Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Muppets, Murder, and Other Mayhem

So much I want to write about, so little time. I’ve spent the last 10 days hoping I’d get a chance to blog, and I just haven’t. I even started to write a movie review at one point, but barely got a few sentences in before I reluctantly abandoned it. There are just too many demands. It’s sad that something inevitably has to give, even when that thing is very important to you. I do think blogging is worthwhile, at least for my own sake. It’s pretty much the only kind of journal-keeping I do nowadays, and I think journal-keeping is very important. So, I’m always a bit sad that it doesn’t happen more often.

In case I never get a chance to write more about them, I had hoped to critique both The Greatest Movie Ever Sold and The Muppets. The former was good, about three out of four stars. The latter I took Peter and Eddie to on opening day, just the three of us. The kids weren’t as captivated by it as I’d hoped. I think it might appeal a lot more to adults who remember with some degree of detail the original Muppet movies and The Muppet Show from television (not to be confused with Muppet Babies).

I wanted to write about Thanksgiving, but the further away from it we get, the less relevant it seems to do so. Melanie covered it well with photographs. There are thoughts and stories I wanted to share of my own, but those will have to wait. Indefinitely.

On Friday, we went to Wild Adventures. It’s an amusement park located almost 2 hours from Tallahassee. A friend of Melanie’s assured us you could get there in roughly 45 minutes, but there’s no way that’s true. Melanie and I bought our family an annual pass to Wild Adventures, even though we had never been there. It actually was quite cheap, and we liked the idea of having an amusement park that is relatively close to us. In short, it’s a much cheaper, much less crowded, and much easier to get to version of Disney World. Except it’s nowhere near as splendid and magical as Disney World. No surprise, of course. Even so, it’s something we can afford to do, and I feel a lot safer driving our questionably reliable van only 2 hours rather than 4 or 5. I’m pleased to say that, despite some mixed feelings during the first couple of hours of our visit to Wild Adventures, we’re all looking very much forward to going back.

And that brings us to this week. Yesterday, I had to go in for jury selection. It was the first time in my life that I’ve ever received a jury summons. I’d heard people say that, as a philosopher, I was unlikely to be chosen to serve on a jury. But guess what? I have been chosen. Or, at least not eliminated, which by default means that I am on the official jury. I do feel like serving on a jury is an honorable thing to do, but I have felt a bit depressed about being selected. First of all, it causes some (although minimal) interruption to my schooling. As an instructor, I’ll have to cancel one of the last few class meetings of the semester, and that screws things up a bit. I’m also a bit apprehensive about the fact that I’ll be serving as a juror on a murder trial. A first degree (i.e. premeditated) murder case. Heavy stuff. I am fearful that it will be quite emotionally disturbing. I don’t look forward to reviewing evidence, etc. Based on what little I know at this point, it could be a much more disturbing case than I expect it to be. No children involved, for example. But a murder case just seems like a very big deal. Shouldn’t you have to serve on a jury for a burglary trial or something before you’re allowed to serve on a jury for a murder trial? Sheesh.

So that’s my life at the moment.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The New Pornographers

As previously written, last month Melanie and I went to our first rock concert in years. One of my very favorite bands of the new century, The New Pornographers, came to Tallahassee and performed at a bar called The Moon. I’ll be honest, the concert could have been better. For starters, attendance was low, which probably lessened the energy. Second, the sound mix wasn’t phenomenal. I think the vocals could have come through a lot more nicely than they did. Third, two of the band’s foremost members, Neko Case and Dan Bejar, both of whom offer lead vocals on many New Pornographers’ songs, were absent. And finally, the band just isn’t that charismatic on stage. They didn’t engage much with the audience. (Then again, I’m accustomed to the massively entertaining concerts put on by another Canadian pop-rock band with a sexually-charged name—Barenaked Ladies.) Thankfully, I can honestly say that of the 16 songs they played live, only one isn’t a song I would claim to absolutely love … and even that one song is pretty good.

I know many people aren’t familiar with The New Pornographers. I think they’re fantastic. Their music is quirky, sometimes ornate, and yet they always retain an approachable, radio-friendly quality to their sound. My first exposure to The New Pornographers was their sophomore album, Electric Version, which upon a single listening struck me as a pop-rock masterpiece. Their fourth and fifth albums, Challengers and Together, are also near perfect in my eyes … er, ears.

In order to share my experience, and my love for The New Pornographers, with you, I’ve tracked down YouTube videos of every song that the band played at the concert I attended. I’ll share them in the same order that they played the songs at the show. Now, I fully understand that a good many of you are NOT going to listen to all of these songs. That’s absolutely fine. I would hope, however, that you’d listen to at least a few of them. (To help you choose which ones, I’ll make notes by the ones I’m especially fond of, as difficult as that will be for me to pin down.) It would be a thrill to me if some of you would comment on the songs and what you thought of them, being as specific as possible. That would show me that you really do love me. Don’t worry about watching the videos – I haven’t even watched all of these. Posting videos was simply my way of getting the songs to you. Truthfully, I’d urge you not to get distracted by the videos. Just hit ‘play’ and look away from the screen, for all I care. Some of the videos aren’t really videos, and some aren’t official videos. Have I made it clear that the videos don’t really matter here?

(NOTE: I apologize if some of the videos below force you to watch an advertisement before the song plays. Very annoying, I know. Hopefully that won’t discourage you too much.)

(from the album Together)
Note: Less straightforward rock than some of their songs, “Moves” gives you a good idea of The New Pornographers’ more complex and idiosyncratic side, what with the cello, tinkering piano, syncopated vocals, etc.

The Slow Descent Into Alcoholism
(from the album Mass Romantic)

Sing Me Spanish Techno
(from the album Twin Cinema)

Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk
(from the album Together)

Use It
(from the album Twin Cinema)

The Laws Have Changed
(from the album Electric Version)
Note: I’m tempted to recommend this one, because it was among the first New Pornographers songs I ever heard. It gives you a good feel for their more straightforward rock-pop.

Up in the Dark
(from the album Together)

Adventures in Solitude
(from the album Challengers)
Note: a beautiful song that builds and builds

Crash Years
(from the album Together)
Note: this is a very, very good one

All the Old Showstoppers
(from the album Challengers)
Note: I can only find live versions of this on YouTube, and I’m not sure any of them are worth posting. It’s a shame, because this is a really good one.

Testament to Youth in Verse
(from the album Electric Version)
Note: this will give you a good feel for Dan Bejar’s vocal stylings, though Dan wasn’t at the concert I attended.

(from the album Challengers)
Note: this is another very good one

Your Hands (Together)
(from the album Together)

Mass Romantic
(from the album Mass Romantic)
Note: probably my least favorite song that they performed at the concert, although I like it quite well

The Bleeding Heart Show
(from the album Twin Cinema)

Letter from an Occupant
(from the album Mass Romantic)

I hope you’ve found something to enjoy. As I look back over the list, I’m not at all confident that I’ve recommended the right ones. They’re all really, really good. Comment please!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Book Review: Bumped

Melody and Harmony are identical twins. Separated at birth, Harmony has only recently learned that she has a sister, a sister to whom she now hopes to play spiritual savior. Leaving her hyper-religious community of Goodside, Harmony travels to the Sodom and Gomorrah of Otherside, intent (it seems) on delivering Melody from the moral abomination that is commercial “pregging.” With all human beings going sterile around the time they reach legal adulthood, teen pregnancy is no longer considered a worrisome epidemic. On the contrary, it’s a highly lucrative business, where professional teen surrogates not only rake in the big bucks for offering up their procreative services, but are revered as quasi-celebrities for doing so. At 16, most girls have given birth to (and sold) at least two or three babies, but Melody is still waiting for the couple that signed her to one of the most enviable contracts in history to select her first-ever “bumping” companion. As time passes, Melody is becoming increasingly disillusioned with the bumping business, and increasingly baffled as to her sister’s true intentions for coming to Otherside.

Bumped is the first entry in Megan McCafferty’s teen book series set in the not-too-distant future. The novel reads like a cross between A Clockwork Orange and the script from Juno, although such a description is probably misleadingly flattering. Surely enough, McCafferty bombards readers with enough futuristic borderline-valley girl jargon to isolate a majority of those who fall outside of the book’s target demographic. But the real problem is the variation in voice. It’s not that the book bounces (bumps?) back and forth between Melody and Harmony on a chapter-by-chapter basis. It’s that the main characters seem to elude McCafferty herself, who is perhaps more worried about bringing her invented slang to life than she is the characters who speak it. This is especially true of Harmony, who reads very inconsistently and whose development throughout the story lacks authenticity. Melody fares much better, jelling into a solid character by the book’s genuinely interesting final third. In fact, given that the cliffhanger ending is less than tantalizing, the promise of enriched characters is the primary reason I remain open to reading the yet-to-be published sequel.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

North Florida Fair 2011

On Monday night, the family and I went to the North Florida Fair. We didn’t make it last year, but despite the fact that Eddie was only three years old the last time we were there, he remembered much of what the fair offered and he knew what he wanted to do even before we got there. Peter was rather excited, too, but I’m kind of heartbroken about his experience. Early into our visit, he tried a couple of rides that ended up terrifying him. After that, he had next to no interest in trying anything whatsoever.

I’ll share some pictures now, although most of them aren’t that great. I don’t have the skill, nor perhaps the camera, necessary for taking excellent shots, especially when the skies are grey and the sun begins to set. Oh well. You get what you get.

Edison on the carousel. You can see him back there, right?

Melanie and Peter, prior to Peter’s spirits being crushed for the night. You can also just make out that Eddie is on the horse behind them.

Peter, still in his happy moments. I have to say, watching young children try to maneuver bumper cars is a bit like watching a bunch of strangers being forced to walk around inside a stopped elevator. Nobody stops moving, but nobody knows what they’re doing or even what to try to do, really. There’s something incredibly awkward about it all.

Eddie, looking somewhat engrossed in his driving. And there’s the poor ride operator whose job also involves going around trying to teach kids how to drive and helping them get unstuck time and time and time and time and time again.

Liftoff! Eddie was very determined to ride a white airplane, as he remembered riding a red airplane two years ago. Whenever he’d fly past us, he’d call out, “I’m flying to Utah!”

The wildest ride that Peter did not freak out on. It’s nothing more than a car that goes around a track, but it speeds up just a little bit as it comes around the last curve. Is Eddie pointing out the camels in the background? That’s my guess.

Zoom! You can see Peter’s slight apprehension.

Proof that Creegan was there.

Posting this picture is a bit cruel of me, but it serves to illustrate my point. That’s a look of pure terror on Peter’s face. Edison rode these fire trucks two years ago, and we don’t remember them going fast at all. Melanie assured Peter that it would be a slow ride, but boy oh boy, it wasn’t. It moved rather quickly. When the ride started up, Peter immediately started crying and begging us to stop the ride. Melanie tried to encourage him to loosen up and have fun, but it never happened. In this photo, Peter is actually heeding Melanie’s advice to “ring the bell,” his terror notwithstanding. It was pretty sad to hear him calling out “Ding, ding, ding!” with a voice wrought with fear. It’s kind of funny that he would even bother trying to play like that. Did he just feel he had to obey? Was he under too much mental turmoil to think for himself? Did he somehow think ringing the bell would make the truck stop? It’s sad. Psychologically intriguing, but sad.

Edison went down this huge, tall, twisty slide all by himself. If you zoom in, you can barely see him in the stairwell between the two highest flags.

Touch down.

Peter doesn’t look scarred for life, right?

Eddie, descending the final slide in “Mario Land.” He’s got a cute look on his face if you zoom in.

Edison, Peter, and in the background, Melanie and Creegan.

A quick pic from atop the Ferris wheel. Edison and I rode the Ferris wheel together. Eddie wasn’t the least bit nervous about being up high. If anything, I think he got a bit bored after a couple of rotations.

Edison joined a street gang while we were there.

This ended up being Edison’s favorite ride, I think. It’s a slightly (but only slightly) tamed down version of the “Musik Express.” Melanie went on it with him first. He was incredibly cute on it. At times, both he and Melanie had their arms raised in the air. Edison wanted to go on the ride again, so he took me. It was a lot of fun, but it felt like it lasted forever. My arms and back were getting quite tired by the end of it. And my left (re: reconstructed) ankle wasn’t very comfortable in that sled/car. My ankle felt really stiff and sore the next day, and I wonder if it wasn’t from what felt like a twenty-minute ride on this thing.

Just so you know, Peter did go on a few more things. He went in the “Monkey Maze” with Edison and me, but unfortunately, that concluded with a twisty slide that, despite its relative shortness, Peter did NOT want to go down. I had to force him down, which wasn’t pleasant for either of us. He also went down a big inflatable slide, though he dilly-dallied quite a bit before taking the plunge. And finally, the night concluded with Peter and me going on the carousel together. It was a nice, calm moment.

Other things to note about our trip to the fair include Melanie and Edison revisiting the kid roller coaster from two years ago; Edison and me taking a trip through a fun house, complete with a rotating tunnel at the end; a very uninspiring and at times almost awkwardly laughable magic show; Edison’s great enthusiasm for a huge but non-twisty slide, which Melanie and I both had numerous opportunities to go down with him; Creegan’s love for cotton candy; and the family enjoying a deep-fried Snickers bar (which wasn’t nearly as good as the deep-fried Twinkies of 2009).

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

A Year Already?

Creegan turned one-year-old a few days ago. I can’t believe a year has already passed. I sometimes still picture him lying on the floor, vomit skyrocketing out of him as if he were a broken fire hydrant. I’m so glad those days are over. I just hope hitting the one-year mark doesn’t mean our warranty has expired.

Here are some pictures of Creegan as a one-year-old.

A birthday breakfast, consisting of pancakes with chocolate chip faces. You can’t see the pancake’s face here, but you can see Creegan’s. And that’s all that matters.

Creegan, with co-creator, Melanie.

Laying claim to his birthday gift.

Look at those teeth!

Birthday cupcake!