july 2001

7.2.01
I finally finished Andrew Crumey's Mr. Mee. I've been fifty pages from the end for forever, so I decided to just take an hour and get through it. Overall I liked it, but I'm not quite sure why; there was a bunch of stuff that didn't make a whole lot of sense to me. I expected that a little, because this is the third book in a trilogy that I haven't read the first two volumes of, and some of the reviews on Amazon said that a lot of it would seem nonsensical if you hadn't read the rest of the trilogy. I guess that gives me a good reason to get them, though.

The structure was pretty cool; three narrative styles (first person, third person, and epistolary) and four main characters (one for each of the styles plus an epistolary epilogue that ties together the three stories) set in 18th century France and modern day England, with a quick glimpse of early 20th century France in the epilogue. The Mr. Mee title is pretty transparent as a clue that the three different stories may in fact be different views of the same story, referencing a quote from Proust in which he says that the character in his autobiographical writings is the I who is sometimes me (which quote is mentioned at least a dozen times throughout the book).

The France/third person chapters were probably the most interesting to me, but ultimately I felt like they didn't go anywhere (this may be because they have the most to do with the earlier books in the trilogy). The professor in the first person chapters had a lot of good insights into human nature and the relationship of the self to the person that the self becomes to other people (which again references the false self that even writers like Rousseau in his Confessions puts forth, and must put forth; no matter how truthful and open a writer might attempt to be, he cannot help but censor certain incidents and exaggerate others in order to form a cohesive narrative). The eccentric old man in the epistolary chapters did a lot to tie the other two sections together (especially in light of the epilogue), but I never really accepted his character as a real person the way I did the other characters (I realize, of course, that this may have been done on purpose, since Crumey is clearly talented enough a writer to see when a character's voice doesn't ring true).

We didn't do much else this weekend, thanks to the Diablo II expansion pack (I know, I know, it's pathetic). Aside from a quick trip to Lowe's to get wallpaper supplies and our weekly visit to the grocery store, we pretty much just stayed around the house and took turns with our Diablo characters.

7.3.01
If God didn't want us to eat in church, he would have made gluttony a sin.

7.3.01
I'm noticing on some of the other logs I read that a lot of people are just starting to discover Magnetic Fields' "69 Love Songs". I mean, come on—where have they been? I was late getting on the bandwagon for this one, and I've had it for over a year now. Still, it is a great piece of work, especially the first disc. Definitely worth a listen if you haven't heard it before.

7.3.01
The Sunday before last we went up to Pittsburgh with my grandfather and his wife, Laryce, to visit his relatives. His sister, Mary Terence, is actually a Sister; she has been a nun since she was in her teens (all the nuns at this convent have to take the first name "Mary", and then they add a second name of their own choosing—they do not keep the name that their parents gave them). He had another sister who also went to that convent who died a few years back, and we also have a cousin (Sister Raymond, who named herself after her brother) who is still living and a nun at the convent. Every year the convent has a family day, where all the relatives of the Sisters come and have a big picnic. Granddad used to go every year, but I was never able to join him until a couple of years ago.

Granddad and Laryce drove up from Raleigh on Saturday and stopped by our house for dinner before going to their hotel in Hagerstown. We met them there the next morning so that we could share the ride up to Pittsburgh (which I wasn't too wild about; since I can't read in the car, I usually like to drive to keep myself occupied). We got there around 12:30, just before everyone started to arrive (the lunch was supposed to begin at 1:00). It was a beautiful day; the temperature was only about 75 or 80, there was a nice breeze, and the picnic tables were set up in the shade of some gigantic old trees. They serve the same thing every year: Polish sausages (a lot of the nuns, like my granddad's sisters, came from Polish Catholic immigrant families) spicy Italian sausages, hot dogs, sauerkraut, baked beans, fried chicken, pasta and potato salads, brownies and sugar cookies, and pink lemonade and ice water to drink.

I like to go and visit with Sister Mary Terence, but it's really interesting for me to see all these people that I'm very closely related to that I don't know all that well. I don't really see much family resemblance to me (this is my mother's father, and I think I got a disproportionate share of my father's genes), but I definitely see my grandfather in them. It's really funny to see him and his younger brother, Chester, together—they both look exactly alike except that granddad is bald as the day he was born and Chester has a veritable mane of thick, silvery hair.

My favorite story about Chester is one that granddad tells of when they were both stationed at different posts in England during World War II. Now, granddad was an officer, having joined the army in 1939 before the war started, whereas Chester was just a grunt who had been drafted after the war started. Every time Chester would get promoted from Private to Corporal, he would take his three day pass that he got as part of the promotion and extend it to a week. He would end up AWOL, and they would bust him back down to Private as part of his punishment.

The first time this happened, he showed up at granddad's camp and told him that he had some leave, and he was going to stay for a few days. After about a week of wondering just how much leave his brother had been given, Chester finally admitted that he had only had a two day pass and he was now AWOL. So granddad had to personally drive Chester back to his unit and call in a few favors with his C.O. to keep him from getting in too much trouble. What's really funny is that this is the way I'd heard the story told for years until I actually met Chester and he started to tell it. According to his version, he told granddad from the outset that he only had a two day pass, but granddad insisted that he stay longer, and the reason that he drove Chester back personally was to explain to his C.O. that it wasn't Chester's fault that he'd been gone so long. I tend to believe granddad's version a little more, but it's funny to hear these family legends told different ways according to who's telling them.

All in all, it was a pretty fun day, even though the seven hours in the car really sucked. In my mind, my grandfather is going to live forever (he's 81, but he seems at least 20 years younger than that—I've known 55 year olds with less energy and mental sharpness than him), but I know that opportunities to be with him and get to know the people he grew up with are going to become increasingly rare. So I'm glad that I get to spend one with him every now and then.

7.5.01
Sorry for the lack of updates. I went to see A.I. on Tuesday, and I have some thoughts about that that I'm still working out, and I also started to get really into Brian Greene's "The Elegant Universe", which I think is the 21st century companion piece to Hawking's "A Brief History of Time". Other than that, I spent the holiday just relaxing: reading, fixing dinner (we were going to grill out until I discovered the large wasp nest that had been built on the underside of our grill since we last used it a couple of weeks ago; after removing it and getting stung, I decided to give the insects a couple of days to find a new home), and, of course, playing Diablo 2 a little more, while Julie prepared the bathroom for this weekend's wallpapering session and, of course, played Diablo 2.

In other news, I got emails telling me that Tom is coming home from Italy in two weeks, and Sam is coming home from Africa in five months. It will be good to see both of them again. Tom has been working on some cool stuff where he incorporates pieces of found text into his etchings; he sent me one that looks really cool and includes a dream fragment that I wrote about on the log. I'll try to get it scanned in and posted in the next few days.

7.6.01
I'm working on what's turning out to be a fairly long review of A.I. that I probably won't finish today, so that's why there hasn't been much new content here recently. I'm actually working on three or four pieces, but none of them feel done yet. I should get them all wrapped up this weekend, though, so hopefully next week there will be lots of new stuff to post.

7.9.01
A.I.

What can I say about A.I.?

We decided to go see this last Tuesday night, taking advantage of the dinner and a movie deal at California Tortilla and the holiday on Wednesday. I had pretty high hopes for this movie; despite his inability to keep from tugging somewhat inappropriately on our heart strings, even when he knows he shouldn't, I have a lot of respect for Spielberg. I mean, like it or not, all of us will list at least one film that he had something to do with in our own personal top 20 (Raiders of the Lost Ark and Saving Private Ryan are two of my favorites). He is perhaps the most influential and biggest grossing filmmaker of the past 20 years, and despite (or perhaps because of) his leanings towards schlockiness and gooey portrayals of childhood innocence, he has become one of pop culture's most adept storytellers while at the same time maintaining the critical respect that eludes many other directors who mine from the same vein.

I knew that his attempt to tell a story originally envisioned by Stanley Kubrick (who I'm also a big fan of—The Shining, 2001, and Full Metal Jacket are among the most technically perfect and psychologically engrossing films ever made) would be interesting no matter what. In some ways, these two directors couldn't be more opposite in terms of what their films say about their opinions on humanity: Spielberg is a very optimistic director who sees the spark of goodness that we all have in the innocence of childhood in all of his characters, while Kubrick lives in a world where humanity's base urges are so dominating that they can even cause machines to behave badly (for example, HAL's murderous behavior in 2001, which grew out of the government's attempt to make him do something that went against the core of his program).

(If you have not seen the movie yet and don't want to know about the plot details, quit reading now, because in order to discuss what I thought about the movie, I'm going to give away plenty of spoilers.)

The movie is set in the not-too-distant-future, where natural disasters and global warming have caused the sea levels to rise to the point where most of the coastal cities have been drowned and resources are in short supply. Advanced robots who look and act almost human (broadly referred to as "mecha") now fill a variety of societal roles, from nannys to hazardous condition workers to sex slaves. They are cruelly taken for granted by their "orga", or human, creators, who dispose of them in violent "flesh fairs" (no, I don't know what it means either) where the mecha are blown up, torn apart, and doused with buckets of acid for the amusement of the animalistic crowd.

The story centers around David, a prototype of a new kind of child robot who has been programmed to imprint on a single human being, attempting to react to that person as a real child would react to its own parent (why they couldn't make it imprint on a set of two parents I don't know, but that's the least of this movie's problems). Because of the global lack of resources, the right to bear children is rationed out by the government to only the most deserving couples; David is an attempt to fill the void of parenthood (although the movie seems to suggest that mothers are the ones who miss the ability to raise children the most) in ordinary people's lives. To test David, the corporation the created him gives him to a couple whose own child has been in a coma for several years and is not expected to make a recovery.

After an awkward settling-in period with a few funny moments, David begins to be accepted by his new family, although I never got the sense that he was viewed as a real child—there are always things like his inability to eat and sleep and his ability to transform his whole body into a telephone receiver that remind his new parents that he is not human. Whatever acceptance there is, however, is shattered when the couple's real son wakes up from his coma and returns home, where he proceeds to treat David just like the glorified toy that he is, eventually causing him to act so erratically that the husband convinces his wife to return David to the factory, where he will be destroyed (again, I don't know why he couldn't just be reprogrammed). She chickens out at the last minute and turns him loose in the forest with Teddy, a "super toy" bear that can walk and talk—a child's version of the more advanced mecha that populate the adult world.

Soon Teddy and David run into Gigolo Joe, a sex mecha on the run after being framed for murder by a jealous husband. This trio goes on several nonsensical and seemingly random adventures in search of the Blue Fairy, the character from Pinnochio who turned the puppet into a real live boy. David is convinced that if the Blue Fairy can change him into a real boy, his mother will love him and he can go back home.

It's not even worth it to explain the problems with each of the sequences that follow, from the flesh fair to Dr. Know to the partially submerged Manhattan labs of the corporation that created David to David's two thousand year frozen sleep before being revived by superadvanced mecha living in some far distant ice age where humans are extinct. Suffice it to say that, despite solid (and sometimes outstanding) acting performances and some intriguing visuals, the whole movie feels forced and empty of meaning with a plot that seems more like a collection of random ideas than a coherent story arc.

In my view, A.I. was a failure. When I was trying to figure out what I didn't like about it, there were obvious technical missteps like the flesh fair sequence (which looked like it had been put together using leftovers from Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome and the Joel Schumacher-helmed Batman movies: faux distressed equipment, lots of garish flashing lights, and pointlessly cruel machines, such as the motorcycles used to round up the mecha which had hokey looking wolf's heads with jaws full of glowing teeth on them) and the embarrassingly CG-looking advanced mecha that we encounter at the end of the movie. But I think what really bothered me was that, in addition to portraying humans as pointlessly violent and cruelly unthinking (which is in direct contrast to the way the Spielberg usually portrays our species), the hero that we were supposed to sympathize with had no more capacity for growth or self-knowledge than did a toaster.

You see, although everyone from his parents, his brother, his creator, and other mecha repeatedly explains the difference between mecha and orga to David, as well as tells him exactly which category he belongs in, it never registers. Even mecha like Joe (who despite his function as a suave sex robot still shows evidence of his naive and childlike view of the world) understand that mecha are not orga, that they are second-class citizens to be disposed of whenever the orga feel they are no longer useful. David still stubbornly clings to the belief that he is a real boy even when he sees his chest cracked open and microchips being removed by technicians after being goaded into an eating contest by his orga brother (another bafflingly irritating plot device—why give David the ability to swallow things if they're just going to screw up his ultra-delicate circuitry?)

To me, self-discovery lies at the heart of what it means to be a conscious being, a real person, and David's complete inability to have any revelations about himself and his place in the universe is the central failure of this film. Spielberg tries (poorly) to convince us that the capacity to dream is the essence of humanity, but David's dream—to be turned into a real boy by the Blue Fairy—and the single-minded obsessiveness with which he pursues that dream only serve to underscore how inhuman he really is. That's what the whole story of Pinnochio is about—it's not about a puppet turning into a real boy, it's about the transformation that everyone goes through on the journey from child to adult. It's not a Blue Fairy that turns Pinnochio into a real boy, a conscious being; it is his knowledge of himself. Cogito ergo sum.

Even though other mecha have been programmed to have only a limited ability to understand the world around them, most of the mecha seem far more compassionate and human than the organic humans that populate this world; this portrayal of humans as less human than the machines that serve them and Spielberg's compulsion to remind us at every turn how stuck in his limited programming David is leaves us with no one to identify with, no one to root for. We are instead left with the sad spectacle of a population of humans who delight in destroying the machines that make their lives possible and a robot boy who is tragically unable to realize what he really is and is also therefore unable to change into something different. It is a deeply empty movie, more inscrutable and inhuman than the black monolith in 2001, and its worst flaw is that it seems just as unaware of its hollowness as David is of existence as a mecha.

In fact, the only character that I really identified with was Teddy, the robot bear who accompanied David on his adventures. Despite an uncanny resemblance to the Snuggle fabric softener bear, Teddy turns out to be the only one who understands how cruel humans can be towards their machines (he seems to understand when they are in danger, and is constantly keeping David from doing stupid things) and how sad it is that David will never understand this. He is David's protector, even more so than Joe, who is more like a very entertaining sidekick. Teddy has the feeling of wisdom about him, of knowledge gained through cruel experience, and he's the only character who seems to really care about helping David, even more than his so-called parents or even the scientist who created him.

There were some truly beautiful sequences and sets in this film, such as the shots of a half-drowned NYC and the final scenes at the end of the film where we journey through massive canyons of ice, but all too often the visuals remind you of other films more often than they establish a unique tone for this movie: you can see reflections of Blade Runner, Close Encounters, 2001, A Clockwork Orange, the last two Batman films, The Abyss, Star Wars, The Running Man, Total Recall, and even Battlestar Galactica, among many, many others.

So while I personally did not like this film, I can't say that you shouldn't see it. My friends who have seen it have all come away with different responses than I have, and the critics, while acknowledging its faults, seem even more willing to give it praise because of its problems, simply because it is so unusual to see Spielberg make a mistake that most of them haven't really convinced themselves that this movie really was a mistake. A.I. may be important simply because it shows Spielberg struggling to describe the world around him, which seems full of uncertainty and doubt for the first time. There are no cold-blooded Nazis for the noble Indy to fight, no predatory shark that must be destroyed in order to save the town. There is only humanity at its worst, living in a future that is certainly possible but that hopefully will not come to pass. This is completely unknown territory for Spielberg. A.I. is certainly an ambitious film, and it's when we're reaching beyond our grasp that we sometimes reveal more about ourselves than when we are fully in control.

7.10.01
I'm a big fan of both the original Planet of the Apes movie and of Tim Burton, and I'm really looking forward to Burton's version of that movie that's coming out in three weeks. I've also been into a relatively new sport called geocaching since the first of this year—it's a really good way to get outdoors and walk around some beautiful parks that I might never have discovered otherwise. So I was really excited when I found out about Project A.P.E., which combines hype for the Apes movie with geocaching.

What happens is every Friday afternoon, the Project A.P.E. site announces a new set of coordinates for a cache that has been set up by some geocachers in conjunction with Fox. The first person to find the cache gets a genuine movie prop with a certificate of authenticity, and recently they have also been adding in other goodies so that more than one person can enjoy the cache.

The D.C. metro area is a hotspot for geocaching (second only to the Seattle-Portland area, where the sport started), so I was really hopeful that they would plant one somewhere around here (they started planting caches in late May, and I guess they will continue until the movie opens). The first two were on the west coast, which didn't surprise me too much, and a third was planted just outside of NYC, which again wasn't a real big surprise. But then the cache placement started to get a little weird: one in South America (which still hasn't been located), then another on the west coast, and then one in Japan (which also hasn't been located yet, despite the fact that it's in an urban area). I was getting a little worried that they would somehow manage to overlook our area, despite the high concentration of geocachers around here.

Still, every week I would stop by the site to get clues on the location of that week's cache. Last Tuesday they posted a clue that said that the cache was located east of the Mississippi. Well, okay, that was great, but I didn't really get my hopes up. Then on Thursday they narrowed it down to Maryland or Virginia. Cool, I thought, I can go on Saturday morning. I probably won't be first, but maybe I'll still be able to get one of the smaller movie-related items. I also decided that on the off chance that the cache was placed within an hour of my workplace, I would try to hit the cache on Friday afternoon as soon as the coordinates were posted. I packed up my bag on Friday morning with my eTrex, my digital camera, and some items to leave in the cache just in case, but I didn't really think that the cache would be that close to me.

I started checking the site around 1:00 Friday afternoon, refreshing the page every few minutes to see if the coordinates had been posted yet. Finally, at about 2:45, there they were.

And the cache was in Rockville, only about half an hour away.

I immediately started printing out the maps and entering the coordinates into my GPS unit. I didn't know exactly how to find the park where the cache was hidden, but I used my street maps to get me in the general area, and then stopped at a golf course to let my GPS unit get a reading so I could let it guide me as close to the cache as possible. I ended up parking about a quarter of a mile from the cache (it turns out that there was a parking lot that was a little closer, but it only cost me a couple of minutes). I started heading up a hill and into the trees towards the cache, thinking that, since I didn't see anyone else in the area, I had either already been beaten or I would be the first one.

About three hundred feet from the coordinates, however, I ran into John, who had come from a different direction. He seemed pretty nice—a little hippie looking with a thick beard and long hair, with a cell phone clipped to his belt and a nametag that said "Hi I'm: Drunk" stuck on his shirt (the word "drunk" was hand written where you would normally write your name). We exchanged a few pleasantries, but we were both pretty focused on finding the cache. I wasn't feeling too competitive about it, since I knew that we were definitely the first ones (we were only 50 or 60 feet from the coordinates at this point) and I would get something cool even if I didn't get the big prize.

After pacing back and forth over the same area for a few minutes, John and I were joined by Alex, who had taken off from work early (just like John and I) to try and get to the cache first. His GPS receiver also led him to the same general area that John and I were circling, but none of us were having any luck locating the cache. There were several hints from the previous finds, like the probability that the cache was going to be in a large army green ammunition box, but after consulting our notes and doublechecking the coordinates, we were still no closer to finding the stash.

After about 20 minutes of fruitlessly searching the same spot, John started to widen his search area, probably remembering another common theme from past caches: for some reason, the coordinates were often off by a hundred feet or so, probably due to the haste with which the coordinates were taken by the people hiding the cache (the longer you stand in one spot, the more accurate a fix the satellites can get on your position). After another 10 minutes or so, John spotted a green metal box hidden under a fallen tree on the other side of the creek and called us over to crack it open with him.

Of course, since he had been the one to spot it first, John had first dibs on the prop, which was a large ape club. It was cool, but it wasn't an amazing prop, so that lessened the sting of being so close but not winning the prize. We sat around together for a few minutes, catching our breath, talking about geocaching, and taking each other's pictures (we had all brought our own cameras, but we also used the disposable camera that had been left in the cache). I ended up taking an ape coin that was attached to a postcard and an oversize postcard with the ape army on the front and pictures of the four main characters (two human, two ape) on the back. I left a panda pez dispenser and a silly putty egg. Alex took the same things I did, but didn't leave anything, which I though was kind of rude (part of the idea of geocaching, aside from the thrill of the hunt, is to exchange an item of yours for one in the cache, so that everyone has a memento but the cache never gets empty).

After we each wrote an entry in the log book (which was so cool that I was half tempted to make off with it—that would have been a severe breach of etiquette), we all headed our separate ways. It would have been cool to have been the lucky one to find it, but I'm just glad I decided to go early; by the next day, the cache had been visited by at least 10 other people and had been cleared of all movie-related items (when the first three of us left the cache, it still had three or four postcards, two or three coins, some apes trading cards, and an apes t-shirt). Geocaching's a little strange in that you never really run into other people who do the sport, because the only time it would come up is if you saw them out wandering around in the woods with their GPS receivers, and the odds are pretty slim that two geocachers would hit the same cache at the same time. So it was fun to meet some other people in the sport who I had previously known only from the log entries that they left at other caches. It would have been really fun at around 6:30 or 7:00 that night (we probably left around 4:30 or so), because a lot of the hardcore cachers showed up at about that time and it sounds like everyone had a good time chatting for a while.

The traffic had gotten really bad by the time I left the park, but I didn't care. I had my ape postcard and my ape coin and everything was right with the world.

7.12.01
Isn't it a little weird that Nicolas Cage, who has a known Elvis fetish (see his turn as Tiny Elvis on Saturday Night Live and a parachuting Elvis impersonator in Honeymoon in Vegas, among many other examples) is dating Lisa Marie Presley, the king's daughter?

7.12.01
The new Sparklehorse record, "It's a Wonderful Life", was released in Europe about a month ago, following the lead of the second Sparklehorse record, "Good Morning Spider", which was released in the UK about six months before it was released here in the US. This is more than a little frustrating for me, since they are one of my favorite bands, and the wait between albums is agony as it is. The fact that it's available to someone in London six months before I can buy it here despite the fact that most of it was recorded two hours from where I live just adds insult to injury. If I was smart, I would have gotten Tom to bring me back a copy when he comes home from Italy next week, but I'm not all that bright, so I ordered it from the import CD shop that I got "Good Morning Spider" from, paying $25 for the privilege of being able to listen the record before its official US release.

Anyway, it arrived last weekend and I've been listening to it pretty much nonstop. It's a good record, but it doesn't really have any revelations on it. Any of the songs could have easily been added into the mix on either of the previous two albums, but there are no songs that are distinctive enough to be the standard bearers for the unique tone of this record, like "Pig" and "Sunshine" on "Spider" or "Gasoline Horseys" and "Saturday" on the first record. Despite enlisting the help of white-hot indie producer David Fridman (best known for his work on the most recent Mercury Rev and Flaming Lips records) and using Tom Waits, Nina Persson (of the Cardigans?!), and PJ Harvey to add different textures to the vocals on several tracks, this record just doesn't ever seem to catch fire the way that the first two releases do. That's not to say that it's not a good record, or maybe even a great record. It's just not as great as the previous two efforts. Which is okay, because those are two of the greatest records ever made, in my opinion. But now the long slow agony of waiting for the next record lies ahead of me. Maybe I'll at least be able to catch them on tour whenever they get around to releasing and promoting the record in the States.

7.13.01
Not too much to say today. I'm only working a half day because we are flying down to Tallahassee for my grandmother's memorial service tonight. It kind of makes me nervous that most of my family is going to be on airplanes on a Friday the 13th, but what can you do? It will be good to see my cousins and aunt and uncle who I haven't seen in years, even though we won't be there all that long (we don't arrive until late Friday night and we leave early Sunday morning). Regan was supposed to be coming to visit on Sunday when we got back, but her plans changed at the last minute (not a big shock). So we'll have a little break next week before Julie's parents come to visit and Tom comes home from Italy.

7.13.01
I was particularly pleased to see an article on C|NET this morning (also linked in my daily links section) that says that CBS is going to stop providing click-through data to advertisers on its web sites and try to get advertisers to reevaluate the purpose and effectiveness of web advertising. This is related to a previous rant of mine and also a new one that I'm working on about why I think the web has gone into a tailspin in the last year. I'm glad that someone finally had the guts to ask that web advertising be treated just like magazine or television advertising, where you are basically paying for impressions, not click-throughs. If everyone adopts this model, web ad revenues might finally start to go up again so that they are actually generating enough cash to keep sites like Salon in business.

7.16.01
We went to my grandmother's funeral this weekend. She was my father's mother, and she died earlier this year, but this was the earliest time we could get everyone in the family together for the service (she lived in Tallahassee most of her life, and that's where her husband is buried, so we wanted to have the ceremony there, but the family is scattered all over now; we are in Maryland; dad, Rachel, Tori, and Dodd are in NC; Carrie is in Florida; Aunt Mary Ann, Uncle Gary, and my cousin Kelly are in Jacksonville; my cousin Mark is in Colorado; and my cousin Scott and his family are in NC). At first, we didn't think that we'd be able to go, since Regan was scheduled to come visit this weekend, but I decided to go ahead and make the plane reservations and ask Regan to show up a day or so later than she originally planned. I'm glad I did, because it turned out that she canceled her trip at the last minute, and I would have felt terrible if I had not gone down to Tallahassee because of a guest who never showed up.

I hadn't seen Scott or Mark (Mary Ann's sons—Mary Ann is my dad's older sister) since Scott's wedding ten years ago, and they've both gotten taller and lost most of their hair (Scott is a year older than me, and Mark is two years younger). Scott has two children now, a daughter named Sarah who has the prettiest blue eyes in the world and a son, Connor, who reacted to me the way most children do—by running and hiding behind their parent's leg. Dad, Rachel, Tori, Dodd, Gary, Mary Ann, Kelly, Mark, Julie, and I all arrived at various times on Friday, while Scott's family and Carrie got in Saturday morning (the service was at 3:00 that afternoon).

The church service was held at St. John's Episcopal church in Tallahassee, the church where I was baptized as a child (my father was doing his residency in Miami at the time and didn't have a regular church there, so he and my mom decided to come back to Tallahassee for the baptism). They were renovating the main building, so we had the service in the chapel, which I think is rather new and which was really simple and beautiful. No stained glass, just large clear windows behind the alter, and lots of blonde wood tones. It almost felt as if you were under a shelter outdoors.

In every Episcopal service, we have three readings: one from the Old Testament, one from the New Testament, and one from the Gospel. The priest always reads the Gospel lesson, but the other two are read by laypersons. Of course, at a funeral service, family members usually do the readings. Dad and Aunt Mary Ann knew that they wouldn't be able to make it through the reading without getting emotional, so they asked for volunteers from their children. Scott and I both signed on immediately (we are each the oldest son in our branch of the family). Scott was going to read out of a Bible that grandmother had given Aunt Mary Ann in 1955 when she went away to summer camp, and I was going to read out of a Bible that my dad had that had been given to my grandmother by her mother when she was 8 years old.

I didn't really think it was going to be that big a deal; I mean, I was very honored that I would be able to participate in the service, because my grandmother was a very special woman who will be missed a lot, but in terms of actually getting up there and doing the reading, I didn't think there would be anything hard about it. The Bible that I had was the King James version, but the passage I was going to read sounded pretty convoluted in that translation, so I decided I would fold up a piece of paper with the words from the RSV written on it, which were much clearer and which also matched the version of the Bible that Scott was going to read from. So I practiced in my room several times that afternoon until I could almost read it without looking at the paper, just to make sure that I wouldn't stumble over any words during the ceremony. Scott chose the Old Testament, so I read from the New. They give you a list of recommended readings to choose from in the Book of Common Prayer, and I found one that I liked a lot:

2 Corinthians 4:16-5:9 (RSV)

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed every day.

For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,

because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.

Here indeed we groan, and long to put on our heavenly dwelling,

so that by putting it on we may not be found naked.

For while we are still in this tent, we sigh with anxiety; not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.

He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.

So we are always of good courage; we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord,

for we walk by faith, not by sight.

We are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.

So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.

Man, was it tough. I was a little nervous when I got up to read just because I'm not used to speaking in front of groups, but about three sentences in I could feel the emotions starting to build up inside. My voice was starting to crack, and I knew there was a distinct possibility that I wasn't going to be able to finish the reading without breaking up. I'm glad I practiced so much earlier, because by the end I could barely make out the text because of the tears welling up in my eyes. When I got back to my pew, the whole family was crying. I think seeing me start to lose it on the lectern had opened the floodgates and let out all the emotions we all were feeling. For the next ten minutes or so, it was all I could do to contain myself. I talked to Scott about it afterwards, and he had had a similar experience. He wasn't that nervous beforehand, but once he got up there, he just got hit with a wave of emotion that he could barely control.

After the church service and a short reception afterwards, the family members and a couple of close friends went out to the actual grave site to inter the ashes. After another short ceremony, Mark placed the box of ashes inside the grave and then one by one everyone in attendance took their turn placing a shovel of dirt on the grave. It was a beautiful site, under an ancient oak tree with thick strands of spanish moss hanging down from the branches. It was a fitting place for all of us to say goodbye to her together.


7.17.01
After all the funeral ceremonies were over, we all went back to the hotel to rest for a little bit and change for dinner. We went to a French restaurant that was especially popular that night because it was Bastille Day and they had lots of extra entertainment outside. In addition to the family members, we were joined by Dodi, who has been my grandmother's very close friend for the past several years, and her son Tyler, who is a radio announcer/voice over person. His highest profile gig currently is the announcer for the Florida lottery; it was hilarious when he said the tagline and my sister Carrie whipped around in her chair mid-conversation and said, "Oh my God, you're the lottery guy!"

Tyler had eaten there before, and highly recommended the rack of lamb or the Chilean sea bass. I was going to go with one of those, but at the last second I changed my mind and went with one of the evening's specials, the surf and turf with filet mignon and a lobster tail. I've never really had lobster before, so I thought it was high time I tried it (Carrie and Dodd, neither of whom have ever had to support themselves, looked at me like a freak when I said I'd never had it, which pisses me off a little...but I guess I should save that rant for another time).

It wasn't too bad, but for a restaurant of this supposed quality, the food was not as good as it should have been. The conch chowder that Julie and I split as an appetizer was pretty spicy, but it needed salt. I ordered a medium rare steak, but what I got was closer to well done, and it was also a little cold (as was the lobster). The lobster tasted pretty good—like big buttery pieces of shrimp—but it's not like it's God's own food like some people make it out to be. I don't usually have dessert, but I decided to try the banana and peanut butter crepe, and that turned out to be the best thing I tried that night (although Julie said that her dessert was a little cold). All in all, it was a disappointment, even though the food was pretty good—it's just that it could have easily been much better and it was either poor timing or poor preparation that lessened the quality.

Before dinner began, Scott's daughter Sarah (who is only 6 years old) said a blessing that was just amazing. I thought maybe they had written it out for her, but it turns out that she was just improvising it on the spot. Apparently she has an uncle on her mother's side of the family who is very good at extemporaneous public speaking, and I guess she's inheirited his gift. Even now, I resort to the childish "God is great, God is good" blessing when I have to say it, and as a 6 year old I probably wouldn't have even been able to say my name in front of a group of mostly strangers. It was just amazing. I wish I could remember it.

After dinner, Mark decided to take Dodd, Tori, and Carrie out to a bar he used to work at, but we couldn't join them because we had to get up at 5:00 the next morning in order to make our 7:15 flight. We said goodbye to everyone, and went to bed. Tori and Carrie were still awake and drunk from the night before when we headed out the next morning, but we didn't see anyone else before we left. Hopefully it won't take another 10 years and another funeral to bring us all back together again.

7.18.01
I remember when I was a kid and I would see the Sea Land cargo transport trucks, and I thought they belonged to some sort of competitor to the Sea World theme parks. I always imagined that there were sharks and whales and things being carried around in those trucks, on their way to the big tanks at the park where they would learn to do tricks.

7.19.01
The building I work in is actually an old warehouse called the Glass Factory that was rehabilitated several years ago by our landlord. They didn't ever actually make glass here, but it was a warehouse for big panes of glass that could be cut to fit particular sizes. It is really old and really beautiful; the hardwoord floors are original, and although they have been sanded down and revarnished, you can still see the scars from long ago when some heavy piece of equipment was dragged across them and gouged the surface. There are tall windows, 15 feet high, that let in tons of natural light, even on cloudy days. Most of the offices have exposed brick walls, and a lot of the internal architecture (stairways, railings, windows, etc.) is constructed from metal and glass that the owner found in the building when he bought it. The building lay decrepit for years, a hangout for winos and juvenile delinquents, and I'm sure that most of the neighbors thought it was just a matter of time before it was demolished. But instead our landlord bought it and painstakingly brought it back to life as an office building, more beautiful and appreciated in its second life than its first.

And that got me thinking: are any of the buildings that we've made in the last 50 years going to be worth saving when they get old and run down? Will the endless acres of suburban townhouses ever be brought back from their inevitable decline the way that the Brownstones in NYC were? Or has our architecture gotten so flimsy and ugly that the best thing to do with it once it gets old is just tear it down and build something new?

I would guess so, and I think that's sad. I like working here in this old building, hearing the floors creak every time someone walks across them, feeling the slight breeze that comes in through the cracks in the windows on windy days, or being here alone late at night and being pretty sure that you heard someone moving around outside in the hall even though you know you are the only living person in the building.

7.20.01
Is it just me, or do the amphibicopter in A.I. and the escape pod in the new Planet of the Apes movie both bear a striking resemblance to Boba Fett's Slave I in The Empire Strikes Back?

7.23.01
About a month ago, we got tickets for the Orioles-Angels game on Saturday night so that we could take Julie's parents to a game while they were here (they got here last Thursday and left on Sunday). On Wednesday when they cancelled the O's game because of the train fire in the tunnel, I didn't think that much of it. It was in a tunnel whose entrance was really only a hundred yards or so from the station, but the news reports made it sound like it wasn't that big a deal and it would be taken care of within a day. But then they cancelled Thursday's game. And then Friday's. On Saturday morning, there were still several cars in the tunnel, one of which had hazardous chemicals and several of which were still on fire. So I wasn't all that optimistic about our chances. But around 3:00, they announced that the game was going to go forward, so we all got ready and headed into Baltimore.

Julie's dad has a hard time doing even simple exercise like walking (he has suffered several strokes and heart attacks over the years), so I was hoping that the Sheraton parking deck, which is a little expensive but very close to the stadium, would still have some spots available, but it was full even though we got there around 4:30 (the game didn't start til 7:05). We parked at our usual location, which is probably six or seven blocks from the stadium, and it took us more than half an hour to walk that distance. It was still warm out, so Julie's dad got tired pretty quickly and we had to stop and rest a few times before we got to the stadium.

Once there, we sat in the bleachers and watched batting practice for a while until they opened up the main seating area at 5:30. After that, we made our way up to our seats (on the upper level, but almost directly behind home plate—and almost all the views at Camden are good anyway), and then Julie and I went down and got dinner at Boog's barbecue (owned by Boog Powell, a first baseman/outfielder for the O's in the 70s) and brought it back up to the seats. We had plenty of time to enjoy our meal before the seats started filling up. The meat was a little drier than usual, but I suspect that's because it wasn't quite as fresh as usual—remember, three days of planned games had been called off at the last minute, and it takes more than just a couple of hours to smoke the meat the way they do. I'm still glad they got to try it, though—Boog's is really the only unique ballpark food at Camden Yards. The rest of it is your standard issue hotdogs, fries, nachos, etc. I think that's really unusual given the fact that Camden is pretty close to full most of the time (even thought the O's have sucked for years and years) and the patrons would certainly enjoy a wider variety of food, even if it cost a little more.

The game was pretty good. Cal drove in the first Orioles run, and in the ninth inning, when the O's were behind 5-2, they put together a nice streak and tied the game up to send it into extra innings. Unfortunately, an error by Cal in the 10th let the Angels go up a run, and even though he had a chance to redeem himself as the final batter of the game, he instead made an easy out and the Angels ended up winning 6-5.

After the game they had a fireworks display (ironically, this day had already been set aside months ago as firefighter appreciation day, so the train fire smouldering nearby made the crowd that much more enthusiastic in their applause). We decided to go ahead and make our way towards our parking lot and watch the fireworks on the way. They started when we were barely beyond the stadium gates, so we just stood and watched for about the first ten minutes or so. It was really surreal; we were standing amidst the street vendors, who continued to hawk their items even though no one was buying (a girl behind us kept yelling "Pineapples, $2!", while a vendor standing right in front of us was calling "Cal Ripken t-shirts! The Iron Man! He ain't gonna play no more! The Iron Man!"). I really wish I'd brought a tape recorder; in the project we're working on for Mica, we're trying to do kind a free-association thing combining the artwork of students with the sights and sounds of Baltimore, and this would have been perfect for that.

In between the big displays, we would walk a little farther and then turn around and watch when they started to really get going again. After a few minutes, the whole downtown was blanketed in a fog of sulphur and gunpowder, and you could see the explosions reflected in the walls of glass made by the office buildings. That was probably even more beautiful than the fireworks themselves.

Because of the water main break caused by the train fire, we had to take the long way home (up 83 and west on 695 to 70), but we didn't really hit any traffic, so it didn't take us that much longer than usual. I'm really glad we got to go; Julie's dad has been wanting to do this for a long time now. Even though he didn't say much on the way home, I could tell that he really enjoyed it.

7.24.01
For one of the final caches planted by Project A.P.E. for the Planet of the Apes movie, they decided to give away two tickets to the movie premiere. They weren't real clear that this cache was different from the normal cache that they were going to plant this week, so I thought they were one and the same. The first clue was that it was in a state that begain with an "M" or a "W", so I thought it would either be in Washington (where geocaching began) or back here in Maryland, as a reward for the great response that our cache got (20+ people visited within the first 24 hours).

It turns out that this week's cache (which was in Washington) was separate from the tickets cache; the movie premiere is in NYC, so they just planted them in a cache in Central Park. And that kind of sucks. Still, I'm almost glad that it wasn't anywhere close to me; it would have killed me to be that close to getting to go to the premiere and not found the tickets first.

7.25.01
If it doesn't have siamese twins in a jar, it's not a fair.

7.25.01
My mom had her final radiation treatment yesterday. She was so happy on the phone—even though she's got a long road ahead of her to get back to full strength, she has been waiting for eight months for this moment, when she knew that she wouldn't have to go to a doctor's office every day and get something injected into her or have her skin burned off.

The doctors tell her that it will be six months before she feels normal again, but I don't think she's going to wait that long before she resumes her normal work schedule. She is taking a few days off over the next couple of weeks, and she already had a week's vacation scheduled for August, but in between those two she is going to spend two straight weeks in Chicago, and will probably spend most of the months of September and October there, too. I'm glad that she's done with her treatments. Hopefully we'll still get to go and see her at the beach in August, but if not, she's supposed to make a presentation in DC in September, so we'll get to see her there.

7.25.01
I had a very strange dream a couple of nights ago. I don't remember a whole lot about it, except that it involved a lavishly decorated floating apartment that you could only access via a Willy Wonka-style elevator. There was also some sort of magic incantation that involved three fingers on the right hand and four fingers on the left. The man who taught me how to do this (I don't know what its purpose was, but you could put the three and four fingers into a solid round rock, and it would glow green and a symbol would appear) kept repeating one word to me: mudar. Just for fun, I typed this into Google and discovered that it is a Portugese verb meaning "to move". I don't know what this is supposed to mean.

7.26.01
No doubt you've heard of or received a message containing the new SirCam virus that is currently clogging up email servers around the world (I have gotten twelve new infected messages since last night). Just for fun, I opened up the infected files in a text editor and started poking around. What I found was pretty interesting: the original text in the Word documents that are being used as a carrier for the virus. I have extracted this text and cleaned it up; you can view it here.

7.27.01
Dude, Where's My Car is one funny movie. Seriously. After negative reviews of this, Office Space, and the Matrix, and overwhelmingly positive reviews of A.I., I've just about given up hope that movie reviewers have anything relevant to say to me.

7.31.01
"so" is a strange little word.

7.31.01
When I was up Sunday night, unable to sleep because of a nasty stomach bug, I stumbled on something reallly disturbing: flipping through the channels, I paused for a minute on MTV. They were playing a really annoying song that I had heard in the movie theater before Planet of the Apes, and I was just curious to see who it was. It was Janet Jackson, apparently the first single off of her new album. It sounded a little different than it did when I heard it in the theater, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it. But, having obtained the basic information I needed, I moved on to the next channel, which happened to be VH-1.

And they were playing the exact same video.

Except not quite. The VH-1 version was more like the one I had heard in the theater. After a few seconds of switching back and forth between them (they were out of sync by 10-20 seconds), I figured it out: MTV was playing a remix with a much higher beats-per-minute count that also featured a guest appearance by a rapper, while the VH-1 version was the standard-issue whitebread version from the album.

I found this extremely unsettling. I mean, it's bad enough that both those stations could be playing the same video at the same time, but the fact that the labels are now releasing different remixes and videos for the same song depending on the demographic they're targeting just makes me feel like they're starting to get a little too good at knowing us better than we know ourselves.

7.31.01
On Saturday we had planned to mow the lawn, see an early showing of Planet of the Apes (I have written an entry on this, but the email account that I sent it to is down now, so I'll post it later), go to Frederick and do a couple of new geocaches, and then go to Sam's Club for our quarterly visit to stock up on bulk items.

Of course, I got up late after staying up playing Diablo 2, so we had to skip the lawn mowing in order to get to the movie on time (I did it Saturday evening instead). We went down to the Egyptian theaters down at the new Arundel Mills, which are really nice and not any more expensive than the normal theaters around here. Then we ate lunch in the food court there before heading to Frederick.

We had been hoping to start geocaching by around 1:30 or so, but it was already close to 3:00, and since we still had to go to Sam's and get back in time to mow the lawn before it got dark, I wasn't sure we'd have time. But Julie really wanted to, so we picked a nearby one that didn't look too hard and started out. It only took about 10 minutes to get to the park and figure out the best place to park, so I thought we would be in pretty good shape to nail this cache in less than half an hour. But just as we were beginning our trek up the hill. the batteries died in our GPS unit and we had to drive back into town for replacements. Of course, the first convenience store we stopped in didn't have any AA batteries (only C?!), but the next store did, and so we were back at the park probably 15 minutes later.

It wasn't too hard to get to—it was at the top of a sled run—but it took us a lot longer to find than it should have. I think it must have been the tree cover, which was fairly thick. Even though the GPS unit said that it had an accuracy of 25 feet (which is pretty good), it wasn't behaving as if it were that accurate. We found it eventually, though, and took a Guinness Ale keychain and left behind a Bugs Bunny toothbrush.
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