Monday, July 26, 2010

That Kind of Night

Fairly sizable pile of freelance stuff to work through over the next couple of days - after which, my schedule will be much freer.  At which point, my attentions will turn to the much overdue cleaning of the basement and general cleaning of the house.  Stand by.


Like an Arrow

The weekend moved fairly quickly, even though not much of real consequence happened.  This is a good thing, no?  Yesenia and I went up to our favorite* mexican place, CafĂ© Fiesta, way up in Highland Mills.  We've been eating there since the earliest days of our relationship, after she moved out of her dad's house and up to stay at her mom's vacant condo.  When we were first looking for places to eat nearby, I suggested it but Yesenia was doubtful, repeating that her mom had thought it was mediocre.

Her mom was wrong.  It was great, and is still great.  It's probably a good thing that we don't live closer, or I'd eat there twice a week.

As it is, it's always a nice drive and I love the whole adventure routine of piling in the car, driving out the end of the Palisades and continuing on north into the mountains, hunting for the mexican.

When we got back, we set about removing the branch that had fallen in the back yard after last Monday's big storm.  I say 'branch,' here, but it was in all truthfulness the entire top half of a tree, which took down other massive branches on its way down, embedding itself it the ground and completely covering our shed - multiple heavy branches intertwined, impossible to move.  

Out came the ax.  I chopped it off at the trunk (well, the thickest part that had impacted about a foot into the soil) and then two of the larger branches higher up.  Shirtless, sweaty and with Guess sunglasses on as safety goggles.  I'll bet I was a sight, but I'm not sure if Yesenia got a picture, so you may be spared.

Thing is, the sheer volume of tree that had come down was far too much to fit on our curb, so I now need to see if the town will take away two consecutive loads - otherwise, it's back to several hours of chopping and carting off trees.  Perhaps this time, I'll man up and rent the chainsaw.  Chopping trees in August swelter is strictly unfun.


*Well, at least it's my favorite.  But Yesenia does like it a lot.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

So far out of left field, they had to build a new park

Third film by Richard Kelly (of Donnie Darko fame).  Not sure what I was expecting, going in - I knew most of the gist of it, the general expansions on Richard Mattheson's original story - which I'd already seen adapted on Twilight Zone, The Next Generation, or whatever it's called.  The basic setup of the original short story and the Twilight Zone version: a couple facing money problems is given a box by a mysterious stranger.  The box is small, with the only feature being a done covering a big red button on top.  If they press the button, they will be given a large sum of money and a total stranger will die.  The wife presses the button.  In the short story, the husband dies and the stranger explains that she never really knew he husband (groan).  The original adaptation ends with the mysterious stranger collecting the box and assuring the couple that it will be reprogrammed and given to someone they don't know.

Kelly's film version takes the Twilight Zone idea and runs with it.  Runs really, really, really far with it, since the button is pushed in the first half hour of the film, and all sorts of crazy - but surprisingly linear, considering the source - stuff happens after that.  Kelly has completely matured as a filmmaker, and he's probably going to have the career that M. Night Shaymalan keeps trying to lose.  Sure, The Box is full of a lot of the same goofy touches that made Donnie Darko kind of insufferable - in particular, the water imagery - and has one of the most over-the-top scores I've heard in a long time.  But the world it presents is interesting and textured (if not a 100% believable version of the 1976 when the story is set), the cosmology is tight and compelling, played out slowly and with building intensity.  Kelly manages to walk the fine line between the total obscurity of the plot in Darko and giving away so much that he spoils the spell that he's trying to weave (as in the director's cut of Darko, or so I've heard).  The film ends with many of the central questions only partly answered, and none of the answers are particularly heartening.

As a side note, this film is the most Twilight Zone-y film I think I've ever seen, right down to the morality tale aspect.

I completely get why this film failed to find an audience.  It builds with a vintage touch, paced like a 70's era slow burn, and the payoff is a small-scaled downer.  But if Kelly continues to display the gift for writing, pacing and structure that he shows here, I suspect his next film (if they give him another one, that is, as this only made $15 million at the box office on a $30 million budget) will find him putting it all together in a way that stays true to who he is as a filmmaker while actually being able to connect with a mass audience.


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Politics as Usual

I think that every time Obama signs a bill into law from now on: the house lights should go down, a single spot comes up on Biden, standing alone off to one side.  He looks up and whispers sotto voce (with a single tear sliding down one cheek), 'This is a big fucking deal.'

There is a pause of several, silent seconds, then the house lights come back up and everybody gets a pen.


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

All Summer in Two Days

With just a few weeks remaining in the summer, I'm doubling-down on as much freelance work as I can, before school starts in the fall.  Consequently, I haven't really been able to do much of anything 'summery,' which is a drag, but as far as drags go, having too much work as opposed to not enough is the preferable drag by far.

Over the weekend, however, I was able to squeeze in a lot of summer activity into a very short time - as houseguest/day laborer, over the course of about 30 hours, I removed all the wiring from a 60-year-old garage, along with a partial plywood ceiling (storage area above the main floor), then put in a new ceiling frame, then went biking and swimming and collecting donations for a local arts group outdoor performance of As You Like It.*  And it's a testament to how tight my life is that spending eight hours sweating in a garage with a nailgun actually felt like a vacation.

The best part of the weekend was discovering that the mystery wire that came in through the concrete floor coupled with the feedline actually went down to a forgotten fallout shelter below the garage.  The shelter itself (accessed through a very small wooden hatch behind the garage) was a pretty sketchy place; a 5' diameter piece of corrugated piping, completely in darkness, with about 6" of ground water in the bottom.  The mystery wire was there as suspected as suspected, coming into the shelter over in the corner, coiled slackly around a metal rod, with some kind of nut locking off the end, waiting to be hooked into whatever sad little light was brought down there right after the apocalypse.

Bear in mind that the space (and the wire) had been unused and untouched for almost 60 years, and that the wire was live the entire time, until I finally cut it off at the source.

Yesenia missed all this fun, opting to stay at home with bronchitis.  She's crazy.


*Longtime passengers of the Rambler may recall an earlier vacation with the same play in similar circumstances.  Something about my summer vacations always seem to end up with outdoor performances of As You Like It.  Is there something about this play in particular that lends itself to lawns at sunset?

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Subway Rambler Presents: Medical Mysteries

My week?  My week was fairly ordinary, if you discount the 48-hour dual birthday party* that ate up the entire weekend.  The week of someone I love very much, on the other hand, was profoundly... I'm going to go with the word 'hardcore,' since 'Extreme' makes it sound more like it was on purpose, and likely sponsored by Mountain Dew, or Doritos.  Or Mountain Dew flavored Doritos, which actually do exist, in the face of all logic or good taste.

Anyway, pretty much almost everybody who reads this blog already knows that Karl - also in the face of all logic and good taste - was hit by a stroke Tuesday around noon.  The one thing he did display was good timing, as it happened right in the middle of a workday, while he was talking to a customer at the Apple Store in Stamford.  Which is, I have to say, about the best possible scenario you can find yourself in when the medical emergency demon comes gunning for you, short of actually already being at the hospital.  I plan to spend a lot more of my time hanging out at malls, being the hypochondriac that I am, just as a precaution.

 After a brief life-saving dalliance in Stamford, Karl was brought to Columbia-Presbyterian.  There, apparently to suffer not just the drawn-out shock of what had happened, but also everyone's attempted jokes about why it happened. (My own entry: there are easier ways to avoid having me yell at you).

As I mentioned to Karl when I visited on Wednesday night, this was my fourth official trip to this hospital. The first was my birth (which also included my circumcision, so it probably wasn't all fun and games); the second was to visit my high-school friend during his somewhat lengthy psoriasis treatments; the third was when my step-sister was being treated for melanoma, and now Karl with a decades-early stroke.  At this rate, I'm not looking forward to my next visit, you know?

I'll leave the bulk of the story for Karl to fill you in on when he returns to blogging - apparently, typing and all sorts of things like that will be therapeutic.  And, for once, so will masturbation.

Karl has found himself in the unlucky position over the last few years of being my primary artistic collaborator - so I'll confess to some selfishness when I wish him a speedy recovery.  But he has the benefit of an army of friends and loved ones wishing the same for far more altruistic reasons, so hopefully he'll forgive me my own lapse in logic and good taste.


*Not one, but TWO parties for Jim's 40th.  Long story.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Biff! Pow! Sigh!

Harvey Pekar.

There goes another one, and it's a big one, to boot.  I think at this point that Pekar needs no introduction - although he certainly deserves a rich eulogy.  Pekar, through sheer willpower, made himself one of the pivotal figures of American comics.  Without him, the explosion of prurient 'adult' comics of the late 1960's would never have matured into comics with truly adult content.  And by 'adult,' here, I don't mean tits and ass, the centerpieces of underground mainstays like Crumb, Wilson and others.  I mean deep, thoughtful and refreshingly inconclusive character studies and meditations on modern American life at the lower end of the economic ladder and the outer fringes of the culture.

It would be impossible, really, to imagine modern 'literary' comics coming to be without his example. No one gave greater proof that comics are as much a writers' medium as an artists' - perhaps even more so, because a poorly drawn comic that's well-written is infinitely more compelling than a well-drawn one that's poorly written - and art comics in the age of the auteur offer example after example of pretty, stylish things without a thought in their head.  Crumb himself was never better than when paired with Pekar, and I grateful for the work that they did together, however slim the volume.

There was so much to the man and his body of work that it would take days to sit down and just give a general outline.  He was as strong a critic and essayist as he was a storyteller, and the breadth of his knowledge (like that of many autodidacts) was impressive to behold.

That's also the death of a small dream of mine, to have one day illustrated a Pekar story - and given his fealty to young and ambitious cartoonists, not such an outrageous one.

I can honestly say that Pekar is a large an influence on me as any of the other, perhaps more obvious examples (Dave Sim comes to mind, I'll bet).  But while drawing pretty pictures and even the more subtle skill of visual storytelling are disciplines that can be mastered with enough patience, the human soul, insight, wit and grace that Pekar gave to his perfectly-observed and structured stories is something that can't be learned, only earned.

It's sort of interesting to view a film that Pekar-portrayer Paul Giamatti made after he starred in the (really stellar) adaptation of American Splendor - Cold Souls where Giamatti - playing himself - trades his soul in for that of a Russian factory worker so that he can bring truth to his portrayal of Uncle Vanya.  Of course, the film draws the same conclusion - you can't just borrow soul.  It's the one thing as an artist that you've either got or you don't, and Pekar had a lifetimes worth, and more.

Man, I'm going to miss him.


The web is full of eulogies to the man today, and you probably won't do better than the one over at the Zeitgeisty Report, which also features a great interview.


Sunday, July 11, 2010

Things Fix Themselves, Sometimes

Nothing major, of course, but I find it promising that the Blogger search function in the bar at the top of the screen is now working again.  Meaning that you (or, more likely, me) can search the entire Rambler archives for a particular entry/entries.  Even if you don't use it, it still benefits you, since I use it to review previous entries on a particular topic so that I don't repeat myself when I revisit it.

Oddly, the search widget in the sidebar still doesn't function, so I'm removing it.  Hopefully, that won't make the top one cease to function.  It seems highly unlikely, but is it really any less likely than one working all of a sudden after failing to work for weeks while the other still doesn't work?  Ah, Google.

However, me big impressed by the new Blogger Template Editor Function, with a whole host of really nice templates and a seriously flexible set of variables.  So I'm dropping in a new tweaked template to replace the eyesore that I adopted when I first went with the CNAME version of the Rambler.  And I'm glad to see that the changeover is really starting to pay off - it was a hassle, but there turn out to be a number of plusses and the minuses (such as the non-functioning search widget) are slowly diminishing.

I've also taken the opportunity to move the Followers tab down to the bottom of the page.  This is not me discouraging you from following - merely an acknowledgement that no-one has signed on since I added it back in April, and it's sort of embarrassing to have it sitting there in plain sight as a reminder.

I think I'll take this as a sign/opportunity to add back in the tag function, for things like the Floyd reviews, Your Weekend Listening and Vomit Comics.  You're welcome.


Friday, July 9, 2010

Stretch Legstrong

In an ideal world, that title would be an announcement that I'd gotten myself back to the gym, or something, but - no, it's the middle of summer and my exercise regime consists of moving the lawnmower in and out of my car.  As it stands, I'm not in any better or worse shape than usual, but somehow when I'm working full time, I become hyperaware of how sedentary the life of a graphic designer is.  Until Wacom makes a treadmill interface for Photoshop, it looks like I'll have to take the extra effort to get my ass to the gym and then promptly work it.


Thursday, July 8, 2010

Across The Tappan Sea

I haven't spoken much about the band with no name recently, partly because of my long-standing 'Don't Blog About PCMA' superstition but mostly because there hasn't really been anything to blog about.  It's a band full of busy men with shifting lives, and sometimes those lives shift right out of the picture frame for several weeks at a time.

Or sometimes altogether and permanently, as with the case of our singer Christine, who found working in a band (or at least this band) was just not to her taste, and gracefully bowed out back in March thereabouts.

Her departure solved one outstanding problem, being that the band with no name suddenly found itself with a name - Christine being the lone holdout against The Tappan Sea, fearing that it would be confused for the crumbling bridge.  She's right, but the remaining members still liked it and we adopted it immediately upon her retirement - maybe not so much a reflection of the genius of the name than the fact that it was the only name that the rest of us had ever agreed on in the four years of our existence, and we were plumb tired of being 'the band with no name.'

I've always been fairly easygoing about names.  Given that almost any band name is pretty stupid until the band starts to invest it with iconic meaning, my only requirements are that it not be too leading, not be a pun, and not be too topical.

Beyond that, go for it.

I've also used as a warning sign Ansley; a firm believer in the power of finding a perfect name who obsessively searches for, passionately embraces and then disgustedly rejects names cyclically.  Ansley is in general much more of a romantic than I am - he carries with him the scarred cynicism of the eternally faithful.  It's a gift I envy.  I lack the faith that there is a perfect name, perfect mate, perfect chair, perfect shadows cast upon a cavern wall in flickering candle light.

I guess I lack faith in the concept of perfection, which is one reason why a popular debate between myself, Ansley and Bran is on the possibility of the objectively 'good' in art.  I obviously don't believe it exists - you like what you like, and even the stuff that you might regard as being entirely without value is beloved - or at the very least deeply beliked - by somebody.  Ansley and Bran maintain that there are empirical criteria by which art can be labelled good or bad.  You can imagine the fun when they launch into an assault on the validity of Susan Boyle, which they have to attack on principle and I have to defend on principle.  The punchline is, of course, that there never was an artist that we all couldn't have cared less about.  The argument is the thing.

Anyway, having chosen our not-perfect-but-close-enough name, we stagnated for a few months while real life moved us around.  We are now blessed with a period of relative calm, so we've finally started the tiny little ball rolling on finding a singer to replace Christine.  We don't have much to offer beyond good songs and a creative atmosphere.

Oh, yes - and a name.  One lesson learned in the wake of Christine is to choose the name before a new member arrives.  It will save a lot of trouble.


Wednesday, July 7, 2010

It Thinks it Can

Yesenia had to get up at 4:30 this morning, to be out of the house by five, to be at the office by 7:15.  Then she didn't get home until after 7 PM.  In spite of all of this, she seemed to be in a pretty good mood, but was pretty beat down by the heat.  So I suggested that we head off to Lowe's after dinner to pick up an air conditioner for the bedroom.  Neither she or I really liking sleeping in AC, but she couldn't sleep much last night and I'm sure tonight would be worse.

Picked up a very small Frigidaire that's supposed to work for rooms about 150 square feet (our bedroom is probably closer to 200), and with it on high, it's managing to make the room comfortable, if not chilly.  Which is exactly what I like air conditioning for.

Why so small?  Well, apart from being pretty damn cheap ($99), we figured that when the heatwave passes, we'll have no use for it, but when we have guests it would be good to offer them the option of not sweltering for the night - and the guest room actually is about 150 square feet, so there you are.


Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Rant's a Brewin'

Over the last few weeks, I've annoyed everyone I know with the basic outlines of a pretty major position paper that I've been unconsciously composing for the better part of the last two years.  The basic gist: my observations on Apple and Google, their business practices and their approach to the new media age - and how it's pretty much the most important thing going on right now in terms of the future of art and entertainment - and the audience for them.

In other words: all those stories about Avatar representing the wave of the future?  Maybe, but that's a mere niche (and who thinks that the current raft of HD-TVs with glasses-required 3D is going to last more than a few months?).  The real story is in the answer to the two following questions, and how the folks in Cupertino and Mountain View answer them:

1) Is art information?
2) Is information free?


Sunday, July 4, 2010

Pad of I

Turns out Fiona is now also the proud owner of an iPad, courtesy of Bubba for her birthday. This is, in fact, what I am Rambling on at this very moment. Not what I would consider a typists' dream - if you type at any speed at all, chances are you do so by touch, and the iPad eliminates that entirely. Instead, they bring in the word-completion feature from the iPhone, which isn't all that useful if you're used to using your thumbs as part of your method.

Back to hunt and peck, and given the lack of any tactile response, it's doubtful that typing on the iPad could ever be as accurate or as fast as a traditional keyboard. For all I know, this may be part of Apple's master plan to wean people off of using keyboards altogether. Given how generally unpleasant it is to type on one of the newer iMac keyboards, I'm thinking that typing as a computer interface is the next bit of basic hardware that Steve Jobs has on the chopping block.

I think what's going on is that Apple is nearing the completion of the move from the most powerful machine for creative professionals to vanguard of the media delivery device era - and I'm still lagging behind in category 1. This entry is a perfect example - between accidentally triggering the number keypad, brushing the spacebar with my thumb, and backing up to replace what the iPad thought I meant to type with what I actually meant to, it took me roughly three times as long to make this Rambler as usual.

The clear argument is that this is not the device for this activity. And I'd have to agree. But of what real use is a lifestyle device that only encourages passive participation? Unless there's some major advancements in speech (or handwriting, in a pinch) recognition, the iPad has no more real creative potential than a really boss Wonderful Waterfull.