Saturday, October 31, 2009

How To Spend a Day Off, Pt. 2

5. Eat early! After the movie, we headed for the La Brea Bakery -- ham and cheese panini for me; turkey and avocado on sourdough for Caesar -- deciding it best to grab something to eat while the rest of the family suffered the Southern California freeways. Good thing, too, as we didn't enter California Adventure until 7:30. They were starving so we stood in one of the candy lines with the kids while their parents bought hot dogs.

6. Enjoy the Decorations Disney did go all out this year with the Halloween décor. Giant ghostly Mickeys and glowing pumpkins were scattered about the walkways. A large candy corn streamer graced the mini-Golden Gate Bridge the park entrance. The Tower of Terror was bathed in a midnight purple glow with projections of ghost and black cats popping up while guests dropped down the elevator shafts.

Disney projected images of ghosts, cats, the word "Boo!" spinning uncontrollably, pumpkins and other ghoulish delights along the walkways and the buildings. Kids ran amok chasing the spirals and other haunts as they walked along, and the adults pointed and laughed at all the creepy fun. At some spots, loud music thumped away while costumed kids danced the Monster Mash or the Chicken Dance, sometimes even dragging their parents onto the floor. (I think Caesar's sister had more fun than her granddaughter at the two dance areas we encountered. Not to mention little Lily who kicked her feet and clapped though she was stuck in her stroller.)

Of course, they also offered many opportunities for pictures with Disney characters:



7. It's all about the candy. Upon entering the park, every guest was handed a smallish plastic bag decorated with a scene from Up on one side and Snow White and the Seven Dwarves on the other, just like the one Uglier Betty's holding in the above picture. Even for a such a small bag, I didn't think Disney would give away enough candy to fill it halfway. Au contraire! Each bag was almost filled to the brim by the time we left, and believe me, we ate some candy as the night progressed. And Cheez-Its. And raisins. And Craisins. We'll be a sugar coma for the next few weeks!!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

How To Spend a Day Off, Pt. 1

1. Sleep in. What a glorious feeling to awaken at 8:30 on a Wednesday morning, still cuddled beneath the warm covers while a chill wind blows through the trees. No thoughts of work or emails or phone calls.

2. Take a stroll. After finally forcing ourselves from bed and quick showers, we wandered along 4th Street to catch a mid-morning breakfast at one of our favorite little bistros -- only to discover the doors closed and locked. Ladders stood among the paint cans as we glanced through the windows, and something could be heard clanking against the sink in the small kitchen. Undeterred, we kept heading up the street to another neat restaurant, Kafé Neo.

On each of the tables in the back row was a plate of food though no customers. Instead, at the table closest to the small back hallway, a man sat in a chair, camera poised to take careful aim at a plate while another man cautiously spritzed water on the food. The waitress pointed to all the empty tables, and we chose the one closest to the door. We each ordered what had to be one of the tastiest breakfast burritos: fluffy scrambled eggs, potatoes, gooey melted cheese, applewood smoked bacon and maple sausage. I think that was the first time I purposely ate something slow so as to savor it.

3. Shop!. We stopped by the AIDS Assistance League Store to find a last minute detail for Caesar's costume. The poncho was bunching along the neck so a scarf or something to wrap around that area seemed the perfect solution. But it had to clash, and in a bin near the back of the store, we found one buried near the bottom: red and pink stripes with white pompons at each end. Perfect!

4. A Matinée Sounds Good. We planned on meeting Caesar's sister, niece and husband, their two girls and their Grandfather at Disneyland for Mickey's Trick-or-Treat Party. Though it didn't begin until 6:30, I insisted on heading over early because Southern California traffic stinks. (Good thing, too, as the rest of the group didn't arrive until 7:30 thanks to traffic!)

Since we were early, we had time to catch a movie, one that I'd been longing to see since I caught the trailer on-line: Paranormal Activity.
Micah and Katie recently moved into a home together in San Diego and, since the move, they've both heard mysterious scraping noises and poundings coming from somewhere in the house. Micah decides to buy a high-end video camera to record anything odd that happens while they sleep. As the nights pass, the mysterious sounds increase, doors slam, and Katie begins to feel even more uncomfortable with Micah's meddling with the unknown.

I enjoyed this movie. The pacing was perfect, slow-moving with little bits of increasing activity so as to build to the horrific final scene. Micah Sloat and Katie Featherston play themselves and manipulate the camera themselves throughout most of the film. The work well together and with their ability to improvise events, lend quite a bit of credibility to the story. (Katie was fantastic!) What surprised me most, though, was the level of special effects for such a small budget -- the footprints and the ouija board, especially.

The movie held only two drawbacks for me. First, the psychic -- when he first appears, he does a great job helping to give Micah and Katie some very useful information about what's happening in the house; when he appears the second time, it's almost a throwaway scene, not really necessary because it didn't seem believable. It didn't advance the story at all from what I could tell. The second was Micah. Good acting, but his character becomes the clichéd boyfriend found in almost every horror movie -- goes against what everyone tells him and acts like a total jackass toward his girlfriend for no reason.

But I can overlook those because the movie as a whole worked for me.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

In Search of the Great Pumpkin

Sunday, we joined our friend and her two-year-old twins at the local pumpkin patch to check out the kiddie rides, maybe pet the animals in the petting zoo, and snap a few pictures of the twins climbing the pumpkins, most of which were almost as big as them. Quite a few people out and about that night, but the kids seemed to enjoy themselves once we left the hay-filled petting zoo without either of them actually petting an animal. At least they enjoyed the train ride and the pumpkins.

Afterwards we gorged on hamburgers and French fries -- okay, they gorged on that while I stuck to my diet and munched a chicken caesar salad -- at Ruby's. And though we were greatly tempted, we resisted the pull of the pumpkin milkshakes.

Maybe next time....

Monday, October 26, 2009

Does This Zombie Make Me Look Fat?

I realize that I've been neglecting to keep my blog up-to-date regarding my umpteenth attempt at losing weight. So before delving into what we did on Saturday, I need to say that as of this morning, the display on the scale read 205.5 lbs. That's almost 10 lbs. gone since the beginning of August, and none of it has crept back to expand my belly!!!

Okay, now back to the zombies.

I drove to Huntington Beach Saturday morning for an oil change and inspection while Caesar headed for a haircut. Those were the only things scheduled for the day which left us quite a bit of time to enjoy a relaxing Saturday. But rather than lay about the apartment, we opted for a matinée showing of Zombieland at The Block.
Zombieland begins after the zombie apocalypse has already happened. Columbus, as he's called, is walking on a battered and wreckage filled highway, trying to find some easy way to get from his college town in Texas to his family back in Ohio. He meets Tallahassee, another survivor en route to Florida, and together they form a mismatched team with the hopes of both trying to remain alive and to find the last Twinkies to satisfy Tallahassee's quest. But they run into a problem in the form of Wichita and Little Rock, two women trying to make it to Playland in California because they heard it was completely free of zombies. These two women trick Columbus and Tallahassee, leaving them without a car not once, but twice. The foursome eventually does learn to somewhat trust each other as they head for California.

What I enjoyed most about this zombie movie is that it didn't start with the traditional watching a group of people slowly dying/re-animating one by one and that it didn't spend much time on how the zombie infection spread. The clever opening credits -- using slow motion scenes with the titles mixed in and being interacted with -- was quite a bit of fun (love the zombie stripper!!) and showed the zombification in a few quick minutes. Once that was done, the film could focus on the story of the four strangers trying to survive.

Another likable aspect is that Zombieland is presented like a survival manual. Columbus narrates throughout, espousing his rules to live by in the new zombie world. Such as Rule #1: Cardio. As he explains the rule, a zombie and non-zombie act it on the screen. Also, at various times, the rules text pops up showing how what's occurring on screen relates to the rules.

All the actors work well together. Jesse Eisenberg's Columbus comes across as the nerdy everyman and unlikely hero; Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin as Wichita and Little Rock make a great con artist team; and I even liked Woody Harrelson's Tallahassee and his quest for the last remaining Twinkie on Earth. Good chemistry and great comedic work. I was equally surprised to see Bill Murray -- playing himself, of all things. Totally unexpected, and incredibly funny when he first appears.

It's an all-around, fun film, nothing too horrific or graphic so I think it will appeal to many different people. We certainly enjoyed it -- and the little tag ending after the credits.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Book Review: The Dealings of Daniel Kesserich
George Kramer sets off from New York to the small California town of Smithville after hearing about the death of the wife of a former college classmate, John Ellis. Hoping to both comfort his old friend and to re-connect with both him and another classmate, Daniel Kesserich, he reaches the town and heads to Kesserich's house only to find it empty. And something else strange -- from out of nowhere, a small red stone appears on the ground. Then another a few feet away. As another appears, George follows them to an old tree. Finding that odd, he returns in time to Kesserich's house only to have it explode. However, neither Kesserich nor his remains are to be found in the debris.

In the ensuing days, George scours Smithville, trying to determine what happened to his friend but instead running into obstacles in the form of a town possibly going crazy at the same time. Inexplicable bouts of uncertainty and guilt strike everyone whom he meets -- even the local priest -- and George begins to learn that Kesserich's disappearance and the mysterious death of Ellis' wife may have something to do with the strangeness.

An intriguing blend of horror and science fiction, this early novel from Fritz Leiber is very reminiscent of the works of H.P. Lovecraft. And no surprise since Leiber was in communication with Lovecraft while writing this tale back in 1936. That may be where he gets the inspiration to use a "mad" scientist dealing trying to break into the 4th dimension -- Time -- and mixes in the dangers of tampering with the unknown. And also like a Lovecraft tale, a bit of madness is thrown into the mix, but it's revealed slowly enough that even as a reader, I wasn't completely certain that George Kramer himself hadn't fallen victim to the madness, leaving me to guess as to his own authenticity in re-counting the events.

The Dealings of Daniel Kesserich is a fun trip into science and madness of which I think fans of both Leiber and Lovecraft would be proud.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Parade

Saturday evening, Caesar and I headed to the Mark Taper Forum for a show we've both been wanting to see for some time: Parade. It originally ran on Broadway back in 1998, for less than 100 shows, but managed to snag two Tony awards for the book and the music. Like many shows that run on Broadway, I never thought the show would ever make it to the West Coast so when word surfaced that a version of the show, re-fashioned and stage din London (to much success) was to open in L.A., we bought tickets as soon as they went on sale.

The show focuses on a real event from turn-of-the-century Atlanta. A 13-year-old child laborer named Mary Phagan is strangled on the day of the Confederate Memorial Parade with her body being found on the grounds of the pencil factory in which she worked. Her supervisor at the factory, Leo Frank, is the last person to see her alive, and because he's both an educated Yankee and a Jew, the townsfolk with the backing of the newspapers and a power-hungry attorney, set out to frame Leo Frank. Throughout the investigation and trial, Frank's being a Jew becomes the centerpoint of the case: he's an outsider, a Northerner, not one of them, doesn't fit in with how regular Southern folk talk and act. It's used to turn the people of Atlanta against him, contributing in great part to his being found guilty and sentenced to death. After the trial and during his imprisonment, Frank's wife Lucille does everything in her power to get the case re-opened by the governor and to force him into re-examining the case. Leo realizes how much he really depends upon the woman whom he only considered his wife and finds himself truly falling in love with her.

Not exactly a heartwarming tale, but the show does force the audience to see how media and religious fervor can paint over the truth. (Much like what's happening today with gay marriage....)

T.R. Knight and Lara Pulver give wonderful performances as Leo and Lucille Frank, with fine voices and what seems to be a real emotional connection to their characters. The other stand out performance comes from David St. Louis as Jim Conley, an escaped convict who works at the pencil factory and uses the animosity toward Frank's being Jewish to steer any potential blame away from himself. St. Louis gives him a very smart, slick turn, making sure the audience knows that he's more in touch with what's really going on. In fact, the entire cast, including Charlotte D'Amboise, Davis Gaines and Christina Hoff, shines in this production.

Jason Robert Brown's pared down score sparkles, fitting seamlessly into the time period yet sounding modern at the same time. Many of the themes appear in different forms and with the example of The Picture Show show how the simple theme can change from childhood innocence when Mary and her beau sing it near the beginning to fear and desperation when it shows up in Frank's trial as he sings about his own innocence in the crime. Nothing is bombastic and overpowering, but they still stuck in my memory after leaving the theater.

Image from:


No, that is not me in the pic; it's the photographer.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

An Evening with Joan

We had nothing else planned for last Friday night, but I wasn't sure the e-mail was legitimate. The subject line read that I'd won two free tickets to a show; the problem was that I didn't remember entering any contest or drawing. So I phoned the theater to make sure everything was on the up and up.

When they confirmed that it was, I spoke with Caesar about the show, thinking he'd laugh it off, but he said "Why not?"

I clicked on the link in the email and within minutes printed two tickets to spend An Evening with Joan Collins.

An old persian rug covered a portion of center stage, with a high-backed chair in front of a dark wooded partition at the back right corner while a table with an old rotary phone stood at the front left corner. A large screen hung behind those, various pictures of Joan ranging from childhood through the movies and to her later days on Dynasty fading in and out. The music, surprisingly, was very contemporary: everything from Coldplay's Viva La Vida to songs by U2. And every once-in-a-while, the silhouette of Joan herself crossed in front of the projected images of herself. I glanced around the theater, watching couples and small groups wander in to find seats. It was possible that we were the youngest people in the theater.
The lights soon dimmed, and Joan stepped around the screen to applause which lasted about 5 minutes. Once the clapping began to die down, she began her monologue about her life in show biz, from her beginnings in a theatrical family -- her father was an agent, her mother a performer -- through the tail end of the Golden Age of Hollywood and into her days in television and writing best-selling novels.

Shortly after the show started, she mentioned her most famous role as Alexis Colby and stepped aside while a quick montage of her played on the screen. Not exactly a top-notch montage as many of the Dynasty of her were hidden behind other show scenes so the audience was left with images of Krystle Carrington and her shoulder pads. And while her monologue was truly interesting -- I never realized she worked with Bette Davis, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby (in a Road movie, too!) and so many others -- she spent much of the time reading from a teleprompter which made the experience seem a bit disjointed. The few moments when she simply sat in a chair and talked rather than read seemed more natural and more entertaining.

It turned out to be a fun evening, though, something we wouldn't have normally chosen to attend.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Book Review: Hangsaman
Natalie Waite prefers to live in the world created by her imagination, one in which she rules the forest or deflects questions from a determined police detective who tries in vain to make her crack. Instead, she drifts through the days leading to her departure for college, enduring her father's -- a published author -- minor criticisms of her writing and patiently listening to her mother's household woes and warnings.

Shirley Jackson's novel presents the turmoil a young seventeen-year-old girl feels, dealing with family and with the first few months on her own at an all-girls college. Natalie questions her own place in the school, wanting to fit in and to be noticed by the other, seemingly more popular girls while at the same time afraid to do anything to draw attention to her self. I remember my own first few months at college, feeling the same way, wanting so hard to mingle with new people and a new place but not knowing how to go about it, and Ms. Jackson does a fine job capturing that awkward period.

For me the strong point of Hangsaman are the characters. From Natalie's father, Arnold Waite, a published author who seems to delight in pointing out his daughter's flaws with her writing and casually putting down his wife with little statements here and there; her mother, who seems to have fallen into the dutiful wife role while trying to prevent her daughter from making the same mistakes she did; to Professor Arnold Langdon who recently married one of his students and now finds her intolerable, wanting instead to flirt with more of the girls in his classes; and Tony, another outcast much like herself with whom Natalie finds a common bond but which turns sinister -- all the characters are strong, definite presences, each either aiding or thwarting Natalie as she wends her way through college.

As for the story itself, I found it difficult to follow. Early in the novel, Natalie attends against a dinner party thrown by her father with a number of supposedly important literary figures from the area and other notables. Toward the end of the party, Natalie wanders into the woods near her home and finds herself confronted by a male guest from the party. They talk for a few pages, then Natalie wakes up thinking about the awful night she had, almost wondering if it happened at all. But nothing's ever divulged about what happened. And later on, something happens between the girl Tony and Natalie, but it's never explained, and the story continues as if it were common knowledge. These apparent gaps left me scratching my head and re-reading sections to make sure I hadn't missed anything. I felt that throughout much of the book, this sense that something wasn't being told completely so I was never quite sure that the story was whole and complete.

It wasn't quite what I expected from Ms. Jackson, after having read The Haunting of Hill House and The Road Through the Wall. For Shirley Jackson fans, I think this would be a good book to read, if only because of the characters.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Someone Called Me....

The phone rings. I give my non-patented spiel thanking the caller for calling. This is the response:

"Yeah, uh, someone called me from this number."

I resist the urge to repeatedly bang my head against my desktop.

With most people now using cell phones, these calls occur more and more frequently. The cell phone rings, a number displays on the screen, and instead of checking for a voicemail, the person hits re-dial.

I am not a mindreader, and chances are, most people answering phones aren't. (Unless you happen to be "Radar" O'Reilly.)

Take the time to identify yourself

Using the call response above as an example, don't assume the person answering the phone recognizes your voice or that he/she is the original caller. In an office environment, incoming calls are most likely routed through a Receptionist (or Office Manager or Administrative Assistant or Gatekeeper) who deals with hundreds of calls a day.

Listen to the voicemail BEFORE returning the call

I loathe clicking on the intercom and asking if anyone in the office called "John Doe" in part because I have to stop a project on which I'm working to interrupt the entire office. Think of the impression it leaves about the return caller. Not to mention the potential ire being raised by the original caller who spent all that time leaving the message in the first place.

Many a headache can be prevented simply by listening to the recorded message. Be informed before returning the call. Who called, why he/she called, special instructions, driving directions, answers to questions -- all could potentially be mentioned in a voicemail. The message might not even warrant a callback, saving an extra call (not to mention potential charges on the cell phone).


Borrowed from my own blog post over at The Aquent Blog.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Cake!


We spent yesterday in Pico Rivera, celebrating the First Birthday of one of Caesar's great-nieces. This nifty cake was crafted by the birthday girl's father: he baked the cake, created the buttercream, layered the fondant and even glued on the cookies. And it was pretty good, if I do say so myself.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Book Review: Autobiography of a Family Photo
Jacqueline Woodson's novel is a beautifully crafted coming-of-age story. She tells her tale in short chapters, each representing a photograph that triggers the narrator to relate what was happening at that point in time: her older, effeminate brother Troy leaving home to fight in Vietnam; falling in love for the very first time with a neighbor girl; the birth of her younger brother who is half white, half black. With each successive photo, she begins to reveal the slow disintegration of her family and how, instead of allowing those pitfalls to stand in her way, she stubbornly presses on, questioning the way the world works and discovering her own identity as a brave young teenager.

Recommendation: Read it!

Friday, October 09, 2009

Who's That Girl?

Lately when I buy music, I find myself re-connecting with the CD versions of albums and cassettes I owned in high school. I now own copies of Madonna's True Blue and I'm Breathless CDs, along with Bangles, B-52s and my all-time favorites, Eurythmics. One of my birthday gifts happened to be Touch from Eurythmics, and it's been spinning in my car's CD player ever since I freed the CD from the shrink wrap. I'd forgotten how much of the album I already knew and sang along to the island-tinged Right By Your Side and reveling in the strings of Here Comes the Rain Again. Such a great CD that it triggered memories of the videos from the days when MTV actually played them, and I re-discovered this classic (which I can't embed): Who's That Girl?.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

An Eggplant Grows in Tomorrowland

That's right. In the outer fringes of Tomorrowland, I spied this dark purple beauty hidden among the greenery. It seems that when Disneyland updated Tomorrowland, dragging it kicking and screaming from the '80s, they opted for a more environmentally friendly future. Walking around this future space, I saw tiny red peppers, orange trees, sugar beets, various types of lettuce, bushes of thyme, and much more used as landscaping around the attractions. I'm not certain the park uses any of this homegrown food, but I thought it neat to see.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Birthday Happenings

Just my luck, my birthday plans didn't go quite as I had hoped. Instead of visiting the Bolsa Chica Wetlands on Thursday as I wanted, I sprawled on the couch while my sore throat and hacking cough went to town. Leave it to me to get sick on vacation. Well, at least it gave me a chance to catch up on some movies. I finally watched the animated quasi-documentary Waltz with Bashir that arrived from Blockbuster back in July. The film follows the director as he tries to piece together what happened during the 1986 war in Lebanon when about 3,000 Palestinians were massacred. A very powerful and imaginative film that I enjoyed. After that, I caught a Chinese horror film called The Re-Cycle (Gwai wik) using OnDemand. I loved the visuals and would have been better able to follow the story if the sound hadn't cut out with only 30 minutes left, or even if the subtitles had been created by someone who understood either English or Chinese.

Friday, I managed to visit with my folks, enjoying a nice lunch at the Elephant Bar and spending a few hours just hanging around. My Mom has now lost roughly 50 lbs. I couldn't believe how fantastic she looked, and she's managed to talk my Dad into visiting the Club House every morning to exercise in the pool. Way to go, Mom!!

Nothing was going to keep me away from Disneyland on Saturday, both my birthday and Gay Days. Caesar and I started the morning with a character breakfast in the park, dining with such guests as Captain Hook, Rafiki, Tigger and Minnie Mouse. While waiting for our friends to join us, we stopped by Space Mountain to pick up FastPasses. (Good thing, too, because when we ventured back around our designated time, the wait was 80 minutes.) With those little slips of paper in hand, we then headed to the Haunted Mansion to check out the holiday updating.

The rest of the day we spent wandering around both Disneyland and California Adventure with our friends, taking advantage of the surprisingly short lines considering the sea of red shirts, adding more vinyl Mickeys to our menagerie, and enjoying being out of the house rather than cooped up in quarantine. The only downside: the "scary" updating of Space Mountain seemed pretty cheesy. We could see the monitors/screens, and the creature wasn't terribly terrifying.

The highlight: Caesar and I sneaked away for dinner for two at Hook's Pointe. Caesar ordered the halibut, I tried the salmon, and we both relaxed while eating incredible food. If only I could cook like that....

We didn't stick around for the fireworks, thanks to my illness, but I would call the birthday weekend a success.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Book Review: Anathema Rhodes: Dreams
Jodi Rhodes thought he'd woken from a bad dream, but the lingering pain at the center of his chest and the sensation of something growing on his bed won't disappear once he opened his eyes. And the feelings only grow worse thanks to a disturbing phone call from his girlfriend Tiari. Hearing her distress, Jodi, quickly catches a cab hoping to reach her before something terrible happens. Something that could change the course of the world, however, has other plans for him, not allowing him to reach that destination.

The main issue I had with Anathema Rhodes: Dreams was the amount and type of adjectives used. Yes, it sounds odd, but take for example, a sentence from the story:

"The truculent bleating of the taxi's radio dissolved into a low recalcitrant grumble, and soon, its chatter was displaced by the sound of my own desultory thoughts." p. 62

I freely admit to searching the dictionary for three of the words in that sentence -- truculent, recalcitrant and desultory. I've heard them before but never used them in general conversation with friends and family and co-workers. It was almost as if the author were saying "I can use big words, and if you don't know what they mean, you shouldn't be reading this book." This feeling frustrated me to no end as I continued reading.

The characters took a tip from the wordiness. They each spoke as if seated in a study group of pseudo intellectuals debating metaphysics and the spiritual state of the world as a whole. It didn't matter if the character was a Spanish college professor, a child, a monster (or whatever the creatures were) or the main character Jodi -- they each sounded like the same person and came across emotionally flat.

And yet, the times when I felt the author stopped concentrating on the words and focused on the story, he created some fantastic visual impressions: the chapter describing Adrianna P.'s encounter with a strange man beneath her bed who only wants her to come and play with him; Tiari's horrific encounter with multiple unformed versions of herself melded to the walls or trying to claw across the floor though most of the body didn't make it through from whatever dimension it called home; the haunting vision of hundreds of ghostly children slowly filing down the stairs and through the front door of an apartment -- amazing scenes that I can still picture even two weeks after having finished the book.

As for the story itself, I'm still not quite sure what it was about. In between the fantastic visuals, most of the characters discussed the state of the world, how two versions of the same God actually existed -- one from which all things came and one created by Man, how one of them needed to be destroyed. It came across more as a lecture rather than a story, more highbrow than what the average reader would enjoy.