[insert timpani sound]

Sunday, September 21, 2003

Amazing. Three days after the storm, and Fairfax County residents are still being advised to boil their water. I suppose that's an improvement -- at least they have water now. Friends of mine still don't have electricity. It sounds like a third-world country. What next, malaria shots?

Fortunately I do not live in Fairfax County. Unfortunately I chose to go shopping there tonight.

There was one container of Ben & Jerry's ice cream left. What is it with Ben & Jerry's? If World War III broke out tomorrow, people would riot over a single pint of Chunky Monkey. "To hell with the bottled water and tinned meat -- see if they have any Cherry Garcia left!"

Memo to me: create new brand of "gourmet-style" survivalist foods. Packaging & shelf life similar to military MRE. Investigate cobranding opportunities for freeze-dried, no-refrigeration-required ice cream, pizza, etc.

Local governments and utilities are handing out free bottled water & dry ice (the Post had an article about the long lines for dry ice).

They ought to be handing out free Xanax.

Friday, September 19, 2003

Sturm und Drang

"Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets."
-- Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver

I've opened the bedroom window a few inches. The wind is whistling through. The air is warmer than I expected; then I remember that she's a tropical storm.

I went out Thursday afternoon. I had no good reason, really, except for not having any flashlight batteries.

It was raining -- not too hard, really. Streets were pretty much empty, which is what happens here when the public mass transit system and the federal and local governments all decide they're going to close. Why they shut down the subway is beyond me. They said they were afraid of people being blown onto the tracks on the above-ground subway stations. It's hard to imagine the typical lard-ass American being lifted up, a la Dorothy's house in The Wizard of Oz, and dropped in the path of an oncoming subway train, but still, I suppose it could happen. So why not just close the stations that are above ground, and leave the rest of the subway running underground?

Public transit is pretty much the lifeblood of a big city. When it's gone, you can roll back the clock to the 1800s.

Unless, of course, you have a car.

The road was already littered with leaves and bark and branches. Some of the branches were big enough to require steering around. Traffic lights were out everywhere.

I pulled up at a Starbucks. The door had a handwritten sign saying they were closing early due to the hurricane.

Wednesday night, I had done my last-minute hurricane shopping at a local store (amazingly busy for 11 PM) that had shelves that were picked bare. Well, not completely bare. I thought it would be an interesting anthropological study: what do people buy in times of crisis? There was no bottled water at all. Very few batteries -- I assume The Great Northeastern Blackout of '03 is still fresh in everyone's mind. And there were only two pints of Ben & Jerry's ice cream left. I overheard some woman complaining to her friend that her basket of "survival" goods was full of junk food.

There was an absolutely brilliant article in Spy magazine years ago about what death row inmates choose for their last meals before going off to the electric chair.

Anyway, I decided to swing past another grocery store Thursday afternoon. This one was also pretty busy. The shelves here weren't bare, but I never found the bottled water.

I drove around some more and saw a tree that had been felled by the wind. It looked as if the trunk had just snapped in half. A jagged, splintery stump was still in the ground, the rest of the poor tree on the ground nearby. It was pathetic in the true sense of the word: I felt sorry for the tree.

A few blocks later, the cops had blocked off a major intersection. I couldn't quite tell why, but it seemed that one of the huge old trees on the corner was listing 30 degrees to starboard.

There was very little traffic and thus very few traffic hazards, except for the people who weren't quite paying attention and who forgot that you're supposed to treat a traffic light outage as if it were a 4-way stop sign and not go sailing through the intersection. More than once I thought I was going to be rear-ended by one of these people.

I went to two different Home Depot stores. The first one was out of every kind of battery except AA batteries (which they had a lot of), and lantern batteries, which they would only sell you in conjunction with a flashlight, for the special price of $11.98. "HURRICANE SUPPLIES CANNOT BE RETURNED" read the makeshift sign posted at the entrance. I could imagine people arguing about whether a particular piece of defective plywood constituted a "hurricane supply."

I decided to pass on the $11.98 lantern battery.

The next Home Depot was closing just as I arrived.

Finally, I tried a CVS drug store on Route 50. Nothing but AA batteries and an improbably large crowd of Korean men all buying umbrellas.

Thus the quest for batteries ended.

The lights have flickered occasionally tonight -- not really confidence-inspiring -- but so far, only flickering.

I'm really not a fan of felled trees, flooded streets, and electrical power outages -- but there's something bracing and cathartic about listening to the wind whip through the buildings here. It's enough to make one hope that the world in Isabel's wake will be better, in some ineffable way.

Monday, September 15, 2003

Girlfriend in a coma (I know, I know, it's serious)

I have just finished watching Talk to Her, Almodovar's celebrated film from last year, which both Time Magazine and The New York Times called the best movie of the year, and which Peter Travers of Rolling Stone called "unmissable and unforgettable."

Talk to Her won an Oscar for Best Screenplay. The film is currently listed on IMDB as # 130 on the top 250 films of all time.

Me? I'm still scratching my head.

It has ingredients from other Almodovar films. There's melodrama and soap opera and the occasional bit of comic relief. There's a liberal dose of sexual tension. And, somewhat disturbingly, there's this kind of recurring Almodovarian theme: a woman, placed on a pedestal and worshipped, becomes a victim of abuse by her worshippers.

You get the feeling that the artist is working through the same issues he tackled in his previous films. Of course, woody Allen does the same thing; so did Fassbinder too, for that matter. Maybe all artists do.

The feeling I had after watching the movie was similar to the feeling I had after seeing Picasso's Suite Vollard, a series of engravings featuring chaos, death, decapitations, etc. Quite a number of the engravings seemed to feature women being raped by minotaurs. Afterwards I felt I had some insight into how Picasso had painted "Guernica," but I'm not sure I actually wanted to know. Sure, you can lift a corner of the psychic rug to see what's lying underneath, but do you really want to know?

Speaking of minotaurs, this movie features a female matador who goes into a coma after she is gored by a bull. Hmmmm. Hmmmm. And Picasso and Almodovar are both Spanish. Hmmmm. Hmmmm.

Well, to paraphase Freud, sometimes a horn is just a horn.

It probably goes without saying that the cinematography is wonderful, the acting is impeccable, and Almodovar directs the camera flawlessly. It's well-paced. The plot moves in a peculiar, herky-jerky sequence of flashbacks and flash-forwards. It doesn't have the same hip, postmodern, nonlinear flavor of say, Pulp Fiction -- it feels more like some old serial drama ("MEANWHILE, BACK AT THE HOSPITAL...") I kept expecting the shot to go into one of those wavy dissolves.

I was completely dissatisfied with the ending of the movie. We've been dragged through 90 minutes of pathos, heartbreak, suffering etc. and it's like Almodovar says, "Fuck it, let's give 'em a happy ending." So BOOM! one deus ex machina, two improbable contrivances and six coincidences later, we have a neat and tidy happy ending. And people stand up and applaud this, they call it "the best film of the year." Yay happy ending. Here, have an Oscar.

And I'm scratching my head wondering if anyone else noticed that nothing in the third act would have actually happened in real life. Almodovar might as well have had Tinkerbell fly down and sprinkle pixie dust on everyone in the movie. It would have been just as realistic.

But maybe we don't care. Maybe we like happy endings. We've liked the deus ex machina ever since Euripides first ran it into the ground around 400 B.C. Now that I think of it, Euripides was another misogynist who wrote tragicomedies based around women and did fairly well for himself. Anyone for "Trojan Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown?"

Saturday, September 13, 2003

The freakish weather continues. Last fall it was rain. Rain rain rain rain rain rain. Then it was snow. Snow snow snow snow snow. Spring flowers, BAM, more snow. Slight warmth. Snow. Snow snow snow. There were two whole days of spring. Then it was summer, and rainy. Rain rain rain. It was a good 5 or 10 degrees cooler than normal, but you didn't hear people complain much. So what if we had a summer of Seattle's weather? At least it isn't snowing, right?

In Europe, over 10,000 people are dead due to record high temperatures this summer.

Now it's mid-September. Yesterday, in the subway, I saw a young woman. She was wearing a down vest & fleece headband; her sleeves were pulled up over her knuckles for warmth. She didn't look like some strange old lady wearing a fur hat with ear flaps on the first day of summer. She looked pretty normal, except for the clothes. She looked pretty cold.

It was raining then.

It rained today.

Earlier this week, it snowed in Colorado, surprising people walking around in shorts and t-shirts.

In Seattle, they had record-breaking warm weather this summer. (61 days in a row of high temperatures above 70 degrees.)

According to at least one computer weather mdoel (UKMET), Hurricane Isabel should be in our neighborhood next week. She's currently a Category 5 hurricane. This area can't seem to cope with a bad thunderstorm; I don't know what's going to happen if the hurricane does hit.

But, on the bright side, at least it isn't snow.


From Nietzsche's Thus Spake Zarathustra: "Chastity"

Is it not better to fall into the hands of a murderer than into the dreams of a lustful woman?

Perhaps it is strange that a man who apparently died of tertiary syphilis should write at length on on the subject of chastity. No doubt Nietzsche would claim that it was really Zarathustra who spake thus.

And just look at these men: their eye saith it- they know nothing better on earth than to lie with a woman.

Unfortunately this was true because cable television had not been invented during Nietzsche's time. The most common recreational activities during the late 1800's were needlepoint, checkers and whist. You can't talk to someone from Nietsche's time and explain -- coherently -- what Nintendo is.

Actually, the kind of God-is-dead, there-is-no-soul nihilism that leads to thinking that there's nothing better than sex was, ironically, pretty much invented by Nietzsche.

But let us return to the original question: Is it not better to fall into the hands of a murderer than into the dreams of a lustful woman? The obvious answer is, of course, the former: a murderer will (by definition) kill you, whereas a woman will only make you wish you were dead.

The right answer, on the other hand, is: It depends on the woman.

Thursday, September 11, 2003


Exactly two orbital periods ago, some lifeforms on this planet intentionally steered some flying machines into some buildings and into the ground. This caused thousands of other lifeforms to die.

It accomplished nothing. No one knows why it was done. No group claimed responsibility.

Unfortunately, this is typical of the insanity that happens here.


Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Memo to me: Never believe companies that tell you their blogging software takes "two minutes" to set up.