Wednesday, September 15, 2010

When I was a freshman in high school, I had a friend who went through a faux-rebellious phase and dated this senior guy named Steve who was into punk music and not on the approval list of her super-religious family. After a couple years of dating, the relationship between them ended, soon followed by the relationship between she and I. This was back in the day when all of my female relationships tended to implode for reasons I was never quite able to explain, a trend that was ended by my current group of girlfriends who are so thoroughly non-neurotic that I'm not sure they're real. I got lucky on that front.

Steve graduated, but he went to college at Purdue, so he was still around after that and he became my go-to person for first time college experiences. I once went to this this house with him to hang out with some of his friends. The guys were taking turns donning bicycle helmets and ramming into the walls at full speed, all while British porn played on the tv in the background. You can't make that stuff up. When I finally started at Purdue, he of course was a senior, and when I took my first drink at college it was at a party thrown at his townhouse the very first weekend. I still see him around when I hang out in my hometown, and I'm always happy when I get a chance to talk to him again. I've just always found him very easy and fun to be around.

That's the background for the following story. It's funny the things that stick with you over the years. I can recall this one thing that Steve told me, and he probably doesn't even remember saying it, but for some reason it rattles around my brain every once in a while. Not long after he and my friend broke up, he was trying to get back out into the dating scene. He told me of a strategy that he had either borrowed from somewhere else or came up with himself. What he would do was ask out lots of random people. He would just ask out any random girl that he happened to meet. If she happened to say yes, well that's great, he would go out on a date with her to see what would happen. But if she didn't, then he would become used to rejection and it wouldn't hurt as much. Then, when he met a girl that he really and truly was crushing on, he would be braver and able to ask her out without fear. That was the idea anyway, I wasn't really close enough with him to know the details of his relationships after that, just close enough to hang out every once in a while. And to remember that random piece of advice, apparently.

I thought of this advice when I went on yet another interview last week for a job I didn't really want. Well, I wanted it, just to get some money coming in, but it certainly wasn't my ideal career path. Going into it, I did feel like I was numb to the process, that I was just going to go in and answer as I could and if it worked out great, and if not, oh well, one more experience. But as the interview came to a close and she was essentially telling me that I was on the bottom of their list of people they had in mind for this job, I realized it wasn't true. Sadly, it just doesn't really work that way. Because even if you didn't want that job or that date, the rejection is what matters. You still want to be wanted, like in that Cheap Trick song. Sigh, oh well. Another day, another application.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Labor Day Room Renovations

This is being cross-posted over on my new WordPress space that I've been playing around with lately, because I'm a fidgety person and can't stick with anything for very long.

The household decided to take the Labor Day weekend literally this year by taking on the beginnings of a massive room switching project that pretty much dominated all 3 days. My sister moved out of the bedroom next to mine a few weeks ago. The rooms needed a massive cleaning and re-painting anyway, so I was moved into her old room.

Eventually my dad's office will be taking over my room, and Alice (my step-mom), will get an office/spare bedroom. When I show you the pictures of my dad's office, it will also become apparent why Alice was anxious to get my dad into my old bedroom (which is in the back of the house down a hallway), and out of his current room, which is visible right from the front door and living room. And in order to demonstrate that I don't harbor any judgment of my dad's office situation, I will also show photos of my room in its awful pre-move state.

These photos sadly represent a fairly typical state in my room. Sometimes it's better, but with the wedding last week and the start of classes it got pretty bad. Plus, why put it away when it was just going to be moved soon anyway? Or at least that's how I justified it.

It's like a view inside my head.

I forgot to get photos of what my new room looked like before my sister moved out, but I did capture this photo during the transition.

It's like a set from a John Waters movie.

We made fun of her for it, but to be honest I like bright colors. It shows commitment to a color scheme, that's for sure. Through this whole redecorating thing, being forced to choose paint and bedspreads and things like that, I actually realized I don't really have a favorite color. If forced to choose, I guess I would pick gray, but it depends on the context. Am I the only one like that? I can never use that as a security question, and when presented with a questionnaire of some sort, I'm pretty sure my answers are different every time. I hate being forced to choose. I like all colors.

Anyway, here's one view of the final choices.

Ah, much more soothing. Except for that weird pink spot on the bedcovers. Is my bedroom being haunted by the ghost of the former walls?!?

The bedding was a $50 bed in the bag from Wal-Mart, plus a set of grey jersey-knit sheets. I couldn't tell you what the wall color ended up being. You know how those things are - stormy clouds, ultimate blue, ivory/off-white/pale moon rising. I seriously saw one that was called Stonewall Jackson Gray. I kinda wish I'd picked that one for the name alone. I've still a lot of projects to do like putting up artwork. Also, I would have straightened out the bedspread, but I hate disturbing an adorable sleeping cat.

Yawn. Your consternation bores me.

To show you the rest of the room, I have some before and after photos. First, my bookcase and desk area.

I'm shocked the shelves haven't buckled under the weight, honestly.

Nope, no clue why I have instant drink mix in my room.

(After) Also pictured: a giant rum and coke. Awesome.

Not pictured: the massive amount of books I'm taking to be sold/donated so that I don't end up the feature story on "Hoarders: Buried Under Books". Like I said, I'm still working out some of the details. My dad's going to put up some more shelves for me, and when that happens I'll be able to move some books around and show off the bright blue paint on the back. Inspired by this post on Apartment Therapy, I decided to make that blue an accent color on a lot of my pieces. I've also got some material with a similar color that I'm going to attempt to make into throw pillows for the bed. I'm weirdly crafty lately. I think my new medication has given me a bit of mania/ADD. Kidding. No I'm not. Yes you are. Shut up.

And here's my media stand and such. More organizational aides and cord management to happen eventually in that area.

On the tv: A Bones marathon.

The following is a dresser that I inherited through the family chain of custody at some point. I remember having a bunch of mis-matching, repainted chests around the house during my childhood and this was one of them. Alice and I traded some bedroom furniture back and forth a while back, and I ended up with this one.

Why remove the hardware when you can paint right over it?

I would share with you the photos that accompany the various trials and tribulations that went into the renovation of this chest, but this post has enough photos without that mess. Without any prior experience in the matter, I attempted to strip the layers (and layers) off of the dresser. It was a pathetic attempt that ended with my shoes stuck to the tarp and my gloves stuck to my scraper. I tore all of it off and gave up. So when you see this next photo and you are impressed, the credit goes to my dad, who took over the job with a heat gun and before I knew it had the whole thing sanded and painted, too. I picked out the paint and the new hardware. Oh, and I painted some silver accents on it. Amazing, huh?

Pictured in my old room before the move.

Oh, and something I discovered when I was putting it back together was a date on one of the drawers, probably its manufacture date.

Yup, that's about the date that those handles were last fashionable.

Finally there's my nightstand, which I did manage to do all by myself because it didn't involve any stripping. Thank goodness.

I was surrounded by ugly handles on all sides.

Also pictured: Glee issue of Rolling Stone, Robert Pattinson issue of Vanity Fair.

What's awful about redecorating is you can't just do one thing. You do one thing, and it makes something else in the room look comparably horrible. I love the way the nightstand turned out, but now I want to replace that alarm clock because it doesn't match. I also want to tuck that wooden box away so that it doesn't clash. The mystery box, by the way, is a box my grandpa made to hold all the old Elvis 45s he gave me. They're not valuable by eBay standards or anything, but I smile every time I rediscover that box.

Finally, I'll wrap this up with a preview of things that will be happening around our house in the future. Phase 1 is pretty much complete, but that just clears the way for more projects. Here's what my dad is doing so far in my old room.

Our house is swimming in power strips.

He's making a workspace for his various electrical projects. I inherited my penchant for projects from him. Where I have a page bookmarked on a DIY upholstered headboard, he collected a pile of Altoids tins to eventually make into Ipod charging stations.

This is the site of Alice's future office, with plans to put in a convertible sofa or daybed for company.

I only include this for the purposes of having a before shot.

It looks bad, I know. We just have a lot of electronics and hard drives. In exchange for this mess, we get to live with a great handyman who fixes our computers, has the cords and tools for any device you can think of (finding the cord is another matter) and gets up in the attic to run our cables to the other side of the room when we want to move the tv. A fair exchange, I think.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


By popular request (um, 2 people), I will be reviewing a musical that I went to see this past weekend at the local theater of my former hometown.

As a little background for non-local readers: The musical was called "Enter Love" and the cast, crew and band were like a who's who of my high school alma mater. The creator of the show is a former principal, the musical arranger was the director of the show choir, the music director was in charge of the show choir band, cast members were former choir get the picture. There was a girl in the cast that seemed to have no connection to any of that, but I swear I knew her too. The only thing I can figure is that perhaps we were in city choir together for a season.

I feel I should start by saying that I am amazed and proud of my hometown for events like this. I don't know why a small town in between Chicago and Indianapolis should be a hub for a thriving artistic community, but it is. It's not necessarily anything that's going to be the focus of a Wikipedia article (my definition of "making it"), but it's better than you would expect for a state not commonly known for it's contributions to culture.

I also want to note where I'm coming from as a critic of the show. No matter how many hours I spent within the confines of the high school music wing, I was always a visitor to world of musical talent. I'm in awe of the residents of that world, who can create melodies out of thin air or recreate what they have heard before on a multitude of instruments or any number of creative things. So whatever I say - the show was an accomplishment for everyone involved. I can't do, so I critique.

The story of the show is...well, I guess that's part of the problem. There is no unifying story, except for the fact that it is 1) about love, and 2) takes place in an airport (mostly in the airport bar, and for the most part relying on the banter between bartender and customer to serve as the exposition for the various stories). If there was a thread or progression to the story, I missed it. None of the characters were developed enough for me to care about them at all. Kurt Vonnegut gave this piece of advice in one of the prefaces to his short story collections, and it has stuck with me for years: "Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water." Now of course he also points out that many great writers break even the most basic of all rules. I don't think it's absolutely necessary to explain every single action your characters make, but I need something more than what I was getting from the story of this show. Even if I could safely assume they wanted water, I couldn't determine whether they wanted it hot or cold, in a glass or from a hose, and perhaps most importantly, I didn't know who they were well enough to know whether I should be rooting for or against them to get the water. It's fine to make your characters morally ambiguous, but I'd like to believe it was on purpose and not just poor writing. Also, unless it's on purpose, I should be able to catch the name of more than 1 of the characters without constant reference to the program.

Basically, as far as plot goes, the focus needed to be narrowed down to just a couple of couples that could be easily identified and fleshed out. Mini-stories between that are fine, so long as they are the story-telling equivalent of one-liner jokes. A, B, punchline C, and then return to developing the people we care about. Ok. All that being said, there were some good laughs in there, especially as it related to airports. Very cute lines that didn't feel like the same old stand-up routine airport humor everyone knows.

I'm not going to single this out character by character, I'm just going to say that the vast majority of the acting wasn't bad. There were more good moments than bad, and only in a couple of instances did I cringe from how stilted someone was. It's hard to adjust to a theater that small, for both actors and audience. We were in the back row of a side stage, and at times we were no more than 5 feet from an actor. On one hand, it's theater - the home of exaggerated movements so that everyone can tell what it is going on. On the other hand, when I can tell what color your eyes are from where I'm sitting, there's no need to ham up your background reaction with mouthed side comments and waving arms. An eyebrow will do. There were a couple standout people that I really enjoyed, though. Whether they were singing or delivering lines they were as great as the material would let them be, and sometimes better than it.

Music (Writing & Performance):
The music was great. The best part of the show, by far. And there seemed to be a lot of it, with very little dialogue in between. Now, of course since I thought the music was great and the acting/writing kinda awful, you would think I shouldn't complain about the distribution. But the problem is that it contributed to the issues I mentioned before with the lack of character development and the lack of unified story. Cutting out a couple of numbers may have helped with that. As it was, it felt like the dialogue's only purpose was to lead into the next number. Even then, there were times when I had no idea what the song was supposed to convey in the context of the show. I was just listening to pretty melodies and wishing that we could eschew the banter in between, flesh out the best of the songs, and have everyone stand there and belt them.

The band members that I presume were behind the stage the whole time were fantastic, and I'm not just saying that because I'm less skilled at identifying bad instrumental music. I do have standards for the evaluation. My standards are such that I should forget I'm listening to the band live because they never seem to be going faster/slower than the vocalist and I don't hear any stray notes. Sounds great!

The vocals were great. One or two people were weaker than others, but as a group they sounded fan-fricking-tastic. There were a lot of talented singers in the cast.

Ugh. Look, I'm happy I went, and the singing was really great, and again I am so proud that I once crossed paths with so many of the talented people that were involved in creating the show. I am grateful that people are putting new works out there instead of re-doing Grease for the 5th time in 10 years. Or, god forbid, Guys & Dolls. (The next time I have to sit through that show it will be too soon.) Wow, putting it that way, I really do feel better about this show. But I have to be honest - I was constantly looking at my program to see where we were and I actually counted down the last 5 musical numbers of the show, using them as my guidepost to know how much longer it would be. Sorry.

Whatever I say, the show seems to have been a success by local standards. It was sold out before the weekend even started, and according to their website they even had a full house on the dress rehearsal evening, when typically only media attend. I guess they're doing another show this week just to give people one last chance. Kudos.

Would you expect there to be a lesbian couple and a lesbian kiss in the middle of small town America musical theater? It was just a peck, but it was on the lips and the fact that they had headset microphones that blasted the resulting smacking sound made it more emphatic than it normally would have been. Listen, I'm all for it not being a big deal anymore, but I was still a little surprised. Prime-time tv has spent the last 15 years constantly battling the will they or won't they of gay kissing, sharing the bed, etc, and there it was in the middle of the geriatric Sunday matinee of a small Indiana town. Awesome. I would, however, like to point out that just because she's a lesbian doesn't mean you have to put her in the ugliest pantsuit outfit on that stage. Sigh. One step forward, two steps back.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Unexpected Car Rant

Seen this week on a local vehicle:
"My Monrovia student will make your honor roll kid TAP OUT in less than 30 seconds." It sounds hypocritical to say that when I first heard of the alternative honor roll stickers ("My kid could kick the ass of your honor roll kid", etc.), I found them amusing. In my defense, I probably started seeing those when I was like, 13. Now, not only is the joke a little old, but you tack onto it an additionally stupid phrase - "tap out". I figured it had something to do with wrestling or whatever, and sure enough, urban dictionary refers me to MMA, or mixed martial arts. Fantastic. I don't think it would be surprising to anyone that I detest any event where the violence of the event far outstrips any demonstration of athletic ability, or indeed, any event where rednecks/misogynists/drunks gather in force. Those terms are kinda redundant, huh?

Going off topic briefly into other ways that people display messages via their vehicle, the other day a woman had festooned her back window with various baseball caps that had confederate flags and the word "rebel" on them. One of which was bright pink. Oh, and next to that one was a stuffed hamster. Because, you know, racists like cute stuffed animals and pink, too.

Growing up in a household where it was generally disapproved of reducing your car's value by adding anything permanent, I find bumper and window stickers almost categorically tacky, unless they are so tacky that they come back around to irreverently funny (e.g. political stickers from long defunct running pairings or just excessive amounts of stickers from all kinds of places on a car whose value no one even cares about). I'll make exceptions for people I like or causes I agree with, but for the most part I don't enjoy getting distracted from my driving by what are essentially Facebook status messages in car decal form.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Hubris & TV Trivia

Maybe no one else will care about this type of thing at all, but it's my blog, not yours, so whatever. I got the urge to write a sort of tribute article to the "hey, it's that guy/gal" actors of the world. You know what I mean - I'm talking about the people who seem to pop up as guest stars in half of the shows on the current tv line-up, or those that make a living waiting for the call to come back to the Law & Order again and again. In fact, once you've watched enough Law & Order, you can predict from the initial interviews who's going to be a person of interest later on just from the fact that you recognize him or her. Sad, but true. Because of my excessive tv viewing, the eccentric breadth of some of that viewing, a decent memory, and my tendency to watch weekly dramas that focus on a rotating cast of characters (Law & Order, Bones, Cold Case, House, Without A Trace), this happens so much more to me than with most people I know. My sister used to make fun of the frequency with which I would exclaim "hey, it's that guy!" during our daily viewings of whatever we happened to be watching (she was the one responsible for getting me into One Tree Hill and The O.C. on SoapNet). On one memorable occasion, I was looking at the guy playing Nathan's uncle on One Tree Hill and wondering to myself why he looked so familiar. Turns out he played Starbuck's husband on Battlestar Gallactica. I'm not sure of a whole lot of other people who view either of those shows enough to make that pathetic connection aside from one of my old college roommates whom I turn to for opinions on both Gossip Girl and the latest BSG incarnation, Caprica.

I just really like seeing people I recognize pop up on more than one of my favorite shows. But these are people that, even now, wanting to give them tribute, I'm going to need to go look up their names. They're just not the kind of people that have famous names, and that just makes it even more fun. Or they're people that become famous for one show and then pop up on reruns of something else, from the days before they got that role. I like the trivia aspect of it all, the hoarding of knowledge that may or may not ever come in handy. Ahhh, that's what it is. I'm a trivia hoarder. Do I get my own show on A&E now?

Honorable Mentions
Before I get to the actor and actress that take my prize for favorite guest roles, I have a few other random people that have come to my attention recently. For one, although I'm focusing on tv and he's known mostly for his myriad of movie roles, no list would be complete without Stephen Tobolowsky. Everyone knows who he is, even if they don't know his name, I guarantee it. I was in that category until I watched the documentary Stephen Tobolowsky's Birthday Party, and forever after I am on the hunt for him to turn up so that I may identify him. It's like my own private game, a spin-off of "hey that guy" if you will, called "hey, it's Stephen Tobolowsky". But since I seem to be the only one who's seen that documentary, I think I'm the only one playing. My roommate from law school and her boyfriend would probably play with me, if I could still hang out with them. Anyway, prior to his stint in Glee as the disgraced former glee club teacher, Sandy Ryerson, I would explain who he was by referencing Groundhog Day. Ned Ryerson, bing! (Um, I would like to point out that until my final read-through of this entry to check for errors, I did not catch the fact that the last names were the same on both of those roles. Genius. For Ryan Murphy, obviously, not me.) Given his ridiculous amount of credits, I very much doubt that he cares one way or the other whether anyone knows his real name. I just spotted him on a rerun of The Closer the other day and barely recognized him with the abundance of facial hair he was sporting. Sprouting. Whatever.

Speaking of Glee, there have been a couple of fantastic cross-overs between that and one of my other favorite shows, True Blood. Artie played a very small part as a coroner's assistant and fangbanger on True Blood in season 1. And the football coach was (is? Can't keep track of who's dead/undead on that show) one of Eric's minions at Fangtasia. He's also done some of the typical serial shows - Cold Case, Without A Trace. One of the judges from sectionals, the blonde, was on True Blood's second season as the wife of an anti-vampire church leader. The counselor from Glee was also in an episode of House that I just saw during a reruns marathon. Also, Taub from House had a few recurring spots on Law & Order as a defense attorney that McCoy would go up against named Randy Dworkin. I remember the DA (then Fred Thompson) asking McCoy on one of his visits, "What's a Randy Dworkin?" His character was just a funny and clever attorney who would come up with some of the most ridiculous arguments in chambers, and deliver long soliloquies at arraignments, to the chagrin of the presiding judge (I wish I could remember some of his crazy stories, but one quote I found online involved him objecting to the judge announcing the case as "The People of New York" vs. his client, as being prejudicial, since he didn't think the people had anything against his client). He was memorable, even before I knew him as Taub, and for a series that has as many actors coming and going as Law & Order, that's saying something.

True Blood is going to get a couple more shout-outs in this entry, so I probably should have warned you to just stop reading at the beginning if you're not a fan. In that vein (ha! blood joke! sorry), the latest season has added a couple more fantastic people. Before he was the hot, hot werewolf, Alcide on True Blood, Joe Manganiello was Owen from One Tree Hill. Happy casting news, indeed. And thank god he moved to a network where nudity is allowed and encouraged. The new vampire King of Mississippi was also a pleasant surprise, as he has been on several episodes of Law & Order (the original, Criminal Intent and SVU), most frequently as a priest, for some reason. Priest to Vampire King. He was also in the film, Milk. Awesome. This is what I love - the disparity, the range!

That Girl
Or woman, if you're offended by that kind of thing. Whatever. In the last couple of years, in many of my favorite shows, the same people keep turning up again and again, and they are really the reason I wanted to write this, although I've done a decent job straying into long tangents as usual. Anne Dudek is a name I'm now determined to commit to memory. It was definitely her long stint on House that first caught my attention. I just watched reruns of several of her episodes during a marathon and became upset that she wasn't still on the show. She might have improved this season, even as a ghost. Certainly couldn't have made it any worse. During that same time, I was getting into Big Love. Suddenly, there she is, as Albie's conniving partner-in-crime-wife. I heard about her time on Mad Men, though that is one show I have yet to get into. I catch reruns of Numb3rs every once in a while, and there she was. Recently, I was watching reruns of Bones and she turned up there, too. Now I keep seeing her in the promos for Covert Affairs. I tried watching a little of that show, but Piper Perabo's acting is painful. As much as I'd like to support Anne, I just can't do it. She was even featured on one of my favorites websites, Go Fug Yourself. I have to admit, it was that entry as well as the Bones appearance within a couple days of each other that probably spurred me to write this. Now I'm just waiting for them to find a role for her on True Blood, and the circle will be complete.

That Guy
Sadly, I'm not sure that Zeljko Ivanek will ever be a name I can commit to memory, but I certainly will try. Goodness knows he's earned the attempt. Look at his credits! The man has been in nearly every major show over the last 10 years! Wait, has he been on Lost? Shit, he has. That man has the best agent in the universe. Too bad that man didn't assign him a name that was easier to remember. He'd be more famous than Cher. Where did I first see him? Probably Law & Order. He was in an episode that was partially about gay marriage. He was on 24 and Oz, neither of which I watched, but probably other people would recognize him from that. He's done one-episode spots on Cold Case, CSI, Bones, ER, Numb3rs, and Lost, in addition to way too many others. But the conflation of roles that made me really sit up and take notice of him happened during my last year of law school. He had a great episode of House, I think a sweeps week episode. I was still watching Heroes then, and it was just starting to jump the shark. Before my roommate and I finally gave up on it, Ivanek appeared in several episodes. I was also watching Big Love around that time, and suddenly Ivanek was on there, as Nikki Grant's former husband. Most of his episodes came in the next season I think. The same thing happened with True Blood - he popped up as the Magister, but outside of one episode in that season where he disciplines Bill, his big arc didn't occur until this season. It's just a trick of memory, because I've researched the dates, but I swear it felt like he showed up on every show I was watching within a matter of weeks. But research does confirm that all of that happened from 2008-20010, in a span of one or two seasons (and since HBO runs their series during off times of the major networks, it's possible that I've seen that man more frequently over the past couple of years than I have some of my extended family).

That's the magic of these people, though. They seem to be everywhere. It's like when you learn a new word, and suddenly it seems to be thrown into every conversation and magazine article you read for weeks afterwards. Or you start thinking you'd like to own a Prius, and it seems like you can't drive to the supermarket without seeing 3 of them. I'm sure there's a technical psychological term for it that I learned sometime in my past, but I can't remember that now. I'm still trying to commit Zeljko Ivanek to memory.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

What I've Been Reading (Instead of Moby Dick)

I'm not ready to declare Moby Dick a loss just yet, but it's getting close. I have enjoyed what I have read of it, certainly, but I just never have the desire to read it. It feels like an obligation. For a long time, it was keeping me from reading anything else, because of my all-or-nothing block.

At some point, though, I overcame that tendency and started reading books in between my attempts at the whale. The Passage started it, because I was so excited by the idea of that one. Then the little Twilight companion book about Bree, which was practically an essay compared to those two books. Then I got on a kick and re-read the entire Harry Potter series. Finally, I went to my local library to pick up a couple of things, and of course books with a limited timeline will take priority over something I outright own. So that's, what, 11 books that I've read while avoiding Moby Dick? I should probably just concede defeat. Now I'm trying to not let it get in the way of my blogging, because I would want to blog something, and then I would feel guilty that my next entry was not going to be a Moby Dick update, etc, etc. Whatever, I'm blaming things on an inanimate object. Let me just move on to a couple of mini-reviews of my latest book finds.

The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman
I have been better at reading books in bits and pieces lately, but that may just be because of the unique combination of 1) having other things to do around the house that prevent me from a solid block of reading, and 2) finding a book good enough to keep me coming back to it like an addictive new snack. I couldn't wait to return to this book every time I put it down. Every chapter was a vignette about a person somehow connected to an English-language paper in Italy. There was the guy who wrote the obits, a foreign correspondent, the girl who did accounts payable, etc. The vignettes were present day, while in between was the story of the paper itself - its creator, then his successor and then the next, leading up to the present just as the novel was wrapping up. The present day stories were fascinating, both in structure and content. Each one would focus on one person, but of course since they were all connected to the paper, they would mention other characters that would just flit in and out of their story, but then would be the focus of the next chapter. Events that were mere gossip or a one-line mention in the prior chapter would get fleshed out in their chapter. But the story kept progressing - it wasn't as if you saw the same event or time frame from the different perspectives, it was just that you got more information on the past events when you followed the next person doing their thing. Each character went from acquaintance to fully realized protagonist as the story went on. One story devastated me, the next made me hopeful, and the one after that both horrified and amused me. It was a sordid soap-opera and it was fantastic.

The Believers by Zoe Heller
As much as I loved the movie, I never bothered to realize that the Cate Blanchett film Notes on a Scandal had a book behind it. As it turns out, it was a book written by this author. I made a notation to read that book very soon, and was buoyed by the knowledge that the chances of this book being good-but-depressing had just gone up a notch. It's funny that I should read these too books together, because their structures are very similar. As in The Imperfectionists, the chapters are not merely a movement from one act to another while maintaining the same protagonist. Each chapter is a chance to jump to a different character in the story and, frequently, to jump days or weeks ahead in time. Instead of a bunch of different characters, though, it is a family of 3 women, a mother and her two daughters (although there is a father and a son as well, they are less characters than they are plot points for the other three). Outside of a brief time spent following the father, the book focuses on those three. It's not first person (and neither was The Imperfectionists, I feel I should mention), it's just that the narrator is following that one person and recounting their actions, with appearances by the others. If I had been an English major I would be able to describe that better. Oh well, in another life.

I'm not sure if I'd recommend reading these two books back to back, as they are ultimately depressing. Not in a Jodi Picoult/Nicholas Sparks hit-you-over-the-head depressing, but the real kind, the kind that makes you think that life is just one tragedy after another and that human compassion, if it exists, can never be trusted when your senses have been battered by the misdeeds of others.

The mother, Audrey, is abrasive, seemingly unloving and critical of everyone around her with the exception of her drug-addict adopted son upon whom she lavishes love despite his abuse of her trust. She and her husband Joel, a leftist lawyer who has spent his life defending the homeless, the disenfranchised, Mafia dons and suspected terrorists, are proud to be left leaning and progressive. Rosa, the older daughter, took her parents already strong socialist leanings and embraced them even more thoroughly, once criticizing her father for enjoying "reactionary" classical music because even music, in her opinion, could not be independently beautiful if inspired by bad politics. But that was the past, and after a few years in Cuba living with a farmer and a chance encounter in an Orthodox synagogue, Rosa is testing the waters of strict Judaism. This infuriates her parents, who are proud to be third generation anti-theists (although ethnically Jewish). Karla, the younger daughter constantly maligned for being fat, is constantly struggling for parental approval. She defends her parents at every turn, even though they have been the worst to her. The thing is, aside from a few snide comments and her general demeanor, there's nothing directly horrible about the way that Audrey treats her children. But it's like you can see the emotional abuse manifest in the myriad of ways that Karla and Rosa are insecure, emotionally disturbed adults.

While everyone is somewhat redeemed at the end and it's not an altogether negative ending, I find it hard to move on from all the horrible things these people have done to each other. Ultimately it encapsulates a life lesson I'm still struggling to learn - to take the bad things that happen and move on from them, live beyond them.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Random Cooking: Pork Chops and Carrots

We've been on and off the diet train recently in our household, which means our shopping habits are off. We did manage a couple of good meals last week, though, one of which was this one.

The pork chops got rubbed with a mixture of things from the herb cabinet which I'm not sure I totally remember now. I'm sure there was cumin, chili powder, garlic powder, oregano, salt and pepper. Pretty much a standard spice rub. Oh, and brown sugar! Plenty of brown sugar got added to that. They sat in that for a couple of hours, got pulled out to come close to room temp, and then slapped on the grill.

The carrots recipe was one that I had read in a Prevention magazine that was lying around my aunt's house and can be found here. I usually avoid the butter tub whenever possible, but when I altered the recipe to take into account the light spread that we have in the fridge, it really wasn't too bad calorie-wise. I actually think it could have used less butter, since the end result had guilt-inducing butter juice left over on my plate. The chili powder was a great addition, since usually I only add sweetness to carrots in the form of brown sugar or honey.

My sister went to the store this time around, and since she loves all things having to do with chocolate and milk, these naturally drew her attention.

Inside the straw are little beads of chocolate and each end of it is perforated. So you put it in a normal class of milk and proceed to drink. Theoretically, the milk passes through the beads and becomes chocolate milk. As expected, it's not a perfect process. Obviously, a boatload of chocolate syrup or powder or store-created chocolate milk make for a much more satisfying drink. I guess if the purpose is to limit your intake of chocolate and calories while getting a bit of chocolate taste in a funny format, they're successful. But I like plain milk pretty well, and for my chocolate milk I just go for light chocolate soy milk. A fun experiment, but not really all that tasty.