Letters to Holly

Friday, June 8

The Procession

A local man signed up for the military after 9/11 and was killed in Afghanistan last week. His body arrived at the Asheville airport and received a formal color-guard procession all the way to Brevard yesterday. Folks stood along the highway with flags as the hearse drove by. I missed all this; I was in Asheville buying business-card paper (I was going to go to a print shop to make my convention cards, but I don't need 1,000 of them, even for $40) . Two local radio hosts decided to use this event to measure their demographic.

Host No. 1 thought the classy thing to do at a funeral procession is to have his listeners honk their horns at the same time. Fortunately, the procession started too late, and he didn't get his communal horn blast. Ass.

Host No. 2, a local preacher/activist, got into the procession and gave live play-by-play during the drive to Brevard. I was about 15 minutes behind the procession and still on I-26 for most of its slow drive to town. When I arrived in Brevard, it was about ten minutes after they arrived. The host described a mob of people all along the route, even some standing in the road. I didn't see any of this. He described hundreds of flags unfurled at roadside. I didn't see any of this. He name-dropped all the businesses he claimed had sufficient patriotic displays. I didn't see any of this. He compared the attendance to that of the Christmas parade numerous times. What I did see was the traffic moving along the secondary roads. All the intersections along the route were blocked by firetrucks, and Brevard was a parking lot when I arrived. People were driving past the funeral home to catch sight of the hearse. Just the day before, the host was summoning his listeners to the route to stand guard for nameless, liberal, anti-war protesters who were sure to vandalize the procession somehow. This, of course, didn't happen, and the preacher can now claim his audience denied the alleged plot. Double ass.

Now, obviously, a smalltown mass gesture of respect for a native fallen soldier is never something I will poo-poo. But blatant radio stunts are, and both these guys have cemented their status as unscrupulous bastards.

Your Parents delivered an anniversary gift and one of Your Grandmother's scrapbooks to me earlier in the day. Your Sis and I sat down to thumb through, and it's all baby pictures. A few of you, one of Penn, and the rest were her. Despite the inarguable cuteness of her baby pics, I was distracted by the photos of Your Mom. I can't see at all what drove her to get reconstruction work. Of course, I'm biased; you're all head-turning.

We then met Travis and Kathy for dinner at the pub and suffered through a tragically overwhelmed waitress. I placed my food order three times. I took the high road and tipped well. Your Sister has her last day of proper school today, although there is remediation next week for the losers who can't follow instructions. We'll probably miss a faculty party tonight in order to grade papers.

Picture of the Day
I have no idea what this is from.

Thursday, June 7

Cooking With Villainy 3

The latest Shakespeare email mentions two more disturbing notions:

1) There is no rehearsal the day before opening night. This is madness. This is Sparta. This is Spartan madness. I've never done a show without a rehearsal before the curtain goes up. Never.

2) The official showtime, not counting intermission, is three hours. Romeo and Juliet is the only Shakespeare production to state how long the show should run. It's in the prologue:
... the two hours’ traffick of our stage ...
How do you add an hour to Romeo and Juliet? Slapstick and extended fight scenes. Once again, madness.

Some fuhntaztic weather allowed me to fertilize and mulch the potatoes. Here's what one does: I bought a 3 pound bag of garden fertilizer. You add one cup of the mix to each 30-foot row. I have two rows of potatoes just under 30 feet each. You sprinkle it about the plants and then water the soil to take in the fertilizer. That lasted about half an hour. I bought three bags of cypress wood mulch (mulch is cheaper than I assumed: $1.90 for a bag) and spread most of them about the plants, trapping in the moisture and preventing birds from eating the fertilizing pellets. This all took a little over an hour, and it wasn't what I'd call laborious. All I should have to do now is water occasionally for the next six weeks, and we can harvest them.

Your Sis feels guilty for not doing more to help out, but we're not growing that much, and she's dealt with school stuff at home for weeks now. The regular classes ended yesterday, and now students are taking exams for the next two days. She got home late last night, but it was my turn to make dinner anyway, and I made what turned out to be a really great recipe. And that leads us to ...


Doom again demands you to engage your underdeveloped culinary brain cells. Doom requires delicious chicken scallopini! Do you heed Doom? SCALLOPINI!

Doom commands you to mix 1 cup of bread crumbs, 2 teaspoons of parsley flakes, dashes of salt and pepper, and 2 minced cloves of garlic.

Doom commands you to whisk the white of one egg with a half cup of water.

Doom commands you to place two chicken breast pieces within their own cling wrap veil. Flatten the pieces to a 1/8-inch thickness. Dip the chicken in the egg mixture and then dredge the pieces in the seasoned crumb bowl.

Doom commands you to heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a medium-hot skillet. Place chicken inside. Cook chicken for 2-3 minutes each side.

Doom commands you to prepare the side of your choosing (surprise Doom, cur) and cut one lemon into wedges. When eating, drizzle chicken and side with lemon juice.

Doom affirms the deliciousness of this dish, if you but do as Doom commands. Do not deviate from Doom's master Scallopini designs.

Picture of the Day
The Mach 5 for the upcoming Speed Racer film made by the Wachowski Brothers (The Matrix, V for Vendetta). Your Sis knows the cartoon. I missed it entirely. Knew of it, never saw it. But if the Wachowskis are involved, my ticket is purchased.

Tuesday, June 5

A Matter of Timing

You might remember my disastrous audition for the outdoor Shakespeare. Even though I didn't get a speaking role and had to bow out because of car troubles (and concern that the production was veering into camp), I'm still on the email chain. The recent communications from the theatre folk suggest mayhem. The rehearsal schedule is shifting often, and attendance is sporadic because of spotty weather. If I had stuck around, I'd pull out my hair. I'd drive an hour to get to the theatre and find out the evening is scotched because performers stayed home to avoid a drizzle. I'd be fired for flattening people with fury-fueled wrestling moves. Long story short, I dodged a bullet. This isn't counting everything I would have missed if I did the show: the comic show, the prom, the school awards ceremony, the run preparation, the minicomic, etc.

I shuffled over to the local Home Depot (which isn't at all local; the closest is more than a half hour away) for a mower spark plug, mulch, and fertilizer. The spark plug was the answer, by the way, so I didn't have to borrow the neighbor's mower. Your Sis was detained with work and a pharmacy visit, so we had pizza for a late supper. We had a confab over the remaining research papers and gave ourselves two deadlines to finish them.

Picture of the Day
Lego art.

In the News
I watched the GOP debate last night on CNN. Aside from the overwhelming volume of candidates, one is struck by the bad format. True, they had two hours and two styles of debate (a formal exchange and a town-hall session), but the number of people makes that amount of time insufficient. It flew by without anything of substance delivered. This was my first chance to hear from the fringe hopefuls, and aside from Texas representative Ron Paul, none did anything more than pander. Not that any of them presented a presidential carriage. The moderator conducted the debate as if it were The Dating Game ("If I were an illegal immigrant with no healthcare, and I had drug-resistant TB contracted from an Al-Qaeda operative in Iraq, what would you say if we met on a street corner?"). The only benefit from this show was to affix faces to the names. Each was equally anxious to show their enthusiasm for the job, a fidgety initiative that made them look almost desperate.

I think this is why Fred Thompson has become the sexy candidate; he doesn't convey any shimmering desire for the presidency. He doesn't seem like the kind of guy to drop sound bytes or toss off a smarmy grin while kissing babies to win your vote. At a time when we're allegedly more concerned with presentation over substance, Thompson emerges as a grumpy uncle whose nomination would denounce the slick, glad-handers who currently make up the candidate pool. Not that I think he has a chance of winning. He's entering the race relatively late, and the herd of current hopefuls may have left him with few financial resources to lobby. His Senate experience lends him credibility as a Washington veteran, but he's been out of office for some time now. Does he have any lingering pull? Will his alleged swinging bachelor days come back to haunt him? Also, except for grandstanding comments on immigration (this is our home and we can choose who walks in), he has no established policy stances nor any ideas to attack the big problems of foreign policy, deficits, and healthcare. Before long, he'll have to stop coasting on his celebrity cache and offer a platform.

Oh, and the current official candidates clearly targeted Hillary last night. I don't think any other Democrat was mentioned by name, and none was referenced as often. She's the bullseye for them whether it's because she's the nominal frontrunner or the perceived constituency is rabidly misogynist and conditioned by the dozens of GOP talk hosts. Maybe a mix of all. But ten guys taking shots as Hillary starts to look unchivalrous. Yes, it's a double standard. Yes, she's a public figure with equal opportunity to be criticized. But by not commenting on the other Democrat candidates, they appear to specifically target her as a person, not a candidate. And that could appear mean-spirited to the public.

Monday, June 4

Mowing Monkees

Mowing the lawn is much easier when the mower agrees to run. I was about halfway through with the front yard yesterday when the engine faded to silence. It's got oil, it's got gas. The spark plug is coated in oil, and that's the obvious problem. I'll stop by the hardware store for a new plug today, and I'll pick up garden mulch and fertilizer as well. The potato plants have launched themselves higher, and now it's time to smother the shoots to trap moisture.

As I left the house today, the next-door neighbor stopped me to offer the use of his mower. He also casually mentioned my lawnmower never sounded right to him. I'm a relatively new homeowner and the two of us rarely chat, so maybe we're still establishing our camaraderie and all, but that's a lousy thing to say to someone. That's my mower -- my oldest piece of hardware -- and I've kept it going for ten years now with diligent care. It's not supposed to be whisper quiet. It's a lawnmower and, despite occasionally bathing my plugs in oil, it still works. I would have taken him up on his offer, but now I'm not so inclined. If the mower is shot, I'll have to buy a new one anyway.

Your Sis is much better and managed to eat yesterday. We've got about four days to finish up two classes' worth of research papers, and I think that will take up all our time this weekend. Graduation is Sunday, and so are the Tonys. It's also our two-year jailhouse-iversary.

Moving Monkees of the Day
The audition footage for the Monkees. You know, I still haven't seen an entire episode of this since I was maybe five years old. I was in nursery school/kindergarten until first grade, and the babysitter let us watch afternoon TV, including syndicated reruns of "F-Troop," "Brady Bunch," "Monkees," "Batman," and "Ghostbusters" (the show the predates the Bill Murray movie). She used to feed us butter cookies, the little ones shaped like flowers, and we would eat them by sticking our pinky fingers through the center hole and nibbling from the edges inward. She pavloved us; whenever I see the Brady Bunch or Batman TV shows, I get that taste in my mouth thirty years later.

A Lot Actually

The weather was nice enough Friday for us to eat outside Jason's on Main Street. I like drinking Bass Ale on what amounts to a front porch while tourists wander by.

On Saturday, after Your Sister filed grades at school while I did laundry and ran a 5k. I went back to the college and again ran 3 miles within 30 minutes. I didn't have a talk podcast to work with this time, but the random music playlist helped quite a bit:

Welcome to the Black Parade -- My Chemical Romance
(such a good running song, I replayed it immediately)
Jive Talkin' -- Bee Gees
Head Like A Hole -- Nine Inch Nails
Four Leaf Clover -- Abra Moore
Battle of the Planets theme
a KRS One/Celtic music mashup
La Discoteque -- The United States Of Electronica
Come On Home -- Franz Ferdinand

And just like that, I was done. I tried to keep going, but it grew hot very quickly, and I didn't want to hurt myself. I'd like to do this at least twice a week, and I bet I could do it everyday if I made myself.

We ate again at the new steakhouse diner, which is as close to a Japanese Waffle House as you'll find, but the food is great. We rented two films, and watched one that night.

Tristram Shandy is an odd duck. I'm not sure it even qualifies as a movie. Half of the film is an adaptation of the novel; the second half is a mockumentary of the making of the adaptation. I can't even say I liked it. It's smart and funny (Your Sis was laughing out loud very early), and it has quiet, real moments of backstage interaction. But it doesn't feel like a finished product. Maybe it needs another 20 minutes to simmer. It also has the cinema verite comedy of both versions of "The Office," a style that leaves me bored and shrugging.

Stranger Then Fiction, however, may be my new favorite movie. It shouldn't work at all. At first blush, this is The Truman Show, complete with a noted funnyman trying to play it straight. I'm no fan of Will Farrell's continued use of blithe confidence shouted long and loud. And he is clearly the least interesting character in this film. I can't tell if he is purposefully trying to be bland or if he cannot muster intriguing, normal reactions. Literally, anyone can play this role, and the movie would be the same. But the film has two things in its favor:

1) A fantastic script. This is a film about writing, and it may be the best film about writing I've seen, surpassing possibly Adaptation. As the story unfolds, we can clearly see the script refers to its own efforts to make a story work. And when the movie is over, the finished product stands as a work much smarter than I gave it credit for. I rooted for it to make the pieces fit, and it does. It does very well.

2) Emma Thompson. Without her, this film withers. She plays the writer narrating Farrell's life and flummoxed with a satisfying manner to kill him off. While Maggie Gyllenhaal is incredibly adorable and Dustin Hoffman equally intelligent and comfortably odd, Emma makes this movie work. She is the core of the film, not Farrell. It's her struggle that emerges as the central churning. Queen Latifa, like farrell, is just there.

It should be noted that the DVD packaging does absolutely nothing to properly sell the movie. It's bland and simple and cheerful, and it prepares you to see a similar film. But this is a lovely, intelligent movie that establishes its own rules of progression without breaking them later. It's a standout film, and had I any idea, I would have watched it in the theatre and cried my eyes out.

Unfortunately, Your Sis became violently ill this weekend. She was flattened by severe vomiting and stayed home from work today. I think the worst is over. Apparently, this is a bug flying around the school, and now we wonder if I'll get it too. I hovered over her (from a polite distance) all of yesterday. We watched a little bit of the miniseries of Stephen King's "The Stand," and, holy cow, it doesn't hold up at all.

Potatoes of the Day
The garden is getting greener. They're about five inches tall at most, and they're almost halfway to harvest time. We're managing to grow something edible on purpose. We're stunned. None of the neighborhood animals have bothered them. I guess cats and dogs don't eat potatoes.