Friday, March 13, 2015

Deep Thoughts #113

When lead is pronounced with a short-E, it’s a heavy metal - not the past tense of the verb describing what a leader does. That word is led.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Beginning Our Fifth Month of Winter

According to the National Weather Service, Saturday night's winter storm set an Indianapolis record for snowfall on March 1st, and eclipsed the average monthly snowfall total for March by 5am.

And while this winter has not been as bad as the one in Boston, where they have had more than double the amount of snowfall we had last winter (which set a record here), we did manage to record the third coldest February on record; and I believe they said we recorded the seventh coldest November on record. November is not part of astronomical or meteorological winter, but we had snow on Halloween, and it was so cold that we had to cut trick-or-treating short.

Jackson had fun with it, though:

I can't stand being cooped up in the house all day, but no one wanted to go for a walk with me, so I had to strike out on my own after we took care of shoveling the driveway and sidewalk and front steps. What's cool about taking a walk on a day like this is that you get to see things from a different perspective. I went downtown, parked near the canal, got a cup of coffee at Mo'Joe, and then hit the Canal Walk. Normally this is a heavily populated multi-use path for walkers, joggers, bikers, skaters - you name it. (It's also part of the Cultural Trail, so it always gets plowed after fresh snow.) But today it was deserted, and a little bit eerie - but that was kind of cool, because you never see it that way.

It's been so cold this month that some parts of the canal have frozen solid, which allowed some enterprising architect(s) to create this:

And last but not least, you never see the mastodonts at the State Museum covered in snow, either.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Deep Thoughts #112 - Special Topical Nattily-Clad Edition

Yes, the snowiest February in the long, proud history of snowy Boston is, in fact, punishment because the recidivist Patriots cheated again.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Fifty Shades of Fault Done Gone, Girl

I'm eating lunch, or what passes for lunch, at the old juke joint this afternoon (technically yesterday), and looking for things to read out there on the magic internets. From one of the recent entries on the Paris Review's blog, I come to an article posted by the Guardian, about the Sydney Writers' Festival*. Apparently the Guardian did a live-blog of the festival (the 2014 edition), so I start scrolling through the entries to see if anything catches my eye—and what does the trick is an embedded tweet by someone called Courtney Robinson, who said, "Hey poetry slammers, that wasn't guerrilla or contrarian, it was fucking rude.” (Turns out I can’t go back that far in her Twitter feed to embed this one.)

Now, two things about that tweet. First, no tiny URL getting in the way of the thought and breaking up the rhythm. Second, take a look at what I quoted (or embedded, if I can manage to make that nubbin of technology work for me) and contrast what this tweet both contains and does not contain, with what the vast majority of other tweets do and do not contain. This one contains no numerals standing in for words. It contains no abbreivated words. It does contain a single thought, expressed in one—complete!—sentence, with correct punctuation.

Oh, and the F-bomb, too. Can't forget that. That's the interesting part. Take out the F-bomb, all you have is a tweet complaining about something the writer thought was rude. Is the writer being rude right back to the people by whom she was affronted? Sure she is. Is that being fair? Hey, who the fuck am I to judge? Her F-bomb emphasizes the degree to which she felt the poetry slammers were being rude, and, provocatively, encourages them to reevaluate their behavior in light of the way it made other people feel.

Not that the poetry slammers probably received any of those signals, but I digress in order to point out why I thought the F-bomb was interesting and not just a bit of profanity used in a gratuitous way; and it did another part of its job too, making me interested in what else the tweeter (Twitterer?) had to say. I click over to her Twitter page, and the most recent tweet says, in extra-large letters, "All aboard the lube mobile." Below the words is a picture of some kind of service van, taken by a photographer in traffic a bit behind the van. Below the words LUBE MOBILE is an illustration of a hand holding a wrench. It's probably safe to assume that this is some sort of automobile maintenance or repair service.

But the name of the service can be read in a dirty way, and I appreciate it when people allow their minds to work that way, both because of the tongue-in-cheek humor and because of the willingness to acknowledge sexuality. And yet that still isn't even the main point of this meandering post. (Although a secondary point is that this is another one of those instances where one random link leads to another and then ultimately points me at something interesting that I would not otherwise have encountered.)

That main point would be the tweet immediately following the one about the lube mobile. (Admit that you're laughing about the lube mobile. Even if you won't laugh out loud, or admit it to anyone else—admit it to yourself. Do I really need to paint you a picture of what's going on in the back of that van, after hours?) That tweet, which is slightly less elegant than the one addressed to the poetry slammers, reads, "I can't decide whether to read Fifty Shades of Grey or not, to hate read/ or just more deeply assess pop culture. Thoughts?”

This may be the first time in my life that I have ever wanted to respond to a tweet and then actually considered signing up for the service just to be able to do so; and though I did not do that, I do have thoughts, because I am in something of the same boat. Over the past year, we have played Gone Girl and The Fault in Our Stars, and beginning this coming Thursday, we will be playing Fifty Shades of Grey. The novels that spawned these films are three of the most popular novels of the last three years. Without having read any of the books or seen any of the movies, I have developed strong feelings of distaste for them.

This is mostly due to the fact that they are all wide release films that have no business playing at an art house—even a fake art house like the one to which I sell my labor for a pittance. Part of the dislike for Gone Girl is because it contains Ben Affleck, someone whose acting skills I find lacking. Part of the dislike for The Fault in Our Stars is because John Green and his entourage elected to rent one of our auditoriums for a friends and family screening of the film before it opened in Indianapolis. Though I suspect that many of his sycophantic followers would doubt the veracity of this claim, the following is true: John Green is not Jesus. And word around the campfire is that author E.L. James was difficult to work with during the making of Fifty Shades of Grey, which is a novel that started life online as Twilight fan fiction and supposedly contains quite a lot of bondage porn wrapped in what everyone I have talked to who has read it has described as really bad prose.

So what’s to like? I know that Gone Girl is a Missing Wife Thriller with lots of Shyamalan-esque twists, and I have read intimations that the prose is not especially literary. The Fault in Our Stars is a YA tearjerker, and if the novel is anything like the film, the ending is a soft, fluffy cheat—though perhaps not an unexpected one, given the point of view from which the story is told. Of the three, it’s the one I think is least likely to be terrible, and I’ve been trying to convince myself to buckle down and read them all, so that I can find out whether or not my hating on them is indeed valid.

And I’m open to all three, on their merits, regardless of what I have heard going in. If anything, the fact that I have the lowest possible expectations for all three novels greatly increases the chances that I will like all of them more than I thought possible before I began. I read Twilight in the same spirit, and came away from it with a firm confirmation that the prose is quite bad. On the other hand, Stephenie Meyer does have a solid grasp on pacing, and the story was interesting enough to keep the pages turning at a brisk clip. If I read these other three novels and find that any of them contains some hidden quality I hadn’t remotely expected to encounter, I will have no problem acknowledging that.

Based on the first two thirds of Gone Girl, however, I am fairly sure that I will have nothing to acknowledge about that novel. The problem, however, is not so much with the prose as with the fact that the two main characters, Nick Dunne and his wife Amy (the gone girl), simply aren’t very sympathetic characters. Amy, in particular, is a despicable human being. There are plot twists galore, which is mostly the point, and those twists keep the pages turning; but I’m not rooting for either of them, and in a book like this, if the prose doesn’t keep you hooked, and you don’t care about the characters, then all the plot twists in the world are just special effects. And because it relies so heavily on twists and misdirection, I am certain that it will be basically unreadable a second time. Once you know what happens, all you have left is 500 pages of post-internet vernacular that is, I think, as non-lyrical as it is possible for prose to be.

Reading The Da Vinci Code was a similar experience. I thoroughly enjoyed that novel the first time around, but once all the plot mechanics were laid bare, a second reading revealed that, for all of his talent at doing research and assembling the elements of a good yarn, Dan Brown simply isn’t a very good writer. The book wasn’t bad, but it doesn’t stand up to a second reading because it has nothing left to reveal of itself apart from an unstable foundation. I think that great books need to stand up to second and third and fourth and fifth readings, that they need always to reveal new things each time you read them.

Gone Girl does not pass muster in that regard, and I suspect the same will be true of Fifty Shades of Grey and The Fault in Our Stars. Remember that tweet I mentioned, many paragraphs ago? Courtney Robinson couldn’t decide whether or not to read Fifty Shades of Grey as something to hate read or as a way to gain further insight into current popular culture. I’m not going into any of these books hoping to hate them. Just because I suspect they are whatever negative thing I think they will be doesn’t mean that I want them to be. My purpose is probably more along the lines of the gaining further insight into popular culture idea (though it is true that I am not expecting any of them to fill me with pride at the current state of popular culture in this fading republic).

Either way, my thoughts on her question ran quite a bit longer than 140 characters, so it wouldn’t have done me any good to sign up for Twitter after all.

*—After I finished this post, I went back to add the code for the links, and I realized that the path from the Paris Review blog to the Courtney Robinson tweet was more protacted than I remembered. This is the post on the Paris Review blog. The link in the second bullet point led to this article posted by the Guardian, which had a link to this story at the bottom of the page. At the bottom of that page was this link to the story about the Sydney Writers’ Festival, and about halfway down that page was the Courtney Robinson tweet to the poetry slammers, which led me in turn to the tweet about Fifty Shades of Grey on her Twitter page.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Mimi Blue Meatballs

Amy fed Jackson this past Sunday afternoon at a church luncheon, so that she and I could decide on a place to eat lunch for ourselves without having to take into consideration whether or not chicken fingers would be on the menu; and then she suggested Mimi Blue Meatballs, a new meatball restaurant that opened last week in the 800 block of Mass Ave, a block that used to sit somewhat apart from the rest of the avenue, with its mixed bag of utilitarian city buildings, a smattering of art galleries, and, all the way at the end, just before it curves away to 10th Street, the R Bistro restaurant. All of those things are still there, but they have been joined by Black Market, Indy Reads Books, The Best Chocolate in Town, Homespun, Natural Born Juicers, and a relocated Yats, among other places of business that have emerged in recent years.

Thanks to the Cultural Trail, this block of Mass Ave is no longer a dead end, but rather both a destination and a throughway: the Cultural Trail connects with the Monon Trail if you follow that curve around to 10th Street. From there you can take the Monon Trail all the way up to Carmel, if you’re that adventurous. (It becomes the Monon Greenway once you cross into Hamilton County. Those folks take pretension to a whole new level.) R Bistro and Black Market are widely regarded as two of the finest restaurants in the city, and Indy Reads Books might be the city’s best bookstore. And holy computer coincidences, Batman! Indianapolis Monthly posted an article about that end of Mass Ave on their website last week.

And now we have a meatball restaurant. Just how much can you do with meatballs? you might well be inclined to ask. They make a heck of a sandwich, or an add-on to a pasta dish—but we’ve got sub shops and Italian restuarants seemingly every fifty yards around here. I suppose the first thing to do would be to set the tone, so the only place on the menu where you see the word meatballs is in the restaurant’s name at the top. The rest of the time, their signature foodstuff is referred to as—wait for it—balls. Sometimes they’re served with a loaf, which would just be called bread at someplace less elegant and refined.

Don’t get me (entirely) wrong. I like some good toilet humor as much as the next juvenile, but I feel like they’re not even winking at you here. You use a marker on the menu to indicate which balls you want to put in your mouth (sorry—see what I mean?), but then they plop the whole thing down in a room that’s supposed to look fancy (reportedly 1940s-era New York City) and hit you with cloth napkins and two differently sized forks. Oh, and there’s a television mounted in the corner, so you don’t miss any of the game.

Now for some of the disclaimers. We don’t usually get to restaurants this soon after they have opened, and even though I’m not in the biz, I know enough about the biz to know that new restaurants are rarely firing on all cylinders right out of the gate. I’ve read more than one review that attempts to evaluate a new eatery based on the potential demonstrated by what is on offer during the first few weeks it’s open. (I don’t know if there is a term for it in the restaurant industry—in theatre, they call it previews. It doesn’t work exactly the same way with restaurants as it does with stage productions, but the idea is similar.)

We were told that the entire menu would be available eventually, but for now, the 4-Baller was not, due to the kitchen had to get used to the basic menu first. That seemed odd. The menu consists of four things. 1) Balls - This is three of the same meatball served with one sauce, with bread on the side; 2) 4-Baller - This is your choice of four meatballs with your choice of sauces, with bread on the side; 3) Sliders - This is one meatball, one sauce, one Brioche bun; and 4) Sandwiches - This is three of the same meatball, with one sauce, served inside the bread that was on the side in numbers 1 and 2 above. Also, they put cheese on it.

The same five meatballs are available for each item, along with the same five sauces. It's not like they had to learn new meatballs for the 4-Baller or anything—and it's not like this is rocket science to begin with. They're dealing in meatballs and bread, with a few sides. You know they're making big batches of each sauce during prep each day; and even if they're hand-rolling each meatball during service (from meat mixtures made during prep), a four-meatball combination should not be so complicated that they can't serve it until the kitchen gets the hang of everything else.

Mimi Blue Meatballs has a neighbor just a few doors down, the aforementioned R Bistro, that serves a brand-new menu every week. There are other restuarants around the city, including Recess, Bluebeard, and Late Harvest Kitchen, that come up with a new menu Every. Single. Day. But you know what the odd thing is? I liked Mimi Blue Meatballs way more than it sounds like I did from what I have written here. I told myself I was going to try to be nice, that I was going to give them the benefit of the doubt for having just opened all of five days before we visited; but the more I work on this, the more it settles in that they punted on fully 25% of their menu.

But enough about that. Let’s see if I can focus on the 75% of the menu that was available long enough to give you some idea of what I thought of what I actually got to eat. We each started with the Market Greens salad from the Sides menu, and it’s exactly what it sounds like— mixed greens with a few slices of grape tomato and some crumbles of mild blue cheese, and your choice of sweet or balsamic vinaigrette. This was an excellent beginning—fresh, earthy greens that tasted like they might well have come out of the ground that morning; sweet, flavorful grape tomatoes; and just enough herb-y vinaigrette to dress the salad without drowning it.

The only downside—I guess you must have seen this coming, right?—was that it was all over way too quickly, a fairly skimpy portion for the $5 à la carte price. The sliders, too, were perhaps a tad gaunt for the $3 cover charge. I went for a Classic meatball slider with garlic cream sauce, and a Vegetarian meatball slider with mushroom gravy. Each meatball is about the size of a billiard ball, and they are perched so precariously inside the brioche buns that a toothpick is required to keep the thing together; and each had both too much and too little sauce. There was too much sauce to pick the thing up and eat it like a sandwich, and too little to get much of an idea of the sauce’s flavor.

The meatballs, on the other hand, were something on the order of flavor bombs. The Classic tasted, well…like a classic meatball—a mixture of meats and seasonings so perfectly balanced that it just tastes…like a meatball. The vegetarian was not much like a meatball, except in shape—but didn’t disappoint. I have to go back to that Star article for a description of its contents, however, since the menu is as short on descriptions as it is possible to be: peas, carrots, corn, ginger, garlic, cumin, cayenne, lemon, mashed potatoes, and hash browns—and then deep fried, rather than pan fried. Those flavors all blended together too, though the cumin stood out and there was just a bit of heat from the cayenne. The texture was a little bit gummy, like a dense hush puppy; but overall, it was an interesting taste sensation—and the kitchen should be commended for at least attempting to throw vegetarians a bone. Here’s hoping that they eventually come up with something to do with tofu and seitan.

870 Massachusetts Avenue

Deep Thoughts #111

I still haven’t read it, so maybe it ain’t right for me to be hatin’, but may I be pleased that Gone Girl wasn’t nominated for Best Picture?

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Vote for Chrysten!

Got an e-mail last night from my Aunt Gloria, who wanted everyone she e-mailed to vote for my cousin Chrysten Peddie, who has been nominated for a BroadwayWorld Cabaret award for Best Debut: Female or Male, for her role in Too Damn Tall at the Metropolitan Room. The voting ends on 12/31, so not much of a window, but I thought I'd throw it out there, anyway.

So, to vote for her, you can click here, and to see a video of her singing, you can click here. (Seems like I should be able to embed that YouTube video directly into the post, but maybe that's not something that can be accomplished when posting from an iPad.)

Monday, December 01, 2014

Deep Thoughts #110

The only thing I want for Festivus this year is for some enterprising code geek to figure out a way to spread Ebola by smartphone app. NEXT!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Deep Thoughts #109

Do gasbags like Lindsey Graham stand up in public and bloviate because being wrong on camera is the only way they can still get an erection?