Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving, Happy

It is a good holiday, I warrant. Granted, it is built upon historical misprision, but it has its offering that we can honour, has it not?

I recall the scope of American history, as taught to me. You know, Columbus discovered this country, and that was really neat, then the Pilgrims came over, and that was really neat. Nothing much mentioned about the time between those really neats. After the amicable Pilgrim/Indian detente, we suddenly learn that Indians are our enemy, surrounding that hero Custer and annihilating his troops. Et cetera. Any reasonable scan of these ‘facts’ would leave you wondering but the real story is how mythic proportions are so important to the national concept that these stories stay bound in the psyche. It is like Whitman working overtime.

The antidote, it comes to me, is such like In the American Grain, which casts a doubting, acerbic eye on the given facts. Williams had his enthusiasms but was a relief from the doctrinal side of Whitman.

Anyway, not for me to school thee, Reader, on this, I am just recognizing the rotten parts. I want to speak of the good parts, too.

Our plans were to have Thanksgiving just ourselves. Not to be insular, but that we have not had our own celebration in years. We were looking forward to the chance. Friends, however, in a similar predicament invited us to dinner. They are pared down to just three, their eldest son being away in college, and their families spread across the country. We decided to split the meal.

Beth is the genius for cooking grand meals. She was in charge of the turkey, dressing, gravy, and her should be famous squash soup. I have done Thanksgiving meals but it is not my cooking strength. Beth started in on the bird around 9:00, same time as the Macy’s parade began.

The parade is one of those holdovers from my childhood. I remain interested in it, as part of the Day. I think the first thing that I saw was some theatrical clutter from the Broadway production of omg Annie. How do people put up with these exploits of grim production? The fakeness is plangent, which is one thing, but it is celebrated, which is quite another. I mean, phoniness as a defense I understand, but how do you turn it into a glory? Welcome to Macy’s.

So okay, there was that set piece, which appalled Beth. I simply savoured yet another Pure Product of America, Incorporated.

The hosts of this spectacle were 2 from the CBS morning show. I do not watch that or any morning show. The woman was Latina, which allowed her to reference that she was Latina. The guy was a dull plum. The deal is that Thanksgiving is a celebration of our diversity, yet it is also a dedicated study of but one strand of heritage. Turkey yes, but with plantains or matzo balls or lasagna or…

So these two were directing traffic, which consisted of a steady flow of actors in to hype their latest projects, more Broadway inanities,  occasional glimpses of marching bands, longer views of floats, and some scripted banter with the crisp projection of wet toast. At first I was switching to the NBC version of this, but found no escape, so I stayed with CBS.

Early on, we were thrown to the Hard Rock Cafe, for a song by Reba McIntyre. She looked a bit refurbished but she is likeable, with that weird C&W genuineness that Dolly Parton has. I do not think that she or her band were lip syncing it, unlike all the Broadway crap.

There was an antic moment with her band. The bass player, who looked very bass playerly, was going all groove guy. In his funk transport, he swung his bass around, nearly hitting the pedal steel player, who kept replying to these infreactions with mystified stares.

The production streamed by for three hours, and I was there for it all, tho not with full attention. The best float was the last: Santa’s. It spanned two vehicles, and consisted of a village scene above which flew a sleigh and reindeer. Nifty engineering and it looked fine. Bravo. Sitting next to Santa was a little girl that I guessed was the producer’s daughter. Unlike all the other children in this and all the other floats, she was not laughing or excited, just sat there primly. You could imagine her complaining that she was cold or that she wanted hot chocolate. I am of course extrapolating.

Well that was it for Thanksgiving tv. No football. We carted over our contribution to the dinner around 3:00. PLUS a California Chardonnay, a South African Cabernet. Never did open the German wine…

Years ago, while working for a wine business, the possibility of importing South African wines opened. Sanctions had been lifted. I at first thought this was terrible, an exploitation. It turns out that all three of the wineries that we imported were signatories to an agreement to reject apartheid, provide all workers with proper working and living conditions, and generally be benign businesses. There was no such thing in California at the time, and we know that Ernest and Julio were far from gracious towards the migrant workers upon whom their business depended. The wines of RSA are wonderful with a heritage there of some 3 centuries. Don’t miss them if you can. I guess I digress.

So the meal was as it should be. Our hosts with their traditional corn pudding, which I had never had before, and us with Beth’s squash soup, with a sparkle of orange zest and spices. Plus all else, and desserts.

Post-prandial music was an array of country sorts of music, the highlight of which was a recording by Allison Krause and Robert Plant. I never was a fan of Plant with Led Zep, tho I get why he shrieked, what with having to compete against pyrotechnic Page, and the heaviest handed drummer this side of Buddy Miles. His oeuvre is quite varied, and his singing is too. With Krause he sensibly sings in support, and does so generously. Surprisingly pleasing music to me, surprising because it was outside my usual earful.

And Beth wanted, still, to do a dinner at home, and we had already ordered a small turkey, so we boot up again today… I can now report, in update, that this second turkey done well as well. And I made an apple/blackberry tart via Martha Stewart, complete with leaf shapes (of crust) on top.

Happy Post Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Mall

Beth and I took a faulty cellphone to the Verizon store at the mall on Tuesday, and ended up amongst the emporiana for quite a while. Woo hoo.

Must say that we are into the shopping experience, even if we buy nothing. That’s why Costco is such a treat. I mean, the satisfaction of buying 20 rolls of paper towels is obvious. You can look at the calendar and think how many days and weeks, months even, and you will not have to buy paper towels. But walking around thru all that input is compelling too.

The mall is interesting for its complex of strategies. There are failures, of course, but even among the successful the methods vary. People lunging at you with their products does not seem workable, but many use that model so it must have some success. One plucky person said as we nixed his advances, just remember it is the greatest product ever. I think it was something you put around your neck to relax.

We arrived at the mall around 11:00, which is to say the place was still rubbing sleep from its eyes. We went directly to the Verizon store.

The game here, you sign in, then wait your turn to be served. You are more than welcome to survey the kajillion phones and accessories available to you. Tempting, but I have not yet committed to the phancy phone, not that I champion Ned Ludd, here. It is a slippery slope of buy more. Commerce, thy name is envy. We did not have to wait long before someone escorted us to the service desk.

After that business, we wandered around. Let’s see. Brookstone pulled us in with their usual trick. One of the sales help was playing with a radio-controlled helicopter at the doorway. Neato. How come I never got one of those? I was drawn to an ecology experiment, a small frogitorium. This was a niche consisting of a clear plastic box filled with water, gravel, 2 tiny frogs, and a bit of bamboo. The bamboo helps maintain proper oxygen level in the enclosed system. Take that, sea monkeys!

Looks a little Spartan in there but at least the frogs are paired (said the anthropomorphist). Well, we have a betta at home, a professionally chippy breed. He seems to keep interested.

I think we hit Nordstrom’s next. They are new in this area but Beth knew them when she lived in Seattle. She remembers the stores being decent value ones, but they are more upscale now. Beth got into a conversation with the person at the jewelry counter, memories of Nordstrom’s. The woman revealed that several people were from Seattle and also from Alaska, where Beth lived for a number of years. Surprising how many people from Alaska that Beth meets.

We wandered out of Nordstrom’s and stopped at Au Bon Pain. I remember going to one long ago, a regular sit down restaurant. Now it is a get it yourself place, mostly bread and coffee, plus soups and sandwiches. Decent enough stuff in a cramped and awkward setting. If we could just eschew customer comfort, I know this business will take off, says the expert at corporate.

Television screens are set up all over the mall, with a constant stream of ‘content’. The content consists of tedious bits from CBS shows, like the morning program or that wearisome late night one with the Scottish guy, looping with daunting regularity. Plus random headlines, trivia quizzes, and other distractions. Jiggle a piece of string in front of me and you got my attention.

On a previous loop there was some rock band in a live mall show. I mean 30 seconds worth of the dynamic excitement, which included excited teens connecting with rock star theatre. At the mall. Come on baby light my fire.

Beth entered the Betsey Johnson store, I hung by the doorway. The message here would be hip and young, tho I do not know if such a message is itself hip and young. There was a telly in there, as well, but with its own content. I stared at it longer than I might because it seemed that Suzanne Somers was in the video. Could that be? Is she fresh enough still? I could be wrong, it could have been a pure nobody. This content consisted of said Somers doppelganger (but I really wonder it if were the star herself) putting Latest Styles on a tall thin model. It was antic in a sort of legally required way, with brightly coloured accessories being put on and removed at better than normal speed. When each transformation was done the Somers character would hold up a speech balloon with some trance-inducing comment. I dunno. I did not consult with Beth but I think the salesperson was moderately helpful.

We returned to Nordstrom’s because I was curious about men’s apparel there. I usually wear men’s clothes but there are times that I wear men’s apparel. Beth swore the store served men as well but I had yet to see the like there. One thing I will say about Nordstrom’s, it is set up with a vision. There are no tall displays or inner walls to limit the vastness of the place for the shopper. The horizon is full of merchandise. All of which could be yours.

Maybe 3/4 of the place is for the lady of the house but the gent is well served as well. I felt fairly impervious to the studious charms of the goods until I tried a winter coat on. It was a charcoal cashmere and silk (or whatever) thing that felt really, really good. It was something I could use, tho I am not in desperate straits coatwise. It was priced higher than I ought to pay, tho I felt it was worth the price. Two salespeople, passing by, said it looked good on me, which indicates some training on their part. It is not that I need to be swayed with that, it is just that too many stores are filled with whaddya want.

A salesperson in men’s wear asked if I needed help, but I just wanted to prowl, which I proceeded to do. Beth engaged him in a long conversation. He was informative, opened sales possibilities but did not press. He too was from Seattle. The only other thing besides the coat that struck me was the parti-coloured socks. They bordered on psychedelic. I did not know the well-dressed man was doing that. When I ran track, it was our thing not to wear white socks, in fact the louder the socks the better. When I started running on my own years later, I perspicaciously wore ONLY white socks. Now my rules are fluid.

I realize that money is just money, and some people do not blink at $200 ties. I do not see what you get at that price over something cheaper by 20 or 40 percent. Silkier silk, I suppose.

We left Nordstrom’s with the idea of finding a simulacrum for that coat there, at more modest price. We passed by J Crew, which looked like it had had a snowstorm inside, decorator gone wild. I used to like J Crew, but the people there are snotty enough to make you reconsider shopping there.

We entered Burberry Street hopefully. It was set up confusingly so that you do not know where to go at first. That is bad planning. I found something that was in the ballpark, stylewise. They only have one example of each style, so that the salesperson can sales you. She got one that might fit. It sort of did, but was cut oddly, or maybe I am. No, I’m pretty regular. The price was more than 1000 bucks. I had no inkling from the quality that I perceived that such a price was possible. C ya.

The center of the mall features Santa’s photography workshop. It consists of a maze of Xmas decoration leading to the man himself. Santa was in, but over-excited children were not. I could see him thru the glitter, looking bored and mildly forlorn.

This mall, I should mench (and have mentioned), was the scene of that blockbuster hit Paul Blart Mall Cop, which I have not seen. It was filmed just after Xmas, last year or maybe the year before. I am sure we visited other venues, we always do. Beth always asks about business (as part of a grander economic view), and always gets interesting answers.

No bookstores at the mall. Surprising?

Somewhere along the way, we could hear the song Santa Baby. Oo, I think we were at Whole Foods. It was thankfully not the Eartha Kitt version, nor by anyone trying to sound like her. It was upbeat, which muted some of the song’s parlous shock. Hey, it was co-written by the niece of the Jacob K Javits Convention Center. What a heinous song!

From the mall we went to Marshalls because it so happens that I got a coat there by the same manufacturer as that one at Nordstroms. The guy at Nordstroms, by the bye, said that the maker of $200 ties there also sells goods to Costco. I really like the coat I got at Marshalls, made by Sanyo, and priced for Marshalls. There were a few serviceable coats, but nothing warranted a splurge. Beth found a coat she liked but let it pass, let it pass. I saw WWE action figures, featuring all of my favourite stars: The Edge, John Cena, Randy Orton, even Rick Rude and Arn ‘The Enforcer’ Anderson. I used to watch this crap years ago but except for ads do not see that stuff anymore. My friend, long ago, said of The Gong Show: it gives a comprehensive view of ourselves. Likewise wrestling, and it isn’t comfortable.

I never had interest in GI Joe as a gullible proto-consumer. Too static, I imagine. Seems like soon enough you are throwing rocks at such things, or shooting a BB gun. Let’s put a firecracker in his hand!!! I guess it is suplexes out the window for our WWE friends.

For the young lady, there was a Hannah Montana text phone. Push a button and you get messages from Hannah, Miley, and two of Hannah’s (not Miley’s) friends. These messages are described as uplifting, and include such as YOU ROCK! and C U L8TR. There’s a clip on the phone so that it can be attached to bag or pack. Which means your child can zone out in spelling class with lame messages just like her older siblings in chemistry.

Yesterday, another shopping trip, we went to Whole Foods for final bits of Thanksgiving. We are going to friends this year (today), but we are bringing the bird. We have not had Thanksgiving at home since 2004. We got a second bird just so that we could do it ourselves this weekend. Both of us strongly missed my father. The four of us had a nice compact. I used to bake 8 loaves of bread a week, just enough for the 4 of us. The first loaf, no matter when it went into the oven, would be gone by dinner time. For various reasons, I stopped making bread. Made some yesterday. Forgot some details but they came out fine.

A foggy Thanksgiving today. May it be a happy one, for you, for me, for all.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


Erin and I watched this last night. Meant to watch Jason & the Argonauts, but it was no longer in Comcast’s freebies. I remember seeing Jason when I was young, eyes wide no doubt. The special effects hold up well. But anyway…

Spiderman (I do not really want to use that requisite hyphen, thank you) is about as good as superhero movies get. It is nice that Sam Raimi knew what to do with the money he was given for it. The movie looks fresh from the start.

Tobey Maguire is an unlikely choice for Spidey, in the sense that some blander hunk might have been chosen. He has dorky charm. No complaints about the rest of the cast. Kirsten Dunst puts depth in the pretty girl role, and Willem Dafoe is Willem Dafoe. Gosh he is wiry. I think he was in a movie in which he was a boxer in a German concentration camp, fighting (literally) to survive. Lean then, lean now.

As with all these superhero flicks, there is a long portion supplying us with how the superpowers developed and how the arch villain came to be so arch. Added to that is several other plots mostly surrounding Pete and MJ. Thanks to Marvel, comix turned to the inspiration of soap operas to keep their legions of fans interested. Yeck. It is just clutter when you do not really mean it.

So anyway, when something hi-tech goes wrong for Peter, it is a good thing, when something hi-tech goes wrong for Dafoe, he’s blowing people up. Well, that Dafoe is tightly wired, we all know that.

Spidey in action is giddy stuff, reflecting the tone of the comic. Yes, as Peter Parker he is morose, but swinging thru NYC, he’s a happy camper. The effects sometimes look cartoonish, but the sweeping camera views make up for that. And unlike with Star Trek, I was not suffering vertigo.

I liked the 2nd Spidey, as well, tho I can barely recall it except that it had Doc Ock, and there was the scene in which Spidey stops a train, which was cinematically exciting but I’m thinking that it pushes the reasonable limits of Spidey’s strength. Never saw part trois.

Funny to think of comix as such a mine for movies. I mean, yes, of course they invite the transfer, but they are hit or miss. Mr Fantastic’s powers, for instance, are just ridiculous, unbelievable. Spidey stopping a train leaves one wondering if he has limits. Tho he was mightily wasted from the effort, you still think, come the climax, he will have to do more. I think with myths like Jason, there is a more meaningful imperative. At any rate, Spidey comes as close as I have seen for a superhero movie to have soul.