show.

Perhaps it is fitting that my real introduction to pop music came through television as well, when we got cable and there was this channel called MTV. Clearly the television had influenced my previous listening choices.

To be fair, I think a lot of it is time-dependent. The 70’s seem to have been a fairly depressing time for music, at least on the radio stations we got. I just have very vague memories of Cat Stevens and the Captain and Tenille. In the car there was always a lot of Neil Diamond, the Ray Conniff Singers, and Abba. I could easily never hear any of them again.

We did play At The Hop a lot, so I still have a strong fondness for fifties music, but then these hippie/folk influences crept in and they lost me. What I didn’t know was that groundwork was being laid for good stuff to come.

Again, this is stuff that I want to know more about—what is the musical industry and who influenced whom. Actually, it looks like we might have better music during Republican presidencies. Perhaps it is a therapeutic reaction to bad socio-political situations. Who was in the top 40 five months after Watergate? Some day, I will know.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Critic--Christmas Special Edition

Over the years, with three big fans of holidays, animation, and cute characters, we have accumulated quite the selection of Christmas specials. We don’t really watch them that much though, because things pop up on television, and we are all busy. The two that we bring out pretty reliably are The Muppet Christmas Carol and A Muppet Family Christmas because we like them a lot, and I can’t recall ever seeing them on TV. I guess the Family Channel does not have the broadcast rights, as that is where we see most things.

The point is that we have things that I have either never seen, seen once when they were still relatively new and barely remember, or a few that we have seen a lot. We decide to go through and watch them all this year and see what we want to keep, and what VHS tapes need to be converted to DVD. We still have a lot to go through, but here is a partial breakdown.

Emmett Otter’s Jug Band Christmas –This is one that I could just barely remember. Between the stable of Jim Henson’s regulars and based on a story by the Hobans (of Frances fame), I was hoping it would be wonderful. It is a little too slow. The music is pretty good, and I love what they do with the birds (there are ducks, a heron, and an owl that are all pretty cool), but not enough happens. Maybe it is also too grim. The ending ends up being happy (a bit contrived as well, but they didn’t take the easy way out with a protagonist winning the talent show) but before that happy ending Emmett and his mother just get more and more downtrodden. Maybe they focus too much on the dead father.

The Leprechaun’s Christmas Gold—I can’t help but notice that this was the last Animagic special that Rankin Bass did, so maybe the were running out of steam. Maybe what they were really out of was songs that inspired them, because Christmas in Killarney seems like an odd starting point. I guess you think, hey, this is a Christmas song, and it is Irish-themed, so toss in leprechauns, a banshee, and Saint Patrick. At this point, someone should have noticed that you aren’t going to really get a plot that flows. It doesn’t flow, but lurches from one odd contrivance to the next. The voice actors don’t really put much into it either, but how do you find your motivation when there is no logical reason for it?

Mickey’s Magical Christmas—This starts with the premise that all the Disney characters are at a club, and have just seen a great show, but they are snowed in. They try to bring the Christmas spirit to Donald, but he is a tough nut to crack, possibly because the special itself is really uninspired. Scanning over the crowd is fun, but the clips are old and not that great, and there is clearly no budget to bring back any of the real voice actors, so it all ends up being rather a disappointment.

Rudolph’s Shiny New Year—This has some cute bits, but is a bit too long. They were padding it out to fill out an hour instead of thirty minutes I guess. It is a keeper, but probably not one that we will bring out often.

Nestor, the Long Eared Christmas Donkey—If you have seen The Small One, this is a lot like that, only instead of just being kind of weak and lazy, the little donkey has really long ears, putting him more into Dumbo space. Abused for his difference that ends up allowing him to save the day, clearly there is a kinship with Rudolph. Also his Mom dies protecting him (Bambi?), so it is cheap and manipulative, but it gets me anyway. Character-wise the mutant donkey looks really cute, but the voice is annoying, making this another keeper that probably won’t come out that often.

Previously I had a top three, which were Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and A Charlie Brown Christmas. I have since realized that I like remembering the Charlie Brown one better than I like watching it. The tree becoming better with a little affection is sweet, and Snoopy dancing is cute, but it’s simultaneously too slow and precious.

What has taken its place is The Year Without a Santa Claus, which is truly excellent. I like the music, the story moves, and I could get nitpicky on plot but it is fun enough that I refrain. It is closely followed by Santa Clause is Coming to Town, which is nice in that it has a romantic subplot, and a really cute penguin. I like the Winter Warlock too.

The first two Frosty specials are good, and Rudolph is still a favorite. The Grinch is probably the best for me now. I love the facial expressions they do with Max, and it is about the only special that does not make Christmas coming depend on Santa Claus. The quality and continued value of these leads to another gripe of mine—inferior sequels.

I don’t know why they can’t make good Christmas specials anymore. Even in the 80’s, when Christmas specials were produced solely to tie in with merchandise lines, they were watchable. The Glow-friends Christmas Special is actually pretty good, and the He-Man/She-Ra one has its moments. So how can you take a great character like Rudolph and make something so utterly dreadful as Rudolph and the Island of Misfit Toys? And how does it manage to be both annoying and boring at the same time? Shouldn’t one override the other?

Frosty Returns did one thing right, which is that they got Mark Mothersbaugh to do the music, hence there is a little bit of redemption in two musical numbers. Otherwise there is nothing really original or well conceived about the plot or the animation, and somehow what annoyed me most is the ending. He’s just leaving because he’s bored now? When did Frosty become fickle?

Finally, well the Jim Carrey Grinch movie is a remake, not a sequel, but it is bothersome how it completely missed the point of an excellent book. I hadn’t been thinking about it too much, because avoidance was working well, but the Sunday School teacher referenced it last week, using it as an example of how Cindy Lou’s goodness rubbed off on the Grinch. And you know, I doubt he even knows about the real one. Again, kids today! I am on my way to becoming Dana Carvey’s grumpy old man character—“And that’s the way it was and we liked it!” And yeah, probably people in their twenties don’t remember Dana Carvey either. Bah!
We’ll see how the rest turn out. I am curious about how Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July will be. I only saw it once and it was so long ago I have no idea. I am also looking forward to watching It’s a Wonderful Life in its entirety. Somehow when I catch it on television he is always already at the bar and things really start going downhill.

After that, maybe there will be an idea for a new Christmas special. Can a modern one be good without having the glow of nostalgia around it? Maybe we just need to find a good song that Rankin and Bass missed. I don’t think “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree has been taken yet.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

In which Icelandic cinema is completely snubbed

To start out with, I have to say that it is pretty good progress for me to be listing favorite anythings. As a small child I had an aversion to doing so, lest it hurt the non-favorite’s feelings. I would try and avoid it, or pick one that no one else picked. So if you asked me what my favorite color was in first grade, I would say orange. No one ever picks orange.

I no longer anthropomorphize colors, but I also attach less importance to the whole favorites concept. Now if you ask me what my favorite color is, it will depend on my mood. It has been blue, red, yellow, gray, and pink. I can’t remember if it has ever been green, but it hasn’t been orange, even though it is a perfectly fine color.

That being said, I can’t really give a top five foreign films that would feel right—I just need to break it down by country. Actually, it is more that I am breaking it down by country and language. There are a lot left out, because I usually remember movies that I want to see in groups, so in my rental queue there are long stretches of Japanese, Iranian, and Italian films coming up. Japanese and Iranian will be pretty new, but I have seen some Italian films already, and we will start there.

Italian – Il Postino.

It seems like most of my family there has a strong affection for Life is Beautiful, and I do too for that matter, but Il Postino touches me more. Oddly, the first three Italian films I saw were these and Pizzicata, and I started to wonder if I would ever see an Italian film where the man lives. Then I saw The Bicycle Thief. He lives, but it is infinitely more depressing.

Spanish – Mujeres al Borde de un Ataque de Nervios (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown).

It is so funny, and colorful, and wow Antonio Banderas is young. Also, things work out pretty nicely considering how many complications get thrown in. That is actually breaking it down by language, rather than country, but is there a point in breaking down which of the two Argentinean films I have seen is my favorite? I think I have only seen one each from Mexico and Colombia. If we go by continents though, South America is Tango. It isn’t really a great film, because it is a dance movie and so the point is to get to the next dance number and so you sacrifice some things, but I really like the dance numbers.

French – He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not (À la Folie…Pas du Tout).

I need more people to see this one, because if you haven’t, I can’t talk about it without spoiling it. Suffice it to say that the first half of the movie is engrossing, and then you find out that the director has played a trick on you and it keeps getting more brilliant.

Chinese – Not One Less

I like the journey that it goes on. The heroine really does not start out sympathetically at all, but somehow things turn around and you get fully invested, and then you get a mega-happy ending. I saw Spirited Away and Rabbit Proof Fence on the same day, and in both cases you have young girls overcoming the odds primarily through persistence, and I thought there was room for a trilogy. I thought the third film might be Bend it Like Beckham, but then I saw it and it wasn’t. Not One Less is the right companion piece.

Truly for cinematography, there is no one that I admire more than Zhang Yimou, and this film is not really his showcase for it. For that, I can’t imagine a more beautifully shot and beautiful film than Hero, but this is a more personal film, and I think more relatable. After all, the movies that you admire and the ones you like are not necessarily the same.

Mentally, I know that Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a better film than Iron Monkey, which was a little too slap sticky. However, the comic tone helped me feel that I had better odds of a happy ending, and the final battle on the poles with the fire is awesome. When they do the flying wire work I don’t believe it, so it takes me out of the movie. With that scene, I just bought it. I’m sure they weren’t really working over fire without safety equipment, but you shouldn’t be thinking that during the movie and during the movie I was only thinking “Wow.”

I guess that is it. I don’t think I really have a favorite Australian film (Rabbit Proof Fence is a bit of a downer), and if you do British, is that one or do you separate out all the areas? (England: About a Boy, Ireland: The Secret of Roan Inish, etc.) I will say this, I understand the point that they were trying to make with Strange Brew, but it was still a really annoying film, and if I ever decide to have a favorite Canadian film, it will not be that.

Anyway, Le Chiavi di casa should be arriving soon, but right now all we are watching are Christmas specials. I think I will review some tomorrow.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Spork of Music

Okay, I have name-checked them several times now. Obviously number one is the Ramones. That is the rule. I don’t need the validation personally, but I think it speaks well of the band that I have never heard anyone criticize their music. I have encountered people who have no idea whom the Ramones are, and that makes me sad. Kids today!

Number two is the Clash, and this is setting me up solidly as a punk rock aficionado, but we are veering off sharply and number three is A-HA, the first band I really ever got excited about (and my second concert). This relates to a different, but equally important aspect of my musical life—I also love 80’s pop.

Number four is Crowded House, and that is not so much a single band as it is a Neil Finn continuum. I started with an affection for Split Enz, and then it followed to Crowded House, and Finn Brothers, and back to Crowded House again. I think the first Crowded House album is the one closest to my heart, though, so we will say that is the band.

I was not sure what to do about the fifth spot for a long time. It did feel like five was the right number, but I wasn’t sure who else could fill that niche. What makes someone a top band on your personal list?

I think one criterion is that you like most of their stuff. There are some individual songs I love, and being a one hit wonder is nothing to sneeze at. Lots of people never produce a great song. Still, no single song is enough to make a top five band.

Also, you are not embarrassed to like them. Now, some forms of embarrassment may just be a lack of confidence in your own musical taste, and then you should just trust your taste. What I mean is more like in the case of Third Eye Blind. Musically, I like them a lot, but dudes, leave the drugs alone! Just say no. Or with Blink 182, great songs but grow up! I could never make it through a Blink concert. Ideally you do like your Top 5 bands both recorded and live. I don’t think I would fit in on the floor of CBGB’s, but I’m sure the shows would be great.

I think these are some good ground rules, but the rules can’t be too much of a factor, because again this is an emotional response. I was at a birthday party tonight, and as various parties disagreed on whether or not Transformers was a good movie, one attendee related an experience where she just wanted back the two hours of her life lost on Patch Adams.

“Wait, that was a good movie. It was based on a true story!”

Oh sure, it is easy to mock the people who like it, and you could probably do a critical analysis of the movie and find many points where it should have been better, but okay, some people liked it. That’s their prerogative.

I know a lot of people would consider A-HA to be really lightweight, and there may be an element of truth to that. I also know that I can’t tell you how many times I listened to Hunting High and Low, and there wasn’t a bad song on that album. Then when Scoundrel Days came out it was less pop, and more mature, but it was still good and spirited and a lack of success in the United States is no indicator of quality. I like them, and I appreciate guys who will admit that their music is okay. Yes, I would find it weird if a guy said they were his favorite band, because they were awfully pretty, but that’s not how you judge a band—that was just a gift to the girls.

There can be gender bias, in what is acceptable for favorite bands. For a while the number five spot was occupied by Matchbox 20. Looking back it was largely a reaction to Mad Season, which is still a favorite album, but guys would try and talk me out of it. My initial response was irritation that they thought they had a vote, but honestly, I think Matchbox 20 might be for girls. I know there are boys in the band, but that is not always an indicator.

Finally, I realized that there was still an aspect of my musical life missing from the scorecard. I had covered the 80’s when I was in high school and loved pop, and though the punk was older I did not discover it till this century, when I was a working adult. In my college years, there was a term being thrown around that seemed to have no meaning whatsoever, and that term was alternative.

Sometimes it really feels like trying to sort out musical genres is a joke, and that is especially true of alternative. Nonetheless, there is music that is good and that does not really fit any label. When I was in college I fell for the Gin Blossoms, and they round out my Top 5. Presidents of the United States of America could also be contenders there, but the Gin Blossoms are more emotionally evocative and I take them more seriously.

Don’t you feel like you know more about me now? These types of questions can be useful, if for no other reason than to see if we could mutually survive a road trip. With my group of friends in junior high, we did not have the same favorite bands at all, but we could make it work, and I was perfectly fine listening to Duran Duran, David Bowie, INXS, and the Cure, along with my beloved Norwegians.

The reason these guys knew my top bands and were trying to dissuade me from Matchbox 20 was that I had used it in a standup comedy routine on how it is a great way to get to know people, and you can spot trouble signs. The disturbing lists I made up were indicative of being too sheltered (Uh, Motab, of course, Afterglow, not really a band but Michael McLean, um, and the Osmonds and the Jets), but in real life I have known a person who would not be able to give favorite bands because he only listens to orchestras. I asked him once if he only listened to classical music, and he said of course not, and I thought great, let’s find out what other kinds of bands he likes. World music.

To be fair, I have classical music and world music in my own CD collection, but did it ever occur to you that this popular music is popular for a reason, and can have redeeming qualities? Maybe if you rocked out every now and then you wouldn’t be so depressed! I just find snobbery so irritating. Of course all his favorite composers were German.

I feel like my list will stay, not just because I will continue to love these bands but also because there is historical relevance for me, but I keep finding more interesting stuff out there all the time, and it’s a shame to shut yourself off from it. Kill Hannah is a new band that seems promising. Their lyrics are very gothic, but musically they are fairly bright. After attending Provoked I looked up the Ruts and they are amazing. I know the Strokes are not new, but they are new to me, and not bad. Also, I am very fond of the All-American Rejects. I don’t know if they can displace any of the 5, but maybe someday I will feel the need to expand to 7 or 10. Ooh, and Tom DeLonge’s new band, Angels and Airwaves, mostly for Everything’s Magic which is kind of my theme song now.

I can be highbrow too, and while I would never ask a date about his favorite foreign films unless he had previously referenced a liking for them, it is something I can talk about, and tomorrow I will.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


Wow, I have let the time get away from me. No wonder my mind is backlogged.

I have been feeling a need to get back in here and write, and I was thinking maybe another period of consistent writing would be a good idea. So you know how they have those advent calendars where you open up one window a day leading up to Christmas, and I intend to blog each day through Christmas. Clearly I have missed the traditional German start of December 1st, and the Eastern European start of September 1st is right out.

As a good Italian, I know the twelve days of Christmas start after Christmas, leading up to Epiphany on January 6th, but over here people start Secret Santa projects twelve days before all the time, and I’m going to go with that.

This is going to be more ambitious than the stint I did in late October, because the time period is longer, and I want to make them connected, where I am creating a logical tie-in at the end of each post to what will be coming the next day. I have my subjects mapped out, so it should work. Of course, I will also be posting at night, so my last planned post is for the 24th but will be posted at night on the 23rd. I can live with it. Today, I am introducing the project and catching up on writing.

Anyway, the presentation was done and the office move is done and the new people are trained and no one is on vacation, so all I have to do at work is settle into my new job, which is going okay. I finished the second draft of the script, and feel good about the changes. It has been a learning experience.

For one thing, I write on the computer, but apparently I cannot edit on the PC—I need to be reading a hard copy, and making notations. It just was not flowing the other way. That’s not a problem; I just didn’t know I was like that. Now I am wondering if I should do anything special for the third draft. Maybe I should act out the scenes for better realism, or string each individual character’s dialogue together to make sure their voices are consistent. I may just go through once and mark which scenes are strong and which are weaker and take it from there.

I am also trying to work out this balance of work and leisure. I could just write all the time, but it is refreshing at times to watch a DVD or listen to music or take a walk. Video games could be refreshing if they weren’t so addictive.

One of the DVDs I watched was of the Seattle performance of Henry Rollins’ Shock and Awe tour. I had watched many of the clips on Youtube, and wanted to see the rest. Now, I cannot wholeheartedly recommend it because there is a lot of profanity, and a sort of a self-love theme (interpret that as you will), but he is smart and funny and I find him adorable.

The clip where my crush really started is posted as Henry Rollins Hates Dating. He goes off on how it is so shallow to ask list questions (the three CDs in your changer, your favorite foreign films, top five bands), but so hard to refrain.

My initial thought was that it might be wise to get to know people before going out with them anyway, but this can be hard depending on how many people you encounter in your regular life. Regardless, I don’t think those questions are necessarily bad. No, you should not eject people from your car just because they give a wrong answer—that’s heading into Scott Baio territory (never a good sign)—but finding out these likes and dislikes can be a good introduction into the heart and mind of a person.

I think this is especially true of music, the response is generally emotional, and so when you find someone who loves the same band, it feels great. So tomorrow, I will reveal the Sporkful Top 5 Bands of All Time. If you don’t know who number one is before we start, you clearly have not been paying attention.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

I love Vince Vaughn, but I will not be seeing Fred Clause

I am growing very fond of Cinema 21. My first impression was that it was kind of a dive, but it is clean, and the service is consistent, and while I am not sure that the seats are supposed to move as much as they do, they are still pretty comfy.

Where they have really become important is that they show very compelling fare on a regular basis. Also, you generally only have a week to see whatever it is, with no guarantees about it turning up later on TV or DVD. I have gotten pretty apathetic about making it down to the megaplex with stadium seating, enormous tubs of popcorn, continuous commercials, and poorly crafted storytelling, but Cinema 21 keeps luring me down. Anyway, this time they got me with Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten.

I did not fall wildly in love with the movie, but I am glad I saw it. It filled a lot of things in where my knowledge was spotty. It was not as energetic or comprehensive as The End of the Century (also seen at Cinema 21), but it had its own mood and its own point, and it did okay.

I did read up on the film a little before going, so my viewing experience was framed somewhat by comments from other viewers. For the complaint about no captions done on any of the interview subjects, yes, that did make things harder. You are constantly trying to guess and identify, and then pieces come together and you are ‘okay, former girlfriend’ or what have you. At one point I was thinking someone might be his brother, but then no, his brother has been dead for decades. So that is hard, but I think it worked within the context of the film. The interviews are done around campfires, which was an important tradition for Joe, and that brings a mood that is informal and intimate and captions explaining whom everyone was would not fit. For more informed fans a lot of the faces will be pretty familiar anyway, where that is less of an issue. Since I went in recognizing almost no one, and was still able to derive meaning, clearly the film is still accessible.

The other complaints were about some faces that were too familiar, in that they had big names that provided no value. I think I was okay with Martin Scorsese, though I am not sure he added a lot of value, but John Cusack definitely fit in fine, and what he added was short and was appropriate for that section of the film. Actually, not too many people complained about them. There were many more complaints about Johnny Depp and Bono, and there I have to agree.

For Johnny, I just don’t think his comments were valuable, and also despite being himself, instead of Captain Jack Sparrow, he had the headscarf and the braided beard and it was just a joke. Maybe they caught him during the middle of filming one of the Pirates movies, but yeah, it jarred.

Bono’s comments were irritating and probably unhelpful, but I may be being unfair here because he bugs me a lot. He shouldn’t. He speaks out against poverty, which is a cause close to my heart. He seems to try and do good things, and I feel guilty for disliking him because my sisters and a friend really like U-2 as a band and admire him as an individual, but the more he talks the more I want to tell him to shut up, and yell at him to shut up. I don’t know, I guess I can’t always be logical. Nonetheless, he speaks in platitudes that don’t work if you think them out, and their music is overrated. In my opinion.

One thing that seemed lacking is that I felt throughout like there could be more of Strummer’s voice, even though they did use lots of footage and clips and cartoons he had drawn, but despite lots of material I was feeling it needed more him and less commentary by others on him. They interviewed him in The End of the Century, and he was dead by then (Joey, Dee Dee, and Johnny Ramone and Joe Strummer all died so close together. I mean really, it was three and a half years, but it felt like every time you turned around another legend was gone), and he was so personable and well-spoken that I just remember feeling that loss, and I wanted to hear more from him. So as I was watching, I was thinking that, but as the end approached, it became even more intimate, and it ended with a fairly long speech for him, that was really a plea to the world to rediscover humanity, and it was very beautiful and the note it ended on was good.

Anyway, the point of all that is that I am glad I saw the film. I will not be posting again for at least ten days. Yeah, that would actually be pretty good for me, but I mention it because I have a specific plan here. When I last wrote, I was going to print the screenplay on Monday, read it in one sitting for general flow, and then start editing. Well, I did print it Monday, but it took me the rest of the week before I did the read through and I have not done any editing. Also, although things are much more caught up at work, they are not completely caught up and I need to do a major presentation on the 27th. So, I am pretty much grounding myself from the Internet until then.

Obviously I will use it at work as most of my tools are web-based, but the browsing for fun that quickly turns from a few minutes to hours it out. I have specific things I can do each day, like checking email once, and people to whom I will send email, and paying my bills online when the next paycheck hits, but it is all very structured, and I am hoping it will pay off.

That being said, the flow of the script was good. Certainly the dialog needs to be reworked, but that is normal. When you are really in the zone you might get an exchange or a paragraph just right on the first try, but good writing is rewriting. I imagine that it will need this rewrite and then a third draft before I will consider it marketable. Have a happy Thanksgiving all, and be grateful for good music and good movies. It feels like they become increasingly rare all the time.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

An unfortunate chain reaction

I was thinking that my post two days ago might have given the wrong impression, because I write so much more about the Clash than the Ramones, and really the Ramones are my favorite band, even thought I like both a lot. It is important to me because I go through phases myself of wondering if I like the Clash more, and then I keep coming back to the Ramones. However, I think the memory of discovering the Clash is clearer because I’d had so little exposure to them previously. It was just the one music video, and it’s a good song but I don’t think it is the most representative of their style. With the Ramones, for what it’s worth, I had seen Rock and Roll High School twice, they did a guest spot on the Simpsons, and their song from Pet Sematery(sic) did get some airtime. Anyway, I just needed to get that off my chest.

So, I have am now blogging the seventh blog in seven days, and accomplishing my goal. I would say it has been more valuable that I anticipated. Part of it was just wanting to keep in the habit, but it occurred to me that the practice kept me thinking about different things and mentally stimulated. I am just better off when I am writing—saner, more insightful, and more balanced. That is one reason why it is something I need to do, whether I end up professional or not. (Also, I end up with mad typing skills when I am doing thing regularly.)

My plan for Sunday is to catch up on some journal and letter writing, then Monday I will print the screenplay and read it in one sitting for the general flow. Then I will go through and start reworking. I would like to think that I will blog again Friday, and maybe Saturday start the next script, but I don’t know how long doing the second draft will take, and honestly I am not sure what the second project will be, though I am leaning towards one specific idea.

A lot of this is finding out what is realistic, and what works well for me. I am not actually compatible with the mental image I had, but the reality is turning out okay, despite still being a work in progress.

This is pretty short, so I am going to throw in a funny story. Actually, it is kind of horrible, but yeah, also funny.

Little Sister M works in a daycare center downtown, having just started a few months ago. Every year on Halloween the children are invited to trick-or-treat at a nearby office building. M had eight children she was responsible for. The mothers of two came, and were responsible for their own children. M had two, another teacher had two, and a coworker who is generally considered useless, P, had the other two. Other classrooms with other teachers were also there.

There are stops on each floor, with escalators in between. They had done a couple of floors and were going up. P stepped on with her two, and then M stepped on with her two children. I am not sure where the others were, but probably in front, because they did not get caught. P seemed to have some confusion about how handrails or escalators or handrails on escalators work, because she lost her footing and started falling, propelling her two young charges backwards. M caught them, but she could not grab two flying children while keeping two other children and maintain her balance, so she fell backwards as well, landing on a non-daycare related woman who started screaming. She may have landed on someone else, but that is not completely clear.

Everybody saw, from the boss to complete strangers. One fellow teacher fortunately had the presence of mind to press the stop button on the escalator, and I am certain that this helped. As it was, P’s hands were bleeding, and although she could not see at the time, M has escalator marks all up and down her leg. They’ll probably fade.

If any of the adults were seriously hurt, or if the children were hurt, I would probably not be able to laugh (or I would at least feel really guilty). As it is, it could have been a lot worse. The children were seriously traumatized. Neither of M’s two would stop crying, and one was too upset to walk, so after another floor or two M gave up, only having completed 5 out of 19 floors. Happy Halloween, indeed.

I am just glad everyone is okay. I mean, I am also a little sad no one was videotaping, but mainly I am glad that everyone is okay.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

The PC that Spork built

Well this is the fastest I have ever had a good idea debunked. I just learned today that YouTube is deleting all of the AMVs December 1st. For listening pleasure, people keep recommending Pandora, and I may have to try that. For devotees of amateur music videos, this is an outrage.

I know, they are combining copyrighted music with copyrighted video, but they are certainly not doing it for profit, and where illegal downloading has the potential to remove profit from the content owners, I see the AMVs as free advertising. People find songs they don’t know, they find movies they are not familiar with, and interest is generated. It’s just really disappointing and seems totally shortsighted.

YouTube is working with various music labels to license the music, so the regular band videos should still be available, but it will be a poorer environment with the loss of AMV input, and it’s a shame for the makers. They can still make the videos of course, but there will not be another outlet like this for sharing. Well, maybe something new and underground will spring up, or already has. I usually come to things a little late.

That is actually a good segue into my tech history. I was actually afraid of computers for a long time. When I was in third grade they brought in an early Mac to the school and showed us, and the main thing that was impressed upon me was how easy this expensive item was to break. The disk can’t be in the drive when you start up or shut down or it will grind that away. If you turn on the monitor before the computer, the power surge will kill it, or vice versa. I just remember I was reluctant to touch it, and I never got into computers despite having a lot of nerds in my acquaintance.

When I got back from my mission, I just wanted to leave retail behind, and so I took this telemarketing job that basically involved a phone, a pen, and a call list, but it was 8-5 on weekdays and it was totally something I could accomplish. What I did not know is that this job (calling people who had expressed interest in a Medicare Supplement) was just the testing ground for new employees, and if you stuck that out they moved you into the next room, onto a PC. Soon I was running DOS reports.

Honestly, I did not love it, but I lost some of my fears, and the next few jobs I ended up taking were always progressively more technical. What I had not known was that computers had become much more durable over the last thirteen years, and you could do things without breaking them or destroying all data by one missed keystroke.

Soon I realized that I needed one for school, so I went to Circuit City and picked out the cheapest one I could find, which was a Packard Bell 486. It was about two generations behind, which meant I could afford it. Honestly, it worked out pretty well, because college was mainly about the word processing, and I also started doing my genealogy on the computer, but I was not doing anything fancy. We did not even have internet in the dorms yet.

Time went on and I graduated and took more jobs in the tech sector, and PCs also got cooler in terms of how much they could do, and then I had an opportunity to get a good deal on a processor, motherboard, and operating system. I thought, yeah this could be cool. I felt confident that I could build my own system, and I should have been right, but an unlucky thing happened.

Before I really started accumulating the parts, I read an article on PC modding and it made me overly ambitious. Now, real modding takes some real ability, and I wasn’t going to do that, but I did see an acrylic case available, and thought, yes, I will make a transparent PC, so I started picking pretty blue parts. I had a blue aluminum power supply, blue round IDE cables, UV blue fans, and a blue case light. (The optical drive was just beige.) I was all set.

It was very important to me that I do this on my own. This is because one coworker told me to bring the parts in when I was ready so they could help me, and this particular coworker was an idiot. The condescending “you’re a girl” attitude would have rankled from anyone, but seriously, I’ve heard some of the technical questions he’s asked other people. He’s not touching anything I value. But I had also bitten off more than I could chew.

Putting the case together was easy enough, and even putting in the board and chip was fine, but I was stymied on how to attach the hard drive and CD drive. The spaces were too wide. The only instruction with the case was a single page of paper with a diagram showing all the parts. It was not helpful.

So I gave in and called a coworker, but a smart one whom I respected and liked. That ended up being a really fun day, and we made a lot of progress. They key was that you needed to screw multiple standoffs together until you got the right length. However, we hit another snag, in that the power supply did not fit into the case opening. Neither of them were exactly standard parts, so that shouldn’t have been too surprising, but now I was going to have to sand down that area to make it large enough.

Much time passed. I bought a tool I could do this with, but I still didn’t get to it. Finally, when the idiot chauvinist was on vacation I did take everything into the office and I let my smart coworkers help me, and we had the system built. It felt good, and this was also when I moved up to a flat screen monitor, but there was a problem. So much time had passed that my technology was no longer very forward, and I had gotten another chip/board/OS combo as a gift.

Also, it did not take me long to get sick of the acrylic case. Our previous system (an HP that Little Sister J got through her job) had one latch to open the side, and another latch to release cards. Anything you needed to change on this one was a major ordeal. In addition, although it had never occurred to me to install a floppy drive, burning CDs is not always practical. I started looking at USB keys, but with the USB ports in the back it was not very practical.

I started lusting after an Antec. People would talk about how everything was built to standard specifications, meaning it would never require buffing or welding, it cools quietly, and best of all, front panel USB is standard. I started acquiring parts again.
By this time I had ended up with yet another free processor and board, so I sold the previous two, paying for my case, and built the current system.

There are things that were embarrassing. I bought RAM and a DVDR drive and forgot, so I bought more RAM later. I probably don’t need 4 Gigs of RAM, but I’ve got it. I did still let coworkers help, because I have found that I am just not that into it. I think I am not a real geek. When Richard and Jerry encountered the standoff issue or the power supply issue, they got glints in their eyes and rubbed their hands together, and it was cool to have a problem to solve. I just feel picked on. I do like puzzles and challenges sometimes, but I don’t think I am into technology enough.

I do nonetheless have some recommendations and preferences that are very strong:

LCD monitors: You can get rock-bottom prices on CRT monitors, but they are such a pain to move, and they just don’t look as cool.

Antec cases: It makes such a difference.

Round IDE cables: In my heart, I know my hatred of the ribbon cables is not logical, but it’s there.

Logitech mice: When I had the first PC, it held out pretty well but the mouse died in a month. I called support and they sent me this remote control that did not work at all, and rather than deal with the hassle I just went and bought a mouse. Knowing nothing, I just bought the second cheapest, which was a Logitech, and twelve years later I am still using it and it still works. I have bought other mice, and then I can’t bear to let this one go because I am so amazed by its tenacity. And it’s not even an optical mouse; it has a track ball. (I don’t think optical mice even existed in 1995.) Their keyboards and speakers are fine, but I would never buy a mouse from anywhere else.

Mozilla Firefox: I am not a Microsoft hater. I use Windows, and Office, and I even use Internet Explorer at work, but at home, I can’t stand all the stupid ad-ware/spy-ware/pop-ups. Using Firefox helps a lot, and I have not run into any site conflicts with it so far, and you can with some of the more obscure browsers.

Front-panel USB: There are so many USB peripherals, and I love my key drive so much, that this is just a must. If you don’t have it and can’t get it soon, PCH Cables has this items that plugs into the USB port and on the other end is a USB port. I guess it would qualify as an extension cable. It looks like half a golf ball. I don’t know what they call it.

Iguana Micro ( Nestled in the heart of geek central, this store is convenient, reasonably priced on most items, and the staff is knowledgeable. My first time in I was pleasantly surprised the find that the owner was someone I had known in grade school. He is pretty much always in the back now, but it is still one local business I am happy to support.

True to form, while building this one, I was thinking about the next one. I was also thinking about turning the acrylic one into a Digital Video Recorder, because I had read an article on how, and reading puts ideas in my head. However, about the time I was transferring files it stopped, never to start again. It seems to have been the power supply, and that is replaceable but then you are dealing with taking things in and out of the stupid case again so I just scavenged it for parts and saved one acrylic cube for the memories.

My other thought was how now there are workstation boards where you can put two processors, and if you quad core, you would have eight cores and that is power, and sure I don’t need it for word processing and internet, but if I did want to start editing video as I get more into film, well, it would be cool. But I have learned my lesson and I did not go out and buy processors, because by the time I would actually be ready to build the system, octo-core will be out, or something like that.

And all of this may make it sound like I am actually a geek, but I don’t have the chops for it. I’m medium geek at best.

Friday, November 02, 2007

YouTube Radio

I just got back from seeing Henry Rollins, so this seemed like a good time to blog about YouTube, as that is where I discovered my love for him.

Some of you know that I came to punk rock in kind of a roundabout manner. First, I liked the Ramones, but I didn’t really think about it a lot until the first time I heard “I Wanna Be Sedated”, which moved me from passively liking them when they were around to actively seeking them out and being amazed. It’s a cliché, but if I am going to a desert island and can only take one album, that album will be Ramones-Mania.

So fine, I like one band, no big deal, and then one day there is this amazing song on the radio, and I only hear a little bit, and my sister confirms that it is the Clash, but she doesn’t know what song. Up to that point, I only knew them for Rock the Casbah. I had heard Should I Stay or Should I Go, but I didn’t know it was them. So in the process of discovering that I was looking for Train in Vain, I discovered London Calling and Bank Robber, Rudy Can’t Fail and Lost in a Supermarket, and the list goes on. Suddenly I was aware of another great band.

This was when I started wondering if, like Sheena and Judy, I was a punk or punk rocker. I mean, here are two cornerstones of the movement, but looking at them individually they didn’t really fit into the stereotype. So, I was not sure, but there was this song I liked, Fall Back Down, by a group called Rancid. Actually, I found I liked multiple songs by them. Have you seen them? Pink mohawk, orange mohawk, and shaved head with a clown tattoo on the skull. Well, those styles change actually, but nonetheless, it is clearly punk. Also, all of these other bands that I was looking up because I was intrigued with them were getting punk+ labels. That sounds weird, but I think it was that Violent Femmes were called Hillbilly Punk (if you ask me, punkabilly flows better), AFI was probably called Goth Punk, and it seems to me that Green Day and the Presidents were in there too.

So fine, I’m a punk. At least I now finally have a justification for my studded leather wristband, and I still feel perfectly comfortable in my disdain for the Sex Pistols, because I can. But it led me to wonder, is there more? What am I missing?

I had also discovered that you could often find original music videos, live footage, and tribute videos at So I would want to hear a song, and I would just bring up the video and I didn’t have to watch it. It is more work than a real radio, or an iPod, because you need to keep choosing the next song, but I have it on my computer, it is easy, and seeing the other submissions and related videos keeps me finding new things. (Newest find: Sacrifice by London After Midnight. I don’t seem to like anything else by him, but that’s okay, this song rocks.)

I had started using it to find stuff that I knew, but at one point I realized I could also use it to explore unfamiliar territory. Sometimes it is mind-blowing. Warren Zevon was a name I heard all the time, might as well look him up. How could I have never heard Werewolves of London before? You would think it would at least get play on Halloween if nothing else. There was even a video for it.

This leads me to a quote from School of Rock, “And there used to be a way to stick it to the Man. It was called rock 'n roll, but guess what, oh no, the Man ruined that, too, with a little thing called MTV!”

I loved MTV and VH1 back in the day, when you could actually watch music videos—that was great. But having a national audience instead of just a local audience like a radio station is an amazing thing, making the decision of who gets airtime even more important, and I wonder who made those decisions and how. Maybe it did kill music, though I believe it is coming back to life.

So in terms of studying my punk history, School of Rock is also helpful in that there was an amazing flow chart, and it provided some other names to look up. Okay, I didn’t really like the Buzzcocks, but Husker Du is cool, and there are plenty of others to check. One music reviewer mentioned the Descendents and Stiff Little Fingers, and they have clips on YouTube. Hank mentioned at least four other bands tonight, and that is where it comes full circle actually, because I was looking up Black Flag when I stumbled upon some of his spoken word footage and that is where the crush happened. He’s really personable when he’s talking—more so than when singing, I would say.

The other thing that I am feeling is a desire to get more to the history of how it all developed. A while back, Little Sister M came in and said she was playing the Stooges. It was not completely true, in that she bought an Iggy Pop 2-disc set, and one disc was him with the Stooges, but the one she was playing was not. Nonetheless, points to her for knowing the name would impress me. Anyway, after she got done playing “Candy” over and over (I do that with new songs too), I asked her to play “Real Wild Child” for me, and I noticed for the first time some similarity in it to “Shake it Up” by the Cars.

What may be most interesting there is that the version I own of “Real Wild Child” is by Peter Ocasek, Ric’s son, so it all comes full circle indeed, but I started thinking about musical influences. Back in the 80’s, when I loved pop music (I still love those songs), I would always be surprised by the favorite bands of my favorite bands. Really? A-ha and the Doors? Now, I can kind of see where maybe the organ playing on “Light My Fire” is only a few steps removed from the electronic keyboards in “Take on Me”. Maybe it’s a stretch, but I would like to explore it more—the evolution of pop music over time and how it reflected and influenced society.

I’ll just make one other point about YouTube, which is that I think it could be a more effective marketing tool for emerging bands than MySpace. Amateur music videos (AMVs) are very popular. Generally they focus around a television show, a video game, or an anime of some kind, and often the focus is on a specific couple. So here is what you do:

1. Take your most romantic and beautiful song.
2. Get someone to make a video for it using clips from something popular.
3. Make a regular video for the same song showing you and how cute you are (straight performance is probably easiest).
4. Make sure the information with both videos points to your web pages, ideally where people can buy your music and learn more about you.

The most popular TV couple seems to be Clark and Chloe on Smallville. For movies, Ron and Hermione from the Harry Potter series are big. For anime, unless you have one you are passionate about, I don’t know. Naruto might have the most but it is hard to keep track because there are so many. For video games, there are a lot of Kingdom Hearts videos, but the comments always say that they came for the song and did not know about the game, and that is not what you are going for. Stick to Final Fantasy VIII or X.

I know the first songs I looked up were “Here Without You” by Three Doors Down and “Rest in Pieces” by Saliva (I was feeling maudlin that night), but that led to me seeing more about Samurai X and Final Fantasy Advent Children. I think what finally led me to Final Fantasy VIII was Evanescence, “Bring Me Back to Life”, but that led to Sacrifice, and finding also a Kingdom Hearts AMV for it and one from The Crow which is excellent, though a bit bloody.

Anyway, it’s one more way to reach out. But I personally don’t have any video capture software, or any obsessions with fictional couples for that matter, so I probably can’t help. When I learn how to use my camcorder, I will film the performance video. Just ask.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

How we learned to stop worrying and ditch the conference

Happy Halloween. I was planning on going to a haunted house tonight, but I am battling a cold and did not feel up to it. That makes the being overworked harder. I have been bringing my laptop home at night so I could get some extra work done, but there is a bed here, and I can’t resist it. There is no bed in the office so I can work pretty well.

Anyway, last night I talked about people sucking, so it seemed like a good lead-in for the second half of our San Francisco experience. Yes, I wrote about the places we saw and the things we did, but not why we were there or what we were supposed to be doing.

In April, my friend Christy and I attended a mid-singles conference in Huntington Beach. Normally there are conferences and things for young single adults (under 30) and adult singles (over 30). With a wide range like that, it is easy for a 35 year old to feel like she doesn’t really want to date people her father’s age. The mid-singles conference was for ages 28-40 and seemed like a good idea. We went, had a pretty good time, and while there saw another one advertised.

This one was for San Francisco, in September. The age range was a little wider (27-45), but it was still mid-singles. When it was announced, the person doing so stated flat out that they weren’t going to be doing all these workshops and service projects—it was just going to be a party. They were reserving a fleet of motorized trolleys for a city tour, Ghirardelli Square for sundaes, a cruise around the harbor, and the De Young Museum.

On the one hand, shallow is not really a recommendation, and if it was hard to get to know people in Huntington Beach, this would be much worse. On the other hand, I hadn’t been to San Francisco beyond one afternoon when I was ten or twelve, and there were things I wanted to see, so it seemed like a good idea. Also, the shallower it was, the better the odds of getting my sisters to come.

We talked about it and decided to go with one stipulation. There was no way they were going to go on a boat dance, which is what the harbor cruise was. They had a bad experience many years ago, and as lame as dances can be (saying this as someone who used to love them), putting it into a venue where your only escape is to jump overboard is a risky proposition. I agreed, so we planned on our Alcatraz tour for that night.

Checking in at Huntington Beach, they looked up our names and registrations and gave us our wristbands, a program where they stapled the places and times we needed to be and put in our gifts. (These were a notebook and a key chain shaped like a surfboard, so nothing fancy, but they were organized for that.) In San Francisco, at the De Young Museum, they looked up our names and gave us a wristband. There was an attempt to start a scavenger hunt, but it didn’t work out, so we were basically roaming free until it was time to board the trolleys at 8:30.

Initial reports had indicated this would be a reception and there would be food and drinks. That is probably why so many people were desperately trying to get food at the museum café. We had eaten before, and it was a good thing. At 8:30 we found out that the buses would be late. This was a slight concern for those who drove, because the garages were going to close at midnight, and they needed to be back. Also, for those who were taking taxis, hoping for one in the dark in the middle of Golden Gate State Park could be risky.

Finally, the trolleys came. There were supposed to be two kinds of rides: trolleys for plain sightseeing and double-decker buses for speed dating. We had decided to stick with the trolleys so we could concentrate on the sights. At the head of the line was a U-Haul full of the souvenir blankets, which they were tossing out for people to grab. As we tried to board the first trolley, a girl blocked the entrance insisting on one guy to board for every two girls who got on.

That was a slight concern, because the ratios should not matter for plain sightseeing, but the real issue with barring entrance to a trolley is that they are actually four entrances, so people just started streaming in. We found seats, and as it was pulling away a woman with a microphone in the middle talked to us about speed dating. She was really special, so I will write more about her in a minute, but first I would just like to point out how easy it would have been to have people indicate whether they were interested in speed dating or not during online registration, and then assign them a bus or trolley number at check-in while handing them their blanket.

Anyway, this time we felt like we should ask, so I mentioned to our group activity leader that we were under the impression that speed dating was only on the buses, wasn’t that what was going on? I don’t know what’s going on, she confessed, but that did not stop her, despite the fact that there were three men on the bus for about fifteen women. So she kept calling two-minute intervals for people to trade off asking questions, but we could not move around on the moving vehicle, so we were just supposed to turn to different sides.

She wasn’t the type to let a lack of information or resources deter her. She had volunteered to be a tour guide despite knowing nothing about San Francisco after all, which she admitted. She actually asked the driver to act as our guide because of that, which he declined, but she was so bad that after a while he started pointing things out to us and telling us about them. She was still able to impart a lot of information about herself to us, so I guess she contributed.

We did have a few stops, including one to get cocoa, and people did change seats some. I did end up with a guy next to me at one point. He seemed to be on the older end of the scale, and my sisters later asked about his shop glasses, so yes, I guess he looked like a nerd, but that was not the problem.

He started out sounding a little off, by talking about how he was a healer and he healed people with his hands, and how people are sick because they eat fake food instead of real food. Although he was sounding a little bit off, I have been thinking about trans-fats and high-fructose corn syrup lately, and I tried to find common ground. I’m polite. Sadly I think this was a tactical error, as it may have only encouraged him to get crazier.
Suddenly, after finding out I was a history major, he was asking if I had ever studied the real people’s history of the United States, not the one in books, and about things that God wouldn’t do, and how revelation isn’t real because it happens on the astral plane, but the woman telling him he was a healer but she couldn’t do anything with him because there were seven other spirits around him stopping her was real. Anything I said in partial agreement resulted in still being contradicted and spouting off more, and hey, if I want that kind of a conversation I’ll look up my father. And then there was less and less I could pretend to agree to at all. He was just so eager to show me the error of my ways and I have dealt with crazy and with arrogant before but at the same time when you are not even cute and you have bad breath? Maybe he was rich, but I didn’t find out. I later heard him advising our tour guide to eat nuts and berries to train for her swim, and saw another girl shaking her head when he was talking to her.

So we made it back, and our trolley driver took pity on the poor naïve Mormons, so he offered anyone going into downtown a ride, and even though his initial plan seemed to only be to drop us off to where we could easily get a cab or walk, he ended up taking everyone up to their hotel doors. It may have been the residual horror from finding out that two of the girls were staying at the YMCA. He called out an extra “Be careful” when they got off, let me tell you. His compassion was nonetheless appreciated.

So, from our experience so far, things were disorganized, the people were a little more uptight and shallow, and since we were there for fun, we did not feel it would be responsible to put these people in charge of our fun, especially since we had realized by this point that we wanted to see everything on this trip so we would not have to go back. So, we did not go back to the conference, at all. The way the sundae party was scheduled we could not attend it and make our tour anyway, so it was just missing the games at Golden Gate Park and the Sunday activities, and we could live with this.

So, do I have regrets? Not really. For one thing, we did see the city and met our goals there. Also, I ran into one old friend, and through her got the number for another old friend, so there were some connections made, even if they were not male.

We did not end up getting any of the food we paid for, but I heard from someone else that the Jamba Juice never showed up Saturday, much like the reception, so going would not have helped that. I guess it was kind of an expensive blanket.

I would not go to a San Francisco conference again, but I would try another city, and I would go back to Huntington Beach. It is playing into stereotypes, but yes, I prefer beach bums to urban hipsters. Also, I would really like to throw one here.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


When I mention my writing at work, the most common assumption is that I am working on a comedy, because I crack wise a lot. So, when they find out it is a spy thing or a vampire thing, they are surprised.

Honestly, the spy thing surprised me too, but vampires make sense because while not really an obsession, the have figured in my dreams a lot, and that is where I get a lot of my ideas. This is also completely logical, because my worst fears fit in nicely with vampires.

It started with a mild phobia of being bitten that I had growing up. I was not scared of animals in general, but any time it looked like a dog was going to bite, or any animal, or even my younger sisters (it’s been a long time, but they did fight dirty back in the day), I would go into this irrational panic. It wasn’t debilitating, but it bugged me. I never mentioned it to anyone until I was in I think my junior year of high school, when I admitted it to my mother. She immediately wondered aloud whether it was because of Prince.

Prince was a dog that my family had when I was born. When I was brought home from the hospital, and laid down for a moment, he tried to eat me. No real damage was done, though we no longer had a dog after that. I had always known about the incident, but I had never made the connection. Suddenly, it made sense. I don’t really know that this was the origin, but it was logical. Probably all I saw was teeth, which could account for the fear being of bites and not dogs. In a development that would make Freud proud, that was the end of my phobia. Understanding it ended it. But the nightmares had already happened.

The first was the worst nightmare I have ever had. I was six, and I was scared of the dark. Well, I did not want to be moving around in my room in the dark. I shared a room with my older sister, and we had agreed to alternate turning off the lights at bedtime, but I would often try to get out of it on my nights by pretending to already be asleep. I had outsmarted myself this time because I went to bed without my teddy bear, Karen, and once the light was off I could not go and get her. (I was six, okay. It only gets worse if we get into Karen’s origins.)

So though I was not completely comfortable, I did fall asleep, and I dreamed that I was in the gym at school, with my sister and all the neighborhood kids, and a bunch of others, and a vampire burst in. In a move that I know came from watching Scooby Doo, I jumped into my sister’s arms. She dropped me and ran away, leaving me to face the vampire alone. (I know it was a dream, but she totally would have done that in real life too.)

This woke me up, or so I thought. I was in my bed in our dark bedroom, but the vampire was looming over me still. I screamed and dove under the covers, waiting for parental aid. No one came. I asked my mother about that the next morning. She had heard something, but she thought it was my younger sisters so she checked on them, didn’t find anything, and went back to bed. Scarred for life, I tell ya’.

Anyway, I suppose there were other thoughts and dreams, but the main notable one happened in ninth grade. I was with my family and we were driving along this mountain road near sunset and had some car trouble. Someone stopped and talked to us, and my instincts told me he was a vampire. To check, I tried looking at him using the car mirror, but I saw his reflection just fine, so okay. We went on to town, but suddenly things started getting weird and everyone was under the mind control of this guy, who was in fact a vampire, and there were burning red fingerprints where he had grabbed my arm.

This was not a wake-up screaming nightmare. I’m not sure if I have had any of those since I was six. It was just an eerie feeling all day type of nightmare, mainly because it was bugging me that I saw his reflection. Then I had my super-smart breakthrough.

The reason vampires are not supposed to have reflections is that they don’t have a soul, and the reflection was tied in with the soul. That is not how reflections work; it’s a light refraction thing. But this is not about physics.

Anyway, I toyed with this a lot, and started working on a story—not with much dedication, but it was kind of always there. It took a different shape when I was in college, and then I realized that it was kind of trite. That wasn’t good, so I made a library trip and checked out some books and read a whole slew of vampire stories. I dreamt that night, and while my dream was inspired by the stories, it was still my own thing and it fixed the story and made it much more interesting.

Other changes and adaptations have taken place. I think I pretty much have it down now. That was actually the first screenplay that I started, but I have not finished it, and if I am focusing on things to sell, I am not sure I want to hand that one off. It would be really easy to make it lurid and cheapen it, and at this point I don’t really trust anyone else with it. I mean, I have been working on it for twenty years now, in a manner of speaking. And honestly, it has changed a lot. Nothing is really left of the dream, though those images may pop up somewhere else, but the reflection thing is still important, and the story that has taken its place is more mature and intriguing.

I do have one other vampiric fear, and that is an aversion to people who suck the life out of you. Going by the nine personality type model as put forth by Daphne Rose Kingma, I am a people pleaser. I want to make people happy, and do things for them. There is another type, called the attention seeker, that really want your attention and focus and maybe praise but sometimes they will take insults just don’t ignore me. I have gotten drawn in with these people, and what happens is that you try and try to fill the hole, but you can’t. They always want more, and will suck you bone dry and then continue sucking because that is what they do. They suck. Metaphorically.

Over time I have developed an aversion to them, when I can’t barely manage to be nice because I am too busy plotting my escape route. Perhaps it is wrong of me, but all I can say is “You shall not feast on me!” (Scrubs reference.)

So vampires are always a theme for me. The twenty-year project is actually a trilogy with a spin-off television series, one of my completed short stories is vampirish, though not exactly, and there are lots of things I have never put to paper (or hard drive) but I have still thought. And there are things I prefer about them to other monsters. Zombies are just gross, but vampires leave a good-looking corpse and usually you don’t turn at once so you have a chance to fight it. I like that better than the whole werewolf one bite and you are eternally cursed thing.

I just remembered one other vampire dream. Based on who was in it, I must have already been in college, so I was already after the bite phobia. Vampires were taking over (as they do) and some of us who were out at night had scattered to hide. One guy was missing when we got back together, and when he came back I was so relieved that I gave him a hug, but it wasn’t enough, so I hugged him again harder and kissed him.

Of course, he wasn’t my boyfriend, who got mad, and was probably going to end up cooperating with the vampires, but forget that part. Just go hug someone you are glad to see, whether or not they have recently escaped from vampires.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Bleeding heart Spork

I worked eleven hours today and I am still not caught up. I am less behind, so that is something. Anyway, some of the ecstasy of finishing the first draft has been worn off, but then it comes back to me. Still, I am feeling a little more serious now, so it seemed natural to turn to politics.

I voted last week, the same day the ballot came. It was just such a beautiful thing to only have two measures, and I already knew what they were about and what I was going to do and I could just go for it. With regard to signature gatherers, I know a lot of people feel like why not sign? Just put it before the people and let them decide. I disagree.

It is not merely that people are often stupid, greedy, and shortsighted (though when you work in customer service, the stupid part keeps coming back to haunt you). I understand that human frailty is just a part of democracy. However, when you have twenty-eight ballot measures plus candidates, it is really hard to put in enough time to understand each issue and make good decisions. If the issue on the petition looks at all evil, stupid, or unnecessary, I don’t sign, and I feel good about that.

For this election we have two distinct ballot measures with strong opinions on either side, and I like the clarity. No one should be terribly surprised that I voted yes on both, but I will go over my reasons.

I think of Measure 49 as an attempt to establish some middle ground between the extremes of Measure 37. Granted, the people who wanted 37 passed are for the most part disagreeing that 49 will help them at all, but I believe that it can. First off, one thing that 37 did not take into account was that allowing one person to develop the full value of their land could reduce the value of their neighbor’s land, leading to an endless cycle of law suits. That would not be good.

Secondly, the opponents are being pretty disingenuous. There are elderly couples saying they will lose everything if 49 passes. No, you will still have your land, and I bet you can still sell it for significantly more than you paid forty years ago. There is no inherent right to become wealthy from land sales. For the ones saying that yes, they filed to build 115 homes, but they are only going to build 3, rii-iiiight. Okay, you are not lying, you were just advised to file for the maximum amount. That makes me feel so much better.

We have some amazing land in the Willamette Valley—fertile and beautiful. Once you pave it over, you can’t get that back. As oil prices continue to rise, increasing the cost of transporting everything, we are going to be increasingly grateful that we have agriculture nearby. As for the concerns about water supply, that is only going to become more of a concern in the future. This is something worth protecting.

For Measure 50, okay, I know the stereotype that a liberal never meets a tax that he doesn’t like, and that it is totally cliché to hate the tobacco industries just because they make a product that is addictive and fatal, and they market it to kids and teenagers because hey, very few people make it to adulthood without smoking and suddenly decide to start so you need to get them young, and that’s not evil—that’s just capitalism.

That being said, I think there are some very good points in favor of 50, not the least of which is that it will act as a deterrent to youth smoking because one of the things that really has an impact (and that you can control) is cost. I guess it was a cute idea to have the tobacco industry fund anti-smoking ads for youth, but oddly enough, their ads make me want to smoke (perhaps their heart wasn’t really in it), so we will have to look for other deterrents.

The arguments against it are that it is writing a tax into the constitution, and that it is not fair or sensible to put the cost of children’s health care on smokers. Well, I would totally have been for the expansion of SCHIP, or probably even for socialized health care (that’s a more complicated topic), but this is what we have to work with, and it still makes sense. Smoking has a deleterious effect on the health of the general population, so putting the tax here provides some recompense. If the extra expense encourages some people to quit smoking—great, there won’t need to be as much health funding. It isn’t just the smokers. There is second-hand smoke too.

For the constitution part, okay, the Oregon constitution is not quite the sacred document that the United States Constitution is, nor should it be. Not only is there a long history of putting various things in there, it is absolutely necessary now. Our gutless state legislature won’t do it. The Oregonian charted it all out a while back that you can’t even get your issue on the main floor for a vote if you are not a political contributor. They ought to raise some of the alcohol taxes too, actually, because they are ridiculously low, and alcohol will see tobacco’s health problems and raise it traffic problems and domestic problems. But you know what industries donate a lot of political money? The Oregon initiative process isn’t perfect, but it is necessary, especially now.

Anyway, that’s how I voted and why. Now I have six minutes left to post and still have it count as today. See you tomorrow.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Progress at last!

Jubilation! Ecstasy! Delight! I finished the first draft of my first screenplay about 1:30 this morning.

Granted, there is a lot more work to be done, between revising it and writing other scripts and getting into the whole business of selling, but it still feels pretty good. It is too short, but I think by the time I go through and format it correctly, and do rewrites where things get added and clarified, it will end up being okay.

So yes, I feel good, but I do need to take a break from this project so when I go back for edits I can see it with clear eyes. One thing that was happening while I was in the middle (and actually, for a long time) is that I would frequently think about blogging on various topics, and then simply not get to it. My plan is to blog every day this week, and catch up on at least some of those ideas. Really, it would take quite a while to catch up on the whole once a week goal that I had in mind when I started this, but daily for one week should be possible—except for the way my work life is falling apart.

Anyway, since we have already talked about the writing, and about how stoked I am, I thought for today I would just talk about that more. The first question you may have is how do I know it is too short? Well, it is only sixty-five pages. Formatting fixes could probably add another five to ten pages. Honestly, it was only sixty pages, but then I read that you are supposed to use Courier New, 12 point, and I was in 10 point Times New Roman, so just changing that added five pages.

The reason this is important is because one page translates to roughly one minute of screen time. The standard had been 120 pages for a while, for two-hour movies. There had been some tendency more recently to have really long bloated scripts, and that may be rebounding back into some shorter movies.

Content is also a factor. For example, of the eighteen films currently showing at Movies on TV, most of the dramas and action films are closer to two hours and most of the comedies and kids films are closer to an hour and a half. There are exceptions. Game Plan (a comedy involving a kid) is almost two hours, and Resident Evil: Extinction is closer to ninety minutes.

It does have to work within the context of the film, but since my script is a spy flick, it should probably be closer to two hours. Also, since I am completely new and inexperienced, I should probably not deviate too far from the norm, lest it become more obvious that I don’t know what I’m doing. Maybe I should lengthen the car chase.

In terms of marketing itself, this should be the tricky part. Once upon a time screenplay submission was very similar to any kind of manuscript submission, but due to lawsuits nowadays you can pretty much only submit scripts through agents or entertainment lawyers. Before, it was hard to get an agent to look at you until you had sold something. Well, it probably still is hard, but now it is necessary. I think the entertainment lawyer is for people who are already in the business and know they want to work together.

Knowing somebody can help a lot. I don’t know anybody—at least I am not currently in touch with anybody that would be helpful. The best contact would probably be Ko. Ko taught three of the four workshops I took a few years back, and he has worked in the industry a lot. As you may have guessed, Ko is a nickname. I believe it is short for Kevin O’Neil, but it isn’t really enough information to track him down.

There are possibilities within the area itself. Dark Horse just produced a film, and I could always try stalking Danny Glover. Really, filming happens fairly regularly in the area, so there could always be opportunities there for finding contacts.

Several months ago I did review all of my brushes with famous people, but the only one of those who was even into entertainment was Kelly Packard, and our contact was fleeting enough and long enough ago that I wouldn’t feel right. Then there’s that other guy that I have loved hopelessly and endlessly since 1992, and then confessed my love to and didn’t hear anything back—he used to work in film. Still, I think it would be awkward. And hey, I know some people who know Henry Rollins. He acts sometimes, but they are not currently in touch with him.

Ultimately, the most practical thing might be to sign up for a screenwriting class, and make contacts that way, and that might be something that I would look into for January. For right now, I really feel like the most important thing is to keep writing. I still have a lot to work on in terms of establishing discipline and routines and consistently taking time to write. What I accomplish in terms of habits over the next two months could easily make the difference for the rest of my life. Once I really am on target with my writing, I feel like the next step will become clear.

That is one thing about me, in that I always like to have a complete plan from start to finish. It pretty much never works out that way. If nothing else, I am getting more comfortable about not having that plan.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Our hearts did not even try to stay in San Francisco

Actually, it’s kind of a relief. There are so many places that I want to go to, but have never been, and I kept going to places where I also wanted to go back, so I felt like I was getting into a real travel deficit. It is reassuring to know that there are some places where I can go and just be done.

San Francisco was not horrible, but it wasn’t charming enough to make me forget its shortcomings. Fortunately I am gifted at having a good time wherever I go, so I am not bad, and I don’t feel like the trip was wasted, I just can’t recommend how great it is.

We did start out with a few bad omens. The ground transportation layout is confusing, and we could not find the shuttle we wanted, so we just ended up taking a cab. No one so far has been as good as Super Shuttle in Anaheim, but my only basis for comparison there is San Francisco and Toronto.

Our cab driver was good, and the travel time between the airport and hotel was quite speedy both ways. However, we passed them cleaning up an apparent murder scene four blocks from our hotel (and we were in a good part of town!) and then there was a problem with our reservation when the stay ended up costing about twice what we had planned. The guy at the desk was really a jerk too. There was some temptation to just walk out on them, but it was 9:30 at night in a city we didn’t know and we were tired. Also, in that exchange we found out what the standard prices were for that hotel, and when we got to the room we could see that it those prices were ridiculous. Yes, the TV was a flat-screen, but that isn’t enough.

Our room was on the 29th floor, and the night view outside was pretty. The next disappointment was when morning came, and the day view was not pretty. I care a lot about architecture, and design, and I could see that there was planning and artistry in the buildings, and yet somehow I did not like them. Everything struck me as kind of dingy—downright tacky in some areas. I wasn’t expecting that. I mean, that’s the way I describe Springfield, but they have an excuse for it. (That is Springfield, Oregon, and their excuse would be post-timber economic depression.)

Anyway, I researched to find information on McDonalds (for cheap breakfast) and transportation routes to everywhere we were going to go, so the plan was to have breakfast and then on to the zoo. That did essentially work out. Breakfast was a little more expensive than it would be in Aloha, but still better than trying to eat at the hotel. My information on the transportation worked perfectly, so that we always knew where to go, but there were some downsides to the transportation situation.

People praise BART and MUNI quite a bit, and they are correct to a point, in that there is transportation to anywhere you want to go, it is reasonably priced, and it comes frequently. It is also very crowded, not particularly friendly, and you have to give them exact change in coins. Okay, some people do complain about not being about to get change on Tri-met, but they do take bills, and if you are a little short the driver will usually let you on anyway. Every time we wanted to go somewhere, we had to come up with $4.50 in quarters. I had decided at home that the passes cost more than made sense for the amount of riding we would do, but some of it is probably a convenience fee. Even if we take Portland out of the equation as a smaller city, I am more impressed with DC, and Seattle too if I remember correctly.

The Zoo was fine. The price was not unreasonable, the exhibits seemed good both in terms of animal comfort and visibility, and there was a good variety of animals. It is sad that the creatures of Australia, with its scorching days, are primarily nocturnal, so that the kangaroos just lounge around and the koalas sleep like grey fuzz balls in a tree, but it is still cool that they are there. The penguin exhibit was very impressive—open air and fun to watch. That is a huge improvement over Washington Park.

We spent most of the day there, heading back for dinner and to change before going to the museum. Dinner was at the Boudin Bakery Café on Market, and it was really good. I had the Bavarian Ham and Swiss sandwich, and I recommend it. It ended up being very lucky that we ate, but it put us later than intended, so even though I had a bus route planned to the De Young Museum, we ended up grabbing a cab again.

This cab driver was not good. He had never heard of it, so I gave him the address and then he drove past it. The museum is on Tea Garden Drive, so he tried to take us to the Tea Garden. Cab drivers should be familiar with tourist attractions.

The museum fit in perfectly with the city, in that there was attention paid to the design, and yet I did not like it. The tower is a cool concept, but it’s also a bit of an eyesore. I did get some good pictures from the top, though, and I did really like the way they lit the grounds. The art itself was lackluster, and live music every Friday is only cool if it is good music. Being driven outdoors to escape the caterwauling is not ideal, but hey, it’s also the reason that I know the outside lighting was cool. Also, the cafeteria was hopelessly overpriced and high brow.

We then took our night trolley tour of the city. The trolleys were cool, and it was a good way to see things. There were other problems with the ride, but the will have to wait. Golden Gate State Park is lovely, especially the Fine Arts Pavilion. The Citadel is not very scenic, but it’s cool to know that Lucasfilm is there. The Golden Gate Bridge is also pretty cool, but honestly I think the Bay Bridge is prettier. Our driver was very good, and returned several of us to our hotels.

Saturday morning we started off the same way, except that this time instead of going from McDonalds underground to catch a train, we stayed above ground and caught a street car going to the wharf. We needed to be ready to board our boat to Alcatraz at 6 PM at Pier 33, so we thought we would start out around Pier 47 (and Ghirardelli Square) and work our way back.

My expectations about Ghirardelli Square come from a drama piece my friend Danielle did in tenth grade, where we had to go into a memory invoking all five senses. She chose a visit she had made with her family there, but the memory was from her childhood, and tenth grade isn’t exactly recent, so you know what? There is no chocolate factory, and no chocolate smell in the air, not that many flowers, and so the only thing that really seemed right was the sight of the red bricks. There were two chocolate stores, one attached to an ice cream parlor where you could get the famous sundaes, and the rest was other dining and specialty shopping. We looked around, and we did buy some chocolate, but we weren’t impressed. We did not even end up getting the sundaes, as they looked overrated. We did eat lunch at a diner there, which was pretty good but too filling to leave room for sweets.

Onward to Pier 39, I could definitely have a strong sensory memory here. I heard the cry of seagulls, felt the slick pier under my feet (through my shoes), saw the throngs of people among the brightly colored buildings, and smelled fish. Everywhere. I know, you should expect to be surrounded by seafood restaurants on a pier, it’s logical. Still, it stinks.

We started out at the aquarium. It is pretty small, but not bad. The focus seems to be more ecological in nature than wowing you with variety, so most of the displays are native fish. There are really only four exhibits. You start upstairs with random tanks, take an elevator down below for the two tunnels, and when you go back up there are touch pools and the gift shop. They do seem to have some good family oriented programs.

My sisters were not interested in the touch pools, and I had already touched skates and dogfish at Huntington Beach (along with other things this one did not have), so our main interest was the tunnels. The first one represents what you would find in the bay, and the second is the deeper ocean you would find as you moved outside of the bay.

There is a certain wonder to being under water, and in the tunnels you do not need a mask or air or anything like that, so they were really cool, but you wouldn’t go to San Francisco just for the aquarium, because there are fancier ones elsewhere. We enjoyed it, and I had a coupon, so that was good.

We wandered by the shops and carousel, but were not really interested. We did like the sea lions, but you really just watch them for a few minutes and then you’re done. Maybe it was just too crowded. We sat on various secluded benches until it was time for dinner, and then went to the Boudin café for dinner. This time we had the chowder in bread bowls. It’s famous, so you need to have it.

Now, one thing that I did get from San Francisco is a greater appreciation of Disney’s California Adventure, because they copy parts of it and they do a pretty good job. They have a replica of the Fine Arts Pavilion at the entrance to Golden Dreams, and they have a wharf area, and they really captured the look. But their chowder was better. The bread bowl was fine, but the chowder was a little on the runny side, and fishier in flavor. Mo’s has much better chowder, and Steamer’s in Seattle is okay, but Boudin’s was not great. Now, there are lots of other places in San Francisco that sell chowder, so I am not saying you cannot get good chowder there, but I think I am going to need to make some of my own in a week or so to compensate.

The Alcatraz tour was awesome. You get to ride on a boat twice, which is always cool with me, but on its own the night tour is really cool. You get useful information on the boat, and during the audio tour, and from guides. Be warned, from the pier to the prison you walk up the equivalent of four uphill city blocks, and then the first thing you do in the prison is head up a flight of stairs, but its worth it. (There is a tram for the physically impaired, but we had too much pride to fake it.) I did go in one solitary confinement cell, but I didn’t go all the way in or stay long. It doesn’t feel good. Just because it should be impossible for the door to suddenly slam shut on you, well, it doesn’t matter. I could not do the time, so I will simply need to continue my crime-free lifestyle.

Because it was night, after we got back we very much needed a taxi, but there were two other groups before us, and the one cab that came by we all let the woman with the walker take. Eventually the other couple gave up and started walking towards 39, and shortly after we did too. We finally did find one on the way, who had to make a very tricky maneuver to get to us, and with all the stress and desire for speed I hit my face on the door getting in. No visible marks but I was sore for a few days.

One thing that was nice about Pier 33 is that there were recycle bins. We are fanatical about that, and will take things home rather than throw them out, so we decided to take our bottles there since we needed to go to that area anyway. We got on the street car, getting off at 33 and dropping off bottles. We then walked to the Boudin flagship store to buy fresh bread for the person who would be picking us up at the airport that night. (The other Boudin locations have the bread delivered in the morning, but at the store it is being baked every hour.) We got on the car again, and this time took it up to Ghirardelli again because that was the turnaround point to get back into town, and we could try the fancy cupcakes at Kara’s.

They were okay, but we were expecting something more special. The place was set up like a jewelry store, so shouldn’t the cupcakes be little gems? Or maybe a place where you buy baked goods should look like a bakery. I did get an idea there for a combination I want to try, but those were not three dollar cupcakes in value, regardless of the attached price. Do you see a trend?

Anyway, back in town we walked to House of Nanking, a restaurant in Chinatown that an acquaintance had recommended. We tried the famous sesame chicken and had pot stickers on the side. It was good, but I think I prefer Jin Wah right in Beaverton. We could have wondered in Chinatown more, we could have gone to the Levi flagship store, or we could have gone to the corner of Haight and Ashbury and taken a picture of the sign, but we didn’t feel a need. We were done with the city. We did have a good trip to the airport, a good dinner at the Boudin café there, and a good flight, but it was mainly good to be home.

To sum up, the zoo and the aquarium were good, Alcatraz was great, and I had an excellent sandwich that first night (none of the other Boudins had that one on the menu for some reason), but the city wasn’t that pretty or that fun. The sidewalks are wider than I have ever seen, but they are still so crowded and no one there cares about you. Maybe I am not really a city girl. A lot of people compared San Francisco to New York, and that may be accurate. I would compare it to the Pearl—the snootiest part of Portland. Also, although it was not a problem on this trip, I think if I was there for a prolonged period the large percentage of bachelors who are simply not eligible would get annoying. That being said, the straight men seem to be a lot more demonstrative with their women. Maybe they feel like they have something to prove.