Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Annual Halloween Rant

Of course I drive to work this morning and the trees are flowing with toilet paper, because today's the day witches and goblins come out, so naturally kids have to vandalize their neighbors' lawns. I'm not above hiding in the bushes with a garden hose, except "House" was on. Man, if Mischief Night fell on a Wednesday, I would've been so ready to ambush those little bastards. Halloween night, fifteen years ago, was when I officially became jaded, after some fucking delinquents smashed our jack-o-lanterns in the street and egged our house... and man, how I'd still love to hunt those punks down and feed their faces to my Rottweiler.

I'd never really do that, of course, because I don't have a Rottweiler.

I've never gotten together with a bunch of my drunk and/or stupid friends and TP'ed someone's house, and now I feel like I missed out on something, like a Nerf war with more cleanup and the adrenaline rush of knowing you could be caught. The other option is playing by society's rules, and what do you get out of that? Candy corn and ennui, that's what.

Sunday, October 28, 2007


The Bush administration is, once again, failing to heed the warnings of the world's top scientists, who've noticed strange happenings in our environment and are rushing to spread the word. We're facing a threat far worse than terrorists or global warming — astrophysicists at the University of Salamanca in Spain have postulated that, in the near future, our familiar three-dimensional universe will lose its time dimension and pick up a fourth space dimension. So maybe this whole string theory craziness doesn't have the visceral sci-fi imagery of the Earth swallowed by a black hole on Long Island, but "the fact that the Universe seems to approach a future sudden singularity at an accelerated rate of expansion might simply be an indication that our braneworld is about to change from Lorentzian to Euclidean signature." Translation: we're literally at the end of time, about to be cast off into the void of never and eternity.

All I'm saying is, you know that Mastercard fantasy hedonism weekend you've always dreamed of but would forever be putting off? You might want to get on that.

Those of you who are given to alarmism and panic should hole up in your tachyon-proof bunkers right about now.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

I was having a shit day, so thank God I ran into this absolutely true news story that totally made me laugh:

India official dies after monkey attack

NEW DELHI - Wild monkeys attacked a senior government official who then fell from a balcony at his home and died Sunday, media reported.

I could handle the monsoons and the plague, but throw roving monkey street gangs in and I have every reason I need to never visit India, ever.

An optimist might point out that if the Indians can't even keep their leaders safe from killer monkeys, our failure in Iraq doesn't look quite as bad by comparison.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Coca-Cola Brownies

It's been a while since I baked anything. I miss throwing flour all over the kitchen and vanilla extract aroma and licking the batter — oh, how awesome were the days you could gorge yourself on unbaked cake?! You can't do that anymore cause batter has raw eggs in it, and raw eggs can have salmonella in them, and why is our chicken population so sickly lately? Screw SARS and avian flu, I want to lick the mixer blades! I made hash-free Coca-Cola brownies, which isn't as weird as it sounds at first, and they came out good, if more than a little globby.

Here's the recipe.

1. Put two cups sugar and two cups flour into a bowl. Mix with spoon.

2. Put one cup unsalted butter or margarine (that's one stick), one cup Coca-Cola, and three tablespoons cocoa in a pot. Pot on stove, stove on high, boil the mixture.

3. Clean up mess from exploding cola pot.

4. Pour boiling soda/cocoa/butter mixture over sugar/flour mixture.

5. Put two eggs, one half-cup of buttermilk, one tablespoon vanilla, one teaspoon baking soda, and one and a half cups of those little marshmallow things into the sugar/flour/soda/etc. bowl. Mix with mixing utensil. The end product, which you can't freaking eat, isn't watery or anything, but it's thinner than most batter.

6. Line a 9" x 13" baking pan with aluminum foil (makes cleaning up easier), smear Crisco all over the aluminum foil, and drop a thin layer of flour on the Crisco. This is the step I always forget, and then I have to resort to some ridiculous improvised MacGyver contraption to separate brownies and foil without the former crumbling away.

7. Pour batter into baking pan. Put baking pan in oven. Half an hour, 350°. Don't burn yourself.

8. Make frosting. The timing here is tough because you want the frosting and brownies to both be warm when you marry them. Say five minutes. Take that pot, which hopefully didn't explode back when you were boiling Coke earlier, and put another stick of margarine, three tablespoons of cocoa, and six tablespoons of Coke in. Boil it up again, taking to heart any lessons you might have learned the first time you did this.

9. Dump a box of confectioner's sugar into a bowl. I mean, take the plastic bag out of the box, take the sugar out of the bag, and put that in a bowl — but you knew that, right? Right?

10. Pour boiling margarine/cocoa/Coke mixture over sugar. Stir. Stir! Stir!!!!

11. Brownies are done when you can stick a toothpick in them and the toothpick comes out dry

12. Remove baking pan from oven, aluminum foil from baking pan, big layer of brownie cake from aluminum foil. Smear frosting on. Let cool. Refrigerator helps.

The brownies turn out pretty gooey, and I sort of wound up with a giant brownie blob you have to eat with a spoon in my refrigerator. They're a little less chocolaty and a little more sugar cookie-y than the standard brownie, but not nearly as sweet as I was afraid they'd be, considering how Coca-Cola brownies are basically sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and more sugar. They're a nice change from my usual coffee-flavored brownies, although I'm not thrilled about taking a Coke-plus-Mentos sort of risk every time I make them. There are easier ways to make a mess in my kitchen.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Top Secret

It looks like I sent my resume off to this Princeton company that makes a "semantic collaboration workspace that seamlessly ties together people and analytical applications to help our customers collect, organize and process disparate information in order to quickly and effectively respond to changing conditions," whatever that means. It's basically a electronic doohickey that receives data and filters it. Anyway, they got back to me with an email including this completely comforting information: "Due to the nature of our work and customer base, you will be subject to a government security investigation." I assume that Semandex employees are also issued photo ID badges, encoded with your retina scans and maybe some DNA, which isn't Orwellian at all.

Not that I have any real secrets to keep, aside from a somewhat embarrassing web browser history laden with HTTP requests for softcore porn — which, just so you know, can easily be tracked and linked back to your cable modem or DSL line — but the only reason I'm not cowering in paranoia as our government illegally taps our phone lines and AT&T sells them our domain name server requests, is that there's three hundred million people in the country and I'm pretty sure when it comes to the most boring and irrelevant, I fall somewhere in the top two hundred ninety-nine million. It's a pragmatic thing, fully, since I certainly don't trust the government — especially this government — to keep its prying eyes away from me because unjustified spying rends the freedom and priciples that make America great. The data is collected and dumped into this mechanical Semandex filter, and who knows what a buggy computer or an overzealous bureaucrat will do with it. (That, by the way, is my only real concern with this blog: jerks exploiting it, and idiots interpreting it out of context.) It seems better to not encourage them.

I don't really know if I could obtain government security clearance anyway — I got fired from a webmaster job at the theater for writing in my blog. I might have a rather fuzzy line between what's supposed to be private and public, but I'm quite sure I wouldn't be revealing the identity of an undercover CIA agent. I'm not that stupid, or politically vindictive.

The whole black market thing really confuses me, from both the inside and out. Like, how does one get started in international gun running? What's the job interview like? (Speaking of which, the CIA is hiring. Also available on their website, employee profiles... which kind of seems like it would defeat the purpose.)

And on the other hand, where are the links between the black market and the general population — how do I purchase a Slovenian prostitute, if I wanted to? There's no listing in the yellow pages for "Sex Slave, Retail." (I didn't check, I'm just assuming.) The weird thing is that I have friends who don't have library cards but know where to buy illicit drugs. Really? Friend of a friend of a friend? I mean, I don't even know who to call when my cable TV goes out; the idea of being a link in the chain of a Robert Ludlum novel is unfathomable to me.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

I was in my blanket fort the other day and I got this brilliant coffeehouse idea, which you are free to use provided you give me credit and maybe a free mochaccino or two. You know how coffeehouses have chairs and tables, and maybe a friendship sofa in the back, right? Not anymore, because I've got a serious cafe revolution germinating — rugs on the floor and a whole Linens 'n Things' worth of bedding. You've got a sort of Zen, minimalist, comfy vibe going, but here's the best part: the customers get to make their own pillow forts!

Enterprising souls have tried something similar with great publicity and, apparently, mixed results. But that was dinner, my idea is just about pick-me-ups and hanging out. And that was for professional jackasses with disposable income who've probably lost their sense of whimsy around the same time they were cashing in their stock options — "It's dinner and dessert in bed! We can eat, then we can screw!" Only to be disappointed when it's all a little too public and you're stuck in under the sheets being platonic and talking about other dudes. (On a side note, Grounded is playing Marvin Gaye right now, which I think would be a lot more appropriate if you're in a blanket fort! With somebody else.)

You need to tap into that puerile market, folks still dreaming about how Hollywood will someday option their screenplay.

Friday, October 5, 2007

I was on the train into the city this morning — and the one thing that makes the rush hour trains barely tolerable is that, at least it's quiet. The weekends, you have families with screeching five-year-olds climbing over you to look out the window or teenage skater boys partying on their way into the city, but rush hour is just droll, sad grown-ups trying not to think about the work day. Which is why it's particularly irritating when there's two women, and I'm not being sexist because it's always women, clucking away really loud so you can hear their whole tiresome conversation.

So guess what happened on the train this morning! "Did you hear Shirley got herself a new job? She's at Macy's, working in the cosmetics... took Taylor to Little League but if he's not gonna show some enthusiasm... that was like that time we were in France and the waiter spilled coffee..." So the woman sitting next to me turns to the woman sitting next to her and mouths, obviously towards the talkers, "Shut up already!" and they've only been on the train for like fifteen seconds. She stuffed her iPod buds in her ears, ineffectually.

Here's the weird thing: this iPod lady was thinking pretty much the same thing I was thinking, and the lady next to the iPod lady was also sharing that thought. In the train car, turns out there were a lot of people staring at these two jabbering women with their conversation invading everyone's space. I fantasized about screaming, "Shut the fuck up!" at them, but, you know, I didn't. Neither did iPod lady, or anybody else — the ride to work was overcome by this crazy phenomenon where, seriously — we're the majority, we're following the tacit commute ritual, we're respectful of those around us, and we could've all easily ganged up and kicked their asses — but nobody did anything. Like we're all handicapped and our only tool left is the passive-aggressive glare.

We're all such fucking pussies.

What I've always dreamed of doing is giving that kind of behavior right back to them, like they're yammering on and I just walk in and join the conversation: "Shirley's working at Macy's? Wow, good for her, I hear you make great commissions there. Who's Shirley?" I'll never do that — thanks a lot, society, with your "rules" and "customs," but I'd love to know what would happen.

The other thing that somebody, somewhere needs to do is get the attention of one of those jackass blustering into his cell phone. Take out your own cell phone, make a call, and in a loud and clear voice: "HEY! WHAT'S UP?... I'M GOOD, TOTALLY, DUDE... YEAH, THE ONLY THING IS I'M RIGHT NEXT TO AN ASSHOLE TALKING WAY TOO LOUD ON HIS PHONE!" Click.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Finally Improving Fall '07 TV Watch: Aliens In America and (yay!) Pushing Daisies

Sometime around the third season of Sex and the City, someone out in TV Land decided that sitcoms no longer needed to be funny. Humor in comedies died as the once ubiquitous laugh-track faded out, which in itself was one of those great steps in television evolution I was totally in favor of: "The Powers That Be finally realized that we, the viewers, were smart enough to figure out where the jokes were without being told." Turns out, TV viewers aren't all that smart, and left to wander the comedy landscape without a guide, they seem to think anything not involving an actor in an Emmy-winning crying scene is funny. Hence, Desperate Housewives, which is mediocre satire and about as funny as having Dane Cook perform at your parent's funeral.

Not that the unfunny comedy can't be good; I can count Weeds, The Knights of Prosperity, Everybody Hates Chris, and probably others if I thought about it, as shows that aren't absurd enough to really pull off the humor that they're going for, but are certainly watchable just to empathize with the well-crafted, multidimensional characters. Complaining that Weeds isn't funny is a lot like complaining that Mad Men isn't funny: who said it had to be? You still get a way better TV bargain than you would watching Two and a Half Men.

That's pretty much the case with Aliens in America, the CW's token dork show, about an unpopular high schooler whose image-conscious Midwestern family takes in a Pakistani exchange student. The premise sounds like a recipe for stock "comedy," and there's plenty of mismatched housemates dialogue that's obligatory but not that funny, like den mother Franny telling Raja, the exchange student, to go to bed at 6:30 so the rest of the family can discuss how to "return" him. (It's a theme that's sort of harped on in the pilot.) The family's shallowness and ignorance is the joke here, but it comes off as mean-spirited plotting. I had the same issue with the bit about Justin finding himself on the seniors' "Hottest Girls" list or the reveal with Claire's boyfriend at the end of the episode.

But the show is really good when it's spontaneous — the scene out of nowhere with the bullies fighting over which one of them would sleep with their sister was hilarious, and (maybe I'm naive here but) I wasn't expecting Raja's class to unanimously blame him, personally, for 9/11, especially when the whole dialogue opened so innocently. I can see the show moving in that direction — the writers had to manipulate the story for Justin and Franny to eventually have changes of heart, but the rest of the characters can grow organically since they don't have to, a never will, accept Raja. The dynamic softened in just the right way, pitting a now-likable family I can empathize with against an unlikable world I also empathize with. I'm not prepared to laugh, but I'm prepared to care.

Not that I'd lodge any complaints if the networks would create more shows like 30 Rock or Arrested Development. You know, stuff that you actually do laugh at.

So, last night...

I've been waiting sooooo long for Pushing Daisies, since I'm a huge Wonderfalls fan, and the "Pie-lette" did not disappoint, other than in its coy yet surprisingly appropriate title. Bryan Fuller, who created Dead Like Me and the aforementioned Wonderfalls, and wrote the Heroes turning point episode "Company Man," specializes in charming tales of alienated misfits and pulls them off with a lot more honesty than, say, Josh Schwartz (Chuck) or Tara Butters and Michele Fazekas (Reaper). Of the three shows Fuller created, Pushing Daisies is by far the most cloying and even more saccharine than its color palette, but the material — within the first five minutes, a nine-year-old boy kills his mother and his best friend's father — tempers and even somehow justifies the sweetness, like in those pre-Disney fairy tales where the princess marries Prince Charming and the evil witch has her brains picked out by a colony of rabid bats.

Fuller brilliantly exploits his fairy tale narrative model to get what has to be the most complicated exposition ever on television out of the way in a hurry: "Once upon a time... magical powers... here's the rules... we're not gonna bother questioning them cause that's not what the show is about." Little Ned has a crush on the little girl next door, and the amazing ability to raise the dead with a single touch. The caveat is if he touches them again, they die for good, and if he doesn't, someone else dies in their place... although that's a moral dilemma that's pretty easily worked around when Ned's childhood crush is murdered and he brings her back to life.

The look and tone of the show are heavily influenced by the French fantasy director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, where the quirks grow out of characters fascinated by the trivial, like the mechanical hand on a stick Ned uses to pet his once-deceased dog. It's not even close to actually petting your dog, but it's important because it's all he has. The central conceit — Ned and his childhood crush, Chuck, are infatuated with each other, but can never touch — is similar, with the disparity between what's genuine and what's settled for magnified a hundredfold. The kissing monkeys as surrogates for Ned and Chuck, is actually pretty touching and special, as basically the peak of their relationship, and representing what they'll never achieve. Sad stuff, but it made the part of me that owns ten Chicken Soup For The Soul books smile inside.

I also need to say a little about Chuck who, in a show with zero gender politics, somehow manages to be the most daring and dynamic new female character of the season. So, writers of Bionic Woman, let's see how this works, so maybe your show won't suck so much. (Actually, I read that the second episode wasn't nearly as bad as the pilot, but it doesn't matter to me, since I was watching an episode of Mythbusters I've already seen seven-hundred times.) Chuck has two things your bionic heroine desperately needs implanted: something to strive for, and something to lose. Pushing Daisies and its bizarre presentation is satisfying on the same visceral level that Bionic Woman reaches, but Fuller hits a nerve of universal experience that most shows this season don't dig anywhere near dip enough for.