Friday, December 26, 2008

My Curious Case of Cold Feet

As I'm typing this, my toes are cold. My hands and feet are the first two (four?) body parts of mine to drop in temperature when I get cold. On the coldest evenings, I'll take a couple baths (one after I get home and another a few hours later when the warmth of the first one has dissipated).

Yesterday afternoon, while attending a screening of Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett's "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button", both sets of my toes were cold. In order to reduce this, I typically take one of my shoes off and put that foot under my opposite knee. Not only does this warm one of my feet, but for some reason, it also seems to reduce the coldness in my other one.

Shit, now that I've brought up "Button", I might as well say how I felt about it. Since it was directed by David Fincher ("Fight Club", "Zodiac"), I was expecting a masterwork. If you weren't aware, the story revolves around a man who is aging backwards.

It starts out in the present-day with one of the main characters going back and telling what happened way-back-when. I'm sure most are familiar with this structure (it was used in my favorite movie of '94, "Forrest Gump, my fave of '97, "Titanic", and my fave of '98, "Saving Private Ryan"). "Button" took the cake, though, in that it went from present-day to past and back again way too many times (On a couple instances, I actually rolled my eyes at the screen. The screen was like, "Kiss my ass").

At close to three hours, the movie was a real tour de force and had a number of moving moments, but just didn't quite do it for me. I agree with this reviewer who said, "I liked "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," but I wanted to love it." I do recommend it; just make sure to keep your expectations in check.

Later that evening, I watched a movie OnDemand from '06 that actually stars both Pitt and Blanchett as well (my wife said, "Weren't they both in the movie we saw today?"). It's called "Babel" and deals with people who are having problems communicating because of language differences (hence, the title).

It was a bit better than "Button" in my eyes. If you're ambitious, check it out.

NOTE: I'm taking a fortnight off to recycle myself. Hope you don't mind. Look through my voluminous archives if you get to missing my one-of-a-kind style (Be warned, however: my earliest writings are quite primitive).

Monday, December 22, 2008

Eating Outside

Though I love eating out, I can't abide eating outside.

There are many reasons for this. First, there's no guarantee that the temperature will be comfortable (it could get too humid or be too breezy). Inside the restaurant, you needn't be concerned about such things. Outside, flies (or worse) can get into your food. This could also happen inside, but the likelihood is much less (though the chances of seeing a cockroach are much greater indoors). Then we have the problem of traffic noise and smokers.

A few months ago, I went to a Friday's in Wisconsin and was quite surprised when the maitre d' said, "Smoking or non?". I was like, "Excuse me, my good man, but I wasn't aware that I had teleported to 1973. Now, please excuse me while I head out to find a young boy named Barack. Legend foretells that one day, he will change the world. Oh, and do you know any places around here that sell frankencense and/or myrrh?"

There's also the problem of sunlight when eating outside. Course, they usually have those umbrellas, but that's sometime not enough and I don't like to have to wear sunglasses while munching on some fingers. In addition, I love sitting in booths which are generally only available within the restaurant's walls.

Quick comment about eating: I only ever put salt on one food item: corn on the cob. In my mind, if you have to put salt on something for it to taste good, why are you bothering eating it?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Newly Erected Barriers Attract Unplanned Attention

WINTERS (CBS13) ― A $2 million investment into a downtown improvement project has yielded an unintentionally distracting image, some residents say. Downtown Winters has new benches and new brick sidewalks, but that's not what people seem to be noticing on the corner of Railroad and Main.

Many residents can't agree on what the newly erected, three-foot-high pedestrian barriers look like.

"They look like fire hydrants that have been painted," said one man. A woman named Katie suggested the thirteen barriers looked like chess pieces. Debra LoGuercio, a columnist for the Winters Express, saw something completely different.

"By God, they're penises," Debra said. "And it's a nice sturdy one at that."

Debra couldn't believe it, and even wrote a column for the Express titled "New Construction Shocks The L Out Of Our Pubic Spaces." "I've heard people leaning out the window, saying, 'Love the penises!" she laughed, "which you don't hear very often."

City officials weren't terribly amused when we brought the subject up to them. The city manager wouldn't go on camera to talk about it, saying it's juvenile. Many residents agree with him -- John Pickerel owns two restaurants on the corner, and he's all for the streetscape improvements.

"Winters is a jewel, and this just polishes the jewel," he said. It's a jewel for families and visitors, but now it has an unplanned attraction."It's all I can see," Debra said. "It's like the creepy kid in the movie: 'I see penises.'"

Video report

Friday, December 19, 2008

Christmas Shopping Anecdotes

I'm in the midst of wrapping presents this afternoon. We got about half a foot of snow this morning as Al Franken moves into the lead in the Minnesota Senate recount. I've some amusing things to share in regards to my Christmas shopping. Yesterday, I bought a Vikings Winter Combo (hat, scarf, gloves, rope) for a friend of mine for $9.99. Per societal expectations, I removed the $9.99 sticker from the packaging before wrapping it. Just then, I noticed a sticker on the back that said the item was originally priced at $25. For some reason, I couldn't resist leaving that sticker on. Isn't that what Christmas is all about, though? Buying $50 worth of presents, but having the recipient believe you spent a hundred?

This same friend is also a huge movie fan (he has more than 500 DVD's). I had to chuckle back in the early 00's; you see, he had amassed hundreds of VHS tapes, but knowing its demise was imminent, spent thousands to upgrade to the magical DigitalVersatileDisc (I hope he doesn't find out about Blu-Ray).

I like to buy him 4 or 5 movies every Christmas, but how am I to know if I'm just getting him something that he already has? Easy, just get him a foreign film. :P But, seriously, I saw a few last night I thought he might like, so called him up. You might say, "But if you ask him if he has a movie, then he's gonna know what you're getting him." Not quite. You see, I ran about 20 movie titles by him, so he has no idea which are legit and which are just red herrings (yes! I've always wanted to use the term "red herrings" in a post).

I somehow found myself at Wal-Mart earlier this week and was quite surprised to see my first psychiatrist shopping there. She makes close to triple digits an hour, but shops at the House of China? Two miles down the road is a SuperTarget where you don't have to worry about seeing anyone wearing a vest (unless you go on Sunday afternoon where you might see a youngster wearing one. Vests look much cuter on the under-10 set. But you know what would be sad: a five year old wearing a Wal-Mart vest. I'm sure it'd be a YouTube sensation, though. Kinda like that O'Reilly kid).

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

30 Minutes in Hallmark

This evening, I went to the local Hallmark to get Christmas cards for a couple notable loved ones.

Remember in the old days when greeting card stores were quiet, when all you heard was some piped-in easy listening music. Tonight, all I heard were people opening those stupid greeting cards that talk and sing when you open them (someone opened a Simpsons one and chuckled when they heard Marge dispense some motherly wisdom).

I checked both my pockets, but no ear plugs could be found. So I made the best of it and proceeded to find what I needed. When looking for cards for the most important people in my life, I like to look at all the store has to offer. Some may look at only 5 Christmas cards designated "Mother". I looked at dozens to find the perfect one for the one who birthed me. What makes this even more difficult is that she frequently mentions how I always seem to get her the perfect card.

I never buy cards that don't express exactly how I feel about a person. Some cards will say, "I know I don't say I love you as often as I should..." Well, I do, so that type of card is totally inappropriate. What is with you people who don't say "I love you" to those dearest to your heart? If it weren't for your attitude, I wouldn't have to see half the cards I look over give some variation on this. I'm telling you right now, if you don't say I love you to them every day, you're gonna be mighty regretful when they pass. Food for thought as we all look forward to stuffing ourselves next week.

Imagine my disgust, then, when I couldn't find one card that was as good as what I'd given her in previous years. I had to settle on one that was substandard, in my opinion. It only cost 2.99, which posed a bit of a problem. I almost wished that it cost more so that if she happened to look at the back of it, she would, "Ah, yes. He spent 5.99 for this card. He really loves his mama".

Lastly, can someone tell me why 80% of greeting cards have that sparkly shit on it? After perusing several dozen cards, my hands looked like they'd been spread with fairy dust. I coulda passed for Minneapolis bathroom boy Larry Craig.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Sunday, December 14, 2008

2002 Part V

I can still remember going to Pierce Brosnan’s last Bond movie “Die Another Day” during the Christmas season of ’02. It was one of the last movies a friend and I went to before he met the love of his life. I hadn’t seen Brosnan in his 3 prior Bond flicks, so was looking forward to seeing “Die”. It was mostly satisfying.

The movie started with Madonna singing the title song (which had a very electronica vibe). The last half of the movie took place in an area of the Arctic, I believe. Bond’s big contraption in the movie was an “invisible” car. Though completely lacking compared to Daniel Craig’s reboot in ’06, I had a pretty good time with the Secret Agent Man (bonus points for Halle Berry who played the love interest).

Catch Me If You Can” starring Tom Hanks and Leonardo DiCaprio and directed by Steven Spielberg looked to be a great movie about a guy who impersonated doctors and airline pilots in the 60’s, but I didn’t get around to seeing it until about 7 weeks into its run.

Based on a true story, it was quite captivating with great period detail (trailer).

The musical “Chicago” was the 3rd Richard Gere movie I saw in 2002.

Ridiculous, I know, but all three were very good. Most of his work since then has been blah. “Chicago” was special in that the audience was able to hear the famous Buddhist sing. Queen Latifah also sang one as did John C. Reilley. Renee Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones each sang a number of songs. The film wound up winning Best Picture for the year. I didn’t think it quite deserved it (though the tunes were so good I bought the film’s soundtrack a few days after seeing the film). My favorite song from it might very well be “We Both Reached for the Gun” sung by Gere. (you can view it here).

Men in Black II” was the first movie I saw at Rochester’s newest theatre, Cinemagic (the theatre is now the worst in town by far). The only good thing about the movie was the talking Pug. He’s a stitch…and such attitude! (trailer)

I had much more fun with “Austin Powers: Goldmember”. I went to the first "Powers" twice and the second one thrice. My favorite character in part two was Fat Bastard, so I greatly looked forward to seeing his return in part III. Though he was only in one major scene, I was on the floor throughout it (the scene starts at 7:30 of this link and continues here). Tom Cruise surprised with a cameo in the film.

Friday, December 12, 2008

My Thoughts On Christmas

I love how Christmas has two mascots: Jesus and Santa.

And how ironic is it that when you flip the letters of Santa a bit, it turns into Satan. Jesus and Satan together again just like in the good ol' days. I believe a number of things in the Good Book, but not the Manger story. That's the justification for giving gifts over the holidays; because the Wise Guys gave them to Baby Jesus way back when (or maybe it's cuz of Santa).

I'm certain the story was written many years later as a way to address Jesus's birth. But they forgot to fill in the blanks as to what he was doing between the ages of 1-29. It's like he fell off the face of the Earth. Make something up, whatever, but don't say he was born and then pick up the story three decades later. We don't get to see the man develop, see how he came to be the person he is. By the way, if the Bible is the end-all, be-all, why is there such a thing as Christian book stores?

I love Jesus. It's hard to find a better way to live than the philosophies he espoused. But some of the stuff the church fathers made up about him are really messed up, so much so that Thomas Jefferson created his own account of the Gospels in which he took out all the miracles.

The Immaculate Conception thing is totally ridiculous. It infers that no one who is born from their parents can ever be good as Jesus. I don't think Jesus should be worshipped so much as emulated. People will say no one can be as kind as Jesus, but if you choose to do so every minute, it can be done.

Many people think the Gospels were written by the disciples when in fact all of the writers knew about Jesus only second (or third) hand and through prior oral accounts. The four books weren't written until decades after Jesus' death.

Some time ago, I read the account of a man ('s_nde.htm) who crossed over and while on the other side, had a riveting experience in which he learned what he believed to be the truth about Jesus. However you feel about NDE's, the following makes much more sense to me than the Gospels' origin story:

"I had the 1st person experience of the one called "Jesus." I had his entire life (remember, time does not exist). His name was not Jesus, something more like Josephus. He had regular mom and dad, no God intervention. He had a difficult birth and an NDE during birth. He had a difficult childhood because of his near death experience, he knew too much. As he got older, he began to tell people about his experience. He told people not to fear death because they would live forever. He told people that after death, there was perfect peace and a perfect state of love. He told people that everyone was exactly the same and everyone could know who they really were and awaken to their spiritual self."

"He drew a small crowd of followers. After a time, some of his followers wanted to form a religion and replace the Jewish priests because of the money and power. He cast the power mongers out of his following. Five of them conspired against him. At his trial there were three witnesses against him, all were his followers. He was hanged (not crucified, he was just a petty criminal to the Romans). Being in a hurry, the Romans cut him down a little early and his loyal followers carried his body off. He revived having had a second near death experience (his "second coming" so to speak). He lived for awhile hiding from his 5 traitorous former friends, but died after a bit from his injuries."

One of the reasons I don't go to church is because the religions stick to their ancient texts without realizing that there are actually better books out there, books that can be used to inspire even more greatly than the Bible. My favorite author is Neale Donald Walsch. I was fortunate enough to meet him this past summer and wrote quite extensively about it here. He has written some stuff that puts most all of the Old Testament to shame. Check it:

"You are goodness and mercy and compassion and understanding. You are peace and joy and light. You forgiveness and patience, strength and courage, a helper in time of need, a comforter in time of sorrow, a healer in time of injury, a teacher in times of confusion. You are the deepest wisdom and the highest truth; the greatest peace and the greatest love. You are these things. And in moments of your life you have known yourself as these things. Choose now to know yourself as these things always."

"When you catch yourself thinking negative thoughts—thoughts that negate your highest idea about a thing—think again! I want you to do this, literally. If you think you are in a doldrum, in a pickle, and no good can come of this, think again. If you think the world is a bad place, filled with negative events, think again. If you think your life is falling apart, and it looks as if you’ll never get it back together again, think again."

"Worry is just about the worst form of mental activity there is—next to hate, which is deeply self destructive. Worry is pointless. It is wasted mental energy. It also creates bio-chemical reactions which harm the body, producing everything from indigestion to coronary arrest, and a multitude of things in between. Worry, hate, fear—together with their offshoots: anxiety, bitterness, impatience, avarice, unkindness, judgmentalness, and condemnation—all attack the body at the cellular level. It is impossible to have a healthy body under these conditions."

"If you want guarantees in life, then you don’t want life. You want rehearsals for a script that’s already been written. Life by its nature cannot have guarantees or its whole purpose is thwarted. Know and understand that there will be challenges and difficult times. Don’t try to avoid them. Welcome them. Gratefully. Cultivate the technique of seeing all problems as opportunities. Opportunities, and decide, Who You Really Are."

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Worst Movies: Number 4

1997 was one of my favorite moviegoing years. It started with the re-release of the original Star Wars trilogy and ended with the behemoth "Titanic" (I go into much greater detail on the films I liked that year here). I went to dozens of movies in '97, so it's no surprise that one was a complete dud. The 4th worst movie I ever attended was a sci-fi/horror flick starring Sam Neill from "Jurassic Park".

Here's a brief synopsis of the film (courtesy of Reel Views):

"In the year 2047, the deep space rescue craft Lewis & Clark departs on a two-month journey to Neptune. Their primary mission is to go into a low orbit around Neptune and make contact with the deep space research vessel Event Horizon, which was initially thought destroyed seven years ago. The would-be rescuers are to search for survivors and salvage anything that's reclaimable, but no one is prepared for the horror that lurks deep within the dark corridors of the dead ship."

Like number 5 (Blair Witch 2), this is a movie where it didn't get really bad until the last half hour or so (the previous 60 minutes was just foreplay). As the paragraph above indicates, it did start out with a good premise, but just fell apart as time went on. There are a number of great sci-fi/horror flicks out there (Alien & Aliens, in particular), but this one wasn't even a quarter as good as those.

More interesting than the movie itself was what occured at the screening: There were two teenagers sitting a few rows in front of me and throughout the film, especially near the end, one of them would jump when something scary happened, and it wasn't a minor jump, either (he was genuinely startled). He did this at least 5 times. Pretty funny stuff. I wonder if his buddy knew about this prediliction beforehand.

Like "Blair 2", this movie can be watched in its entirety on YouTube. Go here to get started.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Reach Out and Touch Someone

I sometimes miss the days of having a conventional phone. You know, the kind you could slam on somebody's head and they'd be unconscious for half an hour. Remember how if you were really pissed at someone, you could slam the headset on its base and the person on the other end would get their eardrums blown? You can't do that with mobile devices. Close your flip phone and the other person will just think you're out of range. I have an old-school phone in my basement and am tempted to hook it up for shiggles. I remember twisting my finger around the cord while yakking it up with friends and how you couldn't leave the room while on it: You were stuck there until the conversation was over.

I watched a great independent movie a couple weeks ago called "We Don't Live Here Anymore".

Starring one of my all-time favorite actresses, Naomi Watts, as well as Mark Ruffalo, it tells the story of a guy and a girl (both of whom are married) who are having a affair. The film is set in the early 90's which makes sense because if you think about it, cheating can't be as easy these days as it once was, not with the advent of the cell phone. In the early days of Clinton, you could tell your beloved you were gonna be out for four hours and there was no way they could find you or check up on what you were doing, not unless you followed them or hired a private dick (pun intended). Though not a masterpiece, the movie was quite satisfying in three major ways: it dealt with real emotions, had no special effects, and gave me much to think about after watching it.

Two decades ago, my brothers were the kings of getting maximum use out of Alexander Bell's invention. On many evenings, they would call pizza places and have them deliver to a house up the street. It would always be amusing watching (from their house in the dark) the pizza man going up to the house and telling the occupant he had the pizza they "ordered". On one occasion, the guy actually bought the pizza. They would also call cabs to the same house and watch as the driver sat in his cab, waiting for his "customer" to come out. After a couple minutes, he would honk his horn. The boys always loved watching what would transpire. One time, two cabs from different companies were both in front of the house at the same time.

Monday, December 08, 2008

FOX Apologizes For Showing Schlong

Minnesota Viking Visanthe Shiancoe was inadvertently shown naked on television while a FOX camera crew taped owner Zygi Wilf’s presentation of the game ball to coach Brad Childress’ 19-year-old son Andrew, who is joining the Marine Corps on Monday. Shiancoe was standing behind and to the side of Wilf with a towel partly covering his body. But not completely.“It obviously was an oversight on our part and we apologize,” said FOX Sports vice president of Communications Dan Bell.

In a separate piece, Shiancoe later said to a reporter, "How'd it look?"

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Worst Movies: Number 5

As 2008 draws to a close, I'm counting down the 5 worst movies I've ever been to. This only includes films I went to see at the theatre (nothing I saw on TV or video). Let's begin, shall we?

Number 5 was a sequel to a movie I actually liked. Part 2 had a much bigger budget, but was less than half as good as the first. I didn't realize how bad it was until the last half hour (guess I was hoping it'd get better). The movie I'm referring to is 2000's "Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows".

The entirety of the film can be viewed on YouTube. Click here to begin, but don't say I didn't warn you.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Thanksgiving at Old Country Buffet

I spent last Thursday afternoon with a friend of mine. He has no family in the area, so I sought to show him a good time on Thanksgiving Day. We watched some of the Titans' annihilation of the Lions before heading to one of the only restaurants open that day, Old Country Buffet.

I'm not a fan of buffets and rarely go to them (I prefer to have my food cooked to order and at regular restaurants, the likelihood of running into a carny is significantly less). I was able to compromise, however (especially when I found a coupon that reduced our admission from $12.50/person to $9.50).

We arrived a little after 3pm figuring that since it was the middle of the day, there wouldn't be as many people there. Boy, were we surprised. The line was almost out the door. Nothin' to do but wait. We talked as the line steadily moved. While engaged in conversation, I noticed a lady, a hostess, who looked quite a bit like a girl that I graduated with almost two decades ago. She was wearing glasses and a bit heavier than back then, but dang if she wasn't the spitting image of her. Why would she be working here, I thought. Oh yeah, that's right, we're in a recession.

As we got closer to the cashier, I hoped I would see my favorite buffet cliche', a big guy wearing overalls with a John Deere cap. There were people of all stripes at the restaurant. It was a regular global village. Obama would be proud. As we got close to the front of the line, I noticed people were having trouble finding seats. Yikes. I might have to eat turkey on the floor.

It was just then that I got a good look at the girl who resembled my former classmate. My eyes widened. It was her. This was proven conclusively 5 seconds later when I saw her nametag. I told my friend (who graduated the same year as I). He said he didn't remember her as clearly, but felt she looked familiar. After we paid for our grub, I said, "Hi" to her and believed she recognized the two of us. Luckily, we were able to get a booth right away.

The line to get turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberries, and all that jazz was not inconsequential. It actually snaked back around itself (kinda like W). I had a bit of a problem figuring it all out (though not as much as this guy). I told my friend to have a go while I held our seat and got something to drink (two small glasses of blue Powerade). I noticed in the center of the buffet a guy carving turkey, ham, and steak. Boy, was his arm gonna be tired tomorrow.

Most everyone in the restaurant was in a good mood (though some were more antsy than others to eat). Feeling our seat was safe, I got in line. Determined not to overdo it, I wound up getting a medium cut of turkey, some mashed tatoes, a cinnamon roll (I'd forgotten its pleasures), and a smidge of cranberry sauce. Oh, and a slice of pizza (I was probably the only person over 30 that day to take one).

My friend and I talked about work, social activities we've pursued of late, and the Marxist tendencies of Obama.

While eating, I noticed a man of Asian descent working quite feverishly at clearing tables and getting people refills of water and coffee. As my friend went up for another helping, I gave the man a dollar bill (I would've given more, but only had 5's and 20's besides the single). Nonetheless, he was incredibly happy when I gave it to him (he must not get many tips).

The high school lady walked past our table a couple times while we ate, but didn't look at me, instead taking a gander at my buddy. Had I lost my touch? Was she pretending to look at him while looking at me out of her peripheral? Did she notice me eating with my left-hand and feel she should steer clear of such madness? No matter. It was good to see someone I remembered fondly from my high school days.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Monday, December 01, 2008

Christmas Time Is Here

I have just over 40 Christmas CD's. Some are great (Chris Isaak), some not so much (Toby Keith). My collection tilts heavily in the country direction since that was my favorite type of music from 1992-2001. No matter the quality, I like to listen to all my Xmas discs during the holiday season. To do this, I need to listen to at least one per day (I usually take one or two discs with me in the morning and am able to listen to at least a half hour's worth of music over the course of a day).

When going to purchase Christmas presents (hopefully not at Wal-Mart), I'll bring my headset along and knock out a few discs. I have a new Christmas disc to listen to this year. Several months ago, I purchased "Now That's What I Call Christmas 2" at Goodwill for a few bucks, knowing I wouldn't be listening to any of the tracks until at least late November. The same thing happened a couple years ago with Chris Isaak.

One of my favorite Christmas discs is Diana Krall's Christmas Songs.

It's perfect for a cold night at home. A few of the tracks are downright melancholy, not a bad thing since the holiday season isn't always happy (you can sample the tracks at the above link). My favorite song on the disc is a remake of the Peanuts classic, "Christmas Time Is Here". Here's what one reviewer says of Krall's version of the song: "Christmas Time" is quiet and poignant. It just seems to whisper to the night sky to loose its grip on the powdered snow while the fire rages from the hearth. It comes draped in that blanket of warm fuzzy feelings."

This is one of the most heartwarming holiday videos you'll ever see.

Whatever kind of Christmas music you like, whether it's Josh Groban, Alvin & the Chipmunks, or none at all, may you all have a very blessed holiday season.

Hello, Everybody

By Joe Kita


It's one of the first words we learn as babies, yet it's one of the last ones we think to use as adults. In our never-ending rush to get something or somewhere, it seems we don't have time anymore for this most basic of gestures. And that's unfortunate, because saying hello is more than just saying hello. It is an acknowledgment of existence. It is a pause, however brief, to affirm another's worth (and have yours affirmed in return). How might the world change-how might we change—if we mastered this word? To find out, I spent one month saying hello to every person I met. That meant strangers on the street, people in cyberspace, and even myself in the mirror every morning. Here's what I learned: