Friday, December 20, 2013

Deep Thoughts #97

Part of me really wants to blog about how foolish the First Amendment screamers defending Phil Robertson sound; but what would be the point?

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Down by the Creek, Walking on Water

Last Wednesday we went down to McCormick's Creek State Park, which is just west of Bloomington on 46 - and is, in fact, closer to Bloomington than Brown County State Park; and yet for some reason, this was the first time we ventured the other way on 46. We had an incredibly good time, and Jackson did a really great job on the two most rugged trails in the park. (Truth be told, I'm not sure we were actually on the trails so much as we were just wandering back and forth across the actual creek itself - though that was certainly as rugged as the trails would have been.) I took over 200 pictures, though many of them were action shots that were too blurry to use. I managed to cull 25 or so that I thought were worth posting on my photo site.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013


Here in week three of a Peddie Family Vacation Trifecta, Amy and I both have the week off at the same time, while Jackson is back at school; and that means lots of opportunities to try new places for lunch. Yesterday we knocked out one of the places that has been near the top of my list for a long time but which was hard to fit in with Jackson in tow, due to the fact that they don’t serve any type of breaded and fried chicken. There was a period there where Jackson was very willing to try new things to eat and managed to develop a taste for things like chips and salsa, hummus, quesadillas, and even broccoli. Unfortunately, that phase seems to have run its course for the time being.

But with him at school, we have the run of the city—and others nearby—and so yesterday afternoon we noshed at Rook, a relatively new Fletcher Place eatery in one of those fancy new mixed-use development deals that are popping up all over town. I can’t think of another place I have been to that uses holes in the drywall as a design element, but that’s the case here, as a “downed power line” pokes through the wall and extends out across the ceiling. You walk up to the counter and order from a lunch menu that consists entirely of bánh mì sandwiches with various fillings that evoke the flavors of Asian street food—Chinese barbecued pork, Indian-spiced tofu, and Thai sour sausage, to name a few. (All of the sandwiches on the lunch menu are $8, and a handful of sides go in the $2-$6 range. A recently-added dinner menu expands the lunch offerings and adds new items, with prices ranging from $6-$12.)

The sandwiches are topped with a delicious sweet and sour cabbage, carrot, and pepper slaw that just barely overpowered the flavor of the Indian-spiced tofu on my sandwich. The balance of flavor in the slaw by itself was impressive, but could have done with something a bit more dynamic in there—a touch of spice from the peppers, maybe; and those pillowy bánh mì rolls, while light and airy, are also not sturdy enough to soak up the moisture from the slaw and the thin coating of some type of mayonnaise that dresses the sandwich. On the other hand, tofu itself is fairly delicate and tends to get lost in the shuffle, especially when it’s added to the menu as an afterthought; and despite the fact that this is a place that serves Asian food, I definitely got the impression that this was a menu calibrated to showcase the hardier proteins favored by carnivores.

Also, because this is an Ed Rudisell joint, like Black Market and Siam Square, you may have a hard time eating economically and also feeling fully sated. We haven’t tried Black Market yet, but Siam Square is one of the best restaurants in Indianapolis, even if the portions seem a little bit anemic for the price. The same can be said for most of the restaurants in the Martha Hoover empire, but they are minor quibbles in both cases. Rudisell and Hoover are doing some of the best restaurants in the city. Rook is a nice addition, but it doesn’t hit the back-alley vibe it’s shooting for—in much the same way that Café Patachou doesn’t hit the “student union for adults” vibe it claims to be shooting for. I’m not quite sure that it gets to the level of pretension in either case (though I am closer to sure about Hoover’s M.O. than about Rudisell’s), because I think the efforts are genuine—they just seem to wind up being a little bit fancier than they aim to be.

719 Virginia Avenue

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A Wheel of Fate, A Game of Chance (#2)

I almost didn’t go to Tin Comet this afternoon. Once I shook the cobwebs loose and got the writing to start working for me, it really started working. I figured out a scene in which I wanted one of the characters to talk about the scene in The Godfather when Luca Brasi is garrotted, and how that scene is sanitized compared to what would really happen when someone is garrotted (for example, early scenes in either Eastern Promises or No Country for Old Men); and I wanted to keep it going, even though I had limited time due to hitting the snooze button way too many times (again).

But a nip into a great coffee shop can do wonders for your day, even when your day is already humming along quite nicely. To wit: on the chalkboard behind the counter at Tin Comet this afternoon was writ the following: Happy Birthday Mario Puzo. Yes, and Matt was talking to a customer at the counter, a pretty woman with pixie hair and a gypsy skirt, who might well have been Francesca, from the carnivel troupe in Clockwork Angels. I wasn’t trying to eavesdrop, but I heard Francesca say that she liked some person’s writing, and Matt asked if she was a writer too—and for just a minute I could see through the looking glass to a place where writing is important to people.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Tin Comet Coffee Opens

Tin Comet Coffee has opened for business at 2119 East 10th Street, here in Indianapolis. Their first day of business was this past Saturday, and the only reason I knew about it was because of Facebook—which does, yes, make me sad. I’ve been keeping an eye on their real website, as well as driving by the storefront, hoping to catch some information on their opening the old-fashioned way—but it was not to be. I just happened to Google them the other night at the old juke joint, and the first hit was a Facebook page I didn’t even know they had. Therein lay the information, and due to a bit of scheduling good luck, I was able to stop in on opening day, wish them well, and get a hot cuppa to go.

I feel like I’ve been wandering in the desert, vis-à-vis coffee, since Lazy Daze closed. We have lots of fine indie coffee shops in the metro area, but I was doubly lucky to have Lazy Daze because 1) it was close, and 2) it was the best. There are some newbies that I haven’t tried yet, like the pour-over thing happening at Bee Coffee Roasters in Pan Am Plaza, as well as Foundry Provisions, up near where Herron used to be; but I’ve been to most of the veteran coffee shops in the metro, including Monon Coffee Company, Funkyard, Strange Brew, Calvin Fletcher’s, Cups, South Bend Chocolate Company, Hubbard & Cravens, and Yogülatté. I also found myself inside the evil coffee shop at Washington and Audubon after Lazy Daze closed, out of sheer desperation sometimes.

None of those places holds a candle to Lazy Daze, and the evil coffee shop is the only one close enough to walk to (but of course, they burn their beans, which fucks up the way you taste coffee and makes you think that correctly roasted coffee is weak). And while some of those other places have their points of interest—proximity to the village for Monon, the giant fish tanks and Holiday Grogg roast at Strange Brew, the art on the walls and the improbable rack of $2 CDs (and gelato) at Funkyard, the yogurt and proximity to Mass Ave and the rest of downtown at Yogülatté—none of them have the warm quirkiness that Lazy Daze had, which was dirty in a good way (like Lady Gaga or Drew Barrymore) and seemed to have grown straight up out of the roots of Irvington. I imagine that I am a little bit biased because I live in Irvington and have been connected to it, in one way or another, for all of my life; but they were firing on all cylinders at Lazy Daze, and Irvington is that much more drab and empty that they are gone.

Also, their coffee was the best. Strange Brew was second in that department, but that one is way down on Smith Valley Road, damn near out to 37. There’s just no way to justify going that far out of my way for a cup of coffee. They close at noon on Sunday, too, which eliminates them from consideration if we happen to be out and about on the south side on my day off. About the only time I get down there is on my way to or from Bloomington—and even then, I have to consider whether I will want to get coffee at Runcible Spoon, which is nearly as good as Lazy Daze was (including, and perhaps especially, dirty in a good way), but which is, in point of fact, in Bloomington.

Now comes Tin Comet, in St. Clair Place on the near east side. It’s not dirty, in either a good or bad way, but rather clean and bright—which is exactly what 10th Street needs as it inches its beautification ever further east, toward the very rotten stretch between Rural Street and Sherman Drive. It’s not close enough to walk to, but it’s just down the street from Jackson’s school, and is very easy to access on my way downtown. Jackson and I popped in today on our way downtown—my fourth visit in the five days they’ve been open. I’m a little bit biased toward Tin Comet because I am acquainted with the proprietors, one of whom was the finest barista Lazy Daze ever had; but the ambience is wonderfully eclectic, in the very best sense of that word—the music you hear playing when you walk in is coming from a living, breathing turntable, spinning those black circles—and the coffee is awfully good, too. I’ve only had the espresso drinks, but will get around to trying the drip coffee at some point. (And I’m hoping that maybe they’ll tweak that espresso machine to make the shots a bit stronger, too.)

There is life on the East Side! Get out to the Comet, people!

2119 East 10th Street

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Random Jackson Pictures #1

Having now been heckled by two different family members for not posting photos of Jackson as often as others would like, and being possessed of a bit more free time these next couple of weeks, due to Jackson's being on fall break, I thought I'd have a go at doing this somewhat more regularly. So here is a picture of Jackson negotiating pizza.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Grain of Sand

I bought the new Stephen King novel at Barnes & Noble on Tuesday evening. I walked from the old juke joint over to the Barnes-that-used-to-be-a-Borders and got the book for 30% off its list price of $30. I was on the fence for a little while about whether I wanted to get the book at Barnes & Noble for a substantial discount or whether I wanted to support the local indie shop and get it for full price at Indy Reads Books. I stopped buying CDs at Best Buy (and related discount-offering corporate chains) years ago, but I can’t seem to kick the habit of buying books at...I hate to say Barnes & Noble here, but Borders is gone, and they ain’t coming back, so I guess I’m sort of stuck. I suppose I could drive way the hell out to Trader’s Point and shop at Books-A-Million, but I don’t like to be reminded that it’s possible to be a corporate chain bookstore and suck more than Barnes & Noble. Also, the selection of literary magazines at Books-A-Million is Darwin-awful. So I guess what I am really trying to say is that my name is John, and I have a problem. I can’t stop buying books at the least-offensive chain bookstore in the metro area, simply because there is no indie alternative here in Indianapolis. If I want new Stephen King the day it comes out, I. Have. No. Choice.

And yes, the correct next question is, “Do you really need that new Stephen King book the day it comes out?” If I am so excited about said new book that I plan to sit down and start reading it that same day, first chance I get, then the answer to the question is yes. But I’m still working on Roger Ebert’s Movie Yearbook 2004, and earlier this week, on the Tuesday in question, I was awfully close to the end of a new book of stories by Tom Perrotta, as well as about halfway through a book of poems I had high hopes for, but which is turning out to be way less metaphorical than I was hoping it would be. I wanted to be through with the Tom Perrotta and the book of poems, and a few days further along in the Ebert, before I set my sights on the new Stephen King. So, in point of fact, the correct—realistic—answer to the question is no. I did not need that new Stephen King book the day it came out.

Does it matter that I have been buying new Stephen King the day it comes out since early 1996? It might matter a little bit, but only if that sentence were true—and it’s not. I’ve had some misses in there. I’m not entirely sure what all of them are, but I never bought a new Dark Tower book the day it came out. The Colorado Kid had been remaindered by the time I got around to ponying up the couple of bucks needed to bring that one into the fold. I picked up a copy of Black House at some point, but that was also years after it came out. But I’ve been there on release day for most of them—and I even used to put aside whatever else I was reading at the time, so that I could start that new Stephen King book that very night, after I was through writing for the day. I kept going on those other books I was reading instead of jumping right into Doctor Sleep because I do, in fact, have a problem: I can’t stop checking books out of the library, and I spent a whole lot of years after college spending time and money buying a whole lot of books that I was interested in at the time, but then never read, and am now no longer interested in.

So no, I wasn’t going to lose that set of steak knives if I didn’t get that copy of Doctor Sleep on Tuesday. And yet I had to go over there, had to get it that day, and had to get it for that 30% discount—a whopping $9 off; and while that ain’t nothing, I am certainly not in the position where that $9 is going to make or break me. (If I were in that kind of position, of course, I would not even be considering the options for buying a hardcover copy of the new Stephen King book. If I were in that kind of position, I would, at best, put it on hold at the library and wait my turn for a copy. The hold list was, I think, at 277 on Tuesday. It probably got to just over 300 for a short while, because it’s down to 272 now, and there are a couple dozen books waiting to be picked up.) So why not spend the extra money that I’m not really going to miss, and do the local indie bookstore a solid by waiting a few days for them to get it and then buying a copy from them?

Well, that’s the $64,000 question, folks; and it’s been bothering me since Tuesday. It bothers me every time I look over at the shelf and see the copy of that Stephen King book, the one I haven’t started reading yet, the one that I won’t start reading until I finish a book about growing up in Jersey City that I just started last night—two full days after I bought the Stephen King book that I just had to have. I have no problem making charitable contributions to non-profits that I find valuable. I usually spend between $100 and $200 every year on some combination of donations and subscriptions to literary magazines (which are a kind of donation)—and if I had really given this Doctor Sleep thing some serious thought, I would have thought of the extra $9 I would have spent on the new Stephen King as a donation of sorts to the local indie bookstore where I made the purchase.

(And actually, you know what? I completely forgot about Big Hat Books in Broad Ripple. Indy Reads Books and Bookmamas are the two stores I think of immediately when I think of local indie bookstores—but both of those places deal primarily in used books. Big Hat Books, on the other hand, sells mostly [or maybe only, I really don’t go in there often enough] new books. So does Book Corner, but that’s all the way down in Bloomington. Much as I like Broad Ripple, I just don’t get up there all that often. But we’re going to check out Open Streets on Sunday, and that will put us within striking distance of Big Hat...which means that I’m probably going to have to stop in just to see if they have it, and to see if they have any kind of discount on it. And while neither Big Hat Books nor Book Corner are non-profits, they are both local indie places that are deserving of support—and Indy Reads Books most certainly is a non-profit.)

The release of a new Stephen King book is the only time I even think of rushing out to the bookstore to get a new book right away. (Generally speaking, I’ve been trying to buy fewer books while I read some of the ones I have bought over the years and don’t really need or want anymore. When there is a new release that I want to read, I rely on the library. There is often a wait involved with that, especially if the book is very popular—but as I mentioned earlier, I’m pretty much always in the middle of at least one book, and usually two or three. It’s not at all off-putting to watch the hold queue and make time for a new book when my spot in the queue comes up.) And even someone as prolific as Stephen King rarely has more than two new books out in a year. Publishers have always been wary of putting out more than one book a year, even by the most popular authors; and it would stand to reason that, in this depressed book-buying economy, those publishers are at least as wary as they’ve always been about glutting the market with multiple books by the same author.

Part of the reason for writing this lengthy missive was the hope that I would feel chastened for yet again doing my part to perpetuate the corporate price wars over new bestsellers; and in that respect I believe that I have succeeded. I will be reminded of it every time I look at my copy of Doctor Sleep, and I am sure that it will be on my mind when the next Stephen King release date rolls around. I should have thought of all of this years ago—after all, it’s been years since I bought a new CD anywhere other than Luna, and that pattern change hasn’t resulted in any lasting damage. It’s a little bit easier to justify an extra couple of bucks for a new CD than upwards of ten bucks for a book—but, again, not starving here. (Joke will be on me, of course. Dude will retire now that he’s gone and written his first-ever sequel.)

The other part of the reason for writing this lengthy missive (and for including this non-sequitur of a final paragraph) is to get back into the swing of writing a lot of words in relatively short bursts of time. November is nearly upon me, and that means National Novel Writing Month, when you have to bang out close to 1700 words a day to stay on pace. I have not been anywhere close to that kind of output since, well...last November—and this is my third stab at writing about this admittedly first-world problem that has been bothering me for the last couple of days. I wandered around some of the main points in the first two drafts before I figured out what I really wanted to say—which was the part about being chastened—but ultimately got it out of my system. (And as for part two, this little piece clocks in at 1749 words and took me a little over an hour to write.)

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Deep Thoughts #96 - Special Topical Modern Day Warrior Edition

It never even occurred to me that anyone would want to karaoke to “Tom Sawyer.” But Venus Williams is into it, and Stone Temple Pilots, too.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Lazy Daze Coffee House is Still Closed

Lazy Daze Coffee House is still closed. I didn’t necessarily expect that the baristas would open it back up again by the end of June, which was one rumor that I had heard. That would have been ideal, but it probably would have been an enormous task, in terms of both money and work, to say nothing of whatever legal hurdles they might have had to clear in order to resume operating a business that had been forcibly closed by the Internal Revenue Service only about six weeks earlier.

Then there was a post by the owner of Lazy Daze on the coffee shop’s Facebook page. (Did you know there were public Facebook pages, where you can sometimes get the wayward bit of information without actually having to join the collective?) That came one month ago to the day, oddly enough, and indicated that a planned liquidation sale had been cancelled because someone had approached the owner about buying all of the assets and re-opening Lazy Daze, though perhaps not in its original location. (What there was not was any mention of why Lazy Daze closed in the first place. I would have thought that someone who would take such obvious pride and credit for the renaissance of the Irvington business district would also have the courage to explain why such a beloved and vital part of said Irvington business district would be so suddenly taken from us; but I would have been wrong.)

(Of course, there may be all kinds of things floating around on the non-public Facebook pages, but I won’t get to know about those rumors and innuendoes. I’m not joining Facebook just to find out if the best coffee shop ever is going to re-open. And information posted on non-public Facebook pages doesn’t count as real information.)

And speaking of best coffee shop ever, there is supposedly going to be a new contestant for that title opening on 10th Street before long. Tin Comet Coffee is painted on the paper covering the windows at 2119 East 10th Street, and I’m hoping that one of these days when I drive by, the paper will be gone and an OPEN sign will be lit up. Tin Comet will be owned and operated in part by one of the baristas who used to sling the hooch at Lazy Daze; and while their product probably won’t taste exactly like the coffee at Lazy Daze (which I miss terribly), the quality of their espresso drinks will be second to none, because the former Lazy Daze barista in question was also the best of the Lazy Daze baristas.

The only problem with Tin Comet coffee is that I won’t be able to approach it on foot from the east. Actually, the truth is that I won’t be willing to approach it on foot from the east, at least not at first. It’s nearly three miles from my house, and most of that is due west along Michigan Street or 10th Street. I consider myself an intrepid walker, but hoofing it along Michigan Street or 10th Street, between Emerson Avenue and Rural Street, might be a bridge too far. Those are some of the sketchiest stretches in the whole city, and even though part of that stretch, the bit along 10th Street at the very end where, perhaps unsurprisingly, the new coffee shop is eventually going to be, is working on getting better, it isn’t all the way there yet.

Approaching from the west, however, is another matter entirely. Jackson’s school is less than half a mile from the new coffee shop, directly along 10th Street—passing Woodruff Place as you go. Beyond Jackson’s school, just a little bit further west, you connect with the Cultural Trail and curve around down Mass Ave. Just writing this post has gotten me psyched up about making this week’s Wednesday downtown walk a quest to check out the new coffee shop, even if they aren’t open. Yogülatté is open, and I can get a non-chain coffee from there and walk out to Tin Comet and see what’s what.

(I’m also curious to see how many page views I get with this post. My previous post about Lazy Daze closing generated over 100 page views, which I think is the most of any blog I have ever posted. I’m sort of hoping that if someone stumbles across this post and knows something about when or if Lazy Daze might re-open, they might be inclined to comment. And for that reason, I am, for the first time in a long time, opening up the comments to those anonymous posters who are not registered with Blogger. Just please sack up and identify yourself in the body of the comment, if you aren’t a Blogger person.)

Tuesday, August 13, 2013


After I watched Byzantium a couple of weeks ago, I talked to some people on my way out, and tried to describe what I thought of the film—which was that it was quite good, but that the third act was something of a mess. But messy how? I had a hard time with that, and at the time could not come up with anything better than that there was a shift in tone that seemed inconsistent with what had come before. It was not quite as though the film had gone off the rails, but it was close. Or, at least, that was as close as I could come at that moment to getting at what I meant. I sat down to write about the film, but understood almost immediately that the answer was not in the offing; and I was less motivated than I often am to write about film, knowing full well that there is practically no audience for an elaborately written, moderately challenging film about female vampires who use adaptive thumbnails instead of fangs to puncture the necks of their victims when it is time to feed.

I let it go, thinking consciously that I would just skip writing about this one. My subconscious, however, had other designs. And so it was, a week or so after I saw Byzantium, that I was talking to Ryan about films in general, and about how the company we sell our labor to for a pittance doesn’t give a frog’s fat ass* about film because they’re all about the Benjamins. (And this is a company that is owned by a gajillionaire.) Instead of being a place with some art house credibility, we play The Lone Ranger, anything from Pixar except the one about the girl (because that would be sort of progressive), and anything Warner Brothers tells us to play. Things like Byzantium and Ginger & Rosa play for a week and are gone before anyone knows it. I mentioned, off the cuff, that notwithstanding the sensationalism of Byzantium (quite a lot of blood, Gemma Arterton in a dizzying array of bustiers, and—oh yes—all that blood), it was also a remarkable film because of the thoughtful, meticulous way it unspooled its story.

There are more vampire stories out there than you can shake a stick at, but actual vampire lore is something else altogether. Byzantium opens with two girls on the run, and the pieces of the story are revealed as the progress of the action requires them. This is the reverse of what is too often seen in explosion-laden summer blockbuster joints by Michael Bay (or Jerry Bruckheimer, or Roland Emmerich, and on and on): A flimsy story of good versus evil, or of convicts on a cargo plane, or of aliens coming to take over the world in spaceships that blot out the sky exists only to prop up (however unsteadily) a series of set pieces designed to thrill. In Byantium, the action on screen cannot exist without its backstory; and the only bits of story that we get are the ones that we need to make sense of what is currently taking place. During that talk with Ryan, I realized that the problem with Byzantium was the way that it abandoned its meticulous storytelling, in the thid act, for a far more conventional action film climax.

I’m also not sure that it could have been avoided. A central element of the vampire lore employed in the film is that the creatures are not coffin-bound during the daylight hours. They walk and talk amongst the regulars, and this blurs the line between human and vampire, a theme treated extensively throughout the film by screenwriter Moira Buffini, who adapts her own stage play, A Vampire Story. Vampires, like Mafiosi, are often played as romantic, with a healthy dollop of classical Greek tragedy; but also as separate, distinct from those not like themselves in ways that, once done, cannot be undone. This distinction, in part, fuels the fascination we have with vampires and the Mafia. When Buffini turns that distinction just slightly, she presents characters that are able to experience and respond to human nature more fully than vampires that can only come out at night.

It would be a cheap plot contrivance if not for the fully articulated backstory that provides a genesis myth, conflict, motive, and pursuit. This history defines these vampires as distinct from others of their kind, which confers credibility upon their being daytrippers. That, however, is all you’re going to get from me. I already feel like I might have given away too much, but films like this can’t be talked about for very long without getting deep into the details. One last thing I should mention is the casting of the leads, Gemma Arterton as Clara and Saoirse Ronan as Clara’s younger sister Eleanor. Though the younger, Eleanor is perhaps the wiser of the two, played by Ronan with a stoicism colored ever so gently by an existential fear that comes from living in the shadow of her older sister. Clara is far more lusty and exuberant than Eleanor, a sensual role that is right in Arterton’s wheelhouse.

She is either extremely comfortable using her sexuality as an expression of power, or enjoys playing characters who use their sexuality as an expression of power. I suppose it’s also possible that she’s being exploited for that sexuality by the Hollywood system...but take a second and see if you can name three things Byzantium has in common with the Hollywood system. I’ll even go ahead and give you the two brand-name stars. Now you only have to come up with one thing that this film has in common with the typical cookie-cutter films produced by Hollywood. And just to throw a little monkey into the wrench, Arterton also stars in another current release, the geriatric funeral dirge cum love song, Unfinished Song. If she has been typecast so far as the buxom seductress with few qualms about taking off her clothes, then her role there as the choir teacher should go some of the way toward altering that perception.

*—July 29, 2013, was the 30th anniversary of the release of National Lampoon's Vacation.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

First Day of School

Here's a new segment we're going to try here in the ol' Blog-O-Rama: First day of school pictures. Amy asked me to snap a shot of Jackson yesterday on his first day as a first grader, because her mother always liked to take pictures of her and her brothers on their first day of school. That reminded me of the way I have been posting pictures of Jackson on each of his birthdays, so I thought I'd try the same thing with his first day of school pictures.

2012 - Kindergarten

2013 - First Grade

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Deep Thoughts #95

It may yet be corrected by the crack Indianapolis Star proofreading staff, but when I accessed this story, the hashtag read #togodbethegory.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Training Wheels Come Off

This is Jackson executing his "sharp turns" around the fountain in the Circle Park.

Monday, July 22, 2013

One of Those Wayward Jackson Photo Updates

Also, a token blog post for July, since I almost never blog anymore. These are random shots of Jackson when we were out and about, and some pictures from his birthday party at the park, and swimming at Aunt Jenny's house in Russiaville. I have a few pictures from Cedar Point from this past weekend, and those may get posted at some point - but of course you know by this point not to hold your breath.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013


Jolene Ketzenberger recently put together a list of 50 restaurants that you should try in order to get a solid representative sampling of the culinary delights on offer in this flyover metropolis of ours. Unfortunately, you have to go to the Indianapolis Star website in order to find the article. Amy and I compared notes on the list, and we’ve been, together, to about half of the restaurants; and each of us have been to a couple of the places without the other one. For reasons passing understanding, Delicia is not on her list, even though Ms. Ketzenberger wrote about this new Latin American restaurant almost two months before her list was printed.

What is perhaps stranger about Delicia not being on her list is some of the other places that are, including two in particular that rub me the wrong way. The first is Scotty’s Brewhouse, which might have local roots, but is nothing more than your run-of-the-mill bar and grill, even if it is a little heavier on burgers than most bar and grill places—which typically do a little of this and a little of that, to appeal to as many potential customers as possible, rather than express any kind of personality of their own. The list has a few dive diners, which are totally acceptable; but Scotty’s is the only chain-like bar-and-grill type place listed. If the list really needed a higher-end local burger place, Bru Burger would have been the better choice. I have eaten at both places (the downtown location of Scotty’s), and there is nothing that Scotty’s does that Bru Burger does not do better.

The other one that rubs me the wrong way is Pizzology, though I haven’t eaten there. It’s not the food that bothers me about that one—it’s the location. Pizzology is in Carmel. I’m starting to warm up to some parts of Carmel, particularly along the Monon Trail and in the Arts & Design district; and I understand that everybody loves Neal Brown. You can’t spend too much time reading about food in Indianapolis—or near Indianapolis, I suppose is more correct—without hearing something about Mr. Brown, to do either with his fancy Neapolitan pizza place in Carmel, or with his fancy libations bar in downtown Indianapolis. The Libertine is on Ms. Ketzenberger’s list, and that’s a-okay. Last time I checked, 38 East Washington Street is in Marion County. 13190 Hazel Dell Parkway is in Hamilton County. I don’t really care if it’s near Indianapolis or not—it doesn’t belong on a list of 50 places that give you a true taste of Indianapolis. Plus, if Neapolitan pizza is part of what you need to try to get a taste of Indianapolis, there’s always Napolese, which is...let me check...yeah, it’s on the list.

Now, having said all of that, scratch either of those two undeserving places, and add Delicia to the list. This recently-opened Latin American restaurant in SoBro (in a former Movie Gallery space) is doing a lot right in just the couple of months that it’s been open. We stopped in on a Thursday evening a couple of weeks ago, and were seated right away. It was our fake anniversary, so Amy opted for a glass of wine (the house sangria), and I tried a Fountain Square Brewery Workingman’s Pilsner, which was as bright and playful as a whimsical ale (with perhaps just a touch of citrus in there), and just as crisp and clean as an upright pilsner. And it was cold, too. Sometimes in the delay between the beer being poured and then brought to the table, some of the chill has a chance escape into the ether. That was not the case here.

We tried the Salsa Trio for an appetizer, which consisted of salsa fresca, sikil pak, and tomatillo, served with tortilla chips. The salsa fresca was a roasted tomato affair on the mild side, but very full flavored and rich. The tomatillo, we had been warned by our server, was on the spicy side. I didn’t find it to be all that spicy, and neither did Amy—and she’s pretty sensitive to heat in food. Instead, it was a very fresh, bright, and green (yes, that can be a valid adjective for the flavor of food), a solid counterpoint to the earthy red salsa. Then there was the sikil pak, which was more of a dip than a salsa, made from roasted pumpkin seeds. This one was rich and creamy, not spicy, deeply satisfying, and entirely unexpected.

For the entrées, I had the Ancho Peach Pork—pork medallions with ancho-peach glaze, white mashed sweet potatoes, and roasted vegetables; and Amy had the Tamal Corn Cakes—tamal cakes with barbacoa beef, pico de gallo, cilantro-lime crema, and queso fresco. Unfortunately, this long past when we ate at Delicia, I don’t recall what I thought of the Tamal Corn Cakes, although I seem to remember thinking they didn’t taste quite as good as they sounded on the menu. The Ancho Peach Pork, however, was excellent. The pork medallions were as close to melt-in-your-mouth tender as anything I’ve ever eaten. The ancho-peach glaze might have been a little heavy on the peach, and a little heavy in general. It almost, but not quite, overpowered the flavor of the very tender pork. White mashed sweet potates were another unexpected delight—sweet and creamy, and also oddly mysterious in a way that regular mashed potatoes just aren’t.

We were beginning to lament the fact that we hadn’t been to a restaurant that really knocked us out since we ate at Bluebeard last year, but Delicia came awfully close; and there is absolutely no question that we will be back. The only question is how long we’ll manage to wait before that return trip. (The menu can be found on their Facebook, but you’ll have to find that link on the magic internets yourself. I only provide links to real webpages.)

5215 North College Avenue

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Ralston's Drafthouse

It is perhaps inauspicious when you elect to dine al fresco and then have a bird deposit the remnants of its own dinner on your head just before your put-upon-looking server brings out the silverware wrapped in a paper napkin. Things are not getting better when, several minutes after taking your order, said put-upon-looking server comes back out and says, “I’m sorry, I forgot what you guys ordered.” To her credit, however, she remembered the second time, and the food was correct when it came out. I also got to experience northern-style German potato salad—I think. I wasn’t even aware that there was such a thing. I had to go home and Google potato salad and its German variants in order to determine that what they brought out to me was not, in fact, a mistake.

I’m not sure I even had high hopes for Ralston’s Drafthouse, the new, uh...I’m not even sure what you call it. I guess the answer would be brewpub. The new brewpub on Mass Ave, in the space that formerly housed Agio, before the recession forced Chef to pull up stakes and move on. We never ate at Agio, but after it closed, it seemed to remain frozen in time for quite awhile. I’d walk by, and I could see the tables set for dinner, with folded napkins and polished silverware, like they had fully expected to open for business the next day—only they never did. I’m not sure Ralston’s Drafthouse is an improvement over the spooky image of a restaurant all set for a service that would never happen.

The menu is heavy on flatbreads and salads, with a few run of the mill appetizers and a few appetizers that are, admittedly, not to be found on most other menus—a fried brie stick, fried pumpkin ravioli, and masala bean dip, with garbanzo beans, ginger, cilantro, and masala curry mix. In retrospect, I should maybe have gone for one or two of the appetizers. When I scanned the beer list, I told Amy that I wanted to come back sometime to try the Sun King Popcorn Pilsner, a brew that I thought they had prepared exclusively for sale at Indianapolis Indians games. I was unable to sample one on Tuesday when we had lunch, because I had to show up at the old juke joint later on. I have heard that there are places where you can drink while you’re at work, but an ultra-corporate fake art house is not one of those places.

I had the Perfect Personal Pepperoni and Peppadew Pizza. I don't remember the exact name, and it’s not on the menu they currently have posted online. There was definitely some P alliteration, though. It consisted of “old world” pepperoni, peppadew peppers, and fresh mozzarella cheese, except that what was actually on it was plain-old part-skim mozzarella—again, I think. There wasn’t much of it, so I had a hard time telling exactly what it was. As far I could tell, the only thing that made the pepperoni “old world” was that it wasn’t cut into that perfectly spherical, ultra-thin shape that’s usually associated with pepperoni. The peppadews more closely resembled sweet bell peppers than their spicier cousins.

Amy had the Ralston’s Recession Burger, which was little more than a regular hamburger with shredded potatoes mixed into the patty—supposedly. I tried one bite, and would not have guessed that it contained anything resembling a potato if I had not read the menu. As burgers go, though, it tasted pretty good. Each meal at Ralston’s comes with one side. Amy had the Lemon Champagne Cucumber Slaw, which you probably could not have paid me to try. I opted for the Fried Rosemary Potatoes, except that they were out of them. I wound up with the German potato salad instead, and was surprised when it came out cold and creamy, rather than warm and vinegary, like every other German potato salad I had ever had. Cold and creamy is apparently how they do it in northern Germany, as opposed to the southerners, who like warm and vinegar.

Ralston’s Drathouse managed to underwhelm even low expectations—so unless Sun King starts distributing the Popcorn Pilsner in cans to local liquor stores, it looks like I’ll have to make it back to Victory Field sometime to try one.
634 Massachusetts Avenue

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Jackson es de 6 Años

Yesterday at school, Jackson's teachers and classmates sang "Happy Birthday" to him in both Spanish and English; and then Jackson sang both versions for us in the car on the way home.



Bakersfield Mass Ave

Open just a few months in the Mass Ave space formerly occupied by Bazbeaux Pizza, Bakersfield does not do a whole lot of things; but what it does, it does reasonably well, claiming inspiration from the Bakersfield, California, music scene of the 50s and 60s, and presenting a take on Mexican street food that goes heavy on the trendy fusion tacos that have popped up in food trucks all over the country. The menu consists of eight varieties of tacos, two salads, two sandwiches, and a handful of appetizers. The drinks menu doesn’t overshadow the food here quite as much as it does at The Ball & Biscuit or The Libertine, but Bakersfield has clearly taken a cue from those popular establishments, with probably a healthy dash of Fountain Square’s Revolucion thrown into the mix for good measure.

They start you out with two squirt bottles of salsa—one green tomatillo with a bit of avocado, the other roasted tomatillo with what I think must have been a hint of chipotle or habanero, though without much in the way of the spicy punch you might expect from those peppers. We sampled the chips and guacamole, and used the salsas liberally with the appetizer. Both were delicious, though just a bit too thick for a squirt bottles (the roasted tomatillo one especially). The guacamole was very thick and very heavy on the avocado, mixed up with just a bit of onion and lime juice, along with an herb that I think might have been Mexican oregano—an unusual but not unappealing addition that helps to distinguish this otherwise pedestrian guacamole from others of its ilk.

Amy and I each ordered two tacos, and they came out on a communal plate, served open faced with wedges of lime—the better to show off the handsome presentation of their innards. Amy had the Pastor and the Molé, and I had the Huitlacoche and the Rajas. Even though our server had described the four-inch corn tortillas the tacos are served in, I was still surprised by how small they were when they came to the table. They can easily go down in two bites, and I would imagine that there are some hardy, hungry souls out there who could take one out in just one bite. The first one I tried was the Rajas, with poblano, fresno, and bell peppers, ejotes (green beans, and yes, I had to Google it to figure that out), chihuahua and fresco cheeses, and cilantro. If you think that sounds like a lot to have going on in something you can make disappear in two bites, you’re right. The Huitlacoche consisted of corn truffles, roasted poblano, corn, onion, cotija cheese, and cilantro.

What I ate certainly tasted good, but most of the individual flavors got lost in the shuffle. At $3 or $4 per taco, sans the beans and/or rice you are probably used to getting at other taco places, there’s a reasonable likelihood of going away hungry here—or of dropping twenty bucks on lunch. Maybe they hope that you’ll fail to notice if you drink enough of the $2 PBR drafts. I’m not sure what my answer to the all-important “would you go back?” question would be. I would probably need to try the aforementioned Revolucion and an Asian-inspired taco joint in Broad Ripple called La Chinita Poblana before I could say for sure; but even if Bakersfield were the best of the three, I can’t really imagine wanting to spend that much money on so little food a second time.
334 Massachusetts Avenue

Friday, May 24, 2013

Lazy Daze Coffee House Has Closed

One of my favorite Lazy Daze-related memories is of Jackson riding his little Cars tricycle down the sidewalk, going about as fast as his little four-year-old legs could pedal. When he got near the door, he turned hard and just kept on riding, right over the threshold and into the coffee shop. Yes, probably a million horrible things could have happened—the door might have been closed, someone might have been exiting at that exact moment, with a cup of hot coffee in their hand, whatever. But nothing like that happened. Jackson just sailed on into the coffee shop like he owned the place, or like he was king of the world.

And nobody batted an eye. That’s the difference between a great little neighborhood place where you get to know everyone, and a corporate place that shall not be named. I don’t know why Lazy Daze closed, and I may never know why Lazy Daze closed; but regardless of why, the fact remains that the best little coffee shop in Indianapolis is now beyond the veil. There will be something missing now when I take my walks around Irvington, when Amy and Jackson and I go for a walk after dinner so Jackson can ride his bike—and especially when the leaves turn and Irvington comes alive in the fall.

The good folks at Khao San Road are hosting a benefit party for the baristas who unexpectedly lost their jobs—from 9am to 9pm this Saturday, May 25, 2013. It seems as though the details can be found both here and here—so if you’re into the whole Facebook thing, you can probably, like, like it and stuff. Of course, showing up is always better than just clicking a button, so maybe I’ll see you there on Saturday.

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Jackson Races the Cheetah Yet Again

We're pretty sure he's getting closer to winning this race. Another year or two of training, and he'll have it.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Save The Good Earth!

Got an e-mail this morning from the Good Earth, with a link to an online petition opposing a new development in Broad Ripple that would plunk a Whole Foods (or something like it - big and corporate and chain) down along the canal, not too far from the Good Earth itself. This is a bad idea in every respect. In the first place, the Broad Ripple area already has a Fresh Market, at 54th and College. Technically, that's not the same as a Whole Foods, but in real terms, they're pretty much identical. The village proper also already has the Good Earth, which is a great local business that would be threatened by the opening of a Whole Foods in the area.

Second, the project would be paid for with tax-increment financing that is supposed to be used for infrastructure and other improvements - not new development. I could be reading that wrong - legalese is not my strong suit; but even if I'm reading it wrong, and the letter of the law (if certainly not the spirit) supports new development, I'm not sure that any of that is needed more in Broad Ripple Village than it is in places like, say, the Meadows. Of course, it's way sexier to build shiny new things in rich white neighborhoods than it is to fix the broken and crumbling things in poor black neighborhoods. That's how politicians get elected and the people they "represent" get fucked. But whatever. Here's the link to the online petition again. Stop corporate welfare!

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The New York City Bookstore Walk

This is the first of what could wind up being two or three posts about our trip to New York at the end of March—so when I say that “Monday was cold and rainy,” that’s referring to March 25th. I didn’t get as many pictures as I thought I would (and none at all on the cold and rainy day described below), but there is a batch from Central Park that I will get around to posting at some point.

Monday was cold and rainy. Jackson had thrown up the night before, after we got in, and was running a fever. Our plan had been to hit the museum with my uncle (who used to work there and remains “connected,” if you know what I mean) and then maybe spend part of the rest of the day looking for coffee shops and bookstores; but Jackson wasn’t going anywhere. You might think that would derail all of our plans for the day, but you would be wrong. We did have to cancel the museum (which was unfortunate, because my uncle had to catch the train home later that afternoon, and so would not be able to join us when we did make it to the museum, the following morning), but Mom was willing to look after Jackson while Amy and I went out.

I underestimated the walk, or we could probably have hit a few more places. If you plug the address of our hotel and the address of the bookstore I most wanted to see into Google Maps and then bang the tab for walking directions, you get a blue line that basically goes straight down Broadway for almost four miles, and the omniscient computer brainoids at Google think it’s going to take you an hour and sixteen minutes to get there on foot. In the Monday morning rain and grey. Fortified by crappy coffee. (I’ll mention the names of the coffee shops we hit during the trip at the end of this, but I won’t go into any details, because there aren’t any details worth going into. I did a better job of finding a good coffee shop in Covington, Kentucky, than I did on this trip to New York.)

I did not plug the two addresses into Google Maps until after we got back; by then we were curious about just how far we had walked, given that my pedometer had gone over 20,000. I knew roughly where St. Mark’s Bookshop was before we headed out, and that was it. A walk is a walk, though, and even if it was cold and rainy, it was still New York City. I might have passed on a walk here at home in weather like that, but here at home we don’t have Times Square. We don’t have the Empire State Building, and none of our libraries, to my knowledge, are watched over by lions on the steps. That’s what you run into when you slice through New York City down Broadway. Amy mentioned something about the U.N., too, but by the time that came up we were no longer in the mood to look for anything new.

The literary karma gods are going to lay the smackdown on me if I say that St. Mark’s was disappointing, so I definitely will not say that; but I was shopping for literary magazines, and despite having the most extensive selection of literary magazines I’ve ever encountered, many of the issues on the shelves were out of date—sometimes by a couple of years. I avoided looking at actual books because I’m still trying to get rid of more books each year than I bring in (and literary magazines still do not count), and so spent most of my time in an odd little zone there in the literary magazine section, trying to decide how much money I wanted to drop on how many magazines. I thought vaguely about how I would transport the literary booty back home, but guessed that that would take care of itself somehow.

(Interesting aside on train travel. None of our bags was ever inspected once, at any point on our journey. Between the three of us, we had eight bags on the trip out and nine bags on the trip back—because all the books and literary magazines I bought had to go somewhere, and that somewhere was an extra canvas grocery bag I picked up along the way. All three of us had a suitcase and a backpack, and the other two bags were my mom’s carry-on and my laptop bag. The ninth bag going back was the canvas Zabar’s bag I bought, which was filled to the brim with books and literary magazines. All of those bags went into our two roommettes on the train and into adjacent seats on the commuter train. The closest we came to checking anything was when they put the suitcases in the baggage hold of the bus on the Indianapolis-Chicago legs of the trip.)

I wound up spending almost fifty bucks on four magazines: Fence, which came to my attention by way of a response by its editor to a Boston Review symposium on binaries in poetry; Analemma, which I had heard of from a post on Vouched Books that offered a free subscription to that journal as a prize for posting a comment on its blog; Hobart, which I had never heard of, but which contained a short story called “Sex in the Afternoon”; and Fourteen Hills, which it turns out I may not have had any good reason at all for picking up. I could easily have spent another half an hour and another almost-fifty-bucks and taken home four more random issues.

Alas, though, it was getting late in the afternoon, and we were both starting to think we should get back and check on Jackson (even though Amy had already called to check in and heard from Mom that Jackson seemed to be fine). I had every intention of going directly back to the hotel, and so decided to take the most direct route, straight up Broadway. However...about two blocks away from St. Mark’s, straight up Broadway, is the Strand, which we had missed on the way down because we had drifted over to 2nd Avenue. I had wanted to see that bookstore too, along with St. Mark’s, but thought I had run out of time. Since it was there, though, and Mom had said that Jackson was fine, it seemed sort of silly not to go in. So we did. The best bookstore I have ever been to is the Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle. #2 is up for grabs, though; and if it’s not Book Corner down in Bloomington, then it might well, after only one quick visit, be the Strand. In fact, during that one quick visit, I saw only one of the four levels. I’m not sure there’s any way to determine how many of the purported 18 miles of books I looked at, but it can’t have been much. I wound up buying a tiny hardcover copy of Fox in Socks to read with Jackson, and a paperback copy of Bob Dylan by Greil Marcus, by Greil Marcus, the first—but not last—books that I would buy on the trip.

And then we really did walk back to the hotel, back up Broadway with a slide up 7th Avenue to take a gander at the Carnegie Deli. I was going to mention briefly the coffee shops we visited while we were in the city, but as I started to write about them, I realized that I might actually have enough for a whole post on just coffee shops. I wasn’t sure that was going to be possible, and so hadn’t originally planned on it; but now I think it can be done. Of course, it took me a month to crank out this first post about the trip, so who knows how long the subsequent posts are going to take?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Photos from the New York/New Jersey Trip

I posted the first small batch of photos from our recent trip to New York and New Jersey. They are of Jackson meeting his second cousin Nicholas at Aunt Gloria and Uncle Tom's house in Jackson, New Jersey.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Deep Thoughts #94

Rush is finally getting into the so-called Rock and Roll “Hall of Fame,” and the genii at Rolling Stone get the Foo Fighters to induct them?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Deep Thoughts #93 - Special Topical Top Ten Edition

I just found out that Amy and I have tickets to attend a taping of the Late Show with David Letterman next Tuesday while we are in New York!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Grantland: The Most Hated College Basketball Players of the Last 30 Years

I wasn’t actually aware that there was anything better than filling out tournament brackets in March, but it turns out that filling out bonus brackets in March before the real brackets come out is pretty good, too. At least, the idea of it is pretty good. I came across this story while perusing CollegeBasketballTalk at the old juke joint the other night. I’ve written on more than one occasion about not buying into that rivalry crap about hating your rival’s school just because they’re your rival, and about not disliking a player for no other reason than that he plays for a school that competes in a rivalry with your own school (or with whichever you school you happen to root for).

It’s funny what the NCAAs can do to you, though. It’s difficult to explain, but the bad feeling I get when Indiana loses in the NCAA tournament is always much stronger than the good feeling I get when they win. This is due in part to a couple of tough breaks in the 1990s, when Indiana lost to Duke in the Final Four in 1992 and to Kansas in the Elite Eight in 1993. If not for that infamous Christian Laettner shot, Indiana would have played Kentucky in the Final Four, and not Duke. I think Indiana would have beaten that Kentucky team, but that’s just me. In 1993, Alan Henderson’s knee exploded toward the end of the Big Ten season, and that might well have been the difference between losing to Kansas in the regional final and hanging a sixth national championship banner in the Assembly Hall. (For what it’s worth, that 1993 team only lost four games all season—to Kentucky and and Kansas in the pre-league, and then at Ohio State, deep in the Big Ten season. And yes, that does mean that 50% of Indiana’s losses that year came at the hands of Kansas.)

I never really got over disliking either Duke or Kansas, and for no other reason than that they beat Indiana in a couple of key games twenty years ago. It should have been enough to get me over when Indiana beat #1-seeded Duke in the Sweet Sixteen in 2002, but apparently not. I still smile a little on the inside whenever Duke loses a game. It doesn’t help matters that Duke is as consistently good as they are. (Which is not remotely mitigated by the fact that current Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski made his bones as an assistant to one Bob Knight, at Army, way back in the day.) I never cared about Kansas as much as I cared about Duke back then, and I no longer care if Kansas wins or loses. I was even rooting for them last year, because I picked them to win the national championship, and I was the only one in the ESPN Tournament Challenge group I participated in who had Kansas as the champion. I was way down in the standings by the time the Final Four rolled around, because three out of my four Final Four were gone—but the way the points worked out, I would have finished with the highest score in our group if Kansas had beaten Kentucky. Sometimes that’s all it comes down to—which horse you have in the race, so to speak.

And so while I don’t really hate any college basketball program or player, there are certain programs and players that less than others, I guess. It’s the middle of March, so it’s almost time for the NCAA tournament, which means college basketball is on my mind a lot—and because Indiana has been very good at times this year, I have been worried about the minor swoon they took during their last four games in the Big Ten regular season. That’s what made finding the Grantland bracket of most hated college basketball players of the last 30 years so amusing—it’s a good way to ease some of that pressure, and to remind myself that it’s just a game. It would have been amusing regardless of how the brackets had been structured, but what makes it extra fun is that one region—fully one fourth of the bracket—is devoted entirely to players from Duke. The author of the post goes on to explain why the Dukies had to be relegated to their own region, and he also gives a pretty concise explanation for why people seem to dislike Duke so much—and what that boils down to is the fact that they win as much as they do.

At the end of the day, sports should be about sportsmanship and teamwork and having fun; and it’s important to remember that these are just games. I’m definitely going to keep that in mind as I fill out my Most Hated College Basketball Player of the Last 30 Years bracket at the same time that I’m filling out my real bracket for this year’s tournament. (And watch—Duke is going to win the tournament this year, because of the reverse karma that comes down on the head of the guy who came up with this idea. Of course, because I blogged about it, Duke is going to beat Indiana on their way to that national championship.)

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

"You Back That Queen Again, You Son of a Bitch, and I'll Blow You Right Up That Wildcat's Ass!"

So I was at Jockamo this past Sunday for lunch, with Amy and Jackson and some of the youth group peeps from her church, and somebody mentioned college basketball. Then Amy joked that maybe she should separate me from the dude who was sitting across from me, since he was a Kentucky fan and I’m an Indiana fan. Apparently those two don’t get along, or some shit. I gave the empty chuckle I reserve for a somewhat polite response to an attempt at humor that doesn’t even come close, which is the only way I have found that I am any longer able to react to people who think they are going to get my blood up with some kind of college basketball rivalry nonsense. I used to get hot and bothered about that shit when I was a kid; but when I was a kid, I was an idiot. I’m not sure exactly when I gave up on rivalry as something that could get under my skin, but the catalyst for it had to be the Indiana-Purdue game in Bloomington during the Spring 1994 semester. I didn’t have a ticket for that game in the six-pack I got when I turned in my claim card. One of my friends—that’s how long ago it was...I actually had some friends!—gave me her ticket. Glenn Robinson dropped 39 points on Indiana, but the Hoosiers won anyway. Then all of us who went to the game stayed behind in our seats, just hanging out and talking, while the Assembly Hall emptied out—and then the pep band drummer ripped into what I remember being a kickass drum solo. That was a pretty sweet end to a pretty sweet game—and it was a pleasure to watch Glenn Robinson play that night. You don’t often see a big guy who can shoot as well as the Large Pooch. He may be one of the best pure shooters ever to play the 4 in college.

Nowadays, I don’t care about the rivalries like that anymore. I love Indiana, and I hope that they win. When I root against other schools, it’s only because a loss for that school would help Indiana. It doesn’t matter which school we’re talking about; and most of the time, I don’t care anyway. I just want Indiana to win. The only niggling bit of rivalry that still bothers me has to do with Duke, because of The Shot. That’s the turnaround fadeaway that Christian Laettner hit from near the top of the key to beat Kentucky in the regional finals of the 1992 NCAA tournament. The winner of that game would go on to play Indiana in the Final Four, and I was hoping that Indiana would get Kentucky in that game, because I seem to recall thinking that Indiana would have a better chance of beating Kentucky than of beating Duke; but Duke won that game, because of the Christian Laettner shot (which has gone on to achieve something on the order of cult status, as one of the most replayed college basketball highlights of all time), and then beat Indiana in the Final Four, en route to their second consecutive national championship. If Indiana had played Kentucky in the Final Four, and beaten them, I think Indiana also would have beaten Michigan in the title game. So while there is no way to know for sure, of course, I still sometimes wonder if that one shot was the only thing standing between Indiana and their sixth national title; and I still smile a little anytime I see a college basketball scoreboard that shows a Duke loss. On the other hand, that does not mean that I do not respect their program, or their players, or their head coach, Mike Krzyzewski.

I didn’t explain all this to the dude Amy thought she should separate me from, but I did say that I don’t dislike Kentucky. He said that that was “refreshing,” which probably means that he gets shit from pretty much every other Indiana fan whenever the topic comes up. I went on to say, however, that I do dislike John Calipari. His daughter piped up with something to the effect of, “Everybody says that!” Then I proceeded with my reasoning, but failed to make a good argument, because I had forgotten most of the details of the two NCAA rules incidents at Calipari’s former schools, apart from the result of each investigation, which was that the first two Final Four runs by John Calipari-coached teams were vacated by the NCAA. The dude I was sitting across from said, reluctantly, that that was a “true statement,” but that those vacated Final Four runs were not due to anything that John Calipari had done.

I didn’t have an answer for that, and pretty much wilted under the confidence of his response. Later that day, I went back and re-read some of the material on the two NCAA incidents at Calipari’s former schools (Massachusetts in 1996, and Memphis in 2008). It’s true that Calipari did not overtly have anything to do with Marcus Camby accepting improper benefits from an agent, or with Derrick Rose’s SAT being invalidated by ETS (for which Memphis ultimately had its entire 2007-08 season vacated, not just the Final Four run, which ended with Memphis losing to Kansas in the title game). Calipari left each school for greener pastures, before the NCAA had a chance to come calling. But he failed somewhere along the line at Massachusetts, by not ensuring that Marcus Camby knew to stay well away from agents, even if he was thinking about going pro. Calipari did not commit the violation himself, but if he had had good control over the program, the violation probably would not have happened.

Same thing goes for Derrick Rose at Memphis, except that this one is way more shady than what went down at Massachusetts. Rose was never eligible to play at Memphis, and the NCAA report (PDF) implies that the school knew he wasn’t eligible, but let him play anyway. Rose would also have been ruled ineligible, even if his SAT had passed muster, because someone at Memphis allowed Rose's brother to travel with the team and to stay at the team hotel—benefits that are not against the rules by themselves, but which become violations when they are paid for by the school, which was the case on several occasions that Rose’s brother traveled and lodged with the team. Calipari was subsequently summoned by the NCAA to provide discovery on this matter, although the letter summoning him (PDF) made it clear that he was not “at risk,” with respect to the Rose issue. That letter reached him at the University of Kentucky, and was dated April 27, 2009—approximately one month after multiple sources reported that he was leaving Memphis for Kentucky.

It stretches the limits of credulity to claim that Calipari was unaware of Rose’s eligibility issues. Calipari’s experience at Massachusetts establishes a pattern that these kinds of things take place on his watch. He may very well not have done anything overt in either situation; but it’s patently clear, especially with respect to Rose and Memphis, that he could have done much more to make sure that no rules were broken. They’re sins of omission rather than commission; and if it happens once, you can almost call it a fluke. It’s happened to Calipari twice, though—and he didn’t hang around to defend himself either time. He hit the free agent market, with his gaudy “record” of recruiting superstars and turning formerly lifeless programs (a bit of an exaggeration with Memphis, though if you cancel out all of the NCAA tournament success brought about by rules violations, you basically have a lifeless program) into national title contenders, and landed on his feet at Kentucky, where he has already won a national championship—which has yet to be vacated by the NCAA!

And on top of all that, he runs NBA factories, recruiting kids he knows are only going to stay one or two years before making the jump to the NBA. I don’t know how much that hurts your recruiting, since you’re winning instantly and reloading the very next year; but it sends a terrible message to the kids who are watching all of this on television, and following it on the Facebooks and the Twitters: College is no longer seen as important, or even valid, when you are perceived to have the talent necessary to go right to the NBA after high school. But what happens to the kids who absorb that message, and then bet everything on their jump shot, only to be overlooked by the college scouts or the NBA? What do they have to fall back on if they shoot the moon on the Coach Cal Game Plan and it turns out they don’t have the skeelz? What does John Calipari teach the rest of us when he skips town at the first sign of trouble? Maybe that’s just the way they roll in Graceland, I don’t know. Nobody cared about UMass before John Calipari, and nobody cares about them now. But Kentucky is one of the great programs in college basketball.

As any Indiana fan will tell you, it’s horrible when someone sails into town with the NCAA at his back, and then starts breaking all the same rules in a new place. Part of the problem at Indiana was the legacy of Myles Brand, who abused his position of power as president of Indiana University to unfairly fire head basketball coach Bob Knight, which allowed Brand to shoehorn himself into the presidency of the NCAA; and part of the problem was another former university president, Brand’s successor, Adam Herbert, who, as a minority, probably felt like he had to replace a fired minority coach (Mike Davis) with another minority coach (Kelvin Sampson); but Sampson was running from the NCAA when he departed Oklahoma, and he finished the job Brand had started when he brought down the basketball program at Indiana. It would be terrible for college basketball, to say nothing of the fans and supporters of the University of Kentukcy, if Calipari were given free rein to manage to do in Lexington what Sampson managed to do in Bloomington. Sampson was brought in at Indiana because he had a proven track record of winning—which we later learned was due at least in part to flagrantly breaking NCAA rules. Calipari, with a history of very cleverly avoiding personal direct sanction by the NCAA, was brought to Lexington because he had a proven track record of winning. Indiana came to regret the hiring of Sampson. Hopefully, the same thing will not happen to Kentucky, despite the fact that everything about Calipari’s history suggests otherwise.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty

Documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney wrote a very fine article for Salon that strongly criticizes director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal for the way they depicted torture in Zero Dark Thirty. His argument is extremely persuasive, and now that I have seen it, I am hard pressed to contend that the film does not present a causal link between torture and the success of the operation to kill Osama bin Laden. (I’ve tried to write this several different times since I started this piece, and I’m still not sure it’s right.) Gibney goes on to criticize Bigelow and Boal for presenting the film as quasi-journalistic without making any mention of the overall failure of the use of torture in the so-called “war on terror.” His conclusion is that the film irresponsibly and falsely depicts torture as an effective means of getting information.

And yet he also concedes that “dramatists compressing a complex history into a cinematic narrative...must be granted a degree of artistic license.” He also stipulates, by proxy, that torture played “an incidental role in the discovery of UBL.” His sentence is a little bit awkward, so I want to quote it in full: “But as we know from the Senate and former CIA Director Leon Panetta, who wrote McCain in May 2011, that EITs did not play any more than an incidental role in the discovery of UBL.” Gibney has clearly done his homework, having won a documentary feature Oscar for Taxi to the Dark Side, which looked at the very same practice of torture that Bigelow and Boal address in Zero Dark Thirty; and for that reason, I’m hesitant to say that he’s missing the point here. But I sort of feel like he’s missing the point here.

And the reason I think that is because I also think that Zero Dark Thirty very effecitvely conveys just how “incidental” a role the use of torture played in the long process of hunting down Osama bin Laden. Bigelow and Boal probably spend too much of their time on torture—the only real quibble I had with the film was the running time, and that was so minor a quibble as to be completely inconsequential in the end; but if you think about what Maya (Jessica Chastain) and Dan (Jason Clarke) ultimatley glean from the torture inflicted on one particular detainee (the name of a person believed to be a courier for bin Laden) and then consider that one piece of information in the context of how much more work it takes to get from the name of the courier to the compound in Abbottabad, you just about have to acknowledge that even if torture worked—which it patently did not—there was so much more involved in finding bin Laden that any conceivable causal link between the two absolutely evaporates.

Gibney is also not entirely correct when he says that Zero Dark Thirty never acknowledges the failure of torture. It doesn’t spend much time acknowledging that torture failed, and it only does so obliquely, in a scene where a CIA blowhard—effectively standing in for the impotent buffoonery of the entire Bush administration—dresses down his team over the fact that all the time and money spent on stamping out al Qaeda had yielded, to that point, the elimination of only four senior members of the group. Could Bigelow and Boal have spent a little more time on that point, and a little less time on the sometimes graphic depiction of torture? Yes, they probably could have done. The Bush administration could also have spent a little more time acknowledging its many massive mistakes and a little less time pursuing an illegal course of action, “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” I think that’s an important parallel that has been overlooked in the outpouring of criticism of this film.

There was probably no way to make this film without rubbing someone the wrong way. It’s probably difficult to make any film without rubbing a few people the wrong way, never mind one that deals so directly with a subject that continues to provoke such a visceral reaction in so much of its intended audience. Opening the film (immediately after fading in to the sounds of the recorded telephone calls of 9/11 victims and responders over the brief opening titles) with a scene of torture, perpetrated by just the kind of American you’d think would perpetrate it, if you were given half the chance to describe a stereotype for a police sketch artist, pretty quickly draws the line between what happened to the United States that day and what has happened to the United States since.

Bigelow addresses the depiction of torture in an article for the Los Angeles Times: “Torture was, however, as we all know, employed in the early years of the hunt. That doesn’t mean it was the key to finding Bin Laden. It means it is a part of the story we couldn’t ignore. War, obviously, isn’t pretty, and we were not interested in portraying this military action as free of moral consequences.” With those sentiments in mind, I can barely conceive of the fortitude it must have taken to get up each morning and press on the with the making of this film. Bigelow and Boal did not just press on with the making of any old film, though. They patiently and meticulously crafted a thought-provoking study of the horrors of a war without borders. They also managed to make one of the most exciting action films of all time, and to coax a difficult and brilliant performance out of Jessica Chastain, who might be the finest actress of her generation.

Chastain plays Maya, a covert CIA agent, recruited right out of high school, who has spent the entirety of her adult life hunting Osama bin Laden. She is present during that opening scene of torture, which has Dan attempting to get information from a detainee called Ammar (Reda Kateb). She does not participate in the torture, but she also does not ask Dan to stop the torture. It’s clear by her situation in the scene and the expressions on her face that she is bothered by what she has to witness, but that discomfort does not stop her from questioning Ammar when the time comes. As she stockpiles information over the course of the story, she responds to those who question the fact that she has yet to prove anything by explaining the manner in which patterns of information over long periods of time reveal shades that indicate where someone or something should be. This is how she tracks bin Laden’s personal courier. The discovery of the courier ultimately leads to bin Laden himself.

Chastain delivers this performance with fierce confidence, and with a species of macho bravura that both affirms and subverts the Alpha Male perception that I imagine a lot of people have concerning CIA operatives. Maya kowtows to no one, including the director of the CIA (James Gandolfini, whose character is never named, but bears an eerie resemblance to a badly bloated version of Leon Panetta). Her relationship with fellows operatives Dan and Jessica (Jennifer Ehle) evolves by slow turns as the film progresses. When you realize that Maya and Jessica have become close friends, you start to ask yourself when that happened—and then it occurs to you that their conversations have gotten progressively less tense as their work has dovetailed over the years. The same can be said for Maya’s relationship with Dan. What feels almost like sibling rivarly in the opening torture scene evolves into a situation where the big brother wants to look out for the little sister as much as he can—except that Maya can take care of herself perfectly well, thanks.

Bigelow and Boal move through events in the film with the same slow evolution they use to develop their characters. The pacing is methodical, but the film is so smart that you don’t feel the suspense as it builds. Everyone knows what happens at the end, so the payoff for this film can’t be the reveal. Instead, we get the information on how we got to that reveal—we get the procedural. The trick to extracting suspense from a story with a known ending is to do the very best you can to make the audience understand how close the known ending came to not happening. You take as many steps back as necessary to illustrate just how complex was the web of paths from point A—9/11—to point B—the death of Osama bin Laden. I think that Kathryn Bigelow and her cast and crew have done that. Did they adhere strictly to the truth? Of course not. They never pretended that they were going to, they never claimed that they did, and they could not have done even if they had promised to. This is a narrative film, with actors and a script and an editor. It is a work of fiction, regardless of how much of it was based on actual events. It is a remarkable work of fiction that confronts emotions, asks hard questions, and provokes—yes, provokes—serious thought.

Zero Dark Thirty is a masterpiece.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

First Baby Tooth...Gone!

Jackson has been working his first loose tooth for a couple of months now - and then it finally came out while he was on the bus last week. The rest of these are just randoms from 2012, because regularly updating the ol' photo page just doesn't get done, no matter how much I think that I want it to get done.

500 Festival Parade (May 26, 2012)

500 Festival Parade (May 26, 2012)

At Yogülatte, after the parade (May 26, 2012)

Indianapolis Zoo (May 30, 2012)

Broad Ripple Park (October 12, 2012)

Sunday, February 17, 2013

In a Dog's Brain, a Constant Buzz of Low Level Static

I never thought that I would read a reasoned piece on guns on the opinion page of the right-wing Indianapolis Star, but I found this one a couple of days ago—and it was written by a person who teaches at a Catholic university. It’s almost as though the sky is falling. (To reassure yourself on that score, check the ESPN college basketball scoreboard. Indiana won on Saturday, and Duke lost. All is right with the world.) It’s much more likely to find something progressive and intelligent about guns in the Boston Review. What is doubly interesting about this piece, then, is that it was written by a former gun owner.

I don’t know how to make the right understand how wrong they are about guns. I hope it doesn’t take any more Sandy Hooks. Even puppies learn not to shit on the rug if you rub their nose in it enough times. Dogs are pretty stupid, though.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Stand with the President to Reduce Gun Violence

I know there’s not much that reasonable people can do to convince the gun nuts that they’re batshit fucking crazy. I don’t even think it’s worth the time and trouble to make the argument. No civilian anywhere on earth has any valid reason to own a fully automatic military assault rifle, and there is no valid argument to the contrary—even for the wingnuts who think their home is always about to be invaded. (And if the neighborhood is so unsafe, then why the fuck did you move in there, retard?) But trying to explain all of that to these Second Amendment freak shows is like trying to explain the validity of carbon dating to the people who think that cavemen rode dinosaurs.

Do I think that all of the executive orders that President Obama courageously signed this week will stand? Of course not. The gun lobby and its hillbilly cousin-fucking entourage wield far too much power in the Special Interest States of America. (Remember how all of these great states are just so special and interesting and united in their Americanness? You betcha!) Do I think that President Obama is overreaching with some of this anti-gun rhetoric? Probably. But you know what? We need someone to overreach. The Republicans in Washington don’t want to help anyone who isn’t old, rich, white, male, and Protestant. The Democrats in Washington may not be much better—but they are better. And President Barack Obama is better than all of them put together.

Some people are saying that President Obama is taking advantage of Newtown to do what he is doing. I’m not sure that’s even possible. Which is the more unthinkable—to come heavy (as it were) against guns after something like Newtown, or to sit back and do nothing, while continuing to cash the checks from the learning-impaired monkeys at the NRA? If Mitt Romney had won, we’d know what it looks like for the President to sit back and do nothing while getting paid by the NRA. Fortunately for the good of humanity, the good guy won. Let’s do just a little bit to get his back.

Write your Representatives and Senators. Click here to stand with the President.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Deep Thoughts #92

If every conservative had the capacity (so to speak) to reason of this conservative, how much better a place might this world be to live in?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Deep Thoughts #91

I’m pretty sure I just did worse on the Jeopardy! online test than I did last year. Guess I’ll have to finance my kitchen remodel after all.