Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Blog365 Wrap-Up

On New Years Day this year I published my ambition to be a member of Blog365, a meme or contest or challenge or something to post every day of the year except Leap Day. So now it is time to reconcile.

The definition of “posting” was left purposefully vague so that as broad a definition as possible was allowed. Since at the time I had three blogs going (the other two are Dowd Report – the world’s best and only blog devoted (and we mean that in the creepiest sense of the word) to NYT columnist Maureen Dowd and China Sights – a photojournal of my trip to China in 2007), I figured that as long as I posted to one of them, it counted. Even by that standard, I didn’t quite make it. A check of my blog against the calendar shows that there were 50 days when I didn’t post anything anywhere. Some of that is due to vagaries of the clock and calendar. If you look at days where I made two posts either the day before or the day after, the count goes down to 32 days.

My longest dry spell was from June 29 to July 7 when I was on vacation in Cape Cod. Our rental house had wifi service which was in almost constant use by one teenager or another, but I kept busy enough touristing and socializing to not really have time to blog. I saw that as a good thing. Towards the end of September I also inexplicably went a week without any new material on Foma*, even though I did make four posts for the Dowd Report.

By another measure, I more than met the spirit of the challenge. Here is the count of the total posts I made by blog:

Foma* - 217
Dowd Report – 152
China Sights – 44
Total – 413

That exceeds the rate of one post a day by comfortable margin. During the past year I also uploaded 1,457 pictures to my Flickr account, which by the rules of Blog 365 count as posts. But I mostly did those in bulk, so I’m not taking credit for those.

I put China Sights on hiatus after the Olympics and Maureen Dowd went on an extended leave without warning me, leaving Foma* all alone as my flagship blog for December.

Did I enjoy the challenge? I sure did. It made for a lot of logistical planning and decision making. I did manage to blog every single day of my trip to England which I probably wouldn’t have done had I not been under the challenge.

Am I going to do it again? Not on your life. Judging my the number of missed days, I clearly am not up to the rigors of that kind of schedule. I admire daily bloggers, but I just don’t have the schedule flexibility or the creativity to keep it up on a semi-permanent basis.

So what does the next year hold? Foma* is definitely not going anywhere. I will continue to post 3-4 times a week or as the mood strikes. At any given time I have a backlog of a half dozen post ideas I’m kicking around as well as my snap reactions to current events, so I hope I won’t burn-out anytime soon.

I do need to do some work on the plumbing of the blog, which takes away from the actual blogging. The template needs a refresh and I would like to upgrade my header to something splashier.

I’m a “learn by doing guy” and teaching myself video-editing is something that is on my agenda. I have a huge backlog of video from my trip to China two years ago that I would like to futz with, although I’m not sure what is the best way to release that.

And I do love all my readers which is why I am such a BlatantCommentWhore. I know there are a lot of competing blogs, podcasts, social networks, and porn sites out there way more fascinating than my humble exercise in narcissism, so I appreciate the time you spend reading my incoherent ramblings. You can’t have an exhibitionist without a victim and I thank you for continuing to walk past my virtual front porch.

Finally I want to wish everybody a Happy New Year. And the Fourth Annual National Just Read More Novels challenge begins tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Best Of 2008

The past couple of years I have been doing semi-annual collections of my best posts (which is like picking the fastest turtle). Since I missed the one in June this year, I am doing a double sized year-end Best Of. And what a year it has been.


I like to travel and travel makes for good blogging material. When I went to England on my son’s Spring Break trip, I managed to blog every day for a week. Here all my London related posts in one place.

Our big summer vacation was to Cape Cod, which is not far from Mianus. There we hunted lighthouses both on the Cape and on Marthas Vineyard.

And for Thanksgiving we tagged along with our son so we could see him march in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

But you can be a tourist in your own town and I heartily greeted the opening of our newest, decades in the planning, fantastic tourist attraction on the Inner Harbor waterfront: The Baltimore Visitors Center.


This election year was one of the most discussed ones ever. The few times I treaded into the waters of political satire were a mixed bag. Some posts were duds, but among the better ones were my Candidate Comparison Guide and my career counseling for Sarah Palin.

Personal Experience

Part of my reasoning for a blog is to relay events and experiences that are unique to me. Otherwise you’d just read the blog of somebody wittier and smarter than me. This year I stalked Maureen Dowd and shook hands with George Snuffleupagus. I also showed some Chinese educators who has the best mussels.


Comics are and always will be a recurring toping here at Foma*. This year we got a little metaphysical and explained why Gene Weingarten is an asshat. The annual National Crappy Comics Competition was as popular ever. And I continued to show why I am the Mel to Francesco Marciuliano’s Flight of the Conchords by hosting the Sally Forth Expo as well as sitting on the casting couch. Expect more Forth frivolity in the future.

Pop Culture

I’m got into this whole random pop philosophy game with my three part essay on the Barack Generation (which I tagged as the Tail Boomers) including the handy-dandy identification chart. I think I have a knack for this. I can’t do any worse than Jonathan Pontell.


Finally, sometimes its just fun to do something frivolous (and by the way, you really should check out Mianus) and goof-around like with my tribute to Cheerwine or my uniquely spelled campaign to Frii the Miis.

I want to thank everybody for putting up with me for another year. Tomorrow we will review more of the year past and look ahead to next year.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: As is tradition on my Best Of posts, please feel free to link to your favorite post on your blog.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Thousand Mile Ride

I rode a bicycle over a thousand miles this year. Not all at once and not all in the same place or even on the same bicycle, but it all adds up to over a thousand miles. I went on the ride that put me over the top yesterday afternoon. The winds were blustery and the roads still damp, but the weather was warm and I had been waiting a month for the right day to roll the odometer before 2008 was history.

Now a thousand miles probably counts as a slow week or two for Lance Armstrong (and speaking of Lance, he managed to knock-up his 26-year old girlfriend despite his much publicized testicular cancer. Even his swimmers are aggressively athletic), but it is quite a feat for me. While that averages out to less than twenty miles a week, it actually requires me to ride three or four times a week when the weather is nice.

I have been keeping meticulously anally-retentive (is that hyphenated?) records of my rides for four years now. Actually, they went back further than that, but I lost the first year’s records in a tragic hard-drive crash just before I rode the Seagull Century in 2004. I log the date, route description, total distance, total time, and time it took me to ride the first 2.5 miles. Two and a half miles is an odd little building block of my riding habits. If I keep a 15 mile per hour pace, it takes exactly ten minutes to ride 2.5 miles, which also equates to one mile ever four minutes. So if I’m bored with the scenery, I’ll try to calculate in my head how fast I have to ride for the next mile or two to get back on the target pace. I know, I am such a geek.

A thousand miles is more than I had ridden in the previous three years combined. I credit two factors: I managed to stay injury and accident free for twelve consecutive months. Since 2004 I have had a broken ankle, a torn ACL, and one smashed bicycle helmet. I also no longer have a dog to walk every morning which gives me a lot more free time for going on a quick spin on sunny summer mornings before work. I’d trade half those miles for having my dog back, but I try not to think that much about him because it still hurts.

I have standard routes that I ride around Howard County that take me through or past either Patapsco State Park, Dorsey Hall, downtown Ellicott City (my favorite) or Clarksville. Those names probably don’t mean anything to anyone not familiar with Hoco, but that’s how I roll, literally.

IMG_9812I also achieved a milestone that had eluded me the past few years, which is riding up Ilchester Hill. Going up from the Patapsco River, Ilchester Road climbs four hundred feet in less than a mile. A sign going the other way warns of an 18% grade. While I know of much better cyclists than myself that can loop that a couple of times, just getting up it once without keeling over is accomplishment enough for me. It took my second attempt this year to conquer it, but what a feeling of satisfaction mixed with exhaustion it is to make it all the way up.

But what I really enjoy are rides in new and unfamiliar places. This year I’ve taken bike rides in the San Jose valley, up and down Cape Cod, and across the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s a lot of fun and a great way to see places up close and personal.

I don’t know what is in store for next year, but I’d like to ride another thousand miles. The forecast for Thursday is cold but sunny. It’s never too early to get a good start on the year.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: Where should I go cycling in the coming year?

Sunday, December 28, 2008

My Car Vs. The Megabus

The Challenge: What is the better way to go to New York City from Baltimore? Let's get ready to rummmmmble.

2006 Hyundai Santa Fe
Seats four comfortably, five in a pinch
Double-decker motor coach
50-80 passengers depending on the bus
Cup holders, FM radio-CD player, iPod jack
WiFi (but no power outlets), foot rests
Travel time:
I’ve done it in four hours door to door, but that requires an awful lot of luck on the New Jersey Turnpike. With rest stops, I like to figure on five hours but I allow for six just in case traffic is bad, as it usually is either at the Delaware Memorial Bridge or north of Turnpike exit 8. And southbound is always at least one snarl.

Five hours and thirty minutes door to door because the bus was a half hour late getting to us from DC and ended up nearly an hour late arriving. If we had been trying to catch a 2 p.m. matinee show we would have been screwed.

Coming back the driver must have flown, because even though we were the last of the 9:45 buses to leave, we were home before 2 a.m.

Harbor Tunnel - $2.00 x 2
Maryland Toll Plaza: $5.00 (NB only)
Lincoln Tunnel: $6.00
New Jersey Turnpike: free NB (if you take the Lincoln tunnel), $4.20 SB
Delaware Bridge: $3.00 (SB only)
Delaware: $4.00 x 2
Total tolls: $30.20

In reality, on my last driving trip when I went up on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and back the Saturday after, I only paid $13.80, mostly on the way back. Far more typical is my summer trip to Cape Cod when the total tolls were $25.45 including crossing both the George Washington Bridge and the Tappan Zee looking for our hotel. I’m not questioning the bargains. That is up for EZPass to deal with.
The park and ride the Megabus leaves from is at White Marsh which is still four bucks in tolls round trip from my house.

Very. But the driver is forbidden to sleep.

The seats were a little on the narrow side, so make sure you like who you sit next to. Not that it matters if you plan to sleep both ways like my son and I did.
Travel Flexibility:
Infinite. We can leave anytime and return anytime.

Not bad. Northbound buses run about once an hour in the morning. We had to take the 9:25 one because some of the earlier ones had sold out. On the return trip, the choices are 7:15, 9:45 and midnight. The bus stop, such as it is, is the sidewalk on the southside of Penn Station/Madison Square Garden which is way more convenient than other bus companies. There is no covered shelter, so inclement weather could be a hazard. It had just starting raining after our half hour wait in the cold coming back.
Varies widely. I budget about 20 miles per gallon and it’s 400 miles round trip. At a buck-fifty a gallon, that’s only thirty bucks, at four dollars a gallon it can push eighty.

Varies widely. Megabus has a very gimmicky pricing policy. The first seat sold for any given bus is only a buck. Then the price goes up a dollar for each additional seat sold. They can get pricey in a hurry. Our total bill for three people round trip was $99.50 since they had a fifty cent handling charge per order.
Parking in New York City can be very expensive. Depending on whether you are day tripping or staying at a hotel it can run from twenty bucks to fifty bucks a day.
Free as long as you trust the White Marsh park and ride lot.

Bottom Line:

I like the freedom of driving my own car up to New York. We don’t ever drive it while we’re there, but it makes going and coming back more flexible. For example, on Thanksgiving weekend, we decided to spend Saturday exploring the Greenwich Village and the Lower East Side rather than rushing right back.

Great for day trips or short stays. I’d hate to be lugging more than one bag around New York although the cabs are plentiful in the area if you need to take one to a hotel. The semi-flea bag Hotel Pennsylvania is right across the street for bargain hunters. Book early for the best deals and allow plenty of time for delays.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Comfort Food In New York

For Boxing Day yesterday we took a family day trip to New York City. In the Big Apple there are all sorts of dining choices including the finest restaurants in the country. But you don’t need to spend a lot of money to get good food. We went up knowing of one place we wanted to go to, but all the others we ate at were sheer happenstance. You can get a wide variety of comfort foods no matter what your heritage or taste.

IMG_0008Macaroni and Cheese

We’ve been on gourmet mac and cheese hunts in New York before, but Manhattan has, not one, but two restaurants that serve macaroni and cheese exclusively. The Megabus that we took up dropped us off at Penn Station. Just a few blocks south on Broadway is Supermac, a very narrow storefront tucked next to a much fancier restaurant. It offers over a dozen different flavors in two different sizes. The large, which my son and I ordered, proved we both had eyes bigger than our stomachs. I had the buffalo chicken, my wife had hamburger, and my son went for the applewood bacon. We found it interesting that we each had picked a different barnyard animal to accompany our noodles and cheese. Each variety also uses a different base cheese. The applewood for example was rich with gorgonzola. The owner was chatting with some customers about possible franchising strategies. We concurred amongst ourselves that this concept would go over great in food courts or near college campuses.

IMG_0017Banh Mi Sandwiches

Chinatown is a very popular New York destination for cheap jewelry, knock-off purses and watches of suspicious origin. But it also has a great selection of dining places. To avoid the crowds on Canal Street, we had cut down to Walker Street. We were admiring the window display of XO, a good Chinese restaurant we had eaten at years ago, when I noticed the awning a store called Sau Voi Corp with some of the few words in Vietnamese I recognize, Bánh Mì. These little sandwiches have a choice of meats and are garnished with pickled carrots, cilantro and jalapenos. The store itself is dusty affair crammed with Chinese and Vietnamese DVDs, CDs, and cassettes. In one small corner is a sandwich shop making said delights. My wife got one fresh and hot and it delighted her. The smallest places are sometimes the best discoveries.

IMG_0025Cream Puffs

Heading up Broadway we passed a brightly lit pastry place called Beard Papa which I recognized from some food show or another. They specialize in cream puffs. The flavor of the day was green tea, but I went with the regular. The gooey oozing cream filling was delightfully tasy but not overly sweet. The same went for the mocha frozen drink which was so much better than the overpriced highly caffeinated milkshakes at some ubiquitous coffee shop chains I could name. My son went for a fruit crepe. The crepe is hand cooked in front of you (and it took the shy giggly worker two tries to get it right) and filled with fruit and cream filling rolled up like a dessert burrito. This chain seems to have been started in Japan and the decor and lightness of the flavors carries on that particular sensibility.


Passing under the awning of this restaurant elicited unbidden from my son the catch phrase “Welcome to Goodburger, home of the good burger, how may I help you?” from the All That running sketch and the astoundingly dreadful Kel and Kenan movie based on them. Other than the name, the restaurant seems to have no affiliation with the Nickelodeon show, although they do suspiciously offer a crabby patty. The burgers clearly lived up to their name. Fat and tall, they are cooked to order with the choice of all the usual condiments. The prices straddle the line between a fast food joint and a sit-down restaurant. A burger, fries, and drink combo runs just north of ten bucks. You can get milkshakes or beer as well. According to my wife, the fries compare favorably with McDonalds which is high praise from her.

The entire day of eating cost less than one person’s bill at Frankie and Johnnie’s and we all rode home on the bus well into the night fully satiated on the comfort foods that just hit our respective spots.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

A Forth Family Life Day

The most beloved tradition in the Forth household is the annual viewing of The Star Wars Holiday Special, a little-known variety show turd that would have been flushed down the pop culture memory hole if it weren’t for fanboys playing with their new VHS or Betamax videocassette recorders. Thanks to the intertubes, it can be found on YouTube, LimeWire, and the BitTorrent client of your choice if you are so inclined. And of course. there is a website totally devoted to it.

Now the full story how this atrocity ever made it on the air is an online exclusive Vanity Fair article. How somebody’s, anybody’s, schlock meter didn’t peg during the production is unfathomable to anyone not familiar with the conventions of late 70s variety show/holiday special conventions.

Just the names of the people involved should have set off alarms. The writer was Bruce Vilanch, the Jabba-esque permanent writer of bad Oscar ceremony patter. Other writers involved included Shields and Yarnell veterans. The original director quit in frustration and the cantina characters nearly asphyxiated in their costumes.

The on-air talent included Jefferson Starship (Star Wars/Starship, get it?), Bea Arthur, Art Carney, and Diahann Carroll. The movie cast appeared at gunpoint. According to the article, Carrie Fisher’s condition was that she got to sing a song, which apparently inspired some of the Postcards From The Edge hitting bottom scenes.

The only redeeming value is the introduction of Bobba Fett as a cult character. But it sure seems a high price to pay.

So if you get bored by the Christmas Story marathon or just need a break from the relatives, read the article and spend some quality time watching the entire campy crapfest.

And may you all have a Happy Life Day with all the Wookiees in your world.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Three Words: Topless Midget Santas

On Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish blog he has coined the word "hathos" to describe the fascination with things that only deserve scorn. As holiday themed examples he has been posting YouTube links to the worst Christmas clips ever. I actually found this on a different site hoping to submit it to Sully, but he had beat me to it.

Truly the worst Christmas video ever. Enjoy the Hathos.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Brakes My Heart

What is wrong with this headline?

And what does it say about the state of journalism?

Celebrity Shots

In addition to my duties as lead blogger here at Foma* Central and my role as a Boodler on the Achenblog, I am also a part-time Liz-ard at Celebritology, the Washington Post’s celebrity gossip blog written by the lovely, talented and ever so sarcastic Liz Kelly. Lately I have been amusing myself with some of my particularly clever bon mots over there. I’ve decided that these asides are too precious to not be recycled in complete defiance of Rule 7 of the User Discussion and Submission Guidelines which states:
For any content that you submit, you give us permission to use such content. You hereby grant to Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive, LLC a royalty-free, irrevocable, perpetual, worldwide, exclusive [emphasis mine], and fully sublicensable license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, incorporate into other works, distribute, perform, display, and otherwise exploit such content, in whole or in part in any form, media or technology now known or later developed.
In flagrant violation of that rule I now present some news items and my reaction:

News Item: 45-year-old Lisa Rinna will be shooting a nude layout for Playboy this year.
My Take: Early this week I expressed alarm at finding out just how far Lisa Rinna has taken her lip-enhancing collagen shots. Mind bleach, pronto.

News Item: Fandango published a list of the Ten Sexiest Women that inexplicably omitted the true Hottest. Woman. Ever.
My Take: Clearly they retired Angelina Jolie’s jersey to give other hotties a fighting chance.

News Item: Jeremey Piven dropped out of the Broadway production of Speed the Plow because of an illness brought on by eating too much mercury-laced sushi and Chinese herbs.
My Take: Poor Jeremy Piven. I hope they find the sleezeball that is selling all that mercury-laced cocaine, er, sushi. I meant sushi.
My Further Take: It doesn't take a genius to figure out just which 'Chinese herbs' are included in a Colombia roll.

News Items: Tom Cruise is garnering very bad reviews in his new World War II era action flick.
My Take: The general buzz on Tom Cruise's Valkyrie performance is that it lacks the subtlety and gravitas of the late Werner Klemperer.

Bonus News Item: Michael Jackson turned fifty this week.
My Take: When asked for a comment, Jacko paraphrased Matthew McConaughey and said, “That's what I love about these preschoolers, man. I get older, they stay the same age.”

We now resume our regular holiday blogging.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Christmas Meme

This little snippet of a meme has been running its course on an e-mail chain I'm on, but rather than just reply to the mailing list, I decided to make a full-fledged post out of it. It's typical of the silly little random question style meme, but since it's the holiday season, I don't want to be a grinch. Here we go:

1. Wrapping paper or gift bags?
This year? Nothing. We are doing Christmas as BYOP (Buy Your Own Present) so wrapping is a senseless gesture. Most years we do the full wrapping paper with bows. And it’s very obvious which ones who wrapped. My wife could be a professional wrapper and I’m all thumbs.

2. Real tree or Artificial?
We’ve done both off and on. It was a real tree last year, but this year we have a midget artificial tree to keep things easy.

3. When do you put up the tree?
The weekend after Thanksgiving weekend. Or the weekend after that. Definitely before Christmas.

4. When do you take the tree down?
The weekend after New Years Day.

5. Do you like eggnog?
I love it, but I’m the only dairy drinking person in the family. It tastes even better with a little Jack Daniels or rum in it.

6. Favorite gift received as a child?
A 1/72 scale B-52 bomber model which had a 36" wingspan. I am such a geek.

7. Hardest person to buy for?
My parents. They don’t need anything and it’s hard to come up with something new.

8. Easiest person to buy for?
My nephews and nieces are still little kids and easy to please.

9. Do you have a nativity scene?
Yes, a very nice white ceramic set I inherited from my Grandmother. We didn’t it put it up this year, but it’s nice to have.

10. Mail or email Christmas cards?
I used to do the world’s greatest Christmas newsletters (the original blogs) but it got to be too much trouble. Then we did cards for a few years before that fell by the wayside. I think it’s been about five years since we mailed anything.

11. Worst Christmas gift you ever received?
Too many to enumerate but discretion prevents me from naming any.

12. Favorite Christmas Movie?
None. Although in recent memory, the first The Santa Cause was well-done.

13. When do you start shopping for Christmas?
All year-round. Since we travel a lot, buying stuff on vacation is a good way find unique gifts.

14. Have you ever recycled a Christmas present?
A few times, but not to close family members.

15. Favorite thing to eat at Christmas?
My grandmother’s marshmallow pudding which is a secret family recipe.

16. Lights on the tree?
Oh, yes. I like watching the colored lights blink.

17. Favorite Christmas song?
"Christmas Rapping" by The Waitresses which hasn't made Courtney's annual countdown yet.

18. Travel at Christmas or stay at home?
I like to be home for Christmas itself but travel a little between Christmas and New Years.

19. Can you name all of Santa's reindeer's?
Uh, Dasher and Donner and Dancer and Nixon. And Sleepy and Grumpy and Doc.

21. Open the presents Christmas Eve or morning?
One or two on Christmas Eve and the rest in the morning.

22. Most annoying thing about this time of the year?
Trying to park at a mall when you just want to buy something completely non-holiday related.

23. What theme or color are you using?
White with some holly berry accents.

24. Favorite for Christmas dinner?
I make a mean macaroni and cheese which goes great with a sprial-sliced honey ham.

25. What do you want for Christmas this year?
A really tricked out video-editing PC, but I want prices to come down a little first, so its not in the cards. Oh, peace and goodwill towards men too.

26. Who is most likely to respond to this?
Don’t care. All my memes are take it or leave it.

27. Who is least likely to respond to this?
The two dozen people that have already done this. I am such a procrastinator.

BlatantCheerSpreading™: Give your answer to any of the above questions.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

My New Driveway

Way back when I bought my townhouse, I vaguely noticed that the driveway slab closest to my garage door was slightly off kilter and formed a slight valley where it met the lower section of the driveway and the steps coming down from the front door. Over the years, this minor flaw has been a major hassle. When it rains the bottom step becomes a puddle that has to be jumped over to get to my car. In the winter it freezes solid and becomes the world's smallest ice rink. But now I think my troubles are over.

Loyal readers will recall me kvetching about a power outage back in October that resulted in a crew from Big Giant Utility (BGU) jackhammering a 2 foot by 2 foot hole in my driveway at two in the morning. They quick patched it with asphalt and said another crew would come by in about two weeks and saw cut and repour a band of the driveway. That sounded like it would look like crap, but who was I to argue.

Three weeks came and went and the uncompacted asphalt patch became a black sinkhole threatening to enrich a car suspension repair franchise. A call to BGU revealed that they had no record of the repair ever having been made probably due to lost paperwork from whichever subcontractor did the actual late night electrical repair. A team was dispatched to top off the original hole with asphalt and repairs were again promised in a week or two.

Three more weeks and another two or three phone calls to find the guy that fielded our first effort revealed that the paperwork still hadn't been properly filed which led to more promises. In the meantime some cracks had started to spiderweb out from the original hole. Then on Monday, which would be two months and five days after the original repair, I came home to the sight of half my driveway ringed with warning tape. The entire lower section of my driveway had been jacked out and replaced. And the pitch of the new slab matches that of the other section.

The drainage characteristics of the new driveway have been well-tested since then because it has rained nearly every day since with no ponding or pooling. I thank BGU for performing a long needed improvement at no cost to me.

However, they didn't bother to leave me any instruction on curing time. After two days of parking on the street, I tore down the warning tape and let my wife back in the garage while I made sure that my car is on the upper slab each night. Still in the ground are six three-foot tall metal spikes holding in the slab framing. I have no use for them and I have no idea if BGU is going to come back for them and take out the framing.

In the meantime I am just dreading the day one of us cuts the turn out of the driveway too sharp and scrapes the side of the vehicle with this semi-permanent lawn ornament. I think I'll call BGU and ask what I should do. In about three weeks.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Return Of The Creeper

I've been playing with the new camcorder I got to replace the warhorse that I had taken to Vietnam and China but which has seem to have given up the ghost after many years of fine service. One of the ostensible purposes of the new camocorder is to document my son's marching band participation whenever possible. As I mentioned way back on this post, the Georgia Tech Band performed for Fox and Friends, the Fox Network version of Good Morning, America. Here is my view from the sidewalk of them performing that morning:

Georgia Tech Band on Fox and Friends from yellojkt on Vimeo.

I was trying to capture my son playing, but as you can tell, the dance squad kept getting in my way. Here is a screen capture of him from after the band finished playing just to prove I have a son and I'm not just a creepy guy with a camera.

Notice that the embedded clip is hosted on Vimeo, a high-definition video sharing site that has way more restrictions than YouTube, but much better streaming video quality. YouTube has greatly expanded their storage limits and now uploaded videos can be up to 1GB in size. However, in the default setting, the video plays is "standard definition" which is just painfully pixelated.

If you click on the clip, it will open in a separate window where you can switch to hi-def mode which still doesn't look as good as the Vimeo version, which can also clicked on for an even better version. But YouTube is a classic case of network effect. If your video isn't there, it won't ever be found. This video and a pure Flash version of the same clip have already been seen over 40 times with no promotion on my part up until now.

IMG_2597And in my post titled The Creeper, I linked to a Fox clip that showed me stalking in the background snapping a photo of Ainsley Earhardt. I'm pretty sure this picture is the one I was taking. Hey, if taking pictures of bubble-headed blondes on the news is wrong, I don't want to be right. And you can see more pictures of the band and even a few of the pom squad here.

Monday, December 15, 2008


Just a few things that have made me scratch my head in perplexment this weekend:
  • ABCNews's 20/20 is doing a special on a suburban mostly-white Virginia high school doing a production of The Wiz, the 70s soul version of The Wizard of Oz. Claude talked about what a bad idea this is over a year ago. Why did nobody listen to him then?

  • Tom Cruise is going back on the Oprah show. Does no one remember what a train wreck that was the last time?

  • Charlie Crist, Florida's Oompa-loompa colored governor of ambiguous sexual orientation, got married this weekend to a gold-digging divorcee. These two can adopt kids, but Rosie O'Donnell can't?

  • Dubya had a pair of shoes thrown at him at a press conference in Iraq.

    David Gregory was seen muttering "You can do that?"

BlatantCommentWhoring™:What is making you go WTF?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Cruise Control

It was quite a while ago that I named Tom Cruise the Hunkiest. Nutjob. Ever. And a lot has happened in those three years. He has married, had a kid, and settled down. NOT. He has been as bat-guano crazy as ever and I got to have a brief glimpse of that while in New York recently.

As I mentioned, we went to go see tweener musical 13. Right next door was All My Sons, the Arthur Miller obscurity currently featuring Katie Holmes. We had gotten over to 45th Street a little early and while just wandering around we noticed a large black SUV with massively tinted windows parked at the curb. In the vicinity were a couple of guys with really massive camera gear. Recognizing the profile of a paparazzo from when I stalked Julia Roberts, I went over to investigate.

As soon as I crossed the street, another two more VIP SUVs pulled up behind the first one. The camera guys started yelling “Hey, Tom! Over here! Hey Tom!” I quickly realized that the well-coiffed short guy stepping out of the middle SUV was Scientology’s top ambassador. I quickly got off a shot of the completely unrecognizable back of his head, but his trademark sunglasses can be seen in the reflection of the window.

He grabbed a small child out of the car, presumably Suri, the alleged fruit of his loins, and made it to the stage door holding her in front of him so that neither of their faces could be seen.

By now my wife had gotten across the street and grabbed the camera away from me. She took a picture of Katie as she stepped out of the car and was moving around for a better angle when she got shoved in the shoulder by the NYPD guy running celebrity duty along with the beefy private security guys. I did get one brief glimpse of Tom’s toothy smile as he held the door for his bride.

Only in the aftermath did I piece everything together. Since Katie had a show to be in, and finding a babysitter for Thanksgiving weekend must be a bitch for even the most famous A-lister, Tom decided that he and Suri would just hang around backstage while the little lady went to work. That Tom would want to spend a holiday afternoon hanging around backstage with his wife can be interpreted as either dotingly lovey-dovey or creepily controlling.

We stood around and watched some more as the Cruise motorpool of three Yukons set up camp for the afternoon. The driver and the cop chatted amiably as a lackey shuttled purses and diaper bags and other accessories through the backstage door. I quickly realized that since this was a matinee and there was another performance that evening, the Cruises were in for the duration.

Sure enough, when we left our show two hours later, the full motorcade was still parked out front. Usually the limos for the stars just drop them off and come back just after the curtain call, but these guys had reserved street parking just off Times Square for the day. I can only imagine the pandemonium that occurs after the last show when the threesome get back into their three car parade to go home.

In contrast, on our way back to the hotel much later that night, we were passing the theater where The Seagull was playing and there was a small crowd at the back stage door. There, Kristen Scott Thomas was signing playbills and posing for photos. When everybody seemed satisfied, she drew a winter-chilled sigh and climbed into her single Lincoln Continental towncar to go home.

She seemed to only have a single assistant helping her out. If only she too merited three SUVs, an entire security squad and a couple of New York’s Finest at her beck and call.

Since then I have been seeing droves of publicity pictures of Tom and Company in various candid shots strolling in the park or chatting with their good friends, the Beckhams. And I don’t believe an ounce of it. There is not a moment of Tom Cruise’s public life that isn’t carefully planned and choreographed. Because he never loses control.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: How tough is it to be Tom Cruise?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Rest In Peace

My sister-in-law passed away yesterday. She had just turned fifty.

My wife never knew her sisters growing up. Her parents divorced when she was born and her father had custody of the two older girls. Her mother remarried an American and the three of them moved to the United States when she was seven. Two years later, South Vietnam fell and the country was reunited but the family was permanently divided.

In the early 1980s, the oldest sister was allowed to immigrate to the United States. In what I think is one of the great melting pot stories of this country, she met a Cuban Marielito in English class at the local community college and got married.

The middle sister chose to remain in Vietnam. In 2005, our family took a nine-day trip to Vietnam, in part to meet the missing sister. She lived near the center of Saigon (nobody really calls it Ho Chi Minh City) in a four story townhouse with her long-time boyfriend. Because of their jobs, they both spoke broken but passable English. Their neighborhood was full of shops and restaurants and they had two fairly worn scooters that are the ubiquitous form of transportation in Vietnam.

She seemed happy and her life was comfortable. Like many Vietnamese, she and her boyfriend were reluctant to talk about events during the more authoritarian decades of Communist rule, but life has improved immensely over the last decade. Their townhouse which was a standard size for the city was big enough for a family of eight or more but they shared it with just a couple of dogs.

We saw them twice. The day we arrived they took us out to dinner at a fancy Chinese restaurant. Near the end of our trip we spent an evening at their house where we talked and ordered talk-out food from a local market. While the house had a small kitchen that Nixon could have impressed Khrushchev with, we were told they, like many Vietnamese, ate out a lot because it is just as cheap as cooking for yourself.

Shortly after our visit, the sister was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She has spent the last year traveling back and forth to Singapore for treatments not available in Vietnam, but it was a losing battle. My wife’s mother went over last week to comfort her in her final days.

The loss, like that of any close relative that leaves too soon, is heartbreakingly tragic. My wife never knew her sister, but she always represented a path her life could have taken but didn’t. Our journeys in this world are often punctuated with forks where events could have changed everything radically. My wife's childhood move to the America was one of those. Because of her sister, she will always have one thread connecting her back to the country that she only has a child's memories of. We will always remember her sister and cherish the one brief moment of connection we had. May she rest in peace.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

To Be Or Gnat To Be

Two weeks ago I woke up one morning to a gnat infestation in my kitchen. They were buzzing around the kitchen. I checked all around the kitchen for where they might be coming from. The counters were clean and the dishes washed. I had no idea where the gnats were coming from. They had even made it upstairs to the master bathroom. They were so thick I couldn't drink my morning glass of grapefruit juice without a critter diving into share it.

I set out on an eradication program. I hum up some flystrips over the sink. And I put out a Cheerwine bottle with just a little grapefruit juice in the bottom. The gnats would fly into the bottle and drown in the juice. Over a few days most of the gnats fell to their doom, but I never quite figured out where they had come from.

Then just a few days ago we got our first fruit shipment. When I was a kid we had two grapefruit trees in our backyard. Winter mornings I would tip-toe across the frost on the ground to pick a grapefruit from the tree. I became quite addicted to my morning citrus.

So when citrus season starts in December, we order boxes of fruit. The first one came as a mixture of tangerines, oranges, and pink grapefruit. I put some in the refrigerator and then I took the rest down to the coldest place in the house, the closet in the basement underneath the entry stairs. When I opened the door I caught a whiff of rotting fruit and noticed four grapefruit from a month ago I had forgotten about. I gingerly carried the bag to the trash. I finally knew what had caused the gnats to roost. There are still a few lingering around, but now I treat them as uninvited pets. I've even given them names. Here are a few:

Gnat King Cole
Gnatalie Portman
Gnatty Boh
The Gnatural
Gnat Lauer
Gnatcho Cheese
Gnatman: The Dark Gnat
Gnat Masterson
Gnattering Nabobs of Negativity
Gnatsy Boys
Donovan McGnat

BlatantCommentWhoring™: Name some gnats.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Broadway Blitz

It's not a trip to New York without catching some shows and while the main objective was the Thanksgiving Parade, that didn't mean we couldn't his some theaters.

Young Frankenstein

The tough economic times are especially rough on the theater. But their trouble is the fan's opportunity. I went straight from the Fox and Friends broadcast to the newly renovated TKTS booth. Lot's of shows were "on the board" at half price. After consulting with my wife and son by phone, we compromised on Young Frankenstein, or as the full title goes The New Mel Brook Musical: Young Frankenstein. Mel is nothing if not self-effacing.

Despite only buying tickets that morning for a Wednesday matinee, we had fantastic seats in row M on the aisle. At intermission, I observed that the back four rows of the orchestra were completely empty.

The musical follows the movie plot very closely, only in color, not black and white. With the opening of Shrek, there are now three shows on Broadway where one one of the stars has to wear green greasepaint.

While not the original cast, and Frau Blücher (neigh!) was an understudy, all the performers were excellent. Roger Bart and Cory English in particular bore striking similarities to Gene Wilder and Marty Feldman. Not so good were the songs. Out of context, they would be banal at best. In the show, the just underscore how dependent Mel Brooks is on penis size jokes and other double entendres for his humor.

Verdict: Rent the movie instead and appreciate the comic genius of the original rather than the singing and dancing monster that has been cobbled together out of spare parts.


Somewhere between the Disneyfied production of Mary Poppins and the R-rated topics of Spring Awakening is the tweener-aimed demographic of this audience. Essentially an Afterschool Special set to music, the show is the story of a boy whose bar mitzvah is ruined when his divorced mom moves him from New York to Indiana where he has to try to fit in at Dan Quayle High, home of the Fighting Quails. As you can imagine, it doesn't go as planned. All the expected sterotypes are on parade: the brain, the nerd, the jock and his lackeys, the good-girl, the queen bee bitch, and more.

The cast is astoundingly talented. Many of them have previous Broadway experience including some that have been in the original casts of the family-oriented shows elsewhere on The Great White Way. The star has a certain Zac Ephronish charm and I fully expect at least one or two to go onto bigger and better things. The show itself is a brisk 90 minutes long with no intermission which agrees well with the 8-14 target audience but is a little light to justify full price Broadway show prices.

My wife had gotten some discount tickets online for this show on the aisle in the fourth row. Seeing the stage was no problem since much of the audience needed booster seats. This show was in the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre theater which is one of the smaller venues in the Theater District and usually shows plays like Three Days Of Rain (where we say Julia Roberts). Despite the small venue, the side sections of the orchestra were only half full and the balcony was nearly empty.

Part of that may have been due to the time of the performance. Since Broadway is (mostly) dark for Thanksgiving, most shows have a bonus Friday matinee to make up the missing Thursday performance. This is one of the great secrets to seeing shows on Thanksgiving weekend. Between Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, there are about seven chances to see a show. Throw in the shows that do have Thanksgiving performance, you can see shows all weekend long until your eyeballs bulge.

Verdict: Look for this one coming to a community theater production near you, but without the future superstar talent.


Since 13 was so short, we were able to race out of the matinee and get in line for discount tickets to Gypsy. Evening show tickets go on sale at 3 pm and some shows were selling out by the time we got to the front of the line at about 5:30. We were able to get Gypsy tickets in the middle of the mezzanine. The St James theater is one of the older ones and the seats redefine uncomfortable. It's nearly impossible for a person of normal stature to sit without their knees pressed against the row in front. My wife was squeezed between me and a lady that while not huge, was much, much larger that the average theater goer from a hundred years ago. At intermission, my wife moved over to some unsold seats on the far right section of the theater and said she still had a great view.

We saw a touring production of the Tyne Daly version about twenty years ago. Bernadette Peters also tried to fill Ethel Merman's shoes a few years back. The draw for this production is Patti LuPone, Broadway fixture and the original Evita, playing the ultimate stage mother. All three leads in this show won Tony Awards and you can see why. Laura Benanti in particular is stunning as Gypsy Rose Lee who has to transform from the mousy tomboy to the show-stopping stripper.

Patti plays Mama Rose a little lighter and less brassy than the classic Ethel Merman performance which brings a little extra touch of humanity. Her standing ovations are well-earned.

Verdict: LuPone is contracted through March when this show will probably close rather than try to go on without her. Catch it while you can even if you have seen this classic before.

A lot of the shows I have seen in recent years like Avenue Q and Spamalot are scheduled to close in the next few weeks. Based on our eavesdropping on the TKTS staff, some shows like Wicked and The Lion King are still doing well and never put tickets on discount. But the mid-level shows are taking a beating.

Clearly high prices are to blame. In the time I have been seeing shows, the top ticket prices have gone from $90 to over $120 and that is before a plethora of silly fees and charges kick-in. Even more assiduously, once a show has become a hit (and sometimes before), the producers hold back the best seats to sell through captive scalpers at prices up to $400 each. We didn't pay full price for any of our shows and say a wide variety of good to excellent shows. Most of which won't be around this time next year. There are bargains to be had, but you have to grab them quick.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: What movie, story or historical event should be made into a musical?

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Elf You

Two years ago, I found a silly dancing Christmas elf gimmick on the web (yeah, there's a first for me) and linked to it. Maybe it's because I credited it to Office Depot instead of OfficeMax or just some quirk of the Google Authority Hype (or GAH!) but a few days ago my blog traffic to that two year old post just exploded (which for me means literally dozens of hits) as people began searching for seasonal goofy gimmicks. And who am I to resist?

Send your own ElfYourself eCards

The Office Max Elf is now powered by JibJab which gives you more choices of dippy dances. Since I am also the King of Cheesy 70s Music, I decided the disco dance version suited me best. And I might was well use the most recent picture of me, which is this one. You can see if I've changed any in two years (the original picture is probably even older than that).

So go ahead and make your dancing elf. It's the spirit of the season. And there's never anything wrong with making fun of yourself on the web.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Ten Things I Learned About The Macy's Parade

IMG_26111. The marching bands have dress rehearsal at 3 in the morning.
I wanted to catch my son as they marched past the Macy’s, but I overslept and didn’t get down until Herald Square until quarter til four. I did catch the last few bands doing their final walk-throughs. Even then the streets were blocked off so much that the best view was at the corner of 33rd and Broadway as the bands turned the corner from their performance.

IMG_26352. They take down all the lamp posts and traffic lights in Times Square for the parade.
A giant fleet of utility trucks comes through and removes anything a balloon could get snagged on. They lift them up to cranes and lower them onto trucks for safekeeping. Then after the parade, they come back and put them all back up again.

3. Everybody wants to see the parade, but some people have better connections than others.
A great place to see the parade struck me as being at Columbus Circle. But the sidewalks at 2 Columbus Circle where the parade turns from West Central Park onto Broadway was completely blocked off by police barricades. You had to show some secret pass to even be let into this particular area. The statue of Columbus in the circle named after him had a viewing platform built around it. The only people allowed on that platform arrived in police SUVs and were escorted by cops that seemed to be on a first name basis with the VIPs.

P10206594. It’s really hard to take good pictures of people marching in the parade.
Unless you pick your spot on the sidewalk at 4:30 in the morning, You run the risk of being three to four people back and unless you have unusually steady posture, the surging and pushing of the crowd behind you will jiggle any image you try to take.

5. There are rude people in the crowds.
Down in the crowd some loud mouthed obnoxious New Yohka pushed herself and her son to the front of the crowd in front of people that had been there for hours. When they complained, she threatened to call the cops. After a few minutes, she decided the view wasn’t good enough, so she shoved her way out to the back of the crowd.

P10206706. There are rude people overlooking the parade.
At our hotel brunch, the people with tables right at the window had the best views but they were very accommodating of people wanting to stand between the tables to see the street below. The littlier kids were being allowed to sit on the fairly wide ledge between the tables so they could watch the whole parade. One guy, taking a cue from his grandkids, climbed up on the window ledge and sat there with his legs stretched out. Only the place he picked was in front of a table of complete strangers. This eventually annoyed the people whose table was next to his feet, but he wouldn’t budge. It took three hotel staff members to convince him to climb out of the window and stand around the window like everybody else.

P10206567. The balloons are HUGE.
No matter how bad your view in the crowd is, you can see these floating characters from anywhere. From a third floor window these balloons were frightening. Some of the bigger ones were Shrek, Buzz Lightyear, and inexplicably, Beethoven the Saint Bernard.

IMG_26768. The celebrities are there for the TV cameras.
While they do ride the floats for the whole parade, all the regular parade watchers are going to see is someone bundled up in an overcoat waving. I had no idea that the person in the white jacket on the M&M Broadway themed float was Idina Menzel, aka the green witch from Wicked.

9. The pacing of the parade is very erratic.
Near the beginning, the floats just whiz by and the balloon wranglers seem to be going at a quick jog. Later, as the queue at Herald Square backs up, the bands will have to march in place for minutes at a time before moving up. Since our son was in the second band, he raced down the street. If he had been with the James Madison University Marching Royal Dukes, we would have had time to go down and have a chat with him.

P102067510. Everybody has to see Santa and he is worth the wait.
After two hours of bands and floats and baton twirlers passing by, even the most jaded bruncher had to go to the window to see Santa. His snow goose throne is “pulled” by some gorgeously sculpted reindeer. And Santa himself is everything you expect him to be.

You can get a better look at any picture by clicking on it or check out the Flickr set for even more photos.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

BooksFirst - November 2008

Books Bought
A Walk In The Woods by Bill Bryson
The Martian Race by Gregory Benford
T is For Trespass by Sue Graftonjavascript:void(0)
Under The Banner Of Heaven by Jon Krakauer
Teachers Have It Easy by Daniel Mouthroup, Nanive Clements Calegari and Dave Eggers
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
The Rainbow of Mathematics by Ivor Grattan Guinness
The Comics by Brian Walker
Welcome to the Monkey House by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Books Read

Fifty Degrees Below by Kim Stanley Robinson

Books Heard
Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
Holidays On Ice by David Sedaris


Normally I don’t review the books I've bought but haven't read, but everybody has read some of Welcome to the Monkey House at some point. A staple of high school English classes, the short stories are some of the first exposure people get to Vonnegut's style of deadpan black humor.

It is also the last major Kurt Vonnegut book that I didn’t have a first edition of. We were in New York and just coincidentally happened to park two blocks away from Strand Bookstore which has recently upgraded their motto from “Eight Miles of Books” to “Eighteen Miles of Books” and is probably still understating it. We won’t know until the next milestone, which I guess is eighty miles of books.

Their enormous rare book room is on the third floor. I went up and browsed. They had a book club edition of Player Piano for $45 on display, so I asked if they had more Vonnegut. The clerk shrugged her shoulder and said to check the shelves, which I already had. As I was waiting for the elevator I scanned the locked case by the door and saw the long-elusive WTTMH on the bottom shelf. Sure, it’s a big indulgence, but I checked Alibris this morning and every copy they had listed was more than what I paid. Now I just need a bigger bookcase, because the Vonnegut shelf is already groaning.

In perhaps the weirdest naming strategy I’ve run across, Fifty Degrees Below is the middle book of a trilogy that started with Forty Signs of Rain (reviewed here) and concludes with Sixty Days And Counting. As the middle book in a trilogy, it has all the typical problems of the second book. Something has to happen, but you know not everything is going to get resolved.

In this episode, more focus of the storyline is on Frank Vanderwal, a self-centered researcher shuffling papers at the National Science Foundation. Venal, manipulative, and sexually predatory, he filters all his actions through a rationalization of sociobiology. It's a credit to the storytelling that Frank who was a complete asshole in Forty becomes very sympathetic hero by the end of Fifty.He also finds out why he keeps running across a mysterious woman. Some super-secret agency is tracking top scientists and he is one of them for some reason.

However, the pacing is languorous. The titular freeze doesn't even start until after page 300. And you expect a story like this to have lots of planet saving pleas. The science is cutting edge with all sorts of bold climate change concepts. Now I have to wait for the right time to finish the trilogy and see how the world gets saved.

David Sedaris is a NPR superstar and a lot of it is based on his low-key monotone delivery of his tales of humiliation. Me Talk Pretty One Day starts out with his encounter with a speech therapist with a southern drawl thicker than his lisp. However, the bulk of the book and the title revolves around his life as an ugly American in rural France that either can't or just refuses to learn the language. Way too much of the humor drives from his malaprop prone literal translations into and out of French.

A few stories are poignant, but most just strain with flop sweat. Near the end he resorts to ridiculing American tourists after spending chapters talking about how poorly he himself fits in. His line about Americans showing up in foreign countries looking like they came to mow the lawn is classic, but cheap laughs about bad grammar don't rise to Jerry Lewis levels of hilarity.

This three disc set of Christmas-themed stories called Holidays On Ice seemed like the perfect driving companion to and from the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and it was. The first disc about his time in the trenches as an elf at Macy's is both enlightening and side-splittingly funny. He hits just the right notes of wry observation mixed with self-deprecation.

Less successful are his completely fictional stories that tread a fine line along the boundaries of tastelessness and offensiveness. Portraying a reunited Vietnamese Amerasian war baby as a hot pants wearing me-love-you-long-time slut with incestuous tendencies just isn't funny in any sort of meta-way at all. And his Christmas tale of two neighbors outdoing each other is tedious and telegraphed long before the nausea sets in. But then he returns to the memoir idiom and has a touching tale of rescuing an abused white trash floozy, even if just for one night. It hits all the notes that a Sedaris story should and brings a twisted warmth to the holiday season.