Monday, February 28, 2005

Oscar will not be his middle name

There was talk (mostly from me) which said that if our son arrived yesterday, we might have to name him Oscar due to the Oscars. And halfway through the show, Angela turned to me and said, "Um, we've already gone through a lot of these categories. Aren't you worried?" For the uniniated: our big party of the year is an Oscar Party, where we go for lots of munchies and feature a drinking game. Before the broadcast, everyone votes for what they think will win; if you predict a category incorrectly, you drink! (And if you don't feel like drinking, there are prizes for the most correct.) But there are additional rules, establishes previously, where everyone must also drink. For example, Chuck Cox suggested drinking if Fahrenheit 9/11 or The Passion of the Christ was mentioned in a snarky context; "twice, of course, for bilateral snarkiness." Indeed, this happened with the opening monologue.

Why was Angela concerned then? Because the last rule said everyone should drink if she went into labor.

Fear not, friends and familia, she did not go into labor last night. So Oscar is not his missle name, much to everyone's relief. (Even mine.)

Despite the fact that a large number of people cancelled at the last minute from coming to the shindig (claiming such folly as the flu, homework or the oncoming blizzard that is currently hitting DC) and leaving me stranded with a ton of pinot noir, a good time was had by all (I think). Particularly kudos to 'Boom for making it down from Baltimora!

Here's the note I'd love to bring to light (and perhaps the attention of a certain Entertainment Weekly drone who occasionally reads thsi blog): as reported in Slate, an as-yet-unreported bouhaha developed over the Best Song category. And rightly so. Many of us thought it a bit unusual that the Powers That Be running the Oscars had selected Antonio Banderas to sing the nominated song from Diarios de motocicleta. This is unusual not just because, as anyone who saw the travesty that was Evita knows, Mr. Melanie Griffith is not quite the singer. It's also a bit annoying because, quite frankly, this movie is about two Argentine guys who travel across South America to discover freedom -- and Antonio is, after all, a Spaniard. Now, we all live in the Hollywood age where Néstor Serrano is playing an Arab on 24 (which is on tonight!! I can't wait!!!! sorry...) and Mexicano Gael García Bernal played Che in this very film. But still, you can't tell me that in all of Latin America, they couldn't find anyone else to sing this?

What is interesting is that Gael chose to boycott the Oscars entirely. This is particularly fascinating since, apparently, Gael was first asked to be a presenter at the Oscars -- even more so because, ironically, he was apparently supposed to present the Best Song category, which Prince eventually presented. The director, Walter Salles, was outraged at this decision as well.

The beauty of it all? The song wins -- a shoo-in, as it was the only interesting song of the bunch of losers anyway -- and, in lieu of a speech, Jorge Drexler, the Uruguayan singer-songwriter who sings the song in the actual film, sings his version. Simple, clear -- and a nice dig at the bombastic performance that was the Banderas/Santana version. To quote Dana Stevens' posting, "It was as if he were apologizing to his own song, saving it from Banderas' unctuous clutch." I wholeheartedly agree.

If you can read Spanish, and are curious, check out the article on Drexler in the Argentine journal Clarín. Personally, I had fun with the Oscars last night, as I usually do. But the changes made were admittedly questionable in taste -- and virtually all the song choices were odd. (Why not let Minnie Driver sing the song she sings in Phantom of the Opera? She is, after all, an Oscar-nominated actress, which Beyonce is not. And if we're talking quality, couldn't we have had anyone perform the gag-inducing "Accidentally in Love" besides Counting Crows? Where is U2 when you need them? Best line of the Oscar Party last night came from Sherin: "Oh my goodness, it's Robert Smith mashed up with Sideshow Bob!")

Next year's party should be quite interesting, given we'll be substituting milk for the wine for at least one attendee!

Saturday, February 26, 2005

A page from the Bree Van de Kamp Guidebook

I know that some people (read: Emily) are all uptight about Desperate Housewives and yes, it may be slipping a bit, but it had a long way to slip anyway. I still think it's fabulous.

Anyway, in preparation got tomorrow's Oscar party (where I am rooting wholeheartedly for Catalina Sandino Moreno for Best Actress because, dammit, she deserves it), Angela brought up an electric serving tray that we think her grandmother may have had. We haven't used it yet, though we've had it for ages. So imagine our surprise when we find an article taped underneath it. Called "Dinner Can Wait: The Electric Tray's the Secret" by one Helen Furnas and written in 1958, just listen to the tone of voice in this excerpt which Angela perhaps rightly associated with Bree Van de Kamp (Marcia Cross) on DH:

I want to tell you about a new way to live with three meals a day and no
help. New to most people, that is, but not to us because years ago we were
lucky enough to have a badly wrecked evening which led to a new discovery.

A series of small emergencies obliged me to leave a just-cooked dinner waiting for one solid hour. It was rare-broiled steak, mashed potatoes, new garden peas. Resentfully, I put the pattered steak and the vegetable dishes on a white elephant of a thing I called a "hot tray" -- a long glass-topped tray heated from within by a thermostatically controlled electric unit that I occasionally used for hot hors d'oeuvres. I covered these waiting foods with an old-fashioned roasting pan and thought, Well, at least they'll keep warm, even if they do overcook and dry out.

When we finally got back to them, they were warm all right and the steak was still rare and juicy, the potatoes still fluffy, the peas sweet and not overcooked, but just the way we like them. We hadn't known what hot trays -- and sister gadgets - could do.

What an absolute miracle!! I swear, without Helen Furnas, what would we all do? There's a great picture and accompanying recipe for the porterhouse steak dinner -- so appealing to my vegetarian wife. The whole "article," if you want to call it that ends with: "And so I say to you, wives of commuting husbands, mothers of adolescent dawdlers, all other slaves to time, tide, train schedules and baby formulas, what you need in your life is a hot tray."

This sounds so kitschy and totally made up, I wouldn't believe that anyone could fall for this line. Except, of course, we actually have the hot tray, with the aforementioned article. Of course, since I study magazines, I'm curious where this was actually published and who, is everyone, was meant to read this and try it. As for us -- well, it'll be heating those aforementioned hors d'oeuvres just fine.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Better than the funky chicken

Thanks to the amazing Jeff Bird, I learned about Total Wine, a store which sells... well, you get the idea. Under normal circumstances, I'm fine getting a bottle of relatively decent wine at either Whole Foods ot the wine shop by campus -- but these are different times. I knew I needed quite a bit of pinot noir for the Oscar party this year. (And if you don't know why I needed California pinot noir, then you clearly don't know which movie I'm rooting for in the Best Picture category, among others.) So I needed cheap, but with a wide selection. Señor Pájaro told me to check out Total Wine. I did, and found what I needed.

After finding the wine I wanted for the party, however, I decided to see what other fun stuff they had. I ended up getting a couple bottles of a sauvignon blanc called "Old Tart" (which has a picture of one on its label). But it was when I went looking in the "interestinhg red" section that I found something really cool: Funky Llama. I love it! Great label, an interesting writeup -- something involving cherries, cinnamon and bark, I think -- and it's an Argentine malbec, which I tend to like a lot. Hooray! I can't wait to try the wine. I bought three bottles anyway, just in case we need to bring a bottle somewhere. We'll see if it gets opened after the pinot on Sunday. (Does pinot go well with spinach nuggets, by the way?)

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

On Interpretation

After living in Takoma Park for over a year, Angela and I finally got a chance to check out the local public library about a week ago. We figure we'll be spending a lot of time here in the years to come (what with, you know, the books and all) so it was high time to check it out. It's small, but so is this community. They've crammed a lot of stuff into a relatively small space and I, for one, was impressed.

I noticed a display case with several books by authors that I know and like (Rushdie, Chabon, Russo, etc.) and I had been meaning to pick up Jhumpa Lahiri's Pulitzer Prize winning short story collection, Interpreter of Maladies. I decided to make it my first check-out from the library.

And man, that woman can write. Her stories are so juicy with description and pathos, I'm just craving her stories. For the most part, she is writing about Indians in America and Indian-Americans, with all the implications of the distinctions of those terms left intact. On the one hand, these stories seem quite "universal" (whatever that means), and yet they give off the sense of Indianness beyond the mere mention of curry and an unusual name. Lahiri's prose does glide over such categorizations: she is simply a great storyteller. I really have to figure out how to get some of her stories into a class I'm teaching at some point.

Back to the snow watch -- any bets as to whether we'll actually get some in the morning? As the guy who has six errands to run tomorrow (three of which are interviewing pediatricians), I'm hoping for sunshine.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Everything I needed to know...

Last night, we attended a baby-care class where we learned how to do things like change a diaper and swaddle. I realized that I've actually never done any of this ever before and so, suddenly, everything seems very daunting. Here are some other things we learned:
  • Babies will cry differently for different reasons.
  • When they begin to move, they will explore everything, everywhere, particularly the places where they're not supposed to go.
  • Babies will scrupulously examine everything on the floor, often putting it in their mouths.
  • Babies want attention at all times.
  • ...except when they don't want attention, or have had too much.
  • Babies are apparently fascinated by ceiling fans.
  • In order to cut a baby's fingernails, one wraps him in a big towel so he doesn't squirm too much.
  • Babies eat only one thing for a long, long time and eat on a regular schedule. If you diverge from the schedule, they will complain.

Angela and I noted that all of this we've learned already from having a cat. We though Vega was good training for having a teenager. Had no idea she was also good for infants. A major difference: babies are apparently soothed by the whooshing sound of the vacuum cleaner; Vega, on the other hand, hides under the bed for hours on end the second she sees it emerge.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Six degrees of quantum mechanics

We had lunch with Dave and Tracy today, as promised. Since the University Club menu was so-so, we splurged and went to Chef Geoff's. (Mmmm.) Among other things, we chatted about some of the "weird student" stories that all of us professors have. Tracy mentioned the stigma of being "that girl" at Wellesley (as in "Who is that girl?" and "Why doesn't that girl ever shut up?") and I relayed the story of the student who fell asleep -- drunk, snoring loudly -- during a screening of Hitchcock's Notorious and who wouldn't wake up even when I started hitting him in the chest with some papers.

Dave had the story that had me in stitches for a while later. Dave is officially a faculty member of the Department of History of Science at MIT, but occasionally teaches in the physics department. (This is important information.) I was telling them about the bad movies I've forced upon my students over the past couple of years. Highlighted among these are two disco musicals which effectively killed the genre for almost 20 years in 1980: Can't Stop the Music, where the Village People are (brace yourselves...) straight, and Xanadu, where Gene Kelly gives his swan song performance on roller skates. "You realize, however, why I was fully justified in loving that film as a kid," I told them, thinking about my major crush on Olivia Newton-John. (It was 1980. I was 8. And she was on roller skates! How could I resist?)

"Sure," Dave said, "because Olivia Newton-John is the grandaughter of physics Nobel Laureate Max Born."

I thought Dave was kidding. But no, apparently it's true: she who was hopelessly devoted to me is apparently descended from the guy who theorized what an atom was. Who knew? This is the best part, however. He says that he mentions this is his undergraduate physics lecture all the time and that graduate students sit in every so often. Last year, one grad student -- remember: MIT, grad student physics, not your generic slacker -- just burst out from the back of the class upon hearing about Newton-John: "That is the best thing I've learned in this class all year." Uproar of laughter, followed by a heartfelt apology after class by the grad student to Dave. It completely tickled me, though.

This of course makes me wonder what's the fondest memory other people have of what is otherwise a horrible, forgettable movie. For me, oddly enough, it's a predecessor of Xanadu that I remember seeing in Lima while on vacation there as a kid: Roller Boogie, a 1979 vapid fantasy featuring Linda Blair on -- roller skates! You know that it's good if everyone's on roller skates. I remember being absolutely entranced, but the movie couldn't have possibly been good. (It has a rating of 2.5/10 on imdb.) I would love to see it again now with new, critical eyes, just to be properly horrified. Leave a comment below if you'd like relating the most horrifying movie you're just dying to see again.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

I swear I'm not biased

I know I promised Cindy Bair Van Dam no more than a half hour a day on this. But I was just reminded of something. And I know this is probably TMI, but I don't care.

As mentioned in a previous post, we went to a breastfeeding class today, which was cancelled. But it did mean that I got to see a whole bunch of other pregnant women.

And you know what? Angela is one really cute pregnant woman.

Everyone has been telling us that. Today, I checked out the other women. And you know what? Everyone's right. She is damn cute. And now I have the data to prove it.

Tango feróz

I was expecting that I'd be writing today about a breastfeeding class because, well, you can just imagine. But despite the fact that there were about 20 expectant mothers -- about 2/3 of them accompanied by us, the dutiful expectant fathers -- the lactation consultant apparently forgot to show up. So instead there were about 20 disgruntled expectant mothers. (Gee, that's smart.) Someone suggested we go upstairs in the Maternity Center to see one of the new mothers try it out herself, but that didn't work. I'll therefore have to reserve comments about seeing other women's breasts in full working mode for another time.

When I got home, I opened up the Washington City Paper and found an ad for a free film screening at the Inter-American Development Bank's new cultural center. On Friday the 25th at 6:30pm, they'll be showing Marcelo Piñeyro's Kamchatka, a fantastic movie from 2002 about two boys and their parents on the run from the government during the "Dirty War" in 1970s Argentina. I saw it in Lima at a film festival two years ago and simply loved it. The critics were divided on it, calling it overly slick: for a couple of people on the run, the parents -- played by easy-on-the-eyes stars Ricardo Darín and Cecilia Roth, most notably from Son of the Bride and All About My Mother respectively -- looked like the most well-kempt, attractive people ever. Indeed, the house they hide out in also doesn't seem to have any dirt in it. Indeed, Piñeyro is known for being a very stylish director; Plata quemada (Burnt Money), for example, opens with the two gay protragonists meeting for sex in the most artistically grimy, dark bathroom one can possibly imagine.

Here's why I think the limeño critics' views are invalid. The whole film is from the perspective of "Harry," the elder son, who is 10. The movie opens with his saying he is going to recount the last two weeks he will ever see his parents alive. (With that, it therefore maintains a sense of dread throughout the whole movie.) If the movie is taken from Harry's point of view, doesn't it make sense that everything is perfect, pretty and wonderful? Isn't it likely that Harry will remember these last moments in a less-than-idyllic way? I found the "perfect" mise-en-scene that surrounds them completely in line with the film's intentions.

I, for one, am looking forward to seeing the movie again, if for nothing else to see if I remember all this correctly. Plus, Piñeyro will be there to discuss it afterwards. (I'm such a lucky duck.) Perhaps a good movie to catch the nuances also between father and son. Could I be projecting? Maybe just a bit. Let's just hope Dubya doesn't come after me like the Argentine military junta. Maybe I should play more Risk just in case...

Showering the Giant

Our amazing friends Jen, Jeff and Amy had a fantabulous baby shower yesterday where, among other things, we had to play a game where we had to guess various flavors of baby food. (The one that stymied us: corn, black beans and rice, basically a tamale in baby food form. Not yummy.) We had a lot of fun -- really, these baby showers are lots of fun, guys, why wouldn't you want to go? -- but the biggest surprise was to see the smiling faces of two other friends, Dave and Tracy.

As it turns out, Dave had let me know that he was coming to town from Boston to do some research in College Park; we had arranged lunch on or near campus so he could see Angela as well before he started work in earnest. This was all a big lie: he had already been here for a week for a conference and already did some research. When Jeff let them know about the shower, Tracy -- a.k.a. La Tenurada, having just gotten, becoming the first of our friends to get, tenure -- came down as well. So both Angela and I were truly shocked -- and immensely pleased -- to see them wander through the door.

They were free yesterday evening, so we invited them over for dinner and asked if they were interested in a movie. I had told them about Donnie Darko, which I thought was appropriate for them given their research interests (hers, concerning childhood development and imaginary friends, more than his, history of physics in post-WW2 America). I still had that on campus, however, so we chose an alternate: Brad Bird's The Iron Giant.

This is one of my favorite films and I don't know who is reading this blog (if anyone) but I highly recommend it: smartly written, beautifully drawn and definitely deserving of its PG rating. Not a cutesy film with cuddly creatures singing happy songs, but a solid animated work about what might have happened if science fiction came to life in 1950s' Maine and the titular giant metal man drops from the sky. My favorite character is the despicable coward Mansley, voiced by Christopher MacDonald, who tries to trick the boy Hogarth into telling him about the giant and is thwarted by, among other things, some crumbled-up chocolate laxative. (Xan will be forced to see it, but not right away.)

My students' reaction to the film has changed considerably over the last four years. I show clips every time I teach the general film class as examples of recent, gorgeous cel animation (fear not, Bugs Bunny is also represented) and students were pleased to learn of the film when I first started doing this about four years ago. Last semester, however, when I showed the clip, over half the class cooed with glee when I announced the clip. This actually makes some sense: the film was released in 1999, when my current students were about 12 years old. And although the film failed miserably in the theaters (bankrupting Warner Brothers' animation division, if I'm not mistaken), I suppose it must have found some life in the home video audience. Parents must have heard that it was a quality film (heck, it was given a seal of approval by Congress) and these kids have now grown up on it. People are now re-discovering the film because of Brad Bird's success with The Incredibles, which is all a very good thing.

Of course, the question now is: will Dr. Kaiser require viewing this film on his history of science syllabi at MIT later this year? Time will tell.

Friday, February 18, 2005

The beast within

Today I walked into the writing center and ran into a former student who is now an intern there. Justin's a great guy and I'm thrilled I run into him these days when I'm rarely on campus. (In fact, I'm only on campus either to pick something up -- books or Angela -- or to go work out and swim, which I have now been diligently doing for over a month. Although today, the professor's nightmare happened when I ran into a student in the showers. An awkward experience, indeed. But I digress.)

Janet (the director of writing center) asked how yesterday's prenatal visit went. I said that the midwife said Angela was at "minus-3." Janet (and one of the other writing center employees, who is also a mom) nodded and Justin just looked at me with a mildly confused look. I started to explain to him that this meant that the baby was no longer floating around, that he was now head-down and slowly headed in the direction that he's supposed to go -- i.e. out. And that "zero" meant the cervix and "plus-2" meant...

And Justin was just looking so bewildered.

You know, it really wasn't that long ago that I probably would have had that same look. As late as five months ago, I wouldn't have had a clue. Nor would I really have known anything about onesies or Pitocin or Vitamin K or really why would anyone need a bassinet. And I can't imagine myself spontaneously asking people about their opinions on circumcision all that long ago, knowing that whatever decision I will make will be wrong.

What sort of beast have I become?

I'll tell you what sort I'm becoming. In the waiting room yesterday at the Maternity Center, I was happily reading an interesting book called Kael & Sontag: Opposites Attract Me and a woman came in with her son. He was just sitting in his car seat, staring all around at everything, wriggling like mad with huge eyes. And I couldn't take my eyes off of him. Adorable as hell.

And I told the mother with a big, soft smile on my face, "I am not going to get a damn thing done when my son is born."

Bring it on.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Posting, the First


In my mind, you can blame the Zs for this. That would be Dan Zak and Emily Zemler, two former students who decided to graduate early from AU and head off to the Big Apple to find their way in the world. Great writers too, those two. They both recently set up blogs to get some of their ideas out their in the world and, frankly, I'm glad for them. Probably also because it's all so new and weird and wonderful.

And you know? Even at the age of 32, life's about to change for me as well. And guess what? It's still new and weird and wonderful.

As of today, Angela and I will be one month away from the due date of our first-born. We're a little bit excited. Everything looks normal and running A-OK. And apparently, we have the requisite number of onesies to start with.

So why not a blog? It's the new thing, and I have stuff to say as well. About being a new father. About the movies, since that's my thing. About students and life as an assistant professor, meaning still with tenure to go. There are still lots of questions, lots of stuff that's going to happen. Why not let everyone in on it?

So join me for the adventure.