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4/16/2010 • link2 comments

It is a fucking mystery to me why a game as bad as the Scrabble Brand Crossword Game is as popular as it is. I suppose there are two factors at play: the [you-can-never-go-wrong-underestimating-the-] taste of the American public, and 2) the tendency of human beings toward an unexamined, unquestioning, undying, and superstitious love of tradition. Because I really believe that in every important way Scrabble fails as a game, and that if it were released today it would be ignored. Why?

1. It purports to be fun for people who love words, but actually, if you love words? This game sucks. If you love words, you want to use them and see them used in interesting ways. A typical scrabble game will have like 20 words on the board if you make it to the end without shooting yourself. Most of them will be shitty words you could build out of racks like AEEEIRT. The odds that any player will get to play a truly cool word are exceedingly thin. If you like to see interesting words arranged cleverly in a grid, do the NY Times crossword, which is created by people who have the entire dictionary at their disposal, instead of a stunted handful of crap.

2. It impossibly favors those initiated with arcane knowledge. It is well known -- and accepted! -- that the key to winning at Scrabble is knowing a shitload of two- and three-letter words like QI, UT, DUP, IGG. This is not about having a good vocabulary; it's about learning a bunch of tricks. So many of these words are useful only for playing Scrabble. Can you see what's wrong with that? The game is eating its own tail.

3. It is almost impossible to actually play. By which I mean it is almost impossible to engage in the most essential element of gameplay, the laying-down of tiles. Once you accept the fact that you will not be able to play an interesting word or a 7-letter "bingo," you are still faced with a set of appallingly limited options. But you still gotta try to maximize your points, so you look for the best way to lay down the tiles FAR on the board. FARM for 4 points? FART for 5? Ooh! double letter score for the R makes it 6! FUCK YOU, SCRABBLE.
     Look, even if you are shitty at poker, you can still play the game -- you can sit a 5-year-old down at a game of 5-card draw and, though he may lose every hand, the game will proceed. But it's common to see four grown, literate adults huddled behind a ten-year-old's Scrabble rack, trying to find one legal move for the poor bastard.
     If you like to build interesting words in a grid -- which I think is the implicit (and unsatisfied) promise of Scrabble -- you should play the Scrabble variant Take Two (aka Bananagrams), in which you juggle an ever-increasing pool of tiles, racing against your opponents to create a crossword-style grid. Throw away your Scrabble board and use the tiles to play Take Two. Do it now.

4. It takes forever, and continues sucking. My ADD makes me especially fidgety during any game that takes over an hour. But at least some games are worth the wait. Scrabble is so intolerable because other people's turns are long, boring, and end with shittiness, and when it's finally your turn, more shittiness ensues, as described above. So what is the fucking point? Wait forever to be frustrated by stupidity? Sounds fucking awesome. Can you turn Jury Duty into a game I could play at home? How about the DMV?

5. The gameboard is shitty. After all the valid gameplay reasons above, this just seems petty, but it just shows how COMPLETELY Scrabble fails. If you sneeze or, god forbid, jog the board a tiny bit, the unanchored pieces will go flying all over the place. Obviously, I consider this a blessing. Some editions allow letter pieces to sit in little cells, and I've seen magnetic travel versions that solve this too, but the standard Scrabble set is fragile as the hips of its most devoted players.

So there it is. If you think you like playing Scrabble, you are probably wrong. Perhaps the sights, sounds, and postures you experience while playing Scrabble trigger some deeply buried Pavlovian associations. Maybe, at family gatherings as a child, the only time your mom paid attention to you was during Scrabble games with her sisters; you sat on her lap and she ran her fingers absent-mindedly through your hair, scritching your scalp, the most she'd touched you in a year. She sipped at her tea (she never usually drank tea, what a magical beverage!), rearranged her tiles on her rack, hummed occasionally, no song in particular, and she accepted, acknowledged your presence, your nearness, almost as if you were her good luck charm. Like... she needed you. She'd plop a little kiss in your hair and ask "you okay?" and no way in hell were you gonna say anything but "mm-hmm." This was heaven. What a wonderful game.
.: .2.0. . : . . . :
3/17/2009 • link14 comments

. television
John From Cincinnati
(WARNING: contains spoilers for the season that just ended, but since I don't really recommend seeing it, you might as well read my review.)
     Coasting on the goodwill he earned by creating three stunning seasons of Deadwood, David Milch could have televised a piece of poo, and I would have watched 13 episodes just to see what happened. Unfortunately, with John from Cincinnati, that's kinda what he did.
     I've read enough interviews with Milch to know that his writing process, at least now that he's not scripting police procedurals, is wildly idiosyncratic: he lies on the floor of a trailer with a pillow, surrounded by "writers" and a typist, barking out lines of dialogue and editing them on the fly as he watches them appear on a large screen on the wall. And he apparently does this without a plan. He just puts characters in a room and lets them interact, hoping something of interest transpires. Which, on Deadwood, something often did. Deadwood benefited from a loose timeline of historically dictated plot points, so it looked like there was a plan -- at least until the end of the last season, which built pressure relentlessly to an anticlimax that still somehow satisfied, mostly because it seemed realistic.
     John from Cincinnati, however, has no such moorings: no plot points, no tiresome "realism." It turns out Milch works better with some restrictions.
     The problem with most of this first (and, I have to imagine, last) season is that nothing really happens. A weird guy shows up to a surfing town, performing miracles or being nearby when they occur, but only about 16 characters seem to exist in this town, and they only interact with each other. Most of the time, when Milch let his characters interact with each other, they just discussed the other characters offscreen. People had emotions, fears, and motivations that were realistic enough, but dramatically it was like the opposite of 24.
     I don't mean the antidote to 24, or a soothing relief from 24. As we all know, most law enforcement officers go their entire careers without firing their weapons, but Jack Bauer draws, fires, and kills people with his gun multiple times an hour. It's retarded. But despite resurrections, levitations, and various teleportations, JfC is narratively so realistic that it's filled with exactly the kind of "drama" as a typical week at the office.
     I enjoyed some of almost every episode, but I can't recommend it with a clear conscience to those of you with HBO on Demand.
. : . . .4.1: . . . . :
8/13/2007 • link0 comments

Friend and Foe
It's hard to describe the music of Menomena without trotting out the cliché that they don't sound like anybody else. It's weird enough that they appear to have three different lead singers, but it's the structures of their songs which are really puzzling. They're built through some sort of collaborative live-looping process, but whatever. What results is just fucking weird. I'm not always sure I like all of it, but I'm always a little confused, and I don't necessarily become less so if I listen more carefully. This is one of those albums that, every time I think of it, I stop listening to whatever else I'm listening to and put this on instead. One of my favorites of the last year.
.: . . . . : . . .9.3:
3/28/2007 • link0 comments

Recent Movie Rental Roundup, Vol.1
Somehow I end up seeing a crapload of movies, and it's only fair that I tell you how they were. This capsule review format, assuming I can restrain myself, should allow me to convey the most pertinent information (is it worth watching, and if so, why?) with room for a little color. Here goes nothing.

dir. Sam Mendes
This movie was a big sandy reminder of how much more I like Peter Sarsgaard than Jake Gyllenhaal. Jake really bulked up for the role, and his neck is wider than most of his head, which it turns out is not very attractive anyway. I know some of you think JG is hot, and I'm sorry to be the one to break it to you, but he's a straw hottie: you're heating up your Hanes over a smirk and an eye-twinkle -- there's no there there. Watching two hours of gyllenglower should cure you of any residual crush.
     As for the movie itself, it's decent enough, though it it doesn't look as hot when you stand it next to its most obvious cinematic progenitors, Full Metal Jacket (Marine training) and Three Kings (Gulf War). It's a war movie without the actual war, and it's about what happens when people are trained to kill, dropped into a war zone, and not allowed to kill. Jamie Foxx is good, Sarsgaard great. Watch for the scorpion fight.

dir. Wong Kar Wai
Megapraised quasisequel to Wong's In the Mood for Love, which I didn't see. It's slow, beautiful, and heartbreaking, a five-year snapshot of one man's life, with the time marked by the women who mattered even as he tried his damnedest to keep them from doing so. Tony Leung, who I still think of as the other guy in The Killer, plays a hack writer of dirty science fiction in late-sixties Hong Kong, and living in a decaying hotel brings him into contact with a series of dazzlingly portrayed women. He's blandly charming, an improbable ladies man, but by the end of the movie, I wanted to fuck him, too. Although I think it was a bit overrated, it is a pretty serious meditation on the stupid human trick of falling in love with the worst possible candidate for such attention. The sixties scenes are shot with loving attention to every detail, and the intermittent scenes set on a high-speed transglobal train in the year 2046 are drool-worthy confections, the exterior stuff CG but the interiors classic sixties-style future vision, rounded corners and womb chairs. Best if you're in a patient mood.

The Brothers Grimm
dir. Terry Gilliam
I wondered how a TG movie got by me, so I rented it and had my answer. Poor TG got back on his horse after failing to make Don Quixote (see Lost in La Mancha for the tragic tale of the doomed production) and came up with this, which might have been a fine movie made by someone else, but had the bad luck of being the worst Terry Gilliam movie ever. Cast your eyes over his directing filmography, and you'll see that it's a pretty stellar list, and it's no shame being the worst of the bunch (yes, worse even than Munchausen), but still, it's a letdown. Heath Ledger, Peter Stormare, and Jonathan Pryce are all great, but in service of something that looks and feels a little too much like Time Burton's Sleepy Hollow.

dir. Chan-wook Park
A brutal Korean revenge movie with an awesome setup: a man is imprisoned -- without knowing why -- for fifteen years, when he's freed just as capriciously, left to find his captors and give something back. The payoff doesn't quite live up to the setup (though that could be a cultural difference -- maybe it killed in Korea), but along the way there are some tasty setpieces. Stu told me to watch for the scene where our hero, armed only with a clawhammer, takes on a narrow hallway filled with 30-odd thugs -- and leaves them all moaning on the floor. The end takes too long, but all in all it's worth a rental, though when I put the DVD in, it defaulted to playing back with the audio track dubbed in English. Fiddle with your "Audio" and "Subtitle" buttons until you get Korean sound and English titles, as god intended.

dir. Robert Schwentke
A capable thriller that takes place on a jet bigger than that monstrous Airbus deal. Jodie Foster is great, as always, at making you care about her, even when the plot is full of nonsensical action movie holes. Sarsgaard is in this one, too, and he's great, again. Sarsgaard! The director does a great job of conveying the sense of being on a plane, and pulls some Hitchcockian camera stunts, if you dig that kinda thing (the extra features are pretty cool on this one). It's also unclear whether Jodie's character is completely nuts or not, which is hard to pull off. I had fun with this, despite the aforementioned plot holes, because they just come with the territory nowadays.

dir. Tony Scott
Quite unexpectedly, this one ended up being the pick of the litter. It's completely over the top, and the opening credits let you know that the movie doesn't take itself too seriously, feeling like a mix of Charlie's Angles, 70s exploitation flix, Saturday morning cartoons, and an Aerosmith video. I've always thought that Tony Scott was a crowd-pleasing hack compared to his serious older brother Ridley, but I'm starting to wonder. Ridley's cred is all based on two early works of unquestionable genius and vision: Alien and Bladerunner. But lately it's all been Gladiator, Black Hawk Down, and, god help us, Hannibal. Tony made Top Gun at the start of his career, so he was at least more honest about his intentions. But then he made True Romance, which this movie kinda reminds me of, though it owes more to Tarantino's other big pre-Pulp Fiction script, Natural Born Killers. The thing is, I think that Domino might be better than both of those movies (TR and NBK). It's unabashedly entertaining, and admits early on that it's fucking with the truth for the sake of fun. The supporting cast is uniformly fantastic, with your Rourke and Liu and Walken all up in that shit. The pace is, like, perfect, and I mean it. Oh yeah, and the story is that Laurence Harvey, of The Manchurian Candidate, had a daughter who gave up a career in modeling and a life in Beverly Hills to become a bounty hunter. The script is by the same guy who wrote Donnie Darko, and it's sharp and smart as it should be. I don't want to say anything else, except that you should see this flick.
Jarhead    : . . . . : .7.3. . :  
2046    : . . . . : . .8.5. :  
The Brothers Grimm    : . . . .5:9. . . . :  
Oldboy    : . . . . : .7.0. . :  
Flightplan    : . . . . :6.8. . . :  
Domino    : . . . . : . .8.6. :  
5/13/2006 • link2 comments

Who Will Cut Our Hair When We're Gone? (2003)
The Unicorns
This was one of those albums that made me sit up and take notice the very first time I heard it; I got that tingly sensation that should sound familiar to any serious music lovers reading this. I entered a hyper-alert state that blocks out extraneous stimuli so that my brain can figure out if I'm actually hearing genius or just another goddamn let-down.
     (See, most of the time, when you buy a new CD and you listen to it, and you're more or less pleased with the result -- you usually don't end up buying absolute pieces of shit these days, because mp3s, lo-res audio samples on sites like Amazon, in-store listening stations, a billion online reviews, and the good old hipster grapevine should steer you towards the rare gems and away from the clunkers. But some artists out there must be geniuses, and the records they are making now are masterpieces, and they will be revered as such for many years. I take George Michael's advice, and I listen without prejudice to the recommendations of my friends, hoping for that special tingle that freezes me in my tracks and sends all the blood to my eardrums.
     I listen listen listen to the whole album, waiting with ever-increasing tension for the awful song that ruins everything, or the slow but steady decline in song quality characteristic of a "front-loaded" record, but sometimes the album is... just it, man, right? Jupiter aligns with Mars, the CD finishes, leaving my cheeks wet with tears of gratitude, and it's all I can do to stop shaking long enough to start the damn thing over again immediately. In years past, it's happened with Boards of Canada's Music Has the Right to Children, The Flaming Lips' The Soft Bulletin, Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, Rufus Wainwright's eponymous debut album, and even Beck's Midnight Vultures. Each of those albums left me in stunned disbelief, but you'll notice that the albums I listed are all from like 1999, so it's been a while.)
     Friends, The Unicorns brought me the closest I've come to that shivery transcendence since y refused 2 k. If I describe the album in too much detail, it will only sound stupid and make you want to avoid it, and I want you to buy it, live it, and love it with me. But it's only fair to say something like: a bunch of Canadians, boys, who may as well be teenagers even if they're not, perform a song cycle, or maybe an opera -- I don't know -- about unicorns and ghosts and Noah's Ark and bizarre medical conditions and death. (Huh, when I say it like that it sounds like I could be talking about In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, but the albums couldn't sound more different.) The Unicorns are goofy, clowning around, ecstatic, energetic, and so A.D.D. that they can't write songs with choruses -- the idea of singing the same couplet or quatrain more than once would just bore them to sleep. I must have listened to this 100 times. I can't sing its praises more highly without sounding like a jackass. I love it.

Return to the Sea (2006)
I don't know how to break this to you after reading the elegy above, but less than a year after releasing Who Will Cut Our Hair... The Unicorns broke up. I almost cried, but I consoled myself with the knowledge that I'd always have that album. Well! Imagine my excitement when someone showed me Noel Murray's review in The Onion of this album (by the singer and drummer of the Unicorns!) a week before it came out. I was jazzed out my skull, bwah. Shee-it. And the review was fairly positive, even though he led the piece with the following bit of heresy:
The Unicorns' 2003 album Who Will Cut Our Hair When We're Gone? wasn't exactly overrated, since it was fairly obscure even by indie-rock standards, but a circle of hardcore indie aficionados did praise the slight, excessively whimsical piece of DIY pop way out of proportion.
Who cares, y'feckin' arse'ole. I ran out to get it, and it deserves the highest praise I could give it: it sounds like a Unicorns album. I almost wept the first time I heard it. Again I'll refrain from description, except to say that it's more stylistically varied than the Unicorns, and that, so far, I love this one too, only just a little bit less.
The Unicorns - Who Will Cut Our Hair When We're Gone?:: . . . . : . . .9.6:
Islands - Return to the Sea:: . . . . : . .8.9. :
5/10/2006 • link3 comments

Nicotine patches

I smoked Camel Filters for thirteen years, and for most of them I smoked a pack a day. I'd never really tried to quit before, mostly because I didn't want to. For many years I'd cultivated a persona that was vociferously pro-smoking, and it seemed disingenuous to flip-flop on the issue. I smoked a lot. I smoked in places I wasn't supposed to smoke, and at inappropriate times. Which in retrospect seems rather churlish, but I get it now: smoking is a rebellious act not only because it's self-destructive, but because it amplifies your solipsism to really horrifying levels. Smokers are always about satisfying their immediate needs, and in polite society, the person who demands to be treated as an exception, as an individual, is despised and admired in varying proportions. Smokers are selfish and worse, they make other people's lives more unpleasant with their smoke, their odor, their breath, etc. But as a former smoker, I can say that we like it that way.
     Anyway, sometime in 2004 I realized that I wasn't enjoying smoking anymore, not at all. I believe that despite the huge role that the Nicoderm and Zyban played in getting me over the physical addiction, I would not have been able to quit for real if I still enjoyed smoking.
     My doctor prescribed Zyban at my request, because I had taken Wellbutrin (same drug, different brand name) in 1998 and I had noticed that even though I wasn't trying to quit smoking, I was smoking a lot less. I actually had to remind myself: "fuck! It's time for a smoke! What am I thinking?" but if something distracted me before I got a cigarette lit and into my mouth, I might forget again for another hour. So I knew it was effective at stopping my cravings. I got the Nicoderm patches, and started with the strongest, which was something like 20mg of nicotine a day. The nicotine or some other aspect of the transdermal delivery system was caustic, and I had to remove one of the patches from my chest because it just stung too much -- the welt it left was real ooky. So I devised a schedule of placement on various parts of my upper arms, and that was cool.
     I wrote this review on request, which is why it's not so punchy -- I'm not so jazzed and full of things to say about the patch. But I will offer this drastically important advice for free: If you want to quit smoking, do your best to stop enjoying it first. Chain-smoke unfiltereds for a month until you're coughing up bloody lungpies. Smoke in your bedroom with the windows closed. Go to a cigar club and just sit there, breathing rich men's exhalations. Buy your smokes full price in midtown Manhattan. Putt out butts on your tongue. Whatever it takes. Because if you quit while you like it, then all the events in your life that would normally trigger the desire for a smoke will still do it once you're off the patch. But if you hate smoking by the time you quit, it won't even occur to you as a possibility.
     As for rating these things, I guess they did what they were supposed to, which was deliver nicotine. But they ate my flesh a little, and they don't work for everybody.
.: . . . . : . .8.0. :
5/08/2006 • link14 comments

V for Vendetta
dir. James McTeigue
I dug this movie, but the only other person I've talked to who admitted to liking it is my physician, which is a bad sign. Because she has terrible taste in movies. Ha ha! But seriously, folks,I did enjoy this movie. Like many people who ventured out to see this the night it opened, I enjoyed the comic on which it was based. Alan Moore demanded his name be removed from the credits and all promotional hoo-hah, so full credit for the movie's source material went to the artist, David Lloyd, which is weirdly dishonest, if unavoidable.
     You can't blame Moore for dissociating himself from a movie of his work. His excellent comic The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was turned into an absolutely fucking retarded action flick (whose posters hilariously showed the acronym LXG executed in a futuristically beveled (whatever) ingot of brushed steel, even though the story takes place in Victorian England) that ranks with the worst of the millennial spate of comic-based movies (Catwoman, Fantastic Four, and the so-bad-I-can't-look-away-must!-look!-away! stillbirth called Daredevil).
     The movie of his comic From Hell wasn't bad at all, but it took some rather drastic narrative and historical liberties for the sake of entertainment value, including a gripping final scene in which Prince Albert Victor corners Jack the Ripper in the bell tower of Big Ben, whereupon The Ripper reveals himself to be the tenth descendant of Oliver Cromwell, (raised, like the eight generations before him, in a fearful, self-imposed, and monastic exile) come to London to exact his family's revenge on the monarchy and restore himself to the Lord Protectorate; however, Jack (aka Oliver XI) and his plan were sidetracked when, confronted for the first time with the decadence and wickedness of contemporary urban life in London, he felt compelled to enforce a philosophy he calls Extreme Puritanism (E.P. for short) which involved pure thoughts, bland diet, and the disembowelment of whores. Jack is about to rip Prince Albert in a similar fashion when Queen Victoria appears out of nowhere just in time, lifts Jack over her head and growls: "We! Are! Not! Amused!" and flings him from the tower into the Thames.
     Whoops! See what happens to me?
     Back to the review at hand. The film was a reasonably faithful adaptation of a fairly cinematic original, though neither is what you'd call action-packed, both being less concerned with kicking ass than with making readers/viewers think about totalitarianism. I believe this is an important thing for art to do, and maybe it clouds my critical faculties. The dialogue is unquestionably silly at times, as are some of the plot points. But Hugo Weaving and Natalie Portman were both really fucking impressive, expecially because you forget that the former is wearing a mask almost immediately.
     I know this review is late, so it may only help you decide whether to see it on DVD or whatever, and I'm sorry about that. I thought it was definitely worth it, and many people who I talked to who didn't like it seemed to be overly grumpy, impossible-to-please fanwads. They can always suck it. See the movie with people who like movies.
.: . . . . : .7.8. . :
4/27/2006 • link9 comments

Wonder Showzen
god knows when on MTV2

I don't really like this show. I hate the puppets in the studio, I really hate the puppet they use to assault people on the street (lacking as it does any of the wit or restraint of Triumph the Insult Comic Dog), and I super-duper hate when they use kids to be mean to old people on the street.
     The show is supposed to make the viewer cringe, and I know the creators are trying their damnedest to get something rejected, and so far only their ep with the "Little Hitler" bit has been removed from the air permanently. As a rule, I don't dig on the schadenfreude. What's the other show that makes people feel bad on purpose for viewer's entertainment? I had to call my sister to figure it out, and surprisingly it's The Daily Show: I hate the segments where they're interviewing somebody and making them look stupid. Whoop! She just called me back to say: The Andy Milonakis Show. Yup. She's on my wavelength.
     BUT! Some of their cartoons are just mind-blowing. I can't count the people I've shown "D.O.G.O.B.G.Y.N." -- which may be the most offensive, least redeemable cartoon with a cute dog in it ever. "WinoBot" is amazing for a) how close it comes to offending me without offending me, and b) how stupid it could have been but isn't. Or something. Still, not all the cartoons are winners; I saw one called "He-Bro", which was offensive and surreal without being funny enough.
     Again, one of the things that makes me uncomfortable about this show is that sometimes they hit me just right, and I don't want them to be able to do that.
.: . . .4.7: . . . . :
4/26/2006 • link6 comments

Hard Taco Project

This is the website of a guy named Zach London who writes a song every month and posts it to his site. I was referred to this site by a former roommate who knew this guy from his school (maybe?). I can't remember now whether the referral was positive (as in "check this out, I really dig it, man!") negative (as in "listen to how much my friend suxx!") or guardedly neutral (as in "I may have an opinion about this but I'm not saying what it is till you say what you think"). Neutral seems the most likely, as it encompasses the other two choices, too, huh? Fuck it.
     I admire and envy his dedication to his goal, and I think he's an M.D. too, which actually just pisses me off. A song a month didn't sound like much to me at first, because when I was making a lot of music I'd easily make 3 songs a week. But since I haven't recorded a song in, what, almost two years now, it drops my average a bit. If I count 1999, I may have made a song a month. Ugh. Maybe if I stop counting two years ago.
     Having never been a big fan of They Might Be Giants, I can't really tell the essential difference between this dude and those prolific fuckwads. His voice is nasal, he's overly clever (which you can tell from any list of his song titles), and he mimics various musical styles with ease. I don't know. Maybe that's more like Ween, but I've got a soft spot for Ween. This guy is like Ween, except not as good, and just one guy.
     I had so many things I was going to say, but I was gonna link to a couple of songs. Here:
• Kinks/Belle & Sebastian: Truer Than a Teardrop
• Take a guess: Surfin' Savant
• Folky confessional: The Only Serious Thing
• Beck? King Trucker
• TMBG, right? Egg Came First
     Some people might think this stuff is genius. I don't particularly agree, but I don't have the heart to give this the rating I would give it if it were an actual album. For a doctor's hobby, it's really not too shabby, I guess.
     I think what gets me about this site, what made me want to review it is this: I egomaniacally, but completely, believe that if I made a song a month, the results would be better, but I DON'T DO IT. Why not? What else am I doing? Pbbththbh. This site makes me hate myself a little.
.: . . . . :6.0. . . :
4/26/2006 • link2 comments

Pedialyte (Orange)
electrolyte-filled rehydrating drink

On their site, they call it an "oral electrolyte maintenance solution" which I guess you have to do if you're a bunch of assholes, or if you work for the pharmaceutical industry, which: [super-obvious joke omitted after "Popems are like crack" debacle -- Ed.] (neener).
     (Okay, indulge me briefly (ha!) in elucidating a pet peeve of mine: Stupid corporate websites. The Pedialyte site is stupid and practically content-free, but what gets me the most is how they spread their lack of content over four totally meaningless "sections," because I guess someone somewhere feels that sites with all their information on one page aren't taken seriously. And who knows? Maybe they've done research, and in fact, sites that don't make you click a bunch of hoo-hah to read their 6.5 paragraphs of information aren't taken as seriously. (Oh and those 6.5 don't count the FAQ, which contains all of this site's actual information.) But that idea just makes me mad. Fuck! I want to see that research! I bet it's true! Fuck! <old man voice>People want to go clickety-click, clickety-click! Well, phooey! I ain't codin' it!</old man voice> Glaargle. Somebody find me that study and I'll give you a free CD and a T-Shirt.
     The motherfuckers also tell you to throw it out after 48 hours, "...as beyond this period the bacteriological safety of the product may be compromised. The air we breathe contains many common contaminants (such as mold). As soon as the seal of the container is broken, the air contacts the product. Pedialyte should be used within 48 hours to ensure its quality." FAAAHCK YOOOUUUU.
     What was my real point? Oh yeah. This stuff tastes like shit, especially if you're all queasy from throwing up everything you've put in your stomach for the previous 24 hours. Sweeter than a Care Bear's nooners, and "Orange" apparently refers only to the color, because the flavor is twenty miles from citrus and hit every branch on the way down. Shut up, Pedialyte!
.: . . .4.5: . . . . :
4/26/2006 • link2 comments

a zit or zits inside your nostril
medical condition

Every once in a while, usually when the rest of my face is breaking out, I'll feel a strange tenderness on the side of my nose without an obvious external blemish to explain it. Well, by now I've learned to recognize the telltale signs, so I just batten down the hatches and wait for the pus-filled storm to arrive.
     Sometimes it appears as a big old whitehead just inside the opening of the nostril -- this least painful example of a Nostril Zit can be easily popped, but it hurts like a titty-twister administered with barbed-wire gloves.
     The other kind never develops a head and HOLY COCK these things are painful. They just sort of expand from the geometric center of one of the fleshy wings of your nose, swelling and hurting. Try to squeeze out some of the pressure-causing liquid and the resulting shockwave will familiarize you with the sensation of being one of Mike Tyson's opponents back when he was a boxer. See, nostril zits always form within some kind of head-essential, nose-based nerve bundle, like symbiote crabs protecting themselves with shells (except what the fuck, because: they're zits, not crabs). Squeeze these at your peril, Kemosabe.
     Since nostril zits do no good in the world, and they bring only pain, they are rated even lower than Tom Robbins.
.0:4. . . . : . . . . :
4/21/2006 • link15 comments

Villa Incognito
by Tom Robbins
In the sprit of open-mindedness I decided to give TR another chance when I found this book, written in 2003, at my friend's house (read the review of Tom Robbins below to understand the boundlessness of my magnanimity). Despite the fact that it starts by talking about a character's nutsack for a couple of pages [not kidding], I found myself enjoying it. Robbins seemed to have settled into the act of writing; it's less self-consciously show-offy than Still Life with Woodpecker, and he's learned to let the comedy come from the story instead of inserting slapsticky one-liners every other sentence. (I dunno, maybe he's been getting better for years, and maybe Woodpecker is uncharacteristically awful. But I don't think so; people love the fuck out of that book, call it his masterpiece. I think of it as another good example of how I don't need to read a book to know I'll hate it.)
     Villa Incognito is a light book whose characters think they're living in a heavy one. Despite painstaking physical description and copious detail, those characters come off as fuzzy and insubstantial, not people so much as jerry-rigged bundles of eccentricities, vocations, clothing, and identifying marks. The plot is shallow and abritrary, which might not have been a problem if the characters were interesting enough, but they're not. A pivotal character is supposed to come off as a Falstaffian version of Brando's Colonel Kurtz, but Robbins fails to demonstrate the character's charisma convincingly; it's like a movie whose main character is supposed to be a world-class artist, but when they show you the art on screen, it ruins it, because it was just made by the art department.
     In terms of the narrative style, I kept feeling like he kept a stitched sampler over his writing desk that said SHOW DON'T TELL instead of HOME SWEET HOME, like he internalized the cardinal rule of college creative writing classes and carried it with him into his professional career. He takes the doctrine to a chilly extreme, so the book contains an awful lot of what and not much why. I'm not saying that Robbins should explain every character's actions, but I'd prefer it if I believed that he could. As it was, the characters just did stuff, and might as well have done the exact opposite without a reader even batting an eyelash.
     So far this review may seem negative, but I did enjoy reading this book at the time, maybe because I kept expecting it to be horrible, and it was just mediocre. Faint praise, I know. But it means that there's hope for him -- having learned to quell the awful stylistic tendencies of his misspent (though lucrative) youth, all he has to do is learn to create characters that people care about, and he'll be on his way! Wa ha ha!
     Still, two things in the book reminded me of the older Robbins that I really hate. The first is the scrotal obsession of the first chapter, which I won't belabor. The second was a three-page reverie about mayonnaise. It starts as a description of a character's love for mayo (he's from North Carolina, and has been living for years in Laos without access to it), but when Robbins gets impatient, the omniscient narrator takes over and spins a wordy tribute to Hellmann's that's too clever by half, and feels totally out of place. It seems like just the kind of thing that you'd see mentioned in a review, like: "Look for the side-splitting elegy to America's favorite spreadable condiment, mayonnaise -- that section alone is worth the price of the book! Bravo, Mr. Robbins, you've done it again, with your keen observation of American culture and its obsessions!" Yarf. [by the way, imagine that made-up quote but stick DeLillo in it instead. Seems totally plausible, doesn't it? Double yarf.]
     All right, I've said enough. I can't really recommend it, because there are too many other important things to read in this life. But I honestly can't give it less than a 5. And that's pretty good!
.: . . . .5:2. . . . :
4/14/2006 • link5 comments

Tom Robbins
American author

I have hated Tom Robbins since freshman year of college, when my roommate was like "Dude, have you ever read Still Life with Woodpecker? Oh my god, it's sooo good; Tom Robbins is a genius! Here, listen to this," and he proceeded to read aloud the the first of many lines he would share with me, each of which he thought was the absolute pinnacle of wit. Here's what he read to me:
It might be noted here that Freudian analysts of fairy tales have suggested that kissing toads and frogs is symbolized fellatio. In that regard, Princess Leigh-Cheri was... not so naive as Queen Tilli, who thought fellatio was an obscure Italian opera and was annoyed that she couldn't find the score.
Oy. I hate everything about that quote: the stilted, faux-formal "it might be noted here"; the "funny" character names (Princess Lechery? Pphbbt.); the uninteresting observation about frogs and the gutless way he attributes it to "Freudian analysts" so you understand that he would never make such a banal observation; finally, the fact that it's all in service to a truly awful joke. I really hate that joke. It's a stand-up comic joke, begging for a rimshot. Not only do I hate this kind of lazy, formulaic joke, but I really mistrust anybody who finds it funny, and especially anybody who thinks it's great comic writing. At best, Robbins achieves a cheap pastiche of Vonnegut, but quirk for quirk's sake leaves me cold. He's juvenile, scatological, and tries to titillate and shock with ideas like the aforementioned Princess "[using] a papal candlestick for the purpose of self-gratification." Gasp! So naughty!
     Oooh! that opera joke still makes me mad. I know I seem a little unreasonable about this, because after all it's just one paragraph, but (apologies to Neal Stephenson) Still Life with Woodpecker is fractally annoying to me: the whole is a disaster; each chapter is a nightmare; zoom in on a paragraph at random and I'll be just as annoyed by it as I was by the book as a whole, and the sentences, oh the sentences -- innocent words strung together against their will into necklaces of crappy prose. To extend the arbitrary metaphor from the last sentence, Tom Robbins's writing looks from a distance like fine piece from Tiffany's, but when you get up close, it reavels itself to be cheap, gaudy costume jewelry, traded by the handful for a peek at a 19-year-old's tits.
.: .2.7. . : . . . :
4/14/2006 • link4 comments

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• The generic scale above is the jumping-off point that all my reviews are based on. It obviously doesn't work for every category (e.g., if I were reviewing the concept of pacifism, a 4.0 rating of "If it's on sale" wouldn't make much sense).

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