Sunday, February 26, 2006

The Ugliest American

If there were such a thing as an Olympic medal for being a dick, Bode Miller would win gold. His (totally unwarranted) arrogance is just mind-boggling. I admit that I was predisposed to dismiss him simply because of his name—Bode. Unfair of me, maybe, but he obligingly provided reason after reason for me to dislike him. First of all, the Olympic Village is apparently too squalidly international for the likes of him, so he isolates himself in a giant-ass RV out in the parking lot. He's special. He’s such a great skier he doesn’t even need to inspect a run beforehand, in fact, why not show up to the Olympics undertrained, overweight, and hung-over? Oh, there are some new super-duper high-tech skis available? Why not try them out during competition? Perhaps technology can stand in for technique.

Well, guess what Mr. Bode Freakin’ Miller? Technology is no substitute for technique and arrogance is no substitute for skill and sportsmanship. After his last disastrous run, I was actually prepared to feel sorry for him until he opened his mouth and claimed that he was having a great Olympics since it was providing him with lots of party time. What? What was that you said? Do you not know that there are hundreds of young athletes out there who would sacrifice practically anything for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team? They didn’t get a chance and your undeserving flabby ass did. That is just so wrong.

And here’s something else. The guy was lying. Of course, he wanted to go out there and win gold—preferably in every event. I saw undiluted anguish on his face after he slipped and missed a gate on his last run. But he can’t admit that he simply isn’t good enough. He actually said that he would have won gold in the downhill (I think) if there hadn't been four guys who had had better runs than he did! What a ludicrous and idiotic excuse! Ooooooh. It makes me so angry that a guy like this was representing the U.S. We just don’t need to have the stereotype of the ugly, arrogant, entitled American reinforced (even more) all over the world. We’re loathed enough. Thanks, Bode. Thanks ever so much. I hope your horseshit attitude gets you booted off the Olympics team and abandoned by all your sponsors.

The silver medal for being a dick would go to Chad Hedrick. I should double check my facts on this, but apparently Shani Davis signed a letter of intent three weeks before the Olympics stating that he would not be in the team pursuit. Deal with it, Chad! Don’t keep badmouthing Shani Davis every chance you get. So unsportsmanlike. And Shani was out there cheering for Chad during his last event. That is pretty forgiving of Shani, I think. Chad claimed not to have seen Shani there, even though he was right by the rails. Drop it for crissakes, Chad!

The only reason Chad doesn’t share the golden dickhead medal with Bode is that Chad does genuinely care about his sport. He turned in an unbelievable performance in the grueling 10,000 m. He was flagging badly during the final laps, his mouth agape, gasping for air, but he somehow from somewhere marshalled the energy to keep himself from slipping down to a bronze finish. He redeemed himself in my eyes a bit with that demonstration of his commitment. So he’s not quite a 24-karat prick—only a sterling silver one.

Oh dear, I’ve spent a lot of time ranting when I should have been raving. There were so many really outstanding events and athletes that I truly enjoyed watching.

I was so happy that cutie-pie Apolo Anton Ohno won gold in the 500 m. I didn’t think he could possibly beat the superhuman Koreans. And, unlike Bode Freakin’ Miller, he candidly admitted he didn’t know if he could beat them either. He fully acknowledges how amazing the Koreans are--and that the Chinese and the Canadians are no slouches either. So it was really thrilling to see Apolo cross the finish line first in the 500 m. He’s got so much power and precision. And he just loves the sport--he sure looked like he was having fun in the relay. He didn’t mind a bit that the Americans got bronze, and he went out of his way to congratulate the Koreans and the Canadians. Bode--did you see that? That is what it means to do something on an "Olympic level."

Other favorite moments:
Canadians Clara Hughes and Cindy Klassen singing “Oh Canada” up on the podium after winning gold and bronze in the 5000 m speed skate. They looked so radiantly joyful! Hughes is a Summer Olympian, too. Totally incredible! And Klassen is the most decorated Olympian in Canada!

Czech Republic's Katerina Neumannova sprinting out ahead at the last moment of the arduous 30 km cross-country freestyle event to win gold. Her little daughter dashed out onto the snow to congratulate her. How on earth can she raise a kid and have the energy to ski like that? I am in awe of her.

Tomasz Sikora of Poland coming out of nowhere to win silver in the 15 km biathlon. Justyna Kowalczy also coming out of nowhere to win bronze in the 30-km freestyle event. Go Poland!

Janica Kostelic of Croatia winning gold in the combined alpine event even though she was sick as a dog. It was great to see how happy she was for her brother, too, and for, basically, anyone who turned in a good performance, especially since her ailments forced her to drop out of later events. What a remarkable example of sportsmanship.

Wow. An entire blog entry about sports! That’ll never happen again on this blog.

Update: For more on how much Bode sucks, check out Bode Miller Sucks and the 113 vitriolic comments. Also check out this article in the Washington Post.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Heart of Lead

All day I’ve been dithering about whether to go to a free screening of the Neil Young documentary, Heart of Gold. I like ol’ Neil—a lot. For many years I had a homemade Neil Young magnet on my fridge (until I graciously gave it to my brother who had been coveting it since the day I created it). But in the last seven days I’ve seen five movies. That’s a bit much, isn’t it? Since it’s a freebie, I’d have to arrive at least 45 minutes before it starts and stand around in the damp chill waiting to get let in. I’m not up for that tonight.

B is going to go. He just asked me if I’m going and when I told him, no, he seemed kind of disappointed. This is going to sound weird, but B rarely leaves the house without me, which means I rarely have the house to myself. I, on the other hand, am always trotting off with my friends, leaving him to rattle around on his own. It’s usually not a problem, but today the idea of having the whole house to myself--not hearing the toilet flush, the refrigerator open and close, or footsteps plodding up and down stairs--sounds very appealing for some reason.

I’m planning on pouring myself a glass of wine and watching “Windsor Castle: A Royal Year” on public television (there aren’t any good Olympic events on). I think I’ve missed at least two episodes, but I caught a glimpse of one and learned that the queen personally selects the soap that gets placed in the rooms of particularly prominent people who stay at the castle. She has nothing better to do? I’ll be stockpiling more details like that to build my case that the royal family is entirely ornamental and serves no practical purpose. I hope to see Prince Charles wandering about—possibly in a kilt--looking like the twit he is. And after "Windsor Castle" I may well watch the Monty Python special that follows. I am such an anglophilic dork.

Fascinating. On to an even more fascinating topic.

Separated at birth?

Old Rocker

This is (of course) Keith Richards, aged crow-like rock star.

Ancient Mime

But who is this? Keith again? Nope. It’s Marcel Marceau, aged crow-like mime and Frenchman. Freaky! And get this: Marcel is 82-years-old--20 years older than Keith. I think they look about the same age. If anything, Marcel looks younger or, at least, less haggard and dissipated. Keith's face looks like it's made out of dirty Silly Putty.

How is it that Keith Richards is still alive, anyway?

Monday, February 20, 2006

Three Obsessions

Work is mad busy, so now is really not a great time for me to have three obsessions going at once, but I have no control over these things.

Obsession #1: Knitting.
Ta da!!!!

Finished Sweater

I finished the sweater yesterday, and I can hardly believe how well it came out. It looks sort of wide and boxy in the photo, and it is meant to be a bulky sweater, but it fits quite nicely and is really cozy and warm. I can hardly restrain myself from abandoning work, heading to my favorite yarn shop, and starting another one right away—to lock in the skills I learned doing this one and to expand my wardrobe. I’m thinking of maybe doing this one next. Same top-down technique (which rocks!) but less bulky/chunky.

Obsession #2: The Winter Olympics
I must watch as much luge, skeleton, alpine skiing, nordic skiing, and speed skating as possible. B has been dutifully taping it, and we’ve been staying up late watching all of the above. I really cannot explain why I'm such a Winter Olympics enthusiast. In general, I am not a sports fan at all. I couldn't care less about the Summer Olympics. I never watch baseball, soccer, basketball, or Australian Rules football. And it’s not like I’ve ever done any of the Winter Olympics sports (with the exception of dinking around on X-C skis). Nevertheless, I am sacrificing precious sleep to watch biathlon (so exciting and so weird, with such punitive rules!), and yesterday I hijacked a good half hour of our book group's discussion to blather on about the Winter Olympics.

In fact, I think all of these Winter Olympics sports are dangerous, terrifying, and insane. For example, I would never do anything that would put me at risk of high-speed collisions or put my knees in such jeopardy. Having dislocated my right knee two times, I am very, very protective of them now. I want to still be able to walk when I’m 50. Hobbling is not for me. It makes me wince when I hear the commentators mentioning how these young 20-somethings have “blown out” out their ACLs (anterior cruciate ligaments) and had all these surgeries and so forth. They are going to be in a lot of pain by the time they hit middle age. But, still, I must admit I get a vicarious rush watching them carve turns in the Super G or fly down the luge run at 80 mph.

I love the commentators, too. Qualification. I love the nonpartisan commentators—the ones who are themselves former athletes and recognize and admire greatness even if the athlete isn't American. Some of them just get so excited (e.g., the luge guy and the alpine guy) and they start talking in high-pitched cartoon voices when someone does something incredible. Their enthusiasm is contagious! I feel like I’m learning a lot, too. I don’t know what I’ll do with my increased fund of knowledge about short-track speed skating strategies and technique. Wait. Yes, I do. I’ll forget it immediately as soon as the Olympics are over.

Obsession #3: The Portland International Film Festival
I’ve seen four films so far, and they were all outstanding. Three more to go, including one (Requiem of Snow [Iraq]) tonight.

What I’ve seen so far:
My Nikifor (Poland) [three stars] Low-key, leisurely paced tale of Polish outsider artist who called himself Nikifor. The film was set in the 1960s, so it was interesting to see what Soviet-era Poland was like. Not as desperate or bread queue-ish as one might think. Major props to the actress who played the artist. Her portrayal of an old man with advanced tuberculosis was so amazing that I found myself worried I was going to somehow contract TB from the character’s germ-saturated hacking. I am not making this up!

Paheli (India) [three and a half stars] I already gave my impressions on this one, but I forgot to mention the rather creative subtitle translations. At one point a guy who drank too much got called a “boozard”—you’d better believe that word is now a permanent part of my vocabulary.

To the Other Side (Mexico) [three and a half stars] Three countries for the price of one. This movie looked at what happens to a kid in Mexico, a kid in Cuba, and a kid in Morocco, when their dads leave home to work in another country. My favorite story of the three was the one set in Morocco in which a little girl (about 10 years old) thinks she'll make her distraught mother happy if she gets her father (who is working in Malaga, Spain) to return. She hops a village bus by herself and (I don’t want to give anything away) embarks on a harrowing odyssey. The young actress who plays the little girl has wonderful presence.

Cowboy del Amor (United States) [four stars] A fascinating documentary about an old-school cowboy from New Mexico who calls himself the "Cowboy Cupid" and tries to find American men Mexican brides. He got the idea to go into the woman business ("the woh-man bidness") after he himself married a Mexican woman. Interestingly enough, the marriage failed. According to him, his wife “got too Americanized,” and before he knew it she was the boss of the house, the boss of the horses, the boss of the dogs, the boss of everything, and the only things left for him to boss were “the piss ants and the tumble bugs.” According to her, he tried to prevent her from learning English or having any social life. But they remain friends, and it seems he views her kids, his stepchildren, as his own and still helps support them financially.

I mentioned before that I thought the movie might piss me off. And it’s true that I was irked by some of the Cowboy Cupid’s male clients’ attitudes toward women. By and large, they were interested in Mexican women because they believed that a Mexican woman wouldn’t be as “hard to please” as American women. Read: They were basically just looking for a servant they could have sex with who would be young and thin and wouldn’t care that they themselves were old and smelly and chauvinistic.

But none of the Mexican women fit that stereotype. They were focused, together, realistic, honest, witty, and likeable. In addition, I found myself not really being able to despise the men either. Although I couldn’t exactly see eye-to-eye with the Cowboy Cupid, I think he really believes that he is providing a useful service that benefits both parties equally and respectfully. Bonus: He was quite an entertaining character, speaking Spanish with the most atrocious accent imaginable and saying things like “that went over like horse poop in a punch bowl.”

OK. Need to stop obsessing and get back to work.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

The Lure and Lore of Men’s Rooms

I e-mailed a client today to find out who I should mail my invoice to, and here’s the e-mail I got back from him.

If you want, you can put my name on the envelope—I'm probably the most efficient at checking the mailboxes because they are located by the men's room.

That reply cracked me up. I actually laughed out loud when I read it and was all ready to send back a jocular reply when I realized that, perhaps, he was not trying to be amusing, but was simply being practical and trying to make sure my invoice wouldn’t languish in some female employee’s seldom-visited mailbox.

Here’s why I found his reply to be so funny. First of all, why on Earth are the mailboxes located near the men’s room? This is not some rinky-dink mom-and-pop company. I’ve worked for rinky-dink mom-and-pop companies and they had mailrooms, so what’s this place’s excuse? What kind of corners are they trying to cut? And even if they can’t be bothered to have a dedicated mailroom, who’s idea was it to locate the mailboxes by the men’s room of all places?

From what I can glean from my male friends and relatives, men’s rooms are no-go zones (no pun intended). For example, back when I worked at a place that had an actual mailroom—a big and bustling one, if you must know—my friend TG told me that he would never use the men’s room on the 4th floor, because it was deeeeeees-gustinggggg. I learned this by accident after someone had burned up a bag of microwave popcorn and it was rapidly polluting all the air on the 4th floor. TG grabbed the bag between thumb and forefinger and holding it as far away from his body as he could said to whoever had thrown it in the wastebasket, “Go throw this in the men’s room where it belongs!” That was my first inkling that the 4th-floor men’s room and, indeed, all men’s rooms, were not all they should be. Tactfully, I pressed TG for details and he told me that the floor was always wet and littered with newspapers brought in by various UPS and FedEx guys who would also park themselves in the stalls for 45 minute to an hour. According to TG, some of them ate their lunches in there!

I’m making it sound like I’ve never been in a men’s room. I have. Like most women, I’ve had to resort to the men’s rooms, say, when the line for the ladies room stretched to hell and back and the men’s room was empty. So I’m familiar with the basic set-up. A stall, maybe two; a bank of urinals; a couple of sinks; a condom machine it’s a high-class joint. But usually I’m in such a rush to get out before some unsuspecting guy ambles in, I’ve never been privy (heh, heh) to some of the more subtle details.

But I think that that microwave popcorn incident and the revelations that followed inaugurated my freakish (I admit it) fascination with the lore of men’s rooms. For instance according to my friend TC if you go into any men’s room that has a hand dryer with a button that says “Push Button,” someone will have invariably taken the time to scratch away the “-ton” so that it says, “Push Butt.” It could be the men’s room in the sketchiest possible bar or the hoity-toitiest restaurant. It doesn’t matter--if there’s a “Button” that can be transformed into a “Butt” it will have been done. Isn’t that hilarious? I think so. It's so endearingly juvenile! In fact, that little factoid made it into my NaNoWriMo novel, where, by the way, at least one scene takes place in a men’s room. I’m sure Freud would have something to say about that.

There’s more. I’ve quizzed B about men’s rooms. For some reason he is not as forthcoming on the topic as I would like. Perhaps he is troubled by my unhealthy interest in men’s rooms? But through sheer persistence, bringing the topic up no more than twice a year, I got the lowdown on urinals from him--eventually. Some urinals are just giant troughs. That alone makes me glad I was born female. Also, some men’s rooms have junior-sized urinals for little boys. How cute! And you’re not supposed to sneak a peek at another guy’s dick. You’re just supposed to stare straight ahead as if you were driving a car on the Autobahn.

I hope I’ve successfully explained why I found that e-mail to be funny. Possibly not. Maybe all I’ve succeeded in doing is demonstrating that I’m a perv.

If so, I might as well go the whole hog and post some photos I’ve taken over the past few months whenever I see a sign admonishing people to properly dispose of poop. There are more signs like this than you might think. They are, in my humble and warped and extremely juvenile opinion, pretty darn amusing.

We Already Have Enough Poop

We already have enough poop, but thanks for asking.


Don’t you love the term poo-lution?

Bury Your Poop!

Little known fact--my very first blog entry contained a rant about some numskull who had failed to follow this advice.

Willy Make It?

One of my favorite names for a port-a-potty company—second only to LepreCan with it’s cute little leprechaun mascot perched on a toadstool throne.

Monday, February 13, 2006

I'm Ready for My Close-up, Mr. DeMille.

Who knew that Sunset Boulevard was right here in Portland’s Hillsdale neighborhood? Certainly not I. Also, who knew that there was such a thing as a combination bus stop/deer crossing in the middle of a city? Here’s proof.

Bus Stop/Deer Crossing

I spotted this sign yesterday in the Healy Heights neighborhood, while B and I were on yet another walk from the fabulous book Portland Hill Walks, which, I know, I tout endlessly on this blog. I simply cannot thank the author, Laura O. Foster, enough for getting us off our East Side asses, across the river, and up some of those magnificent hills on the West Side. Yesterday’s walk had us climbing a total of 1,000 feet to the Stonehenge radio tower on Council Crest. Sadly, there’s nothing very Stonehenge-ish about the radio tower except that it’s owned by KGON (“Classic RAWWWWK”), which plays music that dates back almost to the Druids. OK. Not quite.

I saw two PIFF films this weekend, including Paheli, the one that got such divergent reviews from my Indian acquaintances (“a must-see” vs. “worst movie I’ve ever seen”). I found it to be delightful, despite the fact that it starred Shah Rukh Khan, India’s most famous male movie star, but, in my opinion, an actor of very modest talent with a rather puny bag of acting tricks.

The film was set in Rajasthan in northern India sometime in the recent (or maybe the distant) past and everyone wore gorgeous traditional costumes. Check out Shah Rukh here in the biggest turban you are ever likely to see. He also wore curly-toed slippers and even did a few dance numbers wearing them. I have to admit, my assessment of him rose a bit when I saw him do that.

For a Bollywood film, the plot had surprisingly few gaping holes or flapping loose ends in it. In fact, I don’t think it had any. Everything fit together quite nicely within the story’s own parameters. Since it was based on a folktale, supernatural things happened. For example, large red marionettes kept popping in and out to comment on events and dispense advice (not unlike a Greek chorus), but I got used to that. Plus, there was a very exciting camel race, a love triangle (of course), and blindingly colorful dance numbers. I enjoyed it very much. The 2 hours and 20 minutes (relatively short for a Bollywood film) flew by.

I have a bit of a lull in my PIFF schedule, so I’m going to try to watch some speed skating on the Olympics tonight, if that is even possible. The local NBC station Web site is not at all helpful, listing figure skating, snowboarding, and speed skating as tonight’s offerings, but who knows in what order. I do not, under any circumstances, want to get stuck watching figure skating. I hate those flippy little costumes, with the creepy fleshtone body stockings stretched over any bits of bare skin (what is up with that?), and I hate the chopped to bits “medleys” they skate to. Whoever splices together the music for those programs has no musicality at all. They cut to something entirely different right in the middle of a musical phrase. It makes me crazy. I have the same issue with gymnastics.

I guess the answer to this would be to tape the Olympics (of course, we are too Stone Age to have TIVO. I don’t rightly even know what it is or how it works, in fact). B actually taped some of the Olympics last night, but if I watch last night’s tape then I might miss tonight’s speed skating. But if I try to watch it “live” tonight, I’m almost certainly going to get zapped with some figure skating a slew of horrible commercials, and those brain-curdlingly inane human-interest stories. Since I rarely watch TV, my TV-watching technique is very rusty—I don’t have a good method for separating the wheat from the chaff. I know some people would just knit through the offending bits of the Olympics, but A) I'm not an accomplished enough knitter to do that and B) I’m out of yarn and am waiting for another skein to come in at the yarn shop so I can finish my sweater.

I don't know why I'm expending energy even thinking about this, really.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

The Most Obnoxious Site on the Internet

At some point way back in the 20th century, I registered myself with (no, I’m not going to link to it). The Internet was kind of a new thing then, and even though I didn’t really enjoy high school the part of me that is a big snoop liked the idea of finding out what had happened to all those losers I went to high school with.

At first, let people post superlame formulaic bios about themselves. Maybe two people in my class did that (I sure as heck didn't). Then all of a sudden you had to pay to read those two lame-ass bios. Who’s going to do that? The only thing you could view for free was the married name of the girls who’d gotten married and chosen to change their last names. It was probably about that time (maybe five years ago) that that ad with the girl with the ‘70s glasses and the mushroom-cap hairstyle and that beefy jockstrap of a guy started showing up on every other Web site I visited. It was bad enough to keep seeing those two, but what really galled me (and continues to gall me) is that question that goes something like this: He married her? And they had six kids!!!!!!!!!!????? The sexist subtext of which is: “This hunky specimen married this goofy, four-eyed bowser? And he actually had sex with her a minimum of six times? Ewwwwwwww!!!!” I hate that, and that ad is the chief reason I hate, although there are other reasons only slightly less chiefly to hate it.

I still get e-mails pretty regularly from begging me to become a “Gold Member,” so I can have access to a whole lot of information none of my classmates have ever provided. In other words, so I can pay for something that doesn’t even exist.

The other day I got an e-mail from them telling me that a “Linda Jackson” has sent me an e-mail. I don’t know anyone named Linda Jackson, but, mildly curious, I went to the site—only to find that it has gotten even lamer than one would ever think possible! Since no one ever ponies up for the Gold membership, they are now offering short-term memberships for the oddball price of $2.47. So to read the e-mail that the mysterious Linda Jackson sent me, I would have had to pay $2.47. By that time, I had figured out that Linda Jackson was actually Linda Grabel—Classmates had grudgingly included her maiden name in parentheses—a fellow marching band member and alto sax player.

I barely remember anything about her. She had glasses and a rather pointy nose. She marched next to me in parades, I think, but she was definitely on the outer periphery of my group of friends. Hmmmmm. Is she worth $2.47? I decided she wasn’t, mostly because I don’t want to contribute in even the teensiest way to keeping in business. (How, by the way, does it stay in business and how does it pay for that unrelenting bombardment of ads?)

I felt a little bad for not paying to read her e-mail, but then I noticed that you can send someone “a message,” which is apparently different from an e-mail. (?) So I did that, slyly telling Linda to e-mail me at my regular e-mail address and thus thwarting whole stupid set-up. Well, the message got through to her, although tacked on a preposterous little note identifying my message as an “unpaid message.” (Let’s just see them try to collect!) Linda sent me a two-paragraph e-mail informing that she has six kids (just like the mushroom girl!), that she is still married to Jim (am I supposed to know who he is?), and that they live in San Jose, California. That’s it? I mean, I guess six kids would pretty much keep you from doing anything else, but she didn’t give me much to go on that is going to motivate me to fire back a reply.

I guess, rather than writing a rant about, I should be writing a response to Linda. After all, I did sent that unpaid message to her, implying that if she sent me a real e-mail (not to be confused with the Gold Members-only e-mail), I would respond, but, to tell the truth, I’m not sure now if I really want to reconnect with someone who I was never good friends with to begin with. I mean she was a nice person and everything, but seriously I doubt if I could come up with three facts about her. And, quite honestly, I have terrible trouble keeping up with my e-mail correspondence with my really close friends as it is.

I guess I’ll just send her an e-mail saying I have zero kids, am still not married to B, and live in Portland, Oregon. Is that too curt and ungenerous? Sometimes I think I’m very miserly about my time, and as my mom always used to say, sometimes you loom much larger in someone’s life than they loomed in yours—so maybe I do owe her something, but at the moment it just feels like a burden.

Apropos of nothing previously mentioned in this blog entry—B reminded me that today is the 13th anniversary of our first date. We went to an all-you-can-eat Polish buffet (my idea) on Milwaukee Avenue in Chicago. I piled up my plate with pierogi and pickled herring and went back several times for more. B ate very sparingly, which is really not at all like him. I should ask him if he was doing that so I wouldn’t think he was a hog. Clearly, I wasn’t worried about making a dainty, ladylike impression! I remember that he listened in rapt attention to everything I had to say, and since it was our first date, you’d better believe I was babbling away like a brook. We talked about plays, music, and movies and he wrote down the names of some of the movies I mentioned I liked on a napkin and took it home with him.

By our next date, however, he'd apparently forgotten what I looked like! We met in the lobby of a theater to see a production of the play Laughing Wild by Christopher Durang. I walked right by him several times and he showed no sign of recognition. To be fair, I should confess that I wasn’t quite sure I remembered what he looked like either and thus walked by him a few times before actually feeling confident enought that he was the right guy. The play (his choice) was excellent, and afterward he told me that he'd rented all the movies on the napkin from our first date and thought they were great. A good sign, I guess.

And that’s why--13 years later--we are still together! How’s that for soppy sappiness?

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

I Need More Time to Watch Movies

I need to find a way to hoodwink, bamboozle, or hornswoggle myself into thinking that 5:30 AM is a reasonable, natural time for me to get up. I’ve got so much work to get done by Monday that it doesn’t bear thinking about, and it doesn’t make an interesting blog entry.

I could keep myself quite busy without this dang work thing horking all the time in my schedule. And, yes, I know—to quote Joe Walsh—“I can’t complain, but sometimes I still do/Life’s been good to me so far.” It is very nice to be an independent contractor and be able to make my living without having to leave the house, but still…it would be even nicer to be independently wealthy. Then I could see as many films as I wanted to at the Portland International Film Festival (PIFF), which starts this Friday. I'm seeing seven. Seven films. What was I thinking? I might have to miss all of the speed skating on the Winter Olympics. Bummer! By the time, I'm able to work on my sweater again, it will be spring and too warm to wear it. Pout! I might have to take books back to the library before I've finished reading them. Sulk!

But how could I pass up any of these?

My Nikifor (Poland): A biopic based on a true story about a “crusty, tubercular beggar” who turns out to be an artistic genius and who created more than 40,000 pieces of art in his lifetime. Apparently, he is totally revered in Poland. Intriguing bonus: The artist (who was male) is played by a woman.

Paheli (India): I need to see one Bollywood movie a year. It is a requirement. This is it this year. I don’t know how Bollywoodish it is—it’s based on a folktale and set in Rajasthan. Here's the scuttlebutt I’ve heard so far. One person says it’s the worst movie she’s ever seen, and the other person says it’s a must-see. Hard to know how to interpret that. I’m guessing, it’s not really great, but I know I’ll enjoy the music, dancing, costumes, and scenery. And when it's Bollywood, absurd plots don't really bother me.

To the Other Side (Mexico) I’m seeing this because I never—somehow—manage to see any films from Latin America. Of the several that were on offer, this sounded the best. The film consists of three interwoven tales about children from Mexico, Morocco, and Cuba and chronicles how they cope without their fathers who are off working in other countries.

Cowboy Del Amor (United States): Hey, what’s a film from the U.S. doing in an international festival? Good question. I’m not sure why, but PIFF always has a bunch of American and other English-language films. I’m not so interested in seeing those. For one thing they usually end up getting released in theaters anyway, so why pay more to see them at the festival? I’m seeing this one because it just sounded too interesting to skip, and I don't think it will be released. It’s a documentary about this cowboy (an American?) who finds Mexican brides for American men seeking the "perfect" wife. I’m thinking that there’s a good chance this film might really piss me off, but I want to see it anyway.

Requiem of Snow (Iraq): Set in northern Iraq, the film is about a Kurdish girl with a very traditional father who wants her to marry a man twice her age. Surprise. She’s not at all keen on the idea.

Plagues and Pleasures of the Salton Sea (United States): An important selling point for me with this is the fact that it is narrated by John Waters, and while I don’t really go for his films, I know he is the perfect narrator for this documentary about a cheesy and doomed resort area that is now an ecological disaster zone.

Delwande (Burkina Faso): How often is there an opportunity to see a film from Burkina Faso? How many Americans have ever even heard of Burkina Faso or know where it is? (It’s in western Africa and it used to be called Upper Volta.) The film is about some women who are accused of being witches and are exiled to remote “witch villages,” where they are supposed to spend the remainder of their lives. I think it sounds fascinating—way outside of my own realm of experience.

Speaking of movies, B and I finally got around to seeing Capote. My book club is reading In Cold Blood this month and I just finished that, so I was finally ready to see Capote. The book and the movie are very complementary. I’d even go so far as to say don’t read or see one without reading or seeing the other. Full marks to the filmmakers for not going overboard with the exposition and just copping out and making a film version of In Cold Blood. It actually seems like they expect the audience to have done it's homework and read the book (or at least the Cliffs Notes) first. It truly is a film about Truman Capote—not the murders. The focus is on exploring what motivated him to write his “nonfiction novel.” Philip Seymour Hoffman does an absolutely tremendous job with his characterization of Capote. Very, very nuanced. What a versatile actor he is. Excellent, intelligent script, period detail, and supporting performances as well.

I was glad to see the supertalented Catherine Keener—one of my favorite actresses—in the role of Harper Lee. I wish she would have had a bit more screen time. She does seem to be getting quite a bit of work (40-Year-Old Virgin, the upcoming Friends with Money), though, despite the fact that she’s 45 and hasn’t Botoxed and collagened herself to a fare-the-well. Is it too much to hope that Hollywood has finally decided it’s OK for women to age gracefully?

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Step Into Winter

Because I’ve lived most of my life in the pancake-like Midwest, I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the fact that while out for a walk today in Southeast Portland, it would be possible to run across this early-blooming azalea, while yesterday—a mere 50 miles away—I was up to my keister in snow.

Snow on Barlow Road Trail

How is that possible? Elevation. Portland isn’t much above sea level and it hardly ever snows here. But it sure does in the Cascade Mountains just to the east, which means that if you feel like stepping into full-blast winter weather for a day e.g., swirling snow and blustery winds and temps in the upper 20s, you can, but when you’ve had enough you can just head back west to lower elevations and milder, almost spring-like weather. That is the perfect arrangement. If I never see black urban slush again that will be fine with me. Note to self: Then avoid visiting Chicago in winter.

So, yeah, yesterday, I got up early and piled in a van with 10 or so other people who, like me, had signed up for a backcountry snowshoeing trip offered through Portland Parks and Recreation. The weather deteriorated nicely as we drove higher and higher into the mountains. By the time we got to the trailhead at about 4,000 feet, there was probably six feet of snow on the ground, more snow was falling in a very businesslike fashion, and a chill wind was whipping up impressively large snow devils.

Look how burdened with snow the trees were and, I’m sure, still are, given that it was snowing pretty hard when we left yesterday.

Snow on Conifers

The highlight of the trip was finding five snow caves, built by some energetic Boy Scouts who’d spent the night in them. This is the largest one.

Snow Cave

As you can perhaps see, we couldn’t resist going in. You can sort of see someone’s butt (not mine) disappearing into the cave. It’s a bit hard to tell from the photo, but the thing was amazingly spacious inside. There was room for 10 people in it. And cozy? You bet. I see why survival guides are always telling you to build yourself a snow cave if you get lost in a blizzard. These things totally keep the wind out. I must admit, though, that there was something a bit Blair Witch Project-ish about running across these snow caves out in the middle of nowhere. Look closely (click for a larger view). Do you see that spooky handprint above the entrance?

We weren’t too freaked out, really. We had crossed paths with the Boy Scouts earlier, and they told us they’d built the caves. Amusing anecdote: I acted as sweep (last person in the group) so that I could put some space between myself and the rest of the group—I don’t like being right on the heels of other snowshoers. At one point, I encountered a Boy Scout sitting in the snow looking cross. His dad/troop leader was approaching and the kid said sourly, “Dad, I’m fucked.” The kid was maybe 11 years old. I was pretty surprised—shocked actually. I never said “fuck” (or any variation of it) in front of my father until, like, last year. And this kid was a Boy Scout. Whatever happened to the famous Boy Scout Law?

A Boy Scout is:
* Trustworthy,
* Loyal,
* Helpful,
* Friendly,
* Courteous,
* Kind,
* Obedient,
* Cheerful,
* Thrifty,
* Brave,
* Clean,
* and Reverent.

Out the window (or down the shitter). Or so I thought until I recounted this anecdote to a friend today, and she suggested that maybe what he’d said was, “Dad, I’m stuck.”


Yeah, I guess it could have been that.

It is true that I had on my cold weather hat and a hood. And the wind was howling. And my snowshoes were shooshing over the snow, creating a certain amount of racket. Also, several members of our group had to be dug out when they sunk more than knee-deep into unstable snow. It’s just possible the same thing had happened to the Scout.

So let’s say I misheard and leave the reputation of the Boy Scouts unbesmirched.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Ten Riffs on Zippers

My blog needs a jumpstart today so, inspired by Diana’s writing prompt, I’m going to see how much random stream-of-consciousness stuff I have to say on the inexhaustible topic of zippers.

1. The Zipper on My Band Pants. When I was a freshman in high school, we had to show up one Saturday for a uniform fitting. I totally forgot about my appointment, which was bad, since my dad was the band director and I was expected to be the model band student at all times. So I arrived tardily at 4:00 PM or so to scrape the bottom of the band uniform barrel and see what I could find.

The only pants left were huge sack-like wool trousers with 1950s-style tailoring or one pair of newer polyester pants in an ultra petite size. I was a skinny runtish kid, I took a deep breath, sucked in my tummy and managed to wriggle into the polyester pants and zip them up. The band moms helping out with the fitting all advised me, an adolescent girl who just might one day soon develop hips (not to mention a pookier tummy), to go with the baggy 1950s woolen sack slacks, but I would have none of it.

As punishment for not heeding their advice I spent a lot of time lying on my back on gym floors (we changed in gyms before band competitions) writhing into my pants and struggling mightily to get that zipper up. It took ages, and many a time I was the last person out to the warm-up, because it had taken me, like, 20 minutes to zip up my pants. My dad was not amused.

2. Bedding Bags with Zippers. A few years ago (or maybe more than a few years ago), manufacturers started selling sheets and blankets and so forth in plastic bags with real zippers. I cannot throw these bags out. They have an actual zipper—you know, technology—and they look like something that you might have to pay money for at one of those Container Stores (or similar). Yet they are free! I recently did buckle down and toss my little cache of them only to learn that that genius of organization and innovation, Nervous Ned, uses them to store spare skeins of yarn. Doh!

3. Zipper Shirts of My Youth. At some point when I was a little kid, these shirts that had zippers instead of buttons became wildly popular. The zipper started about mid-chest and zipped all the way up to the neck. The real selling point for me was that the zipper pull was a metal ring. How super groovy can you get? I’m pretty sure Greg Brady had a few of these shirts. Neil Diamond definitely had one (wait, I guess that would make it uncool). Anyway, I wanted one, and it seems to me I had to beg long and hard to get one, but finally my mom caved in and let me have one. I wore it proudly in one of my class photos. It went really well with my shag haircut.

4. The Wad of Zippers. My mom and I were both off-again/on-again seamstresses, which meant that we somehow acquired this hoard of zippers (probably mostly from garage sales) that my mom figured we might one day be able to sew into a skirt or something. These zippers (of all descriptions and vintages) were thrown into a shoebox where they soon got all wobbed up and entangled with thread, tape measures, and other sewing miscellany—a snarled mess resembling quite closely the recent state of my knitting bag. I’m pretty sure not a single one of them ever got used.

5. Zipper Shopping. In 8th-grade home ec class, I had to learn how to install zippers in the garments I created. Because it was too difficult to extract a zipper from the wad of zippers (and also because many of them were decades old and thus made of loathsome, unzippy metal), I went to the fabric shop to buy brand-new zippers. They had quite an extensive range of zippers, arranged by color and length. I recall holding fabric up to zippers to try to get the closest color match possible. I spent way more time in front of the zipper display than I needed to. It was very aesthetically appealing. It probably wouldn’t have taken much to get me to start collecting them. I mean we already had a zipper collection, of sorts, but it was more annoying than pleasing. Yeah, I was a dork.

6. My First Zipper Fly. For quite a few years I was immune to the influence of fashion. (In recent years, I’ve regained some of that immunity, it seems.) I believe I got all the way to fifth grade before I realized that not all the girls frumped around in pants and skirts with elastic waistbands. Some kids—the cool kids—wore jeans.

I surreptitiously made a study of the brands of jeans they wore, rejecting Lee and Wrangler (which tended to make butts look weird) and concluding that Levis were the brand for me. It was surprisingly easy to talk my mom into letting me get a pair of Levis. Perhaps I used my allowance to pay for them. I may have been faced with the choice of button fly vs. zipper fly (if not then, then later—it came up at some point). At any rate, I didn’t even consider the button fly choice—too much trouble and potential for oversight and embarrassment. I went with the zipper fly. The zipper was metal—coppery-gold and indestructible.

7. Where Zippers Should and Should Not Be. Hardly anything looks worse, in my opinion, than a pair of women’s slacks with a freakin’ zipper in the back, basically right on top of one’s butt crack. I don’t believe we need to call attention to that. And that is what zippers in that location do. There’s a checker at a drugstore I frequent who always wears a pair of tight black synthetic slacks with a rump zipper. Every time I see her I can’t help but think about how much I hate that damn zipper. It’s not doing her butt any favors. Plus, it’s more inconvenient when you need to go to the bathroom. So here are the rules: All pants, slacks, jeans, and trousers must have a fly front. A few exceptions can be made for side zippers, but get my approval first. Rump zippers are strictly forbidden!

8. Tricky and Troublesome Zippers. This would describe pretty much all the zippers on all the winter jackets and “snowmobile suits” (worn on my paper route on those mornings when it was 20 below zero) I owned during childhood. I was late for school on more than one occasion because I could not get my coat to zip. Sometimes my mom would grease up the zipper with a candle or a bar of soap, but I don’t recall that as being very effective. It just made the zippers gross.

9. Zipper Pulls I Have Known and Loved. At this very moment I am wearing an exceedingly shabby cardigan that I should throw out. I continue to keep it and wear it in part because of this darling little pinecone-shaped zipper pull. I am also inordinately fond of the squishy rubbery pulls on the auxiliary zippers of my rain jacket. I’m not quite sure why; I guess I just like the paradoxical way they feel—they are squishy and solid at the same time.

10. Zipperskin Tangerines (Losing Momentum). Has anyone ever heard of these? I doubt it. Zipperskin tangerines are something my dad talks about every time he talks about tangerines. I guess they’re the type of tangerine that is nearly effortless to peel, because the skin just sort of zips off.

But no one calls them this. Only my dad. Maybe once (long ago) they were called zipperskin tangerines at the grocery store where he shops, and he just latched onto the name even though it never caught on with anyone else. He does that. Back in the ‘70s he apparently went to some pizza joint where they had something called a “garbage pizza,” which was a pizza with everything on it (including anchovies and zippers—OK no zippers, but definitely anchovies). Ever since then he’s been mystifying teenagers in pizza places across America by ordering garbage pizzas. It’s actually pretty funny to see the look on the kids’ faces when he orders a garbage pizza. There’s always this look of horror. They’re so literal, those teenagers.