Monday, April 30, 2007

Two Surprises for the Price of One

Last July the Singles tried to do a double-surprise party for Fluffy and Cap'n Disaster and me with limited success. This past Friday, we tried for another double-whammy, and were met with much more satisfying results.

It all started with the return of Cap'n Shack-Fu from his latest disaster deployment the weekend before his birthday. We had already planned a group game night for the following Friday, so the girls came up with the idea of turning the game night into a surprise party for Cap'n Shack. However, the real twist came into play after a discussion on birthday's revealed to everyone that Li'l Dill had been able to become The Grey Man long enough for his birthday to slip by unnoticed a few months back. The girls decided that this would not stand, and so the surprise party was expanded to be a surprise belated birthday party for Li'l Dill as well.

Now, since there was a group activity already planned, trying to find a way to convince the two guests of honor to show up wasn't going to be too much of a stretch, but in order to insure their arrival (not to mention throw Cap'n Shack-Fu off the scent), the ingenious plan was devised to tell each of them that Friday night was going to be a surprise party for the other. So, a few days beforehand, Cap'n Bubbles, who was hosting the party, sent out three separate email invitations: one to everyone but Cap'n Shack-Fu talking about the surprise for the Shacktackular One; one to everyone but Li'l Dill talking about the surprise for Pickle Boy; and one to everyone but the two birthday boys entitled "The Real Invite!" The plan was for everyone but the targets to get to Cap'n Bubble's house around 6:30, with the unsuspecting targets arriving around 7:00. We weren't going to do the traditional hide-and-yell-surprise move; instead, we were just going to start up a game and then have someone come out with the birthday cake baked by Squiggly.

When we got to Cap'n Bubbles' house, we found that her roomie Brown-Eyed Girl had invited Cap'n Shack-Fu's friend Fearless Leader Juliet* down from Oklahoma at the last minute; when we finally got word that Fluffy and Cap'n Shack-Fu were on their way, FLJ hid in the back with the cake, since seeing him there would have definitely given away the surprise on Cap'n Shack-Fu's end. But, it was quite a while before that happened, as Ol’ Slack-Fu was taking his sweet time getting there. Li'l Dill, on the other hand, was not in Lazy Bum mode, arriving right at the appropriate time, despite having taken a Lazy Bum nap after he got off of work; consequently, he was suffering some post-napping grogginess when he first arrived. As we sat around waiting for our final guest to arrive, Li'l Dill asked the room "So, is it still a surprise?" I had to bite the inside of my cheek to keep from laughing as I responded "Oh, yeah, it's still a surprise" -- pretty sure I'm not the only one who had trouble keeping a straight face.

After a while, Peanut and PigPen decided to run over to our place to pick up some game supplies we had forgotten; of course, as soon as they walked out the door, they ran into Fluffy and Cap'n Shack-Fu in the front yard. Hearing the commotion which always results when PigPen and Cap’n Shack are first brought into proximity of each other, I headed outside to greet the arrivals as well; while shaking my hand, Cap'n Shack-Fu looked over my shoulder and hollered out "Hey there, Li'l Dill!" I turned to see Li'l Dill standing in the doorway, a slightly dazed look in his eyes as his mouth worked silently for a few moments before finally spilling out a very subdued "Hey." Cap'n Shack-Fu got a very puzzled look on his face, and I explained that Li'l Dill was suffering post-napping lag. A couple of minutes later Li'l Dill pulled me aside to explain that he had actually been on the verge of yelling out "Surprise!" but when nobody else yelled, he was suddenly at a loss, and could only conjure up the "hey." I almost wish he had yelled it out, just to see how Cap'n Shack-Fu reacted, but that would have thrown off the actual surprise, so it's for the best that he remained silent.

Once we finally got everyone inside, and PigPen and Peanut got back from our place, Cap'n Bubbles dragged Cap'n Shack-Fu and Li'l Dill up in front of everybody; they both had the slyest little smiles on their faces, as they prepared for the other one to get surprised. Then out came Fearless Leader Juliet with the cake, which totally floored Cap'n Shack-Fu; Li'l Dill was busy reveling in Shack's surprise until he realized that his name was on the cake as well. The realization that they had both been played hit them like a ton of bricks --definitely the best surprise party I've even been involved in.

*No, I still haven't come up with a good nickname for him since the Paintball X-mas Party


Movie Mon. - HyperForce 3000 Seal of Approval

Blades of Glory: Goofy comedy about two male figures skaters (Will Ferrel and Jon Heder) who get around a lifetime ban in Men's Singles by competing together in Pairs. If there hadn't been a group decision to see this one, I would have gladly waited until it came out on DVD, and I probably would have been slightly happier -- and not just because for some reason the Movie Tavern was like a freakin' sauna on Saturday night. While not a bad movie, for me Blades just didn't have enough going for it to warrant the full price treatment. Most reviews I read when it first came out suggested that the movie was great when they were on the ice, and faltered elsewhere; I have to say that that's a pretty fair assessment.

Hot Fuzz: Hilarious British comedy from the cast and creators of my favorite film of 2004, Shaun of the Dead, who this time turn their twisted minds from zed-words to the world of buddy-cop action movies. Afraid I'm not quite up to an eloquent analysis of the film and all its charms this morning, so I'll just have to say that this one got the HyperForce 3000 Seal of Approval, and will probably be purchased by both PigPen and myself when it comes to DVD.


Thursday, April 26, 2007

When It Rains, It Pours, So Thank Heaven for Friends

With the recent return of Cap'n Shack-Fu from New Mexico, we decided to have a HyperForce 3000 gathering* this previous Tuesday. The plan had been to go to dinner at Chili’s and then head to the Cinemark to see Hot Fuzz. However, the possibility of us getting together was put into question by the torrential downpour, flash floods, and tornadic activity forecast for our area that evening. The rain had been coming down hard and heavy for hours by the time I finally left work. My cell phone rang as I was about halfway home, but since all of my concentration was focused on trying to keep my car from dying in the middle of the flooded streets, I let it go to voicemail. When I got home at around 4:30, I first took off my drenched shoes and socks which were filled with water from having to walk from my office to my car, and then from my car into my house. My next step was to return the missed phone call. As I was starting to chat with my fellow HyperForcer about the worsening weather conditions, I walked from the entryway into the dining room, and then into the living room; it was at this point that I wondered to myself "Hey, my shoes and socks are off, so why are my feet still making squishing noises?" I then turned and looked through the patio doors into the backyard where I saw The Anti-Cap'n's dog standing in water so high it was seeping in through the doorway. I informed the other end of the phone that my place was being flooded; luckily, the person at the other end of the phone happened to be FEMA worker, firefighter, soldier, and borderline super-hero Cap'n Shack-Fu who said "Dude, I'm on my way."

While I waited for Cap'n Shack-Fu to ride to the rescue, I started trying to minimize damage as best I could inside. The carpet in the living room was pretty saturated with water, but it luckily hadn't made it over to the dining room area where my computer sat; I quickly made the rounds lifting all electric equipment off of ground, which is when I discovered that the carpet under the surge protectors for the TV, VCR, DVD player, etc. was even more soaked than anything else -- if I had been any later coming home we would have at least had some fried electronics, and at worst, a nice little electrical fire.

After unplugging items and moving as much stuff off the ground as I could, I then ran upstairs, grabbed the laundry basket of towels I had just gotten done washing, and applied them at the base of the patio doors both inside and out; I knew it was ultimately a futile move, but I figured every little bit would help buy us time. It was while I was packing the towels down outside that Cap'n Shack-Fu showed up. It took him just a few seconds to assess the flooded back yard and construct a plan of attack, which basically consisted of prying apart part of the backyard fence and digging up the fallow flower bed so that some of our flooding which flow into a neighbor's relatively flood-free yard. Shack-Fu and I spent the next bit of time prying up boards and digging channels for the water to flow through; we then used the loose boards to erect a mini dam around the patio doors to block off the water, and also tried to shore up the fence on the other side of the yard which was pouring water onto us through the gaps that so often lead to Jake's escape when we first moved in. All of this was done in water that was at least calf-deep while rain continued to hammer down on us.

After a little bit, Fluffy came into the back-yard; Cap'n Shack-Fu had picked her up from her job, since the roads there were bad, and she had been sitting in his truck staying dry. Unfortunately, that wasn't going to be working much longer, as the water on Benjiman had started to rise at an alarming rate, so she came to let Shack know so that he could move the vehicle. He did so, rescuing a stranded car or two while he did so. When he came back we did a little more work, and then he decided that we had probably done all we could for the time being, and that it was probably time to head inside and start trying to salvage as much as possible. So, the three of us headed inside and began moving as much as we could out of the flooded areas. Luckily, the way the house is designed there's a brick entryway which acted as a nice buffer between the flooding living room/dining room/kitchen and the rest of the downstairs, which includes the laundry room and PigPen's bedroom, so we didn't have to haul things up stairs, just deposit them in the drier zones.

"Speaking of PigPen," you may ask, "where was he during all this? And the Anti-Cap'n too, for that matter." Well, at the time I discovered the flooding, they were both about 45 minutes away from Denton -- 45 minutes away on a good day, that is. But with the weather the way it was . . . Plus, I wasn't able to get ahold of either of them for a while; Fluffy managed to reach The A.C. to let him know what was happening (he was stuck in traffic at the time), and I left PigPen a voicemail. So, right around the time we finished triaging the affected inside areas, I got a call from Peanut, wondering what was going on with our dinner and a movie plans; I told him about the current situation. Peanut, who lives about 30 minutes northwest of Denton, replied, "I'll be there in 5 minutes," and hung up. I chastised myself for not calling him earlier to keep him from making the trek in the crazy weather, although even if I had he probably would have come down to help out anyway.

By the time Peanut arrived, we had done just about all we were going to be able to do without majorly rearranging the garage to make room. Peanut told us that he had talked to PigPen right before he called us, and apparently PigPen hadn't checked his voicemail because he hadn't mentioned anything about flooding. I called PigPen up to tell him the situation, and to ask him to call our landlord, since I didn't have his number. The storm had started to die off a bit, so the four of us at the house decided that since we had done just about all we could think of at the time we would brave the roads in order to get something to eat. Cap'n Shack-Fu and Fluffy got into the Shack-mobile, while I clambered up into Peanut's big ol' truck. We could see a guy standing out in the middle of the street, and the water was up maybe to his knees, which was nowhere near deep enough to give Peanut's truck problems. However, as we moved down the street, it became obvious pretty quickly that the water got deeper as we went along, rising up to the level of his bumper. We made it through with no problems, but I instantly got on the phone to let both of my roomies know that (a) we were going to go get some food if they wanted to meet up with us and (b) if they did decide to drive home instead, they should be very, very careful.

They both decided to head to Arby's to meet us; we had a nice little break from the frantic rushing around, which is when we realized that none of us had talked to Li'l Dill. I called him up and found out that he was at his apartment without access to the Night Roller; when I told him what was going on he offered to borrow a friend's car and come help out, but I told him to stay home. Also got a call from Cap'n Bumper wanting to see if he could help out, but I told him the same thing; didn't want anyone else getting out in the middle of that weather that didn't have to, especially since the break in weather wasn't supposed to last too long. We got word that the second wave was moving our way, so we headed back to the house to see if there was anything else we could do.

In the amount of time it took us to eat at Arby's, the water on Benjiman had totally disappeared; you never would have guessed that there had been water waist-high just half an hour earlier. The water had also lowered quite a bit in the back yard, so we were able to see several pieces of lumber which had been obscured by the muddy water earlier. Cap'n Shack-Fu set the rest of us to work digging up the wood and mud to increase our drainage and then using the mud and wood we dug up to try to dam up the water pouring in from other areas**; he, meanwhile, headed off with Fluffy to rescue poor Squiggly, whose brand new car had been stranded over by TWU. After a while, we decided that we had probably done all the good we could do for our yard; PigPen headed over to our neighbors into whose yard we had been directing the water to offer to dig them a channel for the water to flow out of their yard as well.

Around this time The Anti-Cap'n's brother-in-law called him up*** to offer to pick The A.C. up so that he could crash at their house for the evening; meanwhile, Peanut had offered his place as a refuge for PigPen and myself. Cap'n Shack-Fu and company returned, and he did a quick inspection of our work to see if he could think of anything else to do. We all then headed off to our respective sanctuaries for the evening in hopes of making it to shelter before the next wave struck. Luckily, the next wave pretty much bypassed Denton, so our hurried defensive measures were able to hold up without having to endure too much testing.

By the time we reached Peanut's place, it was probably close to 9:30; my brain was pretty frazzled by that point. Wait, let me rephrase that: my brain had been pretty frazzled from the moment I realize our house was being flooded; 5 hours later it was really, really, really frazzled. My state of mind wasn't helped too much by the fact that I had dropped my still-pretty-new cell phone into the muddy water at one point, and it had decided to take its revenge on me by not charging its battery and scrolling through random menus and key entries without being touched almost like it was possessed; PigPen amused himself the rest of the evening by repeatedly asking me how my service was.

Although it was a pretty stressful night -- not to mention a tad depressing -- I know that we were incredibly fortunate. Sure, it did take the carpet guys until sometime Thursday afternoon to finally show up and rip up the still sopping wet (and by then foul smelling) carpet, but at least that was all the damage we really suffered. Honestly, outside of some damp furniture and possibly water-damaged computer desk, all of our personal property seems fine. And yes, it was an incredibly stressful evening, but it also showed me the blessing I have in having so many friends ready and willing to lend a helping hand when necessary. So, just a moment here to say thanks to Fluffy for her help with the initial containment; thanks to Cap'n Bumper, Li'l Dill, Squiggly, et al for their sincere offers of aid; thanks to Peanut for his help playing in the mud and his putting us up for the evening; and an extra-special, super-de-duper, HyperForce 3000 thank you to Cap'n Shack-Fu, without whose help I would have been a quivering mass of neurotic jello five minutes into the crisis.

Many many thanks to you all.

*A.K.A. Guy's Night Out
**It was during this time that PigPen nearly fell after stepping into hole dug by The A.C.'s dog, crying out "Stupid Jake hole!" I immediately asked "Who you calling a Jake-hole?" And thus, another faux expletive is added to our repertoire
***The A.C.'s bro-in-law also told him that he had just seen a news report with a helicopter flying over Denton, showing some group of fools digging up their back yard to stop the flooding . . .


Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Time to Vote

The latest round of the Write in the Thick of It writing challenge is now open for voting. There are a whopping 11 entries this time, including a few of my family members and roomie PigPen. Oh, and me, of course, returning to the super-hero well yet again.

Pleaes, head on over here when you have a chance and vote for your favorite story.


Monday, April 23, 2007

Miniscule Movie Monday

The Aura: Slow moving Argentinian thriller about an epileptic man obsessed with pulling off the perfect robbery who bluffs his way into a casino heist. A bit of a let down compared to the director's previous film Nine Queens, which is one of the bet con artist movies around; the glacial pace made this one a struggle to get through.

Reign Over Me: Well-done drama about a man (Adam Sandler) who fell to pieces after losing his whole family during 9/11, and his old college roommmate (Don Cheadle) who tries to help him pull himself together again. Some of the Singles seemed to feel that this was as glacial as i thought The Aura was, but I never once thought of the film as slow moving. I was enthralled with these characters and their lives from the get-go. I liked this one a lot.

The Departed: Oscar-winning drama about two Boston cops, one working as a dirty cop (Matt Damon) to help out a local crime boss (Jack Nicholson), and the other (Leonardo Dicaprio) working undercover to bring the crime boss down. A great cast and lots of twists and turns help propel this film. While I wish I'd seen it before all of the hype, I did like it quite a bit. I think Mark Wahlburg had a lot of fun in his role; I know Nicholson did. Wow, was he laying the crazy on thick. And, apparently, quite a bit of it was improvised to keep Damon and Dicaprio on their toes.


Thursday, April 19, 2007

It's Funny Because It's So Painfully True

While chatting with Diva earlier today about the dearth of submissions for Write in the Thick of It so far this week, I assured her that I would pester PigPen at lunch to try to write something. Of course, I wound up not seeing him at lunch, so I instead text-messaged him revealing that I had been charged with pestering him. I then texted him again saying that as long I was pestering him about the writing challenge, I would also pester him about something else that he was going to check up on. He responded back that he had already checked up on it, so there was no need to pester. My reply was to decry how horrible it was that there was no need for me to pester him, since without pestering, what other purpose do I serve? Quoth PigPen: "You also are very talented at being my whipping boy. So there's something you have going for you."

Touché, PigPen; touché.

When I shared the story with former roomie and constant blog-avoider Wrath teh Berzerkr, his one comment was "a pest needs to be whipped from time to time."

Et tu, Wrath, et tu?


Getting Back on the Blogging Tracks

Apparently my time in San Antonio has totally derailed what little blogging momentum I had built up the previous week. Bummer. Until I can build up steam for full-on ramblings, here are some tidbits to hold you over.

Highlight of the San Antonio trip had to be the Book Cart Drill Team competition. Few things hold as much potential for comedy as a group of library workers dressed up in strange costumes, dancing and pushing heavily decorated book carts around to the driving beats of "Staying Alive" or "The Hustle" or "Space Cowboy" or what-have you.

I wish the video camera on my cell phone could have captured the group dressed up like Tina Turner from the "Proud Mary" days, since they were the height of unintentional comedy, with half of them getting into shaking their grove things, and the other half just bouncing around merrily like they were walking beside a float in a parade.

After a few weeks of little exercise -- outside of walking up and down the convention center hauling around luggage -- I finally got back into the embarrassing-myself-on-the-basketball-court routine on Tuesday, at which point I discovered that my body is a sneaky son of a gun; now that I'm outfitted with ankle and knee braces to avoid damaging those body parts further, other parts of my traitorous body have decided to start rebelling. It's a freaking conspiracy of neurotic proportions! And yet, I still played racquetball last night, and plan to embarrass myself on the basketball court yet again this evening. Glutton for punishment, I am; why else would I still be rooming with PigPen?

Due to the influence of relative newcomer Cap'n Bubbles, several of the Singles have started going swing dancing. A local group has lessons twice a month; they basically have the lesson from 8-9, and then just straight up dancing from 9-midnight. I enjoy the lessons, (the last couple of times we've been working on The Lindy Hop)

but don't feel comfortable enough with my meager skills to really enjoy the regular dance portion yet. A couple of girls have told Peanut and me that swing is just all about "making up the moves as you go along"; neither he nor I agree with that statement, and even if we did, making up dance moves isn't necessarily my forte, especially when I'm dancing with a partner who has to somehow follow along with these supposedly improvisational movements. On a related note, I am entranced by the idea of learning The Shag for some reason.

Another reason for my general lack of blogging is that there are multiple things going on in my life that, for one reason or another, I don't feel comfortable blogging about; of course, these things I can't blog about are at the forefront of my brain, and push everything else to the back of the line. And if you're reading this and thinking "Gee, I wonder if he's talking about situation X," well, odds are good that, yes, situation X is mixed in there, along with three or four others. I mention this merely as a sort of pressure relief measure, so that by acknowledging that there are things I can't write about, I might be able to lessen the desire to write about them. Yes, I know how crazy that sounds. It's also my way of preemptively apologizing to those who deal with me in person if I am moody, distracted, and a drag to be around.*

I have yet to write my story for the Write in the Thick of It challenge; I do have the basic story idea in my head, just haven't written it out yet. And, looks like it's going to be another super-hero story; shocking, I know. Actually, it is a little bit of a shock to me since, while many of my SF stories are strongly influenced by my comic obsession, I have written very little in the way of straight-up super-hero stories over the years.

*"Even more so than usual, I mean" he said, trying to head PigPen off at the pass


Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Maybe If I Knew More Than the One Line, I Wouldn't Feel So Depressed

I hate rainy days.

It's not just the gloomy and overcast skies which tend to encourage and amplify my more depressive tendencies, although that is a huge factor. But in addition to the way that the dark foreboding weather resonates with the dark foreboding portion of my psyche, there is another horrifying feature: it gets the song "Rainy Days and Mondays" stuck in my head for the bulk of the day.



Monday, April 16, 2007

Do You Dare to Enter the Nation of HIllmomba?

The next round of the Write in the Thick of It writing challenge (entitled "The Nation of Hillmomba") is now open. The key words for this round are:

faux pas

Any and all entries are welcomed; my dream for the challenge is for the number of contributers to reach double digits sometime before the year 2929.

This round closes on Saturday, April 21st, so let's get a-writin', people!


Thursday, April 12, 2007

Cap'n Mingle, I Am Not

I don't think I'm really built for conferences. It's not the meeting and discussion forums and such; those are fine, often informative and occasionally entertaining as well. No, where I stumble is is the area of "networking." By now all of you faithful blog monkeys should know how
well the "mingling with tons of new people" thing is going to work out for neurotic ol' me.

I am not a "mingler." The thought of going to some welcome mixer and trying to strike up
conversations with complete strangers fills me with some existential dread. And it's not even so much a fear of rejection per se -- more like a fear of the intense boredom which would come about as a result of said rejection.

It would be different if I had someone alongside me to act as a buffer and/or backup; a wing-librarian, if you will. But while there are a few of my co-workers here at the conference, none of them are ones I normally hag out with, so there's not exactly a lot of reassurance of
the "I'll have someone to talk to" variety there. So, when it came time last night to decide if I should go to the big welcome party, rather than calling up my co-worker who I carpooled to San Antonio with to see if she was going, I opted instead to stay at the hotel and try to rest up for the rest of the conference.

Well, that and watch Lost.

Tonight I'm supposed to have dinner with reps from one of our primary vendors;
while the prospect of free food is always appealing, the accompanying mingling is not. At least I'll be able to retreat behind a wall of shop-talk -- I hope.


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Out of Towner

Well, after a couple of weeks of what had started to look suspiciously like a regular blogging schedule, the postings are about to take a nose dive for a few days as I head off to San Antonio bright and early Wednesday morning for Texas Library Association conference in San Antonio. Too bad the conference isn't in, say, Austin, or Houston, where I actually know folks.


Monday, April 09, 2007

Return of Movie Monday!

Yeah, I've been remiss in my movie reviewing recently, so here's a glimpse at what I've watched over the past month or so

Fast Food Nation: Richard Liknlater's look at the world of fast food as seen from the P.O.V.s of a high powered fast food executive, a minimum wage high school fast food employee, and some illegal immigrants working in the meat packing plant responsible for the fast food supplies. For me, this one was a rare miss on Linklater's part; it's not a Bad News Bears level of "Rich, what were you thinking?", but I just couldn't get into this one. And no, that's not just because it was attacking the fast food industry. The film does have its moments, such as Kris Kristofferson's appearance as an eccentric rancher and Ethan Hawke's turn as the cool uncle of the high schooler (played by Ashley Johnson, probably best known as youngest daughter Chrissy on Growing Pains). In fact, the movie got a lot more interesting to me from the point where Hawke showed up to stir things up, if for no other reason than the chemistry between Hawke, Johnson, and Patricia Arquette. Not a bad movie, just a tad disappointing.

Half Nelson: Very well done drama about a self-destructive history teacher and basketball coach (Ryan Gosling) whose downward spiral is intensified after he's caught doing drugs by one of his students (newcomer Shareeka Epps). Gosling does an excellent job as usual, and Epps more than earns the multiple "Breakthrough Performance" nominations and wins this role garnered her. Not exactly a touchy-feely good-time film, but it does carry a positive message.

Unknown: Predictable thriller about a group of men (Greg Kinnear, Barry Pepper, Jim Caviezel, Jeremy Sisto, Joe Pantoliano) who wake up in a warehouse totally bereft of any memory of who they are or how they got there. As you can tell from the cast list, the performances in the film were of pretty high caliber; if only the same could be said of the script, which basically called for lots and lots of screaming before unveiling not-too-surprising plot twists. I'm generally a fan of the "one of us is a traitor and we have to find out who" genre of films, but this one was mediocre at best. Plus, the final twist felt totally forced and tacked on, which kind of blew the ending for me.

The Pursuit of Happyness: True story of Chris Gardner, a devoted father who struggles through a period of homelessness and poverty in an attempt to land a position as a stock broker for E.F. Hutton. Will Smith does a great job as Gardner, and his real life son Jaden does a great job as Gardner's son Christopher. A solid film with a solid script and solid performances; not one I'll feel the need to watch over and over again, but definitely worth a watch.

Sublime: Total waste of a great cast (Thomas Cavanagh, Paget Brewster, Kyle Gallner). That's all I have to say about this lackluster horror/thriller.

Confetti: British mockumentary about a bridal magazine which throws a contest to find the world's most original wedding. A bit more heartfelt and earnest than the similarly structured Christopher Guest films, as Confetti often takes time out to show that the characters aren't just broad and shallow excuses for comedic shenanigans; unfortunately, I don't think that always works in the film's favor, although it did go a long way to keeping me from totally loathing one of the main couples in the competition. Mildly amusing, but all in all I'd recommend just watching one of Guest's films instead.

Casino Royale: Retooling of the Bond franchise which takes us back to Bond's early days with his 00 status. Let me first say that I am not now, nor have I ever been, a big Bond fan, so the fact that this film was a big departure from the typical Bond formula was a nice draw for me. I thought Daniel Craig did a great job as the callow, self-centered young Bond, and while there weren't a lot of them, what few action scenes we had were great -- especially the extended chase sequence at the beginning. And I have rarely been as discomfited by a torture sequence as I was by the one towards the end of the film. Don't know how long-time Bond fans will feel about it, but I enjoyed it a lot.

Don't Look Now: 1970s horror/thriller about a man (Donald Sutherland) who is haunted by visions of his dead daughter running down the streets of Venice wearing the bright red rain coat she died in. Sufficiently creepy film (gotta love the creepy old sisters with their creepy psychic powers) that was slightly tarnished by the fact that I knew what the final twist was going to be, since it was knowledge of that twist that caused me to rent it in the first place. What was the twist? It can be summed up in this quote from Unconditional Love*: "Nobody messes with a dwarf in a red raincoat."

Flushed Away: Above average animated film about a pampered pet rat who finds himself thrust into an underground sewer city and entangled in the evil plots of a homicidal toad. Not one that I had been super-excited about seeing, but this one was filled with enough random, bizarre happenings (gotta love the singing slugs) to keep me entertained throughout.

Open Season: So-so animated film about a pampered pet bear who exiled to the woods due to the highjinks of a slightly addled deer. Not a bad one (miles about The Ant Bully, for example), but nowhere near the level of, say, Over the Hedge.

Let's Go to Prison: Comedy about a three-time loser (Dax Shepherd) who decides to take revenge on the son of the judge he blames for his lot in life by getting the son (Will Arnett) sent to prison. Much, much funnier than the previews made it out to be, which I should have expected, considering it was directed by Bob Odenkirk of Mr. Show fame; but, as the presence of Odenkirk should suggest, this one's not for the easily offended

The Protector: Second film to star Thai martial arts sensation Tony Jaa follows a similar plot line to his first film, Ong-Bak, with Jaa playing a naive villager who has to enter the big city to retrieve a stolen object of great value; in Ong-Bak it was a statue's head, this time, it's an elephant. What did I think of the film? Well, let's just say it's the sort of movie that makes me wish that Mystery Science Theater 3000 was still on the air to give it the intense thrashing it so richly deserves. Or, better yet, someone should give the director an ultimatum: either go back to film school and learn how to effectively edit and shoot your scenes so that they actually make sense, or we're setting Tony Jaa on you. My advice: rent the film, and fast-forward to the fight scenes, several of which are still worthy of viewing.

Grindhouse: Totaly over-the-top double-feature homage to 70s exploitation cinema courtesy of Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino. Definitely one of those "love it or hate it" films. I've decided there are two sorts of people in this world: those who think a machine gun leg is cool, and those who think it's the dumbest idea on the face of the planet. I, obviously, fall into the former category. I have to say I did prefer the Rodriguez portion of the film, with it's tongue-in-cheek approach and non-stop action; the much talkier Tarantino section took a lot of adjustment coming off the roller-coaster ride that was Planet Terror. Still enjoyed it --the whole confrontation between Stuntman Mike and the girls while they were playing ship-mast was one of the tensest scenes I've sat through in quite a while -- but it's slower pace took some adjustment. Was also a big fan of the faux trailers separating the two segments; I was especially fond of Edgar Wright's Don't, although Eli Roth's Thanksgiving was a close second. Had a blast at this movie, but man, is it not for the squeamish. Consider yourself warned.

Tideland: Dark and twisty film from one of my favorite directors, Terry Gilliam, about a young girl who responds to life with her druggie parents by retreating into a fantasy world with her imaginary friends, personified by doll heads she wears on her fingers. And if that doll head thing makes you think "Man, that's weird," well, you ain't seen nothing yet. No description I can give of the film can really do it justice, I'm afraid; it's another one of those "love it or hate it" films. Pretty much the whole time I was watching it, PigPen was in the other room on the computer regularly commenting on just how psycho the film sounded. I, being a fan of dark and twisty, loved it, and was bummed that I didn't have anyone else to share it with; then, I discovered my bizarre film watching kindred spirit in Li'L Dill, and was able to force it upon him. He, also, thought it was awesome, showing him to be a man of great discernment and taste. Either that, or a psycho. But, if so, he's in good company, right?


Friday, April 06, 2007

What, Me Random?

As has become my custom on boredom-laden Fridays, I give to you yet another collection of random thoughts and occurrences that don't really rate full blog treatments by themselves, but which combine to form a blog that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Or something like that

  • Upon reading my statement that better men than him have tried and failed to break me of my negativity, PigPen responded pretty much how I predicted he would: "Todd, there are no men better than me." It's nice to have someone so reliable around.

  • Along similar lines, I have taken entirely too much pleasure out of ratcheting up my self-deprecating comments several notches just to get a reaction out of PigPen. The situation would normally go like this: PigPen would make a typical jab in my direction; I would not only agree whole-heartedly with the insult, I would also magnify it to a "I'm a totally worthless excuse for a human being" degree; PigPen would give me the Glare of Doom. At one point last week I told him "I can't help myself, it's too easy: you set me up, and I knock me down."

  • I played racquetball for the first time in well over a week, which was good, because the lack of exercise was starting to make me grumpy, as anyone who was around me for the past couple of days could easily testify. The reason for the lack of activity was my right knee, which was giving me some problems after subjecting it to several days of basketball. I finally found a knee-brace to fit my leg, and after walking around with it for almost a week, I finally felt up to trying some activity. Good news is that today my knee isn't bothering me; bad news is that I can't say the same for every other part of my body. Woke up several times in the night due leg cramps, which is always fun, and I'm actually bruised in a few spots due to one of PigPen's pals nailing me pretty good with the ball a few times. And yet, despite the aches and pains, I'm in about a zillion times better mood today than I have been in a while; go figure.

  • Got the word early this morning that we only have to work half a day due to it being Good Friday. I'm excited, not just because I get off at noon, but also because this means that I can go see the afternoon matinee of Grindhouse.

  • When it comes to a love of the strange and unusual in cinema, I have discovered a kindred spirit in the form of Li'l Dill. Finally, someone else who appreciates the last third of Adaptation! A call to firm up plans for Grindhouse viewing last night turned into a long conversation about various off-beat films. It's always nice to have another person to whom I can recommend those really bizarre films which appeal to almost nobody else.

  • I'm really enjoying taking part in Diva's writing challenge; I haven't written much in the way of fiction since I finished up In a Cabin, so it's been nice to exercise those mental muscles a bit. I know a couple of people voted for me last time because they thought it was the most accessible (read: least bizarre), so I'm wondering how they'll feel about my foray into costumed herodom. Maybe next time I'll do something dark and twisty, so Diva doesn't feel like she's the only one whose mind goes to those places. I'm hoping that more people start submitting stories; I know PigPen got about halfway through one before life got in the way, which is too bad, since I was looking forward to seeing what he came up with.

  • Got to have lunch with fellow Wyandotte Class of 93 alumni The Photographer earlier this week; her husband had to come down to Ft. Worth for a few days for work, so she came down with him. When she asked for suggestions of where to eat, I asked "Do you want Mexican or Cajun?" She replied "How about Mexican one day, and Cajun the next?" I almost instantly sent Zinger an IM gloating about the fact that I was going to get to eat at Frillys; unfortunately I gloated too soon, for after lunch at El Guapos on Wednesday, The Photographer informed me that she and her hubby had to head back earlier than she thought, so no Frillys for me. Zinger, of course, took great pleasure in my despair.


Thursday, April 05, 2007

Super Tiger Dragon Edition Unleashed!

The entries for the Super Tiger Dragon Edition of the Write in the Thick of It writing challenge are now up here. My own humble entry is a bit of a departure from my round one effort; be curious to see how the change from mild comedy to mild superheroics pans out for me. We have three other returning writers in Cazzie, Hillbilly Mom, and Bubblegum Tate, as well as a newcomer, Mrs. E., a.k.a mi madre. We should have had a couple more entries at least, but both Diva and PigPen had their plans derailed by the vagaries of life; maybe next time, huh?

Anyway, head on over to Write in the Thick of It and vote for your favorite story


Comments on Chemistry

Well, my post on personal chemistry a few weeks back generated more responses than anything else I've done in a while, in the form of comments, IMs, and emails. And the other day, while I was working on a companion post about group dynamics, I received another email on the topic, this time from my former co-worker iamam. Her thoughts struck a chord with me, so I asked her if I could share them with the rest of you blog monkeys:

I, too, am void of instant friendships. However, I have on more than one occasion suddenly realized that someone else considers me a friend, and the reason I say, "suddenly realized" is because up until that moment that said friend did something that solidified friendship to me, I didn't think that we knew each other well enough to be considered friends. It would be something like someone confiding in me or calling me at home or asking me if I want to go to a movie, and then I just think, "Hey, she thinks we're friends!"

I think that the people who feel instant chemistry are the people who are people people. They view EACH person they meet as a possible new friend, and act accordingly. So, when two people persons meet, then you have those instant friendships. I'm more of a "proceed with caution" kind of girl. It's possible, though, that the friends I have who are people people thought that they hit it off with me a lot more than I did, because I was too busy assessing.

I find this interesting in a couple of different ways. First of all, iamam and I worked at the same library for probably close to 2 years before we really spoke to each other about anything other than work, let alone became friends. A lot of it had to do with the back that we were both "proceed with caution" type of people, and instead of recognizing that similarity, we both saw the other as being standoffish or stuck-up; she thought I was a bible-thumping prude, and I just thought she hated my guts, impressions we both formed without having a full-length conversation with each other. It wasn't until I transferred into the ILL position and actually worked in the same office with her that we realized that we were more similar than we had imagined. In the days before blogging, back when I still bottled most of my paranoia up, she was one of the two people I felt comfortable talking to about my neurotic life, primarily because she was one of the first people I had ever met who seemed to understand exactly where I was coming from.

Another thought her email sparked was the idea of those moments where you suddenly realize that someone has graduated from "acquaintance" to "friend"; I know I've experienced my fair share of "Wait, so-and-so actually likes me?" moments over the years. The most vivid one in my mind was my Senior year of high school, when I finally got it pounded into my head that the members of the youth group at my new church actually wanted me around; I also remember having a bit of an "hey, they like me, they really like me!" epiphany when J.D. (another co-worker of iamam and myself) started inviting me to hang out with him and his wife.

The idea of those instant connections being related to how much of a "people person" you are also struck me: I have wondered how common the "wait, he/she actually likes me?" thing is among the overall population, and how much of it is just a result of my neurotic refusal to acknowledge that people would actually want to hang out with me. Yes, I know I have a lot of friends which should put such thinking to the lie, but deep down I find that I still don't expect people to "click" with me due to my peronsal quirks, which leads me to hold back a bit, which keeps me from fully engaging, which can lead to some shock down the road when they see my personality in full effect. Which is straying from the topic a bit, but I'm suffering from little sleep and don't really care right now. Which is probably a good sign that I should stop typing and just post this. So, yeah, that's what I'm going to do.

Is it the weekend yet?


Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Super Tiger Dragon Deadline Super Tiger Dragon Looming

Just a reminder to those who wish to compete in the Write in the Thick of It writing challenge for this week; the deadline is Thursday, April 5, at 8 PM Central. Be sure to get those shiny entries in so that we can have a plethora of entries; otherwise, a flummoxed Diva might have to relieve her frustration in the normal fashion: unleashing a cacophony of curses like unto a cloudburst. But, if you're a lazy monkey and miss the deadline by a bit, don't worry, I'm sure you can finesse your way around it.


Call Me Cap'n Jinxy

No sooner do I post about how great it is to have Cap'n Shack-Fu back among the Singles, then I get word that after being back for less than a week, he's already gettting shipped off again, this time to help out with disaster relief in tornado striken New Mexico. On the bright side, at least now he'll be stationed somewhere where 90% of the population don't use FEMA as an expletive, and where he doesn't need to fear for his life if he leaves his motel after dark; plus, he got a few days to come home and get a brief recharge of his batteries before heading off again. But those are small consolations compared to being able to spend time with your friends and family, not to mention sleeping in your own bed.

So please, my blog monkeys, send all of your prayer and good thoughts out to Cap'n Shack-Fu as he sets out on another extended trip; with luck, this one won't be as long as the last.


Tuesday, April 03, 2007

HyperForce 3000 Reunited!

About a week ago, Fluffy sent out an email to the Singles saying that she and Li'l Dill had been talking about trying to get everyone together for dinner last night at On the Border, since we hadn't had a chance to do that for a while. She then concluded the invitation with the statement that Li'l Dill had promised a big surprise, so everyone should do their best to attend, because there was never any telling what Li'l Dill might have up his sleeve.

Now, while the attributing of uncontrollable randomness to Li'l Dill is quite appropriate (so many stories, so little blogging about them), as soon as I finished the email I knew there was only one thing the surprise could be; after consulting with PigPen, I discovered that he had had the exact same thought as I did: the return of Shack-Fu.

Some of you may recall that back in February I mentioned that there was a possibility that Shack-Fu could be deployed to New Orleans for a couple of months to help out with disaster relief efforts. Within a few days of posting that, I got the news that Shack-Fu was indeed getting shipped off. So, for about 5 weeks HyperForce 3000 has been bereft of one of our prime instigators, which has been tough on us, but nearly as tough as it's been on Shack-Fu, who was basically stuck working12 hour days, 7 days a week in one of the worst sections of post-Katrina New Orleans, far removed from all of his friends and family. We did our best to keep his spirits up through phone calls, emails, and care packages,* but we all knew the only thing that would do the trick would be for his deployment to be cut short so that he could come home early. And now, reading between the lines of the not-so-sneaky-email, quite a few of us were pretty sure that was coming to pass.

Unfortunately, PigPen had a church league softball game last night, and so wasn't able to make it to dinner; before I headed out, I got out my cell phone and asked if he wanted to record a video message for Shack-Fu saying he was sorry he wouldn't be there to be surprised. He did so, and then I was off to see if our guess was right. Before dinner, we had our monthly outreach program at church; Li'l Dill was there, and we had a conversation that went something like this:

Li'l Dill: So, you have any guesses about what the surprise is?
Me: Oh, I'm pretty sure I know.
Li'l Dill: Really?
Me: Yeah.
Li'l Dill: Now, the surprise isn't about me.
Me: Oh, I know that; I'm pretty sure the surprise is about someone else who's going to be there
Li'l Dill: [pause] Man, does everybody know?

We soon confirmed that there were a few people at outreach who were clueless, but out of the group who showed up to On the Border, only one person hadn't guessed or been told beforehand, so the surprise portion of the evening was a bit of a bust. But the important thing was that Shack-Fu was back among us. We had a great dinner -- despite having some of the worst service ever -- and I learned something very important during the meal: both Shack-Fu and one of the recent additions to the Singles are full-fledged CAP'NS.** So, everyone say hi to Cap'n Shack-Fu and Cap'n Bubbles.*** Since PigPen wasn't able to make it out to dinner, Cap'n Shack-Fu swung by our place after dinner; after all, a homecoming party for Cap'n Shack-Fu wouldn't be complete without a reunion of the HyperTwins.

Welcome back, Cap'n Shack-Fu; if they try to ship you off again, tell them they're not getting you without a fight.

HyperForce 3000 unite!

*One evening a group of us got together and took pictures of ourselves holding up signs emblazoned with HyperForce 3000 catch-phrases and other foolishness
**That's the Coalition Against Puttin' Nuts in Stuff for those who don't know; if you hate having tasty cookies, brownies, and the like ruined by the inclusion of nuts, then you be a Cap'n
***Not to be confused with my old college roomie Bubbles