Sunday, September 30, 2007

Nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so

Took a break from writing a paper on Census data on ethnic residential trends, and watched Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. I'd seen snippets in high school, but never the whole feature; and I know it was originally a Tom Stoppard play, but I'd never read it. Of course, I generally tend to like weird dialogue-heavy films with pseudo-existential undertones. S I also have a soft spot for alternate and/or parallel storylines. o I liked R&G. It helped that Hamlet is my favorite Shakespeare play.

The two minor characters from the play are the main characters in this film, and it's great to see them having their own odd stories that occasionally overlap with the Hamlet storyline, whenever they have dialogues. (Weird analogy: it's kind of like a Jasper Fforde tale, where characters in books can have their own lives, until their scenes in books...) The banter between the two main characters, as well as others, alternated between nonsense and macabre. It's brilliant. Tim Roth and Gary Oldman were great as the title characters, and Richard Dreyfuss was excellent as the leader of the theatre troupe that performs "The Murder of Gonzago" in Hamlet. (The theatre troupe has an odd role in this film -- they're kind of a band of marauding philosophers/angels of death/instruments of fate.)

My favorite scene was the Questions game, played on a tennis court (or badminton?) That was incredible, as was later applying the same rules and analysis to Hamlet's conversation and behavior in an attempt to determine his malady. Great film, with some great maze-like sequences and shots to parallel the maze-like dialogue.

Then I decided to make it a hats-off-to-Shakespeare night, and watched Kiss Me Kate (based on Taming of the Shrew, which I read when I was 15 because a friend said I'd hate it, and it turned out he was right). It happened to be available on the Netflix online viewing list. So in one night I watched spinoffs of my favorite and my least favorite works of the Bard!

I love musicals, and Cole Porter's words and music were typically witty. (One song lyric goes "[I'll marry] any Tom Dick, or Harry, any Tom, Harry, or Dick! I said a Dick, a Dick, a Dick, a Dick, a Dick....!" Yes, the term was around back them, and yup, Cole Porter was gay, and I dare anyone to pretend those lyrics were an accident. But maybe I should have suggested the song for a certain wedding I was in in May.) At any rate, Cole Porter wrote great songs, and the ones in Kiss Me Kate have dazzlingly clever lyrics.

Like the play it's based on, the movie does the play-within-a-play thing: the main idea is that two feuding exes, who you can tell from the first scene are pretending they don't still have the hots for each other, star in a modern take on Taming. Naturally their story parallels the Taming production being played out on the stage. But except for the CP songs, I didn't like the rest of the film. It got bogged down by cheesiness: New Yawk gangstas, loyal servants, the working class couple subplot. The two main characters are haughty and egotistical, and I didn't actually care if they got back together in the end, though it was obvious they would, despite having significant others in the way. And of course, the end of Kiss Me Kate has the same offensive monologue I resented in Taming of the Shrew, though thankfully not in its entirety. The whole time, I was a little creeped out by the 1950s gender roles, and what a horribly propagandistic message it sent. I say propagandistic because it wasn't just innocently and passively reflecting the values of its time, as many people too simply believe cultural products do: it was pretty blatantly transmitting a manual on how wives are not worthy of husbands and should basically be their slaves. And the whole idea that women, whether in a play written 400 years ago, or in a film made half a century ago, need to be "tamed" to submit to marriage and men is horrid. Arrrrrrgggggh. But the Cole Porter songs redeemed it.

Reason not to run out and read something someone tells you you'll probably hate: years later you might watch the movie and then not be able to stop ranting. After Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead I should've just gone back to the paper, to cold hard Census data and demographic patterns, but nooooo....

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Auntie B

In a hilarious and anecdotal follow-up, apparently around the time I called Seattle and La Madre shouted “The baby! The baby!” excitedly when the phone rang, my bro-in-law called his mother in LA, who did the same thing. Except that she had visiting neighbor ladies, and visiting neighbor ladies anywhere always get excited easily, so when she shouted “La bebé! La bebé!” they all started prematurely celebrating and Erik had to disappoint them. And then three hours later my sister started having contractions…

I’m an aunt! \(^_^)/

Little Harmony, 7 lbs 12 oz, 19” long, born yesterday at 12:08pm. My bro-in-law described the whole excruciating process, and I learned a lot about dilation measurements (at which measurement you can have the baby, and at what point a hospital will admit you). Part of me is horrified that any woman, anywhere, ever has survived childbirth or wants to go through it again, and the other part of me is fiercely proud of my little sister for going through all that.

I heard Harmony squawking in the background when I called! \(^_^)/

They get out of the hospital on Sunday. Not uncoincidentally, that’s when La Madre arrives in Ann Arbor.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Tick tock, tick tock

One sister is due any day now. La Madre is uninterested in the birth process, having gone through it three times. She's just interested in the baby. (Yet strangely, she didn't want to know the gender so we've all had to watch our pronouns around her.) So she won't fly out to Michigan until her first grandchild is actually born. I kept trying to urge her to fly out beforehand, to be supportive (especially since she has something like 6 weeks' vacation time saved up), but she keeps giving dramatic and exasperated sighs and saying "Why? Why? Why would I fly out there if there's no baby?" So she has her bag packed, ready to go at a moment's notice.

The other pregnant sister (only 4 months along) was at La Madre's house this evening, when I called to double-check my pediatric immunization records so the University doesn't make me get painful shots I've already had. Apparently La Madre heard the phone ring, and RAN from the other side of the room, screaming "The baby! The baby! It's the baby!" But it wasn't, it was just me. And I was told in no uncertain terms that I only had a few minutes to explain my vaccination documentation verification problem, because The Call might come from Ann Arbor any minute.

As the eldest grandchild on one side, I can state with some experience that this will be one spoiled granddaughter. =) And this one's the first on both sides!

Half a world away...

I thought this was a pretty good backgrounder on the role of Buddhist monks in Burmese culture, even if it still doesn't lend any insight into any theological/philosophical reasons for current political protest. It kind of just says "Some monks are protesting. They're important in society. Here's why they're important." (I'm lumping this backgrounder with its other associated backgrounders. There's one that gives a timeline of events in Burma, but basically just says "The price of gas went up, there were some minor disturbances, and then some monks protested.")

That's kind of like saying some priests were involved in a lot of social and political reform movements in South and Central America, without explaining liberation theology.

But still, a decent 101 article.

Creative truths

From the freecyle listserv: "cosmetically challenged armchair." That cracked me up. Never heard "cosmetically challenged" as a euphemism before. When I was selling stuff on craigslist, I saw "gently faded," "gracefully aged," and more than likely "I'm gonna be honest, it's kinda worn and there are some stains."

But cosmetically challenged furniture, that's a new one. Is it beat up or disjointed? Is it ugly, garishly bright, or gaudy? Does it just need a mentor figure to teach it how to put on makeup, but let it know it's still beautiful anyway without it? Regardless, it's still hilarious.

... uGoogle, we allGoogle...

I love iGoogle. Lovelovelovelovelovelovelovelovelove it.

At first I didn't understand its appeal, but now I'm a true believer. Maybe because now I'm consulting my Google spreadsheet for trivia/karaoke and keeping track of my expenses for La Madre, subscribing to listservs with my Gmail account rather than my Yahoo, and checking Google reader for updates to various websites. Might as well consolidate onto one page.

It rocks.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Benchwarmer no more

Instead of grabbing a beer over trivia, the Pastor and I grabbed one at karaoke. I say that tongue-in-cheek, of course, because we were really all about the food instead, ditched the crowded trivia bar where I was briefly sketched out, and got us some grub. We had the flexibility to switch up our plans like that because, yet again, nobody else showed up for trivia.

But I finally got to sing! It's been about four weeks --way too long! I was stifling minor lingering coughs (very badly) the whole time, but at least I got to sing! I've popped my head into a few places near me, but the vibe wasn't quite right. It wasn't necessarily perfect at the Milk Way either, but it's the best I've seen so far. My only beefs were the ridiculous rotation "process"and the '70s-heavy performances (but that could've been just the evening's general mood). Other than that, it was great.

Every other week they do live-band karaoke. Since I'm supposed to be finding trivia in the boondocks where Torgo will be staying next Tuesday, I might have to wait a few weeks to try the live-band singing. But having a backup place for belting out tunes is nice!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Cabin fever! (Luckily, with furniture)

Not having spent a significant amount of time on germy college campuses in the past 6 years (coupled with a different diet and general transplant stress), it's easy to get sick. And then when the wi-fi you're sponging from some unknown benevolent neighbor becomes spotty, you're left to your own resources and a Netflix surplus for weekend entertainment while under a self-imposed quarantine.

The House of Flying Daggers wasn't really about the secret society of the movie's title. It was a love story, and a pretty predictable one at that. You know from the first couple of scenes that it can't end well. You know Zhang Ziyi isn't really blind, you know she chooses the young really hot reckless guy (I emphasize really hot and reckless) over the older, patient, creepily possessive guy. You know it's a tragedy, so someone has to die, and that it's an action flick, so the death will be violent. I had issues, though, with the heroine. Half the time she kicked ass, but the other half of the time she was just a pretty pawn in everyone else's hands, was treated as such, and played the helpless waif too much. She was either a wuss or a warrior, there was no plausible happy medium. The fight sequences were all wonderful and superbly creative. And the colors and scenes of nature were amazing and captivating -- falling leaves, falling snow, flowers, a bamboo thicket. But ultimately, I wanted more background story on the revolutionaries who were plotting to overthrow the corrupt government, and all I got was a tragic romance where all involved are supposed to learn some timeless lesson from the pain that arises from their own personal faults.

I liked Margaret Cho: Assassin a little better than some of her other films, maybe because this one seems a little more relevant. Her voice impressions were the same slightly overdone set, though: the overdone drag queen, her mother, various accents. The highlights were the political jokes. But then I always think political potshots have the potential to be funnier than anything else...

That did it for the Netflix DVDs. In between the wi-fi coming back, I was able to watch episodes of Da Ali G Show, Extras, and 'Allo 'Allo online. All of which are great, but I don't recommend watching them with a cough. Uncontrollable laughter, which is unavoidable with those shows, causes hacking fits, and makes Robitussin-glugging and blanket-wrapping mandatory.

Then, in anticipation of this week's CSI: NY premiere, which I really only watch for one of the characters (while I'm on the subject of really hot and reckless guys, and since I'm cooped up and ill), I finally read CSI NY: Dead of Winter. It was a goodbye gift that I was supposed to read on the flight over but zonked out instead. I don't think I've ever read a book based on a TV series. Or if I have, I can't recall it. Anyway, it was a little interesting to read the story rather than watch it. It's not terribly prosaic writing, it's made to read fast and is scripted like a TV show. The different being that as a reader you get to read about details you might miss on the screen, and read about characters' thoughts.
But now I'm all bouncy for Wednesday's premiere, which I'll get to watch this weekend.

More tomato soup...

Thursday, September 20, 2007


I prefer PCs. However, I've been playing around on a Mac all day, and I will admit that the icons and interface are pretty damn cool. They're slicker.

The PC next to me has Microsoft Office 2007, the one where you can drag and drop and customize your toolbars. It is also pretty cool. The buttons seem somehow softer and a little more hip. But they somehow still aren't as cool as all the little Mac buttons.

So for some psychological reason, things like the to-be-funded-and-created Encyclopedia of Life and the Visual Dictionary look really cool playing on the Mac. Either that or I'm too easily wowed by mosaic-looking collages.

Yup, I'm bored at work.

Monday, September 17, 2007

The quest continues

For the second week in a row, Xtina and I were a two-woman team at trivia. We both invited several others who, for various reasons, did not show up. Long stories, all.

This time, we were at a sports bar in Brookline. There was no paper or pen or turning in of questions after each round. It was all live: 3 topics that patrons chose comprised a round. First team to get 3 questions right won a prize. The host is self-dubbed as "The Man of TRIVIA" and is a local radio personality. He was great. His ability to think up questions on whatever topic the patrons shouted out was amazing, as was his ability to keep track of which teams had how many points. Also, he was pretty sassy and definitely talked back to the rowdy sports bar patrons. All in good fun. You could tell everybody was having a good time joking back and forth.

Problem was, the prizes were crap. They were mostly alcohol brand T-shirts. Except for the Wild Hogs bandana Xtina won. The four questions we got right first and loudest (and so got credit for) were musicals, Disney movies, and Sex and the City (all Xtina), and one about a western state (go west coast me). Other than that, there was no scoring. No team name was necessary. Whoever shouted the right answer the first and loudest got a point and a chance at winning a Malibu or Stoli tank top or T-shirt.

No ceasing from mental fight! No sword sleeping in the hand! With apologies to Blake, there is a place for us, somewhere a place for us. Perseverance!

Next week: Irish pub in Jamaica Plain named after an Irish poet, so maybe some good field research would be to peruse some of his work.

Or go back to reading about bipartisan policy agendas. Sigh....

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Lesson learned the embarrassing way #1734

When in the computer lab, with headphones, listening to your music player, do not get so caught up in your "Girl You Know It" playlist to the point where you belt out the chorus to the Selena song with the throatier, raspier vocals. People will stare, and the little undergrad on duty will come over, tap you on the shoulder, and mumble to please try and keep it down a bit.

I'm just relieved that it wasn't what I was bopping to while making breakfast this morning.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

That thing that's not a suicide pact

Years ago, Gov. Bill Richardson was my sister's college graduation speaker. Because Ari Fleischer was the alum always in the news at the time, and I was getting tired of the stodgy vibes around the campus during graduation weekend, I felt compelled to laugh loudly and longer than necessary at Richardson's jokes. (I laughed alone, and my guffaws echoed in the awkward silences to the point where my other sister kept giving me "Shut up, you're giving us another reason to stand out" looks. )

I don't really care about football scandals (I've only been to two football games in my life, one in high school because I figured I should before I left, and once in college with the incoming international students who wanted to see the great American sport in action.) So I'm a little indifferent. I don't care who taped whom or for what purpose.

But Richardson released this statement yesterday, and again I'm laughing but for entirely different reasons:
"The President has been allowed to spy on Americans without a warrant, and our U.S. Senate is letting it continue. You know something is wrong when the New England Patriots face stiffer penalties for spying on innocent Americans than Dick Cheney and George Bush."

Your mission, should you choose to accept it...

Friday, September 14, 2007

Study break!

I decided to take a break from reading about copyright and fair use law, and finally tried Netflix's "Watch online" offer. None of the films in my queue that were available to watch online really grabbed me, so I chose a movie I wasn't likely to choose on my own: Orgazmo. In it, Trey Parker of South Park fame plays a Mormon guy on his mission in L.A., who stumbles on an opportunity to make money for his fiancee's dream wedding: starring as a sex superhero in a porn flick.

I expected to dislike it, and I didn't. I thought it would be full of lowbrow sex jokes and bimbos and general slapstick stupidity, and it wasn't. In fact, I really, really liked it. It's a really cute movie. It's not just a parody of both the superhero and porn genres, it's also a parody of the country-boy-changes-the-Big-City idea. The drama isn't confined to the porn set, though; there's an evil nightclub owner who tries to bully a local sushi bar owner into selling his property. The Mormon kid doesn't give up or compromise his beliefs; the great thing is that the movie isn't focused on changing him at all. It's cheesy, but like all outsiders-against-the-mainstream flicks, the message is about finding community and friends where you didn't expect it.

Orgazmo was way better than Superbad, which I saw before leaving Seattle. Superbad was still a good and updated take on the graduating-high-school-boys-try-to-get-laid genre, and definitely worth seeing. It had its fill of eye-rolling middle school bodily-function jokes and ridiculous situations (everything from farts to menstrual blood), but the cultural commentator in me can push aside the prudish adult in me and recognize that such references and scenarios allow the intended audience (teenagers) to publicly normalize the fears and social horrors of adolescence. They are functional. Durkheim would understand.

It also had a lot of laugh out-loud moments. The refreshing thing was, the kids all looked like they were 18; they weren't 25-year-olds playing teenagers. Michael Cera was especially endearing, mainly because he's still the same old George Michael from Arrested Development.

But really, Orgazmo was better. It's not just hilarious, it's also heartwarming. Much love! Hahaha...


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

So if there's something you'd like to try ...

Xtina and I went to trivia yesterday, at a place by my still near-empty apartment. Nobody else we invited made it (um, long story), so it was just us Monkees against all the regulars. But the main thing was, in each round, you attached your own point value to your answers (1,3,5, or 7, or 2, 4, 6, or 8). You could only use each value once per round. This was a new twist, and I am not a fan. The problem was, we doubted ourselves too much, so we (okay, I) attached lower point values to answers we got right, leaving us with higher values for answers we got wrong and therefore didn't score.

Still, though, we didn't finish last. Although I think we were either second or third from the bottom!

I think I'm a purist when it comes to trivia -- one right answer, one point. Sometimes double points. Easy, straightforward. You either know the answer or you don't. None of this pseduo-strategy crap.

On to the next venue, next week. One that isn't run by the company that ran the one we went to yesterday.

(Torgo -- a warning, when you're here for the one day or however long it is you're here, we might drag you out to trivia... hopefully a better one.)

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Gaily bedight, a gallant knight ...

Sometimes, when you watch a movie because a particular actor is in it, you end up with weird and often depressing stuff. The Fountain was just such a bizarre and sad movie.

The storylines are slightly confusing (there are three): the first has Hugh Jackman as a conquistador looking for the Tree of Life in Guatemala, and Rachel Weisz as "a" Spanish queen (named Isabel) threatened by a land- and power-hungry Inquisitor. (It's so ludicrous, one has to overlook the historical issues one would normally have ...) The second storyline takes place now-ish, where HJ is a scientist trying to find a cure for what ails his wife (cancer? like the hazy 16th-century details, this story arc is a bit fuzzy). The third plotline is the weirdest and most confusing: is it the future? is it some state of consciousness? Whatever or wherever it is, HJ is doing yoga and floating in a bubble with a dying Tree of Life, drifting towards a nebula that is about to implode. Though he seems to have lived a very, very long time (he inks rings around himself, like a tree), the only memories he seems to have are from the 16th and 21st centuries. And in all that time, he hadn't come to terms with death.

Thankfully, the movie is fairly short. The three storylines are pretty badly tied together. (Is the 16th century one really happening? Is it just a story written by RW in the 21st? Or are all three arcs happening somehow at the same time?) I don't think anything could have saved the film. Woooooo! Mystical and violent Mayans hoarding the Tree of Life/Fountain of Youth! Spooky and violent Inquisition spiraling out of control in Spain! Images reminiscent of an Enlightened Buddha, transcending time and space and life and death! There are so many hilarious exoticized themes, it seems a little mean to tear it apart.

On the upside, and in an unrelated matter, I now have a dresser and more dishware. Xtina's church's rummage sale had some good stuff. And on the way to the rummage sale, Lady Grace and I passed several places in Jamaica Plain where, I found out later when researching and making my trivia and karaoke spreadsheets, there might be decent places to go a-quizzing and a-singing . The challenge is to drag people there. Ride, boldly ride . . .

Friday, September 07, 2007

West Coast Wimp!

+ =

On the hillside, made of ticky tacky

Woo hoo! My five UPS boxes arrived today.

No more eating with chopsticks straight out of the pot and pan! Or coffee from a glass and stirring it with a chopstick! Or crashing in my sleeping bag! Or wearing the same pair of earrings!

Unfortunately, there's still no furniture (boo IKEA shipping), but hopefully there will be some at Xtina's church's rummage sale this weekend.

Petites boites, petites boites...

Monday, September 03, 2007

Estos seis o quince años

Six years ago, I walked past Boston City Hall and noticed a huge crowd outside, cheering speakers, passing out literature, and waving signs, banners, and flags. Everyone was speaking a language I recognized as Latin-based, but couldn't place. So naturally I wandered among the crowd until I figured it out. It took me about ten minutes to recognize the Puerto Rican flag. Sadly, I did not recognize the language. The inflection is totally different, it's a little faster, and some of the consonants are varied.

After having spent the past month in the old 'hood, and readjusting to Mexican Spanish rhythms, it's now jarring to re-enter the east coast, where when someone assumes you’re Latina, they assume you’re Boricua. I'll adjust. Which is good, because I just found the place where I'll be getting some of my groceries; it's strangely the "Asian and Hispanic Market" six blocks away, and after the clerk and I exchanged basic conversational pleasantries in Spanish (he started it when I walked in) I had to switch to English and head for the half of the store that contained soy milk, racha sauce, and pancit (although I did grab some Tapatio sauce too). It was the verbs, as usual, that messed me up.

Speaking of recognizable rhythms, Quinceañera was a cute movie. Fourteen-year-old Magdalena becomes pregnant shortly before her quinceañera and has to go live with her gay outcast cousin and elderly great-uncle.

One of the themes of the movie was gentrification: the story takes place in Echo Park, and throughout are scenes or snapshots of how the neighborhood is changing. There's the uncle, who's been selling champurrados forever and has become a neighborhood legend, and there are the men in the renovated house who throw dinner parties in their hot new neighborhood and "love their Latin men." The characters are all very real, especially the teenagers and the way they talk and act around each other. The adults, though, are all a little stock-type and one-dimensional: the quiet but understanding mother, the accepting grandfather figure, the overbearing religious father.

There's also an underlying irony about the quinceañera celebration that is supposed to signify Magdalena's entry to adulthood: getting pregnant and thrown out and having to look for an apartment and deal with a loser boyfriend spurred her along to adulthood long before the big birthday.

Street theatre, front row

This Indymedia article about a neo-Nazi protest and counter-protest in Knoxville is great. Counter-demonstrations (in the U.S., at least, where they're largely nonviolent) usually turn into either vicious screaming matches or just two huge events that pretend not to notice the people on the other side of the street, and this seemed like it merrily combined both. Nobody expects intellectual discourse at protests: the organizers are for the most part preaching to the choir and trying to gain visibility, and the antis are usually just trying to make a statement to show that some segment of the population (however small) doesn't agree with the protestors. That's the same whether the counter-protestors are pro-immigrant, anti-immigrant, Nazis, homophobic, or happy rainbow people. Gotta love the First Amendment!

I love the use of the word "apparently" and the pretense of disassociation with the clowns on the part of Anti-Racist Action!

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Still Know a Hawk from a Handsaw!

It's the first night in the new place! I have "Hey There Delilah" stuck in my head, probably because it's a song I heard on the radio recently in both Seattle and Boston. And also, quite possibly, because I'm sitting in the dark in a near-empty apartment, because my lamps are still en route via UPS, and the windows are all open because I'm freaking out about a gas leak and stores closed before I could buy a chair to reach the way-up-high carbon monoxide detector to test whether or not it's working.

I am but mad north-northwest! This evening, I discovered that the pilot light on my stove went out, making the entire floor smell like gas; lightheaded and groggy (from the lack of caffeine and food, it turns out, not carbon monoxide fumes), I freaked out and called all three maintenance guys (who, I learned, are very nice). Then I locked myself out by accidentally using the lock the landlord said they're replacing soon because it doesn't unlock, so I had to call the maintenance guy I thought was least likely to hate me for calling twice in the same hour (and I chose poorly.) When Xtina called I was still slightly coherent. Then I walked for half an hour in three directions without finding the grocery store I thought existed, and realized I was dehydrated as well as uncaffeinated and hungry; so I backtracked, got water from CVS, and headed to the Trader Joe's where I used to shop six years ago. After lugging groceries back home for 15 minutes, I got back to my apartment and realized my silverware and dishware are all in the UPS boxes (estimated delivery on Wednesday), and I refuse to use plastic ones out of sheer stubbornness. I trudged out to the drug store to see if they had wooden chopsticks, but of course they didn't. Then I got back, tried to take a shower, and realized mid-water that I left all of my bath items (like soap) at Lady Grace's way north of the city, so I dried off and plodded along to the nearest drug store to buy some more items and got back to take a proper shower. That's when I realized my lamps are in a UPS truck, probably somewhere in Indiana, and I'd jettisoned the batteries from my flashlight in an effort to make the suitcase meet the 50-lb limit.

This is without a doubt the worst-planned move of my life. I, of the color-coded spreadsheets and lists little boxes to fill in when tasks are complete. But now I know where all my best-laid plans went: one of the maintenance guys said: "Wow, you really have a lot of shoes." (And I only brought about a third...)

The highlight of the day is that someone in the building has open wireless. I have always relied on the kindness of strangers!

So I have the Plain White T's stuck in my head, for no apparent reason.