Wednesday, December 21, 2011


So today I walked into the women's bathroom here at work and immediately smelled a spicy perfume that I just KNEW I knew, but I couldn't think of the name. Opium? L'Heure Bleue? Chanel?

"Augh!" I said to my friend J, who was at the sink washing her hands. "I know what that smell is, but I can't place it!"

She turned to me, her cheeks bright red, and said "Um...shit?"

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

don't read unless you're an OG which I mean "original geek", not "original gangster".

Why is it not summer 2012 yet? Because:

My reaction:

The only way this movie could exceed my expectations would be if Bane and Batman engaged in some hot steamy hatesex.

We needs it, precious.

We neeeeeeeeeeeeds it.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

best of 2011: movies

In appreciation for us not rioting when they implemented a new system that everybody fucking hates, my workplace hired two gourmet food trucks to come by yesterday and give us free food. I had a gloriously good cheeseburger and an ice cream sandwich made with---drum roll, please---browned butter and candied bacon ice cream. I wish I could report that it was phenomenal, but it was just kind of weird. Not bad, but if I had the chance to do it over again, I'd pick something else. It's still not the weirdest ice cream I've ever had; that honor goes to the mushroom ice cream I had in Mendocino last year.

...heh, a cheeseburger AND butter and bacon ice cream? I am MEGA trayf!

Anyway, here are my 10 favorite movies of 2011 and a few movie related lists. The usual disclaimers apply:

  • Not all of these first came out in 2011, but that's when I first saw them.
  • These aren't listed in preferential order, though I did make note of my absolute favorite.
  • And, as always, your mileage may vary.

1. Bridesmaids: When Annie is chosen as her best friend's maid of honor, she struggles with jealousy and forms a rivalry with another bridesmaid whose unlimited wealth threatens to upstage her more modest efforts at celebrating the bride-to-be. Not only was this movie extremely funny, but it also had a very realistic take on female friendships. I absolutely loved it.

2. Crazy Stupid Love: Cal Weaver is blindsided when his wife of 25 years tells him that she had an affair and wants a divorce. As he's sitting in a bar, sadly nursing a drink, he's taken under the wing of smooth talking ladies' man Jacob. Very funny but with a poignant edge, and the performances are superb.

3. Red State: When three teenage boys answer an online ad from an older woman looking for sex, they fall afoul of a terrifying religious cult instead. Kevin Smith steps out of his raunchy comfort zone here, and it pays off in spades. It's an absolutely gripping thriller with Oscar-worthy performances by Michael Parks as the crazycakes preacher and John Goodman as an ATF agent.

4. Super 8: Six young friends are shooting a homemade zombie movie when they accidentally catch a train crash on tape. It turns out that there's much more to the crash, and it could completely devastate their entire town. I thought it fell apart a little at the end, but I really enjoyed it, and I don't remember the last time I saw such natural child actors in a movie. Their dialogue and interactions are absolutely spot on.

5. Rise of the Planet of the Apes: A scientist working on a cure for Alzheimer's finds himself caring for a baby chimp named Caesar, whose exposure to the drug has made him extremely smart. But an incident leads to Caesar's forced removal to a miserable primate sanctuary, where (to quote the movie's tagline) evolution becomes revolution.

Okay, so the CGI isn't always the greatest; when Caesar is young, some of his facial expressions and movements seem a bit off. But as he gets older, it's almost creepy how realistic he is. (Major props to Andy Serkis, who is THE go-to guy for awesome mocap.) And yes, the story is a bit goofy. But you know what? It was also much more touching than I expected---I teared up several times---and once the action gets going, it's freakin' awesome. Apes, dude! Apes skittering down the sides of buildings like enormous spiders! Apes scaling the Golden Gate Bridge! A motherfuckin' orangutan tossing a manhole cover into a cop car's windshield like a Frisbee! How could I NOT love it?

6. The Social Network: I'll just say right up front that I don't give two shits about Facebook; I had a profile for about a week and quickly tired of it. But this movie about the transformation of Mark Zuckerberg (played to perfection by Jesse Eisenberg) from Harvard misfit to the world's youngest billionaire is absolutely mesmerizing.

7. Tangled: Rapunzel is trapped in a tower by Mother Gothel, who craves the restorative powers of Rapunzel's extraordinarily long hair. Every year, Rapunzel watches from her window as beautiful lanterns rise up in the sky, and her biggest dream is to see them in person; little does she know that the lanterns are in her honor, released by the king and queen in memory of their kidnapped daughter. She gets the opportunity to escape when a bandit on the lam climbs into her window, and together they set out for the kingdom. A sweet, surprisingly funny, and beautifully animated take on the classic fairy tale.

8. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2: the saga has finally come to an end. On the plus side, though, they made up for Part 1's two hours of mopin' in the woods with nonstop action, some wry humor, and floods and floods of tears. I walked out of the theater with my face dry and tight from crying practically nonstop throughout the movie. A fitting end to one of the greatest stories ever told, and my favorite movie of 2011.

9. 30 Minutes or Less: Two men who need money to open up a combination tanning salon and brothel kidnap a pizza delivery guy, strap a bomb to his chest, and force him to rob a bank. There's something to be said for lowered expectations, because I didn't have high hopes for this movie at all, but I thought it was fucking HYSTERICAL. If you love dark comedies, pop this onto your Netflix queue immediately.

10. The King's Speech: I didn't really care about seeing this until it won Best Picture, and then I figured I kind of had to. I thought it would be the movie equivalent of [insert your least favorite vegetable here]: nutritious and good for you, but not something you'd like. Well, color me wrong, because I really enjoyed it. It's based on the true story of King George VI, who finally sought help for his stuttering from a determined speech therapist named Lionel Logue. Terrific performances from Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush, combined with a sharp script, make this movie well worth your time.

Assorted movie stuff:

MADE ME CRY (OR AT LEAST MIST UP): Mother and Child, Despicable Me, Shrek Forever After, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole, Never Let Me Go, 127 Hours, Tangled, Sucker Punch, Rabbit Hole, The King's Speech, Blue Valentine, The Illusionist, True Grit, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, Source Code, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Mars Needs Moms, Crazy Stupid Love, Water for Elephants

HAVE A KITTEN AND A PROZAC HANDY BEFORE WATCHING: Greenberg, Rabbit Hole, Blue Valentine, Super, Never Let Me Go, Life During Wartime, I Saw the Devil

BEST PERFORMANCES THAT HAVE NO CHANCE OF GETTING AN OSCAR NOMINATION: Michael Parks in Red State; Alan Rickman in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

BEST CASTING: The kids from Super 8

MOST VISUALLY STUNNING: Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole, Tangled, Sucker Punch, The Illusionist, Rango


GUILTY PLEASURES: Piranha, Machete, Sucker Punch, The Mechanic, Rubber, Drive Crazy, Jackass 3.5, Hobo with a Shotgun


MOST TERRIFYING: I Saw the Devil, Paranormal Activity 2, Red State


Monday, December 12, 2011

best of 2011: fiction

It's time for me to foist my opinions on you once again! A few notes before I begin:

  • Not all of these were first released in 2011, but that's when I first read them.
  • The first 4 books listed are in order of preference; the rest are randomly placed.
  • And, as always, your mileage may vary.

1. Swamplandia! by Karen Russell: Ava Bigtree is having a really rough adolescence: her mother dies, her family's tacky alligator tourist attraction begins to go under, and her father and brother defect to the mainland in search of other employment. Ava is left alone in the swamp with dozens of alligators and her dreamy older sister Ossie, who believes she can communicate with ghosts. When Ossie disappears, leaving behind a note in which she claims to have eloped with one of the ghosts, Ava sets out on a perilous journey to rescue her. Filled with gorgeous descriptions and thought-provoking lines, this book found its way into my top ten novels of all time. I'd never read anything quite like it before, and I doubt I ever will again.

2. Say Her Name by Francisco Goldman: I feel weird putting this in the fiction section because it's mostly a true story, but it's listed as a novel on Amazon and the author himself asked that it be classified as fiction, so...yeah. (If it had been categorized as nonfiction, then it would have been my favorite nonfiction book of 2011.)

Anyway, it's a love story about the author's young wife Aura Estrada, a beautiful, feisty, funny Mexican writer who was killed in a freak accident shortly before their second anniversary. One of the most heartbreaking, gutwrenchingly accurate depictions of loss and grief I've ever read. At one point, standing in front of the deli where Aura had her first pastrami sandwich, he writes "Descending into memory like Orpheus to bring Aura out alive for a moment, that's the desperate purpose of all these futile little rites and reenactments." And he does it so vividly that it's impossible not to fall in love with her yourself.

3. The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollock: This deeply unsettling novel revolves around several characters you wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley, or anywhere else for that matter: a man who sacrifices animals to his "prayer log" in hopes of curing his terminally ill wife; married serial killers who slaughter male hitchhikers and photograph the results; a slimy preacher with a taste for underage girls; and cousins who go on the run when their attempt at bringing someone back from the dead goes horribly wrong. Uniting their stories is Arvin, a mostly decent teenage boy searching for redemption in the only way he knows how. Fair warning: this is not a book for everybody, and it goes to some really disturbing places; I had a nightmare about it. But if you think you can handle its intensity, I can't recommend it highly enough.

4. 11/22/63 by Stephen King: Jake Epping is an English teacher living in Maine. One night, his friend Al tells him that there's a portal to the past in back of his diner. Al's been using it to go back and buy beef at 1958 prices, but now that he's terminally ill, he wants Jake to use the portal to go back in time and prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Jake, understandably, thinks Al has lost his mind, but it turns out that Al's telling the truth. Jake decides to go back in time, not only to stop the assassination but to change the sad fate of one of his GED students. But a burgeoning romance with a lovely young librarian and the reluctance of the past to be changed will test Jake in ways he can't even begin to imagine.

Not too many people can top Stephen King at his best, and although 11/22/63 isn't remotely scary, it's an example of King at the top of his game. I had a few minor quibbles, like how the phrase "the past is obdurate" pops up about eight hundred times, but this sprawling behemoth of a book kept me captivated until the end. And oh, that final chapter.

5. The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht: Natalia is a young doctor trying to piece together her grandfather's final days. As she does, she remembers two stories he told her: one about the "deathless man", and one about an abused young bride who becomes the titular tiger's wife. I enjoyed the stories much more than the present-day narrative, but this is still a beautifully written book with the feeling of a fairy tale. And the author is only 26 years old! Yeah, I feel accomplished.

6. The Burning Soul by John Connolly: Private detective Charlie Parker receives a strange client in the form of Randall Haight, a man being harassed by an anonymous person who knows about a crime Haight committed when he was young. Things get even more complicated by the disappearance of a young girl in the area, and all sorts of ugliness comes to light. I was worried that John Connolly was losing his touch, but this is his best work in a long time.

7. Fallen by Karin Slaughter: When GBI agent Faith Mitchell arrives at her mother's house to pick up her baby daughter, she finds chaos: her mother is missing, the baby is locked in the toolshed, and there's an alarming amount of blood everywhere. Oh, and there's a dead man in the laundry room and two more armed men lying in wait. Faith takes down the two gunmen, but finding her mother won't be as easy. Karin Slaughter is one of my favorite authors, and this is another gripping installment with a development about halfway through that ought to make longtime fans very happy.

8. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern: In the late 19th century, two illusionists named Celia and Marco become unwitting participants in a game that can only end badly for one of them. But as they live and work in the night circus of the title, they begin to fall in love. I think the characters could have been fleshed out more, and there's a Japanese character who comes dangerously close to the Inscrutable Asian stereotype, but overall this is a gripping novel with some gorgeous descriptions of the circus.

9. Knockemstiff by Donald Ray Pollock: About two minutes after finishing The Devil All the Time, I requested this book from the library. I'm not generally a big fan of short stories, but this was terrific. The first story, "Real Life", about a young boy whose father goads him into a fight at a drive-in, was my favorite, but they're all excellent.

10. When She Woke by Hillary Jordan: In this dystopian novel (yes, another one!), prisoners have their skin genetically modified as a permanent "scarlet letter". Hannah Payne, convicted of murder for having an illegal abortion, is a Red. When she's released from prison, she's shunned by society, but she is determined to reunite with the man she loves. Occasionally a bit too preachy, and Hannah does something at one point that seemed completely out of character, but it's so compelling and disturbing that I didn't mind too much.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

it gets better

So I was flipping through this book last night and just crying my fool head off. I'm not going to post an "It Gets Better" video, because I don't need people watching me and sniffing, "Hmm, apparently not physically", but here's an entry about it.

I was pretty badly bullied as a kid. It started in the 5th grade, got progressively worse in junior high, and continued through the 9th grade. One particular bully was so horrible to me that I refuse to go to my class reunions because if he was there, I would be arrested for assault. I'm not exaggerating, either; I would literally fling myself at him and scratch his fucking face to shreds. I know after 30+ years I should be over it, but you know what? I'm not. Each incident of bullying eroded my self-esteem, but he took a sledgehammer to it.

In my 5th grade class photo, taken before the bullying began, I'm actually a pretty cute kid: ponytails tied with those big gumball-like holders, dimpled smile, shiny eyes. I kept to myself because I was shy and because there was nobody I wanted to spend time with more than I wanted to read.

So, of course, I was stuck-up and a nerd, back before Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg and the internet made being a nerd cool. Back then, "nerd" was the smart child's N-word.

And because I developed early, I was a whore. And a slut. The rumor was that boobs got big from boys touching them, so since I had breasts before anyone else, they thought I was the Sasha Grey of my elementary school.

And ugly.

Oddly enough, despite the fact that they threw every other nasty word and slur at me, none of my bullies ever called me a lesbian. Did it just never occur to them? Because compared to the other shit they were saying, lesbian would have been a refreshing change of pace. I probably wouldn't even have been all that offended because I never saw anything wrong with it.

I've been gay friendly since I was pretty young, which I credit to my mom (one of her best friends was a lesbian) and reading lots of trashy pulp novels as a kid. My 80's soundtrack consisted of Soft Cell, The Smiths, and Frankie Goes to Hollywood. I read John Rechy and Oscar Wilde. I pined over a guy in my French class who wasn't openly gay, at least as far as I know, but his neon green cardigan and Divine shirt made it pretty obvious. And I spent my college years dancing at Studio One in West Hollywood and generously tipping the go-go boys.

I'm not even going to try to pretend that I know how hard it is for the GLBT community; that would be like me saying "Oh my god, I know how tough it is for the African-American community, I've seen three seasons of The Wire." But one thing I do know is... gets better.

No, seriously, hear me out.

Did that horribly abused and bullied girl I was grow up into a woman with the most OMG perfect life ever? Um, no, because this is not a Disney movie. And things got far worse before they got better.

But I'll tell you what:


Because for every hardship both big and small, there are dozens of glittering perfect moments. Standing on the halfway point of Mt. Fuji. Watching geisha stroll through cherry blossom snow in Kyoto. Gasping as a chittering monkey drops to the ground in front of me in Costa Rica. Laughing with my dad on the phone. Candy. Kittens. Riding a pony through a lava field in Iceland. Books, movies, video games. And G, the love of my life, the best friend I'll ever have.

When I was in high school, my economics teacher was talking about the race riots of the 60's and 70's and said, "The problem with granting civil rights to blacks is that then the faggots wanted them too."

I shit you not. And to this day, I regret not saying something to him, or reporting him to the principal (not that anything would have happened back then). To think that there was probably somebody in there struggling with their sexuality that had to listen to that fucking garbage, or to the psych teacher who said "But then they're all a little [flipping his wrist limp] fruity," breaks my heart.

But that was a long time ago, and although there's still so much work to be done (cf. the Prop 8 debacle), a lot of progress has been made too. I've seen major celebrities come out of the closet, watched my once-homophobic dad work a booth at Twin Cities Pride, seen a gay wedding featured in Martha Stewart Weddings magazine, and received an e-mail from corporate at my extremely conservative company encouraging employees to wear purple on National Coming Out Day.

Just imagine what you'll see in your lifetime.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

hand me a helmet

...'cause I'm banging my head against the nearest wall and it's going to cause permanent damage at any moment.

To wit:

1) Virgin Atlantic has kindly changed our flight time to London, which means we may very well wind up missing Madre and Padre's anniversary dinner.

2) My work computer has been acting up all day, and until the application I need stops acting like a FUCKING WHORE, I have to do my job manually. Doing it manually takes probably, oh, 15 times longer than doing it on the computer. And I know I'm prone to exaggeration, but in this case I may actually be lowballing that estimate.

3) I was getting into my car and a strong gust of wind decided to play the Tonya Harding to my knee's Nancy Kerrigan. I am actually limping.

I need a kitten and a Prozac.

Monday, December 05, 2011

best of 2011: nonfiction

And now it's time for my favorite nonfiction books of 2011. The usual disclaimers apply:

  • Aside from the first book mentioned, these aren't necessarily listed in preferential order.
  • Not all of these were originally published in 2011, but that's when I first read them.
  • As always, your mileage may vary.

1. Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton: When I picked this up at the library and saw the blurb on the cover from Anthony Bourdain claiming it was the "best memoir by a chef EVER", checking it out was a no-brainer. Happily, my BFF didn't steer me wrong, because it was terrific. The passages on cooking, food, and summers in Italy are gorgeous and vibrant, but she also doesn't pull any punches when it comes to the grimier aspects of owning her own restaurant, like cleaning up shit and a dead rat bursting with maggots from the back steps, casual sexism (she writes that any business letter addressed to "Sir" automatically gets dropped on top of her bloody tampon), and trying to juggle her career, troubled marriage, and two small children. Pardon the horrible pun, but if you love cooking memoirs, you'll devour this one.

2. Dirty Secret by Jessie Sholl: A fascinating memoir about the author's relationship with her mother, a compulsive hoarder, and how her mother's disorder affected just about everything else in her life.

3. The Memory Palace by Mira Bartok: After her father abandoned them, the author and her sister lived with their severely schizophrenic mother Norma, their grandmother, and their vicious grandfather. Eventually, after a fight with Norma turned violent, the author and her sister moved away and changed their identities so their mother couldn't find them. But after many years, Bartok learned that her mother was dying, and they were reunited. There are moments of devastating lyrical beauty; for example, when her sister is preparing to leave for college, stranding Bartok with their mother, she writes "How heavy is a dresser when you're the only one pushing it against the door?"

4. Half Baked by Alexa Stevenson: A heartbreaking but often grimly funny memoir about the author's infertility struggle, the loss of one of her twins, and then the health problems of the surviving twin, who was born prematurely.

5. Sometimes I Feel Like a Nut by Jill Kargman: A hilarious collection of essays covering everything from the author's first period ("Cracky Chan enlisted in the red army"), getting criticized at a Mommy & Me meeting for saying "Indian style" instead of "crisscross applesauce" ("It's not like my apartment is full of cigar-store headdress wearers and I'm sitting there in a Redskins jersey greeting people by holding up a palm and saying How"), and her post-pregnancy "Holland Tunnel" vagina.

6. Tiger, Tiger by Margaux Fragoso: When the author was 7 years old, she met a man named Peter at the public pool. He instantly befriended her and her mother, and after a period of careful "grooming", he began to molest her. Margaux's mother was mentally ill and her father prone to violent rages, so Margaux desperately clung to Peter as the only constant in her life. Their relationship lasted until she was 22; the inside flap spoils the reason why it ended, but I won't do so here. It's a powerful, gutwrenching book, but because it's extremely graphic, I must include a trigger warning if you are a sexual abuse survivor.

7. God, No!: Signs You May Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales by Penn Jillette: The famous magician talks about atheism and what it means to him, as well as interspersing anecdotes about his career. He's not particularly nice to agnostics; he basically calls us spineless pussies who can't commit. Despite that, I loved this book. He makes some great points, and he's really funny; one chapter in which he visits a gay bathhouse made me laugh so hard I started gasping for breath.

8. Kosher Chinese by Michael Levy: An entertaining and funny (well, mostly; there are a couple of horrifying anecdotes about animal cruelty he witnessed and, to his credit, tried to stop) memoir about the author's stint as a Peace Corps volunteer in Guiyang, China, where he earned the nickname "Friendship Jew".

9. The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary by Andrew Westoll: The sanctuary of the title was founded by a Canadian woman in order to give former lab chimpanzees a safe place to live out their "retirement". The author, a journalist who had always been interested in primates, volunteered there for several months in order to learn more about the chimps and their heartbreaking pasts. Did I say "heartbreaking"? I meant utterly fucking devastating. Powerful reading, but have some tissues handy. By the end, I was sobbing.

10. Tokyo on Foot by Florent Chavouet: A gorgeously illustrated graphic memoir of the author's time in Japan, including detailed maps of various neighborhoods and sketches of people and things he saw along the way. If you love Japan, this is a must read.