Thursday, July 31, 2008

I Kissed A Girl

The other night my wife was listening to songs on the internet and one had a very familiar title, but not a melody or lyrics that I recognized. Newcomer Katy Perry has a catchy summer hit with her song “I Kissed A Girl”.

YouTube has disabled embedding for this video.
Clicking on the image will launch the video in a new window.

According to an Entertainment Weekly article, Perry is the product of a strong Christian home and has "Jesus" tattooed to her wrist. Her other ironically titled single is "UR So Gay".

The identically titled song that I remembered was by Jill Sobule from 1995. The video featured Fabio as a hunky boyfriend.

In the pre-Ellen/L-Word/Will and Grace world, that song was mildly shocking. Now a far inferior song with tune-cootie-ish hook will be hummed and sung my middle-schoolers for years to come. Interestingly, neither video features any actual kissing.

One of the signs of my incipient geezerdom is my perplexment at kids these days. Lindsay Lohan is just the latest celebrity to join the “does she or doesn’t she?” method of piqueing the public interest.

The whole Lesbian Chic and LUG phenomenon is puzzling, not that I mind.
The American male interest in sapphic soiries is of course purely prurient. Since I am unlikely to ever breach the gates of the Michigan Womyns Music Festival, one of the items on my bucket list is to visit Palm Springs on Dinah Shore Weekend.

Colleagues warn me that I am bound to be disappointed since Real Life Lesbians rarely resemble Porn Star Lesbians, but then few adult entertainers bear any similarity to real life people in any dimension. Still, I’d like to check it for myself.

In the meantime, I will have to settle for The L-Word and back issues of Girlfriend for my vicarious enlightenment. But I at least have hard-wired erotic responses to blame.

While I'm all for tolerance and openness, I think this trend could be a mixed blessing for the genuinely confused young women out there that are trying to come to terms with their sexuality without lots of mixed signals. With all this 'experimentation' going on, some hearts are bound to be broken when the novelty wears off. Just ask Melissa Etheridge.

The girl-on-girl infatuation stage seems to be an ironically chaste response to society’s hypersexual mixed messages. This new silly song may someday become as innocuous as kiddie party staple YMCA. But in the meantime, at least we can all agree that it is fun to kiss a girl.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Comic Strip Temporal Dynamics

or Why Gene Weingarten Is An Asshat

In what seems to a prescient rebuttal (since strips are written weeks in advance and the Hilary Forth for President post only happened last week) to Gene Weingarten’s continued wrong-headed theories of temporal dynamics, today’s Sally Forth directly states that all comic strip continuity dates backwards from the present. Otherwise the accumulated anachronisms would become unbearably limiting and characters created in the 80s or earlier would be unable to make jokes about anything contemporary like cell phones or internet surfing.

Gene Weingarten styles himself as some sort of comics expert but he continually spouts completely ridiculous assessments of comics. His opinions are colored by his pals in the industry. Stephan Pastis of Pearls Before Swine frequently contributes to Gene’s online chats, but nobody is a bigger asshole buddy of Gene than Jef Mallett, creator of borderline-disturbing independently-wealthy elementary school janitor Frazz. While the comic is all aboveboard, no real school employee would be allowed to be as cozy as this Calvin-haired custodian is with prepubescent kids.

Now Gene Weingarten and current Sally Forth writer (and longtime indulger of my solitary obsession with the Forths) Francesco ‘Ces’ Marciuliano have butted heads in the past. In a 2002 chat about comics, Gene Weingarten had this to say:
I knew the guy who started Sally Forth 15 years ago. He was a lawyer who could not draw. His early cartoons were just TERRIBLE. And because they were terrible, they were sort of charming. Then he hired a slightly better (but not good) cartoonist, and things went downhill rapidly. Sally Forth is one of those comics that is listless because it is no longer drawn by its creator.
The Washington Post online comics site credits the strip as "Sally Forth
by Steve Alaniz & Francesco Marciuliano; drawn by Craig MacIntosh" despite the fact that Steve Alaniz hasn't had anything to do with the strip for years. That Ces writes but does not draw the strip has also befuddled Gene for a long time. Here is a direct exchange between the two from 2003:
Francesco Marciuliano: Can you keep the comic strips where the author didn't so much give up the ghost but simply writing duties and royalties, like my job at "Sally Forth"? I need the money, people! Where else am I supposed to get that kind of cash?! Cockfighting? The chicken will beat the living crap out of me.

Gene Weingarten: Howdy, Francesco. I was a friend of the first guy who started Sally Forth. Whatsizname. The lawyer. Funny man. Couldn't draw. He was right to get out of the drawing biz You draw better. I know that's not saying much, but I think you draw well.
"Whatsizname" is Greg Howard. Not that tough to remember for someone you claim to know. This led Ces to make the following life-changing realization:
*No matter how many emails you send him, no matter how often you post on his Tuesday discussion board, no matter how frequently you point him in the direction of your syndicate's Web site, Washington Post humorist Gene Weingarten will never get that you only write "Sally Forth," you do not also draw it.

But Gene began to come around. In 2005, Sally Forth was named as his Comic Of The Week, drawing this reaction from Ces:
Shocked! Shocked I am to find that The Washington Post's resident (or at least self-appointed) humor expert Gene Weingarten chose the above "Sally Forth" as his "Comic Pick of the Week"! This almost makes up for the three years in which he more or less equated the strip with an unsuccessful bowel movement.
See, in Gene’s world everything revolves around him. One of his tired bits is his hatred of the name Madison, so when someone else makes a joke about the ubiquitous moniker, the only possible explanation is that it was inspired by him.

Madison, Wis.: Was yesterday's Sally Forth a shout-out to you?

Gene Weingarten: Could be!
The thought that the name Madison is equally annoying to other comics escapes him. This is a little self-absorbed from a guy about to steal Dave Barry's booger schtick because his jokes about underpants are played out.

All this is just to lay the groundwork on the thesis that Gene is an Pulitzer Prize-owning asshat that wouldn’t know a good comic if it hit him in the face. Nonetheless, he is an influential pompous prick and perhaps dozens of panty-flinging groupies hang on his every word. That doesn’t make him right about comic strip timelines. Most comic strip characters don’t age for very good reasons. Nobody wants to read jokes about Linus’s prostate exam instead of the Great Pumpkin.

Many strips get around this by being as non-topical as possible. Nancy and Sluggo would look very weird dressed emo or goth. Red and Rover deliberately stays very fluid in its setting so that it can make both topical and nostalgic gags.

When comic strip characters age, they tend to do so VERY slowly like in Baby Blues or Marvin. The exceptions that prove the rule are For Better Or For Worse and we daily see what a trainwreck that has become and Gasoline Alley where half the most beloved characters should have taken a dirt nap a decade or two ago. Others like Opus and Funky Winkerbean jerk forward in time at awkward intervals that destroy the pace and rhythm of the strip.

Hi and Lois has been in print for three centuries now and the clothes and lingo have all kept up with the times, more or less. Thank God. The strip is unfunny enough without having to be stuck in some sort of 1950s timewarp because Gene Weingarten says you are limited to the the era it started in.

Weingarten is constantly hinting that he and his son are working on a syndicated strip that, of course, would be the funniest gift to the comics page ever. Let’s see what he does in a decade or two when the characters need to keep up with the times. Until then perhaps he should back off on the people in the trenches putting out amusing strips on a daily basis rather than pontificating with his weird theories that would suck the life out of the funnies page so it fits his warped misconceptions.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: Should comic strip characters age and should the settings stay contemporary or reflect the era they started in?

Update (1:35 p.m): In his chat today, Weingarten took credit for the Sally Forth gag at the top of the page despite the two week plus lead time for newspaper comics.
Gene Weingarten: I meant to add this to the comic picks. It's terrific. I am pretty sure I was the inspiration for this. Last week, in the Gene Pool, I noted Hilary's real age. Marciuliano mentioned this in his blog. I think he got that strip in in a hurry.
The prosecution rests.

Another Update (2:20 p.m.): Ces explains the time warp much funnier than I can.

Yet Another Update (7/31/08): In an update to his chat, Weingarten admits that he didn't inspire the strip:
I was wrong in guessing that Francesco Marcuiliano's sudden, startling mention of Hilary Forth's true age (36) was in playful response to my having done just that six days before The Gene Pool. I contacted Francesco to check: It turns out this was an amazing coincidence.
He doesn't say what exactly prompted him to contact Ces, but I would like to believe that my blog post gnawed at him and he decided to set the record straight while ignoring my very existence. It's no less presumptuous a theory than his that a July 23 post of his would cause someone to scramble out a comic strip by July 29 in rebuttal.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Nothing Wrong With That In P-Town

As I mentioned on a previous post, we spent a day in Provincetown while on vacation in Cape Cod. P-Town is part beach resort, part gay mecca, and part open-air carnival. And I say that in the most Seinfeldian “Not that there is anything wrong with that” way possible. After all, I had a gay roommate for three years and even dated a pre-out lesbian for a while.

IMG_0536And what delighted me about the tip of the Cape was the openness. It seems like the straight couples were the only ones not holding hands. If you are not comfortable with same-sex displays of affection, you are not going to be comfortable here.

The attraction of the area as a family destination is a bit puzzling. The pervasive sexuality approaches the Tenderloin district in scope. One poster for a gay-themed play featured two guys in bed in a state of dress that makes Calvin Klein billboards seem demure.

Some parents were gripping the hands of their pre-teen kids in tow just a little too protectively, but most families were taking in all the sights in stride. Overall, kids seemed oblivious to the bent of their surroundings. A bunch of kids were amusing themselves in funhouse mirrors just below posters pitching drag show cabarets.

My high-school-graduate son who is no stranger to actual and potential members of his school’s Gay-Straight Alliance seemed a little curious about the overall culture and the general lack of dress in general. There was a general deficit of shirts even accounting for the proximity to the beach. He even missed the most flamboyant display of the day, a foursome of shirtless hunks in tightie-whiteys and speedos parading up the street at a pace that approached a skip.

This led to discussion of physical attractiveness and being proud of your body and the ends some people will go to in order to appear desirable. My wife had a hard time refuting my son’s conclusion that gay men are much pickier than straight women. For which I am eternally grateful.

IMG_0474Beyond gay-gawking, there is a lot to do and see in Provincetown. The main street shops are widely varied and endlessly interesting. I had to drag my family out of a huge store specializing in games and puzzles.

While my son was buying techno CDs from the music store, I got talking with the clerk about the autographed box set of John Waters movies. I mentioned that I was from Baltimore and had met Waters once at a museum gallery opening. She nodded and said that we each got John for half the year. Both Baltimore and Provincetown share a self-aware funkiness that is hard to identify and impossible to replicate.

IMG_0472Part of the appeal of P-town is the remoteness. In this hyper-connected world, physical isolation is not so critical, but I love knowing that places still exist where flags of all varieties, both freak and rainbow, can fly. DisneyWorld calls themselves the Happiest Place On Earth. I’ve been to Atlanta, San Francisco, Greenwich Village, and Key West and feel comfortable in declaring Provincetown the Gayest Place On Earth. And there is absolutely, positively, nothing wrong with that.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: Are gay-friendly resort areas suitable for family vacations?

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Hilary (Forth) For President

Pulitzer Prize winner and pompous blowhard Gene Weingarten as part of his schtick claims to be the world's foremost expert on newspaper comics, a claim that can be easily disputed by Josh Fruhlinger, THE Comics Curmudgeon. Nonetheless, in his Washington Post discussion group, Gene put out the following comics related topic:
Tell us which comics-page, comic book or animated cartoon character should be running for president and why.

I've given this a lot of thought, and my presidential candidate is Hilary Forth, Ted and Sally's eleven-year-old daughter. Her age might seem to post a Constitutional problem, but that's misleading: Hillary was 11 when the strip debuted in 1982, so she is currently 37. She gets my nod for the simple reason that she is the only character out there with a sense of humor, a sense of humility, a highly cynical streak, and an ability to manipulate others to achieve what she wants, which is the definition of diplomacy. Also, she is just plain cool.
I'm more than willing to give Hilary my props. I have written several posts featuring her before, most notably the perversely popular New Delhi Monkey Auditions post as well as a year of her diary entries (which features the same exact strip Weingarten linked to). But Gene has no concept of comic strip temporal dynamics. Hilary will always be eleven years old and her birth date will always be eleven years before the current year. That is just how frozen-in-time strips work. Hilary is no more eligible to run for president than Blondie is able to draw Social Security.

Still, the concept of the youngest Forth running for higher office is intriguing. Using the same suspension of disbelief that makes Teenage Girl President or Prez Rickard possible, I've imagined what a Hilary candidacy might be like.

Ces has already heartily endorsed Gene Weingarten's nomination and you can be certain that I will do anything I can to help the campaign.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: Which Hil(l)ary would you vote for?

Standard Disclaimer to King Features Syndicate Lawyers: Fair use, parody, non-commercial, yadda, yadda, yadda...

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Josh On Jeopardy

Back in February of 2007, I read two books about what it takes to be a Jeopardy champion. While I am no slouch in filling my brain with useless trivia, I really admire the guys and gals that can do it under the hot stage lights in front of uber-cool Alex Trebek. In the comments, Josh Fruhlinger of the Comics Curmudgeon blog mentioned that he would love to get on Jeopardy. Well, his dream came true.

He took the online test and finally made it. He and his lovely wife went out to California at their own expense (Jeopardy only pays the travel expenses of returning champions) and put the buzzer in his hand. His episode aired Tuesday night and Josh arranged for a watching party at PJ’s near the Johns Hopkins campus.

I got there to find a small crowd already gathered and I sat with some of Josh’s relatives and other blog readers including fellow Comics Cardinal Zippers the Mule. By the time the show started there were at least fifty friends of Josh and shanghaied bar patrons watching the big screen. We cheered his every right answer (and there were a lot) but the reigning champion was just a demon with the buzzer and got all the Daily Doubles. Josh’s only serious faux pas was not realizing that the Maryland state fish, the rockfish, is also known as a striped bass.

Despite his excellent play, he was third second going into Final Jeopardy where World Leaders was the category. In addition to being the world’s leading expert on newspaper comics (successfully defining a very narrow niche being one of the keys to internet success), Josh also writes an occasional column for Wonkette called The Foreigns where he mocks scandals that various foreign heads of state have fallen into.

And while his ‘question’ of “Who is Dubcek?” was close, the right answer of “Who is Golda Maier” eluded him. Still, Alex Trebek was impressed by the good guess as well as Josh’s fine fashion sense.

After the show Josh gave a brief tale of how the taping went and how little the contestants are allowed to hob-nob with Alex. He took some questions and everyone congratulated on his close brush with game show riches.

After the show, Josh sat down and we talked about all sorts of things like the nature of internet celebrity, the inner workings of Wonkette, and the ubiquity of internet porn. Despite being fellow Baltimorons and having had e-mailed each other in the past (I had even sent him a wedding gift), we had never met face-to-face. He didn’t even know my real name, but he recognized me immediately from the many pictures of myself on my blog.

One of my mantras for the internet era is that there is no level of fame too low to not have a cult of personality. And Josh deserves one since he has such a great attitude and sharp sense of humor. Now in addition to his roles as World Famous Comics Blogger and Occasional Wonkette Contributor, he can add Failed Jeopardy Contestant to his list of titles. And that is a genuine accomplishment I am sincerely envious of. Thanks for letting me live that thrill vicariously through you, Josh.

If you are here from either Comics Curmudgeon or The Gene Pool, check out all my comics posts.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Homophobic Caption Contest

We took a day of our Cape Cod vacation and made the run up to Provincetown. At the tip of Cape Cod is the funky beach resort that is P-town. While it has a great anything goes vibe, a few sights brought out my inner twelve-year-old. I couldn't help snickering at the names of a few of the local establishments. And these weren't even the ones going for the obvious double entendre. So giggle along and try to top my captions.

Deposits accepted in the rear.

This place really packs them in.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: What is my punishment for this?

Monday, July 21, 2008

Beijing Blog Reboot

It's hard to believe that it has been over a year since I went to China and the the Olympics are starting in just a few weeks. One of my other side blogs is called China Sights and it is a photoblog of the pictures I took during the two weeks we were there.

I've been pretty indifferent about keeping it updated but with the Olympics coming up I keep seeing news stories that relate to things I saw and did while there. There seem to recurring themes cropping up.

IMG_3947Pollution and Smog. Beijing is an amazingly smoggy city and officials have already starting cutting down on traffic and closing local factories to try to cut down on air pollution as this news story details. Many of the pictures I took had only limited distance visibility. I learned the need to have foreground interest in pictures.

The air quality has been a concern since Beijing was awarded the Olympics. My personal feeling is that the improvements will be noticeable but not enough to avoid some very serious concerns for the athletes. I'm dying to see the blimp shots of the Birds Nest Stadium through the haze.

IMG_3561Security and Restrictions. China is a very closed society with a strong central authority. While it may be a little harsh to call it a police state, the police/military presence is everywhere. Every morning when I would walk around the city, I would see small squads either drilling or exercising. As this other news story says, the security levels as the Olympics approach have gone up exponentially.

I think that the Chinese are paranoid over demonstrations that would embarrass them. The highest level of security we encountered a year ago was the checkpoint to go up on the overlooking Tienanmen Square. This is the famous wall with the portrait of Mao on the side. If someone were to unfurl a "Free Tibet" sign off the side of it, heads would role. Literally.

P1000498Progress versus Tradition. The Olympics triggered, or perhaps just enhanced, a building boom in Beijing as new buildings have been built and existing areas have undergone extensive renovations in preparation for their moment befoe the camera. In many areas older buildings are being razed which has caused some concern among preservationists and those concerned about tradition.

For the next several weeks I am trying to post two pictures a day. While not explicitly tying them into the Olympics, they will all relate in some way to Beijing preparing for the games. These posts tend to short and a little on the dry side. I'm not sure how I'm going to integrate the content into Foma* here. I may do digests or summaries or more tongue-in-cheek entries. In the meantime, go by and check out the pictures.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: Have you been following the run-up to they Olympics?

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Educating Mamma Knight

What do the two presumptive top movies of this weekend have in common? Both The Dark Knight and Mamma Mia! feature one star each from the 1983 art-house hit Educating Rita. In her first film role, Julie Walters plays a hairdresser that takes a lit class from an embittered failed poet played by ubiquitous thespian Michael Caine.

They were both nominated for Best Acting Oscars, but neither took home the trophy. Now twenty five years later they've moved on to supporting roles. In the Abba-tastic musical, Walters (left) is the former Dynamo to Meryl Streep's Donna.

Michael Caine has gone from being the man who ogled Demi Moore's pre-Striptease tassels to being Bruce Wayne's faithful manservant.

I saw Educating Rita when I was in college and now a quarter century later, both actors are still going strong. I just find these odd coincidences utterly fascinating. Who would have guessed that both would have big hits in the same week?

Anyways, here's my Mamma Mia! (Remember: Two m's in 'mamma' and an exclamation point) story: As Broadway hounds, we knew of the Mamma Mia musical soon after it debuted in London. Then we heard that it would be making a Toronto debut about six months before hitting The Great White Way in New York. Always in need of a destination for a driving vacation, we bought tickets for the show and then planned our vacation around it.

We went through the Niagra Falls area before heading up to Toronto. While there we also saw the Canucki production of The Lion King since we were in the neighborhood. So when the Broadway run opened to rave reviews with the Canadian cast's Donna in the lead, we smugly bragged of our North American gun-jumping. It's not everybody that will plan an entire vacation around an Abba tribute.

The stage version has a fresh, clean production style that gets lost in the movie adaptaion. And as one movie critic mentioned, Pierce Brosnan did not get the part on the strength of his singing.

And while I unabashedly love all things ABBA, my wife takes it to a higher level. She called me this afternoon just to tell me that at the 11:15 show this morning, the audience was at best 20% guys. I told her, of course. Real men have to go to work rather than hit musical matinées.

And when we got home from the movie, our son was zonked on the couch from his all-night Dark Knight bash with his friends. Our local cineplex was dumping poorly attended screenings of other movies to add additional shows of both Dark Night and Mamma Mia!

Let's hope those Educating Rita alumni are getting a cut of the gross.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: Share your Abba-riffic memory. I know you have one.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Pier Six PolkaFest

When I did the Battle of the Rock Dinosaurs last month, I liked the review format so much that I have decided to use it for all my concert reviews even if I don't have two or more shows to compare. We had never been to Pier Six for a concert and my son has always wanted to see Weird Al live, so we headed down to the Inner Harbor last Friday.

Weird Al Yankovich
Blurry Overexposed Cell Phone Picture


Weird Al brought all his song parodies and wacky routines to Pier Six. He played all the classics and the latest hits.
Opening Act

None. Instead, I took my family to McCormick and Schmicks for happy hour.

While M&S is a tony semi-special occasion seafood place, the bar area has great happy hour specials. The signature item is a half-pound hamburger for $1.95. Plus, unlike the DC branches, the Baltimore location has a great water view. My son and I went through three rounds of appetizers before time ran out.

The show didn't start until 8:30 so we wandered over to OtherBigBoxOfBooks next to the Hard Rock. I love that location with the big old chimneys right in the middle of the store.
Stage Presence

Al brings it. He does a costume change for nearly every number. He puts a lot of effort into the performance and all the impersonations are dead on.
Stage Show

While he is backstage changing, they run bits from his old shows on the big screen. These get nearly as many laughs as the songs themselves. His backing band also gets into the act with matching costumes and parodies of rock cliches. The accordion solos were pretty funny as well as the props and gimmicks.
Amusing Anecdote

He doesn't do a lot of stage patter, but for the encore, he says that he has just enough time for one more song and then goes into a fifteen minute version of "Albequerque."

You haven't lived until you have seen the twelve Startrooper kickline for "The Saga Begins." "White and Nerdy" and "Amish Paradise" were also big crowd pleasers
Show Length
2:15 but that included the rather long interludes.
Audience Demeanor

Definitely a family show. As a pair of parents with a geeky teenage kid, we fit right in. There were kids as young as nine or ten, but they all had a good time.
Noticeable Omissions
"Like A Surgeon" - Maybe Madonna is a little too old school for this crowd.
Other Reviews

None I could find. The show was only about half-sold and escaped the notice of mainstream press.

A great time with a lot of funny songs. There's a reason he is the
king of song parodies.

Thursday, July 17, 2008




Related Rant:
I coaxed my wife into going to see Wall-E Saturday afternoon. She was a little reluctant to go see a G-rated movie. We had the choice of the 4:40 or the 6:00 showing. She insisted on the later one on the theory that being at dinner time and at the higher price bracket, there would be fewer tykes in the audience. Everytime a childless couple walked in, I nudged her and said, "See, we aren't the only ones."

Then about halfway through the movie a pre-schooler got out of his seat and started playing in the aisle. Mom was sitting at the end of the row but made no effort to sit him back down. Then he started stomping up and down the the steps. After about ten minutes, an usher came in and talked to the parent. The kid was put back in his seat but got back out pretty much right away. The person behind the mom tapped her on the back but it wasn't until a few minutes after that that the mom and the kid left. About five minutes later, the they came back in for the other two kids and left for good.

At this point I could rant for days about parents and kids and manners and public behavior, but it would just demonstrate my incipient geezerdom. I don't mind at all when kids at a family movie react to the film. If fact, it's pretty charming to hear kids laugh or gasp at the right places. But to use a theater seat as a babysitter is just unconscionable.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: At what age should kids be allowed into a theater? What age range would you recommend Wall-E to?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

BooksFirst - Summer Vacation 2008

One of the secondary goals of my summer vacation was to get to as many independent and used book stores as possible. I didn't didn't do any research ahead of time to make a list and visit any on purpose, but if we were in an area with one (which was often), I stopped in and browsed. I felt obligated to find at least one book I wanted in each store. Since I didn't actually read any books while on vacation, I'm breaking my standard format for these BooksFirst posts and divide the Books Bought section down by bookstore.

Tim's Used Books - Hyannis, MA

Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

Located on Main Street in the busy tourist area of Hyannis, this store is large and well organized. The fiction area was along one side wall and had a great mix of contemporary and classic writers. I went with the Toni Morrison book, because I'm feeling I need to add a little heft to my reading list. We'll see if I can get through Morrison's sometimes difficult style.

Brewster Book Store - Brewster, MA


This bookstore is one of the more famous bookstores on the Cape and was the closest to our rental. One afternoon I went antiquing with the three wives on the trip. We had lunch at Brewster Fish House and then went to Brewster Books Store. Crammed into a small house right on the Antique Row of Route 6A, this is a high-end new book store. Nearly half the store is devoted to children's and young adult books. The rest is a quality mix of recent releases, local interest books, and general stock. It packs a lot into a small space. While I didn't buy any books myself, my wife bought a couple of midlde-school-age fantasies that would appeal to Paoli or Pullman fans.

Yellow Umbrella Books - Chatham, MA

The Soft Machine by William Burroughs

Another highly advertised store located on Main Street in Chatham, it had a great selection of local interest. It's along narrow store with the new books in the front and used selections in the back. My son picked up the first book in the series that my wife had bought at Brewster Books. He ended up reading the first three of the series on the car ride home.

Tim's Used Books - Provincetown, MA

The Partly Cloudy Patriot by Sarah Vowell (autographed)

I'm pretty sure this Tim's has nothing to do with the Tim's in Hyannis. The one in Provincetown is the archetypal house that has been taken over by a bookstore. Tucked away off the main drag, this wood frame house has all four ground floor rooms filled with shelves with the check-out stand being a large desk in what would be the living room.

The selection was disorganized and spotty, but the there was a great assortment of modern first editions, a lot of them signed. I read Sarah Vowell's Assassination Vacation two years ago and loved her quirky style. And here was a signed copy of another travel book by her. What was there to lose?

Lyrical Ballad Bookstore - Saratoga Springs, NY

Galapagos by Kurt Vonnegut (signed limited edition)
Skin Tight by Carl Hiaasen
H is for Homicide by Sue Grafton
Science and the Modern World by Alfred North Whitehead

This bookstore was the most serendipitous find on the entire trip. We had dropped our son off at an old friend's house and we went into Saratoga Springs to check it out. On a side street was Lyrical Ballad Books (and I just learned that is the title to a William Wordsworth poetry connection). I told my wife I was just going to dash in for a few moments and then immediately got lost.

The store rambles around from room to room and is quite cluttered. Normally, I don't like the piles of books on the floor type of store, but for Lyrical Ballads it worked. Every room was full of treasures and I had to put back several books just to save me from myself.

Then at the checkout counter I casually mentioned that I collect Kurt Vonnegut first editions and I didn't see any on the collectible shelves. He ran to the back and brought out a limited edition signed collectors edition of Galapagos. It was pricey, but I had to have it.

While hanging around I then mentioned I also collect John D. MacDonald paperbacks. He named a few, but they were all titles I knew I already had. Instead, he rummaged around and found a back issue of Firsts, the magazine for book collectors that had a special JDM issue. I added that to the purchases and walked out of the store giddy.

Lyrical Ballad is one of the greatest used book stores I have ever been in and I found it strictly by chance.

Bear Pond Books - Montpelier, VT

The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan

While tooling around central Vermont eating dairy products (a topic for another post), I decided to stop for dinner in Montpelier, Vermont. Montpelier is the state capital but has a funky old-fashioned vibe. And there were bookstores all over the place. Bear Pond Books was a new book store and it showed a lot of personal touches. As you would imagine, the selection leaned to the granola crunching side, but it worked. The books displayed were interesting and diverse. I went with Omnivore's Dilemma (which is nothing like Portnoy's Complaint) because I have heard a lot about it and it is out in a trade paperback edition and it seemed the right book to get from this store.

Rivendell Books - Montpelier, VT

I'll Sleep When I'm Dead by Crystal Zevon
Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins

Within rock-throwing distance of Bear Pond Books (if you have a good arm and some small rocks) is Rivendell Books which uses the Powell's style of mixing new and used books on the same shelves. It also had a distinct feel which was a little more relaxed and loose. Everywhere I turned there was something interesting, but by now my bag of books was getting heavy and I needed to taper off the buying binge.

I just love bookstores and visiting a whole bunch of independent new and used stores gave me a great appreciation for how good it is to be beyond the BigBoxOfBooks chains. Small bookstores can be just as fascinating by focusing the selection and making browsing an experience.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: Where have you found a good bookstore unexpectedly?

Monday, July 14, 2008

Have A Coke And A Smile

Over at View From The Cloud, Jeff opened a firestorm by delving into the pop versus soda controversy. He also took time to ridicule those that called any soft drink a coke, whether is was bottled but the Coca-Cola corporation or not. This is a controversy of deep regional division as the following map (which I've used before) shows:
(click for a big version)

"Soda" is most common in the Northeast and California. "Pop" holds sway in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest. "Coke" rules in the Deep South. I live in Maryland which seems totally befuddled. The most puzzling part of this whole kerfuffle is that few places call it "cola" which sure seems like it would be the most logical generic name for a carbonated cola-flavored beverage.

Most people when they see this map begin chuckling at southerners for not knowing that Coke is a brand, not a description. Jeff Foxworthy, in addition to his many fine redneck identification tips, once said that when people hear a southern drawl, they spot you ten IQ points right off the bat. He would know. That Foxworthy has a degree in electrical engineering from Georgia Tech seems to have slipped off his resume somewhere along the line.

IMG_7733aI don't see the problem with calling soft drinks "coke". People blow their nose with Kleenex and take Tylenol for headaches after drinking too much Lite beer and Xeroxing their butts on the office copier. Lots of brand names become generic terms, often against the wishes of the manufacturers. Just ask Bayer.

Most of the time, if you are below what I call the Sweet Tea Line and you order a coke, you'll get Coke®, so their is a certain economy in ordering it that way. I once worked with a lady whose husband was the head of distribution for Pepsi-Cola in the state of Georgia. We used to tease her about what a hopeless cause that was. Besides, since most places let you fill your own know, so what difference does it make what you call it.

IMG_7746The last time we were in Georgia, we made point to visit the new Coke Museum which is full of great memorabilia and history. But best of all, they have sampling dispensers where you can taste all the flavors bottled one every continent. The Japanese apple flavor was the best and some Italian style that tasted like quinine was universally despised by visitors.

Going over my old blog posts, I realize that I fall in the "soda" camp. For this (as with most things) I blame my New England bred mother. She used to go on and on about all the great flavors of Nehi (which morphed into Royal Crown) like Radar O'Reilly. She also used to insist that subs sandwiches were grinders and that aunt was pronounced "awwwnt".

Cold cut sandwiches are another source of regional name differences. In addition to grinders, there are subs and hoagies and heroes. I have an unproven theory that the hero sandwich is an Americanization of gyro.

But you can call food and drinks whatever you want, but as long as it tastes good, I'll be there.

BlatantCommentWhoring®: What regional name for a food or drink do you use?

Saturday, July 12, 2008

A Visit To Mianus

I’m always open to new experiences, so when I saw that our trip was going to take us near Mianus, I knew I wanted to see it. While I have been near it a lot of times, I have never been to Mianus. I warned my wife that we would be making a surprise stop on our trip which made her very nervous. I do have a tendency to get lost and end up in dark dangerous places.

I tried to use my Tom-Tom to find Mianus, but it didn’t have the location in its database. Luckily, a Mapquest search gave me exact directions to Mianus. We nearly went right past it but we got off the highway and backtracked our way to Mianus. We took a few turns and were soon deep into Mianus. When my wife finally realized where we were, she caught on that this was something for my blog, but she played along because Mianus was really pretty nice.

I didn’t know what to expect, but Mianus was both smaller and prettier than I expected. It was clean and bright and well manicured. We went up one side and enjoyed the view before I stopped to take some pictures of Mianus. The air was cool with slight breeze and a faint flowery smell.

What did surprise me was the lack of pride in Mianus. It’s hard to tell you’re even in Mianus. There was no Mianus Cleaners or Mianus Lube. Not even any Mianus Liquors. We found only one sign indicating we were in Mianus at all. I had to wait for a truck to pull out before I could take a picture. I bet those schoolkids make a lot of cracks about Mianus.

After soaking in the atmosphere of Mianus, we decided to press on and hit the road. While Mianus was very pleasant and a nice place to visit, I’m not sure I would want to live there. I like my current job and would have to find another one near Mianus. But who knows? Some day I may be back in the area and want to take a closer look at Mianus.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: Would you like to see more of Mianus?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

BooksFirst - June 2008

Books Bought
Fodor's Cape Cod, Nantucket & Martha's Vineyard 2008

Books Read
A Purple Place For Dying by John D. MacDonald


Months ago I began a resolution to re-read in order the Travis McGee novels of John D. MacDonald. I read The Deep Blue Good Bye way back in 2006 and then never followed through. I had hit a roadblock when I realized that I did not have a reading copy of the third book in the series, A Purple Place For Dying.

I have copies of all the first printings (as shown on left) and I have multiple copies of later printings for many JDM books. This is because the first printings are often indistinguishable from later printings except by looking for subtle clues in book numbers and price. I'll often pick up an older book that is a good price and then check to see if it is collectible later.

A good rule of thumb is that any JDM book with a real ISBN number is a reprint. I finally broke down and bought a vintage reprint from an internet dealer for a few bucks, still cheaper than a new copy would have cost.

Purple takes Travis McGee, the freelance "salvage consultant", to the Southwest to help some bitchy ditz get back her inheritance. A sniper's bullet kills her and he is left with a quandry: Should he stick around and get to the bottom of this murder even if there is no longer any money to be made? Of course he does. And since, like James Bond, Trav beds at LEAST one girl per book, the death of the heiress and main female character leaves a plot quandary. When half-way through the book he meets the frigid sister of his dead client's lover, you can practically hear the porn soundtrack bass guitarist tuning up. Travis finds the murderer and takes said sister to her conveniently desolate Caribbean beach house for some sexual healing.

This is one of the lesser McGee novels, mostly because it takes Travis too far from the water while MacDonald is still getting his sea-legs with the character. It does have some glimmers of foreshadowed greatness to come. The story involves a crooked land deal, which would become a plot staple in books to come, and it introduces (off-screen) McGee's future sidekick noted economist Meyer.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

I'm Baaaack!

In case you had been furiously clicking on the refresh button for the past ten day, we (in the royal sense) at Foma* Central have been on a perhaps not well-deserved but definitely much-needed vacation. Since I managed to blog every day while in England earlier this year, keeping up from Cape Cod would seem to be a snap. The rental house had Comcast broadband with wi-fi. We even brought along my son’s sparkling new Apple MacBook Pro that he somehow convinced my wife he absolutely needed for college.

Computers are now necessary traveling accessories. Every family we were with brought at least one, and up to three with them. Some evenings the living room was filled with four college-aged kids all staring into the screen of their respective Facebook walls.

So it wasn’t means or motive that stopped me, it was the three-on-a-match laptop sharing that kept me away. Between my son zoning out on Flash-games or my wife compulsively checking her e-mail, I just didn’t feel like conspicuously hogging the sole family computer for the lengths of time it takes me to put out a quality blogpost with my usually witty repartee.

Besides, on vacation there is so much more to do. We had taken bicycles, so I managed to fit in over 80 miles of riding over the week. We did a couple of day trips that required early starts and it’s tough to get eleven people all headed in the right direction that early in the morning (and for the college kids, ‘early in the morning’ encompassed any time frame before noon).

By waiting until the end of vacation to blog about it, I get to bore you with tedious horizontal slices of the trip rather than diary style day-to-day minutia. You will (and that’s a threat, not a promise) see posts about lighthouses, bookstores, bicycle trails, and clamshacks. Complete with photos. Maybe not all at once, but definitely eventually.

As a teaser, here is a partial list of the places where we either toured, ate, shopped, or some combination of the above:

New Bedford
Oak Bluffs

New York
Saratoga Springs


BlatantCommentWhoring™: So what would (or should) I have done in any of those places?

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

WaPo Gets Fünke

Ending weeks of speculation, the Washington Post named Tobias Fünke as its new managing editor. The surprise announcement stunned veteran press watchers because Tobias has no previous publishing experience other than his vanity press edition of The Man Inside Me, a recent featured selection of the Provincetown Library Book Club. His first action as editor was to extend health benefit coverage to include treatment of severe gymnophobia.

Fünke replaces veteran editor Gordon Downie who is retiring to spend more time touring with his band, The Tragically Hip Replacements.

The announcement was made by Katherine Weymouth, niece of aging bass guitarist Aunt Tina of The Talking Heads. K-Wey, as she is referred to by former WaPo National Enterprise Reporter Joel Achenbach (aka A-Bach), took time from her busy schedule filming romantic comedies to welcome Tobias to the family saying that despite recent downturns in circulation, there is always money in the banana stand.

Photo credit (all left side images): Joel Achenbach