Tuesday, December 25, 2012


I’ve read in at least one review that Hitchcock is similar to My Week with Marilyn because of the almost over-the-top reverence paid to its central characher; both films also address the cult of celebrity at a two-generation remove from today’s always-on “entertainment” and “news” gossip industries; but while I think that the latter film is more effective as a portrayal of its subject, I think Hitchcock works better overall as a film—which is ultimately more satisfying. Part of this is a function of the place in life of each film’s subject—Alfred Hitchcock’s inner demons are tempered by a selective world-weary wisdom, whereas Marilyn Monroe, who did not live long enough to be truly wise, had only the demons. The self-reflexivity of Hitchcock is a nod to that wisdom, as well as to the duality that Alfred Hitchcock projected, a man as likely to think himself a jester as others were to think him a ghoul.

The film opens with a nice framing sequence of Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) introducing his own film in much the same way that he used to introduce each episode of his television program. He briefly recounts the story of a person called Ed Gein (Michael Wincott), a non-fictional murderer and body snatcher who became the inspiration for a fictional character called Norman Bates, in a novel called Psycho, by Robert Bloch. Casting about for a new project after the highly successful North by Northwest, Hitchcock latches on to the Bloch novel and the story of Gein, in part because he believes he can craft a successful film from the grisly story in a way that no one else can. Director Sacha Gervasi returns to the Gein device several times throughout the film, always indicating a shift from the main narrative to Hitchcock’s inner monologue.

This device worked for me on several levels. First and foremost, it features the villain from The Crow in the role of Ed Gein. That right there would have been enough, but it also lets the audience slide into Hitchcock’s mind—first as he tries to work out problems with bringing the novel to the screen, and then later as he begins to realize that some of those problems have more to do with his personal life than they do with the film he is working on. I’m not enough of a Hitchcock devotee to know whether or not this is how it played out in real life, but it’s an effective device for a narrative film—one that has its tongue planted a bit too firmly in its cheek to really qualify as a biopic. (And it’s certainly appropriate for an obvious MacGuffin to play a role in a film about Alfred Hitchcock—more of that tongue-in-cheekiness.)

Hitchcock explains the Ed Gein story at the start of the film by saying that without Gein, “we would not have our little movie.” The significance is in the use of the negative. There was probably no way to avoid the expectation that Hitchcock would be about the making of Psycho once it came out that the screenplay was based on a book called Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho. It’s true that this film is not precisely what comes to mind when you think of a making-of story: very little of the action takes place on the set, and the action that does take place on the set has more to do with Hitchcock himself than it does with the film. I have not read the source material, so I don’t know whether people expecting a film school document on the making of Psycho have a legitimate gripe or not.

What I do know is that Alfred Hitchcock remains one of the most famous directors in the history of cinema. Psycho is probably his best-known film. (AFI has rated it the top thriller of all time, as well as #18 on its 100 Years...100 Movies list. It is #29 on IMDb’s Top 250.) From a remove of almost 50 years, it’s almost impossible to imagine that Alfred Hitchcock was an ordinary person with ordinary problems, and that he was not given a blank check and carte blanche (yes, I know, just go with it—I meant it non-ironically) at the beginning of each new film he embarked upon; and yet that is mostly what we see here—Hitchcock mortgaging his house to secure financing for the film, and the tension between Hitchcock and his wife, Alma Reville (Helen Mirren), which threatens both his marriage and his career. The commingling of his personal and professional lives, which approaches symbiosis, is perhaps the most fascinating aspect of this film.

And if that’s not the most fascinating aspect of the film, then watching Anthony Hopkins nearly disappear into the role of Alfred Hitchcock certainly is. He gives himself to the role fully, as he did for Oliver Stone in the title role for Nixon; but he cannot quite disappear into it. Hopkins left such an indelible mark as Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs that I don’t think he’ll ever be able to disappear into a role again; and yet it speaks to his remarkable talents as an actor that he can come awfully close, even playing such iconic figures as Alfred Hitchcock and Richard Nixon. If there is a downside to seeing Hopkins in this role, it is that he appears, for the first time that I can recall, to be making an effort to achieve the performance. There are scenes where his haughty, chin-up delivery is spot on, and others where he’s clearly just Anthony Hopkins hidden under a fat suit and lots of makeup.

Gervasi’s direction is more uneven here than it was in his excellent documentary Anvil: The Story of Anvil, despite the excellent point-of-view shifts to the Gein story. The montage sequences, in particular, are ineffective (especially the disjointed cross-cut montage of Hitchcock and Reville in their vehicles); but the film works because it effectively conveys how close the world came to never seeing the film that many regard as Hitchcock’s masterpiece. It is said that you can’t prove a negative, but this film nearly does just that. Hitchcock derives its power less from the current perception of its title character than from the current perception of the film Hitchcock almost didn’t get to make—a dose of cinematic sleight of hand of which Hitchcock himself would have been proud.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Forty Five˚

This past Wednesday night was Amy’s turn for a birthday dinner, and I was a little bit surprised to find a note on our message board that morning when I woke up that said, “45˚ for dinner.” She had been looking at some of the same places I had considered a couple of weeks ago, except that she substituted R Bistro for Bluebeard. I had a feeling that she was leaning toward Mass Ave, because she also wanted to pop in at Global Gifts to do some Christmas shopping for her mom. I mentioned Forty Five˚ mostly as a lark, because they feature sushi prominently on their menu—but they also have other things on the menu, including the ever-popular small plates and entrée salads. I got Amy to try sushi one time, from Oishi Sushi, and she didn’t care for it.

Forty Five˚ is on the southwest corner of Mass and College, in the space that was, once upon a time, occupied by the first incarnation of the Abbey Coffeehouse. They work their theme of angles to an almost dizzying degree inside, and the contoured white plastic chairs and black leather booths are strategically placed throughout on multiple levels—making the place feel sort of like it was designed by someone who had spent a lot of time at that burger shop from Saved by the Bell; and then the soft electronica music coming from the sound system gave me the impression that they were trying to appeal to the people who like going to the new version of Nicky Blaine’s, in the basement of the Guaranty building (and a far cry from the swanky coolness of its original location, across the street in the basement of the King Cole building).

Even with a Pacers game starting within a couple of hours, there was almost no one else in the restaurant when we arrived. Our server did not precisely rush us to put in our orders, but I got the feeling that we were taking too long to make up our minds. (And it surely must have disappointed him that all we ordered to drink, apart from water, was one glass of wine.) When Amy asked if he had any recommendations, he parroted the company line about everything being great. The first thing he recommended—and which he called “phenomenal”—was the fliet mignon. Would you believe that the filet mignon is the most expensive item on the menu? Yeah, I know. Shocking that the first thing he recommended was the most expensive thing we could have ordered.

I was set on a sushi roll, and Amy decided that she wanted crab cakes, which live on the “small plates” menu. Actual small plates are different than appetizers, but Forty Five˚ has not gotten that memo. Amy’s 45˚ salad came out first—and surprised her, since the menu did not indicate anything about her meal including a salad. Oddly, though, this surprise item was one of the highlights of the meal. It was a fairly simple affair of field greens, feta cheese, toasted almonds, dried cranberries, Mandarin oranges, and balsamic dressing. The balsamic dressing was extremely bright and fruity, and worked very well with the earthy field greens and tangy feta cheese. The toasted almonds were an especially nice touch, in terms of both texture and flavor—though I’m a sucker for almonds, and this would perhaps not appeal to everyone.

And then it was a strangely long time between Amy’s small salad and the arrival of the crab cakes and my spicy scallop sushi roll. The sushi was also a highlight—for me, anyway—with more fish in the middle of the roll than just about any other place I’ve tried. I had the choice of regular or reduced-sodium soy sauce at the table, and that was a nice touch, since soy sauce, while a necessary part of the sushi-eating experience, can also overpower the other flavors if you’re not careful. The reduced-sodium variety did not have that problem. The crab cakes were more problematic—almost all filler, practically no flavor, and served atop, surrounded by, and under various sauces. I thought that there was something vaguely familiar about the flavor, but it was four or five bites before I placed it—the crab cakes tasted the way garbage trucks smell. (That sounds more repulsive than it actually was.)

Our entrées came out almost on top of the crab cakes and sushi. That, combined with the long wait between salad and appetizers, indicated some timing issues in the kitchen—which is concerning, given the relative dearth of diners. Amy had vacillated over Tiger Shrimp Stiry-Fry, with coconut-curry sauce, fried rice noodles, and stir-fried vegetables; and Pesto Pasta, with sun-dried tomato pesto crème, fresh basil, asparagus, and feta cheese. It being her birthday and all, I offered to get the one she didn’t pick, and then to let her trade if they came out and she wound up liking mine better. Turned out, though, that the joke was on us—neither entrée was very good at all. They sounded like interesting combinations, but this gives me a chance to remind myself, once again, to never order pasta at a non-Italian restaurant.

It was hard to tell based on the texture of the noodles in Amy’s dish whether they had been made from fried rice or whether they were rice noodles that had been fried. Either way, they were gummy and overcooked, which is, I’m sorry to say, how you often find rice noodles around here. The coconut and the curry in the sauce seemed to be engaged in some kind of contest to see which could be less obtrusive—with the end result being that I could barely taste either of them, particularly the curry. I suspect the kitchen feels compelled to cater to the unimaginative and bland palates of Ordinary Americans. The ingredients in my Pesto Pasta were similarly flavorless, and by the time I got around to digging into it—I had to finish the sushi and my share of the crab cakes first—the sauce had congealed into a separated, goopy substance that might have been suitable for masonry work.

Except for the sushi, I can’t really recommend Forty Five˚ for anything. For a place that’s clearly going for that hip, ultralounge vibe, they’ve picked an odd place to set up shop. Maybe the rent on Meridian Street, between the Circle and the railroad tracks, where these ultralounge places seem to thrive, was too steep? Oh, and don’t go in your Pacers or Colts gear. They have a policy on “attire,” to ensure an “atmosphere that is agreeable to all our clients.”

765 Massachusettts Avenue

Saturday, December 01, 2012


I joked to Amy shortly after we sat down that I hoped eating here would not make me want to run right out the next day and buy a copy of Kurt Vonnegut’s Bluebeard, the novel from which the restaurant got its name; and then, of course, by the end of the meal, I wanted to run right out the next day and buy a copy of Bluebeard. Amy and I usually take each other out for dinner, in lieu of buying presents, to celebrate the anniversary of each of our arrivals on earth. I usually forget to think about it when my turn comes around, and then have to come up with something completely unthought out at the very last second. This year, however, I had three ideas percolating in the back of my mind—Bluebeard, Recess, and Black Market.

There was an article in NUVO recently that was tangentially about the restaurant, but which was really more about the father of the guy who owns the restaurant. The descriptions of the father’s peripatetic life, his rock-star credentials, his ability to work with his hands and fix things up—abandoned storefronts all over the city, especially along Mass Ave, and now the space in Fletcher Place that Bluebeard occupies—made me even more interested in the place than I had been after looking at the eclectic menu and discovering that they have a separate bakery attached to the restaurant—where they bake all of their own bread, on-site.

I also checked the menus for each restaurant on the magic internets the day we were planning to go out, hoping that might help me make up my mind. I was leaning toward Bluebeard, but I wanted Recess and Black Market to have the chance to make their respective cases, since menus for all three restaurants change on a regular basis. The menu at Recess actually changes daily, and is entirely based on what’s in season and what is available locally. Unfortunately, I didn’t write down what they were serving at Recess last Wednesday, so I don’t recall exactly what was on the menu that I thought Amy would either not like or be hesitant to try. Black Market was offering a root vegetable masala that sounded awfully tempting. In the end, though, the intriguing combination of charcuterie, cheese, salads, and small/medium/large plates, combined with the story of the restaurant’s origin, led me to Bluebeard.

The restaurant is tucked away off of Virginia Avenue, right where it makes a T with College Avenue, and the entrance sits at an angle off of the sidewalk. (When Amy asked about the neighborhood, which she deemed “cute,” as we were walking back to the car after dinner, I erroneously placed the restaurant in Fountain Square. We eat in Fountain Square so often that I think I have automatically assigned any restaurant on Virginia Avenue to that neighborhood, even though you’re not actually in Fountain Square going southeast on Virginia out of downtown until you cross the interstate.) The walls are lined with bookshelves and typewriters, including one that is supposedly a replica of the one that Vonnegut used when he was writing Bluebeard. I don’t remember much of the rest of the décor, because it’s been a little over a week since we ate there; and instead of writing about the restaurant right away, I’ve been concentrating on National Novel Writing Month.

But oh, the food. Or no, wait. The drinks. We both got drinks. Like, ones with alcohol in them. It almost never happens that we both get a drink, but what the hell, right? They had two kinds of Sun King on tap that I had never encountered before. I’ve forgotten one of them, but the one I tried was the El Gallo Negro, which is very similar to the Osiris Pale Ale—very aromatic, with strong citrus notes in the hops. The El Gallo Negro is even more aromatic, with very strong, fruity citrus notes in the hops; and whereas the Osiris is very clean and crisp, the El Gallo Negro is dense and earthy—almost thick—like a rich espresso. Amy had a glass of Sexual Chocolate (at our server’s behest), a California zinfandel/syrah blend that was also very rich and earthy, but had a very high alcohol. I’m not much of a wine person, especially when it comes to wines with high alcohol, so this one didn’t do much for me. Amy, however, was delighted with it.

Okay, so now—oh, the food. In addition to the backstory and décor, another interesting aspect of Bluebeard is the way the menu is structured. It breaks down into Snacks, Charcuterie, Cheese, Salads, Vegetables & Sides, Small Plates, Medium Plates, and Large—with price points from $4 all the way up to $32. Charcuterie and Cheese are each three choices for $14, and everything else is basically what it says it is. You can graze your way through the smaller portions as though you were at a tapas restaurant, or you can go full bore for the meat and potatoes thing—or pretty much any combination in between. We started with a Charcuterie of elk and pork salami, salami picante, and chorizo; and a Cheese of Parma Reggiano, Brick Street Tomme, and some sort of goat cheese I’ve forgotten the name of—though now that I think about it, they may just have called it chèvre. They came to the table all on one big board with orange marmalade, whole grain horseradish mustard, cornichons, and pickled caper buds, with a basket of bread to go with it.

I’m not sure it was $28 worth of food, but it was awfully good. Each of the three kinds of meat we had was hard and dried, wtih subtle variations in taste. I’m pretty desensitized to the heat in spicy foods after all these years, so if there was some heat to the salami picante, I didn’t pick up on it. It had a hint of the zesty flavor of something that had been jacked up with something spicy, but none of the heat. The chorizo had the familiar flavor of the crumbly Mexican version wrapped up nicely in the dried Spanish version. The elk and pork may have been the best of three. The tangy flavor of good hard salami paired well with the slightly gamey flavor of the elk. I was less impressed with the cheeses, though they were still quite good. The goat cheese was the best of the three there, a perfect combination of the creamy and tangy flavors that complement the unique taste of goat’s milk. The Brick Street Tomme seemed to be nothing more than a standard washed rind cheese, except that its rind was washed in Sun King’s Wee Mac Scottish Ale. I wasn’t able to pick up on that flavor, but, again, that doesn’t mean it was bad. The Parma Reggiano was very dry and crumbly, but had a hint of that sweet nuttiness that good Parmesan will pick up as it ages.

The best thing on that board, though, oddly enough, was the whole grain horseradish mustard. I took a bite of that magical little condiment, and it was actually singing to me. The flavor of those mustard grains was bright and clean, even slightly fruity or flowery; and underneath it was an aggressive horseradish flavor lying in wait like a “yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window panes.” I have eaten a lot of mustard in my life, and I don’t think I’ve ever tasted one that was as well-balanced as this one. You could have given me a jar of that mustard and a spoon, and I would have been a happy guy.

After that impressive starter, we moved on to entrée salads. I went with the roasted beet salad, with mushrooms, arugula, feta, almonds, crispy shallots, and balsamic-truffle vinaigrette ($11). This was a deep bowl of beautifully dressed, slightly wilted greens, with an abundance of crispy, crunchy, sweet, and savory flavors. The amount of food for the price was a nice surprise after the $28 meat and cheese assortment. Amy had the frisée salad, with bacon, Granny Smith apples, fennel, red onion, 5 minute egg, Banyuls vinegar, and blue cheese dressing ($14). I tried one bite, and it seemed pleasant enough. Amy said she had trouble locating the blue cheese part of the blue cheese dressing, but was ultimately quite satisfied with the dish.

We dropped an even $100, but you could away with spending far less. We don’t usually have drinks when we go out to dinner, so if we had gone with just ice water, as per our usual, that would have knocked off $19 right there. Amy also tipped a little on the heavy side, to the point that I almost thought she was angling to make out with our server. We don’t repeat very often when we get the chance to go out to dinner someplace nice, but I can imagine that this one will call our names again before long. Next time, maybe I’ll remember to ask about the bakery.

643 Virginia Avenue

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

I Have Stoked the Fire on the Big Steel Wheels

I got this e-mail from Bookmamas the other day, because I agreed to be on their e-mail list, and it indicated that they were changing the submission deadline for the next issue of Ichabod’s Sketchbook, the literary journal published out of their bookstore. (I don’t remember the new date exactly. It’s sometime in late November, as opposed to late December. It doesn’t really matter.) The e-mail also indicated that this would be the final issue of Ichabod’s Sketchbook. I was disappointed to hear that they were hanging it up. I had my first two pieces of published writing in that journal, one very short story each in the second and third issues. I did not submit anything for the fourth issue, and I do not plan to submit anything for the fifth and final issue.

In addition to financial considerations, the editors of Ichabod’s Sketchbook cited the launching of new journals in the area as part of the reason for ending their own journal’s run. One of those journals released its first issue this past Sunday, to coincide with a Veteran’s Day event downtown at the Indiana War Memorial. The journal is So It Goes, the literary journal of the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library, which is located in the Emelie building downtown at 340 North Senate Avenue. The first issue is an Armistice Day anthology, a good jumping off point for a journal steeped in the lore of the late, great Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. I’m hopeful that this journal will evolve into a more contemporary publication with future issues—because the first one looks awfully sharp.

(I was going to post a link to the journal, but it apparently only lives on the Facebooks. I don’t support that. I’m willing to accept that Facebook exists and that hundreds of millions of ADD-addled non-grammarians spend an unthinkable amount of time keeping track of their bros from high school, yo; but when something only has a Facebook page and not a real website, I get cranky. And I won’t link to it. So it goes.)

Potentially more exciting than that, though, is something new coming up from Celestial Panther Publishing, an independent small press operating out of Irvington. They just put the finishing touches on the first issue of their own journal, The Darien Gap, and plan to have a release party for it on November 24, 2012, at Bookmamas. They are also offering a 2013 Subscription to Monthly Happiness—in which you get a delightful monthly delivery of literary swag and good karma (and discounts and whatnot), along with a membership card and a complimentary copy of the aforementioned journal.

The first time I read that post on their website, I was intrigued—but I thought the price was a little bit high. I also do not recall from the first read that a copy of the new journal was included in the price of membership (but I could be wrong about that). I kept thinking about it while I was at the old juke joint Monday night, though, and I kept thinking that I would be all in for sure if they were offering a subscription to the journal as part of the membership price. Then I came back to it yesterday and saw the part about the complimentary copy. (And since it’s a biannual journal, that’s half a subscription to you and me!) So now I’m all in. Feels like another step in the right direction, don’t it?

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Best. Bumper Sticker. Ever. #6

Seen on a car in the parking lot at Amy's church tonight on our way to the Wednesday night supper that preceded trick or treating for Jackson:

Obi-Wan Kenobi 2012
Our Only Hope

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A Wheel of Fate, A Game of Chance

It’s only a couple of days until National Novel Writing Month starts, so naturally, I need for something asinine to rear its ugly head and distract me from the marathon of writing that’s due to commence on Thursday. As luck would have it, I finished reading Clockwork Angels: The Novel this past Friday, and came across the following in Neil Peart’s afterword (referring to Kevin J. Anderson, the novel’s author): “Kevin also had fun weaving in many references to Rush lyrics, and though they will not disrupt the reading experience for those who don’t get them, they may entertain those who do. (Perhaps one day we’ll have a contest to see how many of them people can find.)”

As it happened, I was very much entertained by the frequent snippets of lyrics from the band’s songs; but I wasn’t taking note of each of them as I went along. That’s too bad, because you have to think that my odds of winning a contest like that would be pretty good—not because I’m such a Rush expert, but because the pool of entries would be relatively small. Without going back into the book a second time, I came up with fourteen songs off the top of my head (not including the songs from the album version of Clockwork Angels) that were referenced in the text. And then...yes...I went back and started reading the novel again—and got two more songs before the end of the first chapter.

It’s going to take me awhile to get through the novel a second time, but maybe while I’m doing that, someone else pursuing the same goal will wander by my little roadstop on the magic internets and leave a comment denoting how far they are in the novel and how many songs they have identified. (Just please don’t say which songs, since that would spoil the fun.)

A splendid mirage in this desolation...

Friday, October 26, 2012

Jackson's First Window Painting

Part of the annual Irvington Halloween Festival is the painting of storefront windows by local youngsters. (Actually, I don't know if there's an age limit. It's possible that oldsters can participate, too.) We signed Jackson up to paint his first window this year, and Amy took him over to do it last night before I got back from the old juke joint. I'm not sure this is a very good shot of the painting, so I'm going to try to get some better shots tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Iozzo's Garden of Italy

For various reasons, the annual Italian Street Festival, which usually takes place in the parking lot and street abutting Holy Rosary Catholic Church, in June, was cancelled this year, much to the dismay of area festivalgoers. In its place, the owner of Iozzo’s Garden of Italy took up a collection from its diners, and managed to raise enough money to put on a smaller version of the street festival, which was held a week ago this past Saturday, on the 13th, and was called Taste of Italy. It was immediately clear when we arrived that, relative to the festival in whose stead it stood, practically no one knew that Taste of Italy was taking place. On the plus side, that made it much easier to find parking and navigate the handful of the food trucks and restaurant booths. Amy and I both wound up trying the meatballs on a stick, from Iozzo’s, which is one of those places we’ve been meaning to get to, and just haven’t yet.

Fast forward to a week later, and it had taken us most of Amy and Jackson’s fall break, and my October vacation, to find time for Amy and I to go out on a date, but we finally managed to drop Jackson off at Grandma and Grandpa’s house so we could spend the afternoon together and go out to dinner. We started at the art museum, which is much easier to enjoy without a rambunctious little one pulling on your arms; and then we wandered around for a bit in the car, trying to figure out what we wanted to eat and where we wanted to go for it. I had decided to just roam around Fountain Square after driving by Iozzo’s Garden of Italy, downtown, just for kicks—to see how busy they were on an early Saturday evening. When we drove by and saw only a few cars parked in the area, and plenty of empty tables that we could see from the car as we drove by, I cancelled the idea of roaming Fountain Square, and we headed for Iozzo’s.

I was impressed enough by the meatballs we had at the little street festival, but Iozzo’s Garden of Italy is not the best Italian restaurant in Indianapolis, regardless of what the bartender says. It’s certainly not bad, but when the best you can do on an early Saturday evening—we arrived before six o’clock—is seat people at bar tables in the lounge, because the empty dining room is “completely booked,” it might not be a bad idea to get the bartender to take a break from fellating the place for the two inquisitors sitting at the bar. (I never was able to figure out if those guys were from out of town, or if they were from here and just liked to hear what bartenders have to say. Either way, a Venn diagram labeled Annoying would have quite neatly enclosed the both of them—and the bartender, too.)

Maybe this is just standard operating procedure when you sit in the bar/lounge section of reasonably nice restaurants—I don’t know. I remember from the Nicky Blaine’s days that it’s pretty much de rigueur when you’re seated directly at the bar, and the bartender has nothing better to do than bend the ears of regulars. It was annoying then, too—but at least back then, the bartender knew us and would only charge us for every third or fourth drink. On Saturday night, I paid $25 for linguini with pesto sauce, some barely recognizable chunks of prosciutto, and five big-ass shrimp. We might still have been able to hear the bartender if we had been seated in the actual dining room, which was not all that far removed from the “lounge.”

Luckily, the food was good enough that I was mostly able to ignore the bartender’s disparaging remarks about Mama Carolla’s, Iaria’s, and the Milano Inn, all well-liked Italian restaurants in the city. The linguini was almost perfectly al dente, and the pesto cream sauce, despite being very heavy and separating over the course of the meal, was so strongly flavored with basil that I couldn’t even taste the tiny chunks of prosciutto, even after I remembered that they were supposed to be there and started to look for them. The enormous shrimp were perfectly adequate, but nothing to write home about. Amy’s garlic shrimp, one of the most heavily garlicked dishes I have ever tasted, would have been even better, except that it was made with stupid pasta—capellini. If there is a valid reason for pasta thinner than linguini to exist, I am not aware of it.

Both entrées came with a house salad, and bread accompanied by something called “soppy tomatoes,” which is supposedly a southern Italian tradition. I Googled the phrase and got a handful of hits that were actually related to what I had searched for, and a boatload of hits that had to do with sloppy joes. Enclosing the search string in quotation marks dropped the number of hits from 772,000 to 285. Maybe it’s a tradition just because they say it is. Either way, it’s a relish (or you might call it a salsa) comprised of marinated tomatoes, olive oil, scallions, and oregano. Very flavorful, and it certainly helped the three small slices of dry, tasteless bread. The house salad was a simple affair of spring greens and balsamic vinaigrette, with a couple of slices each of cucumber and tomato. Not exactly inspired, but well done—just enough dressing to keep things moving and balance the flavors.

The menu is strong enough to merit a return trip, though the possibility of having to suffer the pretensions of the loquacious bartender is an almost equally strong disincentive to return. The single advantage it has over Iaria’s—which remains the gold standard for Italian food in Indianapolis (despite being closed on Sunday and Monday)—is that it’s open seven days a week. For me, the food can almost always overcome deficiencies in charm or service (though it should be noted that the service we had Saturday night was great); but this might be one of those rare instances where even really good food can’t make up for a complete lack of charm. There’s a reason that some people sneer at you when you say something nice about the downtown dining scene—it evokes the concept of the haves commingling with one another in fancy places that have dress codes and judge the rest of us for being so ordinary.

I wish that more people knew that there are lots of places to eat downtown where you can be yourself and have a good time, regardless of who you are, what you do, or how much money you have. There are places like that where you can drop a ton of money if you want, or almost nothing at all; and if you’re feeling slightly more adventurous, Fountain Square isn’t very far from downtown at all. Places like Iaria’s, Amici’s, Mama Irma, Siam Square, Santorini, Greek Islands, Shapiro’s, Bazbeaux, Old Point Tavern, Chatham Tap, Aesop’s Tables, the Bosphorous, and Smokehouse on Shelby all have charm to spare without beating you over the head with it. Iozzo’s Garden of Italy is not one of those places.

946 South Meridian Street

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Cat in the Hat Races a Cheetah

Today we got Jackson into his Halloween costume and headed out to the zoo for their annual Zoo Boo...uh, I guess it's an event, or something. Basically, you take your kids in their Halloween costumes, and there are Halloween decorations, and the kids can "trick or treat," which means that they can walk through one of the biomes and be handed candy at five different trick or treat "stations" throughout the biome. And when I say that they get candy, they get both candy and some kind of advertisement for the company that sponsored that particular trick or treat station.

It made me think of something Amy's friend Carolyn said at lunch today, about the science section of the Children's Museum—the area that used to be called Science Spectrum, in bright red neon light. Back then—this was before the museum went through its remodel and started charging admission—there were various science stations set up where you could pedal a stationary bike to show how electricity is generated in a turbine; walk across a wooden bridge-like contraption that could show you how much you weighed; and speak into a mouthpiece at one end of the room and have someone at the other end hear your voice come out of a matching mouthpiece, to demonstrate acoustics—among lots of other interactive activities. Now, as she so eloquently put it, everything in the science section is "sponsored crap."

It would seem that we could add trick or treating to that list, too. Nevertheless, you can still race a cheetah, and that is still an amusing thing to watch, especially the littler the kids are. When the kid is dressed up as the Cat in the Hat, well...you just can't top that.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Threading WonderLab Bike Wheels

Way back in early September, we went down to Bloomington for the Fourth Street Festival, a little street fair they put on each year, with artists and craftspeople hawking their wares. It was rainy the day we went, so the usually enormous crowd mostly stayed away. As we got toward the end of the tents, we came to one set up by the WonderLab, where they were letting kids thread long strips of colored fabric through the spokes of bicycle wheels to make a community art project that would later be "planted" in the garden at the WonderLab.

Jackson threaded a few pieces of fabric through one of the wheels, and we were lucky enough to be able to see the completed "flowers" on display, as we had already planned another to trip to Bloomington, to attend the Indiana-Ball State football game a few weeks later.

There are a few more pictures from each of those days on my photo page.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Liberal Arts

You’d think that I would be the target market for a film about a thirtysomething English major (with a history minor) who attended one of the great liberal arts colleges in the Midwest and wound up working a completely uninteresting and uninspiring job that he unequivocally hates, given that I am a thirtysomething English major (with a history minor) who attended one of the great liberal arts colleges—er, universities—in the Midwest and wound up working a completely uninteresting and uninspiring job that I unequivocally hate. To an extent, this is true—I wanted very much to like the film.

The problem is that much of the film fails to ring true. Jesse Fisher (Josh Radnor, as writer/director/star) apparently yearns to still be in college, but what’s not clear is why he suffers this yearning. He missed an opportunity of some sort—no one starts out in life aspiring to be an admissions counselor at a community college, or to hand out passes to dimbulbs who could not be bothered to learn that the film was subtitled before they arrived at the theatre—but no voice is given this missed opportunity. He declares early on that he was an English major. What do English majors do? They write or they teach. A lot of the time, they teach in order to be able to write.

Jesse Fisher seems not to have been inclined to do either, and so one wonders what prompted him to pursue a degree in English in the first place; and if he realized while he was in college that what he really wanted was to remain in college indefinitely, one then wonders how it escaped his knowledge that remaining in college, especially for an English major, is not especially hard to accomplish. If you are successful in the discipline, and it is implied that Jesse was, then you go on to get your MFA and then, presumably, assume an assistant professorship somewhere in the wide world.

Unless you really just want to remain an undergraduate forever. Jesse’s singing-in-the-rain stroll through campus, when he returns at the behest of a retiring professor with whom he forged a close friendship during his days as a student, clearly indicates that being on campus animates him in ways that wearing a tie to work and asking people why they want to go to college does not. On the one hand, I totally get where he’s coming from. I loved being in college, even if I did not avail myself of all of the academic opportunities available to me as well as I ought to have done; but college is a means to an end, not the end itself. You go into it know that you’re only passing through.

This is my second go at writing about this film, and I find myself coming up against the same wall this time as I did the first time. I understand that the entire thrust of the film is that Jesse simply stopped growing at some point between matriculation and graduation. I don’t even find it hard to believe that this could happen to a person—not everyone is meant to go to college, even if they think they’re supposed to. He is, by his own admission, stunted; but it’s difficult to square that stuntedness with someone who did well in one of the finest undergraduate English programs in the country. Maybe he really had no idea what he wanted to do and just happened to do well enough in English at Kenyon to graduate and make a start in the real world.

Radnor means for the character to come across as unmoored, but setting the story at such a prestigious institution strains the character’s credibility. I have read that the story is somewhat autobiographical, but Radnor, also a product of Kenyon College (with a degree in Theatre rather than English), was a star on television by 30. Jesse is still drifting at 35. I can appreciate Radnor’s effort to pay homage to his alma mater, but I can’t help but think that the story might have come across as more authentic if it had taken place somewhere slightly more pedestrian.

And all of that might have been forgivable if not for Jesse’s literary pretensions. A centerpiece of the film is a lengthy back-and-forth between Jesse and Zibby (Elizabeth Olsen), the 19-year-old Summer of Love throwback who manages to woo Jesse with her free spirit and joie de vivre. He notices a book on a shelf in her dorm room and proceeds to interrogate her about why someone of such seeming quality could possibly possess such a worthless tome. (It’s never explicitly stated, but the book in question is meant to be one from the Twilight series.) While not defending the quality of the book, Zibby unabashedly says that the book makes her happy. It may not be very good, but she likes it. Jesse cannot reconcile liking a book that isn’t also a good book (although in his mind he’s probably thinking that people should only like Great Books).

I would certainly have reacted differently to this section of the film if I had not read the first Twilight novel. I might well have agreed with Jesse’s pointed invective, but the point of the too-long sequence is that you really shouldn’t complain about something when you don’t know what you’re talking about. Zibby presents this idea succinctly, and Jesse pretty much rejects it out of hand; but in deference to his new friend, he agrees to read it. He still rails against the novel after reading it, though—mostly because he has already decided that it is worthless. The Twilight novels aren’t for everyone, of course—what books are?—but Jesse’s denigration of them is more of a self-fulfilling prophecy than an objective evaluation. The most useful thing it contributes to the film is to more fully paint the character of Jesse Fisher as a cross between an unkempt, vaguely professorial Ted Mosby, and the Jesse Eisenberg character in The Squid and the Whale. I’ve known literature snobs like that—and I kept waiting for Jesse to launch into a tirade about how Zibby just had to read Proust, because he would break her heart and change her life.

I’m giving short shrift to most of the plot (and sub-plots, most of which are somewhere between unconvincing and ridiculous, and not even within shouting distance of satisfying) and all of the other characters; but apart from Richard Jenkins, who quite zestfully plays the retiring professor who provides the impetus for this moveable feast, the remaining cast are all portraying caricatures rather than characters—and they even seem to know it. I get the feeling that Radnor really wanted to write a love letter to college, but I wonder if he hasn’t been away so long that he no longer connects with the part of himself that could synthesize all those things that happened in college and make them seem more important than they really were.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

NaNoWriMo Warm-Up #1

Over the last couple of days, I have started working on some warm-up exercises—of which this is the third—for National Novel Writing Month, much like I did with a number of blog posts last October. Unfortunately, neither of the pieces I have started in the last couple of days has amounted to much—one of them got to about 500 words before sputtering out, and the one that I worked on for about three hours on Monday morning, after I put Jackson on the school bus, didn’t even make it to a thousand words. This does not fill me with confidence that I will be able to churn out 1700 words a day on a regular basis once November starts.

It’s possible that I have just not managed to find the right subject for a 1700-word essay. I suppose I could go all meta- and write about what I was writing about in those other two posts; but that would be even more boring than my usual ramblings, and would probably interest no one but hardcore writers (and maybe not even them, assuming that any of them have stumbled across my little outpost here on the magic internets). Now that I start thinking about it, though, I’m wondering if the general topic of poetry might not make for an essay that could get up toward that 1700-word mark. The problem there is that I don’t think the words would pour out of me the way that they would need to in order for 1700 words a day to be viable.

I have also thought about posting the reasons that I continue to support President Obama; but writing about politics is always dangerous for me, because I often let emotion get the better of me and wind up setting conservatives on fire. The risk is that much greater this time around because I would eventually have to write about Richard Mourdock, who is running for the U.S. Senate and who makes Indiana look even more embarrassing and hilljack than usual. It’s also starting to look like President Obama might well win most of the states that he won in 2008, with the glaring exception of Indiana, which is not remotely in play. This is disappointing, but not at all surprising—like making solid progress potty-training your child, and then watching him stand in the middle of the room and shit himself for no apparent reason.

And here I go again, running out of things to say well before I get to 1700 words. Writing fiction is different from writing essays, of course, but I’m still concerned. My schedule looks much different than it has in the all the previous years I have participated in National Novel Writing Month, due to the fact that I now have school bus duty five days a week. I’ve been batting about .500 when it comes to staying up and trying to be a productive member of society after I get back from walking Jackson down to the bus stop. The other half of the time, I go right back to bed; and that means that I wind up losing hours I could have used for writing—and having to wake up at 7:00 a.m. now means that I don’t have as much time to make up those lost writing hours at night.

It took me about an hour on Tuesday morning to write the preceding four paragraphs. Then I decided that I was going to go lie down and “rest” for a little while. I did not plan to fall asleep for almost three hours, but of course that was what wound up happening. When I woke up, I still had enough time to take the long walk around Irvington that I had planned for the day, but there was not much in the way of time to dawdle before starting on that walk. I still had not thought of anything major that I wanted to write about for 1700 words that I would pop off all at one sitting, but I knew that there wasn’t any time left to think about it, so I let it go.

And then I checked my e-mail. Some time ago, I signed up for the Poem-a-Day e-mail from the Academy of American Poets. For whatever reason, it took a really long time for them to start e-mailing me, but I’ve been getting them for about a week or so now. When I checked my e-mail, one of the messages was Tuesday's poem, and when I started reading it, I suddenly remembered the idea for a short story that I had had and then almost immediately forgotten about while I was at the old juke joint on Monday night. It was bad enough that I forgot the idea—but I also forgot that there had been an idea in the first place. I remembered the fact that I had had an idea on Monday night when I sat down at the computer Tuesday morning to check the weather while Jackson got dressed for school; but I could not for the life of me come up with what the idea had actually been—until I read the first few lines of yesterday’s Poem-a-Day poem.

What actually happened was that the first few lines made me think of what I had envisioned as the end of the story—and then I remembered the idea for the story itself. I even thought of something else that I think will work a little bit better as an ending. That whole episode, plus the rambling nature of this post, which has more to do with the genesis of ideas rather than any one idea in particular, reminded me of a couple of things I had read about having ideas, both of which were written by Stephen King. Thinking about that inspired the following three paragraphs, which, for some reason, I wrote down separately from the paragraphs that precede it in this post.

I believe in the idea that you can’t force yourself to have an idea. I also believe that a corollary of that idea is that you can’t force yourself to remember an idea that you have had but then forgotten. Stephen King has written about both concepts, though I don’t recall where I read what he said about the second one. He wrote about the first idea in the novel Misery. He says that, while you can’t just say that you want to have a good idea and then have that idea erupt into your head, you can engage in behaviors that stimulate the creative part of your brain and make you more receptive to the ideas that might suddenly emerge out of nowhere. He describes Paul Sheldon’s procedure of taking a walk and observing the world around him when he needs to have an idea. The writer can’t actively choose to have an idea—but he can do things to get himself into a creative state of mind, to prepare himself to receive any ideas that might manifest themselves.

That’s one of the reasons that I love to talk long walks around Irvington and downtown (and in Bloomington, too, only far less often). The combination of exercising a little bit and immersing myself in a place where my past and present collide (mainly Irvington, but to a lesser extent the other two places, too) often causes ideas to erupt in my head. (And that’s one of the reasons that I carry my fully loaded backpack with me almost anywhere I go. You never know when you’re going to have an idea, and you never know when you’re going to have to write that idea down.)

The corollary is that you can’t make yourself remember a good idea that you have forgotten. What Stephen King said about that is basically that good ideas will out. (At least I think it was Stephen King. I could be wrong about that, but I’m pretty sure it was Stephen King.) You don’t even really have to write them down. Once you have them, if they are, in fact, good ideas, they will keep coming back until you do something about them. If you have something that you think is a good idea, and then it slips away and never turns up again—it probably wasn’t that good an idea in the first place.

Very technically speaking, most of what is written here was written within a single twenty-four hour period between Tuesday morning and Wednesday morning. That’s not exactly within the spirit of banging one of these things out in one sitting, or in one day’s worth of writing—but it’s hella closer than I got the first two times I tried it in preparation for this year’s NaNoWriMo. The not so good news is that it’s only just over 1500 words. I don’t necessarily need to force my hand here and just start rambling in order to get past the finish line of 1700; that kind of writing just for the sake of writing and hitting a number can be saved for November, where the whole point is to hit the damn number, knowing full well that you’re going to be an awfully long way from final draft material at the end of the month.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Lorenzo's Ristorante

My first experience with Buffalo Wild Wings was at the restaurant adjacent to the Hampton Inn downtown, on the first day of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament in 2002. My buddy Scott and I went down there with...you know, I don’t have a clue who the other people were; but we watched basketball and drank beer pretty much all day, and it was awesome. I also thought the chicken, for chain-restaurant fast-casual, was exceptional. Lots of place serve breaded chicken tenders that are long on the breading and short on the chicken, but that was not the case that day. It was some of the best chicken of that sort that I’ve ever had, and I’ve eaten a hell of a lot of breaded chicken tenders from BW3 since then—but none of them have been as close to as good as the ones I had watching basketball that day.

Unfortunately, that BW3 closed. The space it was in has since re-opened—and subsequently closed, generally in short order—as a Cajun place, a burger joint, and a downtown branch of a well-known Italian restaurant in Broad Ripple. It’s currently open, in its fifth iteration in the last ten years, as an Italian place called Lorenzo’s. Amy and I picked it mostly at random for dinner just to ourselves this past Wednesday night, after going to the first parent-teacher conference at Jackson’s school. Downtown already has several established indie Italian restaurants, as well as a couple of established chain Italian restaurants—all of which are reasonably good to very good at what they do. I don’t know if Lorenzo’s quite has what it takes to run with the big dogs in the fairly competitive downtown Italian restaurant market.

We rolled in at around five in the evening, and were seated immediately. There are lots of blacks and whites in the dining room, along with a few pieces of art, but nothing jumped out at me to suggest that they were trying to evoke character or set a mood. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but without ambience, you could just be eating at home—unless the food is very, very good. This brings to mind a place called Smokey Joe’s, that once lived for a brief time down in Greenwood. The dining room and bar were completely open, and except for a smattering of local sports memorabilia, it was maybe the most boring dining room ever. But oh, the food. Once you tucked into their cavatappi mac and cheese, or started throwing around the house-made barbecue sauces on the house-smoked pulled pork or beef brisket, you could have been anywhere in the world, and it would not have mattered.

The food at Lorenzo’s has its moments, but they’re hit and miss. They start you out with a loaf of crusty, airy bread, along with olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette that you can mix up on little plates to your own liking. This was a nice touch, as was the bowl of cheese that came with the bread. The balsamic vinaigrette was bright and fruity, but it tended to overpower the other flavors, even in fairly small doses. They have the salads you would expect to find at an Italian restaurant, including Caesar and Caprese; but there were also a couple of unique offerings, including a Pear salad with mixed greens, candied pecans, gorgonzola, Asian pears, and rosemary dressing. Amy and I both went for this salad, though I was tempted by the Chopped salad, with red pepper, red onion, artichoke hearts, salami, olives, garlic, zucchini, and gorgonzola.

It was the rosemary dressing that seduced me to go with the Pear salad, though. I’ve developed an affection for rosemary in pasta that borders on the obsessive. After tasting the balsamic vinaigrette with the bread, I was hoping that the rosemary dressing on the salad would be similarly bright and flavorful. The flavors in the salad were a little more balanced, though. The thin slices of pear were sweet and juicy and just a little bit tangy, which made the kitchen’s choice to go with a mild dressing an even better one. If they had combined those pears with their balsamic vinaigrette, the two flavors would have combined into a single, indistinguishable flavor. There was just enough dressing to loosen things up without drowning the mixed greens, but in the end I think I might have been better served if I had gone with the Chopped salad.

For dinner, I went with linguini with clams, which is pretty straightforward, except that this version included pancetta. I thought it an odd choice for linguini and clams, but it was certainly in line with the kitchen’s obvious interest in pairing classic Italian food with strong individual flavors. Unfortunately, most of the food I encountered suffered from having that one strong, unique flavor that got in the way of the other flavors. In this case, it was the pancetta, which almost wholly masked the flavor of the clams and completely obliterated the other flavors, which, according to the menu, were garlic, olive oil and white wine butter sauce. None of the other flavors, obscured by clouds or otherwise, was parsley, I’m sorry to say.

Amy had the Ravioli della Mama, which was filled with spinach and cheese and then topped with a pesto cream sauce. I was more impressed with one bite of her dish than I was with all of mine. The cheese in these ravioli was a pleasantly gooey mix of ricotta and a hard, sharp cheese like Parmesan or Romano. The basil in the sauce was almost otherworldly, so fresh and earthy that I would not have been surprised to find that it had come directly out of the ground only moments before it was puréed into sauce. It was an extremely rich dish, but Amy actually managed to eat all of it—apart from that single bite that I tried.

I had thought that the portions looked a little bit small when the entrées came out, despite the fact that they were served in the most enormous dinner bowl/plates I think I’ve ever seen. Considering that Amy ate the whole thing and that I was still hungry even after all the components of food had been cleared from the table, I can say without reservation that the portions at Lorenzo’s are fairly small and definitely overpriced. Each of our entrées was $18, and the salads were $9 each. Given the sparseness of the dining room, the hostess texting in plain view while seated at the bar, and the fact that I left hungry, I can only conclude that most of what I spent at Lorenzo’s is going toward what is probably an exorbitant rent bill.

Lorenzo’s Ristorante
15 East Maryland Street

Friday, September 14, 2012

Deep Thoughts #90

Got the following in a fortune cookie and am thinking of sending it along to Paul Ryan: “Perhaps you’ve been focusing too much on spending.”

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

In the Crannies and the Nooks, There Are Books to Buy

There’s always something. There’s always some goddamn thing that wrecks my plan to get rid of more books each year than I bring in. (Other than my own lack of willpower, which is manifested both by my inability to stop going into bookstores so frequently and by my all-too-frequent willingness to drop a buck or two on just about anything.) Last year it was Borders going out of business, but I really was doing well this year. Before this past weekend, I had bought all of two books so far in 2012. (I don’t count literary magazines, whether I should or not.)

Then we went to the Benton House Book Sale last Saturday. Amy was looking for some books for Jackson and, well, like I’ve said, I don’t have to be talked into these things. Jockamo and Lazy Daze are two of the collection points for the donations that make this book sale work, and I’ve perused the contents of those collection boxes at various times, while waiting either for pizza or coffee. I was sort of hoping, based on what I had seen in those collection boxes, that I would be as unimpressed by the rest of the books at the sale as I was by the ones I got to see beforehand, stuffed into shopping bags and shipping cartons and whatnot. (Either way, it was certainly worth at least a look.)

Alas. You put enough books together in one place, and spend enough time looking at them, and invariably you can spot a monkey reading a copy of Hamlet on the floor under a table in the back corner. Or no...wait...it would have to be your bull. Anyway...I was going along just fine until I came to a pocket paperback copy of Gone with the Wind that was both well bound and in pretty good shape. I normally cast aspersions on pocket paperback books, for reasons that mostly have to do with how cheaply they are made and how hard they are to read. (At least, they’re usually hard for me to read. The print is often fairly small, and I don’t have the best eyes in the world to begin with. Unfortunately, this seems to be getting worse as I get older.)

This one was in good shape, though. The pages fell open nicely, and the binding was not cracked, or even slightly creased, and felt solid enough in my hands that I was confident it would remain that why while the book was under my care. However, it was only one book, and even though it was a (relatively) nice one, it was something I could pass up. I have never read Gone with the Wind, and it’s one of those that I hope to get around to reading one of these days; but that’s what libraries are for—to hold the books you want to get around to eventually until the day comes when you finally get around to them. If it had been something I felt reasonably sure I would want either to read again or to keep forever, then that would have been something different.

The next thing that I picked up and found intriguing was a Modern Library trade paperback copy of The Count of Monte Cristo. It’s not something I’ve ever felt a burning desire to read, and I already have something by its author on my shelves (The Three Musketeers); but the Modern Library edition closed the deal. Modern Library editions are extremely well made trade paperbacks, with long introductions, often by other authors who have some sort of connection to the work they are introducing (such as Michael Cunningham introducing The Voyage Out, Arthur C. Clarke introducing The War of the Worlds, and Michael Crichton introducing The Lost World). The copy was not in very good shape, with a badly rolled spine and some discoloration on the pages; but it was not precisely in bad shape, either, and its Modern Library-ness made up for the other deficiencies.

At this point, I was considering two books I could easily have passed on; but I kept looking around anyway, because it’s places like that where you find the gems that both surprise and delight you. The gem for me, in this case, was a very fine trade paperback copy of The Savage Detectives, by Roberto Bolaño. Somebody out there is going to read this and think that Bolaño is overhyped, and they might be right; but I would disagree, mostly because I thought 2666 was great, but also because he is outspoken in his non-fiction and because his poetry can be a little bit dirty. He would be nearly as popular if he were still alive, but his untimely passing, at the age of fifty, pretty much cemented his status as a rock star. Now that I have a complete collection of the work of Richard Yates, Bolaño is the author I hoard when I find him in clearance bins and book sales.

There was no way I was going to pass up the Bolaño novel, so I went back and got the other two books I had been looking at, too. I maybe should have stopped there, but then I would not have found a hardcover copy of Stephen King’s Skeleton Crew, an early collection of his short stories. I wasn’t entirely sure I did not already have that book, but I grabbed it anyway. I checked the Stephen King bookcase when I got home, and sure enough, no Skeleton Crew. (Yes, I have a whole bookcase, of the three-shelf sort, with nothing but Stephen King books in it—and it’s overflowing.) I also picked up a copy of an old issue of Granta, and by that point it was well beyond time for me to leave. Amy and Jackson had long since paid for their purchases and exited the sale. I dropped a whopping $2.50 on my four books and one magazine, and in one fell swoop undid the modest progress I had made this year in reducing my literary inventory. I suppose there’s always next year...

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Deep Thoughts #89

Funny how Michael Moore’s films are one-sided polemics, but 2016: Obama’s America is for the open-minded people who care about this country.

Monday, August 20, 2012

To Go and Paint Big Cities

I was all set to defend my liberal position, supporting President Obama for re-election, at the family reunion Amy roped me into going to yesterday—but then the discussion at our table never precisely turned to politics, and that was actually okay with me. I don’t pay enough attention anymore to hold my own very well in arguments with people who live and breathe this kind of thing. Once upon a time, I maybe could have done that; but not anymore. I’ll be glad to explain why I plan to vote for this or that person, but going back and forth with people who only want you to admit that they are right (even when they are not), is excruciating. I get enough of that shit at the old juke joint; I sure as hell don’t need to suffer it on my off time.

Used to be, when Amy would rope me into family things like that, I would just sit there quietly, and bite my tongue if something was said that rubbed me the wrong way. I never got out of that habit, even while I continued to self-identify as both conservative and Republican—which (to paraphrase George Carlin) I did, until I reached the age of reason. Yesterday, though, I didn’t even have to bite my tongue. The strongest thing said, vis à vis politics, was that Mitt Romney was “much better than Obama.” I disagree with that statement, but it’s not something that can be proven one way or the other—it’s just someone’s opinion.

Know when I did bite my tongue and should not have done? It was when I was asked about writing, and was I writing a novel? Well, yes, I am. Is it a horror story? Well, no, not so much. I know damn good and well what I am writing about, and largely how it’s all going to come together at the end—and yet I ran flat out into an epic fail when asked about it, even at this late date. WHY? Why can’t I just look a person in the eye and tell them that I am writing a novel in three parts about time (college), place (Irvington), and history (the Mafia)? Because I am ashamed of the fact that it took me this fucking long to figure out that I need to write about all three of those things, and that I can actually get them all into one novel?

When I started writing, which is going on twenty years ago now, I knew that I wanted to write about college, because that freshman year affected me deeply (fallin’ back on that ass, with a hellafied gangsta lean); Irvington was tangential for the first half of my life, but then in short order became both important to it and inextricable from it; and the Mafia...well...I mean, the Mafia doesn’t really exist, does it? Even if it does (wink wink, nudge nudge), my dad refuses to talk to me about it, so I’m just going to have to make that part up. (Yep, I got family issues on both sides, baby.) That part of this novel is what I plan to work on during this year’s National Novel Writing Month. I began the first part, the college part, during NaNo last year, and have been working with it since then, trying to get it right.

I’m not ashamed that it has taken me so long to get to this place. I’m a little bit disappointed, mostly with myself, but I’m not ashamed. What’s uncomfortable is trying to explain my work to people I don’t really know, people I have trained myself not to talk to. Habits are hard to break. I told myself yesterday before the family reunion that I would talk if someone asked—but that I wasn’t going to turn whatever I had to say in favor of one person into a backhanded attack on someone else. That’s what passes for restraint, I suppose; but no one asked. That might have been because I chose to leave my backpack, the one with the three Obama buttons pinned to it, in the car. Change takes time, and requires patience.

Deep Thoughts #88 - Special Topical Nuh-Uh Edition

The blame for the negative presidential campaign should go to the ignorant voters who respond to it, not to the candidates who engage in it.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Jackson Goes to School

Today was Jackson's first day of school, at Theodore Potter Elementary School, a Spanish Immersion magnet school in IPS. Their school, in the Cottage Home neighborhood, is undergoing renovation this year, so they are being temporarily housed in the former Frederick Douglass school on Pleasant Run Parkway, just down the street and around the corner from the Pleasant Run Trail and the grimy part of Fountain Square. Amy and I both took the day off so we could both take him to school and pick him up—and I actually managed to get some of the pictures I took this morning posted to my photos site.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Why Aren't We Flying? Because Getting There is Half the Fun. You Know That.

This past Saturday, we attended the Middle Eastern festival at St. George Orthodox Christian Church, and as we tucked in to eat, I noticed the following on the back of the menu handout we were given at the admission gate: Watch for the Middle Eastern Festival in 2014 at our new location in Fishers. St. George Orthodox Church will NOT hold a Festival in 2013 because of our relocation. Follow our news at www.MEFestival.org.

Super. Yet another instance of something nice in Indianapolis fleeing to the exurbs. We’ve only been attending the Middle Eastern Festival for a few years now, in part because we had stopped attending the Greek Festival, at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, when that congregation decamped for newer digs in Carmel. Their church was repurposed, and I hope that something similar happens to the St. George church (though its location at 40th and Sherman is not quite as desirable as the former location of the Greek Orthodox Church, at 40th and Pennsylvania).

I don’t remember, exactly, how we came to start going to the Greek Festival every year—but it was some combination of hearing about it from my mom and a burgeoning interest, for both Amy and myself, in Greek food; and getting there, as they say, was half the fun. The church was at 40th and Pennsylvania, and if you didn’t get there early, you could pretty much count on parking several blocks away and walking. We both love to walk, so that was never an issue; and it was always nice to look at the big, expensive houses along Pennsylvania Street (the church is in the southwest corner of the Meridian-Kessler neighborhood).

The Greek Festival was always packed, and it was often difficult to maneuver in the relatively small space that was set up for the festival behind the church. You would spend most of your time standing in line for food, and then standing in line to get pastries on your way out. There was dancing and music and church tours and an Athenian marketplace, and it was all very lovely and expensive. It was one of the first festivals we attended on a regular basis, and it was a good introduction to the world of summer festivals in Indianapolis. We gave it up when they moved to Carmel. It would not have been much fun to get there, and I’m not big on the pretension of the affluent. Also, their mayor, Jim Brainard, is batshit fucking crazy. There are roundabouts everywhere up there, and they would rather you do something about your vinyl or aluminum siding, instead of just letting it sit there on your house looking, you know...urban.

We had always known about the Middle Eastern Festival, but we had never attended it. There was no particular reason for that, I don’t think—and there are just too many festivals to get to them all, especially with my work schedule. I guess if I’m being honest, the location was part of it—40th and Sherman is within shouting distance of what is known as the Meadows (which isn’t quite the same as the Griswolds taking the wrong exit trying to cross the river in St. Louis, but it might be close). After we lost the Greek Festival, we decided to finally give the Middle Eastern Festival a shot—and wished almost immediately that we had tried it out sooner. It might well have replaced the Greek Festival before those pinheads did their part to contribute to urban sprawl.

The only thing the Greek Festival had that the Middle Eastern Festival didn’t have was that long walk down Pennsylvania Street so you could look at the fancy houses. (At 40th and Sherman, there are no fancy houses.) In its place, the Middle Eastern Festival has this quaint little thing called “parking.” Everything else at the Middle Eastern Festival is better: the food is just as good, and it’s less expensive; there are practically no lines for food (or, at least, there have never been significant lines for food any of the times we have been); and the line for pastries, though there is one, isn’t nearly like standing in line for pastries at the Greek Festival. The Middle Eastern Festival also has dancing and music; and an indoor marketplace (though not an Athenian one, obviously). They also have a silent auction and a small bookstore.

But now it’s going away, too. Like I said, though, there are tons of festivals in and around the city, so it won’t be like we suddenly have nothing to do in the summer. And I’m not really disappointed that a church is moving so that its metastasizing congregation has more room to sit when they do their congregating on Sunday mornings. Most of the time I’m completely indifferent to churches and the things they do—and I’m entirely indifferent, 100% of the time, to what they’re trying to sell; but every now and then they manage to do something of interest to the greater community, and that was the niche occupied by both the Greek Festival and the Middle Eastern Festival. I’ll miss those festivals, but there are plenty of other festivals, right here in the city. There is almost no valid reason ever to enter Hamilton County; patronizing a festival that supports people who decided to skip town just because it got a little crowded certainly does not pass muster.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Deep Thoughts #87

Not only do the In God We Trust monkeys drive like morons, they also give money to the off-ramp panhandlers. Locusts for $200, please, Alex?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Deep Thoughts #86

I would not have guessed that the first place in town where I would see electric vehicle charging stations would be the Greenwood Park Mall.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Thr3e Wise Men Brewing Co.

Jackson, of course, only ever wants to eat chicken; and when I say chicken, I mean those chopped and formed and breaded and fried bits of chicken, which I suppose are probably technically meat, but which may or may not stand up to rigorous scientific inquiry. I had the rare Monday off last week, but since it was so hot out, we didn’t have a real plan for the day. Usually, we’ll go grab lunch somewhere close to whatever the plan for the day—which generally involves something to do outdoors—is going to be, but last week we were just sort of flying blind. We finally vaguely decided on Thai, and made our way toward Broad Ripple.

We had noshed at Thai Café before, but since we rolled up there without checking first, we did not know that they were not open on Monday. We took our chances and left the car where it was, and started walking toward the village, though not at all sure what we were going to try. Then we saw the “Kids Eat Free on Monday” sign in the window at Thr3e Wise Men Brewing Company; and though it seemed a little bit counterintuitive that a place with Brewing in its name would cater to kids, we liked the idea of being able to get a free lunch for Jackson, so we took a chance and went in. (And since it was served by the same parking lot as Thai Café, we were in no danger of having the car towed.)

Nothing here that you haven’t seen before, since bar and grill places are a dime a dozen in this town. Thr3e Wise Men is an offshoot of Scotty’s Brewhouse, and it’s the space where the eponymous Scotty chose to stake out a brewery, so that he could serve his own beer alongside other local and national offerings at his restaurants. It exists in the space that was briefly the Sunflower Market, and it’s got pretty much everything you would expect from a brewpub, except for an especially interesting menu. This is partly by design, according to Scotty’s website, because the place mostly exists to make beer; but he also wanted it to be a place where people could go to eat, so there are a few things for those on solid foods—but the choices are mostly pizza and wings, along with a smattering of appetizers, sandwiches, and salads.

They’re not reinventing the wheel here, although it’s a little bit cool that one of the dessert offerings is an elephant ear crafted from their pizza dough; and they are to be commended for serving up local coffee from Hubbard & Cravens, as well as Pepsi products from their fountain. Most of the meat that they serve on their sandwiches and pizzas is sourced locally, too—including smoked chicken from Smoking Goose, which is also featured on a few pies at Jockamo (and is incredibly delicious). The downside is that everything on the menu (except for that elephant ear) is food that you have eaten before.

I had the lunch special, which lets you mix and match any two of the following: personal one-topping pizza, breadsticks, stuffed breadsticks, or small chop salad. The cheese and onion pizza, which was clearly handmade, was long on cheese, but not so much on sauce; and it could have used another minute or two in the oven or under a broiler. Maybe you trust pizza that isn’t a little bit browned and bubbly on top. I feel for you. The breadsticks, like the pizza dough, were very light and airy, and probably helped along by the pepperoni with which they were stuffed. This might have been the first pizza place I’ve ever eaten at where they used yeast for flavor as well as for leavening.

Amy also had the lunch special, but she got the other two choices—the small chop salad and the non-stuffed breadsticks. She gave the breadsticks to Jackson, to go with his cheese pizza, and made do for herself with the salad and the goat cheese and marinara appetizer we got to split. I don’t recall that she had anything in particular to say about the salad one way or the other, other than that it contained goat cheese, which we both agree is never a bad thing. The goat cheese and marinara appetizer was much more marinara than it was goat cheese, and the bits of bread for dipping were explosively dry. All that extra marinara, however, worked well to augment the dearth of sauce on the pizza.

Some of the brews they offer looked interesting, but I’m not much of a beer-with-lunch/dinner kind of guy, especially when we’re going out to eat. I would not mind to try a Hubbard & Cravens Porter one of these days, but I’m not going to lose any sleep waiting for that day to come. I’m also not going to lose any sleep wondering when I will get to eat at Thr3e Wise Men again. There was nothing wrong with it, but it’s not a place that inspired immediate longings for a return visit. I would have to be in or near Broad Ripple, in the mood for bar and grill food, and not interested in trying one of the many other bar and grill places in Broad Ripple that I hadn’t tried before. The chances of an unexceptional place like Thr3e Wise Men running that kind of gauntlet are pretty much astronomical.

1021 Broad Ripple Avenue

Thursday, June 28, 2012

We Already Have a George

I keep having these ideas for things that I want to write about, and then when it comes time to start writing each night, I work on the long Irvington novel I have been wanting to write for awhile now and which I kick-started last November by forcing myself to work on it during National Novel Writing Month. And every now and again I think that I should maybe work one of these longer posts up into an actual non-fiction essay and submit to some literary magazine or other. I usually don’t have that thought for very long (and am, in fact, well aware that it is some kind of delusion of grandeur).

My half-baked thought for today is that I wish I had left Barnes & Noble for last, like I usually do when we go to Bloomington. Hot on the heels of that thought, though, is that we did everything ass-backwards today. We ate before we went to Bloomington. What the hell is that? If there’s even the slimmest possibility that a trip to Bloomington could be in the offing, then lunch or dinner—in Bloomington—becomes part of that equation. I don’t remember the last time we went to Bloomington and didn’t eat there. But Amy’s been clambering for Indian food lately, so we swung by a place on the south side called the Clay Oven.

And then I drove into town the wrong way and parked on the wrong side of campus—because I wanted to reconnoiter the construction on the bypass to see if going by the bookstore later in the day was going to be a bad idea, adding rush hour traffic to the cluster fuck going on at the intersection of College Mall Road, 3rd Street, and the bypass. The construction looks finished from 17th almost all the way around to 10th Street, but you can’t turn toward campus onto 10th Street, and it’s still pretty much a war zone from 10th Street south to the mall. I decided to go ahead and pop in at Barnes & Noble so that it would be out of the way.

I was hoping to find the new issue of n+1, which the stores in greater Indianapolis have stopped carrying—surprise!—and to see what else they had in the way of literary magazines. Lately it seems as though the Bloomington branch of Barnes & Noble is about the best place there is to look for literary magazines (other than on the magic internets), but even their selection isn’t much to write home about. However, they did have the new n+1, which I gobbled up; and I also got the Athlon pro football preview book, just on a lark. There’s a story on Andrew Luck, and also one on Peyton Manning in Denver, both of which should be interesting.

And then I parked on the wrong side of campus. We almost always park somewhere west of Indiana Avenue, usually on 4th Street or 7th Street; but today I just sidled up to a spot on Union Street, alongside the gigantic new residence hall they built by demolishing a good chunk of Ashton Center (including the Center Building, where I spent many an evening in the dishroom, but not Hershey Hall, where I lived as a freshman). It was nice to hit those old Ashton Center stomping grounds again, which we don’t always get to when we park on the other side of campus. Then we went over to the Union, where I found a copy of the student literary magazine (distribtued gratis) in a little rack that was hidden off to the side inside the Starbucks they built inside the Union.

Then we went downtown. We were having a nice trip to Bloomington, which the last several had not been, and I wanted to walk around the courthouse square to see if any new places had popped up since last we had really been down to look around; but then we got to the corner of Kirkwood and Walnut, in front of the Trojan Horse, and I looked across Kirkwood and saw the little book shop called Book Corner. I am positive I never went in there once when I was a student, and I am pretty sure that I have only been in there once in the time since I was a student. I don’t think this affinity for literary magazines had struck the last time I was in, because I’m sure that, had it done, I would have remembered that they have a great selection of literary magazines.

Instant buyer’s remorse, of course. They had the new issue of n+1 that I had already bought at Barnes & Noble, and I stood there for a few seconds staring at it numbly on the rack at Book Corner. In the backpack on my shoulders was something I had bought at a chain bookstore when I could have had the very same thing—for the very same price—at this independent place; and I should have known better, because I knew the Book Corner store was there. I didn’t look for the Athlon pro football book, because it doesn’t matter if they carry that kind of thing or not. I’m not always in the market for that one, and it only comes out once a year, anyway. What I did also look for was Film Comment—which they had. They did not have the Indiana Review or New Letters, which Barnes & Noble had, but both places had Zoetrope All-Story, Poetry, Glimmer Train, and the Paris Review. Book Corner also had the Georgia Review, the Kenyon Review, Pleiades, Verse, the Baffler, and a handful of other things that I can’t recall right now right off the top of my head.

Some things you just learn the hard way, I guess. I’ll take some small measure of comfort in the fact that by buying n+1 at Barnes & Noble this time, I voted there with my dollars, and let them know that there is at least a little bit of interest in that magazine. I do wish, though, that I had left Barnes & Noble for last, like I usually do. Then I would not have already bought the magazine when I popped into Book Corner, and I could have voted with my dollars there, which would have been much more satisfying. I’m already thinking ahead to my next trip down to Bloomington, and hoping that the floodgates don’t open so wide that I drop an obscene amount of money—though the temptation to do so is going to be considerable.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Jackson Goes to the Movies

I hadn’t planned on going to see my first movie in a theatre in I don’t even know how long the very day after finishing The Good, the Bad, and the Godawful: 21st Century Movie Reviews, by Kurt Loder. (Yes, that Kurt Loder.) But it was a little bit too hot and humid for a walkabout after Amy and Jackson got back from Vacation Bible School at their church; neither of us had pressing needs at any of the various emporiums around town; and then Amy floated, once again, the idea of taking little Jackson to his very first movie ever. It was inevitable, of course, that this day would come; and it was inevitable, too that this would be one fatherly duty I would not somehow be able to shirk, given that one of the few things I’m any good at is getting things for free at the big movie store.

It’s not exactly that I’m averse, on principle, to taking my son to the movies. It has more to do with the fact that he just has so much energy that I have never really believed that he could sit still for an amount of time that gets anywhere near two hours. He also doesn’t do quiet very well, and I’ve worked in the damn fool exhibition industry for long enough to have developed a strong disdain for those who bring to the movies kids they know damn good and well aren’t going to be able to comport themselves in a manner approaching that which is appropriate. There is some latitude with a kid’s movie, of course, but Jackson ain’t never been what you would call docile.

And there was also the possibility of an automatic out—there not being a show time that would be convenient for us. We don’t plan these kinds of things, even when it’s just the two of us trying to find something to go see on those rare occasions when we have time alone together and nothing better to do. But wouldn’t you know—when I called the recording for Glendale, at around two this afternoon, there was a 2D Madagascar 3 at 2:45, which gave us plenty of time to get all of our truck together and get on up there.

Would you believe that it worked like a charm? We got there with time to spare, so that when the cashier fumbled my employee discount card—yes, there is an employee discount card (would that Brent Spiner, in full hillbilly mode, could have been the one to hand it to me when the program launched)—there was still no chance that we were going to miss the start of the film. We even got to watch some of the fancy intermission slides, with trivia questions and everything. (The answer to one of the questions was Jim Jarmusch, and though I missed the question, I paused while walking to my seat and just gaped at the screen. I’m not all that familiar with the Glendale clientele, but I would hazard a guess that only a very small percentage of them would know the answer to a trivia question that required them to know anything at all about Jim Jarmusch.)

The movie wasn’t even that bad. (I had planned for this post to be both a review of the film and a comment on taking Jackson to his first movie, but it turns out that I have run at the mouth long enough for it to be just the Jackson comment.) I sort of wish I had known beforehand that Jessica Chastain’s voice was featured in the film, but that might just have resulted in an awkward moment in medias res wherein I declared to my wife my abiding love for Jessica Chastain, which would have been all kinds of awkward. An even better surprise was that the film was co-written by Noah Bamubach (my wife already knows how much I adore Noah Baumbach’s wife).

An actual review of the film may yet be forthcoming; and I got a few pictures of Jackson inside the auditorium, though I haven’t looked at them yet because the battery in my camera died and takes forever to recharge. Those pics may eventually be forthcoming, too.

(Note: Apparently Noah Baumbach and the wife of his to whom I was referring have split up. I have no idea who he may have bagged since the split, so in case there's some question as to the wife of his whom I adore, I was totally talking about Jennifer Jason Leigh.)

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Deep Thoughts #85

I think George Carlin would have loved the cultural shift—one word, one syllable to two words, four syllables—from mall to lifestyle center.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Jackson Turns 5

I know...this can't go on forever. Eventually he's going to quit letting me take so many pictures of him. He's also eventually going to be a teenager, which is going to suck out loud. But at this point, he's still pretty cute, and still mostly a good boy—so here we go.


Friday, June 01, 2012

Deep Thoughts #84 - Rising Falling at Force Ten

I’m going to go ahead and assume that Jann Wenner is not the second person who voted in my little poll about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Jackson Races the Cheetah Again

And once again, he loses. This video is a little bit better than the last one I posted. Seems I can't quite get enough of posting videos of Jackson racing the cheetah. There are, naturally, lots of photos from today's trip to the zoo; and, also naturally, I plan to post some of them to my photo site once I have them curated. (But then again, that's what I always say.)

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Best. Bumper Sticker. Ever. #5

So we’re heading home from the Central Library this afternoon and while going south down East Street, pull in behind this car with a bunch of bumper stickers on it—also a Kentucky license plate and an Avon advertisement tattooed to the back window (though neither of these things probably means anything at all); and one of those bumper stickers is:

The person—and Darwin as my witness, I swear I could not tell from that distance whether it was a man or a woman in the driver’s seat—had two opportunities to use their turn signals before we parted ways. The person managed to signal their turn from East Street to New York Street, but not their lane change somewhere between East and LaSalle. One out of two for a person who went to the trouble to apply a bumper sticker exhorting others to use their turn signals.

The person also had a Rand Paul for Senate sticker on the same bumper, along with a number of stickers alluding to tree hugging, dirt worshipping, and that sort of thing—so it’s possible that they might just have been a lunatic. (And yes, I suppose it does go without saying that anyone who supports any of the political Paul family would pretty much have to be batshit fucking crazy anyway.)