Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Happy Feet

In an effort to get caught up with the massive backlog of DVDs and DVD-Rs stacking up in a silently mocking fashion in the office and on the shelves downstairs, I am attempting to start watching one movie a night for as long as is feasible and writing about the ones I feel are worth passing along. Perhaps this way I'll keep myself writing and hopefully lose this nagging feeling that I am unwittingly turning this condo into a museum full of pretty silver discs. I'll also try to keep the spoilers to a minimum. Promise.

I'm not sure if computer animation has "jumped the shark" just yet, so to speak, but there has definitely been a real glut of "product" out there lately, and if I can't even be bothered to even look at Madagascar and Shark Tale (among others), I'll have to conclude that the bloom is indeed off of the rose.

One of a long, storied line of animated characters who was literally born abnormal (possibly the result of clumsy prenatal care by his inexplicably Elvis-like father, Hugh Jackman), an Emperor Penguin named Mumble (Elijah Wood) never seems able to grasp the art of singing, which apparently forms the basis of his entire tribe's culture. However, he can tap dance like freakin' Fred Astaire, which of course leads to all sorts of problems fitting in and being accepted by his peers (and their parents). Sounds familiar already? It should: this particular story of the sympathetic outcast who ends up teaching everyone else a valuable lesson has been done so many times and in so many better films, that it grounds this movie right from the start. In effect, you know exactly what is going to happen: it's just a matter of seeing it through in whatever style the director brings to the picture.

This isn't to call Happy Feet a disaster: there are a few entertaining points where this digital March Of The Penguins-with-a-beat comes oh-so-close to earning a recommendation. Yet every time I reach that point, along comes another squirm-inducing mega-choreographed musical number (or one of a dozen clichéd plot developments that one can see coming over the horizon well before they happen) that squandered whatever good will had been built up to that point. Then there is the third act of the film, which takes a sharp left turn away from being a happy dancy children's frolic and becomes instead a rather grim environmental screed with ghostly live-action actors superimposed over the animated goings-on. While this sudden shift in tone and setting certainly allows the well-known sensibilities of director George Miller free reign, the movie never completely regains it's, uh, feet, and kind of staggers to a (typically) crowd pleasing ending.

That said, beautiful character renderings, breathtaking scenery and involving animation sequences can go a long way towards making up for reheated stories and overly cute dialogue, and Happy Feet certainly packs some breathtaking set pieces for the eye-candy lover in you. I also found myself wishing to see more of the background characters after a while since they at least seemed more interesting and less been-there done-that than the leads (the bickering flock of skuas, and a mincing, yet fearsome leopard seal were a sinister hoot). Also making a valiant effort to save the movie single handedly by playing two roles is Robin Williams (who really should stick to voice acting as this is what he is undeniably best at). While I didn't much care for Williams' Lothario-with-Soul schtick playing Lovelace (and what the hell kind of name is that for a penguin?), he lands nearly all of the funniest lines in the movie as as Ramon, one of Mumble's posse of Adèlie penguin pals.
Rating: 3/5

Monday, February 19, 2007

Catching Up, Part 2: The Return Of Drama

NEW YEARS EVE/DAY (a.k.a. The Return Of Chuck)

At some point around Thanksgiving, maybe a bit beforehand, I'd started to slide back into bad old habits, and my food and drink intake went to hell in a hand basket. A few months with absolutely no follow-through from my late-May drama had me feeling young, invincible and, as it turns out, pretty stupid.
This is not Chuck.
We had spent the evening at my parents house playing a newfangled DVD game and generally having a relaxing time, and it wasn't until we got back home that I started feeling what I thought was a nasty gas bubble forming in my lower gut. A couple of hours passed, and the discomfort gradually morphed into waves of searing pain. I made a run to Walgreens at a bit past 5 A.M. on New Year's Day, but the procured pills did absolutely nothing to cure what felt like a cartoonishly distending abdomen. That is when I knew that this was no gas bubble: about six weeks of eating absolute crap and washing said bilge down with little but carbonated beverages apparently was enough to get my kidneys royally pissed off for a second time, and my already-forgotten old friend Chuck had decided to pay me a New Year's Eve visit.

This time, things went a bit differently than they did last May, but not differently enough. Despite my best efforts to tough it out and try to get the damned thing(s) to pass over an endless 12-hour period, I still wound up in the emergency room. This time, we headed to Hillcrest Hospital in Mayfield, which is a longer drive from here than LakeWest, but was also a far different experience all the way around: if you wipe away the fact that I was crumpled up in a ball of suffering, it was a much more pleasant atmosphere than the rather cold and aloof feeling I had in Willoughby last May.

Thankfully, my stay at Hillcrest was also much shorter than at LakeWest (I was walking out of there about 2 hours after being admitted), which, of course, didn't change the final bill tally all that much. $3600, said the bill, of which a whopping $2600 (!!) was for being CAT-scanned twice (which, if memory serves, was about 5 times more than it cost for me to be wheeled into a similarly gargantuan Donut Of Doom at LakeWest). Yeeeeahhh. We'll be discussing that on the phone a bit with whoever is in charge of accounts receivable very shortly ...

So, true Drama has returned to my existence with a grand entrance: but this time not as a result of random shit luck, but largely because I was an utter clod. This was a very expensive lesson.


A bit more drama at work, but it's hard to tell as of now if it's for us or for the industry as a whole. At a month and change into 2007, the music industry is already down a terrifying amount from last year's pace: enough so that the chances of everybody catching up over the next 3 months (let alone 6) are looking rather daunting, to say the least. Ouch. The possibility of the deficit vanishing is made even bleaker by dint of a truly weak new release schedule that will pervade into March, and the fact that nothing from the truly godawful 2006 fourth quarter slate has shown any kind of staying power whatsoever.

That said, it is with a bit of trepidation that I announce that our sales are down a slight bit as well, but only by a ~5% margin instead of the industry-wide 15%. This dubious good news prompted the amusingly optimistic assessment of "so, you mean we are up 10%?" from Greg earlier this month. I suppose that is the best way to look at it, eh?

On the horizon, there are still a few developments that will have to be addressed before The Drama dies down to its usual background dull roar: I have to get the car successfully E-checked sometime between now and the middle of June (a task that you might remember caused me no end of heartache and fury the last time I had to tackle it), suddenly it seems that every damn thing I eat gives me heartburn (or "acid reflux" or whatever they call it these days), Inspector Scene is still unhappy enough with our bathroom electrical outlet that he has been here twice and still wants it fixed to his satisfaction (this has our landlord pretty pissed off, as does another sticking point concerning a leaky water shut-off valve behind the half-bathroom), at some point I'm going to need to visit my dentist, and an unusually complicated (and expensive) tax-time for me has arrived at last. Wheee!

Money will be tight for a bit no matter what happens: I've decided that I'm going to pay off my new hospital bill off piecemeal at my own pace (hopefully after Hillcrest and I reach some kind of compromise on the total, if that is possible). This will certainly pinch for a while, but I'm looking at this process more as penance for being a moron and getting myself back into this mess when I should have learned my lesson the first damned time. The rest of the above will be addressed as time permits ... the line is getting a bit long to handle them all at once, you know?


Finally, I will end this lengthy update with some upbeat news: I've been completely cold turkey from the smokes since December 31, and I'm hoping to have finally kicked this thing in the ass once and for all. Seriously.

Yes, I've been here before (a glance at this post brings back the last time I attempted this feat), but never before with a law to keep me honest: this past Election Day saw the passage of a statewide measure that bans smoking indoors in all public areas effective back around December 7 of last year. For about a month, we smokers cheated at work by moving the ashtray to the bathroom and doing our puffing out of the sight of customers, but I knew eventually that I would have to take the next step, and New Year's Eve (as always) seemed a great time to try again, with the reappearance of Chuck that very night making my resolution quite a bit easier to make.

By now, the physical cravings are largely gone, though I'll still feel The Jones at odd times (like after eating a Jersey Mike's Club Sub), and that is easily dealt with by chewing a stick of sugarless gum. No sweat. What is a bit weirder is that I dream of smoking nearly every night now, and the dreams are so realistic that I actually the old not-quite-lightheaded relaxed sigh after sucking on my discorporeal cig. Luckily, I wake up from these dreams with no urge to have a drag, so I guess I can't complain that I'm being a very bad boy while asleep.

Aside from the willpower, another factor that keeps me clean is the math. I was a Marlboro man, and at four bucks and change a pack, I figure that I've already saved over 200 dollars, which is money I am setting aside specifically for Hillcrest bill payments (might as well put this new wealth to good use, eh?). At this rate, assuming I stay clean, I will have saved nearly a grand and a half by next New Year's Eve. Not too shabby.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Dual Dystopia

In an effort to get caught up with the massive backlog of DVDs and DVD-Rs stacking up in a silently mocking fashion in the office and on the shelves downstairs, I am attempting to start watching one movie a night for as long as is feasible and writing about the ones I feel are worth passing along. Perhaps this way I'll keep myself writing and hopefully lose this nagging feeling that I am unwittingly turning this condo into a museum full of pretty silver discs. I'll also try to keep the spoilers to a minimum. Promise.

Starting off our home film festival are two visions of the future of our world: neither of them particularly hopeful for the improvement of our species (like, say, 2001: A Space Odyssey) or even very technologically advanced (like, say, Minority Report or Blade Runner). While both of these movies foresee a pretty rough time ahead for the human race, one at least was leavened a bit by some viciously-deployed lowbrow humor. The other was just plain bleak, though very powerful.

Idiocracy.Idiocracy is one of those films that was doomed to obscurity by a corporation who had no idea what to do with it. Apparently completed in 2004, Mike Judge's follow-up to the classic Office Space was shelved for two years by 20th Century Fox, and finally dumped into a handful of secondary markets for a few weeks around Labor Day 2006 (The Dead Zone of the movie release schedule, for those who don't know) with no promotion or marketing whatsoever (hell, there wasn't even a website for it). Even more interestingly, Judge will not (or, more likely, is not allowed to) speak about the movie, and Fox has been evasive in their dealings with the media over it, so there is an air of mystery surrounding Idiocracy that adds to the viewing experience, though an awful lot of questions are raised in the end as well.

Considering what incredibly shoddy treatment was accorded this film, the appearance of Idiocracy on DVD might be construed as a minor miracle until one cynically realizes that this would likely be the only way for 20th Century Fox to ever recoup their investment in the project. So, a multi-billion dollar corporation so apparently disenchanted with their multi-million dollar product decides to release it anyway in the hopes of scraping up a few bucks (possibly to finance another Garfield sequel)? Heh. Typical.

Problem is, Idiocracy doesn't suck, which makes all the above even more puzzling.

The central idea of Idiocracy is that humanity, blessed with technology that helps extend and enhance the quality of life and untroubled by natural predators, has become so dominant that the old idea of the survival of the fittest no longer applies. In fact, the opposite starts to happen as the 21st Century gets under way: as the most intelligent people put off having children (and have much smaller families, if any families at all, as a result), while the trailer parks and Mayberry citizens of the world wildly procreate and change the direction of humanity until, by the 26th Century, the entire population of the Earth comes off like some unholy fusion of Billy Madison, Al Bundy and Larry The Cable Guy (I'll add here that it's best to not ask yourself too many questions as to exactly how this world works when the population is so incredibly stupid that they can't even spell it: this movie has enough problems as it is).

Thrust into this future hell (as a result of an present-day Army experiment gone forgotten ... didn't this also happen in Futurama?) is dead-average slacker Joe Bauers (Luke Wilson), who instantly finds himself the smartest man on Earth by leaps and bounds, and who quite understandably wants nothing more than to find a way, any way, back to the present.

Sarah and I watched Idiocracy the other night, and a couple of things stuck with me after it was over:

  • It is obvious that something was done to Idiocracy (apparently a year after its initial completion), to make it more "saleable" to a mass audience (who would ironically never see it in a theater anyway). Some of the scenes seem to be buying time, as if someone decided for budgetary reasons to cut corners and replace an idea with another return to the "where is that time machine at" subplot. Perhaps the most glaring example of this apparent meddling is the narration which runs throughout the movie: something about it feels weirdly out-of-sync with the rest of the film, and there is a bit too much explaining done as we move onwards, which suggests many planned scenes were either snipped from the final cut or never shot at all. Of course, neither 20th Century Fox or Judge is talking, so it might be years, if ever, before we know exactly what happened behind the scenes here.

  • Idiocracy is an angry, vicious screed against modern culture, particularly the championing of ignorance and the rampant, uncontested corporate takeover of every niche of our existence. Stripped of all the (deliberately) lowbrow jokes that get us laughing as well as driving the point home at just how far along we are to realizing this future reality, Idiocracy would be impossible to enjoy, so palpable is Judge's disgust for the dumbing-down of our society at all levels (I guess what I'm trying to say is that this is hardly the kind of film you can show commercials for alongside Norbit).

While this is not the surprise gut-buster that Office Space was, there are several parts of Idiocracy that had me laughing aloud (the circular argument in Washington D.C. over how to properly grow crops, the guy on the hospital P.A. attempting to alert doctors to phone calls/patient appointments, the enhanced role of dinosaurs in political history, and the preferred popular source of 26th Century news were a few favorite bits), while other sequences (like the very formulaic final 20-25 minutes of the film) left me wondering if scenes were cut out or added in by Judge or the studio based on budget restraints or executive meddling.

Children Of Men.Nowhere near as amusing, but far better overall, is Alfonso Cuarón's Children Of Men, which drops us just a mere twenty years into the future. You'll probably wish it was 500 years, though: in 2027, there have been no new children for nearly two decades (in fact, the youngest man on Earth has just died under tragic circumstances), and the world has gone completely to hell as a result. We are never told what exactly happened, or why, or how, just that women haven't been conceiving (either that or men have not been doing their part very well), and that everyone who is not busy being blown up, shot, or deported is simply going through the motions of life and waiting for The End Of Times: as one spray-painted sign memorably reads: THE LAST ONE TO DIE, PLEASE REMEMBER TO TURN OUT THE LIGHT.

As it happens, some parts of the world are far better off than others: we are shown early on from TV imagery that the only functioning government left on the planet is that of the United Kingdom, and as a result everyone from everywhere else in the world wants in, while everyone already living in England wants them out. Political schisms have developed throughout society as "terrorist" human rights groups resort to violence to get their point across while the government and military utilize authoritarian methods to resolve the problem of rampant illegal immigration.
In the midst of this roiling chaos, Theo (Clive Owen) simply tries to keep his head down by working at the Ministry Of Energy and spending his free time with his retired political cartoonist friend Jasper (Michael Caine). What little of Theo's regular life we are shown is suddenly shattered when he is kidnapped and asked by a "terrorist" group led by his ex-wife Julian (Julianne Moore) to secure transit papers from high-up for an illegal immigrant named Kee (Claire-Hope Ashitey) under mysterious circumstances. Theo reluctantly agrees, secures the needed papers from his brother Nigel (Danny Huston) who apparently lives in Battersea Power Station (and must be a huge Pink Floyd fan), and starts off on the remarkably-realized journey that makes up the rest of this movie.

I don't want to get into what happens after this point, since the relentless forward momentum of this film after Theo meets Ke is best experienced unspoiled for full shocking effect. And I do mean "shocking" since Children Of Men is not for the faint of heart: Cuaron pulls no punches in showing us the broken down, desperate remnants of English society. We hardly ever feel safe or that the characters can rest since situations we are watching become unexpectedly complicated by sudden violence that happens right before our eyes. Unforeseen developments keep us off-balance as well, and we're never sure which characters we can trust.

I'll be curious to hear what you think of these movies as they both made me think. Idiocracy is worth a view, though ultimately you'll likely wonder at what might have been. Children Of Men, on the other hand, will probably leave you as haunted and drained: this is one of the most thought-provoking and chilling films I have seen in some time and I definitely regret missing it on the big screen. I hope you'll feel the same.

Idiocracy rating: 3/5
Children Of Men rating: 5/5

Thursday, February 15, 2007

'Midwinter' Addendum

A fair visual approximation of this afternoon and evening
Figures. I decide to write one toss-off post admitting that winter weather ain't so bad sometimes and all Hell breaks loose a week and change later. Sheesh.

We were hit by the biggest storm of the season yesterday and today (about a foot of snow, though it's impossible to know for sure thanks to all the attendant wind), and we have more snow on the ground and drifted up against everything in sight than I have seen in years. Looking out the front bay window of the condo, I am faced with a snow drift that reaches as high as my chest, fer cryin' out loud.

All of this started sometime Tuesday morning: the roads were already pretty iffy when I got to work. As it turned out, showing up at all was ultimately a waste of time as it was pretty much a morgue in that place from the moment I got there until the moment Greg called at 7:00 PM and gave me the green light to shut everything down and go home early. The rather terrible sales figures from that day and the next took a nice chunk out of our once-blazing pace, and now the month of February is looking a bit up in the air unless we can make up the lost ground (and considering that this month is shaping up to be remarkably weak on the new release front, we aren't holding our breath) and have a few days in a row when it doesn't, you know, snow.

Driving home that night was a blend of the worst parts of dealing with winter traffic along with the best: none of the roads had been plowed yet, and Mentor Avenue in particular was an utter clusterfuck as none of the lanes were moving, and the vehicles that were in motion were being piloted by suicidal cockmops. Simply getting out of Mentor was what ate up most of my 30 minute drive home as a desperate attempt to access westbound Mentor Ave. by cutting over to Route 306 (by way of a few deserted side streets) put me in the exact same traffic situation, with people making up new and exciting traffic lanes as we went along. Sigh.

By the time I'd gone through Willoughby and down Vine Street, I'd had enough of dealing with street traffic and decided to cut over onto the freeway for the rest of the way home. This was probably not the brightest idea I ever had as far as safety was concerned: the exit ramp, also unplowed, was invisible under a blanket of white, and Route 2 really wasn't much better. That said, at least there were only about two cars in my field of vision heading westbound with me, which took a lot of the worry and stress out of driving (once you realize you can't hit someone else, worries about such things as traction and skidding magically vanish!). It was also odd looking down the limitless deserted expanse of westbound Route 2 before me, while on the other side of the concrete barrier, the eastbound lanes were bumper to bumper as far as the eye could see.

A fair visual approximation of this afternoon and evening
There were a few tense seconds spent aiming my car at the exit ramp when I finally reached Willowick, but once I had slowed to a complete stop a quarter mile later, all was fine (parking in a freaking snowdrift in our unplowed parking lot exempted) and a nice, warm, early evening at home was had by all. I think we need to do these more often.

The next day, as blindingly white and cold as it was, felt like a bit of a drag as it seemed pretty much everyone in Northeast Ohio scored a snow day, save for us hapless retail pukes. Blah.

NP James Brown Star Time

Friday, February 09, 2007

Catching Up, Part 1: The End Of 2006

Unannounced posting sabbaticals are a bitch, especially when they are unannounced to me as well as anyone else out there in Internets Land who has been wondering where the hell I've vanished off to over the last five months.

To sum up, I'll start with The Short Version: life was actually Good (and thus largely unremarkable) until the very end of last year, at which point came The Return Of Drama. Goody goody. A few weeks later, here I am banging away on the keyboard at 2 AM, posting new missives into this forum for the first time in eons. Maybe I need some drama to get the writing glands working again, eh?

Anyway, a belated Happy 2007, everyone. It's been a while, so let's do some catching up on current events, eh? We'll start way back where we left off ...


Even considering the amount of data CD-Rs I keep behind me, I'd been battling with data storage issues for most of 2006. By the middle of summer, my copious use of various bit-torrent sites was beginning to outpace my ability to keep up with the backing up of data. This situation is made trickier by the fact that in order to keep a decent share ratio going (and thus your account) on said bit-torrent site, you have to let your downloaded goodies sit on the hard drive for a while (say, a week) so that others can nibble data off of you until you have given back roughly what you have taken. The problem here is that when you are starting to grab a lot of full-res DVDs (4+ gigs a shot), you start to run out of space on a 60 gig internal hard drive really damn fast.

It was while leafing through electronics circulars at my parents' house one weekend that a solution appeared before my eyes in the form of a Western Digital External Hard Drive. Sarah then gave me one as a birthday present a short while later, and suddenly I had what felt like a limitless ocean of 250 gigabytes in storage at my fingertips. Ahhh, much better.

Of course, time and circumstance rapidly changes that perception: I clearly remember a 5 gig hard drive on my computer at the end of 1998 felt like a hell of a lot of space, too. In order to keep things relatively open on this new external HD, I finally upgraded from a CD-RW to a DVD-RW drive, and promptly started planning on eventually shrinking down my collection of 700 burned data CD-Rs to about 100 or so DVD-RWs (which would also require a couple of additional external hard drives to amass the data before re-archiving and oh Christ what a colossal headache this is going to be ...).


For about a month and change, this new setup your read about above was fine and dandy (especially when combined with my new flat screen monitor ... I now hate CRTs and wonder why I waited so damn long to upgrade), but a few issues with the new DVD player started to bother me in short order. Firstly, the thing never seemed to play things back in suitable fashion, with audio and video jitters plaguing the experience right from the start. It was also very difficult to burn DVDs without errors while working on something else at the same time, and the amount of memory left on my computer while this rigorous task was going for an hour and change finally started me thinking seriously about a new computer.

It had been about 4-5 years (?) since my last upgrade and aside from the DVD issues, it was becoming clearer over the course of the last couple of years that it was time to play some catch-up ball. Making this decision a bit easier was that I was a bit flush with cash at the time (this was about a month in the wake of settling up my medical bills at the time), so I felt that a snazzy new gadget would be a nice way to celebrate Life being Good again.

My new computer ... or a reasonably good facsimile, at leastIt was on the last Monday in September that I made the trek down Route 91 to the MicroCenter location in Mayfield Heights on the advice of Dave M., a longtime friend, ex co-worker, and local computer guru (he built the first two PCs I ever called my own). If you've never been to one of these stores, I certainly recommend stopping by, though you might want to leave your credit cards at home as a preventative measure: it's hard for me to imagine a more drool-inducing toy store for grownups.

Walking into MicroCenter that night was kind of like what walking into Toys R Us was like when I was a kid. Temptation was everywhere and it never looked so good. But, I was on a mission, and I had a couple of predetermined machines to check out and compare and ultimately make a decision on. After a half hour of thinking and looking each choice over carefully, I opted for the guy you see above and to the right: a PowerSpec 6650: Pentium 4 HT processor, 1 GB of memory, 200 GB internal hard drive, and a dual layer DVD-R/RW drive (which immediately relegated my recently purchased Sony to storage).

A couple of days followed in which everything of vital importance on my old PC was copied over to the external HD for installation into the PowerSpec, and it took two full installs to work out the tics/"bugs" in the new system and get used to the way this thing worked in comparison to the old PC (whose dessicated husk was unceremoniously junked a week or so later). Since then, save for the usual perplexing behavioral quirks that PCs develop when running various programs in tandem from a dozen different designers and companies, it's been smooth sailing.


Brian has been onto me for about two years to get with the program and watch Sci-Fi Network's Battlestar Galactica show, and I had been fiercely resistant to the idea, largely out of the considerable sentiment I have for the original 1979 ABC TV series. I won't lie and say I was never interested: when the idea was first announced, I wondered if this was the long-talked-about return of the show initiated by original series lead Richard Hatch back in the mid 1990s. When I found out instead that the Sci-Fi Network's new series had nothing to do with Hatch's continuation of the original series and was instead a completely "reloaded" take on the concept, I was pretty taken aback. Things weren't helped when I learned of the switching of my favorite character on the old series (Lt. Starbuck) from a man to a woman role and that the new Cylons looked like they walked off the cover of last month's Cosmopolitan, I lost interest in a hurry and let the show pass me by.

More new friends and otherwise.Brian kept up the attack on me to just give the show a chance anyway, and it wasn't until a copy of Season One landed in the used bin at work that I decided to do just that. I finally got around to watching it around the middle of last month for the first time and was immediately drawn into the show, to my considerable surprise. (I might even say that I was blown off my feet, except that I was sitting in this very chair watching all of it, heh heh)

Christmas intervened with my introduction, and I am still midway through Season One as of this writing. I'm feeling the massive temptation to start it over again and have Sarah watch the miniseries premiere at least and see if she wants to continue onwards, though she has her hands full staying caught up with House, Rome and Good Eats (hosted by Beaker's loquacious offspring Alton Brown). So, with or without accompaniment, I will likely re-view the first half of Season 1, and then move onwards (I have all of season 2 awaiting me on DVD and what has been broadcast of season 3 so far sitting on an external hard drive). More discussion to come later.


Considering this was quite possibly the lamest release slate in the music industry in the last two
decades (during this Christmas season, it seemed like every "hot" item was a repackage or re-imagining of something previously available), we managed to nail our numbers at the store and finished off 2006 with a flourish: the best December in our current location to date, not to mention 2 or 3 new best one-day sales totals, best yearly total, et cetera. Good times.


Say hallo to mah noo frien...If there is one thing I have come to dread with the onset of fall, it's our annual dealings with the City Of Willowick and their insanely exacting Buildings Code. Unlike last year's tag-team blitzkreig inspection that was over in about 1 minute, this year's was a much more leisurely poking around by a lone Inspector Scene that wound up injecting the first tiny amount of drama back into my existence (if you count nearly a dozen minor building "issues" to be dealt with as "drama," anyway).

In a fit of pique, we had delayed dealing with any of these "issues" until the last couple of weeks (i.e., when he'd finally had enough of waiting around and called the landlord to ask what the hell was taking so long). The landlord came by Monday evening and we managed to get the entire list taken care of, though apparently not to Inspector Scene's satisfaction: the reinspection this past Thursday left a couple of "issues" still unresolved: one I can probably fix with a single half-twist of a freakin' wrench, the other with a visit from an electrician and some new bathroom tile.


Judging from the media coverage of Christmas at the retail level this past season, I'm pretty sure that I was not the only person who wasn't in the mood for it this year.

Bah, humbug.Mostly thanks to the incredibly and unseasonably warm weather which parked over Northeast Ohio around early December (and lasted until about two weeks ago), it just didn't ever feel like Christmas this year. As a result I didn't even start my shopping in earnest until the middle of the month as far as online goes, and on the 19th as far as actually walking-into-stores was concerned.

Making matters even weirder was that this was by some stretch the easiest Chistmas season I have ever worked. In effect, the entire pre-Christmas surge as we used to know it was compressed into about 3, maybe 4 days before the holiday (a couple of Saturdays early on, and then the last Friday and Saturday before the holiday itself). The rest of the time (including Christmas Eve), it felt almost like any other month of work in a business sense, though what made the difference is that everyone in the store was actually buying something instead of poking around and leaving empty-handed.

With this weird non-frenzy that characterized most of December at work combined with my late start shopping, I remember quite clearly feeling like this Christmas had just flown on by while I wasn't looking. I'm not saying this was a crappy Christmas by any stretch, because it wasn't ... but it certainly wasn't my ideal kind of holiday season, you know?

All of the above also meant that I could barely be arsed to put up lights this year, yet alone wage my dreaded annual battle for Christmas Tree supremacy with Moe. I think it was on December 20 that I finally gave in and set up the tree, while picking up a couple of new fiber-optic light fixtures (on clearance sale, too ... sometimes it's good to wait 'til the last second, eh?) for Sarah to put in the front window in lieu of standing the tree in front of it as has been our custom in year's past.

The reason for these new fixtures was strategic: I had a plan to keep Moe from getting into the damned tree this year, and for the first time since he joined this household, I can claim total victory in this department. Instead of filling the bay window with holiday cheer, the tree was placed in the corner of the living room and the entire underside was blocked off with a couple of overlapping Scat Mats. The curtains next to the tree were then pinned to the wall to block off any access from the window ledge, and what do you know: these two moves actually kept Moe out of the tree for the entirety of the season! Yeee-ha! Victory at last!

A green ChristmasDue to the work schedules of the second-tier store staff (and the inexorable bouncing of the holiday into regular week days), Christmas was not the same two-day holiday I'd enjoyed in 2005 and 2006, but a sole island of relaxation in a long and busy work schedule. Ah well, those were nice while they lasted. This was also a very green yule, right smack in the middle of what felt like was going to be a green winter. Aside from the incredibly glum outdoor setting, it was still a very relaxing holiday, which saw me carting home some new pairs of my favorite wool socks ever, some gift cards, new books and DVDs, and a couple of supposedly-reversible fleece crewneck sweaters from justsweatshirts.com (which are remarkably warm, whether the tags come off or not).

I clearly remember one point during that afternoon sitting in my parents' kitchen, doing some residual Amazon.com shopping on my mom's laptop while the rest of the house napped, exhausted from previous late nights and today's early morning. I was filling in some blanks, basically, cleaning up the wish list a bit and picking up a few items on sale and a few others that had been on my list for a couple of years that I'd decided to move on before they vanished. It was a very pleasant time: quiet and thoughtful and now tinged with a bit of regret as this kind of carefree indulgence is something I currently wish I hadn't done (though the amount I spent wouldn't have made much of a difference in the end, anyway). We'll tackle why in my next post ...

NP Various Artists The Complete Stax/Volt Singles, Volume 1