Tuesday, January 31, 2012

media update: January

Asterisks denote something I particularly enjoyed or found especially worthy of my time; your mileage may vary.


1. High Before Homeroom by Maya Sloan: Desperate to get the attention of his dream girl, who only dates bad boys, a teenager decides to get addicted to meth. Not particularly realistic, but I enjoyed it, and the author does a terrific job at capturing a teenager's personality.

Side note: this book has one of the ugliest covers I've ever seen. I couldn't figure out why there was a picture of a woman's back with a tattoo of an opium pipe and a football with a Facebook "like" icon in the middle. Upon flipping the book over, I saw that it was actually a closeup of the author's back, and she was born and raised in Oklahoma. A light bulb went off in my head, and I googled Oklahoma. Turns out that the tattoo is Oklahoma's flag, and it's actually a peace pipe and a drum with the outline of Oklahoma in the middle. Um, what? True, the book is set in Oklahoma and a similar tattoo shows up near the end, but neither one of those things is a crucial plot point. Somewhere, an unemployed graphic designer is holding this book in his/her hands and wailing.

2. Red Ruby Heart in a Cold Blue Sea by Morgan Callan Rogers: In the early 1960’s, young Florine’s world is shattered when her mother Carlie disappears. She tries to cope with the help of her father and grandmother, but the loss of her mother is always at the forefront of her mind. It’s a bit melodramatic, but I liked it.


1. Ravenous by Dayna Macy: A memoir about the author's attempts to understand her lifelong obsession with food. It never really goes anywhere all that interesting, but I did learn one tidbit: black olives are just green olives that have been allowed to ripen. Who knew?

2. The Serial Killer Whisperer by Pete Earley: After recovering from a horrifying head injury, teenager Tony Ciaglia suffered brain damage that affected his ability to control his emotions. He became obsessed with serial killers and began corresponding with dozens of them. Perhaps because they could tell he was genuinely impartial, many of them shared details about their crimes that they'd never told anyone before. Absolutely not for the squeamish; it contains graphic descriptions of some truly depraved shit. But if you're interested in true crime, this is pretty fascinating. Awful title, though.

3. The New New Rules* by Bill Maher: A delightfully cynical collection of rules and rants from one of my favorite smartasses. One of my favorite quips: “Stop telling me your toddler is going to be a heartbreaker or that she’s flirting with me. It’s just creepy, and it makes me regret having lunch alone at a Chuck E. Cheese.”


1. Kobato vol. 5 by CLAMP

2. My Girlfriend's A Geek vol. 5 (final volume) by Rize Shinba and Pentabu

3. 20th Century Boys vol. 18 by Naoki Urasawa

4. Deadman Wonderland* vols. 4-5 by Jinsei Kataoka and Kazuma Kondou

5. Walkin' Butterfly* vols. 2-3 by Chihiro Tamaki

6. Kamisama Kiss vol. 6 by Julietta Suzuki

7. Sweet Tooth vol. 3 by Jeff Lemire

8. Black Bird vol. 12 by Kanoko Sakurakoji

9. Fables: Super Team by Bill Willingham and Mark Buckingham

10. Sakura Hime vols. 2-5 by Arina Tanemura

11. Morning Glories vol. 2 by Nick Spencer and Joe Eisma: If you've read this volume, please make yourself known as I have a burning question about a particular plot point. (Yes, I googled my question, but I didn't come up with an answer.)

12. The Walking Dead* vol. 15 by Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard

13. The Boys* vol. 9 by Garth Ennis, Russ Braun, John McCrea, and Darick Robertson

14. The Pro by Garth Ennis, Amanda Conner, and Jimmy Palmiotti


1. Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva*: When Professor Layton receives a special invitation to the opera, he and his young apprentice Luke discover a huge mystery instead. The occasional CGI crammed into the traditional 2D animation can be jarring, but if you're a fan of the video game series, you're sure to enjoy this as well.

2. Hachi: A Dog's Tale: When Hachi's owner Parker dies, Hachi keeps returning to the station where he used to meet Parker every day. This is an American take on the true story of Hachiko, a Japanese dog whose loyalty caused a statue to be erected in his honor in Shibuya, and it made me cry. And I'm not talking about misty eyes or a delicate tear trickling slowly down my cheek, I'm talking full on, rivers of snot, shoulder heaving, audible SOBBING. If you plan on watching this, have a box of Kleenex handy...two if you're a dog lover.

Side note: Y'all know I love cats more than just about anything, but there could never be a feline equivalent of Hachiko. A cat would be all "Oh, you died? Didn't even notice. Whatever, bitch, just feed my ass and then get the fuck out."

3. Oceans: A gorgeously shot documentary about (spoiler alert!) the ocean and its inhabitants, marred somewhat by ho-hum narration.

4. The Hangover 2: Seriously, did they just run the screenplay for the first movie through word replacement software? ("Okay, replace Vegas with Thailand, and...let's see, tiger with monkey...brother-in-law missing instead of friend...monk instead of baby...") They even wrap up the movie with photographs of their debauchery set to a Flo Rida song. It's basically the exact same movie as the first one, except they also extracted most of the humor while they were at it. I think I laughed twice.

Side note: I had a dream in which Bradley Cooper offered me $10 million to marry him and be his beard for a full year. I would only be allowed to talk to G over e-mail, the phone, and Skype, lest the paparazzi see us and realize that Bradley and I were naught but a sham, but once the marriage was dissolved, we could get back together. I was very sorry to wake up and realize I'd been dreaming. Yeah, it would supremely suck to be away from G for a year, but with $10 million we could both quit our jobs and spend the rest of our lives together in zombie killin' harmony.

Bradley Cooper, if you're reading this, call me.

5. Love Actually*: Set in London during the weeks before Christmas, this is a sweet ensemble comedy that succeeds where imitators like Valentine's Day and New Year's Eve failed. It was a bit overstuffed with all the different subplots, but you can't beat a cast that features Alan Rickman, Colin Firth, Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant, Laura Linney, the dude who plays Rick on The Walking Dead (and wow was it weird hearing him with a British accent), AND Liam Neeson.

6. Cowboys & Aliens: The title doesn't lie; this is in fact a movie about cowboys and aliens fighting against each other in the Wild West. An interesting premise, and Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig are always a treat to watch, but this just didn't do it for me.

7. Colombiana: A young girl named Cataleya watches in horror as her parents are murdered in front of her. When she gets older, she becomes super hot Zoe Saldana, an elite assassin out for revenge. Some decent action, but not essential viewing.

8. Don't Be Afraid of the Dark: Sally is a little girl who's none too happy about moving in with her father and his girlfriend, but things get even worse when it turns out the house is infested with strange creatures who have very bad intentions for her. It's not a bad little thriller, and Bailee Madison is quite good as Sally. Bonus points for the really cool opening credits.

9. Final Destination 5: On a bus headed to a company retreat, Sam wakes up from a nightmare in which the suspension bridge they're on collapses and kills all of them. He freaks out and convinces his friends to get off the bus just as the cables snap and the bridge falls apart for real. But he soon learns that death doesn't like to be cheated as his friends are killed in increasingly gruesome ways. Some innovative gore, and the bridge scene is really intense and well done, but oh my CHRIST could I not watch the eye surgery death. I took that opportunity to pee and grab a refreshing beverage.

Side note: there's a Lollipop Chainsaw trailer before the movie! Need that game immediately plz and thx.

10. Paranormal Activity 3*: In this prequel, young Katie has an invisible friend named Toby who’s perhaps not as imaginary as her family believes. After strange things begin happening around the house, her mother’s boyfriend Dennis sets up cameras to catch the activity on film. I’m giving this one a star primarily because it had what I consider to be the scariest scene in the franchise so far.

11. 50/50*: Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is horrified when the back pain he’s been experiencing turns out to be a malignant tumor. And if chemotherapy, surgery, and confronting his own mortality aren’t enough, Adam also has to deal with a well-meaning but awkward therapist, an overbearing mother, and a girlfriend who can’t cope with his diagnosis. You wouldn’t think a movie about cancer would be funny; you’d be wrong. But don’t forget your tissues, or by the time this wonderful movie ends, you’ll be using your sleeve instead.

12. Warrior: Two estranged brothers, one a physics teacher and the other a troubled veteran, compete in a mixed martial arts tournament in hopes of winning the $5 million grand prize. Some great fight scenes, but it could have been shortened by a good 30 minutes in my opinion.


1. "Deadman's Gun" by Ashtar Command

2. "Teenage Dream" by Katy Perry

3. "Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)" by Katy Perry

4. "E.T." by Katy Perry

5. "Someone Like You" by Adele

6. "Sofi Needs A Ladder" by deadmau5

7. "I Ran" by Ska Rangers

8. "Rolling in the Deep" by Adele

9. "Rumor Has It" by Adele

10. "Lovesong" by Adele

11. "Bitch" by Eminem

12. "Girls" by the Beastie Boys

13. "Bullet with Butterfly Wings" by Smashing Pumpkins

14. "Flagpole Sitter" by Harvey Danger

15. "Sabotage" by the Beastie Boys

16. "Intergalactic" by the Beastie Boys

17. "Tonight, Tonight" by Smashing Pumpkins

18. "Today" by Smashing Pumpkins

19. "Brass Monkey" by the Beastie Boys

20. "Disarm" by Smashing Pumpkins

21. "Permanent Vacation" (instrumental from the Trigun OST)

22. "Opening Theme" (instrumental from the Trigun OST)

23. "Paul Revere" by the Beastie Boys

24. "Lose Yourself" by Eminem


I was really stoked to play this addition to the Red Dead Redemption universe because I loved RDR and I looooooooooove zombies. Unfortunately, Undead Nightmare turned out to be somewhat underwhelming.

Once again, you play as semi-reformed outlaw John Marston. He's at home with his wife Abigail and son Jack when their hired hand, newly zombified, makes a snack out of Abigail's neck. Abigail promptly bites Jack, and John hogties both of them and sets out to find some answers.

Along the way, you'll run into familiar people from the original game, such as snake oil merchant Nigel West Dickens, creepy necrophiliac graverobber Seth, and feisty rancher Bonnie MacFarlane. While you attempt to solve the mystery of the outbreak and find a cure for your family, you can also assist survivors in clearing out their infected towns.

Here's my main problem with Undead Nightmare: it gets SO repetitive! Even if you clear out a town, it will eventually get overrun again, so you have to rush right back and save it once more, which gets old. If you don't save it, the town is "lost", which means you can no longer use it as a home base for saving and fast travel. (And believe me, with the amount of territory this game covers, you absolutely need that fast travel option.)

In other negatives, the controls are surprisingly unresponsive at times, and there's an irritating graveyard fight that took so long to beat that we thought the game had glitched.

Many of the good things from RDR are present, though. The voice acting is still superb, the dialogue still crackles, and the backgrounds are still beautiful. And John Marston is kind of hot in his union suit!

If you're a fan of Red Dead Redemption or the zombie genre, then I can recommend Undead Nightmare as long as you keep my caveats in mind. But whereas I couldn't wait to get back to RDR when we were playing it, Undead Nightmare was more of a slog than anything else.




I'll be going into suspended animation until 11/20/12. Please hold my mail.


Jesus, this video brought back so many memories of my clubbing days. I was seatdancing like nobody's business up in here.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

you left a bad taste in my mouth, my sour patch kid

Bored as all get out, so I yoinked a survey from the official JaSurMo blog. Now you can be bored too while reading this! I took a few out that I didn't want to answer or weren't applicable to me and/or my interests.

It's Thursday at noon. Where are you usually? Work. I don't take my lunch break until 1:15 because I come in late, so I would ordinarily be sitting in my cube, merrily slaving away.

Which shampoo is in your bathroom right now? I have a couple of bottles because I'm just that boss. One is Pantene clarifying shampoo, and one is Ojon.

What are you listening to right now? "Sofi Needs A Ladder" by deadmau5, hence the entry title.

Do you watch MTV anymore? Only the new Beavis and Butt-Head episodes, which are surprisingly pretty good. Not sure why they kept the old animation for the scenes where they're critiquing music videos/reality shows, but whatever.

How do you feel about your hair? The bane of my fucking existence. I look at old pictures of myself and want to weep for not appreciating my hair the way it was back then. I mean, I'm glad to have hair at all, but I hate it.

What DVD is in your player right now? Final Destination 5. I haven't seen 2-4, so I sure hope I don't get too lost.

What side of the bed do you sleep on? Left.

Do you like roller coasters? I love them, but my tolerance has gone down somewhat since I became An Old. I can handle things like Space Mountain, but not anything that goes upside down or does anything "weird". Several years ago, when G and I took the lads to Six Flags, I went on the Superman rollercoaster and was nauseated for hours afterwards. Yay aging!

What are your plans for Friday? After spending 8.5 glorious hours at work, I will go straight to G's and proceed to squeeze him senseless. I managed to score 50/50 from Netflix, so we'll probably watch that and a couple of episodes of The Wire.

What is the dumbest thing you have ever done with your cell phone? I had a mild freakout while trying on clothes and texted, "Please tell me something nice about myself because I am flipping the fuck out right now." I thought I was texting my friend K, but I accidentally sent it to my friend C instead. At the time, C happened to be hanging out at G's---they've been best friends for over 30 years---and G called me because he was worried that something really bad had happened. And C texted back "Are you okay? And for the record, you're one of the best friends I've ever had." I thanked them for their concern and assured them that nothing was wrong, aside from assorted body issues, including but not limited to stubby, misdialing-prone fingers.

What do you usually order at Taco Bell? G to go somewhere else. (rim shot)

Where is your favorite place? By G's side.

...I can hear you and your dramatic gagging noises from here, you hater. You hater of LOVE!

If you refuse to accept the above answer on account of your hate, then Kyoto, Japan.

Do you sleep with a fan on? Yes, because I need the white noise. I can fall asleep without white noise if I absolutely have to, but it takes much longer.

How often do you hold back from saying what you are thinking? All. The. Fucking. Time. Most often at work.

Are you currently planning a trip? Nope. Due to finances and lack of vacation time at work, the England trip will have to tide me over for a while!

What makes you feel like you are young again? Ice cream, video games, kittens, and certain songs from my youth. G and I were listening to the radio last weekend and "Only in My Dreams" came on and I wigged out.

"I love Debbie Gibson!" I cried.

G patted my arm. "You and her mother."

What's on your mind right now? Hair, hyuk hyuk hyuk.

...okay, fine. I'm actually wondering if I'll ever get used to a new system they're implementing here at work. I've completed about 10 hours of---ready for this?---a 40 HOUR training schedule. It's the most boring thing you can possibly imagine, and confusing as hell. I'm in the last wave of employees to learn it, and everybody who's already finished the training assures me that it is a horrible system that's about as user-friendly as a thistle-covered dildo. Can't wait!

Do you eat a lot of fast food? I try to keep it down to once or twice a week, but sometimes, a bitch just needs a burger.

How many people have you kissed in 2012? Only G.

Were you happy when you woke up today? Um, no. Being forced out of my warm cocoon of blankets into the chill air of my poorly insulated apartment, knowing that I had 8.5 hours of work ahead of me and that 2 of those hours would be devoted to training on that stupid new system, was the very opposite of happy.

How about now? I ain't mad or nothing, but no, seeing as I'm still at work, I can't say as I'm happy. Ask me again at 6:15 when I pull into my apartment complex.

What was the last movie you saw in theaters? Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which was awesome. I don't go to the theater very often anymore because people are just such rude assholes. I mean, seriously, you paid $13 to sit in a dark theater and bother everybody else with the glare from your fucking phone while you're texting? Best come correct and get the fuck out, son. (Sorry, channeling Omar Little.) But there are a ton of "theater movies" (G's term for a movie that you want to see so badly that you can't wait for DVD, or that's so visually stunning it deserves to be seen on a big screen) coming out in 2012, so I might be going to the theater more often than usual: The Hunger Games, The Avengers, The Cabin in the Woods, Brave, Warm Bodies, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, World War Z, The Hobbit, Skyfall (the new James Bond movie), and of course, The Dark Knight Rises.

Do you eat candy on a daily basis? Again, I try not to, but sometimes a bitch just needs a Snickers. (New advertising campaign?)

Does it make you happy to get letters? I love it! E-mails are awesome and everything, but nothing beats a real letter to me.

What are you looking forward to this summer? Since I'm an adult and have to work, summers don't have the cachet they used to hold for me. And since I live in Southern California, I don't have to worry about snow and sleet, so the weather isn't a draw. Hmmm. Well, I guess what I'm looking forward to the most are assorted movies (see above) and books. Linda Castillo, Sophie Hannah, and Gillian Flynn (who wrote Sharp Objects, one of my 10 favorite novels of all time) have new books being released in June. Karin Slaughter's got a new one in July, and then Chelsea Cain's got one in August. I don't think any video games of note are coming out this summer, though; they all seem to be either spring (the Silent Hill HD collection, Silent Hill: Downpour, Lollipop Chainsaw) or fall (Resident Evil 6, the mere thought of which makes me want to scream with joy).

Do raisins belong in cookies?

Would you rather have chicken or steak? Steak, but I do love me some chicken picatta.

Do you wish you had smaller feet? No, not really. I don't have trouble finding my size (8), so whatever.

Do you write in cursive or in print? Cursive, but my handwriting is so bad that I try to print if I know I won't be there to "translate".

Are you different now than you were six months ago? Well, at the risk of sounding like a total nerd (too late), our bodies are constantly shedding cells and making new ones, so nobody is the same person they were six months ago, or even six hours ago. So yes.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


So we just hired two new temps to take over for people who will be unavailable until June due to "job education opportunities". (The women who are leaving are the only ones who adversely affect me and my workload, but let's not get into that or I will fling myself on the floor and have a tantrum.)

Anyway, one of them, S, is African-American (relevant, I promise) and is training with my coworker MP, who sits directly across from me. At one point, S said to me, "You have a GORGEOUS cat." I was confused for a moment, since sadly I have no cat, but then I realized she was looking at my picture of Winston:


"Unfortunately, he's not mine," I said. "He belongs to a family friend, but I love him so much that my boyfriend's dad took that picture and framed it for me."

"Well, he's just beautiful! I think just about anyone could fall in love with that face, although we don't like cats."

I couldn't figure out why she was using the royal "we", but I wasn't about to ask. MP, however, had no reservations and piped up, "We? Who's we?"

And S said, "Black people."


I'm totally not trying to be Ignorant White Girl here, but seriously. WHAT?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

England pt. 5: for a company called Virgin, they sure know how to fuck you

The night before we left London, G and I tried to check in for our flight on the public computer in the hotel lobby. But after several attempts, it still wouldn't let us log in.

"Well, that's a bit worrying," G said.

See, we had been told by Virgin when we originally booked our flight that we had, had, HAD to check in for our return flight at least 13 hours ahead or they could give our seats away.

So we went up to the room and called their customer service hotline, where a rep assured us that we'd be fine as long as we checked in three hours ahead of our flight. We asked if we could go ahead and check in with him, but he said that wouldn't be necessary and to just make sure that we got to Heathrow at least three hours ahead of time.

Fast forward to the next morning. We checked out and then stood in front of the building waiting for the Hotel Hoppa to pick us up and whisk us away to the airport.

And we waited.

And we waited.

"Are we standing in the right place?" I asked, as poor ailing Madre dragged herself back inside to wait in warmth.

"Well, it says 'Bus Stop' right there," G pointed out. "Plus there's a sign for the Hotel Hoppa just inside the door."

Good point.

So we waited.

And waited.

And watched a beefy fellow unloading enormous beer kegs and rolling them inside. I began humming the Donkey Kong music.

Finally, Padre went inside to ask somebody what the problem was, and he returned and said, "It's on the other side of the building!"

Ready for this? The person at the front desk told him that they occasionally switch where the bus stops.


Ordinarily I love being right---seriously, it's my bacon---but in this case, I would happily have been wrong because we wasted so much time standing outside.

Anyway, we finally caught the Hotel Hoppa and we were on our way to Heathrow. Madre and Padre, who were taking a different airline than we were, checked in for their flights while we headed to Virgin Atlantic's self-serve kiosk. We tried to check in with no success, and tried, and tried.

Finally, a customer service rep noticed our trouble and asked if he could help us. We explained, and he sent us to a desk where the woman sent us to ANOTHER desk. The woman at that desk seemed really startled that we'd been sent to her, but she did her best to help us until something happened on her computer and she sent us back to Woman #1, who I shall refer to from here on out as the Slore.

Slore took our passports and began typing away. "All right, you have seats 55E and 55F, in the middle of the plane."

"Uh, we had asked for aisle and window seats," G said.

"In order to ensure your seat preference, you must check in at least 13 hours ahead of time," Slore said.

G and I exchanged incredulous looks, and then he told her about the buggy website and how the dude on the phone said we'd be okay if we checked in at least three hours ahead of time.

"That's incorrect. That isn't the policy. It must be 13 hours ahead of time or we cannot guarantee your seat preferences. But if you'd like to purchase the extra leg room seats for an additional [can't remember the exact number, but it was substantial] pounds each, I'd be happy to set that up for you."

G was obviously on the point of losing his shit, but he managed to say through gritted teeth, "No, thank you, we'll go with the seats you mentioned."

I rubbed his arm. "At least we're seated together."

Then she made us weigh our bags and told us we'd have to check them because they were too heavy, at which point G turned an alarmingly bright shade of purple. Neither one of us likes to check luggage, and on an international flight to boot? No thanks. We started trying to shuffle things around, but it just wasn't working.

"I don't understand what the problem is," I said. "We were able to carry our bags on the plane when we came to England, and we haven't added anything substantial in the meantime."

"They shouldn't have let you do that," Slore said. Then she added, with a little sniff, "America is perhaps a bit more relaxed in that area than they should be, considering."

I looked at G, who looked at Padre (who had by now joined us), and we all looked back at her. We were all quite literally speechless. I couldn't fucking BELIEVE she actually alluded to 9/11 AND insulted our home country to our faces! She shrugged her shoulders and gave a little dramatic sigh, which was the cyanide icing on the shit-filled Pop Tart.

Slore took our bags and threw them violently onto the conveyor belt, and we watched them slide out of sight. Slore abruptly thrust our passports and boarding passes at us and wished us a happy flight with a condescending smile. I couldn't get away from that "customer service" desk fast enough.

When all four of us had gotten through security, we had some time to grab a quick breakfast with Madre and Padre. Then they had to get to their gate, so we sadly said our goodbyes and watched them walk away.

We'd gotten there pretty early---though apparently not early enough to get the seats we wanted---so we had a long time to wait. Fortunately, Heathrow had a lot of interesting stores to peek into. I bought a snow globe and t-shirt in a souvenir shop and then popped into Boots, where I bought a surprisingly good ham sandwich, candy, and more trashy magazines.

When it was time to board, we tried one more time to get our seats changed with the gate agent. She was much nicer than the Slore (which wouldn't be hard to do, assuming she didn't actually spit in our faces and insult our parentage), but it was a full flight and there wasn't anything she could do for us. At least she seemed genuinely sorry that she couldn't help us. To our irritation, though, we noticed people with WAY bigger suitcases than ours getting through with no problem. My guess is that they were able to check in online---bully for them!---and passed under the radar.

Although we were in the middle row, nobody wound up sitting to G's direct left. "There's some good luck, at least," I said.

Did you think our Virgin Atlantic woes were over? Bzzzzzzzzzt! Because you know those awesome personal inflight entertainment screens that we weren't able to take full advantage of during our flight to London because we had to sleep in order to reset our body clocks and avoid jet lag once we got there? The ones we were really looking forward to using on the return flight because this time we had to stay awake to reset our body clocks?

Ours didn't work!

I tried to finish watching Project Nim (which I'd started on our flight to London and had to turn off with 30 minutes left because we were landing) and my system was bound and determined that I should watch Bridesmaids instead. Which, don't get me wrong, is a great movie, but I'd already seen it. If I tried to select another movie, Bridesmaids picked up right where I'd left off. G was having the exact same problem with his, only his system rejected his attempt to watch The Hangover 2 in favor of Puss and Boots.

It would have been funny except, you know, it wasn't.

The flight crew (who were quite nice overall) tried not once, not twice, but three times to reset our entire row. (Our other row mate was able to watch her movie, but it kept flickering and then the screen would turn bright yellow.) Each time, we got optimistic. Each time, we were disappointed.

Now, I know this whole entry seems like a big case of White Whine, but you know what? Those fucking tickets were not cheap. And dealing with a phone rep who gave us wrong information and fucked us out of our seat choices, then dealing with the Slore, and THEN to be seated in the only fucking row with broken entertainment systems? No. Just no. And I will tell you, it was GALLING to walk down the aisle to the bathroom and see everybody else enjoying their goddamn fucking personal movie systems. I felt like the Little Match Girl pressing her face against the window and watching a rich family eat Christmas dinner, only I didn't die in the snow afterwards.

Once G and I resigned ourselves to our fate, we were able to wring some small measure of enjoyment out of our long, loooong flight. We did a cryptic crossword puzzle, played a couple of hours of Professor Layton and the Last Specter, and read. They fed us almost constantly, but the food, aside from a really good scone with clotted cream, was tolerable at best (a slice of pizza straight out of a school cafeteria) and inedible slop at worst (some horrific chicken and bacon vomit pile I couldn't even look at, much less eat). I've only been on one airline that had not just good, but phenomenal, food (Thai Airways), so I won't dock Virgin Atlantic too much for that, but you know what I WILL dock them for? Let's recap!

  • A clueless phone rep who gave us wrong information that cost us our seat choices.
  • The Slore, who was rude as fuck and about as helpful as a rubber crutch.
  • Our broken inflight entertainment systems, which were especially obnoxious when you consider that they would have been somebody else's problem if we'd GOTTEN THE SEATS WE REQUESTED. See previous bullet points.
  • Virgin Atlantic's response to my tweet was along the lines of "We're sorry you had a bad experience." You don't say!
  • Virgin Atlantic's response to my epic complaint letter, i.e. none, almost two weeks after the fact.

If one good thing comes out of our Virgin Atlantic experience, it will be spreading my vitriol gleefully over every corner of the internet I can find, like a civet marking its territory with its stank, stank musk, in hopes of warning off other people from ever using their airline.

Do not fly Virgin Atlantic unless you have no other choice. They suck. They are the worst airline I have ever flown and I used to fly on Northwest almost exclusively so I know from suck. They will give you wrong information, they will insult you to your face, they will treat you like shit, they will rob you of inflight entertainment on an 11-hour flight, they will not respond to your complaints, they will do nothing to help you, they will not upgrade you, they will not comp you for extra leg room seats but they will certainly be glad to charge you for them. Tell your friends, your family, coworkers, and strangers on the street. Do not give them any of your money.


Okay, epic rant over.

Once we landed at LAX, we went through a very, very long passport/immigration control line, and then we (miracle of miracles!) collected our bags, safe and sound. We managed to grab a Van Nuys flyaway bus almost immediately, and traffic on the 405 was shockingly light, especially considering it was New Year's Eve. We hopped in G's car and headed home, with a quick detour at Ralph's to buy cold medicine, since we were both sick by this point. When we were waiting to check out, I pointed at the magazine rack and said, "Oh my god, I recognize every celebrity on the covers!" That was a strange feeling after almost two weeks of reading magazines and only recognizing William and Kate!

As soon as we got home, we wanted nothing more than to just crawl into bed and sleep for ten hours, but we at least wanted to see 2012 in! So we played Red Dead Redemption, which woke us up considerably. We finished it with just an hour and change left in 2011, and as soon as that ball dropped in Times Square, we kissed, toasted the New Year with Nyquil, and headed upstairs.

So yeah, our vacation ended on a sour note, but for the most part, it was a sweet trip. Being in England reminded me how young America is compared to most of the world, and I loved seeing all of the old churches and buildings. And, of course, I enjoyed spending time with the love of my life and my awesome "second family", who have never treated me as any less than one of their own from the moment we met.

I mean, yeah, England was expensive as hell (and it's not like I live in Budget Town, USA), and there were some snags along the way. But for every Slore, there was a friendly tour bus driver, a chatty shopkeeper, or young man who, upon noticing Madre and Padre struggling up the underground station stairs with their enormous suitcases, immediately sprang to their aid.

For every restaurant that charged 5 pounds per person for the privilege of eating there on Christmas, or charged extra for bread or tap water, there was a Whits or a Little Lime Lounge, with their terrific food and impeccable service.

For every winceworthy admission charge, there was a British Museum or Bath Abbey.

England, I will miss your scones and your clotted cream, your women's magazines, your gentility. I will miss your beautiful countrysides, your bustling cities, your leaded glass windows, your sense of history. I'm proud to be, in a sense, one of your upstart great-great-great-great-great grandchildren.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

England part 4: Stonehenge and Bath

We woke up early and went on a bus tour of Stonehenge, Avebury, Lacock (pronounced LAY-cock), and Castle Combe. Unfortunately, all of the assorted villges started to blur together after a bit, but I'll try to remember the most important stuff!

Our first stop was Stonehenge, which for some reason I'd thought was much bigger (and no, I'm not making a Spinal Tap reference), but it was still cool.

And COLD...oh my god! I had my hood up and my jacket zipped all the way to the top and I still froze my ample ass off! Here I am posing in full Nanook of the North regalia:

As we were driving to the next stop, the driver told us about the history of the villages we were driving through. To be honest, I conked out for a little while, but I did notice the quaint thatched cottages. I could totally see living in the English countryside for a couple of months. Ah, a roaring fire, leaden windows, cats and books everywhere...bliss.

The driver pointed out the Alton Barnes chalk horse carved into the hillside. I wasn't able to get a good picture from the bus, so here's one from Wikipedia:

We stopped at another stone circle, sidestepping sheep shit all the while. One man was quite literally having a religious experience, standing in front of each rock, placing his bare hands on them, and then closing his eyes for a few moments. Here's G taking a more irreverent approach:

Our next stop was the town of Lacock for lunch. The first two places we stopped, we were told they were full up, even though one of them had a huge room (with available seating, mind you) that had a big sign over the door saying "RESIDENTS ONLY". Hmph! But we finally found seating at a lovely little place called At the Sign of the Angel, which made me think of something out of As Meat Loves Salt. I had an enormous ham hock in mustard glaze and chocolate bread pudding with Jersey cream for dessert. Unfortunately, our lunch took too long and we missed the walking tour portion of that stop. When we left, the driver pointed out the house that was used in the Harry Potter movies as Professor Slughorn's residence.

The final town on our tour was Castle Combe.

(The yellow house in the above picture was used as Dr. Doolittle's home in the original movie.)

Upon our return to Bath, we walked back to our hotel and I napped while G caught up on the exploits of Katniss and Peeta. We had dinner at the Little Lime Cafe, where I feasted on a steak burger and fries and then split a chocolate brandy tart with G. The tart was good, but the whipped cream was so amazing I happily would have settled for just a bowl of that! The waiter was really nice and kept calling me "darling" and "love", which I enjoyed.

The next day, we went to the Roman Baths, which---true to the name---were used by the Romans as a site of public bathing, built around a natural hot spring.

The Roman Baths

The Roman Baths

You're not allowed to use them now, but looking at that gorgeous green water and the steam rising off it, especially on a gray and drizzly winter day, sure made me want to! They also had some interesting exhibits of things found at the baths, including "curses", which were pieces of metal that people etched with prayers to the goddess Sulis and threw into the spring.

Afterwards, we had a glass of treated water from the spring, which is supposed to be extremely healthy and cure just about everything that ails you. G couldn't even finish his small glass, and I had a hard time choking mine down because it tasted like, um, a nosebleed. But hey, anything that tastes that shitty HAS to be good for you, right?

Then we took a walk to the Royal Crescent, which was touted as a must see but just looked like a very fancy apartment building to me. G posed for this saucy snap along the way:

We checked out of our hotel and took a cab to the bus station. We had just enough time to pick up a quick lunch at the grocery store, and then we were on the bus to Heathrow.

Once we got there, we bought tickets for the "Hotel Hoppa" (a shuttle that goes to all of the major nearby hotels) from one of the nastiest bitches I've ever had the misfortune of dealing with. Well, actually, J is the one who primarily dealt with her, but he was fuming afterwards, and he's one of the most even-tempered people I've ever met, which tells you something. She kept trying to talk him into taking a cab instead and then rolling her eyes dramatically when he insisted on buying shuttle tickets. When we left, J said that he thinks she probably gets a kickback from the cab companies, which isn't a bad theory.

When the shuttle stopped to pick up more people, I said, "Hey, isn't that Madre?" And sure enough, there stood Madre and Padre, looking much the worse for wear. They'd had a rough night at an extremely loud hotel, and poor Madre was really sick.

We checked in at the Premier Inn, and when G and I got to our room, we were startled to hear extremely enthusiastic boinking going on next door! It sounded like a porno but was most definitely live. I was worried they'd be at it all night, but they got it out of their system (so to speak) and we never heard a peep from them again.

After freshening up, we met up with everybody (except Madre, who elected to stay in the room and recuperate) for dinner downstairs. I had a good burger and an excellent piece of lemon frangipani cake. Then it was back to the room for a quick shower and early bedtime because G was starting to get sick at that point as well.

Little did we know the horrors awaiting us the next day.

(To be continued...dun dun DUN...)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

England part 3: crown jewels and sausage rolls

(Mouse over pictures for commentary...well, hopefully. I have been advised that it's not working for everybody, for which I apologize, but I have no idea how to fix it. If it makes you feel any better, you're not missing much!)

Because everybody else had already seen it on previous trips, it was just me, G, and the lads at the Tower of London.

I don't think I want to go there

Tower of London

Stained glass at the Tower of London

The Tower Bridge

Tower of London

Guard at the Tower of London, caught in midstep

We decided to see the Crown Jewels first in hopes of beating the rush, and that turned out to be a wise decision indeed! They had a really clever way of keeping people from "hogging" the jewels and blocking everybody else's view: you took a slow moving walkway past the display cases, and then you could take another one to see the back of the cases as well. The jewels were absolutely gorgeous, and even though the placards mentioned how heavy the crowns were, I'd have killed to wear one of them for a couple of minutes! No pictures were allowed, but you can see some of the jewels here.

After ogling the jewels, we walked around and looked at the torture chamber and many different exhibits of armor and weapons. Then we got lunch at a fish and chips stand and ate while surrounded by dozens of hungry pigeons and gulls. It's a small miracle that none of us got crapped on, especially since a crazy old woman kept encouraging the birds by reaching into a trash can and throwing food at them.

We met up with A and J and took the underground to the British Museum, where we reunited with Madre and Padre. D had a set agenda that he really wanted to follow, so he and his parents went off on their own. The British Museum was HUGE and it probably would have taken days to see everything, but we managed to see quite a bit, including the Rosetta Stone, Hokusai's famous Great Wave, human and animal mummies, and some really cool clocks and watches. One thing that was particularly nice? The museum was totally free! London is even more expensive than Japan was the last time I visited, so a freebie, especially a really cool one, was much appreciated.

After the museum, we took an extremely crowded train back to our neighborhood, where we picked up some groceries before going home. We had frozen pizza for dinner and watched some really goofy game shows on the telly.

The next day, we said goodbye to Madre and Padre, who were spending the rest of the trip visiting old friends, and took the tube to Paddington Station. It was once again crowded as shit, and I felt bad that our enormous suitcases were taking up so much room, but that's one of the downsides of public transit, I guess.

When we got to the station (and yes, it's the one where Paddington Bear was found), we had some time to look around, so I bought a ton of magazines, some drinks, and cough drops for my incessantly tickly throat. Then we hopped on the train and made our way to Bath. It was nice to be able to sit for a couple of hours! G spent most of the ride sleeping, and I enjoyed my cheesetacular magazines.

Upon our arrival in Bath, we had a loooooooooooong trek to the Holiday Inn Express. We thought the hotel was much closer to the station, but nope! I was about to have a minor meltdown because I was so tired and my shoulders hurt from my heavy purse and dragging my suitcase behind me like a balky pet. After noticing my discomfort, G offered to take my suitcase, which improved my mood considerably.

After checking in and dropping off our luggage, we walked across the street to a tiny restaurant called the Little Lime Lounge. It was a cute little place, and the proprietor was very friendly. I had a stack of pancakes and delicious bacon, and G and I split an order of lime-dusted chips as well.

Back at the hotel, J, A, I., and I decided to head out and explore while G and D stayed in their respective rooms to read and rest for a bit. We walked all over Bath, which is a charming combination of old and new. We stopped in the Bath Abbey to look around, and a friendly priest started talking to me. He asked where I was from, and when I told him, he clapped his hands together and cried, "Splendid! I love Americans, they're the golden retrievers of the world!" I'm still not sure what he meant by that, but I think it was meant to be a compliment, so I didn't take offense.

Bath Abbey

Bath Abbey

We also stopped at a museum that had an eerily beautiful garden of fiber optic flowers that looked straight out of a Final Fantasy game...

This looked way cooler in person.

...and then popped into a grungy (but fun) pub called the Hobgoblin, which had some very, ahem, colorful graffiti in the ladies' room:

Graffiti in the Hobgoblin pub bathroom.

Um...good to know, thanks.



Back at the hotel, I napped for about an hour. Everybody else wanted pizza for dinner, but I didn't feel like it, so I had a much more nutritious meal from the convenience store across the street: a sausage roll, a glorious Cadbury confection that was shaped like a star and filled with aerated milk chocolate and ganache, and a Coke Zero.

Later that night, no doubt due to my strange dinner, I dreamed that I was riding a dragon and it set fire to the London Eye. I should watch How to Train Your Dragon again for tips, because apparently mine is a total brat.

(to be continued)

Friday, January 06, 2012

England part 2: Piccadilly palare

I'd never spent Christmas in a foreign country before, but England was a lovely place to do it! Just about everything was closed due to the holiday, though, including the underground, which limited our options considerably. A group of us walked through several different neighborhoods and through Brompton Cemetery, which I really enjoyed because I love old cemeteries. Not in a gothy Hot Topic way, mind; I just thnk they're so peaceful and the headstones are often quite beautiful.

Mausoleum in Brompton Cemetery. Note the medallion of what I presume to be the occupant.

G and I thought this mausoleum looked straight out of a survival horror game. "Find and replace the angel's missing arm, and then the door will open...fight some zombies..."

Beautiful old gravestone in Brompton Cemetery

On our way home, we stopped in a convenience store for snacks and souvenirs. When I took out a 10 pound note, G pointed out that Charles Darwin was on the back! Can you imagine Charles Darwin on American currency? Well, okay, he would never be on it in the first place because he wasn't American, but even if he had been, the religious right would throw an absolute shit fit.

Back at the flat, I took a nap and then we went to Masala Zone for dinner. Get this: they had a 5 pound surcharge to cover their workers' transportation costs since the underground was closed! I don't know if it was 5 pounds per customer (which would cost about $62 extra for our group) or per table, since I didn't see the check, but if it was per person, that's ridiculous. It's nice that they were looking out for their employees, but sorry, that's fucking bullshit. Pay it yourselves if you're so concerned about it! Oh, and while they were at it, they added a "voluntary" donation onto the check for an orphanage in Mumbai. Come on! If you want to put a donation box at the front counter, that's one thing, but tacking it onto the bill just sucked, especially since there's no way to ask them to remove it without looking like the biggest asshole in the world. "Yeah, take that orphanage donation off the bill. I need to buy some more trashy magazines and My Purple Bars. Those orphans will just have to get over that dysentery on their own."

Anyway, everybody seemed to enjoy their food except for me. I had chargrilled chicken and rice which was decent, but I also got a Masala Coke (Coke, lemon juice, spices, and mint) which tasted even worse than it looked and pistachio kulfi, which basically tasted like really freezer-burned ice cream. So on the walk back to the flat, A took pity on me and bought me a huge slice of lemon cheesecake, which was absolutely fabulously nomtacular.

On Boxing Day, the subway was closed again, so we took a bus to Trafalgar Square.

Trafalgar Square

Sign for the Paralympic Games, which is taking place around the same time as the Olympics and has the same logo, only colored. Someone online said it looks like Lisa Simpson giving a hummer and now I can't unsee it.

Trafalgar Square

Blurry shot of Trafalgar Square, including one of the famous lions.

Cool ship in a bottle, Trafalgar Square

After looking around at all the statues and fountains, we stopped in a bookstore. I had to laugh at a book called The Xenophobe's Guide to Americans, which had the Statue of Liberty on the cover, holding money and McDonald's fries. According to the book, we're obsessed with conspiracy theories, making money, and talking loudly. (To be fair, they had guides for other nationalities too, so they weren't just picking on us!)

Uh huh huh huh...uh huh huh huh...

Awesome ad seen in a shop window. Santa, a dinosaur, and a lightsaber wielding Jesus? Sure, why not!

Pretty fancy courthouse!

Interesting statue seen while walking to Piccadilly Circus

After lunch at Gourmet Burger Kitchen, we went to Piccadilly Circus, which reminded me a lot of Times Square with all the billboards and neon lights. We had dissension in our ranks because not everybody wanted to go to St. Paul's Cathedral, so it wound up just being me, Padre, and the lads. Occupy London had tents set up outside.

Occupy London tents set up in front of St. Paul's Cathedral.

Exterior of the cathedral:

St. Paul's Cathedral

You couldn't take pictures inside, so you'll have to take my word on it that it was beautiful. Not so beautiful: the walk up 500+ stairs (not a typo!) to get to the top. I'm not in the best shape, and I swear to Christ I was about to have a fucking heart attack. At least gorgeous views awaited us:

View from the top of St. Paul's Cathedral. Almost worth climbing over 500 steps to see!

That suggestively shaped building is called The Gherkin.

View from the top of St. Paul's Cathedral

At the very top, there was only a small (maybe 4 feet high) wall separating us from plummeting to the pavement below. It was pretty crowded up there, with not much room to maneuver, and I was getting a little frightened. Padre wanted to take a picture of the lads and me, and although I haven't seen it yet, I'm sure I have a look of abject terror on my face. I was grinning like a madwoman while saying through my gritted teeth, "[Padre], can we hurry it up please? I'm kind of freaking out here!"

After meeting up with everybody else, we walked through Chinatown, where I saw this strangely named restaurant.


We stopped at a Thai restaurant for dinner. When I went to use the bathroom, I had to wait outside of them until somebody came out because I wasn't sure which one was for women and which one was for men! The doors had some weird hieroglyphic symbols on them that I couldn't figure out. Back at the table, J explained to me that one was supposed to be a very stylized drawing of a dude standing up to piss and the other one was a woman squatting. Would it kill them to put genders on the door as well? Sheesh!

We ended our evening with a baroque concert at St. Martin-in-the-Field, and although the music was lovely, I kept falling asleep. Then we walked for a really long time and got a little lost, but we finally caught a bus that took us back to the flat. We passed by Harrod's on the way, and it was stunningly lit up for Christmas.

Back at the flat, I limped to the bathroom and took three Advil for my aching calves and feet.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

England part 1: mind the gap, please

"Ah, I could get used to this," I said to G, lazily stretching my arms over my head. "Virgin Atlantic rules!"

(Please keep the previous comment in mind, as it will wind up being excruciatingly ironic at the end of my chronicles.)

And lo, for that leg of the journey at least, it did. G and I had a row to ourselves, the crew passed out free amenity bags, there were water dispensers by the bathrooms (handy for staving off dehydration during such a long flight), and best of all, we had personal inflight entertainment systems that included a huge selection of uncensored movies and TV shows. We weren't able to take full advantage of them, though, as we needed to catch some Z's. We stayed awake long enough to have dinner, which was absolutely foul (braised beef that looked and smelled like cat food, though cat food probably tastes much better), and then we went to sleep. Neither one of us was all that tired, but we had to sleep so we would be "on schedule" once we arrived in London. We slept for about five hours, and then G enjoyed several episodes of Family Guy while I watched Project Nim.

Once we got to Heathrow, it was the next day! We went through the insanely long passport check and then to the baggage claim to meet our driver, who whisked us away in a swanky black Mercedes-Benz. I embarrassed myself by starting to get in on the passenger side...only realizing my mistake when I saw the steering wheel. Oops! Face burning, I climbed in back with G instead.

The driver dropped us off at the No. 1 Mansions apartment complex, our home away from home for the first few days of our trip. Padre greeted us at the door, and after hugs and a quick group photo, we went upstairs and said hi to Madre, G's sister A, brother-in-law J, and nephews I. and D, affectionately referred to as "the lads".

Our apartment (sorry, "flat") had 4 bedrooms and 3 bathroom, a kitchen, a dining room, and a huge sitting room. It was a bit rundown in places---peeling wallpaper, a crayon scribble above our bed---but overall, I really liked it. It was in a quiet neighborhood convenient to lots of shops and restaurants, the kitchen came in handy on several occasions, and we ran the tiny combination washer/dryer almost constantly. I had to laugh at this tidbit from the guest directory: "Please do not overload the washing machine as it simply cannot cope." I imagined a confrontation like this:

ME: "Please, washing machine, I need clean underwear!"

Once G and I had a chance to put away our luggage, freshen up, and change, we walked to Whits restaurant for Madre and Padre's 50th anniversary dinner. They both gave speeches and cried, which of course set me off because I'm a notorious sap. Seeing anyone cry tends to make me mist up, but if it's somebody I love? Forget about it; I'm awash in a flood of tears. I had ribeye and excellent french fries and a glass of "champers", and G and I split chocolate mousse for dessert. We also got tiny individual mincemeat pies with our check, which were pretty good...certainly better than peppermints! Then we walked back to the flat and hung out for a bit before going to bed. I didn't sleep very well, partly because I was still on California time (so it was about 3PM as far as my body was concerned) and partly because our room was an oven! G found a fan in the closet, which is probably the only thing that kept us from succumbing to heatstroke.

The next morning, after showering and gasping with delight at the heated towel rack, we took the subway (sorry, "underground") to Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the guard. Unfortunately, most of my pictures didn't come out because I was getting crushed against the railing by the crowds, but you'll get a general idea. Mouse over for the occasional comment.

These warnings were painted at crosswalks to remind tourists which way to check for passing cars.

An unfortunately blurry picture of a statue in front of Buckingham Palace.

The ornate gates in front of Buckingham Palace

The statue of Queen Victoria in front of Buckingham Palace.

Buckingham Palace

The changing of the guard.

The Buckingham Palace marching band.

The guards leave Buckingham Palace.

It got a little repetitive, but I enjoyed the pageantry of it and the fact that the band spiced up their routine with Christmas carols and, oddly, the hook from Salt N Pepa's "Push It"! What would the Queen say?

Afterwards, we walked through a gorgeous park and had lunch at a pub. The service was pretty dismal, but I really liked my fish and chips. I don't ordinarily like fish all that much, so that's a glowing endorsement!

We stopped at Westminster Abbey, but they were closed for the holidays. I still took a few pictures, though.

Westminster Abbey

Statues on the front of Westminster Abbey.

Next up, we went to the London Eye, catching sight of this regal fellow along the way:

Rather proud of this shot!

As you can see, the London Eye is a huge Ferris wheel that takes a full 30 minutes to go all the way around and offers spectacular views of London, including Big Ben and the Parliament Building. J and A opted out, preferring to walk around instead, and Madre and Padre met up with old friends for coffee, so it was just me, G, and the lads. It was spendy as shit, but you couldn't beat the scenery!

Sunset view

Parliament as seen from the Eye

The swanky private champagne car on the London Eye.  Hey, pass some down to the poor folk!

Arty shot of the Eye's inner workings

We took the underground back to our neighborhood and several of us walked to Tesco's to pick up assorted groceries. We wound up taking a cab back to the flat because we had so much to carry! I bought a selection of delicious chocolates (including the oddly named My Purple Bar, which looked like several small footballs welded together and tasted like hazelnuts and caramel and was fucking awesome) and a bunch of women's magazines, my favorite of which was the gloriously addictive Love It!. How could anyone resist cover lines like "Shame! Daddy Drank My X-Mas" and "My Crispy Cleavage Horror"? But paging through them, I felt like I'd failed reading comprehension. The magazines were in English, of course, but I never realized how much slang we actually use on a regular basis. Some of it was obvious from context ("I caught my best friend and my hubby in the nuddy"), but other phrases had me scratching my head. Dolly mix? The pancrack? Panto? Things were completely hatstand? Mysterious!

Anyway, I passed out reading and G woke me up for dinner: a delicious pasta prepared by J. Then we watched the Giants/Jets game live on some shady website. Fortunately the Giants won, or we would have been in a right paddy indeed.

(To be continued...)