March 31, 2009

Muffin. English muffin.

You probably think that it would be borderline lunacy to pay close to $2 for an English muffin.

And you're probably correct. In which case, I admit it: I am a borderline lunatic.

But today, my friends, I'm a very happy borderline lunatic (you can just tell something's different because that "my friends" phrasing isn't really my style). Happy because Jay the UPS guy just dropped off a box containing two dozen of the tastiest English muffins I will ever eat.*

The English muffins in question are these heavenly baked creations from Wolferman's, a company that has somehow, some way, taken nooks and crannies to an entirely new level. I'm telling you: What Hot Doug's in Chicago has done for encased meats, these crazy bastards at Wolferman's have done for the English muffin. Each one is twice as thick as a "conventional" English muffin and probably ten times as tasty. I don't know which Brit came up with the original English muffin, but he could have had no idea it would lead to something so moving.

I'm just looking at the tantalizing flavors on my packing slip - pumpkin spice, apple orchard, San Francisco sourdough, chocolate freakin' chip, multigrain and honey (that's the healthy one, right?), and cinnamon and raisin - and, if I'm being honest, my mouth is watering a little bit. Oh, and I was smart enough to order a jar of triple fruit spread. No word on what the three fruits are, but I hardly think it matters. It's just icing on the cake.

So, to answer your two burning questions:
1) Is Wolferman's paying me for this enormous testimonial? Answer: No, but I'd take some more muffins if anyone from the company stumbles across this post.
2) Will it really be worth the $40 I paid? Answer: Absolutely and positively: Yes.** You can take my word for it or you can taste them for yourselves. You just can't taste mine.

* And/or share with my ravishingly beautiful wife.
** Especially because I bought them with a gift card, which sort of weakens the storyline. But, still: Worth it.

March 30, 2009

Pushing the (red) envelope

Dear Netflix,*

I found you relatively late in life - a few years after all of my early-adopter friends did, which means a few years after they began incessantly bugging me to sign up. I held out as long as I could because I just couldn't understand the big draw.

I had eight HBO channels, movies on demand and a serviceable video store a mile away. Ten bucks a month didn't seem too steep a price to pay for your amazing convenience. But still, I reasoned that if there were movies I really needed to see, I could just pay myself to go get them from the Hollywood Video and then be able to watch them the same night. (Myself found that not to be a very lucrative deal.)

Besides, I might not be in a documentary mood when The Fog of War showed up; or I might be craving something serious when License to Drive landed in my mailbox. (Just kidding. I've never hated a movie as much as I hated License to Drive. There's no way that would ever be allowed on my queue.)

But things changed. I got married. (To a stunningly spectacular woman, by the way. You'd be impressed.) And we lived in an apartment without eight HBO channels and without a decent video rental place nearby. And so I signed up for your service. It was great for a while. I got to watch the first few seasons of House, M.D., which I hadn't seen when they aired originally. Got to see An Inconvenient Truth; Finding Neverland; Good Night, and Good Luck; The Hammer; and Waitress; all of which I'd wanted to see in theaters but never did.

According to my rental history, I also watched Donnie Brasco, which I heard was supposed to be great, but I guess it sucked because I don't remember any of it.

But then, for some reason, I couldn't make time for you anymore. Maybe it was because we moved again, and got back our HBOs and movies on demand. Syriana, which I actually still want to see, arrived in your cute red envelope but just sat on top of my DVD player for about six weeks before I gave up and sent it back, unwatched. I put my account on hold for a while, thinking that the time apart would do us good.

But I reactivated and then it was back to the same bad patterns. Last of the Mohicans showed up and just... sat there. (Whatever mood you have to be in to watch LOTM, I was never in that mood.) Six weeks, and back to the mailbox. Sure, I snuck in the James Dean TV movie biopic and a rewatching of Cinema Paradiso. But then Gone with the Wind came and stayed tucked in the cabinet for nearly two months before it was gone with the mail. Unwatched.

You delivered Man on Wire, which I thank you for. A surprisingly entertaining documentary that I might not have seen without you. But even that DVD waited for about a month before I got around to loading it up in the Toshiba.

In other words, if I'm doing the math right, I just paid two and a half months in membership fees, about $25, to watch Man on Wire. And most of it was in black and white. Ten bucks a month for two or three movies delivered right to my mail slot is a good deal. Twenty-five bucks for one movie I might not ever get around to? Well, that seems dumb.

So, really, it's not you. It's me.** We had a pretty good run for a year or two, but you're going back on hiatus until I figure out how to approach our future together. I know it's tough out there, but you'll be OK.

See ya' sometime.

Fist bumps,
Your escalator operator

*It's possible that I'm very blatantly borrowing the concept of writing a letter to a non-human, movie-related entity from one of my favorite bloggers, Daddy Geek Boy, who just wrote a love note to a superb theater out here in L.A. Possible, but I'm not admitting anything. But I really had been meaning to write about Netflix anyway. In any case, you can (and probably should) read DGB's always-entertaining blog here.

** Actually, it was you a little bit. You could have helped your cause by improving your recommendations of Movies I'd Love. For months, most of the DVDs you suggested for me were Def Comedy Jams and The Original Kings of Comedy, apparently because I told you I liked Ray and The Hurricane. Yeah, not quite. Also, your pop-up ads every time I go to Merriam-Webster online are sort of annoying.

March 25, 2009

Du not bother

Sometimes I think the people who make movie trailers should get paid a lot more money than the people who make movies.

Because the previews made Duplicity look like it'd be the best movie of the year. Really good-looking international spies (Julia Roberts and Clive Owen, in case you missed it) involved in corporate espionage, maybe competing, maybe collaborating, all while cracking snappy one-liners and - did I mention this? - being really good looking. What could be better?

When movie day arrived, I didn't want to build it up too much, so when I saw the glowing headline and lead paragraph of the New York Times review, I didn't read any further. Effervescent? Elegantly pleasurable? Ohhh yeah.

And then? Blechh. The movie seemed so concerned with being cool - the "suave" kind of cool and the "aloof" kind of cool - that I didn't care about any of it. A better movie would have made it fun to try unraveling all of the lies that Clive and Julia were telling their clients, their enemies and each other, but the action was so uninteresting that it wasn't worth the effort. There was a nice twist at the end that made me feel like I hadn't completely wasted the two hours and $12. But just barely.

So, your official Six-word Movie Review...
The film: Duplicity
The six-word review: Skip it; re-watch Michael Clayton instead.

March 24, 2009

Catching on

If you're even remotely paying attention, you've seen that there are a few ads on this rather handsome blog page. Google puts them up there, in exchange for offering me the remote hope that at some point - and at the current pace, that point would be in 2014 - I'll get a check for my first 100 bucks of ad revenue.

I already know what I'm going to buy with it: A soy chai latte. Think I'll be able to get a grande for under $100 in five years?

I'm not sure that I read my "agreement" with Google (like, if I'd actually read the agreement, I might have tried to negotiate a few of the finer points with them), but I think it says I'm not allowed to overtly encourage you to click on any of the ads. But you're smart, you can see where I'm going with that train of thought, right? Also, I don't think I'm allowed to click on any of the ads myself, because I'd be lining my own pockets with Google's hard-earned cash, and that would obviously be unfair to them, because they've worked so hard on writing and publicizing my blog.

In any case, I noticed today that one of the ads - when I was looking, it was about halfway down on the right side - is a bright, colorful graphic that reads, "WhatIsTheNewBlack.TV."

To which I had two responses:
1) I'm glad to see that the title of my recent post about the Octopus Decade is catching on in such a big way. Savvy online marketers are obviously tapping into the hype, and it's clear that SFTC was ground zero for this wave of hackneyed "the new black" metaphors.

2) I'm curious as heck about what kind of fascinating content must be on the web site that's advertised in that colorful ad. And yet, I don't want to click on it myself (for fear of disrupting my close personal partnership with Google), and I wouldn't encourage you to do so (at least not overtly). But if you do, leave me the info in the comments below, alright?

This isn't even remotely related, but I also decided I'm going to stop saying "No worries" as a substitute for "It's alright" or "No problem." The phrase seemed sort of cool in an appealingly laid-back kind of way the first time I started hearing it regularly, back around 2000. But I've had enough.

March 19, 2009

Car talk

On the phone: My sister, on "vacation" in Florida, in a car with her husband and sons, Jacob, 7; and Max, 1; both audible in the background

Me: What are you doing tonight?

Sis: We have dinner reservations at 6. I don't know if we're going to make it. One of them is already losing it.

Jacob (in background): Mommy, which one of us is losing it?

The end.

March 18, 2009

Feels like the first time

Here's a macabre hypothetical situation for you: Let's say your fabulously wealthy great aunt dies (seriously, it's hypothetical - I'm sure your great aunt is in perfect health) and leaves tons of dough to you and your 20 cousins.

Are you going to have a contest with your other cousins to see who can spend their inheritance first? If I know you, dear reader, at all, I know you'd think to yourself it would be difficult to spend the money quickly enough to win the contest because there's probably a very long waiting list for the Bugatti Veyron that you've had your eye on. And then, you'd quickly say, "No, of course not! That would be tasteless."

Which is sort of what I thought when I read in the New York Times that city and state governments are basically competing for the apparently glamorous title of First To Spend Federal Stimulus Money.

I know my analogy is a little bit off in the sense that, unlike your hypothetical great aunt, our hypothetically great nation hasn't passed away. But I find it a little strange that even one elected official thought it would be worthwhile to lay claim to "first to spend" status, let alone that men and women in government offices all over the country apparently had the same exact idea.

Like, in 30 years, are tourists going to be flocking to Missouri to see the formerly dilapidated bridge that was (maybe) the first public works project funded by the Great Stimulus of 2009? I don't think so either. How much of the stimulus money do you figure is being wasted on paying people to research and publicize this nonsense?

Awkward transition: Another organization that likes to claim superlatives is Hammacher Schlemmer, the catalog/site that purports to sell products that are "the best, the only and the unexpected." (I know "unexpected" isn't really a superlative, but whatever.)

I mention HS because I just won a $50 gift certificate from them! Wahoo!

I earned the prize through a drawing for people who respond to the company's occasional online surveys about products they're considering selling - recent surveys have been about stuff like paper shredders and dehumidifiers, but Hammacher has lots of stuff that's more exciting than that. So really, I earned it.

Back in the Chicago days, I went to their testing site a few times to be a part of consumer panels that reviewed gizmos like insulated coffee mugs and mini stereo speakers, and I got $25 gift certificates each time. I don't think I ever spent any of them, because all of the cool stuff cost way more, and I never really had much of a need for the cheaper stuff.

But now, I'm determined to put my 50 Hammacher bucks to good use. It's your vote, America. Should I get this, these or this?

March 16, 2009

Octopus is the new black

Just months ago, it looked like the '00s were on their way to being the Decade of the Pirate. Pirates were showing up in the news - and on blogs - like they were going out of style. (Which, I think they actually have.)

But I might have called it too early. It now seems that we're living in the Decade of the Octopus. First, there was this story about a wacky coleoid who basically outsmarted the people who designed his tank. Now comes news that another octopus - I'm guessing a close relative of the other one - wedged himself inside his own acrylic lunch box, before, um, wedging himself out. All to the amusement of amazed staff and seafood fans at the New England Aquarium.

Sorry, I mean sea creatures. I keep calling them seafood.

Anyway, it could be that octopi are showing up in the news more lately because they're routinely doing newsworthy things owing to enormous gains in intelligence and motor skills. Or, and I think this is perhaps the more likely scenario, it could be that the 27 print journalists left in the U.S. are unable to adequately cover anything resembling real news and, as a result, have resorted to writing mostly about marine life in captivity.

We all thought she was crazy-go-nuts, but if this really does turn out to be the Octopus Decade, maybe that Octomom was on to something after all.

Math hysteria

We hired a new accountant to do our taxes this year.

We'll see how he works out, but I'm pretty sure he'll be an upgrade over the CPA we worked with last year, because, well, I wasn't really amused by an accountant who was serious while saying things like this. On the other hand, I had to pause for just a moment at the end of our first visit to New CPA's office.

New CPA's firm validates for parking, which they do by giving you tiny little annoying blue stickers - each worth 12 minutes of parking time - that you're supposed to hand to the parking attendant on the way out of the swanky underground garage. We approached one of New CPA's colleagues, who I assume is also an accountant (although I have to admit I don't know whether he's either certified or public), and asked for enough stickers to cover 45 minutes.

As I've mentioned before, I'm no math wiz. But I think that'd be right around four stickers.

Which is why it was weird when New CPA Colleague handed us eight 12-minute stickers. I may have been imagining it, but I swear he shrugged as if to say, "I can't really count. This should be enough, right?" Again, we'll see how New CPA does, but in the meantime, I'm glad I'm not relying on his coworker's math skills.

That reminds me: Back in 2001, I was working for a small startup company. There were plenty of signs that our business wasn't really going to last for very long, but one indicator I remember most clearly is a conversation I had with our chief financial officer.

The company's founder had just announced that employees would be paid once a month instead of every other week, and the CFO - at least nominally the person in charge of making sure the company could pay its bills - said to me: "Man, I wish we were getting paid biweekly. I have a hard time budgeting my expenses for a month at a time."

Yeah, he said that. Shockingly, the company laid everyone off within about a year before relaunching with a new business model. And, I think, a new CFO.

March 13, 2009

Second degree Bern

The Daily Show fans among you probably caught Jon Stewart's conversation with Mad Money host Jim Cramer last night. I didn't, on account of being asleep, but I'll punch it up online later today. (Free video is here; the New York Times news coverage is here and blog report is here.)

Before Cramer came on, though, Stewart recapped the news about old man Madoff getting his bad self locked up. The host offered what should go down in history as the funniest two-sentence analysis we'll ever hear about the whole mess.

Said Stewart: "Madoff’s 4,000 victims include Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Weisel, as well as actor Kevin Bacon. So if Madoff has accomplished nothing else, he has now connected Kevin Bacon to Hitler in only two degrees."

March 12, 2009

Crazy like a doorknob

I can picture the geniuses who came up with the plan for municipalities to resell federal stimulus checks at low, low prices: They're sitting in a darkened room, with one of them - barely visible to the others except for the cigar in his mouth - softly patting his hands together in front of his face. He's saying to the others: "You know, it's crazy enough, it just might work."

Seems sort of like throwing a life vest to someone who's about to drown and then watching them sell off the styrofoam innards to a company that ... buys styrofoam? I don't know - that's where the analogy starts to fall apart.

But it's too bad Congress put the kibosh on that idea. Because if there's one thing that would get us out of this economic mess, I think that one thing would be inventing a secondary market for government bailout money.

March 10, 2009

Air apparent

After tonight's riveting episode of Celebrity Jeopardy - Aisha Tyler, you smarty! - the local ABC affiliate ran a tease for the sure-to-be-enlightening 11 p.m. newscast.

The newscastress (is that un-p.c.?) was speaking of this terrible tragedy - which, by the way, is exactly the kind of thing that's going to make me tune in for an otherwise worthless half hour of weather and diet tips at 11 p.m. on a school night. And she said something along these lines: "Tonight at 11: A gunman kills 10 people in Alabama in an apparent mass shooting."

Which made me wonder: Which part of 10 people getting shot did she think was only apparent? Well, at least she didn't stick the word "apparent" before "people." Although I'm sure she considered it.

Me and the amazing technicolor dreamblog

I feel like I'm in a wicked blogging dry spell, and I need to get something... anything... posted this week. I mention that because, under normal circumstances, there's no freakin' way I'd write what you're about to read:

Two nights ago, I had a dream that I was in the audience for a taping of Dancing With the Stars (which I never watch*) and was asked by Christina Aguilera (who I'm pretty sure is not even a contestant**) to dance with her. I acquitted myself fairly well on the dance floor, which I offer as proof that this was, in fact, a dream. And also: WTF?

Then, flash forward 24 hours. (How about that for drama?) I don't remember all of the details, but in last night's dream I sat down and had a very pleasant chat with a freckle-free Lindsay Lohan.

If Ashlee Simpson appears in my sleep tonight, I will be drinking heavily before bedtime tomorrow.

* Seriously, never. Well, except for last season's finale, but then only because my parents were fascinated with the whole Warren Sapp thing.

** Not that I would know because, again, I never watch the show. Also, I've listened to approximately one Christina Aguilera song in the last 18 months, so - really - no idea what's going on.

March 6, 2009

Throwing caution to the wind while at the same time going out on a limb

Secretary Clinton's spring break in Europe, covered in today's New York Times, is probably of major importance.

But I'd like to ignore the news value because a few parts of the article just, um...

1) I realize this is probably on the Times editor, not on Hillary, but that headline calling the entire continent of Europe an "essential partner" in fighting climate change, terrorism and the collapsing economy? That doesn't seem like a very bold statement, does it? I mean, aren't there are only a few other continents to choose from - I don't think North America is in the running, since that's, well, that's us. And she probably ruled out Antarctica early in the process.

2) I've never spoken to a large group of people from other countries who all speak other languages. But if I ever did, I don't think I'd be sure they didn't have to read between the lines too much.

Case in point: Clinton told the European diplomats that the U.S. “democracy has been around far longer than European democracy.” The article reports that the comment drew "raised eyebrows and scattered murmurs," which I think are like the diplomatic equivalent of engaging in a bloody street brawl.

Of course, if someone like, I don't know, this guy, had made that comment, we'd all be laughing our asses off at how dumb he is, what with the Red, White and Blue only having been around for a couple of centuries. Apparently, though, the Times thought that, rather than being historically inaccurate, Hillary was simply misunderstood: "[Her] intention, it appeared, was to compare the United States to Europe’s experiment in trans-national democracy, the European Union."

Memo to foreign leaders: Learn how to read our minds, so if it occasionally sounds like we're insulting you during the next four years, you'll know where we're coming from.

3) If you're concerned that Mrs. C. can be hard to understand, put those worries aside. Because, apparently, she can serve up the cliches like nobody's business. And everybody loves cliches, especially when they're strung together, four at a time. The Times story includes this quote from an interview the Secretary gave to NPR interview about her trip: "We’re testing the waters; we’re determining what is possible; we’re turning the pages; we’re resetting buttons.”

I'm not sure exactly what that means, but it sounds like it might be a fire hazard.

March 5, 2009

Is there any other kind?

For months, I've been confused by a sign posted in a parking area near my office. It reads: "Rear and side-loading vans only."

Are you aware of any other types of vans?

March 2, 2009

On the balls

In her Saturday New York Times column, Maureen Dowd writes:

“Until we have a clear strategy, we’re not going to have a clear exit strategy,” [President Obama] told Jim Lehrer on Friday about Afghanistan, noting that he had ordered a “head-to-toe, soup-to-nuts” review of the mission there....

I think that's a difference between Obama and his predecessor in the White House. W just wanted his review of the situation there to be head-to-nuts.