Monday, December 27, 2004

Christmas Gluttony

Hope you all had a great holiday. I spent Christmas Eve and Day at my parent's house, eating a lot of food, playing with the dog, exchanging presents, and eating a lot of food. I'm not kidding, I really ate a lot of food. It's hard to resist when the following items are offered for your consumption:

  • Sugar cookies
  • Lasagna
  • Salad
  • Garlic Bread
  • Chocolate Covered Pretzels
  • Ham
  • Hash Brown Potato Casserole
  • Green Bean Casserole
  • Jello w/ Cool Whip Topping
  • Peppermint Ice Cream
  • Seven Layer Salad
  • Caramel Corn

What's sad is I'm sure I'm forgetting something. Thanks must go to my mother for providing all this food within a 24 hour time span. Bravo, Mom!

Of course, this means I'm back at the gym with a vengeance. A small price to pay for all those sugar cookies. But they were worth it.

(My mother's sugar cookies are legendary. To me, anyway. She has these cookie cutters in the shapes of all things Christmas - snowmen, reindeer, trees, etc. - that she bought in the early 70's and has used every holiday since. This year only the ornament and bell cookies made an appearance, but I didn't mind, especially since she added sprinkles to the recipe.)

And, yes, we did have a white Christmas, even though my last post was hoping otherwise. I received nine inches of snow by Thursday morning, which made travel in my neighborhood nearly impossible. I was due to work at 7:00 a.m. to perform the weekly backup before we opened, but, due to the lack of plowing, got stuck in the road a few times. By the time I dug myself out it was nearing 8:00, so I gave up and worked 2-10 p.m., a rare night shift for me. By the time I made it to work, the streets were fine. Of course, the roads in my neighborhood were another story - they weren't plowed until late Thursday afternoon. Kind of makes you wonder why I'm paying the annual home owner's association fees.

Yesterday I spent the afternoon with Andie, back from Minnesota for the holidays. She and I went to India Garden for lunch, where she's somewhat of a celebrity. (Her family ate there a lot when she was growing up.) Everytime we go there I feel like I'm dining with a star. When we walked in yesterday, they didn't guide us to a table; instead they allowed her to pick where we would sit. And they spent time catching up, asking her how she'd been, how her mom was, etc. Unfortunately, she's not popular enough for them to comp our meals, but still, we received an awful lot of attention that normally we wouldn't get.

Afterwards she and I went to Half Price Books and took advantage of their 20% off sale. I bought three albums, actual vinyl albums. The first was Men at Work's Cargo, which I remember putting on my Christmas list in 1983 but never receiving. The second was the soundtrack to Xanadu, which is awesome. And the third was a Tom Jones live album that my grandmother had when I was a kid. If memory serves, it has a slammin' version of "Land of 1000 Dances" on it. I spent $2.50 for these three treasures. After we left the store, we went back to my house and played songs from them. Andie was amazed that the Tom Jones record was in such excellent shape, which I'm convinced is because no one's ever played it before. Come on, man, it's Tom Jones live. Who really cares? Other than me and my grandmother, that is.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Bing Is A Silly Name

Hey, Bing Crosby? I'm not dreaming of a White Christmas. So please keep your 5-8" of snow away from me. And while you're at it, why don't you make sure the weather stays like it is today, instead of dipping down to -2 degrees like the Weather Channel says it's going to be on Friday.

I used to say that I'd rather deal with the cold than the heat. Well, after the past few years I've changed my mind. Bring on the humidity!

Maybe I should move to California. I don't think I'd ever get tired of a forecast of sunny and 72 degrees. Oh, sure, I'd miss the Fall, but that's a small price to pay for weather paradise.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Elmo Can't Dance

What the hell is going on in the world of children's toys? I went to Toys 'R Us Thursday to buy a present for my niece and was confronted with a bunch of toys that did nothing but make noise, loud noise, loud annoying noise. Even toys you think would be safe and non-deafening turned out to be evil. Like the Fisher Price ferris wheel. We had one of those when I was a kid. You put your little Fisher Price people in it, crank it up, and watch as it played a quiet, musical box-like tune. (Because how else do you play with a ferris wheel?) Now when you crank the new Fisher Price ferris wheel it plays an annoying circus tune using audio that's louder than my home stereo.

And what is with young children and their infatuation with Elmo? That dude was all over that store. Oddly, though, all the Elmo toys seem to be dance-related. There's an Elmo that does the hokey pokey, an Elmo that chicken dances, an Elmo that limbos. Why a kid would want to continually play with a toy like this is beyond me. After watching it once, how much fun is there to have? It's not like Elmo can double as a sleeping toy - not with all those metal gears in him that give him the ability to do his best John Travolta.

The most disturbing Elmo toy has to be Potty Time Elmo, a toy that comes with its own toilet. See, you squeeze Elmo's hand, he asks for some juice, you pretend to give him some juice, and then, ten seconds later, he asks to go to the bathroom. As if a red plush toy asking you to take him to the john isn't bad enough, you then have to de-pants Elmo and sit him on his toilet, at which point he does his business. (But the toy only uses sounds to simulate Elmo's bodily fluids, thank God.) I know this toy is intended to teach kids how to use the bathroom, but it seemed a bit over-the-top for its intended use. Not to mention that Toys 'R Us was marketing it like it was just as cool to have as Hokey Pokey Elmo, Chicken Dance Elmo, The Twist Elmo, The Electric Slide Elmo and The Frug Elmo.

I thought I had found the perfect gift for Bianca. It was a little toy dog with a string tied around his neck so you could lead him around. (I had something similar when I was a kid.) This one made noise, though, like all the other toys. But it wasn't too bad - pull the string once and the dog barks. Pull it again and he pants. Pull it one more time and he cries. I was ready to buy him when I pulled the string one final time. This time he began singing a very long song. Seriously, the dog wouldn't stop singing. I can't even tell you what song it was because the dog was barking the song and it was pretty unintelligible. Too bad, because until he turned into Pavarotti, he could have had a new home.

I decided on a toy called Aquadoodle, which is a big mat that kids can draw on using a special water-filled pen. It promised no mess and didn't make a sound when you drew on it. Problem is, I didn't buy it. Toys 'R Us is an exercise in frustration - you can see stuff but you can't get to anything without moving through 600 other aisles first. And they allow people to use carts, but they don't make the aisles wide enough for more than one cart, which means the store is a constant bottleneck. After spending 30 minutes trying to get to the Aquadoodle only to be stuck behind some woman who decided it would be convenient to just stop her cart in the aisle, causing an immediate traffic jam, I gave up and decided to order it online. Of course, when I went to buy it today, Amazon was sold out. Looks like I'll be heading to Toys 'R Us tonight.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

I've been reading a lot lately. I began reading more often when I started working at the library five years ago, but recently I've found myself dragging when it came to finishing a book. Something clicked a few weeks ago, though, and now I can't turn the pages fast enough. I think part of it is I've rescinded my "One Book at a Time" rule, so now I'm free to read 3,000 books at once, if I chose to. It's not as confusing as I thought it would be. Oh, sure, some books get neglected, but if something's good it rises to the top and gets finished quicker. Another thing I'm doing now is putting books on hold. I never did this before, mainly because of the "one book" rule. Now, however, everything is fair game. I think I have at least ten books in my hold queue, including Bob Dylan's biography and The Da Vinci Code, which I want to read just to see what all the fuss is about.

I'm on a Tom Perrotta kick. Years ago I read his novel Election because I really liked the film. While it was good, it wasn't that radically different from the movie, so it was kind of a waste of time. A few weeks ago I read Little Children, which is about a group of young parents in their early 30's who find their lives intertwined. Each character had an interesting backstory, which Perrotta doled out only when it was integral to the plot. Last night I finished reading his first book The Wishbones, about a group of musicians in a wedding band. While it wasn't as ambitious or compelling as Little Children, I'd still recommend it. There's only one of his novels I haven't read - Joe College - and I think that's going to be checked out today.

I'm trying to read more fiction, because all the non-fiction books about movies, actors and musicians all seem to blending together. The problem with fiction, though, is that I have no idea where to begin. I've found that judging a book by its cover is a pretty good indicator on whether or not I might like it. For example, imagine a book cover with a sorcerer doing battle with creatures on a distant planet. Yeah, I'd rather read graffiti on a public restroom wall. Books that feature Fabio on their covers or ones with pretty flowers and lacy patterns all over their spines don't rate very highly on my reading list either. But something unique or eye-catching does peek my interest. (Both of those books were great, by the way.)

So if anyone has any recommendations for me, let me know. Off to the stacks...

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

The latest inductees for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame have been announced. Two groups I really like - U2 and The Pretenders - made the cut, as did my favorite record label founder of all-time, Seymour Stein. (He signed and nurtured the careers of Talking Heads, The Ramones, and Barenaked Ladies, to name a few.) I'm not so sure The O'Jays deserve the nod, mainly because I don't think we should be encouraging the people who unleashed "Love Train" onto the world. I know nothing about Buddy Guy, so I can't comment on his validity. Percy Sledge is cool, so I won't knock him, either.

Of course, this whole Hall of Fame thing is shifty at best. Like them or not, two of the most influential bands of the rock genre - The Sex Pistols and Black Sabbath - still haven't been inducted, mainly because they've publicly denounced the whole idea of a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the first place. If the Hall's nominating committee looks for "the influence and significance of the artist's contribution to the development and perpetuation of rock and roll" as it says on their website, then these two acts should be included. (And half of the acts that have already been inducted should be kicked out. ZZ Top, I'm looking in your direction.) Without the Pistols or Sabbath, neither punk nor heavy metal would have become as monumental as they did. Plus I really want to hear what Johnny Rotten and Ozzy Osbourne would say at their induction ceremony.

And where the hell are The Monkees? Or Lynryd Skynryd? Or The Cars? Or Patti Smith? Or The Hollies? Or Van Halen? Or Genesis? Or Peter Gabriel solo, for that matter? Or Kiss? Or Iggy and the Stooges? Or Neil Diamond? All deserving acts that still haven't been inducted for one reason or another.

This Rock and Roll Hall of Fame thing is going to get interesting in about ten years, when acts like Mr. Mister and Debbie Gibson become eligible for induction and the nominating committee actually chooses them over Black Sabbath and the Sex Pistols. They'll be riots in the streets of Cleveland if that happens, I tell ya!

Monday, December 13, 2004

I'm tired. I spent all day yesterday on the road, helping my Dad move into his apartment in Chicago. Here's how the day broke down:

6:00 a.m. - Because of Dad's early start time, I spent the night at my parent's house. This was when he woke me up. Even the damn dog thought it was too early, shielding her eyes when I turned on the light.

7:10 a.m. - We hit the road. Thanks to my Dad's expert planning and bungee-cord usage, we only had to stop once and rearrange the load.

10:15 a.m. - We made it to his apartment, which is a typical one bedroom deal. Not bad, and he has a nice view of the golf course across the street. I began unloading the small stuff while he unhooked the 75 bungee cords he used to tie everything up in the back.

11:15 a.m. - Time to take care of the big stuff. For some of the furniture, Dad insisted I simply hold the doors while he carried the pieces up to the second floor apartment. Normally this wouldn't be a problem, but we're talking about a mattress here. And a box spring. And a kitchen table. Why we couldn't just let a heavy box play doorman while I helped him was beyond me.

12:15 p.m. - Heart attack in my Dad averted, we began our journey to my uncle's house in West Lafayette for some holiday festivities. It was also a great midway point for my parents to swap vehicles so Dad could take another load up to his bachelor pad.

1:30 p.m. - We stopped for gas in Rensselaer. Starving, I begged him to take me to Dairy Queen so I could buy a Blizzard. I know it was 14 degrees yesterday, but a Blizzard sounded good.

2:15 p.m. - We made it to my uncle's house, where he soon had pizza from Pizza King available. My God, it was good. (Yes, all I pretty much had to eat yesterday was a Blizzard and some pizza. I can't always eat healthy.)

6:00 p.m. - My mother and I started our trip back to Monrovia. Dad had already left for his return trip back to Chicago.

7:30 p.m. - Back to Monrovia. Lizzie, their golden retriever, was ecstatic to see me, as she always is.

9:00 p.m. - I left for home.

9:15 p.m. - I stopped for gas. It was so windy, I was nearly knocked over waiting for my tank to fill.

10:00 p.m. - Finally made it home after my poor Jetta was knocked to hell and back by the wind.

10:30 p.m. - I passed out on the couch listening to my iPod. Don't ask why, if I was so tired, I just didn't go to bed. Listening to some tunes just seemed like the right thing to do at the time.

(For those of you not in the know, my father recently accepted a new job in downtown Chicago. Because they have yet to sell their house, he was forced to move to an apartment in the suburbs. He's acting all depressed about it, but he sure seemed to enjoy deciding where to put the reclining chair and the television.)

Friday, December 10, 2004

I've been listening to the new Christmas CDs from Barenaked Ladies and Chris Isaak at home the past few days, and it's got me thinking of my favorite Christmas tracks. Of course, my favorite tracks aren't your typical "White Christmas" Bing Crosby bullshit. Here are some of the Christmas tracks I love:

"The Twelve Days of Christmas" by The Muppets and John Denver. The Muppets in their prime, joined by a folk singer who liked to say "far out" a lot. Classic stuff, especially Miss Piggy's vocal fill after she sings "five golden rings." (Ba-dum-bump-bump.)

"The Twelve Days of Christmas" by Bob and Doug McKenzie. The same song, with slightly modified lyrics. For example, on the first day of Christmas they receive a beer. On the sixth day, they get some bacon. Eventually the angelic choir kicks in and takes over the track, leaving Bob and Doug in the dust. Great, funny stuff.

"Do They Know It's Christmas" by Band Aid. The classic version, not the new one. (Which, due to full disclosure laws, I have to admit I haven't heard yet.) Not only is it for a good cause, but it works well as a trivia piece! Who's that singer? Could it be George Michael? Ding ding ding you are correct! Is that Bono? Yup! I can't even recognize half the people in the song anymore, since they dropped off the pop culture radar two months after this song was released. For example, did you recognize Bananarama on the trakc? If you did, you're a Bananarama freak. Me, I needed a visual aid - the video - to clue me in that that was Bananarama singing.

"Jingle Bells" by the Singing Dogs. Dogs barking out the melody to "Jingle Bells". Sounds painful, but in reality it's one of the funniest songs I've ever heard. It's so surreal that it works. (I also have the Singing Dogs doing "Oh Susanna", but it's not as good.)

"Happy Xmas (War is Over)" by John Lennon. Beautiful, and a great message to boot. I miss John Lennon.

"Wonderful Christmastime" by Wings. Pure cheese, but fun to listen to. The only song on the list I don't want to hear outside of December. Hearing it multiple times in one month is enough for me.

"Christmas All Over Again" by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Petty perfectly captures the feeling of the season, even commenting on the innummerable family get-togethers and how he feels about seeing aunts and uncles for the first time in a year. ("Yeah, I kinda missed 'em/But I don't want to kiss 'em.") Also has a hilarious ending where he lists what he wants for Christmas. ("I want a Rickenbacker gi-tar...")

"The Linus and Lucy Theme" from the Charlie Brown Christmas special. I know, it's not technically a Christmas song, but because of the show I will always associate it with the holiday season. I haven't seen A Charlie Brown Christmas in a long time. I remember loving it as a kid, all except that long speech Linus gave about the true meaning of Christmas. Shut up, Blanket Boy, and bring back the funny!

"Santa Claus is Coming to Town" by Bruce Springsteen. I saw the Boss two years ago at Conseco Fieldhouse one week before Christmas. 80% of the audience were wearing Santa hats to clue him in that we wanted to hear that song. When he came out for the encore, everyone lobbed their Santa hats to the stage in a last ditch attempt to get him to play it. He did. Midway through the song he started digging through the Santa hats, sending them flying every which way. It was one of the best concert moments I've seen. Of course, it helps that the song rocks.

"The Chipmunk Song" by Alvin and the Chipmunks. All he wants is a hula-hoop, dammit! Give him the damn hula-hoop!

Some other favorites: "Blue Christmas" by Elvis Presley, "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch", Nat "King" Cole's "The Christmas Song", and "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" by Barenaked Ladies and Sarah MacLachlan. Now I'm in the mood to make a Christmas CD. Looks like I have a project for this weekend.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

I was reading a forum at Fametracker the other day about the worst singers ever. It kind of pissed me off, because people were nominating singers that I enjoyed. For example, there was no love for Bob Dylan. Yes, Dylan's voice is an acquired taste, but without that nasally whine there would be no Bob Dylan. Really, do you think anyone would have paid attention to him if he sounded like, say, Pat Boone? Here are some other singers whose voices totally suck yet I love them so much:

Bruce Springsteen - I've got the Boss on right now - the Born in the U.S.A. album - and just heard a beautiful song called "Downtown Train". But even though I've listened to that song many times over the past 20 years, there's a lyric I've never been able to decipher. It sounds like he's saying "I called the warden in the rain", but that can't be right. Oh, sure, I could look up the correct lyric in the CD booklet, but that would take the fun out of it. And 98% of the rest of his catalog sounds just like "Downtown Train". That's part of what makes Springsteen cool.

David Byrne - At time his voice sounds like he's having a violent vocal cord spasm. For example, in the song "The Big Country" he spends a lot of time repeating the phrase "ooh ooh gah gah gah ooh ooh gah gah gah". Or in "Wild Wild Life" where he throws in random "oh woah oh"s at the drop of a hat. But it works. And you should hear the man live, especially on some of the bootlegs I have from the late 70's where he spends a lot of time making raspberries and honking noises into the mic.

Joe Cocker - Sure, the man never met a cover song he didn't like. And he seriously needs to stay away from movie soundtracks. But his voice is so...gravelly. It's like the guy bought a bag of cement, chewed it up and started singing. But those songs are perfect. Even "You Are So Beautiful", a song that should have been wrecked by his voice, is made more beautiful because of it. No, I can't explain why. It just is.

Kurt Cobain - When I try to defend Cobain and his singing voice, people always reference the inaudible lyrics and loud screams of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" to try and disprove my point. But if you listen to more than just that mega-hit, you'll discover what I did long ago: he's a hell of a singer. Not the world's best, but he could definitely carry a tune. Need an example? "Pennyroyal Tea" from their final album will do. (His lyrics, on the other hand, tend to be nonsense. He is not the poet of my generation, contrary to popular belief.)

Michael Stipe/Fred Schneider - In 1991, when you couldn't turn on a radio without hearing "Losing My Religion" or "Love Shack" within five minutes, a friend of mine wondered aloud what they were putting in the water in Georgia to wreck people's singing voices. Yes, both Stipe and Schneider have bizarre, nasally voices. But imagine their bands without them: R.E.M. would have been a credible but non-distinct rock band and The B-52's would have had the party music but not the voices to back it up. I got into both of these bands because of their lead singers - Stipe had me at "Stand" and I fell in love with the 52's when I heard Schneider yell "When everybody's moving around and around and around!" in "Love Shack". (And the 52's get bonus points for being the only band from my youth that used to bother my entire family. Not even Guns 'N Roses did that.)

Janis Joplin - It took me awhile to hop on the Joplin train. I've always loved "Piece of My Heart", but the rest of her songs always got on my nerves. (There are probably other factors involved in that: My blood boils to this day whenever I hear a band start to play "Me and Bobby McGee". It was a decent song once, until every single cover band in the nation got ahold of it.) People are turned off by Joplin's raw power, but, man, just take a listen to that damn voice. She can communicate the feeling of a song in one freaking word. I don't know too many other rock singers who can do that.

Neil Young - You might hate the falsetto. Or maybe you hate the warbling. Or maybe you hate the words he chooses to sing. Regardless, it's hard to deny that Neil Young's voice is one of the most unique in rock and continues to be strong 30+ years after he began recording. You can't say that about, say, David Crosby. Or Steven Stills. Or Graham Nash.

Bono - Yeah, his political speeches and flag-waving during concerts might bug ya, but he really does have a strong, full voice. And he can hit the high notes. Don't believe me? Listen to "Elevation." Or "Red Hill Mining Town" off the Joshua Tree album.

Then there are the artists that I love whose voices aren't very good. Like Billy Joel. Great songs, and I love singing them, but have you ever just listened to his voice? He's terrible. Pretend you're drunk and sing "Movin' Out". You'll have a good approximation of what Billy Joel's normal voice sounds like. Another favorite is Jim Morrison, who would always try to sing but eventually would just give up and start screaming.

And then there's Celine Dion. Oh, Celine. Beating your chest and sustaining a note for minutes at a time doesn't make your voice more pleasant. What do we have to do to convince you of that? Do we have to permanently duct tape your mouth shut? Because I will volunteer to do that, if that's what it takes.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Last night I watched Spider-Man 2. While it wasn't as good as the first film, it was still pretty entertaining. Well, all except one thing that bugged the hell out of me: Peter Parker's/Spider-Man's beloved Mary Jane Watson has gone from girl-next-door love interest to successful Broadway actress. That would be believable is she weren't the worst stage actress ever to hit the boards. Now, I haven't done that many shows, but I do know that you never break character when you see a person in the audience that you recognize. And I also know that if you do notice someone in the audience, not only do you not break character, but you don't mouth the word "hi" to them from the stage. The film never came right out and said it was a Broadway show, but, judging from the play's advertising budget - there were signs, fliers, and freaking billboards all over town with her face on them - my guess is that it had to be.

And how the hell did she become a Broadway actress, anyway? I haven't seen the first film since it came out in 2002, but, if I remember right, they were all in high school during it. The sequel took place two years after the first one ended, which means that at best Mary Jane was 20 years old. There's no way she would have gone from doing nothing to being on Broadway in less than two years unless she was insanely talented which, judging from the cliched English accent she used during the stage scenes, she wasn't. Which leaves only one option: Mary Jane slept her way to the top. I mean, really, I can't think of any other way. Ah, but how the movie would have changed had they added that to the plot.

As for the film itself, it was alright. Not as much fun as Spider-Man 1, but not exactly garbage. Sam Raimi, the director, kept much of the film tounge-in-cheek and even included a cool homage to his Evil Dead horror movies from the 80's. But the villain was lame and all that leftover stuff from the first film got in the way of the new storyline. While I'm not a great fan of Tim Burton's Batman movies, you have to admit he could handle a superhero storyline. He knew that after you show the superhero coming to terms with his powers in the first film, there's really nowhere else for that character to go. Which is why in Batman Returns the Batman/Bruce Wayne character is the least interesting, even though he is still pivotal to the plot. I think had Spider-Man 2 concentrated more on the villain instead of the lame drama between Peter Parker and Mary Jane, it would have been awesome. Instead it was your typical brainless summer blockbuster. Too bad, because the first one was really good.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

So last night I was watching a movie - well, a documentary, really, about the Kids in the Hall and their 2000 reunion tour - when I received a phone call midway through. And the debate immediately began: Do I answer the phone? Do I let the machine get it? If the machine does get it, do I pick it up midway through the message if it's someone I want to talk to? What if it's someone I don't want to talk to and I don't pick up the phone? Will I feel guilty about ignoring them? What if it's a telemarketer? Do I yell at them because they're calling me even though I'm on the No Call List? Or do I just hang up on them mid-sentence like I normally do? So many options ran through my head when I heard that first ring. Eventually I put the movie on pause and answered the phone. It was a friend of mine, we chatted for about 30 minutes, and then I went back to the movie. Well, it was a documentary, really, about the Kids in the Hall and their 2000 reunion tour.

The documentary about the Kids in the Hall and their 2000 reunion tour was good, by the way. Lots of backstage footage, including a large segment where Scott Thompson gets a robot dog that just won't do what he wants it to. There were also some concert clips that made me sad. Sad that I didn't get a chance to see them on their 2000 reunion tour. Bastards didn't come to Indianapolis.

I just had an early lunch. Chipotle, a new Mexican fast-food restaurant in Carmel, delivered free burritos for the entire library staff. Score! I thought about putting it in the fridge and saving it for a more time-appropriate lunch, but it was warm and smelled so good, so I caved. Guess Karen and I aren't going out like we always do on Tuesdays.

Oh, and I can't bring myself to do a once a week update. Sorry, but I can't remember what I did last Wednesday, and that makes for boring reading.