Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Short Stories

“A Study In Scarlet”

As I mentioned earlier, I’d never read any of the original Sherlock Holmes stories. The character is so omnipresent in our pop culture, however, I felt like I had. 221B Baker street, Dr. Watson, Professor Moriarty, the pipe, the violin - it was all familiar to me(being a huge Star Trek fan helps, what with Data’s Holmes adventures).

Reading the story, it was very interesting to see how the world was first introduced to these characters. Some of it was shocking: reading that Holmes was unfamiliar with the concept of a Copernican solar system, I was astounded as Watson was. That quirk quickly establishes Holmes’ nature, though, as a man who has no use for anything that doesn’t aide his quest to catch criminals.

As is often the case with pioneers, what set Holmes apart is not readily apparent to a contemporary reader: his use of deduction and the scientific method is so commonplace today, I had to keep reminding myself of how novel the idea must have all seemed to someone reading the story in 1887.

Something I didn’t expect was the sudden backstory of the murderer, especially since it took place in America. That was the main draw for British readers at the time - a story set in an “exotic” locale, which to an English reader in the 19th century apparently meant Utah.

Doyle describes the wilderness of the American West as barren, lifeless, almost alien and inhospitable - and it’s new, utlra-religious inhabitants must have seemed just as alien to his readers. That’s right, the chief villains of the story are Mormons. As Doyle paints it, Mormons’ are a ruthless, brutal cult, killing anyone who dare speaks out against the church. Transgressors basically disappear, and never heard or spoken of again. Doyle actually compares the Mormons to the Spanish Inquisition, and the Inquisition loses!(which I’m guessing no one expected1). Bringham Young himself makes an appearance.

So the America West is basically a barren, desolate place whose only prosperous (white)peoples are bloodthirsty Jesus freaks. This could not have made any Englishman eager to visit the former colonies.

1I realize I’m going to hell for this joke.


“Harrison Bergeron”

In the future, world peace and equality has been achieved. Finally, right? The only cost is handicapping the intelligent by blaring noises in their ears until they are unable to think, crippling the strong by forcing them to carry heavy weights, and hiding the beautiful behind hideous masks. All is going smoothly until the title character, a man-child who cannot be held back by any handicapping, threatens the order of society.

This was classic Kurt Vonnegut. It was disturbingly funny. I was laughing at a horrible dystopia; at humankind’s dark side taken to absurd extremes. I can’t wait to read the rest of the collection, Welcome To The Monkey House.


“Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption”

Two years ago, my friend Jamie made me watch the Shawshank Redemption. I hadn’t seen it, and I wasn’t keen on seeing it - as far I was concerned, I’d seen Pulp Fiction and Forrest Gump, so I was pretty solid in the movies from 1994 department. It was a knee-jerk reaction that, for some reason, I was sticking to.

But Jamie was right. The movie was amazing, and so was the short story.

Stephen King is an author whose works will still be read long after the Grishams, the Pattersons and the Browns of the world have been forgotten. The academic-elites, whoever the fuck they are, don’t like him. That’s because, to borrow a term form Chuck Klosterman(who also borrowed the term), King is too “advanced” for them to understand.

The basic thinking behind “Advanced Theory” is that when a genius does something that appears to suck, it might mean that he is just doing something you can’t understand, because he has “advanced” beyond you.

Of course, we could qualify David Foster Wallace as “advanced” as well, and the literary academics love him. I think the difference is that Wallace is advanced in way people who take Literature very, very seriously can understand, while King is advanced in a way normal people(especially when his stories make the transition to film, starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman) understand. Which, in the end, makes King infinitely more important1 and is why Shawshank Redemption will be on Top 50 films lists and rerun on TBS until the end of human existence, while the “Brief Interviews WIth Hideous Men” movie directed by Jim from The Office has never actually been seen by anyone2.

But ANYWAY, “Shawshank” was a great read. Of course, it was impossible to picture the characters without picturing Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman, despite the fact that Andy Dufresne is described as short and Red is Irish. I don’t know what drove me closer to a stroke, trying to picture Robbins as a short man or Freeman as white.


I didn’t make it to the Salinger story yet, or listening to an album. Moving plus a lot of extra work at the office has me stretched a little thin these days. I will get to those, however, and hopefully next month I’ll get to the violin, imitating Holmes in my free time, at my new apartment.

1Though not necessarily more talented; Wallace does acrobatics with the English language that are so dazzling they demand constant rereadings
2If you have seen it, be honest, you might have been dreaming

Monday, April 19, 2010

A New Project, A Day Late

I found an apartment! It’s on the Upper West Side, near Columbia(which would be awesome, if I was a Columbia student) and Central Park. This will be my fourth move in three years, but thankfully, this will be my first apartment without a roommate. It’s all mine: all mine to pay for, keep clean, sleep in, party in, relax in, stress in, hide in, pig out in, cook in, etc etc etc; and that is an awesome feeling.

It’s a relief to have the search over(with two weeks to spare). No more searching Craigslist and seeing apartments right after work. I can (sort of) get back to my usual schedule.

But I still have to save money(movers, new furniture since I don’t own any), so this week I’m doing another mini-project. I’m starting a day late, though, so this will go Tuesday through Saturday.

My friend Miriam suggested this back in the comments of my last project. I’m going to read one short story/poem a day, and then post what I think about it. After picking my friends’ minds for suggestions, I have the following:

    •    Tuesday - “A Study In Scarlet”, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
    •    Wednesday - “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption”, Stephen King
    •    Thursday - “Harrison Bergeron”, Kurt Vonnegut,
    •    Friday - “The Laughing Man”, J.D. Salinger

That’s four short stories. My friend Leslie had a great suggestion that, instead of a poem, I listen to a song. I’m going to go one step beyond that, though, and listen to an album of Leslie’s choosing, and post my thoughts about it Saturday.

So tomorrow, I get my first taste of Sherlock Holmes. When I was young, I read the Hardy Boys and Encyclopedia Brown, but that never translated later into reading about the exploits of fiction’s first great detective(instead, it lead to reading about it’s second: Batman).

I did really love this episode of Alvin and the Chipmunks:

Friday, April 9, 2010

And it Ends

The week is over, and - again - I almost met my goal. 14 out of 15 meals this week, I did not eat out. I had instant oatmeal for breakfast each morning. For lunch, once I had pb&j, once I had a frozen Lean Cuisine, and the remaining three times I had leftovers. For dinner, I had steak and broccoli, barbecued chikcen and broccoli, and toasted pb&j twice(well, sort of, I’ll get to that later). That makes four dinners, leaving only Friday’s dinner, which I just finished a few minutes ago.

I caved; after a long day at work(and facing the prospect of working on Sunday), I went home, gathered my things, and headed to my favorite cafe for a burger and fries. I could have easily heated up some of my frozen leftovers. I just didn’t want to.

There were other factors. Twice while I was cooking this week, my apartment’s power went out: once while cooking my steak, and again in the middle of toasting a rushed Wednesday night dinner; leaving me with quarter-toasted bread for my pb&j sandwiches. The steak I finished cooking in the dark, but the power came back on soon enough that I was able to eat without the aid of my roommate’s candle. So tonight, besides being exhausted, I was also motivated by the prospect of eating an entire meal without fear of losing electricity in the middle of fixing and/or eating it.

Overall, I really enjoyed this little experiment. I enjoyed the cooking(if you can call it that), and I enjoyed not having to worry about where to go to lunch. I had more time to read, write, and just relax during my lunch break; plus fixing dinner felt kind of cathartic after a long day. Especially when it tasted good.

I’ll keep trying to cook more, especially in my new apartment, wherever that may be. I’ll have to look up a list of kitchen essentials, and some easy recipes to get started with.

Researching eating in, I came across an interesting book: The Art Of Eating In by Cathy Erway. It’s based on her blog, Not Eating Out In New York, and so far - though I’m only forty some-odd pages in - it’s a very good read. She spent two years not eating out(mostly). I’m sure I’ll pick up some good tips(and recipes).


I’m not sure what to do for next week. Apartment hunting is taking up a lot of my time, but I can’t really make that a “goal”.

I’ll think of something.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A Proper Dinner

I had a late dinner tonight, but I still cooked it. Steak and broccoli. Simple, plain, and after a spin class and a late trip home, delicious.

The steak had been marinating since the night before, so it was quite flavorful. I tossed the broccoli with a touch of olive oil and parmesan cheese; mixing a little sin with virtue, to make the virtue go down easier.

All in all, a good meal, and I still haven’t eat out. For lunch today I had PB&J, cheese and crackers, and some pretzels. If I keep doing that, though, I know I’ll get bored(especially since I’m using grape jelly - my preferred strawberry was absent from the grocery shelves).

So tomorrow I’ll have leftover steak and broccoli. The steak is in tupperware, mixed with a little A1, and should still taste pretty good coming out of a microwave.

Tomorrow night will be interesting, because I’ll be going to my girlfriend’s place after my pool match. I guess I’ll either fix something there, or just have cereal or something.

Thursday, though, I have barbecued chicken, rice&beans and some okra waiting for me.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

It Begins

I started my “no eating-out” week today, with a little help from yesterday.

Last night, my girlfriend and I stayed in and fixed dinner: breaded chicken breasts, mac&cheese, and broccoli. Today, I had the leftovers for lunch. My customary apples&cinnamon oatmeal for breakfast. So far, so good.

Tonight, I have to go grocery shopping for the week. When I do cook, most meals are MEAT plus VEGETABLE, and if I feel daring, a second side(maybe rice and beans). Breaded chicken and okra, steak and broccoli, barbecued chicken and rice&beans, a different type of steak and (the same type of)broccoli; so goes my pattern.

And, I don’t think this is the week to break it up. Though I do want to learn to cook with more variety, this isn’t the time for that; this is the time to lean on my...leanings, and do what I know. The point is to save money. Expanding my cooking will come later(I’m looking into cooking classes1).

This will be true for lunch as well. There will be a lot of PB&J, a lot of leftovers, and a lot of fighting the urge to walk over to Chipotle for a burrito bowl. It’s only a week, it’s only a week.

The problem with leftovers is they have to be microwaved. And the problem with that is I can’t take my heated lunch to my favorite place to read, write, and relax during my lunch break: a Starbucks a block from my office. They have a huge upstairs area. I’m writing this from it, taking a brief break from work. Ideally, I’d have a bag lunch I could bring here2.

Tonight, I was thinking about just fixing canned chili and letting my chicken and steak marinate overnight(the one slightly “cookish” thing I do), but I ended up having toasted PB&J, the greatest meal in the history of mankind(when I haven’t had it for a while).

Tomorrow, steak and broccoli.

1I was going to say “at the moment” or “right now”, but I think that’s pretty fucking obvious.
2No matter what lunch I bring, there is another ethical dilemma: do I have to buy something to use the upstairs area @ said sbux? The answer is obviously yes and obviously no. Yes, because the unspoken agreement is to use their facilities I should be consuming Starbuck’s product. No, because this particular Starbucks does not have the resources to police their tabled area. Now, I usually buy a bottle of water, but I have - I confess3 - eaten my lunch without buying anything. My logic is that, as a regular, I’ve earned this right, especially since I’m going to buy a drink on the way out anyway.
3Addendum to this confession: I have, on occasion, come back with my empty morning cup, as to avoid suspicion and public ire.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Change Of Plans

I have to move. And moving(especially in New York City) takes a lot of time and money. Money that, in an ideal world, I’d be spending on a violin and registering for violin lessons.

I’m not sure why I want to learn to play the violin;I did play for a year when I was in elementary school, but I hardly remember anything(other than being thrilled during my first and only concert, my mother and grandmother watching from three rows away). Classical, Jazz, Country and other music that a violinist/fiddelist(?) would feature heavy in don’t come up a lot in my iPod playlists, so it’s not wanting to play music I’ve “appreciated”. If that was the case, I’d be asking Dan Smith to teach me guitar1.

I want a new avenue to express myself creatively, and a musical instrument certainly fills that need. Plus, the violin is not something commonly taken up at my age, so that does appeal to my vain sense of wanting to be “unique”. Plus, the romantic idea of playing rich-sounding music, standing in a warmly lit apartment while letting my thoughts drift from the banal day-to-day problems to the questions of life, the universe, and everything; that also appeals to that same, damningly vain desire that started this entire project. Plus, violins are beautiful to look at.

All of that will have to wait, however, as in the name of personal responsibility I have to forgo spending money on luxuries until I move into a new apartment. My move-in date is May 1st, so I plan to start the violin the week after I move in.

And when I say I have to move, the “have” part is key: my current residence has lost power every day, for at least fifteen minutes but sometimes all night, for the last two weeks. Maybe longer. Sadly, I love the neighborhood; I’m a regular at a pool hall, a cafe, and a pizza place that are all within a five minute walk. There is a Redskins bar nearby as well2.

Anyway, because of this, I’m going to try and tackle inexpensive, smaller projects in the meantime. The first is going to be not eating out.

Eating out in New York is a way of life. There are so many options, abundantly available, at all hours3. I’ve been very guilty of eating out too much. In fact, I’m writing this from a restaurant right now, eating lunch. Clearly, I have money I can save.

So, next week, I will not eat out. And by eating out, I mean eating a meal. Getting a coffee or tea won’t count. Why? This is my goal, my rules, so I make them up.

Monday through Friday, for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, I’ll be making something. It’s going to be interesting. For one thing, since I lose power at random times and for intervals lasting ten minutes to ten hours, I can’t really get anything that requires refrigeration. My plan is to fix some things and freeze the leftovers, working with the theory that frozen things will last longer if the electricity craps out again.

If by Saturday I’ve met my goal, I think I’ll get myself a (relatively)inexpensive steak dinner. Hopefully, when I’m eating my steak, I’ll do it knowing where I’ll be living next month.

1Anyone whose spent more than five seconds on a New York City street will understand this.
2Although this past season, it was tough to keep going and wallow with my fellow fans each week.
3This cliche is mostly true, and totally annoying to anyone who is unfortunate enough not to live in Manhattan. At some point, everyone who lives here finds themselves bragging about how late the city stays open despite that fact that said person rarely stays up past one in the morning. But it’s there if you need it!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Reward

Even though I didn't reach my original goal, I did reach my abbreviated goal. So, I decided to reward myself with a new gym bag.

I'm such a dork; I'm getting really excited about a damn gym bag. But look at it, has padded laptop storage! The reviews are so positive - I can't wait, and it's on it's way.

Plus, my current gym bag - which I've had for the past two years, a realization that shocked me earlier this week - is falling apart:

That's my workout log, threatening to fall out of my bag. My phone charger made the same threat but followed through, luckily I heard it hit the pavement.

New bag can't get here soon enough.