A matter of perspective

cassielsander: I was talking to someone today who only knows Timothy Dalton from Hot Fuzz.

off_coloratura: This is someone who's never seen him as James Bond?

cassielsander: Or in The Lion In Winter.

off_coloratura: Is there anyone who ISN'T in The Lion In Winter?

cassielsander: Or as that Doctor Who villain. Rashomon?

off_coloratura: Rassilon.

Me: Rashomon would be a very different villain.

off_coloratura: He's the villain who just keeps traveling back in time to witness the same events over and over.

Me: But always from different angles and perspectives.

cassielsander: Well, that isn't how *I* remember it.
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    amused amused
It's All Me

Hey look it's an update whoa

Today I am mildly bleary because I stayed up until 4 a.m. writing, trying to get caught up.

Today I met and interviewed Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost about The World’s End. They had very fancy cupcakes. They offered me one. I declined because it is impossible to ask questions through a mouthful of crumbs, or act professional with a cleavage full of sprinkles.

Today I was downtown most of the day in order to not waste hours commuting back and forth to the office, so I saw a lot of Lollapalooza traffic and huge flotillas of cops moving into position, including one woman who looked maaaayyyybe 18.

Today I saw a bunch of turning cars block an intersection, whereupon one SUV trying to go through that intersection sped up to the blockage really fast and stopped really abruptly an inch or two from the side of one of the cars. A pedestrian next to me yelled “Where the fuck does he think he’s going? What an idiot! He just gonna ram into that guy? Where does he expect him to go? Some motherfuckers are so stupid!” Then the same guy walked casually into traffic, against the light, nearly causing a series of accidents.

Today I saw a little kid, maybe 10, loitering on the sidewalk in front of McDonald’s, next to a group of mom-aged adults. They all had cold McDonald’s beverages; he did not. They were all sitting in the shade on a short barricade around a tree; there was no room for him, so he was standing out in the sun. He looked hot and bored. And the mom-aged ladies were all yelling at him: Don’t run. Get out of people’s way. Don’t stand there. Don’t stand there either. What are you doing? Don’t be stupid! They were repeating and echoing each other in this hectoring chorus, the kind of thing that reminds me of a school playground where one person starts name-calling so everyone else joins in, and I wanted so badly to grab that kid, give him the world’s biggest ice-cream cone, and teleport him to a vast park full of kids and playground equipment, and say “Run, yell, and be a child.”

Tonight I am having drinks with Edgar Wright and a group of Dissolve staffers.

Tonight I am going to the Music Box for the double feature of Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz, with a Q&A with Wright and Pegg and Frost in between.

Tonight I may fall asleep in the theater, but if so, I’m betting the dreams will be colorful, pop-culture-aware, and very very funny.
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    sleepy sleepy
It's All Me

No jet plane involved

So as was noted on Twitter and elsewhere, yesterday was my last day with Onion, Inc. I've been debating how or whether to mention this here for a couple of weeks now, ever since I gave notice, but given how crazy Twitter and the site were yesterday, it's clearly good that I didn't spill any possible beans earlier. Several other people have also left the site. There's been a lot of guesswork about what's going on, much of it off-base, though I can't get into it at all here. There's been a lot of personal contact, too, much of it very gratifying and humbling.

I've worked for Onion, Inc and The A.V. Club for 15 years, 13 of it as a full-time writer and editor, and I've identified myself very heavily with the job, to the point of basing a lot of my significant life choices around it. For the most part, the tradeoffs have been worth it — I've gotten to work with a lot of immensely talented, tremendously intelligent, highly dedicated people who've taught me a lot about writing, editing, and critical thought. But I didn't realize how much other people identified me with the job until I quit.

It's been exactly as though I faked my own death and am attending my own funeral. So many of the people contacting me via Twitter and email have taken a past-tense tone of "We loved you and you will be missed." It's slightly awkward — I'm still right here, guys — but given how often we only see the negative side of commentors, how often people only speak up when they're angry or disagreeing — all the compliments and praise and well-wishing has been incredibly touching. It isn't just strangers who know me through my writing, either — I had some long, fascinating conversations yesterday at our send-off party with people I've barely talked to before. And I've gotten some phenomenally kind and complimentary emails from people I know but rarely see, or have worked with in some capacity over the years. It all amounted to a This Is Your Life episode, stretched out over the last 24 hours. It's so easy, writing for print and the web, to feel like I'm operating in a vacuum. Yesterday, I was reminded that people care, and it was incredibly energizing.

But this was the best part for me. This makes me think I peaked yesterday: Some stranger who's clearly very well versed in our website made this as an instant response to yesterday's announcement.

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Hulk shrine and high-fives

Back in Chicago. Last night, I went to the grocery store, and when I came back to the car, there was a 9-inch articulated plastic Incredible Hulk toy sitting on the roof of my car. Both parking spots around me were empty, so I presume someone in one of those spots put it down for a second while wangling kids and groceries, and then forgot it. I momentarily considered taking it home for a particularly Hulk-identified friend of mine, but I've had some recent experiences with small children and lost beloved toys, particularly of the "love it so much it has to come to the store with me" variety, so it seemed kinder to leave it where it might be found. I placed it upright on the concrete base of the parking-lot overhead light closest to my car. On that same base, someone had left about a dollar's worth of uniformly grubby, rusty pennies for some esoteric reason. I put Hulk next to them. They made a weird little shrine together. I hope Hulk found his way home.

On my last day in Oklahoma, we went to the zoo for four exhausting hours. It was perfect weather for it — sunny but breezy — and most of the animals were out and active. The 6-year-old was in balky mode and only wanted to go to the park and play, but the 8-year-old was as calm and settled as I've seen him, and we stood together and watched animals and talked about them, and sometimes made up voices for them. It was a good day.

But the best part was when he demanded we go into an odd little Colonial house on the grounds, which turned out to be a little one-room museum of the zoo's history, with old photographs on the walls and a video continually projected on one of the walls. There were four rows of carpet-covered boxes serving as seating for people to watch the movie, but no one else was in the place, so both kids started running a circuit of the rows. I sat in a corner at the back, and when they finished the full circuit and got to me, I high-fived them. They enjoyed it enough that they did the whole run again, for the high-fives.

And then it instantly, easily became a game. The 8-year-old ran half the circuit and then came straight to me and told me he'd taken a shortcut, so I gave him a high two-and-a-half. They ran the circuit twice without stopping and got a double-handed high 10. And we did this over and over, with me coming up with something new every time — three high ones, "antler high five" with my hands coming out of the side of my head, "unicorn high five" with one hand extended from the middle of my forehead, and on and on. It was easy and simple and they loved it. I'm not sure anything in the world is as gratifying as making someone else immensely happy by doing something creative and extremely simple.

Thoughout this whole trip — and really, throughout most trips to Oklahoma since the kids were born — I've been wondering how they'll remember me when they're grown up, which moments will stick with them. Most won't; I'm not a big part of their lives. But when I think of my own aunts and uncles, I have a patchwork of memories of specific scattered moments that add up into portraits of my relationships with them, and every time I interact with the kids, I think "Will this be one of those memories?" If anything sticks, I hope the high-five game does. It certainly stuck with me. When we got back to the truck at the end of the day, I complimented the 8-year-old on making the whole trip without griping or whining, and to celebrate, we did a 5-4-3-2-1-explosion high five. And when he and his mom saw me off at the airport Tuesday morning, I offered him "an upside-down high five for luck until I see you again," and his face just lit up. I can live with none of this staying with him; no one can control what other people remember about them. But I hope the look on the kids' faces as we were playing that game is still with me in the old folks' home, when I can't remember what I had for breakfast, but can't forget the good ol' days.
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    pleased pleased
Little Bird

Kookaburra screams on the YouTube tree

Today was looooong and exhausting and I'm headed for bed. But here's a thing: We went back to the zoo today, which involved four hours of walking in perfect sunny but cool spring weather, with the animals largely out and alert and doing interesting things. The birds were often singing, the cats and lizards were out basking, the elephants were doing interesting elephanty things. We were in one of the habitats watching a superb starling explore its entire musical repertoire at length when we heard a godawful racket of screaming and shrieking and uproarious laughter, and thefirethorn said "That's a kookaburra!" So we ran back to the kookaburra cage, and saw both the kookaburras leaping from branch to branch and vocalizing like crazy, this immense booming sound that ranged between hyena laughter and screams. I grew up on the kookaburra song ("Laugh, kookaburra, laugh, kookaburra, gay your life must be") but I'm not sure I'd ever heard one actually laugh before.

So all five of us — me, Thorn, her husband, and their kids — stood there gaping as they jumped around yelling and making that distinctive guffawing mockery nose. When they calmed down and were quiet, we were all very excited at each other over the fact that we'd never heard such a thing before. And then a woman walked up to us and said "Oh, they're just agitated because my son played them a YouTube clip of another kookaburra." And the teenager next to her pulled out his phone and played this video:

And 10 seconds into it, the kookaburras started going nuts again, throwing themselves from side to side in the cage and screaming and laughing their heads off. It was no less impressive the second time, but now it had the unpleasant tone of watching an animal freak out because someone is jabbing it with a stick through the bars of its cage. The teenager wandered off, but the noises continued for another couple of minutes before the birds settled again.

It all reminded me a lot of the fascinating YouTube video where a man showed a cuttlefish an image of itself through his reversible eyepiece, and it darkened and started stalking the image, and every other cuttlefish in the tank came over to see what the big deal was. In theory, it shouldn't be hard to call up the sound of a lion's mating call or territorial roars and play it at a zoo lion to see if he responds; I wonder if a lot of that goes on all day at zoos at that point. And I wonder how long before there are prominently placed "Do not torment the animals with technology" signs to go with the "Do not feed or tease animals" signs.
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    annoyed annoyed

On penises, and the hating thereof

Assorted things I've heard since I've been in Oklahoma:

  1. "Why is there a brownie in the clothes hamper?" "I dunno."

  2. "Are you crying because the computer program won't work?" "No, it's probably because I got mad and kicked him."

  3. "Why are you suddenly naked?" "I dunno."

  4. "Tasha, do you mind pee and penises? Because I don't."

I wasn't going to blog about that last one, but thefirethorn insisted. The kids sometimes come across as a wee bit obsessed with their genitals, though nothing tops the first day, with the foreskin-puppet and the question above. We were trekking through the wilderness, heading to a hidden duck pond, and the 6-year-old had to pee, so Thorn said he could do it in the trees, and that it was okay to pee outdoors if no one was around who minded. After peeing, he asked me that question in all earnestness, in the exact same tone he used five minutes later to ask whether I liked peanut butter. Problem was that I laughed at the first question and said "No one's ever asked me that before." So when the 6-year-old did his penis puppetry at me that night, the 8-year-old said, also in all seriousness, "You have to stop, because Tasha said she HATES penises."

Right now, both kids are in the living room, singing a song to "Old McDonald" that goes like this, with them alternating lines:

"Old McDonald had a sucks, EIEIO."
"And on his farm he had a poop, EIEIO."
"With a poop poop sucks…"
"With a poop poop poop…"
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    crazy crazy

Some say my cousin's house will end in fire, some say ice…

In addition to setting my cousin's kitchen slightly on fire, I slightly flooded it a couple of days ago. Thorn went off to a PTA meeting at 9 a.m. on Friday, and then came back and napped til afternoon, so I wound up entertaining the kids. There was some Frisbee-playing, and running around outside, and making Angry Birds with Play-Doh, and making up stories on that Google collaborate-with-dead-authors thing, but eventually, I decided it was too nice to not be outside blowing bubbles. Except there weren't any bubbles in the house. So I looked up a recipe online and made a couple of cups of bubble fluid. Which worked fairly well, but not super.

So I came back in and put the bubble solution by the sink and started doing dishes, thinking I'd fill up the dishwasher, then run it using the bubble solution as detergent, so as not to waste so much soap. Except midway through doing dishes, I managed to knock the cup over, spilling bubble solution all over the sink, the floor, and the open dishwasher door. I cleaned up the counter and the floor, but didn't much think about the dishwasher until we got home from dinner that night and her husband informed us that it was broken. It wasn't until later in the evening that I overheard him talking about the specifics — it had welled up with bubbles that spilled out all over the floor. He wasn't actually sure whether it was broken, or he'd dropped in an extra detergent ball.


So I went in to check the kitchen, and there were wet towels all over the floor because there had been so much stray bubbling. So I sheepishly fessed up to that as well. I have learned two three four things from this experience:
  1. I should stick to commercial bubble fluid, which is cheap and works better… and comes in bottles with screw-on lids.
  2. I should not be trusted with other people's kitchens.
  3. Unsolicited foam parties are not the funnest foam parties.
  4. Having attacked their kitchen with fire and water, I need to figure out how to come at it with earth and air. The former will be easy enough, and might just involve obliviously tracking mud in everywhere. I have a good model in the kids, who tracked in tempura paint all over the rugs the first day I was here. I'm not sure about the latter. Maybe some sort of toxic aerosol spray made from equal parts shame and mortification? I have the base ingredients already.
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    embarrassed embarrassed

Somebody left the cake out in the fire

Sooo I kind of set my cousin's kitchen on fire today.

See, there were all these bananas in the house… Yeah. Bear with me.

There were bananas in the kitchen, going bad. I said I'd make banana muffins with them. They had most of the ingredients on hand, and I bought the other things I needed yesterday.

Yesterday, incidentally, was fairly miserable. We went over to the University Of Oklahoma campus with a laundry list of plans: feed the ducks at the local pond, ride the glass elevator, visit my other cousin at his new library job, ride a bus around campus (which the kids were super-excited about). But the kids were immensely fussy. They whined that it was hot, they whined that they had to walk, they whined when we were going to leave the duck pond, they whined that we weren't leaving the duck pond fast enough. They whined that it was hot in the car and they had to wait 30 seconds for the air conditioner to kick in. They whined that we weren't going fast enough, they whined that they wanted ice cream. They whined that they wanted fast food instead of ice cream, and then when they got it, they whined that they hadn't gotten ice cream. Most of this was the 8-year-old, but they tag-teamed a good bit. Ultimately, we rode the elevator, got food, and then called it a day and went home. Thorn introduced me to the concept of "stable sour," where a horse has spent so much time in the stable that it's balky and hard to manage when anyone tries to take it out. This was the first really nice day in a while, she said, and the kids were stable sour.

This made a lot of sense. I've been there myself. But when we got home, I really wasn't in the mood to bake. So we took the kids to the park and let them run around like wild things for a long time while we talked, and then we unceremoniously dumped them on Thorn's husband, and she and I went out to have a long, talky dinner with my other cousin and his wife.

Today was much better. We went to the zoo, and the kids were pretty chill, even when we had to wait forever in a traffic jam to find parking because everyone else also noticed that the weather was nice and the zoo existed. And even when we had to walk for 10 minutes across a baking parking lot. And even when we had to wait in line for another 10 minutes for tickets, only to be informed that we were in the wrong line to buy a family pass, and had to start over. And even when we chose to not go on the tram, which is their favorite thing, and we wound up hiking all over creation instead. And even when we wouldn't take them on the safari boat ride they'd been semi-promised, because we were running late and had to get back home so I could do a phone interview with Danny Boyle for his new film. I mean, when I was their age, that level of compounded disappointment would have sent me into meltdown mode, but they largely took it in stride. What a difference a day makes.

So even after a day out in the sun, with everyone weary and footsore, I was in a good enough mood to try the banana muffins tonight. I'd wanted to try some hands-on cooking with the kids as a bonding experience, largely because I have such vivid, positive, and important memories of my dad's sister showing me how to make pancakes, and letting me help. But neither of the boys are particularly patient or focused, so year after year, I've dropped the idea. But as soon as I started assembling ingredients, the 6-year-old was mesmerized, and when I told him what I was making, he was flabbergasted and thrilled by the idea of mixing bananas into bread. And even though he tends to be the cuddly, quiet, non-vocal type, he got very verbose very quickly, explaining how his favorite bread is cornbread, and he loves bananas, and bananas in bread make no sense. And he asked me why I had my computer open, and actually listened to the explanation about recipes, and even waited raptly by the ingredients bowl while I went off to the garage to get eggs from the spare fridge. We actually had a conversation, which was lovely. And in the middle of this, I turned on the oven to 350 degrees and went back to showing him how the consistency of the batter changed ingredient by ingredient. He opined that this was the neatest thing ever, but wanted to know how this goo would become bread. I explained about baking it, and he wandered over to look at the oven.

And he asked "What's all this stuff in the oven?"

And I said "Oh, there's nothing in the oven yet, I haven't put anything in there yet OH CRAP."

By this time, there was already rancid smoke coming out of the oven.

And when I pulled it open and the air hit the sullen, oxygen-starved flames inside, we both got a nice big whoof-ing fireball to the face. The 6-year-old, who is often fairly timid and frightened by many things, just thought this was totally cool. I, however, could see that the oven was full of pans and skillets, plus a couple of plastic tray covers which were sitting directly on the heating element, and were thoroughly on fire. By this time, the 8-year-old had showed up to share the excitement, so I evacuated the kitchen of kids, got all the burning plastic into the sink and put it out, and got it all outside. Burning plastic is surprisingly hard to snuff, and the two lids had fallen into at least four pieces at this point, all of which were on fire.

SO THAT WAS AWKWARD. On the bright side, the kids now think I'm awesome: I make actual bread out of mere flour and bananas, and actual fire out of nowhere. On the other hand, who wants to be the houseguest who burns the host's property and fills their oven with drippy melted plastic? Somewhat to my surprise, Thorn's husband was entirely cool about all of it. Apart from letting me know about 20 minutes later that I have some teasing coming my way, and he isn't planning on letting this one go anytime soon.

Turns out they have a SEPARATE stove they actually use for the baking. I'd turned on the storage-stove that's only used at Thanksgiving. And I hadn't even thought to check inside it for flammables first.

The banana muffins, by the way, were delicious.
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    exhausted exhausted

Miserable party games for fun and profit

Been googling around for creative games for 8-year-olds, and mostly finding loud, running-and-yelling party games. And then there's this:
Whipped Cream Round The World
Have children stand in one line. Two plates of whipped cream are passed from each player along the line whilst players are dancing to the music. When the music stops, the player must rub the plate of whipped cream 'round the world style' (start at the front and rub the plate around the head back to front), on their face. They are then out. Plates are replenished and repeated until the last player is standing. Obviously the last player get the 'world treatment.
This sounds more like a punishment than a game — first, a punishment for the kids participating, and then a punishment for all the parents who have to get whipped cream out of their kids' eyes, ears, noses, hair, and clothes, and then finally a punishment for whoever's hosting the party, because there's going to be whipped cream everywhere. This reads to me like the equivalent of a fun party game called "Dump the honey on the rug."
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    annoyed annoyed
It's All Me

Oklahoma again

So I am visiting Oklahoma, where my cousin, thefirethorn, has ordered me to blog about our adventures because she loves reading about her family.

She may wind up with cause to regret that, because easily the most memorable thing that happened today was that her 6-year-old wandered in post-bath, wrapped in a towel, jumped onto my lap, and said "Hey, look at this!" Then he opened the towel and puppeteered his foreskin into a mouth, which said "I hate you for no reason!" I am really glad to say this is the first time a dude has done this to me. Gentlemen, I do not advise trying this move on your lady friends.

That aside, it was a pleasant day. It was in the 30s in Chicago when I left. Here, it's 80 degrees. (The weather forecast forecast for my visit ranges between 39 and 81. That was… fun… to try to pack for.) Thorn picked me up at the airport and we went to a ridiculous Chinese buffet where, for $10 apiece, we got access to all the usual mega-Chinese stuff, plus a cake bar, a sushi bar, a dim sum bar, a steak bar, a Mongolian grill, a gelato bar, and a variety of fruit meant for use with the chocolate and caramel fountains, though we just ate naked bowls of strawberries and blackberries and called it good. We sat and got caught up on The State Of Everyone for a couple of hours, then got Thorn's two boys from school, went for a walk to the local pond, and fed the Canadian geese and a couple of reluctant ducks. My fish-white, Chicago-winter skin didn't know what to do with all the sunlight, and I passed out on a chair the second we got back to the house, and I slept til dinner.

Post-dinner, Thorn showed me this silly but giggle-inducing "Collaborate with famous writers" site, where you start typing a story, and a text editor jumps in and replaces common words with highfalutin vocabulary, identifying the edits as coming from Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Dickens, Emily Dickinson, William Shakespeare, and others. The edits never improve the stories — they're slanted toward exactly the type of writing we learned to avoid around 6th grade. They constantly add unnecessary verbiage and plug in extra adverbs and replace "said" with "assuredly declared." Also, Poe always replaces "fire" with "halo of hell." And if you stop writing for a minute, Dickens or Dostoyevsky or Nietzsche will slap in a random sentence. The best part is that actually mentioning a couple of the authors in your text — Dickens or Shakespeare especially — will set off little pre-programmed edit wars. It's a minorly amusing site.

But the kids loved it, and it turned into a collaborative game that went on for well over an hour, with me starting stories and demanding they take turns adding to them, and our invisible editors jumping in to muck things up, which sent them into gales of laughter. We wrote a story about the narrator becoming a dog that turned into a phoenix. We wrote a story about the narrator's face falling off in school, and everyone turning into zombies. We wrote stories about the boys in school, and a black cat who could fly. Granted, their story contributions were really heavy on poop (still their favorite word) and bloody mayhem, but they were also funny and surprising, especially as the 8-year-old showed me the growing expanse of his vocabulary. And engaging with kids on a creative level is The Best.

That said, damned if I know what else we're going to be able to do on this level while I'm here. I was looking for exactly something like this — an imagination-intensive game with a specific focusing device to keep them from wandering off every two minutes. So if any of y'all have other specific suggestions for keeping a 6-year-old and an 8-year old captivated for a couple hours, I'd love to hear 'em.
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    tired tired