31 December 2005

Books - 2005

These are the books I read during 2005 in chronological order. The rating system started as a simple -, /, +, but when I realized I didn't plan to finish anything I'd rate a -, I expanded it to give it more range.

Ratings (predominantly subjective)
- Not worth reading or finishing
/ Fair: didn't seem like a waste of time to read once
/+ Between / and +, a little more enjoyable than fair
+ Good: enjoyed reading it once
++ Very Good: would read it more than once, found it objectively good, or might want to own a copy
+++ Excellent: as good as it gets

1. "The Elements of Style" -third edition William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White (+)

2. "A Superior Death" Nevada Barr (/+) Her mysteries are set at various National Parks in the U.S., and her sleuth is a female park ranger with a knack for finding trouble. Click the author's name for more info on any of her titles as well as info on her actual life in the park system.

3. "Sons Come & Go, Mothers Hang In Forever" William Saroyan (+)

4. "Ill Wind" Nevada Barr (+)

5. "Seventeenth Summer" Maureen Daly (+)

6. "Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation" Lynne Truss (++)

7. "Firestorm" Nevada Barr (++)

8. "Just a Geek: unflinchingly honest tales of the search for life, love, and fulfillment beyond the Starship Enterprise" Wil Wheaton (++)

9. "The Well-Tempered Sentence: A Punctuation Handbook for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed" Karen Elizabeth Gordon (++)

10. "The Transitive Vampire: A Handbook of Grammar for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed" Karen Elizabeth Gordon (++)

11. "The O. Henry Prize Stories 2003" (fave stories: "Burn Your Maps" Robyn Joy Leff, "Lush" Bradford Morrow, "Election Eve" Evan S. Connell, "Irish Girl" Tim Johnston) Series editor: Laura Furman (+)

12. "The Serpent on the Crown" Elizabeth Peters (+++) Start reading the Amelia Peabody series from the beginning: "The Crocodile on the Sandbank."

13. "The Best American Short Stories 2000" (fave stories: "The Story" Amy Bloom, "The Ordinary Son" Ron Carlson, "The Third and Final Continent" Jhumpa Lahiri) editor: E.L. Doctorow, series editor: Katrina Kenison (/, faves +)

14. "Stone" Andy Goldsworthy (++)

15. "The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous, & Broke" Suze Orman (++)

16. "Yoga for People Who Can't Be Bothered to Do It" Geoff Dyer (+++)

17. "The Arabian Nights" editors: Kate Douglas Wiggin and Nora A. Smith; illustrator: Maxfield Parrish (+)

18. "Endangered Species" Nevada Barr (++)

19. "Franny and Zooey" J.D. Salinger (++)

20. "The Two Towers" (The Lord of the Rings, part 2) J.R.R. Tolkien (++)

21. "Wall" Andy Goldsworthy (++) I saw this wall in person earlier this year and fell in love with it.

22. "The Return of the King" (The Lord of the Rings, part 3) J.R.R. Tolkien (++)

23. "Between the Acts" Virginia Woolf (/+)

24. "The Treehouse: Eccentric Wisdom From My Father on How to Live, Love, and See" Naomi Wolf (++)

25. "The More than Complete Hitchhiker's Guide: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" (#25-29) Douglas Adams (/)

26. "The Restaurant at the End of the Universe" Douglas Adams (+)

27. "Life, the Universe, and Everything" Douglas Adams (/+)

28. "So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish" Douglas Adams (+)

29. "Young Zaphod Plays It Safe" Douglas Adams (/)

30. "Blind Descent" Nevada Barr (+)

31. "Liberty Falling" Nevada Barr (+)

32. "Blink: the power of thinking without thinking" Malcolm Gladwell (++)

33. "What Should I Do With My Life?" Po Bronson (++)

34. "Exterminate all the Brutes" Sven Lindqvist, translated from the Swedish by Joan Tate (++) Students should have to read this along side Conrad's "Heart of Darkness."

35. "Telling Lies: Clues to deceit in the marketplace, politics, and marriage" Paul Ekman (+)

36. "On Bullshit" Harry G. Frankfurt (/)

37. "Deep South" Nevada Barr (/)

38. "Blood Lure" Nevada Barr (/)

39. "The Art of War" Sun Tzu (/)

40. "The Last Picture Show" Larry McMurtry (++)

41. "The Diamond Lane" Karen Karbo (+)

42. "The Bean Trees" Barbara Kingsolver (+)

43. "Double Life" Miklos Rozsa (/)

44. "A Man Without a Country" Kurt Vonnegut (++)

45. "Bon Voyage, Mr. President and Other Stories" Gabriel Garcia Marquez (+)

46. "Still Life With Woodpecker" Tom Robbins (/)

47. "Little Girl Lost" Drew Barrymore with Todd Gold (+)

48. "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" J.K. Rowling (+) I read this and the next book after seeing the Goblet of Fire movie to clarify some things and characters. These were the first I'd read of the series, and I enjoyed them more because of the characters and world I know from the films than for the writing.

49. "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" J.K. Rowling (/) I agreed with all the cuts, adds, and rearranging made to the story for the film. The plot problems that exist in the film mostly stem from problems pre-existing in the book. Maybe things pay off in later books, but I don't plan to read ahead.

50. "Magic Worlds of Fantasy" David Douglas Duncan (++)

Page-a-day's end

I have found my page-a-day "Wild words from wild women" mostly irritating this year. It's both the stacks of paper squares that accumulate that I should just recycle and the fact that I didn't care for most of the quotes. Still, it became part of my daily routine. Wake up, tear page, scoff, and then put it back on my bedside table without knocking over my glass of water. I may actually miss it (for a couple days).

30 December 2005

Latest fortune

Not really a fortune, but I find it amusing since it does reflect my approach to things. Of course, I think of time as that thing during which I'm incapable of making decisions, but I suppose that's just semantics.

29 December 2005

Sometimes it's not helpful to know what you want

From the moment I opened the box and mom said, "I know that's not what you wanted," the whole enterprise was doomed. She figured I would have to return any ring I got to get the proper size, so she picked out a ring she thought was cool that was nothing like what I'd described.

I was frustrated because I'd gone to a lot of trouble this year to avoid having to return anything. I'd made discrete lists so family members that can't be bothered to email each other wouldn't double-buy things for a change. Sigh.

The ring she picked was cool, modern and silver, but it was large, spanning my knuckle to the joint and also tall. It fit my forefinger but really wasn't suited for a thumb ring (which was what I wanted) even if I'd gotten it in another size. Since the shop where they bought it was an hour away, mom consulted the weather channel and asked me when I wanted to go over inferring a two-day weather window of Tuesday or Wednesday. We went yesterday.

The jewelry store was housed in what looked like an old bank. There were two open rectangles of long glass counters and display cases all along the walls. I knew I wanted a different ring, so I started browsing. Mom herded me towards a case on the wall with silver bands. I looked them over, saw nothing I wanted, and started perusing the jewelry at the counter.

To my great dismay, I heard my mom pointing me out to a sales clerk. She was under the impression I'd made a decision when all I wanted to do was browse the whole store uninterrupted before getting helped.

Fortunately the saleswoman was very nice as she lead me around to cases all over the store where I didn't see anything I wanted. She sized me up by my cargo pants and corduroy jacket, pointing out rings that weren't too "girly." This assumption of hers might have bothered me except that I didn't feel anything negative about it coming from her. She was just trying to help me find something I'd like.

Though the store had "silver" in its name, it really didn't have many silver rings to choose from. I do not care for gold (aside from white gold) and never have. I wondered where I'd gone wrong. Since last summer, I'd been describing the thumb ring I have in mind. It's not one unique design I'm looking for; I thought I'd been clear on the parameters: wide, flat, silver, with a bit of design interest, size 8 1/2.

My dad knew this buy a ring she can exchange approach wasn't a good idea, but then I hadn't spent time pointing out elements of rings I liked or disliked to him. It was like my mom hadn't listened to me at all.

By this time, 3 salesclerks were looking for rings for me, and my options were slimming. A direct return was never suggested. Store credit or exchange were what was left to me. The thought of coming back every couple of months to see if they had something new I'd like made my soul shudder, so I shifted to plan B.

We'd exchange the ring my Mom had picked out to a size she could wear and leave it at that. She had wandered down the street after she sicced the saleswoman on me, so Dad and I left the store to find her.

As expected, she gave me that slightly exasperated look when I told her the plan. She made me feel worse for not finding something even though she knew from the start it would have to be exchanged.

Am I really that picky? To some degree, yes. I think a lot of it stems from wanting less stuff in my life: for the most part, I only want to keep things I really want, the rest just takes up space or feels like a waste of money.

27 December 2005

Thank yew

If you missed The Closer this summer, now's your chance to get caught up before the new season starts.

The first episode airs tonight at 10 PM on TNT.

26 December 2005

Outdated help

I hate it when tech help goes to the trouble of writing out detailed steps, but then some basic menu or link doesn't exist for you to use, so you can't actually follow the steps.
If you can't find the song or album you're looking for, it may not be available for sale. Click the Requests & Feedback button on the home page of the iTunes Music Store to request a song or album that you can't find. Then visit the iTunes Music Store at a later date to see if the song or album is available.
There is no "Requests & Feedback button" and "Support" takes you back to the internet help.

I'm not so naive as to think my request would actually result in Pink's "Feel Good Time" appearing in my lifetime, but it would at least give me some hope. I get the feeling that when the Requests & Feedback button existed (assuming it ever did), they got more requests and feedback than they wanted to deal with.

24 December 2005

Santa tracker

For the highest tech Santa tracking available, visit NORAD's Santa tracker. Their volunteers provide an awesome service. If you want a live update, you can call the NORAD Santa Tracking Operations Center toll free at 1-877-Hi-NORAD or 1-719-474-2111.

Enjoy!

23 December 2005

An actual fortune

Someone you care about seeks reconciliation.
I was intrigued considering my thoughts of late. If anyone is seeking to reconcile with me, they're being quiet about it, or maybe it's yet to happen. Still, it's just a strip of paper pulled out of a folded cookie; more often than not, the strips reveal proverbs, aphorisms, or short statements that make no sense at all or mean everything at once.

And then it hit me: the strip doesn't say the person I care about is seeking reconciliation with me, just that she or he is seeking reconciliation. Even reconciliation need not mean what I assumed; someone could just be trying to balance a checkbook. That seems pretty probable.

Show more leg?

I'm amused by the fact I keep getting image search hits for this bit of my leg. A few are searching for cutoffs (which those aren't), but mostly it's unclear what the searchers are hoping for from sitemeter's stats.

Hmm.

Note to self

That whole gather the paper up around the gift, scrunch the top, and tie a bow around it doesn't actually make for easier wrapping. Next time, use the flexible paper that doesn't crease well (and is conversely hard to wrap normally with) for that enterprise.

Bah. I stuck that one towards the back of the tree. This is what happens when your sister-in-law says, "Oh hey, I'm having some things sent directly, and they didn't offer gift-wrapping. Could you snag them and wrap them? Thanks."

21 December 2005

Oddity

As I was driving home after a mad dash to the bank this afternoon, a teenager in an oncoming car stood up through the sunroof, yelled, and pumped her fist at me. For a moment, I wondered what I'd done to spur such an action but then decided it had nothing to do with me specifically.

It was 2:10. High school let out at 2:15 when I was there. I'm not impressed. Besides, she looked really cold.

To the readers, lurkers (hey!), and passersby

Happy Saturnalia from Claire

20 December 2005

Non-binding estimate

They are still a bunch of fucking cocksuckers, but my dad rocks.

Dinner took an ill-tempered cast last night when I expressed my moving company outrage. Knowing I had no evidence to back up any dispute of their additional charges, I felt absolutely defeated despite my parents' encouragement to call and raise hell, and I said as much. My dad offered to call them for me, but I shook off the offer knowing I wouldn't feel better about it unless I resolved it myself.

After dinner, I looked through the paperwork again noting various discrepancies and things to ask. Nothing on the new bill said it was the final bill, the listed delivery date was wrong, and the fuel surcharge had been increased among other things. I didn't want to get screwed over again in another two months. I set it aside and tried to salvage my evening by distracting myself.

A while later, Dad sat down and asked to look at the invoices. I had just started to feel better, and his questions were annoying me. I didn't want to go back to that angry, resigned head space. He offered again to call them for me.

No, I can handle it, I thought to myself. And then it sunk in: I could handle it. I was prepared to put on my cold, calm game face when I called the next day to get answers. "That'd be great," I told my dad, accepting his offer.

I could do it, but in the moment I realized that, I knew I didn't have to anymore to feel better about the situation. My dad's voice is strong, very capable of sounding authoritatively pissed, and I knew he was willing to dispute things I had already conceded. He might get better results.

Beyond all that, however, was the thought that my dad won't always be around, won't always be capable of interceding on my behalf. If I don't accept his help now, I'm squandering a chance to do so when opportunities will only get slimmer the more time passes.

19 December 2005

Detach

The xmas card I didn't want to receive came in the mail today (really not a good day for mail). The written note was minimal which suits me well, but it doesn't simplify the rest.

How do I excise someone from my life who was once such a significant part of it? I'm not ready to write all the details. Mostly it was a long time ago, but expectations have survived years of occasional correspondence and phone calls that have only become more infrequent with time. I would gladly think we'd eventually drift into some permanent separation, but I know better as the one so long taken for granted.

The excision will not occur any time near unless I make it explicit because the wedding is next year. It would be better not to be invited than to have to say no.

Any why do I feel propelled to act now right before the holidays? Wanting to start the new year with a clean slate probably accounts for part of it, but it feels too impolite to completely ignore the card.

I hope there's something decent on tv tonight to distract me. I'm between books and just finished an LOTR dvd marathon over the past few nights.

$482.55

Goddamn cocksuckers. First, I was forced into having my items in storage delivered. Now, over two months after its delivery, after paying COD for it, after they called to see how my experience was, now, they send me a revised bill for an additional $482.55.

After some time staring at the invoice (because there was no letter of explanation included), I can see that they are charging for 660 lbs. more "actual weight" than the initial invoice had. I've unpacked, re-stored, and donated chunks of it, so there's no way I can reasonably dispute their measure, no way to check it for myself.

As much as anything, I'm pissed that it took them over two months to send me this revised invoice. And now that I compare it to the old one, I can see they increased the fuel surcharge which accounts for almost $50. Well, that I'm gonna fucking dispute. I fear I will get blown off by some simple excuse though, like the weight change corresponds to a fuel surcharge change. It's a bad sign that it makes sense to me. If your stuff takes up more space on the truck, you should pay a larger proportion of the fuel. But percentages take care of that.

Fuck. I just don't have my game on for arguing with these people. I got rid of all their paperwork weeks ago thinking I was in the clear. At least I still have a copy of the original invoice in email. You'd think they'd make a point of mentioning that their estimate could and likely would change (drastically) even after you'd paid it, they'd accepted it, and your goods were delivered.

the anticlimax (plus tips)

To anyone who's been following along, this will no doubt seem obvious. All my internet research and store wanderings on the hunt for a digital camera have only served to highlight all the things about them that irritate me. Ultimately, all I really want is a decent ultra-compact digital camera that will hold up to the wear and tear of carrying it everywhere in my pocket. There are decent, small digital cameras out there, but their prices are too high for me for something that may break easily or requires ginger care. So... I will wait for the prices to drop and to see what they develop next.

8 megapixel camera phones are about a year away, so there will be new stuff to see.

In the meantime, if you're on the hunt, I did find some great sites with up-to-date reviews. Consumer Reports and PC World were helpful starting points, but they frequently didn't have reviews or ratings for models released in the past 4 months.

Imaging resource has detailed reviews including pictures, all the features and settings offered, and all the test results I would ever want (which is a pretty extensive list). Their gift guide provides a good starting point with review summaries of cameras in different price ranges that performed well.

Digital Camera Resource also provides detailed reviews that also include screenshots and commentary on the included software. Their reviews also provide info on how the camera compares to other brands and models with similar features and design. Their sample photos give a decent feel for how the camera performs at different ISO settings, i.e., how clear the pictures are under different settings and conditions. (n.b.: it's always better to look at actual prints, but who wants to waste ink on someone else's sample shots?). This site seemed to have less models reviewed than some of the the others.

ZD Net ranks the cameras on a scale of 1 to 10 which is very helpful when comparing different models and brands. Reviews are broken into sections, so you can just read the intro summary or click for more details on features, design, performance, and image quality. The info is helpful, though not as comprehensive as the previous two sites. Some models include short video reviews by a staff member. I like these because they comment on the cameras from a user's perspective and sometimes mention things they like or dislike that don't come across in the written reviews.

Amazon has tech specs for most models and is a good place to check out consumer reviews. I usually skim past the 4 and 5 star, love-it reviews to see what problems people encountered after owning the camera for a while. If a lot of people had the same problem, e.g., the lcd cracked and wasn't covered by the warranty, that's very helpful to know.

If that's not enough to drive you crazy, there's Consumer Search which rates and reviews sites which review digital cameras.

18 December 2005

Higher altitude

As we crested the hill, reaching a long plateau, the barren deciduous treetops sparkled all the way to the horizon. The sky was clear, a substantial blue, and the sunshine made the uppermost ice-encrusted limbs glisten. We marveled at the display while it lasted; as we descended into mountain shadow, the trees were once again ice-free and dull.

17 December 2005

Mall venture: audioblog #16

this is an audio post - click to play
(run time 1:03)

16 December 2005

Yesterday's matinee

I detest spoilers, particularly in reviews, so I will keep my commentary brief and plot-free.

Tilda Swinton was an inspired bit of casting for The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I've seen her in an eclectic array of films over the years, and I've always been impressed with her work.

14 December 2005

Night disturbances

SMACK.

It sounded like someone slammed something hard into the back of the house. Thieves, I thought to myself. More optimistically, I considered that maybe my parents had dropped something. Or it's loud, inept thieves. I walked down the hall to my parents' room where they were both under the covers reading.

"Did you hear that?"

"Yes, it sounded like something hit the house," my mom said.

"So, it wasn't something in here?"

"No," mom confirmed.

"I thought it sounded like someone trying to break in," I continued.

"It's the nails," my dad offered authoritatively.

"What?" I asked, my left eyebrow raised skeptically.

"You know, the nails that come up from the deck..."

I'd hammered many of them back in over the years. "Yeah...?"

"That's the sound of them popping up," he concluded.

"What? They don't 'pop up.' That's not the sound a nail makes when you pull it out of wood," I countered.

"The pressure of the wood pops them out because of the low temperature," he explained.

"It's below zero," mom offered, adding, "I'm not going out to check it."

"Well, neither am I," I said, "but if we get murdered in our sleep, you can't say I didn't warn you."

13 December 2005

The truth I can't deny

I hate setting focus by halfway depressing the shutter release.
I like gears and dials and mechanical things.
If money weren't an issue, I would shoot film nearly all the time.

The only times I wouldn't would be for shots taken solely for edification purposes: look at this thing I saw while I was out or that I'm writing about which has no aesthetic value. I wouldn't want a print of it, but I'd still want to share it by email or on my blog.

The truth is if having a digital camera rekindles my desire to shoot as the hunt alone has to some extent, then what it will rekindle is a desire to shoot film. Maybe I'll wait for a cheaper point and shoot digital camera and consider a better film camera instead, one that could share lenses with a digital SLR body down the line perhaps.

12 December 2005

Some progress

I haven't been feeling very festive of late, but spending money on things for other people did give me a mood boost this afternoon.

Unfortunately, some ground was lost when I stopped in Staples to peruse digital cameras. You can read specs up the wazoo (as I have), but you still need to see the thing, hold it, try the controls, and decide if you like it or not. I understand that theft protection measures are important, but their bulky design makes it impossible to get the feel for holding the camera. Is it comfortable? Can I hold this steady? Will I drop this? These are important questions.

At this particular store, an alarm chirps every few seconds around the camera display, presumably so you'll feel like someone's watching you or that the alarm system is high tech. I just find it annoying.

I appreciate that Staples supplies power to their cameras so you can turn them on and check out the features. However, I find it frustrating that the power supply is a large rectangular block, larger than the base of every camera I looked at, that is screwed into the camera's base. It was also inconvenient that the a/c adapter cord plugged in right on the side of the grip (I concede that is not Staples fault). The power supply/security base is then attached to the display by a self-retracting cord with a great deal of resistance. It's impossible to assess the feel of a camera under these conditions.

After a few minutes, a guy who worked there came up and asked if I had any questions.

"Yes. Is it possible to look at this unattached?"

"No, that's a security feature. The insurance company would frown on that. We can't just let someone look at a camera without the security measure attached. I know you're trying to see how heavy it is... We have a fourteen day return policy, so you can bring it back if you don't like it," he concluded, helpfully I'm sure he thought.

I jumped in and said, "Ok," and he walked away without offering to answer any other questions. I didn't have any and wouldn't have asked him if I had, but still, that's bad form.

It could've just been my imagination, or the effect of hours hunting for gifts, but his speech seemed rather snarky to me. A straightforward "No, I'm sorry" would've sufficed, but my feet were tired, so even his comment about trying to determine the camera's weight seemed mildly offensive. I didn't expect him to leave me unattended with it, but I don't think standing around while I looked at it ever even occurred to him. That would've involved problem-solving skills. Or maybe he just thought it was too cold outside to chase me if I decided to make a run for it.

I made a few notes in my square-ruled moleskine and left, pondering the display problem.

A much smaller security base would work. The same design that prevents a customer from simply unscrewing it now could be adapted to a smaller version. The a/c pack could be attached to the display. Then borrow some technology from laptop security devices, so that if the cord was cut or broken, an alarm would sound (assuming it doesn't already). If they would just do that, my life would be easier.

10 December 2005

A bit of business from last year...

I'm pretty sure I read a lot more non-fiction last year as opposed to this year, but you'll be able to compare for yourselves in a few weeks when I put up the 2005 list.

Don't ask me why the list is in reverse chronological order: it must've made sense to me at the time.

The 51 Books I read in 2004
51. "Track of the Cat" by Nevada Barr
50. "For My Own Amusement" by R.F. Delderfield
49. "The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt" edited by Ian Shaw
48. "Madeleine (et nunc manet in te)" by Andre Gide
47. "I Knew A Phoenix" by May Sarton
46. "Fahrenheit 451" by Ray Bradbury
45. "The Words" par Jean-Paul Sartre
44. "Chance Meetings" by William Saroyan
43. "Nietzsche as critic, philosopher, poet and prophet: choice selections from his works" by F.W. Nietzsche, compiled by Thomas Common
42. "All I did was ask: Conversations with writers, actors, musicians, and artists" by Terry Gross
41. "Self-Consciousness" by John Updike
40. "Goodness had nothing to do with it" by Mae West
39. "But Beautiful: a book about jazz" by Geoff Dyer
38. "Out of sheer rage: wrestling with D.H. Lawrence" by Geoff Dyer
37. "The Fellowship of the Ring" J.R.R. Tolkien
36. "The goddesses and gods of Old Europe" by Marija Gimbutas
35. “Yoga for people who can't be bothered to do it" by Geoff Dyer
34. "The language of the goddess" by Marija Gimbutas
33. "Rivers in the desert: William Mulholland and the Inventing of Los Angeles" by Margaret Leslie Davis
32. "As you like it" by W.Shakespeare
31. "When your body gets the blues" by Marie-Annette Brown and Jo Robinson
30. "Feynman's Rainbow" by Leonard Mlodinow
29. "Fat girls and lawn chairs" by Cheryl Peck
28. "Ask me again tomorrow: a life in progress" by Olympia Dukakis
27. "You'll never eat lunch in this town again" by Julia Phillips.
26. "The Broke Diaries" by Angela Nissel
25. "I'm the one that I want" by Margaret Cho.
24. "Roman Mythology" by Stewart Perowne.
23. "A House Somewhere" collection of essays by several authors
22. "The Da Vinci Code" by Dan Brown
21. "The Heidi Chronicles" by Wendy Wasserstein
20. "Isn't It Romantic" by Wendy Wasserstein
19. "Uncommon Women and Others" by Wendy Wasserstein, a play
18. "Original Story By: a memoir of Broadway and Hollywood" by Arthur Laurents.
17. "A geography of time: the temporal misadventures of a social psychologist (or how every culture keeps time just a little bit differently" by Robert Levine
16. "The Right Brain and the Unconscious: Discovering the Stranger Within" by Dr. Rhawn Joseph
15. "Eureka! What Archimedes really meant and 80 other key ideas explained" by Michael Macrone
14. "Guardian of the Horizon" by Elizabeth Peters
13. "Talking pictures: people speak about the photographs that speak to them" by Marvin Heiferman and Carole Kismaric.
12. "Complete guide to pilates, yoga, meditation and stress relief" no author given.
11. "The Optimist's Daughter" by Eudora Welty
10. "Black White and Jewish autobiography of a shifting self" by Rebecca Walker
9. "Blindness" by Jose Saramago
8. "Lolita" by Vladimir Nabokov
7. "The Hours" by Michael Cunningham [reread]
6. "Just Checking: scenes from the life of an obsessive-compulsive" by Emily Colas.
5. "The Opposite of Fate" by Amy Tan.
4. "Amelia Peabody's Egypt: a Compendium" by Elizabeth Peters and others
3. "Sex and the city" by Candace Bushnell
2. "Conversations with Wilder" by Cameron Crowe
1. "Out on Leash" by Shirley MacLaine

09 December 2005

The internal war

Last night I spent 2.5 hours on the web researching digital cameras. The wealth of options made my brain numb. Initially, all I wanted was a slim little number that would fit in a pocket. I had previsouly perused all the models in stores, picking them up for feel and thought I'd found it. But then as I read tons of reviews, many people had had problems with the LCD cracking and stores refusing to honor the warranty, so...

I went back to square one and found my photograph self taking the lead. I would want manual focus and exposure options. And better performance in low light. Customizable white balance. More megapixels. A broader zoom. By midnight, I was looking at cameras that more resembled my film SLR than the slim rectangular boxes I'd started with.

Here's the catch: I don't like my film camera anymore. No, that's not true. My film camera is sadly too busted to be worth repairing after more than a decade of heavy, and somewhat vigorous use. The hand-me-down that took its place a couple years ago has features and absences that annoy me. These days I'm also fairly broke, so I just haven't much felt like shooting with it and incurring print and development costs.

All I wanted was something that would enable me to put more pictures on my blog (without stealing them from other sources), but I find it near impossible to separate out the shooter in me. If I took a great photo on my digital, I would surely want to print it. If the camera was good enough, I wouldn't bother to lug my film camera on trips. However, if the digital camera is nearly as large as the film version, I probably wouldn't carry it around as much which was the initial point of getting a slim model. The struggle continues unabated.

Anybody have any camera suggestions or ones to avoid?


On an unrelated note, yesterday I found a ladybug on my chair's arm. It's hanging out on the window today with a heavily snow-covered world beyond. Winter seems to have skipped its dreary prelude this year.

08 December 2005

Beauty Parlor Nostalgia (part 3)

(Part 1, Part 2)

A couple of months passed after my nun-shop cut; I hadn't been back, but I hadn't gotten my hair cut anywhere else either. I'd been thinking about growing it long, but it was in a middle stage where it looked really shaggy and annoyed me a great deal.

I decided to tackle the yellow pages. Beauty salons covered several pages of fine print even in the smaller community yellow pages for my part of LA. I scanned through the addresses determined to find somewhere close to home other than the nun shop.

It leapt out at me: The Best Little Hairhouse in Atwater. I laughed. With a name like that, I figured the owner would have to have a sense of humor. I knew the shop was nearby because I favored the Atwater post office: it was never as busy as the one in Los Feliz, and the staff was nicer. All that remained was the price. A quick call confirmed that it was $10-15 depending on how complex the cut was, and no appointment was necessary.

What I found when I walked up to the door was a seedy little storefront I never would've considered on sight alone, but I was determined to get my hair cut, so I entered. An ancient man named Jerome relayed my desire to get a haircut to the back of the shop.

"It'll just be a few minutes," someone called out.

I sat on an old sofa looking at the wood paneling, not some fake veneer but a red wood that was very rough with lots of holes and knots and splinters waiting to happen. Aretha's "Respect" floated down from speakers above the door. The shop had a glass front with its name and a barber pole painted on it. On the wall above the door, there was a simplistic rendition of a city skyline. Above the wood paneling, the white and perforated wall surface met a high dropped ceiling of homosote.

A short Latin woman approached speaking with a Texan or New Mexican accent, "Hi, I'm Martha."

"Hi."

Pause.

Sometimes my social skills just fail me. I knew I was supposed to respond with my name, but I just didn't.

"What's your name?" Martha asked directly.

"Claire."

"Well, Claire, have a seat. What are we going to do today?"

In my usual confounding manner, I tried to explain, "I just want a trim of about an inch with the goal of growing it all to the same length, which is to say, though I said to trim it an inch, some parts could be left longer."

Usually giving convoluted directions makes me anxious, but this time I felt hesitant because Martha was wearing her hair pulled back under a baseball cap. My mom had said more than once that hairdressers always pay as much attention to their own hair as they do to their customers since it all reflects on them.

Oh well. I just wanted a haircut. Martha asked if I'd like it washed, and I said sure thinking I'd indulge myself. What I hadn't accounted for was a temperamental water heater. Scalding hot or freezing cold, there was no warm or cool inbetween. I tried to remain calm as Martha clanked at pipes below changing the temperature. Jerome stopped by to help, but it didn't make much difference. I settled for a near freezing wash in lieu of a potential scalding. Martha apologized and delved into typical salon chatter asking me what I did for a living and if I went to school.

Not in the mood for chitchat as always, I answered briefly, "I freelance in film and graduated last year."

Towards the front of the shop, a first grade teacher who seemed to be a regular told a Clinton joke, and everybody laughed. As we headed back to one of the barber chairs, Martha asked if I wanted some water.

I said, "No, thanks."

She stepped away for a moment and came back with two small styrofoam cups filled with water. She handed me one, so I said, "Thanks," and drank some. It tasted like chlorine-treated pool water. As I pondered what chemicals I was ingesting, I noticed there were no Barbasol cylinders on the counters. Do they not sanitize their tools between customers here? I became a little more disconcerted, but that far into the process, I just wanted to get my cut. At least I could see Martha's framed California state beauty parlor certificate hanging on the wall.

Without anything else to say, Martha referred back to the first grade teacher's joke, "That was funny, wasn't it?"

"Yeah."

The inevitable talk of role-models and presidents and such came up. When Jerome's grandson walked in, I was glad for the reprieve. He was in his twenties and sat in the chair beside mine.

"You better not cut my buzzcut too long. It better be 3/4 of an inch," he cautioned Jerome.

"No respect, goddammit," Martha said under her breath. I found it awkward maneuvering my cup of water to prevent hair clippings from falling into it, so I set my water down on the counter in front of me.

With the razor cut done, Jerome checked his work with a ruler.

"Is that okay?" Jerome asked his grandson.

"Good enough, I'll see ya later, pops," he replied and then walked out the back door.

My cut was finally done, so I rose to bid The Best Little Hairhouse in Atwater farewell. Martha pushed my cup towards me. "Don't cha want to finish your water?"

Though my body wanted to shout, "No!" I thanked her and walked out with the cup. Heat waves rose from the pavement, and despite knowing better, I took another swig of water and then promptly spit it out on the sidewalk. Maybe it's time to go back to the nun shop.

I must admit

I have no patience for decorating Christmas trees. Left to my own devices, I would likely string some colored lights inside and out, and then leave them up all year.

Don't get me wrong: I'm quite fond of all my Star Trek ornaments and even a slew of others that don't blink or have Spock wishing me happy holidays. It's the mom-induced precision that wears on me. Mirrored ornaments go inside by the trunk, large ornaments on the bottom, with progressively smaller ones up to the top. Gaps are not allowed even on the side facing the wall. Icicles, if we're using those tremendously irritating shiny metallic strips, must be separated out to 2 or 3 strips max per twig: no clumps allowed.

I am a perfectionist in many things, but this has never been one of them. The tree always looks great, and I appreciate that, but I have to psych myself up to stand around hanging things. Even as a kid, I wasn't that into it. By the time my brother and I were teenagers, we had ornament quotas or hanging times to fulfill. Now I impose them on myself to be polite.

06 December 2005

Beauty Parlor Nostalgia (part 2)

(Part 1)

I'd been eyeing Elida's Beauty Box, diagonally across the street from my apartment, for some time. It was a small shop with a simple pink awning with the store's name scrawled across it in cursive type. A large window occupied most of the front wall. It wasn't a terribly trendy looking place, but if the price was right, it would certainly be convenient.

A quick phone call revealed that I could get a haircut for ten bucks the following morning. Looking forward to my trim but also a bit nervous, I dredged out the picture I'd brought to Supercuts when I'd first switched to this cut at the beginning of the summer.

The woman in the picture still looked elegant, her short hair wisping and curling in all the right places. My hair had never really done that, but I assured myself it was only my lack of effort. I went to bed praising the moment my hair would no longer be in my eyes.

The next morning, a three minutes walk got me to Elida's right on time. I reckon I expected the interior to have that glossy beauty parlor look, so I was a bit startled when I entered. The room was narrow and rectangular and made me feel as though I'd entered a tribute to the 1950's. The wall opposite me had one long, horizontal mirror with a shelf above it containing flea market knickknacks. There were four barber's chairs bolted to the floor next to those familiar counters which flip up to reveal sinks. I started to lose my nerve.

Seated on a stool to my right was a grey-haired woman I assumed was Elida. She asked me something I didn't quite catch, so I nodded hoping that would be an appropriate response. Apparently it was since Elida said, "She'll be right with you," without further comment. I shifted my gaze to the other short wall with the hairdryers, the kind that hinge down over your head when you're getting a perm. Seated there was the only other customer, her hair all in rollers, a woman probably eighty years old. A nun. Next to her stood a brunette in her forties that I assumed was Elida's daughter. She escorted the nun to a chair to remove the curlers.

I had made an appointment at a little old ladies' hair shop. A nun's hair shop.

Not sure what to do, I sat down on the bench along the window wall and crossed my fingers. I clutched at the picture in my pocket.

"Sister, do you need me to call for someone to pick you up?" Elida asked.

The nun replied, "Yes," and fumbled through her purse producing two dimes.

"Oh, you don't have to do that," Elida said as she walked toward the phone. That's when I noticed that the only phone in the joint was the pay phone bolted to the wall behind the counter with the cash register.

Dimes outstretched, the nun persisted, "If you do that for everyone you won't have any money left."

"We don't do it for everyone, Sister," Elida's daughter explained.

Apparently resigned, the nun resituated her dimes in her purse.

"Hello? I'm calling for Sister Helen. ... Sister Helen. She's down at the beauty parlor and needs a ride. ... Uh-huh ..."

Elida's daughter was nearly done removing the curlers. I began to wonder if she'd ever cut hair for someone under fifty years old.

"Who answered the phone?" Sister Helen inquired. Elida was still holding the receiver to her ear.

"I think it was Sister Theresa."

"Oh dear. Her hearing's not so good. The last time she answered when I called she wandered off to look for Sister Josephine and just left the phone off the hook."

"Maybe I should hang up and try again." Elida clicked the switch hook and produced another twenty cents. "Hello? Is Sister Josephine there? ... Oh she did? ... O.K. Thank you." Replacing the receiver she shared the news, "Sister Theresa said Sister Josephine is already on her way to pick you up."

"She should be here any minute then," the nun offered.

Now that her hair was done, Sister Helen got out of the chair and exchanged seats with me. My moment of dread had arrived: Elida's daughter asked me what I wanted done with my hair. Producing my picture, I waited hopefully. After considering it for about two seconds, she said, "So you just want a trim."

Startled by her tone, I stammered, "Yes." It was as though she had found my picture patronizing.

She looked at the picture again, then at me, and said, "You don't wear it like that, do you?" My confidence completely shot, I answered, "No." She returned the picture, and I squashed it into my pocket.

"I wonder what's taking her so long," Sister Helen commented. "When I was younger I could've walked back from here. I hope she's really on her way, and Sister Theresa understood correctly."

Where is this convent so close to my house? I wondered. I'd never seen any signs for it. As they continued to talk, it became apparent that almost all of the nuns go to Elida's to get their dos done.

A car pulled up and the nun rose.

"That's her. Thanks again."

"Thank you, Sister."

"See you next week."

As the door drifted shut behind her I silently wished that I would not be ushered into the conversation. For a few minutes the only sound was the snipping of scissors.

"Do young people lie?" Elida asked.

I froze. Being the youngest person in the room, I assumed the question was addressed to me, and I had no idea how to respond. When her daughter piped in, I exhaled in relief.

"Well if they say they don't, they're lying."

That wasn't exactly the response I'd had in mind, but the women chuckled in good humor. I smiled briefly and remained quiet.

They continued discussing other people's children whose parents were liars while I stared at their reflections averting my eyes when they looked at me. Inch long locks of my dark hair were sliding down the plastic cape to the floor. Finally, she was done. After a brief examination in the mirror I had her take another half inch off the back and called it good enough. It was a serviceable cut but not inspired like Judy's always were. I paid for the cut, and they encouraged me to return...

Last Part

05 December 2005

Beauty Parlor Nostalgia (part 1)

In every person's life there comes that dreaded moment when he or she must find a new hair dresser. A few months ago, I finally disposed of my status quo bob exchanging it for a shorter short cut. For the first time in my life, I went to one of those haircut joints boasting ten dollar cuts without appointments.

I had felt guilty abandoning Miriam. I'd followed her across town when she started work at a new salon, but truthfully, I'd only done so because the new salon was closer to where I'd recently moved. In that nearby beauty parlor, Miriam had her own room with a counter that lifted to reveal a sink and a panel of different colored locks for women choosing hair color. Something about the room just felt wrong.

All the beauty parlors my mom had ever taken me to had had an open room full of hair dressers gossiping and chatting as they worked. That environment made me feel less silent as I listened to their ongoing gripes, vacations, and wedding plans. Even Supercuts retained some of that social atmosphere. Maybe I just didn't like Miriam with her sycophantic interest in my filmmaking, or maybe she just didn't give a great cut and I was worried about giving her more responsibility than a trim.

Whenever I'm stressed out about my hair, I reminisce about Judy. Judy was the best hairdresser I've ever had. When I stuttered uncertain "uhs" and "ums" at her in response to how I wanted my hair cut, she'd simply say, "Ah, I'm just going to do what I want to do." And she would. And somehow it'd be exactly what I had imagined. She had a knack for that. She was one of those rare hairdressers that really understood how to adjust a haircut to make it look good on a particular individual.

I went to Judy throughout high school and later I waited until I was home on breaks from Vassar to see her. She would admonish me for not using conditioner, and then she'd move on to the latest gossip, repairing what damage she could. Unlike my dentist, Judy never made me feel obliged to promise I would take better care of my hair. Her only goal was to make her customers look as good as possible when they left the shop. She sent me back to the world believing that I could make my hair look as good as she did if I wanted to.

Her genuine exuberance made her only failing more bearable. I don't think I can remember a time that she wasn't running late when I arrived. Once she gobbled down a few cookies while I sat in the chair since she hadn't had time for lunch. I told her to take her time figuring a starving hair dresser was not what my hair needed. My patience eventually paid off. When I decided last minute to go to the prom, she squeezed me into her schedule to style my hair. She made me look great, and I've always appreciated that.

Sometime during my undergraduate years she decided to become an accountant. Though I was devastated, I could only wish her the best of luck. She assured me that if I ever needed a hair stylist for a movie, she'd be happy to do it. For whatever reason, the offer didn't bother me the way it had when it had come from Miriam.

So off I went to Supercuts, carefully folded page torn from Great Hairstyles For Women firmly in hand. For all their boasting of no appointments, I still had to wait 40 minutes. To pass the time, I ignored everyone around me focusing my concentration on the price listing against the opposite wall. How much for women's hair, men's hair, long hair, children's hair, perms, hair coloring, a wash and cut, styling, etc. I'd never seen the business of haircutting so itemized until I moved to Tallahassee.

In the heat of northern Florida's swampland, I enjoyed my clipped locks. Even the humidity was made more bearable by the fact that it enhanced my curls. Every four weeks I dutifully made my pilgrimage to the Walmart shopping complex to get my hair supertrimmed.

At the end of August, I got my hair trimmed shorter than usual in preparation for my cross country move. Two months later, I considered getting my first haircut in Los Angeles. Unbearably shaggy, there was not much I could do but bite the bullet and try somewhere...

Next Part

03 December 2005

Sitting on my desk for months

A card, on it a doctor pulls a rabbit out of his patient's knee. "Are you sure you want to fix your trick knee? This is pretty cool."

Inside:
You're not getting older-
you're getting more interesting
to the medical profession.

02 December 2005

Shameless plug? Um, yeah...

There's new stuff at the shop, so go buy something.

01 December 2005

This is a job for energy-conserving Claire!

I noticed a light on downstairs last night and went down to turn it off, but it was just a new blazing nightlight, the brightest nightlight ever.