Tuesday, January 11, 2011


The other morning, I was still congratulating myself on having avoided having to summon a plumber to deal with my bathroom clog, when I walked out the front door without my keys and locked myself out. Pride goeth before a fall, or so they tell me, but I am by habit so paranoid about closing doors without checking my pockets for my keys that I had not bothered to conceal a spare.

Fortunately, I did have my iPhone, so I was able to determine that there is a locksmith located within a half-mile of me, so I placed a call, and in twenty minutes or so, a young man of terrifying efficiency was drilling out my lock and letting me back in. He managed to convince me that I needed to have both the lock he'd drilled and the deadbolt changed, and what with the service fee, and the drilling out, and the changing of two locks keyed together, he was gone twenty minutes later, and I was poorer by $414, which I figure is about how much it would have cost me for two visits by a plumber. Oh well. At least I have shiny new locks, and the locksmith (admittedly not a disinterested party) assures me that my old locks were a break-in waiting to happen.

My mother, who no longer likes to brave shopping malls and does not appear to understand how to order gifts over the Internet, sent me some money to spend on myself and the girls for Christmas. I quashed the impulse to just put the money in the bank (the impulse didn't put up much of a fight, really), and instead bought myself something that met the two main requirements for a gift: a) it's something I really like, and b) it's something that I was unlikely to buy for myself. So I am now the proud owner of a Kindle. It seemed to me that if one is going to own an e-reader, one ought to break it in, as it were, with an especially good book, so my first download was Pride and Prejudice, which had the additional benefit of being free.

I must admit that I was feeling just the eensiest bit obligated when I made the choice. I adore Jane Austen, and P&P (or, if you prefer, PnP, though if you're involved in any sort of online interaction that is likely to lead to you and your correspondent in a mutually horizontal position, I must caution you that if he mentions PnP, you are likely to be bitterly disappointed if you believe him to be a fan of Ms. Austen) is one of my favorite novels, but it's just possible that I was resisting being in the mood for something a skosh, well, trashier. (One acknowledges that the sets of "all novels" and "all novels trashier than Jane Austen novels" are very nearly identical.) But I was no more than a few pages in before I was transported. I remembered the excellent writing and all the humor, but I had forgotten what an absolute page turner (note to whomever: "page turner" may be obsolete with e-readers; come up with an alternative) it is, even if you've already read it four times and have seen both the excellent and the execrable movie versions, so that there's really very little doubt as to how it's going to come out.

It's been some years since my last reading, so it's not surprising that I was struck by a lot of what had not occurred to me so much in the past. What I especially noted this time through was the character of Mr. Bennett, who deals with a situation of his own creation, but not to his own liking, by removing himself from it as much as possible and making himself something of a recluse in his own library. The consequences of his seclusion range from the (minor) deterioration of his own character to a family scandal. Within the context of a Jane Austen novel, those are quite big deals. I took his example as a reminder of how important it is to remain engaged.

The second book I downloaded was The Pilgrim's Progress, and that is going, um, not so well, but I intend to persevere, much like Christian. John Bunyan, frankly, was not much of a writer, and The Pilgrim's Progress is really more proto-novelist allegory than novel, but it was the first book that I read in my first literature course as a freshman. The course is still offered (or was as late as 2009, at least), but the reading list has changed considerably, and the professor who taught it has long since retired, a fact which makes me a little bit sad. Tempus fugit, I reckon.

In other media-related news, I had a series of such unpleasant interactions with Comcast's so-called customer service that I have entirely abandoned cable television (and Comcast) in favor of Verizon FiOS internet only, with a Netflix account (streaming through the Wii, plus a one-at-a-time DVD rental). I thought I would miss some of my favorite reality TV shows, but so far I haven't, and, well, how did I live without Netflix?

Naturally, I love all of the movies and TV shows, from the sublime (my first DVD was A Single Man) to the profane (Spartacus: Blood and Sand; the mind boggles), but what I especially appreciate is the Netflix' user interface's continuing efforts to define and predict my tastes. At some point, a new category appeared in my browsing menu: "Emotional Gay and Lesbian Dramas." I was a little sad when it went away, but then it was replaced by "Edgy Gay and Lesbian Romances," which was followed by "Dark Gay and Lesbian Romances," and, finally, "Steamy Gay and Lesbian Romances." These are pretty obvious choices for me, but I'm a bit impressed by Netflix' ability to withstand all of the attempts to throw it off the track: YFU also uses my account, and it's not uncommon for her to spend six hours on the couch watching half a season of The Office or a completely inscrutable (to me) Japanese anime series. Somewhere there's a psychologist writing a thesis about me.

I don't have what I perceive to be the usual issues with new year's resolutions; (I.e., that they create unreasonable expectations and then guilt when they're broken, as they nearly always are. When I break mine, I just shrug.) indeed, I think that any excuse at self-reinvention or self-improvement is a good thing. But getting them done by January 1 is just too much pressure. Also, it leads to bad choices, and it lessens your enjoyment of the holiday. (I had a splendid New Year's Eve, by the way. I went to a late party, and before that, That Guy came over for dinner, and he brought a bottle of Laurent-Perrier demi sec, and it was delicious.) It makes much more sense to me to spend a bit of time during the first week of the year thinking about one's goals for the coming year and then to implement resolutions as necessary throughout the year, beginning with the first resolutions on January 6, which has the virtue of being Epiphany/Twelfth Night/Three Kings' Day. (I typically wait until after April 15 to institute additional resolutions: the strain of eighty hour work weeks is too much for anyone's resolve.)

The specifics are not really of interest, but this year my goals are achievable and my resolutions are not especially onerous. In any case, after the events of 2010, it's almost a given that 2011 is going to be a good year, if only by comparison. Looking at life year by year is arguably artificial, but you have to have an organizing principle of some sort. The new year is sufficiently close to the winter solstice that it's still a time when the days are very short and the temperatures are very cold, so you want to be at home under a blanket, reflecting on what from the past you want to let go, and what you want to pick up in the coming year.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Zombie Wants Brains

Just today, I've been sitting in my office, humming one of the choruses from Messiah. (I was in the stage chorus for this year's Kennedy Center Messiah sing-along. It was good to get a second use of the tux that I'd bought a year earlier, and having to learn all of the choruses from the work may prove useful in later years.) But because I was up until two am last night, doing something entirely different from what I'm typically doing if I'm still up at that hour, instead of singing "His yoke is easy; his burthen is light," I was singing, "My hands are dirty; my drainpipe is clean." It got very well lodged in my head that way until a member of my online knowledge base wrote something that led to my replacing that lyric with the probably even more obscure "The cow is angry; the zombie wants brains." It is probably best that I don't attempt to explain how that happened, but I will note that the way the melismas run in that particular chorus meant that I was suddenly having to articulate "brains," and I have always found the first half of the long a diphthong to be especially hard to articulate at speed. I recall a particular instance seven or eight years ago where I was doing a bass aria from some piece (possibly a missa brevis, but I can't be at all certain), and the music director snarled (I am not exaggerating) at me because I insisted on articulating the first syllable of "saecula" on the ee rather than on the eh. But it was so, so, so fast that I just couldn't do it any other way. I was so distressed by the ferocity of her reaction that I nearly walked out. I figured that if it was that important to her, she should have hired a professional. Besides, I reserve most of my linguistic pedantry for English. My reasoning was: it's Latin, it's a dead language, so fuck it. Also, I sounded great.

Anyway. It was an odd autumn and early winter for me. I have been both myself and not myself as the grief over my father's death became less acute and then went underground, transforming itself into a sort of mild incompetence that is not especially bothersome. I hypothesize that at some level I'm still processing the grief, and that my subconscious is busy enough with it that my conscious mind sometimes neglects to do things that ought to get done, like setting the oven timer. In any event, I am at once happier and more inept, and that seems like a pretty good trade to me, though perhaps not so much last night at 2 am when the drain clog finally yielded to, of all things, the plunger. I probably should have tried that first, though I think it's reasonable to tell myself that the plunger (which has, in fact, proved ineffectual on previous clogs of the same sink) would not have worked without the prior application of the two Turbo Snakes (as seen on TV!), the drain auger, and the multiple rounds of baking soda and vinegar (the chemical drain opener having been similarly ineffectual). Also, I am now the proud owner of a super-keen pipe wrench. Woot.

I have a history of autumnal upheaval -- my father's death, the beginning of the end of my marriage, and the dissolution of my partnership all having happened in August or September. I'm pretty sure all of that is simple coincidence, but the upshot has been that the worst of the bad is ending as the holiday season is beginning, meaning that Thanksgiving and Christmas come just as I'm truly able to appreciate how much I still have to be grateful for.

This was a really good holiday season for me. There are three things that are both necessary and sufficient for me to have a great Christmas: family, music, and food. (I can have a great Thanksgiving with just the family and the food.) I am blessed with two daughters who have a great appreciation for substance over form, so most of the trappings are not essential. I do find that the ebullience which accompanies the season makes me want to do some level of decorating, but when, for example, it's Christmas Eve and I can't find the wrapping paper, I know that the girls won't mind at all, provided that the gift is appropriate. And they're smart girls who leave little to chance: they each emailed me a Christmas wish list, with web links. If not for the decentralized nature of purchasing on Etsy, I'd have been done with the shopping in less than half an hour. As it was, it was still done quickly, and while I did end up having to make a couple of shopping trips to crowded stores in the week before Christmas (I have mostly put these out of mind, in order to avoid death of the soul: the trauma of last-minute non-Internet Christmas shopping can hardly be exaggerated.), I was mostly left with plenty of additional time to bake cookies. Also fruitcake -- against which I will hear no calumnies. (This guy who I may be dating was at my house for what may have been a date, and I served him some of my fruitcake, and he exclaimed, "Oh! It's good!" as if that were a great surprise. I was not amused; fortunately, he is the sort of person against whom it is impossible to hold a grudge, and I am supremely confident in my fruitcake, which everybody likes.)

As for music, I sang so much during the last week before the holiday that by the end of the Christmas Eve service, when I was required to hold a low D at the end of an "Alleluia," I was very nearly croaking. Christmas was on a Saturday, and in addition to the Christmas Eve service on Friday, I had the Messiah on Thursday, a full choir practice on Wednesday, and a two-hour Messiah rehearsal on Monday. On Tuesday, I went to hear the holiday concert at YFU's high school, and it was surprisingly good. YFU's group, in particular, did a fantastic job. I am aware that there was some bias in my reaction, but they were spot on in their intonation and diction. They opened with a particularly lively (and well-choreographed, by one of the members) version of "If They Could See Me Now," and it was just great. YFU was thrilled.

She was less thrilled with the candied orange slices that she asked me to make after she read about them somewhere. I had warned her that she probably wouldn't like them because they'd be bittersweet, but she wanted them, so I made them, and they were fantastic, but even as I was enjoying my first, I realized that they appealed to a more mature palate. Both girls rejected them. More for me.

Anyway, the only real trouble I went to preparing for Christmas was the 2-D tree. I realized early on that having a regular Christmas tree would mean removing furniture from the living room, and I just didn't feel like dealing with it, so I went for a 2-D tree. I went through several iterations before I wound up with a pegboard and 1x4 frame onto which I layered quilt batting, which I then covered with canvas. It happened that I had giant rolls of both in the basement for reasons which I understand completely but which are impossible to explain to anyone else without having them think I'm either eccentric or a lunatic. Neither of which is either necessarily wrong or a bad thing, but, well, let's just say that the batting and the canvas both came in happy when 2D tree versions 1.0 and 2.0 failed miserably.

Christmas day itself was blissfully relaxed. Since I couldn't/didn't have to wrap presents, I just piled things underneath the tree before I went to bed. The girls were arriving shortly after noon, so I got up at eleven o'clock. [Fair warning: carbohydrate-hating homosexuals will want to skip the next several sentences. Move immediately to the next paragraph.] Over time, I have become more and more basic with holiday meals involving my immediate family, so for Christmas dinner, I made very good macaroni and cheese. And nothing else, though there were beverages and cookies, of course. Then for Christmas supper, I made mashed potatoes. The girls were thrilled, and I could spend my time with them instead of in the kitchen. We opened presents, ate, and watched movies all day. It gets no better.