Saturday, August 26, 2006

Tell Me Sweet Little Lies

Confession Time. Those sections in the sidebar over there? The 'Reading/Listening/Watching' sections? They're um... not entirely accurate.

Yeah, sorry. I guess I've been living a bit of a lie the past year or so - or rather, a small set of fibs. You see, for one thing I could never listen to just one single album over and over again for an entire week - or however long it is between new posts. (What's that? I'm averaging well over a week between posts? Well... so I am. Thanks for rubbing it in.) No way. When it comes to music I have a kind of aural ADD. It's really rather sad. I'm the type of guy who, when listening to the car radio, is constantly hitting the preset buttons for a tune I really like - much to my passengers' dismay. If I find one, I have to then quickly hit all the presets once more to make sure a song I like even better isn't playing at the same time. I mean, as much as I like Blur, for example, do you think I could forgive myself if I missed out on a Pixies or a Garbage track because I was too busy listening to Damon Albarn sing about how we're all really drug users in the end? Of course not. So the preset OCD will persist, and my music listening motto will continue to be, "Listen to as much as you can, as fast as humanly possible." (Feel free to ignore the fact that that statement makes no sense.) So, what you see in the 'Listening' section is often what I happen to be listening to at the exact moment that the blog is being updated. Oh, and one thing I am not, mind you, is ashamed of the music I listen to - and I certainly listen to my fair bit of schlock. After all, I'm the same guy who recently boasted about having Bell Biv Devoe and Avril Lavigne in his collection. Most people who weren't fifteen year old females in 1991 and 2002 would be utterly embarrassed to admit that. Me? I'm just a Sk8ter Boi sayin' "Word to the mutha!"

The 'What I'm Watching' section, on the other hand, is much more representative of the truth. I average about one or two movies a week depending on my mood, and thanks to Netflix, I always have a steady stream of them at home - which is essential because when it comes to film school... well, let's just say I'm riding the short bus. All the films that everyone on Earth has seen, I seemingly haven't. Or, at least that was the case a year ago. Nowadays, I'm much more mature, and am probably ready to at least start talking to the cool kids in my own grade. But, here's the thing (and I've mentioned this before in previous posts.) The films that all the cool kids like? Well... I think they suck, quite frankly. No, not all of them, but what I find makes a great film isn't often the same as what a cool kid does.

It's the same thing with books - and here's where we reveal my most glamorous untruths yet. The book on display over there on the right? Yes, I'm probably reading it, but I'm also probably reading something else too. Something I'm (and this is where music & books go their separate ways in my messed up little mind) probably waaaay to embarrassed to even admit to consider reading, much less post on a blog. What's more, I'm probably enjoying it... thoroughly. It isn't one specific title, but rather, a whole slew of them. I guess I have to come completely clean here and say that I like, for lack of a better term, trash literature. It's true - and it's a source of much low level humiliation for me. Now, don't misunderstand - I don't like all of it. I have to draw the line somewhere. Grocery store romance novels with Fabio on the cover are out. So, for that matter, are Sweet Valley High novels. But, if I'm I'm having people over, it's not uncommon for me to want to cover my bookcase with a sheet. I can only imagine what my guests might say...

"My word, Dolores, look at what this knave has shelved in his bookcase. Stephen King? Tut tut and come now. This just shows a complete lack of regard for civilized culture."

"Mmmm yes, Hubert, I completely agree. I mean, good heavens, it's bad enough that we should be subjected to the likes of... Jurassic Park, but to display a copy as dog-eared as this? Well... it almost belies belief."

Suffice to say, I usually don't invite people over very often. I am making progress, however. No, not so much in reading "cultured material", but in actually caring about what other people think of my choice of literature. This attitude was on full display several months ago when I wrote about those two books of Mad Libs that Dan Brown filled out - Angels & Demons and The DaVinci Code. Yeah, they were horribly written, but in both cases I actually kind of liked the story being told. Do I deserve disdain? For that?

Don't answer. Because, I know for many of you, the answer will be yes. Fine - so there's too much Spencer & Scarpetta being read and not enough Ulysses and Uris. So what? Shouldn't reading be about enjoyment? A few people think so, Nick Hornby among them. Take a look at his recent essay in which he suggests ways we might get more out of reading (it's short and very well written. Also, if you're a music fan and have not read Hornby's 'Songbook', by all means do so. It's superb.) He puts the hoity toity high-falutin' culture vultures in their place much better than I ever could. He also stresses that it's important to enjoy the act of reading, no matter which type of book does it for you, and that you're wasting your time reading something you don't enjoy. Read a book, or listen to a CD, or watch a movie because you want to, not because somebody else tells you you should. Hear Hear.

And so, I close this post with a renewed determination to not feel like an cultural imbecile because I gravitate towards Harry Potter over Heroditus. I've purged my sins before you, my humble readers, and resolve to be more honest when displaying my book/CD/DVD du jour. Promise not to laugh? OK, good. Then, I promise to leave the presets alone. Avril's on... and we all know how much you like her. Ick.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

U Two Kin Rite Gud.

Regular readers of this blog know that my grammar, while not terrible, isn't exactly something to write home about (pun intended, I guess. I think there was a pun in there at any rate.) I often spend too much time worrying about whether the comma goes inside or outside the apostrophe, if my sentences are run-ons, etc...

Well, no longer will I be a slave to the rules of this demonic language. Nay, I shall own them! Through diligent research, I have compiled a list the most essential rules of grammar - a style guide, if you will - and with continued practice, I'll have the editors of the Chicago Manual of Style bowing in my presence. Then they'll realize that their manual is inferior, and have to rename it the "Chicago Manual of Suck", and the journalism word will be turned all topsy-turvy, and I'll be asked - no, begged - to accept the position as lead editor for a new style manual which I shall title, "Eric's Mad Booklet of Crunk Writin' Roolz, yo", and the money will start pouring in, and mine will be the definitive style guide for writers the world over, and just think you read it all here first on Murky Words, and yes, you are most certainly welcome!

Just don't tell anybody I cut and pasted these things from somewhere else. Ready? Read and weep, mein kinder.

  1. Always avoid alliteration.
  2. Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.
  3. Avoid clichés like the plague -- they're old hat.
  4. Employ the vernacular.
  5. Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.
  6. Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are unnecessary.
  7. Parenthentical words however must be enclosed in commas.
  8. It is wrong to ever split an infinitive.
  9. Contractions aren't necessary.
  10. Foreign words and phrases are not apropos.
  11. One should never generalize.
  12. Eliminate quotations. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, "I hate quotations. Tell me what you know."
  13. Comparisons are as bad as clichés.
  14. Don't be redundant; don't use more words than necessary; it's highly superfluous.
  15. It behooves you to avoid archaic expressions.
  16. Avoid archaeic spellings too.
  17. Understatement is always best.
  18. Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.
  19. One word sentences? Eliminate.
  20. Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake.
  21. The passive voice should not be used.
  22. Go around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquialisms.
  23. Take the bull by the hand and avoid mixed metaphors -- even if a mixed metaphor sings, it should be derailed.
  24. Who needs rhetorical questions?
  25. Don't use commas, that, are not, necessary.
  26. Do not use hyperbole; not one in a million can do it effectively.
  27. Never use a big word where a diminutive alternative would suffice.
  28. Subject and verb always has to agree.
  29. Be more or less specific.
  30. Placing a comma between subject and predicate, is not correct.
  31. Use youre spell chekker to avoid mispelling and to catch typograhpical errers.
  32. Don't repeat yourself, or say again what you have said before.
  33. Don't be redundant.
  34. Use the apostrophe in it's proper place and omit it when its not needed.
  35. Don't never use no double negatives.
  36. Poofread carefully to see if you any words out.
  37. Hopefully, you will use words correctly, irregardless of how others use them.
  38. Eschew obfuscation.
  39. No sentence fragments.
  40. Don't indulge in sesquipedalian lexicological constructions.
  41. A writer must not shift your point of view.
  42. Don't overuse exclamation marks!!!
  43. Place pronouns as close as possible, especially in long sentences, as of 10 or more words, to their antecedents.
  44. Writing carefully, dangling participles must be avoided.
  45. If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.
  46. Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.
  47. Everyone should be careful to use a singular pronoun with singular nouns in their writing.
  48. Always pick on the correct idiom.
  49. The adverb always follows the verb.
  50. And always be sure to finish what
Strunk and White got nuthin on me, man. Nuthin!

Friday, August 11, 2006

Wa-Who & Crim-Criminey

Rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated. Contrary to popular opinion, I have NOT given up the blog. I have heard all your bitching (see comments in the previous post. Trust me, I've been hearing ten times that from friends and family) and now I'm finally back. Pass the popcorn, Pa. It's time t'get sum REEDIN' dun!

Where have I been? Here and there. Been doing a lot of reading, and watching old episodes of Northern Exposure. I've been hanging out with friends quite a bit, and going on road trips to Middleton for batting cages and ice cream. There's been a little bit of work, and a little bit of vacation. Actually, there's been a good bit of vacation and it's that which is the subject of today's post.

My current job, IT guy at a school, is very cyclical in nature. When the students are there, it's busy. When they're not, it's not. That being the case, employees are "encouraged" to take their vacations during the non-busy times - and by "encouraged" I mean "forced." If one is foolhardy enough to submit a vacation request for, say, a week in late September, they will be met with a hearty guffaw and a "No chance. Try to find some new dates. Eh... what's that? A trip to Alaska? Ah... well, I hear it's just as nice in winter." And, so it was that I ended up having to take a bunch of scattered vacation days in July and August. Rather than take a full week off (which is almost impossible anyway - they get nervous if I have more than three days off in a row because I'm the only IT guy they have) I decided to give myself some long weekends, the most recent being this past one. And what does a bored 31 year old with ample vacation time in the beginning of August do? Why, what any reasonable vacationer would. He goes to New Orleans.

Huh? Yes. The Big Easy. NOLA. Cajun Country. Katrinaland. It was a simple decision, really. I just kind of said to myself, "Hmmm. I hate seafood. I don't drink or gamble. I don't tan - I burn, AND I think French or any derivative thereof (i.e. Creole) sounds like nails on a chalkboard. Perfect!" Oh, and the airfare was cheap. As you can see, I was a veritable fount of positive vibes. But, biting sarcasm aside, I was very pleasantly surprised. In light of recent natural disasters, I really didn't know what to expect when I got there. What I found was a city that, while struggling mightily to right itself, still maintained a very tangible sense of charm and dignity.

First things first. The city is still very much a dump, although that's really not all that surprising. All you have to do is take a look back at some of the Katrina aftermath photos to see that this was a hurricane that will take a VERY long time to recover from. Traffic lights are still not working in many areas. Many of the houses have sustained incredible damage, so much so that even driving through the wealthier areas of town makes you feel like you're in a poverty stricken ghetto. Every day seems like trash day with the amount of rubbish and debris piled up at curbside. The streets are littered with potholes (although it's still nowhere near as bad as Boston in winter.) Abandoned cars are a common sight on city streets. But, above all is the sheer number of people and businesses that have left and not come back. Having not been to New Orleans before Katrina, I can only imagine it as having been a fairly vibrant city, however that doesn't seem to be the case anymore. Many restaurants and businesses have simply closed their doors for good, deciding that four hurricanes in eight years is enough, thank you very much. They're tired of it, and many don't have the money to rebuild anyway, especially after Katrina. One thing I was also struck by was how quiet the city seemed, even in places like Bourbon Street in the French Quarter. There just didn't seem to be a whole lot of people around. Quite a shame, really, because even in it's reduced capacity and factoring in everything written above, New Orleans has a tremendous amount to offer.

The city boasts an excellent and underappreciated Audubon Society Zoo (with a fantastic reptile house.) Tourists and locals alike form long lines at Hansen's Sno-Bliz - a New Orleans institution that has been serving top notch sno-cones since the 1930's (I kid you not. There are sno-cones and then there are sno-cones. Hansen's makes the best. I had a shaved ice covered in syrup with an ice cream center. Yummy. You have to try it to appreciate it. Snoopy Sno-Cone Machine it ain't.) The people of New Orleans, in the limited contact I had with them, all seemed very polite, charming, and anxious to exuberantly remind visitors that their city still is, in fact, in existence and open for business (for the most part - open for business, I mean. Of course it's in existence. Otherwise, I'd have been screwed once I got off the plane.) And of course, there's still the French Quarter. Walking around it, I couldn't help but notice the old world charm that permeates throughout. Yeah, Bourbon Street still has it's fair share of tacky strip clubs and drunkards, but by and large, the rest of the French Quarter holds up really well. We went for a leisurely stroll through it, visited a few book and music shops, ate at a few restaurants, stopped at a Starbucks, and never did I get the feeling that it was an area that was in need/in the process of rebuilding. Jackson Square, the big cathedral (whose name I'm embarrassed to forget at the moment) Basin Street, etc, are all still there and all beautiful sights to behold. Tourism has been largely dead in the city these days, as evidenced by the New Orleans Ghost Tour we bought tickets for only to find that we were the only two people on it - however we were assured that people are slowly slowly slowly starting to trickle back and... wait... "we?" There was someone else involved in all this Big Easy debauchery?

Ah yes... we get to the real reason for the trip. I admit, I'm somewhat weird and stupid, but did you really think I'd visit a hurricane ravaged city in the extreme southern U.S. in the middle of summer just because it seemed like a neat place to visit and stay cool? Please. Give me some credit. No, as interested as I was to see the city of New Orleans (or not), it was a woman who was the reason for the visit. Specifically, it was the "elusive Jesseanna" - whom I've linked to numerous times on this blog - that beckoned me down to the bayou, and because many of my family and friends know why I made the trip and won't stop pestering me for details, this seemed like a good time to fill them in.

Although I'd been reading her blog for some time (as should you - it's top notch, and I'm not just saying that because I have a vested interest in doing so), I'd only met Jesse for the first time this past June when she came up to Boston to visit a mutual friend of ours and visit her old college stomping grounds. In fact, it was said "mutual friend" who had not so subtly been trying to set us up for the past year - despite the fact that I was/am firmly ensconced in the barrios of Jamaica Plain, MA, and Jesse was seemingly living everywhere else but (Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Virginia (after Katrina), back to Louisiana again.) While I found the idea of a setup intriguing, I also thought it a little far-fetched given the distance between our homes. Still, when two people get along, they get along, and that much was clear when I met her. That visit, while short, led to numerous phone calls and emails exchanged and about a month ago, I decided to let my company force me to use some vacation time so I could hop on a plane and go see her in her fair city. For me, the trip served two purposes. 1) A much needed vacation and 2) A chance to further explore the relationship with this woman whom I'd been conversing with for so long and see if things were "fo' real."

"Well... were they?" you ask. Before I answer, understand the dilemma I'm in. If I get all sappy and write stuff like "I held her in my arms and we gazed into each others eyes, and right then, I knew...", then I might cause a few misty eyes, but every guy I know who reads this will say, "Uh... dude? What the hell just happened here? Are you, like, lost to us forever? Wuss." On the other hand, if I write something like, "Oh man. She looked SMOKIN' hot - plus, like, she's got a pretty killer personality, you know, and like... well, that has to count for something. I mean, I personally would give up my Red Sox tickets to see her", then all the guys would give me high fives and chest bumps but the women (including my sisters, and my cousin Brian... who's not a woman but... well, you know...) would be like, "Oh... mah... God. Jesse - he just totally compared you to a baseball game. What, does he think you're, like, Manny Ortiz, or something? What-EVER."

Well, in an attempt to find some middle ground, I'll say yes, that things were in fact "fo' real." Long story short, we had a fantastic time together on the streets of New Orleans. We bought windshield wiper fluid, and shopped for women's sunglasses. We ate jambalaya and crawfish etoufee (yes, I really enjoyed both despite my normal disgust for seafood.) We made Whole Foods a tourist destination, and bought organic ice cream at the zoo (we fed the ducks too - who were probably happy to see us leave. Come to think of it, so too were the Whole Foods employees.) We watched Trainspotting and When Harry Met Sally. We blared Christmas Carols from the car while speeding through the French Quarter in the middle of August. Did we 'gaze into each others eyes?' *blush* Yeah... a bit, I guess. And, we also laughed at each others ridiculously bad jokes while constantly saying, "My God... we're such dorks." Was it all worth Red Sox tickets? Absolutely. In fact, I kind of wish I was still there.

So yeah, things were for real. Obviously, the whole problem of distance is still there and although significant, it hasn't proved insurmountable. But, the relationship is still rather new and we both have busy lives in our areas of the country. For now we're content to take things slowly, continue to exchange emails and phone calls, and plan the next visit.

And for you, dear friend or family member or casual blog reader who has either been a) pestering me to post or b) asking me to tell you about my trip - well, here I've gone and killed two birds with one (very large) stone. Also, if you're looking for a nice place to go for your next vacation, might I suggest New Orleans? It's an up and coming city on the rebound, you know - full of history, tourist spots, nightlife, ghosts, and lots of other fun stuff. Oh, and then of course, there's the women...