Sunday, December 26, 2004

Nick Hornby amuses me to tears and makes me feel lame all at the same time.

I just got finished reading The Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby, which I thought was really fantastic. No, this isn't a new novel by him, and yes, the title is a reference to the band The Polyphonic Spree , who you probably recognize as having done the soundtrack to the wonderful Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind .
This book is a collection of essays that Hornby wrote for a book review paper. It chronicles the books he bought, the books he read, and the books he failed to read during a 14 month span. As dry as that sounds, it's full of the hilarity that you expect from Nick Hornby. These aren't really book reviews per se, more like commentary about them. I feel completely lame, because Nick Hornby managed to read 60 some books over that period of time, PLUS work on new material, PLUS contribute to this book paper, PLUS be a father, PLUS be a die-hard fan and season ticket holder of Arsenal Football Club . I have a hard time reading 10 books a year, and I have infinitely more free time than Hornby. I don't know how he does it. There's where I feel lame.
Towards the end, I had to put the book down because I couldn't control my laughter nor see through the associated tears. For five solid minutes. It's rare that I really, really laugh out loud in general, but when I do, it's a doozy. In retrospect, I don't know if it was meant to be hilarious, but the following is the passage in question:

"I have been meaning to read a book about cricket for awhile, with the sole intention of annoying you all. I even toyed with the idea of reading only cricket books this entire month, but then I realized that this would make it too easy for you to skip the whole column; this way you have to wade through the cricket to get to the Chekhov and the Roddy Doyle. I'm presuming here, that very few of you have ever seen a cricket match, and if you have, you are almost certain to have been both mystified and stupified: this, after all, is a game that, in its purest form ... lasts for five days and very frequently ends in a tie: five days is not quite long enough to get through everything that needs doing in a cricket match, especially as you can't play in the rain"

One thing that I really like is that Hornby isn't terribly too high on the literary horse: in one month he proclaims that literature is better than everything, then the very next month, he admits that literature rarely gives you the buzz that a brilliant goal, or a great record gives you.

There was a good balance of books. Fiction, non-fiction, biography, letters, new stuff, classics. Honestly, most of them I had never heard of, but there was one piece of non-fiction that he lauded so much that I'll rush out to buy it. Random Family by Adrian LeBlanc was the only book that he talked about from that high horse. If we don't read this book, we are not good people, he says.

Anyway, at the end of it all, I couldn't help but think of Holden Caulfield's description of Ring Lardner:
"What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it."

I wish Nick Hornby was a terrific friend of mine.

Holiday musings, plus a change of teams equals a change in support

I don't have lots of crazy stories to tell about how bizarre my family is. We don't have any outlandish holiday rituals, and there aren't even that many of us. Nothing family-related happened to make it so, but this was a very unusual Christmas for me. Two years ago, my father announced on Christmas day that he had a brain tumor and was going in for surgery. Merry Christmas! Last year, the girl I was dating came home with me and acted like a fool. Merry Christmas! These both ended well, as the tumor was removed without any complications, and the girlfriend was removed with few complications. I spent this Christmas with just my parents and my two grandmothers. One of the grandmothers is half-deaf and completely silly. The other has Alzheimer's, and hardly knows her own name, let alone mine, or what day it is. She has good care, but it really makes me sad to see her deteriorating brain functionality. It was a good couple of days, but that's not what this is about.
A very good friend of mine (who happens to be a woman) recently decided that she wanted to try dating other women. At first, I doubted her seriousness about it, but the more she talked about it, the more I realized she was completely serious. Today she had her first girl-date, which went stunningly well according to all accounts. Normally, when she would date men, this would make me really jealous, and I would give her half-hearted support. I've had a pretty sizable crush on her for some time, so it hurt a little to hear about other guys. This time, though, I couldn't be happier for her. I don't really know why I am so supportive; it still makes me jealous. Maybe it's just that for the first time she seems truly happy with her dating situation. Merry Christmas! Although I'm not smooching any girls, I get to live vicariously through her.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Giving it up

That's it. I am officially giving up any hope of an NHL season. The league announced today that it will hold a meeting with the board of governors on January 14. The assumption is that they will officially announce the cancellation of the 2004-2005 season. The meetings of last week did not go well, and I am completely out of best case scenarios. Even if they came to an agreement tonight, the earliest the arenas would be available would be February 6, leaving only two months in which to play games. Not to mention training camps were never held.
It's over.
NOW, that puts me in a situation that lots of hockey fans are in right now: what do I tell my team about my season tickets? I'm paid in full, and the team gave me some options at the start of the lockout. One was a full refund (and cancellation of season-ticket holder status). Another was to leave the money paid in an interest-bearing account with the team. There was another, but I don't recall what it was. At this point, my money has earned 3 months of 4% interest, and I can ask for every dime of it back. I sure can use that money, but I would also like to leave the money there so that if and when hockey is resumed for the 2005-2006 season, I'll be paid in full. I'm torn. The intelligent thing to do would be to let my money grow while maintaining my tickets, but I don't know how intelligent I feel right now.
Actually, I don't really care about the interest that I'm earning. At this point, it has amounted to something silly like $12. The thing I care about is "paid in full". I had to work hard and save and cut corners to pay for my seats. As much as I want that money back, I don't want to have to work hard and save and cut corners next time there is a season.

Monday, December 20, 2004

20 questions in the twilight zone

I was just messing around the other night and I landed on I thought "There's no way this thing can possibly guess my item." So I thought of some of my favorite things. A Scrabble gameboard (which the game correctly guessed after 14 questions), a hockey puck (which the game correctly guessed after 17 questions), a bottle of beer (which it correctly guessed after 10 questions). I was a little freaked out, so I started to think of random things. An emu, garlic, a washing machine, a zippo lighter, dental floss, dryer sheets, a thesaurus, a flashlight. All of these were correctly guessed by the game. I really don't know how it does it. I was really frustrated. I started to think of more obscure or specific things, like jicama and a staple remover, which were also correctly guessed within 30 tries. I only stumped it a few times out of MANY. I think it stops trying after 30, and asks you to tell it. Then it informs you that you were wrong to answer "yes" to certain questions or "no" to certain others.

If you have a few minutes of free time and feel like becoming really frustrated and amused, check it out.

Friday, December 17, 2004

movies, plus holidays r hell

I went to see The Machinist the other day. All I can say is "wow!". It's kind of a little film, and it's seriously coming in way under the radar. Damn shame. The acting is phenomenal. The one thing that anyone who has heard of this has heard is the job that Christian Bale did. In order to get this part, he lost 65 pounds, going down to 125 pounds. Given that he's 6'2", that's paper thin. Word is, he wanted to trim down to 110, but the director wouldn't let him. Without giving away any plot, I'll just say that it was integral to the part to be thin, but he really went all out. I'm glad to see some "method acting" being employed. Aside from Adrian Brody in "The Pianist", I don't remember hearing about any serious character immersions in recent films. For that part, Brody prepared by losing a lot of weight, learning to play the piano, and isolating himself in a room for months at a time. Charlize Theron also did a phenomenal job of becoming the character in Monster, gaining 30 pounds and looking like hell. Okay, lots of folks learn to play the guitar or piano or whatever to play a part, and lots of folks shed or gain a few pounds, but I think most actors don't want to give their all to a single movie part. They don't want to be out of work while they gain (or lose) the weight to get back to normal. So they use cgi, or fat suits, or any other number of ways to get around actually "becoming" the character. Brody and Theron each won Academy Awards for their performances, but I doubt very much that Bale will even get a nomination. Thus far, there has been very little talk about this movie.
In addition to the great job by Bale, the score is amazing. I've never heard of this guy Roque Banos, but his score was perfect. The film has a slightly Hitchcockian feel to it, and Banos cranked it up a notch by making his score reminiscent of Hitchcock collaborator Bernard Herrman (whose most famous musical work is the shower scene in "Psycho"). This is a rare instance (these days) of a score actually working with the film. It seems to me like film scores these days are a little to heavy and anthemic, sometimes trying to force an emotional issue. I don't know if I'm explaining myself well, but it doesn't seem artificial in this case.
Anyway, go see the movie, and decide for yourself.
The Academy should but won't recognize Bale and they should and might recognize Banos. Simply because not too many movies are actually scored any more. It's all about soundtrack filling the gaps in dialog. By the way, I hate the way filmmakers do that. Fill every little dialog gap with ear-pounding soundtrack songs.
I have quite a lot of holiday shopping to do. I always wait to the very last second, and it is almost upon me.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

24%, luxury tax, and shootout

Again, with the hockey.
I was quite impressed with the offer that the NHLPA laid on the table on Thursday. I have some optimism about it because the NHL didn't automatically dismiss it, but decided to wait 'til Tuesday to make their counter-offer. Hell, this was good simply because the two sides were talking. After exactly 3 months of silence, they got some substantial talks going. Although I didn't want to say this at first, I'll say now that NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman is a complete jerkwad if he doesn't give this offer serious consideration.
The major detail is that the players have offered to roll back their salaries by 24% across the board. That's huge. Major savings everywhere. They have also offered a hefty luxury tax for teams that go over a certain spending limit, which escalates the further it gets over the limit. Not quite the salary cap that the league is looking for, but it's close. Also included in the union's offer is a revenue sharing plan. Now, I'm not an economist, but this seems to be a really promising offer. However, I can see how the league would see this as a band-aid on a sucking chest wound. It does offer some immediate financial relief, but the key thing the league is looking for is long term relief, mainly in the name of a solid cap on payrolls. The union is offering what amounts to a very flexible cap. At any rate, it's a good offer, and I hope it is given a chance.
Meanwhile, in Toronto, Brendan Shanahan was holding a summit on Tuesday to discuss how the game can be improved. It looks like some good things came out of that. He invited the groups of people he deemed to be most important to the game: current players, coaches and officials. I dunno, but I thought it was a little offensive that he was forgetting about the fans. If you want to improve the game, there should be some input from fans. I know, I know. It would be impossible to have two or three guys being the voice of millions of hockey fans across our continent, but I don't see how it could have hurt to have a random fan in on the talks. For instance, I think most fans would like to see legal hits on goalies who leave their crease to play loose pucks. As far as I can tell, they didn't discuss this. The idea for bringing the goal line back (making less space behind the net) is okay. I'll admit that my understanding of the rules change history is very limited, but I think they moved them out in the first place was because Wayne Gretzky was a scoring machine, and nobody could stop him. They decreased the attack zone ice space to make it more fair. This "new" idea calls for more attack zone ice, and most likely, more offense. If you look at the statistics, goal scoring has decreased steadily while average NHL salaries have increased steadily. This is a situation that most fans hate. I'm undecided on the idea of having a shootout at the end of a tied game. Nobody likes to see a game end in a stalemate, but the shootout seems so inorganic. I will say, though, that I really hate the current system wherein teams are given a point in the standings for an overtime loss. A loss is a loss. No points.
Goalie pads... They always talk about the reduction in the size of goalie pads. I suppose this is some sort of effort to allow more goals. More goals are good, but I really don't care about goalie pads. I don't care about the width of the blue lines. I don't care about the width of (or existence of) the red line. I don't care about tag-up off-sides. I don't care about most of the rules changes they discussed. What I and most fans care about is that they should quit treating the goalies like they're made of glass. I have always wished that a goalie who comes out of his crease to play a puck be designated as a "skater", and therefore free game for checks.
I'm done.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

mogwai, a good weekend and a glimmer of hope

The other day, I went to my CD catalog to randomly pick something I hadn't listened to in a long time. I landed on "Ten Rapid" by Mogwai. Holy smokes! I don't know why I ever let that get dusty in the first place. I dunno. It seems like Mogwai re-invents themselves with each record they put out, and although this one isn't a proper record (a collection of singles), I really like what they were doing. I like the subsequent records, but for my taste, they pale in comparison. I could gush with superlatives or use really flowery adjectives to describe the sonic textures and all the complexities of the music, but that doesn't do this record justice. It's just simply mind-blowing. I highly recommend repeated listenings (with and without headphones). I remember being stunned the first time I heard this record. Along that same post-rock vein, I remember being equally blown away the first time I heard Godspeed You Black Emperor and Explosions In the Sky. The only thing is, Mogwai was ahead of the game. With "Ten Rapid", they were doing that post-rock thing before there was really such a thing. I can't stop listening.

From a sports standpoint, it was a good weekend. As a fan, and as a fantasy football player, everything that could go right did.
First, on Saturday, the Tarheels finally defeated Kentucky. The Wildcats had won the last four match-ups. In each game, they made Carolina look silly. Most memorable was a 20-point drubbing in 2001, in which Tayshaun Prince abused Carolina with 31 points and 11 rebounds. This time, it was the 'Heels turn to dominate, getting 28 points from Rashad McCants and 19 rebounds from Sean May.
Sunday, the Panthers continued their hot streak with a victory over the Saints. Although it's best not to talk about it, they have a chance of sneaking into the playoffs.
In each of my two Fantasy Football Leagues, my team won. In one of the leagues, my team was in serious jeopardy of going winless. In my other, the game was meaningless because the fantasy playoff matchups had already been determined. Still, it was nice to get the W.

The faint glimmer of hope is that tomorrow (Thursday) is the day that the NHL and the NHLPA get together for the first time since September. Word is, the players are putting an offer out there which represents somewhat of a concession on their part. If it, or some other offer is accepted and agreed upon, we should hope to get a season going by mid-late January. Time will tell.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

movies and my aching head

I went to the doctor on Tuesday hoping for some advice and/or remedy for my sleep troubles. His advice was as follows:
  1. eliminate caffiene as much as possible
  2. eliminate alcohol entirely
  3. write down the thoughts that are racing in my head. deal with them later
  4. have sex

Okay. Number one -- no problem. I usually have a coffee in the morning and some sodas at work, but I don't need the caffienated sodas. Number two -- slight problem. I'm not a heavy drinker, but I like to enjoy a few brews now and then. After all, I work at a freakin' brewery! Number three -- no problem writing it down, but I'm not sure how much that's going to help. Number four -- it isn't like I'm abstaining from sex by choice. I could try harder. Well, to be honest, trying at all would be trying more than I am now.

I was also prescribed with halcion . I took it for the first time last night, and I have to say that although it certainly helped me sleep, I hate the way I feel right now. I don't know if this is just a coincidence, but my head is pounding. Has been all day. Grrr.

Last night, I went to the video store and rented Morvern Callar , which I thought was horrible. Aside from the fact that they had such thick (presumably) Scottish accents that it was incomprehensible, I just didn't care for it that much. I had the day off today, so I took myself to see Sideways , which I thought was incredible. The dialog was great, the story was good, and the pace was perfect. To boot, the soundtrack featured Luna, which is a big plus in my book. During the previews, there was one that looked pretty decent. Can't remember the name of it, but it was about a dysfunctional family. Not quite like Ordinary People, but messed up nonetheless. Anyway, it looked decent until I saw the desperate cry for hipness : the inclusion of The Postal Service in the trailer. Bad, bad, bad. Don't get me wrong. I love The Postal Service, but I think they've gotten way too much play in movies. It isn't cool anymore. Remeber a few years ago when every car commercial had a Fatboy Slim song in it? That's what I think is going on with The Postal Service. Oh well

The NHL brass are meeting in tonight, and all indicaters are that the players union has scheduled a meeting for next Thursday to make a proposal to the owners. A boost for optimism!

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

it's hard to get by on 34 grand a day.

Today would be the 21st Hurricanes game, a home game against the dreaded Bruins. The fifth of a six game home stand.

Just for funsies, the folks over at EA Sports are using their game to simulate a season. All for the benefit of the Canadian Press. The best I can find about this is some daily scores. I've searched high and low, and I can't find any "standings". Now..... Here's the problem I have with this. After I discovered that the schedule we have on the video game bears no resemblance to what would be our actual schedule, I did a little head scratching. Presumably, the actual NHL schedule hadn't been released when they were putting the finishing touches on the game. They had to use something as a model for the schedule. After much head scratching and some memory jogging and some study of past schedules, it turns out that they just used the schedule from the 2002-2003 season. Two years ago. Although the days of the week are off, the dates match up perfectly. With one odd exception. For some bizarre reason, they replaced our Oct. 15 road game against the Blues with a road game against the Sharks. Anyway..... the virtual 2004-2005 'Canes have won two in a row, but I have no idea how we're doing in the standings.

Okay, from silly digital hockey, to real life.... The NHL Player's Association has decided to kick in some "unemployment pay" to it's members. I'm not sure how many NHL'ers are members of the union, but according to their charter, they must represent no less than two-thirds of the active players. Here's the thing. Each active member will receive $10,000 for November, $10,000 for December, and anywhere between $5,000 and $10,000 per month going forward. Somehow, we're supposed to feel sorry for these guys "only" making 10 grand per month. To do absolutely nothing. But then I stop and think..... Many of these guys are married with children. Like Latrell Sprewell, these guys have got families to feed. Given that Mr. Sprewell is having a rough go of it buying groceries for his family on a $34,000 a day budget, I don't see how in the world these hockey players are going to make it. They have no choice but to resolve this labor dispute. Incidentally, there is a rumored Thursday dinner meeting between the owners and the union. We'll see.