Onslaught of Boredom

I’ve been okay with the being unemployed so far; in fact, I’ve been taking advantage of it to catch up on my slacking off. Even to the point where I felt like there wasn’t enough time in a day to get all my slacking off done.

But man, today has been stone cold weird dull. “Alias” has been keeping me going, but after staying up until five this morning watching it, I need to take a break. Last night’s cliffhanger had the CIA discovering the secret of the lost Rambaldi manuscript page to reveal a centuries-old portrait of Hilary Swank, the significance of which escapes me. But the breathtaking resolution will have to wait, because I’m starting to get paranoid about which of my neighbors are double-agents. (I’m sure the guy two buildings down who always wears shorts in any weather and is frequently hosing down his garage at 3 AM is either a speed freak or K-Directorate.)

I went up to the Haight to get that Sigur Ros album at Amoeba, and ended up getting a couple of Woody Allen movies (Love and Death and Annie Hall) not because I wanted them as much as because I needed to fill up the bill to justify using a credit card. There was nothing else I wanted; iTunes and amazon have spoiled used record stores for me.

While I was there, I considered getting a mid-life-crisis earring. I had one in college for about a week because I wanted to look like a pirate, but I took it out because I didn’t want to look gay. Now I don’t really want one because I don’t want to look like Ed Bradley. Actually, I took a look in all the jewelry and piercing and clothing and gift stores along Haight, and it all just looked cheap, boring, pointless, or painful. I just can’t get all that excited about jewelry, even with the pirates and 60 Minutes connotations.

Maybe I’ll just start growing a beard again. Does that count as a hobby?

Great Moments in Typography

In lieu of actual work on making the website more solid, I found this cool plug-in for WordPress that generates headline images on the fly.

I’m not sure how long I’ll keep it running, because it’s gimmicky, slows site access down, and makes everything a little bit more fragile (mostly because my headlines can be as long-winded as my posts). But for now, it’s neat. This is the kind of thing that keeps me interested in having a website in the first place; all the gadgets and cross-links and standards and plug-ins and web-apps you can play around with.

I mean, it’s not as if it’s about the content.

Moron Alias

Okay, I’m 11 episodes in, and I’ve got the next two DVDs sitting there waiting for me so I can’t write too long. But I’ve had cases where friends have gotten into series on DVD long after I’d lost interest in them, and it was always neat hearing their take on the show. It was like being able to watch the show again, from the start, without having to do something as exhausting as sit and watch television.

So here’s my take on the show so far, divided up into the bad like the evil SD-6, and the good like Sydney’s ever-loyal friend Francie:

  • Bad: The wormy, nerdy “Q” guy, Marshall. Yeah, it’s a spy show, so you’ve got to explain the gadgets. But the whole schtick doesn’t work on any level, as comic relief or otherwise. It’s annoying, not endearing.
  • Good: Victor Garber as the dad. He’s got the toughest part to play, I think, and on a show this over-the-top, he could’ve come across as really lame, either two-dimensional bad guy, or over-sympathetic killer-with-a-heart-of-gold. He just sells it.
  • Bad: The surfeit of twists and subplots. I get that the show’s supposed to be fantastic, escapist, action television, but it’s veering around so much that it never gets to linger on anything of significance. Maybe that’s an aspect of watching it all at once instead of having to wait a week between episodes, though.
  • Good: Stuff really happens, in every episode. I’m used to series that introduce subplots that never get resolved until the end of the season if that soon; it’s cool to see a show that isn’t afraid it’s going to run out of ideas. If someone makes a threat, they’re going to do something about it within the next two hours. If you get hint of a deep dark secret, you’re not going to have to wait long to find out what it is. There are at least two cliffhangers per episode!
  • Bad: The annoying reporter friend. He’s just a tool, and he deserves to die.
  • Good: Jennifer Garner really is pretty hot.

All right, back to it. I’m in the middle of a meeting at CIA headquarters in which we just learned the identity of the assassin who killed Agent Vaughn’s father!

I wonder if it remembers me

The neat thing about amazon.com’s comments sections, apart from the obvious entertainment value, is that people on the internet are so eager to jump on top of each other to show how hip they are that you can often learn something useful.

Case in point: the soundtrack for The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou does not have the music that plays when Zissou & the rest of the Belafonte crew finally make contact with the jaguar shark. Thanks to a bajillion amazon readers, though, you can discover that it’s called Staralfur by Sigur Rós and it’s available for free from this site.

Of course, I can’t listen to it, because ten seconds into it I remember the scene from the movie and start blubbering, but maybe one of my many weblog fans will be able to take advantage of free post-rock Icelandic music!

Fun with Internet Search

An idea stolen from Rain, here are some of the recent search phrases that have shown up on my stats page:

  • creepy looking guys
  • creepy guys
  • hairy guys
  • a doctor and a working plasma lightsaber picture
  • brian posehn
  • collie homegrown
  • covenant spectre [I actually know what this one means, which is scary]
  • most photogenic [keep searching, buddy]
  • Lisa. Carol. Fremont. venture
  • creepy guys [soon I will be the #1 search result on Google!]
  • big ass banging [ditto!]
  • cigarette ashing ticket car
  • gall bladder infection antibiotic
  • real zombie sightings
  • fuck you ea
  • half-life 2 sucks ass
  • sarah michelle gellar grouchy side
  • real sightings of angels [they’re hiding behind the zombies]
  • ass parade
  • industrial accidents-severed hands
  • real christian chicks naked/ sightings of
  • walnut creek sucks

I love the internet.

38 Seconds

That’s how long I was able to watch G4/TechTV [warning: link is slow and annoying] tonight before having to turn the channel out of disgust. As a frame of reference and to give an idea how much tolerance I have for bad television, I turned it to VH-1 and “Gameshow Moments Gone Bananas,” hosted by Ben Stein giving a “shout out to his ‘peeps’,” making the quote sign with his fingers around “peeps,” and was able to leave it on that channel for a good 12 minutes. I only had to turn the channel when they put on one of those “Where You At?” ads with the granny talkin’ all hip-hop on a cell phone.

How did we let it get to this? I watched a lot of television in the 70’s and 80’s, and as awful as it got, it was never able to overwhelm me with its sheer crass stupidity and desperation. I’ve lived through “Dynasty,” through Carrot Top commercials, through Pauly Shore’s popularity, through all the “I Love the 80’s” marathons. I used to look forward to watching DIC and Filmation animated series. I’ve even seen “Magic: The Gathering” tournaments televised on ESPN-2. I’m not exactly one of the cultural elite.

But tonight on G4, a loud young woman with bleached hair, a nose ring, and a Jem and the Holograms T-shirt was showing viewers a fan site dedicated to David Hasselhoff, and the whole hip, young, fun, and irreverent cast were pointing at the pictures and tossing paper airplanes about. And for some reason, this made me sadder than the entire Trinity Broadcasting Network ever could. It’s depressing enough that there’s even an entire network devoted to videogames, but when the human beings (presumably) on this network are even more shallow and obnoxious poseurs than videogame characters… it boggles the mind. It was as if the characters of a self-described “cynical” alternative comic had somehow come to life and taken control over a television studio.

I just realized that I would rather watch Country Music Television and UPN than the network that is trying to target me.

Betcha I can tell ya where ya got them shoes

In all the hoopla over four-year-old media, I forgot to write about Feet on the Street: Rambles Around New Orleans by Roy Blount Jr.

It’s always amusing to read reviews on Amazon from people who just plain don’t get it, but I can’t fault “New Orleans traveller” too much, because apparently he or she was looking for a travelogue about New Orleans. This book isn’t a travelogue, even though I feel I’ve got a better idea of the city now than I did from any number of movies or books or television specials about it. This book does exactly what the title says: rambles. And it’s a mistake going into a Roy Blount Jr. book expecting to find a hands-off, balanced analysis of the topic at hand; you read the book to find out what Blount has to say about it.

Expecting a straightforward travelogue out of Roy Blount Jr. is missing the point as much as expecting Dave Barry-esque “humorous essays” out of his essay books, or calling his memoir “self-indulgent” or “not as funny as I was hoping from the Garrison Keillor show.” Blount doesn’t just write about cities or people or politics or sports or dogs or presidents or whatever the topic is at hand; Blount writes about himself. And his friends, and his family, pets he’s owned, jobs he’s had, movies he’s seen, things he’s found at junk stores, and whatever else pops into his mind as relevant to the subject. By the end, you don’t feel as if you’ve read a travelogue as much as you feel that you’ve caught up with an old friend who for this conversation, happened to keep veering back to the topic of New Orleans.

That’s why I think Blount’s writing transcends the “humor” or “travel” or “essays” labels that get assigned to them in bookstores. Taken together as a body of work, it’s about the whole of human existence, at least as much as he’s processed. Hyperbolic? Maybe, but then again, somewhere between hyperbole and “he’s funny on the radio” describes how amazed I am by his writing. When I’m reading his stuff, it’s like watching a magician who’s pointing out the wires and mirrors and hidden pockets in his cape, but is still somehow able to make a flock of doves appear out of nowhere and leave you convinced that it’s magic. He’s written whole essays about writing and how difficult and laborious process it is, but can still come up with a perfectly concise and evocative phrase to describe New Orleans humidity (“those deep-summer days that make a person feel swathed in slowly melting hamfat”) and make it sound as if the phrase had just popped into his head in the middle of an unfocused ramble.

When people talk about writing, they talk about how difficult it is to find your “voice.” Blount’s not only found his voice, but it’s all-encompassing. It’s the voice of a man who’s got total control over the English language combined with a total lack of pretension. It’s “folksy” without being naive, funny without being meaningless, rambling without being pointless, introspective without being self-indulgent, and disarming without being deceptive. Once you’re disarmed, he can talk about oysters and orphans and leave you with sympathy for both. In this book, he talks about the death of his friend Slick Lawson, and it was neither a casual aside nor a maudlin eulogy, but real, genuine memories. And of course, memories are what writing is all about.

Blount’s been my favorite writer for years. One of my favorite things I own is a postcard he sent me in response to a fan letter I wrote to him back when I was a sophomore in college. It’s one of the old kinds, with the scalloped edges, and has a photograph of two radio personalities from Alabama I’ve never heard of. On the back are a couple of paragraphs of tiny handwriting, responding amiably to a couple of the points in the letter and wishing me well. Somebody else reading it wouldn’t think much of it — it doesn’t say a lot, and it’s not particularly funny for a “humorist,” and there are references to things that I must’ve written in my three-page computer-typed letter that even I don’t remember writing.

But it was the perfect response. In a short essay called “Having Wonderful Time Suckling Little Dog” in his book Now, Where Were We?, he writes about his postcard collection and how postcards, especially second-hand ones, always have something more going on than is obvious on the surface. Bizarre or bizarrely mundane photographs, personal messages without any context, and captions that are either completely misplaced or painfully self-apparent — the best postcard is at the same time a non-sequitur and something indefinably familiar. So what would be better to send to a young man who’d sent a long, gushing fan letter out of nowhere, expressing an admiration for his work and an odd sense of familiarity just from reading it?

Blount uses a lot of poetry in his work, and it’s almost always clever and funny and bounces around an idea. But the real poetry — the sense that you’ve just read something profound without seeing it coming, and the admiration for an idea that is perfectly expressed using just the right words — is in his prose. I haven’t yet read his biography of Robert E. Lee, but considering how much Blount talks about Lee in Feet on the Street, I’m worried that he may have kept himself out of the biography and stuck to the facts. That would be a huge disappointment. I want to see Blount write more biographies, and make himself as much as a character as he always does — not some dry, distant dump of some other person’s life, but a real conversation. “Here’s everything I’ve figured about how life works so far. What’ve you got?”

SD-6

Hot on the heels of my groundbreaking review of Jurassic Park, a scoop about this hot new television programme called “The Alias!”

All right, I avoided this show for as long as I could, partly because I had a feeling it would get me all sucked in, partly because I was working too much to watch much television, and partly because Jennifer Garner always struck me as nothing more than a slightly softer version of Hilary Swank, who gives me the heebie-jeebies something fierce.

But then I heard about the zombies, and everybody knows I’ve got a soft spot for zombies. [pause for obligatory brain joke] So I’m three episodes into it, and this is what escapist television is all about. Double, triple, and quadruple agents; ancient scrolls and prophecies; the basements and boiler rooms of exotic locales all around the world; TV-friendly techno music; duplicitous dads and soap opera drama — I am, of course, hooked. Plus the episodes I’m watching have Gina Torres, who rocks as hard as can be reasonably expected; and Carl Lumbly, who does the voice of J’onn J’onnz on “Justice League Unlimited,” which has got to count for something.

I’m still curious to see when, exactly, the show starts to go south. I’ve seen a couple of posts on Google and elsewhere lamenting that it’s already gone bad what with the “stupid zombies,” which of course baffles me, as I can’t imagine how zombies would do anything other than make a show better. These series inevitably let me down; I learned my lessons from “The X-Files” and “24” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and I won’t let myself get too close. But for now, I’m enjoying the edge-of-your-seat adventures of plucky grad student Sidney Bristow and her string of steely-eyed unshaven young love interests.

And then after that, I’ve heard mention of a television series about the criminal underworld called “Mr. Soprano” or some such that could shape up to be something big. You heard it here first!

Don’t Panic

The website should look different now (actually, it should look better, but I don’t want to be too optimistic), so don’t be alarmed. I’ve been messing around with WordPress themes for a while now, hence my complaints about CSS and anal-retentive web designers, and this is the result.

I just noticed that it looks like ass on Internet Explorer for the PC, but I guess that’s to be expected. Please, people: get Firefox. If not for yourself, then for the people you love.

It also doesn’t scale that well, so if you’re using a screen resolution less than 1024×768, your browser’s probably going apeshit with the pictures and the floats and the thing and LADY! And I doubt that it’ll work on a cell phone, but really, if you’re using a cell phone to read my blog, then I’m afraid that you need help way beyond the capabilities of XHTML and CSS standards.

It’s all still in progress, so some parts are bound to be broken or missing — if you see something that’s clearly off, or if the navigation is weird or confusing or there’s something you should be able to do but can’t, please let me know either through e-mail or the comments. This is just a personal website, but the whole point of it is to learn how to do all this stuff correctly.