Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Are you a Wire wimp too? Click here.

I'm scared of mice, heights, and movie violence. I do what I can to avoid the first two, but sometimes--often--I can't avoid that last one. And sometimes I don't want to. Then what does one do?

You can spoil the movie/TV show with spoilery spoilers, although even those don't really give you the ammunition you need to navigate a movie scene-by scene. Or you can stretch every sweater you own trying to watch the show through textiles. Or you can run out of the room, squint, la-la-la, turn on the subtitles and hold your hand up so that you just see dialogue...none of these really work. Nothing helps much. If you watch a movie, any movie, you have to submit to it. And as phobic as I am, I can't really do that knowing something violent might be coming.

I needed to see The Wire, though. It was ridiculous I wasn't able to watch it before now.

To that end, I introduce my new coping tool, the brainchild of my pal Will. He very very kindly helped me out by compiling Will's Wire Violence Guide [click to view], as we began calling it. It contains timestamps and descriptions of the worst bits (as he judged it), all with an eye toward not spoiling the plot.

I'm not sure Will gets my phobia, but the Guide works. You can see him trying to figure out how to write about different scenes (it almost reads--how apropos--like police lingo), trying to guess what would bother me. The Guide ends up being amusingly phlegmatic at times about some horrid shit as a result.

I'm sorry to say that by the end I was getting phobicked-up again, worrying about everything coming on the Guide, but the point of this story is that without it, I would have stopped watching The Wire after the first episode. Period. The guide allowed me to at least squint my way through the series when necessary and have some moments when I knew I could relax. It sucks that I can't just completely enjoy not knowing what's coming, but--there you go. Gotta do what you gotta do. You gotta be fierce, show some flex, give and take on both sides.

Thanks W!

(My favorite descriptor from the Guide: "Episode 3 - 49:45 - You see a guy getting sort of waterboarded, then at 50:15 he gets shot in the leg and has a bottle smashed over his head, then shot in the leg again at 50:30, then finally gets shot in the head at 50:55. Then at 51:10 a guy gets slapped twice.")

Monday, March 29, 2010

spring on the Ogden Slip

This post is mostly an excuse to talk about ducks!

It's spring, and the relationship with sunlight is changing again. There is nothing, repeat, nothing static about buildings and living in the urban landscape. It changes constantly. Now the sun is higher in the sky, playing different games of hide and seek, finding us through the canyons and over and between buildings... It's brighter. And there's more construction noise. And the branches of trees on the river, while still bare, are taking on that knobbly look as buds begin. If you sit underneath them at some point you usually experience a shower of matter on your head as sparrows peck the buds for food.

Things with the ducks are changing. The duck couple is blowing me off a bit. I really enjoyed the winter relationship I had developed with them, as they ventured out of the water farther and more often in their search for fud. It became a really common event to see the two of them trundling slowly down the pier, or to see one flap up out of the water onto the pier and know that the other one would soon follow. I am fascinated with the physics of being a duck. Those bodies are just not made for being on land; it's as if the lord affixed some stilty legs to a sodden loaf of rye bread and told it to arise and walk, carefully transferring its balance to one pin then the other.

I'm assuming it's the same duck couple--perhaps it is actually a rotating crew of identical, monogamous Mallard couples who were harassing me for food. The birds on the Slip have raised begging to a high art form. They signal each other with noises and zoom from side to side of the river, looking for bits of flung bread (why is it always bread?). The seagulls are the loudest and most upset, but also kind of fraidy-cat. They won't get that close, but like to fly about and divebomb. The sparrows dart in and out, batting clean-up, doing surprisingly well despite their size. The pigeons hover around the edges. And the ducks work in teams. The male duck often holds the bleating seagulls at bay while the female snuffles about for food.

The other day I fed one of the ducks Skittles. He loved them. I rolled off tiiiiny little bits from an individual Skittle and tossed them at the male Mallard who was squawking beadily down his bill at me. He's since become an advocate for more HFCS labeling and won't talk to me, but--whatever. It's spring, we're all a little looser.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

oh Sandy

Look at me, there has to be
something more than what they see
wholesome and pure, oh so scared and unsure,
a pawn then, Sandra Dee

Sandy, you must start anew,
don't you know what you must do
hold your head high, take a deep breath and sigh--
goodbye to Sandra Dee

In this whole wide fucked-up world, I'm not sure there's anything as fucked up as the ending of Grease. I'm not obsessed with this movie--unusually so, I mean; it sits solidly in my life like most chicks' my age, beginning with the movie-party for my twelfth birthday, which was during the summer it came out. The ending, though, rolls uncomfortably around and around in my head, the edges still sharp after many years.

Sandy is a good girl, Danny is a greaser, he tries to become a jock, can't, but is still willing to become one at the end until Sandy decides there is a way she "could be happy," meaning changing from a good girl to a hood. She enlists Frenchy's help and then emerges in her new tight slutty outfit and wins Danny. Makes him hers. Does the right thing. Joins the right team. Jumpstarts adult sexuality. Blows him away with her looks. Wobbles out in her Candies and becomes the person she's supposed to be. (As Wikipedia puts it [I enjoy how bizarre this is]: "Sandy resolves to become more flamboyant...Danny is reunited with Sandy, now a leather-clad woman, and the two become a couple...")

Not being a product of 50s gender hoo-ha, it never felt to me as if Sandy were rebelling against good girl/bad girl pressures, it just felt as if she sacrificed herself to fit in, to avoid harassment, to get a man. To look right doing so. It is a big victory. Her hair gets curly, she smokes, she wears tight pants, she pouts and then Danny's hers--even though he's loved her already, when she was just herself. She's done the right thing and leapt onto a pyre of her old self.

The whole thing is so sad. The scene at the LA river basin when the song above plays is supposed to be sad, but it's more than that. It really sticks.

I guess we weren't supposed to like the person Sandy was throughout most of the movie (further confusing because Olivia Newton-John is not very goody-goody, just nice). I don't think I ever got that I was supposed to root for her to go over to the other side. It's ridiculous, really, that I'm still having a reaction to it, but I am. I felt like that was the meanest, saddest thing that could happen to that character, to a girl. You couldn't be direct and cute and yourself--you had to play games and posture.

The thing I need to admit--the really fucked-up part--the reason I think the ending still bothers me--is that it turns out there is some truth in the sadness of it. Facing change really can be like sitting on river basin watching other people and deciding to join in, not knowing who you will be. Trying on a new skin. Lurching through to some new version of yourself. That pisses me off more than the shitty sexual politics.

I'm still not buying it--she didn't have to torch her old self to be some new version--and that sadness was avoidable. But there is something about that scene after the drag race that keeps it unresolved for me in uncomfortable ways. Some tenacious ping of grief. Weird.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

It is astonishing how fast a power outage undercuts about 99% of one's life. Completely yanks the rug out from under it and installs its own set of priorities.

- I better email--wait, can't do that--
- Well, I should apply for--wait, can't do that--
- I need to find that phone number to call--wait, can't do that--
- Okay, so I'll check the weather; wait, can't do that--
- Need to charge my cellphone; wait, can't do that--
- Need to get breakfast; wait, can't open fridge--
- Maybe I'll just make tea; wait, can't boil water--
- Better dry my hair; wait, can't do that--

...think I'll look for matches.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

So did you know there is organic iceberg lettuce? There is.

It is very heavy, a medicine ball of a lettuce, and costs per ounce about the same as a white truffle.

Its primary distinguishing characteristic is that it starts to go bad in its wrapping much faster than non-organic iceberg, which does make you wonder what they do to the regular stuff, as full of water as it is, to keep it from going bad.

People think iceberg is stodgy, but I find it very architectural and cool. And rather ephemeral, for all it sturdiness. It's like cracking open a a tropical fruit or something, that first blast of iceberg moisture.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

hollywood code

If you're ever not sure if the movie you're about to watch is (for instance) an engaging bit of torture porn or (oh, say) an CGI-created action sequel or (just perhaps) a female consumer-focused character-driven romanto-comedy, one major hint these days for identifying that last type is to look for the following visual marketing code on the key art/DVD box:
• white background
• strong layered horizontal layout
• lots of type
• photos of (only) faces/people
These types of covers are notable for their lack of any illustrative or concept art and--mercifully, in many ways--their lack of the wacky little interactions often used to sell romantic comedies. Like these:

They also have the virtue of departing from the usual, very vertical design of the 3:4 standard DVD cover.

But they sure are monotonous. The movie which seemed to spark this current cycle as I remember it was Something's Gotta Give (Love, Actually is another possible ancestor) and I remember noticing it again right away on the cover of the Michelle Pfieffer cougary comedy. And then the deluge.

There seems to be an intended whiff of urban sophistication in the way these titles are marketed. Sort of. You can tell when they are kind of an artsy variation, when there are those little bracketed nods to festival wins, and maybe more gradient and less sharply graphic design might indicate a somewhat shittier movie lies inside, and I don't know what the design for remake of The Heartbreak Kid was supposed to convey except god I can't believe we created another shitty remake vehicle and maybe we can sell it to chicks, but overall the impression these covers/posters seem to want to give us is: adult movie! For ladies! Emotions! People. Talking!

They also, in a funny way, harken back to old-fashioned movie posters with the illustrated profiles of actors lined up to tell you right away who was in the movie, but not very much else. Just faces, star power. Not a lot of topicality (and all set in New York unless otherwise indicated hinted at?).

I'm guessing these covers are also much less work for studio graphic designers. Grab a still, polish it up, throw it in a grid--bing bang boom. Don't have to photoshop anybody into wacky heels pulling on a guy's tie.

Friday, March 12, 2010


I'm really liking season three AIN'T DONE YET DON'T SPOIL NOTHING:
  • Rawls is gay! Love how they sat on that one!
  • Poor Omar's gramamma!
  • Can't believe how Marlo shot that girl! Damn!
  • Prez shootin that cop!
  • Cutty is one gorgeous man! And Herc! Call me nuts, I love me some Herc!
  • I love Bubbles!
  • I ain't feelin Theresa D'Agostino, bad actress, blech, and a chitty chitty haircut!
  • Got chills when Donette told Brianna about D!
  • Judge speakin bad French to Rhonda!
  • OMG!

Saturday, March 06, 2010

stupid in stone

The movie theater across the street from my home has, like many movie theaters, images of famous moments in film in blurry representation on the walls and on huge signs. ICONIC!, they scream. ICONIC! I've never liked those kinds of oppressive images in theater lobbies. I want a blank canvas in my head when I'm going to get it filled it up. Or a very bold graphic image to scratch those kinds of mental itches. I am like a toddler when I go to the movie theater: I want really clear high-contrast graphics to stimulate the synapses, cleanse the palette a little. Not big fuzzy people.

Anyhow: way, way worse than the forty-foot tall Tom Cruise are the collection of famous--ICONIC!--quotes embedded in the terrazzo floor of the main concession area, right when you get off the escalators. Not because they're dumb--in the sense of being stupid--but because of the TYPE!

It's one thing to see dumb (not smart) quotes in a newspaper ad, or big on a billboard, making you wince in twitchy fonty pain, and then have them pass from your life, but to see them embedded, forever, permanently, in the floor below you is awful! Gah! Like this (note also the apostrophe):

And this!


Not only THAT, but one of the quotes (you can probably guess which it is) has stupid quotes and FORCED ITALICS. Here:

Agony. Agony under your feet! Makes your toeses sad! It's hard to see that much bad typography set in stone.
The pernicious thing about the way the Broken Window theory applies to housekeeping is that after a while some part of your brain wants to see--in an achievement-oriented way--how much mess you can accumulate. It starts to seem cool, laudable, to see how much dirty laundry--dirty dishes, clutter--you can collect. Because the more like things you collect the better, right? (I'm doing good! Look at all the mess I made! No wait, doing bad...) The key is to not turn that corner to where this happens.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010


Okay, so I'm the most contrarian fuck who ever lived, and it's taken me something like eight years to finally watch The Wire. I know this is perverse. I am kind of like an otter at the zoo who needs to search for her herrings embedded in a block of ice hidden behind some ferns; I don't always do well when the herrings are tossed right at me. Anyhow, I'm eating my yummy herring now and am exactly mid-way through season three NOBODY SPOIL ANYTHING and am pretty in love with Omar. Or the idea of Omar. (Also: having a lot of Maryland flashbacks. When they were driving through PG County in season one I plotzed.)

I love this scene. It does a disservice, in a way, cool as it is, to show it out of context, because a lot of the power it has comes from how it rises from the scenes around it, but it's still great. I love how it's shot, I love the you just see his legs first, how the sound and tempo changes the closer he gets, how he emerges from the ambient chaos in all his power and in people's reactions. Plus the "Fair enough" at the end kills me! Nothing fair about it. Except in Omar's code.

The Wire from mike mikey on Vimeo.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

no-show/much show

Gym-bound yuppie men in my neighborhood sport a very distinct look these days, almost to a one: a hoodie; long fluttery shorts almost to the knee; and shoes with (always) no-show socks. Their calves look very vulnerable. It's a very calf-focused look. You can sit and watch these dudes scamper about starting around 4:30 p.m.

Apart from the fact that it's taking me a while to disassociate the no-show sock look from the little socks with pom-poms that my grandmother wore to play tennis in the 70s, I do find it kind of a funny uniform, which is very distinct once you are used to divining it. I am going to go work out, and for the next 10 minutes while I run to the gym it doesn't matter if it's 10 degrees out--my calves can take it. On the coldest days there are sometimes pants, but even they are often unzipped at the bottom to show more calf. It's kind of peacock-like, all that calf. Dudes are showing it off. A new filip in the zexy but all-business street gym look.

Addendum to be explored: Connection of contemporary calf-focused fashion to Elizabethean focus on male calves?

the happiest blue and white box on earth

Jules Destrooper biscuits are the best discreet units of food to ever be mass-produced and packed into boxes for sale! That you can buy! With money! And then eat! I love their logo, I love their blue and white boxes, I love their biscuits. Next to the occasional Boston lettuce packed into their clear hat-boxes with the roots still attached, Jules Destroopers are easily my biggest grocery-y extravagance, when they happen, which isn't very often, because they just blizzard out of your cupboard upon arrival. If you've never tried them, you should. Happy happy happy. The new chocklit-covered rice crisp crunches are insanely good. Nothing intelligent to say here, just happy fan-girl luv.