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Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

While I’m working on something more meaty, here’s a bit of fun.

Like most people my age, I learned to type on a manual typewriter, an old Smith-Corona, to be precise. It was heavy — damned heavy — and came in its own nearly-as-heavy hard-sided case. It had a black-and-red ribbon that always got twisted, the keys continually got hooked onto one another, and after typing up an evening’s homework, my forearms ached from the physical exertion of pressing down the keys. That’s no exaggeration; it took some oomph to make those levers thwack with enough force to register through to the carbon copy.

What’s a carbon copy, you ask? Well, it’s a … nope, I don’t have time or space to explain it all. (more…)

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Despite its many advocates, I loathe brie.

Even so, every year or two, when the opportunity presents itself, I give it another try just to see if, somehow, my taste buds have changed and I now agree with the world at large.

To date, I still don’t like brie.

I was reminded of this today when discussing the relative value of spending $500 on a meal for two in a Michelin star restaurant.

My position was that, a few times in a life, it’s worth it.

My opponent took the position that, like getting kicked in the gonads, it’s not. His opinion was that, beyond a certain high-dollar threshold, you’re just showing off. In addition, he informed me that my statement was flatly false, as he’d had a few high-end meals during his life and, in each case, it was never worth the money.

He did not realize that he had just proved my point.

You see, if he had not experienced those few very expensive meals, he’d have had no basis on which to form an opinion (other than his own preconceived notions). This is the essence of prejudice: to condemn a priori a book you’ve never read, a movie you’ve never seen, a meal you’ve never tasted, a person you’ve never met.

For my part, I’ve had three very expensive meals in my life.

The least enjoyable was at Morton’s, a high-end steak house here in Seattle. The most enjoyable was a fantastic meal with a great family of friends at Canlis (also here in Seattle). The most memorable was at the restaurant in the World Trade Club, located (when the WTC was still a thing) in the Ferry Building along San Francisco’s Embarcadero.

Were these meals worth the price these high-end restaurants charged? I mean, was the food, the preparation, the presentation, the service, and the atmosphere all worth the money paid?

No (though Canlis came damned close).

Were the experiences worth the price? Meaning, was the meal plus the company, the occasion, the conversation, and the memories gained worth the price?

Without question: Yes.

As a result of each experience, I gained something. After each meal, I knew more about what to expect from high-end dining. I had new anecdotes with which I could entertain, edify, inform. Most importantly, I now have real-life data on which to build an informed opinion. Just as, years ago, I gained first-hand knowledge that allows me to judge whether something is better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, I now have first-hand knowledge of fancy-schmancy dining.

Would I spend that kind of money regularly? Fat chance.

Would I spend that kind of money on a meal in the future? Count on it.

Just as with my ongoing litigation of Brie vs. My Taste Buds, I think some experiences are worth the indulgence a few times in our lives. For me, I like to see exactly what all the shouting is about so that I might determine for myself whether or not I agree with the world at large.

Aside from the thing paid for, there’s the experience of the thing.

That is where I find value.

k

PS. Full disclosure: I was a guest at both Canlis and the WTC, and had a gift card that covered part of the bill for Morton’s. (I’m a fairly tight-fisted old fart.) I did, however, see the menus, and was aware of how much the meals cost.

 

 

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A lot of today’s pop culture cinema leaves me cold. Superheroes. Vampires. Zombies. Especially zombies.

What is it with zombies? I don’t watch The Walking Dead. I don’t get all fidgety waiting for the next zombie apocalypse video game. And I certainly don’t queue up to see the latest action-packed, gore-spattered, plucky regular-guys facing walls of crazed, offal-eating zombies.

Usually.

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A long-standing obsession of mine has been act 1, scene 2, from Shakespeare’s Richard III. It’s the scene where Richard accosts Lady Anne during a funeral procession and, in the course of a few hundred lines, steers her from unmitigated loathing all the way ’round the bend to a point where she warms to his affection, accepts his ring, and considers his suit for her hand in marriage. Afterward, astonished, Richard asks us:

Was ever woman in this humour woo’d?
Was ever woman in this humour won?

Answer: No. Never. Not in a million years.

The complete implausibility of this scene has always puzzled me. I’ve read analyses of the play, pored through the variorum of the play, all to no avail. Shakespeare, generally quite good at character motivation and development, has shoehorned this relationship into his play, telling us “Just roll with it.”

Why?

My friend Barb, who knew of my curiosity on the topic, recommended I read Sharon Kay Penman’s historical opus, The Sunne in Splendour, a historical novel about Richard III. Now that I have, I’m glad I did, but the book is not without flaws. (more…)

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This past weekend, still recuperating from a kick-your-teeth-out head cold, I didn’t have much energy for anything beyond breathing, so I figured maybe I’d play Valley, the new game I’d purchased. Aside from that, my one major expense of energy would be to accompany my wife (who had also succumbed to the Killer Cold) on an errand to the mall. The mall is one of my least favorite places, but I managed to muster enough oomph to assist her, and I’m glad I did because whilst there, I was able to try out the Oculus Rift.

These two items — Valley and the Oculus — pretty much peg the spectrum of gaming costs. At an online sale price of $8, Valley was a superb bargain, while the Oculus headset rig ($499) is about as dear a peripheral as you can find, especially when you factor in the current requirements for both a high-end gaming PC (the model I used in the demo was $1499) and the Oculus Touch handsets ($99/pair).

Now, there’s no frakking way I’m going to plunk down over two grand for a gaming peripheral. Ain’t gonna happen. Nuh-unh. After spending ten minutes under the VR headset, though, I was tempted. Sorely tempted.

On the other hand, my expectations for a video game that costs eight bucks were low. Very low. Like, I expected to be bored within an hour, low. That didn’t happen, proving that even my jaded sensibilities can still be wrong. (more…)

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It’s been a full month since we dropped our cable and land-line package to become a primarily streaming household, and I think we can say that the results are in.

As with any paradigm shift, behaviors and attitudes have changed. What surprised me, though, was the speed with which the changes were made and some of the more counter-intuitive outcomes.

Our viewing habits changed immediately, of course, as some shows weren’t available to us anymore and other opportunities opened up. But it was the changes in attitude that I found most unexpected. I found that I really didn’t miss some of those “lost” shows, which says a lot about how we were watching them more out of habit than cognizant decision. Moreover, I discovered a heightened discernment in our viewing deliberations. Before, our selections were based mostly on ads and hype, whereas now, our decisions are based on referrals, reviews, previews, and a trial run of an episode or two. We’re also no longer ruled by the tyranny of the DVR. No more “Gotta watch that show to make room for the next episode!” (more…)

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7 1/2

GodfatherLast week, I stood out in the rain.

On purpose.

Last week was a stay-cation, and I spent many hours out in the elements, reclaiming the gardens after a couple of years’ worth of accumulated neglect. It being February — and one of the wettest on record, to boot — more of those “elements” were liquid than usual, and most of those hours were spent in the rain.

Luckily, I had a new hat.

I was born at the sunset of the Hat Era, a time when everyone — men and women alike — wore hats in public. Hats were already passé when I was born, and by the time I was a lad, the only men who wore hats were fishermen, cowboys, and men in uniform. Alas.

I’ve always liked hats. Real hats, that is. Hats with brims that go all the way around. A hat has a purpose — to keep the sun out of your eyes, to keep your head warm, and to keep rain off your head and neck. Caps generally only do one of those things, and not well, either, not when compared to a real hat.

The hats I preferred were those of my movie icons — Bogie, Stewart, Fonda — hats with character, hats with style. No baseball caps for those guys. No urban-cowboy Stetsons. No no no.

The Fedora ruled with those men. Sometimes they wore a Homburg or a wide-brimmed Tyrolean. Or, if they were in a Western, a slouch.

The slouch hat has always been a favorite of mine. A felt hat with a flat, wide brim that slouches down over nape and brow, preferably with a creased crown for ease of tipping to passersby. Aussies tie up one side of theirs. So did the Rough Riders. The slouch has tons of character and is a top-notch performer in all things a hat is supposed to do.

But, as I’ve never considered myself as a guy who looks good in hats, I was a bit self-conscious, standing out in my suburban garden, rain pelting down, fat droplets pattering off the wide brim of my new slouch hat. I mean, it’s a big hat, by modern stylistic standards. It’s felted mix of wool and buffalo hair, black as night, with a slight curl on the back and sides of the 4 ½” brim, and a silver-buckled strip of leather around the crown. My wife assured me though that, contrary to my instincts, the hat suits me, and since she generally doesn’t like me to look the fool any more than I do myself, I trusted her assessment, and wore it most of the week.

A quality felt hat is almost a living thing. New, it never fits well, despite proper measurement. It must be worn to fit properly, and if possible, worn in the rain. You wear it, let it get wet, and then continue to wear it as it dries. The moisture loosens up the felted fibers and when they dry, they shrink up to fit your skull. If you don’t like the brim or the crown, you can steam it over a kettle and reshape it to your liking, which I did to remove the curl on the front.  After four days spending several hours out in the rain, getting the hat wet and letting it dry, it now is a perfect fit to the bony, pearish ovoid that houses my brain.

I still don’t feel like it’s my “style,” but I like it, so I’m going to fake it until it feels right.

k

Typewriter

PS. I was thoroughly puzzled by the relationship between hat sizes and head measurements. A 22-inch skull is a U.S. hat size 7, which is a difference of 15; but a 23 ½ inch skull (like mine) is a U.S. hat size 7 ½, a difference of 16. What gives?

Turns out, the relationship between your head size and your U.S. hat size is, believe it or not, π.

Yup. Just as circumference/π = diameter, so Your Head Measurement (in inches)/π =  U.S. Hat Size.

I just love that.

k

Bogie and Bacall

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