january 2002

Weird. I've only taken a 10 day break from writing for this log, but I already feel very out of practice.

The first half of our Christmas trip was almost unendurably dull. We always go to visit Julie's parents from around December 20 till Christmas day, and since she grew up in a really small town as an only child, there's not a whole lot to do (especially compared to my family gatherings). Julie's father is able to do less and less every year (he has suffered multiple heart attacks, strokes, and other medical problems), so mostly we just end up sitting around the house. That's fine for Julie, who can sit and talk with her mom for hours on end, but it's a real drag for me.

To help kill some time this year, I brought along three big books that I've been trying to finish for a while: The Odyssey, The Elegant Universe, and Conquest: Cortes, Montezuma, and the Fall of Old Mexico. It turns out that with all three books, I'd just gotten stuck in really dull chapters, and as soon as I forced myself to finish them, they got my interest again and I was able to finish them by the time we left to visit my family on Christmas day.

I also worked on some ideas for some writing contributions I might make to a print portfolio project with Tom, similar to the End of Language thing that he worked on last year. All the pieces are supposed to be inspired by a short story by Jose Luis Borges called "The Circular Ruins". I was interested in working on this project even before I read it, but the story really struck a chord with me, especially in relation to some of the physics theories I was reading about in The Elegant Universe and some of the beliefs of the Mexica that I was reading about in Conquest. A half-written story that had come to me in a dream a few days before I read the Borges piece seemed eerily perfect for the project, and I also got an idea for a poem relating to the story that I kept composing in my head as I was drifting off to sleep, forcing me to get up and record my thoughts several times to keep them from being lost by the next morning.

We did all the things that we normally do when we go to Julie's parents' house for Christmas: went out to dinner at a local Italian restaurant called Franco's, had Christmas dinner a couple of days early (Julie's aunt May, who I like a lot, joined us), went to a carols and readings service at Julie's church, rode around and looked at the lights on Christmas eve, had a Christmas eve dinner of snack foods like crackers and cheese, chicken fingers, vienna sausages, and chips, opened one present on Christmas eve, and went to the Christmas eve midnight service at the local Episcopal church.

I didn't really want anything in particular for Christmas this year, but Julie's mom did a pretty good job finding stuff I liked, including the Planet of the Apes DVD, a gift certificate to a local record store, some cash, and a Harry Potter Lego set. Julie and I decided to keep it very cheap this year, so we got each other several small gifts, keeping our budgets around $50. (I got her a pair of fleece gloves, a new band for her favorite watch, two pairs of earrings, a couple of beanie babies, and a small carved elephant from Kenya).

Otherwise, the visit was fairly uneventful. Normally, sitting around like that just drives me crazy, but this time I was able to tolerate it a little bit more, probably because it was nice to not constantly be feeling stress about my job status, which is pretty much all I think about at home.

My time at Julie's parents over Christmas break wasn't all spent reading and writing. We spent one relatively interesting afternoon introducing them to geocaching. We had to pick an easy cache because Julie's dad can't really do much climbing or uphill walking or anything, but that's not hard in eastern NC, since the land there is completely flat.

It turned out that the cache closest to her parent's house was also very close to a roadside folk art thing that we'd driven past on our way down, so we decided to stop by there on the way to the cache (we had stopped and looked at it for a few minutes when we first saw it, but I didn't get a chance to really explore it or take any pictures because it was getting dark and we were already running late). It was kind of a shrine to the flora and fauna of the region that seemed to have been made by a man who had spent a lot of time traveling around the area on foot. There were also a lot of sculptures and mosaics depicting prehistoric creatures, including some very scary looking birds. It reminded me a lot of the Ave Maria Grotto in Alabama in terms of the materials that the artist used: colored glass, broken glazed tiles, and stones set in cement. In this case, the outer walls of a small house had been covered with small panels sort depicting local wildlife and plants, sometimes incorporating fossils and preserved samples of each. There were also a few freestanding sculptures next to the house.

After spending a few minutes examining the artwork, we drove another 10 minutes to the site of the geocache. The cache was fairly interesting, especially considering how easy it was to find. We parked next to a water treatment facility (lovely smell, but not appreciably different from the swamp smell that is so prevalent in much of northeastern NC). The cache itself was about a quarter of a mile away, located on an old canal that had been built so that earlier travelers and merchants could avoid the rapids in that part of the Roanoke River. On the way there, we walked on the old footpath, which was now rocky and uneven thanks to the roots of trees that had grown across it. When we got to the place where the dry canal crossed the local creek, we found a giant stone bridge that in earlier times would have allowed travelers on the waterway to actually float over the creek (I know I'm not doing a very good job of describing this, but trust me, it was cool). I jumped up on the bridge and walked across the top of the walls while everyone else walked down inside it, where the canal water used to be. The cache was hidden in a fallen tree just on the other side of the bridge crossing, and had some really cool stuff in it, including a travel bug attached to a stuffed Bullseye (the horse from Toy Story 2) that was trying to get to New Hampshire. We took the Bullseye travel bug and a new dollar coin, and left behind a Christmas pez.

At noon on Christmas day we shifted from the slow boredom of a small town to the second, more hectic part of our Christmas visits. As we always do, we packed up our stuff after a Christmas morning spent opening presents and having a breakfast of ham biscuits and cheese grits and headed to Raleigh, where most of my mom's family lives. Mom had driven up a few days earlier with Carrie and Dave, her boyfriend of the last year or so who I had never met before. Julie and I stay with my grandfather (my mom's dad), but we always go first to my cousin Cathy's house. That's where the family (Cathy, her son Clay, my aunt and Cathy's mom Barbara Jean, my aunts Mae and Charlotte, cousin Ricky and his new wife Cori, Ricky's parents Betty Jean and Allen, my mom, my sister, my granddad and his wife Laryce, and, of course, Julie and me) has Christmas dinner together. This year we had a few additional guests: the aforementioned Dave and Cori's parents (who were down from New York—I imagine they'll have plenty of stories to tell their friends up north about their hillbilly Christmas).

Dinner is always way too big and usually consists of corn bread, turkey, fried chicken, grilled polish sausages, collard greens and hot relish, green bean casserole, squash casserole, sweet potato casserole, corn casserole, ham, twice-baked potatoes, and sweet tea. This year we didn't have the corn bread or fried chicken, and we had a warm German potato salad instead of twice-baked potatoes. We brought a Jamaican specialty called black cake for dessert, along with aunt Mae's famous pound cake. A while after dinner (usually a hour or so—Cathy is a little obsessive and insists on cleaning all the dishes, mopping the kitchen floor, and vacuuming the house before any other activities can take place) we all exchange presents before saying goodnight. You have to keep a close eye on your gifts—Cathy's obsessive-compulsiveness also extends to wrapping paper and boxes on the floor, and she will quickly grab up and dispose of anything that you're not actually holding on to.

We were exhausted by the time we got back to granddad's; it wasn't really that late (around 10 or so), but I was barely able to keep my eyes open. I tried to read for a while before going to sleep, but after 15 minutes I gave up and turned off the light. It usually takes me at least half an hour to fall asleep once I'm in bed, but that night I think I was asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.

The day after Christmas we were supposed to go out to lunch and a movie with mom, Carrie, and Dave, but after a long lunch, none of us really felt like going to the movies, so instead we went to spend some of the numerous gift cards we had received at the mall. We also went for a short visit to Mae and Charlotte's apartment (they get upset if you don't come to see them whenever you are in town, even though we had seen them on Christmas day at Cathy's).

That night my granddad made his famous cabbage rolls (taught to him by his mother, a Polish immigrant), which my sister refused to eat because she thinks they have onions in them, even though they don't. We also had a lot of the leftover side dishes that Cathy had sent home with granddad from Christmas dinner. After dinner mom and Dave got their stuff packed up so that they could leave early the next morning (they were planning to drive all the way back to Florida, a 13 hour trip, in one day because my mom had to be back in Ft. Lauderdale for knee surgery on the 28th). Carrie, Julie, my granddad, and me all played poker (we each put a dollar into the pot). I won back my dollar and granddad won the rest, but the game was remarkable in that it didn't spawn any arguments between my sister and me; she usually throws a fit about the rules when she isn't winning, and I usually call her on it, which ends up with her usually throwing her cards down and leaving the table. I think we got lucky because poker is a fairly simple game, and she was having decent hands and so didn't have to strategize all that much.

The next morning we got up early so we could have breakfast with mom, Dave, and Carrie before they left, and then decided to get showered and dressed and leave ourselves, since we were too awake to take a nap for an hour or two like we had planned. I actually wish we could have stayed there longer; my granddad's wife, Laryce, wasn't there at all (she was tending to a sick relative in the hospital), and thinking back, I'm pretty sure that's the first time I've spent any time alone with my granddad since they got together several years ago. Not that I don't like Laryce—it was kind of strange not to have her at any of the family functions—but people act differently when they're in a couple and when they're on their own, and I guess it was just fun to see my granddad on his own for a little while.

I live on a planet ruled by carrots.

Well, we're a week into the new year, and I'm really not digging the "02" in the date.

I have found my ideal job title:

Compensated Endorser

So if anyone out there needs one of those, please let me know.

When we left Raleigh Friday morning, Julie thought we were headed back home to Maryland. Instead, I had a little surprise for her.

While we were at my dad's for Thanksgiving, he had asked if we might be interested in getting their piano, which had been purchased many years before so that all of us kids could take lessons, but which had been sitting silent and unused for at least the last five years. Dad proposed that we come down to Wilmington after Christmas (since we would already be close by visiting other family members), rent a U-Haul, and drive it back up to Maryland. He even offered to pay for the moving truck and the fee that we would have to pay piano movers to get it into our house once we got it back up to Maryland.

Julie was very excited at the prospect of getting a piano; she is an accomplished classical pianist who has been taking lessons and performing since she was very young. Unfortunately, we didn't have the space for a piano until we moved into our house in 1999, and since then we haven't had the budget to buy our own piano, even a relatively inexpensive used one.

After thinking about it for a while, Julie decided that there was just too much going on around Christmas, and that it would be better to wait until next summer to get the piano. She was a little concerned that there would be unforeseen expenses that our current budget wouldn't be able to handle and that it would be too hard to coordinate getting the piano in the house in time to return the truck to the local U-Haul office since it is harder to schedule things around the holidays. So she told me to thank my dad for the offer, but that we would have to take him up on it at a later date.

Fortunately for her, my dad and I both thought that after Christmas was the best time to move the piano, so he reserved a truck at U-Haul and I arranged for the piano movers to come the day after we would get back. That would let us drive back up to Maryland without worrying about missing our appointment with the movers due to unforeseen traffic delays and still give us a day to return the truck before they started charging late fees.

Since Julie had been so firm about not getting the piano over Christmas break, I decided to make it a surprise instead of trying to talk her into it. Pretty much everyone in the family except for Julie knew that we were going to Wilmington to get the piano for her, but thankfully no one spilled the beans before we left. I figured I'd be able to convince her that we were just going back to Maryland a different way until we crossed over I-95, and then I'd have to tell her where we were really going. But her sometimes stunning ability to ignore her environment worked in my favor; she was asleep when we crossed over I-95, and cheerfully ignored all the signs for I-40 and for towns like Jacksonville, Burgaw, and Topsail Island, which she knows are not on I-95 north. I thought for sure she'd get it by the time I took the Wilmington exit, but just in case I told her that we should stop for lunch and pretended that I had seen a sign for Bojangle's, a cajun fast food restaurant that we always eat at on trips to NC because they don't have any in Maryland. I think if she hadn't seen a sign for one of the local beaches, I could almost driven all the way to my dad's house before she realized that we were in Wilmington.

Needless to say, she was very, very surprised, and very happy that my dad and I had decided to ignore her plan to wait until the summer to get the piano. We got there around 11 in the morning, and after lunch at Tori's favorite local restaurant (Flaming Amy's, a burrito place that may have even been better than California Tortilla, a local burrito restaurant that Julie and I like), dad and I went to get the truck so that he and Dodd and I could load the piano into the truck. It really wasn't that bad; the three of us together are pretty strong and, thanks to the layout of my dad's house, we only had to take it down two steps to get it in the truck (we were able to position the truck so that the ramp was level with a courtyard so that we didn't have to push the piano up the truck ramp).

That night we all went to see Lord of the Rings (my second viewing) and then Julie and I went to bed so that we could leave early the next morning. The drive back up to Maryland wasn't nearly as scary as I thought it would be; I was imagining that the truck would be the size of the one that we rented for our last move, which was like a real truck. It was huge, hard to steer, easily blown off course by the wind, and it needed oil every hundred miles or so. Instead, this was the second smallest truck that U-Haul offered, and it was really more like a glorified pickup truck. I grew up driving one of the early model Suburbans, so I felt pretty comfortable behind the wheel. And despite its prodigious gas consumption, the tank was big enough that we only had to stop once.

The movers came the next morning and took the piano downstairs in less than 10 minutes without bumping or dropping it once. Julie got out her old songbooks and started playing almost immediately, and she has played a couple of hours a night ever since. I know that this gift was technically for Julie, but I'm just as grateful for it as she is; we have talked about saving up to buy her a piano for so long, but we still would not have realistically been able to afford it for another year at least. Especially since the last few months of last year were so financially rough for us, it was nice that Julie was able to get something as unexpected and extravagant as a piano for Christmas. So, thanks dad and Rachel. This meant a lot to us both.

While I'm saying thank you for Christmas gifts, I'd like to also mention a gift that my mom got for me: a Wüsthof 8 inch chef's knife. As much as I like to cook, I've never invested in a good quality knife for the kitchen, and my mom came up with the idea last summer when she and Jane and I were fixing dinner when we visited her at the beach. I really enjoy using it; it has amazing weight and balance, and it is much sharper than any other knife I've used. I appreciate everything that I got for Christmas, but this is something that I've wanted for a long time, that I will use every day, and that I will hopefully be using many decades from now.

Me fail English? That's unpossible!

It snowed most of the day yesterday, but it didn't stick. In fact, it warm enough that the inch or two of snow that had blanketed the ground the night before was melting as the new flakes drifted down from the sky.

I don't know what the point of this is supposed to be. It was just kind of odd to look out my window and see it snowing all day while the lawn got gradually greener and greener.

Observations about some of the books I have read and the movies I have seen recently:

The Odyssey: It is a really, really bad idea to piss of Odysseus unless you are a god. Also, for a guy who was supposed to be mostly suffering for 10 years, he sure did spend a lot of time being bathed by women.

The Elegant Universe: I know this is a physics book, but it makes me want to write poetry every time I read it. Just amazing.

Conquest: Cortes, Montezuma, and the Fall of Old Mexico: The Mexica were an amazing race of people, despite their proclivity for eating their enemies, and the Spanish were just a bunch of brutal, vicious, and sickeningly lucky bastards. Disturbing sidenote: after the Catholic priests forbade the surviving people of the region to eat other people, they turned instead to the meat of pigs, which reminded them of human flesh.

The Mummy Returns: Didn't like the first one, and liked this one even less. The moviegoers who have helped perpetuate this franchise should be punished severely.

Jurassic Park III: Okay, we get it. DO NOT GO TO ANY ISLAND WHERE DINOSAURS LIVE UNLESS YOU WISH TO BE EATEN. Still a lot better than the second one, though.

L.A. Confidential: Not a bad piece of work. But what the hell did Kim Basinger do to deserve that Oscar?

Thirteen Days: Costner's best work in a while, but really, how hard is it to top Waterworld and the Postman? If I had seen this before I had known it was a theatrical release, I would have guessed that it was a made-for-tv movie. But a decent made-for-tv movie.

I don't know why some enterprising corporate conglomerate (Fox, I'm looking in your direction) hasn't yet developed a cable network dedicated to broadcasting Simpsons reruns 24 hours a day.

Well, despite relative disappointments from Spiritualized and R.E.M., as well as no-shows from Wilco and Liz Phair, 2001 was still a great year for music. Several younger bands, like the Shins and Death Cab for Cutie, released little-heard but critically lauded discs that will hopefully propel them to the next level of audience awareness, and a few relics from the 80s, like New Order and Love Tractor, released serviceable records that may not have lived up to their best work, but certainly didn't diminish their catalog. And though albums like Built to Spill's "Keep It Like a Secret" and the Beta Band's "Hot Shots II" both deserve honorable mentions (they both would have easily made it on to my top 10 for 2000 had they been released then), this year's stronger crop keeps them from making the list. There are a few records that I have yet to purchase, like Pete Yorn and the Avalanches, that may well deserve a spot on this list, but they must tragically become secondary victims of my ongoing unemployment/extreme lack of funds. Here then is my list of the best 10 albums of 2001. I can only hope 2002 will be as good.

1. The Strokes—Is This It
2. Radiohead—Amnesiac
3. Whiskeytown—Stranger's Almanac
4. Death Cab for Cutie—The Photo Album
5. David Byrne—Look Into the Eyeball
6. Beulah—The Coast Is Never Clear
7. The Shins—Oh, Inverted World
8. White Stripes—White Blood Cells
9. Gorillaz—Gorillaz
10. Sparklehorse—It's a Wonderful Life

Happy birthday, Regan.

We went to see the new Wes Anderson movie, The Royal Tenenbaums, last Saturday. Now, I'm totally in love with his last movie, Rushmore, so I had pretty high expectations for this film. I was a little concerned about the early reviews, which criticized everything from the abrupt-cut style of direction, the scatterbrained story, and the underuse of the almost overwhelmingly talented cast (which included Gene Hackman, Ben Stiller, Gwenyth Paltrow, Bill Murray, Anjelica Huston, Danny Glover, and the Wilson brothers, Owen and Luke).

Unfortunately, the reviews were pretty dead-on. You could tell that, just like me, all the reviewers really wanted to like this movie, since most of them had gushed over Rushmore, but that all the little flaws couldn't help but add up to one big mess. The film spends way too much time going into the background of the oddball family that is at the center of the story, and some of the scenes seem to be little more than jokes that don't really fit into the story but that Anderson couldn't bring himself to cut. There is also a ridiculous amount of detail in the sets, so much so that you begin to remember that this has all been staged to show you how much detail the director can put into his sets.

The Royal Tenenbaums rides a 60s visual groove (just like Rushmore), from the costumes to the covers of the books that we see to the music that makes up the soundtrack. Rushmore, however, was set in a kind of timeless neverland, so that you could believe that it was set in some nebulous era 30 years ago even though it was probably set in 1999, when it was released. The timeframe in The Royal Tenenbaums, however, is conspicuously modern-day, and yet all the characters dress as if it were 20 or 30 years ago. This could be part of the director's grand vision to show how they are all kind of stuck developmentally, but it's still hard to swallow. It just seems a little too forced.

Just as in Rushmore, which centered around a playwrite and which used the visual metaphor of a curtain going up to introduce each new segment of that film, Anderson uses books to help move time along in The Royal Tenenbaums; there are several cuts to screens plastered with the covers of books written by the characters, and each major shift in the action begins with a chapter heading and the first few lines of text of a novel. It works okay, but not as well as it did in Rushmore, because it wasn't nearly as distracting and purposefully meta as the curtains in the earlier film.

The Royal Tenenbaums is not without its charms, however. Gene Hackman is amazing, and I say that as someone who often finds Hackman's work cliched and hackneyed. Ben Stiller is not overused, and Anjelica Huston and Danny Glover are perfectly understated. Bill Murray is wasted, but that is probably intentional, so I can let that one go. I guess the Wilson brothers are good, but it's so hard to tell with them. Whatever, they fit their parts.

There are some brilliant sequences, the most notable being the section where Hackman teaches his overprotected grandsons how to misbehave. This sequence is also the first time that the movie really seems to flow easily; unfortunately, it comes about halfway through the film. One of the funniest scenes is when one of the Owen brothers is visiting the other's apartment. The dialogue concerns one of them confronting the other about a drug problem, but as the camera cuts back and forth between them, the paintings hanging on the walls behind them take up most of the frame. One of the paintings features a group of four rednecks on four-wheelers wearing tribal masks; the other is three men beating up another man (maybe the same group of four in the other painting). It's hard to explain until you see it, but the cuts back and forth between these paintings are just dead funny; I laughed so hard I had tears in my eyes.

There are other good scenes, too, many set in the cemetery: Gwyneth's character explaining how she lost a finger; Hackman trying to convince Huston to let him move back into the family home for a few weeks; and one of the Wilson brothers spacing out during a television interview, to name just a few. But overall, the film just doesn't gel the way it should; there is something missing between the sharp cuts and short scenes.

I'll probably see this film again (although maybe not in the theater) just because, even though it was a mess, it was a spectacularly beautiful one that is well worth sorting through one more time. I also remember that I was underwhelmed after seeing Rushmore in the theaters (partly because the reviewers made the movie sound like the second coming), but when I watched it at home, everything seemed to click a lot more. Rushmore actually seemed to have a flow, despite the uneven texture that results from Anderson's inability to smoothly transition between scenes, but there are so many threads to keep track of in the Tenenbaums lives that I'm not sure if it will ever come together for me the way Rushmore eventually did.

I hope The Royal Tenenbaums does work better for me the next time around: I still really want to like this film. And I guess I would recommend it, especially if you liked Rushmore, because it's probably one of the most engrossing and richly conceived failures I've ever seen. But it's a failure nonetheless.

Tom wrote me yesterday with information about the paintings that I found so hilarious in The Royal Tenenbaums:

The paintings in the Wes Anderson movie are by a Mexican artist named Miguel Calderon. "Bad Route" is the title of the painting of the guys with masks on all-terrain vehicles; the date is 1998. This one was in Harper's a couple years ago, and Calderon is featured in a catalogue survey of contemporary art called Fresh Cream. Apparently he's known mainly as a photographer and his work overall deals with bad behavior. Those paintings are part of a whole series that seem like they come from snapshots of a day of severe misbehavior.

I looked around on Google, Altavista, and Yahoo! to see if I could find these paintings online, but all I have come up with so far is this link, which shows a gallery hung with paintings by Calderon similar to the ones in the movie (the second painting may actually be the one on the far left, but it's hard to tell because it is partially obscured by another piece).

It sometimes amazes me the stuff that Tom knows. I mean, I know he's an artist and everything, and is much more aware of current happenings in the art world than I could ever hope to be, but it's still pretty cool how often his knowledge is relevant to stuff I'm thinking about.

It's almost a relief that this season of Survivor is finally over. I watched the first two seasons religiously, never missing a single episode. I always made sure that my schedule was clear Thursday nights; it was really the only hour of tv that I really looked forward to each week.

This season, however, was much different. The appeal of the show may have been somewhat affected its premiere being so close to the 9.11 attacks, but it was more than that. The cast was just boring; despite their protestations to the contrary, they were all very aware of being part of a cultural phenomenon. Even when they were being conniving and backstabbing, you got the feeling that their hearts weren't really in it; they were just doing it because the people on the other two Survivor shows had done it. In fact, this season's cast seemed to be little more than weaker, rehashed versions of some of the more memorable participants from the first two shows.

Julie and I tried to be as devoted to the show this season as we were to the first two, thinking that it would eventually improve, but we kept on waiting for drama and conflict that never materialized. Then, one Thursday in December, we got home from Christmas shopping and realized we had missed the show for the first time ever. And we didn't really care.

We didn't watch the show the next two weeks, either. We had the excuse of being away from home, but the truth is that we didn't even make an effort to find a television to watch it on. We started watching the show again after the new year, hoping that it would capture our interest as it got closer to the final episode, but it never really did. As the last show approached, the only thing I found myself rooting for was that neither Lex (the paranoid alliance leader who was beginning to develop a serious god-complex) nor Tom (whose good old boy schtick was starting to seriously wear thin) would win. I actually got lucky on that count; thanks to lucky back-to-back immunity wins by Kim, a 56 year old grandmother, neither Lex or Tom made it to the final two. Of course, that left us with Ethan, a nice-seeming but almost completely uninteresting professional soccer player, and Kim herself as the finalists. I really could have cared less who actually won (Ethan did, in case you didn't watch it yourself and you're too lazy to go look it up on the web site).

There were a few fun things on last night's finale, but they were fun in the same way that watching CBS's other reality series, the laughable and pathetic Big Brother, was fun. Big Brother was funny because the cast members took themselves very seriously, many thinking that they would be major media stars after leaving the show. The truth was that they were the only people on the planet who thought that, and it was kind of fun watching these incredibly self-centered, delusional wanna-bes pretending that their actions in this stupid little contrived environment actually meant something.

The first two seasons of Survivor weren't like that, at least in my opinion; they contained moments of genuine drama, tension, and emotion, despite the artificial environment. In Survivor: Africa, however, the contestants seemed more concerned with playing out their parts as scripted Survivor contestants than creating their own roles using their unique personalities. There was Lex, the overly-tatooed marketing director who was now calling himself a musician and bragging about his new record deal; Brandon, the snippy gay bartender, who tried to pretend like he didn't have a genuine loathing for the redneck goat farmer Tom and the scary probable-militia-member Frank, both acknowledged homophobes; and Kelly, the snotty ivy leaguer unjustly thrown out by Lex's clique for something she didn't do, who seemed to think that she was being very clever by insulting the two finalists and casting her vote based on which of them came closer to guessing a number she had chosen between 1 and 1000.

At the end of the show, they showed a teaser for the next Survivor, which has already started shooting in the South Pacific, where the first, highly successful season was shot. After this season's relative disaster (it generally was in the top 5 each week, but it was no longer far and away the top dog, and it was regularly trounced by Friends, which airs opposite Survivor and which was beaten handily during the entire Survivor 2 season last spring), the producers look like they're ready to make some extreme changes to the formula to restore the show to its former glory. In addition to changes made mid-game this year (like splitting each tribe in half and having the two groups swap members just as each group was beginning to get along), the teaser announced that the next season really would require the cast members to survive on their own for the first time in the show's history: they will be given no food (which has always been provided for contestants in the form of rice or some other easily prepared staple food), no water (the tribe members have always been led to a designated spring), and no fire (which has traditionally been provided to members of each tribe by the second episode). These changes, along with the fact that the contestants will always have it in the back of their mind that the producers could make random changes to the game without any warning, should improve the show, especially if they do a better job of choosing cast members than they did this year.

This show can still be good, and although I don't find myself pining for the next season, I'm definitely excited about the changes to the show and hopeful that this season was a wake up call that will remind the producers what was good about the show in the first place. Even ignoring the blandness of the cast for the Africa show, Survivor was beginning to feel very formulaic, so that both the viewers and the participants felt like they always knew what was coming next. The first two seasons, by comparison, felt so fresh because no one knew exactly what was going to happen. I think that the teaser indicates that they're going to try to make the game new each time, so that it won't become as predictable and uninteresting as it was this season.

Another tidbit about the Miguel Calderon paintings in the new Wes Anderson film, this time courtesy of Doug:

To put a fine point on it: The painting "Bad Route" featured in The Royal Tenenbaums was "organized" by Calderon (as a photo, I believe), who then hired a portrait artist to do the painting itself. So it's like one of the those "From the studio of..." kind of paintings. Damned if I can recall where I got this information, but it's stuck.

I was on my up-all-night-sleep-all-day schedule again last week, but it was actually quite fruitful: there was a bumper crop of good movies on late night cable. This first one I saw was Henry V (Tuesday, 3 am-6 am on Bravo), the 1989 version directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh. I remember seeing this years and years ago with Pete, my friend from NCSSM who later went to the Naval Academy and spent several years as a nuclear submarine officer. I was blown away by this film when I first saw it; up until that point the only version of Shakespeare that had been put to film that I found at all compelling was the version of "Macbeth" by Roman Polanski. (Creepy historical footnote: this was the first film that Polanski made after his pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, was killed by Charlie Manson's minions at their home in the Hollywood Hills. That house was also the one where Trent Reznor recorded his masterpiece "The Downward Spiral".)

Branagh's Henry V holds up decently well, especially considering how often Shakespeare's plays have been made into movies in recent years and how many times we've seen big, epic battlefield scenes since this movie was made. I'd forgotten about Branagh's penchant for extreme close-ups, though, especially when it's his face. But it wasn't nearly as annoying in Henry V as it was in Much Ado About Nothing, which he starred in and directed in 1993.

It was really, weird, though—at the end of the movie, during the last big battlefield sequence, I kept on waiting for a little scene that was for some reason sticking out in my mind. But it never came. I almost started to think that I had imagined it, even though it was very clear in my memory. This little mystery was solved on Wednesday night, when I again tuned in to Bravo at 3 am to find that they were airing the 1990 version of Cyrano de Bergerac starring Gerard Depardieu. I really, really loved this film; I remember seeing it with my friend Vicki in a tiny little theater on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill, and both of us were speechless for about an hour afterward (if you knew Vicki, you'd know that this is quite unusual). Anyway, it turned out that the scene I was remembering so vividly from Henry V that didn't appear to actually be in Henry V was really a scene from a very similar battlefield conflict at the end of Cyrano. Pretty weird, I guess, but if that's the way synchronicity wants to work, that's fine with me.

I thought I was out of luck on Thursday: I checked the schedule for Bravo and found that they only thing they were running that night was Les Miserables (with Liam Neeson), and I hated the play so I had no desire whatsoever to see the film. But while I was flipping around the channels, I stumbled on the movie adaptation of Joseph Heller's Catch-22 on AMC. That book was one of my favorites when I was in high school, although I don't remember much about it except that it was drop dead funny, terribly sad, and erractically structured. I was very curious as to how they would adapt such an insane and non-linear book for the screen, so I decided to watch it for that reason alone.

It wasn't too bad, really, but the fascinating thing about it was the number of well known actors that starred in it. There were many already-established actors like Orson Welles, Anthony Perkins, and Norman Fell (who would later gain fame as Mr. Roper on the sitcom Three's Comany, but who already had a pretty good career portraying military men in the movies). What was really amazing, though, were the number of cast members who were then young unknown actors who went on to become big stars: Martin Sheen, Alan Arkin, Jon Voight, and Bob Newhart. I guess this was kind of like the Fast Times at Ridgemont High for the early 70s. That movie, too, is stuffed with actors making their first big appearances who later went on to have significant careers. Everyone knows about Sean Penn, Phoebe Cates, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Judge Reinhold, but most people forget about the smaller roles played by people like Nicolas Cage (still going by his given name, Coppola), Anthony Edwards (Dr. Green on ER), Eric Stoltz, and Forest Whitaker.

Other interesting facts I discovered on IMDB while researching Catch-22:
  • Catch-22 was the first film that Mike Nichols directed after The Graduate. He would later go on to direct movies like Silkwood, Working Girl, and Primary Colors.

  • Art Garfunkle (yes, that Art Garfunkel) had a fairly significant role in the film. He was credited as Arthur Garfunkle. This use of a rock star also has a bizarre parallel with Fast Times at Ridgemont High, in which Nancy Wilson of Heart makes an appearance. I guess both appearances make sense in their own way: Garfunkel helped write and perform the music for Nichols' previous film as part of Simon and Garfunkle, and Nancy Wilson later married Cameron Crowe, the writer of Fast Times.

  • Martin Sheen spent several years on the soap opera As the World Turns.

  • Alan Arkin played Inspector Clouseau (made famous by Peter Sellers in the Pink Panther movies) in a 1968 spin-off titled, straightforwardly enough, Inspector Clouseau.

  • They Might Be Giants was originally the title of a 1971 movie starring George C. Scott and Joanne Woodward (it also starred Jack Gilford, an actor from Catch-22). Oddly enough, it is the story of a psychotic man and his psychotic sidekick who think they are Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in modern day NYC. Despite this premise, it seems to be billed as some kind of love story.

  • Joseph Heller, the author of Catch-22, also wrote an episode of McHale's Navy and contributed to the writing of Casino Royale, the James Bond spoof starring Peter Sellers and Woody Allen.

Sorry there were no posts yesterday. My ISP was down for 26 hours and 47 minutes starting Sunday night. I'll leave the posts I had planned for yesterday stamped with that date, just because I already had them all written and everything. Likewise, no one ever got to look at the daily links I had selected for yesterday, but they are still there, waiting to be clicked on. All in all, I guess it just means that you'll get an extra large helping of content today. But it sure put me in a bad mood yesterday.

It is too early to tell if you are crazy. Eat another cricket.

Tom sent me that cricket thing. I suspect he pinched it from somewhere, just like I'm constantly posting random lines from the Simpsons or SNL or some other tv show, but I don't know for sure. He might have just made it up. But I seem to remember it from somewhere, so if he did just make it up, does that make me crazy?

On Saturday we went out to dinner with Greg, a graphic designer I worked with for a while at CO2, and his fiance Angie, who is a teacher. Greg and I have never really hung out socially, but that's because he lives in Pennsylvania and spends his weekends with his son from a previous relationship, so he doesn't have a lot of time to socialize. We had been meaning to get together around New Year's but I didn't remember to call him until it was too late. Luckily, his ex decided to exercise her right to keep his son for one weekend a month, so he and Angie had the chance to meet us for dinner in Baltimore.

They had to go shopping at Ikea, so we decided to meet them at a nearby Chili's located in a psuedo-main street kind of thing where a bunch of stores and restaurants are grouped in a kind of fake pedestrian mall environment. We got there first, and when we put our names in they told us that it was an hour wait. Now, I personally don't think there are many restaurants that are worth waiting more than 20 minutes for, and I know for sure that Chili's is not one of them. When Greg and Angie arrived a few minutes later, we all decided to walk down the block to Don Pablo's, a Mexican place that I was hoping wouldn't be as crowded.

It was packed, though, and I was ready just to turn around and wait out the hour at Chili's. But Julie went and put our name in anyway, and we were told that it was only a 15-20 minute wait. Of course that was a lie, but by the time we figured that out, we had already been there half an hour. Greg went to check see how far down the list we were, and predictably, they told him we were next. Next actually meant two or three down the list, but it was close enough and we still ended up being seated sooner than we would have had we stayed at Chili's.

I don't know Angie very well (Julie and I had only met her once before, at CO2's final year-end dinner in 2000, and she had been pretty quiet then), but Julie spent a lot of time chatting with her while Greg and I bitched about job stuff, and she told me later that Angie is really a nice, interesting person. At the end of the meal, Greg asked me if I would usher at their wedding in June, which I consider a great honor; in fact, aside from family members, I don't believe that anyone else has ever asked me to participate in their wedding before.

On the walk back to our cars, I stopped in Barnes & Noble or Borders or whatever the hell it was to pick up a CD for Greg. He had brought me a TIE fighter model for Christmas, and I had neglected to bring anything for him. I know that he doesn't get to buy many CDs, and I thought it would be cool to get him Bjork's new one, which I knew he didn't have even though he's a big fan. It was a little expensive, but that's okay—if I had remembered to bring something in the first place, it wouldn't have been a problem.

It was cool just hanging out with them and talking. Hopefully we'll be able to meet them every few weeks for dinner. We don't go out with other couples very often—maybe Sally and George every now and then, but none of our other friends really live close enough.

I got a $50 gift certificate to my favorite local music store from Julie's parents as part of my Christmas present, which was really cool because I haven't exactly had a lot of extra money to throw at CD purchases recently. Fortunately, the record companies have not made this lack of funds too difficult for me, because there really haven't been any new releases that I've wanted since around October or so.

I was hoping that when the January rolled around, there would be at least a couple of new discs that I would want, but looking ahead on the charts, the only things I saw between now and April that I would want were new records from the Eels (March), Wilco (April), and Beth Orton (undetermined). So I decided to hit the racks with my gift certificate and see if I could find three or four things on my list of older releases that I've been thinking about picking up. I didn't have a lot of hope, because some of my wishlist items were fairly obscure, and I've noticed that this store has stocked less and less esoterica over the last year.

First up was one that I was reasonably sure they would have: "musicforthemorningafter" by Pete Yorn, who is a major label artist. Sure enough, they had several copies. But it had a special "Discovery Price" of $8.99, as opposed to the normal $12.99. Cool, I thought, I might be able to pick a cheap used CD in addition to three new releases. Next on my list was the Avalanches debut, "Since I Left You". I was hoping they would have this one, but wasn't very optimistic; after all, they never ended up stocking that Le Tigre disc I had been looking for for so long. But there it was, and amazingly, it was priced at only $9.99. The only thing I could figure was that it had been in stock forever and they just wanted someone to take it off their hands. So I did.

At this point, I knew I'd be able to afford a fourth used disc as long as my third new selection wasn't outrageously expensive. But since it was "Agaetis Byrjun" by Icelandic atmospheric rockers Sigur Ros, I was afraid it might be a little more than usual (sometimes they price lesser-known but critically lauded releases in the $14-$15 range). But it was their standard $12.99. Adding up the total in my head, I realized that I probably had enough money left on my gift certificate to get another new CD and a bonus used CD. Feeling lucky, I went to the "R" section to look for "Y'all Get Scared Now, Ya Hear!" by Scottish supergroup Reindeer Section, which features members of Belle & Sebastian, Arab Strap, and Mogwai. Not only did they have it, but they had a used copy for $8.99—and it wasn't even really used, because it still had the original shrinkwrap and annoying label sticker across the top.

I decided to finish off my shopping trip with Low's "Things We Lost in the Fire", which was one of the few discs that I was sure would be there. Of course, it was the only one on my list that the store didn't have, even though every other release by Low was in stock. I thought for a moment about getting a different album by Low, but I stuck to my guns and went after the next item on my list: "A Tall-Tale Storyline" by the Philadelphia indie group Mazarin. Surprisingly, they had a copy, although at a slightly pricier $14.99.

As I was checking out, I figured that I would have to pay around $5-$10 above the $50 gift certificate, but I forgot about my membership card, which deducts $1 off of each CD purchased, used or new. So after that discount was taken and the tax was added on, I ended up paying only $3.50 for five new CDs that I had been wanting for a long time. Thanks to my unusual luck with both the selection and the low prices, the gift certificate turned out to be a better gift than I could have guessed, even though it was one of the best things I got this year anyway.

If I were a vampire, I'd like to think I'd be the kind of vampire that would fight the compulsion to suck the blood of innocent humans and instead use my superhuman powers to fight the other, evil vampires. But then, we'd all like to believe we'd be that kind of vampire, don't we?

Well, that really sucked. On Monday I had an interview with a media firm in Annapolis (which has been strangely fruitful ground for me lately—I've had two phone interviews and two face-to-face interviews there recently). It's a little bit of a drive (about 45-50 minutes), but I long ago decided that any commute less than an hour would be fine with me, especially if it gave me the chance to work for a decent firm. The web site for this company looked pretty good: they had been in business for 20 years, employed 4 new media employees, and worked in other areas like video production and audio engineering. The possibility of learning some new skills from professionals in the field just made this company that much more attractive to me.

They were advertising for a multimedia designer, but from the description in the job posting, I wasn't really sure how important the design aspect of the job was (I can do design, but I'm not very fast and not nearly as creative as a real graphic designer). So I sent in my resume with the heading of "multimedia developer" and with a cover letter that emphasized that I was more a backend HTML/JavaScript/Director/Flash kind of guy, not a designer with some technical knowledge, figuring that if they were interested in hiring me for my technical skills, they would contact me, but if they really wanted a designer, they would ignore me.

After sending in my resume, I heard back from the president of the company within a day or so, and in the emails we exchanged, he never once asked how much design skill I had. I figured that was because he had read my cover letter and resume and realized that I wasn't a designer, but that the technical skills I had would pair well with his existing designers. So we set up a time to meet on Monday afternoon.

From the very start, the interview didn't go well. It became clear to me pretty quickly that this guy hadn't even really looked at my resume or prepared for this interview, because he spent the first five minutes reading over the copy of my resume that I had brought along with me. Then we began to visit the URLs I listed one by one, starting with the CO2 site, before moving on to the three CD-ROM samples that I had brought with me. There were several things working against me during this part of the interview. The biggest problem was the PC that he was using to view my work with: it seemed very slow to respond to anything, which in turn made my projects seem like they weren't working correctly. It turns out that the PC we were using was the office admin server, handling all of the internal traffic (like LAN file transfers) and the external internet connection duties. That means the processor had about 1 cycle out of a thousand when it could pay attention to the actual user of the machine which, in combination with less-than-desirable amount of time that Windows gives to paying attention to the mouse in the first place, meant that it took about five or six clicks for a link to work. Add to that the fact that we were interfacing with this machine using a wireless mouse with a less-than-clear line of site to the infrared transceiver, and it was a nightmarish experience from start to finish. It was like those premature OS demos that Bill Gates and Steve Jobs give at computer shows where, instead of running a really cool game or playing six quicktimes simultaneously, the machine crashes and they are left mumbling something like "Wow, I've never seen it do that before."

I really knew I was in trouble when I noticed that, instead of single-clicking links on web sites or in CD-ROM pieces, this guy was double-clicking everything. Now, I expect that kind of ignorance from an 80 year old first time computer user, but my god, I bet even my granddad knows you only have to click on web links once, and he hates computers. This guy is the president of a company who claims that a substantial amount of his business comes from programming web sites and CD-ROMs, and he doesn't even know enough about computers to understand how to interact with a web browser properly. Granted, his background is in video, but still.

I knew it was over as soon as the double-clicking started, but I had to stick around for another half hour anyway, at the end of which he simply said, "Well, I guess there's been some kind of misunderstanding, because we're really looking for a designer. But maybe we could use you for some freelance work." I wanted to yell at him, "You're goddamn right there's been a misunderstanding—you obviously didn't even bother to read my cover letter or resume, and you've just wasted a whole afternoon of my time that I could have used to look for a job at a company that doesn't have its head so far up its ass." But instead I smiled, shook his hand, and said, "Sure, freelance would be great. Just let me know."

Even if they had wanted me, I'm not sure if I could have brought myself to work there—he said a lot of things that made me nervous, most notably the fact that he had cut everyone's hours back several months ago and that they were just now returning to a normal 40 hour workweek. He also seemed very upset that one of his designers had decided to look for another job when his hours (and the pay that went with them) were cut.

Anyway. This whole job search thing is starting to feel more like it's going to happen due to random chance rather than because I'm especially qualified for the job. I just have to keep rolling the dice and hope at some point they come up 7 for me.

I have another interview today. I'm getting really tired of this whole process.

I don't feel guilty about not writing anything today. Really.

I am apparently smarter than Mandy Moore. But I had to pay a terrible price to find out.

If you like Pete Yorn, you will like Ryan Adams, and vice versa. But you'll probably like Pete Yorn a little better.

I don't remember Fred Willard being on the tv show Real People. But I guess he was. And I sure don't remember the kid from A Christmas Story being on there. IMDB may actually provide a little too much information.

Last week's SNL featured host Jack Black and musical guests the Strokes. Now, I know that most of the entertainment industry thinks that Jack Black is like a new Jesus or something, apparently because he can act AND sing funny songs, but I have yet to see a movie of his and so I remain mostly unimpressed. He wasn't too bad on SNL, but the skits did tend to skew heavily toward the song parody end of things, which I have a very low tolerance for. If it's a really great parody, you can maybe get away with one of those per show. Maybe. But by the fifth one, I got the feeling that the cast lobbied to have Black on the show so that they would all have an opportunity to show off what great singers they all are.

The Strokes weren't all that great. That is to say, the songs were just like they were on the album, which is great, but that I didn't really gain any new insight into the music by watching the band perform live (especially compared to a band like Radiohead; their two-song set on SNL after the release of "Kid A" was revelatory). Despite the heavy backlash the Strokes are enduring right now, especially in the US, I still think that "Is This It" was easily the best record released last year. Their critics here have heaped criticism on them for being too derivative of the sound and style forged by earlier NYC art rock bands like the Velvet Underground, Television, and the Talking Heads, but quite frankly, I'd rather hear a thousand albums spawned from the genius of those bands than hear even one more lousy track by Creed or Limp Bizkit or any of the other crap that passes for rock on MTV and Top 40 radio these days.

One minor complaint: the Strokes' drummer was wearing a Velvet Underground & Nico t-shirt (the one with the famous yellow banana designed by Warhol). And that just seemed a little too obvious to me. I don't know if he didn't realize how obviously pandering it would be given that almost every review of their album has brought up some comparison to the Velvet Underground, or if he was just being obnoxious by wearing a t-shirt of the band that everyone says that the Strokes are ripping off. Either way, I found it kind of irritating. But "Is This It" is still undeniably amazing.

It's really disturbing to me that the ambulance-chasing lawyers run their ads heavily on court shows like Judge Judy and the makers of drugs that treat genital herpes and genital warts run their commercials during dating shows like Blind Date. But I guess they each know where their audience is.

It snowed and stuck for the first time this year on Saturday. The forecasters predicted that it would start around mid-morning and last until around 7 or 8 that night and drop 4-8 inches. They were pretty much right; it snowed for much longer than they expected, starting around 8:00 in the morning and lasting until around midnight, but the total accumulation was only about 6 inches. It's strange: I expected that when I moved north to Maryland, I would have to get used to a lot more snow that I was accustomed to growing up in North Carolina, but instead, the three years we have lived in Maryland have seen only two or three significant snows (6 inches or more). Meanwhile, they have had at least one snowfall of 10+ inches each of those years back in North Carolina.

We went for a walk in the afternoon, just to look around at the neighborhood and give me a chance to take some pictures (I know, I know, I need to post some new ones). We walked down to the linear park that I had walked with Tori last time she was here to visit. The snow made everything seem really quiet and peaceful, even when we came across the not-to-bright teenagers who were noisily trying to snowboard down one of the steeper paths on the trail. We went all the way down to the pond, which was frozen over, and then walked the same path back home.

On the way back, I saw more evidence that supports a theory I have about the local populace. I think that Marylanders have a real identity crisis: they're too far north to be considered part of the south, and yet all northerners consider anything below the Mason-Dixon line southern. Since they are not really a part of either world, they tend react to situations with a crazy mix of southern and northern responses. In the case of snow, the first thing they do is rush to the grocery store to deplete the stocks of milk, bread, and toilet paper (as panicky, scared-of-the-white-stuff-falling-from-the-sky southerners are wont to do). But once the snowfall begins, they start an almost obsessive-compulsive ritual of scraping the newly-fallen snow off of their driveways and sidewalks in an attempt to keep the snow from becoming compacted and turning into a slick sheet of ice. This behavior is understandable in places like Buffalo and Rochester, where the snowfall amounts can easily reach a foot or more and turn into a real problem if you don't tackle the situation early, but Marylanders seem to do this at least once an hour, even if the amount of snow that has fallen during that time is less than an eighth of an inch.

It was getting dark by the time we got home, and it was still snowing moderately heavily, so we decided to wait until the next day to shovel our own sidewalk and driveway, hoping that the weather forecasters would be right and that the temperature on Sunday would be high enough to melt the snow for us.

Sorry for the lack of updates yesterday. I actually had stuff written (the entries are still time-stamped with yesterday's date), but I decided to start messing with my computer before I posted anything, and I ended up playing around with various upgrades and modifications all day. I'll have some more real content up tomorrow, I promise.

The Space Ghost Coast to Coast episode featuring Thom Yorke and Bjork was one of the funniest things I've seen in a long time. The show's writers actually managed to out-weird two of the strangest people on the planet.

If you've ever posted to Usenet, you might want to type your online name into Google's new archive of Usenet posts. I haven't posted to the newsgroups in a while, but in 1994-1996, when I was first getting into the internet, I used to post a few times a week. I was able to locate virtually every post I ever wrote, and spent an hour or so reading through them all.

Man, I knew a lot more about baseball back then.

I forgot to bring my CD case with me when I went to run errands a few days ago, so for entertainment I started flipping around the AM stations to see what talk radio shows were on. Most of it was conservative fare like Rush Limbaugh and G. Gordon Liddy, which I usually can't listen to for very long. But I was kind of bored and in a weird mood, so I settled on Rush, who is my least favorite of the conservative radio personalities. He was complaining about how some members of the press were comparing the ultra-conservative right-wingers in this country to the terrorists who attacked the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, ranting at length about how the media (of which he is a part, no matter how much he wants to deny it) always distorts these issues and comes up with ridiculous theories like this.

Most people might be inclined to agree with him; even I am reluctant to think that there are people in our own country who feel the same way about America that bin Laden and his goons do. But I started to think about it, and, I don't know—the idea that there are certain right-wing groups in America that have some of the same attitudes and approaches as the 9.11 terrorists doesn't seem so far-fetched.

I don't necessarily think that these religious extremists have reached the level of bin Laden and his ilk in terms of their overt hatred of American doctrines, but even some of the more mainstream elements make me nervous with their intolerance and their demands that everyone accept their beliefs and way of life. I remember being appalled a couple of days after the attacks at the attitudes of the hosts of the 700 Club. I tuned in that morning because I saw on the teaser that one of the guests was a man who had written a book about how the Harry Potter books were attempts to recruit children into Satanism (that didn't stop him from featuring the name "Harry Potter" prominently in the title, which I'm sure didn't hurt the sales at all). But before that guest came on, one of the discussions was about how tolerant liberal beliefs had caused God to become angry with America and that the terrorist attacks were God's justified punishment of America for straying to far from proper behavior. I mean, to me, that's basically approving of bin Laden's actions; if the attacks were instigated by God to punish America, doesn't that just make bin Laden God's messenger?

It's not just contorted explanations like this, though—it's the actions of the more radical members of conservative religious groups in America. It wasn't the al Qaeda that blew up the Murrow Federal Building in Oklahoma City (and you're a fool if you think that Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols were acting alone; we may never have an accurate assessment of the number of people that helped plan and carry out that attack). It's not Islamic extremists who carry out bombings of abortion clinics and assassinations of the doctors who work in those clinics—it's American Christian fundamentalists who have decided that the best way for them to change a system they don't believe in is to blow it up, and who use their religion to justify violence against innocent civilians who are participating in that system. Sound familiar? And does anyone remember Eric Rudolph, the prime suspect is in the Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta a few years ago who is still at large?

While these and other similar acts are carried out by a few individuals, these nuts are by no means acting alone: they are part large organized groups that receive millions of dollars in funding every year (Salon has a really good article on this topic, but you'll only be able to read the whole thing if you are a subscriber), groups that encourage people to murder the doctors, harass the patients, and destroy the property of abortion clinics. The Army of God is a good example of these kinds of groups: one of their members (Clayton Lee Waagner) was recently arrested for sending Anthrax hoax letters to abortion clinics in October and November; their web site praises people who perform terrorists acts on abortion clinics; and they are linked to another group called the Prisoners of Christ, made up of people who have been imprisoned for blowing up or burning down abortion clinics. The Americans who carry out these crimes are just the tip of the iceberg; for every one of them, there are literally thousands of people in this country supporting their activities, tacitly or implicitly, in much the same way that the 19 terrorists who carried out the 9.11 attacks represent only a tiny fraction of the al Qaeda and Taliban organizations that are ultimately responsible.

Just to make my views clear: I am a Christian, and I would probably describe myself as more liberal than conservative (even though I lean towards the conservative side of things on certain issues). Though I do not personally believe in abortion, I am neither pro-life or pro-choice in the overly politicized meanings of these phrases; I do not think that people should have abortions in any but the most extreme circumstances (such as rape, incest, or when there is a danger to the mother's life), but I do not force that belief on others, especially because abortion is legal in this country. Whatever you might think about the abortion issue, I believe that if you disagree with one of the laws or policies of our government, there are appropriate legal and nonviolent channels through which you can pursue a change or repeal to the laws with which you disagree. That's the way we do things here in America.

Here are a few of the similarities that I see between foreign terrorists like Osama bin Laden and the right-wing extremists in our own country: both disagree with some of the policies of our government; both believe in the use of violence to achieve their objectives of changing those policies; both understand the shock value of hitting civilian targets with terrorist attacks; neither seem to care that many innocent lives will be lost as a result of their attacks; and both believe that their god justifies and endorses their actions.

This isn't to say that there aren't left-wing groups and individuals in America who are committing terrorist acts, particularly some of the more radical environmental and animal rights activists. But they don't seem to be nearly as numerous, well-funded, and well-organized as the religious right. Conservative Christians also seem to be more accepted by mainstream America, probably because a large percentage of the population affiliate themselves with Christianity and because most of us are reluctant to be highly critical of religious people (since we commonly but mistakenly associate strict adherence to religious principles with spirituality, goodness, and wisdom—not that these things can't go together, it's just that they often don't in this world). And the fact that these right-wing Christian groups are often courted by the Republican party during election cycles (Ashcroft actually went to Oklahoma to raise money from one of the organizations that provides direct funding for the Army of God during his last campaign for the Senate) just seems to legitimize them even more.

In my view, these American groups are in some ways worse than the 9.11 attackers. bin Laden and his associates are not from this country (with one notable exception), and therefore should not be expected to have the same respect for our principles and processes. (I'm not intending to excuse or explain their deplorable behavior in any way, but merely to provide a contrast to our own homegrown terrorists.) People like McVeigh, Waagner, Rudolph, and James Kopp and the groups that support them had, as Americans, a democratic, non-violent means with which to pursue their goals. And yet they chose instead to attack innocents in cowardly acts of terrorism, in flagrant disregard for our most sacred political and moral tenets.

Okay, this turned into kind of a long rant. I guess my point is that militant extremism in any form often leads to violence, and that some of the religious right-wing conservatives in this country have shown either a willingness to commit violence against Americans or a tolerance for those who do, as long as the violence is done in the name of God and as long as those committing the violence share their religious beliefs. And how much different does that make them, really, from bin Laden, al Qaeda, and the Taliban?

I have a kind of workbook document where I keep half-written entries, fragments of thoughts, and ideas for future topics that I mine on days when I don't really have anything interesting to post about. Days like today, for example. Anyway, I was scanning through it, looking to see if there was anything appropriate for today's content, when I found this phrase:

scene missing

I have no idea what this refers to, or what I could have been thinking about when I added it to my workbook. Just another of life's little mysteries.

The last employer that had serious interest in me was a local firm that specializes in repairing, upgrading, and maintaining Macintosh hardware and software. They were looking for one or two field technicians for their Baltimore office, people who would show up at customer sites to execute scheduled maintenance or to troubleshoot unexpected problems. Performing these services has never been part of my official job description, but at every job I've worked in the last seven years, I have unofficially taken on this role. Add to that my many years of experience with Mac hardware and software, and I figured I should at least give it a shot.

It began with a phone interview, which seemed to go pretty well. I spoke with the president of the company, who said that most of the resumes he got were junk, but that he was really impressed with mine. He asked me to come in to take a little test that they like to give so that they could get a better understanding of my Mac knowledge. He wouldn't tell me if it was a written test or a hardware-based hands-on test, but I wasn't too worried either way.

I showed up at one of their offices that Friday, and the president handed me a written test and said it should take me about 45 minutes. It had around 65 questions on it, but many of them only took a few seconds to answer, so I easily finished in the time allotted. There were a few types of issues (mostly relating to font management and Quark) that I wasn't too familiar with, but when the president looked over my answers, he didn't seemed too concerned about it and told me he would be in touch soon to schedule a final interview.

True to his word, he called me on Sunday afternoon and asked me to come in the next morning. I wanted to change it to the afternoon, but he was rather insistent that I come in the next morning, so I acquiesed. The problem for me was that my sleeping schedule had me going to bed around 8:00 in the morning and getting up around 2:00, so a morning interview would probably catch me at my worst. And of course, since I got very stressed out about trying to make myself go to sleep early that night, I ended up getting basically no sleep.

Now, when we had talked, the president had told me that this was just going to be a final interview. But the first thing he did when I got there was tell me that he had a broken Mac that he wanted me to fix before we began the interview. Normally I wouldn't have had any problem with this, but given my sleep-deprived state, I knew that I was likely not going to perform that well.

Just about everything that could have gone wrong with that test did. To start with, the model of computer that he wanted me to work on was one that I had never seen before. It was an ordinary Beige G3 inside, but the form factor was a desktop model along the lines of a 7100 (I only knew about the mini-tower versions of the Beige G3s). He also started off by telling me that the computer had a software problem. Now, since I knew that he knew everything about Macs, I was assuming that he was just giving me a vague starting point, not trying to trick me. It made a bad sound when I tried to start it up, which normally would have pointed me in the direction of a hardware problem. But since he had already told me that it was a software problem, I thought I would just look like an idiot if the first thing I did upon being told that a computer had a software issue was to crack open the case and start messing with the motherboard.

Eventually he told me that one of the things he has learned is to ignore the customer and just proceed as you normally would, and that's why he had mislead me. Normally, I might have done this, but he didn't make it clear that he was playing the role of the ignorant customer; I knew that he knew a lot about Macs, and so of course I would be more willing to take his opinion about the problem into consideration during my diagnostic procedure than I would someone who didn't know a whole lot about them.

So after about 10 minutes and a short discussion about listening to the customer, I did what I would have normally done in the first place and opened up the machine to see if there was anything wrong with the hardware. Again, since I hadn't seen this particular form factor before, it took me a minute or two to figure out how to open it. Once inside, however, it only took me about 15 seconds to diagnose and repair the trouble: an improperly seated RAM chip.

The computer still would not start up from the hard disk after this, which meant that there probably was some sort of software issue as well. I started up the machine from a Norton Utilities CD and ran a Disk Doctor scan. It found a few b-tree errors, which can sometimes cause startup problems, but when I went to tell it to start up from the internal hard drive after Norton performed the repairs, they system still would not recognize the internal drive as a valid startup disk. So then I started poking around the system folder, and quickly realized that there was another issue there because it was not displaying the proper icon. It turned out that the finder had been dragged out of the system folder and into another one, so all I had to do was locate it and drag it back in.

Unfortunately, the president left the room about 30 seconds before I did this and said he'd be back in a few minutes (he had been annoyingly hovering over my should the whole time, which certainly didn't help my mood or my ability to concentrate on the problem). He didn't come back until almost 10 minutes later, and for some reason counted all the time that he had been gone on my final time for the test, which according to his estimate had taken me about 45 minutes. Really, it would have only taken me about 20-25 had I done it on my own: I wasted at least 10 minutes following his red herring about software problems, and another 10 minutes was him doing something in another room while I was just standing there with the repaired machine waiting for him to return.

After that I had my real interview with the president and some other higher-up, during which they annoyingly asked me some of the same questions that I had already discussed a few times with the president, who seemed to have no recollection of having discussed them with me before. I didn't feel like it went all that great, especially because I was still a little pissed about the hardware test, which I didn't feel was in any way an accurate reflection of my diagnostic and repair skills. At the end of that interview, they said that they had one or two other candidates to meet with, but that they would be in touch with me within a day or two no matter what. That was a week ago now, and I haven't heard a peep from them since.

So I guess that means I didn't get the job. But it would have been nice of them to let me know.

Tom came up to visit this past weekend. He got here around 9:00 Friday night, and since we had expected him earlier, we hadn't eaten yet. We ended up at Wendy's just because it was close by and cheap. After that, we talked about renting a movie, but I was so exhausted that I didn't think I'd be able to make it all the way through. I was still on my sleep during the day schedule at that point, but I had only gotten a few hours of sleep before Tom came, because at one point he had planned on getting to our house by 3:00 in the afternoon. Add to that the fact that I had gotten very little sleep in the days following my interview at the Mac repair place, and I was basically running on fumes. We were also planning to get up early the next morning to do our quarterly trip to Sam's Club, so I just went to bed.

The next morning we went to Sam's like we planned, getting away pretty close to our planned departure time (which is a miracle with Tom, since he consistently runs behind schedule). Julie had a baby shower to go to that afternoon, so Tom and I sat around watching my Simpsons DVDs (with the commentary turned on) and going over some sample pieces that he has been working on for the Borges project that I'm trying to participate in.

When Julie got back, we decided to go out to dinner at the mall. We all three ate at a little Chinese place where they cook the food on a big grill right in front of you, so it's always hot and fresh when you get it. It's one of my favorite places to eat out, which we only do once every week or so now, because it's good and it's cheap ($4 for a big plate of terriaki chicken, vegetables, and white rice). We again discussed getting a movie on the way back home, but instead decided to watch O Brother from my home DVD collection because Tom had never seen it.

I had been cranky most of the day, because even though I had gone to bed around 11 the night before, I had gotten up around 6:00 a.m., so by 4 or so I was ready for bed again. I don't even really remember watching the movie; I dozed through most of it and went straight to bed when it was finished around 10:30.

For the love of god, whatever you do, stay away from Snood.

Sunday I woke up in a much better mood; I slept until around 8:00, which meant that I got a full night of uninterrupted sleep for the first time in several weeks. We had tentatively planned on going up to Pennsylvania that day and to help a travel bug we had taken from a geocache in North Carolina along on its journey to New Hampshire. We also wanted to try and find a Bojangle's restaurant that is supposedly located in York, PA—this is one of our favorite fast food restaurants, and even though they have one every other exit in North Carolina, they start to become very scarce once you head north over the Virginia border. So I did a little research on the geocaching web site and found a cache that was just outside of York that looked like it got a lot of traffic (that way it would be more likely for someone to pick up the travel bug and move it along to another cache quickly).

Since we were going to be up around York, I called Greg to see if he and Angie might want to meet us for lunch. He was available, and so we roused Tom and made the hour trip up to his house, which I had never seen before. It was actually really nice, especially for an apartment complex. From the outside it didn't look like much, but inside it had hardwood floors everywhere, plenty of natural light, and lots of space. Plus, it backed to a large green space, which made up for the fact that they didn't really have a backyard of their own.

We also got to meet Addison, Greg's son from an earlier relationship. Greg calls him "motor" (short for motormouth) because he talks so much, but he sure clammed up around me. I've found that a lot of kids react to me that way for some reason: even though he had met me dozens of times, CO2 Jeff's son Ethan would invariably, upon seeing me, stop dead in his tracks, pause for a moment, and then run terrified to clutch his father's leg. I don't know what it is about me. I've wondered if it's my asymmetrical face (very noticeable, even to adults, thanks to a congenital condition called ptosis), since I remember reading somewhere that no matter what other cultural factors might come into play, the one constant in human attractiveness is the symmetry of the facial features. Or it could just be because kids kind of freak me out, too.

Greg and Angie had never been to a Bojangles before, but they were game, so we followed them there. The restaurant was only about five minutes away, but when we first pulled up we thought it might be closed: we couldn't see any lights or movement inside, and there weren't any other cars in the parking lot. Thankfully that was just because we had gotten there before the rush; it was just 11:30, a little early for the post-church crowd.

It was good, but not as good as the Bojangle's farther south. Greg and Angie thought it was pretty tasty, and an average Bojangle's is still way better than its weaker northern competitor, Popeye's. And York is certainly a hell of a lot closer than Charlottesville, the next closest Bojangle's location.

For the past two or three weeks, I have been staying up all night, unable to sleep, only grabbing short three or four hour naps when my body was so exhausted that I could hardly stand. It was like hyperventilating, when your lungs get just enough oxygen to keep you from passing out, but you can't really do anything else but panic and think about breathing.

Starting last Saturday night, though, I began sleeping straight through the night, barely able to keep my eyes open after 10 p.m. and slumbering uninterrupted until 8 or 9 in the morning. I feel like I can breathe for the first time in weeks, slow deep draughts of air, the kind of breaths you take after a long walk in the cold. A sense of tranquility is returning.

After saying goodbye to Greg and Angie and Addison at the Bojangle's, Tom and Julie and I headed a few miles north to a little park just outside York to do a geocache. Even though the sun would occasionally come out, the day felt grey and overcast. There were no leaves on any of the trees in the park, and the woods seemed empty and haunted, a post-apocalyptic forest still vibrating with the souls who had died there. The weather was beautiful, if a little weird for January: the temperature was in the 60s (and may have climbed into the 70s by the time we left).

There was a pack of mountain bikers riding the trails that we encountered several times on our way down to the cache. They were taking a trail that zigzagged back and forth across the hill, while we proceeded straight down what looked like a dry creek. The cache was hidden under a rock on a hill that was covered with a loose piling of large stones covered with leaves; when you stepped down in between the larger stones, you didn't know if the leaves were hiding an unsettled rock that would twist under your weight and cause you to lose your footing or a hole that you would step into thinking it was solid. I came close to falling and/or spraining my ankle several times, especially since I had to hold the GPS unit in one hand.

After searching around this nightmare terrain for several minutes, I finally looked at the clue (usually the description of a geocache will include a short hint to help you if you are having trouble), which said that the cache was hidden near a tree with three trunks. There were, unfortunately, many of these about, ranging in size from thin clusters of saplings to massive, towering trees. While glancing at the clue, I also noticed that the group that had found the cache before us noted that the location of the cache seemed off by about a hundred feet, so I decided to just scout around farther up the hill and look for a good-sized three-trunk tree.

Employing that strategy, I found the cache almost immediately and called Tom and Julie up to where I was. I think the coordinates for the cache were off, because I left my GPS unit on for several minutes, and it never got closer to 100 feet from where the cache was supposed to be even though we were sitting right on top of it. We put the Bullseye travel bug into the cache, along with a polar bear Pez dispenser, and decided to take a rubber duck dressed in a tuxedo. Just as we were packing the cache back under the rock, we noticed a small group approaching us, led by a man with a metal detector in one hand and a GPS unit in the other. It turns out that he had visited the cache the day before, but had dropped his other GPS unit on the way back to his car, so he was retracing his steps with a metal detector in the hopes of recovering it.

We headed back home after a short hike back to the car, but didn't get back to our house until 4:30 or so. Tom started getting ready to leave and lay down for a short nap that turned into an hour's worth of sleep. He was heading back to Richmond, but we tentatively made plans to meet him in Charlottesville this Saturday so I could have a look at some more of the pieces that are being developed for the Borges project. It didn't seem like an especially long visit, probably because he didn't get there until Friday evening and I was tired and cranky most of the time, but we still managed to do a lot of stuff. Hopefully by the next time he comes up here I'll be both employed and well-rested.
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