A New Year’s Thoughts

Last New Year’s, I bundled myself up and drove north from Timonium, and utilized back roads to cut across the Loch Raven Reservoir and celebrate the New Year with some formerly lost friends in White Marsh. Even though I didn’t know many people there, it was nice to reconnect. I had a shitty job — I was delivering pizzas at two different places — and my job search was pretty fruitless.

So it’s a year later, and I’ve got a lot to be thankful for. I found a great, well paying full time Office job, and a cool part-time job with great benefits for voracious readers like myself. For the first time in my life, I moved into a city — Washington, DC. I was able to get rid of my car, and my cats are both alive and in great shape: Tippy’s staring out the window restlessly, Guy is cleaning himself in the foyer.

For the first time in my life, I’ve actually been able to grow a beard. Nothing’s perfect: I’m still single. That may never change, I may in fact be a confirmed bachelor. But maybe tomorrow I’ll meet my soul mate. A coworker (who I had lunch with twice this week, actually) told me I looked like I’ve been losing weight, and she is, by the way, smoking gorgeous. Sadly, I’m far too clueless to know if she’s trying to get me to ask her out (because I’m clueless).

I didn’t actually write any sort of a “Where Will I Be Next Year?” post, possibly because I was a little depressed and generally bummed out.

Where do I see myself in a year? Still in this apartment, possibly with an additional bookshelf or two (where I put them is anyone’s guess). The job front is uncertain — I really have no idea what’s going on with the part time gig, but I do need to start making some serious decisions regarding those options. Maybe I’ll be involved with someone, I won’t be. Hopefully I’ll have some money in my savings account, and food in the pantry. I can make one fairly reasonable prediction: I’ll probably still be blogging (although perhaps on a new computer).

Tonight I’m taking it easy. Being broke made this an easy decision. I’ve got beer in the fridge, and hot dogs, chili, and cheese for dinner, unopened Netflix envelopes stacked next to the TV for entertainment and an overwhelmed basket of laundry to occupy my waking hours in the morning. I might go up to the roof at midnight to see if there are fireworks (and I might not).

This is, I think, the most beautiful version of Auld Lang Syne I’ve ever heard. It’s somber, reflective, optimistic. Happy New Year. (Even if it has been postponed!)

Retail Blues, or, How I’m Looking For A New Part Time Job

Sunday morning, some corporate weenie sent out an e-mail alert to members of the Bookstore’s Rewards program. It was only supposed to be sent to those customers who shopped at a particular store in California, which is being closed this week. Instead, it went to everyone. The subject line: BOOKSTORE CLOSING: 40% CLEARANCE SALE! They later sent out a correction e-mail, but it’s probably not going to be long before they’re sending out another one, to everyone, regarding each and every store of the chain: BOOKSTORES CLOSING!

Now that Christmas season is over, and we’ve finally been able to pull all the Christmas CDs out of the players, I really think we need to start playing only stuff by blues artists.

The Bookstore I work at is in trouble, financial trouble. Not just the individual location, but the entire company. When you look back to see where the trouble began, it’s got two big sources: unnecessary company-wide store remodels, and a long-term (now ended) partnership with Amazon.com.

The reality is that last March, the Bookstore’s parent took out a very large loan to cover operating expenses for the fiscal year … and that loan is just about due. Couple that with an economy in the toilet, and a lousy Christmas season — it was very busy in our store, but we did not a single day where our sales were over $100,000, which one manager told me was the worst year she’d ever seen (and she’s been with the Bookstore for several years).

The same manager, who a month ago was full of optimism and reassurance, now just sort of nodded her head in agreement when I mentioned I might start looking elsewhere as January rolls to an end.

Now, things might turn out okay — the collateral for the loan is, I understand, our “Cards” specialty section — cards, nick-nacks, Jesus coin banks, stuff like that. I wouldn’t mind losing all that stuff, even though I’ve been told it’s the most profitable part of the store’s operation (which is kind of funny, since it always all seems to end up heavily discounted on bargain tables). Anyway.

Here’s my dilemma: first, I really like working at the Bookstore. I like the people, and I like my hours. I like the location, and the shopping demographic which means that my long Sunday shifts are considerably calmer than they’d be at a different location. On the other hand, if the store closes, than all my co-workers would probably gravitate towards the few remaining bookstores in DC, and I could find myself without a part-time job. And even though it is a part-time job, this is not discretionary income: I do, in fact, need the cash.

I really hate being an adult. Why did I ever want to grow up?

I Need A Table

I need a table – and I’m hoping you can help me with it. See, I’m a bit of a hobbyist, and I’m setting up a little workshop in my closet — which sounds ridiculous, but I do have a very tiny apartment, and a comparatively gigantic closet.

So, I need a table. Ideally, one of those fake-wood-top tables with the folding legs (because I need to store stuff underneath it). The only other requirement is that it be no more than five feet long, and no less than four feet.

I know I can just pick one up brand new (and expensive!) at Office Depot or Staples, but these tables seem to be those articles of furniture everyone has abandoned somewhere. So, if you’ve got one of those lying unused in your basement or closet or backyard, and you have no need for it, please send me an e-mail (malnurturedsnay AT gmail). I’m willing to negotiate price and pickup/delivery (I’m, er, car free).

Starting at Sea Level

Following up on the whole “They lied to us about how clean the Chesapeake is” thing, there’s an article in yesterday’s WaPo about a change in the culture of the community’s around the Chesapeake:

Fewer women know the intricate signals of a blue crab’s molt, that a red-sign crab is two days away from “busting” and becoming a valuable soft-shell. Fewer men know how to find oyster bars, underwater landmarks such as Snake Rip, Turkey Leg or Old Woman.

Fewer people know their neighbors in a place where neighbors used to be all you had.

“It used to be when you saw a boat go by, you’d say, ‘There goes Cap’n Anthony. He’s going out to fish his crabs.’ ‘There’s A-Boy,’ headed to collect fish from a pound net,” recalled Ken Smith, president of the Virginia State Waterman’s Association. “Now, it’s like, ‘Who in the hell’s on that jet ski?’ ”

The water is still there, but The Bay — the old, bountiful estuary — is not. As the old industries have declined, they have been replaced by tourism, where the look of the water is all that matters. Or by trucking, or work in prisons, where the water doesn’t matter at all.

This is the real cost of the cleanup’s failure: People learning to live with broken promises.

Believe it or not, but this post ties back into my promise to discuss the present I gave my Dad. When I first began working at The Bookstore, he e-mailed me asking me to find a book for him. Dad grew up on the Eastern Shore, on a farm just south of Princess Anne, and the book in question was written by a guy a year ahead of him in high school.

I’d like to claim that I found the book right away, and got it right away, but the truth is, I sort of forgot about it until I got a few more hints, and finally tracked it down — we had to special order it — and received it in time to wrap and give for Christmas: Terry Noble’s Starting at Sea Level.

Here’s what the publisher has to say:

It was the 1950′s, and the violent one-hundred-year struggle for control of Chesapeake Bay’s oysters was still raging. Terry Noble was growing up idyllically in the fishing village of Oriole, Maryland, while his father battled poachers to protect the Bay’s last oyster beds. A gun shot, piercing the river darkness, changed the family forever.

The pages of this book are rich with the natural history of crabs, oysters and the men who caught them. Interwoven are delightful stories of boyhood scrapes, high school life, big fish and a host of watery escapades.

Having read it on Christmas Day, Dad was particularly taken with trying to identify certain characters who’d been given pseudonyms. “I’m pretty sure she dated my brother,” he said about one girl.

On the ride back from Scranton, I picked it up and started to read. It’s pretty well written, solidly structured, and suffering only from some minor layout goofs. What struck me most about the book was Terry, as a kid, in the late 50s and early 60s considering a career on the water, and being advised by people — forty-plus years ago! — that it had no future.

I mean, it just sort of gets me that The Washington Post is writing an article about the dying culture — woah, it’s a huge deal! — when the people immersed in that culture knew it was a gone thing almost fifty years ago!

Anyway, it’s actually a pretty good book. Check it out. I’m not being paid for this. (For shame!)

The Simpsons Movie

Since I’m never on time for cultural events, I just watched The Simpsons movie. I’ll say this: it was a heck of a lot funnier than I expected, and considerably funnier than the show has been. I stopped watching The Simpsons regularly back in high school (and I graduated in ’97), but I’ve seen nothing that would convince me The Simpsons hasn’t sucked for the last decade or so. And then there’s this movie, and maybe it’s the time I’ve been away from the series, or maybe it’s just that everyone involved really put on their “A” games and put out a fantastic movie (actually, possibly only by comparison and not objectively). Anyway, wholeheartedly enjoyable.

Also: I really got a kick out of the movie’s opening sequence, especially Homer’s line. You know the one I mean.

Christmas Wrap Up — Hah, Get It? Wrap? Hah!

Giving wise, this was probably the most frugal Christmas on my end in a few years. Getting, however, this was gold. From the weird sock monkey (okaaaay), to the Natty Boh glasses and magnet, the Argyle sweater, all topped off with the Enterprise bottle-opener (I got two!), and the iPod Nano (despite my iTunes issues, hopefully to be resolved soon, as I know what the problem is), and rounded off with a selection of gift-card and needed cash, I’m in fairly good shape going into January (which benefits from being a triple-pay-Friday month).

My parents also gifted me a tie from Jos A Bank’s Miracle collection — which is fantastic, not only because it supports a charity, but also because I love, heart, adore, Lego. My cousin Will apparently saw my Facebook post about the Star Trek bottle opener, because that’s what he gave me, and his sister, my other cousin, gave me a mug and fancy cocoa. My sister gave me some facewash, but admitted she panicked when she first saw me this holiday, thinking she’d actually bought me some shaving cream (I’ve got a beard these days). Heck, I even love the Dust-Glove.

As for the other end of Christmas, I gave a lot of books this year: my uncle got a book on Teddy Roosevelt (he much preferred my parents’ gift, HW Brands’ Traitor to His Class bio on FDR, which I suggested and picked up for the folks), my cousin Maggie got Water for Elephants, my aunt Arsonist’s Guide to Writer’s Homes in New England. My sister received the fourth season of Lost: she was actually at my apartment watching me wrap it, but as I told her, if she hadn’t figured out what she was getting, she hadn’t been paying attention the previous three Christmases (she’s got to watch the pilot episode before it aired on a big screen set up on the beach they film the show on). My Mom also got a DVD: the BBC adaptation of Child’s Christmas in Wales, to replace the VHS copy my parents can no longer watch (their 1985ish VCR finally died a few months ago … when my dad dropped it). More on my Dad’s gift later (it warrants a separate post). As for Will, well, he got the Bob Marley book I thought he wasn’t going to like last year.

Rock Me, Rock Me, Rock Me Sexy Jesus! All Night Long!

There are a lot of reasons to like Hamlet 2, and here are two: Catherine Keener and Steve Cogan, who, although you probably don’t remember his name, you know as the Exploded-by-Mine-Director in Tropic Thunder, and the little Roman dude in Night at the Museum.

The plot, in short: Cogan is a washed-up actor (he starred in assorted STD commercials) teaching drama at a high school in Tucson, AZ, where every year he puts on a musical based on a Hollywood blockbuster. When he finds out the drama budget is being cut, he’s inspired to work on his “masterpiece”: Hamlet 2, in which our hero, Hamlet, obtains a time machine and pals around with Jesus (they go to the 1950s where Jesus markets himself as “sexy” to reach out to teenyboppers, hence the name of the post, and the above YouTube clip) before going back to try to save everyone who died at the end of the first Hamlet.

Respectful yet irreverent, this is a damn funny movie. I wish there was more Catherine Keener, but I really couldn’t find anything at all to dislike about this film (okay, maybe Amy Poehler). You really can’t do much better than this for an hour and a half comedy.

Welcome to the Blogosphere, Mr. Drexler!

I was — am — a huge fan of Star Trek, but I can appreciate the “Why are all the aliens bi-peds with weird foreheads?” level of criticism leveled at the show. It’s not exactly true, but it does tend to be the rule (not the exception).

Doug Drexler’s role with Star Trek began on The Next Generation where he was a makeup artist, and certainly responsible for at least one or two of those bumpy foreheads, but he went on to work as a graphics designer and CGI designer (the Enterprise design from Enterprise is his). Lately he’s probably best known for his work on the Star Trek: Ships of the Line calendars (this, by the way, is a really cool book if you like starships).

Anyway, so he’s started blogging, and I’ve been digging some of the photos he’s posted from his associations with Star Trek. I particularly love this one, and for those who don’t understand: a good segment of every TNG episode would be Picard & Co. sitting down at a table in a conference room with gorgeous bay windows offering a star-view. Along the opposite wood paneling were gold cutaways of the previous ships named Enterprise. Sometime between the 4th and 5th seasons, the set was redone and the gold ships were replaced by an attractive but lame repetitive set of metal bulwarks.

And now I know where they went! I’d always assumed Picard had them melted down for cash to get Gowron some cash: nope, he just gave them to a bunch of techies in the ship’s graphic design department!

And while it’s a couple of days late (well, for you, Drexler posted on-time), I really cracked up at his story of how makeup artists celebrate Christmas.

I’m looking forward to seeing what (gold?) nuggets are forthcoming from this blog.

Message to GOP: wake up, smell the coffee, and join the 21st Century already (i.e., it’s time to throw Chip Saltsman to the wolves and elect Steele)

One of the top names being floated for head of the Republican National Committee is Michael Steele, whom some will recognize as Maryland’s former Lieutenant Governor, former candidate for Paul Sarbane’s Senate seat, and, as it happens, an African-American.

Perception, especially in politics, is everything. What would it say about the Republican Party that a political organization so long associated with racism made as its head a black guy? Actions are, as they say, louder than words. Frankly, I’ve got more pressing problems with the Republicans then their past record with race — namely, their current pandering to the religious extreme, but I think it’d still be nice for Republicans to forever seal off that ugly past.

And then …

A candidate for the Republican National Committee chairmanship said Friday the CD he sent committee members for Christmas — which included a song titled “Barack the Magic Negro” — was clearly intended as a joke.

“I think most people recognize political satire when they see it,” Tennessee Republican Chip Saltsman told CNN. “I think RNC members understand that.”

The song, set to the tune of “Puff the Magic Dragon,” was first played on conservative political commentator Rush Limbaugh’s radio show in 2007.

Its title was drawn from a Los Angeles Times column that suggested President-elect Barack Obama appealed to those who feel guilty about the nation’s history of mistreatment of African-Americans. Saltsman said the song, penned by his longtime friend Paul Shanklin, should be easily recognized as satire directed at the Times.

The CD sent to RNC members, first reported by The Hill on Friday, is titled “We Hate the USA” and also includes songs referencing former presidential candidate John Edwards and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, among other targets.

I think, if I were a top-ranking Republican (especially one supporting Saltsman), I’d call for Saltsman to apologize and to take himself out of the race. And I’d then immediately throw my support behind Michael Steele. This isn’t a time for namby-pamby wish-wash like “oh, it’s political satire!”: Saltsman just handed the Republican Party a golden opportunity to renounce racism within its ranks, and then stand behind that renouncement by appointing an African-American to national leadership.

Is Saltsman racist? I don’t know. But politics is always about perception, and I think most Americans remember how ugly some of those McCain/Palin rallies started to get, and I think most Americans remember rhetoric like this, and I think most Americans would like to see the “Good Old Party” become the “Good New Party” and wake up, smell the coffee, and join the 21st Century already. Maybe they’ve got to ruin Saltsman to do that — and it sucks for him — but it’s hard to imagine a politician in this day and age thinking anyone could find anything funny in any connotation of the word “negro.”

Even if they do, I promise I won’t be surprised to see Ted Danson scheduled for entertainment at the ceremony.

Editorial Update 12/27 3:36p:

Commenters on other blogs regarding this issue are claiming that a Democratic writer at the LA Times first used the term. Well, sort of. Here’s the article. I like how John put it in his comments on this post:

“The LA Times coined the term in an article that was a non biased observation piece. Taking that term and then connecting it to the playful tune of a child’s song is taking it into another context. Would you say a professor talking about the origins of the word ‘nigger’ and someone calling someone else a ‘nigger’ is the same thing? Of course not. This is no different.”

Last: yes, of course I’m about free speech. Walk down the song singing “Barack the Magic Negro” ifi you want, top of your lungs, I’ll shoot you a dirty look but I won’t staple your lips shut. But, yes, even free speech has consequences, and if that means you give people the reason to continue believing your political party is racist, that’s on you.

And here’s a link to Barack The Magic Negro on YouTube. I prefer Puff The Magic Dragon, myself.

“Man shoots talker at movies”

I’ll admit — and judge me as you will — that when I first read this link on CNN.com, I applauded. I mean, not literally, I’ve got my computer in my lap and my hands are a bit too busy typing to actually, physically, clap, but mentally? All there. Yay! And hooray!

Cialella told the family sitting in front of him in the theater on Christmas Day to be quiet, police said.

An argument ensued while others at the Riverview Movie Theatre watched “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

Cialella then approached the family from the left side of the aisle and shot the father, who was not identified, as he was standing between Cialella and his family, according to the police report.

Let’s be honest — while there are a lot of people deserving of scorn and hatred, in terms of enjoying a cinematic experience, not many trump the Talker (Didn’t Turn Off Cell Phone is a close runner-up). Okay, maybe shooting him was extreme — I mean, the guy might’ve just been conversing with his son about where the bathroom was, and did he really need to go or could he hold it? — at least he didn’t kill the guy (although that might have more to do with the fact that he had a tiny little gun or couldn’t aim).

Finally: why are theaters open Christmas Day? Why is anything open Christmas Day? Greedy corporations. Send your employees home!

iTune Woes

The first present I unwrapped was an iPod Nano. So far, my verdict is: lovin’ it. I spent an hour or so Christmas Eve putting songs on it using my mom’s computer.

iTunes? Not so much, especially since, possibly due to my computer’s age, I can’t actually download and install iTunes 8 (and iTunes 6, which installs in its place, doesn’t recognize my iPod).

I think the problem is something called iPod Stopping Services. I receive an error message telling me to “validate”, then am given the option to “cancel” (which results in ceasing the installation), or “retry”, which just brings up the same message again.

Any tech nerds out there who can help me? My laptop is a Dell XPS M140, about two and a half years old. No, buying a new computer is not an option. (I hope iTunes is installed on the computers at work …)

No Dawn Treader? Boo!

I thought the recent movie adaptions of Narnia were sort of see-saw: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe was okay (but I still prefer the BBC), but I thought Prince Caspian wasn’t worth the time as much as I wished it would’ve been (I’m still trying to puzzle out the whole castle-raid sequence).

However, Voyage of the Dawn Treader was always my favorite of the books, and so I was even recently telling people who could be bothered to listen that it would probably be the first adaptation I would drag myself to the theater for.

Alas.

Disney and Walden Media announced yesterday that they’re ditching plans to produce a third The Chronic[what?]les of Narnia installment, subtitled The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, the studios cited “budgetary and logistical reasons,” even though the first two films grossed enough megabillions to clear a profit.

I was hoping for more Eddie Izzard as the voice of Reepicheep.

HT: City Desk.