Friday, September 25, 2009

Back up to speed...

Being my 141st blog post since I resuscitated this thing back in the summer of 2007 (which seems both like yesterday and eons ago), I'd like to start off by saying that, and Forrest - you're going to love this, tonight's entry is brought to you by the Tupolev Tu-141.

Cheap joke? Check.

Semi-nostalgic statement? Check.

Acting like my life story is the most important thing to my friends, passersby, or the whole of the Internet? Nah. I'll just write about what I feel is worth documenting.

There will be horror, humor, romance, suspense, action, and drama -- ALL ON ONE PAGE!

(Incidentally, can anyone tell me how to widen my margins on this blog? It really pisses me off that my carefully paced and constructed paragraphs wind up looking like news clippings from a side column with no reprieve. I mainly need to know how to fix this on my review blog...)

The art gallery opening I mentioned in my last real entry? Ugh. You know those stereotypes about the art world being this world of truly talented but overlooked artists, pretentious asshole artists who get all the recognition, and then the vapid rich dummies who buy it to say they spent that much money on it?

They all exist. A progressive couple brought their trophy adopted son, someone brought a fucking dog, and any lady there over forty-five looked like a gypsy librarian. Someone said someone else's necklace was "To die! To die!" Seriously? Four syllables. Could have saved a syllable and just been a normal human being and said, "To die for!", even though to consider such an ornamental object something worth paying with your life demonstrates both shallowness and a logical flaw: if you'd die to have it, what's the point? (I might be more Buddhist than I thought...yikes.)

Have any of you seen the Woody Allen film Stardust Memories?

...kind of like that.

We were there for all of thirty minutes, at least five of those minutes spent being way too polite to interrupt the ladies talking to the host so we could say, "We're leaving! See you later!"

Oh, and it was raining.

Oh, and I was getting awful stomach cramps, which quickly turned into abdominal cramps. This could only mean one thing: diarrhea was knocking on my door. Normally, this wouldn't be such a big deal, just go to the nearest place with a restroom and let loose.

Unfortunately, we were walking across the Williamsburg Bridge. The cold air, the rain, the wind, it was pure torture. I don't think I've ever endured so much pain in my life. We were halfway across the bridge when the pain struck me, and it took about twenty minutes to get to the other side because I had to stop every few minutes and double over from the pain. I had definitely eaten something bad - perhaps the cause of my flu-like chills?

So we go to Burger King, right off the bridge in Manhattan. Closed.

So we go to McDonald's, where I have a rather normal BM. I instantly felt better.

This state of bliss lasted maybe ten minutes.

Somewhere in Chinatown, I had a really hot fart - hot as in warm, not hot as in, oh, baby, baby, fart on me - and I told Shelley if I didn't get to a bathroom in two minutes, it would be messy, embarrassing, and of a horrifying quantity. So we rushed into a Chinese restaurant, owned by Chinese people. In Chinatown. They had one bathroom, attached to their kitchen.

So I sit down on the pot, and I LET LOOSE.

Kind of like this, except honest to God, I was on the can even longer.

Now, this took time itself. The very act was like I took a long, hot piss out of my button. But then I had know...wipe.

It's a common assumption that if you're in a public restroom for more than fifteen minutes, you are doing one of five possible activities:
1.) Vomiting.
2.) Masturbating.
3.) Committing suicide.
4.) Taking the biggest fucking shit of your life.
5.) All of the above.

When I walked out, a bounce in my step although my face was still ghastly pale, a member of the kitchen staff snickered while the waitress gave me a dirty look, as if I had done the second item on the above list.

I ordered the sizzling beef, which was good, though it was just a little too much of a certain shade of brown for me to completely enjoy.

Last weekend I attended an experimental jam session with some musicians. We were the youngest people there, but it was fine. The lineup was as follows:
+ Tenor sax
+ Four-string bass
+ Six-string bass
+ Keyboards
+ Guy with microphone and effect boxes
+ Guy with little noise boxes that beeped and blipped like an old Moog synthesizer and generated some sweet sounds
+ Drums

It was in the same building as the headquarters for The Militant newspaper, the periodical of the Socialist Workers' Party. Anyone who's been following me long enough might remember my first real leap into political writing amidst the 2008 campaign, and maybe - just maybe - you remember me saying this:

"If that horror of a human being [Hillary Clinton] gets the nomination, I am voting for RĂ³ger Calero. He is running as a candidate for the Socialist Workers' Party."
- Alex DiBlasi, "The Gloves (And Muzzle) Come Off." Insomniac Ramblings, now Hypergraphia, 30 January 2008.

As I pointed out to Shelley on the building's business directory that "This is where the Militant is published," an older man turns around. I happened to be wearing my hammer and sickle t-shirt (also, as a side-note, let me just say that our current President is not, repeat NOT, a Socialist. I am, I will admit to it that I am a Socialist of the Trotskyist variety and a Marxist of the Groucho variety. But Barack Obama is not a Socialist. Left of center? Yes. But nowhere near Socialist.), and I was thinking, "Uh-oh, here comes my first NYC browbeating..."

"I like your shirt. I'm actually headed up there right now, I'm their candidate for mayor."

And you know what? His name is Dan Fein, and he is.

And he is a very nice guy.

In the elevator, I told him that Calero would have had my vote had Obama not received the nomination. He said with a smile, "Oh, you just walked right by him in the lobby!"

Awesome, right? At the office, the various employees smiled at my shirt - they knew Shelley and I were friendlies - and we got some fliers for their weekly meetings. We are so there.

After the jam session, we went out to eat with the six-string bass man. Turns out he plays Chapman Stick for the Blue Man Group, so yeah...he's no slouch. He wants us to get together with him and some other friends for a salon party.

Sounds gay, right? Maybe by modern definition.

The meaning in question is "...a gathering of people for a social or intellectual meeting."

Still sound gay? No? Sounds more...I don't I think so, too. Like I said, it's really nice that we've actually got something resembling a social life.

I don't normally talk about television programs, mainly because I hate damn near all of it, but these first two episodes of The Office's sixth season have been grand slams all-around. I have not been as thoroughly entertained by this show since last season when Jim proposed to Pam.

Season Four - not a typo - boasted a lot of promise, as Jim and Pam had FINALLY gotten together, former temp Ryan got a job at corporate, and Dwight and Angela broke up. But then came some really stupid moments - like when a guy at a bar asks Pam if she'd ever ridden on a motorcycle, at which point Jim puts his arm around her and the guy goes away - and then there was the issue of the Writer's Guild strike.

The pre-strike episodes were pretty good, but not remarkable. Mine and Eric Condon's long-posited thought that The Office needed to be an hour-long show was quickly erased as the fourth season started with four one-hour episodes. Of them, only one ("Launch Party") was a truly seamless forty-four minute story. The rest all seemed like two episodes separated only by a three-minute commercial break rather than a week's time.

In these first few episodes, Michael reached Homer Simpson levels of stupidity. It was one thing for him to chuckle at the Diversity Day counselor when he says his name is Mr. Brown and Michael responds, "Nice try...not falling for that one!" But in the first four episodes of that season, he hit an employee with his car, drove his rental car into a lake, kidnapped an asshole pizza boy, and literally ran away from his financial problems - running to a nearby train and claiming he could "go off the grid." What made Michael such an endearing character was the sympathy we could occasionally feel for him, his moments of true competence (more often than not when assuming the role of a salesman and not a manager), and his social gaffes that are like a PG-rated Curb Your Enthusiasm. But he was just ridiculous in these episodes.

Between Karen chewing Jim out in "Branch Wars," during which he slowly, painfully shrinks in a realistic tongue-lashing that could only come from the awkward reunion of ex-boyfriend and ex-girlfriend ("Oh, you and Pam are doing great? Great! Great! That's totally what I want to hear. Why don't you tell me more?" - I shudder every time...) and Jim's complete failure to run the branch while Michael is gone in "Survivor Man," it seemed that had the season been full-length, our man would have gotten to enjoy some character development a la Pam in season 3.

But alas, it was not the case. After a brilliant episode, featuring Michael and his back-stabbing girlfriend/former boss Jan in her attempt to sue Dunder-Mifflin, that was light on Jim/Pam, the show was off the air effective early November. While I agree with the demands of those involved with the strike, it was kind of a blow. Thankfully, production resumed in February (though as anyone who has been following me since that time knows that I'd just broken up with Kate when the show stopped...and had just gotten back with Shelley as the show came back). Negotiations were made, and they were given until the end of the regular television season, mid-May.

As a result, the second half of the season (that is, post-strike) seemed to jump through story arc-advancing hoops at warp speed, from Michael becoming single again, Jim revealing he's going to propose to Pam, Andy and Angela getting engaged, Dwight banging Angela, Ryan's fall from grace, and Michael meeting the dorky girl of his dreams, Holly.

Very little development for Jim as a character in these episodes, though I really love his ballsy voicemail to Ryan - which he unfortunately never hears - when he realizes that Ryan is simply trying to get him fired because of things he said to the company's CFO at an unseen Christmas party about Ryan's online paper-selling system, Dunder Mifflin Infinity.

And then there was the perfect set-up for Jim's proposal to Pam, with fireworks, a nice "couples" montage, and "Just My Imagination" (one of the best love songs from the 1960's, and this is from the same group that did the almost-as-good "My Girl,") playing in the background. Then professional douche Andy pops the question to his lady, citing the fireworks Jim paid for as creating a moment that just seemed perfect to him. It wasn't necessary, I thought, for the show to display Pam's disappointment with Jim not proposing...for me it just caused unnecessary "Oh, no! Trouble in paradise!?!?!?!" feelings.

Still, nice work on the writers' part for keeping their proposal from being a picture-perfect moment.

In fact, the actual proposal scene almost made me cry then, and it still gets me a little watery now. Probably had everything to do with the images of Shelley and myself that I see in these two awkward geeks and the fact that I was working towards an engagement ring myself at the time:

Not a bad way to start last season. Not at all.

Last season doesn't sound that long ago, but unfortunately the proposal happened in the season premiere. The rest of the season had its high points - I really liked the story arc of Michael starting his own paper company, and his rare display of business sense in getting his job back along with Pam and Ryan's jobs in the episode "Broke," and the no-nonsense corporate bastard Charles, played by Idris Elba.

The other high point of season five was Michael's relationship with Holly, the new HR representative introduced in the final episode of the fourth season. Since I seem to be in the mood to keep putting up videos, let me show you a scene I absolutely love.

Awkward pause. But right when we think he's blown it...

My eyes lit up right alongside Michael's!

Another great moment with these two, just to provide some context Michael's ex Jan, pregnant with a sperm bank baby, was due at the office for a bridal shower. He hides his affection for Holly the entire time by being mean to her. But it turns out Jan already had the baby without telling Michael, who has expressed on several occasions he really, really wants to settle down and raise a family.

See what I mean?

Also, though it's not as obvious in these clips, Holly reminds me of Shelley. If Holly and Pam got together and had a baby, it would be Shelley. Dorky, awkward, nerdy, artistically gifted, and sweet, a girl so sensitive that "I don't even like the thought that Al-Qaeda hates me. I'm sure if they got to know me they'd think I was nice!"

But most of it was middling at best - the Christmas episode where Meredith the office drunk catches her hair on fire, the disappointing resolution to Andy (Ed Helms) challenging Dwight (Rainn Wilson) to a duel after learning he's been banging his fiance, and the "why was this made into a big deal in the promos" return of the super-hot Rashida Jones as a very pregnant Karen Filipelli, now married and not at all carrying Jim's love child, as the promos suggested. (Yeah, for real. Jim and Karen broke up in May 2007, and this was February 2009.)

And in its low points, it was a mildly amusing soap opera - Pam goes to art school at Pratt (in Brooklyn, funny enough...) but then fails one of her classes and comes back and everything is back to normal. Michael's love affair with Shelley's onscreen doppelganger Holly Flax got cut short by corporate, creating the A-plot for the episode "Employee Transfer," which along with its B-plot of Jim's brothers jokingly picking on Pam at a friendly lunch made for what I contend to be the worst episode of the series. It was a beautiful story arc, and maybe it just hit a little too close to home for the times Shelley and I had been separated by lots of miles, but I hated the way it ended, but Amy Ryan had other commitments.

While it wasn't the worst moment of the series or the season - that would be "Employee Transfer" - I was pretty insulted with how the fifth season finale, "Corporate Picnic," ended. After a minor ankle injury in a volleyball game, Jim takes Pam to a local doctor's office for a once-over. The episode ended with the doctor summoning Jim to the windowed exam room. He takes off his microphone and the doctor tells the couple something - which makes them extremely happy and they hug and kiss, before Jim comes back out, turning his mic back on, and tells Dwight they won't be able to return to the game.

As if it wasn't obvious that Pam found out she was pregnant, an earlier scene featured Pam getting wheeled away by a nurse who asks, "Now, we're gonna be x-raying you, is there a chance you may be pregnant?" And yet the Internet fan community EXPLODED with "What was it? What was it?" It took one of the producers saying, yes, Pam is supposed to be pregnant before they finally shut up about it.

For a show that had a track record of seasons two, three, and four all ending with AMAZING cliffhangers - Jim kissing Pam, Jim interrupting Pam's talking head about "Jim and I will just always be friends" to ask if she was free for dinner and says "Great, it's a date!" leaving her smiling with tears in her eyes and saying "I'm sorry, what were we talking about?", and Phyllis walking in on Dwight having sex with the just-engaged-to-wannabe-Ivy-Leaguer-Andy Angela - this was a disappointment. It already sucked that the finale had been a half-hour long, after season two's "Casino Night" was a deluxe-sized episode and three and four ended with hour-long finales.

Naturally, as a hater of television because of its existence as a series of tropes with few exceptions, I was worried. So far, The Office had taken the twelve-episode UK series' "will they, won't they" dynamic and stretched it into "Pam's engaged to an asshole, Jim pines for her, Jim is dating another girl, now he's single again, then he decides to transfer to another branch, then he tells Pam he loves her, she rebukes him, he kisses her, he still transfers, she's left her asshole fiance, he starts dating Karen, Karen and Pam are friends, Jim kind of blows Pam off, Pam gets back with Roy, Pam tells Roy about the kiss and he freaks, Roy attempts to beat Jim up, Pam's apology turns into Jim snottily saying she and Roy will get back together, Karen learns about Jim's crush on Pam and gets pissy, Jim and Karen both decide to interview for a job at corporate, Pam reveals in front of everyone that she left Roy because of Jim, Karen thinks Pam is a bitch, and Jim dumps Karen and asks Pam out."

And you know what? Aside from the really cheesy promos that made The Office look a lot like a soap opera featuring the comic musings of Andy, Dwight, and Michael...

...the progression of the relationship worked. It worked because it was real, because it doesn't just happen overnight, and because (and I'm saying this with a knowing wink to Shelley) as bad as that time of "won't they?" was, it only made the pay-off for "OH MY GOD THEY WILL!" sweeter.

Anyway, the office now knows Pam is pregnant, and they plan on getting married at Niagara Falls as soon as conceivably possible (it is, in fact, to be the hour-long episode on October 8th). The season got off to a wonderful start. The first episode was a throwback to the Michael-as-a-total-ass we hadn't seen much of since season two, and this week's episode saw some development in Jim being promoted to co-manager along with Michael, who almost sabotaged Jim's promotion with the CFO.

Two episodes, back-to-back weeks, showing off the two things I love the most about this program: the nuanced interactions of the huge-but-you-still-know-who's-who cast against their socially retarded boss, and some great comedy interspersed with plot-oriented tension in the second episode.

One last thing. Shelley finally chewed her parents out for convincing us to delay the wedding. They claimed they wanted to get to know me better, but then at Jared's wedding said they could never consider me part of their family and encouraged Shelley that if she studied Judaism more, even though it isn't what she believes, she would eventually "get it."

That's like saying if you only eat cheddar cheese every single day for two years, it will eventually become your favorite food.

We also found out that it was her dad's intention to keep asking us to postpone our wedding until we eventually broke up. The postponement, once we realized it was for naught, most certainly did put a strain on us. Breaking up was never seriously considered, but we certainly had a bumpy summer. But we made it. I guess you could call that our final test.

Now, Shelley isn't pregnant...but we've agreed that as soon as we get steady sources of income.............

.............we're getting married.

Speaking of cliffhangers...

*Because I can, and I because I think it's Woody at his absolute best, here's another clip from Stardust Memories. The bit starting around the 4-minute mark with the balloons is Eric Condon's favorite moment in the history of moving pictures. I don't necessarily agree, but I always like pointing that out. It's certainly a beautiful sequence, uniquely paced with moments so varied in style and presentation it's like the visual equivalent of The Beatles' White Album. Beautiful.

Enjoy. If you really like it, watch the rest of the movie. You won't be disappointed.


m@ said...

What I want to know is this:
Why is it that you and I can have very similar things happen to us, but you can write about it and make it sound incredible? Sub out your two restaurants for Crate and Barrel and the Star of Siam, make New York Chicago, and make Shelley's name Sharon and seriously it's the same story.
Oh and I have to add a couple shows to your list of "not crap" tv. As much as it's publicly lauded, Glee is worth your time. And the lesser known, Defying Gravity is also worth a shot.
Happy to see that things seem to be going so well for you two. God's peace.

Forrest said...

Sounds like I may have to try and catch a few episodes of the office!

Shelley said...

I was re-reading this and I saw that I hadn't commented. (Sorry).

Anyway, I agree with what you're saying with The Office. And (after several weeks later and seeing more office episodes) I myself am getting worried about where the show is heading. They still have yet to do any episodes on Creed or Oscar. And they just haven't been as excellent as they used to be.

I love that every now and then you ask: "Hey, remember when I had diarrhea at that chinese restaurant?"

And that is why I love you.