Saturday, December 24, 2005

"Yet Avarice is numbered among the Sins, and stupidity omitted." — E.B. Farnum on Deadwood

...but you can replace your own favorite sin in that quote and it works just as well.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

A Completely Impartial Review of Peter Jackson's King Kong

In a word: overrated.

I wasn't even all that into seeing King Kong, but I live in a region of our country that's very culturally homogonized — the suburbs — so it was either Kong or that gay cowboy movie or that geisha shit or Cheaper By The Dozen II, whose existence confirms my belief that there is no God. King Kong got a ton of glowing reviews, with so-called professional film critics calling it "visually spectacular and emotionally resonant" because they're on crack. Okay, I'll give you this: if you see only one movie about the timeless love between a hot Aussie chick and a giant marauding ape, make it King Kong. It's much more visually spectacular and emotionally resonant than Dunston Checks In.

I believe I have an advantage over A. O. Scott and Roger Ebert (who's generally on crack when reviewing movies anyway) and Peter Travers and all those other film "experts" because I haven't seen the original King Kong, and I can't confuse my feelings about the Jackson version with that nostalgia for that jejune Hollywood awe I first realized upon seeing an obviously stop-motion gorilla humping a model of the Empire State Building. I've seen Independence Day and Jurassic Park, back in the good old days when we simpletons were still getting acquainted with the idea of ubiquitous computing power, and CGI effects no longer impress me. Kong didn't even have particularly good special effects — they reminded me of the computer animation style that Pixar would put to use in a movie with a better storyline, and I wouldn't be surprised if the video game has better graphics. Heck, there were points in the movie where the monkey from the old NES game Rampage looked more realistic than Kong.

I hate to keep harping on the special effects, because I honestly am willing to forgive the technological and financial limitations filmmakers are bound to. (Although for $200 million, I expect just a little more, uh, visceral entertainment value. 3D glasses at a minimum.) The thing is that King Kong lacks any serious, empathetic characterization and its campy plot and dialogue made it feel like Mystery Science Theater 3000 fodder with production value, so its only reason to be is as a special effects extravaganza, and King Kong is just plain disappointing.

Last week, I saw the film Primer, which also has a B-grade sci-fi premise and was shot on a B-grade budget of $7,000, and I believe that Peter Jackson might find a comparison of the two films, the ostentatious and the austere, enlightening. Primer is about these two men who wear ties and their invention, and I hesitate to say any more about the film because it does a beautiful job, through the acting, the editing, and especially the abstruse and impenetrable dialogue, of conveying the characters' confusion and forcing it upon the viewer. Something important is happening to these people, and Primer invites you join in the puzzlement. With King Kong, you're just a passive viewer, and you might as well be in the audience of a baseball game or watching a dryer tumble or something. For example, in the scene, like nine hours into the movie, where they finally subdue and capture Kong, I recognized all the silver screen conventions informing me that I was supposed to be dismayed by man's heartless and unnecessary triumph over nature, but I honestly didn't care one way or the other.

In fact, that's my other big gripe about the movie: that Jackson expects me to care about Kong. Ladies and gentlemen, Kong might be a million-dollar special effect, but he's also an asshole. I sort of blame Andy Serkis here, because there are times (like the delightful "ice skating" scene) where he gives a genuine simian performance, reacting to the other actors, mainly Naomi Watts, in that semi-anthropomorphized fashion we see in monkeys and dogs and dolphins that makes us believe they've got some true human affection we could make a big-budget movie out of. But there are other times, such as most of the time, when Kong is just a plot contrivance who smashes things and makes hot blonde showgirls scream. I really hate this split personality Kong, but I thoroughly disdain Jackson's oblivious treatment here. I don't see Jackson with the balls to create a human hero who blows up buildings but is (eventually) nice to his girlfriend.

So, the final review is: Go see King Kong because all your friends have seen it, and they'll make fun you if you don't. Frankly, that's the only reason I'm not too upset over spending six bucks — matinee price — on the film, although I would've felt cheated at one of those $10.50 New York City theaters. Still, by seeing this movie, you'll get nothing but contempt from me, because I just know you haven't seen Grizzly Man or The Squid and the Whale yet.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Book Report

Mom is getting pretty greedy with her Christmas list. This year, in addition to her regular gift under the tree, she's demanding a stocking stuffer. She always gives Dad and me stocking stuffers, but they tend to be amazingly lame gifts, like a box of staples or plastic forks, and then she's like, "But you can always use more staples!" That's just not true. Mom, they come in boxes of five thousand — if office supplies were currency, I'd be the richest person in Fanwood. So to go through one box of staples, you need to find at least ten thousand sheets of paper that have to be held together, and that's not going to happen in this lifetime. Enough with the damn staples, Mom!

Mom doesn't read my blog, so that whole rant was kind of pointless.

I already bought Mom the "Sudoku for Dummies" book because she's (a) convinced that Sudoku will keep her from going senile and she could use all the help she can get, and (b) she's not all that bright to begin with. ("You see, you actually figure out where the numbers are supposed to go," she once told me. "I just guess.") But she's got petite feet, so that book won't fit in her stocking and I need to think of something smaller to get her in addition.... Oh yeah, and I wanted it to be something they have in stock at Borders. (Barnes and Noble sucks monkey balls ever since they laid me off.) They keep sending me Christmas coupons and I'm a total cheapskate, so it's holiday symbiosis. My best idea — and I know it's not very good so you don't have to tell me that it's not very good — is that BBC production of Pride and Prejudice, although I don't really want to encourage Mom in any way. The problem is, of course, (a) she has some crazy female hormonal problems at the thought of Colin Firth playing Mr. Darcy, which turn her brain into a swooning puddle of mush, and (b) she's not all that bright to begin with.

Thanks to my "liberal arts" education, I had to grow a vagina for a week and read Pride and Prejudice, so unlike many of my rants, here I actually know what the hell I'm talking about, and I can confidently say that everybody else's P&P opinions are blatantly retarded, so up yours, Core Curriculum! Oh, so many misconceptions! So many unnecessary commas and semicolons and interminable run-on sentences! Where to begin?

Here's a good place: Elizabeth Bennet is a total bitch. I know this is inconceivable to the sequacious minds who don't want to look hard enough to find a man so they develop a Romantic fixation on P&P. ("Sequacious," by the way, is my Word of the Day and I'm very proud that I used in context on its very day of honor.) The prevailing view, the one you're supposed to rehash mindlessly in your English 101 paper if you don't want to fail the course, is that Darcy's pride keeps him from that middle-class strumpet Elizabeth and Elizabeth's prejudice towards that "most disagreeable, horrid man, not at all worth pleasing," who didn't want to dance with her keeps her from ascending into Darcy's conveniently upper-class graces. Elizabeth, through the sheer power of her nagging, humbles Darcy to the point where he loves her for who she is and never stays out late with Mr. Bingley and the guys from work and always puts the toilet seat down. I heard Margaret Atwood give a lecture where she said, half-facetiously, that Pride and Prejudice was the worst book ever written for girls to read because it convinces them that they can change a man. Seriously, Margaret, that's why God gave us sitcoms.

Anyway, if you actually put P&P through a close reading, neither character changes or grows or evolves in any way at all. Jane Austen herself, breaking the rule of "show me, don't tell me" as if she's writing Felicity fanfics or something, screws this up: she spells out all of Darcy's so-called faults in the early chapters and then spells out his good qualities in the later ones, and somehow everybody fell for it. Darcy's actions, or lack thereof, are judged selectively and Elizabeth is never judged at all. (Compare her to trampy daughter Lydia, for example.) Let me re-write the ball scene in contemporary sloppy English for contemporary sloppy idiots, in a way that I probably should've done back when I actually was in college and would've counted for something.

Elizabeth and Darcy happen to be at the same party, because back in romanticized Victorian England, no one had an actual job or anything. We'll recall that Mrs. Bennet has nothing better to do than arrange marriages for her five daughters, although since this is supposedly a feminist novel, Austen gives the Bennett kids the appearance of choice as to who they're going to inevitably fall in love with and marry like the good Victorian baby factories they are. It may be "a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife," but a single woman can be in want of whatever she wants, at least for now. At this party, we've got "good-looking and gentlemanlike" and second-richest guy in town Mr. Bingley, some dude named Mr. Hurst who we don't care about and only gets like half a sentence of description, and Mr. Darcy. I hate Mr. Darcy immediately: "Mr. Darcy soon drew the attention of the room by his fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mien, and the report which was in general circulation within five minutes after his entrance, of his having ten thousand a year." He's basically the next Donald Trump, only much more handsome. Austen is creaming herself writing this. You can tell.

Again, Darcy has done nothing at this point in the novel except exist, but the description continues: "The gentlemen pronounced him to be a fine figure of a man, the ladies declared he was much handsomer than Mr. Bingley, and he was looked at with great admiration for about half the evening..." But the comparisons to Mr. Five-Thousand-A-Year Bingley aren't all flattering. In way too many words, Austen tells us that Bingley is gregarious while Darcy is reserved. Actually, Austen, like many girls I went to high school with, doesn't quite use the non-judgmental word "reserved." Instead, she says, "he was discovered to be proud; to be above his company, and above being pleased; and not all his large estate in Derbyshire could then save him from having a most forbidding, disagreeable countenance, and being unworthy to be compared with his friend.... Mr. Darcy danced only once with Mrs. Hurst and once with Miss Bingley, declined being introduced to any other lady, and spent the rest of the evening in walking about the room, speaking occasionally to one of his own party. His character was decided. He was the proudest, most disagreeable man in the world, and everybody hoped that he would never come there again."

The point that Austen isn't making is that being rich and attractive doesn't necessarily mitigate the serotonin imbalance in your brain that might (Heaven forbid in our prudish Victorian culture!) cause an actual human emotion, such as disinterest or anxiety. Whatever. Darcy's having a bad day, and hanging out with the insufferable Bennet clan probably ain't making it any better. I mean, they've decided he's a prick and HE HASN'T DONE ANYTHING!!!! Not he hasn't done anything bad, or he hasn't done anything to them, but he literally has done absolutely nothing in the story at this point. YOU CAN'T FREAKING GET PISSED AT SOMEONE FOR STANDING ON THE SIDELINES! Maybe he senses that he's hanging out with a bunch of totally vacuous losers. I don't know.

Meanwhile, Lizzie is whoring it up, bumping and grinding, dancing with everybody. It's my kind of party, cause not only is there are positive girl-to-guy ratio but there's some sort of weird reverse Sadie Hawkins rule where the girls can only dance with each guy once, and that would dramatically increase my chances of getting in some awkward shoulder touching. Since there's not enough guys in circulation, Elizabeth has to sit a couple of dances out and — although this isn't explicitly stated in the text — I assume she's yammering with her girlfriends about who she got to second base with or her tampons or where she got her dress or something equally inane. Here's the kicker: Darcy's standing near her, and HE DOESN'T ASK HER TO DANCE!!!!

This is a cause for Liz to lose her shit. What is she, Cordy?

So you know that misogynistic thing I said two sentences ago about how Elizabeth is talking with her friends about some stereotypically girly thing that I have no interest in whatsoever? If Elizabeth's quintessentially bitchy reaction to — not even being snubbed — simply not having the hottest guy at the party asking her, the hottest girl at the party, to dance doesn't explain my visceral response, then you really need to take a hammer and swing it, pointed side down, into your skull, because I have no use for you and you are merely sucking up resources that could go to a more worthy creature, like a fern. If I were to pre-emptively disdain every girl who didn't dance with me.... oh, wait a second. Bad example.

Here's what Darcy does say:

"Come, Darcy," said [Mr. Bingley, that jackass], "I must have you dance. I hate to see you standing about by yourself in this stupid manner. You had much better dance."

"I certainly shall not. You know how I detest it, unless I am particularly acquainted with my partner. At such an assembly as this it would be insupportable. Your sisters are engaged, and there is not another woman in the room whom it would not be a punishment to me to stand up with."

"I would not be so fastidious as you are," cried Mr. Bingley, "for a kingdom! Upon my honour, I never met with so many pleasant girls in my life as I have this evening; and there are several of them you see uncommonly pretty."

"YOU are dancing with the only handsome girl in the room," said Mr. Darcy, looking at the eldest Miss Bennet [i.e. Elizabeth].
So, he thinks Elizabeth is hot, but he thinks it would be improper to hit on her. Okay, women: next time you're at a bar, wearing a halter top and a short skirt, and some dude's selfishly throwing himself at you, remember Mr. Darcy! Either complain about getting hit on or complain about not getting hit on, but don't freaking complain about both! Anyway, Darcy says that unlike trampy-ass Elizabeth, he's not into dancing with every piece of tail at the party. He wants an emotional connection. Again, women! Next time you're bitching to Oprah or Dr. Phil about how your man won't talk to you, I don't want to fucking hear it. Hammer. Skull. Fern. In fact, right now, shut up, Elizabeth.

Of course, Liz is wrong about Darcy, but I don't recall her ever actually admitting that she's wrong. So whether she didn't admit or whether she did and I just forgot, that's typical. I get it: she judges Darcy before getting all the facts, and that's why it's called prejudice, but there'll be no growth and redemption for Elizabeth unless Austen has her fess up first. That's where I think the novel, or at least the classic feminist interpretation of the novel, falls flat. I don't want to jump on the causistry bandwagon, coming up with insane theories about anorexia and teen pregnancy here, but while modern feminism might be about choice and opportunity in theory, it's been co-opted by the feel-good let's-celebrate-ourselves dumbasses who've convinced themselves that there's absolutely nothing wrong with women. (Cough, cough, Oprah, ahem!) Attitudes like that make change pointless and make Elizabeth's change from fiesty bitch to fiesty yet subservient wife hollow to even the most chauvanistic interpretations.

By the end of the novel, Elizabeth isn't asserting herself. She's cheerfully and mindlessly accepting the fate that society, and Austen, have set up for her since the beginning of the novel. She's the eldest of the five Bennet daughters, the prettiest daughter, and what I can only describe as the most lady-like — that is, inasmuch as Victorian women's sole reason for existing was to amuse men with their fauning and witty banter, Elizabeth's the best at it. And it's just a coincidence that she's soulmates with the handsomest, manliest, and let's not forget richest man in town? It's maybe also a coincidence that the second-eldest, second-prettiest Bennet daughter winds up with the second-richest man in town, and also how juvenile, trampy, ugly daughter Lydia eventually marries Mr. Wickham, the town ne'er-do-well, and well-mannered Liz and Darcy have to bail them out from whatever criminal mischief they've gotten into in the last chapters.

Seriously, if Pride & Prejudice were an honest feminist novel, Darcy would be off finding the best hookers, and Elizabeth would've walked out of that ball, put on a pair of pants, and started her own billion dollar domestic goddess company specializing in making middle-class housewives feel like their half-assed decorating, baking, and sewing skills make them bad mothers. Maybe Liz could have a tawdry affair with Gloria Steinem. I'd read that book.

I Can See My House From Here!

Last night, I downloaded Google Earth, which is the most awesome way to waste time ever devised by man, and now I will never accomplish anything productive ever again (not that I was ever all that productive in the first place). I knew about Google Earth for a while, but I never cared that much until I read this article in the Times about how various world governments with stuff to hide aren't very happy that any idiot with a web connection can download high-resolution satellite imagery of all their secure government offices and military bases and whatnot. Of course, in this same week, Dubya cockily admitted to ordering the NSA to illegally spy on American citizens, so downloading pictures that the Man doesn't want you to have feels like sticking a middle finger right in the administration's face.

It's hollow, but it's still a vindication for human nature, like I never really cared what the Indian presidential mansion, Rashtrapati Bhavan, looked like until I found out that the Indian surveyor general didn't want me to know. (Uh, yeah, then why do you have a Flash tour of the mansion on your website, dumbass?) I love how the Powers That Be will never get that the more they try to keep the hoi polloi out of things, the more the hoi polloi will want in. It's like these people have never been to high school or anything.

Actually, lame spying aside, all you really do with Google Earth is get an aerial shot of your house and go, "Wow, so that's what my house looks like!" Then you get aerial shots of all your friends' houses, take an aerial tour of your hometown, and spend the next eight hours typing in random tourist destinations and landmarks and fooling around with the various search features, pretending that you actually care where there's a gas station near the Forbidden City. It's like all the tedious guidebook planning of a vacation without the actual fun of getting off your sofa.

Just An Innocent Observation

Complete the syllogism:

  1. America is full of fat, useless people, who always seem to be sitting next to me on the train.
  2. There are starving people in the world, who are malnourished and always looking for something to eat.

Monday, December 19, 2005

There are two places in the city that I really hate walking past — the east side of Sixth Avenue, between Waverly Place and Eighth Street, right in front of that FYI music store and 14th Street, in front of the Virgin Megastore — because there's always these thug niggas hanging out there, peddling their self-recorded hip-hop CD's. Apparently, they're colorblind, cause out of all the people on the street, I invariably get singled out as the one they're gonna make their pitch to. So, guys, first of all: do you see how white I am? Do I look like I have ever bought anything from a scowling, unshaven black dude in the street wearing a State Property jacket that's like five sizes too big? It doesn't matter if you're selling tulips and Furbies: salesmanship, guys. Would it kill you to smile, or wear a tie, or something? Bring out a boom box and share some sample tracks, take lessons from that guy selling bootleg DVD's, three for ten bucks — he's doing a brisk business.

I don't know: maybe I look like a record executive?

It's all about knowing your audience, which I think is an important skill for anybody trying to break into the music business. Rich white kids in a college neighborhood don't buy rap music. We download it illegally. No, we go into Urban Outfitters, impulsively buy a quilt and a Nada Surf CD, and head back to the dorm, brew tea, and pretend we know what speedball is cause it makes us look cool around our roommates. I could go up to Washington Heights and sell crack if I wanted to, and there's no reason to be a phony when you can be the real thing.

What you have to do is go out into the suburbs, set up a table maybe outside of Stan's Used Records and CD Outlet. White kids out in the sticks eat that gangsta shit up precisely because they'll never get to play with the real thing. I bet if these guys stood outside the middle schools in my town playing their self-styled urban rap, they could make a real business out of hanging out on the streets during the day and living with their moms at night... I mean, until the police carted them off, anyway.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

I Should've Started My Christmas Cards Earlier

Like in August.

I gotta give props to those people who write Hallmark cards, filling them with generic sentiment that really does do a nice job of emulating true human emotion. I get way too into this holiday stuff, and I insist on sending each of my friends personalized holiday greetings, which would be a lot easier if I'd actually seen half of these people in the past year. It totally sucks how we're not all peripatetic tribesmen living together as small bands of hunter-gatherers, droving the livestock to the lowlands in the winter and back to the highlands in the summer. Bullet trains and unlimited weekend minutes have ruined society!

So it's taking like an hour to write three sentences on each card, and that's of course preceeded by half an hour of worrying that my recipients are going to realize that I'm recycling the leftover Christmas cards from previous years, another half-hour convincing myself that no one's going to care if I'm recycling leftover Christmas cards from previous years, and five minutes of testing my pen, making sure it hasn't run out of ink. No, I don't think that I'm obsessing: Christmas is pretty much the only time of year you can send any old person superficial, meaningless greetings and I'm gonna totally milk the occassion. I'd send people Happy Columbus Day cards if I didn't think I'd get an e-mail back saying, "Uh, why the hell did you send me a Columbus Day card? I mean, it's not even a real holiday."


Addendum:

So right around 11:30 PM, the cable goes out and suddenly I decide, screw it. Just getting my friends' addresses is like pulling teeth, as if everyone I know got up and joined the Identity Theft Paranoia Society. So fuck you all: you're getting generic, perfunctory holiday greetings, like I say I hope you'll have a merry Christmas, but I no longer care one way or another. I don't even care if you celebrate Hannukah; you're getting a merry Christmas card and if you spend December 25 at the movies watching love blossom between a hot Australian chick and a giant ape, then too bad for you.

I enjoyed spreading Christmas cheer, but I'm actually pretty proud of myself for this new Grinch phase I'm going through. Maybe next year, I'll get all into re-gifting and giving people socks for Christmas and dumping lottery tickets into the Secret Santa pool. Holiday misanthropy rules!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Museum of Taxidermy

I was at the Museum of Natural History today for their Darwin exhibition, partly because I was in the neighborhood, partly because America is quickly turning into a cesspool of ignorance, and partly because I become a blubbering idiot when the museum says the exhibit has live animals, as if I've never seen a big fat tortoise before. And the Gal├ípagos tortoises they have on display aren't even from the Gal├ípagos — they're from Wisconsin. (Favorite fun Wisconsin tortoise fact: "They both appear to be female — but it is difficult to say for sure. Their sex cannot be positively determined until they reach sexual maturity, when they're around 40 years old.") I'm not complaining: the Museum of Natural History has more stuffed animals than F.A.O. Schwarz, so it's nice that they're trying to expand my horizons with something that's still breathing. I don't really get the point of the Hall of Taxidermy — it seems kind of quaint ever since mankind invented zoos.

Advantage of, say, showing off a stuffed tortoise diorama as opposed to the real thing: no giant terrapin turds. Seriously, those things have amazing crapping capabilities.

I gotta say that the Darwin exhibit was interesting but unconvincing, and actually sort of at odds with the rest of the museum. I guess I could've expected this, but the exhibit was more about Darwin than his theory of evolution, with his notebooks and pictures of his kids and a one-fortieth scale model of the H.M.S. Beagle, like it's the Darwin estate rather than a science museum. Maybe the whole theory of evolution is way beyond the mental capacities of schoolkids who just showed up for the pile of dinosaur bones and the moon rocks, but I personally think Darwin's theory is a very elegant and beautiful explanation for the variety of life on Earth, and I wouldn't mind it if the exhibit's collection — the peppered moth displays, the bipedal man skulls from australopithecus to homo sapiens, the comet orchid and Morgan's sphinx moth — if the exhibit's collection highlighted that elegance. I wouldn't mind it if the museum pounded it into our eagerly innocuous brains, as they do without any qualms when it comes to environmental awareness: "Even though our oceans cover nearly two-thirds of the Earth's surface, they can still be damaged by pollution." Duh.

"We're the museum and we know better than you: Darwin was right, creationists are wrong, now look how horses' hooves developed from epihippus to equus. Touch the bones, idiot."

As you might have guessed, I don't really like the Museum of Natural History. They're overpriced, they have this weird timestamped ticketing system, and they really dumb down the science, like the cerebral intensity that place asks of its visitors is somewhere between the Franklin Institute and Epcot Center. It has gift shops metastasizing throughout its body, and the new planetarium show is pretty inane. But if you are in the city and have an hour to spare (and also twenty bucks or so), I definitely recommend the museum's indoor butterfly conservatory because, even though lepidoptery is totally lame, spending two hours trying to convince Danaus plexippus to land on your arm long enough to take a picture is kind of like being legally stoned.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association released their nominees for the 63rd Annual Golden Globes, leaving all America asking, "Who the fuck is the Hollywood Foreign Press Association?" I'll tell you. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association is a group of Los Angeles-based journalists working for overseas publications. The Golden Globes raise money (uh... how???) for "entertainment-related charities," which sounds to me like doublespeak for buying Gwenyth Paltrow's freaky-named kid a pony.

I will not be watching the Golden Globes because I have a brain and can therefore decide for myself what movies and TV shows I like. I only saw one of the nominated movies, and in case you're wondering, it wasn't the gay cowboy movie. It was The Constant Gardener, which I only saw because City of God is one of the best movies ever made and I absolutely had to see Fernando Meirelles' follow-up (which reminds me that I still need to see Jarhead.) Fortunately, I've seen all of the nominated TV shows, so I'm more than capable of writing those bastards at the HFP a nasty letter about how they got all the nominations wrong and how I'll see them burn in hell before Grey's Anatomy wins any awards.

If you'd like to join me in telling off the HFP, their e-mail address is info@hfpa.org. You can call them at (310) 657-1731 and tell an unpaid intern that he or she works for a group of douchebags with bad taste who are systematically ruining American culture, or you can fax them at (310) 657-5576 and have that same intern throw your complaints out in what's most likely a diamond-studded elephant-foot wastebasket.

Thursday, December 8, 2005

Stupid Spatial Reasoning Skills

I've been way too proud of myself for the last week or so because of my recent trip to my favorite cheap-ass furniture store in the world, IKEA. My IKEA history: First time at IKEA, I was like eight and I guess my parents took me cause they couldn't find a babysitter or something. I fell in love with the place, in an "Oh my God, they have a ballpit! Pleeeeeeeease let me play in the ballpit! Can I? Can I? Can I?" sort of way. The answer was, in a word, "stop asking." Even then, my parents believed that funn was a four letter word.

And thus the ballpit waited. IKEA beckoned, sending us a new catalog every year, but by the time I finally went back, I had both a college dorm room and an overdeveloped sense of shame, so no ballpit for me. (There were plenty of people at Columbia, though, who would've cockily dove headfirst into that ballpit, possibly crushing a little kid or two, with no hesitation and no second thoughts.) I caught the IKEA bus one Sunday morning, and I had this vague sense of foreboding because everyone else on the bus had some sort of wheeled luggage carrier with them. I, on the other hand, had an egg and cheese sandwich, but I figured that it's not like whatever I'll buy will have mass and volume. All I gotta do to get my furniture home is violate the laws of physics. I came away with this big old carpet stuffed into a roll, a table in a box about the size of a pizza box and about the weight of a bowling ball, and a hernia.

I've wanted to redecorate my room since, well, my parents decorated it for me. It's too bad that IKEA is in the middle of central New Jersey's famous highway dystopia — a maze of a thousand exits and turnoffs and junctions and not one of them takes you near the IKEA parking lot. It wasn't till I was looking up directions to jury duty and stumbled across the back roads to IKEA. I'll give you the directions: first, you drive through the run down center of Elizabeth, then through the ghetto, stay on that street till it turns into the Road of Abandoned Factories, turn left into the railyard, right onto the highway, left past the outlet mall, and straight into the seaport. IKEA is on your left, at 1000 Ikea Drive (I'm not sure what the other 999 buildings on Ikea Drive are). I think it would've been easy — I leave my house and technically, I've only got to make three turns between home and IKEA &mdsah; but my map was missing half the streets, including Road of Abandoned Factories, the street with the outlet mall, and the seaport road, and thus I was extremely proud of myself when I pulled into the IKEA parking lot, and twice as proud when I made it back home.

I bought this thing called Goliat. It's a chest of drawers that's about two and a half feet tall, and it came in a box that's about five inches tall. You see, when you buy something at IKEA, there's some assembly required. The table I bought back in college wasn't too bad: just four legs that get screwed into a wooden top. The drawers, though, had more pieces than a jigsaw puzzle and the least comprehensible instructions ever:

Someone's really putting those first-grade art classes to good use. Maybe if someone in Sweden could actually draw, I wouldn't have spent an hour trying to take apart a half-completed set of drawers because I couldn't tell the tops of these wooden slabs from the bottom. But after a morning's and afternoon's worth of work, here's the finished product. I call it "The Goliat." Actually, IKEA calls it that. I call it Jimmy.

I figure that now that I've put Jimmy together, I'm an officially licensed carpenter. At least until it falls apart on me.

Wednesday, December 7, 2005

Newsweek's cover story this week is "Women And Terror," which sounds surprisingly trashy to my ear, like Playboy is going to put out their annual "Babes of Al-Qaeda" issue next week or something. (This month's centerfold is Maheera, and she's so totally hot — I can't think of some inappropriate terrorism-related pun here — in her abaya and hajib, with like an eyebrow and her big toes exposed. Maheera reminds the horny huffaz of a beekeeper. A sex-y beekeeper.) I gotta say: women are inscrutable. We knew this already, but nothing brings that home like these women blowing crap up in the name of a faith that won't even let them leave their house unless accompanied by a man.

In case any would-be terrorist chicks are reading this, let me remind you that that Salafism you're killing people for hates you, you dirty, dirty whore. Here in America, we're just indifferent. We have more than enough pussy for everyone — if you want to join the party, that's great; if not, we're not missing out. Researching for this blog entry, I found no fewer than three websites promulgating the causistry that the official Wahhabi radiation suit uniform is liberating for women. It's not at all objectifying, the way we treat our filthy, slutty, anorexic women in the West. I bet having the option to cover your ugly self up is, in fact, liberating. Being forced to cover yourself up: not quite as liberating. It's the whole coercion at the hands of an angry, sexually repressed Mutaween thing that's the oppressive part.

As usual, I've got a solution that should make everyone happy. See, here in New York, it's like twenty-seven degrees and everyone — every single woman here — is dressed in four or five layers, head to toe. And Saudi Arabia is like a hundred degrees, so the heavy black robes aren't exactly a seasonally appropriate fashion statement. So, my idea: we pick up the Holy Land and move it to Baffin Island in Canada. 41° average temperature in August, and two below average temperature in February. And women are always cold to begin with. See, I can't believe I haven't been put in charge of the Middle East peace process yet.

Monday, December 5, 2005

Have a Politically Correct Holiday-Of-Your-Particular-Belief-System Season

It's time again for my annual rant about people who, in the true season of the holidays, get all ticked off when someone wishes them season's greetings in a manner that doesn't acknowledge their particular religion. Last year, it was the priest at my incredibly white church, and while I vehemently disagree with him — and we also share different views regarding this "happy holidays" thing — I can understand his worry about the secularization and commercialization of Christianity. And every year, it's Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, and I can understand them, because they're psychotic hypocrites. But this year — last Wednesday, in fact — it was some dude paying four bucks for a cup of coffee at Starbucks who went off on the poor barista for offering her hopes that he'd have a happy holiday season. "Merry Christmas. It's Merry [and you could just see him suppressing a swear word] Christmas. We're celebrating the birth of Christ! They forget that without Jesus, there wouldn't even be any holidays!" For like five minutes.

First of all, dude, not true.

Second, I have so much respect for that counter girl for not yelling back at this asshole, "You know, I'm just trying to be nice. But fine, I take it back. Have a miserable Christmas. In fact, I wish your whole family dies of cancer on Christmas. And I hope all your friends get hit by a truck, on Christmas. And may your cat knock over your tree, on Christmas."

Saturday, December 3, 2005

Caveat Emptor

Re: Last Thursday's rant on the utter stupidity of my fellow human beings, I found this auction on eBay. We could probably solve the world's hunger problems if we just implemented some sort of "Eat the Stupid" campaign... but then who will take our fast food orders?

Thursday, December 1, 2005

I have never wanted to strangle someone as much as I did today — and believe me, I've had days when I wanted to strangle someone. I was on the tech support desk at work, which is an absolutely thankless job to begin with, and I spent all afternoon listening to the most retarded things I have ever heard come out of an adult's mouth, save for when that adult is George W. Bush. Working tech support, you literally have conversations like this:

Moron: Hello? Yeah, it won't let me download my file.

Tech Support: Okay, I'm gonna need you to go to your computer's "Start" menu...

Moron: Hold on... You mean I need a computer?
I'm not making this up: One of the people I had to help — and I'm like ninety-eight percent sure he's not a member of the Yanomami who was just introduced to electricity last week — wanted to print out a file and then e-mail me the paper printout. And since I'm at work and it's a business and everything, I can't treat this guy like the ignoramus he is, and that creates a lot of stress for me. Not to mention the stress from catching crap from people with projects due in two hours and who have never heard of Murphy's Law. And the stress from trying to fix someone's computer over the freaking phone — imagine trying to describe to someone how to repair their car's transmission without actually seeing what they're doing, or directing someone to perform open heart surgery over the phone, or defuse a nuclear bomb... Some tiny little thing that I could fix in three minutes if only I were actually by the damn computer becomes this ginormous headache simply because, apparently, in the eight-hundred miles between my office in New York and this idiot's office in Milwaukee, there isn't one person who knows how to use a goddamn computer.

I have zero patience with people who complain about their computers and never bother to actually learn how to use them. Somehow, the computer — and maybe to a lesser extent, the VCR — gets singled out, the way people assume the appliance comes with a feature where its instruction manual seeps into your brain by osmosis, and if you actually have to spend some time with the device, see what happens when you press the different buttons in different orders, deduce some patterns of behavior, then it's the machine's fault that you're so dense. If you're looking for something obvious, try a hammer. Otherwise, get it through your skull that the computer is merely a tool and it's only as useful as the person behind it, which, judging from tech support experience, is not all that useful. No one calls tech support for help with their bandsaw: "Hi, tech support, I seem to be having some trouble with my saw. One minute I'm using it and everything's fine, and the next, I'm feeling this tension on the blade and it's making this screeching noise like metal scraping against bone.... Okay, you want me to dislodge my hand from the saw? Okay, I'm doing that. I've gotta go slow cause it's slippery with all the blood. Okay, okay... No, no, oh, see, you should've told me to turn the thing off first, now the blade's caught in my other hand."

At least you only make that mistake twice.

By the way, if you Google "bandsaw," the eighth or ninth link that comes up is from the website suicidemethods.net, and it's a page titled "Suicide by bandsaw." Apparently, there's pictures, in case you're creepy. I want to take this moment to say, please don't commit suicide by bandsaw. Someone's gonna have to clean up afterwards, and it's not gonna be you, and that's just a totally inconsiderate way to shuffle off this mortal coil. Be polite, and OD or slit your wrists in the bathtub. It's common courtesy.

...which is what I wanted to do while helping people out on tech support. I mean, die. Not be courteous. The only plus side of working tech support is that the guy on the other end of the phone will do whatever you tell him to. So after he and I just spent an hour bonding, trying to open up Microsoft Word, I really wanted to say, "Okay, now I want you to take your keyboard and clobber yourself over the head until you're unconscious and out of your misery. And don't ever call here again, you fucking imbicile." I'm sure he would've had trouble figuring out which peripheral was his keyboard.

Someday, they'll make this device that's half-Pentium, half-Battlebot, and, on its own, it'll beat down any idiot trying to operate it. Ah, sweet robot utopia.