Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Modern Art

I hate modern art.

And you want to know why? It's because of what modern art has done to me. Here I am, just minding my own business, not offending anybody, whistling a pleasant tune - and then suddenly I am dragged against my will into this place called the MOMA, and forced to stand in various rooms for hours on end.

The MOMA is New York's museum of modern art. And I could live a thousand years and never set another foot in that temple of boredom.

Imagine for a moment, that modern art does nothing for you. It does not move or stir you. It awakens nothing within your spirit. It neither excites nor intrigues you, it doesn't impress you and it doesn't get you thinking. It is an utterly neutral object in your field of vision. A bit like a mailbox.

Keep in mind for this hypothetical that you've given modern art many, many chances. You've approached it with an open mind and have been quite willing to be moved and stirred, if only the modern art would live up to its end of the deal. But at the end of the day, you have to conclude that this whole modern art thing is just not doing it for you. From the minimalist to the abstract and everything in between, modern art is just not on your wavelength.

In fact, you're slightly suspicious that it might all be a bunch of bullshit.

Before this starts to sound like Bright Lights, Big City, let's drop the second person. Let me stress though that I have nothing, nothing at all against the devotees of modern art. If you think modern art is way cool, then God love you. Go to it, my man. Godspeed. You have my full support. But if you try to drag me to the museum with you and then intimate that if I don't want to go then there must be something wrong with ME, then my hatred for you will burn with the fire of a thousand suns. I have kooky art preferences of my own too. I'm a big fan of the post-tonal stylings of early 20th century German composer Paul Hindemith, but I have never once tried to stuff his music down anyone's throat. I know that Hindemith may not be everyone's cup of tea. If you think he sounds like butt, I'm not going to argue with you. In fact, you're not even wrong. To you he does, and that's legitimate.

But many, many times during my childhood and teenage years, I was pushed into compulsory visits to the MOMA. Set aside for a moment the fact that appreciation of modern art may require some nuance and experience that is beyond a junior high student. I actually had to bring a notebook with me and jot down how this particular Jackson Pollack piece made me feel. What did it do to me? What did it say?

Now, with the understanding that to me modern art is about as exciting as a mailbox, or a box of seran wrap, or a handicapped parking spot, try to imagine having to spend a mandatory afternoon in the MOMA. You stand in one room for a while, contemplating the seran wrap. Then you move a few yards to the left and observe a box of pencils. For ten mintes. Now do this until four hours have elapsed.

Everything would be cool between me and modern art if this could be an acceptable conversation:

Friend: Hey! There's a Lichtenstein exhibit opening at the MOMA this week. Let's check it out!
Me: No thanks. I don't really get modern art. As a result, trips to the MOMA for me are just staggeringly boring and unpleasant. But definitely, you should go. I'll just play some Gamecube until you get back.
Friend: Sounds good! I'll be back at 6.

Ah, that would be nice. But no, here's the real conversation.

Friend: Hey! There's a Lichtenstein exhibit opening at the MOMA this week. Let's check it out!
Me: Ehhhh... you know, the lines will probably be real long.
Friend: Not if we leave now. Hey, we could walk there!
Me: Oh, it'll be so crowded. And it's stuffy in there. And what's that "suggested donation" all about? If they don't let you in without making it, why is it "suggested"?
Friend: Jeez, where's your artistic curiosity RD? It's Lichtenstein! Don't tell me you're just an uncultured boob?
Me: ....(defeated simper) I'll get my coat.

Oooooh, Roy Lichtenstein! He's using the classic charcoal sketch technique, but to draw a dirty sock? And a car tire? Genius! The contrast! The irony! It's so self aware! Oh! Oh!.... I'll need some clean pants.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Arcade Prizes

Something else I've had it with these days are the cheap, sub-Mexican almost-toys that pass for "Prizes" at your local arcade. Are these not the lamest, crudest, fragile and most depressing little toys you've ever seen?

For a long time I never made it to the prize counter at an arcade simply because I sucked too much at the games. Oh, I was good at Golden Axe and 1945, and the arcade games - but those didn't spew out any tickets when you did well. If you wanted the little yellow tickets you had to master Skee Ball, or Hoops, or Whack a Mole. I was too much of a spaz to really succeed at these more precision oriented games.

I would usually end up with about 6 to 8 sympathy tickets. You know, when every skee ball went into the gutter and you'd get three tickets just for playing. And I'd take my 8 tickets to the counter, hoping at least to get maybe a single Jolly Rancher. But no, the cheapest prize was 10 tickets for a tootsie roll. And not a normal tootsie roll, but this weird extra extra small tootsie roll. Really a very small tootsie roll. Like Tylenol capsule size. And I couldn't even afford it.

Then one day, I was playing Pachinko. Or one of those games where you navigate a ball down a ramp and launch it and hope that it goes into one of the target holes. And I was expecting to fail utterly at this game and get my sympathy tickets. But the Gods were smiling on me that day, and I accidentally launched the Pachinko ball into the tiniest, most remote and valuable hole. And the siren went off and the machine started spewing massive amounts of yellow tickets. I was convulsing with joy.

This wasn't in my childhood or anything by the way. This was maybe last year. And I was scooping up the tickets, and there were so many I couldn't gather them faster than they were coming out. It was like Christmas. I even earned the jealous eye of the fat, tight-shirted, trailer park chicks who always seem to be walking around with their kids holding thousands of tickets.

In the end, it was only about 400 tickets, but it was more than I had ever had, or ever would have. I carried the bundle over to the counter, thinking about what kind of booty I would select. The Carribean Cruise? The Aspen ski chalet? The fantasy practice with the Chargers? Hmm, it's only 400 tickets. Best not to get my hopes up too high. Maybe I'll settle for a surfboard.

At the prize counter, some B.O. and a harsh reality check were waiting for me. The best prize available was a shitty, off-brand little personal boombox. And it was 35,000 tickets. No, scratch that, the off-brand Razor scooter was 40,000, and the skateboard was up there too. So what were my real options? The super soaker? Hoo-boy, no. The shitty, shitty remote control car? 11,000 tickets. The Nascar calendar? 7,500. The really cheap-looking inflatable ape? 8,000.

Okay, I took it down another notch. The deck of Uno cards. 3,000. The 500 piece tiger puzzle. 4,000. Finally I just got angry. Here I was, the greatest pachinko champion the arcade had ever seen, and my skill didn't even warrant a deck of cards? Or a pair of novelty sunglasses? I said to myself "If I can't at least afford that comically oversized lollipop then I will officially be pissed." Comically oversized lollipop - 2,500 tickets.

Eventually, feeling much humbled and slightly dirty, I traded in my 400 tickets for a normal sized lollipop and a keychain with a whistle on it. I had invested serious ego in these prizes, and they let me down big time. These yellow tickets said "winner", but the lollipop and whistle were not saying "winner". Not so much. No, they were saying "loser". Big time loser. I was thinking that maybe it would be like the old Wheel of Fortune where the winner got to pick prizes out of the showcase. "I'll take the Color TV for $300!" Okay then, Bill, that leaves you with $2,200. "The sofa! The sofa!"

Which brings us back to the crappy prizes. These prizes are pathetic. They belong to a special class of crappy toys that you just won't see anywhere else on the planet. Imagine an action figure, if you will. And imagine that it's stiff and doesn't move. And that the art on the box is really terrible, and that it's part of a series of action figures with a really bad generic title like "Tank Heroes!" that came from a cartoon that may never have actually been broadcast in the states, and the clothes don't match, and the back of the box is blank except for a "Do not insert in mouth" warning that is misspelled and then repeated in 10 other languages.

Toys that are so bad they make you consider suicide, or at least abandoning all commercialism and becoming a Buddhist monk. Toys that no reputable toy store would shelve, that were passed on to discount toy stores that turned them down, then sat in a surplus warehouse for a year or two, then were declined by the dollar stores, then were given back by goodwill after another year because they couldn't sell, then were rejected by Christmas charites because they didn't meet safety standards, and were finally abandoned, unopened, by homeless children in Tijuana. This is when they go to the arcades.

If I ever open an arcade, (and to be honest, it's not high up on the list) the prizes will be of the highest quality. And if you are a pachinko champion, you can expect to be honored and fetted by the establishment. You can expect to gaze out over a massive display of awesome prizes and simply point to the ones you want like the king you are.

And finally, can we please retire the machines where the quarters are all tottering seductively on the brink of the cliff, and it seems like if just one more quarter were pushed out it would send them all spilling over, making the player fabulously wealthy? I've just had too much disappointment at the hands of that machine, and it's come to me to represent deep, personal failure. And if the arcade took half of the bolting-that-machine-to-the-floor budget and spent it on prizes, maybe none of this ranting would be necessary.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Pier 1 Answers

Here were the answers from the Pier 1 Quiz.
S = Shakespeare
P= Pier 1


Now score yourself:

42-44 - "Scent"er of the universe
35-41 - Cogno"Scent"i
28-34 - Common "Scents"
20-27 - Fifty "Scent"
0-19 - Unscented

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Pier 1 Quiz

I went to Pier 1 and bought a few candles recently. Not my usual sort of activity. In fact, aside from a few Chrsitmas gifts over the years, I don't think I've ever actually bought candles before. Not for myself anyway. You candle-shopping veterans may scoff at my ignorance, but I simply was not preapred for all the frufru fanciness to describe the various scents of these candles. I thought each scent would be limited to one word, like "Cinnamon" or "Peach" or something like that. Nope, each Pier 1 candle apparantly is a heady blend of about 8-12 spices and scents, most of which I had never heard of. Candles with names like "Asian Spice", "Riverwood" and "Waterberry" each had a list of about 10 sub-ingredients, such as "White Quince", "Warmed Musk" and "Lively Green Basil". All combining masterfully, I suppose, to create a unique, one of a kind candle fragrance.

The Pier 1 candle marketers need to ease up off the gay.

As a service to all holdiay candle shoppers, I offer this quiz:

Pier 1 Candle Fragrance? Or Shakespearean Character?

Dr. Pinch
Tuscan Herb
Sir Falstaff
Fir Balsam
Old Gobbo
The Earl of Kent
Kava Kava
Crisp Greens
Ylang Ylang
Tonka Bean
Lord Falconridge

If you think you got that 100% right, you're wrong. Answers forthcoming.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004


Let me fill you in on a little situation, and then I'll need some suggestions.

Ever since I moved to Las Vegas and got my new local phone number, I've been getting around three calls a week for "Andy" and "Patricia". Clearly, Andy and Patricia were the previous owners of the phone number. No big deal. But no matter how many times I explain to these various individuals that "Andy and Patricia don't live here no more." or "There ain't no Andy here, man." or "Dude, you've got an old number." the volume of these calls does not go down. In fact, it's been increasing.

And these callers aren't like normal wrong-number callers, who usually will apologize and hang up promptly when they discover their number is wrong or obsolete. No, these guys are persistent. Where is Andy? "I really don't know Andy. This is just his old number." How can I reach Andy? "Well, like I just said, I don't know Andy." But Andy just called me from this number. "Um, don't know what to tell you there." Well who are you? "Who am I? Who the fuck are you?" (click)

Clearly, these are creditors. Damn persistent creditors. Really persistent. You see, they're convinced that I AM Andy. And that I'm lying to them. The more honest I am, the more they think I'm lying through my teeth.

And they're employing some impressive creditor tricks. They call at various times of day. Early mornings, late nights. It's not just one person, it's several. There are businessy sounding guys, seductive women, old pal type guys... I pick up the phone and say hello, and it's "Heeyyyy, Andy!" "Andy, man, what's up!" Or a female voice "Hiiiiii sweetheart, Patricia there?" But then after my attempts at honest resolution of the wrong number, the tone gets angry and serious. WHERE IS ANDY. HOW CAN I REACH ANDY. WHO ARE YOU?

So you know what? I'm done being polite and honest. I am now officially prepared to fuck with these people. The next time they call, I am going to be Andy. The only question is how should I play it? Here's a scenario I came up with last night at the gym.

Them: "Hey Andy, how's it going?"

Me: "Mike! Thank God. Look, tell your brother we'll be in Vancouver tonight."

Them: "Um, this is Andy, right?"

Me: "Jesus! Why don't you say it a little louder? Just be quiet for a second. We're leaving for the airport in about 30 minutes. We're on American, flight... (talking away from the phone) Hey Pat... what's our flight number? What? Yeah Mike, it's flight 11-0-something. Look, you guys need to meet us at the airport in Vancouver. I do NOT feel comfortable carrying around all this cash in a suitcase, you understand? That was not part of the arrangement."

Them: "Uh... Andy?"

Me: "You're never going to see my ass in this country again, that's for sure."

Them: "....(pause)... What was that flight number again?"

Ah, that would be satisfying. Of course, that's a little high concept. Here's something a bit more basic.

Them: "Hello Andy?"

Me: "Yeah this is Andy."

Them: "Yes hello Andy! This is Mort Shackhauer from Visa collection. Hold on for just a second please, I'm going to conference Las Vegas Metro PD on this call.... Officer?

Officer: "Yes Mort, go ahead."

Them: "Andy. Are you aware that you've been ordered by Clarke County District A Superior Court to pay VISA an initial installment of ten thousand dollars by September 1st of this year, and that you have not made that payment?"

Me: "Relax guys! Look, I'm going to be a little late with the money."

Them: "The payment is already 3 months past due."

Me: "I just made a down payment on an Escalade this week for twice that much. And I'm going to be paying that thing off for years. You're going to have to cut me some slack."

Officer: (garble garble)..can impound that vehicle...

Me: "And let me tell you, it looks like a fucking behemoth I know. But it handles like a dream."

Them: "You think this is funny? You think you're being smart?"

Me: "Isn't there some statute of limitations on this? You should see what I got away with with my Amex. You think a wine cellar fills itself?"

And so on and so on. But really, there are an endless number of approaches here. I'd love to get some suggestions. Anyone?

The Progress Bar

Ah, the march of technology. In our lifetimes, we've seen the personal computer go from the Commodore and the Altair all the way to the Vaio and the G-whatever. It's been a great ride.

I can remember hitting control-G on the Apple 2 to make it "beep". And what fun it was. I can remember executing a very simple two-picture animation on the Logowriter application on Commodore 64 to sorta make it look like two people humping. Oh the joy.

We've come a long way. We now live in the age of Cialix spam, pop up ads for spy cameras, pop up ads for software to block pop up ads, trolls, lurkers, newbies and flame-wars - all presided over by his dark lordship, the demon Clippy.

Well, that's just being negative. There's been plenty of positive delevopments too. But today I just have to complain about one piece of computing technology that was introduced maybe 20 years ago and just hasn't seen any improvement. It's still around, and it still sucks. I'm talking about the Progress Bar, or sometimes the "Time Remaining" display.

You know what I'm talking about. The indicator bar which tells you how much of your installation, download, or other time consuming operation is left. And my question is: how come, in all those 20 years, the progress bar or time-reamaining bar has never once been an actual reflection of reality?

You know it's true. You've long since learned to ignore it, or conditioned yourself to live with it, but now I invite you to give it some fresh consideration and share my righteous disgust.

I'll give you my bottom line right away, and that is this: if the progress bar doesn't work, if it's wonky, then I don't want to see it. Make it go away. It's worse than useless if it's giving me a faulty impression. Let me list the various problems.

1. We're all familiar with the visual, horizontal progress bar - the one that fills up from left to right. Why does it zip merrily along for the initial 75%, and then hit some kind of wall for the final quarter? Has no one in 20 years of Mac and Windows updates noticed this?

2. Why does the "Time Remaining" display not count seconds at the speed of, say, one second for every second? We've all seen this I trust: we start our download and the time remaining is 30 minutes. Then, time begins to elapse at about one minute every couple of seconds. This starts to slow, and eventually, we're only moving at around double time. Finally, for a single instant, the countdown elapses at an actually correct pace, and then time slows down, and slows down, and down... The final two minutes are like the final two minutes of an NFL game. You can pack a lot of timeouts, bathroom breaks and commercials into those two minutes. So basically, the whole thing is just one big parabola of incompetance.

3. Don't let me forget this one. The Time Remaining display that actually will start gaining time. You've seen it. You're down to 25 minutes, and then whoa... whoa... back up to 27! Then down to 26... then up to 28!

4. A progress bar that will appear to be legit. It moves along at basically a steady pace, a few hiccups, a few bursts of sudden speed, but nothing major. Finally, it fills up completely. Ah, you think. Job well done. But no, not quite. It doesn't go away. Now you're treated to a series of text messages: "creating directory".... "repaginating".... "verifying format"....."checking modular sync database recalc"... And before you know it, you've sat there another two minutes.

This would all be excusable as late as, maybe, 1995. But it's still just as bad as it ever was. Wouldn't it be cool, if, once in your lifetime, a progress bar appeared and moved at a deliciously smooth, regular pace? Then, the moment it was done, it was actually done? Why do we tolerate a 0.0% accuracy rate from our "time remaining" counters and progress bars?

Damn you Cohaagen! Give these people air!

Monday, November 08, 2004

80 Annoyances

61. The icy center of a microwaved burrito

62. A commercial describing a car as having “aggressive lines”

63. Alex Trebeck’s smug satisfaction after he makes a lame pun

64. When characters in sci-fi movies say “Whoa whoa! Say that in English!”

65. The “grooming” of Brian Williams

66. How U.S. News & World Report can somehow produce a “Special Commemorative Issue” every freaking week

67. Clippy

68. A locked piano

69. Local news

70. How the guy who got the game winning homer in extra innings will always be the “player of the game” despite absolutely anything that may have happened over the course of the first nine innings.

71. When you sit through a 5 minute talk radio commercial break and when the host comes back with all the usual music and fanfare, he just pitches some vitamins at you and then goes on break for another 5 minutes.

72. A school bus deploying the stop sign

73. Thinking it somehow makes you more of a man to call Heads on a coin flip

74. Handrails that move faster than the escalator

75. Interviewers interviewing interviewers

76. Cheap video game level design where the player is intended to die on his first attempt, so that he’ll memorize the trap and know how to avoid it the subsequent time.

77. When you had a complex question for your French teacher, and it was way beyond your ability to ask it in French, but she wouldn’t let you ask it in English. Not even after class.

78. Giving your pet a two-syllable name with the “eee” sound at the end.

79. People who just aren’t convinced by a locked bathroom door and insist on knocking to get a verbal confirmation

80. The policy at the New York Times Magazine where all cover photo subjects have to look glum, sour, pained, weary and vaguely angry, apparently regardless of all context

And this may not be here or there, but don't you think it would be nice if Chinese restaurants and other eateries that offer "family style" meals exclusively, if they'd offer some sort of solo-entree option? I mean, if I'm in the mood for cashew chicken, and I don't conveniently have people to join me, why should I be screwed? Yes, I can take the leftovers home, but what if I don't want to? What if I just want a portion of General Tso's chicken on a plate, with rice and a vegetable? Is that too much to ask?

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

The Freakishly Tall NBA

Just a brief topic today.

My problem with professional Basketball. Don't you think there's an inherent problem with a sport that offers such an enormous built in advantage to being taller than your opponent? Other sports demand things like speed, strength, agility, dexterity, endurance... all things that can be earned through hard training and work. And yes, certain sports rewards things like sheer size and height - a boxer's reach or a jockey's tinyness for example.

But no sport goes to the length that basketball does in this regard. The basketball height advantage isn't something you can gloss over. It isn't just a slight edge. It's 100% crucial and completely determinative. In order to play professional basketball, you must, MUST be freakishly tall. You need to be a 7'1" circus freak. I, personally am 6'4". I am the tallest person I know. I see people taller than me maybe 5 or 6 times a year, and when I do I think "Fuck, look at that guy." So I'm tall. And I, a taller person than 99.99% of the human population, couldn't even show up for basketball tryouts because I'm too short. My point is that there is something seriously wrong with that.

Now yes yes, I know, you hard core basketball fans can now start naming a list of 6'1" speedy guys who are crucial to their teams. I don't care. They are the exception that proves the rule.

My problem with the freakishly tall NBA is this. 1) We're not getting the best game of basketball we could be getting, (more on that in a bit) and 2) It goes against the American ideal that sports is supposed to be a meritocracy. That with a lot of hard work and effort and dedication, you too could be a superstar. Not in basketball you can't.

We have weight classes for wrestling and boxing, don't we? And isn't it true that middle weight boxing is generally more interesting and strategic than heavyweight boxing? That it's better boxing? Heavyweights punch with such strength that if they can land just a few direct hits, it's lights out. Also, then burn fuel super quick so they're exhausted by the second round. Boring.

Basketball needs height divisions. I bet if you organized a "no bigger than 6-foot" league and a "no bigger than 6-5" leagure, you'd see some damn good basketball. Maybe not as many theatrical dunks, but damn good basketball.

Am I supposed to be impressed when Yao Ming swats away a shot or a rebound without even jumping, due simply to his mutant, freakish height? That's not great athleticism, that's a sideshow act.