Monday, January 28, 2008

Birthday Weekend Recap

I just had a great birthday weekend. Saturday was my cousin Bret's (the other, less-t'd Brett as I like to call him) Bar Mitzvah in New Jersey. It was great to see everyone but nobody loves Bar Mitzvah kitsch more than a four-year-old girl. Gwendolyn scored numerous glowsticks, sunglasses and a flag bandanna. Well, played, Miss G!

Sunday was my actual birthday and I got some great goodies including a My Little Pony birthday card from Gwendolyn, a Macbook (thanks to The Wife, The Mother-In-Law and Walt!) and the birthday cake with banana filling I'd been hinting I wanted since November. I finished off the day by watching The Seventh Victim with director's commentary. It's been over a year but I've almost finished my Val Lewton DVD box set. I've had it so long they've re-released it with a new documentary.

Birthdays are great but are always kind of weird when they're over. When they're good it feels jarring to go back to an ordinary day and when they're bad it feels like you wasted a once-a-year opportunity. Whatever, off to steal Wi-fi from my neighbors.

I Got Searched!

So, about two and a half years into the MTA's bag search program I finally had my bag checked. I should have been indignant but I was actually a little excited and curious. The cops were friendly and apologetic and said, correctly, it would only take 15 seconds. It turned out they didn't even open my backpack but just rubbed a piece of paper with "explosive" written on it over my bag and then put it in a doohicky that said I was clean and sent me on my way. So, I may not be voting for Ron Paul after all.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Everything I Consume: Charlie Chan In Paris

This movie had it all, multiple killings, disguises, people lurking in the shadows, rocks thrown through windows with messages on them, secret passeges, you name it. Warner Oland is excellent as Chan and this movie marks the first appearence of the awesome Keye Luke as Lee Chan, aka Number One Son (by the forties they's be down to #3). Lots of entertainment packed into 71 minutes.

Interesting, at least to me, is that even though this movie is set in France and most of the characters are French no one affects a French accent. In fact, the only actor in the picture speaking with an accent is Oland.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Today's Super Bowl Post

Paul Zimmerman, one of three people I consider America's Greatest Living Writer, has picked the Giants to win the big game.


Serious Trouble in the Fuselage, Frederick merchandise is available. I'm not selling it and it's probably been around for awhile but if you want to support the blog by giving somebody else money I'm not gonna stop you. Not that I could, legally.

Everything I Consume: And Then We Came to The End and Juno

I've fallen way behind in recording my consumption so I'm lumping And Then We Came To The End and Juno together. This may seem odd, or you don't care, but they have a lot in common. Both were over-hyped, have a hipster vibe and are overrated but certainly worth reading/seeing.

And Then We Came To The End or ATWCTTE is the story of an imploding Chicago ad agency in 2000 and 2001. I'm a big fan of workplace fiction—100% of my unpublished novels are set in an office—so I enjoyed looking at the relationships of the people we are forced to spend most of our lives with and often discard in an instant. The book is told in a first-person plural that takes some getting used to but is very effective.

WE WERE FRACTIOUS AND overpaid. Our mornings lacked promise. At least those of us who smoked had something to look forward to at ten-fifteen. Most of us liked most everyone, a few of us hated specific individuals, one or two people loved everyone and everything.
Quickly, you feel like part of the story and part of the agency. This helps relate to the characters since there is no one main character. The writer, Joshua Ferris, is very effective at going back and forth in time. The problem with the book is the office is filled with only colorful characters and ridiculous situations. It quickly went from slice-of-life to over-the-top. There are murdered children, rumors of cancer, fired employees who won't leave and even a totem pole. All this stuff is better handled on The Office or Mary Tyler Moore. But, you know, that's not really fair, because the week-in, week-out of a television show is so much better at capturing the feel of office life than a novel. I know Joshua Ferris lives in Brooklyn and I don't want him to get mad at me if I see him on the street or my neighborhood bookstore.

As you probably know, Juno is about a too-cool-for-school high school student who gets pregnant. I liked it but I wanted to punch the soundtrack in the face. It had the subtlety and charm of someone yelling, "I am Quirky! Look at me!". Oddly, the annoying lead, Ellen Page was nominated for an Oscar yet the excellent supporting cast was overlooked. Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, Michael Cera and J.K. Simmons were all fantastic.

Finally, I have to call out to the world to stop making movies where a woman's water breaks and she rushes to the hospital. It happens in 90% of movies and TV shows and 1% of the time in the real world. Show a scene where a pregnant woman argues with a nurse that she's in labor and should be admitted to the hospital and not sent home. That would have been hilarious in this movie. It would have made up for half the soundtrack's annoyance. Don't make me do your job for you.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

I Just Don't Get It. I'm Not Complaining, I Just Don't Get It.

The New York Giants are not just playing with house money but staying in a comped suite, driving the casino bosses' Caddy and sleeping with his wife. These Giants are going to the Super Bowl? This quirky band of underachievers? The Giants without Tiki Barber and Jeremy Shockey? With Plaxico Burress playing on a bum ankle so he can't make the pass interference inducing jump catch I hate so much? Their quarterback is the other Manning, you know that, right? The Mets miss the playoffs and the Giants go to the Super Bowl? Really, I don't get it. A month and a half ago I was talking to some Giants fans about how unexcited I was for the playoffs and how the Giants could never beat Dallas and how this would just delay the inevitable Tom Coughlin firing and Eli Manning trade. So, obviously, I just don't get it.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Books Piled Up, Chapter 2

In the two and a half months since my previous post on this topic I've managed to get my to-be-read pile down from 41 books to, wait for it, wait for it, 40 books! I really thought I was doing better than that. Can I blame Christmas? Actually, no. I got two books and I just finished And Then We Came To The End.

Sorry, America. I thought I was doing betterthan that. I feel like those people on The Biggest Loser finding out they only lost one pound.

Artist's Rendering

Above is Gwendolyn's picture of everyone on the bus during our big Sunday adventure. From left to right, Diaper Bag, Owen, Me, the Wife and Gwendolyn.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Brush With Greatness

Another reason you should be listening to the Daily Bugle podcast is they read my letter this week! I won't tell any more because you should listen to the whole thing but I will tell you I got a "that is pretty good" from Daily Show correspondent John Oliver.

UPDATE: I forgot to thank my man John Oliver for pronouncing my name right. It ain't easy.

Monday, January 14, 2008

What a Day!

Sunday started out like any other weekend day with everyone waking up too early and getting on each other's nerves. However, this day we had a plan. Team Sonnenschein was hitting the road and going to the world-famous Brooklyn Museum. Gwen was excited to see Egyptian art and particularly the exhibit on queens and princesses. Just as we left Gwen remembered we'd left the diaper bag. This was quite sharp of Gwen and some excellent foreshadowing.

As we killed time waiting for the museum to open (11:00 on a Sunday, c'mon!) Gwen brought up how great it was that she remembered the diaper bag. The Wife said, "Hey, where is the diaper bag?" We'd left it, including The Wife's engraved video iPod on the bus. We made some quick phone calls and found out that the MTA lost and found wasn't even open until Monday. There was nothing we could do we went to the Museum.

Despite Gwen's insistence on seeing the Egyptian princesses immediately I was determined to have her go to the Arty Facts kids program. When I was a kid and I didn't want to do something my parents always gave in and I don't want to be that kind of a parent even if I have to be a bit of dick sometimes. Arty Facts was great and I highly recommend it. The instructors did a great job talking about Chinese printing and Japanese screens and getting the kids involved in the discussions. Gwen was pretty shy as she often is when trying something new but she liked the Chinese and Japanese art and making Chinese characters. At the end we made a little Japanese screen and Gwen really got into painting and using the ink. If I said so myself I did some great parenting by guiding her and helping out but not overwhelming her. I know Gwen will thank me at some point in her twenties.

Afterwards, we got out of the studio and The Wife and Owen were right there taking a break. The Wife had gone to the Feminisms exhibit and luckily Owen was sleeping and didn't get traumatized by the freaky images. We all went to the Egyptian floor (after not finding the Queens and Princesses exhibit) and had a great time looking at the statues, papyruses and even mummies of cats and birds. It was a great day…except for losing the diaper bag. But The Wife did not give up. She talked to the bus driver on the way home and he said if we had lost the bag on the 10:00 bus the driver would be on the one coming in half and hour. We went home but were still dubious. So a half hour later The Wife went out to meet the next bus. It was the same driver as this morning! She asked him if he had seen her bag and he said, "Wait for me at Union Street and I'll make it happen." The Wife walked a block to catch the bus going the other way and the driver had the bag and the iPod! I couldn't believe it when she walked in. We're still a little stunned.

Oh, yeah, there was a football game that afternoon. Is there anything better than winning games your team has no business winning in playoffs your team has no business being in? I just wish my Dad was still around to make fun of me for not thinking the Giants would win. Anyway, that was Sunday in the world of the Sonnenscheins.

Friday, January 11, 2008

"Lyndon, Why Won't You Tell Me How You Became President?"

I've been obsessed with these prints since I first saw them last month. They're in the front window of an art store near my office. If you can't quite make it out the top is a picture of many Democratic presidents and the botton one is of many Republican presidents. Both are gathered around a table playing cards having a great time. The composition and colors are oddly similar in both pictures and for a split-second when I look at them I can't tell which is which. I think that's supposed to be a party convention in the back of each picture.

The Democrats are JFK, Clinton, Woodrow Wilson, LBJ, Truman, Andrew Jackson, FDR and Jimmy Carter. The Republicans are Reagan, Bush 2, Ike, Theodore Roosevelt, Nixon, Ford, Lincoln and Bush 1. There are some nice details like FDR's cigarette holder, Reagan's jelly beans and Truman's Hawaiian shirt. Who doesn't like a guy who comes to a poker game in a Hawaiian shirt? I'm getting him a bourbon. Nixon is in a stiff suit which is a nice touch. Heck, even Ike is in a polo shirt. But why is TR hanging with Nixon? I'm sure he'd rather be with Ike. And why do the oldest presidents in each picture have their backs to the viewer?

I'm curious how the party will change next year. Will the guys be cool that Bill brought his wife? Will Wilson and Andy Jackson play cards with a black guy? Does Huckabee gamble? Will Romney get any of the jokes? Of course, John McCain would fit right in.

Thanks to the Google I've found a link to a story on the painter, Andy Thomas.

Here's a close-up of the Democratic painting, "True Blues". Here's a close-up of "Grand Old Gang".

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Everything I Consume: On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio

This was a Christmas present from my father-in-law and his wife and, next to the Sidney Crosby t-shirt everything The Wife got me, was the gift I most wanted. The author is John Dunning and I guess this book is considered quite an authority because I've heard it referred to as "Dunning". It's very well written and the longer sections on the more famous shows like Jack Benny, Dragnet and Amos & Andy are very colorful and not the dry stuff you expect from an encyclopedia.

I've been using On the Air, or Dunning, to weed out podcast of old-time radio shows I don't want to listen to. For example when my podcast downloads an episode of Leonidas Witherall I find out it ran from June 4, 1944 – May 6, 1945 on Mutual and is a detective drama about the owner of a boys school whose beard made him a dead ringer for William Shakespere. Sounds great.

Because I'm me one of the first things I looked for was the last entry which turned out to be for a show called The Ziegfeld Follies of the Air. Here's the last paragraph:

Anything could happen. It was joyous and heartbreaking, a difficult but exciting time to be alive. Radio made it all of those things.
Well said.

Everything I Consume: Helvetica

An entire movie about a typeface, how cool is that? Well, if you answered not cool at all, you'll have no interest in Helvetica. But if any typeface deserves a movie it's Helvetica. It must be the most ubiquitous typeface of all time. If you watch this movie you'll see many, many, many examples of this. I'm sure you can turn your head right now and see it or it's bastard brother Arial.

I liked this movie and the talking heads of various designers and typographers was interesting and informative. In my experience most designers have problems with verbal communication so it was nice to see a few who can talk. About halfway through it seemed they ran out of things to say so it turned into a debate on modernism which, in my opinion, is only popular because its cheap and bland.

Back in the early 90s there was a book call The Macintosh Bible. I was told it was great but it was really written by a bunch of over-opinionated know-it-alls and I soon found better advice elsewhere. But I do remember the section on type. Since knowing how to use a Macintosh in those days made you a designer (for good or evil) many of us had no idea what to with all those fonts. What's good, what's bad? Am I too boring or too adventurous? So, the author of the chapter said if you don't know what you're doing you should do one of two things. Either, never use Helvetica and Times or only use Helvetica and Times. I still think that's some of the best advice I've ever heard. Either take big chances or play it safe, no middle ground.

If you see any film about a typeface this year, let it be this one.

Monday, January 7, 2008

"Did you have a bagel and cream cheese for breakfast?"

I just noticed an archipelago of cream cheese spots down the right side of my clean (at 7 AM) shirt. They continue down to thigh level. Are there any more dangerous words in the English language than, "Hold your baby, he wants to see you."?

The camera phone can't pick it up but I look like this but with cream cheese.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Everything I Consume: The Subtle Knife

The biggest surprise in this book was that there actually was a subtle knife. I mean, it sounded like a metaphor so I was pretty surprised when it showed up. Anyway, this was an enjoyable sequel to The Golden Compass, which I loved. The book starts in "our world" and spends a lot of time here which is quite a shock after Golden Compass' fantasy world of deamons, talking polar bears and zeppelins.

Being an atheist in 2008 is like being a lesbian in 1995. This is our moment, especially if you look at the best-seller lists filled with the un-holy trinity of Hitchens, Harris and Dawkins. I don't know why this is happening. Maybe people are finding courage to admit their beliefs in an increasingly theocratic world. Maybe people are waking up. Maybe it's just fashion.

While we're on the subject check out this article on my man, Nick Clegg, new head of the Liberal Democratic Party in the UK. He admits he doesn't believe in God and he's opposed to the Iraq War. Imagine someone saying this in the US! I know the Lib Dems aren't going anywhere but still I wish he could get my vote.