Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Twenty Questions

I had dinner at my friend Anne's tonight. Anne, my friend Soni, Anne's housemate Gillian, and I drank wine, talked smart, and ate great chili. (Thanks, Anne.)

Soni brought a little electronic game called 20 questions. It's vaguely magic 8-ball shaped, but instead of shaking it for wisdom you play the kid's game 20 Questions with it and it guesses your answer. Sounds pretty gimmicky, right? No way it could guess correctly, right? Wrong. It's like this thing is a mindreader.

Things it has guessed correctly so far: door. sushi. curtains. cat. leopard. dacshund. boxer. (like the dog...yes it can differentiate between small breeds.)

It's not perfect. For tight pants, it came up with rubber ball and basket (which is insightful, if you stop to think about it.) Tight pants lead to cameltoe (as they usually do), and it got close...with belly button. (Sorry Mom. I know you don't approve of talk like that, but a few glasses of wine and the girls get bawdy. Forgive me.)

The all-powerful 20 Questions can be existential, too. It didn't get fire, but it guessed music and light. When we were thinking fear, it came up with love. Hmmm. Perhaps the magic orb is telling us something. Anyway, this little instrument is sure to be a party sensation for years to come. I highly recommend it should you find it at a game store near you.


Monday, December 27, 2004

Scrabble

One of the things I miss most while I'm in England is a good, rousing game of Scrabble. Brits aren't big board-gamers, and even though anyone who's truly intimate with the finer points of the game will be gasping about now, to the average person in the UK, Scrabble is exactly that...a board game.

This is a big disappointment to me. There's nothing so satisfying as a good "pixies" with a triple X - double word configuration, or a chance to play "waxy" on a triple word score. (I'm a big fan of the x tile. And cut the jokes about the triple-X pixies. You know what I mean.) I was really looking forward to finding some pals who would spend long hours drinking wine and memorizing two letter words like "nu". Unfortunately, I spent six weeks in Scrabble oblivion. Talk about a bummer.

I just don't get it. Scrabble is mesmerizing. Endless possibilities of spelling and strategy. Figuring the opportunity costs of playing the Q tile immediately with no major bonus squares, or hanging on to it in hopes of hitting a solid triple. Finding the one tile that can be place as a connector for a 30 point play. Playing "plaza" with a triple "z" and a double word score. These are highs that can't be gotten from Parchesi. Even the greed and revenge of Monopoly pales in comparison to the nirvana attained by adding q-u-e-s-t-i-o to an "n", scoring 50 bonus points as well as the hefty standard point value of the word. What's not to love about this game?

Some will tell you that they remember a time when you had to hold a gun to my head to get me to play. They're right. It took some time for me to see the beauty of hours spent shuffling tiles. Mostly because I sucked, and I hate sucking at anything. But with one key success (the aforementioned "waxy" play, "yeti", and "equine" all in one game), the light went on, and I realized that Scrabble and I were meant to be.

My family hates me. I beat them. Not sometimes, or usually, but almost always. I offer to lose, which just makes them madder. I try to explain that it's luck of the draw, but they don't want to hear it. They gang up on me, hoping to foil my plans at every turn. My mom is the ring-leader of this "get Mindy" strategy. She's a very competitive woman, a bit of a game-gloater, even, and losing just isn't okay. (I'm stating for the record that my mother is an excellent Scrabble player, and she is perfectly capable of pantsing me. For that matter, anyone in my family CAN beat me, they just don't very often.) But for some reason, I keep winning, which drives her insane. Hurray! I've finally found a replacement for my teenage rebellion!

Thankfully, I am home for the holidays and have many willing Scrabble players near me. Even with the flu, I've been able to fit in some monumental games. And I know my Mom is plotting her revenge for my visit to Iowa later this week, so perhaps I'd better sign off now and start brushing up on my Q words with no "u". You can only play "qat" so often before you wear out your welcome.

Happy Holidays

Happy Holidays to you all.

Yes, Happy Holidays.

God bless you, my conservative family and friends. I've specifically avoided discussing world events and other controversial topics in this blog so as not to offend any of you. Even though I strongly disagree with your politics, I love each and every one of you anyway, and out of respect I refrain from demanding explanations for all sorts of things that frustrate and annoy me. (Unless, of course, we're in person and can have a reasonable discussion, in which case you might want to be prepared for, "WHAT ARE YOU PEOPLE THINKING???")

Anyway, back to the point. I try to be respectful of you. So please show ME some respect and stop giving me crap about saying "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" when I'm talking to non-Christians and people I don't know well.

WARNING.....I'm going to rant here. Mom, you should stop reading and just wait for another entry in a few days.

I do not buy into that Bill O'Reilly crap about how Christmas is being persecuted by politically correct secularists. Something like 85%+ of Americans call themselves Christian, and Christmas is a legal national holiday since the mid 20th century. It is totally ridiculous to argue that a holiday observed by the overwhelming majority of Americans AS WELL AS OUR GOVERNMENT is in any danger of being run out of town by the minority who either don't celebrate it or who just would rather not make such a big deal of it.

In my assessment, this is a ridiculous argument based in belligerent rudeness. What does it hurt us to respect someone else's fundamental religious beliefs by slightly altering a greeting? Is Christ really all that put out about this? Seems to me he's probably more annoyed with the gross materialism and ecological disrespect of giving a Hummer or a Lincoln Navigator as a gift to honor his birthday, but perhaps I misinterpret scripture here.

If a colleague gets a new haircut and I'm thinking, "Wow...that new 'do actually makes you look human!" do I SAY that? No.

When I invite someone to dinner and I know they're a vegetarian, do I serve big juicy steaks as the main entree? No.

Instead, I respect others' feelings and beliefs, and I adjust my response accordingly. So what's wrong with saying "Happy Holidays" as a way of greeting/farewell (as in "you're probably celebrating something in the next few weeks, so enjoy yourself") ? That's what most of us really mean anyway. Why not make this minor revision? It's just basic etiquette. (Note...if you're one of the people who really do mean "Hooray! Christ is born to save the world!" with your "Merry Christmas", then good for you, and I wish you luck with your evangelizing as you invite the non-believers into the celebration.)

"Happy Holidays" is a nice way of sending out some positive vibe in the world. For me, I'm saying "Peace on Earth, baby! Let's be kinder to each other! Here's something happy we can agree on!"

So lighten up, all you "Happy Holidays"-haters. There's no need for ballot initiatives on this. Perhaps we can focus on the SPIRIT of Christ's birth, not just the FACT of it.

There. I'm done now. If you still think we need to discuss this, then give me a call or drop me a line and I'm willing to listen. Just don't bring up Kwanzaa...it's a red herring holiday, and you know it. At least have the guts to use a real argument.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Napoleon Dynamite

Two entries in one day! I should stay home sick more often.

I go to a lot of movies. I'm not all that picky...I'll see my share of "Films", but I also enjoy kung-fu flicks and stupid teenage romantic comedies and Julia Roberts vehicles...I just really like movies. And I see a lot of stuff that I'd say is good or enjoyable or thought-provoking, but it's not all that often that I see a movie that really resonates. Well, I've found a new film that inspires me, and that film is "Napoleon Dynamite" (available on DVD December 21st.)

Now, I'm not recommending that everyone in my personal blog-o-sphere rent this. For example, my mother would HATE it. And I admit that I have unconventional taste in films. Last year, I was one of the people who thought "Lost in Translation" was a beautiful story of pure love, and I this year I'm bucking the trend by asserting that "Garden State" is uplifting and sweet; trust me when I say these are not reviews you'll see often of these films. But if you're one of those people who understand why "Welcome to the Dollhouse" and "American Splendor" make me laugh, or why I can't stop watching the Kristie McNichol movie about the peg-legged violinist, then you must immediately see this movie several times.

The protagonist is the teenage mega-geek, Napoleon. He's awkward, he's angry, he wears aviator glasses with some subtle, smokey shading, and he has a lovely collection of t-shirts with horse pictures. He wears moon boots. He draws cartoon unicorns that fart. At times he seems borderline retarded.

I love him. He is perfect.

Napoleon embodies all that is brave and true and honorable in this world. Even though he's regularly smashed into lockers at school, he can still make up convincing stories about shooting 40 wolverines on vacation in Alaska (they were going to kill his cousin...what would YOU do? JEEZ!), and he can brag about his nunchuck skills like he's some ninja master. He is simultaneously totally aware and totally oblivious to his utter outcast status. He is proud, he is bold, and he is exasperated with a world that just doesn't get it.

There is really no plot to this movie. Nerd tries to get through life. He is surrounded by misfits. He makes a nerdy friend, gets a crush on a nerdy girl, learns to dance some wicked groove, and helps catapult his nerd friend to victory in the election for class president. It's kind of slow-moving, and at times even painful to watch. (Ex. Napoleon tries to befriend girl he's got a crush on, so he sits down by her at lunch and says "I notice you're drinking 1%? Is it 'cause you think you're fat? Cause you're not. You could totally drink whole." That is hands down the best pick-up line of all time, even if you can't look at the screen when he says it.)

So why see it? Because this movie is the biggest window into the geek soul that I've seen in ages. It's not mean like WTTD. It's not inane like "Revenge of the Nerds". It tells our jokes, it captures our anger, and it accurately illustrates the way we make the world accept us by refusing to embrace the status quo.

Lots of reviews say that this movie is bad because it makes you laugh AT Napoleon, not with him...that you can't empathize with him because you never get to see what makes him tick. I posit that these reviewers were popular kids with inflated egos who are just too stupid to understand. Not only would a smart reviewer not resort to the "at-not-with" cliche to make their point, but A) part of geek culture is knowing and accepting that you'll never really know what makes a geek tick but they're beautiful anyway, and B) you're supposed to laugh at geeks...even we laugh at each other. But just because we're doing funny things, it doesn't make us laughable.

Napoleon Dynamite is a great movie. It's not particularly smart, or eloquent, or interesting. But it's very funny. And let's face it...any movie that can make an awkward, gangly kid with a bright red afro look cool, even in a terra cotta three-piece suit, well, it's all right by me.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Travels with The Girls, Part 2

Okay, so. Saturday morning I woke up to some nasty banging at like 630. Not happy. Furthermore, I was puzzled. What on earth can someone be doing at that hour that sounds like steel poles raining in the street? Answer: constructing the booths for the Christmas Fair, an all-day flea market/eat fest/dancing/singing/parading event that culminated in the official lighting of the Christmas lights on the high street at 430 that evening.

By the time I got out of the house, the party was in full swing. I registered to win a VW Beetle, then met the girls at the Swan Revived, where they were staying. We intended to give the watery eggs another go, but the restaurant was full. They must not get a lot of requests for breakfast there, though, so they were very accommodating and settled us in the sitting lounge. This was MUCH better as, immediately outside the window, we had the back of a girls choir from the local school. They were singing lame Christmas songs that we didn't know (and a few we did, but always with the UK melodies, not the ones I'm used to.) We got to hear their lovely singing AND watch the behind the scenes squirming of the back row AND watch the hungover guys in the upper flat across the street drink tea and dance to make the kids laugh. The teenage girls were followed by a little kids choir...maybe 6 -8 years old, and then the crowd made way for the dancers. Kids were adorned in all sorts of tinsel and reindeer antlers and jingle bells and holiday garb. One pubescent young lady still hanging onto some baby fat even sported a formal gown with spaghetti straps, in spite of the 40 degree temps. (Having once been a pubescent young lady with baby fat myself, I can hear her mother tell her to be sensible and put on a jacket, but I'm sure she felt pretty and grown up and knew that fleece would mess with the lines of her dress.) The kids did all sorts of polkas and reels and spins and things. "This," exclaimed Karen, " is my favorite sight ever!" It really was pretty funny. I liked the aforementioned princess a lot, and I was also fond of the sloppy, chubby kid who didn't dance so much as get dragged around by the tiniest girl in the group. Oh, and we learned that non-scrambled eggs were passable and the bacon was MUCH better than the bangers.

Took the train to London and arrived around noon. I'd made arrangements at the ultra-posh Landmark Hotel, which was absolutely amazing. Our room was huge, and the bathroom was the size of my current flat. The hotel's right across the street from Marylebone Station, so it was easy to catch the tube wherever. Did some browsing in Kensington, had a delicious tea at the Kensington Palace Orangery, and then walked through Hyde Park to Knightsbridge for some time at Harrods.

It was a total zoo. The sidewalks were teaming with folks. Like you had to walk in the street at times to find space. Harrods was about the same. Monstrously crowded, lots of tourists, things WAY too expensive to buy. It was fun to try on the expensive clothes, though, so we browsed and modeled things we could never ever imagine buying. Karen tried on this fab Marina Rinaldi plaid coat, and as she went to model it she put her hand in the pocket and found a bunch of pistachio shells. I ask you....who puts pistachio shells in a £1500 coat pocket? Who puts pistachio shells in a £15 coat, for that matter? I mean, come on....have some manners.

Went to Leicester Square and had dinner at a great pasta restaurant.

Day Two: Shopping in Covent Garden, then dinner at a crazy hip chinese place in Soho called Yauatcha. We decided that the restaurant's target audience are extremely tall, extremely thin people. Since the menu is primarily dim sum, I suppose this works...lots of little dishes can make a complete meal seem like way too much food, so that's perfect for skinny folks. (Note to Tim Commers: you would HATE this place. Imagine a Chinese Solera...) All of patrons fit the body profile (the three of us being the notable exceptions), and the bathroom mirror required you to stand on their toes to see your face. Of course, being a hipster joint, the chairs were short and the tables were low...probably meant to be floor height for their giant patrons, but just slightly low to midgets like us. We loved it, and felt very, very cool.

Day Three: More shopping, this time at Liberty of London. Darlene and Karen spent the afternoon on their own, and I went back to the hotel to schmooze and say thanks for the great rate. Quick dinner, then I took the train home. The Girls stayed one more night in posh luxury, then flew home in the AM.

'Twas a fabulous time, and JUST A TASTE of what awaits those of you willing to drop some $$ on a trip. FYI, although there was much mention of shopping in this particular itinerary, keep in mind that it's near the holidays and that's what it's about. We can do other things, too.

It's 6PM on Friday, and I want to go home. So, more next week. Hope you're happy and well.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Travels with The Girls, Part One

I have returned and recovered from my travels around the neighborhood with The Girls. I was giddy, I tell you. Giddy to have guests!

Dinner was, in fact, at The Moghul Palace (see previous entry for the link), and the food was delicious. I even managed smooth parallel parking on the wrong side of the street. We feasted on prawn balti, chicken tikka masala, and all sorts of delicacies. We lived it up and ordered the Banquet for Three. It was Thanksgiving, after all, and what kind of Americans would we be if we didn't eat to the point of bursting to celebrate the occassion? Stopped in a little pub on the way back to the car for a quick pint. There was a great band playing. We knew that karma was on our side when the first complete song they played after our arrival was the Helen Reddy classic "Angie Baby" (with a celtic lilt, of course.) Note to those of you who have not been part of our LP dinner parties in the past...I am obsessed with this song. Basically the creepy premise of the song is: a lonely teenage girl (who is basically crazy) spends all her time in her room listening to music and dancing. She tempts this neighbor kid into her room, and traps him in her radio to take out whenever she wants...here's a link to the lyrics...worth a read. Big 70's hit, though why I'm not exactly sure. I guess a decade that gave us "ode to BIlly Joe", "Wildfire", and "Seasons in the Sun" is not really going to be a source of quality, now is it? Anyway, this was the perfect way to set the stage for our week, and we were home in time for the girls to get a good night's sleep and for me to catch the tail end of Jonathan Ross.

On Friday, we had HORRIBLE sausages with our watery/barely cooked scrambled eggs, and headed out for Cambridge. Made a side trip to a lovely cathedral in Ely. Absolutely beautiful....it encompasses architectural styles from Norman to late 1400's, with new pieces added as recently as 2000. The Octagon in the center is a stunning work of architecture...like 200 tons of lead and glass and stone, soaring into the sky and glimmering on the floor below. It really is a spectacular place. Of course, the place takes quite a bit of upkeep, so there's a giftshop on site where you can buy all kinds of religious and secular gift-items to remember your stay. Icons, celtic crosses, stained glass reproductions, watercolor paintings, toast caddies, and lavender sachets...or my personal favorites "holy socks" and a little book called "What Cats are Really Thinking".

Moved on to Cambridge for bad tapas and some window shopping, with a final stop at Kings College Chapel for evensong. Beautiful building, fabulous choir. Favorite part...when one of the younger boys in the choir snuck a few belches into his angelic singing. They may be one of the most renowned choirs on the planet, but 10 year old boys still love their body-function humor.
They were actually quite resonant belches, so at least he's using his diaphragm properly.

Final stop of the night was Ye Old Swan (see previous entry for link), where we dined on stilton and mushroom sauce rarebit, and lovely entrees such as fish and chips, chicken in a dijon sauce, and lamb and apricot pie. Cutest baby carrots EVER on the side. Finished it with a chocolate steamed pudding with custard sauce which, should you visit me, you must try. Steamed pudding is a moral imperative for dessert here. Yum yum.

Must run. Next installment soon...tune in for: Karen's favorite sight EVER, elegant tea, and something unexpected in a coat pocket at Harrods. Cheers for now.