Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Burning Down the House

I have a GREAT one for you today. So many other cute little episodes are in the running for publishing, but this one…well, this one takes Humiliation and Error to new heights in the sister household.

Sunday afternoon started a bit lazy; dinner with Dad and some Viking football in the background. A small turkey taco dinner, followed by a whirlwind cleaning spree and yard mowing frenzy. Very Sunday-esque. Very calm. Almost boring, but exactly what the doctor ordered.

[Insert the increasingly predictable twist].

But as I was contemplating the daring idea of a facial mask, a strange thing happened: my nose started twitching. My knees got a little bit weak, and for some reason an alarm started sounding in my head. If I were the Oracle of Delphi, and you were the pilgrim on a mission, then we would both be feeling the stirrings of some horrible news on the horizon (imagine Oedipus and his family’s misfortunes…). Yes, that serious ladies and gents.

I have not been around fire very often. In fact, my only incident outside of a way word tea light candle was a rather explosive gasoline fueled bonfire—which ended very badly. SOn this particular occasion I smelled something like “electrical fire.” Honestly, I am not even sure how I know what that smells like, but I do. Sisterita and I descended the stairs with growing alarm. Wrapped in a towel, with wet hair, and my companion still covered in grass clippings, things were a little chaotic. We ran from outlet to outlet. Checked the air conditioning unit. Looked for smoke. Unplugged every wire we could find. Turned off the lights and flipped the breakers. Even checked the lawn mower quietly resting outside from his backbreaking work of cutting down an inch of greenery.

No smoke. No fire. No explanations.
But the smell wafted through the hallway like a 90 year old’s over-used Red Door. 
It. Just. Would. Not. Leave.

So, we convinced ourselves it was a fluke. Something wafting through the vents but coming from the neighboring duplex. Life returned to normal. For 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes, I headed to ask the neighbors if something was up. Maybe they were burning microphone cords? I would have settled for the most bizarre of explanations—anything to convince me that our house was not, in fact, burning from inside of the walls. Nothing. Very obvious confusion. So, I did what anyone would do… I begged for advice on Facebook?

Yes, I admit it: not my brightest idea. Especially when the ensuing advice put us more on edge. Finally, through a series of very logical suggestions, we decided to call 911.The municipality that I am currently living in has EXCELLENT response time. Sisterita and I were prepared for a landscape of serious civil servants and no nonsense. But, oh Gentle Reader! We could not have known. One minute we were standing outside talking to a police officer and the next we were surrounded.

Seven emergency vehicles responded.

Sirens BLARED, lights whirled, as we struggled to decide whether the humiliation or the prospect of a serious electrical fire was worse. The EMTs were at the ready with a gurney…because I apparently gave the dispatcher the impression that there were charred limbs to be treated?!

Heavily protected men stomped into the house. Rubberneckers looked on—and we ALL know they were hoping the house went up in flames, as then something would have actually happened in our quaint, sleepy little town.

Five minutes pass. Radio static.
Ten minutes pass. We get a few more questions, i.e. “Basement? Um, no.”
Fifteen minutes pass by. At this point, I have had time to take stock of our appearance. Still with wet hair, Sisterita was channeling some Eddie Vetter jeans-and-comfy-flannel style, and I ended up in gold, sparkle ballet flats looking like a drowned rat. We could not have appeared more clueless if we had tried. When the trio of seasoned firefighters finally emerged, there was a sense of relief (both because soon we might finally solve the riddle and hide behind closed doors).

Wait…he was carrying something! Something was found! We were not crazy! Yes! Justified call to the noble 911 line! ::fist pump::

And then he showed us this:


Apparently, the plastic fell onto the heating coils in the dishwasher. So, we have melting and flame repeatedly put OUT by the water of the dishwasher. We also learned that our stove is a danger to all mankind and we should look into that. Um, ok…Sisterita actually contemplated killing me for calling. I know it.

The kind firemen were incredibly tolerant and understanding: they maintained that residents should always err on the side of caution in situations like these. In fact, entire HOUSES have gone up in flame over a dishwasher! But, the full weight of our folly came raining down with one final, kindly meant inquiry:

"So, are you girls students at the college?"
 Um, no sir. We are grown women. We just cannot operate dishwashers. Thanks. Please take the sirens and go. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Recipe for Recovery: Overcoming the Funk

I am not sure how most people deal with, what I call, the "uninspired" periods. 

Most of the time, I tolerate very little negativity or excuses for inactivity. But every now and then the funk creeps in. You know...when everything is going wrong, but in such rapid succession that the final straw is when ::gasp!:: your bobby pin falls down the sink drain!

Or you can't get the CD player to work.
Or you forget to check the mail.
Or you discover that TBS isn't going to play a Gary Marshall film, and your weekend plans are derailed.
Or you realize that you need to retie your shoelaces. Because, well, they aren't tied anymore?!
Or your phone rings and it is a telemarketer. Not your future spouse. Not your future dream boss. Not even the local radio station telling you that you have won lifetime tickets to see any artist of your choosing. 
Or you can't find a pen. Or you find one but want a pencil.
Or you just get irritated that there are people in the world breathing YOUR air!

And for any or all of these reasons, you immediately decide that you might as well buy 26 cats and start clipping coupons in an attempt to distract yourself from the failures of life. I mean, isn't that the obvious next step? Yes, very dramatic. Quite possibly very unstable. But everyone has that day and at least once a year.  

I combat this phenomenon in the most simple way you can imagine. I revert to teenage me activities and go back to an inspired time!
A:I start reading through all of my favorite novels from high school (890 pg in 3 days!). B: I start watching favorite film clips on Youtube (during my reading breaks). C: Generally, I also start planning European vacations. D: I begin practicing French sporadically and with gusto! E: Maroon 5 and KT Tunstall begin a repeat performance pattern on my iPod.
Recipe for Battling Malaise & Apathy (a.k.a.What I have been doing the last 3 days...)

A        Archangel - My single exception to the no-sci fy rule! I can't help it!
B       I have rediscovered pirate treasure in The Goonies and relearned Ariel's "Ode to Hoarding" song.
C       I have charted trains and hostels through Prague, Budapest and Berlin. Must learn German...
D       Francophones and anglophiles please treat yourself to Mr. Eddie Izzard's brilliance HERE!
E       I now constantly hum "Sunday Morning", which really IS an amazing song. ::sigh::

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Metafiction & gChat

One of my typical (no really) gChat conversations ~

Friend:  dude g'day!!
Me:  alllo!!! I was so about to send you an email; metafiction ring a bell?
Friend:  vaguely
Me:  I question its definition...broadest set of criteria ever, with the most convoluted definition How can strains of Chaucer be present in Vonnegut? Or Stephen King's Secret Window?
Friend:!  fun story!
Me:  More than that, how can such a label exist, refuse to assert itself as a criticism style, and yet NOT allow itself to be read through the lens of another style?
Oh. You aren't interested.
where is my dorky friend when I need her? hahaha
story! go!
Really. Why do people put up with me?
In the end, the non-chatting Third Party that had originally asked me about the phenom known as "metafiction" really just wanted me to comment, and then use my piqued interest to share this picture. So, I'm guessing she didn't really care about metafiction either???

Hot Professor Michael, of the Neon Nation 80s Band
Photo courtesy of Neon Nation: The Ultimate Live 80s Experience
Oh, and Third Part Friend probably did also care about metafiction...but the story was better if she didn't. ;)

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Brain Explosion

I really don't have much to say. Two things really:

For some inexplicable reason I find myself wanting to have dinner and chat with Piers Morgan. Because, well, why not? There has to be something interesting to uncover in that head of his.

And, while I have always hated the show "America's Got Talent" the performance by Team Illuminate just BLEW my mind. (Not a link to tonight's performance, but you will definitely see my point)

I might have clapped. Out loud.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

To Ache or Not to Ache: A Tale of Mountains & Muscle Pain

The Knob. Elevation 3100+
 I. Love. Hiking.

Virginia is too beautiful not to enjoy every season outdoors. Spring is full of honseysuckle and birdsong. Summer is lesson in adventure and fragrant foods on the grill. Winter carries a pristine costume of snow and stillness. And Fall. Well, Fall is fiery, alive, and in a state of rebellion against all of the other seasons. It just wants to be special and incomparable. It usually succeeds. Ok, enough of the over-the-top embellishments.

While Virginia is not yet in a fall state of mind, the weather has recently been quite confused. I do not know if I should be blaming freak weather patterns, or accept the mild temperatures as a grand gift! But I plan to take advantage of any accidental "cool and breezy" summer days that happen by. And so, we hiked McAffee's Knob.

8.4 miles of incline and brush. Countless dogs greeting us as parties made their way past. Chirping birds. The constant fear of snakes. Ah! Exhilarating!

But aside from that feeling of victory you have when you climb that last rise, or push past that ache in your calves, there are the people. Hikers are friendly. They are the closest "kin" to the backpackers making their way across Europe that I have encountered stateside. A few factors are probably to blame:
  1. Endorphins a happy hiker makes. Who is going to be truly grumpy (short of having fallen and broken something) on a simple day hike? Energies are high, and everyone is predisposed to be pleasant.
  2. We are in God country. How can you climb a rise and not feel a sense of awe at the creative power displayed in the wilds? Every leaf you pass is unique, and every rock you step over has been trampled by generations of other adventurers. We are all connected in that miracle of existence and shared panorama.
  3. I am usually directing a 160 WATT smile at everyone I pass. More than likely, I am scaring every stranger into compliance with my facial insistence so that they return my addresses. I smile at you, and you smile back. If you don't...well, we are  in the wilderness. It might take the authorities a while to find you. I'm just sayin'.... [note: this is meant with all attempts at histrionics and jest!]
So, there you have it. My theory on hiking friendliness. I can not even begin to comment on hiking etiquette: like, should we feel badly that we don't wear "toe shoes"? Or did that elderly woman get irritated that we passed her on the first summit (when she quite purposely raced us for the front slot)? OR, even though the party descending should be the ones to step aside and let others pass, HOW do you navigate the trickery that is the slit party of XX kids?!

Now, for my list of approved hiking provisions and activities (for the descent):
  • Slim Fast bars (surprisingly perfect if you can't get your hands on some Chip or LARAbars)
  • A spare pair of sunglasses...for those mishaps.
  • A horribly harmonized rendition of "Last Kiss" (imitating Pearl Jam, of course)
  • Some in-the-moment dance creations for various occurrences; i.e., my legs hurt, so do the wobbily wobbily knees move
But most importantly, you need a great hiking partner.* Mine was fantastic. Was our ascent at an adequate pace? Well, yes. Did she pack the perfect amount of water? Absolutely. But I am referencing neither of those top assets. No, my partner was entertaining.

The Summit, aka Lion King Rock
 Example #1: Brief tripping move on the way down so startled her that she gasped, flailed her arms, and screeched for someone to, "Hold Me!!!!" Shaken by poor footing, she nearly tore my right arm from its moorings (...because, well, don't you compare your arm to a ship?). And all in full view of passer-bys.  ::sigh:: A-mazing.

Example #2: EPIC. Not only does she question the usefulness of small dogs, but she continually makes fun of me for once admiring a mix-breed Yorki-Poo. But on this trip, a small white fluff ball excited her--maybe it was the endorphin rush, or maybe it was the post-high of seeing the summit--and so she inexplicably and joyfully yelled, "Yorki Poo!!!" and started mock-jogging down the ridge. Until......

Arms rush to protect her face in a futile last-minute move.
A body crashes into large tree, failing to bounce off in jog-halting contact.
The body then ricochets off the tree and butt-plants on a large, limestone rock face.

Yes, yes I do love hiking.

*I am taking reservations for the described hiking partner. She is an excellent companion and will add enjoyment to any family outing. She is both well versed in mountain slang (for those Yanks that think we talk funny down here), and frequently shouts little messages of encouragement, "You are awesome. And we are climbing a mountain. Yeah! And we are awwwwesome!" As she (and I) are both nursing sore quads and rock scrapes, she will not be available until early Fall--please arrange your requests for her involvement in your next outing accordingly.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Don't Bet on Philip Seymour Hoffman

"I own every soundtrack EVER made! Mwua-haha!"
I believe that any movie, regardless of its plot lines or the quality of acting, can be tolerated or celebrated if there is an intriguing soundtrack. Among the  universally acknowledged  "great" or "generation defining" films, I doubt many people will disagree.

Look at Forrest Gump--I would categorize this as one of the "greats". It is brilliant period film, with good acting, eccentric and impossible characters, and yet what most people love are not those very "critically hailed" qualities*, but the grand scenes accompanied by music; Forrest runs across the nation to "Running on Empty" by Jackson Browne, Jenny perches dangerously on the edge of her hotel balcony to Skynrd's southern anthem "Freebird", CCR's "Fortunate Son" growls and strains as the helicopter lands Forrest and Bubba in the Vietnamese landscape.  So many memories for the viewing audience! I anticipate the music and the moments every time I watch it, even getting mildly upset if I ralize I have missed one of my favorite transitional music moments.

*[Ok, and we also love the one liners delivered earnestly by Forrest, with that adorable charm that only Tom Hanks can channel. And Lieutenant Dan! But none of this is relevant to my argument!]

In the second category, or the "generation defining" group, I am going to pay homage to a John Hughes project: Pretty in Pink. Predictable? Well, maybe. Thought I would choose The Breakfast Club? I thought about it. But I can easily and concisely demonstrate my point with PIP. Hughes, more so in his post-mortem acclaim than ever before, has been hailed as the visionary who understood the psyche of high school youth living in 80s America. I won't speak to that--I just know that everyone of my friends who were old enough to see the film back in the day still stop on TBS when it is running! When I watch Two and a Half Men, Alan is not Alan; he is Ducky and he is seeking "Tenderness" in a small little record store, to the subject of his unrequited love. When I think 80s prom, I see Molly Ringwald and James Spader is completely different scenarios, one terrified the other brooding, as OMD's "If You Leave" strikes its infectious melody. So, there you have it--two examples of my grand point!
::ends with a grand flourish of gestures, fairly similar to that of a circus ringmaster::

Examples of tolerance for the simple sake of music? Um, Anchorman? I hate that movie, but "Afternoon Delight" was a genius selection! Just as genius as the instrumental compliment to that scene in The Patriot, where Mel returns to his unit flying the American flag repaired by his recently fallen son? I struggle to admit it, but I cry everytime. Sap. Ugh.

Disagree with everything so far? Well, then stop reading, because frankly I don't feel like addressing any comments about the soundness of my logic. This is subjective and you need not feel an obligation to agree; but that obligatory comment is now made, and I am still right. So, let's move on.

One of my all time favorite films is Almost Famous. I can't even tell you why. Do I love faux bio-pics, and watching rock n' roll musicians engage in all their glorious shenanigans? Of course! Who doesn't?! And is Billy Crudup beautiful in the movie, despite his attempts to ugly it up with that beaver growing on his upper lip? Um, yes. Um, correction: absolutely yes. Is the writing fast, tense, witty, and the direction/cinematography nearly perfect? Yes. But all that together would only put the film in my top 20. And Jane Campion's The Piano, in which music replaces language as the primary mode of communication as well as currency (uh...a bit scandalous, fair warning), would be ranked higher. The thing that sends Almost Famous over the bar and into "fantastic" is the relationship developed between the storyline and the MUSIC. Remember the scene in which the band mates of Stillwater are fighting (yet again), and the tension on the tour bus becomes so palpable that silence seems a secondary character? Then, in spontaneity and genuine appreciation, the  groups begins to slowly harmonize the lyrics of Elton John's "Tiny Dancer"? The first time I saw that scene, I just smiled. Widely, unapologetically, and with honest sympathy--we have all been there. In the right setting, a song can change our perspective on a situation and set its tone. I saw the characters, who were so in love with the lifestyle of the musician, and fully participating in a culture of changing attitudes and inclusion within America (also, debauchery, but that is another mini-essay), as realistic. That was the only moment in the whole film, where I completely forgot about the storyline and yet somehow still felt connected with the personalities and emotions of the characters.

Obviously, this is an easy movie to target: it is a film about musicians, caught in the process of making music, and relying on historical music tracks to supplement the story. Phillip Seymour Hoffman plays an enigmatic Lester Bangs, and his love letter to rock n'roll is so earnestly delivered, you have to wonder if the actor wishes he were Lester Bangs. So, yes I am cheating. But my point stands!

All of this is culminating in a very silly, simple observation. [What do you want from me? The disclaimer to the right TELLS you I am verbose!] I rented Pirate Radio, another film with Phillip Seymour Hoffman--the surly, hairy version...not to be confused with the Capote verison. In my head, I recognized a vibe that I thought would be similar to AF: it focused on the musical decade just before AF, and contained some very odd actors (Bill Nyhe, anyone?). I wanted to watch, enjoy some tunes, hope for something cathartic in the storyline, and just have a night in. Well...

The soundtrack is fantastic. A perfect compliment to the tale, which follows a ship-bound radio crew of the coast of the UK, playing rock n' roll and pushing the on-air censor limits during the mid 1960s. In fact, it would be easier to count the actors' lines than it would be to count the number of songs featured. Again, easy target. A film about the genesis of rock radio made for music lovers?! This is too easy! BUT, here is the major deviation point! Are you paying attention again?! Here comes the point (you knew if you kept reading that it would show up eventually):

This movie wasn't really good.  It didn't really hold my attention. It had some very funny moments, a la groupies and inexperienced ship mates, and when I looked up to find a Titanic-esque SINKING scene, I had to do a double take and get reinvested! Unfortunately, Hoffman, you are no DiCaprio. Or Billy Zane for that matter. But you are a hero in this one! And I cheered when [SPOILER] you made it to the surface in a rush! of waves and the roaring of various percussion instruments! Ha!

No, what it had was good listening. I could blog, work on some plans for future internships, think about grant deadlines, think about fundraising strategies...and so on, and so forth. I was multi-tasking. And yet I never turned the film off. It was tolerable because it had such a great soundtrack. A story was being communicated without even watching the film.