Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Here You Go

Now figure out your schedule.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Watch Your Step

On the three-block walk from the office to the parking garage, I pass in front of two steakhouses: Morton's and Moe's. The early-evening valets for both fine dining establishments have manned their positions by the time I walk by--typically just after five o'clock every day. Along with the valet comes a red carpet, rolled out from the front door to the middle of the sidewalk. This touch is one of many that puts the "fancy" in "fancy dinner" and the extra $3 bucks on the price of a Bud Light. The carpets themselves are durable rubber-lined safety-inspected restaurant/hospitality-grade, and monogrammed with the logo of the respective restaurant.

When I first started this daily walking commute, I took care to avoid crossing these red carpets--I reserved this privilege for those paying for the steaks and martinis. Out of respect, I broke my straight-line path to swerve around Moe's red carpet, and had to swing wide around Moe's corner to avoid theirs. I didn't want to dirty the red carpets, especially if I wasn't going to pay for dinner at their establishment. . .I likened the red carpet desecration to slipping past the valets just to crap in their fancy bathrooms, or to stuff a handful of gourmet mints and toothpicks into my laptop bag. Like lifeguards, the valets seemed to watch the red pool in front of them for unauthorized footprints. No steak, no step.

Now, I realize that the early-shift valets just don't care. And so, neither do I. The industrial-strength red carpets get cleaned by a rug service, my feet aren't caked in mud, and the red carpet isn't a sacred religious symbol. It's the public sidewalk under there, right? But the act still seems disrespectful (like talking on a cell phone in a movie theater). I just can't imagine walking casually across the red carpet at Mann's Chinese Theater. Or showing up in the background of a Nicole Kidman paparazzi picture at the Golden Globes because the red carpet was in between me and my car. I'm pretty sure that security would stop me before either of these scenarios played out. . .but even if they didn't, I'd find an alternate path.

I wouldn't be surprised if one day, as I'm walking to the parking garage, a Sopranos-style mustachioed cigar smoker peeks his head out the mahogany door at Morton's Steakhouse to tell me that I'll be sorry the next time I dare walk across it. And to be honest, I hope that happens.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Hitchhikers

After having a beer and catching up, I dropped off my buddy at his hotel--The Hampton Inn--downtown. I rolled down the window to say one final "see you later" and a couple walked up to the side of my car and peered in the window.

"We don't want anything," the man proclaimed while approaching. "Hey, we don't want anything. We're stranded." The man was wearing a hip-length leather jacket and the woman stood about two steps behind him.

"My car broke down; can you give us a ride?" he asks.

"Why don't you take the bus?" I suggest.

"Buses stopped running--we just came from the bus stop. We gotta walk back or get a ride. We don't have any money."

I tried to assess them. The man must have sensed my evaluation and pulled back the leather coat, saying, "I don't have any weapons."

"Oh, okay. Where are you going?" I ask.

"Washington and Emerson" he replies--about three miles due East of the Hampton Inn.

My better judgment advises not talking to strangers, not to eat their candy, and not to pick up hitchhikers. We've all seen those movies.

"Okay, get in," I decide. They hop in--Eugene in the front and Darcy in the back. We begin driving and the radio isn't on. I didn't want to turn it on at the risk of seeming rude, so I started up a conversation.

"So, where do you work?" I begin.

"She just got off work at the mall. I don't work. I get a check every month."

"Oh." I pause, "Where do you work at the mall?" I ask Darcy, but Eugene answers for her, "I tell her not to tell anyone where she works. I mean, you seem like a nice enough guy driving us home and all, but still. . ."

But still. I have been alternating thoughts between conversation topics (radio still isn't on) and the getaway plan for when these two decide to murder me. But apparently, there is distrust on both sides of the armrest/console.

"Okay," I reply, "I work right by the mall--that's why I asked."

Eugene says, "So glad you're giving us a ride home--I was waiting for Darcy to get off work and drinking a couple beers at BW3's and the car wouldn't start back up."

We drive East about two miles, past Emerson and a few more stoplights. They point to their destination and I stop the car.

"Man, I hate to ask you this after you've been so nice to us, but do you have any money that I could use for gas to get back downtown?" Eugene asks.

"Didn't you break down downtown, Eugune?"

"Yeah, but I have another car" he explains.

"Oh. No. Sorry, I don't have any cash." I reply. Then they say thank you and walk into an apartment building a just off the street.

I really didn't have cash on me. But if I did, I wouldn't have given it to Eugene. I drove away frustrated. Eugune has money to spend at BW3, doesn't work, has two cars, and then wants me to give him money?

So here's the part of the post where you start thinking:
A) What the hell is he thinking? Picking up hitchhikers? He could have been carjacked/killed.
B) What a nice guy. We need more people who trust each other.
C) Eugene smelled an easy target and took full advantage.
D) R. J. should have gone to cash machine and given him some money, because Eugene and Darcy probably "need it" more than he does.

And here's the part of the post where I respond to each of those possibilities:
A) Maybe life needs more risks? And the media always needs a new story, right?
B) Take your naive attitude and move to Kansas.
C) Like most standardized tests, guess "C", as it's right most of the time.
D) My bank account is dry.

And here's the part of the post where you log a comment.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Yeah, Baby!

The fifth and final season of HBO's series Six Feet Under was just released on DVD March 28th . Since I don't have cable, I've been looking forward to the release of this final series since I finished watching Season Four sometime last fall. This past weekend, I got my first taste of the new season. . .and it was worth the wait.

NetFlix is great, but not for immediate gratification (see previous post). So I went to the Hollywood Video near my house in search of one (actually, all) of the DVDs. The only discs still in stock were Disc 3 and Disc 5. I wasn't going to spoil the whole season by watching Disc 5 first, so I decided to start right in the middle. . .I happily forked over $4.23 for this rental.

I spent the next three hours of my life completely entertained. On-screen entertainment for me typically means something melancholy, witty and/or thought-provoking. Six Feet Under conquers all three of the main criteria. If you haven't ever seen this series, please do yourself a favor and stop reading my crappy blog and go rent one of Alan Ball's masterpiece episodes.

During the episodes in Disc 3, Claire (the artsy daughter of the family) quits art school in order to have more time to spend on her artwork. She quickly finds out that she has to make some money to support her art, so she gets a job temping in a cublicleland office.

The office is full of the "The Office" and "Office Space" jokes, but what really got me was that the co-workers continuously say "yeah, baby!" in an Austin Powers accent.

"Carl are you going to the bar after work?"
"Yeah, baby!!"

"Sarah, did you get more copier paper?"
"Yeah, baby!!"

It's part of the office vernacular in Claire's office - this "yeah, baby." It's laugh-to-myself funny to watch this scene play out. "Yeah, baby" after everything, and in response to everything. This lingo seems to confirm to the co-workers that they're cool even though they work in cubicleland. "Yeah, baby" is the inside joke that distracts them from TPS reports. "Yeah, baby" strikes me as hilarious. . .until I realized that I'm the guy who starts and/or encourages similar type phrases throughout the office where I work. And that I'm laughing at myself as well. . .

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Immediate Gratification

Just south of Indianapolis, a 15-year-old overweight boy recently died after choking on a large bite of hamburger:

http://www.theindychannel.com/health/7976203/detail.html

Part of the reason he died was that no one could properly perform the Heimlich manuever on the boy because of his size. I am not attempting to be direspectful and/or insensitive, but this news makes me consider the benefits of immediate gratification and consequence.

I wonder what the world would be like if inhaling one drag of a cigarette would immediately cause extreme shortness of breath. Or when I binge on a Steak 'n Shake Platter Meal and hand-dipped side-by-side milkshake, that my heart would clench immediately like a faux heart attack. Or even better, that I would immediately lose my 20 extra pounds every time I go for a jog. And then regain them immediately on days that I don't. That every door I open would result in someone saying "You're a very thoughtful person" and every time I cut in front of a woman that she would say, "You're rude and self-absorbed right now. You're not more important than me. Please be polite and open the door."

Instead, life's about the "daily deposits" my mother always reminds me about. Good or bad, every day and every choice adds up to long-term success or consequence. The problem is: I don't take time to remember that advice when I'm chomping into a Double Steakburger.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Twice is Nice

In the movie Capote (and maybe in real life), Truman Capote claims to have a 94% accuracy rate in conversation recall. He also claims to have tested himself to come up with this percentage. Instead of taking notes during his interviews, Capote remembers quotes word-for-word, the way Cam Cameron solves juvenile neighborhood mysteries by capturing exact details with her photographic memory. Similarly, I have friends who remember phone numbers they've only heard once. Others claim never to forget a name, or a face, or all of the tracks on The Gin Blossoms' debut album. I don't think these friends have ever tested themselves Capote-style on these claims, and frankly, I wonder if these folks are just trying to make a conversation interesting.

If there is an average for memory recall, I'm below it. I just forget. I write reminders in pen on my hand. I make lists. I put my gym bag in front of the back door to avoid forgetting it on my way out. I'm known for retelling the same stories to the same people--most friends remain quiet and re-listen the way I re-listen to my mother's repeats. I can't claim to have a good memory for a lot of things like birthdates, recent conversations, or if I have eggs in the fridge when staring at the refrigerated wall in Trader Joe's.

Two weeks ago, I returned to London for the first time in four years. On this trip, we didn't really do anything new, but rather spent the trip remembering. Recalling the details from daily life in England. Remembering that the C3 bus drives past Laura Ashley headquarters after turning down Lots Road. I took this route every day for six months and had forgotten the street name and the international headquarters. I remembered the names of my favorite tube stations, Waterstone's Bookstore on Piccadilly, and the taste a good pre-packaged takeaway sandwich.

I started thinking about memory recall after watching the movie Lost in Translation about a week ago. Whenever someone asks me about this movie, I immediately recall two scenes: 1) Scarlett Johanssen's opening buttshot and 2) the private karaoke room where Bill Murray sings Phil Collins (it's Phil Collins, right?). I didn't remember all the other funny, sad and poignant moments of the movie. Which makes this movie worth re-watching. I think 'forgetting' explains why people buy DVDs instead of rent, and why I buy books instead of borrowing from the library. I think of how many times I've listened to my favorite songs, re-experiencing the moment over and over. It's about remembering.

In London, I remembered the strange feeling of not knowing anyone at all. And the feeling of walking down a street without the prospect of seeing anyone I know. Or recognize. Like the subject of Rupert Murray's documentary Unknown White Male, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0436864/, I experienced life [in London] for the first time--again. Ultimately, I discovered that it's one kind of experience to feel delight in newness; it's a more powerful experience to remember that initial delight.

Capote can keep the 94% recall, I'll stick with forgetting the details and pick them up on the do-over.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

It'll Look Great on my Bookshelf

I read James Frey's A Million Little Pieces over my Christmas vacation. It was okay.

I bought the book on the recommendation of an academic bookseller that I was trying to impress--not because I thought that she was hot and/or interested in me, but because I wanted to prove with my $14 bucks that I was open-minded. That I was one step above the literati who boycott Oprah's Book Club--instead, I told her with my purchase, I am a pioneer on my own search for good literature anywhere, behind any sticker.

It's "cool" to dismiss Oprah's Book Club (I'm going to make up the acronym OBC here) picks as books that are fluffy, housewife-ish pseudo-literature (except for those classics she's picked, right?). But not to disappoint this bookseller--or maybe just be ironic--I bought A Million Little Pieces. I had hopes that this purchase would become one of the books that I buy, read, and then recommend to my friends or family members on a perma-borrow basis as "one you're really going to love."

In that bookstore, I swapped comments with the bookseller I was trying to impress regarding Jonathan Franzen's refusal of the coveted OBC sticker on the cover his novel, The Corrections. And then she convinced me that James Frey's memoir was a great book that "readers like [me]" wouldn't even consider because of the OBC sticker, and "that is a damn shame" (my ego loved the "readers like me" comment). So I abandoned the OBC picket line in order to defend "readers like me" everywhere, and bought the teal-covered book just before Christmas. In the end, I think it was a pretty good sales job. Nice work, lady.

And then thesmokinggun.com expose hit: "JANUARY 8--Oprah Winfrey's been had."

I understand that a reprint is underway in which there will be a disclaimer in the beginning stating that A Million Little Pieces is "based on a true story" or something same same. The New York Times is considering moving the memoir from a Non-Fiction Bestseller list to its Fiction counterpart. I've read a few articles about publishing houses that are debating the costs of due diligence on future non-fiction looking to be published. This seems like a slippery slope to me.

Music comes with an "Explicit Lyrics" warning when deemed appropriate. Movies come with a MPAA rating and explanation (i.e. mild thematic elements (that one kills me)). Please tell me that I won't be opening the next David Sedaris collection and read a disclaimer on the title page that explains the fact/embellishment ratio of his stories. Assure me that this James Frey incident won't lead to an industry standard in which every memoir will have in-text parenthetical citations like my senior thesis.

I figure, if I really cared about the exact facts, I'd track James Frey down in a White Castle, put his hand on a Bible and ask him to tell me the truth, the whole truth. "How many days in jail, James? How many? Say it!" Or, I'd stop Sloppy Suzy or Tammy the Midgette on the street and ask one of them to tell me in their slurred speech about what it's like to live as an addict in an abandoned garage*.

Instead, I read Frey's book (Tammy speaks only in profanity, and I can't understand Suzy when she's munching on an apple). And by opening the first page (sans disclaimer), I allowed myself to enter into the "truth" that James Frey wanted to tell. I believed it, and I believe it now, though I now know that it actually didn't happen to a real person named James Frey as he detailed it. In my opinion, it's person vs. persona, even in a memoir.

The facts matter to Oprah, and by golly, the facts matter to me as well. But I think that the exact facts matter in this case only because it's OBC, and Oprah's a tall tree to fall. My guess is that thesmokinggun.com is loving the publicity on the scoop. And now, we all have something else to talk about besides coal miners and Natalie Holloway.

Don't get me wrong: I believe in truth, and I want the truth. Yes, Frey should have fessed up to making up facts in the book when confronted. Frankly, he shouldn't have passed lies off as truth in the first place. And believe me: I'm not going to buy My Friend Leonard, no matter who I'm trying to impress. I just don't want a nutritional label on every non-fiction book I pick up alerting me that the pages may contain trace contamination of tree nuts.

I read the story that James Frey wanted me to read--a memoir. I'm not going to sue the bookseller that recommended A Million Little Pieces. Instead, I'm going to shelf that teal-covered memoir on my IKEA particleboard furniture, since no one will perma-borrow the fucking thing and take it off my hands.

* You probably wouldn't see a lot of OBC readers doing this in my neighborhood, eh?