Monday, December 29, 2003
Sunday, December 28, 2003
Woke up at 6 to open presents, which took two hours or so. I was happy that the presents I purchased went over well. The Mexican wrestling masks I got my brother-in-law were one highlight. I got themed gifts for him; Mexican wrestling masks, Los Straightjackets CDs (I bought him one on-line, decided it wouldn't come in time for Christmas and bought one from a store, and then got the other one in the mail a few days before Christmas), and a Strong Bad CD, he being a fan of Strong Bad. My sister seemed to enjoy the case of Dr. Pepper from the oldest Dr. Pepper factory in operation. After getting it, I realized it would be a problem for her getting it home, but she was able to get some up with her this trip, and can bring more next time she comes down. I also got her a Dr. Pepper shirt and another Lemony Snicket book. My sister got me the Mighty Wind album (I already have it on CD, so I'll save the vinyl one in mint condition) and Simpsons Hit and Run, which is fun (better than Road Rage, I'd have to say). My mom got me several DVDs, including the Alec Guinness Collection and Aqua Teen Hunger Force. I also got Simpsons Jeopardy, which is fun, except that no one can touch me on Simpsons trivia, so no one wants to play with me more than one time. And once you assemble the board, it won't fit back in the box, which is a bit of a problem. I got some CDs (Tom Waits, Texas Tornadoes) and books (Bob Zmuda's book on Andy Kaufman, some Johnny Cash biographies), and other stuff. I did not get the Johnny Cash Unearthed box set, which I didn't ask for, since I knew Mom was about done with her shopping before that even came out, but I was still hoping might turn up. I went to Costco on Friday, but they no longer carried it, which is a shame, since I haven't seen it under $50 anywhere else. I also didn't get the rare edition of The Bad Beginning, nor the Series of Unfortunate Events calendar (which I didn't ask for, but considering my sister ended up getting about eight calendars for Christmas, I thought someone might get me one). But overall, if I wasn't completely thrilled by my gifts, it's because I didn't ask for anything too thrilling. And I did like most of what I got, especially the above-mentioned. After we'd opened everything, I asked Mom if she got everything she wanted. She said yes (liar!), at which point I asked Tanner what he got her, and he told me to look in the front room, so we all went out there, where Mom's last gift was, wrapped in paper bags my brother-in-law decorated for me to look like a packing crate marked "fragile." I got her a desk lamp modeled on the "major award" from A Christmas Story. She had mentioned it at least ten times in the week leading up to Christmas, yet claims she never in a million years dreamed she would get it for Christmas. We all gathered in front of the house to gaze on it glowing at dawn, and it was truly a beautiful sight. So I was happy my gifts went over well.
The rest of Christmas was uneventful. We watched some of the DVDs people got for Christmas, The Ladykillers, as hilarious as I remembered it, and Finding Nemo, which I didn't care for, probably because I dislike the color orange. I think I liked Finding Nemo better the first time I saw it, when my screen saver came on at work. The day after Christmas was when my flu peaked, so I didn't do much of anything. But it did get me out of going to the airport to see off Michelle and Eric, though I guess it wasn't too crowded, since most people spent the weekend wherever they went for Christmas.
Things I've read/watched/listened to lately: The Triplets of Belleville, which I enjoyed very much, though the story was a bit weak at times. The grandma is the focus of the story, but they should have developed the grandson a bit, if the story is going to be driven by events around him. But it hardly matters. Great soundtrack, also. And as the father of an overweight dog, it's nice to see the issue handled on film. The short by Disney and Dali they showed beforehand, Destino, was also interesting. I saw both at MoPA, where I hadn't seen a movie in at least a year, so it was nice to go there again. They have a Film Noir series coming up, so I'm sure I'll be back.
I read two children books recently. The New York Review of Books publishing arm recently republished The Bears' Famous Invasion of Sicily by Dino Buzatti. Wonderful illustrations and a nice story about bears waging war against humans, setting up a enlightened kingdom amonst the humans, and struggling with the corrupting influences of human life. I enjoyed it, but didn't quite touch me as deeply as I thought it might. Some of the verse portions were wonderful, but others were quite awkward, whether from the original source or due to translation I couldn't say. Hyphenating a word to achieve a rhyme seems a bit lazy to me. But it certainly had its charm, and my eyes did well up a bit at the end. Giraffes? Giraffes! on the other hand, was quite a disappointment. The book itself, like pretty much everything McSweeneys puts out, is quite beautiful. The idea, reminiscent of Shel Silverstein's Uncle Shelby's ABZ Book, is clever enough (or perhaps too clever): A fairly insane scientist turning out children's reference books full of outrageous lies. Unfortuately, the sting of random absurdities lacks cohesion, and while occasionally good for a chuckle, overall left me cold. It is obstensibly a children's book, and I think I might have enjoyed it as a child, but speaking for myself, I was disappointed.
Sunday, December 21, 2003
I saw Paul Anka last weekend, at Harrah's. It was actually a fun show, what I imagine a Wayne Newton show would be like, except Paul Anka is talented. It was very tacky, and whenever he would introduce a song by saying, "I wrote this in the '70s," (as if he had to tell us), look out. But he was an enthusiastic performer, and especially the more upbeat numbers were a lot of fun. And I learned that Paul Anka wrote "For Once in my Life," a favorite song of mine. His "duets" with recordings of Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr. were a little unsettling, but I suppose he has more right to do it than Natalie Cole did, seeing as he did write the songs. And having to listen to "She's Having My Baby" in its entirety, I understand how it was once voted the worst song ever. But I enjoyed myself, and although we were the youngest people there by at least thirty years, I'm used to that kind of thing.
Of course, I was far more excited about seeing the Folksmen than Paul Anka. They were performing at a Dean fundraiser, along with the Bangles and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. The show was at 7, at the House of Blues in West Hollywood. I left around 3, figuring that should be enough time to eat before the show. And if I was running late, I could just skip the meal. Instead, I find myself outside Los Angeles city limits, my clock reading 7:45 and traffic barely moving. I know driving to L.A. is not fun, but its not supposed to take 5 hours. I didn't see an accident or construction or anything, but I was travelling about 10 MPH from Escondido on, with almost no relief. So I ended up turning around and going home (a return trip of one hour fifteen minutes). So that was a big disappointment. But at least Howard Dean got my money.
School is done; the quarter ended up going better than I anticipated, and I hope that next quarter will be the first unqualified success I've had in awhile. I've fallen out of my running habit a bit. I've been getting shorter runs in, but my long runs in preparation for January's half-marathon have been tough to schedule. I had hoped to get an eight-miler in on Saturday, but I was a bit hung over and I hurt a toe, so I decided to forego running. I'm planning on running the eight-miler tomorrow, and if that goes well, I'm confident I'll be able to complete the half-marathon (13.1 miles) reasonably strong. And if it doesn't go well, then maybe a very painful half-marathon in January will teach me to stick to my training regimine more vigilantly.
Friday was our company Christmas party. It was actually for the whole institution, not just the aquarium, but we aquarium folk sort of stuck to ourselves. It was fun, to an extent, but I wasn't in the spirit of either celebrating or getting drunk (though I got drunk anyway). Found the whole thing rather depressing. It didn't take a great deal of prescience to realize this would be a bleak Christmas for our family, and I can feel it beginning to take hold. Probably going to the cemetery on Wednesday (or was it Friday? I already forget) started it. I like going to the cemetery, but I don't like being there. I just like the idea that I am going there, as something to focus my thoughts on. But this time, Mom just walks in and asks if I'm doing anything, or if we can go to the cemetery right now, which sort of throws off my whole rhythm. But it was nice to go with Mom, because I can never find my Dad's parents' graves on my own.
Saturday, December 20, 2003
Sunday, December 14, 2003
Thursday, December 11, 2003
Tuesday, December 09, 2003
I have been running fairly regularly. I haven't been as vigilant as I should be, with the San Diego Half-Marathon coming up next month, but overall I'm feeling strong going into the final weeks of training. Ran 7 miles on Saturday in 57:48, an 8'15" pace, and felt good. Seeing as this will be my first half-marathon, and my goals are therefore modest, I have high hopes that the race will go swimmingly. Then I can make a decision about a full marathon in June.
Despite the looming finals (I'll be done with everything tomorrow afternoon), I have got to play my new game systems, the GameCube and GameBoy. As frequent readers will no doubt recall, I purchased the GameCube largely due to the Zelda bonus disc. I've sucessfully completed The Legend of Zelda and Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. I must say I was a bit underwhelmed, especially with Zelda II. It is fun to revisit them, but in comparison to the recent Final Fantasy: Origins for the Playstation, it's harder to appreciate them now. The original Zelda, however, is still obviously a trend-setter, with its story and its wide-open game play (I believe at least 80% of the world map is accessible from the beginning, even before obtaining the raft and ladder). A sidequest based on three-card monte teaches kids the folly of gambling, and you are allowed to attack (though not kill) kindly old men in caves (only to be attacked by flames when you do so). I assume I must have used a player's guide, an old issue of Nintendo Power, perhaps, to beat this game initially, since it is not at all obvious where exactly one sould head next. But its amazing after 15 years how many secret passageways and shortcuts I could remember, including which exact tree to scorch to find stairs. Overall, I didn't find the nostalgia enough to make it a fun game to play, and both were quite easy to beat in relatively little time (the final boss in the first Zelda was far too easy, though beating the Dark Link in Zelda II, and in fact the entire final temple, was quite difficult, compared to the rest of the game). I have yet to try the two Super-NES Zelda games on the bonus disc, which I've never played before. The demo of the new GameCube Zelda game was impressive, though I get the feeling the game is a bit too complex for me. But the capabilities of the system are shown off quite well, and I am impressed by the power of the machine for the price.
My GameBoy has also gotten some play. Donkey Kong Country is fun, but mostly I've been playing Wario Ware, Inc.: Mega Microgames. It's very addictive, at least at first, though the novelty has worn off. Basically, it consists of a vast collection of games, each of which can be played in five seconds. The game bumps you from one game to the other, usually with one-word instructions ("climb!" "dodge!" "sniff!"). The difficult part isn't so much the games themselves, as figuring out what it is you're trying to do. Which hurts the replay value a bit. Once you figure out that the object of the game is, say, to hit the a-button to make the cartoon woman sniff up the snot bubble, it's not difficult to do. It's still fun, though, and I must say it's a nice way to kill a half-hour or so, which is, I think, the reason an adult would play with a GameBoy.
What else have I been filling my time with when not studying? I watched Miller's Crossing, which I think means I've now seen every Coen Brothers movie. As enjoyable as any of their films. I've been listening a lot to the two Tiger Lillies CDs I purchased after seeing them in Los Angeles, The Gorey End and Shockheaded Peter. I need to pick up some of their non-theatrical recordings, but I hate paying for international shipping, and the only ones I've been able to find from American sources are so expensive. I just got Paris Combo's Living Room, and what I've heard of that is enjoyable. Triumph the Insult Comic Dog's album still makes me laugh. On the TV front, I've been enjoying Arrested Development, as well as the new Season Two DVD of Strangers With Candy. I haven't been to the movies lately, since for some reason I feel better about staying home and wasting time than leaving the house to do something enriching rather than studying.
I can't help but think that something exciting happened this week that's at least as worthy of note as what I've been listening to. A friend quit his job as a teacher to deliver pizzas. I won about $200 at Viejas. Nothing else of note to share.