Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Book Report: The Idiot

The IdiotThe Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

After The Brothers Karamazov and now this, I am done with Dostoyevsky and convinced he blew his load on Crime and Punishment and had coasted on the reputation of that masterpiece, garnering the accolades because people were so enamored with his accomplishment of shining perfection that they were satisfied with flickering glimpses of it in his later stuff.

This one is more comedic and accessible than the block of granite that is Karamazov. The book is at its best when its characters monologue, giving the author a chance to spout his pithy observations before lumbering back to the convoluted story he's spat out. The real idiot here is not Myshkin, but me for continuing to suffer through the book when it was obvious that it sucked and would keep on sucking.

View all my reviews

Monday, July 14, 2014

$5 Foot Long Gone

Subway broke my heart by rendering its $5 Footlong promotion moot. Since July 1, it has existed as a shadow of its former self, dropping its roster to just three of its most ghetto sandwiches and doing away with the rotating $5 selection of one of its premium subs.

The only $5 footlongs remaining are the sandwiches with no ingredients in them. There's the illiterate Veggie Delite, which is what happens when the Sandwich Artists forget the meat; the Egg and Cheese, a breakfast sandwich for those who disagree with the argument that breakfast is the most important meal of the day; and the BLT, which your mom used to make you as a kid when dad's child support didn't come in time and the grocery store rejected her credit cards.

Stricken from the list are my beloved Cold Cut Combo and Spicy Italian, as well as the shockingly-suddenly-too-good-for-the-Abe-Lincoln-menu Black Forest ham and Meatball Marinara.

Now Jared will be thin as the result of poverty as well as malnutrition.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

What I Won't Miss About The World Cup

Is this commercial, which played repeatedly on the Watch ESPN app. It's the saddest thing ever, featuring a mom with a bunch of kids who talks about how she likes dancing.

The insinuation is that she hates her life now because dancing is no longer a part of it. Her youth has been squandered and her dreams are crushed, as she has become a slave to a house of ungrateful brats and a husband who looks at porn all day and ignores her sexual and emotional needs.

So the family goes out camping, and she brings a disco ball along. It's her desperate howl for self-actualization amid the wreckage that has become of her life. Determined to indulge her whim despite the soul-crushing abyss that surrounds her, she puts up the disco ball at the campground and begins dancing by herself.

And then her oppressors join in, forming a grotesque spectacle that existentially mocks her plight. She pretends to be OK with this result as a replacement for that which her life lacks.

I think it's an ad for toothpaste. Or suicide.

Friday, July 11, 2014


Today was National Cow Appreciation Day -- the sacred occasion on which Chick-fil-A, defender of 'traditional marriage' and 'inventor of the chicken sandwich' -- hands out free food for those willing to demean themselves by dressing as cows.

Naturally, I partake in the festivities with religious zeal. Being that two of my finest and most practiced qualities are thrift and sloth, I put as little effort as possible into cow-ifying myself. While others take to face paint, iron-ons, laminated signs and felt ears, I simply tape pieces of paper to my shirt, pants and ears. The papers serve as my spots, and although my ghetto costume tends to solicit eye rolls from checkout counter clerks, they always give me my free spicy chicken sandwich, waffle fries and lemonade.

Today, however, I met my match in chicanery. I sauntered up to the counter in my usual getup, placed my order, then was told I would need to pay $3 for my fries and drink, because only my sandwich was free.

Me: I thought you gave out combo meals for people who dressed like cows?

Liar (My name for this checkout clerk): No, just an entree.

Me: Really? This must be the first year you've done that.

Liar: Yeah, I guess they changed it.

Me: OK. (swipes credit card and loses what is left of dignity).

As it turns out, Chick-fil-A has not changed anything, and in fact still does hand out free combos to those dressed head-to-toe in bovine garb. It turns out, I assume, that Liar deigned my costume unworthy of a free combo, and came up with the ruse just to lose me, knowing full well that by the time I figured out the truth I would be unwilling to wait in that long line of free food-seeking people to get my $3 back. Again, sloth.

I use this situation as a learning experience. Not to put more effort into my costume, but to be able to confront lying clerks on their nonsense and no longer be forced to pay $3. Next year, I vow, it will be the cows who appreciate me.

Movie Review: Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes

Something happened that I never thought possible as I watched Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. I caught myself wishing I was watching Tim Burton's stupid, boneheaded 2001 Planet of the Apes with Marky Mark. And that was the movie that was so awful that it killed off the franchise for a decade, causing it to be rebooted by Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011).

The Burton Planet of the Apes was so devastating that it managed to scare people away from seeing the remake of the remake a decade later. Which was a shame, because Rise was one of the best sci-fi movies ever created, with a heartbreaking father-son, scientist-monkey relationship.

There was so much promise to this movie. So much hope dashed. I tried to ignore the colossal red flag it waved in the first 10 minutes, as mediocrely-animated primates engaged in family drama by exchanging adorable, Monkey's Uncle-style sign language, helpfully subtitled so non ASL (Ape Sign Language)-speaking human viewers could follow along. The verbiage-free opening is so patently ridiculous that if the Scary Movie people were to, well, ape it, they wouldn't need to change a thing. Just cut, paste, and wham, you have the funniest sequence in franchise history.

Things go from bizarrely humorous to boring when the scene shifts to the human camp of this post-apocalyptic earth, a stage for a tournament of global domination between man and monkey. There's a timid leader, a regular joe, his compassionate, monkey-paw-stroking wife and their teenage son played by a guy who looks like he's 30. They want to preserve the human way of life, which according to them is to sit around and whine about having no electricity.

I give the movie credit for not only not encouraging the audience to root for the humans, but to make a compelling case to wholeheartedly cheer for the apes to overthrow these idiots and run the planet correctly. That even goes for when Scar Ape (his name is Koba, but he is really Scar from The Lion King, so I have renamed him Scar Ape) overthrows simian leader with a heart of gold Caesar and runs things like Pacino in Scarface.

The crux of the conflict is a dam that the humans need to get working so they can use their iPads and such. The apes, meanwhile, have set up camp nearby, and would rather the humans not send in their Geek Squad to fix it because of their penchant for busting caps in angry apes. Caesar, who in the first movie fell in love with humans because he was buddies with James Franco, thinks there can be a peaceful resolution, but Scar Ape is like "ARGHH OOOPP IPPPA EEA!" which roughly translates to "'Ell, nah, gov'na. Kill 'em all."

Cloverfield director Matt Reeves, who deserved credit in his calling card for going easy on the CGI, forgets that tack and allows his animators to spray the screen with dubious monkey cartoons and 'splosions. The movie turns into a long, dull slog of slow-witted humans tangling with their furry rivals in zero-sum contest of sadness. There are a few winning moments of intraspecies bonding that echo the 2011 movie, but those seem glib and forced rather than earned. Also, I hate how the apes all start off relying on sign language, only to suddenly all gain the ability so speak English like they are the Asian characters from Lost. As if it wasn't bad enough that we had to listen to the dull, hackneyed dialogue spat out by the human characters, it gets much worse when we have to listen to it spout from the mouths of apes as well.

A movie of half measures, spoiled potential, little suspense and tired writing, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes has me Done with the Planet of the Apes. At least until the 2001 version pops up again on SyFy channel or whatever it's called these days.

Starring Ande Serkis, Jason Clarke, Kerri Russell and Toby Kebbell. Written by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver and Mark Bomback. Directed by Matt Reeves. Rated PG-13. 120 minutes.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Marketing Lessons

Marketing lesson no. 1: Name your movie 'Boredom.' Lesson No. 2: Give it a boring cover. Lesson No. 3: Deploy limited resources wisely by sending two unsolicited copies to the same critic. Class dismissed.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Getting Rid Of Junk

Decluttering is a form of therapy. It's freeing to tackle boxes of junk you haven't bothered to unbox in years, go through it all, keep 5 percent of it and get rid of all the rest. It's as though you are not only purging physical objects from your possession, but purging needless clutter from your mind as well.

The same goes for organizing the stuff you do keep. As you set your stuff in order, you do the same for your thoughts.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Goodbye, Old Friend: A Rhapsody For a Retired Wallet

My dad gave me the above wallet, my first, on my 11th birthday. It has served me well for nearly a quarter century, and I always figured I would keep it around for my entire life. It has died many deaths, and each time I have resurrected it with a fresh coat of duct tape. Now what was once entirely leather is now 95 percent shiny tape.

That wallet was always a point of pride for me. Many were disgusted or impressed by it. Some tried to pretend they were ignoring it, but their feigned politeness couldn't disguise their awe or befuddlement. Most pitied me for using such a homeless-looking billfold, while the select few admired my dedication to it and no doubt wistfully thought back to their favorite wallet from childhood, wondering what might have been had they taken the time and care to tape it together rather than toss it in the garbage.

While cleaning out a box of old stuff, my eyes caught this seductive minx:

My first instinct was to pack it away back where I found it, reconfining it to a cardboard prison indefinitely. But I couldn't manage the task. Before I could muster any doubt, I stripped the old warhorse of all its credit, debit, gift and rewards cards, as well as its childishly tiny amount of cash within, and stuffed it into its successor.

I considered keeping the old wallet around, but decided to dignify it by tossing it into the garbage. Someday, I gotta believe, it will make an excellent nest for a landfill rat or pack of baby scorpions.

The smug "new" Nintendo wallet, which I no doubt acquired more than a decade ago by some means now forgotten -- most likely it was one of the many given to me over the years by those hoping I would get rid of my ugly duct-taped one -- will be discarded once it shows significant signs of wear. There is no sentimental attachment to this one, so I will have no reason to keep its corpse glued together like the previous one. I will now get new wallets every couple years rather than cling to my old one. Now I am just like everyone else. Except for the fact that my wallet, still, is more awesome than everyone else's.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Return To Sender

After being told the stuff at my desk of my former employer would be boxed up by security and shipped to me, I was asked to come pick it up personally at the front desk. The caller, who was not present at the time I was terminated, insisted I was told I would need to come pick it up at that meeting. I agreed, then laughed when I saw my work junk was boxed up in USPS boxes.

Glad I could save the organization postage.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Book Report: War and Peace

Reading this was utter misery from end to end. This is in a class with Moby-Dick and A tale of Two Cities, among the least readable, universally lauded classics that normal people read only out of sheer hatred and determination.

Tolstoy is like a kindergartener talking about his day. He has a keen eye and feel for detail, but no ability to distinguish between what is relevant and compelling and what isn't. He puts you there, alright, in the grim bleakness of standoffs with Napoleon on Russian battlefields. He conveys the feeling of bitter regret and despair, when you realize that you have been plugging away through his dense, punishing prose for weeks and look ahead to see there is no end in sight.

The value of the book, and the only reason other than bragging rights to say you've conquered it to keep reading, is to be transported to the ugly, despair-plagued times in which the book is set. War is hell, peace is boring, and this book is the worst of both worlds.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

My Life As A Cereal Killer

Just like a 5-year-old, I need to start my day with a bowl of cereal. It's not that I'm hungry, nor that I get a burst of energy from the meal, but it just feels right. I keep a plethora of cereals at my disposal, with each suiting the particular mood or need of the day ahead. The cereal sets the tone for what I anticipate is to come.

I don't employ my cereals on a schedule, but earmark each for a specific specialization. Think of it like a bullpen in baseball. I trot out my cereals the way managers decide to bring out relief pitchers in various situations. 

Serious days where I need to behave like an adult are Crunchy Nut days. There's something mature about that one, at least compared to the others I indulge in.

Frivolous days, where I don't need my A game and am free to relax and do as I please can begin with ones Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Reese's Puffs or Peanut Butter Crunch. Honey Grahams are just for when all the good cereals are gone. That's a sign that I need to head to the store.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Why It Makes Sense To Cheat At Words With Friends

Cheating may be awful, but there are worse things. Like whining.

We've all heard from the sanctimonious angels that whisper into the ears of Words With Friends players that they should play it straight, drawing only on their limited vocabularies to execute their plays in the popular Scrabble clone.

I'm here to clip off those twerps' wings and shove them down their coarse-from-crying throats. The only way to play fair in Words With Friends is to cheat like John Travolta at a massage parlor. By telling your opponent at the outset that you'll be a scamtastic punk and look up possible word combinations online, you level the playing field, eliminating all the distrust and animosity that the game tends to inspire. If the words you use are pronounceable, score fewer than 30 points and can be used in a sentence by anyone other than the owner of an advanced English degree, you're not trying.

The problem with playing Words With Friends in a friendly way is that it often turns games into Silence Between Bitter Enemies. There's too much temptation to boost your odds by playing dirty, and thus impossible not to blame a loss  due to an obscure word on your soon-to-be-ex pal's malfeasance.

Cheating runs deep to the rotten core of Zynga's all-powerful workplace distraction. Even the game's abbreviation, WWF, dares you to cheat. Did Junkyard Dog, Andre the Giant and the Ultimate Warrior accomplish what they did by obeying the rules of the ring to the letter. No sir. These great men weren't afraid to find an edge with the odd folding chair bash, illegal choke hold or smuggled tire iron.

Commenters, I know you're already dreaming up ways to trash this argument, comparing my line of thought to those scalawags in Call of Duty games who float through walls and rain death with one-button insta-kills. Stop right there. Exploits that sully the game with code-altering hacks ruin things for everyone, and aren't in the same classification as WWF cheating. I'd argue, in fact, that refusing to cheat at WWF breaks the game in the same way that hacking in first-person shooters does.

Refusing to cheat in Words With Friends is refusing to look up the answers in an open-book test.

Once you make peace with the fact that you're an unprincipled goon, you BASE jump into the rabbit hole that game offers, discovering just how deep the game gets. Tossing the vocabulary penis-measuring contest aside, you discover that WWF is about tactical tile placement. The winner isn't the luckier one, but he who is able to psych the enemy out, thinking several moves ahead, taking manageable risks and weighing the occasional rope-a-dope sacrifice to set up a giant score.

The act of cheating is a compelling metagame filled with pitfalls, risks and tests of hubris. Although armed with all possible plays, you still need to decide where to place the tiles, whether -- and when -- to stack words next to one another for a low-scoring slugfest or open up the playing field for a shootout. The better thinker wins out, while the losers complain they got bad tiles. 

That said, there are certain rules for cheaters to follow. One, tell your opponent what you're up to, and insist they do the same, otherwise things won't work out. Two, no abandoning one-sided games in the middle to set up new challenges without first resigning and cleaning the slate. And three, the loser of the last game is always responsible for requesting a rematch.

Some get annoyed with those who escalate their cheating ways to attack drone levels by using a program that lets you lay out all the letters on the grid and suggests the best play.

While I don't use grid cheats because they sap the fun out of the event, I don't begrudge those sorry losers who have to resort to such methods to put up a good fight against me. I'm pompous enough to be certain that using a grid's suggested play would somehow warp or scuttle the genius tile placement that I come up with. I relish victories over them and feel like Garry Kasparov that time he beat Deep Blue.

Other opponents insist on playing by the rules, and in these matches I smell blood. I respect the scruples of those who refuse to cheat, and I love handing them 300-point beatdowns that make them pause to reconsider their ways.

Sometimes, usually out of laziness or haste, I'll bypass a pilgrimage to the cheating sites. But I often pull back out of indifference or pity. it's like a football coach who pulls his starters not so much out of good faith, but to see if his backups can humiliate the opposition the way his first team could.

If you're ever playing against me and I'm using words that appear to have been generated by a human rather than a computer, rest assured that I'm mocking you, handing you a three-stroke handicap on the golf course, suggesting use a tennis racket in the batting cage or bowl with bumpers in the gutters.

The endgame in WWF is to frustrate the opponent to the point where he no longer sees purpose in challenging you. When a longtime rival begs off, ending our series, I feign sadness that covers up satisfaction. I consider refusing to rematch to be total submission. A miniboss defeated and disposed of, allowing me, the end boss who proudly spouts horns, spikes on his back and breathes fire, to tend to my evil empire and crush all comers with a titanium fist.

Unless, of course, I get bad tiles. In which case I rematch that grid-using shyster.