Post-Birthday Shopping Hangover

On Saturday, Juliette and I went up to LA to see a performance by a friend of ours. On the way, we stopped at the Grove to have dinner at the Farmer's Market. For those of you who are unfamiliar with LA landmarks, the Grove is a swanky shopping mall that was built about 5 or 6 years ago around the site of the historic LA Farmer's Market. The market portion of the Farmer's Market is still there, and is home to some excellent food stands as well as some neat little specialty shops and grocers.

Anyway, we had hardly gotten out of the parking lot before I was wrinkling my nose at the overwhelming consumerism and image consciousness displayed by the mall patrons. It's been over a year now since we left Orange County and I guess I've gotten re-sensitized. It seemed like everyone I saw was wearing designer clothes or huge sunglasses or had perfectly styled hair and nails, and I couldn't stop thinking "Ew!" every few seconds. Plus, the place was packed; you could hardly walk ten feet without bumping into someone. I kept thinking of that line from Rent: "When you're living in America, you're what you own."

The irony is, of course, that the very next day I went on a shopping rampage because I was flush with birthday cash that was burning a hole in my pocket. We spent more or less the entire afternoon looking for stuff for me to buy. And now I'm not sure if the funk I'm feeling myself entering is self-disgust or just regret that I can't keep spending. I'm trying to keep my self esteem intact by reminding myself that I only shop for myself twice a year.

But, on to the purchases.

One of my birthday purchases was a pair of Philips SBC HN050 Noise-Cancelling Headphones. I was a little hesitant about buying a set of headphones that requires a battery, but I've been intrigued by active noise cancelling for a while now. Unfortunately, I've discovered that activating the noise cancelling function messes with my ears in a very odd way. Even without music turned on, I feel a strange "pressure" in my left ear that quickly spreads to my left temple. After thirty seconds or so, that's followed by a disoriented, dizzy feeling and mild nausea that's reminiscent of being ever so slightly carsick. It's quite disappointing, because this sensation makes it more or less impossible for me to use that feature. Still, the earpieces are reasonably comfortable when positioned properly and the sound quality is more than adequate to my non-audiophilic ears, so it's not a total loss.

(Note to self: size 36 belts are not meant for people who wear size 36 pants. And, for crying out loud, try stuff on before you buy it!)

I also bought a ridiculously expensive remote control. So far, I like it, but I have to say, for $250 it should really be easier to set up. It took me the better part of an hour to program two activities, mostly due to the cumbersome web interface. What would be most intuitive to me is to have an activity represented as an editable list of actions. Perhaps you could throw in some AJAX for some drag-and-drop functionality, and add some smarts to fill in a default sequence. Instead, you get an only partially configurable list that comes after a rather convoluted wizard. I was less than impressed, even factoring in Best Buy's $50 instant rebate. On the bright side, once I did manage to beat it into submission, it seems to work pretty well.

By the way, I mentioned that we were up in LA to see a friend's performance--well, if you're in the LA area and you're intrigued by avant-garde theater, the friend's name is Elke Luyten and she's doing a corporeal mime performance called "Here Is Someone" For those of you unfamiliar with corporeal mime--I imagine that's pretty much everyone--it's quite a bit different from the "guy trapped in an invisible box" shtick you're probably imagining. Corporeal mime is a variety of movement-based performance art developed by Étienne Decroux in the early part of the 20th century as a modern (in the sense of "modernism") redefinition of the mime artform. The actor uses a codified series of movements involving the entire body as his or her medium of expression. Often times text or music is added, but this is done subsequent to the choreography and in many ways the choice of words and sounds is almost incidental. Meaning, in the traditional sense, is not made explicit, instead arising out of the synthesis of movement, text, and the audience's subjective experience.

If that sounds esoteric and "artsy fartsy" to you, well, it is. But it's also quite beautiful, just in terms of pure visual aesthetics. It can also be unsettling, confusing, intense, serene, or even playful. Elke's performance in this piece definitely falls into the "intense" category, but, lacking a more developed critical understanding of this sort of art, I'm not sure how much better I can describe it.

If you're interested, the performance is at the Son of Semele theater (3301 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles) at 10 PM on Friday and Saturday nights from now until July 15. The performance runs about 15 minutes and admission is $5. Elke's show follows a 90-minute play by the hosting company, called King Cat Calico Finally Flies Free. If you want to see both shows, admission to the mime show is free if you buy a ticket to the play. Incidentally, the play is interesting if you like your theater on the experimental (and low budget) side--Juliette and I liked the style and performances, although not really the text. So you know, King Cat Calico is not family-friendly.

One more note: the theater is in what looked to me like a really sketchy neighborhood and street parking is all that's available. Juliette and I were a little concerned about leaving our car and even though everything turned out all right for us, I feel like I'd be remiss if I didn't mention it.


By Jared Diamond

I didn't realize it at the time, but I picked up this book almost exactly a year after I started reading Jared Diamond's previous work, Guns, Germs, and Steel. In a lot of ways, Collapse is the converse of that book--where GGS examines the environmental factors contributing to societal success, Collapse looks at reasons for societal failure. I found it to be a good read--Diamond writes in a very clear, easy-to-understand style--if, perhaps, a bit distressing. Finishing it found me left with a greater sense that I ought to do my part in living an environmentally responsible life, though I suppose in all honesty it remains to be seen whether or not that will last.

Started: 4/14/2006 | Finished: 6/17/2006

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License Plate Holders, Sudoku, The Fair, Tony's

As I was on my way to work the other day I noticed that the car in front of me had one of those personalized license plate holders. The slogan on it read, "Her car, his payment." For the life of me, I couldn't figure out whether that was meant as a complaint from him or a boast from her. I don't know which one would bother me more.



Why is it that so many people have trouble pronouncing the word "sudoku"? It's completely phonetic and not even very long. I mean, I've gotten used to people mangling my quite phonetic last name, but that's also ten letters and five syllables. Sudoku? Three syllables. What's so hard about that? And yet, for some reason, not one person in ten that I've heard say that word gets it right, preferring "suduko" or "soduku" or "sudoku."

Wait a minute...



This past weekend, Juliette and I went to the San Diego County Fair. The first time we went to the fair was just after we moved to San Diego, so it was a little surprising that a year had already gone by. This year's fair wasn't nearly as entertaining for me as last year's, mainly because I wasn't hungry. Usually the prospect of eating a hot dog, a gyro, kettle corn, ice cream, a caramel apple, roasted corn-on-the-cob, a tri-tip sandwich, and a plate of vegetables that has been deep-fried until any semblance of nutrition is long gone all on the same day would be something that would put me in quite a good mood. But this time I just didn't have much of an appetite, so I had to content myself with looking at student art and champion livestock.

Speaking of livestock, Juliette and I were both shocked to hear a woman exclaim "Oh, look at the horsies!" as we passed through the barn that held the cows, sheep, and goats--with nary a horse in sight. After exchanging incredulous looks, we both resolved to make sure when we have a family to get them out of the city from time to time.



Later in the weekend we had a friend from out of town in on business, so we went out to dinner with him and some mutual friends to Tony's Jacal. We'd only been once before, about a year before--for that same friend's birthday, as it happens. I'd nearly forgotten about the place in the intervening time, which is odd considering how good it is. In fact, I think that it may be my new favorite Mexican restaurant, since the closing of the Casa de Bandini last year. One of the odd things about San Diego is that although there are plenty of great little taco shops, there are hardly any good Mexican restaurants--not, at least, in the parts of the city with which I'm familiar. Tony's may not actually disprove that observation, considering that it's actually in the neighboring city of Solana Beach, but it's close enough that I'm willing to overlook such technicalities, especially in light of the awesome food. The prices are pretty decent as well--the five of us all ate quite well for less than $70, including tax and tip. I heartily recommend it if you're ever in the area.

The Lake House

I'm actually a little surprised at this movie. The people responsible for marketing this movie have managed to promote a science fiction story as a romance so effectively that it managed to grab the number four weekend box-office slot. Yes, for those of you who didn't recognize it, a movie about people back and forth across a two-year time gap is science fiction. (If you want to be really nitpicky, I suppose it might be more accurate to classify this one as magic realism.) In fact, it's one of the most cliched science fiction ideas out there: the time travel story. Time travel has been done to death in the SF genre, from Robert Heinlein to Back to the Future. For me, the main problem of this movie is that it didn't do its homework well enough to avoid the rather huge plot holes. See, a person writing a time travel story has to make up his mind whether or not the past (and, therefore, the future) can be changed. He has to pick one and stick to it, otherwise the inconsistencies will eventually bother the attentive viewer enough to overshadow whatever may have been done right. That's where I'm at with The Lake House. Not to say there weren't other problems. Keanu still can't act. I mean, he's gotten much better over the past ten years or so, to the point where he's quite believable as long as he doesn't talk. And Sandra Bullock actually has much better acting chops than she gets credit for, which I largely attribute to the fact that she's so annoyingly typecast. The film also tended to drag in spots due to its over-reliance on voiceover and brooding close-ups of the leads--and the attempts of the director to get away from those elements were mostly quite clumsy. Despite all that, I still felt like there was some underlying heart to the film, some touching nugget of romance to it. And I felt like that for about 15 minutes after the end, at which point all of the "Why didn't she..." questions started occurring to me and Juliette. It really killed whatever good feeling I had about the film. Still, it does leave me hopeful for future forays into speculative genres, hopefully by better writers.

Viewed: 6/15/2006 | Released: 6/15/2006 | Score: C

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Open Houses As Far As the Eye Can See

This weekend, Juliette and I went out to look at houses for the first time. We've been thinking about buying now for a couple of years but the time hasn't been right and we didn't have the money. For that matter, we still don't have the money, but apartment life is getting old and we're feeling like we should start seriously thinking about our future as adults and as a family.

It's kind of a daunting task. San Diego is a fast-growing city and, consequently, there are a whole lot of houses on the market. According to one of the agents we met at an open house this afternoon, there are over 170 properties listed in our area alone. That makes for a lot of legwork, even after narrowing it down to our price range.

Speaking of price range, ours turns out to be quite on the low side. Let me give you a few numbers that I pulled off of Coldwell Banker's web site. According to them, the average sale price in San Diego is currently about $628,000, which isn't even all that much by California standards. A 20% down payment would be $125,600--quite a large chunk of change, but let's assume that somehow we were able to put together that much. That leaves a mortgage amount of $502,400. Plugging those numbers into the payment calculator gives a monthly mortgage payment of $3,262 plus a PMI payment of $133. Assuming a 1% property tax rate--in reality it would be higher, but for the sake of this example I'll lowball it--the monthly amount we'd have to put aside would be $523. All of that adds up to a total monthly payment of $3918, and that's without homeowner's insurance or HOA fees. Multiply that by 12 and you get a total annual payment of $47,016.

The whole thing is more than a little bit discouraging, especially considering that I've always wanted to do it on my own. Realistically speaking, though, there's little chance that we'll be able to buy a house without significant help from our families. It's been hard for me to admit that--independence and self-sufficiency are two of the values most ingrained in me. But real independence is kind of an illusion. As they say, no man is an island--there's no way I could have gotten to where I am without the support, both emotional and financial, of the people around me. Coming to terms with that fact and convincing myself that it's alright to ask for help has been one of the bigger issues in my adult life.

I'm trying to stay positive, even if that might not be apparent from this rant. We went to four open houses this weekend, and even though all of them were out of our reach, some of them were close. Finding the right place will be a lot of work, but it may yet be possible.

The Break-Up

This movie is being marketed as a romantic comedy. I'm not sure that's very accurate. True, there are a number of very funny moments but, even so, I'm not sure I'd call it a comedy. Have you ever been present when one of your friends was fighting with his or her spouse? Then you'll recognize the feeling of discomfort I had through much of the first half of this film. More than that, though, it made me sad. It was just a little too close to home for me to find it funny. Now, before you go sending me recommendations for a marriage counselor, let me just say that Juliette and I are in no danger of breaking up. Like every couple, though, we do occasionally have fights. Of course, we communicate well and share responsibility pretty equally, so our fights are less consequential than the ones in this movie and get resolved relatively quickly, but the themes in the arguments between Gary (Vince Vaughn) and Brooke (Jennifer Aniston) were very familiar. I think they'd be familiar to a lot of people--in fact, I think that's something that the filmmakers were counting on. All this, combined with the palpable chemistry between Aniston and Vaughn, made it just too real for me. So, yeah, I can't really call it a comedy. I will say, though, that this movie featured probably the best acting I've seen out of either of the leads. And, as I mentioned before, there are comedic scenes. I thought Jon Favreau was hilarious and Juliette liked Jason Bateman. Anyway, I thought this film was good, but if you're looking for a nice, light movie to bring a date to, you might want to consider seeing something else.

Viewed: 6/2/2006 | Released: 6/1/2006 | Score: B

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