Posts from September 2004.
1. This morning on the bus there was a man who looked exactly like Saddam Hussein. And not the groomed-and-besuited just-a-regular-guy Saddam we’ve seen in recent courtroom footage, either — I’m talkin’ the bearded-and-bedraggled just-pulled-out-of-a-spider-hole Saddam.
|Rides my bus|
He was sitting about two-thirds of the way back. As people filed into the coach and wandered towards the rear they would see him, and then start looking around wildly for an available seat; when they spotted one they would dart to it like someone just lifted the needle from the record in a game of musical chairs. No one wanted to get stuck sitting next to Saddam.
Eventually every seat was filled except the one next to Saddam. As more people boarded the bus we craned their necks to see who was going to draw the short straw, and were horrified to see that it was the kind of charming elderly lady that puts you in the mind of gingersnaps. A couple of the men shifted in their seats as if they were going to offer her their spot and take the bullet. But in the end nobody did.
No matter. Without falter she marched down the aisle, smiled at Saddam, and settled into the seat next to him. In response, Saddam did that bus-riding courtesy thing where you kind of hop in your seat to indicate that you are scrunching over in an effort to make more room for your neighbor.
I think we were all a little ashamed of our prejudice, and started thinking that maybe Saddam Hussein was an okay guy. But we were still glad we weren’t sitting next to him.
2. Later, walking in downtown Seattle from the bus stop to my office, I saw a man drop a folder full of papers. The sheets were caught by the wind and scattered in every direction, but everyone around him immediately stopped walking and lunged for whichever document was closest. Within seconds the passersby had collected all the papers and returned them to the man.
Seeing this, I was filled with boundless optimism about the essential goodness of the human soul.
But then I got to work and started surfing the Internet, and quickly returned to normal.
Even if we bottlefeed our child until he’s 20, I’ll never get used to writing “nipples” on my shopping list.
Much as “alternative” music has become the mainstream, “quirky” movies are now so common that they have become a genre unto themselves. That’s fine by me, as many of my favorite flicks are those by the quirkmeisters: Wes Anderson, Charlie Kaufman, David Lynch and the like. But for every Spike Jonze there’s a dozen filmmakers who woo guys like me by shoehorning a dozen non-sequiturs into a mundane storyline and then showcasing them all in the commercials. When watching trailers, I am chary of any film that wears its zany on its sleeve.
So despite the fact that the preview made Garden State look like exactly the kind of film I enjoy, I was fairly certain that it was all an elaborate trap. Surprise! Garden State is exactly the kind of film I enjoy.
All the capsule reviews describe the film like so: Andrew Largeman (Zach Braff) has been on antidepressants since childhood, but goes cold turkey while home for his mother’s funeral and visiting with his childhood friends. This makes Garden State sound very high-concept: man stops taking his meds, wacky hijinx ensue! Fortunately, the film is considerably more low-concept than the one-liner would have you believe — while hijinx do ensue and there’s no shortage of wacky, everything is muted by Braff’s deadpan and almost somnambulistic performance.
And much of the film is devoted to character studies, albeit of oddball and somewhat superficial characters. The most important character quickly becomes Sam (Natalie Portman), whom Andrew meets while having his leg humped by a companion dog in the waiting room of a neurologist. (It’s that kind of movie.) There’s no great chemistry between the two, but they are both so idiosyncratic that it seems clear that each is the only person who could possibly stand the other for long periods of time. Throw in a couple of Andrew’s kooky high school friends (one is a gravedigger, another lucked into a bajillion dollars), give the whole kit and caboodle a slightly hallucinogenic feel, and you have a film that can be described by the word “comedy” preceded by any of “ensemble,” “romantic,” “screwball” or “stoner.”
Shortly after the film began, The Queen leaned over to me and whispered, of Zach Braff, “This guy is really funny — he’s on that TV show I like, Scrubs.” My first thought was “even if he’s fabulous, how does a guy on a b-list sitcom wind up as the star of a major motion picture opposite Natalie Portman?” The answer, I discovered afterwards by looking up Garden State on IMDB, is that the guy on the b-list sitcom writes and directs said movie himself. Much as I enjoyed Garden State I don’t think it was perfect — I’d give it three-and-a-half stars out of four — but as directorial debut it’s about as impressive as they come.
(One last comment. I’m not one to rave about a movie’s music, since I generally consider the whole CD-to-motion-picture tie-in aspect to be little more than a cynical marketing scheme, but the soundtrack for Garden State can only be described as “crazy great”: Zero 7, The Shins, Thievery Corporation, and a Postal Service cover that almost improves upon the original. By the time they got around to playing Frou Frou I was convinced that the person who had assembled the music for the film was, in fact, me. )
Note: The comments for this post got deleted. Sorry, all.
Two stories on the morning’s wire: Clinton Absence Spells Either Boost or Bust for Kerry and Cheney May Help or Hinder Bush’s Chances.
Wow, that’s some hardhitting investigative journalism, right there. Who’s writing this stuff, Two-Face? Typically to find this kind of detailed analysis about how Thing X could possibly affect Thing Y in one of two ways, you’d have to get stuck making chit-chat with a coworker in the elevator. I don’t know why they don’t just run one big Bush Or Kerry May Win Presidency article and wrap up their election reporting a few weeks early.
A few months ago, several pundits rapped the White House for its “Ask Bush” sessions, where “independent” citizens would recite the Republican talking points and have it entered into the record without rebuke from the President. This exchange in particular was singled out for scrutiny:
Q On behalf of Vietnam veterans -- and I served six tours over there -- we do support the President. I only have one concern, and that's on the Purple Heart, and that is, is that there are over 200,000 Vietnam vets that died from Agent Orange and were never -- no Purple Heart has ever been awarded to a Vietnam veteran because of Agent Orange because it's never been changed in the regulations. Yet, we've got a candidate for President out here with two self-inflicted scratches, and I take that as an insult.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I appreciate that. Thank you. Thank you for your service. Six tours? Whew. That's a lot of tours.
Let's see, who've we got here? You got a question?
But despite the brouhaha, these carefully staged events appear to have continued unabated. I mean, take yesterday’s Q&A session for example – maybe I’m just being cynical, but I have a hard time believing that these questions weren’t planted and these answer weren’t rehersed.
Q: My name is Trevor Wallenstein and I'm from Gerbil Junction, Iowa. John Kerry is a serial flip-flopper who married an heiress for her money, volunteered for Vietnam so he could fake some injuries and collect a few dubious medals in anticipation of a future presidential campaign, and only shows backbone when it comes to raising taxes. Do you like ice cream?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first let me begin by saying that, in my opinion, Iowa is the best State in the union, in a first place tie with all the other swing states. But to answer your question: yes, I love ice cream, all flavors. Except, heh, except for French vanilla, of course.
Okay, who's next?
Q: Mr. President, the overwhelmingly liberal media has implied that you might not be the sharpest picket in the fence. So let me ask you this: if two trains are on the same track 150 miles apart and traveling toward each other, with the first train travelling 60 miles per hour and the second train travelling 90 miles per hour, and a fly moving 120 miles per hour buzzes back and forth between the trains until they collide, how far will the fly travel in total?
THE PRESIDENT: Uh, well now. I wish you would have given me this written question ahead of time, so I could plan for it.
But off the top of my head, I'd say -- let's see, 60 miles per hour and 90 miles per hour, with distance as rate multiplied by time ... carry the one -- I'd reckon that fly travels 120 miles in total.
Q: Thank you, Mr. President. That's exactly right.
THE PRESIDENT: How about you.
Q: Mr. President, the people of America want a decisive leader who can decisively make decisive decisions and then decisively stick to their guns, regardless of the [air quotes] polls or [air quotes] facts. In light of that, I wanted to ask --
THE PRESIDENT: No.
Q: -- how you plan, uh, what?
THE PRESIDENT: No. Whatever you are going to ask, my answer is 'no.'
Q: Well, I was just going to ask how you plan --
THE PRESIDENT: No! And that's final!
THE PRESIDENT: Okay, you there, the man in black.
Q: While your staggering intelligence and steely resolve are essential qualities for a leader, a commander-in-chief must also make thoughtful, well-reasoned decisions when faced with complex issues. To test you on this attribute, I have prepared these two goblets of wine, one of which contains deadly iocane powder. Can you tell me which one contains the poison?
THE PRESIDENT: Really, it's so simple. All I have to do is divine from what I know of you: are you the sort of man who would put the poison into his own goblet or his enemy's? Now, a clever man would put the poison into his own goblet, because he would know that only a great fool would reach for what he was given. I am not a great fool, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you. But you must have known I was not a great fool, you would have counted on it, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me. And iocane comes from Australia, as everyone knows, and Australia is entirely peopled with criminals, and criminals are used to having people not trust them, as you are not trusted by me, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you. And you must have suspected I would have known the powder's origin, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me.
Q: You're trying to trick me into giving away something. It won't work.
THE PRESIDENT: IT HAS WORKED! YOU'VE GIVEN EVERYTHING AWAY! I KNOW WHERE THE POISON IS!
THE PRESIDENT: Last question.
Q: Much of this campaign has been focused on events that took place over 30 years ago, so it seems only fair to ask: what was your guiding philosophy as a young man in the late 60s?
THE PRESIDENT: "Never get involved in a land war in Asia."
One guy speaking to another in the locker room:
“I saw my doctor last month and he put me on Lipitor. And I was, like, ‘Lipitor? I’m only 34!’ But he said I was getting too heavy. So I decided to turn over a new leaf. I’ve been exercising for the last three weeks and it’s been fucking awesome!! Pardon my French.”
The Bush Administration has long maintained that Democrats are bitter haters, too consumed with anger to think straight. And now they have their proof, in the form of Zell Miller.
It’s been something of an odd week here in yetilandia. That Tricks Of The Trade article I had in the Morning News went Internet Supernova, occupying the #1 spot on both Blogdex and Daypop for most of the week and receiving mention on usatoday.com, Metafilter, Boing Boing, Waxy and Kottke. All this for an article that I told my Morning News editor that I’d happily to scrap if he, like me, thought that “no one else would really be interested in this.”
The strangest moment came while listening to the nationally broadcast NPR program “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” and hearing Dr. Ruth Westheimer get quizzed on the article I wrote. (Yes, this really happened, and you can hear it on their website.) Surrealismwise, that’s gonna be a hard one to top.
Anyway, since then I’ve been trying to figure out what to do with the hundreds of great Trade Tricks I received that didn’t get used in the article. Just compiling them into a single, massive text file somewhere was an option, but I didn’t think that would really do them justice. Plus, I haven’t really had the time to edit, sort and format 300 entries in the last few days. But tackling one entry a day — ah, now that’s a project I can handle. So, I’ll be posting the remaining submissions over at tradetricks.org, in handy blog-format.
Also, several people wrote to suggest that I turn the who kit ‘n’ caboodle into small book, and I think I might take a stab at that. So I’m now asking for more Tricks of the Trade. If you have one that you’d like to contribute, head on over here. Even better, get your spouse or partner to send one in — a lot of my visitors have similar profession, but I figure if I can get entries from folks who are one step removed from my readership, I should wind up with a huge cross-section of occupations.
Finally, foremost, and again, thanks to everyone who responded to my original call for Trade Tricks — I really appreciate it. (Also, if you submitted something for the article but object to my using it on the new website or in this we’ll-see-if-it-actually-happens book, please let me know.)