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Thursday, June 30, 2011

I am the mayor


Apollonia and I were running errands the other day; she was driving the car and I was jumping out and delivering things. “Sorry that took so long,” I said, getting back in the car after one stop. “Everyone kept stopping me to chat.”



She looked at me sidelong. “Well,” she said, “you're the mayor, after all.”



I sighed. “I suppose I am,” I said.



I have lived in my neighborhood for over thirty years. I have worked at my current job for almost twenty-five years. I know pretty much everyone, and they know me, by sight if not by name. I can't walk to work without waving to at least three people. I was waiting for the elevator the other day when one of Partner's co-workers shrieked at the sight of me. “Where's your hat?” she yelled. “I didn't even recognize you without your hat!” (I usually wear a I LOVE WARWICK RHODE ISLAND hat, which was (indirectly) a gift from the Warwick Chamber of Commerce, but it's a long story.)



So, apparently, I am the crazy old stooge with the stupid hat. You know: the older guy who just babbles on and on about nothing.



And I have created this image all by myself.



Remember Grandpa Simpson? “It's an interesting story. Well, maybe not so much interesting as long.”



And there you have it, ladies and gentlemen:



I am the gabby drooling old wreck you really ought to avoid on public transportation.



Somebody shoot me immediately.



Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The movies in my head, part one


Apollonia's sister Augusta came to the office recently, and we had a long and lively conversation about old movies. We are both addicted to Turner Classic Movies, as it turns out. She challenged me to come up with a list of my favorite movies. Impossible! But we started naming our favorites, and . . .



Dodsworth!” Augusta proclaimed. Oh my god what a movie. It's based on a slender but uncharacteristically sweet Sinclair Lewis novel. Walter Huston is a patient man who gets dragged to Europe by his nervous silly wife Ruth Chatterton; he meets Mary Astor, and – well, I won't tell you more. But what a final scene! Who needs CGI when you have acting?



Okay, I'm up to this challenge. Five, four, three, two, one:



The Red Shoes. Spectacular Technicolor, classic plot, incredible acting. Featuring real ballet stars: Moira Shearer, Robert Helpmann, Leonid Massine. And featuring one of my favorite actors, the grave and handsome Anton Walbrook.



Holiday. Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Edward Everett Horton. Glorious Philip Barry 1930s dialogue, and a classy upper-crust setting, and a happy ending. And it has a charming air of insouciance, almost as if the characters were ad-libbing the dialogue – which is just as it should be. “Do you mean your father isn't even a Whoozis?”



Black Narcissus. Another Archers movie, like “Red Shoes,” based on a Rumer Godden novel. The colors and the scenery, oh my God. Apollonia can't stand this movie because of the male lead, David Farrar, an ugly hairy brute who's shirtless for maybe a little too much of the movie. But, for me, it just seems hilarious that this gargoyle actually seems attractive to the sex-starved nuns in the movie.



Witness for the Prosecution. I am not normally a fan of courtroom movies: too claustrophobic. But this one I'm okay with. Charles Laughton as a lawyer, Elsa Lanchester as his nurse. Tyrone Power! Marlene Dietrich! A complex twisty plot, with humor, yet! And every time you think the mystery's resolved, it snarls back up again . . .



Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo. As with courtroom movies, I am not warm to the war-movie genre. This movie is the exception: it's intense and simple and methodical. I understand why they made it: it was a war thing, they needed to show America striking back at Japan. It's the American version of something by Leni Riefenstahl.



Dune. I first saw first in the back yard of the Marine House in Tunis, under the stars, projected onto a sheet. It's one of the most peculiar, spaciest, funniest, scariest movies of all time.  It opens with the ethereal Virginia Madsen as Princess Irulan, floating calmly against a starscape, saying calmly, “A beginning is a very delicate time.” It's perfectly magical. The whole movie gets into your head if you watch it more than once. “Wait for my brother, Baron!”



More soon. This is fun.




Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The places where revolutions begin


The Stonewall Inn is nothin', really. Partner and I were on Christopher Street in Manhattan a few years ago when we suddenly realized we were right in front of it. There were some tacky signs in front, and the usual gay-bar postings – bands, drink specials – but there was nothing distinctive about it.



On June 28, 1969, a couple of weeks before the first moon landing, the police raided the place, as they used to do periodically. The regulars were sick and tired of being raided, and fought back. The protests went on for several days. Then they spread. Activist groups sprang up.



It was, as Malcolm Gladwell might say, a “tipping point.”



I've been following Tunisian politics lately, as I lived in Tunisia for two years, and I still have friends there. The Tunisian revolution which happened very suddenly this year found its tipping point in a smallish town called Sidi Bouzid. A young vegetable vendor was harassed by a member of the police, who insulted him, slapped him, and confiscated his wares.



So he set fire to himself.



Within weeks, the country was (metaphorically) on fire too.



As revolutions go, the Tunisian revolution was pretty brisk and effective. There was violence, but only on a small scale. The government collapsed in short order. The replacement government (which was quite obviously the old government in disguise) got laughed off the stage within weeks.



I was recently chatting online with a Tunisian friend, in the usual mix of English / French / Arabic. He speaks very proudly of “la nouvelle Tunisie,” the new Tunisia.  There are still problems - he didn't hide that - but he's happy.  No, actually, I would say that he's exhilarated.



And wouldn't you be?



And, as I write this, the United Nations has just endorsed a resolution confirming gay rights.



And the state of New York (holla, Cuomo and Bloomberg!) has just legalized gay marriage.



And it all begins in a small town in Tunisia.



Or in a seedy bar in downtown Manhattan.



Revolutions start in the damndest places.



Monday, June 27, 2011

Your daily horoscope



My daily horoscope in the Providence Journal for the morning of June 13, 2011 read as follows:



CANCER (June 22 – July 22): In the manner of rock stars, boxers, and firewood choppers, you will sublimate your anger into something extremely entertaining or useful to everyone around.”



This gem was written by someone named Holiday Mathis. My hat is off to him/her. This sentence is beautiful like a haiku, or a Sarah Coventry necklace.



I am a great fan of astrology; I used to cast and interpret charts myself (and still do it from time to time). But this daily-horoscope stuff is a bunch of malarkey. As I used to tell my astrology clients: do you really think you can divvy up the human race into twelve neat groups and tell each group what's going to happen today? I mean, really. Did every Cancerian in the entire world have some kind of hissy fit on June 13, and sublimate it into high art?



(Speaking as an elderly Cancerian, I did not. I was fairly calm that day. I do take medication that heads off most of my hissy fits, however.)



In an old episode of “The Simpsons,” Homer was hired to write fortune-cookie fortunes, and wrote two that will live forever in my memory.



One: “The price of postage stamps will rise ever higher.”



Two: “You will find love by Flag Day.”



The first is inevitable. The second is a lovely possibility.



And that, Charlie Brown, is what fortune-telling is all about.



Sunday, June 26, 2011

Sunday blog: "Heroin," by the Velvet Underground


I've been posting too many music videos lately.  How about a nice song?



Here's the Velvet Underground, back in their earliest days, with Lou Reed singing the creepily beautiful vocals and playing lead guitar, backed by Maureen Tucker on drum, John Cale on electric viola, and Sterling Morrison on rhythm guitar.



Happy Sunday.



“And I guess that I just don't know . . .”


07_Heroin.m4a Listen on Posterous



Saturday, June 25, 2011

My barber tells me stories


My barber has his shop on the fourth floor of an old office building on the corner of Dorrance and Weybosset in downtown Providence, which is the local version of Broadway and 42nd, or maybe Hollywood and Vine.



He is short and wears glasses perched low on his nose, like a librarian. He recently grew a mustache, which is actually very cute on him, but I don't dare tell him so. He has one of those perfect Rhode Island accents that I cannot replicate. When I try to imitate him, I put my glasses low down on my nose and raise my eyebrows and say, in my deepest rumbliest Ben Affleck / Matt Damon South Boston voice (which is close enough): “No kiddin'?



He is an expert at small talk. He's been doing it, after all, for over forty years. When he's not talking, he's humming to himself.  And, like all real Rhode Islanders, he wants information. He wants to know who owns what, and who's going out of business, and what's going on in City Hall and the State House, and who's paying who off.  I tell him the little I know, and he gives me back my money's worth.



He was very worked up last week. “I tell ya,” he said, using the clippers around my neck, “I've been doing this for forty years, and this never happened before. Two guys in here, this morning, waiting for haircuts. And they start arguing about politics, Democrat, Republican, Obama this, economy that. And now they're yellin'. And the guy in the next office over, the mortgage guy, comes in to tell them to shut up, he can't do business with all the noise. And one of the guys arguin' goes through the roof all over again, he's yellin' at the guy from next door. I thought I was gonna have to call the cops!”



He was pretty keyed up by this, let me tell you. But I could tell he'd sort of enjoyed it. It gave him something to talk about.



But this was the best thing he said:



I knew he's a racing aficionado, so I asked him about the upcoming Belmont Stakes. He looked wise, and sly. “Well, you know,” he said, “it's a long race. If you ask me, I think that other horse is gonna win.”



I didn't ask him what he meant by that. I didn't need to. I thought his answer was just perfect as it was.



And you know what? He was right.  That other horse did win.



Friday, June 24, 2011

Bar people


Partner and I wanted a light dinner one evening on the Cape, so we stopped in at a local bar & grill. It was cheap and cheerful, and very airy, and mostly a local crowd. (You can always spot tourists on Cape Cod: they look – well, they look like us.)


We ate, and we took in the local color:


The young(ish) couple at the bar. He's sitting on a stool; she's standing right over him, her face maybe ten inches from his. She's wearing a little too much makeup. He's got his knees open, and she's standing right between them. She's talking a mile a minute, staring into his eyes, never for a moment looking away . . .


The young(ish) guy at the bar, maybe three or four beers gone, telling a story to the bartender, so excited by his own story that he's standing up, almost hopping up and down, getting louder and louder . . .


The old guy sitting at the bar, weathered-looking, with a hat and a shaggy mustache. (“He looks like he's been here continuously for two weeks,” I whispered to Partner. “Are you kidding?” Partner said. “He's been here continuously for forty years.”)


The gruesome-looking couple emerging from the back room. He's big and bearded and looks either angry or constipated, and she looks either despondent or completely out of it. I look away for a second, and suddenly she's alone at the bar, and he's nowhere . . .


And most memorable of all:


As we were leaving, a woman was getting out of her car. She gives us a nervous grin, turns, and says in the direction of her car: “I'll be right back.”


I look at her car, and I see a little dog, maybe a papillon, perched in the back seat, its face pressed to the window, watching her go into the bar. “Look!” I say cheerfully to Partner. “How cute!”


Partner looked at me sadly/wryly. “You didn't see,” he said. “The dog's not alone. There's a little girl in there too.”




The dog was foolish enough to watch Mommy go into the bar, hoping that she'd be back soon.


The little girl didn't bother to look. She knew better.


Happy Wednesday at the Sand Dollar Bar and Grill, everybody!









Thursday, June 23, 2011

Left-winger, irrational, and proud


Homer Simpson once said: “If you're in a store and you see anything on a toothpick, it's free.” He then stabbed a large ham with a toothpick and ate it like a drumstick.



I love free things. Partner despairs of me, because I grab free food like an animal. I like free periodicals too: "Senior Horizons," "Approaches to Menopause," "Survivalist Quarterly." I learn all kinds of things from these, ahem, sources.



The other night, in our uppity local grocery store (with which we have made peace, because their produce is excellent, and we are tired of buying rotten Stop & Shop oranges), I picked up a copy of Natural Awakenings.



(Mostly because it had a picture of a cute jogger on the front cover, but – well, you know me.)



I read it with interest. Massage therapy. Shamanistic healing! (This turns out to be located directly next to my office building, so I made a note of it. I may want to put curses on some of the people I work with, and who better than a shaman for that?) Meditation. Organic food. Vegan food. Gluten-free food. Working out with your dog.



You know how right-wing people have this cluster of core beliefs that don't seem to have anything to do with anything? They're against gay marriage. Why? Well, it's icky. They don't believe in climate change. Why not? Well, it's just silly. Big government? Awful. Christianity? Two helpings, please!






Well, we left-wingers do it too



Vegetarian? Please! I'm vegan! Medical care? Well, Western medicine is so restrictive and hyperrational – let's have some reiki and acupuncture too! What could be more effective than someone waving his hands over your body without touching you? Or someone sticking pins into your body? Homeopathy? Two helpings, please!



Let's face it. We're as intolerant and irrational as they are.



But we're much nicer and cuter about it.



And we don't kill as much stuff.



Except for babies, of course.



Wednesday, June 22, 2011

North African food


When I first arrived in Morocco in 1984, the Peace Corps nurse spoke to us about health issues. “You won't need to worry about the food,” she said. “Believe me. You will eat well.”



She wasn't kidding. In Morocco and Tunisia, we ate spectacularly. Bread and cheese and fish from the corner store were always fresh and delicious. Fruit and vegetables were always local and beautiful. Local places always had roasted kebabs and fresh bread. Tajine, and couscous, and salade mechouia, and brik, and chakchouka. Harira, the magnificently thick aromatic soup with which one breaks one's Ramadan fast.



There was also the wacky stuff. I have written elsewhere of my adventures with kamounia, a dish which can be made with just about any organ meat (usually liver or kidneys, but which, one memorable day, came with a sheep testicle riding on top). Ojja, the delicious Tunisian dish with tomatoes and hot peppers and eggs and sheep's brains. Osbene, the North African version of haggis: guts and vegetables, stuffed into guts, then baked.



(There are gray areas, of course. There is a Tunisian dish called meloukhia, prepared with meat and olive oil and dried powdered jute leaves. It ends up looking like chunks of sponge rubber marinated in motor oil. It smells like death. And some people love it.)



One day in 1986, a friend with US Embassy commissary privileges bought us a whole bunch of food – American food! packaged and boxed and canned! - and we had a feast.



And we were all sick for three days. Utterly miserable.



After several years of pure food, we'd eaten (in a single meal) huge doses of preservatives, and additives, and pesticides, and hormones, and chemicals.



Kids: you think foreigners eat strange things? Read the side of your Cap'n Crunch box sometime. The entire periodic table is in there.



And now I've gone and made myself hungry for guts and brains.



Monday, June 20, 2011

Pantry moths


I have moths.



If I were a good and dutiful housewife, I would immediately transfer dry goods like flour and cereal and rice to plastic containers after I buy them.



I do not do this.



And now we have a houseful of moths.



Moths are not beautiful. They are drab and dingy. They fold their wings when they perch and hold very still, like little brown pup-tents. They flutter in front of the television. Every evening either Partner or I leaps up and begins to dance around the room chasing one of them, shrieking. And now and then there is a big WHAM from the next room, which is usually one or the other of us throwing a bowling ball or a dictionary at a brown speck on the wall.



So, the other day, I bought some nice SAFER PANTRY PEST moth traps.



They're just some sticky paper and some moth pheromones. I put one on top of the fridge, and within half an hour, a litle brown/gray moth was stuck to the inside of it, struggling.



Poor thing.



When I see 'em, I smack 'em without a moment's hesitation. All you see is a little brown smudge on your hand.



But it's another thing when you actually see them struggling, fixed on the sticky paper, dying.



Poor things.



Moths are not beautiful. If they were beautiful, like butterflies, or even cute, like ladybugs. . .



But they are not.



And neither am I.



And I don't like moths in our kitchen!




Sunday, June 19, 2011

Sunday blog: Wang Chung sings “Let's Go”


Here's why I love 1980s music videos: they take simple little songs and dress them up, with things like:


  • Dancing skeletons!

  • Origami hats!

  • A New Orleans funeral!

  • Cheerleaders!

  • Pyramids!

  • Sumo wrestlers!



Put on your origami hat and repeat after me: "Let's go, baby, let's go, baby, come on!"






Saturday, June 18, 2011

Woody Allen


Ike Barinholtz, the very cute comedian who used to be on Mad TV, recently tweeted: “'Midnight in Paris' is Woody Allen's 15th best movie.”



I haven't seen the movie, but I have no reason to doubt him.



I came of age during the Golden Age of Woody Allen. He'd emerged from his early experimental period - “Bananas,” “Take The Money and Run,” “Sleeper” - to create one of the most perfect comedies of all time: “Annie Hall.”



If you don't agree with me on this point one hundred percent, watch it again. And then again.



Back in the 1990s, a friend of mine would call me, and instead of saying “Hello,” she'd give me a line of “Annie Hall” dialogue. I was expected to respond with the following line. I don't think I can do it anymore, but I could do it instantly back then. “I don't get a period! I'm a cartoon character!” “We use a large vibrating egg.” “Love fades.”



After “Annie Hall,” Woody made “Manhattan,” which I liked, but which felt – artsy. Artificial. And it still does.



Then he made “Interiors,” his first drama. I have seen it dozens of times. I love it, but I cannot recommend it to you, unless you like beige décor and Mary Beth Hurt. It is not a comedy. It is full of angst and stiff dialogue and homages to Ingmar Bergman. Unfortunately, it is also full of uncomfortable echoes of Woody's own (very funny) Bergman parody, “Love and Death.” Sometimes I think “Interiors” is one of Woody's funniest comedies. I'd never say it to his face, though.



I am fond of “Stardust Memories,” which came next, but I'll tell you why later.



After “Stardust Memories,” he made many duds. Many, many, many duds. “The Curse of the Jade Scorpion.” “Mighty Aphrodite.” “Hollywood Ending.” “Celebrity.” Some were supposed to be serious, or at least tragicomic. Oh, dear god, “September”!



But there were still moments of glory. “Broadway Danny Rose” is a thing of beauty, and go see it please, it is too funny. The first time I saw it, I did not realize it was Mia Farrow behind those big dark glasses. Woody and Mia were still together then, and (the story goes) they were in a restaurant, and Woody said, “What do you want your next role to be?”, and Mia pointed at an Italian woman in the next booth, with dark glasses and a floppy hat, and said: “I want to play her.”



And she does. And she is wonderful.



Oh, that's right, I need to tell you about why I love “Stardust Memories” so much.



In it, Woody fantasizes that he's talking to aliens, about how he wants to communicate something important – something lasting – to the human race. And all he can do is make these stupid comedies.



And the alien says: “But we like your movies. Especially the earlier funnier ones.”




Friday, June 17, 2011

The Woonsocket mill fire


One evening last week, a very odd smell pervaded our apartment. Chemicals, and burning rubber, and wood smoke, and – who knows?



It turned out that a huge old mill was burning down in Woonsocket, about thirty miles north of Providence. Arson? Accident? No one knew.



Although, in Rhode Island, arson is always the first assumption.



Partner told me around 10:00 pm to look at the live radar feed on you could actually see the smoke cloud around Woonsocket.



And then I realized I'd seen something strange earlier that evening, when I was coming home from the health club: a huge cloud, like a cumulonimbus, hanging in the northern sky. I'd though this was strange, as no storms were predicted for that day or the next.



The smell of the fire was really nauseating here, so many miles away. Can you imagine what it was like in Woonsocket, close by? (The WPRI newsman on the scene, Walt Buteau, was many blocks away from the fire, but said he could still feel the heat. Regard the above picture. I believe him.)



This kind of thing has happened many times in Rhode Island. When a building is inconvenient, it burns down. There used to be a huge department store in downtown Providence; it went out of business; whammo! it burned down.



I came back from the Peace Corps in 1987. Friends were showing me around town, to show me what I'd missed in three and a half years. As we turned down Congdon Street, I saw smoke rising from the old train station. “Ah,” I said. “Nothing has changed.”



I'm not pointin' my finger at anybody.



I'm not sayin' that people in Rhode Island set fires for the insurance money, and to clear property.



I'm just sayin'.



(Postscript: the Valley Breeze later reported that the fire was started by a spark from a welder's torch. Of course! What else could it have been?)





Thursday, June 16, 2011

Bloomsday blog: James Joyce and Samuel Beckett play pitch 'n putt


My friend Bill Walsh, a real Joyce scholar, introduced me to this video. It never fails to give me a laugh and tear.



Joyce and Beckett!



“Yes.  I'll play."



Happy Bloomsday.







Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Pretty Hurts


Dingdingding! Partner and I have a new favorite TV show. We used to like “Nip/Tuck,” with the hot / sultry Julian McMahon and the innocent-looking / buff / perverse Dylan Walsh as playful plastic surgeons. (My favorite episode, bar none, was the one with the guy who liked to have sex with furniture. This was first signaled when he leaned down, eyes closed, and licked the surface of his oak desk. Later we saw him get naked with (and on) a sofa, and even an operating table.



Logo has shown all 100 episodes of “Nip/Tuck,” and it is done, and we are in the doldrums.



But wait! Also on Logo: “Pretty Hurts”!


Basically it’s “Nip/Tuck” as a reality show. The featured star, Rand Rusher, is a Beverly Hills registered nurse who specializes in “injectables.” Primary among these are “freezers” (it ain’t hip to call it Botox anymore, apparently) and “fillers” (collagen-like substances that can be squooshed in to fill any gaps, potholes, or fissures you might have in your face).



Rand is adorable, like a golden retriever. He’s big and blond and muscular, but you sense that if he stops working out for maybe ten minutes, he will be a big fat blond boy with a trembling upper lip. He is earnest and sweet and sincere (he says “Ouch!” before he pops the needle into your lip or forehead or eyelid), and talkative, and sort of vulnerable. His bitchy ex-boyfriend is also his business manager, and they still live together, and it's very complicated.



Partner and I, needless to say, are mesmerized by all this.



One episode featured the grotesque model Janice Dickinson, who has an angular body that looks as if it were twisted together out of coat hangers, and a face like a pickaxe. I would be willing to wager that she eats children. She did everything in Rand's office but drink the Botox straight out of the bottle. Also, irritatingly / grotesquely, she made a sort of singing yodel when she was getting her shots. Believe me, when you look like Janice Dickinson, you don’t want to say or do anything that makes you seem less human.



Then there was a kid in his early twenties who came in for some kind of reconstructive thing, but also shyly asked Rand if he thought he should do anything about his “wrinkles.” (Seriously, this kid looked like he’d just left the sixth grade, so any “wrinkles” he had were probably sleep marks from his Toy Story pillowcase.) “You don’t need that,” Rand said. “You’re young.”



The boy smiled dewily and whispered: “Thank you.”



As if it were a compliment!



Back in my day, before lasers and transistor radios and frozen foods, if someone said “You’re young,” it was usually meant as a slight, or an excuse. It translated as “You have no experience with life and can’t be expected to know better,” or sometimes (as when my sister Susan used to say it to me) “You’re a pesky shrimp and I wish you would jump off a cliff and leave me in peace.”



Now, apparently, it’s equivalent to “You are radiantly lovely,” or “Looking at you makes me want to dance and sing.”



Forgive me for being cranky. My injectables haven’t taken effect yet.



And I'm not talking about freezers or fillers.




Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Flag Day blog: Flags Of The World


I really have nothing to add about the following video.



Except that it involves flags.



Happy Flag Day!






Monday, June 13, 2011



Only a few months ago, Groupon sent me interesting offers. Good restaurants. Nice things. Things I actually bought into from time to time.



Now I get Groupon offers for helicopter tours and photo montages and day-spas. These are things I will never spend money on.



The Groupon business model, so far as I am concerned, has collapsed, in something like record time (and certainly much faster than Tulipomania). And just in time for their initial public offering, which will be mega-brilliant!



The Times saw it coming. Groupon mostly focused on restaurants at first, but even then, the restaurants realized they were losing money on Groupon customers. It was money that would have been spent on advertising – but most restaurants do very little advertising anyway. (Think about it. Where do they usually advertise? High-school yearbooks! The Penny Saver!)



Then there is the whole issue of the Groupon Voice: the nastily “funny” mode in which the Groupon emails are written. They joke around, they make stuff up. (They talk about the riding stable that's “closed on Horse Christmas.” They talk about the “meat surgeons” at the steak restaurant. Haw haw!) This is hipsterishly amusing, but can backfire when one lives in a non-hipster world, i.e., this world right here.



Last February, Groupon splashed some television commercials, in one of which Timothy Hutton spoke of the plight of the people of Tibet – and then of its delicious cuisine. Segue to Groupon logo.



Funny, right?



Lots of people thought not.



Groupon gives a quiz to writers to determine if they understand the “Groupon Voice.” You should take it. It's all wrong. For example: which of the following is the most interesting description of a 4700-pound chandelier? Choose one:



  • A: Really big and shiny

  • B: More brilliant than a studious Christmas tree

  • C: A death trap

  • D: Blinged out



For me, the funniest answers are C, D, and A, in that order. B has too many words, and is too labored.



The official Groupon answer is B.



I understand Groupon's unwillingness to call something they're advertising a “death trap.” But there's a little thing called “litotes,” which is furiously at work in both A and D, and which makes them both very funny. B is stuffy. B has too many words. Shorter is always funnier, Groupon people!



Groupon will be dead soon. Other (and cleverer) companies will have analyzed their business model, found work-arounds for its flaws, and taken over Groupon's territory. Groupon will join AOL and MySpace soon, no matter what happens with their IPO, which (I'm sure) will be more brilliant than a studious Christmas tree.



You just wait and see.




Sunday, June 12, 2011

Sunday blog: "Sledgehammer," by Peter Gabriel


I came to Peter Gabriel late, but I'm now a devoted fan. Here, from 1986, is the song/video “Sledgehammer.” As Stefon would say, it has everything: spermatozoa, dancing chickens, gigantic closeups of Peter Gabriel's face, bumper cars . . .






Saturday, June 11, 2011

Pirates of the Caribbean: the franchise


Partner and I saw the new “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise while we were on the Cape. In two words: Ho Hum.



Why did we go? you may ask. Well, as Partner said, we'll go see pretty much anything with Johnny Depp in it, and this is pretty much true, damn it. Also, the producers usually manage to squeeze some fun out of the concept (which, given that the whole thing started with a pretty damp and dismal Disneyland ride, is amazing in itself).



But there's nothing new here. Swordfight after swordfight; fracas after fracas; scurvy rascal after scurvy rascal. One may also ask how Penelope Cruz manages to stay so clean when the rest of the cast look like they've been rolling in a litterbox.  I suppose this qualifies as a “joke” in the movie, but I didn't get much of a chuckle out of it.



I had sort-of-high hopes during the first fifteen minutes, when we were treated to nice cameos by Richard Griffiths (as a repulsive King George II, pullulating on his throne like Jabba the Hutt) and Judi Dench (far too brief, as a Henry Fieldingish matron in a carriage, with a nice but withered decolletage, being bounced upon – and propositioned! - by Johnny Depp). Then Keith Richards comes oozing out of an alley, and I think: well, this is fun. Kind of like a Muppet movie.



But – alas! - no. No more cameos, for the rest of the movie.



Apart from Ian MacShane (who does most of the real acting in the movie, as a purringly malevolent Blackbeard), everyone is pretty much phoning this one in. Johnny Depp's drunken wobble is uninspired. Even Geoffrey Rush seems bored.



But this, kiddos, is the secret of the blockbuster franchise: so long as it makes money, it will go on forever.



(That doesn't mean it can't be fun. We saw Fast Five a month or so ago, and it was perfectly acceptable: lots of stolen cars, lots of perfectly unbelievable situations – and why were we in Brazil again? - and how do you drag a huge bank safe down the street with a car? - but a good time was had by all.)



But so long as the Pirates people can keep selling tickets (well, Partner and I fell for it, kaching! kaching!), they'll keep wasting celluloid in this way.



And in case you wonder how many sequels there will be: check out this lovely Onion News interview with the writer of the new Fast & Furious movie.



In a word:



There is no end to it, the voiceless wailing,

No end to the withering of withered flowers . . .



Yo ho ho!




Friday, June 10, 2011



As you know by now, when I go to the health club, I rely on the local beefy boys for inspiration. Nothing gets my motor racing like the big boys in the fitness pit, huffin' and pressin' and curlin' and sweatin' and generally trying to outmuscle one another. It is sheer joy to me, like air and water and sunshine.



Sometimes, however, on a slow day, when most of the patrons are (like me) slow and feeble and elderly, I have to rely on my treadmill TV for inspiration.



Have you seen the infomercial for something called P90X? It is some sort of exercise program which appears to involve jumping up and down, pushups, and clapping your hands. It is extreme. It is guaranteed to turn you into Johnny Weissmuller (or at least Elmo Lincoln) in ninety days.



I like the transformation stories on these infomercials. They always start with an athletic guy (there are a few women in the mix, but the marketers concentrate on the men here, and I think they know what they're doing) telling his story, wearing only a few scraps of clothing; then we see pictures of him fat or skinny or unwell; then we see him jumping and bouncing and doing his P90X routine; then we return to the vivid reality of his sculpted new body. All these guys are adorable, and very pleased with themselves. I would just like to munch them all up.



As for the actual exercise routine: I have my doubts. I'm sure it's a perfectly valid program – anything that involved that much jumping and hopping would probably make you healthier – but ninety days? Dubious at best.



This, of course, is a bow to our results-obsessed culture. Remember when Bart Simpson took up the guitar, then quickly gave it up? “I wasn't good at it right away, so I quit.” And Homer approved of this, saying: “If something's hard to do, then it's not worth doing.”



But wait! I recently saw an ad for Shaun T's Insanity sixty-day fitness program – with guaranteed results!



And last week, on the Cape, I saw a commercial for a thirty-day program!



Eh. I'll wait for the ten-minute version. I'm a very busy girl.



Thursday, June 9, 2011

Chelsea Handler


An old friend wrote me a note recently to tell me how much he enjoys reading this blog. “You are the web version of Chelsea Handler,” he wrote. “You two should write a book together.”



First of all, I love this, because flattery makes me go all mooshy inside.



Second of all, this will never happen for two reasons. Firstly, I am not worthy to buckle the little shiny thingies on Chelsea’s expensive shoes. Secondly, she scares the bejeezus out of me.



If you’re not familiar with Chelsea, you should watch her show. (It’s on too late for sedate oldsters like Partner and me, but we DVR it.) She has a uniquely dry delivery, and is unimpressed with pretty much everything. She has elevated the word “stupid” to new heights; she pronounces the word with such heavy ironic ferocity. The show’s on the E! network, which also comes in for a heavy dose of her mockery, especially when she’s forced to have guests from some of the other E! shows, like the dreaded Michael Yo, or Kendra. She also produces and stars in yet another show on E!, though only a weekly one. She has written four books, all of which have made it to the Times best-seller list. (One’s up there right now.) She sponsors a stable of writers and comedians, who appear regularly on her show, and who all seem to be doing pretty well under her tutelage.



She's smart and funny and unapologetic. You should read the recent New York Times article about her!



All this despite the fact that women aren’t funny.



Go figure.



Go Chelsea!



(All kidding aside, I know I'd never be able to go up against her one-on-one. She's pretty fierce.)




Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Tornado warning: southern New England


Partner and I were on Cape Cod last Wednesday when the tornadoes marched through Massachusetts. Cape Cod is normally pretty placid weather-wise, but the water was very choppy that morning, and there were some big ominous-looking clouds up in the north. We knew there were some storm warnings, and even hail -



And then we heard the tornado warnings on the radio.



We knew we were out of harm's way. But northern Rhode Island was on tornado warning for the entire afternoon. Central Massachusetts got hit, especially Springfield, where there were several deaths, many injuries, and extensive damage. We spent the evening watching weathermen breathlessly Telestrating the map, talking about debris clouds and rotation and the Fujita scale.



Do you understand that this doesn't happen here?



New England is not Tornado Alley, by any means. New England is famous for the changeable nature of its weather; didn't Mark Twain himself say, “If you're not happy with the weather in New England, just wait a few minutes”? And God knows we get storms, sometimes pretty ferocious ones. But tornadoes we do not get.



One more sign that the weather is changing, and the world is changing.



It kills me that people do not get this. But here's the thing: it's not that they don't get it. They just pretend to believe either that it's God's great plan, or that it's just the way weather works.



Oh, no. Not in this particular epoch, dear hearts. We have turned the page, mostly through the stuff we've plentifully sprayed – mostly carbon dioxide and CFCs, but lots of other interesting stuff – into the atmosphere. Also overfarming and overdevelopment. Also miscellaneous pollutants. Also -



Anyway. The world is changing. And we helped.



We've passed the point of no return. Even if Sarah Palin herself (who, in a motorcycle rally a while back, said something stupid like “I love the smell of those emissions!”) were to begin recycling today! - it wouldn't make a bloody bit of difference.



I don't think we're doomed.



But I think there are going to be a lot less of us in a hundred years.



And, in a very little while, I won't be around to snark at everything.



Won't that be lovely?



Ah me. How very old the world has become.




Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Representative Anthony Weiner


Folklore tells us that Alexander the Great grew tired of being lectured by his resident schoolmaster, Aristotle, on how sex was a waste of time. One evening Alexander sent a prostitute into Aristotle's room, just to see what would happen.  He waited a while, and opened the door to find the prostitute riding the naked Aristotle around the room like a donkey.



Moral: sex makes smart people do stupid things.



I wrote a few months ago about Republican Representative Christopher Lee and his funny shirtless frolics with a camera and a mirror. Now we have Anthony Weiner, a Democrat, also playing “Candid Photography Click Click Nudge Nudge Say No More.”



When it's a Republican, I hoot and whistle, I know. I can't help it. When it's a Democrat – Weiner, or John Edwards, or Bill Clinton, or Ted Kennedy – I just squirm uneasily. And I get all forgiving and moral. Does it make them bad lawmakers? Does it matter who they have sex with? Or whether they use cigars when they do it? Or whether they pay off their mistresses with campaign funds?



Well, um, yes, I think that last one does matter, now that I think about it.



All professions have their share of jerks. Jerks are sometimes actually good at their jobs; in some professions, it's probably actually an asset. Rahm Emanuel comes to mind. By all accounts a horrible person; a very effective politician, however.



I think the thing that bothers me most about the Weiner story is the attitude he's been displaying lately. He's not contrite; he's angry and hostile. Angry at being found out? Probably. Angry with himself for not being more discreet? Possibly.



Bitchin' bod, though.



Who knew?



The Congressional weight room must have a dynamite conditioning program.




Monday, June 6, 2011

Old Cape Cod


Partner and I spent a few days on Cape Cod last week. It's barely an hour away from Providence, but it's a different world altogether. The weather is milder. The light is softer. The air is different.



It is so bloody quaint that it makes me want to hold my head and moan. Little white houses buried in rhododendrons and wisteria. Little shingled houses with American flags flying on the porch. Little brick houses with wizened cherry trees in the yard. Oh my God!



Little old ladies are everywhere, having brunch and powerwalking and selling taffy. Handymen and landscapers and lifeguards are everywhere, big and burly and suntanned. And all the convenience stores sell t-shirts three for ten bucks.



We stopped for breakfast at – where else? - The Breakfast Room. “Room,” by the way, was spelled, not with two Os, but with two fried eggs. (Partner: “Well, we gotta eat there. I mean, look at the eggs on the sign!”) We had eggs (what else?) and coffee and toast. An older couple came in after us, sat nearby, and regarded the menu dolefully. “Well,” the husband said after a few minutes, “it looks like they just serve breakfast.”



Even the geography is quaint. Take Dennis, for example, where we stayed. You've got South Dennis, and West Dennis (which is also “Bass River”), and Dennis, and Dennisport, and East Dennis (which is just north of South Dennis). I finally found North Dennis on the map; it's a mile west of East Dennis.



The same naming pattern is repeated for Sandwich, and Harwich, and Yarmouth, and Falmouth. (I won't even tell you about the Upper Cape. You're not ready for that. It's like quantum physics.)



You've never seen many birds. I understand now why people go nutsy for birdwatching on the Cape. Eighteen different species of bird were perched on the hotel sign when we pulled in, arranged (I think) either by size, or alphabetically. I lay half-awake one morning, listening to the dawn chorus of birdcalls, and I think some of them were just making the calls up, to show off. I mean, really: “Peep peep peep peep brrr brrr brrr toowhaa toowhaa”? What the hell kind of bird does that? An imaginary one?



We ate at Captain Parker's in (West) Yarmouth our first evening there, as we usually do. Partner adores their clam chowder, and the fisherman's platter, which is served on a plate the size of a laundry hamper. I had the mussels marinara; the mussels were local, and huge, and terrifying. (Partner told me later that a kid at the table behind me was watching me dissect and consume my mussels. To be fair, they were prehistoric.)



Take it away, Patti Page!


Patti_Page_-_Old_Cape_Cod.mp3 Listen on Posterous




Sunday, June 5, 2011

Sunday blog: "God Only Knows" by Joe Henry


This song was used a few years ago by Turner Classic Movies for their necrology of the year's movie-industry-related deaths.  It played under a sad video of a rainstorm on the beach, turning to sunshine at last. It was remarkable.



Some of the lyrics are painfully sharp:



“Lovers laugh and cross this way / Weaving out into the street / Seems we never were so young / Or it was never quite so sweet / But the world is always beautiful / When it's seen in full retreat . . .”



A song of regret, and loss, and pain.





12_-_God_Only_Knows.mp3 Listen on Posterous