Saturday, December 31, 2011

Where I'm Spending New Year's Eve 2011

Grouchy John on New Year's Eve!
At the corner of Charleston & Casino Center, in the alley between the Arts Factory and Artifice, we will be slinging our unique brand of caffeinated happiness to ring in the new year.

Join us!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Departures (Okuribito)

Available from Amazon
My diet of art & entertainment is a lot like my intake of food. I am an avid daily consumer (hence my ever-expanding waistline), but, frankly, most of my meals are pretty forgettable. They serve a pragmatic, minimally-pleasurable function that just keeps the machinery moving.

Still, I fancy that I have a somewhat discerning palate, and, every once in a while, as I forage and feed and view and read, I happen upon a real treat, something that is both delightful and deeply nourishing and that showcases exquisite craftsmanship.

Departures is just such an offering. It's a movie that works on many, many levels. Honestly, I can't recommend it enough. After all, it did win the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2009 (as well as such august laurels as a Golden Rooster and a Grand Prix des Ameriques.

Departures tells the story of Daigo, a thirty-something cellist in Tokyo who finds himself unemployed when his orchestra suddenly disbands. Confronted with a crushing (and symbolic) debt, he and his cheerfully demure wife, Mika, agree to move back to Daigo's hometown, where he finds quick & lucrative employment after answering an ad in the newspaper. But Daigo soon figures out that his new job isn't what he thought. It's the result of a huge misunderstanding. Or is it?

All of this is shown in flashback after some opening scenes that are stunning in their beauty and import. Two men drive across a snow-covered landscape to arrive at a house where a family waits in mourning. The fascinating ceremony that follows, with its exacting precision and ultimate humaneness, serves as a masterful prelude for the tale to come.

The ceremony of "encoffinment," from the beginning of Departures.
Director Yojiro Takita exhibits a deft touch throughout, though he lingers a bit on some set pieces, perhaps proud of his nicely-arranged compositions. And all of the actors, especially the principals, are outstanding. Tsutomu Yamazaki, as the laconic boss who takes Daigo under his wing, delivers a master class on how to convey so much in the slightest change of expression.

I hesitate to reveal much more about Departures, except to say that, among its many themes, this movie is about how we deal with death, both as a society and as individuals, and about how the end of one life can be a catalyst for change in others. The movie is also about the romance between Daigo & Mika, a romance that continues to evolve and develop even after they've exchanged rings. I could go on about what else this movie is about, for it is one of those films that is exactly as complex and varied and beautiful as life itself.

Of course, like life, this film is far from perfect. It's a bit overlong, and its sentimentality runs thick at times. Also, certain turns of plot are agonizingly telegraphed. But such nitpicking belies the staggering achievement of Departures. It's a movie that moved me.

I urge you to see it.

directed by Yojiro Takita

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Great Leader by Jim Harrison

Available from Amazon

I have to be careful here. See, Jim Harrison is something of a hero of mine, and I approach each new book of his with a certain reverence.

Harrison is what people call "a writer's writer," being more respected than famous, although he's also enjoyed the kind of commercial success that few writers ever achieve. Besides having doggedly (and almost single-handedly) kept the novella form alive in American letters with collections such as The Woman Lit By Fireflies and The Beast God Forgot to Invent, he's also an accomplished essayist and poet. He's even "gone Hollywood" at times, being responsible in one way or another for Legends of the Fall, Revenge, Cold Feet, and that grandiose & star-crossed mess, Wolf.

A Writer's Writer
Now comes The Great Leader: a faux mystery, a novel which I'm happy to report is strong & entertaining, if a bit shaggy & idiosyncratic.

Ostensibly, this novel is about Sunderson, a recently-divorced, about-to-retire detective with the Michigan State Police whose working one last case, trying put away an elusive, pedophiliac cult leader. Harrison has subtitled the book a "faux mystery" because it has all the trappings of a crime novel, but these trappings are a bit of red herring. Sunderson's real investigation is in a deeper and more personal vein. He's a man trying to figure out who the hell he is, amidst other rambling musings, like the nexus of "sex, religion, and money."

Thus, the narrative, whose viewpoint is almost entirely from inside Sunderson's head, is ruminative and recursive, occasionally yielding pithy gems such as "it was up to each generation to be duped into lassitude by their own music." Sunderson, who is an avid brook trout fisherman and reader of history, is in constant conversation with himself, as each new incident in his life recalls past episodes, which bubble up from Sunderson's memory, often baffling him.

You'd think that a man of Sunderson's age & experience would be more sure of himself. But, no, Sunderson is essentially a dithering mess. "Life moment by moment is so unforgiving and I'm a slow study," he tells himself at one point. His divorce has blindsided him, and his retirement has further unmoored him. To make matters worse, the paternal bond he has forged with Mona, the teenager next door, is constantly sullied by his lecherous libido, something she disconcertingly encourages.

I should note that the superficial similarities of this book to Stieg Larsson's The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo strike me as more than coincidental. Both books feature an older man hunting down a perpetrator who victimizes young girls, as well as a plucky young female hacker with, shall we say, a "non-normative" sexuality. But, where Larsson's book is a straightforward crime novel, Harrison's book is an altogether different organism. Indeed, I'd be willing to believe that Harrison wrote The Great Leader: a faux mystery as a kind of corrective response to The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, but what the hell do I know? The workings of Harrison's inspiration & talent are beyond me.

Of course, The Great Leader: a faux mystery isn't just a catalog of the abashed musings of a retiree. It's also a rollicking picaresque, offering more than its share of violence, sex, and wry absurdity. Its achievement is that Sunderson comes off as a flawed but fully-realized human being. What's more, since the novel is by Jim Harrison, it also features some breathtaking natural vistas, rendered beautifully by a true master of the word.

In any case, Sunderson intermittently chases and retreats from his prey as he deals with the complications of his own changing circumstances, which include a hilariously lewd spectacle at his retirement party and a primitively violent ambush out west. We follow our erstwhile detective from the lush Upper Peninsula of Michigan to the bewilderingly alien deserts of Arizona and back in a haphazard investigation that finally comes to a brilliant, blackly-comic conclusion that throws all of Sunderson's efforts into sharp relief. It's a conclusion that's perfectly of-a-piece with Sunderson's own judgments about the larger issues of life. Still, a kind of rough justice is served, so that even the most morally-rigid of readers (who would probably never finish this book anyway) would be satisfied.

But it's not the destination of this novel that offers its best rewards. Like life, it's the journey itself that enriches.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Descendants starring George Clooney

The Descendants is directed by Alexander Payne and stars George Clooney.
Lots of people go to the movies to be mindlessly entertained. They go to movies that are full of fantasy and special effects, letting the spectacle of such big-screen creations take them as far away from their own lives as possible -- hence, the meteoric career of Michael Bay.

But there are other kinds of movies. Some of these movies eschew spectacle in order to seem as realistic as possible, focusing instead on creating characters who could be actual people, not just action heroes.

The Descendants is just this kind of movie, telling the story of a dysfunctional family coping with a catastrophe that may not be as cataclysmic as an giant asteroid striking the Earth, though it is no less life-changing for the characters involved. The man at the center of this drama is Matt King, played with amazing subtlety by George Clooney.

Is there an actor with a more expressive face than George Clooney?
The set-up is this: Matt's wife has suffered an accident that renders her comatose, and Matt is forced to reckon with his two daughters as they deal with the aftermath. It turns out that Matt is like lots of men who have allowed their careers get in the way of their parenting, so that now, when he most needs to reach out to his daughters, he finds that there's some distance between them. This isn't exactly cheery stuff, I know, but the story also juxtaposes this drama with the idyllic setting of Hawaii, whose climate and history also play a large role.

It turns out that Matt's family is descended from royal Hawaiian blood, and they are beneficiaries of an astounding inheritance whose ultimate fate Matt himself has to decide in his role as trustee. Of course, there's money involved, as well as a horde of kinfolk who all have their own ideas on what to do with their inheritance. How these disparate storylines (his wife and his inheritance) play off each other gives the movie a lot of its thematic heft. We are all, after all, the products of our past.

As happens in times of crisis, long-simmering tensions boil over, as Matt attempts to hold together a family that harbors its share of secrets and slights. His oldest daughter, played with wonderful sass by Shailene Woodley, goes toe-to-toe with him, taking a certain adolescent pleasure in rubbing her father's face in unpleasantness and then seamlessly switching into the role of dutiful daughter when Matt finally decides to act on what he's learned. The youngest daughter, played by newcomer Amara Miller, brings a touching rawness to her role as the putative baby of the family, with an innocence and ignorance that serve as both burden and corrective to the machinations of her sister and dad.

The Descendants is about how these 3 people cope
with what's happened to the fourth member of their family.
Yeah, it's a comedy.
Now, all of this makes The Descendants sound like an utterly serious drama, but nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, every moment of this movie is infused with wry humor, and what could be more realistic than that? Life itself often plays out as a kind of joke (albeit a cruel one), and even the most dire situations give rise to a few chuckles.

Director Alexander Payne has given us such character-driven gems as Sideways, Election, and About Schmidt, and, for me, The Descendants is of-a-piece with those earlier films. I urge you to see it. It's one of those movies whose every moment rings true.

directed by Alexander Payne

Saturday, November 26, 2011

My Mom At My Wedding - a true story

(Note: For some context, you should know that I've written about my mother before, in a post entitled "My Mother Is A Witch." Honestly, it's not as bad as it sounds.) 

So, just before my wedding ceremony commenced, my mother leaned into me and whispered urgently, "Remember, when you kiss your bride, step on her foot. That way, she can't dominate your marriage!"

I nodded my head like a dutiful son, but I couldn't help chuckling. My mother, however, was completely serious.

"And when you walk out of the chapel," she continued. "Don't let her get out the door in front of you, or she'll be in charge your whole life!"

I thought about replying that it would be news to nobody that the Princess was already in charge of my life, but I let it go.

The moment in question.
Later, during the ceremony, at the appointed moment when I leaned in to kiss my bride, I heard my mother whispering from the front row of the chapel.

"J.J.! J.J.!" she hissed, tapping her toes loudly, but there was no way I was going to poke my foot through my bride's skirts to do what my mother wanted.

Now, I've asked several people if they have ever heard of the folklore that my mother was propagating, because I've always had the sneaking suspicion that she makes this stuff up as she goes.

No one I've asked has heard of stepping on your bride's foot as you kiss her. Nor have they heard of walking out of the chapel first to determine who rules the marriage.

What do you think? Is it folklore or just more of my mother's idiosyncratic improvisations?

(For more about my wedding, go here.)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

My Wedding To The Princess

So, at noon on Saturday, November 12, 2011, I finally married my Princess.

In front of an assembled throng of family and friends, we finally went from "shacking up" to "husband-and-wife" after a courtship of over 13 years.

I cannot sufficiently express my gratitude to all who helped pull this off. Every time I think about how much everyone did to make our wedding a success, I actually get choked up.

Below are pictures from the wedding and from the events surrounding it. I'll post more as I get them. If you have any pictures, videos, or comments, please send them to me at

These are the hooligans who attended my bachelor dinner
at the Flame Steakhouse at the El Cortez.
Because of our boisterous (& completely wholesome)
storytelling, we got kicked out of the place.

A pre-wedding portrait of part of the clan,
including me, my stepbrother Cliff, his wife Joanne,
my sister Tiara, my stepfather Ivan, my mother Maria,
my father John Sr., my brother Joe, my stepmother Barbara,
my brother-in-law Tom, and my nieces Enola & Molly.
Here's a portion of the MacDonald/Julson branch of our expanding
family tree, including cousin Samantha (who provided this pic),
Uncle Jay, cousin Nick, Amy's mother Paula, Uncle Mike,
Aunt Beth, the beautiful Princess, the goofy groom,
Aunt Marie, cousin Jordan, brother Jack, cousin Justin,
and, down in front, the dapper nephews Ethan & Connor.

This is where we got married.
Elvis & my Mother also got married there
(but not to each other!).

This is the chapel where the ceremony took place.
I managed NOT to pass out during the ceremony.

Here is the lovely Princess just outside the chapel.
The Princess's brother graciously consented
to walk her down the aisle and give her away.
I read my marriage vows to the Princess.
Judging from her reaction, she thinks they're
pathetic or hilarious (or both).
These are the words I used to pledge myself to my Princess.

I still can't believe she said, "I do."
I mean, look at me! Would you marry that?

The entire wedding party: Jack, Bibi, Merci, The Princess, me,
John, Dad, and Chris.
The official wedding portrait.

At the Reception, Best Man "Grouchy John" Ynigues
gives his speech while Harris the Steel-Drummer looks on.

The Princess's brother Jack gives a heartfelt & poignant
speech that made us both misty-eyed.

The Princess chose Santa Monica, California,
as the destination for our honeymoon.
Is it because she's such a fan of antique artillery?

Seriously, someone married this guy?!

Believe it or not, riding bikes on the beach is the Princess's
favorite thing to do in the whole world.

UPDATE: Well, it appears that the Little Church of the West did NOT record any video of our marriage ceremony. We are still working out why this happened, but, in any case, we can only hope that one of our wedding guests has some video and will send it to us soon. It wouldn't be the end of the world if such video doesn't exist. There are more important issues in the world.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Someone has just informed us that we may in fact have some video of the ceremony, which makes the Princess very happy. As soon as we get it, we will post it. I know you're all waiting with bated breath.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Yet more stuff I wrote for Desert Companion

Here's a link to more stuff I wrote for the latest issue of Desert Companion magazine, a lifestyle magazine published by KNPR, the local National Public Radio station.

They seem to like when I write about food (which is great, because I like eating). This month, I wrote about the Oxtail Chili Cheese Fries from Bachi Burger and the ComBAO special from Great Bao Asian Cafe.

Another bad pic of great food:
the Oxtail Chili Cheese Fries from Bachi Burger

Monday, October 24, 2011

Another nugget of wisdom

As I get older and more aware of how little time each of us really has, the more I think that boredom is just a form of laziness.

So is snobbery.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

More Proof Kids Are The Future

I'm working the coffee trailer at this elementary school fundraiser, when this cute little blond boy walks up who's got to be no more than 7 years old. When I say hello, he very politely asks if we have smoothies. I tell him yes and point to our menu, which he slowly scans with a crinkled forehead, sounding out each word.

"Excuse me," he says. "But can you mix the smoothies?"

"Yes," I say. "Which flavors would you like to mix?"

"I would like to mix the mango and the peach, please."

"A small one of those would be four dollars," I tell him.

This is when he pulls a folded five-dollar bill out of his pocket and holds it out to me.

"I would like one dollar in change, please," he says.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Santa Fe & The Fat City Horns (Again!)

A bad picture of a great band.
Last night, my buddy, DJ Chris Cox, took me to see Santa Fe & The Fat City Horns at the Palms. This band is made up of a 6-piece horn section, 2 keyboardists, a drummer, a percussionist, a bassist, 3 vocalists, and bandleader/guitarist/singer Jerry Lopez, all crammed onto the tiny stage of the casino lounge. Talk about musical intimacy.

I've seen them before and have written previously about how wonderful their show was when it was a free-admission spectacle at the Tropicana. In their new digs at the Palms, they charge a nominal $7 cover (or $15 for a VIP booth), but this show is well worth it.

Here's my original description of their music (it still fits):
Santa Fe & The Fat City Horns play a range of musical styles from latin jazz to funk, including some nicely-arranged covers of such hits as The Beatles' "Come Together" and Stevie Wonder's "Livin' For The City." And their original material fits right in with the covers.
Though just about every number was phenomenal last night, my personal favorite was their version of "Come Together" by The Beatles. I've seen these guys do this song before, and they really put their stamp on it, with a super-funky rhythm and tightly-harmonized choruses.

The show also featured a guest appearance by America's Got Talent winner Michael Grimm, who borrowed a guitar and growled his way through a bluesy number that included a really nice organ solo from a guest player whose name I shamefully didn't catch.

Another highlight of the show came when vocalist Tony Davich rocked through a cover of "Soul Power" by James Brown. Bandleader Jerry Lopez also provided a nice change of pace when he performed a virtuoso classical guitar piece that ended with dramatic flair.

These guys are killers, each & every one.
It must be said that every member of Santa Fe & The Fat City Horns is a monster player, and blistering solos were peppered throughout last night's 2-hour show, so that everyone got a little piece of the spotlight and each musician made the most of it. I can't remember the last time I was wowed by a trombone solo.

Now, I worry about the viability of a large-ensemble band that only performs one night per week. The logistics involved must be hair-raising, and I take my hat off to these fellas for doing what they do the way they do it.

And my summary judgment is this: if you count yourself an authentic Las Vegas resident in any way, you need to see this show.

performing at the lounge in the Palms Casino
Monday nights at 10:30 p.m.
Admission: $7 (or $15 for a VIP booth)

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Where I'm At Right Now

The openers have hit the stage! at Bite of Las Vegas, where a band called "100 Monkeys" has opened up the main stage. They're a passable act, and the weather's perfect, so what more could one ask for?

We'll see how Grouchy John feels once this wraps up at 10pm tonight...

Saturday, October 8, 2011

RIP Steve Jobs (and thanks for the memories)

From such humble beginnings...
I never met Steve Jobs. I never attended one of those famous presentations where he got up on stage in his mock-turtle & jeans to unveil some Apple product that would soon redefine the consumer electronics market. I'm just some poor, middle-aged schlub who's been using Apple products for the last 3 decades, more or less.

For me, it began in 1982 with my buddy Kenny's Apple IIe, which we used mainly to play a game called Wizardry, though we did manage to learn a bit about basic programming and word-processing along the way.

Later, I worked through a succession of Apple products, including a couple of Macintoshes. (I thought I was hot stuff as an undergrad with my Mac SE30, with its 64 MB of RAM and its 40 MB hard-drive & my giant library of little plastic floppies.)

And wasn't that 1984 Macintosh commercial, with its Orwellian overtones, amazing?

All through college, when the new Macs came out, I would lust after them, hungrily poring over the specs of each debut model, though my finances were such that I had to do the best I could with what I had, eking out every last hertz of computational power from those machines as I struggled through a thicket of ever-changing software programs, from Appleworks to Claris products to Adobe Pagemaker to the ubiquitous Microsoft Office.

Ah, how this screen brings me back!
I even created my first commonplace book using Hypercard, that early experiment in hyperlinking text, although the one I made later using Filemaker is still a sentimental favorite, with the "random flashcard" functionality that I built into it to inspire my early exercises in free association & journal-keeping.

That original color still brings me back...
I did buy the first iMac, with its "bondi blue" plastic finish and hockey-puck mouse, loading it with shareware, surfing the nascent (dial-up) web with Mosaic & Netscape Navigator or whatever AOL bundled with its service.

I have to admit that my love of Apple products has not led to exclusivity. I've owned my share of Windows-based computers, too, mostly because of their compatibility with whatever job I had. (Indeed, I'm writing this blog post on an HP laptop, because the MacBook is my Princess's primary machine.) I guess you could say this is a measure of how Steve Jobs differentiated his products from those that permeated the business world. Still, I may do some work on PC's, but I always played & created on stuff built by Apple.

Yet another Steve Jobs creation that changed my life.
The Iphone was as much of a game-changer as anything Apple has put out. I can tell you that when I finally switched from my HTC Tilt to an Iphone 3GS, a lot of my personal habits changed. Though I'd always been an audiobook aficionado, once I started using Itunes, I became a podcast junkie, even taking in the occasional college lecture via Itunes U. Currently, I subscribe to about 90 podcasts. Seriously.

How deeply have the products of Steve Jobs insinuated themselves into my life? My beloved Princess literally sleeps with her Iphone, and I'm never very far from mine.

So, yes, the point of this meandering remembrance is that, since the 1980's, there have always Apple products in my life. I don't see that changing anytime soon.

Thanks, Steve. Requiescat in pace.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

More Stuff I Wrote For Desert Companion

These are articles I wrote for the October issue of Desert Companion Magazine:
I hope you enjoy these as much I enjoyed writing them.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Just Ask J.J.

So, yesterday, I walk into my local Barnes & Noble to check out the new releases, and, as I stand there in my Raiders t-shirt and cargo shorts, with my earbuds blasting the Beatles, this woman comes tramping in the front door, walks right up to me, and says, "I need a book called Things Fall Apart."

This happens to me all the time. Almost everywhere I go, no matter how casually I'm dressed, people think I work there. In malls, I get asked for directions. In stores, I get asked for help finding things. In restaurants, I get asked about the menu. At the library, I get asked where the reference section is. When I'm on the Strip, tourists ask me how far away the Bellagio is.

I guess it's my many years working in customer service. Maybe it's that I carry myself like someone who knows where stuff is. Most likely, it's just that I look relatively friendly and harmless. When I dress up, I look like a high-school principal. When I dress down, I look like high-school principal on his day off, about to mow his lawn.

My friends have a nickname for this phenomenon of people walking up and asking me things. They call it the "Just Ask J.J." moment, and it was born in those moments in a barroom conversation when some trivia was needed and all eyes would inevitably turn my way to see if I knew what the world's longest river was. Apparently, the random public has tuned into this phenomena, as well.

This is what comes of a meandering liberal-arts education and a lifelong mastery of useless, inapplicable information.

In any case, it takes me a moment to realize that this woman is talking to me, so I pull my earbuds out and mutter an "Excuse me?"

"My boy needs it for school," the woman continues, unflappable in her quest. She looks about late-30's, wearing an Ed Hardy tank-top, shorts, and flipflops. Her hair is pulled back into one of those scrunchy things, and she's not wearing any makeup. Clearly, she's a mom on a mission. This is when I notice the two boys shuffling in her wake, each clutching Nintendos and looking rather sullen.

"It's a novel by Chinua Achebe, " I say to her, pointing down the fiction aisle. "You'll find it right down there. In fact, I can see it on the top shelf right there."

As she motors away, dragging her boys with her, a young man in a button-down shirt & khakis walks up. He's got a nice, tight ponytail and a cute little soul patch to go along with his horned-rim glasses. Even without the name-badge, I'd have pegged him as a wage-slave of Barnes & Noble.

Before he can say anything, I wave towards the receding woman and say, "I'm good, but I think she might have a question or two."

The wage-slave nods and goes after her, and I continue my browsing.

Later, as I leave the store, just before I step off the curb to walk towards my car, an SUV stops in front of me and the driver's side window rolls down.

A clean-cut guy in a polo shirt leans out. He looks lost and in a certain amount of discomfort.

This is when I realize that the sound I hear in the background is a chorus of kids all screaming for ice cream.

"You, uh, wouldn't happen to know where there's a Baskin-Robbins around here?" the driver asks.

I smile and point and begin giving directions. After all, we're here to help each other out, right?

Saturday, September 24, 2011

2 Rules I Live By

Besides the laws of physics (which, frankly, don't need anyone's belief to validate), I basically have 2 other rules I live by, and both of them come from Theodore Sturgeon, a writer almost nobody reads anymore (though everyone should take a crack at More Than Human).

Be that as it may, Sturgeon coined 2 rules that I find myself constantly repeating in a wide variety of situations.

The first of these rules is "Nothing is ever absolutely so." Originally known as Sturgeon's Law but now known as Sturgeon's Corollary (see below), this is an especially useful rule to trot out whenever someone starts making pronouncements of a political or religious stripe. Sturgeon's Corollary is a pithy reminder of the complicated & nuanced nature of the universe. After all, there are places & conditions where even the basic laws of physics break down.

The second rule I live by is "90% of everything is crud." Because of its popularity, this rule replaced the original Sturgeon's Law (see above), and its usefulness comes into play whenever some blowhard (besides me) starts holding forth with their aesthetic judgments, whether it be on music, movies, or whatever.

The point: crap is everywhere and it takes zero effort to point it out. Want to impress me with your acumen? Find something worth praise. And then sing its praises.

In other words, for me to respect your opinion, tell me what you like and why you like it. Doing so is much more difficult than just sitting back and tearing down the creative efforts of others.

So that's basically it: My 2 Rules to Live By. They're not the only rules I have, but they're my starting point.

I've found that dogmatists regard this initial position with horror, so I usually have to reassure them that my personal philosophy also includes such values as "people matter more than things," at which point the faithful generally calm down enough so that we can have a civil conversation.

Now, since the vast majority of people seem to need to name things before they can get comfortable with them, you can call me a "humane pragmatist" if it makes you feel better.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Drive - the novel by James Sallis

Yeah, but have you read the book?

In preparation for the new movie starring Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, and Albert Brooks, I re-read the novel, Drive, by James Sallis.

It was not a waste of time.

Published in 2005, Drive is a short, pithy noir story featuring a young loner with an extraordinary ability with cars. As is customary in these novels, the young man (already a denizen of a kind of underworld) soon gets mixed up with some truly unsavory types who want him dead.

What this book has going for it are its quick-moving plot, its hard-boiled aesthetic & self-aware style, and its brevity. It's decidedly unsentimental while also being utterly romantic (in the philosophical sense), and I have the feeling that the movie adaptation is going to be an entirely different animal.

Oh, well, to quote that old crank, Ezra Pound, "you can't hammer a nail with a mattress," and who the hell would want to, anyway?

Enjoy both the book and the movie, recognizing them as different liquors distilled from the same fruit. Or not.

I'm done here.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Attack The Block - a popcorn movie

Get Your Popcorn Ready!
Attack The Block is a popcorn movie. It's entertaining and well-made and has all the aesthetic depth of a buttered snack.

The premise begs for a certain suspension of disbelief: a group of young thugs whose territory is a crowded housing project in London finds themselves at odds with a group of predatory aliens. The film's primary pleasures come in the exotic mix of elements from movie genres that are generally held as mutually exclusive: the science-fiction invasion movie & the urban teen comedy -- with a perfect tag-line: "Inner City versus Outer Space."

Thus do we get the well-earned punchline: "See, is that a dog? That is not a dog!" (See the movie to get the joke.)

I also see interesting parallels between the recent blockbuster Super-8 and this funny little import. Both movies feature youngsters having to cope with interstellar intrusions, but the tone & setting of each movie is vastly different. Where the former is clearly an earnest homage, the latter is just an exercise in fun. And I would argue that Attack The Block holds its own in this comparison.

This isn't Alien, and these ain't the Goonies...
I really enjoyed it, meaning that I just let Attack The Block wash over me like a light rain-shower on a hot day. I doubt its makers meant anything more by it.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Shakespeare by Anthony Jeselnik

Available from Amazon
It seems rare nowadays to see a comedian who just writes jokes.

Indeed, it seems downright old-fashioned.

But this is what Anthony Jeselnik does.

Not for him is the current fashion of rambling, confessional, self-aware storytelling that passes for stand-up comedy nowadays.

No, Jeselnik's set consists of a nonstop barrage of confidently-delivered, carefully-crafted jokes (i.e., setup & punchline), mostly designed to elicit cringe-inducing laughter.

His debut album, Shakespeare, is roughly an hour of killer material, though those with delicate sensibilities and/or underdeveloped affinities for sarcasm need not partake.

I first noticed him when he performed at the Comedy Central's The Roast of Donald Trump, where he clearly outshone the other roasters.

I really enjoy his wit and his craftsmanship. I bet you will, too.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sunday Mornings

Ever since I quit the rat-race job that had me working most weekends, I've been able to recapture my Sunday mornings.

Though I am by no means a religious person now, I was raised in a church-going family, and I retain certain feelings of observance regarding the last day of the week.

In other words, Sundays still feel sacred to me.

Even when I worked on Sundays, I felt this way. But now that I generally have Sundays to myself, I have begun to truly treasure them. (Actually, I always treasured them, but now I actively enjoy them.)

Sunday mornings are a quiet, reflective time -- a time for contemplation and renewal. I read and think and usually have an indulgent breakfast.

Among the things I take in on Sunday mornings are the week's offerings from Poetry Daily and Postsecret, as well as any 60-Second Science podcasts I've missed. They're dumb little rituals, sure, but they're mine.

And then it's time for football!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Stand & Deliver, RIP

The inspiration for Stand & Deliver

I am saddened today to hear of the death of Jaime Escalante, the real-life teacher who inspired the movie, Stand & Deliver, starring Edward James Olmos.

To read Mr. Escalante's obituary in the New York Times is to realize that heroism comes in many forms, not just the kind that earn medals. Born in Bolivia, Mr. Escalante immigrated to the U.S., got himself educated, and became an innovative math teacher whose success was so revolutionary that, at first, he was suspected of cheating.

Watch the movie. Read the book by Jay Matthews. Then go out and do as Jaime did: Work hard, and make a positive difference.

Here's to you, Mr. Escalante. May the shining example of your life live on in our memories forever. Rest in peace.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Google Voice

Those of you smart enough to have a Gmail account should also have a Google Voice number. It's free, packed with features, and, no, I am not a paid spokesperson for Google products.

You can also have calls, texts, and voicemails from your Google Voice number forwarded to your mobile phone (if you want), and Google even offers a free transcription service for your voicemails, although their transcriptions are currently nowhere near accurate. Indeed, these transcriptions are so hilariously inaccurate that I nonetheless keep reading them, just for laughs.

You can even forward texts from your Google Voice number to your email address. Also, you can make calls from this number, Skype-like, from your computer. If they're domestic calls, they're free.

Another nifty feature: you can change phones and wireless services, but, as long as Google is still in business, your Google Voice number endures.

So, this is the number I now give out to people, instead of the number of the Iphone I constantly carry around with me. That way, people I don't really know don't have the power to instantly intrude upon my life. In today's hyperconnected world, this small extra measure of distance is a luxury for an irritable curmudgeon like me.

This is also the number I give to those retailers who insist on asking for it as I make my purchases. It saves me from arguing with them.

And Google Voice has another cool feature that I just found out about: with a Google Voice number, you can install a "Call Widget" (see above) on your website that allows people to instantly call you with just a click, WITHOUT you having to post your Google Voice number on your site.

Get a Google Voice number! It'll make your life better.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

My Fantasy Football Teams

So I'm in 2 different fantasy football leagues this season, and I've just wrapped up my drafts. Both were live drafts, which I really enjoyed.

In the first league, which is a PPR format that's 12 teams deep, here's my starting roster:
  • Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers
  • Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars
  • Tim Hightower, RB, Washington Redskins
  • Cedric Benson, RB, Cincinnati Bengals
  • Lee Evans, WR, Baltimore Ravens
  • Vincent Jackson, WR, San Diego Chargers
  • Mike Williams, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  • Jermichael Finley, TE, Green Bay Packers
  • Josh Brown, K, St. Louis Rams
  • San Diego Chargers, Defense/Special Teams
My bench for this team is:
  • Joe Flacco, QB, Baltimore Ravens
  • Zach Miller, TE, Seattle Seahawks
  • Deion Branch, WR, New England Patriots
  • Kevin Boss, TE, Oakland Raiders
  • Thomas Jones, RB, Kansas City Chiefs
  • John Beck, QB, Washington Redskins
Honestly, I'm ambivalent about starting Lee Evans over Deion Branch or Zach Miller, and I'm willing to bet real money that Thomas Jones & John Beck are waiver wire casualties before the end of the week.

In the second league, which is a standard format (minus return yardage) that's 16 teams deep, here's my starting roster:
  • Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints
  • Brandon Lloyd, WR, Denver Broncos
  • Dez Bryant, WR, Dallas Cowboys
  • Peyton Hillis, RB, Cleveland Browns
  • Tim Hightower, RB, Washington Redskins
  • Jimmy Graham, TE, New Orleans Saints
  • Aaron Hernandez, TE, New England Patriots
  • Josh Brown, K, St. Louis Rams
  • Houston Texans, Defense/Special Teams
My bench for this second team is:
  • Daniel Thomas, RB, Miami Dolphins
  • Sam Bradford, QB, St. Louis Rams
  • James Starks, RB, Green Bay Packers
  • Mike Williams, WR, Seattle Seahawks
  • Greg Little, WR, Cleveland Browns
  • Marcel Reece, RB, Oakland Raiders
Yeah, some of these bench picks are reaches, but in such a large league, what choice have I got? I did end up with Hightower and Brown on both of my teams, which may be more of a reflection of my idiosyncratic strategy than an overarching faith in these particular players.

I really can't wait for real football to start...

Thursday, August 25, 2011

All Hail The New Poet Laureate

Available from Amazon
In case you haven't heard, the United States of America has a new Poet Laureate, a man by the name of Philip Levine, who was born in 1928 and who, for decades, has been writing a kind of lean, plain-spoken verse that contains multitudes.

To be honest, Levine's poetry is something I've had to grow into. But this is not the fault of Levine or his amazing work. The fault is my own. See, it took me years to truly appreciate the kind of art that Levine creates -- an art that inhabits more than it displays. It doesn't show; it doesn't tell; it is a manifestation -- of detail & feeling & action.

A Philip Levine poem calls attention to itself in the way a person does by just standing next to you. To connect, you have to reach out, but, once you do, you are changed by the encounter.

Examples of Levine's poetry include "A Story" and "What Work Is" but you can find countless others online.

Better yet, check out one of his amazing collections, like the National Book Award-winning What Work Is. Just open it and start reading. It'll be an experience, I guarantee.

Monday, August 1, 2011

What I Wrote For Desert Companion Magazine

Desert Companion Magazine
is published by Nevada Public Radio
Below are links to articles I wrote for the August, 2011, issue of Desert Companion magazine. The theme of the issue is "Top Doctors" of the Las Vegas valley.

Dr. Jay Coates - "The Human Mechanic"

Dr. Joseph Adashek - "The Pamperer"

Dr. Colleen Morris - "The Code-Breaker"