December 2009 Archives

me in your corner

The recent spate of kolachi-baking has led to thoughts of my Polish gramdma, the only relative I ever truly loved. She baked me things. She spoke hardly any English. What's not to love?

According to our parents, Grandma was in a perpetual state of dying. Every Easter, we made the trip to her decrepit neighborhood in Sharon, PA because "Your grandmother is getting old. This is probably her last Easter. Get your butt in the car." I heard that speech only a half dozen times, but my older siblings claim that that it went on for decades.

And so after the long drive, we would arrive at grandma's house and trudge single-file up the stairs to her back door, lining up to receive the worst part of the trip: sloppy old-person kisses on the mouth. Grandma would be cooking in her kitchen, see us, and spring to action, her gelatinous lips coming at us like flapping gator jaws.

"Linda!" she would greet the oldest. "You too skeeny!" Smooch.

"Mort! You too skeeny!" Smooch.

"Nadine! You too skeeny!" Smooch.

"Julie! You too skeeny!" Smooch.

"John...you look good." Smooch.

Christ, I've got to lose some weight, I'd think.

Our interactions were mostly over a card table. We played a lot of a card game called "Casino," which most of my girlfriends have been forced to learn since. The beauty, of course, was that a limited vocabulary was needed. What little Polish I know is all card terminology.

"It's going to be mine."

"You're out of turn."

"Suck it, Grandma."

Even at 212, Grandma was a sharp player, and one day when she was soundly thrashing us, I got frustrated and went to watch TV. My dad appeared five minutes into The Price Is Right. "Your grandmother isn't going to be around much longer," he said. "You sure you don't want to play cards with her?"

Groaning, I got up and got my ass soundly pummeled some more. Grandma was elated. Cackling, even. And then the very next day, she died.

We were back in Columbus when the news came. I remember Mort grumbling about having to do that drive again, but I was focused on my near miss. I had narrowly avoided guilt of epic proportions.

They asked me to be a pall-bearer, which in retrospect seems an unusual request of an 11 year-old, but I was honored. And so we carried her casket from the hearse to the church where she'd spent so much of her time. Where she'd been when her heart finally gave out. None of us were surprised she'd died there. She very nearly lived there, no doubt praying about her grandchildren's eating disorders and for her endless streak of hot cards to continue unabated.

Holy shit, look at those stairs. There were a couple dozen of them leading up into the church. My skinny 11 year-old arms strained beneath the torque of the coffin, until finally they could take it no more. I dropped my corner. We heard a dull ker-THUNK inside the casket. We looked at one another, horrified.

I'd evaded epic guilt for three days. It was a nice run.

fight terror with error

Let's step through the confluence of events.

First, the Detroit bomber's dad contacted our government and said that his kid had radicalized and that Pops was worried about what Junior might do. Then young Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab pays cash for a plane ticket to America. For good measure, he takes no luggage on this international flight.

Were I king, I'd have diverted his flight straight to Guantanamo at this point. Save a few steps.

But let's review what we actually did. Was he stopped? No. Was his explosive-laden self searched? No. Did we so much as put him on the No Fly list? Uh-uh. Did we revoke his Visa? That would be rude. No, the sum of our government's response was to put a note in his file that maybe we shouldn't renew his Visa when it expires in June.

Fantastic.

What does a whackjob gotta do? Carry a bowling-ball candle under his arm as he boards?

nick cage has officially lost his mind

I'm back. If you missed me, you'll now wonder why.

anything i can do to help

I was telling Terrell and Don about Avatar. "What's the name of the actress again?" she asked.

"Zoe Saldana," I said.

She couldn't place the name. Her husband chimed in. "She played Uhura in the new Star Trek movie."

The following dialogue then occurred simultaneously:

dances with smurfs

"More demo than drama."

"It's the human characters who enter the uncanny valley."

"Imagine getting to ride a super-cool ride, the best roller coaster ever, but only after you go to an interminable timeshare meeting where you've heard every pitch before and know exactly what they'll say two hours before they say it. Avatar is exactly like that."

- Two unknown critics, then me

right, and this is not a web site devoted to stank

In honor of Avatar's debut today, I'll share the following snippit from its promotional material. Perhaps only I find the juxtaposition amusing.

my day at google

"You work on a fucking cruise ship."
- John, yesterday

"Right, except that there's no tipping. And they pay me."
- John's buddy

• • •

I spent yesterday afternoon visiting Google's campus. Yes, I got to play with the new gPhone. More on that later.

Perhaps half of the square footage was devoted to offices. The rest was for pampering the employees. I knew I was in an alternate universe when I pulled in to a parking space and was greeted with a sign telling me the space was reserved for expectant mothers only.

google.jpgOnce inside the lobby, I saw the famous monitor that displays searches being run at that very moment. I doubt its authenticity, as the words "Miley" and "Twilight" never once appeared. I signed in with the receptionist, and through the looking glass I jumped.

My first stop was the cafeteria, which looks much like a food court at Microsoft, only with real food prepared by salaried chefs instead of real styrofoam mass-prepared by migrant workers. I bypassed the piles of absurdly fresh fruit, the cajun and Asian dishes, the panini bar, several kinds of salads, etc. and went straight for curried okra, pizza, a chocolate malt, and German chocolate cake. All I could eat, all free. People bring their friends and families in for meals.

If you're still hungry, on your way back to the office, you can stop by one of the many snack stations, with their unlimited supplies of brand-name cookies, crackers, candy, nuts, and breakfast cereals. Thirsty? Get a fruit smoothie from the smoothie girl. No tipping, now. She's on salary. Putting on weight? Hit the gym. There's a free personal trainer there waiting to help you plug your laptop into the treadmill's USB port. She's on salary too. If you're sore afterward, you can walk across the hall to the masseuses, or if you're shy like me, you can plop into one of the many massage chairs scattered around the hallways. I called mine "the tickler." "Yeah," my buddy said, "It does things that really shouldn't happen to you at work."

Agreed. But being able to drop off my laundry when I come into work and having it delivered to my office, cleaned and folded, before I leave? Sweet. Employees are similarly encouraged to bring their dogs in to work. No time to take Dex outside for a walk? No problem. Google provides dog-walkers. And of course, there were Wiis and pool and ping-pong tables everywhere.

For all that, the thing that pushed me over the edge was mundane. When my buddy sets up a meeting, this is how it works. The local people gather in a meeting room with gigantic flat-screens on the walls. Like people in Mountain View and Budapest, they key in my buddy's phone number. Two seconds later, everyone is talking via video conference. There's no 20 minutes of troubleshooting laptops ("Try Function-F5!")or Live Meeting ("Where did you install it from?"), no instruction cards, no calls to Help Desk, no crawling around for 90s-era cables, no 60s-era speakerphone to yell into, no pile of remotes to sift through. It just works, every time. I nearly wept.

• • •

Okay, on to the gPhone. It's no revolutionary device, but it will nudge the smart phone industry forward in important ways. Yes, it has a higher resolution than the iPhone, and it can run multiple apps at once. That has a cost, of course. I have no idea what its battery life is like, but I'm imagining really, really atrocious.

The touch-screen is gorgeous, and there's a little trackball if for some reason you'd prefer to navigate by using technology from 1983. It has my #1 want of the iPhone: the ability to organize apps into folders. And of course, it's carrier-independent, so you can switch phone companies and keep your phone. The obvious cost of this: without a carrier underwriting its cost to consumers, the phone won't be cheap.

Mostly, though, the gPhone is astonishingly fast. The apps just slam open. Its browser opened this web page instantaneously. As in I didn't even get a chance to move my hand out of the way, and the page was already rendered. The Chrome browser on that phone is simply the fastest browser I've ever seen, on any sort of hardware. And that's huge. Nicely done, Google.

filing late

This morning I was filing a big stack of assorted receipts, car titles, and thank-you cards when I came upon a receipt for a gift I bought long ago. It was my favorite gift I'd ever purchased for a woman. I was so, so excited to give it to her.

That was then. Now: woman gone, receipt still here. And now this monument to failure must be filed. But where? The Special Documents folder? No, let's not overstate things. Microsoft Crap? Tempting. Ah, there it is: Taxes, Old.

ringing endorsement

Tammy is not what you would call deep. She's not what she would call deep. So when she told me the following story, I was surprised and moved. Her child is autistic and, for all intents, died at two. The smiling, chatty child who'd previously existed is gone, and a hyperactive, unresponsive zombie is in her place. It's heartbreaking to watch.

"We visited some friends the other night," Tammy began, "And they have a healthy five year old boy. I was playing with him and he was jabbering away about dinosaurs and...well, I just started to cry." And then she started to weep in front of me. Huge, racking sobs.

I was touched and impressed. Wow. These are previously unsuspected depths of feeling from Tammy. I really had her pegged wrong. I had no idea she felt-

"THEY HAVE IT SO MUCH EASIER THAN ME!" she wailed.

Ah. Order to my universe: restored. Self, I'm sorry for ever having doubted you.

• • •

Half an hour later, Tammy is telling me about a girlfriend who asked about me. "She's really pretty. And-"

"You had me at 'really pretty.' What's she like?"

"Oh god! She's exactly like ME! She's like my TWIN! We complete each other's sentences all the time!"

out of context allie quote

"How come you're naked in so many of your stories?"

i'll put you down for half, then?

I'm told it's nearly Christmastime, so I've started baking kolachi, a Polish pastry my grandmother made for the holidays. I always send a few to my grad-school friends in Spokane. Sue, now 80, doesn't eat a whole lot of anything anymore. Since kolachi is essentially melted butter in loaf form, I figured I should call and see if she wants a whole loaf, or just half.

"Hi, John."

"Hey, hon. How are you?"

"I have the WORST diarrhea."

just do it

Has anyone made this seemingly obvious Tiger Woods joke? I keep waiting for it, but...

things i've learned after it's too late

Never search Google Images for the word "asshole." Just trust me on this one. Oh, and Hooker Furniture is at hookerfurniture.com. Turns out the second word is important. Especially if you're at work.

This post is dedicated to Annette, who once looked for hot chocolate at swissmiss.com while at work. I will never unhear that scream.

teabagga, pleez

Apparently the Republican fringe is considering co-opting the epithet "teabagger," a la "queer" and the n-word. From the National Review:

Some conservatives are happy to embrace "teabagger," or are at least willing to do so. They are "owning the insult," which is to say, taking what is intended as a slur and wearing it proudly. There are many words and names in our vocabulary that started out as slurs and became something else...What about a special case — the worst word in American English, as some of us see it, namely the N-word? When I was growing up, in Ann Arbor, Mich., there was a little debate: Should school officials try to prevent black students from using the N-word? I don't believe the issue was ever settled. And this brings up the question of whether "teabagger" could be kind of a conservative N-word: to be used in the family, but radioactive outside the family.
Wow. Just wow.

citius, altius, fortius

If Pablo Picasso depicted Lisa Simpson pleasuring her brother, it would look a lot like this logo.

n216161212500_5365.jpg

more from paul shaffer's book

From We'll Be Here for the Rest of Our Lives:

"When I learned Dave required quintuple bypass surgery, I immediately called the chief rabbi of the state of Israel to make a m'shabeirach, a special prayer for the sick.

'Is he Jewish?' the rabbi asked.

'No,' I said. 'But he's in show business.'

'Close enough.'"

got you on my miii-ind

I would be remiss if I didn't note that today marks the tenth anniversary of this page. How long is ten years? Do you even remember this movie?

December 1, 1999
Inaugural entry

I already knew Tim Burton couldn't tell a story, but Sleepy Hollow was embarrassingly bad. The tale begins with Johnny Depp referring to the change from 1799 to 1800 as the "dawn of a new millennium," and then it gets even dumber. I guess there's a difference between a flawed but earnest story (Edward Scissorhands, Batman, Ed Wood) and an unabashedly incompetent one like this. I got the feeling that Burton has grown to resent concepts like character and conflict, as though they're irritating impediments to achieving the visuals he wants. And where in hell did the romance come from in that movie? Did I nod off and miss some vital development? I nearly went to the box office afterward and demanded my seven bucks back.

My left knee is still not quite right. I tore the ACL on Mount Si in the fall, and while I can do most things with no discomfort, prolonged running, climbing, skiiing, and so forth are out. Running a treadmill for 20 minutes feels like someone's repeatedly stabbing my knee with a paring knife, once for every stride. Oh, might I add that I'll die a very happy man if I never have to do a freakin' leg press ever again?

"It happened when Gloria Estefan, Sheila E., Tito Puente and I were on a float."

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