Monthly Archives: December 2012

So This is the New Year

I meant for years to put together a New Year’s-themed mix CD, but never got around to it. These are the four songs I can remember from my master list, anyway. Not the cheeriest lot—the holidays do tend to bring out somber reflection, don’t they?—but all songs I like. They all include a certain accuracy about being an introspective, self-deprecating, neurotic adult during the holidays.

“A Long December,” Counting Crows

Always one of my favorites

“Pretty Good Year,” Tori Amos

For when “Long December” doesn’t satisfy your self-pity impulses
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“The Ice of Boston,” The Dismemberment Plan

Even bad New Year’s Eves can be funny, too

(I always recommend not watching the user-made video when listening to a youtube song, but it’s funny how this video includes a pic of the Bolts’ Evgeny Artyukhin getting popped by Chara.)

Also, heh: “…and it’s my mother.”

“The New Year,” Death Cab for Cutie

Acknowledge the day’s not really momentous and then celebrate anyway

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A Man, A Plan…

Here’s another selection from the longform.org archives, this time about a “master palindromist.” I started to think the guy was nerdily admirable right up to the point where I realized he was a horse’s ass. (Note to remember for myself: Being self-aware does not magically transform ego into charm.)

So, being a palindrome myself (RemmahAnanab?), I had an early introduction to the form. Little J and I used to spend spare minutes in 10th-grade history class making palindromes on the blackboard: “Traffic if fart.” “Mary bred a derby ram.” Start with a friend’s name or a random word; spell it backwards next to itself and see how it might be broken down and what words and their reverses can be added to make a sentence.

Or, more often, a “sentence.”

The article’s Master Palindromist—a self-imposed title—produced, in fact, some amazing, word-reversing wizardry; his palindromes can be a hundred words and more, perfectly reversible. The thing is, because of the concrete, mathematic-like confines of the palindrome form, he’s gotta be a goddamn contortionist with punctuation, syntax… spelling. He takes some liberties with the language. And, like, coherence. The Greenward Palindrome mentioned at the beginning of the article has more explanative annotations than a page from Ulyssesand it’s a lot less lyrical. [Although the shorter “No Gas in Age?” deserves credit for being more coherent.]

That’s why I was proud enough of “Mary bred a derby ram” to remember it all these years. It’s a fairly natural sentence—a very common subject/verb/object structure, and a concept (breeding racing sheep instead of horses) that’s not too much of a stretch, in an Ogden Nash kind of way—and oh, hey: It’s the same backwards as forwards.

When you try to make a palindrome make sense with 50 words instead of five, it’s a lot harder. And I have to wonder if it’s worth it to be a master of something that winds up being so esoteric that you then have to explain it to people. Does it really count as an accomplishment?

One of the less-talked-about reasons that Shakespeare was great—a Master Iambic Pentameterist—was his ability to write naturally within the confines of the meter. Professional actors know that often all you have to do with Shakespeare is say the lines according to the meter—“da DA da DA da DA da DA da DA”—and you’re most of the way to a reading that makes sense: “But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?” Shakespeare could’ve flubbed the meter and put the emphases on the wrong syllables—god knows many of his contemporaries did, and pop music does it all the time—but it wouldn’t have been as impressive, or even as moving. It wouldn’t have worked as well.

Meter is more forgiving than palindromes, of course, which are like mathematical equations: either they work or they don’t. But I wish that this palindromist fella would try smaller numbers and more music. And also, stop being such a jackwagon. Then maybe I’d call him master.

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‘Tis the TV Season

The clink of ice in a rocks glass during an alcoholic’s relapse, the sad solo of a hurricane refugee, the gentle pfft of a Munchausen’s patient passing out in the snow, a child’s knife plunging into the torso of a Scottish king: These are the sounds of Christmas.

Holiday episodes are a TV genre in and of themselves, especially the ones that conjure the quiet, somber reflection-and-acceptance-kind of Christmas, like carols in minor keys.

My Santa Claus moment comes every year when family members come one-by-one with their requests for the West Wing episode to watch Christmas Eve: “I want the one with Leo,” “Let’s do the one with Adam Arkin,” “Which is the one with the Whiffenpoofs?”  It’s a heartwarming family tradition, to binge on spaghetti carbonara and then share in the world-weary poignance of a Sorkin Christmas ep.

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Whiffenpoofs!

The family gathering selection has to be the very best because there’s only one slot. But that means I don’t always get around to the also-rans because I keep wanting to make an event out of everything, and they’re not all worthy of their own pedestals. Instead, this weekend I’ve treated my favorite Christmas episodes like an album of holiday music—a steady stream of worldly Christmas contentment to set the perfect mood. Here’s my playlist thus far:

The West Wing, “O Holy Night”

It’s not as focused as the other two WW faves, but it’s nice and moodily lit, and I spend the first 40 minutes waiting for the final montage, which is serenaded by the slow a capella of the Yale Whiffenpoofs’ “O Holy Night,” a hymn that does that fantastic major-to-minor thing anyway. But after each slow slow slow fade in and out, it’s the moment where the fade out to black coincides with complete silence, as the chorus breaths in and, as it slowly fades up on a long shot of Bartlet, his back to the camera, watching snow fall through the windows of the Oval Office, the chorus belts back in with the minor Fall on your knees. Aaaauugh. I can’t even tell you. It’s just incredible. It gives me the warm fuzzies. (For that moment alone I’ve insisted on this ep for Christmas Eves past, but I decided to watch it early this year and take it out of contention, since the fam tends to prefer the earlier options—including the one with Leo’s relapse, referenced above.)

House, “Deception”

This is the one where it’s discovered that Miranda from Sex and the City (poor actress, I won’t even bother to look up her name) collapses in front of House at the OTB. First of all, this ep taught me a new meaning for OTB (off-track betting) where before I’d always associated it with the in-office shorthand for our sunshiny December visitor’s annual (On the Beach). Misanthropic Dr. House on Christmas pretty much embodies these gloomier holiday episodes anyway, but lonely Munchausen’s Miranda adds to it, too—especially the scene when House injects her with something that, they both know, will cause her to collapse but will also draw attention to her real problem. She hits the snow outside the hospital as House walks off in the other direction.

Slings and Arrows, “Fallow Time”

This is neither as Christmassy nor as poignant as most of the others, but it does set Christmas as a backdrop to poor, crazy Geoffrey Tennant stressing about how to stage MacBeth—and hallucinating during a children’s production that the kids really are stabbing the bejeezus out of Banquo, blood flowing and everything. Bitchy, defeated Ellen trying—and failing, repeatedly—to put up a Christmas tree and force herself into a holiday mood is a nice touch. Plus I love the idea of an elementary school staging the Scottish play over Christmas. Yay Canada.

Scrubs, “My Own Personal Jesus”

A coma patient awakens, and the main characters debate Christmas miracles versus practical facts—always bringing it back, of course, to the original Christmas Miracle in the Manger. It’s sort of the Miracle on 34th Street thing, where the audience is taken all the way from acknowledging the practical, annoying, everyday-real-world stuff to wanting to believe in the miracle stuff. They really go right after the origins of Christmas, especially with the pregnant teenager who was kicked out of the hospital to give birth outside, but they get just close enough to pure, childish earnestness and then save themselves with good comedy. The closest thing to Charlie Brown’s Christmas, which might just be the standard-bearer in this genre. Also: “Did you just compare my lord and savior to a tiny top hat?” Hee.

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, “The Christmas Show”

More Sorkin, although much more flawed than his WW writing, in this case (as in many others) buoyed by Tommy Schlamme’s direction. The wheels were already falling off the show at this point, but the coconuts-as-snow shtick is fun, and over all the ep’s got the mix of moodiness and humor that makes it reminiscent of WW’s “O Holy Night”—and that song happens again to be the soundtrack for a majorly redeeming montage toward the end, when a brass band of Katrina refugees plays the carol while backed by black-and-white photos of New Orleans. Trombone Shorty fucking nails the trumpet melody, y’all. It’s very moving. And an imperfect set of Christmas circumstances—refugees, drug relapses, single mothers, coconut snow—brought together by people trying their best is exactly what I’m talking about.

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The Christmas Temp-Job Poem

Looking back, this 10-year-old poem takes a rather harsh look at a post-college temp gig (mostly I don’t hold nearly so much disdain for my coworkers as I apparently did then). But the fact that I wrote this on the job, in my cubicle, is still a work-slacking triumph that stirs pride for my snotty 22-year-old self.

T’was the month before Christmas and I sold my soul
To [redacted]’s data-entry and filing patrol.
The folders were nestled all snug in their drawers
While I entered numbers for all 90 stores.

Stars of David were hung in the kitchen with care,
In rebellion against all the Christmas crap there.
And no one quite knew just who’d had the balls
To write things in Hebrew when decking the halls.

In my cubicle, nestled amongst all the crap,
I’d just settled in for my mid-morning nap,
And lulled by the sounds of those suckers still typing,
I dreamed better jobs in the sleep I was swiping.

And so in the pose of ideal corporate tool,
I awoke in my gathering puddle of drool
When what by my nearsighted eyes should be seen
But errors galore on my IBM screen?

Then up from saliva I sprang with a splash
And heaving computer parts into the trash,
I hopped o’er the cubicle and gave out a yell,
“I’m through with this temp-working boring-ass hell!

“I’ve had it with all of your corporate crap,
Your forms and your filing, your Christmassy pap,
Illiterate workers and mind-numbing work.
It’s time to ask Santa to bring you a clerk

“Who’ll make all the copies and beg you for more,
Who won’t Judaize your Christmas décor.
Call me lazy or stupid or mean or a snob,
But I’m jingle fed up with this holiday job!”

Then floating about me, invoices in shreds
Came snowflaking down upon all of their heads;
In the wake of my tirade a calm so serene
O’er my redneck-filled Chanukah Wonderland scene.

Then I fled from the building in holiday cheer
For I knew the true meaning of Christmas that year.
So now, with my heart set in festive enjoyment,
Merry Christmas to all, and to all unemployment!

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Fog

When I woke up on Sunday, I planned (as per usual) for coffee to be the first order of the day. But then I opened the door and saw the fog–it seemed so thick, I wanted to see how far it went. But I figured I had to hurry; it would burn off soon. I hopped on my bike and rode toward the bridge.

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It could just be the islands, but the extent of the fog felt unusual. It was tactile, practically dripping. Brigadoon, quiet and blurry, like disappearing. It’s so wide open out here, with the water and all–you could feel the distance, but you couldn’t see it. The sun distant and inconsequential. It was soothing.

Plus, it’s neat to step out your front door, hop on your bike and wind up in such a different place entirely.

For once I feel like I captured a little bit of the scene with the photos. I already posted them to Facebook, but I’m so
enamored of them I wanted to put them here, too. (Click on them to see the larger version.)

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An erosion-stopping “groin” on the beach.

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Boats in the bay.

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The return trip.

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Shape

I seriously need to get back into shape. I just did a feature for January involving “the fit getting fitter,” and the photos…are not particularly flattering. I mean, I’m not one to be flattered by photography to begin with, but there’s a spread with my paunch and ever-present sweaty jowls on one side, and a fit and beautiful blonde TRX devotee on the other. And I’m like, fuuuuuuuck.

Of course, I think for most of us, a wonderful, attainable body image is perpetually in the past. Surely you’ve done that: Looked at yourself in a picture from years ago, remembered that back then you fretted over your thighs or your lack of a six-pack, and thought, “If I could only go back to that! I promise I’ll appreciate it this time!”

But punishing yourself tends not to work so well; it’s more helpful to think about the things you’re already doing well. So, hey, I’m eating breakfast a little more regularly–a Kashi waffle or scrambled egg; would be nice to get back into the yogurt-and-fruit smoothies I used to make, but: baby steps. I had my favorite Epicure salad for lunch yesterday–arugula, hearts of palm, avocado, grilled chicken and sliced parmesan, with oil and vinegar. And dinner last night (aside from the bourbon) was a modest portion of a baked chicken thigh, roasted Brussels sprouts and asparagus, and an indulgent scoop of mac ‘n cheese.

I’ll play some hockey tonight. I take long walks every day–a one-miler with McD, plus whatever other wandering I do. Rode my bike nine miles on a whim on Saturday, and another two on Sunday.

It’s nowhere near the competitive schedule I’ve kept in the past–the one I pretended to have in my article–but it’s better than nothing. Like the fish says, just keep swimming…

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My Sad Sorkin Moment

Bob Costas, during the halftime break of Sunday Night Football, the day after this incident in Kansas City.

“Well, you knew it was coming. In the aftermath of the nearly unfathomable events in Kansas City, that most mindless of sports clichés was heard yet again: ‘Something like this really puts it all in perspective.’ Well if so, that sort of perspective has a very short shelf life, since we will inevitably hear about the perspective we have supposedly again regained the next time ugly reality intrudes upon our games.

“Please. Those who need tragedies to continually recalibrate their sense of proportion about sports would seem to have little hope of ever truly achieving perspective. You want some actual perspective on this? Well, a bit of it comes from the Kansas City-based writer Jason Whitlock, with whom I do not always agree, but who today said it so well that we may as well just quote or paraphrase from the end of his article: ‘Our current gun culture,’ Whitlock wrote, ‘ensures that more and more domestic disputes will end in the ultimate tragedy, and that more convenience store confrontations over loud music coming from a car will leave more teenage boys bloodied and dead. Handguns do not enhance our safety. They exacerbate our flaws, tempt us to escalate arguments, and bait us into embracing confrontation rather than avoiding it. In the coming days, Jovan Belcher’s actions, and their possible connection to football, will be analyzed. Who knows. But here,’ wrote Jason Whitlock, ‘Is what I believe: If Jovan Belcher didn’t possess a gun, he and Kasandra Perkins would still be alive today.’

“The second half is next, from Dallas.”

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