November 26, 2008

What's with all the pirates?

I don't know if people traditionally give their spouses presents for Thanksgiving, but by writing a post with the above headline, I just gave one to mine. Happy Thankgiving, my beautiful wife!

(She thought it was funny when I asked her that very question last week - although I think it was more because I was cracking myself up at the time than because of the question itself.)

If you didn't catch my earlier nonsense on Pirates Gone Wild '08, you can catch it here.

Goin' on a little tryp(tophan)

So I'm back home for Thanksgiving and I've decided that ice-cold temperatures - which, now that my blood is L.A.-thinned, seems to mean anything below 52 - aren't conducive to blogging.

Or maybe I have less time to write since each day I'm here, I eat for approximately 10 of the 16 hours I'm awake.

Other than calorie-loading and freezing my ass off, one of the interesting experiences of the journey so far was being diagnosed with "common migraines." They probably mean common in the sense that it's the same headache every other migraine sufferer gets, but it also works nicely since I get them commonly enough to be really annoying. The good doc said that I'm susceptible to headaches because I have a sensitive brain, a phrase that I repeated to my wife and parents about 1,659 times in the two hours after leaving the hospital.

Which probably gave each of them a pretty distinct headache of their own.

The doctor was fantastic - he spent tons of time with us and answered every question we could think of. But he's a headache specialist whose office is located in a pediatric clinic - i.e., lots of screaming kinds running around and screaming and running and screaming. Kind of like having a tire store located at the intersection of Pothole Blvd. and Broken Glass Way.

I may try to post again before we return to more sensible temperatures, but if not - in the spirit of the holiday - thank you again for reading, and I hope you enjoy your Thanksgiving desserts as much as I'm going to enjoy mine.

November 20, 2008

Great moments in customer service: edition

Let's just say that the Low Price Guarantee that offers for reservations made through its web site isn't so much of a guarantee as, well, promotional copy that someone puts on the web site to make you think they offer a low price guarantee.

The as-short-as-I-can-make-the-story version:
  • Booked hotel room for $169; reservation offered Low Price Guarantee
  • A few weeks later, found same room on for $129
  • Called company to ask for credit for the difference
  • Friendly customer service rep said the guarantee didn't apply because the hotel charges a change fee (which all parties knew when I made the reservation), which nullifies the guarantee

November 19, 2008

Shockingly predictable

Two news items I saw today just knocked my socks off. I mean I was just shocked that those once-in-a-generation geniuses in charge of our awesome pickup-truck-and-SUV manufacturers would do this and not realize it might be incredibly bad p.r.

I was equally blown away that Don't-Call-Me-Pacman Jones, the NFL's version of Steve Howe - that might be a bad and/or morbid analogy, but I'm referring to Howe's repeated reinstatements, not his prodigious and ultimately fatal drug use - would be given yet another chance to suit up and play pro football.

But life is filled with surprises, ain't it?


I'm just very happy because the best show on TV is back to being the best show on TV.

I continued to love my House, M.D., even through about a season and a half in the wilderness, during which the show downplayed the medical mysteries and upplayed (?) a bloated cast that took screen time away from the Foreman, Cameron and Spencer characters we had come to ... well, know and love, I guess. Even the title character seemed to lose his way. Where the House character had always been cruel but funny, he had become just cruel for a while.

With the last couple of episodes, though, the mojo is decidedly back at Princeton Plainsboro.

Last night, we got to see Cameron and Spencer talk about a case instead of just making random cameos (well, maybe they just talked about talking about a case, but it's a start), there were not one but two mysteriously ill patients to save, and while he continued to make everyone miserable, House had a few vintage one-liners. (Example: Telling a friend that he went to visit a possible love interest, but couldn't bring himself to knock on the door, House says, "I left without ringing her metaphorical or literal bell.")

Next week's new episode looks pretty spectacular, too. I know, I know, they all do in the previews. But it's an extended episode, and they're bringing out the guest-star firepower in the person of Emmy winner Zeljko Ivanek (if you've watched TV in the last 10 years, you'll recognize him even if you don't recognize his name), who is, I feel safe in saying, my favorite Slovenian-born actor of this generation.

If you haven't watched lately, you may want to catch up with some full episodes. My treat. (Well, mine and the kind folks at the Fox TV network.) Seriously. It's good stuff.

November 18, 2008

The iPatch

Have I just not been paying attention for the last few decades, or am I right that until 2008, we had mostly gone for years and years without news coverage of pirates?

For weeks, we've been reading one story after another - including today's latest - about pirates doing pirate-y things on the high seas. Aaargh! It seems totally anachronistic, doesn't it? Next thing you know, we're going to read news articles about the new age of blacksmithing. Or a return to glory for telegram operators.

I'm guessing the prevalence of pirates in pop culture has played a major role in their resurgence. So, who you think modern-day buccaneers model themselves after: this guy or this one?

When the smoke cleared...

I haven't felt very bloggy the last few days. I don't know why; maybe it was the fires. So let's start there. For those of you from the other coasts - y'know, East and, um, Midwest and Canadian - here are a few fire-related FAQs, from an extremely narrow point of view:

1) Were you anywhere near the fires? Not really.

2) Did you smell smoke? Yes, for most of Saturday, all of Sunday and Monday morning, it smelled vaguely like you were standing a foot away from a Weber grill that had just been used for grilling the heck out of something all afternoon.

3) What about ash, bro? It was most noticeable on Sunday morning. I parked Al outside for about 90 minutes while we ate brunch in Playa Del Rey, and when we came back, it looked like he had been subject to a light dusting of snow. Given that we were in PDR, I was fairly certain, however, that 'twas not snow. 'Twas ash from the fires. Also, what's up with the "bro" thing?

4) Screw you - what's up with the 'twas crap? Good point. Next....

5) Did it affect anyone you know? My beautiful wife's aunt and uncle live in Montecito, and their home survived basically unscathed despite being very close to where that fire started. We also know someone who lives in the same area and lost a guest house but miraculously not his main home. The fire got to his porch and then stopped.

6) So a lot of people must be very fire-conscious now, huh? You would think. But apparently, not the case. On our way to the gym after work last night, we were driving through one of the canyon roads, where plants and homes would be very susceptible to fire. And some turdface a few cars in front of us tossed a lit cigarette out of his car.

In not-really-related news:

Fred Willard was my latest celeb sighting. Last night, Studio City.

I'm enjoying the heck out of Sweet Leaf mint and honey iced tea. If you like iced tea and you like mint and honey, there'd be no earthly reason why you wouldn't like this beverage. Even if you only like two out of the three, there's a good chance you'll dig it. You should be able to find it at your local Whole Foods, unless it's one of those dumb Whole Foods, like mine, that conveniently only carries it every third day or so.

By the way, help me out here: The world's most super wife (mine) pronounces the name of the store thusly: WHOLE Foods. I've always said Whole FOODS. I think it's a regional thing. But I'd like your whole opinion. Please share in comments.

Howard thinks I should stop picking on Sarah Palin. As mentioned earlier, I wanted to, but she keeps rearing her wild-animal-shooting head in very public ways. And, besides, if Dick Cavett can keep picking on her in incredibly amusing ways (seriously, worth reading) (unless you're Howard, probably), well, who am I not to post a link?

Incidentally, anyone else remember Cavett's outstanding cameo on season 2 of Cheers, back in the Shelley Long era? Great exchange: Diane: Excuse me, I couldn't help noticing you're Dick Cavett. Dick: I couldn't help being Dick Cavett.

Alright. I guess I'm feeling bloggier again.

November 14, 2008

Two things about smart kids

Thing one
Perhaps we should all read and digest this story about an enterprising eighth grader in Chicago, who demonstrated quite clearly that some (many?) Obama supporters who like to talk about how open-minded and tolerant they (we?) are, are just as obnoxious as those horribly closed-minded red-staters.

This does not, however, change my belief that the Republican vp candidate wasn't really even smart enough to cast a ballot - let alone have her name on one. But I think the kid makes a good point.

Thing two
If you're looking for a movie this weekend, I have a winner for you: Slumdog Millionaire. (Official site here; high-def trailers here.) I'll give you a six-word review in a moment.

First, though, this recommendation comes with a major caveat: Slumdog includes a handful of brutally violent scenes, including one that, although brief, rates as among the cruelest I've ever watched. If that's a deal-breaker, then maybe you should skip it.

But I think those scenes are worth enduring. Because if you go see this movie, you will also witness some of the most beautiful images you'll ever see on motion picture film (read: unless you have one of these, in this size, do not wait to watch it at home). I know that sounds trite - and, to repeat, I hate pseudo-intellectual movie criticism by morons - but trust me, this film is gorgeous to watch.

It's crushing but inspiring. It's a thriller, a love story and a coming-of-age saga about two very crafty brothers in India who miraculously, incredibly, survive and - in a way - thrive, despite an almost hopeless childhood. Oh, and major parts of the movie take place on the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, so, well, yeah. And now, your official SFTC Six-word Movie Review...

The film: Slumdog Millionaire.
The six-word review: Unlike anything you'll see this year.

November 12, 2008

A rockin' good time

I'm not sure that this is how I want to spend even a few minutes of my birthday tomorrow*. Maybe if I think of it as a geology festival, rather than a disaster drill, it'll seem a little better.

On the other hand, the ... uh ... geology festival comes with fun games and activities like this one, so I guess it can't be all bad. I got 10 out of 14 on my first try. Would have done better but the room started shaking and I got distracted.

Give it a shot and post your score in the comments. I want to know if you actually think you'd duct tape your remote control to the furniture to prevent it from smacking you in the head in case of a quake.

* Subtle, right?

It's not over

One of the very few downsides to Barack Obama's big win last week - or so I had presumed at the time - was that, to paraphrase the great Richard Nixon, we wouldn't have Sarah Palin to kick around anymore.

I guess we can move Sarah Palin-kicking-around back into the "still an option" category.

Alaska's brainiac-in-chief is apparently continuing her media tour, promoting, um, herself? Maybe she's just laying the groundwork for a series of educational guides - kind of like Caribou Barbie Berlitz - that would enable the rest of us over down here to learn what the hell she means when she says Yoda-inspired stuff like this: “But not me personally were those cheers for.”

Or this: “And if there is an open door in ’12 or four years later, and if it is something that is going to be good for my family, for my state, for my nation, an opportunity for me, then I’ll plow through that door.”

Which makes me think that someone should explain to her how doors work. Y'know, if they're open and all, walking through the empty space usually does the trick. I don't think there's any plowing required.

November 10, 2008

Limited release

This weekend, I finally got around to watching Donnie Brasco, which had been on my Netflix queue since I had a Netflix queue. And even before then, thanks to recs from friends, it was on my must-see list.

You've got your best-actor-of-his-generation Johnny Depp. You've got your Al Pacino. (And this was filmed pre-recurring-caricature-of-Al-Pacino Al Pacino.) You've got your before-he-was-a-star Paul Giamatti, whose character asks about the meaning of the word fuhgeddaboutit. Not to mention the before-he-was-dead Bruno Kirby. And you've got your can't-miss story of federal agent infiltrating a New York mob family.

To which I now say: Eh.

And so, without further delay, it's the return of Six-word Movie Reviews!

The film: Donnie Brasco.
The six-word review: Good, not great. Watch Goodfellas instead.

November 7, 2008

Step it up, Southwest!

One key benefit of being a member of Southwest Airlines' frequent flier program is that you get a birthday card every year.

So for several birthdays, I've been cheered by the annual arrival of my card from Southwest - I marvel that it always shows up well before any other cards or presents from, well, people I actually know. It has always made me feel like if I ever did anything that caused every relative and friend to stop talking to me, at least I'd get a birthday card from someone. Even if that someone was a no-frills airline whose flight attendants are sometimes a little too chatty for my taste.

So, yes, I was grateful for this year's card, which spelled out "Happy Birthday" using letters from the radio operators' alphabet - Hotel, Alpha, Papa, Papa, Yankee, and so on. That in itself made me happy because it reminded me of the name of one of my two or three favorite albums of all time.

But I have to admit that, thanks to a couple of other savvy marketers, my excitement about Southwest's birthday greetings has begun to pale somewhat in the last 24 hours.

First, I got an email from the fish-taco-making geniuses at Rubio's - at some point last year I became a proud member of their Beach Club, which entitled to me to receive lots of emails from Rubio's. Yesterday's message offered a free meal, up to $7, for my cumpleanos. There's a Rubio's right near my office, so you can bet I'll be cashing that sucker in.

(And when I do, you can be sure I'll be thinking about the chain's rather oddly worded radio ads, which ask you, the listener, to "Open your mouth. We're mentally going south.")

Then, waiting for me in the mail when I got home was a card from Banana Republic containing a $15 gift certificate - either because someone there really likes me or because I have a BR credit card. (Yeah yeah, whatever. You get good discounts. Give me a break.) Fifteen dollars - not bad! Good bet I'll cash that one in, too, since there are Banana Republic stores approximately every four miles in L.A.

So just by living another year - which for the most part wasn't that hard - I earned $22 yesterday.

And I know it's the thought that counts and all, but my thought is that maybe Southwest could fall in line here. I really do appreciate the card, you know, but next year? A few extra drink coupons or a couple of credits toward my next free flight might be nice.

November 5, 2008

Right, wrong and rights

Wonderful - I mean really wonderful - fantastic and, to me, still a little bit unbelievable. Though Obama had my support from the get-go (or couldn't you tell?), I really didn't think this country would elect a black president in my lifetime. Even after he won primaries and caucuses, I doubted whether he could win the party's nomination, let alone a general election. I thought there were too many people across the nation who just wouldn't, couldn't, vote for a black man. Here's an understatement: Glad I was wrong.

Last night, I suppose, will be one of a small handful of those moments in my life about which I'll say, "I remember where I was when..." in 30 or 40 years.

My celebration of Obama's victory was tempered this morning, however, by other election news. I woke up this morning to a reminder that there really are plenty of people - more than 5.1 million in California alone - who still suffer from a paralyzing mix of fear, ignorance or a combination thereof. Here's what some of those people look like:

(Thanks to L.A. Times for the photo.)

Let's be clear: This a picture of people who are ecstatic that may of their fellow citizens will again be treated differently under the law, simply because of who they choose to spend their lives with. So, way to go, Jim Domen of Yorba Linda. I can see why you'd thrust your arms in the air as though you've just won the Super Bowl. I mean, you did an awesome job rescinding a basic civil right from thousands and thousands of California men and women just because... I give up. I'm at a complete loss. I hear the "threatening traditional marriage" argument and I don't understand what that means or how two gay people getting married has even a remote impact on your life.

I guess you can rest easy tonight, knowing that no more of those highly dangerous gay couples will be able to get married in California. Kind of like you could have rested easy last night, when gay marriage had absolutely no effect on anything you did. But whatever.

November 4, 2008

Out, damned spots

Depending on the results of the actual voting, I believe the third or fourth best news at the end of the day will be that we don't have to watch election ads anymore for a year or two or four. That's change I can believe in.

(Although I recognize the next sonic annoyance, wall-to-wall Christmas music, is just around the corner. Nothing my little friend can't take care of, though.)

An email from my dad this morning contained the best phrase I've heard in a while. In reference to the election, he wrote that today's events would be "kind of filling in the crevices of uncertainty for a day or two." With a tweak or two, I thought it could be the basis for the title of the next Bond movie.

Lines at the polls in our NOTW were running about 90 minutes long for those who showed up at 7 a.m. How about in your neighborhood?

November 3, 2008

And now a word from (me about) our sponsors

Just so it's clear, I have nothing to do with what ads Google serves on this blog. So if you're reading this item on November 3 or November 4, and if there's a "Yes on Prop 8" ad over there underneath the escalator image, it's Google's fault.

While I'm at it: Vote for whoever you want for president. But if you're planning to vote yes on Prop 8, you can get off my blog right now. If you live in California, please, please, Please vote NO on Proposition 8.

I assume the ad will be gone after tomorrow and this blog will be a better place for it. When that happens, be sure to click on whatever ad is there so I can make some money off of this thing! On the other hand, if you click the Yes on 8 ad, maybe it'll cost those morons some money. Now there's a thought.

OK, so the plan is this: Click on the ad, but do not under any circumstances cast your vote for this unfair and discriminatory proposition.

And now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Miscellaneous Monday

In no particular order:

1) After a hiatus of two years or so - during which they probably missed me terribly - I am once again a Costco member. The most immediate result of this weekend development is that my mid-afternoon snack today is approximately one and three quarters pounds of delicious pineapple. Guess what my mid-afternoon snack tomorrow through Friday will be.

Since we don't have tons of storage space in our apartment, it's probably a tossup whether the annual membership fee is a great investment. The 30-pack of paper towels might save us lots of dough, but unless we start crating stuff on our porch, that's probably a little too much Bounty for the humble abode. But if my math is even close to correct, we should be able to make it worthwhile with what we save on gas (almost 25 cents per gallon cheaper at Costco right now, I think) and cat litter alone.

2) Speaking of cats, we took two of our three to the vet for vaccines and checkups Saturday. Is it just Sampson and Brearley or do all cats really freakin' hate getting into their carrying cases? I don't think they even care how deeeee-luxe these bags are - they want no part of it.

Unfortunately, we had to bring Brearley back to the vet this morning for a dental cleaning, which is kind of a production for kitties. So we weren't in the greatest mood while dropping her off and then the receptionist makes it worse by continually referring to our cat as "it," as in "Has it been to our office before?"

I'm no expert on animal hospital management, but I'd hazard a guess that one of the first rules they teach you in vet receptionist school is referring to the animals as "he" or "she." Maybe because pet people want vets and their employees to not make it seem as though they're taking care of inanimate objects.

3) In what must be a sign that I'm now a full-fledged resident of Greater Hollywood, while I was sleeping last night I dreamed up approximately half of an episode of Entourage. It wasn't the most original storyline - I think E cheated on his girlfriend but got caught - but the dialogue was pretty snappy. Maybe there’s something in the air (smog?) that makes people think teleplays.

4) So, you knew I'd get to t-shirt news at some point, right? Oh calm down. I'm not even talking about what's new at S and J Market.

No, I wanted to show you what arrived via UPS this morning. My very own Alaska for Obama t-shirt:

I ordered it a month ago, just minutes after the Palin-Biden debate, as my own mini protest against criminally inept vice presidential candidates. I guess lots of other people had the same idea because the shirt was backordered. But I think I'll wear it tonight when I get home and certainly tomorrow while we watch election coverage.

5) OK, never mind that stuff I wrote before about not boring you with more news from S and J Market. How could I let you go through the rest of your day without seeing our latest new design? Answer: I couldn't.

There's a suburb south of Chicago called Flossmoor. When I lived in the Big Windy, any time someone mentioned the place, I'd tell them I had a brilliant, t-shirt-worthy slogan that the town should use to drum up... I don't know, tourism? The point is: Until this weekend, that brilliant idea was just a t-shirt-worthy slogan. Now, it's actually on a t-shirt.

See for yourself:

Catchy, no? (Weird picture, though. I'm still trying to figure out what happened to this dude's head.) And it's printed on a high-quality American Apparel shirt - perfect for holiday giving! (On sale through tomorrow!)