Saturday, March 19, 2011

What's for dinner tonight?

At my house, where not quite thirty of us are gathering soon for a late dinner/birthday party/UFC PPV event, it's the noble muffuletta. (If you've never heard of the sandwich, follow that link and read about it; I'll wait.)

I first encountered the muffuletta in Tallahassee in a small and short-lived restaurant that a Cajun man from New Orleans had opened on a shoestring budget. I fell in love with the sandwich immediately. The restaurant vanished almost as quickly.

The next time I had a chance to taste one was in New Orleans, and again I loved it.

Over the following years, I tried versions of it from many different restaurants, but none came close to the New Orleans original.

Then, some years ago, I decided to see if I could get them straight from the source. I could, and I did. Via the magic of FedEx and the application of entirely too much coin for any sensible person to spend on a mere sandwich, muffulettas from New Orleans' deservedly famous Central Grocery appeared on my doorstep. They did so again yesterday, as they have each year since that time.

If you're ever in New Orleans (or feel like spending way too much just to know what you've been missing), definitely wander by Central Grocery, order a quarter or a half of a muffuletta (unless your appetite is huge, more than that will cause you to burst), and enjoy.

Friday, March 18, 2011


I went to see this movie earlier tonight, on opening day. I had to. Consider just some of its attractions:

* Simon Pegg. I've been a fan of his since Shaun of the Dead. I also strongly support his position on traditional zombie values.

* Nick Frost. He and Pegg have a friendship that shines through in their buddy films.

* It's a road-trip film. I'm a sucker for them. Add the fact that the journey is to save an alien (the title character) from ruthless government pursuers, and you have a fine starting point for a run down the back roads of the USA's UFO heartland.

* Their adventure starts at the San Diego Comic-Con. I've always wanted to attend this con, and it is one of the geek meccas.

* It's full of fan-boy in-jokes. I'm quite sure I didn't catch them all, and I caught a lot of them. I'm clearly in its target demographic.

Though my attendance was certain, my reaction was not. I feared the movie would be simply too dumb for me to enjoy.

It wasn't, though at times it veered mighty close to the cliff edge of stupidity. To avoid being annoyed at those moments, I had to check my disbelief at the theater door, turn down my mental processing speed, and accept the movie for the silly bit of fun that it was.

Fortunately, I did all of those things, so I had a fine time watching Paul.

I've been saying similar things about a lot of films lately, and that's sad. I'm completely willing to sign up for and enjoy fluffy entertainment, but I'm beginning to crave the intelligent, well-plotted action or comedy movie with characters who are real and stories that make sense.

Until one of those pops up, though, check out Paul. If you're at all an SF fan-boy or fan-girl, you'll enjoy it.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

New developments in the allergy serum war

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know that I give myself two allergy shots every three weeks. To do that, I naturally need two vials of serum from my ENT practice. My ENT's main office is more than half an hour from my house and completely out of all my normal driving routes. The ENT also maintains an office right on a road I drive to work. So, I like to pick up my serum there.

The problem is, for reasons I don't understand, the ENT seems determined to make that as difficult as possible. They want me to drive to the main office.

Screw that. Rather than cave to them, I continue to insist on picking it up at my local clinic. The result is that I am in a cold but active war with the firm and the allergy serum tester who works only occasionally at that clinic.

This past week, my new serum arrived. Tuesday afternoon, I returned the phone call I received. The woman who had called me said that I could pick up the serum Tuesday mornings from 8:00 a.m. to 9:30 or Thursdays from noon to 1:00.

There were two small catches, however: the serum was actually available for only during one half hour of the Tuesday time and for only 15 minutes of the Thursday time. They also could not tell me in advance which of those slots it would be. I would have to come at the very start of each time and be prepared to wait until the very end.

I didn't get the call until Tuesday afternoon, so my option was Thursday. I was already booked with a client lunch that day.

No problem, I'd go the following week (this week). I don't need the serum until next week, so that's fine.

Tuesday morning, I had taken off work and so decided to wait until Thursday (today). When I called on Wednesday to confirm my pick-up today, the woman said,

"Oh, it's not available Thursday this week. Those were last week's hours. You could always go to [the other office]."

No way. I asked what this coming week's hours were. They were not set yet. I finally secured an appointment next week--for an hour slot, of which the tester will be available only 15 minutes.

This fight has become personal. (It's also very difficult to start over with another ENT, and this is the only local one that lets you self-administer the shots.) I will show up at the start of that hour next week, but I will also do something annoying, perhaps bring a boom-box or eat something particularly stinky while standing in front of the receptionist's window. If I'm going to suffer, they are, too.

My own irrationality on this topic surprises me, but I don't care; I will not lose this fight.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

How awesome was it here on my birthday?

Here's how awesome.

(As always, click on the image to see a larger one.)

These two trees are not mine, alas. They belong to the neighbors across the cul-de-sac. I do love that I get to see them on walks and while driving this time of year. I feel privileged each time.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A birthday present

Yesterday was my birthday, so in the spirit of such celebrations I'm going to give all of you a present.

I've mentioned before that I've already written a good chunk of a thriller, Fatal Circle, that I plan one day to finish and sell. On Thursday, September 11, 2008, I read the first page and a quarter of that book at a signing. Other than that one time, I've never shown any of the book to anyone.

Here's that tiny introductory bit of the novel, in completely raw, unedited, embarrassingly rough first-draft form. These are the words as they came from my keyboard; the final text will be much, much better. (Can you tell I'm having to talk myself into showing this to you without rewriting it first?)



As Mike Hood watched the two men watching him, he realized that the life he had carefully constructed for the last five years was evaporating in the shimmering waves of heat rising off the strip mall parking lot almost as quickly as the small, dark puddles still standing from last night’s rain.

On his lunch break, stretched out flat on the low brick wall in front of InCompute, he was enjoying the unexpectedly hot last day of September when he spotted the two men for the second time that day. From the moment he’d left CitFree, he’d known they could come for him, but the knowledge didn’t diminish his confusion. Why now? He’d done nothing to merit the attention, yet he also knew they had to have a reason. As much as he’d hated the agency, he’d never seen anyone in it act without a strong belief that their action was necessary and justified.

He arched and stretched his back, sat up, and pulled his hair into a ponytail, repeating the same movements he made every day before his after-lunch walk. When he was at CitFree, visible habits were enemies, weaknesses others could use against you. Only civilians could afford habits, and all the ordinary people he’d studied had possessed them. When he left, he knew that to fit in he had to have habits, too, so he cultivated them with the same studied effort he brought to every task. He went too far, of course--he now understood that moderation wasn’t in him--and he knew that those few who considered him a casual friend thought him obsessive at best.

He quickened his pace as he walked along his daily route, up the covered walkway in front of the ever-changing storefronts that occupied the doomed side of the L-shaped mall, across the feeder road, behind the Burger King, down US 70, and then behind the Wal-Mart that was the only merchant keeping the mall from commercial extinction. He forced himself to look only straight ahead in the hopes that his tails would believe he’d become sloppy enough to miss them. CitFree never worked in the open, so the only danger point was behind the Wal-Mart. He considered cutting out that part of the walk, but doing so would tell even a bad team that he was onto them. He figured he could duck into a rear employees’ entrance if it came to that, but fortunately over a dozen men were unloading a pair of trucks behind the store and he was never at risk of being alone. The tails didn’t follow him, and he relaxed a bit as he passed along the white concrete rear wall of the block-long building.

As he emerged into the bright parking lot from the shadow of the Wal-Mart’s far wall, they were waiting, pretending to chat near a beat-up green F150, and he caught one clear look at them. He stared a moment too long and for a second made eye contact with the taller one, so he nodded, said, “Nice truck” even though he knew they probably couldn’t hear him, and kept moving. He had to force himself not to shake his head in disgust at himself; making eye contact was inexcusable. He reviewed the snapshot image in his mind as he continued on to the front of InCompute. Both men were in jeans and dark blue t-shirts, and both wore gimme caps from a used car dealership down the road. One was Caucasian, a bit over six feet tall, thin, with dark brown hair, a few days of stubble, and a thin pale line showing above the tanned part of his right arm and below his t-shirt sleeve. The other was a few inches shorter, probably twenty pounds heavier, and Hispanic.

He noted in their reflections in the InCompute window that both were watching him directly; amateurs. Either CitFree was desperate for help, or he’d somehow attracted the attention of some low-end local group. He knew from the study of the area he’d made before he chose it that even the bikers who ran the organized trades in Raleigh and Durham would handle a surveillance job better than these two losers.

No, a local group made no sense. Stick to Occam’s razor, he reminded himself; someone from CitFree had to be running these guys. That he couldn’t spot the agent in charge suggested that he might know the leader.

Too bad; he hated killing people he knew.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Battle: Los Angeles

Another movie you know I had to see. Aliens invading. Shit blowing up. Michelle Rodriguez looking all tough and sexy as only she can. LA in ruins as more and more aliens hunt down humans with more determination than a Terminix rep on a roach-elimination job.

Did I mention Michelle Rodriguez?

How you're going to react to this movie depends entirely on how much of your brain you decide to engage as you watch it.

I and one faction of our group were in it for the explosions, the fighting, and the aliens--well, all that and Michelle Rodriguez. We largely checked our brains at the refreshment stand, and we left having thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

Others brought various portions of their critical faculties into the theater. They emerged less satisfied. They pointed out the completely formulaic plot, the utterly generic characters, the truly terrible dialog, and the completely stupid nature of the invading aliens--all valid points.

But shit blew up real good, Michelle Rodriguez was hot, and we plucky humans carried the day.

Mission accomplished.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Adjustment Bureau

It's an SF film, and it's from a Philip K. Dick work, so even though many critics have panned it, you know I'd have to see it. I'm happy to report that I enjoyed it, and I think you can, too, provided you make one key adjustment of your own before you walk into the theater:

Forget the alleged tie to the Dick story, and pretend it has nothing to do with the long-dead SF great.

If you don't make this move, then I can guarantee disappointment awaits you. The movie occasionally veers into the mood turf of Dick's stories, but that's about as close as it comes to the original.

If, however, you are willing to treat it as entirely its own thing, then The Adjustment Bureau will deliver a couple of hours of solid entertainment. The first half will do even more: it's a genuinely interesting and well done story of destiny vs. free will. In the second half, the wheels of formula crank up and you can see the happy ending hurtling toward you, but at least it hurtles at an increasingly faster speed and with considerable attractiveness.

The lead actors also deliver strong performances. Matt Damon, despite occasional lapses into his native Boston accent, is believable as the bad-boy Brooklyn kid making it good. Emily Blunt is compelling in most of her scenes, and her first appearance is strong enough to carry us with her through the few weak moments that will follow. John Slattery delivers the right mix of world weariness and inevitability. Anthony Mackie communicates a great deal even when he's not talking. In fact, he does a good enough job that when the plot requires him to make a move that your brain knows his character would never do, your heart is tempted to buy it.

If you're willing to make the very important adjustment I mentioned above, I suspect you'll enjoy The Adjustment Bureau.


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