Thursday, August 28, 2008

I'm trying hard to D.I.Y. but everything is broken down*

Windows open on my computer right now:

Tools stuck in my various pockets right now:
  • Flathead screwdriver
  • Vise grips
  • Adjustable wrench
  • Phillips head screwdriver
  • Garden snips, because fuck the wiring

Things turned off in my house right now:
  • The water
  • The refrigerator

The tiny drip, drip, drip in the basement certainly seemed to be coming from the refrigerator's ice maker, which we've never used.

The saddle valve leading to the quarter-inch copper pipe leading to the refrigerator certainly seemed to be tuned to the off position.

Number of towels soaking up water on my kitchen floor right now: 4, plus two dishtowels

Coolers open in the basement catching the water raining down from the kitchen: 2

In my haste to turn off the main water to the house, did I break the turny-thingie? I did.

Does that saddle valve move AT ALL when I keep trying to turn it off? It does not. I must replace the saddle valve for an appliance that we do not use, because the old one is stuck open, and once a saddle valve has been placed on a pipe, there is a hole in that pipe, and you can't just take the valve away.

And all this has nothing to do with the agitator on the washing machine that comes loose every time it hits the spin cycle and sounds like we've trapped a legion of dwarves in a sealed drum in the basement every time I just try to WASH SOME FUCKING BATHMATS THAT EVERYONE PUKED ON SUNDAY NIGHT.

I am going to turn the iPod to Scraping Foetus off the Wheel and dance in the living room before I go over to Home Depot to buy a new saddle valve. Token Boy, if you're reading this, I might be late for work.

Actually I DO feel better.

*That's an actual Foetus lyric. I love Jim Thirlwell.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Moviegoer

In our house we don't use the TV that much. I watch the Oscars; Bob watches certain sporting events (sorry about the Cavs, honey, but at least you got all the laundry folded); after the kids go to bed we watch Firefly or The Wire over and over again; and on Friday nights all four of us (and sometimes guests) have a Pajama Party Movie Party.

I'm not all self-righteous about not watching TV, at least I try not to be, and in fact I miss the everloving shit out of having cable and sitting down to whatever rerun crap is on FX or the Sci-Fi channel or Bravo. Just thinking about it is making me all sad and wistful. I wonder what Charisma Carpenter is doing right now.

So our Friday night movies are kind of a big thing. We sit down together, we try to have a movie that the kids have never seen, and there is popcorn. Now, if you figure we've done this almost every Friday for about 2 years, that's a lot of friggin PG movies. I just put Nim's Island in our Netflix queue, after having returned The Water Horse and Treasure Island, and I began to reflect.

As is, you might say, given that I have four blogs, only 2 of which you are privy to, my wont.

There are some children's movies that are unmitigated pap - so banal, so formulaic, so "insert-famous-actor-here" that I would cheerfully suture my eyelids shut before watching them again. Bee Movie. Robots. Ratatouille, which even the kids hated. Chicken Little. A Bug's Life. Cars. Cars has the added distinction of lifting its plot wholesale from one of the lesser Michael J. Fox movies, Doc Hollywood.

There are a few kids' movies that hold up as good movies by any metric. The Incredibles and The Princess Bride. Maybe Toy Story. Beetlejuice.

There are some that are really bad adaptations of decent books. Bridge to Terabithia. Meet the Robinsons. The Golden Compass, which not even Daniel Craig could pull out of the crapper.

There are some that are not so great, but then again the source material wasn't that great either. Eragon.

There are some movies that are not so bad. Chris Rock and Ben Stiller were pretty great in Madagascar, and Sascha Baron Cohen's performance as King Julian the Lemur made me realize just how ubiquitous and hacky Robin Williams has become.

There are movies that surprise you. Galaxy Quest is a big favorite: it's got a swell cast, including Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, the Apple kid, and Tony Shalhoub, and it's packed with references to classic space movies and TV episodes. As we gradually expose our children to the sci-fi canon, they recognize more and more of the references, and the movie just keeps gettin' funnier.

There are movies that age well. Swiss Family Robinson has that excellent treehouse, along with mystifying gender things. Best part is when the boys bring home a girl that they have rescued from pirates. Mother has been worried about her sons growing up without mates, so Father points out, "What did I tell you? Anything we need, the island will produce it for us, even a girl." Mother replies, "A girl. But we have three sons." Here's a woman who has been watching her nature documentaries - she sees some pretty bestial shit going down in the future.

And then there are movies that you can't believe you ever liked. Doctor Dolittle is jaw-droppingly weird, badly acted, and like 3 hours long. Plus, oh god, Anthony Newley's fruity accent and groovy hair make me want to attack the TV with a nail file.

But most G and PG movies are mostly dreadful (I like to think of Jason Lee as Syndrome in The Incredibles going, "Lame, lame, lame, lame, LAME!"), with minor mitigating factors (Syndrome again: "I'm STILL geekin' out about it!"). My prime example here is George of the Jungle. Yes, the live-action George of the Jungle: based on a Hanna Barbera cartoon, so stupid that the script actually makes fun of itself. And yet! Brendan Fraser, in his prime, as George, wears his hair long AND spends most of the movie in a loincloth. Does a lot of running and jumping and looking confused. If you like 'em big and goofy and perfectly muscled, this movie is a gift.

Let's take a break and admire George for a moment.

Ok. Here are some movies that I can sum up for you. Thank me later.

Bedknobs and Broomsticks
Lame, lame, lame, lame, LAME: Seems to be at least three different movies stitched together. There are Nazis, there are psychedelic fish, and there is a soccer game with African wildlife.
Still geeking out about: "At the bottom of the beautiful briiiny sea."

Five Children and It
Lame, lame, lame, lame, LAME: Yet another story about English children exiled, parentless, to some severe relative's country house during WWII.
Still geeking out about: Eddie Izzard as the ugly, wish-granting little monster the children find on the beach.

Over the Hedge
Lame, lame, lame, lame, LAME: Oh, all of it.
Still geeking out about: Shatner playing possum.

The Aristocats
Lame, lame, lame, lame, LAME: Tired plot.
Still geeking out about: Duchess, the glamorous white mama cat, is a Gabor! Also, Scatman Crothers. Also "Big man O'Malley, back in his alley." If it weren't our governor's name, I would insist that somebody say that every time I enter a room.

Arthur and the Invisibles
Lame, lame, lame, lame, LAME: The major skeeviness of pairing Madonna with Freddie Highmore as rivals who kind of fall in love at the end.
Still geeking out about: Snoop Dogg as a club owner/DJ. Pretty art direction.

Stuart Little
Lame, lame, lame, lame, LAME: WEIRD art direction - all the furniture, walls, and costumes are drawn from a limited red/orange/yellow color palette.
Still geeking out about: Hugh Laurie and Geena Davis as Stuart's parents. Just think about that for a moment.

Flushed Away
Lame, lame, lame, lame, LAME: Kate Winslet and Hugh Jackman bring very little to the table as the leads.
Still geeking out about: The mime-and-the-cellphone routine, the singing slugs, Bill Nighy as Whitey the Thug.

Sky High
Lame, lame, lame, lame, LAME: Same old Coming Into His Own high school thing.
Still geeking out about: Kurt Russell busting out the old Computer Wore Tennis Shoes deadpan. You'd never know he didn't wear a satin bodysuit every day. Insanely hot Steven Strait as our hero's high school nemesis. Lynda Carter as the principal.

Nanny McPhee
Lame, lame, lame, lame, LAME: Another large English family in another large English country house. Colin Firth doing the Emasculated Englishman routine.
Still geeking out about: Kelly MacDonald as the sweet housemaid secretly in love with Colin Firth. That girl is amazing in everything she does. Thomas Sangster in the part usually played by Freddie Highmore.

Lame, lame, lame, lame, LAME: Already I can't remember the plot.
Still geeking out about: Big crunchy robot-on-robot violence.

Overall, however, I am just relieved that my kids are finally old enough for Jackie Chan movies. No more Mary Poppins for me until I have grandchildren, thank you very much.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Rain on me

It's been an eventful weekend. Let me put this in order:

1:00 pm. I was videotaped getting my hair cut, which was built up to be some big dramatic deal but turned out to be nothing to worry about.
1:45 pm. Bob had a important presentation that he'd been working up to for months.
3:00 pm. My brother and his wife, the Hawaii cousins, and the Atlanta cousins all arrived in town.
6:30 pm. We went out for crabs.

8:00 am. Last school workday before school opened on Monday. About 40 parents arrived to volunteer, and they took a to-do list as long as your arm and just decimated that bitch. Bob and I were in charge of the 45 cubic yards of wood chips that had to be delivered to the side lot before the new fencing went up. The chip delivery was late, much fretting was done, but after the wood chips were delivered, everyone pitched in to spread them out. A hot, dusty job, made hotter by the fact that the wood chips gave off a lot of heat themselves.
6:00 pm. Mom and Dad's 50th Anniversary Extravaganza. We sang to my parents. I took pictures. We ate the most expensive cake on the planet. The kids behaved beautifully. I didn't have a drink until 9 o'clock. Another event that was fairly nerve-wracking until it was over. Did I mention we SANG?

11:00 am. Picnic in the park to celebrate Cousin John's birthday. None of the food had been bought as of an hour and a half before the event. Much running around in near-panic.
4:00 pm. Back at the house, keeping it low-key. I load the 7 large boxes of school supplies into the van. This year we took advantage of volume discounts and bought school supplies for 8 kids at once.
12 midnight. First child awakens, crying in pain. "My stomach!" Park him on the john, sit down to keep him company. Twenty minutes later he turns paper white and barfs all over the place. He's not a puker, and has no idea what to do. More barfing. Then, I mop up the bathroom and stick him in the shower (where he barfs again). Sure enough, second child comes stumbling in crying that HIS stomach hurts. Then BOB got up, staggered into the bathroom, saw all of us there, and made a dash for the downstairs bathroom. We were all four up and down half the night - the three of them throwing up into buckets, sinks, whatever was handy, and me rinsing out buckets and patting foreheads. I think it was the shrimp at the cookout, but nobody else seems to have gotten sick.

8:15 am. First day of school. Of course.
During last night's Festival of Vomit, Zhou was crying and crying. "Tomorrow's my first day of kindergarten and I don't want to miss it!" You've got to honor that, so this morning we ushered them into their classrooms, and I wandered around taking pictures while Bob and some of our friends unloaded all the school supplies.
8:45 am. I peep into both boys' classrooms. Mao is happy and energetic, Zhou is lounging back in a chair, eyes half-closed. He has an abbreviated first day.

Today was to be the day that we would drive away from school with no children in the car, and I would come home to an empty house. Instead, I have a husband and a little boy asleep in the guest room (if there's more puking, I don't want it in MY bed, and the kids sleep in bunks, not that convenient if Bob is going to keep tabs on Zhou).

But tomorrow is another day.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Teach him he's alive before he wishes he was dead

An open letter to Andrew McCarthy:

Dear Andrew McCarthy,

I am a woman of a certain age.
No, I don't mind you asking: forty-two. That makes me the answer, ha ha.
It's from a book. Never mind.
Well, that's very nice of you, but you are mistaken. You're just confused because I don't act my age.

Andrew McCarthy, if I may make an observation? Age? is funny. It doesn't mean as much as it used to. Age no longer serves as a cultural definition. Remember when it used to? Used to be that if you knew the Speed Racer theme song, that meant that you had been in elementary school sometime between 1972 and 1981. But then MTV started showing Speed Racer, and then somebody else picked it up, and now I can get that song as a ringtone on my new phone. Because of the way stuff is archived and documented on the Internet, the merest cultural moment is always poised to make a comeback. Strawberry Shortcake. Mr. T. Transformers. Pegged jeans.

So it's actually increasingly rare that a generation, or a cohort, or a graduating class, has a movement, an icon, a trend, or even a fad that they can call their own. And this is where you come in, Andrew McCarthy. Stick with me here.

People spend a lifetime developing and modifying their mental Cute Boy Ken doll. (Unless, like, they don't, and therefore routinely fall spasmodically in love with men just like the boy who lived across the street with the long eyelashes and... god, fill in the blank yourself. I'm coming up dry. The kid who lived across the street from me growing up was obsessed with his toy lawn mower and would try to run over your feet with it if he saw you barefoot. Not a romantic figure, at least to me.) (NB: I am told that he grew up to be perfectly normal.)

Most people my age probably started with Erik Estrada as their base model, added Leif Garrett's hair and Matt Dillon's jeans, and then continued to tweak their Cute Boy ideal from there. Some went the Chachi route, and their Cute Boy is short and smartmouthed. Others discovered androgyny when they saw Robert Downey Jr. wearing eyeliner and breaking your heart in Less Than Zero. Many add a brood-and-explode component, à la Judd Nelson (ick) in Breakfast Club. Everybody adds his or her own bits and pieces: Val Kilmer's oversized Ray-Bans in Real Genius; Eric Stoltz's blue eyes from Some Kind of Wonderful. The girl who used to live in this house liked Christian Slater: when we moved in, I found pencilled graffiti in the closet of the boys' room noting that she saw Pump Up the Volume in May of 1991.

These are the movies that every suburban girl my age saw, and which by and large haven't been co-opted by subsequent cohorts. You know where I'm going with this.

Because even though most of us were rooting for Duckie, in the same situation we all would have gone for Blane, too. After all, Duckie was clearly gay, even though the movie wasn't written that way. They chickened out on that, didn't they? Ok, a few girls would have held out for Spader. But for me, that stickie-out chin? Nah.

No, it was the Andrew McCarthy take on brood-and-explode: the paper-thin, fooling-nobody offhand veneer that gave way to horrified alarm and then escalated to frantic, wild-eyed panicked outrage that became a characteristic of many of our mental Cute Boys. That shit still plays - just look at the career of David Schwimmer (Or, yeah, don't - sorry). Also, my Cute Boy has a cotton sportcoat with skinny lapels hanging in his closet, just for emergencies. I bet you were wondering where that thing got to.

Years have passed, of course, since you lusted after the likes of Jami Gertz and Molly Ringwald, and my tastes have coarsened too. I go for the more obvious now - the Clive Owen, the Daniel Craig. And of course the most requested ALA READ poster boy of all time. (Although we just saw The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and I may be back on James McAvoy, who is not obvious at all. He played Tumnus the Faun all sidelong glances and conspiratorial nods: he appeared to be harboring seriously inappropriate thoughts about little Lucy Pevensey.)

So - just the other day, I heard something that sent my skull flying back to 1985. I'm kind of a voice person, I notice voices. I can pick out Mark Hamill or Brooke Shields before the words "Listening Library presents" are out of the CD player. I am insufferable during TV commercials. "Christine Lahti!" I will crow. "Listen, that's Duchovny!" Shatner, Sheen, Sutherland (
père et fils), Linda Hunt, Peter Coyote, Thomas Haden Church - their secret commercial shilling is an open book to me.

(I believe this voice thing of mine dates back to 1987, when there were two televisions in my apartment, one stacked on top of the other. Both had been trash-picked: one had sound only, and the other had something resembling a picture. It was greenish and bled offscreen at the top, and only came in when Star Trek: The Next Generation was on. Everybody looked like Beldar on that TV, especially
Picard. I think it was pointy-headed old Patrick Stewart, who, despite being bald and sort of beady-eyed, was absolutely devastating whenever he rumbled "Make it so," that made me start listening as well as looking. You know who's sexy? These guys are sexy: Campbell Scott, Stephen Fry, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Eddie Izzard. I will listen to whatever they are saying.)

But I had forgotten, until we slotted The Nixie's Song into the CD player a couple weeks ago, that Andrew McCarthy has this funny, breaky, bone-dry voice. I guess when I was a kid it was eclipsed by the sportcoat. But the moment I heard it, I thought to myself, "Oh yeah... Andrew McCarthy. Holy crap." Well done. Tired-sounding yet excited, this voice makes Holly Black's snotty characters funny and sympathetic. Creaky and quiet, yet charged with tension, this is the voice of hopeless causes, betrayed friendships, and unrequited longing for Ally Sheedy - and that shit never gets old either.

Andrew McCarthy, live in peace. Stay clear of Brooke Shields. That girl pissed off the Scientologists, she's got a target on her back.


-- Your Neighborhood Librarian

Sunday, August 17, 2008

It's a boy Mrs. Walker it's a boy

Boniface, originally uploaded by your neighborhood librarian.

I sat down next to this one at a birthday party today. He's two.

"Hi [Bon]."
"How has your day been?"
"What have you done today?"
"I pooped."
General muted laughter from the adults present. His mom, Christine, said, "And now I suppose he can get on with his day."
I said, "So, what are you going to do now, [Bon]?"
Smiling slyly, Boniface says, "I'm going to poop again."

Business, numbers, money, people

Changed my mind. The Acer Aspire One is also a mini laptop running Linux, but it is slightly larger, has a better keyboard and a larger HD, and is only slightly more expensive.

So step up, someone. Subsidize me! Because all my surplus cash is tied up in school supplies.

Oh. Also? I think I'm going to be on tv. Weird!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Just enough for the city

crayons, originally uploaded by your neighborhood librarian.

Like many people, I send half my paycheck directly to Verizon. Oh, now, that's not true of course. But between the home phone, the cell phone, Internet access at home, and the cell phone's Internet access, not to mention the only partially "free" phones I seem to have to buy from them every couple years because they seem to bust right about at 22 months... well, I just hold my nose, shut my eyes and pay.

Fuck it.

So when the guy called the library looking for the name and address of the CEO of Verizon, I thought to myself, "Right on, sir. Give that motherfucker a piece of your mind for me, too."

Out loud I just said "Ivan G. Seidenberg, 140 West St., New York, NY 10007. Is there any other information I can find for you? You're welcome. Have a nice evening."

That's my job. Don't you love my job?

But while I was on the corporate info page, I happened to notice that Verizon's annual sales are, and I quote, "$93,469,000,000".

93 and a half BILLION dollars.

What's 93 and a half billion dollars, on a global scale?

It is more than the Gross National Product of Egypt. Egypt! Not an insignificant country. It is more than the GNP of Nigeria, even with all that Nigerian oil that keeps getting everyone killed. It is, in fact, more than the GNP of 175 of the world's 224 nations.

Who else makes less than Verizon in a year?

Here's a poor country - Democratic Republic of the Congo. DRC to you and me. DRC's GNP is 6.89 billion dollars. That's less than Jamaica, which is an island. Less than Afghanistan.

DRC is a LARGE country. It's that big squarish one right bang in the middle of the continent. It's all equatorial forest, teeming with life, most of which is trying to kill everything else.

DRC's top industry is mining: diamonds, gold, copper, cobalt - this is straight from the CIA World Factbook, y'all - and coltan zinc, which is that shit all those new-every-two cellphones need in order to run. Coltan sells at prices resembling what some junior exec on West Street might pay for coke.

I had a great-uncle who made a fortune in DRC back in the day (back when it was Congo Léopoldville, before it was Zaire, which is before it was DRC). He invented a process that precipitated the silt out of the muck in the mines, so that the pumps wouldn't get jammed. He was basically just a chemist and he made a fortune. That's a lot of money underground in southern Congo.

Maybe $93,469,000,000.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Carrier pigeon, carrier dove


Linux! WiFi! Itty bitty! (2 pounds) It's PINK GREEN (pink sold out, and it was too girly anyway)! And it's three hundred dollars! Which is cheap!

(But not cheap enough - the bathroom vanity fell apart and now we have to replace that too, hot on the heels of the cat pee fiasco that caused us to replace the living room rug. And my phone losing its ability to hold a charge.) And I swear to hell I have barely been able to work without a laptop these last couple weeks.

Food? or laptop. Hm.

Mortgage? or laptop. Hm.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Six long months on a dust covered trail

08 04 08 034

God I hate Microsoft.

When the storm blew in the dining room windows and spattered rain on our laptops (not doing the teak dining room table any favors either), I was irritated. When the guy at the Little Shop of Hardware took $150 from me just to crack my Linux laptop and put it back together, I was resigned. When I heard that the motherboard was completely fried and there was nothing to do for my poor lovely machine, I grieved.

But when Bob and I started both using the shitty Dell desktop machine that I usually only use for paying bills, I became livid.

Bob's laptop is in the shop too, for the same reason. But it's a work laptop, and he has to use shit like Outlook, and he has to sync his Blackberry using Microsoft ActiveSync, and now every time I sit down to use the computer it takes about 10 minutes to wake the computer up, log on, wait for the desktop to build itself, log on again, kill several messages about failed scripts and available software updates, and finally give up and restart the fucking thing.

I miss my Linux laptop. And we can't afford to replace it.

See, this weekend I was totally going to hole up somewhere comfortable, like bed, and write book reviews until my elbows gave out. Bob took the kids camping, with several other families, but I had to work, so I stayed home.

Boy am I regretting that, actually. The fact is, I punked out. I never went camping as a kid, and I never really learned how to go camping as an adult. When I said that to my friend Christine, she literally laughed at me. "As if there's anything to learn!" But I'm the kind of person who always wants to do things RIGHT. You know, I want to put the tent up the right way the first time. That's why I read instructions. Hell, I used to WRITE instructions for a living - I'm very invested in doing things right.

So I was kind of intimidated, and while it is true that I was way in the hole in terms of asking off work on weekends, I probably could have sweet-talked the schedulers into letting me have the day. But I didn't.

So I borrowed My Side of the Mountain on CD from the library, packed their backpacks, and sent them off to get filthy, bug-bit, overtired, and underfed - without me.

And now I have the weekend to myself. Which... I love to be alone? and it frustrates me when I'm trying to write and somebody keeps tugging on my mouse arm? But I'm all sad and weepy without my boys here. Don't get me wrong - I'm living the fabulous disgusting single life this weekend. On the way home from work yesterday, I bought: a half gallon of carrot juice, which I am drinking directly from the jug; a jar of baked beans, which I heated up and ate directly from the jar (WITH mayo); and a bag of Flamin' Hot Cheetos, which I ate directly from the bag while semi-reclined on the guest room bed watching the opening ceremonies of the Olympics and drinking a six-pack of Dogfish Head Raison d'Etre. "Dance, you limber little Asians! Oops, there goes a Cheeto down my bra."

But nobody woke me up this morning, and I didn't have anyone to check on last night as I stumbled drunkenly to bed. I miss them.