Thursday, February 28, 2008

I hate these chicks -- Mark

Idol -- it's back!

We're mostly about hating the contestants this year. We hate the nurse chick who ran over an 18-wheeler. We hate flock of seagulls dude. We hate the cowgirl. We like almost no one.

Even the cute wonder kid is annoying.

Will all the Paris Hilton girls and Donny Osmond boys please leave the building?

They're all doing a medley now. Mark says "It's like up with people."

No doubt.
Commercial and ... we're back. Now for the low lights from last week. Most of the performances were totally lame. Jacuzzi did a great Donny Hathaway.

And of course, Golden Child sang a really nice rendition of Imagine. He's so good it's almost like he's cheating. Apparently he won Star Search or something. I'm kind of sick of his oh my gosh thing.

"I like Chaceezi," Mark says.

I'm voting to get rid of Donny Osmond with the Nurse streak in his hair, and the flock of Seagulls guy.

They've started the elimination. Jacuzzi is safe. Dreadlock is safe. The annoying Danny and Donny Osmand are the last two: And Jason/Donny Osmond is oooouuut. Yay.

Next, up, Flock of Seagulls is toast. But first, we have to watch Donny Osmond recap his sucky performance from last week.

(sucky singing and really sucky dancing in progress. Please hold.)

Simon told Donny his problem is that he doesn't really stand out.

"Now he's going to stand out," Mark says. "Outside!"

Commercial and ... we're back.
Time for the chick retrospective. More profound suckiness. We're watching Brooke sing You're so vain.

"You're so suck," Mark says.

Nurse girl gets up with her Cruella Deville hair. I think she is Outski.

Blondie in a blue dress sings unremarkably. A chick in board shorts and heels, Asia'h sings way horribly. She is also Outski.

Hold the phone: My turn to go on Scrabulous.

Wow -- scary nurse chick survived. Chick with the ill-advised board shorts is out.

Cool -- she called Ryan a freak!

She recaps "If you leave me now, you'll take away the biggest part of me."

"That's great," Mark says. "You can call them based on just what would be the most ironic exit song."

"How can we let it slip away?" board short sings. "How can we end it all this way?"

Back from commercial ... Lucy Liu and Tattoo girl are safe. It's down to Brittney and the other blond chick who looks just like her. One must go.

Blue dress girl is out. She is crying and crying. "I can't sing," she says. "Sorry."

"But we're both blond!" Mark protests. "This isn't right."

All the girls talk her into singing, so she reluctantly grabs the mike.

"Genius!!!" Mark says. "THIS is why I watch this show."

She sings Hopelessly Devoted to You.

"But now, there's no where to hide, since you pushed my life aside!" Her voice cracks, notes slip. She wipes her tears. "Hopelessly devoted to you!"

The crowd goes wild. Everybody hugs.

"Worth it," Mark says.

Commercial .... AND .... we're back.

Ryan blah blah blah, replaying some "unforgettable" Idol Gives Back crap.

"Why are they replaying it if it's unforgettable," Mark wonders.


Boy elimination is between 90210 and Sawyer dude. ...

Dang, 90210 is staying. He's pretty despicable.

Simon tells Sawyer imitator dude (Lost) that he was never authentic. That's his problem.

Sawyer dude sings Hot blooded again (bad again) and the camera pans back to show Paula clapping, and Simon ... bored and texting somebody. Sweet.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Coens

Are so cool. They have long been my fave directors. Fargo. Blood Simple. Big Lebowski, Barton Fink. They are just amazing. If you haven't seen everything they've done already, I recommend an extended movie night. Glad to see them snag a couple of Oscars. No Country was eminently worthy.

Sweet night of Hollywood goodness. "That was fun to me," Mark says.

Ditto me too. :)

Javier Rocks

Kay, thanks for the comment pointing out the ultimate coolness of Javier. He was deadly awesome evil in No Country for Old Men, and genius also all those years ago in Before Night Falls.

We love the Oscars. :)


Re Kate Blanchett as Bob Dylan: "She's Awesome!" Mark Matassa

RE: Briony in Atonement: "yaaay!" Franny and Gina

RE: Tilda in Michael Clayton: "I thought she was great in this. ... Look at her hair. She's awesome. " Mark Matassa

Re: Tilda winning: "No Way!!!!" MM. "She's awesome. That's cool."

Johnny Depp!!!


God, Where's Johnny Depp?

Another 15 minutes have passed. STILL no Johnny Depp. Sheesh.

WHERE is Johnny Depp?

That's what the outraged young Oscar watchers in our household are wondering. The announcers mentioned Depp, but didn't show him.

"What a rip," Gina says.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Time for the Bellamy -- um, Academy -- Awards

For 11 years now my friend Jason Bellamy, a fellow fantasy baseball nerd and a generous member of last year's "Team Mark" poker backers, has been putting an incredible amount of work into his other avocation, the movies.

I'd venture that Jason sees more flicks than most readers of M&M combined, and in a decidedly un-lucrative labor of love he has closed out every year by compiling a booklet of his thoughts on the year's films, including his picks for best picture and a number of other categories. These he dispenses by mail, complete with sealed envelopes containing the winners, as the "Bellamy Awards."

A few weeks ago, prompted he says by the encouragement of his friends, Jason launched a film blog, The Cooler Cinema, that I can tell will be one of my favorite movie sites. We don't always agree -- he liked "Juno" more than I did; I liked and he disliked the ending of "Atonement" -- but he's a thoughtful, engaging critic and I often find myself reassessing a picture after reading his take.

The blog's off to a good start, inviting participation from a small contingent of readers, and this week, in advance of Sunday's Oscars telecast, Jason reprinted his 2007 reviews of the best-picture nominees: "Atonement," "Juno," "Michael Clayton," "No Country for Old Men" and "There Will Be Blood."

Unlike a lot of film sites, The Cooler doesn't attempt to predict the Oscar winners, or even lobby for his favorites (although readers of the January Bellamy Awards booklet know where he stands). He just offers his thoughts and invites discussion. Coolio.

In a bit of Oscar preparation here, I took the girls tonight to see "Juno." (Michelle was working; she and I saw it together already.) All four of us enjoyed it: endearing characters, tremendous acting, quirky and memorable writing. We're also thinking about seeing "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" this weekend. And my ex, Greta, a member of the Screen Actors Guild, loaned me her screener-copy DVDs of several nominated films, so I may still get to see "Away from Her," with Julie Christie's Oscar-nominated performance, before Sunday night. Very nice.

We all love the Oscars around here. Our big plan is a family pizza-making and award-watching party Sunday evening.

Before the movie tonight I asked the girls their picks for the big awards. They weren't identical, but they were all combinations of "Sweeney Todd," "Atonement" and "Across the Universe" in every category.

We'll see.

For a professional's predictions, check out "The Carpetbagger," the New York Times' correspondent David Carr, who seems pretty plugged in.

Your thoughts?

The McCain-NYT affair

Was John McCain, the clean-government crusader, sleeping with an attractive blond lobbyist, 30 years younger than he, even while he ran for president as a reformer?

The newspaper world and blogosphere are still abuzz about yesterday's front-page New York Times story on McCain, particularly its implication that he had an affair in 2000 with a telecommunications lobbyist whose clients sought help from McCain's Senate committee. I saw the story yesterday but didn't read it until I noticed that my friend and old boss David McCumber blogged about his decision not to run the piece in the Seattle P-I. He wrote:

To me, the story had serious flaws. It did not convincingly make the case that McCain either had an affair with a lobbyist, or was improperly influenced by her. It used a raft of unnamed sources to assert that members of McCain's campaign staff -- not this campaign but his campaign eight years ago -- were concerned about the amount of time McCain was spending with the lobbyist, Vicki Iseman.
After reading his post and the story I'm not sure I agree with McCumber, but he certainly looks prescient. His reasoning -- remember this was Wednesday night when the story moved on the NYT wire but before the public had seen it -- perfectly matched the massive negative (and, at the Times, unexpected) reaction from many journalists and from readers across the political spectrum. Responses on McCumber's blog post overwhelmingly support his call. I'm guessing he feels very good about his decision. (Locally, the Seattle Times ran the piece on its front page, without explanation.)

My response to the story was different than David's. While I agree that the paper didn't "convincingly make the case" of an extramarital affair, I don't think that was its purpose. I read the story as one in a continuing, enlightening series of backgrounders on the candidates, all focusing on some event or conflict in their past that shaped their characters or candidacy. This one carried that "Long Run" series bug.

In this case, as I read the story, the point was the dichotomy between McCain's defining (and by all accounts) sincere crusade against special interests and his occasional blindness to his own ethical lapses, real or perceived. The lobbyist relationship was seen as a piece of this puzzle, though not a big "gotcha," as was a nicely summarized and relevant rehash of the whole Keating Five fiasco that nearly killed McCain's political career.

To my mind that's good solid political reporting, the kind I would aspire to. Interestingly, I was just listening to a Terry Gross interview the other day with Jacob Weisberg, the Slate editor and author of "The Bush Tragedy," whose key point was that journalists need to do a better job of exploring candidates' character, not just their positions, in a presidential race. You can hear that interview here.

A bigger concern for me, one that McCumber also cited, was the use of anonymous sources in the Times article. As reporters and editors who have worked with me know, I'm generally opposed to anonymous sourcing, especially in political reporting. It's too easy a crutch, both for the sources and the reporters, and I think it is slowly eroding our readers' trust in newspapers. But I also think, as Times Executive Editor Bill Keller noted, that there are times when anonymous sourcing is warranted. Handled correctly and reported exhaustively, these are often the stories that give readers important information they could not possible get otherwise.

My guidelines, honed over the years and reinforced by my four excellent editors at the LA Times, are these. To justify granting anonymity:
  • The story must be of great significance
  • It must not be reportable in any way other than using the unnamed sources
  • The information must be confirmed by multiple independent sources or documents
  • The sources must have a good reason to remain unnamed, such as real, demonstrable fear of financial loss or of physical danger
  • The sources must be identified to the story's editors
  • The sources' reasons for requesting anonymity must be stated plainly in the story, and the sources should be identified as fully as possible
These are difficult standards to meet. It's a close call, I think, whether this McCain story meets that importance threshold, but from what I've read of the paper's reporting efforts, the sourcing was solid and justifiably cloaked.

For its own purposes, and considering again that this story was one in the continuing "Long Run" series, I think the Times was right to run the story. That doesn't mean that the P-I or every other paper receiving the NYT wire should reach the same conclusion. Without the context of the ongoing series, the McCain story feels a bit more like a gotcha fallen short, and so I can appreciate McCumber's decision not to use it.

One of the best things to come out of this dust-up, I think, is the glmpse it offers behind the newsroom curtain and the increasing willingness it demonstrates of editors to engage with their readers. In addition to McCumber's smart blog post and the resulting reader comments, Keller and other top editors and reporters at the New York Times have been answering readers' questions about the story today, part of the paper's regular and enlightening online "Talk to the Newsroom" feature. It's very interesting. You can read that here.

Finally, there has been a lot of smart media criticism about the story online, on all sides of the question. I'll point you toward Jack Shafer's defense of the piece in Slate, which I thought was pretty good.

What did you think of the story? Did it even register? I'd like to know.

The Godfather, the King and the Prince

The quality's not the best, and Prince seems a little weirded out, but this is a pretty amazing once-in-a-lifetime lineup, however brief: the Godfather of Soul, the King of Pop and Prince, from 1983.

Thanks to the always cool Undercover Black Man for the tip.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Angry Journalist Part Deux

I like this guy, but I can't tell whether to feel sorry for him or not. He keeps going back and forth:

"Angry Journalist #689:

I hate the fact that when I started as a reporter for a community newspaper 15 years ago I was paid $13,000 a year, and loved my job! I was part of the life of the community, running around covering city hall, the police, schools, natural disasters and anything else that struck my interest. It was local, but people actually gave a damn about what went in “their paper.” Now, I make $77,000 as a writer/editor for an industry trade publication, and I wonder what happened to me. I sit in a corporate office all day waiting for PR flacks to set up interviews with fat-cat executives who don’t give a damn about my publication. But then I read about the big dailies laying off hundreds of workers and I think, “heh, it could be worse.”"

Awesome -- Simon just told one of the contestants she has the personality of a pencil

"Look at her," Mark says. "I love it when they're on the verge of crying."

A Fred Retrospective

I figure only the Driftwooders among M&M readers will appreciate this, but since that's about half the readership, I'm going for it. Here then, is my Fred photo retrospective.

OMG -- It's Fred Reineike -- as a Girl

Check this out! It's Fred's Daughter, looking just like him. And she's, like, the age Fred was when we knew him. It's tripping me out.

Later I will post pix of Fred at the UNO Sexy Legs contest circa 1986, so those of you who don't know Fred will see what I'm talking about.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Angry Journalist

This site is hilarious:

Here's a snippet, to tantilize you:

"Angry Journalist #593:

1. I don’t like that news managers think we should all live and breathe news when we walk out the door. Fuck you, assholes.

1.5 In my free time I’m going to participate in any political event I care about. I don’t give a shit about ‘how people view our credibility as journalists.’ Way to fight illogical attacks on journalism with illogical defenses. I thought you people were supposed to be smart.

2. I can’t stand graphic designers that somehow don’t know how to convert inches to pixels. IT’S RIGHT THERE IN PHOTOSHOP YOU MORON.

3. I don’t like seeing young journalists scoff at the Internet. I never knew there were Luddites under 30 until I started working in the news business. I hate you people.

4. I don’t like watching editors, publishers, GMs, and PDs do the same crap over and over again despite declines in readers, listeners and viewers.

4.5 I don’t like when they think jumping on the Britney bandwagon will save them. It’s a short term band-aid AT BEST.

5. I can’t stand reporters that complain when asked to write tighter, shorter stories. Look, nobody wants to read more than 30 inches of bullshit about anything printed in a daily paper. Ever. People have children and friends and lives. Because you don’t have these things doesn’t mean your readers should suffer.

6. I hate hate hate when people insist on their dumb fucking ideas. Maybe you tards should just take no for an answer once in a while, eh? I know what I’m doing. The Internet isn’t for fucking quizzes and photo captions and god damned spinning graphics. How would you like it if I came to your desk and asked you to write in pig latin because it’s cute or use comic fucking sans or invert the colors on your photo BECAUSE IT WOULD BE REALLY COOL?

6.5 Asking me questions is fine. I’m not a dick and I’m willing to give you feedback. But every time you act like I’m personally attacking you when I tell you I have other things to spend my time on, I want to repeatedly smash my face into a wall. Until I die. In front of you.

7. No I won’t help you set your desktop background. And no I don’t have a God complex, you’re just a lazy moron who refuses to learn anything new. Google it.

8. If you want me to build your personal Web site, you’re going to pay me at least $40/hr depending on the scope of the project. That’s the going freelance rate. Think that’s high? Maybe you shouldn’t have gone into journalism.

8.5 I don’t care about your personal Web site.

9. I sometimes use unnecessary jargon because I know it confuses you and it is the highlight of my day. It’s also a good tactic to keep you from making me do really stupid things on your Web sites. I tell all my friends about it.

10. I really didn’t need to be in that hour long meeting that only contained 15 minutes of Web discussion. Seriously, just call me into the conference room when you get that part of the agenda."

Monday, February 18, 2008

In the bonus!

A long time ago, with a girlfriend far, far away, I made the mistake of taking a simple question at face value and answering honestly. "What would be your perfect day," J said.


Well, let's see. I guess it would start with the Sunday New York Times and a cappuccino at Trieste (we were living in San Francisco at the time; Caffe Trieste, in North Beach, was and is my favorite coffee joint anywhere). And I'd go to a Giants game, play some poker, see a movie and have some good Chinese food, maybe at Hunan.

"Hmm," she said. "Is that it?"

I racked my brain to see what cool stuff I might have left out or could still fit into one day. Skiing, impractical. Reading all afternoon at the beach would squeeze out either baseball or poker, no good. Bowling, nah.

Yeah, I said, that sounds like a pretty good day.

My mistake, it turned out, was that my perfect day didn't include any plans built around J or, for that matter, even mention the possibility of her tagging along. One of many lessons that I like to think of now as Boyfriend School.


Years before that, in college, my friend Gohman and I used to waste a lot of time at the tavern playing video games and pinball. If you scored enough points to win an extra round, Gohm would happily announce: "In the bonus!" You had beat the game, tricked the actuaries. You had permission -- almost an obligation -- to play with abandon, to explore the game for hidden points, go for the trick shot. In the bonus was free life.


Today is my birthday. The past few days, leading up to it, Michelle has kept asking how old I am, thinking maybe she'd freak me out. (I am getting up there.) Then last night, at our little birthday party with the girls, she pulled out my Dad's famous (in our family) question whenever anyone had a birthday: How does it feel to be .... 11, 23, 35, 60, whatever the magic number was. To which, whatever the answer and whatever the number, he'd follow up with, "What a great age!"

So, how does it feel to be 48? Considering that at 46 I had two brain surgeries and was diagnosed with a fatal disease and, for a while there, wasn't sure I would make it to 47, 48 seems pretty good. I feel like I'm in the bonus.

It's nice of them to make a national holiday on my birthday. Michelle's off today for President's Day and she asked me the other day what would be the perfect way to spend the day.

Adjusting for geography and the fact that it isn't baseball season, my list hasn't changed much. Only now there's a preface.

"Since you have the day off," I said, "I think it would be cool if we ..."

We're going out for our cappuccino now. Poker session and Chinese food at the casino to come later.

(Michelle took the above picture of me at Trieste during our visit last summer.)

Sunday, February 17, 2008

A Day in the Park

For a slideshow with larger images go here.

'Can't talk. In a tree.'

That was Franny, answering and hanging up her cell phone this afternoon all in one breath. We were hiking around Discovery Park, a big beautiful woods on Magnolia Bluff here in Seattle, and Franny really was climbing a tree, with Gina and Michelle.

"Who was that," Michelle asked.

"One of her five boyfriends," Gina said.

"Lars," Franny said. "And nuh-uh."

Ten seconds later the phone rang again. "Can't talk. In a tree." Snap.

Who was that?

"Nicky Nick."

Oh to be 13 and cool and beautiful.

It was a clear, crisp day, perfect for a walk around the park, which is an abandoned military base, Fort Lawton, with stunning views of Elliott Bay and the Olympic Mountains beyond. We had fun.

It's possible that Franny really doesn't have five boyfriends. Nobody else called.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

In the sunshine

We've been back from Europe for a little more than a week now and still haven't told the story of what was probably our vacation's most memorable day -- and for me, weirdly, one of my favorites.

Let me say first that Michelle and I never fight, about anything. In the eight years-plus that we've been together I can remember maybe two or three minor dust-ups. So seldom and for such low stakes do we tussle that the stupid fight we had on the day we visited the Eiffel Tower -- two weeks ago today, I believe -- counts among our biggies.

The day began promisingly enough. We took the Metro to the Eiffel's nearest stop, about half a mile away, then stopped and took a couple pictures and strolled the pleasant stroll along the Seine to the monument. It was a cold but beautiful day. So far so good.

Despite being the off-season for tourists, there were a lot of people lined up under the base of the tower, where there were two options being offered: You could take an elevator up to one of the three viewing platforms, at prices ranging from about 6 to 11 euros, or you could pay 4 euros to walk up what looked to be about a billion steps to the first, lowest, platform.

Oddly, that sounded fun to me. Maybe I was remembering how much I enjoyed, windedly, climbing the steps of Giotto's Bell Tower in Florence on my first trip there nearly 20 years ago. Michelle had no interest in the Eiffel stairs; maybe she'd done it before, I can't remember. But that was OK; this wasn't the fight part. As we often do, we agreed to go our separate ways and hook back up afterward.

"I'll meet you over there in the sunshine," I said, pointing to some benches in what would be the foreground of the top picture above. We went to stand in our lines.

At one point during the longish wait a rope descended from somewhere above, and several men took turns rappelling down to the tourist staging area and then climbing back up the rope. This was to discourage whining about the stairs, I suppose. Amazing.

I finally got to the front of the line, paid my 4 euros and began my ascent.

I liked walking. You could appreciate the tower's height, one step at a time, and also the marvel of the engineering. On some of the landings there were posters with fun facts about the Eiffel Tower, when it was built, how many steps to the top (1,600 and something), stuff like that. One poster told the story of a Paris newspaper that, a couple years after the tower opened, sponsored a race to the top. Somebody won in like seven minutes, I think, some ridiculous time.

It didn't go so fast for me. Classic eyes-stomach disconnect. For the entire trip we did a lot of walking and I held up pretty well, but I did get tired and had to stop for frequent rests. On the Eiffel stairclimb I trudged up with little painted signs marking my progress -- 90 steps, now 160, now 200, until finally at 300 and something I made it. Whew.

I'll admit, I was tired. But it was beautiful and I enjoyed sitting on a bench looking at the view. I walked around the perimeter of the platform, shooting a couple of pics, including this, my favorite:

I went into the gift shop and bought a couple of trinkets, then sat down with my bottle of water and wrote a couple of postcards. I wasn't dawdling, but I wasn't in a giant rush either. Eventually I caught my breath, felt a little spring back in my legs and began the long walk back down.

At the base of the tower I looked for Michelle in the sunshine -- no luck -- used the restroom, took a quick lap around the benched area of the park where she might be -- still no luck -- then sat down on a bench closest to the Tower.

I'd barely opened my paperback when Michelle stormed up. "Where have you been," she said, no hint of fun in her voice. I began to stammer something about what I'd been up to, but she said I'd kept her waiting for 45 minutes in the cold and hadn't been where I was supposed to be in the sunshine.

She turned around and walked away and I shlumped after her.

Even now, I suspect, she'll read this and get mad all over again. Somehow the fact that she was in an elevator and I was on the stairs wasn't figuring into her calculations. In fairness, it was cold, and "over there in the sunshine" amounted to a fairly vague meeting place. I was probably wrong in a half dozen other ways I can't even conceive. No matter. We somehow had managed to erect a fun-blocking barrier of monumental engineering, and it remained in place, all 7,300 tons of puddled iron of it, for the rest of the day, with a long shadow into the next.

In silence we schlepped to a bus stop, boarded the first one that stopped, then got out at Luxembourg Gardens, near our hotel -- she must have known where we were going -- and ate what was otherwise one of my favorite Paris meals at the Brasserie de Luxembourg.

As fights go it wasn't exactly Ali-Foreman, and in the end it couldn't really spoil what was a touristy highlight of the trip.

We've tried, with typical M&M style, to laugh ourselves out of it, but I think we both know the humor's only about half-working.

At the Amsterdam airport, waiting for our connection between Rome and San Francisco, Michelle got up to go use the restroom.

"I'll meet you over there," I said, "in the sunshine."


Friday, February 15, 2008

Go Russ!

I noticed Kaye called out a quote today on the NiteNote from Russ Stanton's victory speech yesterday, when he was named editor of the Los Angeles Times. I'm not sure what drew her attention exactly -- I guess his description of the Times newsroom as an "endless 'Groundhog Day' nightmare." That might have struck some Timesers funny.

But it's true, what he was saying about the pattern there the past few years: a new editor being named, fighting valiantly (but unsuccessfully) against newsroom cuts and then quitting or being fired. Russ is fixing to change all that, and good luck to him, I say.

Michelle and I both worked with Russ -- she at the OC Register, me at the Times -- and liked him. Good guy, very steady, smart. I think Mich knows him too somehow, and Kate must.

I thought he made an excellent speech to the Times staff yesterday. Here it is, along with a story about the change.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

It's only logical

One of the anticipated highlights of our Paris trip was a visit to the Aviation Club de France, a relatively new card room on the Champs Elysees which is part of the World Poker Tour on TV and boasts of having "the best cash games in Europe." Okeydoke, I don't know how to say deal me in in French, but deal me in.

So on the Friday that we were in town, after spending most of the morning and afternoon at the Louvre (that's it in the picture above), we walked the rest of the way up the Right Bank (listen to me) and after asking directions a couple of times found the place.

It was just a single door front, no big glitzy casino neon, and a single doorman/bouncer/guard. He allowed us in and we walked up a flight of carpeted stairs to find a guy in a suit sitting at a desk at the front of a hallway, with the den of iniquity apparently hidden (quietly) somewhere behind him. The Bellagio this wasn't.

When we inquired about playing poker the desk dude asked if we had passports. Mine was in my day pack, no sweat, but Michelle had left hers back at the hotel. I'm sorry, he said, without a passport you can't play here.

Michelle asked if she could just watch while I played for a little while.

No, the man said, with a sarcastic (I thought) Frenchy smile. "If you need zee passport to enter zee casino then of course I cannot allow you into zee casino to watch without zee passport. It is only logical."

"Yeah," I said to Michelle, using the double-reverse head-fake mock tone that I knew she would recognize but that he wouldn't, "It's only logical."

Dumbass Frenchman smiled in my direction as if to say: Women, what're ya gonna do.

So, although we were tired from our long walk and Michelle was catching a cold and wanted to sit down, we seemed out of options. We thanked Frenchy for his time and walked back outside. On the sidewalk Michelle suggested that I go back in and play for a few hours. She could take the Metro back to the hotel, she said, and I could meet her back there later. Good girlfriend.

When I walked back upstairs the guy gave me a knowing smile. "Ah, you're back," he said. "Maybe madame will return later."

Yeah, I thought, and maybe she'll kick your sorry logical ass for you. But I dutifully handed over my passport, filled out a little form and waited to be escorted down the secret hallway to the poker action.

Frenchy came around the desk, looked me over and stopped dead in his tracks. "Oh, I'm sorry," he said, "I didn't notice. We're going to have to find you some shoes. It is a house rule."

I had already checked to make sure this wasn't some kind of 007, tuxedos-only joint, and nobody had said anything about my casual (but neat and clean) travel attire. Now, though, my trusty REI hiking boots were a problem.

"Do not worry," Frenchy continued, "we can take care of you."

He walked me into a tiny coat closet, invited me to hang up my rain jacket and backpack, and suggested that I pick out some dress shoes from the back of the closet. What difference my footwear could possibly make -- in a few minutes it would be invisible under the poker table -- I couldn't imagine, but whatever. When in Paris.

Maybe now you're picturing a neat row of nice, shiny oxfords and loafers to choose from. Nopey, not quite. Instead, on the floor, under the hanging overcoats and rain gear was a medium-size pile of beat-up street shoes -- a helter-skelter leather pyramid -- that looked like it might have come from the Goodwill, or Dachau.

None of the shoes were in pairs, and none had laces. "We don't want you to 'forget' and walk back to your hotel in our shoes," the coat-check man explained.

I tried on a dozen shoes and finally found one that was only a half-size too small, then spent several more minutes looking for its mate. Finally I emerged from the closet, two scuffed, dusty, pinching, laceless "dress shoes" on my feet, wondering how this look conceivably could be more presentable than my nice $250 hikers. I did not see the logic. But OK, another hurdle cleared.

Now I was escorted back to the poker area, which consisted of about 10 or 12 tables spread among two small parlor rooms and a connecting hallway, but with games in progress at only four of them. I asked the host what limits were being spread -- what was the size of the games being offered -- and he informed me that they didn't play any structured-limit games like the ones Michelle and I usually play. The only options were no-limit games -- the stuff of old Western movies and big-money tournaments like the World Series of Poker -- with minimum buy-ins of either 50 or 100 euros, about $80 to $160.

There was a long waiting list, he said, but he'd be happy to put me on the board. He wrote down "MM (UK)" -- close enough; whatever the actual nationality, I was the English-speaking foreigner with the loaners on my feet.

Now I saw that there were literally 30 people ahead of me on the board and for the first time noticed all the men (only two women in the whole club) standing around waiting to get into a game. Why they didn't start two or three new games, like they'd do here at the Muck or in any other card room I've visited, I couldn't guess. It was going to be a long wait, and if I hadn't been tired from our day of walking and museum-touring, I might have bailed right then.

Eventually, about an hour later, I got a seat in the bigger of the two games, the 100-e minimum buy-in with blinds of e5 and e10.

Now, no-limit hold 'em, despite being the king of poker, really isn't my game. I've logged thousands more hours in small- to medium-stakes limit games, and I feel like the rhythms, betting patterns and mathematical calculations of those structured games have become second nature to me. I sometimes lose and I sometimes make a mistake, but I think I always know the best play, or can figure it out if I take a minute. My experience in no-limit is much narrower. I've played it in tournaments but only once or twice in a live game like this, and with much less confidence than I'd normally have.

Still, I'd been watching as I was waiting and I could see that this game was soft. Nobody was raising, especially before the flop, and too many players were playing too many hands. They may have been splendidly shod, but they were making beaucoup mathematical and strategic errors that even I could see from the rail.

I decided to buy in for the minimum 100 euros and see what developed. This, I knew, was not a good game plan. Since the game had been going a while several players had much more money than that in front of them; in a no-limit game you don't want to be short-stacked against an opponent, who can use that advantage to push you out of pots. Smart no-limit players buy in for as much as they need to match the big stacks at the table. But Europe's expensive with the weak dollar right now and I didn't come here to win or lose a fortune. I just wanted to experience some Paris-style poker and have some fun. If I caught some cards and won a little money, great. If I lost my e100, so be it; my bankroll would live to fight another day.

On the second hand I was dealt, what do you know: pocket aces!

It was only now that I realized, hey, everyone's speaking French, which I don't understand, and no one, including the dealer, seems to understand any English.

"Raise," I said -- what the hell, it's an American game -- and I made it e30 to go. What? A raise? This seemed to break the friendly vibe. I heard a lot of under-their-breath French muttering and half expected to be marched back to the coat closet. But two players called, and one -- a young sunglasses-wearing guy of a poker type I'd recognize in any language -- stared at me, hard.

They have no idea what I'm up to, I thought. I'm a crazy foreigner, and I could have any two cards.

The flop brought an ace to give me three of a kind, beautiful, and no apparent flush or straight draws. I bet out, about a third of the pot, inviting callers. Only the starer called. The turn paired the board, giving me a full house. Now I was truly golden, unless the other guy held exactly 7-7 for quads. I checked and he checked behind me. On the river, a blank, I bet most but not all of my remaining chips, he called, and I scooped a nice pot to about double my chip stack.

The Frenchies muttered some more. "Nothing to it," I said in loud, annoying English. I thought maybe I'd put them all on Froggy tilt and walk out with all their euros.

For the next hour I didn't see any decent cards and didn't play a hand, but I kept up my chatter, just to make it seem like I was part of the game and to see if I could provoke any reactions. If nothing else, I thought, I'll remind these guys that Texas hold 'em is an American (not French or even UK) game, and maybe lay some universal poker expressions on them.

When one guy made his straight draw on the end but didn't bet, unsuccessfully trying for a check-raise against a wise or gun-shy opponent, I gave him my standard needle: "Whassamatter man, you don't like money? Bet your own damn hands!"

Another guy in another pot checked, hoping for a free card, but ran into a big bet. "Check your hat!" I said. "Cash money!"

This was entertaining to no one but me, but I didn't care. I was money ahead, playing poker in Paris and except for my feet about as comfy as I could be.

Finally I got another hand to play, ace-king, and raised to my standard 30 euros. This time several players called, and although I caught a king on the flop sunglasses kid caught two running cards to make a straight, and I was back down to less than my original buy-in.

A few hands later I had pocket 8s, raised all in and was called by one player with pocket 5s. He caught a 5 on the river and I was out of chips.

In some circumstances I might have bought in again -- I still liked my chances in this game -- but I'd lost what I had budgeted and had some fun along the way. Good time to head back across the river and find Michelle, I figured. It was only logical.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Pie in the Sky Part II

Here's a piece of awesome news: My request for a three-month leave has been approved by my editor David and my publisher Roger, two really awesome dudes, I have to say.

The Backstory: Mark started saying a year or so ago that he would like to take a long drive around the country and write a book about xxxxxxx (book-savvy friend Donna tells us not to say too much about the secret sauce!)

So in December or so I put the idea to David, my boss and a fellow xxxxxx afficianado. He immediately endorsed the idea, and seemed even to be wishing a bit that he could come with. He pitched the idea to Roger, my publisher, who also approved.

It's been over a year now since Mark collapsed just a few feet away from where I'm sitting now, heralding the beginning of his life as a sick guy.

One of the most amazing revelations of this awful experience has been just how awesome my bosses are. They have been incredibly giving, generous and understanding. I can't even begin to explain all the little and big things they have done to make this path easier for us to walk. They have really been amazing.

I tried to write a bunch of stuff just now about just how amazing they are, and all they have done for us since Mark got sick, but I deleted it. It all feels too personal and too much to get into.

So this is all I have to say: I wish such bosses upon you. Even in our misfortune, we are fortunate. And thank you, thank you.

More to come, on The Great Adventures of Cat Psychiatrist and Old Navy.

What's that you're saying?

It's like the French -- to steal further from the old Steve Martin bit -- have a different word for everything.

Before our trip Michelle and I brushed up a bit on our Italian and it really helped. We both knew a little already, and after a couple of months of using the computer software, listening to the "Phrase-a-Day" podcasts and drilling each other with the flash cards, we were starting to feel comfortable with the language. Far from fluent, but definitely able to pick out a few important words in a conversation and to make ourselves understood.

Plus the Italians are famously generous toward any lame attempt to speak their language. Stammer something practically insensible with your thick American accent -- "I has well coffee!" -- and people will stop and applaud with wonder. My God, you speak beautiful Italian! Michelle, especially, was complimented all the time.

In Paris, different story.

Michelle had a couple years of high school or college French but she didn't do any review at all, and I've never been able to speak or read a word. All those extra vowels and x's and silent letters. ... I get nervous asking for a croissant, and that's here in Seattle. I also had this notion that French people were snooty and unforgiving about stupid Americans' ignorance of their beautiful language.

Gauche -- that's a French word, right?, and the one I can pronounce! -- that's how I figured I'd feel every time I opened my mouth. On that much, I was right.

On our first night in Paris, after getting checked into our hotel we decided to walk around our awesome Latin Quarter neighborhood (that's the 5th Arrondissement, don't ask me how to say it), and look for something to eat. We settled on a nice looking fish place called La Criee. From the moment we walked in I was lost. The staff didn't speak any English, Michelle's brave attempts at French weren't being understood and there was only one word on the menu, "vin," about which I could make a reasonable guess. We ended up pointing to a couple of things and hoping. I ended up with a platter with two whole trout-sized fish laid out, heads, tails, bones all in place, no side dishes or other attempts at presentation.

Who knows, maybe deux carcasses is a French delicacy and La Criee is the new Ritz, but it didn't really do it for me. Michelle ate her meal and helped with mine and claimed to like it. It must be me, I thought, a big American baby, but for the rest of the trip I referred to that place as "The Crying Fish."

The people at The Crying Fish were nice, we just had a language barrier. OK, no prob. The next day, we tried a little cafe on the main boulevard in the neighborhood, a prime tourist area, and asked in Michelle's game but broken French for a table. The host literally looked down his nose at us.

"Oh," he said, "I can see we're going to need the English menus."

How do you say "what a dick" in French?

A proposito (that's Italian for "by they way"), I found that French people even clear their throats in French. The first time I noticed it was on a bus one day when a middle-aged man in a business suit and hat cleared his throat. Instead of something like "ahem," imagine Pepe le Pew laying on a thick "hnn-hnn-hnn-HUHHHNNN." It was awesome, and I heard others doing the same thing on the street; I've been clearing my throat that way ever since.

All of this, by the way (class: in Italiano?) isn't meant to disparage the Parisians or belittle our time there, which I loved. If anything, the language snootiness loosened me up. I'm not going to please anyone anyway, I figured, so why sweat it. I'm just saying.

And anyway, by the end of our short week in Paris I was able to say good morning and order my favorite breakfast treat, a pain aux raisin -- "pan ah ray-zahn," was my approximation -- and get served too. Tasty, in any language.


Sunday, February 10, 2008

Michelle in Europe

Very cool slide show Michelle posted earlier, but since they're all her pics from her camera she's not in any of them. That just ain't right.

Here are a couple of my faves of her from our trip:

On the walk to the Eiffel Tower.

We had many terrific restaurant experiences everywhere we went, but some of our favorite meals were our daily impromptu picnics. It seemed there was always an excellent deli and bakery nearby, so we'd start the day by picking up a fresh loaf of bread or baguette, get a few slices of prosciutto or salami and some provolone or brie, maybe a small container of artichoke hearts, and then, when we got hungry, stop on a bench or in a park someplace and make a little feast. Yum.

This picture was one of the best lunches of the trip, in a little piazza just outside the Vatican (that's the outside wall of St. Peter's Square on the right).

We decided at the last minute, while we were nearing the end of our Paris leg, to take a quick one-day side trip to Florence. So we flew from Paris to Rome and then jumped directly on the Firenze train. Michelle made all the travel arrangements on the Internet from our Paris hotel room, including a nice little pensione for one night.

This shot, outside the Florence Cathedral, the amazing 14th century church and bell tower known as Il Duomo, was a typical sight on our trip: Michelle wielding her camera.

Europe slideshow

For a slideshow with larger images go here. Click on CAPTIONS to see more info about each picture ...

Friday, February 8, 2008

A final indignity (stateside)

If we had been blogging properly, telling stories as we went, this would have been the first entry. Now it's coming slightly in the middle, since we had one or two quick teaser posts from Europe and last night's we're-too-tired-to-blog update.

(Update on the update: We went to bed at 9:30 last night, an all-time M&M record, but then again that was 6:30 this morning to us, and we had been up since 2 a.m. the day before. Even so, we didn't sleep well -- I caught a cold and kept us awake coughing and nose-blowing all night -- and finally gave up and made some coffee at 5, another M&M first.)

So anyway.

A week ago Sunday, when Mich so generously picked us up and took us to the Seattle airport, we were excited and ready to get checked in and through security, even though we had nearly three hours before our flight. I was in such a good mood I'd practically forgotten about the senior-discount and healthy-eating indignities, but when we got to the security screening station all that changed.

Experienced travelers by now, we went about our duties like automatons: backpacks on the conveyor, empty pockets of change and metal, remove jacket, kick off shoes and stand, ticket in hand, ready to be waved through the metal-detector arch.

The middle-aged screening lady looked me over. "Are you carrying a pouch," she asked, patting her belly.

Jeez. And this was before two weeks of eating our way through the food capitals of Europe! I knew she wasn't kidding either, since joking around at a TSA checkpoint is against federal law.

No, I said, that's just my gut.

Michelle and I laughed and agreed not to take it as a bad omen for our trip. In fact, it became a fun refrain in Rome and Paris. Michelle would show me a picture of myself in front of the Spanish Steps. "Are you carrying a pouch?" Ha ha. Or, in the Louvre, "Look at the pouch on that guy!"

My pouch truly is bigger now than when we left, although no one had the poor manners to mention it again. We ate like fiends -- what's the point of going to Paris if you're not going to have a croissant for breakfast? -- and both resolved to be more responsible when we got home.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

As Frank would say ...

It's nice to go traveling, but it's oh so nice to come home.

Michelle and I always quote that Sinatra line after a trip, even one as cool and fun as this one has been. We rocked pretty hard, to the point that now, as much fun as we had, neither of us can imagine staying any longer in Europe.

Or maybe we're just tired from this incredibly long day of travel -- more than 24 hours, from Rome to Amsterdam to San Francisco to Seattle, and that's only because Michelle managed to talk us onto an earlier flight in SF, saving us a four-hour layover there.

We're wasted, but happy. Photos to process, sleep to get and then more stories to come.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Pardonez moi

We briefly interrupt this tres bien, molto buono vacazione to wish my mom, Rita, a very happy birthday.

Anyone who has been following this blog for awhile knows that Mom is an excellent and regular contributor. She's also about the coolest, easiest-going mother you could wish for, and one of the all-time good and fair people. I won't say how old she is in this post -- old enough that it's a shame she hasn't been to Rome and Paris -- but if I reach her age I'd happily settle for half her health, smarts and spirit.

We've just gotten up from our afternoon nap after being out and enjoying Paris all day, but it's still morning where Mom is in Oregon, so Happy Birthday! Michelle and I hope you have a wonderful day planned. Live it up!


In vacation news ... heading out now for a bite of dinner somewhere, then tomorrow back to Rome and -- in a last-minute change of plans -- a quick day trip up to Florence before returning home. Bunches of photos and more complete reports on our return. Thanks for following along.


Sunday, February 3, 2008


Today, as promised, we went on down to the Musee d'orsay and checked out the cool french artists, mostly the impressionist stuff. It being the first sunday of the month, we got in free, and the line when we got there was down the street with a bunch of other people looking to score a free look at all the good stuff inside. We went with the Kaye Recommends and had lunch in the cafe there, quiche and coffee for mark, blueberry pie and double coffee for me. Why do, when you can overdo?

Then a quick nap, and out again for a trip to the second Kaye Recommends of the day, to the musee des moyens age -- the museum of the middle ages -- and a gander at the lady with the unicorn tapestry. As promised, it was way cool.

Then on down to the Shakespeare & Co. bookstore where Hem used to hang back in the day. I got me a first edition HG Wells books for $5, plus the Tennyson tales of King A and a weird old UK mag from 1962, full of goofy ads. I passed up a brit first edition As I lay Dying, though it was cool, bc it was $50. Oh, for a nicer and gentler exchange rate.

Then, dinner at a horrible place (avoid the maison blanche in the latin quarter at all costs) and a bottle of vino brought back to the room. Did I mention that chocolate eclairs go quite well with red wine. Hot off the grill. Mmm.



Here's Mark at the Tour Eiffel

PS: I have no idea why this keeps uploading sideways. Oh well, too bad! I'm tired of messing with it.