november 2002

Last night for Halloween we got our average amount of kids: 114. And since they only allow trick or treating in our neighborhood for two hours, that means we were pretty close to one kid per minute. The best costume I saw was a homemade Spongebob costume. It is pictured below, along with some shots of our pumpkins.

Who lives in a pineapple under the sea?

Our pumpkins relax after a hard night's work

My pumpkin in the dark

So here's the deal: this morning, when I was in the dim world that I inhabit in the half hour after I wake up, I had this idea for an entry, and actually developed it to the point where it was pretty much written in my mind. It was so complete that I didn't even bother to write it down right away, because it's been my experience that I only forget the stuff that's still in it's embryonic form. You can guess how this ends, right?

Fast forward to twelve hours later when I'm sitting down to do my writing for the day, and the idea is completely gone. Totally, absolutely, now-and-forever-amen gone. I spent an hour trying to remember it by reviewing what I'd seen on tv, what music I was listening to, what I was reading and even the sites I visited on the internet. Nada. It was so absent from my mind that I almost started to believe that it was an entry I'd written in my head in a dream I'd had right before I woke up (that was mostly about a baby vulture that I had to hide feed by hand because everyone at the university/zoo wanted it dead for some reason—don't ask) and that I'd just held onto it in the real world because, well, when you have to come up with content five days a week, you tend to get pretty excited when you accomplish that task before lunch.

The good news is, the idea came back to me in a burst of enlightment while I was folding my laundry last night, but that wasn't until around 11 o'clock, and this is one of those entries that's going to take an hour or two to write. So I'll save it for another day.

So here's a recap of the past week's social activities:

Thursday I went out to lunch with Kathryn again. She took me to a little place called Pete's Diner that's several blocks from campus and serves traditional greasy spoon stuff: hamburgers, cheesburgers, french fries, omelettes, home fries, pancakes, etc. It was like Waffle House or someplace like that, but without the creepy corporate overtones. There were no tables, just a counter with stools, and since it was Halloween most of the staff was dressed up (as was Kathryn—she was wearing cat ears and a shirt with "bad kitty" written on it in tiny silver beads). It was just a really comfortable feeling place—it reminded me of Saltworks, a hotdog place in Wilmington, or the little hamburger joint where we used to eat with my dad when he would come to pick us up for his monthly visitation.

After lunch we stopped into Normal's book store, which sells mostly used books and is another little-known Baltimore treasure like Pete's that Kathryn has introduced me to. She stayed up at the counter talking with Blaster, one of the owners, while I wandered through the cramped and chaotic shelves. I almost bought a book of short stories by Jamaica Kincaid and a history book on the life of the average european in the middle ages, but since I hadn't bought a new CD in almost three months, I decided to save my cash for that.

That afternoon, I got a flu shot, partly due to three days worth of badgering from my coworkers (I made the mistake of telling them that peer pressure was pretty much the only way to get me to get a shot), but mostly due to the fact that Julie came over to my campus and made me go. I didn't mind it and it didn't really hurt (although my arm did swell up for three days afterward and I got this weird bruise several inches away from where the needle actually went in), but I remain unconvinced that flu shots actually do any good. See, they have to guess which strains of the flu are going to be the dominant ones for a given season because they have to make the medicine several months in advance of when the shots are actually given. But more often than not they guess wrong and you end up being innoculated against the wrong strain. But I guess it doesn't hurt to do it, especially because if I do get the flu for some reason, the office won't be able to blame it on my fear of needles.

Friday Julie and I went out to lunch at the place where we go every Friday. On the way back to campus, I stopped into Record & Tape Traders and bought four new CDs: "()" by Sigur Ros, "Nextdoorland" by the Soft Boys (Robyn Hitchcock's first band, reunited after twenty years), "Son of Evil Reindeer", the second album from the Scottish collective The Reindeer Section, and "Walking With Thee" by Clinic, which is so far my favorite of the bunch. I had about ten more on my list, but I'm trying to pace myself so I'll have enough in the entertainment budget to buy the new Badly Drawn Boy album, the Episode II DVD, and the special edition Lord of the Rings DVD, all of which come out this month.

Saturday I slept late for the first time in a while, waking up around ten. I took my time getting ready, and left around 11:30 to go meet CO2 Jeff for lunch. We met at Frisco's, a sandwich place in Frederick that has become a favorite of Jeff's since he discovered it last year just before CO2 shut its doors (it's one of my favorites, too—I've been going there since 1997, when I was still working for Sycamore). I just really like hanging out with Jeff. We didn't talk about anything all that important—how our jobs are going, good stuff we've seen at the movies or on tv, Max's new job at AOL—but it was just good to connect with him. I usually only get to see him once every few months, but hopefully Julie and I will be meeting him and Andrea in a couple of weeks for dinner.

Max getting his new job at AOL, which has come about after several months of negotiations and freelance work with them, kind of puts a period on CO2. Max was the only one who hadn't moved on to something more permanent—I've been at Hopkins for a while now, Jeff has been doing branding/identity for a small software company for several months, and Greg recently started a new job with a high-profile design firm in Balitmore—and Max finally getting on with the rest of his career made the whole CO2 saga a finality, a thing that could be put in the past. I really loved my time there, loved the projects we worked on, loved most of the people I worked with, but for whatever reason, it wasn't meant to be. Everyone there was really talented, and I feel like now we've been able to go on to other jobs where we can explore new ways of applying our talents and the experience we gained at CO2.

After lunch, I drove the long way home, taking I-270 into Montgomery County, using the same back roads that I used to take to get to work in Adamstown when we were living in Damascus. I stopped for gas at an Exxon right off the interstate, and a redneck walking his dog next to the pay phones was wearing a black t-shirt with the word "SNIPER" written on it in huge letters with a red skull and crossbones beneath it. There were some other words written below the skull, but I wasn't that curious about what they might say. I got back in my car and drove home, thinking about all the miles I've traveled in Maryland over the past six years.

Another election day has come and gone, and I'm betting that my brother, the public policy major, again didn't bother to vote, or even to register.

It makes me angry and sad at the same time that people his age (or any age, really) can't appreciate how unusual it is to live in a country where everyone gets to vote freely for whomever they wish, and the transfer of political power is always a peaceful one. Even though most of my neighbors have different political views than I do, I still find it heartening that not only do they turn out in huge numbers every election, but many of them also bring their kids to the polls with them, teaching them early the value of participating in the process. Even my officemate, who is not a citizen of this country and therefore can't vote, was reminding everyone at work yesterday to make sure they got to the polls before they closed; she herself left an hour early so she could go watch her husband vote (he is a naturalized citizen)—that's right, she just wanted to watch him vote, so she could participate in the process of democracy in America in some limited way. And I guess maybe she would appreciate the right to vote more than many Americans: she comes from China, where the people don't get to make any decisions about who is running their country or what those people are doing with their power.

I don't know. I still hold out some hope that, since he's currently living at home, my parents forced Dodd to register and go the polls yesterday, but I somehow doubt it. It's such a shame that someone who has benefitted so much from the freedoms of this country cares so little about it that he's not even willing to get off his ass once every couple of years to exercise a right that people in many parts of the world can only dream about. I mean, if we're not willing to do something as easy and simple as voting, do we really deserve any of the other privileges granted to us by the Constitution?

I've always had problems with brevity, but good lord, can't I write anything that doesn't run on for what seems like pages? Even that last sentence could have been easily edited down—did I really need to include the "what seems like" phrase? Probably not, but I just had to stick it in there. When I go back to re-edit the first drafts of these entries, I should be cutting stuff, but instead I find myself adding a word here and sentence there and sometimes even a whole new paragraph. Look, here I go again. I can't stop myself. This should have been just one sentence, just one line for god's sake, but here I am, going on and on and on...

A pleasant surprise: Dodd actually voted in this election. I talked to him on AIM yesterday, and after a few minutes chatting about other things, I decided to just ask him outright. As you might have guessed by yesterday's entry, I was expecting him to say no but holding out hope that maybe the answer would be yes. I didn't get to ask him exactly why he decided to participate in the process this time around, but it doesn't really matter. He's still probably not as engaged with politics as he should be (which isn't unusual for someone his age, or even for the American public in general), but at least he's taken that first step.

Kathryn and I have decided to make our lunches together a weekly event, and I've been going on and on about liking routines and wanting to have a set time we can plan our weeks around, etc., etc. We settled on Wednesday as our regular day, and for the first couple of weeks we followed that pattern. But then last week I had to move it to Thursday because of a business lunch (which ended up being canceled, incidentally), and this week I had to work at home on Wednesday to let in the guys who were installing our new heating and air conditioning system (our old one had been on its last legs for months, barely making it through the brutally hot summer, but living just long enougy for us to hit the fall sweet spot where all of the companies offer discounts and bonuses on the equipment and installation).

Anyway. We decided to go out on Tuesday this week because Thursday is the monthly Mattin Center lunch series which we are planning to attend and Friday is the day that I meet Julie for lunch. Kathryn has selected the past three restaurants because she has an extensive knowledge of the local dining spots (she went to school at the nearby Hopkins-affiliated Peabody Conservatory), so she insisted that I pick this week. I didn't really, though: I got her to suggest two or three new places, and then picked the one that she seemed to be most excited about.

It was a diner not too far from campus called Nifty Fifties that was decorated like an old fashioned fifites soda shop (duh) and which served basic food like cheeseburgers, milkshakes, etc. The interesting thing about this place is that they also have a tandoori oven and serve an extensive selection of Indian dishes. And how could you resist that, especially since Kathryn said they were actually really good Indian dishes? I got a chicken dish and she got a vegetable, but they both came in a similar-looking orange sauce so we just shared. And she was right: they were really good.

Some days at lunch we talk about personal stuff, but there are some days when we just use it as a chance to vent about work. This was definitely one of those days for Kathryn: I don't even remember specifically what the problem was that day, but she was really upset about it. You might think that I would get tired of her complaining about work all the time, but I really don't. For one thing, she always passes on several nuggets of gossip that I don't get to hear on the normal office grapevine because the IT team is somewhat out of the loop when it comes to intra-office politics. But it's also becauseI know that she's not bitching just to bitch, like most people in our office do: she genuinely cares about improving things, and most of the times her rants include astute observations about the problems in our office and more often than not pretty good ideas for solving them. Plus she's pretty hilarious when she's angry.

Kathryn reminds me both of Tori and the person that I was at her age: she is bright, funny, creative, and bitterly sarcastic, and she takes her job very seriously and is given to daily rants about the incompetence and laziness of certain of our coworkers. That's the way I was in my first job, too, an entry-level editor position at a law publishing company where the people who did all the work got paid the least and the people who were getting paid the most did virtually nothing. It is a similar, although slightly less lopsided situation in our office, and just as I did the work of any two of my coworkers and got very upset that people couldn't see how easy it was to correct some of issues in our workplace, so Kathryn is invested in being a productive member of the office and trying to make it a better place to work. I am older now, I work more independently on projects that I like, and I don't really care about money anymore (granted, I'm also getting paid significantly more now than I was when I was younger), but I still apreciate the perspective she has on the office. I can still identify with it strongly, even though I don't feel it as passionately as Kathryn does.

But more than anything, I'm just happy to be making a new friend who reminds me of all the close friends I had in high school and college. Back then, I knew literally dozens of people that were as interesting and engaging as Kathryn, and I (somewhat naively) figured that I would just continue to meet new people like that for the rest of my life. But that hasn't really been the case. I can barely even remember the names of all the people I considered close friends in high school: Regan, Miche, Sasha, Kirk, Tippy (who now goes by the much more dignified John), Hayley, Catherine, Landreth, Svati, Lydia, Sheri, Pete, Alexandra, Scott, Emily, Becky, Nicole, Reuben, and tons more whose faces I can picture in my head but whose names I can't recall without a yearbook (I swear, I would forget my own sister's name if I didn't speak to her for six months). And that doesn't even include Julie, who has been a vital part of my life for almost half the time I've spent on this planet, and my sister Tori, who I have gotten increasingly closer to as she's gotten increasingly closer to adulthood.

Since college, however, the list is noticeably shorter, and often the relationships are more potential than actualized: Leila, Doug, CS Jeff, CO2 Jeff, Yet Another Jeff, Tom, Joe, Sally, Greg...and that's about it, really. And unlike my high school friends, these people aren't generally a daily part of my lives, at least not for more than a year or two. Then one of us moves somewhere else, and though we keep in contact, we don't really see each other enough for me to feel like they're really involved in my life the way my earlier friends were. Which is no one's fault: we all have much more complicated lives than we did when we were younger, with jobs and responsibilities and all sorts of things that eat up our time.

So meeting someone like Kathryn, someone that reminds me of my earlier friends and someone who I actually have decent chance to spend some quality time with because we happen to work in the same office, gives me real hope, and makes me even more excited about going back to school and participating a culture of learning again. I wouldn't say that meeting her and having her introduce me to some of the harder-to-find cultural experiences around Baltimore has led to what feels like a mini-rebirth of the person that I was trying to become ten years ago, but I guess she could be seen as a midwife of sorts. Okay, maybe not a midwife, but she's at least standing in the birthing room making smart-ass comments about the nurses' uniforms.

I guess all I'm trying to say is, I'm really looking forward to the adventure of going back to school, and rejoining in the academic world that I have such fond memories of from Davidson and NCSSM, and it's a real bonus to be able to make a friend like Kathryn along the way. Julie's playing piano again, I'm reading and writing more, and I feel like we're finally settled enough in our jobs that we can start to make some progress in our intellectual and creative lives. And that makes me happy.

The first time I remember reading about dark matter and its importance in answering the question of whether the universe would continue expanding forever or whether it would someday reverse direction and collapse was when I first read Stephen Hawking's "A Brief History of Time" at NCSSM. The basic idea is this (and please forgive my oversimplification): there is a bunch of stuff in the universe that we can't see (which really means that we can't detect it yet), but we don't know how much of this stuff there is. That's dark matter. Physicists say that, depending on how much or how little of this dark matter exists, the universe will either continue its current expansion forever (a smaller amount of dark matter) or eventually stop expanding and collapse back in on itself (a larger amount of dark matter). Most physicists believe that one of these two outcomes is the most likely, although there are a small number who believe that the universe is perfectly balanced and that it will eventually stop expanding but not collaspe; this is called a flat universe. (If you're really interested, you can get more detailed explanations here and here. And please, if I have any physics geeks reading this thing, feel free to send me clarifications or corrections to anything I've gotten wrong in this post.)

Since Hawking published his book, physicists have apparently come up with the additional concept of dark energy, which is like dark matter in that we don't know how to detect or measure it, but instead of particles with mass it is instead an energy field that is even distributed throughout the universe and is responsible for the expansion of the universe (at least, that's the best I can figure from what I've read so far). This sounds a lot like the cosmological constant that was so important to Einstein's theory of relativity, and there are some indications in my brief readings on the subject that they are related (Einstein had to add in the cosmological constant to make his relativity equations balance because he did not yet understand that the universe was still exapanding), but I don't know for sure, so don't take my word for it.

Anyway. I bring all of this up because scientists think they have discovered evidence that points to a larger amount of dark matter/dark energy that would eventually lead to the universe collapsing back in on itself (interesting sidenote: when considering this possibility, Hawking theorized that when the big collapse began, time itself would start to flow backwards and we would all eventually live our lives in reverse, a hypothesis he has since retracted). For some reason, the tone of these speculations always seems to imply that the big collapse should be seen as a negative thing, as if it means that everything we do is futile now.

First off, even with the revised estimates for the collapse, which guess that it will happen much sooner than previously thought (around 20 billion years from now), what are the odds, really, that the human species would survive that long anyway? And second, the eventual outcome of an ever expanding universe means that, given our current understanding of physics, everything would fade into dust anyway: a finite amount of matter in an infinite space. Or as Robyn Hitchcock so eloquently states it: "The universe is based on sullen entropy." Entropy, of course, is the tendency for all matter and energy in the universe to evolve toward a state of inert uniformity, and it is the core idea behind the Second Law of Thermodynamics. If the universe keeps expanding forever, it will continue its current pattern of denser clumps of matter (like planets and stars, for instance) spreading out into the void and breaking into smaller and smaller pieces, so that at some point the known universe will consist of nothing but individual particles suspended inert in a vast space. There would be nothing, and no hope of anything ever again.

But with the big collapse model, the universe would eventually stop expanding, stop spreading apart and trying to uniformly fill the inifinity of space, and all matter would join together in a reverse big bang that would reduce the universe to the impossibly small ball of matter and energy that was its state before the big bang. And since we can view the universe as a closed system, meaning no energy can ever be lost from it, that big collapse could lead to another big bang that would result in the birth of a whole new universe. This could happen over and over again; if no energy was ever lost, and if the universe was structured to collapse back in on itself eventually, this cycle of expansion and collapse could happen an infinite number of times. Who knows? Maybe this universe is the result of the first big bang. Or the second. Or the millionth.

I don't know about you, but a cycle of death and rebirth appeals to me a lot more than a single explosion of energy that eventually fades into an evenly spaced cloud of microscopic dust. It is a macro-sized version of all of the other patterns in nature that we see in our universe, from the reproduction of single-cell organisms to the growth of our species to the creation of stars and galaxies. We won't know whether the big collapse is really possible or not for a long time, and we might never know for sure. And we'll probably never know if the big collapse will lead to another big bang and a new universe created from the same energy and matter that currently makes up the one we know. But that's what feels right to me. I'm hoping for dark matter; I'm rooting for the big collapse.

Five sevens seem like they would add up to more than seven fives.

If you can't obsessively document your own life, then what can you obsessively document?

On Sunday, I finally got some new shoes. I have had my previous pair for three years now, and I used them for everything—from work to church to tromping around in the woods, these were the shoes that I wore. For the last several weeks, they have been on their last legs, having been dealt a killing blow by an afternoon spent walking miles in a corn maze back in September. The soles were completely split towards the front, and each shoe also had several tears on the bottom that allowed pebbles to lodge themselves up in the air pockets that cushion the soles, where they would rattle around annoyingly until I pried them out. My shoes squeaked when I walked, especially when the ground was wet, and they were starting to look really, really old.

But I didn't just want a new pair of shoes; I wanted a new pair of the same shoes. I haven't bought anything but Timberland for years, since well before they became the boot of choice for rappers even though at first, boots were all I bought. And when it came time to buy a new pair of nice casual shoes for work a few years ago, Timberland was naturally the brand that I turned to, selecting a nice simple shoe model that is so nondescript that there's really nothing more I can say about it except that it's made of brown leather. I like Timberlands because they are simply, tough, and don't take a lot of special care. You can walk through the water and mud with them and it just doesn't have an effect (well, at least not for the first couple of years).

We looked in a couple of shoe stores first, but eventually I found the exact model I was looking for at Hecht's, and as a bonus they were $10 cheaper than similar Timberland models we had found at the shoe stores. After waiting a few minutes for the salesman to finish up with another customer, I pointed out the shoes I wanted and told him I needed an 11 1/2. He returned a few minutes later and said that while he had an 11 1/2 in black, the only thing he had in the brown was a 12. I was a little pissed at that point, since we had already looked several places, and I just wanted to buy the damn things and be done with it, but I told him to bring out the twelves anyway and I would try them on. I didn't have high hopes for this, since the 11 1/2 shoes that I was wearing were just on the edge of being too big for me, but I figured I didn't have anything to lose.

And lo and behold, they fit perfectly. The salesmen attributed it to the difference in size between different models, but since I was buying the exact same model that I already had, I didn't think that was it. What I think is that there has been an inflation over the last few years in men's shoe sizes, thanks in part to the obsession with height/shoe size of basketball players (they all add a few inches/sizes in order to make themselves more marketable and appear more physically impressive than the players they are competing with, but since everyone does it, it ends up that no one really gains anything by the practive). The custom shoes endorsed by athletes have for a long time driven the shoe market, especially the athletic shoe market that is one of the most profitable sectors of the industry (with Air Jordans being the most obvious example of this).

See, I have this theory that when the shoe companies sit down with a player to design the shoes that will bear his name, the player says something like this: "Okay, I need these to fit like a traditional twelve, but on the shoe I want it to say that I am a 14 because that's what it says in my press kit." So the shoe company adjusts all the sizes relative to that player's increase, and voila, suddenly the player really is a 14. This obsession with larger shoe sizes for athletic shoes eventually spilled over into the rest of the men's shoe market, leaving us with ever-increasing shoe sizes for the same size feet.

Bowling shoes are probably the last remaining reflection of a man's actual shoe size, since those seem to have remained consistent over the years. I can go into any bowling alley in the country and ask for a 10 1/2, and I know the shoes are going to fit me perfectly. That's what I used to have as my shoe size for my boots, my black dress shoes, my casual work shoes, etc., but over the years I have seen the size of my personal shoes slowly balloon while the size of my rental bowling shoes stays exactly the same. My previous pair of Timberlands was 11 1/2, but when I put one of them next to one of the size 12 shoes that I just bought, the two are exactly the same length; only the label saying what size they are is different.

Whatever. I've got new shoes, and I don't really care what size it says they are. I'm just happy I won't squeak when I walk anymore.

It is worth buying the new Badly Drawn Boy album, "Have Your Fed the Fish?", just to hear him sing "Your gazes cripple me" over the Marvin Gaye-inspired groove of "The Further I Slide". Listen to it and tell me I'm wrong.

Here I am staring at this blank page again.

I'm exhausted all the time, work is becoming ever more time consuming and yet I feel less productive, the stories from my life are only interesting when they are really the stories of other people (if then), I don't seem to have opinions on much of anything anymore (mostly because I'm tired of being angry at our stupid government all the time), and I feel really out of touch with all the people who are important to me. Tori sent me a care package two weeks ago and I haven't bothered to call her yet; I don't know why. I've had one stilted phone call with Regan in the past six months, and I haven't seen her in nearly two and a half years. Everyone else is too busy with their jobs and their lives in other cities to keep in regular contact, just as I'm too busy with mine.

In the morning I am barely able to lift my head from the pillow, and despite showing up early, leaving late, and working through most of lunch, the piles of things on my desk just seem to get bigger every day. Everyone at work is stressed out because the applications are really flooding in now, and tempers are short; all it takes is small spark, an unkind email or careless phrease, and the place will go up like a tinderbox. I might as well work during lunch; I don't have the stamina to read, and when I try to write, all I end up doing is staring out the window for half an hour. I used to have days worth of ideas; now I come home and sit at my desk every night for an hour and wonder just what the hell I'm going to write about.

Here I am staring at this blank page again.

I'm not really that unhappy about my life right now (although I still feel like my writing for this site hasn't really recovered from the Disastrous September Experiment), but I'm trying to make a conscious effort to document my moods. Just as my post last week about feeling optimistic and excited about going back to school, etc., was filled with the jubilance of a good day, my previous post is reflective of one of the bad days. Yesterday wasn't even particularly bad, but it was exhausting, and it came at the beginning of a week when I already have meetings filling my schedule from the moment I go to work until the minute it's time to go home, and I'm not going to get to ignore any of my normal work assignments just because I'm stuck in these meetings all week. It will be a long, hard week, but the holidays are coming up soon, and I'll get to take plenty of vacation then.

And this week isn't all that bad: the four CDs I've recently purchased are keeping me happily engaged with new music, having Kathryn around the office makes everything a lot more fun (man, if you think I can bitch about work...), and having a new pair of shoes makes me feel like I've had my first haircut in years.

But there is definitely an ebb and flow to my happiness, sometimes on an hourly basis; everything I wrote in the entry above is completely true, just as the elation of last week's entry is completely true. These days, I am a man of cresting swells of joy and crashing waves of doubt and exhaustion, and I think it's helpful for me to try and capture the essence of both states. For one thing, writing about my emotions in this forum is more of a challenge for me than my normal entries because it's closer to my creative writing style, and it really helps me sort out why I'm feeling the way I'm feeling. And as frustrating as it can sometimes be to come up with content or to invest the energy in self-analysis, writing remains a very calming and cathartic act for me. It calms me down, it makes me see the patterns in my life more clearly, and it brings me back to a center.

I'm pretty quick to make snarky comments and glib assessments of people I barely know or don't even know at all based solely on their appearance, or a weird mannerism, or the way they talk, or whatever. So I wonder, what would I say about me?

Episode II was one of the top grossing films this year, has a rabid fan following, and has been featured in an ad campaign over the last few weeks that uses quotes that basically call it the best DVD ever made because of the straight digital to digital transfer. So you'd think that it wouldn't be too hard to find a copy the day it was released, right?

Normally when there is a big DVD release that I can't wait to get my hands on, I stop by Best Buy on the way home, but yesterday Julie and I drove separately so I decided to just go home and wait for her. She got home about 6 pm, and around 6:30 we went out to Wal-Mart, which is only five minutes away and always has new DVDs cheap. There was a giant dispaly for Episode II in the music/video game/DVD section, but as I was picking up a copy and heading to the register, I noticed that there was a strange smudge in the upper right-hand corner. "That's weird," I thought to myself as I put it back and got another copy. Then I noticed that this copy had the smudge, too. Then I noticed that they all did.

Then I noticed that it was actually a copy of Episode I that I was holding. Spotting a couple of slackjawed employees chatting in a corner, we went over and asked them if they had any more copies of Episode II on DVD. "No, we sold out," one of them said, "but we're supposed to get an emergency shipment in tomorrow at noon."

WTF? Emergency shipment? Thanks for nothing. Jackass.

Next we headed to K-Mart, where it was quickly apparent that they were sold out, too. Then Julie insisted we try Safeway, where they sometimes stock popular, family friendly DVDs. "They will have them," I said, "but they will all be full screen, not widescreen." I was right, so next she wanted to try one of the video rental stores. "They will have them," I said, "but they will be outrageously expensive." And to my dismay, I was right again: they had a full display case of the widescreen edition, but they were selling it for $25, $10 more than they had been priced at the two discount stores.

At this point I was more than a little pissed, and I was actually ready to give up. We decided to call the closest Best Buy, which was about 20 minutes away, and make sure they had plenty of copies in stock before we drove all the way there. Julie called, asked the question, and was answered with a somewhat rude "Of course we have Episode II," smugly delivered with a what-kind-of-store-wouldn't-have-that-the-first-day-of-its-release tone and implying that the shelves were overflowing with copies. So we headed down there, and they did indeed have some copies left: four to be exact. And they were all the full screen edition.

Damn it.

We were ready to give up for real now, but as a last desperate shot we decided to check out a nearby Target. And what did we find? Surprisingly, plenty of widescreen copies of Episode II, and for the same price that we had seen them at Wal-Mart earlier. As a bonus, they had the new Lord of the Rings Special Edition DVD set for only $24, which I also decided to pick up as a kind of bonus prize for spending an hour and a half on my DVD search). I knew I was going to end up buying it eventually, and I don't think I would have found it much cheaper (it also included a free ticket to The Two Towers, which made it an even better deal). All I have to say is, thank god for Target.

I've been getting up an hour earlier almost every day this week to attend focus groups at high schools around Maryland, and at this point I feel like I'm on no sleep—I think getting up an hour earlier for me is like most people staying up three hours past their normal bedtime. I've been at my desk for a total of maybe two hours so far this week, and if I'm lucky, I just might double that tomorrow. The two big projects that need to be done RIGHT NOW haven't gotten any attention at all in the past few days, and that's not likely to change until next week. I desperately need a break in the weather, a chance to catch my breath and regroup, but I don't think it's going to happen.

My new Sigur Ros and Badly Drawn Boy CDs are keeping me pretty happy, though, and I'm looking forward to seeing the new Harry Potter movie this weekend. And it's just a couple more weeks until Thanksgiving...

Trees can't protect themselves. Except, of course, the Mexican Fighting Trees.

I think I've figured out why I've been so cranky this week: I've been sick, or at least getting sick.

On Wednesday when I came home, I lay down for a quick nap and ended up sleeping for three hours straight. When I woke up, I had pain in my sinuses and still felt very groggy despite the extended nap. I was so tired that later that night I fell asleep on the couch and didn't wake up until it was time to get ready for work.

The pain in my head was still there the next morning, and I still felt very out of it despite sleeping for nearly 9 hours, which is about three hours more than I normally get during the week. Some days, I might have just stayed home to sleep it off, but yesterday was the last of our three focus groups, and it was too late to find someone to replace me. I'm not an integral part of the presentation, but I do run the projector and web site portion, and I'm also one of the notetakers, so I kind of needed to be there. As an added annoyance, it was down in Montgomery County, so I had to get up and leave an hour earlier than normal and fight my way through the DC rush hour traffic along the way.

The focus group itself wasn't too bad, and I was almost convinced that I was starting to feel better, so when we finished, I decided to go into work and see if I could make it through the rest of the day. I only got to about noon before it became clear to me that I was at the end of my stamina, however. I went home, ate a bowl of soup, drank some cranberry juice, and then slept almost uninterrupted (excpet for the stupid phone calls) until Julie got home at 6:30. I was starting to feel a little bit better, but I was still dog tired. I've been out of the office so much this week for the focus groups and various meetings that I pretty much have to go in on Friday to take care of some pressing things, but hopefully after another good night's sleep, the worst will be over and I can make it through one more day before the weekend.

No posts today. Sick.

Still sick.

Feeling a little better. I should be posting again tomorrow.

I was going to write this really outraged entry about a link that CO2 Jeff sent me that is supposedly an interview with OJ where he says he's no longer completely sure of his innocence after Johnnie Cochran expresses his doubts, but reading it through the second time, I think it's a joke. It's in the opinion section, the author, Andy Borowitz, calls himself a humorist (although the wit is a little too dry to be showing up on a news site without some sort of formal disclaimer somewhere, at least in this particular piece), and he also has a web site which is full of similar "news" items that I know for sure are not true.

That doesn't mean that I still don't think that OJ is nuts, that he is walking around free after murdering two people mostly because he is rich and famous, and that his murder trial helped underscore all the parts of our legal system that don't work the way they're supposed to, but I think the article Jeff sent me is using satire to emphasize these facts, rather than presenting new facts that buttress these suppositions. But it's a little scary how obvious it is that this guy's other articles are humor pieces while the OJ piece would be completely believable if it were actually true. Don't think so? Remember that story in Esquire a few years ago in which, out of the blue, he asks his interviewer: "Let's say I committed this crime. Even if I did do this it would have to have been because I loved her very much, right?" That's not any more bizarre than the quotes in the Borowitz piece.

We all know that VH1's Behind the Music has sucked for at least the last couple of years. Here's why: it's more than just that the bands they are picking are lame, preprocessed crap bands like Matchbox 20, the Goo Goo Dolls, and Creed (and those are some of the more interesting ones they've featured of late); that's obvious—it goes much deeper than that.

See, the show was originally meant for and made popular by music geeks, people who like the stuff that only the critics like but who lay the groundwork for the future success of bands like Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails, and Smashing Pumpkins. People like me. Or Doug. The people who liked R.E.M. years before they became a household name, or who saw the Police at their first major gig at CGBG's that helped kickstart the buzz that led to superstardom just a couple of years later, or still think the best concert they ever saw was the operatic Jane's Addiction show at a small club before anyone knew who they were. People who have hundreds of CDs in their collections, all neatly filed in alphabetical-chronological order.

And we don't mind watching the occasional filler on Behind the Music, like trainwreck acts such as Milli Vanilli, Leif Garrett, and Vanilla Ice, or kitschy-cool artists from days gone by like Rick Springfield, Hall & Oates, Neil Diamond, and Lynyrd Skynyrd, or even just plain weirdos like Ted Nugent and Twisted Sister. But by focusing too much on contemporary, commercially successful acts who have won little critical acclaim, acts like No Doubt, TLC, Blind Melon, and Boyz II Men (where's Color Me Badd?—no, that's not a typo) just to name a few, VH1 is ignoring people like me and assuming that the larger audience for those groups' music will translate to larger audiences for the show. But what they forget is that no one cares about the stuff Behind the Music shows except for music geeks. And we hate those groups.

Really. Acts like this just suck, and honestly, we would be happy if they had never existed in the first place, so we sure aren't going to devote an hour of our time to pinpointing the exact moment during their worthless careers that they started to act like asshole stars, or when the drugs sent them to a $5000 a week rehab center for a month, or when their so-called fans stopped caring because they had already moved on to the next trend. Celine Dion? Please. Everclear? Haven't they retired yet? Shania Twain? Ugh. P. Diddy? Don't make me come down there.

So VH1 is left with a show that is still a great concept, despite becoming so ingrained in our pop culture landscape that it has been parodied and lambasted by everyone from the Simpsons to the web-based Behind the Music that Sucks (which has unintentionally become an all-too-apt title for the original series). I still believe Behind the Music could become great again, just because I know I would still watch it if they started making decent ones again. I wait in anticipation every time they announce a new one, even though I haven't been excited enough to watch one in a couple of years.

If they got back to bands that were critically lauded, whether they were commercially successful or not (think groups from the last 15 years like Liz Phair, the Replacements, the Smiths, Velvet Underground, the Cure, Echo & the Bunnymen, New Order, and the Pixies—and these are just the ones I can think of by looking at the stack of CDs on my desk), I think the show would quickly regain its hip factor and its audience. Any one of those artists would be more compelling and interesting to people like me than anything they've shown in the last two years, and I would willingly give over an hour of my time to learn more about them. If VH1 were to retool the show and bring it back to its roots, I think they would find that the show would have renewed life. After all, music geeks are never going to stop caring about music. They're just never going to care about crappy music.

So did I tell you I got into grad school?

Here's how it happened: the way this program works is that is has a rolling admissions policy, but there are certain priority dates before each semester that guarantee a decision in time to register for the next term if your materials are in by then. For Spring 2003, the priority date was October 15. Of course I waited until the last minute (filling out the application, sending in the fee, and getting Davidson to mail a copy of my transcript were easy, it was writing the damn essay on my "personal and career goals" that I was putting off), but I did get everything in on time.

I wasn't too worried when I didn't hear anything for the first couple of weeks, but then Jean, one of the other people in my office who is applying for the program (Kathryn and I are the other two, along with Jonathan and Diane, who are already enrolled), sent me an email at the end of October saying that she had just had her interview and been accepted into the program. It was then that I started to get a little worried. I knew that my application must be complete, because Kathryn had received a notice when part of her application didn't make it in on time, and I also had assurances from the program director that she would let me know if I needed to send in anything else.

So I decided to call the admissions office for the school and find out what the problem was. And I'm glad I did; apparently a current resume is required for the application to be complete according to the admissions office, but that requirement was not listed on either the larger program web site or the web site for my specific department (I did later find it listed on an FAQ page, but it is still not listed on either of the requirements pages). I was a little grouchy about this, since not only was it not listed as a requirement anywhere, they also did not send me a notification about it like they did Kathryn, but I quickly updated my resume and emailed it to them the next morning.

I didn't really think about it again until a couple of weeks after that, when I still had not been contacted by anyone in the program. To complete the admissions process for my program, you have to have an interview with the program coordinator (who I had met a few weeks earlier at an open house), and since it had only taken Jean two weeks total to schedule the interview, have the interview, and be given her decision, I decided it was time for another phone call.

I don't know exactly what I was expecting the guy in the admissions office to tell me (I was half expecting another snafu that I would have to resolve), but he checked my file and said that I had been admitted as a degree candidate.

"What does that mean?" I said. "Have I been admitted, or have I been provisionally accepted pending my interview."

"You've been admitted."

"How could that happen? I haven't had an interview yet."

"I don't know, but it says here that you've been admitted."

Still not quite sure if I was in or not, I decided once again to write to the program chair for clarification. She told me that the interview is really just a formality to make sure that you're a good match for the program, and she had talked to me long enough at the open house to know that I was. That, plus my strong academic background and the personal recommendation from Diane, who is already in the program, was enough for her to accept me into the program without going through the interview process.

So I guess I really am in. Now I just have to wait for my formal acceptance letter so I can register for classes, but that, apparently, is a whole other ballgame.

Going to visit the family for Thanksgiving. See you next week.
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