Friday, September 29, 2006

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Raise a fist for boot-cuts!

Today over her roast-beef sandwich at Ruby's--because some days, the Key kitchen is just too much--Heather brought up a point that I thought pretty much summed up the cultural consciousness of 2006.

"Can't we just have some new fashions?" she asked. "Please?"

We were staring semi-unabashedly at a woman waiting in line. She was wearing tight, dark-wash legging-jeans and little black ankle boots, and pretty much looked like Vogue had planted her there just to prove to the skeptical masses that yes, actual people do wear skinny jeans. And the masses, they are skeptical. There are three groups of people who are in favor of the skinny jeans, as far as I can tell: the fashion-magazine industry, who ought to know better; the under-eighteen set, who weren't alive the last time we went through this, and therefore aren't responsible for their actions; and Gap, Inc., who were smart enough to capitalize on the ignorant folly of the youth market. Everyone else? Horrified.

Obviously, fashion cycles aren't new. Clothes come in and out all the time. I know this. What boggles the mind about the return of skinny jeans--and 80s redux in general--is that they're so recent and so universally despised, and yet somebody made the decision to bring them back. The 80s aren't vintage; they're not old enough, and certainly not flattering enough, to merit going back to now. Nobody looks in the mirror and says, "I really loved the way my hips looked in those stirrup pants from 1988. Man, we looked cute. Those were the days." People make fashion references to the 80s because they're funny. It's a comment on the ridiculousness of people and the total lack of common sense that goes into fashion. The problem is that someone with way too much influence failed to get the joke, and now here we are, Molly Ringwald-ing it up. Either that, or that person's sitting in a Fifth Avenue office, cracking his or her classy, boot-cut-wearing self up at our expense.

There's nothing like an ugly fashion trend to make a person feel helpless. It's like a tidal wave of bad clothing--you can see it coming from miles away, but you're powerless to stop it. At first, I thought the skinny jeans might be a high-fashion flash in the pan, like ponchos: we'd see them in magazines, a few fashion-forward adolescents would buy them, the rest would end up on the big clearance rack in the sky, and we'd all go on our boot-cut way. I still think it's the pre-driving set who are mostly wearing them (tucked into their Uggs, of course), but I'm beginning to see the inevitability of a tapered future. Slowly, flared jeans will disappear from stores, until only Land's End sells them, and we'll begin to second-guess ourselves. Stacy and Clinton will mock us in the 360-degree mirror, and we'll be ashamed. We'll wonder vaguely why our bodies used to look so balanced and attractive, but we won't be able to place the reason. It's what happens. We get swept up. All we can hope for is an even faster "retro" cycle to take over.

For now, I'm staging my own little resistance movement. I bought a couple of pairs of flared jeans recently, and I wear them with an air of rebellion, I think (also with Converse sneakers). I thought of starting a rallying place on the decided it was a bit of a one-note tune. Eventually, maybe the horror will fade, but for now I'm just trying to be a one-woman army for cute pants. So remember: friends don't let friends wear skinny jeans.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

A Cricket in Lakeside Park

I heard a sound tonight that I haven't heard in quite some time. My crew team recently moved from its rat-cave boathouse on Lakeside Drive to temporary housing at the Sailboat House, over in the park by Children's Fairyland. We were just docking after our workout, and I heard crickets in the trees! I didn't know we had crickets in Oakland. It's too chilly here, too foggy, too noisy, too everything. But there they were, like it's summer and I'm eight years old.

Crew these days is as close to perfect as it gets. We're in that precious window between the summer windy season and the long, dark night of the soul called "October through April"--the water is flat and silver, the sun is just setting, the clouds are pink, and the birds scatter in front of us as we row. Our coach has decided that we should enter some long-distance races later in the fall, which means lots of 5-k pieces for us. We row for half an hour without stopping, and it's just us out on the water with the rush of the boat through the water, the thunk of the oars squaring and feathering, and the guys on the shore playing the bongos in the stillness of the twilight. After awhile, we relax into the cadence of the boat, and everyone gets a little bit better balanced, a little swingier, a little stretchier in all the right places. It's good, and it makes me feel placid and pliant afterwards. I'll need to remember these evenings when it's January and forty degrees out, and I'd rather stay on the couch with a book. Because winter will be here soon enough; I guarantee it.

Monday, September 18, 2006

What I'm Watching

I cleaned out my Tivo last night in preparation for the new TV season; for the first time since college, I'm planning on watching new shows from the beginning. Usually, I see which shows have good first seasons and pick them up in reruns or on DVD, but this year (with the death of Alias, really), I decided to take my chances with some new material. This season seems like an especially strong one, with lots of potentially good new shows and the continuations of a few that are already staples. I've divided my preliminary schedule into three parts, ranked by importance. Here's what I'll be tuning into, and what I recommend:

Definites (Automatic TiVo Season Pass):

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip; premieres tonight, September 18, 10:00 on NBC
If this show isn't the best thing to hit network television this millennium, then something has gone terribly, tragically wrong with the American television machine in general. First, there's the writing pedigree: it was created by Aaron Sorkin and Tommy Schlamme, who made the first four seasons of The West Wing essentially flawless. And then there's the cast, which I can only imagine must have cost more than the GDP of a small country: Matthew Perry, Bradley Whitford and Timothy Busfield (The West Wing's Josh Lyman and Danny Concannon, respectively), Amanda Peet, Steven Weber, Evan Handler (Harry on Sex and the City), Nate Corddry...the list goes on and on. It's like a perfect storm for television awesomeness.

Gilmore Girls; premieres September 26, 8:00 on The CW
Going into the seventh and possibly final season of Gilmore Girls, I'm not sure what to expect (not that it matters that much, honestly; I'm a Gilmore girl to the end). The original writing team of Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino quit at the end of last season and left the new show-runner, David Rosenthal, with a plot point that's practically impossible to salvage--Luke refusing to elope with Lorelai, and Lorelai subsequently ending up in bed with the dreaded Christopher. Aside from the process of following that plot line, there's also the question of tone: Will the Gilmores be the Gilmores without Amy S-P in their heads? All that aside, what I'd like to see this season--what the writers will do, if they know what's good for them--is a return to the roots of the show. I want to see more of Lorelai and Rory together, more of the Elder Gilmores, more obscure music, more of everything that makes Stars Hollow a good place to spend Tuesday night. Here's to hoping.

The Office; premieres September 21, 8:30 on NBC
I'm not really a sitcom kind of girl, but then, The Office isn't really a regular sitcom. I mean, it's technically a situation comedy, but there's only one camera and no laugh track, and the storytelling is pretty subtle. Also, it feeds off of despair, disappointment, heartbreak, and general malaise in a way that Friends and Everybody Loves Raymond just never did (all while being completely hilarious and just a little bit sweet, of course). The Daily Show's Ed Helms is joining the cast, and I can't even comprehend what kind of character he'll play, but it doesn't really matter--before anything else happens, I want to know what happens to Jim and Pam. And then we can move on to everybody else.

Maybes (Watch Five Episodes and See):

Six Degrees; premieres September 21, 10:00 on ABC
The only reason I'm checking this out is because of a promise I made to myself last year: having missed both Alias and Lost in real time, I swore I would watch J.J. Abrams's next new show from the beginning. This one's about a group of New Yorkers who don't know each other, but whose lives are profoundly affected by each other's actions. I'm not sure how much I care, in theory, except I totally do, because I read something about one of the characters having a deep, dark secret, and...I can't stop with the J.J., even though he always leaves us all brokenhearted in a ditch somewhere (or, to be more precise, in an alleyway in Hong Kong, J.J.) after a season or two. It's a sickness.

Brothers and Sisters; premieres September 24, 10:00 on ABC
This is perhaps the least likely to make it through the season, or maybe just to keep my attention, but I think I'm going to give it a shot anyway. After Alias wrapped up, Ken Olin moved on to this show, a drama about a group of grown siblings. Mostly I'm interested because of residual loyalty to Ken Olin (he's no J.J., but he did what he could) and because he retained half the former Alias cast (Ron Rifkin, Balthasar Getty, Patricia Wettig) and because the playwright Jon Robin Baitz is head writer, which I think is an interesting choice. This is also the triumphant (?) return of Calista Flockhart to TV, which doesn't rub me one way or the other, but it's sort of worth mentioning anyway.

Definite Maybe (Turn on the TV and See What Happens):

Veronica Mars; premieres September 26, 9:00 on The CW
I would have been perfectly able to ignore Veronica Mars if it had stayed put on the TV wasteland that was UPN, but the CW merger deal has placed it after Gilmore Girls, right where I'm bound to see the ads and get sucked in to its third season. In a way, I don't mind: Veronica Mars is an excellent, excellent show, one that deserves a great spot in the schedule, and I predict that its ratings will skyrocket once people have actually heard of it. It's also a great match for the Gilmores, in that it's a slightly more mature show with a precocious and sassy teenage heroine, as well as a plot that won't quit. On the other hand, I've previously been happy watching Veronica on DVD, and it's not really a show that's conducive to occasional watching. So I'm going to have to make a decision. I suspect that I'll turn on the Gilmores on the 26th, and see whether the ads for Veronica grab me. We'll let the promo department choose.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Movie review: The Last Kiss

Before I say anything about The Last Kiss, I need to be clear about three things. First, I'm an unapologetic Zach Braff fan. Second, Garden State is not the anthem of my generation. Third, I went into TLK totally blind in terms of genre, plot, and reviews. Actually, for a movie that I knew absolutely nothing about, it started out with a lot of baggage: essentially, my affection for Zach Braff compared with an inability to see his current movie without comparing it to Garden State (which, frankly, is the movie's fault, as it's kind of Garden State II). Sadly, The Last Kiss came out on the losing end of that deal.

I'm happy to report that the problem with this movie doesn't lie with Zach Braff himself, although I'm wondering what he'll do when he outgrows the adorkable-hipster vibe, since he's not actually getting any younger. He's surprisingly awkward in the role of discontented everyman (also known as Andrew Largeman: The Later Years), but he actually gets more genuine as the movie requires more of him, and he manages not to wilt when Jacinda Barrett comes at him like a spider monkey (TM Talladega Nights) in a couple of different scenes. His character does boring, predictable bad things, and Braff carries them off well, because he's pretty good at being screwed up in a really average way. In short, he does his job, even when it's unappealing. So it's not really a casting issue.

The problem with this movie is the movie itself, especially the total lack of real characters. There are a lot of them--the plot loosely revolves around four friends and some of their loved ones in various states of relational disrepair--but practically nobody has anything truly genuine or interesting going on, and it all ends up kind of muddled and not a little depressing. Things would have been better with fewer peripheral characters and a little more focus on the people who actually matter to the plot--eliminate the oversexed long-haired guy, for example, and spend more time with Jacinda Barrett, to show that she has some kind of personality--but as it is, it's just a little blurry and hard to follow, and it's hard to care very much.

The other, more specified problem here is Rachel Bilson's "character," Kim. In theory, we're supposed to find her artsy and intriguing. I know this because she's wearing black eyeliner. In reality, she's supremely obnoxious and un-self-aware to the point of unbelievability, and I found myself trying to decide whether she would be the hero or the villain of the movie--not in a "Wow, that's really complex and interesting" kind of way, but in an "I don't know where you're going with this" kind of way. The script fails the character of Kim by giving her no actual characteristics except her youth, which is expressed though utter thoughtlessness and nothing else. It fails the audience because we have to watch her: any role that can make Rachel Bilson unappealing is either really good or impressively bad, and I'll let you guess which one we're going with this time.

There are a few good things mixed in, here. I sort of liked the ending scene. Casey Affleck grew up cute, apparently, and does a good job. Blythe Danner sweeps around in the same flowy linen pants she wears in every movie these days, but she's reliable enough (though her relationship with her onscreen husband doesn't make much sense). There are a couple of good comedic moments, and the possibility of a good soundtrack, and some crazy driving in a Prius. If you're looking for twenty-something angst, though, you're probably better off watching Garden State, and I can't believe I'm saying so.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Haiku Friday

The sun is shining;
maybe I shouldn't have dressed
for Arctic winter.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Frosty cold...something

Proof of my active inner life, or something: on the way out of work this afternoon, I saw a man carrying a cooler. My first thought? "I wonder what kind of organs he's carrying?"

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

New old books

There are two kinds of people in this world (besides those who divide the world into two parts and those who don't): book borrowers and book buyers. I am a book borrower. People who have seen my book collection may take issue with this statement, but I tend not to acquire that many books permanently. At least, not as many as I could, given my literary appetite and my inability to resist pretty cover art. It's partially a financial thing--why buy the milk when I can have the cow for three weeks for free?--and partially the fact that I'm picky about what books I claim as my own. I don't want to buy something, read it, decide it's mediocre, and have it sitting on my shelf for all eternity, (She's Come Undone, I'm looking at you).*

But yesterday, armed with a gift card that I don't quite remember receiving, I marched into Borders and came out with two paperbacks that I am happy to add to my permanent collection.

I suspect that Julie Powell's Julie and Julia is going to be my favorite book of 2006 (well, except for Middlemarch, but that's kind of an unfair comparison, it seems to me). I picked it up this past spring as some light reading, and it's been haunting me ever since. Just before her 30th birthday and feeling slightly miserable, Julie Powell decided on a whim to cook all 524 recipes in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking in a year, and to keep a blog about her experiences; J&J is the result of that project. After I finished the book, I found myself looking for more good food writing. But upon further thought, I've decided that it's not the food that charmed me (there's an entire chapter on aspic, or objects encased in savory jell-o); it's Julie herself. She's hilarious and neurotic--and not always in a charming way--and slightly unhinged in a way that doesn't often come out in the whole-wheat, whole-foods world of food writing. When she just can't hack Julia and her marrow-sauce-making ways, Julie watches The West Wing and eats Domino's pizza with bacon and jalapenos instead. In short, she's someone I would probably hang out with. I realized recently that instead of searching the library for something to fill the void, maybe I should just suck it up and buy a copy, and re-read it to my heart's content. So I did. Yesterday, I found myself reading at red lights on the way home from the bookstore, and I realized that I haven't done that in awhile--since the first time I read J&J, I think. That's a good sign. It's nice to have her back.

Also, in a satisfying instance of writerly worlds colliding, I turned my copy over to read the back-cover blurb (this is what publishing geeks do), and found an endorsement by Lauren Winner, the author of my favorite book from last year. It seems that Winner--a Christian, a writer, and sometimes a Christian writer--reviewed J&J for the Washington Post and loved it just as much as I did. I must be moving in a small literary circle, but at least everyone I read gets along, I guess.

I also bought a copy of To Kill A Mockingbird, which I haven't read since the ninth grade, but it was the first school book I ever stayed up late to finish. There's also the persistent rumor that it was partially or wholly ghostwritten by Truman Capote--since, clearly, a woman in 1950s couldn't possibly have written a single outstanding novel and nothing else. So I'm partly reading as a little sign of solidarity with Harper Lee, linking elbows with her against the second-guessers (also, I ask: Did Truman Capote have the kind of heart that came up with To Kill A Mockingbird?). Bonus for me, it's a really pretty copy, one that will probably look dated in fifteen years, but for now it's just kind of iconic and artsy, with rough-cut pages. I love it.

Mmmm, new old books.

*I make an exception for classics, which I acquire with abandon, usually in used paperback editions that find their final home with me. I figure that if people are still reading them, they can't be total dreck, right?

Monday, September 11, 2006

Five years ago today

I wasn't going to write anything about September 11. Honestly--and it feels strangely traitorous to say so--I'm not sure I have much to say. I wasn't in New York that day; I didn't lose anybody, or even miss class, if I recall correctly. I watched endless loops of news footage with my housemates, and skipped out on an evening prayer meeting to walk to 7-11 for Slurpees with Al and Kirticia, just to get out for awhile. Most of my thoughts about September 11--I don't like the term "9/11"--deal with the politics of the event and the events that followed, and not with sacrifice or heroism, and that's not really what anniversaries are for, so I was going to keep it to myself.

But I am an American, even if I'd rather not think about it sometimes. What happened that day happened to me, and it affects me, five years later and three thousand miles away, and what better way to commemorate the event than to use the voice I've been given? And so here I am, a terrorism victim by association, speaking up just for the sake of speaking up. I tried to use this anniversary to do what anniversaries are for: I tried to remember, and to celebrate, in my own small ways, my Americanness. I went to work, and thought about all of the reasons that September 11 isn't, and shouldn't be, a day off. I prayed without harassment. I turned on Sufjan Stevens and listened as he sang about the Midwest, and I used a gift card to buy a copy of To Kill A Mockingbird, which strikes me as a particularly American novel. I told myself the story of my September 11, which isn't the same as anybody else's September 11, but it's a story, all the same. I remembered in small, silent ways, and nobody else brought it up.

I don't have more to say, really. I just wanted to say something.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Haiku Friday

Week floats away, gone
under the bridge like a long
Pooh-sticks tournament.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Take it, take another little pizza my heart now baby

I've had a busy summer. There have been weddings and camping trips and long, light evenings out of the house, and it's been fun. But now Labor Day has come and gone, and I've had a realization: my kitchen has missed me. I used to be good about cooking. I liked to cook. I had recipes and shopping skills, and I actually had fresh things in the house, and I usually had a week's worth of dinners planned at a time. But then I got busy, and I joined Weight Watchers, which makes cooking a little complicated, and suddenly I haven't made anything from scratch in ages. That's going to change. I'm taking back my kitchen.

After work today, I took a walk by the lake and made a lap through Albertson's (Travesty! I can't stand Albertson's. But it's there, so...), and decided to make myself a pizza. From scratch. With yeast and honey and flour, and the rising and the punching down. Simple food. Easy, yes?

For one thing, pizza-making is practically in my blood. My family made pizza from scratch every Sunday night when I was a kid. I spent hours upon hours perched on the bar stool in the kitchen, watching as my mom made the dough, my brother mixed the sauce, and my dad grated the cheese and chopped the green onions, black olives, and salami. I got to help arrange everything on the spread-out pizza (this was before they allowed me to handle knives, which was maybe for the best). I learned at a young age that it's very important to have all of your half-moons of salami facing the same direction. But I'm not anal, or anything.

And it's not like I've never had a relationship with bread. I left home two days after high school graduation and spent the summer working in the Mount Hermon bakery. In ten weeks, I baked countless loaves of bread: white bread, wheat bread, communion bread, cheese bread, onion bread, breadsticks; we even made challah once, if I recall correctly. I measured, mixed, cut, and fought with Carrie to (literally) throw the dough through the loaf-maker. I know my way around dough.

Which is why it was so surprising to find myself standing at my kitchen counter this evening, hands thick with pizza dough and attracting every non-flour item in the room, as I scooped what must have been eight cups of additional flour into the dough I'd made following the recipe. I swear, this dough ate flour. I never did get it quite to that springy, non-sticky stage, but it was close-ish when I dumped it into an oiled bowl to rise. That was an hour ago. It's going to be awhile before I actually get any pizza out of this deal, I think, as it has to rise again post-punching.

But it will be the best pizza ever (mushroom and heirloom tomato with herbed jack cheese), and I will have made it in my own kitchen from my own ingredients, and that's what counts. In the mean time, just...pass the crackers, please. I'm hungry.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Five Things About This Blog

1. This blog was a birthday present to me, from me. Well, it was free, but you know. It's the thought that counts. (I also gave myself a pair of shoes, which were...not free.)

2. Anybody who knows my brother may be familiar with his e-mail dispatches from around the world. The intent of this blog is similar--keeping friends and family updated, etc.--except that 99% of the posts will come from the wilds of Oakland. Also, it's bright pink, which is not true of my brother's e-mails.

3. The title is not an attempt to confuse; it's a lyric from the song "Pink Bullets," by The Shins.

4. I think that blogs in general are fascinating evidence of the self-centeredness of human nature, and yet here I am. I'm trying not to think too hard about the implications of that statement.

5. This blog is open to the public; feel free to read, not read, pass it on to others, or keep it to yourself. For now, I'm also accepting anonymous comments, so those without Blogger accounts can respond to my posts if they see fit.