Friday, March 30, 2007

The pickups are always rustier on the other side of the fence

Since we moved in, we have had a great relationship with the neighbors on two sides of our property; the third, however, has always made us a little wary. Let's just say that the owners aren't the usual Takoma Park type. By that, I mean that the house has had several cars in the front lawn since we moved in, the yard has NEVER been kept up well and we once saw a bleach-blonde woman wearing high heels and a towel go out to her car. (Walking in a towel to the car is very Takoma Park, I think. Doing so with high heels is what makes it not so much.) The spring after we first moved in, we saw the owner drive up while Ange and I were out in the front yard. I thought I'd be friendly and meandered over to say hi -- and before I got there, the man got out of the car, pulled out his tween-age son and smacked him across the face, yelling, "Don't EVER touch my shit!" Making a mental note not to ever let them look after our kid if we ever had one, I retreated and kept my distance.

Since then, that side of the house has been a source of amusement between Angela and me. (See above story with the high heels, for one, which we both witnessed, dumbfounded, while having lunch.) We learned the name of the boy from his being yelled at several times. When I grew up, we had a neighbor who I was always warned against and I jokingly parlayed this scenario to Angela when Xan was born, saying, "You know, when Xan grows up, we're going to have to tell him not to buy drugs off XX next door." Given that we never really engaged in much conversation with anyone over there, various events would inspire resigned amusement. "Oh, look, there's another car in the front yard. They're up to six!" "Hmm, I wonder what the cops are doing there knocking on their door." "Gee, I guess they don't realize that fireworks are illegal in Montgomery County. And that it's not the 4th of July; in fact, it's February." Thinking that it was better to resign ourselves to this, we never complained -- mainly because if they were really nuts or something, we didn't want retribution. After all, we have a two-year-old.

At the park yesterday, however, I ran into G, the half of the gay couple that lives on the corner by the park who befriended me a while back when we were waiting for a bus. We shared stories about disappointing problems from our neighbors: he told me about a neighbor who wouldn't cut his grass except for once in the summer when he would scythe it; I told him about Mr. Six-Cars-in-the-Front-Yard. And I mentioned that something must be happening, because we hadn't seen the guy in a while, but the blonde and the boy were dragging nine million bags of everything to the curb at all times during the week, as if they were cleaning out or something. He suggested we talk to someone about this, that there had to be an ordinance, and that he would go with me. I said, sure -- in fact, Xan's daycare is right next door to the area representative for the City of Takoma Park.

I wasn't expecting C, the district rep, to come up and introduce herself to me and Angela as I got home from work.

We should have been careful about what we joked about.

Without going into really gory details (and to be euphemistic), it appears that everything involved with that house is going to hell in a handbasket. That the reason we haven't seen the man indeed is because he's been put away for a while. That the woman we've been seeing has issues of her own. That the house itself is in probate and might be taken away by the city soon. That the house (which C actually went in the other day) is in such a disastrous shape anyway that if and when it would be sold, it would have to be torn down. (And given what's happening over in laloca-land, I'm not sure I'm thrilled by the looming prospect of living next door to construction -- though at least trucks in the driveway would then serve a purpose: as a source of endless amusement for my vehicle-obsessed son, of course. "Beep beep trucks go backwards!") Things will certainly liven up on the other side of our fence.

I'm just stunned at how blissfully ignorant I have been. At least I can live with the comfort that the Department of Justice of the United States is safely in the hands of someone honorable and decent.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Scene from a lecture on aesthetics by Professor Middents

You will note here that the use of vertical lines denotes a certain aesthetic that indicates a forceful element, perhaps something natural like rain or lava. We might therefore read in two ways. One reading might involve the constant struggle of mankind's domination over nature, where the artist's frustrated attempt at the pastoral is rendered inefficient -- hence, the lines clearly indicating that the artist cannot will not even attempt verisimilitude, choosing instead an abstraction. The other (more likely, given our reading through cultural studies of the artist's history) might find us examining the carefree nature of these lines, exemplified in the seemingly random use of color and the insouciant use of the thickness of each line, reflecting the randomness of both the natural and life in general. The artist appears to have been influenced by other contemporary postmodern artists, as his work is reminiscent of the various Wall Drawings by Sol Lewitt.

Any questions?

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha

A short film consisted of edited footage from John Cassavetes' Faces, made by one of my students (on his own!) after watching the film. His version actually gets the tone of the movie down pretty well. (As he says, however, he suggests watching the whole movie -- it's now one of his favorites.)

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Two by two

Xan turned two today, if you can believe it. To wit, this is what we both looked like almost two years ago to the minute:

This is what we looked like last year at his first birthday party:

And this is the two of us, this year:

Seeing these pictures, I realize that I look pretty much the same, with the really crazes smile and the sideburns that could use a trim; he, meanwhile, has changed dramatically. If I thought that last year babyhood was over, he has certainly turned into a boy.

Our friend Howie, who is Boone's dad, at one point said, "I take my hat off to you for having by far the mellowest birthday party we've been to this year." We took this as high praise, as the event was fairly low-key (which is what we wanted) and the kids had fun. Ange and Xan spent a good portion of the day prepping materials and hanging decorations like balloons and streamers, but otherwise it was meant to be mellow. Boone, Xan and Jolie are (respectively from oldest to youngest) about one month apart in age from each other, so they were all on the same page. The kids all made and then ate their own pizzas, although this took some effort as they all tried to eat the cheese before putting it on the pizza.

I also had little reason to fear, as the kids quickly identified the item below as perhaps a bunny but definitely a CAKE. This was, of course, a VERY good thing.

Our good friend Señor Pájaro (who also attended the gathering) sent this note to Xan over e-mail today that sounds like good advice, at least for him:

I think you will find that you quite enjoy being two, as you frolic to and fro, causing ruckuses and parental headaches and knowing that no matter what you do, you are covered by the "terrible twos" clause in your contract, by which you may engage in all sorts of malfeasance that will be met only by shrugged shoulders and embarrased glances that say "what can we do? he's in the terrible twos.

Welcome to two, my child. We love you overwhelmingly. (And yes, we will continue to enable your somewhat unnerving addiction to trucks -- "trucks go backward, say beep beep!" -- for as long as we're able.)

Monday, March 19, 2007

Avant moi le were-rabbit

It was supposed to be simple.

He's only turning two, after all. It's not like he's really going to remember this party beyond pictures and what we tell him. No need for a blow-out where we invite every kid we've ever known, with preparations weeks in advance and a major order placed at the catalog that suspiciously arrived in our mailbox only a few weeks ago, from which you can order practically any themed party supply item you can think of. Also, to be honest, we got bogged down in other things, so we really didn't have time to prepare lavishly. (Yep: Bad Parents. Them's us.)

Last week, I was put in charge of general party duty. I decided on a small gathering, just three kids with some other good friends (most of who came for the first birthday last year) on his actual birthday. Since I teach all day, it would have to be dinner, something fun but low-key: make-your-own pizza. And as for a theme, well, thanks to Guess How Much I Love You, we've been on a bunny kick of late and Target fed this kick by placing a large number of Peter Rabbit items in the dollar section. So, after about $25 in stickers, books, paper, crayons, candy and rabbit-ear headbands, a bunny theme it was. Still relatively simple.

Angela suggested I look at this holiday-themed book we got a while ago that admittedly has some good ideas. This is where we found the bunny cake.

And the little wheels in Angela's head started turning. Rapidly.

At 11:30PM the night before the party, Angela is currently shaving white chocolate for bunny fur. She has given me permission to say on this blog that at this point I think she's insane. I'm not even sure I can describe her trying to form cheeks out of the spongy part of the cake, which still needed to be frosted. ("And what about feet? I have enough to make feet!")

It's going to be amazingly cute. Xan, of coruse, may only care that it's cake. Me, I'm returning to my grading.

(Stay tuned? How can you not?!)

UPDATE: 12:30AM -- The beast is completed. See for yourself. Complete with cheeks! And eyebrows, even! Of course, now we're worried that he's going to freak out when we have to cut into the bunny.

Friday, March 16, 2007


A quick run-down about what I've been up to (and why I haven't been posting as often lately):
  • A couple weeks ago, I got flown out to give a lecture on Peruvian cinema at University of Kansas as part of an Andean and Amazonian Worlds seminar put on by their Hall Center for the Humanities. I got the gig thanks to my colleague and friend (and collection co-editor) Tamara -- and it marks the first time that I've actually been brought anywhere to talk about my specialty. I also got to give a talk to undergrads at the Center for Latin American Studies. And here's the thing: not only was everyone really nice, but people were genuinely interested in what I had to say. Except for Tamara, I don't know any of these people at all. And every so often in academia, you wonder if what you're doing is really of any interest to anyone else but yourself -- you hope so, but you never know. Watching people take notes on what I said was quite the boost. (Plus, Lawrence and Kansas City turned out to be a pretty neat place! Who knew?)
  • Last weekend, I was in Chicago at the Society for Cinema and Media Studies, giving a paper entitled -- wait for it -- "It's Not Easy Bein' Brown: Rita Moreno, Lena Horne and The Muppet Show." It's my second foray into writing about television (come to think of it, the second writing about racial depictions in TV, the first one having already been published at the e-journal Slayage), which I don't have formal academic training in, but am slowly gaining some know-how. The story behind my wanting to do the paper is intriguing: two years ago, I was prepping my course on Stardom and wanted to do a unit on Lena Horne. I went looking for a famous episode of A Different World, but that was unavailable at the time. Instead, I found The Muppet Show, whose first season had just been released on DVD. The episode was (for me, at first) unusually milquetoast -- but then on a whim, I watched the episode on Rita Moreno. (I do have an academic interest in Rita Moreno, but that's a later endeavor.) Seeing the episodes back-to-back led to the idea for the paper -- and a year-and-a-half later, I've now given it. I may even try to pump it up a little further at another point.
  • Visiting Chicago also gave me the opportunity to call on one James Chadd, one of my 'shmen from waaaay back when I was a UGA at Dartmouth. The last time I saw him, he was just about to graduate in '96; just over ten years later, he's doing wonderfully well working as an ER doctor in Chicago proper. (And, had I contacted him earlier, his apartment was only eight blocks from the conference site. Instead, I stayed at a friend's palce way up north in Andersonville; they weren't around, so I cat-sit for them, even making friends with Loopy Lucy.) Next year's conference: Philly.
  • At the conference, I got to talk to a couple presses, who at least seem interested in the book. That's all I'll say for now, but I just have to keep plugging away. It's so close to being done -- I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
  • Last week, I found out that I'll be teaching my standard into film course for University College next year. This means that instead of 50 students from across the university spectrum, I'll get around 20 students, all freshmen who will live on the same floor. This is a huge opportunity that I didn't even know I was being considered for until after it happened, so I'm thrilled at the chance to teach it. My schedule for next year is a bit odd, but is shaping up to be very nice, with my spring featuring only my stardom class and my grad seminar on film. (This means, for once, my spring will not feature a class at 8:30 AM! Woohoo!)
  • Speaking of teaching, summer plans thus far: teaching a course on Almodóvar in May and June; Cape Cod at Ange's parents in July; my parents in A2 in August before the fall begins. In between, a conference in early June in Edmonton (also a fly-out!) on Peruvian exploitation film, and possibly a trip up to Hanover for reunion (#15!).
  • I still have to choose the movie for my class' final project, which has to come out over the next couple weeks. I'm narrowing the choices now, having already seen one good candidate.
  • And oh yes, looky that: someone's having a birthday next week. And man, is he turning two. With all that implies.

Monday, March 05, 2007

What sometimes happens with a Ph.D in Comp Lit

My best friend from grad school had the most kick-ass dissertation ever. She came in from the corporate world the year after I did and she is seriously one of the smartest people I have ever met. Her project compared a particular type of resistance literature called the feuilleton as used in 17th C. France, early 20th C. Czechoslovakia and later 20th C. Argentina. Her project was truly comparatist and, man, she was driven. Naturally, since she started a year after me, she finished right before I did. She's also a great teacher and can drink anyone under the table. (She's Irish. Note thre red hair above.)

Of course, this made her completely unhirable in academia.

This is not a sad story at all, however. You see, right now she's at the center of a pretty major event in U.S. politics.

The person I speak of is Marcy Wheeler (aka "emptywheel"), who is currently the foremost authority (at least on the left) on the Scooter Libby trial. Her book, Anatomy of Deceit, is flying off shelves (here is an excerpt), she was recently profiled in the NY Times, and she is currently (and by that I mean right now, depending on when you're reading this) live-blogging (and scooping) the trial at firedoglake. She's kicking ass, taking names and is possibly the most intelligent person writing about this.

And she's my friend. Love her dearly.

UPDATE: And there she is reporting on the verdict! I think she's probably downing a lot of wine right now. The blog (and her reporting) is getting some pretty fab press too -- her talk here is pretty cool given that she has no formal training (that I know of) in reporting.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

¿Hora peruana = hora exacta?

The invitation for my high school prom in Lima stated that the event began at 9:00PM. Melanie (who was a sophomore at the time) could only stay out until midnight, so we thought we would arrive at the respectable time of 10:15pm.

Not only were we the first ones there, but the decorations weren't even finished.

Since then, I've had a number of experiences concerning "hora peruana," known more generally in this country as HPT (hispanic people's time). Angela and I laughed when we had an engagement party in Peru and the Koreans who we invited actually arrived at the time we said to arrive, while the rest of my Peruvian family arrived at least an hour later. In college, after he found out I was Peruvian, Professor Neil Oxenhandler (today I have no problem declaring that he did this), yelled at me in front of the class for arriving late, saying "you people need to learn how to arrive on time." (Naturally, I assume he meant "you people" to refer to "work-study students" since the reason I arrived late to class was because I was a manager at the dining hall and the person who was supposed to replace me had arrived late. That would make him classist instead of racist, which I suppose is better.) These days, I am usually five minutes late to class, running in out of breath. The clock in our car is deliberately set 10 minutes fast so that I will glance at it and forget that it's fast so that I might actually arrive on time every so often.

It appears, however, that I no longer have an excuse. (Even the main Peruvian daily newspaper is covering this.)

Personally, I would love to be in Peru now to see exactly how this is panning out -- or whether, as I expect, everyone is just laughing as they stroll in half and hour late.