In my eighteen month Squirrelly Update I mentioned that the twerp’s entire vocabulary consisted of the words “kitty” and “Pooh.” Since then, though, he’s been cranking out words faster than global warming can produce hurricanes. For a while there we were excitedly phoning each other up whenever a new one debuted and trying to keep track of them all but, honestly, we pretty much threw in the towel we he came out with “precipice.” I shit you not. He’s become adroit at parroting the last word we use in a sentence, and one evening, after I caught him doing somersaults on the bed and delivered a sternly worded lecture about the danger of this activity, he shouted “precipice!” and did a celebratory somersault on the bed.

Of course, the real danger of his mimicry is that he will start adopting phrases like “I shit you not,” which means we should probably start watching our language. But frankly, I’m not too worried. Given the speed at which vulgar language is now evolving, I reckon that by the time The Squirrelly is old enough to “hang out” with his “dawgs” and “homies” any obscenities he picked us from us will be quaint and charming, the equivalent of a 2005 “poppycock.” By then they will probably be using terms so unimaginably filthy by today’s standards that words we currently consider to be unforgivably profane will show up in spelling tests and Jumble puzzles.

Having mastered the ability to utter words, The Squirrelly is now focusing on individual letters. He can already recite what he believes to be the 23 letters that make up the English language:

  • A
  • G
  • Q
  • Gubble-oo
  • B
  • Ah-chay (that’s Spanish for H! He’s bilingual!)
  • Ah
  • X
  • C
  • I
  • S
  • Y
  • D
  • J
  • T
  • And
  • E
  • K
  • U
  • Zeee!
  • F
  • Ellemenopy
  • V

    His current goal, as near as we can tell, is to set the world toddler speed record for saying the alphabet. He’s getting pretty quick, although he often cheats by omitting some letters and substituting the sound “mm” for those that he can’t remember in his haste.

    “A! B! C! D! E! F! G! Mm! Mm! Ellemenopy! Q! Mm! Mm! Gubble-oo! Mm! And! Zeeeeeeeeee!”

    Yes, only 22 months old and he’s already mastered life’s most basic skill: the ability to fake his way through things that he doesn’t entirely understand. Somewhere a position in middle-management awaits him.

    Update: The Queen has informed me that The Squirrelly is, in fact, 21 months old. HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO REMEMBER WHEN HE WAS BORN, THAT WAS 22 WHOLE MONTHS AGO!!

    The Bad Review Revue

    The Legend of Zorro: “Not only stupid and boring but — ta-da! — also really long!” — Stephen Hunter, WASHINGTON POST

    Rent: “Commodified faux bohemia on a platter, eliciting the same kind of numbing soul-sadness as children’s beauty pageants, tiny dogs in expensive boots, and Mahatma Gandhi in Apple ads” — Carina Chocano, LOS ANGELES TIMES

    Saw II: “I’d rather try standing drunk on a see-saw than see Saw.” — Mike Clark, USA TODAY

    Derailed: “Semi-alert Owen and the leaden Aniston go together like sausages and syrup.” (I have no idea what that means, but apparently it’s negative.) — Lawrence Toppman, Charlotte Observer

    Doom: “Like visiting Vegas and never leaving your hotel room.” — Roger Ebert, CHICAGO SUN-TIMES

    Get Rich Or Die Tryin’: “It ain’t rich. It’s just tryin’.” — Ann Hornaday, WASHINGTON POST

    Smooth Criminal

    Dude, I’ve totally figured out a way to scam the local dump. I dunno why I never thought of it before.

    Y’see, the way they figure out how much you owe is to weight your vehicle when you come in, weigh you again when you leave, and then charge you based on the difference. So you drop off 30 lbs of junk and you get charged for 30 lb.

    So here’s what I started doing. I let them weigh me in like usual, right? Then I go in and dump off all my garbage. Then (this is the trick) I load my truck up with a bunch of other stuff until it almost weighs as much as when I entered. (I always make it weight a little less — don’t want to seem too suspicious.)

    “Oh sure,” I bet you’re thinking, “where are you going to find a bunch of stuff just laying around a dump?” Well, it turns out to be a lot easier than you might think. Plus, there are almost always other people there and they will usually give you whatever they have in their trucks if you ask them. The kindness of strangers and whatnot.

    So when I leave the difference in weight is only, like, five pounds, and that’s all I get charged for. Then on the way home I throw all the new stuff into a local ravine. It’s the perfect crime.

    Board Of Directors: Tom, Dick, And Harry

    Leaving work I get on the elevator going down. A man and a woman are already on it, in the middle of a conversation:

    Man: … know you’re on Jen’s team, but — I’m sorry — I don’t know your name.

    Woman: Karen.

    Man: Ah, okay. Nice to meet you. I’m Steve.

    Woman: You work with Jim, right?

    Man: I work with Jim and Mike, right. Along with Jeff.

    Apparently I work one floor below All-American Names Unlimited.

    Womb Service

    The Squirrelly spends a lot of time in the car: going to and from daycare, to and from swimming lessons, to and from music class. He spends the ride strapped in his car seat, clawing banana cips from his Snack-Trap™, drinking water from his travel sippy cup, and letting the vehicle carry him where it may. Honestly, he wasn’t so much born as upgraded to a better womb. When he turns five and has to start attending school, we’ll hire a midwife to extract him from the Toyota and send him on his way.

    I think this is just an intermediate step, as we humans slowly evolve into marsupials. Someday in the near future our baby-carrying devices will merge with us, and will we carry our infants around in a pocket complete with built-in DVD player and Goldfish cracker dispenser. If there is any any justice in the universe, it’s the fathers who will wind up bepouched.

    Movies: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

    On the presupposition that everyone who’s interested in seeing Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire has already read the book, I’m a little more liberal with the spoilers in this review than I am in most.

    First, a disclaimer: I am not now, nor ever have been, afflicted with Pottermania. I liked the first novel okay and thought the third was pretty good, but have been less than enamored with the more recent entries in the series. I am not one to reflexively dismiss something as “kid’s stuff” (one of my all time favorite movies is The Iron Giant, after all), but I haven’t found Harry Potter to be especially engaging, either.

    So in evaluating Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, I am only interested in how it works as a film, and not in how faithfully it follows the book. Indeed, given that I disliked the corresponding novel (it was my least favorite in the series), the more the movie deviated from the text the better, in my opinion.

    The good news is that it is evident, right from the get-go, that the screenplay is a considerable abridgement of the source material. The first 100 pages of the novel — devoted to the Quidditch World Cup, including lengthy descriptions of how the children travel to the site and an entire chapter on play-by-play commentary of the event — is packed into the first 20 minutes of the film. Unlike Rowling, screenwriter Steven Kloves seems intent on shuffling the kids off to school as quickly as possible: the Dursley’s don’t even make an appearance, and Dobby (along with the entire Elf Liberation subplot) is given the axe. By the time we arrive at Hogwarts, it seems like the filmmakers, against all odds, have figured out how streamline the 650 page book into a 150 minute movie.

    The bad news is that Goblet of Fire (the book) contains so much superfluous material that, even after losing a huge chunk of it, Goblet of Fire (the film) feels too crowded by half. At one point they introduce a major character (Barty Crouch Junior) only to interrupt themselves halfway through to introduce a second major character (Mad Eye Moody), and then return to the original introduction once that is complete. Much of the first half of the film feels this way, with new people, spells, and concepts being revealed at a dizzying pace. At times it reminded me of those disclaimers tacked on to the end of a radio ads for contests, where they have digitally edited out all the spaces and left a monolith of information. Some characters (notably Cho Chang and Rita Skeeter) are given such a small amount of screen time that they serve only as reminders about the substantially larger roles they played in the book.

    Once the Triwizard Tournament gets underway, though, the film not only finds its focus, but also takes a turn for the grim. When Radiohead made a surprise appearance halfway through I thought it odd to see them in a “kids movie,” but that was before I realized that the final hour pretty much plays out like a typical radiohead song: dark, brooding, and at times downright ponderous. Indeed, between the horror elements and the introduction of sexuality to the franchise (we’re treated to French schoolgirls in short skirts and a shirtless Daniel Radcliffe cavorting in a sauna with a voyeuristic female ghost), Goblet of Fire isn’t really a kids movie at all. The age range for the audience seems to be shifting right along with the age range of the protagonists. The final film in the series may well be NC-17.

    I was pretty ambivalent about Goblet of Fire. On the one hand, I like the darker elements (the introduction of Azkaban in the third book is why it was my favorite), but I came away from the film feeling much the same way as I did from the book, that Rowling is exceptionally skilled at coming up with clever ideas (or at least at lifting them from other works and reworking them until they seem passibly original), but isn’t so good at cobbling them together into a coherent storyline. So much of the Triwizard Tournament doesn’t makes sense (even in a world where magic is real and dragons are imported from Romania), and it makes even less so in a film where so much exposition had to be abbreviated to keep the running time under a fortnight. Still, Goblet of Fire is certainly the best of the Harry Potter movies, so if you’ve liked the series so far and you can suspend your disbelief a little more than I was able, you’ll probably find it to be right up your alley, Diagon or otherwise.

    Head Light

    Snippet of conversation between the men standing behind me in line at the deli:

    “… when Jesus was born he came out with, like, a halo around his head. Not the round cartoon halo but more like an aura — his whole head was glowing. He looked awesome.”