Juno

 

I did get around to seeing Juno this weekend.  Juno follows the story of a high school girl, played by the Canadian actress Ellen Page, who is knocked up up her boyfriend, played by Arrested Development’s Michael Cera, and follows her pregnancy and decision of what to do with the baby.  The trend these days certainly seems to be to turn the plight of pregnant single women into a comedic situation to be enjoyed by all, but with exception of portraying women as the pants-wearers and fun-spoilers, Juno actually didn’t have all that much in common with Knocked Up.  As different as Knocked Up was, it still had a feel of a big production hit, with a long script that went through various rewrites and tried seemingly hard to give its stars equal screentime.  Juno, on the other hand, resembles Little Miss Sunshine more in that the script is short, tidy, with each character almost effortlessly coming across in their roles.  In fact, the script was written by a blogger and pole dancer, Diablo Cody, an unusual source but a one who merits the commendations she has received so far.

I thought the casting was really well done as well.  Rainn Wilson (aka Dwight Schrute) makes an appearance, Cera has perfected the role of high school awkwardness, Jason Bateman plays a preppy dad to be (and surprisingly doesn’t share a single scene with Arrested Development co-star Cera), and Jennifer Gardner stars as his wife. 

This was the coming out party for Ellen Page, who has the responsibility to portray a rather quirky character.  The toughest part for me was to get accustomed to the offbeat Juno, who treats her situation right of the bat in a very unusual matter-of-fact manner.  However, without giving anything away, she clearly becomes more attached to the baby and begins to realize the significance of its life and the relationships surrounding her as the film develops and she gets closer to its birth. 

The soundtrack is unusual, with tracks by groups such as Sonic Youth, the Moldy Peaches, Belle and Sebastian, and The Velvet Underground, as well as songwriter Kimya Dawson and even a title performed by Ellen Page and Michael Cera themselves.

I had to rate the film as I left the theater, since they were conducting exit polling.  Their paper punch system resembled the chaos of hanging chads, but I did my best.  The only choices above a C grade was B or A+, which made it rather difficult to use their system, but I would definitely rank it high.  Like Little Miss Sunshine, I think Juno is a film that is best seen in the theater with large groups of people – it’ll make sharing those subtle moments much sweeter. 

So go see the film Juno, whether quirky Canadians or Michael Cera in short shorts are you thing, and enjoy. 

Here is a trailer.

The Mitchell Report

                Grace, the very one who fashions every delight                           

                for mortal men, by lending her sheen

               to what is unbelievable, often makes it believed.

               but the days to come

               are the wisest witness.

               It is proper for a man

              to speak well of the gods —

              the blame will be less.

                                                                 -Pindar, Victory Odes

Is anyone actually surprised by the Mitchell Report?  They shouldn’t be.  It has merely been a confirmation of all that I have suspected for some time now.  409 pages of details on the drug use of baseball players.  Current players.  Inactive players. Perpetually injured players.  Players with Cy Youngs.  Players with MVP honors.  Relievers, catchers, pitchers, designated hitters. 

Performance enhancing drug use was (and continues to be) everywhere.  If cycling and track and field (possibly the most tested sports of all time) continue to cope with this reality, why not baseball, a sport whose union until this point has refused to do anything substantial to even the playing field or protect the health of its players?  If anything, I would be shocked that more players did not try steroids, and the numbers indicate that drug-abusing players merely redefined the playing field for all involved.

What steroids has done is contribute to the degradation of the sport.  Sure, we all marveled at the “Bash Brothers” when Jose Conseco and Mark McGwire pounded their way through pitching, and got caught up in the home run chase of McGwire and Bonds.  But the unreal accomplishments by these players encouraged others to play at high levels and extend careers.  They were threatened by young guns (possibly using drugs as well), and healing early or getting over that groin problem could be the difference between getting that next contract that would provide for the family.

Sure, salaries have skyrocketed, but the culture has changed as well. A-Rod has to be the highest dough earner, to put a stamp on his status as the best in the sport.  Gone are the days when players either had a lunch pail mentality (and pay) for their jobs; in are the days endorsements and celebrity.  Fifty years ago, baseball players such as Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays were embraced as symbols of black progress, and even DiMaggio embodied New York City as the pride of the Yankess.  What does A-Rod mean to fans?  A better fantasy team.  To baseball clubs?  Filled seats.  To marketers?  Name recognition. 

Pindar , the great Greek poet and chronicler of the original olympic games, speaks of “delights in the toil and the cost”, but he frames this in the context of providing greater glory for the city and family.  As aristocratic as that may seem these days, players play for themselves.  One CNN commentator asked a former major leaguer, “Isn’t that the point of sports?  To display that god-given natural talent and hard work?” 

Do not yearn, O my soul, for immortal life!

Use to the utmost the skill that is yours.

Yes, that was the point of sports.  But much like wrestling no longer cares to test for steroids and turns a blind eye (or even encourages this behavior), sports has become an entertainment.  ESPN, for all the good they have done in bringing us the stories of the atheletes, and magnifying their achievements, have also allowed those few stars to dominate the headlines.  Entertainers who talk get airplay.  Teams are celebrated, but ultimately he that gets the spotlight is he who creates controversy or talking points.  Just look at the pathetic coverage of one Steeler’s “half guarantee” that they would beat the Patriots this last week.

But praise falls in with surfeit

and is muted, not in justice

but because of boisterous men, whose noise

would obscure beauty, for 

 sands cannot be counted,

and how many joys

this man has brought his fellows, who can say?

The media needs to shoulder some of the blame.  They could have applied more pressure than they had, but instead it was more exciting and profitable to cover home run chases. In Greece, natural talent, training, hard work, and divine help was the recipe for success…today the last element has been replaced, and will contine to be replaced, by chemicals that will do nothing for the sport or its fans, but will merely serve its user’s selfish attempts to be a “true competitor.” 

In many ways, we brought this about ourselves, refused to examine its implications, and while the Mitchell Report may not bring about change, we can no longer deny its presence or its influence.

What has been done

with justice or without

not even time the father of all                            

can undo. But with good luck

oblivion may come,for malignant pain   

perishes in noble joy, confounded

whenever a fate from the gods raises happiness on high.

 

Top Movies

A coworker once had a bet who had seen the most movies of the IMDB Top 250. Surprsingly, I won. I don’t consider myself a movie goer at all, but I guess between seeing movies for school and catching AMC every now and again, I have made some headway into this list. The list does change occasionally (for example, Knocked Up was in the top 100 right after it came out, much like No Country For Old Men is now), but for the most part the classics have remained the same.

Here are the 135 movies I had already seen (more than half the list!):

Rank Rating Title Votes
1. 9.1 The Godfather (1972) 248,668
2. 9.1 The Shawshank Redemption (1994) 293,990
3. 9.0 The Godfather: Part II (1974) 142,336
5. 8.8 Pulp Fiction (1994) 252,721
6. 8.8 Schindler’s List (1993) 170,738
7. 8.8 Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980) 181,197
8. 8.8 One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) 127,055
9. 8.8 Casablanca (1942) 112,687
11. 8.8 The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) 226,536
12. 8.8 Star Wars (1977) 220,330
13. 8.7 12 Angry Men (1957) 59,176
14. 8.7 Rear Window (1954) 74,210
16. 8.7 Goodfellas (1990) 136,757
17. 8.7 Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) 155,002
18. 8.7 Cidade de Deus (2002) 83,174
19. 8.7 The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) 261,538
21. 8.7 The Usual Suspects (1995) 176,151
22. 8.6 Psycho (1960) 91,645
24. 8.6 Citizen Kane (1941) 97,391
25. 8.6 The Silence of the Lambs (1991) 156,184
26. 8.6 North by Northwest (1959) 60,715
27. 8.6 The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002) 214,167
28. 8.6 Fight Club (1999) 223,564
29. 8.6 Memento (2000) 166,481
32. 8.5 It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) 67,598
33. 8.5 The Matrix (1999) 244,433
35. 8.5 Se7en (1995) 166,728
36. 8.5 Apocalypse Now (1979) 113,384
37. 8.5 American Beauty (1999) 189,879
38. 8.5 Vertigo (1958) 58,612
40. 8.5 Fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain, Le (2001) 114,269
41. 8.5 The Departed (2006) 135,071
43. 8.5 American History X (1998) 127,577
45. 8.4 To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) 53,778
47. 8.4 Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) 127,031
49. 8.4 A Clockwork Orange (1971) 120,512
52. 8.4 Alien (1979) 111,615
53. 8.4 The Pianist (2002) 71,963
54. 8.4 The Shining (1980) 102,359
56. 8.4 Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) 106,091
58. 8.4 L.A. Confidential (1997) 112,845
60. 8.4 The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) 38,301
62. 8.4 Boot, Das (1981) 48,051
63. 8.4 The Maltese Falcon (1941) 33,799
64. 8.4 Saving Private Ryan (1998) 173,846
65. 8.4 Reservoir Dogs (1992) 131,244
66. 8.4 Requiem for a Dream (2000) 106,374
67. 8.3 Forrest Gump (1994) 174,324
69. 8.3 Aliens (1986) 108,544
70. 8.3 Raging Bull (1980) 54,337
74. 8.3 Hotel Rwanda (2004) 49,426
76. 8.3 Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) 138,541
79. 8.3 Some Like It Hot (1959) 43,330
80. 8.3 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) 105,508
82. 8.3 The Great Escape (1963) 37,817
83. 8.3 Amadeus (1984) 62,670
84. 8.3 On the Waterfront (1954) 25,090
87. 8.3 The Prestige (2006) 91,363
88. 8.3 Vita è bella, La (1997) 66,362
89. 8.3 Jaws (1975) 86,599
90. 8.3 The Manchurian Candidate (1962) 23,887
91. 8.3 The Sting (1973) 41,627
93. 8.2 Full Metal Jacket (1987) 89,980
96. 8.2 Braveheart (1995) 157,783
98. 8.2 Ratatouille (2007) 46,691
99. 8.2 Batman Begins (2005) 142,394
102.8.2 Once Upon a Time in America (1984) 41,586
103.8.2 Blade Runner (1982) 120,695
105.8.2 The Wizard of Oz (1939) 66,736
109.8.2 Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983) 142,363
111.8.2 The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) 59,240
113.8.2 Back to the Future (1985) 122,939
114.8.2 Ran (1985) 22,142
116.8.2 Million Dollar Baby (2004) 77,852
117.8.2 Cool Hand Luke (1967) 26,647
118.8.2 Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003) 139,856
119.8.2 Donnie Darko (2001) 124,554
120.8.2 Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) 105,397
125.8.1 The Green Mile (1999) 116,473
126.8.1 Annie Hall (1977) 39,941
128.8.1 Gladiator (2000) 171,180
130.8.1 The Sixth Sense (1999) 160,676
132.8.1 Ben-Hur (1959) 36,794
135.8.1 The Deer Hunter (1978) 53,899
136.8.1 Life of Brian (1979) 59,719
137.8.1 Die Hard (1988) 111,102
139.8.1 The Incredibles (2004) 88,017
140.8.1 Finding Nemo (2003) 92,323
142.8.1 Platoon (1986) 67,211
144.8.1 V for Vendetta (2005) 120,843
145.8.1 American Gangster (2007) 32,063
147.8.1 Children of Men (2006) 79,480
150.8.1 The Graduate (1967) 49,661
151.8.1 The Princess Bride (1987) 87,632
152.8.1 Crash (2004/I) 103,349
155.8.1 Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) 35,877
160.8.1 Gandhi (1982) 29,797
162.8.0 The Night of the Hunter (1955) 14,562
165.8.0 Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004) 106,897
166.8.0 The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) 14,020
169.8.0 The Big Lebowski (1998) 101,548
171.8.0 Little Miss Sunshine (2006) 76,951
172.8.0 Wo hu cang long (2000) 78,912
173.8.0 Gone with the Wind (1939) 50,090
176.8.0 Duck Soup (1933) 17,077
180.8.0 Cabinet des Dr. Caligari., Das (1920) 9,422
182.8.0 Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (1922) 17,026
183.8.0 Snatch. (2000) 95,329
184.8.0 Groundhog Day (1993) 81,943
187.8.0 Patton (1970) 25,397
188.8.0 The Ox-Bow Incident (1943) 4,766
190.8.0 Scarface (1983) 82,059
191.8.0 Toy Story (1995) 82,513
193.8.0 Glory (1989) 37,673
195.8.0 Twelve Monkeys (1995) 106,718
198.8.0 Hot Fuzz (2007) 66,098
199.8.0 Spartacus (1960) 31,284
200.8.0 King Kong (1933) 23,810
201.8.0 The Terminator (1984) 105,304
204.8.0 The Exorcist (1973) 63,212
205.8.0 Lola rennt (1998) 56,067
206.8.0 Frankenstein (1931) 13,660
210.8.0 Toy Story 2 (1999) 72,382
211.8.0 The Lion King (1994) 70,762
212.8.0 Big Fish (2003) 78,304
214.8.0 Bonnie and Clyde (1967) 23,801
215.8.0 Mystic River (2003) 66,458
218.7.9 Magnolia (1999) 80,150
227.7.9 All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) 13,225
228.7.9 A Christmas Story (1983) 35,869
230.7.9 Casino (1995) 59,581
233.7.9 Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) 148,943
235.7.9 Casino Royale (2006) 98,494
236.7.9 Shaun of the Dead (2004) 69,047
238.7.9 Cinderella Man (2005) 39,590
242.7.9 Inherit the Wind (1960) 7,256
245.7.9 Shrek (2001) 119,695 14,189

A lot of the movies I have not seen are absolutely ancient (there seems to be a plethora of World War II movies, e.g., Stalag 17) or foreign (Nuovo cinema Paradiso) or both (Ladri di biciclette). Some are pure Americana (The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance).

If I had to make a list of 10 movies from the list that I want to see next, they would be

15. 8.7 No Country for Old Men (2007) 17,810
34. 8.5 Taxi Driver (1976) 92,621
50. 8.4 Laberinto del fauno, El (2006) 76,108
59. 8.4 Leben der Anderen, Das (2006) 26,494
110.8.2 Fargo (1996) 106,275
112.8.2 Unforgiven (1992) 57,116
148.8.1 Amores perros (2000) 35,325
158.8.1 Heat (1995) 86,810
167.8.0 Grindhouse (2007) 47,204
213.8.0 Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) 70,056

It is hard to come up with a list of favorite movies, or movies that I would recommend. I left out comedies, but I would feel comfortable with these 10 (ok, its 11) movies in my DVD collection if they are the only ones I could own. Each I think is unique in their own right and offers a superb look into moviemaking, acting, directing. More importantly, many are able to elicit emotion that few other films can rival.

1. 9.1 The Godfather (1972) + 3. 9.0 The Godfather: Part II (1974)
6. 8.8 Schindler’s List (1993)
9. 8.8 Casablanca (1942)
16. 8.7 Goodfellas (1990)
21. 8.7 The Usual Suspects (1995)
28. 8.6 Fight Club (1999)
36. 8.5 Apocalypse Now (1979)
49. 8.4 A Clockwork Orange (1971)
66. 8.4 Requiem for a Dream (2000)
82. 8.3 The Great Escape (1963)

I hope to get NetFlix or Blockbuster Total Access soon, and delve deeper into the IMDB 250 and beyond…and I should be seeing No Country For Old Men by this weekend. And Juno too, I hear that is supposed to be excellent. Maybe someday I’ll reach the goal of seeing every Best Picture Oscar winner…

Any other recommendations, from the list and otherwise?

Romney and Religion

13-141dec17parodylo-res.jpg

R.I.P. Sean Taylor

It started out like any other Monday. I rolled into work, checked my emails, munched on a bagel, planned out my work for the day. Sometime around 10 AM I nonchalantly clicked over to the Yahoo! Sports page, and saw the headline “Redskin’s Taylor shot at home”. My first reaction was the typical one, right or wrong, for when athletes and violence mix: I assumed the somewhat trouble-ridden NFL star and local favorite was involved in a yet another scuffle, and wondered what else could go wrong this season for the Skins. Although I heard he had been shot in the groin area and was in the hospital in critical condition, I also assumed the young uber-athlete would pull though from what seemed like a non-lethal wound. Afterall, he was nicknamed ‘the Meast’, half man and half beast. I sent the link to a few close friends, who had similar ‘Oh Shit” reactions, but like myself more in disbelief in the circumstances themselves than facing the prospect of life without #21 ever setting foot on the field again.

Sadly, that would be the case. My radio alarm clock went off at 5 am on Tuesday morning, and as I usually do, I lay in bed drifting out of sleep. At 5:24, the announcement came.

“Sean Taylor, safety of the Washington Redskins, dead at the age of 24.”

I could hear the disbelief in the voice I heard as well, and in my groggy state I almost thought I was dreaming. I had put in a few silent prayers for Taylor to pull through, and the last news I has heard before falling asleep was that a mini miracle had occurred, and Sean had responded to those around him. Hopes were high, and seemed to confirm that everything would be ok. Yet when less than five minutes later the somber announcement was made once again, the finality of one man’s life, one man who was my same age, struck a shiver through me and I woke up for good. I couldn’t get up, I had to let the information sink in…but that did not make me feel any better.

I dressed for work and headed to the Metro, wondering if others had heard the news. It was clear they had. I was handed an Express newspaper before heading down the escalator, only to look at the face of a player who would no longer set foot on a football field, at the hopeful headline which now belied reality.

Why was I so shell-shocked over this death? After all, I had never heard Taylor speak, and knew little about his off field personality. On Sundays, though, he was larger than life. Hit after hit, he never held anything back. He brought an intimidating attitude to a defense that was improving week by week, and quickly becoming the face of the franchise. His recent injury had led to his stay with family in Miami where he was shot; in those weeks his absence on the field had led to five 30 yard plays (with him on the field, the Skins D had zero). His jersey was the bestseller; my friend had his jersey hanging up in his living room. We all live life vicariously through athletes, and no one was more colorful than Sean Taylor on Sundays.

But it wasn’t just his sudden loss of talent that had me reacting the way I did. This was a man who had just had a daughter, who was adopting a new attitude to life. Although he had had run ins with the law, his maturity was showing on and off the field. The early reports indicated that this was a burglary attempt; he had been shot in his own bedroom as his wife huddles underneath the covers. His daughter will now grow up without knowing her father. In life and on the football field, he resembled promise; promise that was then never even given a chance because of two shots fired one early Monday morning.

He was also my same age, entering the prime of his life. This prompted me to wonder what I had accomplished so far in life, and how certain things in life just cannot continue to be taken for granted like they have.

The news coverage was relentless. The angles were endless. Sean Taylor the Redskin. Sean Taylor the troublemaker. Sean Taylor the reformed man. Sean Taylor the family man. Sean Taylor, member of the biggest football fraternity, the Miami Hurricanes. Sean Taylor the NFL player. Sean Taylor the black on black crime victim.

Much of the coverage shed light on a man few had personally known. He did not conduct many interviews, instead wanting that attention to go to his teammates. In those few instances he spoke to reporters, he was reflectful, remarking that he had to lead life without regrets and an acute awareness of his mortality . He would make surprise visits to his grade school, singing autographs and spending times with the kids. His teammates spoke highly of him, clearly stricken by the loss.

However, the media also took it upon themselves to provide commentary on what his death really signaled. Some revealed conspiracy, such as that cutting his phone lines, leaving a knife on his bed two weeks before, and shooting him in the groin were a message Sean Taylor paid for with his life. They claimed, “you can take the boy out of the hood, but you can’t take the hood out of the boy”. They brought up his criminal past, which revealed more immaturity than a predilection towards violence, causing other media to claim the degradation of a man who had not even been buried.

Gradually, the truth came out on what happened that night and the man Sean was becoming, and put these speculations to shame. His murder was accidental, a botched burglary attempt gone awry. But the more details came out, the more tragic the news became. His sister knew at least one of the shooters; Sean himself had let them have a party at his house out of kindness. One man mowed his lawn. The sister may have bragged about the luxuries Sean had shared with his family; he would pay for their theft attempt with his life.

I happened to have tickets to my first ever NFL game that Thursday, and although I was hoping to bask in the typical NFL experience, it was anything but. The players were clearly drained emotionally, but the fans were eager to show their respect for #21. Fittingly, the team began their first defensive set with only 10 players – leaving Taylor’s spot vacated on the field to honor him.

It seemed every NFL team had a teammate of his from the Miami Hurricanes national championship team, and even those who had never been on his team considered him one of their own as an NFL player. The Ravens defense is led by three ex-Hurricanes – Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, and Samari Rolle – who in the pregame huddle dedicated their efforts that Sunday to Sean: ” This is not about winning or losing. This is about how we play the game. We bury one of our own tomorrow. Let’s send him out right..let’s make him proud.” They would board a plane as soon as the game ended to fly down to Miami.

Sean Taylor was buried a week after his death. Thousands showed up to mourn him, from players to agents to coaches to childhood friends. Numerous scholarships have been created in his remembrance, to create opportunity for others. They will not show up on SportCenter’s Top 10 plays like his jaw dropping hits, but ultimately their impact will be greater than anything that can be accomplished on the football field.

Shortly after the funeral disbanded, the four suspects involved were brought to Miami to face charges for Sean’s murder. They had confessed and were nervous, and hoped for a speedy resolution. All had criminal records, but none could have foreseen the death of Sean or prepared for the reaction they may certainly receive. They will serve their just punishment, but it is my hope that they will see the that life can be turned around, and must be valued at all cost. Sean’s legacy is living proof of that.

Reflections

 

 

(flickr: kyle walton, zachstern, LaTur, Oblivious Dude)

Thanksgiving

Hope everyone had a great and relaxing Thanksgiving.  I have been MIA for the past several weeks…not for the lack of writing material, just extremely busy.  My firm pays for me to take the CFA exam, and I have been putting my efforts into passing Part I, which I sat for this last weekend.  The test apparently only had a 42% pass rate last time around, so it is rather difficult, plus me being liberal arts major and all in college I had to put in a lot of time to learn new material and prepare.  We’ll see how it went come February…

Speaking of the CFA, if I never have to go back to the Dulles Expo Center again (well, ok, until Part II) I will be really happy.  Totally inaccessible via public transportation, generally in the middle of nowhere, and essentially a no frill empty warehouse, it was the perfect place to spend 8 hrs of my Saturday.  There were hundreds of people there to take the test, ranging from young guns like myself to 40 year olds, white, black, Indian, Asian, you name it, it was a pretty diverse crowd.  Of course, the women were lacking… it is one of the few places in life where the line for the men’s restroom is longer than that of the women’s. 

The testing tables were your standard Beirut tables (yes, that is my point of reference) with plastic wrap stretched over and stapled on top (presumably so one doesn’t leave with tetanus).  There were proctors a plenty, who were in effect locals paid to spend a Saturday screaming and monitoring people.  They must look forward to this moment, because they seemed really into it.  I mean, who wouldn’t want to wear black jeans and a mock turtleneck, wear bright green reflectors reminiscent of school crossing guards, and find a way to tell the same person “No Cell Phones” five times in a row in different ways?  Someone actually forgot to give up their cell phone, which promptly went off during the test, and which led to an amusing scramble by the Dark Side to find the culprit (of course they couldn’t find the person).  We also had to place our IDs on the table for security purposes…I understand the importance of making sure that cheating does not occur, but I thought it was funny they walked around and  looked over the ID for five minutes (yes, proctor, Connecticut is a real place) and multiple times several minutes apart.  I mean, I think people would notice if I, say, got up, traded my ID with the Asian girl a row down, walked back to my seat, and tried to pass that off as myself. 

Lunch was a mad rush, and since I foolishly hadn’t packed lunch I headed to the Taco Bell, which had a line out the door but still was a shorter wait than the other fast food places attached to the desolate mall that adjoined the Expo center.  (One can imagine the potential ramifications of eating at a Taco Bell before sitting for the three hour second section of the test – but hey, I was hungry, and thankfully, I was ok). 

At the end of the test everyone has to wait as they look through the books to make sure no one is stealing pages out of the exam book to fax to their West Coast friends, at which point I noticed how everyone decompresses by making small talk with those around them.  I think this is since everyone has gone through such a long effort of studying and have been stressed out, and having that shared experience lends itself to finding an easy outlet for release.  The two gentlemen behind me, a young white kid who just left college and the other a middle aged black man who spent his nights getting a masters degree, were chatting and I (clearly) listened in.  They gradually got over the topic of spending so much time studying and delved into married life.  The kid had just gotten married, and commented how leading a single life is fun, but in the end, he concluded, it was rather selfish.  “All the time you are thinking of yourself…It is nice to have someone else to be responsible for, you know?”  As the man pointed out, having a wife and kid are the greatest responsibilities one can have in life.  I found myself agreeing with his comments, although his reasons for getting married or even having a kid are precisely those that turn people off to the prospect as well, I suppose…

Anyway, enough about that…time to get to Thanksgiving.  I’ll keep it brief, but here are the highlights/lowlights…

-I couldn’t get my rear in gear in time to get an Amtrak reservation, so I had to resort to Greyhound to get home.  My travels obviously never go well, so little surprise in how that turned out.  I showed up at 6pm for the 6:30 bus, and had to stand in line, which was expected given the holiday traffic.  However, the line refused to move, even though they had buses outside.  WTF?  I mean, it wasn’t like the traffic was getting better, or that they needed to be cleaned last minute or something (come on, are they ever clean?).  So I had to resort to sitting on my luggage, putting together a last minute meal of overpriced vending machine edibles (Pringles, Coke, and a Snickers hit all the necessary food groups, right?) and reading a book/study for the exam.  When finally the bus left, the driver announced on the PA system “Welcome to the 630pm bus to New York City…”  I along with everyone else just shook our heads and groaned, as we looked at our watches.  It was 8pm.

I tried to fall asleep, but for some reason this bus was ridiculously small, and even though the kid next to me was of average proportions, somehow he had half his ass on my seat, and I had to resort to essentially awkwardly sticking half my body and head into the aisle.  This resulted in me getting hit seemingly every five miles by those getting up to go to the restroom.  I finally felt the bus come to a halt, and groggily opened my eyes and checked the time.  It was already 11:30.  My hope was to get to Grand Central by 1pm, so that I could make the last Metro North trains.  I wandered out of the bus, and discovered we were some place in New Jersey, according to the license plates on the cars around me.  However, there were no maps in the rest center, just a gift store and a closing Roy Rogers selling its now cold sandwiches to eager bus passengers.  Great.  If there is one thing that is the opposite of being with your family at home for Thanksgiving, its waking up to find you are in an unknown area somewhere in the middle of New Jersey.  I called my bro and we decided he would leave a car for me at the station in CT, which ended up working out…

-Wednesday was NYC day.  We piled into our car and took off around noon.  My mom had discovered that there was a Pissaro exhibit at the Jewish Museum, so this was our first stop.  The museum is located in an inconspicuous building on Museum Mile alongside Central Park.  I thought it was an odd choice of museum, not only because I had little Jewish heritage to speak of, but also because I found it strange an impressionist artist was Jewish.  Well, I was wrong.  Pissaro was Jewish, although he was the only one.  He was also born in the Caribbean, and spent his earlier life there.  Which I guess makes him a Caribbean Jew Impressionist living in France – quite an anomaly.  I liked the exhibit though, and you could clearly see how much Pissaro liked the harbors from his earlier days, as he painted these more than the other impressionists.  He also was friends with Van Gogh, and his choice to use broader brushstrokes was evident from spending time together.

On the bottom floor was an even more interesting exhibit on William Steig.  I had no clue who Steig was – until I took one look at the artist’s renderings.  Steig was a cartoon artist for the New Yorker, responsible for the iconic covers and captioned illustrations we now identify so closely with the magazine.  In fact, his first cover he presented to the New Yorker editor they liked so much, they offered to but the idea, but insisted someone else draw it.  He came back and said, “My mom says I shouldn’t accept your offer, and I should paint it myself.”  Quite the momma’s boy indeed.  In fact, he grew up lifeguarding, and he said if he earned $500 dollars a summer, his dad would take $492 of it, which he thought was perfectly reasonable since his dad provided and cared for him throughout his life.  I’m quite sure most youth would not have seen things the same way he did.  During the Great Depression he helped his dad wallpaper houses and perform other construction tasks.  The patterns from the wallpapers he dealt with in his youth and other details depict themselves in his children’s books, which have an attention to these elements that such illustrations typically lack.  Oh, yeah, he only started writing children’s books in his sixties, but what a career he had.  I think I read everyone one of his books as a kid, from Dominic to Amos & Boris, from Doctor De Soto to Brave Irene and the Amazing Bone.  He won numerous awards, all well deserved.  Perhaps what he is best known for is the book Shrek! , which was the basis for the DreamWorks picture of the same name.  The exhibit had book on display, as well as his letters to the producers of the movie with suggestions.  He sketched out what Shrek would become and provided suggestions, such that Shrek’s mother be they typical ever worried Jewish mother (I’m picturing George Costanza’s mom from Seinfeld here), but clearly this never made it into the movie.  All in all, a great exhibit well worth the while.

After the museum, we wandered down the street, getting a great view of the lake in Central Park at dusk.

After dinner, it was Opera time.  I don’t think I have been to the Opera since Middle School, and it was quite the experience.  My family had tickets to Le nozze di Figaro, and after mingling in the foyer and reading up on the story (operas can be confusing, regardless of what language they are sung in), we headed inside.  Our seats were on the upper tier, but it was a pretty good view (I brought binoculars just in case).  The performance was very well done, especially by the Countess.  The opera was three and half hours long (with breaks), and while I enjoyed every minute of it, it was impressive just how much singing the leads managed to almost effortlessly do (plus memorize all the Italian!).  During the break we saw Pavarotti’s costumes on display from the past performances he had done at the Met – pretty cool.  The building has a pretty neat design as well:

The binoculars came into use as well, as I kept checking out the orchestra members in the pit and what they did during and between songs.  Most were pretty stoic, but the bassoonist player, who resembles Dwight Schrute, kept cracking up, making jokes and sarcastic gestures, and even at one poignant point of the opera where multiple audience members inexplicably coughed he could barely retain from laughing out loud.  Almost as amusing as the opera, I swear.  The best moment came when the Countess came out from backstage to join the congratulatory line, and someone from way, I mean way back, rifled a bouquet of flowers in her direction.  I saw the throw form the corners of my eye and I kind of gasped, anticipating an ugly collision.  Thankfully, she managed to halt right as it fell to her feet, and we were saved an ugly scene.  I don’t think she expected it either, as she looked quite startled, but she recovered well and received the loudest applause for her performance.

-Thursday was Turkey Day.  Aside from watching football, I had the chance to take a walk around the neighborhood with my mom.  My coworker once commented as to why Connecticut has some many stone walls, so I decided to take some pictures of them.  I live near the Old Post Road, which back in the day was the main stretch of roadway between Boston and New York City, and many of the original walls still exist and line the street.

Here are some pictures.

Here is a fountain where the horses refueled:

An old mile marker:

Here is some foliage, which I miss in DC:

 

-Friday I ended up back in the city again, to visit a friend and go out.  He is getting a PhD at Columbia, and I was supposed to meet him at his place off of Amsterdam and 120th.  So I took the train into Harlem, and figured I could walk from there.  Bad idea.  One, it was cold out.  Two, I had no idea where Amsterdam was except to walk towards the Hudson.  Three, as my friend pointed out, there were two parks in between the train station and him, and walking through those at night was probably not the best idea.  So I smartly cabbed it, and after following the ride along on the in-cab monitor (did you know they have ESPN on those things?) I realized it would have taken me a while to walk anyways. 

We threw back some beers at his place and then headed out to dinner.  Dinner ended up being at this Chinese restaurant, called Silk Road, I think, and it had unlimited white wine alongside generous portions of Chinese cuisine.  And they did not hold back on the wine either.  In fact, we tried to see if we could even pour out a whole carafe without it being filled by a server.  We could only do it once, and that was on a technicality.  Sure, it was boxed wine, but it was great.  A long line for tables began as soon as we sat down, but as people were waiting they were given wine as well.  Our entire meal, with tax and tip, ended up amounting to $15 per person, which in NYC, for food and drink we got, was well worth it.

After stopping by a bar and playing a round of beer pong (they seem to have this a lot more than in DC), we headed to Evelyn’s Bar.  As we entered there was a sign that read “Scarsdale High School Reunion 2002”, but we figured there was room for us.  The bar is set up with a Moroccan style motif, so we found some couches in the back and ordered drinks.  Conveniently, there was tons of free food for the high school reunion, which of course no one else was eating, so we helped ourselves to some chips and hummus to prevent it from going to waste.  I went to look for the bathroom at some point, and I overhead one girl asking another guy, “So how many young single friends do you have?” Yikes.  I was so tempted to walk up to a random person and pretend like I knew them…maybe say something out of the blue, like ” Wait, you are straight?  All this time…No way!” and then look around and say, “Can anyone here vouch for this?” and then shake may head in disbelief.  Maybe another time, I feel like eating their food was bad enough.  I did encounter problems when I tried to reenter the back room though – apparently I was supposed to have a stamp on me.  However, we had already been there for 20 minutes, so there was little the man could do to stop me.

We left the bar after several drinks and headed to a more typical bar, which was fine with me, since I was pretty tired at this point anyway.  Granted, the combination of car bombs and boxed wine may have contributed to that as well…

-Saturday night I attended an annual Thanksgiving party food family friends of mine throw each year.  It seems like people are always away during Christmas, but almost everyone is in town for the Thanksgiving holidays, so it is always a great opportunity to see people.  It’s pretty much what you would expect: old Victorian style house, catered drinks and hors’douvres, parents trying to extol their children’s latest accomplishments, and us twenty year olds spending time around the bar.  I actually ran into some people from my high school days I hadn’t seen in six years, and man, was it interesting to see what was going on their lives.  Nothing too shocking (although one was going to crew a boat in the Caribbean), but it was nice to see what they ended up being interested in and talking about their college experiences.  Oh, and one girl got married, apparently at the protest of her parents, who wore black to the wedding and whose siblings didn’t attend.  They even cut off her college funding (I guess they don’t think too highly of the guy.  The also heard the bachelor party was ridiculous, since somehow it merged with the bachelorette party, and the bride to be slept with a female stripper that night.  Oh, and the groom punched a wall in anger and had his hand so swollen the wedding ring couldn’t even fit on his finger.  Oh, am I sorry I couldn’t have been there for that…

My mom apparently was talking about seeing “Knocked Up” over the break to some guests, but called it “Knock Off”.  A friend of mine overheard and quickly offered to provide clarification, insisting it was called “Knocked Up”.  My mom, who clearly is missing some idioms from her vocabulary, asked everyone, “What does knocked up mean?  How is it different from knock off?”  At which point she got strange looks, and my friend explained that ‘knock off’ is a cheap imitation of something, while ‘knock up’ is to get someone pregnant and have a child.  To which my mom promptly replied, beaming, “Oh…then considered me knocked up for a span of thirty years!”  Just priceless…

After the parents mostly left someone whipped out the Playstation module and hooked up Karaoke to a projector which was showing a slideshow earlier in the outside tent.  This of course resulted in some drunken singing of classics, including a group rendition of Whitney Houston’s “And I Will Always Love You” that I hope my ears will never hear the likes of again.  When I left the tent to go home I could still hear the singing even as I walked further down the street…I am sure the neighbors loved it.

Anyway, I’ll leave you with an appropriate picture of some guests to sum up the fun evening.