Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Seersucker Plan - REDUX

It's no secret that for nearly my whole life I have had a weight problem. Right out of my mom's womb, I was pretty much doomed what with having been born to perhaps the greatest home cook ever documented. Seriously, there is nothing like Ms. Olsen's Famously Reheatable All-Week Lasagna. Since a young age, I've been instilled with an almost religious adoration of food. Indeed, some of my fondest memories involve restaurants - K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen in New Orleans owned by this man, for example:
Fig. 1: Paul Prudhomme - who has since traded the depicted cane for a Rascal scooter.

For the record, Paul Prudhomme's recipe for shrimp étoufée calls for an entire pound of butter. It's culinary heroes like him that have doomed me to carrying the equivalent weight of an extra Justin Bieber about my person. Not that it doesn't have it's benefits; I'm notoriously difficult to sink with my surplus buoyancy.
Still... I've yo-yo'ed weight in recent years. When I took to bicycling nearly everywhere I needed to go, I lost over 50 pounds. When I quit drinking soda in college, I magically shed 20 pounds. When I injured my knee and was unable to exercise without excruciating pain, I gained somewhere around 20 pounds. And when the holidays roll around? Well, let's just say that I LOVE eggnog.
It's been a difficult struggle with my weight, but I recently decided to take action to once and for all claim Victory in the Battle of the Bulge - and (HISTORY JOKE WARNING) without the aid of Gen. George S. Patton.
Fig. 2: Not actually George S. Patton - BUT WAY BETTER BECAUSE IT'S GEORGE C. SCOTT!

A couple years back, my dear friend Jon offered me something exceptionally precious - his father's Brook's Brothers seersucker suit.
Fig. 3: Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan sporting a Brooks Brothers seersucker suit, being a testament to the overwhelming awesomeness of the said garment.

His father George veered towards the portly side, and so Jon believed the suit should fit me. As it turned out, it was just a bit too snug on me. And so I swore myself that I would eventually fit into this suit in an elaborate plan called THE SEERSUCKER PLAN. This was essentially a modified version of the plan I concocted in college called THE DON'T EAT SO MANY DAMNED COOKIES DIET, which later became THE DON'T EAT SO MANY DAMNED COOKIES - AND GROW SOME SIDEBURNS WHILE YOU'RE AT IT DIET. I here list the tenets of these diets, which I should probably condense into a novelty sized book for people to impulse purchase while in line at Border's.
  1. Don't eat so many damned cookies!
  2. Ride your bicycle once in a while, will ya?
  3. Maybe coming home and microwaving a slice of lasagna at 1 am after a night of drinking isn't such a good idea, tough guy.
  4. Sideburns, being an exceptionally fashionable and masculine facial embellishment will surely increase your general wind resistance thus causing you to burn more calories when any form of calisthenics is taken.
  5. After a long day of vigorous activity and a fine meal of mutton washed down with Guinness, strip in a room free of drafts and have your servant rub your skin with soft Turkish towels to stimulate the bloodflow and toughen the skin.
Needless to say, the plan failed as I didn't have a servant, and soft Turkish towels come at a high premium nowadays. When I morphed the plan into the first SEERSUCKER PLAN, I only lost about 10 pounds and then lost interest completely.
Now, I recently realized that I am to be married on July 2, 2011. I have already purchased a beautiful platinum ring that Alex-sensei (the blood-drenched samurai lord alluded to in previous entries) claims looks as if it was from outer space. [Please see comments section for an exact quote.] We have settled upon place to hold our reception. The church is squared away. And I have decided that I need to lose EIGHTY (80) POUNDS so that I can rock a three-piece seersucker suit. Why do I need to lose so much weight for a simple suit? The reasons are threefold:
  1. Our wedding photos will have two BEAUTIFUL people in them, instead of 1.5 beautiful people!
  2. I'll be a whole lot healthier - beneficial to spending the rest of our lives together!
Fig. 4: Atticus Finch - The single sexiest execution of the seersucker suit in recorded history. Soon to be overshadowed circa July 2011...

So, how do I plan on going from the festively plump William that everyone has grown to love to the svelt hero of To Kill a Mockingbird in just about 8.5 months? Well, the work has already begun.
Tier 1: Use Wii Fit. I've neglected the obnoxious balance board for a few months now. While the exercises are simple and frankly don't seem to be very effective, the game is a good method to keep records of weight loss and activity levels. I try to use Wii Fit about 3 times a week.
Tier 2: The Couch to 5k running program. Oh, how I dreaded running in gym class. You know, the normal stigma in gym class is being like the fat kid in dodgeball. Let me tell you kids, I was pretty good at dodgeball. But when it came to running? Oh boy - I think I'd prefer walking on coals to jogging a few laps. So Maria clued me into this program which gradually ratchets you up to running 3.1 miles - even after a sedentary life of channel surfing. I am currently working on the Week 5 workout which entails two sessions of running for 8 minutes punctuated by 5 minutes of walking.
Is it working? Well, I'm glad to report, yes. I began THE NEW SEERSUCKER PLAN in early September and have already lost around 15 pounds - ahead of schedule for 8 pounds of weight loss per month. So... barring any unforeseen circumstances, looks like I'll be sporting a three piece better than Gregory Peck. Wish me luck, kids!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

From the Glorious Plains of the Fried Chicken Battle...

This is perhaps amazingly coincidental, but Vana White was just praising the health benefits of cast iron skillets at the end of today's episode of Wheel of Fortune. Longtime readers are of course aware of the fact that I count among my choicest possessions an immense cast iron skillet. It's true, these marvels of the cooking world are nearly as old as metallurgy and as useful today as they ever were. When it comes to high-heat cooking, searing, pan-frying, or baking, nothing beats its natural non-stick surface or curious ability to transfer healthy doses of iron into whatever you're cooking.
Now, what is my absolute favorite thing to cook in my prize skillet? Easy - fried chicken. You see, legends have been passed by word of mouth of the secret recipe that was whispered into Abraham Lincoln's ear by the Archangel Gabriel and passed down through bizarre Masonic ceremonies until it made its home in our humble Brooklyn abode. What is so special about this secret recipe once known only to heaven and later bequeathed to heroic presidents? Is it that the floured chicken is left out for 45 minutes before cooking? Is it the Old Bay seasoning? No one knows but I.
But there are Dark Forces at work in the world of fried chicken. And in the cruel depths of Harlem exists a recipe circulated in small circles. Legend has it that Huitzilopotchli, the highest of all the Aztec pantheon swore only to give the secret of his fried chicken recipe to the Last Emperor. And when Cuauhtémoc fell, sure enough, the codex containing the sacred fried chicken recipe fell into the hands of Hernán Cortés de Monroy y Pizarro.
Fig. 1: Huitzilopotchli fryin' up some chicken!
The recipe was lost for centuries until rediscovered - GOD knows how - by none other than my archnemesis, ROBIN.
Last year, Robin had the honor - nay - the privilege to taste my magical fried chicken recipe. To give you an idea of how I felt about what she said about the chicken, I here post some things that have been said or written about my chicken from various reputable sources.
"William's chicken caused me to weep for its resplendent beauty. I lost sleep thinking about his marvelous creation. I fear only that I shall never again know happiness like the first time I bit into that savory delight." -Greg M., Queens
"It puts KFC to shame - also, he is very attractive." -Maria F., Brooklyn
"I am too drunk to taste this chicken, but if I weren't drunk, I am sure that I would gladly sell my firstborn to the man behind this recipe." -Colonel S., Louisville, KY
That said, nothing took me by surprise so much as when Ms. Robin said, "Eh, it's all right. You should try my recipe."
At that point I was not yet aware that Ms. Robin's recipe came from an Aztec god. For shame. Clearly we had to engage in an ULTIMATE BATTLE FOR CHICKEN SUPREMACY!
The date: September 18.
The time: When we got around to it.
The place: Ms. Robin's apartment.
The Iron Chefs: Ms. Robin vs. William
And the battle ensued. An eclipse blocked out the sun. The Hudson River ran red with blood. My skillet sizzled with divine majesty. Robin's chicken lay in the oven, waiting , resting, biding its time. Just what is her secret? Bisquick. Yes Bisquick. Those Aztecs were way ahead of their time, having invented Bisquick before they invented government. The cooking subsided. The moon rose in the sky. The waters subsided. And there was peace. The battle was over. The chicken need only be tasted to see who reigned supreme.
Fig. 2: My chicken. Secret ingredient pictured at back.
Robin dressed her chicken in lemon juice and fresh parsley. I dabbed my chicken dry and prepared for the best. And we sat down to the feast.
There was silent contemplation. Both sides seemed puzzled. Indeed, both Gabriel's and Huitzilopotchli's recipes seemed - equally delicious. How could this be? On the glorious fields of battle there must be a victor. But what was this -- ?
You see, earlier in the evening, one Maria, who many may knows as my fiancée, made a mashed potatoes and sour cream recipe. It was to be served as a complement to the fried chicken to be made. The only problem is - THE POTATOES WERE MORE POPULAR THAN ANY OF THE CHICKEN!
From Brooklyn came a Dark Horse riding up.
It was Maria, Napoleon of the Kitchen.
All glory went to Maria's delicious concoction. Robin and I stared at each other for a solid minute and broke down in tears. The heavens had failed us, and a new Queen of the Universe ascended to the throne of Victory.
What had been learned of this battle? Certainly Robin and I learned that both of our fried chickens are wonders of the modern world. But, to paraphrase the great Jedi Warrior Luke Skywalker - our overconfidence was our weakness. And to paraphrase the great Sith Lord Emperor Palpatine - your negligence of side-dishes as well.
Still, I think everybody wins when fried chicken and potatoes are involved.
Stay tuned next week when I reveal the secrets of weight loss and how I plan on losing 70 pounds before July 2, 2011. (Hint: avoid eating too much fried chicken.)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Fateful Lot of a Mets Fan

I first need to thank Gale one JILLION times for her contribution to this blog entry. Her amazing work may be seen below, and I implore you all to suffer this long blog entry to see her brilliance in action. If you don't want to hear about baseball, skip to the end. It pretty much sums up what this is all about!
Well, Maria and I just returned from a very successful trip to Massachusetts. There we visited Northampton, home of Maria's alma mater Smith College with its ivy-covered brick hallways haunted by the screeching ghost of Julia Child. We climbed a few mountains, ate some hippie-baked bread, you know, the typical thing you do in a town founded by and perpetuated by drugged out hippie locavores. Afterwards, we were taken in by our gracious hosts Alex and Dorothy in their quaint little seaside town of Salem. Of course you are familiar with Salem's seedy past; it being the site of Joseph McCarthy's famous trial and execution of several Soviet sorceresses accused of casting mysterious spells upon an unknowing Republican party.
Long story short, Maria and I both needed a vacation. Why? No, not because Maria worked her butt off this whole summer trying to instruct a bunch of ungrateful, immature cretins how to be special needs teachers. No, we needed a vacation from the New York Mets.
In 1958, the Evil Communist Sorceresses used their dark magick to steal New York's only beloved National League teams - the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers. These two teams had religiously dedicated fans who fueled a rivalry that some, including myself, deem legendary. In fact, their rivalry led to one of the most memorable moments in the history of sports: Bobby Thomson's Shot Heard 'Round the World. In 1951, the two teams ended the season in a dead heat, forcing a 3-game playoff. Down by 2 runs in the bottom of the 9th inning with two men on, the Giants sent Bobby Thomson to the plate. Ralph Branca looked in for his signs, and this happened:

In Memory of Bobby Thomson 1923-2010
When I have a functioning time machine, you can be SURE this will be one of my first stops. With all the drama of the beautiful rivalry between two beloved teams, it's difficult to imagine how crestfallen the fans must have been when the two teams were uprooted seemingly overnight and placed on the pathetic West Coast. The same West Coast that whined that is had no professional baseball teams. So... it got what it wanted. Two teams were torn from their native home and transplanted to a wretched state whose shallow, unthinking populous would eventually make The Terminator its governor. Just 3 years later, the Los Angeles Angels were born, and before 1970, California would be the home to FIVE baseball teams (the other two being the Athletics [also stolen from the East Coast's Philadelphia via Kansas City] and the ridiculously named Padres of San Diego).
Now, those familiar with baseball, and even those unfamiliar know of another team lurking in the lurid corners of the of the Bronx. Yeah, those pesky New York Yankees. The Yankees (a team originally from Baltimore and calling themselves the Orioles) have a long history that consists mainly of being hated by literally everyone but Yankees fans and spending ludicrous amounts of money on purchasing World Series trophies. Those die-hard Dodger and Giant fans would rather not follow baseball than root for that impostor New York team. What was a scorned National League baseball faction to do?
Basically whatever Robert Moses wants to happen, happens. You want to clear out an orphanage to build another parkway? Call Robert Moses. So a team of Robert Moses and William Shea worked tirelessly to bring National League baseball back. Shea threatened to form a Continental League to rival the American and National Leagues, and Major League Baseball caved to the pressure. New York would be granted a National League team upon the 1962 expansion of the league. Owners brainstormed names (the Burros, the Meadowlarks, the Jets) before finally settling on the snappy and eloquent Mets, a shortened form of Metropolitans.
The team would wear orange and blue, colors formerly worn by the Dodgers and Giants, and sported an interlocked NY logo previously associated with the erstwhile tenants of the Polo Grounds. The team would be populated with former New York baseball stars, all of that age when knees turn to glass and cleats feel like lead. Long story short, the 1962 Mets set the stage for what would be a long history of misery only occasionally broken by a small star of success. They wheezed into the season's finish line with a paltry record of 40 wins and 120 losses, the worst record since the 1899 Cleveland Spiders' 20-134. No team has gotten close to a record that bad in the modern era.
It's true, the Mets have enjoyed their share of success. Their acquisition of perhaps the greatest pitcher of his era, Tom Seaver, led to their miraculous World Series win in 1969. In 1986 with the leadership of the Magically Mustachioed greatest first baseman in New York History, KEITH HERNANDEZ, the Mets did it again after another miraculous play.
I was two years old when the Mets won the world series. And since then, I have witnessed them whimper away to the Yankees in the 2000 series, and watched Carlos Beltran let a curveball in for a strike to end their 2006 bid for greatness. All subsequent years, the New York Mets have lived up to their New York Post-ish nickname, the New York Mess. Perhaps nothing broke my heart so much as the look on my dad's face as we sat in Shea Stadium watching the Mets lose THE LAST GAME EVER PLAYED THERE to the Florida Marlins. I here replicate this miserable scene for you, my dear audience.
I grew that paper moustache for this occasion. My poor father has been a Mets fan since that bastard team arrived in their adorably dumpy stadium in Queens. FORTY EIGHT YEARS. For the record, that's 2 WONDERFUL years of happiness and sunshine - FORTY SIX YEARS of ANGUISH, TORMENT and PAIN!
Then came this story: Mets reliever Francisco Rodriguez was arrested for beating up his father-in-law following another pitiful Mets loss at the hands of relief pitchers. The Mets barely even slapped him on the wrist, and even expect to have him back next year, even though he injured himself after punching his father-in-law.
It's heart-breaking. There is something very... odd about this team. Every September they break your heart and every April, we fans return to them. We return to them because they are the Amazin's! The Miracle Mets! They're the team whose credo was made famous by Tug McGraw: YA GOTTA BELIEVE! What can I liken it to? I posed this question to Gale, who helped me illustrate my thoughts - LITERALLY AND BRILLIANTLY!
That about sums it up - an abusive relationship. We hate to love our Amazin's. It appears that all we die-hard Mets fans, who ask for Tom Seaver autographed baseballs in lieu of class rings and have tickets to the pathetic last game at Shea proudly displayed in their living rooms, are doomed to follow the cycle forever. Every time I see a little child wearing a Mets hat, I think of the years of pain and anguish every autumn will bring them. I implore you, Mr. Wilpon and Mr. Minaya, if you care at all for the children, do something to deliver our overpaid baseball team from the depths of laughingstock-hood. In the meantime, we'll do our best to anesthetize ourselves to the aura of hopelessness that surrounds Taxpayer - ahem - Citi Field.
Please give us at least one more happy recap that we can put in the books.

Note: There is nothing funny about spousal abuse. It's a metaphor people. A metaphor. At least I didn't compare someone or something to the Nazi party like everyone does nowadays.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Wherein The Author Elaborates on the Gentlemanly Sports of Baseball, Croquet and Baseball

I must thank you all for being exceptionally patient readers. When Mr. Hodgman acknowledged my unbridled brilliance via Twitter, I sort of pledged to update more frequently. Alas, I have not made good on my side of the bargain. Still, it's difficult to choose from the literal thousands of interesting things that happen to me on a daily basis, and more difficult still to describe them in the exquisite prose that issues from my perfect mind. Here's a small smattering of the interesting things I wanted to show you!
A band of time traveling base-ballers from A.D. 1864 arrived in Sayville during the Wife-to-Be's and my brief time on Long Island. I here provide video evidence from my Android which, much to my dismay, is a smart-phone and in no way a subservient humanoid robot designed to do my bidding and never to develop its own consciousness and decide to kill me...

Fig. 1: An error is charged to the right fielder.

The said base-ball match pitted the Brooklyn Atlantics against the New York Mutuals. This of course brought to mind my absolute favorite Conan O'Brien sketch wherein the red-headed Irish giant came upon his own horde of time traveling base-ballers in Old Bethpage. I assure you it's much funnier than the previous video:

Conan Old Time Baseball

Fig. 2: What is that demonry?!
Oh how I wish I could have donned by best base-ball knickerbockers and show those so-and-so's what for. I'd pepper their porridge, see!

I attended a Great Gatsby themed party. Now by this point you are all aware that F. Scott Fitzgerald is on written warning from me, and thus Jay Gatsby is also on notice - even though he spends most of his time floating around in the pool these days. There, the gentlemen among us took part in the great American pastime of LAWN CROQUET!
Fig. 3: A typical croquet game. Fancy dress required.
Ah... nothing like a refreshing round of knocking wooden balls through wickets. Is there any game quite as kingly as croquet - a game whose very rulebook provides that players be penalized 2 strokes if they are not in possession of an alcoholic beverage? I (pictured at left in the dark suit) came in a very respectable second after a couple of brilliant shots on my part. I still believe that Mr. Perry is a rotten cheater who isn't worthy of the monocle he wears which he so flagrantly boasts about at any given opportunity.

Fig. 4: This is what second place looks like.
Also worth note is the glorious picture of Maria that came of this party.
Fig. 5: Your jealousy is palpable - both at my good fortune and her good looks.

A while back I received a Facebook message from the Brooklyn Cyclones baseball club with an offer that could not be refused. The package included:
  • A box seat behind home plate at a Brooklyn Cyclones game
  • A voucher for a hot dog, fries and a drink at the original Nathan's on Stillwell Ave.
  • Complementary Cyclones baseball cap
Little did we know, that the particular night we chose to attend included the following BONUS entertainments!
  • A player on the opposing team named Burt Reynolds
  • Ike Davis inverted bobblehead night (sold out)
  • Wonderfully drunk and overzealous Cyclones fans nearly falling over at the prospect of a late-inning rally!
After every 2 innings, several knights hailing from the distant kingdom of Lyndhurst, New Jersey would engage in mortal combat. And not only that, we were repeatedly told by our master of ceremonies that we should stay after the 9th inning! "My lords and ladies! Stay after the 9th inning, for the knights will mount their horses and joust!"
Laugh not, readers, for in attendance that night happened to be my dear sister Jessica. Many years ago on a rainy December evening right before my sister's birthday, our family was slated to make the long, perilous journey to Lyndhurst, New Jersey to visit the nights in their home castle. Alas! Father had forgotten to purchase Lotto tickets, and so bolted out the door into the rain. Seconds later, he returned through the front door and fell on the floor, muddy, wet and writhing in pain. Sure enough, Father had broken his wrist sliding in the mud. Sadly, we had to cancel our journey to the rotten Kingdom of New Jersey, and Jessica never got to experience Medieval Times - THAT IS UNTIL THIS SUMMER!

Fig. 6: Happy belated 9th Birthday, Jessie!
Well... I think we're about caught up. I have something very special for all of you in the forthcoming blog entry to make up for this inexcusable absence on my part. Until then, take care of yourselves, and each other!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Somebody's Getting Married or: How I Became Maria's Husband-Elect

Well, Maria and I are happily engaged. I chose a fine Independence Day afternoon spent on Governors Island as the time and place that I would ask her to marry me. Thankfully she said yes, no doubt due to the blingged-out beauty of my great grandmother's 80-year old diamond and platinum ring. She has in fact just confirmed: "Yes - it was only because of the ring that I said yes." The lovely and talented Gale designed this unbelievably brilliant card to celebrate our forthcoming nuptials.
Fig. 1: Too many titles? DO YOU KNOW WHO WE ARE?!

Alex, the current blood-soaked feudal Shogun of Hitoyoshi Castle, pointed out that upon Maria's and my marriage, she will ALWAYS one-up me in the race for the most titles attached to a name - for she will be (at least now) MRS. Baron(ness) the Reverend Doctor(ess) Mayor(ess) [Lady] Maria N. Olsen-Hoek, Esq., T.T..
That aside, I'm surprised at just how sneaky I can be! In fact, after visiting Robert Moses' Seaside Paradise at Jones Beach, I staged an unbelievably manly conspiratorial dinner-and-drink talk with Jon and Greg at that ultimate bastion of machismo, McSorley's Ale House. So manly is this den of manliness that women weren't even allowed in the joint until the 1970s. Now friends, you may be aware that I venture into the realms of "re-imagined" history in this weblog, but the fact stated in the previous sentence is entirely true! What may or may not be true is the fact that Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY) invented the frat boy game of Flip Cup at McSorley's. His version of Flip Cup involved inverting a full glass of beer onto a sloppily drunk patron's head as a form of payback for his theft of the Senator's sixth cheese and onion sandwich of the afternoon.
Fig. 2: Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (left) inventing Flip Cup
(Photo courtesy of Greg's Supreme Archive Photo Emporium, Ltd.)

Also, it's where Theodore Roosevelt wrestled and murdered his first grizzly bear at age seven. Alas, we are unable to provide photographic evidence as TR's natural X-ray emissions rendered him completely unphotographable.
Where was I? Oh yes! We met there to plot the engagement. The next day, Greg and I dreamed up a cover story that would permit me to return to Long Island to ask her parents what they thought of the two of us getting hitched. We would be "recording" some "dialog" for "Greg"'s "thesis" "project." Mr. French put it best: "That's great! A marriage founded in lies and deceit!" He also asked that I henceforth refer to him as "Your Lordship." Clearly any offspring Maria and I produce will be genetically predisposed to megalomania.
JULY IV, MMX - Greg, Sonja, Helen, Maria, and I (in custody of my great grandmother Lillian's ring) depart for Governors Island by ferry for Independence Day festivities. The island was fortified during the American Revolutionary War in anticipation of the Battle of Long Island / Brooklyn. Later those battlements became Fort Jay. Centuries later the island fell into the jurisdiction of the Coast Guard, which eventually abandoned the island for cost-saving reasons, leaving a ghostly shell of its militaristic past. We lunched in one of the fort's ravelins but quickly ran out of drinking water. Greg and I set out to look for water only to learn that Emperor Bloomberg saw fit to open the island to the public without installing public potable water outlets. TWELVE MORE YEARS! Thinking quickly, Greg had a brilliant plan to cross the river back to Brooklyn to fill our water containers. He texted the girls with perhaps the most famous text message in our group's history:
"no water on island. making supplies run. brb"
When we arrived at Brooklyn's Pier 6, the sight left us stunned and agitated. A line stretching nearly two city blocks had formed. In our astonishment, we didn't even see the drinking fountain not 20 feet away from us. As we assessed the line, a motorcyclist asked us if we were going to Governors Island.
"Nah, we actually just came from Governors Island - for some water."
"Y'know, Rosanne Cash is giving a concert on Governors Island."
"Who the hell is that?"
"... ... Get outta here!"
Apparently Rosanne Cash belongs to that elite group of "People Who Are Only Famous Because Their Parents Were Famous." Nonetheless, I have seen fit to put her on warning for crimes committed against persons trying to propose to their long-time girlfriends. BEHOLD THE LIST!
Fig. 3: Persons On Warning For Crimes Committed Against William and His Associates
  1. Rosanne Cash
  2. F. Scott Fitzgerald
  3. M. Night Shyamalan
  4. ABBA
  5. MTA New York City Transit
"Why F. Scott Fitzgerald?!" I can hear you ask. Well, because of that guy I have massive panic attacks when I see a green light. And that children is why I don't have a driver's license.
Anyway... broken-hearted, Greg and I took the bus to Atlantic Terminal. We planned to get water from the Battery Maritime Building and take the ferry from South Street Seaport. We reasoned that since the ferries there were larger, the line would move faster.
We were horribly, horribly wrong.
Our shock and awe at the scene near Pier 6 in Brooklyn couldn't compare to what we witnessed when we arrived at the Battery Maritime Building. A line stretching all the way to the Brooklyn Bridge. About 90 minutes into our quest for water, we were sweaty, thirsty and sun-baked. I was losing hope for a successful engagement atmosphere. Maria and I were separated by New York's Buttermilk Channel. Still, we had at least fulfilled one part of our quest, for we did find water in an inconspicuous location within the Staten Island Ferry terminal. BEHOLD!

Fig. 4: This had better not be rhinoceros water...
Okay. Calm down fellas. We'll go back to Brooklyn. Maybe the line has died down. Maybe we can get Nick to save us a place in line. Everything will be all right.
Subway. Brooklyn. Borough Hall. Walk to Pier 6.
Nick had scouted a place in line for us. I'd never been happier to see a picnic straggler. Greg and I cut into line, when a little idea popped into my head to appease those behind us in line - show them the ring; people love that romantic stuff. Success! The ladies behind us didn't have a problem with two more people hopping on the ferry in front of them.
Okay. We're almost there. Just across the channel.
I had originally planned to propose in front of the fireworks display. But no. Not after this epic quest. The only way to redeem our honor as men was for me to do something bold - offer her this water, the product of a failed yet epic 3-hour 2-borough quest, say to hell with the water, and give her the ring.
By this time the ladies had tired of life at Fort Jay. They left the perfect serenity of our fortified picnic ground to climb tress, learn to walk on stilts and take photographs of flowers. Huff - women. I was distraught. I wanted to propose right there under that tree in that fort. Head down, I bolted back to the picnic area, quickly re-unpacked out picnic, offered her the water and then suggested we get renter's insurance.
"What for?" she asked.
I got on one knee.
"For this thing. Would you marry me?"
I popped open the ring case. We were both dressed for hot weather, sporting NY Mets and Brooklyn Dodgers baseball caps. We were both red-faced and thirsty. She shed a single little tear and said "Yes!"
And that ladies and gentlemen is the long and convoluted story of how I became Ms. Maria's Husband-Elect. There weren't any fireworks and I didn't pay a crop duster to write "Will you marry me?" in the sky. But really, I wouldn't have it any other way. ...don't think she would either. And just for good measure:

Fig 5

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Being a Treatise Against Internet Conversion

I fear that the internet may be broken. Being a degree-holding Time Traveler from the University of Stony Brook, I am obsessed with the conversion of measurements. Just think, the most infinitesimally small miscalculation could see a chrononaut wishing to knock back a few Singapore Slings with Napoleon could end up smack in the middle of a wooly mammoth hunt in the Pleistocene Era. Imagine my shock - nay, my HORROR - when I chanced upon these very different results when researching an EXTREMELY important conversion when dealing with Time Travel:
Light years per century to furlongs per fortnight
Why is this conversion so vital? It's a long story, but I am willing to share it with you. A number of steam punks (who were also LARPers, incidentally) from the year 2012 accidentally built a real time machine out of really cool looking rusty gears from nearby junk yards and a few antique camera lenses from a garage sale in Red Hook. By coincidence, their maiden journey landed them at the first International Convention of Time Travelers and Chrononauts held in 802,701 C.E.. Not wanting to break from character during the panel on Feasible Speed Limits in the Time Vortex, the group of 11 hipsters clad in their finest alternative-history Victorian Era finery filibustered for the standardization of the Furlongs per Fortnight measurement. Grumblings from actual time travelers from the Victorian Era (who thought the measurement impractical) and from Zandquazer the Magnificent, Space-Sultan of Planet Glaucqqaatl-Omega 8 (who had never heard of the furlong) were drowned in a sea of the many who hopped on the steam punk bandwagon after promises of laudanum-infused absinthe martinis from the 11 gate crashers. Since then, it has been the very chic thing to set one's space-time speedometer to furlongs per fortnight. But we serious time travelers know better and use the far more practical light years per century. Still, when dealing with Time Cops (you'll remember that Franklin Roosevelt was himself a Time Cop) it is necessary to quickly convert one's practical measure of speed with its fashionable counterpart.
That said, let me show you what my research wielded. First, I input the conversion into the popular Google search engine. Here are the results:
For those too lazy to follow the link, Google claims 1 Light year/century is equal to 1.8026175 × 10^10 furlongs/fortnight.
Compare this to the results given to me by Bill Gates' Bing:
Lazy people: 1 Light year/century = 1.8038522 × 10^10 furlongs/fortnight
That is a discrepancy of .0012346 × 10^10 furlongs/fortnight! So outrageous a difference could very well cause a time traveller to skip off of a wormhole and into a supermassive black hole to GOD KNOWS WHERE in the UNIVERSE! The implications of that are too mind-boggling to even begin to comprehend. My present theory as to this potentially lethal difference of opinion may have something to do with one of the search engines not properly accounting for leap years - either neglecting them entirely or forgetting that we skip Leap Year Day each century on years that end in 00. Who knows, perhaps this problem comes down to a difference of Leap Seconds!
Now, I am no mathematician, so I fear that I must outsource my problem. I implore all competent and able-minded readers to convert light years per century to furlongs per fortnight, neatly showing me the conversions and work they have done. He or she who first submits the correct calculations will receive a GRAND PRIZE of an expertly crafted sonnet about him or her written by ME, an Honest-to-Goodness Baron of the Principality of Sealand. Wow, I realized I haven't told people about my baronhood. That will have to wait. For now - BEGIN CALCULATING!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Wherein - Good Lord, I Do Believe John Hodgman Just "Tweeted" My Web Log!

It has come to my attention via an email from a complete stranger that John Hodgman, a person that I hold in no small esteem has used the social networking site Twitter to share my post about Oscar the Grouch being a TIME LORD. Imagine my current embarrassment. Here my favorite humorist has seen fit to acknowledge my understated brilliance, and I have not posted since April, failing even to complete the epic DISNEY SONG VOTE.
But then I reflect - some of the finest works of art remain incomplete. There's Stuart's portrait of George Washington:

There's Chaucer's Canterbury Tales
[picture not found]
And now there's Willie & Maria's Epic Disney Song Bracket.
It is now for the annals of history to decide upon its brilliance, though I may comment that anything containing a portrait of Jerry Orbach deserves any self-respecting museum's admiration.
I suppose I should offer a more recent glimpse into my life. I have recently applied to be a full-time teacher of History at the Bronx Urban Assembly Studio School for Writers and Artists at Casita Maria. Up to now, after a long and arduous battle with the New York City Department of Education, I have been a substitute teacher at various schools throughout the Mythical Kingdom of Brooklyn and the Bronx, a borough famous only for a steroid-imbued baseball team that has won to this date 937 World's Series championships and six Stanley Cups, though their claims to these hockey accolades are contentious at best.*
God-willing I will succeed in landing this position, as it has been a long-term goal of mine to teach children about the gross omissions in history textbooks, like these:
  • General Douglas MacArthur, the celebrated American general that conquered the Pacific Theater, was in fact a cyborg whose main fuel source consisted of corn cob pipes
  • Bob Dylan was the Second President of the Confederate States of America and penned All Along the Watchtower as a tribute to Abraham Lincoln
  • Christopher Columbus did not think the world round, but rather shaped like a neatly trimmed mustache
I have such a wealth of historical knowledge that I literally fear over-filling my students' brains with hard facts.
I assure you that given the current circumstances, I will have to update more frequently. And even if I don't, people may still witness Maria's and my culinary BRILLIANCE as we find out how many ways to serve the dozens of heads of lettuce we receive each week from our local Community Supported Agricultural share in Crown Heights.

*The New York [Name Withheld]s, formerly the New York Highlanders, formerly the Baltimore Orioles claimed the Stanley Cup Titles in 1620, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, and 2011 seasons. A little known clause in the team's charter declares them the victor in every Stanley Cup Championship in the immediate following year. And in 1620, well that was just a fluke and the Canadiens' goaltender at the time was a known alcoholic.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Wherein We Vote: Part the Second, Round the Second... AND I BOYCOTT!

One of my favorite episodes of Iron Chef took place on May 21, 1999. In a nine-episode stretch, Chairman Kaga's Iron Chefs went 3 and 6. Outraged, the eccentric trillionaire with a penchant for Liberace's hand-me-downs boycotted the next match, leaving "Dr." Yukio Hattori to host the program. Confused and embarrassed, Hattori-san revealed the appalling secret ingredient - SUCKLING PIG. And so, television history was made. Chairman Kaga was found lurking in the shadows, daintily sipping champagne from a crystal flute. Iron Chef Chen Kenichi fried a whole pig head in a wok. And yes, I share this historical event with you dear readers:

Why would I take all this time to recount to you this awesomely powerful story? Frankly, I am outraged. Let me tell you why:
Argument 1: Is no one even cognizant of the fact that JERRY ORBACH (a.k.a. Det. Lenny Briscoe) sang "Be Our Guest" in Beauty and the Beast? Just look at his reaction to your huge mistake, voters!

Argument 2: BE PREPARED IS THE FINEST SONG PENNED BY ANYONE IN THE EMPLOY OF THE WALT DISNEY COMPANY IN THE LAST 20 YEARS! Music by SIR Elton John. Lyrics by SIR Timothy Miles Bindon Rice. British nobility, dear voters! Not only that, the song has so much intensity that Jeremy Irons was rendered unable to finish singing the song and thus Jim Cummings (a.k.a. Darkwing Duck) had to replicate his voice in order to complete it.
In short, I am very upset with all of you and will thus dress like my hero, the enigmatic Chairman Kaga, and lurk in the shadows drinking champagne as you vote on the next round. Here is Maria with the decidedly UN-Happy Recap. Dearest?

Wow, honey. That was...special. Not all of the results in this vote were unhappy, at least not for me, but they were most certainly tense, and will elicit more commentary!

-"Be a Man" barely edged out "Be Our Guest," inciting boos from the rafters, but I sympathize. It was a tough choice, and I'm not sad. I'm just glad that Jerry Orbach isn't around to see the results. (Too soon?) Anyway, "Be a Man" will face "Gaston" in the Sweet 16, which as we know, eliminated Willie's favorite song from the competition. WILL THE DRAMA EVER END?
-"Friend Like Me" won a decisive victory over "Hakuna Matata" and will be matched up with...wait. Another tie? Nobody could determine a winner between "A Whole New World" and "Under the Sea"?! This is the one that made me outraged, but luckily the internet agreed that "A Whole New World" was the better choice, and so it will live to see another round.
-"Heigh Ho" and "When You Wish Upon a Star" were both strong competitors, but it's "Heigh Ho" that will advance to the Sweet 16, against "Once Upon a Dream," which defeated another tough competitor in "When I See an Elephant Fly." It's tough, my friends, but imagine how hard it will be when it's the final 2!
-Finally, "Bear Necessities" proved to be the favorite Jungle Book song over "I Wanna Be Like You," and will meet "Cruella De Vil" in the Sweet 16, which beat out "Bella Notte."

To find the other eight participants in the Sweet 16, we must now continue Round 2 with our remaining brackets, the "Mary Poppins Bracket" and the miscellaneous "Walt Disney Bracket." With our famed announcer Willie lurking in the shadows, unable to provide you with the pomp and circumstance of his bombastic prose, I guess all I can say is "allez cuisine." Or something. So yeah, you'll have until Monday at 11:59 PM to vote on these songs. And here they are now!

From the Mary Poppins Bracket:

And from the Walt Disney Bracket:

Have fun, everybody! Hopefully Willie will stop sulking after this one.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Disney Bracket Abideth - ENTER ROUND II

Exceptional turnout last time - let's see if we can't get even more people to vote this time. Well everyone has voted on all 64 Songs in this Tournament of Disney. I was somewhat surprised with just how heated and close some of these polls were. In fact, we had a BIT of a problem in the contest that pitted The Nightmare Before Christmas' "This is Halloween" and the beloved "Scrooge" from The Muppet Christmas Carol in what can only be called a Christmas Grudge Match.

Since the poll has closed, I don't mind voicing my own opinion, which is that any song containing the line, "No crust of bread for those in need / No cheeses for us meeses" is vastly superior to any other conceivable song. That said, Maria in her unfathomable wisdom came up with what I consider a FAIR & BALANCED™ method for choosing the winner of this deadlocked vote. She entered the name of the movie from which the movie hailed in parentheses followed by the song's title in parentheses (i.e. "Muppet Christmas Carol" "Scrooge") in the Google search engine. The song that produced the most results won - so congratulations to Tim Burton. Cough. Hack. Anyway, this is the method that will be used in the event of another tie in the future. Maria will now provide us with the rest of the recap.

-"It's a Small World" was found superior to the "Mouseketeers" theme, and will meet "Carrying the Banner" in Round 2, which ousted "Now is the Time."
-Pretty much only Willie voted for the Carousel of Progress, so unsurprisingly, "King of New York" will face "Feels Like Christmas" in Round 2, which edged out "Grim Grinning Ghosts."
-"This is Halloween" moves on to Round 2, as we learned above, along with "You Got a Friend in Me," which beat "Seize the Day."
-Finally, "Yo Ho" barely squeezed out "After Today," and will square off against "What's This" in Round 2, which won against "The Sorcerer's Apprentice."

So now we move on to the long-awaited Round 2! Things will move faster from here on out! In Round 2, you will vote on two brackets' worth of match-ups at a time, which will still end up being 8 polls. These will be tougher decisions, friends, but you will still have only 3 days to vote. These next polls will close Friday night (4/16) at 11:59 PM.

As a side note, I realized that due to my (still Maria btw) lack of knowledge about brackets and college basketball, I messed up on the seed numbers, (i.e. the winner of Seed 1 vs. Seed 16 should be paired against the winner of 8 vs. 9 in Round 2. I put it against the winner of 2 vs. 15. Oops.) BUT, since the seeds were randomly assigned anyway, IT DOESN'T MATTER. I APOLOGIZE FOR NOTHING! So yeah, it might look a little weird.

Here are your ROUND TWO match-ups from "The Lion King Bracket":

And here are your match-ups from "The Snow White Bracket":

Some of these are nail-biters! Enjoy!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Disney Song Vote: Part the First. Round the Fourth.

I am somewhat disappointed with voter turnout in this last round. It appeared that people were unfamiliar with the songs and therefore didn't bother to vote, even after Maria's brilliant suggestion that voters actually listen to the songs. THIS WILL NOT ABIDE! Let's take a look at the results with Maria, shall we?

If my happy recap is less than stellar this week, well, it's because I had to go back to work. :(

-"Zip-a-dee doo dah" beat "Feed the Birds and will be pitted against "Supercalifrag..." in round 2, which beat "Happy Little Working Song."
-"How You Know" won over "Let's Get Together" and will face "Substitutiary Locomotion" in round 2, which beat "The Ugly Bug Ball."
-People just didn't appreciate Burl Ives enough to vote for "Summer Magic," so "Portobello Road" will face off against "Spoonful of Sugar" in round 2, which beat "Let's go fly a Kite," in which many agreed was one of the most heart-wrenching match-ups we've had so far.
-Finally, "Step in Time" beat "Laughing Place" and will meet "Chim Chim Cher-ee" in round 2, which beat "The Life I Lead." So much Mary Poppins, so little time.

This week, we present a wholly enigmatic bracket. Due entirely to our inability to place these songs into a single coherent genre, we are calling this the Walter Elias Disney Bracket. These songs include themes from rides at Disney World (including both theme songs from the various incarnations of the Carousel of Progress!), a Jim Henson production, and several selections from films released by Disney's various affiliates and et cetera. We apologize for not having these polls for you yesterday, but life got in the way of our side project. How sad when such a thing happens. Anyhow, here are our new polls. You will have until Sunday at 11:59 PM, so make it count!

Yes, friends! Disney owned the Muppets at this point!

Several people commented on the lack of Fantasia songs to which we responded, "Really, people? That's classical music." However, we found it in our hearts to include "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," as it was our belief that Disney really popularized this piece of music and made it its own, so much so that it was even reprised in Fantasia 2000.

And that's it! Now you've seen all 64 songs! After we get the results of this vote we can move on to ROUND TWO, where we will whittle the results down to 16! For now, enjoy the voting!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Round One, Part Three

First of all, I am very upset with all of you for not voting for Oo-de-lally, which is one of the finest songs ever written regardless of its status as a Disney song. Notwithstanding - and hush Maria who is currently underscoring the magnificence of Oo-de-lally, a song much better than Colors of the Wind - on this Easter Sunday, let us see the results of our latest poll. Here's Maria with the Happy Recap:

-"Heigh Ho" triumphed over "Phony King of England," and will face off against "When You Wish Upon a Star," in Round 2, which came out ahead of "Rescue Aid Society." An epic battle between two timeless Disney classics is sure to ensue!
-"Once Upon a Dream" IS CLEARLY BETTER THAN "Oo-de-lally," and will meet "When I See An Elephant Fly" in Round 2, which beat "Everybody Wants to Be a Cat."
-The Songs from the Jungle Book ousted the songs of Cinderella, which means that Round 2 will see a matchup of "Bear Necessities" and "I Wanna Be Like You." Drama abounds!
-Last but not least, "Cruella De Vil" won UNANIMOUSLY over "A Very Merry Unbirthday," and will be up against "Bella Notte" in Round 2, which won a decisive victory over "You Can Fly."

We come now to a rather mysterious bracket. We're calling it the Mary Poppins bracket as songs from this absolutely brilliant movie account for approximately half of contestants herein. What do you expect from a movie was ranked with the likes of My Fair Lady and Dr. Strangelove in the Best Picture category in 1964? These are generally movies that contain at least half live action. Some of the more obscure motion pictures mentioned in this bracket include Summer Magic, the ORIGINAL Parent Trap, and the ever-hated and censored Song of the South! On the subject of this movie, I have been on a near-constant crusade to see the entirety of this picture, as I have only seen clips from Zip-a-dee-doo-dah and Laughin' Place. It seems almost a crime that one of the most popular amusement park rides in Disney World, Splash Mountain, is based on a movie that almost no one has seen as it has been deemed too racially insensitive. Based on what I have seen of the movie, the storyteller, Uncle Remus, exhibits no more racial stereotypes than the portrayal of foreigners in the Indiana Jones series (KALI MA!, Rolls-Royce Phantom II, chilled monkey's brains, "Feel like fortune cookies, Doctah Jones!"). C'mon! Let us see the movie!

This digression has lasted far too long. Let us to the polls! Tally-ho!

I noticed that in the last batch of voting, some polls had more votes than others. We urge you to search for these songs on youtube or grooveshark if you are unfamiliar with any of the songs, since we want to have as many votes as possible. You will have until April 6 at 11:59 PM.

Now vote! Tell all your friends! (Seriously, tell your friends to vote.)

Also, happy Easter, if that's your thing. It's ours. We are currently full of lamb and traditional Greek treats, and are awaiting dessert. If Easter is not your thing, enjoy the rest of your weekend!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Rock the Vote Results and Next Bracket

Since none of the polls were particularly close races, we decided to close the polls early. We can do things like that. Wanna fight about it? It's like how the news reports an election winner--we're calling this one. The funny thing about our results for The Lion King Bracket is that all of our top (and randomly chosen) seeds came out ahead. I wonder if that will happen for our other brackets?

So, without further ado, here are YOUR WINNERS OF ROUND 1:
-"Be a Man" ousted "Ratigan" and will face off against "Be Our Guest" in Round 2, which defeated "Why Should I Worry." That one is sure to be a nail-biter!
-"Gaston" won over "Out There" and will be pitted against "Be Prepared" which whooped the butt of "I Won't Say I'm in Love" in Round 2. A battle of the villain songs!
-"Hakuna Matata" bumped off "Go the Distance" and will meet "Friend Like Me" in Round 2, which was conclusively victorious over "Colors of the Wind" (much to Maria's dismay).
-Finally, "A Whole New World" earned the best love ballad spot over "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" (sorry, Sir Elton), and will face "Under the Sea" in Round 2, which was deemed to be the best Little Mermaid song over "Part of Your World."

It was a fun race, but WE CAN DO BETTER NEXT TIME! Tell all your friends to help us in our quest. SPEAKING OF WHICH...

"The time has come," the William said,
"To vote on other things;
Of woman after puppy coats,
Of a monkey who's a king
And of a drunken elephant
And seven dwarfs that sing."

Let us prepare ourselves for our next venture into judging the finest Disney song of all time. For the next three days we will explore The Snow White Bracket. These are all those timeless Disney classics that made Walter E. Disney the Emperor of the United States and (by extension) the World. Again, these are his animated films - so for those chomping at the bit for live action, you will have to wait! Shall we? You will have until April 3rd at 11:59 PM for these, so think about it! This is Maria's favorite bracket and since her favorite Disney song is on the line, she wants it to be a good one!

(We tried something new with the spacing, but still can't get it quite right. That's what happens when you don't feel like paying for an account on a poll website.)

Which Disney Song will reign supreme?

Saturday, March 27, 2010

April Madness: The Quest to find the Best Disney Song EVAR

Ah March. The cherry trees are blossoming in Washington, D.C., a district so angry and spiteful that they saw fit to stamp "Taxation Without Representation" onto their license plates. Maria and I skipped the final line to enter the Charters of Freedom Rotunda because I was able to correctly identify person #11 in Barry Faulkner's mural.
March also means it's impossible to turn on a television or switch on a radio without hearing Dick Vitale's shouting himself hoarse about college basketball. Well, since UConn hasn't made it to the Big Dance, the hell with it all. And baseball season is just around the corner. To HELL with it all!
While idly gathering the last few things for our trip to Our Nation's Capital, I wondered aloud what my favorite Disney song of all time was. Because of the nature of this entry, I will not share the information, but suddenly Maria was struck - WHAT IN THE WORLD IS HER FAVORITE DISNEY SONG?! How could she possibly judge which Timeless Classic was better than the others? In this bracket-fraught month, a decision was made: Maria and I would team up to create the ULTIMATE BRACKET SHOWDOWN OF ULTIMATE DESTINY and behold - we have compiled a list of SIXTY-FOUR Disney Songs that we will bracket off and have you, YES YOU DEAR READER, vote for to decide: THE BEST DISNEY SONG EVAR!
1.) Only one vote per person. Vote more than once, and DEATH SQUADS FROM A POST-APOCALYPTIC FUTURE will be sent to separate your reproductive organs from the rest of your body in an extremely unpleasant way.
2.) Polls will be open for THREE DAYS. Use your time wisely. There is no penalty for guessing. Erase mistakes cleanly and make no stray marks on the Scantron.
3.) You may try to sway others' votes in the comments sections, but keep it clean. (Not strictly enforced by hired nuns with knuckle-bruising rulers.) You can also feel free to tell as many others as you'd like to vote in this poll.
4.) We will be presenting match-ups from one bracket at a time. Example: You will vote in 8 match-ups in the first four rounds, 4 match-ups in the next four rounds, &c. until one song is crowned King/Queen.
5.) Seed numbers were chosen randomly in the following fashion: Maria and I got terribly drunk on butterscotch schnapps, stripped to our skivvies, and threw darts around our hotel room, then put all the songs in a computer which randomly selected the seeds.
6.) Don't yell at us if the song names aren't exactly correct. This is already taking a long time without us having to look up every single song.
7.) If you need a visual, we will post a COMPLETE and ACCURATE graphical representation of the brackets once all of the songs have been revealed, but for now, the rest are a surprise.
Is that clear ladies and gentlemen? Very well then... LET US BEGIN! I wish I could have inserted the sound of a horse race gate opening right here. Maria wishes that it was the guy who says LET'S GET READY TO RUMBLE!

Allow us to present you with "The Lion King Bracket." These songs are from the animated films indicative of OUR generation, from 1984 to the present. Sherman Brothers need not apply. Polls will close at 11:59PM on March 31. Choose wisely, my vikings! (We apologize for the space between polls, but we are amateur bloggers after all... keep going 'til you reach the end!)

(A Battle of the Love Ballads!)

We have some tough decisions ahead of us, but what awaits in the other three brackets? Vote well, and find out soon!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

In Which I Suffer from Olympic Fever...

I make no excuses. I absolutely and unabashedly adore the Olympic Games. Every two years the nations of the world - for the most part - set aside their petty differences (nuclear threats, bioterrorism, child slavery, &c.) and do silly thinks like throw spiky sticks, strap planks of wood to their feet and jump from terrifying heights, strategically slide rocks down ice, and, in China's case, compel 10-year old slave girls to steal medals from the UNITED STATES of AMERICA. How do I treat these games? Religiously. Rarely does my television change from any of NBC's networks of affiliates. In 1996, we procured tickets to several sporting events during the Games of the XXVI Olympiad in Atlanta, Georgia. Those events included Football (Men's Korea v. Ghana and Women's Norway v. Brazil), Judo, Indoor Volleyball, Women's Basketball (USA v. Either Japan or Australia), and Baseball (Italy v. United States). Now I look back on a horrible photograph of my sister and myself standing in front of the OLYMPIC FLAME, in our finest finery the Nineties could offer (PHOTO NOT AVAILABLE), and I shed a tear. Truly the Olympics have been a part of the OLSEN-HOEK way of life for at least two decades now.I struggled to share just how I feel about the Olympics with other people. Normal human beings crave to watch ACTUAL sporting events like Gymnastics, Hockey, Track & Field, Football, and (GOD FORBID) Dick Button's sport of Figure Skating. I enjoy these events (figure skating excluded), but the mania that is my Olympic obsession will see me actively watching and rooting for teams in Biathlon (affectionately called the Norwegian Drive-By), Badminton, Water Polo, Archery, &c.. No person in his or her right mind should enjoy watching these events. And I'm sure if there were a sport called Wheelchair-bound Octogenarian Lawn Croquet, I would stare agape at the television, eyes as wide as the Olympic Rings. It was not until this year that Stephen Colbert truly encapsulated how I feel about the Olympics:

I do not hide my affection and adoration of THE AMERICAN EMPIRE. Shaw said, "Patriotism is your conviction that this country is superior to all other countries because you were born in it." This is true, though it does not apply to any human being born outside of THE UNITED STATES of AMERICA. Scientists* have concluded** that THE UNITED STATES of AMERICA is indeed the GREATEST COUNTRY on PLANET EARTH. And as such, it is our civic duty to crush as many other countries' dreams and aspirations towards medal contention as is humanly possible. Indeed, an original draft of the DECLARATION of INDEPENDENCE states, in Jefferson's own meticulous hand, "...that we are endowed by our Poffibly Exiftant CREATOR with certain un- or in-alienable TRUTHS, that among thefe are the Rightf to LIFE, LIBERTY, and DECIDEDLY MORE OLYMPIC MEDALS THAN CHINA and THE SOVIET UNION." Hey, you can't make this stuff up. And we have held fast to Jefferson's lofty dream. BEHOLD:
Combined Olympic Medal Leaders (Accurate as of 5:17 Eastern Time 23 February 2010)
  2. Союз Советских Социалистических Республик - 1,204
  3. 中華人民共和國 - 419
Thanks to Mr. Jefferson (himself a member of the 1904 American Roque Team and the 1980 "Miracle on Ice" American Hockey Team) we have DOUBLE the medal count of our nearest rival! God Bless the USA!
What Red-White-and-Blue-Blooded American doesn't dream of one day standing atop the podium, a solid pound of gold and silk adorning his or her neck, forgetting the lyrics of the NATIONAL ANTHEM? Maria tells me she had such a dream... possibly of outperforming Dick Button and receiving THREE consecutive Gold Medals in Figure Skating. And I have no doubt that with her gumption and magic that she could achieve it. As for myself, I can only imagine myself as a Luger or a Curler. My father had a suggestion:
"Y'know, you and Derek should form your own Luge Pairs team."
Anyone who knows the both of us should laugh about now. BUT LAUGH NOT! With my girth and Derek's terrifying countenance that would strike fear in even the most frozen German or Norwegian heart, I confidently aver that we could be in medal contention were we to participate in the 2014 Sochi Olympics (which we would not, instead boycotting the event being that it is located in the former Soviet Union). Still, Derek's father came up with an even better idea via Facebook:
" U and Derek should enter the combined curling-luge or cluge. In it one contestant pushes the other downhill on a sled hoping to displace some rocks with him."
I was immediately struck with the elegant brilliance of this beautiful new sport of Cluge. What better way than to combine Luge's suicidal danger of going down a sloped sheet of ice at horrifying speeds with the obesity-friendly thinkin' sport of Curling. I picture myself enjoying good Brandy out of a snifter, then strategically kicking Derek down a Luge course as he lets out a piercing, terrifying scream, curdling even the sturdiest Swiss or Austrian's blood. I'd take the stairs to the bottom of the course in time to sweep the way clear so that he could move some Canadian's rock off the button for a double take out. I only wish my artistic skills could render what this event would looks like, but rest assured, our uniforms would not be mistaken. I picture blue shawl cardigans (something like Paul Gross wore in Men With Brooms) with enormous American flags on the back, Chuck Taylors converted to curling shoes, a luge designed by the reanimated corpse of Frank Lloyd Wright, our non-Human curling rocks fashioned of genuine Tiffany Pearl-studded Black Hills Gold with Stained Glass Embellishments. Hell, even if we somehow lost (WHICH, given Derek's and my own divine Cluge skill, I DOUBT ENTIRELY) we could melt-down our rocks and make even BETTER medals out of them. Indeed, Cluge had the capacity to oust Baseball as THE GREAT AMERICAN PASTIME...
I think I need to telephone Coca-Cola and McDonald's for some sponsorship... that is after I declare myself President of the IOCC. THAT'S RIGHT, FOLKS - another title for me!
Until Derek and I receive our Platinum Medals by gallantly defeating the Former Soviet Union in Cluge on their Home Turf in Sochi, Boycotting It All the While...
I am forever...
IOCC PRESIDENT-Commissioner the Reverend Doctor Mayor William C. Olsen-Hoek, Esq, BTT
Stay tuned next time when we examine SKY MALL.

* - i.e. ME
** - read: Strongly Believe

Thursday, January 21, 2010

How Not to Write an Operetta: Being an Indictment Against Neil Gaiman's Cousin

Preamble: I had planned my next entry to be about living in the FUTURE and my many GRIEVANCES owing to the fact that I do not yet have a flying car nor a silver space suit. Yet, friends, I found something even more magical and possibly hilarious to discuss with you today.
Rarely does one have to consider if spending no money to attend a concert is a sound investment. Provided that the musicians at least give it a good college try, one really cannot walk away from the situation saying they had been slighted in any real way. If the performance be miserable, what has the person lost but a few hours time and learned a valuable lesson: don't see that awful ensemble ever again. Needless to say, dear reader, myself and sundry compatriots learned a VALUABLE LESSON on January 17 of the FUTURISTIC YEAR OF 2010!
January 2010. Everyone has welcomed the New Year - I by screaming Auld Lang Syne from the rooftop of one of the less - ahem - friendly neighborhoods of Brooklyn. A few days later, Empress Maria (TITLE BESTOWED BY ME ON THE GOOD FAITH OF NATURE AND OF NATURE'S GOD) and I received an email from our dear friend Sonja telling us that the Knickerbocker Orchestra was hosting a night of free music, the highlight of which would be Neil Gaiman, the celebrated author of a few of my favorite books including Coraline, narrating Sergei Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf. Maria harbors no pretensions about her love for this piece, and immediately booked us to attend. I was more excited to see Neil Gaiman in person, if only for the chance to bestow upon him the MAYORAL MEDAL of EXCELLENCE for his creation of Neverwhere and his patronage which allowed Susanna Clarke to write Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. With anticipation written in our hearts, we set out on the 17th to the production.
The World Financial Center, with its marble floors framing several live palm trees whose sole source of photosynthetic sunlight is an architecturally stunning glass roof, a decadent palace dedicated to the GLORIOUS credo of our Great Nation: "America: Fuck yeah!" This was the chosen scene. Upon looking at the handbill, we should have sensed that something rotten was in the State of New York - or should I say NEW AMSTERDAM? (This is an example of foreshadowing.)
The production began with the introduction of Gary S. Fagin, the fabled conductor of such masterworks as John Adams in Amsterdam: A Song for Abigail and The Space, whose haunting and eloquent melodies have no doubt washed upon the porches of only the Noblest ears of the Crowned Heads of Europe - or some such shit. I urge visiting his website and listening to the clip of John Adams.
The production began with something by Peter Tchaikovsky. At this point signal flares should have gone off, gongs should have sounded, and messenger ships released from their ports. I here avow that I ABHOR ALL WORKS OF TCHAIKOVSKY, owing to my attendance of his opera Mazeppa at the Metropolitan Opera. Approximately 4 hours into my attempt to pay attention to this affront to good taste, the 3rd act of 5 ended with a girl running around with a severed head in her hands - AND THE SWEDES DIDN'T EVEN HAVE THE COMMON COURTESY TO COME IN AN KILL THEM ALL YET! This was no way to begin a production. I should have gathered my belongings and slapped Gary Fagin on his talentless face on my way out. BUT I RESTRAINED MYSELF.
Next came Up and Down by Duke Ellington. Gary Fagin was so pretentious that he listed Ellington's full name on the handbill, with the more famous "Duke" in parentheses. Really Gary Fagin? And how was it? ...I was not amused. Jazz conducted by a pasty white man just doesn't work - except when the pasty white man is LEONARD BERNSTEIN, and I here provide evidence!
Finally! The moment we had all been waiting for! The reason that there were so many strollers and young couples and nerds hipsterly playing Tetris on their fossilized GameBoy Pockets. Gary Fagin introduced Neil Gaiman - HIS COUSIN!
AHA! ...A-HA!
So, Gary Fagin, you thought you were so clever. I pictured a caped Gary Fagin sitting in his subterranean reinforced concrete writers garret, a crown of wild, tousled hair, madly banging away at a pipe organ, screaming: "How can I lure people to my atrocious work. I know! I will bait them with my famous cousin. OH HO HO HO!"
And what can be said of what happened. It was clear that Neil Gaiman hadn't slept since 1998 and wasn't given sufficient time to practice - or simply didn't FEEL like practicing. I certainly have cousins I wouldn't go out of my way to send a Christmas card, much less offer my vastly superior talent to support their orchestra. Yeah. I said it. In a nutshell... it was pleasant.
The Unanswered Question by Cha - oh who give a shit! The highlight of this atrocity was Gary Fagin pretentiously summoning a less-than-stellar trumpet to play some hackneyed modernist something-or-other. At this point I was getting glares from a painfully sex-starved woman in front of me who thought she was in the presences of brilliance (barring my own brilliance, naturally). Verdict: I've heard sweeter songs from teething children on airplanes.
And finally - the CROWN JEWEL of this catastrophe of the musical world - the very reason Gary Fagin summoned his famous cousin to take and hour out of his busy schedule on his way to the Golden Globes in support of Coraline. It was a special night. This marked the WORLD PREMIERE of Gary S. Fagin's:
I here recommend taking painkillers or getting yourself a good stiff spiritous drink.
Gary Fagin introduced his tenor soloist for the WORLD PREMIERE of this opera based on the travels of Henry Hudson in North America. A baton raised. A pair of lungs filled with air. And then...
This skinny ginger tenor decided to emulate Colm Wilkinson (you know, the original Jean Valjean), right down to the badly trimmed beard. For those unfamiliar with Colmish, I will translate:
It may be easier for you to imagine Sean Connery singing it.
Apparently it's Gary Fagin's modus operandi to begin every song he writes by repeating a word three times. As proof, here is the opening of John Adams' libretto:
The song continued, listing all the precious things European sailors sought getting faster via a mythical Northwest Passage.
Gary Fagin! Cellos in the background and shouting the names of things does not an operetta make! He went on to sing to us the exploits of Magellan:
"Sail west to reach the East.
Columbus tried.
Magellan's men proved it so.
West, then south, and further south,
Round the treacherous Cape,
Through the Pacific's calm seas."
Hold on a second. Magellan began his voyage from Portugal. If you were granted a caravel from the Royal Family and proceeded to sail west only to turn south and then... go south again, I'm relatively sure that you would run right into Antarctica. Let's ask the Panel of Experts. Panel of Experts?
The cliché parade didn't stop! Each movement was separated by a small introduction... YEAH, like little title cards in a Stanley Kubrick film!
"Year 1609; the thirtieth of May. Henry Hudson, commanding the Half Moon, sails once more into the unknown."
Gary Fagin! You could've said May 30th, 1609!
PART II: TERRA CONTINENS (He added a footnote saying that this means "continent." Do you think Neil Gaiman would put such a footnote in his books? Hm...)
In which he describes the American continent!
"A deep, wide River [unnecessary capitalization - this isn't Germany Gary Fagin!]
Teeming with life:
Foot-wide oysters,
Ten-pound lobsters,
Salmon beyond number,
Magnificent abundance!"
A foot-wide oyster? I will dismiss this and assume you meant foot-long oysters, only to counter that with a reading from Mark Kurlansky's The Big Oyster: "On the bottom [of the riverbed] the very largest ones, described as 'giant oysters,' measure eight to ten inches. This suggests that the Dutch reports of foot-long oysters were ... slightly exaggerated." Also, the optimal size of a lobster for eating is between 1 and 2 pounds. Anything larger is too tough and requires too much dipping butter. Also - LOBSTERS DON'T LIVE IN FRESHWATER! OUTRAGEOUS!
Here Gary Fagin steals lyrics directly from the diary of First Mate Robert Jouet talking about trade with the local Indians. While I'm not sure where they got "Greene [sic] Tabaccco [sic]," it's still slightly cheap to use someone else's words for an entire half of a movement of your operetta.
Setting the tone for the Age of Colonial Expoloration (which, coincidentally, I hate teaching) he mentions a Native stealing a pillow and two shirts from the Half Moon only to be killed, offering this final thought: "O, harbinger of what's to come: / Temptation, Mistrust, Death." Let's move on. And get ready to be angry.
He chooses fascinating words to begin a conclusion:
"Three times Henry Hudson fails
To find the Northwest Passage.
The fourth attempt,
Abandoned in the Bay that bears his name,
He dies."
Gary Fagin... you just wrote an entire hour-long operetta about a failed explorer. Let's see what Henry Hudson actually did to warrant a river, a bay, a parkway and an operetta:
1.) Did not find the Northwest Passage
2.) Left adrift in a large Canadian bay by his crew
3.) That's... about... it.
And that's what history is - senselessly naming things after people who don't deserve it. Triborough Bridge? Why don't we call it The Robert F. Kennedy Bridge after senator who was 11-years old when the bridge opened. YEAH, that's the ticket! At least we can legitimize charging the taxpayers millions of dollars to change all the signage.
Then Gary Fagin lost me forever. I'm going to put dates next to the approximate times when these things happen. Ready?
"Forty years more,
As a spoil of war, [RHYME?! NOW?!]
New Amsterdam becomes New York [1674].
Towers rise, scrape the skies. [ca. 1902 - 1913]
One day two fall. [ca. September 11, 2001]"
Are you kidding me? Did Rudy Giuliani have a hand in writing this?! At this point a Good Taste Referee should have thrown a flag and called an Unsportsmanlike Conduct penalty. You wrote a painfully long piece of shit about Henry Hudson and then have the audacity to connect it to September 11?! Were you trying to draw a parallel between Hudson's downfall and that unforgettable September collapse of the World Trade Center, because I FAIL to see and refuse to acknowledge so shameful a connection. Not only that you skipped nearly 330 years of New York history to mention it! Nowhere is there mention of the Battle of New York, the Stock Market Crash, the invention of the Martini... NO! New York's history boils down to Henry Hudson and 9/11. Pitiful! Tasteless!
Now, you can't imagine how angry I was at this point. So angry that I had to laugh and bite my handbill, much to the dismay of the aforementioned sex-starved cobra who shot me icy looks - apparently oblivious to the fact that she had been subjected to one of the cheapest shots in history - a hack relying on the fame of his brilliant cousin to spoon feed bullshit to the brain-dead masses!
And that is why I need to be a teacher - if only to undo the watery history presented by uncultured no-talent idiots with no musical or lyrical inclinations whatsoever.
We then went to the Patriot Saloon to drown our sorrows - or rather explosions of gut-bursting laughter - in cheap beer, country-western music, and ladies dancing on a bar. Because even a dingy gin-joint like The Patriot is a more authentic American experience than being force-fed falsities and cheap, meaningless references to one of our greatest tragedies.