Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Christmas in the Petri Dish

Man, you know how sometimes, no matter how you try, things just don't work out? Well, that's my Chrisma-Hannu-Kwanza-Kah-New-Year's holiday in a nutshell. I mean, all in all it's been pleasant enough, but… well. Not great.

I mean, Christmas was certainly nice enough, although we worked ourselves to death. As my in-laws are staying with us for the holidays, we decided to host a Christmas Day Brunch. The idea was that by hosting a brunch, we could get the whole hazardous and stressful mingling of familial branches wrapped up by mid-to-late afternoon and not have hours of dinner prep staring us in the face. It mostly worked out that way, although the stress of pulling the whole thing together led to Christine and her mom getting into a screaming freakout hysterical meltdown about an hour before the other guests were to arrive.

It was caused by a box of donuts. It’s complicated.

Ahh, the holidays.

Gifts were quite nice this year. The kids got FAR too much crap. I mean, Christmas is four days gone, and we STILL have toys that haven’t been opened yet. It's absurd. For my part, I got a some nice items – couple of gorgeous shirts, new cologne, an Xbox and Halo 2 (yippee!!), "Shaun of the Dead" on DVD (which I’ve yet to see, but I am looking forward to it immensely), a denim jacket (to replace my rapidly deteriorating one). Christine and I received a new stove and gym memberships as well. Very nice gifts all around.

However, the run up to Christmas was completely fucking exhausting. All I could think of once we got to the 26th was "Well, at least we can finally relax, maybe go to a few movies in the evenings this week." Made all sorts of plans.

And then, blammo, every plan has been shot down. Illness abounds. First, our friends with whom we were to go to the movies on Sunday night had a very ill child and had basically missed Christmas altogether (spent the day waiting to see a doctor in an after-hours pediatric clinic with a child who was feeling so shitty that he didn't even open his presents on Christmas day). Monday night we just couldn't pull a plan together, plus my mother in law began feeling really crappy, and then on Tuesday was told by a doctor that she had the flu AND pneumonia.

That evening, my father in law also fell ill, and he is now running a 102.5 fever. Miranda started coughing last night, and although that's not too unusual (she has a lot of allergies to pollen, and typically it manifests in late-night coughing) given the fact that she is currently living in The House of Sick it is worrisome. Needless to say, the rest of us (me, Christine, my sis-in-law Kelly) are all convinced that, seeing as we are sharing space with two virally infectious adults, at any moment we will be stricken with illness and disease, just in time for our big New Year's night out.

Plus, tomorrow I get to bring my mom to the hospital for minor surgery on her wrist. Should be a fun day.

So, we’ve gone from "Isn’t it great to have in-laws visiting! Built-in babysitting!" to "I wonder if we’ll even be able to leave the house on New Year’s Eve."

Worst holiday vacation ever. Think I'll go buy some Xbox accessories or games or something.

Mood: Growly
Now Playing: Kate Bush, “Hounds of Love”

Friday, December 17, 2004

SuperChristian Powers: Activate!

Form of ... absurdly demonstrative prayer! Shape of ... self-absorbed, holier than thou posturing!

In this particular Wonder Twin moment, I suppose I'd be that weird monkey thing that hung around with them. What the fuck was his name again, Gleek or something like that? But yeah, tonight was the night that I saw the face of those Red State People. You know, those personnae we've all (well, all of us depressed Blue State Wannabe's, that is...) been talking about and trying to figure out? Well, I've met them.

They're really, really scary. And So. Fucking. Boring.

This was -- and I am not exaggerating here, I swear it -- one of the worst social evenings I have even experienced. So uncomfortable. So many sideways glances and halting conversational gaffes. The social equivalent of a prolonged prostate exam, or for you ladies out there, that annual pap smear thingie: intimate in an unwelcome way, invasive, uncomfortable. Time defined by the awkward attempts at conversation shoehorned in between awkward silences. An event to be gotten through as quickly as possible that felt as though it lasted days.

Now, I've talked about this group before. It was largely my wife's idea, as most things involving the church are. We approached it as an opportunity to connect with a larger community, to meet people with similar backgrounds and world views, and to try to open ourselves up to participating in our church and our community a bit more. Putting down some roots, if you will.

And you know, to be fair, it was a good idea. Last year it was, at least. We met great folks through this little artificial and forced social exercise. Folks like us, who value spirituality in our lives, but who also struggle with faith on a regular basis. Yeah, of the five couples last year only three of us "worked." But we really work. I love these folks, and the only reason I agreed to put myself through the stress and pressure of this absurdly stressful and awkward effort again was to roll the dice, to see whether we'd get lucky and meet more folks that are as like us an unlike us, folks that really challenge you to stretch out a bit socially. and find that common ground that isn't necessarily immediately apparent. I mean, last time we got 3 out of 5. So, why not try again? What could possibly be the harm?

Well. Tonight was why. Neither of the couples we actually LIKE were there. We were outnumbered. Outgunned. In enemy territory. Surrounded by boring, self-righteous, blase mediocrity.


It's pointless to do a play-by-play on the evening. Basically, it started off uncomfortable, got utterly awkward during the I-kid-you-not 4 minute long Grace before dinner prayer sermon-ette (included a reading from the prophet Isaiah), started warming up a bit as we finally had something to talk about ("food good... mmm... food good"), and then plumetted into hellish discomfort as soon as the "new" couple appeared and we began to do the Q&A/discussion thing as an attmept to get conversation rolling.

Unfortunately, our previous no show people were also friends with the hosts, and so instead of settling into generally uncomfortable forced conversation along with the rest of usthey chose to be smug, and self-satisfied.

Oh jeez, I could rant about this for thousands of words. I could relate at least a dozen awful, awkward moments. It's astonishing just how much NOTHING can happen in 90 minutes. But it's just not worth it. It's even more boring in print than it was in reality.

At least we had the foresight to set up a rescue call with our dear friends Bill and Lacey. We entered with the "sick kid throwing up at home" story and 90 minutes later my cell phone rang (to my dear, dear friend and co-Twin Peaks fan Bill saying, in his best Jewish Mother Voice, "This is your mutha, your child is bleeding from the ankles and vomiting"), and we fled, lying through our teeth to our Very Special Church Friends that we were So Very Sorry to have to leave so early but you know, sick kid, screaming and crying for mommy, must go go go, actively resisting the urge to skip and dance and click our heels all the way to the car.

And then we stopped at our friends house and hugged them and said Thank You about 5 million times.

God, what a night.

Mood: Beaten and battered
Now Playing: South Park, "A Woodland Critter Christmas"

Holiday Fun, Holiday Festivities, Holiday Tension

OK, so the whole Holiday Thing seems to shifting into high gear. Holiday gatherings are comin' fast and furious. so far this week, I've...

... hit pre-Holiday wings and beers with Orkut buddy Glen and a pal from work (Josh) Wednesday night. Sadly, none of our other Orkut-eers could make it. Ray was far too swamped at work to tear himself away, while Marie begged off as she is is apparently recovering from the flu (something tells me she might actually be sort of withdrawing from our little Orkut-based gatherings, but I could be wrong...).

... done appetizers and cocktails with a bunch of former co-workers last night at Eddie V.'s.

.... shopped and spent an obnoxious amount of cash on gifts.

And now, tonight, we have to attend another of our monthly Young Families dinners. This one is being hosted by the incredibly dull Christian Pod People, and we are positively dreading it. These are the folks who don't drink at all, and make a point of mentioning this fact as often as possible. Other than that, the only personal information we've been able to wrestle from them is that they listen to nothing but Contemporary Christian music (eek), almost never watch any television or movies at all due to all the negative imagery and influences (double eeeek), really enjoy reading quietly in the evenings, apparently have children that make no noise or demands of them whatsoever, and met during college while studying to be better Catholics or something. Otherwise, they're like talking to glass coffee tables. Vapid, bland, smiling Christian zombie people.

To make matters worse, they are really into making a big point of how they work hard to keep their lives "simple," and the "theme" for tonight's after-dinner discussion is "Simplicity," so they're ALL about it. Now, I'm still kind of missing what this "simple" lifestyle approach means, exactly. I mean, they're not Amish. But I have figured out, quite quickly, that when it comes to hosting dinner parties "simple" translates directly to "cheap." They're making minestrone for dinner. Dinner is going to be vegetable fucking soup.

I suppose they're making it from scratch, as opposed to opening 5 or 6 cans of Progresso and nuking it in the microwave, but come on now.

We're bringing appetizers. Maybe a bucket of fried chicken as well. And we're trying to determine whether bringing a bottle of wine or 7 to a non-drinking household is a rude gesture, or if in this case it would simply be self-defense. If we don't bring wine, I swear I'm knocking back 2 cocktails before I leave the house. Ugh.

And worst of all, our very dear friends Ginny and Dave are not able to make the dinner this evening, which means it's just us, one other cool couple, and the three new couples. Of the 6 other folks, 1 is really really nice but pregnant and not drinking. 1 is nice in a bland, self-absorbed way, but at least drinks a glass or two of wine and can talk technology. 2 are the aforementioned SuperChristians. And 2 we've never met before, but they are very good friends with the SuperChristians, and the wife is apparently a complete fucking retard.

Quick story: When a very good friend of ours had to have an emergency hysterectomy about 2 months back, this moron stopped by to see how she was doing and then asked her "But Beth, what are you going to do about having children now?" 2 days after our friend has her reproductive system surgically removed, very much against her wishes but very much in order to maintain her health, she has to field a question like that from this moron.

So yeah, should be tons of fun.

Mood: Edgy.
Now Playing: Patty Griffin, "1000 Kisses"

Monday, December 13, 2004

Aches and Pains

Man, my ankles hurt.

Ran the annual Trail of Lights 5K Saturday night for the second year in a row and did quite well. Last year I managed to finish the 5K -- without breaking pace -- in just over 37 minutes. Not so bad for my first 5K, I think. But this year I set the bar higher and was shooting for less than 30 minutes.

I managed to finish at exactly 31 minutes, but I'm sure I would have come in under 30 minutes if only my MP3 player hadn't decided to pop loose from my waistband about half a mile before the finish line. The damn thing hit the pavement and popped open, the battery flew one way, the cover another way, the player in yet a third direction. It took at least 30-45 seconds to get all the pieces back and put together again, and it really messed up my pacing and breathing to just stop short like that. Ah well. I probably would have come in somewhere around 29:30 if it weren't for that screw-up.

That said, I think I won't be looking to decrease my time all that much in future 5Ks. I'm a big guy -- comfortably above 210 pounds. And aside from about 15 or so pounds, most of my weight is just basic big guy mass. Lots of muscle mass, got the big barrel chest thing going. Thick legs (running, squats), thick arms, broad shoulders, the works. Not a bodybuilder by any means, but big nonetheless. If I could get about 15 pounds or so off I'd be damn near my ideal weight, and I'd still be a pretty fuckin' big guy.

And the simple fact is I'm just not built for outdoors, high-speed, long-distance running. Endurance isn't the problem: I can run at a solid 6-7MPH for 5, 6, 7 miles on a good shock-absorbing treadmill. But man, put me on pavement and all that weight makes a big difference. Little to no muscle soreness or fatigue, but my knees are damn stiff and my ankles are KILLING me, especially the one I broke a few years back. So, I think my personal expectations for future 5Ks will stay at or around the 30-minutes-or-a-little-less mark: that's probably the most strain I should be putting on these aging joints. Plus I gotta get better shoes. And one of those MP3 players that you strap to your bicep.

Mood: So. Freakin'. Tired.
Now Playing: Ella Fitzgerald, "Wishes You a Swingin' Christmas"

Monday, December 06, 2004

Santa Baby

OK, so I didn't get around to updating my Santa post this weekend. Shoot me. Busy, busy weekend.

My debut as Mr. Claus went swimmingly. The costume left quite a bit to be desired (itchy, hot, and the beard was a nightmare), but I was a smashing success with the kids, if I do say so myself. Here's a couple of pics to give you an idea of how things looked. First, the "Before" pic -- that's me, at about 8:15AM, prior to getting suited up. Nice, ultrashort new haircut, as well:

And here I am, with my family, a few hours later:

What a friggin' hoot.

Now, granted, when it came to being in character I wasn't what most folks would consider a "traditional" Santa: I just can't do "Grandfatherly." Instead, I opted for Cool Santa, in that I knew all the toys the kids were talking about, knew the bands that they were asking for new CDs from, chatted about the coolest characters in The Incredibles, etc. They ate it up, even the ones who were clearly not convinced of my Holiday Deity status and who were, instead, putting up with the fuss to placate parents and get some free candy.

But a few of the kids, the younger ones obviously, really seemed to believe. There ws one little girl who came back at the end and gave me a snowman she had made out of styrofoam balls (then she asked if she could have my hat and I had to send her packin'), and one little boy must have come over for at least 5 hugs. It was a huge kick.

The only kind of not fun part was that my kids were both in on the "big secret." They're still in the whole "believing in Santa" phase, and rather than risking them figuring out while at the party that Daddy was in the suit we instead opted to play it safe and we let them know that Santa needed a hand and that I was pitching in and to not tell the other kids. So instead we had this big secret, which was kinda cool. But it would have been amazing to see their faces up close if they had thought I was the Real Deal.

On a related note, I now have tremendous respect for Department Store Santas. I only did the Santa gig for about one and a half hours but it was EXHAUSTING. I'm a pretty friendly and congenial guy, but smiling and waving and chatting up kid after kid after kid, without pause, left me feeling incredibly drained the rest of the day. I can't imagine doing the same thing for as much as 12 hours straight, daily, for nearly 6 weeks.

No wonder they're all drunks.

Mood: Mellow
Now Playing: Various Artists, "Ultra-Lounge: Christmas Cocktails Vol. 1"

Saturday, December 04, 2004

The Man with the Bag?

No, this is not a piece of holiday erotica (a la Karl and several others). Not that I don't enjoy reading a nice piece of stroke fiction now and again, but, when it comes to writing it, well, that's just not my bag, baby.

In short, today, I am gonna be the man with the bag. Yikes!

Here's the story. Somehow, over the past 24 hours, I have managed to volunteer myself to appear as Santa Claus at my daughter's elementary school Holiday Breakfast. I love kids, and for whatever reason I'm really getting into the whole holiday thing this year -- last year I was quite the melancholy grouch and I just never got into it. Couldn't wait for it to be over. This year I'm like the last 15 minutes of A Christmas Carol. So this should be a hoot.

Plus, there's the costume. Borrowed this whole Santa get-up last night. I've got the boot covers and the beard and the wig and the pants and the coat. Yes, somehow I've finally managed to channel my Halloween impulses into Christmas. I get to dress up! Woohooo!

Plus, I get to keep the costume overnight. Hmmmmmmmm....

More later, along with pictures!

Mood: Nervous excitement
Now Playing: The Chieftains, "The Bells of Dublin"

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Post Election Blues Antidote!

K, not sure how I wound up downloading this stuff, but I think I've found the antidote to the Post Election Blues.

For a while I've been stumbling across references to Bill Hicks, a comedian who died of pancreatic cancer back in 1994. For whatever reason he never really registered on my radar when he was alive, even though his material tends to run right up my alley. Hard-left/independent leaning social satirist. Take no prisoners approach. Hard edged, sharp witted, and definitely not for kids.

Anyway, I downloaded a bunch of his stuff and it's remarkably... well... helpful. This guy is so fuckin' angry with the Religious Right, Republicans, and pretty much everything else I tend to have issues with that just listening to him seethe and rant is really, really helpful. Skip all the fuckin' articles about liberal malaise and depression that keep popping up in the Oddly Enough columns and just give this stuff a listen.

Saddest thing, though, is that as good as this guy was, you just KNOW he would have been something to listen to these days. Really sad. Gotta buy some of this stuff and make sure a few bucks find their way to his estate.

Mood: Amused
Now Playing: Bill Hicks, "Shock and Awe"

Friday, November 05, 2004

Dear God

So, Wednesday, not long after I finished my despair-riddled entry about the state of our apparently-fundamentalist States, a friend from here in the office stopped by to ask how the party went. We chatted briefly, and I asked how his wife has been feeling.

Back story: He and his wife had to skip the party because she needed to be in Houston for radiation treatments that morning, in an effort to arrest her recently-diagnosed breast cancer.

Anyhow, he kind of gave me one of those looks. You know the look, the look that says "Do you really want to know?" And I tried to give him my best "Yes, I really do" look in response. Because given how I was feeling about the election, and the future, I needed to do something that maybe would help someone, even if it was just by giving them a second to unload.

And so he did. He told me a story, a true story, one just a day old, and it broke my heart. But when it was done, I realized that 4 more years of this Fundamentalist Idiotocracy isn't the worst thing in the world.

Maybe it will help you as well.


D.'s wife, A., was diagnosed with breast cancer about 3 months back. She's since gotten a partial mastectomy and is currently undergoing a series of radiation treaments, in Houston, in an effort to shrink some other tumors that they believe are non-malignant, but which are somewhere in the lymph system networked to the affected breast. The prognosis is pretty good, but even with insurance this is costing thousands upon thousands of dollars, not to mention the gradually increasing level of illness A. feels as a result of the radiation.

In between treatments, A. sees an oncologist here in Austin. And while attending sessions at this oncologist, A. met a young girl, 7, who we will call Gwen. Gwen was going to the oncologist for treatment of colon cancer.

When Gwen was 4, she and her twin brother were abandoned by their mother. One day, the mother just walked out the door, leaving her children alone in their apartment. There was no father in the picture, apparently, and the mother didn't do anything to alert anyone of the presence of the kids in the house. She just went out the door, and never came back.

Days went by. No one came, and I don't know why but the kids stayed in the apartment. Perhaps the locks were too high up for them to reach.

Anyway, Gwen's brother had severe asthma. And after two days, clearly hysterical and stressed, the boy had a severe asthma attack and died. Alone in an apartment, after being abandoned by his own mother and in the presence of his twin sister, this poor boy had a severe asthma attack and died, struggling to breathe.

Two days later, someone found Gwen and the body of her brother. Gwen stayed with her brother's body the whole time.

So, Gwen winds up in foster care. Apparently, she got lucky and was placed with a good family. But then, a year later, she begins showing symptoms of something being wrong. Shortly afterward, she's diagnosed with colon cancer. She's 5. The medical needs and financial demands far outstrip her foster family's ability to keep up, and they have to turn her back over to the state so that she can be properly cared for. So, she spends the next year and a half shuttling back and forth between hospitals, doctors, and a state home.

When A. met her, a few month's back, the doctors had been unable to arrest the spread of Gwen's cancer. They were now treating her aggressively, using radiation, chemo, experimental treatments, pretty much anything they could come up with, in the vain hope that one of those Movie of the Week miracles would occur. They do happen, sometimes. And what do you have to lose?

So, anyway, she and A. became friends. And a month ago Gwen asked, should she survive the cancer, if A. would be her foster parent. And A. said yes, absolutely yes, of course yes.

On Tuesday, A. went to the oncologist and then to see Gwen after her treatment, bringing her a pair of those hair clips people use for babies, the ones with the velcro backs that can attach to the wispiest of hair. So much of Gwen's hair had fallen out from the chemo that these sorts of clips were the only things that would work. So, she gave Gwen the hair clips, and combed what little hair remained on her head, and put the clips on. And after she had put the clips in Gwen's hair, Gwen said to A., her voice even and perfectly calm, "I'm going to die today."

And A. was all "Shush, don't say that, you're going to make it through. You have to be strong."

But Gwen said "No, I know I'm going to die today. I've been seeing my little brother all morning, so I know I'm going to die."

And about 7 hours later, she died.

D. says that A. is completely overwhelmed with grief and anger, not to mention all too much brutal reality for one person who is fighting to defeat cancer to be able to deal with effectively. And fuck, who wouldn't be.

So I sat and listened to D.'s story, and nodded sympathetically, and just shook my head. And after a while he said thanks for the kind words and went on his way. And I sat at my stupid desk in my stupid cube at my stupid job and wiped feverishly at my eyes for 20 minutes or so. And then I called home just to say Hi to everyone.


I remember learning in biology class back in high school how your nervous system is actually fairly simplistic in the way it deals with sensation. Basically, the strongest sensation gets all the attention, regardless of what's going on elsewhere. If you have an itch, pinch yourself and suddenly the itch goes away because your nervous system gets completely diverted to the fact that pain is being reported somewhere, and that's way more important. Basically, you can only really feel one sensation at any one time, regardless of how many things are going wrong or going right in your body.

This story was like that for me. A sharp pain that quickly obliterated a dull, mournful ache.

I won’t believe in heaven and hell.
No saints, no sinners,
No devil as well.
No pearly gates, no thorny crown.
You’re always letting us humans down.
The wars you bring, the babes you drown.
Those lost at sea and never found,
And it’s the same the whole world ’round.
The hurt I see helps to compound,
That the father, son and holy ghost,
Is just somebody’s unholy hoax,
And if you’re up there you’ll perceive,
That my heart’s here upon my sleeve.
If there’s one thing I don’t believe in...

It’s you,
Dear god.

-- XTC, "Dear God"
That song has some of the most brilliant, insightful, and ironic lyrics I've ever read. And it breaks my heart because I really, really do believe in God, but really understand where the narrator is coming from.

I want to believe that God loves us all and wants us to be happy when we're here. But when I hear about kids like Gwen, or about the classmate of our friend's daughter who was just diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor and who has perhaps a year to live (he's 6), or about the daughter of the people from who we bought our house who died of a massive brain hemmorhage (I think she was 11) just a few weeks before they sold us our house, part of me would almost prefer to not believe, to just abandon any faith I've carried with me through my life, rather than allow for the existence of a God who wants or needs or allows these things to happen.

I do believe. I do, with all my heart. But sometimes God is a miserable bastard, and I'm just outraged that he could do these things.

I also know that, when people walk around with this glassy-eyed smiling simplistic bargain-basement Precious Moments faith, with their "Angels are Watching Over Me!!!" bumper stickers and their slack-jawed belief that God spends his days trying to come up with inventive ways to reward them for their righteousness, who try to assure you with platitudes like "God never gives you anything you can't handle" or "God's hand of protection is on his faithful," I know that they are wrong.

I don't know why we're here. I really do believe there's a purpose to it all. But whatever it is, you'd have to be a moron to not realize that it's not to be happy and to be rewarded for singing hosannas all fucking day. And anyone who thinks that God doesn't intend for us to suffer while we're here, regardless of guilt or innocence or belief or lack thereof, is just not paying any attention. It's all part of it, whatever it is.

So, yeah, I don't feel so bad about the election anymore.

Mood: Dark
Now Playing: XTC, "Syklarking"

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Some Halloween Night Pics

I don't have any pictures from the Halloween party, yet. For some reason, I didn't crack out the digital camera for the party, instead opting to purchase a few Halloween-themed disposable cameras and leave them around for folks to use or abuse at will. There're about 40 or so pictures waiting to be developed on those, so I'll get around to that soon.

However, here are a couple of pics of the kids in front of the graveyard, and a pic of me with them in costume for you to enjoy. We were dressed as a Ninja (Trevor), a Spider Witch (Miranda), and The Crocodile Hunter after being attacked viciously by animals (me -- I had a LOT more fake blood and whatnot for the party....). Christine didn't dress up for Halloween (she was a gypsy fortune teller in a clingy little number at the party though -- hubba hubba!) so no pics of her here.

Here are Miranda and Trevor in front of our front yard graveyard display. This year I built the spooky wrought-iron styled grates that go over the windows as well. Will be decorating them more next year.

Kids in front of the graveyard, part 2. Cute as a pair o' bugs, man.

Here I am with the kids. Crikey! In addition to the 2 small crocodiles and the snake, there was also a very large icky looking spider attached to my back. Got a ton of compliments for this costume, especially while trick-or-treating with the kids and when I stopped at the grocery store on Halloween night to pick up a few things. And altogether it only cost about $25.

Mood: Groggy (post lunch sleepiness...)
Now Playing: Massive Attack, "Danny the Dog"

Party Recap

Saturday night's Halloween party was a resounding success. I'll be posting some pictures as soon as I get them developed, but here are a few memories and recollections of the evening:

  • Total attendance in the mid 60's - low 70's.
  • A LOT of beer (quite a bit still left, which is jusssssst fine with me).
  • A LOT of liquor (hardly ANY left, which is, well, a tad disappointing. But the guests sure enjoyed it!).
  • About 3/4 of the guests were in costume, and there were some darn good ones.
  • The party mix and trivia game was a total success. Whenever a movie clip would start people would go running to the speakers to get a better listen and then people were nearly climbing over each other to tag me to identify the clip and win the prize (scratch-off lottery tix). Austin Ray even won $50 on one of his, so that was totally cool.
  • The ghost hunt was unbelievably cute and enjoyed by all. Nearly two dozen kids, each with a small souvenir flashlight, running around my backyard in the dark searching for ghosts (lollipops) and pumpkins (little jack-o-lanterns filled with toys). From the porch, it looked like there was a swarm of fireflies drifting about in the darkness.
  • Tons of decor (each year, my house looks more and more haunted.... I think next year it will finally hit "total transformation") and tons of compliments.
  • A GREAT mix of people. Friends from work, from the neighborhood, from our church, and from online/Orkut meetings, all mingling. The party hit that perfect tipping point, where folks just drift from one group to another, striking up conversations and just having a blast. Met some great new friends, had a lot of fun with old friends, and just generally had a great night.
Quite simply, this was the best party I have ever thrown. A terrific success, without a single unpleasant moment. Well, there was that entire bottle of mead that shattered on the tile floor followed by 20 minutes of trying to get it all cleaned up, but otherwise the night was flawless. I might have to take a year off from throwing the party, just to continue to savor just how good this one was.

Gotta run. More later.

Mood: Good
Now Playing: Nada

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Proud Daddy

Quick entry -- gotta head to a soccer game with my boy in about 10 minutes. But I had to get this moment down.

This morning, just for fun, we asked the kids which member of the Scooby Doo Gang they thought should be president. We don't really talk politics around the house if we can avoid it, but we thought it would be fun to see what they came up with. I suggested Velma, because she's so smart. Christine noted that Fred might work well, since he has a lot of charisma (and man, can that guy wear a scarf!). Miranda thought for a while, and then said "I don't know, but I got to vote for real the other day!"

Hmmm. Apparently they did a mock-election at school. So, Christine and I kind of eyed each other, and then said "well, ummm, who did you vote for?" And she said she wasn't sure, it was "the one at the bottom." And then she paused for a moment... and suddenly blurted out:

"I KNOW I didn't vote for George Bush! He's been president forever!"

So, we laughed. A lot. And I just looked at her and said, "No honey. I just seems that way."

Damn, I love my kids.

Mood: Tired, proud
Now Playing: Nada

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

MixMeister = Crack

Quiz for the day.

Q: What do The All-American Rejects, Laurie Anderson, B-52s, Barenaked Ladies, Basement Jaxx, Beastie Boys, Beyonce, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Black Eyed Peas, Blondie, Blue Man Group, Blue Oyster Cult, Bowling for Soup, Bumblebeez 81, Kate Bush, Butthole Surfers, Cake, The Clash, Clutch, Joe Cocker, Concrete Blonde, Elvis Costello, Counting Crows, The Cramps, Dashboard Confessional, Depeche Mode, Duran Duran, Eminem, Faith No More, Fischerspooner vs. Billy Squire, The Flaming Lips, Franz Ferdinand, Nelly Furtado, Peter Gabriel, Garbage, Green Day, Patty Griffin, Happy Mondays, Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians, INXS, Chris Isaak, Jane's Addiction, Janet Jackson, Jimmy Eat World, The Killers, Linkin Park, Lloyd Cole and the Commotions, Kirsty MacColl, Raul Malo, Maroon 5, The Mavericks, Sarah McLachlan, George Michael, Kylie Minogue, Modest Mouse, Alanis Morissette, Jason Mraz, New Found Glory, No Doubt, The Offspring, Oingo Boingo, Pet Shop Boys, Liz Phair, Poe, The Polyphonic Spree, Pretenders, Raffi, Reel Big Fish, The Replacements, Riddlin' Kids, Scissor Sisters, Screaming Blue Messiahs, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Staind, Joss Stone, The Stone Roses, Los Straightjackets, Gwen Stefani, Matthew Sweet, Sugar, The The, Toad the Wet Sprocket , Tool, U2, UNKLE, Velvet Revolver, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Rob Zombie, and about 4 dozen movie clips and sound effects have in common?

A: They’re all part of the 6 hour, 23 minute long MP3 mix (that's all in a single 525MB or so file) I’ve assembled for my Halloween party. I think it’s pretty much complete. Just need to get the video-dub version of "Ch-Ch-Check It Out" downloaded and converted to MP3 and I should be good to go.

Must have spent close to 24 hours on this thing, all together. Good lord, what is wrong with me?


So, party disaster was narrowly averted today. Last night, we get a call from the woman who we hired to run the kid’s party (ingeniously designed to keep the kids entertained and occupied while also keeping them the hell away from the adults for a few hours. Nefarious, yes, but so, so good…).

The conversation begins with “I am so sorry to have to do this….”

My blood ran cold.

“… but I won’t be able to work your party Saturday. Sorry for the short notice, but my mother just called and they are taking my grandfather off of life-support Saturday morning and she really needs all of the family with her.”

So, yeah, it’s kind of hard to question the woman’s priorities here. Of course she could be lying. This could be a really good variation of the “dead grandmother” excuse we’ve all used once or twice somewhere along the way.

Somehow I doubt it, though.

So, yeah. Panic at 9:30 last night, followed by a night of restless worrying and disastrous-party nightmares. 4 days to go, and suddenly we have no one to run the kids party. What to do? Either we get someone else, pronto, potentially at an exorbitant price, or else Christine and I would just have to take turns running the kid party while the other hosted things downstairs. After all, we couldn’t suddenly tell our guests that kids are no longer going to be allowed, and I’d be damned if I was going to have 1-2 dozen kids scampering around the downstairs while the adults were trying to enjoy themselves.

Luckily, however, our back-up guys (who work the Kid’s Zone at our gym, and who are AMAZING with kids) were still free, even at this late date. Huzzah!

Now, what the fuck costume and I gonna wear?

Mood: Stressed, yet relieved
Now Playing: Kirsty MacColl, “Galore”

Friday, October 22, 2004

Party Prep Madness

OK, so the party planning stress is really starting to build up now. But in a good way.


Our annual Halloween party takes place in eight days, and planning is going pretty well so far. But Christ, there's a lot left to do. See, you gotta understand, I do this thing in a big way, at least as big a way as is available to me within my somewhat limited means. Each year it grows bigger: more decor, more guests, more music, more everything. It's a pretty damn good party, and it's getting better each year we throw it. The crowd of fiolks gets more varied and more sizable each year: this year, I'm guessing well top 80 people over the course of the evening, although it could be significantly more. We shall see.

So here's what we've got planned so far:
  • 6+ hours of mixed music, in a single 520MB+ MP3 file. Exhaustively selected, tinkered with, cross-faded, and sequenced by yours truly. I'm trying to pretend that this is complete, but I'm a hopeless tinkerer when it comes to party mixes and I know that I'll be fucking around with the mix until the day of the party.
  • Music distributed throughout the house and into the backyard via wireless networking, a Shoutcast server, WinAmp on various computers and laptops, and powered speaker/subwoofer setups all over the place. Server is in place and working, and I've got enough computers, speakers, and laptops at my disposal to put the thing together.
  • Movie clip trivia contests. About 20-25 movie dialogue clips, each about 30 seconds long, sprinkled liberally throughout the music mix. Basically, if you hear the clip and can be the first person to get to me and correctly identify the file the clip is from, you get a prize. Last year it was scratch-off lottery tickets, I'm trying to think up some other ideas for prizes this year.
  • Front yard and front of house decorated to look like a graveyard, with "wrought iron" bars on the windows, skeletons hanging from everywhere, bones, tombstones, lights, fog, etc. Graveyard is ready, window pieces are built but not decorated. Still have to sink a bunch of anchors in the brick on the front of my house to hang everything.
  • A lot of beer, a lot of wine, a lot of food, a lot of folks bringing more of the same.
  • Kids party with 1 or 2 nannies working upstairs. Spooky movies, stories, and games for the kids throughout the evening, and a Halloween Ghost Hunt in the backyard (each kid gets a souvenier flashlight and goes poking around the backyard looking for little toy filled jack-o-lanterns and lollypops dressed up to look like ghosts). Gotta decorate the lollypops and the rest of the goodies SHOULD be delivered by UPS by Thursday. If not, well, let's not think about that shall we?
  • Tons of decor. Between my brother and I we have plenty of props and whatnot, so the place will be fairly steeped in atmos-fear. Fake fog will be in abundance, no doubt. Almost NONE of the interior work has been done yet. Hoping to get all the window works done this weeke, but the rest will have to wait until after the house is cleaned and ready to go -- no point in putting a bunch of Halloween crap out just so that we have to clean around it later.
The cleaning will be, thankfully, quite a bit easier this time around. My sister-in-law is coming down for the party this year, and being the delightfully spoiled NYC girl she is she has offered to pay to get our house cleaned professionally before the party. This is one of those fantastic combinations of generosity and selfishness -- if she didn't do this, we'd be putting her to work to get the place ready, so it's a win/win all around.

So it's coming along nicely. But, of course, my weekend is looking insanely busy again. I was hoping to get some chill-out time in tonight, but I just got a call from my mom and her car has died (second time this week). I'm kinda stuck at the office until she gets the car towed, and then I'll need to go pick her up and get her home, so who knows how long that will take. Then, tomorrow is soccer game, elementary school fund-rasier/Rennaisance Faire thing for an hour or two, and then back to the house to work on decor. Sunday, we've got Sunday school/church, grocery shopping, Halloween spooky symphony concert with the kids, and hopefully some time to get more party-prep work done that evening, and then ... well, then the weekend is pretty much finished.

Taking next Friday off to make sure that things are all put together for the party. Typically I wind up working my ass off all day on the day of the party, setting up tables and decorations, cooking, cleaning, stressing out, and by the time the first guest arrives I'm friggin' exhausted. Plus, I get all wound up and forget to eat, then when the party gets rolling and everything is going well I relax and knock back a-couple-a-few strong cocktails and whammo! Empty stomach! Drunk! The goal is to have the entire house put together and ready to go on Friday, so that Saturday we can just get the cooking and food prep going early, have a good solid lunch AND dinner, and spend as much of the afternoon just trying to keep things low key, maybe even cramming in a power nap mid-afternoon.

We shall see.

Mood: Good, if a bit anxious
Now Playing: Gregg's House of Horror 2004 Party Mix (Current Tune: Mdoest Mouse, "Float On")

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Catching My Breath

Man, I was doing so well at updating this journal every couple of days, and then the last week or so really knocked me off track. Time to refocus.

Things have been hectic and insane hereabouts. Not necessarily "bad," exactly. Just too damn busy. The last month or so, I've found that my free time has pretty much vanished completely, and it's really beginning to stress me out. Let's walk through some of the events, causes, and whatnot.

I mean, there's the usual work -- too much of it, or too little. But I think it really started just before my daughter's birthday party last month -- all the preparations, all the money going out, all that noise. Along with that, my son started soccer with the local YMCA league -- practices are schedule for 6:30 Friday nights (ack) and games are the following morning (8, 9, or 10 o'clock). Then there's always something that has to be taken care of on Saturday. Running around, shopping, buying, returning. So, as it is most weekends don't actually begin until about noon on Saturday these days.

Now, let's add to this the fact that we've taken a leadership role in this young families dinner group thing at our church. Basically, you get 5 or 6 couples together for dinner once a month, they get sitters for the kids, and we do... I dunno... stuff. There's discussion topics, but we've never really followed them -- We basically treat it as an opportunity to socialize with some folks from our community that we wouldn't ordinarily spend time with. Even though neither of us is particularly ourwardly super-religious, we decided to do this last year to expand our social circle in some new areas and we wound up meeting two other couples that we really get along with, so we figured we'd try it again this year. This time Christine volunteered to lead the group.

Well, we had to host a dinner Saturday night, so we had the classic awkward Getting To Know You dinner. Of course, since it's a church-oriented group, no one ever knows what to expect. We attend church, but in my case it's for two reasons only: I like the kids to have a simply structured religious environment so that later we can start really digging in on some of the trickier philosophical stuff with some sort of common starting point and b) I enjoy participating in ceremony. Otherwise, I have very strong religious convictions, but they don't tend to overlap well with folks who are very into organized religion in general. I always wind up sort of biting my lip and waiting to get a vibe from the others. Once I hit a comfort zone, I may interject my opinions, but in general I do the nod-and-smile thing.

So, we were supposed to have 6 couples altogether. One couple -- friends from last year -- couldn't make it, and a second couple kept us on the hook waiting to get a confirmation until 3 days beforehand, and then canceled 45 minutes before the dinner (lost their sitter, and when we gave them a list of names to try they never even bothered to call us back to let us know that it-hadn't-worked-out-but-thanks. Rude. Later, in e-mail, we let them know that Febraury and April months that would be good for them to volunteer to host, and they come back with "we'll see." Let's just say we're REALLY hoping that these folks will bail on the group. I don't need this shit.). That leaves us, the other couple we knew from last year (Ginny and Dave, who are awesome, and also from New York. In fact, Ginny used to underage-drink in my hometown. Small world), and two new couples.

One couple seemed nice: Pleasant, if hard to get a reading on, but that's not too unusual for these sorts of cold meeting things -- it always takes a couple of these things before people begin to relax. I mean, it's all very artificial and forced, so it's silly to expect everyone to be at ease. She was pretty, Mexican, and 2 months pregnant. He was nice, drank some wine, chatted amiably, etc.

The other couple, though, seemed to be competing in some sort of Mr. and Mrs. Catholic America competition. Every Single Thing they said over the course of the evening had to do with Catholicism, our church, the pastors at our church, the Catholic student groups at the school where they met. Everything. Bright eyed and smiling, like Christian Pod People. And they're good friends with the bozos who canceled at the last minute and didn't even thank us for trying to help them work things out. On their way out, it was very clear that while He had retained his Wide Eyed Pleasant Gaze, She was somewhat ruffled by the Uppity Women (Christine and Ginny were in rare form -- stress + wine = snarking amiably at each other all evening). If you know them, you know it's all in fun, but if you don't share their sense of humor it can get brutal. Perhaps it worked: We're hopeful that they will bail on the group as well.

But anyway, stressful evening after stressful day of preparing for stressful dinner. Finally, at about 10, after I deployed some mild untruths about needing to wrap things up so I could go get our kids from my mom's house, the new couples bailed, leaving us and our friends to spend the next 2 hours, drinking wine as quickly as possible and trashing the Super-Christians.

Finally! The weekend had begun to be fun! It only took until 10PM Saturday. And unfortunately, that's how most of my weekends have been feeling lately. Agh.

So, on top of this we are in the midst of planning our annual Halloween party. Now, I LOVE throwing this party. I wouldn't skip it for the world. This will be the third one we've thrown since we moved into our house here in Texas, and it keeps getting bigger (in complexity and attendance) each year. First year was smallish, around 20 people or so including kids. Last year was significantly larger, about 50 or so people total, with a kids party going upstairs (we hired a couple of nannies to keep the kids occupied so the adults could relax and party downstairs without kids underfoot) and this year looks to be larger still. Current guess is that we'll hit 70-80 people altogether (around 20 kids, 50-60 adults), over the course of the evening, although it could be significantly more. Christ, if everyone who hasn't responded shows up we'll hit about 200.


So, there's a LOT of preparation to be done. Decorating the house (graveyard in the front yard, new window decor I'm currently building, new tombstones, tons of stuff inside as well). I'm nearly done with the music mix for the party (6 hours of mixed stuff -- I love MixMeister). Then there's buying stuff. Beer, wine, food, probably some liquor as well. MONEY MONEY MONEY. In the middle of all of this, there's soccer (still), as well as a fund raising fair at my daughter's school on Saturday, plus we're bringing the kids to a Halloween show with the Austin Symphony on Sunday.

Jeez, how am I gonna get all this done? I see some late nights in my future. And I still haven't figured out a costume. Aggh.

Anyway, that's a ramble for you. A bit more rambly that usual, but I do what I can.

Mood: Mildly harried
Now Playing: Reel Big Fish, "Turn the Radio Off"

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

The End of the Moon

So, the Laurie Anderson performance was wonderful, as expected. Much more low-key than "Happiness," last year's show , and also very notably sad. Not in a maudlin "telling sad weepy stories" way, of course. This is Laurie Anderson after all: if there's emotional content in her stories, it is more often suggested than it is explicitly told, or the emotional response comes after the fact, as the pieces kind of fall into place.

I felt as if last year's show was characterized by a sense of wide-eyed befuddlement, a "can you believe this?" sort of reaction to the post-9/11 world in which we live. This show felt more like the sad resignation and acceptance of this new world. Dark, simple stage, littered with small lit candles, a red velvet chair stage-right from which she occasional told stories that were of a more personal nature, very small keyboard and effects rig center-stage, a white plastic rectangle with some of the craters of the moon imprinted on it, which functioned briefly as a incongruous and unexpected video screen but which mostly just hung there, mysterious and cold, floating and starkly lit to stage-left. And stories, with quiet sequenced rhythmic keyboard accompaniment, interspersed with mournful violin pieces.

The show, named "The End of the Moon," was initially called "Beauty" when she began workshopping it last year, and a lot of the material dealt with concepts of beauty, and symmetry, and science, and the way that people can cling to or believe two things at once, often things that directly contradict or undermine each other, and the constant Laurie Anderson bemusement at absurdity in everyday life, and the ways in which all of these things intersect and intertwine. I came away with a sense that we perceive beauty in the spaces between these things, or in the places in which they overlap.

One of the running themes throughout the show was her experiences over the past two years while acting as the first (and, sadly, last) artist-in-residence at NASA. Her description of the reassembly of the fragments that were gathered from the ground after the Columbia disaster was spine tingling: while trying to study the disaster and determine the casue, the pieces they were able to locate and collect were arranged in an aircraft hangar, placed in the approximate shape of the shuttle itself. But there were so many pieces missing, she said, that the actual arrangement was more like a map. A map of things that had been lost.

And she told this great story about how, when she first got to NASA, she saw one of the most beautiful pictures she'd ever seen, a Hubble photograph of some nebulae or other, and it was full of gorgeous baby blues and pinks, with baby stars being born within. And she started wondering, is it REALLY that color? That's amazing! So she asked one fo the technicians about it, and the technicians said well, of course, the actual appearance is largely determined by what wavelengths of light we're actually looking at and etc. and so she asked "but what about the colors?" And he said, well, we chose them. So, she asked, you mean it could have been medium gray and a sort of brownish purple if you wanted? And he said sure. So, she asked, why'd you pick pink and blue? And the guy says, "Well, we thought poeple would like that."

And she sums it up by saying "wait a minute, who's the artist in residence here?"

I loved the ways in which she cast science in an artistic light. We tend to think of science as this cold, clinical and exact thing. But the fact is that so much of the edgier parts of science, like astrophysics, and quantum physics, bear as much a resemblance to avant garde art as to anything clinical and exact. They are so full of guess work, and supposition, and playful toying with concepts and new ideas.

One final anecdote, which hit me like a gut punch: Her current work-in-progress consists of doing a series of walks, 10 day walks, and then using the experiences gathered in the walk to generate her work. She has a terrier (named Lolabelle), and she had read that terrier's, being very intelligent, could learn and understand up to 500 words, so she decided to go on a long and very secluded walk/retreat with Lolabelle to see if she could figure out what those words were.

So, she describes how they go on this walk through some portion of the California mountains, where there was hardly a single other person to encounter the entire time. And she describes how Lolabelle, being a terrier and bred for herding, tends to walk along in this constant state of alertness, checking the permieter, circling behind her and then running ahead to wait behind a tree before popping out and again checking everything. And then, somewhere along the way, she notices turkey vultures, circlng lazily overhead. And then sometime later, a couple of the vultures suddenly swoop down, and then hover near the treetops, checking out Lolabell, trying to figure out what that thing is, realizing that, no that thing's not a rabbit or a squirel, just a bit too big for us to take out. And Lolabelle stops and stares up at them, wide eyed, alert but terrified, and then the vultures went away.

But after that, for the rest of the trip, Lolabelle is different. Instead of just checking the perimeter, she's checking the sky as well. And her expression is one of realization, the sudden awful understanding that the dangers don't just come from the ground anymore. Now she's got to worry about a whole 240 more degrees. Now they can come from the sky. And Laurie, puzzled, says that the expression on Lolabelle's face was familiar, and she couldn't quite figure it out until she realized, finally, that Lolabelle had discovered the very same expression that Laurie had seen on the faces of all of her neighbors, in New York City, after 9/11.

It made my hair stand on end, my breath catch in my throat, and my eyes well up. And in recalling that moment, the exact same thing is happening now.

Mood: Invigorated
Now Playing: Vangelis, "Blade Runner"

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Aww, Jeez.

Hey y'all,

It's turning into one of those weeks where stuff just keeps piling up. It's getting fuckin' exhausting.

Had a decent enough weekend, all-in-all: My house and sanity both managed to survive my daughter's 6th birthday party relatively unscathed. No small feat, mind you, when said party involved nearly 20 4-6 year old children. Luckily, we hired a Mad Scientist to put on a little science and chemistry show for the kids, and this cute little 21-year old Chemistry Major entertained the cherubs for nearly 2 1/2 hours. The older ones were completely enthralled, while the younger ones were moderately entertained but no real trouble. So huge kudos to the Mad Scentist.

Sunday was Sunday school/church/shopping/returning stuff/yet more shopping day. It was over almost before I realized it: Yet another one of those "Hey! Where the hell did my weekend go?" type of weekends. Ugh.

Monday, started the day on a high-note: Blew my back out while doing squats at the gym. Guess 360 is my limit without a belt (or at least without paying MUCH closer attention to my form), cause while my legs were doing fine at 400, my lower back totally freaked at the end of my second set. Wasn't even close to failure yet, but all of a sudden WHAMMO! Not so much pain as a sudden "wrong" feeling of something moving from where it should be to where it shouldn't be. Don't think anything is actually seriously injured: Feels more like a spasm or mild strain, no sharp pain or tingling, and no sensitivity along my spine: it's all in the muscles. But since it's square in the middle/right side of my lower back it's WAY fucking' uncomfortable. Hard to sleep, can't lift, can't run, sitting at my desk is just annoying, etc. Lot's of Ben-Gay, lots of heating pad time. At least I can do stationary bike and elliptical runner. If I can't get SOME exercise in I'll go nuts.

Tuesday, we got the first set of kindergarten testing results for Miranda. Basically, they test on all of the basic skills that they are supposed to have mastered by the end of the year. Miranda scored in the upper 80%'s -- not surprising, she's smart as a whip. Still, now we're worried about her being properly encouraged and focused at school. Me and my wife were both classic "really smart, really bored" kids in school, and it got us both into plenty of jams over the years. So, we'll need to talk to the teacher about how she's handling this stuff. Gilmore Girls Tuesday night, and my desire for hardcore Luke/Lorelei sex is thwarted. Shit, they didn't even kiss! Considering the fairly profound amount of pain I feel in my lower back a TV-tryst was as close as I'd be getting to sex, and yet they DENY me this small pleasure? Agh!

My mom also notified me that she had spoken with my step-sister and there was "news." Now, my step-sister is a bit of a... well... let's be generous and call her a "work in progress." She's 30, married and divorced once already, living in upstate NY in a trailer with a guy she married just before he headed off to Irzq (he's back now). He's got 3 kids from his 2 previous marriages, one of whom is 15 and pregnant, another of whom has already run into trouble with drugs of some sort or other, and the third of whom is young and sweet and getting really, really damaged by all of this.

Oh, and my step-sis is 5 months pregnant by this guy. Somewhere around 3 years ago she decided that what she really, really needed to make her life complete was a baby. Sadly, she didn't decide this while she was married to her husband, who was a jerk but at least he was an employed jerk who wanted kids and who would have at least been a source of child support. Instead, she decides that kids are what she needs while living with the current loser. I guess this is that biological imperative that people talk about: Trumps all reason, apparently.

Well, the latest news is that, of course (and this should come as no surprise given the joker's history), Dale is cheating on her. Has a girlfriend on the side, apparently has had her on the side since he went to Iraq. So now, we're REALLY hoping that she'll finally withdraw from thsi bottom of the barrel place she's gotten herself into and move home to be with her mom so she has some help with the kid. Or moves here to Texas where she has other family around who can give her a hand. But who knows what she'll do. Her incredibly bad decision-making skills are the main quality that she inherited from her stupid-as-fuck father (my step-father. Boy, is that another post in waiting...) and I have to say that I have absolutely no idea what she'll do next. It's unreal.

And now it's Wednesday. Back is marginally better: scored some muscle relaxants from Mom last night (cyclobenzaprime?) which seem to have helped a bit. Was able do half an hour on the stationary bike this morning, followed by a nice long soak in the jacuzzi. Still sore and achey and generally "wrong" feeling, but at least I can get confortable, so that's good.

Big night o' TV ahead -- my TiVo is going to drop dead from exhaustion. We've got Lost (AWESOME premiere -- let's see how it follows up on it's promise), Smallville, The Apprentice, and Wife Swap (startlingly entertaining, although it's hard to say how long the fun will last) all in one night. Aside from Gilmore Girls and Monster House, that's pretty much every show I watch, all in one night. Should free up plenty of time for playing Zelda on Gameboy.

OK, this particular entry is even more rambly that usual. Time to pull the plug.

Mood: Meh
Now Playing: Lloyd Cole & the Commotions, "1984-89"

Friday, September 24, 2004

It's no baloney. It ain't a pony.

Yup. My head is just ... empty. I keep trying to come up with something to scribble here, but all I get is bzzzz bzzzzzzzz bzzzz. Nothing.


I blame this. I mean, I've heard the damn thing before. It's horrfying, yet... mesmerizing. Anyway, someone was playing it here at work this morning, and ever since that damn song has been shoving anything remotely inteeligent or coherent out of my brain at every turn.

Now, this one was awesome. I even created a buddy icon for AIM from some screen captures of that one. But this latest little ditty (actually a sped up song originally by child song charlatan Raffi) is like a neural version of bamboo chutes under the fingernails. Must. Drive. It. Out.

Will be hanging with some of our friends tonight -- hopefully the copious amounts of wine and whatnot will dissolve the brain cells that contain this melody. PLEASE.

Mood: Bored.
Now Playing: "Ring ring ring ring ring ring ring...."

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

The Sound of One Hand Slapping Repeatedly Against My Forehead As I Say "Stupid!" Repeatedly


So, fridge repairman shows up. Looks over the fridge, takes the back panel off, checks out the inside, and...

"Well, everything looks fine to me."

Not a single problem with the fridge? "But," we say, "we could see red glowy light and hear water sizzling! Isn't that, you know, bad?"

And he says, "Well, sure, it would be alarming, but there's no sign of anything being wrong or burned or anything. It was probably just the heating coil in the freezer."

"Huh?" I think, confused. "A heating coil, in my freezer? Doesn't this seem, well, a bit at odds? Heating coils make heat, and well, isn't my fridge supposed to be a cold place?"

And then, the rusty wheels in my cerebellum start creaking slowly into action. See, it's a frost free fridge, right? So, for something to be frost-free you have to have either a) no moisture or b) something to get rid of frost/moisture as it occurs. Obviously, you can't prevent moisture from entering your freezer, so it has to be (b).

Ahhh. Light bulb moment. Picture that moment in Monty Python and the Holy Grail when John Cleese says "Because... she's made... of... made of wood?" and you'll get a fairly good approximation of how this felt.

Not only is the fridge is fine, but we also have had the amazing luck to have never managed to open the fridge just as it was entering its defrost cycle (which typically last only a couple of minutes and cocurs every 6 or so hours) AND when it was actually defrosting something (drip/hisssss... drip/hisssss....) in nearly 6 years.

So, although I am now out about $50, I am tremendously relieved that my $1100 fridge is perfectly fine and is not preparing to burn down my house as I sleep. And, considering that I was already pricing a replacement fridge, completely convinced that the cost of reparing this one would be exorbitant, I feel as if I actually saved tons of money by spending fifty bucks. I think I'll cling to this feeling: It's satisfyingly contradictory, and quite rare.

For more info, see this bit of info over at How Stuff Works.

Mood: Relieved
Now Playing: R.E.M., "Around the Sun"

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Tick Tock Oh Damn

Just got a call from my buddy Rich (for more info, go here and here) and he has gotten his deployment orders. His flight for Iraq will be leaving within 48 hours. So, Christine just finished losing it on the phone with him (she's kept a good stiff upper lip so far, but the actual departure finally broke the facade), I talked with him for a few minutes and told him nothing he could say would pierce my steely exterior, so we said our au revoir's and that was that.

Moments later, Christine poked her face into the freezer, seeking some sort of culinary comfort, and she says "Huh. What's that... weird little... ummm... noise?" I listen from across the room, hearing a little crinkly/hissy sound, and assure her it is probably just some cellophane or something moving around. She moves a few things around, and says "ummm, nu-uh. Not cellophane. What is that?" So, exhasperated, I walk over, all prepared to be the superior male and I look in the freezer to see what's the what.


Something in the back of the freezer, all the way at the bottom and behind some sort of facing or shield or something, is... glowing. Red. And making a little rhytmic sizzling sound as water drips on it.

Yeah. That ain't good.

So, out comes the plug, and 45 minutes, 2 phone calls (mom, fridge repair dude), 40 lbs. of ice (corner store), 3 ice chests, several cardboard boxes, and hundreds of frayed nerves later the fridge is empty and our house is no longer in danger of imminent refrigerator-induced immolation.

Fuck. How much is this gonna fuckin' cost me? We've got a kiddie b-day party on Saturday -- hundreds of fucking dollars are already allocated to that fiasco. Something like a score of 5 and 6 year olds will be invading my demesne. And I currently have no refrigerator. No refrigerator means no ice cream. No cold beer. No ice for bourbon.

Good god, this is a problem.


Prior to the dire phone call and fridge emergency, we watched the season premiere of Gilmore Girls. Damn, I love that show. And I gotta say, I really want WB to rescind their silly little policy about not showing full penetration hardcore porno sex (including plenty of cheesy music, candlelight, and slow-mo money shots) just long enough for them to get into heavy-duty close-up detail for when Luke and Lorelai finally have sex. These two have the most entertainingly real-feeling sexual tension and chemistry I've ever seen on TV. I want them to be real, honest-to-goodness people so that I can be present when they do the deed. I want to buy the jumbo popcorn and a big-ass soda and watch them fuck for hours.

I've never felt this way about television people. Yeah, it's sad, pathetic, perverse, and weird. But there it is. Sigh.

Mood: Pain... tension.. back of... my neck....
Now Playing: Who fuckin' knows

Monday, September 20, 2004

Things That Suck

1. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (the movie, not the most excellent and wondrous comic). Awful. I want my 2 hours back.

2. My apparent inability to stop chewing the nail on my left pointer finger. I've been chomping on it compulsively for about 3 days, and it's looking pretty horrifying. Hurts a bunch, too! Course, I don't even realize I'm chewing on it until suddenly a brief jab of pain breaks my concentration and I go "Hey, that hurts! I shouldn't be doing that!"

3. Flaky Semi-Friends. Christine and I are currently trying to figure out just what went "wrong" with a couple of friends of hers/ours, that suddenly we are no longer speaking to each other, even though we used to go out to dinner, kids played together, they came to our Halloween party, and blah blah blah. Her husband and I weren't particularly compatible, but we could always chat amiably and the wives sure SEEMED to get along well. But whereas the women were getting together to hang out at least once or so times a week before the summer, as soon as school let out calls to try to set up plans went unanswered and now conversation is being avoided like the proverbial plague. I mean, this is really not the end of the world or anything -- the chick is a flake, and her husband is just fuckin' WEIRD (and not in an appealing, unique and quirky way. More in a discomfitting and schizo, medicated sort of way....), but still I'm just enough of a self-concious and insecure dork to sit here wondering ... Was it me? Did I do or say something? God, they don't think they're cooler than me or something, do they?

4. The Emmy's. God that sucked. Garry Shandling just doesn't work for me, at least in MC/Host capacity. His dominant quality (off-putting, uncomfortable-making, oily) worked amazingly well on the Lasrry Sanders Show specifically BECAUSE that was the joke: a host that makes people uncomfortable. As an MC of an awards program I thought he was 100% excruciating.

5. Any of the umpteen "surprise!" home remodeling/redesign shows (except for Monster House, which rocks). This shit is played out. Please take your annoying designers and quirky hosts and get the fuck out of Dodge. Trading Spaces, I'm talking to you.

6. Friday Night Kid's Soccer League Practices. Taking 4 year olds to soccer practice at 6:30 on a Friday night? Every Friday night? Until November? Who the fuck thought this was a good idea? And don't these coaches have ANYTHING resembling a life?

7. Saturday Morning Kid's Soccer League Games. See above, but at 9:00AM.

8. Having to choose between buying The Sims 2 and the Star Wars DVD Set, because there's just no way I can justify spending cash on both of them. This whole "not having any money to spend on fun shit" thing is really getting old.

Mood: Cranky
Now Playing: Claude Challe, "Buddha Bar, Vol. 1"

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

It rubs the lotion on its skin...

OK, this is one of the funniest, most demented little things I've run across ont he web in a LOOONNNNNGGGGGG time:

Lotion, by the Greens Keepers

Big Quicktime clip, folks, so you might want to avoid clicking if you're on dial-up. But it's worth the download time.

Not much going on in my world right now. Having lunch with my daughter at her school today, which should be fun. Work is pretty damn slow: some small label artwork designs to do, a couple of tiny little documentation pieces, and a user-expereience oriented but of competitive analysis on a competitor's product to plug away at, but otherwise it's mostly chill-out-and-keep-house time for me right now.

Not that this is a bad thing. Far from it. It just makes the days feel pretty long.

Trying to figure out what's going on with Orkut vs. .node and the various folks I've connected with via Orkut right now. It looks like everyone has abandoned Orkut, en masse, but I never heard about any sort of group Orkutcide plan. Personally, I'm fine with abandoning Orkut, as long as everyone will be over on .node -- for the time being, .node doesn't seem to have the problems that Orkut encountered with scaling. It probably will get there eventually, but for now it's working pretty well. Honestly, I think Orkut is better designed from a user point of view. When it works, that is. And since one of the most important aspects of a social network would apper to be being able to get on and socialize at will, Orkut's tremendously frustrating stability and responsiveness problems seem to have really crossed a lot of folks patience thresholds.

Anyway, if any of my Orkut pals are reading, here, please leave a comment letting me know what's the what. I'm just trying to figure out whether I should bother allocating any time to checking Orkut from here on out, or if I need to start reorienting my online social life to .node.

Mood: Mellow
Now Playing: Duran Duran, "Astronaut"

Monday, September 13, 2004

Vegas ReDux/Recap: Monday

Thunk... thunk... thunk.... thunk. Huh. Guess that's my somewhere-around-6:30AM toilet-thunk wakeup call. Pull a pillow over my head and go back to sleep. Mentally scratch Sahara off list of potential future Vegas trips.

Wake up about 8:30 or so, feeling that last-day-of-vacation mix of melancholy (aww, it's over...) and relief (getting a tad bit homesick, running out of cash...). I've always thought that when on vacation, the day that you achieve this conflicted feeling is the ideal day to leave. A day or so longer and I start to feel like I've been away too long and it becomes harder and harder to enjoy myself. A day or so less and I feel like I never quite hit vacation-time and relaxed completely, or that I just kind of short-changed myself.

Depending on the vacation and the circumstances, the time it takes for me to arrive at this "target" day can be anywhere from 2 days to a week. If I'm in a place that is basically laid-back, where there aren't a million things to do all the time, and I've got the whole family there with me, it can take at least a week before I start feeling the homeward pull. On the other hand, I've found that if I'm vacationing without my family and/or visiting a place that is fairly intense (like Vegas, or my recent New York City trip, or attending a round-the-clock party event like Dragon*Con with friends for example) I tend to reach the target day pretty fast: 2-3 days or so, after which I start getting a bit over stimulated. While I'm pretty damn outgoing and not what most folks would consider quiet or shy, I am by nature an introvert and a bit of a homebody. Being "on" for an extended period or away from home base for too long starts making me pretty edgy, and when I'm away from the kids and/or my wife I get even more so.

So anyway, this is a good sign. I'm ready to go, which means I won't be having any end-of-vacation depression. Well, perhaps just a touch of the blues, but that's cool.

Our flight doesn't leave until almost 3:00 this afternoon, so we decide to check out a bit early, leave our bags with the bell desk, and do a tad bit more exploring on foot. We hadn't managed to make our way to the Stratosphere yet, and since it's probably the closest thign of note to the Sahara, we head up that way.

On the way, I spot a partially-obscured "Obey Giant" sticker on a crossing signal.

These things fascinate me. I've seen them here in Austin as well as in NYC, Atlanta, Raleigh, and Orlando. It's gotten to the point that I actively seek them out when I'm walking around an urban area where stickering is prevalent, which is precisely the purpose of the "campaign." Propaganda without a goal, purpose or meaning outside of the image itself, designed to awaken/reawaken a sense of curiosity and wonder about one's environment. Fascinating stuff. I excitedly try to explain this to Christine, who gives me one of those "hmmm, interesting (geek)" sort of looks and moves on.

I get this look a lot. We've got one of those "as much alike as they are different" sort of relationships, which keeps things fun and interesting, although sometimes we simply do not connect on specifics. It's worked pretty well so far, and considering that "so far" a) includes 12 years of marriage and 10 years of dating and b) things with us are still damn fun and sexy and exciting it seems to be a pretty good recipe for success. For us at least. Your mileage may vary.

Anyway, off to the Stratosphere. Another older Vegas hotel, but much brighter and cleaner looking that the Sahara. Like so many of the newer, larger resorts down the Strip (Bellagio, Venetian) the Strat features an extensive array of shopping opportunities, although the look and feel of this one feels far more like a sanitized suburban shopping mall than anything resembling upscale or luxury. Anyway, we're not here to shop, we're here to eat and see the view, so we purchase tickets to go to the top of the tower ($10 a pop) and up we go.

The view is pretty amazing.

Once again, as with the Fremont Experience, the whole thing probably works way better when the lights are on at night. But still, quite impressive. Hey, I can see our hotel from here!

Yeah, it's pretty ugly from the air as well. Oh well, lesson's learned.

So, we do the observation deck for a bit and opt to not ride any of the thrill-rides at the top, (Christine's getting seriously freaked out: She's scared of heights) then head to the Top of the World restaurant for some brunch. It's cool: One of those revolving restaurants with nice picture windows all around.

However, the fact that the whole restaurant vibrates and shifts a bit when the roller coaster a couple of floors up rushes by isn't helping to settle Christine's nerves any. It's an odd sensation, that's for sure. I have a picture of her in the restaurant, but the less-than-settled look on her face isn't exactly something she'd like posted to the web, I think.

Anyway, brunch is consumed, views are enjoyed, events of the past few days are rehashed, and we head down to the street. We meet our shuttle a little later, and head to the airport.

At the airport, we are sad:

Ahh well, time to head home.

Anyway, a great vacation all in all. Perhaps a few too many "lessons learned" moments, but I suppose that's part and parcel of any first time in a new place. We'll make entirely new and different mistakes next time.

Final tally on cab fare came to around $275. Add that to the $300 I spent on our "bargain" hotel room and we could have stayed at Caesar's and not have had to take a cab anywhere (except for perhaps to the San Remo and certainly to downtown). Actually would probably have saved some cash, not to mention a bunch of time and about 36 layers of skin on our feet. We won't be staying at the north end of the Strip again. In fact, we won't be staying anywhere farther north than the Venetian. I mean, Casino Royale and Imperial Palace are both down there, they're both highly affordable (even on weekends), and while they're nothing to get excited about design- and features-wise, their location more than makes up for this.

We'll also NEVER come here on a holiday again. Not that Vegas is ever "not busy," but it's extraordinarily so on a 3-day weekend, not to mention that it is more expensive in every regard. Next time out it will be mid-week, when we can get a great rate on one of the high-end places and when the density of people isn't quite as high.

Mood: Laconic
Now Playing: Patty Griffin, "Flaming Red"

Friday, September 10, 2004

Vegas ReDux: Sunday

Thunk... thunk... thunk... thunk...

What the fuck is that sound?

Oh goddammit, hangover. My head is pounding. At first I think that's where the thunking is coming from, but no. It's the toilet again. 6:45AM. I’m starting to think the hotel powers-that-be do this shit on purpose, though I can't imagine why. Get up, drink a bunch of water, and go back to bed.

Finally roll out of bed, a little less worn, at about 9:30 and we decide to check out Downtown, a.k.a. "old" Vegas. One of our missions for the weekend was to try to track down one of the old "Big Bertha" slot machines for my mother-in-law and play $20 for her, and one of our many helpful cabbies let us know that the only ones left are downtown. Plus, I want to at least get a gander at the place -- sometime in future I want to do an actual gambling trip here, and I hear that downtown is way friendlier to low-end (i.e. $5 blackjack) gamblers like me. So, yet another cab ride, this time to the Main St. Station to get a piece of their $10 champagne brunch buffet.

The buffet is pretty much what you'd expect for $10: really cheap champagne and a broad variety of non-descript fare. Filling, not horrid, but certainly not much to recommend it beyond "hey, it's only $10 and you can eat 'til you puke!" The hotel, however, if more along the lines of what I think of when I think Vegas: Very turn of the century train station/bordello. Lots of glass, brass, wood, ceiling fans, stamped tin, and so on. Fun place.

Then it's off to finally try to do a bit of gambling. I had considered playing some blackjack Saturday night, but on the Strip on a Saturday night you're lucky if you can get a seat at a $10 table which is way beyond this boy's budget. We head over to Fremont, which actually is pretty nice during the day.

Plenty of shade, music playing, lots of opportunities to buy tchotchkes, kind of a carnival/street fair feeling. Of course, at night it has the whole Fremont Experience thing going on, with the canopy all lit up with LEDs and video. Sadly, this particular part of the Experience will have to wait for another visit, as we don't plan on hanging out here all day long. For now, we need to find a Big Bertha.

No real luck on that. However, we do spot a casino named "Fitzgeralds." Now, my mother-in-law's maiden name is Fitzgerald, so this seems to me to be a clear omen. A sign from the gambling gods that THIS IS THE PLACE. So we wander in, plug her twenty into a $1 slot, and start playing.

Wham, we hit for 25. And then we hit for another 60 or so. Next thing we know, she's up around $110 or so on her initial $20. Since we've entered real "you can buy something nice with that" money, we call her to see if she wants to push her luck: she wisely declines, and instead we pull a few more times to get her down to $100 and then cash out. We have a winner!

So, clearly this means we're on a streak, right?


Without going into ALL the details, within an hour we were down about $100. Couldn't win at video poker, slots were of course worthless money eaters, lost $50 in about 15 minutes at a $5 blackjack table, lost a bunch at roulette as well. Any semblance of luck we had was devoured by my mother-in-law's brief winning streak. Frustrated and annoyed, we decide that going a looking at a free exhibit up on the Strip might be a better way to spend the next couple of hours. So, it's off to The Mirage to see the white tigers!

Hop in another cab. This time we have a really funny Asian cab driver. Cursed like a sailor the whole time we were talking. He and his brother often go gambling, he told us, and his brother always wins. Sometimes thousands of dollars in one night! And the secret (and no, it's not an ancient Chinese secret) is "you must make the dealer angry! The anger will scare his luck away!" Apparently, this method works for his brother, who tends to drink a lot, gets surly and mean, pisses off the dealer, wins big, and then gets thrown out of the casino before he has a chance to lose his winnings. However, while I would like to win some cash, I just don't see abusing the staff as the proper way to do it, no matter how much of my money they keep taking away.

Anyway, we arrive at The Mirage, which is quite pretty. Big aquatic theme going on, with an enormous fish tank behind the main desk in the lobby. Really, really beautiful. After meandering a bit we head over to see the white tigers.

Well, tiger. And he wasn't white, either. What a gyp. I mean, he was nice and pretty and all that, but I guess they're keeping all the white tigers over in the not-quite-so-free Secret garden and Dolphin Habitat these days. And while I'm sure it's lovely, I've been to zoos before and I'm not dropping another $30 just to wander through yet another zoo, no matter how pretty the animals and their cages are.

Instead, it's off to Madame Tussaud's for some goofy (but expensive, of course) fun clowning around with the wax celebrities. Here are a couple of highlights:

I wonder how much product it takes to get his hair to stand this high....

Christine REALLY dislikes wife beaters, and I don't mean tank-tops....

Geekin' out on Buffy.

After that, it's back to The Sahara to figure out our next move. We chill out for a while, drink a bottle of champagne and set to planning. After the disaster last night, we've decided to just sort of let tonight "happen." No big plan, certainly not buying any show tickets which will force us to rush from one place to another in a panic, and so on. We're just gonna try to have a nice night. We decide on heading down to the Venetian, grabbing dinner at one of the restaurants, and getting a romantic and fun little gondola ride. By god, there will be romance! I demand it!

So, with some trepidation we set out on our second attempt to have a romantic and fun night. Cab ride down to the Venetian -- this time we shared the rather lengthy (due to traffic) ride with a nice Asian guy from San Diego. Endodontist. Not sure why he was up at the Sahara, as he was staying at the Venetian, and why on earth would you go all the way to the Sahara, alone, on a Sunday night when you’re staying at The Venetian? Something odd was going on, though who knows. I think he was gay -- he was oddly evasive when I asked if he was in town alone and he replied "no, I'm here with a friend" and then he sort of changed the topic kind of abruptly. Or maybe he was a serial killer. Who knows.

So, we arrive at The Venetian around 7:30-ish and screw around in the casino for a while, playing video poker (blackjack was up in the $10 minimum zone) and getting a few comped drinks in. Then we headed over to the Grand Canal Shoppes, wandered along the "canal", and headed into St. Mark's Place to see what sort of waits the restaurants had. We wind up putting our names in at Postrio, which is a Wolfgang Puck restaurant, and then we head over to purchase tickets for a gondola ride. It's about 8:15 by now, so we buy tickets for a 9:45 gondola, assuming that will give us enough time to get a table, eat, and wander a bit.

Alas, the wait for a table stretches on for a while longer than we expect. We hang at the bar in Postrio (GORGEOUS bar area: all dark woods and art glass. And the bar staff is wonder to watch, moving precisely and efficiently, without any ridiculous "Cocktail"-style theatrics. And watch the time going by, our gondola ticket time approaching a little faster than we want. Finally, at about 9:00 I wander up front to ask if it will be much longer, and explain the predicament. As it happens, the manager is nearby and he swoops in, asking if it would be acceptable for us to eat at the bar. And while that's not really what I was hoping for, it'll beat going hungry and/or missing our gondola, so I say sure. He walks inside with us, says Hi to Christine (this guy is smooth, by the way. Sleek, professional, friendly but not overly so, every bit the ideal restaurant manager) and looks around. He spots a booth off the bar, away from the smoke, and voila! We are seated. Within seconds a waitress appears, and says that she won't rush us, but she has been told that we are trying to catch a gondola in a little while and so, if we want, she'll do things a little faster than they typically would.

Now, already I'm thrilled, because compared to our disastrous dinner at Il Fornaio this couldn't be going better. They're apologizing for rushing us, because typically they would never do that but they understand we might be in a rush. Great wait staff, beautiful room, cordial and accommodating management. So far, this place is great. But, well, let's get to the food.

It was astonishingly good. Nothing too challenging, really: I had fettuccine alfredo with chicken, mushrooms, other stuff, and Christine has some rotisserie chicken with garlic mashed potatoes. But good god, it was heavenly. The fettuccine was easily one of the most delicious things I had ever tasted, and Christine's chicken was perfect, the garlic potatoes so delicious we were scraping the traces of them off the plate. Within a half hour, we were finished, and although the meal was a bit haphazard and rushed it was by far the best dining experience we had. Postrio is a top-notch place and I couldn't recommend it more highly.

Then, off to the gondola! We wind up seated with another couple, some young kids from Missouri (married 1.5 years, they couldn't have been more than 22). Now, Christine and I, at this point, are positively giddy. The night, in spite of some obstacles, is turning out to be fabulous and fun. We're having a blast and just had an amazing meal. Oh, and we've also had a bottle of champagne and 3-4 drinks on top of it, to boot. So, we are ripped and rarin' to go.

I'm pretty sure we completely terrified them. Oh well.

The gondolier, on the other hand, loved us.

We had him laughing the whole time, we all sang Finiculi Finicula at the top of our lungs, I kissed Christine as we passed under each and every bridge (and laid a really good one on her under the faux Bridge of Sighs for luck, of course) and we laughed and laughed, long and hard.

Then, brief stop at Godiva to have some chocolates for dessert, and just for the fuck of it we stopped into Jimmy Choo's to browse the shoes. Man, check these out:

Those boots were almost $2000! I mean, they're REALLY cool, but $2000 boots? Unreal. Man, I wish I had the dough to blow two grand on some footwear.

At this point, the evening is winding down, so we decide to stroll down to the Bellagio to watch fountains for a while and then head home before something goes wrong to spoil our perfect evening. On the way I pick up an enormous margarita by Caesar's: the bartender seems to have decided everyone deserves extra tequila in their drinks that night, and I'm not complaining. And then, we're at the Bellagio. The fountains have these amazing fog generators going, and the entire lake is covered with a nice layer of fog, leading me to anticipate something mysterious and interesting in the music category for the next presentation.

And then ... what is that nose? A tin whistle? Out-of-tune bagpipes? A bleating goat? No, it's Celine Dion! Gah! The strains (and I do mean strains) of "My Heart Will Go On" pierce the air. I let out an exasperated "ugh!" and by the sudden chorus of chuckles around me I find that I am surrounded by a group of folks who feel much the same way pierces the air. The fountains are gorgeous, again, but oh good god that fucking song curdles my blood. Finally, it's done, and we opt to hang around, hoping the next one will be better. And it is: "All That Jazz," although they went with the entirely OK but not great Catherine Zeta Jones version. Sadly though, while the music is better, the fountain choreography (I don't really know what else to call it) isn't all that exciting for this one. But it's certainly pleasant, and a great way to end the night. With that, we grab a cab and head home.

Cab total: somewhere in the vicinity of $225-250.

Next chapter: Monday. The bitter end, and a recap.