Wednesday, January 31, 2007

I'm nothing if not a follower

OK, so once again, I'm going to steal one of Southern Boy's toys and make my own Blog Cloud!

It's nice to know Patricia Heaton and Wallace Shawn are such prominent presences for me, and I obviously will never escape the shadow of Brazoria County (where they're mauling cats now).

From a writer's perspective, it's also nice not to see some of those words I consciously know I use too much. In fact, it's always good when you're mostly seeing nouns and verbs, and not so many (weak) adjectives and (weaker) adverbs.

Although I'm sure Jesus is thrilled my name came up so much bigger than his.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Should I point fingers?

Once again, I've been negligent. This time, however, I have someone to blame. Or somewhere, rather.

See, I've been sidelined with food poisoning the last few days. And I'm pretty certain the fault lies with a certain Little Italy restaurant with rather odd-tasting clams. Not 100 percent certain, unfortunately -- as it's hard to tell with food poisoning bacteria's gestation period -- so I won't name the restaurant. Those anti-libel classes in J-school were worth something.

At any rate, I'm back, now that I can once again keep down water. I'm seeing the final part of "The Coast of Utopia" tomorrow and will have my thoughts on the entire series. I'll certainly be staying away from shellfish until then.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

RIP: My cultural relevance

Well, it finally happened. The Oscar nominations have come out, and I have seen not one movie nominated for best picture. This has not happened since I acquired my driver's license.

Oh, I had every intention of seeing "The Queen," but I never got around to it. The same with "Little Miss Sunshine." The others I had heard middling things about and were even less a priority.

The most heralded movie I have seen this year, in fact, was "An Inconvenient Truth." I saw "The Good Shepherd" while at my parents' during the holidays and "The Devil Wears Prada" and "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" both as in-flight movies. That's it. In fact, and I stand a good chance of permanently losing my gay card for this, I've not even seen "Dreamgirls" yet.

I don't even have a "movies" tag for this blog yet. I'm having to add one for this post.

I saw movies all the time in Texas and in New Jersey, but now that I live in New York, I just never go. My dates never seem to want to go there, and I feel more conspicuous going to movies alone here than I did in the styx. At any rate, I'd better catch up fast or risk looking like that crotchety old man who longs for the days of the code before I attend the Oscar party to which I've been invited. I have to fly back to Texas briefly next month, so who knows? Maybe "Letters From Iwo Jima" will be my in-flight movie.

I know I'm a few days late in even commenting on the Oscars. Somehow, that seems appropriate this year.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Only u can prevent frawd

It seems the phishers have moved away from PayPal and ebay and are now misrepresenting Amazon. I received this gem in my work inbox this morning:

At the last reviewing at your amazon account we discovered that your information is inaccurate. We apologize for this but because most frauds are possible because we don't have enough information about our clients, we require this verification. Please login and reenter your personal information.

Please follow this link to update your personal information:
Link removed by moi

(To complete the verification process you must fill in all the required fields)

Please note: If you don't update your information within next 48 hours , we will be forced to suspend your account untill you have the time to contact us by phone.

We apreciate your support and understanding, as we work together to keep amazon market a safe place to trade. Thank you for your attention on this serious matter and we apologize.

Jeff Bezos
Founder & CEO

Wow! Not only does Jeff Bezos personally send out every mundane email about every account, but he also misspelled "appreciate," writes like Borat talks, didn't capitalize his company's name and even invented a new name for it: "amazon market." I'd sell off all my Amazon stock, but I have to admit that it's also pretty amazing that they managed to find me at my work address, since that's not even the one I use for my Amazon account.

Honestly, anyone who falls for phishing schemes now doesn't deserve to have a computer. Or money.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Gay dating in the styx (part 2), or why I rarely watch American Idol

When I moved to South Jersey, I thought the dating field would improve. After all, Atlantic City is a well-known city, important enough to be included on USA Today weather maps, right?

Wrong. The scene in Atlantic City consisted of one rather creepy and deteriorating bar, so my options centered largely around the hour drive to Philadelphia. In other words, not a whole lot different than my Brazoria County/Houston situation. Which leads me to how I met Cary.

One of my frequent haunts in Philadelphia was karaoke night at the club Pure, and during one visit along with some friends from Houston, we walked in to here the most butchered version of "Memory" from "Cats" that I had ever heard. It turned out that the guy who was singing it, however, was attractive enough, and seeing as I was having a dry spell, I decided to give out my phone number -- against my friends' warnings.

Our major date consisted of me being invited to an office party of his in one of the more rural areas of South Jersey. He was a substitute teacher, so most of his colleagues were middle-aged, married women. Not exactly my usual demographic for a Saturday night, but they seemed nice enough.

There was liquor aplenty at this party, and Cary seemed to find every drop of it. Jello shots, wine, hard liquor all blended into the Long Islandest of iced teas for him. And then the karaoke machine came out.

The teachers did karaoke a bit differently, in that mostly they just sang along together to the tape rather than have one person actually sing in the microphone. After most had lost interest, Cary, somehow, managed to find a CD of disco tunes, whereupon he took to the center of the room and belted through "Native New Yorker" four or five times in a row. And if I thought the rendition of "Memory" had been bad, the drinks combined with the fact that he didn't even know this particular song made this much, much worse. To him, however, each performance was better than the last. The rest of the teachers looked on aghast, a few leaning over to me to make sure I indeed would be the one driving that night.

I managed to get him back to Atlantic City and shove him on the train to Philadelphia, whereupon, from the cryptic voice mail I got later, he seemed to have passed out and missed his bus. I later found out that he found himself a full-time boyfriend whom he eventually beat up, and he then checked himself into AA.

Now. Based on that experience, I find myself in complete agreement with Lone Star Times' David Benzion's thoughts on American Idol. While many of the horrid singers are worth a belly laugh, I can't help but think that there are some dark, dark traits that often come along with that level of delusion. Plus -- how many bare-bones, generic versions of "I Can't Help Myself" do we really need to hear?

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

What I didn't do for love

I finally got around to seeing the revival of "A Chorus Line" (thanks for the Christmas present, mom!). It's already been reviewed to death by critics, fans and detractors alike, so I don't have that much to add on the particulars. Opinion-wise, what it has seemed to boil down to is that those who can remember the original are a lot less likely to like this revival.

Well, I was three years and a month shy of being born when the original opened and about two years shy of my first trip to New York when it closed. My exposure has been the original cast recording, the dreary film version and an overall enjoyable revival at Theatre Under the Stars in Houston a few years ago, so from that perspective, I rather enjoyed this production.

There were several cast standouts: Alisan Porter (best remembered as the title character in the schmaltzy "Curly Sue" film) as the ugly duckling Bebe, James T. Lane as the kinetic Richie, Jeffery Schecter as the talented guido-runt Mike and Cryssie Whitehead as the tone deaf Christine. Really no weak links in the cast. And it's hard to believe, but this was my first time to ever see Charlotte d'Amboise live. I'll agree with those who have said that "The Music and the Mirror" was not the show-stopper it could have been, but -- well, it still did.

Seeing this show in whatever form has always been a bittersweet experience for me, even though I was never a dancer. Theatre was always a central hobby of mine, and even my minor in college for a while. I've often wondered about that sliding door of what would have happened if I had chosen it as a major, or later on, as a grad student in the program in which I was accepted but skipped in favor of my masters in journalism. So I can't help but feel a little jealous of all the characters onstage. On the other hand, I wouldn't really want to be any of them, either. Except maybe the uber-hot and employed Larry (played by the uber-hot Tyler Hanes). I'd have probably ended up bitter and jaded so as to make Sheila look like Mark.

And who knows? Anne Haney didn't truly get started in show business until her 40s. Julia Sweeney was an accountant before she was an actress. And so forth.

"And so forth," meaning I'm out of examples, but you get the picture.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Jesus needs a new agent

Although I might occasionally kid about my hometown and state, I am known to defend it against rather ignorant comments from those who've never been there and assume we're all braindead hicks. News like this, however, doesn't help my case.

For those who don't want to click the link, a lady who lives about 15 miles or so from where I grew up thinks she saw Jesus appear on her laundry room floor. What's more, her minister found that news to be exciting enough to include in his sermon, and people are already stopping by to visit.

Now, far be it from me to take away whatever comfort people can find in a floor stain. But let's think of Jesus for a second. Poor guy's been appearing in grilled cheese sandwiches, on trees in tiny towns and paint drippings for too long. At the very least, he should have a venue of the caliber of, say, the Helen Hayes Theatre. Even Jackie Mason's had the chance to appear there.

Meanwhile, I have to think of the writer of said article, who is new to the paper, and presumably, to Brazoria County. Chin up, my dear. This isn't indicative of what you'll be finding in Brazoria County. If it makes you feel better, one of my first articles was about a vandal who was setting portable toilets on fire. And no, I wouldn't provide a link to that story even if I thought it was on the Web somewhere.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Returning with the souvenir of class warfare

Perhaps no photo in recent times has screamed "bring back the guillotine" better than the gluttonous, grinning shot of Exxon's Lee Raymond, gloating over the oil giant's surging profits as average Americans struggled with record gas prices. And perhaps this ever widening gap between the pay for CEOs and the pay for the rest of us -- keeping up with inflation would be nice, at least -- makes this as good as time as any for a return of Wallace Shawn's monologue "The Fever."

Shawn is probably best known to mainstream America for the nebbish losers he usually plays on sitcoms ("The Cosby Show") and films ("The Princess Bride," "Clueless"), which is unfortunate, given his equally numerous writing credits. I admittedly was not familiar with the part of his canon, but I found "The Fever" to be a challenging yet ultimately thrilling hour and a half of theatre.

The story focuses around a nameless traveler, played by Shawn himself, who is recalling one specific trip to an anonymous third-world country in the middle of a rebel uprising, in particular one night of terrifying visions and violent illness and spent on the bathroom floor. This country has shattered everything he thought he understood, everything that he thought made him happy. What made him or the Lee Raymonds of the world better than the beggar women he saw on the street? Hard work? No, it really boils down to luck.

Liberal guilt might not seem like the best topic for a 90-minute monologue, but Shawn's natural storytelling ability keeps it enthralling. The story fluctuates between conversational and literary, perfectly paced from beat to beat. The details of the traveler's life outside of the travels are pure banality but nonetheless so beautifully embellished that it sounds new.

The lighting design, by Jennifer Tipton, is exceptional. With the small set -- a small study that takes up only a small portion in the middle of the stage -- and limited movement by Shawn, the lighting almost works as its own set changes, transforming the traveler's study from the dingy third-world hotel room to his comfortable home world. The final darkness that envelops the stages leaves a ephemeral glow on Shawn's head that leaves just the right haunting final note.

As a nice touch, Shawn invited the audience to show up 30 minutes early to join him for champagne onstage. After the show, I'd wished the toast was after the show so that we could include a bit of discussion of what we had just seen, but it was a great idea that I'd love see more performers adopt. And -- save the yahoo whose cell phone rang a monophonic "Rondo alla Turca" for about a minute during a crucial moment in the show --I'm proud of my fellow audience members. Not one of them asked Shawn about "The Cosby Show" or "The Princess Bride."


Friday, January 12, 2007

Patricia Heaton revisited

The reviews for "The Scene" came out yesterday, and they were mostly positive -- the ones that mattered at least. The New York Times, Newsday, the Daily News and the New York Post all leaned positive on it, largely praising the acting while quibbling a bit about the play itself. A couple of theater Web sites had the most overtly negative reviews, although those reviews will have about as much impact on ticket sales as mine.

I bring this up again only because I noticed today that my dinky little review made it onto Patricia Heaton's (unofficial) Web site (scroll to the "according to the blogosphere" spot near the bottom). Ah, legitimacy!

In addition, there was a rather interesting New York Times article on Heaton a few weeks back that got a bit more into the political question. I, for one, didn't realize that the infamous stem cell ad -- which she wasn't that thrilled with anyway -- was not done directly as a response to Michael J. Fox's. As it turns out, her views might be a little more nuanced than what some think, which really shouldn't be all that surprising. I mean, when an entire news channel can boil down Nancy Pelosi's agenda into "trying to turn America into San Francisco," it's clear that understanding nuance is largely dead.

Here's another Patricia Heaton story that really doesn't have anything to do with her directly. When I was working for The Facts in Texas, I was assigned a feature section piece on the kids from "Everybody Loves Raymond." They had family who lived in Brazoria County and were in town for the holidays. All sweet, unpretentious kids. The twins, like their television counterparts, were understandably much more interested in their toys than talking to me. But Madylin, the older girl, was already consummate professional even at the young age. During our conversation, Madylin and her mother spoke rather highly of Heaton and how motherly she was to the kids on the set.

At any rate, this is all enough anecdotal evidence to convince me that Patricia Heaton is good people. So lay off her, my fellow libs! Or at least be a bit kinder in your barbs.

And I'm sure she'll sleep much better with this endorsement.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

If nothing else, at least you can smoke pot there

Two notes on my post from yesterday:

First of all, apparently Annie is not in some futuristic realm but is now in the lost city of Atlantis. Before it was lost, I wager. Which raises a few questions --Like if they had the technology to warp in Depression era redheads, why didn't they have the technology to warp out everyone before the city was destroyed? Even the Titanic took a few hours to sink. -- but I digress. At any rate, it should be fun to see what perky song of optimism Annie comes up with following the inevitable disaster.

And maybe I'll forget this deadly tragedy.
And how Sandy drowned with that lady.
More interesting, however, is that the arbitrary name I chose for my imaginary titular planet, Galbatron, is actually a Dutch electronica band. I really wanted to hear their version of Widor's organ toccata, but unfortunately, it's not available on iTunes.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The five suns of the planet Galbatron will come out tomorrow

Forgive me for stealing a page from the Comics Curmudgeon, but I caught a glimpse of the comic "Annie" in The Daily News yesterday for the first time since, well, ever. What the hell is this?

From what I can tell, Annie -- nowhere to be seen, here -- has been transported to some sort of futuristic place where men in togas, both of the bearded and non-bearded varieties, have the technology to warp in giant space octopuses. What's more, the people actually have pupils! I eagerly look forward to the adventures of Vah-Lin-Tan the Roamer and his little phallic teleporter with the spinny Saturn-looking top over the next few weeks.

And could any line be greater than: "You and your doorways into other realms! Hmph! Nothing but trouble!"?

If "Annie 2: Miss Hannigan's Revenge" had followed this plot, it would have sucked a lot less.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

On-time patrons will be seated at the discretion of the pushy

Theatre latecomers bear the brunt of ire from their fellow patrons -- including me -- but I think another group that is just annoying: the ones who, as my sister Cheryl would put it, show up early enough to put up the chairs.

A recent Charles Isherwood missive in the New York Times lamented the theme-park-like lines that snake around the touristy shows like "Hairspray" and "The Phantom of the Opera." I think the fault lies squarely at some ridiculous sort of idea that there's some sort of value in showing up early and being seated first.

Just the other day, I went to buy a ticket to "110 in the Shade" -- so looking forward to finally seeing Audra McDonald in a musical, but that's another story -- from Studio 54 at about 6:30 on a Friday night. There was already a modest crowd mingling outside, waiting to see "The Apple Tree," which didn't even start for another hour and a half.

Seriously. Virtually no Broadway show or theatre anywhere that's not of the dinner variety will let you in more than 30 minutes before the show begins. Even then, once inside, there's not that much to do while waiting for the show. There's no opening act. I promise you, tourists, that Niall Buggy doesn't come out and do a monologue from "Translations" while you wait for "A Vertical Hour" to begin. Reading the Playbill or buying a souvenier program, the appeal of which I've never understood, is about the extent of your entertainment choices.

Sure, most theatres have a bar, but the drinks are going to be twice as much ones even at a Times Square bar. So please, tourists or otherwise overeager theatregoers: Go explore the city a bit more in your extra time rather than camp outside and cause pointless lines. It doesn't even have to be New York specific, which is difficult in Times Square anyway. Drink a cup of Starbucks coffee. Shop for shoes at Foot Locker. Have an appetizer at Applebee's. Whatever makes you comfortable. Then show up at the theatre sometime between 30 and 5 minutes before the show begins, and enjoy.

Alas, I guess this betrays human nature. Just look at an airport. People crowd around to get onto a plane long before their row is called as if being first will somehow get them to their destination city faster.

Just remember what happened to little Pamela Purse.

Monday, January 08, 2007

It's no dive on the subway tracks, but...

The best part about working near the East Village is that it's incredibly easy to have a great variety of lunches, usually for only $6 or $7 a person, without ever having to get on a train. One of these is La Mia, a modest pizzeria on East 8th Street between Broadway and University.

The pizza's cheap but great for lunch. The plain cheese slices have great flavor, although my favorites are the eggplant and the square, spicy "grandma" slices.

That's not why I'm singling this place out, though. It's because the service can't be beat. The servers know our staff because we go there so often, so our loyalty might be a part of it, but compared to the Soup Nazi-esque stylings of another certain local deli, it makes all the difference. One of my first times there, I didn't realize that they didn't accept credit cards for certain size purchase, but seeing I didn't have enough cash, the guy running the register told me to just go ahead and take it and pay him the next time. I did, even though he had forgotten and had no idea why I was giving him extra money.

But they really won my heart today. Unbeknownst to me, they accidentally overcharged me, and the guy chased me down about two blocks to return the extra $1.50. Wow.

So La Mia has rightfully earned my highest recommendation. Go and tell them that Mike sent you, and they'll say, "Who in the hell is that" and charge you the regular price.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

The Dumpster dive of a lifetime

I'm sure by now most people have heard of Wesley Autrey, the death-defying New Yorker who jumped onto the tracks to save an NYU film student who had fallen on them during a seizure, covering the convulsing kid as the train rolled over them.

There's a little icing to this heroism that I don't think has been pointed out yet, however.

For those not familiar with the New York subways, let me tell you a little something about the subway tracks: They are absolutely disgusting. Tourists and New Yorkers alike use them as their garbage cans, throwing all sorts of wrappers, food, gum, broken glass and assorted filth into them. Stagnant rainwater stands there for weeks. Rats creep between the rails. Bums and drunken East Village partygoers urinate onto them. And the smell on a hot summer day could knock down a linebacker.

The 137th street station, where the incident occurred, is not one of the busier stations tourist-wise, so it wouldn't be as bad as some, but that also means the crews would be paying less attention to it. In other words, we're talking several months of refuse, piss and vermin potpourri.

So I can only imagine what the experience of being pinned to that sort of topography beneath several tons of metal would be like. I would think it's something like crawling into the trash bin behind a Burger King with a family of possums and then having someone beat it with a wrecking ball. Minus the whole possibility of death thing, of course.

Sometimes the word hero is just not sufficient.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

I've reincarnated as Andy Rooney!

Wow! Two weeks without a post. Let me explain: During my stay in Texas, my access to Internet was somewhat limited. So to make up for lost time, here's a collection of observations I've gathered during that time:

1) If Gerald Ford were running for office today, I'd vote for him before I'd vote for almost all Republicans and some Democrats as well. Any enemy of Joseph Farah's is a friend of mine. Oh, and that vote would not be contingent on him actually still being alive, either.

2) Intimate New Year's Eve parties are infinitely more fun than trying to brave a club. Reason? You control the music and attendance. I'm glad to have high-kicked the new year in to "Morning Train."

3) Speaking of music, I'm sorry to report that "Let Mount Zion Rejoice" is now out of the running for my theme song, having come up on my iPod while I was in Texas. The contest is now between "Total Eclipse of the Heart" or that Judy/Barbra duet. Either way, God has a great sense of humor.

4) Are Continental baggage workers on strike? This trip had the longest wait time for baggage I've ever seen, including when traveling on Thanksgiving weekend.

5) My prediction for the hottest job in 20 years: janitor. Seriously. My nephew is obsessed with brooms and vacuums. I thought it was an aberration until today my co-worker mentioned that his son has the same fascination.

6) Whatever one thinks of Rosie O'Donnell, it's quite telling that Donald Trump's first instinct was to go for the homophobic "what Rosie's girl needs is a real man to set her straight" line. As a former resident of Atlantic City, I can say that his casinos by and large are the epitome of tacky, and I now see that they were built to match his personality. One of my few times winning was in the Taj Mahal, however, so I'll exempt that one.

7) Notice I didn't call this a "random collection of observations." Unbelievable as it may seem, these were all specifically chosen by me. Nothing random about them. Please save this word from extinction!