Friday, August 31, 2007

Heavy Metal Week on NPR.

Now that I have resumed my long daily commutes, I'm back in touch with the news of the world. NPR is my staple station, mostly due to the lack of any decent alternatives. Even so I still lose reception on a few stretches of the road. There's a two-mile segment where a Christian radio station tries to interlope over the specific frequency. It's frustrating that there's just no getting away from that particular form of agenda-based media- at least not while you are in the car listening for free.

Anyway a regular part of my routine is listening to Fresh Air with Terry Gross. I've mentioned that fact quite often on this blog. This week they are running a series of rebroadcasts that deal with a specific theme- "Heavy Metal and Hard Rock". I'm a bit disappointed to return to this after my time away. One of the main reasons I tune in to NPR is to listen to substantial commentary about serious subjects. I am not always interested in the guests Gross invites onto her show, but I usually learn something despite my low expectations. It's a bit like Charlie Rose... Fresh Air gets politicians, corporate hacks, authors, musicians and a wide variety of entertainers. Even if I dislike the particular subject, Terry Gross often elicits some quality conversation that the typical educated layman can benefit from.

But Jesus... really? Heavy metal?? Why? Is this truly a subject with any kind of significant weight? Within any genre I am bound to find something I like, but Metal seems so juvenile to me now. I'll admit that when I was in the 13-16 age bracket, I listened to my share of bad hair bands. I remember loving Quiet Riot, and I can't deny once owning a Twisted Sister record. I dug those middle school girls with teased hair, feather earrings and jean-jackets. If I had to pretend to like Motley Crue, Def Leppard, Poison, Cinderella or Ratt... that was OK as long as a cute girl was sitting next to me. I was certainly no sophisticate. Everyone my age was listening to that stuff in the early 80's. I feel no need to have my puerile tastes justified by retrospective academic analysis. It wasn't that deep then, and it isn't that deep now. Like any other teenager I wanted to rebel- smoking cigarettes, dreaming about sex with hot chicks, and listening to metal were part of the equation.

The thing is that I have absolutely no nostalgia for those awkward days. If I did, I'd be tuning into VH-1 for a regular dose of it. Yet this week I heard from Rob Halford, the guys from Spinal Tap, Metallica, and Gene Simmons. What did I gain from that? Now I know that the lead singer of Judas Priest WAS gay. If "Hell Bent for Leather" wasn't the ultimate tip-off, then I'm not sure what to tell you. The guy from Metallica had a shitty attitude. No way, dude?! Christopher Guest IS a genius. Duh! And Gene Simmons is an asshole without even a hint of irony.

Actually the Simmons interview is illustrative. When Gross interviewed this iconic KISS member (by the way... the band sucked!), good old Gene dominated the conversation by making lewd come-ons to her, and trying his best to discredit public radio. One highlight of the segment is when Simmons suggests that the host should welcome him with "open legs". He kept making asides about how the listeners needed to "get out and live(!)" That's right folks- quit wasting time with books and intellectual discussion and get some ass! It's telling that this very interview got the biggest listener response of all-time. Instead of writing this clown off, people were actually offended by his antics. The guy is the perfect caricature of a man-boy, and the audience took him seriously.

Why do NPR and Terry Gross feel compelled to pander to this type of idiocy? I'm not completely humorless... once in awhile they could devote 20 minutes to some goof-ball with perceived pop-culture import. But an entire week devoted to Heavy Metal? I can tune into virtually any media outlet and experience this kind of typically American anti-intellectualism. There's no reason for NPR to reinforce the prevailing attitude.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Jason Moss "The Last Victim" (1999).

Yesterday I mentioned a book by Jason Moss called The Last Victim: A True Life Journey Into the Mind of a Serial Killer. After completing high school, the author decided that he wanted to make contact with serial killers. He wanted to write a college honors thesis about his experiences, and eventually work as a criminal profiler for the FBI. His first target was "The Clown Killer", John Wayne Gacy. For those of you who don't know the story- Gacy raped, tortured, killed, and buried in his basement 33 young men. The Chicago native had owned a construction business and was well known in his community. Moss decided to read all the available material on Gacy and send a letter to him on death row.

In order to get Gacy to "open up", the eighteen-year-old Moss developed an alter ego. He posed as an abused, lonely, sexually confused youth... just the kind of boy that the killer whould have chosen as a potential victim. As the letter exchange continued, Gacy became more controlling and eventually began to prod Moss to initiate an incestuos sexual relationship with his younger brother. Despite the growing concerns his family members had about his obsession, Moss proceeded to write a second set of letters under the assumed identity of his younger sibling. His letters were constructed in a way that would convince his pen pal that he had indeed started such experimentation. He justified this decision to himself with the idea that it would hook Gacy for the long haul, and lead him to make significant revelations.

As time went on the unlikely pair exhibited more intimacy in their respective letters, and soon Gacy was calling Moss' personal telephone line at home. Gacy sent checks for the calls, and several of his paintings, in order to seduce his final prey. When Spring Break came around, Moss was invited to visit the the death row cell block in Illinois at the prisoner's expense. While his family was suspicious of Gacy's motives, Moss considered this a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and accepted the offer. He flew to the prison by himself, and was welcomed by Gacy's nephew. The agreement was that Moss would stay at a hotel for three days on Gacy's dime, and visit the inmate for several hours each day. The young investigator thought that he would get crucial insights into the the killler's methods, and indeed he got more than he bargained for. In fact he was lucky to get out of the visit intact.

Moss didn't limit his pursuit to Gacy. Simultaneous to his budding relationship with "The Killer Clown", he also established contact with Charles Manson, Richard Ramirez, Jeffrey Dahmer, and Henry Lee Lucas. In each instance he varied his approach based upon his reading of each of their criminal profiles. Manson sent a series of enigmatic notes and poems, and actually forwarded a suggested reading list. Dahmer asked for photos of Moss in compromising positions. The interaction with Lucas was the result of an invitation Moss received to interview him in Texas before his execution. The prolific murderer graced the occasion with a list of tips for the would-be serial killer. But Ramirez was the most cooperative of the bunch. Moss told him that he was the head of a Black Magick cult in Las Vegas, and "The Night Stalker" bought it hook, line and sinker. It wasn't long before Moss was extended the invitation to join Ramirez' Satanic Friends Network.

It's quite clear from the book that this peculiar project caused the youthful Moss much psychic pain. In the beginning of his quest he had a hugely inflated assessment of his own ability to deceive and manipulate these sociopaths. Under "normal" conditions, this type of naive hubris usually elicits mild corrections that contribute to one's emotional growth. In the adventures of Jason Moss, the stakes were much higher. He wasn't dealing with anything conventional society would describe as normal. Moss had been sheltered by his family and surroundings, and he was armed mostly just with his innate curiosity and a nascent ability to bullshit others. He was challenging a subset of society that had resisted all efforts to control them. Although he escaped the clutches of John Wayne Gacy, his audacity had serious consequences. On 6/6/06 (a date with obvious occult implications), Moss shot and killed himself.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Brushes with Fame.

What is it about a brush with fame that so captivates people? There are well over 6 billion people on earth, yet a very small minority of them are assumed to be of general interest. In many cases this interest is driven by the corporate-owned media. What's really so special about Paris Hilton or Ozzy Osbourne's wife? We've been led like sheep- our attention directed toward whatever the shepherd wants us to see. Are their special answers to be found? Do famous people hold the keys to your particular problems in life? Americans are obsessed with celebrity. It seems only right to ask why that is.

Growing up, I remember falling into this trap. Baseball was a constant subject around our home, and we went as far as amassing huge collections of collectibles. We'd attend baseball card shows and sometimes we'd wait in line to get the autographs of whatever players they were featuring. Often we did so only because it was free. It felt rewarding somehow to make contact with someone who had attained an element of success in the game. It didn't matter whether the person was on our favorite team, or if we had ever really cared about their career. At some point the autograph appearances became big business, and promoters began to charge fees for signatures. My father was wise enough to discourage our interest at that point. However I do remember waiting nervously to pay for the opportunity of having my all-time favorite ball-player tag my own little piece of cardboard. When I got to the front of the line, the guy wasn't even looking at the crowd filing by his table. I actually had to greet him loudly to get him to acknowledge me. I don't even know the current whereabouts of the souvenir he signed for me. But at the time it was a prized possession.

Nowadays I can't think of anyone that would inspire me to wait in line or to pay money to have them scrawl their name on a relic. Truthfully it probably wouldn't even occur to me to ask for an autograph, even if I admired them greatly. Perhaps I would snap a photo or two, but that would be the only concession I would make to the memory of the interaction. By this point in my life I have met a number of small-time celebrities. I've even shared a beer with a few of them. And I do have to admit that I have felt there was something special about getting those opportunities. Maybe like so many others, I have a subconscious feeling that their fame and success will somehow rub off on me. Of course that's completely irrational, unless they are actually in the position to help you with something. If that's the case, then the whole dynamic shifts.

I guess that I believe that all people are basically the same. They have to eat, shit and sleep- just like you. That realization takes away some of the anxiety I might otherwise feel in measuring up to their fame. Yet I must concede that I am so curious and fascinated by certain individuals that I would go out of my way to meet them. There would have to be some specific purpose behind the meeting. I would certainly pay large amounts of money to sit in a class taught by one of my favorite directors, artists, or authors. In that case there is a defined relationship that governs the experience. Ideally each party understands the expectations. A contractual agreement looms over the interaction, and insures against disappointment.

This entire train of thought is inspired by a book about a young man who established written correspondence with several famous serial killers. In the last fifty years, even the most transgressive of psychopathic criminals have developed fan bases. If you could strike up a conversation with Charles Manson, Gary Ridgeway, or Dennis Rader- would you do it? Do you believe that you could learn something from them? Or would it be a strange novelty to be able to tell your friends and family that you have made some extremely odd pen pals? The author of the book in question (Jason Moss, The Last Victim) has apparently gained his own form of notoriety from the relationships he has forged with conventionally-defined "monsters" like Manson, John Wayne Gacy and Jeffrey Dahmer. His pursuit of infamy begs the question- What was he hoping would rub off on him?

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

If we stumble upon the Fountain of Youth...

It seems to me that we live in an era of unbridled enthusiasm for science and technology. Just about the only criticism I see directed against these aims comes from the Christian Right. The arguments from that camp are faith-based rather than determined by logic. The praise in secular segments of society for the "march of scientific progress" almost assumes the trappings of religion. It's a result of an unquestioned acceptance that technology is ultimately "good". But what historical evidence do we have to back that position? The student of Twentieth Century history can easily find a number of examples whereby technological advancements resulted in brutal conditions. If you are not sure that you agree, check into Chernobyl or Hiroshima- the tragedies that occurred in these cities are two of the more obvious incidents I could point toward to reinforce the point.

Don't get the wrong idea- I am no "Luddite", though I do sometimes lean that way. (By the way... the Luddites were English textile artisans of the Nineteenth Century who smashed automated machines that threatened their jobs. They believed that the Industrial Revolution would negatively affect their standard of living.) Somewhere in the archives you could locate a blog post that describes all the modern wonders that I would not like to live without. In fact the majority of time I feel lucky to have been born into this age. One obvious benefit has been the Internet. I believe that this innovation has almost unlimited capacity to improve the lives of human beings. The ways it has increased our opportunities for communication and education are amazing. It's the type of tool with such a pervasive presence in my life that I wonder how I ever got by without it. If I woke up tomorrow and it was gone forever, I would certainly mourn the loss.

Yet there are negative consequences of our technological reach. I've written extensively (and recently) about my concerns over fossil fuel consumption. I'll spare you the rehash so soon. I bring it up merely to demonstrate my fundamental ambivalence. Unfortunately people have such great faith in the power of technology that they take for granted that any harm it causes can be ameliorated by future advancements. I don't think that is necessarily so. We have transformed areas of the Earth into uninhabitable spaces that won't repair themselves for hundreds (if not thousands) of years. We have such unmitigated hubris that we honestly believe our potential is limitless. But there are a few basic realities that we ignore when we think in those terms.

One of the great hopes of mankind has been the possibility of defeating death. Ever since Juan Ponce de Leon, we have been searching for the "Fountain of Youth". The individual resistance to dying is one of the most intrinsic drives we can experience as men. Until the last several decades, this dream was strictly the province of fantasy. Since ancient times societies have accepted that life is only for the Gods to give and/or take away. Now that resignation has started to slip away. With the rapid progress in genetic research, we are starting to think about the feasibility of immortality. Could we indeed live forever? In 1920, J.F. Rutherford (a prominent Jehovah's Witness) wrote a book called Millions Now Living Will Never Die. Upon the book's publication, many thought the author was a "kook". I wonder if so many would be quick to condemn the assertion today.

Perhaps the essential question is not whether or not immortality is attainable within our lifetimes- but whether it is desirable. Human beings have consistently shown that our scientific progress out-paces our philosophical, ethical, and spiritual development. Likewise technological advancements have benefited some more than others. Do you believe that, if scientists learn how to keep people alive forever, that the opportunity will be extended to all in a democratic way? Or will it be the privilege of the wealthy? How will society justify withholding it from the disenfranchised? And what kinds of resentment, conflict and strife will such inequities bring?

Do you think that you would be able to age gracefully while your "leaders" and the upper classes flaunt their perpetual youth? On the other hand, is the best in health care an essential human right? How would the problems of overpopulation and resource management be confounded if the possibility of immortality was extended to everybody on earth? These are not easy questions, but I believe them to be necessary.

Labels: , , , , ,

Monday, August 27, 2007

Bye-bye Berto.

A strange migration is happening this August. As George W. Bush prepares to assume the mantle of "lame duck" president, some of the rats upon his ship are jumping off. A couple of weeks ago Karl Rove announced his long-awaited resignation. While this inspired a wave of celebration throughout much of the country, only the most truly naive of political watchers could possibly believe that Rove will no longer hold influence over our hapless president. God only knows what insidious plots he will be cooking up over the next year, but one would have to be extremely dim to imagine that he won't be involved somehow in the 2008 presidential race. It makes the most sense to suggest that his timing has everything to do with the ongoing Congressional investigations that involve him.

Much the same could apply to today's defector from the Bush regime. Alberto Gonzales (US Attorney General) has officially announced his resignation, effective September 15th. Certain members of the media have been predicting this move for months, and the only true surprise seems to rest in the timing of the decision. I've already heard speculation that this is a duck-and-cover tactic, as Congress is set to resume session next month, and Gonzales has been very much a lightning rod for criticism within the Bush administration. But even members of the federal justice department are expressing their shock. They claim that they had no idea that Gonzales would do such a thing. Nevertheless his departure can only be viewed as a significant gift to the American people.

George W. Bush's comments in response to the latest events are appalling, if not expected. In a contentious speech in which he accepted this resignation, he angrily expressed his opinion that it is a shame that politics has forced a good man out of "public service". Evidently our president truly thinks that partisanship had impeded Gonzales from carrying out his duties. Of course this leads one to wonder about the role of attorney general. Is he expected to commit a campaign of perjury in Congressional hearings? Perhaps the job description demands the complete politicization of the justice department?

It's incredible that not too long ago Alberto Gonzales was on Dubya's short-list of supreme court justice nominees. His main qualification for such an honor was clearly his friendship with the former governor of Texas. When it comes to the law (both constitutional and international), Gonzales has consistently failed to demonstrate expertise or even a basic understanding. He was notorious for saying that "there is no express grant of habeas (corpus) in the Constitution". He's been a driving force behind the warrantless domestic eavesdropping program that has been directed inappropriately against US citizens. He's written "legal" arguments describing his belief that the United States Government does not have to honor the Geneva Conventions while fighting the "War on Terror". He's lied about his involvement in the firings of several US attorneys who refused to drink the party kool-aid. He's demonstrated a complete regard (and in some cases contempt) for civil liberties. The only masters he has served have been the stategists in Bush's executive department.

The big question now is- Who will succed Gonzales as the head of the justice department? There are whisperings that Bush intends to push Michael Chertoff forward for the job. The current Homeland Security Czar drew fierce criticism in the wake of the Katrina disaster, due to his neglect of FEMA- a governmental body he was purported to lead before flood. His neglect of that agency contributed to the complete incompetence demonstrated by the federal government in the hurricane's wake. Whomever Bush nominates to take Gonzales' place faces a tougher struggle for confirmation than either of the two previous attorney generals who served at the president's "pleasure". This time around the Democrats control both houses of congress, and there is no way they are going to give a prospective appointee a free pass into office. Even the Republican majority must be wary, given the records of Gonzales and predecessor John Ashcroft.

Labels: , , , , ,

Sunday, August 26, 2007

A Question of Priorities.

It's easy to believe that if you always hang out with "like-minded" people, then you'll never have anything to argue about. There was a time when I thought everyone had basically the same core values, and I always wondered what type of folks represented the political opposition. It was hard for me to fathom that others couldn't see the basic logic in my positions. Wasn't it absolutely clear what the nation needed? How could there be so many voters that chose George W. Bush in 2000? I was absolutely convinced that his support base was a sham. I couldn't see how there were more than a handful of citizens that agreed with his rhetoric. In retrospect it's difficult to reconcile those naive assumptions with the state of the country today. Obviously there are plenty that listen to Rush Limbaugh and his ilk, and take their word as the gospel truth. It's not simply satire.

Despite those realizations, I have re-discovered how idealistic I still am. I had until very recently the mistaken impression that most liberals and progressives were basically the same in their opinions. The fact of the matter is that this is not at all true. Individuals arrive at personal conclusions regarding society along a diverse range of paths. Just because someone's ultimate preferences are aligned with yours does not mean that you think alike. There are some that allow their emotions, intuition, and concepts (like "compassion" and "humanity") to guide their vision. Others come to their worldview by honest attempts at rational and "objective" logic. While there may be a lot of overlap of intentions and end results, the core divergence of personal viewpoints can often be obscured. This suspicion of mine was reinforced the other night in a conversation with a friend.

We were discussing the field of 2008 presidential candidates, and we began to debate priorities. It was through the various assessments of the candidates that we discovered what each other really valued as most important. Her big concern for this race is healthcare. Above and beyond any other issue, she believes that "universal healthcare" needs to be implemented. Now... I want to be absolutely clear that I agree that the current system needs to be examined and re-roganized. It's a core value for me as well. I certainly can't find any reason why we shouldn't make the good health of all Americans a fundamental right. I'm willing to contribute more taxes toward this end. But this would never be the single issue that makes or breaks my support for a presidential nominee. As far as I'm concerned we have much greater challenges to confront first.

To me the overriding concerns for the coming century include the condition of the biosystem (i.e. global climate change, deforestation, decreasing biodiversity, etc.) and the need to address the current energy paradigm. I believe that every single social problem will be ameliorated (to some extent) by finding solutions to these problems. Whether or not you buy the arguments evoked by the concept of "solar carrying capacity", I think it's impossible not to concede the negative impact humanity has had on the earth. I am not arguing that we shouldn't try to improve the way we manage and distribute energy and food. But I am saying that unless we address the fundamental causes of the current situation... we are doomed.

Quite aside from grassroots efforts to change things on a localized level, we have relied on fossil fuels to sustain larger than healthy-sized human populations in areas of the world that simply cannot sustain them. This capability is coming to an end. I'm not predicting when we will run out of these resources- but rather insisting that it is inevitably going to happen. To my mind it is simple negligence that prevents us from doing something about it right now. How can one prioritize concern about the health of individual populations over the health of the environment that all life relies on? That makes absolutely no sense to me. Until we figure out how to decrease the damage caused by our own over-development- all else is merely distraction. I'd love to see a strategy that incorporates "humanity" and "compassion" in order to minimize human suffering. But one way or another we are going to have to live through the consequences of what we have already wrought. Whether or not we can all afford Viagra is beside the point.

Labels: , , , ,

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Sidney Pollack, "Sketches of Frank Gehry"

I mentioned the other day that I had picked up a pair of documentaries about architects. Today I watched the second one- Sketches of Frank Gehry (2006). What this film has in common with My Architect is that the director is close to his chosen subject. But unlike Nathaniel Kahn, Pollack has the opportunity to interact with a living participant. Apparently Sidney Pollack has been friends with Gehry for a number of years. For those of you who are not aware of Pollack, he has made a number of famous films including Tootsie (1982) Out of Africa (1985) The Way We Were (1973) and The Shoot Horses, Don't They? (1969). It is notable however, that the filmmaker had never directed a documentary previously. He claims that he was taken aback by Gehry's request to create a feature about him. Evidently Gehry had been approached by other folks who wanted to produce a picture about him, but he fell back on his trust in his friend. Although Pollack was inexperienced with the particular form, and admittedly knew little about art and architecture- he agreed to go ahead with the project.

Gehry is about as well known an architect as you will find in modern day America. He is famous for designing the Walt Disney Concert Hall in L.A., the Dancing House in Prague, and his masterpiece- the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. Interestingly the first building he became known for was his own residence in Santa Monica, CA. It seems that it was the design of this house that transformed him from an experimentalist in "paper architecture" to a player of import in the world of contemporary architecture. With his second wife Berta, he bought a bungalow and decided that he wanted to preserve its exterior. In order to make it his own, he built a new modern shell around the original house. His use of chain-link fencing and corrugated metal prefigured his later works. But those choices also resulted in a hint of the varying feedback his designs would provoke. Some of his neighbors were of the opinion that he had created an ugly monstrosity.

Although Gehry is often referred to by academics as a deconstructivist, he rejects the label. His style reminds some of a warped updating of the Cubist art movement of the early twentieth century. This might be an appropriate analogy, as Gehry himself has admitted to being a student of art history. In fact he claims his one true regret in life is that he never became a painter. Despite his belief that he has never created a truly "painterly" surface in his architecture, the reflections of the changing light playing off of his chosen materials tell a radically different story. Regardless, it is clear that Gehry has cast off the conventions of his medium. He is outspoken about his resentment for the "rules of architecture". Certainly he flouts them in such a flagrant manner that he has drawn significant criticism for doing so.

Pollack did a competent job in portraying the inner life and philosophies of his subject. Much of the footage consists of informal discussions between the director and architect during his daily life. The filmmaker was given remarkable access to the operations of Gehry's studio, and to the offices of his various clients. Interviews with prominent figures such as Barry Diller, Michael Ovitz, Michael Eisner and Dennis Hopper contribute additional interpretations of Gehry's personality and career. Naturally there is a downside to the close relationship between Gehry and Pollack. The latter is obviously careful to present the best side of his friend. Although one prominent critic is allowed to offer tepid criticism of Gehry's oeuvre, the film remains by-and-large monotone. Similarly there is very little insight into the way Gehry's personal life has affected him. No one from his family is invited to make an appearance.

Despite these flaws I still found Sketches of Frank Gehry satisfying and absorbing. Pollack's experience with the camera does indeed contribute to his ability to capture the magic of Gehry's creations. He only periodically interjects his own values into the film, and thus avoids the common documentarian mistake of becoming a distraction. The choices Pollack makes truly illuminate the quality of the work. If you want a considered debate about the merits of Gehry's contributions to modern design, then perhaps you should look elsewhere. There are plenty of people that consider Gehry buildings to be spectacles of extreme self-indulgence. There is always the chance that a Gehry design will overwhelm its very function and surroundings. But if you want to see the magic of the artist's imagination and unconstrained flights of fancy, then this is the film for you.

Labels: , ,

Friday, August 24, 2007

Wolf Rilla, "Village of the Damned" (1960)

Something strange is about to happen in a sleepy little town of Midwich, which is located in the English countyryside. People will begin abruptly to faint and collapse to the ground. It doesn't matter who they are, or what they are doing. In a matter of seconds there won't be a single conscious inhabitant of the town. It won't take too long before an outsider initiates an investigation of the situation. The only problem will be that anyone who steps into the village in search of an answer is destined to become an instant victim. Quite predictably the military will be summoned to deal with the problem.

This is how the 1960 film "Village of the Damned" starts. But the horror of the story lies not in the initial collapse of all the townspeople- but rather what apparently happened to them as they rested in repose. Because they did inevitably wake up again, feeling a bit cold but otherwise fine. However mysterious their separation from the rest of the world was, they didn't seem the worse for wear. Perhaps it was all just an anomaly that they could put to permanent rest? Unfortunately it didn't turn out that way. After a month or so had passed since the incident, the women of the village became pregnant. This in itself would cause no wonder if certain of these ladies didn't claim to have their viginity intact. Meanwhile some of the village husbands eyed their wives with suspicion. What exactly is the meaning of this mass visitation by the proverbial flock of storks?

As these babies grow (and they do so at a preternatural rate), certainfolks around town quickly discover that they are far from normal. Although considered "perfect" in form and development, they have a very strange look in their eyes. And to add another element of creepiness, they are all blondes. Their mental functions also seem to be advanced, even beyond that of their accelerated physical growth. The "father" of one of the boys eventually discerns that whatever task one kid learns- they all know. In addition they have the uncannily annoying ability to read the minds of both adults and other children. The twelve extraordinary children spend all there time among one another, and act for the protection of the group. They cut a strange sight in their eerily matched costumes. When one hapless townsperson accidently hurts one of the towheaded monsters, we learn that they actually have the ability to compel "normal" folks to hurt themselves.

Of course the plot arc requires these children to become both progressively powerful, and at the same time increasingly threatening. The menace they present to the village is only equaled by the scientific curiosity they elicit in the town's authorities. What to do about these ghastly tykes? Is it morally right just to destroy them? The father mentioned above assumes the responsibility of teaching the dastardly dozen . But he is unable to stem the advance of their dominance. Ultimately, he must take matters into his own hands to resolve the situation. How can he resolve his inner conflict and do what must be done? You'll have to watch to find out.

Some viewers of Village of the Damned consider it a political Cold War allegory. Perhaps the groupthink and foreign qualities of the strange kids reflect the ways that the Western world viewed their communist adversaries. However, it should be noted that another pod of freaky children was born in the Soviet Union (according to the movie), and the way they were dealt with would seem to give the lie to this particular parallel. Anyway as an entertaining diversion, it is an unqualified success. Its running time is tight, and the sight of those silken-haired little homunculi is truly fear-inducing.

Labels: ,

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Going Back to School.

As August advances toward the end of another summer, many heavy hearts face the start of another year. It's always seemed to me as if New Year's Day was rather misplaced. While it's true that the season doesn't officially conclude until well into September, I'm certain the nation's students would echo my viewpoint. It is the time of the year that hordes of harried parents trot their kids to Walmart for the latest in Fall fashions and back-to-school supplies. It may no longer be the age of trapper keepers and number two pencils, but I'm sure the basics of this annual consumerist extravaganza remain essentially the same. Perhaps the teens are wearing thongs instead of boxers, but if you listen very closely you can hear the almost imperceptible swipe of a million credit cards.

I remember, as the years went by, how my varying reactions to these pre-Autumn shopping treks evolved. When I was very small, I absolutely hated going to the store for new clothing. I could have cared less what my mother set out for me to wear in the morning. I'm sure that the process of dragging me out to the mall was tense and grueling. There were probably occasions when I just quit altogether and had to be screamed at before I'd get up off the floor of the local K-MART. An inevitable transformation began as I started my approach to my teen years. I began to care about what the other kids thought about me.

I grew up not far from the outlet stores in Reading. This became the yearly destination just prior to the start of school. My parents gave me a ballpark figure of what they would like to spend, and I was left generally to my own discretion. Figuring out what would be that year's "cool" look was always a challenge for me. I was definitely conscious of being a sort of perpetual outsider. For at least the first two years of high school, I definitely got it wrong. I feel a sort of sad sentimentality for the person I was- struggling to figure out the connection between the right clothes and the popular cliques. Now I mostly feel relief that I left that mentality behind me years ago. It's clear that many adults I interact with have never quite outgrown those concerns.

But there was another refreshing side to that whole situation. Because you could fail time and time again, and still hold out a glimmer of hope that the upcoming year would hold some new kind of promise. You always had an outside shot at changing your identity. In retrospect, there was probably even more possibility than I realized at that time. Kids are notoriously fickle, and the time in between early June and late August felt like years. In conjunction with the palpable physical changes that maturation brought, there was the unquestioning acceptance of superficial cues... including the clothes one chose to wear. It really wasn't out-of-the-question to go from "zero to hero" in ten weeks time. Just try that now in adulthood.

Imagine if you had an annual option to transform yourself in other people's eyes. You would see the rules change immediately. You wouldn't be constrained by employment woes, home mortgages, parenthood or practical social networks. The success of the new identity you assumed and attempted to project would quickly be determined through your initial interactions with those you'd see daily for the next ten months. There would be a lot riding on those crucial first days. Imagine the excitement and anticipation you'd feel. With the perspective of adulthood, you'd be able to appreciate the opportunity to make a bunch of decisions that didn't carry the weight of lifelong consequence. And you'd have the wisdom to realize that the game was constantly transforming, and that you'd get another shot next year. In that light, it doesn't seem half bad, does it?

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Nathaniel Kahn, "My Architect" (2003).

One of the art forms I've been almost criminally negligent in learning about has been architecture. This ignorance may be more egregious because Pittsburgh is a city famous for its diversity of building design. Works by prominent figures such as Henry Hobson Richardson (The Allegheny Courthouse and Jail- 1883), Frederick Osterling (The Pittsburgh Union Trust Building- 1915), Philip Johnson (PPG Place- 1984), Charles Klauder (The Cathedral of Learning- 1921) and Rafael Vinoly (The David Lawrence Convention center- 2003) dot the city landscape. In addition Falling Water (a private home by Frank Lloyd Wright) is a short drive away. Simply walk through one of the many distinctive neighborhoods in the 'Burgh, and you'll get an idea of the breadth and range of architectural styles. Certainly there is plenty in town to keep a serious student busy.

I'm assuredly a layman when it comes to this subject. In order to confront this deficit in my knowledge, I recently picked up a couple of documentaries focusing on Twentieth Century architects. Tonight I watched My Architect: A Son's Journey (2003)- a film about Louis I. Kahn, directed by his son Nathaniel. The elder Kahn is not noted for having realized many of his designs, but rather his reputation has grown from the creation of several masterpieces. He is known to have incorporated the International Style with special attention paid to the play of light and the durability of his structures. His legacy includes the Richards Medical Research Laboratories at the University of Pennsylvania, the Salk Institute in La Jolla, CA, the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad, the National Assembly Building of Bangladesh in Dhaka, and the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, TX. In addition to these applications, he was quite noted as a professor and academic at Yale University.

Yet though the viewer of My Architect will pick up some valuable insights about Kahn's influence from noted modern architects like I.M. Pei, Philip Johnson, and Frank Gehry- this film is really structured around the personal journey Nathaniel Kahn undertook to garner some understanding of his father. Louis Kahn was not an exemplary family man. In addition to his wife Esther and their daughter Amy, Kahn had two secret families. Kahn sired two children (Nathaniel and daughter Alex) with two different mistresses . Nathaniel's mother was a very young 22 when he was born... his father was over 60.

From Nathaniel's perspective, Louis Kahn never spent much time with him and his mother. Not only was he juggling several women, but for all intents and purposes he was married to his job. According to colleagues Kahn had no sense of day or night and lived an extraordinarily nomadic existence. This seems to be borne out by his late success in Asia. From the time that the architect initially achieved international notoriety for his buildings, he would have only a couple of decades to live. Kahn was a flurry of activity in his twilight years, and during this time he devoted a bare minimum to his "second family". They'd see him approximately once a week until Nathaniel was eleven. Then at the age of 74, Louis Kahn died. In his obituary, only Esther and daughter Amy were listed as survivors.

It's notable that Nathaniel Kahn evinces very little resentment toward his famous father. he demonstrates remarkable restraint in not passing judgment or making assumptions. His on-screen trip is very much about letting the figures from Louis Kahn's life talk about the man from their individual points-of-view. Not only does Nathaniel seek out folks who knew his father professionally, but he interviews his half-siblings, the other mistress, his own mother, and her sisters. Naturally there is a wide divergence of opinions expressed on his situation and the elder Kahn's life. Perhaps the most touching assessment comes from a place least expected- a Bangladeshi official explains the import Louis Kahn holds for his people. It's an astonishingly direct and nuanced perspective, and it is delivered with genuine emotion. Much the same can be said about the totality of My Architect.

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Politics as Entertainment.

As you might already know from reading this blog, I often ask myself why it is impossible for me to find any talk radio that hasn't been hijacked by conservative wingnuts. Is it simply because all the liberals and progressives are out whoopin' it up and getting laid? Or are they too busy listening to public radio? Why is it that the only enjoyment a non-Republican can get on the AM band is a somewhat masochistic exposure to the massive blunders of these pundits? I know that there is plenty of left-leaning commentary online, but not all of the potential audience for that is tech savvy. Believe it or not folks would rather be entertained than deal with all the issues in a substantial way. Why does the right have the monopoly on amusement-driven political analysis?

OK.. ok... there is Comedy Central with Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert. But that doesn't make up for the 24-7 laugh-fest that is Fox News. I feel shortchanged and (like I said) my sense of loss is heightened whenever I'm in my car. I can choose national media featuring Neal Boortz, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, Michael Reagan, Michael Savage, Glenn Beck, etc, or I can localize my listening with Fred Honsberger, Kevin Miller or Jim Quinn. There's not a single moderate voice available, let alone a liberal. I remember being promised a dose of Air America, but the closest we get is WPTT 1360 AM, which mixes in Alan Colmes and Thom Hartmann with the usual conservative subjects. Plus their signal is so damned weak that I can only get it from certain high-altitude spots on a cloudless day. It's simply not an option on my long commute.

Sure... I could buy Sirius radio or some other pay-to-play service. But the AM and FM bands are free. Why does the extreme right-wing dominate the airwaves? Perhaps because it is corporately funded with advertising. Still I believe that there is a market demographic that is not being served in our area. Either way, it would behoove the Democratic Party to invest more money into radio. Because when the shit hits the fan, people turn on their radio. If all they can access if Republican propaganda, then the battle for the minds of the citizens is over. When I can't get home to my computer to find out the truth, I have to rely on right-wing radio for information. I am at a loss.

In the meantime I have discovered YouTube. For years I have screamed responses at my car radio (in complete futility) because I knew that the lies being presented would remain unchallenged by logic or reason. These shows aren't about debate- they are about programming. But now I can catch the highlights, just by typing the name of my "favorite" blowhard into the search window. I realize now that there is plenty of documentation of these folks sabotaging themselves, or otherwise being savaged by the few intelligent guests that they bring on their shows. Partially the problem has been one of style. Many progressives are too serious, and lack humor or stage presence. No matter what else you think about the crew that currently occupies the mediasphere, you have to concede that the most successful among them are competent attack dogs. And you have to ask yourself why the other side hasn't bred some of their own.

Almost without exception the celebrities that have fought the good fight on the left have been former comedians. Al Franken, Bill Maher, George Carlin, Bill Hicks, David Cross, Stewart and Colbert... those are the guys challenging what has become the conventional perspective. One might guess that is because comedy is the only thing that can defuse the invective of the right. Even Howard Stern and David Letterman (neither of whom could ever be accused of catering to a "liberal" audience) have been more effective than the commentators the left-leaning establishment has produced. Watch this video to see how easily the latter dispatches O'Reilly. He says the exact things I've been wanting to say for years. If progressives (or even Democrats) ever want to popularize their agenda, they better start taking notes.

Keith Olbermann does a great job.

Here's another guy (Ellis Henican) I just found out about who's a pretty good role model.

Labels: , , ,

Monday, August 20, 2007

Kevin Miller of KDKA 1020.

Occasionally I find myself at a loss when I try to come up with something to write about here at Serendipity. I suppose that's a natural expectation considering I make every effort to post daily. I sometimes forget how close the solution hovers on the periphery of my life. All I have to do under such circumstances is to get into my car and make a short trip anywhere. This strategy works only if I tune into KDKA AM 1020. Invariably there will be some blow-hard exhausting his wind on some untenable or ridiculous position. Kevin Miller is my new whipping boy at the station. He excretes a vile load of shit every afternoon (12:15-3PM).

It occurs to me to wonder where the hell they come up with guys like this. Miller, originally from "northeastern Ohio", is a recent transplant from Dixie radio. But he got his start in New Hampshire interviewing presidential hopefuls prior to the state's 1996 primary. He styles himself "The Round Mound of Sound"- an appropriate moniker for this "fat tub of goo" (my apologies to Terry Forster). Building on his reputation as the NH Pat Buchanan, he ambulance-chased his way to Ground Zero, and parlayed the tragic event into limited national personal prominence. Later he became known for his commentary on the Duke Lacrosse rape case and for disputing Valerie Plame's status as a CIA operative (a contention he still pushes on a gullible listening audience today).

Given the general tenor of the mass media in the modern age, it is not surprising that he has won several AP awards. Conservative wingnuts like Miller are the darlings of the press corps. Since he's come to our fair city, he seems to have directed a lot of his attention toward religious commentary. Recently a group of women were ordained as Catholic priests on a riverboat, and Miller was apoplectic about it. An averred papist, the talk-show host ranted for several hours straight (at least) about how this event ran counter to religious doctrine. Instead of presenting anything resembling a logical argument for his position, he simply called upon the infallibility of the Pope. Whenever a caller checked in to express a differing viewpoint, he/she was answered with a curt dismissal. He kept stressing that "there are rules!" Yet there is some reason to believe that Jesus meant women to have an active role in spreading his word... and evidence for this appears in what should be Miller's ultimately accepted source of authority- the Bible itself.

Indeed it says in the scriptures that Jesus' first post-resurrection appearance was witnessed by Mary outside of his tomb. Surely the Lord God himself was expressing his wish for Mary to extend "the Word" to all who would follow Him. Or does Kevin Miller believe this was random chance? Because I'm certainly no biblical scholar, and he seems to be declaring himself an authority... or at least a mouthpiece for Rome- the officially-sanctioned "one true Church". I don't know anything about the infallibility of the Vatican, but I do believe that if Miller did any degree of independent study he could find evidence of spiritual misguidance. Perhaps he could check into Roman Catholic collusion with the Nazis.

But given a more recent topic Miller has engaged, I'm not so sure that he doesn't feel an element of kinship with the Third Reich. Not only is he railing against the participation of homosexuals in the Catholic faith, but he is now extending his particular brand of "activism" to the Lutheran synod. He evidently wants to play some role in steering every Christian sect away from allowing homosexuals to serve as spiritual advisors. While he is careful to try to maintain the illusion of diplomacy with off-the-cuff assessments like "to each their own", he is abundantly clear in saying that he would never accept a gay in the role of church leader. If he is not trying to influence the greater dialogue, then I have no idea why he is challenging this specific practice. The problem with guys like Miller is that they are never content to assume an air of superiority- they also want to dictate how everyone else thinks and lives. But apparently that sells on AM radio.

Labels: , , , ,

Sunday, August 19, 2007

YouTube Nights @ BrilloBox

It's easy in this modern age to believe you have seen it all. From the time we are children, we are inundated with visual information representing every minor phenomena anyone has ever thought to capture on camera. If you are jaded and world-weary... I understand why. But it could just be that you are missing something extraordinary, amazing and/or entertaining. And you'll never know unless you are open to exploration.

The same thing applies to nightlife. You say you've been to the fetish balls, the water balloon fights AND naked karaoke? You couldn't possible imagine seeing anything new? Well here's your chance... the BrilloBox has started YouTube nights on Sundays. Katie (your host) is not only sharing her favorites, but also playing requests. Last week I stumbled into the bar, only to see a large projection screen fed by K.'s laptop. With the virtual world and sophisticated volume control at her fingertips, the place was transformed into an unusual brand of theater. That in itself is nothing new at this spot. The owners relish turning newbies on to some of the strangest and most compelling DVDs available. If you find yourself becoming sick and tired of looking at the same old people, you always have the option to direct you attention to one of the monitors around the bar.

But this is a fresh concept. In some ways, it's almost a "no-brainer". Every single day hundreds (if not thousands) of new video recordings are uploaded into cyberspace. Quite obviously, a vast proportion of this stuff is amateurish, juvenile and utterly unwatchable. But if you spend some time digging, there are truly some gems to be had. And that's the charm of a weekly series like this. Perhaps you'll see something that you never dreamed existed. Maybe you'll laugh, or cry, or be turned on. It's the element of surprise that matters.

Last Sunday was the very first YouTube night, and K. was still working out the kinks. There's not really any sort of benchmark for this type of thing, so there's going to be some trial-and-error. Many of the requests people were making were (to my mind) cliche and/or just plain silly. We got to see Asian youths lip-synching songs by bad pop girl-bands, and other clips you could easily catch on America's Stupidest Home Videos. But there was some quality animation, and there were Wonder Showzen clips. And then there were some things that were frankly beyond categorization. Those oddities make the entire evening worthwhile.

Whether or not this experiment will catch on is really beside the point. The concept does runs counter to a few realities of "standard" bar behavior. Most prominently- people want to talk when they go out. Whether or not there will be a balance between the buzz of conversation and the audio tracking remains to be seen. It does make sense to schedule such entertainment for a slow night. Therefore it is possible that the idea could be a victim of its own success. If YouTube videos become a significant attraction, the crowd could become a distraction in its own right. But then again... if K. can figure out a way to get people hooked with an interactive element- then the communal nature of amusement could be harnessed to make it a unique party, a rite of passage or a weekly staple.

Even if the show never rises above a background noise level, it will be an interesting sociological experience. I'm curious to see what K. can find. Because I am so tickled by the possibilities, I sent her a list of videos I particularly like. Here are a couple of examples- from the ridiculous to the sublime.

Labels: ,

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Steven Millhauser, "In the Penny Arcade" (1986)

I have to admit being just a bit skeptical about book recommendations. Because of my ongoing project, I have refined my tastes to the point that I already know the type of stuff I want to be reading in the upcoming year. So generally I'm not interested in disrupting that continuity. Occasionally someone makes a compelling enough case to convince me that a particular author is worth paying attention to. Even so there are several layers of resistance that such a suggestion has to pass through before I honor it.

One of my sources that I generally trust is Bill over at Copacetic. He has guided me through the world of alt-comix during the last several years. Because I usually enjoy the things he sends my way, he gets the benefit of the doubt. I could create an quick list of cartoonists that I only know about because of Bill. But this post isn't about comics- it's about an author. On more than a few occasions, Bill has seen me browsing through the relatively small but impressive collection of literature that he stocks in his little store. And he's tried to turn me on to one of his all-time favorite authors, Steven Millhauser. It may be solely because of the imprint under which he is published (Pheonix of Orion Books Ltd), but his books were never quite intriguing enough to catch my interest. I admit this exposes a particularly American superficiality, but I am definitely vulnerable to marketing demographics. The packaging of Millhauser's works is plainly stolid. That may reflect the fact that the publisher is British. I'm not 100% certain.

When I was finally ready to take the Pulitzer Prize-winning Martin Dressler (1996) home, I prepared myself for an intensely dry read. That wasn't at all what I discovered. The award-winning book traces the rags-to-riches ascendancy of the title character. Dressler works his way up from cigar store stock-boy to hotel mogul in a couple hundred pages. Along the way his visionary dreams of creating an interior world within the confines of a quickly developing NYC proceed at a break-neck pace. There is a side-plot in which Dressler courts a pair of sisters, but I found that arc a bit contrived. What Millhauser succeeds best at is in evoking grand images through a series of very descriptive lists. He's obviously obsessed by systems theory, and this fetish is enough to sustain the discriminating reader's interest.

After I was done with his magnum opus, I wasn't sure if I needed to return to Millhauser in any expedient fashion. But then I found a couple more of his works in the remainder section of an independent bookstore in Shepherdstown, WV. I recently finished In the Penny Arcade (1986), a collection of short stories. The first entry is called "August Eschenberg", and the character for which it is named is very similar to Martin Dressler. Eschenberg is a man of extraordinary vision and imagination, and he inevitably struggles with social forces that tend to bring visionaries down to the mediocrity of the masses. American attentions are fickle, and tend to focus on the grandiose and sexy aspects of their various entertainments. A true thing of beauty will only engage the consumer mindset until it is no longer novel. Eschenberg's clockwork art becomes a victim of its own co-option, meeting a similar fate as Dressler's hotels. After concluding this story I thought I had a firm grasp on Millhauser's thematic range.

But I was pleasantly surprised at the emotionally resonant tales that followed. It turns out that Millhauser is perfectly capable of documenting the inner lives of his characters, even when they are confined to a more human scale. Stories like In the Penny Arcade, A Day in the Country, and The Sledding Party demonstrate that Millhauser is no stranger to the wonders of the heart. While his sometimes Dickensian prose belies the magical realism tucked away at its center, Millhauser's fictions here contain a deeper strain of understanding for the subtleties of memory and loss. I found both a deeper and wider facility in this writing that I had not expected after my initial reading of Millhauser. And that means I will be returning again soon.

Labels: , , , ,

Friday, August 17, 2007

Saturday Preview (A Full Day in Larryville...and more)

I haven't done a "heads-up" for local entertainment in awhile. I realize that such a post only stimulates limited interest in many of the people who read this blog. I don't know many folks who look here to figure out what they want to do on the weekend. If that was the focus, then I'd probably end up doing a piss-poor job of it. When I have promoted some event, it has usually been on the day of- and thus constituted almost completely useless information. Besides, there are many weekends when I'm simply not that excited by what's on offer. But I sometimes think it would be helpful if there were more disinterested bloggers talking about such options. Finally, I've still been tethered to the trivia site I wrote about yesterday, and I don't have much I want to say otherwise.

First of all... I was struck by the almost absolute lack of anything compelling going on tonight. That's been a fairly rare phenomena around town this past year. The bars will always be there, but there's nothing particularly exceptional about a night out drinking. I'm certain you could find some worthwhile band playing out, but I'm not really up on that scene. So given this empty space on my social calendar, I naturally assumed that there would have been plenty of options for tomorrow (Saturday). Lo and behold, there are a couple of things worth mentioning.

The Mattress Factory has an opening reception tomorrow afternoon with artwork by the son of one of my friends. It's happening between 2 and 4PM on Saturday. The title for the show is called "Good Dharma- Factory 14s". I don't know much about it, but there is some fairly fresh-looking Hindu-style artwork on the invitation (which I can't unfortunately find an online link to). This is only a guess extrapolated from the title itself, but one might think that all the artists in the show are youthful. And it just might have some kind of tie-in to the Warhol, but I can't swear to it. For some reason, I can't find much info on the official website. It's great that the museum has made an effort to engage non-traditional streams of work, but I wish they could make a better effort to promote what they do.

Lawrenceville also offers a full day of enjoyment tomorrow. As if to consolidate their growing reputation as the center of the Pittsburgh arts, neighborhood galleries and boutiques are rolling out a block party. Last year a handful of new art-spots on Hatfield Street decided to hold an event to raise their public profile. I attended and was modestly impressed to see such activity happening on a backstreet block I had lived on for years. Back when I was there it was mostly frequented by junkies and prostitutes, but the area has really turned around. This year they are promising increased participation by businesses from all over the neighborhood, and even live performances (11AM-5PM). There is reason to expect that this will be a steadily growing annual phenomenon. It always feels good to be one of the first to discover something cool. While you're down there, make it a point to stop by at Lawrenceville's newest hot-spot- the Zombo Gallery at 4900 Hatfield Street. Check out the owner's multimedia phantasmagoria to get an idea of what you are in for.

After you are through with those activities, you can stay in the neighborhood and grab a bite or a drink. I recommend Remedy Bar and Restaurant at 5121 Butler Street. Then head westward to the Digging Pitt Galleries (on Butler St and 45th) for their closings of a trio of shows. The tail-end of an exhibition is always a good time to see the artwork in a mellow atmosphere. You don't have to jostle a bunch of scenesters simply to get a good view. Plus nothing lasts forever, and you have to make it a point to appreciate the things that will soon be gone.

You can close your Lawrenceville experience with a stop by La Vie Gallery (36th and Butler Streets). They are having the opening reception (7-11PM) for the second in a three-part series of shows that constitutes Endless Summer. This new segment is titled Midsummer Night. Proprietors Bronwyn Loughren and Thommy Conroy have brought their excellently sophisticated aesthetic sensibilities to the most impressive gallery to open in the city in several years. I have been consistently pleased by the quality of the work they have selected, and their openings have been lively and entertaining. This should be no exception, considering it features work by some of my local favorites: Kathryn Young, Jairan Sadeghi, Valerie Leuth, Mary Mack, and Josh Tonies. If you get a chance, ask Conroy about next Saturday's Hothouse- the preeminent art party (sponsored by the Sprout fund) in the Pittsburgh region. He's the event architect.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Online Trivia.

With almost a week left before I have to go back to work, you'd think that I would find a more productive way of spending my leisure time than playing online trivia. But that's what I've been engaged with for the last 24 hours. I had a craving yesterday to go play NTN, but I couldn't find anyone to go with me and I didn't feel like going to a bar by myself in the middle of the day. Determined to get the compulsion out of my system, I planted myself in front of the computer and searched for just the right site.

I'm no stranger to trivia on the internet. Back in the golden days (the 1990's) I used to frequent the AOL chat rooms, and I spent hours playing live trivia. The quality of the games was inconsistent. Often the good ones would be held in virtual rooms that would meet their capacities minutes before they began rolling out the questions. It was interesting to see the different styles of the various moderators. The chat would scroll by rapidly as people made their infrequently clever comments as they played. They even had to employ a separate user as a scorer, and this introduced a factor of human error. Not only that, but the screen often froze- making the whole enterprise extremely frustrating. Whenever they weren't running formal games, folks would make up extemporaneous trivia challenges. Naturally there was a loose protocol that you were supposed to observe. If you got someone's query right, then you were allowed to come up with the next one. Invariably there were a bunch of kids passing through that failed to understand the simple rules. And then you had spammers and trolls too. Every few minutes someone would post a general request for virtual sex. These distractions eventually made the whole thing unbearable.

Needless to say, I was skeptical about what I would find after the intervening years. At first I landed on a pay-to-play site (see it here). After registering for an account, I was credited with exactly $2. Users are invited to join others in putting up money for a quick round of theme-oriented trivia. They had "movies", "music", "sports", and "general" matches. For 50 cents, $1, or $5, you get the chance to pit your knowledge directly against someone else. The amount of prize money you can win depends on how many people take up the challenge. The house takes 30% of everyone's stake. This occupied me for about an hour, and by the end I had accumulated $5. But I felt an inordinate amount of pressure playing for real money. I certainly wasn't going to whip out my credit card and put money on my account. And I couldn't figure out who the predators were. This was an intriguing site, but I decided to move on.

Next I found Quick Trivia. com. This is a static website where you can take pre-written, user-submitted quizzes. Each time you take one you build up a certain amount of points. But the individual sets of trivia are so idiosyncratic that it only held my interest for about fifteen minutes. In addition there are 94 pages of tests, and each time you complete one you have to go back to page 1 and work your way back to wherever you were. This is a glitch that I would assume someone could have easily corrected. Ultimately there was no real action there. I didn't agonize over my choice to keep searching.

Finally I found what I was looking for- InteracTrivia. This provided many of the features I was looking for. The interface is simple and engaging. Games are broken into four rounds of nine questions each, and there is only a thirty second wait between matches. There's no time to take a piss or get up for a snack- this is serious business. For each item you can change you answer within an allotted period- but speed counts and your score is affected by when (and if) you choose the correct option. There are seven different rooms you can choose from, but most of the activity happens in "General Trivia". Those rooms can accomodate 250 simultaneous players. The stated philosophy is, "The more, the merrier". And if you register for an account, they keep personal stats for you that include the average amount of points you receive per answer (maximum=1000) , your all-time highest score, and the percentage of all questions you got right.

One of the elements that makes InteracTrivia particularly interesting is the "Cheat Chat" option. Users can input answers in an accompanying chat screen, and if they are correct these answers will either be censored or exposed, depending on your settings. The same screen allows friendly banter between players. I like that extra level of interaction. Because of "Cheat Chat", there is a certain collegial atmosphere that is generally absent in other trivia platforms. It makes it seem less competitive, but doesn't eliminate the satisfaction of attaining the lead. Somehow it did feel especially rewarding to see my name at the top of the "leader board"- both in individual matches and for the total score for the day. Yet you need not feel an urge to win... it's fun regardless. I know I'll be going back, and I invite y'all to join me.


Wednesday, August 15, 2007

A Cautionary Tale.

Imagine working at a dive bar in L.A. as a bouncer and bartender, with huge dreams of becoming a success story in Hollywood. That dream (of course) is a modern-day cliche. But what if you actually got that "big break"... do you think you'd be able to handle it? That happened to a man named Troy Duffy in the late 90's. He was living in a veritable shithole along with his brother, with only dreams of their band making it big to sustain him. One day he watched a woman in his apartment being carried out of the building on a stretcher. She had been the victim of a domestic assault. Duffy began having visions of vigilantism, and decided to write a sceenplay for purposes of self-administered "therapy". He happened to have a buddy who was an intern for a big movie prodicer, and he asked him to shop his work around.

Against all odds, the script ended up in the hands of some important people. The next thing Duffy new he was being courted by several big film corporations to turn The Boondock Saints into the next hit independent film. After a visit from Harvey Weinstein, he decided to pursue a contract with Miramax. The famous producer offfered a lucrative deal for the script and offered to purchase and co-own the bar where Duffy worked. Soon the bouncer-turned-scriptwriter was meeting all manner of celebrities. At the same time it looked like his band would be allowed to create the soundtrack, and the deal held out the promise of a major deal with a record company. Things couldn't look brighter for the hot young neophyte. On top of the world, he hired his friends to film a documentary about his impending rise to fame. The result is Overnight: There's More Than One Way to Shoot Yourself (2004) by Mark Brian Smith and Tony Montana.

From the title, you can reasonably assume that Duffy's career trajectory wasn't what he had anticipated. Because it turned out that the "next Tarantino" ended up being a complete asshole. Duffy was convinced that he was setting a unique precedent in all of history. He believed that he was a genius, and that it didn't matter how he acted- as long as he was a success. He quickly began to alienate all around him. Smith and Montana (who were originally co-managers of Duffy's band, "The Brood") were encouraged to witness the great fall. When it came to casting, Duffy wasn't very diplomatic about the prospects. He was loose-lipped concerning his disdain for several of the actors Weinstein wanted him to consider for the film. It wasn't long before Miramax decided to put the project on turnaround, and eventually they simply pulled out of the deal altogether.

Instead of recognizing the destructive capacity of his own hubris, Duffy bullheadedly proceeded to badmouth Weinstein around town. His drunken antics made him into a media spectacle. He even went as far as to utter anti-semitic comments in public. This was a fatal mistake. After several years languishing in limbo, and in the process of disgusting every last friend he had, Duffy was finally able to convince (with the help of the William Morris agency) an independent film company to let him make his film... albeit at a greatly reduced budget. He directed The Boondock Saints (with Willem Dafoe, Billy Connelly and Norman Reedus) and exposed it to an abysmally limited theatrical release. In the wake of the Columbine shootings, no one was very interested in screening the hyperviolent tale of revenge. To add insult to injury, the soundtrack only sold about 700 copies nationwide, and Duffy was soon bankrupt and forgotten.

Eventually The Boondock Saints would receive the benefit of a market push from Blockbuster Home Video, and after years it became something of a "cult classic". However this didn't help Duffy, as he had foolishly ceded the DVD and video rights in his initial contract. Since the great debacle, his band has broken up (creative differences) and he has been unable to find gainful employment at any level in the film industry. Despite intermittent statements that he is working on a sequel, it is not likely that Duffy will make his return any time soon. Apparently he is legendary for his boorish behavior, and he may have pissed away any amount of goodwill he had been able to generate. Or perhaps the version created by Smith and Montana is so one-sided that it misrepresents the reality of the story they lived through. The possibility of a biased presentation is always present when those documenting events have played an active role in them. Nonetheless it's hard to see what they captured and come away with any other conclusion than that Troy Duffy is an asshole. It's worthwhile seeing for yourself. As far as The Boondock Saints- I'll get back to you after I see it.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

A Sonogram.

Today I had the chance to monitor the progress of another project I've been involved in. I'm about half-way through this one, and the excitement is starting to build just a bit. M. and I went to a medical imaging facility, and looked at a sonogram of our future child. The particular anticipation associated with this visit arose from the possibility of finding out the fetus' gender. I know several other couples who are in the midst of working their ways through pregnancy, and the majority of them have chosen to find out whether to expect a boy or a girl. While I can understand how there might be some fun in keeping it a mystery, I couldn't think of any logical reason not to find out as early as possible. This way we can pester the folks who have already had kids with the same equipment. I personally have no problem with secondhand baby clothes.

The whole process of using ultrasound to peer into the womb is indeed fascinating. The prospective mother hops up on the table and the technician slathers some clear gel over her protruding belly. Then the tech rubs what appears to be a checkout scanner over the mound. There's no wait for processing- the images are immediately broadcast over the monitors. The tech has her own, and there is one mounted on the wall for the would-be parents. Of course the doctors who evaluate the health of the fetus need a series of shots from different angles, so the mother is instructed to turn over on each of her sides. The fetus then shifts to get comfortable.

I did have my patience tested by the procedure. Most of the close-ups are indientifiable to an untrained eye. In a soothing voice the technician explained what we were looking at. She pointed out different hemispheres of the brain, the umbilical cord, heart ventricles, kidneys, face, abdomen, and appendages. These parts are all labeled with text onscreen so the doctors don't have to guess. Measurements are collected and stills are recorded. Its technical nature makes it seem like something out of a sci-fi film. We waited, quiet and anxious, to hear the information we came for.

There is always the possibility (even at approximately 20 weeks) that the fetus will remain in a series of positions that obscure its developing genitals. Not so in our case. The little thing had no reservations about spreading its legs. "He" was not modest at all, and the tech got a kick out of his willingness to expose himself. It's been pretty easy to detach myself and vicariously experience M.'s pregnancy. The entire transformation is truly alien- the moods and the body transformation are striking. But for a brief moment I felt a pang of sentiment. It's a fact that the ultrasound images of the fetus are only really emotionally meaningful to those directly involved. I've been in the position of being made to watch someone else's fetus squirm around on home video, and I was largely unmoved. I felt like saying they could bring around the kid after they taught it a few tricks. maybe then I would be impressed. Obviously that wasn't the case here. Despite myself, I was a bit amazed.

The strangest part of the afternoon was the computerized monochromatic rendering of the fetus. It looks like a little extraterrestial trapped in the slimy walls of an intergalactic insect's lair. It is all tan and amorphously moist. It's assuredly not the type of thing any objective viewer would describe as "cute". But predictably I found the whole thing quite literally marvelous.

Labels: ,

Monday, August 13, 2007

Shepherdstown and Harper's Ferry.

Because we confined our trip to Berkely Springs to a single weekend, and we got settled in Friday night, we only really had one full day to explore the area. Through the relatively modest amount of research I did beforehand I knew that there wasn't a lot of essentials that I would regret missing. I figured we'd spend part of Saturday on the road, and had some vague plans about towns I'd like to visit while I had the chance.

We were in the easternmost part of WV, and that section of the state seems more like Virginia or Maryland then the land of "hoopies". Part of the reason for that is its proximity to Washington DC. It was pretty clear that many people from the capitol region have summer houses near Berkely Springs. It's not as hilly as the main part of West Virginia, and it has a discernibly different identity. The most common description that ran through my head was "quaint". There are a lot of self-consciously old-fashioned small towns, with clean streets and little shops. In addition the area has a whole lot of Civil War history. Having enjoyed our trip to Gettysburg a few years ago, we figured seeing some similar battle sights might be worthwhile.

Unfortunately since the previous few days had been exhausting, we got a late start. Around noon we plotted a course, and I despaired of seeing much of all. Then of course the bridge spanning that particular stretch of the Potomac was confined to a single lane of costruction (relecting perhaps the recent tragedy of bridge collapse?) , and that took away another bite of precious time. But we made a big circle around our target towns on route 70, and eventually got off around Antietam. I know almost nothing about the specifics of that battle, and I was looking forward to seeing the miniature replica of the conflict at a roadside museum. Can you believe that it was closed at 2PM on a Saturday? This added to our overall bleak impression of our itinerary. We drove a bit through the battleground itself and scanned a few plaques, but without a greater context it meant close to nothing. Anyway neither of us are particularly interested in staring at barren expanses- we are more likely to appreciated a cheesy wax museum. We drove on through Sharpsburg.

Eventually we found Shepherdstown which contains the small Shepherd College. I was struck by the contrived old-timey feeling of the business district. It felt like a living reconstruction of a contemporary yuppie's dream of historically significant shopping. Yes... it was quaint. I did however find several shops worth spending time in. Four Season Books has a nice back room of remainders and used books. Their selection was broad and hip. We grabbed lunch at the Yellow Brick Bank. We probably would not have chosen the restaurant at dinner (too expensive), but lunch was excellent and reasonably priced. I had a pasta dish with several different cheeses, and it was delectable. The interior is charming with its old-school stylings and decor. They also have a good beer selection (which I chose not to take advantage of). I followed lunch with a stop at The Lost Dog coffeehouse, which was surprisingly progressive and hip. There was vaguely edgy art on the walls, and its staff would be completely at home in any prospering inner city enclave. And they didn't stumble on my extremely finicky drink order.

Thus fortified we continued down the road to Harper's Ferry. I had desired a look at at the scene of John Brown's aborted rebellion, and I figured on taking a relaxed walk through another forgotten village. Almost immediately we realized that it's actually a significant tourist destination. The town-planners have set up a system to encourage visitors to park in a lot outside of town, and pay $6 to ride a shuttle bus. I wasn't having it. I figured I'd be able to find street parking. Once we got to its center, I thought I had made a mistake. But against all odds we found a free space right in the thick of things. It was surprisingly crowded with white faces perched atop business-casual outfits. If you ever plan to visit, you need to wear your "sensible" shoes, because it is packed with steep inclines and outdoor stairways. The park service has restored several buildings with artifacts and original designs, and the history buff can peer through glass at the interiors. Among those buildings are a mass of shops and restaurants where you can buy civil war replicas and sweets.

Although we couldn't find anything that looked like a centralized museum, we did go inside the John Brown Wax Museum. Even though I made sure to get permission to take photos, the old crone manning the desk felt obliged to threaten a lawsuit should I deign to sell any images. In every moment she gave us the impression that she hates her plight in life. Maybe she is paranoid that some ambitious competitor will rise up and start a rival wax museum in town. She was actually babbling to herself as we looked at the first few vignettes. Perhaps she continued, but eventually we were beyond the reach of her whiney voice. In retrospect- if she was so suspicious of my intentions, she should have simply prohibited any photography. I would have accepted that, as it is policy at many such places. Anyway the exhibits were vaguely entertaining, if not exactly life-like. I would suggest that when that bitter old woman at the front counter dies, she should be stuffed and promoted as John Brown's long-suffering wife. It will give the place some added bite.

Overall I would recommend Harper's Ferry as a diverting family experience. It does seem that its modern inhabitants have a wish to insulate it from the homogenization of gimmicky technology. I admire the commitment to preserve the historical authenticity of the village. There are a host of live actors in period costumes that lend a serious tenor to the events that took place there. Unfortunately the arsenal itself is long gone, and the firehouse that housed the captured rebels has been moved repeatedly. But there is enough to see to warrant spending the better part of a day in Harper's Ferry. And if the kids get restless they can always go for a dip in the river.

Labels: , , , , ,

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Berkely Springs, WV.

Well... every once in awhile it's good to have a complete getaway. Part of the joy in such a trip is shirking responsibility and dropping everyday routines. During my first two forays on the road this summer I still felt some pressure from the inertia of this blog. Even though I had met my goal of a year of posts, I still felt compelled to write daily entries. That wasn't the case this time. M. and I drove to Berkely Springs, WV. We chose the location as appropriate for a private weekend. It's only about three hours from the 'Burgh, and the driving mostly avoids the type of mountainous roads that make M. nervous. I had never been there before, and had planned on doing more research than I had, but then the power went out and we spent a tense and hot night in the dark. So when we left Friday morning, we were mostly blind to the area.

The claim to fame of Berkely Springs is that it was the first major spa destination of the republic. Luminaries such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Meriwether Lewis were known to take the waters there. It contained sulfates, carbonates, and nitrates, and was considered to be good for digestive ailments and stress relief. When it comes out of the mountains, it is 74 degrees Fahrenheit. There are still multiple spas in modern day Berkely Springs, and they still attract a lot of tourists from the Washington DC area. But the area has also tried to build a reputation as a small-town arts center, and it contains an artist co-op in a converted ice house. Walking down the few streets of downtown the visitor sees galleries, fancy gift shops and a few fine restaurants. Predictably the wares are the furthest thing from being edgy. The stuff is mostly meant to be high-priced wall decoration. And most of the businesses close at 5PM, no matter what day it is. The town is not known for its sparkling nightlife, so if you go- plan your evening activities elsewhere.

We did eat two meals in Berkely Springs. The first was at an Italian restaurant called Maria's Garden. The proprietors are clearly Catholics, and they have a counter where you can buy Christian lit, and sundries with the images of saints. The food was decent, if a bit misleading. M.'s vegatarian sub had bits of meat that were left over on the grill. My Chicken Cacciatore had large chunks of beef in the meat sauce. I began to belief their conversion efforts were twofold, though everything did taste good. Last night we ate Mexican, and it was standard fare. I was extraordinarily pleased to discover that the Creamery (where we got dessert) featured Butter Brickle ice cream. You can't get that in the 'Burgh.

The most distinctive part of our little vacation was definitely our accomodations. M. booked us a little place from Berkely Springs Cottage Rentals. It was called the Back Creek Cabin, and I believe that it lived up to its billing. We had to take a series of increasingly dodgy backroads to get to the place. They narrowed until the point that they were clearly one-lane paths. At the end of the wooded trail was a steep incline that would be impassable if wet and muddy- at least without an ATV. All through our stay I worried that it would rain, and we would be stuck. We were very fortunate in terms of the weather. We also felt lucky when we got in the doors of the cottage. It seemed that the people in charge of the place had thought of everything. Considering its remote location, we were amazed at how well appointed it was. There was a full kitchen with microwave, a TV with VCR, DVD and Direct TV, and a queen-sized bed with lots of extra pillows and blankets. Two comfy recliners were provided for lounging. Outside on the porch there were some great chairs and a grill. A fire pit with a stockpile of wood was nearby. But the biggest treat was the A.C., which was especially appreciated after our experience with the blackout at home. Someone even thought to keep it running for our arrival. The place was immaculately clean and thoroughly insulated. For its reasonable price, we were quite pleased- what a great little hideway!

During our first night there, I think we were the only people on the mountain. I took a walk to check out the scene. There were a few other scattered cabins and lodges, but no cars or lights in sight. The thick woods obscured the surroundings. This fact made it especially cozy and special. Whenever I went outside the cabin and sat for a cigarette, I marvelled at the sounds of the chirping insects. Between the crickets and cicadas, it sounded like the deep jungle. I loved it. I turned out the porchlights and stared up through the trees at the stars. The total darkness accentuated the experience, and I had the minor thrill of being (almost) totally alone in the wilderness. It made going inside and watching late night television a unique experience. On the second night our distant neighbors were whooping it up with loud country music. A sharp disappointment accompanied the shattering of my illusion of isolation. But once night fell, and the sounds of the forest asserted themselves, I was happy again. It was exactly the experience I had been looking for.

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Drew Friedman

Who is Drew Friedman, and why should you care? He is perhaps the foremost living caricaturist, and has a diverse fan-base that has included R. Crumb, Kurt Vonnegut, Howard Stern, and Jerry Lewis. The last is most surprising, considering Friedman has often targeted the slapstick "King of Comedy" in his satirical comics. But Friedman has not been universally lauded, as such figures as Joe Franklin and Wood Allen have taken exception to the unflattering portraits the artist has made of them. Franklin went as far as suing* Friedman for $40 million for depicting the aging talk show host as an incredibly shrinking man.

It's not surprising that some of Friedman's subjects have been offended. As a cartoonist, he employs a grotesquely unflattering style. Punctuated by seemingly millions of stippled ink-dots, his targets are often decorated with extra wrinkles and liver spots. Their open mouths are connected by strips of white sticky mouth goo, and every flaw in their appearances seem to be especially magnified. While Daniel Clowes (also a fan) once famously said that caricaturists traditionally employ the technique of softening their models' most prominent features, Friedman obviously breaks rank with his colleagues. It is the rare public figure that could find their visage beautiful through the pen of Friedman.

Despite his reluctance to glamorize celebrity, it is possible to see the affection Friedman has for some of his most frequent targets. Tor Johnson, the moronic ex-wrestler from the Ed Wood movies, appears often- and despite his bumbling persona, it's clear that Friedman has a special affinity for the hapless giant. Similarly, the artist has portrayed many old Jewish comedians, and collected them into an anthology. While they are often ugly, the essential vulnerability of their humanity is undeniable. Friedman is clearly in love with obscure "B"-level celebrities from the 30's, 40's and beyond. But instead of drawing comics incorporating historically accurate details of their lives, he places them in unfamiliar milieus. Abbot and Costello walk through seedy modern cityscape. Ricky Ricardo and Fred Mertz attend a NAMBLA meeting.

Friedman's drawings have a grainy photorealism quality to them. His stippling technique betrays an obsessive fascination to detail, and his backgrounds are consistently moody and compelling. Together these elements often add up to even more than a sum of their parts. Seeing a Friedman cover is a fascinatingly visceral experience. Even after the artist began to move away from his trademark technique in favor of painted caricature, his work has always been immediately recognizable. Despite the fact that you may not recognize his name, you have certainly seen his output. He has done commercial illustration for publications as diverse as Entertainment Magazine, the New York Observer, Al Goldstein's Screw, Premiere, Details, The New Yorker, and The New York Times. During this phase of his career, he has drawn all the modern celebrities, and ignoble detritus of the wasteland of consumer culture.

It is a shame that Friedman found alt comix to be such an unprofitable venture. His early collections, such as Warts and All and Any Similarity to Persons Living and Dead is Purely Coincidental are stunning proof for his genius. While these works are more rewarding if you know something about the often obscure figures Friedman includes, they can be appreciated for their own sake. A recent anthology (The Fun Never Stops!) collecting a representation of his work from 1991-2006 has recently been released by Fantagraphics. It's an excellent survey of both his artistic and more commercial work. I recommend it.

* Franklin lost the suit.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The Greatest of Bar Diversions.

The astute reader of this blog may come to the conclusion that its author has spent substantial amounts of time in bars. While this statement may be literally true, it must be pointed out that the period of greatest frequency for such activity occured in the author's free-wheeling twenties. That's right... I generally find that I'm not as interested in going out as I once was. I haven't been anything close to a heavy alcohol drinker in well over a decade. Certainly I passed through a phase of my life where I could justify nightlife as a way of overcoming boredom and ennui. But it is simply no longer the case. There is way too much I want to achieve on a day-to-day basis to allow the waste of so much time and energy. Additionally I have lost the taste for inebriation.

When I do find myself going out, my intention is generally to socialize with friends. Many of my closest acquaintances feel more comfortable at bars than in coffee houses. So instead of dragging them to environments where they feel uncomfortable, I usually just give in and meet them in their favorite spots. Invariably they seek out any diversions offered in such places. Unfortunately it's usually not sufficient stimulation to simply sit at a table, sip beer, and engage in conversation. One of the things I regret most about the American social scene, is that it offers very little cafe culture. Every drinking establishment offers an array of activities to distract its patrons from how much alcohol they've consumed. Almost without exception, a television is provided for the understimulated to stare at. There's usually a jukebox providing some element of interactivity between the consumer and the experience. It's not rare to see poker machines- many of which are used for illegal gambling. In addition, dart machines, video games, pool tables, and pinball are not uncommon.

As I pointed out, all of these options are meant to keep the drinker occupied, and thus unaware of his/her level of intoxication. If bars had to rely on the level of engagement that the average bar talk provides, then they would surely go out of business rather quickly. It's a sad state of affairs, but it is the reality here in the United States. Generally I try to stay clear of these time-wasters. If I'm not enjoying the company, I don't have a good reason to stay. But my companions often see such activities as an indispensable support for conviviality. Apparently it is easier to have an entertaining evening with these games then without them. So instead of assuming the role of killjoy, I often join in. However, because I am participating in these things, I feel compelled to win in order to enjoy them. I try to get better at what I am doing. I have a little facility with pool, a bit of skill at darts, and I can feed dollars into the jukebox without eliciting a chorus of groans.

But far and away my favorite bar pastime is trivia. I have spent way too much money feeding those table-top touch-screen video games. Once I get started I want to be tops of the leaderboard. Nothing satisfies me like the high score. While I realize that it is a terrible waste of money, I just have to keep going. When it comes down to it, I have to admit to finding it irrationally rewarding to see my name flash on the "highest scores" screen. It's total fuckin' vanity. I'm sure you can imagine how happy it makes me when a bar has one of those personal-console-and-monitor trivia game systems. Not only can every patron in the entire establishment see who wins, but it's entirely free to play. This happy congruence of my personal preferences is irresistable.

Earlier today a friend and I drove out to the Rivertowne Inn in Verona for lunch. When I looked around and saw ESPN news on every television screen, I immediately worried that they got rid of their game system. But after a quick inquiry, we were on our way to NTN Buzztime paradise- nothing at stake but our own sense of dignity. I could have stayed there all evening. Not only are all local scores posted, but the national rankings are displayed after every match. While I couldn't attain the countrywide leaderboard, I did score the number 2 highest score for the month at the bar. I had such a good round that the runner-up came up and introduced himself to me. All of a sudden I was a minor celebrity. The taste of victory overwhelmed the sheen of deep-fried soft pretzel that I was unable to wash down with copious amounts of iced tea. For no reason at all, I went home happy. Barry Bonds has nothing on me!

Labels: , ,