Hard to believe, but this stupid blog just passed 400 posts.
Friday, November 30, 2007
A little more on the My Daily Phrase Italian podcast.
I love this podcast because it's so weirdly quirky -- and yet helpful. The teacher is a guy named Mark (good name) who is either a Scottish guy with a great Italian accent, or an Italian guy who learned his English in Scotland. Either way, no way was I expecting a Sco'ish accent from an Italian teacher. It's eerily doubly foreign to have this Sco'ish bagpipe sounding guy repeating over and over again "Buon Giorno. Buoooon ... Gi-ooorrrrrnno. Buon Giorno." And then going into his Sco'ish banter.
One of the guys who reviewed the podcast on ITunes (rave reviews, from one and all) says it best: It's like learning Italian from Shrek. Har! I was more thinking it made me feel like that Scottish comedian Billy Connelly is teaching me Italian.
I went over to Radio Lingua Network, which does the podcasts, to see if they had more info about this guy (mainly I'm trying to figure out if he's Sco'ish or Italian) and I found this. Looks like maybe Mark is Sco'ish. If so, he's got a great Italian accent.
Anyways, I'm on lesson 13 now, and hit my first stumbling block. It's too bad one of the hardest things to say in Italian is "can you repeat that please?!"
Correction: Apologies, dear readers. We provided the wrong link in an earlier post about this. We now have the correct link in both posts.
We've both mentioned here a couple of times how cool and fitting it seemed that Facebook declared Michelle and me "soul mates" based on our independent ratings of a bunch of movies. But man, disagree on just a couple of flicks (Michelle liked "Beowulf," I didn't; I liked "I'm Not There," she didn't), and watch what happens.
I happened to glance at Michelle's Facebook profile today and learned that not only have she and some hipster named Bill Chappell "compared movie taste" online but that they're -- yep -- newly minted soul mates!
Un-damn-believable. And on Kaye and Val's 22nd wedding anniversary!
So far Facebook still has M&M listed as soul mates too, but I'm kind of afraid to hit the refresh button, given our last couple trips to the multiplex. Maybe we'll be downgraded to buddies or casual acquaintances -- or that most dreaded of Facebook pairing comments: "Hmmm."
I don't know. I don't like the looks of this dude.
Mich and I shared a fun lunch with our cousin Rick this afternoon at Il Fornaio in downtown Seattle. (Fuscili for me, ravioli for Michele, some kind of salad and a cup of soup for Rick.) It was great to see him, although we all noted how unfair it seemed that Ronelle has become a regular M&M contributor and it was not she but her brother who made it out here to see us.
Rick, who made an appearance in an M&M Thanksgiving post here, lives in New Jersey where he has a consulting business that, from the sound of it, keeps him on the road almost full-time. He was here in Seattle for a couple of days facilitating a big conference for the federal government, and then had stops planned in San Francisco, Iowa and Washington, D.C., before getting back home.
He looked and sounded great, and he insisted on buying our lunch; not necessary but incredibly nice. He's a Maher through and through, which means that like my mom and his dad (my Uncle Ron) when he grabs the check there's not much point in trying to arm-wrestle him for it. That's a little bit of a family trait, I guess -- except for Mich, who has the Maher instinct to treat but then, inevitably, can't find her wallet.
Rick hasn't found this blog yet, even though Ronelle swears she sent him the link. I wrote down the URL for him, so we'll see. He promised to check it out and become a commenter. I hope so.
Ronelle, I wish you had been here! Come out!
Thursday, November 29, 2007
That's the air mattress, to you and me.
So, Mark and I are studying Italian. We have a couple o' three sources we're using to learn our Eye-talian: This here book, the Daily Phrase Italian podcast, and a set of 1,000 vocabulary cards. We're on day six of the podcast, and chapter three of the book.
I had a very nice lunch today with Margaret Santjer, a friend and former colleague from the P-I. Margaret was the night city editor when I started at the P-I as metro editor, and I immediately appreciated her skills: careful, concise, precise, ethical and completely unflappable; especially welcome qualities in a night editor, and just what the place needs even more of.
Last year, when I became an assistant managing editor and, as part of the same reorganization, the position of business editor came open, I persuaded Margaret to take the job. It's a tough gig, and both of us were new to editing business coverage, so we helped each other through our steep learning curve. We had a great working relationship, and I think we both regretted that I bailed out of there before we could sharpen our chops together. Plus I just like her; she's one of those great people who's very easy to take in doses small or large.
Today we talked a little about work and health, gossiped a bit and got caught up. It was nice. She said she has forgiven me, most of the time, for steering her toward the biz job. I can tell she's working as hard as ever, putting in long hours and probably taking on too much herself. Even so, she's so conscientious she felt a little bit guilty taking a longish lunch (about an hour and a half) today, and after a quick cup of coffee following our Than Brothers pho, she headed back.
That's OK, I said, I've got a busy afternoon of doing nothing I need to get back to anyway. It was great to see her.
Earlier this week, I also lunched with my old P-I boss (and, later, co-AME) Rita Hibbard. We had a very enjoyable meal at my favorite little Sicilian place in Belltown, La Vita e Bella. I like Rita too, and I think she and I have come to appreciate each other even more since I stopped working there. Funny how that happens sometimes. She's a good person and a good editor, and she promised to secretly forward me the secret cherry-rhubarb pie recipe that she wheedled out of our boss, the excellent (but secretive) cook David McCumber.
I got up early this morning to go speak with Ms. McKinney's journalism class at West Seattle High School. I know it was early because I got back home before Michelle left for work.
"What did you tell them," she asked.
Well, hmm, I guess I didn't have a big speech, but we talked a bit about journalism jobs and I tried to make my sales pitch for pursuing one. I started by telling my story about getting fired from my own high school paper, The Orange R, and how that was the best thing that ever happened to my career. They seemed to like that. I also retold my favorite story about being second choice in my own family for a Seattle Times suburban reporting gig, and they seemed to like that too.
They were all remarkably awake and attentive for high school students and for 8:15 a.m. It wasn't the disaster it might have been.
I contacted Ms. McKinney and volunteered my services a couple weeks ago after having coffee with my friend and old reporting partner, Jim Simon, who is teaching a political reporting class at the University of Washington, and after receiving the military vs. journalism questions from Mom's high school neighbor. I felt like I could help in some way; it might be useful to students to hear from a "real" -- though now semi-retired -- journalist. I remember being inspired in high school just by hearing that David Hume Kennerly, then the White House photographer and a Pulitzer Prize winner, was a graduate of Roseburg High and our paper.
The class today asked some good questions. What's the hardest thing about being a reporter, one girl asked. I told her it was getting things right. Another asked, inevitably, about how much money reporters make. Not much, I answered, and gave some rough approximations, to which Ms. McKinney commented, "Better than teachers." True. And not as hard, and better hours, although I didn't say either of those things.
Somebody wanted to know what was the biggest story I'd ever worked on, and someone else asked what was the farthest I'd traveled for a story. Those made me realize I don't have any brilliant Kennerly-esque or Nicolosi-esque tales to tell, but maybe that's OK too. The truth is that most reporting for most reporters isn't glamorous or exciting, but it is interesting and fun and important, and I hope they took that away.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
We just got back from seeing "I'm Not There," the new, arty and very unusual biography of Bob Dylan, told through the interweaving stories of six characters who aren't Dylan, exactly, but who all bear some narrative resemblance.
I liked the movie a lot, mostly because I thought the director Todd Haynes did a remarkable job of matching the film's style and ambiguity to its subject. The main point seemed to be that Dylan invented and reinvented himself and repeatedly ran from others' expectations of him. A lot of the picture concerns the 1960s, when the folkies who first embraced Dylan rejected him for going electric, and similarly when his protest-music fans got mad that Dylan wasn't political enough.
At one point in the movie a journalist questions the Dylan character's sincerity and "Jude" answers, "Who ever said I was sincere?"
Six actors play the Dylanesque characters, including an amazing Cate Blanchett, Richard Gere, Christian Bale (who was also the last Batman and the crazed killer in "American Psycho"), and an 11-year-old black boy. All the performances are terrific.
Dylan, I think, is the greatest artist of my lifetime. One of the things I love about his music -- in addition to its beauty -- is how it defies simple interpretation. Likewise, there's no easy answer to what this movie's about. Even Dylan aficionados can argue about it, and I think that (again, like the music) it will feel different upon multiple viewings.
As I was watching "I'm Not There" I found myself thinking a little bit about "Citizen Kane," another biopic that wasn't really a biopic; its real subject, William Randolph Hearst, was represented as a fictional publisher named John Foster Kane. That movie, like this one, risked doing away with a standard linear, biographical structure for something unexpected and unpredictable and occasionally difficult to follow. The result, in both, is something much more than a movie of the week.
"I'm Not There" won't be for everybody. (After this and "Beowulf" I feel the M&M Facebook "soul mates" rating slipping.) But to me, this movie is a double win: It's art about art. 4 gliomas.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
I attempted Ronelle and Aunt Chickie's famous ziti recipe tonight. Theirs is brilliant, mine was OK -- somewhere between my inedible pancakes and my heavenly mince pie or standard Mama Matassa spaghetti sauce.
The taste tonight was great, but I need to work a bit on technique and presentation. We need a better baking dish, for one, and I think I needed a little more sauce.
Next time, when it looks better, I'll take a picture and, with Ronelle's permission, post the recipe too.
I don't know if that old hippo novelty Christmas song is the one Franny and Gina were singing when this picture was taken, but I know it's one of the half dozen or so they performed last week with Greta at Pacific Place, in downtown Seattle.
My old friend and former boss Dave Boardman happened to catch the show and sent me this photo. That's Clipper Anderson, Greta's boyfriend and bassist, on the left.
One of the things I liked best about working at the Los Angeles Times was the paper's thoughtful, thorough, and thoroughly enforced ethics policy. I believe that for all the handwringing we do in this industry about declining readership, competition from the Internet, the waning interest of the public, etc., newspapers often are their own worst enemy. At least, they don't do themselves any favors by appearing to be -- or being! -- biased, unfair, on the take, or even imprecise.
Sadly, not everyone I've worked with, especially outside the Times, has shared that concern. In fact, some of my morning news meeting diatribes on this very blog began as newsroom rants about hyperbolic writing, or getting too cozy with sources, or accepting freebies, or winning a writing "award" from an organization being covered.
The LAT has a new online section by its readers' representative, which will include discussions with reporters, editors and other staff members and a place for the readers' rep, Jamie Gold, to answer questions. But what caught my eye today was publication of the paper's full ethics guidelines. It's a terrific document that could be used as a model for other newsrooms.
Among my favorite sections is an entry on precision of writing. This isn't always considered an "ethical" issue, but as it gets to the writer's (and the paper's) credibility, the Times includes it here.
One short excerpt:
Superlatives such as “biggest,” “worst” and “most” should be employed only when the writer has proof. It is the responsibility of assigning editors and copy editors to challenge all questionable claims. The burden of proof rests with the writer; it is not the desk’s responsibility to prove the writer wrong.That's what I'm talking about. Plenty of good reading throughout.
It is unacceptable to hedge an unverified or unverifiable assertion with words such as “arguably” or “perhaps.” Our job is to tell readers what is true, not what might be.
Monday, November 26, 2007
Last night we saw "Beowulf," the new, unexpectedly popular, animated version of the Old English epic poem of the same name, which is said to be the oldest or one of the oldest stories written in English.
Actually, "animated" isn't a very good description. The production is done through a technique called motion capture, combining real actors and computer-generated images. It was used previously on "The Polar Express," with Tom Hanks and by the same director as on "Beowulf," Robert Zemeckis. On top of that, we saw a version presented in 3-D, complete with the special glasses that make everything on screen look like it's in one of those old View-Master things. Trippy.
OK, raise your hand if you remember "Beowulf" from college. I would have said I'd read it, and maybe I was supposed to, but the story of the dragon-slaying Norse hero seemed mostly unfamiliar last night. Maybe if they'd actually been talking in Old English it would have come back to me.
Instead everything felt updated for the 21st century -- not just in language, but with settings and action scenes that felt right out of a video game, and the addition or transformation of the evil Grendel's mother as a sexy temptress, Angelina Jolie, rather than as the mother of all monster dragons. Even the theme, from what I remember of the story, seemed changed to emphasize the Danes' mistreatment and casting off of the monster rather than Beowulf's epic heroism and the good-vs.-evil parable. Everyone just needs a little love. It was almost like an R-rated, kick-ass "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." Maybe that's why it's so popular.
Didn't do much for me, though. I'm not a huge fan of the whole fantasy genre or of role-playing computer games. And I thought the 3-D thing was gimmicky and way overdone. Every scene was shot in a severe, forced perspective to emphasize the flying swords, hurtling bodies, dripping blood and other stuff heading right at your face. After the first few minutes that got kind of old.
Did I mention that Angelina Jolie's gold-dripping, ample-bosomed, evil-temptressy bad-ass self was computer generated without any computer-generated clothing? So when she swings her 3-D breastseses around, the entire audience jumps back in their seats. Yow! Fortunately, in another scene when a naked Beowulf is fighting Grendel, strategically placed (generated) props manage to cover the hero's epic manliness before we get that thrust into our 3-D glasses too. Close one.
Michelle liked this flick much more than I did. I can't manage more than 2 gliomas.
Friday, November 23, 2007
So last night, there was frost on the pumpkin, as farmboy Mark likes to say. To you and me that means it was pretty darn cold, but even so, Mark and I decided to go through with camping out in the Element. We made one little compromise -- we pulled the car into Rita's garage, and camped out in there. My review: three gliomas. Pretty cozy, not at all cold -- one improvement we need to add is a full size air mattress. We have some B-grade air mattresses in there now. Once we make that improvement, I think the camping experience will rate four gliomas. I'm ready to hit the road.
Mark's review: "Good."
Posted by Michelle at 5:30 PM
Thursday, November 22, 2007
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I love the simplicity: getting together with family, a big delicious meal, maybe a football game on TV, and the fact that there seems to be no way of "commercializing" the day or otherwise screwing it up.
I also love the "thanking" part of Thanksgiving. It's good. I'm not a religious person, so I don't thank God (sorry Mom, sorry Ronelle), but I've always been a big appreciator. I'm well aware of all the many ways I've been lucky from right out of the gate in this life, and I'm also grateful for my many, many specific blessings.
It's funny though. Even as an appreciator who has happily recited all the things I'm thankful for every year, and meant it, I think it's true that you don't truly appreciate your good fortune until you have some bad. At least that's true in my case.
Last year we had a really nice Thanksgiving dinner at Mich's house down the street. I think I was too out of it, honestly, to fully take everything in, let alone appreciate it.
But I'm doing better now, and so before we jump into Michelle's cool new car to head down to Eugene, I want to pause a minute for a quick, partial Thanksgiving list.
- I'm thankful for this blog. A funny place to start, maybe, but it has brought together a wonderful group of people and kept us in almost constant contact, including some like my awesome cousin Ronelle whom I had fallen out of touch with and some I wouldn't really know otherwise (Hi Janice!). Plus it's fun and interesting and makes me laugh.
- I'm thankful that I'm here. Hyper-dramatic, maybe, but the farther I get from last year's "inciting incident" the more I realize what a close call the whole brain cancer deal was. You never know in this life, is what I always say. Another year in the books is a good year.
- I'm thankful for my wonderful kids, Gina and Franny. Thankful, first, that they're healthy and seem reasonably happy (exceptionally happy, probably, for 14- and 13-year-old girls). And also that after a difficult few years that included a divorce and living in different states, they appear to have adjusted pretty well and even don't mind spending time at Casa M&M. Franny has a huge heart and is full of love. Gina, god bless her, laughs at my jokes.
- Speaking of which, I'm thankful for their mother, my excellent ex-wife, Greta. She's a good mom, for one thing, and she's been incredibly warm and generous to me in this past year, offering to adjust our financial and visitation arrangements in ways that have made things much easier for me. She has a well of forgiveness rare in former spouses, from what I hear.
- I'm thankful for the rest of my immediate and extended family. Mom and Michele especially have managed to mask their worry about my health and somehow been there with whatever I need, while at the same time knowing when to back off and give me some room. They know me. Freda is a terrific almost-mother-in-law.
- I'm thankful for my friends, here in Seattle and scattered around the Google Map of M&M-ville. Kaye and Val are way cool friends, both cyber- and real-life.
- I'm thankful for our little house. It's kind of funky and it's a giant mess -- has anybody seen my camera battery charger? -- but it's ours and it's cool and it keeps the rain off our heads.
- I'm thankful, lastly and mostly, for Michelle, the world's awesomest girlfriend and partner. Even setting aside all the incalculable ways she has gotten me through this year of awful health, she's the ideal match, the total package: loving, smart, funny, independent, tough, challenging, pretty and fun. Plus she's not a bad poker player. And Facebook says we're movie soul mates. I love her.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Ronelle posted a great idea in a comment: "I will also take pictures of everyone tomorrow and send them to you - can you guys do the same?"
I say yes. What say you, Friends of M&M? If you get a chance, send us some photos of your Turkey Day, and we'll post the best of them here.
Thanks to einstein for the photo.
Adam Sandler cracks me up, especially his music comedy bits like Opera Man, the Hanukkah Song and this one, the Thanksgiving Song.
Thanks to my friend and Facebook friend and former co-worker Tahirih Brown for posting this video.
I love that so much, I also have to show you the Sandler/Springsteen version:
I can't believe how often this stupid blog sends me scurrying off to Google so I can keep up.
Bad enough that I've never heard of this "Black Adder" show that Hugh Laurie used to be in and that everyone's suddenly talking about. But now Kaye, in one of the many comments on Michelle's excellent "House" post from last night, compares our blog to something called a Mandelbrot set. Huh? That sounds like actual smart shit and, like so many of brilliant Kaye's brilliant allusions, sailed way over my head.
So I looked it up. I'll save you the trouble. Part of the definition, from Wikipedia: "Mathematically, the Mandelbrot set can be defined as the set of complex c-values for which the orbit of 0 under iteration of the complex quadratic polynomial x2 + c remains bounded."
Of course. Man, I can't believe I spaced that stuff out.
That bit of mathematical expression in the headline of this post is an estimate of the area of a Mandelbrot set. And the photo above, lifted from Wikipedia, is described as an "initial image of a Mandelbrot set zoom sequence with continuously coloured environment."
Cool. What all this has to do with the price of rice or the allure of M&M I haven't quite figured out. Must do further calculations.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Here's a demo of the power of House, my favorite TV show: Tonite's episode ended with a credit that read: "In Memory of Barbara Isaak." Within half an hour after the show ended, Barbara Isaak was the number 1 search term on Google. One blogger wrote something along the lines of "who is Barbara Isaak? Why is everybody searching for her?"
Like I said, such is the power of House.
It took a while to track down the answer, but I found one that looks right on the House forums: "She was the supervising sound editor i believe, and she died in July of cancer." The link to her bio is here.
PostScript: Nine minutes later and we are the #6 result for Barbara Isaak, and Google has sent five visitors to M&M for Barbara Isaak info. The Internets are cool.
You're welcome for the info, Web visitors. Drop us a comment and tell us who you are and why you love House, just like me.
A week or so ago one of my mom's neighbors, a high school kid, wrote me an e-mail asking me to answer a few questions for a class project. He was working on something having to do with the media and public perceptions of the war, and because Mom told him that Mich and I are journalists he contacted both of us.
OK, fine, happy to help. But Michele and I both thought the questions were a bit loaded, as in biased against the press. We answered separately and then compared our responses to find that, as on so much else, our takes were nearly identical.
Here's the kid's note. What do you think? How would you have answered?
Hello my name is ---- ----. I live across the street from Rita, I am a senior at sheldon high school and i am in the International Studies Program.
I am writing a paper for graduation on the subject of the relationship
betweeen the media and the military during wartime.
Since you work for a newspaper i was wondering if you could help me by
answering some questions. If these questions do not apply to you
please leave blank. I f you know of anybody who has reported on
stories on iraq or has actually been to iraq, and would like to
contribute to my
paper i would appreciate a email address or contact. If you have time
i would appreciate your help. If possible a response by the 15th
would be appreciated.
1. Well written interesting storeis bring in more readers. Do you
know of any instance where a
reporter has embelished a story (published or unpublished) for a
competitive edge or for ratings?
Was it in general news or during a conflict?
2. During invasion of Iraq in 2003, when the war was fast, the
urgency to be first with a story,
has a reporter ever misinterpreted the facts?
3. What is the percentage of reports coming from Iraq that are
positive reports concerning the
good that is taking place there? What about the negative reports? Do
you hear more form
the negative or positive reports? Why do you think that?
4. Do you think the public's right to know the information on the
Iraq War overrides the military
objectives for winning the war?
5. What do you think the positives and the negatives are for having
embedded reporters during war?
6. Has a reporter or editor ever been ordered to cover up information
in order to sway the public's
opinion in a certain way?
7. Do you think media reporting during the war affects military startegy?
8. Have you ever seen different stories or accounts of the same event
by the military reports and the media reports?
9. To your knowledge, has a reporter ever recievedmisinformation from
the military to sway the public in another way?
10. Do you feel that the public has the right to know EVERYTHING?
11. Is it hard to not be the least bit biased when you are writing an article?
12. How did you feel about the continuous 24 hour coverage of the war
when it was on TV?
13. Do you or your colleagues have any short stories from the
reporters in Iraq?
14. Do you know any war correspondants that i could interview for my paper?
Thank You for your help!
Sunday, November 18, 2007
Last year when the girls got into MySpace I reluctantly set up my own account, just so I could keep an eye on them. I'm glad I did. Although they've stayed out of trouble there, I occasionally read a frightening story like this one -- about a girl their age who was so harassed online by the parents of a friend that she ended up killing herself -- that makes me thankful I have a way to supervise.
Anyway, I had managed to avoid Facebook, the so-called grown-up version of MySpace. It's a "social networking" site where people stay in touch with old classmates and colleagues and establish groups of friends with common interests. E-mail is so last century, or so goes the pitch. Then this summer Franny said she had a Facebook account, so I dutifully went online and signed up. Not many of her friends were there so she stopped using the service, and I did too.
But last week I was trolling around the Internet and ran across this very interesting story on Slate by Emily Yoffe, a 50-something writer who decided to stop fighting the Facebook tide and go see what the big attraction was. Her story was so compelling that I signed back on and looked around.
There, I was surprised to find, a bunch of people from the P-I and an old friend from the LA Times had requested to "friend" me. Even more surprising, there was Michelle with a fully developed profile, tons of online friends and little networks of fellow Internet news nerds. An entire ecosystem had taken hold all around me while I wasn't looking.
My first instinct was to run away. I'm not a joiner, for one thing, never have been. And while I like plenty of my potential Facebook "friends" just fine in short bursts in person, I really don't care to be updated with the news that Jen is now single and Candace is now a fan of "The Office." Who cares. Plus what about my own privacy? I don't want to live my stupid life online, with everyone I've ever known one click away from monitoring my likes and dislikes, my moods and "relationships."
But then, I thought, what's this blog anyway? Kinda the same thing. So I clicked around -- on purely a sociological mission, I told myself -- and next thing I new I was friending people, listing favorite movies and compiling a little list of books I might read next. Michelle even found a Facebook poker applet and invited me to join her there (she's already achieved the official status of "Facebook Poker Pro").
Like so much about the Internet, it can be addictive. I see how they make their money. The Los Angeles Times just today has an interesting story about the business model; less than four years ago Facebook was being run out of some kid's dorm room; now it has 54 million users and is valued at something like $15 billion.
I don't know. The last thing I need is another online distraction. I still think it's dumb. And it could steal time from M&M. But it did confirm that Michelle and I are "soul mates," at least where our taste in movies is concerned.
I may be checking in there from time to time.
Here are our stupid profiles:
This is so cool. With the writers strike continuing, "Saturday Night Live" is in reruns, but the cast got together last night at a theater in Chelsea and improvised a show, complete with a host (Michael Cera, from "Superbad") and musical guest (Norah Jones). They sold tickets, with proceeds going to the show's production staff who had lost their jobs.
The New York Times has a nice story about the evening that makes me with I were there.
Posted by Mark at 3:41 PM
Saturday, November 17, 2007
A couple of weeks ago I was looking all over the place for a map that would let me map out a road trip, but nothing I found was quite right. Now, it's like Mapquest read my mind. They've launched a beta that lets you map out a trip. Unfortunately it only lets you map 10 stops. I guess you have to make a bunch of maps and string them all together. I started our an early stab at some of the stops we might take on our Poker Tour of America.
This afternoon Michelle and I and the girls went to the movies. Different ones.
While we saw "No Country for Old Men," the new Coen Brothers noir thriller, Gina and Franny watched "Across the Universe," the musical set to Beatles songs that has become a surprise sensation among teenage girls. Franny liked it better than Gina did.
Michelle and I both loved "No Country." It's gruesome and intense, but so perfectly paced and tense that you can barely take a breath. Great writing -- based on a book by Cormac McCarthy -- and exceptional acting by Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem and Tommy Lee Jones. One of the Coens' best movies and a clear contender this year for best picture. 4 unhesitant gliomas.
Friday, November 16, 2007
With all the attention I've been paying lately to my own "spazziversary" and "surgeversary," I totally forgot that today is the third anniversary of my dad's passing.
It took a lunch date with my sister Mich today to remind me. Man. I'm sure it's a tough day for my mom, who had been a full-time caretaker for the last couple of years and was pretty exhausted when he died, but who I know feels lonely sometimes now despite also enjoying her independence.
Dad and I had an up-and-down, sometimes difficult relationship, but we loved each other too. A lot of who I am comes from him, I know that much. I miss him.
When he died we all toasted him in the way he would have preferred, I think: a large, strong gin martini on the rocks. In fact we christened the drink an EMMM -- Eddie Matassa Memorial Martini -- and Mom got me a set of awesome tumblers with those initials etched on the side.
Tonight, Michelle and I will hoist an EMMM for Dad, maybe put on some Sinatra. I figure Mom will do the same.
In related Matassa family news, Michelle and I have decided to take Mom up on her generous M&M-commented invitation and drive to Eugene next week for Thanksgiving. Mich and her family will be there too and maybe our sister Lisa. Should be cool.
(Thanks, Kaye, for the generous T-giving duck invite. I wish we could be there too.)
CNN: "Sen. Hillary Clinton stepped into the ring Thursday in this city known for prize fights, successfully beating back an onslaught of punches thrown from the left and right as her opponents sought to rattle ..." blah blah blah.
Man, does anybody really think anybody talks like this?
I give the debates a C-. Why did I come away feeling like I agreed with Kucinich and Biden more than anybody who has a chance of even coming close? And everybody was all Blah blah blah. I get that. You can't give a real answer because people would take it wrong. Better to hem and haw. Hemmers and hawers tend to get elected more than the weirdos who answer questions.
What grade do you give to the debates?
Thursday, November 15, 2007
One thing about being last-minute (if that) planners is that you can find yourself a week out from Thanksgiving with no idea yet of what you're going to do.
Michelle and I have had some great Thanksgivings over the years: a nice post-surgery feast last year at Mich and Manuel's; a few memorable trips to Mom's house in Eugene; maybe once with Kaye and Val (every meal there is a feast so it's hard to recall if any of them were Thanksgiving); and a classic M&M 13th-hour drive across the desert for a late-night dinner at the awesome Bellagio buffet. We may even have roasted a turkey breast or a cornish hen here at home once or twice, but I'm not sure.
Last month, the Seattle Times ran a very good story about "heritage turkeys," and it sounded so inviting and homey that I had half a mind to try cooking dinner here myself. The girls have plans to spend the day with Greta and her parents, though, so it's just Michelle and me. Also, if you really want a heritage turkey you've got to plan way ahead, like maybe a year.
So now I'm thinking about a less heritagey, more traditional Butterbally day.
Yesterday the New York Times food section had some good stuff and, even better, links online to the paper's best Thanksgiving coverage going back more than a hundred years, including this cool story from 1895 about how the holiday was celebrated that year.
I'm sure we'll come up with something. If not, there's always our standard fallback plan. Last night Michelle said some people at work asked her what we're doing for Thanksgiving.
"Going to the casino," she said.
I love her.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Okay kids, this is a participatory sport.
I get the urge to hit the road. Mark does too, but our ideas are kind of spongey. We can't seem to focus.
I'm half thinking of taking Mark off to Venice in February, then a three month road trip across America in July.
I'm just curious: If you were the boss of us, where would you tell us to go? Or if you were us (even better) where would YOU go?
The rules: You have three weeks of vacation, plus up to 6 months off pay free. Make your schedule. All must occur within the year 2008.
So Mark's doing the evening news meeting by reading snippets to me from the New York Times science page. One story is all about swarming as an animal behavior, another is about bee behavior (inspired by the stupid Seinfeld bee movie). Natalie Angier, science writer extraordinaire, informs that the mating queen bee has one mating flight in life, and dozens of would-be mates fling themselves at her during this flight. The males that succefully mate with her are rewarded with a nasty suprise: Their penises snap off and they die. "A successful male," she writes, and Mark reads, "Is a dead male."
Wow, I say. One crazy flight, that chick bee flings her self out in to the world and screws everything she sees. Imagine if people were like that, I say.
"That's called college," Mark says.
I can't add to that, really.
So last night I had my first disasterous spill in The Vehicle. Driving home from Luna Park Cafe with Mark's favorite "I don't feel good" meal -- burger, fries and the most awesome delicious chocolate shake in the world -- I was checking on the shake to make sure it was okay, when it burst open and splatted chocolaty goodness all over the car.
This morning, I opened the door to find two drops of shake still sitting on the seat where they landed -- not at all absorbed into the stain resistant fabric, still retaining their round chocolate droplet shape. The steering wheel also had lots of chocolatey goodness all over it, and the plastic floor was royally splattered.
I have no doubt that it will all wipe away in seconds, whenever I get a chance.
I'm also notice that the car is smelling a lot less new-car smelling, and a lot more like chocolate shake and over-ripe bananas you forgot in the back seat.
I guess we could name the car what it smells like, but then, you'd have to keep changing the name over time, and eventually that could be an unsavory solution. ...
I don't mean to turn this blog into a rolling review of a year in the life of Brain Boy. But like Spazziversary a couple of weeks ago, today feels like a day worth noting.
A year ago this morning I was in surgery -- the first of two, it turned out -- to try to figure out what was going on. It was less than two weeks after the seizures that sent me to the hospital, and MRIs and other tests were inconclusive. The best way to know what this mass was in my head and how to treat it, my doctor said, was to do a needle biopsy.
Well, that seemed simple enough; it barely sounded like brain surgery.
All they'd do, Dr. Silbergeld explained, is peel back a piece of scalp above the hairline on my right temple, drill a dime-sized hole, and use a needle to extract a small sample of the mass (possibly but not necessarily a tumor), which could then be examined in a lab. They'd plug the hole with a piece of titanium, sew me up and in a few days we'd know what was what. Nothing to it.
When I look at the above photo, which Michelle took with her phone in the surgery prep room and which we later dubbed "Mr. Cool," I think, what an idiot.
In the picture I look totally calm, and I was. Almost happy, which I don't think I was. The biggest, most immediate drags were having to get up early enough to be at the hospital's neurosurgery wing by 5 a.m., and not being able to drink any coffee.
I remember them taking my pulse and it was something incredible, like 58, an athlete's pulse, betraying no nerves whatsoever. And I remember joking with the nurse who was prepping me. He was shaving a target for the surgeon and for some reason talking about the little battery-powered razor he was using.
"I like it," he said. "It has a disposable head."
"Just like the patients," I said. Ho ho.
Michelle, who is used to my stupid jokes, groaned, but the guy got all nervous. Uh, no, um, our patients are blah blah blah, and I would never blub blub blub ....
I ended up having to reassure him. Sheesh.
Why was I so calm? Either I was buying all that nothing-to-it nonsense, which doesn't sound like me, or I just didn't know enough to be scared or mad, both of which I had come around to by the second surgery, in January.
I think what got me through that morning and a lot of the year since was a brilliant short-sightedness. Somehow I managed (and some of the time still do) not to think about the big picture, but to concentrate on the moment just ahead.
OK, now we're going to have you lie still on this table for an MRI. ... OK, now it's time to swallow a pill. ... OK, now I'm going to shave your head with my disposable razor ...
Nature's gift of self-preservation, I suppose. It's also like being on a newspaper deadline. Don't freak out. Just do this one little thing.
In the end, for those who weren't following along at the time, the surgery was a bust. Successful, I guess, in that my brain didn't leak out of the hole and I woke up later, but unsuccessful in that the biopsy was inconclusive, even after an extra week of testing in the lab.
I recovered from the surgery well enough to go home after only one day in the hospital, but I think it was slow going after that. A lot of it I don't remember very well.
A year later, I'm not sure I'm still Mr. Cool. I feel lucky to be here, and to be free so far of the seizures that put me in the hospital in the first place. But I've also grown tired of the whole deal, of the monthly chemotherapy (month eight concluded last night), even of trying to put a good face on things or make a joke or reassure the next guy that I'm all right.
As I admit sometimes to Michelle and to Mich, both of whom have been incredible this past year, I'm sick of stuff.
The charm of brain cancer has begun to wear off.
Monday, November 12, 2007
Unlike a few weeks ago, when the local media warned of "a significant wind event" (the Seattle Times' memorable phrase) that didn't fully materialize, today's big storm blew in without a lot of advance press. I woke up to the sound of wind and rain and then opened my computer to find a nice note from Kaye wondering how we were managing in the weather. Not bad, so far. As I told Kaye, the Internet and the coffee pot are both working. Good enough.
It is stormy, though. Or, as a local meteorologist puts it in a P-I quote this morning, "It is darn windy for us."
The other thing I notice about the insta-coverage online is that the P-I leads with winds gusting "to more than 60 mph," while the Times goes with a "92 mph windstorm." Hmm, a 50 percent difference in guestimates. That's also about the difference in Times and P-I circulation. Coincidence?
Also, this would be a good time to mention: Thanks, Michelle, for spending the afternoon raking leaves yesterday.
Saturday, November 10, 2007
Friday, November 9, 2007
Here's a cool site that rates your neighborhood by how "walkable" it is. We got 77 points out of 100, which WalkScore calles pretty good. Kaye and Val's neighborhood got an 86! That place rocks. How does your hood rate?
1. Get good idea
2. Work hard on it
3. Publish book
I just stumbled on this cool blog today by Sasha Cagen, a San Francisco writer who began collecting people's to-do lists a few years back, turned them into a blog and a small magazine and now has published a book reproducing them and pondering what they tell us about ourselves. Smart.
Examples on her site run the gamut from cleaning the house to contemplating boyfriend criteria. I like this list of possible screen names (lifted from todolistblog.com):
Good for Sasha. I hope she has a big hit with her book.
Thursday, November 8, 2007
I've picked up several new albums recently. In the past I've tried to group mini-reviews, but there's been too much stuff lately and I haven't had my act together. So I'm going to try to just dribble out quickie takes every once in a while.
I'll start with "Desire," the new release by Pharoahe Monch, a New York hip hop artist who had never crossed my radar until my sister brought a copy of his CD to our coffee date a few weeks back. (I should mention here, since Mr. Monch strikes me as a guy not to be messed with: The disc Mich burned for me was a temporary, trial, sample copy only, and not illegally pirated.)
Mich was quite excited by the new record and I can see what she likes about it. Monch nicely mixes a bunch of styles behind and between his raps. He also sings sometimes (instead of rapping only), and it sounds like he's backed by people actually playing instruments. He gets a good sound.
Even so, this is a brand of misogynistic, pop-a-cap-in-your-ass music that usually doesn't do much for me, unless it's done with extreme style, intelligence or humor, like the best of Outkast, 50 Cent, Snoop or Eminem.
I think Pharoahe might have lost me when, on one of the album's early tracks, he tried to rhyme "Joe Namath" and "your anus." Poor Broadway Joe.
Maybe it'll grow on me. That happens sometimes. But for now I can't muster more than: 2 gliomas.
Wednesday, November 7, 2007
One thing I learned this year, after watching "3:10 to Yuma" this summer and, tonight, "American Gangster," is, don't mess with Russell Crowe. That goes double for Denzel Washington, my hero and physical twin, who is the title-role gangster in this picture and one tough dude.
Put it this way, if Denzel ever calls you "my man," brace yourself and hope for the best.
"American Gangster" is like a cross between "French Connection" and "Godfather II," with big dollops of "Serpico" and "Apocalypse Now." Set in the late 1960s and early 1970s, it's a classic face-off between a bad guy with a heart of gold and a good guy who's not always as good as he believes himself to be. It doesn't glamorize or gloss over the drug trade at the story's center, and the violence isn't easy to watch. But it's riveting and extremely well done. Great music too.
Expect Oscar nominations for picture, director, actor and screenplay. One of the best movies of the year for sure. Highly recommended. 4 gliomas.
Tuesday, November 6, 2007
It's election day here in Seattle -- local city and county council races, school board, some money measures -- and so according to longstanding tradition I got together with my friend Simon.
Jim Simon and I were reporting (and later editing) partners for years at the Seattle Times, first in the state capital bureau and then in the main office, and we must have worked a couple dozen elections together. Since you start work late on election night, we always got together in the late afternoon and caught a movie or something to eat before work (it wasn't as romantic as it sounds).
These days Jim is metro editor -- or maybe an assistant managing editor now, I'm not sure of his title -- and although he still works on election night he doesn't have the time he used to. So today we just got together for coffee. It was good to see him; he's one of the all-time great guys, and we've been friends for 20 years. I was at his daughter Masayo's second birthday party; now she's a sophomore at University of Oregon.
No big headlines, just chit-chat. But it got me thinking about this season's election coverage in the local papers. With the exception of a stray story or two, it hasn't been so good, I've thought. Today I clicked around several local news sites looking at election guides and again I wasn't very impressed. What I found, mostly, were lists of previous stories, not organized, comprehensive, informative guides to the issues and races on the ballot.
This doesn't seem to me like it should be that hard to do. It makes me want to play around with creating a site to organize local political coverage. Maybe I'll do that in my spare time.
My quick review of Michelle's new Element as a road trip car: excellent.
Plenty of room, as we knew, but it was also quite comfortable riding in it for several hours at a time. You sit slightly above the traffic, but it still feels more like a car than a truck. The ride felt smooth, and there was enough power to get up a hill or around a slow truck. Michelle did all the driving, so it's easy for me to say, but I was able to put the seat back and take a couple of nice long naps.
Also, the car came with a three-month trial of XM Radio, which I thought was cool. Two hundred and some channels and still nothing on, we kept joking, but actually the variety was nice, and it ws a good clear signal except driving through the thick forest near Otis.
One of the highlights of our trip to the Oregon Coast last weekend was a breakfast at this tiny little place in the middle of nowhere, the Otis Cafe. Wonderful.
We first noticed the place Friday night on our way to Lincoln City. It was dark out, we were on a mission at that point to get all the way to the coast and to have some famous clam chowder at Mo's before checking into our hotel, so we just blew by. But we both remarked on the big neon Otis Cafe sign above this shack at the side of the road, and the gravel parking lot full of pickups and cars and the giant crowd inside the small, bright restaurant. We both said it looked like a place worth checking out sometime.
Friday night, Saturday, Saturday night all come and go. Walks on the beach. Meals at Mo's. Long, profitable poker sessions at Spirit Mountain and Chinook Winds casinos. A couple of times we drove by Otis Cafe, which is four miles east of Lincoln City on the road between our hotel and Spirit Mountain, and it always was packed. So on Sunday morning, when we were getting ready to leave town and head back to Seattle, we decided to stop there for breakfast.
There are only five or six tables in the restaurant, and another five or six stools at a counter, so we had to wait. Michelle walked next door to a little "antique"/junk store, and I talked to a local couple waiting with me on the wooden bench out front. They said they eat there all the time and it's always packed and always great, and that we were lucky there weren't a half dozen parties ahead of us, especially on a Sunday morning. This place is famous, the said.
"Famous," I was sure, was an overstatement. But sure enough, when we got inside the menus had reprints of fawning reviews from the New York Times and USA Today. And Michelle picked up a couple of guest books for us to leaf through while we were waiting for our food; the reviews from past diners were incredible. One couple had traveled all the way from Australia just to eat there again, they wrote. Someone else had come from Hawaii on the recommendation of her parents. Several couples signed the book on a wedding anniversary and said a trip to Otis was part of an annual celebration.
When the food arrived I understood the devotion. Everything was made from scratch -- including locally raised eggs, meat and other ingredients -- and it was delicious. Michelle had eggs, hashed browns and two kinds of toast from homemade bread, including a brown molasses bread that was really good. I had two buttermilk pancakes the size of a plate, along with bacon and eggs and grapefruit juice. De-lish.
To get to the restroom at this place you have to walk through the kitchen. We both noticed rows of fresh pies cooling on racks, and when it was time to leave Michelle asked if whole pies were for sale. Our waitress went off to fetch one.
"I'm giving that to your sister," she said.
"Mich? Why? What the hell," I said. Mr. Thoughtful. "We're getting one for us then, too."
So we came home with a Marionberry and a strawberry rhubarb. I can't vouch for Mich's, but our Marionberry pie is pretty darn yum.
All of which is to say, if you're anywhere near the northern Oregon Coast, take a short detour up Highway 18 and stop in. We'll be back for sure. Highly recommended. 4 gliomas.
(The above photo is from flickr. Michelle has her own pics that I'm hoping she'll upload.)
View Larger Map
Monday, November 5, 2007
Sunday, November 4, 2007
The dock in front of Mo's, home of the best clam chowder in the universe.
Bird on a log in front of Mo's.
In front of Mo's.
The logs at the beach in Lincoln City.
More logs. I think they're cool.
Mark at the beach. I think he's cool too.
Mark on the pier.
Mark checks out the shack on the beach.
View from the shack.
Posted by Michelle at 11:39 PM
Friday, November 2, 2007
Good idea, Ronelle.
As my cool cousin suggested, this weird anniversary is a good excuse to get out and celebrate somehow. Also Michelle has a brand new car itching to hit the road. So she's taking today off and we're going to drive down to the Oregon Coast for a long weekend.
Kind of a last-minute plan, but it seems just right. Beautiful weather too. We'll walk on the beach, have some luscious clam chowder at Mo's and probably play some cards at a favorite room, the nearby Spirit Mountain Casino.
Photos and a full report to come when we return.
Happy weekend, everyone.
Thursday, November 1, 2007
Weekend challenge: send us photos of you as a kid -- we'll post 'em! Here's ours:
Me and my sister Renee in 1965. I was one.
Five years later. Mark and family in San Francisco. He was 10.
Mark in college, at his college paper. What a cute young pup!
PS: what we're watching: Mel Gibson's The Patriot. Sappy and heavy-handed.