Friday, January 30, 2009

Disney After Dark

Last night, the drive from the 405 N to the 5 N (via the 55 freeway) took 45 minutes. That particular strip of freeway stretches not more than 4 miles, but every car in Southern California was on it. I told CS earlier that I would meet him around 6:15 at City Hall in Main Street, U.S.A., and the slowness of traffic had me worried for quite a while. But once I reached the 5 freeway, traffic moved, and I arrived at the Disneyland parking structure 20 minutes earlier than I expected.

I've owned a Disneyland annual pass almost consistently for the past 13 years; CS for a bit more, until last year when money became tight and more important things like food, shelter and a car forced him to give his pass up and cancel our usual outings. Luckily, this past Christmas, CS received the gift of an annual pass, and we finally managed to find the time to hit the park together.

Once he fought his way through traffic, found a spot in the parking structure, and casually strolled into Town Square, we were off, making a bee-line for Tomorrowland. Within the remaining hour the park was open, we rode three attractions that offered long lines during regular hours: Space Mountain, the Finding Nemo Sumbarine Voyage and Buzz Lightyear's Astroblasters. (The picture was taken from the exit of the submarines, using my new-fangled cell phone camera.) By the time we exited the Astroblasters, the park had officially closed. We followed the mob of people toward the exit, past the open (and crowded) shops along Main Street and wandered along Downtown Disney to the Grand Californian for a late dinner.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Playing Oscar Catch-Up

CM and I started playing catch-up with the films nominated for Oscars this year. Thankfully, we've seen quite a few during 2008 and in the early weeks of this year so our list has been whittled down somewhat.
We kicked things into gear Saturday with an early evening showing of Slumdog Millionaire. And if you haven't seen it yet, get thee to a theater!!!!

Slumdog Millionaire tells the story of Jamal Malik, an orphan from the slums of Mumbai who somehow finds his way onto India's version of Who Wants To Be a Millionaire? with only one question standing between him and the top prize of 20 million rupees. But with the allotted time for the show at an end, Jamal must return the following day to try his luck at the final question. However, circumstances don't always go as we would hope, and as Jamal is leaving the studio, he his arrested, taken to police headquarters where he's tortured to reveal how he is cheating. Because someone from the slums could never know the answers to all those questions, getting farther in the game than doctors and lawyers ever had. As he sits in the police office, re-watching the game show from the beginning, Jamal relates the life experiences from growing up in the slums, surviving riots which killed his Mother, made his escape from a monster while leaving behind a young girl, Latika. And with each glimpse, Jamal also reveals his growing love for the young girl and his attempts to free her from her hard life.

The first 20 - 30 minutes of the film are difficult to watch, and I can understand why some people walked out of the theater (from what my Mother told me of friends who saw the film). Torture, electrocution, the violent riots -- not easy to stomach. But CM and I made it through that and were rewarded with a remarkable film about love surviving through difficult odds. I realized this with an "a-ha!" moment towards the end, when Jamal used his last life line for the final question and when he heard Latika's voice on the other end of the call, the relief on his face told the movie audience that the game show didn't matter. That it never did.

Great acting, a great story, great directing, and a remarkable view of Mumbai and India -- we both finally understood all the most deserved acclaim and awards following the film.
On Sunday we watched the second Oscar-nominated film, the documentary Man on Wire. In the early '70s, Philip Petit, a French wirewalker, saw a picture of the soon-to-be built Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, and an idea quickly took seed: to walk a wire between the two towers. The documentary follows his team as they talk about how they planned and practiced for the walk, but not in typical documentary fashion. This film tackles the subject as if it were a bank heist, following how Petit and his multi-national team surveyed the towers, snuck to the rooftops to snap a few pictures, snuck clandestinely into the towers and stowed their gear. The tension was thick in the living room as we watched, gasping as the guards showed up from no where while the teams, laden with equipment, quickly found places to hide. Who knew a documentary could be so thrilling!! And the final pictures of him walking and lying down on that thin wire, a small black speck in the sky between the towers, were simply amazing.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed that both films do well at the Oscars next month.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

At the Ophthalmologist

After following the little white light with one eye and clicking each time I thought I saw it, the nurse dripped some stining liquid into my eyes and asked me to have a seat in the waiting room. I plopped onto a cushion and tried to read until my eyes blurred. An older woman was called back to see the doctor and hadn't been in the examine room for more than a few minutes when the doctor came out, grabbed he phone and called another doctor. "She's copmlaining of pain on the right side of her chest and told me that earlier this morning, she had shooting pains down her left arm....I did, but she doesn't want us to call an ambulance....Okay...okay, good." He hung up the phone, told the receptionist to get an ambulance here as soon as possible, then returned to the examination room. Moments later, the doctor and one of his assistants walked the woman down to the lobby and waited with her.

When he returned, the doctor apologized to everyone in the waiting room then returned to the next examination room. When my turn finally arrived, he again apologized, and I told him not to worry, that the woman's health was of more concern. Bside, my Dad drove himself to the hospital during his second heart attack so I could understand her not wanting a fuss. We both laughed, and then he shone a blindiing whit elight into my already dilated eyes.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Double B-Days

My parents both have January birthdays so as a family, we tend to celebrate them together. Last Friday, my Brother and I treated our parents to dinner at The Five Crowns in Corona del Mar. My Dad wanted to go some place fancy, and this was his pick. (As he told me later, it's a great restaurant that you go to maybe once every five years.)

Clutching a corner on Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), the restaurant's exterior resembled a English cottage with clinging vines hiding the whitewashed facade. Inside continued the old English feel with dark woods and dim lights. Once I arrived -- last, as usual -- the hostess showed us to our table near the back of the restaurant beside the fireplace. My Dad immediately opened his menu and stated that he was ordering the most expensive thing on the menu since my Brother and I were paying. He laughed, we laughed, and he proceeded to order a prime rib of beef with lobster tail.

Once we all ordered, we managed to keep a lively conversation, hearing about friends of the family, cousins in Washington state, even my Dad's time in the military when he served as part of the Old Guard under Eisenhower. That was the only time we all quieted down and listened to his tales of standing in for Chief Justice Warren at practice ceremonies, seeing but not meeting Queen Elizabeth II, and much more.

And after two hours and an English trifle drowing in rum for my Dad, we hugged each other good night and sped North and South along PCH toward home.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Book Review: The New Influencers

I started blogging because one of my friends suggested that it would be a useful tool to keep my writing skills in shape. I hemmed and hawed, but finally gave in, and after re-reading many of my earlier posts, I believe (hope? pray?) that I'm a much better writer than way back when. But what started out as a way to hone my skills has given me the opportunity to chronicle bits and pieces of my life, to share my views on books and movies, to post a recipe or two, and to even post a few samples of fiction.

That works for me. I like talking about different things when the mood strikes me. And being able to read the blogs of others, to catch a glimpse into their lives (and even to meet a few face to face) not just in my neighborhood, but in New York, Denver, Portland, Atlanta, Montréal, and England, to name a few, has been quite a happy bonus. I've never expected my blog to be more than a journal of my life. But, as author Paul Gillin discusses in his book The New Influencers, many companies are slowly beginning to see the far-reaching impact that blogging has had on the way corporations communicate with the public.
With the growing shift to electronic media, marketers need to stay on top of new venues of communication, and blogs present the best opportunity. Take a look at almost any blog, and what'll you'll find is a mini-community, with blogrolls containing links to myriad other blogs who communicate back and forth constantly. Any kind of news -- good or bad -- gets passed on, linked to, talked about much faster than any magazine or newspaper could have imagined.

Take, for example, AOL. Back in 2006, Vincent Ferrari had heard the rumors about the high-pressure tactics used by AOL when someone tried to cancel an account so he decided to record his own attempt then post the recorded file on his blog. He then emailed a consumer activist site, The Consumerist. The site, in turn, published a link to his post, which soon swarmed across the blogging world and eventually into mainstream media. That small post from a single blog generated so much negative publicity that it helped to influence a change in AOL's policies.1

And that's just from personal blogging. Quite a few other blogs deal with a specific topic and have reader bases focused solely on such things as graphic design, Microsoft, Netflix, plant care, and so on. A smart marketer will find a way to communicate with such groups because those bloggers are passionate about that particular topic, and their readers are more likely to listen to their recommendations.

Another blogging form discussed is the corporate blog, one written and managed by a company. In one of the many Influencer Profiles peppered between chapters, Gillin describes how Microsoft used the corporate blog as a means to allow the public a glimpse into life at the personal computer giant. They seemed to realize that if they weren't out there communicating about the company, then someone else was -- and not always in a positive light. By allowing Microsoft employees to discuss their jobs or whatever moved them in such an open and public forum and by using the blogs as a way to answer questions and criticisms, Microsoft was able to slowly reverse the negative view of the company.2

So thanks to the internet, the world really has become a much smaller place. More companies and marketers need to change with the times, and The New Influencers is the perfect guide for that, explaining how blogging (and podcasting) works and how they can be used to generate buzz about a product or to change/enhance a company's public image, and how to get along in this new age of communication.


1. Gillin, Paul. The New Influencers: A Marketer's Guide to the New Social Media, 2nd printing. Sanger, California: Quill Driver Books, 2007. pps 1-3.
2. ibid., pps 105-112.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Reign of Error Is Over!

Here's to President Barack Obama!

I remain cautiously hopeful that things will change for the better.

Monday, January 19, 2009

De-Gaying the Inauguration?

I'm sure news about Bishop Gene Robinson's speech being excluded from the televised Inaugural Celebration (link from AfterElton.com) has made the rounds of many gay blogs. I feel as though the Obama team is leading the LGBT into a big "bait and switch", first with tapping anti-gay Rick Warren to deliver the invocation, then placating the community by inviting Bishop Robinson to speak at the Inaugural Celebration only to have the speech excluded from the broadcast. The LGBT community put forth much money and effort to help Obama win the election, and now we're being stepped on. At least, that's what it feels like. Where is the tolerance and inclusion and equality that we'd hoped for?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Lovelace

One of the goodies Goldstar offered to insert their little badge on my blog was two free tickets to any show on their roster. CM and I browsed through the list, whittled it down to two shows, and forwarded them to their Marketing Department. Monday of last week, I received confirmation in my email so last night, we had the pleasure of attending an experimental new rock opera, Lovelace.

(As in Linda Lovelace. But I'll get to that in a moment.)

Thanks to heavy traffic on the 101 freeway, we exited early and took a scenic drive through downtown L.A., passing the crowded Olvera Street and Chinatown, wandering past the Music Center and the MOCA, finally taking Wilshire Blvd. through MacArthur park and pulling into a lot beside The Hayworth Theater, located in a beautiful art deco building from the 1920s. The theater itself was small, with enough seating for about 99 people. CM and I sat near the back, and I almost slipped from the cushion as the chair reclined unexpectedly.

The stage was sparse, a few raised platforms on the sides with bits of furniture and a large movie screen displaying a cover of Esquire with Linda Lovelace gracing the cover. Some 60s French pop tunes played over the loudspeakers as the remaining patrons arrived and filled every seat. The lights dimmed, the French pop morphed into a strong rock anthem of guitars and drums, the actors filed down the aisles and onto the stage....
At 19, young Linda Boreman becomes pregnant and has her child, singing about how much she loves the child and will be a good mother while her own mother tricks Linda into singing away her child to another family. This spurs Linda into running away from home and into the arms of Chuck Traynor, the slimy owner of a strip club who convinces Linda that he loves her, and the two wed. But Linda's happiness is soon shattered when Chuck plies her with drugs and forces her to have sex with other men. From that point on, her life becomes a haze of drugs and sex, culminating with the making of Deep Throat, the seminal pornographic film which turns her into an overnight sensation. But Linda longs for true love, children, the white picket fence and finally finds the courage to turn her back on the abusive Chuck and the porn industry.

Not what you would typically expect for a rock opera...or any opera for that matter. In fact, we weren't quite sure what to expect because of the subject matter, but Jeffrey Leonard Bowman's concept of a woman struggling against terrible odds, finally showing her strength and overcoming those obstacles was completely engrossing. Katrina Lenk's performance as Linda Lovelace was strong and compelling, even though I felt her voice wasn't strong enough until she let loose and belted a few songs. (CM disagreed with me on this, loving every minute of her performance.) Personally, I felt the three men in her life gave the strongest performances: Jimmy Swan as chuck Traynor, with a soaring rock and roll voice; Alan Palmer as Gerard who directed Deep Throat was hysterical; and Josh Adamson as Linda's co-star in Deep Throat. The entire cast, in fact, was amazing. And small, subtle touches enhanced the show, such as Lindsay (played by Sonya Bender), Linda's second child who stayed on stage for most of the show, reacting to what happened to her mother as if she were being told the story. The big standout, though, was most definitely the music: book, music and lyrics by Anna Waronker of the band That Dog and Charlotte Caffey of The Go-Go's and lyrics also by Jeffrey Leonard Bowman. They wrote great rock songs that never stalled or faltered during the entire 90 minutes, fantastic rock anthems as well as comedic tunes to fit the pacing, and if a cast recording is ever released, I'll be the first in line to buy it.

CM and I discussed the show during the drive home, as we stopped at Hof's Hut for a late night hot fudge sundae and even today as we ran errands. To leave that kind of impression, the show has to be great.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Book Review: The Haunted House

Sometimes, I pick books because of the title.

While my head is tilted sideways to read the spines, a word or two in the title catches my attention so I pull it from the shelf and read the blurb on the back or the dustjacket flap. Nine times out of ten, I re-shelf the book, but occasionally, the book stays in my hands as I browse the rest of the book store, up to the cashier and back to my car.

The Haunted House by Charles Dickens is one such book.
Set in the late 1800's, John and his sister Patty decide to rent a large, empty house purported by the locals to be haunted. And sure enough, after a few hours in the house, the Odd Girl (maid/servant) begins behaving rather strangely, complaining of eyes watching her in the dark. John hears a bell tinkling during the night. The housekeeper walks around all day in a funk, almost as if surrounded by a cloud of despair. Finally, John sends all the servants away, determined that he and his sister should remain until the end of their rental agreement, but to make things more interesting, he invites a few friends to keep house with them, staying in the supposedly more haunted rooms of the hosue and then gather on Twelfth Night to tell the tales of the ghosts forever dwelling in the house.

The Haunted House, according to Wesley Stace's introduction to this edition, was published in 1859 not as a novel, but as the Christmas edition of Dickens' journal All the Year Round. Dickens asked some of the best writers of the era to contribute stories, including Wilkie Collins, Elizabeth Gaskell, George Augustus Sala, poetess Adelaide Anne Proctor, and Hesba Stretton. A perfect set-up for Victorian ghost stories.

The stories themselves were all wonderful: Stretton's tale of a young woman in The Ghost in the Clock Room using her wiles to win the heart of a lonely bachelor; a case of mistaken identity it Sala's The Ghost in the Double Room; Proctor's poem for The Ghost in the Picture Room about a young nun who decides to leave safety the convent to experience the world because of her love for a man; Collins' sea adventure for The Ghost in the Cupboard Room; Dickens' tale of a young boy forced to wake with a skeleton every morning in The Ghost in Master B's Room; and Gaskell's tale of filial treachery in The Ghost in the Garden Room.

And yet, good as they were, I couldn't connect the stories to actual ghosts inhabiting each of the rooms. Collins' story -- one of my favorites -- had no ghost at all, except for the teller of the tale being "haunted by a candle". But the candle had nothing whatsoever to do with the house. The same with Gaskell's story of a young man out to wring every shilling possible from his elderly parents. In fact only one story offered any kind of ghost -- Dickens' tale -- yet even then, his character states that the ghost was in fact himself and not of the room itself.

Not exactly what I expected when I read the title The Haunted House in the book store. Those words elicit cold chills as the floorboards creek in an empty hallway, as the gentle pressure of a hand touches your shoulder though no one else is in the room, as a faint voice whispers close to your ears but you turn to find empty air. So yes, I was a bit disappointed. In a different context, the stories work well, but as ghost stories in a haunted house...not really.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Gone

Last night, CS, joela and I re-started our regular Tuesday Night Out with the Boys, but with CS' change in work schedule, he wouldn't be able to make it to the restaurant until 8PM, leaving me with a few hours to kill. So I decided to spend that time efficiently by shopping. Besides, the $50 gift certificate from South Coast Plaza I'd received for Christmas was burning a hole in my pocket.

I parked beneath what was formerly know as "Crystal Court" but finally became incorporated after a foot bridge connecting it with the main part of the mall was built a few years ago. I browsed through the Borders, disappointedly searching their two-shelf gay fiction section for something interesting (in contrast, their Christina fiction takes up two complete bookcases), then rode the escalators to the third floor in order to use the foot bridge. In the main mall buildings, I noticed few shoppers -- which isn't too surprising for a Tuesday evening -- and very few boarded up or closed stores. Versace, William-Sonoma, Michael Kors, Abercrombie & Fitch all brightly lit with the doors wide open, bored salesman falling asleep behind the registers, and the occasional Japanese tourist chatting into a cell phone while dismissing dresses.

What a contrast to The Block. I arrived there about 7 PM so I could spend a little time browsing the shops before heading for the restaurant a few blocks away. I walked toward the Hilo Hattie's and almost stopped in my tracks when I noticed the darkened windows. Walking closer, I didn't hear the usual Hawaiian music softly wafting through the outside speakers and feared the worst. According to the sign taped to the door, the Hilo Hattie's had indeed closed. All the fixtures, the Hawaiian shirts, the boxes of chocolate-covered macadamia nuts, the CD stands of specialty music -- all gone. That store had been at The Block since it opened, a huge mainstay of the shopping area. I headed for the Virgin Megastore. Shock again! Nothing in the darkened store. No shelves or bins filled with music and DVDs, no MGMT blasting through the speakers or skater punks rummaging through the t-shirts. On the other side of the mall, empty storefronts lined both sides, giving the entire area a creepy, ghost town feel. However, many shoppers with bag after bag walked along the shops, laughing and chatting into cell phones, moreso than at South Coast Plaza. And with the exception on one darkened, empty restaurant, all the food places were jam packed with customers. I wandered around in a dazed, zombie-like state, the reality of the recession really hitting home.

I returned to my car after 15 minutes, drove to the restaurant and sat in the parking lot letting it all sink in until joela arrived about 30 minutes later.

Monday, January 12, 2009

A Place, Where Nobody Dared To Go
Friday night around 11:30, CM and I made our way to the Art Theatre to catch the midnight showing of a filmdom classic: Xanadu. Christopher from the blog Clever Fool was gracious enough to join us, chatting in front of the theater while waiting for a few more friends to arrive. And while we chatted, a strange, tall man dressed in a bright neon blue cardigan kept inching his way closer to our conversation, nodding his head in agreement, and finally breaking in to ask about my Xanadu t-shirt. I politely told him that it was from the stage show in La Jolla and tried to return to CM and Christopher, but he kept asking odd questions with a constant nodding of his head. I offered quick answers and abruptly shouted hello to RG and SK as they arrived. "He was making me anxious," CM said after the Cardigan Man disappeared into the theater.

Thankfully, Cardigan Man was the oddest part of the night, even counting the roller derby girls and the drunken twink on roller skates who glided down the aisles. Our little group commandeered an entire row, with Christopher throwing his arm across the last empty seat as Cardigan Man passed by, looking for a vacancy.

Before the movie began, the theater held a raffle. CM practically climbed over us to reach the aisle as his number was called. His prize?: Olivia Newton-John's 2008 Christmas album with 23 songs!!! The lights dimmed to show a short reel about a new skating shop just opened in Long Beach and then, the movie began. Everyone roared and applauded as the mural of the Muses appeared at the end of the alley, magically coming to life and the Muses dancing away into the smog of Los Angeles. Audience members threw comments out about the movie, à la Mystery Science Theater 3000, sang along to almost every song, emphasized the gay undertones between Sonny Malone and Danny McGuire, laughed at the horrific clothing and hair styles (I swore one of the Muses had a penis attached to the top of her head). A few moviegoers even dressed as their favorite characters. Not quite Rocky Horror Picture Show, but it definitely had potential.

And as an added bonus, the owner of the roller skating shop served everyone a piece of roller skating cake as we left the theater. What more could you ask for: food, friends, and fun!!

Friday, January 09, 2009

The Wonders of the Internet

Facebook: Yes, I was trepidacious at first about joining. Since posting my reluctance, I have befriended roughly 100 people, many of whom are fellow bloggers!! And at least four high school classmates. The initial messages weren't as bad as I thought they would be, and I've been able to reconnect with the girl who lived across the street from me during elementary and high school. (She swears that I used to make her bed for every morning after I showed up at her house. Me?! I think not; I never even made my own bed!!)

--

Goldstar: Monday evening when I logged on at home to check messages, I found a strange message about one of my favorite discount ticket sites. (Okay, the only discount ticket site I've used.) It appeared that their media department had found my blog, liked that I wrote about shows and things going on in the area, and wanted to reward me with a badge and a few other goodies. I've been an active user on the Goldstar site since 2005, but, sceptic that I am, I double and triple checked to make sure this was a legitimate email. Which it was so I now have a nice little badge in the new "Badges and Buttons" section in my links area, and I'm getting some free stuff.

--

LibraryThing: One of the nifty little benefits of joining LibraryThing is their "Early Reviewers Club". Each month, publishers give a certain number of Advanced Readers' Copies of books to dole out to members of the Reviewers Club. The catches are that you must add your name to the pool for each book (sometimes in upwards of 300 people requesting a particular title), and you must have written a few reviews on the LibraryThing site. Two such books found their way into my hot little hands, the most recent of which I reviewed in my previous post. And being the nice guy that I am, I wrote an e-mail to the Marketing Manager at St. Martin's Press thanking him for the opportunity to read the book and providing a link to my post. He wrote back, stating that he enjoyed my review and wanted to know if I would like to check out a few more soon-to-be- released books.

Did he need to ask twice?? I didn't immediately send a response, not wanting to sound too eager and wondering if drool spots would transmit over the internet. He did write back to say that he forwarded my information to the correct people. I'm still a bit hesitant, but if the books start coming....

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Book Review: Patient Zero

A package arrived for me about two weeks ago from containing an Advanced Readers' Copy of a soon-to-be-released horror novel from author Jonathan Maberry. Not just any horror novel, for this one was to be packed from page to page with ZOMBIES. Nothing I enjoy more than reading about the living dead wreaking havoc somewhere in the world -- well, except for a spine-tingling, eerie ghost story.

"When you have to kill the same terrorist twice in one week, then there's either something wrong with your skills or something wrong with your world.

And there's nothing wrong with my skills."


Baltimore Detective Joe Ledger thinks that the two bullets he fired into the back of the terrorist Javad Mustapha during a warehouse raid should have done the trick. But when three government agents show up, escort him to a nondescript building and lock him in a room with the recently re-animated Mustapha, he discovers that he couldn't be further from the truth. Thanks to the results of his second meeting with Mustapha -- actually, a test to see if has the "right stuff" -- Ledger is recruited by the mysterious Mr. Church to join a new, ultra-secret organization known as the Department of Military Science, or DMS. Mustapha, now known as Patient Zero, is the first inkling of a new line of bio-terrorism, one that can turn everyday people into zombies, and it's up to Ledger and the DMS to stop the threat before someone releases it in the U.S.

When I first began to read, I inwardly groaned at the quick portrait of Ledger -- and even his therapist Dr. Rudy Sanchez -- as mens' men, rugged, handsome and always on the prowl for a good-looking woman. Images of those semi-cheesy Sci-Fi Channel movies popped into my head. But, after Ledger and Sanchez come face to face with the new threat, something changes, a very subtle shift in both their attitudes, and my preconceived notions disappear. Each still has a bit of that he-man swagger, but it's rational, tempered by what they've seen, by what they know could possibly happen. And I found my self liking them, wanting them to succeed, cheering and fretting with each run-in with the zombies.

On the other side of the character coin, the villains in Patient Zero also started out as the typical "businessman out to make a buck no matter what" and Middle Eastern extremists. Sebastian Gault runs the world's largest pharmaceutical manufacturing operation, and together with the terrorist El Mujahid and his mad-scientist wife Amirah, he plans on introducing the new infection into the U.S., but for purely monetary reasons. But just like Ledger and Sanchez, just when I want to hate him, he realizes what El Mujahid and Amirah are really up to and takes action. Totally unexpected and a great twist, in my opinion.

The time frame of the story runs only a few weeks, and Maberry creates a real-time feel with the pacing. Very little time elapses between Ledger's second run-in with Patient Zero and his first major zombie fight. The characters don't get a rest and neither does the reader! I was glued to the action, not being able to put the book down because I needed to know what was going to happen next. (I actually read the last 300 pages within a few hours last Saturday, in one sitting.) As for the "battle" scenes, the detailed settings, the cautious approach by Ledger and his team, the zombies themselves being ordinary people, the violent and bloody fights -- just amazing. And I will say, for a horror novel, Patient Zero does a nice job of adding a realistic political thriller into the mix.

I thoroughly enjoyed Ledger and the DMS and hope that this will be the first of many adventures. Oh, and if you're interested in reading a story connected to Patient Zero, St. Martin's Press offers a taste here: Countdown.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

The Mirror Has Two Facebooks

Social networking has never been one of my strong suits. At a party, I usually hang around the food table and snack or nurse a glass of water or soda while standing unobtrusively next to a door. In case I need to make a quick getaway.

For 2009, my company created a new initiative to get everyone hooked into Facebook, and I held out joining while everyone in my office created profiles, uploaded pictures and commented on each others' statuses. Then one day a few weeks ago, my boss walked over to my desk and asked when I was going to setup my own page. I tried to reason that I already had a blog and a profile on LinkedIn. My information is already out there and accessible.

What I didn't mention was that I was afraid of requests from certain people, classmates from high school with whom I haven't spoken or tried to contact since graduation. Mostly because I detested high school. Not necessarily because I was gay -- at the time, I didn't have a word for my facination with the quarterback, and if I ever showed any gay traits, no one teased me about them. No, I was the odd kid, the band geek in glasses who felt different from everyone else. I tried to hard to fit in, doing stupid things to win praise which ultimately failed: joining the Associated Student Body council, the Academic Decathalon team, badgering my music teacher to nominate me for any honor band or orchestra that appeared, enrolling in Advanced Placement classes in subjects I didn't like because everyone else was. And no one noticing so that by my senior year, I longed for graduation and the chance to put those high school days behind me without looking back.

My boss didn't press the issue of joining Facebook. But a few weeks ago, I registered, created a profile, uploaded a picture, and soon, connected with dozens of co-workers, friends, my cousin and his partner in Spain, and a few blogging friends. I even did the unimaginable and checked to see if anyone from high school was using the program. I recognized many of the names and faces, but held myself back from contacting them.

Then, about a week ago, one of them contact me through Facebook. And I let the invitation sit in my inbox, stressing and waffling over what to do. It's been 20 years, my inner voice screamed. Get over it! And I clicked the "confirm" button.

Since then, I've connected with two more classmates. Well, I've accepted their friend requests and written a brief note to one of them to say hi and to catch up. I'll just have to see what happens.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Setting Goals

I no longer make New Years' resolutions. I rarely, if ever, wind up sticking to them so why put myself through the hassle? And because I fail to follow through with many of them, the guilt tends to pile on. So this year, instead of resolutions, I'm setting goals for myself.

Goals don't have a set time period so if I don't reach my goal by then end of the year, I can continue progressing toward its end during the next days, weeks, months, etc. Whereas if I break my resolution, then I might as well forget about it for the rest of the year and wait until next New Years to plan on resolving it again.

My goals for this year?

  1. Lose 10 lbs.
  2. Exercise more (the gym, walking, etc.)
  3. Cook more rather than eat out.
  4. Write a story to be submitted for publication. (CM suggested sending one of my book reviews to a magazine. Hmm....)
  5. Write better blog posts

With regards to that last goal, I faltered already with that last post about The Spirit. And I knew when I hit the "publish" button that it wasn't up to my usual posts. Too quick and dismissive. But I posted anyway and have no intention of deleting it. It will serve as a reminder for me of how not to write a post.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Movie Review: The Spirit

To celebrate the actual New Years Day, we drove to Huntington Beach to see The Spirit, one of the late December releases that we actually wanted to see. Even in spite of the negative reviews. We both enjoyed the look and feel of Frank Miller's other movies, Sin City and 300, so a few less-than-cheerful words from professional critics wasn't go to stop us. And since our friend RG wasn't doing anything other than housecleaning that day, we invited him to join us.
A plainclothes cop makes a call from a deserted waterfront to The Spirit, telling him that something's going down, something involving The Octopus. The Spirit answers that he's on his way, donning his black mask, black clothes and bright red tie, then runs and jumps his away through Central City, stopping briefly to help a woman in distress before reaching the waterfront. Once there, he finds the cop who called, lying in a pool of blood with two bullet holes to the chest. But before he can find out what happened, The Octopus gleefully attacks, taunting The Spirit with the clues as to who he really is while the two battle each other to exhaustion. The Octopus makes his getaway, leaving The Spirit with unanswered questions as to his origins.

And at that point, I lost quite a bit of interest in the film. The script was terrible, coming across as a sad attempt at filmnoirspeak but devoid of the appeal that Humprey Bogart or James Cagney brought to similar words. Most of the acting was stiff, especially from Scarlett Johansson as The Octopus' assistant Silken Floss; she can do -- and has done -- so much better. Though I will say that I liked Samuel L. Jackson's over-the-top Octopus. He seemed to delight in the corny dialogue and made me like his character. And yes, Gabriel Macht was a decent Spirit. I just wish he would have cleared his throat every so often to get rid of that phlegmy sound.

On a good note, I loved the art direction. The muted pastels bordering on black and white, the emphasis on the color red, the comic book style of the movie.

But that wasn't enough to win me over, and I couldn't wait to run from the theater after it was all over.

We discussed The Spirit on the walk back to the car, and I was outvoted in my claim that this was probably the worst film of 2008. CM, though not a huge fan of it, did enjoy himself and the cheesiness of it all; RG loved the story, the action, almost everything about it.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Easing in the New Year

New Year's Eve was a pleasant stress-free time once I made it home from work. Traffic wasn't too heavy so I reached the apartment much quicker that I thought I would, with plenty of time to slice the pumpkin roll I made for the dinner party that evening. CM arrived a bit later, and we tidied up before trying to be fashionably late to the party.

And by "fashionably", I mean 15 minutes.

A few others were already there, snacking on the spinach-artichoke dip and other goodies while the enchiladas baked in the oven. We hugged our hellos, exchanged the remaining few Christmas gifts, and chatted about Disney annual passes and handjobs. During the middle of the laughter, some new faces arrived. They glanced into the room for a quick examination of us, then headed the other way down the hall to the kitchen. Where they hid themselves for most of the dinner. It wasn't until they had to leave, to go to another party, that they briefly introduced themselves then dashed away.

We took that as our cue to leave as well, and the remaining partiers headed for a pub crawl of the gay bars along Broadway. Starting at the overpacked Paradise in which we were forced into a corner and couldn't move except toward the exit, we stopped at tem all, commandeering a table at the Brit for at least an hour before moving to the smoke-filled Mineshaft, to the sardine-like Falcon and finally ending at the Sweetwater where we counted down the seconds until 2009. Ballons popped, champagne poured, kisses abounded, a young girl passed out on the pool table -- a very nondescipt but fun evening.

We strolled back toward the apartment in the fog shortly after midnight, listening as the myriad fireworks exploded all around.