Monday, December 31, 2007

To sum up

It's hard for me to sum up 2007.  Or, actually, it's hard for me to sit around with friends and sum it up, because for so many of the people that I know, 2007 was defined by a single, massive, year-defining event.

This was the year one of my friends fought breast cancer, and another fought lymphoma.

This was the year that two of my friends (and one of my cousins) had babies.

This was the year that two of my friends' marriages ended.

This was the year that one of my friends lost his father.

This was the year that one of my friends passed the bar exam.

This was the year that two of my friends retired.

And I can look back and remember that this time last year, I had my condo on the market (and was sure I'd be in a house by now), but that came to a screeching halt in March, and I spent the better part ("better" only in duration, surely) of this year with plastic sheeting covering half my living room while I was at the mercy of the homeowners association, the management company, and several contractors.

And, sure, while I can look back over the year and think of fun things and trips and accomplishments, they've mostly faded -- either blurring with other years' memories, or mixing with more "insignificant" memories like playing with my cat or reading a really good book.

But, basically, for me, it was a year more defined by other people -- whether it was events in their lives or their somewhat frustrating control over events in mine.

No real resolutions this year -- just a vague promise to be a little more cognizant of when this is going on, and (and if you'll forgive the unfortunate similarity to the Serenity Prayer) a decision to take a more active role in the things that I can.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Stupid DVD player.

I bought some British DVDs off  (Damn that BBC America channel for getting me all addicted, and then not selling the DVDs in the U.S.)  But this is OK.  I have a code-free DVD player, so I can watch British DVDs.

The DVDs arrive on Thursday.  (Which was, as a matter of fact, the day I first wrote this entry, but then hit the wrong button when multi-tasking and ... oops.)  Arrival on Thursday was just amazing, as Amazon had promised them for January 6.  So, yeah, made the whole eight-bucks-for-international-shipping feel a little better, when the DVDs clearly took a flight, rather than a slow boat.

So, they arrive.  I gleefully take them home and plop the first one into my DVD player.

Here's an interesting fact about my code-free DVD player.  It has always been a bit tempermental.  Which is to say, it has always exhibited behavior that, in a normal DVD player, might suggest impending doom.  But I'm used to it.  I'm used to it whirring away and telling me there's no disk in there when I have just put a disk in there.  I'm used to stopping and restarting and stopping and restarting until it finds the disk and maybe even recognizes the "play" command.  That's just its way.

The problem with a DVD player that always seems on the verge of death is that you can't tell when it is, in fact, actually on the verge of death.

Which mine apparently had been.

I'll spare you the recap of a very frustrating half-hour.  It ended with me using a screwdriver to pry my brand new DVD out of the player's maw, as the damn machine was exerting a death-grip on disk one of Life on Mars, and I was not going to let it get away with it.

Disk safely freed from its clutches, I considered my options. 

I really wanted to watch that DVD that night.

I know a store that sells code-free DVD players.  OK, the down side is that it's in a mall, and it's the week before Christmas.  But I distinctly remember seeing code-free players there.  I even thought, "I'll have to remember this store for when my DVD player dies." 

I drove to the mall.  8:30 on the Thursday before Christmas, I ventured to a mall.

(And it was pretty darned crowded.)

I parked in my super secret parking area (I'll never tell) and booked all the way to the other end of the mall where the store was.

Where the store ... was.

No store.  Sign announcing mall expansion where the store ought to be.

Not good.

I ask the dude in the store next door if he happened to know what happened to the store.  He said it relocated somewhere out of the mall.  Does he remember the name of the store?  He does.

9:00 at night, on the Thursday before Christmas, I fold myself into the Photo Booth at the mall, to get enough quiet to ring information and see if they can't find the damn store for me.

They can't.  Either I have the name wrong, or the place is out of business.  No listing.

I get the number for a couple of local electronics stores on a total longshot.  Figure I'll ask if they happen to carry code-free DVD players.  They don't answer their phones, but whether that's because they were closed or too busy to pick up the phone in the DVD player department, I couldn't say.

I ponder my options.  I use my phone's internet browser to check Amazon for code-free players.  I feel somewhat mollified by the fact that they do, in fact, have some and that (therefore) I can get one.  But that's in a few days.  I wanna watch my DVD now.  (Whine whine whine.)

I go to the food court and eat my favorite mall fast food.  I figure the protein will help me think.

I have one chance left for watching my DVD that night.  It's very long, but I try to convince myself it might work.  My new computer has a DVD drive on it.  Two, in fact.  Maybe those would be code-free.  Maybe?  I mean, Dell sells the same computers everywhere, right?  They wouldn't bother with different DVD drives for different countries, would they?  A computer's a computer.  Right?

I'm half tempted to stop at the Dell booth in the mall and ask the guy, but I figure he won't know anyway.  I go home and crank up the computer.  I find a British DVD I don't need very much.  (The screwdriver incident is still fresh in my mind, and I have some irrational fear that sticking a region 2 disk into a region 1 DVD drive might blow up the disk or something.)

My DVD drive gives me a friendly error message about how I've inserted a disk with a different region code than my DVD drive.  That's pretty much what I expected.  Darn.

But then it offers me choices.  Would I like to insert a disk from the proper region, or would I like to change the region on my DVD drive?

Really?  I sidle up to the computer warily and hit option B, waiting for the catch.

It lets me reassign the DVD drive to Region 2 (Western Europe).  This is a good thing.  It tells me I can only reassign the region code a total of five times and asks if I'm down with that.  I am so down with that.

Interesting story here.  A few months ago, I bought this computer.  About a month later, my Dad wanted to buy a similar computer, and he'd pretty much copied the specs I used in ordering his computer.  Excepting one thing.  I got two optical drives, while he only got one. 

Now, I got the DVD-RW drive (or whatever) and also the DVD-ROM/CD-RW combo drive.  Because I wanted to be able to burn DVDs, but also thought, y'know, pretty stupid to have a DVD drive only and not be able to play and burn CDs, too.  So when I saw my dad only had the DVD-RW drive, I said he'd made a mistake and asked what he expected to read CDs with.  And he said that the guy at Dell assured him that the DVD-RW drive was also a combo drive and that it would handle CDs too.  And I felt like a total bozo for not having read the fine print on that one, because, yeah, I could've just got the single drive, and then I could've even gotten the sleeker case and ... oh hell, it's bought now.  I justified it by thinking I could at least burn stuff a lot faster with two drives.

Well, look what happened.  I now have a real live legitimate reason for having two DVD drives in my computer.  One of them is now British.  Ha.

(And the first episode of Life on Mars is awesome.)

Arr! Arr! Arr!

Tim Taylor would be proud.

The building in which I live (and hope to soon depart) has three stories.  The configuration is a little weird, but out of 24 units, there are only 4 on the second floor.  (There are a bunch of two-story units, which accounts for the disparity.)  Anyway, all the units open onto a central courtyard.  Meaning they're outdoors.  Meaning they get dark at night.

There is a walkway on the second floor (which services just the four of us).  There are footlights around the walkway.  Seven of them. 

About a month ago, I mentioned at the last homeowners meeting that a lot of the bulbs on the second floor were out.  I was told we were down to our last lightbulb, and that changing them is a bit "tricky." 

A month has gone by, and now they're all out.  Now, OK, sure, it's probably a safety hazard.  But more than that, I'm hoping to put my unit back on the market in January, and I'm thinking that anyone who comes to see the place at night isn't going to be really impressed by our high standards of building maintenance if, y'know, every damn light bulb is out.  So I emailed our HOA President (who is also our lightbulb contact, being as he's an executive for a chain of lighting stores) and tell him that I'd like to replace all the second floor lightbulbs, and could he get the bulbs, and could he show me whatever the "trick" is, so that I can do the job.

I am pleased with that email.  Largely because the HOA President and I haven't been on the best of terms over the last six months or so because of the contractor debacle -- and I worked very hard to get just the right "let's work together and make the building pretty" spirit in there.  It got results.  He went out and bought new light bulbs today, and met me this afternoon for a lightbulb replacement lesson.

Not particularly difficult, as it turned out.  The only trick involved is that there are two screws holding on the plate covering the light bulb, and you have to be certain to line up both screws when re-attaching it.  No more difficult than, say, taking the license plate frame off your car, although you're working on a somewhat smaller scale.  The real trouble part came when, after he showed me how to do the first one and left me to it, a little spider came crawling out of the second one once I'd removed the plate.  So I was a little ooked out removing plates and reaching my hand in the small, dark space in order to unscrew the old light bulb, but, thankfully, nothing came skittering over my hand.  (I had an unpleasant Dune flashback.  But I figured, hey, if I'm going to own my own damn house, this is exactly the sort of minor maintenance I have to be capable of.  Hell, I even brought my own screwdriver.  Because I'm, y'know, prepared for this.)

Forty-five minutes later and I'd replaced all the lightbulbs.  (When it gets dark and the puppies switch on automatically, we'll find out just how well I replaced them.)  I was feeling so handy, I even replaced one of my window screens that the contractors had forgotten to put back.

I grunted a few times, then put the electric kettle on for a nice cup of tea.

Friday, December 21, 2007


As of yesterday, the work in my condo was done.  Absolutely, completely, dancing-in-the-streets done.

Today, it isn't.

I came home from work to discover that someone came into my unit today -- unannounced -- did no work I could identify, moved my piano bench to the middle of the floor, left an extension cord next to my fireplace and bent the metal plate on the bottom of my front door.

I kid you not.

The metal thingy on the bottom of the door -- that keeps drafts out -- is bent near the edge of the door.  Sorta like maybe someone with steel-toed boots gave it a good kick in an attempt to open the door.  And now, whenever you open or close my door, it makes a really loud sound, as the bent plate scrapes against the metal ... thingy that sits under the door over which the metal plate is supposed to freely glide.

So, as of yesterday, I could relist my condo as soon as I wanted.

As of today, I can't, as we now need to hunt down the moron who screwed up my door, and make them fix it.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

... And put the seat down

New Rule:

If you're a contractor, and you come to do some work in my home ...

And you feel the need to respond to nature's call ...

So you step into the bathroom ...

And that bathroom is located right next to the room I'm sitting in, so I can hear you ...

Can you at least run the water after you've done your thing, to give me the freakin' illusion that you've washed your hands?

World's Stupidest Question

You work for a contractor.  Your partner tells you to be over at the homeowner's place at 9:00.  (He and the homeowner had considered 8:30, but ultimately went for 9:00.)

You arrive at 8:30. 

You ring the bell.

A female voice yells out, pretty loud, "Wait a minute!"

You have a key.  Upon not immediately gaining entry with the doorbell, you stick your key in the lock.  You have trouble working the lock.  While you're working it, a panicked female voice yells out, "WAIT!!"

You finally get the key to work and the door opens.  You see, slightly hiding behind a door, the woman who owns the place.  Holding a towel around her otherwise naked self.

And you say ...

... "Can I come in?"

Monday, December 17, 2007

On a Christmas Mission

I hadn't actually planned on doing this week's "Weekend Assignment" (you may have noticed I've been a little lax with those), but I ended up participating.

Weekend Assignment #195: Do something extra nice for someone you know. Which is to say, something above and beyond your general level of niceness. Could be for a spouse, or a friend, or a co-worker, or a child, or someone you've met randomly as you're walking around the mall.

Sunday, I wake up late, as per usual.  Stumble over to the computer and get an email from an acquaintance in Germany.  The acquaintance is firmly in the column of "friend of a friend" -- I don't know her well enough to be considered a friend herself, but she's a good friend of my good friend and neighbor.

And she's writing about my good friend and neighbor, who has been a bit depressed 'cause it's the week before Christmas and her place doesn't look very Christmasy -- 'cause her husband didn't get their stuff out of storage, and the contractors still have to finish the put-back of her unit, and she's just had some surgery so she's not feeling very go-get-'em right now, and all that.  And I knew all that.  I just didn't think there was anything I could do about it other than sympathize and maybe nudge her husband into getting the stuff out of storage.

But Germany has an idea -- why don't I grab a mutual friend or two and bring over a few Christmas decorations.  This seems like a good idea.  I ring up a mutual friend and she's up for it, so we pile into my car and head off to Target -- with the theme song from "Mission Impossible" vying with "We Need a Little Christmas" in the back of my head.

We check out the garden center.  While we'd like to do a Christmas tree, we can't go full-scale (the whole contractors-coming-back thing), but we think maybe a Charlie-Brown-Christmas-sized tree might work.  Maybe something we can set on a table or something.  Target does not have mid-sized trees.  It's either tiny little foot-high evergreens in pots, or a six-footer.  We re-focus on wreaths and poinsettias, deciding on a nice fresh wreath and a "rainbow assortment" of poinsettias (red, yellow/white, and a yellow one painted blue with little sparkles sprayed on).  We head into the store for stuff.

Long story short, we end up loading up my car with the aforementioned plant-life, three big Christmas stockings and a set of little ones (we thought we'd put our own names on the little ones -- with a shout-out to the lady in Germany who put this together), a Christmas Elf hat for the dog, an animated toy that plays a Christmas song, and three of them little tree-shaped things light up.

After a quick write-names-on-stockings and put-together-light-up-trees session ("Where's this piece go?"  "No idea.") we knocked on her door and delivered Christmas.  We started with the poinsettias and the animated toy -- but we ended up having to make two more trips to bring over the stockings, mini-trees, and wreath -- and to decorate the dog.

I had to go out for a few hours, and one I got back, I couldn't help but notice that the wreath -- which we'd hung on her door -- was no longer on the door.  "Uh-oh," I thought, "she doesn't like the wreath.'  But she invited us over for dinner and I found that she'd moved the wreath inside the house.  She'd glued on some fake flowers, put the mini-stockings on it, and hung it over the fireplace.  It looked terrific, but I was just thrilled that she'd taken the stuff we'd given her and run with it, getting into the decorate-for-Christmas spirit herself, which is really what she'd been wanting all along.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Tea Kettle Completes the Image

During these times of television darkness (i.e. writers' strike), I have turned to BBC America.  It happened slowly at first, but now the channel is on at my place more often than ... well, to put it in perspective, more often than Nick @ Nite used to be.

Honestly, I can't even tell you how it started.  I would say it started with Doctor Who, but that's wrong, because for some obscure reason, the BBC (which, y'know, MAKES Doctor Who) sold the rights to the SciFi channel.  BBC America gets the rights later, and if you still haven't watched it by then, it can ultimately show up on your local PBS station.  Point is, though, I was minding my own business watching Doctor Who on SciFi, so have no idea exactly when and how I started picking up BBC America programs.

It may have been when David Tennant (dude currently starring in Doctor Who) was on the Graham Norton Show -- one of them night time talk shows, in the mold of Leno or Letterman.  Except British and really funny.  Norton often has two guests on each night -- and he chats with them both simultaneously, none of this one-at-a-time-to-plug-your-movie thing.  And the second guest is often a comedian, so you've got Norton and the comic throwing out quips while Glenn Close (or whoever) is sitting there in the middle, trying to keep up.  Also:  (1) they all drink on the show, which loosens everyone up; and (2)  Norton often does goofy things with audience members or via a remote camera.  When Glenn Close was on, they took a woman out of the audience, put her in a perm wig in front of a green screen, and had her (over)act the final scene from Fatal Attraction.  He's also just very quick and funny, and at least once per episode, he's said something I've just laughed out loud at.  (It's often something filthy, but funny.)

So, OK, weekly late night television show taken care of.

Then I picked up the news.

BBC America had been advertising their new newscast (BBC World News America or something) which isn't just BBC News exported, but a real live actual news program by the BBC folks geared just toward us.  To be completely fair, I haven't watched American network news in ages (other than watching CNN in hotel rooms, I still get most of my news from Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert) but this is actually ... Ihate to admit it, but it's kinda like World News with Training Wheels.  Except there's nothing particularly patronizing about it.  But I do get the feeling that whoever is behind the show thought, "Y'know, these Americans don't know all that much about what's going on in the world" so they often start each story from scratch.  Like, whenever they're talking about something happening in, say, Pakistan, it starts with a little globe spinning over to Pakistan, just in case you're not quite up on where the hell Pakistan is.  Then they give you a little bit of background before launching into the story.  The coverage is also quite remarkable compared to what I'm used to -- the BBC claims one of the advantages to their news program is that they've got people everywhere, and they really do.  VERY few remote stories are just a reporter standing in front of a local landmark -- they're out there in the streets, talking to locals, getting their opinions on things.  So, like, before the Russian elections, we had a whole story on Siberia -- how Putin has changed it, and what locals think of him.  I find the whole thing very impressive.

Am slowly venturing into their actual primetime TV shows, too.  Having actually yielded to their constant bombardment of ads for "the final season" of Life on Mars, I finally sat down to watch the season premiere.  (Hint:  Has nothing to do with Mars.)  Was so impressed, I went right out and ordered the DVD of the first season.

And as for why the hell I'm watching Bargain Hunt and Cash in the Attic before bedtime, well, that's anyone's guess.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

I Feel Old

I just came back from the live show of "Disney's High School Musical  - on Tour!"

(And, no, I didn't actually pay to see that.)

And I didn't feel old because of all the perky teenaged kids (or, more precisely, the perky folks in their 20s playing perky teenaged kids) and the hackneyed plot and the fact that the audience actually went "Ooooooooo" when the stars kissed at the end.  Which is to say, I know I wasn't this show's target audience.

What made me feel old was when I thought about certain ways in which I thought Disney was underestimating its target audience.

Look, I remember -- when I was in Elementary School -- the first time my class was racially integrated.  Which, in this case, meant there were two black kids mixed in with all us white kids.

And I also remember growing up, and hearing about "interracial romances" as something you whispered about, and it certainly wasn't in the mainstream.

And I remember watching the first interracial kiss on TV (although, by the time I saw it, it was in reruns).  But the fact that it was, in fact, the first interracial kiss was actually pointed out to me, because that sort of thing was still significant, even by the time I watched it.

And I remember how things slowly changed.

How we'd started to see black people show up in films, TV shows and plays that weren't only geared toward black audiences.

How this generally started with tokenism, where we'd start to see maybe one or two black people in a show, and (surprise!) they'd end up with each other.  (C'mon, we all remember the "black couple" that seemed to be added to all the soap operas.)

And I look back at my own High School class, which was completely integrated.  (Indeed, I remember one day in 11th grade, looking around my Social Studies classroom and realizing I was the only white student in the class.) 

And I remember how things evolved to the point where you'd go to see Rent on Broadway, and one of the main relationships was not only between a white person and a black person, but both of those people were women.

And then I saw "High School Musical" tonight.  And the leads are a white guy and a Hispanic woman.  And each one has a best friend who is black.  And the two black characters (who were pretty much the only black people in the show who had lines) ended up with each other.  How very tidy.  And while many of the other characters also paired up at the end, the guy who was gay didn't end up with anyone.

And the whole thing just took me back, and not in a good way.  Because, whether by design or the fluke of an actual color-blind casting process, this was exactly the sort of result that would have happened in a show geared to me back when I was in school -- it would have been considered progressive to put black performers in the supporting roles; it would have been considered natural to have them end up with each other.  And they probably would have included a gay character, too -- and it would have been an overly-effeminate guy who provided comic relief and ended up alone.

I really question, though, whether this is enough for kids now -- or if kids today are going to look at this cast of mostly white people, and think, "That's not what my school looks like."  If it will strike them as almost notably odd that the two black people in the school end up together.  And the gay character, too, might seem a little less than real.

I can't fault Disney for making a show where the express theme is that everyone should be who they are, and follow their desires, and not judge each other, and be friendly and supportive and all that other good stuff.  I just wish it didn't look like a 1970s show saying exactly the same things.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Interim Dance of Joy

I am informed that as of 2:15 this afternoon, the balcony above my unit passed the water test.


To put this in perspective, it was around MARCH when I had to take my condo off the market due to the leak, and shortly thereafter when we commenced efforts to determine the source of the leak, and correct said problem.  So, seriously, we're talking about EIGHT MONTHS of water tests, repairs, and ... waiting around for more water tests and repairs.

The "put my living room back together" part of this process should commence sometime next week. 

(All this assumes, of course, that nothing goes wrong when it rains this weekend and we have a real water test.)