December 24, 2006

It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas

I've commented to a few people over the past few days that it really doesn't feel much like Christmas. Maybe it's the fact that it was 65 degrees in DC for the last week, or the fact that I hadn't gotten hardly any shopping done, or just the fact that between class and the couple of weekends after class I've been so busy that I've barely thought about it, but ultimately it seemed really strange to be packing for FL earlier this week, since it just didn't seem like it was time to do that. Even once I got down here, I spent the first day or so with the same feeling.

I think it really changed, though, once my brother and sister-in-law arrived yesterday afternoon. Now the family's all here, with cousins, grandparents, aunt and uncle set to come today. It's starting to make sense now. Well, it's either the arrival of people or the preparation of massive amounts of food (more reasons I love having Italian family). It's definitely one or the other, I will choose to assume the former. But now, on Christmas Eve Day, it's here. It's Christmas.

So I wish all of you a Merry Christmas and a happy holiday, wherever you are and whatever you celebrate. May your time be spent with those close to you, doing the things that bring you peace and happiness. Be safe in your travels, and make the most of the time you have.

Or, if that seems a little too Hallmark, try this:

Either way, Happy Holidays, everybody.

December 13, 2006

Almost Famous.... well, sort of

When I got back from errand-running and lunch on Saturday, I found an odd email in my blogmail. It went like this:

Hey there.I noticed your posting on My Space and wanted to interview you brieflyabout why you think The Wire is such a compelling show. I'm a reporter atthe Washington Post and writing about this TODAY. What is it that speaks toyou? The power of the kids' stories? The failure of the schools and copsand everyone else to address their problems? Some first hand experience ofyour own with dysfunctional cities? Something else?

It closed with an email address and phone number, and the name was one that did show up on a quick search of the Post site. So I figured it was probably legit. What threw me was a) the MySpace reference, since I don't post anything on MySpace (I barely even have a profile), and b) that I got it at all, since mine is not a heavily-trafficked site to say the least. But I was intrigued, and glad that The Wire is getting some much-deserved attention these days (Bubbles got a profile on the other day). I did call the reporter back, but didn't catch her; but it got me thinking about the show, and about the things that I find so gripping about it. I mentioned some of them in a previous post, but there is always more that can be said.

The article can be found here. I think it's a good one, and makes some good points. I am a little bit disappointed, though, because it only addresses a fraction of what I think is important about the show. I can't help but wonder whether the writer watches it herself, or was more just fulfilling an assignment. I felt kind of the same way reading the email, because it suggests a fairly surface-level thinking about the program. All of this is understandable, since I think her intent was less to talk about the program than about the personal reactions people have to it, but I also feel like a show this good deserves a closer look into what really makes it tick. Anyway, were I to have been able to speak with her as she was writing, this is more or less what I would say.

Let me preface with this: I am of the middle-class-white-kid demographic, so that is the point of view from which I approach the show. I don't relate in the same way some of the people quoted in the article do. I'm predictably fine with that, and I don't believe it affects my enjoyment, but I figured I should mention it.

I don't think that the show is about stories, really, and as such I can't say that the kids' stories are what makes it a must-see. It's about characters. Characters are compelling, in a way that stories are not, necessarily. We've all seen the downtrodden-kid-makes-good stories, or the downtrodden-cop-turns-his-life-around stories, but without deep and nuanced characters, the stories don't stick. What Simon/Berg and co. have done is create a world where all of the characters are themselves powerful, so wherever the storyline takes you, you want to go. Namond's story isn't remarkable; Namond is. Randy is. Cutty is. Bubbles definitely is. Marlo, while despicable in many ways, is extremely charismatic as well, and we want to see where the show takes him. I still think that Stringer Bell was one of the best characters this show has seen, but it's a crowded field.

The same thing is true of the "failures" of the police, govt, etc. It's not the failure that is powerful. It's the struggle. If they were failing for a lack of trying, that would be one thing, but you see well-intentioned people (and some not-so-well-intentioned) doing what they can and making small steps forward or large steps back. The new mayorship of Tommy Carcetti is a great example of this. He just keeps piling on examples of how "it's just not that simple." Just look at Prezbo. You could argue that the schools are failing, but you certainly get a clear view of just how much the people in the schools give of themselves to 'save' as many as they can in the process. Prezbo gives you a front row seat to the battle of idealism and hope with cold reality, and that even good people have to make compromises in order to keep doing good.

But really, it's hard to get a sense for how good this show is, or how well it's put together, just by looking at this season. Like many serials, there is a lot of inside baseball on this show, a lot of references and situations you don't fully understand without having seen previous seasons. And that background knowledge takes an already enveloping show and makes it even moreso. If you just watched McNulty during this season, you would get a certain impression, and you could get through the story without losing any critical info. But if you knew what he went through, from Season 1 to now, you would have an entirely different impression of him, and his actions would have a whole different meaning. His relationship with Bodie, and how it developed, is a really solid bit of storytelling, and it explains a lot of McNulty's behavior during the season finale (I'm being intentionally vague out of respect for those who haven't seen it yet. But seriously, get on it already). Same for Cutty, and Colvin, and Bubbles, and even guys like Prop Joe. You don't have to know how they got here, but it sure helps. Some shows are just like that. 24, not so much; this one, absolutely.

And the cast. Holy crap, the cast. Just the casting for the kids alone should be recognized, they're so good. They've cast convicted felons, people that Simon actually arrested years ago. They've got Method Man. And a whole truckload of people you'd never hear of otherwise. Everyone on that show does a superb job, and it seems like nobody notices. The fact that The Wire hasn't received more (any?) awards is, simply put, a travesty. I firmly believe that both the acting and the writing is better on this show that it is on the Sopranos, or Deadwood, or Lost, or pretty much any other drama you might point to.

I like to draw a particular parallel with Lost when I talk about it: there's a feeling you have while watching Lost, a certain tension you feel pretty much throughout the show, no matter what. It's like any minute, something major could happen, and you're just waiting for it. Watching The Wire is like that; there's a very similar sensation watching there as well. You don't know where it's coming from or for whom, but you know it's coming, and you're as much afraid to miss it as anything else. You know it's fiction, but you can't help it: you care. And that's the bottom line. That's the power.

If I'd been asked, that's pretty much what I'd have said. In the end, I wasn't, but it sure would have been cool, wouldn't it?

December 11, 2006

Off to an auspicious start

Well, my semester break started pretty well, with a pleasantly busy weekend (for a change). It was a very long week, with paper and project to finish, but it's certainly good to be past it. The weekend began with the I-66-h0sted All Holiday Blog Celebration, so we'll do that first. Heck, that might be all we'll do; I'm not sure that anyone really needs to hear about my company holiday party. Anyway.

The double-edged sword about the HH's, for me, is that they are seldom more than about five blocks from my office. This is a good thing, in that it's never very far out of my way to get there, but at the same time it does result in a lot of pre-HH sitting around. My workday ends at 5:30, and there's really no point in trekking all the way out to Ballston and back, so I just hang out at the office. The result is that I am at the latest on time for the thing to start, which is not always a good thing when it's your second HH and you haven't, I don't know, met/seen the host before (at least, not in 3-D). So I got to Science Club at a couple minutes after 7, and wandered back to the DJ booth. Nothing. There were a fair amount of people there, but none that I recognized. So I did a tour of the place. Nice upstairs, although I have the feeling I was walking through a private party (buffet setup, some strange looks from people, that sort of thing), checked out the basement, no familiar faces anywhere. So I parked myself off to the side and waited (and people-watched, something of a hobby of mine anyway). There was one other person there who seemed to be waiting as well, but I figured I'd chill out a bit and see what happened (turned out to be HomeImprovementNinja, but I didn't know that at the time). I-66 arrived after a few minutes, I met him and HIN, and the HH was officially under way.

Science Club is a decent place, if for no other reason than it has a back room that we were able to more or less take over as the evening progressed. The downside, which is true of most townhouses-turned-bars, I guess, is that the space is long and narrow. I remarked to a couple of folks that it's kind of ironic to be in a bar/club and have less room to maneuver than in the average Metro car. But it is a pretty nice spot, and it was never all that cramped, so it was all good. (This was my first time there; the last time I was at that address it was a Thai restaurant.)

All in all, it was very cool. I met a bunch of folks who I have been reading, which was great, and got to see a few people again who I'd met at Gazuza (double-great). I will admit that I still find the whole thing a little surreal, particularly when people recognize the name of my blog. Good surreal, for sure, but surreal. Plus the whole keeping track of both real and blog names is its own challenge. But I think I did all right, and got to talk to a truckload of witty and engaging people while I was at it. I got to spend some time with repeat offenders Kathryn, KassyK, V, Brunchbird, Bettyjoan, Ashburnite, and HeatherB again, all of whom are tons of fun. V was officially my hero for bringing cake, since I had sort of skipped dinner (okay, Kassy also gets hero-credit for having the birthday for which said cake was brought). Always good to see folks again, and also kind of nice to be remembered (again, just a tad surreal). And like I said, I got to meet a ton of people who I read regularly, occasionally, or in various comments. Many I had never met, or only met briefly at my last HH: I-66, HIN, Velvet, Red, Hey Pretty, Joe Logon, Boztopia, VK, Mandy, VP of Dior, DCVita, FreckledK, Tyler, a couple of Carries whose blogging status I never quite nailed down, and Kathryn's BP. Throw in a few non-bloggers, BBird's S.O., a couple of Kassyk's crew, and you have a full evening on your hands. I made it until a little before midnight, at which point my week kind of caught up with me and I had to head home.

Just a couple of notes:
  • I-66 had what was, for me, the line of the night: "They do bar mitzvahs." I'll not get into the reason for the line, but trust me when I tell you it was hilarious. I-66, I hope you remember, because it was genius.
  • Props to HIN for the charity raffle. There would be more props if I had won, but much credit all the same.
  • Happy Birthday to KassyK.
  • In his primer (which is excellent, btw), I-66 makes a point about managing your expectations, in terms of how you envision people based on their writing vs. how they are in person. I found myself a little surprised a couple of times to meet the faces behind the words. I was surprised as much by my surprise as anything else, if that makes sense. I didn't consiously expect one thing or another, but I did say to myself, "Wow, [x] wasn't how I expected him/her to be." I should mention, having said that, all surprises were of the better-than-advertised variety. Which is just a credit to you folks, really.
  • Five years of engineering school, just so I could fix the battery door on Velvet's camera after it's trip to the hardwood.
  • Count me among those who are very much looking forward to January and the smoking ban. Holy crap. I couldn't even get near my jacket for the rest of the weekend, and it still had a little smokiness to it this morning. Thank goodness for redundant outerwear.
  • I will probably repeat this in recapping most of these, because it bears repeating: anyone who still believes that the blogs/internet are the domain of the socially inept and visually challenged should spend an hour or two at one of these gatherings. Charming, witty people and some seriously gorgeous women. Seriously.

So thanks to I-66 for playing host, and I'll see you at the next one. Right on time, I'm sure...

December 1, 2006

TT4T: Special Friday Edition

Okay, so it was admittedly at the tail end of 8 straight hours of non-stop working on a project (took the day off to do schoolwork; fantastic use of leave, no?), but my friend showed me these two videos last night, and I just had to share.

Why do I love YouTube? Sure, the easy access to loads of stand-up clips is great for a guy like me, and the ability to dig up obscure clips from movies and shows is good, too. But some of the original stuff, the stuff from people you would never see or hear of otherwise, really makes it work. Granted, you have to wade through a whoooooole lot of utter crap to find it, but the little nuggets of gold really make the whole thing worthwhile.

Exhibit A: The Good Word - If at first you don't succeed...

Exhibit B: The Vader Sessions - This is really well done. Someone took Star Wars footage, pulled out James Earl Jones's original dialogue, replaced it with some of this lines from other movies, and left the other characters' dialogue as-is. Sounds odd, but it's brilliant. Just look at the way his new lines even match his movements. His conversation with Leia is priceless.
language warning: probably not safe for non-headphones viewing at work.
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