Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Meanest and Nicest Things From the Past Few Days

The other day, I was on BART, a crowded car, and a blind guy who I often see got on with his black lab guide dog. A bunch of us were already standing as there were no seats left, and someone (one of the standing people), asked the blind man if he'd like to sit down. He said, "If there's an available seat."

So the guy who asked looked at a man sitting in one of the seats and said, "Yeah, I think we can find one."

The guy in the seat stood up and got all huffy about it, saying, "Oh, are you an usher? I didn't realize there were ushers on BART. Do you want to find anyone else a seat? Maybe you'd like to find everyone a seat."

We rode along some, then he brought it up again, saying, "How do I get a job as an usher? I'd like to give away seats."

Dude, the guy was frickin' blind. Don't be such a jackass.

And then for the nicest thing I saw...(you'll have to click on it)

Sunday, June 21, 2009

At Home At the Zoo by Edward Albee

Albee wrote the second act of this play in 1958. Titled The Zoo Story, it tells the story of a chance meeting between Peter, an executive at a New York publishing company who leads a fairly sheltered existence. Peter is sitting on a bench reading a book in Central Park when he is interrupted by Jerry, an unstable self-proclaimed transient who longs to have "a real conversation" with someone. Peter reluctantly obliges.

The first act, written by Albee in 2004 to better fill out Peter's character, gives us a glimpse into Peter's home life, his relationship with his wife, two daughters and two parakeets. Although not as dramatic as the second act, it is charming, funny, and does give us a better sense for how sheltered Peter's existence really is.

The play overall was pretty good. The acting was solid, and the minimalist set design was striking. There was a little too much monologue in the second act for me, and I actually would love to see a third act in which we see the effect of the conversation with Jerry was on Peter when he goes back to his life. Right now, it feels like an unfinished thought.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Hangover by Todd Phillips

My one worry about this movie wasn't that it wouldn't be funny, but that I would have seen all the funny stuff in the trailers. And although I think it would have been more surprising if they hadn't given so much away in the trailers, it's still one of the funniest movies I've seen in awhile.

The premise is pretty simple: four buddies (actually three buddies and a brother-in-law) head to Vegas for a bachelor party. The next morning, they wake up to find the room trashed, a tiger in the bathroom, a baby in the closet, one of them missing a tooth and the groom missing altogether. Oh, and none of them can remember a thing about what happened the previous night. So they spend the next two days trying to locate the groom and reconstruct their evening from the contents of their pockets and various other clues.

What makes The Hangover smarter and funnier than most other lewd Animal House-style party comedy is the plot construction. Since none of the participants can remember the night (until the very end, when, in a nice touch, one of them finds his digital camera and we're treated to a roll of hilarious snapshots), we're taken along for the ride as they try to sleuth it out. And as bizarre the assortment of clues in their room is, it only gets more bizarre and more random as it starts to come together.

Props to Ed Helms (Andy from The Office) for his hilarious performance, and to Zach Galifianakis, who plays the off-kilter brother-in-law.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

When You Are Engulfed In Flames by David Sedaris [audiobook]

Sedaris could describe rice and make me laugh. Seriously, I don’t think there’s any other writer who makes me laugh out loud so often. Here, he gives more of the same, which, in my opinion, is just what I want him to do. Quirky memoirs, mostly about his family, oftentimes lewd, but always hilarious. He describes his neighbors, people in the seats around him on public transportation, and his attempts to learn Japanese and quit smoking, among other things. And there’s nobody more suited to read a Sedaris book than the author himself. Yes, his nasal, someone snooty voice can take a moment to get used to, but it brings his sarcasm to life perfectly. If you’re not a Sedaris fan, this book certainly won’t make you one. But if, like me, the guy cracks you up, then this book will do the same.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Collapse by Jared Diamond

Diamond is probably best known for his book Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, which dissected the reasons that certain societies thrive while others sputter and die out. And it’s hard not to compare this book to that one, as both cover similar territory. But while Guns continually introduces new principles contributing to the fate of societies throughout the book, Collapse seemed to just introduce new cases to illustrate the same principles repeatedly. And for that reason, it started to lose my interest about midway through.

To be sure, there are interesting stories. I was fascinated by the Easter Island section, in which it seems that those giant statues for which the islanders became so famous were most likely the greatest cause of their demise; so many resources were burned through as different groups on the island competed to build larger monuments that before too long, there were no trees and the environment was in shambles.

The answer of this book’s central question (Why do societies collapse?) is that they use up their natural resources. And perhaps that’s why it felt monotonous to me at parts. There is no mystery, as the title of the book suggests. It’s resource management. And we see this again and again. The way it happens varies from case to case, and Diamond outlines several factors that can create, or combine to create, natural catastrophe. He also uses varied cases, both in time and place--Pacific Islanders, Anasazi, Vikings, Mayans, modern Rwanda and Australia and his home state of Montana, where the current struggle for land management is critical. But with all these varied examples, it’s the same story over and over.

Diamond does not take a tree-hugger’s perspective to the issue of environmentalism, and there is nothing obviously political in his approach. It’s a cautionary tale, for certain, but he both criticizes and applauds modern efforts by governments, organizations and corporations for their roles in resource management. Because, as the cases illustrate, environmentalism is not a political matter. It’s not about being able to go camping. It’s a matter of survival. When a society depletes its resources, through mismanagement or war, or because its population grows so large that its natural resources cannot support it, collapse is eminent.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon [audiobook read by David Colacci]

This is the story of a Grady Tripp, a writer and professor at a Pittsburgh university who, after publishing one highly-lauded novel, now finds himself more than 2,500 pages into his second novel with no end in sight and no direction. Likewise, he floats through this novel, blown around like a pinwheel by characters with more drive (but no more sense) than himself—James Leer, a suicidal writing student who at a party shoots the chancellor’s dog and steals her husband’s prized and priceless Marilynn Monroe jacket, worn by the star on the day she married Joe DiMaggio; Terry Crabtree, his agent, a lover of cross-dressing men, regular-dressing men, and drinking; and Hannah Green, a student who rents a room from Grady and has a crush on him though, in one of his few sensible acts, Grady keeps away. Mix up all these misfits with a bunch of booze and weed, and you get a story that is a lovable mess of slapstick, desperation, complete chaos, and characters that you find yourself liking but constantly shaking your head at.

Chabon is a writer’s writer, and there’s probably nothing he’s more suited for writing about. It’s a joy to hear the sentences he constructs, and the characters and their complicated but believable relationships are great. I hesitated to get this one on audiobook, as I wanted to actually read it, but after hearing a few good reviews, I decided to try listening. David Colacci’s performance is fantastic, and his dry sense of humor fits Chabon’s style perfectly. All around a great collaboration and a sheer joy to listen to.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Alameda Flea Market

The Alameda Flea Market happens on the first Sunday of every month on the old Alameda air strip. It's enormous. You could spend the whole day there walking around and still not see everything. Today, as we were waiting in line to get in, the guy working there said he thought they could have over 6,000 people today, with the beautiful weather and all (although the wind got pretty heavy late in the day and was wreaking havoc with some of the display tents).

With the move to the new house coming up, we tried to limit ourselves. We'll have a better idea of what we need when we get there, and I'm sure we'll be back looking for cheap furniture to fill the rooms of the new place. Still, we found a cool 1930s-style clock and a 1950s orange chair.