Friday, December 17, 2010

The interwebs are stalking me.

Am I a guy who’s taste in popular culture is, well, unpopular? Well sure. Reason #4: there are few things I enjoy less than psychological “thrillers,” such as they are, that seem to dribble out of Hollywood at a predictable rate. And of course to me, the predictable rate of their production is matched only by the predictability of their plots. To wit: a spunky / world-weary Protagonist who is a hapless victim / detective inevitably stumbles-into / is preyed upon by a disarmingly attractive sociopath / disturbingly charismatic psychopath. Now go ahead and mix and match.

Anyway, fans of the genre will know that the above formula requires, as often as not, a scene somewhere in the movie in which Protagonist finds his or her way into the lair of the attractive sociopath / charismatic psychopath. The lair is inevitably covered in newspaper clippings, photographs and manic scribbling, all of which are a product of the aforementioned wackjob’s crazy obsession with the Protagonist, if not a general spooky madness.

So really all of this is just my characteristically long-winded way of pointing out something very simple; that there are places in the real world which are covered with clippings, pictures and scribblings… about you. Really, unless you’ve been living the life of a digital Luddite, the interwebs are full of the electronic detritus that you inadvertently leave behind. Ever hear of Go on, put your name in. I’ll wait.

There. So how creepy is that? *shudders* Now I’ll grant you that I seem to have left a broader swath of digital debris in my wake than the average bear, but still, it’s something to consider the next time you think about signing up for, or some such similar nonsense. Or if you’re going to anyway, at least think about using protection. You know, like a fake name.

Hey, have a nice day!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Harbingers, holidays, and science. And my pants.

In case you hadn’t noticed, harbingers, not unlike celebrity deaths, tend to come in threes. Here in our little neck of the woods just outside the city that nobody calls the big apple, there are three major harbingers that Santa will be calling before you know it. The first is that the leaves have finally finished falling, the second is that the infestation of vermin called Canada geese has temporarily retreated, and the last is that the waist sizes of all my pants have also begun their annual retreat.

Despite the obvious iron-clad scientific basis for these seasonal events, my Lovely Bride never hesitates to question that last one about my pants. She has been known, for instance, to wonder aloud about how likely it is that my pants really do experience a cycle of holiday shrinkage and summer expansion. Moreover, she’ll even suggest that the Holiday Pants Effect is nothing more than me eating a lot of pumpkin pie.

Really? Does no one remember sixth grade science class? Cold makes things contract and heat makes them expand. Like pants. Sheesh, chicks and science. Anyway, happy harbingers, people!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Stating the obvious. About the holidays, this time.

As I’ve noted in the past I’m a pretty shallow guy who tends to think in clichés, and bearing that in mind, one of the upcoming New Year’s resolutions that I intend to make and then promptly ignore will be to let go of the clichés, truisms and similar rhetorical crutches on which I depend so heavily. It's also likely that I'll resolve to give up run-on sentences. Fragments too.

Anyway, before that self imposed deadline looms too near I’m going to go ahead and Beat a Dead Horse and point out something that you haven’t heard or thought about in at least five minutes: that this year the Christmas Season began in mid-October. It’s exhausting, really. One can’t, for instance, spend a few quiet moments wandering aimlessly through name-your-retailer-of-choice without dodging floor displays full of red and green socks while the appallingly fey Johnny Mathis simpers about snowmen and Parson Brown in the background. Blech.

The obvious solution, of course, is to simply give up any pretense that there’s any time of year that’s not about Christmas. In short, each and every day should be Christmas. Now some of you wide-awake boys and girls will remember that Timmy, the chronically unsupervised protagonist and perennial danger to the space-time continuum in The Fairly Odd Parents created just such a world just by wishing for it. Of course the results of his wish were, as was much of the rest of the show, predictable. The value of Christmas spirit was cheapened and the excitement necessary for Christmas magic evaporated pretty quickly. Well I say pah! That’s right, I’ll even put it in quotes: “Pah!”

That storyline suffered only from a lack of commitment. Consequences be damned, I think we really should just go ahead and make every day Christmas. What the hell, every day is already Go Out and Buy Some Crap Day, so why not just wrap everything and hand it around. Just think! Everyday at the office could be a secret Santa party. You’d never have to buy your own cologne or joke boxer shorts with painfully unfunny wordplay printed on them again! I like it. An entirely Christmas-based economy with no apologies.

So look for it on your next ballot: Prop 12-25… colloquially known as the Santa Rules. Vote yes. Your local name-your-retailer-of-choice will thank you.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Ahead of the curve with Harry. Or: An early review of the Deathly Hallows, oddly enough.

There are few, if any, moments that I can recall finding myself squarely at the bleeding edge of any sort of curve. Curves of fashion, cuisine and pop culture are normally well beyond me; I was, for instance, likely the last person in the Western hemisphere to find out that a “Bieber” is not, as I originally thought, a small rodent-like puppet in a third-tier Disney show, but rather a pop star of some note. Apparently.

All of which is to say that I was mildly surprised to find myself sitting comfortably at a private Imax screening on Wednesday evening as the penultimate screen treatment of Harry Potter’s lengthy adolescence unspooled before an audience of Potter fans. Ah, but enough about me.

The decision to break the story into two films was certainly correct; part 1 is a taught, straightforward treatment of the book that successfully conveys the adult world of dread, danger and loneliness in which Harry, Hermione and Ron find themselves. It is a world in which no-one is to be trusted and the hustle and bustle of industrious bureaucracy is opaque and menacing. Perhaps most telling, though, is that it is a world in which there is often no clear-cut path to follow. Just as in real life there are dead ends, false leads and times during which there is simply nothing to do but wait for answers to present themselves.

There is of course plenty of action as well, although it is a relief that director David Yates has a deft touch so that the sequences of running, flying and things going boom never feel forced. (Which, if nothing else, makes it all the more clear that directors like Michael Bay have done us no favors by flooding the screen with car chases that not only feel endless, but are, inexplicably, less believable than sequences involving magic wands and flying motorcycles. )

So, in short, the Deathly Hallows got well deserved upturned thumbs from everyone I saw it with last night, and perhaps most importantly, I don’t have to be behind the curve and wait on line to see it with the rest of the nerds this weekend. Ha!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Kids, “master clowns,” and one small, sweet victory. Probably.

As any parent will tell you, the benefits of raising a child are many, if for no other reason that children will occasionally confirm and reinforce your most deeply held beliefs. Mostly, of course, my kids spend much of their time inventing new ways to turn my hair grey, but still, my heart is warmed on those rare occasions that they inadvertently act as little emotional enablers.

To wit: it was on a warm autumn day not unlike this very one that my younger son announced to me, unbidden and without any hint of irony, that “clowns are bad.” He was, at the time, a mere tot of five or six and the first thought that came to mind was something along the lines of “out of the mouths of babes…”

This moment, then, was illustrative of couple of things. The first is that yes, I really am so shallow that I tend to think mostly in clichés, but second and more importantly, it was the boy’s youthful balance between innocence and an appropriately jaundiced view of the world that lent an unassailable authority to his observation about the inherent malevolence of clowns.

Bearing all that in mind, today is a day that should be celebrated. It is a day on which my suspicions have been confirmed that not only are clowns vile puppets who bow to the will of a single Clown Overlord, but more importantly that they are mortal. That’s right, after all is said and done, even clowns must slip this mortal coil and go wherever it is that they meet their Clown Maker. So to speak. In short, at the age of 84, “Master Clown” Frosty the Clown has finally left this world, and I’d say the world is just a little less creepy for it.

Sure, some may think me “insensitive” to celebrate his departure, and others may call me “loony” to go on about clowns as if they really deserve the scorn they endure. Others, like my Lovely Bride, point out that he was just a regular guy making a living doing something he loved and left behind a perfectly nice widow and a family who are probably very sorry to see him gone. Well that’s fine, and maybe it’s true, but I’m still not taking any chances. Everyone else can just wait around for the next “master clown” to be anointed, but I’ll be hiding in the basement with a bottle of seltzer and a pail of confetti, just in case.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

"Really? Skating with what, now?" Or, WTF part one.

“Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise” is just one of the countless chestnuts dropped on us by inventor, wordsmith, ladies man and world’s most devoted Benjamin Franklin enthusiast: Benjamin Franklin. Certainly the case can be made that his propensity for self promotion was as successful as it was unseemly, but if nothing else Franklin did have a way of putting none too fine a point on the obvious. In this case, “early to bed, etc.” is a good reminder that getting one’s butt up and out first thing each morning makes the rest of the day go a little better.

Unless, of course, you end up in the gym watching morning television.

Now normally I’m an afternoon gym guy, but in an effort to live a more virtuous, Franklin-esque life, I’ve been at Planet Fitness bright and early. That’s working out fine, except that all the effort I had put into immunizing myself against the mindless nonsense of afternoon programming seems to be useless against the mindless nonsense that is morning programming. In short, I spend much of my time on the elliptical wondering if I really just saw what I think I did.

This morning, for instance, I saw some promos for an upcoming show called Skating with the Stars. By this afternoon I had convinced myself that I had just imagined the whole thing until my Lovely Bride assured me that there would indeed be a collection of tired looking “stars” flopping around on a skating rink. Moreover, as best I can tell one of the “stars” is a large, middle-aged drag queen purporting to be Sean Young. Weird.

Anyway, the Skating/Stars thing is presumably just one of the mysteries of early rising that will vex me in the days and weeks to come, but with any luck I’ll eventually get the hang of it. Unlike Arthur Dent and Thursdays… but that’s a reference for another day. See ya.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Keep Circulating The Tapes! - (Fresh? Timely? Nah.)

It was nearly 20 years ago on a bright, sunny Saturday morning that I happened to be sitting in front of the TV when I inadvertently landed on the Comedy Channel. (Yes, that thing you kids call “Comedy Central” today is the result of the devastating Funny Wars between HA! and the Comedy Channel in the early 90s. Cable TV takes no prisoners, apparently.)

Anyway, it wasn’t long before I noticed that there were silhouettes blocking some of the action, such as it was, and that they were busy mocking the poor sap on the screen who happened to have a haircut so ridiculous that it could only be eclipsed by the bizarre fur Speedo hiding his junk. The silhouettes were, in short, those of Joel, Tom Servo and Crow having fun at the expense of a bit of cinematic detritus called Cave Dwellers. I was hooked.

So anyway, even though I’m sure that at some point you’ve been told that All Good Things Must Come to an End (the sort of maxim usually spouted by cranks and misanthropes who, as best I can tell, enjoy lowering children’s expectations and kicking puppies), it turns out not to be strictly true. In this case, even though MST3K has long since been sent upstate to a beautiful farm where it runs and plays with all the other cancelled shows, the fun still lives on. Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett are busy peddling Rifftrax, in which they engage in exactly the same sort of behavior that made me fall in love with them in the first place. Ahhhh.

Even better, they do live shows which are, for those of you who don’t happen to live in Mike, Kevin or Bill’s basement, simulcast through Fathom Events to a theater near you. The last live Rifftrax event was a thorough dissection of the studiously incompetent House on Haunted Hill, a movie complete with marionette skeletons and a plot so stultifyingly convoluted that in the end the movie just sort of stopped, rather than reaching any sort of conclusion. (To be fair, it must be noted that Vincent Price, urbane as ever, seemed to be a good sport about the entire affair.)

So anyway, true to the Dad’s off the Couch tagline, none of this has been timely or relevant to anything, other than to note that if you A: enjoy things, and B: are a nicer person than Hitler, you’ll probably groove on the Rifftrax thing. Go on, they’re waiting for you.

Keep circulating the tapes!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Story Time: Steve and the New MacBook Air

So as best I can tell, Steve will sell me a little netbook for a thousand bucks. A beautiful, shiny netbook which would, presumably, make me the envy of every Apple nerd in Starbucks. But, as snappy an offer as that may seem, I’m going to have to decline.

Not for religious reasons, mind you; although I mostly use Windows machines, I’m certainly not immune to the lure of devices that work as effortlessly and intuitively as the iPod I’m listening to at the moment. No, it just seems to me that the 500 some-odd dollar difference between the 11 inch Air and the big-boy-sized Acer on which I’m writing this spectacular little missive could probably be better used elsewhere.

That $500 would cover, for instance, 196 of the triple espressos that I compulsively drink at Starbucks while I’m busy not impressing the resident Apple nerds. Or roughly 125 of Amazon’s daily $3.99 Album deals of which I seem to have grown inordinately fond. -(That’s a LOT of Groove Armada, people.)- Or, I suppose that same $500 would buy new shoes and clothes for my kids, but let’s not get carried away.

In short, when Steve speaks, I notice that there are a lot of people with glazed eyes and just a tiny bit of drool running down the corner of their mouths, which, if nothing else just seems a smidge unseemly. Unlike drinking 196 triple espressos, which is, obviously, perfectly reasonable. -Just saying.


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

How I learned to stop worrying and love Father’s Day.

As anyone who’s known me for more than five or ten seconds can tell you, I’m not really a fan of attention. Neither am I a big fan of fuss, bother or commotion of any sort. (Which, incidentally, clearly illustrates that my early decision to quit Hermit School, get married and have kids may have been deeply flawed.)

In any case, over the years I’ve been learning to overcome some of these social deficits I’ve been so carefully cultivating and guarding; which in practical terms means that this last Father’s Day I finally decided to let go and milk the day for all it’s worth. So, when my Lovely Bride offered to fetch the necessary boatload of wings and ribs at Costco for the big day, I acquiesced. When Father’s day arrived I promptly went downstairs and, instead of lighting the grill, fired up the X-Box instead and played a full hour of Call of Duty 3.

Then, having stared slack-jawed at interwebs for a bit, I allowed myself to be ushered to the big comfy chair on the deck where I accepted an ice cold Clausthaler. (I also seem to have developed a taste for hilariously pretentious websites, but that’s a post for a different day.) And so, before I knew it, I was surrounded by family, ribs, kids with sticky fingers, Father’s Day cards and a new hammock to boot. All, I might add, while allowing myself to embrace the fuss, which, as it turns out, is pretty easy when you learn to stop worrying and love Father’s Day.

Now I just need to figure out how to make all this work for our 4th of July BBQ. And jeez while I’m at it, maybe Labor Day too.

Monday, June 14, 2010

World Cup? Sure, whatever. Just flip a coin, why don’t you?

Barbershops, darkened tap-rooms and the sidewalks in front of coffee shops have one thing in common: they are bastions of the testosterone-fueled male banter that inevitably centers around one thing: sports. Sure, current wives/girlfriends and politics also occasionally rear their heads as fodder for stories that are usually as pointless as they are entertaining, but really it’s about the sports.

Anyway, I must admit that that the in-utero genetic lottery in which we are all forced to participate seems to have left me short of one crucial bit of DNA: the gene that makes guys give a crap who hit the most RBIs or three-pointers or however it is that you score touchdowns. I am, quite frankly, Sports Challenged.

I guess as deficits go, my lack of interest in watching grown men run around in Lycra jerseys hasn’t hampered me too greatly; I still enjoy a dark bar, cooking over a fire, jokes I can’t tell my kids, and other ostensibly male nonsense. (Although having said all that, I must admit that I do actually watch the Yankees in the post-season when the games actually matter… at least in the sense that a season-ending elimination matters.)

But here’s the thing that’s truly inexplicable to me: Soccer and the World Cup. But mostly the soccer part. For God’s sake, the games go on forever, nobody ever scores, and even if they do, the games always end in a tie anyway. Which brings me to the most inexplicable part of soccer: the free-kick parties at the end of tied games. Really? Free kicks? You’re going to use an activity entirely unrelated to the game itself to decide who wins after having spent the better part of a day running up and down a giant field? It’s as bizarre and disappointing as if baseball games tied in the ninth were decided by flipping a coin.

Not that it really matters to me, obviously, it’s just that it’s really weird. Just saying. Um, Go USA?

Friday, March 12, 2010

Shaving and a bit of shameless pandering. (For a good cause, of course.)

Well, the snow’s melting and St. Patrick’s Day flags are sprouting up all over the neighborhood like a plague of reminders that it’s St. Baldrick’s season again; so if you’ve ever had the urge to either shave your noggin or at least try to convince one of your more malleable kids to do it, now’s the time.

Anyway, it was time to send out a Thank You email to everyone who supported our youngest who did it last year, and since I hate letting anything go to waste I figured I would repurpose the email and post it here. I am, in short, never afraid to maximize the heart-string-pulling potential of a piece like this. So then here it is:


Hello all:

First, thanks so much to everyone who supported Ryan’s St. Baldrick’s Day Shavee Extravaganza last year; your generosity is much appreciated.

Now given Ryan’s foray into the exciting world of Type 1 diabetes last year, some might be tempted to wonder why he’s chosen to participate in a pediatric cancer fundraiser again rather than one related to his own thing.

At least partially, it seems that Ryan is excited to repeat the exercise because it gave him a reasonable excuse to avoid what is, apparently, the horrendous chore of getting a haircut. To that end, he has not had even a trim since being a shavee last March.

That said, Ryan’s participation this year is, of course, more than just about his hair. When Ryan was diagnosed last May he spent a week in Westchester Medical Center's pediatric wing. We all learned a lot that week, but perhaps most importantly we were reminded of a lesson that’s all too easy to forget: that there are always, always others less fortunate than ourselves. There is, in short, perhaps nothing more humbling than spending a week with children who are both living with and battling cancer.

So thanks again. The following URL links directly to Ryan’s St. Baldrick’s page where you will find a “before picture” of his unruly (tangly, unsightly mess) of hair that’s long overdue to hit the floor, as well as the links necessary to donate to the cause. (There are also before and after pictures from last year.)



Sunday, February 7, 2010

Relativistic Ramblings: Is the music good? I dunno, let’s ask the 80’s.

There are few things that live on in perpetuity like those that you grew up with. Or, put simply in deference to you, Kent: everyone knows that the music you grow up with is that which continues to resonate with you long after it has any right or reason to. At weddings or similar events, for instance, you’ll find those who were young during WWII are always shuffling around in a wobbly approximation of swing dancing whenever “Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree” is played. (Quaint? Sure, but at least while grandma and grandpa are occupied on the dance floor the waiters get a break from getting yelled at for not bringing the Harvey Wallbangers fast enough.)

Moving on in generations: Acappella Do-Wop groups that regularly terrorize county fairs and the like are populated exclusively by beefy old guys who came of age in the 50’s and have a penchant for hot rods and size XXXL satin jackets. Do-wop? Really? I say “get some instruments and stop pretending you’re on a street corner in Flatbush, you vagrants.”

Then there are those who came of age in the 60’s, and as far as I’m concerned they still have to answer for Herman’s Hermits and The Turtles. (Is it fair to imply that Herman’s Hermits is characteristic of all 60’s music? Not really, but so what? Yeah you can bring up the Stones, The Who, Dead and Beatles, but it doesn’t change the fact that The Hermits sucked enough to smell up an entire decade. And Tiny Tim… oh never mind.)

Next of course came the 70’s; a dark time during which there was, inexplicably, no music at all. None. Moving on.

Now then, having arrived in the 80’s we find a decade represented by a golden renaissance of melodic genius. All was right with the world. New Wave bands littered the musical landscape like diamonds. (Neon pink and green diamonds.) Hair was big, clothes were all the colors of that neon rainbow, and if it didn’t come from Benetton it wasn’t worth wearing. (But what about Capezios and Members Only jackets, you ask? Yes, grasshopper, they were awesome as well.)

Music from the likes of Fine Young Cannibals, XTC and The English Beat filled frat houses and clubs alike, and there was a singer named Madonna who was, to some, young and attractive. Really! No lie!

The 80’s were fair and equitable though, and there were bands for those who preferred alternatives: That decade also saw, for instance, a few 60’s guys like Steve Winwood and John Fogerty come to their senses and create solo works that still define their careers. To me.

But then, all too suddenly, the dream ended when the 90’s blew in like a bitter wind. A bunch of bands from Seattle started filling the airwaves with their atonal nonsense called “Grunge,” and that, as they say, was pretty much that. Since then the musical landscape, such as it is, has been pretty much dominated by teenagers artificially manufactured in Disney’s musical sweatshops and something called Hip-Hop. Or so I’m told.

So there you have it: an exhaustive, scholarly history of music worthy of the finest tubes on the interwebs… and all in a mere five or six hundred words. Relativistic nonsense, you say? Well sure, but just to raise the stakes, I bet next time I can explain all of the world’s major religions even quicker. So there.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Diamonds in the rough.

As I’m sure I’ve pointed out more often than is good for anybody, there are few activities that I enjoy as much as wallowing in the shiny baubles that magically appear on the interweb each morning. To some, time spent that way is akin to getting caught in a virtual La Brea Tar Pits of link bait and indefensibly ridiculous bits of electronic effluvia; but I’m more than shallow enough to enjoy all of it.

To wit: just this morning I followed a few links on the Times’ Op-Ed page that were part of a sidebar entitled “Resources: More on what books to throw out and why it’s a good idea to clean one’s home library.” One of the links included was this little gem by Lewis Grossberger, which just shows to go ‘ya why one should never, ever, take anything at face value. Grossberger’s “Resource” is, in short, one of those shiny baubles I so enjoy, and even better, it was hiding in plain sight amongst some of the rather solemn bits of literary opinion on which the Times has always depended.

So, enjoy the shiny and have a nice day while you’re at it.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Oh the irony. I even lost track of this post til just now.

Made it. It was close, but I just barely crawled across the finish line by dropping our 80 or so Christmas cards in the mailbox. And now that it’s official, I guess I can remove the razor wire from around the chimney and invite Santa to come work his magic. Good thing too; if the Fat Man’s only choice had been to pass by our house and leave nothing but lumps of coal, the boys would likely have staged a mutiny here at our little compound. Or a bloodless coup at the very least. Either way, I would have been kind of disappointed to not get my annual allotment of boxer shorts and socks. You know, exciting Dad stuff.

Anyway, I’m still mortified that we very nearly ran out of time for everything this year and… holy crap, I still haven’t gotten any eggnog… that coup may still be in play after all… gotta go. Merry Christmas.