Friday, March 6, 2009

is it just me?

Or is this guy what would happen if Javier Bardem and Robert Downey Jr. mated? (Pause to picture that) Or is he some kind of mad scientist experiment done with recombinant DNA? (Pause to wonder how long it would take me to become a molecular biologist and raise money for some kickass lab equipment) Evidently, his name is Jeffrey Dean Morgan, and he's in the new Watchmen movie (stillll not enough inducement to get me to go see it - Billy Crudup's glowing blue "anatomy" not withstanding). I volunteer to check Jeffrey DowneyBardem Morgan's tummy to see if he's got a belly button. Cause that's how you can tell if somebody was grown in a lab. It's a fact. It's science.

A spoonful of sugar helps the history go down

I don’t read much non-fiction. I’ll occasionally go through a phase, but for the most part, I live real life. I read books to get away from it.

But when I do want something non-fiction, my favorite is the kind of history that views an event or era through a very particular lens the way that Seabiscuit did with horseracing and the 1930s. The book I just finished, Playing the Enemy by John Carlin, is another great example. It looks at South Africa and the end of apartheid through the lens of the 1995 rugby World Cup games.

I’ve always meant to really sit down and try to understand South Africa and apartheid. But trying to take in straight political history is not my favorite thing. Dates and names and political parties and who opposed who and why is just not easy for me to process. So I really needed a way into the story. But if I hadn’t read a really positive review of Playing the Enemy, I wouldn’t have chosen it as my window into that time. I’m not a real sports fan, with rugby being one of the sportiest sports in my mind. Giant men running into each other and playing under obscure rules doesn’t hit in my top ten of things to watch. I’m probably not the perfect target audience for this book.

But this is an absolutely extraordinary story, of how Nelson Mandela recognized that an international rugby embargo was a key to ending apartheid and how he then used the South African national team to begin the reconciliation of what was possibly the most fractured nation in history. It’s also a story of how after nearly 30 years in prison, Mandela used an extraordinary amount of trust and unshakeable good will to inspire change, even in people that most would have written off as unchangeable. And you really get a sense of the different people that were on both sides of the struggle for full democracy in South Africa. Politicians, lawyers, soldiers, writers, protesters, prisoners, clergy, people who never had a thought about politics, and, most definitely, rugby players.

I’m not telling you that you have to run out right now and get this book to read. (You could do that. It’s a great read.) But what I am saying is that if you don’t, write the name on a piece of paper and stick it in your wallet. Pull it out the next time you need inspiration. Amazing things can be done.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

I’ve got some left over time off from last year that I have to use up. So I’ve decided that I’m going to take care of a few home improvement projects that I’ve been putting off.

Biggest on the list is covering up the wallpaper in my bathrooms, entry and kitchen. They’re all in varying levels of aesthetic offensiveness – from just meh to outright heinous. All making my eyes sore. And unfortunately, they papered over the drywall, so the stripping option isn’t really open to me. I know I’m not up to repairing drywall if I screw up. So, it seems the best option is to use a good oil based primer and just cover the lot.

If I get really ambitious, I’ve decided that I’m going to re-do the downstairs bathroom. I’ve done a lot of thinking, and I think I’m going to trick it out Rosie the Riveter style. I have this great poster that I got at the Smithsonian to use as inspiration. I want to play up the red and blue. My ultimate would be to find a red or blue vanity top to use. But, I could work with white, and then paint the cabinet doors instead. I’m also going to try to build a towel holder out of pipe. I’ve also seen people use wrenches as cabinet hardware.

And the theme may solve a problem I’ve had with that bathroom since day one. It’s got a mirror that goes all the way down to the edge of the sink backsplash. Which isn’t really a problem unless, as in my situation, your toilet faces the sink. At really close quarters. I find it odd to watch myself pee. So I find myself kind of trying to casually ignore myself in the mirror. Which ends up being very uncomfortable in an oddly existential way. So when my cohort at work came up with the idea of using diamond plate in there like you see at construction sites, I thought maybe I could use it as the new backsplash. Get a wide strip and run it along the edge of the vanity, and it would block “the view”. Stylish and clever, I must say.

Okay, now I’m just excited. The other bathrooms and kitchen may have to wait. I think I’m just going to move the bathroom up to the head of the priority list. I’m just having way too much fun planning this out to wait.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Like a steak to the heart

You know, before I did this whole "give meat up for Lent" thing, I'd look at the recipe section of the paper and see all these lovely sounding recipes for vegetarian dishses. I though, "Oh, well. See? Look how easy it will be."

What do I get today? The NY Times is doing a whole love letter to CUBE STEAK. The vegetable dish the offer? Beets with Garlic-Walnut Sauce.

Oh, well. You know what? Screw you too, New York Times. I hate you back. And just to prove I'm not making up this gahki concoction:

I think you can actually do a SAT analogy on that one - Garlic : Vampires :: Beets with Walnut-Garlic Sauce : Julie. Hiiiisssss! Gaaaaaahhhhh!

Whistling in the dark

So, last night I’m getting ready to have my niece come stay with me a few days. She’s used to a little mess on my part, so it wasn’t a deep clean. Just a “no need to call child protective services, nothing to see here” kind of clean. And since I got home late from work, it wasn’t until after 11:00 that I had the garbage ready to go out. I grabbed my coat and keys, and decided that I’d check my mail while I was out.

It’s a gauge of how completely quiet my neighborhood is that I just kind of dawdled along. Pitched the trash. Looked up at the moon. Shuffled over to the mailboxes. Flipped through my mail as I wandered back.

Until I got about 8 feet from my door.

And a man started whistling.

I went on such a high state of alert that my heart was racing a mile a minute. That whistling was just like some kind of psycho signature move in a slasher movie. Whistling Willie, who does a few bars of In the Mood before he swoops in and grabs the dimwit who takes her garbage out in the middle of the night. And of course, if you’re in the slasher flick, you have no idea if you’re the woman who dies in the first five minutes of the movie, and whose body is found in a field next to police headquarters, leading Tommy Lee Jones or Denzel Washington to hunt down Whistling Willie with a vengeance. Or if you’re the girl who is tied up in Willie's secret basement room when Tommy Lee or Denzel busts in at the last minute to save you.

Actually, I didn’t want to be either of those girls. So I scuttled to my door, opened the lock at record pace, jumped in and slammed the door, so that I could lean on it panting.

Melodramatically panting, because I don’t actually live in a slasher flick. And Willie was probably just Friendly Willie, the neighborhood guy also taking out his trash, who wanted to warn the woman alone that she wasn’t alone and didn’t want to startle her. What could be less threatening than whistling? Nothing. If you aren’t a big ol’ drama queen who has watched waaaay too many episodes of SVU.

On the other hand. I don’t think I’ll be taking out my trash late at night again any time soon. I’d hate to end up in that field next to the police station.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

A mystery solved

I love reading book reviews. I’ll read reviews of books that I would never actually spend my time reading. Especially ones about books on history. To grab people’s attention, the reviewer will sometimes pepper in all sorts of weird historical facts. It’s where I learned the source of that line about Hitler’s shortcomings that is sung to the tune of The Colonel Bogey March in Bridge on the River Kwai. These are the little bits of trivia that make me a monster at Trivial Pursuit.

In the last month I’ve read no less than three reviews about a book on the Wittgenstein family (for Monty Python fans, they of “Wittgenstein was a beery swine” fame). The book focuses on the period at the start of the 20th Century when they were crazy rich, crazy for music, and given the number of them who committed suicide, possibly just crazy.

The little bit of trivia that just fascinates me is that one of the sons disappeared and is assumed to have committed suicide by jumping off a boat on a Florida lake in 1902. Given this and the fact that the Wittgenstein family had a habit socking money away in stray Swiss bank accounts, I’m perfectly willing to put out there that I’m the long lost descendant of Hans Wittgenstein. I mean, really. It makes perfect sense. My love of the alpine horn and beer. My sense of having mysterious origins. My fear of sailing. And alligators. I had always thought I might be a lost Hapsburg. But this is sooooo much more logical.

Okay, the fact that he was quite probably gay is a bit of a wrinkle. But who knows? Given a slightly soggy, disoriented Austrian, the moonlight over Lake Okeechobee and a young, impressionable girl from the swamps . . . well, things can happen.

Frankly, I find this all the empirical evidence any court could possibly need. So, if any stray checks drawn on long inactive Swiss bank accounts belonging to an H. Wittgenstein happen to pop up, you can just forward them on to me. Call it an inheritance.

TIME: Quotes of the Day