One of the things I wanted to do at Worldcon was hook up with all the people I met last year, including the editor of this surprisingly smart anthology, which turns the impulse buy/bathroom book into a sometimes very touching series of bite-sized bits of philosophy about the messages of the most popular SF/F pop culture. So I went to his "literary bheer," where around 8-10 people sign up in advance to sit around a table with the author and chat over BYO beers.
When I showed up, the table was packed and a pretty lively discussion was underway, but there were basically three guys talking over each other and everyone else. They had an opinion about EVERYTHING, and it was a loud opinion delivered in a "Some people disagree, but they're morons" tone. Occasionally someone would pipe up with a question for the editor, but then the three loudest people (whom I will call Boor 1, Boor 2, and Boor 3) would cut in to answer in the most dismissive way possible. There was also an incredibly soft, callow guy who looked 25 and sounded 14, and who clearly wanted to be a writer, and wanted advice and encouragement, but didn't want to look naive, so he alternated awkward, basic industry questions with boasts about his vast experience with writer's workshops, including what a pro he was at taking criticism, because he had learned how to say "Thank you, I will take that into consideration."
This was the tone of the discussion: At one point, the editor politely asked what we were all reading these days, and Callow said he was reading a lot of Conan, and then wandered off into a speech about how much he loved sword-and-sorcery and how he wanted to write it but he was afraid all the good ideas were taken, and he was curious what else he should read to avoid clichés. Boor 1 said he should mostly read non-fiction about history to get his details right, and recommended some stuff, and Boor 2 cut in to argue with him about titles and started talking about military theory, and it turned into a general list of history books about different eras, and we never got past Callow on the "What are you reading?" question. Based on his dress and age and various things he was saying about military fiction, I asked Boor 2 if he was a vet, and then he Ancient Marinered me with his eyes and started talking directly to me only about how "A platoon is 30 men you hate and 10 men you trust with your lives and that's why so many bad leaders get fragged," and about how women go out on the town in the evenings in groups of 8 to 10, but men always go out in pairs because you're doing good if you can trust the guy on your right and the guy on your left.
Meanwhile, there was more arguing about which history books were worth reading and which ones were dogshit, and Callow kept getting up every five minutes to get more food from the consuite, announcing himself every time: "I'm going to go get some more sushi."
In the middle of this somewhere, Callow asked out of the blue, "Hey, Editor, is it worth trying to write even if you aren't very good?"
And Boor 2 and Boor 3 both shouted "NO," and Boor 2 added "Because if you do, you're just going to piss off guys like me." Callow visibly pouted and muttered a bunch under his breath, while various people, Editor included, pointed out that no one is a fantastic author when they start out, and the best way to become a better writer is by writing.
Then another guy hijacked the conversation to talk about the themed anthology he was curating and editing, and the question of how to make it so good, he would become a Name Editor like Ellen Datlow or Gardner Dozois, and everyone fell over themselves to give him conflicting terrible advice (including Callow, who thought he shouldn't restrict himself to stories on the subject he had a contract for, and should expand it to other genres/ideas), and there was a lot of loud, uninformed but VERY OPINIONATED talk about design and typography and art.
And then Callow asked, also entirely out of the blue, "Hey Editor, what's a good name for a wizard?"
Anyway. It went on for nearly two hours, and I kept considering walking away, but I didn't have Editor's contact information, and I did want to talk to him later (including about this panel; he's a smart, funny guy, and I was dying to hear his take on it), and given the size of the con, I didn't know whether I'd run into him again. Eventually someone I know through work who is a friend of Editor's showed up with another woman, and she wound up coming around the table and talking to me, and she was a level-headed, polite, interesting, creative person, and I made a friend. I hung out with her later on, and we exchanged contact info. So I was glad I showed up.
And I did get to talk to Editor later, and became acquainted with the term "fansplaining" for the first time, so that's a bonus too. But DAMN, those were some rude, loud, self-satisfied, not-self-aware people. And they reminded me again how lucky I am to have friends who share my geeky interests, but are capable of two-way interaction, and intellectual curiosity and receptiveness to each other, and all the things that make conversation a collaborative experience, and not a lecture. So I got many things out of this experience. But "a good time" wasn't one of them.
At least I got a question to ask from now on whenever I'm in a conversation that slows down. I mean, what IS a good name for a wizard?
So I’m at Chicon 7, the 70th annual Worldcon, and the seventh to be held in Chicago. And I am having a fine old time. I’ve mostly been going to panels involving either George RR Martin or Connie Willis, of which there are many. And last night Cass and I went to a staged reading of “The Island Of Doctor Moreau,” and then he went to the Friday-night dance (“Nerd Prom”) and I went and hung out in the bar (which serves 48-ounce cocktails in oversized novelty martini glasses for around $25) with A.V. Club writer Jason Heller and komainu and aizuchi and eventually Wondermark cartoonist David Malki and writer Matthew Bennardo. We talked for hours, and then went and circulated room parties, starting around 1 a.m.
I know so many cool and interesting people at this con that I’ve spent relatively little time talking to strangers, but as it got late, I started reaching out to random people, since anyone wandering around alone at a party at 2 a.m. is probably looking for human contact. Then a guy walked by me with a set of badge ribbons that said “Up-timer” and “Down-timer,” so…
Me: Hey, what’s the significance of “Up-timer” and “Down-timer”?
Odd dude: [Bug-eyed, mouth-hanging-open baffled stare that seemed so exaggerated, I thought he was making fun of me for my ignorance.]
Me: Yes, yes, I’ll give you a minute to get over your shock. But seriously, what’s that from?
Odd dude: Uh, time travel? Up-timers travel up the time stream, and down-timers are the ones who are already there?
Me: Okay. I’m not familiar with the terminology. Is it from a specific book or show?
Odd dude: Yes. [Continues staring at me.]
Me: [Long, uncomfortable pause.] Ohhhhhkay. You want to tell me which one?
Me: Uh. Is it Doctor Who? Am I just betraying a lot of embarrassing ignorance here?
Odd dude: Here, how about I give you a pretty book, instead?
And then he pressed a Cracker Jack prize-sized folded mini-comic thing into my hand and moved rapidly away. I still have the book. It’s a murky thing called “Psycho Circus” that mostly consists of scribbly black-on-grey clots of agitated lines, and wandering text. Excerpt: “Caligraphy acrobats carve out the language of trapezee and do they see their Metaphors? They FEEL the tension of Clasping hands like lovers in the dark, driven to reach out —SNATCH— support me, support we…”
So now I have a “pretty book” and still no idea where up-timers and down-timers come from. Googling it got me only one coherent reference that suggests it’s from Robert Aspirin’s Time Scout series, which I’ve never even heard of. Anyone know more about it? The only other possible option is that the guy was a time-traveler who wasn’t expecting to be confronted about it, and that he handed me a device meant to confuse my brain so I’d forget about time travel, right?
I admit I'm a pretty indifferent gardener. I tend to put in a lot of work to set up a vegetable garden out back and a flower garden out front in the springtime, and I'm really diligent about weeding and watering for a while, and then it gets really really hot out and I become less diligent, and by the beginning of August I'm usually just flat-out neglecting the garden. Also, I don't plan the vegetable garden every year, so much as I plant cherry tomatoes and basil and hot peppers, prune the blackberry bush back until it only has a third of the garden to itself, and then fill the rest of the space with whatever looks interesting at the garden center, particularly if I haven't tried it before. I've given up on varieties of bell pepper because I always seem to get exactly one before the growing season ends; I tried asparagus and it apparently died in the ground, possibly due to our weird 80-degrees-and-back-to-freezing snap in February. This year I experimented with broccoli out of curiosity, but it keeps going to flower because I'm not keeping the roots moist and cold enough.
But the big experiment this year was with tomatillo plants, which I'd never tried before. Most years I plant a couple of cherry tomato plants, and by the end of summer they're producing more than I can eat. I figured this year I'd try something new.
The tomatillo plants have eaten the garden. They've gone NUTS. If they were up against the blackberry bush, I'm not sure who would win, and that's really saying something. I got busy and started staying up late and stopped getting up early enough to water and check and tend the garden every morning before work, and I just ignored it for a while, and then I came back and the tomatillo plants were a giant bush covered with flowers… and no sign of actual tomatillos at all. I'd put them on garden stakes, but they hadn't climbed them very well, so they were kind of a huddled mass yearning to breathe free.
So I cut them back a bit and pinned them more carefully to the five-foot stakes.
And now they're seven feet tall.
Even at their most ambitious, the cherry-tomato plants never did anything like this. At the same time, I was frustrated because they were STILL covered with flowers, and showed no sign of actually bearing tomatillos.
And then there was an earth-shattering kaboom.
Okay, no there wasn't, but one day I got up and half the flowers had become cute little green balloons overnight.
So I'm really looking forward to seeing how these develop. The Chicago growing season is too short for some vegetables, and too erratically super-hot and suddenly cold and wet and dry and hail-y for other things, but so far it's looking like tomatillos like it. I'm surprised how long it took these to develop — the one cherry-tomato plant I did this year started producing more than a month ago — but right now it feels like I have a giant series of party-decoration plants in the back yard, and if they produce edibles, too, that'll just be a bonus.
Pulled 18 bobby pins out of my hair last night, and an attached tick out of my hair this morning.
GAAAH. I do not recommend this as a way to wake up. Fortunately it wasn't very swollen yet. Possibly it couldn't find my head through all the product and layers and bobby pins until I took the hair down.
It never even occurred to me that spending a bunch of time under the trees outdoors in summer, then indoors in a conservatory (where we did periodically see surprisingly aggressive roaches scuttling around) would put us at risk for ticks.
And now I'm headed to my health club to swim and hit the jacuzzi, which is about as close as I can come to dunking myself in bleach and then boiling myself.
The wedding last night was terrific. No one passed out, as far as I know. The heat wasn't that bad, it was just sweaty.
But I did go to a salon beforehand and pay for a fancy French-twist updo, to ensure that my hair was entirely off my neck. And then I worried about it as I walked back to the train, and took the train to the wedding party's hotel, and took the shuttle to the conservatory where the wedding was being held, and changed into my dress — I was certain I was going to jostle the hairdo and knock it all out of place and it'd look terrible half the night.
Turns out I vastly underestimated the power of the salon updo. It was not perturbed by any of this. Nor by dancing at the reception. And after the reception, Cass and keystroke and I went to Late Bar and danced for another hour and a half or so, and it still wasn't dented. I got home exhausted and not in the mood to dismantle it, so I just slept in it.
It looked fine this morning.
That was a LOT of curling and hairspray and bobby pins.
So I just left it up today while we ran errands and I did a lot of cooking and cleaning and laundry and whatnot. (Also a lot of lounging around reading, because for once we didn't have social plans.) At some point last night we started joking about my friends eventually giving me a haircut with a hammer and chisel, but it is starting to feel like I have sculpture on my head. I'm really wondering what it's going to look like when I take it down. Assuming I ever do. Maybe I could just go back to the salon and have them pat the stray bits back into place every few weeks, and leave it at that. It'd save me a lot of time and effort in hair care.
Tonight was the rehearsal dinner for spreadnparanoia's wedding, which involved 13 people going to Quartino and ordering half the menu plus endless sangria and eating until we were stuffed. And then some traitorous contingent apparently ordered two of all the desserts, too. And yet the bill was entirely reasonable; we had a betting pool going for what the damage would be, and the second-lowest guess (which was less than a third of the highest guess) won. Then we went back to the hotel where the families are staying, and hung out in the hospitality suite and chattered up a storm for hours, until it became really obvious that it was time to go.
The happy couple is getting married in a conservatory, which is basically a greenhouse. On a day that's going to top out at 95 degrees. So the guys in particular have been bitching about how they're a-gonna die in their tuxes; speaking as someone who's gonna be wearing a floor-length, layered dress and formal makeup, I have no sympathy, but "Who's going to be hotter" has been a lively debate.
On the way out, this happened:
The maid of honor: What are you doing about your hair? I was just going to go to a salon and have it blown out. I wasn't going to put it up.
Me: I'm having mine put up. It's going to be hot, and I want as much bare skin as possible.
Groomsman: Bearskin? Like a bearskin rug?
Me: Yes, there will be bearskin rugs at the ceremony. We'll be required to have group sex on them to consecrate the vows. Didn't you read the wedding planner's sheet?
Maid of honor: Didn't you realize it was a Eyes Wide Shut theme wedding?
Me: Have you not gotten your owl mask yet?
Groomsman: Well, I did know it was a nude wedding, but I thought it was going to be just straight nudity.
Best man: Oh, it's actually a Star Trek theme wedding?
Groomsman: Yeah, it's going to be a Bajoran ceremony.
Best man: The nude weddings aren't Bajoran.
Groomsman: From Star Trek? Yes they are.
Best man: No, they aren't.
Me: Heh. Nerds!
Groomsman: Wait, you're right. They're those other people…
Best man: Argh, can't remember, whatever Deanna Troi is…
Groomsman and Best man: Yes!
Me: Wait, fuck! I just out-nerded two Star Trek nerds having a Star Trek nerd argument! Dammit!
Groomsman: Your Star Trek-dork wang is mighty and bigger than mine, and that makes me sad.
The interview piece I did for The Gameological Society went up, with the picture I took of the Magic area's giant glowing Serra Angel statue. I'm reasonably pleased with it in retrospect, though I was pretty surprised when I transcribed it and realized I'd asked all those strangers for their favorite GenCon game experience in a minute or less, and most of them had given me more like 20 seconds. All these quotes seemed longer and more detailed in conversation than on the page. Next time I'll know to ask more follow-ups and get more specifics. The "I can do all the Naruto hand signs!" guy was a card, though. I think he was about 16.
Also recommended reading online: ursulav has been posting excerpts from her latest writing project online; it involves a frustrated, overprotected kid, Baba Yaga, and a weasel. Favorite bit from the project so far:
“Are you frightened?” asked the old woman. “You should be, you know. I am as old as sinning and twice as dangerous. I drink my beer from the skulls of heroes.”
Sarah did not know that women drank beer. Her mother never drank beer. She called it nasty, low stuff and said that she’d never allow it in the house. Sarah said as much to Baba Yaga.
The old woman’s eyes narrowed. “You’re dangerously ignorant, girl,” she said. “It is not your fault at the moment, though if you grow much older it will be.”
Favorite line from ursulav's commentary: "…once you put Baba Yaga in, she more or less handles her own lines, thank you very much, because you are not cool enough to write dialog for Baba Yaga, pathetic mortal with a shamefully low husband count."
It's a pretty playful fairy tale most of the time, in that offbeat Ursula way (for those who know me, Ursula Vernon is, among many other things, the person who painted the masked-mouse triptych in our living room), and she's up to three installments so far. Tune in to a story already in progress, o pathetic mortals with low husband counts.
So a friend at work, out of pure curiosity, filed a Freedom Of Information Act request with the FCC to see what kind of complaints were being registered about Glee. The subject came up at a party, and I said I'd like to see them, so he dropped them on my desk last week. Reading them was a lot like reading the Literally Unbelievable Tumblr, which catches people who think Onion stories are true (mostly social conservatives who are outraged, OUTRAGED at what the world is coming to these days, with its Abortionplexes and euthanized teenagers and whatnot, but it's okay, because God will punish everyone soon). It was funny at first, then increasingly depressing as I remembered that yeah, the country is full of people who think this way, and they are soooooooo angry at the world, and all the godless hateful disgusting heathens who think it's okay for people to love each other in any fashion other than one particular pre-approved way.
The vast majority of complaints were about the episode where Kurt and Blaine kiss and the episode that shows Brittney and Santana in bed together talking. The tenor of most of the complaints was "This show used to be decent and now it's full of gay-agenda filth," or "This show is on during the family hour, but it's too lewd for kids." Imagine that, except angrier and more incoherent and with no punctuation and half the words misspelled, repeated in different words a hundred times. (Or repeated in the exact same words, because Focus On The Family gave people a form letter to send in.)
Still, there were a handful of complaints that were too funny in different ways to get me down. Here are some of the better ones, selected either for particularly amusing wording or particularly amusing histrionics. I attempted to reproduce the typos as best I could:
"It attempted to titillate."
"Two female girls were in bed kissing."
"This show is promoted as family friendly, what family I say? Certainly not traditional family values which needs to be screamed from the mountain top as normal."
"Indecent homsexual content. Both my children watched as two males kissed. A few minutes later a character asked if they boyfriends."
"Who told you all that this was okay to show on the network and that eveyone wants to see this. This is not something that I want my child to be exposed to while sitting trying to enjoy which was once a quite entertaining program. I think you keep trying to force a certain lifestyle down our throats literally and I'm so tired of it!!! Where is the iinnocence of our children gon to? Please allow our children to stay as innocent as they can for as long as they can. It's been pushed upon them everywhere and everyday. What happened to just plain old boy/girl relationship and the wholesomness of that. Where did the parents rights go to for their own children. What happened to just plain old morality? No matter who it's with?"
"Show contained indecent portrayal of two teenage girls, 'lesbians' simulating making love in a bedroom."
"Consumer does not find the line 'a long poop' entertaining. This was mentioned on the show glee."
"During an exchange between an alleged teacher and student about whether Brittany Spear's material would be used in an upcoming performance, the word 'Fucking' was voiced by the student. Misinterpretation of this profane incident is not possible. The word was not implied, connoted, or denoted. It was said and aired. Period."
And my favorite:
"They raped Journey and Queen all in one episode. I am shocked and appalled that Fox would allow this sort of indecent filth be exposed to the public."
Just got off the phone with a Megabus rep, who quickly and politely refunded my tickets for the trip I didn't take. Color me flabbergasted. Given the difficulty of getting through to a live person on the day the busses didn't come, and given their no-refunds-whatsoever policy, and given that I emailed the customer-service address I was supposed to email for refund information and never got an answer, I was expecting a knock-down drag-out fight to get my money back. Instead, I got a fast refund and an apology. Amazing how that takes the rage out of a situation.
This week has been pretty wonky. I've been dealing with a pretty aggressive cold that I nursed through GenCon with water and fruit and vitamin-C cough drops, but that flared up as soon as I got back. Editor 1 is on vacation; Editor 2 was suddenly called away by childbirth. Editor 3 was off to the doctor's yesterday morning, while Editor 4 had to take his baby to the doctor abruptly. So there have been a lot of absences and unavailabilities this week, and not many hands on deck.
And Monday we started the day with an email from our designers saying, in effect, "You know all this content Editor 2 was supposed to pull together by Wednesday for the special back-to-school issue? We got the deadline wrong and we need it, like, an hour ago." So that was a huge scramble. And yesterday morning it was "Hm, we have a video piece with text that's supposed to go live at midnight, but it was only sent to Editor 2, who is completely incommunicado, and the rest of us can't write the text to post with it because we haven't seen the video." Today it was just ordinary scrambling, though I didn't help matters by saying "We haven't done a podcast in six weeks, here's an idea, how about we drop everything and execute it right now?" Which we did.
None of this is unmanageable or even all that major, it just seems typical of the fact that we almost never have the so-called normal week where there isn't some form of serious one-time crisis. We actually did have that week a few weeks back, and Editor 5 and I spent the whole week puzzled, waiting for the other shoe to drop, and getting ahead on our writing, and loving it, and wondering when we could do it again. Answer: Not this week for sure. I'm way behind where I should be, and still battling the cold, and very tired, and I probably should have just come home and worked until bedtime. Instead, I cleaned out the refrigerator, which needed it. We've spent so little time at home lately that 75% of the stuff in there was fluid held together with mold. Maybe eventually Cass and I will also have a normal week, and I'll get back to buying food, cooking it at home, and eating it in a reasonably timely fashion.
Tonight, Cass and I went to the Dead Can Dance show in Millennium Park's Pritzker Pavilion, an outdoor venue that consists of 4,000 seats and then a lawn that seats 7,000. It was eerily empty. I doubt the seating section was half-full, and the lawn crowd looked like it numbered maybe 500 or so. When Dead Can Dance last re-formed and toured back in 2005-2006, we saw them in a sold-out indoor show where they dominated the space. At the outdoor venue, the sound was still big, but their presence was pretty small, and it was a very different and much less overwhelming, sensuous experience.
Not that it wasn't fun. I brought a picnic and a blanket and we were right up against the fence between the lawn and the pricey seats, so we could see the stage fine and could lounge on each other or get up and dance, which we did for "Ubiquitous Mister Lovegrove." It looked like a pretty suburban crowd, mostly — some families with very small kids, but mostly thirty- and fortysomethings with their own picnics and blankets and chairs and comfortable clothes.
What really amused me was the small number of goths who showed up in full regalia. Plenty of people were wearing DCD T-shirts or all black or flowing batik dresses, but every now and then, someone would show up dressed for Neo, and it just looked silly in the environment. Like the super-tall, super-thin guy with five-inch platform knee-length boots, vinyl pants, a black velvet topcoat, waist-length dyed-black hair, a black leather hip-bag with a silver inverted cross sewn onto it, and sunglasses… wandering around a grassy field full of pudgy, chattering, hummus-eating people in T-shirts and khakis. He looked so lost. So did the guy in all black with black chain jewelry framing his eyes and mouth who came up to dance at the fence and howl at the moon and try to harmonize with Lisa Gerrard, howling "I looooove you, Lisa!" between songs.
The whole thing was strangely low-energy, with long pauses between songs and relatively few songs that involved both the main singers. But it was a beautiful night to be outdoors, and the city was lovely and the songs were pretty. And we met up with our friends W&E (who were in the seating section) afterward and went for frozen yogurt and talked up a storm and got a ride home, so it was a relatively ideal night. Just not the kind of night to make me roll around on the grass in face-chains, howling at the moon. Right band, guys… wrong venue, and wrong night. Sorry.
Is anyone else experiencing a really sharp spike in LJ spam? I've suddenly gone from one or two a month to six or seven a day. Is it just LiveJournal's turn on the Great Big Wheel Of Spam?
That aside… I'm back from GenCon, which (travel issues aside) was a tremendous blast. Next year I'm definitely going to try to take off work and do the full four-day event. Though that said, I came home yesterday exhausted past the point of being sleepy, and well into the area of tharn. Much of that was from just not sleeping in order to pack in more trying-of-new-things; I wonder if, given four days to explore, I could relax a bit and maintain a more reasonable sleep schedule. Signs point to "No, you obsessive freak," but maybe next year we'll find out.
Here's the rundown in brief of stuff I did. I have Thoughts and/or stories about some of these things, but that should be another post entirely.
Friday: Got in at midnight rather than 8 thanks to Megabus (which unsurprisingly has not answered my email inquiries about refunds). Some massive board game was being played by friends in my shared hotel room; I fiddled around online for an hour and then crashed out on a couch until they left. Went to sleep around 2 a.m. or so.
Saturday: Got up at 8 in order to make my first game slot at 9.
Playtested an as-yet-unpublished RPG called Anointed: Mantle Of The Gods, featuring Bronze Age-esque human tribes and their gods competing for resources among tribes of much older species — gnolls, salamander-folk, and others. Relatively simple fetch-quest scenario that exploited the setting well, and I liked the mechanics. The random people I was playing with did some eye-rolling things, particularly involving weird casual sexism, but overall it was a good experience.
Playtested an unpublished card game called Heebie Jeebies, which is sort of Apples To Apples, but with a gross-out element: Each player lays out four randomly picked cards featuring possibly disturbing things ranging from, say, "clowns" to "having a bee caught in your ear" to "watching a sex scene with your parents." The flavor text on each card was particularly unsettling or revolting. And then the rest of the players had to guess which of the four items most gave the active player the heebie-jeebies. Interesting idea, but provoked way, way too much table talk about people's experiences with insect bites and toe jam and whatever, and the mechanic itself got samey really fast.
Tried a superhero card came called Sentinels Of The Multiverse that I'd heard good things about and really wanted to try. Liked it enough to play multiple games and then order it, since they'd sold out of copies.
Had dinner with a recent Chicago acquaintance and her group of friends, buying food from the food carts that had parked in front of the convention center. (Smart food carts.) The blueberry thyme lemonade from ScratchTruck was so amazing I went looking for a recipe online, but the one I found involves soaking blueberries in vinegar for days to create something called "shrub," and I am mildly dubious. This may demand further investigation.
Met up with a Twitter acquaintance who'd been poking me all day about coming to one of his games; too bad I was too booked to sit in.
Went back to the hotel and played a game of Dread, a horror RPG where the only mechanic is Jenga. Want to light a fire in the rain? Pull a Jenga block. Want to not capsize your raft while navigating treacherous waters? Pull a Jenga block. Want to fend off the thing trying to eat your face? Pull a Jenga block from the increasingly unstable, teetering tower. Knock the tower over, and you die. Keep the tower upright… and the next character probably also has to pull a block in order to preserve HIS face from monster-eating. It was immensely tense and exciting, and we all took it ridiculously seriously, to the point where when we finally got out on the other end, everyone wanted pictures of the tower, and they said they'd never seen a Jenga game go so long, probably because the stakes never felt so high.
Sunday: Went to bed at 3 a.m., got up at 7:30 in order to pack up and get back to the convention center early.
Wandered around interviewing strangers for a convention wrap-up feature. Broaching strangers is awkward and hard for a shy person; having an excuse to do it is mildly exhilarating.
Ran through a True Dungeon scenario, essentially a live-action dungeon crafted around puzzle-solving. It seems to be one of the most popular things at GenCon, instantly selling out when the tickets are released, even though they're pumping groups of 10 or 12 through at a fantastic rate, with start times literally set one minute apart. I want to interview the people involved in the process for another feature, but I haven't started pursuing them yet. I wasn't entirely happy with the experience, though. Our group felt really rushed through, to the point where a lot of our puzzle solutions were haphazard guesswork, and in some cases it felt arbitrary whether we got them right or wrong. The experience is an amazing undertaking, and I thought the puzzles themselves were neat, but our group was too big and unwieldy and often got in each other's way — and our group was down at least two or three characters from the max.
Shopped for dice, took pictures for the AVC site and our gaming site, then hit the road, exhausted and overwhelmed. Caught a ride back to town rather than taking Megabus, thank goodness, which shaved a couple of hours off the overall trip (since I would have gotten off downtown and then needed to travel home from there). And promptly napped for two hours, then got up and worked on my GenCon piece til midnight.
It was basically a couple of days of rushing around with sleep-dep, being overstimulated and pulled in 20 different directions at once; I'd told a lot of people from different friend-groups that I was going, and my phone buzzed all weekend with people touching base and trying to yank me hither and yon. But now I've got the idea, and next year I'll make it a longer trip and try to figure out how to do it as a marathon rather than a sprint. Or possibly I'll treat all four days like I treated this day and a half, and I'll come back dead, but with a smile on my face. We'll see.
Megabus nonsense aside, GenCon has been So. Much. Fun. Deeply regretting not taking time off work and coming days earlier. I'll know better next time. More when it isn't 2 a.m. on a day when I have to be up at 7:30.
Didn't have time to post Glee FCC complaints today because today I was in a huge rush to get work done and leave the office to catch the Megabus to Indianapolis for GenCon. Got there half an hour early… and then stood there waiting for 2 1/2 hours for my bus to arrive. Which it did not. I was waiting with hundreds of irate people, some of them waiting for busses that were supposed to arrive up to 90 minutes before mine, which was not promising at all. I suspect massive inbound traffic for the Air And Water Show was slowing everything down. The infuriating thing, though, was that there were no seats, no shelter, and no information. The "service alerts" area on the Megabus website was never updated. One of the people I was standing with got a text saying our bus had been delayed, but no specifics. When I called the number listed on the website, they had no information, but they gave me a local number. I spent 20 minutes on hold with them in order to hear someone tell me it would be at least 45 more minutes, but other than that, they had no ETA.
So I walked across the street and boarded an Amtrak train 10 minutes before it left.
It's vaguely funny to me that I spent SO much time stressing over the details of going to GenCon. While I really enjoy doing new things and going new places, and both of these things are deeply important to me, I'm shy and awkward enough that it can take an enormous act of will to go do something new, and I often dither over travel at great length, checking schedules and routes and then not actually buying tickets, and then waiting a week and doing it all again. It took me more than a month to work my nerve up to buying into GenCon and getting the Megabus tickets.
When I decided to go take the train instead, it was a split-second decision. I literally walked into the station, walked up to a machine and bought a ticket, and walked onto the train, which promptly pulled out. And I was going through major anxiety the whole time, because what if my bus came while I was investigating the train? What if the train was sold out and I missed both my rides?
But I got here in a smooth five-hour trip, and even at midnight, GenCon's will call desk was still open, so I have my badge and tickets and I'm ready to hit the con tomorrow. And to call Megabus and chew them out and get a refund. Sadly, there's no convenient train ride BACK to Chicago on Sunday, so I'm back to Megabus again, and hoping they do better for me the second time around.
Today was weird in so many ways, I'm still processing. One of the bigger ones is that I watched Chopping Mall at work for a feature I'm writing, and I emerged from a darkened conference room to find a fellow writer wandering around more or less dressed as Henry VIII: tights and an elaborate gilt robe and a highly decorated felt hat and all. It was clearly for an Onion photo shoot of some kind, but it was still pretty surreal.
Another fairly large one is that we came home to find a plastic hose sticking out of our gas tank: Someone was trying to siphon out gas. But when Cass checked the level, it looked about the same as it had been last night, so the gas thieves got nuttin'. He called the police anyway, and a cop came around and looked it over and called his station to see if they wanted to send a forensics team, and neither he nor Cass were surprised that the answer was no.
A third thing is that I spent a chunk of the day reading complaints to the FCC about Glee, which is a whole ’nother post, but essentially it gave me admittance to a whole ’nother world — a rather shrieky, unpleasant one. I'll post some excerpts from them tomorrow if I have time.
All that aside, I was stuck in the office late, and I ran into Cass on the train and we walked home together, and this ensued:
Cass: Did you get S's text?
Me: No, I left my phone on my desk at work.
Cass: She made dinner for everybody and is bringing it over, so we don't have to order takeout.
Cass: She's a cornucopia!
Cass: And I bought toilet paper for everybody!
Cass: I'm a toiletpaperucopia… a toipacopia… a toilucopia…
Me, early this morning: Hey, we're pretty close to running out of toilet paper.
Cass, a bit later: I was going to move some toilet paper up from downstairs, but we're out down there too. I guess the situation is more critical than I thought. [Pause.] So "Ugh, this toilet paper is the worst, and there's so little of it!"
Me: That's pretty critical.
Cass: At least it isn't hypocritical: "Well, I certainly have nothing to do with using toilet paper, so I should hardly be concerned with the fact that we've run out of it!"
Me: Or hypercritical. "Omigod we're out of toilet paper let's run down to the store and get some right now I can't believe you haven't already run down to get more you're so lazy why are you just sitting around?"
Cass: You know, you could complain about it in Latin, with various religious references mixed in until it constitutes…
Me: [Waits, dutifully.]
Cass: …critical Mass. [Exeunt, chased by lack of bears.]
Hey, if you're in Chicago, are free this afternoon, and would like to meet Onion readers and video producers, stroll around outside a bit, and be in an Onion satirical-news video, this would be a fun adventure. I wish I could come, but I'm working at home today because we're having our carpets cleaned for the very first time. If I'd known it was this cheap and easy a process, I would have done it a year ago; sometimes I am flabbergasted at the things I do not know about being an adult until someone casually mentions how often they clean their carpets, or how cheap it is to have broken blinds repaired, or yes, there's a service that handles that financial thing, or whatever.
Speaking of things I haven't done before, yesterday's work mixer and drinkathon was one of those opportunities to learn more about my co-workers in an hour than I have in five years. In this case, I was talking to someone about a bartend-for-charity event that sounded like fun, and he said no it didn't, because he worked as a waiter/bartender for four years and it sucked. And this turned into a highly entertaining rundown of his CV, which involved rage-quitting four different jobs with "I'm outta here" walk-offs.
The best of these stories, as far as I was concerned, involved a job working for Apple tech support, which he described as a mind-numbingly repetitive job fixing the same problems for stupid people over and over until the day he hung up the phone, it rang again, he couldn't bring himself to pick it up, and instead he erased the office whiteboard and wrote "APRES MOI, LE DELUGE" on it and walked out. He said he got calls from his boss for the next two days to the effect of "Uh, I don't know what exactly happened here, because I don't speak French, but are you coming back to work?"
And then he was working at a video store when he got the call about the Onion job, and he walked away from a customer to take the call, and when he told his co-worker buddy, the buddy said "That's awesome, you should just walk out of here right now, fuck it!" And when he told his boss, she said the exact same thing… so he did.
I have never in my life walked off a job, even the super crappy pointless ones of my youth, where I was belittled and generally treated like crap (and in the case of the pet-store job used to clean up crap) and where I learned nothing of use and there was no reason not to walk away. Much like it never occurred to me that I could have someone professionally and thoroughly clean my carpet for $150, it never occurred to me that I could just say "This is horrible, and ceasing to do it will not in any way hurt me," and stop. Oh, the things you only find out when it's too late in life to do any good.
Well, this was an unexpectedly lovely evening. Our office has been getting more and more crowded as the entirety of the staff of The Onion and Onion News Network move in. We're all supposed to move to a new office in October, less than a block from the old one, but on the seventh floor instead of the second. It's going to be renovated and rebuilt, but at the moment, it's just a gutted, warehouse-y space. This evening, there was a happy-hour/office-tour/mixer event, where everyone in the office was pointedly encouraged to come hang out, drink, wear a name tag, see the new space, and meet the other people we'll be working next to.
First off, the space itself is pretty exciting. Our current office in a renovated candy factory is a weird, winding space that wraps around a central lobby and stretches back into a distant corner of the building. Most of the people I work with have desks arranged up against walls, in an interior space that doesn't have windows — while the offices around the edges do have windows, and we can see them with some craning, at least enough to know when there's a storm or it's getting dark, those office windows lead out onto an alley and a handful of shipping docks where the occasional drug deal (and on one occasion, an apparent prostitution deal) goes down. The new space is a huge open-plan office with high ceilings and ceiling-to-waist-level windows most of the way around the building. There's so much natural light, and so much space. The blueprints call for most of the writers — Onion and A.V. Club and Onion News Network all together — to sit in one big bullpen area, surrounded by light. We'll have a green-screen studio on the premises, and more conference rooms so we aren't always fencing with the sales staff for them, and little private cubicles for phone interviews and calls. It's all very exciting.
But on top of that… I worry sometimes that my office persona is "Cranky and unfriendly." If I'm in the office, I feel a social pressure to be at my desk working, especially since I'm perpetually on deadline for something — if not a written piece or three, there's still the endless pile of editing to do. If I'm marked as working on a piece but I'm not actively editing it, I'm cock-blocking someone else from working on it. And if I'm not marked as working on anything, I'm leaving that work for everyone else. So I get into the office and sit at my desk and focus, and if people try to talk to me, I try to be friendly, but I'm thinking "That's nice, but I'm on deadline." Most of the time, my co-workers are in the same state of grim, silent focus, and newcomers to the office are often unnerved at how silent it is. I sometimes get to see other AVC staffers at parties or special events (like a baby shower for one of us a few weeks back), but usually I don't get to talk to other people in the office.
So it's always a surprising pleasure when we have the freedom to hang out and mingle with other people in the office and get to know them. Tonight, I met many new staffers and found out they're young and energetic and funny and sociable and interested in meeting people, and what was supposed to be a two-hour hangout session stretched into four, and I didn't much notice the time until we all got kicked out of the new office.
And then I went up to Edgewater to find the Werewolf group I meant to spend the evening with, and I walked in just in time to join the last game, and I was a werewolf, and I kicked all the ass and won the game, and then we were done for the night and I went home. Satisfying!
Part of the satisfaction of all of this is that I wasn't expecting all that much out of the evening, or out of the new office, and everything at every step was a pleasant surprise. So I really should have been in bed 45 minutes ago, but I think I'm clinging to today a bit. Especially since tomorrow is going to be busy as the proverbial hell.
We've been watching a lot of TV with spreadnparanoia and her fiancé, working our way through season one of Boardwalk Empire and season two of Treme and season two of Sherlock and currently the Hatfields & McCoys miniseries, plus various movies at various times. Typically, we do some form of collaborative dinner: I make something, SnP makes something and brings it over. Often, she brings a salad. Occasionally she's brought over a salad and forgotten the dressing, and we just draw on whatever we have in the fridge and use that. Tonight, she brought a salad and a new bottle of dressing, and wound up deciding to just park the dressing in our fridge so it'd be there for the next salad, and the one after that. It amuses me greatly that salad-dressing bottle-service is now a favored-guest feature of our house. I feel like we should have a little private cabinet for it. One of the underwires in my underwire bra snapped today, and promptly stabbed me. Does this happen often? I've mostly steered clear of underwires, and the ones I've had in the past have all eventually gone bad via a wire poking out of the cloth and getting stabby, but this was more like a thin, flat lathe than a wire, and it literally broke in half and cut me with the sharp edge. No matter how you look at it, that's a bug rather than a feature, but is it the kind of feature where I should take the bra back and demand satisfaction, or is it like when the rubber band you've used several times snaps and you say "Ow, that stung. Time for a new rubber band"? I just realized today, looking at my calendar, that this is going to be a ridiculously nerdy month for me, what with GenCon, and WorldCon, and the board-gaming day we had Sunday, and various Werewolf and RPG events I have lined up. I went to an actual drinking party for semi-grown-ups at a co-worker's house on Saturday night, and that's about the most mainstream thing I'm going to do this month. This isn't a bad thing, I'm just amused at how it's all stockpiled into one narrow period. And how much I'm looking forward to drinking with Klingons again. I kind of want to take them a gift libation this year. Anyone have helpful advice on what booze to bring Klingons?
Today I learned that red wine vinegar + a little dishwashing soap is an effective fruit-fly trap. I also learned that even bananas that have become a fruit-fly haven still make delicious banana bread. (Cass informed our houseguests of the evening, with whom we have been watching Hatfields & McCoys, that I baked the fruit flies into the bread as a secret ingredient, which helped end the infestation while providing extra protein. I'm about to punish him for that by eating the last of the banana bread.)
This weekend, though, I learned about Deta's Café in Rogers' Park. If you live on the north side of Chicago, I enthusiastically recommend trying the place out. It's right next door to the sketchy pizza place, which is how I found out about it. Essentially, it's an old-world café run by a grandma from Montenegro who speaks virtually no English and doesn't have a printed menu: The menu at any given time is whatever she cooked that day. Most days, this means Mediterranean salad, soup, and variations on the burek, a giant phyllo-dough pastry filled with… something. Spiced ground beef, or beef and potatoes, or spinach and feta, or peppery cabbage. The things are the size of a medium pizza and cost $7 and are dense and delicious. They have a hot case up front where they keep whatever's baked and ready to go, so the Night Of The Sketchy Pizza, I walked in and got a mini cabbage pastry for $3, and after that, I was positive I wanted to come back for a meal.
So spreadnparanoia and I went back Saturday night and sat in the back of the café on plush, worn couches and ate terrific salads (mostly tomato and cucumber and green peppers sprinkled with a very mild goat cheese, all in a delicious sharp balsamic vinaigrette) and got through half a spicy beef burek before we were both stuffed. It came with a frosty bottle of water and a bowl of fresh limes, and the whole thing was perfect and refreshing and summery, and the bill for both of us together was $21. Also, there was a pianist there tinkling her quiet way through a bizarre playlist that ranged from "Somewhere Out There" to "Every Breath You Take," and she came around and introduced us and asked our names. Apparently Deta herself is currently visiting family in Montenegro, or we would have met her, too, since she also often comes around to chat. The whole place could maybe seat 20 people if they were friendly. So it's a homey experience as well as an inexpensive and tasty one. Absolutely going back, this time with more people, and if you're in the area, I'd recommend you try it too.
We've had a bunch of bananas hanging from a hook in the kitchen for too long now. I've been meaning to make banana bread for a while, but I haven't had time. Today I reached for them, and disturbed a small cloud of fruit flies I hadn't known were there. I jumped back and exclaimed in surprise.
Cass: It's not surprising that happened, you know.
Me: Clearly it is, because it surprised the hell out of me.
Cass: I meant that I knew that was going to happen when you didn't do something with those days ago.
Me: Yeah, but what you said was "The reaction you just had to that was impossible." Clearly it wasn't, since I had it. You can tell me you don't think I should be surprised, or that you aren't surprised, but it's ridiculous for you to try to invalidate my actual experience. [Whereupon I grabbed the silly-ass cow-shaped mini-vac my dad gave me, in hopes of sucking up the fruit flies.]
Cass: Eeek! *fleeing up the stairs*
Me: Yeah, you better run! I've got a cow, and I'm not afraid to use it!
Cass: [From upstairs.] Yes you are!
Me: That's the trouble with this relationship — you never learn anything from our conversations!
Cass: [More distantly from upstairs.] No it's not!
Even when I'm cross at him (and at fruit flies), he makes me laugh.
So remember how late last year we ironically tried to get pizza from the weird, sketchy pizza place at the corner of Would You Like Some Drugs Street and Yes I Would Like Some Drugs Please Avenue, a mile or so south of where we live? But we couldn't, because it was out of pizza dough, which made it seem even sketchier and druggier?
Well, for some reason I got it into my head last night that I wanted to try again, mostly because I was really curious whether they were always "out of dough," and possibly because I thought the whole process would be entertaining, which it was. Besides, sketchy hole-in-the-wall places sometimes turn out to have secret terrific food. I had to use Google Maps Street View to figure out the name of the place, since we've always just called it "The sketchy pizza place," but then I found its menu online and we called in an order.
The guy who took that order interrupted me several times, once to say they were out of garlic, and once to say "Dude, it gonna take, like, a HOUR, cause the delivery guy, he, I dunno." (I told him we'd pick it up. I told Cass "Oooh, professional!" Then we played "Guess what 'the delivery guy he I dunno' means" for a while.)
I am mildly bummed about them being out of garlic, especially since they are literally around the corner from a mega grocery store, but it still makes more sense than "out of dough."
Anyway, they told us 20 minutes and we waited 30 and then went there and were told 10 more minutes, and they forgot the soda that was supposed to come with the deal we got, and it wasn't worth the hassle of going back for it, but we did actually successfully get a pizza. It was not the world's greatest pizza or anything — Cass was informed it was "the pizza guy's first day," so he made the crust too thin and the pizza much bigger than it was supposed to be. But it was a perfectly acceptable pizza and a perfectly acceptable piece of ridiculousness for a Friday night, so what the hell. Curiosity satisfied, and we may well never order from them again. Especially since in the process of all this, I discovered something potentially awesome right next door to them. We're going to check that out tonight.
And apropos of nothing, as I was typing this from the living-room couch, a hummingbird came and checked out our front garden. A hummingbird! I keep forgetting Illinois gets them sometimes — I always think of it was too far north and too unreliable temperature-wise — and I almost never see them. Maybe both the pizza-ordering "adventure" and the hummingbird "excitement" indicate that my life is comparatively pretty low-key right now, but I'll take it compared to the usual frantic stress.
And in much shorter news, cooler weather = open windows = we're inadvertently all up in our neighbors' business again. Things in the four-generations-of-squabblers house next door had quieted considerably since the year the police kept showing up to separate them, due to the most contentious of the generations moving out entirely, but apparently she's back, and so is her boyfriend, and there was a lot of yelling last night, up and down the courtyard, mostly about money.
In less dramatic but still noisy news, with the windows open last night, the noise of the sudden storm came in so loudly that I ran upstairs when it started because I thought a pipe had burst in the kitchen — there was just roaring and gushing and pouring.
In completely unrelated news, I'm going to GenCon for the first time this year. The only thing I'm currently registered for is a bunch of new-RPG playtesting, with a side order of "Playing RPGs with friends in the hotel at night." So if you're going and I don't know about it, let me know. Maybe we can meet up and say hi.
Even though I was at Lollapalooza this weekend, I completely missed the big storm and the Grant Park evacuation and mud-pit adventures, because I was tucked away in a suburban spa. spreadnparanoia's bachelorette party started with a day at King Spa And Sauna, which she called "Korean Disneyland," and they call "the largest Asian spa in America."
Probably the best way to sum up the place is by noting that it has a $25 entrance fee, which buys you 24 hours of access — but only if you don't leave the place for more than five minutes at a time. If you stay more than 24 hours, they start charging you $2 an hour. And from what we saw, it wasn't hard to believe people might in fact use the place as a hotel, even though there aren't any private rooms or beds.
When we signed in, each of us was given a plastic bracelet with an attached key and an electronic fob. Each key opened a small locker on the way in for our shoes, and then a larger locker in the locker room for our clothes and everything else. We were each handed a heavy, plain cotton T-shirt and cotton shorts to change into — everyone was wearing the same industrial uniform, which made everyone look a little like inmates in an asylum or a peninentiary. Then we walked into the main facility.
The central area is co-ed and includes a Korean cafe and juice bar where we started off by eating — the bracelet fobs track what you spend for later billing, so we didn't have to bring wallets into the spa. Then we went back to the women's area to strip naked, shower, and try out the various soaking tubs, which ranged from super hot to so cold, none of us made it in past the knees. That whole area is nudity-required; even the showers leave everyone in full view, and there are signs letting everyone know they can report people who make them uncomfortable by showering with insufficient soap. In spite of the possibility of public soap-shaming, it was a very relaxing area: The biggest hot tub was bathwater-warm. And everything is shiny and rococo, with gold trim and elaborate carvings and lion-headed dolphin statuary (and also dolphin-headed dolphin statuary) spitting water into the tub.
After soaking for a while, we put our prison uniforms back on and went back to the central area, which was packed with giant comfy chairs (many of them with old Korean women sprawled sideways in them, legs dangling over the chair arms in what looked like exaggerated portraits of insouciant comfort) and big flatscreen TVs hanging from the ceilings, showing the Germany/Korea Olympic soccer match. It also has elaborate structures scattered around it — one domed like an igloo, one pointed like a pyramid, a couple with wavy walls, one that looks like a martial-arts dojo, and one that looks like a kiln, with a door about four feet high, so you have to squat to get in. They're all saunas of various degrees of heat, each with a theme — the amethyst room, the salt room, the pyramid room, the charcoal room, the ocher room — that explains what the walls are made out of. And most of them had plaques explaining the historical medicinal benefits of that thing. For instance, according to the website, the room shaped like a pyramid with gold-leaf walls is awesome because a pyramid:
Activates the vital energy to help fight any illness
Improves the immune system which promotes the discharge of harmful chemicals
Prevents aging and aids in rejuvenation- Improves mental power and concentration
The coated gold is also proved to be effective for nerve relaxation, detoxification, skin purification, neuralgia, and arthritis.
One interesting aspect of all this was that each room was a different temperature, ranging from pleasantly warm to sauna-sweaty. The "Fire Sudatorium," the kiln room with the short rounded door, was so hot, we stuck our noses in and then cringed away. (That one came with a lot of warnings about not standing up inside, not touching the walls, not staying inside long, etc. Too bad, because supposedly being inside "heals most autonomic nervous system injuries which are responsible for innervating the blood vessels, heart, smooth muscles, viscera, and glands and controls their involuntary functions. It is effective in sterilizing the body, depurating blood, antisepticising bacteria, changing body constitution, helps fight cancer, and prevents women reproductive organ problems.")
At any rate, we tried all the saunas one by one, and a couple of our group went off for massages or exfoliation or whatever, which costs extra. Meanwhile, I did some more exploring. There's a movie room full of giant overstuffed easy chairs, and a huge screen showing light fare like the Disney Alice In Wonderland and the Johnny Depp Charlie And The Chocolate Factory. There's a "meditation room" upstairs full of more of the giant overstuffed chairs, laid flat out into bed position, and gender-segregated lounges with more of the same; they might as well have been called "public nap rooms," because that's what people were using them for.
So basically we soaked, we baked, we ate, we wandered, we lounged, we dozed. It was like being in a casino in that everything was super-fancy and garish and there were no windows to make us aware of the passing of time, except it was the exact opposite of that because everything was aimed at making us relax and lulling us into comatose contentment. I would approximate that 60% of the conversation we had while we were there was variations on "This place is amazing," "I feel so relaxed," "We have to come back here and bring books / computers / Kindles / iPods / etc." and "Why didn't we know about this before?"
So if you're ever up in Niles, you have 24 hours to spare, and you're feeling tense, I would highly recommend Korean Disneyland. (Which was not really a good name for it. There were no rides and we never had to stand in line.) Or if you love gigantic geodes — the whole place was filled with them, many set into the walls, many stretching from floor to ceiling, and many of the biggest ones with price tags ranging up for $47,000. If you have $47k lying around and want a geode big enough to use as a coffin, this would be the place for you. Or if you just like seeing strangers naked and tattling on them for not using enough soap.
Or, I guess, if you're full of impurities. I more or less rolled my eyes at all the health claims about ocher mud absorbing toxins via the air and charcoal "emitting infinite negative ions" as a curative. But I've been reading up on some of this stuff, and there's actually science behind that statement. Granted, it seems to be science mostly of the "The Western world has no idea why this works, but it seems to" variety. But I'll take a face full of negative ions and health even if doctors don't know where that health comes from. Especially if it comes with bulgogi and mango smoothies.
I spent the day with a vague Olympics hangover. I didn't do any actual drinking last night, I just took in 18 hours of Olympics coverage via TiVo, skipping everything but the actual competitions. Our friends E&W have basically been having Olympics open house since Opening Ceremonies, and they do this every night they're home, trying to get caught up. Their practiced version of fast-forwarding through all the ads, lead-ups, interviews, flashbacks, and prep, plus most of the waiting around for scoring, meant the day's coverage only took about three hours to watch, but Cass and I didn't get home 'til post midnight.
Our local el station has been undergoing extensive renovations. When we got there at 9:30 this morning, there were two teams of workers hidden atop scaffolds, slopping white paint over everything on the platform above foot level: all the joists and roofing and wiring and fuseboxes and light fixtures and electrical connectors to the cameras and whatnot, just slathering it with paint for all the world like the Red Queen's servants painting the roses red. As we got to the station, we heard the crew boss trying to get someone's attention:
"Martins! [Pause.] MARTINS!" "Yes SIR!" "Are you ready for a break?" "Yes SIR!" "Do you want a bottle of water?" "Yes SIR!" Then as the boss walked off, Martins muttered "But I'd like that bottle of water to be Corona-flavored." Cass and I both laughed. It was like a weird peek into boot camp. White-paint boot camp.
A co-worker today introduced me to this bizarre short, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Channing Tatum. It feels like a Guy Maddin short, as written by an insane poet for whom English is a fourth language. It's fascinatingly bizarre, and I highly recommend it.
Well what the hell. I'm working at home today due to post-Lollapalooza exhaustion. (I was up until 3:30 a.m. writing my part of our big group report.) I just heard a series of giant scrabbling thumps from the kitchen that sounded remarkably like our cat Balrog had gotten tangled in something and was trying to fight his way free, so I went in to check on him.
Turned out he'd caught a mouse.
And he really didn't want to give it up. When I realized he'd cornered something, I hoped for a minute that it was a centipede or a spider — he goes for both of those if they're big enough to attract his attention — but when he saw me coming and ran downstairs, I immediately realized he'd gotten something big enough that he wanted to keep it for himself. So I chased him downstairs and got to see him do the awful cat thing where he drops his stunned, terrified prey, pokes it until it tries to run, then chomps it again. I grabbed him, he dropped it, and then I just stood there looking at it, unsure what to do. I didn't want to grab it bare-handed and possibly hurt it (not to mention expose myself to who knows what germs and possibly blood), and I've owned enough mice to know that picking one up by the tail is asking to get bit. While I was staring at it, it scuttled under the couch. Balrog immediately started complaining to me about it, and I thought "I deserve to get chewed out by a cat. Now there's a possibly bleeding mouse loose in the basement."
But that gave me time to get a washcloth, flip over the couch, grab the mouse, and take it outside, where I put it in the garden. It just lay on its side, panting; I couldn't see any visible wounds, but there was a little blood around its mouth, which is a terrible sign. I talked to Cass about it online, and we agreed that I'd check up on it in five minutes, and if it hadn't died or sought shelter, I'd put it in the freezer to put it out of its misery. But when I checked up, it was gone, so apparently it was still functional enough to hide.
But coming back inside, I found the dissected remains of a sparrow on our back-porch mat. Balrog is strictly an indoor cat, so this was a gift from someone else who thinks we need feeding. Thanks a lot, anonymous cat. I needed to deal with another mutilated animal today.
Now, of course, I'm worried that 1) We might have mice, and 2) We might come home one of these days to find mouse bits everywhere, which is probably preferable to having mice, but is still unpleasant. In the meantime, I petted Bal and fed him and told him he was a good cat and apologized for stealing his mouse. Glad I worked at home today.
Ever wonder what the Onion offices in Chicago look like? This Onion satirical-news video was shot here in our office. Specifically, it was shot last week, during the work day, which meant the kitchen was full of black plastic sheeting and people mixing up fake blood, while we got to listen to this guy shriek and rant and rave for more than four hours throughout the day. Most of the workers seen in the video are our actual sales and support staff. This is the front part of the office; the A.V. Club is in back, down the long hallway briefly glimpsed at one point during the video.
It was a weird day in the office, but certainly weirder for the people trying to get actual work done in that area.
And no, that is not our CEO, it's an actor, but our actual CEO proclaimed himself really tickled with the whole thing, and repeatedly pointed out that the piece was inspired by him. Apparently, if I correctly deduce the point of this video, he wants more web videos.
Spoilers for Men In Black III, non-spoilers for Dark Knight Rises
When we saw Men In Black III, we sat next to what appeared to be a Japanese grandpa and his wee grandson, maybe four or five years old. The kid was obviously too young for the movie, and while he was rapt at times, at other times he squirmed around or protested, or — when scary stuff happened — protested (very quietly, in an indoor voice) that he wanted to go home. Grandpa shushed him gently, and stroked his head, and the kid always got back into the movie eventually, once the scary part ended. I was sitting next to Grandpa rather than the kid, so he didn't disturb me much, though I was occasionally aware of him moving around, laying his head in Grandpa's lap — since he was small enough to lie down in a theater seat — or sitting back up again.
Toward the end of the movie, though, Will Smith's character travels back in time and catches a glimpse of his younger self, and his father. His dad disappeared from his life when he was a boy, and he has abandonment issues as a result. Due to the time-travel, he gets to see exactly what happened to his dad, and he watches from a distance as his partner (played by Josh Brolin, who makes an uncanny Young Tommy Lee Jones) witnesses it and immediately moves to block mini-Will from finding out what happened to dad. As mini-Will cranes to see where his father went, Brolin body-blocks him and visibly fumbles for an explanation.
And the little kid on the other side of Grandpa said in a small, clear, distinctive voice, "Tell him the truth."
And then Brolin makes up what he means to be a comforting lie, and that lie haunts and confuses mini-Will throughout his entire life, and yet once maxi-Will learns the truth and his life suddenly makes sense, he feels closer to his partner than ever, rather than confronting him and saying "Why on earth did you make up some stupid shit and mess up my entire sense of self and deny me any kind of understanding of my own family or history or identity?" And I wound up really, really annoyed with the movie.
Afterward, Japanese Grandpa apologized to me for the boy, saying "He was scared, he was too young for this movie." And I said "Don't apologize. That boy is smarter than the film was." And I meant it.
All of which is to say that I was equally annoyed with the way 2008's The Dark Knight ended with a big speech about how the hero Gotham "needs" is a false idol based on a big lie, which somehow necessitates Batman going all Jesus for everyone's sins because everyone needs something to chase around for a while. I never felt there was any logic to that, or even a compelling emotional argument; to me, it just seemed like an extremely artificial way to further angst up Batman's life. A hero, wanted for a crime he didn't commit! All the world against him! Nobody knows the sacrifices I've seen!
Not to mention that the whole idea there is that a tiny cabal of people have the right — no, the duty — to lie to the public in order to manipulate them into behaving in a certain way. For their own good. Because it's the right thing to do. Basically, good intentions utterly validate leaders' rights to make up whatever shit they want in order to keep the people in their place. Shades of all the things that infuriated me about the recent Battlestar Galactica series, which seemingly tried to comment on the current problems with American government, but still wanted us to sympathize with and care for the people who were deciding, on their own hook, that their decisions were better than democracy, so it was necessary to lie, cheat, and steal to keep themselves in power and keep the rabble from making the wrong choices.
Which is why I found The Dark Knight Rises a much, much more satisfying movie. I wouldn't go so far as to say that truth is a theme in the film; at most, it's one of a bunch of ideas floating around. But at least part of the many stories is an acknowledgement that maybe sometimes the truth is actually more important than the comforting lie, or the not-at-all-comforting-but-it-allows-us-to-force-the-outcome-we-want lie.
Dark Knight Rises isn't a perfect movie, but at least it passes the 5-year-old "Tell them the truth" test. Which is going up on my mental mantel next to the Bechdel Test as an indicator, not necessarily of quality, but of whether the movie is something I want to support emotionally as well as intellectually.
Yesterday Cass and I were waiting for our el train to pull out of Howard, the Red Line terminus, and a disheveled man walked onto the train with a battered book of word puzzles in each hand. He waved one of them — a fat book of word-find puzzles — vaguely around in the air and said "Word search? Word search? Anybody wanna word search?" When no one responded, he tossed it into an empty seat and then wandered back off the train, still clutching the second book. I would love to know what that was about. The book looked pretty well-used already. Now I suddenly wonder if it was full of important secret messages he didn't dare just pass on out loud. And we all shied from touching them, more fools us.
Also yesterday in the A.V. Club/Onion offices, the newly arrived Onion staffers shot an online video that involved roughly four hours of an actor shrieking and ranting and railing. It also involved a huge amount of fake blood. We were all tweeting about it all day because it was a novelty, but it's certainly weird trying to work in an office where someone is just screaming his head off 30 feet away for hours on end. The finished video is supposed to go up Monday, and I'm looking forward to seeing that.
Further proof that timing is everything when it comes to appreciating pop culture: Time is running out for Hugo voting, so I've been trying to catch up with the 2012 Hugo voter's packet. This morning, on the way to work, I read all the short-story entries. One of them (E. Lily Yu's "The Cartographer Wasps And The Anarchist Bees") is a weird, fiddly, ursulav-worthy bit of serious whimsy about a conflict between radically different hives. I enjoyed that one just because it was so different from anything I've read recently. And three of the others are deeply emotional, serious stories: Nancy Fulda's "Movement" is about a future-autist trying to decide whether she wants gene therapy to make her "normal," and Mike Resnick's "The Homecoming" and Ken Liu's "The Paper Menagerie" (my probable pick for the award) are both touching stories about broken parent/child relationships and attempts at recovery. The latter two both made me tear up on the train.
Night had come to the city of Skalandarharia, the sort of night with such a quality of black to it that it was as if black coal had been wrapped in blackest velvet, bathed in the purple-black ink of the demon squid Drindel and flung down a black well that descended toward the deepest, blackest crevasses of Drindelthengen, the netherworld ruled by Drindel, in which the sinful were punished, the black of which was so legendarily black that when the dreaded Drindelthengenflagen, the ravenous blind black badger trolls of Drindelthengen, would feast upon the uselessly dilated eyes of damned, the abandoned would cry out in joy as the Drindelthengenflagenmorden, the feared Black Spoons of the Drindelthengenflagen, pressed against their optic nerves, giving them one last sensation of light before the most absolute blackness fell upon them, made yet even blacker by the injury sustained from a falling lump of ink-bathed, velvet-wrapped coal.
ONE SENTENCE. If I'd gotten a sentence like that in something I was editing, the mockery of the writer would have been epic and enduring.
I know it's meant as humor writing, but coming on the heels of three leanly written, sincerely emotional, conceptually simple stories in a row, it read like a bad joke, like following a haiku with a Norse epic written in Pig Latin. Still, I really wonder what my reaction would have been if I'd read them all in the exact opposite order. Sometimes things hit you in the wrong way just because you encounter them at the wrong time. (That said, no way was there a right time for a total stranger to hand me a battered, well-used book of word searches.)
Edited to add: I've linked to 'em all online, so you can read them in any order you like and see if you can recreate my experience, or try them in the opposite order and see if all the serious stories seem boring and plain by comparison. Also, here's a link to some books of word finds in case you want to order them and recreate that experience, too.
We had a pizza-and-beer (and Jameson's) mixer this afternoon to celebrate a new batch of New Yorkers from the Onion side moving into the Chicago home office this week. Methinks the prospect made Josh kinda punchy and overstimulated. To whit, he ambled out of his office and this happened:
Editor Josh: Where's Genevieve?
Me: Went to the airport to pick up some friends for the Pitchfork Festival.
Josh: Pitchfork doesn't start until Friday. But you wouldn't know that. Because you're so uncool. You're so uncool, you'd probably go to the Paste Music Festival.
Me: Sure. I'd show up saying "Is this that Pastefork thing I've heard so much about?"
Josh: You're so uncool, you'd go to the Entertainment Weekly music festival.
Me: Hey, I hear that one's great. All the bands get at least a B+.
Josh: You're so uncool, you'd go to the Playgirl music festival.
Me: Well, duh.
Josh: Would you really? It's just a bunch of gay guys.
Me: Sure. Hot shirtless gay guys oiling each other up and posing. Why wouldn't I show up for that?
Josh: Well, I just call that a normal Tuesday. Anyway, you're so uncool, uh…
Me: Oh for god's sake, you're so uncool you go to yo momma's music festival.
And then he walked off, and came back five minutes later chanting "There's pizza to eat! People to meet! Whiskey to, uh, bleat! It'll be a treat!" Definitely punchy. As in, possibly wanting to be punched.
Boss: Isn't Peter Gallagher the bad guy? That kind of makes me want to see it.
Me: Yes, and he plays…
Boss: An evil developer?
Me: Who wants to destroy…
Boss: The dance crew's clubhouse?
Me: And they're going to stop him by…
Me: And in addition to that, there's…
Boss: A girl from the right side of the tracks?
Me: Who's trained in and talented at classical dance but needs to learn…
Boss: How to dance like black people?
Me: So she can impress…
Boss: The stuffy conservatory she's auditioning for?
I swear, if he'd already seen the movie, why didn't he just go ahead and write the review, and save me some time?
I can think of a few other film genres with predictable structures, but none that have plots this point-by-point predictable. And no matter how great the dance is, it's still going to be less than a third of the running time of any dance movie, so shouldn't that other two-thirds be something the audience can't recite along with in chorus?
My family has joked for years that Mom bought herself the good hair, while skimping on hair for me and my sister — Mom herself likes to say that she went to the expensive hair store to buy hers, but got ours on discount. This is because Mom has thick chestnut hair, while my sister and I have thin, fly-away, break-prone dishwater-blonde hair that's hard to style or control. I don't hate my hair or anything — I like the natural highlights it picks up if I have enough time in the sun, and I like the way it looks as long as it's freshly brushed and I'm indoors.
Wind, however, turns it into a rough, grotty tangle. I have a sharp, rather embarrassing memory of getting into a big random wrestling match/leaf-fight in fall with a bunch of friends in college, and rolling out of a pile of fall leaves to discover that I had a birds-nest-like mess of tangles and leaf-bits on my head, whereas the two other women present (both of whom had very naturally thick hair) looked exactly like they did when we started.
So yesterday I went to the Bristol Ren Faire with spreadnparanoia and her fiancé and their friends Mike and Dan, and I had an excellent time, and we saw many shows. (I'm very fond of the Barely Balanced acrobatic troupe, but Adam Crack the whip guy (who holds nine world records, one for extinguishing 50 candles in one minute with a whip) may be even better.) And there was beef jerky and toasted-banana gelato and PICKLES! which for some reason were advertised with an exclamation point on the sign. (There was also a booth advertising COCKTAILS!!!, which didn't seem nearly as rennie as the various more subdued pubs serving meads and ales and, as Mike put it, summer shandy in Ye Olde 40-oz Canne.) And there was the joust, and the usual parade of Fantasticals doing their own weird fairy-mime things (this year, most of them were male, which was new to me), and we went on Ren Quest and marched back and fourth across the Faire grounds 40 times, delivering messages and decoding them and getting clues. (And eventually being commanded to prove our worth via song or dance, which we did by singing "Moral Turpitude" as a rather ragged round. And now I'm annoyed that I can't find a video or recording of it online anywhere by way of illustration.)
So it was a fun time out, and thank goodness the temperature had dropped to a level where it was pleasant instead of exhausting to be outside. But I got home and found my hair was just a wadded mass of gunk. It was very dusty at the fairgrounds, and on-and-off windy, and my feet and shoes and hair were all pretty gross. The feet, I just washed, but the hair took quite a while to detangle. I'm considering just shaving it all off for the summer. Maybe I can get a nice wig at the expensive-hair store, if Mom will just tell me where it is.
My parents in Maryland are caught up in the massive DC-area power outage and haven't had electricity since Friday, which worries me because it's as hot there as it is here, and their power company is saying they might not have everything restored for another week. The idea of getting through this heat wave with no fans and no distracting entertainment is just ghastly to me. At least the power is coming back on along the major roads, so there are hotels they can go to if necessary, and they were able to go see a film and take an air-conditioning break today.
Tuesday morning, I'm flying to Atlanta for a co-worker's wedding. Wednesday morning, I'm flying back. I just realized this is the first time ever I won't be able to check in for a flight just as the 24-hours-in-advance window starts because I'll be on another flight.
Chicago has been pretty seriously hot lately. I dealt with it Saturday by spending the day at a water park with spreadnparanoia and her fiancé (it was a perfect day for it, but I have one of those calico sunburns that consists of random spots and lines where I didn't get the sunscreen on thickly enough) and then going to that "39 going on 10" birthday party I posted about. (I brought chocolate milk. And brandy, for anyone who wanted what magdalene1's boyfriend enthusiastically called a "lazy Brandy Alexander.") Today, it was Magic Mike (pretty okay), lunch with the ladies I saw it with, and then a trip back to the Orphans Of The Storm animal shelter and their 300-cat room. I am largely feeling no heat-pain. We'll see whether that extends to Atlanta.
Bit by bit, weekend by weekend, I've been fixing or improving things around the house that have needed doing for a long time. Today it was fixing our non-functioning back gate, which I was saving as a project for my father when he was in town because I thought it would involve dissecting and reassembling the gate, but I finally realized its issue could be fixed in five minutes with a power drill. Related note: Fixing a broken thing in five minutes with a power drill is fun and builds confidence.
Talking superheroes and my upcoming superhero one-shot game at the waterpark with S&P&F suddenly, startlingly gave me an idea for a supervillains campaign. My brain is full of it right now. Running a game where the PCs are villains seems much harder than a game where they're heroes, since the villains tend to do the planning and the heroes do the reacting, but I'm thinking that could be a really effective chance of pace. So now I'm in the weird headspace of trying to prep for the game I'm actually running while really wanting to work on the game that I couldn't start for a few weeks, minimum, due to all the other commitments. Still, I'd much rather have too many ideas than too few.
I've had superheroes on the brain for a while now. Some of that was The Avengers, some of it was intermittently starting to read comics again, a bunch of it was reading Paul Tobin's Prepare To Die!, a superhero novel that randomly showed up in the slush pile, and which I've been pushing on everyone I know this year. I wound up reviewing it for the AVC and everything.
I've had an idea in the back of my brain for well over a year now for a short superhero role-playing adventure, but it was missing a few basic parts that I couldn't quite seem to fill in, and perpetually being busy with one writing project or another always gave me an excuse to not think too much about it. But recently, the missing pieces just fell into place — it always feels so good when that happens with a creative project, it's like brain-magic — and I realized I really wanted to finally run the damn thing, instead of just poking at it in my brain over and over. Talking to gfish about it when he came to town, at a point where we were both discussing long-simmering games we want to run, brought it to a head for me — this is something I've talked about long enough that I'm bored of listening to myself on it. And it's not even that big a deal, just a one-day pick-up one-shot.
All of which is mostly to say that since I hadn't tried out the system I'm using yet (it's called Free Fate), and had never done anything with it before, last night I ran a little mini-adventure where Cass played Spider-Man, attempting to infiltrate the Kingpin's trap-filled home base. This was largely so I could see how how the probabilities and difficulties worked out, and get comfortable with running the system; I used Spider-Man as an example only because we both know the character well, and it was easy to give him Free Fate stats. Building his stats was also a fun exercise; we did it together on the train to work one day.
But it was stupid amounts of fun. I haven't run a game since 2010, and I'd forgotten how enjoyable that kind of on-the-fly collaborative creativity can be. And it was remarkably easy to fit into such familiar characters and predict what they'd do, and neat to see Cass jump into a role I'd never seen him play, and wisecrack his way through being Spider-Man. I've always said that gaming lights up parts of my brain I don't use otherwise — not just creative parts, but descriptive parts, the parts that have to find language to translate what I see in my head into verbal images other people can understand.
This may set a new record for geekiest thing we've ever done as a couple, which is saying something. Cass has never been into one-on-one gaming, and I've never been a fan of role-playing with established characters or franchises; this was just a little tossed-off experiment. The whole thing felt mighty dorky. But man, did I enjoy it. Possibly someday I will properly learn to embrace my inner geek.
So a friend of ours is throwing a "39 going on 10" birthday party, which I think is an excellent idea — the idea as I understand it is to essentially have a kids' birthday party, party hats and all, rather than an adult one. Sounds like a blast. But we've been asked to bring a favorite treat from childhood, and I'm kind of stymied on that one.
Because when I was 10, my taste in food sucked. I ate raw hot dogs wrapped in American cheese. I really liked fish sticks and ketchup. I ate dill pickles wrapped in American cheese. I enjoyed grits. And peanut-butter sandwiches. And Kraft florescent-orange macaroni and cheese. On the rare occasions when I could get it, I loved treats like fast food, or Pop Tarts, or Oreos. It was an age where packaged foods and convenience foods were really coming into style, and I loved anything I could prepare on my own. Because what could be more grown-up than making your own bowl of grits on a Saturday morning at 6 a.m. before watching cartoons?
So I'm struggling to think of something I considered a childhood treat that I would actually want to put into my mouth today. I thought about bringing a selection of sugary cereals or Pop Tarts, but that seems lazy. (Granted, I'm spending that day at a water park, so I won't have a lot of time for baking, so lazy may be necessary.) Mostly, though… I don't eat hot dogs anymore. Ketchup is too sweet, American cheese is tasteless and rubbery to me. My tastes have changed profoundly since I was a kid — hell, last night I made a broccoli-and-leek stir fry, and loved it — so I'm still musing over how to take this assignment in the spirit it was intended.
This is not an Actual Problem. It will be easy enough to bring something involving sugar. What kid doesn't like sugar? And I'm pondering various creative solutions, from homemade juice pops (or Otter Pops, for that matter) to drinks involving the little plastic animals that were such a highlight for me at places like Farrells or Sonic.
It's mostly just that it's gotten me thinking again about how I still like a lot of the things I liked as a kid, like imagination games and fantasy books and amusement parks and board games, but my food tastes have changed utterly. So I'm wondering, are there foods you loved as a little kid and still love and eat at all frequently today?
Friday night, we had a bunch of people over for one of Cass' periodic rhythm-games parties, featuring various rhythm-matching video games, including Dance Central, Guitar Hero, and approximately a million karaoke games, though they always seem to turn into Rock Band parties. This one drew a smaller group than usual, and eventually we all wound up in the basement, doing big group sing-alongs to Rocky Horror Picture Show songs, and "Smells Like Teen Spirit," and anything else that seemed rowdy and group-friendly.
Except at one point, insidian picked a KT Tunstall song I wasn't familiar with, called "Black Horse & Cherry Tree." Sid belted out the opening:
Well my heart knows me better than I know myself So I'm gonna let it do all the talking I came across a place in the middle of nowhere With a big black horse and a cherry tree
I felt a little fear upon my back He said "Don't look back, just keep on walking." When the big black horse said, "Look this way," He said, "Hey lady, will you marry me?"
But I said no, no, no, no-no-no I said no, no, you're not the one for me.
And then Sid shouted, in perfect rhythm, "…’cause you're a HORSE!"
Well, that was the meme of the night. It's amazing how many songs work well when you're suddenly singing about people being horses. And today I've been housecleaning and doing online organization stuff and clearing crap out of the office and bedroom, and singing random snatches of songs to myself: "I'm a cowboy / On a steel horse I ride / I'm wanted / ’Cause I'm a horse."
And "I guess the change in my pocket wasn't enough, so I'm like "Fuck you, and fuck her too" / I say, if I was richer / I'd still be wit'cha / Now ain't you a horse? (Ain't you a horse?)"
And "I threw a wish in the well / Don't ask me, I'll never tell / I looked to you as it fell / And now you are a horse."
And I don't really know the tune of 's "You are a kitty" song, but in my head, it works just fine with "You are a horsey."
Basically, I cannot un-hear "’Cause you're a horse!" Nor do I wish to. But this may make the next couple of weeks of music-listening unusually interesting.
Last night was a weird, fun night, in that I got on a boat with Billy Corgan.
My boss had forwarded a bunch of us at work an invitation to go to a "listening party" for the new Smashing Pumpkins album on a boat. I love being on the water, so it sounded pretty ideal, and I couldn't believe so few people were interested. For some of them, it was just too late at night on a weekday, I'm assuming, but the general tenor of the responses was generally "Eh, I don't like Smashing Pumpkins that much." (There was one "Eh, I get seasick, and besides, Pee-wee's Big Adventure is playing in Grant Park.") Honestly, Smashing Pumpkins are not my favorite band of all time either, but I do not comprehend why that would be an issue when you're being invited to a ritzy private boat party to hear a new lineup play their first album in years, after claiming they'd never return to albums.
So I went, and it was fascinating. The boat was a ridiculously fancy three-story cruiser that could accommodate 800, and I expected it to be packed, considering how PR events normally work, but I would estimate there were more like 150 to 200 people on board, not counting crew. It wasn't remotely crowded. There was a buffet, and a separate desert buffet, and people circulating with hors d'oevres and champagne, and two open bars that were well-stocked enough to provide me with an actual mojito, made with fresh mint leaves. One of my co-workers had come with his girlfriend (the two people I invited missed the boat completely, one because of work, the other because of traffic), so I hung out with them for a while, then went up to the open observation deck to listen to the album, then drifted back down to the bar and talked to strangers.
One very chatty guy probably in his early 60s told me his life story in random chunks — how he'd had a full football scholarship to University Of Colorado, but had jumped ship to become a musician, all about his relationships and moves around the country, about the groups he'd played with and the bars he'd played and his current job as a house painter. He whipped out his phone at one point to show me Facebook pictures of himself in college, at which point he looked almost exactly like ’80s Robert Smith: huge mane of dyed-black Neil Gaiman's Morpheus hair, white face makeup, all-black clothes. Later, a kid who was probably barely past 20 talked to me about his excitement in getting to work on the Pumpkins album as an assistant engineer, his first project direct out of college. There were also some people there who'd won tickets to the event through a local radio station, and seemed delighted, but a little shell-shocked.
I'm learning to hang out at the bar at events. People at the bar often want to talk, especially when they're standing around waiting on their drinks. And I get to see what other people order, though in this case, it was pretty boring — an awful lot of people were going with some variety of Maker's on the rocks, Maker's and soda, Maker's and coke. I've often wondered what it would be like to be a bartender, but if this was any indication, it's a tedious procession of slurring people wanting boring whiskey preparations.
Eventually, Billy Corgan came on himself, for a five-song acoustic set which was very low-key and pleasant. The crew stopped the boat engines, presumably so there wouldn't be so much wind noise and it would be less chilly on the observation deck, and we stood and listened to him sing. At one point, he talked rather aggressively about how by restarting the band with all-new members, he's "keeping the spirit of the Smashing Pumpkins alive." This strongly annoyed my co-worker, who spent the rest of the evening saying things like "I've decided to start a new version of our website, with a bunch of younger people to replace the rest of you. And I'll get most of the money and credit, but it's okay, the new version of you will absolutely make a point of keeping your spirit alive."
But still. The weather was perfect. The boat was impressive. The food and alcohol were bounteous. (And the turtle cheesecake was amazing.) The skyline was gorgeous. The company was interesting. And I enjoyed the music. I don't know what more anyone could ask for from a random Tuesday night in the city.
Except maybe getting home before 1 a.m., but c'mon, it was worth it.
First off, thanks to everyone who contributed Michael Winslow sound-effect suggestions. Unfortunately, the interview fell through due to miscommunication, with bad feelings all around, so it's not likely to happen at all. Sorry.
Second, I'm back from Portland and Seattle, so naturally I'm leaving for St. Louis tomorrow. I have all but forgotten what home looks like.
Third, from this morning:
Me: [Asking if we're taking the train to work together, or Cass is biking.] Are you training today?
Cass: [From downstairs.] Yes. So no sex.
Me: What if it's sex-training?
Cass: It's unlikely to be. Unless we're in Risky Business.
Me: What if we are, though?
Cass: I don't think we are, but we can check. Am I Tom Cruise?
Me: I can't see you, so I don't know for sure who's talking. Maybe you are.
Cass: Well, are you Rebecca De Mornay?
Me: [Looking in the bathroom mirror while putting in contacts.] Oh. Sadly, no.
Cass: Then we probably aren't. I guess I could be Bronson Pinchot, but then I wouldn't get any sex at all.
So there was a week in New York City, instantly followed by a week with my sister visiting. There was one day between her leaving town and gfish arriving for a weekend, during which we ran all over town. Then three days after that, Cass and I flew to Portland for the Lovecraft film festival and annual visitation with ladymajor and phaedrusdeinus. Who are, today, forcing me to slow down and take deep breaths and stay in the house and not run all over creation because they are the meanest people ever, and also would like to see me sane again.
Which may not happen if this keeps up:
Cass: So last night at the New Horror panel, one of the panelists got a cell-phone call, and he actually took it. And he moved maybe three feet from the stage, and he's saying things like "What? No! That's impossible! I didn't do anything wrong!" into the phone. And the other panelists are laughing at him and saying things like "Of course, the BEST horror is the kind that happens in your PERSONAL LIFE. The kind with STAKES. The kind of thing that maybe GIVES YOU A LITTLE PERSPECTIVE." And he's just talking louder and louder from three feet away in order to continue his conversation. I wanted to slug him.
Cass: And he looked like such a douche, too. Though I try not to use that word.
Me: Or judge people on how they look?
Cass: Oh, no, I do that all the time. But I try not to overuse the term "douche" when it's so popular right now. There are so many other terms that are falling out of favor that might be more appropriate. "Dick," for instance. He really seemed like a dick.
phaedrusdeinus [Appearing as if by magic from the other room.] I'm sorry, did you just say that too many people are using douche in a place where dick would be more appropriate?
Cass: Yeah. [Pause.] OH. [We all break up laughing. The men are forcibly banished from the kitchen.]
I'm increasingly convinced that technology can sense — and either actively dislikes, or openly mocks — urgency. It's hard for me to explain why else my email program waited until I went to Tribeca to implode. One day I was at home, working a normal schedule, and with plenty of access to IT help, and everything worked fine. The next day, I was in New York, on a horrifically accelerated schedule, trying to work a full-time job while simultaneously attending a film festival, and my email program decided that I didn't exist, and my last 10 years of emails and contacts didn't exist either. And when I tried to re-link my mail program and my online account and re-sync them, it started trying to download 10 years of accumulated mail from the server, including thousands upon thousands of long-deleted spam messages. I eventually had to just shut the whole thing down and work from webmail until I got home and could hand my laptop over to our IT guy to install a new operating system and restore my old settings from backup.
I went through something similar today. One of our editors was in New York working on a side project, one had to take an emergency vacation day due to a child-care situation, and three more were at a trade fair, so I was the only editor on staff actually in the office. This normally makes for a frantic work day, largely because the only person in the office is the one who gets tapped to answer questions and make judgment calls, but it was particularly fraught because we had someone coming in to test for an open editorial position, and our newswire editor was out so someone had to wrangle all the newswire freelancers, and there was an intern who needed work, and print proofs to check in addition to the rest of the normal Monday work.
My laptop sensed urgency. And weakness. So there was this:
On Monday we print the proofs of the week's paper and check the layout and the content and send corrections to the designers. When I tried to print, my laptop informed me that I couldn't because I needed additional software which could be downloaded via Software Update. When I tried that, it locked up all my programs for 15 minutes while it worked on installing and downloading software. Meanwhile, I had eight people asking me for things I couldn't provide them. And even with the software finally downloaded, it didn't work. I wound up having to sic IT on the problem again. All I needed to do a simple job was a simple printout, and it took an hour.
The job applicant came in to take the test. Unfortunately, no one had informed me when he was coming in, or had given me the test to give him. So when he suddenly showed up, I was caught flat-footed. And no one was contactable to get the test. I wound up getting it off a co-worker's laptop — except that turned out to be the wrong test, as he realized when he was partway through it and came to a segment he'd already seen in a previous testing stage. I tried four times to get the right test, running back and forth between my laptop and his testing laptop and my co-worker's laptop, and every time I thought I'd sent the right file, I opened it and it was the wrong one — probably due to my being flustered, and the files all having similar names. I eventually got it to him, but only after both feeling like an idiot and feeling like all the laptops were deliberately conspiring against me.
People were sending me newswires, which had to be edited and slapped up online. The CMS, like my laptop, sensed urgency, and started malfunctioning in a way I'd never seen before, arbitrarily replacing links in a form with the entire text content of a piece. I called our web producer over to see it, and she agreed she'd never seen anything like it and had no idea what it was doing, besides making it impossible for me to post anything.
Basically, it was a VERY FRUSTRATING DAY, during which I felt like I was radiating some sort of anti-technology field. Not that technology was the only thing that wouldn't cooperate — for that matter, when I opened my Tupperware container of soup for lunch, the lid had created a vacuum seal, and opening it somehow sucked the soup upward so it sloshed all over the counter and my hands. It was that kind of day.
It was also the kind of day where it's getting on 1 a.m. and I'm still writing, as compensation for the writing I couldn't get done today while I was fighting computers to the death. But tomorrow I'm going to the annual candy expo, where I expect to encounter very little technology, and a lot of chocolate. I'm going to consider that my reward for surviving today.
ETA: I think my laptop hated this post. And further hates my current urgency in trying to get this review done and get to bed. My only power cord for my laptop is spontaneously no longer functioning, so I have a limited amount of time to get this review done and sent, and a limited amount of time that I'll be able to work remotely en route to and from the expo tomorrow. ARGH. JUST ARGH.
Here's a bit of fine craziness: One of our editors is about to conduct an interview with Michael Winslow, the eminently talented maker-of-weird-sound-effect-noises from the Police Academy movies. It was decided that this would, in part, take the form of asking him to make various noises. The interviewer is calling for suggestions:
[We're creating] a video interview with Michael "Man Of 10,000 Sound Effects" Winslow, where we'll prompt Winslow with a list of increasingly ludicrous sound effects, and he'll try to reproduce them on the spot. As such, I'm looking for your help in filling out the list Winslow will perform for us. We want to start simple — think "car alarm" or "crying baby" — and eventually work up to complicated impressions like "machine gun in a washing machine rolling downhill."
Want to participate? Leave suggestions here, and I'll gather them up and forward them on to the interviewer. Deadline is 5 p.m. CST tomorrow, May 3. If you've ever wanted to hear a famous sound-effects man spontaneously create the noise of, say, a basket full of kittens caught on the blade of a speeding-up windmill, or a man trying to pull a giant suction cup off his own face, this is your chance to solicit for it. It'll be up to the interviewer to pick which ones he wants to ask for, and up to Winslow whether he wants to or can actually do them, but you're welcome to suggest all you want, and I'll pass 'em along. And feel free to direct people here; the more suggestions we get, the better the eventual list is likely to be.
And now my sister's on a plane and I'm back in the office, trying to dig my way free of the fallout of two weeks of a barely functional email program. All I really want is a nap, but given my email backlog, I may never again notice the text I sent to my email about this occurrence I wanted to document:
Sunday afternoon, Cass and Tara and I went to brunch at Andies on Clark, but they've stopped doing the fantastic brunch buffet we go there for, so we decided to go elsewhere. First, though, we stopped in across the street at Alleycat Comics, my new go-to for comics: They're well-stocked and clean and well-organized, and the proprietor, Nick, is hugely friendly and fun to talk to. But while I was hanging out in the back, looking at graphic novels, there was this bright little girl, maybe 4 years old, looking at the kids' books. And her dad, who was talking with her mom and baby sibling at the other end of the (small) store, said "You can have one, honey, just pick out the one you want."
And she said, in a calm, conversational voice that could not have reached him, but did not seem to be aimed at me, "I can only have one? No. I can have two. My daddy is the meanest ever. And he does not love me."
It was bizarre, like she was practicing her lines for an upcoming tantrum. Her diction was so precise and thoughtful. I could clearly see herself gearing up for the demand. But when it came, it was "Can I have two, daddy? Please? This one looks nice, and this one too."
I moved away because it was a small shop and I didn't want to openly spy on them, but I can't help but wonder whether she pulled out the "meanest ever" act in the clinch, or that was just a plan that didn't pan out. Either way, just hearing her say it gave me the gigglies. I'll have to keep that in mind next time I don't get my way. "Well. You are the meanest ever, and you do not love me."
I came back from New York last week; I recently realized a lot of people think I'm still there. It's just that I came in at the airport at the same time as my sister — due to a carefully laid plan that unfortunately resulted in my having to leave Manhattan for a New Jersey airport at 3:40 a.m., but hey, it all worked out — and she's been here all week, so I've been too busy to post. Besides which, I took my laptop back to work for repairs, so I haven't had much computer access lately. But I couldn't resist recording this, earlier today:
Tara: Okay, fine, but I get to complain twice and whine about wanting to go home and put on comfy pants five times.
Me: I'll let you complain once and whine about wanting to go home and put on comfy pants twice.
Tara: I get two complaints, two demands for comfy pants, and six I-told-you-so's if it starts raining and we have to head back.
Me: One complaint, one comfy-pants demand, and one I-told-you-so.
Tara: Four complaints, six demands for comfy pants, four I-told-you-so's, and at least three I-never-wanted-to-come-here-in-the-first-place's.
Me: You're actually RAISING your demands. That is not how haggling works. So here's my final offer. See that restaurant on the other side of the intersection? Sticky Rice? They serve caterpillars.
Me: Yeah, apparently it's a Northern Thai delicacy.
Tara: And you've been there and eaten them, because you're just that brave?
Me: I want to on some level to prove something and out of curiosity, but I've never been able to force myself to do it. Every time I think about it, I think of a plate of those soft fuzzy tentworms that used to take over trees in our neighborhood when we were kids.
Tara: Oh, gross.
Me: Exactly. So here's the deal. One each of complaint, comfy-pants demands, I-told-you-so, and I-never-wanted-to-be-here, and I DON'T take you to Sticky Rice and order you a plate of caterpillars.
Tara: That seems like a reasonable deal, except… You've eaten there before?
Me: A couple of times, with your parents, yeah.
Tara: And you've never been able to suck it up and eat caterpillars? Sounds like you're more afraid of it and weirded out by it than I am. So here's the deal: Two complaints, two comfy-pants, three told-you-so and don't-want-to-be-here, and I don't take YOU to Sticky Rice and order YOU a plate of caterpillars.
Me: …dammit. All right. Sold.
(Then we went to the deer place and saw about 20 deer wandering around in groups of one to six outside of the hiking-path area, but the paths themselves were closed because we'd gotten there too late, and I didn't get complaints or whining or caterpillars or ANYTHING.)
Yesterday was brutal. We were hugely behind on edits and non-editing work, and I'm about to go on vacation with my sister, so I needed to get a ton of me-specific stuff processed and in other people's hands, and long story short, I woke up in an anxiety-ridden sweat at 8 a.m. and worked straight through until 2 a.m. the following morning. I left my hotel room exactly twice: Once to go up six floors to conduct an interview, and once to go down to street level for 15 minutes to grab a sandwich for dinner. I prepared and conducted three interviews in two and a half hours. I saw no films and encountered almost no people and I was squirrely as hell by the time I let myself fall into bed.
Today I still had a ton of work to do, but I felt I had to get out of the hotel for my own health, so I packed up and went down to Tribeca's media lounge, where it was sometimes very loud and chaotic and bored journalists wanted to talk to me — one woman from Venice had been in town for two months and was feeling poorly from living off sandwiches, and wanted to know where I got my salad, and then wanted to talk food and travel, while another wanted to talk about the quality of the piped-in music, and I was all "Uh-huh yeah whatevs." But there were new walls around me at least!
And I got a reasonably giant pile of work shifted out of my inbox and into other people's, and then I was able to escape and head off to my last round of screenings. Except there was no good transit path from the lounge to the theater that didn't involve a bunch of waiting and train-changing, so I decided the hell with it, I was going to be a New Yorker and take a cab. Problem was, when I got into the cab, I made the not-a-New-Yorker mistake of giving him the address of where I was going, instead of the intersection. To be fair, I gave him both. What I said was "I'm going to 66 3rd Ave. It's the AMC Loews theater, at 3rd Ave. and 11th Street." What he apparently heard was "I'm going to 66th and 3rd, and now I'm going to make meaningless unimportant mouth-noises at you for no reason, please tune out." We got about a mile north in heavy traffic before I realized the streets were counting UP, and then I got to be a real New Yorker by getting into a fight with a cabbie. He denied I'd said anything but "66th and 3rd," I pointed out that I'd told him I was going to the theater and where it was, and he said "I don't know where any theater is, I just go where you tell me!" that ended with me snapping "This is bullshit!" and him telling me fine, he wouldn't charge me if I just got out. We were both equally annoyed at each other, but five minutes later, I was feeling bad about it. (I tried to make up the karma by giving my lunch sandwich to a homeless guy on the train, and hoping that somewhere, someone who'd been rude to that homeless guy was overtipping that cabbie.)
But at that point, there was no way I was getting to the movie remotely on time, so I gave it up as a lost cause and wandered around Central Park for an hour to unwind and regain sanity (and it was very pleasant and peaceful, to the point where I didn't even mind when it started to rain), and then just went to my next movie. I liked that one so much, I frantically tapped out questions during the Q&A, then nabbed the director afterward for an impromptu half-hour interview — easily breaking all my records for least amount of interview prep time.
And after that, I went to a final film, which I loved, and stayed for an insane, energetic, wild Q&A, and then went to a bar across the street to talk to one of the filmmakers, and then tried to catch a train uptown. Except my transit card had expired, and the station had no kiosks where I could buy a new one.
So I decided the hell with it again, and hailed another cab, and this time was careful to just give the intersection. And the cabbie greeted me with "How was your day? Did you have a good time?" I said it was terrific, and asked how his was. And then the floodgates were unleashed; he talked my ear off all the way back to the hotel, about the life of a New York City cabbie, and the advice he gives people, and the stories he's seen play out between people who don't mind proposing or breaking up or fighting or snogging in a cab as though the driver didn't count as a witness. He told me everyone in New York is materialistic and shallow and is looking for money and love, but that they never come in the same package. He told me about a woman who was looking for love in the form of a man, any man, from Goldman Sachs, and how he advised her to reconcile with her mother. He told me New York has only three things to offer people: stress, sugar, and high blood pressure. And on and on, an unbroken flow of words that didn't really follow, but were friendly enough. I zoned out and let him talk. It seemed like an appropriate way to end this New York sojourn.
And now I'm really ready for about 10 hours of sleep, but my shuttle picks me up for the airport at the godawful hour of 3:40 a.m., so it'll have to wait. My Tribeca pieces should start posting soon. By the time they do, I'll already be back in Chicago and this whole week will seem like a weird, blurry dream.
I'm running out of time in New York, and I'm exhausted and frustrated; so many films left to see, so much work to do, and technology hates me. My email program forgot I existed, so my archives are gone and I have to search for everything via Google Mail interface, and I can't work offline AT ALL. So of course when I got back to the hotel last night, the Internet was completely out. I stayed up for two hours trying to get critical things done online via my phone (like research for my THREE INTERVIEWS IN A ROW this morning) and finally went to bed in a towering helpless rage at 1 a.m. I think I'm doing this whole film-fest thing wrong, getting stressed with everything I'm not accomplishing instead of focusing on what I am.
That aside, last night one of the films I saw was Postcards From The Zoo, a charming, sleepy Indonesian film about a little girl who's abandoned in a zoo and grows up there, working with the animals and a mysterious, quiet boy who dresses like a cowboy and does magic. Then one day they're told only regular zoo employees can live in the zoo, so she and Cowboy have to leave and make their way in the world. Eventually the girl gets a job in a sleazy sex-massage parlor, but even though she's naive and seems to live in her own quiet, magical realm, she treats it all very calmly, and not as degrading or exploitative — it's almost like she sees the men she's servicing as just more zoo animals, clumsy and visceral but not to be taken too seriously emotionally.
The woman sitting next to me in the screening worried me from the second she sat down — she was an older woman with a shock of red-dyed hair, and she immediately begin to ask me what else I'd seen at the festival, then not listen to any of the answers. She kept asking questions — "I want to see The List. What's that about? Who's in it? Where is it playing and when?" and again, not listening to the answers. She told me she was sitting up front because of all of those rude people who liked to text their way through movies. I said, neutrally, "So you sit up front to get away from them?" And she said "What? I've never sat up front before in my LIFE!" like I'd insulted her. And when the host came out to introduce the director and say he'd be doing a Q&A afterward, she said "Good!" very loudly. All the way through the opening bumpers and sponsor messages, she went "Huh!" and "Oh!" and "Aha!" loudly. So I was dreading the film.
But she was blessedly silent until the second the closing credits started. Then she leaned over and told me "I knew a man like that once, that went to massage parlors, and paid girls for it. He couldn't relate to girls. He lived at home with his parents and never grew up. Eventually he got into S&M, you know? He'd go to those clubs and do things to girls he didn't know. He liked to watch women pee. He'd pay for that. Eventually I had to leave him. It was such a turn-off. All that stuff does nothing for me."
THANK YOU RANDOM LADY. Is this why New Yorkers get brusque and snappish about strangers? I again-noncommittally said "Well, a lot of men have trouble relating to women?" and she said "Oh, do you think that's what it is then, with women who see prostitutes and get into S&M? They just have no idea what to do with a woman?" I managed to cut her off by pointing out that the Q&A with the director was about to start.
The Q&A was okay; the director struggled with English a little, and the actor who played the magician/cowboy was there and said almost nothing, and many of the questions were awful, as they tend to be. (One guy rambled on and on with a question I would characterize as "I have seen all your films and know more about you than anyone here, are you impressed with me?") But at the end, one audience member said "This is a question for the Cowboy. Could you do a magic trick?"
And instantly, he reached behind the director's head and pulled out a tiny glowing ball of crimson light and popped it into his mouth, then smiled hugely to show it was gone.
It was so effortless and charming and perfect. Hooray for him, and hooray for the film, and hooray for my alacrity in getting the hell out of there afterward, and away from Sexual History Lady. Who, in retrospect, I should have gotten a phone number from. I could have hooked her up with Famous Film Critic Full Of Sex Questions. Assuming he can relate to women and doesn't live at home, the two of them could have made each other VERY HAPPY.
It rained all day, and I was in and out of it all day, shuttling around from Theater #1 to the hotel for an interview, then back to Theater #1, then to Theater #2, then out to get a snack, then back to Theater #1 again, where I found out the film I was trying to see was back at Theater #2. I spent a lot of time in the rain. Fortunately I brought a bright blue poncho that I bought on my last NYC trip and never wore. It looks mildly ridiculous, but it keeps my hair and clothes and bag full of laptop dry, and whatever meal I'm smuggling into the theater hidden, so get bent, haters.
But tonight when I decided I was too tired for movie #5 of the day (even though it was in Theater #2 where I already was) and just came back to the hotel, I was waiting for the elevator when a group of people waiting for a seat in the hotel restaurant next to me turned around. One of them was this tall, thin, shaggy-haired, hippie-chic-dressed dude who reminded me of a young Keith Richards, with a little Bob Dylan thrown in. He was standing right next to me when he turned around, and he just stopped and stared. And stared. And started leaning back slowly, still staring, like his feet were glued to the ground but he was trying to escape me. So I started imitating him, with the bug eyes and the lean, because it was so ridiculous-looking. I guess he was drunk or on something or just a weird dude, because it was a very theatrical reaction.
Finally, he blurted "Who are you supposed to be? Cookie Monster?"
I was tired and annoyed. I said "Sure, whatever. If you have a cookie, I'll take it."
"Ohhh… I don't have a cookie."
"Well then, what use are you to me?"
This might have felt cleverer if I'd still been facing him down, but by that time he was already walking away to his table, and I don't even know if he heard me, and it irked me greatly that he said something so grade-school insulty and then didn't even have the courtesy to follow up. Or give me a cookie.
Not much new to report from Movieland: I spent Friday's business hours mostly working in my hotel room, then saw three movies in the evening and scheduled an interview with the women who directed my favorite of that batch of films. Today, I had planned to take the morning for myself and have fun in New York, but I had a 10 a.m. interview with a director which was fascinating and took nearly an hour, and by the time I got down to Union Square and had looked around the farmers' market a bit, I realized there were festival films that aren't playing again during my time here, so I'd only get to see them if I got on it right away. So I went to one of the venues and spent the day theater-hopping there, watching five movies almost back to back. In two cases I had to skip the post-show Q&As and bolt out of the theater the second the credits started, in order to dash to a different theater.
Sadly, of the five films I saw today, I only really enjoyed two; one was a highly contrived, maudlin, artificial melodrama, and two of them had cute bits but were about such self-absorbed, aggressively unpleasant protagonists that I couldn't interest myself in their relationship dramas. The other two were great, though, and the last one in particular — a dark Norwegian thriller called Jackpot — was funny and very well made, and the director and one of the stars were hilarious at their Q&A afterward. I asked a plot question regarding the twist at the end, and the co-star said something to the effect of "Well, when we did that, we were hoping not to have viewers as sharp as you, who'd notice." Later, I asked another question, a follow-up to something the director said about having re-cut the film several times with different endings, and the co-star said "He even called me up at 3 a.m. at one point and said 'Maybe it's YOU, maybe YOU'RE the murderer!'" The director denied it, and seemed very flustered, and referred to me as "the difficult woman down front." They really cracked me up.
And geez, I need to get to bed. Depending on how I work it, I have a screening tomorrow at 9:30 or 10 a.m., and an interview at noon regardless, and another screening at 1, and I'm not getting enough sleep or enough New York. I literally went to see five minutes of an open mic tonight, traveling to the West Village just long enough to see someone best described as my brother-in-law-once-removed (brother of Cass' sister's husband) open for a comedy show. I wedged that between screenings, just ducking in, talking to him for five minutes, watching him tell jokes for five minutes, and walking out. This is no way to enjoy a city.
Here IS how to enjoy a city: At midnight, after my last screening, I came out to find that it was pouring. Fortunately, I"d been carrying a poncho around all day. So I walked back to my hotel, ducking into random delis and boutiques to see what kind of interesting stuff they had, since they all seemed to still be open. And upon getting back to my hotel at 12:30 a.m., I realized I still hadn't had an authentic New York slice of pizza. So I picked a direction, walked one block, and found a place that a) was still open and b) had gigantic chicken-and-bacon pizza slices, cheap. I love this town. But it wears me out.
So the thing is, being on the streets of New York is like being in a movie, perhaps because there are so damn many movies about the streets of New York. But they still don't feel very real to me. Maybe because by the time I'd walked six blocks toward my hotel, I'd passed a guy walking down the street shouting randomly, something about "them fornicating, with they MEN" (I'm voting schizo, not Bluetooth). And a woman weeping hysterically and openly while trying to hail a cab. And a guy in tight red pants and a hot-pink T-shirt who looked like he was auditioning to be the new Austin Scarlett; he was walking with friends, and he had a battery-operated bubble gun, and they were walking in a cloud of bubbles. Also there was a woman dressed as a disco ball, handing out flyers. If they'd all suddenly burst into song and synchronized dance, I wouldn't have been that surprised, just disappointed that I didn't know the lyrics.
Anywho, I walked to the theater and saw a really striking indie debut-feature, the world premiere of a film called First Winter. And afterward I talked with the filmmaker and set up an interview for today. (Which he missed. Rescheduled for tomorrow.)
And then I went to the first-night reception, which was at the Apple Store on 14th, which is basically a three-story plexiglass cube designed to show off whatever's in it, which at this point was a really fancy party. For god's sake, the DJs were Just Blaze and Q-Tip. Nothing could make me feel more like I'm in a movie than DJs who just happen to be big celebrities. They were spinning on the top floor, which was hellishly crowded and hot. I milled around with a drink for a while and found no one to talk to — the film people all seemed to be there in big groups that clung together — so I went back down to the nearly deserted first-floor bar to talk to the nice guy who I'd conversed with when I got my first drink. The plan was to try the weird cocktail he and his bartending partner had whipped up, then go back to the hotel and get some sleep.
Two and a half hours later, I was one of the last people to leave the closed-down party.
Basically, I got into a conversation with the bartender, who was a really interesting, cute black dude with a giant mane of dredlocks and a great laugh. He's a local cinematographer who has films playing in town that aren't at Tribeca. And then I started talking to the woman working with him, a photographer from Australia who's interested in getting into poetry. The three of us spent half an hour just talking about Shel Silverstein, and Roald Dahl, and Jack Handey, and Edward Gorey, and other purveyors of sick-and-twisted humor. And when they ran off (to smoke a joint, implied the third bartender), I started talking to the security guy who was also hanging out at the bar, who was a 20-year transit cop married to an eight-year desk cop. He was remarkably philosophical about the things he'd seen and done in the line of duty; his feeling on being a cop — or doing anything else, really — is if you don't like it, move on. He doesn't understand the people who complain about how hard being police is. He was a remarkable and interesting man.
And then I got pigeonholed by a rather famous local film critic (I've since googled him, so I know he was who he was claiming to be, but I'm not going to out him) who was somewhat drunk and somewhat bored and basically launched with "I'm sick of talking about film, my whole life is talking about film, let's talk about something else. Here's something I ask people a lot, which one celebrity would you most want to have sex with?" Within 20 minutes, we were sitting together and asking each other remarkably personal questions about our sex lives and relationships. I'll give him this, he paid attention, and asked follow-up questions, and didn't hesitate to answer when I threw his questions back at him, and it was a strangely satisfying experience, to tell a total stranger things that my friends don't know about me, and hear his own stories in return.
And then I had to make it back to my hotel while more than a little drunk (having sampled honey vodka, jalapeno vodka, and chocolate-raspberry vodka, plus something involving macerated strawberries and mint, and something else involving peppercorns and bark) and with my phone out of juice. I'm pretty pleased with my navigational abilities, which got me back to the hotel without relying on cabs or asking directions. Also, I got into a lovely conversation while waiting for the train, with a very skinny bespectacled black dude who's a professor who moonlights as a bouncer. I told him I found that hard to believe with his build, but he said he basically just had to look stern and let his muscular buddy back him up. So odd! But he was a nice guy, and clearly quite tickled at my pickled cheer.
Today's just been about working, but now I'm taking off for what will hopefully, if timing permits, be a series of films in the same venue. There's another huge party tonight, but I'm likely going to skip it in the name of sleep. Saturday and Sunday could potentially be all-day filmfests, if I can make the schedule work. Though if I can't watch all the movies, I'm fine with living out one instead. Off to adventure!
Well, yesterday was certainly a day. I'm in New York City to cover the Tribeca film festival as planned, but I spent most of yesterday feeling like I was in a movie. The genre ranged from boring indie mumblecore to thriller to rom-com, so it added up to one of those movies mostly just cassielsander likes, the ones where the critics say "It didn't know what kind of film it wanted to be." Also, it could have used more spaceships or explosions or something, though preferably neither of them too close to me. (Hm. Maybe there were spaceships and explosions, just so far from me that I didn't notice them. In fact, if you count the touring space shuttle as a spaceship, there definitely were such things in the world somewhere yesterday.)
The plan for yesterday was 1) Fly to New York 2) Take a shuttle to my hotel, check in, ditch my luggage, do some work 3) Walk down to the Tribeca press office for my credentials 4) See a couple of movies, go to the first-night reception, go back to the hotel.
Instead, what happened was that the second leg of my flight was delayed by hours, which I spent sitting and sighing and reading and fuming at the airport, like everyone else. (Boring indie realistic mumblecore film!) So by the time I got to New York and got the shuttle, rush hour was starting, and it looked like I wasn't going to make it to the press office by the time it closed. Which would mean I couldn't see the movies or go to the reception, and I basically would have blown my first night entirely. I'll give the shuttle driver this: He drove like a nutcase from JFK to Manhattan, jerking off the freeway at every exit and jerking back on at the next one, keeping us moving when nothing else was moving, and squeezing between vehicles with so little clearance, I felt forced to inhale sharply every time he did it. He drove without care of life, limb, or the law, and I blessed him for it; everything he was doing seemed overblown and ridiculous and unreal to me. (Comedy adventure film!)
But then we got to midtown and he headed north to drop other people off, and at that point it was 5:30. So I jumped ship, giant luggage in tow, and started trying to hail a cab to take me in the right direction. I never would have thought I'd have trouble getting a cab in New York, but given that I had a giant roller bag with me, the only cabs that stopped were the ones who wanted to take me back to the airport. Two different guys pulled up, then shook their heads and pulled off when they heard I just wanted to go downtown. I ended up walking half a mile toward the office, just to be moving while I tried to flag a cab. Eventually, a guy in a luxury sedan said "You're trying to get a cab?" When I explained where I was going, he said "Hop in!" I told him I needed to, at that point, go from 54th street to 18th street in less than 20 minutes. He laughed and said "You pay me well, I get you there. Hey, you DON'T pay me well, I STILL get you there!" Then he also drove like a madman, which made for a nice cooling breeze coming though the open window, particularly given that I was sweaty from hauling that suitcase around. So there I was, sitting in the back of this sleek black luxury car, tearing through the streets of New York at illegal speeds, squeezing between careening busses and other insane cab drivers and some kind of gigantic many-firetruck/many-police car emergency. (Action thriller!)
Did I mention that as soon as I landed at JFK and turned on my phone, I got an urgent message saying that the Chicago office needed a file only I had, which I'd neglected to put on the server somehow? I got to the press office and got my credentials and had exactly enough time to sit down, log in to their wifi, and send the file (which felt like sending the missile-deactivation codes 15 seconds before the missiles explode) before the office closed and I got kicked out. (Action thriller continues!)
At that point, I'd already missed my window for most of the first round of Tribeca films, especially once I walked back to my hotel and checked in and changed. So I took some downtime to explore the neighborhood and check out some of the local delis and buy some sandwiches and generally not be in a movie. Except… well, to be continued. (Cheesy ’30s serial!)
Two things are happening in the next two weeks. I'm going to New York tomorrow to live in a hotel for a week and cover the Tribeca film fest while also trying to more or less work full time. And the day I get back, my sister flies into town. So we've been talking a lot more via email lately, mostly about coordinating our plans to watch the usual run of bad movies:
Me: I'm already worried that all the New Yorkers will laugh at my Midwestern wardrobe.
Tara: As long as they don't stab you, you should consider yourself lucky.
Me: Now I'm all worried that all the New Yorkers will stab me and get blood all over my Midwestern wardrobe!
Tara: I didn't say that to make you worry, I just wanted you to try harder to avoid being stabbed. You've been to New York before, right? How many times did you get stabbed that time you were there?
Me: Eight. I didn't want to say anything because I know how you worry. Also, I wasn't trying to launch a rap career at the time, so there didn't seem to be any point to publicizing it.
Tara: A fun game would be to try to get stabbed fewer times during this visit. That should keep you entertained while you are in super-boring New York.
Me: I saw that Snow White movie Mirror Mirror.
Tara: That looks unbelievably bad. And I don't mean awesome-bad like the movies I want to see, I mean just terrible-bad.
Me: It wasn't bad unless you HATE HATE HATE Julia Roberts, which some people clearly do, and I don't know why.
Tara: Julia Roberts murdered my family.
Me: As part of your family, and as someone in touch with the rest of your family, I find your story a tiny bit difficult to believe.
Tara: You are actually my second family that I picked up to replace the family that was murdered by Julia Roberts. I'm sorry you had to find out this way, but you JUST WOULDN'T LEAVE IT ALONE!
Me: Wait, where did you get an entire new family from?
Me: I refuse to believe we're a cut-rate family, given what a high-quality family we are. Are you sure you don't mean Luxury Expensive Families Boutique?
Tara: Nope. And I just went through the drive-thru and ordered a 3-pack family because I was in a big hurry.
Me: Wait, did they say "Want to super-size that for 29 cents" and you said yes and that's why we're all fat? Is that your fault?
Tara: But you practically lose money by not super-sizing! All that extra stuff for so little money!
Me: And why didn't Julia Roberts get you, too?
Tara: Because I'm wily.
Me: Sure, but wilier than a Julia Roberts? I think not. They can smell fear and work-related boredom.
Tara: Yeah, but she's tottering around on 4-inch heels, so she doesn't go very fast.
Me: Why did she kill your first family, anyway?
Tara: She sacrificed them to Satan to get that Oscar for Erin Brockovich. How else could she have won?
Me: This explains so much. As a member of your current family, I hope she doesn't want any more Oscars.
Tara: Of course she does. Why do you think she stabbed you eight times when you were in New York!?!
aizuchi and komainu came to town for the weekend, for the C2E2 comics expo. And along the way, A. brought up the webcomic Oglaf, which I'd never seen before. I promptly read the whole thing — presumably years of backlog, since it only updates once a week. It's beautifully drawn and deeply weird and frequently very, very pornographic. (The very first strip involves a "cumsprite," summoned by a sorceress to tattle on her masturbating apprentice.) There are story arcs and repeat characters and ongoing arcs, but some of my favorite stuff is the one-offs. Here are a few of my favorites that are safe for work:
These particular strips all tie into folklore in a way that hits my sweet spot for myth and amuses me greatly; the larger arcs show some of the same sensibility, often with a rougher sense of humor and a hints of a big, rather random, sometimes creepy world out there. The sex is impressively inclusive, with gay and straight stuff appearing in equal measure and shown as equally sexy, but it's all often treated for comic value as much as anything else. It reminds me a bit of Phil Foglio's Xxxenophile in that way.
And if you want to dodge the NSFW ones — or hell, focus exclusively on those — the archive designates which is which, often in funny terms like "a bit sweary" and "not as dirty as the Jim Henson version" and "there are dirtier Garfield." I hope y'all enjoy these as much as I did.