Sunday, June 29, 2008

Weekend Update

It seems that saying (or even seriously thinking) "This is pretty much the frozen limit of my tolerance for ____." is tantamount to begging, on bent knees, for more of which you thought you had your fill.

In this case, it's all the schleppage related to the lads' summer activities.

Turns out that NOS's birthday is rapidly sneaking up on us and he wants to have a Surf Party. Heretofore his interest in surfing was somewhere between nil and none, but then NTS and his surf camp endeavors showed up on his radar and now he wants an Endless Summer of his own.

He also doesn't want any "kiddie" party stuff, which complicates matters. Among his unreasonable demands are for a real birthday cake*, and an invitation the text of which -- and this is the part that wounded TFBIM deeply -- didn't rhyme. He also wants control over the food served, contending it must be "real surfer food" and given his demands menu suggestions, "real surfer food" seems really similar to the Trader Vic's-like edibles (Trader Victuals?) available at WDW's Polynesian Resort. Coconut fried shrimp, teriyaki-ish skewers with the sesame seeds all over them, that sort of stuff.

After careful consideration** we agreed, wondering how slippery a slope this might prove.

There's a nearby water park with a wave-riding pool and if we get there before 11am, it's 50% off, and thus the die has been cast. NOS has to, in exchange for our newly compliant nature, provide material assistance. You want the Chicken Bora-Bora? Then start prepping the chicken. You want to burn a CD for the goodie bag? Then you burn the CD and print the label. That sort of thing.

Of course, the clincher, derived without the slightest chemical trace of irony by NOS: "Can I invite some of the kids from golf camp to my surf party?"

And I am NOT doing that whole luau fire dancing thing. But I think I'll have me a Mai-Tai.

-J.

* Poppy will recall this as being the one on the bill of fare at JokeFest '04, which she loved.
** i.e. comparing the potential cost of one of those hands-off/all-inclusive parties vs. the effort included

Posted by Joke at 5:41 PM 6 comments

Friday, June 27, 2008

Friday Film Flashback (6/26/08)

I'm nothing if not consistent.



-J.

Posted by Joke at 7:29 AM 0 comments

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Dunno why.

This just made me laugh and laugh. I know, I'm not well.


-J.

Posted by Joke at 7:16 AM 5 comments

Monday, June 23, 2008

Not that you would, but my moral compass compels me to say it

Joke's Book Club brings you another stellar suggestion most shan't be bothered* to read: The Last Days of Disco, With Cocktails at Petrossian Afterwards by the redoubtable Whit Stillman.

The premise of the book is kind of a postmodern twist. The film, The Last Days of Disco, is to be "novelized" and the publisher contracts one of the characters of said film (Jimmy "The Dancing Adman" Steinway) to write the novelization. Rather than do a straight novelization, though, Jimmy meanders and explores and expands on what the film shows. He also comments on how accurately the actors and directors present the material.

Some of the dialogue of the film is found in the book verbatim, some is embellished or truncated. All the characters are more fully fleshed out from the way they were depicted onscreen, and you wind up liking the "awful" ones a bit more and the "nice" ones a bit less.

The dialogue, naturally, sparkles and snaps and breathes. Not only the choice of words, but the ideas the characters present especially when they are counter-countercultural. Whitman has often said his films and books are his way of winning arguments he was too timid to engage in, and this shows it in spades.

The only potential drawback to this is if you have trouble deciphering if a written character is being deadpan-funny or serious. If you're so hampered, skip it. If not, it is clever and funny and a teeny bit poignant.

-J.

* The last person to publicly take me up on my suggestion was the lovely and gracious Gina, and she promptly vanished into thin air.

Posted by Joke at 1:06 PM 0 comments

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Ah. So THIS is Hell.

Well, not really. Somewhere between Purgatory and Heck, in fact.

Summer is here and, while the time is right for dancing in the streets, it is also the time for NOS and NTS to do their respective summer camp-like things. These are invariably not the drop them off at 8am, retrieve them at 3pm for two months. We tried that one year and it went so bad that after all these times TFBIM still hase some facial tic relapses when the memory overcomes her.

NOS and NTS are two different people, and I don't mean that in a merely conceptual sense. They really prefer vastly different things. So, NTS will be doing Surf Camp and NOS will be doing Golf Camp. Which, as our luck would have it, are light-years apart, again not in a merely conceptual way.

There is also some summer school/camp stuff for which they may sign up but NOS is now attending Junior High, so he signed up for the one-week Spanish* Lit course because next term, he starts off with El Cid, which was the assigned summer reading for Spanish. The idea is more one of acclimation to the way they do things at Jesuit Boot Camp, than outright mastery.

He may also sign up for the English Lit course, but we haven't decided. His assigned summer reading for English is Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, Treasure Island, Matilda, and The Witches. (Someone is seriously into Roald Dahl.) For those of you scoring at home, he also has to read yet more; one book for religion class and another for social studies.

NTS, besides the surf camp -- the exact schedule of which might interfere with our planned trip to visit Poppy & Co. (yes, I know, again) -- has a horse riding thing, and basketball and some assorted reading and writing school stuff to give his summer the sheerest possible veneer of academic achievement.

Of course, this all entails schlepping like rats all over Creation, buying specialized books/apparel/gear. Some people will look at us and ponder how much love we must have for our boys, but entre nous, there's also a being mindful of who'll select our nursing homes.

-J.

*Spanish at the elementary school is pretty much all simple Berlitz-guidebook conversational stuff..."I have a pencil. My pencil is blue. Give Señor López the blue pencil." and things along that sort of level. So NOS really needs some catching up there.

Posted by Joke at 9:52 AM 14 comments

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

On a lighter note.(UPDATED)

I realize my readership has been deprived of any cookery advice, recipes, etc., from me for epochs. Sorry.

Now, when I need both cheering up (as I do now) and sustenance (as I did about 20 minutes ago) the only logical choice, for me, is a sandwich. Given that I was limited to the stuff on hand -- admittedly, a self-imposed restriction -- here is what I did.

Last night I had roasted off a nice Kobe* beef London Broil** and I had accidentally taken it from the ideal state that is the cusp between rare and medium-rare into fully medium-rare territory. The silver lining to this very dark cloud is that any leftover beef yields a damned fine sandwich.

Normally I take whatever bread I have on hand for sandwich making purposes; which in this case were ciabatta rolls I did not bake because I am spectacularly hopeless as a baker, and give its insides a very thin coating of mayonnaise, to act as a barrier between the crumb and the filling, lest the bread go soggy. The reason I opt for a thin (as opposed to thick) layer of mayonnaise is that, generally speaking, I do not care for the taste of plain mayonnaise. I can post a recipe for my Utterly Cheating Mayonnaise, if asked to do so.

Because I utterly love the taste combination, I generally ply the thing with horseradish. Fresh would have been glorious but, alas, all I had was the jarred stuff which isn't even fractionally as sharp, but still nice. Also, I was out of mayonnaise, therefore I had to improvise by using a bit of Cæsar salad dressing. (Recipe available upon request.)

The trick to getting a nice mouthfeel with beef in a sandwich (as well as a pleasant chew) is to slice it thin. This allows for full and even coverage of the bread without having to overload the sandwich. So I did as I prescribed.

As you may recall, I love the combination of gorgonzola and beef (especially beef with a good, serious sear to the outside), so I usedsome leftover cheese to crumble into the sandwich. Since a bit of sharpness is also nice, I would have adored some translucent slices of red onion or shallot, but all that I had were spring onions. Which were not bad.

...and that was lunch.

Now, in an ideal world, the recipe would have featured: 1) Some arugula/rocket, 2) the aforesaid red onion slices and fresh horseradish in lieu of the actual items used 3) possibly some thin slices of tomato, but I haven't made up my mind on this front. The ciabatta worked perfectly and, I'm thinking, in a party situation, I'd make this idealized version with a long ciabatta loaf and then slice it into thin, two-bite portions to function as cocktail fare.

-J.

*the breed -- a.k.a. Wagyu -- not the actual beef from Kobe in Japan

**which is neither from London nor broiled, but rather some cut from the sirloin

Posted by Joke at 1:05 PM 5 comments

Monday, June 16, 2008

I heard the news today, oh boy. (UPDATED)

My friend Aleda died earlier today. At the moment there's not much I can muster in terms of comments or words. All I can manage is to pray for the repose of her soul.

Sucks.

Miss her.

Over at TeacherGirl's she posted something and I wanted to lift one line of it
"How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting, when we meet again"
because, believe it or else, it helps.

Requiem aeternam dona ei, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat ei. Requiescat in pace. Amen.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 11:57 PM 8 comments

Some Fathers' Day musings.

The actual day itself? 'Twas fine, t'will do, t'will serve. NOS took the lead in gift selection and did himself creditably. My nearest and dearest popped by for brunch, were fed and watered and sent off to go swimming, leaving me alone with my dreams, as is my usual desire.


What has me livid -- somewhat less livid now, but still within the lividity zone -- was on Saturday. NOS was invited to a farewell party for his friend J. J, his sister and mother will be leaving (if they have not already done so) for Venezuela, whence J's mother hails. Why? because J's dad up and left one fine morning.


Just like that.


Went off to Montana to find himself or some such bullshit, leaving his two children and his wife. The wife, back in Venezuela, was some sort of well-placed attorney which means she's utterly unemployable anywhere else on the planet. So off she's going, dragging her two children with her, to her parents' house. Since J & NOS were great pals (and J is a terrific lad) he was invited to a farewell bash and J's soon-to-be ex-house*.


Here is the kicker:

The (ahem) father showed up to the farewell party.

TFBIM, a kinder soul than I, merely gave him the cold shoulder. I would have sought provocation to snap his shoulder blades. Very, very little angers me more than some imbecile who abandons his (or, to be fair, her) children. As you may imagine, things have been tough for J & his sister. When your father scampers off to go find himself, it's difficult to take with equanimity.


Of course, had this cretin confided in me of his need to find himself prior to this escapade, I might have told him to look at his damned driver's license and go to the address listed and behave like a man for a change.


The problem, of course, is that many, many men are imbeciles and yet women insist on marrying them. If "you drink much from a bottle marked 'poison,' it is almost certain to disagree with you, sooner or later" said Lewis Carroll, and he was right. If you ever get to see The Last Days of Disco, notice the scene in which Josh deconstructs Lady and the Tramp. The more I live, the more I see it to be true.


So that was that.


-J.

* The financial maneuverings this marriage underwent in its dissolution will test your blood pressure, so I shall spare you.

Posted by Joke at 3:25 PM 7 comments

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Looky.













Posted by Joke at 10:51 AM 11 comments

Thursday, June 12, 2008

OK. We're back.

The trip has ended satisfactorily.

Now, in a fit of ill-preparedness, we took the battery charger thingy for Camera A, except we brought Camera B. Which is fine because for reasons we'll address in a subsequent post, there was no connecting to check my email. Which is why we were not able to connect, as previously planned, with the lovely and gracious Jujube, to my everlasting regret. Mea maxima culpa.

Anyway, we had a great time. It was beastly hot, though, and relentlessly sunny and it wouldn't, er, relent, until the day we returned, when it got quite pleasant. NTS, in particular, is not a big fan of sauna-like weather. To give you an indication of how hot and humid it was, we saw a family from India huddled under the shade of a mighty oak, fanning themselves furiously.

One of the problems with Washington, DC (that's where we were) is that it looks beautiful from a middle and far distance, but up close there is a lot fixing up to do. The problem is that everything that needs to be done is a gummint project, and gummints have not distinguished themselves as being y'know, efficient in doing anything (except in some cases, imprisoning and slaughtering wholesale segments of the population). So, quite literally, one quarter of the things we wanted to do were unavailable due to refurbishments* and another quarter of things were simply broken down.

In order to get the Full Adventure Effect, we bought weeklong passes on the Washington Metro system. This is really does give you the full adventure effect, because you have to sprint when trying to successfully negotiate a transfer between trains, of when one of the locals, seemingly engaged in the the Shouting To Nobody In Particular Industry, begins to teach your young sons interesting new vocabulary, such as might be used to pejoratively describe Oedipus Rex. Some quick thinking on my part allowed me to tell them what the gentleman had said was "another trucker" instead of the more lurid terminology actually employed.

Sadly, there are tons of these folks. Many are just homeless, many are "merely" beggars and many are suffering from some sort of mental illness and many manage to list all of the above. We saw more of these people in Washington than we had seen in Boston or New York or Chicago or Los Angeles or Atlanta or pretty much anywhere else. It was sad and something of a life lesson for the lads.

Then there are, of course, the protesters. These fall into three rough categories. Those with whom you agree, those with whom you disagree and those who are from another galaxy. Here is my rough guide to determining which subtype you are facing:

1- Look at the placards held by the crowd, if these express sentiments that strike you as eminently sensible and sound, they are the first kind.
2- Look at the placards held by the crowd, if these express sentiments that strike you as wrong and and ill-founded, they are the second kind.
3- Look at the placards held by the crowd, if there is no crowd and these express sentiments that strike you as puzzling and manifestations of a borderline personality, they are the third kind.

We saw several of these types. On our tour of the US Supreme Court, there were two, er, portly gentlemen perspiring profusely, their mouths taped over with duct tape, holding aloft two red banners which said, in large menacing black letters "LIES!" There was no explanation as to what these lies were, nor as to who the liar(s) in question might be. This much seems logical to me: if the most you can muster at your protest is two sweaty fat guys, you may have made a serious vocational error somewhere in your past.

We toured the Capitol building which entailed waiting forever (for security reasons), but it was interesting. In the old (pre-9/11/01) days you could waltz cheerfully into the Capitol and walk around or take a tour or do as you pleased. These days you need to stop by your Senator or Representative's office, pick up a ticket, and one of the Senator or Representative's staffers will conduct the tour.

It was still good, and the tour is all underground/under roof so it is sheltered from the elements. The rest of the day was spent at the Library of Congress which was interesting and, most importantly, cool and air-conditioned. Now, in Washington DC it seems that air conditioning is seen as a last-resort sort of thing and only begrudgingly at that. So, for the most part, the best that could be said for many public interior spaces is that they weren't sweltering.

The Library of Congress has a lot of great exhibits and assorted important personages have donated their book collections and papers and assorted to the Library. I expect the Librarian contingent of this readership would have deeply enjoyed this. The only flaw is a lack of beverage options.

My personal favorite is the Museum of Balls National Air and Space Museum. There is all manner of aeronautical excellentness on display. Actual space capsules and modules and rockets and airplanes and a colossal IMAX screen and replicas of space stations, and aircraft carriers and, for me and my boys, that took the better part of a day and a half to see everything.

For security reasons, there are pretty much no tours of the White House. Technically, there are still some tours, but you need to contact 6 months ahead of your trip and have 10 people of more in your party. Unfortunately, there were only four of us and we planned our trip three weeks ago. Fortunately there are various Presidential Libraries that have replicas of the rooms you shan't be touring, so that isn't a major loss.

Following this, we went to see the monuments. Lincoln, Jefferson and Washington. Photos were snapped, the smallish musea underneath were visited, and after being refreshed, we proceeded thither. Finally we went to Arlington National Cemetery, which is a humbling and sobering place, seeing gravestone after gravestone, for acres on end. This wraps up at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and we were fortunate enough to witness the changing of the guard. This is, by all accounts, the sanctum sanctorum of the Republic. If there is ever a non-religious setting in this country that demands absolute silence and respect, this is it.

Well, some woman in the crowd dropped her water bottle and it rolled into the guard area and the sergeant spied this out of the corner of his eye and barked at her to back off and show proper respect. I have never felt so much embarrassment by proxy in my life.

The steps the guards take are extremely precise and they wear taps on their shoes to give the proper aural effect over the marble of the place. Over the decades, the steel filings that have come off their taps have left a t-h-i-n line of iron oxide upon the marble, so much so that one could see what the guard would be doing next by examining the lines on the marble.

Finally, we stopped at the Natural History Museum, where we got to get our fill of extinct dinosaurs, Java Man, marsupials, and the like...not as much as we would have liked, because half the place is being refurbished.

And then we flew back.

Whew.

-J.

P.S. Photos to follow.

* One humorous sign said that a certain museum would be reopening, triumphantly, in April of 2008.

Posted by Joke at 9:52 AM 9 comments

Friday, June 06, 2008

Friday Film Flashback (6/6/08)



-J.

Posted by Joke at 10:59 PM 3 comments

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Wiping that smug paternal grin right off my face.

NOS, that angel, today got into his very first Official Schoolyard Slugfest, which almost veered off into Lord of the Flies territory.

Oy.

Here's the Reader's Digest version of his story:

1- Someone (this has yet to be determined) dropped something (a coin?) and he ran to get it.
2- Another kid also went for the coin and NOS stepped on him. (This part is also somewhat murky)
3- The other kid was enraged and sucker punched NOS in the solar plexus and winded him.
4- In making a grab for the kid to prevent him landing a 2nd punch, he may have grabbed him roughly by the forearm and, somehow, drawn blood. (Gets better, dunnit?)
5- Meanwhile, NOS's friends livid at the unprovoked sucker punch, restrained the other kid and then urged NOS to trash him.
6- NOS, weighing the fact this was no longer a fair fight against his desire to avenge his solar plexus, took the Goldilocks approach and kicked the miscreant in the shins thrice. My my calculations, this means one shin got off easier than its opposite.
7- The Principal (a nun with one of THOSE 1950s kinds of habits and a rather dim outlook on such activity) then materialized and started meting out Traditionalist Catholic Justice. An impassioned reading of the Riot Act took place.

Kissing that dowry money goodbye,

-J.

Posted by Joke at 12:22 AM 6 comments

Monday, June 02, 2008

A very close call.

I am absolutely convinced I have the hardest working Guardian Angel in the solar system. Forever pulling me out of trouble (frequently of my own devising) we're talking about someone who has earned every wing available.

Why do I say this?

Because this year I have dodged a bullet scarier than the one time some idiot crashed into my car at 45mph (75kph) and -- literally -- almost killed me. Here's the story, which is only moderately interesting, but I compensate by lavishing brevity thereupon.

Our friend D. called my wife one fine day a couple of weeks ago and says something like: "My parents have a time share at Mt. ____ Resort, would you and Joke and the boys like to come along with us, because my parents can't go this year?"

Mt. ___, you'll shudder to know, is riddled with nature. On the list of things to do at the resort and in the nearby bucolic hamlet of Mt. ____ they have such horrors as hiking, canoeing, fishing (eagle-eyed readers will note these are two separate activities), getting eaten alive by wildcats, horseback riding, nature trails, rafting, and "nature excursions."

Personally, I'd rather place several venomous spiders in my suit of underclothing or watch Sex & The City: The Movie -- which, come to think of it, is pretty much the same thing -- than endure any of the abovelisted activities. TFBIM, with an admirable broadness of mind answered something like: "Sure! Sounds fun!"

The catch was that, while lodging was free, airfare was not and Mt. ____ is not a major airline hub, and even the nearest major city isn't thick with nonstop flights. The non-nonstop flights had stops in the least likely places with spectacularly protracted layovers. Oh, and at ridiculous prices...which I firmly believe was my Guardian Angel messing around on Expedia.

(For reasons which will become apparent in a post or two, we weren't going to use any FF miles)

But, my Guardian Angel is not one to slack off just because things look promising, no. Things have to be neatly sorted before my GA punches out. I had to offer an enticing alternative. Lo and behold, I was able to find cheap fares on the most convenient flights (departing AND returning), an absurdly cheap a special rate on an excellent and posh hotel mere steps away from a convenient and well-designed mass transit system...all for $300 less than just flying out to the nearest major city and then driving 2 hours up to Mt. _____.

The shopping in this city is merely okay but the restaurant action is pretty good and there's enough child-friendly activity to have easily swayed the younger voters to not yelp when told that no, we shan't be going to Mt. ____ so long as Dad has the slightest grip on his nervous system.

We leave on Saturday. Photos to be posted upon return on Wed. the 11th.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 11:52 PM 12 comments